A/N: Hey, rockin' readers! Hope the new year is treating you well. Thanks to everyone to reads, recs, and lurks this story.
Edward growls to my prereaders, Keye, Sandy, and Aleea, for their awesome feedback. Special thanks and a pair of loose sweatpants to Aleea this chapter. *snort*
As always, I'm thankful for my awesome betas, Katmom and SassySue (chayasara), for wielding their sparkly reds. Thanks to Kathie for her additional chapter suggestions. Mwah!
To find the way, close your eyes,
listen closely, and attend with your heart.
One end of the flannel blanket is wrapped over Isabella, tucking her against me. She insisted on leaving the top of her dress down, and the weight of one perfect rounded globe warms my palm. Her questing fingers dance lightly over my bare chest, and she smiles up at me coquettishly.
The sun is beginning to dip below the trees casting ever-lengthening shadows, and soon the temperature will begin to drop. Pennsylvania nights can be quite chilly even in the summers, but springtime often brings light frosts.
"We really must go back soon, Mrs. Masen." I kiss her lips softly. "As much as I'd like to remain here and go for round two . . ."
Isabella taps my nose with her index finger. "Don't fret—round two and three will commence in our bedroom."
"Three? Ambitious, aren't you?"
"These are my last days as a human, Edward. I want to drink my fill."
"There will be plenty of filling to be done once you're turned, sweet one. You won't be able to keep your hands off me." I roll us until I'm hovering over her, hands clasped together over her head.
Isabella licks her lips and presses her chest upward until her nipples drag across my skin. "What makes you think I can keep my hands off you now?"
A low growl reverberates between us, and I kiss her deeply before releasing her hands and tugging the top of her dress up. I roll off her and sit up, buttoning my shirt with vampire speed. "You, my little minx, are going to drive me mad. If you don't have another condom hidden amongst your wedding garb, then I suggest you behave."
She pushes up from the blanket and presses her lips together in an attempt to hold back a laugh. Her milky skin has a beautiful glow that shines from within, and I'm happy to see her looking so healthy—especially on our wedding day.
When we arrive back at the cabin, there's no sign of my sisters. Twilight has just fallen, painting the world with a bluish glow. A fire crackles in the hearth, and the table is set for dinner. I'm horrified to realize Isabella hasn't eaten for hours.
"Are you hungry?"
"Famished. A sexy vampire wore me out . . . and I'm hoping he has plans to finish me off later on."
I pull her back against me with a smile and push her hair aside to nuzzle her neck. "He definitely has plans for you."
Isabella sits at the table, and I serve her a healthy portion of the lasagna Alice left warming in the oven. She oohs and aahs over it, prattling on about how it tastes so much like the one her mom used to make. There's crusty bread and a salad as well. She feasts on dinner, even agreeing to a second portion of the heavy pasta.
"That was delicious." Isabella dabs at her mouth with a napkin.
"Would you like to watch a movie?"
"I'd love to."
We lounge on the couch in our wedding clothes and watch Love Story on VHS. Lou Diamonte doesn't have any modern movies in the cabin. Isabella cries softly, and I wonder if the subject matter has hit too close to home. I hug her closer. "Do you want to watch something else?"
She looks up at me, her tears falling freely. "Oh, you don't like it?"
"It's fine . . . but you're crying, and I thought her illness might upset you."
"I'm crying because they love each other so much, and it's not fair. She doesn't have you to save her."
"I promise you'll always have me." I wipe her tears away.
After the movie, I scoop her up in my arms and carry her to the bedroom. I light the candles my sisters left around the room then turn to my wife. The golden flicker of candlelight bathes her skin with a tantalizing glow and glints off the beading on her dress.
"I think it's time we get out of these clothes, don't you?"
Isabella turns her back to me. "Can you get my zipper?"
I ease the zipper down, exposing the expanse of her milky back to me. Remembering she has no underthings on kindles the fire inside me. The dress slips from her shoulders, framing sharp scapulas, the ridges of her spine, and the soft flare of her waist giving way to her hips. As the dress falls to the floor, the dip of her lower back and the soft swell of her ass are revealed. She steps out of the material pooled around her feet and glances at me over one shoulder. My gaze glides down her shapely legs and back up slowly until our eyes meet.
"You're overdressed." She winks at me and sashays over to the bed.
