Wednesday, November 14, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 19

Chapter 19
BELLA
"Oh ho!" Jasper growled excitedly, rubbing his hands together. "You know what would fu—sorry, Mom...freakin' rock?" he gushed, looking at us all wild-eyed and grinning.
Edward laughed, his head falling back as he draped an arm around my shoulders. "Oh, nice!" he agreed, though none of the rest of us were in on the joke.
"What?" I asked, looking to my brother.
"Archie would be the king of Capture the Flag!"
He grinned when Emmett hissed a long, slow, "Yes!"
"What's Capture the Flag?" Archie asked as we made our way into the middle of the backyard.
"It's a game," Alice told him. "Two teams each have a flag, and they hide it, usually within a pretty big designated area. Each team designates someone to capture the other team's flag without getting caught."
"Well," Rose chortled, "that's how we play it. And Edward and Jasper have always treated it like Mission Impossible. And Edward's so damn fast..." She grinned, shoving her brother, who simply continued to laugh.
"But you, dude..." Emmett pointed at Archie, wearing a big grin. "You would rule the game because you would be invisible. It would be a fight for whoever had you on their team. No lie!"
"That's very true," Carlisle agreed with a chuckle. "So...are we playing that or football?"
"Football!" Alice sang, wearing a knowing grin.
"With or without talents?" I asked, giving my husband a big cheesy smile.
"With," he growled at me, flicking my nose with the tip of his finger, only to back away wearing a smug smile. "I call captain of one team."
"I'll take the other," Emmett called, standing opposite him. "Mom, flip a coin to see who picks first."
Esme was going to sit out the game in order to leave the teams even. When she flipped the coin, Edward called for heads, leaving Emmett with tails, and Edward won. It took barely a minute for the teams to be set. Edward ended up with Carlisle, Alice, Kevin, and myself. Emmett's team consisted of Rose, Adrian, Jasper, and of course, Archie. The point of the game, the rules, and the scoring were all explained to Archie, who didn't really know the game very well. Once we thought he had the idea down, we lined up to start the game.
"Boy, oh boy," Esme sighed as she took a seat along the side. "This should get pretty ugly. Archie, don't let them get the best of you. Playing with talents..." she muttered the last three words, shaking her head and rolling her eyes.
I grinned, looking to Edward as our team huddled up.
He shot me a wink, whispering to us all. "Oh, Emmett's telling Archie right now that his invisibility is their best chance." He pointed between Alice and me. "You two are our best chance. Carlisle, you're quarterback."
"Got it," Carlisle said with a grin.
We lined up against Emmett's team, and I was across from Jasper.
Grinning at him, I asked, "Are you sure we're using talents?"
"Oh, yeah," he crooned, nodding slowly as he smiled. "It's on, baby girl. Do your worst."
"Okay," I sang, and as soon as Emmett threw the ball to Rose, I spun, shot my shield out to slow her down in order for Edward to catch her, and tackled my biggest brother. "You really should've thought this through, Em."
"Fuck this! You're going down," he threatened, pointing at the lot of us but wearing an evil sneer.
"Emmett!" Esme chided from the sidelines, but he paid her no attention.
I'd never played a game like that one. Ever. Edward had stacked his team with talents he could use well, but Archie had a major advantage over us. The score was extremely high because defense was practically impossible. Alice and Edward could see how someone was coming for them and would counter it in order to score. I couldn't be tackled at all.
Jasper's strategy, Emmett's strength, and Archie's invisibility made for tough opponents. We couldn't tackle what we couldn't see, and combining Jasper's ability to add in confusion, I was left to deal with Archie. I had to hand it to him. He caught onto the game quickly – or he listened to every word my brothers said – and he used his talent wisely. One second, he'd catch the ball; the next, he was standing in the endzone.
We played so long and so hard that Esme finally had to call it a draw because the score was up into the hundreds, not to mention any snow that had been covering the grass was now kicked away. The poor lawn looked like a battlefield.
"Oh my damn," Rose said with a harsh laugh, shaking her head. "Nice job, Arch!" she praised, patting his back. "I'm not sure we've ever played that hard before."
Archie grinned, his eyes alight with happiness as he nodded her way. "That was different. But I like the sound of that other game..."
Edward chuckled. "That's best played at night, Archie," he told him. "I think we can plan that soon."
Esme clapped her hands at us to get our attention. "All of you, go get cleaned up. And try not to dirty my house!" she yelled as we all jogged passed her to the kitchen door. She sighed with exasperation. "Shoes, dammit!"
Conversations raged all over the house from different rooms. Emmett proclaimed that it was Friday night and wanted to know if we were doing anything. Alice and Rose wanted to, but no one would make up their minds. The only thing I heard was my phone alerting me to a message.
I ran upstairs and saw that Charlie had called, so I jumped into the shower quickly to clean up. Just as I was stepping out, Edward walked in, looking highly disappointed that he'd missed showering with me.
Grinning, I kissed his lips. "Sorry, handsome."
He chuckled, wrapped a towel around me, and set me down on the bathmat. "Go call Charlie, love. I'm sure he wants to catch up with you. It's been two weeks."
I nodded, pulled on one of my new sets from Victoria's Secret and a robe, and then called my dad back.
"Hey, Bells," he said with a smile to his voice.
"Hi, Dad. You called?"
"Yeah, just to check in. So how are things?" he asked.
I caught him up quickly about Archie, and Charlie was just as shocked about our friend as we'd been. He told me a few things from back home, one of which Edward would've found interesting – though, I was damn sure my husband could hear, even in the shower.
By the time Edward stepped out of the bathroom with his towel hanging low on his hips, Charlie was teasing us about the football game.
"I tried, Charlie. I swear," Edward called out from across the room.
