Sunday, January 20, 2013 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 37

Chapter 37
BELLA
"Alice! Please!" Archie begged, his eyes wild with worry, but I held him steadfast in my shield and my arms as he physically shook. We watched my sister pace frantically in the library.
She'd been pacing since she'd had to send Emmett and Jasper right out the door not twenty minutes after Carlisle and Edward, even more when I was told to send my husband a text giving the go-ahead for everything. I could see the turmoil etched across her face. Whatever decisions my husband and our father were making had been shocking for her. And I wasn't so sure it was because this moment had been blurry in her visions since the beginning. Every now and then, I wished for Edward's gift, if only to see what she was seeing. This was one of those times.
When Carlisle and Edward had spun out of the driveway, Alice had remained silent after explaining to Archie what she'd seen that had brought her to her knees. A car accident. A really bad one. Archie had flown into a panicked rage, and I'd had no choice but to hold him in my shield to save the house and his sanity. Edward had said Archie couldn't follow, so I kept him bound to me.
The sound of Carlisle's ringtone blaring from Esme's phone made Archie jump and my breath hitch. My breathing wasn't all that great to begin with, but I was pushing through the pain of being separated from Edward to the best of my ability. The ache deep inside of my chest was debilitating, but I had no choice but to rub my sternum and focus on the scared man in my arms. But all eyes were on Esme as Carlisle's voice echoed out of her phone.
"We're on our way, Esme. Be ready. As soon as she's changed, we'll have to move."
At the word "changed," the house became eerily still and quiet. Carlisle had unfortunately had to turn Caroline. They'd had no other alternative, or else they would've tried to heal her first. Which meant things were about to get really crazy. Our lives in Caribou were just about to an end.
"I understand," she said firmly, locking gazes with me. "Be careful. We'll take care of everything."
The call ended, but the silence went on as her hand fell to her side. Adrian wrapped an arm around her shoulders, his eyes only on her face. I could see the wheels turning, the motherly affection that she had for each and every one of us blooming out into the room. But there was a determination in her face, as well. It was a look she must've worn several times before. There were things to do, children to care for, and preparations to be made.
"Changed?" Archie whispered, though his voice barely made a sound. A small sob ripped from him, but he waited for an answer.
"They didn't have a choice," Alice stated gently. "The damage was too extensive. They had to change her before getting in the car. She wouldn't have made it to the boat, like my last vision, so now...she'll change here."
Even though she'd told me to send Edward a text to go ahead, the words were still shocking.
"They?" Rose asked, picking up on the word that I hadn't.
"Caroline's change needed to start quickly and powerfully. Carlisle needed Edward's venom, as well," Alice told her.
"And Mr. Dixon?" I asked, but she was already shaking her head no.
"Edward tried his best to do what he could for the man, but he was...crushed," Alice told me, wincing a little. "He made him comfortable at the end. He died knowing the truth."
"Caroline," Archie whispered, his eyes gazing down at the floor.
Alice knelt in front of him in order to lock eyes. "Her change is taking hold. Edward vowed to bring her back to you, and he'd even made the decision to change her himself if things had gone a different way. You have to be strong, Archie. You won't lose her, but watching her change will be hard. Okay?"
My eyes stung with tears that I couldn't shed. My sweet Edward would've done anything for Archie in order for him to keep his mate. He knew Archie wouldn't survive the loss of her, and he knew that Alice's visions changed rapidly, but the one of Caroline becoming one of us had stayed true. How and where she was changed had continuously altered – here at the house, the boat that Emmett had secured, and obviously, the side of the deserted back road of Maine.
He nodded that he heard her, but Esme stepped forward to cup his face. "Son, look at me," she ordered gently. "We will not abandon you or her. Understand me? This isn't like what you've experienced. She will be taken care of. We'll show you how to take care of her." Her vow was strong and true and not to be second-guessed.
Kevin looked up from the other side of Archie, his normal, ever-present wry smile gone for the moment. "What do you need, Mom?" he asked. "Tell us."
Esme took a deep breath, glancing briefly around the room. "We'll need to get ready to move. We'll have until the end of her change, plus a day, and then we'll have to go ahead with our plan. But first things first... We'll need to prepare for Caroline's arrival." She turned to Rose. "We'll need clothes, blankets, and a place for her..."
"My room," Archie growled.
"And we'll probably have to clean her up," Esme added, nodding to Archie that she'd heard his request. "Archie, I need you to stay calm, but I need Bella's help, okay?"
He nodded frantically, but I gave him a kiss to his cheek. "This will be the hard part, buddy. Then you'll have her forever, okay?" He nodded again, and I went on. "She wanted this. It's not against her will. She told me that she wanted a love that would never fade. She's getting that...tenfold."
A small smile twitched the corners of his mouth, but he looked over at me. "Thanks, Bella," he whispered.
I smiled, ruffled his hair, and stood up. "I'll get her some clothes," I told Esme.
The house broke apart in several directions. I heard Rose and Alice talk about softer sheets on Archie's bed, Kevin say he was going to draw some warm water in Archie's tub, and Esme order Adrian to grab the blankets.
Using my immortal speed, I dashed into Edward's and my room, letting our combined scent soothe my aching chest. I dove for the dresser, pulling out warm, comfy pajamas. They were soft and light and wouldn't be so harsh against fiery, sensitive skin. Though, in reality, nothing would ease the burning until she was completely transformed.
By the time I made it back down to the library and into Archie's basement bedroom, the pain in my chest ceased. Completely.
Taking a deep, relieved breath, I said, "They're close," as I rubbed my chest.
"Good," Esme stated, stripping the bedding and changing the sheets.
She barked instructions that Rose and Alice didn't seem to need, and I realized this was how they'd reacted the night that Edward had turned me. I'd been a broken mess, and Edward had fared no better emotionally. Kevin's change had been different. Marcus had taken responsibility for him while Carlisle monitored everything. This was all on us...as a family.
