1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41
5. ISLE ESME
“Houston?” I asked, raising my eyebrows when we reached the gate in Seattle.
“Just a stop along the way,” Edward assured me with a grin.
It felt like I’d barely fallen asleep when he woke me. I was groggy as he pulled me through the terminals, struggling to remember how to open my eyes after every blink. It took me a few minutes to catch up with what was going on when we stopped at the international counter to check in for our next flight.
“Rio de Janeiro?” I asked with slightly more trepidation.
“Another stop,” he told me.
The flight to South America was long but comfortable in the wide first-class seat, with Edward’s arms cradled around me. I slept myself out and awoke unusually alert as we circled toward the airport with the light of the setting sun slanting through the plane’s windows.
We didn’t stay in the airport to connect with another flight as I’d expected. Instead we took a taxi through the dark, teeming, living streets of Rio. Unable to understand a word of Edward’s Portuguese instructions to the driver, I guessed that we were off to find a hotel before the next leg of our journey. A sharp twinge of something very close to stage fright twisted in the pit of my stomach as I considered that. The taxi continued through the swarming crowds until they thinned somewhat, and we appeared to be nearing the extreme western edge of the city, heading into the ocean.
We stopped at the docks.
Edward led the way down the long line of white yachts moored in the night-blackened water. The boat he stopped at was smaller than the others, sleeker, obviously built for speed instead of space. Still luxurious, though, and more graceful than the rest. He leaped in lightly, despite the heavy bags he carried. He dropped those on the deck and turned to help me carefully over the edge.
I watched in silence while he prepared the boat for departure, surprised at how skilled and comfortable he seemed, because he’d never mentioned an interest in boating before. But then again, he was good at just about everything.
As we headed due east into the open ocean, I reviewed basic geography in my head. As far as I could remember, there wasn’t much east of Brazil. . . until you got to Africa.
But Edward sped forward while the lights of Rio faded and ultimately disappeared behind us. On his face was a familiar exhilarated smile, the one produced by any form of speed. The boat plunged through the waves and I was showered with sea spray.
Finally the curiosity I’d suppressed so long got the best of me.
“Are we going much farther?” I asked.
It wasn’t like him to forget that I was human, but I wondered if he planned for us to live on this small craft for any length of time.
“About another half hour. ” His eyes took in my hands, clenched on the seat, and he grinned.
Oh well, I thought to myself. He was a vampire, after all. Maybe we were going to Atlantis.
Twenty minutes later, he called my name over the roar of the engine.
“Bella, look there. ” He pointed straight ahead.
I saw only blackness at first, and the moon’s white trail across the water. But I searched the space where he pointed until I found a low black shape breaking into the sheen of moonlight on the waves. As I squinted into the darkness, the silhouette became more detailed. The shape grew into a squat, irregular triangle, with one side trailing longer than the other before sinking into the waves. We drew closer, and I could see the outline was feathery, swaying to the light breeze.
And then my eyes refocused and the pieces all made sense: a small island rose out of the water ahead of us, waving with palm fronds, a beach glowing pale in the light of the moon.
“Where are we?” I murmured in wonder while he shifted course, heading around to the north end of the island.
He heard me, despite the noise of the engine, and smiled a wide smile that gleamed in the moonlight.
“This is Isle Esme. ”
The boat slowed dramatically, drawing with precision into position against a short dock constructed of wooden planks, bleached into whiteness by the moon. The engine cut off, and the silence that followed was profound. There was nothing but the waves, slapping lightly against the boat, and the rustle of the breeze in the palms. The air was warm, moist, and fragrant – like the steam left behind after a hot shower.
“Isle Esme?” My voice was low, but it still sounded too loud as it broke into the quiet night.
“A gift from Carlisle – Esme offered to let us borrow it. ”
A gift. Who gives an island as a gift? I frowned. I hadn’t realized that Edward’s extreme generosity was a learned behavior.
He placed the suitcases on the dock and then turned back, smiling his perfect smile as he reached for me.
Instead of taking my hand, he pulled me right up into his arms.
“Aren’t you supposed to wait for the threshold?’71 asked, breathless, as he sprung lightly out of the boat.
