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Chapter no 10 – THEORY

Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga, Book 5)

“CAN I ASK JUST ONE MORE?” SHE ENTREATED INSTEAD OF ANSWERING my

demand.

I was on edge, anxious for the worst. And yet, how tempting it was to prolong this moment. To have her with me, willingly, for just a few seconds longer. I sighed at the dilemma, and then said, “One.”

“Well…” She hesitated for a moment, as if deciding which question to voice. “You said you knew I hadn’t gone into the bookstore, and that I had gone south. I was just wondering how you knew that.”

I glared out the windshield. Here was another question that revealed nothing on her part, and too much on mine.

“I thought we were past all the evasiveness,” she said, her tone critical and disappointed.

How ironic. She was relentlessly evasive, without even trying.

Well, she wanted me to be direct. And this conversation wasn’t going anywhere good, regardless.

“Fine, then,” I said. “I followed your scent.”

I wanted to watch her face, but I was afraid of what I would see. Instead, I listened to her breath accelerate and then stabilize. She spoke again after a moment, and her voice was steadier than I would have expected.

“And then you didn’t answer one of my first questions…,” she said. I looked down at her, frowning. She was stalling, too.

“Which one?”

“How does it work—the mind-reading thing?” she asked, reiterating her question from the restaurant. “Can you read anybody’s mind, anywhere? How do you do it? Can the rest of your family…?” She trailed off, flushing again.

“That’s more than one,” I said.

She just looked at me, waiting for her answers.

And why not tell her? She’d already guessed most of this, and it was an easier subject than the one that loomed.

“No, it’s just me. And I can’t hear anyone, anywhere. I have to be fairly close. The more familiar someone’s… ‘voice’ is, the farther away I can hear them. But still, no more than a few miles.” I tried to think of a way to describe it so that she would understand. An analogy that she could relate to. “It’s a little like being in a huge hall filled with people, everyone talking at once. It’s just a hum—a buzzing of voices in the background. Until I focus on one voice, and then what they’re thinking is clear. Most of the time I tune it all out—it can be very distracting. And then it’s easier to seem normal”—I scowled—“when I’m not accidentally answering someone’s thoughts rather than their words.”

“Why do you think you can’t hear me?” she wondered. I gave her another truth and another analogy.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “The only guess I have is that maybe your mind doesn’t work the same way the rest of theirs do. Like your thoughts are on the AM frequency and I’m only getting FM.”

I realized as soon as the words were out that she would not like this analogy. The anticipation of her reaction had me smiling. She didn’t disappoint.

“My mind doesn’t work right?” she asked, her voice rising. “I’m a freak?”

Ah, the irony again.

“I hear voices in my mind and you’re worried that you’re the freak.” I laughed. She understood all the small things, and yet the big ones she got backward. Always the wrong instincts.

Bella was gnawing on her lip, and the crease between her eyes was etched deep.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “It’s just a theory.…” And there was a more important theory to be discussed. I was anxious to get it over with. Each passing second was beginning to feel more and more like borrowed time. “Which brings us back to you.”

She sighed, still chewing her lip—I worried that she would hurt herself.

She stared into my eyes, her face troubled.

“Aren’t we past all the evasions now?” I asked quietly.

She looked down, struggling with some internal dilemma. Suddenly, she

stiffened and her eyes flew wide open. Fear flashed across her face for the first time.

“Holy crow!” she gasped.

I panicked. What had she seen? How had I frightened her? Then she shouted, “Slow down!”

“What’s wrong?” I didn’t understand where her terror was coming from. “You’re going a hundred miles an hour!” she yelled at me. She flashed a

look out the window, and recoiled from the dark trees racing past us.

This little thing, just a bit of speed, had her shouting in fear? I rolled my eyes. “Relax, Bella.”

“Are you trying to kill us?” she demanded, her voice high and tight. “We’re not going to crash,” I promised her.

She sucked in a sharp breath, and then spoke in a slightly more level tone. “Why are you in such a hurry?”

“I always drive like this.”

I met her gaze, amused by her shocked expression. “Keep your eyes on the road!” she shouted.

“I’ve never been in an accident, Bella. I’ve never even gotten a ticket.” I grinned at her and touched my forehead. It made it even more comical—the absurdity of being able to joke with her about something so secret and strange. “Built-in radar detector.”

“Very funny,” she said sarcastically, her voice still more frightened than angry. “Charlie’s a cop, remember? I was raised to abide by traffic laws. Besides, if you turn us into a Volvo pretzel around a tree trunk, you can probably just walk away.”

“Probably,” I repeated, and then laughed without humor. Yes, we would fare quite differently in a car accident. She was right to be afraid, despite my driving abilities. “But you can’t.”

With a sigh, I let the car drift to a crawl. “Happy?” She eyed the speedometer. “Almost.”

