Wednesday, January 23, 2013 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 38

Chapter 38
BELLA
"I don't know, Carlisle," Edward grunted frustratedly. "She hasn't made the decision yet... I refuse to push her!"
I turned the volume up on my iPod, drowning out the two of them. Carlisle was trying to explain that the Jacksonville coast was coming up, but Edward would defend me to the end of the world and back. I loved them both madly, but I just didn't know what I wanted to do.
The thought of seeing my mother – even from a distance – sounded amazing and way too tempting to pass up, considering we were already this close.
On the one hand, I missed Renee like crazy. I missed her never-ending chatter, her fantastical ideas, and her hobby of the moment. Because no matter how whimsical my mother was, no matter what was going on in our lives when I was growing up, I knew that my mother loved me. It was simple and free and easy. It was also hard to keep her in line, focused, and driven, but that was just how our relationship had worked. So to see her, to make sure she was okay and happy was calling to me at the moment more than the scent of blood ever had.
On the other hand, I wasn't so sure if I could just...look. I missed the feel of her hugs, because no one hugged like a mom. Ever. And I missed her smell – all flowers and sugar, the smell of my childhood. I missed the sound of her laughter and the brightness of her smile. I missed her begging for details about my personal life, Edward, and even pushy questions about sex and love.
There were a billion things I wanted to tell her, things that only my mom would understand. And I wasn't so sure I wouldn't swim to shore just to blurt them all out. I wanted to tell her how beautiful and perfect my marriage was, even if it wasn't. I wanted to tell her that the forever kind of love did exist and that it felt amazing. I wanted to tell her I missed her every day. I wanted to tell her that Esme and Carlisle took awesome care of me, that Edward couldn't seem to get his dirty clothes in the laundry basket and that he cheated on board games, but that it didn't matter because his smile and his kisses made everything he did forgivable. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry that I'd lied, that I wasn't dead, and it wasn't a matter of picking Charlie over her. It was just...the way it had to be.
One song faded out, and I was so wrapped up in my own mind that I couldn't have said the name, but in the beat of space between that song and the next, I heard Esme's voice.
"Both of you...hush!" she huffed. "I've got this one..."
I wanted to smile at Carlisle's and Edward's grumbles, but I didn't get the chance. The boat slowed down, the engine shut off, and I heard the anchor drop. Looking out the little window of the bedroom that had been deemed Edward's and mine, I saw that night had fallen. I tugged my earbuds out when the bedroom's door cracked open slowly.
"We're here," I surmised softly.
"Yes, sweet one," Esme whispered, sitting on the edge of the bed next to me. She didn't say anything at first but simply reached up to caress my face with the backs of her fingers. Tilting my chin her way, she smiled warmly. "Before I talk, I want you to know that no matter what you decide, no one will judge you on it."
I nodded, swallowed thickly past the lump that formed in my throat, and gazed out into the night sky.
She shifted on the bed, wrapping an arm around me and bringing my head to her shoulder. Dropping a soft kiss to the top of my head, she sighed deeply. "As much as I love you, you are not mine, Bella. And as much as you try to be strong – most likely for Edward's sake – I know you miss your mother." I nodded, but she went on. "My kids think they're stealthy and slick, but they're not. I know what goes on in my house, whether they tell me or not. And some of my children kept watchful eyes on the humans they left behind."
My head shot up because Emmett had confessed that very thing to me once.
Esme chuckled softly. "Hmm, it seems you knew this..." She squeezed my shoulder. "Yes, I'm aware that Emmett watched over his little sister. And you know Rosalie's story, where she exacted revenge on Royce, but she, too, watched over her parents. She even attended their funerals after they passed. In secret, of course. Edward went with her to her mother's, and she took Emmett to her father's."
I frowned, wondering if I'd be strong enough to do that when the time came.
"I'm fairly certain that if things had been different, then Edward would have watched over the Masens. Alice and Jasper didn't really get a choice."
"What about you?" I asked, looking up at her.
"I couldn't have," she stated with a sad sigh. "If my son had lived and I'd been changed in a different circumstance, I couldn't have watched him grow, age, marry, and have children of his own. Not without wanting to love on him. I push all of that on every one of you. I know that I wouldn't have been able to resist seeing him, hugging him. But he was my child. I could have looked in on my parents, but I chose not to. My relationship with them wasn't the loving one you had with yours."
Nodding, I laid my head back on her shoulder. "That's how I feel..."
"I'm sure. And you haven't really seen your mother since the day you and Edward got married. It was the last time you spent any time with her," she told me, rubbing my upper arm gently. She took another deep breath and shifted again so she was cupping my face. "What you have to ask yourself is this... Will you regret passing this moment up? Time moves so fast in this life. Human lives change in an instant, as Caroline can attest to, and you may never have the opportunity to see for yourself how your mother is faring. I know Charlie, and he's keeping an excellent eye on her, but he doesn't know her like you do. You would know. You would be able to see. And I think, because I know how happy you are, that it would ease your mind if your mom was moving on, making a go of things. You never really got to say goodbye to her. This might be a way of doing that."
