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To her credit, Tanya's convincingly nonchalant when I make my way over to her. She pretends not to see Edward trailing behind me, his hand and mine clasped tightly.
"Hey, so...I think I'm gonna go. With Edward."
She nods, glancing impassively at him. I can see hints of Mama Bear lurking around in her otherwise cool expression, but she won't act on it. I know she'll be keeping an eye on me, though. It's both endearing and irritating. "Okay. Tyler said he was on his way, so..."
"Yeah." Edward gestures toward the sidewalk behind her. "He's right there."
"We'll stick together, though, right?" Tanya says in a low voice, mostly to me.
I shrug, which earns narrowed eyes, and then nod. Whatever. I can't say I blame her. We really don't know these guys, and the buddy system just makes sense. It always has, although I don't know what she plans to do when I'm in college. For now, though, it's all right.
And anyway, she's no killjoy. She's been pushing me toward Edward since day one, and I know for sure we're on the same page when she winks at me as Tyler catches up to us. He swoops down, playfully biting her neck in greeting, making me wonder how far they've actually gone.
The noise level escalates as a dozen different conversations buzz around us, rumors of nearby parties and potential plans bouncing back and forth. Edward never lets go of my hand once, and when our group starts to move, he pulls me even closer, his arm now around my waist. Prickly-hot with nervous excitement and attraction, I slide my arm around him, too. I love the way he smells, and how his body feels like it fits against mine. I love the feeling of belonging, like in this sliver of time and space we're a unit, like the universe rearranged itself so that we could have this handful of moments.
I try to keep in mind that it's temporary, that in less than a week's time I'll go my way and he'll go his, but that just makes it feel even more precious.
Tyler is double parked next to Edward. He's super cocky, but he's also full of jokes and silliness, which is why I like him. In fact, he's an ideal match for Tanya, who can be a little full of herself as well. Irina, Kate and Rachel ride with them, piling into the backseat of Tyler's SUV, but Edward and I are alone in another car, a silver sedan.
"Is this yours?" I ask, looking around.
"Yes," he says, amused.
"Why, what do you drive?"
"An old, red pick up."
"Yeah, right," he snorts, watching me fasten my seatbelt.
"I can't imagine that," he says, shaking his head. "You all set?"
I nod, smiling back. In agreeing to spend the rest of the night together, it's like this weight's been lifted, like I'm free to act the way I feel. No more games, no more evasiveness.
He connects his iPod to the stereo, turns the volume up, checks his mirrors, and pulls out behind Tyler.
We end up at a colossal beach house across town. As we pull up to the wrought iron gates, Tyler jabs a code into the keypad and then texts it to Edward so we can follow. Edward says Tyler's tight with the kid throwing the party, that they went to high school together.
"Did you grow up around here, too?" I ask.
He shakes his head, leaning out the window to press the keypad.
Other than the cars parked out front, and the occasional laugh or voice, one would never know that a party was going on inside. Once we walk through the doors, though, we're met by loud music – indie electronica or something – and a ton of people.
This house is nothing like Uncle Marcus' McMansion. Whereas his feels kind of new, this one has an older, more distinguished feel, like the owners come from old money. No pretentious art or living rooms that look like they came straight out of a magazine; everything looks like it's unique and cherished, like it has history. There are several floors and countless rooms, each one packed with people indulging in different vices and pleasures.
There's even an indoor swimming pool, steam rising from its depths as partygoers splash around, their whoops and hollers echoing off the ceiling.
Tyler knows a lot of people. Edward seems to keep to himself a little more, but I notice people notice him anyway. Girls, especially. I'm sure our handholding is inconsequential; these days people have no problem making moves regardless. If they got him alone, and he was game, that would be that. And then there are the ones, girls and guys, that would gladly take us both. I can see it in their eyes.
I'm not as experienced as Tanya when it comes to this scene, but she's told me things. And I've been to parties - Seattle has a scene all its own. Still, I've never been to a party quite like this, and never with someone like Edward. This feels crazy and reckless and wide open, like the possibilities are endless. It's unnerving, but it's exhilarating.
