A/N: I know—I suck! I'm sorry! The last chapter left you guys hanging off of all kinds of cliffs, and for that, I apologize. :[ But I think you'll like this chapter. ;]

P.S. I love love LOVE how you guys are enjoying a braver, stronger Bella. I adore Twilight books as much as the next fan, but I found myself visualizing a bolder, lion of a woman for this story's Bella, especially after she was the victim of a crime.

P.S.S. The reviews, follows & favorites just fill my heart until it threatens to burst! Thank you guys SO much. Enjoy chapter 11!

When Bella was a sophomore in high school, twenty kids from her class were pulled out one by one throughout the day by counselors and the armed security guard on the campus to be questioned by the cops about the wounds suffered by another girl their age. She had been bitten by human teeth sixteen times on her wrists, the base of her neck, and breasts. When she complained to her mother one morning that she felt too sick to go to school then promptly passed out in her bed, her mother took her to the emergency room where her wounds, that had become infected, were treated then reported to the police. It turned out that almost two dozen teenagers, including the bitten girl, had established an underground society where they practiced vampirism.

Bella, just like other kids in the school, had been inexplicably intrigued. But while the other kids swapped stories about how weird those "Goths" involved had always been, if they engaged in freaky sex acts, or if they actually drank blood, Bella tried not to think about it too much (she had, after all, an undiagnosed phobia of blood). Her mother had never given her a curfew, being that Bella never was the kind to go out much, but she found herself home early every day before the sun set. The idea of someone causing harm to someone else, especially if they consumed their blood, was traumatizing for Bella at that time in her life.

She half-expected Edward to follow up his declaration that he was indeed a vampire with a "just kidding" or a "gotcha", but he didn't strike her as the kidding type, at least, not about this. She took in his ceramic, creamy skin and remembered the minty-cold feel of his finger on her cheek, and Bella knew that from the moment she entered Forks, she was no longer in what would be considered "real life". With the dreary sky always pouring, the lush, towering trees always swaying, this town was more like the outskirts of a fairytale land where the resident prince was Edward Cullen, a creature that feasted upon blood.

She should be frightened, repulsed. She should feel anything but what she felt right now, which was entranced.

Her instincts were screaming at her to run again, but her legs remained still. She took in a deep breath and maintained eye contact with Edward as she tried to make sense of it all. It was no wonder Edward kept such a far distance from her and didn't allow her to touch him. Not seconds ago he had ran out of the house in a hurry, gulping the fresh air outside like a drowning man breaking the surface.

She realized that she was torturing him with the very thing that kept her alive—her blood. So why hadn't he just ended her life that day at the bank, too? Bella answered her own question: it was for the same reason that she couldn't stop thinking of him or dreaming of him at night, and the reason that he couldn't stay away from her. Suddenly, every inhibition or apprehension that attempted to hold her back from Edward Cullen fell away, and she looked fiercely into his eyes. She tried to say something meaningful, something to tell Edward that no matter what, she couldn't lose him. And she would never turn away from him. "I don't care what you are. I owe my life to you, Edward."

His eyes remained locked on hers. "Did you just hear what I said?" He rose from his slouched position against the other end of the porch and took a tentative step towards her. Her heart began to gallop, urging her to turn around and follow its lead, but she was defiant and took her own step closer to him. He watched her, his dark eyes ablaze.

"I heard you." The wind blew again, causing her hair to whip her face and followed by it were traces of drizzle that had just begun to fall again. The skies seemed to get darker as the dawn became morning. "And I don't care." She watched delicate drops of rain accumulate on his the side of his face.

"You say this now," Edward whispered. He took another step toward her. "This isn't a game, Bella. I really am what I say I am." His face hardened and he finally broke eye contact, his gaze settling on the floor between them. "I'm a…monster."

Before she could process another thought, Bella felt herself flying toward him. She didn't hesitate as she put one hand on his chiseled cheek and wrapped her other arm around his waist. The embrace was very possessive and forward, and she was met with a rock hard resistance in the form of his body. He was as solid as stone, and cold as ice. But she fought to keep the bewilderment out of her expression as she maintained her grip. She licked her lips when Edward drew in a startled breath so sharp it sounded like a hiss. His eyes darted to her, alarm flashing in his bottomless pupils. She shivered involuntarily as she spoke again. "No." Bella felt as though she had been living in a passionless, colorless world her entire life until this moment right now, with her arms around Edward, her body pinned to his. "You are mine."