"Do you regret it? Not seeing your family, I mean," I queried, really needing her to be honest.
"Sometimes. Though, Carlisle kept a watchful look over them. Edward, too."
I nodded. That sounded like the two of them. And I knew they had the biggest of hearts, the best of intentions with offering me this opportunity. I also knew they'd nod, kiss me, and pull away if I said the word.
Locking gazes with the woman that had become my mother for all intents and purposes, I asked, "If the situation was reversed, would you have wanted him to check on you?"
She smiled, leaning in to kiss my forehead. "Who's to say he doesn't? My family is all gone now, so who's to say they don't check on me?"
My eyes shot to the door, where I could hear Edward pacing like a caged lion in the hallway. The fact that I was even just a little conflicted had his nerves on edge. He hated anything that upset me. He hated even more that I'd had to sacrifice any part of my life for him, even though I'd told him a million times that without him, I had no life.
Gazing back to Esme, I nodded, scooted off the bed, and cracked open the door. Tall, dark, handsome, and nervous was in front of me in the blink of an eye. He was in navy blue and white board shorts and a simple white T-shirt, looking like he'd stepped out of a catalog.
"You'll hold my hand?" I asked him softly.
"You sure you want to do this?" he countered. When I nodded, he linked my fingers with his. "I'll do better than that. Come, love."
He guided me through the cabin and up the stairs. When we emerged on deck, I could see Archie and Caroline respectfully trying to stay to themselves. We'd already stopped for her to hunt, so she was calm and still. Her deep red eyes met mine, and she offered me a small smile.
Edward stopped us on the starboard side of the boat, where Carlisle was waiting for us. Sitting down on the cushioned bench and scooting back far enough that I could sit between his legs, my husband patted the bench. Once I was seated, a strong arm wrapped around my middle, but I refused to look out over toward land just yet. Instead, I looked to Carlisle, who was kneeling down in front of me.
"I dropped anchor just far enough away to give you a chance to say no, Bella," he said soothingly, patting my leg. "It's also far enough away that you'll need these, even with our enhanced sight." He handed me a large pair of binoculars.
I stared at the complicated piece of equipment, a part of my mind focusing on how my family never went the cheap route. Everything had to be the best, the most expensive. It was a love for modern technology more than the price tag.
Edward's voice was soft in my ear. "Ready, sweet girl?"
Looking a bit over my shoulder, I asked, "Have you looked already?"
"Yes."
"Can you hear her mind from here?"
"Yes."
"How—"
He kissed my cheek, giving me a small smile. "If you change your mind and we leave, then I'll tell you how she is. Otherwise, you can see for yourself, my love."
"Okay," I said, barely making a sound.
"Do me one favor, baby," he commanded. When I looked over my shoulder again, he said, "Open that mind to me."
Nodding, I lifted my shield and raised the binoculars to my eyes. The shore was lit here and there with several outdoor lights, porch lamps, and one rather large fire pit. There were three homes clustered together – a white one, a blue one, and a salmon pink one. Gathered around the fire pit was a group of several people sitting on chairs and blankets, including a few rambunctious children playing in the sand. The clink of bottles and laughter just barely met my ears, but I imagined the sound more than heard it, simply because I could see it.
Scanning through faces, I gasped at the sight of Phil, my stepfather. He looked older, but he was laughing with a few other men sitting near him. My breath caught in my throat when he smiled a different smile, opening his arms for the woman walking to him. Renee looked...amazing and beautiful and happy. She settled between his legs, joining in on the laughter and holding a glass of wine in her hand.
A small girl about the age of three ran to my mother, who received her with a hug, a laugh, and a kiss to the side of her head. The little one had long, light brown curls, dimples when she smiled, and she was holding a fistful of seashells in her hand.
"Who is she?" I asked aloud to no one in particular.
"Her niece," Carlisle answered.
"Madeline," Edward added. "She's Phil's sister's little girl. From what I can gather, they're visiting from Phoenix. They're considering moving here. They've been thinking about property and rent and jobs."
I nodded in acceptance, but I didn't tear my gaze away from my mother. She poked through the shells in Madeline's hand, picking up one in particular.
"She's going to make a necklace," I muttered, smiling at the memory of a time when Renee had made one for me.
"How'd you know that?" Edward asked.
"She made one for me." I gripped the binoculars, and a warm hand soothed my fingers. "She'll use leather so that she can wear it all the time..."
"Yes, that's what she's telling her," Edward said, pressing kisses to the back of my head. "She's remembering making yours. She wants Madeline and her mother to move to Florida, because she's hoping she'll make a good aunt."
"She will," I sighed, shaking my head and thinking Madeline couldn't ask for a better aunt. Renee would be that crazy, easy to talk to, fearless aunt. The one that wouldn't be afraid to discuss boys, sex, or get dirty with finger paints or cookie dough. I realized that my mother had found a band-aid to heal herself in my absence. And that made me feel better than anything Charlie could've ever told me or any pictures he could've sent my way. I swallowed thickly around the lump in my throat. "She'll make the perfect aunt."
"Can I see?" we heard softly to our left, and I looked up to see Caroline gazing out over the water.
