“I miss you already.” “I don’t need to leave. I can stay…” “Mmm.” It was the eve of our wedding and Bella and I were lying in her narrow bed together, as was our habit. Though it was August, she was wrapped in her usual swaddling blanket, a protection against the chill of my skin. The bulky afghan did not prevent Bella’s hands from wandering about, exploring the unclothed parts of my body. If she had her way, both of us would be even less clothed.
I found shirtless to be challenge enough. With Bella’s fingers probing the outlines of each muscle and bone above my waistband, her lips on mine, I was both awash in pleasure and sinking into concern. Some might call it performance anxiety and I could not deny it. When one’s performance was a matter of life and death, there was no shame in that.
Bella dragged her tongue across my top lip and a surge of desire shot through me.
It was all I could do to remain still and let the sensation fade. If she were a vampire, I would have rolled on top of her, stripped off the bulky afghan and pressed my entire body into hers. I would have kissed her passionately, tasting her lips, her tongue, and pulling her as close to me as the laws of physics would allow. Ahhh… I groaned and retreated from her caressing hands and her delicious, warm tongue. “Wait,” Bella murmured, clutching my arms. I watched as she kicked her right leg free from the blanket and wrapped it around my waist. “Practice makes perfect.” I chuckled. I’d heard that one before.
Numerous times. “Well, we should be fairly close to perfection by this point, then, shouldn’t we? Have you slept at all in the last month?” “But this is the dress rehearsal,” she protested, “and we’ve only practiced certain scenes. It’s no time for playing safe.” Playing safe. My body froze as I considered how easy it would be to break Bella’s arm, or tear out a handful of her beautiful hair, or snap her spine, or… “Bella…” “Don’t start this again. A deal’s a deal.” “I don’t know. It’s too hard to concentrate when you’re with me like this. I—I can’t think straight. I won’t be able to control myself. You’ll get hurt.” “I’ll be fine.” “Bella…” “Shhh!”
Bella put her hands on either side of my face and pressed her lips against mine. I would like to have been distracted by that, but it was too late. My mind was already elsewhere, drifting from the thousand-and-one ways I could harm Bella to enumerating all she was giving up for me…her family, her friends…her chance to be a mother, to grow old, to become something more than what she was right now. It was too much to sacrifice just to be with me. In my mounting distress, I revisited an argument that Bella and I had had repeatedly. I’d never convinced her before; I don’t know why I thought she might change her mind now. “It’s not right! I don’t want you to have to make sacrifices for me. I want to give you things, not take things away from you. I don’t want to steal your future. If I were human—” Bella stifled my objections by putting her hand over my mouth. “You are my future. Now stop. No moping, or I’m calling your brothers to come and get you. Maybe you need a bachelor party.”
My brothers must have agreed with her, for Emmett’s thoughts suddenly interrupted my own. Maybe we’ll catch them with their clothes off! Hope so. Ha, ha! “Oh, for the love of all that’s holy!” “What’s wrong?” “You don’t have to call my brothers. Apparently Emmett and Jasper are not going to let me bow out tonight.” Bella tightened her grip for a moment before releasing me. “Have fun,” she said. Perhaps it would be better for Bella if I left. Then I wouldn’t upset her with the “cold feet” I’d told her I didn’t have. I had no second thoughts about marrying Bella—I could hardly wait to do that! My second thoughts were all about the wedding night. Yes, I should leave. Maybe she would get some sleep if I did. “If you don’t send Edward out,” Emmett threatened in his best, creepy-monster voice, “we’re coming in after him!” Bella laughed.
“Go! Before they break my house.” Kissing her forehead, I advised, “Get to sleep. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.” “Thanks! That’s sure to help me wind down.” “I’ll meet you at the altar.” I gave her a sly smile. “I’ll be the one in white,” Bella announced nonchalantly, as if we were planning a rendezvous at the mall. I chuckled at that, considering the anxiety attacks that overcame her every time I mentioned the wedding. “Very convincing,” I tossed over my shoulder as I leaped out the window. My feet landed squarely on Emmett’s head, knocking him to the ground. “Dammit, that hurt!” Emmett stage whispered, as he jumped up and took a swing at me. I dodged the punch easily. His thoughts always gave him away. “You’d better not make him late,” I heard Bella warn my brothers.
