It was too bright for me to drive into town when I got to Port Angeles; the sun was still too high overhead, and, though my windows were tinted dark, there was no reason to take unnecessary risks. More unnecessary risks, I should say.
I was certain I would be able to find Jessica’s thoughts from a distance—Jessica’s thoughts were louder than Angela’s, but once I found the first, I’d be able to hear the second. Then, when the shadows lengthened, I could get closer. For now, I pulled off the road onto an overgrown driveway just outside the town that appeared to be infrequently used.
I knew the general direction to search in—there was really only one place for dress shopping in Port Angeles. It wasn’t long before I found Jessica, spinning in front of a three way mirror, and I could see Bella in her peripheral vision, appraising the long black dress she wore.
Bella still looks pissed. Ha ha. Angela was right—Tyler was full of it. I can’t believe she’s so upset about it, though. At least she knows she has a back up date for the prom. What if Mike doesn’t have fun at the dance, and he doesn’t ask me out again? What if he asks Bella to the prom? Would she have asked Mike to the dance if I hadn’t said anything? Does he think she’s prettier than me? Does she think she’s prettier than me?
“I think I like the blue one better. It really brings out your eyes.”
Jessica smiled at Bella with false warmth, while eyeing her suspiciously.
Does she really think that? Or does she want me to look like a cow on Saturday?
I was already tired of listening to Jessica. I searched close by for Angela—ah, but Angela was in the process of changing dresses, and I skipped quickly out of her head to give her some privacy.
Well, there wasn’t much trouble Bella could get into in a department store. I’d let them shop and then catch up with them when they were done. It wouldn’t be long until it was dark—the clouds were beginning to return, drifting in from the west. I could only catch glimpses of them through the thick trees, but I could see how they would hurry the
sunset. I welcomed them, craved them more than I had ever yearned for their shadows before. Tomorrow I could sit beside Bella in school again, monopolize her attention at lunch again. I could ask her all the questions I’d been saving up…
So, she was furious about Tyler’s presumption. I’d seen that in his head—that he’d meant it literally when he’d spoken of the prom, that he was staking a claim. I pictured her expression from that other afternoon—the outraged disbelief—and I laughed. I wondered what she would say to him about this. I wouldn’t want to miss her reaction.
The time went slowly while I waited for the shadows to lengthen. I checked in periodically with Jessica; her mental voice was the easiest to find, but I didn’t like to linger there long. I saw the place they were planning to eat. It would be dark by dinner time…maybe I would coincidentally choose the same restaurant. I touched the phone in my pocket, thinking of inviting Alice out to eat… She would love that, but she would also want to talk to Bella. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to have Bella more involved with my world. Wasn’t one vampire trouble enough?
I checked in routinely with Jessica again. She was thinking about her jewelry, asking Angela’s opinion.
“Maybe I should take the necklace back. I’ve got one at home that would probably work, and I spent more than I was supposed to…” My mom is going to freak out. What was I thinking?
“I don’t mind going back to the store. Do you think Bella will be looking for us, though?”
What was this? Bella wasn’t with them? I stared through Jessica’s eyes first, then switched to Angela’s. They were on the sidewalk in front of a line of shops, just turning back the other way. Bella was no where in sight.
Oh, who cares about Bella? Jess thought impatiently, before answering Angela’s question. “She’s fine. We’ll get to the restaurant in plenty of time, even if we go back. Anyway, I think she wanted to be alone.” I got a brief glimpse of the bookshop Jessica thought Bella had gone to.
“Let’s hurry, then,” Angela said. I hope Bella doesn’t think we ditched her. She was so nice to me in the car before… She’s really a sweet person. But she’s seemed kind
of blue all day. I wonder if it’s because of Edward Cullen? I’ll bet that was why she was asking about his family…
I should have been paying better attention. What all had I missed here? Bella was off wandering by herself, and she’d been asking about me before? Angela was paying attention to Jessica now—Jessica was babbling about that idiot Mike—and I could get nothing more from her.
I judged the shadows. The sun would be behind the clouds soon enough. If I stayed on the west side of the road, where the buildings would shade the street from the fading light…
I started to feel anxious as I drove through the sparse traffic into the center of the town. This wasn’t something I had considered—Bella taking off on her own—and I had no idea how to find her. I should have considered it.
I knew Port Angeles well; I drove straight to the bookstore in Jessica’s head, hoping my search would be short, but doubting it would be so easy. When did Bella ever make it easy?
Sure enough, the little shop was empty except for the anachronistically dressed woman behind the counter. This didn’t look like the kind of place Bella would be interested in—too new age for a practical person. I wondered if she’d even bothered to go in?
There was a patch of shade I could park in… It made a dark pathway right up to the overhang of the shop. I really shouldn’t. Wandering around in the sunlight hours was not safe. What if a passing car threw the sun’s reflection into the shade at just the wrong moment?
But I didn’t know how else to look for Bella!
I parked and got out, keeping to the deepest side of the shadow. I strode quickly into the store, noting the faint trace of Bella’s scent in the air. She had been here, on the sidewalk, but there was no hint of her fragrance inside the shop.
“Welcome! Can I help—” the saleswoman began to say, but I was already out the door.
I followed Bella’s scent as far as the shade would allow, stopping when I got to the edge of the sunlight.
How powerless it made me feel—fenced in by the line between dark and light that stretched across the sidewalk in front of me. So limited.
I could only guess that she’d continued across the street, heading south. There wasn’t really much in that direction. Was she lost? Well, that possibility didn’t sound entirely out of character.
I got back in the car and drove slowly through the streets, looking for her. I stepped out into a few other patches of shadow, but I only caught her scent once more, and the direction of it confused me. Where was she trying to go?
