“You told Edward what?”
Alice gave me a look that clearly indicated she thought I’d lost my mind. Jasper’s expression mirrored hers as they gaped at me across the school cafeteria table.
“I know, I know,” I groaned. “It was stupid. The dream was so vivid, though, that I started to wonder if it could be true---that Edward might have a side of him that none of us is aware of, including him.”
“We’re never unconscious,” Jasper gently reminded me. “I don’t see how it’s possible for Edward to be killing people and not remember it, unless he’s got some sort of split personality. I’ve never come across anything like that in almost 150 years of being a vampire, though. It’s highly unlikely.”
“But it’s also unlikely for a vampire to have so much memory loss,” Alice noted. “Usually the conversion heals any of our human ailments. Esme’s body was literally crushed when Carlisle found her, and Emmett had been mauled almost beyond recognition when Rosalie rescued him.”
“Maybe the mind is different,” I suggested. “I don’t even want to consider Edward being guilty, but the truth is, none of you have flushed out this other male vampire. Maybe you just didn’t see that it was Edward when you had the vision of Lauren,” I told Alice, though I was none too happy to say it out loud.
“I don’t know,” Alice mused, her forehead scrunched into a V. “It’s true that sometimes human memories are lost when you become a vampire. I don’t remember a thing about my time in the asylum, and that’s fine with me. If I was insane as a human, the conversion cured me. No comments from the peanut gallery,” she added as she shot a warning look to grinning Jasper. “Maybe it’s a blessing that Edward doesn’t remember what happened. Kind of like you, Bella, before your memories came back.”
“Ignorance isn’t always bliss,” I disagreed. “I’m glad I’m not in the dark anymore. And I think Edward would be better off if he knew how he got this way. As it is, I can tell that it kills him that I doubt him. But the thing is, I trust him completely either way. I know he would never turn on me or hurt me. I wish he would understand that,” I lamented. I looked at Alice and Jasper anxiously, hoping they could somehow reassure me and make the lead balloon in my stomach go away. Alice’s attempt was half-hearted at best.
“He just needs some time to digest everything,” she said. “Having you doubt him is probably the worst thing that could happen to him, Bella.” The look on my face must have been alarming, because she quickly added, “We’re going to figure this out, don’t worry. Something’s going to happen soon, I can feel it.” I wished she looked a little happier about that prediction. The tension emanating from her and Jasper was palpable despite their outwardly reassuring smiles.
“Well, I’m going to go see him tonight at Jake’s. Will he be there?” I asked them. Jasper nodded and replied that Edward was working every night this week since Emmett had covered for him all weekend. I was unhappy, though not surprised, at this news. I already missed Edward terribly, and it had been less than 24 hours since we parted. Watching him walk away from my door last night was like having a limb forcibly removed, he took so much of me with him. He tried to hide his hurt and disillusionment from me, but it showed in his watery blue-green eyes as he kissed me good-bye. I felt the pain as surely as if it were my own, especially since I was the one who had inflicted it upon him. I had to make him understand that it didn’t matter to me what he had or hadn’t done. I would never abandon or betray him.
I labored through the rest of the day at school, barely paying attention in any of my classes. Between the shock of the killings over the weekend and our upcoming Thanksgiving break, most of the kids seemed as distracted as I was. But my thoughts were consumed with nothing but my weekend with Edward. I felt completely changed in every way from the girl I was two days ago. He sparked emotions and desires within me that were more intense than I ever dreamed I was capable of feeling. He brought out things in me that no one else ever had, or could. I had never felt more alive than the moment that Edward and I came together on the couch, our bodies shuddering together in complete, unbridled passion. He made me feel all the things I read in romance novels…things I thought were impossible fantasies. He was my fantasy come to life. And who was ever lucky enough to experience such a thing?
I was. And I wasn’t about to let it go. I could feel Edward pulling away, and I couldn’t allow it to happen. As soon as I finished my shift at Newton’s and wolfed down some dinner at Charlie’s, I would go see Edward and convince him that my faith in him was unshakeable.
The two hours I spent at the sporting goods store were unremarkable and interminable. Newton’s was slow on a Monday, and I was working by myself for the next couple of nights, since Mike had filled in for me all weekend. I spent the time daydreaming of the day I first met Edward here--or at least, I had thought so at the time. I relished the memory of the first time I saw his face, smiling down at me from across a packing box; the first time I heard his velvety voice ask me if I was okay. It seemed so long ago, even though mere weeks had passed. I should have known from the moment I saw him that he would change my life forever; and in fact, he already had. I think, on some level, that I did know. Subconsciously, I had to have been aware that this being had already impacted my life completely, even if my conscious couldn’t yet connect the dots.
Charlie surprised me by having dinner on the stove when I got home from work. Of course, it was Hamburger Helper, but that was fine with me. I would have made something quick and easy myself. I couldn’t wait to head over to Jake’s and smooth things over with Edward.
Charlie, however, was in an uncharacteristically chatty mood. He asked again how my weekend at the Cullen house was, forcing me to blush and lie my way around my trip out of state. I did tell Charlie that Edward had gone to Iowa in search of some information about his family, hoping that would throw suspicion off of him concerning Lauren’s death. Charlie said the police still weren’t sure what to make of the recent rash of killings around the Olympia Forest, but had teams out patrolling, looking for a rabid wolf or bear as the culprit. I tried not to sound too relieved, and expressed concern for the victims’ families instead. Lauren’s memorial service was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, since school got out early for Thanksgiving break and students would be able to attend.
“Bells, about Thanksgiving,” Charlie began, his tone of voice making me instantly suspicious.
“Don’t worry, Dad, I can cook a turkey,” I informed him. “Mom never could get the hang of it. I’ve been doing it the past few years.”
“I’m sure you make a fine Thanksgiving dinner, honey. That’s not what I was getting at. Your mom called yesterday. She’d really like you to come spend Thanksgiving weekend with her and Phil in Jacksonville.”
My stomach dropped instantly. “But Dad, that would leave you here alone,” I protested. The truth was, the thought of being away from Edward for even a few days made my insides quiver uncomfortably.
“I’ll be fine, Bella,” Charlie assured me. “I’ve got plenty of work to keep me busy here for the weekend. And I have a standing invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner with the Blacks on the reservation---I’ve been doing that for years.” He sighed for a moment, and his eyes were troubled. “The truth is, I’d feel a lot better if you were away from here until we catch the thing that’s on the loose out there. I know the odds of it attacking the same person twice are slim, but….” he trailed off and shrugged. “I just think you ought to consider it. Your mom misses you.”
Wow, Renee must have really done a number on Charlie. I did feel guilty for neglecting to call and email her as often as I should. She had always been my best friend, but since I’d met Edward, I had confided in her less and less. It was just easier not having to explain too much about him to anyone. Omitting huge hunks of the truth felt like lies to me, and the less I was forced to do it, the better.
“Can I think about it, Dad?” I asked.
“Sure, Bells,” he agreed. “I’ve got the reservations booked for your flight, if you decide to go. But you can always cancel. I’d be happy to have you here, if that’s what you want.” He would never say it, but I was pretty sure Charlie would love to have me spend a holiday with him, since it had happened so seldom in the past few years.
“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll call Mom tonight and talk to her about it. But I need to go see Edward at Jake’s first, if that’s okay.”
“That’s fine. Just don’t be too late. It’s still a school night,” he reminded me.
I agreed that I wouldn’t stay out late, then helped him clean up the dishes before heading to my room to get ready. I brushed my teeth, ran a brush through my hair and slapped on some lip balm, wondering why I was so nervous to go see Edward. Edward, who had witnessed my bed-head and morning breath; who had examined every inch of me naked and dripping wet in the shower. What did it matter how I appeared now? And yet I still wanted to look my best for him, even though my best could never match his effortless beauty. He was out of my league in every way; and yet, he still wanted me. At least I hoped he did, after last night.
