Sunday, January 13, 2013 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 35

Chapter 35
"Edward, are you sure?" Esme asked nervously as she watched Archie lead Caroline into the woods from the library windows.
"Yes, I'm sure," I sighed, giving her a placating smile. "I have more confidence in Archie than I did in myself the first time I took Bella to our meadow." I snorted, shaking my head, but I couldn't help but smile when she cooed, running her fingers through my hair.
"My sweet boy," she soothed. "Very well...I trust you're still watching over him," she surmised, and I nodded in answer.
Archie had wanted away from the house for a bit of privacy with Caroline, though he was well aware that I was able to hear them. A part of him thought to be embarrassed about that, but another found comfort in the fact that I was watching out over them. It also gave him a satisfying sense of propriety that he was being "chaperoned," more or less. He never wanted to hurt her – to do so would kill him – but he also wanted to shelter her from prying eyes, listening ears, and teasing brothers. The latter of which were getting their asses handed to them by Bella and my sisters, despite Carlisle's warnings to leave Archie in peace.
"You're so mean!" Bella growled, shoving a laughing Emmett until he fell onto the sofa. "Did you do this to Edward?!"
Emmett froze, not really knowing whether the truth would help him out or not. "Maybe," he said, dragging out the word hesitantly with narrowed eyes that flickered to me, and his mind begged me not to rat him out.
"Moron," she said, smacking the back of his head. "Maybe the bear that tried to eat you did more damage than Carlisle could fix. You were new at this shit once, too!" she ranted, looking guiltily at Esme. "Sorry, Mom."
God, I loved my feisty girl. The sexy thing looked so very tempting as she came to my defense needlessly.
"No worries, Bella, dear. We've often wondered how much damage the bear did," Esme said sarcastically just to shut Emmett up.
Kevin laughed. "In other words, you weren't exactly a rocket scientist in your former life, Mountain of Sexy," he taunted with a cheesy grin when Emmett flipped him off.
I gave the woods one more glance before walking away from the window. I'd promised Archie that I'd watch over him but that I wouldn't eavesdrop the entire time. And I knew where he was taking her, something we'd discussed with Carlisle when he'd taken us all hunting. He was showing her the now-destroyed tree that his father had tied him to; he was leaving nothing about himself up for question. He was telling her, showing her everything.
It had been an uncomfortable conversation for Archie, to say the least. He'd been well aware that it was his feelings, his desire for his mate that had sent the house into a frenzy. He'd apologized profusely to Jasper, who simply shrugged it off, stating with a grin that Emmett and I had been infinitely worse. Emmett had rolled his eyes and shrugged; I'd simply smiled and said it was vengeance for eighty years of mental torture.
Carlisle had laughed, but it had quieted quickly because he'd been determined not to make the same mistake with Archie as he felt he had with me. I'd argued, stating that there were no mistakes, but he smiled sadly. Through his mind, he'd shown me what I'd been like before Bella – years before Bella – and the dark, brooding, bitter demeanor that I'd carried around was harsh to see.
I'd never truly hated my family for their mated status, but it had decreased my own self-esteem, which, in turn, had caused me to hate myself instead. Carlisle still felt guilty about having never sat me down to really talk about it. I'd run from the conversation every time, not wanting to discuss sex, mating, or girls – something that made me sound like a true seventeen-year-old.
My father also had harbored more guilt than he'd let on concerning how we'd just left Bella – or rather, how they'd just followed my lead back in Forks. And that was his true reasoning for calling a meeting with Archie, my brothers, and myself. He'd wanted Archie to know that we wouldn't, under any circumstances, be forgetting about Caroline, even when she left with her father. She was his mate, he needed to accept it, and now was the time to discuss every fear, worry, and question. And that included the physical aspect of their relationship.
I fell down onto the loveseat in the library, gathering Bella to my side when she snuggled in to listen to Jasper play softly on his guitar. I didn't feel like playing, and I needed to pay attention to Archie's progress, but I inhaled her scent deeply, remembering how the conversation earlier had shifted to Adrian and me.
We were the only two immortals among us that had maintained a relationship with a human for a significant amount of time. Everyone else had either changed their mate, had been changed by their mate, or their mate was already immortal before anything proceeded.
Pressing kisses to the top of my girl's head, I trailed my fingers lightly over her arm as she wrapped it around my stomach. Bella was so smart and so very sympathetic to Archie's and Caroline's situation. But I'd heard her mind from the house when she'd explained to Caroline that it wasn't so much the temptation of her blood for Archie, but Archie's upbringing that was holding him back. Poor Caroline wanted nothing more for the moment than a kiss.
Adrian and I had explained it the best way we could to him. The physical part of his relationship would be a test of his restraint, and he needed to be extraordinarily careful. When he'd balked at how it was inappropriate, Emmett and Jasper had stepped up to help him. We all understood Archie's reasoning because we were all from different times, where things weren't so open and upfront. Even Carlisle, the oldest of us, tried to soothe his concerns.
It had been a long, complicated conversation, and I'd had to divulge more about my human Bella than I'd felt comfortable with at the moment, but it was worth it. And I knew my girl would've been okay with what I'd revealed to them. In fact, she'd verified what I'd told him when I'd returned – that he'd regret not kissing his soul mate, that he'd see the struggle to maintain speed, control, and strength was worth it, and that he should know that Caroline would react immediately without being able to stop herself.
You're a million miles away, handsome, Bella pointed out silently to me, resting her chin on my chest as she lay between me and the back of the loveseat. You okay?
I nodded, brushing her hair from her face and tucking a lock of it behind her ear.
Archie's okay, right?