Giggling, I said, "Yeah, Esme made us call it a draw."
"Damn. I miss watching those games." Charlie chuckled. "Listen, kiddo, the station's calling me. Check in by Thanksgiving, will ya?"
"Sure, Dad," I vowed. "Love you."
"Love you, too."
I tossed the phone onto our bed, looking to Edward, who was running a towel roughly over his wet hair.
"So Mrs. Cope retired, huh?" he asked, wearing a small smile.
"Yeah, that's what Dad said," I sighed, frowning a little at that.
Memories of my first day at Forks High played in my mind as I wandered into the bathroom to brush my hair – signing in, signing out, getting my schedule, seeing Edward ask for another science class, days I'd gone home ill.
"Want to talk about it, love?" Edward asked as he leaned in the bathroom doorway. His eyes were warm and sweet honey, his face an open book, because he knew what I was feeling.
I took a deep breath and shook my head but shrugged at the same time. "Time..." I said simply, grimacing at him a little. "It's hard to wrap my head around sometimes. She didn't seem old enough to retire, but then again..." My voice trailed off because I didn't quite know how to put it. It wasn't completely about Mrs. Cope.
He nodded, pushed away from the door frame, and took my brush from me. "Turn around," he ordered gently. He began to brush my hair, picking up pieces and starting with the ends. just like I'd taught him ages ago. His fingers swept over my scalp in a soothing touch. "I told you once – in a terrible way, mind you – that it didn't matter after a few years into this life, because most everyone you knew would be dead."
I nodded, watching him in the mirror. His eyes were focused onto the task at hand. His bare, broad shoulders, biceps, and forearms all flexed with his movements, but his brow furrowed.
"I'm sorry I said it that way. It was...harsh, but it was one of those times when I feared that you wanted this life, and I wasn't ready to accept it," he sighed, meeting my gaze in the mirror before moving on to the next section of my hair. "Time is hard to wrap your head around. What has seemed like no time for you has really been seven years...more if you count the year with me prior to your change, not to mention you graduated a year prior to that. That's almost ten years since we were at Forks High. You haven't lost anyone yet, but I really fear that day, Bella. You have no idea."
"Yeah, me, too," I said in a small voice, feeling a gentle kiss to the back of my head as I gazed down at my hands. "I'm not...upset. But Mrs. Cope is kind of a puzzle piece in our past. A small one in the background, but she was there. You know?"
Edward smiled softly and sweetly. "Yes, sweet girl. I know."
"Sometimes, I forget that life back there is ticking away," I sighed, locking gazes with him once again. "Did you feel that way? When you were gone?"
Edward turned me around and set me on the bathroom vanity, dropping the brush down beside my leg. He used his fingers to sweep through my hair, finally cupping my face. His face was solemn, but not upset. There was a difference in answering a question and reliving the past. This didn't hurt; I just simply wanted to learn from his experience. That last thought made him smile a little and kiss the tip of my nose.
"Yes and no?" he said, though it came out sounding like a question. "Yes, I knew time was ticking, but in my mind, you were... Well, you were you. You didn't change, you didn't look different, and you still were the same sweet girl I'd met that first day." He sighed, watching his own fingers trail down my cheek to my chin. "However, I'm not sure my own mind didn't do that to keep me sane. The thought that you were changing, moving on, and living – without me – was there, but I couldn't bear to focus on it. Not even for a second."
I nodded, taking his hand and spinning his wedding band. That made sense, and his letters confirmed that very thing. Ten years. Ten years since I'd been out of Forks High. It didn't seem possible, but then again, it did. I'd seen so much, done so much since that time – married, traveled, lived overseas, even fought in a few wars. That last thought made me snort softly, but I looked up to Edward, who simply was giving me the moment.
I wasn't stupid. I was aware that one day, I'd call back home, and it wouldn't be Mrs. Cope retiring, it would be my dad, then Mr. Banner, and finally Jessica. Everyone I ever knew would age – from family to the most insignificant. I was also well aware that eventually, I would have no one to call. It wouldn't be just ten years; it would be twenty, thirty...sixty years. It was a daunting thought and made me feel slightly alone and a little off-kilter.
"Not a chance, Bella," Edward vowed. "You'll never be alone."
"I know," I told him instantly, because I did know. I was damn certain that he'd be there for everything the future threw at us, not to mention the other people in the house that were trying hard to give us privacy – although that was impossible, and that was okay because most of them had been through it.
"Can I ask you a question?" Edward whispered, rubbing the outside of my thigh over my robe. When I nodded, he went on. "Which is harder? Watching your dad age before your eyes, or walking away from your mother completely?"
"Both," I told him honestly, shrugging a shoulder. "Though, I'm not sure I'd trade Charlie for anything."
He smiled and pulled me closer. He smelled like his soap and his usual calming scent. And I couldn't help but reach up with my finger to catch a droplet of water that still clung to the skin of his chest.
"But that also makes me feel responsible for my dad, whereas I'm not for Renee. I don't exist to her," I stated blandly, which caused a small flinch in Edward's face. "I don't have to worry about her – though on some level, I still do – but there's also a touch of freedom with that. With Charlie, I worry about his job, his health, his happiness. Every conversation is important to me, even if it's to tell me Mrs. Cope is retiring to Florida." I shrugged again.
Edward sighed softly, pressing a kiss to my forehead, but then he cupped my face gently before speaking. "You are so strong, my sweet, beautiful girl. And I know that we get distracted and forget how things are changing in the places we've been. Is it Mrs. Cope specifically? Or just time in general?"
"I think it was just Mrs. Cope," I told him, laughing softly, simply because she'd witnessed some of our crazy beginning. "I think we drove her crazy."
Edward grinned. "We did. I know I did."
