Entry for "A Love Like Fire 2011"

Title: Eternal Death

Author: Picklewinkle

Beta: LightStarDusting

Pairing: Edward x Bella

Rating: M

Word Count: 14,996

Prompt: Lover I Don't Have To Love – Bright Eyes

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all of its characters. No copyright infringement is intended.


Eternal Death

I leaned against the railing and looked down at the sea of faces below me, weighing my options for the evening. Maybe the tall, leggy redhead who was nursing a double of Jack, or the blonde livewire who'd just caught her boyfriend feeling up another woman in the restroom. I could think of a much more beneficial use of her spiritedness than swearing or stomping her feet.

Beautiful women fell into two categories: the ones you fucked and the ones you fucked again. Over the years, I'd learned that being upfront and honest about what I was after was essential. The sex was always their choice; never forced. The pleasure was reciprocal, and partakers were paid in the currency they came for. We both went home happy. End of story.

I wasn't looking for a partner in any sense of the word. My life was solitary by design. There was no value in complicating the one vice I allowed myself by making it personal, not when the source pool was replete—women of all shapes and sizes willing to trade their bodies for a little rapture. Or a lot, though, I shouldn't speak for them. For me, it was what it was: a momentary release from the ennui of a rather pathetic life.

Their reasons for taking part were as varied as the women themselves. Some did it for the thrill, an adrenaline-fueled joyride in an otherwise cumbersome commute. Others needed a diversion from husbands who didn't have the skills to fuck them properly or lives they hated. Most were looking for some kind of gratification, be it emotional, physiological or purely physical—singles who wanted a real cock instead of a vibrator, cougars who asked for what they desired and expected it to be delivered, and drunk co-eds who were looking to experiment with casual sex and needed someone who appeared to be safe. The sad ones were my favorites. Their numbness—a gift bestowed unknowingly—sedated the chaos in my head. In return for the tranquility they lent me, I tapped into their minds so I could deliver exactly what they needed to feel alive again, if only for a little while. In the moments of reanimation, their thoughts exploded like an atomic bomb, enveloping their consciousness in warmth and light. The duration of the effect was short-lived, only a few thousandths of a second, but the flash was awe-inspiring.

I wandered down to the bar and poured myself a single malt scotch. The smooth burn of each swallow was an indulgence I'd grown to enjoy, and it helped perpetuate the human façade.

"Do you have one picked out, boss?" Jacob, one of the bartenders, smiled expectantly at me. He revered me for my pastime and fantasized about it at great length, although he lacked the skills and apathy to actually play the game. I shook my head dismissively and stepped away from the bar, having no desire to engage him any further.

I wandered through the people on the dance floor, testing the atmosphere with all of my senses. As informative as my gift was, I didn't like to rely on it. People so often believed the lies they told. I liked to back up what I heard and saw with what I could smell and taste. The redhead was definitely out. She reeked of aftershave and semen; sloppy seconds weren't my style. The blonde was still in the running, although my resolve was wavering. Taming her might be a bit of a project. I was looking for a simpler, more clear-cut interaction tonight.

I locked eyes with an ebony-haired thirty-something whose thoughts were practically purring, but it was the delicious perfume swirling around the room—sweet and floral with hints of freesia and lavender—that held my attention. If the owner were as beautiful as her scent, she would be a perfect candidate.

Following the trail of my mystery girl, I swiftly made my way across the room. My nose was so focused on the hunt that I paid little attention to anything around me. Errant thoughts filtered in—familiar voices and a passive mental acknowledgement of the bodies I passed—as the tiny hints of her in the air pulled me forward. In one moment, her scent was ubiquitous, and in the next, only faint traces existed, as if my muse were playing hard to get. I rather liked the idea. Perhaps a little role-play was in order, once I captured her. An unexpected thud into my side and a blast of aromatic nirvana jolted me out of my occupation. There stood my cynosure—wide brown eyes and soft pink lips, her long chestnut curls clinging to her glistening skin.

In the milliseconds it took for me to gather my wits, my world splintered. The outward aroma of her human form paled in comparison to the exquisite redolence of her blood. Had I known such perfection existed, I'd have dedicated my immorality to searching for it. Now that I knew, I would endure in parallel universes: one where I passed my time by fucking beautiful women and one where I indulged my nature by feeding on the blood of this tiny female.

I locked my knees against my coiling muscles, forcing my jaw closed by clenching my teeth. Despite my determined instincts, I couldn't attack the girl in the middle of a crowd. Eighty years of abstaining from human blood gave me the strength to resist her, but just barely. It was more the idea of depleting the source than creating a spectacle that held me back. If she tasted as good as I imagined she did, I would need to learn control before I sampled her, so as to not waste her superiority in one gluttonous drink.

Never had I enjoyed the burn of my thirst so much, like an aperitif to prepare me for the most delicious meal of my life.

I reached out unthinkingly and pushed the sweat-soaked strands from her cheek, pulling my hand back when my sense returned. Touching her without permission would not make her come to me. Her shocked expression slowly softened, morphing from surprise to fascination. It was a reaction I was used to, but from her it seemed so much more sincere.

"Edward Cullen" I announced, leaning forward to speak into her ear.

She pulled back from me, hollering, "What?"

I put one hand on her elbow, the other on the small of her back, and guided her to the staircase. She took it upon herself to climb her way to the second floor. I followed her up; glad that she wasn't disinclined to being alone with me.

"I have to pee," she admitted, laughing lightly to hide her embarrassment. "I thought there would be restrooms up here."

"You can use the one in the office." I unlocked the door and held it open for her. "Over there, the door on the left."

She smiled a thank you and disappeared around the corner. I settled down onto the long, leather couch to wait for her. She seemed nervous when she reappeared, fidgeting and shifting her feet.

"Thanks," she mumbled. Her head was bent slightly forward, so when she looked up at me she was all dark eyes and lashes. It was a move I'd used myself while flirting. I wondered if that was what she'd intended and listened intently to find out. I was having trouble locating her thoughts in the throng of noise in my head.

"I'm Edward."

She nodded slightly, almost dismissively. "Um, hi. Bella… and I should probably get back to my friends." Her timid expression made me realize that I was probably glaring at her because I was frustrated by the absence of her mental voice. It would have been easy for her to mistake the expression for anger, and I needed her to know I was no such thing.

"We could invite your friends up here, if you like?" I offered, hoping my tone conveyed the fact that I didn't want her to leave. She was a lovely creature—petite and pale-skinned with shapely legs and a tiny waist. Her blood notwithstanding, the fact that I couldn't hear her thoughts had me too curious about her to let her go.

Her eyes darted nervously between the door and me. "No, that's fine. I…" Without warning, she bent over and removed her heels. It was such strange thing to do, one I couldn't possibly fathom without help. Again I willed my talent at her, trying in vain to force my way into her mind.

"Nice shoes," I quipped, grinning at her fatuity.

"What time is it?" She asked the question with barely a glance in my direction. Her attention was on the door or something beyond the door, perhaps her friends. I wasn't sure.

I frowned at her, disliking that she was ignoring me. "Perhaps we should get you downstairs to find your companions." Maybe her friends would convince her to stay with me.

"That's not what I meant. It's just that I… I mean… well they..." I raised an eyebrow at her to convey my confusion. She wasn't acting drunk, aside from the removal of her shoes, but there was a hint of rum and mint mixed in with her flowery scent. Perhaps it only took very little alcohol for her to become tipsy.

"They might be worried about you," I suggested.

"They're probably already gone."

My protective instinct surfaced with a vengeance. The idea of this delicate wisp of a girl going off into the night by herself made me anxious. "They're not very good friends if they leave you unattended and with no ride home."

"Actually, they are good friends that happen to be drunk and not thinking straight." Apparently I wasn't the only one feeling protective.

"My apologies. I didn't mean to offend your sensibilities. Perhaps you'll allow me to make it up to you by driving you home?"

"How about you buy me a drink, and we'll call it even." One corner of her mouth turned up as she worked to control the underlying emotion she was feeling, whatever it was. It felt strange not to know; I always knew. At least her offer would allow me more time with her and give me the opportunity to win her over. I'd never been brushed off before.

Or perhaps it had never mattered until now.

"What would you like?" I walked over to the cabinet beside the couch and lifted the bar's tambour door. Though small in size, it was well stocked for my guests.