She'd become a stunning immortal. Her beauty rivaled that of Rosalie, with her golden locks and her long eyelashes, but her stature was smaller, more petite.
"Yeah, here," I said, handing her the binoculars. "My mother is the third one in from the right."
She lifted them to her face as I snuggled closer to Edward, letting him hug me tight. He whispered sweet words of love, comfort, and praise. He didn't apologize, and for that, I was grateful. Because for the first time, I was okay with walking away from my mother. She was happy and comfortable. She was in love and smiling. And she hadn't forgotten me, nor was she still grieving.
"Wow, she's so pretty," Caroline gushed in a whisper. "You look just like her!"
I chuckled a bit, looking up at her. "Yeah, Charlie always told me that."
Caroline handed me the binoculars back, and I immediately put them back up to my eyes. The party on the beach was breaking up a bit, but Renee scooped up Madeline, holding her back to her front. I could read their lips as the little girl pointed up above. Looking up, I saw a falling star streak across the night sky, and I didn't need to hear what was being said.
Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight.
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.
My mother was never really religious, but she'd needed something to hold on to, so whenever she was missing her own mom, she'd say that poem with every shooting star. Which meant that even though she missed me...
"She's at peace," Edward finished for me quietly in my ear, wrapping both arms around me.
I nodded, handing Carlisle his binoculars back and kissing his cheek. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, sweetheart. Would you like us to go now?" he asked tentatively, his eyes flickering to Edward behind me.
"Yeah..." I turned in Edward's arms, barely registering everyone else around us.
My husband scooped me up, walking us to the seats at the stern of the boat. "I've got you, Bella," he whispered, sitting down with me wrapped around him.
"She looks amazing," I murmured into his neck.
"She does," he agreed. "She's doing very well, love. She sees you...and me, for that matter...as angels watching over her." He ran his fingers soothingly and slowly through my hair as Carlisle pulled up anchor and started the engine. "She misses you, but she lives a very full life. And she sees Madeline as a second chance, something to focus all her love on...sort of like Esme does to all of us."
I smiled, but my eyes stung with tears I really wished I could shed. "Good," I mumbled against his skin.
He snickered softly, bringing up my hand to kiss every finger. "You're okay," he said as a statement more than a question.
"Yeah. It was good to see her, but I can see that my decision not to be in her life was the right one," I whispered, pulling back but looking down between us as I played with his wedding ring. "She's doing okay. Better than okay."
Tilting my head up, Edward studied my face, his eyes warm and worried. "Tell me what you need, baby."
I snuggled back into his arms. "Just this, Edward. This is perfect."
Dropping a kiss to my shoulder, his arms wrapped all the way around me. "Yes, ma'am. For as long as you need..."
~oOo~
The farther south we sailed, the warmer the weather, the water, and the people became. The Florida Keys were a level of laid-back that I'd never seen. It was tourists and beach nightclubs, but it was also artists, musicians, and fishermen – people just trying to make ends meet in a place where time stood still. There was a feeling of live and let live that floated around just about everyone we came across.
Carlisle and Esme wanted to be dropped off just south of Miami with Caroline and Archie. They were hunting, though Edward had teased them all that about the only thing they'd find would be alligators. The mere thought made my nose wrinkle. Edward and I were to refuel, grab a few supplies, and briefly double-back to pick them up. It seemed like a waste of time not to be perpetually moving forward, but Edward didn't want to refuel in Miami; he wanted to show me Key West. And really, we were all just trying to accommodate each other in the long journey.
Caroline was doing so very well, though there had been times when my shield had been needed to keep her from the scent of humans...or in reality, keep her from the humans. Stops for fuel, passing boats, and even a cargo ship or two had been a test of all of our abilities to keep the newborn from losing control. And she really was trying. She wanted so badly to impress Archie, to show him that she could maintain, but her instincts were hard to fight so soon after her change. No one judged her on a thing.
Archie, on the other hand, was flourishing out on the open water. For someone that had only seen the inside of one house his entire long life, he was dealing with the world and all its charms better than I'd imagined. He drank in everything around him, listened to Carlisle's subtle guiding, asked a million questions of Edward, and monitored his girl like a champ. He worried about her, praised her, and never chided. He was smiles and kisses, laughter and hugs. He was truly happy, even with all the hard work it took to keep Caroline on the straight and narrow.
The night was balmy, the air thick and humid as a gentle hand helped me onto the dock. This would be one of the few times we could interact with humans since this trip had begun.
"You look—" Edward chuckled, shaking his head as his brow furrowed in a painful expression "—like an angel, sweet girl."
Kissing his cheek, I thanked him. "I was tired of swimsuits and shorts."
"I... Well, I wasn't, but this is..." He shook his head again, slower, his eyes darkening as they drank me in from my feet to my head.
I was wearing one of the colorful peasant skirts that Imelda had made for me in Italy, and I'd paired it with a simple white tank top, leaving my hair down. What made me roll my eyes at my sweet husband was that he was just as glorious, standing there in long khaki cargo shorts, a white button-down with the sleeves rolled up, and simple white sneakers. American Eagle models had nothing on Edward.
