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Darkest Before the Dawn

Summary:
The door opened behind me, with a cold gust of wind suddenly sweeping through the room, rustling the papers on the desk and carrying that scent! I froze. Not again!...I sensed nothing...The fragrance was maddening. I slowly turned my head, following the scent, and there she was. Standing, back pressed against the back wall, waiting. She was haunting me. A reimagining of Twilight from Edward's perspective, starting from the very beginning...The First Time - and continuing on beyond where Midnight Sun ends. NOMINATED: 2009 Bellie's category Canon that's Better than Canon NOMINATED: 2009 Indie's Top 10 Best Canon Disclaimer: All characters, settings, and a great majority of the dialogue are the property of Stephanie Meyer.


Notes:
I wrote the first five or so chapters of Darkest Before the Dawn before I knew about/read SM’s Midnight Sun. I have since read it, but have tried to stay true to “my” version of Edward, as well as staying true to SM’s original dialogue and plot line.


17. Chapter 17 - The Mistake

Rating 5/5   Word Count 9196   Review this Chapter

Chapter 17 – The Mistake

I could have easily spent the rest of the day with Bella, safely locked in the cage of my arms, but having her play ball with us was a fine second choice. We required the Jeep to get to the clearing, so I decided we would return Bella’s truck to its resting place back at her father’s house. Besides, I hoped we would see Charlie. Now that she had met my family, I was eager to meet hers…or at least her father. He should know that we were together. Otherwise, we were only furtive lovers, and I didn’t want to hide our love anymore. I wanted to share my life and my family with her, openly together. I wanted it all.

I nuzzled her neck, running the tip of my nose along the vein in her neck and feeling the slight pulsing there. I whispered softly against her warm skin as I went, “I would very much enjoy staying here with you all day, love, but we need to head back to your house if we are going to play ball later.” Then, again, we did have a little time. Her heart was sputtering as I touched her and she didn’t try to respond in words. She held very still as I continued to caress her, burying my face in her hair and finally stopping because I was driving myself completely to distraction. I took a deep breath, inhaling her scent as I pulled away from her. I never tired of touching her, or the flustered look on her face when I did so.

I smiled rather wickedly, finally releasing her from my grasp and standing quickly to offer my hand. With the rate her heart was pounding, she would probably need my help to stand. I absolutely loved having that effect on her. She was unsteady, indeed, and I couldn’t help chuckling.

“That’s really not fair, you know,” she complained.

“I know,” I said, not the least bit remorseful.

It began to drizzle as we drove quietly back to her house. I hoped that Charlie would see us return together, although I was sure that would leave Bella distraught and unprepared, so it was for the best that I did not sense his thoughts as we neared her house. What I did hear was enough to turn my happy anticipation into cold anger in an instant. The Blacks were back, and the older one…Billy, I found his name in Jacob’s mind…was determined to warn Charlie. His thoughts twisted with a bitter hatred for me and my family, and an angry determination to separate Bella and me. I seethed with rage, resenting this threat to my new-found happiness with Bella. We turned onto her street and found their dark Ford truck waiting in Charlie’s driveway.

“Miserable dog! I won’t let you…” I spat under my breath, lower than Bella could hear—I hoped. Billy sat in his wheelchair, sheltered from the rain under the shallow front porch. He could see me through the rain dotted windshield and knew instantly who I was. His hard cold glare matched his threatening thoughts. The boy, Jacob, had no idea what I was, but knew what his father had planned and was mortified. He stared at his feet as I parked Bella’s truck against the curb.

“This is crossing the line,” I said, loud enough for Bella to hear, fury in my voice. She had to know what to expect.

“He came to warn Charlie?” she guessed, seeming horrified. I wasn’t sure if the horror came from Billy telling Charlie I was a vampire, or informing him that she was dating me. I imagined each would be equally terrifying to her. I narrowed my eyes at Billy, returning his glare through the window, and nodded in answer to her question. We were in luck that Charlie had not yet arrived home after all.

“Let me deal with this,” she suggested, anxiously, as I continue to stare at the Blacks with undisguised malevolence. She was right. A confrontation now between us would surely escalate, and Jacob was still unaware of what I was. There must be a reason Billy was keeping it from him, and Bella could possibly use that to our advantage.

“That’s probably best. Be careful, though. The child has no idea.” I continued to plumb Billy’s thoughts to see if I could determine what had prompted today’s sudden urgency.

“Jacob is not that much younger than I am,” Bella reminded me, obviously affronted at my use of the word ‘child’. She drew me out of my examination of Billy, and when I looked at her I was reminded, once again, of how lovely, fragile and innocent she was.

“Oh, I know,” I assured her, grinning. I seldom forgot how young and naïve she was, but I doubted she often thought of how old I was—and I was in no hurry to remind her. She sighed and put her hand on the door handle to go. “Get them inside,” I advised, “so I can leave. I’ll be back around dusk.”

“Do you want my truck?” she offered. I rolled my eyes. Silly Bella.

“I could walk home faster than this truck moves.”

“You don’t have to leave,” she said wistfully, making me smile. Whenever she wanted me to stay, it gladdened my heart. But this was not the time.

“Actually, I do. After you get rid of them,” I said, throwing a dark look at the Blacks, “you still have to prepare Charlie to meet your new boyfriend.” I grinned widely, knowing this was something she probably feared more than the coming confrontation with Billy and Jacob—and I wanted to make sure she had not forgotten.

She groaned. “Thanks a lot.”