Jasper leaped up and grabbed the eaves outside Bella’s window. He turned on his soothing vibes. “Don’t worry, Bella. We’ll get him home in plenty of time.” “Jasper? What do vampires do for bachelor parties? You’re not taking him to a strip club, are you?” she whispered to Jasper and I had to smile. As if that would be fun for me! No woman had ever affected me like Bella did. Women could dip themselves in blood and parade around naked all day and it wouldn’t do a thing for me. I should know…Tanya had tried such tricks many times to get me into her bed. “Don’t tell her anything!” Emmett hissed at Jasper, earning himself a friendly forearm shove that knocked him to the ground…again. I could never beat Emmett if we fought strength to strength, but with my mind-reading skill, he rarely got in a good punch. I laughed at his expression as he stood up and brushed the grass off his jeans. He tried to look casual as he readied himself for a “surprise” counterattack. Just as he launched himself at me, I took off running, knowing he couldn’t catch me at full speed. “Relax,” I heard Jasper reply to Bella.
“We Cullens have our own version. Just a few mountain lions, a couple of grizzly bears. Pretty much an ordinary night out.” Jasper had told Bella the truth. We would be celebrating our boys’ night out with a hunt. I didn’t need the blood at the moment, but it was still a good idea. If I fed now, then I wouldn’t have to leave Bella to hunt for the first two weeks of our honeymoon. Besides, I only had one more day to remain chaste until Bella and I were married. I did not want to slip-up at this late date—getting out of Bella’s bed would make that a whole lot easier. Running gave me time to think about the last couple of months. As my fiancé, Bella had accepted the black credit card with her name on it attached to my account. Like the cell phone, I’d presented it as a “safety precaution,” but she’d started to use it for other things too, and that had been the point. Bella had quit her job at Newtons Olympic Outfitters, so she didn’t have any pocket money to speak of. I was glad that she’d quit. I preferred not giving Mike Newton the opportunity to gape at and entertain salacious thoughts about my bride-to-be as was his habit.
Also, I was happy that we could spend more time together. I didn’t have to part with her company for the three or four days a week she would have worked for what I considered to be spare change. Unless she really liked the job—and I knew that she didn’t—I saw no point in sacrificing our time together. It had been a great summer. The only slight comedown had been the “father-in-law talk” Charlie had initiated with me. I haven’t encountered many people who could surprise me in the last eighty years, but Charlie was one who could. His mind was so quiet—in the sense of relatively impenetrable to me—that while I could perceive his feelings, I often couldn’t hear the inner dialogue that went with them. I didn’t like the sense of insecurity it gave me not knowing what he was thinking. I was used to having more time to consider how to react to people than I ever had with Charlie.
One evening five weeks earlier, Charlie had grabbed my arm as Bella and I were leaving his house for the evening. We’d found a number of private parking spots around the area and we liked to visit them as often as possible. Because he’d surprised me, I reflexively yanked my arm out of his grip at my natural strength. Immediately, he’d put both palms up as if he was surrendering. He’d mistaken my quick reflex as a sign of anger. The interaction reminded me of the television show “Cops,” in which hooligans whirl around and punch an arresting police officer just on principle. Charlie must get that a lot. I quickly raised my palms to indicate a mutual surrender. I would have smiled if I hadn’t thought Charlie would interpret it as a taunt. Bella had missed our interaction and was continuing toward the car.
“What can I do for you, Charlie?” I inquired politely. “I was just wondering what your folks think about you proposing to my daughter.” “Oh, they love her, they really do.” “That’s not exactly what I meant.” “No?” I wasn’t going to help him interrogate me. “No…uh…I meant what do they think of you getting married right out of high school?” “Oh! Well, you know they got married quite young themselves. Esme already had Jasper and Rosalie to look after when she met Carlisle. They fell in love and Carlisle wanted to help support the kids, so he proposed when Esme was younger than he might have otherwise. They’ve been extremely happy, so they don’t have any prejudice against getting married young.” “Do you think you’re old enough to handle this kind of responsibility? That’s my daughter you’re promising to support for the rest of your life. Are you one hundred percent sure that you’re ready for that?” “I will be there for Bella. I can assure you of that.”
