A/N: Warning: A very intimate scene take place in this chapter; a warning will alert those of you under 18 or who don't wish to read such a scene when to skip forward and when to pick the story back up again.
Groaning in complaint, I gave Eleazar my best "puppy-dog eyes" as I silently begged him to let me stop. Now. Please.
But Eleazar grimly shook his head. "Let's try it again, Bella."
Huffing in frustration, I closed my eyes, and, gathering all the forces of my mind, concentrated again with all I had. Perfectly still, my fiancé stood beside me, his own eyes closed, as he had been for the vast majority of the past week.
Again, as I had for the past seven days, I tried to lift the veil of my shield away from my mind as Edward tried to "read" my thoughts.
We had yet to be successful.
Although it was impossible for me as a vampire to become physically exhausted, mentally I was worn to a frazzle. If only Eleazar would let up…for just a few moments.
After concentrating for forty minutes straight, I opened my eyes as I moaned in disappointment. A split-second later, Edward was enfolding me in his arms; I buried my face in his chest as he comforted me.
"Eleazar, I think she's done in," Edward murmured as I nodded silently against his chest in agreement.
Eleazar huffed this time. "Fine. Let's get back to work in fifteen minutes."
"You've got to be joking," I complained, glaring at my sensei, guru, master, or whatever Emmett was calling Eleazar today; I swear that my wonderful brother came up with a new daily epithet just to annoy Eleazar and amuse me. Lately, Emmett had been the only one in the family to get me to crack a hint of a smile, and I thought the world of him.
Actually, I thought the world of my family…except for Alice at the moment. Well, except for "wedding-planner-zilla" Alice, that is. Edward and Jasper had attempted to contain her, but it seemed as though every moment that Eleazar gave me a rare break from training, Alice was right there, thrusting bridal magazines and wedding gown catalogs under my nose and chattering a mile a millisecond about a lot of stuff I didn't give a hoot about.
I was seriously thinking of refusing to speak to her unless the conversation was non-wedding related. Really.
Still wrapped in Edward's embrace with my cheek pillowed against his silent, broad chest, I heard her light step approaching and moaned softly, "Nooooooo. Please. No. I can't."
"But Bella, I just had a Skype session with Christian Siriano about your gown, and he loved my additions to his sketch. Just take one look, Bella—"
Lightning quick, I spun out of my fiancé's comforting arms and found myself crouching in front of my tiny wedding-planner-gone-wild, her eyes huge with shock at my unexpected rebellion.
"Listen, Alice. I said NO. As in Not. Now. And do not keep bothering me every blessed moment I am not being tortured by Eleazar. GOT IT?" Practically before the last word was out of my mouth, I had flown up the two flights of stairs into my third-story room beside Edward's, slamming my bedroom door shut. My lack of self-control caused a hairline crack in the thick oak door as I plopped myself (with slightly more care this time) onto the dormer window seat with an impressive growl.
Great. Esme was going to scold me now for destroying my door.
The scene below my window was lovely, with Esme's beautiful garden and the gazebo spread out twenty feet below me. But I took in little of my favorite view from the house as I dropped my head in my hands.
I wanted to cry. I was frustrated beyond belief at my inability to wrap my head around this supposed "talent" that seemed to be much more of a nuisance than a gift at the moment. And Eleazar's unending patience—not to mention Edward's—made me feel even more guilty…if such a thing were possible.
I even felt guilty for blowing up at Alice just now.
Then I heard a sound that was both welcome and unwelcome at the moment. With unseeing eyes I looked out the window, my back to the door as he walked down the hallway and paused at my closed bedroom door.
Of course I would know the cadence of his footsteps anywhere. Closing my eyes, I tried to calm myself so that I wouldn't upset my mate… my fiancé… my Edward. Swallowing hard, I kept my face averted as he quietly opened the door and entered, shutting the damaged door behind him.
Wordlessly he approached, coming to a stop behind me. "Do you want company?" he asked tentatively.
I must have really shocked him for Edward to be so unsure of his welcome.
"Only yours," I said stiffly…and it wasn't much of an exaggeration. Yes, I really wanted to be alone for a few moments, something that hadn't happened since my "great escape" from the family a week ago. But if I had to have someone with me, Edward was definitely my choice.
