Edward in the sunlight was shocking. I couldn't get used to it, though I'd been staring at him all afternoon. His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday's hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn't sleep. A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.
Now and then, his lips would move, so fast it looked like they were trembling. But, when I asked, he told me he was singing to himself; it was too low for me to hear.
I enjoyed the sun, too, though the air wasn't quite dry enough for my taste. I would have liked to lie back, as he did, and let the sun warm my face. But I stayed curled up, my chin resting on my knees, unwilling to take my eyes off him. The wind was gentle; it tangled my hair and ruffled the grass that swayed around his motionless form.
The meadow, so spectacular to me at first, paled next to his magnificence.
Hesitantly, always afraid, even now, that he would disappear like a mirage, too beautiful to be real... hesitantly, I reached out one finger and stroked the back of his shimmering hand, where it lay within my reach. I marveled again at the perfect texture, satin smooth, cool as stone. When I looked up again, his eyes were open, watching me. Butterscotch today, lighter, warmer after hunting. His quick smile turned up the corners of his flawless lips.
"I don't scare you?" he asked playfully, but I could hear the real curiosity in his soft voice.
"No more than usual."
He smiled wider; his teeth flashed in the sun.
I inched closer, stretched out my whole hand now to trace the contours of his forearm with my fingertips. I saw that my fingers trembled, and knew it wouldn't escape his notice.
"Do you mind?" I asked, for he had closed his eyes again.
"No," he said without opening his eyes. "You can't imagine how that feels." He sighed.
I lightly trailed my hand over the perfect muscles of his arm, followed the faint pattern of bluish veins inside the crease at his elbow. With my other hand, I reached to turn his hand over. Realizing what I wished, he flipped his palm up in one of those blindingly fast, disconcerting movements of his. It startled me; my fingers froze on his arm for a brief second.
"Sorry," he murmured. I looked up in time to see his golden eyes close again. "It's too easy to be myself with you."
I lifted his hand, turning it this way and that as I watched the sun glitter on his palm. I held it closer to my face, trying to see the hidden facets in his skin.
"Tell me what you're thinking," he whispered. I looked to see his eyes watching me, suddenly intent. "It's still so strange for me, not knowing."
"You know, the rest of us feel that way all the time."
"It's a hard life." Did I imagine the hint of regret in his tone? "But you didn't tell me."
"I was wishing I could know what you were thinking..." I hesitated.
"I was wishing that I could believe that you were real. And I was wishing that I wasn't afraid."
"I don't want you to be afraid." His voice was just a soft murmur. I heard what he couldn't truthfully say, that I didn't need to be afraid, that there was nothing to fear.
"Well, that's not exactly the fear I meant, though that's certainly something to think about."
So quickly that I missed his movement, he was half sitting, propped up on his right arm, his left palm still in my hands. His angel's face was only a few inches from mine. I might have - should have - flinched away from his unexpected closeness, but I was unable to move. His golden eyes mesmerized me.
"What are you afraid of, then?" he whispered intently.
But I couldn't answer. As I had just that once before, I smelled his cool breath in my face. Sweet, delicious, the scent made my mouth water. It was unlike anything else. Instinctively, unthinkingly, I leaned closer,
And he was gone, his hand ripped from mine. In the time it took my eyes to focus, he was twenty feet away, standing at the edge of the small meadow, in the deep shade of a huge fir tree. He stared at me, his eyes dark in the shadows, his expression unreadable.
I could feel the hurt and shock on my face. My empty hands stung.
"I'm... sorry... Edward," I whispered. I knew he could hear.
"Give me a moment," he called, just loud enough for my less sensitive ears. I sat very still.
After ten incredibly long seconds, he walked back, slowly for him. He stopped, still several feet away, and sank gracefully to the ground, crossing his legs. His eyes never left mine. He took two deep breaths, and then smiled in apology.
"I am so very sorry." He hesitated. "Would you understand what I meant if I said I was only human?"
I nodded once, not quite able to smile at his joke. Adrenaline pulsed through my veins as the realization of danger slowly sank in. He could smell that from where he sat. His smile turned mocking.