She watched his lips purse as he exhaled, the sweet smell of lilacs washing over her face. She gasped when his hand found the base of her spine and pressed on it firmly with splayed fingers, pushing her lower body to his. Her exposed skin between the waistline of her jeans and her shirt rippled with goose bumps, and a fire ignited in her abdomen. His other hand cautiously swept his fingertips over her the skin of her neck before they entwined in her hair. "I am yours."

Alice was perched on a boulder over-looking the streaming river behind her home. She gazed thoughtfully at the horizon where she could see every photon of the sun's rays trickle through the trees as they became muffled behind the thick clouds. In moments like these she was grateful for her phenomenal vision. Every once in awhile, her mind wandered to Edward and Bella. She could hardly contain the excitement building up inside of her. Her dear brother would soon be as happy as she was, as happy as her whole family was. Whole and complete with someone to love and trust just as they were.

And if she was being honest with herself, she was over the moon about how close she and Bella would become. My sister, Bella said with a grin and embraced Alice.

She indulged herself with visions that flickered over her eyes like a slideshow: Bella as a newborn vampire twirling in the woods, half-covered by shadows, half-exposed by the sun as the tiny crystals on her skin shimmered while everybody watched…Edward and Bella racing through the jungles of an exotic island somewhere in Africa on holiday, hunting game…Carlisle being grabbed by the scruff of his neck and slammed into the floor of his office, tiny cracks forming in his marble neck as the pale hands that grabbed him closed tighter around his throat…

The outline of Alice's figure was blurred as she zoomed through the forest and headed straight for the Cullen home where she was hoping someone would be there that could help.

Carlisle had decided to do it the hard way.

When he refused with his thoughts to fulfill Owen's request for Edward's whereabouts, he was met with a melodious laugh. "Surely, Carlisle, you don't wish me to force you?"

"The only thing I wish, Owen, is that the Volturi had sent someone competent enough to contain Edward's situation, not exacerbate it." There was silence and Carlisle attempted to fill it; if he kept talking, he could keep Owen out of his head. It was when he was incapacitated and unresponsive when Owen would be at his most dangerous. The silence was deafening for a few beats before Carlisle opened his mouth to speak again. Like the speed of a freight train, Owen's haste disoriented Carlisle as he found himself suddenly staring up at the ceiling of his office, the tile of the floor broken underneath him. Snarling filled his ears as he blinked back the searing pain and stared into Owen's rose-colored eyes. Keep talking! "You know your business here isn't for Aro's mission alone. You loathe Edward."

"I'm not the only one in that line," Owen admitted with a crazed expression. "Why aren't you fighting back, Carlisle? Still playing the good guy?"

"This is a place of business and filled with humans," Carlisle struggled to speak as Owen's lone grip around his neck applied more pressure. He didn't need to breathe to live, but the pain was blinding. "And you're the only one here drawing attention to yourself. My staff will come look for me soon, then what will you do? Attack them, too?" He saw a flicker of amusement fog over Owen's face and he continued. "Still want to try and convince me you're here to protect the Volturi's laws of secrecy?"

Owen sniffed the air, then used his other arm to crush Carlisle's chest with one, swift blow. "Thank you for your time, Carlisle," he then said softly, almost teasingly, his grasp on Carlisle's neck unflinching. "I'll see you again very soon." Then he was gone.

Carlisle lay still as the excruciating pain of Owen's attack intensified. He didn't have to wait long until the gentle click of his door closing and the smooth, cool hands of Alice touched his nearly detached neck, tearless sobs wracking her body.

"Was it Owen?" Jasper demanded in a panicked voice as he appeared behind her, poised to join Emmett who was running a perimeter outside of the hospital's walls with Rosalie.

"Yes," Carlisle croaked. "I can't tell if he could read everything in my mind, I kept him distracted." He tried not to move as Alice positioned his head carefully so that his skin could heal properly. "In my desk..."