My nervousness only mounted as I drove to Jake’s, and I was nearly shaking when I pushed open the front door. I barely noticed the meager Monday night crowd, my eyes shooting straight to the bar. As soon as I caught a glimpse of Edward, my heart swelled and I breathed a sigh of relief. He still stunned me senseless every time I saw him after being away. He was filling a glass for a customer sitting across from him, but as soon as I walked in, his eyes shifted to mine. My scent was probably the first thing that alerted him to my presence. I still wondered how he managed to ignore the thirst that it probably caused him. I couldn’t blame him if he lost control at some point, and gave in to the craving for human blood. He was fighting his true nature at every turn. I didn’t know how he, or any of the Cullens, managed to continually ignore it.
His smile was wary as I approached, though he still looked mostly happy to see me. I sat on a lonely stool at the far end of the bar, and appreciated Edward’s lithe saunter as he came to meet me.
“I missed you,” he purred softly as he bent over, his face close to mine.
“I barely got through the day,” I answered truthfully, leaning toward him. He lowered his head to kiss my forehead; I moved my face up so that he found my lips instead. Our kiss was soft and languid, and he finally pulled away with a sigh, his sweet breath tantalizing my nose. I hated that we were in public right now, because every cell of my being wanted to do things with him that were appropriate only in private.
“How was school?” he questioned me, leaning on his elbows over the bar so that his face was at my level.
“Long. Boring. Pointless,” I sighed. “What did you do all day?”
His eyes were troubled. “Patrolled the woods. I caught a faint whiff of vampire scent, but never saw any signs of them. I wish they’d just come out in the open already and tell me what they want.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied, putting my hand on his arm. I loved the feel of the soft hair covering his impossibly smooth, hard skin. “I know you want to figure this out. So do I.” I took a deep breath, then began my apology. “Edward, about last night. I’m so sorry I suggested that you could be behind any of the killings. It was a crazy idea. I don’t know why I would believe a stupid dream I had, instead of believing you. Please… please, forgive me,” I begged.
He stood upright as I spoke, pulling away from me. “There’s nothing to forgive,” he said quietly. “You have every right not to trust me. Trust needs to be earned, and I lied to you for weeks. I can’t expect you to forget that in a few short days.”
I shook my head, dismayed at his thought process. “No, you don’t understand. I do trust you. I trust you with my life, I swear. Even if you had been guilty of killing someone, it wouldn’t matter to me. It would be completely understandable. It’s amazing to me that you’ve been able to avoid it so far, and that you managed to stop yourself before you killed me. You are stronger than anyone I’ve ever known. No one has a better heart and soul than you do.”
Edward snorted derisively and took another step back from me. “I don’t have a soul, Bella. And the only reason I have a heartbeat is because I stole it from you.”
“That’s not true. And even if it is, I don’t care. I’m glad you took it from me. I don’t want it without you anyway,” I said desperately.
Edward’s expression was pained. “I wish…” he began haltingly. “Sometimes I wish you didn’t love me,” he whispered. “You would be so much better off if you didn’t.”
“Stop it, Edward. You’re scaring me,” I replied, my voice trembling. “It’s too late to change everything that’s happened between us. I don’t regret anything with you…especially not this past weekend,” I said softly. “Please tell me you don’t, either.”
His crooked half-grin was bittersweet. “The past few days were the best thing that’s ever happened to me. You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I just wish I could return the favor.”
I sighed heavily in frustration. “You have, and then some. My life wasn’t so great before I met you, you know. It was like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ movie…all gray tones, no color, no excitement. You’re the person who made it all Technicolor and brought it to life. I could never go back to the way things were. I wouldn’t want to.”
Edward laughed a little at my analogy, but his face grew grim again. “I still think you don’t need the kind of excitement that involves vampires and near-death experiences, Bella. I wish you weren’t in the middle of this mess. I’m worried about you. I don’t know how well I can protect you.”
“Well, I’m not convinced I need your protection from anything, but you might get your wish, for a few days, anyway. My mom wants me to visit her in Florida this weekend for Thanksgiving,” I grumbled.
“Wow, is Thanksgiving this week already? I guess when you can’t eat, those kinds of holidays lose their significance,” he joked darkly. Then he grew serious. “Going to see your mom isn‘t a bad idea, you know. It might be better if you weren’t around when all of this goes down.”
“You sound just like Charlie,” I sighed dejectedly. “What’s ‘going down,’ anyway? Is there something you and Alice aren’t telling me?” I demanded worriedly.
“No, not really. That’s the problem. None of us can get a handle on what these nomads want. But Alice senses something’s happening soon, and I feel it too. She’s seen the female confronting me. We just don’t know when, how or why,” Edward murmured.
My eyes widened in shock. “Alice has seen you talking to her?” For some reason, a paroxysm of fear seized me. I knew that Edward was itching for a resolution to all of this, but I had a sick feeling that everything would change once he got his answers.
Edward nodded. “I don’t want you to worry, Bella. I can handle myself, you know. And if it comes down to a contest between one or two vampires and the entire Cullen clan, you know who’s going to win, right?” He reached out and gently stroked my cheek. “I think it’s a good idea for you to go to Florida for a few days. Maybe when you get back, everything will be resolved and you won’t have to worry anymore. At least, not about any vampires other than the Cullens.”
“Stop it,” I ordered. “I don’t want to leave. I’ll miss you too much.” I felt like a pouting child as I said it.
“Not half as much as I’ll miss you,” he claimed. “I don’t even remember a life without you at the center of it. I won’t know what to do with myself when you’re gone.”
I was about to reply when a sharp voice carried across the bar. “We need another pitcher over here!” barked a gruff baritone. We both looked over to see bar owner Billy Black and a couple of his buddies from the Quileute reservation seated near the pool tables.
“Well, I guess there’s my answer,” Edward told me with a smile. “I’ll work a lot while you’re away.” He strode off to fill a pitcher and take it to the table. Billy’s deep-set eyes settled on me, and he motioned for me to come over. I hopped off the bar stool and followed Edward to their table as he set a fresh pitcher down.
“Bella Swan!” Billy remarked, sticking out his hand in greeting. My hand was swallowed in his beefy dark one as he gave it a hearty shake. “It’s good to finally see you. Your dad has been a different man since you came to live with him. It’s done him a world of good, you being here,” he smiled. My face must have registered a little confusion, because he added, “You do remember me, right? Billy Black, an old friend of your dad’s. You used to play with my son on the reservation when you visited Forks as a kid.”
“Yeah, sure, I remember,” I told him, a vague recollection of gathering seashells with a long-haired native boy crossing my mind. “Jacob, right? So you named the bar after him,” I noted.
“That I did. My youngest, and my only son,” Billy beamed. “Why don’t you have a seat, Bella? I’d like to talk to you for a moment.”
“Sure,” I agreed, pulling out a chair. Billy and Edward exchanged an odd look, and Edward headed back to the bar. Like mine, Billy’s eyes followed Edward for a moment before he turned his wheelchair toward me.
“So you and this latest addition to the Cullen clan seem close,” he stated. His tone of voice was hard to read, but it sounded a bit disapproving.
“Yeah, we are,” I admitted cautiously. “I guess you could say we’re dating.”
Billy definitely looked a little perturbed by this. “How much do you know about the Cullens?” he asked after a long pause.
My heart fluttered nervously. “Well, they seem like good people. Carlisle saved my life, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that. They’ve been really good to me, and to Edward. He had no one when they took him in.”
Billy’s shrewd eyes narrowed. “Yes, they have proven to be an asset to Forks, so far,” he said in a tone that indicated it pained him to admit it. “Their clan caused some trouble for my people at one time, but that was long ago. Land disputes…that kind of thing,” he said, seeming to choose his words carefully. “A treaty was struck: they agreed to keep off of our lands, and we agreed to let them co-exist peacefully alongside us.” He paused again, reading my face. I wondered what he saw there. I felt mild panic growing inside. I had the feeling that Billy Black, and his people, knew exactly what the Cullens really were. Was he trying to figure out if I knew it too?
“So, that seems to be working out okay, then?” I asked timidly.
“So far, so good,” Billy replied. “But it seems like ever since Edward showed up, there have been a rash of murders around this area. It makes the Quileutes…nervous. And it makes me glad I sent Jacob away to school this year, though it pained me to do it. I was proud to have him to go school on the reservation, like my daughters did. But when the Cullens returned, I smelled trouble brewing. I didn’t want him involved in any skirmishes that might arise. It turns out I was right to send him away.”
