Disclaimer: "Twilight" belongs to SMeyer.

Recap: Last chapter, BxE discuss his lack of sexual experience and his interest in gaining some, albeit slowly; E confesses that he was jealous about Riley; B insists that he promise not to use his powers of persuasion on her; and as E is describing vampires' amazing linguistic abilities, including his newly acquired knowledge of Raquel's Tohono O'odham, he realizes that Seth and Raquel are headed to B's house.

Thanks, as always to Camilla10 (who's got 21 chapters of "The Fleeting Moment" up because she continues to be awesome) and Mr. Price, who has left a comment at the end.

Chapter 13: Quítame la ropa, quítame la piel

"Raquel is here?" I said in horror. "You have to go." Edward had just confirmed to me that not only could he see into her mind, he could understand what she was thinking even in her obscure mother tongue. I couldn't do that to my best friend.

"No," he protested. "You can't face an agitated wolf on your own."

"Then I have to tell her about -" I jabbed my temple with my finger as if that were the universal sign for telepathy while Seth's car rattled noisily in the street in front of my house. Something was wrong with his muffler.

Edward leaned down to whisper urgently in my ear, "She can't know about that, because then the wolves would know too."

Our argument was to be left unresolved, though, because there was a murmur of voices on my porch and then a loud rap on my door. Edward made to open it, but stopped and cursed under his breath. "The wolf's car is so loud that Sharon Stanley is watching us now," he said, stepping away.

There was another rap, and I pulled open the door. Seth rushed in, Raquel hot on his heels and reaching for me; an instant later, after a flurry of activity my eyes couldn't quite process, my sofa had been sent flying into the corner of the living room and Edward had the young Quileute shoved up against my now-closed front door.

"Seth!" Raquel cried out in distress.

"I'll stay away from Raquel, and you stay away from Bella. Agreed?" Edward said. Seth mumbled an assent as best as he could with a vampire's hand on his throat, and Edward let him drop to the floor and moved away, still eyeing the wolf.

We were now a tableau of three elements under the obliviously serene gaze of my mother from her portrait on the wall: Edward and Seth facing each other, both wearing expressions of disgust and mistrust and testosterone, and Raquel next to me clutching my arm, her hands shaking. For a moment, it was so quiet that even I could hear the faint buzzing of the cellphone in Edward's pocket, followed by the louder chiming of my own phone on the kitchen table.

"Bella, don't you know what he is?" Raquel asked finally, her eyes darting between me and Edward. He gave me a tiny nod.

So I shook off her unsteady hands and walked over to Edward. "Well, yeah. And I suppose by now you know about Mr. Werewolf over there?" I answered. Raquel looked at me in hurt and astonishment.

"Shifter," Seth corrected me, moving to stand protectively in front of Raquel even as he continued to stare at Edward. "I told Raquel everything, as is my right."

"You have that right with your imprint," Edward agreed coldly. "But you all could be punished for your despicable little charade with Bella on Sunday. It was cruel and clumsy and violated the treaty."

"She deserved to know who -" Seth started, angry himself, but Edward cut him off.

"Fortunately for you, I'm pleased with the outcome," he said, sliding his arm around me and pulling me close to his side as Seth flinched at the sight. "Even if it wasn't the one you wished."

"What happened on Sunday?" Raquel asked, but once more Edward's voice, even harder than before, took over.

"However, Seth Clearwater, you will tell Jacob Black that if he follows through on his scheme to make Bella's relationship with a student public, the consequences will be deadly."

"What?!" Raquel and I said it simultaneously, and my best friend ducked around Seth so she could better see his face.

The wolf seemed blindsided. "How – how could you know that?" he spluttered. I wondered the same thing myself, and got my answer when Edward brushed his forehead with an index finger that he then pointed at Seth. Okay, I could see now why he wanted his mind-reading hidden from the Quileute.

"I have my ways," Edward said, the words like ice. "You wolves might think that it would force Bella to leave town and force me to give her up, but nothing you can do will accomplish that goal. What you would do is expose Bella and my family to the sort of prurient attention that would bring to Forks a plague of vampires who are friends neither to humans nor wolves, and have even less regard for treaties than your tribe has."

The Volturi could read those Hot for Teacher websites and tabloid stories too, I realized, and if someone published Edward's name or picture … I shuddered. Edward's arm tightened around me. "They are also far stronger and cunning than the three who killed the Teagues seven years ago," he went on. "They will eradicate anyone with knowledge they deem inconvenient, and they have powers beyond your comprehension, powers to discover everyone aware of vampires."

He landed the fatal blow, and Seth staggered under the words: "That includes imprints."