That made me laugh harder. "True... You weren't exactly all gentlemanly when you demanded a new schedule simply because you couldn't deal with the new girl," I teased, rolling my eyes dramatically.
"Well...I mean...there's that, too," he stammered, looking like he'd be blushing if he were able.
I gasped, my mouth hanging open. "Don't tell me! Mrs. Cope?! You were a minor!"
"Which she tried to remind herself of every time she saw me," he replied softly, starting to back away.
"Oh, no...get back here," I commanded, gripping the front of his towel. "Tell me."
"Bella," he whined, looking away from me and sounding like child. "She wasn't lewd. She merely thought..."
"You were handsome," I finished for him, fighting my smile.
Edward's pout was adorable, bordering on pitiful. His brow furrowed, his eyes darkened, and his bottom lip just barely jutted out.
"And too young. She would repeat it in her head," he huffed. "Bella, stop."
I sighed, my hand still gripping the front of his towel, which was now sitting extremely low on his narrow hips. "Oh, Edward..." I smirked up at his silently pleading face not to tease him about this.
My poor Edward had heard it all, and it always made him uncomfortable, except when it came to me. My thoughts, my fantasies, my desires were everything he wanted to hear, but everyone else's were insignificant. I supposed when you saw yourself in someone else's mind repeatedly that it got old, that it eventually became insulting.
Edward grimaced and started to squirm away from me, but I held him still, switching to thoughts.
Edward Cullen, hold still! I growled low to get his attention.
No one could be still like Edward. He froze into a statue-like position, but his eyes were wary as he gazed at me.
I'm not going to tease you, baby. Just relax, I thought to him soothingly, holding him with one and and untying my robe with the other. He didn't have to admit to Mrs. Cope's unusual attraction, but he had. And therefore, I felt he deserved a reward.
A long, low rumble vibrated up out of his chest as his eyes darkened instantly. He'd heard my thoughts and most likely caught a glimpse of green underneath my robe. I used a single finger to push him back one step and slipped down from the vanity. Letting the robe hit the floor, I tilted my head up at him.
Knowing the house was filled with sensitive hearing, I stayed silent, using only my mind. You really shouldn't be embarrassed, Edward. You can't blame them for being attracted to you. You, yourself, said that it was a part of what we are. It draws them in.
"I don't have to like it," he argued weakly, because his eyes were drinking in emerald green satin and black lace, not to mention cleavage in front of him and exposed cheeks in the mirror.
"But I do," I countered with a grin, starting to walk around him. Do you have any idea how much it turns me on to watch others want you and you not give a shit?
His demeanor completely changed with that admission from me. A slow, crooked, carnal smile curled up on his face as he couldn't decide whether to watch me in the mirror or right at his side as I trailed a finger across each pec and down his bicep. I pressed my lips to the round curve of his shoulder, continuing my way to his back.
I pressed another kiss to his spine right between his shoulder blades, only to take a step back. Shaking my head slowly, I wasn't sure that there was a prettier sight on this planet. Edward's back was beautiful, strong, with wide shoulders, narrowing down to his hips. His towel was now so low that I could see the two sweet dimples just above where his ass was covered. The dark blue towel fell just below his knees, giving me a wonderful view of extremely toned calves.
I came up to his other side, brushing his hand away that had been holding the towel, and kissed his other shoulder. This time, I dragged my teeth gently along his skin. I smiled against his flesh when he purred low.
You have to stay quiet, you know, I warned him with a glance to the mirror at the same time that I tugged on his towel. It fell with an almost silent whoosh right next to my robe. His fists balled up at his sides, but he made no movement. Again, he was giving me the moment.
"I don't know if I can," he whispered, his eyes black as the watched me stalk around him.
Try.
"Bella," was all he said, but I cut him off by locking gazes with him in the bathroom mirror.
Licking my lips at the sight of his erection already standing tall and proud, I took in the complete picture. Backing away just a little, I purred at the sight of his now bare but perfect ass, unbelievably strong thighs, and the flexing of the back of his arms as his hands opened and closed repeatedly.
Do they look at you the way I do? I thought, mainly to myself, but he shook his head no.
"No one has ever looked at me the way you do, love," he replied, still shaking his head.
Because I see more than what's on the outside?
"Yes."
But the outside doesn't hurt, I teased, smirking at him as I stepped up to his back again.
He chuckled. "I'm glad you think so," he muttered.
Finally, I gave into my need to just touch. With open hands, digging fingers, and open-mouthed kisses, I touched every inch of his back, spine, and ass. Gliding my hands up his sides, I reveled in ribs, twitching muscles, and low growls. Every time we made love, he worshiped me from head to toe. Every single time. He made me feel beautiful and perfect and sexy. I loved doing the same for him. It wasn't something I always had the opportunity to do, so I was taking advantage.
His arm flinched once, but he stopped himself. Moving to his side, I kissed his flexing bicep, locking gazes with him in the mirror.
"You're killing me," he said, barely making a sound. "I want... I need..."
I grinned because I knew what he wanted...or at least what he had just about done. Let me see you.
I bit my bottom lip. Hard. I wasn't sure there was a sexier sight than watching Edward's long fingers wrapped around his cock, his forearm flexed as he squeezed himself, and the strain that caused tendons to appear on his neck made him look like a spring winding tighter and tighter.
Fuck, that's so hot, baby, I thought to him, but his growl drew my eyes from the mirror to the reality in front of me. Clenching abs, a heated gaze, and slow, deliberate movements made me moan wantonly.
What do you think about when you touch yourself, Edward?
Up, down, squeeze, twist... A thumb swirled over his leaking tip, only to start the process over and over.
"I don't normally have to," he rasped cockily, giving me a sexy-as-hell crooked grin.
"True," I said with a giggle, watching him in the mirror. "But still..."