I giggled at his rambling, loving that I had that effect on him, but I kissed his cheek again. "Thank you. You're lookin' pretty handsome, too, Edward. Come on. I know you won't do this by yourself."
His face morphed into an adorable expression that rivaled a pouting child as he mumbled, "No."
Shopping was torture to my sweet man. Torture. He hated it. He hated shopping for himself, so grabbing supplies for Caroline and Archie was out of the question. And the word supplies meant clothes. With all the hunting, with Caroline's still very new strength, not to mention a few handsy moments courtesy of Edward, we all needed a few things.
Time alone with Edward was rare since we'd been traveling, and usually, we ravished each other until we could barely see straight if we caught a brief chance alone, but this was different. This was an even more infrequent occurrence. This was a chance for us to just play, to just laugh and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells around us, and from the possessive grip of Edward's hand on my waist, this was a chance for him to show me off.
While the boat was being refueled, we wandered into one of the tourist sections of Key West. Music from clubs and open bars thumped around us, the scent of human food and alcohol was thick in the air, and humans were everywhere – from the tanned locals to the sunburned visitors. Our presence was ignored for the most part, and most gave us a wide berth, but occasionally, I'd catch someone staring.
Finding the closest shop, I tugged Edward inside, trying to save his poor abused mind.
"Abused," he said with a chuckle. "It is feeling a little battered."
Grinning, I squeezed his hand. "Yeah, I figured. We've been out of contact for a bit." I patted his chest. "Wait here, baby. This won't take long. I promise. I'm not Alice."
"And for that, I'm a grateful, grateful man," he murmured, making me laugh as I walked deeper into the store.
Playing the spoiled, rich tourist wasn't my favorite activity, but sometimes, it was necessary. I piled up swimsuits, T-shirts, shorts, and other needs for all of us onto the counter. After I'd added a few pairs of sandals, a baseball cap or three, and a Margaritaville T-shirt that screamed Jasper, I slid the shiny black card across the counter that I tried my best never to think about.
Edward's chuckle met my ears, but he rolled his eyes. "I'm glad you don't love me for my money," he taunted, and not for the first time.
"It's not your money I love," I purred back just to tease him.
His eyes narrowed playfully, but he changed the subject quickly. "Are we done?"
"No." I laughed, cupping his face the best I could with all the bags in my hands.
My poor man sighed in defeat, but his gentlemanly ways won out over anything else. He offered to take the bags to the boat and come right back to me. Smiling, I handed them over and kissed his lips.
Knowing he could find me by mind and by scent, I continued down the sidewalk, taking in the shops. I could feel the stares of lustful human eyes as I stopped in front of a small jewelry shop. Across the way, music thumped to an island beat, and I smiled when familiar strong arms wrapped around me.
"He wants you, love," Edward whispered in my ear, and his voice sounded possessive, growly, and dangerous.
"I'm so very, very taken," I sighed dramatically, leaning back into him, but I knew who he was talking about – the young clerk behind the counter. His skin was tan, his eyes almost black, and his stare was so very obvious, but he was young, no more than eighteen.
Edward chuckled darkly, moving my hair from my shoulder in order to drop an open-mouthed kiss to my skin. "Yes. Yes, you are."
Everything he was doing to me was with a purpose. Every flattened hand over my stomach, every nuzzle to my neck, and every whispered word that made me laugh was marking his territory.
"Is there something you wanted from here, my sweet, beautiful girl?" he asked, giving the handmade jewelry a casual glance but ignoring the poor boy behind the counter.
I turned in his arms, gazing up at him. "No, I was just waiting for you." I glanced over his shoulder toward the outdoor club, smiling a little. "Dance with me, Edward."
The Spanish beat was hard to resist. It ebbed and flowed, making me want to press myself against Edward without shame.
Grinning, he asked, "Do we have time?"
"One dance," I urged, winding my arms around his neck. "Then we'll grab the towels and soaps that we all need. There's a drugstore right there," I whispered, brushing my lips across his.
I could see that he was weighing out whether we had the time, but I also knew that he'd give in, because that's what Edward did. He'd hand me the world, without my asking, but it was the little things I wanted.
A firm, strong arm wrapped around my waist, and Edward laughed when I squeaked. "One dance, baby."
"I promise, I don't need to stand on the tops of your feet," I teased him.
"Believe me, I know. And I never minded," he reminded me with a sexy, crooked grin and a wink.
The crowd around us, the swaying beat, and the feel of Edward wrapping my body around his was sensual but carefree. My body was his to lead, and he did it with just as much grace as he did everything else. Although, it was hard not to compare some of his moves to making love, especially when we were forehead to forehead, hips grinding, hands grasping. His long, knowledgeable fingers slid forcefully into my hair at the base of my skull, and soon, Edward's lips were on mine.
It wasn't desperate. It wasn't needy. It was a silent "I love you." We took it no further than kissing, swaying to the music. It was a slow, deep, languid kiss, with sweeping lips and claiming tongues that twisted together in harmony. His taste, that deep, rumbling, masculine moan, and his hands guiding me, pulling me closer, made me turn my head, grip his hair, and lose myself for just a few moments.
