EVERYTHING WAS READY.
I was packed for my two-day visit with “Alice,” and my bag waited for me on the passenger seat of my truck. I’d given the concert tickets to Angela, Ben, and Mike. Mike was going to take Jessica, which was exactly as I’d hoped. Billy had borrowed Old Quil Ateara’s boat and invited Charlie down for some open sea fishing before the afternoon game started. Collin and Brady, the two youngest werewolves, were staying behind to protect La Push — though they were just children, both of them only thirteen. Still, Charlie would be safer than anyone left in Forks.
I had done all that I could do. I tried to accept that, and put the things that were outside of my control out of my head, for tonight at least. One way or another, this would all be over in forty-eight hours. The thought was almost comforting.
Edward had requested that I relax, and I was going to do my best.
“For this one night, could we try to forget everything besides just you and me?” he’d pleaded, unleashing the full force of his eyes on me. “It seems like I can never get enough time like that. I need to be with you. Just you.”
That was not a hard request to agree to, though I knew that forgetting my fears would be much easier said than done. Other matters were on my mind now, knowing that we had this night to be alone, and that would help.
There were some things that had changed.
For instance, I was ready.
I was ready to join his family and his world. The fear and guilt and anguish I was feeling now had taught me that much. I’d had a chance to concentrate on this — as I’d gazed at the moon through the clouds and rested against a werewolf — and I knew I would not panic again. The next time something came at us, I would be ready. An asset, not a liability. He would never have to make the choice between me and his family again. We would be partners, like Alice and Jasper. Next time, I would do my part.
I would wait for the sword to be removed from over my head, so that Edward would be satisfied. But it wasn’t necessary. I was ready.
There was only one missing piece.
One piece, because there were some things that had not changed, and that included the desperate way I loved him. I’d had plenty of time to think through the ramifications of Jasper and Emmett’s bet — to figure out the things I was willing to lose with my humanity, and the part that I was not willing to give up. I knew which human experience I was going to insist on before I became inhuman.
So we had some things to work out tonight. After everything I’d seen in the past two years, I didn’t believe in the word impossible anymore. It was going to take more than that to stop me now.
Okay, well, honestly, it was probably going to be much more complicated than that. But I was going to try.
As decided as I was, I wasn’t surprised that I still felt nervous as I drove down the long path to his house — I didn’t know how to do what I was trying to do, and that guaranteed me some serious jitters. He sat in the passenger seat, fighting a smile at my slow pace. I was surprised that he hadn’t insisted on taking the wheel, but tonight he seemed content to go at my speed.
It was after dark when we reached the house. In spite of that, the meadow was bright in the light shining from every window.
As soon as I cut the engine he was at my door, opening it for me. He lifted me from the cab with one arm, slinging my bag out of the truck bed and over his shoulder with the other. His lips found mine as I heard him kick the truck’s door shut behind me.
Without breaking the kiss, he swung me up so that I was cradled in his arms and carried me into the house.
Was the front door already open? I didn’t know. We were inside, though, and I was dizzy. I had to remind myself to breathe.
This kissing did not frighten me. It wasn’t like before when I could feel the fear and panic leaking through his control. His lips were not anxious, but enthusiastic now — he seemed as thrilled as I was that we had tonight to concentrate on being together. He continued to kiss me for several minutes, standing there in the entry; he seemed less guarded than usual, his mouth cold and urgent on mine.
I began to feel cautiously optimistic. Perhaps getting what I wanted would not be as difficult as I’d expected it to be.
No, of course it was going to be just exactly that difficult.
With a low chuckle, he pulled me away, holding me at arm’s length.
“Welcome home,” he said, his eyes liquid and warm.
“That sounds nice,” I said, breathless.
He set me gently on my feet. I wrapped both my arms around him, refusing to allow any space between us.
“I have something for you,” he said, his tone conversational.
“Your hand-me-down, remember? You said that was allowable.”
“Oh, that’s right. I guess I did say that.”
