Outtake: A Time to Lose
Let me be clear. I don't take requests, and I definitely don't rewrite chapters from another character's point of view.
I don't, dammit!
But well, as long as I'm writing outtakes to express my gratitude to people, I should definitely send a little love in the direction of Lady Tazz. She has been a truly wonderful, supportive friend, and has featured my stories in her blog posts and on her podcast more times than they deserved. She has definitely earned a little fic-lovin', plus she went and planted the seed in my head, and then I couldn't get it out.
You're the devil, Tazzy. Seriously.
"I lied to her."
Dr. Maguire, a small, red-haired woman, watched me speculatively through her wire-rimmed glasses. "Does that bother you?"
I had to think about that for a minute. I usually wasn't particularly concerned about lying to people, even Bella, but obviously I was dwelling on it for a reason. "I don't know. I think . . . I think I'd have liked for her to call me on it."
I nodded. My Bella had a habit of doing that, and I was surprisingly unruffled by it. Somehow, when she saw through me, it was less upsetting than when other people did. I liked seeing the skepticism in her eyes. I always wondered when she was going to take me to task for being dishonest with her, and when she was going to let it slide.
"She lets me lie to her more often than she should."
"What would you have done if she had called you on it?"
I scratched the back of my neck, thinking it over. "I'd have told her the truth. Maybe brought her with me."
"And why do you have to wait for her to catch you in a lie to do that? Why not just invite her to come along with you to one of our sessions?"
I didn't know. It seemed like a simple concept, but I had spent so long hiding things that it seemed like a herculean task to be straightforward about them.
"Did she know you were lying?"
"I don't think so." She hadn't gotten that look of skepticism in her eyes when I had told her I would be in the library tonight. Maybe she was preoccupied with whatever it was she had told me she wanted to discuss with me later, or maybe I had simply lied better than I had before. I hoped it was the former. I didn't particularly like the idea of getting better at lying to Bella.
"Maneuvering your girlfriend into catching you in a lie isn't something that's going to build trust between you."
"I know. Maybe . . . maybe that's why I do it."
"You don't want her to trust you?"
I shook my head. "I don't deserve her trust. She's too willing to give it, and it makes her vulnerable. She needs to learn to protect herself."
"Like you have?"
I stared at the wall behind her. Her pointed comment had hit home. I loved Bella's openness, her sweetness. I would never want her to be like me. But I worried about her, too. She let people take advantage of her, and if she didn't learn to be more careful she was going to get hurt. Badly.
By someone like me.
Dr. Maguire tapped her pen on her writing pad and changed the subject. "Do you still regret asking her to call you by your first name?"
I considered that for a moment, then nodded slowly. "A little bit. This has gone on longer than I expected it to."
"Wasn't it your intention to have a more committed relationship that usual when you started seeing her?"
"I . . ." I swallowed hard. "It wasn't a well thought-out decision."
"Would you change it, given the opportunity?"
I wouldn't. In fact, thinking about the evening I had held Bella in the dark beneath the kitchen table made me break out in a cold sweat. What if she hadn't kissed me? What if she hadn't talked me into this tenuous relationship of ours? The thought of losing her—of never having had her—left me trembling.
"Yet you're uncomfortable with her using your name."
It wasn't a question. She already knew. "It's too intimate."
"But you asked her to."
I nodded. I still couldn't figure out exactly why I had done that. Everyone called me Dr. Cullen, or just Cullen. That included the women I dated, and it included Dr. Maguire. I had been coming here for eight years, but we had never moved to first names because I didn't want the intimacy. I could tell her every convoluted detail of my personal history, but I couldn't stand for her, or anyone else, to use my name.
For more than twenty years, Esme had been the only exception. And now Bella was, too.
"Tell me why."
We had done this before, explored the reasons why I had impulsively asked Bella to use my first name, and the answers tended to be different every time. Dr. Maguire seemed to think it was important, and she was probably right.
"It made us . . . unequal. Professor and student. I didn't want that with her. I don't know that I was looking for intimacy, exactly, but . . . well, I'm not sure I was thinking about that at the time.
"What were you thinking about?"
