Elysium by gothicfictionfan on FanFiction Chapter 1: First Day of School - Bella I can’t believe I’m doing this again.

Looking back nearly ten years ago to my first day of high school in Phoenix, it never would have occurred to me that I would willingly repeat even a single day of that torture. That was then. I’d say I’ve come a long way. I was waiting in the main office with members of my family while someone organized our schedules and paperwork. A woman named Bev Jeffries was attempting to sort her way through piles of disorganization so that she could direct us to our destinations. Our presence had not helped to expedite her search. She was unbelievably flustered and had been since the moment we breezed through the door. Not that I blamed her. Edward had walked slowly up to the desk and said, “Excuse me, Miss Jeffries? I believe you spoke to my father, Carlisle Cullen. We’re here to begin classes. Are we in the right place?” She had gawked at him for a solid twenty seconds before responding. One of the more disconcerting things about my transformation into a vampire almost six years ago has been the staring. Complete strangers would stop in shock to watch me as I pumped gas. As if our pale visages and shocking, amber-colored eyes weren’t enough reason, the transformation made each of us a heightened version of our human selves. The luster of my dark, reddish-brown hair had deepened, and my pale skin had a pearly luminescence. My features had been plain as a human; not unattractive, merely plain. I was now considered quite beautiful by their standards. It was embarrassing and difficult for me to adjust to even the most earnest admiration. My sister Alice was petite and elfin-looking. Her black hair was artfully arranged in gothic spikes all around her head, and her features were flawless and serene, albeit unsettling for humans to look at – Alice always had an ethereal, distracted look about her that had to do with her ability to see into the future. My other sister Rosalie was not happy to be here. Rosalie hated starting school again. Edward had assured me that her hatred would be mollified as soon as she could see firsthand the glances of admiration and envy that followed Rosalie the most out of any of us. Rosalie had been gorgeous as a human. As a result, she was breathtakingly beautiful as an immortal. Her long blond hair fell in soft curves down her back, and her features were an artist’s dream of perfection. Emmett, Rosalie’s significant other, never seemed to mind the lustful glances Rosalie inspired in others. It was probably because he knew that it would never be more than a look . . . Emmett’s brawn quickly quashed any guy’s half-hearted notion that he could successfully compete with Emmett for Rosalie’s affection, not to mention the fact that Rosalie sneered at any unwanted attention with unconcealed disdain. Emmett was heavily muscled, with dark curly hair and an impish grin set off by dimples. He was undoubtedly the brother who gave me the most hell, in a loving way. Emmett constantly tried to find ways to insight my ire. He leaned over towards me as we waited for Ms. Jeffries to find our schedules and whispered, “You planning on killing anyone today little sister?” He had spent the better part of the last week trying to make me even more nervous about going to high school again. Even though I had unparalleled self-control as a young vampire around humans, I was still nervous about drawing unnecessary attention to myself at school. Of course, grabbing some unsuspecting human and gnawing on their neck would be a sure way to garner negative attention. Heck, I would probably be expelled, I mused to myself with a nervous chuckle.

In a movement so quick that only we could discern it, Edward punched Emmett in the stomach. “There’s more where that came from if you don’t cut it out,” he snarled under his breath. I sighed as Rosalie demanded that both of them behave. I knew that Emmett wanted nothing more than to hit Edward back, but he learned decades ago the futility of that attempt. Edward was another vampire with gifts beyond the norm. He could read the mind of anyone around him, human or vampire – with only one known exception. If Emmett even considered hitting Edward, Edward would know when and where. It drove Emmett crazy, and he constantly called Edward a cheater as a result. Jasper, the love of Alice’s existence, sensed my consternation, and I immediately felt a wave of calm surround me. Jasper’s ability to manipulate the feelings of those around him definitely had its advantages. “Thanks Jazz,” I murmured. “Anytime,” he said as he absentmindedly ran his hand through his wavy blond hair. At that moment, Bev Jeffries came forward with a small handful of papers and a triumphant smile. “Okay! So I think I have everything now. Which one of you is Jasper Hale?” she queried with her southern drawl. She began passing out our schedules and maps of the school. “Well, I’m guessing you must be Edward,” she said as she handed him the last schedule in her hand. She stumbled over his name as she looked at him, and I immediately felt sympathetic. Edward’s tousled, bronze-colored hair framed a face that looked as though it were carved from marble. His jaw appeared chiselled, and the soft curve of his perfect halfsmile directed at Bev Jeffries sent her pulse running. “Thanks. I think we’re missing one though. Do you have a schedule for Isabella Swan?” After much consideration, I had decided that it made more sense for me to use my maiden name in our new home of Brevard, North Carolina. My family had lived in the area around Appalachia sometime in the 1930s, and this was our first return to it since then. We settled in Brevard because of its seclusion and proximity to the forest – which contained our chosen source of nourishment. The guys had howled with laughter at the fact that Brevard lies in Transylvania County in North Carolina. Even I had a good laugh about it. Since it was weird enough that the six new kids at Brevard High were all perfectly matched with one another AND lived in the same home, I decided that a presumably unmarried couple with the same last name might look a little weird. I didn’t think it was legal for supposed 16-year-olds to be married anyway. Edward had been disappointed, but he made up for it by calling me Mrs. Cullen any chance he had at home. “Oh dear. I was so sure I had them all. Why don’t the rest of you go ahead to your homerooms, and Isabella can wait here while I try to find her paperwork in this mess,” Ms. Jeffries said to us all. “Perhaps I can help, Ms. Jeffries,” Edward said smoothly. “Bella is supposed to be in all of the same classes as me, so maybe she could just copy my schedule?” “Well either way I have to get her a printed schedule to show her teachers. Let me make a copy of yours just in case Edward. The rest of you run along to class,” Ms. Jeffries said as she distractedly grabbed his schedule and turned to the photocopier. She had totally missed Edward’s blatant manipulation. He triumphantly looked at me and winked. I smiled back at him, remembering how he had deftly tricked poor Mrs. Cope at Forks High into arranging identical schedules for both of us. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“Here’s your schedule Edward. Go ahead. Bella will join you shortly once I’ve sorted through this mess,” Ms. Jeffries said. Edward gave her another grin that sent her pulse quickening and said, “Thanks so much for all your help. See you soon Bella.” He left with a wink and a smouldering smile. Chapter 2: First Day of School – Edward “I swear Emmett if you don’t stop making her feel unsure of herself I’ll make you sorry later,” I murmured to my favorite brother as we walked out of the office and towards our respective homerooms. I’m just playing Edward. It’s not like she’s going to do anything wrong. Bella NEVER does anything wrong. She’s not a hell-raiser like Nessie. It’s just fun to see her get selfconscious. Emmett’s thoughts were amused and completely unafraid of me. “All the same, you’ve been warned,” I whispered. Whatever. You overreact all the time man. Just chill and enjoy freaking the masses out today. I smiled in spite of myself. The bell for homeroom rang. You really wreaked havoc on that poor Jeffries lady Edward. Jasper chuckled to himself as he remembered her pulse quickening. I looked back over my shoulder for Bella and frowned when I didn’t see her. “Edward she’s going to be fine! You’ll see her soon,” Alice stated aloud. Really she will be fine. She’s just sitting there with an uncomfortable look on her face while Ms. Jeffries puts her schedule into the computer. Trust me. What is she wearing by the way!? God that girl is hopeless. What’s with the flats . . . and that shirt . . . I began to drown out Alice’s internal discord with Bella’s perceived lack of fashion sense as the thoughts of the students began to crowd my mind. We had walked into the hall where all the lockers were. Jasper, Rosalie, and Emmett were moving down toward the senior lockers. I half-listened to their reactions to us. “Wow.” “That blonde girl is hot.” “Where did that dark-haired girl get those shoes?” “That guy looks big. I wonder if he plays football.” “Why are they all so pale?” “Holy crap, that guy is GORGEOUS.” “They look a little weird.” “I wonder if he’s single” . . . Nothing original. I looked around for the room numbers until I found the right one. “Do we have any classes together Alice?” I said to her before I walked in. “We have English together, third period,” she said as she waited with me by the door of my homeroom for Bella. “Go ahead to class Alice. You don’t want to be late on the first day.” Ha! I’ll see you soon. So far Bella’s first day looks really uneventful, so don’t worry too much. I smiled and walked into homeroom.

There were two empty seats available in the room, and I opted for the seat in the back of the class. As I walked down the rows to the desk, I was inundated again by more banalities. “Wow, that guy has got to be the hottest guy I’ve ever seen.” “Whoa, check out his jacket!” “Damn, all the girls are staring at him.” “I guess Nate’s finally gonna have some competition.” “Here’s hoping he doesn’t already have a girlfriend!” . . . “Hmmm. He sure looks full of himself – it should be fun to take him down a bit.” As I took my seat, I turned to focus in on the last set of rather vitriolic thoughts. They belonged to a pompous looking boy sitting in the front next to the other empty seat. I frowned as I looked directly at him. His mind was filled with self-congratulatory musings. The boy appeared to shave his head regularly and entirely. He had a short stubble of dark hair all across his scalp and thick dark eyebrows over large, light blue eyes. His face was angular with a hawk-like appearance. His skin was tanned and clear, and he appeared to be around my height and well muscled. He was very aware of the fact that he was handsome and that eyes followed his movements appreciatively. None of this was overly noteworthy to me, but there was something sinister to him that troubled my instincts, as if I were missing something very integral about him. I focused more on his thoughts as I continued to look at him. Feeling my gaze, he shifted in his chair to focus on me. Most humans look at us for a brief period of time before their mind attempts to protect itself from dealing with reality by looking away. Denial is always safer for the human mind. This boy stared unabashedly back at me with a nasty smirk. This guy is interesting. I’ll bet he was something special wherever he came from. It doesn’t matter. He’s on my turf now. Look at him sizing me up! He’s definitely got the chicks looking. It won’t matter though. There’s something weird about him. I’ll go introduce myself later and make sure he understands how this works. I’ll bet Colin gets a good laugh out of this. Dude looks like a freak. His gaze broke away from mine as the teacher stood in the front of the room to call roll. Again, I could not shake off this strange feeling of menace as I pulled myself out of the boy’s thoughts. “Edward Cullen,” the bored teacher chimed out. “Here,” I responded with equal enthusiasm. I began matching names to faces in a pointless attempt to pass the time. When the teacher called out “Nathan McFadden,” I saw the dark haired boy in the front raise his hand wordlessly. “Mr. McFadden,” the teacher stated in an unctuous attempt to curry favor with the boy, “I hear that our football team may have its best season ever. What do you think?” Nathan responded arrogantly by saying, “It depends on how well my arm throws and how well Colin fetches.” There were chuckles around the room and a smattering of girlish giggles. Damn. I already hated this boy and not even five minutes had passed since I met him.

At that moment, my entire being settled, and I felt as though none of the trivialities of the last few minutes mattered. Standing in the doorway with an adorable look of embarrassment on her face was my Bella. If she could have blushed, she would be beet red right now, I thought to myself as I chuckled under my breath. As it was, she walked silently up to the teacher and handed her schedule to him. “Isabella Swan? Take the empty seat in the front.” I smiled at her as she looked back at me mortified. She was dressed in straight-legged jeans, a simple black button-down shirt, and black flats. Alice harassed her weekly about wearing heels, but it was Bella’s quiet rebellion that she continued to collect flats. Her clothes were as expensive and tailored as any of ours, but Bella never looked like she tried as hard as Alice wanted her to. On her ring finger was my mother’s diamond ring. It had given me unspeakable pleasure that she continued to wear it even though we were technically unmarried “kids” again. I watched as she slid gracefully into her chair. The curve of her body distracted me for a moment as I ran through inappropriate memories that made me long to be anywhere but in a classroom full of children. I thought for a moment about skipping the next class with Bella. My mind crashed back down to earth as it processed the thoughts of Nathan McFadden – the boy sitting next to her. Jackpot. This girl is the finest thing I’ve seen in a while. I think she might even be better looking than Sabrina. I think I’m over my blond phase anyway. Damn she smells good. Today just got a heck of a lot better. I’ll give myself a month. If I don’t score with her in a month, I’ve lost my touch. She can be lucky number 25. Rage filled my head as his thoughts became more and more obscene, and his entire body language screamed his desire to possess. Of course, Bella was completely oblivious. She was staring down and doodling on a notebook she placed on her desk while the teacher continued to call roll. “Hi. I’m Nate McFadden. Are you enjoying your first day here?” It took every ounce of my self-control not to leap out of my seat and slam him into the wall for even talking to her. “Bella Swan. It’s too early to tell if I’m enjoying my first day,” she said with a polite smile. She’s a bit of a smartass, but she’s hot so I’ll let it go. “Where did you move from?” “Alaska, near Denali.” Alaska? That’s probably why she’s so pale. “Well, I hope you like the weather here more. Have you been to Asheville yet? There’s a really pretty view at the Grove Park Inn of the mountains. I’ll take you there this weekend.” He was so cocky, so sure of himself. He didn’t even think he had to ask her. If I hated him before, it paled next to the scenarios running through my head at the moment – all of them ending in his death. Bella immediately seemed to understand why he had gone out of his way to speak to her. She snapped out of her polite but disinterested demeanor and looked at him straight in the eyes. “I’ve been there before with my boyfriend.”

Boyfriend? Not a big deal. I might give myself another two weeks to lose the baggage. “But you haven’t been with me. Come on! It’s not like a date or anything. It’s just me showing you the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.” If you want me to show you a hotel room, that’s also possible too. “No thank you, but it’s kind of you to offer.” Her face and body language indicated that she was completely disinterested, but Nate did not seem to notice or care. “Some other time then,” he said, quite sure of himself. I wonder if her boyfriend gave her that rock on her left hand. I wonder if it’s one of those stupid promise rings. Man I love a challenge. This day just gets better and better. At that moment, the bell for first period rang. I leapt out of my seat and had to mentally caution myself to walk up the aisle at a human pace. Bella was waiting with a big smile on her face. Wonder what the pale freak is doing up here. Probably after the new girl. I guess I’ll have to stake my claim on Bella Swan right now. He reached over to pick up Bella’s books. As I stopped next to her, I shot Nate a dark look, put my hand out to collect her textbook from him and said, “I’m Edward Cullen, Bella’s boyfriend.” Hmmm. This just got even more interesting. This guy was annoying before, now he’s got something I want. Again, not a big deal. I still give myself six weeks. “Nate McFadden. Hope you like it here.” Not likely. I’ll make sure you don’t like it here. The feeling of menace overwhelmed me again. Like he was mentally trying to scare me into letting him have his way. It was very unnerving if ineffectual, and I could not really remember feeling this sensation any time in the past. He handed me her books, turned, and walked out of the room with the smirk of a man who thinks he has a sure-fire bet. “Edward? Why do you look so furious? Calm down! He’s just a jerk. I know he asked me out, but it’s not that big a deal! Jeez!” Bella said quietly to me as we began to walk to our next class. My murderous rage was only beginning to dissipate. “Bella it’s not just about him asking you out. There’s something off about him that I can’t put my finger on. Plus, he’s a collector. He numbers his conquests, and he’s decided that you’re next.” “Oh please. It’s just ridiculous to let this affect you so much. Jazz and Em probably have to deal with this because of Rose and Alice all the time. You don’t see them getting all bent out of shape because a guy asked out their girl!” I set my jaw and frowned at her. Her eyes pleaded with me to calm down, and she reached up and put her hand on my face. Her touch was like a soothing balm to my burning nerves. I closed my eyes and let out a deep breath. “I’m screwing this up for you. I’ll calm down. I know it’s not a big deal. I just hate having to listen to his thoughts when his thoughts are so offensive to me. At least with Jacob, he worshipped the ground you walked on. This guy only cares about himself. I’m sure he’s devastated quite a few of the girls at this school.” “I’m going to throw you into anger management if you don’t smile this second and promise to stop looking at everyone like you’re about to pitch them into a fire,” she teased me as she took my hand. I smiled a crooked smile, but my anger wasn’t totally gone. “Do you ever get used to the staring?” she asked quietly.

“It gets better once they realize that there is no drama or anything remotely interesting about us beyond our odd appearance. It just takes time.” “Well hopefully it doesn’t take long. You know how much I love it when people look at me. Anyway I already feel like I can’t wait for the day to end. I miss Nessie. Do you think her first day is going well? I hope she likes school, even though I’m sure she’ll get bored with it soon.” I laughed under my breath at the thought of our headstrong daughter and her short attention span. Renesmee, or Nessie, as we liked to call her, was starting as a junior at an all-girls private school near Asheville, the neighboring city. Nessie was a voracious learner, but her highly developed ability to process information meant that it took her a fraction of the time to learn something that it took normal humans. As a child, she insisted on being read classic literature and poetry, and she disdained the colorful children’s books with big pictures splashed across the pages as insulting and beneath her. I was disgustingly proud of her, even though she gave me weekly aneurysms. Nessie was fearless and opinionated. She loved to drive fast and had a great passion for music (which I loved) and obsessions with Harley Davidson motorcycles and extreme sports – two hobbies cultivated greatly by Jacob Black. Jacob . . . I gritted my teeth as I thought about him. It was impossible not to love him like a brother, but our relationship was about to get even more complicated with the coming weeks and Nessie’s impending birthday. His paranoid attempts to cloak his thoughts from me were becoming more and more pronounced each time I was around him. I groaned inwardly at the thought of the conversation we would have to have in only a few short days. Bella sometimes could not believe that Renesmee was her daughter. Every instance where Bella shied away from attention and was quietly at peace in her home surrounded by her family was juxtaposed alongside Nessie’s gregarious personality and her quest for the next adrenaline rush. Nessie’s recent obsession was tae kwon do – Korean martial arts. She had spent the better part of the last month watching online tutorials and practicing in the back yard. Bella had demanded that she keep the thunderous cracks of wood and stone to a minimum before someone sent a sheriff to our home to make sure we weren’t operating heavy machinery in our backyard. I chuckled to myself again as I considered our beautiful troublemaker and sighed with the knowledge that I would have to wait until the end of the day to make sure that Nessie was still allowed to come back to school tomorrow. Alice could not see Nessie’s future because Nessie was a hybrid – half human and half vampire. As we walked into third period English, I immediately saw the look of irritation on Alice’s face. She had saved us two seats in the back of the classroom. So I met a friend of yours last period. What a tool. He and his cousin Colin spent most of the class dishing about Bella in a completely crude way. Nathan thinks he can take you, no question. Ha. I’d like to see him try . . . There’s something off about him Edward. It’s not something I can quite place. It’s weird . . . almost like smelling something bad, but in your mind, not physically. I hate to tell you this, since you always take everything so lightly when it comes to Bella, but he’s going to cause problems at lunch. “Hey babe!” Alice said to Bella as we took our seats. “How’s the day so far? You haven’t encountered your cantante yet right?” she teased.