As dismayed as I was by this revelation, I couldn't help noticing how magnificent Edward was right now, his face hard, his eyes narrowed, his voice a snarl. At this moment, nobody would looked at him and see a teenager. He was unmistakably something more than human, a supernatural creature who could easily dismember the taller, brawnier man opposite him.

I had to admit, I found it thrilling.

But I was also angry with Seth, and apparently, so was Raquel. "How could you even think about doing that to Bella, Seth?" she spat out. "My best friend."

"I told Jake it was a bad idea," Seth said to her, pleading. Edward's fury left him undaunted, but Raquel's made him whimper. "You know he's in charge, babe. But I'll try again."

"You need to do more than try." Edward's tone was cutting, then it softened. "Tell your packmates with imprints what I said first, then go to Black," he suggested, and Seth nodded thoughtfully. I supposed it said something about the Cullens' reputation for honesty that he accepted what Edward said without quibbling.

Raquel was now scrutinizing me and Edward in a way I knew well, reminding me of my initial worry about this encounter, one that had been temporarily eclipsed by Jacob's perfidy. And now that I knew about that perfidy, I could sure use a glass of something.

"Okay, now that's over, I'm going to take Raquel and go get a drink," I announced.

Both men started to object, but I shook my head.

"Raquel is uncomfortable with you," I said to Edward, and her silence at my declaration confirmed the truth of it. If she only knew just how uncomfortable she should be, I thought. I looked at Edward significantly, a silent warning for him to keep out of mind-reading distance, whatever that was.

"And," I pointed my finger at Seth, "we're going to talk about what a bad dog you are." Raquel didn't protest that either, and Seth's face dropped.

"You guys won't kill each other while we're gone, right?" I asked. From what I knew about Edward's strength, I was confident he could take on a lone wolf with one hand.

"I don't know about this," Raquel said, uneasiness briefly replacing irritation on her face. "And you never told me what happened on Sunday."

"I'll tell you when we're at the tavern, and Seth'll be fine," I assured her as wolf and vampire glanced at each other and shrugged. Maybe without Raquel and me around to protect, the two of them could hold their noses and work out their problems. "You guys can figure out how to handle Jacob while we're gone. Seth, there's chips and salsa, and beer in the refrig – wait, I forgot you're a minor, so just pretend I never told you that," I said out of form rather than conviction.

Seth grinned at me, well, wolfishly, so that I knew I'd return to find my refrigerator cleared out. "Don't worry," he said, then substantiated my suspicion. "With my metabolism, I burn the alcohol off in minutes."

The Sawmill Tavern, like the industry that its name was an homage to, had seen better days - back in the era when loggers and mill workers crowded in on a Friday night with paychecks in their pockets and nobody thought twice about the ugliness of destroying the virgin forest or the dangers of driving home after a few shots.

Now the potholed parking lot was only half full of pickup trucks and Tahoes, and scrubby trees had had opportunity to grow up around the edges. The tavern itself was a nondescript windowless building with a neon Rainier sign and an NBA game playing on the screen above the bar. Raquel and I paused to watch the Portland Trail Blazers get hammered by our home state team and to wait for all the heads that had swiveled to us at our entrance to turn back to the TV.

I knew a few by name – Bruce Clapp waved at me and looked at Raquel speculatively - and more by sight. At least I wouldn't be carded: Shelby Wells's sister Samantha was working the bar, and she knew me well enough that we talked about Shelby's pregnancy, which had just started to show. Most of my students might still be virgins, but the nonvirgins were definitely not practicing safe-enough sex.

"I'm pretty sure I waited until graduation to get knocked up," Samantha said ruefully. "Or at least prom."

Steve Nash scored for Phoenix and the Trail Blazers called a time out, so we grabbed our beers and just to see Clapp squirm, I introduced him to Raquel.

"So that's the famous Bruce Clapp," she said as we slid into a booth, vinyl squeaking under us. "Aside from looking like every other middle-aged high school football coach, he seemed pretty uptight."

"Because he was totally picturing us scissoring," I said looking pointedly at the reason everyone in Forks thought I was a lesbian. "Maybe now that he's met you, he'll feel a little guilty about it, though I'd bet that right how he's telling all his drinking buddies about it."

We paused to sip from our bottles, then Raquel demanded, "So, why are we here? You can't hide from me – I know it's more than just my being creeped out by your prehistoric ice core of a boyfriend."

Dammit, she knew me too well. "Hoes before bros," I said, stalling.

She snickered, then stopped, confused. "What does that mean?" she asked.

I twirled a beer coaster on the table. "Um, partly it is because I know he creeps you out –"

"That's for sure."

"But it's mostly because he can do something that would make you uncomfortable if you knew about it."

