Wednesday, October 24, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 13

Chapter 13
EDWARD
Skin. It was all I could focus on. My front was covered with soft, smooth, sweet-scented skin, and I was surrounding it with all that I had. Bella's back was to my chest as she sat between my legs. Leaning against a pile of pillows, I squeezed her closer, gripping hair up off her shoulder so that I could rake my teeth across the skin that was driving me mad, despite the fact that we'd been left alone all night.
Music was still playing on the stereo since Bella had added her song the night before, but I couldn't have said what song was actually playing. It was simply there to drown out anything outside our room – though, I could still hear everything, if I chose to. And there was a slightly twisted side of me that just didn't care – after eighty years or more of suffering through it alone – whether or not everyone knew what I was doing with my mate, my wife. There had been moments throughout the decades that they'd driven me out of the house with it. So no, I didn't care. At all.
Carlisle and Demitri, who were with Archie down in the library, were both slightly frustrated trying to communicate with him, but neither would dare bother us. Esme and Carina were already getting to work on what would now be considered Archie's bedroom. Alice was with Adrian and Kevin in their bedroom, going over last-minute Halloween ideas with Jasper, who was desperately trying to either block out the lust coming from not only Bella and me, but also Emmett and Rose, or get Alice alone to take advantage of it. Emmett, however, was doing his best to convince Rose that hippies weren't the way to go as far as costumes went. He was failing.
None of it mattered.
What mattered were Bella's happy sighs as my lips kissed her neck, the soft, sexy giggles that erupted from tickling fingers, and the instant reply of, "I love you, too," as I murmured it and other things over and over in her ear. What mattered was finding a million ways to thank her simply for being her, for being there for me...for being mine. Without her, I would still be lost, alone, and angry, but I'd go through it again and again if it meant she was the reward. It was thank yous for the never-ending mantra of how she saw me – perfect the way I was, including the faults.
"Edward," she whimpered as my hands slipped up the outside of her bent thighs, only to urge them to fall open.
"Hmm?" I hummed against her creamy shoulder as my fingers now grazed slowly, lightly down the inside of her legs. I felt myself harden when her hips acted of their own accord and rose up to meet my touch, but I didn't give it exactly where she wanted it. "What, love?" I asked innocently as her head fell back to my shoulder.
Don't you think we should help Esme? Her thoughts were conflicted because she felt the right thing was to help, but she couldn't deny the selfish desire to stay right where she was. I was banking on the latter.
"I think..." I started softly, nuzzling her cheek, only to place a soft kiss there as my fingers drew nonsensical patterns around each pert nipple, down her stomach, around her navel, and through her soft curls, but I still didn't touch her where she wanted. "I think," I said again, nipping at her earlobe, "we should see how hard I can make you come, my sweet girl. And how many times. Hmm?"
The truth of the matter was that I simply couldn't watch her come undone enough under my touch, my tongue, my cock, even my voice. I simply couldn't be sated. The other truth was that no amount of pleasure I could give her would ever be enough to thank her for loving me. But I was damn well going to try.
"Edward," she pleaded again, her mind begging for more, for me...anything to relieve the ache.
"No, baby," I chided gently, keeping my voice low just for her. "Let me..."
I picked up her legs and draped them over mine so that she was spread so beautifully for me. The intoxicating scent of her hit me like a brick wall. It was heady and wanton, smelling of me and an earthy scent that still carried that hint of freesias that had drawn me to her in the beginning. Placing my hands flat on the inside of her thighs, my thumbs rubbed just outside of her feminine lips, applying enough pressure to cause the reaction I wanted – the sound of my name chanted in a whisper.
Smiling into my kiss to her shoulder, I whispered, "So sensitive, baby. Did you know that there was a sweet spot right there?" I asked, swirling my tongue just behind her ear at the same time my thumbs massaged deeply the tendons of her inner thighs over and over.
Her hips rocketed off the mattress, her hands gripping at my forearm and thigh. Cupping her swollen, very wet, heated center, I gently forced her back down. I purred at the feel of every inch of her – both entrances and an extremely needy clit.
"Mmm, Bella... I want to watch you come," I confessed in her ear at the same time my fingers gathered her wetness, only to glide it up to where she needed me most. "But not until I tell you. Can you do that for me, my needy girl?"
She turned her head toward me, nodding, but captured my lips in a searing kiss. Tongues met before lips did, claiming, tasting. Her mind knew how badly I wanted to really, truly tell her what I needed, but she also knew we weren't home alone. Dirty Edward had to be censored. We both smiled into the kiss at that thought.
"A shame, really," I teased her, chuckling darkly, "but he's still here." I swirled a finger around her wet pussy, only to glide lower to her other entrance. I wanted her climax to be hard, all-consuming, and all over my hands.
Sensitive, puckered skin tightened under the pad of my finger, but Bella's mind silently begged me to fill her in every way. She wanted my cock, my fingers, all at once.
"This way first, my love," I told her. "I need to feel you."
Sliding two fingers deep inside her pussy, I curled them just right, pumping in and out slowly. It was just enough to cause her eyes to roll back and her hips to raise up. My thumb glided up one side of her clit and down the other, pushing back the little hood just to hear her gasp.