I smiled at her torment, wishing she was more enthusiastic about introducing me to her father, but I would take what I could get. “I’ll be back soon,” I promised. Knowing Billy’s eyes and thoughts were still on us, I flicked a quick look in his direction, and then leaned in swiftly to kiss Bella just under the edge of her jaw, my favorite spot. Her heart lurched as she too hazarded a glance at the porch. Billy’s thoughts were outraged, just as I expected, and it brought me a grim satisfaction. His face contorted with anger and his hands clutched at the armrests of the chair. Let him dare to cross this line, and he would know full well what he was doing. Bella was mine, and he would not take her from me.

Soon,” Bella stressed, unnecessarily as nothing could prevent me from coming back, regardless of the dog’s intent. She stepped out into the rain, and I watched her, protectively, as she half-ran through the light sprinkle toward the porch. I continued staring at them, ready to leap from the truck if anything went awry.

“Hey, Billy. Hi, Jacob,” she greeted them, her cheerfulness ringing false, to me at least. Billy didn’t believe it either. “Charlie’s gone for the day—I hope you haven’t been waiting long.”

“Not long,” Billy lied. They had been there for almost an hour. His black eyes stared at her in a way that made my anger harden. “I just wanted to bring this up,” he said, indicating the brown paper sack resting in his lap.

“Thanks,” replied Bella. “Why don’t you come in for a minute and dry off?” She unlocked the door, ignoring Billy’s stare, and waved the two of them in ahead of her. “Here, let me take that,” she offered, taking the brown bag from Billy and turning to shut the door. She looked at me one last time before she closed the door. I wanted to stay, but I knew Billy intended to send Jacob out on some fool’s errand, in order to speak to Bella alone. To leave undetected, I had to go now. With one last baleful look at the Chief’s house and the hostile visitors inside, I started running home.

The drizzle quickly turned to rain as I ran. Dark clouds convulsed above the forest, dumping water on the treetops, slowly dripping through to the forest floor. I was soaked by the time I reached the house. My mind was still back at Charlie’s—I had every confidence in Bella’s ability to handle Billy, but I hoped she would get them to leave soon. I especially wanted her to get Jacob to leave before he learned too much—or spent more time with Bella. His intentions with her were clear in his thoughts, and I didn’t like it at all.

When I arrived at the house, Jasper was waiting for me on the porch, watching the rain drip down off the eaves and leaning against the post. He looked steadily at me, obviously sensing my agitation about the return of the Blacks.

Alice said you would be back soon, Jasper thought. Everything okay?

“Not really,” I said, not bothering to lie. “Billy and Jacob Black were waiting at Bella’s house. Billy intends to warn Charlie about me.” My voice was flat with anger. Jasper’s eyebrows flew up in surprise, and he nodded slightly, understanding my irritation now. “Charlie wasn’t home, however, and I think Bella can take care of it.”

He nodded again. Alice didn’t say anything about it, just that you would be back early and would get Bella for the game later. So, must work out okay. He shrugged.

I agreed, but my pique still hadn’t dissipated. I came in out of the rain, up onto the porch, and shook the droplets off my face. The rain didn’t bother me, but I needed some dry clothes, and something presentable to wear to meet Bella’s father. I turned to go inside, but Jasper’s thoughts stopped me. He had something else he wanted to discuss with me…something about Bella.

When you were here before, with Bella…I wanted to explain, he thought.

“Explain what?” I asked, only vaguely understanding what he meant. Something about the way he had acted when she was here…

I knew your feelings for Bella were strong. I’ve felt that all along, he thought. But I wasn’t prepared for…the intensity of you two together. Now it’s so much stronger than it was before, in the cafeteria…

I didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. Jasper had explained his observations before. “You said that we had a very strong bond…” I started.

Yes, but now it’s more…passionate. And Bella…, he trailed off, remembering for me, the feeling of love that he had felt coming off her. She has a powerful ability to love, and when you are in the room together…you have to understand Edward, it’s just very new to me. I’m used to Rose and Emmett, and even Carlisle and Esme. When they have strong feelings for each other, I can block it for the most part. But you and Bella… he trailed off again, frustrated, trying to explain.

I thought I understood. “So, you are drawn to us, because of what we feel…” I tried.

It’s more than that…it’s as if I’m wrapped in it and can’t escape…when you are drawn to her, I am too. Please understand, I will get used to it, control it better. I just wanted to explain…

I could tell Jasper was uncomfortable with this, and frankly I was too. A dark, jealous feeling was rising in me. I didn’t want him feeling that way about Bella, especially when his self-control was still sometimes in doubt. It was dangerous, and I simply didn’t like it. He sensed my concern without my voicing it.

Edward, I promise I won’t hurt her…any more than you could…do you see? He showed me his feelings for her, as we were cuddled on the couch in my room, and I could see that they were simply a reflection of mine—less intense, and far less dangerous. I was still unsure.

Do you want me to avoid the game tonight? he asked, and I could tell there was a lingering longing in his thoughts. He didn’t want me to tell him to stay away, but he would if I asked.

“No,” I sighed, resigned. I didn’t like it, but I knew it would improve when Jasper was around Bella more. He went through something similar with Rose and Emmett, a long time ago, but I didn’t remember him being this concerned about it. But Bella was different…and human. “Alice said it would be alright, didn’t she?”

He smiled, a little too relieved for my comfort, and I could tell he was looking forward to seeing her, seeing us together, again. It will be alright, I promise, Edward.

I nodded. Alice has very strong feelings for her too, you know, he added, still smiling. With the two of you around, I can’t decide if I want to kiss Bella, or take her shopping.

At that I laughed, appreciating Jasper’s honesty and attempt to put me at ease. I turned and went into the house, still not entirely convinced.

