I don't own the things that S. Meyer does. I'm very clear on that.

Nasturtium::Conquest and Victory in Battle

Rosalie flitted between the kitchen and her closet in her underwear. She was trying to stay ahead of her mind—ahead of the questions and worry that might keep her from her designated task.

Not since before she had walked down three flights of stairs with Emmett, not since he had leaned in to place tender kiss at the corner of her mouth, had she felt less than flustered. Really, not since she had asked him if he wanted a soda or a beer.

It had been five days.

Eggs were boiling, and she was trying to figure out what to wear at the same time. She wanted to be comfortable so she could relax—so everyone could.

She finally settled on a white button down and sailor jeans. Casual enough. Light enough. Warm enough with a sweater thrown over it. Slipping into the shirt, she rushed back to the kitchen to turn off the stove.

Years of helping her mother make deviled eggs had made the basic prep something she could do on autopilot, but she was fumbling it tonight.

She was distracted.

If she had thought that her imagined kisses with Emmett had consumed her, well ... in her mind, they were built to overwhelm her. They were enough to melt her defenses, make her open up to him like the petals of a purple wine cup. Not under duress, not by force, but because she was compelled to. Like he was daybreak and it was an evolutionary imperative. But those kisses, they were nothing compared to remembering the actual feel of his lips, his tongue, the touch of his fingers on her neck. Nothing to the feel of falling into him. Of boiling, turning to vapor, and dissipating with the intensity of the setting sun.

Pulling the it off the burner, Rosalie moved the pot to the sink and tipped it to drain the water. The steam rose, billowing up her neck and over her face, and she leaned into it, breathing in the clouds of vapor.

When the pot was empty, save the eggs, she filled it again with cool water and began to button her shirt. Everything else was prepped.

"Gah …" She unbuttoned her shirt again. "I'll have to take this off. I should wear something underneath." Returning to her room, she dug through her chest of drawers until she found a powder blue tank top.

"How am I going to get thirty-six deviled eggs over there?" she asked the cats, who had been watching her track back and forth between the two rooms. She turned back to the kitchen, throwing the tank toward the bed. They sniffed at it and eyed her before scrambling down and following.

"See? It's not big enough." She showed Cam and Bean the plate. Only enough space for twenty-four egg halves. She counted to confirm: Twenty-four.

Pondering the problem, she opened one cabinet to pull out cumin, salt, and pepper; opening another, she grabbed a can of coconut milk.

She stepped away from the counter, pulling her hair into a loose ponytail at the base of her neck. It was only slightly damp from the shower. She looked at the plate. At the eggs. At the spices. The coconut milk. Her unbuttoned shirt. The cats.

"You need to chill out." Letting her hair go, she released a huge breath. "You need to chill out."

The cats responded with repetitive mews. Smiling at them, she tried to settle on what to do next.

"One thing at a time. It's all you can do."

Dress? Cook? A deep breath and then another.

"Mom's Tupperware," she declared.


The keys were in her bedside table. The kittens followed her out the door and down the stairs. She thought for a moment that maybe she shouldn't let them loose, but it felt better not to be doing this alone—even if they were just cats.

As she descended the steps, she held the front door key between her thumb and forefinger. The other keys on the ring were cradled in her palm. It all felt very specific and familiar. The weight of the keys, the way they settled against one another and rested in her hand.

Four years before, she had shut the door, and she had not been back since. No one knew that; no one but Emmett. She wondered what her grandmother would have thought of either of those facts.

The dingey brass "3" on the door mocked her. It wasn't as malicious as that: Mocking. But it was a harsh reminder of what wasn't.


Her parents had never bothered to change the number when they busted through the main wall to combine the two apartments on the second floor. Apt. 3 had been their address from the moment they had moved into the building. It seemed silly to change it just because they were adding square footage. Besides, as Adelaide had pointed out, they were three of them. It was as if it was meant to be.

Standing outside the door, Rosalie had a serious talk with herself: This was not what was meant to be. But it was what was. She would not open this door and find her family. Her mother cooking and singing to Earth, Wind and Fire. Her father trimming bonsai trees or reading the paper. She would not trip over her mother's gardening boots. The apartment would not smell like lemons and rosemary. It would not.