I bit down hard on my bottom lip in order to not let the words I wanted to say slip out into the open air. I wanted to tell her just how tight she was, how wet she was, and just how good she felt against my skin. I wanted to tell her just how badly I needed to be inside of her in every way, but I knew her. She wouldn't have held off her climax at all at the sound of my voice, and my language would have ended a very long, very special secret that she held close. My dirty talk was sacred to her, and there wasn't anything that could make me betray that – family bets or not.
"More, Edward," she groaned, her brow furrowing as she used my thighs to brace herself. "More...all of it..."
"Here, make it wet, baby," I commanded, using one hand to fuck her slowly while the other came up to trail across her bottom lip.
Locking black gazes with me, she sank her mouth down around my middle finger, swirling her tongue just a little, but sucking hard. I smirked when her mind told me just what else she'd be happy to put in her mouth.
"Tempting little thing." I chuckled darkly, lifting her up so that she was sitting atop my thighs, her legs still spread wide. "But I'm feeling rather selfish, Bella," I told her as I toyed with her sweet little ass, finally sinking in just up to my second knuckle.
"Oh, God," she hissed, her head falling back to my shoulder and her body arching high.
Beautiful veins and tendons showed themselves along her neck and one on her forehead as her mouth fell open. Her hips rolled with the rhythm of my hands working every inch of her, taking me in deeper.
"God's not here," I growled low in her ear, nipping at her earlobe. "Who's here, my beautiful girl?"
"Y-You," she sputtered, her breathing shallow and uneven.
"Who makes you feel this good, baby?"
"You...ungh," she growled through gritted teeth as she tried her best not to come, because she was so, so close.
"Not yet," I commanded, adding my thumbs into the mix of sensations I was giving her. One swirled heavily around her swollen bundle of nerves while the other found that sensitive tendon at the crease of her inner thigh. "Not yet, not yet," I chanted in a raspy whisper, nuzzling her jaw to get her to look at me because I needed to kiss her senseless.
It was sloppy and awkward, deep and harsh as our tongues slid together. Her teeth raked across my bottom lip as her whole body began to shake.
"Fff—" I stopped myself from the word escaping, but she was indeed a breathtaking vision as I helped her entire body wind tighter and tighter. She was so close, so wet, and clenching down on my fingers.
Alternating my fingers in opposing thrusts, I wanted to purr at the feel of her, but I knew she wouldn't last much longer. I was so hard for her that my pre-come was dripping off my cock and smearing along the small of her back every time I ground against her just to relieve the need.
"Please," she begged, and I smiled evilly against her cheek, debating on how much longer she'd last.
Unable to tolerate her begging me for anything, even this, I finally gave in. "Yes," I hissed in her ear. "Come, love. Let go..."
To muffle her sounds, she turned into my neck. Her entire body arched high, her fingers digging into my forearms. There was always that brief moment of pure unadulterated silent bliss when she came. Her mind would completely cease to function, her mouth gaping soundlessly and her eyes rolling into the back of her head. I couldn't help the smug grin that spread across my face as I helped her body calm down.
Rubbing her stomach with gentle, flat hands, I purred against her cheek. "So damned beautiful, Bella. You're heartbreaking to watch, my sweet girl."
Sagging back against me, her mind told me that she felt boneless, like jello. Chuckling, I kissed her temple, ignoring my need for the moment. But she didn't.
How do you want me, Edward? Her thoughts were loving, sweet, just as tender as her fingers as they ran through my hair.
"Like this," I groaned, wrapping an arm around her middle and positioning myself at her still-throbbing pussy from behind.
Bending my legs at the knee, I thrust inside her, my arm still holding her to me. The growl I let loose wasn't as loud as the dull thunk our metal headboard made when my head fell back. But damn, if I wasn't close already. She felt too good that way, tight, warm, wet, and I'd been hard for her far too long.
"Yes..." I hissed when Bella's mind confirmed that I would not be gentle. Gripping her thighs just behind the knees, I wrenched her legs wider, using my feet to brace for my thrusts.
Grunts, whimpers, and low growls escaped us both, but I couldn't be bothered with who heard us. Bella did her best to muffle hers into my neck, but several times, I practically bit through my bottom lip.
When Bella reached to touch herself, my low, "God, Bella...yes," gushed from my mouth, pushing my heavy breathing across her cheek. I loved when she just took, when she couldn't stop herself from reaching her own pleasure. And she did, quickly.
Soft lips caressed my jaw, but a wicked smile curled against my skin as my impending climax drew closer.
"God's not here, Edward... Who's here?" she asked, using my own words against me, and I was done.
Surrendering it all, I came hard because there was no stopping it. "Fu—You, Bella..." I stammered, again doing my best not to let my language fly. I spilled heavily deep inside of her, my head thumping back against the headboard again with a dense thunk. "Just you," I sighed deeply, smiling at her sweet smile and soft giggle against my cheek.
~oOo~
I smiled as Bella hummed along to herself while I played my guitar. She was in the bathroom getting dressed, something that I really wasn't happy about, but I knew we were needed downstairs eventually. I wasn't ready to leave the solace of our bedroom. And it seemed Jasper had finally given into the lust the two upper floors of the house were exuding, and Adrian and Kevin followed suit.