It rained hard as the Jeep’s tires crunched along the dirt road leading away from our house. Alice had assured us that Bella wouldn’t need an umbrella, and it never paid to doubt Alice, but I was beginning to wonder when the downpour would end. I decided to come back a little early, so I could listen in. I wanted to know if Charlie was ready to receive me or shoot me—before I arrived at their front doorstep. I parked down the street and around the corner, hopefully not attracting too much notice on a Sunday afternoon with my outrageous vehicle, and listened for Charlie’s thoughts.

“Dr. Cullen’s place?” Charlie was asking in astonishment. He was eating dinner and had just dropped his fork, surprised that Bella had been to our house this morning. She must have just told him. There were no thoughts about Billy or Jacob intertwined with his surprise.

“Yeah,” Bella replied.

“What were you doing there?” Charlie demanded. Charlie didn’t like surprises, certain that this unexpected news meant those Cullen boys were up to no good, perhaps throwing a weekend party. I chuckled.

“Well, I sort of have a date with Edward Cullen tonight, and he wanted to introduce me to his parents…” My heart surged at hearing those words fall from her lips, and I was on high alert for Charlie’s reaction. It took less than half a second for Charlie to register the words ‘date’ and ‘Edward Cullen’ and then become incredibly angry. His thoughts were a haze of anger and fear, making them almost incoherent. Strangely, images of Emmett ran through his mind.

“…Dad?” Bella sounded concerned, and rightly so, as Charlie was now considering if he should go over and confront Dr. Cullen immediately, or if he should take the time to load his gun first. He thought that even a big kid like Edward wouldn’t mess with the Chief and his gun. I was momentarily very concerned, until I realized that he thought Bella was dating Emmett. Then I laughed out loud, sitting in the truck in the rain, undoubtedly looking mad to any neighbors peeking out of their windows.

“Dad, are you all right?” Bella asked meekly.

“You are going out with Edward Cullen?” Charlie finally managed to say, and all his frustration and protective fatherly rage came out in a roar. My laughter subsided. Even if he had the wrong Cullen boy in mind, I couldn’t be sure his reaction to Bella dating me would be any better. Nor, probably, should it.

“I thought you liked the Cullens,” Bella tried. This actually worked to cool the fire in Charlie’s mind just a little, at least making his thoughts more organized. He was thinking of Emmett and convinced he was too old, too much of a jock, and just wrong for Bella. I had to chuckle again—he was right, after all—Emmett was all wrong for Bella.

“He’s too old for you,” Charlie objected.

“We’re both juniors,” Bella corrected him, obviously not realizing he was thinking of Emmett, and once again skillfully parsing her words to not reveal the truth without lying. At least this time it worked to our advantage.

“Wait…” Charlie paused, finally realizing he didn’t know which Cullen boy Bella was talking about. “Which one is Edwin?” I burst out laughing as Charlie misremembered my name.

“Edward is the youngest, the one with the reddish brown hair,” she said. Was that my most distinctive feature? I smiled, probably enjoying this far more than I should, considering I hoped to actually win Bella’s father over. That it was even possible to gain Charlie’s trust gave me a slight pause, realizing how surreal this situation was.

“Oh, well, that’s…better, I guess.” Charlie’s mind was whirling again, trying to remember who I was. “I don’t like the look of that big one. I’m sure he’s a nice boy and all, but he looks too…mature for you. Is this Edwin your boyfriend?”

I only had the barest of smiles for his use of the wrong name this time, as I listened intently for Bella’s response. He wasn’t looking at her, studying the table in his discomfort. I wished I could see her face at this moment!

“It’s Edward, Dad.”

“Is he?” Charlie pressed, unimpressed.

“Sort of, I guess.” My heart dipped a little. I wished she would show a little more enthusiasm. I knew it was at least partly to keep Charlie’s rage subdued—still, I ached to hear her proudly say she belonged to me.

“You said last night that you weren’t interested in any of the boys in town,” Charlie complained, feeling disgruntled about being lied to, and wondering what more there was she was hiding from him. If you only knew, Charlie…

“Well, Edward doesn’t live in town, Dad.” Charlie was very unimpressed with this argument and glared at her. He was less upset, though, and had grumpily resumed eating his dinner.

“And, anyways,” Bella continued, “it’s kind of at an early stage, you know. Don’t embarrass me with all the boyfriend talk, okay?” My heart twinged again that she was reluctant to talk about me as her boyfriend, especially when my feelings for her went so much deeper. I steeled myself against that small pain, knowing I would be facing them shortly. I wanted to put my best face forward in meeting Bella’s father.

“When is he coming over?” Charlie asked, thinking he wanted to be ready to confront me.

“He’ll be here in a few minutes,” replied Bella. That was my cue.

“Where is he taking you?”

Bella groaned. “I hope you’re getting the Spanish Inquisition out of your system now. We’re going to play baseball with his family.”

I started up the engine and turned the corner. Charlie was disbelieving at first at Bella’s revelation of our plans, but then chuckled. “You’re playing baseball?”

“Well, I’ll probably watch most of the time.” I laughed quietly as well—neither of them had any idea what this game was like.

“You must really like this guy,” Charlie observed suspiciously, making my heart swell again. If Charlie could see it, maybe it was more obvious than Bella let on. Charlie was not pleased with this thought, especially considering he had just discovered that Bella was dating. I resolved to reassure him in any way possible, as I pulled up in front of the house and turned off the Jeep’s noisy engine.

Bella must have started cleaning up, and I knew Charlie had heard my arrival. “Leave the dishes,” he said, “I can do them tonight. You baby me too much.”