Raquel snorted this time. "More uncomfortable than—" she lowered her voice "-killing bunnies and drinking their blood?"

"He doesn't kill bunnies," I said though I wasn't certain about that, and ignoring the last clause, because it was true. He'd drunk the blood of people, too, but I wasn't sure that the Quileute knew that. "Okay, he has, like, a superpower that won't hurt you, though it could make you even more uncomfortable than you already are. But it's not my secret to tell, so don't ask me."

To my surprise, she didn't seem surprised. "Oh, I already know it," she said. "The twinkling in the sun." She fluttered her fingers alongside her face to illustrate.

My jaw dropped. "The wolves call it twinkling?"

"Yeah, they think it's pretty funny, apparently," she said, then her tone sobered. "And very useful as a signal of danger."

I sighed, wishing that "twinkling" was a plausible reason to keep her away from Edward. "That's actually not it, but as I said, I can't tell you," I said.

She narrowed her eyes at me. "Seriously, what is it, he's got x-ray vision or something?"

If only it were that innocuous, looking at people's underwear like Superman. "I can't," I repeated. "Just trust me, you don't want to hang with Edward."

"Well, that would make Seth happy," Raquel said. "He was not at all thrilled about me coming to confront you once he sensed the – that your guy was there. But in this relationship –" she smiled wryly "- I'm an irresistible force, and Seth isn't much of an immovable object."

She slumped back in her seat, looking suddenly tired, and it occurred to me how courageous she had to have been to barrel into my house knowing that a vampire was inside. And she had done it just to make sure I was okay.

I reached over and covered her hand with mine. "I'm sorry you felt you had to come out here for my sake, but thanks," I said. "It was brave of you."

She shrugged it off. "Seth said you didn't believe him when they told you what the Cullens were, so I had to check," she said, and straightened up to take a drink.

"And you're sure Seth isn't in danger from this mysterious power?" she went on, and I wanted to smirk at her at this evidence that her relationship with the boy wasn't as one-sided as she would have me believe. But I just nodded instead. She let out a pensive "Huh," and I had to wonder what she would come up as an explanation.

"Maybe you and Edward could get to know each other by Skype," I suggested in hope of distracting her from that line of thought.

"Maybe," she said, sounding dubious about the prospect.

We both sipped at our beers for a moment more before Raquel broke the silence. "Now, tell me what happened on Sunday," she said. "Since you apparently lied to me."

I grimaced, but she was right. I had reported to her about the trip to the reservation that she had pushed Seth to set up; of course, I had glossed over most of it, so as far as she knew, I had put Old Quil Ateara through his linguistics paces and gone home without incident. When I told her the real story, of how the invitation to La Push was simply a ruse to warn me away from the Cullens, she was appalled.

"And I'm sorry I couldn't tell you all that, but, well, I couldn't, and I'm relieved that Seth told you," I finished. "How did he do that?"

Raquel described how Seth had shown up at her apartment a few hours earlier, moving her furniture and canvases into a corner of her living room, and taking his clothes off. Her pleasure in his striptease turned into astonishment as he exploded into fur.

"Were you freaked out?" I asked. She seemed remarkably calm about it now, certainly calmer than I had been.

"You know, I wasn't," she answered, polishing off her beer. "I think I always knew that there was something not … ordinary about Seth. He had told me some of the Quileute wolf stories – I guess he was priming me? – but I didn't think too much about it, since back home we have our own trickster and shapeshifter in Ban, the coyote. Though our stories have a much different flavor."

"Are there women who give birth to puppies?"

Her face darkened. "No. And there won't be any." She paused. "At least, not for a long time. Seth looks older than us, but he's still very young. It's the opposite of Edward, who looks so young, except when he's angry –" she shivered a little at the memory "—and is so old."

"Yeah," I said, and exhaled heavily. "And I'm so young compared to him. I have to wonder how he could find me interesting. I mean, he can tell me what he did in World War II, and I can tell him about, um, my first day of kindergarten."

"That doesn't really matter, though, does it?" Raquel said, raising an eyebrow. "He's not after you for your brain."

"Hey," I protested.

Raquel pressed on. "Calm down, it's not as if Seth looked at me at Thanksgiving and thought, 'That woman is smart, talented and beautiful, and I'm in love and want to have kids with her.' No, he looked at me and thought, 'Mine.' Only not in so many words."

"But he does think you are smart, talented and beautiful, right?" I asked. "He should, since you are."

"Oh, yeah," she said. "Be careful about giving him an opening, because he could spend hours gushing."

"Good," I said, liking the idea of Raquel being so worshipped, and took a last drink from my glass.

"Would they be puppies, your kids?" I asked, and I hurried to explain myself when she glowered at me. "I mean, they'd have the shifter gene?"