“What if you screw it up and things fall apart?” Charlie pressed. I thought about that for a moment before answering. I knew what he was referring to without having to read his thoughts. “There are many ways I could mess things up,” I admitted. “I’ve already made mistakes with Bella. I know that. I wasn’t here for her when she needed me. I swear to you, Charlie, I left because I wanted Bella to have a chance to find somebody better than me. But I found that I couldn’t live without her and so I came back. Jacob might be a better choice for her, but she still wants me and as long as she does, I won’t leave her. I don’t make the same mistakes twice.” Charlie just gave me his dark-eyed, policeman’s stare. I didn’t blame him. He’d watched Bella suffer daily after I abandoned her. Jacob had impressed upon me all the painful details he could summon about that time. “Jacob’s a good young man,” Charlie finally responded, “but I wouldn’t want him marrying her at his age, either.”
I took another moment to consider my response, and then sighed, knowing I’d never convince him with words. “The only way to know whether I’ll be good for Bella is with time. I can’t offer you proof, but I love her more than my own life and I will take care of her, Charlie. I just hope that I can make her as happy as she makes me, though I hardly think it’s possible.” Charlie’s stare didn’t change, so I continued. “If it makes you feel any better, my family is behind us, and you know Carlisle well enough to know that he would never let Bella down…even if I did. My family would step in for me. That’s just the way my parents are. They’re great people.” “I know they are…Edward. I trust Carlisle and that’s why I’m not making more of a fuss about this.” I acknowledged his statement with a nod. “Just so you know, Charlie…Bella and I discussed eloping to Las Vegas and marrying without telling anyone. But Bella didn’t want to cut you out of her decision in that way, so we decided to make it a family event.”
“I knew there was something going on!” Charlie exclaimed. “I had a feeling you two were going to take off together!” “Bella wants you there to walk her down the aisle, or the stairs, rather. I hope you can see your way clear to do that for her on her day.” Charlie nodded stiffly and I turned to follow Bella to the car. “That’s a fancy car you got my daughter.” “Yes, it’s a loaner. Carlisle called in a favor for me. It’s a very safe car.” “Well, that’s good. You can hardly get a car that’s safe enough to share the roads with all the bad drivers and drunk drivers out there.” “I agree. Goodnight, Charlie.” “’Night.” Charlie shut the front door and I saw that Bella was coming back to get me. I hurried toward her.
“What was all that about?” “Charlie wanted to have a little ‘man-to-man’ talk about his precious daughter, but I told him I agreed with everything he said, so he loves me now.” I grinned and winked at Bella. She didn’t buy it. “No, what did he really want?” she demanded. “Tell me, or I’ll march right back and ask him!” I sighed. “Charlie just wanted to warn me about the dangers of marrying too young and make sure I was knew what I was doing.” “What did you say?” “I said that I was old for my age,” I replied, giving her a crooked smile. “You did not!” “Sure, why not? I am, aren’t I?” I teased. “Ancient. I should be grossed out being with you.”
“Fortunately, I still look good and that’s what really counts.” We both laughed and, to my relief, Bella dropped the subject.
Bella’s mother, Renee, had flown in two days earlier and Bella was sticking close to her except when our mothers worked on the wedding. It was odd behavior for a bride-to-be, but I wasn’t marrying Bella because she was like everyone else. Quite the opposite. When I’d come home two evenings previous, Renee was visiting Esme. In an attempt to demonstrate her acceptance of me as her almost son-in-law, Renee had dashed across the living room and thrown her arms around my neck. “Welcome to our family, Edward!” she’d said. I thought perhaps she was overexcited by the trip or by meeting my family. I hadn’t expected such an exuberant greeting, though she had no particular misgivings about Bella marrying me. Renee ended the hug abruptly when her arms encountered my cold, hard self. “Hmm,” she mumbled as she broke off contact. Hard body! was her thought, and I almost laughed out loud. The picture in her mind was complimentary, not literal.
