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Messaggio  simona80 il Mer 09 Mar 2011, 00:22

Chapter Twenty-Eight
Edward woke up in the middle of their last night in Umbria to an empty bed. He was dazed, in a semi-dreamlike state, extending his arm to Isabella's side. But it was empty and the sheets were cold.
Where is she?
Isabella was a fairly reliable sleeper so her absence troubled him.
He swung his legs to the floor, wincing slightly as his bare feet touched the cold stone. He pulled on a pair of boxer shorts and made his way downstairs, scratching at his bed-mussed hair as he did so.
The light was on in the kitchen so he stopped there first. No Isabella. A half drunk glass of cranberry juice sat on the counter next to a small remnant of cheese and a crust of bread. It looked as if a mouse had been there for a nocturnal feeding, but had been surprised.
He walked into the living room and saw a dark head resting on the arm of an overstuffed chair next to the now dead fire.
He loved to watch her sleep. In sleep, Isabella looked much younger, it was true, but very peaceful. There was no arching of eyebrows, no chewing of lips, just the gentle breathing of a lovely young woman, innocent and sweet.
Her skin was pale but her cheeks had a rosy hue as did her lips. Edward would have loved to compose a poem about her mouth and resolved to do so one day. In fact, her appearance except her clothing reminded him of Frederick Leighton's Flaming June.
She was clad only in an elegant and ivory silk satin nightgown. One of the thin straps had fallen off her right shoulder, leaving the beautiful curve bare.
Edward couldn't help himself as the pale, smooth skin called out for his mouth. He kissed her shoulder lightly and then crouched down near her head, floating a hand over her hair and then finally petting her softly.
She stirred and opened her eyes, blinking twice before smiling at him.
Her slow, sweet smile set his heart aflame. He actually felt his breathing speed in reaction to her. He'd never felt this way about anyone before and the depth of feeling she drew from him consistently surprised him.
"Hi," he whispered, smoothing her hair away from her face. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine."
"I was worried when I reached for you and you weren't there."
"I had a nightmare. And then I was starving so I came down here to get a snack."
Edward's eyebrows knit together and he rested his hand lightly on the top of her head.
"Do you want to talk about your nightmare?"
He wanted to push her but decided against it.
"I haven't seen this before." He traced a finger across the neckline of her nightgown, skimming the tops of her breasts.
She shivered at his touch.
"This is what I bought for our first night together."
"It's beautiful. And it suits you. Why haven't you worn it?"
She winked at him. "I've been wearing all those things you bought me in Florence. What did the clerk call them? Basques and body suits? Your taste in women's lingerie is surprisingly old-fashioned, Professor Masen. Next time you'll be buying me a corset."
Edward chuckled and kissed her. "I'll remember to look for one the next time I'm shopping. You're right, I tend to favour items that leave more to the imagination. It makes the unwrapping so much more enjoyable. But you're equally lovely in everything and nothing."
She reached over to touch his face and pulled him close for a deeper kiss.
He dragged his lips across her jawline until he was whispering in her ear.
"It's four o'clock in the morning, love. Do you want to come back to bed?"
She nodded.
He took her hand and led her past the kitchen table, exchanging a saucy smirk with her before walking upstairs.
He sat on the edge of the canopied bed as she stood before him, pausing.
She withdrew her hand in order to push her nightgown over her shoulders. It pooled at her ankles leaving her naked before him.
In the semi-darkness of the room, he drank in her tempting curves.
"You are an argument for God's existence," he murmured.
"Your face, your breasts, your beautiful back. St. Thomas Aquinas would have had to add you as his Sixth Way if he had ever been blessed enough to see you. You must have been designed and not merely made."
Bella lowered her eyes and blushed.
He smiled at her pink cheeks.
"Am I making you shy?"
As if in answer, she took a step closer and pulled one of his hands so that it cupped her breast.
He squeezed her softly. "Your nightmare upset you. I could simply hold you."
"I need to feel you love me."
"Then come to me," he said, his voice thick with desire.
He divested himself of his boxer shorts quickly and then moved so that she could join him on the bed. Still cupping her breast, he began to kiss her, gently tangling his tongue with hers and nibbling her full, bottom lip.
"What do you want, love? Tell me."
She smiled up at him. "I want you on top."
He teased her breasts with his fingers and planted gentle kisses down her neck, feathering up and down while she urged him on with confident fingers.
She bent her knees and placed her feet flat on the mattress, inviting him in.
He kissed between her breasts and then took one of her nipples in his mouth as his hand glided across the surface of her skin, moving down to test her.
He released her breast in order to shake his head. "Not yet. You aren't ready."
"But I want you."
"I want you, too. But don't ask me to rush this. I want to set your body on fire."
Bella's desire was countered by Edward's commitment to see that each of their sexual encounters was pleasurable for both of them. He'd rather delay entrance and satisfaction until she was mad with want, rather than speed along before her body was sufficiently aroused.
When they finally came together, he placed his elbows on either side of her upper body and looked down into open brown eyes, their noses only a whisper apart.
As he moved in and out painstakingly slowly, her eyes would close momentarily as she focused on the pleasurable sensation, but then she would open them again.
It was an intense connection. Dark green, heavy with emotion, gazed down unblinkingly into wide chestnut. Every movement, every yearning was reflected between the couple's eyes.
"I love you." He nuzzled her with his nose as he gradually increased his pace.
"I love you, too." Her last word was interrupted by a gasp that sprang from between her panting lips.
"There's no one else." His voice rumbled from his chest. "There's never been anyone else."
She reached up to catch his mouth and as he moved more quickly, their tongues explored one another, groans and confessions interrupting their oral connection.
"So good, Bella. So, so good."
He touched her ribs on her right side and then smoothed over her waist and slipped under the curve of her bottom so he could lift her slightly, increasing his leverage.
She had become addicted to this, to him. She adored the way he looked at her in these intimate moments and the way in which the world fell out of focus around them. She longed to feel him loving her, moving inside her. For he always made her feel beautiful and special and loved. She would have said that any orgasm was a bonus in addition to the way she felt when they were conjoined.