Resting his hands on my shoulders as I continued staring out the window, he silently started massaging gently but firmly along the back of my neck, between my shoulder blades, along my upper arms, returning to rub my shoulders again. Even though massages were quite different for vampires than for humans, Edward's touch calmed me, and I felt my tense body relaxing beneath his gentle, skilled hands.
Not realizing that I had been so stressed that I had been holding my breath since I had left Alice behind downstairs, I exhaled slowly.
"Better?" Edward asked, and turning to him, I nodded slightly.
"May I sit?" Edward asked, indicating the small window seat which had become my favorite perch inside the house. Scooting aside to make room for him, I nodded and he sat down, drawing me into his lap. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I laid my head on his shoulder and enjoyed the silence that Edward seemed intuitively to know I needed above all else right now.
I am not sure how long we stayed there, but the sun had set on yet another day with my making no progress in controlling my talent. Sighing again in frustration, I raised my head slightly, pressing a kiss into the side of Edward's neck. I loved the strength of his scent there—right below his ear. Inhaling again, I let his presence and scent anchor my mind back into my duty: learning how my gift worked so that I could perhaps help protect my family from several possible threats currently hanging over our heads.
"I suppose we need to get back to work," I whispered into his hair, trying to force myself from the comfort of his soothing presence and get back to work, useless though it seemed most of the time.
I felt him shrug beneath me.
Pulling back, I looked at Edward. "Do you think this is a waste of time?" I asked him quietly, curious about his noncommittal response.
He sighed, then looked down at me, his eyes strangely distant as he replied, "I don't know. Perhaps we're going about this wrong." His expression was turbulent, the stress of our situation showing through his usually tranquil mask.
Placing a hand on his cheek, I asked, "What's wrong?"
He turned away from me, and his avoidance was beginning to frighten me. Perhaps he was just trying to let me down easily.
Of course I jumped to conclusions as usual.
"I'm just not talented, right?" Fear colored my voice as I tried to calm despite the suspicions running through my head; with effort I lowered my tone but heard the despair in my words as I sighed, "You don't have to hide the truth from me, Edward. Eleazar must have read me wrong."
Edward took my face in his hands; his expression was stern as he took in my frustration and defeat. "No, you are talented, Isabella. Extremely so. Please don't start doubting yourself, love. As I just said, I think we may be going about this 'training' all wrong." He paused, deep in thought, then muttered, "I wish that Alice could 'see' what would work instead of our having to figure it out via trial and error."
My nerves were at their breaking point, and Edward's innocent comment pushed me right over the edge. In a flash I was on my feet. "I'm sorry, Edward, that I have to make this so hard for you," I said bitingly. "I'm sure that there are much better things you'd rather be doing with your time than stand around watching me fail at trying the impossible." I felt my expression become a sneer. "You may leave. I wouldn't want to continue boring you." I started walking away from him, but Edward caught one of my hands in his.
"Isabella, I didn't mean it like that. I just think that perhaps we're going about this backward," Edward said slowly, massaging my hands in his to calm me. But I petulantly snatched them out of his reach.
"Yes, we're going about this backward because I'm useless. My 'gift' is more of a curse since I block you, I block Jasper, and I block Alice especially. All I am is a liability to this family."
My emotions seemed to be pinging all over the place; I was mentally exhausted by the long sessions and beyond frustrated by our lack of progress. And next Alice annoyed me; after that I felt guilty and upset; next I was biting and sneering at my beloved fiancé, and now I felt utterly hopeless and at the end of my proverbial rope… and at all times about ready to break down.
Tears would be such a welcome release right now.
Before I could raise my head to apologize to Edward, his arms were wrapped around me, nestling me into his chest as my shoulders shook with tearless sobs. He cooed softly in my ear, his hands moving soothingly through my hair.
What in the world was wrong with me?
I didn't realize that I had spoken aloud until Edward responded quietly, the furrowing of his brow alerting me to his stress. Seeing me like this could not be easy for him.
"Nothing is 'wrong' with you, love. You're just young to this life and thus a little erratic—although you are far calmer than the rest of us during our first year. None of us, at your present 'age' as a vampire, would have been able to stand there and concentrate for hours at a time for Eleazar as you do day and night. You're allowed to be a little emotional from time to time."
He brushed my hair away from my face, cradling my cheekbones between his palms. "You are amazing, my love, and I am so proud of you."