Eventually Edward's hand tightens around mine, bringing my wandering attention back to him. "You want a beer or something?"
He and Tyler grab a handful of bottles from an outdoor fridge and we head out to one of the lanais, where there are couches and tables set up with ashtrays, empty bottles, and an abandoned game of dominoes. I end up between Edward and Irina, who's linked up with the groomsman she was paired up with earlier.
Edward turns so that he's slightly facing me. "So. Bella Swan. Were you really going to call tonight?" he asks, all frowns and exaggerated sternness.
"How'd you know my last name?" I giggle.
"Ty told me. Stop deflecting."
"I was gonna call, actually." I side eye him. "But then you popped up and I didn't have to..."
"How convenient for you."
"I thought so," I joke, sipping my beer. "You wouldn't have gotten off until late again anyway, though."
"Yeah, but I was still going to try and see you."
The bluntness of his admission makes my stomach flip.
"When do you go back again?" he asks suddenly.
"To Seattle?" I mirror the way he's sitting, turning a little and tugging my dress down. "I'm not sure yet."
He wrinkles his brow. "You have an open ticket or something?"
"Something like that. I start school in August, so...this summer has been kind of like...my graduation gift. Tanya and I went to Disneyworld for a couple of days before this, and we were considering going to Key West after leaving here."
"Wow." He sits back a little. "Must be nice."
"It is," I agree. "I mean, it's not always like this. We're not like...loaded or anything." I don't know why I feel the need to clarify this. I guess I just don't want him thinking I'm a rich brat. "My aunt and uncle have friends in the Keys, so they offered to put us up."
"So when do you leave?"
"Two days," I say. For the first time, the thought of leaving Miami bums me out.
His face falls slightly, but evens out so quickly it's as if I've imagined it. "So I have two days."
"Two days to what?"
His fingers brush the outside of my thigh, raising goosebumps. "Two days to whatever."
My gaze falls to his mouth, and I wish more than anything we were alone. "Maybe I'll stay longer."
By three in the morning, most of the crowd is gone. The frantic energy of before has relaxed into a smolder, and the people who are still here are in smaller, quieter groups of discussion and smoke.
We're still holding court on the lanai, and there's no one left on the couch but Edward and me. After exploring some of the other rooms earlier and then dancing for a minute right in the crush of the rowdiest revelers, we ended up here again, talking.
It's weird: our conversation has flown effortlessly as if we've known each other for years. This surprises me initially, because Edward's made me incredibly nervous since our first encounter. But he's so straight forward and easy going that I find my apprehensions melting away. We talk a lot about the stuff we're reading, movies, and music. He's been to way more concerts than I have, even ones that would have been on school nights, and when I ask how he got away with that, he explains that he and his brothers were home schooled. He plays the guitar and the piano too, he says, but it's been awhile.
"Homeschool? Your whole life?" I ask.
"From eighth grade on up."
"Did you graduate just this year, then?"
He shakes his head. "A year ago. We each went at our own pace...my older brother finished the same time I did, even though he could have – or should have - finished a year before that."
"But you didn't grow up here?"
He shakes his head. "From all over. We've always traveled a lot."
"Is your brother in Miami now?"
"For the time being."
Sometimes I get the impression he's being purposely vague. "Are you the secretive type?" I ask, fighting a yawn.
"I can be." He smirks, stroking my arm with his index finger. "You're falling asleep."
"I know; I'm sorry. It's been a long couple of days."
"I can bring you home, if you'd like."
"No." I sit up, shaking my head. "I'm not ready to go home. Just, wake me up."
Standing, he offers his hand. I take it, glancing over to where my sister is half draped over Tyler on a chaise lounge, whispering and kissing. If I didn't know any better, I'd say she genuinely liked him.
And maybe she does; who knows?