"Her. She was so vulnerable. She had just been hurt by someone she loved, and yet she still left herself open to being hurt again. I didn't want to be the person who did that. I wanted to be someone she could trust."
"Does she know that it's difficult for you to hear your first name so often?"
I shook my head thoughtfully. "I don't think so. I've never said anything to her, and I'm not sure she's noticed that she's the only one. My Bella . . . she's good to people. If she knew it made me uncomfortable, she wouldn't do it."
"Does your name mean something special to you? Is it a family name?"
I shifted uncomfortably. This wasn't a question she had asked before, though to be honest I was a little surprised that she hadn't, considering my sensitivity about the issue.
"Dr. Cullen?" she prompted when I didn't answer.
"I don't know" I said it a little too sharply. "My parents didn't sit around telling sentimental stories about how I was named."
She arched an eyebrow. She was too good at what she did to believe that was the whole story. "But . . ."
I forced myself to keep my hands still and loose, not clenched into fists. Anger was inappropriate and unnecessary. I took a calming breath and answered her question. "The doctor who delivered me was named Dr. Carlisle."
Her eyebrows raised in surprise. "Really? Do you think your parents may have had a special relationship with him?"
I rubbed a hand wearily over my forehead. "I think they couldn't be bothered to put any effort into finding a name for me, so they used the first one they saw."
She frowned, but she didn't dispute my theory. She knew there was a good chance I was right. "Let's get back to Bella," she said instead. "You've gotten closer to her than you intended to."
"And the longer you stay with her, the more attached you become."
I nodded again, a sense of foreboding prickling at the hairs on the back of my neck.
"How does this end?"
Imagining the end of my relationship with Bella was suffocating. I liked it too much. It was so comfortable, so easy, the quiet evenings with her, the nights spent wrapped around her beautiful body. To lose that, to have to go back to nights out with unfamiliar women, performing for the public, dodging the incessant questions that were the hallmark of a new relationship . . . I didn't want it. Not yet.
And my Bella, my sweet, naïve girl who loved with her whole heart . . . what would it do to her?
"She'll get hurt," I said softly.
I raised my eyes, meeting Dr. Maguire's challenge, and shook my head.
"It seems a little self-destructive, doesn't it? How much longer will you participate in a relationship that is going to hurt you both?"
I leaned forward on my knees, staring at the floor. Dr. Maguire wasn't one to let me escape the guilt—and there was plenty of it. It was cruel of me to let Bella care about me when she didn't know what I was, but I couldn't seem to help myself. Her presence was soothing, and I badly needed the comfort. Somehow she always seemed to know when to push me and when to let up. And when she had come to me on that day and helped me through the worst of it . . .
I hadn't been prepared for how that would feel. I wasn't prepared for how I felt now.
"Let's try one of my silly hypotheticals," Dr. Maguire suggested.
I nearly groaned. Of all the things she put me through in our therapy sessions, these were the most painful.
"Let's say you and Bella don't split up." She put up a hand to stop me before I could argue. "I know, it's not going to happen. Indulge me."
"Think about what it would look like," she said, and then fell silent, letting me do her exercise.
It was a small mercy that she didn't expect me to tell her what I was picturing. I would have felt obligated to explain why it wasn't possible, but here inside my own head, I could just allow myself to live in the fantasy.
And the fact was, it looked beautiful. What I envisioned was much like what we had now—quiet evenings, blissful nights. Eventually Bella would be starting a new career, and though I didn't know what she intended to do, there was a good chance that she would have to keep odd hours for a few years. I let myself pretend that the stress wouldn't get to me, that there wouldn't be any heated arguments like I'd had with Esme, that I wouldn't lose my hold on my temper. Instead I focused on how we would get through—stolen moments between work shifts, sleepy encounters at odd hours, flowers sent to her office to remind her that I . . .
That I loved her.
I wasn't ready to deal with that thought yet, so I pushed it aside and focused on the details of our imaginary life together. Of course, I'd have to get her out of that apartment of hers. There was something endearing about the fact that she didn't mind the cramped, run-down living space, but if we were thinking long-term she would have to move in with me.
