Chapter no 9 – PORT ANGELES

Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga, Book 5)

It was too bright for me to drive into town when I got to Port

ANGELES. The sun was still high overhead, and though my windows were tinted dark enough to provide some protection, there was no reason to take unnecessary risks. More unnecessary risks, I should say.

How condescendingly I’d once judged Emmett for his thoughtless ways

and Jasper for his lack of discipline—and now I was consciously flouting all the rules with a wild abandon that made their lapses look like nothing at all. I used to be the responsible one.

I sighed.

I was certain I would be able to find Jessica’s thoughts from a distance

—hers were louder than Angela’s, but once I found the first, I’d be able to hear the second. Then, when the shadows lengthened, I could get closer. Just outside the town, I pulled off the road onto an overgrown driveway that appeared to be infrequently used.

I knew the general direction to search in—there were not many places to shop for dresses in Port Angeles. It wasn’t long before I found Jessica, spinning in front of a three-way mirror, and I could see Bella in her peripheral vision, appraising the long black dress she wore.

Bella still looks pissed. Ha ha. Angela was right—Tyler was full of it. I can’t believe she’s so upset about it, though. At least she knows she has a backup date for the prom. What if Mike doesn’t have fun at the dance and doesn’t ask me out again? What if he asks Bella to the prom? Does he think she’s prettier than me? Does she think she’s prettier than me?

“I think I like the blue one better. It really brings out your eyes.”

Jessica smiled at Bella with false warmth while eyeing her suspiciously.

Does she really think that? Or does she want me to look like a cow on Saturday?

I was already tired of listening to Jessica. I searched close by for Angela

—ah, but Angela was in the process of changing dresses, and I skipped quickly out of her head to give her some privacy.

Well, there wasn’t much trouble Bella could get into in a department store. I’d let them shop and then catch up with them when they were done. It wouldn’t be long until dark—the clouds were beginning to return, drifting in from the west. I could only catch glimpses of them through the thick trees, but I could see how they would hurry the sunset. I welcomed them, craved them more than I had ever yearned for their shadows before. Tomorrow I could sit beside Bella in school again, monopolize her attention at lunch. I could ask her all the questions I’d been saving up.

So she was furious about Tyler’s presumption. I’d seen that in his head

—that he’d meant it literally when he’d spoken of the prom, that he was staking a claim. I pictured her expression from that other afternoon—the outraged disbelief—and laughed. I wondered what she would say to him about this. Or perhaps she was more likely to pretend ignorance, to bluff and hope it would put him off? It would be interesting to see.

The time went slowly while I waited for the shadows to lengthen. I checked in periodically with Jessica; her mental voice was the easiest to find, but I didn’t like to linger there long. I saw the place they were planning to eat. It would be dark by dinnertime… maybe I would coincidentally choose the same restaurant. I touched the phone in my pocket, thinking of inviting Alice out to join me. She would love that, but she would also want to talk to Bella. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to have Bella more involved with my world. Wasn’t one vampire trouble enough?

I checked in routinely with Jessica again. She was thinking about her jewelry, asking Angela’s opinion.

“Maybe I should take the necklace back. I’ve got one at home that would probably work, and I spent more than I was supposed to.” My mom is going to freak out. What was I thinking?

“I don’t mind going back to the store. Do you think Bella will be looking for us, though?”

What was this? Bella wasn’t with them? I stared through Jessica’s eyes first, then switched to Angela’s. They were on the sidewalk in front of a line of shops, just turning back the other way. Bella was nowhere in sight.

Oh, who cares about Bella? Jess thought impatiently, before answering Angela’s question. “She’s fine. We’ll get to the restaurant in plenty of time,

even if we go back. Anyway, I think she wanted to be alone.” I got a brief glimpse of the bookshop Jessica thought Bella had gone to.

Let’s hurry, then,” Angela said. I hope Bella doesn’t think we ditched her. She was so nice to me in the car before. But she’s seemed kind of blue all day. I wonder if it’s because of Edward Cullen? I’ll bet that was why she was asking about his family.

I should have been paying better attention. What had I missed here? Bella was off wandering by herself, and she’d been asking about me? Angela was paying attention to Jessica now—Jessica was babbling about that imbecile Mike—and I could get nothing more from her.

I judged the shadows. The sun would be behind the clouds soon enough. If I stayed on the west side of the road, where the buildings would shade the street from the fading light…

I started to feel anxious as I drove through the sparse traffic into the center of town. This wasn’t something I had considered—Bella setting off on her own—and I had no idea how to find her. I should have considered it. I knew Port Angeles well. I drove straight to the bookstore in Jessica’s head, hoping my search would be short, but doubting it would be so easy.

When did Bella ever make it easy?

Sure enough, the little shop was empty except for the anachronistically dressed woman behind the counter. This didn’t look like the kind of place Bella would find interesting—too new age for a practical person. I wondered if she’d even bothered to go inside.

There was a patch of shade I could park in. It made a dark pathway right up to the awning of the shop. I really shouldn’t. Wandering around in the sunlit hours was not safe. What if a passing car threw the sun’s reflection on me at just the wrong moment?

But I didn’t know how else to look for Bella!

I parked and got out, keeping to the side of deepest shadow. I strode quickly into the store, noting the faint trace of Bella’s scent in the air. She had been here, on the sidewalk, but there was no hint of her fragrance inside the shop.

“Welcome! Can I help—?” the saleswoman began to say, but I was already out the door.

I followed Bella’s scent as far as the shade would allow, stopping when I got to the edge of the sunlight.

How powerless it made me feel—fenced in by the line between dark and light that stretched across the sidewalk in front of me.

I could only guess that she’d continued across the street, heading south. There wasn’t really much in that direction. Was she lost? Well, that possibility didn’t sound entirely out of character.

I got back in the car and drove slowly through the streets, looking for her. I stepped out into a few other patches of shadow, but only caught her scent once more, and the direction of it confused me. Where was she trying to go?