Was this still too fast for her? “I hate driving slow,” I muttered, but let the needle slide down another notch.

“This is slow?” she asked.

“Enough commentary on my driving,” I said impatiently. How many times had she dodged my question now? Three times? Four? Were her speculations that horrific? I had to know—immediately. “I’m still waiting

for your latest theory.”

She bit her lip again, and her expression became upset, almost pained.

I reined in my impatience and softened my voice. I didn’t want her to be distressed.

“I won’t laugh,” I promised, wishing that it were only embarrassment that made her unwilling to talk.

“I’m more afraid that you’ll be angry with me,” she whispered. I forced my voice to stay even. “Is it that bad?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

She looked down, refusing to meet my eyes. The seconds passed. “Go ahead,” I encouraged.

Her voice was small. “I don’t know how to start.”

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” I remembered her words before dinner. “You said you didn’t come up with this on your own.”

“No,” she agreed, and then was silent again.

I thought about things that might have inspired her. “What got you started—a book? A movie?”

I should have looked through her collections when she was out of the house. I had no idea if Bram Stoker or Anne Rice was there in her stack of worn paperbacks.

“No,” she said again. “It was Saturday, at the beach.”

I hadn’t expected that. The local gossip about us had never strayed into anything too bizarre—or too precise. Was there a new rumor I’d missed? Bella peeked up from her hands and saw the surprise on my face.

“I ran into an old family friend—Jacob Black,” she went on. “His dad and Charlie have been friends since I was a baby.”

Jacob Black—the name was not familiar, and yet it reminded me of something… some time, long ago.… I stared out the windshield, flipping through memories to find the connection.

“His dad is one of the Quileute elders,” she said. Jacob Black. Ephraim Black. A descendant, no doubt. It was as bad as it could get.

She knew the truth.

My mind was flying through the ramifications as the car flew around the dark curves in the road, my body rigid with anguish—motionless except for the small, automatic actions it took to steer.

She knew the truth.

But… if she’d learned the truth Saturday… then she’d known it all evening long, and yet…

“We went for a walk,” she went on. “And he was telling me about some old legends—trying to scare me, I think. He told me one…”

She stopped short, but there was no need for her qualms now. I knew what she was going to say. The only mystery left was why she was here with me now.

“Go on,” I said.

“About vampires,” she breathed, the words less than a whisper.

Somehow, it was even worse than knowing that she knew, hearing her speak the word aloud. I flinched at the sound of it, and then controlled myself again.

“And you immediately thought of me?” I asked. “No. He… mentioned your family.”

How ironic that it would be Ephraim’s own progeny that would violate the treaty he’d vowed to uphold. A grandson, or great-grandson perhaps. How many years had it been? Seventy?

I should have realized that it was not the old men who believed in the legends that would be the danger. Of course, the younger generation—those who had been warned but would think the ancient superstitions laughable— that was where the danger of exposure lay.

I supposed this meant I was now free to slaughter the small, defenseless tribe on the coastline, were I so inclined. Ephraim and his pack of protectors were long dead.

“He just thought it was a silly superstition,” Bella said suddenly, her voice edged with a new anxiety, almost as if she could read my thoughts. “He didn’t expect me to think anything of it.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her hands twist uneasily.

“It was my fault,” she said after a brief pause, and then she hung her head as if she was ashamed. “I forced him to tell me.”

“Why?” It wasn’t so hard to keep my voice level now. The worst was already done. As long as we spoke of the details of the revelation, we didn’t have to move on to the consequences of it.

“Lauren said something about you—she was trying to provoke me.” She made a little face at the memory. I was slightly distracted, wondering how

Bella would be provoked by someone talking about me. “And an older boy from the tribe said your family didn’t come to the reservation, only it sounded like he meant something different. So I got Jacob alone and I tricked it out of him.”

Her head dropped even lower as she admitted this, and her expression looked… guilty.

I looked away from her and laughed out loud; it was a hard-edged sound. She felt guilty? What could she possibly have done to deserve censure of any kind?

“Tricked him how?” I asked.

“I tried to flirt—it worked better than I thought it would,” she explained, and her voice turned incredulous at the memory of that success.

I could just imagine—considering the attraction she seemed to hold for all things male, totally unconscious on her part—how overwhelming she would be when she tried to be attractive. I was suddenly full of pity for the unsuspecting boy she’d unleashed such a potent force on.

“I’d like to have seen that,” I said, and then I laughed again with dark humor. I wished I could have heard the boy’s reaction, witnessed the devastation for myself. “And you accused me of dazzling people—poor Jacob Black.”

I wasn’t as angry with the source of my exposure as I would have expected to feel. He didn’t know better. And how could I expect anyone to deny this girl what she wanted? No, I only felt sympathy for the damage she would have done to his peace of mind.

I felt her blush heat the air between us. I glanced at her, and she was staring out her window. She didn’t speak again.