When the song was over, the kiss slowed down until I opened my eyes to smile at Edward as he picked up my hand and kissed my wedding ring reverently. "Love you," I told him.
He smiled sweetly, nuzzling my nose with his own – up one side and down the other. "Oh, Mrs. Cullen...I'm absolutely, absurdly, head over heels in love with you. Don't you ever, ever forget it."
My whole body felt warm with his words, and my lips felt kiss-swollen, but I sighed in contentment with that proclamation. I shook my head, brushing another kiss over his chin. "Never."
~oOo~
EDWARD
"Bella-love?" I hummed against the sweet-smelling skin of her neck.
"Hmm?" she sang back, and I could hear the happy smile in her tone.
It made me chuckle to hear the post-coital, sated bliss not only in her voice, but in her mind, as well.
We were lounging back on The Infinity, anchored out just off the shore of Miami while we waited for the others to return from hunting. After our stop in the Keys and our dance, I'd barely been able to suffer through one more store before I got her back on the boat. Bella had been so beautiful, almost ethereal, and I'd been the envy of more than one man in the small tourist town. I'd hardly made it on deck and into the cabin before I took her hard and fast on the galley table – her skirt had remained on. And we were both grateful that no one ate at that table.
That last thought made me smile against her neck again, but I focused on what I needed to tell her.
Pulling back, I reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear. "We probably should take the next hunting trip in Carlisle's and Esme's place."
"Okay," she agreed quickly, her brow furrowing. "But why?"
I simply chuckled, raising an eyebrow up at her.
"Oh."
"Right. Oh."
"Mm'kay. Got it," she said with a giggle. "Say no more. They gave us time, so it's only fair."
I nodded. "Exactly, love."
With a narrowed-eyed, conspiratorial smirk, she asked, "And Caroline and Archie?"
I snorted at her. "You know what they say about curiosity..."
"I'm no cat."
"Mm, indeed."
"Tell me!" she chortled, poking my stomach.
I sighed, pursing my lips at her but capturing her fingers before she could poke me again. "They're...struggling. Archie wants to wait until she's not so...feral, but that feral mindset is what's driving Caroline to push things."
Bella's nose wrinkled, but her mind was filled with sympathetic thoughts. "That's a fine line to walk."
Nodding, I said, "It is. She feels rejected."
Bella sat up a little on the benches. "Archie feels off when he gives into what he truly is, doesn't he?"
"Yes, ma'am."
She smiled evilly. "That's a shame. They're missing out on the...mm, rougher side of things."
Laughing, I dropped a kiss to her temple and got up from the seating area. "That's true, but in his defense, I understand why he's holding back. Instinct or not, that's not how he sees their first time."
"Ah...what a romantic era you two were born in," she teased, shooting a wink my way. "Not that I'm complaining, but still...it's a tough adjustment for a girl from this day and age. You and I met in the middle. I suppose they will, too. Eventually?" she said, though it came out as a hopeful question.
I wanted to tell her that we met in the middle because when I'd returned to her, it had been utterly impossible to deny my wants, needs, and love for her. She'd had me wrapped around her finger simply for accepting me back. I would've done anything she asked of me. And that hadn't changed. Not one bit. I was owned by her, and I had zero complaints. But maybe that had been Bella's point. Both Archie and Caroline needed to give a little. Marriage and courting and abstinence were almost ideals that were long gone. Neither my father, nor my siblings had waited to be married once they'd found their mate, so perhaps we'd all let go of the expectations of our past eras. Or maybe we'd just given in to what our hearts told us. I wasn't sure. It was probably a little of both.
Splashes off the starboard bow caught our attention. Poor Archie looked a little ragged, his shirt shredded.
Don't ask, he thought to me, a low growl rumbling out of him, but I could see that they had, indeed, hunted alligators.
Grinning at him, I shrugged. "I wasn't going to say anything. But you look like you've seen better days."
"Bite me," he snapped, tearing the remnants of his shirt off and tossing it into the garbage.
"Too late. The gator already did," Caroline snorted, folding her arms across her chest. "Good thing, that impervious skin, huh?"
"Well," Bella sang, wearing an amused smile, "it seems you guys had fun." Her sarcasm made Carlisle grin, though he hid it as he readied the boat.
The tension was rolling off Archie and Caroline in waves, but Esme locked gazes with me.
She pushed him too far during the hunt. When he pulled away, she shoved him backwards into the swamp, she explained silently, and my eyebrows shot up. I understand that he wants to wait. That's between them, but he's not telling her why he wants to wait.
I nodded, kissed her cheek. "Got it."
Bella told the girls about all the supplies that we'd picked up in Key West, and they headed down into the cabin to sort through it. I knew nothing would be spoken aloud about what had just occurred. Caroline was well aware of listening ears, and to her, it was embarrassing. When the girl-talk turned to nail polish and painting toenails – a way of Caroline to learn to control her strength – then I knew we just needed to push on. Though, I had a suspicion my sweet girl was biting her tongue, if only for the moment.