"What are you having?" she asked, confidently striding over to me to peer over my shoulder. Her scent burned stronger in such close proximity, undiluted by other smells. The flames licked and rippled through every part of my body. The pain was bound to my self-control, and I focused on the discomfort, wishing I could acclimate to it. Of all of my faculties, control was paramount. It was what allowed me to live among humans—the reason I could touch without hurting. Without it, I was a murderous monster, but with it, simply an immortal freak of nature.

"Scotch." My voice was hoarse, the words choked out from behind gritted teeth.

"You must like the burn." Irony at its sardonic best.

"You have no idea," I murmured, taking in a huge gulp of her scent with the air I required in order to speak. Burn, indeed.

"I guess I'll have a vodka and cranberry juice, if you have it, please." She turned and walked away, giving me a brief respite from the searing. By the time I had her drink mixed, she was curled up on the couch comfortably, her feet tucked under her like she planned to stay for a while. The sight pleased me.

"So Bella…" I tried her name out loud for the first time, enjoying the way it rolled off my tongue. I was beginning to think there was nothing about this woman that I wouldn't like. "What brings you to The Volterra?"

She proceeded to tell me about her evening. It turned out the blonde I was contemplating earlier was Bella's best friend. They'd happened upon my bar during a girl's night out, unexpectedly finding blondie's boyfriend getting his jollies in the bathroom with another woman.

The longer I sat with her, the less her scent affected me. I inched closer to her. We talked for well over an hour, long enough to finish three drinks each and for Bella to become rather intoxicated. The alcohol loosened her tongue enough for me to learn that she was kind, quirky, and rather selfless. It was obvious from the start that she had no sense of self-preservation, completely oblivious to the threat that she was cozied up to. It was odd to feel so protective of her when I was also the greatest menace to her safety.

"You're cute when you're drunk," I told her purposefully, wanting to see her smile. She rewarded me with a toothy grin and a blush.

"It's the beer goggles… or should I say scotch goggles? I'm probably five-foot-nine with blond hair and D-cups by now." She actually snorted when she giggled, and it was bizarrely endearing. If not for the fact that alcohol had no effect on a vampire's system, I'd say there was an element of truth in her joke.

"It's not the scotch; it's you. And for the record, I prefer brunettes—five-foot-nothing, petite ones, with a… C-cup?" I faked my uncertainty, knowing it sounded rather caddish to admit that I'd seen enough breasts to size them by sight.

"Five-foot-four," she corrected. "Don't take away my four inches. You wouldn't like it if I sized you up four inches less than you actually measured, would you?"

"If that were the case, I'd have to call your bluff and get out the measuring tape for the sake of accuracy. Four inches could make a big difference in terms of your satisfaction."

"I don't think we'll need a measuring tape. We can easily check for satisfaction with a demonstration."

The sudden shift in conversation had me rock-hard. The glint in her eyes made it worse. I wasn't in control of myself. My mind was clouded by her mere presence. I deposited my glass on the coffee table and leaned back, closing my eyes and resting my head on the back of the couch. "I just need a minute," I mumbled lamely, as if sixty seconds could solidify my resolve or prevent me from harming her.

I heard her shift beside me and opened my eyes to find her climbing into my lap, her too-short skirt riding dangerously high on her milky white thighs. She was warm and inviting in a familiar way. My hands moved to her hips of their own accord, taking what they wanted without my express permission. In dumbstruck silence, I stared into her eyes, losing myself in their depths.

She slid closer, curling her hands around my neck affectionately. With deliberate slowness, she leaned in and brushed her lips against mine. I stopped breathing a moment too late, taking in the breath she exhaled. Like a backdraft, it exploded down my throat and through my lungs, combusting everything in its path. There was nothing but fire and pain for a moment, but as it receded, my body craved the feeling again, like some twisted Bella-induced masochism.

She began to stir in my lap—tiny, shifting movements that created radiating bursts of pleasure. My fingers inched around her hips, pressing into her ass and coercing her closer to where I needed the friction. I was so aroused that a few minutes of dry humping would make me cum. It brought a whole new meaning to the term safe sex. At least that way I wouldn't kill her.

I rested my head on her shoulder, focusing on the sensations her movements brought. It was strange to be aware of so little—to be blind to what was going on inside of her. I'd never experienced aloneness in intimacy. It was as close to normal as I could ever remember feeling.

"I don't do this," she whispered, her lips tickling my ear. Her hips continued to move.

"Don't do what?"

"Sleep with random men… It's just that… I…" The words stuttered out from her lips in halting spates of air against my neck.

"Shh, I feel it, too." I craved her on so many levels.

She moved her body slower but pressed against me harder. The sensation was sublime.

"We should stop… That's what I'm supposed to say, right?" she asked, smirking and sighing softly.

"We don't have to do anything you don't want to do." A canned response, words I'd delivered to hundreds of woman and they sickened me. They did no justice to the sincerity with which they were uttered and conveyed none of urgency hidden in their depths.

"You've probably fucked a dozen women on this couch." Her tone was void of accusation, so matter-of-fact that I wondered if her comment was rhetorical. I'd had a dozen women on this couch in the last month, and the fact that she was lumping herself into the same category pained me. She was nothing like the others. In a sea of subpar stand-ins, she stood alone in her perfection. I wanted her to know how superior—how unrivaled—she was.

"Would you like to go back to my place?" I asked quietly, noting how odd the words felt coming out. Bringing a woman home was something I'd never wanted to do before now. "No woman has ever been in my bed."

"Why, is it a new mattress?" she quipped, trying to lighten the intensity between us

"Same old mattress. There was never anyone noteworthy enough to bring home… until now."

She smiled coyly, leaning in to whisper in my ear. "You don't have to work so hard with the flattery. If you take me home, I'm a sure thing." After a quick kiss, she slid off my lap, proceeding to straighten her clothing and put on her shoes while I watched.

"Ready to go?" I stood and offered her a hand. When she took it willingly, I was almost giddy.

I led her downstairs to the side door. "I just want to let my manager know I'm leaving for the night," I explained. "I'll only be a moment."

I stepped away to find Ben and hit a wall of grumbling from Jacob. He was ogling Bella from the other end of the bar. After noticing the two of us together, he inwardly muttered obscenities at me, complaining about not getting his chance and angry that I would use her so disrespectfully. I couldn't fault him for his personal preferences. Bella was beautiful, though hardly in his league. It was customary that he wanted what I had. I'd never seen his thoughts quite so hostile or aggressive, but he was harmless—not a pup's chance of taking what was mine.

Ben was explaining a small scheduling problem when Jake's thoughts interrupted me once again. The Bella in his mind was much younger, a teen at best. She laughed, joyously tipping her head back, and batted her eyelashes at him. It was a memory, probably ten years old or so. They'd known each other as kids, grown up together perhaps. I couldn't tell if they'd ever been involved, only that Jacob wanted them to be. It wasn't until I heard Bella answer his question audibly that I realized she'd gone to speak to him.

Because I wasn't entirely sure I could control my temper, I stayed back from them and waited impatiently for them to finish talking. She was at my side a couple of minutes later.

She happily linked her arm through mine and that was all it took to erase Jacob from my memory. After helping Bella into my car, we drove in companionable silence for the short ride back to my home. The confines of the car intensified her scent, and I burned agonizingly, even after ceasing to breathe.

I downshifted as we neared the traffic light, leaving my hand on the gearshift. Bella reached out to trace my knuckles with her fingertips, smiling as some guarded thought flitted through her closed mind. "What are you thinking?" I all but begged, needing to know what made her touch me.

"That you have pretty hands," she mumbled. "Why?"

"You should always speak your thoughts. I like knowing what you're thinking about." She looked at me quizzically but said nothing. "See? That's exactly the expression that drives me mad. You're very hard to read."

"I'm an open book."

"Not as open as you might think," I told her sarcastically, glad that she wouldn't understand my meaning.

I stopped at a pharmacy to buy condoms, feeling conspicuous, presumptuous and a little embarrassed doing so.

"What's in the bag?" she questioned, reaching for the package I'd placed in the backseat.

"Feeling a little nosy?"

"Maybe," she admitted, smiling. "But you told me to share my thoughts, and I'm thinking I'd like to know what's in the bag."

"Touché." Caught in a trap of my own making, I answered her. "Condoms."

Her eyes widened, flashing to my face and then dropping to the ground. Her expression was almost guilty.

"I wasn't lying when I said I'd never entertained a woman in my home. I wanted to be prepared… in terms of contraception… if the need should arise." I couldn't have felt more awkward. For all intents and purposes, I was a virgin all over again, inexperienced and floundering despite the thousands of women I'd had.