“What did you do then?” I prompted. Time to get back to the horror story.

“I did some research on the internet.”

Ever practical. “And did that convince you?”

“No,” she said. “Nothing fit. Most of it was kind of silly. And then—” She broke off again, and I heard her teeth lock together.

“What?” I demanded. What had she found? What had made sense of the nightmare for her?

There was a short pause, and then she whispered, “I decided it didn’t matter.”

Shock froze my thoughts for a half second, and then it all fit together. Why she’d sent her friends away tonight rather than escape with them. Why she had gotten into my car with me again instead of running, screaming for the police.

Her reactions were always wrong—always completely wrong. She pulled danger toward herself. She invited it.

“It didn’t matter?” I said through my teeth, anger filling me. How was I supposed to protect someone so… so… so determined to be unprotected?

“No,” she said in a low voice that was inexplicably tender. “It doesn’t matter to me what you are.”

She was impossible.

“You don’t care if I’m a monster? If I’m not human?” “No.”

I started to wonder if she was entirely stable.

I supposed that I could arrange for her to receive the best care available.

… Carlisle would have the connections to find her the most skilled doctors, the most talented therapists. Perhaps something could be done to fix whatever it was that was wrong with her, whatever it was that made her content to sit beside a vampire with her heart beating calmly and steadily. I would watch over the facility, naturally, and visit as often as she allowed.

“You’re angry,” she sighed. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

As if her hiding these disturbing tendencies would help either of us. “No. I’d rather know what you’re thinking—even if what you’re

thinking is insane.”

“So I’m wrong again?” she asked, a bit belligerent now.

“That’s not what I was referring to!” My teeth clenched together again. “‘It doesn’t matter’!” I repeated in a scathing tone.

She gasped. “I’m right?” “Does it matter?” I countered.

She took a deep breath. I waited angrily for her answer.

“Not really,” she said, her voice composed again. “But I am curious.”

Not really. It didn’t really matter. She didn’t care. She knew I was inhuman, a horror, and this didn’t really matter to her.

Aside from my worries about her sanity, I began to feel a swelling of hope. I tried to quash it.

“What are you curious about?” I asked her. There were no secrets left,

only minor details.

“How old are you?” she asked.

My answer was automatic and ingrained. “Seventeen.” “And how long have you been seventeen?”

I tried not to smile at her patronizing tone. “A while,” I admitted. “Okay,” she said, abruptly enthusiastic. She smiled up at me. When I

stared back, anxious again about her mental health, she smiled wider. I frowned.

“Don’t laugh,” she warned. “But how can you come out during the daytime?”

I laughed despite her request. Her research had not netted her anything unusual, it seemed. “Myth,” I told her.

“Burned by the sun?” “Myth.”

“Sleeping in coffins?” “Myth.”

Sleep had not been a part of my life for so long—not until these last few nights, as I’d watched Bella dreaming.

“I can’t sleep,” I murmured, answering her question more fully. She was silent for a moment.

“At all?” she asked. “Never,” I breathed.

As I met her penetrating gaze, read the surprise and the sympathy there, I abruptly yearned for sleep. Not for oblivion, as I had before, not to escape boredom, but because I wanted to dream. Maybe if I could be unconscious, if I could dream, I could live for a few hours in a world where she and I could be together. She dreamed of me. I wanted to dream of her.

She stared back at me, her expression full of wonder. I had to look away. I could not dream of her. She should not dream of me.

“You haven’t asked me the most important question yet,” I said. The stone heart in my silent chest felt colder and harder than before. She had to be forced to understand. At some point, she must be made to see that this all did matter—more than any other consideration. Considerations like the fact that I loved her.

“Which one is that?” she asked, surprised and unaware.

This only made my voice harder. “You aren’t concerned about my diet?”

“Oh. That.” She spoke in a quiet tone that I couldn’t interpret. “Yes, that. Don’t you want to know if I drink blood?”

She cringed away from my question. Finally. “Well, Jacob said something about that,” she said. “What did Jacob say?”

“He said you didn’t… hunt people. He said your family wasn’t supposed to be dangerous because you only hunted animals.”

“He said we weren’t dangerous?” I repeated cynically.

“Not exactly,” she clarified. “He said you weren’t supposed to be dangerous. But the Quileutes still didn’t want you on their land, just in case.”

I stared at the road, my thoughts in a hopeless snarl, my throat aching with the familiar fire.

“So, was he right?” she asked, as calmly as if she were confirming a weather report. “About not hunting people?”

“The Quileutes have a long memory.” She nodded to herself, thinking hard.

“Don’t let that make you complacent, though,” I said quickly. “They’re right to keep their distance from us. We are still dangerous.”

“I don’t understand.”

No she didn’t. How to make her see?