"If only I had gotten here sooner!" Alice continued to cry, Carlisle's visible suffering too much for her to handle.

"Alice," Carlisle commanded her attention, raising a weak hand to grab her elbow. "In my desk. Top right drawer." She didn't move while Jasper looked inside the desk, following Carlisle's directions instead. "Do you see a black folder anywhere in there?"

"No," Jasper answered, searching the other drawers just in case. "What folder are you talking about?"

Carlisle winced, another wave of pain overcoming him as his body began to regenerate. He let out a cry of agony, riding the wave as still as he could while Alice continued to whimper. "Shh." She pet his cheek. "It'll be over soon."

Though their kind was able to recuperate from injuries such as the kind Owen caused him, the recovery was excruciating and nearly paralyzing. Carlisle could only wait it out, his crushed body on fire, his mouth twisted in a silent scream, all the while unable to warn his daughter and son that Owen had swiped the black folder that contained all of the research he had done on the robbery in Seattle and on Bella Swan.

Edward could stand there forever while the world burned around them, and he wouldn't have moved a muscle. Here, in Bella's arms while she was in his, they were safe and sound. His body was immovable and he could keep her safe from any threat, natural or man-made, as long as he could keep the feel of her soft, pliable arms around his body. She molded to his shape, almost as if she was made for him. His euphoric thoughts overcame the constant sweltering in his throat, the thirst that defined who he was.

Bella had come to him. She claimed him for her very own.

He would never doubt Alice again.

"I am yours." His reply statement was as binding as a contract. There would be no coming back; he was a dead man walking. Inwardly he snickered at his metaphor. He would die a thousand more deaths to feel this forever. Luckily vampires couldn't sleep—he never wanted this to end.

"Can we go inside?"

Her voice was rough, husky and it caused his hold on her to become tighter. Her request was tainted with insinuation: inside, where they couldn't be seen, heard…She was doing things to his body that he had never felt, in his years as a mortal or an immortal. He took a moment to compose himself as he realized it was probably because he had gripped her lower back, his fingers so dangerously close to her bottom, and was unconsciously pressing her harder to him. He released his grip. "Inside?" His voice sounded high, nervous.

"It's freezing out here…" Bella's head was tilted upward to look into his eyes, but her gaze lowered to his lips. Dangerous.

"It's probably because I'm holding you." Edward smirked and took a step back. She whined a protest and was reluctant to let him go, so he moved his hands to gently squeeze her wrists, signaling that she should release her hold on his body. "We can't go inside yet. I'm still getting used to your…" He bit his lip and looked away, mortified.

"The smell of my blood?" Bella offered in a nonchalant voice. Her leveled attitude made him roll his eyes.

"How does it not bother you?" His question came out sarcastically but he had never wanted to know anything more in his life.

"Because I'm still here," she answered, her chin raising a fraction like an indignant child attempting to make a valid argument as to why they shouldn't have to eat their vegetables. "And so are you."

"It's not easy, you know," he chastised her lightly. "It's even worse when you come so close…" He watched her brows furrow and her face fall, and he backtracked. "Not that I don't enjoy it." This is madness. Am I dreaming?

"Worse? Like, does it hurt to smell me?"

"You could…say that." He crossed his arms across his chest and completed the furthest distance he could, reaching the other side of the porch while she stayed on her side. "It's not something I feel comfortable talking about right now, not when there are other things to be discussed." Edward's tone was all business. He would have to stifle the urge to declare his undying devotion and the nearly animalistic need to cover her mouth with his for another time. "We have to talk about what happened in Seattle. I'm afraid the realities of the situation involve you and you need to be informed."

"Right," Bella said carefully. He saw the color return to her face and she quit shuddering, her body temperature now rising back to safe levels now that he wasn't embracing her. She looked behind her and found an old, forgotten tin ice chest tucked into one corner of the porch. She yanked it to her then sat down on it dutifully. "First, can I say something?"

"Of course."

"I want to just…thank you." Her voice cracked and her eyes watered.

"Why? Why are you crying?" Edward's hand shot out in alarm, shaking his head from side to side. He once again thought about how he would give anything to be able to read her mind.