Ten seconds later, I'm naked. Isabella stretches out on her stomach over cream satin sheets sprinkled with pink rose petals.
"I love the way this feels against my skin."
Venom pools in my mouth at the sight of her, and I kneel beside her delectable body and run my fingers up the backs of her legs, light as a feather. She giggles until I reach the cleft of her ass, then she draws in a sharp breath and stiffens as I replace my fingers with my lips and kiss my way over the soft mounds. There are no objections, so I continue kissing my way across the dip of her lower back and start making my way up her spine. My lips and tongue move slowly over each vertebra, while my fingers brush lightly up her sides. Isabella's panting breaths and sweet whimpering sounds rouse my passion further, and I blanket her body with mine, sliding my hands up her arms until our fingers entwine.
"I want to take you like this," I whisper against her hair. Isabella's moan of assent encourages me to use my knee to nudge her legs apart. There is no resistance. "Lift your hips." Letting one of her hands go, I grab an extra pillow and slide it under her pelvis. After rolling on a condom, I position myself behind her and shift my hips forward until her intense heat surrounds me.
"Mm-mm . . . you feel so good like this. So deep." Isabella's face rests on the pillow, one pinked cheek visible. Thick waves of her hair spill over one arm, a dark contrast against the sheets and her rose-cream skin.
I push her hair aside, licking slowly up the sweetly sensitive skin on the back of her neck, and she writhes beneath me. A primal part of me revels in the fact that she's under me, trapped beneath my body with my lips at her neck. We fall into our own rhythm, fingers entwined above her head. Our mate connection awakens within me once again as ecstasy fills my chest with light and life. Her heartbeat becomes a part of me, and we move as one being, filling each other up, giving and taking and sharing until we both free-fall together.
Afterward, we face each other. The flickering candlelight shines in her eyes and licks at her luminous skin. I trace my fingers over the delicate curve of her shoulder and down her arm. Even though we're no longer physically joined, the echo of her heart still beats in my chest.
"Your heart is still beating inside me."
"How? What does that mean?" Her warm fingers drift from my jaw to press lightly over my chest, seeking this phantom heartbeat.
"I don't know. It's never happened before." I lean in and kiss her. "You won't feel anything because it's not real."
"If you feel it, then it's real."
A smile touches my lips. "You have a unique way of looking at things. It's one of the things I love most about you." I grab her hand and place a kiss in her palm. My eyes never leave hers. I can't bear to look away; this feeling of a heartbeat is addictive, and I'm afraid it will slip away too soon.
"I love you so much, Edward." Her eyes shine with it.
"I love you, too, sweet one. You look tired. Get some sleep now." I tuck a blanket around us and hold her as she drifts off. For the rest of the night, I relive our wedding day—and night—in delicious detail. It may only be a phantom, but the beating continues in my chest, and her warmth spreads through me.
As the first glow of the morning sun peeks above the horizon, I hear it.
When Edward comes down, I need to tell him about this. Why is everything always so damn complicated?
At first I'm not sure if it's in my head, but then I see what she sees—the rumpled couch, the dishes in the sink, the folded up blanket in the corner.
Boots stomp up the porch stairs and the door opens. This area sucks. There's nothing to do around here, and there isn't much variety on the menu. I hate deer blood.
"Hey, Alice." Rose spies her leaning against the kitchen counter.
"Why so broody?"
"Stuff." Alice shrugs. "It'll keep."
On a good day, the rush of thoughts through Alice's head is overwhelming, but with my mind reading just coming back online for whatever reason, it reminds me of when I first woke to this life. The cacophony of the thoughts around me created a mash-up of words that was nearly impossible to untangle. Right now, Alice's meanderings create that kind of overload in my mind all on their own.
"Shit, Ali—you have to slow your thoughts down," I mutter.
The mind-numbing rumble stops short. "You can hear me?"
"Your thoughts are akin to a hundred tuning forks struck at once—in a tunnel."
"So your gift is sort of back then?"
"Just a sec."
Isabella is still deeply asleep, so I carefully extricate myself from her warmth and pull some clothes on. I kiss her forehead before heading downstairs where I join my sisters on the front porch. Alice is perched on the railing, her leg swinging rhythmically, and Rose paces back and forth in front of the porch steps.
"What's going on?"I look between them.
"Aro knows everything." Alice's lips purse, her nose scrunching as if she smells something bad. "He's trying to contact Demetri right now to track us."