He grinned. “I’m nothing if not thorough. ”
Gripping the handles of both huge steamer trunks in one hand and cradling me in the other arm, he carried me up the dock and onto a pale sand pathway through the dark vegetation.
For a short while it was pitch black in the jungle-like growth, and then I could see a warm light ahead. It was about at the point when I realized the light was a house – the two bright, perfect squares were wide
windows framing a front door – that the stage fright attacked again, more forcefully than before, worse than when I’d thought we were headed for a hotel.
My heart thudded audibly against my ribs, and my breath seemed to get stuck in my throat. I felt Edward’s eyes on my face, but I refused to meet his gaze. I stared straight ahead, seeing nothing.
He didn’t ask what I was thinking, which was out of character for him. I guessed that meant that he was just as nervous as I suddenly was.
He set the suitcases on the deep porch to open the doors – they were unlocked.
Edward looked down at me, waiting until I met his gaze before he stepped through the threshold.
He carried me through the house, both of us very quiet, flipping on lights as he went. My vague impression of the house was that it was quite large for a tiny island, and oddly familiar. I’d gotten used to the pale-on-pale color scheme preferred by the Cullens; it felt like home. I couldn’t focus on any specifics, though. The violent pulse beating behind my ears made everything a little blurry.
Then Edward stopped and turned on the last light.
The room was big and white, and the far wall was mostly glass – standard decor for my vampires. Outside, the moon was bright on white sand and, just a few yards away from the house, glistening waves. But I barely noted that part. I was more focused on the absolutely huge white bed in the center of the room, hung with billowy clouds of mosquito netting.
Edward set me on my feet.
“I’ll. . . go get the luggage. ”
The room was too warm, stuffier than the tropical night outside. A bead of sweat dewed up on the nape of my neck. I walked slowly forward until I could reach out and touch the foamy netting. For some reason I felt the need to make sure everything was real.
I didn’t hear Edward return. Suddenly, his wintry finger caressed the back of my neck, wiping away the drop of perspiration.
“It’s a little hot here,” he said apologetically. “I thought. . . that would be best. ”
“Thorough,” I murmured under my breath, and he chuckled. It was a nervous sound, rare for Edward.
“I tried to think of everything that would make this. . . easier,” he admitted.
I swallowed loudly, still facing away from him. Had there ever been a honeymoon like this before?
I knew the answer to that. No. There had not.
“I was wondering,’7Edward said slowly, “if. . . first. . . maybe you’d like to take a midnight swim with me?” He took a deep breath, and his voice was more at ease when he spoke again. “The water will be very warm. This is the kind of beach you approve of. ”
“Sounds nice. ” My voice broke.
“I’m sure you’d like a human minute or two. . . . It was a long journey. ”
I nodded woodenly. I felt barely human; maybe a few minutes alone would help.
His lips brushed against my throat, just below my ear. He chuckled once and his cool breath tickled my overheated skin. “Don’t take too long, Mrs. Cullen. ”
I jumped a little at the sound of my new name.
His lips brushed down my neck to the tip of my shoulder. “I’ll wait for you in the water. ”
He walked past me to the French door that opened right onto the beach sand. On the way, he shrugged out of his shirt, dropping it on the floor, and then slipped through the door into the moonlit night. The sultry, salty air swirled into the room behind him.
Did my skin burst into flames? I had to look down to check. Nope, nothing was burning. At least, not visibly.
I reminded myself to breathe, and then I stumbled toward the giant suitcase that Edward had opened on top of a low white dresser. It must be mine, because my familiar bag of toiletries was right on top, and there was a lot of pink in there, but I didn’t recognize even one article of clothing. As I pawed through the neatly folded piles – looking for something familiar and comfortable, a pair of old sweats maybe – it came to my attention that there was an awful lot of sheer lace and skimpy satin in my hands. Lingerie. Very lingerie-ish lingerie, with French tags.
I didn’t know how or when, but someday, Alice was going to pay for this.
Giving up, I went to the bathroom and peeked out through the long windows that opened to the same beach as the French doors. I couldn’t see him; I guessed he was there in the water, not bothering to come up for air. In the sky above, the moon was lopsided, almost full, and the sand was bright white under its shine. A small movement caught my eye – draped over a bend in one of the palm trees that fringed the beach, the rest of his clothes were swaying in the light breeze.