She craved him like air.
Making love, like music or breathing or the tempo of one's heartbeat, was based on a primordial rhythm. Since Edward had loved Isabella, he had come to read her body and to know the pace that matched it, like a glove that fits a lady's hand. It was the sort of knowledge that was at once personal and basic, the kind of knowledge King James's translators had been referring to when they wrote of Adam knowing his wife. The mysterious sacred knowledge that a lover had for his beloved; knowledge that was perverted and maligned in less holier couplings. Knowledge that deserved a marriage in more than name.
Edward put his knowledge to good use, delighting Isabella with his body again and again.
And the way it felt when he was inside her – warm and thrilling and tropical and perfect.
He was close, oh, so close.
He searched her expression and saw that her eyes had widened. Every motion of his was reciprocated by her. Every motion brought both of them pleasure.
As they stared at one another, a great moan erupted from her chest and then in a twinkling instant she was throwing her head back and calling his name, clutching wildly at his hips with both hands and pushing him into her as he thrust again and again.
It was a glorious thing for him to see and hear. Isabella's eyes wide with surprise and euphoria as she finally called his name during her climax.
She had heard his plea and answered it.
Soon he was falling, whispering her name like a prayer as his body tensed and then released, the veins in his forehead and neck straining and then relaxing, his eyes burning into hers.
A joyful, tender coupling.
She didn't want to let him go. She didn't want to feel him leave her body and so she clung to him, watching his eyes soften as he gently cupped her face.
"Will it always be like this?"
Edward smiled and kissed her nose. "I don't know, love. But if Carlisle and Esme were any indication, it will only improve with time. I will make love to you and see the reflection of all our shared joys and experiences in your eyes, and you will see the same in mine. Our history will make it better, deeper, truer."
She smiled at what he said and nodded, and then her face grew sad.
"What is it?" He stroked her cheek.
"I'm worried about what will happen next year."
"What if I don't get accepted into the Ph.D. program at Toronto?"
He frowned. "I didn't know that you applied."
"I don't want to leave you."
He kissed her quickly. "I don't want you to leave but Isabella, the Toronto program is not for you. You'd have no one to work with. I can't work with you and I doubt Katherine would take on a multi-year commitment."
Bella's countenance fell and she quickly looked away.
"Hey, look at me."
She turned back to him, but kept her eyes lowered.
"It troubles me when you hide, love. I thought we were past that.
"Is that what your nightmare was about – our separation?"
She nodded.
"I thought you wanted to go to Harvard."
"It's so far away from you."
"Only a short plane ride."
He watched her teeth clamp down on her lower lip.
"It isn't like you to be so pessimistic. We can see each other on weekends and holidays. I applied for a sabbatical. It's possible that I could come with you next year."
"I could be there for six years. Or more." She was close to tears now. Edward saw them swimming and shimmering in her eyes and his heart ached.
"Isabella," his voice grew serious. "We will make it work. But right now, we need to enjoy the time we have together and you should let me worry about the future. I'll make sure we aren't separated."
She opened her mouth to protest but he kissed her.
"The advantage to dating an older, more established man is that he can give you room to focus on your own career. I'll find a way to make my job fit around yours."
"That isn't fair to you."
"It would be grossly unfair to expect you to give up your dream of being a professor or to have you enrol in a program that is subpar. I won't let you sacrifice your dreams for me – that would be unacceptable.
"Academic couples make these things work all the time. We'll make it work, too." He grinned at her. "Now kiss me, Isabella, and let me know that you trust me."
"I trust you."
Edward kissed her tenderly and then moved beside her, sighing happily as she moulded against his side.
Sleep came to him quickly and soon his mind was at ease in a happy dream, while Bella struggled to fall asleep.
It was hard for the lovers to leave Umbria the next morning. Bella cried as they drove to the railway station in Perugia.
Edward wiped away her tears with his fingertips.
"This isn't the end, darling. It's only the beginning." He kissed her softly and pulled her coat more tightly around her, attempting to keep her warm on a cold day.
And then he held her hand all the way to Seattle.
Angela Webber sat in her parents' house in north Toronto checking her email a few days before Christmas.
She had been ignoring her email for a week. And for good reason. A relationship she had cultivated in addition to her pursuit of Professor Masen had run its course, which meant that she wouldn't be skiing in Whistler, British Columbia with her erstwhile lover over the Christmas holidays.
The banker in question had broken up with her via text message. This was in poor taste, to be sure, but what would be in even poorer taste would be the follow-up email that was sure to be waiting for her, like a roadside bomb hiding in her inbox.
Having steeled herself with a glass or two of vintage Bollinger champagne, which she had purchased as a gift for the schmuck who was supposed to take her skiing, she checked her email. And there, sitting in her inbox, was a roadside bomb. However, it was not the bomb she had expected.
To say that she was surprised by the content of Professor Felix Pacciani's email would have been an understatement.
In fact, she felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under her.
The only Canadian woman she had ever seen Professor Masen show even restrained affection to was Professor Jane Singer. Yes, Angela had seen Masen with various women at Lobby, but never the same woman twice. He was friendly with Professor Leaming, but only professionally so, greeting her on occasion with a handshake, but never a kiss. Professor Singer, in contrast, was rewarded with a double kiss when he greeted her after his public lecture.
The gesture did not take place unnoticed.
Angela did not want to rekindle a relationship with Professor Pacciani. He was sorely lacking in a particular physical respect and she had no wish to return to the previous intimate encounters that had always left her frustrated and wanting like a still chaste teenager. She had standards, after all, and any man who did not measure up to at least the size of her personal service accessory was not worth fucking.
And she would have said you could quote her on that.
But since she wanted more information about Professor Masen's fiancée, she feigned interest in a spring rendezvous with Professor Pacciani and subtly asked for the fiancée's name.
Then she went downstairs and finished off the rest of the champagne.
