All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
In the last chapter, we left Bella and Edward in Forks, with Charlie coming to terms with Edward's past and Jake taking leadership of the Pack.
Despite the comfort of the leather passenger seat, I could barely sit still.
"I'm sure it wasn't this far, before. Have you missed the turn?"
Beside me, Edward smirked a little as he let go of my hand to change gears.
"We haven't missed the turn. I do know where I'm going, Bella."
"Yeah, I know." I sighed. "It just seems so to be taking so much longer than I remember." I shifted, crossing and uncrossing my legs as I watched Forks' standard colour scheme of green and grey flash past. "Probably because you're sticking to the speed limit instead of driving like a maniac the way you used to."
Edward turned to me, his expression now so wide-eyed and incredulous it made me laugh.
"Oh, come on…you did drive like a maniac and you know it, Edward."
And then the smirk was back as he returned his gaze to the road. He took my hand again. "I drove in a style that matched my abilities at the time. There was nothing maniacal about it. And I don't seem to remember you complai…" He paused, frowning. "Actually, you did complain, didn't you?"
"Regularly. Cop's daughter, remember? Stickler for speed limits."
"Speed limits, maybe. But you're not too careful about the company you keep." He flashed me a wide smile, then leant in close, snapping his teeth at my neck and making me laugh. "Always the wrong reaction," he murmured wryly.
"Lucky for you."
"Very lucky for me."
I thought he was going to kiss me, a quick playful peck on the cheek, but instead Edward looked skyward, distracted as a few fat raindrops hit the windscreen. He sighed and turned the wipers on low.
"I'd forgotten what it felt like," he muttered. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck. Like he was trying to shrug off the weather. "I don't think we've seen the sun since we got here."
It had been two days since we'd arrived in Forks. Two days since Jacob had revealed Edward's secret to Charlie. Two days since Edward had had to spill his guts to my dad. But despite the stress and strain, and the grey skies, something good had come out of those 48-hours; the ex-vampire and the cop had bonded. Mostly over baseball and the famous players Edward had seen in action, from Babe Ruth to Hank Aron, but Charlie had also been curious about other things. Inventions. Politics. Last night I'd gone to bed alone, leaving them to their conversation about famous criminals and while Edward had never encountered Bonnie and Clyde, or knew where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, apparently he had crossed paths twice with Al Capone in a Chicago speakeasy. "I was there for the music," Edward had clarified. "Not the company."
I squeezed his hand. "Things are going well with Charlie," I said.
"They are. Much better than I could have hoped. Even if I haven't met Elvis."
If it hadn't caused Edward so much pain to start with, I could almost think Jake's interference was a blessing in disguise. Almost. But it had caused him pain, and I still wasn't ready to forgive my old friend, even after Sue's peacemaking gesture last night.
Sue had invited us for dinner at her house in La Push, where she'd welcomed Edward with a smile. She'd been warm and friendly and made it clear she had no issue with either Edward, or our relationship. I'd been so relived, mostly for Charlie, and it had caught me by surprise to see the two of them steal a quiet kiss in the kitchen as he helped her set the table. Billy Black had been more reserved when he'd joined us, but he'd still greeted Edward with a handshake and things had gradually relaxed as the conversation turned to cars and Edward showed photos of the VW kombi van that lived in his garage in Sydney, and that he'd restored with Rosalie's help. Thankfully, Billy didn't ask any questions about Edward's change but it was clear that word had got around about the vampire turned human.
I'd wondered if Jake would make an appearance at dinner, but he didn't, and that suited me fine. As long as Charlie still had Sue and Billy, I didn't care if I never saw Jacob Black again.
"Another B&B." Edward's voice interrupted my thoughts as he pointed to a sign by the roadside, and a driveway leading through the trees. "That must be the third one we've seen on this stretch of road alone."
"Yeah, there's been a huge tourism boom in the last few years," I said. "Charlie thinks that people are choosing to vacation at home these days, rather than fly overseas. So everyone's appreciating their national parks a bit more."