A rush of heat flashed across my skin again.
I took a couple of deep breaths and then went to the mirrors above the long stretch of counters. I looked exactly like I’d been sleeping on a plane all day. I found my brush and yanked it harshly through the snarls on the back of my neck until they were smoothed out and the bristles were full of hair. I brushed my teeth meticulously, twice. Then I washed my face and splashed water on the back of my neck, which was feeling feverish. That felt so good that I washed my arms as well, and finally I decided to just give up and take the shower. I knew it was ridiculous to shower before swimming, but I needed to calm down, and hot water was one reliable way to do that.
Also, shaving my legs again seemed like a pretty good idea.
When I was done, I grabbed a huge white towel off the counter and wrapped it under my arms.
Then I was faced with a dilemma I hadn’t considered. What was I supposed to put on? Not a swimsuit, obviously. But it seemed silly to put my clothes back on, too. I didn’t even want to think about the things Alice had packed for me.
My breathing started to accelerate again and my hands trembled – so much for the calming effects of the shower. I started to feel a little dizzy, apparently a full-scale panic attack on the way. I sat down on the cool tile floor in my big towel and put my head between my knees. I prayed he wouldn’t decide to come look for me before I could pull myself together. I could imagine what he would think if he saw me going to pieces this way. It wouldn’t be hard for him to convince himself that we were making a mistake.
And I wasn’t freaking out because I thought we were making a mistake. Not atall. I was freaking out because I had no idea how to do this, and I was afraid to walk out of this room and face the unknown. Especially in French lingerie. I knew I wasn’t ready for that yet
This felt exactly like having to walk out in front of a theater full of thousands with no idea what my lines were.
How did people do this – swallowall their fears and trust someone else so implicitly with every imperfection and fear they had – with less than the absolute commitment Edward had given me? if it weren’t Edward out there, if I didn’t know in every cell of my body that he loved me as much as I loved him – unconditionally and irrevocably and, to be honest, irrationally – I’d never be able to get up off this floor.
But it was Edward out there, so I whispered the words “Don’t be a coward” under my breath and scrambled to my feet. I hitched the towel tighter under my arms and marched determinedly from the bathroom. Past the suitcase full of lace and the big bed without looking at either. Out the open glass door onto the powder-fine sand.
Everything was black-and-white, leached colorless by the moon. I walked slowly across the warm powder, pausing beside the curved tree where he had left his clothes. I laid my hand against the rough bark and checked my breathing to make sure it was even. Or even enough.
I looked across the low ripples, black in the darkness, searching for him.
He wasn’t hard to find. He stood, his back to me, waist deep in the midnight water, staring up at the oval moon. The pallid light of the moon turned his skin a perfect white, like the sand, like the moon itself, and made his wet hair black as the ocean. He was motionless, his hands resting palms down against the water; the low waves broke around him as if he were a stone. I stared at the smooth lines of his back, his shoulders, his arms, his neck, theflawless shape of him. . . .
The fire was no longer a flash burn across my skin – it was slow and deep now; it smoldered away all my awkwardness, my shy uncertainty. I slipped the towel off without hesitation, leaving it on the tree with his clothes, and walked out into the white light; it made me pale as the snowy sand, too.
I couldn’t hear the sound of my footsteps as I walked to the water’s edge, but I guessed that he could. Edward did not turn. I let the gentle swells break over my toes, and found that he’d been right about the temperature – it was very warm, like bath water. I stepped in, walking carefully across the invisible ocean floor, but my care was unnecessary; the sand continued perfectly smooth, sloping gently toward Edward. I waded through the weightless
current till I was at his side, and then I placed my hand lightly over his cool hand lying on the water.
“Beautiful,” I said, looking up at the moon, too.
“It’s all right,” he answered, unimpressed. He turned slowly to face me; little waves rolled away from his movement and broke against my skin. His eyes looked silver in his ice-colored face. He twisted his hand up so that he could twine our fingers beneath the surface of the water. It was warm enough that his cool skin did not raise goose bumps on mine.
