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Midnight Sun (9. Port Angeles)

"Port Angeles," Bella read.

It was too bright for me to drive into town when I got to Port Angeles; the sun was still too high overhead, and, though my windows were tinted dark, there was no reason to take unnecessary risks. More unnecessary risks, I should say.

I was certain I would be able to find Jessica's thoughts from a distance��Jessica's thoughts were louder than Angela's, but once I found the first, I'd be able to hear the second. Then, when the shadows lengthened, I could get closer. For now, I pulled off the road onto an overgrown driveway just outside the town that appeared to be infrequently used.

I knew the general direction to search in��there was really only one place for dress shopping in Port Angeles. It wasn't long before I found Jessica, spinning in front of a three way mirror, and I could see Bella in her peripheral vision, appraising the long black dress she wore.

Bella still looks pissed. Ha ha. Angela was right��Tyler was full of it.

"What is that about?" Bella asked raising an eyebrow.

I can't believe she's so upset about it, though. At least she knows she has a back up date for the prom. What if Mike doesn't have fun at the dance, and he doesn't ask me out again? What if he asks Bella to the prom? Would she have asked Mike to the dance if I hadn't said anything? Does he think she's prettier than me? Does she think she's prettier than me?

"I would really appreciate it if you'd stop listening to her mind now, Edward," Jacob said, annoyed by all the pointless drama Jessica was thinking about.

"I think I like the blue one better. It really brings out your eyes."

Jessica smiled at Bella with false warmth, while eyeing her suspiciously.

Does she really think that? Or does she want me to look like a cow on Saturday?

Bella rolled her eyes, she wouldn't ever think that.

"She seems to know you well," Jacob said sarcastically.

I was already tired of listening to Jessica. I searched close by for Angela��ah, but Angela was in the process of changing dresses, and I skipped quickly out of her head to give her some privacy.

Well, there wasn't much trouble Bella could get into in a department store. I'd let them shop and then catch up with them when they were done.

"Not a very good lookout then, are you?" Jacob chuckled, "you should always keep an eye on her."

It wouldn't be long until it was dark��the clouds were beginning to return, drifting in from the west. I could only catch glimpses of them through the thick trees, but I could see how they would hurry the sunset. I welcomed them, craved them more than I had ever yearned for their shadows before. Tomorrow I could sit beside Bella in school again, monopolize her attention at lunch again. I could ask her all the questions I'd been saving up��

So, she was furious about Tyler's presumption. I'd seen that in his head��that he'd meant it literally when he'd spoken of the prom, that he was staking a claim.

"So he's telling everyone that we're going to prom together," Bella said, angrily. She glared at the book when she started reading next.

I pictured her expression from that other afternoon��the outraged disbelief��and I laughed. I wondered what she would say to him about this. I wouldn't want to miss her reaction.

"Of course you wouldn't," Bella grumbled.

"It does sound intriguing," Jacob chuckled.

The time went slowly while I waited for the shadows to lengthen. I checked in periodically with Jessica; her mental voice was the easiest to find, but I didn't like to linger there long. I saw the place they were planning to eat. It would be dark by dinner time��maybe I would coincidentally choose the same restaurant. I touched the phone in my pocket, thinking of inviting Alice out to eat�� She would love that, but she would also want to talk to Bella. I wasn't sure if I was ready to have Bella more involved with my world. Wasn't one vampire trouble enough?

"No, I think I might like to meet Alice," Bella said.

I checked in routinely with Jessica again. She was thinking about her jewelry, asking Angela's opinion.

"Maybe I should take the necklace back. I've got one at home that would probably work, and I spent more than I was supposed to��" My mom is going to freak out. What was I thinking?

"Boring," Jacob grumbled.

"I don't mind going back to the store. Do you think Bella will be looking for us, though?"

"Looking for us… where are you?" Jacob asked. Bella just looked at him for a few seconds until he smiled sheepishly at her, "Right… you don't know."

What was this? Bella wasn't with them? I stared through Jessica's eyes first, then switched to Angela's. They were on the sidewalk in front of a line of shops, just turning back the other way. Bella was nowhere in sight.

Oh, who cares about Bella?

"Well you should if you took her with you," Jacob grumbled and he was starting to get a little worried.

Jess thought impatiently, before answering Angela's question. "She's fine. We'll get to the restaurant in plenty of time, even if we go back. Anyway, I think she wanted to be alone." I got a brief glimpse of the bookshop Jessica thought Bella had gone to.

"Oh," Bella said, it made sense that she would want to go to a bookshop and she would definitely want to be alone if that was where she was going.

"Let's hurry, then," Angela said. I hope Bella doesn't think we ditched her. She was so nice to me in the car before�� She's really a sweet person. But she's seemed kind of blue all day. I wonder if it's because of Edward Cullen? I'll bet that was why she was asking about his family��

"Aw… you're obsessing about Edward," Jacob teased, trying to not get too worried.

I should have been paying better attention. What all had I missed here? Bella was off wandering by herself, and she'd been asking about me before? Angela was paying attention to Jessica now��Jessica was babbling about that idiot Mike��and I could get nothing more from her.

I judged the shadows. The sun would be behind the clouds soon enough. If I stayed on the west side of the road, where the buildings would shade the street from the fading light��

I started to feel anxious as I drove through the sparse traffic into the center of the town. This wasn't something I had considered��Bella taking off on her own��and I had no idea how to find her. I should have considered it.

"You would think he could just roll down a window and sniff you out," Jacob said.

"That sounds ridiculous," Bella shook her head.

I knew Port Angeles well; I drove straight to the bookstore in Jessica's head, hoping my search would be short, but doubting it would be so easy. When did Bella ever make it easy?

Jacob chuckled at that and Bella rolled her eyes.

Sure enough, the little shop was empty except for the anachronistically dressed woman behind the counter. This didn't look like the kind of place Bella would be interested in��too new age for a practical person. I wondered if she'd even bothered to go in?

"Probably not," Bella said, what he had described stated clearly that wasn't a place that she would want to see.

There was a patch of shade I could park in�� It made a dark pathway right up to the overhang of the shop. I really shouldn't. Wandering around in the sunlight hours was not safe. What if a passing car threw the sun's reflection into the shade at just the wrong moment?

But I didn't know how else to look for Bella!

I parked and got out, keeping to the deepest side of the shadow. I strode quickly into the store, noting the faint trace of Bella's scent in the air. She had been here, on the sidewalk, but there was no hint of her fragrance inside the shop.

"See… he is trying to sniff you out," Jacob said looking pleased.

"But it looks like the sun is going to keep him from doing a thorough job of it," Bella said.

"Welcome! Can I help��" the saleswoman began to say, but I was already out the door.

I followed Bella's scent as far as the shade would allow, stopping when I got to the edge of the sunlight. How powerless it made me feel��fenced in by the line between dark and light that stretched across the sidewalk in front of me. So limited.

I could only guess that she'd continued across the street, heading south. There wasn't really much in that direction. Was she lost? Well, that possibility didn't sound entirely out of character.

"I don't like this," Jacob said, Edward was right, there really wasn't anything in that direction and the thought of Bella wandering around alone wasn't pleasant. He shook his head then; no, he was just letting Edward's panic get to him… Bella was fine.

I got back in the car and drove slowly through the streets, looking for her. I stepped out into a few other patches of shadow, but I only caught her scent once more, and the direction of it confused me. Where was she trying to go?

I drove back and forth between the bookstore and the restaurant a few times, hoping to see her on her way. Jessica and Angela were already there, trying to decide whether to order, or to wait for Bella. Jessica was pushing for ordering immediately.

"Bitch," Jacob said and then he mumbled, "Can't even wait for you."

I began flitting through the minds of strangers, looking through their eyes. Surely, someone must have seen her somewhere.

I got more and more anxious the longer she remained missing. I hadn't considered before how difficult she might prove to find once, like now, she was out of my sight and off her normal paths. I didn't like it.

"Yeah, maybe you should LoJack her or something," Jacob chuckled, but wouldn't have been surprised at this point if Edward did something like this.