"Charlie's probably right." Edward frowned a little. "When we flew into Port Angeles the other day…as we drove out of town…the marina was bigger, wasn't it?"
"Huge. And there's a resort attached. The main street is all cafes, restaurants, and galleries. Remember Bella Italia? It's a sculpture park now, has been for a while."
He shook his head. "How did I not notice any of that?"
"I guess we had other things on our minds. I didn't notice much either." I'd been too busy planning Jake's demise. "There might have been more changes since the last time I was here. I guess we'll see tonight when we go to the theatre."
Edward smiled. "I'm looking forward to that," he said.
Charlie had bought us two tickets to A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Port Angeles Playhouse. He'd given them to me this morning with a gruff, "Merry Christmas, Bells. I know it's early but I never know what to get you and I thought you and Edward might…you still like Shakespeare, right?" I'd hugged him hard and assured him my love affair with The Bard was still alive.
I leant my head on Edward's shoulder. "Me too," I said. "It's my favourite."
"Really?" He smiled down at me. "I didn't know that."
"I can still surprise you, huh?"
"Every single day." He kissed the top of my head. "Look, another B&B. That makes four."
"Like I said, tourist boom."
"You said Alexander's grandparents had an inn somewhere outside Port Angeles. Has that been redeveloped by the new owners?"
The mention of my ex startled me, and I sat up, surprised Edward had remembered that tiny snippet of information from our conversation in Chicago.
"Er, I don't know." I shifted in my seat. "I haven't kept a track of the place or anything."
He nodded. "Well, looks like they were sitting on a potential goldmine with all the development going on. They would have got a good price."
I snuggled back against Edward's shoulder, breathing him in, and not wanting to think about Alexander.
"I love you," I whispered.
"I know," Edward whispered back and gently squeezed my thigh. "I love you, too." He kissed the top of my head and I focused back on the passing scenery, watching for that familiar break in the trees.
"It's just around the next bend," Edward said, effectively reading my mind. I sat up again, leant forward, and there it was. The entrance to the Cullen property.
Memories flooded back, filling my mind and my heart as Edward slowly took the turn. "It's so overgrown!"
The gravel driveway that I remembered had narrowed down to not much more than a track in the woods.
"Nature will always take its course," Edward said.
He drove slowly, the car tyres creeping over the dirt and gravel as tree branches reached out, trying to claim us. Here, with the rain and the trees blocking out the already feeble daylight, everything was dark and shadowed.
"I don't know how far we'll be able to go," he said. "We might have to get out and walk, once the rain eases off. Bella? You okay? Your teeth are about to bite through your lip."
I hadn't even realised. "I'm fine," I said, and shot Edward a quick smile. "It's just not how I remembered."
It had been my idea to come here. I'd suggested it this morning in bed and Edward had kept asking me if I was sure. Now he stopped the car and turned to me, his eyes gentle. "Is that all?" He glanced down the track, to where the house was still hidden from view. "We don't have to. The last time you were here…well, it wasn't a good..."
"No, I'm fine. I really am." I rubbed Edward's thigh. "We had a lot of great times here, right? Let that outweigh anything else." And besides, I had a secret plan to make love to Edward in his old room – that would wipe out any bad memories of my eighteenth birthday.
For a moment Edward seemed uncertain, his eyes searching mine, his fingers tapping a jagged rhythm on the steering wheel, but then he smiled a slow smile. "Okay," he said, and began to drive again.
"Is your leather sofa still in your room?"
"No, it's gone."
I was going to ask where, but something in his answer stopped me, and I got the feeling I didn't want to know.
"I guess you're used to this," I said. "Coming back to places after years away and finding them changed."
Edward shrugged. "I suppose so."
"That's what you meant when you said nature always takes its course, isn't it?"
"Whether it's nature or peeling paint. Broken roof tiles." He shrugged again. "Some of our homes are maintained by property agents, through Jenks. But others, in more remote areas, are left to the elements and we always know there'll be work to do before we move back in. We're prepared for that. Forks is one of those properties." He rolled his shoulders again. "Luckily we always had Emmett's carpentry skills."