I was relieved to pull into my driveway, anticipating the fresh air and an end to the uncomfortable silence between us. I took her hand when I helped her out of the car, keeping it entwined with mine as I led her into the house. Once inside, I gave her a quick tour, feeling vulnerable and exposed all the while. It's not as if my things would tell her that I was a vampire, but they said a lot more about me than anything at the bar.

The privacy was a double-edged sword, but I tried to convince myself that it was better this way. If something were to go awry, I would be able to keep it under wraps, but the freedom would make Bella's temptations harder to resist.

She wandered from room to room, quietly observing her surroundings. She asked very few questions. I was not yet accustomed to hearing nothing from her, still holding on to the hope that I'd find a way into her mind. The silence was a bit maddening.

I led her back to the living room and fixed her a drink, my manners nothing more than an excuse to think. She was far more relaxed than I was. I couldn't shake the anxiety. Two paths lay before me, both teetering on control. If I lost control tonight, I would spend the rest of my existence without her. If I managed to keep her whole, I would suffer the fires of my thirst every minute in her company.

I inadvertently found myself at the piano. With my fingers perched over the keys, I closed my eyes and let them find their calling. The haunting melody of Moonlight Sonata filled the room, pulling me in with its dark, whisper-like quality. It matched my mood suitably.

Six minutes later, when I opened my eyes, Bella was gone. I panicked, assuming I'd scared her away with my odd behavior. She didn't know that I was nervous because she was there or that playing calmed me.

A few steps out of the room, I found one of her heels, so I knew she hadn't gone far. Down the hall was the shoe's match. With my panic mitigated, I was able to think again and focused my hearing on the sounds of the house. The distant beating of her heart and the deep, even breaths of her lungs filled my ears. The sounds brought me a serenity I'd never known.

I followed the trail to the second floor, collecting her purse, shirt and the box of condoms as I went. Her skirt had been discarded on the landing, her bra, at the top of the stairs. The last thing I found were her panties laying outside of my bedroom door. I paused at the door to focus myself. Whether it was the right thing to do or not, I was going in to be with her. Rationally I knew I had a choice, but it really didn't feel like I did. She was impossible to resist. I took a deep breath and turned the doorknob slowly.

Bella was spread out on my bed in all her naked glory. I took in the sight, memorizing her body before the burn kicked in and robbed me of my comfort.

"Your playing was beautiful," she whispered, just a hint of a smile on her full lips.

"You are the beautiful one." Over the years, I'd learned to appreciate the wide variety of the female form. Bella was the epitome of what I craved—fleshy curves, ample breasts, legs I wanted wrapped around me. I placed her things on the chair beside me and tossed the box of condoms onto the edge of the bed. Stepping toward her, I inhaled deeply, letting my lungs flame with her scent.

"I see you found my trail." She grinned mischievously. "I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all. It was a lovely surprise."

I pulled my sweater over my head and let it drop to the ground, sliding another step closer to the bed. Her eyes—intense and wanting—were glued to my hands as I removed my belt and unbuttoned my fly. I tried to remain calm and move slowly, focusing on her in an effort to ignore the scorching pain. I shoved my jeans down past my hips and kicked my legs free of them, yanking my socks off in the process.

Standing at the foot of the bed in nothing but boxer briefs, my skin was practically itching to touch her. She looked like she belonged lying naked on my bed. She was mine—all mine. I knew in that moment I wanted to keep her; that I had to keep her, no matter what it cost me. I could survive the charred insides, but losing her was something I'd never recover from.

Stripping off my boxers, I grabbed the box of condoms and tore it open. My gaze was on her, rather than the monotonous task of sheathing myself. Not a single cell in my body wanted that fucking piece of latex between us, and it's not as if I was going to impregnate a human by shooting my venom-laced fluids into them. It was just careless to leave evidence of what I was behind. The less people knew the better.

I crawled up the bed until we were aligned, relishing the warmth of her body against mine but detesting the fever inside of me. I wanted to give her my full attention, not fight an unrelenting fire.

"I'm sorry I kept you waiting," I murmured, letting my hand lay softly on her hip.

"No more talking." The whispered words fell from her lips as she brought her mouth to mine, clasping her hands together behind my neck. Her actions mirrored my possessive feelings, validating them. She wanted me as desperately as I wanted her. I willed my addled brain to concentrate and clear the fog brought on by her simple touch.

My hand lightly traced the curve of her hip and the dip of her waist, coming to rest on the small of her back. All the while I tried to resist the drowning feeling that threatened to overwhelm me. She felt so good against me, skin-to-skin, her mouth on mine, her tiny fingers tangled in and tugging my hair. Add to that the ever-present flames that flickered and danced, turning my insides to ashes. If I focused on each sensation individually, none was particularly overpowering, but together, they were almost too much to process. And I wasn't even inside of her yet.

She urged my body over hers, opening her legs in invitation. Her fragrance hit me like a battering ram, unleashing a lust so domineering that I was helpless to oppose it. The best I could do was channel it into my actions and make sure to keep my touch gentle. I slid between her thighs, resting my weight on my elbows and holding my body above hers.

Her hips came off the bed, silently begging me to continue. "Tell me if I hurt you," I pleaded. She was so delicate… so breakable. She nodded and lifted her head to kiss me. Thankfully I'd remembered to stop my breathing reflex.

I lowered my body onto hers. She sighed contentedly and closed her eyes. I tensed as soon as I felt us connect, struggling to oppose the effect she had on me. The feral side of my instincts wanted to dominate her—to take what I wished without due care for her life. The human side of my instinct was more rational, understanding the Herculean effort demanded by the situation to be gentle every moment we touched.

When I didn't push into her, she groaned a complaint. The weakness I'd long ago buried rose up; hungering for honesty I wasn't allowed to give. Revealing what I was and why I needed her patience marked us both for death. I wouldn't risk her life like that.

Instead, I kissed her, using my mouth to demonstrate the words I couldn't utter. Bella's lips were made for kissing, giving and gentle, pliable to my caprice and dynamic in response. As our ardor increased, I expected her experimentation, though there was little I could do to palliate my response. Her pink tongue peeked out, warm and wet, delivering a potent shot of Bella's flavor into my mouth. I swallowed back my venom to prevent it from reaching her, and in turn, swallowed Bella herself. Her saliva lit up my throat like a gasoline flamethrower, destroying everything it touched. I healed in moments, only to burn again.

Amidst the inferno, I distracted myself by reaching between us to position my cock. Bella wrapped her legs around my hips and pulled me towards her waiting body. A low warning growl accidentally slipped out from the back of my throat. Her eyes popped open in surprise, so I pressed my lips against hers fiercely to conceal my error. She had no way to know how her insistence tested me. I wanted her more than she could imagine. My hesitation was about her safety, nothing else.

My kiss seemed to daze her a little, so I took a moment to collect myself. I slid the tip of my cock inside her, hissing in pleasure as the tightness surrounded me. A faltering hum reverberated through me, familiar but too ambiguous to fully recognize. In its wake came a wave of euphoria so opposite to the fiery destruction that was expected. Bella seemed unaware of it, so I focused my attention on her noises, wondering if I'd somehow misinterpreted the whole thing. I pulled out and pushed back in, testing, bracing for the onslaught of discomfort. It never came. Bella quietly cooed and shifted, blissful and patient underneath me. The hum returned, just as hushed as before, vibrating its way through every part of my body.

I repeated the process five or six times, sinking a little further into her with each thrust. The hum became a murmur, louder and more persistent. It reminded me of a shadow, something vague that was almost recognizable but interpretable in more than one way. I was grateful for the relief it distributed.

Feeling much more relaxed, I pressed my face into Bella's neck, kissing and licking her soft skin. The salt that was transferred to my tongue reignited the embers in my throat. Investigating, I pressed Bella's legs open wider with my hips and buried my cock deep inside her. The murmurs hit my ears and I sighed, knowing the euphoria was close behind. It extinguished the burn in moments.

Bella moaned, and I stilled, relishing the perfection of the moment—the sensation, the emotions, the gift beneath me. The murmurs grew clearer, like a whisper on a breeze. I strained to hear the message.

"I want to make you feel good," I said quietly, needing to be told what she liked since I couldn't find the answer for myself in her thoughts. I felt emboldened by whatever we had created—something more powerful than my bloodlust—and I wanted to capitalize on the freedom.

"Don't stop," she pleaded, shifting her hips, pulling and pushing her body along my cock.

I held her close, rocking back and forth to give her the friction she craved. Bella purred appreciatively. The mysterious whispers tickled my ears, lending their soothing vibrations to my body. Every sensation was stronger, every emotion, more forceful, like nothing I'd ever imagined.