“We… try,” I told her. “We’re usually very good at what we do. Sometimes we make mistakes. Me, for example, allowing myself to be alone with you.”

Her scent was still a force in the car. I was growing used to it, I could almost ignore it, but there was no denying that my body still yearned toward her for the worst possible reason. My mouth was swimming with venom. I swallowed.

“This is a mistake?” she asked, and there was heartbreak in her voice. The sound of it disarmed me. She wanted to be with me—despite everything, she wanted to be with me.

Hope swelled again, and I beat it back.

“A very dangerous one,” I told her truthfully, wishing the truth could really somehow cease to matter.

She didn’t respond for a moment. I heard her breathing change—it hitched in strange ways that did not sound like fear.

“Tell me more,” she said suddenly, her voice distorted by anguish. I examined her carefully.

She appeared to be in some kind of pain. How had I allowed this?

“What more do you want to know?” I asked, trying to think of a way to keep her from hurting. She should not hurt. I couldn’t let her be hurt.

“Tell me why you hunt animals instead of people,” she said, still anguished.

Wasn’t it obvious? Or maybe this didn’t matter to her, either. “I don’t want to be a monster,” I muttered.

“But animals aren’t enough?”

I searched for another comparison, a way that she could understand. “I can’t be sure, of course, but I’d compare it to living on tofu and soy milk; we call ourselves vegetarians, our little inside joke. It doesn’t completely satiate the hunger—or rather thirst. But it keeps us strong enough to resist. Most of the time.” My voice got lower. I was ashamed of the danger I had allowed her to be in. Danger I continued to allow. “Sometimes it’s more difficult than others.”

“Is it very difficult for you now?”

I sighed. Of course she would ask the question I didn’t want to answer. “Yes,” I admitted.

I expected her physical response correctly this time: Her breathing held steady, her heart kept its even pattern. I expected it, but I did not understand it. How could she not be afraid?

“But you’re not hungry now,” she declared, perfectly sure of herself. “Why do you think that?”

“Your eyes,” she said, her tone offhand. “I told you I had a theory. I’ve noticed that people—men in particular—are crabbier when they’re hungry.” I chuckled at her description: crabby. There was an understatement. But she was dead right, as usual. “You are observant, aren’t you?” I laughed

again.

She smiled a little, the crease returning between her eyes as if she were concentrating on something.

“Were you hunting this weekend, with Emmett?” she asked after my laugh had faded. The casual way she spoke was as fascinating as it was frustrating. Could she really accept so much in stride? I was closer to shock than she seemed to be.

“Yes,” I told her, and then, as I was about to leave it at that, I felt the same urge I’d had in the restaurant: I wanted her to know me. “I didn’t want to leave,” I went on slowly, “but it was necessary. It’s a bit easier to be around you when I’m not thirsty.”

“Why didn’t you want to leave?”

I took a deep breath, and then turned to meet her gaze. This kind of honesty was difficult in a very different way.

“It makes me… anxious”—I supposed that word would suffice, though it wasn’t strong enough—“to be away from you. I wasn’t joking when I asked you to try not to fall in the ocean or get run over last Thursday. I was distracted all weekend, worrying about you. And after what happened tonight, I’m surprised that you did make it through a whole weekend unscathed.” Then I remembered the scrapes on her palms. “Well, not totally unscathed,” I amended.

“What?”

“Your hands,” I reminded her.

She sighed and her lips turned down. “I fell.”

“That’s what I thought,” I said, unable to contain my smile. “I suppose, being you, it could have been much worse—and that possibility tormented me the entire time I was away. It was a very long three days. I really got on Emmett’s nerves.” Honestly, that didn’t belong in the past tense. I was probably still irritating Emmett, and all the rest of my family, too. Except Alice.

“Three days?” she asked, her voice suddenly sharp. “Didn’t you just get back today?”

I didn’t understand the edge in her voice. “No, we got back Sunday.” “Then why weren’t any of you in school?” she demanded. Her irritation

confused me. She didn’t seem to realize that this question was one that related to mythology again.

“Well, you asked if the sun hurt me, and it doesn’t,” I said. “But I can’t go out in the sunlight—at least, not where anyone can see.”

That distracted her from her mysterious annoyance. “Why?” she asked, leaning her head to one side.

I doubted I could come up with the appropriate analogy to explain this one. So I just told her, “I’ll show you sometime,” and then immediately wondered if this was a promise I would end up breaking—I’d said the

words so casually, but I could not imagine actually following through.

It wasn’t something to worry about now. I didn’t know if I could be allowed see her again, after tonight. Did I love her enough yet to be able to bear leaving her?

“You might have called me,” she said.

What an odd conclusion. “But I knew you were safe.”

“But I didn’t know where you were. I—” She came to an abrupt stop, and looked at her hands.

“What?”

“I didn’t like it,” she said shyly, the skin over her cheekbones warming. “Not seeing you. It makes me anxious, too.”