"So you're saying I should prepare myself for the house to look neglected?"
"Neglected and abandoned. The doors and windows are all boarded up. The porch will be littered with leaves and debris. If there have been storms then the guttering might be swinging loose in some parts. That happens sometimes."
It wasn't a pretty picture he was painting, but I supposed it was the reality of a house left empty and unattended in the woods for eight years.
"Are you trying to change my mind about coming here?"
"No." But he ran a hand through his hair in that way he had when he was stressed. And his jaw was tight too.
"Edward, honestly, I'll be fine. Really. I'm pretty tough, you know."
"I know. I just don't want you to be…disappointed."
"I won't be. You've prepared me for the worst, so..." I shrugged. "What should I expect inside?"
"Dust sheets. The place will look like it's inhabited by a community of oddly-shaped ghosts."
I cracked a smile. "Hey, I hang out with vampires. Ghosts don't scare me. Even oddly-shaped ones."
"Glad to hear it," Edward said, but he didn't smile back.
"Edward, I really am okay with this."
He lifted my hand and placed a kiss on my knuckles.
"Can we uncover your piano? Would you play for me?"
"The piano," he murmured. "It's not here either. It's with Carlisle and Esme."
I remembered now – he'd told me that before. Long ago, in the vineyard. And then that made me wonder something else.
"When you left Forks, did you take your music with you? Or did you come back for it?"
"I haven't been back here since…" He cleared his throat. "It was Emmett. He came back for the albums not long after we'd left. He thought I'd want them again one day, eventually, and he kept them for me, until he thought I was ready."
"Ready to hear music again?"
He nodded, a sharp bob of his head, and I thought of my own aversion to music in those months after our break-up.
"How long?" I asked.
"About three years. It was just before I moved to Australia. I'd bought tickets to a performance of the New York Symphony, my first foray back into music and Emmett turned up at my apartment the next day with the albums all neatly packed. There were 23 boxes and he said if they were out of order I'd have to rearrange them myself."
"Were they out of order?"
"Bach was in with Queen?"
"Basically. He has no concept of genre. Or the alphabet."
I smiled, thinking how Emmett's gesture was so surprising, but at the same time, not. "I hope you thanked him."
"I punched him on the arm. Rain's stopped," Edward's said, looking skyward again. "Or gone back to drizzle anyway, but I can feel the tyres sinking into the mud. We're not far from the house though." He turned to me. "Happy to walk?"
We held hands as we made our way through the trees. With my hood up and jacket zipped tight, and the cold seeping through my old all-weather boots I'd dug out of the storage boxes in Charlie's garage, I wondered how I had ever managed to live in Forks for as long as I did. But trudging through the cold and damp would be worth it to see the Cullen house again. Even if it was in a state of disrepair.
"So, what's jenks?" I asked.
"Who," Edward clarified. "Jenks is like a family solicitor. He makes arrangements for us. Passports. Birth certificates. Death certificates. Property management."
My eyes widened. "He knows your family are vampires?"
"No. But he does realise there's something different about us."
"And no-one was ever worried that he'd work it out? Expose you?" For the always-vigilant, ever-secretive Cullens, this seemed more than risky.
"Jasper usually deals with him," Edward answered. "He manipulates Jenks' emotions, plays on that instinctive fear that most humans have around our kind, so he's too scared to ask questions or talk about us to anyone else. But even if that wasn't the case, he's too corrupt to ever consider reporting our less than legal requests to any authorities."
"As crooked as they come. And that suits our purposes just fine."
I supposed it would.
I studied Edward as we walked; his beautiful profile, with his human life thrumming in the pulse beneath his jaw. He'd spoken as if he were still a vampire. He did that sometimes.
"I'm guessing you got a new birth certificate when you became human again. Did Jenks do that?"
"He did. And then I used it to get my passport legitimately." He flashed me a quick smile.
"I felt it was important to start doing things the right way."
"But you didn't think it was important to get your degree legitimately?"
"Oh, good Lord…" He rolled his eyes. "Really, Bella? We're going there, again?"
"I'm just saying…hey, did you just growl?"