I swallowed nervously. “You don’t think Edward’s responsible for the deaths, do you?” I asked. “Haven’t they proven that a human couldn’t have killed those people?”
Billy’s eyes bored knowingly into mine. “Yes, that’s exactly right, Bella. No human could have done this.” My heart thumped erratically in my chest. Billy knew, and Billy suspected the worst. Surely he wouldn’t say anything to Charlie, would he?
“You’re wrong about Edward,” I insisted feebly.
Billy studied me carefully. “Maybe,” he said at last. “I hope so. I just want you to be careful, Bella. You mean the world to your father, and he’s a good friend of mine. Don’t do anything foolish. Sometimes the heart leads the mind down an unwise path. Don’t let that happen to you.”
I let out a ragged breath. “You don’t need to worry, Billy. I’m leaving town for a few days, to go visit my mom. I think Dad’s going to take you up on your offer for Thanksgiving dinner.”
Billy looked slightly relieved. “That’s good news. Your dad will miss you, but I think it’s better this way, don’t you?” he asked pointedly.
I nodded slightly, beginning to feel like all of this was a conspiracy to get me out of the way this weekend before something horrible happened. But how was I supposed to stop worrying about Edward during my exile? My eyes drifted back to the bar, and I caught him staring at us before turning his attention back to his work. I knew he had heard our conversation with his preternatural ears, or through Billy’s thoughts. I excused myself from Billy and returned to the bar.
“He’s right, you know. You should follow your head instead of your heart,” Edward said glumly, pushing a soda toward me that he had poured when he saw me coming.
“Billy’s not right about you, Edward,” I argued, determined to make him understand that I trusted him no matter what. I took a sip of the soda, though I wasn’t thirsty.
“You sure about that?” Edward countered. I hated that I had made him doubt me, and worse yet, doubt himself. In truth, there was still a tiny part of me that wondered if Edward’s amnesia was actually a form of self-defense, keeping him from knowing what he was really capable of. I couldn’t entirely erase the idea that Edward might be guilty of killing Lauren and just didn’t know it. But, awful as I felt admitting it to myself, it simply didn’t matter to me whether or not he had done it. And I had to make Edward understand that.
I grabbed his hand and held it tightly. “I’m sure,” I insisted, my eyes entreating his. “I believe in you. I love you,” I concluded softly.
Edward smiled wanly. I could see that he remained unconvinced, and it made me want to scream. “I love you, too,” he replied, and at least that much I believed.
Before I could respond, another patron across the room called out to Edward for a refill.
“You should get home soon,” he advised, touching my face all-too briefly.
“I’ll come back tomorrow night. I want to see you before I go to Mom’s,” I said, a pang of regret in my voice at the thought of leaving him.
He nodded and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before turning to the array of beer taps behind the bar. I felt dismissed. I hated what was happening between us, and I didn’t know how to stop it.
I begrudgingly headed back to Charlie’s, knowing I needed to call Renee and make arrangements for the weekend. I tried to sound excited about the trip, but Mom knew me too well. I finally had to cave and tell her that Edward and I had hit a snag in our relationship. Even though I had to leave out most of the details, just admitting it to someone else made me feel a bit better. Renee had always been a better friend than mom, and if there was one thing she was good at, it was giving advice about boys. Like everyone else, she thought that getting away for a few days might help both Edward and me see things in a different light. I hoped she was right, because I could feel only dread at the thought of leaving.
I half-heartedly packed a few things before bed, wishing I could call Edward, but knowing he wouldn’t be able to talk anyway while he was at work. I slept fitfully that night, dreaming constantly of Edward, only to awake and find my room empty. The next morning I was tired and cranky. Tuesday felt like a repeat of Monday, only more depressing, knowing I would be in Florida by the next evening. Alice and Jasper tried to cheer me up at lunch, without much success. They were sure they would close in on the nomads soon, as Emmett and Rosalie had caught side of the woman this morning and pursued her north along the river until she once again swam away.
“Maybe you should stop the chase,” I suggested. “Maybe you should just let her come here and do whatever it is she wants to do. She might be trying to contact Edward or something. He seems to think they could be the ones who changed him…maybe it would be better to just let them come to us.”
Jasper and Alice hedged uneasily. “I suppose you’re right,” Alice finally conceded, though Jasper looked troubled.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” he said. “I’ve come across her type before…fast, sneaky, secretive. But you may be right; letting her accomplish what she came here for may be the only way to get some answers and rid Forks of her. I just don’t want her or her partner killing any other innocents in the process. That’s why we need to keep our guard up no matter what.”
“Well, you won’t need to worry about me, since I’ll be on the other side of the country,” I moped. “You might as well let this come to a head. But I’ll be scared to death for all of you while I’m gone.”
Jasper and Alice both laughed at that. “There’s seven of us and two of them, Bella,” Jasper reminded me. “You don’t need to worry about us. The truth is, it’ll be a relief to all of us, especially Edward, if we don’t have to worry about you getting caught in the crossfire.”
“I know,” I sighed. “But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Maybe we should call Emmett and Rosalie and tell them to come home,” Alice said to Jasper. “Bella may have a point. We might just be prolonging the inevitable by going on the offensive against the nomads.”
Jasper shrugged and begrudgingly agreed. “I always learned that the best defense is a good offense. But I’m willing to back off for a bit. At least here, we’re on our own turf.”
Alice called her siblings while I made a lackluster attempt at finishing my lunch. The knot of worry in my stomach was only growing. Like Jasper, I had a bad feeling about all of it, and I didn’t know how to quell it.
At least Newton’s was busier today, and my time spent there after school went by more quickly than the day before. It appeared some out-of-towners were arriving for the Thanksgiving holiday, and some of them seemed to be gearing up for a blustery weekend. I was selling all sorts of outdoor apparel for the colder weather settling in.
The last of the customers had finally filtered out of the store and I was excited to see that it was near closing time. I was anxious to see Edward tonight, and wondered if Charlie would be mad if I picked up some fast food and went straight to Jake’s instead of home for dinner. I realized he would probably like to spend some time with me before I left, so I decided to try to cultivate a little patience where seeing Edward was concerned. I had just started to close out the register when the bell signaled someone coming in the front door. I tried to hide my irritation and went to greet the customer with a smile.
A lithe figure strolled toward me, decked out in blue jeans, well-worn hiking boots, a thermal shirt and a funky fur coat hanging loosely over her shoulders. She wore a large pageboy hat pulled down low on her forehead, and her dark eyes shone starkly from her pale skin beneath it.
“Can I help you find something?” I asked her. “Some gloves or something?” I added, noting her bare, lily-white hands.
She appraised me coolly for a moment before speaking. “Sure,” she finally replied in a warm, husky voice, a crooked smile twisting her lips. “Gloves would be excellent. And I could probably use a more appropriate hat for the crappy weather around here, don’t you think?”
I let out a small laugh. “Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got tons of hats and gloves. You might want to get a warmer coat, too,” I told her as I led her over to the accessories.
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m pretty partial to this one. You could call it a souvenir. It has sentimental meaning.” She grinned widely, and the effect was slightly menacing. “I’m pretty used to the cold…it doesn’t bother me much.”
“I’ll never get used to the cold,” I muttered, still missing the warm Arizona sun. If it weren’t for Edward, I was sure I’d have entirely different feelings about living in Forks.
The woman laughed loudly as if I had said something particularly funny. “That’s rich!” she exclaimed. She perused the hats, finally picking up a navy wool cap and maneuvering in front of the full-length mirror. “You of all people ought to be used to cold, I would think. Maybe even relish it.”
I stared at her in surprise. What did she mean? She acted as if she knew me, and yet I was sure I had never seen her. Before I could formulate a reply, she pulled her hat off of her head and shook out the long mane of hair she’d had tucked up inside it. I watched in stunned horror as cascades of copper curls spilled down her back. Her black eyes shifted knowingly to mine for a moment, then back to the mirror. She pulled the knit hat over her kinky red hair, smashing it down on top. She made a face at her reflection and said, “This just doesn’t suit me at all, does it?” She laughed, a slightly sinister sound, and chills ran down my spine.