Are you happy now? I demanded of myself. Well, here was my reward for hoping.

I was bewildered, elated, horrified—mostly horrified—to realize that all my wildest fantasies were not so far off the mark. This was why it didn’t matter to her that I was a monster. It was exactly the same reason that the rules no longer mattered to me. Why right and wrong were no longer compelling influences. Why all my priorities had shifted one rung down to make room for this girl at the very top.

Bella cared for me, too.

I knew it could be nothing in comparison to how I loved her—she was mortal, changeable. She wasn’t locked in with no hope of recovery. But still, she cared enough to risk her life to sit here with me. To do so gladly.

Enough that it would cause her pain if I did the right thing and left her.

Was there anything I could do now that would not hurt her? Anything at all?

Every word we spoke here—each one of them was another pomegranate seed. That strange vision in the restaurant had been more on point than I’d realized.

I should have stayed away. I should never have come back to Forks. I would cause her nothing but pain.

Would that stop me from staying now? From making it worse?

The way I felt at this moment, feeling her warmth against my skin… No. Nothing would stop me.

“Ah,” I groaned to myself. “This is wrong.”

“What did I say?” she asked, quick to take the blame on herself.

“Don’t you see, Bella? It’s one thing for me to make myself miserable, but a wholly other thing for you to be so involved. I don’t want to hear that you feel that way.” It was the truth, it was a lie. The most selfish part of me was flying with the knowledge that she wanted me as I wanted her. “It’s wrong. It’s not safe. I’m dangerous, Bella—please, grasp that.”

“No.” Her lips pouted out stubbornly.

“I’m serious.” I was battling with myself so strongly—half-desperate for her to accept my warnings, half-desperate to keep the warnings from escaping—that the words came through my teeth as a growl.

“So am I,” she insisted. “I told you, it doesn’t matter what you are. It’s too late.”

Too late? The world was bleakly black and white for one endless second as I watched the shadows crawl across the sunny lawn toward Bella’s sleeping form in my memory. Inevitable, unstoppable. They stole the color from her skin, and plunged her into darkness, into the underworld.

Too late? Alice’s vision swirled in my head, Bella’s bloodred eyes staring back at me impassively, expressionless. But there was no way that she could not hate me for that future. Hate me for stealing everything from her.

It could not be too late. “Never say that,” I hissed.

She stared out her window, and her teeth bit into her lip again. Her hands were balled into tight fists in her lap. Her breathing hitched.

“What are you thinking?” I had to know.

She shook her head without looking at me. I saw something glisten, like a crystal, on her cheek.

Agony. “Are you crying?” I’d made her cry. I’d hurt her that much. She scrubbed the tear away with the back of her hand.

“No,” she lied, her voice breaking.

Some long-buried instinct had me reaching out toward her—in that one second I felt more human than I ever had. And then I remembered that I was… not. And I lowered my hand.

“I’m sorry,” I said, my jaw locked. How could I ever tell her how sorry I was? Sorry for all the stupid mistakes I’d made. Sorry for my never-ending selfishness. Sorry that she was so unfortunate as to have inspired this first, and last, tragic love of mine. Sorry also for the things beyond my control—

that I’d been the executioner chosen by fate to end her life in the first place.

I took a deep breath—ignoring my wretched reaction to the flavor in the car—and tried to collect myself.

I wanted to change the subject, to think of something else. Lucky for me, my curiosity about the girl was insatiable.

“Tell me something,” I said.

“Yes?” she asked huskily, tears still in her voice.

“What were you thinking tonight, just before I came around the corner? I couldn’t understand your expression—you didn’t look that scared, you looked like you were concentrating very hard on something.” I remembered her face—forcing myself to forget whose eyes I was looking through—the look of determination there.

“I was trying to remember how to incapacitate an attacker,” she said, her voice more composed. “You know, self-defense. I was going to smash his nose into his brain.” Her composure did not last to the end of her explanation. Her tone twisted until it seethed with hate. This was no hyperbole, and her fury was not humorous now. I could see her frail figure

—just silk over glass—overshadowed by the meaty, heavy-fisted human monsters who would have hurt her. The fury boiled in the back of my head.

“You were going to fight them?” I wanted to groan. Her instincts were deadly—to herself. “Didn’t you think about running?”

“I fall down a lot when I run,” she said sheepishly. “What about screaming for help?”

“I was getting to that part.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “You were right,” I told her, a sour edge to my voice. “I’m definitely fighting fate trying to keep you alive.”

She sighed, and glanced out the window. Then she looked back at me. “Will I see you tomorrow?” she demanded abruptly.

As long as were on our way down to hell—why not enjoy the journey? “Yes—I have a paper due, too.” I smiled at her, and it felt good to do

this. Clearly, hers were not the only instincts that were backwards. “I’ll save you a seat at lunch.”