"It's never felt this way for me before," I admitted.

"Me either," she echoed. Her fingertips pressed into my shoulder blades, tense and needy. She was asking for more, telling me without words that she needed everything I had to give. It was hers for the having.

My hand moved to the small of her back, lifting her body slightly. Following my cue, she arched up off the mattress, pushing her breasts into my chest. When she head tipped back, I'd never seen a more glorious sight. I thrust my hips in a deep, unrelenting rhythm, listening to her gasp and moan. Her heart beat against my skin; her pulse raced under my fingertips. She was approaching frenzied. Even the whispers were worked up, their constant sounds like a chant in my ears.

"More," she begged.

With each thrust, I pressed her ass up to meet my hips, going as deep as her body would allow. I could sense the build inside of her with my whole body. The whispers were in full song, haunting and intensely gripping. As Bella met with the point of no return, I suddenly understood what was happening. Her blood was singing to me—so perfectly designed for me that I could somehow call it with my touch. The realization was so overwhelming that I couldn't hang on until the end of Bella's orgasm. I went over the edge hard, shuddering and tensing, bracing my body against the mattress with one arm so I wouldn't hurt her. She whimpered and raised herself off the bed to be closer to me. We fell to the mattress together, and I pulled her into my side.

There weren't any words that could express the thoughts in my head, no gesture significant enough to convey my emotions. There was only she and I. No one else in the world mattered. I held her close and listened to her sleeping sounds. Once I was sure she was out, I cleaned myself up and returned to her, wondering what else I could make her blood do. I was impatient for her to wake up so I could find out.

She opened her eyes an hour later and smiled sleepily at me.

"Bathroom?"

I pointed to the door, letting her get to her feet before playfully pulling her back to me.

"Let me go. I have to pee."

I kissed her soundly. "You've told me that twice tonight. It's kind of a turn-off."

"Then let me go so I won't have to say it again."

My body was already craving her, hard and wanting even though so little time had passed. Impatient for her, I rolled on a new condom and went to look for her. She was brushing her teeth when I found her.

"Stalker, much?" she teased with her mouth full of bubbly foam.

"I just want to try one thing." I strode over to her, positioning myself behind her. "Don't move."

She bent over to spit out the contents of her mouth, and I took the opportunity to lean over her and find her clit. The toothbrush tumbled to the floor, her hands flying out to brace her body against the counter. Her scent smoldered in my lungs, threatening to burst into flames.

Knowing what I could do to her body made me smug. I teased her until she was close and then backed off a little to make her want it more. When she pressed her ass against my cock, I entered her from behind. The sensation was immediately overwhelming, a flash burn that was smothered by a choir of singing. There was no working up from a hum this time. Her blood remembered me as well as her body did. The satisfaction was heady.

Bella held tightly to the counter while I thrust into her. I wasn't slow or tentative with my movements, and she didn't want me to be. Between the depth of the penetration and my fingers between her legs, she came quickly.

"Open your eyes," I whispered with my lips close to her ear. I wanted her to watch me fuck her, knowing she'd be turned on by it. I wanted her to see what she did to me.

Her brown eyes opened wide, quickly becoming mesmerized by our reflection. My fingertips pressed into her hips trying to hold her body still so I could simultaneously keep her safe and find my release. Bella pressed her ass back into me, meeting and matching my rhythm. The fact that she wasn't passive about the position or her passion thrilled me, but it was her desire to give everything she could to help me find pleasure that delivered me, spilling out into the condom in a string of grunts and obscenities.

Breathless and momentarily sated, I realized she was tired. It was too easy to forget that humans needed sleep. I sent her to bed, cleaning up and sliding under the covers with her once I was finished. The sight of her peaceful body filled me with a sense of importance and belonging. I let her sleep, counting the seconds until I could make her mine again.

~8~

Daylight hours passed in tense irritation. She had a life that existed outside of my arms and responsibilities I couldn't keep her from. Each night she returned to me, needy and libidinous, seeking the only thing that would make her whole.

The intensity between was unfaltering and consuming. Connecting as lovers continually reaffirmed what we both knew: there would never be another union like this one. Everything that came after it would be an empty shell… less than, never equal to.

Bella had plans to visit her parents for the weekend. I wasn't sure if I could last two days without her. I was anxious when she wasn't with me and worried about her safety. Time spent apart left me edgy and intensified my need for her. I was an addict, craving a fix from her body, her blood and the song it sang only for me.

I busied myself with running the bar, though it held little appeal for me now. Bored and finished with the paperwork I'd been putting off, I left around midnight. Not that home was any more exciting. I planned to do the same thing I'd done the night before: curl up in my bed, surrounded by Bella's scent, and wallow in self-pity.

When I turned into the driveway, I wasn't expecting to see her silhouette on my darkened porch. She stood huddled under the awning, soaked to the skin by the heavy rain that was falling. I rushed to her, wrapping my jacket around her shoulders and ushering her inside.

She held on to my shoulders while I helped her out of her shoes, my trepidation escalating when I saw her body trembling. I led her into the living room and sat her down on the rug in front of the fireplace, starting a fire to warm her. After wrapping a thick blanket around her shoulders, I gathered her into my arms. I had no warmth to lend but hoped the affection would comfort her.

Her teeth chattered as she stared unseeingly into the flames. The fire's glow reflected on her skin, and I realized that it was tears, not rain, on her pale cheeks.

"What's happened, Bella? Are you okay?"

She bit down on her lip and closed her eyes. I cursed the fortress around her thoughts, wishing in vain that I could hear what she was thinking. I was beginning to panic.

"Do you believe in love at first sight?" she whispered. The quiver in her voice didn't instill a lot of confidence in me.

"Not until I met you… I like control and prefer to be responsible for the choices I make."

She laughed humorlessly, muffling the loud, cackling sound with her hand. "You've never felt like you had no other choice but to do the one thing you know you shouldn't do?"

The irony in her words cut through me like a knife. "It would be… hypocritical to say that I've never chosen the wrong thing when I knew better, but even so, I was still culpable."

"I was scared," she murmured, lowering her gaze to the ground. Her shoulders shook softly as new tears began to fall.

"Scared of what? Did someone hurt you?" I hugged her body closer to mine, trying to make us both feel more secure.

"I did it to myself."

Needing to distract myself from the desperation in her tone, I pressed my lips into the hollow behind her ear.

"I never meant to hurt you," she whispered, the words huffed out between choked sobs. Watching Bella fall apart was heartwrenching. I tucked my face into her neck and rocked her back and forth, hoping to soothe her.

"You haven't hurt me."

"I have." Her whole body was tense with her insistence.

I whispered calming words in an attempt to quiet her, but it seemed to make things worse. She pushed away from me, shoving her way out of my hold and leaving my arms empty.

"I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you're trying to tell me."

"Everything between us is so fucking intense," she hollered angrily, pacing away from me. "It's overwhelming… smothering." I followed her, incapable of bearing the space between us.

"I can't deny the force of what's between us. It's… defining."

"A friend told me about something like this. He said that when you meet the right person, nothing else in the world matters. I thought he was bullshitting me to justify what his buddy had done."

"It certainly happened that way for me," I admitted quietly, reverently stroking her cheek. Her sorrowful eyes searched mine.

"What's happening doesn't make sense. Something is wrong with me."

"There's nothing wrong with you. What we have is very rare."

"You don't understand. I'm broken. When you touch me, my whole body reacts. Even if I wanted to stop it, I couldn't. It's like my body craves your touch."

I gave her a sad smile, not yet ready to come clean about my nature. She was already skittish. If I dropped the truth in her lap right now, she'd run for sure. I didn't want to have to kill her to keep her. "I can't explain this easily, but trust me when I say it's not your imagination. I feel it, too."

"I thought I was losing my mind. It's why I went to talk to my friend. I had to find out if the guy he told me about felt this… loss of will. I don't know what else to call it. The only time I feel like I know who I am is when you're touching me. The rest of the time I feel lost."

She'd been forthcoming about her reaction to me. It was only fair that I try to explain what I felt when I touched her, at least in a way that wouldn't scare her. "The connection between us is tangible. We feel it differently, but it's a physical reaction for me as well. When I touch you, I can hear your body sing to me."

Her eyes flashed to mine, wide and surprised. "That sounds crazy!"

"If it weren't happening to you, too, I might think I was going insane."

