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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.


27. Chapter 27 - Return to Class

Rating 5/5   Word Count 5466   Review this Chapter

Chapter 27 – Return to Class

“Please,” I begged the two long, pale legs sticking out from underneath the small red car, jacked up so she could fit under it.

Absolutely not, Rosalie answered, continuing to work on the underside of her car. Not only was she unmoved by my pleading, she seemed to be taking quite some satisfaction in turning me down. Time to try another tactic.

“What can I give you, in exchange?” I asked. “New parts for the car?”

I can buy any parts I need, Edward. You don’t have anything I want.

But she definitely had something I wanted. Rose’s BMW M3 convertible was just the thing I needed to start my Convert Charlie Campaign.

“I could do your Calculus homework for you…for the rest of the year…” I tried.

Rosalie rolled out from under the M3 just to give me a dirty look. I can do my own homework, Edward.

“No doubt. But I am sure you would rather spend your time doing something else?” I pressed. It was a long shot, but worth trying.

Not enough to let you get your mitts on my car. Besides, it takes two minutes. With one last scowl, she dived under the hood of the M3, which she had just popped while shooting down my idea. It was time to play my best card.

"What's that band you've been listening to? The one with the new album out?" I asked, feigning innocence.

She peered around the propped up hood suspiciously. "Green Day?"

"Oh, right. Aren't they coming to Seattle?"

They're opening their new tour at the Key Arena, Edward. But they're sold out. She eyed me, wondering what I was playing at.

I held back my smile. I could tell I'd won already. "Well, yes, for the general public. Unless you have a special backstage pass. Have you met Billie Joe Armstrong?"

Her mouth hung open for just a second, and her eyes flicked to the car nervously, then back at me. You have tickets? she asked, making sure. I nodded. She sighed in frustration, but was unable to turn down my offer. If you scratch it, Edward, you're really going to wish you hadn't.

I smiled triumphantly.

The warm spring air made the ever threatening clouds a little less gloomy. I drove Rosalie's car with the top down, enjoying the feel of the moist air blowing past me. I wore that triumphant smile all the way to Bella's house that afternoon. Finding no way around it, I had spent the day sitting in my regular classes, alternately devising my Convert Charlie Campaign and eavesdropping on Alice and Bella. For some reason, Charlie thought it was acceptable for Alice to skip school to care for Bella, even though I was sure he would run me in for truancy if I did the same. Alice had kept the Volvo and driven to Bella's first thing in the morning. Bella's house was just inside my range at the school, so that if I focused on Alice, I could listen in on their day. Alice seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time in Bella's closet, which made me laugh at first. She wasn't the first vampire to linger there. Then I realized that she was sorting throught and purging Bella's clothes while Bella watched helplessly from the bed, immobilized by her injuries. I would have to talk to Alice about taking advantage of the disabled.

Alice had assured Bella early on that I wasn't still angry, and that I wished I could be there to take care of Bella myself. The meals that Esme had arranged to have delivered to the Swan house had arrived, and Bella had given Alice instructions on how to store and prepare them. Alice had moved her downstairs to the kitchen after they had convinced Charlie he could leave to go to work. He promised to return that afternoon, no doubt wanting to be there before I could possibly get home from school. That was all right, though, as having him there would work nicely for my plan.

I pulled up smoothly in front of the house, killing the purring quiet engine of the M3. Its freshly buffed red paint seemed to glow in the indirect sun. My arrival had been undetected so far. Alice and Charlie were talking inside, but Bella was not with them. She must have been ensconced back in her bedroom again. Perfect.

I hopped silently out of Rosalie's car, careful not to even touch the doors—a few less fingerprints I would have to clean off later. With no one watching, I ran to the door and waited for a moment for a suitable lull in Alice and Charlie's conversation.

"Are you sure you don't mind staying for dinner?" Charlie asked. "I mean, you've been nice enough to stay here all day with her, and with coming back tomorrow..."

"Charlie! You know it's going to take both of us to fix a decent meal for her. Of course I'm going to stay!" replied Alice.

"Well, okay then..." Charlie was quite pleased that Alice was staying and trying very hard to cover that up. I rang the doorbell. Charlie immediately thought of me, and all wisps of niceness flew out of his mind. As he stalked to the door, he was determined to impose a curfew and visiting hours so that I would not be allowed back until sometime this evening. As he opened the door, I put on my most respectful, serious face.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Swan," I said.

