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"Hi, Dad." I managed a smile, which I hoped looked contrite. I edged inside past Charlie, my hands jammed in the pockets of my hoodie. There wasn't enough room to shut the door behind me unless he moved out of the way, and he didn't appear to have any intention of doing that. "You've been gone for five days and the best you can come up with is 'Hi, Dad'?" The volume of his voice crept up with each word and the flush I'd inherited from him spread over his face, turning his skin a flattering shade of puce. "I'm really sorry, Char ± Dad. I know Esme told you what happened in L.A. When Alice turned up, I had to go - "
"And you couldn't call me? Even when Edward was awake, you didn't think to phone and let me know where the hell you were?" I could do nothing but chew on my lower lip. I certainly couldn't answer his questions. Well, Charlie, I was actually in Italy, stopping my vampire boyfriend from committing suicide. Then we had sex. Lots of sex. "Jesus, Bells, you were always such a responsible kid, but whenever Edward Cullen comes into the picture you act like a completely different person." "This isn't his fault!" It's mine, for jumping off a cliff and making his psychic sister think I'd killed myself. Charlie gave me a level look, which didn't work too well with the blazing color of his face, and I knew that despite Edward's 'brush with death' Charlie wasn't ready to forgive him for leaving. "Are you two back together?" "Yes," I said defiantly. He sighed heavily. "You know you're grounded, right?" I expected nothing less. "For how long?" I tried not to sound too petulant. "Until I say otherwise." I nodded and stood there shuffling my feet back and forth while the awkwardness built up. Charlie had never had occasion to discipline me before, and no doubt Esme's visit had taken the wind out of his sails. He opened his mouth a few times to speak, thought better of it, and shut it again. I glanced at the clock ± Charlie probably hadn't eaten yet, which wouldn't help his mood. "Do you want me to make dinner?" "There's no food in. I've been a little too busy to go grocery shopping," he said pointedly. "But we can go to the diner." It was the last thing I wanted to do when Edward was waiting for me upstairs, but I could hardly argue. I spun on my heel and trudged
back down the steps, but instead of heading for the cruiser I made a beeline for my truck. Being alone with a still-fuming Charlie would not make for a pleasant ride. Sitting in the cabin of my truck gave me a chance to take a deep breath and calm myself. Charlie had the right to be angry, and it wasn't like I wouldn't be seeing a whole lot of Edward anyway, with or without his knowledge. I gripped the steering wheel and the flash of light on diamond caught my attention. Crap, crap, crap. I'd gone in there wearing my engagement ring when I had absolutely no intention if letting Charlie know about that situation. I doubted he'd spotted it, mainly because I'd had my hands hidden for the whole conversation, but that was a close call. I shimmied the ring off and stashed it safely away in my pocket. When we reached the diner, Charlie's mood had turned more pensive. We only spoke to recite our usual orders to the waitress. While we ate, Charlie did the open-and-closing-his-mouth-like-agoldfish thing again. He waited for me to finish my burger before finally broaching whatever it was that was on his mind. "I don't like it that you're back with Cullen, but I suppose I'm going to have to tolerate it. What I like even less is the way you've hurt Jacob." My heart twisted in my chest. It was the first time I'd thought of Jake since setting out for Italy. I'd been utterly consumed with thoughts of Edward, and then later with the real thing. Charlie continued. "He's been a good friend to you, Bells. He's stuck by you and he's good for you in a way Cullen isn't." "Dad, I never saw Jake as anything more than a friend." It wasn't strictly true, but I wasn't about to start delving into that now. "He knows that." "He looked like someone had kicked his puppy when you ran off. I don't know why you can't give him a chance." I threw down the fry I'd been picking apart. "Dad, I see Jake as a friend and only as a friend. I love Edward. I'm with Edward, and both of you are going to have to get used to that."