I froze, tilting my head for a moment, and then nodded. "Yes, ma'am. He's taken my advice and is carrying her the few miles to where he's taking her."
She smiled and nodded. "Helluva way to travel."
I chuckled, kissing her lips. "It's not so bad being the mule, either."
That was the truth. As old fashioned as Bella had accused me of being back then, there had been nothing so tempting as having her warmth wrapped around me while running. Her heartbeat had pounded against my back, her legs had squeezed around my waist, and her sweet breath had set me on fire when she'd hidden her face in my neck. So many inappropriate thoughts had swirled around my mind back then, and I'd never told her. But now, in front of my family, wasn't the time.
Bella chuckled. "You weren't a mule, Edward."
Grinning, I squeezed her closer. Jasper continued to play on – now joined by Kevin – and different conversations were softly being carried out throughout the library, but really, we were all just waiting.
Checking on Archie, I noted he was being a gentleman, but he was also so much more open and free with her away from all of us. He was animated and grateful that she knew the truth of it all, especially the truth about what we were. He could be himself, and he was reveling that she didn't mind, didn't shy away. In fact, she was very much like Bella and Kevin, where she simply wanted to know...more.
"How are they doing, son?" Carlisle asked worriedly when he walked back into the library.
"Fine," I stated with a nod. "They're about five miles out, but they've stopped. He's just inside my hearing range, actually."
"And his control?"
I huffed a laugh, shrugging a shoulder. "Archie never thinks about blood. It's the last thing on his mind. Always. Since he's transitioned diets, he never gives it another thought. Only when he feels thirsty does he think about it. And with her...he refuses to even entertain the idea when he's around her."
Bella smiled, but she stayed quiet.
"Good," he said, sitting down on the edge of the chair across from Bella and me. He turned to Alice. "Sweetheart, tell me what's changed. Tell me what you're seeing now. With all that has happened in the last few days, I need to know if anything has affected your visions."
Bella and I sat up, and Kevin and Jasper set aside their guitars. It seemed that Carlisle had been waiting for a moment where we could have a family meeting away from Archie and Caroline. Alice frowned sadly, and Esme wrapped a loving arm around her.
"Nothing's really changed. I mean...Archie and Caroline have both made decisions, but nothing changes the ultimate outcome," she explained, and she showed me small, almost insignificant decisions, but nothing major.
"What decisions?" Emmett asked, getting up from his drum set and sitting on the edge of an ottoman. Rose sat behind him as we waited.
"Small ones," Alice and I said at the same time as she showed me flashes of Archie and Caroline.
"Our fears of Caroline saying anything can be put to rest," Alice stated knowingly. "She's determined to keep it to herself. She's also determined to let her argument with her father about Lisa go. She knows the truth, and her father was right, so there's no need to fight about it. She was tired of not believing him. And she's also made the decision to stay in touch with us – all of us, really. But the most important decision she's made is that she really wants to come back over the summer before she starts college in the fall. She's hoping, despite her impending punishment, that she'll be allowed to come."
"Yet that doesn't happen," Adrian guessed, wearing a slight grimace.
"No," Alice and I said in unison.
"And Archie?" Bella asked, looking between us anxiously. "What decisions did he make?"
Smiling sadly, I said, "Some of his decisions are...private." I touched the tip of her nose when she smiled. "Others are simply tests of how he can let her go later today."
"Damn, he's gonna be a mess," Emmett sighed, his thoughts centered around how I'd been when I'd left my Bella.
I wanted to argue, but I couldn't. Whereas my breakdown had been a culmination of leaving Bella and the lies I'd spewed to her in order to do it, Archie's heartbreak would be different. Alice had seen him shatter the minute Caroline pulled away. It wasn't guilt for him; it was the descending feeling of ominous loneliness that caused him to melt down. He'd found the one good thing about being changed against his will over a hundred years ago, and no consoling from the family would make it better.
What we couldn't connect – and I was starting to see Jasper's theory of an unforeseen incident as something to consider – was that between Caroline leaving and this coming summer, she became immortal. Someone changed her, but from the look on her face, it didn't seem that it had been against her will. She was, in no uncertain terms, blissful with Archie.
Picking up Bella's hand, I spun her ring several times, simply to remind myself that she loved me, she'd accepted me back, and she was mine. Forever. Seeing Emmett's memories were a blatant reminder of just how stubborn and stupid I'd been. But Archie was different. He wasn't pushing Caroline away; he had no alternative but to let her go with her father.
"If he doesn't let her go, we'll have a huge problem on our hands," I sighed, running a hand through my hair, but my other hand was gripping Bella's with tenacity.
"Exactly," Alice agreed with a nod. "He's only dealing with her being in this house because he's spoken to her several times. But he's truly ready to get her out of here."
Kevin snorted. "If he only knew who she was staying with..."
"And therein lies the problem," Alice said, fidgeting a little. "He doesn't necessarily recognize Archie, but he does react to this house pretty badly. It's why I told Esme not to bother with dinner. He'll want to get in, meet us – if only to placate Caroline – and go. Like go!"
The room went silent with that, so I took the opportunity to check on Archie. He was talking about his father, and from the sound of a few sniffles and sad thoughts, Caroline had heard the whens and whats concerning the tree that was destroyed in front of them.
He knelt in front of her, smiling softly. "Don't cry. My father doesn't deserve your tears, and Victoria most definitely doesn't."
She sniffled once more, playing with his fingers. "My tears are for you, Archie. Don't you know that?"
His brow wrinkled, but he nodded. "I know. I don't deserve them, either. But...thank you," he said, reaching up to gently capture a tear that was trailing slowly down her cheek.