She was imagining what my upper body looked like without a shirt. I’d already gotten acquainted enough with Renee when Bella and I went to Florida that I knew she didn’t mean anything by it. A cougar…just like Bella, I thought, and smiled to myself. It was a little sad to meet Renee again, knowing that this was the last time Bella would see her, or possibly even talk to her on the phone. As I watched Bella over the course of the two days, I sensed that she was saying her goodbyes. If I’d had to give up Carlisle and Esme to be with Bella, I could have done it. I had given them up once before. But it was hard to accept that I could make Bella happy enough to give up seeing her parents. I’d asked her again last night whether she was prepared to do that and her response had been, “Are you trying to ditch me?” Then we’d started laughing and the question had gotten lost.
My brothers and I didn’t get back from hunting until a couple of hours before the wedding. Esme collared us immediately and sent us to the back garden to hang flower garlands for Alice. It had to be done at the last minute or the August day would wilt them. Alice had prohibited me from going anywhere near where she was preparing Bella, so I headed to my third-floor room to make myself presentable. Alice had changed my old-fashioned tux just enough to convert it from “vintage” to “vintage chic,” as she put it. It did look good, I had to admit.
I tried to neaten my normally unruly hair. I put some hair gel on it and convinced it to lie down in a semi-orderly fashion. After a time, Jasper came upstairs to tell me that the first guests were arriving. He and Emmett would be ushering them to their seats. Of course, Jasper could have told me that from downstairs, but Alice had specifically asked him to come get me, so that I wouldn’t be parading down the bride’s decorated stairway in full view of the guests. I walked outside through the kitchen door, telling Carlisle that I’d be waiting out back. He and Esme were standing by the front door to greet everyone as they arrived. This was the most important day of my life, but I hoped to have infinitely more wonderful days to enjoy with my Bella. I felt exceedingly fortunate that she wanted me as I wanted her. I could have lost her so easily.
I heard the Denali clan arrive and recognized Tanya’s mental voice: Where’s Edward? It will be good to see that man again…mmm hmm! Who is this human girl? I can’t imagine Edward with a woman, not even a vampire woman. This will be interesting… I smiled, glad to be escaping Tanya’s clutches for good. She’d given me a hard time when we were living in Alaska. She wasn’t used to being told “no thank you.” Neither vampires nor humans ever turned down Tanya’s advances. She was beautiful and charming, everything a man could want. She just wasn’t for me and she never could accept that. It was one of the reasons Carlisle decided to move our family farther south. He told everyone that we were too conspicuous and perhaps we were, all there together, but I’d had the chance to hear another reason in his mind—that Tanya can’t leave Edward alone. My father empathized when Tanya had set her sights on me. Carlisle had had plenty of pushy admirers.
During his first few weeks at a new hospital, nurses would line up three deep to ogle him. He had to temper that initial interest by telling some number of them that he was happily married, thank you. Of course, he wore a wedding ring, but that didn’t discourage everyone. Once people met Esme, though, they usually stopped chasing Carlisle. She was simply too beautiful, inside and out, to compete with. I know Esme had always worried that I wasn’t fully mature as a man when Carlisle had changed me and that I might never find, or even wish for, a mate. It was true that I wasn’t interested in any of the Denali ladies.
And after the trouble I’d had with Rosalie when she joined our family, I didn’t expect anything good could come of such interest anyway. When the Denalis met the only bachelor vampire they’d seen in years, each of them had set about seeking my affection. I didn’t blame them, particularly. Perhaps they’d gotten tired of human men and wanted someone more durable to partner with for a change. I could understand that to a certain degree. I didn’t go inside to greet the Denalis or any of the other arrivals. I couldn’t focus on anyone but Bella—it seemed like such a long time since I’d seen her.
