Many thanks to my incredible pre-reader and long-distance-shoulder-to-cry-on, ladylibre, without whose assistance and insightful advice I never would have written this stubborn chapter.

Chapter 12

A second or two later, Rosalie entered my room, seeming relieved that I was awake. She handed me two painkillers and helped me to sit up so that I could swallow them. Then she made me lie back down and follow her upright index finger with my eyes as she slowly moved it back and forth across my field of sight.

"How's the pain now?"

I shrugged carefully. "It still hurts like heck, but the meds definitely make me sleepy and a little woozy…and embarrassed."

"Embarrassed?" Rose frowned.

"You know how I hate being the center of attention, and you and Em having to take care of me…."

"Isabella Swan, I don't want to hear anything like that again, young lady." Rosalie was both endearing and a little scary when she went into mothering mode. "You know that we don't mind at all. In fact, you're giving us excellent practice in our bedside manner. So suck it up, girl." She winked to soften her words.

Wincing slightly as I rolled my eyes, I prepared to argue with Rose, but I felt the painkillers starting to kick in. Instead of fighting, I allowed myself to relax into my bed, overwhelmed with drowsiness and a sense of peace. "Sure, sure…" I muttered as my eyes began to close of their own volition.

"Bella? Bella?" Rose was trying to rouse me—probably to continue making her case about why I wasn't a bother when I so obviously was.

But her efforts did no good; I was soundly asleep before I could tell her to stop worrying….

-0-0-0-0-0-

Immediately I was dreaming again that I was in his arms—in Edward's arms—as he whirled me around a familiar ballroom. My blue ball gown flared around me beautifully with every turn and dip of the intricate dance, and my feet never hesitated as I followed his confident leading.

I smiled up at Edward, thrilled to see him grinning back almost mischievously as he pulled me into his warm embrace more than propriety dictated. Raising an eyebrow in acknowledgment of his cheekiness, I spoiled the effect by laughing; Edward just made me so happy that our joy was impossible to contain. But the orchestra music drew to a graceful close, and the spinning couples twirled to a stop, applauding the orchestra politely in appreciation. Mr. Edward Masen and I joined them in the muted clapping that our gloved hands created.

Edward offered me his arm, and I gratefully leaned into him after the exertions of the dance. Realizing how very warm and breathless I felt, either from dancing or from the disconcerting nearness of my very handsome partner, I extended my midnight-blue fan and wafted the too-warm air across my face although doing so offered little relief.

Ever-observant, Edward inquired, "Would you like to step out on the balcony for a moment, Miss Swan?"

"Thank you, yes, Mr. Masen," I replied, smiling up at him. Responding with a wide grin that was delightfully crooked, adding character to his handsome face, Edward escorted me through the open French doors. Gratefully, I took several long, deep breaths (or as deep as my tightly-laced corset allowed) of the cool evening air as he guided me to the balcony railing which overlooked the most beautiful gardens I had seen. Despite the fact that they were lit only by the muted illumination of the nearly-full moon and by the light streaming from the windows of the mansion, the gardens were simply exquisite, the spicy-sweet scent of night-blooming jasmine tickling my nose.

"Beautiful!" I exclaimed softly, overwhelmed by the loveliness before me as I leaned over the balustrade.

"I agree." But when I glanced up at Edward, he was gazing at me rather than at the meticulously shaped topiary bushes, the rose bushes bursting star-like in the dimness, and the lawns gently undulating toward a small lake in the distance. His warm emerald eyes glowing in the half-light, Edward drew me more closely to his side than propriety allowed, and, gathered into his embrace, his heart beating as rapidly as mine beneath my ear, I felt both content and excited.

Of course, the moment that propriety was breached in the slightest manner, we were interrupted by the high-pitched voice of our hostess. "Good evening, Mr. Masen, Miss Swan." Turning to Edward, she simpered, "Mr. Masen, my daughter Charity is in need of a partner, and you do dance divinely. Would you be so kind"?

Smiling politely despite our hostess's appalling manners in requesting a dance for one of her daughters, Edward nodded to us both, holding my glance for slightly longer than propriety allowed, causing me to blush again.

"Miss Swan, my son brought a friend of his to our little soiree tonight, and he has asked for an introduction to you." Turning, she beckoned to a blond young man with pale blue eyes. "Mr. Newton, please meet Miss Isabella Swan. Isabella, this is Mr. Michael Newton."

