"Jacob honey, are you sure you're all right?" Nessie's worried voice rang from the bedroom. "You've been cutting those cucumbers for an hour now."
"Yeah, yeah, stop bugging me already," I said in my best cheery, teasing voice.
There was no need for her to know about Bella's latest suicide attempt. Chop. No need at all. Chop.
It's not like they'd kept in touch after my horrific imprinting.
The mention of it still makes Nessie cry sometimes. She had been Bella's bridesmaid – so radiant and happy for her, so horrified with my sudden transfixion. Chop, chop.
That went to show how much she didn't have to know. She'd become all cold or all weepy again, and I didn't think I could deal with it on top of everything else.
I gave the cucumber a particularly vicious slice, and the knife went through the chopping board.
"Fuck," I muttered.
"I got you a-…" Nessie began, emerging from the bedroom, when our front door flew open, falling off its hinges for the umpteenth time now.
Embry stood in the door, breathing heavily as though he'd been running for miles.
Before I could murder the bastard for breaking my door, he uttered words that nearly stopped my heart.
"Jake! Bella's gone!"
"What!" Nessie squeaked.
"What happened?" I managed, feeling a little sick.
"Quil saw her running off into the forest – she crossed the treaty line. Says he saw her with a bloodsucker – the crazy one…" he garbled.
"The crazy one?" I repeated, baffled.
"Edward Cullen," Sam strode in calmly behind Embry then, closely followed by Quil and Seth. His decisive aura helped to quiet my nerves slightly.
"Quil just described him to me. He's an old relative of Carlisle's."
Even though Sam stepped down to take the Beta position when I joined, he was still the most experienced in the pack. I sometimes wondered if I made a mistake in becoming the Alpha.
Nessie looked depressed as she stood beside me. I gave her hand a tight squeeze.
It was hard for her. It was hard for all of us. But it had to be hardest on Bella.
My insides twisted with the same guilt that had been haunting me since I had imprinted on Nessie.
"We have to find her," I said at last.
"We'll help you," Sam promised firmly, but I knew that he had become weary of this. Half the trouble in our clan had something or other to do with Bella.
My hand shook around the glass. The tea was about to spill – but then Edward's long fingers wrapped over my own, guiding the glass up to my lips.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked tentatively.
"I'm jumping for joy," I snapped sarcastically. His self-proclaimed "jog" had made me sick to the core and I'd spent the last hour regurgitating my lunch into the hotel toilet.
His only response was to coax me to drink more of the warm tea.
"So what's your plan?" I asked wearily, once I felt a little better.
He set the glass onto the table. Leaning elegantly on an elbow, with one leg crossed over the other, he said conversationally, "Well, I have a vampire gourmet coming up and you're going to be the main course."
I stared at him, shocked, but then he chuckled.
"Just kidding. But I must say, your expression was quite amusing."
"Fuck you," I muttered, but my glare was feeble.
"My pleasure," he smiled coyly at me.
"Yeah, the keyword: yours not mine," I retorted.
"Is that a challenge?" he said mildly.
I looked at him, bemused. Sex with a vampire, really?
"Then make me forget." The words were out of my mouth before I could think of the implication.
He raised his eyebrows, looking half-amused, half-surprised, and waited to see if I was going to take it back.
My heart raced. Should I? Should I not? But Edward seemed to have taken my silence for certainty.
"I'll make you scream," he promised.
He closed the gap between us with one elegant predatory stride and captured my face between his hands.
His nose brushed against mine for a fraction of a second, eyes intense, and then he kissed me. He was kissing me, kissing me senseless. Lips fierce, dominating and irresistible. I was gasping for breath when he broke away, barely aware that I was now lying on the bed.
His lips moved against my jawline, down my neck, and I arched. A slight shock flitted through me as his hand slid boldly beneath my bra, cupping my breast.
"Aah," I gasped, as he pinched the nipple, rolling it between his fingers until it ached. Wave after wave of sensation rippled southwards and I felt myself becoming wet.
His other hand reached down between my legs, rubbing the wetness into my clit until I moaned.
"Jacob," I breathed, out of habit.
His hands froze for a fraction of a second, but it was enough for me to realize my mistake.
A bucket of ice crashed down into my stomach.
It had already been three years since I had been dumped. Three fucking years.