I drove back and forth between the bookstore and the restaurant a few times, hoping to see her on her way. Jessica and Angela were already there, trying to decide whether to order or to wait for Bella. Jessica was pushing for ordering immediately.

I began flitting through the minds of strangers, looking through their eyes. Surely, someone must have seen her somewhere.

I got more and more anxious the longer she remained missing. I’d not considered before how difficult she might prove to find once, like now, she was out of my sight and off her normal paths.

The clouds were massing on the horizon, and in a few more minutes, I would be free to track her on foot. It wouldn’t take me long then. It was only the sun that made me so helpless now. Just a few more minutes, and then the advantage would be mine again and it would be the human world that was powerless.

Another mind, and another. So many trivial thoughts.

… think the baby has another ear infection… Was it six-four-oh or six-oh-four…?

Late again. I ought to tell him.… Aha! Here she comes!

There, at last, was her face. Finally, someone had noticed her!

The relief lasted for only a fraction of a second, and then I read more fully the thoughts of the man who was gloating over her face where she hesitated in the shadows.

His mind was a stranger to me, and yet, not totally unfamiliar. I had once hunted exactly such minds.

“NO!” I roared, and a volley of snarls erupted from my throat. My foot shoved the gas pedal to the floor, but where was I going?

I knew the general direction his thoughts came from, but the location was not specific enough. Something, there had to be something—a street sign, a storefront, something in his sightline that would give him away. But Bella was deep in shadow, and his eyes were focused only on her frightened expression—enjoying the fear there.

Her face was blurred in his mind by the memory of other faces. Bella was not his first victim.

The sound of my growls shook the frame of the car but did not distract me.

There were no windows in the wall behind her. Somewhere industrial, away from the more populated shopping district. My car squealed around a corner, swerving past another vehicle, heading in what I hoped was the right direction. By the time the other driver honked, the sound was far behind me.

Look at her shaking! The man chuckled in anticipation. The fear was the draw for him—the part he enjoyed.

“Stay away from me.” Her voice was low and steady, not a scream.

“Don’t be like that, sugar.”

He watched her flinch at a rowdy laugh that came from another direction. He was irritated with the noise—Shut up, Jeff! he thought—but he enjoyed the way she cringed. It excited him. He began to imagine her pleas, the way she would beg.…

I hadn’t realized that there were others with him until I’d heard the loud laughter. I scanned out from him, desperate for something that I could use. He was taking the first step in her direction, flexing his hands.

The minds around him were not the cesspool that his was. They were all slightly intoxicated, not one of them realizing how far the man they called Lanny planned to go with this. They were blindly following Lanny’s lead. He’d promised them a little fun.…

One of them glanced down the street, nervous—he didn’t want to get caught harassing the girl—and gave me what I needed. I recognized the cross street he stared toward.

I flew under a red light, sliding through a space just wide enough between two cars in the moving traffic. Horns blared behind me.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I ignored it.

Lanny moved slowly toward the girl, drawing out the suspense—the

moment of terror that aroused him. He waited for her scream, preparing to savor it.

But Bella locked her jaw and braced herself. He was surprised—he’d expected her to try to run. Surprised and slightly disappointed. He liked to chase his prey down, feel the adrenaline of the hunt.

Brave, this one. Maybe better, I guess—more fight in her.

I was a block away. The fiend could hear the roar of my engine now, but he paid it no attention, too intent on his victim.

I would see how he enjoyed the hunt when he was the prey. I would see what he thought of my style of hunting.

In another compartment of my head, I was already sorting through the horrors I’d borne witness to in my vigilante days, searching for the most painful of them. I had never tortured my prey, no matter how much they had deserved it, but this man was different. He would suffer for this. He would writhe in agony. The others would merely die for their part, but this creature named Lanny would beg for death long before I would give him that gift.

He was in the road, crossing toward her.

I spun sharply around the corner, my headlights washing across the scene and freezing the rest of them in place. I could have run down the leader, who leaped out of the way, but that was too easy a death for him.

I let the car spin out, swinging all the way around so that I was facing back the way I’d come and the passenger door was closest to Bella. I threw that open, and she was already running toward the car.

“Get in,” I snarled.

What the hell?

Knew this was a bad idea! She’s not alone. Should I run?

Think I’m going to throw up.…

Bella jumped through the open door without hesitating, pulling it shut behind her.

And then she looked up at me with the most trusting expression I had ever seen on a human face, and all my violent plans crumbled.

It took much, much less than a second for me to see that I could not leave her in the car in order to deal with the four men in the street. What would I tell her, not to watch? Ha! When did she ever do what I asked?

Would I drag them away, out of her sight, and leave her alone here? It

was a long shot that another psychopath would be prowling the streets of Port Angeles tonight, but it was a long shot that there was even a first! Here was proof positive that I was not insane—like a magnet, she drew all things dangerous toward herself. If I were not close enough to provide it, some other evil would take my place.

It would feel like part of the same motion to her as I accelerated, taking her away from her pursuers so quickly that they gaped after my car with uncomprehending expressions. She would not recognize my instant of hesitation.

I couldn’t even hit him with my car. That would frighten her.

I wanted his death so savagely that the need for it rang in my ears, clouded my sight, and was a bitter flavor on my tongue, stronger than the burn of my thirst. My muscles were coiled with the urgency, the craving, the necessity of it. I had to kill him. I would peel him slowly apart, piece by piece, skin from muscle, muscle from bone.…

Except that the girl—the only girl in the world—was clinging to her seat with both hands, staring at me, her eyes strangely calm and unquestioning. Vengeance would have to wait.

“Put on your seat belt,” I ordered. My voice was rough with the hate and bloodlust. Not the usual bloodlust. I had long been committed to abstaining from human blood, and I would not let this creature change that. This would be retribution only.

She locked the seat belt into place, jumping slightly at the sound it made. That little noise made her jump, yet she did not flinch as I tore through the town, ignoring all traffic guides. I could feel her eyes on me. She seemed oddly relaxed. It didn’t make sense—not with what had just happened to her.