"What about Carlisle?"
"Okay for now. Aro wants us all to stand before him and 'explain ourselves' to His Majesty." Alice employs air quotes and rolls her eyes.
My newfound warmth slips away as a chill runs through me. "You mean he wants to force us to become part of his despicable army. We'll stand trial, and he'll be lenient if we agree to serve. Fuck that!"I snarl.
Rosalie stops pacing and stares at me but says nothing, her mouth in a tight line.
Alice's eyes glaze over, and I'm sucked into her vision. It's much what I expect—Aro will agree to let our coven live if he can have Alice and me. He also wants the serum, the real cure—and Isabella and Hannah.
"No!" I slam my fist into one of the posts, pulverizing it, and the roof of the porch creaks, sagging slightly. That sick fuck will never touch my girls.
"Edward, he hasn't reached Demetri yet. Don't forget Demetri's already there in Italy with Jasper. He can delay 'finding' us until Isabella has been changed. She won't go there vulnerable."
I turn and glare at my sister. "She won't go there at all!"
"Give me some time, Edward. I need to run some different scenarios and see how we should best handle this. You know we can't ignore Aro—he'll just come after us."
"True. The coward is never without protection, is he?"
Rosalie growls in frustration. "I need to get out of here for a while." She takes off into the woods. I understand the sentiment, but the noose is closing in around us and our options are few.
We attempt to keep things as normal as possible for Isabella. I know she senses something by the thoughtful way she glances at each of us while spooning up her oatmeal. A soft "Yes!" from Rose distracts everyone.
"What is it?" I ask.
"It's time." Rose joins us in the kitchen, a triumphant gleam in her eye. "Isabella's blood levels are perfect, and not a moment too soon."
The spoon stops halfway to Isabella's mouth and hangs in the air, a glob of oatmeal plopping back into the bowl. She doesn't seem to notice as her eyes rake over each of us in turn, saving me for last. "What's going on? The three of you have been acting strangely this morning."
Sorry, Edward! I wasn't thinking. Rose cringes.
Just tell her the truth. She has a right to know. Alice looks at me pointedly.
To Rose, I say, "It's all right," and to Alice, "I will."
The spoon clatters against the bowl after slipping from Isabella's fingers. "Can you . . . hear them? Has your gift returned?"
"Yes, sort of."
"Wow. I fall asleep for a few hours and the entire landscape changes."
"Can I speak with my wife alone, please?"
Rosalie and Alice leave hastily; neither of them wants to be around for this. I kneel next to Isabella's chair and take her hand.
"Edward, what in the world is going on?"
"This morning I heard Alice's thoughts. It very much reminds me of the way things were when Carlisle first turned me—overwhelming, invasive, and out of control. I can't imagine being in a public place right now."
"Will it improve?"
"Over time, probably. It's not as if there are any statistics to go by."I smile crookedly.
"Rose said my blood is ready for the change." Isabella looks down at me, but she's not smiling. Trepidation seeps from her pores; I can almost taste it on the air.
"But there's more. What happened while I was asleep?"
I close my eyes. She has every right to know. Perhaps it's better now than after the change. Newborn vampires tend to have strong emotional reactions, and the last thing we need is for Isabella to be out of control—that's when mistakes happen. I take one of her hands in mine and caress her face with my other. "Alice is finally starting to see visions of Carlisle and Aro."
"He knows we faked the cure. He knows about you . . . and Hannah. He wants us to stand trial before him in Italy. For decades he's been looking for a reason to collect Alice and me because of our gifts. If we stay with him, he'll agree not to eradicate our entire coven, generous fuck that he is."
Isabella's eyes harden until her irises look like chips of flint. The skin of her cheeks, throat, and chest erupts in a patchy, mottled red. "Is that so?" Her voice is pure ice. "Well, Aro can't have you—or any of us! I don't give a shit who he thinks he is."
No fear. Just justifiable anger and the strength of steel. "You're not frightened."
"We didn't come through all that we have to let some megalomaniac vampire king dismantle it. There's a way around this—we just have to figure out what that is."
"You amaze me at every turn." I cup her face and lean up for a kiss. "We will figure a way around this. Aro will never lay a hand on you or Hannah."
"Edward." Isabella's fingers tighten in the hair at the nape of my neck. "He'll never have you or Alice, either. Nobody is going to fuck with those that I love ever again."