"Edward," he acknowledged, giving me a cold stare and blocking the entrance again with his body, as he had done the day before. Before he could launch into his planned laying down of the rules, I moved slightly, appearing agitated under his intense glare, but in fact angling my body minutely out of the way, clearing his view of the M3 parked by the sidewalk. "I think..." he started, then stopped, staring at the car. "What..." he said, seemingly drawn magnetically out of the house and towards the car. "What is that?"

"The M3?" I asked, as casually as I dared. "That's Rosalie's car. She let me borrow it, since Alice had my Volvo."

"That's your sister's car?" Charlie asked, disbelieving, mentally trying to figure out how much an M3 convertible cost and how Carlisle could afford such a vehicle.

"Carlisle does spoil her, don't you think?" I said, barely able to contain my smile. Charlie didn't see it, in any event, as he continued to be drawn across the lawn towards the car. I smiled openly at his back and followed behind him. "It's a beauty, though, I must admit."

Charlie looked at me like I was out of my mind. "This...this is 414 horses of raw power," he said with awe. He had arrived at the car, holding his hands out to it, almost as if in benediction, but several feet away, afraid to touch it.

"Would you like to take it for a drive?" I asked coolly.

"Drive?" he choked out, turning back to stare at me. This time, I didn't hold back the smile.

"I think I can trust the Chief of Police to drive it safely..." I replied. I tossed him the keys in a gentle arc, which he caught, bumbling, trapping them to his chest. "It's a beautiful day to drive with the top down," I gestured to the warm breeze blowing around us.

Now he was smiling, and was about to hurry around to the driver's seat before I changed my mind, when he stopped suddenly, suspicious. "What about you?" he asked, eyeing me.

"I can come with you, if you'd like," I offered. "But I would like to check in on Alice and Bella and see how Bella's doing."

Charlie hesitated, torn. He wanted to drive the car, alone, but he didn't want to leave me with Bella, either. He decided that Alice would keep an eye on things.

"I'll just take it for a short drive," he said, edging towards the driver's side.

"Take your time," I said, smiling and slowly backing towards the house.

Alice discreetly busied herself with deciphering dinner, while I spent time upstairs with Bella. I would like to say that we discussed important things, but in truth I spent most of the time kissing her, or touching her, or gently stroking her hair and simply gazing at her. I needed to reabsorb and reacquaint myself with her. Spending the entire day apart had been maddening. By the time Charlie arrived back with the M3, I felt that calm settle into me that she always brought. I made sure he found me in the kitchen with Alice by the time he came in through the door. I offered to watch the game with Charlie while he ate Alice's reheated meatloaf, managing to take a pass on dinner while Alice kept Bella company upstairs.

On Friday, I brought the Vanquish. I rarely took it out, considering it my ‘special occasion’ car, but the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish more than served its purpose in impressing Charlie. My efforts almost backfired when Charlie seemed afraid to drive it. I virtually had to beg him to take the sleek black car for a spin. I finally convinced him that if it ended up getting wrecked, Carlisle would blame me. That seemed to satisfy him, and we didn't see him back for nearly an hour. After the Vanquish, there were no more thoughts of restricted visiting hours, although he still imposed a curfew of 10 o'clock. This suited me fine, knowing I would return soon after to spend the night with Bella.

When the weekend came, Charlie reverted back slightly and restricted my visits to the afternoon and evening, but he relented in allowing me to visit her in her room, since she needed to be there to properly rest. I argued that I could help Bella catch up on her missed work, since she would be returning to school on Monday, and that seemed to sway him. Besides, Alice had caught on to the plan and brought Carlisle's Mercedes S55 AMG. She and Charlie took a long drive, during which Bella and I accomplished very little studying. When they returned, we purported to be working on social studies, but mainly cuddled whenever Charlie allowed us to be alone together. I imagined our stolen moments were like any young couple's, and a profound happiness filled me. In spite of the confinement due to her injuries, I don't think I could have enjoyed the time any more.