And that was where things got complicated. If she lived with me she would have to know. I would have to show her Edward's room, and I would have to tell her what I had done.
She would never stay with me if she knew.
"It's impossible," I whispered.
Dr. Maguire nodded. "I understand." She glanced at the clock on her desk and smiled. "Well, Dr. Cullen, it looks like I'm finished torturing you for today. I'll see you in a couple of weeks?"
I nodded and stood.
"Oh, and Doctor? I wouldn't mind meeting Bella. You should feel free to invite her along any time."
I smiled sadly. "We'll see."
I ached to see Bella. I hoped all the way home that she would be back from her shopping trip, but when I pulled into the parking lot the apartment was dark. It was just as well. Therapy sessions were always stressful for me, and it would be nice to have some time to decompress.
I headed inside and took my things to her bedroom, straightening up a little while I was there. Bella liked things well-ordered, and I tried to curb my natural tendency toward clutter when I was in her apartment. As I moved some clothes from the floor to the hamper, I got distracted by the broken picture frame that sat on top of Bella's dresser, waiting to be replaced. The picture inside was of Bella and her mother, at what Bella told me was her mother's bachelorette party. The two of them gazed out of the damaged frame with laughing eyes, and the happiness I saw in Bella's face never failed to warm me. I saw the same look in her eyes nearly every day, and I wished I could claim responsibility for putting it there.
I couldn't though. The happiness had been there long before I had entered her life. Every day I had seen her in the library, even after she had split up with her boyfriend, it was there. It had drawn me to her, had left me casting surreptitious glances at her during those long evenings when inspiration was slow in coming and the words wouldn't flow. On those nights I had watched her as she bent over her schoolwork, chewing on her lip or winding a lock of hair around her fingers, I had always been fascinated by the joyful aura that surrounded her.
It reminded me a little bit of Edward. In every photograph I had seen of him, his face shone with happiness. Every time I had slipped into the back of a crowded room to watch as he was awarded some honor or another, he had commanded the attention of everyone present. On his graduation day, I could have sworn he had been the only one to set foot on the stage.
Edward and Bella would be well-suited for one another, I realized. My son deserved someone like Bella, with her sweetness and generosity of spirit. And she could certainly do better than me.
I looked away from the picture and stripped off my tie, moving to the closet to hang it up. If Bella was feeling anything close to the way I was tonight, she would be tugging off the tie as soon as she walked in the door anyway. I smiled to myself as I slid a stack of essays out of my laptop bag to read over while I waited for my girl to get home.
Not that I expected to get much work done. I was thoroughly distracted by the memory of Bella's tight little body beneath mine, her slim thighs wrapped around my waist and her breasts pressed against my chest. I planned to spend the evening exploring that memory thoroughly, at least until she got home and I could create a new one.
I was so distracted by thoughts of her that I didn't notice at first that the usually-empty coffee table was littered with various items that seemed to have come out of a cardboard box that sat on the floor to one side. I scanned the brightly-colored piles, and it was another second before the nature of the items sank in.
Realization hit me like a punch to the stomach. I staggered backward, and the essay papers slipped out of my hand, catching the air and scattering themselves across the floor. I barely noticed. I moved slowly toward the coffee table, disregarding the crinkle of paper under my feet, and reached down to pick up a tiny green and yellow T-shirt with a stylized lion sewn onto the front.
Baby clothes. In Bella's apartment.
"No," I whispered in horror. "Oh, god, no."
I dropped the little shirt and ran to the bathroom, falling to my knees in front of the toilet and emptying the contents of my stomach. For a moment that was all there was, just me and the wracking nausea that ripped through me, but it didn't last long enough.
As I flushed the toilet and rinsed my mouth in the sink I tried to convince myself that this wasn't what it looked like. Bella had to be holding onto these things for a friend, or she had bought someone a baby shower gift.
A lot of them.
Except, in my office earlier that day, she had told me she needed to talk to me about something. She had looked so anxious, so unsure of herself . . . no wonder she hadn't wanted to discuss it in front of Diego.