He chuckled at my reluctance.
“It’s up in my room. Shall I go get it?”
His bedroom? “Sure,” I agreed, feeling quite devious as I wound my fingers through his. “Let’s go.”
He must have been eager to give me my non-present, because human velocity was not fast enough for him. He scooped me up again and nearly flew up the stairs to his room. He set me down at the door, and darted into his closet.
He was back before I’d taken a step, but I ignored him and went to the huge gold bed, plopping down on the edge and then sliding to the center. I curled up in a ball, my arms wrapped around my knees.
“Okay,” I grumbled. Now that I was where I wanted to be, I could afford a little reluctance. “Let me have it.”
He climbed onto the bed to sit next to me, and my heart thumped unevenly. Hopefully he would write that off as some reaction to him giving me presents.
“A hand-me-down,” he reminded me sternly. He pulled my left wrist away from my leg, and touched the silver bracelet for just a moment. Then he gave me my arm back.
I examined it cautiously. On the opposite side of the chain from the wolf, there now hung a brilliant heart-shaped crystal. It was cut in a million facets, so that even in the subdued light shining from the lamp, it sparkled. I inhaled in a low gasp.
“It was my mother’s.” He shrugged deprecatingly. “I inherited quite a few baubles like this. I’ve given some to Esme and Alice both. So, clearly, this is not a big deal in any way.”
I smiled ruefully at his assurance.
“But I thought it was a good representation,” he continued. “It’s hard and cold.” He laughed. “And it throws rainbows in the sunlight.”
“You forgot the most important similarity,” I murmured. “It’s beautiful.”
“My heart is just as silent,” he mused. “And it, too, is yours.”
I twisted my wrist so the heart would glimmer. “Thank you. For both.”
“No, thank you. It’s a relief to have you accept a gift so easily. Good practice for you, too.” He grinned, flashing his teeth.
I leaned into him, ducking my head under his arm and cuddling into his side. It probably felt similar to snuggling with Michelangelo’s David, except that this perfect marble creature wrapped his arms around me to pull me closer.
It seemed like a good place to start.
“Can we discuss something? I’d appreciate it if you could begin by being open-minded.”
He hesitated for a moment. “I’ll give it my best effort,” he agreed, cautious now.
“I’m not breaking any rules here,” I promised. “This is strictly about you and me.” I cleared my throat. “So . . . I was impressed by how well we were able to compromise the other night. I was thinking I would like to apply the same principle to a different situation.” I wondered why I was being so formal. Must be the nerves.
“What would you like to negotiate?” he asked, a smile in his voice.
I struggled, trying to find exactly the right words to open with.
“Listen to your heart fly,” he murmured. “It’s fluttering like a hummingbird’s wings. Are you all right?”
“Please go on then,” he encouraged.
“Well, I guess, first, I wanted to talk to you about that whole ridiculous marriage condition thing.”
“It’s only ridiculous to you. What about it?”
“I was wondering . . . is that open to negotiation?”
Edward frowned, serious now. “I’ve already made the largest concession by far and away — I’ve agreed to take your life away against my better judgment. And that ought to entitle me to a few compromises on your part.”
“No.” I shook my head, focusing on keeping my face composed. “That part’s a done deal. We’re not discussing my . . . renovations right now. I want to hammer out some other details.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “Which details do you mean exactly?”
I hesitated. “Let’s clarify your prerequisites first.”
“You know what I want.”
“Matrimony.” I made it sound like a dirty word.
“Yes.” He smiled a wide smile. “To start with.”
The shock spoiled my carefully composed expression. “There’s more?”
“Well,” he said, and his face was calculating. “If you’re my wife, then what’s mine is yours . . . like tuition money. So there would be no problem with Dartmouth.”
“Anything else? While you’re already being absurd?”
“I wouldn’t mind some time.”
“No. No time. That’s a deal breaker right there.”
He sighed longingly. “Just a year or two?”
I shook my head, my lips set in a stubborn frown. “Move along to the next one.”