I tuned them back out. Caroline wanted so badly for him to kiss her, but Archie wasn't ready. He was scared to death about it, actually. He was convinced he wouldn't hurt her, but he knew that kissing her would make letting her go that much harder at the end of the day. He wasn't sure that his heart could take it.
I sighed, shaking my head. I wanted to tell him how his constant avoidance of that particular intimacy came across as rejection, but there was no way to tell him. He would have to find out for himself, which he did about thirty seconds later when she stood up in frustration, letting go of his hands. I had to give Caroline credit. She kept everything Bella and Kevin had talked to her about in her mind at all times – Archie's age, his birth era, and his tragic story. She couldn't be mad, but...she was a little let down. She was also sure that standing in front of that tree wasn't exactly the best place, anyway.
Chuckling, I turned to Bella. "You and Kevin created a monster."
"Oh, hell yes! Tell me she kissed the shit out of him!" Kevin beamed, rubbing his hands together.
I laughed, joined by everyone else in the room. "No. No, not yet. But she's just about there."
"Damn," all the girls and Kevin groaned in disappointment.
Bella's hand slapped her forehead. "She feels rejected."
"A little," I whispered, kissing the side of her head. "But she's smart. She understands and has listened to every single one of us. She's well aware that he's...shy."
"Shy," Emmett guffawed, shaking his head. "More like petrified."
"That, too." I grinned.
"You're one to talk, Romeo," Emmett argued.
"Dammit, Emmett," Bella growled in warning, and I smiled like an idiot at my brother behind her. "I will break every drum in your kit if you say one word."
"She means...shatter them into oblivion," Alice chirped happily with a silly grin. "As in...dust, not just broken drum heads."
"You're no fun," Emmett pouted. "Spoiled baby."
"Ginormous bully," she countered, sticking her tongue out at him petulantly. She turned to Carlisle. "He was way too damaged to change, wasn't he? The bear... It got part of his brain, right?"
Carlisle cracked up, as did Rose as she ruffled Emmett's hair. I had to hand it to my largest brother; nothing aimed his way ever ruffled his feathers, and definitely nothing coming from Bella. He lived for their little fights and spats. She reminded him so much of his human baby sister that he couldn't help it. He'd transferred all that over to my Bella.
"No, little one, his brain was intact. However, I'm pretty sure he was like this prior to the bear attack," Carlisle answered with a smile.
"Rocket scientist," Kevin coughed, grinning over at Emmett.
"Hmm, shame, really," Bella murmured. "It would've made much more sense had it been the bear."
Chuckling, I wrapped an arm around her and whispered in her ear. "My sweet, fierce, overprotective girl. You should know by now that nothing he says can bother me. My fears didn't last long, you see..."
Bella smiled, and it was sexy and wicked, her eyes darkening a bit. No, baby...they sure as hell didn't last long... But you had all that knowledge tucked away in that head of yours. I'm still convinced you had the advantage.
Smirking, I shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe."
Maybe, she snorted, rolling her eyes. Edward, you kissed me perfectly the first time. But when you came back? You kissed me absolutely fucking senseless. Every time. You'd held out on me!
"Yeah," I sighed with a grimace. "Sorry about that..."
She giggled. "Don't be."
Carlisle chuckled at us both, reveling in our happiness, though Jasper was about five seconds away from telling Bella and me to cut it out. Talk of our first kisses were pushing our lust levels up just a little.
I checked in on Archie again, smiling that he was showing her how his talent really worked. He stood in front of her and disappeared into thin air, only to flick her ponytail from out of nowhere. It was good to see him have fun, to lighten up, and I realized that was how my family had seen me with Bella those first few weeks, even more so when we returned to her.
Carlisle sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Before they get back, I'd like to talk to all of you about the future of this family. It's obvious that we've...grown." He smiled toward Adrian and Kevin. "With the addition of Kevin and Adrian, and now Archie...and possibly Caroline, we'll be the largest coven ever to have coexisted together in immortal history outside of a newborn army. It's also a concern that if we leave here, out of the safety of this house and where it's positioned in relation to humans, that our numbers will pose a problem. Marcus expressed his concern to Edward and Bella when they were in Washington D.C."
He held his hand up when questions flew at him left and right. "It's not my intention to separate us. As long as you want to stay with this family, the doors and my arms will always be open. Understand?" When we all nodded, he went on. "Marcus's concern rests with keeping our true identities secret, and I completely understand. He also knows that our family poses no threat, that we're a family that shares the same diet and desire to fit in, to live as close to normal lives as possible."
"Our future is tentative with Caroline," Alice pointed out. "I see us on Isle Esme, and her eyes are still red."
Carlisle sighed, nodding a little. "Knowing that, I feel we need a contingency plan should something go wrong." He turned to Jasper. "Have you been in contact with Jenks lately?"
"No, sir. Well, not since Edward needed to take care of that soldier from D.C. We've taken care of his family, but I haven't needed him since then. I can get him started as soon as possible."
"Please do," Carlisle confirmed. "If we need to move quickly, then we need to be prepared. I trust you to handle the details."
"On it," Jasper said, reaching over and grabbing his laptop from the coffee table, immediately composing an email.
Carlisle then turned to Emmett. "I'm assuming everything went well on the coast?"
Emmett nodded, the playfulness from his face gone. "It is. We secured a boat under McCarty. It's tied at a small dock and can be ready to go within an hour of calling. The owner of the shipyard lives on premises."
"Excellent," Carlisle praised, but he looked to me. "If for some reason, things go wrong with Caroline's father, we need to act quickly. Alice's lack of vision concerns me to no end. If we have to separate, we'll regroup at the island. It can hide our numbers, as well as give us privacy. We can take our time there. After that, we need to talk about our future...together."