"You."
Me, I thought slowly, making another circle around him. I came to stand in front of him, leaning in to kiss his chest, and his hand slowed down. Don't stop, baby... I warned him, trailing my nose and lips across his collarbone, up his throat, to his sharp, clenching jaw line. What about me? I asked, but he stayed quiet. Tell me, baby. Do you think of fucking my mouth? I asked, opening my mouth to his neck.
"Yes." It was a long, slow hiss that escaped him, and I nipped at the side of his throat.
Or my breasts? You think of fucking them? I asked, purposefully allowing my chest to brush against his, and I could feel the movement of his hand between us.
"Sometimes," he admitted.
Or is it my...pussy you think of the most?
I knew what his reaction would be, so I quickly kissed him when he growled low, "Fff...mmm..."
Smiling into the kiss, I thought, I'll take that as a yes, handsome.
"Yes," he growled so low against my mouth that my lips vibrated.
What else, Edward? You think of places? Bedroom, woods...right here in our bathroom? I asked, inhaling deeply and trying my best to ignore just how wet I was.
His forehead fell to mine as he nodded fervently, his eyes gazing at me heatedly through his long eyelashes, but his hand faltered.
"Baby, please," he begged, his free hand slipping into my hair at the base of my neck.
I stepped back just enough to watch him, my back meeting the vanity's edge. Bending my arms behind me, I unhooked my bra and pulled it away, only to slip my underwear down and step out of them.
Don't stop, Edward, I warned him again as I sat myself on the bathroom counter. His eyes failed him, and they dropped down to the apex of my legs. Yes, baby...I'm wet for you. I'm always wet for you. You don't even need to ask.
"Show me," he growled low through gritted teeth. When I spread my legs, he shook his head, his brow furrowing. "Wider, love," he mouthed to me, his teeth sinking into his bottom lip while his hand still worked over his steel-hard shaft.
Placing my heels on the edge of the vanity, I spread my legs as wide as I could, thinking, Come here.
Edward moved swiftly, letting go of his cock and stepping forward. His grasped my ankles, only to spread my legs just a touch wider before he stepped between them. The expression on his face was feral and sexy, hungry, and absolutely beautiful as he pressed his forehead to mine again.
Reaching between us, I guided him to my entrance, my eyes never breaking away from his. With a slow push of his hips, he sank languidly inside of me, causing an amazing sound to erupt from the two of us. It was contentment of becoming one, it was a whimper for more, and it was a low growl of possession.
Mine, I thought, more to myself than to him, but Edward nodded, a dirty, wicked smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. We have to be so quiet, or they'll win that God-forsaken bet, Edward, I thought to him with a small smile as one of my hands snaked back to his ass to pull him in deeper while the other slipped up to his neck.
Edward held perfectly still, but he nodded again. "I know."
We didn't move for almost a solid minute, letting the need build and build until I thought I'd go crazy. I wanted to kiss him, eat him alive, really, but discretion was important. I couldn't imagine what the rest of the house was up to because I couldn't see past the gorgeous man in my arms.
"Fuck them," he mouthed to me with an almost angry glare.
I'd rather fuck you, I countered, my mind coming across snarky and sassy.
That was all it took to break the suspense that we'd been building. Edward grinned briefly before his head turned slightly. His lips met mine at the same time he pulled slowly back, only to slam back in. Our kiss muffled the sound we made.
Hooking his arms under my knees in order to keep me spread open for him, Edward braced his hands on the vanity. He swiveled his hips, knowing exactly where to hit me to bring me closer and closer to my climax, though it wasn't going to take much. I kissed him that much harder to keep down the sounds that threatened to bubble up out of me. In fact, it was only incoherent, nonsensical sounds. Words were lost. Just gone. It was soft grunts, long hisses, and the echo of flesh meeting flesh. Our breathing was ragged, our kisses messy and deep, but our rhythm was perfectly in sync.
There was a part of me that was aware that we could in all reality destroy that brand new bathroom. I made sure my hands stayed on my husband's body and nowhere near glass, tile, or mirror. His hands alone were already starting to make the tiles shift beneath them.
Edward, pick me up, I ordered, not only to save the counter, but to feel his hands, his strong grip on me.
Suddenly, his hands were on my ass, and my back met the doorway. His lips broke away from mine, only to travel to my ear.
"Now, now, now..." he begged almost with no sound at all.
Gripping his hair with one hand and slithering the other down between us, I touched myself. My mouth hung open as the coil in my stomach wound tighter and tighter, but when Edward's teeth met the sensitive skin behind my ear, I shattered, practically sucking all the oxygen out of the bathroom.
Edward buried his face into my neck as he thrust once, twice, three times before coming hard, his whole body shuddering with the force of it. He breathed heavily against my skin, but I felt a smile against me.
Pulling his face back so that I could look at him, I wrinkled my brow. "What?"
"Listen," he whispered, and I froze, a grin crawling up my face.
Not only was our family impatient to find out what we were doing tonight, but our lust had kicked just about everyone else into overdrive. But what I could hear most was the denial that any bets were proven. Edward hadn't said a word, nor could they prove that he'd almost said anything.
"They really need a life," I said aloud, looking up at my husband. "Seriously. Or you and I are going to start making ridiculous bets on their lives. I'm not kidding."
Edward laughed, kissed me quickly. "Whatever you want, my love."
Protests rang out, mostly having to do with Edward's mind reading and how unfair that would be. I simply rolled my eyes. Edward, however, gave them no attention whatsoever and walked me into our bedroom, where he sat down on the edge of the bed, keeping me on his lap.
"They want to go out – or at least everyone but the parents. But I need to know if you're okay...first and foremost, Bella," he stated, his now-warm honey eyes drinking in every inch of my face.