Her heart fluttered; my dead heart felt warmer.

I stopped the car in front of her father’s house. She made no move to leave me.

“Do you promise to be there tomorrow?” she insisted.

“I promise.”

How could doing the wrong thing give me so much happiness? Surely there was something amiss in that.

She nodded to herself, satisfied, and started to remove my jacket.

“You can keep it,” I assured her quickly. I rather wanted to leave her with something of myself. A token, like the bottle cap that was in my pocket now. “You don’t have a jacket for tomorrow.”

She handed it back to me, smiling ruefully. “I don’t want to have to explain to Charlie,” she told me.

I would imagine not. I smiled at her. “Oh, right.”

She put her hand on the door handle, and then stopped. Unwilling to leave, just as I was unwilling for her to go.

To have her unprotected, even for a few moments…

Peter and Charlotte were well on their way by now, long past Seattle, no doubt. But there were always others.

“Bella?” I asked, amazed at the pleasure there was in simply speaking her name.

“Yes?”

“Will you promise me something?”

“Yes,” she agreed easily, and then her eyes tightened as if she’d thought of a reason to object.

“Don’t go into the woods alone,” I warned her, wondering if this request would trigger the objection in her eyes.

She blinked, startled. “Why?”

I glowered into the untrustworthy darkness. The lack of light was no problem for my eyes, but neither would it trouble another hunter.

“I’m not always the most dangerous thing out there,” I told her. “Let’s leave it at that.”

She shivered, but recovered quickly and was even smiling when she told me, “Whatever you say.”

Her breath touched my face, so sweet.

I could stay here all night like this, but she needed her sleep. The two desires seemed equally strong as they continually warred inside me: wanting her versus wanting her to be well.

I sighed at the impossibilities. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said, knowing that I would see her much sooner than that. She wouldn’t see me until

tomorrow, though.

“Tomorrow, then,” she agreed as she opened her door. Agony again, watching her leave.

I leaned after her, wanting to hold her here. “Bella?”

She turned, and then froze, surprised to find our faces so close together.

I, too, was overwhelmed by the proximity. The heat rolled off her in waves, caressing my face. I could all but feel the silk of her skin.

Her heartbeat stuttered, and her lips fell open.

“Sleep well,” I whispered, and leaned away before the urgency in my body—either the familiar thirst or the very new and strange hunger I suddenly felt—could make me do something that might hurt her.

She sat there motionless for a moment, her eyes wide and stunned.

Dazzled, I guessed.

As was I.

She recovered—though her face was still a bit bemused—and half fell out of the car, tripping over her feet and having to catch the frame of the car to right herself.

I chuckled—hopefully it was too quiet for her to hear.

I watched her stumble her way up to the pool of light that surrounded the front door. Safe for the moment. And I would be back soon to make sure.

I could feel her eyes follow me as I drove down the dark street. Such a different sensation than I was accustomed to. Usually, I could simply watch myself through someone’s following eyes, were I of a mind to. This was strangely exciting—this intangible sensation of watching eyes. I knew it was just because they were her eyes.

A million thoughts chased each other through my head as I drove aimlessly into the night.

For a long time I circled through the streets, going nowhere, thinking of Bella and the incredible release of having the truth known. No longer did I have to dread that she would find out what I was. She knew. It didn’t matter to her. Even though this was obviously a bad thing for her, it was amazingly liberating for me.

More than that, I thought of Bella and requited love. She couldn’t love me the way I loved her—such an overpowering, all-consuming, crushing love would probably break her fragile body. But she felt strongly enough.

Strongly enough to subdue the instinctive fear. Strongly enough to want to be with me. And being with her was the greatest happiness I had ever known.

For a while—as I was all alone and hurting no one else for a change—I allowed myself to feel that happiness without dwelling on the tragedy. Just to be thrilled that she cared for me. Just to exult in the triumph of winning her affection. Just to imagine sitting close to her tomorrow, hearing her voice and earning her smiles.

I replayed that smile in my head, seeing her full lips pull up at the corners, the hint of a dimple that touched her pointed chin, the way her eyes warmed and melted. Her fingers had felt so warm and soft on my hand tonight. I imagined how it would feel to touch the delicate skin that stretched over her cheekbones—silky, warm… so fragile. Silk over glass… frighteningly breakable.

I didn’t see where my thoughts were leading until it was too late. As I dwelt on that devastating vulnerability, other images of her face intruded on my fantasies.

Lost in the shadows, pale with fear—yet her jaw tight and determined, her eyes full of concentration, her slim body braced to strike at the hulking forms that gathered around her, nightmares in the gloom.

“Ah,” I groaned as the simmering hate that I’d all but forgotten in the joy of loving her burst again into an inferno of rage.