"Aro's trying to reach Demetri so he can track us. Demetri is delaying things a bit so we have time to change you. We need to present a show of strength, and with you already a vampire, it will be one less bargaining chip for Aro. Alice will keep watching the visions to see what changes in the meantime."
"Is James there with him?" she asks softly.
She nods sharply, the sudden fire in her eyes frightening me a little, but nothing else is said about James or what it could mean that he's aligned himself with the Volturi.
Two hours later, after Alice has overseen bathing, shaving, a hair trim, and eyebrow shaping, Isabella is deemed ready to be changed.
The sun is still high in the sky as we enter the bedroom. With the rays concentrated on the other side of the cabin, our room dances with shadows. Isabella perches on the side of the bed in a tank top and shorts, her mahogany waves flowing free over her shoulders and down her back. Her posture is rigid, arms locked at her sides, palms pressed to the bed.
I kneel in front of her with my hands resting on her thighs. "Do you have any questions for me?"
Isabella's forehead scrunches in concentration, her body retaining its rigidness. "We will beat them, right?"
"Look at me." I wait for her beautiful brown eyes to meet mine. "We're not going in there unless we have a plan. If Alice doesn't see a way . . . then you aren't going to Italy. Whatever I have to do, whatever the cost, my only concern is to make sure you and Hannah remain safe."
The sharp scent of fear curls up my nose, and Isabella clutches at my shoulders. "What about you?"
"I'll do what's necessary. My intention is for all of us to come out of this unscathed, but I'm planning for every contingency."
Isabella opens her mouth to protest and ends up staring at me silently. She knows I can do no less for my mate and the child that's taken over my heart.
"I'd like to make a video to send to Hannah."
"Okay." I pull out my cell and click on the camera function. "Try to relax. You look wooden, and your face is so tense. The last thing you want is to scare Hannah."
She calms herself, and when she seems ready I give her a thumbs up and hit record.
"Hey, Hannah Banana! Thanks for that lovely wedding video. It was great to see your darling face on my special day. Edwood loved it, too." Isabella winks at me. "Listen, baby, the treatment Grandpa Carl came up with worked. I'm about to be cured from the leukemia! I'll be a little different after. I'll still be me, no matter what, but . . . more like Edwood and the rest of his family. I want you to know how much mommy loves you, sweet girl. Be good for Grandma Sue, and we'll be back as soon as we can! Mwah!" Isabella blows kisses at the phone.
She manages to hold it together until the phone is put away before a few tears run down her face.
"It's going to be all right, you know. Hannah is a remarkable child, and she'll love you just as much even if you're a little different."
"You really think so?"
"I do. Do you need some time?"
She wipes the tears away and smiles. "No. We've waited long enough for this."
I cup her face between my hands and kiss her reverently. Her soft warmth draws me in, and I rise up, pushing her back to the bed where we kiss and touch and explore. My fingers slip under the thin cotton tank, whispering over heated bare skin. Isabella's leg wraps around my hip, and she thrusts up against my growing hardness.
"Edward . . . I have one last request."
"Anything." I brush the hair out of her face and look into her eyes, searching them for any sign of distress. I find only warmth and confidence.
"I want you to make love to me."
"As if you have to ask . . ." I smile down at her.
"That's not all . . . I want you to start the change when I come. I want my last human memory to be of you . . . buried inside me." Now that the words are out, a blush rises to her creamy skin.
I can't contain a possessive growl, but I manage to restrain myself from ripping the clothes off her body and slamming into her. This is the last time I will experience her as human, warm, fragile, delicate. In three days, she'll be able to break me in half.
"I'd love nothing more."
I undress her slowly, peeling away her tank top, shorts, and panties before removing my own clothing. My hands slide up the satiny skin of her legs, over the swell of her hips, the curve of her waist, to cradle the soft globes of her breasts. I lower my mouth to hers, our lips coming together in gentle kisses that lead to tasting with my tongue, exploring her sweet hot mouth. There's no urgency to this, just a slow, burning exploration of one another, a memorization of every dip, curve, and secret spot.
When I'm finally ready to enter her, I'm welcomed inside, cradled within her slick heat. I push in deep, and Isabella tilts her head back with a sweet sigh, her fingers gripping my shoulders.
"Yes, Edward . . ."