"A few of us can shut down this house, if need be," I told him, and he nodded in agreement. "It won't take long to pack and ship everything...or store it if we have to."
"I don't want to be separated from my children, Carlisle," Esme said, emotion causing her voice to crack.
He called her over, and she sat down beside him. "At first, it would only be temporary, sweetheart. We'll all meet on the island. After that..." His voice trailed off.
"I hate that I can't see!" Alice growled frustratedly, her small hands balling up into fists. "That black span of time bothers me, and I can't see around it. I can't plan!"
Jasper was up and wrapping arms around her in a flash. "Easy, darlin'," he soothed her. "We'll just have to play a few things by ear."
"I don't play by ear," she argued feebly. "Ever."
Bella smirked, but her brow was wrinkled. "Well, welcome to how the rest of us survive, Ali," she teased with a wink, and Jasper ginned when Alice huffed but fought her smile. My girl turned to me. "So...what do we do? We can't plan on Caroline's change. There's no blueprint for that part, but apparently, we'll be in Brazil soon. So...what?"
I kissed her forehead but turned to Alice, making a few tentative, yet quick decisions just to see the result.
Alice gasped, seeing a few more things clearer. Her brow furrowed. "On the boat?" she asked, but it was mainly to herself. "You'd have to be so, so careful."
"I figured," I murmured, looking to Carlisle. "Alice sees Rose and Emmett closing up this house. She also sees herself and Jasper flying out to the island ahead of us. And she sees...Caroline's change taking place on the boat. I'm with you, but you change her, Carlisle."
"I do?"
"As of right now, you do," I confirmed. "She's...hurt, but I don't know why...or how it happened." I tilted my head just a little, my eyes gazing out the library window. "And we'd better change this subject soon. Archie and Caroline are on their way back."
Carlisle sighed deeply, kissing Esme's palm. "I just want us prepared for the unexpected. And I want all of you to think about what we should do about future living arrangements. Okay? I know that Archie will follow us. And I think with the addition of Caroline, we'll really be pushing our luck with hiding what we are. It's already a test with Adrian and Kevin."
Adrian's thoughts hit me softly.
"That's not what he's saying, Adrian," I countered aloud. "He doesn't want us to part, and no, you're not endangering us. We simply need a new way of doing things. The usual facade won't work with this many of us, anymore."
My head turned quickly back to the window just as Archie and Caroline stepped out of the woods and into the backyard. He was holding her hand, and they were both smiling. It had been a good walk and a good conversation, and they were more attached than ever before.
"This is really going to be hard," I sighed, looking back to Carlisle. "We'd better prepare for her father's arrival."
"Well, let's get her fed first before the pixie starts painting toenails and curling her hair," Bella snorted, rolling her eyes. Did he kiss her? She smirked my way, raising a very sexy eyebrow.
"No, ma'am. Not yet," I said with a grin, dragging my tongue across my bottom lip. "I suppose you'll push that limit, hmm?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Edward," she sang with a giggle, waving me away. "I just want to feed the poor girl."
With that said, she and Esme left the room to meet the happy couple at the back deck doors in the kitchen.
Smiling at Caroline's bright laughter as she, Archie, and my brothers played video games, I made my way upstairs. Mr. Dixon was due within the hour and would most likely arrive just after sunset. Caroline had spent the last few hours in the hands of my sisters and Bella. The girls had provided her with new clothes for her trip back to Ohio with her father and a few girly touches here and there. I honestly tried to stay out of it, because when the girls got to talking, no man inside the house was safe from story telling. Even my Bella squealed on a few stories. Apparently, I couldn't seem to get my socks into the laundry basket if I tried.
Walking into Bella's and my room, I heard the sounds of the shower spray meeting skin. Leaning in the door of our bathroom, my eyes drank in the silhouette of my girl under the water. She giggled sweetly, sliding open the frosted glass door.
"You could join me, you know," she said temptingly, like the devil himself.
Licking my lips at the sight of suds sliding slowly over the soft, pale skin of her stomach, I stepped closer. "As tempting as that is, my beautiful girl," I started, leaning forward just to inhale the scent of freesias that seemed to magnify in the warm water. "And believe me, you are so...very tempting..." I opened my mouth to capture a drop of water that was rolling down her neck. "I'm afraid if I was to give into such enticement, we would never leave this room."
Bella moaned, tilting her head just enough so that I had more access to the sweet spot just behind her ear. That, too, had a droplet of water that I couldn't resist.
"Dangerous girl," I purred, feeling my eyes darken at the sound of her sweet whimper for more.
"I'm thinking you have that ass-backwards, Edward Cullen," she accused weakly. "You're the dangerous one."
Chuckling and licking my lips, I pulled back. "Why, Mrs. Cullen, I have no idea what you mean."
"Of course you don't..." She snorted, rolling her eyes and shoving me back just enough so that she could slam the shower door. "Your loss, sweetheart."
"Mm, believe me, I know," I sighed forlornly as I leaned against the vanity as she finished her shower.
That caused a giggle to escape her, but she said nothing more as she shut off the water. I met her at the bathmat with a fresh towel, wrapping her up, only to set her down on the little white rug. Once I dried her off, she wrapped the towel around herself, securing it tightly and walking into our bedroom, where I followed her like a lost puppy.
"I take it her dad is almost here, or you wouldn't be up here to get me," she surmised as she rustled through our closet.
I snickered. "Yeah, he's close. He just called her." When she turned around to face me with a pair of dark jeans in her hands, I said, "And for the record, I could resist you in the shower no longer."