"I was so scared that day," she sniffled, roughly rubbing the palms of her hands against her eyes to wipe the tears that kept falling. "I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm crying, but it's true. I was terrified. And the fear never truly went away." She inhaled deeply, the breath labored due to her sobs. "Until I saw you outside of the diner this morning." Another wet exhale and furious rub of her eyes. "I haven't felt this safe since you were lying next to me on the floor of the bank during the robbery." She risked a glance up at Edward as he struggled for the right words to say. It felt so wrong hearing Bella say she felt safe—with him. But he managed to nod as she stared miserably up at him.

"I would have never let anything happen to you." It was all he could say that felt true at that moment.

"Why did you do it?" Bella finally looked spent of her tears as her breathing evened out and she stared up at him again with glossy eyes. "Why me?"

"I think I should be asking you that." Edward looked into the distance as he heard a car start and a dog bark, sounds that Bella couldn't possibly have heard as the rain began to intensify. The pounding of the drops on the roof of her old truck clanged in contrast with his own velvety smooth voice. He spoke a little higher. "It was an ordinary day. I came to make a deposit at the bank for my family in our joint account. I was minding my own business as the teller completed my transaction, and you walked in." He licked his lips and winced, a very human gesture. "It was like I was being pulled away from the present and thrusted into my future. Your…" he swallowed, "Blood…the warm, constant beat of your heart." He paused, not wanting to frighten her as he had begun to come off as the blood-sucking vampire that he really was. "I can't say that it was just your vitality and my happening to be at the bank that brought us together. It was bigger than a coincidence. I mean, look at me. I'm not even supposed to exist." He gave a humorless laugh, continuing to stare at the floor of the porch. "It was something bigger than the both of us." He thought of Alice's visions and her ranting about destiny, fate. Finally gathering the courage to look into her eyes, Edward sighed as he watched her study him. "And I can't say that I'm sorry."

"I'm definitely not," Bella said as her tear-stained face broke into a small, shy smile. He clenched his fists together to keep from reaching out to touch her again as she continued. "I was there because my mom needed me to wire her some cash to pay her electricity bill. It was the last of the money I had after I paid my rent, and it was in the envelope that I gave to the robber." Her tone was suddenly sad, even bitter. Edward suddenly remembered the look her face that day when she hesitated to give up the tattered envelope in her hand as the robber snatched it away from her. "I knew the blonde robber would kill me if he took me with him. If I got into that truck, I was going to die." Edward was glad she was sitting down because she began to look woozy just remembering that day. He wished he could just casually put an arm around her to comfort her, but he had already pushed the limits by holding her. He had to pace himself. "I thought I was going to die. I fainted." She cleared her throat and it was her turn to look at the floor. "But even as I lay there unconscious, I think somehow I knew you had been there. That you would save me. I thought I could smell you…" She looked embarrassed. Edward grinned.

"What did I smell like?"

She hesitated. "I don't want to say." He didn't pressure her as she fought to keep speaking, her blush staining every inch of her skin. "But then I woke up and you were gone. And I was safe from the robbers. Then I dreamt of you every night, like my mind was preparing me for you to come back. My brain didn't let me forget one detail about you." They were quiet for a long time again, allowing the falling rain to fill the silence. The wind had begun to pick up, splashing them both with rain water. He watched Bella carefully as she welcomed the spray of the precipitation on her red face. The long sleeved thermal shirt she was wearing was white, and he could easily see the outline of her bra and her hardening nipples as her clothes dampened. Her lips parted slightly and her eyes shut, then he felt himself begin to swell in a peculiar manner. He needed a distraction.

"Do you still want to go inside?" he asked quietly. Hopefully he wouldn't regret this.

Bella turned to face him, momentarily forgetting the rain. "Sure." He suppressed a groan of desire when he heard the pace of her heartbeat quicken.

"But, can we sit near an open window?" he added. She giggled and nodded, then led the way inside. She closed the door behind them, this time leaving it unlocked and ushered Edward into the kitchen. He sat down at the small breakfast table while she opened the bay window that took up nearly the entire wall of the kitchen. The drizzly breeze was welcome as the intensity of her scent once again began to fade, though he was almost sorry. She smelled delicious in the rain.