“Ugh. Thanks Alice. Honestly, I think Edward’s temper might be an issue long before I do anything wrong. You should have seen him nearly bite this guy’s head off in homeroom,” Bella rolled her eyes at Alice to accentuate my overreaction. McFadden? I nodded imperceptibly. “That kid could use some humility. I had my last class with him, and there was this cute blonde girl who looked as though she were about to cry as she listened to him plot how he was going to steal you away from Edward,” Alice said through her teeth. “Ha! He’s in for a rude awakening,” Bella said as she inclined her head towards me with a smile. “In more ways than one,” I agreed in a voice so low only we could hear. After Alice’s warning, my attention was directed towards lunch and whatever scene Nathan decided to make in our presence. I had heard in the minds of other male students in the junior class that Nate McFadden had already called dibs on the new girl, Isabella Swan. A few of the other boys had been disappointed, but they understood the way the system worked. I gritted my teeth even more at the notion that this one human boy could manipulate those around him so deftly as to render their individual desires moot in light of his. I knew that I was quickly becoming too concerned with this silly boy’s ego, but I could not shake the maleficent sense of foreboding from my mind. I began to collect more information from the minds of other students in class regarding Nate. Most of them had gone to school together since they were children. Nate was a gifted athlete and near the top of the class. He had run through every attractive girl at the high school and there were many boys who were bitter at the way he conquered and disposed of women. He especially liked the challenge of a girl with a prior attachment to another boy. None of those eventual castaways had the nerve to take out their grievances on Nate. He was popular, powerful, and rich . . . as I learned from the mind of another boy who was mentally envying Nate’s black Corvette. His best friend was his cousin, Colin McFadden – an enabling lackey of the worst sort. As we walked outside of our third period English class, I noticed in my peripheral vision that Nate was looking at us from down the hall surrounded by a bunch of athletic looking boys and several young girls with pointedly adoring gazes. I was looking at him with extreme displeasure when I heard Bella laugh quietly and put her arms around my neck. She stood on her tiptoes and whispered in my ear, “Edward Cullen. It’s not cute if your jealousy makes you notice him more than you notice me. Who cares? It’s not possible for a bird to fly with only one wing. We’re inseparable . . . no silly boy will change that or even slightly impact it. STOP IT. You’re feeding his obsession.” She kissed my neck lightly and then positioned her face upwards for a kiss. I smiled a little at Nate’s sudden irritation, and then leaned down to kiss my wife. Damn. Too bad we were still surrounded by children. “What’s going down at lunch Alice?” I said as we waited outside the cafeteria for Rosalie, Jasper, and Emmett after fourth period. “I’m not sure. He’s looking for a window of opportunity. He mostly wants to show Bella how much better her situation would be if she were with him. He wants her to know he’s a catch, and that he’s desirable. It’s honestly insulting how he truly thinks that secure, happy women

will be fooled by him into thinking they will be better off as another notch on his belt. I’m more amazed by the fact that it has worked for him before.” “This is really ridiculous. Have you not had to deal with this sort of stuff before?” asked Bella. “Honestly Bells, no. Lots of guys are interested in Rose at first, but she’s so mean to them and Emmett is just plain scary, so it’s never more than a fleeting hope. No guy like Nate has ever decided that they were going to create a sport of going after either Rose or myself. I’m too weird and Rose is too cold. Unfortunately, you give off that perfect mix of vulnerable and unaware. No offense. Boys like Nate like girls who don’t put up a fight,” Alice said, and then she laughed to herself. “The funny thing is, you definitely epitomize the phrase “looks can be deceiving.” “It doesn’t matter. He’ll give up his game soon. If he wants to keep strutting around school with that swagger, he’ll give up TODAY. I have no problem putting him in his place,” I said quietly. I had established control over myself in the period before lunch. Bella was right. This was merely an insulting nuisance. I needed to deal with it quickly before my obsessive personality made it worse than the small annoyance it currently was. Jasper walked right up to Alice and grinned with that visible sense of peace that pervaded him in her presence. Emmett and Rosalie walked up hand in hand. “You made it to lunch Bella! Have you been holding your breath all day in fear? I hear that you’ve caught the eye of some stupid boy in the junior class. Is he still alive or did Edward step out back for a few moments?” Emmett laughed as Rosalie frowned. Rose still did not like it when attention was diverted away from her, even if it was unwanted attention. “Don’t worry Rosalie,” I said smoothly, “Most of the boys in this school would give their right arm to take Emmett’s place. They’re just too scared of him. Plus, you’re not very nice to them either.” “Well Bella,” Rosalie mused as we began to walk towards the lunch line, “Maybe you should stop being nice and start making them realize that they will never be worthy. It works for me.” Laughter rang through my family as we took our place in line. I put my hand on the back of Bella’s neck to massage away the tension I sensed in her. She put her arm around my waist and squeezed to let me know that she appreciated it. As we all loaded up trays of food we had no intention of eating, a boy in line in front of us turned around to look at me sadly. Well. I feel bad for Edward Cullen. He looks really happy right now. It’s too bad Nate’s about to ruin it. I probably looked like that last year with Brina. I wish I could tell him not to give up. I guess I could be okay with it if I thought Brina were happy – she’s not happy anymore. I hate Nate McFadden. He’s such a cabron. That Bella girl is really pretty. She kind of looks like a model. No wonder Nate’s after her. It’s really too bad. I felt the anger rise up in me again at the heartache in this poor boy for a girl he clearly cared deeply for. A girl that Nate had discarded like yesterday’s trash. I kept the fury at bay by looking at Bella. I knew that there was no way I would lose Bella like this boy had lost Brina, but it didn’t change the fact that boys like Nate should not be allowed to go through life with this sense of self-entitlement. We walked towards an empty table in the back of the cafeteria. Jasper turned his chair around to lean over the back absentmindedly. Alice leaned her head on his shoulder and toyed nonchalantly with an apple. Em and Rose sat down next to each other, and I pulled

Bella into my lap and placed my hands on her waist. She leaned into me and opened up her book. She had started Husseini’s The Kite Runner last night with Nessie, and I had walked in on both of them curled up in a ball on our bed. I had burst into laughter at the sight because Nessie was crying profusely and Bella claimed that the book nearly drove her to the physiologically impossible feat of tears. Nessie had refused to read anymore for a few days, but Bella the obsessive bookworm could not put it down. Distracted by my memories, I did not hear Alice warn me with her mind nor notice that the sad boy with the kind thoughts had approached our table. “Hi,” he said bravely, “I’m really sorry to bother you. My name is Alex Morales. I was wondering if I could talk to Edward for a moment.” “Sure Alex,” I lifted Bella off of my lap and looked at the surprised faces of my family before following Alex to a corner of the lunchroom. Man I hope he doesn’t think I’m a freak for coming up to him, but he looks like a confident guy. Maybe he can put the cabron in his proper place. “I know that this is totally random, but I wanted to warn you that Nate McFadden wants Bella. Not as a girlfriend, but as a bragging right,” he grimaced as he said the words. I heard all of the painful things in his mind that he had heard about his Brina through the conduit of Nate’s unabashed braggadocio. “Thanks so much Alex for coming and telling me. I figured out as much pretty quickly, but I’m not too worried. Bella and I have been together for a while. He’s not her type at all.” “Yeah. That’s exactly what I thought. But . . . Man he’s gonna think I’m a freak for saying this . . . there’s something about Nate. Sabrina and I had dated for almost a year, and I knew that she and I really had something. Towards the end of last year, she got contacts and started looking more attractive to a guy like Nate.” I saw in his mind the painful heartache of watching his wallflower girlfriend blossom into a bombshell. “I never thought she would go for a guy like Nate. She had always hated him before. It was weird though, one day she was totally disgusted by him, and then the next day she was following him around with puppy dog eyes. Almost like he put a spell on her or something. She dropped me like a bad habit after that. It was tough for me for a while. I’m pretty sure Nate’s done with Brina though,” he said wryly. “Look, you seem like a really nice guy, and Bella looks like she’s really into you. I just wanted to let you know not to underestimate Nate.” The last time I heard a guy warn me not to underestimate someone had been the night of the unforgettable baseball game in the field in Forks. The night that Laurent had told me James was lethal and that I should not underestimate either him or Victoria. “Seriously Alex. I really appreciate you coming up to me and telling me this. I’m really sorry about Sabrina,” I said earnestly. “Me too man. Me too,” Alex said sadly. “Hey, Nate’s walking over to your table. You’d better get back.” “Thanks again Alex,” I said as I turned to walk back to our table. Sure enough, Nate was walking pointedly towards the table my family sat at. Emmett shot him his best “go to hell” look, and Jasper stared menacingly at Nate’s smug face. Nate didn’t even bother to look in my direction as he pulled a chair up to sit right by Bella. Bella

didn’t put her book down, and her silent dismissal of Nate’s presence humored me and irritated him. “Hey beautiful,” he said undeterred, “I was wondering if I could persuade you to watch a movie with a couple of friends and I at my house later on tonight. Don’t bring Cullen though. He won’t have fun.” “I think I would have a great time Nate,” I said quietly as I moved towards Bella. “What movie did you want to watch?” Bella stood up silently to let me sit, and then settled herself back onto my lap without taking her eyes away from the page. I began twisting a lock of Bella’s hair around my finger. “Honestly Cullen, you’re not invited,” Nate said as he narrowed his eyes a bit at Bella. Just look at me baby, just look. I began to notice a strained look of consternation around Bella’s eyes, as though something were causing her pain. The feeling of inexplicable danger that I had sensed earlier in Nate’s presence became more pronounced, and I saw each of my family members shift uneasily. “Gorgeous, are you not even going to look at me?” he purred to Bella as if none of us were there. Something’s wrong here. Something I don’t understand. Anger invaded me again in spite of my careful attempt to control it. The menace grew more palpable as Bella’s pained look became more pronounced, but she still refused to acknowledge him. “I think you should leave McFadden. I think you should leave now,” I spat out. At my words, both Jasper and Emmett quietly stood up in their seats. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to make friends some other time,” Nate said through the first noticeable signs of anger and frustration I had seen on his face. “Try never,” Rosalie said nastily. “It’s always the ones who know how hot they are that have the worst attitudes. Good luck breaking her,” Nate said to Emmett. Emmett just snarled quietly under his breath. “Some other time beautiful . . . there will definitely be some other time,” he said softly to Bella. There is something seriously screwed up with these people. I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to find out. The rage was so intense that it was nearly causing me to shake. I stared after him and held tight to Bella so that I wouldn’t stalk off and smash his skull between my bare hands. Then I saw Bella slump over onto the table. She had her forehead in her hands, and she moaned softly. “Bella! Honey, what’s wrong!” I exclaimed, distracted from my anger by Bella’s pain. “Something really weird just happened to me Edward. It’s almost like I have a headache or something. I could feel that he wanted me to look at him, and my shield was blocking something coming from him, something I’ve never seen before. It just got more and more intense, and now I feel like I did when I ate too much chocolate as a human. My head hurts a lot.” “Dude seriously, there is something wrong with that guy. Even I could feel it,” Emmett said quietly. Jasper looked the other way and stated, “I tried to control the malice I felt coming out of him, but it took a lot of effort to get him to calm down and back away. Much more effort than I have ever had to exert with a human before. There is something weird about the way he smells too . . .”

“Good lord Bella. Figures a first day of school with you involved would be a hundred times more interesting than any in our past!” Alice said with a lighthearted laugh. I looked directly at her. Her eyes were tight. Edward, he knows something is wrong with us doesn’t he? Well, something is wrong with him . . . we need to find out what it is before he figures out what we are. I inclined my head towards her in agreement. “Do you want to go home Bella?” I said to her as I pulled her back into my arms. She leaned towards my chest and said, “It’s getting better and better. It should be okay in a few minutes. Don’t worry.” Yeah right. Chapter 3: First Day of School – Renesmee “I hate this uniform. This is totally going to suck Jake. I can’t believe I have to go to an allgirls private school. What is Dad thinking?” I looked over at Jake and I had a hard time deciphering the emotions running across his face as he drove. He never was that good at keeping what he thought out of his expressions. I thought I saw humor, concern, understanding, and . . . agreement? “Give Edward a break. He just wants you to have the best of everything,” he said with a chuckle. It took me a split second to interpret the bevy of feelings I had just analyzed. “You totally never talked to Mom about me going to public school! You said you would. I can tell that you agree with Dad! Aw dude, come on! I am going to hate these prissy little rich girls, and you know it. Why didn’t you convince Mom to let me go to public school with everyone else in my family?” I wailed. “Nessie, your dad is very stubborn, and it doesn’t work out well for me when I make it a special point to go against him.” “If Mom wanted me to go to Brevard High, Dad wouldn’t be able to put up a fight for long. Dad can’t stand to see Mom upset,” I sniffed. Recently, Jake had really started to tick me off. For as long as I could remember, he and I had been best of friends . . . anytime I did something that got me into trouble, he was right there beside me egging me on. The time I went drag racing in Vegas last year in Mom’s Ferrari, the Mt. Mitchell debacle, the time I went bungee jumping near the Hoover Dam, the wake-boarding incident, the time I went white-water rafting down Class 5 rapids in the Yukon . . . Jake was right there to defend me every single time. My Dad would scream and carry on, but Jake would laugh and say he would stop me the next time. He never did . . . until very recently. Last week I had wanted to go skydiving, and I had thought for sure that Jake would be up in the plane with me. He had told me not to do it or he would tell Dad. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t like it one bit. Now, clearly, he hadn’t tried to help me get out of private school hell even though he knew how badly I wanted to be with the rest of my family at Brevard High. “Did your dad see your nails or those shoes?” Jake asked with a smirk. “Yeah, he did this morning. Aunt Ali defended me.” My nails were painted jet black, and I had eschewed my love for sky-high Louboutins in favor of Vivienne Westwood’s combat boots. I loved painting my nails black, and my Dad hated it because he thought it made me look gothic. I had laughed uproariously when he had said it because . . . well, it’s pretty damn funny for my vampire father to have a problem with black nails because they looked gothic. Dad was such an old man.

“The combat boots are my own little joke. Since Dad is basically sending me to military school, I thought I should accessorize accordingly,” I said angrily as Jake laughed at my irritation. “Why do you think you’re going to hate it so much?” he asked quietly. “Let’s think. I’m not exactly the cotillion-attending, garden party, ladies-who-lunch type. All these girls have gone to school together for a while. The things I like and the things they like will be in absolute incongruence. Why, do you think I should drive my Harley through the halls in a tribute to Steve McQueen and see if I make some friends? That might be a good idea after all . . . I bet they throw me out,” I chuckled to myself. “So you’re afraid you won’t make any friends then,” Jake queried. Yeah, that was a little too close to home. He reached for my arm. “Oh no you don’t Jacob Black! You’re not looking into my head today!” I loved and hated that part of being a preternatural being. If I came into physical contact with someone, I had the ability to share everything that was going through my head with that person. Conversely, all anyone had to do to see everything in my head was take my hand, whether I wanted them to or not. At least Jake respected my personal space. In fact, recently it seemed like he was avoiding touching me at all costs. It was weird. Every time I tried to talk to him about it, he laughed it off and said I was being girly and over-sensitive. All anyone had to do to set me off was accuse me of acting like a typical girl. I sighed to myself as I reached over to turn on some music. I flipped stations until I found a song I liked. The Great Below by Nine Inch Nails. Ha! A metaphor for the chasm of my existence at a private school . . . how fitting. I turned the dial way up as we pulled into the long driveway of the school. Hell. The Great Below. Here goes. As I stepped out of the car while murmuring goodbye to Jake, I didn’t miss the look of concern he gave me. “Seriously Jake, I’ll be fine.” “Okay,” he said unconvinced. “I’ll pick you up right at three o’clock. Renesmee . . . take care of yourself and don’t do anything stupid.” Renesmee!? What was going on with Jake recently? “Sure thing Jacob.” I slammed the car door, gritted my teeth, and marched inside the ominous looking structure. Since I was a good twenty minutes early, I went straight to the bathroom without looking around. I walked up to the mirror and cautioned myself to breathe and chill out so I wouldn’t have a panic attack. This was the part of me that I inherited from my mother, along with my colorful temper. I breathed deeply and looked at my reflection in the mirror. I had really long bronze colored hair that fell in curls down my back. It was always a little poofy, but it suited my face for the most part. My skin was not nearly as light as my Mom’s or my Dad’s because I spent a great deal of time outdoors. I had a perpetual flush to my cheeks, and my eyes were big and dark brown. I had my father’s classically proportioned nose, and my mother’s narrow, pointed chin. This morning, I had lined my eyes with dark brown eyeliner, but I wasn’t wearing any other makeup. With the aid of my stilettos, I usually could pass for nearly six feet tall, but the combat boots brought me down to my actual height of about five feet seven inches. Much to my father’s dismay, I had begun to fill out recently. My mother was very slender, like a runway model. She had very small hips and a small bust line. My figure was starting to look more like Aunt Rose’s than Mom’s, and I could tell just how happy that made Dad

along with Uncle Em, Uncle Jazz, and even Grandpa Carlisle on occasion. Anytime Aunt Ali tried to dress me in anything that even slightly suggested a maturing figure, all of them had a cow. Oh well. This shapeless excuse for a uniform was definitely a testament to their cause. I adjusted the collar of my white blouse and made sure the black diamond hoops in my ears were hanging straight. “Let’s get this over with,” I muttered as I turned and nearly walked smack into a girl who had just rounded the corner into the bathroom. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “You must be the new girl! Sorry, I’m sure you hate to be called that. I saw your name on the school roster. I’d say it right now, but I’m sure to butcher it, so I need your help.” I was surprised by how friendly she was. She had stick straight black hair that hung down her back and big, almond-shaped eyes that were a curious light blue color. “Ruh-nez-may,” I said, “But you can just call me Nessie, like the Loch Ness Monster.” She laughed as she stuck out her hand, “I’m Yuri Chung.” I was starting to feel much more comfortable, and I was sure it had to do with the utter normalcy of talking to Yuri. I had been very afraid that it wouldn’t be easy to converse with normal high school kids because I was always surrounded by beings much older than I. “So, what’s the verdict? Do you think I’m going to like it here Yuri?” I asked as I gathered my things to walk to the office. “Honestly, no. I don’t like it here. No offense, but you don’t exactly look like a conformer. Conforming is a big deal for them. You get a really good education though. My mom is making me come here for the education. She’s Korean, and education is really important to her.” I really appreciated her honesty. Even if I wasn’t going to like it here, I got the feeling that Yuri was someone I might actually want to be friends with. “Korean huh? I’ve been studying tae kwon do recently.” “You were studying tae kwon do? Wow, I never would have thought. You don’t seem like the type.” “What type of girl studies tae kwon do?” I asked. “Good point,” she laughed. We were near the office. She stopped and said, “I’ll see you in class, Nessie. Just as a warning, steer clear of Marie Vanderbilt. She is not going to be happy when she sees you.” “What do you mean?” I asked puzzled. “I’ll tell you at lunch. See you soon,” she waved as she walked away, and I felt better about knowing someone. I walked into my first period class after collecting my schedule and paperwork from the main office. There were rows of girls quietly chattering to one another in pristine uniforms. Most of them stopped talking to watch me walk to the back of the classroom and sit at an empty desk. I decided I was better off in quiet reflection so I took out my iPod to listen to some music. With the sounds of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite blocking out most of the gossip, I closed my eyes and relaxed. Even with the headphones on, it was impossible for my hypersensitive hearing to miss some of the comments flowing around me. “She is so pretty! Do you think she’s a model or something?”