The day before Christmas found Bella sitting at the counter of the Forks Diner eating lunch with Charlie. Edward was doing some last minute shopping with Carlisle while Alice and Jasper drove to the grocery store to pick up the turkey. Emmett and Rose were (allegedly) taking a nap.
Charlie had faithfully delivered Bella's gift from Peter. It was sitting on the floor at her feet, staring up at her, begging for attention like a lovesick puppy.
She opened it hastily, deciding that it was better to display its contents in front of Charlie rather than Edward. She gave the bottle of maple syrup to her father with a smile, she giggled at the toy Holstein and kissed it, she admired the cheese, but when she unwrapped the Dante and Beatrice figurines her face grew pale.
It was almost as if he knew.
And yet, he couldn't have known.
While Charlie ate his blue plate special – turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes – Bella opened Peter's card.
It displayed children engaged in a snowball fight and the typical Merry Christmas emblazoned on the cover. But it was the words that Peter wrote in his own hand that brought a lump to her throat.
Merry Christmas, Bella.
I know it was a rough first semester and I'm sorry I didn't do a better job
of helping you when you needed it.
I'm proud of you for not quitting when things were tough.
Your friendship is important to me.
With a big Vermont hug
from your friend
P.S. I don't know if you've heard Sarah McLachlan's "Wintersong," but part of it made me think of how I hope your Christmas will be.
"This is how I see you
in the snow on Christmas morning
love and happiness surround you
as you throw your arms up to the sky …"
Bella didn't know the song that he was referring to, so the lyrics he omitted did not run through her mind as she examined the card's artwork more closely. In the centre of the snowball fight stood a little girl with long, dark hair in a bright red coat, laughing and holding a snowball aloft.
The quotation, the picture, the card, the gift … Peter had tried to keep his feelings secret, she thought, but he had betrayed himself as surely as if he had declared that he wanted her. It was all in the picture of the laughing girl in the red coat. And in what Peter hoped she would have.
Bella was feeling more emotional than usual and consequently, she found herself wiping away tears. Peter had always been so nice to her and his words combined with the gifts and the card …
She placed everything back in the box quickly and then relinquished it to the floor at her feet.
"So, Edward treating you right?" Oblivious to what had just occurred, Charlie broached the topic of Bella's relationship in between bites of turkey.
"He loves me, Dad. He's very good to me."
Her father shook his head as he reflected on how Jacob had had the appearance of being good and Edward had the reality of being good – and how he, Chief Swan, had failed to recognize the difference.
"You let me know if he isn't," he said, tasting the mashed potatoes.
Bella rolled her eyes. Charlie was just being Charlie. Yes, it was a bit late to play the part of the overprotective father, but better late than not at all.
"Dad, when Edward and I drove into town this morning we went by the house. I saw the sign on the lawn."
Charlie wiped his mouth on a napkin. "I put the house up for sale a week or so ago."
"Why not? I can't live in a house where my daughter can't come and visit."
Bella was stunned.
"But Dad, you grew up in that house. What about you and Sue?"
He shrugged and hid his expression behind a cup of coffee.
"We're not together."
Bella gasped. "I didn't know. I'm sorry."
Charlie sipped his coffee stoically. "It wasn't going anywhere. She didn't want to move and I have to live in Forks as long as I'm on the job. And her kids don't like me."
"I didn't know that."
He shrugged again.
"I was looking at a smaller house over on Elk Loop Drive. Might use some of the money from the sale of the house for a boat. And to help you with Harvard."
"I thought you always used Billy Black's boat."
Charlie shuffled his feet on the floor. "I won't be going down to LaPush anymore."
"Why not?"
"I'm not welcome."
Bella was surprised. And then she was angry. Her conflict with him had cost her and her father far more than they had ever anticipated. Yes, she might be scarred, but her father had lost his girlfriend and prospective wife, and his best friend.
"Dad, if you sell the house you should use the money for a boat. I'm hoping to get a scholarship."
"Then you can use the money I'm going to give you for beer. From now on, it's just you and me kid." Charlie reached out a hand to ruffle Bella's hair, his preferred act of affection.
And then he excused himself to use the men's room, leaving Bella alone to contemplate her half-eaten cheeseburger, Peter, and a changed Charlie.
Her stomach began to churn and she contemplated making a trip to the washroom herself. She eyed her burger suspiciously, wondering if the meat was contaminated. And then she asked Diane, the waitress, for a large ginger ale with the hope of alleviating her nausea.
She was drinking her ginger ale and praying that she wouldn't throw up when she heard a commotion near the front door.
"Hey, bitch!"
And then a moment or two later, the same voice rang out more loudly.
"Bitch, I'm talking to you!"
Bella swivelled on her stool curiously and found an angry Leah Clearwater standing nearby, her hands on her hips.
Leah was tall and thin, with tanned skin and a beautiful face. Long, straight black hair fell below her shoulders and it swayed as she walked quickly towards Bella.
"Jake is going to prison. He tried to work out a deal, but the district attorney wouldn't settle for anything less than jail time. Are you happy now, you ugly cow?"
She brought her angry face inches from Bella's as she leaned towards her.
"It wasn't my fault," Bella mumbled, her eyes darting around at the few patrons who were looking up from their lunches to watch the latest instalment of As the Forks Turn.
"The fuck it wasn't! Jake wasn't going to hurt you, you stupid bitch! But you had to play the victim, once again. Poor little Bella, always crying for attention."
Bella ducked her head and tried to make herself appear even smaller, if that was possible.
Leah peered down at her, trying to catch a glimpse of her neck.
"You accused him of biting you and leaving a scar, but there isn't a mark on you! You need to admit that you lied and tell them that you don't want to press charges. Today."
"Even if I wanted to help him, there's still Charlie. He broke into Charlie's house."
"Yeah, well Charlie is nothing but a motherfucker and I'm glad my Mom finally kicked his lazy ass to the curb."
Bella cringed but bit her tongue, praying that her father would hurry up and return.
"You're just a jealous bitch. You hated the fact that Jake chose me over you and you decided to get back at him."