"Yes," she said. "Or I think so. On the other hand, maybe it's the wolves' partners who are all carriers of the gene, like in hemophilia? It shouldn't be that hard to figure out. You did it for your own family tree, after all. And Seth was able to recite Jacob Black's ancestry for several generations to explain why he ran things."

"Aha. I was wondering why Seth said Jacob was in charge."

"Because he comes from a long line of chiefs, all men" - Raquel wrinkled her nose at this - "which means that though officially the tribe is headed by an elected council, now Jacob is the head of the shifters and the de facto chief. Which is too bad considering that the fool thinks it's a good idea to out you. Which is not going to happen if Seth and I have anything to do with it."

She started to take a sip from her beer, then remembered that it was empty. She put her bottle down and pointed a finger at me. "Somehow, we've managed to talk mostly about me here. That's going to change when I come back. Do you want another, too?"

"I'll take a club soda," I said, and reached into my jacket pocket as she headed to the bar.

When my phone had chimed earlier, it was with a text from a worried, blind Alice, and I had already answered her. It buzzed now in my hands. Alice, again:

"Now I can see you but not E. I DON'T LIKE IT. At least I know the responsible party now."

I was sure Edward was all right, but I sent him a text anyway, and was almost instantly answered.

"Your house is going to reek for days after this."

I laughed, and glanced over to see Raquel wagging her finger at some gray-bearded guy in a

Mariners cap at the bar. "Poor baby. See you soon," I typed.

A club soda appeared before me. "Everything okay over there?" I asked Raquel.

"Someone drunk and stupid enough to call me Pocahontas."

"Really?" I said, surprised that something like this would happen in an area with such a conspicuous Native population. On the other hand, maybe the guy was a descendant of the white homesteader Jacob had told me about who started a fire at La Push in the late 1800s and destroyed the village.

Raquel slapped her hands on the table to indicate a change of subject. "So! How long have you and your student been a thing, and why didn't you tell me that?" she asked.

I flinched, because I had been a bad best friend on this, then described how Edward had saved me from being crushed by a van and mauled by a cougar, and how our friendship – or more than a friendship - had developed over long runs in the forest.

"And I didn't tell you because there was something about Edward that compelled me to keep his oddities a secret, but mostly because I was ashamed," I concluded, poking at the slice of lime in my glass. "I knew you wouldn't approve – hell, I wouldn't have approved if you did it. And I was worried that articulating my feelings to you would make them more concrete. Then afterward, when I knew what he was … well, I couldn't tell you that."

I looked up at Raquel to see her sympathetic face. "I feel so oblivious," she said. "I was going on and on about how weird it was that Seth was in high school, and all that time you didn't feel you could confide in me. Then you find out what the guy is, and you couldn't talk to anyone about that. Did it creep you out?"

"I was really angry that he hadn't told me. I mean, I can understand it now, but at first …" I trailed off, realizing that I couldn't continue on this path that led to mind-reading. "Well, I felt like an idiot."

Raquel shook her head impatiently. "Forget about being an idiot. Weren't you scared? Aren't you scared? Doesn't he make you nervous?"

"No. Or –" I couldn't help smiling slyly "- yes, but not in the way you mean."

"Ew!" she said, but the disgust on her face quickly gave way to curiosity. "So what's it like being with, um, someone like him? Isn't he too cold? Seth says they have skin like ice."

"He's exaggerating. Edward is the same as the ambient temperature."

"Oh, so like a reptile."

I huffed. "Watch it, dog whisperer. You've had someone put his cold feet on you, right? But they warm up." I thought about that moment, and realized that there was something I needed to get in Port Angeles. I'd like to wake up in the morning with Edward under the covers with me, those amazing runner's legs bare and tangled with mine, his erection pressed against my hip, his hands wandering ...

I broke out of my reverie when Raquel waved her hand in my face. "And?" she asked. "What's it like?"

I frowned. Raquel and I had been pretty open with each other about our sex lives, and that was fine because we never slept with anyone we were really attached to. We had seen too many friends drop out of school for unexpected children and unfulfilling monogamy, and thus we carefully protected ourselves both physically and emotionally, I even more than she.

So we exchanged notes on guys and it didn't matter. What I had with Edward, though, felt too intimate to share.

"It's really new," I said, waving my hands as if I could deflect her question. "We're going slow. Like you and Seth."

"Oh!" she exclaimed, and I realized I had said too much as I saw a light bulb go off in her mind. "He's innocent as in innocent?"

"Um, yeah," I muttered.

"Wow," she said. "I guess there go all those sexy vampire stories."

Oh, he is definitely a sexy vampire, I didn't tell her. "Well, he says there aren't many of his kind like him, and it's unethical to boink unaware humans."