The front doors flew open, and the sound of Caroline's whimpers met my ears, along with barked orders from Jasper, Edward, and Carlisle. All three men and Caroline were soaking wet, sneakers squelching with each step taken, and both Carlisle and Edward were covered in mud at the knees from where they'd knelt during the storm.
Edward was cradling Caroline in his arms, Jasper was pushing as much calm as he could, and Carlisle caught Archie before he could touch his girl.
"Easy, son," Carlisle soothed. "Listen to her heart. It's strong. The venom has worked its way completely through her circulatory system and is now spreading through her tissues. Smell it?"
I smiled, thinking Carlisle was giving Archie something to focus on.
"Edward, sweetheart," Esme called, pointing to the pile of blankets by the tub. "Set her down over there. We need to clean her up, but you boys have to go!"
Edward did as he was told, though he stopped long enough to check Caroline's rapid pulse. Her heart sounded strained, and it was beating as fast as a hummingbird's wings. As he tried not to jostle her too much, he settled her down onto the pallet of blankets that Adrian had made per Esme's instructions.
It was then that I got a good look at the poor girl. She was shattered, it seemed. Her leg was twisted and misshapen. Her hands, hair, and face were covered in blood, and her arm looked to be bending in the wrong direction. There was also a medical tube sticking out of the middle of her chest.
Jesus, no wonder they'd had to turn her.
"Yes," Edward whispered, pressing a bunch of kisses to the side of my head in rapid succession. "Turn away, love," he instructed gently.
Pressing my face into his upper arm, I heard movement and a scream from Caroline, but I focused on the scent of my husband, letting it soak into my lungs. He smelled like rain, mud, the Volvo's leather seats, and...blood.
"Okay, sweet girl," he told me, dropping another kiss to the top of my head.
When I looked back, I saw that he'd removed the tube. Caroline was bowing up off the floor. He soothed her with soft apologies and a touch to her hand.
"Edward, we've got her. We'll let you back in shortly, okay?" Esme said, giving her firstborn's shoulder a squeeze.
"Yes, ma'am," he said softly, turning to me. "You okay?"
I smiled. "I'm a strong, tenacious woman. I survived."
"Don't I know it," he snorted, shooting me my favorite crooked smile. "If it's too much, come up out of here, okay?"
Nodding, I kissed his lips before he stood up. "Go get changed out of those wet clothes, baby," I said aloud. But privately, I thought to him, You are the most amazing person I've ever met, Edward. This was the most selfless thing you've ever done. And I couldn't love you more right now if I tried...
Edward's brow furrowed as he shoved his hands into the front pockets of his wet jeans. His head bowed, but he gazed up at me through his long, beautiful eyelashes. His hair was dark and dripping and slicked back, his face expressionless, but I knew him well enough to know that he didn't quite know what to say to that. His eyes met mine, and they were contrite and sweet, the color of warm honey, but they were filled with a heat behind them that he seemed to be struggling to maintain.
"Edward," Esme asked him one more time. "Let us take her from here. I'm sure that Archie needs you."
Edward's heated gaze never left mine as he said, "Yes, ma'am," before turning on his heel to head up to the library.
Following my mother's and sisters' leads, we gently stripped Caroline of her ruined clothing. She'd whimper, but Esme would soothe her with a constant flow of kind words, encouragement, and apologies if we had to jostle her. Her bath water was cool, instead of hot – her skin already on fire – and the bath was given swiftly, yet as gently as possible. Once she was dressed in pink plaid pajamas and a pink cotton T-shirt, we brushed her hair, laying her down in the middle of Archie's bed.
The very second that Esme pulled a quilt up around her, Archie was through the door and down into his room, falling to his knees at the side of the bed. Caroline's cries, her begging for him and death, and her sobs settled slightly at the sound of his voice.
He started a soft mantra of vows to her that seemed too intimate to hear. They were promises that he was right there, that he'd be there when she awoke, and that he knew it hurt.
Ruffling his hair, I whispered in his ear. "She's going to be more beautiful than she already was, Arch. Just keep telling her that you're here. She can hear you."
He nodded, looking past me to see Carlisle, who was now showered and dressed in dry clothes, descending the stairs.
"Bella, would you be so kind as to take these out to the fire Jasper's already started?" he asked, pointing to the blankets and Caroline's ruined clothes.
"Sure," I said, kissing his cheek before doing as I was asked.
I knew that Carlisle wanted time to check on Caroline's progress, as well as a little one-on-one time with Archie. Even through the haze of my own transformation, I remembered Carlisle's constant, soothing tone easing Edward's frantic mind. The scent of those two men combined would always be forever etched in my memory as the perfect combination of love, comfort, and protection. They guarded over me, worried over me for the duration of my change.
I emerged out of the basement with my arms full, but I could see the family kicking into what they did best. They were focused, planning and listening. Emmett had returned not long after the others, but his usual jovial face was all business as he spoke on the phone. He was talking to the manager of the boat dock, telling him to have our boat ready in four days' time.
Everyone else was hard at work, as well. Kevin was securing a storage facility in Bangor, while Adrian spoke to a moving company. Alice was nowhere to be seen, but I could imagine she was buying airline tickets. Our plan was officially underway. We had no alternative but to escape to Isle Esme for Caroline's newborn phase.
Jasper was still outside stoking the fire when I came out. He offered to help me, but I stopped him.
"No, I'm okay, Jazz," I told him. "Go get changed."
His face was solemn when he nodded, but he made no move to leave me just yet.
"Are you okay?" I asked him, tossing Caroline's clothes onto the fire.
His serious gaze met mine. "This is the hardest part...for me," he said, placing a hand over his heart. "It's ingrained in me to worry about the...after part of this..."
I smiled sadly. Edward had told me this before. Jasper's job with Maria was to train newborns. On the rare occasion, there had been people that hadn't taken well to it. Jasper had been the one to destroy them. The fear, the horror, and the pain of the change were just a few of the emotions that Jasper had to feel right along with his subjects. Add in that he cared for Archie, and he was dreading what may come.