Bella laughed, shaking her head. She bustled about the room, pulling out underwear and my hooded Dartmouth sweatshirt – the decision making Alice scoff downstairs, but she couldn't say anything. We had no choice but to look like the teens in which we were posing.
Before tugging off the towel, she pointed to the bed. "Sit, Edward." She laughed, but she meant it.
"My girl knows me too well," I mused with a chuckle, obeying her command without shame. I even sat on my hands in order to keep myself from reaching out to touch, especially when lime green lace and satin suddenly was now just barely covering her form. "No fair, love," I groaned, falling back on the bed and squeezing my eyes closed.
Bella giggled but quickly straddled me. Unfortunately, she was now fully dressed. She looked so young and so much like my human Bella that I couldn't help but cup her sweet face.
"I love you," I sighed, gazing up at her.
"Good," she chirped with a grin. She loomed over me, pressing kisses to my lips. "Are we ready for this?" she asked in a whisper.
"Not at all," I answered back with a frown. "The unknowns about this worry me."
"I know they do," she soothed, running her fingers through my hair.
We knew that Tim Dixon safely arrived and that Caroline left with him. However, there was nothing past the two of them stopping in Caribou for dinner before driving out of town.
Bella's sweet brown eyes studied my face, and her mind was sweet, calm, and an easy place to be at the moment. She wanted to tease that we were spoiled to Alice's visions, but this wasn't something to joke about. The only thing she promised was that we would help them both get through not only their separation, but whatever was to come that we couldn't foresee. Despite all the bickering and sibling jibes, our family was – at its core – a flawless machine. She knew it, relied on it.
Smiling, I nodded, running my fingers through her still-wet locks. "Yes, ma'am. Come on, baby. We'd better head downstairs."
"Okay, just let me dry my hair," she said, bounding off the bed and into the bathroom.
Once her hair was dry, she swept it up into a long ponytail, which made me chuckle at her because she looked that much younger.
The backpack that Caroline arrived with, along with another small duffel bag, sat sentry at the front doors. They looked over the room ominously in Archie's mind, and he could barely focus on the game he was playing, despite the huge screen in front of his face. He stood up abruptly, which caused the game to come to a stop, and Caroline looked worriedly up at him as he disappeared into the library. What she couldn't hear was the sound of an approaching car engine.
"He's here," I told her, but really, it was for everyone in the house.
Caroline let out a small sniffle, launching herself up off the couch, her mind dead-set on finding Archie. With the tension mounting in the house, I kept an eye on him, but he wrapped her gently in a hug.
Turning to Jasper, I asked, "Can you help them, or is it too much?"
He nodded, letting out a deep sigh. Esme walked to the nervous couple, tugging at Caroline lightly.
She cupped the young girl's distraught face. "Caroline, you have to calm down."
"I don't... I can't..."
"I know," she countered, swiping at her tears. "But part of being a part of this family means doing what's necessary to keep us safe. I will do my absolute best to see what we can do about getting you back here before school starts. Okay?"
That promise, that vow seemed to settle her down a little, but Archie wasn't happy at all. He locked gazes with me across the room.
How do I do this, Edward? It goes against everything I know is right. His inner voice sounded small and scared. She's my mate. She should stay with me!
My eyes flickered out the window to see a black rental car slowly pulling into the driveway. I understood his possessiveness. It came with being mated. It was impossible not to feel the need to steal them away, keep them all for yourself. And it wasn't just the male side of being mated that felt that way. Caroline was shaking with the need to cling to not only Archie, but Esme, as well, who had become the mother she'd always needed.
Walking to him, I gripped his shoulder. "You have no choice, Archie," I told him as gently as I could. "You have to let her father take her. If you don't, then you risk us all. He won't back down. She's his daughter, and his fears will cause him to make an enormous deal out of this. Alice has seen it. Police will rain down on this house."
He nodded, gathering Caroline in his arms, and Esme led us out of the library, saying, "We'll give you a minute while I greet your father, okay?"
Neither said a word as we turned our backs on them. I could see Mr. Dixon outside on his cell phone. From the conversation and his mind, he was talking to his sister-in-law, Trish. He was telling her he'd arrived in Caribou safely. And that was yet another reason that Archie had to let Caroline leave with her father – too many people knew where they were. We couldn't just steal her away, and she couldn't balk at leaving; it was just too risky.
Tim ended his call and gave the house and yard a long, slow gaze. He noted the changes and the cars in the driveway, and the fears that he'd carried for the last ten years resurfaced. He had no desire whatsoever to come anywhere near this house.
"Damn," Jasper whispered as he and Emmett stood on either side of me. He shook his head and sent a wave of courage and determination Tim's way. "That should help."
Just as Tim reached the front steps and rang the doorbell, my girl let out a soft, "Oh hell..."
I spun her way, only to follow her gaze into the library. "Oh..." I muttered, my eyebrows raising high.
Apparently, the determination that Jasper had pushed out had made its way into the library. Archie had Caroline's face gently cradled in his hands, and they were locked in a kiss that I wasn't sure anyone could stop at this point.
"Hot damn," Emmett snorted, looking to me. "Though the timing..."
"Right," I groaned, smacking his shoulder. "Come on."
We jumped over the sofa just as the doorbell rang one more time.
"Son, what are you doing?" Carlisle asked, coming in from his bedroom.
"Blocking his view of that," I told him, jerking a thumb toward the library. "I'll get the door!" I called just loud enough that Tim noted it from outside.
The problem was that the front door faced the library entryway and the living room. Esme wouldn't have blocked out the kissing couple. She would've opened the door to a straight shot to Tim's daughter wrapped in Archie's embrace. However, if Emmett and I greeted the man, his eyes would land on two boys that were large enough to hide the view of the rest of the house. And hopefully, it would give Archie and Caroline just enough time to break it up.