As I sat in the chaise by the window, I gazed out to watch the snow. It was falling heavily, scraping down the window in a sound similar to sand, a sound humans couldn't hear. The wind howled through the trees and the eaves of the house, and the backyard was a blinding white blur.
You okay? A soft kiss pressed to my forehead before Bella joined me on the chair.
She sat down between my feet, facing me. Dressed in older jeans and a T-shirt of mine, she looked ready to get to work downstairs.
I smirked, thinking that after last night, nothing could be wrong, and she giggled at my expression.
"I'm perfect, love," I said with a chuckle, but it died quickly. "I am sorry, though. For the way I acted, the things I said..."
"You were upset, and it was understandable, Edward," she stated firmly, rubbing my calf over my jeans. There's nothing to forgive. Her last thought was her way of telling me to let it go, that we'd all seen things in life that had upset us – herself included. "Should we go downstairs?" she asked softly, picking up one of my bare feet and beginning to massage it.
"Not if you keep doing that." I laughed, but it turned into a long, low moan when she started with the other foot. Setting my guitar down onto the floor, I quickly wrapped my legs around her and wrestled her to my chest.
"Edward." My name was flooded in her laughter, but she melted easily into me. "We should go."
"I know," I sighed, brushing her hair back from her beautiful face.
Sounds throughout the house caught my attention, as did thoughts, but I tried to ignore them as best I could. Our siblings were lost in their own desires, while Carlisle and Esme had stayed with Archie in the library, going through some of Carlisle's books. Demitri and Carina weren't in the house at all, and I wondered at what point they had left.
My nose wrinkled as I caught Archie's mind. He knew that Carlisle and Esme were being polite, though he couldn't tell them. I knew that feeling firsthand. I knew what it was like to be surrounded by couples that would rather be alone, especially on a stormy winter's day. It felt embarrassing and lonely. I'd felt like an outsider, a freak in my own home for so very many years. And even worse was the curiosity that came along with it all. I hadn't wanted to look, but there were times when it was absolutely impossible not to.
Locking gazes with Bella, who had been watching every emotion on my face, I said, "You're the best thing that ever happened to me."
Her brow wrinkled, but she kissed my lips softly. "I love you, but what made you say that just now? Your face looked so...lost."
Grimacing a little, I sighed and pulled her closer. "Archie. He's in a house filled with mated vampires." I chuckled humorlessly, twirling a lock of her hair around my finger. "Talk about feeling grateful..." I muttered wryly.
Bella laughed and groaned at the same time. She took in the sounds of the house, her nose wrinkling adorably when she realized we'd been included in that scenario just mere minutes prior. Bella and I were more private as a couple, but we all had to live with it. It was something we'd gotten used to living as a family, but the family was all coupled off, so everyone in the house understood. She'd never really given any thought to a single person in the house.
"Now you know how they felt before you came along," I remarked with a snort, rolling my eyes. "I was...pitied and then temporarily forgotten."
"Aww," she crooned, cupping my face. "Not anymore, baby," she whispered against my lips.
"Or I'd leave...go hunting...anything. I was very happy with the invention of headphones." I grinned at her sweet giggle. "It's true!"
I wanted to laugh as she tried to sort out exactly how it had been, what I'd seen, what I'd heard in my mind. She wondered how I didn't go crazy, and she briefly wondered if I'd ever been curious and taken a look anyway.
"Yes," I admitted, gazing out the window in my embarrassment. "I tried not to, but I couldn't help it. There were times when I was... It was too much," I sighed, shaking my head. "I thought... I mean..."
"You thought something was wrong with you," she finished for me softly. "I know. You've told me."
There was a part of her mind that didn't want to associate it to watching porn, but it was inevitable...and somewhat true. Pleading silently up at her, I begged her not to ask the question.
"Stop it," she said with a chuckle, but she switched to thoughts. You know it's only a natural reaction, Edward. Surely no one blames you for getting turned on, because you lived with an empath, for crying out loud. And you shouldn't blame yourself.
"It didn't happen often. I usually sensed when I should take my leave," I told her, smirking up at her. I loved that she took every bad thing in my life and made it okay. "It was worse when you came along. I couldn't control any of it. And I was lost in my feelings and inability to do anything about it."
She grinned, running her fingers through my hair. Her eyes were warmth and happiness incarnate, and I smiled up at her. I'd wanted everything my family had with their mates, and now I did, but something Carlisle had said the night before came back to my mind. He'd said I'd come really close to hating them all in my loneliness, and I hadn't given it much thought, but I supposed in a way, he'd been right.
"Do you think I hated them?" I asked her suddenly, and I truly wanted her opinion.
"No," she said immediately. "I can't imagine you hating them, Edward. At all. Jealous of them, maybe, but as much as you heard," she sighed, tapping my temple, "I can't say that I wouldn't have sought silence as much as you did, too."
I tilted my head at her as her thoughts took a turn I hadn't expected. Renee and Phil swarmed to the forefront of her mind, and I saw where she'd felt a fraction of the way I had. It had been the reason she'd moved to Forks – to give them time alone.