Pathetic, that's what I was.
All traces of arousal gone, I pushed his hands away, pulling the blankets up to my chin. I'd learnt not to cry. The tears that filled my eyes stayed there.
He slowly lay back beside me, giving me silence and space.
Seconds, minutes, hours must have passed as I lay there, staring at the ceiling.
Then his cool hand curled around my cheek; his thumb tracing my eyelid.
"I know you're crying," he murmured, "I can smell it."
And just like that, I broke down.
I had been desperately trying to staunch this for the past three years, but now the walls were crumbling and I could no longer stop myself. I was crying from the hurt and the injustice of it all. My life sucked and I hated- I fucking hated Nessie and Jacob for doing this to me.
"Oh Bella," Edward said softly, taking me in his arms. I tried to hold my tears back, but his kindness only made me sob harder.
He held me like that for a long time, his hand rubbing my back soothingly. And then suddenly he released me, leaving the room.
Strangely enough, I did feel better, albeit a little guilty.
We were supposed to have sex, and I killed it. Given, he did sort of kidnap me, but in the first place I did look for him, and I did initiate this… Thinking about the situation was giving me a headache. I should probably just apologise…
"Bella. Bella, look!" his voice was suddenly nearby. I looked up and was shocked to see that he was juggling eggs, a frying pan and tomatoes, with a silly expression on his face. It was such a bizarre sight that I laughed in astonishment.
"There!" he said, beaming, evidently pleased with himself for cheering me up. He stopped juggling and cracked the eggs flawlessly into the pan, catching them one after the other and throwing the shells into the bin before catching the other two tomatoes.
"Help me with dinner?" he asked brightly.
"Okay," I said, unable to help the smile spreading on my face. That was the most ridiculous but sweetest thing anyone had ever done for me.
"Catch!" he flung the tomatoes at me and I fumbled before managing to trap them between my hands and abdomen.
"Good catch. Come on," he disappeared through the door.
I quickly wiped my wet face and grabbed the room keys before following him down the corridor. He was whistling as we went into the elevator, casually swirling the raw eggs around in the pan.
And something hit me as not quite right.
"Er… Edward?" I asked uncertainly.
"We're in a hotel. Where are we going to find a stove?" Come to think of it, where did he get the pan, eggs and tomatoes?
He grinned like a Cheshire cat as the elevator doors opened. "You'll see."
He stalked out self-importantly into the dining floor; wielding the pan like it was a sword. I ran after him, feeling incredibly self-conscious.
"Edward," I hissed, "What are you doing? People are staring."
And that had to be the understatement of the year. All the diners were ogling, whispering and sniggering at his nuttiness. Our nuttiness, I realised, looking down at the tomatoes in my hands. Good grief.
"Aw loosen up, Bells," he said confidently, looking amused. I crept nervously behind him, avoiding all the questioning, incredulous eyes, and tried not to trip.
"If you're going to stride into the kitchen and demand to use their stove, I'm not following you!" I threatened desperately.
His only response was to grin more widely, link arms with me – no, I don't want to be seen with you like this! – and knock presumptuously on the 'Staff Only' door.
There were sounds of yelling, footsteps, and then a chef with a large red face and curious eyes poked his head out. "Yes?"
I wanted to disappear.
"Why can't we just have a normal dinner?" I sighed, as we knelt at a mini-stove on one side of the kitchen.
To his credit, it hadn't been that bad. He was polite – not demanding and eccentric as I expected him to be – and somehow he managed to convince the chef to lend us a small stove. I suspected there was some under-the-table money involved, but I didn't ask.
"When you've lived as long as I have, you'll realize how extremely boring normal is," he flipped the egg expertly in the pan, "Besides, what is there for me to do at a normal dinner? I suppose I could lick you while you eat," he said thoughtfully, a teasing twinkle in his eyes.
"Don't be vulgar," I mimicked his earlier words, my face turning beet red.
He smiled slightly, and then gave me an unexpected peck on the cheek.
"Anything for you, sweetheart."
I turned redder, if that was possible, and he laughed.
"I don't even need my power. You're so easy to read."
"Whatever," I retorted.
Then I did a double take. "What power?"
"I'm a mind-reader," he said, widening his eyes and trying, and failing, to look spooky.
I slapped his arm, and instantly regretted it.