I drove back and forth between the bookstore and the restaurant a few times, hoping to see her on her way. Jessica and Angela were already there, trying to decide whether to order, or to wait for Bella. Jessica was pushing for ordering immediately.
I began flitting through the minds of strangers, looking through their eyes. Surely, someone must have seen her somewhere.
I got more and more anxious the longer she remained missing. I hadn’t considered before how difficult she might prove to find once, like now, she was out of my sight and off her normal paths. I didn’t like it.
The clouds were massing on the horizon, and, in a few more minutes, I would be free to track her on foot. It wouldn’t take me long then. It was only the sun that made me so helpless now. Just few more minutes, and then the advantage would be mine again and it would be the human world that was powerless.
Another mind, and another. So many trivial thoughts.
…think the baby has another ear infection…
Was it six-four-oh or six-oh-four…?
Late again. I ought to tell him…
Here she comes! Aha!
There, at last, was her face. Finally, someone had noticed her!
The relief lasted for only a fraction of a second, and then I read more fully the thoughts of the man who was gloating over her face in the shadows.
His mind was a stranger to me, and yet, not totally unfamiliar. I had once hunted exactly such minds.
“NO!” I roared, and a volley of snarls erupted from my throat. My foot shoved the gas pedal to the floor, but where was I going?
I knew the general location of his thoughts, but the knowledge was not specific enough. Something, there had to be something—a street sign, a store front, something in his sight that would give away his location. But Bella was deep in shadow, and his eyes were focused only on her frightened expression—enjoying the fear there.
Her face was blurred in his mind by the memory of other faces. Bella was not his first victim.
The sound of my growls shook the frame of the car, but did not distract me.
There were no windows in the wall behind her. Somewhere industrial, away from the more populated shopping district. My car squealed around a corner, swerving past another vehicle, heading in what I hoped was the right direction. By the time the other driver honked, the sound was far behind me.
Look at her shaking! The man chuckled in anticipation. The fear was the draw for him—the part he enjoyed.
“Stay away from me.” Her voice was low and steady, not a scream.
“Don’t be like that, sugar.”
He watched her flinch to a rowdy laugh that came from another direction. He was irritated with the noise—Shut up, Jeff! he thought—but he enjoyed the way she cringed. It excited him. He began to imagine her pleas, the way she would beg…
I hadn’t realized that there were others with him until I’d heard the loud laughter. I scanned out from him, desperate for something that I could use. He was taking the first step in her direction, flexing his hands.
The minds around him were not the cesspool that his was. They were all slightly intoxicated, not one of them realizing how far the man they called Lonnie planned to go with this. They were following Lonnie’s lead blindly. He’d promised them a little fun…
One of them glanced down the street, nervous—he didn’t want to get caught harassing the girl—and gave me what I needed. I recognized the cross street he stared toward.
I flew under a red light, sliding through a space just wide enough between two cars in the moving traffic. Horns blared behind me.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I ignored it.
Lonnie moved slowly toward the girl, drawing out the suspense—the moment of terror that aroused him. He waited for her scream, preparing to savor it.
But Bella locked her jaw and braced herself. He was surprised—he’d expected her to try to run. Surprised and slightly disappointed. He liked to chase his prey down, the adrenaline of the hunt.
Brave, this one. Maybe better, I guess…more fight in her.
I was a block away. The monster could hear the roar of my engine now, but he paid it no attention, too intent on his victim.
I would see how he enjoyed the hunt when he was the prey. I would see what he thought of my style of hunting.
In another compartment of my head, I was already sorting through the range of tortures I’d born witness to in my vigilante days, searching for the most painful of them. He would suffer for this. He would writhe in agony. The others would merely die for their part, but the monster named Lonnie would beg for death long before I would give him that gift.
He was in the road, crossing toward her.
I spun sharply around the corner, my headlights washing across the scene and freezing the rest of them in place. I could have run down the leader, who leapt out of the way, but that was too easy a death for him.
I let the car spin out, swinging all the way around so that I was facing back the way I’d come and the passenger door was closest to Bella. I threw that open, and she was already running toward the car.
“Get in,” I snarled.
What the hell? Knew this was a bad idea! She’s not alone. Should I run? Think I’m going to throw up…
Bella jumped through the open door without hesitating, pulling the door shut behind her.
And then she looked up at me with the most trustful expression I had ever seen on a human face, and all my violent plans crumbled.
It took much, much less than a second for me to see that I could not leave her in the car in order to deal with the four men in the street. What would I tell her, not to watch? Ha! When did she ever do what I asked? When did she ever do the safe thing?
Would I drag them away, out of her sight, and leave her alone here? It was a long shot that another dangerous human would be prowling the streets of Port Angeles tonight, but it was a long shot that there was even the first! Like a magnet, she drew all things dangerous toward herself. I could not let her out of my sight.
It would feel like part of the same motion to her as I accelerated, taking her away from her pursuers so quickly that they gaped after my car with uncomprehending expressions. She would not recognize my instant of hesitation. She would assume the plan was escape from the beginning.
I couldn’t even hit him with my car. That would frighten her.
I wanted his death so savagely that the need for it rang in my ears and clouded my sight and was a flavor on my tongue. My muscles were coiled with the urgency, the craving, the necessity of it. I had to kill him. I would peel him slowly apart, piece by piece, skin from muscle, muscle from bone…
Except that the girl—the only girl in the world—was clinging to her seat with both hands, staring at me, her eyes still wide and utterly trusting. Vengeance would have to wait.
“Put on your seatbelt,” I ordered. My voice was rough with the hate and bloodlust. Not the usual bloodlust. I would not sully myself by taking any part of that man inside me.