Bella was pregnant. My Bella. The girl I loved, the girl I couldn't let go of, even though I knew it would be better for her if I did.
I dried my face and hands on a towel and moved on shaky legs back to the living room. I kept my gaze studiously averted from the coffee table, kneeling on the floor and collecting the scattered essay papers. I gathered them into a neat stack and carried them back into the bedroom, tucking them away in my bag. My gaze fell on the photograph on the dresser again, and a sharp pain throbbed in my chest.
I had to leave her. It wasn't a choice. It was one thing to risk the safety of a strong, capable adult by getting too close, but a child?
I looked around the room, my eyes picking out those possessions of mine that had slowly started to find places here among Bella's—the things I needed to start collecting to take with me. But I couldn't do it. I wanted these thing here. I wanted my clothes hanging in her closet, the change from my pocket scattered on her dresser, my cufflinks resting on the table beside her bed. Somehow it didn't feel right to remove them.
But I couldn't stay.
I lifted my bag onto my shoulder and turned my back on the space I had shared with Bella, the space I had spent the happiest moments of the last twenty years, and I walked out of the apartment. I locked the door behind me and debated leaving the key, but decided it wouldn't be safe. The point of all this was to keep her safe, after all. So I held on to it.
I trudged out to my car and slid behind the wheel, my mind reviewing every moment I had spent with Bella since the evening she had allowed me to drive her home. She shouldn't have—she was too trusting—but I couldn't bring myself to wish she hadn't.
I drove on auto-pilot, not really paying attention to where I was going, but I couldn't have said I was particularly surprised when I found myself pulling into the lot of a small liquor store. It had been a long time since I had come here last—years, probably. But I needed it tonight. If I was going to leave Bella I needed to dig deep and tap into the harder part of myself. Liquor was the shortcut.
As I paid for the bottle of cognac, though, I thought about how Bella would take it. We had agreed to a temporary relationship with no strings attached, and I had jumped at the offer because I'd wanted her so badly. But I knew if I walked away without an explanation she would take responsibility for it. She would blame herself, would wonder what she had done wrong.
It wasn't fair to her.
I needed to go back. I needed to explain why I was leaving, tell her what I had done to Esme. That way she wouldn't miss me. She would probably be relieved that I was gone, and she might even learn to be more careful about the men she allowed into her life.
It was the right thing to do, I decided, but it was intimidating. I had never told anyone other than the occasional therapist what had happened with Esme. Telling Bella promised to be the hardest thing I ever had to do. I didn't want to see the way she looked at me when she discovered exactly what kind of a man I was.
Nevertheless, I made my way back to her apartment and let myself back in. She still wasn't home, and I was again grateful for the opportunity to compose myself. I left the lights off, despite the gathering darkness outside, and grabbed a glass from the kitchen before settling onto the couch with the bottle of cognac.
I stared blankly at the table full of baby paraphernalia before me, unable to keep my mind from traveling back to the memory of a night more than two decades ago. I had put in a full day of classes and work, and had come home to find Esme on the couch, sobbing pitifully. I remembered the fear and despair in her eyes as she had told me the news—the best news I had ever heard in my life. She was pregnant, carrying my child. But she was terrified.
I remembered the joy I had felt, the way I had held her and kissed her, promising her over and over again that I would be there for her, that I would take care of her and the baby.
And I remembered how I had failed her. How angry she had been when I walked away from her, how she had thrown those promises back at me. I had wanted so badly to keep them, to be the man she needed me to be, but I had to face reality. I wasn't the kind of man who could have a family. I couldn't be trusted.
I drained my first glass of cognac and allowed myself to continue the fantasy I had started in Dr. Maguire's office. What if Bella and I didn't split up? What if I didn't have to leave her? What if I could have a second chance at being a father? Instead of quiet evenings and stolen moments, I pictured us with a son, a boy who looked rather like Edward had in his baby pictures. I imagined all the things I had missed—holding him for the first time at the hospital, late night bottles, first words, first steps, crayon drawings taped to the refrigerator, and cheering him on at Little League games. Milestones as he aged—talking him through the nerves of his first date, teaching him to drive . . .
I'd be at retirement age by the time he was ready to start college.