I continued to stare, dumbfounded, unable to reply. The redheaded vampire had finally dared to show her face…not to Edward, but to me. And I was the one who had called off the Cullens, allowing her to roam freely around Forks. God, Alice, please see her here…please come, my brain screamed.
“You’re awfully quiet,” the redhead complained. “Cat got your tongue…Bella?” She made a show of peering at my nametag before she pronounced my name, but something told me that she already knew exactly who I was.
“What do you want?” I whispered hoarsely. I coughed, trying to find my voice again. “It’s almost closing time.”
“What do I want?” she repeated, making it sound like a statement rather than a question. She turned and took a couple of steps toward me, and my entire body stiffened in fright. She smiled the crooked smile again, and it struck me that she was nearly Edward’s female counterpart: bronze-haired and pale-skinned, with a half-smile that spread slowly across her face. Except her smile wasn’t pleasant; her expression wasn’t gentle. Her eyes were like cold, hard lumps of coal peering out of her chalky face, and her crooked grin resembled a sneer.
“What do I want….” she mused again, eying me up and down. “I guess I want to know, why you? You look pretty ordinary to me. No offense.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I murmured, even though I guessed that she had to be speaking of Edward and his attraction to me. It was a question I’d asked myself a hundred times already.
“Don’t you?” she snorted. She stepped closer, leaning her face toward mine. My heart pounded loudly with growing panic, and I was sure her vampire ears were enthralled with the sound. “Edward Masen. Or whatever he’s calling himself nowadays.”
“What do you want with him?” I asked, partly because I desperately wanted to know, and partly because I was trying to buy more time. She was dangerously close. She could end my life in seconds. Alice…for the love of God….
She let out a laugh. “Everything,” she said simply.
Suddenly her head whipped toward the door, then back to me. “It seems we’re about to have company. Tell your friends I’m sorry I missed them. And tell Edward that his old friend Victoria will be coming to visit him soon. Very soon.”
And with that, she raced out the front door so fast that I barely saw the blur as she flew. I had scarcely caught my breath when the door burst back open and another blur approached, sending a wave of terror through me until it stopped before me, revealing itself as none other than Alice.
“Bella, are you okay?” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around me. My body shook with relief as I clutched her wiry frame, knowing that I was safe again. “She was here, wasn’t she? I can still smell her,” Alice grimaced, pulling away and examining me quickly. “She didn’t hurt you, did she?”
“No,” I breathed heavily, trying to gather my wits. “She just wanted to warn me that she’s going to go see Edward soon.”
Alice’s mouth dropped open and her eyes widened. “She mentioned him by name? So Edward was right…there is a connection. Or was.”
“Apparently,” I agreed, biting my lip. “She said she was an ‘old friend.’ But of course Edward doesn’t remember any old friends. I think she must have had a thing for him or something, because it sounded like she was trying to figure out why he was with me.”
Alice shot me an inquisitive look, so I repeated Victoria’s dialogue to her, word for word. I added that she didn’t look anything like the girl I’d seen in pictures with Edward at his house over the weekend. If she had been a part of his past, we had found no evidence of it.
“We need to go warn Edward, although he may have read my mind already,” Alice stated.
“Really? But we’re miles away from Jake’s,” I protested.
“I know, but we’ve been practicing zeroing in on each other’s brainwaves, if you want to call it that,” Alice said. “He’s getting pretty good at picking up my thoughts. We figured it would be to our advantage to try to communicate silently if we can.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” I replied. “But I still think we should go see Edward. I’ll call Charlie and tell him I’ll be late for dinner.”
“Good idea. And if Jasper catches up to her, we might have our answers sooner than we think,” Alice said hopefully.
“You mean he’s chasing after her right now?”
Alice nodded. “We saw her escaping when we pulled up. She got a pretty good head start, but Jasper’s fast. Not as fast as Edward, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.” She stopped and her eyes drifted, evidently focused on a picture in her brain. “She’s still in his sights, but he’s not any closer to her. We’ll see, I guess,” she sighed.
I quickly finished closing up Newton’s, looking around anxiously as I locked the door behind me. Alice reminded me that she’d know if Victoria was nearby. She made sure I got into Big Red safely and then followed me to Jake’s in the Volvo, while I called Charlie to let him know I’d be late. He had just arrived home himself, and asked me to pick up some fast food on the way back. I sighed and agreed, somewhat disappointed that my meeting with Edward would be brief. I really wanted to spend some time with him before I left.
When we walked through the door at Jake’s, we didn’t have to wonder if Edward had heard Alice’s thoughts. He was already halfway to the door, pulling me close in a bear hug before I could even say hello.
“Are you okay?” he whispered hoarsely into my ear, his hand smoothing my hair repeatedly as he rocked me gently in his arms.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I assured him. “She never laid a finger on me.”
“She won’t get a chance to,” he spat angrily. “If she comes anywhere near you again, I will end her. That’s a promise.”
I tried to suppress the tiny thrill that ran through me at his protectiveness. I never felt safer than when I was with Edward.
“So you don’t remember a thing about her?” I asked. “The name ‘Victoria’ doesn’t mean anything to you?”
Edward shook his head in frustration. “Not a thing. I’m glad she’s finally decided to show her face---I’m ready for some answers. But trying to send a message through you is already a huge strike against her, as far as I’m concerned.”
He turned to Alice, and answered the unspoken words in her head. “It doesn’t matter if Jasper catches her, though I appreciate the effort. I’m sure she’ll find me when she’s good and ready. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.”
Edward’s eyes shifted back to mine, and he stroked the sides of my face gently. “I’m glad you’re leaving tomorrow, Bella. I don’t want you here with this going on. I’m going to make sure one of us stays outside your house tonight, just to make sure this Victoria doesn’t come after you again. And maybe you can convince your dad to let one of us drive you to the airport tomorrow. I don’t want you left alone. It’s not safe.”
I nodded in agreement, though I couldn’t help murmuring, “I’ll miss you.” I hated the thought of leaving his arms, letting alone jetting across the country without him.
“I know,” he said quietly. “But it’s only a few days. It’ll fly by, you’ll see.” He kissed me tenderly, several baby kisses.
“I want to see you before I leave,” I whispered, hoping he would catch my meaning. I wanted to be alone with him desperately, even if all he did was hold me in his arms.
“Don’t worry, you will,” he replied, his cool breath in my ear sending the tingles I loved so much down my spine. I must have looked doubtful, because he added emphatically, “I promise.”
I nodded and slowly, reluctantly pulled away from him. “Charlie’s waiting for me to bring home dinner,” I sighed. “I should probably go.”
“Try to convince him to let Jazz and I take you to the airport tomorrow, okay?” Alice requested. “I agree with Edward; you shouldn’t be left unprotected.”
Edward thanked Alice, and I said I’d do my best to convince Charlie. Edward walked me out to my truck, peering nervously around for any signs of danger as I unlocked the heavy door and let it swing open.
“I’ll come see you in the morning before school, after Charlie leaves,” he said, leaning down and giving me a kiss. “And I’m calling the Cullens right now and sending one of them over to your house to watch over you. I won’t let anything happen to you or your dad.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “But I feel kind of guilty making all of you take turns babysitting outside our house all night. How boring for you.”
He chuckled and shook his head, nuzzling his nose against mine. “A few hours mean nothing to us. They pass in the blink of an eye.” He gave me a soft, lingering kiss. “I’ll see you before you know it.”
I nodded and got in the truck, starting its noisy, belching engine as Edward shut the door. He scowled and pointed at the lock, which I obediently pushed shut, though I wondered how that would keep any vampire out of the vehicle who really wanted to get in. I watched in the rearview mirror as he grew smaller and smaller; but he never went inside. He watched as I drove all the way down the street until I turned off toward Charlie’s.