I was through the rain in a flash, already at the door and ringing the bell. Charlie was coming to answer it, determined to not let me take his daughter without some proper intimidation. I killed my smile and put on a properly respectful face before he reached the door.

“Come on in, Edward,” he greeted me when he opened the door, eyeing me suspiciously. He was relieved to see that I wasn’t Emmett after all, and decided I didn’t look very much older than Bella.

“Thanks, Chief Swan.”

“Go ahead and call me Charlie. Here, I’ll take your jacket.” It was more than I expected in common courtesy from him. He was putting on a good show for Bella’s sake, and I could sense the love he had for her.

“Thanks, sir.”

“Have a seat there, Edward,” Charlie motioned for me to sit in the living room. I properly chose a seat across from Charlie, so that he could evaluate me as the prospective suitor that I was, leaving Bella to sit next to her father on the sofa. I knew Bella would not like this, and had to restrain myself from smiling when she shot me a dirty look. I winked at her while Charlie’s back was turned. Charlie was thinking of questions to grill me with.

“So, I hear you’re getting my girl to watch baseball,” he said. It did not escape me that Bella was his girl, and I would have to earn the privilege of escorting her, which I was quite prepared to do, if possible. That I had, I hoped, already won Bella’s heart, was only part of my intention. If I wanted to be a part of Bella’s family, I needed to win her father over as well. Or, at the least, gain his tolerance.

“Yes, sir, that’s the plan.”

“Well, more power to you, I guess.” Charlie laughed, and I joined him. There was a grudging acknowledgement in his thoughts that I must mean something to Bella, if she was willing to risk bodily harm for me. The bizarre nature of that thought struck me again. She risked a lot more than slipping in the mud, simply being in the room with me now.

“Okay,” Bella stood up. “Enough humor at my expense. Let’s go.” She walked back to the hall and pulled on her jacket. I would have preferred to stay and speak with Charlie a little longer, impressing him with my seriousness, but he rose to follow her and I joined him.

“Not too late, Bell,” Charlie said, directing his comment to her.

“Don’t worry, Charlie. I’ll have her home early,” I promised. I was eager to convince him that I took this responsibility seriously. He looked me over for a moment, thinking I seemed presentable enough. I mentally sighed in relief.

“You take care of my girl, all right?” Bella groaned, but my eyes were fixed on Charlie. He was mostly concerned about her, and not me, which was precisely as I would have it.

“She’ll be safe with me, I promise, sir.” I meant that in every sense, even the ones Charlie could not fathom, and he seemed to hear the sincerity in my voice. Bella took that moment to stalk out, disgusted with us both, apparently. Charlie and I laughed at her silliness, and I followed her. She stopped on the porch, staring at Emmett’s massive Jeep, which sported a crash bar, spotlights and all the features Emmett could think to make it as ostentatious as possible. Charlie looked it over appreciatively and let out a low whistle.

“Wear your seat belts,” he choked out, and I allowed myself a small smile. At least Charlie would feel she was safe in that overprotective car. I followed Bella around to the passenger side of the Jeep and opened the door for her. She stared at the open door as if she was planning on launching herself inside. If she thought I was going to let her injure herself before we even left the driveway, she was sadly mistaken. I sighed, and lifted her with one hand into the seat. We were shielded by the car’s frame and the heavy rain, so Charlie could not see the unnatural ease with which I boosted her inside.

I walked at my best human pace through the drenching rain, opening the driver’s side door to find Bella hopelessly entangled in the seat belts.

“What’s all this?” she asked.

“It’s an off-roading harness.”

“Uh-oh.” She continued to struggle with it. I sighed again and reached over to help her. Charlie was watching us from the porch, but I was fairly certain he couldn’t see us clearly. My hands lingered on her neck, brushing the soft line of her collarbones as I helped fasten the harness. She held still, allowing me to finish. I smiled when I heard her heart stutter at my touch.

I turned the key and the engine roared to life. As we pulled away from the house, she said, “This is a…um…big Jeep you have.”

“It’s Emmett’s. I didn’t think you’d want to run the whole way.” I watched the rain outside the window, hoping it would at least slow before we had to go outside again to run to the clearing. I did not want to bring Bella home soaked to the skin.

“Where do you keep this thing?”

“We remodeled one of the outbuildings into a garage.”

“Aren’t you going to put on your seat belt?” she asked, ridiculously. I looked at her with disbelief. Sometimes I wondered if she really understood what I was. The look on her face changed, as if she had just realized something. “Run the whole way?” she asked, voice rising in concern. “As in, we’re still going to run part of the way?”

I grinned. “You’re not going to run.” Silly, Bella.

I’m going to be sick,” she complained.

“Keep your eyes closed, you’ll be fine.” I must not have been very convincing, because she bit her lip in the most appealing way, and looked even more concerned. I leaned over and kissed the top of her head to reassure her, and almost instantly regretted it. The rain had made her damp…enhancing every flavor of that impossible perfume of hers. I groaned involuntarily. She looked up at me, quizzically.

“You smell so good in the rain,” I explained, unable, or perhaps unwilling, to avoid drawing the fragrance in as I spoke.

“In a good way, or in a bad way?” she asked cautiously.

I sighed again, the scent beginning to permeate the car now and causing a small ache in my throat. “Both, always both.”

We drove through the gloom and the downpour, turning off the main street to follow a service road into the forest. It wasn’t much of a road, and Bella bounced crazily on the seat next to me, making me grin. It ended facing a wall of green, deep in the forest, but not far enough to reach the meadow where we would play. The rain had slowed to a drizzle and the sky had brightened a little.