Ripping up the soiled blankets, I dropped the strips into the fire. It kept me busy and the flames from being smothered.
"Did you worry about me? And Kevin?" I asked him.
"Absolutely," he gushed, looking at me like I was crazy. "You..." He huffed an incredulous laugh, shaking his head. "I knew you were strong, that you were prepared to an extent, but fuck, I was as nervous as a whore in church."
I giggled, waiting for him to continue.
He smirked a little but went on. "God, I didn't know what I'd do if something had gone wrong with your change. Edward was already a mess. And you were so fucking quiet!" He jerked his thumb when Caroline's cries rang out. "That? That's normal. You...you were not normal. And that drove us all crazy."
"I have to keep you on your toes, J," I teased him, tossing more strips of blanket into the fire.
He snorted. "Yeah, thanks for that." He sighed, looking out over the night-covered backyard. "Kevin was different. He was such a bright spirit prior to his change. I worried that he'd lose that, but he's hardly any different. But you... Fuck, Bella..."
I sent him brotherly love and hugged him with my shield, smirking back at him. "I know, Jasper. I understand. She's pretty strong. Like me. I can't see a problem. What's Alice say?"
"That she's fine. She's seen it all along, you know," he sighed. "I know I should listen, but I can't stop that feeling..."
Jasper gazed over at me, and I felt love and strength coming from him, as well as gratefulness. I could understand why. He respected and loved Edward to the ends of the Earth. Had something happened during my change and Jasper had needed to end me, he would've had to end Edward, too. There had been no question. Edward would've begged him. And that would've hurt Jasper to his very soul.
"Go hunt, Jasper," I heard behind me. The voice was gentle, yet firm and the one I'd been waiting for. "You maintained her all the way here; you're thirsty, brother. Go. Alice is joining you."
Strong arms wrapped around me from behind, kisses pressed to the back of my head, but it was the scent of a freshly showered Edward that relaxed me to my bones. Leaning back into him, I continued my task of burning the blankets.
Jasper looked to Edward, and I could tell they were communicating silently. I felt Edward nod behind me, squeezing me closer and burying his face in my neck.
"I'm aware, Jasper," Edward said smoothly. "We weren't apart for long. We'll be okay."
I nodded silently in agreement at the same time Alice emerged out onto the deck. She slipped her hand into Jasper's, tugging him toward the steps. He gave us one more nod before allowing her to pull him away.
Tossing the last of the soiled fabric onto the fire, I turned in Edward's arms, burying my nose into my favorite spot – the crook of his neck. Inhaling deeply, I felt the last of our separation and the anxiety that came with it start to ebb away.
"I'm sorry about Tim," I mumbled against his sweet-smelling skin.
"Me, too," he sighed, nuzzling my cheek. "I tried, but he was...beyond help."
"Alice said you made him comfortable..."
He snorted humorlessly. "As comfortable as a wounded soldier on a battlefield," he groaned. "He wasn't going to make it, so I just gave him enough morphine to send him off without pain."
I nodded, still buried in his neck. I could tell he wasn't comfortable with the conversation. "I love you...so, so much."
"Love you, too, my sweet girl."
"What do we do now?" I asked, pressing kisses to his throat.
Edward hummed, swallowing thickly, and I smiled when I felt his Adam's apple move against my lips. He pulled me back, cupping my face. "We wait, we prepare, and then we move."
~oOo~
Wrapping my arms around my knees, I fiddled with my iPod without looking at it as I sat on a flat boulder. My eyes gazed unseeingly over at the falling water. Spring had descended upon our secret waterfall and clearing with an explosion of color. The purple flowers were back and were scattered over the ground. Leaves were new and bright green. Even the water was clean, clear, and soothing. Not that I could hear it. My earbuds were shoved in my ears, and music was drowning out everything around me.
It was the second day of Caroline's change, and I'd run from the house like a coward. My shield overreacted when the venom flowing through her system had snapped first her arm and then her leg back into place, but it was her screams that had sent me from the house. She was healing, changing...burning. It was torture to witness.
It didn't help that I'd needed to hunt or that the house was chaos with everyone quickly packing necessities and personal items that needed to go with us. Emmett and Rose had already taken one load of things to be shipped to Brazil and a few things that were to be carried on the boat. Adrian and Kevin had already started to move some things into storage.
According to Alice, we wouldn't need a full year for Caroline's newborn phase, but my shield would be her biggest ally. She also saw no one making any decisions concerning our future place to live for quite some time. Telling Charlie that I was moving overseas again had not been easy, but he'd put my mind at ease by saying that's why he had a passport.
In a little over two days, my family would separate temporarily. Alice and Jasper were flying into Brazil and renting a boat to make sure that Isle Esme was ready. Emmett, Rose, Adrian, and Kevin were staying behind to close up the house, and then they, too, would fly out. However, Caroline would be in no shape to fly, and Alice had seen that, so in order to keep her from people, Carlisle suggested that the rest of us sail down the coast all the way to the island. He'd already plotted several places to stop along the way for her to hunt. But on the water, she'd be away from humans, and she'd have the benefit of being surrounded by Carlisle, Edward, and Esme for guidance, not to mention Archie for moral and loving support. I was there to make sure that she didn't jump ship if the scent of blood came anywhere near her.
And poor Archie. He was a mess. I wasn't sure what he was worried about more – being responsible for his mate from this point on or leaving the only home he'd ever known. He couldn't even answer the question, but he was so focused on Caroline that he could barely look at anyone.
The scent of sunshine, honey, and clean linen wafted around me at the same time my chest lurched. Edward was near.
Tugging my earbuds out, I simply said, "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," I heard from down on the ground.
I turned my head to rest the other way on my knees, taking in the beauty that was Edward. He looked worried and freshly fed. His eyes were light and warm. He stood there in dark jeans and a simple black T-shirt, his hands shoved into his front pockets. In one graceful move, he leaped up to the top of our rock, sitting down in front of me.