While Mr. Newton was fashionably, if not foppishly, dressed and was quite handsome, something about him immediately repelled me. As his eyes appraisingly swept over my person, I felt rather like a horse for sale in the marketplace.

Blushing with embarrassment, I greeted him as politeness dictated—but with a deliberately cool tone. With a knowing smirk, he offered his arm to escort me back to the ballroom. "Shall we, Miss Swan?"

Reluctantly and with a barely-polite smile, I placed my hand in his proffered gloved hand, and he led us to the ballroom. As my new partner and I assumed the hold for the foxtrot, a new dance fortunately not as intimate as the waltz Edward and I had just shared, I glanced around the dance floor, trying discreetly to locate Edward. At last I spotted him dancing with a girl who was rather rotund and wearing a shade of pink that clashed with her carrot-red hair. Just then Edward spun his partner so that our eyes met and smiled warmly.

After all, at a formal ball it would not look well for us to dance together too often, no matter how much we might like to, so I resigned myself to Mr. Newton's attentions…as long as I could exchange meaningful glances with Edward from time to time.

But as I was turned about by the dance and again met Edward's eyes, I was surprised to see him stumble slightly—which highly unusual for Edward never missed a step. However, his gaze was fixed on my partner, not me. After a moment, recognition dawned in his expression, and his face drained of color, his jaw tightening as he glowered at Mr. Newton.

I felt my eyes widening in shock; I had never seen Edward Masen behave in such a way before. Previously his manners had been impeccable; he never danced with me more than was seemly at evening parties and balls, and he had always stepped graciously aside for me to dance with other young men of our acquaintance.

But not tonight.

No, tonight something almost like fear burned in his green eyes, glittering with the hardness of emeralds in his ashen face. This was not the expected reaction of jealousy as I danced with another man; something else was going on here, and my stomach sank as a sense of foreboding swept through me. Feeling my own face pale in response to Edward's bizarre behavior, I attempted to return my attention to my dance partner.

We chit-chatted a little as the dance progressed which was expected at a formal ball, and I noticed that Edward had guided his partner to dance quite near us—almost as if he didn't wish to leave me alone with Mr. Newton. And as I talked to my partner, I didn't care for the overly-familiar way in which he addressed me. And despite our hands being gloved, thus preventing skin-on-skin contact, I felt distinctly uneasy as he pulled my body closer to his than the dance steps required.

As gracefully as possible, I tried to loosen Mr. Newton's grip in order to regain a proper distance between us.

"Come now, Miss Swan, I'm sure that you can do better than that," he complained, suddenly yanking me by the waist so that I collided against his chest, tripping over his feet. I felt my ankle twist as Mr. Newton cursed, tightening his grip around my waist to keep me from falling…and thus preventing me from backing away from him.

I was so distracted by the pain of my injured ankle and in trying to keep my partner at bay that I had not noticed that Mr. Newton had danced us into a dimly-lit side alcove, removing me from anyone who may have noticed our power struggle on the dance floor.

Slamming my back into the wall, he loomed over me, and I whimpered. Leaning forward, he whispered into my ear, "I know how you stone-hearted bitches operate. You act all high and mighty, all noble and better than we are—just before you allow a man to enjoy your…delights. So," his voice dripped with irony, "milady, pray allow me to escort you to a more private location…where you will demonstrate how noble you really can be—flat on your back as you please me…." As his offensive words trailed off meaningfully, he bit my earlobe.

Hard.

As I continued to struggle against him, I cried out in pain, tears of fear and anger filling my eyes, spilling down my face. He grasped both of my wrists in one hand to stop my apparently unexpected struggles, using his chest to anchor my body against the wall as he kissed me bruisingly, his breath hot and pungent with gin. Despite the dizziness beginning to pull me under as I fought for breath, I kept wriggling, trying vainly to struggling from between the wall and his body until he pulled back just enough for me to inhale one shallow breath, all my corset would allow.

And then he slapped me, his wide hand splitting the skin over my cheekbone.

The pain reverberated through me, and in spite of fighting all that I could, I felt my body begin to collapse. The last thing I saw through my blurred vision was Edward's livid face as he grabbed my attacker by the shoulder and spinning him around to face him, thus pulling him off me. Edward's face contorted by a murderous fury, he pulled back his fist before crashing it powerfully into Mr. Newton's face….