“Do you think she dyes her hair?” “The headmaster is going to make her get rid of the black nail polish.” “He should. The whole goth thing is crass and tasteless.” I smiled to myself, my eyes still closed. I’d be willing to bet Dad’s Vanquish that the last voice belonged to Marie Vanderbilt. With a name like that, I would assume anything outside the world of Brooks Brothers is crass and tasteless. Money says she’s wearing pearls and a headband too. At that moment, the first period French instructor walked into the room. “Bonjour classe! Je m’appelle Madame Patton et bienvenue à la classe française. By the end of one month, I expect everyone to conduct class exclusively in French. We will begin by going around the room and introducing ourselves in French to our classmates. I would also like for each of you to share something you did this summer and one interesting thing about yourself. I’ll start.” Great. This is going to take forever. Madame Patton proceeded to inform us that she had gone to the Bahamas this summer and was currently taking Italian cooking classes. Her French was fluid and proper, but her accent was garish. I wondered if I should pretend to speak French somewhat poorly so as to ensure the anonymity that came with mediocrity, but the competitive side of my nature would probably never allow that. Languages had always been relatively easy for me to master, and learning French had been one of the first tasks I had taken on. I went through a phase of my life where I was obsessed with anything Victor Hugo, and I had memorized entire passages of Les Miserables in French. Needless to say, I did not expect significant improvement of my French skills this year. My internal monologue stopped when a girl sitting a few seats from me stated, “Bonjour. Je m’appelle Marie Vanderbilt.” I nearly snorted when I saw her pearl earrings and her ridiculous striped headband. She stated that she had spent the summer in Montpellier, France and studied with a language instructor from the Sorbonne. Her father was getting her a horse this year for her birthday. Blech, what a self-important brat! I alternated between the deep desire to retch or laugh hysterically. Her French was passable and her accent well developed, but only at a conversational level. This was clearly a girl who believed that she was la crème de la crème and did not anticipate or consider that anyone could best her in anything. Well, my daddy didn’t buy me a horse, and I hadn’t spent a summer with a teacher from the Sorbonne, but I was pretty sure I live on Earth and not Planet Marie. I finally saw Yuri in the back at the opposite side of the classroom. Her French was a bit halting, and she was definitely as bored with the entire exercise as I was. It occurred to me that it might be funny if my “interesting” comment went something like, “Well my father is eternally seventeen years old and looks like a Greek god, and my mother is basically an eighteen year old fairy princess. Oh, and they’re both vampires.” Haha. When the silly opportunity for self-aggrandizement fell upon me, I half-heartedly said that my name was Nessie Cullen and that I learned to ride a motorcycle this past summer. I had also just moved here. How’s that for interesting? Crickets. The entire class along with the instructor just stared at me. Crap. What did I do wrong?

“Madamoiselle Cullen. Le français est-il votre première langue?” “No, English is my first language.” “Might I ask where you learned to speak French so well?” she said incredulously. “Well, my dad loves learning new languages, and he tutored me a bit. I went to Paris for a little while too,” I shrugged in an attempt to deflect significance. Madame Patton had managed to regain her composure as I spoke, so she just moved on, but I could tell it wasn’t the end of her curiosity. Damn. Maybe I should have gone for mediocrity. The bell rang not long after we had finished introducing ourselves. Marie Vanderbilt looked over her shoulder frostily at me, cut her eyes, flipped her straight blonde hair, and stomped out of the room. Again, my first reaction was to laugh. Several others girls walked slowly up to me. Yuri came bounding over and exclaimed, “Nessie . . . did I hear you right or did you say that you learned how to ride a motorcycle this summer?” “Yeah. I don’t have my license yet, but a friend of mine taught me back on some trails in the woods.” “Wow. My mom would kill me if I even got on a motorcycle.” “Yeah my parents weren’t too thrilled, but they got over it. Especially because my mother rode a bike when she was my age. She can’t really say much.” Several of the others girls made polite introductions and small talk before we all began to walk to our next class. The day continued to pass at a snail’s pace. In every class I quickly realized that I was not going to learn anything new or significant. As I had prophesied, this sucked. At lunch hour/study hall, I waited for Yuri and we proceeded down the line to collect our food. I hated human food, but since I was actually hungry, I knew I was stuck with their bland excuse for nourishment. Busting out a cup of blood would probably be another sure-fire way to get expelled. We sat in a far corner towards the back of the cafeteria. It occurred to me that Yuri did not seem to have other friends waiting for her, saving a seat for her, or even talking to her. I was not quite comfortable enough asking her about it, and I felt glad just to have someone I liked at school, so I decided to wait for a better time to find out why such a nice, down-to-earth girl didn’t have friends. We talked a little about ourselves. I found out that she was the only child of a single woman who worked as a piano teacher and performer. Yuri had studied piano for most of her life, and since I had studied violin since I could remember, we shared some stories about music. I found that, while her tastes were not quite as eclectic as mine, she did know quite a lot about different kinds of music. I was beginning to feel more and more pleased with the fact that I had found someone I actually liked at school. I was just getting ready to say something about it when Yuri sighed and said, “I’m really glad you moved here Nessie. It’s really nice to have a friend who isn’t afraid of Marie and doesn’t care what other people think.” “What do you mean Yuri?” She took a deep breath, “Well I know it can’t last forever, and I’m sure you’ll hear it from someone soon, so I might as well tell you. Marie and I used to be best friends. We had been since we were children. No one really seemed to care that I didn’t come from a wealthy family with a pedigree or that I didn’t seem to know whom my father was. I tried really hard

to fit in, and I was mostly successful even if my personality suffered for it. Last year, Marie and I went into town to go shopping, and we ran into someone I knew.” She took a deep breath and continued. “He was my half-brother. Only my mom, the man who fathered me, and my half-brother knew it. I saw my half-brother sometimes, but only in passing. That night he teased me a bit and joked around with his friends, but then he went off to hang out somewhere else. Marie was absolutely smitten. She thought he was gorgeous, and she demanded that I tell her how I knew him. It was a good thing he had no interest in her . . . I mean Marie is really pretty, but she still kind of looks like a child. She acts like one too.” “Anyway, I told her that my mom knew his dad, and I tried to change the subject. She wanted me to hook them up and put in a good word for her. I said I couldn’t. Eventually she got really mad at me. She thought that I wouldn’t help her because I was interested in him for myself. We left and fought all the way home. The next morning when I came to school, she wouldn’t speak to me. In fact, she had convinced everyone to treat me like a virtual pariah. I lasted about two days. On the second day, I asked her to meet me after school. I told her who my father was and that the boy we met in town was my half-brother. She was shocked. She asked me if I was going to give her my half-brother’s phone number. I refused. She didn’t react at all. She just left.” “Over the next few days I saw people whispering behind my back. I knew they were talking about me. I found out soon that Marie had told everyone what I told her in confidence. Everyone thought my mother was a home wrecker for sleeping with a married man. I was the illegitimate child of a rich man. The worst thing of all was the fact that everyone began to blame my mother for something that was completely not her fault. My half-brother’s mother had committed suicide when he was about 5 years old. Everyone thought it was because of my father’s betrayal with my mom. I know it’s not the reason because she didn’t even know about me, but there was nothing I could do about it. It was awful. My mom cried a lot. I tried to confront Marie, but she denied everything. She’s an awful person, and I know she doesn’t feel bad about anything she did.” I listened to her tirade, and my heart went out to her. Apparently, I wasn’t the only freak with secrets at our school. Again, I was overwhelmed by her honesty and openness. I guess she had learned the hard way that keeping secrets doesn’t always work out well. One thing puzzled me, and I decided I could ask her this question. “Yuri, please feel free to ignore this question, but I feel like I have to ask it. If you knew your brother wasn’t interested in Marie, why didn’t you just give her his number and let him do the dirty work? She couldn’t have been mad at you then.” Yuri smiled bitterly. “It was my attempt to protect Marie. You see, my half-brother is not a good guy. In fact, well . . . he’s an evil jerk, just like his dad. I cared enough about Marie that I didn’t want her to be mistreated by him. She didn’t miss out on anything anyway. He doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings but his own.” I was surprised by her vehemence, but I could see the quest for honesty again in her words. Contrary to the reaction she probably thought her story would provoke in me, I liked her even more now. “Yuri, I’m really sorry all of that happened to you. If it helps at all, I already didn’t like Marie Vanderbilt. Now I can cheerfully abhor her right alongside you.” Her laugh was one of relief. “Maybe I should give her his phone number now. They probably belong together. Satan and Lilith.” We laughed together and for the first time that day I began to believe this might not suck as much as I thought it would.

“Does he go to the all-boys school down the road?” I asked. “No. He goes to Brevard High,” she responded. “Really? Some of my cousins go to Brevard.” “Well you should tell them to avoid him, but it’s probably impossible. No one can avoid Nate.” “His name is Nate?” I made a mental note. “Yeah. Nathan McFadden.” At the end of the day, I dragged myself down the front steps with Yuri to the parking queue to wait for Jake. Most of the student body not possessing a car was waiting there and looking for their rides home. I didn’t see Jake anywhere. Irritation flared up in me. He had promised to be there right at three. I noticed that a couple of girls behind me were whispering and giggling as they pointed at something off to the side. I continued to look down the queue for Jake. “Whoa,” I heard Yuri say next to me, “That guy is really freaking sexy.” I readjusted my vision to where she was looking, and I saw that her eyes were focused on the same thing that the girls behind me were looking at. Jake was leaning up against my Harley wearing his old sunglasses and his standard beat-up jeans and a black t-shirt. “Jake? You think Jake is sexy?” I busted out laughing at the top of my lungs. “Do you know that guy?” Yuri said in shock. “Sure,” I said as I grabbed my bag, “He’s my ride home! See you tomorrow Yuri!” I ran down the stairs still chuckling to myself. I looked over at Jake, and he smiled with a huge grin that lit up his entire face. Yeah, I guess I could see it. He was really tall, tan, and muscular with a short, messy crop of black hair. . . but he was Jake for crying out loud. Sexy was never a word I had thought of when considering Jake. “What’s up Jake! It’s really good to see you.” “It’s always good to see you Nessie. Always,” he said with a strange look that made my stomach feel weird. “Can I drive?” I said eagerly. “Heck no. You don’t have a license, and your dad would kill me.” “Jeez man, I never thought you were such a big chicken when it came to Dad.” He frowned a bit, but he threw his big frame over the bike, and it kick-started with a roar. Exhilarated, I tossed my bag into the small compartment on the back of the bike and jumped on behind him. As I reached to wrap my arms around his waist, I saw Marie Vanderbilt looking at me with eyes as big as saucers. I let out a peal of laughter as we tore out of the parking lot like bats out of hell. Chapter 4: As we piled out of the BMW X5 we had all ridden to school in together, I felt a sense of peace surround me. We were home. Pretense was no longer necessary. Emmett threw Rosalie over his shoulder and Alice and Jasper whirled by us in a blur to get the best seat on the sofa in front of the TV. Edward took my hand and pressed it to his lips as we walked in the garage door. I knew there was a small part of him that was still worried about Nate McFadden, but he had pushed it out of his mind for the rest of the day and was back to himself. Esme and Carlisle were waiting for us.

“Is Nessie back yet?” I asked immediately. “No,” Carlisle said with an amused chuckle, “But I received my very first phone call of complaint from a school in nearly 90 years.” Edward groaned. “What did she do?” “Well, she apparently did not read the guidelines regarding the dress code fully. She needs to remove her black nail polish, and her shoes need to be a bit more . . . I believe the word the headmaster used was ‘conventional’.” “Those stupid, narrow-minded hicks don’t know anything about fashion!” Alice said angrily. “And apparently Renesmee doesn’t know anything about the dress code either,” I said with a smile. “I’m sure she does,” Edward remarked. “She only painted her nails that color and wore those shoes to irk me because she knows I hate it.” “That doesn’t sound anything like our daughter, does it Edward?” “I think Nessie looked cute,” Emmett said from the living room. “What’s wrong with a bit of nail polish and some different looking boots?” “Nothing,” said Rosalie and Alice at the same time. It was impossible for Edward to ever stay mad at Nessie for long. The fact that everyone always rushed to her defence was probably a big contributing factor. Edward scowled a bit and muttered about the most spoiled and indulged child in the world, but we all knew he didn’t mean it. If Nessie had anyone in this family wrapped around her little finger, it was her father. Whenever Nessie wanted to play the violin as a little girl, Edward commissioned a copy of a Stradivarius to be custom-made for her small frame. Nessie had wanted a “princess” bed as a little girl to sleep in, and Edward had painstakingly supervised a miniature re-creation of the lavish bed in Versailles that belonged to Madame de Pompadour. She was the only girl I knew who had owned real diamond jewellery from the time she was a toddler. They spent countless hours together listening to music and discussing the merits and demerits of underground bands they had discovered in their independent research. Whenever Edward’s piano accompaniment of Nessie’s violin playing soared through our home, I thought Edward would spontaneously combust with pride. This past summer, Nessie had wanted a motorcycle. Even though it pained him greatly, he had purchased a custombuilt, chrome and black Harley Davidson monstrosity for her. In the nearly six years since her birth and almost full maturation, I had never witnessed a more devoted father than Edward Cullen. I smiled as I looked at him with the complete happiness that had dominated my life lately. He saw the look in my eyes, and I reached over to take his hand. We began walking up the stairs, and Emmett jeered, “I don’t think you two have enough time before your kid gets home to get down to business!” “Shut up Em. We just want to talk,” I yelled back down the stairs. We walked into our bedroom, and I dramatically threw myself onto the bed. He lay down next to me and pulled me into his arms. We stayed there for a moment, and he sighed and said, “Bella. We’re going to have to talk to Jacob soon.” “I know. Should we tell Nessie?”

“I’m not sure. I just want to make sure she has a choice in what happens.” Edward had understood that whenever Jacob imprinted on our daughter as an infant, it basically meant that Renesmee was Jacob’s soul mate. Edward had always had a problem with the idea that her choice in the matter was apparently moot, so we had all opted not to tell her and see where the natural course of life took her. “I know that Jacob’s feelings for Nessie are becoming more . . . mature,” Edward said with difficulty. “He’s trying very hard to hide it from me, and he has been avoiding touching her so as not to exacerbate the situation. Frankly, I don’t mind if he never touches her.” “Edward. She’s almost fully-grown. We both knew it was going to happen eventually.” “Ah! Why does this man always give me grief regarding the women I love?” Edward said dramatically. I laughed a bit. “I think we should wait and see what happens once we give Jacob permission to pursue her as an adult. He’s been so patient, and even you have to admit that his thoughts have only very recently drifted into wanting a romantic relationship with her,” I said quietly. Edward was silent for a moment. “Would it be too much to ask that they not get too . . . serious . . . until they are married?” Edward asked through his teeth. “Are you talking about sex Edward?” His body became rigid, and his eyes were huge in his face. “I guess I am,” he admitted. I frowned. “We waited until we were married,” he continued. “I just don’t know if I’m ready to deal with looking at Jacob in that way with regards to my daughter quite yet.” “I completely understand Edward. But we only lasted until we were married because of your Herculean self-control – without it, I probably would have ravaged you long before then,” I said with a laugh. “Why don’t we approach it from this angle: We can give him permission to pursue a relationship with Nessie, and we can request that he wait until she is officially fullgrown to make adult decisions with regards to their relationship,” I suggested. “That’s only six months away!” Edward groaned. “You can use that six month window to get used to it my love,” I smiled at him. “I think we might have forgotten what it’s like to be newly in love and completely obsessed with each other. Maybe we take it for granted. I can’t imagine one day without being able to show you how much I love you,” I murmured as I slowly began to kiss his jaw. He sighed and said, “I have definitely not forgotten how obsessed I am with you.” “Want to show me?” I breathed. A low growl escaped from his throat as he rolled over onto me and pressed his lips to mine in a kiss that left me lightheaded. I quickly unbuttoned his white shirt and dropped it onto the floor to press my hands against his muscular back and clutch him closer to me. His left hand held onto the back of my neck while his right hand slid down to my hip. I felt the pressure of his thumb as it raked across the waistband of my jeans to caress the bare skin above. I moved my hands to curl my fingers through his hair and hooked my leg over his hip as the kiss deepened and his hand reached up to unfasten the buttons of my shirt. “I’m home!” Nessie called from downstairs as she barged through the front door. “Excellent,” Edward groaned as he pulled away from me and attempted to disentangle our limbs. His eyes were still burning with desire. “Later,” I whispered as I left one final kiss at the bottom of his neck.