I stopped by McDonald’s and picked up a burger for my dad and a chicken salad for myself, looking around nervously as I sat at the drive-through window. There were no signs of anything unusual going on in the sleepy town of Forks this frigid evening. Of course, I was sure that Lauren had thought the same thing last Thursday night. My head spun as I considered all that had happened in less than a week‘s time. It already seemed like a dream that I had followed Edward halfway across the country, stayed in his old house, slept with him in his bed and lost my virginity to him. The slight soreness that remained between my legs was the only reminder that all of it was real. I relished the memory of that exquisite blend of pleasure and pain I felt every time Edward pushed into me…that first stab of discomfort that somehow transformed to complete ecstasy by the time he was finished. He was right---it was the closest we would ever come to the union we had achieved when we were sharing our blood. In some ways, it was better. The feel of his body joined so wholly with mine was something I would never get over, or get enough of.
The drive-through attendant handed me a large greasy paper bag, snapping me out of my reverie. I drove back to Charlie’s and pulled up in the drive, only to see Rosalie, of all vampires, sitting on the steps outside.
“Hey,” I said sheepishly as I walked toward the door. “Thanks for doing this for us.”
Rosalie gave me a dull stare. “I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for Edward. Frankly, I don’t think you two are good for each other, and everything that’s happening right now just proves my point. But as long as he cares about you this much, then I care.”
I nodded, slightly embarrassed at how put-out she looked. “Well, I appreciate what you’re doing, either way. I’ll be gone tomorrow so you won’t have to worry about me for a few days.”
Rosalie just looked at me as I tiptoed around her and up to the door.
“Bella,” her voice sounded behind me. I turned and looked into her crystalline blue eyes. “I don’t dislike you, you know. I just don’t agree with the choice you’ve made. If I had had any say in what happened to me, this is not the life I would have chosen for myself. Do you understand that?”
I nodded again. “Edward told me a little about what happened to you…how you were turned,” I admitted. “I understand why you think I’m doing the wrong thing. But I can’t imagine my life without Edward in it. It’s too late to turn back now. I don’t want to.”
Rosalie sighed. “Just think carefully about what you’re giving up, Bella. That’s all I’m suggesting.” She looked at the McDonald’s bag in my hand and said, “You’d better go inside. I’m sure your father is hungry.”
“Thanks, Rosalie. For everything. It means a lot to me.”
She shrugged and settled back on the steps. “I kind of hope that bitch tries something. She doesn’t know who she’s messing with if she crosses me,” she said balefully.
I tried to imagine Rosalie and Victoria facing off against one another, and the thought gave me chills. I couldn’t decide who would come out on top in that contest. The thought of any of the Cullens being in danger, even Rosalie, made me queasy.
I pushed those thoughts aside long enough to ingest my salad and have a nice dinner with Charlie. I wondered how I would convince him to let the Cullens take me to Seattle the next day, and decided that playing up the positives would be my only hope.
“Hey, Dad, good news,” I began in an upbeat tone, hoping he’d fall for it. “Alice Cullen offered to drive me to the airport tomorrow so you won’t have to take time off from work and make a special trip.”
Charlie looked at me in surprise as he set down his Big Mac. “Well, that’s nice of her, but I don’t mind driving my baby girl to the airport. I think the station can live without me for an afternoon.”
Crap. I tried to regroup. “Oh, I know that. But we were going to try to go to at least part of Lauren’s memorial service first, then take off from there. I just figured you’d want to get some work done on these murder cases so you don’t have to work overtime during the holiday. You need a break, Dad,” I added earnestly. “I know you probably spent the whole weekend at the police station.”
He looked a little puzzled, but finally conceded. “Well, if that’s what you want, Bells. I suppose the drive to Seattle is more fun with your friends instead of your boring old dad.”
Oh, geezus. Guilt. “You know it’s not that, Dad. If it means that much to you, you can take me, it’s fine.”
Charlie shook his head and grumbled, “No, no, you can go with Alice. Just let me be the one to pick you up on Sunday, okay? It’ll be pretty quiet around here without you. Not that you make that much noise, but…I’m kind of used to having you around now.”
I smiled and replied, “I know what you mean, Dad. I like living here with you, too. And of course I want you to pick me up on Sunday. You have my flight itinerary, right?”
He answered that he had my flight schedule in his desk, and I’d better call him as soon as I arrived at Renee’s, or sooner if I ran into any trouble. I assured him I would, then excused myself to go and finish packing. I tried to do a little homework before bed, but concentration was impossible. I couldn’t stop reliving the moment that Victoria shook out her blazing red curls and gave me that goading look in the mirror. And the sound of her voice as she said Edward’s name…possessive, as if she owned him somehow. I was scared to death of her being anywhere near him, but knew that it was the only way for him to get to the bottom of the mysteries that had been plaguing him for nearly two months now.
I re-read my favorite novel, Wuthering Heights, as I lay in bed, vainly hoping for sleep to come. I didn’t remember losing consciousness, but I must have; for I awoke some time later in darkness, my bedside lamp shut off, my book on the bed stand. A delectable smell surrounded me…a scent I knew very well.
“Edward?” I murmured sleepily, reaching out for him instinctively even though I knew I must be dreaming.
“I’m here, Bella,” came his melodious voice, like whispering silk in my ear. I felt his unmistakably cool breath on my cheek. My searching arms found his rock-solid form next to me, lying on top of the bed covers. My eyes opened wide in surprise, and were greeted by his heavenly face close to mine, his eyes intense as he gazed down at me. He was propped up on one elbow, his head resting in his hand, his other arm encircling my waist.
“You’re really here,” I whispered in wonder.
He nodded and reached up to gently stroke my face. His expression was so serious that my first reaction was panic.
“Did something happen? Did Victoria come see you?”
His lip twitched a bit, and his eyes fell. “Everything’s fine, Bella. I don’t want you to worry.”
I stared at him for a moment, realizing that my panic was justified. “You didn’t answer my question. Something happened. Please tell me what’s going on.”
His face was twisted with poorly concealed anxiety, and pain filled his eyes. “You’re right. She did come to see me. But it’s not what we feared. There was never anything between us. She had a crush on me when I was human, that’s all. She wants something from me that I can never give her. It’s nothing for you to be concerned about, really.”
I gaped at him in disbelief. Was he really trying to convince me that Victoria had caused all this trouble over some unrequited crush? That didn’t even make sense. It had to be more than that.
“You’re lying,” I accused him flatly. He flinched slightly, and I knew that I was right. “You’re not telling me everything.”
He sighed heavily and his eyes pleaded with mine. “Please…there’s nothing for you to worry about. You know that I’ll do whatever it takes to protect you, don’t you?”
I searched his face and was devastated at what I saw there. I couldn’t believe that after all we’d just been though, he would purposely deceive me again; but I was positive he was doing just that right now. He was keeping something from me, and as I looked at his stricken but resolute face, my stomach sank. I sensed that no amount of begging would sway him.
I reached out and brushed his beautiful, stone-cold cheek with the tips of my fingers. “I know you’ll always protect me,” I agreed softly. “But at what cost?”
Even in the dark, I could see that Edward’s eyes were filling with the deep scarlet tears that had shocked me so thoroughly the first time I’d seen them. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, as if to blink them back.
“Please, Bella. I don’t want to talk about this.” His voice was broken, and the sound of it frightened me more than Victoria’s threats ever could. “Try to get some sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up, I promise. I plan to hold you just like this, the rest of the night.” His eyes closed and his arm tightened around me, and he buried his face in my neck, breathing in deeply. I knew he couldn’t sleep, yet his eyes remained closed, effectively ending our discussion.
“I wish you would trust me,“ I whispered anyway. I didn’t know why this always seemed to be the issue between us.
“It’s not about trust,“ Edward replied. After a moment of silence, I knew that this was all the answer I would receive. I sighed in resignation. I tried to calm my fears and concentrate on the feel of him in my arms, his soft bronze hair tickling my nose, his chest slowly rising and falling under my arm. I dozed fitfully for awhile, thrilled to find him holding me close every time I awoke. Finally dawn crept around the edges of the windows, and I gave up on the effort. Edward’s eyes were soft, blue pools in the early morning light, his long lashes unblinking as he gazed at me.
“I wish you’d always be here when I wake up,” I sighed.
“So do I.” His voice was like a ghost. It matched his haunted face. A chill ran through me, and I slowly pulled myself away from his embrace.