"It's not easy...listening to someone's change, sweet girl," he stated, shrugging a shoulder. "No one blames you for getting out of there for a bit."
I could only nod at that, letting my eyes drop to the iPod in my hand.
"Did you hunt?" he asked, but then sniffed the air. "Yes."
I smirked, rolling my eyes, and shook my head. "Then why ask?"
He chuckled sweetly. "'Cause I can. And your mind is silent to me."
Opening, my mind to him, I said, "There. Happy?"
Edward sighed and picked up one of my hands, kissing the back of it. "What are you listening to?" he asked, tugging my player from my hand.
"It was loud, angry rock. It's since morphed into...you."
He fought his smile but met my gaze as he set the iPod down next to us. "I want to hold you, but..."
The words were barely out of his mouth before I was scurrying to climb into his lap. Straddling his thighs, I wrapped myself around him like a limpet. Strong, loving, comforting arms wound all the way around me as he sighed deeply. Selfishly, I inhaled deeply into his neck, taking all of him I could take at the moment. However, the better, bigger part of me knew that I should probably give him up so that he could be with Archie.
"Uh uh," he chided against my hair, pulling at me until I met his fierce eyes. "You, my beautiful girl, will always come first. You are my priority. Everything and everyone else comes in a distant second. Understand?"
I nodded, bringing his forehead down to touch mine. "It was too much, Edward," I admitted softly. "My shield shifts every time she screams, but I can't do anything for her."
"And it didn't help that you probably needed to hunt, hmm?"
"Yeah, probably."
"Not to mention we haven't had any time together since we were apart," he added.
"It wasn't for long, baby," I sighed, knowing he was right and wondering what color Marcus would see if he were here.
"Doesn't matter, love," he countered with a small smile.
"Edward," I snorted, shaking my head, "you're about to be stuck on a boat with me for a long time. I'm sure we'll be a bright green by the time we made it to the island."
He grinned, and it was sexy and sarcastic all at the same time. "Good thing you can't drown me, then."
Giggling, I nuzzled his nose with my own. "Good thing that goes both ways..."
Edward laughed, his sweet breath pushing out over my face. He brushed a soft kiss across my lips. "We'll stay out here as long as you need, Bella. I have no problem with that," he vowed solemnly.
"'Kay," I sighed, hugging him again and burrowing back into my favorite spot.
Finally surrounded by the only thing that could relax me, I let my mind wander. I worried for Archie as the end of Caroline's change drew near. I wondered what our lives would be like in the future. Would we all stay together? Would we split up? Would Archie and Caroline want to follow us? And if they followed us, how would we hide what we were? There were so many of us now that we'd almost need to start our own town.
Edward snorted into a chuckle. "What would we name it, Bella?"
"Vampville," I said with a laugh. "It'll be like Salem's Lot...you know, the Stephen King book? All vamp, all the time..."
"Uhh, no," he said with a grin and a shake of his head. "That was all sorts of disturbing. That guy looked like Bat Boy in the movie."
"Oh yeah! He did!" My face popped up from his neck. I couldn't help but laugh at my hundred-and-fifteen-year-old mate's silly-sweet face.
Edward smiled, dropping a heavy kiss to my forehead. "So much going on in here, baby. Relax, we'll figure it out. I promise."
I felt just a touch guilty about stealing my husband away when he was probably needed by everyone else. Archie had been relying on him to read Caroline's mind, which in itself was harsh and filled with pain. Carlisle had asked Edward to monitor the progress of the car accident, as well, which had been deemed an accident by the local authorities. The car had exploded and burned down to almost nothing. The explosion covered up the fact that Caroline's body had not been found, but her possessions were scattered everywhere. Caroline Dixon no longer existed on paper. She was declared dead, right along with her father.
Which brought me to Caroline herself. Edward felt the need to keep an eye on her, but I was convinced the hardest part would be when she finally woke up. It had nothing to do with her newborn senses, but she would truly feel the impact of her father's death once she was conscious. And it would be ten times worse as an immortal. She'd feel it all – grief, anger, shock.
Edward cupped my face, his expression suddenly nervous. He tucked my hair behind my ears and then held my hands, his long fingers turning my wedding band over and over and over.
"Edward, what's wrong?" I asked him, stopping the motion of his fingers.
"I worry... I mean, you haven't thought about it, so I don't know," he started to ramble adorably. His eyes met mine. "Does it bother you? That I helped with her change, I mean. I never thought that I'd... I mean, it wasn't..."
My eyebrows shot up, but I smiled softly, deciding to tease him a bit. "I'm pretty sure you didn't bite her where you'd previously left a hickey..."
"What?! No!" he growled, shaking his head profusely, and his eyes and fingers betrayed him, immediately reaching up to trace his scar over my heart. And even through the cotton fabric of my shirt, it tingled under his touch. His heated gaze shot up to mine. "It wasn't like that, Bella..."
"I know, baby," I sighed, kissing his lips once. "Carlisle needed your help. I'm just glad it was the two of you. I'm so proud of your control, sweetheart."
"It was mostly Carlisle," Edward sighed in relief, but his sweet smile at my pride in him curled the corner of his mouth.
"I know. I can smell it in her veins."
"We'd almost waited too long, but I think Carlisle wanted to exhaust every other option first," he explained. "He was so focused on fixing her, but there were circumstances beyond our control."
"And it didn't help that Tim's decision to take that back road was the key to seeing it all for Alice," I soothed him, running my fingers through his hair. "She explained it to us when you left."
"What did she say?"
"She said that it made sense to her now. That like Carlisle likes to call it...there was a butterfly effect to Caroline's fate. Everything was last-second decisions. The stranger that decided to drive his car, despite the fact that it was running poorly, changed the flow of traffic on the main highway, which caused people to slow down and stare. That, in turn, caused cars to back up, which, given Tim Dixon's tired state of mind and frustration level, made him decide to take back roads. All of it added up. None of it could have been foreseen, and all of it could've ended differently. The only thing that was certain was Caroline's change. Had she made it to Ohio, Alice has no clue how she would've ended up immortal anyway... Our guess is that she would've tried to come back to Archie and something happened, but it's all moot now. What happened, happened."
