A girl who has just told him yes.
Unable to contain his excitement, Edward leaps to his feet and pulls Bella into his arms.
“I never thought this would happen,” he murmurs into her hair. “I’d lost all hope.”
She laughs. “You make it sound as if you’ve been waiting forever.”
“I have been.”
“We’ve only known each other a few days. We both probably should have our heads examined—you for asking and me for saying yes.”
He cups her face in his hands and presses a chaste kiss to her lips. “Say it again.”
He kisses her again, and pulls her body against his.
“I hope you’ll forgive that my impetuousness got in the way of giving you a more romantic proposal.”
“This was perfect. Besides, getting caught up in the moment is romantic. I’ve felt that way since I first met you.”
“That, too, but it wasn’t what I was talking about. I’m different when I’m with you. It’s like the part of my brain that thinks and worries shuts down, and I can just feel.”
“And what are you feeling now?”
“Excitement. Shock. Disbelief. It doesn’t feel real to me.”
“That’s my fault. At the very least, I should have presented you with a ring.”
Thinking this could be easily rectified, Edward takes a mental inventory of the jewelry tucked inside the safe, trying to decide which piece would be suitable to give to Bella. Even the rings that once belonged to his mother were at one point worn by his wife, and as much as he wants to seal his promise with some sort of token, passing them on to Bella feels wrong to him. He wants her to have something untethered to his past—something of value that will only ever be hers.
“We’ll rectify that as soon as possible. In the interim…” He pauses, considering his options. His heart is as worthless as his broken pocket watch; neither are capable of ticking. He’d offer her his life, if only he were still in possession of it.
There’s only one thing he has that she may want, and though he doesn’t understand why she would ever choose it, he feels compelled to offer it regardless.
“Know that eternity is yours if you desire it.”
In that moment, Bella realizes the enormity of what has just transpired—that she’s agreed to marry a man she doesn’t know and doesn’t love simply because she’s tired of being alone.
In letting her present circumstances alter her future, she’s done everything her grandmother used to warn her against. Despite this, Bella thinks it will be all right. Though she may not know Edward, she wants to very much. She suspects once she does, loving him will be easy. Bella may not understand what compelled him to propose to her, but she doesn’t regret accepting.
“How soon can we be married?”
“Someone must be anxious for the wedding night.”
“As if we’ll make it that long,” she says, giggling.
“I wouldn’t dream of taking your virtue before it was mine to take.”
“I should have known this was coming,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Your morals are as antiquated as your taste in furniture.”
“I have no morals.”
“So you claim. Your actions seem to indicate otherwise. Look, I get that you’ve had a sad past, and I’d never pressure you to tell me about it. If and when you decide you want to share, I’ll listen. Whatever you’ve done is just that—it’s something you’ve done. It’s not who you are. You are good. How you’ve treated me proves this.”
“What if I’m unable to stop for you?”
“You mean the photography?”
She thinks about what he’s saying. She knows what he does—that he takes pictures of people masturbating themselves to orgasm.
“Is this how you sustain yourself?”
“Not by taking the pictures. It’s more what transpires afterward.”
She doesn’t respond; instead she takes a moment to process a part of who he is which she believes to be no more than his profession. Pornography is lucrative, and she knows all too well how hard it is to earn a living. It’s not as if he participates in any way besides as an observer—or so he claims. Edward didn’t judge her when she admitted she’d tried her hand at stripping. It feels hypocritical to judge him for making money from another aspect of the same industry. She knows all too well that sex sells—she wouldn’t be able to pay her bills if it didn’t. What she can’t handle is the thought of him participating.
“And you really never join in?”
“No. Even if I weren’t there to get a job a done, I’m a voyeur.”
“Aren’t all photographers?” she asks, trying to understand.
“To an extent, but I was a voyeur long before I started taking pictures.”
“You like to watch?”
It’s a statement that comes out as a question, so he answers.
“Yes. I always have.”
He studies her face for any sign of reaction. He never tried to represent himself to her as human, so there was no moment of revelation where the choice to accept or deny him lay on her shoulders. Based on her willingness to be alone with him, he was confident she’d accept his proposal. She wouldn’t risk her life so willingly if she didn’t feel a pull to him as powerful as the one he felt to her. Unlike his immortality, his fetish is outside the ream of normalcy.
He’ll understand if she considers it a deal-breaker even if it leaves him no choice but to eat her. His secret is only safe with her as long as she has vested interest in keeping it.
“Would you be opposed to letting me be there for a photo shoot? Just so I could see for myself.”
“I’m not sure I could control myself with you there.”
“It’s that intense?”
“You have no idea. It presents a tactical problem at the moment, but it may not always be that way.”
She means to say after they’re married, but he interrupts before she can.
“Yes.” Edward enjoys the humanity he feels in her presence far too much. Even though he believes she knows what he is, he doesn’t want to hear her say the words. He fears the moment she does, the spell will be broken.