The vein in Charlie's forehead started pulsing dangerously. He stopped grinding his teeth long enough to speak. "Edward isn't the only friend of yours that's been in the hospital recently, and he's certainly not the only one that would have been cheered up if you'd been at his bedside." "What?" The blood in my veins froze. "Wh ± who?" But I already knew the answer - it was what he'd been trying to tell me since I got home. "Jacob had an accident as well, the day after you left. He got attacked by whatever's in the woods and he's only just left the clinic on the res. I thought it might interest you, in passing." "That's not fair!" I muttered, my words barely escaping, my throat tight with impending tears. I was on the edge of hyperventilating because I knew what was in the woods ± and I knew the wolves had fought Victoria on the day Jake was injured. "You know I care about Jake." Charlie visibly softened. "He's back at home now, but he'll be recovering for a few weeks." "Can I go see him?" "When?" "Tonight," I pleaded. He deliberated for a moment, but this was about Jacob. "Fine, you can go. But you come straight back from La Push ± don't you think you can use this as an excuse to go see Cullen ± and you'd better be home before ten." I was out of my seat and heading for the door before he'd finished speaking, mumbling my agreement over my shoulder. I ran to the truck and when it was on the road I pushed it to its limit, wishing for the first time that I had a faster vehicle. My hands shook as I drove and guilt coursed through me in rhythmic surges, like waves beating against the shore. I knew exactly what had happened to Jake, and this was all my fault. He'd been injured in
the fight with Victoria. She was only here for me and Jake had put himself in harm's way to protect me. Was he the only one? Had anyone else been hurt protecting me? The Chevy's engine grumbled as I tried to push it to faster speeds. Despite what Charlie had been told, was Jake going to be okay? I was still shaking as I pulled up outside the little red house, still carrying that sense of disconnection I'd felt in the airport. I'd been here not one week ago, and yet it felt like a completely different lifetime. Everything had changed: I was healed emotionally, but my best friend had earned new wounds in my place, and I hadn't thought of him at all while I was gone. For the second time today the door opened before I could reach for it and a foreboding figure stood on the other side. This time it was Sam, his expression somber. If he was surprised to see me, it didn't show, though his nose wrinkled for a second, and he stood aside to let me pass without a word. Jacob lay dozing on the couch, his body dominating the tiny living space, covered with a threadbare patchwork quilt that barely stretched from his chest to his knees. He looked far from peaceful, and the familiar warmth of his skin was bleached out, with even his lips a washed-out pink. Billy sat across the room and his eyes flashed to me, black and accusing. "You're back." "How is he?" I asked, keeping my voice down so as not to wake Jake. "He's healing," Billy replied curtly. Sam continued where Billy seemed reluctant to. "He's in better shape than the red-headed bloodsucker." "Victoria's really dead?" I couldn't help the surge of hope inside me at that thought. Sam shot me a surprised look. "You know? How?"
"Alice saw it. Or she thinks she saw it ± she has trouble with visions that involve the pack." I didn't miss Sam's flash of interest and triumph at this information. "So what Jacob said was true ± you've been with the Cullens?" I bristled at the clear disapproval in his voice. "Yes, I have. They're moving back to Forks." The look of anger that spilled from Sam made me instinctively step back, remembering how small the space we stood in was, and the marks left on Emily's face when Sam lost his temper. "Bella?" a croaky voice said from behind Sam, and that was all it took to control both my shaking, and Sam's. We turned to look at Jake, who was now blinking awake. I stumbled across the floor to him, tears blurring my vision, and knelt beside the couch. He reached out to hug me then shrank back in pain when he tried to lift his arm. The blanket slipped, revealing a patchwork of bandages across his torso. "God, Jake, what happened to you?" "I'm alright. You should see the other guy." He smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "I tore her head clean off." I gave a strangled gasp at his attempt at a joke. "It's not funny, Jake! What did she do to you?" His gaze turned serious, imploring me to be calm. "It's fine Bella, just a scratch." "Then why aren't you healed yet?" I demanded, and when he wouldn't meet my eyes I looked to Sam instead. "Victoria caught Jacob with her nails when he went in for the kill. It was a deep wound, but you're right, he should have healed within hours. Instead he's healing at human pace." "Why?"
"We don't know," he admitted. "Vampire venom is fatal to us, but there was no venom under her nails. The important thing is that he is healing." I turned back to Jake and he'd forced the smile back onto his face. It just enhanced the bloodless color of his lips. "Lighten up, Bella. I killed her. I'm your hero ± shouldn't I get a kiss or something?" I rolled my eyes and leaned in for a proper hug instead. "Don't push your luck." Jacob stiffened under me and I caught sight of his nostrils flaring, just like Sam's had when I entered. A fine trembling began in his limbs and a look of revulsion settled on his face. I rocked back on my heels in shock. "Jake, are you okay?" "I'm fine," he hissed. "It's you we should be worried about." "What?" "You smell like him. He's all over you." The disgust he wore was etched into his features and clear in his voice, but I didn't miss the flash of hurt that passed through his eyes. His next words came out as barely more than a whisper. "You've been with him." "Jake, you knew I was going to find him - " "No, I mean you've been with him. It's all over you. God, you reek." He pulled as far away from me as he could and I shuffled back a few feet on my butt. Mortification burned in my cheeks and I very deliberately didn't look at either Billy or Sam. If Jake could smell it, Sam could as well. "We're back together now," I said softly. "I'm sorry." His jaw tightened. "How could you stand to be with him?" Suddenly his words took on a heated force that I'd never known in Jacob. "He's a filthy bloodsucker ± he's no better than the one we killed ± and you let him touch you!"