"Are you delusional?" Bella muttered, under her breath.
"We used to laugh about you when we were in bed together – how frigid you are." Leah's voice was loud and contemptuous. "He told me you gave the worst blow jobs he'd ever had. All he had to do was touch your mouth and you fucking choked."
The entire diner was silent as Leah's loud revelation reverberated across the room and around the walls.
Everyone heard her.
A small river of tears overflowed the banks of Bella's eyes and began to stream down her face.
"I want you to drop this thing with Jake and I'm not leaving until you do it."
Bella sat very still like a cowering animal, her eyes leaking, hoping that Leah would tire of tormenting her and leave. Or that someone would intervene.
"So are you going to do it or do I need to make you?"
When Bella stubbornly remained silent, Leah took a swing at her.
Bella caught the first hint of movement out of the corner of her eye and instinctively ducked, raising her arms to protect herself.
But Leah's fist never connected with her body.
"Sam, get off of me!" Leah shouted, struggling with someone violently.
Bella waited, and then lowered her arms hesitantly.
Sam Uley, one of Jacob's friends from LaPush, was holding Leah by the wrists and pushing her away from Bella.
"Calm down, Leah. Were you just going to attack the police chief's daughter in a room full of witnesses? Are you high?"
"I came here because of Jake. This bitch had him arrested. Now let me go." Leah wrestled with Sam and tried to wriggle out of his grasp.
"What's going on?" Charlie suddenly appeared behind his daughter.
Through her tears, Bella heard Sam and a few of the diner's regulars tell Charlie an extremely sanitized account of what happened.
Charlie cursed loudly and then put his hand on her shoulder.
"Did she touch you?"
She shook her head.
He noticed his daughter's tears and cursed once again.
"Stay here."
Charlie ignored Leah's epithets about his past relationship with her mother and warned her that if she put a hand on him, he'd arrest her for assaulting a police officer. That seemed to quiet her.
He took her outside and Sam followed them.
Bella wasted no time in running to the ladies' room to hide.
She made it to the toilet just in time to expel her lunch.
Diane followed her.
"Honey, are you alright?"
Diane, who was a kind soul and had known Bella since she was a child, dampened some paper towel with cold water and handed it to her when she was finished.
Bella wiped her mouth slowly. "I'm going to be."
"I should have done something, honey. I'm sorry. I should have grabbed a frying pan and hit her upside the head. I can't believe she'd talk that kind of trash in my restaurant. She must be doing drugs, Bella."
Bella shrugged as she ran some cold water on a second piece of paper towel and then wiped at her tear-stained face.
"You want a cup of tea or something?"
Bella shook her head and then closed her eyes as she tried to compose herself.
I need to get the fuck out of Forks. Permanently.
About fifteen minutes later, Charlie and his daughter retook their places at the counter.
Bella kept her head down and refused to make eye contact with anyone. She felt as if the entire diner was staring at her.
"I'm sorry, Dad," she said in a small voice.
He frowned and waved at Diane in order to request a fresh cup of coffee.
"What are you sorry about?" His voice was gruff.
Diane replaced his coffee and then moved to the other end of the counter to give them some privacy.
"This is all my fault – Sue, Billy, the house …" She wasn't going to cry again. She didn't want to cry, but somehow the tears welled up and she couldn't stop them.
Charlie took a deep breath. "If it's anyone's fault, it's mine. It was my responsibility to protect you and I didn't. You might say that Billy and Sue are just protecting their kids the way I should have been protecting you."
Bella wiped a tear away. "But now your life is ruined."
He snorted loudly. "I wasn't really that attached to my life anyway, Bells. It wasn't that interesting."
He turned towards her and looked at her closely.
"When Renee found out that she was pregnant, I was happy. It wasn't planned and we were too young, but I always wanted a family. And I'm never going to let anything or anyone separate me from my family again. You've got my word on that."
Bella smiled up into her father's face and he leaned over and brushed a hesitant kiss against her hair.
"I'm going to have to go into work to do some paperwork on what just happened. Why don't you phone that boyfriend of yours and ask him to pick you up and then I'll see you over at Carlisle's house for dinner? Alice called this morning to invite me. She promised to make Esme's lasagne."
Bella nodded and wiped her tears away. She didn't want Edward to see her crying.
"I love you, Daddy."
Charlie cleared his throat roughly, without looking at her.
"I love you too, Bells."
Edward was only too glad to cut his shopping trip short and pick up Bella. When he and Carlisle arrived at the diner, they immediately walked over to the counter to join the Swans.
Bella stood up and hugged Edward tightly.
"What happened?" he asked. "You've been crying."
"It's just the Christmas blues." Bella noticed uncomfortably that everyone was still staring at her, including Sam.
"What Christmas blues?"
"I'll tell you later." She buried her face in Edward's chest for a moment as she tried to maintain her composure.
Carlisle took a moment to greet Charlie and while the two old friends were talking, Edward gently swept Bella's hair behind her ear in order to whisper something sweet.
A sparkling flash caught Carlisle's attention.
He recognized Esme's earrings immediately. Although he was shocked he was also pleased, for he knew that she would be happy that Edward gave her earrings to Bella. But in viewing the diamonds he suddenly realized that he had grossly underestimated his son's new relationship.
He loves her.
Edward and Charlie exchanged polite greetings and then Edward picked up Bella's Christmas gift from Peter. To his credit, he resisted the urge to say something snide and simply carried the box without comment.
Just as the trio approached the door, Officer Jessica Stanley walked in.
"Hello, Jessica." Edward smiled, but his tone was tense.
Surprisingly, she smiled back. "Hi, Edward. Home for Christmas?"
"That's right."
She greeted Bella and Carlisle briefly, and then looked back at Edward, noticing the way that Bella's arm was tucked into his elbow.
"You look good. You look happy."
"Thank you. I am."
"I'm happy for you, Edward. Merry Christmas, you three."
And with that, Edward, Carlisle and Bella departed the diner for home.