She smirked at me, shrugging a shoulder. "Sometimes, even humans can hear it."
I laughed, hugging her tightly. I hugged her because deep down, I saw that speaking of her mother was difficult for her, but she'd never truly admit it. Renee had been the one single sacrifice that my sweet girl had given up for this life. And as much as she knew it was necessary, she missed her mother badly. It was why she leaned on Charlie more now than ever.
"Come on," I told her softly, cupping her face and kissing her quickly. "We'll go keep Archie company."
Really, we're just giving Carlisle and Esme a break, aren't we? She giggled, taking my hand and standing up from the chair.
I chuckled, getting up and wrapping an arm around her. "Oh, yes, ma'am...we are."
We raced down the stairs in order to avoid hearing something we shouldn't, but I heard it all anyway. We practically tumbled into the library in a fit of laughter, which caused a smile to spread across Carlisle's and Esme's faces. I felt lighter than I had in years, and it had to have been written all over my face, because both my parents mentally noted it, though they didn't say it out loud.
Archie, however, was watching us curiously as we joined them in the sitting area. Someone had started a fire, and he was enjoying the warmth of it on his skin as he sat near the fireplace, but in his hand was a book I wasn't expecting. It made me roll my eyes to Esme. I knew no one else would've encouraged Archie to read Bella's book Forever.
"What?" she asked innocently, shrugging a shoulder. I half-expected her to stick her tongue out at me like the rest of the girls in the house with her belligerent attitude. "He found in on the shelf with the rest of Carlisle's books."
Bella giggled, shaking her head. "Yeah, but you told him it was us, didn't you?"
"Maybe," our mother hedged dramatically, but her smile was genuine and loving. "That's a part of our history as a family, Isabella, so don't sell it short."
Carlisle and Archie were fighting smiles, the latter filled with so many questions that it was hard to pinpoint just one, but it was my father that my eyes fell to. He had some things he had to tell me before he and Esme left the room.
"Demitri and Carina were called away on Volturi business by Marcus," he started, standing up from the chair he'd been sitting in next to Archie. "They decided to meet up with Brandon and Catherine so that they could join them. He said he needed Brandon's talent."
My brow furrowed, and I frowned. "Nothing bad, I hope."
"No, no..." He waved off my concern. "At least, Demitri didn't feel it was, but since he was already stateside, Marcus asked him to check on something."
I saw in his mind that there were a few unexplained deaths in Washington D.C. They could've been seen as normal human occurrences, but they also had a hint of something else. Marcus would rather be safe than sorry.
"Anyway," Carlisle continued, "they'll all be back soon. They said they'd call when they were done investigating it."
"Fair enough," I conceded, turning to Esme. "What would you like us to do downstairs?"
She grinned happily at my offer, showing me her plans – colors, furniture, d├ęcor – and I snorted, because as beautiful as it would be when she was done with it, that really was more the girls' thing.
"You know that's all you," I said with a chuckle. "I simply meant...heavy labor, Mom."
There had been nine bodies in Archie's underground room, along with several bottles of wine and alcohol that had been removed. It sounded like a lot when grouped together, but I had to take into account the fact that he'd done that over the course of a century. A century! And only nine humans had been killed. It was extraordinary, given the circumstances. It was more than Emmett when he'd slipped up, but it was significantly less than me and Jasper. Archie had no idea just how strong he truly was. He needed to see it.
"Oh," she said with a chuckle. "Okay, well, Rose and Emmett have all the frames in place for the new doors. The bottom trap door has been sealed, and they said not to worry about plumbing and electricity, that they'd work on it later today or when it stops snowing. We still need to clean out that passageway that leads to the garage, hang the doors, and pressure wash the walls and floors. Use hot water; that way, it won't freeze."
"Yes, ma'am," I sighed, running a hand through my hair.
"Thank you, sweeties," she cooed, kissing first my cheek and then Bella's before getting up from her spot next to Archie, where Bella quickly took her place.
Carlisle and Esme left the room, but before I went downstairs, I watched Archie turn slightly nervous as he sat next to my wife. His eyes were forcefully locked onto the book in his hand. It would've been funny had I not understood his discomfort. He'd heard us upstairs. In fact, he could still hear the rest of the family, though he was doing his damnedest to ignore it. It didn't help that he reminded me so much of myself in that moment, because his sense of etiquette was frozen in 1920. Sex wasn't talked about or seen outside of the bedroom of a married couple.
"Be grateful you didn't see," I teased him, tapping my temple. I grinned, but then sighed at his scrunched-up face of shock. "It can't be helped, Archie. I'm sorry."
Bella giggled, which caused us both to glance over at her. She shrugged a shoulder, shaking her head. In her mind, though she'd never say it out loud, she was not ashamed of her love for me or the way we showed it to each other, so she wasn't really embarrassed, except for Archie. There was no stopping my smug smile. At all. But she did glance over at poor Archie.