The clouds were massing on the horizon, and, in a few more minutes, I would be free to track her on foot. It wouldn't take me long then. It was only the sun that made me so helpless now. Just few more minutes, and then the advantage would be mine again and it would be the human world that was powerless.

Jacob grimaced at this, but not because of the thought that Edward thought that the human world would be powerless to him, but because he was sure the fact that Edward couldn't do anything at the moment wasn't good.

Another mind, and another. So many trivial thoughts.

��think the baby has another ear infection��

Was it six-four-oh or six-oh-four��?

Late again. I ought to tell him��

Here she comes! Aha!

There, at last, was her face. Finally, someone had noticed her!

Both Bella and Jacob shivered uncontrollably.

The relief lasted for only a fraction of a second, and then I read more fully the thoughts of the man who was gloating over her face in the shadows.

His mind was a stranger to me, and yet, not totally unfamiliar. I had once hunted exactly such minds.

There was more shivering at that.

"Get over there!" Jacob shouted.

"NO!" I roared, and a volley of snarls erupted from my throat. My foot shoved the gas pedal to the floor, but where was I going?

"Dammit… how could you not know where she is at a time like this!" Jacob shouted again, angry at Edward for letting his guard down for even a second.

I knew the general location of his thoughts, but the knowledge was not specific enough. Something, there had to be something��a street sign, a store front, something in his sight that would give away his location. But Bella was deep in shadow, and his eyes were focused only on her frightened expression��enjoying the fear there.

Bella voice quivered when she read that.

Her face was blurred in his mind by the memory of other faces. Bella was not his first victim.

"Dammit," Jacob repeated, and was thinking fiercely for Edward to hurry up and get to Bella already.

The sound of my growls shook the frame of the car, but did not distract me.

There were no windows in the wall behind her. Somewhere industrial, away from the more populated shopping district. My car squealed around a corner, swerving past another vehicle, heading in what I hoped was the right direction. By the time the other driver honked, the sound was far behind me.

Look at her shaking! The man chuckled in anticipation. The fear was the draw for him��the part he enjoyed.

"Sick bastard," Jacob hissed, balling his fist.

"Stay away from me." Her voice was low and steady, not a scream.

"Why aren't you screaming?" Jacob asked but Bella couldn't answer that. All she could do was keep reading.

"Don't be like that, sugar."

He watched her flinch to a rowdy laugh that came from another direction. He was irritated with the noise��Shut up, Jeff! He thought��but he enjoyed the way she cringed.

It excited him. He began to imagine her pleas, the way she would beg��

Bella was reading this in a voice that seemed to be distant. She was terrified… she didn't like this one bit… she knew her book self would feel hopeless and wouldn't have any way out of this… However she herself, knew that Edward was going to save her. It gave her the courage to keep reading.

Jacob on the other hand just kept on getting angrier and more anxious the longer this guy was mentioned and Edward still hadn't shown up. Stupid freaking bloodsucker, he kept thinking in his head, get there already.

I hadn't realized that there were others with him until I'd heard the loud laughter.

I scanned out from him, desperate for something that I could use. He was taking the first step in her direction, flexing his hands.

The minds around him were not the cesspool that his was. They were all slightly intoxicated, not one of them realizing how far the man they called Lonnie planned to go with this. They were following Lonnie's lead blindly. He'd promised them a little fun��

"And that makes it okay!" Jacob shouted and Bella flinched. Jacob started taking deep breaths… it would be easier for him just to shout out, but he noticed how tense Bella was and knew that he had to try and control his anger. But really… harassing a girl like that! How is that freakin' fun?

One of them glanced down the street, nervous��he didn't want to get caught harassing the girl��and gave me what I needed. I recognized the cross street he stared toward.

"Good," Jacob said gritting his teeth. "Hurry."

I flew under a red light, sliding through a space just wide enough between two cars in the moving traffic. Horns blared behind me.

"Don't crash," Bella was able to mumble her voice was weak compared to when she was reading. It seem like she was able to detach her emotions as she read.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I ignored it.

Lonnie moved slowly toward the girl, drawing out the suspense��the moment of terror that aroused him.

Sick perverted bastard, Jacob thought to himself, anger welling up in him.

He waited for her scream, preparing to savor it.

But Bella locked her jaw and braced herself. He was surprised��he'd expected her to try to run.

Bella let out a groan there, showing a bit of the terror she was trying to keep under control… which was made easier with her belief that Edward would save her. However, knowing that the fact that she couldn't run without falling made her curse her own clumsiness.

Surprised and slightly disappointed. He liked to chase his prey down, the adrenaline of the hunt.

Brave, this one. Maybe better, I guess��more fight in her.

Jacob growled at that.

I was a block away. The monster could hear the roar of my engine now, but he paid it no attention, too intent on his victim.

I would see how he enjoyed the hunt when he was the prey. I would see what he thought of my style of hunting.

Jacob didn't think about that comment at all… he didn't care what Edward had just thought because at the moment he was thinking something similar (though perhaps not how Edward had meant it).

In another compartment of my head, I was already sorting through the range of tortures I'd born witness to in my vigilante days, searching for the most painful of them.

He would suffer for this. He would writhe in agony. The others would merely die for their part, but the monster named Lonnie would beg for death long before I would give him that gift.

Bella frowned at that… she didn't want that. Jail, a life time imprisonment, something along those lines… but she didn't want Edward to kill them… because of her.

He was in the road, crossing toward her.

I spun sharply around the corner, my headlights washing across the scene and freezing the rest of them in place. I could have run down the leader, who leapt out of the way, but that was too easy a death for him.

I let the car spin out, swinging all the way around so that I was facing back the way I'd come and the passenger door was closest to Bella. I threw that open, and she was already running toward the car.

"Get in," I snarled.

What the hell?

Knew this was a bad idea! She's not alone.

Should I run?

Think I'm going to throw up��

Bella grimaced at these thoughts, wondering if Edward was really going to kill them. They had seemed so normal… and yet what they would have done to her… She shivered at that thought.

"Are you okay?" Jacob asked, his face was stony at the moment, but it was clear that he was relieved that Bella, book Bella that is, was safe now.

"It's hard reading this," Bella said.

"Do you wa…?" Jacob started to ask.

Bella shook her head, "I'll read… anyway, it's thinking about it…"

"Yeah," Jacob agreed as the both shuddered.

Bella jumped through the open door without hesitating, pulling the door shut behind her.

And then she looked up at me with the most trustful expression I had ever seen on a human face, and all my violent plans crumbled.

Bella was a little relieved by that.

It took much, much less than a second for me to see that I could not leave her in the car in order to deal with the four men in the street.

"Argh… obviously you can't do that," Jacob said thinking about what that would look like and cringing at the idea. Then he cringed inwardly at the fact that he didn't really care at the moment if Edward did rip these guys… not just the sick bastard… apart limb from limb. Then he thought of what the bloodlust might do to Edward if that did happen… and how much more dangerous he would be to Bella then… No, Edward had to leave those guys alone.

What would I tell her, not to watch? Ha! When did she ever do what I asked? When did she ever do the safe thing? Would I drag them away, out of her sight, and leave her alone here? It was a long shot that another dangerous human would be prowling the streets of Port Angeles tonight, but it was a long shot that there was even the first! Like a magnet, she drew all things dangerous toward herself.

Bella felt a pang of annoyance at that sentence, but with all the other emotions she was feeling it barely registered to her.

I could not let her out of my sight.

It would feel like part of the same motion to her as I accelerated, taking her away from her pursuers so quickly that they gaped after my car with uncomprehending expressions. She would not recognize my instant of hesitation. She would assume the plan was escape from the beginning.

I couldn't even hit him with my car. That would frighten her.

I wanted his death so savagely that the need for it rang in my ears and clouded my sight and was a flavor on my tongue. My muscles were coiled with the urgency, the craving, the necessity of it. I had to kill him. I would peel him slowly apart, piece by piece, skin from muscle, muscle from bone��

Bella shuddered at that image and Jacob looked a little sick by it, too.

Except that the girl��the only girl in the world��was clinging to her seat with both hands, staring at me, her eyes still wide and utterly trusting. Vengeance would have to wait.