I was trying to reason myself out of an irrational fear that she wasn’t really there in our house, that she had changed her mind and would leave me standing alone at the altar. If I listened, I could hear her voice now and then, but I couldn’t hear her thoughts and that had never bothered me so much as it did at that moment. To distract myself, I listened at random to our guests’ thoughts and found that everyone was astonished by the decorations. Alice had put her all into planning this wedding and it showed. The flowers alone were beyond imagining. Exquisitely fragrant arrangements covered every surface of our living room and the reception area outside. Alice was particularly fond of flowers. I thought perhaps it was because she’d been deprived of beauty for so many years at the asylum. Whatever the reason, it was a boon for us all. Rosalie had started playing my grand piano, making the one instrument sound like several. I knew that Pachelbel’s Canon in D was my cue to enter the living room with Carlisle and stand in front of the flower-covered archway.
He would come looking for me in the kitchen when the time came, so I walked back into the house. In due course, Carlisle came to retrieve me and after a final, heartfelt hug, we took our assigned places in front of the assembled crowd. I stood, frozen with emotion, and watched anxiously for my beloved to appear at the top of the stairs on her father’s arm. I had waited a lifetime to stand in front of these witnesses and declare my undying devotion to the one and only woman I would ever love. Time had stopped making sense when I finally heard the familiar C-F-F-F notes of “Here Comes the Bride.” I could not believe my eyes when an angel from heaven began to descend the stairs, one by one, her eyes lowered to watch her feet. It was only when I heard her whisper “Don’t let me fall, Dad,” that I knew for sure it was Bella…my Bella. I fretted for a second that my angel might fall and I readied myself to dash across the room to catch her.
Seeing the groom disappear and reappear somewhere else would not go over well with anybody, though I reasoned that all of the guests would be looking at Bella, not at me. Still, perhaps we should have served champagne before the ceremony, just in case something like that did happen…but then, Bella was descending the final step. She lifted her face, searching for me. When our eyes finally met, a look of such utter joy crossed her face that I broke into an ecstatic smile. Bella’s feelings often were written on her face, but today her expression was utterly transparent. The adoration in her eyes was unmistakable and I was jubilant enough to break out in song…almost. Our eyes remained glued to each other while Bella carefully traversed the fifteen-foot aisle that Alice had kept short to give Bella a fair chance of remaining upright.
With the way she looked in that dress, with that makeup, with everything…the glow, the scarlet blush, the prisms of tears in her eyes…I wanted to rush down the aisle to meet her and carry her back to the altar. But I remained patient, stretching out my palm so that Charlie could place Bella’s hand in mine. He regarded me seriously as he did so and I nodded my thank you to him for his great sacrifice. Charlie seated himself beside Renee, with Phil on her other side, and Bella and I turned to face the minister. I loved the traditional wedding ceremony with its promises and pronouncements, but on this occasion, each word resonated with newly unveiled meaning. When I declared “I do” to my beloved, I’d never been happier in my life. I wanted to repeat the words in every language I knew. My lovely new wife was overcome with emotion. When I leaned over to kiss her for the first time as her husband, Bella’s arms encircled my neck and she held on as if she would never let me go. The audience had disappeared—she only had eyes for me. I kissed her with a swell of love and tenderness that made my eyes burn with the tears that didn’t come, and she met my passion with her own. Emotion poured from her as she clung to me, melding her lips with mine as if we were utterly alone in that moment.
I did not mind in the least. Bella was happy to be married to me—I could feel it in my bones. When the guests began to titter, I eased my love’s face gently away from mine and looked into her tear-filled eyes. I felt my happiness radiate from me like the heat of a coal fire and I wondered briefly if my skin was sparkling in its glow. When Emmett cleared his throat unsubtly, I turned us both to face the loved ones who had gathered there and everyone broke into smiles and quiet laughter. I could not let go of Bella for a second. I wrapped my arm around her waist and practically carried her down the aisle when she forgot to move her feet. Fortunately, they were hidden by the length of her dress. Another detail that Alice had not overlooked. Bella was so stunningly beautiful that I wasn’t surprised to hear a number of inappropriate thoughts as the reception line shuffled slowly past us and on to the buffet.