She sits on the edge of the bed, sighing. “I know we don’t know each other well. Part of me feels like I should have my head examined for even being here. I mean, I’ve just agreed to marry you, and I don’t even know your last name.”
“Isabella Masen,” she repeats, wanting to hear how her new name will sound. “I kind of like it.” Then sensibility reclaims her. She runs a hand through her hair and groans, “Oh god!”
“What?” he asks.
“Kate said if I didn’t get laid soon, I’d go crazy. I chalked it up to her flair for the dramatic, but I think she’s right—I must be insane.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I know nothing about you.”
“You know what matters.”
“Maybe,” she concedes.
“You know what I am, and where I come from. That’s the worst of it; everything else is just details.”
“Lots and lots of details.”
“I’ll tell you whatever you’d like to know?”
“Why did you ask me to marry you?”
He doesn’t have to think about his answer. “I love the way I feel when I’m with you, and I believe in time, I’ll grow to love you. Is this strange to you?”
“A bit,” she admits.
“Then why did you say yes?”
She sighs, struggling to find the words. “I’m so tired of being alone, of wasting my life inside a casino. It’s like the rules of time and physics don’t apply. I don’t entirely understand it—how each shift lasts forever yet collectively I feel as if my life is getting away from me. Night, day—on the casino floor, it’s all the same. There’s no natural light or fresh air, so you never really know.”
“Artificial light is safe.”
“How so?” she asks.
“Unlike the sun, it lacks the power to burn.”
“It’s also mind-numbingly dull. Imagine living in a world without dawn or dusk—never seeing the sun rise over the ocean, never waking from its warmth on your skin. Or the beauty of a violet sky as day disappears? No beginning; no end. Just perpetual desperation.”
He moves across the room and sits beside her. “I know it all too well.”
“When I first starting working the casino floor, I’d pretend it was always twilight.”
“It used to be my favorite time. At the end of the day, it was easy to pretend the next one would be better. Until the sun comes up again and confirms nothing has changed, I can dream.”
“Now I know better.”
“I don’t dream anymore, either.” He lifts his shoulders in a small shrug. “I can’t even sleep.” He pushes a lock of hair from her shoulder and brushes his thumb across her cheek. “You don’t have to go back there. Once we’re married, what’s mine is yours. You won’t need the money. Besides, I’m not exactly fond of the idea of seedy casino patrons seeing my wife in her skivvies.”
She laughs, too thrilled by the prospect of not working at the casino to realize how chauvinistic he sounds.
“I wear less on the beach.”
“On the beach, it’s appropriate. I can’t give you the sun, but I can give you back your dreams.”
“In other words, you’re offering me the moon.”
She rests her head on his shoulders and squeezes his hand. “The moon is far less common.”
“But is it enough to compensate for the lack of sun?”
As is usually the case when she’s in his presence, she answers on impulse.
After all, when he was forthright about this part of himself, it didn’t seem to bother her.
As Bella sits on the commode, she takes in her surroundings. She’s not sure what bathrooms looked like in the early part of the twentieth century, but if she had to wager a guess, she imagines they looked like this one. Having completed her business, she looks to her side for toilet paper.
Of course, there isn’t any.
“Edward?” she calls.
For the briefest of moments, he panics. He’s not sure what he would do if Bella knew he was in the hall waiting to watch her bathe.
“Edward?” she repeats. “Can you hear me?”
Not wanting to her know what he was doing, he rises to his feet before answering her.
“Don’t open the door!” she yells, realizing his proximity. “I’m…indisposed.”
“Are you hurt?”
“No, nothing like that. Sorry to worry you. I just can’t find the toilet paper.”
“If there is any, it would be in the closet. I’m sorry.”
With her panties around her ankles and her dress around her waist, Bella hobbles across the room to the closet. There are stacks of neatly folded towels and various soaps and bath products. She lets out a small giggle.
“Is something funny?” he asks.
“Just my own stupidity. For a second there, I thought the contents of the closet would be old-school, and I’d be expected to wash with straight beef fat or something.”
He laughs. “Even I’ve never done that.”
“I don’t think you have any. I mean, there’s a roll of something in here, but the writing on the wrapper is really fancy, and it says it’s medicated. I’m not sure what that means. Anyway, could you do me a favor and bring my purse? I have tissues in there.”
He does as she asks, knocking softly on the bathroom door when he returns.
“I’m putting it right outside the door. Take your time and soak. Meanwhile, I’ll run to the store for some provisions. I’m sorry I was so ill-prepared; I hate the thought of you experiencing a moment’s discomfort in my home.”
“Don’t be silly. You’ve been living in Atlantic City, and we came here on a whim. Besides, I know how bachelors can be.”
It’s more of a vampire thing than a bachelor thing, but he doesn’t point this out to her. If she’s able to forget what he is, far be it from him to remind her.