Edward and Bella were laughing about something or other as they walked through the front door of the Cullen house with Carlisle.
Bella was still feeling a little shell-shocked, it was true, but she was so relieved to be home with her friends that she pushed all thoughts of her nightmare afternoon aside.
Until she saw her.
Peering from the front hall into the living room, she saw Alice, Jasper, Emmett and Rose all sitting around somewhat awkwardly while a guest sat on the couch.
Someone Bella had never seen before.
Upon spying Edward, the woman rose gracefully from her seat and sort of floated over to him.
Bella placed a light hand on Edward's arm to steady him or to steady herself, she wasn't sure which.
The woman moved like a ballerina or a princess, a subtle air of old money or aristocracy clinging to her every movement like perfume.
She was tall. Almost as tall as Edward with long, slightly wavy strawberry blonde hair and large, ice blue eyes. Her skin was pale and flawless, she was model thin and wore knee high black suede stiletto boots, a black wool pencil skirt and a pale blue cashmere sweater that was off the shoulder and obviously designer.
She was beautiful. And regal.
And she was arching her back to Bella like a Russian blue cat.
"Edward. How lovely to see you!" Her voice was rich and clear and she swept past Bella as if she were furniture in order to embrace him tightly.
"Tanya," he managed stiffly.
Edward's eyes narrowed and then widened as Tanya wrapped herself around him. A myriad of emotions flashed across his face as she rather formally kissed both of his cheeks.
Except that she kissed him slowly, oozing sensuality. And then, to add insult to the injury, she wiped her lipstick in an intimate way from his cheeks, chuckling softly as if it were a private joke.
Carlisle cleared his throat behind them and stepped up to shake Tanya's hand. She brushed his hand aside and hugged him.
"Carlisle. A pleasure as always. I was so sorry to hear about Esme."
He graciously hugged her back and then walked over to Bella to help her take her coat off.
While he hung her coat up in the closet, Bella allowed herself to glance into the living room. Emmett looked confused, Rose looked suspicious, Jasper was wary and Alice mouthed the words, "Who is she?!"
Bella didn't know what to say.
While Carlisle excused himself in order to join his family and to persuade them to retreat to the kitchen, Edward moved closer to Bella, wrapping his arm snugly around her waist.
"And who might this be?" Tanya asked, reluctantly acknowledging the other woman's existence with a frosty smile. She towered over Bella, who was wearing plain flat shoes, jeans and a purple sweater.
Bella summoned up the courage to smile and extended her hand. "I'm Bella. We met on the phone once."
Tanya kept a tight reign on her facial expression but Bella saw what she attempted to conceal - the cold flames of resentment.
"Really?" Tanya laughed artfully. "Surely you can't expect me to keep track of all the girls who answered Edward's phone over the years! Unless you were one of the girls who I spoke with when I interrupted a ménage? Remember that night, Edward?"
Bella withdrew her hand as if she'd been smacked.
"Tanya, allow me remind you that you are a guest in my house. I won't tolerate your disrespect for anyone, especially Isabella. Is that clear?" Edward's voice was like a frozen lake, the stiff, cold formality of Professor Masen once again visible.
Tanya lowered her head obediently, immediately cowed.
"What are you doing here?" His voice was low, controlled.
"I came to wish you a Merry Christmas. You wouldn't return my calls and Ephraim said that you'd be here."
Edward silently ruminated on the tongue-lashing he was going to give Ephraim, his Boston attorney, when he spoke to him next.
"Are you on your way to Alaska?"
"My parents won't talk to me. You know that." Her voice was bitter.
"I didn't notice your car in the driveway."
Tanya's eyes moved to glance at Bella and then back to Edward. "I don't have a driver's license right now."
"Then I'll call a taxi to take you to your hotel."
"I don't have a hotel. And anyway, Edward, I need to talk to you."
Edward removed his arm from Bella's waist in order to rub his eyes with both hands.
Bella stood there in a quandary, wondering what she should do.
She could have said something cutting, something embarrassing to Tanya. She could have returned insult for insult and helped Edward evict her from the house.
But as she watched the old and broken dynamic between the two of them she thought two things.
First, that she had no reason to treat Tanya badly. Tanya obviously wanted Edward and he did not return her affection. No matter what she said or did that afternoon, Edward would be taking Bella to his bed that night and telling her that he loved her before kissing her good night. That fact alone would pain Tanya far more than any words Bella could utter.
Second, now that she stood in front of him, Edward needed to deal with Tanya himself, once and for all. And he didn't need an audience.
Bella was not feeling quite herself, so in deference to her own weariness over having been verbally bashed at Forks Diner and in Carlisle's hallway, she turned her back on the two of them and sought out Alice in the kitchen, whispering to her that she needed to lie down.
Alice walked her upstairs, leaving the soap opera in the front hall to play out unwatched.
"Who is that woman? She said that Edward was expecting her!" Alice hissed, as she led Bella down the hall to Edward's old room.
"I'll nap in the guest room." Bella detoured into the room across the hall and slowly took her shoes off, placing them on the rug next to the bed.
Alice stood with her hand on the doorknob, waiting for an explanation.
Bella sighed and hunched her shoulders. "Edward wasn't expecting her. She's an old friend from Harvard."
"She said she met him at Oxford."
"I guess it was both." Bella sat down on the bed.
"Why is she here?"
"I have no idea. Listen, I need to take a nap. I don't feel very well."
"You and Rose both. She has been under the weather for days.
"I'll be downstairs trying to make Mom's lasagne. You don't think that woman is staying for dinner, do you?"
Bella inhaled sharply. "I don't know."
Alice shook her head, muttering expletives about secretive older brothers and closed the door behind her, leaving Bella alone with uncomfortable thoughts.
Why is she here?
Why am I constantly surprised at Edward's colourful sexual past?
Why didn't he wait for me?
Bella sank back on the bed and curled up into a little ball, hoping to shut out such ruminations with sleep.