"This can't be real. You can't be real." Even though I knew she had no clue what I was, her words spooked me. I swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the imaginary lump that was choking me. I was still amazed that emotional reactions could affect my body as if it were still human.

"How did your friend explain the lack of will?" I asked.

"He said the connection to the other person irrevocably changes your perspective. From then on, every choice you make honors it; every action nurtures it."

"And did you believe him?"

"No, it seemed too far-fetched."

"It was easier to believe you were losing your mind?" I asked incredulously.

"Losing my mind seemed so much more probable than his explanation."

"More probable than love?"

"You think this is love?" She all but mouthed the words, her voice lost in series of shocked squeaks.

"What else could it be?" I asked softly, bewildered by her surprise. She'd begun the conversation by suggesting the idea.

"But we hardly know one another. It's too quick."

I kissed her forehead softly. "Who is to say how quickly something should happen? I'd rather rejoice in what we've found then debate what's right or wrong."

"I thought I was the only one who felt it. I mean, you never said… And I thought… That makes what I've done even worse."

"I'm sure it's not as bad as you think." I tried to sound reassuring, but her demeanor was beginning to unnerve me.

"I slept with someone else," she blurted, covering her face with her hands.

I stood slack-jawed, blinking at her in utter disbelief while I tried to convince myself that I hadn't heard her correctly. Inside my head, a war was waging. Anger converged with fear. She was mine. Didn't she understand that? I'd never spoken the words, but I didn't think I needed to—my feelings for her were in every touch we'd ever exchanged.

"I-I-I don't… don't understand." I forced the words out of my mouth, a jumble of shocked stutters that expressed how unreal her words sounded.

"I didn't mean for it to happen," she whispered contritely. "Not that it excuses what I've done. This thing between us… the way I feel when you touch me… frightens me. I can't control anything, not my actions or thoughts. It's like you possess me."

I stepped back from her, my body trembling with the sheer force of the energy it took to control my temper. A rage building inside me. She was mine. Mine!

"I thought I was losing my mind."

"Apparently your virtue as well, although it was given, rather than lost, wasn't it?" The intentionally cruel insult slipped easily from my lips. I wanted her to hurt. Better the pain came from words than my hands.

"I didn't go looking for it, if that's what you're implying." Her words might have defended her actions if they were spoken with any kind of emphasis, but as they were—void of emotion—they conveyed information, nothing else. "He kissed me without my permission, and I pulled away. He insisted he was just testing to see if my body reacted the same way to his kiss that it did to yours. I was too stunned by what he'd done to register how it felt. When he kissed me again, I felt nothing. He said I was just being stubborn, that I was holding back because I was afraid to be wrong about you. I was afraid. I was completely unaffected by his touch—emotionally and physically numb—and that frightened me. So I let him continue and tried to feel something, hoping to prove that I had some control… that I wasn't already insane."

"And did you feel?" I demanded scathingly, sickened by the thought of someone else touching her.

"No!" she cried. "Just nothingness. When he'd finished and I realized what I'd done, I was disgusted with myself. I told him I didn't want anyone but you. He just laughed and said you'd never have me again."

There was no accusation in her tone, just defeat. She wanted forgiveness but didn't expect it. A small part of me respected her honesty and penitence. Someone lesser might have lied and hidden the truth. Still, I couldn't rid myself of the feeling that she was manipulating me.

"Are you really that naïve, Bella? He engineered the entire encounter by exploiting your fears, and you played right into his hands."

"Hindsight is always twenty-twenty," she said sadly. "Regardless of what he did, it was my fault for allowing it to happen."

I didn't know how to forgive her, let alone forget that she'd given her body to another man. Until I calmed down, she wasn't safe around me. "I need you to leave."

"But-"

"I said leave!" I yelled, my hands clenched into fists at my sides. My control was waning. I wasn't in my right mind and did want to be held responsible for my actions.

Her feet shuffled heavily towards the door, obeying my order, but she was unable to keep her sobs at bay. She opened the door and stepped out, whispering, "please know how sorry I am."

I didn't want her apology.

I wanted her to take back the words that detailed her deceit.

I wanted to turn back time; to stop her before she told me, before she cheated, before she ever crossed my path.

~8~

The sun rose, set, and rose again before I moved from my spot in the living room. Even though she was barely out the door when I came to my senses, my control was unreliable. I couldn't allow myself to move until I was sure I wouldn't hurt her.

Because I couldn't live without her. I knew that in every cell of my body.

I wanted to hate her for what she'd done, to hurt her the way she'd hurt me, but I couldn't. She was only human, not infallible.

And I loved her.

It was my fault that she didn't know. Had she, it might have soothed some of her fears or given her the strength to turn to me instead of away.

Despite the fact that I hated what had happened, it didn't change how I felt about her.

The man who took advantage of her in her fragile state was another story. I wanted to wrap my hands around his fucking worthless neck and squeeze until his lungs burned from the lack of oxygen, until his skin turned blue and his body seized, until he breathed his last, pitiful breath. And I would do it all joyfully as retribution for touching what was mine.

He was the reason my anger raged, the reason I stood like a statue for nearly two days before I was calm enough to control myself. Now that I was, I had to find Bella.

I went straight to her apartment, anxious to put the past two days behind us. She gasped quietly when she opened the door, obviously shocked to see me. "Edward, what are you doing here?"

"Can I come in please?"

"S-s-sure," she stuttered, stepping aside so I could enter. She made her way to the kitchen and offered me some wine.

"I owe you an apology for losing my temper," I started, meeting her shocked eyes as I spoke. "If I had been more forthcoming with my feelings, perhaps I could have prevented the last few days. I love you, Bella. I can't lose you."

The bottle slipped from her hand, smashing to pieces at her feet. She was already picking up the pieces of broken glass by the time I got to her, being careful to move at human speed to perpetuate my guise. I gently laid my hand on her forearm to stop her. She raised her head to look at me, tears falling down her cheeks.

"I know what I did was horrible, but you're not lying just to get back at me, are you?" she asked dubiously.

I shook my head and softly whispered, "No, I'm not lying. I meant what I said. I love you."

Her delicious scent swarmed unexpectedly, and I recognized the source instantly. Bella had accidentally cut her finger open on the glass. A drop of scarlet serum seeped from the tiny wound, and I licked my lips, grabbing for her wrist on impulse. At the same time, she lost her balance and fell back, her arm slipping out of my reach before I could grasp it. I hesitated, debating whether to fight the urge or act, and then lunged forward a moment too late. I watched, envious and horrified, as she licked the ruby nectar and sucked her finger into her mouth.

"It's nothing," she mumbled. "Just a scratch." She peered up at me, curiously examining the strangeness in my expression. I was frozen in place, fighting the single focus of my world: her blood. "Look, it's already stopped." She held her finger out for me to scrutinize. No visible red remained. I brought her hand to my mouth and kissed the mark, tracing it desperately with my tongue, hoping she would mistake the action for affection. The barest vestige of flavor lingered, exploding on my tongue with a flawless, monophonic cantata.

Driven by a madness I'd never known, I pushed her back and kissed her, forcing my tongue between her lips to swindle the residual blood in her mouth. My reward was a serenade more enthralling and provocative than any solo or melody I'd ever heard—my own private a cappella aria.

By the time her song receded, I was hard and wanting. My hips pressed into hers demandingly as I warred with myself. The temptation to drink from her was inconceivably overwhelming, her jugular prone to my overeager teeth. The quiet moan that slipped from her lips brought my attention back to her safety. Though I may not have deserved her trust, I had it. It was my duty to oppose the nearly irresistible desire to glut myself. My love for her—the way I felt when I was connected to her—was the one thing more powerful than the flavor of her blood.

I pushed off of her and flipped her over, intentionally distancing my mouth from her throat to help me focus. "I need you," I murmured, more in warning than request. She wouldn't deny me; she wanted it as much as I did, but she also wouldn't understand the hidden meaning in my words. I needed the language of her blood—the calming whispers I heard when I was inside her—to soothe my lust for it.

Bella quickly yanked down her jeans. I positioned her on all fours and pulled her panties out of the way. I couldn't afford the time to undress her when my control was so fragile. As soon as my jeans were unzipped, I sank into her, gasping with relief. The murmurs greeted me like a long-lost friend, encircling me in their warm embrace.

I was instantly calmer but no less needy. Two days without her was two day too long. My consciousness was slipping away. There was only our connection: the rapture of her warm insides gripping my bare cock, the building movement of her singing blood, and the arrogance of my superiority that came with such adulation. Even recognizing that I could crush her fragile body between my fingertips if I wasn't careful made me euphoric. She was mine, and every stroke in and out of her affirmed that.