"I'm the world's best predator, aren't I? Everything about me invites you in - my voice, my face, even my smell. As if I need any of that!" Unexpectedly, he was on his feet, bounding away, instantly out of sight, only to appear beneath the same tree as before, having circled the meadow in half a second.
"As if you could outrun me," he laughed bitterly.
He reached up with one hand and, with a deafening crack, effortlessly ripped a two-foot-thick branch from the trunk of the spruce. He balanced it in that hand for a moment, and then threw it with blinding speed, shattering it against another huge tree, which shook and trembled at the blow.
And he was in front of me again, standing two feet away, still as a stone.
"As if you could fight me off," he said gently.
I sat without moving, more frightened of him than I had ever been. I'd never seen him so completely freed of that carefully cultivated facade. He'd never been less human... or more beautiful. Face ashen, eyes wide, I sat like a bird locked in the eyes of a snake.
His lovely eyes seem to glow with rash excitement. Then, as the seconds passed, they dimmed. His expression slowly folded into a mask of ancient sadness.
"Don't be afraid," he murmured, his velvet voice unintentionally seductive. "I promise..." He hesitated. "I swear not to hurt you." He seemed more concerned with convincing himself than me.
"Don't be afraid," he whispered again as he stepped closer, with exaggerated slowness. He sat sinuously, with deliberately unhurried movements, till our faces were on the same level, just a foot apart.
"Please forgive me," he said formally. "I can control myself. You caught me off guard. But I'm on my best behavior now."
He waited, but I still couldn't speak.
"I'm not thirsty today, honestly." He winked.
At that I had to laugh, though the sound was shaky and breathless.
"Are you all right?" he asked tenderly, reaching out slowly, carefully, to place his marble hand back in mine.
I looked at his smooth, cold hand, and then at his eyes. They were soft, repentant. I looked back at his hand, and then deliberately returned to tracing the lines in his hand with my fingertip. I looked up and smiled timidly.
His answering smile was dazzling.
"So where were we, before I behaved so rudely?" he asked in the gentle cadences of an earlier century.
"I honestly can't remember."
He smiled, but his face was ashamed. "I think we were talking about why you were afraid, besides the obvious reason."
I looked down at his hand and doodled aimlessly across his smooth, iridescent palm. The seconds ticked by.
"How easily frustrated I am," he sighed. I looked into his eyes, abruptly grasping that this was every bit as new to him as it was to me. As many years of unfathomable experience as he had, this was hard for him, too. I took courage from that thought.
"I was afraid... because, for, well, obvious reasons, I can't stay with you. And I'm afraid that I'd like to stay with you, much more than I should." I looked down at his hands as I spoke. It was difficult for me to say this aloud.
"Yes," he agreed slowly. "That is something to be afraid of, indeed. Wanting to be with me. That's really not in your best interest."
"I should have left long ago," he sighed. "I should leave now. But I don't know if I can."
"I don't want you to leave," I mumbled pathetically, staring down again.
"Which is exactly why I should. But don't worry. I'm essentially a selfish creature. I crave your company too much to do what I should."
"Don't be!" He withdrew his hand, more gently this time; his voice was harsher than usual. Harsh for him, still more beautiful than any human voice. It was hard to keep up - his sudden mood changes left me always a step behind, dazed.
"It's not only your company I crave! Never forget that. Never forget I am more dangerous to you than I am to anyone else." He stopped, and I looked to see him gazing unseeingly into the forest.
I thought for a moment.
"I don't think I understand exactly what you mean - by that last part anyway," I said.
He looked back at me and smiled, his mood shifting yet again.
"How do I explain?" he mused. "And without frightening you again... hmmmm." Without seeming to think about it, he placed his hand back in mine; I held it tightly in both of mine. He looked at our hands.
"That's amazingly pleasant, the warmth." He sighed.
A moment passed as he assembled his thoughts.
"You know how everyone enjoys different flavors?" he began. "Some people love chocolate ice cream, others prefer strawberry?"
"Sorry about the food analogy - I couldn't think of another way to explain."
I smiled. He smiled ruefully back.