The key slid easily into the lock. She chanted to herself. It will not be the same. It will not be the same. And as soon as she turned the handle and pushed the door open ... it wasn't. There was no mother, no father, no music, no bonsai trees. It smelled stale and cold.

She did, however, trip over Adelaide's gardening boots. They were right where they had always been. Stepping into them in her bare feet, she found they fit.

She stood at the door. Not stepping off the coir rug. Not moving into the space. It was weird. Like déjà vu and walking into a scene in a movie at the same time. She saw everything around her but felt like she could turn around at any moment and see the audience watching her from stadium seating.

All around her, the things she had lived with for so long were strangely out of reach. Like a hologram or a magic eye puzzle. Like the ugly flocked wallpaper in her grandmother's dressing room. It all shifted in and out of her depth perception, feeling so close and then suddenly far away. She saw these things and knew, intellectually, that they were her things, her parents' things, but they were not. They were set dressing. Things that looked like books she once owned: Furniture, jackets, lamps, footstools, vases. But nothing about any of it was hers anymore.

She looked down at her feet in her mother's boots. They were a ridiculous red and scuffed with dried dirt at the toes. The rubber edge pressed into the flesh on her shin, and she rocked on the balls of her feet to feel it.

"Same size." Maybe even slightly too small.

Watching her toes at the edge of the rug, she rocked, and the rubber of the boots complained. The red boots. The abused ecru binding on the rug. The dull shine of the wood planked floor. One step and she would most definitely walk into her past. There would be no avoiding it. Just one step.

Sucking in a breath, deep into her lungs, she clomped into the apartment, thudding and squeaking in the rubber boots. Dust lifted off surfaces as she passed. Lit by the afternoon light, the motes swirled all around her like fairies. The whole moment was as surreal as seeing real fairies would have been.

Not until she was standing in the kitchen with her hand on the cabinet that held her mother's deviled egg plate did she dare breathe again.

Edward met her at the door, holding his hands out to take the Tupperware. Shaking her head good-naturedly, she handed it over. "How do you do that?"

"Hmm?" His green eyes darted between her and the closures on the container.

"It's like you've got a sophisticated, food-detection device built in somewhere. How did you know I had food? Or that I was even out here?" Truthfully, it was good that he had opened the door. Her arms were too full to have done it herself. She shifted the arrangement she had brought for the shop to her other side and waited for him to answer.

Edward shrugged, looking for a place to set down the Tupperware and open it.

Garrett rolled forward, wearing a conspiratorial smile. He took the flowers from Rosalie, and they both watched Edward retreat with the deviled eggs. "If the government ever gets its hands on you, man, promise you only let them use your powers for good." The only answer was a mumble as Edward shoved the first egg into his mouth.

Emmett approached from the back of the shop, rubbing his hands together, a wide smile overtaking his face. As soon as his dimples appeared, Rosalie felt the drop—the one that had left her breath and heart in freefall every time she had seen him since Sunday.

They hadn't kissed again. Only the smallest of lingering touches and one moment when his finger traced from the middle of her forearm to her wrist. She felt these touches up the back of her legs, and she thought about them in the stillness of the workroom and her kitchen, in the quiet of her bed. But the real difference since Sunday? Emmett looked at her, all the time, as he was now. Really looked at her, like he didn't care who caught him, and it made her whole body smile.

"So, what will it be, Miss Hale?"

Rosalie's anticipation was fully on the outside as she reached into her back pocket and pinched the seed between her fingers. "Hold out your hand."

"What is this?" Emmett brought his palm close to his face to examine the speck she had just placed there.

Alice sidled up along side him, pulling his wrist down so both she and Garrett could see. Squinting at the speck, she asked, "You want a tattoo of dirt?"

Edward rejoined the group with two egg halves in the flat of his hand and one in his mouth.

"It's a seed," Rosalie said.

"A seed ..." Emmett gently pushed it around on his palm with the tip of his finger.

"Of what?" Edward mumbled. Alice seemed unconvinced. Garrett expectant.

"It's a rose seed."

One of Alice's eyebrows ascended with a flourish. "A rose seed? Like you?" She was getting it—she thought.

"Hmph. I've never seen one." Emmett's expression was earnest. Like he was saying, Why is that? Like he felt he should have.