Her face sobered quickly as she took the book gently out of his hands and thumbed through it. "I apologize if you're uncomfortable, but it's a vicious cycle in this house. Living with an empath like Jasper only makes it worse. He can't help but feel what we feel, but then he has to push it back out into the house. Otherwise, he'd go crazy trying to bottle it all up."
"Mated vampires can't help but lose themselves occasionally," I tried to explain gently.
Archie nodded, but his mind focused most on the one word I had feared he would – "mated." Having come from the same time, I understood why his thoughts were saddened by the loss of certain ideals. We both came from a romantic era, so courting and marriage were extremely important. The word "mate" sounded animalistic and wrong to him.
"It sounds that way, but it doesn't have to be," I told him. "I know the word mate sounds like basic instincts and no emotions, but I assure you it's not."
Bella glanced between us, a small smile gracing her beautiful face as she gathered why Archie was nervous.
She tapped the book in her lap. "Did you read the whole thing?" she asked him, and he shook his head no.
"Actually, love, Esme was just explaining to him that it was our story when we came in," I explained.
She grinned, nodding her head and getting up. "Good, then don't read this...read the real one," she stated before rushing back upstairs, only to return with my personal copy she'd given me. "This is Edward's copy, my version of how the two of us met."
I loved that book. It had been a gift from her to me for Christmas a few years back. She'd had it bound in the softest of black leather, embossed with my initials, and had the Cullen crest attached to the front. It read like my girl's sweet thoughts – honest and loving and curious. But she was right. That version was the truth, not the edited version of what had really happened. However, I wondered for just a moment if it would only cause him to ask more questions, because it ended while Bella was still human. It didn't include a bit of what happened that summer or the beginning of the next school year. She'd specifically left out my leaving, Jake's abuse, and our suffering because she just wasn't sure if she could put it down on paper.
Archie held the book like it would shatter into a million pieces, gazing up at me. He didn't want to ruin my copy.
"You'll be fine. Everyone in the family has read it." I chuckled, shrugging a shoulder. "It's the reason she published it as fiction," I told him, wrapping an arm around Bella's shoulder and kissing her head. "You ready to get to work, love? I'll need your help."
"Yeah, sure," she chirped with a smile, turning to Archie. "Did you want to hang out down there with us?" she offered, and he nodded, standing up from the couch. She eyed his still-disheveled appearance, smirking at little. "You know, you'll have to bathe soon, Archie. I'm fairly certain Alice has already ordered clothes for you."
His brow wrinkled, but he nodded as he glanced down at his tattered pants. Apparently, Esme had already offered him the use of her and Carlisle's bathroom, but he hadn't considered it yet.
"I'm simply warning you," she teased him, and I chuckled because he really did respect her. She shrugged her shoulders before descending into the basement ahead of us. Once she stood in the middle of the empty room, she faced us. "Anyway, you read, we'll work, and you'll see that the word mate isn't what you're thinking. Hmm?"
It was all I could do not to kiss my happy, sweet girl completely senseless right there in the middle of Archie's dingy basement. Carlisle had told Bella to show Archie why she loved her life, and she was doing her absolute damnedest to do just that. Even he noted it silently. It took all the control I had, and then some, to merely press a heavy, long kiss to her forehead and not tote her right back upstairs to our room.
"Love you," I murmured softly against her skin, shaking my head slowly at the honesty of that statement. She was my light at the end of every dark tunnel, and she didn't have a clue as to why. She was just...my Bella.
Giving her and then Archie one last glance, I turned to lift the new door into place and got to work.
~oOo~
BELLA
My eyes raked over the backyard from Alice's bedroom window. It was blindingly white and covered in newly fallen snow. The branches of the trees were heavy and bowed, and the back deck looked as if it were covered in icing. But the yard itself looked like a war zone – a very white war zone. The boys slung snowballs at each other at speeds that could kill a human on impact, but they simply splattered against heads, chests, and backs. It was Adrian and Edward versus Emmett and Jasper. I smiled when Edward was too fast to be hit, unless he stopped to throw, and then Jasper and Emmett attacked without shame. Just to mess with them, I shielded my husband against one such attack, which earned me the sweetest of smiles from Edward and middle fingers from my brothers.
My grin fell as I caught a touch of movement from the side of the house. Carlisle was watching his sons with a small smile on his face, but the cellar doors were open. Archie was showing himself, but he was barely visible as he sat on the top step. He could go no farther than that; otherwise, he'd be outside, and he'd yet to cross that boundary.
It had been a few days since his room had been cleaned. The nine bodies that he'd buried in the bottom-most part of the cellar were now spread throughout Maine and Canada. They were buried deep in the ground and were now under at least two feet of snow. The bottles had been removed, some proving to be worth something, so Jasper had promptly sold them on eBay, starting a small account for Archie. Now, the trapdoor had been sealed and was hidden beneath plush carpet and padding. The basement wasn't finished, but at least Archie had a place to go that wasn't just cold brick and gray concrete.
However, before Esme would move a stick of furniture into his room, she told Archie it was time to clean up. It wasn't as if he smelled bad or had the ability to sweat, but he was covered in the dust of that basement, as were his hair, fingernails, and feet. It had taken Carlisle two hours to convince him to get in the tub, another two hours to soak him, and several pieces of destroyed clothing before he was deemed worthy to sit on anything other than the floor. Not to mention the tub had needed a thorough scrubbing when it was all over.