“I need to take a shower,” I explained. “Please don’t go anywhere.”
He shook his head. “I won’t.”
It took every ounce of will I had to leave him in my room and run next door to the bathroom long enough to bathe and brush my teeth. I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I’d better work fast or Edward would be gone.
I leapt quickly out into the hallway in my bathrobe and ran smack into Charlie, who was on his way to shower as well. “Meet you downstairs for breakfast,” he mumbled. I smiled with fake cheer, then groaned as soon as he was out of earshot.
Edward was sitting on the edge of the bed when I entered my room. He looked like a marble statue in the dull gray morning light; beautiful, unmoving, cold. His vacant stare dissipated as he caught sight of me, and a half-smile pulled at his stone lips.
“Charlie wants to have breakfast,” I sighed in vexation. “Please tell me you’ll stay until he leaves for work.” My eyes searched his hopefully.
“Of course,” he answered quietly. “Where else would I go?” He let out a small, mirthless laugh.
My brow furrowed worriedly. “I love you,” I reminded him quietly, leaning down and pressing my lips to his. His kiss in return was short, chaste.
It was all I could do to squelch the sick feeling that seized my stomach as I fixed Charlie eggs, bacon and toast for breakfast. I nearly put my fingers through the egg shells when a fit of trembling seized me. I had a horrible feeling that something had changed irrevocably between Edward and I, and it had everything to do with whatever had transpired between him and Victoria last night. I was afraid that Edward would never reveal the truth to me, and even more afraid of what that truth might be.
I faked my way admirably through breakfast with Charlie, talking and laughing in all the right spots. I agreed to call him immediately when I got to Jacksonville that evening, or sooner, if I still needed a ride to the airport. I assured him everything would be fine, even submitting to an awkward hug, as Charlie wasn’t the most physically demonstrative person in the world. As soon as I heard the police cruiser crunch through the gravel drive to the street, I bounded up the stairs and into my bedroom, then stopped short.
Edward hadn’t moved. The beautiful sculpture remained on the side of my bed exactly as I had left it, its impassive expression intact. I approached him slowly, suddenly afraid again. He looked up at me as I got closer, his eyes finally meeting mine.
“How was breakfast?” he asked mechanically.
“I have no idea. I couldn’t taste a thing.” My body began to quake. “You’re scaring me, Edward.”
His face twisted with sudden pain. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I don’t mean to. I don’t want you to be afraid of anything, especially not me. Never again.”
And with that, he pulled me to him, burying his face in my terry cloth robe. His hands were firm on my hips, rubbing the fabric gently up and down as he nuzzled my stomach. He held me this way for a prolonged moment, and my fingers threaded through his thick hair, massaging his scalp. The muscles on his neck were taut, and I could feel the tension seething within him. He let out a low, muffled cry into the terry cloth; a frustrated, desperate sound. Then he pulled on the sides of my robe, unraveling the loosely tied belt and letting the garment fall open. He kissed my naked stomach as he slid his hands underneath the robe and over my bare hips, squeezing them gently as he continued to moan softly, his breath tickling my belly. Then his lips and tongue were on me, roaming up and down my torso, tasting me, as his hands wandered freely everywhere they could touch. Goosebumps rose on every inch of my skin and I buried my fingers in his hair, then ran them down the hard muscles of his neck and shoulders.
He let out a guttural groan, and with one impossibly swift yet gentle move, he pushed me back on the bed, causing my robe to fall open completely. His eyes raked over me, burning with need, and he didn’t bother hiding his vampire speed as he pulled his clothes off and lowered himself over me. He nudged my thighs apart with one ivory knee; they opened freely for him, waiting for him. He pushed them open wide with his hips, rubbing his hardening cock up and down against the slick, wet flesh of my opening.
“You are all I’ve ever wanted, all I’ll ever want in this world,” he whispered, his eyes fierce and raw as he looked down into mine. “Know that, Bella. Never forget.”
And then he plunged inside me, pushing a loud cry out of my throat. I grasped his shoulders as he thrust inside me again, hanging on to him as his body pushed roughly against mine. I had always been cognizant of the fact that he held back with me; that he tried hard not to get too carried away and accidentally hurt me with his impossibly easy strength. I could see the effort on his face now, hear it in his strained moans as he pumped in and out of me. Yet every thrust felt impossibly deep and hard to my human form; each one made me gasp and moan at the intense sensations that vibrated through my very core. I had never wanted to be immortal as much as I did right now, so that he could make love to me with complete, fearless abandon. I wanted him to be able to lose himself in lust and simply fuck me senseless until we both came so hard that our bodies quaked uncontrollably from the passion. I would give anything to be able to take whatever he could give me.
He lowered himself so that his weight rested on his forearms, his body pressed against mine. The pressure of his hard belly pushing against mine on the outside, while his stiff cock rammed me on the inside, sparked the now-familiar fire that began spreading through my belly.
“God, Edward, yes,” was all I could manage to utter, my limbs wrapped tight around him as he pushed me to the brink.
His hands were in my hair, his eyes smoky with passion, as he began showering my face with kisses. “I love you, Bella. More than my life. You are all that matters,” he gasped. Then he pumped into me faster, sending me over the edge. I cried out mindlessly with pleasure as the orgasm shook me, my muscles squeezing his cock so hard that he groaned loudly, his eyes closing, his brows furrowed in ecstasy. And then I felt the glorious explosion of him coming inside me, his cries sounding almost like sobs as his body convulsed. His sweet breath cooled my face as his shallow panting slowly subsided. I reached up and ran my hands over his damp skin, kissing his face and neck. There was nothing like this moment…the peaceful calm that came over me right afterward. The nerves continued to twitch deep inside me, and on his member as well. It was as if the electrical charge between us continued to crackle and sputter after the violent surge had died down. There was no breaking the current between us anymore.
We said nothing for an immeasurable moment, simply gazing into each other’s eyes. I had lost all sense of time and place. There was nothing but Edward. Nothing else mattered.
He was the first to break the spell. His eyes drifted to the clock on my bed stand, and his velvet voice whispered, “You’d better get ready for school.”
To my dismay, he pulled himself away, got up and reached for the clothes that he’d tossed carelessly to the floor. I watched him dress quickly, stunned at how distant he suddenly felt. The thought of leaving him and going to school sickened me. Everything felt horribly wrong.
I reluctantly pulled my bathrobe closed as I got up from the bed and headed for the closet. I found a pair of clean jeans, then rifled through my dresser drawers for a sweater and clean underwear. Edward sat back down on the bed and watched me. He never took his eyes off of me as I dressed. The feel of them appraising me as I pulled on my clothes only made me want him to undress me and take me again.
“You’re beautiful,” he said simply as I straightened my sweater. I gazed at him for a moment, wishing I could read him better. The love in his eyes was nearly swallowed by the smooth mask of his expressionless features. I was suddenly, irrationally terrified that when I came back from Florida, he would be gone.
I brushed my still-damp hair into some semblance of a hair-do, knowing that I had no time to dry or style it. I made sure all my toiletries were in my suitcase before zipping it up, then put all of my school books into my backpack. I was hyper-aware of Edward’s penetrating stare on me the entire time.
When it was clear I was ready, he rose effortlessly from the bed, then helped me pull the sheets and covers straight. He picked up both my suitcase and backpack and carried them down the stairs with him, leaving me to simply grab my keys and lock the door behind us on the way out. He put my things in the back of the truck, then held his hand out for my keys.
“You’re driving?” I asked warily.
He grinned, revealing a glimpse of the Edward I knew and loved. “You want to get there on time, don’t you?”
“I don’t really care, actually,” I shrugged. “Just be gentle…Big Red isn’t used to going over 40 miles per hour.”
He laughed and held the passenger door open for me, then got behind the wheel and started the loudly protesting engine. “We have got to get you a more reliable set of wheels,” he sighed, sounding the most like himself that I’d heard him in the past 24 hours. I was encouraged by his words and his crooked grin, and felt myself relax a little as he gunned the motor and peeled out of the driveway like a maniac. For once, his crazy driving brought me relief instead of anxiety as he plowed through the streets of Forks to the high school. We arrived just as the first bell was ringing. Edward was out the door and handing me my backpack before I could get one foot on the ground.