"I'm going for a walk, Tan," I say, tapping her as we pass.
She barely looks up, patting my hand absently.
From the lanai, a screen door leads to a set of outdoor stairs. We make our way down to the beach, where I slip my shoes off and carry them, wanting to feel the sand between my toes. A temperate wind blows gently, rustling the palm trees. It's not at all cold. I'm glad; I love the feeling of the fresh, salty air on my skin.
"Better?" Edward asks, standing beside me as I gaze out at the endlessly black ocean.
"Much. It feels good out here."
"Yeah, it does. I never get tired of being by the water."
"Me neither." I tuck a few loose strands of hair behind my ears. "Although... it's much different here than what I'm used to."
"What are you used to?"
"Seattle. It's chillier. And it rains a lot, although, not quite as much as people think it does."
"Did you grow up there?"
"Yeah. Have you ever been?"
"Once or twice."
I don't ask him to expound. Instead, I close my eyes as he trails his fingertips over my bare shoulder and down my arm. It's deceptively simple, but it lights me up inside, kindling me with the desire to be touched everywhere else. He pauses and I look at him, wondering what he's thinking. Moonlight and shadows play across his face, illuminating and then hiding his features.
So, the cosmos have aligned and it's come to this: standing on a beach alone with a boy I hardly know, but would give myself to in a second. Why? Because everyone else has paled in comparison.
I mean, I know what it's like to want. I've seen guys I was attracted to, been with them. I've played the games of chase, been caught, been dumped. I've been the dumper. I've kissed and been kissed, liked, and un-liked, wished and wanted and gotten over and hated. But have I ever wanted this poignantly? No.
He gazes back for a moment before pulling me to stand in front of him, resting his hands on my hips. For the longest time he just stares, and I let him, because I get to stare at him, too.
"Tell me the truth," I begin, raising my voice a little so he can hear me over the waves.
He smiles tentatively, looking almost nervous at my words, so I continue quickly.
"Did you know, when you took the job today, that it would be my cousin's wedding?" I ask, working off of a hunch.
His almost-tense expression melts into a grin. "The whole truth? Yeah, I knew."
"Is that," I hesitate, feeling awkward. "Is that why you took it?"
"What do you think?" he teases.
"Can you ever give me straight answers?" I tease back, poking his belly.
Splaying his fingers across my back, he brings me closer so we're pressed lightly together. The full body contact makes my heart go nuts all over again, especially when he lowers his mouth to my ear. "We know a lot of people around here, so it was easy to figure out which company the hotel had hired to work the wedding. I figured it would be a good way to see you tonight, and I was right."
His admission makes me ridiculously happy. I nod, sniffing surreptitiously at his shirt, which smells faintly of cologne, and something minty, like gum.
He tucks his hand beneath my chin and tilts my face to his, but before he can kiss me I decide to mess with him. I shove him lightly, making him stumble in surprise.
"What's up?" he laughs, not even affected as he steps toward me again. Confidence like his is off putting in some guys, but with him it's infectiously appealing.
I spin just out of his touch, shaking my head as I smile back.
"Oh, okay. I get it." He nods, crackling his knuckles. "So now you're literally playing hard to get. Right?"
He lunges for me, but I dart away again, this time jogging a little ways down the beach. Unfortunately for me, things like this give me the giggles, and that slows me down as I run. Edward catches up to me in seconds and sweeps me off of my feet, smoothly easing me into his arms like he's saving my life.
"Girls like to be chased," he says, matter of fact.
"And caught," I agree, giving him a little kiss on the cheek.
Something like wistfulness passes over his face, and he blinks slowly.
"You don't have to carry me all the way to the house," I say. "I have to go back for my shoes anyway. I dropped them in the sand..."
"I have your shoes," he says, wiggling his fingers. I look down to see the straps of my heels dangling from his finger.
"Oh," I breathe. "Thanks."