“Are you okay?” she asked, her voice rough with stress and fear.

She wanted to know if was okay?

Was I okay?

“No,” I realized, and my tone seethed with rage.

I took her to the same unused drive where I’d spent the afternoon engaged in the poorest surveillance ever kept. It was black now under the trees.

I was so furious that my body froze in place there, utterly motionless. My ice-locked hands ached to crush her attacker, to grind him into pieces so

mangled that his body could never be identified.

But that would entail leaving her here alone, unprotected in the dark night.

My mind was replaying scenes from my hunting days, images I wished I could forget. Especially now, with the urge to kill so much stronger than any hunting compulsion I’d ever felt before.

This man, this abomination, was not the worst of his kind, though it was difficult to sort the depths of evil into a merit-based order. Still, I remembered the very worst. There had never been any question that he deserved that title.

Most of the men I’d hunted back in my days of acting as judge, jury, and executioner had felt some level of remorse, or at least fear of being caught. Many of them turned to alcohol or drugs to silence their worries. Others compartmentalized, created fractures in their personalities and lived as two men, one for the light and one for the dark.

But for the worst, the vilest aberration I’d ever encountered, remorse was not an issue.

I’d never found anyone who embraced his own evil so thoroughly—who enjoyed it. He was utterly delighted by the world he’d created, a world of helpless victims and their tortured screams. Pain was the object of all his pursuits, and he’d gotten very good at creating it, at prolonging it.

I was committed to my rules, to my justification for all the blood I claimed. But in this instance, I wavered. To let this particular man die swiftly seemed far too easy an escape for him.

It was the closest I ever came to crossing that line. Still, I killed him as quickly and efficiently as I killed all the rest.

It might have gone differently if two of his victims had not been in that basement of horrors when I discovered him. Two young women, already badly injured. Though I carried them both to a hospital at the greatest speed I was capable of, only one survived.

I hadn’t had time to drink his blood. That didn’t matter. There were so many others who deserved to die.

Like this Lanny. He was an atrocity, too, but surely not worse than the one I’d remembered. Why did it feel right then, imperative, that he suffer so much more?

But first—

“Bella?” I asked through my teeth.

“Yes?” she responded huskily. She cleared her throat.

“Are you all right?” That was really the most important thing, the first priority. Retribution was secondary. I knew that, but my body was so filled with rage that it was hard to think.

“Yes.” Her voice was still thick—with fear, no doubt. And so I could not leave her.

Even if she wasn’t at constant risk for some infuriating reason—some joke the universe was playing on me—even if I could be sure that she would be perfectly safe in my absence, I could not leave her alone in the dark.

She must be so frightened.

Yet I was in no condition to comfort her—even if I knew exactly how that was to be accomplished, which I did not. Surely she could feel the brutality radiating out of me, surely that much was obvious. I would frighten her even more if I could not calm the lust for slaughter boiling inside me.

I needed to think about something else. “Distract me, please,” I pleaded.

“I’m sorry, what?”

I barely had enough control to try to explain what I needed.

“Just…” I couldn’t think of how to express it. I picked the closest word I could think of. “Prattle about something unimportant until I calm down.” It was a poor word choice, I realized as soon as it was out, but I couldn’t find much room to care. Only the fact that she needed me held me inside the car. I could hear the man’s thoughts, his disappointment and anger. I knew where to find him. I closed my eyes, wishing that I couldn’t see anyway.

“Um…” She hesitated—trying to make sense of my request, I imagined, or perhaps offended?—then she continued. “I’m going to run over Tyler Crowley tomorrow before school?” She said this like it was a question.

Yes—this was what I needed. Of course Bella would come up with something unexpected. As it had been before, the threat of violence coming through her lips was jarring, comical. If I had not been burning with the urge to kill, I would have laughed.

“Why?” I barked out, to force her to speak again.

“He’s telling everyone that he’s taking me to prom,” she said, her voice

filled with outrage. “Either he’s insane or he’s still trying to make up for almost killing me last… well you remember it,” she inserted dryly. “And he thinks prom is somehow the correct way to do this. So I figure if I endanger his life, then we’re even, and he can’t keep trying to make amends. I don’t need enemies and maybe Lauren would back off if he left me alone. I might have to total his Sentra, though,” she went on, thoughtful now. “If he doesn’t have a ride, he can’t take anyone to prom.…”

It was encouraging to see that she sometimes got things wrong. Tyler’s persistence had nothing to do with the accident. She didn’t seem to understand the appeal she held for the human boys at the high school. Did she not see the appeal she had for me, either?

Ah, it was working. The baffling processes of her mind were always engrossing. I was beginning to gain control of myself, to see something beyond vengeance and slaughter.

“I heard about that,” I told her. She had stopped talking, and I needed her to continue.

You did?” she asked incredulously. And then her voice was angrier than before. “If he’s paralyzed from the neck down, he can’t go to the prom, either.”

I wished there was some way I could ask her to continue with the threats of death and bodily harm without sounding insane. She couldn’t have picked a better way to calm me. And her words—just sarcasm in her case, hyperbole—were a reminder I dearly needed in this moment.

I sighed, and opened my eyes. “Better?” she asked timidly. “Not really.”

No, I was calmer, but not better. Because I’d just realized that I could not kill the fiend named Lanny. The only thing in this moment that I wanted more than to commit a highly justifiable murder was this girl. And though I couldn’t have her, just the dream of having her made it impossible for me to go on a killing spree tonight.

Bella deserved better than a killer.

I’d spent more than seven decades trying to be something—anything— other than a killer. Those years of effort could never make me worthy of the girl sitting beside me. And yet, I felt that if I returned to that life for even one night, I would surely put her out of my reach forever. Even if I didn’t

drink their blood—even if I didn’t have that evidence blazing red in my eyes—wouldn’t she sense the difference?