I opened the door, trying my best to sound polite. "Hello, you must be Caroline's dad."
Tim Dixon's physique definitely fit with what he did for a living. Even though he was on the design end of construction, it was obvious that he still could get his hands dirty. He was a few inches shorter than me, with grayish-hazel eyes and a nervous smile. His face was weathered from working outdoors, and his arms were muscular. He wasn't a large man, but he looked like he knew his way around a hard day's work.
"Tim Dixon," he stated roughly, and he eyed the two of us, wondering if either of us was the Archie in which his daughter was so enamored.
"I'm Edward, and this is my brother Emmett," I said, elbowing Emmett on my left.
"Hey, whassup?" Emmett greeted with a giant grin and a wave of his hand. "I think Caroline's just about ready," he said, shooting a glance over his shoulder and trying his best to not sound sarcastic. "Wanna come in?"
The fears that Tim carried reared their ugly head, and his first thought was to scream no. But Carlisle and Esme stepped forward, the former placing a hand on my shoulder.
The girls separated them, Edward, he thought to me with a touch of amusement but then spoke aloud for the benefit of Mr. Dixon. "Thank you, boys," he said, smiling kindly at Tim. "Mr. Dixon... It's nice to meet you face to face. I'm Carlisle Cullen, and this is my wife, Esme. I believe you two have spoken more than we have."
Esme smiled, and Tim instantly noted her beauty.
"It's nice to finally meet you, Tim," Esme gushed, shaking his hand. "Won't you please come in?"
"We really should get on the road..." he muttered but didn't want to be rude.
"Of course, but surely you can have a cup of coffee. I just brewed a pot," she insisted.
Bella's giggle met my ears, but it was her thoughts to me that made shoot a smirk her way. And I said you dazzle people. You've got nothing on Esme.
Before Tim could protest, he was stepping over the threshold, giving the house a worried gaze. He smiled a little at the fact that it looked nothing like it had when he'd been here. His head spun toward the doorway when he heard his daughter.
"Dad!" she gushed, letting go of Archie's hand and rushed to her father.
He eyed Archie but forced himself to focus on his little girl, who he now hadn't seen in several days. Despite the fact that he was still rather upset with her, he hugged her tightly. I kept my own focus on his thoughts because the scent of her caused him to freeze momentarily. It was familiar, yet alien to him, but in reality, it was Archie's scent. To Tim, it was sweet and slightly unnerving, but he chalked it up to perfumes and detergents.
"I don't know whether to strangle you or hug you to death," he sighed, causing a chuckle to erupt from Esme.
"She's been an angel," she told him. "And as you can see, we have experience in kids her age." She swept a hand around the room, gesturing to all of us.
Jasper and Bella were standing with Archie to keep him calm, but the rest were lounging in the living room in front of a now-paused video game. Esme introduced each and every one of us, finally ending with Archie.
"Archie, come meet my dad," Caroline ordered softly, walking over and taking his hand. "Dad, this is Archie."
Tim scrutinized every inch of poor Archie, making him feel like he was under a microscope. There was something familiar about Archie to him, but he couldn't put his finger on it. My worst fear was that Tim would recognize him, but Archie had been in a starved, withered state the last night the two had stood together in this house.
Archie at least remembered to blink, fidget, and shift from one foot to the other as he worried the same thing I was, but he finally held out his hand. The relief of not being recognized almost overshadowed his fear of meeting his girl's father. Almost.
"It's nice to meet you, sir. Caroline has told me so much about you," he said politely, and immediately, Tim noted his manners, something in which the boy, Grant, had been ignorant.
"Archie," he said almost harshly, accompanied with a brusque nod.
"Let's get you that coffee," Esme urged, guiding Caroline and Tim toward the dining room table.
Emmett and I joined everyone else in the living room as Archie, Caroline, Tim, Carlisle, and Esme took a seat at the table. Esme kept the conversation going as she explained our family – who was adopted, who wasn't, and why even though some of us would've been old enough to have aged out of the foster care system, we were still in the house.
"Some of my kids will be going off to college next year, too," she told him cheerfully. "Emmett, Rose, Kevin, and Adrian will all be leaving us."
"What about you?" Tim asked Archie, but it was Esme that answered.
"Archie is the newest member of our family," she started with a sweet pat on Archie's hand. "He's a little behind on school, but he's doing an amazing job at catching up with Edward, Bella, and Alice, who are juniors this year. We homeschool. It gives us a chance to let them excel or catch up at their own pace. He's hoping to double his efforts in order to start college by the second semester."
I smirked at Jasper and Emmett as Esme's lies rolled smoothly off her tongue. She would do anything to keep up the pretenses, but she always went a step above that, making each and every one of us sound like we were model kids. Tim wanted to ask why Archie was behind, but he didn't get a chance, and Caroline could no longer hold her tongue.
"Dad," she whispered, looking nervously from Esme to her father. "They've invited me back this summer. I want to come. I want to see them all before I have to start classes in Portland."
He grimaced, shaking his head. "Carrie, we've got a lot to talk about before I can say yes to that. You ran away! You told no one where you were going, you lied, you forced yourself on these people, and you cost me a helluva lot of money to come out here to get you. I realize you're eighteen, but you have no idea what your disappearance did to me..."