"Most people haven't. They're really difficult to cultivate from seed."

"Have you, ever?" Garrett asked.

"My mom used to. I thought I might try in the roof garden," Rosalie said, tilting her head toward the seed.

"Okay." Alice's arms settled across her chest; her hip jutted out at an angle. "When I said start with something small, I didn't know you meant to be completely literal."

"The seed is small. The meaning is ... not."

"Well, what does it mean, then?"

Rosalie couldn't help but smile at her. The tattoo would never reveal it. Most rose seeds looked like any other. But this was the seed of a light pink rose. It was the source of germination for passion, joy of life, and youthful energy. She wanted these things—could see them within reach.

"It's …" Were there words to describe what it meant to her? Did she even want to say it all aloud?

"What kind?" Emmett. Always the subtle rescuer. The small curve of a smile let her know he knew. "What kind of rose is it?"

"Oh. An Orlando Rose. Light pink." She wondered at the Victorians who created this language of flowers. Were they thinking of Virginia Wolfe when they decided on the meaning of a light pink rose?

Edward's pursed smile caught her eye before he shoved another egg in his mouth. He nodded his head in approval and returned to the Tupperware for more eggs. "These are really good, by the way. Coconut milk?"

"Yes," she chuckled.

"Cumin, too. Yummm …"

"Okay, okay." Emmett interrupted. "Alice, draw it up. Try it a few ways."

"Okaaay ..." Alice plucked the seed from Emmett's outstretched hand, her gaze jumping between the two of them, as if wondering maybe if she had missed something.

Rosalie sat and watched Alice draw—her dedication to the task. Every so often, Alice would look up at her and smile. Despite her confusion, she was taking the work very seriously. It would be her first tattoo working for Emmett, but her determination was more than just businesslike. Rosalie could see her heart in it.

After ten minutes, or so, Alice called Emmett over to inspect her work.

"These are good. And I think this one is the right one. Just one thing ..." He reached for a few other colored pencils "... I want to add." He looked at Rosalie over his shoulder, just briefly, before adding to the sketch. Within a moment, he called her over.

Stepping around Garret's chair, she bent down to look at the paper in front of Alice. On it was the familiar angular teardrop shape of a rose seed. Nothing extraordinary, but simply meant to be. For her and her alone. A casual glance might mistake it for a freckle or a birthmark. But it was more. A symbolic mark of what she wanted more than anything: a beginning.

"Okay." She wondered what he might have added, so purposefully.

"I thought, though, that this might be an appropriate addition." Emmett spread a sheet of tracing paper over Alice's sketch. On it was the tiniest of green sprouts—dark green, not more than two millimeters. Not enough of an anomaly that it would be noticed by anyone—except her.

Rosalie smoothed her fingers over the sketch, looking at it, and Alice and Emmett, both. What she had expected when she decided to do this was far from her mind. All she knew was that, now, it seemed exactly, perfectly right, so she said, "Yes." Then paused for a moment—just a breath. "Yes."

Emmett's chest swelled, nearly imperceptibly, and Alice looked at her like: We'll talk later.

All Rosalie could do was nod—repeating the "yes"—and start to unbutton her shirt.

"You ready for this, Small One?" Edward asked, patting Alice on the back and swallowing another mouthful of eggs.

"You're going to lay one of those if you don't slow down," Alice teased, snapping on a pair of black gloves. "And yes, I'm ready."

"Okay. This is just the outline." Emmett held a small piece of paper between two fingers. "The piece is too small to get all the detail in the stencil. You'll have to freestyle most of this." Alice nodded, her face scrunched in concentration. Emmett squeezed Rosalie's arm reassuringly.

After that, they got right down to it. Alice chose her inks, placing them in a ordered row on the cart next to her; Emmett confirmed, and she moved on to the next step. Before Rosalie knew it, she was leaning back, gripping the sides of the bench.

"Ready?" Alice's smile was all excitement; Emmett's all ease.

Rosalie relaxed, nodding, waiting for the first prick of pain. After the initial shock of it, she found it wasn't painful at all; though, she could see how some tattoos would hurt. What she felt was more annoyance, a numbing repetition. Enough so that she could tune it out entirely and watch Alice and Emmett at their work.