The beach house appears just ahead, and Edward puts me down, allowing me straighten my dress and hair before we proceed inside. We've been outside for a while, and I wonder what time it is. I take my shoes from him and brush the sand from my feet. Upstairs, soft music floats from the open windows and porches.
I'm debating whether or not to put my shoes back on when Edward touches my arm again, kind of like he did back on the beach. His fingertips tickle a trail from my shoulder to the inside of my wrist, and I shiver, looking up at him.
He looks almost uncertain.
"You're different than what I expected," he says.
"Yeah, it's good. You're, I don't know. Much more than I thought."
"Much more than what? Some girl on the beach?" I wrinkle my nose, even though I'm beginning to feel the same way about him. There's a lot going on behind that perfect face, and sometimes his eyes tell stories all their own.
"Way more. And, just...I like you."
"I like you too." So simple, but it's like puzzle pieces falling into place. With a jolt, I remember how limited our time is. Leaving him in a few days is going to hurt.
There's no gentle introductory kiss. He comes in swift and I'm ready, lips parted to receive. Kissing is always kind of startling, especially when it's been awhile, and this is no exception. His tongue touches mine, sweeping through my mouth, letting me taste him. He feels so good I shake, so he holds me closer, smoothing his hands up and down my back. Our faces tilt, mouths fit, tongues moving together in this hot, wet way that really, really gets me going. Rising to my tiptoes, I link my fingers around his neck and pull our bodies close.
We kiss that way for a minute, lips and tongues and wandering hands. With the waves crashing and the moonlight softly bright, I feel like I'm in a dream. A really sexy dream. This might be the most romantic, and arousing, thing that's ever happened to me. I kind of want to hoist myself up and wrap my legs around him. Luckily, despite his flirtatiousness, Edward seems to be a gentleman, and his hands never slide lower than the base of my back.
Eventually...reluctantly...I break away, motioning upstairs. "We should maybe check on them."
The lanai we were hanging out on earlier has been deserted. Frowning, I check my phone, but there aren't any messages from Tanya. It's not like she'd leave, though. I text her, wondering where they disappeared off to.
"They're in the pool," Edward says suddenly, holding up his phone. "Tyler messaged me awhile ago; guess I was too... distracted to hear it." He bites his lip, looking a little deviously at me.
His implication makes my face warm. I turn, sliding my phone back into my purse.
There's an unopened bottle of water sitting on the table. I open it, and then drink about half before wordlessly offering it to Edward, who finishes it. "Did you want to go find them?" he asks, putting the empty bottle away.
He narrows his eyes and stalks toward me. "Then what do you want to do?"
I move closer. "Be with you."
My words are so naked I shiver. He tugs me to the couch, and we fall back on to it. Instead of letting me stay beside him, though, he pulls me to his lap, a move so intimate that I'm startled. I don't know why. It's obvious we're moving in that direction. I yank my dress down, not wanting it to bunch up around my thighs any more than it already has.
"Sorry," he says, not really sounding sorry, and readjusts me so that I'm sitting sideways.
"You've gotta work up to that," I say, kissing his mouth very softly.
"You're right," he whispers, kissing back.
His hand goes up into my hair, where he encounters all of the bobby pins the hairstylist used for my up-do. One by one he plucks them out until he can massage his fingers through my hair. It feels unbelievably good. I run my fingers through his hair, too, surprised at how soft it is.
We kiss until the sky starts to blush pink. I've never seen the sun rise over the water. It's achingly beautiful, soft and vivid all at once. My eyes burn from tiredness, and from trying not to blink lest I miss a second of this moment.
Edward nips at my neck, stealing my attention. I moan quietly as he sucks, sleepy and turned on. "Don't leave a mark," I plead half heartedly, trying to be sensible through the lusty haze.
"Too late," he says, kissing the bruise.
thank you for reading, and for reviewing. i always, always love hearing what you have to say. i love the questions and theories, even though i can't yet address them. ;)
a few things:
- yes, there will be EPOV
- the story will continue on through the prologue (1st chapter) and then beyond