The last sentence trailed off as he looked around the house again. Memories flashed to the forefront of his mind, and I sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. Despite all the false claims that he'd given his daughter, the police, and his family, he remembered his wife's misery inside this house with absolute clarity. His pride was what had kept him quiet, but he hadn't lied when he said that the best thing to come out of his marriage was Caroline. Lisa Dixon wasn't just miserable, she was verbally abusive, boarding on almost violent. And Tim suspected that she'd cheated on him in Ohio – another reason he'd forced the move to Caribou.
My eyebrows shot up at that last memory, but what he was dealing with wasn't just fear of the house – because that last night was etched into his memory – it was the guilt of the fact that he honestly wasn't sure he truly missed his wife. He had been damn close to asking for a divorce the week she'd disappeared. The only thing that had stopped him was knowing that it was entirely possible that he'd lose custody of his little girl, and that he was still madly in love with his wife.
"I'm sorry, Daddy," Caroline whispered, looking shattered at the prospect that she wouldn't get to come back. "I needed to see this house."
"I don't care," Tim snapped, sighing a little and closing his eyes.
"It's understandable, Caroline," Carlisle soothed, looking to Tim. "I realize that with all that happened to you in this house that you're a little on edge, but as you can see, your daughter was perfectly safe. In fact, she's been a breath of fresh air in this house."
"She's brought our shy Archie out of his shell," Esme praised, smirking a little at Caroline, who blushed profusely.
Tim set his elbows on the table, both hands wrapping around his coffee cup. "I want to thank you for taking her in," he muttered, giving Caroline a withering glare. "I don't think she understands just how dangerous this little stunt of hers could've been. She was damned lucky she made it here in one piece, not to mention that she stumbled upon decent people living here. It could've gone completely the opposite."
His nostrils flared as he turned to his daughter. "My first instinct is to say no. I'm not sure you deserve the reward for what you've done. I don't care about any recent friendships or...or... crushes." He waved a dismissive hand toward Archie, which pissed off not only Caroline, but every member of my family.
But it was Archie's soft, yet firm tone that commanded everyone's attention. "Excuse me, Mr. Dixon... I know that you're upset with Caroline, but it only makes sense that she come here before attending school in the fall. If you won't grant her a visit, then I will go to her." He frowned, meeting the angry glare of Tim Dixon. "Sh-She's told me what happened here, and for that...I'm truly sorry, but I would really like to see her again. You can't blame her for wanting to know her past and herself better, especially when she can't get a straight answer anywhere else."
"Oh shit," Emmett groaned softly enough the humans couldn't hear him, shaking his head slowly. "Kid's gonna piss off dad from the get-go?"
I frowned, gazing across the room to Mr. Dixon to watch his reaction and hear his mind. He was absolutely livid, but he was mad that Archie was slightly right. However, he'd never admit it aloud.
"Archie..." he sneered, shaking his head. "You seem like a nice kid, really, but you two have just met."
"All the more reason for us to see each other again," Archie countered angrily.
"Son, that's enough," Carlisle chided, though with barely any force behind it. He understood why Archie was panicking.
"Tim," Esme said softly. "I realize that it seems quick, but I can tell you that Caroline is a wonderful influence on Archie. You've done an amazing job raising a beautiful and smart young woman. I want you to know that whatever you decide, our home will always be open to her. She's welcome anytime."
"Thank you, Esme," Caroline whispered as tears welled up in her eyes. She knew her father better than any of us, and she assumed the answer was already no, just simply because he could, but she thought to try one more time. "It's not a crush, Dad," she argued weakly. "And I really would like to come before I'm too busy with classes and work. Please?"
"She's eighteen-fucking-years-old!" Rose seethed just below human hearing, but her gaze locked with mine. "Just buy her the damn ticket. It's not like he can stop her!"
"If we have to, we will," I told her. "She's asking his permission to soothe the rift between them, Rose. Not because she actually needs it."
My explanation was short and lacking, and what I wanted to tell them was that Mr. Dixon was well aware that he had no hold on her legally anymore. In fact, it was just about to scare him to death.
Tim shook his head. His worry that he was losing his daughter to not only college and life in general but to a boy was practically palpable. He wasn't ready to face it, and he was too tired from the flight and drive up here. She was and always would be his little girl, the only thing he truly got right in his life, and he didn't want to face that he was losing her.
Instead of answering her, he simply said, "We should get on the road, Carrie. I need to stop for gas before we head south. Get your things together."
"Fuck, it's like that?" Kevin growled low, looking to me. "Seriously, Heavy E?"
Unfortunately, I had to nod that avoidance was all the answer any of us were going to get. I looked to Alice, whose eyes had glazed over blankly. Visions of getting gas, stopping for dinner, a heated conversation at the table, and an uncomfortable silence in the car was all she was able to see. But Tim wouldn't be agreeing to letting Caroline leave any earlier than was necessary to get her to the university – legal age or not.
Bella, who had been watching the entire exchange with a touch of anger, suddenly stood up. "Caroline, I have something for you in the library." She turned her sharp gaze on Mr. Dixon as he stood up from the table. "Her things are packed. They're by the door. We were able to get her a few necessities until she could get back her own things." My Bella delivered that with a cold tone to her voice, and her shield slipped a bit as her eyes drifted toward Caroline.
Mr. Dixon nodded, watching as Bella wrapped a loving arm around Caroline. Archie and I followed them both, but I leaned against the piano as my girl quickly jotted a few things down on a pad of paper.
"Sweet girl, you have to calm down," I soothed her, but I made no move to touch her. "You can't snap at him."
"No," she growled, glaring at me. "He's not even giving them a chance!"
"I know, love," I sighed, "but we'll figure something out. I promise."
Her sweet little heart was breaking for them. It would be months between now and when Caroline was starting college, but that wasn't what was bothering her. It was the unknown. She'd seen Alice's blank look.