Alice's nerves ebbed, and Emmett's teaching instinct took over. After each bit of ink was put down, they would stop to talk about it. It was all business, except for the way Emmett curled his index finger around hers.

Less than thirty minutes later, she was standing in front of a mirror, pressing tentatively at the edges of the tattoo on her collarbone and wondering at the astounding nature of change. It was an act of volition, a drastic one (be it minute), that she had actively made. One that she could not take back, and it had made her forever different.

Emmett approached quietly, his eyes meeting hers in the mirror. She tried to put her heart into the look they shared, to show that it held what had become clear to her in a very short time: That although these were her choices, he and Alice were wound tightly within them and she would not feel like the person she was without them.

"It's perfect." The lines were more sure than those in the tiny purple heart on Alice's wrist. And the shading gave the seed just enough dimension. She recalled Alice hunched over her, her whole body taut, her tongue peeking out at the corner of her mouth. If Rosalie looked at it up close, it had a little pop, but from further back, it receded into the canvas of her skin. It was exactly what she had wanted. "She did really well."

"She really did." Emmett turned to face her. She watched in the mirror as he spread goo over the tattoo. The cool gel soothed the tiny bite of pain she still felt; his touch ignited a current of sparks over her skin that skipped down her ribs and swirled in her breast below his hand.

Rosalie fought the flutter of her eyelids, remembering Emmett's hands following after Alice's. The gentle way he smoothed over her skin as he checked the outlines and blending. How he took the tattoo machine and did some tiny touch-ups of his own then finally added the sprout. The smell of him as he leaned over her, so close.

She felt her nipples pull tight against her bra, and she stood up, taller, crossing an arm over her stomach.

Emmett expertly unwound a length of first-aid tape and tore it with his teeth. Rosalie bit her own lip, imagining those same teeth on her collarbone. He smiled, maybe a little too knowingly, as he ripped another piece from the roll. With gentle fingers, he covered the tattoo in gauze.

"Take this off after about an hour. It needs to breathe. Keep it clean, but be gentle when you wash. Don't scrub for at least two weeks."

He finished pressing around the edges of the bandage, but instead of pulling away, he left his hand over the curve of her shoulder. His short nails combed softly at her skin. How much had changed since the unacknowledged touches they shared in her workshop as she bandaged his cut thumb. Inside, her blood pounded just as hard, but outside, they were both swimming in expectation.

"The sheet will tell you everything you need to know, but ... I'm happy to consult with you personally."

She slipped her hand over his. "Thank you." Meaning so much more than two words could contain.

The bell jingled at the front of the shop, and Emmett broke their stare to turn and see who it was. When he faced her again, his smile was gone.

"Who is it?" She craned her neck but couldn't see beyond him or the shelves between them and the front desk.

"Riley." Emmett's tone was cold, and he had stopped tracing his fingers over her back. "He comes on too strong. And he can't take a hint. And … Alice won't let any of us give him one."

From the front, Rosalie could hear Alice's voice as she moved around. "It wasn't a definite plan. I only thought it might be a possibility. I actually have other plans tonight. With a friend."

"A friend?" It sounded like an innocent enough question, but something in the tone made Rosalie's scalp tingle. The sound of Garrett pointedly clearing his throat prompted Riley to continue. "That's too bad, Alice. I thought we could hang out." Those words came out too sweet. Artificial.

Gooseflesh broke out over Rosalie's skin, followed quickly by Emmett's hands rubbing her upper arms to warm it away.

"Yeah. Not tonight, Riley," came Alice's answer. "But I'm sure we'll see each other around."


Whether it was the jingle of the bell on the door as Riley made his retreat or the tone of those last few words, something brought Rosalie's goose bumps back. Goose bumps and an unpleasant drop in her stomach.

It was an easy step forward into the warmth of Emmett's chest.

Later, passing Alice a glass of Shiraz over the breakfast bar in her kitchen, Rosalie asked her about Riley.

Alice sighed before she answered. "Yeah. He's just the result of my general M.O. with guys. I didn't read him right."

"That's strange, isn't it? You're so good at reading people." Rosalie had never considered that Alice might be the kind of girl that had trouble with guys. That she might feel awkward or not know how to act around them.