“Sorry, Bella, we have to go on foot from here,” I said, looking over at her sympathetically. Her scent had filled the car, and I was having a hard time resisting the urge to reach over and pull her to me.

“You know what? I’ll just wait here.” She pouted, somehow grumpy and adorable at the same time.

“What happened to all your courage? You were extraordinary this morning,” I tried.

“I haven’t forgotten the last time yet.” It seemed like yesterday was a lifetime ago—the time before Bella and I were together and inseparable. I moved with lightning speed around to her side of the car and started unbuckling her. She didn’t really have a choice about this. I wasn’t going to let something as silly as a little motion sickness spoil our fun.

“I’ll get those,” she protested, “you go on ahead.” I quickly finished unbuckling her.

“Hmmm….” I mused, thinking of how I would enjoy convincing her of the uselessness of her protest. “It seems I’m going to have to tamper with your memory.” I pulled her from the Jeep and set her feet on the ground. A light mist filled the air, enriching her scent even further.

“Tamper with my memory?” she asked nervously.

“Something like that,” I said, watching her carefully to see if she knew what I meant by that. I very much wanted to see how far my persuasive powers could go with her. I placed my hands against the Jeep on either side of her head and leaned forward, trapping her and pressing her back against the door. I leaned in closer, the scent of her rising up and causing a dull ache in the pit of my stomach that had nothing to do with wanting to taste her blood. My face inches from hers, I left her no way to escape.

“Now,” I breathed on her, intentionally sending that scent lure her way, “what exactly are you worrying about?” My voice was purposefully deep and rich, that tone I used to persuade.

“Well, um, hitting a tree—“ she gulped “—and dying. And then getting sick.” My effect on her was so obvious and thrilling, it was hard not to smile already in triumph. But I was nowhere near done with her. I bent my head down and touched my lips to the fiery hollow at the base of her throat, her pulse starting to hammer there.

“Are you still worried now?” I murmured against her skin, sending whispers of coldness across the heat coming from her.

“Yes,” she said, still too definitively for my liking. “About hitting trees and getting sick.”

That just wouldn’t do. I drew a line up the skin of her throat with the tip of my nose, reaching the point of her chin and breathing on her as I went. When I took a breath again, her perfume was so strong it made me blink for a moment. Concentrate. You’re supposed to befuddle her, not the other way around.

“And now?” I whispered seductively against her jaw, hoping she would finally give in.

“Trees,” she gasped. “Motion sickness.” Oh, stubborn Bella…

I had to move away from her throat or I was going to lose this battle of the wills. I lifted my face to kiss her eyelids, and was able to breathe a little easier. “Bella, you don’t really think I would hit a tree, do you?” I asked, voice dripping with honey.

“No, but I might,” she said, trembling under my touch. I kissed very slowly down her cheek, stopping just at the corner of her mouth.

“Would I let a tree hurt you?” My lips were brushing her lower lip, which was trembling and setting off a rumbling in my chest. I held back from seizing her lips with mine and tasting the sweetness I could feel as I spoke against them.

“No,” she breathed straight into me, causing me to almost shudder in delight. Keep control. I prayed she wouldn’t resist much longer in this game we were playing.

“You see,” I said, lips moving deliciously against hers. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, is there?”

“No,” she sighed, giving up and breathing that heady scent into me again. Victory. I seized her face in my hands, barely able to contain my need for her, and kissed her in earnest, my cold hard lips searing into her pulsing warm mouth. Her arms reached up to twine with feather touches around my neck and suddenly she was clinging to me, her warmth pressed into every part of my body as she welded herself to me. Her lips parted and she injected that hot breath of hers straight into me…I staggered back, breaking her soft grip on me, gasping.

“Damn it, Bella! You’ll be the death of me, I swear you will.” I was suddenly angry at myself for letting it go so far. What a stupid, dangerous thing to do! The temptation of her was so strong…

“You’re indestructible,” she mumbled, leaning over, hands braced against her knees and trying to catch her breath as well.

“I might have believed that before I met you. Now let’s get out of here before I do something really stupid,” I growled. What on earth had possessed me? I had to be more careful, no matter how good she smelled in the rain. There was no excuse for taking a risk like that. I reached out and threw her across my back, being as gentle as I could while still angry at myself. She obliged by locking her legs around my waist and arms around my neck.

“Don’t forget to close your eyes,” I warned. She tucked her face into my shoulder, and when she felt secure, I started running. I barely thought about the trees whizzing past us, busy chastising myself for once again putting Bella at risk. The run burnt off some of the anger that was churning inside me. When we arrived at the edge of the clearing, I stopped and gently reached back to touch her hair.

“It’s over, Bella.” She stiffly unlocked her hold on me and slipped to the ground. Graceless as ever, she fell on her backside, letting out a small exclamation as she hit the wet ground. I stared at her and, seeing the bewildered expression on her face, decided it was impossible to remain angry and broke out into a roar of laughter. My amusement just made her angry, however. She picked herself up, scowling at me and brushing off the mud and muck from the back of her jacket. I couldn’t help laughing even louder, at which point she stomped off into the forest, clearly annoyed. I quickly moved to her side, contrite for having laughed at her. I slipped my arm around her waist, stopping her cold.

“Where are you going, Bella?”

“To watch a baseball game,” she retorted, very displeased with me. “You don’t seem to be interested in playing anymore, but I’m sure the others will have fun without you.” Her angry kitten look was back, and I had to keep myself from chuckling or I would infuriate her further.

“You’re going the wrong way,” I said, with as straight a face as I could maintain. She turned around without looking at me and stomped off in the opposite direction. I caught her in my arms again, trying my best to be conciliatory.