-0-0-0-0-0-

"Edward!" I screamed as loudly as my breathlessness allowed.

Bending over me, my face cupped between his large palms, Edward tried to calm my panic. "Sssshhhh, darling. Sssssshhhh. I have you, Isabella. You're safe. You're fine, sweetheart," he soothed, his cool hands relieving the pain of my face where I had been struck.

But now the pain moved—to my hairline, my ribs stabbing with each indrawn breath. And my wrist ached terribly.

"Edward?" I gasped again, my mind confused, unsure if I were dreaming or awake.

"Yes, I'm here, love. You're fine. It was only a dream. You're safe. I'm here. I'll always be here…."

"Edward? Help me…." I whimpered, still in the grip of the nightmare.

"Please awaken, darling," Edward's voice was tight, tense. Forcing my eyes open at last, I stared up at him, confused by his tone of voice.

His green eyes burned fiercely into mine, his beautiful jaw clenched and his hands, refreshingly cold against my hot, tear-streaked cheeks, trembled slightly.

"Edward?" I whispered, barely able to speak as I absorbed the strength of his emotions; I didn't think I had ever seen him so upset. I watched him take several deep breaths as he calmed himself.

"You are safe," he vowed as he brushed my hair back from my face tenderly. But my breath was still catching, the sharp pain in my side not allowing me to take in adequate air in my panicked state. Edward's frightened green eyes swirled sickeningly as I returned to the darkness….

-0-0-0-0-0-

The aching pain in my side brought me slowly back to consciousness. As I blinked myself slowly into wakefulness, expecting to see Edward's beautiful but undoubtedly worried face, I was surprised to see Emmett sitting on the edge my bed, leaning over me and checking my head wound.

It took a moment to readjust myself to reality, more than a moment, actually. My delightful dream of dancing with Edward at a ball during his lifetime—and then the nightmarish and all-too-familiar twist of being attacked by a World War I-era Mike had seemed so very real…as had Edward's timely rescue and then his comforting voice and embrace, assuring me that it all had been a dream.

But had his calming presence after my nightmare been a mere dream, too? Or had he really been here in my room, quieting and reassuring me?

Feeling utterly confused, I reached with my good hand to pluck at Emmett's sleeve to get his attention which was focused on examining my wound. "Where is Edward?" I whispered. Foolishly I attempted pull myself up to a sitting position in bed…then gasped at the searing pain in wrist and head and side.

With a grim smile, Emmett gently settled me back into my pillows. "Whoa there, little filly," he drawled in a passable mockery of Jasper's Southern drawl. Then his brows knit into a frown. "Wait a sec, Bells. Who the hell is 'Edward'?"

As Emmett spoke, the reality of the Halloween party, the violent altercation with Mike, my subsequent injuries and trip to the hospital, plus my all-too-real dream/nightmare converged sickeningly in my mind. Swallowing hard, I tried to quell the rising nausea—but to no avail.

"Excuse me!" I gasped, pulling myself painfully to my feet and struggling toward the bathroom across the hall.

Of course, Emmett, doctor-in-training as he was, quickly cottoned on and helped me to the bathroom where I collapsed to my knees and vomited into the toilet bowl. Spasm after spasm wracked my stomach as I trembled violently, involuntary tears streaking down my cheeks with the effort of expelling the limited contents of my stomach. Emmett held my hair back from my face with one huge hand and rubbed my slouched back with the other. It amazed me that someone as huge and powerful as Emmett could be so gentle and compassionate; I knew that he would make an amazing doctor.

"You okay now, little Bell?" he asked, assisting me to my feet and filling a glass with water so that I could rinse my mouth.

"What time is it?" I asked faintly.

Emmett glanced at his watch. "Nearly seven in the morning—and it's raining pretty hard out there. But I need to check on a patient at the hospital who had complications overnight from his surgery on Friday, so I let Rosie sleep in a bit while I checked you out." He leered at me jokingly, and I managed to roll my eyes and stick out my tongue childishly.

"Snarky as ever," Em laughed, reporting his findings to himself as if he were jotting down notes in my medical record.

"Funny," I deadpanned.