“Where are Mom and Dad?” “Where do you think?” Emmett said with a chuckle. “Ew, gross Uncle Emmett. Mom! Dad! Come downstairs please because I’m not going up there. Jake’s here too,” Nessie said impatiently. “Better and better,” Edward continued under his breath, “Just bring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with you next time, and we can have a party.” I laughed and tossed him his shirt while rapidly refastening mine. “Behave! Let’s go see how our daughter’s very first day of school went.” I walked down the stairs ahead of Edward, eager to see my baby. Everyone had collected around Nessie like moths to a flame. Edward walked slowly behind me, and I could hear him fixing his rumpled hair. “Haha. That’s what happens when you have kids Edward!” Emmett laughed loudly. Jacob smirked at Edward and I as he remarked through his grin, “Still have the magic huh?” “Shut it Jake. You too Em. I think I still have a piece of that boulder from Forks. I believe I gave it to Nessie as a memento. You remember, Emmett? From the time I decimated you when we were arm-wrestling?” Emmett frowned. I ran to hug Renesmee. “How was it?” I asked. “Well it didn’t suck as badly as I thought it would. Mostly because I think I made a friend.” “Really?” I said. “As if there were ever any doubt. Who wouldn’t want to be Nessie’s friend?” Edward said in the imperious fashion of a parent sure of their own child’s perfection. “You’d be surprised Dad. You will be happy to know that my French teacher officially hates me for speaking better French than she does,” Nessie said with a smirk. “I’ll tell you what didn’t surprise me,” Edward said to Nessie, “The phone call Grandpa Carlisle received from the headmaster about your heinous nail polish and your Zapatista boots. Renesmee, I don’t want any more phone calls about something as stupid as dress code in this home again.” Nessie pursed her lips together considering rebellion, sighed in defeat and said, “Yes Daddy.” “Tell me about your friend!” I asked in an attempt to change the subject. “Her name is Yuri. She’s really honest and blunt, and she loves music. I think there’s a chance we might be really good friends.” “That’s wonderful!” I said as I put my hand on her cheek affectionately. “How were the classes?” Jasper asked. Nessie proceeded to give everyone a play-by-play rundown of the day. Her animated sense of humor held everyone’s rapt attention. Carlisle’s booming laugh nearly shook the house when Nessie described the cafeteria food she had been forced to eat and mentioned that she’d almost rather wallow in fecal matter than eat Salisbury steak ever again. Nessie was such a character, and the unconditional love that we had for her was written on each of our faces. After my discussion with Edward, I paid a little more attention to the look on Jacob’s face. His pure love for Nessie was immediately evident in the way he looked at her as she spoke. There was something more there though – wistfulness? There was also a small shadow of pain. Poor Jake was trying so hard not to show how much he loved Nessie

because he wasn’t sure how she felt about him. I was also positive that his fear of Edward’s wrath forced him to mask the emotions in his head so as not to anger Nessie’s mind-reading father. I decided Jake had had enough. It was time for him to find true happiness too. I took Edward’s hand as everyone continued to laugh and listen to Nessie. I concentrated very hard and pushed my shield out of my mind. Edward. Look at Jacob. I can’t bear to see how hard he has to work to hide his feelings for Renesmee. You should talk to him. I trust you to do the right thing. It’s time to put it in the hands of fate and see what happens. Will you talk to him today? I heard Edward take a deep breath. I felt his hand squeeze mine in affirmation. I love you with all my heart. You are the best man I know. Thank you. I saw him smile out of the corner of my eye, but his face looked a little like he had been sucking on a lemon. My poor Edward. I remembered how Charlie had resisted liking Edward for so many years. It was hard for Charlie to let me go, and I knew that the only reason Charlie had begun to think of Edward as a son was because of the happiness and completion Edward brought to my life. I believed that Edward would feel the same way once he saw Nessie just as happy as we were with each other. I thought again about poor Alex Morales. Edward had quietly told us about Alex after lunch, and I could not shake the look of pained sorrow on Alex’s face when he had bravely come over to talk to Edward. Finding love in my life had made me all the more aware of the core-shattering agony that would come in losing it. I thought I had lost it once. I held tighter to his hand and thanked whatever angels fought on my side for the gift that was Edward Cullen. Chapter 5: A Necessary Conversation – Jacob Good God I must be the dumbest masochist in the world! I was standing around in a room full of vampires – my natural enemies – listening to Nessie talk about her first day of school. As I listened to her with the desperation of a man who hung onto this girl’s every word, I started taking apart the engine of my ’67 Mustang GT 500 in the back of my mind so that I wouldn’t think about the curve of Renesmee’s lips or the amazing smell that her hair left in my car every time she road in it. This was what my life had come to. I was the idiot who fell in love with a girl whose father could read my mind. Worse, instead of avoiding this crazy, mind-reading vampire of a father like the plague, I basically spent my life around him so that I could be with Nessie. Jacob Black = Giant Moron. I was pretty sure that if Edward realized how physically attracted I was becoming to Nessie, he would pitch me headfirst into the forest. Thus, the engine of my Mustang became my best friend. When I was done with that, I thought about moving along to the engine of Nessie’s Harley. Huge mistake. The next image that popped into my head was Nessie’s hair blowing in the wind as I watched her ride the Harley through the forest last week. Her head was turned up to the sky, and she had a huge grin on her face . . . her amazingly beautiful face . . . stop, stop, STOP you freaking idiot! I looked over in horror at Edward and waited for the rage to come. I thanked my lucky stars that he did not appear to be listening to me. Instead, he seemed very focused on Bella. I breathed a sigh of relief, and instead began mentally tuning the engine of Bella’s Ferrari. During this entire mental siege, I never missed a word of Nessie’s monologue.

As she finished describing her glee at shocking some of her classmates when I came to pick her up on her Harley, I finally began to breathe again normally. If her story were almost finished, maybe we could just go into the backyard and hang out, or maybe I could go grab something to eat in the kitchen so that I wouldn’t be standing five feet away from a vampire waiting for me to think something inappropriate so that he could take out seven years of frustration onto my miserable hide. Bad enough that I coveted his beautiful daughter, but I had actually tried to steal away his wife from him way back in another life. Jacob Black = Giant Moron. If I were Edward Cullen, I would probably be waiting for a chance to kick my ass too. Since Nessie’s story was now finished and everyone was merely making mindless follow-up conversation, I decided to be proactive and excuse myself so that I could get something to eat. “Hey guys, I’m going to see what I can scrounge around for in the kitchen.” As I turned to make my escape, the voice from my nightmares spoke the words I had been dreading for the last three weeks: “Jacob, can I speak with you upstairs for a moment?” Crap. He totally heard me. I’m a dead man. I turned and the look of panic on my face brought one of humor to his. “Uh. Sure Edward.” Nessie was busy regaling Jasper and Alice with another tale from her first day of school, so she had not really noticed the last moments of my life flashing by. As I began making my way up the stairs behind my executioner, I saw Bella give me an encouraging glance. Maybe he had fooled her into thinking I might still be able to walk after this “talk”. I heard him chuckling at my thoughts. Sadist. I followed him into their bedroom, and he motioned for me to take a seat in one of the lounge chairs sitting off to the side. I blithely wondered if he had rigged a current of electricity to the chair. I had never been in Bella and Edward’s room before, so I took a moment to look around. An entire wall was covered in CDs and LPs with a state-of-the-art sound system in front of it and wall-mounted surround sound speakers in every corner. On a nightstand next to one side of the huge bed was a stack of dog-eared books – definitely Bella’s part of the room. A huge flat screen TV hung on the wall in front of the bed. The artwork was abstract, and the colors were very neutral and earthy. A small stone fountain in a corner by the window created the soothing sound of running water. The bed had a clean, modern look, and the entire room had a Zen-like feel to it. “Bella likes modern furniture and Zen simplicity,” Edward said aloud in response to my thoughts. “I like it. It suits her. Clean and unpretentious. Do you like modern furniture?” I asked Edward in a sad attempt to prolong my life a bit more. “I like seeing my wife happy. The rest doesn’t matter much to me.” “So you’re saying that if Bella wanted a Vegas-inspired hot pink bedroom, you’d be okay with that?” I joked. Edward smiled wryly, “If it brought her peace, sure. Thank God that’s not the case. Emmett has it the worst. Rosalie loves white lace – lots of white lace.”

I mentally considered the image of the burly vampire downstairs lying in a bed of white lace, and both Edward and I laughed together. I thought back to a time when it would have been a cold day in hell that I would have calmly sat in a bedroom shared by Bella and Edward without feeling the need to retch or destroy something . . . Nessie’s birth had changed a lot of things. I also thought of a time when I desperately wanted an excuse to tear Edward Cullen limb from limb. Now I was the poor fool scared to death that he would do something much worse to me. That he would tell me I couldn’t see Nessie anymore. “I wouldn’t do that to you Jacob,” Edward said quietly. “I could never do that.” I merely looked over at him. I’m sure you considered it. I would. “Not even in my moments of greatest frustration did I ever consider forbidding you from seeing her. I know I could never inflict that kind of pain on you. I tried inflicting it on myself once out of desperation, and I nearly went mad because of it. If I couldn’t see Bella anymore . . .” a ghost of remembrance washed across his face, and I knew exactly what he was thinking of as he grimaced. It was difficult to see Edward in pain because his facial features and expressions were so mirrored in his daughter . . . she even rolled her eyes the same way he did, and her arrogant, dark sense of humor was absolutely Edward’s influence. I sat still until the moment passed. I took a deep breath. “I know that you’re angry about my thoughts. I’m trying really hard not to offend you Edward. I’ll keep trying harder. Please believe me when I say that the last thing I want to do is make you even more frustrated with me. I’m really sorry.” “On the contrary Jacob, I should apologize to you.” Say what!? He smiled a little. “I know it can’t be easy to have feelings for a girl whose father can see inside your mind. I probably should have said something to you about it a few weeks ago when I began to see you taking apart all of our cars in your head. I think I know more about your Mustang than I ever really wanted to. I guess I didn’t say anything sooner because a small part of me enjoyed your struggle, considering its source. Again, I’m sorry.” “I totally get it Edward. Seriously. You don’t have to explain yourself.” I was so glad he didn’t want to kill me that relief flooded my aching mind like a rain shower in a drought. “That being said, I know things are going to have to change around here.” The rain shower ceased as immediately as it had begun. I was holding my breath. He exhaled loudly, “I know it’s time to let you begin making your feelings known to Renesmee. I can tell that it’s getting too difficult for you to hide them, and I know how astute she is. I wanted to let you know that you have Bella’s permission and my permission to date Nessie.” My heart stopped beating for a moment. I sat there completely frozen as awareness washed over me. Not only was Nessie’s father not going to kill me for wanting his only daughter, but he was giving me permission to date her? I didn’t think it was possible to feel this lucky. “Thank you Edward. I don’t know what to say,” I whispered. He just looked at me with a complex mixture of emotions running across his face. He settled for compassion. “I know how much you love her. I will deal with the rest.” The next thoughts that raced through my overjoyed mind were less thrilling. What if she doesn’t love me back? Agony. Edward watched the pain cross my face. “I don’t even know what I’m going to say to her Edward.”

“I understand your struggle more than you know. I also know that the truth is usually the best option.” “Honestly though, there was never a time in your mind where you doubted Bella’s love for you right?” “In the beginning it was difficult. I knew quickly that there was no turning back for me, but I wanted her to have the choice.” I nodded and said, “I want Nessie to have that choice too. I just don’t know how I can deal with her choice if she doesn’t choose me.” The compassion on Edward’s face deepened. “Again Jacob Black. I understand you perfectly. In my darkest moments, I knew that if Bella didn’t choose me, I could seek solace in the knowledge that her happiness meant more than anything else. As long as she was happy, I could continue on with my colorless existence.” I could do that. I would be brave enough to do that. As long as Nessie was happy, I could make myself be happy too. Well, maybe not happy, but resigned. I saw Edward shift in his chair uncomfortably. Since I knew that nothing physical could cause him to do that, I realized that there was something else he wanted to say. Something he was struggling with. Again, an array of emotions ran across his face. I couldn’t pick anything out in particular. Panic, maybe? “There is . . . something . . . else. Uh, I wanted to . . . ask, er,. . request . .” I had rarely seen him struggle for what to say. Edward possessed an elegant, poised grasp of most situations, and his suave confidence bordered on cocky most of the time. Even completely furious, he was never at a loss for words. This must be something big. He made a growling sound of frustration as he pushed the palms of his hands into his eyes. He seemed to regain control of himself. “Do you mind if I ask Bella to join us for this part of the conversation?” he asked with marked consternation. “Uh, not at all.” I had no clue what was going on, but I watched Edward blur to the door, open it, and breathe her name like a murmured prayer. “Bella.” In a flash, I heard her take to the stairs and a moment later breeze into the bedroom. She looked a little disturbed at first, but as soon as she saw Edward’s face clearly, she relaxed. “Bella sweetheart, I need you to help me through this.” I had never really seen Edward ask Bella for help this openly. In fact, I could count on one hand the times I had seen him ask for help from anyone at all. He looked so much more comfortable now that she was in the room, and she put her hand on his face and smiled with unabashed love. I envied them so much for the fact that no questions remained unanswered between them. It no longer pained me in the slightest to admit that they truly belonged with one another. They sat on the end of their bed, and I smiled at her and said, “You could at least have warned me.” She laughed and wrinkled her nose as though it were impossible for her perfect vampire husband with the crazy temper and penchant for overreaction to do anything that might merit a red flag.

“I’d only warn you if I thought something bad might happen. I never believed anything bad would happen to you Jake. So, where are we in this discussion?” Bella’s calm attitude was in stark contrast to my lingering unease and Edward’s obvious discomfort. Edward forced a smile and said, “I just let Jacob know that he has our blessing if he wants to date Nessie. I haven’t really gotten to the other part.” He grimaced again. A look of understanding crossed Bella’s face, and she took his hand between both of hers. In that instant, I was pretty sure that I owed a lot to Bella Cullen with regards to my fortuitous change in circumstances. My thoughts managed to eke out a small smile of validation on Edward’s face. Bella looked at me kindly. “Jake, I know I don’t need to tell you how important Nessie is to Edward and I. We have no reservations with you because we both fully believe in your unconditional love. The only thing we have is a request, and I hope you won’t be too offended by me being so direct about something that’s always been uncomfortable for me to talk about. I figure the best way is for me to just spit it out.” “Aw Bells, you know you’re not going to offend me, so it’s completely unnecessary for you to beat around the bush.” “Well Jake, you asked for it, just remember that.” What in the world? “Jake, Nessie will be an adult in a little more than 6 months. That’s not too far away. If you remember, Edward and I waited to make love until we were married.” Holy crap. No wonder why Edward looked like he wanted to run out of the room tearing his eyes out. “Uh, are you wanting me to wait until I marry her before we, um . . . uh . . .” I saw Edward staring down at the floor in abject horror. For a second, I saw his stone fingers flex and contract. He was probably imagining them around my neck. “No Jake. We are not asking that. It would be nice, but that decision is not ours to make. We are merely asking that you wait until Nessie is fully an adult to make those kinds of adult decisions.” Man, I could not believe that Bella had made him do this. He was really a glutton for punishment. Anything Bella asked him to do, no matter how repulsive . . . and I definitely knew that I would find it less than thrilling as a father to have to talk to a boy about keeping his hands off of my pride and joy for just a little while. In my book, talking wouldn’t be necessary . . . I’d just rather phase into a wolf and rip him to shreds. Man this must suck for Edward. I bet if Bella asked him to tear off one of his arms right now, his very next question would be “Which one dear?” As much as I’d like to think he was a fool for being that way, I knew that I would do the same for Nessie. In a heartbeat. No question. “And that, Jacob Black, is the reason why I will deal with the rest. I swear I will. It’s just going to take some time,” Edward said quietly. I finally found my voice and said, “Thanks again to both of you. I promise you that I will respect your request. It’s the least I can do.” “Thanks Jake. I never doubted you for a moment,” Bella said kindly. She then stood up, walked over to me and leaned down to give me a hug. Her cold stone body almost made me shiver, but I wrapped my long arms around her in thanks. It was always a strange sensation for me to touch Bella as a vampire. She was so small and yet so strong, so hard and yet so soft . . . the conflicting elements often gave me pause.

She blurred back to Edward. Leaning down in a movement so quick I nearly missed it, she placed a tender kiss on the tip of Edward’s nose. Her voice was so soft that I had to strain to hear it. “I knew you would do the right thing. I love you.” She turned gracefully and walked out of the room. Edward and I rose in the same motion. “Um, by the way, thanks a lot for sending Nessie to an all-girls school. It has definitely helped me breathe easier,” I stated lamely. “I didn’t really do it for your benefit.” We both chuckled at the distant memory of me saying the same thing to him in our past life with regards to Bella. He looked at me and opened his mouth as if had something else to say. Instead, he closed it, smiled crookedly and followed her outside the room. My life had just gotten a whole heck of a lot better . . . and I was now more afraid than ever. Chapter 6: A Necessary Conversation – Edward “Well, I think I’m going to go to bed now,” Nessie said with a yawn. “I wouldn’t want to miss school or anything. Ha! It’s a shame I can’t get sick. That would be a nice occasional reprieve.” I watched as she stood up from the sofa where she had been lying with her head across Rosalie’s lap. Rose had been absentmindedly playing with Nessie’s hair while watching the news, and Nessie was reading Thus Spake Zarathustra. She stretched her arms above her head, and I saw Jacob avert his eyes to stare at the floor while mentally beginning to add a supercharger to my X5. I actually almost felt a little sorry for him . . . almost. All evening long I had thought about our conversation, and I knew that the task of realizing that my daughter was no longer the little girl who squealed with glee while clutching my back as we ran through the forest would not be easy for me at all. I thought back to the first time that Alice had dressed Nessie in a formal gown to attend Kate and Garrett’s wedding in Denali this past summer. She had looked absolutely stunning. It had been one of the few times where other members of my family had supported my objections when it came to Nessie. Emmett and Jasper had immediately agreed with me. The strapless red dress that clung to Nessie’s curves had to go. I had raked Alice over the coals for a good twenty minutes before she quietly said, “Edward, you can cover her up in a burlap sack if you want. It won’t change the fact that she’s almost a grownup now. It’s time you dealt with it. You’ll have to deal with it very soon.” I frowned again at the memory as I watched Nessie walk around the room to kiss and hug everyone goodnight. As he had begun doing of late, Jacob stood up and simply said, “Night Nessie,” and turned to walk outside before she could come over to hug him. Renesmee frowned with irritation. What is his problem? I am definitely talking to him about this tomorrow. It’s really starting to piss me off. Do I smell weird? What a jerk. I sighed as I realized that Bella had been right to insist that we talk to Jacob tonight. Nessie missed nothing. “Goodnight Dad,” Nessie said as she leaned in to kiss me goodnight. “Goodnight sweetheart. Get rid of the nail polish before school tomorrow.” I heard her grind her teeth together. As she turned to walk away, she exclaimed in a nonchalant voice, “Oh! I forgot. Did you guys meet someone named Nate today in school?” I heard Bella’s sharp intake of breath.