“But I wouldn’t use the word beautiful” he continued. “Not with you standing here in comparison. ”
I half-smiled, then raised my free hand – it didn’t tremble now – and placed it over his heart. White on white; we matched, for once. He shuddered the tiniest bit at my warm touch. His breath came rougher now.
“I promised we would try” he whispered, suddenly tense. “If. . . if I do something wrong, if I hurt you, you must tell me at once. ”
I nodded solemnly, keeping my eyes on his. I took another step through the waves and leaned my head against his chest.
“Don’t be afraid,” I murmured. “We belong together. ”
I was abruptly overwhelmed by the truth of my own words. This moment was so perfect, so right, there was no way to doubt it.
His arms wrapped around me, holding me against him, summer and winter. It felt like every nerve ending in my body was a live wire.
“Forever,” he agreed, and then pulled us gently into deeper water.
The sun, hot on the bare skin of my back, woke me in the morning. Late morning, maybe afternoon, I wasn’t sure. Everything besides the time was clear, though; I knew exactly where I was – the bright room with the big white bed, brilliant sunlight streaming through the open doors. The clouds of netting would soften the shine.
I didn’t open my eyes. I was too happy to change anything, no matter how small. The only sounds were the waves outside, our breathing, my heartbeat. . .
I was comfortable, even with the baking sun. His cool skin was the perfect antidote to the heat. Lying across his wintry chest, his arms wound around me, felt very easy and natural. I wondered idly what I’d been so panicky about last night. My fears all seemed silly now.
His fingers softly trailed down the contours of my spine, and I knew that he knew I was awake. I kept my eyes shut and tightened my arms around his neck, holding myself closer to him.
He didn’t speak; his fingers moved up and down my back, barely touching it as he lightly traced patterns on my skin.
I would have been happy to lie here forever, to never disturb this moment, but my body had other ideas. I laughed at my impatient stomach. It seemed sort of prosaic to be hungry after all that had passed last night. Like
being brought back down to earth from some great height.
“What’s funny?” he murmured, still stroking my back. The sound of his voice, serious and husky, brought with it a deluge of memories from the night, and I felt a blush color my face and neck.
To answer his question, my stomach growled. I laughed again. “You just can’t escape being human for very long. ”
I waited, but he did not laugh with me. Slowly, sinking through the many layers of bliss that clouded my head, came the realization of a different atmosphere outside my own glowing sphere of happiness.
I opened my eyes; the first thing I saw was the pale, almost silvery skin of his throat, the arc of his chin above my face. His jaw was taut. I propped myself up on my elbow so I could see his face.
He was staring at the frothy canopy above us, and he didn’t look at me as I studied his grave features. His expression was a shock – it sent a physical jolt through my body.
“Edward,” I said, a strange little catch in my throat, “what is it? What’s wrong?”
“You have to ask?” His voice was hard, cynical.
My first instinct, the product of a lifetime of insecurities, was to wonder what I had done wrong. I thought through everything that had happened, but I couldn’t find any sour note in the memory. It had all been simpler than I’d expected; we’d fit together like corresponding pieces, made to match up. This had given me a secret satisfaction – we were compatible physically, as well as all the other ways. Fire and ice, somehow existing together without destroying each other. More proof that I belonged with him.
I couldn’t think of any part that would make him look like this – so severe and cold. What had I missed?
His finger smoothed the worried lines on my forehead.
“What are you thinking?” he whispered.
“You’re upset. I don’t understand. Did I. . . ?” I couldn’t finish.
His eyes tightened. “How badly are you hurt, Bella? The truth – don’t try to downplay it. ”
“Hurt?” I repeated; my voice came out higher than usual because the word took me so by surprise.
He raised one eyebrow, his lips a tight line.
I made a quick assessment, stretching my body automatically, tensing and flexing my muscles. There was stiffness, and a lot of soreness, too, it was true, but mostly there was the odd sensation that my bones all had become unhinged at the joints, and I had changed halfway into the consistency of a jellyfish. It was not an unpleasant feeling.
And then I was a little angry, because he was darkening this most perfect of all mornings with his pessimistic assumptions.