"You know it, Bells. Now back to bed with you, my girl." Placing his arm around my back for support, Em led me back to bed and tucked me in. "Did you vomit last night when Rosie woke you?" he asked, concern wrinkling his forehead.

"No, thank goodness."

"Good. I just want to be sure that your concussion wasn't masking something more serious."

"I'm fine, Em."

"Okay, okay," he agreed quickly. After giving me my pain meds, he left me to sleep.

But despite the meds, sleep eluded me as my mind wandered back to my amazing yet disturbing dream. These pain meds sure brought out vivid dreams—that was certain. Every glance—every word—every detail was so clear that I could have sworn that all of it was absolutely real.

Yet this dream was odd—so very odd. Somehow since moving into this house—Edward's house—I had dreamed exclusively from his point-of-view, watching myself through his eyes, feeling his emotions and the inexplicable pull he felt toward me.

But now, for the first time, last night I had been dreaming of us through my eyes rather than his—as if this dream had seamlessly continued from the moment in which the imaginative vision in my creative writing class had been interrupted….

And then my beautiful dream had been so violently interrupted by Mike's presence, a nightmarish turn of events that brought a surge of panic as memory of his actual attack last night melded with the attack in my nightmare.

Yet both times, Edward had come to my rescue. I allowed that thought to fill me, to repel the fear-induced nightmare and the hellish memories of Mike's very real violence.

As I did so, however, I had to admit that I did not feel the least like napping despite the pain meds that usually sent me to sleep almost instantaneously.

Huffing impatiently at my now wide-awake status, I leaned over, groaning as my injured ribs objected, to grab Pride and Prejudice from the stack of books on my bed table. Opening the book at random, I started reading the Netherfield ballroom scene in which Elizabeth and Darcy danced together, their conversation stilted and uncomfortable.

But it wasn't easy hold the book in my right hand and still turn the pages properly; the brace on my left forearm made using my fingers practically impossible. Finally I raised my knees, wincing a bit as my ribs objected, and propped the book up against my thighs. In this way I could pin the book in place with my brace and turn pages with my right hand. But then the strain of reading in the dimly-lit room—the bedside lamp was definitely out of my reach—was messing with my aching head. As a throbbing sensation started behind my eyes, I sighed heavily in annoyance.

"That was my mother's favorite book," came a soft, familiar voice from the end of my bed.

Startled, I lowered my legs and book and saw Edward Masen standing there, appearing slightly translucent in the muted light of the rainy morning.

"I guess we have something in common then," I commented, smiling slightly despite the pain.

But of course he noticed my discomfort immediately. "Would you like me to read to you?" he asked with a small smile, his gaze concerned yet warm.

Gratefully I nodded.

"Here," he directed. "You need to lie back down and rest." Quickly he rearranged my pillows so that I could lie down comfortably. "Do you need more medication for the pain?" he asked, frowning.

Glancing at the clock, I frowned. "No, I just took some. I have to wait at least another three hours for my next dose."

His expression became concerned. "But if you are in pain…."

"How about distracting me?" I whispered, feeling my cheeks burn with embarrassment. But oh, how distracting Edward was. If anyone could keep my mind off the pain as well as the confusing thoughts insistently swirling through my head, it would be Edward…and our several near-kisses that have been sadly interrupted, both in real life and in my dreams.

He looked at me, confused…and strangely sad. "Pardon me? I'm not certain I heard you…correctly."

Somehow I managed to whisper my question again, unable to meet his gaze.

"But how can I distract you?"

Blushing even more deeply, I hinted, "We were interrupted last night…,"

Fortunately Edward got my drift this time, his gaze intense and focused, warming to the most gorgeous sea-green. Licking his lips nervously, he leaned toward me, but just before his lips touched mine, I instantly swept into the grip of the nightmarish occurrences of the past weeks. All at the same time, I was at the party two weeks ago with Mike kissing me against my will—yet I was at Alice's Halloween gathering as my ribs gave way beneath Mike's strength—but I was also trapped in my dream, unable to escape from a leering Mike in old-fashioned formal attire.