Edward snorted, rolling his eyes. "Well, that makes sense. Alice has been cursing the flippant behavior of humans all damn morning."
Smiling, I shrugged. "Sometimes, you can't stop any of it."
"So...it doesn't bother you? I never thought my venom would be in someone else," he murmured, his brow furrowing as he started turning my ring again. He stopped himself, bringing my wrist up to his lips and kissing James's old scar. "It wasn't about control or...siring another, love. No blood is ever going to taste as sweet as yours did," he whispered against my skin.
I shook my head. He was being modest to a fault. "No, it doesn't bother me, Edward. If it was some random woman, if it had been a more intimate situation...then, absolutely. But I know you, baby. You were helping your father, saving Archie the most unbelievable heartache, and you were merely trying to do a good thing." I leaned in to inhale the scent of him, whispering, "Besides, I don't smell enough of your venom in her to notice."
"Random woman," he growled, glaring at me. "Never happen."
"You're so cute all indignant. Shut up, Edward, and quit worrying. I'm proud of you, and that was an amazing thing you did," I said with a giggle. He didn't look quite convinced, so knowing his history, I asked, "Did you help with Esme?"
"No. I was there, but...no."
"Rose?"
He shook his head. "No, Carlisle found her when I was out hunting."
"How about Emmett?"
"Yes, but it was merely to seal wounds," he whispered with a nod.
"Should I be jealous of Emmett?" I asked with a grin.
"Hell, no!" He finally chuckled, his face pained at the thought.
"So really, I'm the only one that's all yours?" I asked, knowing that he hadn't let Carlisle anywhere near me except to check on me back then. His possessiveness had been in overdrive with his stress after Victoria – almost to the point of being feral.
There it was. A slow, sexy, crooked grin curled up his perfect mouth as his eyes darkened slightly. "All mine," he purred low and raspy.
I was just about to kiss him absolutely senseless when his phone alerted.
"Shit, dammit, fuck," I growled, glaring over his shoulder at our waterfall. "I know I shouldn't complain, but..."
Edward cracked up at my string of curses, but he cupped my face. "Look at me, my filthy-mouthed girl," he ordered gently, but there was teasing in his tone.
"I know, I know... They need you. I get it," I conceded with a smile. I wasn't really upset, but I was dreading my shield when I got back inside the house. And it never helped that I always lost myself in the tiny bubble that seemed to envelope us when we were alone.
"You needed me more," he countered firmly, raising a sexy eyebrow up at me. "That makes everything else insignificant for the moment. You're allowed to be selfish, Bella. You so rarely are. And this is...nerve-wracking. Emergencies, Caroline's change, Archie's reaction, the impending move, and your need to hunt... It was bound to overwhelm you. Hell, it's overwhelming most of us. Never, ever apologize to me for making sure your needs are met, even if those needs are simply a hug from me. Do you understand?"
I nodded, feeling slightly reprimanded, but I knew he meant every last word he said.
"Oh, hell... Sweet girl, it's not a reprimand," he sighed forlornly. "I... You... This," he finally said, gesturing between us. "This is all I need. Us. It's all I know to take care of you, okay? Selfish or not, I'm always at your disposal."
I nodded, stood up, and took the iPod when he handed it to me.
Once he was standing in front of me, he cupped my face one more time, pressing his forehead to mine. "I promise to give you every bit of time you need. When we're finally in Brazil, we'll get away, okay?"
I nodded, wondering if I could last that long.
He grinned. "Truly, it will be a test in self-control," he teased.
Groaning, my head thumped to his chest, and it shook as he laughed again. I couldn't imagine what the weeks on the water would bring. There would be six of us – one needing complete and total supervision at all times – sailing down the U.S. coastline, along the Caribbean, down to South America.
Warm lips ghosted to my ear. "Lots of water, Isabella. And we...don't need to breathe."
My giggle burst out of me. "Fair enough, Jacques Cousteau."
Edward's grin was salacious and wicked as he leaned down to kiss me.
His phone alerted again, and I sighed, looking up at him. "Come on, Edward. They really must need you."
He nodded, looking over our secret little place. When he focused back onto me, he smiled. "You're okay?"
"Yes, but you'd know if I wasn't."
"I know, but I like to hear it."
Taking a deep breath, I nodded. "I'm okay. I hunted, I got away from the house when it was too much, and I got to cuddle with you. A girl couldn't get any better."
"Good," he grunted, scooping me up onto his back as he ran us both back to the house.
~oOo~
EDWARD
"If we continue on at this pace for another hour, we should be able to drop anchor just off the coast of North Carolina," Carlisle mused, mainly to himself, but I should've been listening. "We can swim to shore to allow Caroline another hunt. I want to keep her as sated as possible. Stopping in the Bahamas will prove...touchy."
At the sound of her name, my eyes and mind scanned the bow of the boat, finding the girl in question. She sat eerily still as she gazed off toward the west as the sun sank low on the horizon. The orange sun glimmered off her blonde locks and caused a sheen of diamond-like sparkles to glow around her. For the moment, she was calm, but it helped that she was flanked by Bella and Esme, who were chatting aimlessly about anything and nothing.
Caroline had woken up from her change almost three days prior. She'd been frantic, confused, and thirsty, but she'd remembered everything that had happened prior to and during the car wreck. Her first glimpse of Archie had settled her heart and mind, but her emotions had been in turmoil. They still were, actually. We'd all taken her hunting, not because we'd wanted to see her but because the Varner house was still fairly close enough to humans that it required all of us to create a barrier around her, just in case. She'd done fine. She'd been almost feral, but fine nonetheless.