"Put on your seatbelt," I ordered. My voice was rough with the hate and bloodlust. Not the usual bloodlust. I would not sully myself by taking any part of that man inside me.

She locked the seatbelt into place, jumping slightly at the sound it made. That little sound made her jump, yet she did not flinch as I tore through the town, ignoring all traffic guides.

Bella found that sentence odd, or at least the part of her brain that was listening to her own reading, found it odd. She hated it when he'd mentioned driving fast, but of course at the moment she must have had more important things on her mind.

I could feel her eyes on me. She seemed oddly relaxed. It didn't make sense to me��not with what she'd just been through.

"Why are you so relaxed?" Jacob asked, and he noticed that she seemed that way now too. If he had been reading that about himself, he would have been panicking by now.

"I'm good with compartmentalizing things like this," Bella said.

"How many times have you been through something like this?" Jacob exclaimed.

"Relax, Jake," Bella said, "I just meant bad situations… nothing like this has ever happened to me before. Plus… Edward is there… I think that must be making me feel safer."

"Are you okay?" she asked, her voice rough with stress and fear.

"Shouldn't he be asking you that?" Jacob said, trying to force himself to regain his calm.

"I suppose," Bella shrugged. "But you have to admit that Edward at this moment wouldn't look okay."

She wanted to know if I was okay?

I thought about her question for a fraction of a second. Not long enough for her to notice the hesitation. Was I okay?

"No," I realized, and my tone seethed with rage.

I took her to the same unused drive where I'd spent the afternoon engaged in the poorest surveillance ever kept. It was black now under the trees.

I was so furious that my body froze in place there, utterly motionless. My icelocked hands ached to crush her attacker, to grind him into pieces so mangled that his body could never be identified��.

But that would entail leaving her here alone, unprotected in the dark night.

"Don't go," Bella said, she wanted him to stay and she didn't what him to kill that guy.

"Bella?" I asked through my teeth.

"Yes?" she responded huskily. She cleared her throat.

"Are you all right?" That was really the most important thing, the first priority.

Retribution was secondary. I knew that, but my body was so filled with rage that it was hard to think.

"Yes." Her voice was still thick��with fear, no doubt.

And so I could not leave her.

Even if she wasn't at constant risk for some infuriating reason��some joke the universe was playing on me��even if I could be sure that she would be perfectly safe in my absence, I could not leave her alone in the dark.

She must be so frightened.

"Well, of course she is… she was nearly attacked and…" Jacob started hissing and trailed off at the end with a shudder.

Yet I was in no condition to comfort her��even if I knew exactly how that was to be accomplished, which I did not.

"You are comforting me," Bella said. "Just by being there."

"Wow, that was cheesy," Jacob teased her and Bella rolled her eyes.

Surely she could feel the brutality radiating out of me, surely that much was obvious. I would frighten her even more if I could not calm the lust for slaughter boiling inside me.

I needed to think about something else.

"Distract me, please," I pleaded.

"I'm sorry, what?"

I barely had enough control to try to explain what I needed.

"Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down," I instructed, my jaw still locked.

"Just prattle about something… that's kind of rude to say," Jacob said.

"Jake, he…" Bella started, staring at him oddly.

"I'm trying to calm down here too," Jacob shrugged. "I usually do that by joking around…"

"Right, sorry," Bella said. "That just wasn't a very good joke."

"I'll try better next time," Jacob shrugged.

Only the fact that she needed me held me inside the car. I could hear the man's thoughts, his disappointment and anger�� I knew where to find him�� I closed my eyes, wishing that I couldn't see anyway��

"Um��" She hesitated��trying to make sense of my request, I imagined. "I'm going to run over Tyler Crowley tomorrow before school?"

Jacob started laughing at that, albeit it was a weak laugh, but still.

"Why would you do that?" Jacob said, but Bella didn't answer.

She said this like it was a question.

Yes��this was what I needed. Of course Bella would come up with something unexpected. Like it had been before, the threat of violence coming through her lips was hilarious��so comical it was jarring.

"I can cause violence," Bella mumbled.

"Sure you can," Jacob said laughing.

Bella glared at him, which only seemed to make Jacob laugh more.

If I had not been burning with the urge to kill, I would have laughed.

"Why?" I barked out, to force her to speak again.

"He's telling everyone that he's taking me to prom," she said,

"Jerk," Bella hissed at the book. "How can he tell people that… he didn't even ask me."

"Don't know," Jacob shrugged, still laughing.

her voice filled with her tiger-kitten outrage.

More laughter at that from Jacob and Bella glared at the book. However, she did note that this talk had definitely helped both her and Jacob relax a little after what had just happened. Her glare loosened as she thought of that and her tone was lighter when she started reading again.

"Either he's insane or he's still trying to make up for almost killing me last��well you remember it," she inserted dryly, "and he thinks prom is somehow the correct way to do this. So I figure if I endanger his life, then we're even, and he can't keep trying to make amends.

"That's not why he's asking you out," Jacob laughed.

I don't need enemies and maybe Lauren would back off if he left me alone.

Bella groaned at that, even madder at this Tyler guy.

I might have to total his Sentra, though," she went on, thoughtful now. "If he doesn't have a ride he can't take anyone to prom��"

It was encouraging to see that she sometimes got things wrong. Tyler's persistence had nothing to do with the accident. She didn't seem to understand the appeal she held for the human boys at the high school. Did she not see the appeal she had for me, either?

Bella blushed at the idea that she appealed to the other guys at school, but that wasn't anything to the blush she had at the mention of her appeal for Edward.

Ah, it was working. The baffling processes of her mind were always engrossing.

I was beginning to gain control of myself, to see something beyond vengeance and torture��

"I heard about that," I told her. She had stopped talking, and I needed her to continue.

"You did?" she asked incredulously. And then her voice was angrier than before.

"If he's paralyzed from the neck down, he can't go to the prom either."

"What's the matter, Bells, don't you like that Edward knows about this?" Jacob chuckled and she glared at him.

I wished there was some way I could ask her to continue with the threats of death and bodily harm without sounding insane. She couldn't have picked a better way to calm me. And her words��just sarcasm in her case, hyperbole��were a reminder I dearly needed in this moment.

I sighed, and opened my eyes.

"Better?" she asked timidly.

"Not really."

No, I was calmer, but not better. Because I'd just realized that I could not kill the monster named Lonnie,

"I guess that's right," Jacob said, he had calmed down quite a lot by this point.

and I still wanted that more than almost anything else in the world. Almost.

The only thing in this moment that I wanted more than to commit a highly justifiable murder, was this girl. And, though I couldn't have her, just the dream of having her made it impossible for me to go on a killing spree tonight��no matter how defensible such a thing might be.

Bella deserved better than a killer.

Bella smiled at this, it was rather intoxicating to know that she had this kind of power over him. Though she didn't think of him as a killer, it was still nice to know that he was trying to be better for her.

I'd spent seven decades trying to be something other than that��anything other than a killer. Those years of effort could never make me worthy of the girl sitting beside me.

Bella narrowed her eyes at this point, not agreeing with him at all.

And yet, I felt that if I returned to that life��the life of a killer��for even one night, I would surely put her out of my reach forever. Even if I didn't drink their blood��even if I didn't have that evidence blazing red in my eyes��wouldn't she sense the difference?

"That depends," Bella said.

"On?" Jacob encouraged her to continue her thought.

"On whether he acts differently or not," Bella said. "If he starts acting even more moody than he already is, it would be hard to miss."

"Would you forgive him… if he did kill this guy?" Jacob asked.

"I don't think he's the monster that he seems to think he is," Bella said in a way to answer.

"That's not an answer," Jacob said.

"I don't want him to kill him," Bella said, "but it wouldn't change the way I think of him."

I was trying to be good enough for her. It was an impossible goal. I would keep trying.

"What's wrong?" she whispered.

Her breath filled my nose, and I was reminded why I could not deserve her. After all of this, even with as much as I loved her��she still made my mouth water.

Jacob shivered at that, a little afraid how he would react to this in his maddened state, but he wasn't too worried.