“Don’t be mad, I couldn’t help myself. You should have seen your face,” and then I made the mistake of chuckling at the memory of it. I quickly stopped at the look on her face.

“Oh, you’re the only one who’s allowed to get mad?” she accused, eyebrows raised.

“I wasn’t mad at you,” I said, stating the obvious.

“’Bella, you’ll be the death of me’?” she threw back at me.

“That was simply a statement of fact.” She tried to run off again, but I held her in place, resolved to appeasing her anger.

“You were mad,” she insisted.

“Yes.”

“But you just said—“

“That I wasn’t mad at you. Can’t you see that, Bella?” I was earnest now. “Don’t you understand?”

“See what?” she demanded, confused.

“I’m never angry with you—how could I be? Brave, trusting…warm as you are.”

“Then why?” she whispered, her warm breath wafting over me again. I put my hands carefully on both sides of her face, holding her gently between them.

“I infuriate myself,” I explained. “The way I can’t seem to keep from putting you in danger. My very existence puts you at risk. Sometimes I truly hate myself. I should be stronger, I should be able to—“ I had to stop, because she placed her hand over my mouth and the sudden, soft warmth was startling.

“Don’t,” she said. I took her hand, moving it away from my lips and placing it on my face.

“I love you,” I said, enjoying the feel of those words dropping from my lips. “It’s a poor excuse for what I’m doing, but it’s still true.” I bent slowly to her. “Now, please try to behave yourself,” I whispered as I softly brushed my lips against hers. She held still as I kissed her and sighed when I straightened up again.

“You promised Chief Swan that you would have me home early, remember? We’d better get going,” she said, pout mostly gone.

I smiled, forgiven. “Yes, ma’am.” I reluctantly released her, but clasped her hand in mine and led her through the tall, wet ferns to the edge of the field where we played. A giant backdrop of Olympic peaks rose out of our ball field, a clearing twice the size of a baseball stadium. They noticed us immediately. Esme, Emmett and Rosalie sat on a bare outcropping of rock, only a hundred yards away. Farther out, Jasper and Alice warmed up, throwing the ball back and forth, as Carlisle marked the bases. Jasper’s excited thoughts upon our arrival reached me first.

Esme, Emmett and Rosalie leapt down from the rocks and Rosalie stalked off toward the field. She looked away from us, but her disgruntled thoughts about Bella shot across the field. Emmett briefly debated whether to follow Rosalie or let her walk it off. He decided to leave her alone for now, and turned to follow Esme. She had already covered half the distance between us, walking faster than humanly normal and eager to greet Bella. My heart warmed at her gentle thoughts and the ease she felt around Bella.

“Was that you we heard, Edward?” she asked as she approached us.

“It sounded like a bear choking,” Emmett chimed in.

Bella smiled, looking at Esme. “That was him,” she said, still determined to make me pay for laughing at her.

“Bella was being unintentionally funny,” I defended myself.

Carlisle was finished with the bases and was eager to see what Bella thought of the game, but held back. He and Esme had agreed that Esme would escort Bella during the game, making sure she was comfortable. A wave of gratitude for their love washed over me.

Alice left her practice with Jasper to join us. He swung his bat faster than human eyes could follow, practicing near home plate and keen to start. She danced over and hurtled to a stop in front of us. She saw this moment coming and was ready with her usual dramatic flair. “It’s time,” she said, her announcement punctuated by a deep rumble of thunder that shook the forest around us.

“Eerie, isn’t it?” Emmett said, winking at Bella. In spite of Rosalie’s antagonism, or perhaps because of it, Emmett was going out of his way to make Bella feel welcome.

“Let’s go,” Alice said, reaching for Emmett’s hand. They ran back toward the field, Alice with her graceful speed only slightly slower than Emmett’s powerful loping. There would be no checking our speed or strength today, and everyone was looking forward to it. I was excited to see what Bella thought of it.

“Are you ready for some ball?” I asked, grinning at the sheer joy of it.

“Go team!” she said with weak enthusiasm. I laughed lightly, mussed her hair and ran after Alice and Emmett. I quickly caught up to them, and I wondered if Bella realized that I was faster than any of them. I found myself wanting to show off, like some teenage boy trying to impress his sweetheart…which I supposed I was, even though I had been waiting an eternity to do so.

As I left them, Esme gently guided Bella to the field. She determinedly kept a few feet between them, to make Bella comfortable. I could tell from her thoughts that she wished to hug Bella, or take her hand in hers, like a favored daughter. Her tenderness for Bella filled me with warmth. They chatted as they walked slowly, at human speed for Bella, towards home plate.

I took up my position in left field, with Carlisle standing between first and second bases and Alice on the pitcher’s mound. Jasper was catching, and Emmett would be first up to bat. They were anxious to start, but waited patiently for Bella and Esme. Alice practiced throwing, Jasper catching and throwing the ball back to her. As Bella neared them, I could hear Jasper’s thoughts grow more excited to start the game. He wanted to show off for Bella, too, although this time I recognized it as a reflection of my own excitement, and grinned a little. Emmett was swinging the aluminum bat, practicing his swing as he waited. I frowned as I realized Esme was talking about me.

“That’s why I’m so happy that he’s found you, dear,” Esme was saying to Bella. “He’s been the odd man out for far too long, it’s hurt me to see him alone.” I knew this already, of course, but it gave me a twinge to hear her say it to Bella.

“You don’t mind, then?” Bella asked, hesitating. “That I’m…all wrong for him?” The twinge grew. I was certainly all wrong for Bella, but she was nothing but right for me. How could she not see this?