"You see, every person smells different, has a different essence. If you locked an alcoholic in a room full of stale beer, he'd gladly drink it. But he could resist, if he wished to, if he were a recovering alcoholic. Now let's say you placed in that room a glass of hundred-year-old brandy, the rarest, finest cognac - and filled the room with its warm aroma - how do you think he would fare then?"
We sat silently, looking into each other's eyes - trying to read each other's thoughts.
He broke the silence first.
"Maybe that's not the right comparison. Maybe it would be too easy to turn down the brandy. Perhaps I should have made our alcoholic a heroin addict instead."
"So what you're saying is, I'm your brand of heroin?" I teased, trying to lighten the mood.
He smiled swiftly, seeming to appreciate my effort. "Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin."
"Does that happen often?" I asked.
He looked across the treetops, thinking through his response.
"I spoke to my brothers about it." He still stared into the distance. "To Jasper, every one of you is much the same. He's the most recent to join our family. It's a struggle for him to abstain at all. He hasn't had time to grow sensitive to the differences in smell, in flavor." He glanced swiftly at me, his expression apologetic.
"Sorry," he said.
"I don't mind. Please don't worry about offending me, or frightening me, or whichever. That's the way you think. I can understand, or I can try to at least. Just explain however you can."
He took a deep breath and gazed at the sky again.
"So Jasper wasn't sure if he'd ever come across someone who was as" - he hesitated, looking for the right word - "appealing as you are to me. Which makes me think not. Emmett has been on the wagon longer, so to speak, and he understood what I meant. He says twice, for him, once stronger than the other."
"And for you?"
The word hung there for a moment in the warm breeze.
"What did Emmett do?" I asked to break the silence.
It was the wrong question to ask. His face grew dark, his hand clenched into a fist inside mine. He looked away. I waited, but he wasn't going to answer.
"I guess I know," I finally said.
He lifted his eyes; his expression was wistful, pleading.
"Even the strongest of us fall off the wagon, don't we?"
"What are you asking? My permission?" My voice was sharper than I'd intended. I tried to make my tone kinder - I could guess what his honesty must cost him. "I mean, is there no hope, then?" How calmly I could discuss my own death!
"No, no!" He was instantly contrite. "Of course there's hope! I mean, of course I won't..." He left the sentence hanging. His eyes burned into mine. "It's different for us. Emmett... these were strangers he happened across. It was a long time ago, and he wasn't as... practiced, as careful, as he is now."
He fell silent and watched me intently as I thought it through.
"So if we'd met... oh, in a dark alley or something..." I trailed off.
"It took everything I had not to jump up in the middle of that class full of children and -" He stopped abruptly, looking away. "When you walked past me, I could have ruined everything Carlisle has built for us, right then and there. If I hadn't been denying my thirst for the last, well, too many years, I wouldn't have been able to stop myself." He paused, scowling at the trees.
He glanced at me grimly, both of us remembering. "You must have thought I was possessed."
"I couldn't understand why. How you could hate me so quickly..."
"To me, it was like you were some kind of demon, summoned straight from my own personal hell to ruin me. The fragrance coming off your skin... I thought it would make me deranged that first day. In that one hour, I thought of a hundred different ways to lure you from the room with me, to get you alone. And I fought them each back, thinking of my family, what I could do to them. I had to run out, to get away before I could speak the words that would make you follow..."
He looked up then at my staggered expression as I tried to absorb his bitter memories. His golden eyes scorched from under his lashes, hypnotic and deadly.
"You would have come," he promised.
I tried to speak calmly. "Without a doubt."
He frowned down at my hands, releasing me from the force of his stare. "And then, as I tried to rearrange my schedule in a pointless attempt to avoid you, you were there - in that close, warm little room, the scent was maddening. I so very nearly took you then. There was only one other frail human there - so easily dealt with."
I shivered in the warm sun, seeing my memories anew through his eyes, only now grasping the danger. Poor Ms. Cope; I shivered again at how close I'd come to being inadvertently responsible for her death.
"But I resisted. I don't know how. I forced myself not to wait for you, not to follow you from the school. It was easier outside, when I couldn't smell you anymore, to think clearly, to make the right decision. I left the others near home - I was too ashamed to tell them how weak I was, they only knew something was very wrong - and then I went straight to Carlisle, at the hospital, to tell him I was leaving."