"How does my scent make it so he doesn't deserve me?" Bella said a little angrily.

I would give her as much honesty as I could. I owed her that.

"Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella." I stared out into the black night, wishing both that she would hear the horror inherent in my words and also that she would not. Mostly that she would not. Run, Bella, run. Stay, Bella, stay.

"It really is a wonder why you would be confused by this guy at all," Jacob chuckled. "He's not conflicted at all."

"But it wouldn't be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those��" Just thinking about it almost pulled me from the car. I took a deep breath, letting her scent scorch down my throat. "At least, that's what I'm trying to convince myself."

"Oh."

She said nothing else. How much had she heard in my words? I glanced at her furtively, but her face was unreadable. Blank with shock, perhaps. Well, she wasn't screaming. Not yet.

"Why would you be screaming?" Jacob asked.

"Because he admitted that he wanted to hunt those people down," Bella said after a moment's thought. "I think. You know because most humans wouldn't say something like that."

"Yeah, right," Jacob said angrily. "I wouldn't mind hunting those bastards down."

"Then maybe it was something else," Bella shrugged.

It was quiet for a moment. I warred with myself, trying to be what I should be.

What I couldn't be.

"Jessica and Angela will be worried," she said quietly. Her voice was very calm, and I was not sure how that could be. Was she in shock? Maybe tonight's events hadn't sunk in for her yet. "I was supposed to meet them."

Did she want to be away from me? Or was she just worried about her friends' worry?

"The latter," Bella answered, she was sure that she wanted him around right about now… and that it might be his presence that was keeping her so calm at the moment.

I didn't answer her, but I started the car and took her back. Every inch closer I got to the town, the harder it was to hold on to my purpose. I was just so close to him��

If it was impossible��if I could never have nor deserve this girl��then where was the sense in letting the man go unpunished? Surely I could allow myself that much��

"Don't," Bella said, she didn't want him to do that and then give up on her…

No. I wasn't giving up. Not yet. I wanted her too much to surrender.

We were at the restaurant where she was supposed to meet her friends before I'd even begun to make sense of my thoughts. Jessica and Angela were finished eating, and both now truly worried about Bella. They were on their way to search for her, heading off along the dark street.

"That would not be good," Jacob tensed, he thoughts going to the sick bastard.

"No… it wouldn't," Bella shivered.

It was not a good night for them to be wandering��

"How did you know where��?" Bella's unfinished question interrupted me, and I realized that I had made yet another gaffe. I'd been too distracted to remember to ask her where she was supposed to meet her friends.

But, instead of finishing the inquiry and pressing the point, Bella just shook her head and half-smiled.

What did that mean?

"I don't know," Bella said, she was questioning her reaction just as much as Edward had.

Jacob started chuckling at her expression.

"So I guess that's the face that you make when you're annoyed that Edward can't just read your mind so you would know what your book self was thinking," Jacob said laughing harder as Bella stuck her tongue out at him.

Well, I didn't have time to puzzle over her strange acceptance of my stranger knowledge. I opened my door.

"What are you doing?" she asked, sounding startled.

Not letting you out of my sight. Not allowing myself to be alone tonight. In that order. "I'm taking you to dinner."

Bella smiled at that. Dinner… with Edward!

Well this should be interesting. It seemed like another night entirely when I'd imagined bringing Alice along and pretending to choose the same restaurant as Bella and her friends by accident. And now, here I was, practically on a date with the girl. Only it didn't count, because I wasn't giving her a chance to say no.

"I suppose he really can't give you a choice right now," Jacob grimaced.

"It doesn't really matter… I would choose to stay with him anyway," Bella shrugged.

She already had her door half open before I'd walked around the car��it wasn't usually so frustrating to have to move at an inconspicuous speed��instead of waiting for me to get it for her. Was this because she wasn't used to being treated like a lady, or because she didn't think of me as a gentleman?

Bella rolled her eyes at this, chuckling. "I've never had my door opened by someone else before."

"Yeah… who still does that?" Jacob chuckled too.

"I suppose I'll have to remember that he likes doing things like that," Bella mumbled to herself.

I waited for her to join me, getting more anxious as her girlfriends continued in toward the dark corner.

"Go stop Jessica and Angela before I have to track them down, too," I ordered quickly. "I don't think I could restrain myself if I ran into your other friends again." No, I would not be strong enough for that.

She shuddered, and then quickly collected herself. She took half a step after them, calling, "Jess! Angela!" in a loud voice. They turned, and she waved her arm over her head to catch their attention.

Bella! Oh, she's safe! Angela thought with relief.

Late much? Jessica grumbled to herself, but she, too, was thankful that Bella wasn't lost or hurt. This made me like her a little more than I had.

"Just a tiny bit," Jacob mumbled, but he still didn't care much about this shallow girl.

They hurried back, and then stopped, shocked, when they saw me beside her.

Uh-uh! Jess thought, stunned. No freaking way!

"It's like he's some kind of movie star or something," Jacob rolled his eyes and Bella chuckled at that.

Edward Cullen? Did she go away by herself to find him? But why would she ask about them being out of town if she knew he was here�� I got a brief flash of Bella's mortified expression when she'd asked Angela if my family was often absent from school. No, she couldn't have known, Angela decided.

Jessica's thoughts were moving past the surprise and on to suspicion. Bella's been holding out on me.

It was Bella's turn to roll her eyes and Jacob's to chuckle.

"Where have you been?" she demanded, staring at Bella, but peeking at me from the corner of her eye.

"I got lost. And then I ran into Edward," Bella said, waving one hand toward me.

Her tone was remarkably normal. Like that was truly all that had happened.

"How can you do that?" Jacob shook his head and Bella just shrugged.

She must be in shock. That was the only explanation for her calm.

"Would it be all right if I joined you?" I asked��to be polite; I knew that they'd already eaten.

Holy crap but he's hot! Jessica thought, her head suddenly slightly incoherent.

Bella narrowed her eyes at that; not liking the thought at all.

Angela wasn't much more composed. Wish we hadn't eaten. Wow. Just. Wow.

Now why couldn't I do that to Bella?

"How do you know you're not doing that to Bella?" Jacob asked laughing as Bella blushed.

"Er��sure," Jessica agreed.

Angela frowned. "Um, actually, Bella, we already ate while we were waiting," she admitted. "Sorry."

What? Shut up! Jess complained internally.

Jacob chuckled at that, "Yeah… who asked you to be honest?"

Bella shrugged casually. So at ease. Definitely in shock. "That's fine��I'm not hungry."

"I think you should eat something," I disagreed. She needed sugar in her bloodstream��though it smelled sweet enough as it was, I thought wryly. The horror was going to come crashing down on her momentarily, and an empty stomach wouldn't help.

Bella wasn't sure if the horror was going to crash down on her, but it didn't really matter, she wanted Edward to stay near her.

She was an easy fainter, as I knew from experience.

"Only when blood's involved," Bella said indignantly.

These girls wouldn't be in any danger if they went straight home. Danger didn't stalk their every step.

And I'd rather be alone with Bella��as long as she was willing to be alone with me.

"Do you mind if I drive Bella home tonight?" I said to Jessica before Bella could respond. "That way you won't have to wait while she eats."

"Uh, no problem, I guess��" Jessica stared intently at Bella, looking for some sign that this was what she wanted.

I want to stay��but she probably wants him to herself. Who wouldn't? Jess thought. At the same time, she watched Bella wink.

Bella winked?

"Oh my God… Bella winked!" Jacob boomed out laughing. "Whatever could that mean?"

"Shut up," Bella mumbled weakly as she had turned bright red.

"Okay," Angela said quickly, in a hurry to be out of the way if that was what Bella wanted. And it seemed that she did want that. "See you tomorrow, Bella��Edward." She struggled to say my name in a casual tone. Then she grabbed Jessica's hand and began towing her away.

I would have to find some way to thank Angela for this.

"That would be nice," Bella said, thinking that she owed this girl, too.

Jessica's car was close by and in a bright circle of light cast by a streetlamp.