I was alone. Bella was, I trusted, safe inside her home; for a moment I was fiercely glad that Charlie Swan—head of the local law enforcement, trained and armed—was her father. That ought to mean something, provide some shelter for her.

She was safe. It would not take me so very long to destroy the mortal who would have harmed her.

No. She deserved better. I could not allow her to care for a murderer. But… what about the others?

Bella was safe, yes. Angela and Jessica were also, surely, safe in their beds.

Yet a predator was loose on the streets of Port Angeles. A human monster—did that make him the humans’ problem? We did not often involve ourselves with human problems, aside from Carlisle and his constant work to heal and save. For the rest of us, our weakness for human

blood was a serious impediment to becoming closely entangled with them. And of course there were our distant wardens, the de facto vampire police force, the Volturi. We Cullens lived too differently. Drawing their attention with any poorly considered superhero-esque performances would be extremely dangerous to our family.

This was definitely a mortal concern, not of our world. To commit the murder I ached to commit was wrong. I knew that. But leaving him free to attack again could not be the right thing, either.

The blond hostess from the restaurant. The waitress I’d never really looked at. Both had irritated me in a trivial way, but that did not mean they deserved to be in danger.

I turned the car north, accelerating now that I had a purpose. Whenever I had a dilemma that was beyond me—something tangible like this—I knew where to go for help.

Alice was sitting on the porch, waiting for me. I pulled to a stop in front of the house rather than going around to the garage.

“Carlisle’s in his study,” she told me before I could ask. “Thank you,” I said, tousling her hair as I passed.

Thank you for returning my call, she thought sarcastically.

“Oh.” I paused by the door, pulling out my phone and flipping it open. “Sorry. I didn’t even check to see who it was. I was… busy.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry, too. By the time I saw what was going to happen, you were on your way.”

“It was close,” I murmured.

Sorry, she repeated, ashamed of herself.

It was easy to be generous, knowing that Bella was fine. “Don’t be. I know you can’t catch everything. No one expects you to be omniscient, Alice.”

“Thanks.”

“I almost asked you out to dinner tonight—did you catch that before I changed my mind?”

She grinned. “No, I missed that one, too. Wish I’d known. I would have come.”

“What were you concentrating on that you missed so much?”

Jasper’s thinking about our anniversary. She laughed. He’s trying not to make a decision on my gift, but I think I have a pretty good idea.…

“You’re shameless.” “Yep.”

She pursed her lips and stared up at me, a hint of accusation in her expression. I paid better attention afterward. Are you going to tell them that she knows?

I sighed. “Yes. Later.”

I won’t say anything. Do me a favor and tell Rosalie when I’m not around, okay?

I flinched. “Sure.” Bella took it pretty well. “Too well.”

Alice grinned at me. Don’t underestimate Bella.

I tried to block the image I didn’t want to see—Bella and Alice, best of friends.

Impatient now, I sighed heavily. I wanted to be through with the next part of the evening; I wanted it over with. But I was a little worried to leave Forks.

“Alice…,” I began. She saw what I was planning to ask.

She’ll be fine tonight. I’m keeping a better watch now. She sort of needs twenty-four-hour supervision, doesn’t she?

“At least.”

“Anyway, you’ll be with her soon enough.”

I took a deep breath. The words were beautiful to me.

“Go on—get this done so you can be where you want to be,” she told me.

I nodded and hurried up to Carlisle’s room.

He was waiting for me, his eyes on the door rather than the thick book on his desk.

“I heard Alice tell you where to find me,” he said, and smiled.

It was a relief to be with him, to see the empathy and deep intelligence in his eyes. Carlisle would know what to do.

“I need help.”

“Anything, Edward,” he promised.

“Did Alice tell you what happened to Bella tonight?”

Almost happened, he amended.

“Yes, almost. I’ve a dilemma, Carlisle. You see, I want… very much…

to kill him.” The words started to flow, fast and passionate. “So much. But I know that would be wrong, because it would be vengeance, not justice. All anger, no impartiality. Still, it can’t be right to leave a serial rapist and murderer wandering Port Angeles! I don’t know the humans there, but I can’t let someone else take Bella’s place as his victim. Those other women

—it’s not right—”

His wide, unexpected smile stopped the rush of my words cold.

She’s very good for you, isn’t she? So much compassion, so much control. I’m impressed.

“I’m not looking for compliments, Carlisle.”

“Of course not. But I can’t help my thoughts, can I?” He smiled again. I’ll take care of it. You can rest easy. No one else will be harmed in Bella’s place.

I saw the plan in his head. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted—it did not satisfy my craving for brutality—but I could see that it was the right thing.

“I’ll show you where to find him,” I said. “Let’s go.”

He grabbed his black bag on the way. I would have preferred a more aggressive form of sedation—like a cracked skull—but I would let Carlisle do this his way.