I was concerned, however, about the impending return to school. In spite of Carlisle's assurances, I wasn't convinced that all the moving around required to attend class would be in her best interest for a speedy recovery. And then there were the rumors. In my two days in school, Bella was the subject of wild speculation about the nature of her injuries and how she had come by them. Our cover story seemed to hold very little water with the Forks High population, and I knew Bella would be deluged with questions once she returned to school. Knowing how little she liked being the center of attention, and how this would likely cause her considerable stress, I was not at all pleased about the idea of her returning to school—as much as I wanted to see more of her during the week.

I grappled with whether to tell her some of the ideas that had been swirling through the thoughts of the student population. I didn't want to worry her unnecessarily. I would be by her side every moment that I could, and no one would bother her then. I would make sure of it. But for the times I couldn't be with her...well, perhaps her friends would keep watch over her in class, as long as they weren't the doing the antagonizing themselves. I knew that Angela was already trying to combat the rumors on her own, downplaying the stories about runaway brides and abusive boyfriends. But Jessica, on the other hand...I was certain that she was the source of some of the more creative stories. When I heard that Bella and I had supposedly secretly married in Las Vegas, I was alternately wistful and amused, given my actual short foray into the Sin City and recent thoughts on the subject of marriage. Mike's thoughts, however, were far less charitable, or romantic. He was just as convinced as Charlie that I had something to do with causing Bella's injuries. My dislike of all things Newton intensified as he speculated on whether I had hurt her intentionally or through neglect of some kind. Ultimately, I decided to keep these thoughts to myself. If anyone, Newton in particular, made the mistake of sharing their ideas with Bella in my presence, I would deal with the situation then.

Alice and I argued over who would drive Bella. We agreed that Charlie would probably tolerate it better if Alice were Bella's official chauffer, but that I could drive Bella to school in the mornings. Charlie could hardly object to that short trip, and he knew she needed me to help her in and out of the car and between classes.

Bella had slept fitfully the night before. I didn't know whether she was worried about returning to school, as I was, or if the pain medication wasn't sufficient to hold her through the night. I questioned her about it on the way to school Monday morning, but in typical Bella fashion, she refused to answer with any specificity.

"I'm fine," she said, shifting slightly in the back seat of the Volvo, no doubt trying to find some way to get comfortable with her leg propped at an angle across the seat. Glancing at her in the rear view mirror, her tender youth shot back at me. Some of her color had returned since she had been in Forks, but she still seemed too young to be so broken, with such dark circles under her eyes and strain around the corners of them.

I sighed in frustration. "Are you sure you want to return to school? A few more days at home would serve you well."

"Edward, I'm fine. Stop treating me like a china doll." she grumbled. But you are so much more breakable than the finest china, Bella...

I knew this would get me nowhere, and we were already pulling into the Forks High parking lot. I wanted to keep the stress of today to a minimum, and I certainly didn’t want to contribute to it. I pulled the Volvo into the single handicapped spot that Forks High possessed, simply so we would have more room to maneuver Bella out of the car without further injury. We had arrived early to allow plenty of time, but some students were already trickling in and staring at us. I hoped that Bella didn’t notice.

I hurried as fast as I dared around to the other side of the car and opened her door. I slung her backpack over my shoulder and gently lifted her out of the car. The ever present Forks drizzle gave a small chill to the otherwise warm spring air, sending goose bumps up Bella’s bare leg. She had worn dark blue shorts, because they were easier to negotiate over the cast, and Alice had declared that spring had arrived and that shorts were allowable. This meant that I would spend a good part of the day with Bella’s bare leg draped over my arm as I carried her to class, for which I would have to remember to thank Alice.

As I straightened up, her arms wrapped around my neck. The skin of her arms, bared by a short sleeved white shirt which graciously allowed me an unrestricted view of her neck and delicate collar bones, warmed the back of my neck. Her proximity sent a small shiver through me.

I held her close, turning my head bury my face in her hair and whisper in her ear, “You look more beautiful than any doll I can imagine.”

I could feel her smile and take a small halting breath. I pulled back far enough for my lips to find hers and kissed her tenderly, lingering and brushing my lips softly against hers. Glancing away from me, towards our on-lookers, she whispered, “Edward, they’re staring at us.”

“I am quite aware of that,” I said. It was difficult to block out the screaming thoughts coming from the students who were now simply gawking outright. Her blush had crept up her cheeks and down her neck and arms, as though she had suddenly acquired a sunburn that showed through her thin cotton shirt. So, I kissed her again, drawn in by that heavenly flush and because it helped to block out the audience. This only caused her to blush more furiously, to my considerable delight.