I was trying to be good enough for her. It was an impossible goal. But I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

Her scent filled my nose, and I was reminded why I could not deserve her. After all this, even as much as I loved her… she still made my mouth water.

I would give her as much honesty as I could. I owed her that. “Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella.” I stared out into

the black night, wishing both that she would hear the horror inherent in my words and that she would not. Mostly that she would not. Run, Bella, run. Stay, Bella, stay. “But it wouldn’t be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those…” Just thinking about it almost pulled me from the car. I took a deep breath, letting her scent scorch down my throat. “At least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself.”


She said nothing else. How much had she understood? I glanced at her furtively, but her face was unreadable. Blank with shock, perhaps. Well, she wasn’t screaming in horror. Not yet.

“Jessica and Angela will be worried,” she said quietly. Her voice was very calm, and I was not sure how that could be. Was she in shock? Maybe tonight’s events hadn’t sunk in for her yet. “I was supposed to meet them.”

Did she want to be away from me? Or was she just concerned about her friends’ worry?

I didn’t answer her but started the car and took her back. The nearer I got to the town, the harder it was to hold on to my purpose. I was just so close to him.…

If it was impossible—if I could never belong to nor deserve this girl— then where was the sense in letting the man go unpunished? Surely I could allow myself that much.

No. I wasn’t giving up. Not yet. I wanted her too much to surrender.

We were at the restaurant where she was supposed to meet her friends before I’d even begun to make sense of my thoughts. Jessica and Angela were finished eating, and both now truly worried about Bella. They were on their way to search for her, heading off along the dark street.

It was not a good night for them to be wandering.

“How did you know where…?” Bella’s unfinished question interrupted me, and I realized that I had made yet another gaffe. I’d been too distracted to remember to ask her where she was supposed to meet her friends.

But instead of finishing the inquiry and pressing the point, Bella just shook her head and half smiled.

What did that mean?

Well, I didn’t have time to puzzle over her strange acceptance of my stranger knowledge. I opened my door.

“What are you doing?” she asked, sounding startled.

Not letting you out of my sight. Not allowing myself to be alone tonight.

In that order. “I’m taking you to dinner.”

Well, this should be interesting. It seemed like another night entirely when I’d imagined bringing Alice along and pretending to choose the same restaurant as Bella and her friends by accident. And now here I was, practically on a date with the girl. Only it didn’t count, because I wasn’t giving her a chance to say no.

She already had her door half-open before I’d walked around the car—it wasn’t usually so frustrating to have to move at an inconspicuous speed— instead of allowing me to get it for her.

I waited for her to join me, getting more anxious as her girlfriends continued toward the dark corner.

“Go stop Jessica and Angela before I have to track them down, too,” I ordered quickly. “I don’t think I could restrain myself if I ran into your other friends again.” No, I would not be strong enough for that.

She shuddered, and then quickly collected herself. She took half a step after them, calling, “Jess! Angela!” in a loud voice. They turned, and she waved her arm over her head to catch their attention.

Bella! Oh, she’s safe! Angela thought with relief.

Late much? Jessica grumbled to herself, but she, too, was thankful that Bella wasn’t lost or hurt. This made me like her a little more than I had.

They hurried back, and then stopped, shocked, when they saw me beside her.

Uh-uhJess thought, stunned. No freaking way!

Edward Cullen? Did she go away by herself to find him? But why would she ask about them being out of town if she knew he was here…? I got a

brief flash of Bella’s mortified expression when she’d asked Angela if my family was often absent from school. No, she couldn’t have known, Angela decided.

Jessica’s thoughts were moving past the surprise and on to suspicion.

Bella’s been holding out on me.

“Where have you been?” she demanded, staring at Bella, but peeking at me from the corner of her eye.

“I got lost. And then I ran into Edward,” Bella said, waving one hand toward me. Her tone was remarkably normal. As though that were truly all that had happened.

She must be in shock. That was the only explanation for her calm. “Would it be all right if I joined you?” I asked—to be polite. I knew that

they’d already eaten.

Holy crap but he’s hot! Jessica thought, her head suddenly slightly incoherent.

Angela wasn’t much more composed. Wish we hadn’t eaten. Wow. Just.


Now why couldn’t I do that to Bella? “Er… sure,” Jessica agreed.

Angela frowned. “Um, actually, Bella, we already ate while we were waiting,” she admitted. “Sorry.”

Shut up! Jessica complained internally.

Bella shrugged casually. So at ease. Definitely in shock. “That’s fine— I’m not hungry.”

“I think you should eat something,” I disagreed. She needed sugar in her bloodstream—though it smelled sweet enough as it was, I thought wryly. The horror was going to come crashing down on her momentarily, and an empty stomach wouldn’t help. She was an easy fainter, as I knew from experience.

These girls wouldn’t be in any danger if they went straight home.

Danger didn’t stalk their every step.

And I’d rather be alone with Bella—as long as she was willing to be alone with me.

“Do you mind if I drive Bella home tonight?” I said to Jessica before Bella could respond. “That way you won’t have to wait while she eats.”

“Uh, no problem, I guess.…” Jessica stared intently at Bella, looking for

some sign that this was what she wanted.

She probably wants him to herself. Who wouldn’t? Jess thought. At the same time, she watched Bella wink.

Bella winked?

“Okay,” Angela said quickly, in a hurry to be out of the way if that was what Bella wanted. And it seemed that she did want that. “See you tomorrow, Bella… Edward.” She struggled to say my name in a casual tone. Then she grabbed Jessica’s hand and began towing her away.

I would find some way to thank Angela for this.

Jessica’s car was close by in a bright circle of light cast by a streetlamp. Bella watched them carefully, a little crease of concern between her eyes, until they were in the car, so she must be somewhat aware of the danger she’d been in. Jessica waved as she drove away, and Bella waved back. It wasn’t until the car disappeared that she took a deep breath and turned to look up at me.

“Honestly, I’m not hungry,” she said.

Why had she waited for them to be gone before speaking? Did she truly want to be alone with me—even now, after witnessing my literal homicidal rage?