“No,” Esme said, thinking about how Bella had already brought a wonderful change in me. I wished she would try to convince Bella of that, but she only said, “You’re what he wants. It will work out, somehow.”

Esme frowned as her thoughts drifted to the choice I would have to make someday…to change Bella, or to keep her human. Of course there was no choice to me…Bella had to live. I was determined she would be a part of my life, our lives, just as we were today. I brushed any thoughts of life-ending decisions from my mind, resolving to enjoy the game—and to prove that all would be well with Bella as a part of our family, just as she was now.

“All right,” Esme called out, signaling they were ready to begin. “Batter up.”

Alice stood straight on the mound, still as a statue, tasting the future for just the right time to strike. Carlisle and I tensed, ready to spring into action. Emmett stepped up to the plate, and Jasper waited, ready for Alice’s pitch. Choosing just the right instant, and dispensing with any showy windup, Alice flicked her hand out, sending the ball at blinding speed into Jasper’s waiting hand.

“Was that a strike?” Bella whispered to Esme. They were watching from just behind Jasper, serving as umpires for the vampires. I smiled. Bella was just starting to realize what our game was like

“If they don’t hit it, it’s a strike,” Esme replied. Jasper smirked as he hurled the ball back to Alice, of course hearing Bella, and enjoying her amazement as much as I. Alice grinned as well and then spun her hand out again. This time, Emmett hesitated, changing his mind just after Alice released the ball, edging out her prediction, hammering the ball, and letting loose a shattering crash that echoed off the mountains. I didn’t have time to enjoy Bella’s open mouthed gape as I took off running, eyes tracking the ball which shot like a meteor through the trees of the forest behind us. I gained on the ball as Emmett rounded the bases. Carlisle shadowed him, waiting for me, in case I had to throw in. Trees blurred past me, all falling by the wayside as I hurtled through the forest. I caught up to the ball, leapt to nearly the treetops and snatched it from the air, landing softly below. I sped back to the clearing, springing from the edge of the trees, ball raised high in my hand and grinning like a fool.

“Out!” Esme cried, and the sweet look of disbelief on Bella’s face gave me the utmost satisfaction. “Emmett hits the hardest, but Edward runs the fastest,” Esme explained and my pride threatened to burst out of my chest. Grin still plastered on my face, I rocketed the ball back to Alice for Jasper’s turn at bat.

His grin rivaled mine at the chance to knock Alice’s wicked curve ball out of the field, and then he cleverly changed his mind at the last instant, deciding to hit a ground ball. Carlisle flashed to it in an instant, catching the ball. He raced Jasper to first base, colliding with him as they arrived at nearly the same instant. The massive crash of their granite bodies smashing together made Bella jump up in concern, which made me laugh out loud.

“Safe,” called Esme in a calm voice, and I didn’t have to read Jasper’s thoughts to see his thrill of victory. Rose was up next at bat, giving Bella an icy look as she stepped up to the plate. After two strikes and a wicked smirk from Alice, Rose grounded one to Carlisle, but made it on base. The inning flew by. When I finally caught the third out, a long fly by Jasper far out in the forest, I ran in to take our turn at bat, sprinting to Bella’s side for a moment.

“What do you think?” I asked, breathless and bursting with excitement.

“One thing’s for sure, I’ll never be able to sit through dull old Major League Baseball again.”

“And it sounds like you did so much of that before,” I laughed, thoroughly enjoying myself.

“I am a little disappointed,” she said, bringing me up short.

“Why?” I asked, confused.

“Well, it would be nice if I could find just one thing you didn’t do better than everyone else on the planet.” Pride restored, I flashed a lopsided grin, quite happy to leave her with that impression.

“I’m up,” I said, dashing to the plate. If I kept it out of the fielder’s hands for just an extra fraction of a second, I would make it around the bases before anyone could catch me. Rose was in the field and seemed in a slightly better mood. Bring it, she thought, and I grinned. I cracked the ball low, just out of Rose’s reach, smiling all the way to second base, beating Emmett easily. She snarled at me, but in a friendly way…at least for her. I lead off the base as Carlisle cracked one far out into the forest. I rocketed home, but even Carlisle made it in before Jasper could get to the ball. Alice gave us dainty high fives on the way across home plate. Bella’s smiling face greeted me at home, and I almost swept her up in a kiss before I realized that my enthusiasm might hurt her. I was still new to touching her, and I had to be cautious. Other than that momentary pause, it felt natural for her to be here with us. A buzz of excitement and happiness filled me.

We played on, the thunder rumbling but no rain, just as Alice had predicted. The score was fairly even, back and forth, and we were all intent on the game. Carlisle was up at bat, thinking he would go for another homerun, and I was catching, when Alice gasped. My head snapped up to her. She saw them—three vampires, two men and a woman—coming…here. I was at Bella’s side in an instant, my body rigid, and my mind scanning for their thoughts. Where were they?

Everyone else sensed something was wrong with Alice, but I blocked out their thoughts in my search for the others.

“Alice?” Esme’s voice was tense.

“I didn’t see—I couldn’t tell,” she whispered. Everyone came in and stood near Bella and me.

“What is it, Alice?” Carlisle asked calmly. Jasper stood stiffly by Alice’s side, sensing her alarm as well as mine.

“They were traveling much quicker than I thought. I can see I had the perspective wrong before,” she murmured.

Jasper leaned over her, protecting her from the unseen threat. “What changed?” he asked.