She locked the seatbelt into place, jumping slightly at the sound it made. That little sound made her jump, yet she did not flinch as I tore through the town, ignoring all traffic guides. I could feel her eyes on me. She seemed oddly relaxed. It didn’t make sense to me—not with what she’d just been through.
“Are you okay?” she asked, her voice rough with stress and fear.
She wanted to know if I was okay?
I thought about her question for a fraction of a second. Not long enough for her to notice the hesitation. Was I okay?
“No,” I realized, and my tone seethed with rage.
I took her to the same unused drive where I’d spent the afternoon engaged in the poorest surveillance ever kept. It was black now under the trees.
I was so furious that my body froze in place there, utterly motionless. My ice-locked hands ached to crush her attacker, to grind him into pieces so mangled that his body could never be identified….
But that would entail leaving her here alone, unprotected in the dark night.
“Bella?” I asked through my teeth.
“Yes?” she responded huskily. She cleared her throat.
“Are you all right?” That was really the most important thing, the first priority. Retribution was secondary. I knew that, but my body was so filled with rage that it was hard to think.
“Yes.” Her voice was still thick—with fear, no doubt.
And so I could not leave her.
Even if she wasn’t at constant risk for some infuriating reason—some joke the universe was playing on me—even if I could be sure that she would be perfectly safe in my absence, I could not leave her alone in the dark.
She must be so frightened.
Yet I was in no condition to comfort her—even if I knew exactly how that was to be accomplished, which I did not. Surely she could feel the brutality radiating out of me, surely that much was obvious. I would frighten her even more if I could not calm the lust for slaughter boiling inside me.
I needed to think about something else.
“Distract me, please,” I pleaded.
“I’m sorry, what?”
I barely had enough control to try to explain what I needed.
“Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down,” I instructed, my jaw still locked. Only the fact that she needed me held me inside the car. I could hear the
man’s thoughts, his disappointment and anger… I knew where to find him… I closed my eyes, wishing that I couldn’t see anyway…
“Um…” She hesitated—trying to make sense of my request, I imagined. “I’m going to run over Tyler Crowley tomorrow before school?” She said this like it was a question.
Yes—this was what I needed. Of course Bella would come up with something unexpected. Like it had been before, the threat of violence coming through her lips was hilarious—so comical it was jarring. If I had not been burning with the urge to kill, I would have laughed.
“Why?” I barked out, to force her to speak again.
“He’s telling everyone that he’s taking me to prom,” she said, her voice filled with her tiger-kitten outrage. “Either he’s insane or he’s still trying to make up for almost killing me last…well you remember it,” she inserted dryly, “and he thinks prom is somehow the correct way to do this. So I figure if I endanger his life, then we’re even, and he can’t keep trying to make amends. I don’t need enemies and maybe Lauren would back off if he left me alone. I might have to total his Sentra, though,” she went on, thoughtful now. “If he doesn’t have a ride he can’t take anyone to prom…”
It was encouraging to see that she sometimes got things wrong. Tyler’s persistence had nothing to do with the accident. She didn’t seem to understand the appeal she held for the human boys at the high school. Did she not see the appeal she had for me, either?
Ah, it was working. The baffling processes of her mind were always engrossing. I was beginning to gain control of myself, to see something beyond vengeance and torture…
“I heard about that,” I told her. She had stopped talking, and I needed her to continue.
“You did?” she asked incredulously. And then her voice was angrier than before. “If he’s paralyzed from the neck down, he can’t go to the prom either.”
I wished there was someway I could ask her to continue with the threats of death and bodily harm with out sounding insane. She couldn’t have picked a better way to
calm me. And her words—just sarcasm in her case, hyperbole—were a reminder I dearly
needed in this moment.
I sighed, and opened my eyes.
“Better?” she asked timidly.
No, I was calmer, but not better. Because I’d just realized that I could not kill the monster named Lonnie, and I still wanted that more than almost anything else in the world. Almost.
The only thing in this moment that I wanted more than to commit a highly justifiable murder, was this girl. And, though I couldn’t have her, just the dream of having her made it impossible for me to go on a killing spree tonight—no matter how defensible such a thing might be.
Bella deserved better than a killer.
I’d spent seven decades trying to be something other than that—anything other than a killer. Those years of effort could never make me worthy of the girl sitting beside me. And yet, I felt that if I returned to that life—the life of a killer—for even one night, I would surely put her out of my reach forever. Even if I didn’t drink their blood—even if I didn’t have that evidence blazing red in my eyes—wouldn’t she sense the difference?
I was trying to be good enough for her. It was an impossible goal. I would keep trying.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered.
Her breath filled my nose, and I was reminded why I could not deserve her. After all of this, even with as much as I loved her…she still made my mouth water.
I would give her as much honesty as I could. I owed her that.
“Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella.” I stared out into the black night, wishing both that she would hear the horror inherent in my words and also that she would not. Mostly that she would not. Run, Bella, run. Stay, Bella, stay. “But it wouldn’t be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those…” Just thinking about it almost pulled me from the car. I took a deep breath, letting her scent scorch down my throat. “At least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself.”
She said nothing else. How much had she heard in my words? I glanced at her furtively, but her face was unreadable. Blank with shock, perhaps. Well, she wasn’t screaming. Not yet.
It was quiet for a moment. I warred with myself, trying to be what I should be. What I couldn’t be.
“Jessica and Angela will be worried,” she said quietly. Her voice was very calm, and I was not sure how that could be. Was she in shock? Maybe tonight’s events hadn’t sunk in for her yet. “I was supposed to meet them.”
Did she want to be away from me? Or was she just worried about her friends’ worry?
I didn’t answer her, but I started the car and took her back. Every inch closer I got to the town, the harder it was to hold on to my purpose. I was just so close to him…
If it was impossible—if I could never have nor deserve this girl—then where was the sense in letting the man go unpunished? Surely I could allow myself that much…
No. I wasn’t giving up. Not yet. I wanted her too much to surrender.