Once she had a moment's peace after hunting, she was able to speak with Carlisle, Archie, and me about the accident. She'd begged her dad to let her drive because she knew that he'd been too damn tired, but he'd declined. She'd also told him that taking the back roads looked creepy, but again, he hadn't listened. She'd flown into a rage at that point, only to be calmed by Jasper. She was extremely angry with her father, but Carlisle had explained to us that it was perfectly normal to feel that way. Tim Dixon had been a stubborn, controlling man, and it had been his undoing.
There had been a brief moment of ire aimed at my entire family. Caroline wanted to know why we hadn't been quicker, why we hadn't stopped them before the wreck, but Alice had told her every vision that she'd seen. There had been no way of knowing the whens and wheres. Tim had made quick decisions based on traffic, and we'd left as soon as we could.
Then there were her reactions to Archie. I fought my smile as I remembered the lust, the possessive growls between them. Their thoughts had been filled with curiosity, want, and need, and poor Jasper could barely stand up around them. He had been grateful when he and Alice had left to catch their flight to Brazil.
All in all, she was a typical newborn. She wasn't as foul and feral as Rosalie had been, but she wasn't as calm and controlled as Bella and Kevin had been. She was somewhere in the middle, and that was just fine with everyone. She lived for encouragement, she listened to instruction and guidance, and she had started to lean on Esme.
"Is she okay?" Archie asked tentatively.
Looking up to see his stare, I nodded. "Yeah, she's fine. She's calm, and the sound of the girls' voices are soothing to her. She's thirsty, though. Or she's getting there, anyway."
Archie had taken to his role as mate and protector with a flare and aptitude I hadn't been expecting. He relied on all of us to read Caroline, to help them both, but he hovered over her like a mother hen. Just when I thought he'd annoy her, she'd accept his fussing over her with a sweet smile. He also didn't shy away from having to take charge with her when her temper shot out of control. It had given Archie something to focus on rather than the dread of leaving the only home he'd ever known.
Archie nodded in acceptance of that. His thoughts had been close to assuming she would need to hunt soon, anyway. It was a multiple times a day thing for her. It kept her focused and calm. All six of us would go because we were all needed. Carlisle and Esme were there to observe and guide, I was there to make sure her thoughts were on the task at hand, not the small towns that were nearby. Archie would use his invisibility to help corral prey for her.
And Bella... My Bella helped shield small areas to allow her to run, explain feelings and instincts, and block out human scents. Her patience never wavered. She remembered everything from her own first few days, but it was a beautiful thing to watch Bella teach Caroline how to control her strength with something as simple as getting dressed, calm herself down when things started overwhelm her, and recognize when her thirst was reaching a breaking point. The latter would eventually settle down, but since Caroline was only days into this life, she was thirsty almost every other hour.
My eyes slid to my wife, and I wanted to groan at the sight of her. She was stunning in the setting sun, but it didn't help that she was wearing the most deadly of swimsuits. It was blue and small and showed off my mark on her, which caused a tidal wave of possessiveness to wash over me. There were skin, curves, a cascade of chocolate brown hair, and more skin. A dull rainbow shone around her, mixing with Esme's and Caroline's. All I could see was joy in her laugh and smile, because my Bella took every move with a grain of salt. She didn't care where we were, what we were doing, or who we were with...as long as we were together. That was all that mattered to my sweet girl.
My hand gripped my hair in want of her because we'd yet to have time alone. Everything had moved so quickly once Caroline had opened her newborn eyes that we'd only been able to focus on her. Caroline's thirst, temper, the packing of our belongings, the loading up the boat, and the casting off had been priorities. I was slowly surpassing want and working my way into need. Soon, it would be more about mating and less about making love to my wife. And I didn't want that. I wanted to worship her like she deserved, not stalk her like an animal, but damn, it was torture just to look at her.
"Edward?" Carlisle asked, his amusement abundantly clear in his mind.
"Huh?"
He snorted, glancing between my face and the bow, but his thoughts were focused on coordinates, not my inability to keep a singular thought in my head.
"I asked if you were okay with dropping anchor just off the Carolinas," he said, speaking as if I were a child.
"Yeah, that's fine," I sighed, nodding and rolling up the maps. I turned to Archie. "You'd better prepare her for another hunt. Where we're stopping shouldn't have too many humans, but you never know."
Archie nodded and left us to make his way out onto the bow. His struggle to maintain his gentlemanly values versus claiming his mate was starting to take a toll on my mind, especially during the hunt. He wanted so badly to respect her – and he did, immensely so – and wait until she was calmer, but his instinct to claim what was his was warring inside of him. Archie wasn't used to giving into what was natural, though. It was the only thing that was keeping him from reaching out and touching, from tossing her over his shoulder like a caveman.
What he didn't realize was that Caroline was feeling exactly the same. Bella told me to leave it alone, to let them work it out between them. There was only so much a mind reader should interfere, she'd told me. This was personal between Caroline and Archie.
Son, Carlisle called to me silently. When I looked over at him, his face was serious. I know that we have to maintain Caroline's diet, but have you realized that by tomorrow, we'll be even with Florida?
I groaned, looking over at my girl. "The thought hasn't even crossed her mind, Carlisle. I don't know..." I hedged, shaking my head. "I just don't think..."
He nodded, having thought as much. I knew what he wanted for Bella, but I wasn't so sure it was a good idea. He knew – thanks to Jasper – exactly where Renee and Phil's townhouse was on the beaches of Jacksonville. I knew that he simply wanted her to be able to see her mother without having to go through Charlie, but again, this was a touchy subject for Bella. She missed her mother terribly, and I wasn't so sure she'd be able to keep her distance once she caught sight of her.
Just a thought, son.
"I know. And I'm not stupid enough to make the decision for her, but still..."
Carlisle chuckled. "Uh, no. Definitely not. Not if you value your..." His eyes drifted down my torso and back up to my face. "Your...sanity."
I laughed. "Nice, Dad."