"Jake, he's not like that - " "They're all like that! He's a cold, parasitic monster; how could you bear to have his hands on you?" I was trembling as badly as Jake and tears flowed down my cheeks in hot rivers. This wasn't the Jake I knew ± the friendly, easygoing guy. Where had this anger come from? "How can you say these things? You know how I feel about Edward." Jake snarled at the sound of his name. "I feel whole now I'm with him again." "Then I don't understand you." He turned his face away from me. "Jake - " "I think you should leave," Billy cut in. "No, I - " "Just go," Jake ground out between clenched teeth. I shot a bewildered glance at Sam, who stared back at me stonily; I daren't even look in Billy's direction. I rose on shaky legs and started for the door. "If you need anything«" I mumbled, but I didn't get a response. I probably should have waited before driving, because it was hard to focus on the road when I was crying this hard. I didn't understand how Jacob, my best friend and the boy I thought of as my own personal sun, could be so cruel. Something hit the side of the truck and I screamed, hitting the brakes and coming to a dead stop in the middle of the road. The passenger door opened, and Edward threw himself into the seat, his eyes wide and wild, everything about him fierce. His expression mellowed at my shattered state. "Bella, Bella, are you okay, love?" His fingers were on my face, wiping at the tears, and he scooted over so we were pressed tightly together. I nodded and opened my mouth to reply, but a fresh
torrent of tears swallowed my words. He pulled me to him and I rode out my sobs into his chest. Eventually I was spent and my breathing calmed, helped along by his sweet scent. Though his body was so hard against mine, it was comforting to be held like this. I couldn't remember Edward ever holding me when I cried ± but then, most of my tears had come after he left. "Bella," he said, stroking my hair, "what happened?" "I went to see Jake." I whispered, my words gusting along the skin of his neck where my face was burrowed. He knew about my friendship with Jacob, from when I'd told him the story of his absence from Forks over dinner in Florence. "He was injured in the fight with Victoria." He tensed. "Is she dead?" "Yes. Jacob ripped her head off." I shuddered, the macabre image of Victoria's decapitated head surfacing in my imagination, red locks spilling around a face contorted into a scream. Edward, however, relaxed. "Will Jacob live?" "Yes." "Then, why the tears, love?" I briefly recapped what had just happened, stroking circles on Edward's chest to keep him grounded in the here and now. I could tell from his growls and the fists that kept clenching and unclenching that he was ready to go cause more harm to Jacob, treaty be damned. We sat in silence for a while after I'd finished my tale, with him rubbing my back and brushing feather light kisses on my forehead. It was lucky this was a quiet road ± so far, no other vehicles had gone past. "Why are you here?" I asked him. "I waited for you to come home from the diner for ages. I was so anxious at being away from you for any length of time; you have no idea. Then two things happened at once: Charlie returned without
you, and Alice rang me to say your future had disappeared. Luckily, Charlie was thinking about you going to visit Jake ± otherwise I don't think my sanity would have held. I came straight here, and I've been waiting on the boundary line for you." "I'm glad you did. I don't think I'd have made it home." He growled, unhappy at the thought. I glanced at my watch; I had no idea how long we'd been sat here. "Crap!" "Hmm?" "I promised Charlie I'd be home by ten and I've now got five minutes to make a twenty minute journey." "It would be possible if you had an engine that could produce speeds over fifty miles an hour." I glared at him. "Besides, I think it's going to be very obvious to Charlie that you've been crying. Just explain that it wasn't safe for you to drive until you'd pulled yourself together." He reached for the ignition and moved to shift me over to the passenger seat. "Woah, what are you doing?" "I'm driving you home." "No, you're not ± you can't. You're not allowed to drive, remember?" "Don't be absurd ± that's a story!" "Yeah, but when we get to Charlie's he's going to get suspicious when I'm not the one driving. Since I'll be home after curfew, he'll definitely be watching out." Edward's nostrils flared in annoyance but he didn't answer. "That means you can't be in the truck at all, you know."