"But he can kiss you and stuff without wanting to … you know, bite you?"

"Yep." So far.

"Huh." She pursed her lips and was silent a moment before shaking her head. "Sorry, it still creeps me out."

"Hey, it's not as if he transforms into a giant dog at will."

Raquel's eyes became unfocused. "Yeah, isn't that amazing?" she said dreamily.

"Impressive, sure," I agreed. "Sexy, no."

"What's not sexy is drinking bunnies," she said, emptying her second bottle and glancing around the bar. It was late enough that the Sawmill was mostly empty now, the Trail Blazers fans having gone home disappointed. Johnny Cash was singing about the ring of fire. "I gotta say, though, when you were saying goodbye to Edward earlier? I've never seen you like that with anyone before, all melting and googly eyed. I hope you don't look like that when he's in your classroom."

"I do too," I said grimly.

With nothing left to drink, Raquel worried the label on her bottle for a moment before looking up at me and broaching the topic that caused us the most friction. "Have you told him about Renee?" she asked. "I mean, he's immortal, and you're … not."

"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," I said with more blitheness than I felt.

"Oh, I'm sure that'll go over really well," Raquel said sourly. She didn't approve of my decision, but like me she wasn't in the mood to debate it. "Listen, are you ready to head back?"

"Yeah," I answered. Edward's absence was suddenly like a pain in my chest. How much time did I have with him, after all?

We made our way outside, waving goodbye to Samantha as she wiped down the bar. I pulled out my phone as it vibrated yet again, and stopped next to a mound of cigarette butts on the parking lot asphalt. "Everything will be fine," Alice had written, and I looked at it in confusion, then alarm. She could see me talking to Edward about my mother? How could that be?

Raquel was a little ahead of me, and I hurried to catch up with her so she wouldn't have to wait at the car. A few spaces from my Civic were two guys next to a '50s pickup, the harsh lights of the lot bleaching it tan, and one of them called out something to Raquel that I couldn't quite hear.

From her reaction, though, I could tell he wasn't talking to her about the weather. She pointedly turned her back on the man, not answering, and jerked her head toward the car in silent encouragement for me to speed up.

"Aw, c'mon, girl, we just wanna see you two kiss," the man slurred. I was close enough now to recognize him as Pocahontas Guy, so a racist who thought lesbians existed for his own titillation, how charming. He staggered closer to Raquel, and I went to stand next to her.

The man was in no shape to drive, and looking over his shoulder, I could see that his buddy, just beginning to straighten up from his slump against the truck, was too wasted to pose a threat.

"Give me your keys," I told Pocahontas Guy in my sternest voice, that of the teacher policing the drunken students at the Holiday Hop. "I don't want Samantha to get into trouble because you had a wreck on the way home."

It worked. He stopped short and obediently reached into his pocket, a movement that made him lose his balance and lurch toward us. Raquel and I automatically each grabbed a shoulder to keep him from pitching face-first into the asphalt.

Just as I was wondering what we were going to do with this idiot, I heard a car turn into the lot. A car with a funky muffler I had heard earlier this evening.

"Raquel!" Seth yelled, and then he was next to us, pulling Pocahontas Guy away with such force that he ended up squashed against his truck, much as Seth himself had been shoved against my door earlier. The man's companion watched with an inebriated detachment.

And then I was distracted from all that, because Edward was here, too, smiling down at me. The puzzle pieces clicked together: Alice's text, Seth's arrival on cue, Edward's calm demeanor.

"Aren't you going to go help?" I said dryly, nodding toward the scene at the pickup truck.

"Seth's man enough to handle it without me," he whispered before his smile vanished. "Besides, in this case, the better part of valor is discretion, if an English teacher will allow me to use that quotation loosely. The representative of the law is on his way here."

I watched Edward disappear into the darkness at the edge of the lot, our encounter so quick that our drunken companions wouldn't have noticed it.

"Seth, get his keys," I called just before Tyler Crowley's cruiser shined its headlights on us.

"Do you folks need any assistance?" Tyler said in his neutral cop voice, walking over to us.

"This man was grabbing Raquel," Seth said, because to him, that's how it looked. "And he's too drunk to drive," he added, dangling the keys in front of his own face then handing them over to Tyler.

"Do you want to press charges?" Tyler asked, turning to Raquel. Pocahontas Guy started to protest, but Tyler said, quellingly, "Quiet, Waylon."

"Um," Raquel started, but I broke in, "Seth luckily got here before they had a chance to do anything." I was certain that Waylon and his friend were in no condition to do us any harm except with inappropriate suggestions, but I didn't want to diminish the wolf's rescue mission … especially when he was visibly swelling with pride at my words.