Emmett answered first, “Yeah, he’s a real winner. Why?” “Well Yuri said he’s a jerk. She said to watch out for him. I know it sounds silly, but she seemed really serious about it, so I just wanted to let you know.” “Thanks sweetie. We’ll be on the lookout,” Rosalie said with an unconvincingly bright smile. “Okay then, goodnight everyone!” Renesmee called back as she ran up the stairs. I exhaled loudly. As much as I had tried to forget about this boy all day long, it seemed that his presence was quickly becoming an unavoidable issue that needed to be dealt with soon. His notoriety had even crept its way into Nessie’s world. We all waited to hear her door slam and the shower turn on. “What’s going on here?” Carlisle said with concern. “Did something happen?” Jasper began to tell Carlisle about the strangely menacing boy in school. After relating the events at lunch and Bella’s ‘headache’, Jasper addressed all of us by saying, “I think I’ve figured out what’s wrong with the way he smells. I wasn’t attracted by it. At all. I’ve never encountered a human whose blood holds no sway over me. It was as if his blood were laced with something deeply unappealing to me. Something that nullifies the desire to feed.” “Why wouldn’t I feel that way though?” Rosalie asked dubiously. “Well, you’ve trained yourselves longer than I have in the art of desensitization when it comes to humans. It’s pretty simple for me. I always desire a human’s blood. This was the first time I did not have any attraction to it since I was changed.” The look of concern on Carlisle’s face had deepened considerably. “I’ve never experienced anything like this personally, but it sounds as though this human may have abilities similar to Jasper. Perhaps he can control the minds of others in certain instances.” “Edward, does he know that he can do this?” Alice asked in alarm. I thought for a moment, “He knows that he has attractions beyond the norm when it comes to women. He knows that if they look at his eyes, their will melts considerably. I am not sure if he attributes it to his own attractiveness and ‘overwhelming charm’ or to some unnatural ability. His ego gets in the way of any deep level of personal reflection. There is no room in his mind to consider why he is special. He only knows that he is. It was interesting because I could tell when he looked at me that he was trying to scare me into getting out of his way regarding Bella. It wasn’t working, but the sensation was somewhat numbing nonetheless. He was unhappy that his efforts did not produce results to his liking.” Bella had been silent this entire time. She finally said quietly, “What is it going to take for him to leave us alone? If he has some sort of power over the mind, it would be better if we limit his interest in us.” “I’m not sure what it’s going to take, love. If his ego predominates his decisions, I would assume that attacking his ego would produce results,” I murmured in return. “The trouble is,” Esme considered, “We don’t know if the results produced will go one of two ways: He gives up, or he redoubles his efforts.” “Either way, it doesn’t matter much to me,” Emmett exclaimed arrogantly. “If he gives up, good riddance. If he tries harder, then he gets in that much more trouble from us. Bella’s shield can block that crap he does with his mind, and it didn’t really seem to affect Edward either. If he keeps harassing my little sister, it’s just going to hurt him more in the end.” “I’m not comfortable with letting it come to that Emmett,” I said sardonically.

“Oh please Edward. It’s not like he can hurt Bella. In fact, it would be pretty funny to see him try only to get his ass handed to him by 115 pounds of enraged kitten.” “Emmett!” Alice said with irritation, “We clearly can’t let Bella beat up Nate. He already thinks there’s something wrong with us because his powers of influence don’t seem to work. Do you think he’ll give up figuring out what’s going on with the Cullens if Bella serves him the right hook that smashes his jaw into little pieces? No. In fact, none of us can really touch him unless it’s to stop him from doing something. Our strength has to be controlled.” “Alice is right,” Carlisle acquiesced. “We cannot physically attempt to dominate the boy without raising further suspicion. We are left then again with mental dominance. Any ideas as to how we would go about doing that?” He looked pointedly at me and at Alice. I sighed to myself. I knew from the discussion that they were right in the approach. If Nate’s interest in Bella stemmed from his ego, then the only way to quell his interest would be to make him believe that pursuing Bella is not worth the risk to his ego or his image. Alice spoke up first, “I could see in his planning that he believes he is always the better option when he pursues a girl who already has a boyfriend. He just does not think that there is anything better than him, and he assumes that all women will come to the same conclusion with time and the right influence.” “His success has only furthered his ill-gained belief in his own desirability. He has never failed in getting what he wants. Before.” I chimed in. “Well then,” Bella said. “I guess I will have to convince him that there is nothing better than Edward Cullen. That shouldn’t be too hard.” The tension in the room lessened a bit as laughter rumbled through my family. “Attack him where it hurts him the most. Since he believes all women can be influenced by looks, power, and money, make sure he realizes his own insignificance in all three categories. He believes no one is better looking. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to help the other human girls realize that that is not the case. He believes no one is more powerful. I bet Emmett can take care of that one. He believes no one is richer. That shouldn’t be too hard to disprove,” Jasper said with the anticipatory smile he reserved for impending battle. Since Jasper’s history was rooted in military expertise, he always relished the opportunity to approach things from a strategic angle. “Does this mean I can play sports?” Emmett asked with glee. “Something no contact. Like swimming or track,” Rosalie mused. “No swimming. I can go out for track then,” Emmett said with obvious pleasure at the first time anyone had allowed him to take part in high school sports. “Emmett,” Alice cautioned. “You can’t always win by huge margins. You’re going to need to practice at being only a bit better than everyone else. If you don’t, you’re only going to draw more negative attention to us.” “Don’t worry, don’t worry. I’ll work on it,” he said with excitement. “Wow. After all these years of struggling to blend in, we’re going to have to work on standing out just enough. This should be interesting,” Alice said with a laugh. “I don’t know if I like it,” Carlisle responded. “I’ve been considering moving again just to avoid all of this, but I trust that it will be handled soon, and I believe in my children. I know that this will not get out of hand. Just the same, if Nathan McFadden does not lose interest in the Cullen family by the end of the semester, it would probably be a good idea for us to consider relocating so as not to draw any unfavorable scrutiny. I’m used to people questioning us for a while, but I don’t want the curiosity to become an obsession. I guess

this is the true test then. Can we be completely human and function unquestioningly alongside them in all aspects of their lives?” Carlisle mused aloud. “As long as no one gets hurt, I am fine with the experiment,” Esme said trustingly. “Excellent! We’ve waged warfare alongside vampires, with werewolves, and against vampires. Psychological warfare, here we come!” Emmett crowed. While a growing part of me did relish the thought of putting Nate in his place, I wished I could share Emmett’s earnest enthusiasm. It troubled me still that we did not know the source of his unusual abilities. I did not like the idea of taking on Nathan McFadden. I did like the idea of witnessing his inevitable failure. I hoped the price was worth it. “Well, if that discussion is finished,” Alice said with anticipation, “Can I please talk to everyone again about Nessie’s birthday?” Emmett groaned along with me. “Come on you two! It’s already the end of August . . . We’ve only got two weeks to put it together! Bella are you not going to help me for your daughter’s sake? Your own flesh and blood?” “Alice Cullen you know damn well that Nessie is totally fine not having a huge soiree. This is totally about you, but I love you so much that I will forget about it and plan a big, pink, swirly cupcake of a party with you,” Bella said with a grin. “We could invite her new friend Yuri.” “So does anyone want to go outside with me and coach me on how to run like a human?” Emmett asked with a pointed gaze at Jasper and I and a clear intention of avoidance. “As much as I’d like to help Alice and Bella with the party planning, I think I’ll head outside with Emmett. Jazz?” I asked with a smirk. “I’m coming.” As we proceeded to walk outdoors, Emmett took off in a run to ‘warm up’ while Jasper and I stood off to the side. I knew he wanted to talk to me. We saw Jacob off in the distance pacing back and forth underneath the cover of a large oak tree. So did you talk to Jacob about Nessie tonight? I nodded. I was wondering when that was going to happen. His emotions have been getting increasingly more panicked the last few days. I haven’t done as good a job of calming him down as I should have. I think it’s because I’m not ready to see him as Nessie’s ‘guy’ yet. I also haven’t minded watching him sweat. “You and I both Jasper,” I said with a chuckle. Edward, I know it’s not easy for you. I can tell how conflicted you are. But with all honesty, Jacob is a really good guy. He’ll cherish her the way she deserves to be cherished. The way you cherish Bella. “I know Jazz,” I sighed in defeat for the hundredth time today. Jasper grinned at me with sympathetic amusement.

The women in your life sure know how to give you figurative ulcers don’t they? I’m glad that aside from being a clairvoyant, shopping obsessed, party planning little nightmare, there is not much I can say about Alice in the way of complaints. “I guess it’s my fault,” I said in an attempt at humor, “I just love surrounding myself with women who get into trouble. We all have our weaknesses.” Jasper barked a laugh that distracted Jacob. “I think perhaps I should go to Jacob and help him calm down a bit before he wears a path under that oak tree with his nervous pacing,” Jasper said with a smirk. Jasper walked towards Jacob, as I proceeded to tell Emmett that creating divots in the ground by exaggerating each step in an attempt to slow down did not actually look human. After a few more attempts with Emmett, he could convincingly run one hundred yards at a pace that would probably only impress rather than astound a human. “It’s just so damn slow,” he complained. “Well you are allowed to win, so that should be some recourse for your bruised ego.” We had always forbidden Emmett from excelling at any sport simply because his competitive nature oftentimes caused him to lose his grip on reality. “Em, you know you can’t go overboard right? You have to be just good enough to cause Nate to question whether or not he is in fact the premier athlete at Brevard High. He’s human, so it shouldn’t be too hard to achieve that.” “Everyone seems to think I have no self-control. I won’t screw it up Edward. Have some faith!” he said as he cheerfully took off again. I still was not sure that we were approaching this from the right angle, but I knew that I could not spend another day ignoring Nathan McFadden and his odious attempts to seduce my wife with smoke and mirrors. “Edward? I can see that you know what you want to get Nessie for her birthday. Can you please pick which one so that I can incorporate it into the theme and figure out what I’m going to get her?” Alice asked imperiously as she poked her head outside. I chuckled as I walked back towards the house with Emmett and Jasper in tow. This past year, I had purchased a Harley Davidson motorcycle for Nessie after she begged me for a solid two months straight. I bought it for her on the condition that she wait until her birthday to get her license to drive it. It had never thrilled me that she liked motorcycles because it reminded me so much of a time in my life where I had almost lost Bella, so I had decided I wanted to buy her a car for her birthday. A car that might make her think twice about her riding her motorcycle. “Well what does everyone think Nessie would prefer? Keeping in mind her love for muscle cars and speed, the choices are between a black Mustang Saleen S7 Twin Turbo or a red Dodge Viper SRT 10.” “Hmm,” Alice considered. “Nessie tends to like black cars more.” “That Viper is a sick ride though,” mused Rosalie as she daydreamed about cars. Rose was really the only one in my family who appreciated automobiles as much as I did. “I think that the black car is the better idea,” Bella said thoughtfully. “She already draws too much attention to herself. At least there is something understated in having a darker car.” Clearly Bella did not know that there was absolutely nothing understated about either car. I decided to go with Bella’s preference.

“It’s settled then. She’s getting the Saleen.” “What did you just say?” Jacob exclaimed incredulously as walked through the back door. “You’re buying Nessie a Saleen?” Thanks a heap Edward. What the hell am I supposed to get her now? He groaned and rapidly began tossing out some of the ideas he had been considering in his mind. “Why don’t you make her something Jacob? My favorite gift that you ever gave me was one you made for me,” Bella said kindly. “Oh!” Alice exclaimed. “Jacob, come with me. I know exactly what you can get for her. In fact, Bella just made up your mind for you, but it would be too late whenever you figured it out. We’ll take care of it now.” Alice scurried out of the room after grabbing Jacob’s protesting hand before I could sift through the jumble of thoughts she had in her mind. A silver wolf? I decided to let it go. I was fairly certain that nothing Jacob could come up with would even begin to compete with this car, but I mentally wished him good luck nonetheless. He was definitely going to need it. Chapter 7: Psychological Warfare – Bella I lounged languidly against Edward’s bare chest as the sun rose over the horizon and washed the room in the pale colors of a crisp autumn dawn. The morning light caught on the necklace hanging from his throat that I had given him for our last wedding anniversary. I had purchased a silver chain and two coin-edged tag pendants from Tiffany and Co. that resembled more elegant versions of military ID tags. Engraved on one side of one of the tags was “Edward Anthony Masen Cullen” followed by the date of our marriage: August 13, 2006. Below that was the infinity symbol. On the other side of the tag, it read “Isabella Marie Swan” followed by the date and the infinity symbol. The other tag pendant had “Renesmee Carlie Cullen” followed by the date of her birth and the same symbol that signified no limits. He wore it at all times since the night I had placed it around his neck. I toyed with the chain as the early morning sun began to glint off of my bare body and throw prisms of light around the room. I thanked my lucky stars that I could no longer blush as I recalled the way the metal tags grazed across my skin as Edward made love to me. He pulled me closer to him and pressed light kisses to my forehead. Music from one of Edward’s favorite bands, Explosions in the Sky, wafted lightly throughout the room. “I like this song,” I said contentedly. “I’m glad. It’s fittingly called “The Only Moment We Were Alone,” he said chuckling softly. “Have I ever told you how heartbreakingly beautiful you are Mrs. Cullen?” he murmured as his eyes slowly drifted down my pale form and back to focus on my face. I pressed my nose into his neck and took in a deep breath of the delicious scent that lingered on his skin. “Only a million times,” I said with a smile as my lips pressed in the space below his ear. “Well, here’s to a million and one,” he whispered as he rolled over onto me and began placing feather light kisses on my face, my neck, and down my stomach. I pulled his lips to mine and began kissing him with increasing fervor. I could never get enough of him. The feel of his bare skin next to mine sent ripples of pleasure to all points of my body. All of a sudden, his arms tensed, and he pulled away from me. “Oh for the love of . . . Alice, can’t this wait!” he groaned angrily.

“I’ve been waiting for over an hour Edward!” Her irritated voice was muffled in the hall behind our locked bedroom door. “You two are worse than Emmett and Rose! Put something on and make yourselves decent so that I can come in.” Edward dragged himself off of the bed and yanked on khaki linen pants in one fluid motion. I grabbed his shirt from the floor and threw it on. He shot to the door and pulled it open with visible frustration. “I don’t need help getting dressed! I am perfectly capable of dressing myself and have successfully managed to do so for the last hundred years.” Alice just stood there calmly with a stack of clothes in her hands. “If you think that you’re going to shake the confidence of a boy who’s even more arrogant than you are without taking special pains with your appearance, you’re wrong. You can’t just look devilishly handsome anymore Edward. Nathan is devilishly handsome. You need to be mindnumbingly gorgeous. Your look needs to be tweaked a bit. Years of being married to Bella have caused you to become somewhat careless when it comes to selecting your outfits. You now need my help.” “Thanks Alice,” Bella said wryly. “I’m assuming that I don’t need to look fabulous, so I can just dress myself.” “No I picked out clothes for you too, but the bulk of my efforts have been to make your husband the bane of Nathan McFadden’s existence. Each time he has to hear from another girl that Edward Cullen is gorgeous or see female eyes follow Edward instead of him, his frustration will grow increasingly more palpable. So will my enjoyment. What a tool,” she said with amusement. “Put these on and then come to me to pick out some sunglasses. I already know what to do with your hair too, so don’t touch it,” she ordered Edward. “Here are your clothes Bella. I think you two should drive the Vanquish to school today. It will go really well with your outfit Edward.” “Now you’re matching outfits with cars? You’re really unbelievable Alice,” Edward snarled through his teeth. “I’m unbelievably lovable. Do as you’re told. See you soon!” she smiled cutely and darted from the room. I couldn’t help the laughter that began to pour out of me as I watched Edward stand there like a statue with huge eyes and his hands frozen in mid-air around the space where Alice’s neck had just been. “Well it’s about time! All these years of having to be her guinea pig Barbie, and now you get to see what it feels like!” I continued with my silvery peal of laughter. He just turned and looked at me. “Traitor,” he muttered. I walked over to him while pushing the long sleeves of his button-down shirt up my arms so that I could put my hands in his hair. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t see how it’s possible for her to make you even more gorgeous, but humor her. I always do.” He gritted his teeth and began pulling clothes out of the stack she had left on the bottom of our bed. I picked up the tight white pants and the navy v-neck sweater she had picked for me. On top of the sweater were small, blue sapphire chandelier earrings. Nothing too ridiculous. Sighing, I began to get dressed. I heard Edward disappear from the room behind me muttering to himself. He had dressed in a hurry. The white pants hugged my legs all the way down to my ankles as though they were a second skin, and the sweater fit perfectly. I

went to the bathroom to make sure that the hair I had washed last night had not dried in too much of a mess. Sometimes I was still surprised by the reflection I saw in the mirror. After the first few years of being a vampire, my beauty no longer impressed me as much as the look of peaceful serenity that always dominated my features. I had decided that it wasn’t only the transformation that had enhanced my appearance . . . the true difference came from the fact that I had finally found a place where I fit in seamlessly, and I had finally found someone who understood me fully. There was no better feeling or beauty regimen in the world. I added a bit of blush to my colorless cheeks and hooked the earrings through my ears. As I came out of the bathroom running a brush through my hair for the final touch, I saw Alice walk through the door holding some nude-colored sling backs with a spiked heel. I opened my mouth to protest and then I forgot how to speak. Standing in the doorway looking like a man who had been forced to endure a small amount of torture was Edward. He was wearing perfectly distressed jeans in a darker indigo wash. The deep, sky blue button down shirt he wore had the slight sheen of an Italian designer’s workmanship and attention to detail. A chocolate brown leather jacket with a striking, upturned collar and a plain front along with polarized sunglasses that reflected the room around him completed the look. Edward’s bronze hair usually looked carelessly tousled as if he had not bothered to do anything with it in the morning. It always looked so sexy that no one had ever thought to ask him to improve it. Alice had enhanced the look by creating intention in the chaos with a small amount of mousse and an artful hand. In a word: glorious. There was no earthly way that any woman would be able to resist staring. Even Alice was staring with a look of smug self-congratulation. “So Bella, what do you think? I definitely think that the YSL sunglasses finish the look off perfectly.” “I think that Edward and I may cut classes today,” I said a bit breathlessly. “No you don’t! I didn’t do all of this just for you. At least let me have my moment of watching all the girls nearly faint when they look at my gorgeous brother,” she said proudly. Edward just pursed his lips in irritation as he leaned in the doorframe and crossed his arms on his chest with a careless swagger that only made him look even sexier. I think I would in fact wear those shoes now, I thought to myself as a minimal amount of worry rolled into my brain. Of course I was used to women staring at Edward. It didn’t matter that today he looked even more disgustingly attractive than usual. I put my hand out in surrender for the shoes in Alice’s hand. “I knew you’d come around!” she said gleefully. “You look really nice, by the way Bells. We’re going to go ahead and leave so that Emmett can speak to the track coach before school. See you there!” She gracefully danced to the door, took one more satisfied look at both of us, and glided down to meet Jasper. “Whoa Dad! Whom are you trying to impress? Nessie exclaimed appreciatively as she walked by on her way down the stairs to go to school. “Have a good day sweetheart,” he murmured without answering her question or turning around so that she could get a good look. Nessie shrugged. “Bye Mom!” She ran down the stairs as I called after her to have a good day.