She thought she was dreaming when she heard Edward's voice. The bed shifted with his weight and she felt a warm body move beside her.
The room was dark when Bella opened her eyes.
"Edward?" She turned around and looked at him. He looked weary.
"What time is it?"
"It's six-thirty."
"Why didn't anyone wake me up?"
Edward hooked an arm around her lower back and pulled her closer. "They were waiting for me to come home."
Bella sat up. "You weren't here? Where were you?"
He looked away guiltily.
"Were you with Tanya all this time?"
Edward rolled onto his back, placing his hands over his eyes. "I didn't know she was coming. I swear, Isabella, this came out of nowhere."
"What were you doing with her for three and a half hours, Edward?"
"It was three hours with Tanya and then a half an hour with Carlisle in his study when I came home."
He didn't want to tell her what happened. He knew what her reaction would be, he could see it already - worry, suspicion, self-doubt. In one day, Tanya was about to undo all of the progress he had made with Isabella over the past two months.
He could not allow that to happen.
Bella felt her blood run cold as she watched Edward's expression. Shame and fear and guilt washed across his features.
"Edward, you're scaring me."
He paused as he searched for the right words.
"You were right when you said that she was far too dependent on me. It's pathological. She's frozen in the past and is willing to do anything to lure me back."
He scowled darkly.
"There was no way I could speak to Tanya here, in front of my family. Remember that my siblings have no idea who she is or what she is in relation to me. Her driver's license is suspended and so she couldn't rent a car or drive. I drove her over to the Olympic Suites and made her take a room. I also encouraged her to book a flight to Alaska tomorrow to try to reconcile with her family. She says they won't see her but I have my doubts."
He swallowed loudly.
"Olympic Suites is not a four star hotel. They don't have a bar or a lobby with any kind of privacy, so we had to talk in my car. She was being a princess about her luggage and I was trying to be a gentleman, so I helped her carry her bags to her room."
Bella arched an eyebrow and waited, hugging her arms tightly to her chest.
"I put the bags down and turned to walk out the door and ..." Edward's voice trailed off.
He measured Bella's reaction out of the corner of his eye. She was holding her breath.
"It was pathetic more than anything else." He shook his head and covered his eyes, groaning loudly.
"I told her to get up and pull herself together. To meet me at my car so that we could talk. When she finally joined me, we sat in the hotel parking lot for hours. That's how long it took to rehash our history. And even then we only scratched the surface."
He rolled onto his side and saw that Bella had become fetal, curling in on herself and drawing her knees flush against her chest.
"No, no, no," he chanted, tugging her arms and knees away from her body, trying desperately to relax her defensive posture.
"Isabella, please. She's gone now and she won't be coming back. I told her that she needed professional help – that I'd fallen in love with you and couldn't be there for her anymore. She has my money and she has my lawyers, and that's all I can give her."
He coaxed Bella to lie down next to him and then he put his arms around her still stiff body.
"It was a painful truth but she needed to hear it. She needed to know that I'm in love with you and that you are my future."
Bella gazed at him questioningly.
"What happened in her hotel room?"
He growled.
"Isabella, it was the pathetic and repulsive display of a desperate woman."
"Then you shouldn't object to telling me."
Edward paused, clenching his teeth.
"She dropped to her knees and – and I spurned her and walked out the door."
Although Bella's acquaintance with Tanya was admittedly very slight, she knew without question that Tanya would have done much more than simply kneel to him.
Bella blinked as a perverse imagining slowly occurred to her.
Beautiful Tanya on her knees before Edward … offering him something … something that I haven't been able to give him…
"Why do you want me, Edward? I'm not that pretty. I'm not sexually adventurous."
Edward groaned, for her doubt pained him.
"A better question is why someone as good as you would want me? I'm a drug addicted sinner with a horrible past that won't stay in the past. And I was cruel to you in the beginning."
When she didn't answer, he leaned over her body, his left hand pressing down on the mattress next to her right hip and his other hand caressing her face.
"Isabella, if you were thirsty and someone offered you a glass of water from the ocean at LaPush Beach, would you drink it?"
"Of course not."
She shuddered. "Because the water there is salty and dirty."
"And if someone gave you the choice between a glass of that water and a glass of Perrier straight from the bottle, which would you choose?"
"The Perrier, of course. But I don't see what this has to do with her."
His eyes narrowed. "Don't you?"
He moved then, bringing his upper body against hers, careful not to crush her with his weight, kneeling in between her legs so that he could press the contents of their hips together.
"You don't see the comparison between what you offer me and what she offers me?
"This is my water." He pressed himself against her to emphasize his point.
"You are my water. Making love with you is all I need to quench my thirst. Why would I throw this away for water from the ocean?"
He shook his head as he stared at her unblinkingly. "Anything she offers me pales in comparison to what you give me. I want you, I love you, and I desire what we create together with our bodies and our souls."
He shifted his hips against her as a reminder.
Bella shook her head.
"It doesn't make what she did any less painful. Especially when she offers you something I haven't …"
Edward swallowed her words whole with a kiss.
When he was breathing hard he finally released her mouth, gazing intensely into her eyes.
"I don't want that at the expense of you. I'd rather live without it and have you than to have it a thousand times with someone else.
"Your history probably makes it difficult for you to believe me. But I promise that I'm telling you the truth. She has nothing to offer me. Nothing that I want. If you only knew how pathetic a scene it was, you would feel sorry for her."
He pressed his mouth together tightly as he paused, thinking. "No matter my history with her, or any guilt I feel, the thought of throwing what you and I have away is impossible."
He lowered his face so that their noses were inches apart.
"And you are very pretty, my love. Very pretty. Every part of you, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, is a masterpiece. Do you have any idea how much I adore you? I was entranced when I first saw you, when you were seventeen."
Her body began to relax incrementally under his touch and his quiet words.
"How was it left, Edward?"
"I told her that I wasn't going to be available to solve her problems anymore. She took the news about as well as could be expected. I also told her that if she ever did anything like what she did in the hotel room again, or if she was disrespectful to you, that I would cut her off completely. That seemed to get her attention."