"That's true," Raquel agreed, gazing fondly at Seth, who by this point was more holding Waylon up than restraining him.

"All right then," Tyler said. "Waylon, you and Gerald go get in the back seat, and you can have a nap at the station."

Seth and Tyler maneuvered the two men into the cruiser while I peered into the thin dark woods, trying in vain to see Edward. "Gerald, sit up, I don't want you throwing up, okay?" Tyler said as he closed the door.

With that, Tyler's cop demeanor relaxed. "Hey, Raquel, sorry about that," he said. "Waylon there just fell off the wagon and he's not tolerating his liquor so good yet, and Gerald, well, he's just useless."

"It's okay," Raquel told him, and Tyler watched with interest as Seth put his arm around her waist.

"Great to see you, Seth," Tyler said. "How's Leah?"

"Good, good. She and her husband are going to have a baby soon."

Tyler looked surprised, then disappointed, and I guessed that he must have been nursing a crush on Seth's beautiful older sister. "Oh, I didn't know," he said, scratching the back of his head. "Wish her luck for me. And you, damn, I'm sure you're sick of hearing it, but you have really grown."

Seth smirked down at Tyler from his great wolfy height. "Yeah, there's apparently some tall genes hiding in my family," he said.

Tyler left to take his charges to the station, and Seth and Raquel waited to say goodbye until I got into my Civic and turned on the engine - Raquel was heading to LaPush because, like me, she was meeting the parents as the new girlfriend this weekend.

"Listen, Bella, be careful," Seth said, crouching down to my level. He looked conflicted. "I mean, obviously Cullen has a thing for you, but – let me know if you need help, okay?"

"I won't need it," I tried to reassure him.

"And tell him thanks for this," Seth added, tilting his head to indicate the patch of parking lot by the old truck.

"Of course. Raquel, let's talk tomorrow?" I said, and she nodded and leaned down to give me a kiss that Waylon would have been completely disappointed in.

When I pulled into my driveway, I noticed that all my windows were open, and when I stepped out of my car, I heard my name called softly from the back yard.

"Hi," I said to the vampire waiting next to my porch. "What's up with my windows?"

"I hope you don't mind," Edward said, drawing me into his arms. "The wind will chase out the wolf stench. I closed off your bedroom, so it shouldn't be too cold. May I take you up?"

I nodded, and his legs coiled into a spring that landed us on the eaves. He slid up the window sash and helped me inside. He was right, it was sufficiently warm here, and I tossed my jacket onto my dresser as Edward turned on the bedside light.

"First," I said, raising my hand to stop him before he could waylay me with necking, "Seth says thanks in case you didn't hear that already. Second, Raquel now thinks you have x-ray vision. Third, you Cullens are such sneaky bastards. Alice could see that Raquel and I would be perfectly safe, couldn't she? But still Seth shows up and gets to be the hero."

Edward shrugged. "All I told Seth was that my sister could see flashes of the future, and that she had texted me to let me know that you two would have a confrontation with a pair of men in the parking lot. I didn't lie, nor even exaggerate. The wolf took it from there."

"And now he's eternally grateful to you, and I bet you know that Raquel won't burst his bubble by telling him it was nothing."

"Yes," Edward said, unruffled. "It is prudent to have an ally in the pack."

Well, if deceiving Seth kept the Volturi away, I couldn't really argue, could I?

"I should tell you that Seth consumed everything that you told him he could eat and drink," Edward went on, looking faintly nauseated. "It was revolting to watch."

"Yeah, how did you guys get along?" I asked, pulling off my sweater.

Edward was silent as he watched me, and I had to dramatically clear my throat before he answered. "Um, quite well," he said. "Even before Alice's warning, Seth was thinking that I wasn't so bad for a disgusting bloodsucker."

"Huh, maybe wolves and vampires don't always have to be enemies," I said, but then I was arrested by a sudden suspicion. "Or did you use vampire persuasion on him?"

"It wasn't necessary," he answered. "All we had to do was talk."


Edward laughed. "We talked about how to handle Jacob. We talked about you, a little bit. I must say that it's a relief to have a male think about you without his mentally picturing you naked in a way I haven't experienced. But mostly Seth was either telling me how wonderful Raquel is – and I taught him a little Tohono O'odham so he can impress her – or quizzing me about her artwork and meeting her in Seattle –"

"Wait," I interrupted him. I wanted to make sure I was parsing that last sentence correctly. "You've seen Raquel's paintings?"

"Of course," he said, looking surprised that I would ask. "Everything on your walls is by her."

"How would you know that?" I hadn't discussed Raquel's portrait of my mother with him, since that would bring up a topic I wasn't ready to discuss with him yet.