Edward continued to look at me from behind his sunglasses with his lips pursed and his arms crossed on his chest. I slid into the heels and walked carefully over to him. Reaching up, I slowly pulled the sunglasses down his nose to look at his eyes. “I thought that the idea was for me to look better than usual, not for you to look even more sinfully beautiful than yesterday. How is this going to help Nate forget about you?” he mused. “No one will look at me if I’m standing next to you Edward,” I breathed. “Well, I respectfully disagree, but I guess you’ll have to be right next to me all day long, just in case.” I opened my mouth to answer, and the phone rang below. We both flew down the stairs in time to hear Carlisle politely say, “May I ask who’s speaking please?” We both heard the response. Anger filled Edward’s eyes as Carlisle silently handed the phone to me. “Hello,” I said in the most disinterested tone I could muster. “Hey beautiful. I was wondering what time I should pick you up for school today.” It was a statement, not a question . . . as if I should consider it my lucky day to have Nathan McFadden asking if he could take me to school. “I don’t need a ride to school. Edward is taking me,” I retorted scathingly. “But I had my car washed last night with the expressed purpose of chauffeuring your gorgeous self. You’re not going to tell me I wasted my time, are you?” he said without missing a beat. “That’s exactly what I’m going to tell you Nate.” “Have you ever been in a Corvette baby? Seeing as how you don’t want a ride, I might even let you drive if you’re interested,” his voice was like butter and laced with innuendo. Edward’s eyes were black pools of fury. “I am definitely not interested, and I have no need for fancy cars that fail to impress me in the slightest. I’m running behind now, so you’ll have to excuse me.” I hung up the phone with a bang, probably breaking the cradle. The anger rolled off of me at his complete disregard for anything outside of his own desires. Edward was frozen and a low growl had managed to escape his throat. He looked fierce and menacing . . . I had not seen him like this in many years. Carlisle put a hand on Edward’s shoulder and murmured, “You need to control yourself, son. If you show him that he can provoke you, you just make the game that much more interesting for him. Our goal is for him to lose interest. Try hard not to forget that.” His voice was kind. He knew how hard it was for Edward to control himself whenever it came to me. I pushed the anger away and reached for Edward’s hand. “Let’s go to school Edward. It’s not a big deal. We always knew that bruising his ego wouldn’t be easy. It’s the size of freaking Texas!” I joked in a poor attempt to lighten the mood. Edward’s eyes did not change, but his shoulders loosened infinitesimally. I dragged him by the hand to the garage and cheerfully said goodbye to Esme and Carlisle. Wordlessly, he clicked the button to unlock the doors of the Vanquish that Alice had already pulled out of the garage. We slid into our seats, and the smell of the plush leather and wood filled my nose. Edward did not put the key into the ignition. “Edward?” I asked tentatively. “Please say something.”

“I’m sorry Bella,” he paused and took a deep breath. “I just can’t get over how insulting he was to you, to me . . . how insulting he is to everyone! I hated Jacob passionately whenever he pursued you, but I always knew how earnest his feelings were and that he cared about you much more than he cared about himself. I cannot reconcile having to calmly listen to a man consider you as being nothing more than chattel to be used and discarded at his whim. You have no idea how much I want to beat him senseless.” “Edward, you have to remember what Carlisle said. It doesn’t matter. I am not trying to downplay your emotions, but you are unfortunately not the only guy in Brevard that has had to put up with this because of Nate. At the end of the day, your calm control will make much more of a difference than any emotional display of anger. Please?” I said softly. He pushed the key in the ignition and smiled at me crookedly. “I’ve never been able to refuse you for long, so I guess I’ll have to let you win this one too.” He tried to mask it, but I could still see the tension in his jaw as he put his sunglasses back on. He took my hand and rested it beneath his on the gearshift as he rapidly shifted to increase the speed of the car in quick, fluid movements. I tried to ignore the speedometer as it reached 120 miles per hour in record time. The sound of the car’s engine seemed to have a soothing effect on Edward, and by the time we had reached school, his face had relaxed considerably. As we rounded the curve into the parking lot, I saw a middle-aged man in a van slam on the brakes to watch us as we drove by. The silver car snarled like a panther as we moved down the rows to find a parking spot. As Edward backed into a space, I saw a group of students loitering appreciatively around Nate and his black Corvette. Colin McFadden was the first person to notice us. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head as he grabbed Nate’s arm to twist us into Nate’s vantage point. “Colin, what the hell . . .” Nate’s eyes narrowed dangerously as he considered the shining Aston Martin and the arrogant Greek god that slid from the driver’s seat. I smiled with a sarcastically sweet smile at Nate as I lifted myself from Edward’s car. I could see the extreme irritation on Nate’s handsome face from thirty feet away with perfect clarity. “Well gorgeous. It seems as though you’ve been lying to me. I heard on the grapevine that you weren’t impressed by fancy cars,” he said loudly to cover the distance. “I’m just not impressed by your fancy car Nate,” I said as Edward walked around the front of the Vanquish to wrap his arm possessively around my waist. The other kids were just gaping at us. Several of the girls were staring at Edward with a dumbfounded glaze in their eyes that I definitely understood. One poor girl’s mouth was hanging ajar shamelessly. “Is that an . . . an Aston Martin?” one boy asked with reverence. Edward gave the boy a polite smile that caused rapid acceleration in the heartbeats of the girls around us. “I don’t mind if you come and look at it.” The boy took a few tentative steps toward us. “Seriously,” Edward said warmly as he held up the keys, “You can even fire up the engine if you like.” That did it. All the boys who not more than five minutes ago had been ogling Nate’s black Corvette made a beeline towards the Vanquish. “Wow! Is it the standard automatic or is it retrofitted with the stick shift?” “It was retrofit with the stick back in 2007,” Edward said as he began showing them how to turn the car on. Within moments, the rolling growl of the enormous engine had even managed to attract the attention of Colin McFadden.

I stood off to the side and watched as Edward’s elegant confidence and knowledge of cars quickly won the admiration of all the boys around us . . . all the boys except for Nate. He stood by his car with a murderous expression on his face. I began to see a dark cloud of menace radiate from him towards Edward. I silently pushed my shield out to block it. Gritting his teeth in frustration, he turned to focus his attention on me. While appraising me from a distance, he managed to wipe the irritation off of his face and regain his swagger. He sauntered confidently over to me to place himself directly in my line of sight. I saw Edward’s posture stiffen in my peripheral vision while showing his rapt audience the navigation system. “So, what gives princess? I call you to offer my chauffeuring services, and you tell me you don’t like cars. Twenty minutes later I see you rolling up in a masterpiece of automotive engineering,” he said lightly. I took a deep breath and looked straight into his eyes. I felt a sensation similar to dizziness enter my head. It passed quickly. I continued to hold his gaze as I re-established a firm look of annoyance on my face. “I wasn’t lying. I don’t care much about cars. Edward loves cars. If you wanted to show off, you would have been more successful asking Edward if he wanted a ride to school.” He was astonished that his direct gaze had no impact on me. Recovering quickly from his look of surprise, he remarked, “I don’t think so. Cullen doesn’t hold much interest for me. You on the other hand . . .” He leaned closer towards me, and the smell emanating from him repulsed my instincts even though it was not a physically unpleasant scent. “You hold much more than my mere interest. The only thing I could possibly gain from spending time with Cullen is the answer to how he was able to get you into his fancy car.” I saw Edward begin walking towards me. “That’s simple,” I said with a sweet smile as Edward took my hand, clicked the security system on the Vanquish, and we began walking towards school. “I asked him for a ride.” Nate’s smug look disappeared from his face, replaced by one of fury as my laughter echoed around him. His friends stood by in shock at my open mockery. I could tell we’d struck a nerve. I just hoped it was the right one. Chapter 8: Psychological Warfare – Edward By lunchtime, the news had spread around the school like wildfire. Nathan McFadden no longer owned the hottest car in the parking lot at Brevard High School. Edward Cullen had driven to school in a silver Aston Martin Vanquish. The gossip didn’t end there. Like an infantile game of telephone, the exaggerations grew rampant with each passing hour mixing in with the truths to create a childish quagmire that weighed down my mind with trivialities. “Did you hear that Edward Cullen may actually be some Eastern European prince?” “I hear that Nate asked Edward’s girlfriend Bella out, and she laughed at him!” “Edward has got to be the most gorgeous guy I’ve ever seen in my life! Figures that his girlfriend is a model.” “I think the Cullens are part of the Russian mob. How else can they afford those kinds of cars?” “Did you see Nate? He looks so pissed!” “Edward Cullen is definitely way hotter than Nate.”

“Edward threatened to beat Nate up behind the school today after seventh period if Nate doesn’t stop going after Bella Swan.” The human mind has always been amazing to me, and it never ceased to give me pause at how quickly one could become relevant with the slightest shift in circumstances. Of course, this meant that lightning quick irrelevance was always plausible as well. I longed for the time when that would happen as I continued to smile and think of gracious things to say to the fickle masses who wanted to be my friend now that I had a new jacket, killer sunglasses, and an expensive car. I laughed humorlessly at lunch as I pondered my new fame. “What’s funny?” Bella ask in a tired voice that I knew also stemmed from having to deal with her newfound notoriety. If there were anyone else at my family’s table that I knew hated this just as much as I did, it was Bella. “I’m just laughing at how easy it is to be popular. All it takes is money and the right attitude.” “I don’t know Edward. Have you heard that saying? ‘Show me the most popular kid in school, and I will show you the school’s best liar.’ I really believe that. Now more than ever,” she said with an ironic smile. Alice let out a burst of laughter in response. “Well, it’s only slated to get worse. Emmett is staying after school to practice with the track team. Colin McFadden is the star sprinter. He’s also the football team’s ace wide receiver. I think he will be relegating himself to fame in the football stadium this season, not on the track,” Rosalie said with satisfaction. I was already wholly bored with the entire exercise. The only good thing that had come out of that scene from this morning that was taken from the pages of a soap opera was the fact that Nate had not said one thing to Bella all day. That was reason enough to suffer through the mental inundation. Edward, don’t overreact. Nate is waiting to talk to Bella after lunch. Actually, I think he’s ready to take out his frustration on her. He’s really angry that she laughed at him in front of his friends this morning. He won’t be as nice as he has been before. You need to tell Bella so that she avoids letting him get near her. It won’t help if she freaks out and punches him in the face. I nodded darkly to Alice. I wouldn’t let him have the chance to speak with her. As Bella stood up to take our tray back, I walked casually behind her and listened again to the mental stream of comments regarding how pretty she was, how gorgeous I looked, how interesting we both were, my beautiful car, etcetera. At least we knew our attempts at monopolizing the minds of our fellow students worked. As she turned after depositing the tray, I smiled at her mischievously. I eyed the dark corner behind Bella where extra tables and chairs lay propped against a large pillar. Inclining my head in that direction with a wink, I took her hand and led her there. As we rounded the corner outside of anyone’s sight, I pulled her into the shadows quickly and pushed her against the wall. “Bella?” I asked innocently as I held both her hands on the wall on either side of her head. I began kissing her languorously along her neck. “Yes?” she gasped as I dragged the tip of my tongue slowly from her collarbone to her ear. “I’m tired of school. I wanted to skip next period in the Vanquish. Do you think that I could find someone who would be willing to make out with Edward Cullen in his Aston Martin?” I took one of my hands away from the wall by her head and placed it on the small of her back to crush her against me.

“Edward! It’s only the second day!” she said breathlessly. I knew her resistance was quickly crumbling. I pressed my lips against hers and slowly began massaging her tongue with mine. “Do you want to join me?” I murmured against her mouth as my hand moved from her back to run slowly down her hip and back up to her neck to pull her into a rough kiss. I knew I had won the moment I felt her hands grasp my shoulders to draw herself in closer to me. “Edward Cullen. You planned this!” she gasped quietly. “I’m no fool,” I chuckled as I pulled her from the wall, and we walked to the nearest exit without looking back. I unlocked the door to the car, and she grabbed me by the collar of my jacket to push me into the passenger seat. I began laughing quietly as she straddled my lap and pulled her face to mine to continue the kiss we started in the cafeteria. I buried my face in her hair as I drank in her heady scent and brushed my hands across her abdomen towards her lower back to arch her body into mine as I kissed her neck. I tried to keep the intensity of our kisses at bay so that we weren’t pushed over the edge. I didn’t need Carlisle to receive two calls of complaint in two days. Also, Emmett would most likely never let us live that one down. Alice’s thoughts came crashing into my head with the force of a Mack truck. Edward! Colin saw you two leave the cafeteria. He told Nate. Nate is coming outside right now, and he’s moving towards your car! I swore under my breath. “I thought you reserved that kind of language for more intense moments of passion,” Bella said with a breathless laugh. “What’s wrong?” she said frowning as she saw my face. “Nate saw us leave. He wants to talk to you. Your lovable sense of humor this morning did not sit well with him. Bella, no matter what happens I want you to stay in the car and react as little as possible. He is looking to provoke and re-establish his dominance. I really hate that he’s caught us in a compromising situation,” I muttered rapidly. Bella straightened her sweater and ran her fingers through her hair as she bit her lower lip with worry. Well, well. I wonder if I should knock on the window. Who would have thought that the quiet new girl would ditch class to hook up in a car. I sure know how to pick women. It’s always the quiet ones . . . I pursed my lips, plastered a look of supremely unconcerned arrogance on my face, and opened the car door. “Nate,” I feigned mild surprise as I lifted Bella from my lap and stepped outside of the car. “Cullen. I must say I’m impressed. You’ll have to give me some pointers sometime. Hello baby,” Nate said to Bella as he leaned into the car to look at Bella. He placed his hand on the door to prevent me from closing it. Bella said nothing as his eyes raked over her tousled hair and guilty face. I saw a hint of anger in her amber-colored eyes. Damn she’s fine. She looks even better when she knows she’s done something wrong. At least I know that when I get rid of this thorn in my side, it won’t be too hard to get what I want. If she’s giving it to Cullen, she’ll give it to me. I’ll make sure. “Was there something you wanted Nate?” I said through clenched teeth.

“So Isabella. I wanted to let you know that, in the future, it’s not a good idea to make me look foolish in front of my friends. It makes me angry. Life is better for everyone if I’m not angry.” “I sincerely hope that you are not threatening her, McFadden,” I said in as even a tone as possible. “See it however you want to see it. She disrespected me this morning, and it doesn’t matter how beautiful or special she thinks she is. I will not be disrespected. She should apologize.” “You have a problem with disrespect Nate?” Bella said incredulously. I looked at her with alarm. She was enraged. “You’ve disrespected Edward and I every chance that you’ve gotten. You’re a disgusting excuse for a boy pretending to be a man. You want me to apologize? Like hell I’ll apologize to you!” she said with fury. “Bella,” I said in warning. Nathan’s eyes blazed with anger, and the cloud of malice flowing off of his skin became thick around us. This little hellcat needs a good beating. I’d sure love to give it to her . . . I took a menacing step towards him, using every fiber of my self-control to keep my rage intact. “Cullen. You keep your little whore under control.” I hissed through my teeth in an attempt to focus on my breathing as my sight flashed in red fury. All I had to do was reach out. I only needed my thumb and index finger . . . “What did you just call my sister?” Jasper said as he stepped from the shadows behind a car. Emmett also materialized from nowhere to stand behind Nate threateningly. Nate took a moment to analyze the situation and took a step away from the car after deciding that selfpreservation was more important than his wounded ego, for the moment. “You’d better stay out of my way Cullen. All of you. I won’t forget this.” He turned and called Emmett’s bluff by standing right in front of him, daring Emmett to do something. I motioned for Emmett to let him pass with extreme reluctance. She won’t get away with this. I’ll still get what I want from her. I just don’t have to be nice about it anymore. No more games. I can wait however long it takes. I’ll relish the chance to throw it in that pretty boy’s face too. His perfect little angel . . . They’ll get what’s coming to them. We’ll make sure of it. Chapter 9: Psychological Warfare – Renesmee I threw my bag into the backseat of Jake’s baby . . . his 1967 Mustang GT 500. My family had given it to him as a present a few years ago, and he had spent the last two years working exhaustively to modify it. I usually loved getting into the passenger seat of his car. For some reason, I just felt like I was at home with the smell of the restored leather and the roar of the engine filling my senses. Today was different. Today I was really pissed. Today I wanted answers. “Hey Nessie!” Jake said cheerfully. I turned to face him as he began pulling down our winding driveway. His smile faltered as soon as he saw my face. “Is something wrong?” The concern was heartfelt.