Bella watched them carefully, a little crease of concern between her eyes, until they were in the car, so she must be fully aware of the danger she'd been in.

Bella rolled her eyes… of course she was aware of the danger.

Jessica waved as she drove away, and Bella waved back. It wasn't until the car disappeared that she took a deep breath and turned to look up at me.

"Honestly, I'm not hungry," she said.

"Why did you wait so long to say that then?" Jacob questioned.

"Because I wanted to be with Edward," Bella rolled her eyes like that should have been obvious.

Why had she waited for them to be gone before speaking? Did she truly want to be alone with me��even now, after witnessing my homicidal rage?

Whether that was the case or not, she was going to eat something.

"Humor me," I said.

I held the restaurant door open for her and waited.

She sighed, and walked through.

I walked beside her to the podium where the hostess waited. Bella still seemed entirely self-possessed. I wanted to touch her hand, her forehead, to check her temperature. But my cold hand would repulse her, as it had before.

Oh, my, the hostess's rather loud mental voice intruded into my consciousness. My, oh my.

Bella was now glaring at the book, annoyed by this reaction of the hostess.

It seemed to be my night to turn heads. Or was I only noticing it more because I wished so much that Bella would see me this way? We were always attractive to our prey. I'd never thought so much about it before. Usually��unless, as with people like Shelly Cope and Jessica Stanley, there was constant repetition to dull the horror��the fear kicked in fairly quickly after the initial attraction��

"A table for two?" I prompted when the hostess didn't speak.

"Oh, er, yes. Welcome to La Bella Italia." Mmm! What a voice! "Please follow me." Her thoughts were preoccupied��calculating.

Maybe she's his cousin. She couldn't be his sister, they don't look anything alike. But family, definitely. He can't be with her.

Bella grimaced at that, knowing that by all accounts the hostess should have been right, but still she was a bit smug by the fact that she was completely wrong.

"Jealous much," Jacob said. "She's just trying to build herself up by taking you down."

"Whatever," Bella shrugged before reading.

Human eyes were clouded; they saw nothing clearly. How could this small minded woman find my physical lures��snares for prey��so attractive, and yet be unable to see the soft perfection of the girl beside me?

Bella was blushing at that.

Well, no need to help her out, just in case, the hostess thought as she led us to a family-sized table in the middle of the most crowded part of the restaurant. Can I give him my number while she's there��? she mused.

Bella read that part angrily and Jacob chuckled.

I pulled a bill from my back pocket. People were invariably cooperative when money was involved.

Bella was already taking the seat the hostess indicated without objection. I shook my head at her, and she hesitated, cocking her head to one side with curiosity.

"Sorry… I just have never seen anyone refuse a table before… except in movies," Bella said.

Yes, she would be very curious tonight. A crowd was not the ideal place for this conversation.

"Perhaps something more private?" I requested of the hostess, handing her the money. Her eyes widened in surprise, and then narrowed while her hand curled around the tip.

"Sure."

She peeked at the bill while she led us around a dividing wall.

Fifty dollars for a better table?

"What?" Bella said. "That's crazy!"

"I wish I had money to burn like that," Jacob mused.

Rich, too. That makes sense��I bet his jacket cost more than my last paycheck. Damn. Why does he want privacy with her?

She offered us a booth in a quiet corner of the restaurant where no one would be able to see us��to see Bella's reactions to whatever I would tell her. I had no clue as to what she would want from me tonight. Or what I would give her.

How much had she guessed? What explanation of tonight's events had she told herself?

"How's this?" the hostess asked.

"Perfect," I told her and, feeling slightly annoyed by her resentful attitude toward Bella, I smiled widely at her, baring my teeth. Let her see me clearly.

Whoa. "Um��your server will be right out." He can't be real. I must be asleep. Maybe she'll disappear��maybe I'll write my number on his plate with ketchup��

"Why did he want her more entranced with him?" Bella muttered darkly.

"Actually… I think he was trying to scare her off," Jacob chuckled. "It didn't seem to have worked quite right."

She wandered away, listing slightly to the side.

Odd. She still wasn't frightened. I suddenly remembered Emmett teasing me in the cafeteria, so many weeks ago. I'll bet I could have scared her better than that.

Was I losing my edge?

"You really shouldn't do that to people," Bella interrupted my thoughts in a disapproving tone. "It's hardly fair."

I stared at her critical expression. What did she mean? I hadn't frightened the hostess at all, despite my intentions. "Do what?"

"Dazzle them like that��she's probably hyperventilating in the kitchen right now."

"Dazzle?" Jacob questioned with a raised eyebrow and then laughed when Bella blushed.

Hmm. Bella was very nearly right. The hostess was only semi-coherent at the moment, describing her incorrect assessment of me to her friend on the wait staff.

"Oh, come on," Bella chided me when I didn't answer immediately. "You have to know the effect you have on people."

"I dazzle people?" That was an interesting way of phrasing it. Accurate enough for tonight. I wondered why the difference��

"Well obviously it has something to do with Bella," Jacob smirked. "Everything that's different with you is, after all, her fault."

"You haven't noticed?" she asked, still critical. "Do you think everybody gets their way so easily?"

"Do I dazzle you?" I voiced my curiosity impulsively, and then the words were out, and it was too late to recall them.

But before I had time to too deeply regret speaking the words aloud she answered,

"Frequently." And her cheeks took on a faint pink glow.

Bella was blushing a little there too, but mostly she was pleased that Edward might finally understand that she liked him too, so he could stop thinking so hard about not deserving her.

I dazzled her.

My silent heart swelled with a hope more intense than I could ever remember having felt before.

"Hello," someone said, the waitress, introducing herself. Her thoughts were loud, and more explicit than the hostess's, but I tuned her out. I stared at Bella's face instead of listening, watching the blood spreading under her skin, noticing not how that made my throat flame, but rather how it brightened her fair face, how it set off the cream of her skin��

The waitress was waiting for something from me. Ah, she'd asked for our drink order. I continued to stare at Bella, and the waitress grudgingly turned to look at her, too.

"I'll have a coke?" Bella said, as if asking for approval.

"Two cokes," I amended. Thirst��normal, human thirst��was a sign of shock. I would make sure she had the extra sugar from the soda in her system.

She looked healthy, though. More than healthy. She looked radiant.

"What?" she demanded��wondering why I was staring, I guessed. I was vaguely aware that the waitress had left.

"How are you feeling?" I asked.

She blinked, surprised by the question. "I'm fine."

"You don't feel dizzy, sick, cold?"

She was even more confused now. "Should I?"

"Well, I actually I'm waiting for you to go into shock." I half-smiled, expecting her denial. She would not want to be taken care of.

It took her a minute to answer me. Her eyes were slightly unfocused. She looked that way sometimes, when I smiled at her. Was she��dazzled?

I would love to believe that.

Jacob chuckled then and Bella rolled her eyes.

"I don't think that will happen. I've always been very good at repressing unpleasant things," she answered, a little breathless.

Did she have a lot of practice with unpleasant things, then? Was her life always this hazardous?

Bella groaned at that; of course Edward would jump to that kind of conclusion.

"Just the same," I told her. "I'll feel better when you have some sugar and food in you."

The waitress returned with the cokes and a basket of bread. She put them in front of me, and asked for my order, trying to catch my eye in the process. I indicated that she should attend to Bella, and then went back to tuning her out. She had a vulgar mind.

"Hmph," Bella huffed in regards to the vulgar mind comment.

"Um��" Bella glanced quickly at the menu. "I'll have the mushroom ravioli."

The waitress turned back to me eagerly. "And you?"

"Nothing for me."

"He probably should have ordered something," Bella said, wondering if she had noticed his lack of appetite or not.

Bella made a slight face.

Well, that answered that question.

Hmm. She must have noticed that I never ate food. She noticed everything. And I always forgot to be careful around her.

I waited till we were alone again.

"Drink," I insisted.

I was surprised when she complied immediately and without objection. She drank until the glass was entirely empty, so I pushed the second coke toward her, frowning a little. Thirst, or shock?

She drank a little more, and then shuddered once.

"Are you cold?"