"Because I went to the group show at the gallery, remember?" he said patiently. "I gave you my opinion of that boy Riley's work."

Yes, he had, and I hadn't understood the implications of that at the time.

"Oh! That means," I said in realization, "that you saw Raquel's naked painting of me."

Edward was silent for moment, then nodded. "It doesn't do you justice," he said simply.

To the contrary, Raquel's portrait was highly flattering. But I saw no reason to contradict him since I could see a way forward to progress.

"How would you know?" I asked, then added with a sultry undertone, "You haven't seen me that way, as you just said."

"Ah," Edward seemed flustered. "I meant your face."

"My face, really?" I teased him. "Would you like to find out?" I stepped toward him slowly and put my fingers on the top button of my flannel shirt, giving him time to stop me. In just a second the atmosphere in the room had changed.

"Yes," he said, his voice low and not flustered at all anymore. "But may I do that part?"

I nodded and dropped my hand, inhaling his scent as he moved just inches away from me and curled his own hand around the side of my neck. "It would be good," he murmured, "if I can manage this without tearing off your shirt."

My pulse raced at his words, and he could feel it under his palm. "Is that fright?" he asked, his eyes darkening. "Or arousal? You know I can't always tell."

Oh, he knew what it was, sneaky bastard. "I'm not afraid of you," I managed to get out, and he smiled wickedly and with one move pulled my shirt open, buttons scattering, then yanking it off my arms and tossing it to the side.

I hadn't wanted to put on a bra after my run, and so now my chest was heaving under a white camisole, my nipples and areolas visible through the thin cotton, just as they were through the sheet in Raquel's painting. I was so turned on that I couldn't find it in me to complain about his manhandling one of my favorite shirts, not with his eyes devouring me that way.

"I'm right," he said. "It doesn't do you justice."

"Touch me," I said, pulling his hand up to cover my breast. His palm was still chilly from outside, and my nipple readily stiffened from the temperature and the contact.

"Show me," he said, and I looked at him curiously, not sure what he meant. "Show me the pressure you like," he clarified.

Of course. He let me trail his hand over the curves on top and bottom, his eyes watching his fingers, my eyes watching his face. I rubbed his thumb around and across the nipple, letting out a moan at the sensation and his intent expression.

"And the other, is it the same?" he asked.

"Let's find out," I answered, and cupped his left, colder hand around me, experimenting with the pressure there, gasping again as fingers brushed my nipple.

"It's different," he concluded after a while.

"And it will probably be different tomorrow, and the day after that," I breathed.

"I think I've got a handle on it for tonight, though," he said. He bent his head to reach my lips, and I wound my arms around his neck, then dropped them as he gathered my hair out of the way and moved to my throat. And that was so fantastic that I didn't notice at first the straps of my camisole being pushed down my arms, the fabric held up only by the hardened tips of my breasts, until his hands slipped under and the material fell to my waist, and my God, that was good, lips on my earlobe and fingers teasing and pulling at the nipples until I could feel pulsing between my legs.

I cried out and grabbed at his T-shirt to keep myself upright, because dear Lord, my knees were buckling. Edward pulled his head back and looked at me in question.

"I'm all right," I panted. "You're very good at this. Maybe too good."

He looked pleased. "Or maybe it's a you-and-me effect," he said, echoing my words from our first night together. "Because I truly have no experience with it."

"Whatever," I said as I regained the use of my legs and released my hold on his shirt. "I just need to lie down while you do it some more."

I rid myself of the camisole, and we kicked off our shoes and tumbled into bed. I thought about asking him to take off his own shirt before deciding it might be more stimulation than I could handle in one night – if I wasn't careful, I was going to end up pawing at the fly of his jeans. Still, it was lovely to press the sensitized skin of my breasts against the soft material of his T-shirt, to feel his hands roaming my bare back. We kissed, and we French-kissed in that one-sided way we had, and he tasted sweet, not of sugar or honey but something unique.

I eventually had to break away to breathe in that one-sided way we also had, and he occupied himself by kissing other parts of me. He had a knack for finding and lingering on the spots that made me shiver and flush most, and I never realized before just how sensitive my collarbones were. Under his lips, under his tongue, my skin seemed to glow with heat.

I wondered if my lips had the same effect on his skin. I wondered how he would feel inside me. I wondered when I was going to have a chance to get myself off.

Then I wondered no further, because those beautiful fingers were on my breasts again, making me undulate as his hands moved, and forgive me, making me seriously contemplate pawing at the fly of the jeans worn by a man who worried that he could kill me with a careless, startled move. Really, I thought, and for the first time in my life I understood those women who decide to roll the dice and not get up and find that condom they have stashed away because what was happening felt too good to stop, it would probably be safe…

Except that what was happening did stop. "What?" I asked in confusion as Edward's fingers went still on me and he tried to catch my gaze.