I held her waist and slammed into her ass, desperately clinging to the few reaming shreds of my self-restraint. She pushed back against me, meeting my thrusts and pleading for me to fuck her harder. I complied willingly, reveling in the details—the slapping sounds, the pinkness of her skin, the tightness of my grip, but most of all, the incoherent moans of pleasure from my lover.

She came apart first, with a little help from my hand. I lifted her upper body to mine as she climaxed, daring to bring her closer in my chaotic state. My hands found her breasts, squeezing them and holding her to me while I pounded into her until I finished. My release was swift and forceful.

Sated, I sat back and pulled her into my lap, holding her as close as our bodies would allow. "You're mine," I told her, reiterating the truth so she'd know without a doubt that I wanted her and her fidelity.

She wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered, "I love you."

It made no sense given what I'd just done to her, but the sentiment thrilled me. If she loved me, surely we could put the past behind us and move forward together.

~8~

The bond between us was strengthened by what had happened, perhaps because we were hyperaware of what we stood to lose. My trust didn't rebound quite as easily. I was haunted by the image of a faceless man and his power to take Bella from me. The only way I knew to exorcise his demon was to remove him from existence.

Idle hours without her were filled with doubts and suspicions. I longed futilely to access her thoughts so I could prove she was loyal, but my gift was worthless. I was faithless, driven to following her so I could corroborate how she spent her days. Each person she spoke to was a potential participant in her treachery. I filtered through everyone's thoughts, looking for the minutest of details about her crime.

Despite the fact that Bella had been nothing but forthcoming and honest since that night, I found it impossible to trust her.

Three weeks had passed, and the identity of her lover remained a mystery. I was beginning to come unhinged, ignoring everything else in my life. I hadn't been to the bar in days. Bella could see that I wasn't myself and was hinting about a weekend getaway. I wanted a more permanent escape. Nothing tied me to Seattle. Getting Bella permanently out of the city and away from him might finally allow me to put her liaison behind me.

After satisfying our carnal desires, I poured Bella a glass of wine and drew us a bath.

"You spoil me," she murmured, nestled against me while her toe played with the spout of the faucet. I stared at her feet, so sexy and innocent peeking out of the foam.

"Hardly. I enjoy taking care of you."

"Did you think any more about going away this weekend?" She took a long sip of wine and then tipped her head back so she could look at me.

"A little… but I'd like to do something more long-term."

"Like a vacation?"

"There are so many places I'd like to show you—Athens, Rome, London, Sydney, and Tokyo, for starters. We could see the world one city at a time." I kissed her cheek, sealing in the sincerity in my offer.

"That sounds amazing, but I can't afford it."

"I wouldn't have invited you if I expected you to pay, silly girl."

"Edward, a trip like that would cost thousands of dollars. I couldn't let you pay."

I pressed my lips to her ear and whispered, "It could be our honeymoon."

"Honeymoons are for newlyweds," she teased, missing my point entirely.

"That could easily be arranged."

"Haha, very funny." She laughed and finished the last of her wine.

"You wound me," I murmured softly. "Laughing at my proposal of marriage wasn't exactly the response I was looking for."

"You were serious?" she sputtered, looking up at me with a shocked expression.

"I want to be with you, Bella. If marriage is what it takes to guarantee our future, I'm more than happy to comply."

"It's a lovely thought, but complying with the idea of marriage isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for the institution." Her voice was soft and contemplative, almost as if she were challenging my commitment.

"I admit I never saw myself as the marrying kind, but you've changed that. You've changed a lot of things."

"Give it some time. If you still want to marry me in six months, you can ask me again, and I promise to agree to it." She smiled sweetly, but somehow, with her rejection ringing in my ears, it seemed patronizing.

"If you'll accept the proposal in six months, why not just accept it now?" It was impossible to keep the hurt out of my tone. I understood her reluctance on some level, but I wasn't aware that she still had doubts about us.

She reached out of the tub and placed her wine glass down on the floor. Then she turned and straddled my lap. "Hey," she whispered, gently framing my face with her hands. "I'm not going anywhere. I just want you to be sure about what you want. You don't have to do something drastic to keep me around."

"I love you," I said petulantly. "I'll still love you in six months."

"By then, you'll figure out that I hog the covers in the winter, don't shave my legs enough in the summer, and forget to buy groceries a lot. If you still want to marry me when you know every single one of my shortcomings, then my answer will be yes."

"Doesn't the fact that I can look past your infidelity already prove that your shortcomings don't matter to me?" I questioned angrily.

She let go of my cheeks and stood up. "I deserve that," she admitted humbly, "but you can't bully me into marrying you." She quietly excused herself and climbed out of the tub. I stayed put for a few minutes, letting my anger dissipate before I went to talk to her. By the time I found her, she was dressed and on her way out the door.

"You're not staying?" I asked quietly.

"I need some space."

"Bella, I didn't mean what I said. I lashed out because I didn't anticipate your answer."

"I hurt you, and you're not over it. I get that. We need to make sure we've dealt with everything before we take such a big step. When I get married, I want it to be forever."

"I want forever with you. Do you doubt…" I didn't finish my thought. It was easier to believe that she wanted me in the way I wanted her than to hear her confirm that she had doubts about us.

"I have to go," she whispered forlornly, her sad eyes meeting mine as she slipped out the door. I let her go but only because she asked me to. There wasn't a part of me that wanted to be away from her.

~8~

Bella's reluctance about our future fed my fears about her loyalty. Marriage became my primary focus. Hoping to wear her down with persistence, I kept my proposals light and playful, painting a picture of our flawless future as husband and wife every chance I got. It took a month to convince her, and I had to agree to an elopement. It was an insignificant sacrifice on my part. Forgoing an elaborate service and ostentatious reception was easy when she was the prize.

Bella was easily persuaded to keep our engagement short, asking for just two weeks so she could make preparations. She was in charge of her dress and the plans for the ceremony—a private exchange of vows before a justice of the peace. I took care of the rings, the marriage license, as well as our honeymoon. Knowing we'd soon be half a world away from the threat to us left me buoyant. Everything had finally fallen into place.

I made contingency plans for our life together, putting The Volterra up for sale and contacting the caretaker of my Rome estate to ensure that Bella would be properly welcomed. Of all of my homes, it seemed the best suited to us—ample space and privacy with the added bonuses of the beauty and history of Italy at our fingertips. There would be so much to see and do that she wouldn't give a second thought to Seattle or her former life.

Eventually I would reveal what I was. She already suspected that I wasn't normal, but she intentionally overlooked the signs. She was dependent on our bond, just as I was. I'd rather die than live without it. Immortality would be a gift I'd give self-servingly, if she'd allow me. If she couldn't deal with my nature and tried to leave me, the transformation would be forced onto her. Either way, I had no intention of losing her.

In the days leading up to the wedding, I'd never been happier. Things with Bella were relaxed and easy, and I was delighted by how excited she was for our upcoming nuptials. I had several parties interested in the bar and was confident that I could wrap up the sale before the ceremony.

The first buyer's lowball offer wasn't really worth my consideration. I scheduled a meeting with another buyer that afternoon and arrived at the bar early so I could pack up my office. The staff milled about preparing the bar for the evening patrons. I nodded greetings politely as I passed and asked Ben to send up my appointment when he arrived.

Bella and I were a topic of conversation amongst the employees, most of who were happy for me. I did sign their paychecks, after all. There was one exception: Jacob Black. He was sullen and tumultuous from the moment he walked through the door. I wasn't paying close attention to his cryptic, disjointed thoughts until I heard Angela ask him if he was buying a wedding present for Bella and me. The venom that spewed from his mind deluged me, each spiteful aspersion aimed directly at me.

"He doesn't deserve Bella," he responded darkly. Memories flitted at the edges of his consciousness, the past twisted inextricably with the present, quick flashes that made no sense.

"Nice attitude," she muttered under her breath. "I don't understand why you wouldn't wish them every happiness. They're perfect together."

"Fuck you!" he spat. His mind exploded with the ammunition of his emotion—his lips on Bella's neck, his hands running over her body, the euphoria of touching her. The memories became more graphic: sandwiching her against a wall, pulling at her clothing, and the sensation of pressing into her. He didn't notice or care that her eyes were emotionless or that her arms hung limply at her sides, refusing to touch him, but I did.

My initial shock gave way to rage.

He would die for what he'd done to her.