Alice had timed things well, so that the vampires would not have to step outside until twilight, just in case the sun came out. It was good that she did, because we had a beautiful wedding day with plenty of sunshine filtering through the ancient cedars. I was extraordinarily pleased that Billy Black and Sue and Seth Clearwater had come to the wedding. Despite the Cullens’ official status as “mortal enemies” of their tribe, the three of them were there in support of Bella and Charlie, and perhaps as a gesture of gratitude to Carlisle as well. Seth was there for me, too. Our friendship had not faded since we’d joined forces to battle Victoria and Riley.
“Congrats, guys,” Seth said, coming toward me with his arms out. I hugged him with one arm while I held Bella tightly with the other. “It’s good to see things work out for you, man. I’m happy for you.” “Thank you, Seth. That means a lot to me.” Releasing Seth, I faced Billy and Sue with honest gratitude. I knew they were not there for me. “Thank you, as well. For letting Seth come. For supporting Bella today.” “You’re welcome,” Billy replied cordially and I hoped his attitude boded well for the change that was coming. I didn’t know how I was going to approach the Quileute wolf pack about Bella’s upcoming transformation.
It was possible that if we left the area to avoid their ancient vendetta, that Jacob still would come to hunt us down. He had no motivation to let me change Bella, but I hoped that he and all the wolves would agree to the one exception to our treaty. Billy wasn’t giving anything away with his thoughts, but Sue’s mind was full of concern about being in a house with so many vampires. As the receiving line moved along, the only slightly awkward moment was introducing Tanya to Bella. “Ah, Edward, I’ve missed you,” Tanya said, pulling herself close to me in an intimate embrace. She lingered a bit too long in my one-armed hug—on purpose. I chuckled at her audacity as I employed one of Carlisle’s tricks for dealing with forward women…to press her shoulder away as if to admire the full length of her. “It’s been too long, Tanya. You look well.” Though Bella would never believe it, her beauty outshone Tanya’s many times over in my eyes. “So do you,” Tanya replied, a familiar note of longing in her voice. With a great swelling of pride, I interjected, “Let me introduce you to my wife.”
Kate and Carmen giggled at the emphasis. My joy at using that word for the first time sang in my words. “Tanya, this is my Bella.” Bella had been uncertain about inviting Tanya and her coven, but I’d convinced her that as extended family—orphans, to boot—they must be included. I also wanted Tanya there specifically to underscore the point that I was officially and permanently unavailable. “Welcome to the family, Bella,” Tanya responded appropriately, if not altogether enthusiastically. “We consider ourselves Carlisle’s extended family, and I am sorry about the, er, recent incident when we did not behave as such. We should have met you sooner. Can you forgive us?” “Of course. It’s so nice to meet you,” Bella replied, blushing. I noted the brief flare of excitement among my cousins at the rush of blood before each of them contained it. “The Cullens are all evened up in numbers now. Perhaps it will be our turn next, eh, Kate?” Tanya grinned. Kate’s sarcastic sense of humor kicked in.
“Keep the dream alive,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Welcome, Bella.” Kate took Bella’s hand and Carmen stepped up to add hers. “I’m Carmen, this is Eleazar. We’re all so very pleased to finally meet you.” “M-me, too,” Bella stuttered. I thought she was holding up well considering she was meeting my “relatives” for the first time. “We’ll get to know each other later. We’ll have eons of time for that!” Tanya remarked, laughing. I enjoyed performing the rituals of the wedding celebration. Alice had ordered a gorgeous, artfully decorated cake, its beauty being the only aspect of it I could truly appreciate. I did not relish swallowing the chunky blob Bella pushed toward my face, but that could not be avoided with such an attentive audience.
Flashbulbs popped, capturing the uncomfortable moment for all time. Bella tossed her bouquet to Angela, who blushed puce and carefully avoided the eyes of her escort, Ben, which are six inches lower than her own. When it came time to lift Bella’s skirt and remove her garter with my teeth, she blushed hotly while Jasper and Emmett guffawed at her embarrassment. I wasn’t allowed to venture too far up her dress, since she slid the garter below her knee before I got the chance. Still, it was a fun moment, biting the elastic band and dragging it slowly down her calf. After detaching it from her leg, I stretched the elastic into a slingshot, aiming for Mike Newton’s head. The garter snapped him in the forehead and his mouth dropped open.