“Why would you jump to that conclusion? I’ve never been better than I am now. ”
His eyes closed. “Stop that. ”
“Stop acting like I’m not a monster for having agreed to this. ”
“Edward!’7I whispered, really upset now. He was pulling my bright memory through the darkness, staining it. “Don’t ever say that. ”
He didn’t open his eyes; it was like he didn’t want to see me.
“Look at yourself, Bella. Then tell me I’m not a monster. ”
Wounded, shocked, I followed his instruction unthinkingly and then gasped.
What had happened to me? I couldn’t make sense of the fluffy white snow that clung to my skin. I shook my head, and a cascade of white drifted out of my hair.
I pinched one soft white bit between my fingers. It was a piece of down.
“Why am I covered in feathers?” I asked, confused.
He exhaled impatiently. “I bit a pillow. Or two. That’s not what I’m talking about. ”
“You. . . bit a pillow? Why?”
“Look, Bella!” he almost growled. He took my hand – very gingerly – and stretched my arm out. “Look at that”
This time, I saw what he meant.
Under the dusting of feathers, large purplish bruises were beginning to blossom across the pale skin of my arm. My eyes followed the trail they made up to my shoulder, and then down across my ribs. I pulled my hand free to poke at a discoloration on my left forearm, watching it fade where I touched and then reappear. It throbbed a little.
So lightly that he was barely touching me, Edward placed his hand against the bruises on my arm, one at a time, matching his long fingers to the patterns.
“Oh,” I said.
I tried to remember this – to remember pain – but I couldn’t. I couldn’t recall a moment when his hold had been too tight, his hands too hard against me. I only remembered wanting him to hold me tighter, and being pleased when he did. . . .
“I’m. . . so sorry, Bella,” he whispered while I stared at the bruises. “I knew better than this. I should not have – ” He made a low, revolted sound in the back of his throat. “I am more sorry than I can tell you. ”
He threw his arm over his face and became perfectly still.
I sat for one long moment in total astonishment, trying to come to terms – now that I understood it – with his misery. It was so contrary to the way that I felt that it was difficult to process.
Theshock wore off slowly, leaving nothing in its absence. Emptiness. My mind was blank. I couldn’t think of what to say. How could I explain it to him in the right way? How could I make him as happy as I was – or as I had been, a moment ago?
I touched his arm, and he didn’t respond. I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and tried to pry his arm off his face, but I could have been yanking on a sculpture for all the good it did me.
He didn’t move.
Nothing. So, this would be a monologue, then.
“I’mnot sorry, Edward. I’m. . . I can’t even tell you. I’m so happy. That doesn’t cover it. Don’t be angry. Don’t. I’m really f – ”
“Do not say the word fine. ” His voice was ice cold. “If you value my sanity, do not say that you are fine. ”
“But I am: I whispered.
“Bella,” he almost moaned. “Don’t. ”
“No. You don’t, Edward. ”
He moved his arm; his gold eyes watched me warily.
“Don’t ruin this,” I told him. “I. Am. Happy. ”
“I’ve already ruined this,” he whispered.
“Cut it out,” I snapped.
I heard his teeth grind together.
“Ugh!” I groaned. “Why can’t you just read my mind already? It’s so inconvenient to be a mental mute!”
His eyes widened a little bit, distracted in spite of himself.
“That’s a new one. You love that I can’t read your mind. ”
“Not today. ”
He stared at me. “Why?”
I threw my hands up in frustration, feeling an ache in my shoulder that I ignored. My palms fell back against his chest with a sharp smack. “Because all this angst would be completely unnecessary if you could see how I feel right now! Or five minutes ago, anyway. I was perfectly happy. Totally and completely blissed out. Now – well, I’m sort of pissed, actually. ”
“You should be angry at me. ”
“Well, I am. Does that make you feel better?”
He sighed. “No. I don’t think anything could make me feel better now. ”
“T/?af,” I snapped. “That right there is why I’m angry. You are killing my buzz, Edward. ”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head.
I took a deep breath. I was feeling more of the soreness now, but it wasn’t that bad. Sort of like the day after lifting weights. I’d done that with Renee during one of her fitness obsessions. Sixty-five lunges with ten pounds in each hand. I couldn’t walk the next day. This was not as painful as that had been by half.