He grinned, looking shameless and years younger than he normally did. The sea mist, his swim trunks, and his windblown hair gave him a carefree look about him. He was enjoying being on the boat.
I almost snorted at the word "boat." I'd seen what Emmett had purchased through his thoughts, but Bella's and Caroline's reactions had been priceless. Caroline had stared with wide, red eyes, her mouth hanging open. My girl had snorted into hysterics, rolling her eyes and shaking her head, saying that it wasn't a "damn boat; it was a yacht." She'd sounded much the same as she had when she'd first caught sight of Cullen Manor in London.
Technically, she was right, considering it was a motor yacht on paper. It was large, white, and spacious, with tinted windows and a strong engine, and Emmett had thought he'd been funny by naming it The Infinity. Jasper started calling Carlisle Buzz Lightyear, which resulted in just about all of us screaming, "To infinity and beyond!" just before we'd left Caribou permanently.
"But I'm right," he said with surety and a grin.
"No, you're right."
He continued to steer the boat for the next forty-five minutes, finally killing the engine and dropping anchor. The silence that settled over was was almost deafening. We were far out enough from land that no noise from civilization met our ears, though North Carolina could just barely be seen from where we were...and that was with immortal eyes.
Dusk had fallen by the time the two of us joined everyone else on deck. We were encapsulated in a dome of dusty blues and fading oranges, the calm sea rocking us gently with dark waves. The girls had pulled on shorts over their bathing suits, opting to wear their bikini tops. It didn't help my situation. At all. My girl looked like the essence of temptation, sin, and innocence all rolled into a smiling, giggling girl as she and Esme told stories about our family to Caroline.
I leaned against the railing, afraid to touch her, because if I did, I wouldn't be able to stop.
"Bella, I think you and Edward should stay aboard," Carlisle started, and my head snapped up from the waves to his face. "We're close enough to shore that it's possible someone will approach, so I'd rather someone be on the boat."
"Okay," Bella answered softly, her brow furrowing as she dragged the word out. And I wanted to chuckle when her thoughts were suddenly cut off from my mind.
Carlisle locked gazes with me, fighting a smirk, but his eyes were solemn. You think I don't know, Edward? You think I don't realize that you haven't had a chance to reconnect since before the accident? You're my son. You're every bit my responsibility as the newest members of this family. That'll never change, no matter how long you've been with me. You could've said something.
I nodded, unable to meet his gaze as I muttered, "Yes, sir."
I'd never given much thought as to how Carlisle worried about Bella's and my connection, but right at that moment, I saw his fear. My girl saw it more than I did, had even said as much, but as far as our father was concerned, no separations could go without time to reconnect, even small ones. He was terrified of a slip-up, of something happening that was not fixable. Nothing could happen to Bella or me. He was damned certain he couldn't handle it. It would shatter the entire family.
Esme ruffled my hair, kissing my cheek, but Caroline stopped us short.
"Wait! Bella's not going?" she asked in a panic. "What if I screw up?"
Her deep burgundy eyes swept over the lot of us, and I saw when Bella almost gave in, but Esme placed a hand on Caroline's shoulder.
"We won't let you, sweetie," Esme stated firmly, yet gently, and Caroline nodded in acquiescence.
"C'mon!" Carlisle scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Fifty bucks says I beat you all to shore!"
Bella giggled, shaking her head. "My money's on Esme!" she proclaimed.
Grinning, I stepped to the railing again. "On three, ready? One...two...three!"
Four splashes echoed up out of the water as they took off into the night, aiming toward the lights on land. Before I could see her coming, I was knocked off the side of the boat and into the water. My instinct was to growl, but my arms immediately wrapped around my Bella. She clung to me, and the second I surfaced, her mouth was on mine.
Her thoughts hit me like a freight train – want, need, desire. It was detailed and lustful. It was everything I wanted and then some. The rumbling growl that erupted from me couldn't be stopped. Tongues swirled, even in the open as I turned my head to claim her mouth. Teeth nipped at lips, hands gripped skin and threaded into hair, and Bella's hips rolled wantonly over mine. Somewhere along the way, Bella had rid herself of her shorts and now was teasing me senseless in that bikini of hers.
Her mind wandered to our conversation about never needing air, but I broke from her mouth, trailing kisses down her cheek to her ear.
"No, we don't need to breathe, but I really, really want to take advantage of having that bow empty, my sweet girl," I growled against her skin, dragging my teeth across the spot that was always so damn sensitive. "Soon. Like now. Like five fucking seconds ago, Bella..."
Pitch black eyes locked onto mine as she dragged her tongue along her bottom lip before biting down on it. My hands cupped her sweet ass, my fingers slipping underneath her swimsuit bottoms. With a giggle, she was gone, swimming toward the ladder at the stern. I laughed, following her instantly and knowing we'd never make to the bow. I was going to take her on the cushioned benches right there.
I stepped up onto the deck, grinning at my girl, who was staring at me unabashedly. Her eyes raked over my chest, arms, and the board shorts that were riding low on my hips. But even more, her eyes drank in the sight of my erection.
"Don't tease me, Bella. I can't... I can't fucking take it," I warned her when she licked her lips like I was her next meal.
"I'm sorry," she gushed instantly, looking contrite and suddenly going from temptress to shy. Too long, was the only thought she had.
It was then that I understood what Carlisle had been witnessing. Bella and I wouldn't have lasted much longer. Walking to her, I simply scooped her up and wrapped her legs around my waist, only to fall down onto the closest bench.
"Don't you apologize, baby," I whispered, wiping the water from her face. "Ever. Not for that. It has been entirely too long since I was inside you."
"Shit, Edward," she panted, her fingers weaving into my wet hair as she loomed over me. "If you're gonna talk like that, this will be fast and furious."
I felt one side of my mouth lift cockily. "'Kay."
She huffed a laugh at me, but her smile fell quickly. "Yeah, I'm okay with that," she grunted before crashing back into me.