"Where are we going?"
"Answer my question first, please, love," he practically begged.
"I'm okay." I took a deep breath and let it out, but I nodded to him. "I am. I promise. I know time won't stop. I'm just glad you're with me to help me adjust, you know?" I cupped his face, thinking that I'd never survive with out him. He was my rock, and I was his. "It was just...a surprise, despite how minor it may be. It's easy to overlook everything but what's right in front of your face."
He smiled sweetly at my thoughts and my words, but it fell just as quickly as it appeared. "One day—"
"I know," I cut him off, pressing a finger to his lips. "And we'll deal with it. I won't like it, but it's inevitable, right?"
His nose wrinkled in answer, but his worry was a waste of emotion because despite how hard it would be when I truly started to see evidence of time taking over, I was convinced that the arms that held me now would get me through then, too.
He sighed deeply, running his fingers gently through my hair. "I never want you to have regrets, nor can I stand the mere idea of something hurting you."
With that said, I curled into him, wrapping my arms around him and burying my nose in the crook of his neck. "I love you," I told him in reply. "And I'll never regret you, Edward. It's impossible."
Would it hurt when I started to lose everyone I knew, everyone that I'd ever loved? Absolutely. But losing Renee or Charlie...or even Jake was something that I couldn't stop. Ever. A child was supposed to outlive their parents anyway. At least, that's how I rationalized it. Death was a part of life...their lives. But I knew that Edward would do everything he could to get me through it all.
Wrapping warm, strong arms all the way around me, Edward pressed a kiss to my shoulder. "I'm glad you know that, love. And if you're okay with it, everyone wants to go to the movies," he murmured softly against my skin.
Nodding into his neck, I said, "That sounds fun."
"Good," he sighed in relief, smiling at me when he pulled me back to face him. He popped my butt lightly. "Then let's get dressed, hmm?"
"What movie?" Kevin asked from somewhere downstairs, and I rolled my eyes up to Edward's when several debates broke out over what to see – horror, action, romance, comedy.
I snorted and extricated myself from Edward's embrace as he broke out into a soft laugh. "And...here we go."
~oOo~
EDWARD
As I disposed of my kill, I stood up, allowing my hearing and my mind search out around me. Somewhere off to my left, I heard the soft thump of Bella taking down her own kill – a thought that made me smile. But it was who was with us that I was searching for.
Archie had progressed by leaps and bounds. It had been a week since he'd stepped out of the house, a week since he'd hunted for himself for the first time. I heard nothing as I sought him out, but I was starting to understand that was just how he hunted. Archie used what made him comfortable, and being invisible to his prey made him the most lethal hunter I'd ever seen. If he ever changed his mind about his diet, his human targets wouldn't stand a chance, and they'd never even know what hit them.
That was a sobering thought as I sat down near the edge of the small creek where we all had promised to meet back. Our coats were in a pile off to the side so that we could hunt freely. Snow was all around me, and even the creek had a thin layer of ice near the banks.
Tossing a small pebble into the water, I thought of what Carlisle had told me when we discovered what the voices in my head really were. He'd told me that with powerful talents came great responsibility. I'd always seen my mind reading as just something that made me more dangerous because I could tell my human prey exactly what they'd wanted to hear in order to steal them away. However, after having watched Archie hunt a few times, I was damn sure that he had me beat.
I made a mental note to speak to him about that, but I'd seen his mind, knew what he believed. His personality was mild and kind and respectful. He didn't want to hurt humans – although, he hadn't been around any in a little over ten years, except for the realtor, Mrs. Delap. And how he didn't drain her, even with the rest of us in there with him, I'd never understand; then again, Archie was way stronger than he'd ever know.
I smelled freesias and strawberries off to my left. Bella's mind was shielded, but my chest swelled with the feel of her getting closer. Normally, she'd alert me to her presence, so I knew she was up to no good.
"It won't work, sweet girl," I warned her with a chuckle.
"Dammit!" she huffed. "I knew I was upwind."
I laughed, my head falling back, but turned to watch her approach. How something so beautiful, so sweet could be mine, I'd never understand, but I was a grateful man, nonetheless. Even in jeans and a simple cream-colored sweater, she was the most stunning thing. And she was pouting adorably as she drew near, her ponytail swinging in dramatic sways as she scoffed at me.
"I was going to force a snow angel out of you," she said with a giggle.
Still chuckling, I opened my arms for her. Just as she fell into them, I spun her quickly into an embankment of snow. She squealed into hysterics, gripping the sleeves of my sweater.
"You make them prettier," I growled low at her, unable to keep the grin off my face, especially when she was laughing, smiling, and gazing up at me like I was the only thing that ever mattered. I loved that she had hardly a care in the world, that she was completely satisfied with this life. "This is what you get for trying to sneak up on a man, my love..."
She went limp with her laughter, allowing me to move her arms and legs for her, creating a rather disheveled-looking snow angel.
When she got up, she snorted and raised an eyebrow at me. "He's got serious problems."
My nose wrinkled as I nodded in agreement. "He does look...deformed. It kind of resembles...Quasimodo."
"Oh, damn..." she sighed, grimacing adorably. "You're right. Where's Esmeralda when you need her?"
Grinning, I tugged her down to my lap crossways. "If we're back to Disney movies and you call me Beast again, Bella..."
She giggled, cupping my face. "But you're my Beast."
I tried to look stern, but I couldn't. I failed miserably under her touch, beneath her warm gaze. "Yes...yes, I am." I kissed her lips, smiling against them. Sighing, I pulled back a little. "Where's Archie?"
"Not far," she said, pointing behind me. "He was just finishing when I was tracking you. The way he hunts is..." She shook her head, wearing a small smile. "Just...wow. The moose just fell over!"