Whether or not that was the case, she was going to eat something. “Humor me,” I said.

I held the restaurant door open for her and waited. She sighed and walked through.

I walked beside her to the podium where the hostess waited. Bella still seemed entirely self-possessed. I wanted to touch her hand, her forehead, to check her temperature. But my cold hand would repulse her, as it had before.

Oh my. The hostess’s rather loud mental voice intruded into my consciousness. My, oh my.

It seemed to be my night to turn heads. Or was I only noticing it more because I wished so much that Bella would see me this way? We were always attractive to our prey, but I’d never thought so much about it before. Usually—unless, as with people like Shelly Cope and Jessica Stanley, there was constant repetition to dull the horror—the fear kicked in fairly quickly after the initial attraction.

“A table for two?” I prompted when the hostess didn’t speak.

Mmm! What a voice! “Oh, er, yes. Welcome to La Bella Italia. Please follow me.” Her thoughts were preoccupied—calculating.

Maybe she’s his cousin. She couldn’t be his sister, they don’t look anything alike. But family, definitely. He can’t be with her.

Human eyes were clouded; they saw nothing clearly. How could this small-minded woman find my physical lures—snares for prey—so attractive and yet be unable to see the soft perfection of the girl beside me?

Well, no need to help her out, just in case, the hostess thought as she led us to a family-sized table in the middle of the most crowded part of the restaurant. Can I give him my number while she’s there? she mused.

I pulled a bill from my back pocket. People were invariably cooperative when money was involved.

Bella was already taking the seat the hostess indicated without objection. I shook my head at her, and she hesitated, cocking her head to one side with curiosity. Yes, she would be very curious tonight. A crowd was not the ideal place for this conversation.

“Perhaps something more private?” I requested of the hostess, handing her the money. She started, surprised, and then her hand curled around the tip.


She peeked at the bill while she led us around a dividing wall.

Fifty dollars for a better table? Rich, too. That makes sense—I bet his jacket cost more than my last paycheck. Damn. Why does he want privacy with her?

She offered us a booth in a quiet corner of the restaurant where no one would be able to see us—to see Bella’s reactions to whatever I would tell her. I had no clue as to what she would want from me tonight. Or what I would give her.

How much had she guessed? What explanation of tonight’s events had she invented to make sense of it all?

“How’s this?” the hostess asked.

“Perfect,” I told her and, feeling slightly annoyed by her resentful attitude toward Bella, smiled widely at her, baring my teeth. Let her see me clearly.

Whoa. “Um… your server will be right out.” He can’t be real. Maybe she’ll disappear… maybe I’ll write my number on his plate with marinara.

She wandered away, listing slightly to the side.

Odd. She still wasn’t frightened. I suddenly remembered Emmett teasing me in the cafeteria, so many weeks ago. I’ll bet I could have frightened her better than that.

Was I losing my edge?

“You really shouldn’t do that to people.” Bella interrupted my thoughts in a disapproving tone. “It’s hardly fair.”

I stared at her critical expression. What did she mean? I hadn’t frightened the hostess at all, despite my intentions. “Do what?”

“Dazzle them like that—she’s probably hyperventilating in the kitchen right now.”

Hmm. Bella was very nearly right. The hostess was only semi-coherent at the moment, describing her incorrect assessment of me to her friend on the waitstaff.

“Oh, come on,” Bella chided me when I didn’t answer immediately. “You have to know the effect you have on people.”

“I dazzle people?” That was an interesting way of phrasing it. Accurate enough for tonight. I wondered why the difference.…

“You haven’t noticed?” she asked, still critical. “Do you think everybody gets their way so easily?”

“Do I dazzle you?” I voiced my curiosity impulsively, and then the words were out, and it was too late to recall them.

But before I had time to regret too deeply speaking the words aloud, she answered, “Frequently.” And her cheeks took on a faint pink glow.

I dazzled her.

My silent heart swelled with a hope more intense than I could ever remember having felt before.

“Hello,” someone said—the waitress, introducing herself. Her thoughts were loud, and more explicit than the hostess’s, but I tuned her out. I stared at Bella instead, watching the blood spreading across her cheekbones, noticing not how that made my throat flame, but rather how it brightened her fair face, how it set off the cream of her skin.

The waitress was waiting for something from me. Ah, she’d asked for our drink order. I continued to gaze at Bella, and the waitress grudgingly turned to look at her, too.

“I’ll have a Coke?” Bella said, as if asking for approval.

“Two Cokes,” I amended. Thirst—normal, human thirst—was a sign of shock. I would make sure she had the extra sugar from the soda in her system.

She looked healthy, though. More than healthy. She looked radiant. “What?” she demanded—wondering why I was staring, I guessed. I was

vaguely aware that the waitress had left. “How are you feeling?” I asked.

She blinked, surprised by the question. “I’m fine.” “You don’t feel dizzy, sick, cold?”

She was even more confused now. “Should I?”

“Well, I’m actually waiting for you to go into shock.” I half smiled, expecting her denial. She would not want to be taken care of.

It took her a moment to answer me. Her eyes were slightly unfocused.

She looked that way sometimes when I smiled at her. Was she… dazzled?

I would have loved to believe that.

“I don’t think that will happen. I’ve always been very good at repressing unpleasant things,” she answered, a little breathless.

Did she have a lot of practice with unpleasant things, then? Was her life always this hazardous?

“Just the same,” I told her, “I’ll feel better when you have some sugar and food in you.”

The waitress returned with the Cokes and a basket of bread. She put them in front of me and asked for my order, trying to catch my eye in the process. I indicated that she should attend to Bella, and then went back to tuning her out. She had a vulgar mind.

“Um…” Bella glanced quickly at the menu. “I’ll have the mushroom ravioli.”

The waitress turned back to me eagerly. “And you?” “Nothing for me.”

Bella made a slight face. Hmm. She must have noticed that I never ate food. She noticed everything. And I always forgot to be careful around her.