"But I haven't found out how this stupid gift thing works. If I even have a talent…which I'm beginning to doubt. But one way or the other, we need to know…and soon. I can't be the reason that this family is annihilated by the Romanians. I have to do this somehow, but it's not working. I'm not working. Damn, I'm so screwed up. I'm sorry, Edward…."
Kissing my forehead, Edward murmured, "It's not you, Isabella. I think—as I've tried to say a few times now," he said teasingly "—that we're going about this wrong. Let's go talk with Eleazar and see what we can figure out."
My incredibly handsome fiancé lifted my hand and kissed the antique ring gracing my left hand. And the feel and significance of his lips upon me switched on my passion for him as if he had flipped a switch. Without conscious thought, I pushed him onto the bed, crawling on top of his body to straddle him, my lips consuming his in a burning kiss. He paused for a moment in utter shock; as my lips teased his apart, my tongue plundering his cool mouth, tangling with his tongue, he slowly began responding, albeit a bit bemusedly. Within a few moments, Edward sighed softly in surrender and wrapped his arms around me, pulling my body down on his.
**Stop reading here to avoid reading an extremely intimate scene; readers under 18 years of age are requested to skip this section and pick the story back up where indicated.**
As my lips moved along his jaw, my teeth tugging gently on his ear, Edward groaned, pulling me completely flush against his hardening form. I moaned softly in response as my kisses progressed down the side of his neck, tasting his sweet-salty skin as I stopped to lick his collarbone just above the "v" formed by the three unfastened buttons of his shirt. As Edward began to move beneath me, slowly grinding his hardness into my warmth, we both sighed in satisfaction and want.
Sitting up slightly, I reached to unbutton his dark shirt, glad for vampire nimbleness and speed. Edward watched me with hot, black eyes, his expression hungry, almost feral. When I unfastened the final button, I pulled his shirt open, revealing his incredible chest, so well-defined and simply…beautiful. I bent to continue kissing his delectable skin, so unyielding and strong and perfect. My fingers teased the scattering of auburn hair on his pale, broad chest as my lips found one of his nipples, beckoning it into a small peak with my icy tongue. He groaned and quickened his delicious movements below me, deepening the maddening friction of hardness and heat that we both sought.
A lovely warmth began unfolding deep in my stomach, moving down and centering where his hardness stroked me tantalizingly despite the layers of clothing between us. As I flicked my tongue against his other nipple, my fiancé shifted, recapturing my lips with his and plundering my mouth exquisitely. His hands ghosted from my back along my sides, brushing ever so close to the outer curves of my breasts, evoking my own groans of pleasure.
I felt bereft when his fingers vanished from their quest, but the welcome ripping sound of my t-shirt provided a satisfactory explanation. His exploring fingers returned, seeking the valley between my breasts, next cupping their weight through the lace of my navy blue bra, his thumbs teasing my nipples to hard points. As we continued the deliberate friction of our lower parts, Edward unhooked my bra and released me, breaking our kiss to explore my breasts with his lips and tongue while his hands slid down my back and grasped my hips, quickening our movements. The warmth deep in my stomach and below continued to build in force as my hands supported my weight by gripping his shoulders.
As Edward's lips laved and lightly bit my nipples, the warm feeling exploded, and I gasped with its power. Waves of sheer pleasure washed over me, and I could scarcely breathe due to its force. My eyes closed of their own volition as my lips parted in a long moan that Edward smothered with his own lips as he, too, groaned in delighted pleasure as his movements against my lower body became erratic then stilled as the welcome warmth began to subside.
Brushing my rumpled hair back from my face, Edward kissed me again with a lazy surety. Leaving my mouth, he kissed down my neck and groaned softly into my shoulder before bringing my forehead to touch his, smiling shyly.
"Was that…?" my voice trailed off in wonder.
"Was that what you thought it was?" Edward finished my question for me before continuing, "That, my love, was our mutual release…or, the more technical term, orgasm." The bashful expression on his face belied the certainty of the words he spoke.
I looked at him, puzzled. "What's wrong?" I asked softly.
Edward's eyes rested on me, searching my features for something he apparently didn't see. "Do you regret it?" he asked softly.
"What do you mean?" I inquired, even more befuddled.
My fiancé appeared uncomfortable as he replied, "I had wanted to save all such…intimate…expressions of our love for our wedding night. I don't like that I lost all sense of control and allowed us to progress so far. I apologize, love."
Aaaah. His old-fashioned sensibilities were provoking this guilt-trip.