“That’s it. Unless you’d like to talk cars . . .”
He grinned widely when I grimaced, then took my hand and began playing with my fingers.
“I didn’t realize there was anything else you wanted besides being transformed into a monster yourself. I’m extremely curious.” His voice was low and soft. The slight edge would have been hard to detect if I hadn’t known it so well.
I paused, staring at his hand on mine. I still didn’t know how to begin. I felt his eyes watching me and I was afraid to look up. The blood began to burn in my face.
His cool fingers brushed my cheek. “You’re blushing?” he asked in surprise. I kept my eyes down. “Please, Bella, the suspense is painful.”
I bit my lip.
“Bella.” His tone reproached me now, reminded me that it was hard for him when I kept my thoughts to myself.
“Well, I’m a little worried . . . about after,” I admitted, finally looking at him.
I felt his body tense, but his voice was gentle and velvet. “What has you worried?”
“All of you just seem so convinced that the only thing I’m going to be interested in, afterward, is slaughtering everyone in town,” I confessed, while he winced at my choice of words. “And I’m afraid I’ll be so preoccupied with the mayhem that I won’t be me anymore . . . and that I won’t . . . I won’t want you the same way I do now.”
“Bella, that part doesn’t last forever,” he assured me.
He was missing the point.
“Edward,” I said, nervous, staring at a freckle on my wrist. “There’s something that I want to do before I’m not human anymore.”
He waited for me to continue. I didn’t. My face was all hot.
“Whatever you want,” he encouraged, anxious and completely clueless.
“Do you promise?” I muttered, knowing my attempt to trap him with his words was not going to work, but unable to resist.
“Yes,” he said. I looked up to see that his eyes were earnest and confused. “Tell me what you want, and you can have it.”
I couldn’t believe how awkward and idiotic I felt. I was too innocent — which was, of course, central to the discussion. I didn’t have the faintest idea how to be seductive. I would just have to settle for flushed and self-conscious.
“You,” I mumbled almost incoherently.
“I’m yours.” He smiled, still oblivious, trying to hold my gaze as I looked away again.
I took a deep breath and shifted forward so that I was kneeling on the bed. Then I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him.
He kissed me back, bewildered but willing. His lips were gentle against mine, and I could tell his mind was elsewhere — trying to figure out what was on my mind. I decided he needed a hint.
My hands were slightly shaky as I unlocked my arms from around his neck. My fingers slid down his neck to the collar of his shirt. The trembling didn’t help as I tried to hurry to undo the buttons before he stopped me.
His lips froze, and I could almost hear the click in his head as he put together my words and my actions.
He pushed me away at once, his face heavily disapproving.
“Be reasonable, Bella.”
“You promised — whatever I wanted,” I reminded him without hope.
“We’re not having this discussion.” He glared at me while he refastened the two buttons I’d managed to open.
My teeth clamped together.
“I say we are,” I growled. I moved my hands to my blouse and yanked open the top button.
He grabbed my wrists and pinned them to my sides.
“I say we’re not,” he said flatly.
We glowered at each other.
“You wanted to know,” I pointed out.
“I thought it would be something faintly realistic.”
“So you can ask for any stupid, ridiculous thing you want — like getting married — but I’m not allowed to even discuss what I —”
While I was ranting, he pulled my hands together to restrain them in just one of his, and put his other hand over my mouth.
“No.” His face was hard.
I took a deep breath to steady myself. And, as the anger began to fade, I felt something else.
It took me a minute to recognize why I was staring down again, the blush returning — why my stomach felt uneasy, why there was too much moisture in my eyes, why I suddenly wanted to run from the room.
Rejection washed through me, instinctive and strong.
I knew it was irrational. He’d been very clear on other occasions that my safety was the only factor. Yet I’d never made myself quite so vulnerable before. I scowled at the golden comforter that matched his eyes and tried to banish the reflex reaction that told me I was unwanted and unwantable.
Edward sighed. The hand over my mouth moved under my chin, and he pulled my face up until I had to look at him.