"About tattoos, yeah. And maybe other people's love lives …" She paused pointedly, raising her eyebrow and taking a sip of the wine. "But my own? I totally suck at that."

"Hmph." Rosalie turned back to the cabinets to pull out plates for their Indian carry-out.

"I mean, he's cute, and he was flirting with me mercilessly. So, it was flattering, but when it came down to it, it just didn't click for me. He's made some assumptions, though, so it's gotten weird. Now … I feel almost like he's trying to collect me."

Rosalie nodded. She knew that feeling. "Emmett said you won't let them intervene?"

"Oh, he did, huh?" Tracing her finger around the base of the glass, she smiled a little. "Typical. All three of them wanted to have a talk with him. Garrett especially." Picking up the glass, she absently swirled the wine. "I thought he'd get the hint and move on, but it seems to have made him … it's like he's on a mission to show me I'm wrong."

Alice twisted her mouth, chewing a bit at the corner. The look she gave Rosalie was almost a plea for understanding. "That's why I didn't want to go to the bar tonight. I just don't want to be around him, especially when he's drinking. It's not so much that I'm afraid. He just wants what he wants, and I don't."

Rosalie nodded again, pulling some cloth napkins from the drawer. She hesitated for only a moment and then said, "Believe me when I say, Alice, I know something about this. You have to be careful around guys like him. They're not scary right up to the point that they're more than that."

Alice puckered her chin, her eyes stuck to Rosalie's for a moment, and then she dropped them to her glass. "I know. I just … like … I don't want to make it a big deal. All he's done is … I can't even put my finger on it. All he's done is make me uncomfortable. That's no crime."

"Uncomfortable is enough. I think you don't give your gut enough credit."

Alice huffed a bit of a laugh. She pointed to her stomach and took another gulp of wine. "Defective," she said through the last of the swallow.

Rosalie couldn't help but smile as she finished opening the carry-out containers. "Here. Serve yourself. We can eat on the couch."

Alice dropped off the the stool and swung around the counter. "You know I'm not entirely defective." Her eyebrow slid upward along with the corner of her mouth.


"Yeah. I see things." She plopped a huge scoop of muttar paneer on her plate.

"What things?"

"You and the tattoo guy."

Rosalie's laugh came out in a bark, but her blush spread like spilt wine.

"The tattoo guy ..." Folding her leg underneath her, she settled into the corner of the couch with her plate and wine. Alice dropped down, cross-legged in front of her.


Rosalie froze in a moment of: How does this go? She hadn't gossiped about boys, really. Ever. Well, not about guys she was interested in. It didn't seem wise. Like you might say something someone could use against you. Vera had never had a problem with sharing, and Rosalie was happy to play the role her friend had needed. But letting loose of her own tongue felt unnatural.

"Yeah. So, your gut is defective and ... I … I don't know how to do this."


"Talk about this."

"What do you mean?" Alice shoveled a fork full of food into her mouth. She looked perplexed.

"This." Rosalie flapped her hand back and forth between the two of them. "Get all twitterpated and gushy about guys. I've never done it. "

Mid-chew, Alice stopped to stare in disbelief. Then she mouthed, twitterpated? before remembering that her mouth was full of food. From behind her hand, she said, "Well, we're about to fix that." She readjusted on the couch and took another drink from her glass. "This is really nice, by the way." She nodded toward the wine.

"Australian Shiraz. Hunter Valley."

Taking another appreciative sip, Alice cleared her throat twice and said, "So, you obviously like each other."


"Yeah." Her look clearly said: Are you nuts? "Have you talked about it?"

Rosalie slowly nodded, swallowing a big gulp. She felt a blush rising up her neck and settle in her cheeks. She told herself it was the wine.

"Or ... Maybe more than talk, huh?" Alice clapped and did a little bounce, grabbing her plate just before it tipped off her lap. "When did this happen, you minx?!"

"See." Rosalie took a bite of rice and shook her head. "This is what I thought. What if I tell you something mortifying and he finds out?"

Shaking her head, Alice sat up and moved her plate to the coffee table. She poured more wine into each of their glasses, continuing to shake her head.