“Are you going to kiss me all day, or are you going to take me to class?” she asked, slightly breathless and only a little petulant.

“I have every intention of doing both,” I replied with a smile. I flicked the car door closed and carried Bella through the gathering crowd, which thankfully parted to let us pass without comment. Swirls of curious thoughts followed us as I continued carrying her to her first class, English in Building Three. As I neared her classroom, I realized that Newton was already there.

If he hurt her once, he could do it again, Newton thought. I narrowed my eyes in anticipation as we approached. When she gets here, I won’t ask right away. I need to just see how she’s doing first. Then, maybe at lunch, I’ll see if I can find out what happened...

Newton’s thoughts stopped mid-sentence as he saw me walk in the room with Bella. Of course, the few students who had arrived before us all turned to stare in unison. Somewhere between the car and Building Three, Bella had buried her head in my shoulder, trying to avoid the on-looker’s stares and no doubt feeling very uncomfortable. With Bella’s eyes momentarily averted, I gave Newton a menacing glare.

He’s...he’s carrying her to class...Newton’s thoughts stuttered. He thought briefly of getting up to talk to Bella, but my glare kept him in his seat at the back of the room. I gently placed Bella in a chair in the front row, as far from Newton as possible—which also gave her extra room for her cast. I dropped her backpack beside her and knelt down on one knee in front of her. Her eyes showed every worry that I feared. I took one finger and traced the outline of her hair along the top of her forehead, trying to erase the worry lines, and I was rewarded with a small smile.

“I’ll be back to get you at the end of class,” I murmured softly, ignoring the stares and whispers surrounding us.

“What are they thinking?” Bella asked in a hushed voice, glancing self-consciously around her.

“Newton is about to expire from jealousy,” I said with a smirk. She gave me an impatient look.

“I mean, what are they thinking about all this...” she repeated, gesturing to her leg and my obvious caring for her.

“Cheater,” I chastised gently, with a small smile. “They are all hoping you are feeling better soon.” I stared deeply into her eyes and lied as convincingly as I could. She rolled her eyes in disbelief.

“I’ll be back soon,” I promised and leaned in to kiss her as I rose. I lingered a little too long, as Mr. Mason cleared his throat, apparently signaling the beginning of class. A small twitter ran through the class and my simple kiss had apparently re-ignited some of the rumors of our secret nuptials in the minds of several female students. Some nearby ones were craning to see if Bella was wearing my ring. I sighed, sad that I had to leave her, and more than a little wishful that it was true. With a dark warning glance to Newton, I turned and left before Mr. Mason felt compelled to say something.

As torturous as it was, I listened into Newton’s thoughts for all of first period. I wanted to make sure he didn’t manage to say something to Bella in my absence. I had already arranged to leave my classes early in order to carry Bella between classes and so I could intercede if he tried to harass her at the end of English. He seemed to see my lingering care for her as some kind of menacing, a way to keep her under my control. He swung between thinking I simply couldn’t adequately protect Bella from her natural clumsiness to thinking I brutalized her, physically and mentally, somehow keeping her under my abusive spell. His thoughts ranged from anger to wondering if he could somehow intervene. The fact that we loved each other seemed to never enter into his thoughts. My anger at him grew such that near the end of the period, I was concerned I might not keep my thoughts to myself as I went to collect her from English. I excused myself early from class and hurried through the halls.

I stood at the doorway, glaring at Newton, awaiting the end of class bell. Once he saw me, all thoughts of approaching Bella evaporated. He watched angrily as I swept in at the sound of the bell, kissed Bella and helped her pack her bag. I whisked her out of the room and carried her to her government class in Building Six, careful not to jostle her along the way. She was studying my face, but I was looking to avoid students and other hazards.

She touched my forehead. “Why are you frowning?” she asked. I relaxed my face, wishing she hadn’t seen that.

“Newton’s thoughts are irritating me, that’s all,” I replied.

“What is he thinking?”

I glanced at her, unsure how much to tell her. But I could hardly refuse her anything at this point. “He’s thinking that I’m responsible for you being hurt,” I said. “He’s not far wrong.”