I refilled my glass and gulped it down, feeling the punishing burn of the alcohol. I was a fool. None of the things I imagined could ever be. Because long before any of those things happened, I would hurt him, or his mother, or both of them. I wouldn't be teaching Bella's son to drive because he would hate me by the time he came of age. They both would. I had discovered long ago that I wasn't cut out for a family, and starting this whole thing over again would only hurt the people I loved.
I wondered briefly who the child's father was. The ex-boyfriend, probably. Mike. Though I knew it wasn't entirely unlikely that Bella had been with someone else after the two of them split up. It was possible that she didn't even know the father of her child. So what would she do? Would she quit school, like Esme had? Who would be there to help her with the bills and expenses?
For a moment I considered offering financial support, but I didn't feel right about it. Supporting someone else's child meant taking from Edward. He had plenty, I knew, and his mother and step-father provided more than adequate support for him these days, yet it still felt disloyal. Edward was entitled to everything I had. I couldn't give away something that never really belonged to me.
It pained me to think of Bella facing this alone, though. I hoped the father would step in and take care of her. I hoped he would be good to her. But it destroyed me to think of another man taking the place I wanted so badly.
After the third glass of cognac, I was starting to get reacquainted with the ugly side of myself that I had been burying for so long. How well I remembered the anger, the simmering resentment. How easy it was to blame others for what had happened to me. I certainly hadn't brought this on myself. It was Bella's fault, her ex-boyfriend's fault, God's fault. Hell, I could probably lay it all at the feet of my parents again. They were easy scapegoats.
I was working my way through my fourth glass when I heard the rumble of Bella's truck engine. I gulped the strong liquid down quickly and filled the glass again, steeling my nerves.
"I don't love her," I whispered. "I forgot how to love a long time ago."
Maybe if I said it enough, I would start to believe it.
The door swung open and the kitchen light flickered on, but I couldn't look her way. I didn't want to see her face. I wasn't sure I could handle the disappointment in her eyes when she heard what I was about to tell her.
"Hey," she said, sounding reserved.
I nearly broke down at the sound of her sweet, gentle voice. I took another quick drink, letting the sharp burn re-center me, and got right to the point. "You wanted to talk to me about something?"
I heard the rattle of her keys against the tabletop, listened to her soft, cautious step. "Yeah. You haven't been worrying about it, have you? It's really not a big deal."
It was shocking how quickly my temper could flare, and how hot the anger could burn. I swallowed back the rest of my drink to keep from lashing out at her, and I used the brief seconds to compose myself. "I'd say it's a pretty big deal."
"Are we talking about the same thing?"
I locked my eyes on the surface of the coffee table, on the scattering of items that had turned my world upside down. "I would hope so, Bella. I would hope this isn't something you would try to hide from me."
I heard her let out her breath in a rush, and then she laughed almost giddily. "How long have you been sitting here torturing yourself?"
I ground my teeth in frustration as I set my glass down next to the book of baby names on the coffee table. She wasn't taking this seriously. She had no concept of how drastically her life was about to change.
"Relax, Carlisle," she said, dropping down next to me on the couch, "it's not yours."
"I know it's not mine!" I snapped, whipping my head around to glare at her. "Do you really think I haven't taken steps to make sure I didn't have this problem?"
She looked startled, and the hand she had placed on my knee fisted around the fabric of my slacks. She raised the other to my face in a gesture I assumed was meant to be soothing, but I had no interest in being soothed. I jerked away, and her hand fell back into her lap.
"It's not mine either."
It took a moment for her words to sink in. Not hers. Not her baby.
I wasn't sure I believed it.
"Why do you have this?" I asked, staring at the baby clothes again.
"They're gifts. For Jacob's sister."
Jacob's sister. Someone else's baby. I grabbed her arms, turning her to face me, desperate to see the truth of it in her eyes. "You're not pregnant?"
"You're absolutely sure."
She nodded, looking bewildered.
The relief was so strong I thought I might drown in it. She wasn't pregnant. I didn't have to lose her.