I swallowed my irritation and tried to make my voice soothing. “We knew this was going to be tricky. I thought that was assumed. And then – well, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. And this is really nothing. ” I brushed my fingers along my arm. “I think for a first time, not knowing what to expect, we did amazing. With a little practice – ”
His expression was suddenly so livid that I broke off mid-sentence.
“Assumed? Did you expect this, Bella? Were you anticipating that I would hurt you? Were you thinking it would be worse? Do you consider the experiment a success because you can walk away from it? No broken bones – that
equals a victory?”
I waited, letting him get it all out. Then I waited some more while his breathing went back to normal. When his eyes were calm, I answered, speaking with slow precision.
“I didn’t know what to expect – but I definitely did not expect how. . . how. . . just wonderful and perfect it was. ” My voice dropped to a whisper, my eyes slipped from his face down to my hands. “I mean, I don’t know how it was for you, but it was like that for me. ”
A cool finger pulled my chin back up.
“Is that what you’re worried about?” he said through his teeth. “That I didn’t enjoy myself?”
My eyes stayed down. “I know it’s not the same. You’re not human. I just was trying to explain that, for a human, well, I can’t imagine that life gets any better than that. ”
He was quiet for so long that, finally, I had to look up. His face was softer now, thoughtful.
“It seems that I have more to apologize for. ” He frowned. “I didn’t dream that you would construe the way I feel about what I did to you to mean that last night wasn’t. . . well, the best night of my existence. But I don’t want to think of it that way, not when you were . . . ”
My lips curved up a little at the edges. “Really? The best ever?” I asked in a small voice.
He took my face between his hands, still introspective. “I spoke to Carlisle after you and I made our bargain, hoping he could help me. Of course he warned me that this would be very dangerous for you. ”
A shadow crossed his expression. “He had faith in me, though – faith I didn’t deserve. ”
I started to protest, and he put two fingers over my lips before I could comment.
“I also asked him what should expect. I didn’t know what it would be for me. . . what with my being a vampire. ” He smiled halfheartedly. “Carlisle told me it was a very powerful thing, like nothing else. He told me physical love was something I should not treat lightly. With our rarely changing temperaments, strong emotions can alter us in permanent ways. But he said I did not need to worry about that part – you had already altered me so completely. ” This time his smile was more genuine.
“I spoke to my brothers, too. They told me it was a very great pleasure. Second only to drinking human blood. ” A line creased his brow. “But I’ve tasted your blood, and there could be no blood more potent than that. . . I don’t think they were wrong, really. Just that it was different for us. Something more. ”
“It was more. It was everything. ”
“That doesn’t change the fact that it was wrong. Even if it were possible that you really did feel that way. ”
“What does that mean? Do you think I’m making this up? Why?”
“To ease my guilt. I can’t ignore the evidence, Bella. Or your history of trying to let me off the hook when I make mistakes. ”
I grabbed his chin and leaned forward so that our faces were inches apart. “You listen to me, Edward Cullen. I am not pretending anything for your sake, okay? I didn’t even know there was a reason to make you feel better until you started being all miserable. I’ve never been so happy in all my life – I wasn’t this happy when you decided that
you loved me more than you wanted to kill me, or the first morning I woke up and you were there waiting for me. . . . Not when I heard your voice in the ballet studio” – he flinched at the old memory of my close call with a hunting vampire, but I didn’t pause – “or when you said i do’ and I realized that, somehow, I get to keep you forever. Those are the happiest memories I have, and this is better than any of it. So just deal with it. ”
He touched the frown line between my eyebrows. Tm making you unhappy now. I don’t want to do that. ”
“Then don’t you be unhappy. That’s the only thing that’s wrong here. ”
His eyes tightened, then he took a deep breath and nodded. “You’re right. The past is past and I can’t do anything to change it. There’s no sense in letting my mood sour this time for you. HI do whatever I can to make you happy now. ”
I examined his face suspiciously, and he gave me a serene smile.
“Whatever makes me happy?”
My stomach growled at the same time that I asked.