She reached up, placing a small kiss on the underside of my jaw, and I nearly stopped dead in the hallway. “You’re the reason I’m alive...the reason I want to live...” she whispered against my neck. We were gathering stares again. I was so distracted by the feeling of her lips on me that I nearly stumbled into one student who had stopped in her tracks to look.

When she pulled back a little, I whispered hoarsely, “If you want to get to class in one piece, you might not want to do that again.”

She pouted. “What? So, it’s fair for you to kiss me in front of the entire student body, but not the other way around?”

I smiled crookedly at her. “Yes, that’s pretty much the way of it...”

We had arrived in her class, and thankfully, there appeared to be no one intent on annoying Bella with questions about her injuries. The next two periods were not so lucky, as Jessica awaited Bella’s arrival in Trigonometry. There seemed to be no avoiding this one. I warned Bella on the way that Jessica would be looking to grill her about her ‘secret’ relationship with me.

“It’s hardly a secret, anymore,” she complained.

“Jessica seems convinced otherwise,” I said, unwilling to elaborate. With a small smile, I added, “I’ll be interested to hear what you think about her theories.”

“What theories?” she asked, eyes wide and alarmed...but we had arrived at class. Jessica sat near the back, her leg bouncing very subtly with nervous anticipation. When she saw me carrying Bella, her thoughts screeched across the room, Oh My God! That’s SO romantic!

My smile grew as I carried Bella to the back of the class and deposited her in a chair next to Jessica, whose bouncing had advanced to full body vibration. Bella realized exactly what I was doing and proceeded to glare at me as I set her down and handed Jessica her backpack.

“Will you take care of her, until I can return, Jessica?” I asked.

Oh, God, he’s gorgeous! Bella, how did you get so lucky? she thought, but out loud she merely squeaked out, “Sure.”

“Thank you,” I said, and insisted on giving Bella a small kiss on the cheek, in spite of the murderous glare she was sending my way. I grinned all the way to my own class, intent on enjoying the coming furtive discussion.

“So??” Jessica asked in a hush voice as soon as I left the room.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called, Jess. I’ve been resting.”

“Oh.” This brought Jessica up short, and she realized that maybe she should have called Bella to check on her. “Yeah, well, I didn’t, you know, want to disturb you.”

“It’s okay. I’m getting better, but I’m going to have to have the cast on at least eight weeks.”

“Wow.” Jessica had another flash of guilt for not being more concerned for Bella and her injuries. The flash didn’t last long, but I saw that Bella had successfully stalled long enough for the class to start. Jessica dropped her voice even further. “So, spill Bella! What really happened?”

“Haven’t you heard?” Bella asked. Jessica gasped and thrilled to the idea that Bella was actually going to tell her the truth.

“What?” Jessica asked, practically wheezing she was breathing so hard in anticipation.

“Edward and I eloped,” Bella said. I choked in my own class, coughing to cover it up, positively stunned. What was she doing?

“I knew it!” Jessica said, triumphantly, pumping her fist. “When? Where? How? Oh, God, Bella, this is so incredibly amazing! Bella, you have to tell me everything! Wait! Where did you get married?”

“In Las Vegas,” Bella said. I had to cover my face with my hand, or the other students in my class were going to wonder why I was grinning like a fool.

“I told Angela! I told her! I said you must have met in Las Vegas, because you can get married there, even if you’re under eighteen, right? Oh, Bella, it’s so romantic…” Jessica’s voice was rising enough that she was drawing Mr. Varner’s attention.

“Ms. Stanley, do you have something you would like to share with the class?” he asked. Bella’s eyes went wide and she slowly shook her head at Jessica who, to her credit, declined to announce our marriage to the class. I started silently laughing into my hand, trying to duck my head so as not to draw attention in my own class. Jessica waited until Mr. Varner had returned to his lecture before she started in on Bella again.

“So, who was there? Was it just you and Edward? Don’t you need, like, I don’t know, witnesses?” Jessica was imagining flowing white gowns and a fly-by-night chaplain officiating. If Bella and I were ever to marry, I had no doubt it would look nothing like the image in Jessica Stanley’s mind.

“Oh, yes, we had to have witnesses,” Bella continued. “Elvis was there. The Easter Bunny, too.”