"Here we are," he said, ignoring my question as we entered the clearing where the house stood. My feet slowed to a stop.
"Oh…Edward…you weren't exaggerating, were you?"
Edward's hand tightened around mine. "No. I wasn't exaggerating," he said.
"Must have been some storm, then."
"Several storms, I'm guessing."
"It looks like…" I shook my head. Words failed me, but a cold shiver snaked down my spine. I took a step back, not even realising I'd done so until Edward moved with me.
"It looks like a house with coffins and dungeons and moats," He finished my sentence.
For a few moments we stood in silence. Edward's hand kept clenching around mine – open, closed, open, closed – while I was remembering how the house had looked before. So warm and welcoming, a real family home, even in the rain. But maybe that was because of the people living inside, and not because of the paint and the porch.
"Are you okay," Edward asked, voice tight.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm just…you know, it's a shock."
"I can imagine."
"What happened to the porch roof?"
"Lightning strike, by the look of it. But it's nothing that can't be repaired. The house has strong bones, it's structurally sound and all the damage, the peeling paint and debris, it's just superficial. A few days work and the house would look as good as new." He cleared his throat. "Do you still want to go in? I could carry you over the broken steps."
"Um…you know what? I don't think I do."
I decided I wanted to remember the good times as they were. But standing here now, with the house looking like something out of a horror story, all I could see was Jasper's teeth snapping in my face, and Edward's defeated eyes as he drove me home later.
I turned to Edward. "Let's go back to Charlie's. It's wet and I'm cold and maybe you can warm me up before he comes home from the station for lunch."
Confusion flashed across Edward's face, replacing the concern of a moment ago.
"You don't want to look inside the house?"
"I thought I did, but I don't. Sometimes it's better to leave things as they are, isn't it?"
Edward blinked, and now there was only tenderness in his eyes. He gently touched my cheek. "Sometimes." He smiled.
"Okay, so, shall we go now?"
Now that we were heading away from the house, leaving it further and further behind, the mood suddenly felt lighter. Edward visibly relaxed and curled his arm round my waist, sliding his hand into the back pocket of my jeans. He gave a playful squeeze. I smiled, and did the same to him, as together we headed back to the car. But my mind was still full of memories.
"I was your sexual awakening, wasn't I?"
He looked down at me. "You're just working that out, now?"
"I think I always knew, I just didn't realise that I knew. Until now."
"Well, yes, you were. Still are."
"Uh huh. That thing you did last night, with your teeth? That was new. And it certainly awakened something in me."
I laughed. "Yeah. And you were trying so hard to be quiet. Well, what can I say, you inspire me, Edward."
"And I'm very happy to be your muse."
I nestled closer to him, watching our feet keep time as we trudged through the mud.
"That day at the train station, when we came back from the vineyard…you said it was the most intimate moment of your life, when you showed me your room that first time…"
"I meant it." There was something in the timbre of his voice that made me look up.
"You really gave yourself to me that day, didn't you? When you showed me your books and your music?"
He nodded slowly. "My room was the only place I could be myself. It was a sanctuary and even my family didn't venture beyond the doorway. The day you came, I shared all of myself, the vampire and the human, with you. You couldn't have known it then, and maybe you don't even realise it now, but you're the only person who's ever known all of me. Every corner. And it started that day."
I grinned at him, feeling slightly giddy. "That's quite some speech," I said. He grinned back. A big goofy grin.
And then as we started walking again he tripped on a tree root and fell in the mud.
"Edward! Are you…"
"I'm fine, I'm fine." He sat up quickly, then stood up even faster, and hit his head on a low-hanging branch.
He doubled over, clutching his head in both hands and I tried not to laugh.
"Are you growling again?"
"No. Are you laughing?"
"No. Well, maybe. Just a bit."
"Mm, so glad to amuse." But a smile twitched on his lips. "One of my human traits I could have done without, this time round."
"The clumsiness? I remember the day I came to your house in Palm Beach, and you went to get dressed, there was all sorts of crashing and swearing coming from your room."