I make love to her slowly, pulling and pushing and circling my hips. She tries to increase the pace, but I still her pulsing hips. "Shh . . . no rush, sweet one. Let it build."
I watch her cues and try to keep pace so we can come together. The orgasm sneaks up on Isabella, and her eyes pop open with a little "Oh!" that quickly dissolves into loss of control as she squirms and whimpers and grabs at me. There was nothing to worry over; the sounds she makes and the feel of her coming around me triggers my own climax. Once the most intense ecstasy flames inside me, I push her hair out of the way and sink my teeth into her neck.
Sweet velvet wine blooms on my tongue and slides down my throat. I take a few strong pulls, knowing it will increase the intensity of her orgasm, before removing my teeth from her neck and swiping my tongue across the wound.
"God, Edward . . . so good."
And I can't lie—having been deprived of human blood the past few months makes it taste all the sweeter, bringing out the complexities in the flavor of pure, healthy blood. No sickness remains; tasting her essence is the final test. Nothing stands in the way of her becoming immortal now but three days of agony.
"I love you, Isabella," I whisper, before bending to the other side of her neck. I drink again, thankful the venom hasn't started burning yet.
"Love you, too, so much." She's drunk on the sensation of me drinking, her words a bit slurred.
I move on to each wrist before pulling out of her and concentrating on her torso. I bite and inject venom at the top of each breast, her inner thighs, and behind her knees.
Five minutes later, all hell breaks loose as she screams and writhes on the bed in agony. What was sensual a few minutes ago has become a personal hell.
"I'm on fire! Oh, God, I'm burning!" Isabella holds her hands up in front of her face then sits up and ogles her own body in disbelief. "Where are the flames?"
I pull her into my arms and wind my body around hers, praying that I can offer a modicum of comfort. I kiss the top of her head. "I'm sorry, baby. There are no flames—it just feels that way. If there were any possible way, I would take on the pain for you."
"I know you . . . AAAAHH . . . would if you could." She grits her teeth. "Edward, it hurts!"
Isabella is amazing at adaptation. Although I know the burning doesn't ease, over the next several hours she goes from screaming and begging me to do something to graceful acceptance. She sweats, shivers, and claws at me, beseeching me to keep talking to her and telling her what our lives will be like once she's whole and the nightmare with the Volturi is over.
In the following days, I witness her transforming into a creature more beautiful than she already was. The skin over her ribs and sharp hip bones plumps, rounding out her curves. Her hair thickens and lengthens, the already rich mahogany tones deepening into a gentle fall of auburn and golden highlights. Her pale skin marbleizes, erasing all imperfections and human scars. The physical hold she has on me grows ever stronger until it's almost painful having her wrapped around me—and that's when I know the transformation is nearly at an end.
When the burn focuses in her chest, surrounding her galloping heart, the screams start afresh. Isabella gasps for air she no longer really needs, her eyes bulging. Her iron hold on me no longer allows me to offer comfort.
"Ali, Rose," I call to my sisters.
Isabella is naked, having long since torn through several outfits. I've managed to keep a pair of jeans on but gave up on shirts after the first two were clawed off.
Alice and Rose enter the room at a run. It takes them both to tear her arms from around me. Once I'm free, Rose sits on her legs, Alice takes one arm, and I hold the other.
"Isabella, it's almost over."
"No. No! Something's wrong!" She continues to struggle and gasp for air, her eyes imploring me helplessly as the wet little pump in her chest strains harder against the venom.
"Look at me, sweet one. Right here in my eyes."
Crazed, red irises search out my face. "Edward . . ."
"The heart is the last part to be transformed. You're almost there. I promise there's nothing wrong."
"I can't breathe right."
"You don'tneed to breathe anymore. Just . . . let go. Holding on to human needs and instincts will make it harder on you." I caress her face. "Focus on my voice."
"You're almost out the other side. There won't be any more sickness or death, no worry about leukemia or medication. You'll be stronger than me your first year—stronger than all of us."
"I'll love and treasure you for all of eternity. You alone have made this life worth living. Keep looking into my eyes. You can do this."
Thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthu mp . . .
Thump . . . thump . . .
Thump . . .
A/N: Talk to me, peeps! What are you thinking now? Pack your bags and get ready to visit the megalomaniac vampire king!
Working on the next chapter of Speak Now.
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