“Wait for Alice and Jasper this afternoon, okay? I want them to follow you to the memorial service. Then they can take you home to drop off your truck,” Edward ordered. I wondered if it was normal, or advisable, to enjoy his bossiness so much.
I nodded obediently, then whispered, “I’ll miss you.”
Hid brow furrowed slightly. He nodded and said, “You’ll be late.”
My eyes fell when it looked as if he wasn’t even going to kiss me good-bye. I turned to leave, when I felt his hands on my face, turning it up to his. His mouth covered mine instantly, passionately; his kiss intense and longing. I responded in kind, thrilling to the contact as I always did.
And then he ended it as quickly as it began. “I love you,” he whispered. His eyes were pained, and I shivered again.
“I love you,” I answered. “Four days. That’s all. Four days.”
My assurance didn’t erase the tension from his face, and his crooked grin was half-hearted at best. Turning and walking away from him was the hardest thing I’d ever done. My feet felt like they were slogging through quicksand as I made my way to the school. I still felt his gaze on me, and when I got to the door of the building, I looked back. He hadn’t moved. He was still staring after me. The second bell rang and I jumped, then reached for the door. When I looked back, he had vanished.
The morning was endless; concentration impossible. Under any other circumstances, I would be excited to see Mom again. But my trip felt like a dark cloud hanging over my head instead of a nice respite from the craziness that my life had been the past week.
I met Alice and Jasper for lunch, half-heartedly downing a sandwich and chips. School was letting out shortly after the next period, and Alice thought we might have time to go to part of Lauren’s service at the church, though we’d have to leave by 2 p.m. to get to Seattle on time. Between my layovers and the time difference, it would actually be early Thursday morning when Renee and Phil picked me up from the airport. I hoped I would be able to get some sleep during the flights.
It was a relief when the bell signaled the end of biology. I headed immediately for my truck, planning to follow Alice and Jasper to the church. I opened the door and threw my backpack on the passenger seat, then climbed up into the cab. As soon as I shut the door, my neck was suddenly jerked sideways, and something that felt like cold steel clamped over my mouth. My muffled scream was cut short as the hand over my lips pressed tighter, and a voice whispered in my ear, “Make one more sound and I will kill you.”
My heart thrashed wildly in my chest and my eyes shifted to the right, trying to see the identity of my attacker. I looked down at blue-jean covered thighs and a dark blue coat, almost identical to Edward’s. But this most certainly wasn’t him. The legs were shorter, more thickly muscled. And the voice in my ear, though lilting like Edward’s, had a less elegant, more bland timbre. Almost an ordinary human sound. But I knew immediately that the being whose face hovered too close for me to get a clear look was not human.
“Now,” he began smoothly, calmly. “I am going to take my hand off of your mouth, and you are not going to scream. You are not going to breathe one word. If you do, I will kill you. Do you understand?”
I nodded quickly, understanding all too well. How could I have ever doubted Edward? Victoria wasn’t working alone. And seated next to me was, most assuredly, Lauren’s killer. I tried not to hyperventilate as his hand slowly dropped away from my mouth. I gasped and trembled violently, but remained silent.
“Good! Very good,” he complimented me in his unremarkable tone. “Your friends are coming; you need to stop them. I want you to roll down the window, smile, and tell them you’ll meet them at the church shortly. And you will be convincing, or you will be dead.”
Sure enough, Jasper and Alice appeared in my rearview mirror, headed for Big Red. My captor scooted down on the floor of the truck, grasping my knee firmly in his iron fist as a reminder of what he could do to me in seconds. I desperately tried to think of something to say that would ward them off. As they approached, I rolled down the window and tried to slow my breathing to a normal pace. One look at the black menacing eyes that peered up at me from the floor of my truck was enough to tell me that my life depended on this.
“Hey guys,” I called out the window, my voice sounding remarkably normal, even to my own traumatized ears. “I need to make a quick call to Charlie.” I grabbed my backpack, looking down at the vampire below as I fished for my cell phone. He seemed to comprehend what I was doing and gave me a quick nod. I waved the phone at Alice and Jasper, then said, “You guys go ahead to the church, I’ll be right behind you.” I noticed Mike getting in his car nearby and gestured toward him. “I’ll follow Mike.”
Jasper and Alice both frowned a little, so I opened my phone and made a show of dialing, though I pressed the Stop button before the call ever went through. I pretended to start a conversation with my father, while Alice and Jasper shrugged a little and Alice called, “Okay,” as they headed for their car. Please, Alice…why haven’t you seen what’s happening?, my frantic brain cried. If only Edward could read my thoughts. Why did my mind have to be closed to him when I needed him so desperately?
“Excellent,” the vampire said, lifting himself back up on the seat, but cowering low so that no one could see him through the truck windows. “Now I want you to follow all of these nice children to the church. Let your friends get quite a few cars ahead of you. But be sure to wave to them so they know everything’s fine.”
I somehow did as he instructed, wondering how long it would take before my heart combusted from sheer terror.
This vampire seemed to be able to do what Edward could not, for he remarked, “Honestly, Bella, you need to calm down. I have no intention of hurting you, as long as you cooperate.” Or maybe he could simply hear my heart beating a hundred miles a minute. It was probably quite tempting for him. I didn’t believe for one second that he wouldn’t hurt me, or worse.
We ended up in a caravan of student cars all heading for the same place. Most, if not all, of the school planned to pay their last respects to Lauren. The silver Volvo had already turned into the church drive and disappeared to the parking lot behind the house of worship when we pulled up.
“Keep driving,” he commanded. “We aren’t going to sainted Lauren’s funeral.” The vampire laughed sarcastically. “Though I doubt that’s breaking your heart any, now, is it?”
How did he seem to know all of us so well? Especially when we had barely caught a glimpse of him since he had arrived in Forks. I glanced at him again, trying to figure out if I’d ever seen him before. His dirty blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and his face was rather attractive, except for his dark eyes. They were as cold and uncaring as Victoria’s had been. He didn’t look at all familiar to me, except for the pale, preternatural beauty that characterized all vampires.
“Now turn again and get on the county road. We’re going to take a little hike through the woods together, Bella. How does that sound?”
Terrifying, I wanted to reply. But my vocal chords were rendered useless with fright as I turned the truck onto the same road I’d used as a shortcut the night Edward attacked me. We drove in silence for a few miles while I peered repeatedly into the rearview mirror for signs that Alice and Jasper had figured out what happened and were following us.
The vampire laughed after my umpteenth look. “They aren’t coming. At least, not yet. They don’t know where we are. By the time your friends realized they’d lost you, we were long gone.”
“How do you know?” I blurted, then nearly bit my tongue for questioning him.
He only appeared amused. “Experience,” he said simply. “I don’t have talents like they do. But I’ve lived a very long time, and I’ve encountered their kind before. Mystics, seers. Vampires with special gifts. But I have a gift of my own, you see,” he smiled smugly. “It’s very much like yours, in a way. But much more highly developed…more specific.”
He paused for a moment, as if waiting for me to ask him what his, our, gift was. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I wasn’t about to foolishly open my mouth again.
He sighed at my silence, then continued. “I can cloak myself from them very effectively, whenever I like. And I can let them see my actions, hear my thoughts, at will. I’m like a magician, really. Now you see me…now you don’t.” He laughed uproariously at his analogy, then sighed again. “You really don’t have much of a sense of humor, do you, Bella? God only knows what Edward sees in you. A weak, vulnerable human. You do smell delicious, I must admit. But I don’t quite get the appeal.”
“You’re not the only one,” I muttered under my breath, then bit my lip fearfully.
The vampire laughed again, evidently pleased. “You do have spirit, I’ll give you that! Maybe there is more to you than meets the eye,” he mused. He was silent a moment, then pointed off to the left. “See that little culvert? Pull off and park there. Behind the boulder,” he ordered. My heart began throbbing painfully again as I obeyed, realizing that this particular parking place would make my truck impossible to see from the road. I turned off the motor and waited, staring at my tennis shoes, feeling like I might faint. I had never fainted in my life. Apparently, I was not the fainting kind, or it would have happened long before now.