“Yes, something’s wrong Jake,” I said angrily. “And today I’m going to make it better. I’m sick and tired of lying awake in bed at night wondering what the heck I did to you to make you treat me this way.” Jake’s face went ashen, and his eyes grew huge. “Tell me what I did Nessie. Whatever it is, I didn’t mean it. Whatever it is, I’m sorry.” I almost lost grip on my anger as I heard the pain in his voice, but I had committed to my course at around three this morning, and I was not going to go another day hiding my frustration from him. “Jake, why are you being so weird?” I began. “How am I being weird?” he asked cautiously. “Why didn’t you want to go skydiving last week?” “I told you Nessie, it’s dangerous.” “That’s never stopped you before. Jake, please be honest with me.” I stared at his face while he looked intensely at the road ahead in an effort to hide his emotions. “Jake, answer me. Please,” I pleaded. He sighed and said, “I didn’t go skydiving last week because I thought your dad would be mad at me for putting you at risk. I’ve been trying hard recently not to tick Edward off.” “Why? Did Dad say something to you?” All of sudden I remembered that Dad and Jake had gone upstairs yesterday. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I wondered if something had been going on that everyone was hiding from me. I hated being left in the dark and treated like a kid. “No, he never said anything to me. I just didn’t want to make him mad.” “Well, what the hell for?” I said as my irritation continued to grow. “Dad gets mad at us all the time. He gets over it.” Jake’s mouth shaped itself into a hard line as he murmured, “I didn’t think he would get over this.” “Skydiving? After the stupid stuff he’s done and Mom’s done, why would skydiving be such a big deal?” Jake sighed again in defeat. “To hell with it,” he whispered to himself as he pulled the car onto the shoulder and turned it off. I sat there, confusion mixing in with my irritation. “It wasn’t about the skydiving, Nessie. It’s never been about the skydiving. It’s something about me.” “Well then would you please stop being a secretive jerk and tell me what is going on?” Jake just stared at me with a look that made my stomach feel weird. He took a shaky breath and leaned over to me. I knew my eyes were huge in their puzzlement. What the hell is wrong with Jake? All of a sudden, fear gripped me in my realization. “Jake are you sick? Is that what’s going on? Please tell me what’s wrong! It’s driving me insane. If something’s wrong, we can fix it. I’ll stop being so terrible to you. Just tell me what’s wrong!” He picked up his right arm. I could see it trembling as he reached over to push my hair out of my face, and then he placed his hand on my cheek. I felt a strange sensation as the heat of his palm soaked into my skin, and it almost felt as though he had shocked me slowly. The

warmth in his dark eyes intensified. I felt an unbearable urge to reach over and touch his face . . . it was mystifying and unfathomable. He opened his mouth to say something, hesitating . . . conflicted. “I can’t do it,” he whispered. “I’m sorry Nessie. I just can’t. Not now.” “What are you talking about?” I exclaimed as the strange feeling in my stomach began to be replaced again with anger. “Please Nessie. I promise I’ll tell you. I just can’t do it now. Give me one more day. Please?” “Jake I told you I would stop being such a heinous brat to you. If something’s wrong, we can fix it! I can fix it!” “No Nessie. It’s nothing you did. Please just give me another day. I’m begging you here. Please?” His face looked so pathetic that I nodded in agreement before I thought it through. “Just so you know, this means I’m going to be angry at you until you tell me, Jacob Black!” I said as my ire reinstated itself in the face of temporary defeat. “I’m sorry Nessie. I’ll make it up to you,” he said in obvious pain. Again, the inexplicable desire to reach out and touch him consumed my thoughts. Whatever! He wasn’t going to con me into letting this go with his pathetic, injured puppy act! Committed again in my frustration, I crossed my arms across my chest and ignored him for the duration of the car ride to school. “You get one more day Jake. Only one. Then you had better tell me everything,” I said angrily as I slammed the car door shut and stomped up the stairs. I peeked over my shoulder and saw him slumped over the steering wheel with his forehead pressed to the leather. I almost turned around to apologize. Crap, I’m turning into Mom! I ground my teeth together and forced myself to keep walking. I was so confused and frustrated that I marched without stopping to French class. My face must have looked interesting because everyone just cleared a path for me while trying to avoid staring. I saw that Yuri had saved me a seat next to her in the back of the class, so I continued my march straight up to the desk and sat down rigidly. “Uh, Nessie? Is something wrong?” “Why do you think something’s wrong?” I said through pursed lips. “Well your face is all flushed and your eyes look kind of strange . . . kind of sparkly. Honestly, you look high.” I smiled a little in spite of myself. “I’m just really pissed off Yuri.” “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked kindly. “Well . . . it’s kind of complicated.” “Then it must be about a guy,” she said with certainty. Huh? I didn’t get it. “Um, it’s not that kind of complicated Yuri.” “Nessie we’re sixteen year old girls. The only thing about our lives that merits the word ‘complicated’ is boy trouble.” She paused for effect. “Wait,” she said as if she suddenly remembered something. “Is this about that tanned, Rebel Without a Cause type from yesterday?” I just stared at her with my eyebrows furrowed and my mouth hanging slightly opened. That was quick. I dropped my voice down as Madame Patton began her lecture.

“It is, but it’s not what you’re thinking, you idiot.” “If it’s not, then I’d love a chance to have ‘complications’ with him. Man, he was smoking hot!” At her words, an unchecked spark of anger radiated from me. She saw it immediately on my face. “See! I knew it! It is that type of complicated,” Yuri said with satisfaction. “What are you talking about?” I said angrily. “Oh please Nessie. I didn’t pin you for dense. You were just angry at me for saying I was interested in the motorcycle guy. That must mean you like him.” “No seriously, I don’t Yuri. Jake’s like a brother to me. We’ve been friends since I was a little girl.” “That doesn’t mean anything. I saw you two together yesterday. I saw the way he looked at you. He looked at you like you had just brought the light into his day. I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t know if you liked him too. Now I do,” she leaned back in her chair smugly as Madame Patton glared at us, mentally warning us to stop talking. My mind was literally racing inside my head. Could that be Jake’s problem? I mentally reviewed our conversation from this morning. “I’ve been trying hard recently not to tick Edward off.” “It’s never been about the skydiving.” “I didn’t think he would get over this.” Oh my God. Was this it? Was this why he hadn’t been touching me either? Out of everything strange that he had done in the last couple of weeks, I could not bring myself to admit to anyone that this had been the most hurtful. My memories were filled with times Jake had hugged me tightly, put his arm around my neck in camaraderie, or mock-punched my arm whenever I made fun of him. Our friendship had always been one of trust and openness. Whenever he stopped touching me, I felt as though there were something hideously wrong with me . . . as though I were inflicted with the plague. All throughout the rest of the day I considered the changes in Jake over the last few weeks. In the vacuum of the rationalization that Yuri had been so astute at deducing, most of it made complete sense. Jake was avoiding me so my Dad wouldn’t see in Jake’s mind that he cared for me more than a friend should. Avoiding skydiving simply had to do with risk management . . . if he already knew that Dad was irritated, it wasn’t a good idea to push his luck. He wasn’t touching me to prevent anything inappropriate from crossing his thoughts. Poor Jake. My Dad must have made his life a living hell the last few weeks. It immediately occurred to me that Dad must have known about all of this . . . known about it and said nothing to me. Which meant of course that Mom knew too. My parents had this weird sort of marriage in the sense that they never hid anything from each other. They talked together about everything all the time. It was clear to anyone watching them that they were totally and completely obsessed with each other. Their mutual devotion was even sickening to me at times. Even though I outwardly offered a jaded perspective when it came to love as a product of my intellectual upbringing (you can’t believe in love and read Jean-Paul Sartre for an extended period of time), I had always secretly admired and desired what my parents had

in each other. I had never stopped to think about having that with a particular person, especially not Jake. Jake was . . . Jake was family. He was home. I had no memory that failed to include Jake. He had always been there to catch me before I fell whenever I did something stupid. I remembered his warm hands guiding mine over all of the buttons and levers as he taught me how to ride my Harley this summer. As I recalled the sensation of being slowly shocked when he put his palm on my cheek this morning, I thought about walking through the woods with him the last time right before he phased to talk to Seth. The rain had glistened on his bare chest and huge arms, and I had made fun of him for looking like a roided-out meathead. I recalled his muscular, tall form again with a very different perspective. Warmth filled my stomach and rose into my throat. Was it possible? Did I really have feelings for Jake? I thought about it with an earnest and open heart. Immediately upon my consideration, I knew that it had to be the truth because a sense of peace washed over me. It made sense. It was right. It was home. Chapter 10: Revelation – Edward “Bella please stop apologizing. If I weren’t so furious at that bastard, I would actually find your one-woman show of rage at lunch quite amusing,” I said to her with a half-smile. “I just can’t believe that after lecturing you about controlling yourself, I was the idiot who lost it!” she said with her eyes turned down in shame. I sighed again. Ever since the debacle by my car, Bella had been biting her lip and looking at me with her huge eyes, begging me to forgive her for yelling at a man I would just as soon as tear to shreds calmly in front of anyone willing to watch. He had called my saving grace a whore, and I had let him walk away unscathed. I was probably the one who should be apologizing. My eyes narrowed again at the memory, and Bella mistook my grimace. She groaned, “I know! I know! I’ll try harder Edward. I swear I will!” “Isabella . . . stop. It’s hard enough to let that thing continue strutting around school without having to consider your regret for giving him a small taste of the truth he desperately needs to hear.” “Well, I’m hoping that he’s lost some of his interest in me, now that he thinks I’m a whore with a temper,” she said in an attempt at humor. I snarled . . . the only word my mind had focused on was the obscene insult to my wife. “Edward. It’s just a word. Please stop thinking like a turn-of-the-century man and realize that a word is only as powerful as you allow it to be. I know that I’m not a whore. I also think it’s really ironic that a boy who numbers his conquests thinks he can effectively insult a woman who married the only man she ever slept with by calling her a whore. It’s kind of funny in a way.” “It’s not funny in the slightest. It’s a good thing Jasper and Emmett showed up when they did. I had been contemplating interesting ways to make Nate apologize to you.”

“It’s also a good thing that Alice saw what you were about to do and sent Jazz and Em to stop you.” “That depends on your perspective,” I said under my breath. We were in the back of seventh period Biology lab, and we had finished our work on titrations in less than fifteen minutes. Ordinarily I would have found the fact that we were in Biology lab together quite romantic . . . this was the class at Forks High that had been the beginning of my real life. I had first met Bella Swan in Biology lab. Again, this boy was stealing poignant moments of my life away from me by intruding on our happiness. The list of reasons to annihilate him was growing at a rapid rate. I wonder why those two in the back aren’t working on their lab? They probably don’t know what to do. God doesn’t usually bless the beautiful with brains. I saw the instructor, Mrs. Shea, begin walking towards our lab table. I made a small motion with my eyes to Bella to indicate that the teacher was coming over, and Bella immediately picked up her pen to make it look like we had just finished the last question. “How are you two doing? Do you need any help?” My goodness but she’s pretty. And he . . . Well, I . . . I smiled to myself at her internal struggle with the appropriateness of her childishly vulgar thoughts. He’s only sixteen Jennifer! Sixteen! Stop! Wrong by a hundred. “I actually think we’re nearly done Mrs. Shea,” I said with a smile that replayed another tacky scene in her mind. “But thanks so much for coming over to check,” Bella said kindly. I could see the amusement in her eyes as she considered Mrs. Shea’s flushed face. Even though Bella could not read the thoughts of others, she was always unusually perceptive. Bella’s voice abruptly ended Mrs. Shea’s fantasy involving the lab table, and Mrs. Shea reached over to take our paper from the desk and check it. I saw the surprise register on her face as she realized that we had done everything right and produced the correct answers on the first try. Well. I didn’t expect them to get everything right like this. It seems that all these two have been doing since class started is talking to each other like no one else is in the room. They’re a little young to be so intense. “It looks like you’ve finished the lab already . . . on the first try,” she said dubiously. “There are some students here who could probably use your help. I know Sabrina is struggling to finish since her lab partner is not here today. I’ll tell her to come back here, and you two can help her out. Okay?” “Yes ma’am,” Bella said, always polite. Mrs. Shea walked to the front of the classroom and motioned for a girl to come over and sit with us. As the girl began collecting her things slowly, I remembered her from two separate recollections. I had seen her with Nate a few times in the hallway, sadly following his posse like a reluctant groupie. I also knew that this was the girl who had broken Alex Morales’ heart. She was very beautiful, in a manner similar to Rosalie if not as striking. Her hair was blond and curled attractively to her shoulders, and she had a petite but curvaceous figure. To me, her most memorable feature was her eyes. They were emerald green and filled with sadness, like a person who has seen enough pain for one lifetime. She began walking over to us. Bella plastered a friendly smile on her face in an effort to make Sabrina comfortable.

God this is like a nightmare. Could my week get any worse? I knew that Nate would dump me eventually, but now I have to go and sit with the new object of his desire? Just shoot me now and get it over with. To top it off, it looks like she’s not as stupid as I was. God he was pissed off about her rejecting him. Honestly though, that Edward guy is really gorgeous. Ha. Maybe if Nate steals her away Edward and I can create a castoff couple . . . since I’m sure Alex will never talk to me again. The sadness in her eyes deepened as she sat down in front of us and forced a smile. “Hi. I’m Sabrina Hoffman. Brina.” “I’m Bella and this is Edward. It’s really nice to meet you,” Bella said warmly. Great. She’s fabulously beautiful AND really nice. “So Brina, let’s knock this lab out of the way so that we can use the rest of the class to waste time,” I said with a grin. Whoa. This is too much. Gorgeous and a good guy? I didn’t think it was possible. We began working with her to redo the lab. I could see that Bella was trying very hard to make her movements and behavior look as human as possible under such close scrutiny. “Bella, I think you left off a decimal point when you wrote down that last calculation,” I said patiently. “Did I? No it’s there silly. It’s just hard to read because of my handwriting.” “Well, now that you mention it, your handwriting does look pretty atrocious, don’t you think Brina?” I said with a wink. Her smile became less hesitant. “It looks okay to me,” she said kindly. “Well if my handwriting looks so bad Mr. Perfect, maybe you could actually do something instead of sitting here passing judgment on things no one cares about!” Bella said as she stuck her tongue out at me in an absurdly cute way. “I thought you’d never ask,” I laughed as I took the lab report and began making notations in my clear script. Ugh. He treats her well. In fact, he hasn’t even looked at me once because he’s too busy staring at her. He’s so kind to her, like Alex. Not at all like Nate . . . Her mind filled with memories that actually made me abhor Nathan McFadden even more. As if he weren’t among the more detestable humans I had encountered in my life, Nate had actually struck Sabrina a few times. She mentally recalled a bruise she had on her arm, and it took a great deal of control on my part to hide the fact that I saw her thoughts. She sighed again as she began the last part of the lab with Bella’s help. Bella’s warmth and energy seemed to help thaw the cold hurt in Sabrina’s eyes as they worked together quickly and efficiently. I really do think I like Bella. She’s not at all like I thought she was going to be. Usually girls with so much don’t waste kindness on those with less unless it’s for personal gain. I should know. I used to be her . . . and then I threw it all away. Maybe I should say something about Nate. She might think I’m weird, but she’s just so nice. Edward really loves her too. I can tell. I don’t want her to throw it away. “Done!” Bella said with a big smile. “Are you going to write it down Cullen, or should I?” she asked teasingly. I smiled and began writing. It’s now or never. Do one good thing this year Brina, and stop being such a chicken. “Um. I really don’t mean to pry Bella, but I just wanted to tell you that I really admire you for

standing up to Nate. I know it’s not easy. He’s not so nice when he doesn’t get his way.” She winced and her memories filled me with fury. “I know that it’s tough now, but you’re doing the right thing. I speak from personal experience. Nate is not as fabulous as he’d like to think he is. I know that I’m poking my nose into your business, but don’t throw away good things for a mirage. McFadden is definitely a mirage,” she mused sadly. Bella just looked over at Sabrina with newfound affection. “Brina, I really appreciate what you said. Don’t worry; I have no intention of throwing anything away. I’m sure that the things you think you’ve discarded are waiting for you when you’re ready to pick them up.” “I don’t think so,” Sabrina said sadly. “But at least I can say something to you before you become the next fool with a tattoo that forever reminds you of how stupid you are.” She held up her left wrist. On the inside below her palm, the letters “NM” were etched into her skin. “He likes to leave tokens of remembrance. It’s funny. Before I met him, I never would have considered getting a tattoo. Then one night, I’m the blonde bimbo giggling in a chair getting his initials branded onto my skin while he and his cousin get some freaky word tattooed on their chest. At least I should have asked him to put my initials somewhere, don’t you think? It’s funny how infatuation makes you do stupid things,” she said with a sarcastic laugh. I already knew that it wasn’t Sabrina’s sole fault that things had gone this way. Whatever power Nate possessed that was ineffectual when it came to us had definitely served its purpose with her. In an attempt at being lighthearted, Bella said, “Well maybe we can tie him down and force him to get your name tattooed somewhere. I hope the word they put on his chest means “Dumbass” in another language.” Sabrina laughed with Bella. “I don’t think it means that . . . I think Nate told me that it’s some weird word in Gaelic or Celtic . . . or maybe it was Old English. I don’t remember. He didn’t tell me what it meant.” I saw the word in her head as it was scripted across Nathan’s chest. It looked like it began with a “W” . . . her memory was too faded for me to make out any of the other letters. It was probably some self-congratulatory moniker that only a brain as unoriginal as Nate’s would devise. The bell rang then. “Thanks again Brina.” “No problem Bella. Just don’t make my mistakes,” she said as the sadness crept back into her eyes. “Mistakes can be corrected Sabrina. All you have to do is fight to correct them. Don’t beat yourself up about it,” I murmured quietly. “Thanks Edward. Have a good afternoon.” God I miss Alex. Edward reminds me of him. He’s just a really decent guy with a kind heart. Why did I ever . . . I wish I could take it back. I’d do anything to take it back. The pain in her thoughts tore at my chest. Both Sabrina and Alex were two good people who had been caught up in a tempest’s storm . . . a storm controlled by Nate. I knew I wanted to help them for both independently being kind enough to care that the same fate did not befall Bella and I. Perhaps we could find a way to help them see into their hearts as well as I could see into their minds. I waited by Bella’s locker for her to collect her things so that we could go home. As she bent over to put her books into her bag, I heard the thoughts of quite a few boys in our vicinity as they admired the way the tight white pants enhanced the shape of her legs . . . legs that