I waited till we were alone again. “Drink,” I insisted.

I was surprised when she complied immediately and without objection. She drank until the glass was entirely empty, so I pushed the second Coke toward her, frowning a little. Thirst, or shock?

She drank a little more, and then shuddered once. “Are you cold?”

“It’s just the Coke,” she said, but she shivered again, her lips trembling slightly as if her teeth were about to chatter.

The pretty blouse she wore looked too thin to protect her adequately. It clung to her like a second skin, almost as fragile as the first. “Don’t you have a jacket?”

“Yes.” She looked around herself, a little perplexed. “Oh—I left it in Jessica’s car.”

I pulled off my jacket, wishing that the gesture was not marred by my body temperature. It would have been nice to offer her a warm coat. She stared at me, her cheeks flushing again. What was she thinking now?

I handed her the jacket across the table, and she put it on at once, and then shuddered again.

Yes, it would be very nice to be warm.

“Thanks,” she said. She took a deep breath, and then pushed the too- long sleeves back to free her hands. She took another deep breath.

Was the evening finally settling in? Her color was still good. Her skin was cream and roses against the deep blue of her shirt.

“That color blue looks lovely with your skin,” I complimented her. Just being honest.

She looked well, but there was no point in taking chances. I pushed the basket of bread toward her.

“Really,” she objected, guessing my motives. “I’m not going into shock.”

“You should be—a normal person would be. You don’t even look shaken.” I stared at her, disapproving, wondering why she couldn’t be normal and then wondering whether I really wanted her to be that way.

“I feel very safe with you,” she explained, her eyes again filled with trust. Trust I didn’t deserve.

Her instincts were all wrong—backward. That must be the problem. She didn’t recognize danger the way a human being should be able to. She had the opposite reaction. Instead of running, she lingered, drawn to what should frighten her.

How could I protect her from myself when neither of us wanted that? “This is more complicated than I’d planned,” I murmured.

I could see her turning my words over in her head, and I wondered what she made of them. She took a breadstick and began to eat without seeming aware of the action. She chewed for a moment, and then leaned her head to one side thoughtfully.

“Usually you’re in a better mood when your eyes are so light,” she said in a casual tone.

Her observation, stated so matter-of-factly, left me reeling. “What?” “You’re always crabbier when your eyes are black—I expect it then. I

have a theory about that,” she added lightly.

So she had come up with her own explanation. Of course she had. I felt a deep sense of dread as I wondered how close she’d come to the truth.

“More theories?”

“Mm-hm.” She chewed on another bite, entirely nonchalant. As if she weren’t discussing the aspects of a demon with the demon himself.

“I hope you were more creative this time,” I lied when she didn’t continue. What I really hoped was that she was wrong—miles wide of the mark. “Or are you still stealing from comic books?”

“Well, no, I didn’t get it from a comic book,” she said, a little embarrassed. “But I didn’t come up with it on my own, either.”

“And?” I asked between my teeth.

Surely she would not speak so calmly if she were about to scream.

As she hesitated, biting her lip, the waitress reappeared with Bella’s food. I paid the server little attention as she set the plate in front of Bella and then asked if I wanted anything.

I declined, but asked for more Coke. The waitress hadn’t noticed the empty glasses.

“You were saying?” I prompted anxiously as soon as Bella and I were alone again.

“I’ll tell you about it in the car,” she said in a low voice. Ah, this would be bad. She wasn’t willing to speak her guesses around others. “If…,” she tacked on suddenly.

“There are conditions?” I was so tense I almost growled the words. “I do have a few questions, of course.”

“Of course,” I agreed, my voice hard.

Her questions would probably be enough to tell me where her thoughts were heading. But how would I answer them? With responsible lies? Or

would I drive her away with truth? Or would I say nothing, unable to decide?

We sat in silence while the waitress replenished her supply of soda. “Well, go ahead,” I said, jaw locked, when she was gone.

“Why are you in Port Angeles?”

That was too easy a question—for her. It gave away nothing, while my answer, if truthful, would give away much too much. Let her reveal something first.

“Next,” I said.

“But that’s the easiest one!’ “Next,” I said again.

She was frustrated by my refusal. She looked away from me, down at her food. Slowly, thinking hard, she took a bite and chewed with deliberation.

Suddenly, as she ate, a strange comparison entered my head. For just a second, I saw Persephone, pomegranate in hand. Dooming herself to the underworld.

Is that who I was? Hades himself, coveting springtime, stealing it, condemning it to endless night. I tried unsuccessfully to shake the impression.

She washed her bite down with more Coke, and then finally looked up at me. Her eyes were narrow with suspicion.

“Okay then,” she said. “Let’s say, hypothetically, of course, that… someone… could know what people are thinking, read minds, you know— with a few exceptions.”

It could be worse.

This explained that little half smile in the car. She was quick—no one else had ever guessed this about me. Except for Carlisle, and it had been rather obvious then, in the beginning, when I’d answered all his thoughts as if he’d spoken them to me. He’d understood before I had.

This question wasn’t so bad. While it was clear that she knew there was something wrong with me, it was not as serious as it could have been. Mind reading was, after all, not a facet of vampire canon. I went along with her hypothesis.

“Just one exception,” I corrected. “Hypothetically.”

She fought a smile—my vague honesty pleased her. “All right, with one

exception, then. How does that work? What are the limitations? How would… that someone… find someone else at exactly the right time? How would he know that she was in trouble?”


“Sure.” Her lips twitched, and her liquid brown eyes were eager. “Well…” I hesitated. “If… that someone—”

“Let’s call him ‘Joe,’” she suggested.

I had to smile at her enthusiasm. Did she really think the truth would be a good thing? If my secrets were pleasant, why would I keep them from her?

“Joe, then,” I agreed. “If Joe had been paying attention, the timing wouldn’t have needed to be quite so exact.” I shook my head and repressed a shudder at the thought of how close I had been to being too late today. “Only you could get into trouble in a town this small. You would have devastated their crime rate statistics for a decade, you know.”