I grinned. "I know, it's interesting. They can't see him or hear him, but I think they can sense him anyway."
"I mean, one second, the moose is eating what grass he can find. The next, he's on his side, and Archie's draining him," she gushed. "It's so strange."
Snickering at her excitement, I kissed her again, but heard Archie behind us.
I hate interrupting... he thought, more to himself than me.
"You're not," I told him with a smile.
His thoughts argued, because he saw how I looked at Bella, how lost I was to her, but he nodded, sitting down across from us. I wanted to laugh, but I didn't. I'd been that fifth wheel, so I knew how uncomfortable it was to be in the presence of a couple that just could not help themselves in showing their affection. He simply wanted to be respectful; funnily enough, he wasn't as discouraged as I had once been.
"How'd it go?" I asked, ignoring his train of thought, and from the wry smile he gave me, he knew it.
"Okay," he said softly, his eyes falling to Bella as she situated herself between my legs, her back to my chest.
"Just okay?" she asked, making a rather small snowball to toss into the creek.
"Yeah," he said slowly, watching her toss another one. "I think I'm getting the hang of it."
I kissed the top of Bella's head, playing with her ponytail to knock some of the snow out of it, but I turned to Archie. "This is the farthest you've been from the house."
"I'm so glad to get out," he said with laugh and a slow shake of his head. "I didn't realize... I mean, the air alone is better."
Bella laughed a little, but didn't say anything, continuing her game. Without being able to hear her thoughts, I had no idea what her goal was, but it seemed she was aiming for the thin ice layers to chip them off into the water.
"Do you think... I mean," he sighed, his nose wrinkling a little, but I heard his thoughts.
"You aren't a burden, Archie," I stated firmly. "We'll help you as long as you need us to, but yes, Carlisle would like someone with you when you hunt – at least until we know how you'll react to humans."
Bella stopped throwing and gazed over at him. "I can help you with that, you know."
I nodded in agreement and explained to Archie how her shield could slowly introduce the scents of humans back to him. Bella and I used Jasper as an example and how she'd slowly helped him ease into school better than before Bella had come along.
Suddenly, Archie was all for it. "Can we try?" he asked, looking between us.
Bella bent back to look at me upside down, and I kissed her forehead as she said, "I'm okay with it. We're not far from a small town."
"You want to take him into town full of people?" I verified.
"No, maybe just outside it at first," she said, abandoning her last snowball and brushing off her hands. "There might be a house or a store or something just on the edge. We can start there." Her mind then opened up to me. That way, if something does go wrong, then I can shield him and get him out of there. No harm done.
Frowning at the idea, I thought about it. Archie was strong, and I completely trusted Bella's shield, but I wasn't sure if Archie was ready to be around humans. He'd only been on our diet for a week. They waited for me to answer, and Bella was willing to concede this decision to me, but she was offering to try.
My phone bleeped a text alert, and Bella laughed. "I have a feeling you'll have your answer from Alice."
Snorting, I nodded, pulling out my phone.
A: Go for it! You'll be surprised how it turns out. ;)
"Well, hell, Alice," I groaned aloud, rolling my eyes. "Is that good or bad?"
Bella laughed, snatching my phone out of my hands. "It's good, silly. If it were bad, she'd tell you straight up not to do it, and you know it."
Archie's excitement was palpable, and now that he was learning, trying new things, and discovering the world around him, he was willing to do just about anything, but I didn't want him to get careless.
"Fine," I sighed, but I pointed a finger at him. "But before we go anywhere, I want to talk to you."
Archie nodded, his eyes wide and trusting.
"First, if we tell you to do something, I need your word you'll do it," I told him firmly. "Also, if you feel the least bit uncomfortable or your thirst gets the better of you, you need to actually tell us. You'll be beneath Bella's shield, so I won't be able to hear your thoughts, okay?"
"Okay," he agreed immediately.
"Lastly," I sighed, grimacing a little, "I'd prefer if you stayed visible, even with Bella's shield. You have no idea what capabilities you have with that talent. If something happens and bloodlust takes over, then you could cause serious damage. Understand?"
Bella tsked, rolling her eyes. "What Mr. Bossy is trying to avoid is anyone getting hurt or becoming suspicious, Archie. But you haven't interacted with humans. Like...ever. You have to be very careful if we're seen."
I sighed, rolling my eyes. "I'm not being bossy..."
"You're being careful, Edward. We know," Bella finished firmly for me, though her voice was soothing and sweet. Her smile was that much sweeter when she stood up and tugged me up. "We'll follow you, handsome."
Damn, I could tell her no to nothing. Ever. And from the smirk on her beautiful face, she knew it.
"Okay," I finally surrendered, bending down to grab her jacket. "Might as well look like we were hiking or something."
Bella tugged her hair down, slipped on her dark blue jacket, and pulled a wool cap that matched her sweater down over her head. Deep, innocent brown eyes blinked up at me, and she smiled as she gestured that she was ready.
"Dangerous creature," I muttered, rolling my eyes at just how adorable she was and how badly I suddenly wanted to kiss her stupid.
Archie put on his own jacket, and once we were all dressed the way we should be in the eyes of humans, I led them a little toward the northwest.
The subtle murmurs of human minds started to reach me just outside of the small town Bella had mentioned.
I came to a stop and turned to her. "Better shield him now."
Bella nodded, turned to Archie, and grasped ahold of his shoulders. "Ready?" she asked, and he nodded. "And you're sure you want to try this? Because even with my shield, you'll still see them and hear their heartbeats. It can still be...tempting."
She was so patient with him, and he noted it mentally every time.
"I'm sure," he answered her. "And I trust you both."