“They heard us playing, and it changed their path,” she said, contrite, as if she was responsible. I saw her vision, where they turned at the crack that they knew was not lightning, and heard our shouts. I searched the forest for their thoughts…I could sense their intent…finally, there….I could hear the one called…James. He was looking for some entertainment. I moved closer to Bella, eyes still unfocussed, concentrating on finding where they were…

All eyes and thoughts were suddenly focused on Bella, and then me.

“How soon?” asked Carlisle, turning towards me.

How far? They had heard us…they knew where the clearing was and were backtracking to reach it…

“Less than five minutes. They’re running—they want to play.” I scowled, but sensed no ill will on their part…just…curiosity.

“Can you make it?” Carlisle asked, his thoughts flicking to Bella and how to get her safely out of their way. Tense panic gave way to anger. How could I have been so foolish as to bring Bella here? I quickly went through our escape routes. Regardless, we would have to run…

“No, not carrying—“ I stopped, realizing it was impossible. “Besides, the last thing we need is for them to catch the scent and start hunting.” My stomach clenched as I read their minds and realized….James was a tracker. My anger flared again, as the danger kept mounting, but I reeled it in, trying to focus on how to get Bella safely away.

“How many?” Emmett asked Alice.

“Three,” she said quickly. We were all speaking so fast, I was sure Bella could not understand what was happening. I moved closer to her, so that we were almost touching, hoping to reassure her with my presence and protect her at the same time.

“Three!” Emmett scoffed. “Let them come.” I appreciated Emmett’s willingness to take them on to protect Bella, but all it would take…all it would take would be one brief second…she was so vulnerable, so fragile…panic started to well up in me again. How could I protect her from this?

For a moment, Carlisle debated fighting them, as Emmett suggested, and quickly came to the same conclusion I had. It was too dangerous for Bella. We could no doubt take them, but she could easily be a casualty. Better to see if we could steer them away without confrontation. Everyone waited for his response. When he finally spoke, he saw the way clear in his mind.

“Let’s just continue the game,” he said, his voice cool and level. “Alice said they were simply curious.” And how intrigued would they be when they found Bella, a human, among us? My panic rose up as I thought of what could happen to Bella. We didn’t know these nomads, and they may not have heard of our kind before. We were bizarre—a vegetarian coven. Would they simply find us strange and leave? Or would their curiosity compel them to stay with us? If there was any other option besides waiting around to find out, I would take it and not risk Bella’s life on the curiosity of bloodthirsty vampires.

Very quietly and quickly, so that Bella could not hear, Esme asked, “Edward…are they thirsty?” I shook my head slightly. They had hunted recently, what I couldn’t be sure, but they didn’t have that dull ache of thirst lingering in their minds. She was relieved, but only slightly. Perhaps...if they were not thirsty…they would leave us alone, or better yet, perhaps they would not realize Bella was human. I knew that was a vain hope as soon as I thought it. She was impossibly, deliciously human, her heart thudding in her chest with the anxiety of our sudden furtive gathering, her mouth-watering scent wafting on the wind of the storm. They couldn’t miss her.

“You catch, Esme,” Carlisle said. “I’ll call it now.” He stood in front of Bella and me, a wall of protection. I knew he would die before letting them through to her, and my gratitude was immense. Knowing he would protect her at all costs gave me a small hope that we might yet get her out of this alive. Everyone returned warily to the field, all senses sweeping the forest for any sign of the travelers. Esme was catching, but also positioning herself in front of Bella, looking for angles of attack they might use as they came out of the forest. Alice’s eyes were unfocussed as she continued to watch the future. She positioned herself between the trajectory she could see in her mind, and Bella, who was still protectively wrapped in my constant hovering presence.

“Take your hair down,” I said in a low voice, trying to keep the panic out. She slid the rubber band out of her hair and shook it out, brushing me with it and sending new waves of scent around me. If it was down, hiding her face, maybe they wouldn’t see her as clearly…if she was downwind…and they weren’t paying attention. I knew it wouldn’t help.

“The others are coming now,” she said.

“Yes, stay very still, keep quiet, and don’t move from my side, please.” None of it would help, but at least she would be alert and stay by my side. I gently moved her hair forward, covering her face, hoping her unnaturally pale complexion would somehow make a difference.

“That won’t help,” Alice said softly. “I could smell her across the field.”

“I know.” I tried not to snarl, but the tension was about to snap me in two. I didn’t need Alice to frighten her more, while I was trying to keep her from becoming too scared. It was bad enough that I was alarmed. If Bella finally found her fear, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to protect her. If she chose to run now…

“What did Esme ask you?” she whispered. I didn’t want to tell her, but if I kept it from her she would likely think it was something worse. She needed to remain calm if there was any hope of getting her out of this alive.

“Whether they were thirsty,” I muttered.

The game resumed, everyone on high alert and barely playing. They bunted, keeping the game close. Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper hovered in the infield. They were all intently looking for signs of the visitor’s arrival. Rose was angry, again, but wary as well, and ready to fight if need be. I would have been grateful for their instant protectiveness of Bella, if I hadn’t been wracked with nervous tension as I watched the forest slip by through the other’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, Bella,” I muttered fiercely, belatedly and with no excuse for the wretched thing I had done. “It was stupid, irresponsible, to expose you like this. I’m so sorry.” My own selfish whims, my ardent desire to bring Bella into our lives, had put her in the worst danger imaginable. I gritted my teeth, inwardly cursing myself for my self-indulgent folly. I held my breath without thinking, thoughts interrupted when the clearing swung into their view. I turned, focusing on the right field. They were coming. I angled myself between them and Bella. The others heard them as well, and turned in the same direction.

I would save my castigations of myself for later. Now, I focused all my anger and fear on the three vampires emerging from the forest edge. I prepared to kill.