"You heard that?" He winced. "I fell over a chair. Damn, I thought I'd covered it really smoothly."
"Nup. Not smooth at all."
He exhaled sharply and rubbed at his head, blinking hard, as the drizzle became proper rain. Some drops ran down his face and I brushed them away.
"Want me to kiss everything better?"
"Not here, not now," Edward said, tugging my jacket tighter around me. "Wait until we get back to the house, into your bed..." He leant in close, nuzzling my cheek with his nose and grazing his lips over my skin. "Then you can start at my head and work your way down."
We didn't make it to the bed.
"What are you doing?" I asked as we walked through the front door and Edward headed straight for the fireplace.
"Lighting the fire." He rolled up the sleeves of his sweater to the elbows. Both of us had already left our jackets and muddy shoes at the door. "I'm warming the house. You were outside in the wet and the cold."
"Not for long. We could just take a shower. Together."
He shot me a dark, wicked, green-eyed smile as he knelt down and reached for kindling from the wood box beside the hearth. "We can save the shower for after."
"Oh." The desire that had been slowly simmering during the drive back from the Cullen place, while Edward stroked his thumb over my palm, was about to boil over. And I wanted him upstairs in my bed. Now.
"We can cuddle up together. You're like a furnace these days, that'll warm me up. Lighting the fire will take way too long."
"Not the way I do it. It's all in the engineering. This will be burning before you know it."
I rolled my eyes. Was this really the moment to play engineers? But then I suddenly noticed what he was doing. Properly noticed the careful, expert way he arranged the kindling in the fireplace as he knelt. The sure movement of his long fingers. The way he took a small log from the wood box in just one hand, the easy action highlighting the muscles and tendons in his hand and forearm as they rippled and flexed.
I took a seat on the sofa.
He balanced the log carefully on the tower of kindling in a way that I never thought would hold. But it did. Then he took the lighter from the wood box, lit a small twig, and manoeuvred it carefully until it was sitting in the middle of the kindling, right beneath the log. Then he leant forward, bending lower, and I shifted my position so I could fully appreciate the broad expanse of his back as his sweater stretched tight across his shoulders. And of course, there was the way his jeans hugged his backside at this angle, and emphasised the lines of his powerful thighs. Almost made me wonder if he'd planned this.
He put his face close to the smouldering wood pile, pursed his perfect lips, and began to blow. A curl of smoke came up from the wood, and then the kindling caught fire and a vibrant burst of flame erupted beneath the log.
Watching Edward build a fire with such assurance and skill was one of the sexiest things I'd ever seen.
"See?" He turned to me. "Told you it wouldn't take…what are you doing?"
"Getting naked." My sweater was a heap on the floor and I was hoping I looked alluring as I tugged my jeans over my hips.
He swallowed. "I can see that. Tell me what you want."
I felt like my blood was on fire as I bit my lip. "I want to watch."
Edward's eyes flared.
There'd been a time when I would never have made such a request. But with Edward my confidence had grown. Grown such that I could voice my secret desires. And seeing him pleasure himself was one of them. It wasn't the first time I'd asked if I could watch, and Edward always rose to the occasion. Literally.
He sat back down, keeping his gaze on mine as he reached behind him and pulled his sweater off over his head. He tossed it to me and his jeans followed a moment later. Then he leant back against the other sofa and exhaled deeply.
"Let me see you, too," he said, as he took himself in hand.
He was so beautiful like this, naked and bathed in firelight.
He began a slow, smooth rhythm, working himself with a strong flex and twist that showcased the muscles in his arm and gradually got faster. I felt like my heart might explode. He clenched his jaw as he lifted and rolled his hips, pushing himself harder into his right hand as he buried his left in his hair. "Let me see it all."
I groaned and shed the rest of my clothes in an ungraceful flurry of arms and legs and then my fingers were buried between my thighs as I spread them wide. Edward swore, his hand moving faster, stomach muscles clenching and tensing in the golden glow of the fire. His thighs began to tremble as he spoke through gritted teeth, his eyes never leaving me.