“Nothing,” I mumbled.
He scrutinized my face for long moment while I tried unsuccessfully to twist away from his gaze. His brow furrowed, and his expression became horrified.
“Did I hurt your feelings?” he asked, shocked.
“No,” I lied.
So quickly that I wasn’t even sure how it happened, I was in his arms, my face cradled between his shoulder and his hand, while his thumb stroked reassuringly against my cheek.
“You know why I have to say no,” he murmured. “You know that I want you, too.”
“Do you?” I whispered, my voice full of doubt.
“Of course I do, you silly, beautiful, oversensitive girl.” He laughed once, and then his voice was bleak. “Doesn’t everyone? I feel like there’s a line behind me, jockeying for position, waiting for me to make a big enough mistake. . . . You’re too desirable for your own good.”
“Who’s being silly now?” I doubted if awkward, self-conscious, and inept added up to desirable in anyone’s book.
“Do I have to send a petition around to get you to believe? Shall I tell you whose names would be on the top of the list? You know a few of them, but some might surprise you.”
I shook my head against his chest, grimacing. “You’re just trying to distract me. Let’s get back to the subject.”
“Tell me if I have anything wrong.” I tried to sound detached. “Your demands are marriage” — I couldn’t say the word without making a face — “paying my tuition, more time, and you wouldn’t mind if my vehicle went a little faster.” I raised my eyebrows. “Did I get everything? That’s a hefty list.”
“Only the first is a demand.” He seemed to be having a hard time keeping a straight face. “The others are merely requests.”
“And my lone, solitary little demand is —”
“Demand?” he interrupted, suddenly serious again.
His eyes narrowed.
“Getting married is a stretch for me. I’m not giving in unless I get something in return.”
He leaned down to whisper in my ear. “No,” he murmured silkily. “It’s not possible now. Later, when you’re less breakable. Be patient, Bella.”
I tried to keep my voice firm and reasonable. “But that’s the problem. It won’t be the same when I’m less breakable. I won’t be the same! I don’t know who I’ll be then.”
“You’ll still be Bella,” he promised.
I frowned. “If I’m so far gone that I’d want to kill Charlie — that I’d drink Jacob’s blood or Angela’s if I got the chance — how can that be true?”
“It will pass. And I doubt you’ll want to drink the dog’s blood.” He pretended to shudder at the thought. “Even as a newborn, you’ll have better taste than that.”
I ignored his attempt to sidetrack me. “But that will always be what I want most, won’t it?” I challenged. “Blood, blood, and more blood!”
“The fact that you are still alive is proof that that is not true,” he pointed out.
“Over eighty years later,” I reminded him. “What I meant was physically, though. Intellectually, I know I’ll be able to be myself . . . after a while. But just purely physically — I will always be thirsty, more than anything else.”
He didn’t answer.
“So I will be different,” I concluded unopposed. “Because right now, physically, there’s nothing I want more than you. More than food or water or oxygen. Intellectually, I have my priorities in a slightly more sensible order. But physically . . .”
I twisted my head to kiss the palm of his hand.
He took a deep breath. I was surprised that it sounded a little unsteady.
“Bella, I could kill you,” he whispered.
“I don’t think you could.”
Edward’s eyes tightened. He lifted his hand from my face and reached quickly behind himself for something I couldn’t see. There was a muffled snapping sound, and the bed quivered beneath us.
Something dark was in his hand; he held it up for my curious examination. It was a metal flower, one of the roses that adorned the wrought iron posts and canopy of his bed frame. His hand closed for a brief second, his fingers contracting gently, and then it opened again.
Without a word, he offered me the crushed, uneven lump of black metal. It was a cast of the inside of his hand, like a piece of play dough squeezed in a child’s fist. A half-second passed, and the shape crumbled into black sand in his palm.
I glared. “That’s not what I meant. I already know how strong you are. You didn’t have to break the furniture.”