"Can you stay in place for a moment?" he asked, dropping a soft kiss on the top swell of my left breast. "So I don't scrape you."

"For a moment," I agreed, just wanting him to keep moving on me, and if it involved his mouth, so much the better. He bent his head and swiped his tongue down my cleavage, the sensation like a pleasantly warm electric filament being laid on my flesh. I gasped but kept still, and Edward hummed in approval.

And then his tongue was on this curve, and then that one, and I soon found myself with one hand woven into that astonishing hair of his, and the other fisted into the duvet next to me, his body essentially now pinning me down below the waist, so I didn't have to worry anymore about remaining still.

Instead I could focus on just how my nipples felt under his lips and tongue, on how they had never felt so sensitive before, on how I had never felt my body respond in this way before, because my thighs were stiffening and - fuck, how was this happening? - the sensation of climax moved to where my pelvis arched as best it could against his unyielding flesh. My mouth made the sort of noises that would flummox a field linguist trying to translate them into the International Phonetic Alphabet.

There was more: Edward's lips stopped moving on me, and his forehead dropped to my collarbone as he grunted softly and pressed once, gently, against my thigh. He had come, too, I realized. Maybe it was because he was a 17-year-old or maybe it was because vampires in general didn't need much to get off, but I grinned because it was because of me and because this was a fucking wonderful discovery.

He lifted his head and his grin matched my own. "I think we both needed that," I said, still panting. "Um, do you need to go –" I loosened my hand from the duvet and waved vaguely toward the bathroom, unsure how comfortable he would be with my acknowledging what had happened to him. Guys could be quite tetchy on the subject of control.

But Edward's smile wasn't embarrassed at all. "I can wait," he said. "Cold, wet things don't bother me the way they do you humans." Still, he rolled off to the side, which exposed my bare torso to the air. He frowned and twisted so he could retrieve my buttonless shirt from the floor and drape it over me.

"Thanks," I said, and snuggled into his side, enjoying this few minutes before I myself would have to go to the bathroom and clean up. "Um, that's never happened to me before," I said, waving vaguely again, this time toward my boobs, still stunned by what had happened - I had read of women who could climax from nipple stimulation, and hadn't really believed it. "So I suppose that's a you-and-me thing too?"

"In truth, I believe that is a vampire 'thing,' as you would say. Something in our saliva." He propped himself on an elbow and looked down at me. His playful tone shifted to something more serious, maybe wistful. "There really are some advantages to being a vampire, you should know, and this -" he pressed a light kiss on my shirt above my cleavage "—is just one minor aspect."

"Okay," I said uncertainly, not able to read in his face what was behind his words, and yawned. "You should tell me about that … some time when I'm not about to pass out."

He sat up at my words, and shooed me out to get ready for bed.

When I returned from the bathroom, he was at my dresser, surveying the contents on top of it. "Do you have a sewing kit?" he asked.

"Yeah, in that wooden jewelry box there under my jacket." I yawned again and crawled under my sheets. "Why?"

"Because," he answered, "after you go to sleep I'm going to put the buttons back on your shirt."

He slid off his jeans, and I admired the glimpse of his wonderfully shaped legs extending from dark boxer briefs that I got before he climbed under the covers next to me.

I smiled at him sleepily. "You don't have to burnish your caretaking credentials with me, Mr. Cullen."

"You wouldn't want me to spend the whole night staring at you sleep, would you?" he asked, pulling the duvet over my shoulder as we settled close together.

"Have you been spending a lot of time watching me sleep?"

"A little," he admitted.

"Okay, then you can take care of my buttons. And thank you."

I closed my eyes, but my smile lingered. This all might end in exposure and humiliation, and definitely in tears, and tomorrow I was going to spend time with people who had discussed killing me, but right now I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.

Chapter title: "Take off my clothes, peel away my skin," from "Cosita Rica" by Bomba Estéreo.

I figure, if Bella has to have a boyfriend she can't take out in public, she ought to at least get some sort of secret sex bonus.

The International Phonetic Alphabet seeks to be able to represent sounds people say in a way that can be universally understood (or, more realistically, universally understood by linguists who know the difference between a dental consonant and a velar one). There are more than 150 symbols.

And an update on citrus: I recently learned that kumquat indeed used to be spelled cumquat. Who knew? So Mr. Price was being old-fashioned, not punny.

Thanks for reading and reviewing!

Mr. Price says: So that's what a lemon is! A shaken Mr. Price is thinking he could use a few thousand more words of that nice character development he used to make fun of.