~oOo~
The mountains of Puerto Rico and a heavy rain proved to be dangerous hunting grounds. It was a small island, filled with a lot of humans and scattered dwellings, the latter of which almost became too much for Caroline to deal with. Bella's shield had to be around her completely.
She and Caroline hunted together. As I fell down onto a fallen log, rain dripped heavily down around me. This was the last island we'd be stopping before South America. We still had a few more days travel before we reached Rio, but all of our future hunting stops would be in Brazil.
Carlisle and Esme were back on the boat. They'd been grateful that we'd given them the time alone, but they'd also wanted to keep an eye on things concerning the weather. I could hear Archie's mind, but I was trying to stay out of it because he'd needed to clear his head. He'd hunted when he didn't really need to, but at the moment, he was sitting by a small creek alone.
However, try as I might to give her privacy, Bella's mind was and always would be the clearest and loudest thoughts around me. And I could see her eying Caroline with concern and a touch of sympathy. It wasn't a good day for the newborn. She was angry, questioning everything, and beyond pissed off. Hunting wasn't helping.
"Want to talk about it?" Bella asked gently, sitting down on a log much like my own as her eyes followed a pacing Caroline.
"No...Yes... I don't know! And about which part?" Caroline sputtered, glaring at Bella.
Bella smiled, plucking a deep red flower from a vine next to her. She twirled it in her fingers but glanced back up at the distraught girl. "Let's start with your anger, but narrow it down to right now. What's got you so pissed right this second?"
"I almost... there was a little boy..."
My eyebrows shot up as I saw what had just about unfolded. During the hunt, Caroline had caught the scent of human blood, but Bella had reacted swiftly and forcefully with her shield. The child was none the wiser, but Caroline knew what she'd just about done.
"That never would've happened. I wouldn't have let you make that mistake, Caroline," Bella said calmly. "These are tight hunting quarters, yes, but I was prepared for it."
"Thanks." Caroline sighed, looking out over the rain sodden jungle. "I don't know why I'm angry," she started softly, but she kept going. "I feel so different, yet the same. I mean, I feel like me, but then my body doesn't do what it's supposed to. And then...I think about how I got here, and I get even angrier. My dad..."
Bella inhaled the flower in her fingers and nodded. "You're still grieving, sweetie. It's normal. You should remember this."
I braced myself because I saw the snarl coming from Caroline before Bella did.
She rounded on my wife, her deep red eyes darkening with black ire. "How would you know?! Huh? You got to keep your family. They're still alive."
Bella stood up and was in Caroline's face before she could blink. My girl's shield shifted, morphed, and wrapped around the flustered girl without prejudice, pressing her into the nearest tree. "That wasn't always the case. I got to keep my father, but not until later. I was lucky that there are more legends running around than just us. However, I was and still am dead to my mother. I can look, but I can't touch, talk, or even write her a fucking letter. You saw that for yourself. I'm not saying which is easier because I honestly don't know. But don't talk to me as if I don't know what you're going through. We've all lost our families in this life. I'm sorry for the loss of yours."
My girl gave Caroline one last glare before she took a step back, picked up the flower, and sat back down.
"Why'd they change me? Why'd Edward and Carlisle do it?" Caroline whispered, gazing more at the vegetation around her than Bella.
Bella's nostrils flared, and she sniffed once. "Because those two, out of all of us, know what it feels like to live without their mate. They were and always will be the strongest and the most controlled. I was under the impression you were given a choice, or did Edward lie to me?"
Caroline flinched with the harshness of Bella's tone. Her mind was flying through how to answer that because she knew Bella was goading her. And my girl knew for a fact that I'd never lie to her, especially about something as serious as the immortal change. She also knew that with the mood Caroline was in, she had no choice but to fight fire with fire, anger with anger.
"No, he asked," Caroline finally answered softly, toeing at the ground.
"Come sit, Caroline," Bella ordered gently, patting the log next to her. When the girl plopped down with a sigh, my girl smiled. "You are feeling every single thing today, and that's okay. You're wound up, you're angry, you're definitely frustrated."
I snorted into a laugh, shaking my head at Bella's last wry point, especially when her mind skated over what it had been like to want me and not be able to touch.
Caroline smirked, but it fell quickly. "You say they changed me because of Archie, but..."
"Archie was only a part of the reason. You had to have answered Edward's question, or you wouldn't be here," Bella stated firmly. "Both Carlisle and my Edward believe in a choice."
"Archie doesn't want me," she whispered, glaring down at her hands as she wrung them.
"Oh, yes, he does," Bella told her, handing the flower to Caroline and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "He just doesn't want you in this..." My girl waved a hand around at their surroundings – rain, thunder, mud. "He doesn't want you like an animal. Not the first time, anyway."
Caroline gave a long, slow gaze around her but nodded. She finally understood.
"Look...I get it. Your skin is on fire, your fingers ache to touch, and the venom pours down your throat at the very mention of him. Truly, that's instinct kicking in. That's the non-human part of you. Focus on the human part – your heart, your soul. You don't want this, either," she urged her, giving another point to the woods.
Caroline's nose wrinkled, but she simply waited for Bella's point.
My girl smiled and noted somewhere in the back of her mind that she knew I was listening, which caused a grin to spread over my face. She also thought I was about to love what she was about to say.