I stared in surprise.
"I traded cars with him - he had a full tank of gas and I didn't want to stop. I didn't dare to go home, to face Esme. She wouldn't have let me go without a scene. She would have tried to convince me that it wasn't necessary...
"By the next morning I was in Alaska." He sounded ashamed, as if admitting a great cowardice. "I spent two days there, with some old acquaintances... but I was homesick. I hated knowing I'd upset Esme, and
the rest of them, my adopted family. In the pure air of the mountains it was hard to believe you were so irresistible. I convinced myself it was weak to run away. I'd dealt with temptation before, not of this magnitude, not even close, but I was strong. Who were you, an insignificant little girl" - he grinned suddenly - "to chase me from the place I wanted to be? So I came back..." He stared off into space.
I couldn't speak.
"I took precautions, hunting, feeding more than usual before seeing you again. I was sure that I was strong enough to treat you like any other human. I was arrogant about it.
"It was unquestionably a complication that I couldn't simply read your thoughts to know what your reaction was to me. I wasn't used to having to go to such circuitous measures, listening to your words in Jessica's mind... her mind isn't very original, and it was annoying to have to stoop to that. And then I couldn't know if you really meant what you said. It was all extremely irritating." He frowned at the memory.
"I wanted you to forget my behavior that first day, if possible, so I tried to talk with you like I would with any person. I was eager actually, hoping to decipher some of your thoughts. But you were too interesting, I found myself caught up in your expressions... and every now and then you would stir the air with your hand or your hair, and the scent would stun me again...
"Of course, then you were nearly crushed to death in front of my eyes. Later I thought of a perfectly good excuse for why I acted at that moment - because if I hadn't saved you, if your blood had been spilled there in front of me, I don't think I could have stopped myself from exposing us for what we are. But I only thought of that excuse later. At the time, all I could think was, 'Not her.'"
He closed his eyes, lost in his agonized confession. I listened, more eager than rational. Common sense told me I should be terrified. Instead, I was relieved to finally understand. And I was filled with compassion for his suffering, even now, as he confessed his craving to take my life.
I finally was able to speak, though my voice was faint. "In the hospital?"
His eyes flashed up to mine. "I was appalled. I couldn't believe I had put us in danger after all, put myself in your power - you of all people. As if I needed another motive to kill you." We both flinched as that word slipped out. "But it had the opposite effect," he continued quickly. "I fought with Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper when they suggested that now was the time... the worst fight we've ever had. Carlisle sided with me, and Alice." He grimaced when he said her name. I couldn't imagine why. "Esme told me to do whatever I had to in order to stay." He shook his head indulgently.
"All that next day I eavesdropped on the minds of everyone you spoke to, shocked that you kept your word. I didn't understand you at all. But I knew that I couldn't become more involved with you. I did my very best to stay as far from you as possible. And every day the perfume of your skin, your breath, your hair... it hit me as hard as the very first day."
He met my eyes again, and they were surprisingly tender.
"And for all that," he continued, "I'd have fared better if I had exposed us all at that first moment, than if now, here - with no witnesses and nothing to stop me - I were to hurt you."
I was human enough to have to ask. "Why?"
"Isabella." He pronounced my full name carefully, then playfully ruffled my hair with his free hand. A shock ran through my body at his casual touch. "Bella, I couldn't live with myself if I ever hurt you. You don't know how it's tortured me." He looked down, ashamed again. "The thought of you, still, white, cold... to never see you blush scarlet again, to never see that flash of intuition in your eyes when you see through my pretenses... it would be unendurable." He lifted his glorious, agonized
eyes to mine. "You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever."
My head was spinning at the rapid change in direction our conversation had taken. From the cheerful topic of my impending demise, we were suddenly declaring ourselves. He waited, and even though I looked down to study our hands between us, I knew his golden eyes were on me. "You already know how I feel, of course," I finally said. "I'm here... which, roughly translated, means I would rather die than stay away from you." I frowned. "I'm an idiot."
"You are an idiot," he agreed with a laugh. Our eyes met, and I laughed, too. We laughed together at the idiocy and sheer impossibility of such a moment.