He sighed. "I'll run alongside through the forest, just to make sure you get home safe. I'll be waiting for you." He gave me one last soft kiss and jumped from the cabin, propelling himself into the tree-line. I didn't bother pushing the truck this time, since I'd already done it once tonight. I was going to be late home, so Charlie would be pissed whether it was by five minutes or fifteen. Charlie was waiting for me; I could see his shadow in the window, lit by the flickering of the television. I steeled myself for the inevitable argument ± it was now twenty past ten ± and headed inside. He was waiting in the hall, arms folded again, but his head of steam evaporated when he caught sight of my tear-stained face. I was probably a blotchy, puffy mess. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, uncomfortable in case I actually took him up on his offer. "No," I mumbled. "I'm going to bed." "Alright," he sighed, shuffling back into the living room, and I went upstairs. Edward was sat in his old space, the rocking chair, and for a moment I was shaken by the surrealism of the situation. He'd been gone for months, and yet he looked like he'd never left at all; he, and the room around him, appeared exactly the same. My bedroom was suddenly a place I wanted to be in again after months of it being a repository for bitter memories. However, his utter stillness didn't distract from the fact that he was obviously tense. On his lap were an assortment of objects ± the jewel case of a CD, and a few pieces of paper. I crossed the room to examine what he held. "This CD," I whispered. "It's«" "The one I made for you," he finished. "For my birthday. Where did you get it from?" "It's been here all the time," he said, his expression poignant. "In an act of grand foolishness I left it here with you, under the
floorboards, despite my promises to make it seem like I had never existed." "Why would you do that?" "I left it as a reminder of my love for you." "But I didn't know it was here." "I know ± foolishness, remember? I hoped that maybe you would sense these things near you when I was gone, even if I didn't want you to find them." "That's almost as crazy as taking up cliff-diving so I could hear your voice." Edward didn't appreciate the joke - his jaw snapped shut and he ground his teeth down. I reached for the other things he held, hoping to distract him before his mood darkened further. The pieces of paper turned out to be an envelope, another relic from my fated birthday, and I didn't need to open it to know it contained the tickets to Jacksonville that Carlisle and Esme had bought for me. The other was the photo of me and Edward together, just before he left. That, I handed back to him ± his intentions were now clear to me when I looked at his face in the photo, and it was too painful a reminder. The door slammed shut below us and I jumped, breaking away from Edward's intense gaze. "Was that Charlie?" I ran to the window in time to watch the cruiser speed off down the street. "Where's he going at this time of night?" Edward joined me, standing behind me so his body pressed into mine and his arms stretched out on either side of me, his palms flat on the windowsill. "He's going to La Push, to find out from Billy why you were so upset." He spoke directly into the soft skin on the back of my neck. "Great, that's going to go down really well." I attempted to back away from the window, but Edward stayed stock-still, effectively trapping me in place. "Are you okay now, love?"
Truth be told, I felt drained. It had been a long day, stretched out by crossing time zones, and I hadn't properly slept in over twenty-four hours. The argument with Jake had not come at a good time. "It's just," I paused and sighed. "He's my best friend. It hurts that he's upset with me." Edward turned me round to face him, bending his head so he was staring straight into my eyes. "Bella, you have no idea how worried I was when I couldn't come to you, knowing you were with volatile young werewolves. You have to promise me that you'll stay away from them from now on. It's too dangerous and I can't stand not being near where you are." Before today I'd have argued with him. I'd have pointed out that the wolves were my friends and I had the right to hang out with whoever I wanted to. But after this evening, and the twin looks of hostility from Billy and Sam, and the vicious words from Jake«I didn't know if they were my friends anymore. If they knew that I wanted to become like Edward ± well, they couldn't find out. So it was an easy promise to make to Edward. "I don't think I'm welcome in La Push anyway." The words hurt to say, when I considered that it had been more of a home to me during my separation from Edward than the house I stood in now. It had seen the only laughs I'd produced since my birthday. "And I definitely need to give Jake some space." "Please, Bella," he pleaded, eyes wide and beseeching. "Promise me." "I promise that I won't go down to La Push, and I'm not going to contact any of them either. But if Jacob wants to speak to me ± in Forks ± then I will." Edward tried the dazzling thing then, gazing at me with irises of softest butterscotch, but this was a boundary I had to set. No matter how much he whispered "Bella" and kissed me gently, I wouldn't budge because I owed it to the only person I'd been able to rely on for the past few months.