I realized how hard I was gripping her arms and I forced myself to let go, sagging back against the couch in relief. Bella scooted close to me, and I curled my arm around her, grateful for the reprieve, however temporary it had to be.
"I don't quite understand why you're so upset," she said softly. "I mean, if you knew you couldn't have gotten me pregnant . . ."
I raised my eyes to the ceiling, battling with myself. Could I tell her now? Could I admit to her what I was and risk losing her anyway?
"Did you think I was cheating on you?" she asked abruptly.
God, my sweet girl. So painfully innocent. I pulled her into my lap and dropped my head onto her shoulder, drawing in a trembling breath so I could experience her scent again.
"I assumed it was Mike's."
"Oh . . . I still don't understand. Mike's kid wouldn't be your responsibility."
Dread settled heavily in my stomach. This was a moment I would have given anything to avoid. Bella wanted to know why I was reacting so strongly, and she deserved to hear the truth. But could I tell her? Could I give her up?
Would I ever stop paying for that night?
"If you get pregnant, Bella . . . if you have a child . . . I can't be with you."
"I know." She sounded sad, but she wasn't pushing anymore. She wasn't asking for an explanation. And like a coward, I took the out she was offering.
"I'm not ready to lose you yet."
"I'm not going anywhere."
I needed those words—needed them like an addict needs his next hit—but the price was so high. I was lying to her, risking her safety, and yet I couldn't stop. I couldn't let her go.
I had to make sure this didn't happen again, even after she left me. She had to be kept safe.
"Are you on birth control?"
I jerked back angrily, glaring at her incredulously. "Why not?"
"Because we use condoms," she said with a scowl. "It's not like we're going to stop doing that even if I do get on birth control."
No, we most certainly were not, but I didn't like the resentment in her tone. "They're not enough," I snapped back. "If you're sexually active and you're not trying to get pregnant, you need to be on birth control." I honestly didn't understand how that wasn't obvious to her. Was the girl born without common sense?
Bella bristled at my words. "Thank you, Dr. Cullen, I really appreciate your unsolicited opinion on the matter."
"Listen to me!" I grabbed her jaw and forced her to look at me, trying to convince her to take me seriously. "You have to protect yourself as much as you can—Listen to me!"
She was trying to jerk away, but I held her still, demanding her attention, trying to teach her the lessons that I had paid such a high price to learn.
"No one else is taking care of you. There will be a million people in your life who promise to be there for you, but the reality is that nobody will actually put forth any effort to keep you safe. It has to be you, Bella. You have to keep yourself safe."
Her fingertips brushed my hand, and she stared calmly back at me. "Please let go."
God, I was such an ass. I cringed as I released her jaw, but she caught my hand in hers and held it, offering me forgiveness that I didn't deserve.
"I tried the pill," she explained softly. "It gave me cramps."
Not good enough. "There are other methods."
"My insurance doesn't cover them."
Here, finally, was something I could give her. A few hundred dollars was nothing if it meant protecting her. "I'll take care of it. We'll make you an appointment tomorrow, and I'll cover it."
I was relieved to find a solution to the problem, so I couldn't quite understand it when Bella murmured a quiet "No." She pushed off of my lap and started to stand, but I pulled her back down next to me.
"This isn't something to be careless about, Bella."
"I'm not being careless. We use condoms, and apparently you've take steps, so I honestly don't understand what you're worried about."
You, sweet girl. I'm worried about you. I'm worried that some careless man somewhere will do to you what I did to my Esme, and take away everything you wanted for yourself.
"You won't always be with me," I said softly.
Her face pinched. "Yeah. Thanks for the reminder."
"I know," she said, cutting me off. "Short term, that's what we both signed on for. I just don't know why the hell you care what happens to me after we're done."
I cared because I loved her. I cared because I couldn't stand to see anything bad happen to her. But I couldn't tell her that, because it would only make things worse when the time came for us to go our separate ways.
"I shouldn't," I said instead, trying not to notice her wince of pain. "It shouldn't have mattered to me whether you had a ride home. Or whether your boyfriend was cheating on you. I shouldn't have been thinking about you when the earthquake hit, and I shouldn't have come here." I took her hand, pressing it between my own. "It was beyond careless of me to start a relationship with you, Bella. But when it comes to you I can't seem to help myself. I care more than I should. More than I want to."