“What did you mean then?” he asked in a dark voice, tossing the handful of iron sand to the corner of the room; it hit the wall with a sound like rain.
His eyes were intent on my face as I struggled to explain.
“Obviously not that you aren’t physically able hurt me, if you wanted to . . . More that, you don’t want to hurt me . . . so much so that I don’t think that you ever could.”
He started shaking his head before I was done.
“It might not work like that, Bella.”
“Might,” I scoffed. “You have no more idea what you’re talking about than I do.”
“Exactly. Do you imagine I would ever take that kind of risk with you?”
I stared into his eyes for a long minute. There was no sign of compromise, no hint of indecision in them.
“Please,” I finally whispered, hopeless. “It’s all I want. Please.” I closed my eyes in defeat, waiting for the quick and final no.
But he didn’t answer immediately. I hesitated in disbelief, stunned to hear that his breathing was uneven again.
I opened my eyes, and his face was torn.
“Please?” I whispered again, my heartbeat picking up speed. My words tumbled out as I rushed to take advantage of the sudden uncertainty in his eyes. “You don’t have to make me any guarantees. If it doesn’t work out right, well, then that’s that. Just let us try . . . only try. And I’ll give you what you want,” I promised rashly. “I’ll marry you. I’ll let you pay for Dartmouth, and I won’t complain about the bribe to get me in. You can even buy me a fast car if that makes you happy! Just . . . please.”
His icy arms tightened around me, and his lips were at my ear; his cool breath made me shiver. “This is unbearable. So many things I’ve wanted to give you — and this is what you decide to demand. Do you have any idea how painful it is, trying to refuse you when you plead with me this way?”
“Then don’t refuse,” I suggested breathlessly.
He didn’t respond.
“Please,” I tried again.
“Bella . . .” He shook his head slowly, but it didn’t feel like a denial as his face, his lips, moved back and forth across my throat. It felt more like surrender. My heart, racing already, spluttered frantically.
Again, I took what advantage I could. When his face turned toward mine with the slow movement of his indecision, I twisted quickly in his arms till my lips reached his. His hands seized my face, and I thought he was going to push me away again.
I was wrong.
His mouth was not gentle; there was a brand-new edge of conflict and desperation in the way his lips moved. I locked my arms around his neck, and, to my suddenly overheated skin, his body felt colder than ever. I trembled, but it was not from the chill.
He didn’t stop kissing me. I was the one who had to break away, gasping for air. Even then his lips did not leave my skin, they just moved to my throat. The thrill of victory was a strange high; it made me feel powerful. Brave. My hands weren’t unsteady now; I got through with the buttons on his shirt this time easily, and my fingers traced the perfect planes of his icy chest. He was too beautiful. What was the word he’d used just now? Unbearable — that was it. His beauty was too much to bear. . . .
I pulled his mouth back to mine, and he seemed just as eager as I was. One of his hands still cupped my face, his other arm was tight around my waist, straining me closer to him. It made it slightly more difficult as I tried to reach the front of my shirt, but not impossible.
Cold iron fetters locked around my wrists, and pulled my hands above my head, which was suddenly on a pillow.
His lips were at my ear again. “Bella,” he murmured, his voice warm and velvet. “Would you please stop trying to take your clothes off?”
“Do you want to do that part?” I asked, confused.
“Not tonight,” he answered softly. His lips were slower now against my cheek and jaw, all the urgency gone.
“Edward, don’t —,” I started to argue.
“I’m not saying no,” he reassured me. “I’m just saying not tonight.”
I thought about that while my breathing slowed.
“Give me one good reason why tonight is not as good as any other night.” I was still breathless; it made the frustration in my voice less impressive.
“I wasn’t born yesterday.” He chuckled in my ear. “Out of the two of us, which do you think is more unwilling to give the other what they want? You just promised to marry me before you do any changing, but if I give in tonight, what guarantee do I have that you won’t go running off to Carlisle in the morning? I am — clearly — much less reluctant to give you what you want. Therefore . . . you first.”