"It's just the coke," she said, but she shivered again, her lips trembling slightly as if her teeth were about to chatter.

"You call yourself a gentleman but you let her get cold like that… I'm so disappointed in you," Jacob chuckled.

The pretty blouse she wore looked too thin to protect her adequately; it clung to her like a second skin, almost as fragile as the first. She was so frail, so mortal. "Don't you have a jacket?"

"Yes." She looked around herself, a little perplexed. "Oh��I left it in Jessica's car."

I pulled off my jacket, wishing that the gesture was not marred by my body temperature. It would have been nice to have been able to offer her a warm coat. She stared at me, her cheeks warming again. What was she thinking now?

I handed her the jacket across the table, and she put it on at once, and then shuddered again.

Yes, it would be very nice to be warm.

"Tough luck, man," Jacob chuckled.

"Shut up," Bella said, it was the thought that counted after all, besides the jacket was sure to warm her up soon enough.

"Thanks," she said. She took a deep breath, and then pushed the too-long sleeves back to free her hands. She took another deep breath.

Was the evening finally settling in? Her color was still good; her skin was cream and roses against the deep blue of her shirt.

"That color blue looks lovely with your skin," I complimented her. Just being honest.

Bella smiled, blushing slightly.

"Good with your skin!" Jacob repeated laughing. "That's a weird way of putting it."

"Shut up," Bella hissed at him, she didn't need his laughter at the moment.

She flushed, enhancing the effect.

She looked well, but there was no point in taking chances. I pushed the basket of bread toward her.

"Really," she objected, guessing my motives. "I'm not going into shock."

"You should be��a normal person would be. You don't even look shaken." I stared at her, disapproving, wondering why she couldn't be normal and then wondering if really wanted her to be that way.

"No, you really don't," Jacob answered. "You don't like normal at all."

"I feel very safe with you," she said, her eyes, again, filled with trust. Trust I didn't deserve.

Her instincts were all wrong��backwards.

"There's nothing wrong with my instincts," Bella huffed.

"I'm not so sure about that," Jacob said. "Honestly, you should be scared of this guy… but whatever."

That must be the problem. She didn't recognize danger the way a human being should be able to. She had the opposite reaction. Instead of running, she lingered, drawn to what should frighten her��

How could I protect her from myself when neither of us wanted that?

"This is more complicated than I'd planned," I murmured.

I could see her turning my words over in her head, and I wondered what she made of them. She took a breadstick and began to eat without seeming aware of the action.

"Okay, you're killing me here," Jacob said. "I want to know what you're thinking already."

Bella just chuckled at that.

She chewed for a moment, and then leaned her head to one side thoughtfully.

"Usually you're in a better mood when your eyes are so light," she said in a casual tone.

"I didn't expect that," Jacob said.

Her observation, stated so matter of factly, left me reeling. "What?"

"You're always crabbier when your eyes are black��I expect it then. I have a theory about that," she added lightly.

"What's your theory?" Jacob asked.

"Stop interrupting so much," Bella huffed at him.

"Sorry… I'm just so drawn into this," Jacob said, "I keep forgetting that you don't know anything."

So she had come up with her own explanation. Of course she had. I felt a deep sense of dread as I wondered how close she'd come to the truth.

"More theories?"

"Mm-hm." She chewed on another bite, entirely nonchalant. As if she weren't discussing the aspects of a monster with the monster himself.

"Well, that's nice to know," Bella mumbled, liking the fact that she didn't act as nervous as she felt at the moment, knowing that she would have been a lot worse in the book.

"I hope you were more creative this time��" I lied when she didn't continue.

What I really hoped was that she was wrong��miles wide of the mark.

"I think that might be more off the mark," Jacob said. "Once he finds out that you accept him, he'll love that you know."

"Or are you still stealing from comic books?"

"Well, no, I didn't get it from a comic book," she said, a little embarrassed. "But I didn't come up with it on my own, either."

Jacob shivered at that uncontrollably.

"And?" I asked between my teeth.

Surely should would not speak so calmly if she were about to scream.

As she hesitated, biting her lip, the waitress reappeared with Bella's food. I paid the server little attention as she set the plate in front of Bella and then asked if I wanted anything.

I declined, but asked for more coke. The waitress hadn't noticed the empty glasses. She took them and left.

"You were saying?" I prompted anxiously as soon as we were alone again.

"I'll tell you about it in the car," she said in a low voice. Ah, this would be bad.

"Yeah, very bad," Jacob grumbled, feeling more foreboding than before.

She wasn't willing to speak her guesses around others. "If��" she tacked on suddenly.

"There are conditions?" I was so tense I almost growled the words.

"I do have a few questions, of course."

"Of course," I agreed, my voice hard.

Her questions would probably be enough to tell me where her thoughts were heading. But how would I answer them? With responsible lies? Or would I drive her away with truth? Or would I say nothing, unable to decide?

"The truth, please," Bella said.

"I don't think you get to choose," Jacob chuckled at her expression.

"Still, I think it's about time the truth was put out on the table," Bella said. "I want to see how he'll react once I know what he is."

We sat in silence while the waitress replenished her supply of soda.

"Well, go ahead," I said, jaw locked, when she was gone.

"Why are you in Port Angeles?"

"Well, somehow I don't think he's going to answer that question," Jacob chuckled. "You know, he can't really say 'I was stalking you'."

That was too easy a question��for her. It gave away nothing, while my answer, if truthful, would give away much too much. Let her reveal something first.

"That's not fair," Bella huffed. "I give away things all the time… you should tell me something for once."

"Next," I said.

"But that's the easiest one!'

"Next," I said again.

She was frustrated by my refusal. She looked away from me, down to her food.

Slowly, thinking hard, she took a bite and chewed with deliberation. She washed it down with more coke, and then finally looked up at me. Her eyes were narrow with suspicion.

Jacob chuckled at this; he could so picture Bella doing that.

"Okay then," she said. "Let's say, hypothetically, of course, that��someone��could know what people are thinking, read minds, you know��with just a few exceptions."

"What?" Jacob said. "How the hell did you figure that one out?"

"I don't know," Bella shrugged. "Maybe when he was talking about Mike's thoughts and all."

"You really are perceptive," Jacob mumbled.

It could be worse.

"He's not shocked at all that you figured that out," Jacob muttered. "I thought it was shocking."

This explained that little half-smile in the car. She was quick��no one else had ever guessed this about me. Except for Carlisle, and it had been rather obvious then, in the beginning, when I'd answered all his thoughts as if he'd spoken them to me. He'd understood before I had��

Bella smiled at that; for some reason she found that image nice.

This question wasn't so bad. While it was clear that she knew that there was something wrong with me, was not as serious as it could have been. Mind-reading was, after all, not a facet of the vampire cannon. I went along with her hypothesis.

"Just one exception," I corrected. "Hypothetically."

She fought a smile��my vague honesty pleased her.

"Well, seeing as you're hardly ever honest with me, that's not hard to believe," Bella mumbled.

"All right, with one exception, then. How does that work? What are the limitations? How would��that someone��find someone else at exactly the right time? How would he know that she was in trouble?"

"Hypothetically?"

"Sure." Her lips twitched, and her liquid brown eyes were eager.

"Well," I hesitated. "If��that someone��"

"Let's call him 'Joe,'" she suggested.

"Joe," Jacob laughed and Bella chuckled. "Why?"

"I always liked the name Joe," Bella shrugged.

I had to smile at her enthusiasm. Did she really think the truth would be a good thing? If my secrets were pleasant, why would I keep them from her?

"Joe, then," I agreed. "If Joe had been paying attention, the timing wouldn't have needed to be quite so exact." I shook my head and repressed a shudder at the thought of how close I had been to being too late today. "Only you could get into trouble in a town this small. You would have devastated their crime rate statistics for a decade, you know."

Jacob grimaced at this… that wasn't something to joke about. He also thought that it really wouldn't have been Bella who devastated the crime rate, but didn't say anything.

Her lips turned down at the corners, and pouted out. "We were speaking of a hypothetical case."

Jacob gave a weak smile at that.

I laughed at her irritation.