Nodding once, I waited until both of their thoughts disappeared from my mind before moving in closer to the town. I had remembered seeing a small recreational park on a map when we were studying the Maine area before opting to move. That was the destination for which I was aiming. It was an overcast day, but the air wasn't too sharp, and the snow would make for good skiing and tobogganing. The only worry I had was that would also mean children. My jaw clenched at the thought of something going wrong, but I put my trust in my talented girl.
We neared the edge of the park, and squeals and laughter rang out around us. I stopped at the last line of trees, listening and inhaling everything I could. The heavy scent of humans met my nose, causing a touch of fire to lick at my throat, but it was easily ignored. Well, easy for me; I wasn't so sure about Archie.
Scanning the layout, I noted parents with small children over on a small hill. There were a few snowball fights, a snowman under construction, and a few fires in barrels scattered throughout some benches and tables. If this went the way it should, the three of us could take over a table. We'd look like any other teenagers in the park, because I noticed that there were a few groups here and there.
Turning to the two behind me, I raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
Archie's eyes took in everything – every child, every parent, every teen. He saw the cars off in the distant parking lot, the fires that some humans were standing near, and he visibly flinched at the sounds of laughter, screams, and heartbeats.
"It's a lot to take in," I said, a warning tone to my voice, but he seemed to be all right at the moment. "We can stay right here...just to give you an idea."
"Or?" he asked, looking up at me.
"Or... We can take that closest table...act the part, test your limits," I told him, pointing to an empty picnic table just three yards away.
Bella waited patiently for him to decide, her face so sweet and calm. Even without her thoughts, I could see she was up for whatever we decided. She didn't care. She'd continue to shield him, or she'd snatch him up out of there at the first word from me.
Archie took a deep breath, giving the park a peek from around me. Looking to me, he nodded. "Let's try."
Bella grinned, gazing up at me. I shot her a wink.
"Okay. Bella, take that table, and I'll go get something to start a fire in the barrel next to it," I told her.
"Gotcha," she responded.
She took his hand, guiding him at human pace. She whispered softly to him to maintain his speed, his movements, and his blinking. It honestly wasn't easy pretending, though after a few years, it became habit. Bella was truly a natural at it, having some of her human traits carry over into this life. She fidgeted, played with my ring, blinked, and moved slowly just like she should, though it was really just Bella being...Bella.
Once I saw them push some of the snow off the table and onto the ground, I made my way to the closest set of people.
As I approached a woman who looked to be in her mid- to late-thirties to ask if I could borrow her matches, Bella explained to Archie how my control was better than anyone else's...almost as good as Carlisle's. I wanted to roll my eyes, but I had to focus on the woman in front of me.
"Excuse me," I said, smiling softly as the woman glanced up at me. "I was wondering if we could borrow your matches." I pointed toward Bella and Archie at the next table over.
Ignoring the woman's curious thoughts about my age, where I'd come from, and how I looked, I waited patiently for her mind to catch up. My face, my jeans, and my hair all clouded the woman's mind. The only thing she couldn't wait to see was my ass.
"Umm...I'm sorry. What?" she sputtered.
When Bella burst into hysterics, I growled low, shooting a glare over my shoulder.
"Matches," I stated again, pointing to the box in front her. "My girlfriend wants a fire. She's cold," I explained unnecessarily to her, but it shut Bella up.
"Oh, sure, here," the woman gushed, her face tinging pink at her own decision that I was officially way too young to be ogled. She handed the book over, saying, "Keep them."
However, my assumed age didn't stop her from finally watching my ass when I thanked her and walked away. I narrowed my eyes at Bella as she quickly and quietly explained to Archie that it wasn't fair that it was a woman that I'd had to approach.
"If the word 'dazzle' comes out of your mouth, you're in serious trouble, Isabella," I growled low, grinning when she laughed again, covering her face with her hands.
Archie glanced between us, his face clearly showing his amusement.
I lit a match, tossing it into the metal barrel, and then finally took a seat next to my smirking girl when it took on a decent life of its own. Orange flames flickered up and out the top, warming the surrounding area just a little.
Bella giggled up at me and then turned to Archie. "Edward won't admit it, but he totally uses his...assets to schmooze the humans. Always."
I sighed when they both laughed, fighting my smile. Unfortunately, she was right on both counts. I did tend to be whatever the situation called for when I needed to address humans, but I'd never admit it, especially when she was so amused by it.
"You," I growled in her ear. "You think you're funny."
She shrugged, biting her bottom lip, and then she must have slipped her shield off herself because she leaned into me. I kissed the side of her head before turning to Archie.
"You look nervous."
"Oh right, you can't hear me," he whispered, his brow furrowing as he glanced around.
"No, not at all. Bella's allowing my mind the freedom to hear around us, but it keeps you silent to me."
"How do they not know? How aren't they all scared?" he asked me, gesturing to the activities that continued to play out around us.
I took a deep breath before answering him. "We look no different than that group right over there," I started, because this was a complicated answer. I jerked my chin off to the right, where a handful of high school age kids were laughing and joking around. "We're giving off a natural repellant, though. I'm not quite sure anyone would dare approach us, but it's not impossible that they'd try. Humans want to believe the facade. They aren't quite sure why we make them uneasy, but it usually keeps them away. We could probably sit here for hours just talking, and no one would notice.
"Your only downfall right now is your eyes," I continued, locking gazes with him. His eyes were still nowhere near amber, considering he hadn't been drinking from animals for too long. "If a human happened to look you in the eye – which is rare – then they'd immediately be able to tell something was off. We're far enough away from people now for them not to notice."
Archie nodded, looking between me and Bella, thinking Bella had the biggest advantage as far as that went.
"Yeah, definitely," I agreed with a nod. "Bella's eyes let her blend in completely. And her natural ease with humans makes her almost undetectable." I huffed a laugh, shaking my head. "The downside of that is that humans react oppositely to her. They're drawn to her."