I exhaled with a loud huff. “I have to marry you first?” I asked in disbelief.
“That’s the deal — take it or leave it. Compromise, remember?”
His arms wrapped around me, and he began kissing me in a way that should be illegal. Too persuasive — it was duress, coercion. I tried to keep a clear head . . . and failed quickly and absolutely.
“I think that’s a really bad idea,” I gasped when he let me breathe.
“I’m not surprised you feel that way.” He smirked. “You have a one-track mind.”
“How did this happen?” I grumbled. “I thought I was holding my own tonight — for once — and now, all of a sudden —”
“You’re engaged,” he finished.
“Ew! Please don’t say that out loud.”
“Are you going back on your word?” he demanded. He pulled away to read my face. His expression was entertained. He was having fun.
I glared at him, trying to ignore the way his smile made my heart react.
“Are you?” he pressed.
“Ugh!” I groaned. “No. I’m not. Are you happy now?”
His smile was blinding. “Exceptionally.”
I groaned again.
“Aren’t you happy at all?”
He kissed me again before I could answer. Another too-persuasive kiss.
“A little bit,” I admitted when I could speak. “But not about getting married.”
He kissed me another time. “Do you get the feeling that everything is backward?” he laughed in my ear. “Traditionally, shouldn’t you be arguing my side, and I yours?”
“There isn’t much that’s traditional about you and me.”
He kissed me again, and kept going until my heart was racing and my skin was flushed.
“Look, Edward,” I murmured, my voice wheedling, when he paused to kiss the palm of my hand. “I said I would marry you, and I will. I promise. I swear. If you want, I’ll sign a contract in my own blood.”
“Not funny,” he murmured against the inside of my wrist.
“What I’m saying is this — I’m not going to trick you or anything. You know me better than that. So there’s really no reason to wait. We’re completely alone — how often does that happen? — and you’ve provided this very large and comfortable bed. . . .”
“Not tonight,” he said again.
“Don’t you trust me?”
“Of course I do.”
Using the hand that he was still kissing, I pulled his face back up to where I could see his expression.
“Then what’s the problem? It’s not like you didn’t know you were going to win in the end.” I frowned and muttered, “You always win.”
“Just hedging my bets,” he said calmly.
“There’s something else,” I guessed, my eyes narrowing. There was a defensiveness about his face, a faint hint of some secret motive he was trying to hide behind his casual manner. “Are you planning to go back on your word?”
“No,” he promised solemnly. “I swear to you, we will try. After you marry me.”
I shook my head, and laughed glumly. “You make me feel like a villain in a melodrama — twirling my mustache while I try to steal some poor girl’s virtue.”
His eyes were wary as they flashed across my face, then he quickly ducked down to press his lips against my collarbone.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” The short laugh that escaped me was more shocked than amused. “You’re trying to protect your virtue!” I covered my mouth with my hand to muffle the giggle that followed. The words were so . . . old-fashioned.
“No, silly girl,” he muttered against my shoulder. “I’m trying to protect yours. And you’re making it shockingly difficult.”
“Of all the ridiculous —”
“Let me ask you something,” he interrupted quickly. “We’ve had this discussion before, but humor me. How many people in this room have a soul? A shot at heaven, or whatever there is after this life?”
“Two,” I answered immediately, my voice fierce.
“All right. Maybe that’s true. Now, there’s a world full of dissension about this, but the vast majority seem to think that there are some rules that have to be followed.”
“Vampire rules aren’t enough for you? You want to worry about the human ones too?”
“It couldn’t hurt.” He shrugged. “Just in case.”
I glared at him through narrowed eyes.
“Now, of course, it might be too late for me, even if you are right about my soul.”
“No, it isn’t,” I argued angrily.
“‘Thou shalt not kill’ is commonly accepted by most major belief systems. And I’ve killed a lot of people, Bella.”
“Only the bad ones.”
He shrugged. “Maybe that counts, maybe it doesn’t. But you haven’t killed anyone —”
“That you know about,” I muttered.