Bella nodded. Her head hurt and she was emotionally wrung out and still trying to process the import of her lover's revelation that his ex had propositioned him in a hotel room.
Edward tried to pull some words out of her but was interrupted by an obnoxious knock at the door.
He rolled onto his side just as Alice walked in.
"Dinner is on the table and Charlie is here. Are you two coming downstairs or …?" She looked from her brother to her best friend and then back again. She didn't need them to tell her what had been going on, it was evident from the look on Edward's face and Bella's obvious distress.
"I'm ready for dinner," said Bella.
Edward stood up and extended his hand, pulling her to her feet.
The three of them walked downstairs in silent succession.
It was a different Christmas Eve than any of them could have anticipated. Esme's absence was felt most keenly by her husband and children, Jasper wished that he was already married, and Rose wished she could be around the smell of lasagne without growing nauseated.
When the main course came near her, she handed it off quickly to Emmett and then bolted for the second floor washroom.
"Bad tuna," said Emmett, apologetically. "For lunch."
Bella arched a curious eyebrow and then gazed over at Alice. They exchanged a meaningful look.
Under the table, Bella gripped Edward's knee to get his attention.
"What you're looking for is located a little higher up," he breathed, allowing the curve of his lip to brush against her ear.
Bella blushed and tried to remove her hand but Edward gripped her under the table, placing her hand on his thigh.
"It isn't Alice, it's Rose," she whispered, pulling against his hand.
He released her immediately.
Bella caught Carlisle starting at them, as Charlie and Emmett began discussing football.
Carlisle's eyes flickered over to Rose's empty chair and then back to Bella.
They exchanged a smile.
Leaning over, she placed her arm around the back of Edward's chair. "It isn't Alice who is pregnant. It's Rose."
She sat back in her chair as Edward's eyes widened. He muttered an expletive and then sipped his wine. Twice.
"Should I check on her?" Alice turned to Emmett when there was a lull in the football conversation.
Emmett pushed his chair back. "Ill check on her. She doesn't like people seeing her when she's sick."
When he was up the stairs, Bella and Alice leaned towards one another across the table and started speaking at the same time, before bursting into peals of laughter.
"Dad, how long have you known?" Alice crossed her arms in front of her chest in mock offense.
"Since Thanksgiving."
"And you didn't bother telling me?"
"It's their story to tell. I'm sure they want to wait until she's in her second trimester before they make an announcement. She's probably only eight or nine weeks along."
Charlie looked between Carlisle and Alice in confusion. "Someone care to fill me in?"
"Rose is pregnant, Dad. It looks like some of us just figured it out. But I guess we should all pretend we don't know," Bella explained.
"That shouldn't be too difficult. I had no idea what the hell you all were talking about." Charlie cheerfully put a large forkful of lasagne into his mouth.
After dinner, Edward, Charlie and Carlisle retreated to the back porch to smoke cigars and drink Scotch while the rest of the family enjoyed coffee in the living room.
Rose was asleep upstairs, complaining of a stomach ache.
"How was Italy?" Jasper asked Bella as the two of them refilled their mugs from the coffee maker in the kitchen.
She smiled widely.
"It was great. The weather was good and we had a wonderful time. How is the wedding planning?"
"It's coming along. Although when Alice tried to rent one hundred doves to be released after the ceremony, I put my foot down. I think some of my relatives might be tempted to shoot the damn things." He winked at Bella.
"How are your parents?"
"They're fine. We're flying to San Antonio to visit them on New Year's Day. Alice has been including my Mom in the wedding planning so she's pretty excited.
"How are things with you and Edward?"
Bella hid her face as she opened the fridge to look for the cream. "It's good."
"Except for the ex showing up."
She glanced over at him and he gave her a sympathetic look.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who that woman was. She had her claws out for Edward from the moment she walked through the door."
"I don't really want to talk about it."
"I don't blame you." He sighed and toyed with a teaspoon as if contemplating what to say next.
"Edward is different when you're around. It's very noticeable." Jasper placed the spoon on the counter and rubbed his stubbled chin. "He's more relaxed. He seems – happy."
"He makes me happy, too."
"A happy Edward is about as rare as a unicorn. We're all glad to see it.
"And as far as his ex is concerned, well, he never brought her home to meet Esme. Since no one has even heard of her before, I doubt they were serious.
"Alice and I would never have predicted you two as a couple. But watching you together, you just seem to fit. Even Em and Rose have to admit it."
"Thanks, Jasper."
The two friends exchanged a quick hug and then rejoined Alice and Emmett in the living room.
Later that evening, Bella was washing her face in the bathroom of their room at the Lost Mountain Lodge, when she heard the strains of Lying in the Hands of God wafting in the air.
Edward came to stand behind her, wearing nothing but a pair of navy blue silk boxer shorts and a crooked smile.
"It isn't Barry White, but it's ours," he said smoothly.
He watched her for a moment or two, his expression growing increasingly heated and then he touched her, parting her hair as he fluttered his lips against her neck up and down.
"I want you," he whispered. "Right now."
She paused her activities as he slid his hands underneath her t-shirt, exposing the flesh of her abdomen above the band of her yoga pants.
"Why don't you change into one of those pretty things you bought in Toronto? Or maybe the blue basque. You know it's my favourite." His voice was low, husky, as his mouth moved seductively across her skin.
"I can't."
He smirked. "I wasn't going to take you here, love. I'm not sure you're ready to watch us make love in a mirror. Although I wouldn't mind."
When he began to remove her t-shirt, she pulled away from him.
"Edward, not tonight. Please."
He dropped his arms to his sides, watching her.
She avoided his eyes as she went back to washing her face.
Edward frowned and walked away, silencing the stereo in a huff.
She'd never turned him down before. Of course, they'd only been together a little over two weeks. But still …
Why doesn't she want me?
Professor Masen was not used to being rejected by a lover.
He was sure she had her reasons – or at least one reason beginning with T and ending with A.