My mind splintered in a dozen directions—how and where to kill him, how to deal with his corpse, even pondering how I'd enjoy torturing him. All this time her lover had been under my nose, and I'd been too busy doubting Bella to notice. I was so angry with myself that I wasn't sure I didn't deserve the same fate as Jacob.

I carried on with my day, striking a generous deal for the bar and packing up my office. I wouldn't be returning ever again. For that matter, neither would Jacob.

He was outside having a cigarette when I left.

"I know what you think," I told him. "I know what you did."

The memory of his conversation with Angela flashed into his consciousness, quickly replaced by new memories. He was on the couch in my office, Bella astride his naked legs while she rode him hard. The familiar swing of her curls, her hands gripping his shoulders, her head tipped back in ecstasy. The fact that she was enjoying herself made the image so much more painful.

He eyed me guiltily but said nothing. He didn't have the chance before I snapped his neck to stop his torturous thoughts. He was no innocent. If anything, he was a wolf in sheep's clothing; not man enough to own up to his mistakes. I was only protecting what was mine.

I was late returning to Bella, distracted by the task of disposing of Jacob's remains. I scattered bloodied scraps of him up and down the Pacific coast, reducing his broken body to shark bait. My only regret was that he didn't suffer more, that he found mercy in my impatience.

I showered and fell into bed beside Bella, needing the faint murmurs that holding her would provide. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep, wishing I could escape from the images of her betrayal that replayed in my mind on an endless loop. Instead, my anger bubbled and roiled.

~8~

Bella roused me from my pseudo slumber with a kiss and playfully climbed on top of me. "We're getting married tomorrow," she whispered, smiling from ear-to-ear.

"So we are, if you're sure you want to be committed to me forever."

She eyed me warily, confused by the acid in my tone. "Of course I want to be committed to you."

"Does that mean I'm the most appealing option now?"

"You're the only option," she replied, irritated.

"Not according to Jacob."

She flushed, embarrassed by the mention of his name. "He shouldn't have said anything to you," she mumbled, turning away and sliding off of me.

"On the contrary. Someone needed to be honest with me."

"I've been honest with you," she insisted. "I never wanted him. You're it for me."

Somewhere deep inside me, in the dark, twisted corners of my long-dead heart, I wanted to know how many times they'd fucked, whether it was one afternoon or a continued affair. "Twice was enough to scratch that itch for you, was it?"

"Fuck you." She stood up and stalked across the room.

"I'd say fuck you, too, but he already took care of that," I retorted sarcastically.

"You're paranoid, you know that Edward? Fucking delusional."

"Where do you think you're going?" I demanded, following her out of the bedroom and grabbing her arm before she could get to the stairs.

"Let go of me," she seethed.

"Not until you explain yourself."

"There's nothing to explain that I haven't already told you." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm herself. "I made a mistake, and it will always be my biggest regret, but I would never throw away the second chance you gave me. Now let go of me, please." She looked away from me, tears threatening. Everything about her posture and demeanor communicated her defeated state of mind.

"I'll never let you go. Do you hear me, Bella? Never!" My voice sounded desperate, even to me. I needed to know that she understood my message. I wouldn't share her, not with Jacob or any other man. She remained silent, stubbornly keeping her head turned. I forced her face back to mine, giving her no other choice but to look at me. "You're mine."

"I'm yours," she echoed as her tears began to fall. "Only yours."

"You were made for me," I told her, pulling her against me. "Not him… not anyone else." Could she feel my anguish? Did she even care about my pain?

"Just you," she whispered, reaching up to stroke my face.

"You need to prove it to me." By being honest and remaining faithful, by admitting the whole truth so there were no secrets between us.

With her head lowered and eyes cast downward, she said, "My body is all I have to offer. You already stole my heart the day we met."

Though her message was exactly what I wanted to hear, it didn't make me feel better. If anything, her choice of words fed my fears that she was still hiding something from me.

"If I hadn't stolen your heart, would you have given it by choice?" She'd always said that what was between us was a force all its own. Maybe her infidelity was her way to fight against accepting a bond she never wanted.

"I've never been able to resist you," she murmured.

"What if I said I didn't want you? Would you find another lover and willing give your heart to someone else?"

"If you left me, I wouldn't survive it. The only thing that matters to me would be gone. I'd rather die than exist in a world where we aren't together."

"It's easy to think that," I allowed. "But it's human nature to seek out love. No one likes to be alone."

"No one else could fill your shoes. No matter what, my heart will always belong to you. I'd never give it to another, even if I could."

"So you admit it's a choice then?" I prompted, stepping closer to her and using my body to inch her backwards.

"You're my choice," she whispered.

I pushed her against the wall as I kissed her, pressing against her desperately to seal her declaration between us. Her body was warm and receptive, molding into mine in perfect complement. She gave back willingly, her hands shoving my pants down my hips so she could give more. I was grateful for her ardor.

Once she freed my cock, she held on to my shoulders and lifted herself, wrapping her silky thighs around my waist. I was seconds away from pressing into her when the image of what Jacob had done to her flashed in my mind.

I gasped and stiffened, trying to stop the pain from taking away my sense. This wasn't about him; it was about us. He wasn't worth my time or worry any longer. "Not like this," I murmured, quickly shifting us to the closest horizontal surface. I spread her out on the round foyer table that decorated the oversized landing outside of my room, letting her long chestnut curls drape over the edge. I wasted no time spreading her legs and pulling her body to edge of the table. She was wet and wanting, as she always was.

"Please, Edward," she begged, trembling with impatience.

I bent my knees and slid into her achingly slow, reveling in each tiny sensation—the tightness of her pussy, the way it stretched to accommodate my cock, the way the blood pooled just under her skin as if I'd summoned it with my touch.

The murmurs took hold of me the moment I entered her, sweeping through me in a fluttering rush. Perhaps it was my fears that affected our synergy, but the song of her blood seemed almost panicked, as desperate and anxious as I felt. I held on to Bella tighter, counting on my touch to calm them, but it didn't work. They were insistent and demanding in their hysteria.

I straightened my knees, raising her legs so her calves rested on my shoulders, and lifted her hips off the table to align our bodies. "Flatten your arms. Let me support you," I urged, sliding my hands under her ass to hold her at the perfect thrusting angle. The friction was heavenly for both of us, even at a slow pace.

I moved in and out of her, trying to find my bearings. I was lost somewhere between Bella and her blood, not entirely mentally connected to either. Bella pulled and pushed me, overrunning my body with physical pleasure, captivating me with moans and incoherent whispered words, delighting me with her luscious scents, and spreading her warmth with every touch. Her blood was a chorus, clamorous and complex with a building crescendo. I tried to concentrate on its message, but as soon as the singing began to become clear enough to understand, Bella's actions would pluck me from my abstraction.

She was quietly overwhelming—unassumingly beautiful, selfless and anticipatory with her love—my personal angel. The intensity in her glance was hypnotizing, overflowing with adoration. I was mesmerized by her and every single thing she did. Needing her closer, I lifted her body to mine. She encircled my hips with her legs, crossing her ankles behind me and squeezing me tightly between her thighs. The way she was wrapped around me was so sexy that it made me shudder. Now that I had her near me, I took advantage of the position and kissed her pretty lips.

Bella's blood was still screaming at me, its obscure proclamation resonating through me. The more I tried to ignore it, the more it flourished, a vehement expression of collective outrage. The duplicity in the sensation was incredibly bizarre, like being slapped and hugged at the same time. I listened harder, did my best to block out the wailing voices and focus on the quieter, more soothing messages.

All the while I continued to thrust into Bella, holding her for comfort while I navigated the confusion in my head. She was close, letting me do the work while she tensed and panted in anticipation of her climax. I slipped my hand between us, giving her the extra friction she needed to push her over the edge. Her nails dug into my triceps as her back arched and she exploded into ecstasy.

I cupped Bella's ass and pulled her body toward mine, burying myself inside her over and over again as I neared my release. The murmurs were ominously soft now. Innately, I knew I had to understand their message before I climaxed or risk never knowing. I willed the song to clear for me, trying to be patient, but I couldn't hang on. I grasped Bella tightly as my orgasm delivered me into a state of weightless rapture.

I focused on the pleasure, and with the emotional connection to Bella momentarily blocked, the murmurs proclaimed their message with absolute clarity.

She loves Jacob, not you. Don't trust her.