He smiled, but otherwise ignored the interruption. “And I’m going to do my best to keep you out of temptation’s way.”
“Okay. But we weren’t fighting over committing murder,” I reminded him.
“The same principle applies — the only difference is that this is the one area in which I’m just as spotless as you are. Can’t I leave one rule unbroken?”
“You know that I’ve stolen, I’ve lied, I’ve coveted . . . my virtue is all I have left.” He grinned crookedly.
“I lie all the time.”
“Yes, but you’re such a bad liar that it doesn’t really count. Nobody believes you.”
“I really hope you’re wrong about that — because otherwise Charlie is about to burst through the door with a loaded gun.”
“Charlie is happier when he pretends to swallow your stories. He’d rather lie to himself than look too closely.” He grinned at me.
“But what did you ever covet?” I asked doubtfully. “You have everything.”
“I coveted you.” His smile darkened. “I had no right to want you — but I reached out and took you anyway. And now look what’s become of you! Trying to seduce a vampire.” He shook his head in mock horror.
“You can covet what’s already yours,” I informed him. “Besides, I thought it was my virtue you were worried about.”
“It is. If it’s too late for me . . . Well, I’ll be damned — no pun intended — if I’ll let them keep you out, too.”
“You can’t make me go somewhere you won’t be,” I vowed. “That’s my definition of hell. Anyway, I have an easy solution to all this: let’s never die, all right?”
“Sounds simple enough. Why didn’t I think of that?”
He smiled at me until I gave up with an angry humph. “So that’s it. You won’t sleep with me until we’re married.”
“Technically, I can’t ever sleep with you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Very mature, Edward.”
“But, other than that detail, yes, you’ve got it right.”
“I think you have an ulterior motive.”
His eyes widened innocently. “Another one?”
“You know this will speed things up,” I accused.
He tried not to smile. “There is only one thing I want to speed up, and the rest can wait forever . . . but for that, it’s true, your impatient human hormones are my most powerful ally at this point.”
“I can’t believe I’m going along with this. When I think of Charlie . . . and Renée! Can you imagine what Angela will think? Or Jessica? Ugh. I can hear the gossip now.”
He raised one eyebrow at me, and I knew why. What did it matter what they said about me when I leaving soon and not coming back? Was I really so oversensitive that I couldn’t bear a few weeks of sidelong glances and leading questions?
Maybe it wouldn’t bug me so much if I didn’t know that I would probably be gossiping just as condescendingly as the rest of them if it was someone else getting married this summer.
Gah. Married this summer! I shuddered.
And then, maybe it wouldn’t bug me so much if I hadn’t been raised to shudder at the thought of marriage.
Edward interrupted my fretting. “It doesn’t have to be a big production. I don’t need any fanfare. You won’t have to tell anyone or make any changes. We’ll go to Vegas — you can wear old jeans and we’ll go to the chapel with the drive-through window. I just want it to be official — that you belong to me and no one else.”
“It couldn’t be any more official than it already is,” I grumbled. But his description didn’t sound that bad. Only Alice would be disappointed.
“We’ll see about that.” He smiled complacently. “I suppose you don’t want your ring now?”
I had to swallow before I could speak. “You suppose correctly.”
He laughed at my expression. “That’s fine. I’ll get it on your finger soon enough.”
I glared at him. “You talk like you already have one.”
“I do,” he said, unashamed. “Ready to force upon you at the first sign of weakness.”
“Do you want to see it?” he asked. His liquid topaz eyes were suddenly shining with excitement.
“No!” I almost shouted, a reflex reaction. I regretted it at once. His face fell ever so slightly. “Unless you really want to show it to me,” I amended. I gritted my teeth together to keep my illogical terror from showing.
“That’s all right,” he shrugged. “It can wait.”
I sighed. “Show me the damn ring, Edward.”
He shook his head. “No.”
I studied his expression for a long minute.