The end result was the cutest thing I'd ever seen. He was fidgety and nervous, uncomfortable and a little cranky in his new clothes. His normally curious face had carried a grumpy expression for the first hour, but he'd mellowed out after he'd gotten used to it. His hair had been matted and tangled, but now that it was clean, it was a just a shade lighter brown than mine and Adrian's. And he'd yet to put on shoes.
That grumpy expression had finally faded when Esme told him that he looked handsome, and that no, bathing wasn't really necessary for vampires, but that it helped us to feel normal, human, not to mention that the hot water felt good against our sensitive yet impervious skin. And Carlisle had explained to him that remembering our human side was what kept us from becoming feral and wild. He'd told him that it was why the boys played music, why we appeared in town occasionally, and why we abstained from human blood. After that, Archie had accepted the newly built closet full of clothes that Alice had provided for him with a shy smile and a "thank you" through Edward.
"Earth to Bella," Rose chortled behind me. "We're almost done. You can go play with Edward soon," she teased.
I grinned and faced the room. "It's a dress. I don't gain weight, so there's no need to try it on...again," I complained, knowing we were a only day away from Halloween.
"Fine, fine," Alice allowed as she quickly worked on Jasper's Civil War uniform. She was sewing his real medals to it. It was rather impressive, actually.
"Alice, do you see Archie's future?" I asked, causing both girls to glance up at me.
"No," she said simply, giving me a sad look. "He can't decide on anything. When he does, it's still all over the place, because one decision leads to another fork in the road, so to speak." She put down her sewing when Rose and I stared at her in confusion. "Okay, it's like this... If he decides to go outside, then what? He then has to decide whether to hunt or come back in. If he decides to trust us to take him, then who? Is it Carlisle? Or all of us? Every single thing in his mind is in that sort of circular pattern. But first he has to decide to face his fear. I'll never see anything unless he finally completely trusts us, because he's all over the place."
My nose wrinkled, and I nodded in understanding.
"Can he talk? Or is it just that he just doesn't want to?" Rose asked, sitting on the chair. She was sewing, as well, only she was sewing patches in the shapes of peace signs and flowers onto a fairly shabby yet chic denim jacket.
"He's come really close," Alice answered with a nod. "I'm sure Edward has heard it. Again, it's a trust thing."
Nodding once more, I said nothing and faced the window again. Of all the people in the house, I understood fear and building emotional walls up for protection. I also understood what it was like to be hurt by someone that you trusted. Jake was no longer that angry new werewolf anymore, but after Edward had left, he'd slowly become aggressive, easily angered, and defensive. I could've never given Jake my heart, and he knew it, which only added fuel to the fire at the time. My own anger hadn't helped, so we'd been a ticking time bomb at all times. We were never meant to be, and I totally believed our fighting proved that. Now, Jake was a happy husband and amazing father to two kids. But our friendship would never be the same. And in spite of Edward's return and my love for him, I'd carried around that same fear, that same wall of protection for quite a while, thinking he'd just leave me again. Anger was easy, and keeping people at arm's length was even easier. However, ignoring what needed to be faced was the easiest of all.
And I could see that Archie was tentatively facing the minimal things, ignoring the big things. Every last person that had hurt him was dead and gone. His fear and mistrust were just remnants of what he'd always done. I was sure that meant talking, as well.
"He'll never do it," I murmured, catching sight of Carlisle trying to coax Archie a little closer to the cellar door. I shook my head. "Not unless someone makes him."
"What? Talk?" Rose asked.
"No, step outside the house," Alice gasped, her eyes wide as she looked up at me. "Do it. It may work, though he still has to make a decision. Right now, he's wavering with Carlisle."
I left the room, taking the stairs quickly, though instead of heading out the back kitchen door, I detoured through Archie's room. I had to smile at Esme and Kevin. They'd worked together really hard to get it looking amazing. Esme had outdone herself, taking bits and pieces of Archie's human time and adding in touches of the current time. It looked like a young man's dorm room, only better, more sophisticated. They'd given him some pretty high-tech stuff – flat screen TV and a stereo – but also some antiques, like a grandfather clock and what looked like a men's dresser. And it looked like it was almost done.
Passing through the room, I took the hidden stone door that was standing wide open. I wanted to smile as Esme and Kevin argued colors, pillows, and possibly adding another window in the room. But it was the form sitting at the top of the steps I had my sights set on. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a solid black, long-sleeved polo shirt. His hair was parted on the side, and every hair was in place, something that made me smile because I was pretty sure that Edward's hair had never laid down a day in his long life – human or immortal.
"Hey!" Edward growled playfully from somewhere outside. "I can hear you, you know!"
My giggle couldn't be stopped if I'd tried. Love you! I thought to him, but he'd already gone back to his epic snowball battle.
Carlisle and Archie turned their attention to me as I approached them. I sat down next to Archie at the top of the steps. Carlisle's smile looked welcoming and a tad frustrated, but he was maintaining his patience. Archie just simply looked curiously over at me.