His kisses turned more demanding and with me still in the cage of his arms he walked us until the backs of my knees hit the bed, and I fell sprawling onto it. He landed with me, his hips between my thighs and his torso just above mine, while he set about grazing kisses along my jaw line. I tugged at his t-shirt and he removed it swiftly, ripping my own off me. I sucked in a breath at the sound of the tearing cloth. It made me more needy pushing up against him to get the room to pull my jeans down, until I was only in my bra and panties. He got to his feet, his jeans gone from his body in a blur of indigo, and he was as naked underneath as he had been on the plane. I scooted backwards so I could lay my head down on the pillows and reached behind me to unhook my bra, but he was already there, pulling my hands away. I was naked from the waist up and his fingers cupped my breasts. Our lips met again, his tongue thrusting eagerly into my mouth, with my teeth catching and scraping along his lower lip. He pushed me down flat against the mattress and pressed himself completely against me, quelling my movement. I had to make do with gripping onto his back, my fingers sliding along the smooth and impermeable skin there, enjoying the feel of muscles cording and releasing under my touch. His arousal lay against my thigh, pressing almost hard enough to leave a bruise, and there was already wetness collecting on my skin at the tip. Only the thin cotton layer of my panties lay between us and when his lips left mine, I panted his name rather than taking the chance to catch my breath. "Inside me," I moaned. "You're not«prepared," he grunted as he ripped my panties away, and ghosted his fingers over my hip, down to my wet skin. "Don't care. Now, Edward." He rose above me, wrapping my legs around his hips, and then he was in me. Both of us hissed at the sensation, him stretching me and me tight around him. He burrowed his face into the crook of my neck and began pounding a staccato rhythm, one I couldn't comprehend
or match. There was an undercurrent to all of this that I couldn't name, but could almost taste, something familiar. Edward inside me felt wonderful, but real pleasure lay just out of my grasp with the way we were moving right now. "Edward," I hummed. He lifted his head and cut me off with a kiss. When I re-opened my eyes, I saw the emotion burning in his, and could suddenly name that undercurrent: desperation. "Bella, what would I do if I lost you?" "I'm not going anywhere," I insisted, trying once again to meet his hips and failing to catch the rhythm. "You can't ever leave me." His voice was gritty and plaintive. "Not now I've got you back. You have to stay safe." His gaze burned into me until I couldn't remember to blink or breathe. At this moment I would promise him the earth, just to get that lost expression wiped from his face. It didn't sit right, and there was no reason for it to be there. I had to flinch away from the intensity of his stare, which left rivulets of molten amber running through me, blending in with my blood. Instead, I licked a path up his jaw until I reached his ear. I bit down on the lobe, doing so gently only for the sake of my teeth, not his unyielding flesh. He snarled and flexed his hips into me with more force. "I'm exactly where I want to be," I promised. This seemed to be good enough for him. He rose to his knees, lifting me so my lower back arched off the bed, and bowed his body down to kiss at the soft skin of my breasts. His long fingers fanned out around my hips, supporting me, and the new angle pushed him just that little bit deeper. Now he was thrusting where I wanted him to be. As soon he was happy that I was comfortable like this, reading my moans and whimpers to determine my pleasure, he let loose pistoning into me with a speed I hadn't known was possible. He'd
been fast before, but this was something else entirely, and I had to turn my head away because watching him move made me dizzy. My pleasure spilled over me twice before he twisted my face back to meet his, his golden eyes just inches from mine, and still he moved at that superhuman pace. The desperation still lingered around him, and all I could do was let my desire and adoration shine out to him. I surrendered again, diving headfirst into a pool of amber that submerged me, flooding through every pathway in my body and sweeping away anything that wasn't the purest, sweetest pleasure. I was distantly aware, outside of my haze that his movements had ceased, and I could feel the coolness inside that meant he'd reached his own pleasure. I opened my eyes to look at him and in that moment he was the definition of ecstasy. His perfect white skin and burnished crown of hair, and the twist of his features made him look like an angel experiencing a moment of extreme rapture. It knocked the breath out of me to see him in this way. When he opened his eyes I was relieved to note that the desperation was all gone, replaced with lazy satiation. He relaxed his body to cover me completely again, his weight resting almost imperceptibly on his hands. He kissed me long and deep, building up from mere brushes of lips to him thoroughly tasting me, exploring my mouth with long, sensual sweeps of his tongue. When he hardened inside me again, he withdrew rather than rocking his hips into mine, and he pulled our kisses back to gentle grazes of lips on lips. I couldn't control the yawns escaping me and that was enough for him to pull away from me altogether. "Bedtime for the human," he whispered. "I'm already in bed." "Sleep-time for the human, then," he said as he rearranged the blankets around me. "Everything else can wait until the morning." I drifted off in his embrace and my last thought was of how right it was to finally have Edward back in my bed. I didn't even hear Charlie come back in.