“Please?” I asked quietly, experimenting with my newly discovered weapon. I touched his face lightly with the tips of my fingers. “Please can I see it?”
His eyes narrowed. “You are the most dangerous creature I’ve ever met,” he muttered. But he got up and moved with unconscious grace to kneel next to the small bedside table. He was back on the bed with me in an instant, sitting beside me with one arm around my shoulder. In his other hand was a little black box. He balanced it on my left knee.
“Go ahead and look, then,” he said brusquely.
It was harder than it should have been to pick up the inoffensive little box, but I didn’t want to hurt him again, so I tried to keep my hand from shaking. The surface was smooth with black satin. I brushed my fingers over it, hesitating.
“You didn’t spend a lot of money, did you? Lie to me, if you did.”
“I didn’t spend anything,” he assured me. “It’s just another hand-me-down. This is the ring my father gave to my mother.”
“Oh.” Surprise colored my voice. I pinched the lid between my thumb and forefinger, but didn’t open it.
“I supposed it’s a little outdated.” His tone was playfully apologetic. “Old-fashioned, just like me. I can get you something more modern. Something from Tiffany’s?”
“I like old-fashioned things,” I mumbled as I hesitantly lifted the lid.
Nestled into the black satin, Elizabeth Masen’s ring sparkled in the dim light. The face was a long oval, set with slanting rows of glittering round stones. The band was gold — delicate and narrow. The gold made a fragile web around the diamonds. I’d never seen anything like it.
Unthinkingly, I stroked the shimmering gems.
“It’s so pretty,” I murmured to myself, surprised.
“Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful.” I shrugged, feigning a lack of interest. “What’s not to like?”
He chuckled. “See if it fits.”
My left hand clenched into a fist.
“Bella,” he sighed. “I’m not going to solder it to your finger. Just try it on so I can see if it needs to be sized. Then you can take it right off.”
“Fine,” I grumbled.
I reached for the ring, but his long fingers beat me there. He took my left hand in his, and slid the ring into place on my third finger. He held my hand out, and we both examined the oval sparkling against my skin. It wasn’t quite as awful as I’d feared, having it there.
“A perfect fit,” he said indifferently. “That’s nice — saves me a trip to the jeweler’s.”
I could hear some strong emotion burning under the casual tone of his voice, and I stared up at his face. It was there in his eyes, too, visible despite the careful nonchalance of his expression.
“You like that, don’t you?” I asked suspiciously, fluttering my fingers and thinking that it was really too bad that I had not broken my left hand.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Sure,” he said, still casual. “It looks very nice on you.”
I stared into his eyes, trying to decipher the emotion that smoldered just under the surface. He gazed back, and the casual pretense suddenly slipped away. He was glowing — his angel’s face brilliant with joy and victory. He was so glorious that it knocked me breathless.
Before I could catch that breath, he was kissing me, his lips exultant. I was lightheaded when he moved his mouth to whisper in my ear — but his breathing was just as ragged as mine.
“Yes, I like it. You have no idea.”
I laughed, gasping a little. “I believe you.”
“Do you mind if I do something?” he murmured, his arms tightening around me.
“Anything you want.”
But he let me go and slid away.
“Anything but that,” I complained.
He ignored me, taking my hand and pulling me off the bed, too. He stood in front of me, hands on my shoulders, face serious.
“Now, I want to do this right. Please, please, keep in mind that you’ve already agreed to this, and don’t ruin it for me.”
“Oh, no,” I gasped as he slid down onto one knee.
“Be nice,” he muttered.
I took a deep breath.
“Isabella Swan?” He looked up at me through his impossibly long lashes, his golden eyes soft but, somehow, still scorching. “I promise to love you forever — every single day of forever. Will you marry me?”
There were many things I wanted to say, some of them not nice at all, and others more disgustingly gooey and romantic than he probably dreamed I was capable of. Rather than embarrass myself with either, I whispered, “Yes.”
“Thank you,” he said simply. He took my left hand and kissed each of my fingertips before he kissed the ring that was now mine.