"I escaped Alice's evil sewing clutches," I teased, giving Carlisle a wink. "There are only so many times I need to try something on." I rolled my eyes with a smile. "Aren't you going to teach your sons a lesson in snowball fighting?" I asked, gesturing toward the rapid white fire that streaked across the backyard.
Carlisle snorted and rolled his eyes. "They wouldn't survive it." He chuckled when the boys scoffed, but turned to Archie. "I was just telling Archie that he didn't have to just watch...that he could join them."
Archie shook his head profusely, watching another round of snowballs fly by, only this time, they were all aimed toward the treeline, where Edward and Adrian were using the shrubbery as cover.
"Or they'd stop if you asked them," I suggested, but nodded in understanding when Archie shook his head again.
I expected Carlisle to continue to urge him, but instead, he changed the subject in a completely different direction.
"So, Bella, are you ready for the carnival tomorrow?" he asked, smiling down at me as he leaned against the closest tree.
"Yeah, sure," I said with a nod. "It sounds like fun. There are games and rides and stuff. And I think some local band is playing. Oh, and I think there are hayrides!"
Carlisle grinned and nodded. "Are you hunting before you go?"
"Yeah, Edward and I are going later tonight," I explained. "I trust my shield more when I've fed."
His smirk told me that I'd said the right thing, so he went on. "Good, good... How's your shield now?" he asked.
"Fine. What? You want me to cover you out there?" I joked, jerking my chin toward the chaos in the backyard, but my chuckle stopped when his eyes flickered to Archie. With a smile, I turned to Archie. "You know what he's suggesting?" I asked him, and he shook his head. "He's thinking that you'll feel safer with me. That I'd protect you."
He shifted uneasily in his spot but glanced down at the book in his hands. He was holding onto Edward's copy of our story.
I tilted my head at him and tapped the cover. "Have you finished it?" I asked, and he nodded.
His brow wrinkled as he glanced toward where Edward would be and then back to us. He sighed frustratedly but merely nodded again. Archie's translator was nowhere to be found, and I wondered for a split second if that was per Carlisle's command.
"You have questions," I stated, and Archie nodded. "You want to know what happened between then and when Victoria hurt me."
His eyes widened, but he nodded fervently.
I smiled because Edward had been right. He'd told me in secret that Archie was only growing more curious the more he read our story. My humanity with Edward's immortality had been shocking to Archie, but he didn't come right out and ask Edward anything. He just kept reading.
I glanced up at Carlisle, who was simply watching us closely, only to turn back to the man at my side. "Time for another deal, then, Archie..." I said, though my voice came out with a teasing warning tone to it. I raised an eyebrow at him. "You want to know what happened, and I'll tell you, but only if you try one time to step right there." I held up a finger and then pointed to just outside the cellar door.
Archie's eyes widened, and his breathing started to pick up.
"Hang on. Settle down," I soothed him, reaching out to pick up his hand. "May I show you something?" I asked him, and he tentatively nodded. "I just want to show you how my shield works. We'll do it together, okay?"
Archie swallowed nervously, but his eyes stayed glued to me as I stepped up and out of the cellar to stand next to Carlisle.
Edward, you and the boys aim my way, please, I thought to my husband.
"Guys," I called aloud, slamming my shield down around me and Carlisle.
I wanted to laugh because I was pretty sure Jasper and Emmett threw much harder than Adrian and Edward, but four large snowballs arched across the yard with perfect precision, only to splatter against my shield. I'd made sure to widen my coverage in order to keep the ricochet minimal. When the snow obliterated, I smiled, gesturing to Carlisle that there wasn't a spot on him.
"See?" I verified with a smile, and then I called over my shoulder, "One more time, guys."
Four more missiles collided with my shield, and I snorted, shaking my head at the force behind them.
"You're so on my team," Carlisle murmured with a grin.
"You got it." I giggled but then walked to the entryway, kneeling in front of Archie. "Look at me, Archie," I whispered, and his dark red eyes locked with mine. "No one...I repeat, no one can hurt you again. You're a hundred times stronger, faster, smarter than you ever were as a human. What happened to you was awful, but they were really just unfortunate steps leading up to your change. But I swear to you that no one will hurt you while I'm around. They can't even touch you. Understand?"
Swallowing nervously again, Archie nodded. I tried to ignore the silence around us, because it seemed like every member of my family was holding their breath.
"Give me...thirty seconds, sweetie," I urged him gently, holding out my hand. "Thirty seconds, and you can come right back in. We'll go no farther than that spot right there. Carlisle will stand with us. Come on... You do this, and I'll tell you that story, Archie."
His anxious fidgeting was almost too much to watch, yet it was so human, and I knew he had no idea. Archie's breathing picked up as he glared down at the book in his lap, his hands fisted on top. He gazed up to me, then Carlisle, and finally past us to where the four boys were watching from the other side of the yard.
With a furrowed brow and a set mouth, Archie slipped his hand into mine. I gave it a gentle squeeze, smiling at him.
"You're going to feel my shield cover you, okay? It'll feel like a hug or arms around you, but you'll be right beside me," I explained before I actually did it, but he listened intently. "You'll also lose your sense of smell, only smelling me and Carlisle. Everything else will be blocked out."