"Did you want coffee?" Bella brought a hand up to her lips, shutting herself up. "Oh, God. Was that rude?"

"No," Edward laughed, raising his hand politely in protest. "No thank you. And no, that wasn't rude. You're being a gracious host." He watched her pour herself a full mug of coffee that was still boiling in its pot, perhaps because her father left it on, and take it to the table to sit across from him. He peered into her cup as the liquid almost poured over the sides. "That's a lot of coffee. Black. You don't add cream or sugar?"

"No," Bella answered, her nose scrunching up. "I like the real deal here." She carefully brought the cup to her lips and sipped as quietly as she could. "I have another question."


"How did you…" Bella's questioning eyes were probing him for an answer he had wanted to avoid. He sighed deeply and she hesitated before finishing. "…kill those men?"

"You mean, did I drink their blood?" As much as he wanted to, Edward couldn't keep the hostile tone out of his voice.

"Edward," Bella gasped. "Of course that's not what I meant." Her tone lowered angrily. "And I have no reservations about what you are, so it's unfair of you to assume so."

He didn't like where the conversation was headed, but he had to put it out there. Bella deserved to know what she was getting herself into. "It's what I do, Bella." He didn't include the fact that he hadn't consumed human blood for sustenance in the better half of a century, save for the relished taste of the blood of the blonde robber as he ripped him limb from limb with his teeth. Informing Bella that Edward feasted only on the blood of wild animals would only cause her not to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. He jabbed an accusing finger at her cup of coffee and she stared down at the mug, expecting something. "You drink coffee. I drink blood. I need it to survive."

Bella leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms purposefully, a vexed expression fixed on her face as she eyed him. "Well then I guess it's non-optional and maybe you should get over it."

Edward was overcome with disbelief. He should get over it? Before he could open his mouth to reply, she raised her hand, cutting him off as he raised an eyebrow. She's remarkable.

"I already told you I don't care what you are. All I care is that you're here now, and I don't want anything to happen to you. So I drink coffee? I also eat pizza and drink Gatorade. I do what I have to do in order to sustain my life, and you're allotted the same permission. I don't care what you 'eat'." She used her fingers to quote eat. Her mouth was set into a firm, thin line as she dared him with her smoldering eyes to argue. Instead, he guffawed.

"No wonder Alice loves you." As soon as the sentence left his mouth, he wished he could take it back. It was certainly too soon to further test the loony waters that he found himself wading in to alert Bella of him and his sister's freakish talents (his mind-reading, her future-seeing). He watched her frown elate slightly.

"Ah, yes," she said knowingly, taking another sip from her coffee as the deaths of the robbers and Edward's blood-drinking were forgotten...for now. "Alice."

"She's something, huh?"

"She's stunning," Bella gushed. "You vampires sure got it going on in the perfection department."

It was Edward's turn to frown. She was so good at putting him in his place, how he wished he had all the time in the world to put her in her's. Bella's beauty was the kind that men went to war for. Her neck so elegant, her hair luscious, her heart-shaped face mesmerizing…he stopped himself before he got carried away. "I didn't mean her appearance, Bella."

"I know," Bella said. "But she is." She suddenly looked out the window, searching for something he couldn't even begin to guess. "Where is she now?" The question surprised Edward, mostly because he hadn't realized that it had been so long since he had heard Alice's thoughts. Surely she would have been by the surrounding woods outside of Bella's house by now to see if everything was alright. But then he realized she would have seen in her mind that everything was okay, and that's probably why she hadn't dropped in. But his sister was something of a prying sort, so he began to worry.

"I don't know, actually," Edward answered before reaching into his pocket, then pausing. He had started to retrieve his phone, but had just remembered that he had crumpled it into tiny pieces the night before when Alice and Jasper had come looking for Bella. He shook off the cold feeling he had suddenly experienced and smiled at the curious girl in front of him. "You'll see her again soon."

"She said the same thing," Bella snickered, sipping her coffee again. "She told me she'd see me soon."

"Alice is usually right," Edward said vaguely while the two of them settled comfortably into the quiet. There were still questions to be asked and answered on both side's behalf, but for now, they just admired each other with great restraint, in no hurry to be anywhere but where they were at that moment.