It was as if Edward had disappeared and Mike had taken his place, his lips hot and bruising as I struggled weakly against him. Mike's cruel words taunting as he attacked me, his verbal assault was more devastating than his physical abuse. The scenes blurred one into the other—both the real and the imagined—but no matter which images pummeled my mind, Mike was there…in Edward's place.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

Turning my face away so that Edward couldn't see the fear I knew was in my eyes, I felt a lone tear curve down the side of my face as I stifled a sob, my ribs objecting painfully as I shrunk away from him.

Startled, Edward pulled back, his body stiffening as he witnessed my panic. "What's wrong, Isabella?" he asked, confused.

"I-I—I c-can't…," I choked out in little more than a whisper. "Not again—not him again…." I struggled to repress the sobs rising in my chest, hating what I had just done to Edward. He didn't deserve my hot-and-cold reactions.

And obviously I did not deserve him. I would only bring him pain.

We had to stop this—whatever this was—before I hurt him even more than I have already….

A cool hand cupped my cheek, gently turning my face to his. His green eyes, sparkling so entrancingly just a moment ago, were now ancient with sadness. Yet I saw resolve forming, too—a resolve that somehow strengthened me.

Straightening, he took my good hand in both of his cool ones. "Ssssshhh. You're safe here, Isabella. You will not come to harm under this roof again." He studied my face, caressing my fingers as the furrow in his brow deepened. He seemed lost in thought for a long moment before speaking, a steely tightness in his voice. "That—pardon my questioning, but that—ruffian who insulted and injured you last night…."

He trailed off uncertainly, and I nodded, wordlessly asking him to continue.

"He…he spoke of you with some…familiarity." He nearly spat the word. "I take it that he is no stranger to you?"

Again, I nodded before averting my eyes. I couldn't bear his judgment now, after all that has passed between us. I felt my body trembling in fear as Edward pieced together the secret I had carried for the past few weeks.

He continued soothing my fingers with his touch, and I prayed he never stopped. "Is it also fair to assume his acquaintance is not a pleasant one?"

Again I nodded, this time with a shaky breath as I became more conscious of how large and strong his hands were. These hands had defended me quite effectively last night after Mike's attack. Yet these hands also soothed me after the violence that had ruined Alice's party. These were gentle hands.

The hands of a true gentleman.

A gentle man.

No, Edward was not Mike.

I knew that fact in my heart, mind, and soul.

Then why this morning's confusion? Why couldn't I allow Edward's kiss?

He must be so upset with me…or at least confused by my mixed signals.

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

A gentle finger lifted my chin so that I was forced to look into his green eyes. Trembling with fear over which emotions I would see there, I finally met his insistent gaze.

And there was only understanding—and a profound sadness—in those emerald depths.

"No, it is I who am sorry. I should have known that it was too soon after the occurrences of last night. Please accept my apology, Isabella. I should never have pushed you—"

"But you didn't push me," I objected. "I wanted you to kiss me. So much, Edward. But just before you—I saw—him—him, not you. It's not your fault. My stupid brain got all mixed up or something, and…." I couldn't finish.

The sorrow and regret in his eyes deepened at my words as he bent his head, attempting to hide his expression. "Isabella?" He took a steady breath. "Did he…I mean, has he done something like this before?"

The tear sliding down my face answered for me, but still I forced my lips to cooperate. "Once."

"Do your housemates know?" he asked softly as his cold fingers caught my revelatory tear.

I shook my head. "Not the whole story. They knew that I came here because of roommate problems. But I couldn't tell them…everything."

"Isabella, you could tell me," he suggested gently. "I would never force you to relive your pain, but perhaps sharing your burden will bring you some relief…if only a little."

He squeezed my hand in mute encouragement, and I allowed the peace that emanated from him to fortify my resolve. "I guess I can try," I said, tightening my hand in his and drawing from his strength.

Focusing my sight on our joined hands rather than his too-expressive eyes, I was able to find the words, my voice, flat and halting at first, gained momentum and expression as I told my story for the first time.

"It was a Saturday night, and my roommate, Jessica, had a group of friends over as usual, and, also as usual, everyone was drinking heavily—except me. In addition to the beer keg, Jessica had bought some hard stuff, too, and the party was getting pretty wild. After about an hour of dealing with loud and drunk people, I decided to hide in my room in order to avoid the worst of the noise and stupidity.