"You are the most beautiful…"
I cried out at the same time Edward's voice broke, becoming a growl as he shuddered and shook before laying wide-eyed and gasping in front of the fire.
He rolled onto his side, reaching for me, pulling me gently from the sofa so I was curled up tight against his chest in front of the fire. He trailed his fingers along my spine. I placed a kiss over his still-racing heart and sighed. After the stress of the visit to the Cullen house, all was peaceful and warm. And silent, except for the crackle of the fire and the sound of Edward breathing.
"Have you fallen asleep?" I asked after a while.
"I could stay here all day, with you, like this."
"Me too. But your father will be home any minute and I don't think his new-found acceptance of me would stretch to finding us together like this."
I giggled. "He'd have to burn the rug."
From somewhere beside the sofa, my phone beeped with a text. And then another and another. And then Edward's phone beeped. And beeped again.
Edward frowned. "Somebody seems desperate to get in touch with us,"
It was Renee. She and Phil had decided to accept Edward's offer of the Hawaii house and she was already sending me photos of throw pillows that said Aloha and suggesting the garden for our wedding.
Edward chuckled. "I'd better get onto my property agent. Your mother will be booking removalists and wedding planners before we've even bought the place." Then he looked up. "Would you like to get married in Hawaii?"
"I thought you said Chicago was a consideration. The Drake Hotel."
"It is, but we can add Hawaii to the list of considerations, too, if you want."
"Along with Palm Beach. And Forks."
"Quite a list." Edward beamed.
"Do you have a preference?"
But Edward didn't answer because the cruiser had just pulled into the driveway. He leapt up, snatched his clothes, and ran, stark naked, for the stairs while I laughed.
"I've waited a long time to marry you Isabella Swan!" He called over his shoulder as he took the stairs two at a time. "Just tell me the time and place, and I'll be there!"
Edward guided me through the after-show crowd, his hand sitting comfortably on the small of my back as we made our way out of the lobby and onto the street. Of course, the weather had changed and while our walk to the theatre had been a romantic sunset stroll along the waterfront, exploring what Port Angeles had to offer, it would now be a mad dash through the rain, back to the car at the other end of town.
Edward sighed and kissed my forehead.
"You wait here," he said. "I'll go get the car."
"No, I'll come with you. It's not that heavy."
"I know, but there's no point both of us getting wet. Wait inside, in the lobby. I won't be long." He kissed me again and then he was jogging away, tugging the collar of his jacket up around his neck as he went.
The rest of the crowd was thinning quickly; people scattering in all directions until I was alone on the footpath, under the wide awning and bright lights of the Port Angeles Playhouse. I went to walk back into the lobby, as Edward had suggested, but I'd waited too long. The glass doors were locked and the staff inside were already cleaning up and vacuuming the floor.
So I turned back to the street. At least I was dry under the awning. The rain began to ease off but clouds still covered the moon. It was barely ten o'clock, but it seemed later with the street mostly empty. I snuggled deeper into my jacket, my mind thinking over the play, and then wandering back to this morning; to the Cullen house, and last night's dream that we found the meadow again.
In my dream, the meadow had looked exactly as it had the first time Edward had taken me there, and I'd woken up, thinking we should go there before we left town. But I realised now that the reality would be different. It was winter. No wildflowers. So the meadow was also a memory best left alone. But we'd made new memories since we'd arrived in town, and I felt my cheeks blush as I thought of our afternoon in front of the fire.
"Bella? Bella Swan?"
My thoughts scattered and I spun round, towards the voice that was so familiar, even now. Surely it couldn't be him.
But apparently it could.
I was standing face-to-face with my ex-boyfriend.
A/N: I'm not sure if anyone is still reading, but for those who might be, my sincere apologies for the delay. I was studying for a lot of the year, for the first time since I was in my twenties, so that was an interesting (stressful) experience. And then I started a new job as soon as I graduated my course, so my writing time has been almost been non-existent for a long time.
Thank you for all your lovely comments and reviews that I've received in the meantime. They really make me smile (and feel super guilty that I'm not better at updating).
The next chapter is almost finished so it should be up within the week.