He flopped onto the bed and reclined on his back, bringing his arm to rest across his face.
Isabella was understandably still upset about Tanya's sudden reappearance, despite putting on a brave face in front of his family. Of course sex would be the last thing on her mind. She was probably thinking about his description of the sordid scene at the hotel, if he was lucky. If he was unlucky, she would be feeling guilty about her perceived sexual inadequacy and punishing herself.
I'd gladly forego fellatio for eternity if it meant I could keep her. I didn't know that Tanya was going to show up or that she was going to get on her knees and …
Edward cringed.
How could he blame Isabella for being upset? All her old self-doubts were coming out, as if Tanya had known exactly where her Achilles' heel was to be found.
But he hadn't lied when he told Isabella that he preferred making love with her to any other sex act.
I don't want anyone else. I only want her.
Being turned down by Isabella made him crave her all the more. The scent of her hair and her body, the feel of her smooth, satin skin under his fingers, her taste and touch, the way her eyes widened just before she came, the sensation of her moving underneath him, with him, surrounding him …
I need to be able to make love to her to know that it's alright – that we're alright. What if she changes her mind? What if she doesn't want this anymore?
Could he blame her?
Yes, sex was his apple a day and he needed it. He needed her. He needed to show her not with words but with actions that he loved her, worshipped her, would do anything for her.
He needed to know that she still wanted him, to hear her cry out his name.
But she didn't seem to need him. And she certainly didn't seem to want him.
Not tonight.
Edward's depressed musings continued until she joined him in bed.
She rested on her side, watching him, but he didn't move. He didn't say anything.
He simply reached up to turn off the lamp on the bedside table.
In the darkness, they were both silent as a cold and invisible barrier sat between them.
"I need to explain something to you."
He exhaled slowly, expelling all of the air from his lungs.
"It's alright, Isabella. You don't need to explain; I understand. Good night." He tried to keep the strain out of his voice but failed, miserably.
He rolled away from her.
Bella winced.
Now the invisible barrier seemed more like a high, impenetrable wall.
Men have such fragile, egg-shell egos.
She wanted to explain things to him and bring everything out into the open, but if he was going to be so easily offended, then she would wait until morning. Or later.
She rolled over and shut her eyes, determined to forget the whole miserable-ass day. She tried to suppress her sniffles, hoping that she could hold the hormonal tears back. The last thing she wanted was for him to catch her crying.
Boys are dumb.
She sniffed quietly for a few minutes and then Edward was spooning behind her, pressing his naked chest to her back.
"I'm sorry."
She nodded to let him know that she'd heard him.
"Please don't cry."
"I'm not crying. I just have a cold."
"I didn't mean to be a jerk. I know it was a terrible day."
He propped himself up on his elbow so that he could kiss away her tears.
"Look at me, love."
He gave her a repentant smile.
"I've been a bit spoiled with all the times we've made love over the past two weeks. But I know that there will be days when you're tired or you don't feel like it. And that's alright. I promise not to sulk – too much."
She smiled wryly and reached up to kiss his pouty lower lip before changing the subject.
"Were you as surprised as I was that Rose is pregnant?"
Edward shook his head. "More. If you only knew, Isabella. They tried for so long. Not even Carlisle held out much hope."
"Christmas is the season of miracles."
"I'm sure there has to be a naturalistic explanation. Perhaps they were undergoing fertility treatments."
"Only God can make a baby, Edward. You don't believe in miracles?"
"I do now. You're my Christmas miracle."
She smiled and they kissed tenderly for a few minutes, without hurry or desperation.
"Will you tell me why you were crying this afternoon when I came to get you?"
Bella flinched and shook her head vigorously.
"I'm too tired to talk about it."
"Will you talk to me tomorrow?" He lowered his voice so that she wouldn't feel pressured. After behaving like a spoiled child, he didn't want to add to her discomfort.
He nuzzled her with his nose until her body relaxed in his arms and then he moved his lips closer to her ear.
"What can I do for you, baby? To make things up to you."
"I don't need anything."
"A hot bath? A shower? A massage?" The look on his face was one of a little boy, eager to please. "Let me touch you. I promise I'll make you feel good."
"Edward, I can barely keep my eyes open."
He smiled wistfully.
"I wanted to do something to show you that I love you. To feel connected to you."
"You could hold me until I fall asleep," she suggested shyly.
"I'd gladly do that anyway."
He smiled and kissed her once more before spooning behind her.
"Merry Christmas, Edward."
"Merry Christmas. Sleep well, my love."
A few hours earlier, a lone woman stepped into a taxi outside a fairly simple hotel.
She was crying.
The cabbie politely ignored her tears and turned the radio up, hoping to give her some privacy on their long drive to Seattle.
The song that was playing was catchy. So catchy in fact that both persons found themselves humming along, not knowing that the lyrics were especially significant for the woman and the existential crisis in which she now found herself.
As she hummed she thought of the parcel she had left with the hotel's night manager, Eric. She had given him seven crisp twenty-dollar bills in exchange for his promise to deliver said package to a particular address in Forks by nine o'clock the next morning.
Christmas morning.
And when he had revealed in typical small-town fashion that he was acquainted with that address, having been a high school classmate of Edward Masen's, the woman casually pressed him for information about Edward's new girlfriend.
Eric had responded enthusiastically, since his family had known Chief Swan and his daughter for years. In fact, Eric reported, Chief Swan had recently bragged that Bella was excelling in her graduate studies of Dante at the University of Toronto.
As soon as the woman learned this surprising fact she decided to check out of the hotel and call a cab to drive her to Seattle.
At least two unanswered questions remained in her mind as she watched the snow-tipped trees pass by the cab windows.
First, where would she sleep that night (and with whom)?
Second, how could she discover whether or not Isabella was a student of Edward's when they began their affair?
Relevant Story Links: Look for Leighton‘s ‗Flaming June‘. Sarah McLachlan‘s ‗Wintersong‘. Amy McDonald‘s ‗This Is The Life‘.


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