“Get out,” he said simply, exiting the vehicle and appearing outside my door in an instant. He gave me his hand in order to help me out, which I ignored. I would rather die than willingly touch him.
He only laughed at this, clearly amused by my weak attempts to rebuke him. “You’re going to have to get used to touching me, at least for a moment. I don’t intend to walk at your pace to where we’re going. You must hop on my back, and hang on tight. I need you in one piece.”
I wanted to sob out loud, I was so terrified of what he had in store for me, or worse yet, Edward. I could barely get my limbs to work as he knelt before me, urging me to piggyback him. He grasped my wrists firmly in his steel fists and pulled them tight around his neck as he stood up. “Now hang on,” he growled menacingly in warning. I squeezed my eyes shut as he took off, hating the way my stomach dropped as we picked up speed. If I had thought riding on Edward’s back was unpleasant, it was nothing to the fear that filled every fiber of my being as he raced at breakneck speed through the frigid forest.
My cheeks were numb with cold when he finally came to a stop and unceremoniously dropped me from his back. I very nearly fell over, I was so disoriented. If he was so observant, why had he not made better note of my perpetual clumsiness?
“Here we are,” the vampire announced, sweeping his hand grandly across the landscape. “Home, sweet home. Look familiar?”
I tried to slow my breathing and take in my surroundings. Of course it looked familiar. There, 50 feet away, was the deer stand. We were at Edward’s cabin.
The vampire looked at me expectantly, and I nodded slightly, a wave of nausea nearly pushing my lunch back up. Of course. It was a trap for Edward, and I was the bait.
“You should feel right at home here, Bella, in Edward’s old digs.” He took hold of my arm and began walking, pulling me along with him, toward the door. “Do you see how I’m looking out for you? I thought you would be more comfortable here than any other place I could find. Well, any other place out in the middle of nowhere. And I require a bit of…privacy?…to complete my mission. This will do quite nicely.”
He kicked open the door and pushed me inside the tiny room, then tossed me on the dilapidated cot. “Maybe you can even take a little nap here on the bed where Edward lay, trying in vain to get a bit of shut-eye. That was a heart-rending story he told you about his ordeal, wasn’t it? Of course, he left out the blood-sucking, vampire-who-almost-killed-you part,” he laughed with delight. “You can’t blame the boy. He’s a bright one, really. It’s a shame it had to come to this.”
I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that the demon before me had been lurking nearby during my hike with Edward in the woods. He had been spying on every little bit of our lives. What else had this sick, twisted voyeur seen? I shuddered at the thought.
“What do you want with Edward?” I finally rasped, finding my tongue.
The vampire gave me a wilting look, his lip curling with hatred. “He took something from me. I want it back. And I intend to get it.”
What could he be talking about? The only thing I could think of was….
“Victoria,” I said aloud.
The vampire smiled maliciously. “You’re smarter than I gave you credit for. I actually like you, Bella. That makes it harder to do what I have to do…but not impossible,” he added impishly.
I didn’t have to wait long to find out what he was talking about. He walked over to the cabinet, opened the door, and pulled out several chords of rope and a bandana. My heart began to pound violently again as he came toward me.
“Don’t worry, this is really just for show. I won’t hurt you. Didn’t I promise not to hurt you if you behaved?” he reminded me. He stopped and shrugged off the navy parka, tossing it across the room. “I don’t know how he wears that bulky thing,” he complained. “Not my style. But it worked nicely for framing him. At least, it was working until….” he trailed off in a tone of disgust and picked up the ropes.
“No,” I pleaded, half-sobbed, as he grabbed my hands and wound the rope around them, tying them securely together. He repeated the procedure around my ankles, and I couldn’t stop the tears that finally escaped my eyes and rolled down my cheeks.
He looked up at me and sighed. “I would say I’m sorry to have made you cry, Bella; but the truth is, this will be very effective. It’s just what I need. You see,” he explained as he gently pushed me back on the cot, “I need the visual to be as effective as possible. When Edward sees this, he’ll have no choice but to come rescue you.”
I sobbed outright as pushed my arms over my head, looped another chord through the rope around my wrists and tied it firmly to the iron frame of the cot. He moved to my feet and did the same, binding my ankles to the foot of the cot. I was trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, and the irony only made me cry harder.
“Shhh, it’s not the bad, is it?” the vampire cooed, smoothing my hair away from my tear-stained cheeks. I jerked my face away from him contemptuously. “Don’t worry, I won’t leave you here like this for long. I’ll be journeying to find your vampire lover momentarily. And oh, the thoughts I will reveal to him! He’ll be rushing to his damsel in distress before the sun sets, I’m quite certain.”
“Don’t hurt him,” I begged hoarsely. “I don’t care what you do to me. Just don’t hurt him.”
The vampire shook his head, looking a bit bemused. “How romantic! How very ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of you,” he grinned. “Lucky for you, I’m a real sucker for true love. If I weren’t, none of this would be happening.” He reached for the bandana that he’d laid on the side of the cot, and my sobbing began anew. “I won’t tie it too tight, I promise. But there are those pesky Forks police officers roaming around the forest, looking for clues about all the unfortunate murders that have been happening. So grisly. Dreadful, don’t you agree?” he smiled, then laughed dementedly. “Anyway, I have no choice but to silence you, for now. I can’t afford anything to interfere with my plans. I certainly wouldn‘t want to harm any of those fine officers of the law.” He gave me a pointed look, and I truly thought I might be ill.
He twisted the bandana into a tight spiral, and I began to shake uncontrollably.
“Trust me, this will hurt me as much as it will you. Honestly,” he said unconvincingly.
As he leaned toward me with the bandana, I blurted, “What is your name?” I wanted to know who the warped creature destroying my life was.
He pushed the bandana between my lips and drew the ends behind my head, lifting my skull as if it weighed nothing; then he tied the bandana securely at the back of my neck. The fabric instantly made my mouth feel dry.
He laid my head gently back on the mattress and stared at me a moment. “Just getting a good mental picture,” he explained. Then he got up and headed for the door, turning back to look at me one last time. “Trust me, it won’t be long.” He turned to leave, and then swung his head back around. “Oh…my name is James. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Isabella.”
And with that, he left and slammed the door behind him.
I sobbed loudly through my cotton gag, terrified at what would happen. Could all of this really be happening because of a raging case of jealousy? Edward would never agree to take up with Victoria. That was impossible.
And yet…he had acted so strangely earlier. First cold and distant, then desperate and needy. He looked at me like…like it was the last time he would ever see me.
No, it wasn’t possible. He would never leave me for Victoria. I had to believe the things he had said to me, the declarations of love. I had to trust him. If only he had trusted me enough to tell me the truth. I might have been able to figure out what was going on…maybe even warn him. And now he was walking right into a trap.
“Edward!” I screamed as loudly as I could, but the gag reduced it to a dull, muffled wail. Alice…you have to see. You know where I am. And then a wave of horror swept over me as I realized that she and Jasper had never followed me all the way to the cabin. They didn’t know exactly where I was. Only Edward did.
I strained at the ties that bound me, twisting my hands and reaching my fingers for the ends of the rope. I had to get out of here somehow and warn Edward. Never mind that I didn’t know where he was, or how to get to my truck. Maybe if I could free myself, I could find the trail and get back to Forks. I worked my hands against the ropes, to no avail. I wouldn’t give up, though. I refused to give up.
Alice. Edward. Please…see my thoughts. Read my mind. I tried to mentally open my mind; to send a message out into the ether. James said he could pick and choose which thoughts he revealed. He said I was like him. Well, here was my first test. Perhaps I could train my mind to obey me as he had.
I put every ounce of mental energy into finding Edward and Alice, and every ounce of physical energy into loosening the ties that bound my hands to the cot. Tears rolled down my face, and I angrily told myself that crying was a waste of time. My efforts were needed elsewhere.
Edward…be careful. Watch your back. Alice…find me. Find Edward. Bring all the Cullens. We need you.
And then, I added a prayer to God, or whatever higher power looked down upon me as I struggled.