It was frenzied. All of it. I tugged too hard on the ties of her swimsuit, which shredded the top, and she gripped my hair too hard, causing me to grunt. The water made my trunks and her bottoms to stick to skin, so they, too, were thoughtlessly removed without control. Hands gripped, preparing, teasing, testing. Mouths latched to skin, teeth scraped earlobes, collarbones, and throats, and I couldn't take it anymore. The smell of her arousal overshadowed even the scent of the ocean water. It coated my fingers, drew me to her, and made my dick twitch in want of it.
With one swift move, I dropped her onto her back, looming over her.
"Edward," she grunted frustratedly because she'd been damn close with just my fingers.
"Shh, baby," I soothed her, slipping languidly inside of her until I was as deep as I could go. "Fuck," I hissed, my forehead falling to hers as I squeezed my eyes closed. "I promise you, Bella. You will come. Hard."
Bella's eyes rolled into the back of her head, and her mouth gaped open just a little as she tried to catch a breath she didn't truly need. Fingers dug into my back as she shook beneath me, but her mind begged me to move, to touch, to just...fucking kiss her, dammit.
I didn't realize just how close she'd been, because the very second I pulled out and thrust back in, my girl came hard, her gasps ghosting into my mouth. I drank them in like I needed them to live.
"Needy, were we?" I taunted, suckling her bottom lip.
"God, yes! I thought... I was...going crazy!"
I nodded against her forehead. "Me, too, love."
I did my damnedest not to just pound into her. I wanted to take my time, but my heart, my body, the sizzling electricity surrounding us just wouldn't let me. And neither would Bella.
"Harder, Edward...let go," she urged in my ear as her fingers dug into the cheeks of my ass.
Bracing a foot on the deck of the boat, I lifted her leg into the crook of my arm and thrust hard.
"Fuck, like that!"
"Yes, ma'am," I purred, making sure to hit the sweet spot deep inside of her, but in all reality, I was about to lose it. Burying my face into her neck, I urged her to come again. "Please, baby... Show me how much you've missed my cock being inside of you. Tell me that sweet pussy was lonely without me..."
"Yes, yes...just...yes!"
"Next time...I'll kiss it, make it up to you. I promise, Bella. Would you like that, sweet girl?"
Her answer was my name strung along with a plethora of curse words and an orgasm that triggered my own. I'd known we wouldn't last long, but we had time before everyone got back to the boat. Without even bothering to remove myself from inside of her, I started again – slow, easy...gentle.
The moon was high in the night sky by the time we could even speak. We were redressed in new swimwear, lounging on the cushioned benches. Bella's back was to my chest as she drew nonsensical designs on my thigh while we waited on the return of the others.
"So...what are you afraid to ask me, Edward?" she asked softly, turning in my arms and propping herself up on my chest.
I took a deep breath, tucking her hair behind her ear. Her eyes were a deep brown, open and sweet. "We'll be by Florida tomorrow about this time, my love. And...Carlisle thought maybe... But I wasn't sure..."
I huffed frustratedly through my nose, simply because I didn't want to cause her any pain or stress, but it wasn't fair to not let her make this call.
She smiled sadly. "You know where her house is, don't you?"
I nodded, grimacing a little. "If the answer's no...then it's no. I'll...we'll understand, baby. We just thought you might want to see her...your mom. You know, from a distance."
Her brow furrowed, and she swallowed thickly before sitting up.
I wrapped my arms around her, pressing kisses to the side of her head before whispering, "We'll do whatever you want. Keep going, stop, ignore it...whatever. We won't even tell you which one...if you don't want us to."
She leaned into me, smiling a little. "I don't have an answer, Edward. Not right this second."
I studied her face and her mind, nodding once. "Fair enough."
She turned her head to face me, another sweet smile curling the corners of her mouth. "You... You're very sweet," she simply said, giggling a little and shaking her head. "Thank you."
"For what?"
She laughed fully, cupping my face. "For being you, Edward. That's it. That's all."
Sometimes, she made me feel like a superhero, like I could do no wrong. This was one of those times.
I shrugged a shoulder. "I love you. I'd give you the world, Bella. I'd give you your mother back if I could, but..."
"No," she said firmly, yet quietly as she shook her head. "She wouldn't handle it like Charlie. She'd never keep the secret. I know her. She's like a child that way."
My nose wrinkled, but I let it go. Bella knew her mother better than I did, though I'd seen the woman's mind at our wedding. Renee was easily swayed and distracted; her thoughts, even while open-minded and almost childlike, were scattered. However, it was the one thing I couldn't give my girl, and that bothered me a little.
"Hey," she whispered, making me look at her. "I have no regrets, baby. None. You need to remember that. I'll tell you every day, but it's the truth."
"I know," I sighed contentedly. "I know, Bella. I do. I just..." I stopped, brushing a kiss across her lips, and said, "Think about it, love. No pressure. Just tell us when the time comes, all right?"
We heard splashes and laughter in the distance, and I snorted at Carlisle's mind. Apparently, Archie had won the race to shore when they left, and my father was hoping for payback.
"You lost fifty bucks, baby," I chortled, rolling my eyes. "Archie won."
She grinned. "Good for him!"
I grasped either side of her face. "Come on," I said, kissing her roughly. "We'll be ready to pull up anchor by the time they get here."
"Okay," she sang, smiling like sunshine and all things good and perfect. She got up offering me a hand. "Hey, Edward?"
"Hmm?" I hummed against her forehead once I was standing.
"What color do you think we are?" she asked with a giggle, thinking of Marcus's talent and how he saw our connection.
Laughing, I popped her on her bottom. "Green, baby. Green."
I watched her congratulate Esme on winning the race back as I pulled up anchor. The rumble of the engine broke the silence that I'd grown used to. As Caroline chatted animatedly about her hunt, that she'd never smelled the first human and that she'd tackled poor Archie twice, I chuckled. There had been concerns about this trip south, but so far, things had been fine. I hoped they continued to stay that way, but we had a long way to go.

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