“What?” Jessica asked, completely confused. She imagined a woman in a giant fuzzy pink bunny costume and an Elvis impersonator as our attendants, and she thought that didn’t seem very romantic. “Couldn’t you find anyone else?” she asked, perplexed. Bella was starting to grin, which confused Jessica even more.

“Jess, I’m kidding,” Bella said.

“Well, of course, silly! I mean, who would have Elvis at their wedding? So, who was it, really?”

“Jess, I’m kidding. About the whole thing,” Bella said, trying to keep a straight face. I shook my head, for a moment feeling sorry for Jessica in her still confused state.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re not married, Jess.”

“But you said...”

“I was joking.”

“Bella!” Jessica was angry now, and feeling a little foolish.

“Jessica, come on! You didn’t really think...” Bella chastised her gently. Jessica blushed, because of course she really did think that it was true. I laughed into my hand again. Jessica didn’t speak to Bella for the rest of the period. When I came to gather Bella up from Trig, Jessica beat a hasty retreat, even though they had their next class together.

As I carried Bella to Spanish, I pretended to scold her. “You shouldn’t have led Jessica on that way.”

“What did I say about eavesdropping?”

“Oh, I quite enjoyed what I heard.”

She scowled at me. “That’s going to be very annoying.”

I smiled and kissed her again as I left her at Spanish. “Just don’t plan on keeping any secrets from me. I’ll see you soon.”

Even seeing Bella for a just few minutes between classes made the time sail by. We sat at our own table for lunch, not quite ready to join my brothers and sisters with Rosalie still in her permanently foul mood, and not really prepared to face the onslaught of questions from Bella’s friends. Mike continued to glare at us and shoot thought daggers from across the cafeteria.

Newton was still frustrated during Biology, but I enjoyed the class immensely. Sitting next to Bella, pretending to pay attention to Mr. Banner, I found every excuse to softly touch her knee or her hand, or drape my arm across the back of her chair. I caught myself a couple of times leaning in to kiss her softly, when I realized we were still in class and that probably would get noticed. Having an audience, with Newton’s thoughts intensely trained on Bella and me, somehow made every move even more heightened. Angela, for her part, once again gave us privacy, even in her thoughts, as well as averting her eyes. When Bella started returning my small attentions, lightly touching my knee or secretly holding my hand under the table, Newton finally turned away in disgust. He was less certain, though, that I was quite the monster that he envisioned. If we were merely in love, not locked in some kind of abusive relationship, his passionate dislike took a more mild turn. Although he still had certain feelings for Bella that rang clear in his mind, watching us cuddle in class made his mind drift to...Jessica. Apparently things along those lines had developed somewhat. I found this strangely reassuring.

Bella was, of course, excused from gym for the rest of the year, so we were able to leave. Mrs. Goff had been kind enough, once I had sweetly explained the situation, to allow me to finish the rest of the year’s assignments as independent study. Since Alice was the official driver home, we had nearly an hour to spend alone before we were expected back at Chief Swan’s house. This was the part of the day I had looked forward to the most.

“You survived,” I commented, as we snuggled in the back seat of the Volvo. I sat against one far side, with Bella leaning up against me, her leg stretched out onto the seat in front of her. I ran my fingers through her hair as it spilled across my chest. I couldn’t see her face directly, but I could feel the slow steady thumping of her heart against me. She seemed calm, more relaxed than she had been all day. I traced small patterns on the back of her hand as it rested on her thigh.

“Told you,” she replied.

“That wasn’t very nice—what you did to Jessica,” I teased her again.

“She deserved it. Can you believe those rumors? I’m sure she started them.”

“Still...the Easter Bunny?”

“That’s more believable than us running off to get married...” she retorted. I didn’t like that answer. I wanted to believe that somehow, at some point, perhaps marriage was something we could have.

“Would being with me be that bad?” I asked, trying to keep the wounded sound out of my voice.

She reached behind her head, blindly stroking my cheek with her fingertips. The sensation of her hot fingers trailing across my face momentarily blanked my mind.

Her voice brought me back. “Being with you is all I want, Edward. Forever.” I tried to grimace, but the feeling of her butterfly light touch slowly tracing heated lines across my cheek and along my jaw precluded any such thing. I didn’t want to argue about forever. I didn’t want to move from this spot. I gently pulled her closer to me, her back flush against my chest, and enjoyed the hypnotic feel of her fingertips on my skin for as long as our stolen moment would allow.