With a humorous snort, my Bella went on. "Caroline, listen... You've only just started to get to know each other. And I know that it doesn't matter when it comes down to being mates, but it's not easy being from two different eras. It's just...not. Sometimes, it can be funny and awesome and intriguing, but sometimes, it can be frustrating. I know you think waiting for sex is an ancient concept, and I was terrified of marriage because my parents weren't exactly the best example. I know you think chivalry sounds oppressing and that the possessiveness is a little caveman-like, but then you don't. It's confusing and twisted.
"As humans, women are stupid and complicated," Bella said with a chuckle. "We want equal everything, but then we still want the guy to come to our rescue like a knight in shining armor on a white steed." She laughed, rolling her eyes that I was listening.
I chuckled to myself, falling in love with her that much more.
Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly. "But to them...to those stubborn hundred-year-old vampires, the waiting, the marriage, and the chivalry mean every-fucking-thing. Those traditions and values are all they have from back then to cling to."
Smiling, I gripped my sopping wet hair, wanting to run to my Bella and kiss her senseless.
"And that's what you have to think about," Bella stated, nudging Caroline. "It's important to them." With a squeeze to her shoulder, Bella went on. "They'd hand you the world, but there are some things that are just so important to them, an ideal that just can't be ignored, and that's when you have to take a step back and wonder if it'll be worth it. Take it from me...it's so, so worth it."
"But you said to push..." Caroline argued.
"I did. I said to push, not devalue his beliefs," she countered. "You have to meet him halfway. And you have to make him talk about it. He won't. It's how he was raised, to think it an improper topic of conversation."
Caroline nodded, looking down at the flower Bella had given her. With a swift, sure move, Bella poked her side, which resulted in the flower's destruction. Petals were ripped and shredded, the stem still in her now clenched hand.
"And there's the other reason Archie's waiting," Bella said knowingly. "You don't want to spend your first night together watching Carlisle reattach Archie's arm or something. It's not about the strength; he knows what that would do to you. Learn to control that, and you'll both feel a little better. But Caroline, you've got time."
After a brief moment, Caroline finally acquiesced. The girls stood up and ran their fingers through their wet hair. Both were calm after having that talk, especially Caroline.
Before they left their little clearing to make their way down to the beach, Caroline stopped my Bella. "Am I... I mean, is all this driving Edward crazy?"
I snorted and rolled my eyes.
Bella giggled. "No more than the rest of us, sweetie. And trust me, he's never, ever going to use it against you or say anything inappropriate. So don't sweat it."
They took off in a run, but Bella's thoughts directed to me. We'll meet you at the beach, handsome.
Nodding stupidly when she couldn't see me, I tracked down Archie, leaning on the tree behind him. "You ready to head back?"
"Did Caroline get enough?"
"Yes."
"She's with Bella?"
"Yes."
"She still mad at me?" he groaned.
"No."
I smiled when he spun to face me. His mind was questioning whether I was lying or not. Once he'd acknowledged my sincerity, he let out a breath of relief.
"She's trying to drive me crazy," he grumbled. "In fact, I know I'm going mad."
"She loves you," I said with a chuckle. "You must understand that first. And women like to be shown they're cared for in a physical way. It's...important."
He frowned and shook his head. "No. Not yet."
"If you feel that way, you have to tell her. But she just had a long talk with Bella, so I think you're safe for a while." I grinned, simply because I couldn't help it.
"Safe until she rages again," Archie snorted, but I could tell he was feeling better about things.
"The swift changes in her mood are normal, Archie. You know this. Hell, you remember this," I told him. "Add in that she's still adjusting to the loss of her father and her humanity, and she's an emotional mess. I don't need Jasper here to tell you that. She simply just needs something to cling to, and it's instinctual that she cling to you. You're her mate. She needs that reassurance in some form that everything will be okay."
"Will it?"
"Yes. In time." I frowned, tilting my head at him. "Esme went through the same thing. She'd tried to end her human life, yet woke up to this one, instead. That wasn't something that Carlisle was prepared to handle. Anger didn't begin to cover what she was thinking, but deep down, she knew that Carlisle was there for her." I walked to Archie, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You're doing an amazing job making sure Caroline's taken care of on a...newborn level. You have to make sure she's okay on an emotional one, as well. She's going to be scared, angry, frustrated. She needs to know that you're loving her throughout it all, no matter what, no matter how...scary they can get."
I grimaced, but Archie snorted into a laugh.
"Experience?" he asked, still chuckling.
"Do you have any idea how many times I had to pry Bella off Emmett in the beginning?" I groaned, shaking my head. "He'd push until she snapped. She was this brunette blur of motion in the backyard, growling at him as she landed on his head." I smiled sadly. "Then she'd feel just awful about it. So yeah, experience."
"Bella had more control," he countered.
"Physically and thirst-wise, yes. But not emotionally. She felt things to the extreme," I told him, thinking back to a time when she'd been new to this life. The loss of her elderly friend, Miss Gail, had sent my girl into a downward spiral of emotion. My heart had broken for her that day as I'd watched my sweet girl destroy a small section of woods in her grief. I sighed at the memory and looked to Archie. "It's all normal, and it will all level out."