“You’re hungry,” he said quickly. He was swiftly out of the bed, stirring up a cloud of feathers. Which reminded me.
“So, why exactly did you decide to ruin Esme’s pillows?” I asked, sitting up and shaking more down from my hair.
He had already pulled on a pair of loose khaki pants, and he stood by the door, rumpling his hair, dislodging a few feathers of his own.
“I don’t know if I decided to do anything last night,” he muttered. “We’re just lucky it was the pillows and not you. ” He inhaled deeply and then shook his head, as if shaking off the dark thought. A very authentic-looking smile spread across his face, but I guessed it took a lot of work to put it there.
I slid carefully off the high bed and stretched again, more aware, now, of the aches and sore spots. I heard him gasp. He turned away from me, and his hands balled up, knuckles white.
“Do I look that hideous?” I asked, working to keep my tone light. His breath caught, but he didn’t turn, probably to hide his expression from me. I walked to the bathroom to check for myself.
I stared at my naked body in the full-length mirror behind the door.
I’d definitely had worse. There was a faint shadow across one of my cheekbones, and my lips were a little swollen, but other than that, my face was fine. The rest of me was decorated with patches of blue and purple. I concentrated on the bruises that would be the hardest to hide – my arms and my shoulders. They weren’t so bad. My skin marked up easily. By the time a bruise showed I’d usually forgotten how I’d come by it. Of course, these were just developing. I’d look even worse tomorrow. That would not make things any easier.
I looked at my hair, then, and groaned.
“Bella?” He was right there behind me as soon as I’d made a sound.
“I’ll never get this all out of my hair!” I pointed to my head, where it looked like a chicken was nesting. I started picking at the feathers.
“You would be worried about your hair,” he mumbled, but he came to stand behind me, pulling out the feathers
much more quickly.
“How did you keep from laughing at this? I look ridiculous. ”
He didn’t answer; he just kept plucking. And I knew the answer anyway – there was nothing that would be funny to him in this mood.
‘This isn’t going to work,” I sighed after a minute. “It’s all dried in. I’m going to have to try to wash it out. ” I turned around, wrapping my arms around his cool waist. “Do you want to help me?”
Td better find some food for you,” he said in a quiet voice, and he gently unwound my arms. I sighed as he disappeared, moving too fast.
It looked like my honeymoon was over. The thought put a big lump in my throat.
When I was mostly feather-free and dressed in an unfamiliar white cotton dress that concealed the worst of the violet blotches, I padded off barefoot to where the smell of eggs and bacon and Cheddar cheese was coming from.
Edward stood in front of the stainless steel stove, sliding an omelet onto the light blue plate waiting on the counter. The scent of the food overwhelmed me. I felt like I could eat the plate and the frying pan, too; my stomach snarled.
“Here,” he said. He turned with a smile on his face and set the plate on a small tiled table.
I sat in one of the two metal chairs and started snarfing down the hot eggs. They burned my throat, but I didn’t care.
He sat down across from me. “I’m not feeding you often enough. ”
I swallowed and then reminded him, “I was asleep. This is really good, by the way. Impressive for someone who doesn’t eat. ”
“Food Network,” he said, flashing my favorite crooked smile.
I was happy to see it, happy that he seemed more like his normal self.
“Where did the eggs come from?”
“I asked the cleaning crew to stock the kitchen. A first, for this place. I’ll have to ask them to deal with the feathers. . . . ” He trailed off, his gaze fixed on a space above my head. I didn’t respond, trying to avoid saying anything that would upset him again.
I ate everything, though he’d made enough for two.
“Thank you,” I told him. I leaned across the table to kiss him. He kissed me back automatically, and then suddenly stiffened and leaned away.
I gritted my teeth, and the question I meant to ask came out sounding like an accusation. “You aren’t going to touch me again while we’re here, are you?”
He hesitated, then half-smiled and raised his hand to stroke my cheek. His fingers lingered softly on my skin, and I couldn’t help leaning my face into his palm.
“You know that’s not what I meant. ”
He sighed and dropped his hand. “I know. And you’re right. ” He paused, lifting his chin slightly. And then he spoke again with firm conviction. “I will not make love with you until you’ve been changed. I will never hurt you again. ”