Archie gripped Edward's book in one hand and my fingers in the other, but he stood up slowly. He took that last step up out of the cellar door, his whole body practically quaking in fear.
"Easy, son," Carlisle soothed, carefully reaching out to place a hand on the boy's shoulder. "You're doing just fine."
When Archie took one more step, that last one that brought him clearly out of the cellar, the whole family cheered. I grinned at Archie when Emmett punched the air, only to snatch up poor Adrian in a huge bone-crushing hug, when Jasper and Edward exchanged money after making a bet, and when the girls and Kevin cheered from down in the basement.
Archie's look of shock was overshadowed by his shy smile at the cheers aimed his way, and he looked up to Carlisle and then me. He was still shaking, but he looked surprised at himself.
"You did it," I praised in a whisper. "You know that feeling when you kept touching things too hard after your change, when you kept breaking stuff until you learned to control your strength?" I asked him, and he nodded. "This is just like that."
"We can come here every day until you get used to it, son," Carlisle vowed. "Edward seems to think you want to try our diet, but I can't bring a six point buck into my house. My wife will kill me," he whispered conspiratorially, which made Esme laugh from behind us and Archie smirk a little. "You get used to this, and we'll see about starting you slowly, okay?"
Archie nodded but gave the cellar door a longing glance.
"I'll tell you that story soon, okay?" I promised, making sure he nodded before I let go of his hand and lifted my shield. He was back inside the house before I could blink, but I looked up at Carlisle. "You should be there for that. Is that okay?" I asked him.
"Whenever you're ready, sweetheart," he vowed soothingly.
Both of us growled when we were pelted by two very large, very fast snowballs, and we spun to face the yard.
"Baby, that wasn't me!" Edward yelled, but he was laughing at the same time. His hands were up in a surrendering gesture, but Emmett and Jasper looked awfully proud of themselves.
I sighed dramatically, gazing up at Carlisle. "This will be an ass-kicking of epic proportions," I murmured low.
He grinned and nodded, saying, "Oh, yes, ma'am. Shield us!"
At that command, I slammed my shield down as we both grabbed up handfuls of snow, launching them at our intended targets. My snowball exploded in the middle of Emmett's chest, while Carlisle's caught the side of Jasper's head. But I wasn't done. Wrapping my shield around my laughing husband, I tackled him into a snowdrift, grinning down at him.
"What was the bet?" I growled down at him playfully.
"I bet that Archie would trust you. Jasper bet on his fear winning," Edward stated softly, his beautiful smile still spread across his face. "I won," he purred sexily, his eyes darkening.
"Mm," I hummed, kissing his lips once. "You did. Good boy," I crooned, kissing him one more time before shoving a fistful of snow underneath his shirt.
Edward growled and laughed at the same time but only hit my shield when I launched off him. "Oh, my love," he said with a warning growl, standing up and shaking the snow out of his clothes. "It's on now!"
The snowball fight was a disturbing display of cheating and mischief. Clearly, my shield gave Carlisle and me the advantage, but Edward's speed was a force to be reckoned with. He used every opportunity he could to get his shots in, because I had to lower my shield in order throw the snow. More than once, I thought I heard a small chuckle from Archie, but I wasn't completely sure.
We were all sloppy, wet messes by the time Esme called us all from the cellar door. We gathered around her, and she shook her head at us, wearing a small wry smile as she stood next to Archie. She placed a hand on his shoulder, which I noticed he was getting more and more used to, waving us all in.
"I think since Archie has done so well today that he deserves a present," she said, gazing down at him. "Your room is finished, sweetheart."
"Oh, cool!" Emmett said with a beaming grin. "So let's see it, then."
We followed Esme and Kevin into Archie's room, and I simply shook my head. It was gorgeous, and I smiled at just how she'd turned a completely bare room into something that resembled a small apartment. He even had a claw tub sectioned off in the corner. They'd used soothing colors of greens, blues, and tans to decorate, but it was the stereo my eyes fell to.
"Go ahead, sweet girl," Edward urged softly in my ear, kissing my neck. "It's in the library."
Edward and I had talked softly about Archie's love for music, so we'd decided to give him something once his room was complete. Bolting up the stairs, I snatched up the iPod Archie had originally stolen from me. With a smile, I ran back down the stairs and straight to his new stereo.
Plugging the player in, I started a recording of Edward playing Archie's mother's music. "Now, you're ready," I confirmed with a nod.
Archie's eyes were wide as he took in his new room, but Esme looked nervous.
"All my kids like their own spaces. As long as you're with us, then I'd like you to have an escape. I know we're a lot to take in," she rambled, but the rest of us were quiet.
Archie didn't seem to be listening as he set Edward's book down on the bed, but when he finally turned around, he swallowed, licking his lips. Edward chuckled softly at the same time Alice gasped, but we all froze as we finally heard what we'd been dying to hear since we'd met our lost little friend – his voice.
It seemed to take several counts before he looked around the room to all of us. His determined expression was fierce when his mouth finally opened after ten very long years.
"Th-Thank you."

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