"Okay, first rule of this"—her hand flapping back and forth in imitation of Rosalie—"is that this is sacred. I will never, never betray that. Never."

Alice looked as serious as she had been when hunched over with the tattoo machine. Intense. Coming to the realization that she had been holding her breath, Rosalie let herself relax and nod. "Okay."

"'Kay." Alice returned her plate to her lap.

"Sunday. Sunday we talked, and … that led to kissing."

"Ohmygodohmygod … Go on." The whole couch bounced as Alice shimmied in her seat.

"Not since though. He asked me to 'let him do this right.' So, we're going slow." She didn't say that that was just fine by her.

Alice took two more bites before answering, concentrating on her plate. "He's a really good guy, you know. We … well, we all know a little bit about … what happened to your parents … and before."

Rosalie stiffened, imagining her friends talking about her. About that.

"No, no. We weren't snooping. Esme … you know." Alice raised her shoulders apologetically. "But I don't think that's why he would say that to you." Scraping stray grains of rice into a neat pile, she continued. "He doesn't trust himself. He'll tell you he's done some bad things. And knowing the little bit he does … about you … he'll say he wants to protect you … from that."

Rosalie couldn't decide if she wanted to nod or shake her head. Instead, she sat perfectly still, staring at her plate.

She found herself pressing her fingers to her collarbone, right over the tattoo—right where Roy's touch had marked a transition from bad flirting to too far. A dull ache bloomed under the pressure.

"I was assaulted. By someone I knew—sort of. It went from uncomfortable to wrong so quickly."

Saying this out loud—even as Alice nodded, showing that she knew—felt needed. As the words passed her lips she became aware that she had never said them—not that way. She had said what she had to: He grabbed me. He ripped my clothes. He kissed me. He touched me. But she had never said what it all added up to. Each of those things alone could have been consensual—even together. But remembering the hard edge of the deck railing pushing into her back and the chill of her beer-damp skin as he ground against her, they finally added up to: He forced himself on me. I didn't want it. I didn't invite it.

She placed her plate on the floor. Not that she felt sick with remembering, but more like suddenly clear—more clear than she'd been in years. Settling against the armrest of the couch, she brought her knees to her chest. "I don't trust easily. Even before."

Alice put her plate aside too and moved closer, resting her stockinged feet on the tops of Rosalie's.

"I don't know everything about Emmett, Alice, but ... I know I trust him. I told him this. And my gut is not defective. It's fine tuned and maybe a bit over-sensitive."

Alice curled her fingers around Rosalie's wrist, and they sat quietly for a long moment.

"So, this wasn't a 'Do you like me? Yes or no' conversation. You really talk talked?"

Rosalie nodded, a small smile lifting her lips.

"Soooo, did you really kiss kiss too?" Alice asked, playfully bobbing her eyebrows.

The third floor had never seemed so far from street level before, nor the steps so steep. Rosalie had never made the walk intoxicated before. In fact, she couldn't remember when she had last felt buzz-drunk. Maybe the last time Vera had visited, but this felt different. New.

"This was so much fun. I had so much fun." Alice was sing-songy, patting her on the back as they carefully descended. Rosalie smiled, her cheeks numb from the wine and laughter of the evening.

"And you kissed Emmett. Oh my God, you sooooo kissed Emmett."

She had. She had sooooo kissed Emmett. And she had told Alice all about it. And she felt free, a bubble of excitement in her chest. Reaching the bottom of the stairwell, she turned and pulled Alice into a tentative hug. Alice squeezed back.

"Red, red wine, goes to my head ..."

"Thank you."

"What?" Alice half-hiccuped.

"Just thank you." For finding me. For opening your life to me. For taking me in.

Pushing the green door open, the two of them stepped onto the sidewalk, Alice's arm at Rosalie's hips, hers slung over Alice's shoulders.

"I really needed this. We should do it more."

Alice hummed in answer.

Then came words. In any other context—circumstance, moment—they would have been benign:

"So, there you are."

But these words were slurred and graveled. They stung, burned—like a shot. They turned on a tap, and Rosalie's blood drained out of her. She felt hot and chilled at the same time. Weak and strong. Permanent. Evanescent. Like smoke. Immovable. Wholly unsettled. And she hadn't even seen the threat yet. All she could see was the Alice's wide frozen eyes, and the grey pallor of her skin turned green in the light of the entryway door.