We were at the restaurant where she was supposed to meet her friends before I’d even begun to make sense of my thoughts. Jessica and Angela were finished eating, and both now truly worried about Bella. They were on their way to search for her, heading off along the dark street.
It was not a good night for them to be wandering—
“How did you know where…?” Bella’s unfinished question interrupted me, and I realized that I had made yet another gaffe. I’d been too distracted to remember to ask her where she was supposed to meet her friends.
But, instead of finishing the inquiry and pressing the point, Bella just shook her head and half-smiled.
What did that mean?
Well, I didn’t have time to puzzle over her strange acceptance of my stranger knowledge. I opened my door.
“What are you doing?” she asked, sounding startled.
Not letting you out of my sight. Not allowing myself to be alone tonight. In that order. “I’m taking you to dinner.”
Well this should be interesting. It seemed like another night entirely when I’d imagined bringing Alice along and pretending to choose the same restaurant as Bella and her friends by accident. And now, here I was, practically on a date with the girl. Only it didn’t count, because I wasn’t giving her a chance to say no.
She already had her door half open before I’d walked around the car—it wasn’t usually so frustrating to have to move at an inconspicuous speed—instead of waiting for me to get it for her. Was this because she wasn’t used to being treated like a lady, or because she didn’t think of me as a gentleman?
I waited for her to join me, getting more anxious as her girlfriends continued in toward the dark corner.
“Go stop Jessica and Angela before I have to track them down, too,” I ordered quickly. “I don’t think I could restrain myself if I ran into your other friends again.” No, I would not be strong enough for that.
She shuddered, and then quickly collected herself. She took half a step after them, calling, “Jess! Angela!” in a loud voice. They turned, and she waved her arm over her head to catch their attention.
Bella! Oh, she’s safe! Angela thought with relief.
Late much? Jessica grumbled to herself, but she, too, was thankful that Bella wasn’t lost or hurt. This made me like her a little more than I had.
They hurried back, and then stopped, shocked, when they saw me beside her.
Uh-uh! Jess thought, stunned. No freaking way!
Edward Cullen? Did she go away by herself to find him? But why would she ask about them being out of town if she knew he was here… I got a brief flash of Bella’s mortified expression when she’d asked Angela if my family was often absent from school. No, she couldn’t have known, Angela decided.
Jessica’s thoughts were moving past the surprise and on to suspicion. Bella’s been holding out on me.
“Where have you been?” she demanded, staring at Bella, but peeking at me from the corner of her eye.
“I got lost. And then I ran into Edward,” Bella said, waving one hand toward me. Her tone was remarkably normal. Like that was truly all that had happened.
She must be in shock. That was the only explanation for her calm.
“Would it be all right if I joined you?” I asked—to be polite; I knew that they’d already eaten.
Holy crap but he’s hot! Jessica thought, her head suddenly slightly incoherent.
Angela wasn’t much more composed. Wish we hadn’t eaten. Wow. Just. Wow.
Now why couldn’t I do that to Bella?
“Er…sure,” Jessica agreed.
Angela frowned. “Um, actually, Bella, we already ate while we were waiting,” she admitted. “Sorry.”
What? Shut up! Jess complained internally.
Bella shrugged casually. So at ease. Definitely in shock. “That’s fine—I’m not hungry.”
“I think you should eat something,” I disagreed. She needed sugar in her bloodstream—though it smelled sweet enough as it was, I thought wryly. The horror was going to come crashing down on her momentarily, and an empty stomach wouldn’t help. She was an easy fainter, as I knew from experience.
These girls wouldn’t be in any danger if they went straight home. Danger didn’t stalk their every step.
And I’d rather be alone with Bella—as long as she was willing to be alone with me.
“Do you mind if I drive Bella home tonight?” I said to Jessica before Bella could respond. “That way you won’t have to wait while she eats.”
“Uh, no problem, I guess…” Jessica stared intently at Bella, looking for some sign that this was what she wanted.
I want to stay…but she probably wants him to herself. Who wouldn’t? Jess thought. At the same time, she watched Bella wink.
“Okay,” Angela said quickly, in a hurry to be out of the way if that was what Bella wanted. And it seemed that she did want that. “See you tomorrow, Bella…Edward.” She struggled to say my name in a casual tone. Then she grabbed Jessica’s hand and began towing her away.
I would have to find some way to thank Angela for this.
Jessica’s car was close by and in a bright circle of light cast by a streetlamp. Bella watched them carefully, a little crease of concern between her eyes, until they were in the car, so she must be fully aware of the danger she’d been in. Jessica waved as she drove away, and Bella waved back. It wasn’t until the car disappeared that she took a deep breath and turned to look up at me.
“Honestly, I’m not hungry,” she said.
Why had she waited for them to be gone before speaking? Did she truly want to be alone with me—even now, after witnessing my homicidal rage?
Whether that was the case or not, she was going to eat something.
“Humor me,” I said.
I held the restaurant door open for her and waited.
She sighed, and walked through.
I walked beside her to the podium where the hostess waited. Bella still seemed entirely self-possessed. I wanted to touch her hand, her forehead, to check her temperature. But my cold hand would repulse her, as it had before.
Oh, my, the hostess’s rather loud mental voice intruded into my consciousness. My, oh my.
It seemed to be my night to turn heads. Or was I only noticing it more because I wished so much that Bella would see me this way? We were always attractive to our prey. I’d never thought so much about it before. Usually—unless, as with people like Shelly Cope and Jessica Stanley, there was constant repetition to dull the horror—the fear kicked in fairly quickly after the initial attraction…
“A table for two?” I prompted when the hostess didn’t speak.