Archie nodded and started toward the shore, but I stopped him.
"Before we make it to Isle Esme, and before my brothers catch wind of this, I should tell you that they'll be unrelenting with their teasing," I told him with a chuckle. "Both are firm believers in instant gratification," I said, raising an eyebrow up at him. "My sisters? Even worse. So while we're alone, I'll tell you this much... Waiting is fine, and I understand your reasons, but there's nothing wrong with slow progress...with working up to it."
"Aw, Edward, I don't know," he hedged, shaking his head.
"Archie, you're stronger than you think, and you're denying yourself as well as Caroline, but don't you think that some...activities could be a lesson in physical control?" I asked him, waiting for him to catch my drift.
Archie's eyes widened and then shot to mine. "We're driving you crazy, right?"
Laughing, I nodded. "Yeah, but no more than Rose and Emmett did back in the day. Come on. The girls are waiting for us."
~oOo~
"Edward Anthony Masen Cullen! You're cheating! Again!" Bella growled, throwing her hand of cards at my head.
"Bella, you're shielding me!"
"Oh, uh uh. No way. You've got your ways," she sneered, her eyes narrowing at me dangerously. "Seriously, Edward? You're brilliant, with an infallible memory. Is cheating that necessary?"
Grinning at Carlisle's and Esme's laughter up on deck, I simply shrugged. In reality, I loved to watch my girl get all sorts of bent out of shape over a simple game of Uno. She was sexy and stunning when she was pissed. Her eyes flashed darkly, her mouth set in a pout, and there was this little vein that popped out on the side of her neck that was just about the most delicious thing I'd ever had the pleasure of tasting.
"Sweetheart, I'm not cheating," I lied, and she totally knew it, but it was the same argument every time we played a game. "How can you say that?"
"Because you just hit me with like forty cards! There's no way you have that many Draw Four, Skip, Reverse, and Draw Two cards in your hand. You stacked the damn deck, Edward," she snorted, rolling her eyes.
"Pure luck of the game, baby," I said smugly with a grin.
"One day, she'll snap his hands off just to teach him a lesson," Carlisle snorted to Esme.
"She'll snap something off, that's for sure," Esme countered wryly.
Bella paused, smirking at what they'd said, but her eyes betrayed her as she gazed at my hands. No, that'll never happen, she thought to me with a giggle. Mm, I like those fingers way too much.
I leaned back against the pile of pillows on our bed, bending my arms behind my head. "Do tell, sweet girl."
Her eyes narrowed again, and she reached down and threw the whole deck of cards at me. "Cheater."
My mouth fell open when she shifted, because just underneath her folded legs were two hidden cards. "What's this, Isabella?" I taunted, moving swiftly in order to catch her and grab the two rogue cards.
My girl's laughter was full and happy and like music to my ears, but her squeal of surprise when I tackled her onto her back onto the mattress was even better.
"I've had to learn to keep things fair, Mr. Cullen!" she said through hysterics as I relentlessly tickled her.
Chuckling, I buried my face in her hair. She smelled of her usual scent with a touch of sunshine and sea air. "Okay, okay," I finally conceded, settling into the cradle of her thighs. "It's official. I've turned you into a ruthless card shark."
Bella grinned, wrapping her arms around my neck, but she leaned up to nip playfully at my jaw. "It's purely defensive, I assure you."
Brushing my lips across hers in a barely-there touch, I pressed my forehead to hers. "I love you," I mouthed, suddenly wishing we were very much alone.
I love you, too, Edward, she replied silently, framing my face in both of her hands. I'm ready for the island. For time alone with you. She pouted and showed me exactly where on the island she wanted our alone time to be.
Nodding, I smiled at the memory of our honeymoon. "Yeah, there. Exactly. Who is reading whose mind now? Hmm?"
She giggled, shrugging a shoulder, and I leaned down to kiss it, then her neck, and then her lips.
How much longer, Edward?
I shook my head. "Days," I replied, brushing her hair from her face as I braced my elbows on either side of her head.
We were already parallel to Brazil and making our way down toward Rio. From Rio, where we'd stop for one last refuel, we'd make our way to Isle Esme. Though, we'd have to stop to hunt a few more times before then.
It had been a long trip, filled with several stops, not only for fuel but for Caroline's thirst. But it had given us a chance to take our time teaching her, as well as keeping her away from humans. Airports, planes, and even Rio had way too many possibilities of something going wrong. Alice had seen it, even with Bella's shield. So the boat had been our only option. But as much as I knew we were needed and appreciated, I was ready to steal Bella away for myself, for purely wicked and selfish reasons. And it seemed my girl was feeling exactly the same way.
However, Isle Esme would always bring beautiful memories of our honeymoon to us, so perhaps that was the reason for the need, the want that was swirling electrically around us.
"Good." She sighed in want, yet there was an underlying layer of contentment to the sweet sound. "I can't wait."
Grinning, I kissed her again, just reveling in the feel of her beneath me, wrapped around me. "Me, either, Bella."

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