We took my car. Alice was still on the steps. She grinned and waved as we drove away. I saw that she had looked ahead for me. We would have no difficulties.

The trip was very short on the dark, empty road. I left off my headlights to keep from attracting attention. It made me smile to think how Bella would have reacted to this pace. I’d already been driving slower than usual

—to prolong my time with her—when she’d objected.

Carlisle was thinking of Bella, too.

I didn’t foresee that she would be so good for him. That’s unexpected. Perhaps this was somehow meant to be. Perhaps it serves a higher purpose. Only…

He pictured Bella with snow-cold skin and bloodred eyes, and then flinched away from the image.

Yes. Indeed. Only. Because how could there be any good in destroying something so pure and lovely?

I glowered into the night, all the joy of the evening destroyed.

Edward deserves happiness. He’s owed it. The fierceness of Carlisle’s thoughts surprised me. There must be a way.

I wished I could believe either of his hopes. But there was no higher purpose to what was happening to Bella. Just a vicious harpy, an ugly, bitter fate who could not bear for her to have the life she deserved.

I did not linger in Port Angeles. I took Carlisle to the dive bar where the twisted thing named Lanny was drowning his disappointment with his friends—two of whom had already passed out. Carlisle could see how hard it was for me to be so close—to hear the fiend’s thoughts and see his memories, memories of Bella mixed in with those of less fortunate girls whom no one could save now.

My breathing sped. My hands clenched the steering wheel.

Go, Edward, he told me gently. I’ll make the rest of them safe. You go back to Bella.

It was exactly the right thing to say. Her name was the only distraction that meant anything to me.

I left Carlisle in the car, and ran back to Forks in a straight line through the sleeping forest. It took less time than the first journey in the speeding car. It was just minutes later that I scaled the side of her house and slid her window out of my way.

I sighed silently with relief. Everything was just as it should be. Bella was safe in her bed, dreaming, her wet hair tangled across the pillow.

But unlike most nights, she was curled into a small ball with the covers stretched taut around her shoulders. Cold, I guessed. Before I could settle into my usual seat, she shivered in her sleep, and her lips trembled.

I thought for a brief moment, and then eased out into the hallway, exploring another part of her house for the first time.

Charlie’s snores were loud and even. I could almost catch the edge of his dream. Something with the rush of water and patient expectation… fishing, maybe?

There, at the top of the stairs, was a promising-looking cupboard. I opened it hopefully and found what I was looking for. I selected the thickest blanket from the tiny linen closet and took it back into her room. I would return it before she woke, and no one would be the wiser.

Holding my breath, I cautiously spread the blanket over her. She didn’t react to the added weight. I returned to the rocking chair.

While I waited anxiously for her to warm up, I thought of Carlisle, wondering where he was now. I knew his plan would go smoothly—Alice had seen that.

Thinking of my father made me sigh—Carlisle gave me too much credit. I wished I were the person he thought me to be. That person, the one who deserved happiness, might hope to be worthy of this sleeping girl. How different things would be if I could be that Edward.

Or, if I could not be what I should, at least there should be some balance in the universe to cancel out my darkness. Should there not be an equal and opposite good? I’d envisioned the hag-faced fate as some explanation for the terrifying and improbable nightmares that kept coming for Bella—first myself, then the van, and then the noxious beast tonight. But if that fate had so much power, shouldn’t there be a force in place to thwart it?

Someone like Bella ought to have a protector, a guardian angel. She deserved that. And yet, clearly, she’d been left defenseless. I would love to believe an angel or anything else was watching over her, anything that would give her a measure of protection, but when I tried to imagine that champion, it was obvious such a thing was impossible. What guardian angel would have allowed Bella to come here? To cross my path, formed, as she was, in such a fashion that there was no way I could possibly overlook her? A ridiculously potent scent to demand my attention, a silent mind to enflame my curiosity, a quiet beauty to hold my eyes, a selfless soul to earn my awe. Factor in the total lack of self-preservation so she was not repelled by me, and then of course add the wide streak of appallingly bad luck that put her always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There could be no stronger evidence that guardian angels were a fantasy. No one needed or deserved one more than Bella. Yet any angel that could have allowed us to meet must be so irresponsible, so reckless, so… harebrained, that it could not possibly be on the side of good. I’d rather the loathsome harpy were real than any celestial being so ineffectual. At least I could fight against the ugly fate.

And I would fight, I would keep fighting. Whatever force it was that wanted to hurt Bella would have to go through me. No, she had no guardian angel. But I would do my best to make up for the lack.

A guardian vampire—there was a stretch.

After about a half hour, Bella relaxed out of the tight ball. Her breathing

got deeper and she started to murmur. I smiled, satisfied. It was a small thing, but at least she was sleeping more comfortably tonight because I was here.

“Edward,” she sighed, and she smiled, too.

I shoved tragedy aside for the moment and let myself be happy again.

 

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