“Oh, er, yes. Welcome to La Bella Italia.” Mmm! What a voice! “Please follow me.” Her thoughts were preoccupied—calculating.
Maybe she’s his cousin. She couldn’t be his sister, they don’t look anything alike. But family, definitely. He can’t be with her.
Human eyes were clouded; they saw nothing clearly. How could this small-minded woman find my physical lures—snares for prey—so attractive, and yet be unable to see the soft perfection of the girl beside me?
Well, no need to help her out, just in case, the hostess thought as she led us to a family-sized table in the middle of the most crowded part of the restaurant. Can I give him my number while she’s there…? she mused.
I pulled a bill from my back pocket. People were invariably cooperative when money was involved.
Bella was already taking the seat the hostess indicated without objection. I shook my head at her, and she hesitated, cocking her head to one side with curiosity. Yes, she would be very curious tonight. A crowd was not the ideal place for this conversation.
“Perhaps something more private?” I requested of the hostess, handing her the money. Her eyes widened in surprise, and then narrowed while her hand curled around the tip.
She peeked at the bill while she led us around a dividing wall.
Fifty dollars for a better table? Rich, too. That makes sense—I bet his jacket cost more than my last paycheck. Damn. Why does he want privacy with her?
She offered us a booth in a quiet corner of the restaurant where no one would be able to see us—to see Bella’s reactions to whatever I would tell her. I had no clue as to what she would want from me tonight. Or what I would give her.
How much had she guessed? What explanation of tonight’s events had she told herself?
“How’s this?” the hostess asked.
“Perfect,” I told her and, feeling slightly annoyed by her resentful attitude toward Bella, I smiled widely at her, baring my teeth. Let her see me clearly.
Whoa. “Um…your server will be right out.” He can’t be real. I must be asleep. Maybe she’ll disappear…maybe I’ll write my number on his plate with ketchup… She wandered away, listing slightly to the side.
Odd. She still wasn’t frightened. I suddenly remembered Emmett teasing me in the cafeteria, so many weeks ago. I’ll bet I could have scared her better than that.
Was I losing my edge?
“You really shouldn’t do that to people,” Bella interrupted my thoughts in a disapproving tone. “It’s hardly fair.”
I stared at her critical expression. What did she mean? I hadn’t frightened the hostess at all, despite my intentions. “Do what?”
“Dazzle them like that—she’s probably hyperventilating in the kitchen right now.”
Hmm. Bella was very nearly right. The hostess was only semi-coherent at the moment, describing her incorrect assessment of me to her friend on the wait staff.
“Oh, come on,” Bella chided me when I didn’t answer immediately. “You have to know the effect you have on people.”
“I dazzle people?” That was an interesting way of phrasing it. Accurate enough for tonight. I wondered why the difference…
“You haven’t noticed?” she asked, still critical. “Do you think everybody gets their way so easily?”
“Do I dazzle you?” I voiced my curiosity impulsively, and then the words were out, and it was too late to recall them.
But before I had time to too deeply regret speaking the words aloud she answered, “Frequently.” And her cheeks took on a faint pink glow.
I dazzled her.
My silent heart swelled with a hope more intense than I could ever remember having felt before.
“Hello,” someone said, the waitress, introducing herself. Her thoughts were loud, and more explicit than the hostess’s, but I tuned her out. I stared at Bella’s face instead of listening, watching the blood spreading under her skin, noticing not how that made my throat flame, but rather how it brightened her fair face, how it set off the cream of her skin…
The waitress was waiting for something from me. Ah, she’d asked for our drink order. I continued to stare at Bella, and the waitress grudgingly turned to look at her, too.
“I’ll have a coke?” Bella said, as if asking for approval.
“Two cokes,” I amended. Thirst—normal, human thirst—was a sign of shock. I would make sure she had the extra sugar from the soda in her system.
She looked healthy, though. More than healthy. She looked radiant.
“What?” she demanded—wondering why I was staring, I guessed. I was vaguely aware that the waitress had left.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
She blinked, surprised by the question. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t feel dizzy, sick, cold?”
She was even more confused now. “Should I?”
“Well, I actually I’m waiting for you to go into shock.” I half-smiled, expecting her denial. She would not want to be taken care of.
It took her a minute to answer me. Her eyes were slightly unfocused. She looked that way sometimes, when I smiled at her. Was she…dazzled?
I would love to believe that.
“I don’t think that will happen. I’ve always been very good at repressing unpleasant things,” she answered, a little breathless.
Did she have a lot of practice with unpleasant things, then? Was her life always this hazardous?
“Just the same,” I told her. “I’ll feel better when you have some sugar and food in you.”
The waitress returned with the cokes and a basket of bread. She put them in front of me, and asked for my order, trying to catch my eye in the process. I indicated that she should attend to Bella, and then went back to tuning her out. She had a vulgar mind.
“Um…” Bella glanced quickly at the menu. “I’ll have the mushroom ravioli.”
The waitress turned back to me eagerly. “And you?”
“Nothing for me.”
Bella made a slight face. Hmm. She must have noticed that I never ate food. She noticed everything. And I always forgot to be careful around her.
I waited till we were alone again.
“Drink,” I insisted.
I was surprised when she complied immediately and without objection. She drank until the glass was entirely empty, so I pushed the second coke toward her, frowning a little. Thirst, or shock?
She drank a little more, and then shuddered once.
“Are you cold?”
“It’s just the coke,” she said, but she shivered again, her lips trembling slightly as if her teeth were about to chatter.
The pretty blouse she wore looked too thin to protect her adequately; it clung to her like a second skin, almost as fragile as the first. She was so frail, so mortal. “Don’t you have a jacket?”