Her lips, her skin�� They looked so soft. I wanted to touch them. I wanted to press my fingertip against the corner of her frown and turn it up. Impossible. My skin would be repellent to her.

"Yes, we were," I said, returning to the conversation before I could depress myself too thoroughly. "Shall we call you 'Jane'?"

"No… I don't like Jane," Bella said and Jacob chuckled at that.

She leaned across the table toward me, all humor and irritation gone from her wide eyes.

"How did you know?" she asked, her voice low and intense.

Should I tell her the truth? And, if so, what portion?

I wanted to tell her. I wanted to deserve the trust I could still see on her face.

"You can trust me, you know," she whispered, and she reached one hand forward as if to touch my hands where they rested on top of the empty table before me.

"Ha," Bella said, "I knew this whole touching aversion thing was all in his head."

I pulled them back��hating the thought of her reaction to my frigid stone skin�� and she dropped her hand.

"If I'm reaching for you, I don't care about that," Bella said a little irritated at that.

I knew that I could trust her with protecting my secrets; she was entirely trustworthy, good to the core. But I couldn't trust her not to be horrified by them. She should be horrified. The truth was horror.

"But she's not normal, remember?" Jacob said.

"You want him to tell me, too," Bella said.

"You're right, I'm so over this part where he thinks how horrified you should be," Jacob said.

"I don't know if I have a choice anymore," I murmured. I remembered that I'd once teased her by calling her 'exceptionally unobservant.' Offended her, if I'd been judging her expressions correctly. Well, I could right that one injustice, at least. "I was wrong��you're much more observant than I gave you credit for." And, though she might not realize it, I'd given her plenty of credit already. She missed nothing.

Bella smiled at that.

"I thought you were always right," she said, smiling as she teased me.

Both Bella and Jacob laughed at that.

"He'll have to change that now," Jacob laughed even harder. "He's always right except when it comes to you."

"I used to be." I used to know what I was doing. I used to be always sure of my course. And now everything was chaos and tumult.

Yet I wouldn't trade it. I didn't want the life that made sense. Not if the chaos meant that I could be with Bella.

"I was wrong about you on one other thing as well," I went on, setting the record straight on another point. "You're not a magnet for accidents��that's not a broad enough classification. You are a magnet for trouble. If there is anything dangerous within a ten mile radius, it will invariably find you."

"You didn't really need to set the record straight on that one," Bella groaned and Jacob chuckled at her reaction.

Why her? What had she done to deserve any of this?

Bella's face turned serious again. "And you put yourself into that category?"

Honesty was more important in regards to this question than any other.

"Unequivocally."

"What's the matter with saying yes?" Jacob rolled his eyes.

"It wouldn't be Edward," Bella shrugged with a smile.

Her eyes narrowed slightly��not suspicious now, but oddly concerned. She reached her hand across the table again, slowly and deliberately. I pulled my hands an inch away from her, but she ignored that, determined to touch me. I held my breath��not because of her scent now, but because of the sudden, overwhelming tension. Fear. My skin would disgust her. She would run away.

Bella really hoped that this would be the last time she had to hear that.

She brushed her fingertips lightly across the back of my hand. The heat of her gentle, willing touch was like nothing I'd ever felt before. It was almost pure pleasure.

"Wow… look what a simple touch does to you," Jacob laughed as Bella blushed a little.

Would have been, except for my fear. I watched her face as she felt the cold stone of my skin, still unable to breathe.

A half-smile turned up the corners of her lips.

"Thank you," she said, meeting my stare with an intense gaze of her own. "That's twice now."

Her soft fingers lingered on my hand as if they found it pleasant to be there.

I answered her as casually as I was able. "Let's not try for three, agreed?"

Jacob and Bella groaned at that; that just seemed to suggest something else was going to happen.

She grimaced at that, but nodded.

I pulled my hands out from under hers. As exquisite as her touch felt, I wasn't going to wait for the magic of her tolerance to pass, to turn to revulsion. I hid my hands under the table.

I read her eyes; though her mind was silent, I could perceive both trust and wonder there. I realized in that moment that I wanted to answer her questions. Not because I owed it to her. Not because I wanted her to trust me.

I wanted her to know me.

Bella really smiled when she read this. In some ways this had more of an effect on her than when he had said that he loved her, for now she could see that he really was trusting her… opening up to her. She really liked that.

"I followed you to Port Angeles," I told her, the words spilling out too quickly for me to edit them. I knew the danger of the truth, the risk I was taking. At any moment, her unnatural calm could shatter into hysterics. Contrarily, knowing this only had me talking faster. "I've never tried to keep a specific person alive before and it's much more troublesome than I would have believed. But that's probably just because it's you. Ordinary people seem to make it through the day without so many catastrophes."

I watched her, waiting.

She smiled. Her lips curved up at the edges, and her chocolate eyes warmed.

I'd just admitted to stalking her, and she was smiling.

"Weirdo," Jacob shook his head. "He's stalking you!"

"I know," Bella said.

"That doesn't creep you out at all?" Jacob questioned.

"Not when he's telling me the truth for the first time," Bella said.

"Did you ever think that maybe my number was up that first time, with the van, and that you've been interfering with fate?" she asked.

"Don't say that," Jacob shivered.

"Sorry," Bella sighed.

"That wasn't the first time," I said, staring down at the dark maroon table cloth, my shoulders bowed in shame. My barriers were down, the truth still spilling free recklessly. "Your number was up the first time I met you."

"He's going to tell you that?" Jacob said shook.

It was true, and it angered me. I had been positioned over her life like the blade of a guillotine. It was as if she had been marked for death by some cruel, unjust fate, and��since I'd proved an unwilling tool��that same fate continued to try to execute her.

"Please move away from that thought," Jacob said.

"I'm sure the unwilling tool will save me from anything fate will try to throw at me," Bella shrugged.

I imagined the fate personified��a grisly, jealous hag, a vengeful harpy.

I wanted something, someone, to be responsible for this��so that I would have something concrete to fight against. Something, anything to destroy, so that Bella could be safe.

Bella was very quiet; her breathing had accelerated.

I looked up at her, knowing I would finally see the fear I was waiting for. Had I not just admitted how close I'd been to killing her? Closer than the van that had come within slim inches of crushing her. And yet, her face was still calm, her eyes still tightened only with concern.

"You remember?" She had to remember that.

"Yes," she said, her voice level and grave. Her deep eyes were full of awareness.

She knew. She knew that I had wanted to murder her.

"Did you really know that he was going to murder you?" Jacob asked. "I know you can't answer that… but I would really like to know the answer to this."

"I doubt my book self knows it like I know it," Bella said. "But I must have realized what the look meant."

Where were the screams?

"And yet here you sit," I said, pointing out the inherent contradiction.

"Yes, here I sit��because of you." Her expression altered, turned curious, as she unsubtly changed the subject. "Because somehow you knew how to find me today��?"

Hopelessly, I pushed one more time at the barrier that protected her thoughts, desperate to understand. It made no logical sense to me. How could she even care about the rest with that glaring truth on the table?

"Exactly," Jacob agreed.

"You know why…" Bella started to say.

"Your book self has no idea what he's thinking," Jacob putted out. "And yet you're sitting there, not caring at all that he just said that he thought about killing you."

"Yep," Bella shrugged and then laughed at the expression that Jacob was making now.

She waited, only curious. Her skin was pale, which was natural for her, but it still concerned me. Her dinner sat nearly untouched in front of her. If I continued to tell her too much, she was going to need a buffer when the shock wore off.

I named my terms. "You eat, I'll talk."

She processed that for half a second, and then threw a bite in her mouth with a speed that belied her calm. She was more anxious for my answer than her eyes let on.

"Good," Bella said, that meant that her eyes had become better at hiding her emotions than they were now.

"It's harder than it should be��keeping track of you," I told her. "Usually I can find someone very easily, once I've heard their mind before."

I watched her face carefully as I said this. Guessing right was one thing, having it confirmed was another.

She was motionless, her eyes wide. I felt my teeth clench together as I waited for her panic.