Her lips turned down at the corners and pouted out. “We were speaking of a hypothetical case.”

I laughed at her irritation.

Her lips, her skin… they looked so soft. I wanted to see if they were as velvety as they appeared. Impossible. My touch would be repellent to her.

“Yes, we were,” I said, returning to the conversation before I could depress myself too thoroughly. “Shall we call you ‘Jane’?”

She leaned across the table toward me, all humor and irritation gone from her expression.

“How did you know?” she asked, her voice low and intense. Should I tell her the truth? And if so, what portion?

I wanted to tell her. I wanted to deserve the trust I could still see on her face.

As if she could hear my thoughts, she whispered, “You can trust me, you know.” She reached one hand forward as if to touch my hands where they rested on top of the empty table before me.

I pulled them back—hating the thought of her reaction to my frigid stone skin—and she dropped her hand.

I knew that I could trust her with protecting my secrets. She was entirely honorable, good to the core. But I couldn’t trust her not to be horrified by them. She should be horrified. The truth was horror.

“I don’t know if I have a choice anymore,” I murmured. I remembered that I’d once teased her by calling her exceptionally unobservant. Offended her, if I’d been judging her expressions correctly. Well, I could right that one injustice, at least. “I was wrong—you’re much more observant than I gave you credit for.” And though she might not realize it, I’d given her plenty of credit already.

“I thought you were always right,” she said, smiling as she teased me.

“I used to be.” I used to know what I was doing. I used to be always sure of my course. And now everything was chaos and tumult. Yet I wouldn’t trade it. Not if the chaos meant that I could be near Bella.

“I was wrong about you on one other thing as well,” I went on, setting the record straight on a second point. “You’re not a magnet for accidents— that’s not a broad enough classification. You are a magnet for trouble. If there is anything dangerous within a ten-mile radius, it will invariably find you.” Why her? What had she done to deserve any of this?

Bella’s face turned serious again. “And you put yourself into that category?”

Honesty was more important in regard to this question than any other. “Unequivocally.”

Her eyes narrowed slightly—not suspicious now, but oddly concerned. Her lips curved into that one specific smile that I had only seen on her face when she was confronted with someone else’s pain. She reached her hand across the table again, slowly and deliberately. I pulled my hands an inch away from her, but she ignored that, determined to touch me. I held my breath—not because of her scent now, but because of the sudden, overwhelming tension. Fear. My skin would disgust her. She would run away.

She brushed her fingertips lightly across the back of my hand. The heat of her gentle, willing touch was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It was almost pure pleasure. Would have been, except for my fear. I watched her face as she felt the cold stone of my skin, still unable to breathe.

Her smile of concern shifted into something wider, something warmer. “Thank you,” she said, meeting my stare with an intense gaze of her

own. “That’s twice now.”

Her soft fingers lingered against my skin as if they found it pleasant to be there.

I answered her as casually as I was able. “Let’s not try for three, agreed?”

She scowled a little at that, but nodded.

I pulled my hands out from under hers. As exquisite as her touch felt, I wasn’t going to wait for the magic of her tolerance to pass, to turn to revulsion. I hid my hands under the table.

I read her eyes; though her mind was silent, I could perceive both trust and wonder there. I realized in that moment that I wanted to answer her questions. Not because I owed it to her. Not because I wanted her to trust me.

I wanted her to know me.

“I followed you to Port Angeles,” I told her, the words spilling out too quickly for me to edit them. I knew the danger of the truth, the risk I was taking. At any moment, her unnatural calm could shatter into hysterics. Contrarily, knowing this only had me talking faster. “I’ve never tried to keep a specific person alive before and it’s much more troublesome than I would have believed. But that’s probably just because it’s you. Ordinary people seem to make it through the day without so many catastrophes.”

I watched her, waiting.

She smiled wider again. Her clear, dark eyes seemed deeper than ever. I’d just admitted to stalking her, and she was smiling.

“Did you ever think that maybe my number was up that first time, with the van, and that you’ve been interfering with fate?” she asked.

“That wasn’t the first time,” I said, staring down at the dark maroon tablecloth, my shoulders bowed in shame. Barriers down, the truth still spilling free recklessly. “Your number was up the first time I met you.”

It was true, and it angered me. I had been positioned over her life like the blade of a guillotine—as though it was ordained by fate, just as she said. As if she had been marked for death by that cruel, unjust fate, and—since I’d proved an unwilling tool—it continued to try to execute her. I imagined the fate personified, a grisly, jealous hag, a vengeful harpy.

I wanted something, someone, to be responsible for this, so that I would have something concrete to fight against. Something, anything to destroy, so that Bella could be safe.

Bella was very quiet. Her breathing had accelerated.

I looked up at her, knowing I would finally see the fear I was waiting

for. Had I not just admitted how close I’d been to killing her? Closer than the van that had come within slim inches of crushing the life from her body. And yet, her face was still calm, her eyes still tightened only with concern.

“You remember?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice level and grave. Her deep eyes were full of awareness.

She knew. She knew that I had wanted to murder her. Where were her screams?

“And yet here you sit,” I said, pointing out the inherent contradiction. “Yes, here I sit… because of you.” Her expression altered, turned

curious, as she unsubtly changed the subject. “Because somehow you knew how to find me today…?”

Hopelessly, I pushed one more time at the barrier that protected her thoughts, desperate to understand. It made no logical sense to me. How could she even care about the rest with that glaring truth on the table?

She waited, only curious. Her skin was pale, which was natural for her, but it still concerned me. Her dinner sat nearly untouched in front of her. If I continued to tell her too much, she was going to need a buffer when the shock set in at last.

I named my terms. “You eat, I’ll talk.”

She processed that for half a second, and then threw a bite into her mouth with a speed that belied her calm. She was more anxious for my answer than her eyes let on.

“It’s harder than it should be—keeping track of you,” I told her. “Usually I can find someone very easily, once I’ve heard their mind before.”