“Yes.” She looked around herself, a little perplexed. “Oh—I left it in Jessica’s car.”
I pulled off my jacket, wishing that the gesture was not marred by my body temperature. It would have been nice to have been able to offer her a warm coat. She stared at me, her cheeks warming again. What was she thinking now?
I handed her the jacket across the table, and she put it on at once, and then shuddered again.
Yes, it would be very nice to be warm.
“Thanks,” she said. She took a deep breath, and then pushed the too-long sleeves back to free her hands. She took another deep breath.
Was the evening finally settling in? Her color was still good; her skin was cream and roses against the deep blue of her shirt.
“That color blue looks lovely with your skin,” I complimented her. Just being honest.
She flushed, enhancing the effect.
She looked well, but there was no point in taking chances. I pushed the basket of bread toward her.
“Really,” she objected, guessing my motives. “I’m not going into shock.”
“You should be—a normal person would be. You don’t even look shaken.” I stared at her, disapproving, wondering why she couldn’t be normal and then wondering if really wanted her to be that way.
“I feel very safe with you,” she said, her eyes, again, filled with trust. Trust I didn’t deserve.
Her instincts were all wrong—backwards. That must be the problem. She didn’t recognize danger the way a human being should be able to. She had the opposite reaction. Instead of running, she lingered, drawn to what should frighten her…
How could I protect her from myself when neither of us wanted that?
“This is more complicated than I’d planned,” I murmured.
I could see her turning my words over in her head, and I wondered what she made of them. She took a breadstick and began to eat without seeming aware of the action. She chewed for a moment, and then leaned her head to one side thoughtfully.
“Usually you’re in a better mood when your eyes are so light,” she said in a casual tone.
Her observation, stated so matter of factly, left me reeling. “What?”
“You’re always crabbier when your eyes are black—I expect it then. I have a theory about that,” she added lightly.
So she had come up with her own explanation. Of course she had. I felt a deep sense of dread as I wondered how close she’d come to the truth.
“Mm-hm.” She chewed on another bite, entirely nonchalant. As if she weren’t discussing the aspects of a monster with the monster himself.
“I hope you were more creative this time…” I lied when she didn’t continue. What I really hoped was that she was wrong—miles wide of the mark. “Or are you still stealing from comic books?”
“Well, no, I didn’t get it from a comic book,” she said, a little embarrassed. “But I didn’t come up with it on my own, either.”
“And?” I asked between my teeth.
Surely should would not speak so calmly if she were about to scream.
As she hesitated, biting her lip, the waitress reappeared with Bella’s food. I paid the server little attention as she set the plate in front of Bella and then asked if I wanted anything.
I declined, but asked for more coke. The waitress hadn’t noticed the empty glasses. She took them and left.
“You were saying?” I prompted anxiously as soon as we were alone again.
“I’ll tell you about it in the car,” she said in a low voice. Ah, this would be bad. She wasn’t willing to speak her guesses around others. “If…” she tacked on suddenly.
“There are conditions?” I was so tense I almost growled the words.
“I do have a few questions, of course.”
“Of course,” I agreed, my voice hard.
Her questions would probably be enough to tell me where her thoughts were heading. But how would I answer them? With responsible lies? Or would I drive her away with truth? Or would I say nothing, unable to decide?
We sat in silence while the waitress replenished her supply of soda.
“Well, go ahead,” I said, jaw locked, when she was gone.
“Why are you in Port Angeles?”
That was too easy a question—for her. It gave away nothing, while my answer, if truthful, would give away much too much. Let her reveal something first.
“Next,” I said.
“But that’s the easiest one!’
“Next,” I said again.
She was frustrated by my refusal. She looked away from me, down to her food. Slowly, thinking hard, she took a bite and chewed with deliberation. She washed it down with more coke, and then finally looked up at me. Her eyes were narrow with suspicion.
“Okay then,” she said. “Let’s say, hypothetically, of course, that…someone…could know what people are thinking, read minds, you know—with just a few exceptions.”
It could be worse.
This explained that little half-smile in the car. She was quick—no one else had ever guessed this about me. Except for Carlisle, and it had been rather obvious then, in the beginning, when I’d answered all his thoughts as if he’d spoken them to me. He’d understood before I had…
This question wasn’t so bad. While it was clear that she knew that there was something wrong with me, was not as serious as it could have been. Mind-reading was, after all, not a facet of the vampire cannon. I went along with her hypothesis.
“Just one exception,” I corrected. “Hypothetically.”
She fought a smile—my vague honesty pleased her. “All right, with one exception, then. How does that work? What are the limitations? How would…that someone…find someone else at exactly the right time? How would he know that she was in trouble?”
“Sure.” Her lips twitched, and her liquid brown eyes were eager.
“Well,” I hesitated. “If…that someone…”
“Let’s call him ‘Joe,’” she suggested.
I had to smile at her enthusiasm. Did she really think the truth would be a good thing? If my secrets were pleasant, why would I keep them from her?
“Joe, then,” I agreed. “If Joe had been paying attention, the timing wouldn’t have needed to be quite so exact.” I shook my head and repressed a shudder at the thought of how close I had been to being too late today. “Only you could get into trouble in a town this small. You would have devastated their crime rate statistics for a decade, you know.”
Her lips turned down at the corners, and pouted out. “We were speaking of a hypothetical case.”
I laughed at her irritation.
Her lips, her skin… They looked so soft. I wanted to touch them. I wanted to press my fingertip against the corner of her frown and turn it up. Impossible. My skin would be repellent to her.
“Yes, we were,” I said, returning to the conversation before I could depress myself too thoroughly. “Shall we call you ‘Jane’?”
She leaned across the table toward me, all humor and irritation gone from her wide eyes.
“How did you know?” she asked, her voice low and intense.