"I'm not lying," Archie stated. "If I have to go to California, then I will."
"Archie, that's...sweet, but you can't. It's too sunny," Caroline argued.
"Then we'll travel by night," I added, shrugging a shoulder. "We'll figure it out, Caroline. This can be fixed. And your father...he's just...angry and a little tired right this second. He'll calm down."
"Maybe I won't," she huffed, turning to Archie. "I'm sorry. I told you... He's overprotective."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Bella snorted. "Dad can't touch the protection of a mate. Trust me." I chuckled when she shot me a wink, but she handed Caroline a folded up piece of paper. "This is everyone's phone number, my email, and the house phone. And this..." She held up the book Forever that had unleashed it all. "This is so you'll remember what's important. Okay?"
Caroline nodded, tears coursing down her face. "I don't want to go. I just found you..."
"You have to go with him," Archie soothed, hating the words that he was saying, but he had no choice. "If you don't, he'll really get angry. He could...threaten my family."
Caroline shot a look to Bella and then me. "Really?"
"Yes, he's too scared of losing you right now. You have to do as he says," I told her, reaching for Bella's hand.
A sob erupted from her, but she faced Archie, who cupped her face and gently wiped away her tears with his thumbs. He wasn't far from losing it himself. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm just a call away. And we'll see each other soon. When Edward promises something, he means it. We'll figure it out."
I smiled sadly but nodded as Bella wrapped an arm around me.
"Carrie! Let's go!" Tim called from the front door after having loaded her things into the rental car.
Bella and I turned away when Archie kissed his girl one more time. I noted that he never even acknowledged her scent or the pounding of her heart. He simply wanted to soothe himself and her for a brief moment.
"Carrie!" her father boomed again.
Caroline broke away from Archie, pressing her lips to his once more before rushing to Esme, who wrapped her up in a hug.
"It was...amazing meeting you, sweet one," Esme soothed her loud enough that Tim could hear her. She pulled Caroline back and cupped her face. "Our doors are always open. We'll see you soon, okay?"
Another sniffle resounded through the room, but Caroline nodded. "Thank you...for everything."
"Anytime, my dear. Now, you don't want to keep your father waiting. It's already dark," she told her.
"Yes, ma'am," she sighed with a nod.
Caroline hugged everyone, lingering on Bella and then me, kissing my cheek.
"What was that for?" I teased her.
"For being there for him," she whispered. "Don't let him disappear."
"You have my word, Caroline," I told her, making sure she was looking me in the eye. She wasn't worried that Archie would leave; she was worried that he'd turn in on himself. "I'll take care of him until you can take the job back over. All right?"
"Thank you, Edward," she said, trying to smile, but she failed miserably.
When she stepped in front of Archie, he could barely breathe with the need to steal her away, to stop her tears, to not kiss her right there – her father be damned. He didn't want to show any weakness, especially in front of Tim, but his heart was shattering.
"You'll wait for me?" she asked.
"I swear it."
"You'll call me?"
He smiled, though just barely. "Every day."
"You promised me eternity, Archie," she stated, raising an eyebrow at him.
"I meant every word I said to you," he whispered, too aware of Tim's scrutinizing gaze. "Love doesn't even come close."
"No. No, it doesn't," she agreed softly.
"You'd better go."
"'Kay," she sobbed. With one last kiss to Archie's cheek, she bolted from the house and dove into the front seat of the car.
Tim eyed his heartbroken daughter sadly for a brief moment, turning back to my parents. "Thank you again for taking care of her. I...I'm... I can't make a decision about her return right this second, but I assume... I'm guessing we'll be in touch."
"It's completely understandable," Carlisle soothed him, shaking his hand one more time. "I'd be just as frantic over my own girls," he said, gesturing toward Alice, Rose, and Bella.
Tim nodded once, waved, and joined his daughter in the car.
Archie held out just long enough for the car to leave the driveway before he fell to his knees, his hands gripping his hair. Bella's shield couldn't be stopped, and she fell in front of him, wrapping him up tightly and whispering that it would be okay, that we wouldn't keep them apart for long.
My girl lifted her shield just enough so that Carlisle and I could grip his shoulders.
"You'll see her again soon," I whispered in his ear. "Come. Let's get you inside."
He groaned, looking up at me with a pain-filled expression.
"Alice will watch over her. I swear it. Now...I made a promise, Archie. You can't fall apart. You need to be strong when she comes back to you."
Archie nodded and stood up. "What do I do, Edward? I feel like I can't breathe without her already!"
Carlisle wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Like Edward said, you must stay strong. For her. You can't fail her. Eventually, she'll need you...permanently."
His eyes locked with mine because we knew for a fact that Alice's vision had stayed true for Caroline's entire visit. She would be one of us; we just didn't know why or when. He also shared the same worry as Caroline, that Archie would curl up and shut down.
As much as Archie knew what Carlisle was saying was true, he was still wrecked over all that he'd been through in the last few days. However, he was determined to do as his girl asked. Pulling out the phone that Emmett had spent several days teaching him how to use, he typed out a quick message.
A: You were worth waiting for. Be careful until we can be together again. Love, Archie.
"She'll love that," Bella whispered, kissing his cheek.
As we turned him toward the open front door, Alice gazed up at him sadly. "I taught her how to make clear decisions, Archie, so that I could keep a better eye on her. I will watch."
He merely nodded, looking around at all of us. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Th-Thank you. I don't know what I'd do—"
"Don't even finish that," Esme chided sweetly. "You don't have to wonder. We're here for you. No matter what happens."
With that said, we guided him back inside the house, our trust relying solely on Alice.


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