I watched her face carefully as I said this. Guessing right was one thing, having it confirmed was another.

She was motionless, her eyes blank. I felt my teeth clench together as I waited for her panic.

But she just blinked once, swallowed loudly, and then quickly scooped another bite into her mouth. Eager for me to continue.

“I was keeping tabs on Jessica,” I went on, watching each word as it sank in. “Not carefully—like I said, only you could find trouble in Port Angeles.” I couldn’t resist adding that. Was she aware that other human lives were not so plagued with near-death experiences, or did she think the

things that happened to her were normal? “And at first I didn’t notice when you took off on your own. Then, when I realized that you weren’t with her anymore, I went looking for you at the bookstore I saw in her head. I could tell that you hadn’t gone in, and that you’d gone south… and I knew you would have to turn around soon. So I was just waiting for you, randomly searching through the thoughts of people on the street—to see if anyone had noticed you so I would know where you were. I had no reason to be worried… but I was strangely anxious.…” My breath came faster as I remembered that feeling of panic. Her scent blazed in my throat and I was glad. It was a pain that meant she was alive.

As long as I burned, she was safe.

“I started to drive in circles, still… listening.” I hoped the word made sense to her. This had to be confusing. “The sun was finally setting, and I was about to get out and follow you on foot. And then—”

As the memory took me—perfectly clear and as vivid as if I was in the moment again—I felt the same murderous fury wash through my body, locking it into ice.

I wanted him dead. He should be dead. My jaw clenched tight as I concentrated on holding myself here at the table. Bella still needed me. That was what mattered.

“Then what?” she whispered, her dark eyes huge.

“I heard what they were thinking,” I said through my teeth, unable to keep the words from coming out in a growl. “I saw your face in his mind.”

I still knew precisely where to find him. His black thoughts sucked at the night sky, pulling me toward them.

I covered my face, knowing my expression was that of a hunter, a killer. I fixed her image behind my closed eyes to control myself. The delicate framework of her bones, the thin sheath of her pale skin—like silk stretched over glass, incredibly soft and easy to shatter. She was too vulnerable for this world. She needed a protector. And through some twisted mismanagement of destiny, I was the closest thing available.

I tried to explain my violent reaction so that she would understand.

“It was very… hard—you can’t imagine how hard—for me to simply take you away, and leave them… alive,” I whispered. “I could have let you go with Jessica and Angela, but I was afraid if you left me alone, I would go looking for them.”

For the second time tonight, I confessed to an intended murder. At least this one was defensible.

She was quiet as I struggled to control myself. I listened to her heartbeat. The rhythm was irregular, but it slowed as the time passed until it was steady again. Her breathing, too, was low and even.

I was too close to the edge. I needed to get her home before…

Would I kill him, then? Would I become a murderer again when she trusted me? Was there any way to stop myself?

She’d promised to tell me her latest theory when we were alone. Did I want to hear it? I was anxious for it, but would the reward for my curiosity be worse than not knowing?

At any rate, she must have had enough truth for one night.

I looked at her again, and her face was paler than before, but composed. “Are you ready to go home?” I asked.

“I’m ready to leave,” she said, choosing her words carefully, as if a simple yes did not fully express what she wanted to say.


The waitress returned. She’d heard Bella’s last statement as she’d dithered on the other side of the partition, wondering what more she could offer me. I wanted to roll my eyes at some of the offerings she’d had in mind.

“How are we doing?” she asked me.

“We’re ready for the check, thank you,” I told her, my eyes on Bella. The waitress’s breathing spiked and she was momentarily—to use

Bella’s phrasing—dazzled by my voice.

In a sudden moment of perception, hearing the way my voice sounded in this inconsequential human’s head, I realized why I seemed to be attracting so much admiration tonight—unmarred by the usual fear.

It was because of Bella. Trying so hard to be safe for her, to be less frightening, to be human, I truly had lost my edge. The other humans saw only beauty now, with my innate horror so carefully under control.

I looked up at the waitress, waiting for her to recover herself. It was sort of humorous, now that I understood the reason.

“S-sure. Here you go.” She handed me the folder with the bill, thinking of the card she’d slid in behind the receipt. A card with her name and telephone number on it.

Yes, it was rather funny.

I had money ready again. I gave the folder back at once, so she wouldn’t waste any time waiting for a call that would never come.

“No change,” I told her, hoping the size of the tip would assuage her disappointment.

I stood, and Bella quickly followed suit. I wanted to offer her my hand, but I thought that might be pushing my luck a little too far for one night. I thanked the waitress, my eyes never leaving Bella’s face. Bella seemed to be finding something amusing, too.

I walked as close beside her as I dared. Close enough that the warmth coming off her was like a physical touch against the left side of my body. As I held the door for her, she sighed quietly, and I wondered what regret weighed on her. I stared into her eyes, about to ask, when she suddenly looked at the ground, seeming embarrassed. It made me more curious, even as it made me reluctant to ask. The silence between us continued while I opened her door for her and then got into the car.

I turned the heater on—the warmer weather had come to an abrupt end; the cold car would be uncomfortable for her. She huddled in my jacket, a small smile on her lips.

I waited, postponing the conversation until the lights of the boardwalk faded. It made me feel more alone with her.

Was that the right thing? The car seemed very small. Her scent swirled through it with the current of the heater, building and strengthening. It grew into its own force, like a third entity in the car. A presence that demanded recognition.

It had that; I burned. The burning was acceptable, though. It seemed strangely appropriate to me. I had been given so much tonight—more than I’d expected. And here she was, still willingly at my side. I owed something in return for that. A sacrifice. A burnt offering.

Now if I could just keep it to that—just burn, and nothing more. But the venom filled my mouth, and my muscles tensed in anticipation, as if I were hunting.

I had to keep such thoughts from my mind. And I knew what would distract me.

“Now,” I said to her, fear of her response taking the edge off the burn. “It’s your turn.”

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