"Well, I'm not sorry in the least," I said with spirit, tossing my head and allowing my hair to spill across his bare chest; he growled softly at the sensation as I grinned at him. "And if you truly are sorry, Edward, then I guess you'll just have to marry me."
"I think I can live with that consequence," he whispered. His bemused look was met with my soft laughter as I bent to rub my nose against his in an Eskimo kiss.
"Didn't you enjoy it?" I asked in a whisper accompanied by a sexy wink.
His own laughter caused a return of the delightful friction that brought us the pleasurable release of tension that both of us seemed to have needed. "Of course I enjoyed it, you silly girl," he stated, emphasizing his words with his own Eskimo kiss. "Who wouldn't? Although…" his voice trailed off for a moment before continuing in a whisper, "a change of underwear and jeans seem to be in order as these have become rather uncomfortable."
Obediently I scrambled off of him as we both stood up, one of his hands wrapped around one of mine. His eyes immediately drawn to my bare breasts, he reached out to tease my still-erect nipples with his free hand; I shivered at the amazing sensation of his hand moving so intimately upon my body.
"You are so beautiful, my Isabella," he whispered as if awe-struck by the view before him. "So incredibly lovely."
Ducking my head in embarrassment, I stepped into his arms, embracing him gently, simply enjoying the closeness of my fiancé, our bare upper halves fitting together in perfect unity. We simply belonged together.
"I think we needed that," I said, my voice muffled by Edward's shoulder.
"We needed that release?" he asked, confused, stepping back to peer into my face.
"Yes. Don't you feel better? Lighter and freer, somehow?" I asked. "I know I do."
Edward seemed to consider my question seriously. "I think you may be correct," he murmured in my ear, sending a shiver down my back.
"However, I still need to change," he reminded me, and I dropped my arms, searching the floor for my favorite bra and seeking a new t-shirt to replace the one Edward had ripped off me as he ducked quickly next door to change his jeans.
**Readers may begin reading here again after the intimate scene.**
A few moments later, Edward escorted me downstairs, his arm wrapped firmly around my waist.
Not quite successfully disguising his impatience, Eleazar was waiting for us near the kitchen. Obviously he had overheard our conversation…and then our…activities.
I was so embarrassed that I could not look Eleazar in the eye.
"What's your idea, Edward?" he asked, referring back to our conversation before we became, uh, carried away.
Giving my shoulders a comforting squeeze, Edward turned his attention to Eleazar as he attempted to answer my trainer's question. "Well, I've been trying to invade Isabella's mind while she tries to let me, and obviously we haven't yet been successful. We've been trying to get her to consciously lift her defenses. What about if we try to stretch her more as an automatic, unconscious reaction and see what happens?"
Eleazar nodded. "That may work. Having Bella respond unconsciously may be less controllable, but I think we have little choice now. Time is running short."
"My thoughts exactly," Edward agreed.
"So how do you plan to do this?" I asked, more than a little concerned about their possible "attempts" to get me to react. And who knows how strong my reactions could be? I was a newborn, after all….
Eleazar was looking at me speculatively while Edward watched him curiously, obviously following his thoughts. After just a few seconds, Edward's eyes lit up. "Yes, that's it!" he exclaimed, motioning excitedly to Eleazar.
"Jasper, we need your help," Edward called, and Jasper flashed down the stairway and into the living room. As he passed me, Jasper gave me a significant look accompanied by a quirked eyebrow…as if he recognized the more "relaxed" atmosphere in the room since my and Edward's "activities." I felt a strange warming sensation on my cheeks—as if they would be blushing if such a thing were possible for vampires.
Edward grabbed Jasper's upper arm in one hand, Eleazar's in his other, and marched them toward the back door. "Be back in a moment," he called over his shoulder with a wink.
Ah, they must need to discuss their idea outside of my hearing so that they could get a genuine reaction from me. Great.
I was left alone, standing in the kitchen and wondering what Edward was up to and what I could do with absolutely nothing to do.
Fortunately, Alice's slow descent down the stairs reminded me that I owed a certain manic pixie an apology. With a sigh, I met her at the bottom of the stairs. I wasn't looking forward to making things right because I truly was frustrated beyond measure with my new almost-sister, but I also hated being at odds with her, especially since my own impatience and petulance was at the root of our argument.
Alice stopped three steps from the bottom, her eyes downcast; I had obviously hurt her feelings quite severely. I stepped up one step so that I was two below her, thus at her height. Quietly taking both of her tiny hands in mine, I looked her directly in the eyes as I spoke.