Should I tell her the truth? And, if so, what portion?
I wanted to tell her. I wanted to deserve the trust I could still see on her face.
“You can trust me, you know,” she whispered, and she reached one hand forward as if to touch my hands where they rested on top of the empty table before me.
I pulled them back—hating the thought of her reaction to my frigid stone skin— and she dropped her hand.
I knew that I could trust her with protecting my secrets; she was entirely trustworthy, good to the core. But I couldn’t trust her not to be horrified by them. She should be horrified. The truth was horror.
“I don’t know if I have a choice anymore,” I murmured. I remembered that I’d once teased her by calling her ‘exceptionally unobservant.’ Offended her, if I’d been judging her expressions correctly. Well, I could right that one injustice, at least. “I was wrong—you’re much more observant than I gave you credit for.” And, though she might not realize it, I’d given her plenty of credit already. She missed nothing.
“I thought you were always right,” she said, smiling as she teased me.
“I used to be.” I used to know what I was doing. I used to be always sure of my course. And now everything was chaos and tumult.
Yet I wouldn’t trade it. I didn’t want the life that made sense. Not if the chaos meant that I could be with Bella.
“I was wrong about you on one other thing as well,” I went on, setting the record straight on another point. “You’re not a magnet for accidents—that’s not a broad enough classification. You are a magnet for trouble. If there is anything dangerous within a ten-mile radius, it will invariably find you.” Why her? What had she done to deserve any of this?
Bella’s face turned serious again. “And you put yourself into that category?”
Honesty was more important in regards to this question than any other. “Unequivocally.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly—not suspicious now, but oddly concerned. She reached her hand across the table again, slowly and deliberately. I pulled my hands an inch away from her, but she ignored that, determined to touch me. I held my breath—not because of her scent now, but because of the sudden, overwhelming tension. Fear. My skin would disgust her. She would run away.
She brushed her fingertips lightly across the back of my hand. The heat of her gentle, willing touch was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It was almost pure pleasure.
Would have been, except for my fear. I watched her face as she felt the cold stone of my
skin, still unable to breathe.
A half-smile turned up the corners of her lips.
“Thank you,” she said, meeting my stare with an intense gaze of her own. “That’s twice now.”
Her soft fingers lingered on my hand as if they found it pleasant to be there.
I answered her as casually as I was able. “Let’s not try for three, agreed?”
She grimaced at that, but nodded.
I pulled my hands out from under hers. As exquisite as her touch felt, I wasn’t going to wait for the magic of her tolerance to pass, to turn to revulsion. I hid my hands under the table.
I read her eyes; though her mind was silent, I could perceive both trust and wonder there. I realized in that moment that I wanted to answer her questions. Not because I owed it to her. Not because I wanted her to trust me.
I wanted her to know me.
“I followed you to Port Angeles,” I told her, the words spilling out too quickly for me to edit them. I knew the danger of the truth, the risk I was taking. At any moment, her unnatural calm could shatter into hysterics. Contrarily, knowing this only had me talking faster. “I’ve never tried to keep a specific person alive before and it’s much more troublesome than I would have believed. But that’s probably just because it’s you. Ordinary people seem to make it through the day without so many catastrophes.”
I watched her, waiting.
She smiled. Her lips curved up at the edges, and her chocolate eyes warmed.
I’d just admitted to stalking her, and she was smiling.
“Did you ever think that maybe my number was up that first time, with the van, and that you’ve been interfering with fate?” she asked.
“That wasn’t the first time,” I said, staring down at the dark maroon table cloth, my shoulders bowed in shame. My barriers were down, the truth still spilling free recklessly. “Your number was up the first time I met you.”
It was true, and it angered me. I had been positioned over her life like the blade of a guillotine. It was as if she had been marked for death by some cruel, unjust fate,
and—since I’d proved an unwilling tool—that same fate continued to try to execute her. I imagined the fate personified—a grisly, jealous hag, a vengeful harpy.
I wanted something, someone, to be responsible for this—so that I would have something concrete to fight against. Something, anything to destroy, so that Bella could be safe.
Bella was very quiet; her breathing had accelerated.
I looked up at her, knowing I would finally see the fear I was waiting for. Had I not just admitted how close I’d been to killing her? Closer than the van that had come within slim inches of crushing her. And yet, her face was still calm, her eyes still tightened only with concern.
“You remember?” She had to remember that.
“Yes,” she said, her voice level and grave. Her deep eyes were full of awareness.
She knew. She knew that I had wanted to murder her.
Where were the screams?
“And yet here you sit,” I said, pointing out the inherent contradiction.
“Yes, here I sit…because of you.” Her expression altered, turned curious, as she unsubtly changed the subject. “Because somehow you knew how to find me today…?”
Hopelessly, I pushed one more time at the barrier that protected her thoughts, desperate to understand. It made no logical sense to me. How could she even care about the rest with that glaring truth on the table?
She waited, only curious. Her skin was pale, which was natural for her, but it still concerned me. Her dinner sat nearly untouched in front of her. If I continued to tell her too much, she was going to need a buffer when the shock wore off.
I named my terms. “You eat, I’ll talk.”
She processed that for half a second, and then threw a bite in her mouth with a speed that belied her calm. She was more anxious for my answer than her eyes let on.
“It’s harder than it should be—keeping track of you,” I told her. “Usually I can find someone very easily, once I’ve heard their mind before.”
I watched her face carefully as I said this. Guessing right was one thing, having it confirmed was another.
She was motionless, her eyes wide. I felt my teeth clench together as I waited for her panic.
But she just blinked once, swallowed loudly, and then quickly scooped another bite into her mouth. She wanted me to continue.