"And so the lion fell in love with the lamb..." he murmured. I looked away, hiding my eyes as I thrilled to the word.
"What a stupid lamb," I sighed.
"What a sick, masochistic lion." He stared into the shadowy forest for a long moment, and I wondered where his thoughts had taken him.
"Why... ?" I began, and then paused, not sure how to continue.
He looked at me and smiled; sunlight glinted off his face, his teeth.
"Tell me why you ran from me before."
His smile faded. "You know why."
"No, I mean, exactly what did I do wrong? I'll have to be on my guard, you see, so I better start learning what I shouldn't do. This, for example" - I stroked the back of his hand - "seems to be all right."
He smiled again. "You didn't do anything wrong, Bella. It was my fault."
"But I want to help, if I can, to not make this harder for you."
"Well..." He contemplated for a moment. "It was just how close you were. Most humans instinctively shy away from us, are repelled by our alienness... I wasn't expecting you to come so close. And the smell of your throat." He stopped short, looking to see if he'd upset me.
"Okay, then," I said flippantly, trying to alleviate the suddenly tense atmosphere. I tucked my chin. "No throat exposure."
It worked; he laughed. "No, really, it was more the surprise than anything else."
He raised his free hand and placed it gently on the side of my neck. I sat very still, the chill of his touch a natural warning - a warning telling me to be terrified. But there was no feeling of fear in me. There were, however, other feelings...
"You see," he said. "Perfectly fine."
My blood was racing, and I wished I could slow it, sensing that this must make everything so much more difficult - the thudding of my pulse in my veins. Surely he could hear it.
"The blush on your cheeks is lovely," he murmured. He gently freed his other hand. My hands fell limply into my lap. Softly he brushed my cheek, then held my face between his marble hands.
"Be very still," he whispered, as if I wasn't already frozen.
Slowly, never moving his eyes from mine, he leaned toward me. Then abruptly, but very gently, he rested his cold cheek against the hollow at the base of my throat. I was quite unable to move, even if I'd wanted to.
I listened to the sound of his even breathing, watching the sun and wind play in his bronze hair, more human than any other part of him.
With deliberate slowness, his hands slid down the sides of my neck. I shivered, and I heard him catch his breath. But his hands didn't pause as they softly moved to my shoulders, and then stopped.
His face drifted to the side, his nose skimming across my collarbone. He came to rest with the side of his face pressed tenderly against my chest.
Listening to my heart.
"Ah," he sighed.
I don't know how long we sat without moving. It could have been hours. Eventually the throb of my pulse quieted, but he didn't move or speak again as he held me. I knew at any moment it could be too much, and my life could end - so quickly that I might not even notice. And I couldn't make myself be afraid. I couldn't think of anything, except that he was touching me.
And then, too soon, he released me.
His eyes were peaceful.
"It won't be so hard again," he said with satisfaction.
"Was that very hard for you?"
"Not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. And you?"
"No, it wasn't bad... for me."
He smiled at my inflection. "You know what I mean."
"Here." He took my hand and placed it against his cheek. "Do you feel how warm it is?"
And it was almost warm, his usually icy skin. But I barely noticed, for I was touching his face, something I'd dreamed of constantly since the first day I'd seen him.
"Don't move," I whispered.
No one could be still like Edward. He closed his eyes and became as immobile as stone, a carving under my hand.
I moved even more slowly than he had, careful not to make one unexpected move. I caressed his cheek, delicately stroked his eyelid, the purple shadow in the hollow under his eye. I traced the shape of his perfect nose, and then, so carefully, his flawless lips. His lips parted under my hand, and I could feel his cool breath on my fingertips. I wanted to lean in, to inhale the scent of him. So I dropped my hand and leaned away, not wanting to push him too far.
He opened his eyes, and they were hungry. Not in a way to make me fear, but rather to tighten the muscles in the pit of my stomach and send my pulse hammering through my veins again.
"I wish," he whispered, "I wish you could feel the... complexity... the confusion... I feel. That you could understand."
He raised his hand to my hair, then carefully brushed it across my face.
"Tell me," I breathed.