"I'm so sorry, Alice. I was frustrated with all this 'training' or whatever it is we're trying to do here, and I took it out on you. I apologize," I said contritely.
Almost before the final word left my mouth, I was wrapped in a fierce bear hug that indicated her forgiveness. For such a little thing, Alice really could hug the stuffing out of a fellow vampire.
"Of course I understand!" she trilled. "I'm sorry that I picked a bad time to get your opinion. But believe me, you are going to wear that gorgeous Christian Siriano gown, and you're going to look amazing! Come see!"
So I allowed the pint-sized wedding-planner-from-the-netherworld to drag me upstairs to her room and push into my hands sketches for my wedding gown, her complementary dress as my matron-of-honor, the tuxedos for Edward, his best man Jasper, and Carlisle (who would walk me down the aisle), plus other plans for the wedding. Despite my expansive vampire mind, it was too confusing to keep up with Alice's too quick one-sided "discussion" about our wedding… which was even more mind-bending because my fiancé and I hadn't had the opportunity to discuss and set a date yet.
Part of me really didn't want anything to do with a formal wedding. The muss and fuss certainly wasn't ME. I just wanted to speak my vows with Edward in front of our family and keep it as simple as possible. Whom else could I possibly invite anyway? The only human I would want to come would be Mrs. Jane…perhaps Angela from school. That was about it, really.
But I kept my concerns to myself and tried to enjoy Alice's obvious happiness in arranging all of the details of an elaborate wedding I'm not sure I even wanted…. Okay, I had to admit that I really wanted to wear the Christian Siriano gown because Alice had indeed nailed it. The dress was simple and classic, just the way I wanted it. It was perfection.
However, the rest I could definitely do without. Except for Edward in a tux—that I had to see. I had a strong feeling that he would be mouthwatering in black formalwear.
My thoughts drifted to Edward, as they so often did. I very much appreciated my new vampire mind that allowed me to daydream about my fiancé and still follow Alice's extended monologue about the wedding, nodding or murmuring in agreement as needed.
An hour later I was glad to detect the quiet approach of three, no four familiar vampires through the forest. As they leaped the river, I interrupted Alice and indicated that our guys were home, plus someone else. Both of us flashed down the stairs, welcoming Edward and Jasper, with Eleazar, and, surprise of surprises, Kate also on their heels.
"So how did it go?" I asked eagerly…anything to stop this futile "training" of the past week.
"We'll see," Eleazar replied mysteriously as Kate followed him silently into the living room, a frown marring her lovely face.
Jasper and Alice seated themselves in the living room to watch, but their presence made me a little nervous. When Eleazar had first started my "training," the whole family had gathered around to watch what might happen. But each one gradually floated away, bored—first Rosalie and Kate, then Emmett. Esme and Carmen, always chatting together, retreated next, followed by Jasper and Alice. Carlisle was the last one to give up—at least temporarily—but couldn't resist returning from time to time to observe my non-progress, his furrowed brow belying his calm expression.
Time was of the essence, and the lack of progress thus far had frustrated me to no end. I knew I was putting too much pressure on myself, but I couldn't let up; I HAD to find out how this supposed gift worked and then develop methods of controlling it.
I could only hope that Edward's idea would work….
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter; it's the closest I've come to writing a "lemon"—it wasn't originally in this chapter but I went back to add a "little something" to the scene and well, this is what happened. blush
I'll be seeing Breaking Dawn Part 2 tomorrow morning with my daughter at the first matinee—one of the perks of home education, right? Cinema 101 Field Trip! So instead of attending the midnight showing, I'm posting my new chapter for you all. Early even. ;)
I'll plan to post Chapter 50 next Friday, the day after Thanksgiving here in the States. I'm behind in NaNoWriMo, but I am working on Chapter 51 right now, so if I complete a first draft of Pinned but Fluttering during NaNoWriMo, I'll be thrilled.
Thanks for all of your wonderful reviews—I've read and saved every one of them and responded to a couple here and there, but I'm being KILLED with grading essays—two sets for my high school writing class with our home school co-op plus a first draft and then a final draft of MLA research essays for the online classes I teach. So I apologize for not always responding to your lovely reviews—but please keep leaving them for me as you all inspire me to keep on writing through the exhaustion and pain. Thank you!