Turning, pushing Alice behind her, Rosalie saw him: The man attached to the voice she had heard earlier at the shop.

"Who's this, Alice? Your friend?"

Rosalie saw objectively that his features were handsome, but there was nothing nice about him. His eyes were heavy with alcohol, and the slow step he took toward them was all menace.

She threaded her fingers through Alice's, locking them tight, and pulled her friend securely up against her back. She could feel Alice's breath through the sleeve of her shirt, hot and fast.

"I am her friend." Her voice didn't even seem like her own. It sounded firm, like concrete. "I think it's best if you go, Riley."

"Who are you, telling me what's best?" Alice squeezed at her fingers, pulling at them, forcing her to take a step backward.

"Like I said, her friend." Riley was between them and her door; there was no going back. "We're on our way. You should be on yours." Out of the corner of her eye, she could see across the street to Miss Pixie's. Edward sat at the desk, his back to the window. She could see flashes of Garrett and the broad curve of Emmett's plaid shoulders as he leaned over a client. "You're drunk. Don't do something you will regret."

"Oh, trust me. No one's going to regret it. Least of all me." He reached for her hand and tried to wrench Alice's fingers from hers.

What followed was a blur of movement and sound. Her foot coming down on his; the heel of her hand sailing upward. The snapping crunch of bone in his nose and Alice's squeaks. The vile words falling from his mouth.

"You bitch. You fucking bitch."

She turned quickly on her heel, leaving him hunched and bleeding. Alice was like a leaf, shaking and easily lifted in front of her as she flew across the street and through the door of the shop.

Edward reach them first. "Rosalie? Small One? What the hell?" Then Garrett was there, taking Alice gently by the wrist and pulling her onto his lap.

The smear of blood in her palm was bright—bright against the white of her skin. Tiny freckles of red littered the white of her shirt.

Edward's hand was on her shoulder, his voice far away in her ears. "What happened? Rosalie?" Turning toward the back of the shop, he yelled, "Emmett!"

All of this, just as Riley yanked the open door.

"You broke my fucking nose." The words were a mix of fear and fury.

"What did you do, Riley, you fucking tool?"

Edward seemed suddenly huge as he stepped in front of her. Or, maybe she felt very small. The low roar of his voice was all she could hear, that and a piercing ring at the back of her ears.

Everything felt bigger—bigger than normal—until she felt warm hands on her, pulling her close.

Eyes wide, Riley retreated back through the door to the sidewalk. He patted the tips of his fingers against the blood oozing down to his chin. "Bitch," he whispered.

"Call the cops," Edward said as he followed him outside.

Behind her, she heard Garrett on the phone and Alice telling him what had happened in quiet whimpers. Through the window, Riley paced, yelling at Edward, pointing at her. The shrill crash of shattering glass made her jump as Riley put his fist through a car window.

She felt it all, all the way to the tips of her toes. It was like a movie—Technicolor and incredibly real, but not.

The only things that were truly real: Emmett, saying nothing, sliding his arm across her chest, pulling her close; the pinch of pressure against her still new tattoo; and the fast rise and fall of his chest against her back.






Still busy. Shocker.

My monster work project, the result of 18 months of struggle and ass-pain, launches on Valentine's Day. The Winter 2013 issue of www . piquezine . com does too! Original, literary erotica. We're still looking for readers and writers. So, check it out!

So, of course, with everything going on, this is the week that my words show back up, demanding to be written. I'm already well into the next chapter, so I hope it doesn't take as long to get that one out as this one did.

As always, thanks to my DTCPS girls for WCing, reading and just being plain awesome. I can't believe how freakin' lucky I am to have found their kindred spirits. We sometimes write stories together. In fact, we just published a story for the lovely Thimbles, who just had a birthday. You can read her present (mermaid Bella and Biologist-Ward) and the stories that were written for my and IReenH's birthdays too: www . fanfiction u / 4210330 / DTCPS

Finally, this note would not be complete with thanking raindropsoup—TheOtherSoup on FFn. She's is forever patient with my commas. (She did not beta this note!) Check out her site: www . theluvnv . com