Bella looked confused and unsure, so I pressed a little more, trying to convince her to let me take care of her.
"Let me do this for you." I pulled her close and nuzzled her ear.
"You know, you're contradicting yourself. You tell me nobody's looking out for me, but isn't that what you're trying to do?"
I squeezed my eyes shut. I wanted take care of her, and I wanted her to trust me to do it, but I couldn't let her. She needed to learn to take care of herself. "Just don't ever expect me to do it again."
She was silent for a moment, but then she drew in a breath and spoke confidently, resolutely. "Tell you what? I'll let you make this doctor appointment if, at the same time, we both get tested for STDs."
"All right," I said. It was promising that she was paying attention to such things, but I wasn't sure what she was getting at. "Why?"
She shifted back, grinning, and looked me in the eye. "So I can suck your cock."
A current of pure desire ran through me, but I carefully hid my involuntary reaction. "No."
"Why not? Do you have something?"
"No. Which, unfortunately, is entirely beside the point."
"How is that beside the point?"
"An negative test result is a false sense of security. By the time we get it back, either of us could have picked something up, and you would never know."
Bella jerked back, looking hurt. "Are you . . . are you saying you're sleeping with someone else?"
Her reaction pained me, but it was what she needed. She had to understand that people were cruel, that they did things to hurt each other all the time. It might have even been beneficial to her if I let her believe I was being unfaithful, but I couldn't make myself hurt her more than I had to. "I'm saying you can't trust me not to."
"I do trust you, though."
"Then stop." I gripped her hips tightly, wishing desperately that I could force her to understand. "You have a higher opinion of me than you should, Bella. You had a higher opinion of Mike than you should have had. You've got to learn to protect yourself before someone does lasting damage."
Bella moved her hands to my shoulders and massaged gently, her expression unreadable. "Do you trust me?"
Her eyes lowered, and she nodded minutely. "Okay," she finally said quietly. "If it will make you happy, I'll go on birth control."
I could see the hurt in her eyes, and I pressed a hand to her cheek, caressing the velvet skin beneath my fingers. "I'm sorry, Bella. I don't mean to be cruel, but I can't stress strongly enough how important it is to me to know that you're safe. In my position, I see a lot of people whose lives are damaged by carelessness. I don't want you to be one of them."
"I'll give you this," she said, shifting closer to me. "Because you're right, I'm not careful enough. I'll do better. But I refuse to accept that you're not worthy of my high opinion of you."
"No." She touched a fingertip to my lips. "On this one thing I get to be as reckless as I want, and that's just something you're going to have to accept."
My heart ached with love for her, and with regret that I wasn't the man she believed me to be. "You deserve better."
Her lovely smile lit up her face. "Do I? Tell me what I deserve."
I kissed her gently. "You deserve to be loved, Bella. You deserve to come first, to be the most important part of a man's life."
You deserve everything I can't give you.
"I intend to have that. And one of these days I'll get around to pursuing it. But for now, I'm perfectly happy with the way things are." She climbed to her feet and grabbed my hand, pulling me up with her. "Now come to bed with me, so I can apologize properly for the heart attack I gave you with all this baby stuff."
My chest tightened at her words. The image of my mother on her knees in front of my father flashed before my eyes, followed quickly by one of Esme kneeling at my feet, looking up at me with tear-filled eyes.
"You don't have to apologize."
"No, I get to," she said playfully. "Come on, Carlisle. The make-up sex is the fun part."
I swallowed hard, trying to force the images out of my head as I followed after her. I removed her clothes and reverently kissed my way across her body, helping her put this night behind her, letting her think that nothing would change. Then I laid her back on the bed and I used her, desperately, shamelessly, reassuring myself that I didn't have to lose her just yet.
As she was gasping for breath beneath me, slowly coming down from her high, I buried my face in her hair and whispered a soft prayer. I asked God to protect my Bella from me and from anyone else who might hurt her, and begged Him to let me have her for just a little while longer.