"I don't think I can. I've told you, on the one hand, the hunger - the thirst - that, deplorable creature that I am, I feel for you. And I think you can understand that, to an extent. Though" - he half-smiled - "as you are not addicted to any illegal substances, you probably can't empathize
"But..." His fingers touched my lips lightly, making me shiver again. "There are other hungers. Hungers I don't even understand, that are foreign to me."
"I may understand that better than you think."
"I'm not used to feeling so human. Is it always like this?"
"For me?" I paused. "No, never. Never before this."
He held my hands between his. They felt so feeble in his iron strength.
"I don't know how to be close to you," he admitted. "I don't know if I can."
I leaned forward very slowly, cautioning him with my eyes. I placed my cheek against his stone chest. I could hear his breath, and nothing else.
"This is enough," I sighed, closing my eyes.
In a very human gesture, he put his arms around me and pressed his face against my hair.
"You're better at this than you give yourself credit for," I noted.
"I have human instincts - they may be buried deep, but they're there."
We sat like that for another immeasurable moment; I wondered if he could be as unwilling to move as I was. But I could see the light was fading, the shadows of the forest beginning to touch us, and I sighed.
"You have to go."
"I thought you couldn't read my mind."
"It's getting clearer." I could hear a smile in his voice.
He took my shoulders and I looked into his face.
"Can I show you something?" he asked, sudden excitement flaring in his eyes.
"Show me what?"
"I'll show you how I travel in the forest." He saw my expression. "Don't worry, you'll be very safe, and we'll get to your truck much faster." His mouth twitched up into that crooked smile so beautiful my heart nearly stopped.
"Will you turn into a bat?" I asked warily.
He laughed, louder than I'd ever heard. "Like I haven't heard that one before!"
"Right, I'm sure you get that all the time."
"Come on, little coward, climb on my back."
I waited to see if he was kidding, but, apparently, he meant it. He smiled as he read my hesitation, and reached for me. My heart reacted; even though he couldn't hear my thoughts, my pulse always gave me away. He then proceeded to sling me onto his back, with very little effort on my part, besides, when in place, clamping my legs and arms so tightly around him that it would choke a normal person. It was like clinging to a stone.
"I'm a bit heavier than your average backpack," I warned.
"Hah!" he snorted. I could almost hear his eyes rolling. I'd never seen him in such high spirits before.
He startled me, suddenly grabbing my hand, pressing my palm to his face, and inhaling deeply.
"Easier all the time," he muttered.
And then he was running.
If I'd ever feared death before in his presence, it was nothing compared to how I felt now.
He streaked through the dark, thick underbrush of the forest like a bullet, like a ghost. There was no sound, no evidence that his feet touched the earth. His breathing never changed, never indicated any effort. But the trees flew by at deadly speeds, always missing us by inches.
I was too terrified to close my eyes, though the cool forest air whipped against my face and burned them. I felt as if I were stupidly sticking my head out the window of an airplane in flight. And, for the first time in my life, I felt the dizzy faintness of motion sickness.
Then it was over. We'd hiked hours this morning to reach Edward's meadow, and now, in a matter of minutes, we were back to the truck.
"Exhilarating, isn't it?" His voice was high, excited.
He stood motionless, waiting for me to climb down. I tried, but my muscles wouldn't respond. My arms and legs stayed locked around him while my head spun uncomfortably.
"Bella?" he asked, anxious now.
"I think I need to lie down," I gasped.
"Oh, sorry." He waited for me, but I still couldn't move.
"I think I need help," I admitted.
He laughed quietly, and gently unloosened my stranglehold on his neck. There was no resisting the iron strength of his hands. Then he pulled me around to face him, cradling me in his arms like a small child. He held me for a moment, then carefully placed me on the springy ferns.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
I couldn't be sure how I felt when my head was spinning so crazily. "Dizzy, I think."
"Put your head between your knees."
I tried that, and it helped a little. I breathed in and out slowly, keeping my head very still. I felt him sitting beside me. The moments passed, and eventually I found that I could raise my head. There was a hollow ringing sound in my ears.
"I guess that wasn't the best idea," he mused.
I tried to be positive, but my voice was weak. "No, it was very interesting."
"Hah! You're as white as a ghost - no, you're as white as me!"
"I think I should have closed my eyes."
"Remember that next time."