"Despite the mayhem that I could hear through the thin walls and my closed door, I tried to read and unwind after my busy week, but Jessica burst in, already plastered, insisting that I rejoin the party. She physically dragged me out to the living room; she was acting silly, but I also knew she was serious. Maybe she thought that I was more of a party girl than I really was or that I needed to let loose for once—I don't know.

"Anyway, I wanted to be polite to my new roommate and her friends, so I finally agreed to drink a beer with them and hung around for another thirty minutes before the loud music and constant yelling started giving me a headache. So I slipped out onto the vacant back step to finish my beer and escape the worst of the craziness. A few moments after I sat down, Jessica's boyfriend, Mike, came out and sat down beside me. With living in Jessica's apartment, I had met him several times, so I didn't think much about his seeking me out to talk. I thought that perhaps he felt sorry for me, the "loner" of the party….

"Mike seemed like a nice-enough guy, but something about him had always made me a little wary; he made me feel uncomfortable for some reason that I couldn't quite pinpoint. Anyway, Mike was pretty far gone that night, and before either of us had even said a word, he threw an arm around my shoulder, pulled me into his side, and tried to kiss me. Well, he didn't just try—he kissed me."

I frowned, rubbing my forehead as the memories flooded back. "I pushed him away, told him to stay away from me and that I wasn't interested, and went back to my room. I was kind of nervous, though, because my bedroom door didn't have a lock, and I hated it when Jessica's drunken friends stumbled into my room, obviously looking for a place to hook up.

"Anyway, about twenty minutes later, my door opened and Mike came in. He shut the door behind him and grabbed my desk chair…which he wedged under my doorknob. Part of me was scared, and the other part was berating myself for not thinking of doing that thing with the chair under the doorknob beforehand.

"Mike seemed more sober, and I was hoping that he had merely come in to apologize for the way he had acted outside, and perhaps he just wanted a little privacy for apologizing—after all, he wouldn't want Jessica to find out what he did. But no such luck…." I paused to gather my thoughts, and Edward leaned closer, intent as I continued breathlessly. "He—he grabbed me, tried to kiss me again, and I slapped him, hard. He threw me on the bed and…." My voice choked into a sob, and Edward let go with one of his hands to rub comforting circles into my back, keeping his other hand wrapped soothingly around mine as I tried to regain control.

I looked up at him at last; the worst of the story was past and the rest came easily. "But my dad had trained me well about what to do if I were attacked; there are definite advantages to being a police chief's daughter," I smiled wryly, and Edward nodded in approval.

"I managed to kick Mike where it counts, and while he rolled around on my bedroom floor holding himself, I unwedged the chair, ran downstairs and out the font door, got into my truck, and drove to Angela's."

When Edward seemed confused, I added quickly, "Angela was my roommate for the past two years; she married Ben over the summer." He smiled briefly, and I continued, "It was only about eleven o'clock, and Angela and Ben were still up. I told them an abbreviated version of what happened, and both of them were livid; I was afraid that Ben would really hurt Mike and get into serious trouble, and Angela insisted that we get my things right then and there—that I was not to spend another night in that place. So they came back with me to the apartment.

"But by the time I got back, Mike had spread his version of the story, insisting that I had kissed him earlier in the evening, had invited him to my room under some pretense, and then had tried to seduce him, all behind my own roommate's back."

I felt Edward stop rubbing my back, his other hand gripping mine convulsively.

"The moment I walked in the door, people I didn't know were pointing at me and whispering behind their hands. Before I had figured out what was happening, Jessica was in my face, screaming drunken obscenities at me, and when I tried to tell her what really happened, she lunged at me and managed to scrape me with her fake nails." Using my good hand, I pulled up my sleeve to show him where mostly-healed parallel marks disappeared into my wrist brace. Edward stiffened in anger as he examined the four deep scratches on my forearm without comment. "If I didn't have Angela and Ben with me, it would have been far worse since nearly everyone at the party believed Mike's version of the story.

"Jessica was calling me every name in the book for trying to steal her boyfriend while Mike stood behind her, smirking. Then she stumbled upstairs to my room and started throwing my books down the stairs. Fortunately, Ben dragged her out of my room before she could do too much damage, and we three packed up my things as quickly as we could and got out of there.

"I slept on Angela and Ben's sofa that night—or tried to sleep—but I ended up checking for rentals instead. And I found this place. The rest is history," I attempted a weak smile.