Her blood knew, pushing the onerous image of Jacob fucking Bella on my office couch at The Volterra at me. It showed me different angles and new snippets filled with details I wasn't aware of—the way her tits bounced as she rode him, how she called his name when she came, whispered I love yous as he held her in his arms afterward. The words and images echoed in horrifying repetition until I pulled out of Bella with a gasp. I looked to her for reassurance but her indulgent grin did nothing but alarm me further.

She kissed my shoulder and laid her head against it, sighing softly. "You're my choice."

She was mocking me, I was sure of it. Or I was losing my mind. Maybe both. On the inside I felt like I was dying all over again. The pain I endured in the last days of my human life, slowly asphyxiating as my lungs filled with fluid, was insignificant. The fiery hell that pulled me through transformation was, at best, underwhelming. This pain was worse than a thousand deaths, and I would not withstand it alive.

Nor would Bella.

I was lucky in a way. Sensitive fiancé was just another role, much like voracious lover, and I'd long ago perfected the craft of pretending. She had no idea what was in store for her, and I reveled in every moment of delicious anticipation.

We married two days later. Bella was a vision in off-white silk, simple and elegant but wholly suited to her uncomplicated beauty. I recited my vows like a dutiful bridegroom, meaning every word. To love, honor, and cherish, till death do us part might have been the most significant phrase I'd ever uttered. When death took us both, I would love her still, cherishing every moment we ever shared, even the bad ones. No silver lining, just lessons learned. And when my plan fulminated, due respect to our rare love will finally have been served.

I fucked Bella in every conceivable position and manner during our three-week honeymoon in Australia. Sex was all we had left, and at least it was good. She was a lying whore, but she was still the best fuck I'd ever had. Each time we connected, the murmurs reminded me that she loved another—not me—and I quickly grew tired of the incessant mentions, no less emphatic or blatant than the first time. I learned to block them out just like everything else.

Bella slept peacefully beside me on our flight to Rome, blissfully unaware that she was in the final hours of her life. I'd arranged for Paola to pick us up from the airport and drive us directly to my estate.

A white peignoir set—my last gift to Bella— was laid out on the bed waiting for her just like I'd instructed. She slipped into the bathroom to put it on and returned to me in her virginal costume, an inside joke that aroused me as much as it humored me. I may as well enjoy the view since it would be the last time I saw her.

I'd had it right all along. Life was much less complicated with a lover I didn't have to love. Love was a useless emotion that had stripped me of my dignity and sense, just an excuse to get hurt… and to hurt. Tonight I would return that hurt ten thousand fold.

I patted the bed, inviting her to me, and pulled her into my lap once she joined me. It wasn't long before she was grinding against my hardened cock. I hadn't planned on sex, but giving in was easier than fighting it. I didn't bother to strip her down, just pulled her panties aside with my finger before I entered her. Tonight, I let her ride me—one last fuck you to her betrayal. I held her in place once we finished, waiting for her to relax against me before I began.

"Do you trust me, Bella?"

"With my life," she murmured.

I laughed sarcastically. "Would you give your life to me if I asked you for it?"

She lifted her head and looked at me quizzically, smiling once she decided I was joking. "Are you asking if I'd die for you, like as some grand gesture yeah-I-love-you-that-much sort of thing?"

"No, I have the power to freeze this moment of your life so that it will last forever." Subjectively speaking, that was. Her forever had an expiry date. "I'm a vampire, Bella, and tonight, you will join my kind."

She kissed me, shoving her tongue into my mouth as if it would keep my words from coming out. The poor girl thought that she had a choice in the matter.

I palmed her chin and turned her head, sinking my teeth into her neck. Her delicate skin yielded easily, flooding my mouth with the exquisite richness I remembered from a few weeks before. For a monster like me, the succulent taste of her blood was as close as I would ever get to heaven.

I drank from her at will, long, languid pulls that I slowly savored. There was no point in rushing. I would take every drop she had to give, on my terms.

Disappointingly, the lack of satisfaction in my actions was striking. Death was too easy, not even compensatory. She needed to pay reparations for what she put me through by feeling the same pain she'd caused me. An idea struck, and while it complicated my plan, it would deliver a more apt justice.

I pushed my venom into her wound, indulging in the last bit of blood I sucked from her body. The murmurs sang their swan song, and I found peace of mind in the diminuendo chorus, fading into silence as it died on my tongue.

The next three days were blissful as I watched her writhe in fiery agony. Each depraved scream made me hard, and when she begged for death, I came from the sheer indulgence of the tremendous pain I'd administered. Despite the fact that it didn't even approach the torment she'd caused me, I delighted in every torturous minute.

She emerged from her transformation even more beautiful, and I faltered, doubting my plan for a moment. I loved her still, even though she was an unfaithful, treacherous, monster.

If only she'd returned my love.

But she didn't.

Everything between us had been a lie, her love for me the biggest lie of all.

I quickly explained the differences in her nature now. She quietly marveled at the changes, trusting me with her well-being, as a wife should. She was thirsty, and I promised to teach her to feed, suggesting she freshen up before we go. She met me outside the house in an hour, and we were off.

We ran as fast as our feet would take us. I needed her high from the speed for my plan to work, and she was. By the time we reached Volterra, she was jubilant and giddy.

I took her hand, and we stole between the buildings of the Piazza dei Priori. Her giggling made surreptitiousness impossible, though I didn't mind. Keeping my plan from her was more important than the attention we were drawing to ourselves.

After some quick calculations, I situated us in the perfect spot.

"I will love you forever," I whispered. "I'm sorry things had to be this way." She had no idea that I was referring to her murder.

"I admit I feel strange, but I'll get used to it. And there are some great pluses." She looked down shyly, and I capitalized on the opportunity.

I grabbed her wrists and yanked off both arms. She crumbled to the ground hissing and screeching in pain. Before she could open her eyes, I snapped her legs and lopped them off so she couldn't run. She was helpless to move on her own. I threw a match over my shoulder and set her limbs to burn.

"Edward, why?" she asked, her expression a mixture of sadness and fear.

"If only our love had been enough for you..." I walked over to what was left of her body and dropped to my knees. The guard would be here in moments.

"It was," she mumbled brokenly.

I bent forward to say goodbye. This time there were no murmurs to calm me or blood to incite my instincts; only Bella's sweet scent. I pressed my lips to her forehead and the soft pressure caused my mind to erupt with hundreds of images all at once. Not my thoughts but Bella's, her mind somehow unguarded and open to me. Every memory was of the two of us—our wedding, our past, even an image of what our child might have looked like, if it were possible. The common denominator in every picture she shared was our love represented in some form—her smile, us laughing, the reverence she regarded me with.

"I don't understand, Bella."

"There was only ever you," she whispered reassuringly, smiling at me with the grace of an angel. She willed the pictures of her night with Jacob at me, and I heard the pain of her mistake in every thought, an agony and regret I'd never known the depth of until now.

"Never more than once?" I asked. "Never in my office?" But I knew the answers before I voiced the questions.

She'd been entirely honest about that night. Jacob's memory was the lie; her blood and I were his co-conspirators.

"Bella, I'm sorry," I screamed, too late to stop the guard from pulling me off of her. "Let me go. Please save her!" I demanded to anyone who would listen, but no one did. They just dragged me away to my execution.

I begged for Bella on the top of my lungs and wept dry tears for what I'd done. My plan had worked perfectly. I had murdered my one true love publicly knowing the Volturi would act and sentence me to death, except it was all based on a lie. I deserved to die a long, agonizing, and painful death for what I'd done, to die over and over until I earned the peace death brought.

I was placed on my knees before Aro, Marcus and Caius and reprimanded for my indiscreet choices. When asked to defend myself, I refused. The shame of my actions spoke for itself. No defense would ever make my actions justifiable.

"I have one question for you, Edward," Aro announced. "What punishment do you think you deserve?"

"Death."

He walked over to me and picked up my hand. Our gifts were similar but worked in different ways. I could hear every thought in his head just by being near him. He needed our connected hands but could hear every thought I'd ever had.

"Death, indeed," he agreed, nodding. "But I have other plans for you.

"No!" My eyes shot to his, begging for his reconsideration.

"Silence!" he yelled. "Our rules must be obeyed, and you will serve as a warning to our kind."

"I broke the rules on purpose. Surely you can see that from my thoughts."

"Flagrant violation of our laws will not be rewarded. Other vampires will do well to consider the pain you will endure for eternity before following in your footsteps."

I could hear what he had in mind. The pain of living without Bella, of knowing that her death was at my hands, was a far worse punishment than execution.

It was eternal death.


A/N: Thanks to my beta LightStarDusting.

This is my first attempt at something dark. I'd love to hear what you think of it. Please review!