“I was keeping tabs on Jessica,” I went on, watching each word as it sank in. “Not carefully—like I said, only you could find trouble in Port Angeles—” I couldn’t resist adding that. Did she realize that other human lives were not so plagued with near death experiences, or did she think she was normal? She was the furthest thing from normal I’d ever encountered. “And at first I didn’t notice when you took off on your own. Then, when I realized that you weren’t with her anymore, I went looking for you at the bookstore I saw in her head. I could tell that you hadn’t gone in, and that you’d gone south…and I knew you would have to turn around soon. So I was just waiting for you, randomly searching through the thoughts of people on the street—to see if anyone had noticed you so I would know where you were. I had no reason to be worried…but I was strangely anxious…” My breath came faster as I remembered that feeling of panic. Her scent blazed in my throat and I was glad. It was a pain that meant she was alive. As long as I burned, she was safe.
“I started to drive in circles, still…listening.” I hoped the word made sense to her. This had to be confusing. “The sun was finally setting, and I was about to get out, and follow you on foot. And then—”
As the memory took me—perfectly clear and as vivid as if I was in the moment again—I felt the same murderous fury wash through my body, locking it into ice.
I wanted him dead. I needed him dead. My jaw clenched tight as I concentrated on holding myself here at the table. Bella still needed me. That was what mattered.
“Then what?” she whispered, her dark eyes wide.
“I heard what they were thinking,” I said through my teeth, unable to keep the words from coming out in a growl. “I saw your face in his mind.”
I could hardly resist the urge to kill. I still knew precisely where to find him. His black thoughts sucked at the night sky, pulling me toward them…
I covered my face, knowing my expression was that of a monster, a hunter, a killer. I fixed her image behind my closed eyes to control myself, focusing only on her
face. The delicate framework of her bones, the thin sheath of her pale skin—like silk stretched over glass, incredibly soft and easy to shatter. She was too vulnerable for this world. She needed a protector. And, through some twisted mismanagement of destiny, I was the closest thing available.
I tried to explain my violent reaction so that she would understand.
“It was very…hard—you can’t imagine how hard—for me to simply take you away, and leave them…alive,” I whispered. “I could have let you go with Jessica and Angela, but I was afraid if you left me alone, I would go looking for them.”
For the second time tonight, I confessed to an intended murder. At least this one was defensible.
She was quiet as I struggled to control myself. I listened to her heartbeat. The rhythm was irregular, but it slowed as the time passed until it was steady again. Her breathing, too, was low and even.
I was too close to the edge. I needed to get her home before…
Would I kill him, then? Would I become a murderer again when she trusted me? Was there any way to stop myself?
She’d promised to tell me her latest theory when we were alone. Did I want to hear it? I was anxious for it, but would the reward for my curiosity be worse than not knowing?
At any rate, she must have had enough truth for one night.
I looked at her again, and her face was paler than before, but composed.
“Are you ready to go home?” I asked.
“I’m ready to leave,” she said, choosing her words carefully, as if a simple ‘yes’ did not fully express what she wanted to say.
The waitress returned. She’d heard Bella’s last statement as she’d dithered on the other side of the partition, wondering what more she could offer me. I wanted to roll my eyes at some of the offerings she’d had in mind.
“How are we doing?” she asked me.
“We’re ready for the check, thank you,” I told her, my eyes on Bella.
The waitress’s breathing spiked and she was momentarily—to use Bella’s phrasing—dazzled by my voice.
In a sudden moment of perception, hearing the way my voice sounded in this inconsequential human’s head, I realized why I seemed to be attracting so much admiration tonight—unmarred by the usual fear.
It was because of Bella. Trying so hard to be safe for her, to be less frightening, to be human, I truly had lost my edge. The other humans saw only beauty now, with my innate horror so carefully under control.
I looked up at the waitress, waiting for her to recover herself. It was sort of humorous, now that I understood the reason.
“Sure,” she stuttered. “Here you go.”
She handed me the folder with the bill, thinking of the card she’d slid in behind the receipt. A card with her name and telephone number on it.
Yes, it was rather funny.
I had money ready again. I gave the folder back at once, so she wouldn’t waste any time waiting for a call that would never come.
“No change,” I told her, hoping the size of the tip would assuage her disappointment.
I stood, and Bella quickly followed suit. I wanted to offer her my hand, but I thought that might be pushing my luck a little too far for one night. I thanked the waitress, my eyes never leaving Bella’s face. Bella seemed to be finding something amusing, too.
We walked out; I walked as close beside her as I dared. Close enough that the warmth coming off her body was like a physical touch against the left side of my body. As I held the door for her, she sighed quietly, and I wondered what regret made her sad. I stared into her eyes, about to ask, when she suddenly looked at the ground, seeming embarrassed. It made me more curious, even as it made me reluctant to ask. The silence between us continued while I opened her door for her and then got into the car.
I turned the heater on—the warmer weather had come to an abrupt end; the cold car must be uncomfortable for her. She huddled in my jacket, a small smile on her lips.
I waited, postponing conversation until the lights of the boardwalk faded. It made me feel more alone with her.
Was that the right thing? Now that I was focused only on her, the car seemed very small. Her scent swirled through it with the current of the heater, building and strengthening. It grew into its own force, like another entity in the car. A presence that demanded recognition.
It had that; I burned. The burning was acceptable, though. It seemed strangely appropriate to me. I had been given so much tonight—more than I’d expected. And here she was, still willingly at my side. I owed something in return for that. A sacrifice. A burnt offering.
Now if I could just keep it to that; just burn, and nothing more. But the venom filled my mouth, and my muscles tensed in anticipation, as if I were hunting…
I had to keep such thoughts from my mind. And I knew what would distract me.
“Now,” I said to her, fear of her response taking the edge off the burn. “It’s your turn.”