"Next time!" I groaned.
He laughed, his mood still radiant.
"Show-off," I muttered.
"Open your eyes, Bella," he said quietly.
And he was right there, his face so close to mine. His beauty stunned my mind - it was too much, an excess I couldn't grow accustomed to.
"I was thinking, while I was running..." He paused.
"About not hitting the trees, I hope."
"Silly Bella," he chuckled. "Running is second nature to me, it's not something I have to think about."
"Show-off," I muttered again.
"No," he continued, "I was thinking there was something I wanted to try." And he took my face in his hands again.
I couldn't breathe.
He hesitated - not in the normal way, the human way.
Not the way a man might hesitate before he kissed a woman, to gauge her reaction, to see how he would be received. Perhaps he would hesitate to prolong the moment, that ideal moment of anticipation, sometimes better than the kiss itself.
Edward hesitated to test himself, to see if this was safe, to make sure he was still in control of his need.
And then his cold, marble lips pressed very softly against mine.
What neither of us was prepared for was my response.
Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips. My breath came in a wild gasp. My fingers knotted in his hair, clutching him to me. My lips parted as I breathed in his heady scent.
Immediately I felt him turn to unresponsive stone beneath my lips. His hands gently, but with irresistible force, pushed my face back. I opened my eyes and saw his guarded expression.
"Oops," I breathed.
"That's an understatement."
His eyes were wild, his jaw clenched in acute restraint, yet he didn't lapse from his perfect articulation. He held my face just inches from his. He dazzled my eyes.
"Should I... ?" I tried to disengage myself, to give him some room.
His hands refused to let me move so much as an inch.
"No, it's tolerable. Wait for a moment, please." His voice was polite, controlled.
I kept my eyes on his, watched as the excitement in them faded and gentled.
Then he smiled a surprisingly impish grin.
"There," he said, obviously pleased with himself.
"Tolerable?" I asked.
He laughed aloud. "I'm stronger than I thought. It's nice to know."
"I wish I could say the same. I'm sorry."
"You are only human, after all."
"Thanks so much," I said, my voice acerbic.
He was on his feet in one of his lithe, almost invisibly quick movements. He held out his hand to me, an unexpected gesture. I was so used to our standard of careful non-contact. I took his icy hand, needing the support more than I thought. My balance had not yet returned.
"Are you still faint from the run? Or was it my kissing expertise?" How lighthearted, how human he seemed as he laughed now, his seraphic face untroubled. He was a different Edward than the one I had known. And I felt all the more besotted by him. It would cause me physical pain to be separated from him now.
"I can't be sure, I'm still woozy," I managed to respond. "I think it's some of both, though."
"Maybe you should let me drive."
"Are you insane?" I protested.
"I can drive better than you on your best day," he teased. "You have much slower reflexes."
"I'm sure that's true, but I don't think my nerves, or my truck, could take it."
"Some trust, please, Bella."
My hand was in my pocket, curled tightly around the key. I pursed my lips, deliberated, then shook my head with a tight grin.
"Nope. Not a chance."
He raised his eyebrows in disbelief.
I started to step around him, heading for the driver's side. He might have let me pass if I hadn't wobbled slightly. Then again, he might not have. His arm created an inescapable snare around my waist.
"Bella, I've already expended a great deal of personal effort at this point to keep you alive. I'm not about to let you behind the wheel of a vehicle when you can't even walk straight. Besides, friends don't let friends drive drunk," he quoted with a chuckle. I could smell the unbearably sweet fragrance coming off his chest.
"Drunk?" I objected.
"You're intoxicated by my very presence." He was grinning that playful smirk again.
"I can't argue with that," I sighed. There was no way around it; I couldn't resist him in anything. I held the key high and dropped it, watching his hand flash like lightning to catch it soundlessly. "Take it easy - my truck is a senior citizen."
"Very sensible," he approved.
"And are you not affected at all?" I asked, irked. "By my presence?"
Again his mobile features transformed, his expression became soft, warm. He didn't answer at first; he simply bent his face to mine, and brushed his lips slowly along my jaw, from my ear to my chin, back and forth. I trembled.
"Regardless," he finally murmured, "I have better reflexes."