But she just blinked once, swallowed loudly, and then quickly scooped another bite into her mouth. She wanted me to continue.

Jacob chuckled at the image.

"I was keeping tabs on Jessica," I went on, watching each word as it sank in.

"Not carefully��like I said, only you could find trouble in Port Angeles��" I couldn't resist adding that. Did she realize that other human lives were not so plagued with near death experiences, or did she think she was normal?

Bella gritted her teeth at that thought. Of course she knew this wasn't normal… she'd never been attacked before she got to Forks.

She was the furthest thing from normal I'd ever encountered. "And at first I didn't notice when you took off on your own. Then, when I realized that you weren't with her anymore, I went looking for you at the bookstore I saw in her head. I could tell that you hadn't gone in, and that you'd gone south��and I knew you would have to turn around soon. So I was just waiting for you, randomly searching through the thoughts of people on the street��to see if anyone had noticed you so I would know where you were. I had no reason to be worried��but I was strangely anxious��" My breath came faster as I remembered that feeling of panic. Her scent blazed in my throat and I was glad. It was a pain that meant she was alive. As long as I burned, she was safe.

"That's an interesting way of thinking of it," Jacob said. "And I guess I'm going to say that I hope that your throat always burns."

"I started to drive in circles, still��listening." I hoped the word made sense to her.

This had to be confusing. "The sun was finally setting, and I was about to get out, and follow you on foot. And then��"

"Hm… if you didn't already know that he was a vampire, I bet that sentence would have confused you," Jacob said.

"Yeah… I might have wondered why he had to wait for the sun to go down before he got out," Bella agreed, "but I'm not sure if I'm really paying attention to that part."

As the memory took me��perfectly clear and as vivid as if I was in the moment again��I felt the same murderous fury wash through my body, locking it into ice.

I wanted him dead. I needed him dead. My jaw clenched tight as I concentrated on holding myself here at the table. Bella still needed me. That was what mattered.

"Then what?" she whispered, her dark eyes wide.

"I heard what they were thinking," I said through my teeth, unable to keep the words from coming out in a growl. "I saw your face in his mind."

I could hardly resist the urge to kill. I still knew precisely where to find him. His black thoughts sucked at the night sky, pulling me toward them��

I covered my face, knowing my expression was that of a monster, a hunter, a killer. I fixed her image behind my closed eyes to control myself, focusing only on her face. The delicate framework of her bones, the thin sheath of her pale skin��like silk stretched over glass, incredibly soft and easy to shatter. She was too vulnerable for this world. She needed a protector. And, through some twisted mismanagement of destiny, I was the closest thing available.

"Honestly, I'm not any more fragile than all the other humans around me," Bella mumbled.

"I don't know about that," Jacob chuckled. "And add in the fact that everything comes after you… I can really see Edward's point."

I tried to explain my violent reaction so that she would understand.

"It was very��hard��you can't imagine how hard��for me to simply take you away, and leave them��alive," I whispered. "I could have let you go with Jessica and Angela, but I was afraid if you left me alone, I would go looking for them."

"Okay… so now he's admitting to be a murderer… or at least having murderous thoughts," Jacob said. "You're going to take this just as calmly as the stalking thing, aren't you?"

"Probably," Bella shrugged. "Though the more he talks like this, the more I feel like I really do know what he is already."

"Yeah," Jacob groaned. "I know what you mean."

For the second time tonight, I confessed to an intended murder. At least this one was defensible.

"Agreed," Jacob said.

She was quiet as I struggled to control myself. I listened to her heartbeat. The rhythm was irregular, but it slowed as the time passed until it was steady again. Her breathing, too, was low and even.

I was too close to the edge. I needed to get her home before��

Would I kill him, then? Would I become a murderer again when she trusted me?

Was there any way to stop myself?

She'd promised to tell me her latest theory when we were alone. Did I want to hear it? I was anxious for it, but would the reward for my curiosity be worse than not knowing?

"No," Bella said.

"Though I'm not so sure I can say the same thing," Jacob said, feeling more and more like he didn't want to know what her theory was.

At any rate, she must have had enough truth for one night.

"Yeah right," Bella rolled her eyes; there were so many other things that she knew that her book self wanted to know about.

I looked at her again, and her face was paler than before, but composed.

"Are you ready to go home?" I asked.

"I'm ready to leave," she said, choosing her words carefully, as if a simple 'yes' did not fully express what she wanted to say.

Frustrating.

Jacob groaned and chuckled at that. "That's rich coming from him."

Bella chuckled at that too.

The waitress returned. She'd heard Bella's last statement as she'd dithered on the other side of the partition, wondering what more she could offer me. I wanted to roll my eyes at some of the offerings she'd had in mind.

"How are we doing?" she asked me.

"We're ready for the check, thank you," I told her, my eyes on Bella.

The waitress's breathing spiked and she was momentarily��to use Bella's phrasing��dazzled by my voice.

Jacob chuckled at that and Bella rolled her eyes.

In a sudden moment of perception, hearing the way my voice sounded in this inconsequential human's head, I realized why I seemed to be attracting so much admiration tonight��unmarred by the usual fear.

It was because of Bella. Trying so hard to be safe for her, to be less frightening, to be human, I truly had lost my edge. The other humans saw only beauty now, with my innate horror so carefully under control.

Bella was annoyed by this, why did he have to be more appealing to the others…

"Don't like that very much, do you?" Jacob chuckled at her reaction.

I looked up at the waitress, waiting for her to recover herself. It was sort of humorous, now that I understood the reason.

"Sure," she stuttered. "Here you go."

She handed me the folder with the bill, thinking of the card she'd slid in behind the receipt. A card with her name and telephone number on it.

Bella was now glaring at the book.

"That's ridiculous," Jacob said shaking his head. "He's obviously there with you… how cheesy is it to try and give the guy a number then?

Yes, it was rather funny.

"I wouldn't call it funny," Bella muttered darkly.

"I would… now," Jacob laughed.

I had money ready again. I gave the folder back at once, so she wouldn't waste any time waiting for a call that would never come.

"No change," I told her, hoping the size of the tip would assuage her disappointment.

I stood, and Bella quickly followed suit. I wanted to offer her my hand, but I thought that might be pushing my luck a little too far for one night. I thanked the waitress, my eyes never leaving Bella's face. Bella seemed to be finding something amusing, too.

"What?" Jacob said.

"I think you're wondering about that more than Edward is in this chapter," Bella smirked.

"Whatever," Jacob frowned.

We walked out; I walked as close beside her as I dared. Close enough that the warmth coming off her body was like a physical touch against the left side of my body.

As I held the door for her, she sighed quietly, and I wondered what regret made her sad. I stared into her eyes, about to ask, when she suddenly looked at the ground, seeming embarrassed. It made me more curious, even as it made me reluctant to ask. The silence between us continued while I opened her door for her and then got into the car.

"Seriously, why are you upset?" Jacob groaned.

"I don't know," Bella said, curious this time too, but still laughing at Jacob's reaction.

I turned the heater on��the warmer weather had come to an abrupt end; the cold car must be uncomfortable for her. She huddled in my jacket, a small smile on her lips.

I waited, postponing conversation until the lights of the boardwalk faded. It made me feel more alone with her.

Was that the right thing? Now that I was focused only on her, the car seemed very small. Her scent swirled through it with the current of the heater, building and strengthening. It grew into its own force, like another entity in the car. A presence that demanded recognition.

It had that; I burned. The burning was acceptable, though. It seemed strangely appropriate to me. I had been given so much tonight��more than I'd expected. And here she was, still willingly at my side. I owed something in return for that. A sacrifice. A burnt offering.

Bella rolled her eyes at that.

Now if I could just keep it to that; just burn, and nothing more. But the venom filled my mouth, and my muscles tensed in anticipation, as if I were hunting��

I had to keep such thoughts from my mind. And I knew what would distract me.

"Now," I said to her, fear of her response taking the edge off the burn. "It's your turn."

"That's the end of the chapter," Bella said.

"Well, that was another relaxing chapter," Jacob groaned. "And I'm sure I'm going to like the next one."

"Well, get on to reading it then," Bella said.

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