"And the day after you moved in, when you came home crying?" Edward asked quietly.

Ah, of course he would figure out that connection….

I sighed. "Jessica tracked me down and confronted me in the library during lunch, screaming accusations at me and then slapping me. The librarian witnessed it, so she took us to campus security so that we could explain our argument and so that I could press charges against Jessica if I wanted."

"Did you?"

I sighed again. "No. It's not her fault that she's dating a sociopath who goes around attacking women behind her back." I snorted indelicately, adding, "Although after all of her drama, I kind of wish that I had."

He smiled in response, and our eyes met for a long, warm moment that was fraught with a delicious tension. Finally, he broke our gaze, brushing his cold fingers along my cheek.

I studied his clenched jaw and pursed lips, my mind racing. "What are you thinking?"

He shook his head, his eyes wistful before he looked down at our joined hands. "Too many things at once."

"Tell me just one," I insisted softly.

He didn't respond for several moments, leaving me to wonder if I had asked too much of him.

Finally he raised his eyes to mine, his expression shy yet intense. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," he whispered.

Whatever I expected him to say, it wasn't that.

Rolling my eyes, I suppressed a derisive laugh. "Yeah, so beautiful with a bruised face and a cracked head and—"

His cool finger against my lips stopped my litany of injuries. "Please," he almost groaned. "I can't think about that brute hurting you." He leaned forward, touching his forehead to mine. I breathed in his scent of honey and sunshine, sighing in contentment despite my objecting ribs.

Sitting up straight with a reluctant sigh of his own, Edward indicated my well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice. "Would you like me to read aloud until you can sleep again?" he asked.

"Please." I handed him the well-worn Penguin paperback which he examined curiously, flipping through the pages which were yellowed and somewhat brittle with age. "What kind of book is this?" he asked, eyes round with curiosity.

"It's a paperback—it's less expensive and a lot lighter than hardcover books."

"My mother's book was leather-bound; my father bought her a first edition for their tenth anniversary," Edward spoke almost reverently about his parents.

"Really?" I couldn't keep the excitement from my voice at the thought of such a rare treasure. "Wow, I would have loved to have seen it. I've never even seen a first edition of any Austen book, much less owned one." I added wistfully, "It must have been beautiful."

"It was." His voice was soft, his eyes sad. After a pause, he looked up at me. "Where were you reading?"

"Um, in Chapter 18, I think."

He turned the dog-eared pages to the correct chapter. "Shall I start reading at the beginning of the chapter or partway in?"

"Elizabeth and Darcy were just starting to dance."

Edward flipped several pages and started reading in his smooth, musical voice:

"Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours' looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes she addressed him a second time with

'It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. – I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.'

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

'Very well. – That reply will do for the present. – Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. – But for now we may be silent.'

'Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?'

'Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.'

'Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?'

'Both,' replied Elizabeth archly; 'for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. – We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room….'"

Floating on the current of Edward's lovely voice, sleep finally took over my mind and body once again, but this time I slept dreamlessly.

Thanks for your patience in waiting for this incredibly recalcitrant chapter. This version is the sixth time I rewrote this chapter since the beginning of the year. I wrote a very different dream sequence (which I filed away and may add to it to create a one-shot) when I first drafted this chapter during NaNoWriMo in November, but I couldn't get the dream to work well within the story; I adored the dream and tried to provide context for it, but I finally had to abandon it. But that chapter didn't work right without the dream, so I wrote a different dream, one more closely mirroring Bella's experiences, but that one was far too detailed, so I ruthlessly cut it down to its present incarnation. And then I had to provide context for *that* dream, etc., etc. This chapter has been a BEAR—but it's complete at last, thanks to my so-very-talented pre-reader ladylibre. (Her stories are epic—go read them if you haven't already!)

And I hope to return to posting chapters every two weeks after this one. I realize that as I approach the anniversary of starting this story (March 5) that I've only averaged posting a chapter a month (but the chapters are 2-3 times as long as my usual chapters in Evening Star and Pinned but Fluttering). I hope that I can do better for you in the future as I continue to write this story. Your response to Only by Moonlight has been simply mind-boggling, and I thank each of you for reading, reviewing (sorry I haven't been able to reply, but I cherish each one!), and supporting me. Thank you!

Much love,

Cassandra :)

xxxooo