"Why do y'all have to be so damn hard?" I said, disgruntled as I tried to pull back my aching palm.
He caught it in both of his, letting his cool skin sooth my bruised one.
A thoughtful expression flitted across his face, but a question bubbled out of my mouth before he could speak, "So. Mind reading?"
"That's so unique," I said honestly. "And a little disturbing…" I couldn't help adding.
He deliberated for a moment, and then said, "I can't read yours."
"Oh?" I said, feeling a little relieved, "So you can only read selected people?"
He frowned. "Not exactly. You're the first person who I can't read." He looked a little sheepish.
"Oh-kay…" I said slowly, trying to understand his expression.
"But as I said, I don't need to with you. Everything's written on your face," he grinned a little presumptuously, and I resisted the urge to smack him again.
"Your egg's done," he added, flipping it deftly onto my plate. Some of the hot oil splattered onto my arm.
"Careful with that!" I complained.
He was endearingly careful with the next few scoops. Then we both sat back against the kitchen floor and as I ate, he spoke.
"We're leaving first thing in the morning. We could buy clothes and other things you might need at stores, and then… we don't actually have to go directly to the castle. We could wander around first, see places, travel out of the country and try lots of nice food, for both you and me," he spoke rapidly, with an excited gleam in his eyes, "Oh, just think of all the exotic girls! And after that-…"
"Wait," I spluttered, "You're going to murder girls as we're travelling?"
"No, don't be silly – I'm just going to take a sip. They won't mind. So – I was saying-…"
"Hang on, who said anything about me agreeing to all of this?"
He looked at me as though I had sprouted horns. "What do you mean?"
"I-…" I trailed off, not sure of what I was going to say. Tell him I wanted to go back to La Push? Did I really want to go back to that cursed place?
So what, I was going to cruise along with his mad agenda?
What would everyone think? Charlie? Jacob?
Suddenly, reality began to sink in. My trail had ended at the sea. By now, people would've thought I'd died. Charlie would be grieving.
The werewolves would be hunting Edward – to kill him.
What was I thinking?
This was a huge mess, and if I didn't clear it up now, we were screwed.
Edward was still looking at me with those fast, perceptive eyes of his. Waiting.
Now that he was less animated, it struck me that he looked a little lonely.
The longer I looked at him, the more I began to realise what his life must like; a whirlwind of excess and distractions to run away from the sinking sense of loneliness. I understood so well because the terrible emptiness was in me too. Only, I curled up around it and shriveled while he ran away – living a life of indulgence and delusions. The stark similarity between us was disconcerting.
"Bella?" he said uncertainly.
"I don't know. I- the wolves. Charlie – They all probably think I've died by now," I said disjointedly.
His eyes became round like plates. "Oh. Crap. That slipped my mind."
I looked at him disbelievingly. "You're supposed to have perfect recall and an incredibly multi-track mind."
"I know, but I have too many tabs open – planning ahead for ten trips or more isn't easy you know."
"Ten trips?" I exclaimed, and then shook my head, "Never mind. We're getting sidetracked again. I need to send Charlie a note – an email. Something."
"Email? Here," he pulled out an iPhone from his pocket.
I never thought I would beam so brightly at the sight of the smartphone. I'd always hated touchscreen and all its un-feel-able keys, but now, it was literally a lifesaver.
"Why haven't you upgraded to the 6S?" I asked, as I opened the Safari browser.
"Oh, I forgot to," he replied, looking a little absent-minded.
I shook my head, wondering what could possibly be on his mind.
He had hundreds of bookmarks in his browser, with thousands of pages haphazardly placed in each of the folders. It was a wonder that the phone was still functioning.
I logged out of his email – ten thousand or so unread – and logged into mine.
I paused. What on earth was I going to say to him? After erasing three sentences, I settled with:
I'm safe, don't worry. I'm travelling with Edward. Please tell the wolves to keep their fur and teeth in – I'll come back when I'm ready.
Before I sent it, I quickly added:
PS. Remember to throw out the frozen fish, it's been in the refrigerator for a month. And stop eating instant noodles.
I logged out.
Edward was looking at me with a huge grin on his face. "So we're going?"
I tried not to give away the answer before I spoke, but his excitement was infectious. My lips curling into a wide smile, I told him, "Yes."