"It doesn't help that our looks attract curious glances," Bella piped up. "I mean...all teasing aside, you saw how the woman reacted to Edward. It happens to all of us. They find us attractive. It's part of our...abilities to hunt, but when you don't hunt humans, it's really just...uncomfortable."
Grinning, I picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles, simply because she was saying that just as a boy across the way was ogling her. My kiss, my touch claimed her properly, causing the boy to turn away when I looked over.
"Can you hear them all?" Archie asked, shifting a little.
"I can," I answered with a nod. "And I have to in this case because I need to make sure no one is going to approach us or see anything they shouldn't." To prove my point, I started clockwise in the park. "That mother over there thinks it's time to head home because her little girl is tired. The couple in the far back... They're talking about moving to Delaware to be closer to his parents, but she doesn't want to. The older kids... They want to celebrate because the young man with the blond hair just lost his virginity the night before." I grinned when Bella snorted softly. "Let's see," I sighed. "The woman I got the matches from is making sure that her little boy is keeping his hat and gloves on as he plays in the snow just over there."
"Christ," Archie breathed. "All of that? You hear all of it?"
"And then some," I said with a chuckle, shrugging a shoulder. "That's only a portion I focused on. You wouldn't believe how...vile some thoughts can be. Sex, money, drugs – how to achieve all three. Jealousy, rage, curiosity...it's in every thought. And it's all going on up here as we speak." I tapped my temple, grimacing a little.
"But not the kids...the little guys," Bella said, but it sounded more like a question. Her thoughts were running memories of my time in London working in the hospital. She'd seen how easy it was on my mind to be around Toby and Danielle – children in general, really.
"No," I said with a true smile. "If I could block everyone out and listen to them, it would be great. The snowman over there?" I pointed to the group of kids that ranged in ages five to about eleven. "They're thinking in colors and emotions and pictures. As they build him, it's Frosty the Snowman; they only wished they had the magic top hat. That tiny little girl in the pink? She's hoping Santa brings her a bike this year because her mom said she's tall enough now."
"Aww... Oh, my goodness," Bella swooned, her brow furrowing.
I laughed softly, wrapping an arm around her. I glanced back to Archie. "It's easier here," I told him, pointing to the top of the table. "Conversing with them, standing in line at stores, large crowds, even just stopping for gas...the humans can be unpredictable. They make sudden movements, they smell enticing – no matter how long you've been on this diet – and their attraction sometimes overrides everything else, so they flirt or reach out to touch. It can be overwhelming, in all honesty."
Bella linked our fingers together. "Archie, tell me how you're doing."
He licked his lips nervously and then swallowed. "I can... I can hear heartbeats everywhere – fast, slow, rapid, heavy, light." He glanced over at us, and Bella and I nodded for him to continue. "I don't think one person has actually met my eyes, which shocks me. I didn't realize that's how it would be."
"Is it too much? Should we go?" I offered, and he nodded.
"It's not that it's too much," he sighed, frowning a little. "But you're right...it's a lot to take in."
Bella and I nodded, standing up when he did.
Just as we got inside the treeline, without one human noticing our exit, I felt Bella's shield surround me, and all the voices in my head aside from the two of theirs disappeared. I placed a hand on Archie's shoulder and said, "You did really well. I'm surprised at how well you did, actually. I think I'm underestimating you."
"Thanks," he said softly, but he turned to Bella. "Take it down...just for a second."
"Oh, Arch...I don't know, buddy..." she gasped, shaking her head as she glanced up to me.
He'd proven himself to me time and time again, so I was willing to concede this one to her.
"Bella, wrap your shield around his body only," I told her, placing a stronger hold on his shoulder. "Hold him, but let him smell. He should know his limits. If this is too much, then you'll hold him."
"Okay." She stepped in front of him as a precaution, I was sure of it. "Archie, hold your breath. Ready?"
Archie nodded, and she pulled her shield away from his mind, but he jerked a little under my grasp as she locked him down completely.
"Breathe. Slowly, at first," I instructed him in his ear, and he nodded, looking like a deer in headlights.
He took one tentative breath and let it out. His eyes blackened at first, and his hands closed into fists, but he took another breath and then another.
"My throat," he rasped, looking up to me.
"Yeah, that's normal. It burns. I hate to tell you, but that'll always happen. Sometimes worse than others, but it'll be unbearable if you haven't fed enough. For a while, you'll really want to overfeed if you know you're going near them," I advised.
"How long is awhile?" he asked, trying to swallow down the venom.
"Years, sweetie," Bella told him, grimacing a little. "Kevin is a year old, and he's just now able to really be around them. But you..." She poked him playfully in the chest. "You've spent your whole life abstaining. This...this should be nothing. You've fed today. You're comfortable with us, so there's no need to be nervous. And I know you don't want to hurt anyone."
I fought my smile because she was building his confidence by just telling him the truth.
"No, never...I've done enough of that," he replied in a whisper, but he inhaled again, his thoughts focused on what she'd said. He'd practically starved, so this was easier than he'd assumed.
"Now you've got it." I chuckled, giving his shoulder a shake. "Maybe Bella's right... Maybe we should sign you up for school."
"No!" he gasped, grinning when I barked out a laugh.
Bella giggled, helping me guide Archie farther into the woods. She was leaving his senses open for a reason – to let him see how far he needed to go to get away from the scent of human blood.
"Come on. We'll run now, okay?" Bella suggested.
"We'll get clear of the smell," I told him as we took off at a fast run. "But you really did an amazing job."
Bella smiled and nodded, her thoughts so very proud of him. "Now...let's talk about Thanksgiving. Ever played Truth or Dare?"

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