had been lengthened considerably by her stilettos. I frowned as I moved behind Bella to block their view. Alice. That lovably annoying little vampire was not helping me quash my possessive streak. Bella turned around in puzzlement. “Is something wrong?” she whispered. I sighed. “Nothing’s wrong. At least nothing I can do anything about.” I reached to put my arms around her and lifted her gently from the floor in a tight embrace. From the corner of my eye, I saw Alex Morales watching us with a bitterly satisfied smile. I’m really glad for them. I can’t believe she laughed at Nate when he tried to ask her out. She must be really tough. Edward sure doesn’t look bothered by any of this. It must be nice to know that you’re worth holding onto . . . no matter the temptation. I decided right then that I needed to go and speak with him. If Nate was abusing Brina, it was time for something to be done about it . . . I already knew that Brina still had feelings for Alex, and it was time he realized the truth so that she no longer felt trapped in a prison of her own making. The incorrigible romantic in me knew that Alex would do anything to help Brina . . . it was the blessing and the curse of loving someone. Nothing else mattered. I put Bella down and whispered in her ear to let her know what I was doing. She smiled and squeezed my hand in support. I walked over to Alex. Man I wish I had Cullen’s confidence . . . and his clothes. That car would sure be nice too. I’d probably still have Brina. He mused sarcastically. “Hey Alex. Do you mind if I borrow you for a couple of minutes?” “Uh, sure thing Edward. What’s up?” “I just had last period Biology with Brina, and I wanted to talk to you about something.” Alex froze as he detected the look of concern on my face. Brina? “Is she okay?” I paused for a moment, considering how to go about telling him that the woman he loved with all his heart was in an abusive relationship with a guy we both hated. I knew how I would react. Maybe I should have done this more privately. “Alex,” I began gently, “I know that this is probably not the best way to go about doing this, and forgive me for not choosing a better time and place than now. You did me a favor the other day, and I want to help in whatever way I can.” I took a deep breath. What the heck is going on? “Brina has . . . bruises Alex,” I said as softly as possible. Bruises? From what . . . It took him only a moment to put it together. I’ll kill him! I’ll kill the bastard! ¿Dónde está ese pedazo de mierda? His face was contorted. I put my hand on his shoulder to hold him back as he looked about wildly for the object of his fury. “Alex. It won’t help anything to go after him now. You need to take a moment and think.” “Is that what you would do? If he’d beaten Bella . . . would you stop to think?” he said hoarsely, his shoulders shaking with rage. My eyes narrowed, and I looked in his eyes and lied. “If I wanted to do what was best for Bella, than yes.” “You’re lying Cullen. You’d rip his arms right out of the sockets. Let me go.” He struggled in vain to push back my arm. “Alex . . . Brina needs you now. She still loves you. I know it. Let go of your hate for McFadden and be there for her.” His face softened slightly, but the bitter wrath was still readily apparent. He looked around again more calmly, and his eyes warmed when he saw Sabrina quietly putting her books into her bag to go home. “Please. I have to talk to her. Let me go Edward. I won’t do anything right now.” But as soon as I see that cabron, he’s a dead man.

I released my grip on his shoulder and watched as he walked slowly over to Brina. Her back was still to him as she closed her locker with a sigh. “Brina?” Alex said softly. Her shoulders froze, and she turned around awkwardly. “Alex?” Her eyes were huge with shock. “I can’t believe you’d even want to speak to me,” she said as the tears shimmered precariously. “Sabrina. How could you let him? Why? Why didn’t you come to me?” “What are you talking about Alex?” “He hit you Sabrina. Don’t deny it.” The tears splashed over onto her trembling cheeks. She looked down in shame. I could see Alex’s shoulders shaking again in anger at the final confirmation in her silence. “Don’t worry Brina. He won’t touch you again. He won’t be able to. I’m going to . . .” He didn’t get to finish his sentence because Sabrina threw her arms around his neck. “Alex! I’ve missed you so much. Even if you don’t want me anymore, I have to tell you how sorry I am . . . for everything. Please forgive me,” she sobbed quietly. He slowly put his arms around Sabrina and said the words that would begin to mend their broken hearts, “There’s nothing to forgive.” They stood embracing quietly in the midst of the noisy melee of students slamming lockers while chatting and laughing in the anticipatory spirit that indicated the culmination of another day of school. Satisfied with the product of my meddling, I smiled and turned my back attention down the hall. My phone began vibrating in my pocket. She’s lying. I know that she’s lying. The truth has a different flavor. Lies are bitter. The truth is sweet. I’ll make her tell the truth. “Get away from me,” the quietly enraged voice of Bella drowned all else around me. Idiot! I shoved my way back through the crowd trying to return to where I had carelessly left Bella by her locker. What I saw through the milling students when a line of sight had cleared nearly made me shove everyone in my path to the side, all thoughts of caution and discretion consumed in a fire of rage. Colin McFadden had his forearm pinned across Bella’s neck, and she was shoved against the wall of lockers coolly glaring at him. Three other boys that I dimly recognized from the football team were casually standing around Bella and Colin to hide them from the view of the distracted masses. There’s something wrong with this girl. Nate was right. We need to find out what’s wrong with her. She’s not scared at all. It almost looks like she wants me to try to do something to her. It doesn’t matter. My mind screams to me that she is lying. She will tell me the truth. “You’d better let go of me Colin. You will seriously regret it if you don’t.” Bella’s voice was calm. “I’ll let you go whenever you answer my question honestly.” The struggle to make my way through the throng of children without injuring them was taking every ounce of my concentration. I finally broke through the crowd and paused a moment to harness my wrath. Bella saw me and shrugged at Colin, “It’s your funeral.” “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I said in a quietly menacing voice. The football lackeys immediately refocused on me. Their eyes had a strange, glazed over look that I couldn’t place . . . and their minds were curiously blank and devoid of thought. Colin looked at me without fear and did not lower his arm from Bella’s neck. “Bella and I were just having a conversation. She was lying to me, and I don’t like liars,” he said nonchalantly.

“Take your hand off of her now.” “Or what Cullen? I already know from Nate that you’re chicken. You won’t do anything.” “Maybe he won’t, but I will,” I heard the voice of Alex Morales behind me. “Get away from her, Colin. You and your cousin are done with threatening women and getting away with it,” he said with flashing eyes. When Alex spoke up, all of the students trying to ignore the scene began to form a circle around us. Alex had come to stand behind me. I saw the boy from this morning . . . the one who had loved my car so much come to stand behind me as well. Colin McFadden is a jerk. He’s trying to beat up a girl? That’s taking it a bit far. I walked over to Colin and shoved aside the arm of the football player who tried to stop me. I grabbed Colin’s free arm. He recoiled slightly from my touch. “You have five seconds McFadden. Five . . . four . . .” “What’s going on out here? Break it up this instant! Colin? Alex?” It was our homeroom teacher. Colin immediately released Bella. “Everything’s fine Mr. Stauffer. Just a little misunderstanding. We’ve worked it out.” “Well everyone go home! No more of this nonsense,” he said in the true fashion of someone forced to discipline but anxious to avoid exercising that right. Colin stared at me for a moment. Nate’s not going to be happy that I didn’t get the truth from Cullen’s stubborn little hellcat. I guess we’ll try again later. He turned and began walking down the hall with the blank minds following after him wordlessly. Bella’s eyes were still flashing with anger. I just looked at her, frozen. Bella took one glance at me and then turned to smile at everyone else to show that nothing was wrong. “Thanks for sticking up for me Alex! That was a little silly. Colin has quite a temper!” Alex was not convinced as he looked at my rigid stance with concern. “Edward . . . are you okay?” he asked quietly. “He’s fine Alex! Don’t worry. He just shuts down a bit when he gets mad. Don’t worry about him. We’ll see you tomorrow!” she said hurriedly. Bella grabbed my arm and dragged me outside of the school towards the parking lot. I had not taken a breath or blinked since the teacher had stopped me from ripping Colin McFadden’s arm off of his body. She paused by my car. “Edward? I can’t drive this thing. Can you snap out of it so that we can get out of here?” Like a wordless machine, I made the motions of getting in the car and turning it on. As soon as we had cleared the parking lot, I floored the accelerator and the car leapt forward with a roar. Bella said nothing. I continued to drive, passing the turn to go home. The winding roads flashed by us at dangerous speeds, and still I could not bring myself to calm down. Finally I pulled over onto a side road overlooking the mountains. I stepped out of the car, and Bella silently moved towards me. I grabbed her and pulled her into my arms in a lightning quick motion. “Why didn’t you call for me?” I said quietly. “Edward. He wasn’t going to hurt me. He can’t hurt me.”

“It doesn’t matter. I already had to deal with one man insulting you today. The fact that Colin even thought it was permissible to put his hands on you . . .” “Edward, don’t be mad. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I pushed Colin a bit on purpose because he was acting so strangely. He came over to me and asked me what was wrong with my head. I thought it was an odd question to ask. He said that when his cousin wants something, he usually has no problem getting it. Then he said that I was causing Nate problems . . . and that I knew why. I tried to laugh at him, and I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about. He looked at me weird for a second, and then he said I was lying. I swear Edward, it was almost like he knew I was lying. He was so certain. Then he pushed me against the lockers and demanded that I tell him the truth. You know the rest.” I did know the rest. There was only one conclusion to be made from all of this. The Cullen family was not the only family in Brevard with a secret. All the way home I considered what we were dealing with. From the first day that I met Nate, I had known that something was seriously off with him. His mind manipulations did not work on us, but I knew that they were very effective on humans . . . they had destroyed Alex and Brina’s relationship. Now we had discovered that Colin retained some ineffable ability to instinctively know the difference between truth and lies. We pulled into the garage at home. As soon as we walked in the door, Alice was standing there waiting with Jasper. “I’m sorry Edward. Colin made a split-second decision when he saw Bella standing by her locker alone.” “It’s not your fault Alice. I’m the fool who left her by herself.” “You two act like I’m still a fragile human! What’s the worst that would have happened? He would have smashed his hand into little bits when he tried to hit me?” Bella exclaimed with exasperation. I heard Jasper let out a low growl. Jasper’s anger was surprising to me until I saw in his head that he was picturing a human boy physically threatening Alice. Even though Alice was the last vampire anyone would deem helpless, the mere thought of her being threatened was enough to incite Jasper’s wrath. Jasper would not have let Colin McFadden walk away unscathed. He made that very clear in his thoughts. “What would you have me do Jazz?” I asked quietly. “If I had killed the boy in front of all those children, how do you think we would have dealt with that situation?” “I’m not criticizing you Edward. I know you did the right thing. I just know that I would not have been able to do it,” he responded honestly. “What’s done is done, and no one is passing judgment on anyone. As usual, I’m proud of your control son,” Carlisle said to me as he walked into the room with Esme. “I don’t understand why Colin would go as far as to threaten Bella on his cousin’s behalf. Was it really worth all of that effort?” Esme stated with confusion. “I don’t think his sole purpose was to threaten Bella, Esme. He was trying to get the truth from her,” I said. “I don’t understand,” she replied. Bella told them what Colin had said to her, and I confirmed his ardent belief in her lies by relating his thoughts to my family.

“I think Colin can tell when people are lying by reading into their words, and Nate can control the human mind,” I surmised succinctly. “The problem is, I don’t know the extent of their abilities because they have not stopped to think about them in my presence.” “And we don’t intend on antagonizing them into showing us,” Carlisle said with a wry look at Jasper. “There is nothing more dangerous than the unknown.” At that moment, Emmett and Rosalie walked into the kitchen from the garage. “Hello fellow warmongers! You’ll be excited to know that Phase Two of our diabolical scheme was pulled off successfully!” Emmett was ebullient from track practice, and I was immediately inundated with his excited thoughts. I tried to push them out of my head so that I could explain to them what had transpired. Emmett would not be ignored. He had successfully managed to beat Colin’s best time in the hundred-yard dash, and Emmett was very pleased with himself. Colin had been extremely upset by the loss. Fragmented images of Emmett’s glory flashed through his mind. “Emmett, we can definitely talk about this later, but . . .” At that moment, a mental image of Colin in the locker room glaring at Emmett passed through Emmett’s gleeful mind. Colin was standing in a towel with wet hair, and the fury was evident on his face. The tattoo on his chest was clearly presented in Emmett’s flawless vampiric memory. “Wait,” I said. I reached into Bella’s bag and pulled out a pen and paper. Sketching from the image in Emmett’s mind, I drew out the word emblazoned across Colin’s excuse for a heart. It was not that large, and the complicated swirls from the calligraphy appeared to distort the letters making it difficult for anyone to discern the actual word from the overall effect. I turned the paper around for my family to look at. I picked out each letter of the word carefully from the surrounding embellishments. “Wǣrloga” . . . I saw Carlisle’s mind deduce the letters soon after I did. My gift of languages was second to Carlisle’s in my family, and I saw him rapidly going through various etymologies and languages. . . “Sabrina said she thought it was Old English, Gaelic, or Celtic,” I murmured to my family. All of a sudden, I saw Carlisle’s body freeze . . . I saw the word in his thoughts as soon as he translated it. My horror was mirrored in his face. I remembered Alex’s innocent words from the time he had first approached me. “Almost like he put a spell on her or something.” Warlock. Chapter 11: Revelation – Jacob Hours later, my hand still burned from the aching moment I had touched her cheek. I knew I was screwed. I had spent the better part of the day trying to forget the task ahead of me . . . How do you tell the woman you’ve secretly been in love with that she was meant to be with you from the day she was born without sounding like a freak? The quick answer is that you don’t tell her, not if you want to continue living in the grey area of sanity. I knew that coming clean was going to mean that I would either have my life made or destroyed in the matter of a few moments. That thought made me want to hurl.

I remembered the night years ago when I told Bella I loved her. The night I had asked her to choose me instead of her bloodsucking excuse for a boyfriend. My heart had hammered in my chest like the wings of a hummingbird, and I had argued with myself for hours up until the moment she had been dropped off at the boundary line in La Push. Even though I had known it was a long shot that Bella would ever have eyes for anyone other than Edward Cullen, the chance that she might care for me had forced me to act. I needed to act so that I would know I had done everything I possibly could. Trying to conjure up the same level of courage regarding Nessie was harder than I thought it was going to be. I knew why. Bella had never been mine to lose. When something doesn’t really belong to you, how can you truly feel the torment of losing it? Nessie was different. She had quietly been mine from the day she was born. Everyone knew it . . . everyone except for her. She was not going to be happy to find that out. The anguish of losing something that was meant for me would be more than I could even consider at the moment. It had been hard enough to let Bella go even when she wasn’t intended for me. The suffering I had experienced picturing her in the arms of an arrogant leech had nearly driven me out of my mind. I didn’t even want to think about seeing Nessie with anyone else; the toxic mixture of desperation and hatred churned into acidic bile in my stomach at the mere thought. I could only begin to conceive right now the suffering of Edward Cullen those long months he had forced himself into exile. I couldn’t imagine taking a free breath without Nessie’s lingering scent in the air. My life was inextricably linked with hers. If Nessie didn’t want me . . . I shuddered as I continued working on the suspension of the Thunderbird above my head. When I had told Carlisle I needed to find a hobby while Nessie was at school so that I wouldn’t lounge around at home with nothing to do, I had not expected him to be so generous. The day he gave me the keys to the garage and auto repair shop he and Edward had purchased for me in Brevard, I seriously had no idea what to say. “You’re a Cullen now Jacob . . . in spirit if not in name. Cullens never do anything halfway,” Carlisle had said with a kind smile. Whenever I was not around Nessie, I was at the garage working on old cars and motorcycles, giving advice on customizations, and laughing with the two men, Eric and Dave, who had owned the garage beforehand and continued to work there as my employees with a generous salary put together by Carlisle. I had always felt at home around engines and machinery, and it felt wonderful to have a place to call my own. Even though I had spent most of the time since Nessie’s birth with my adopted family, I still did not feel as though I had a right to call their home my home. The difference between that distinction all hinged on the decision of a stubbornly beautiful brat who had possessed my mind and captured my heart six years ago. Six years of ignorant bliss. It would be all over in a day. The ignorance would be gone, and the bliss . . . The ringing bell at the front desk distracted me. I slid out from under the car and wiped my hands on the towel hanging from my waist. The man standing behind the counter stared at me with an intense look that made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Even when he smiled at me, the strange feeling did not go away. “Are you Jacob Black?” he said with a polished accent that sounded European. His hair was grey at the temples, and he looked around the same age as my dad. I smiled back at him, “Yes sir. What can I do for you?” “You seem a little young to me, but everyone tells me that you’re the man to speak with regarding older cars, so here I am.”

“Well, I’ve been working on cars ever since I was a boy, and I am especially passionate about older cars, so what can I do for you?” I was a little annoyed as usual about having to explain my obvious youth. I had been claiming for the last three years to be nineteen, and it always irritated me whenever people doubted my abilities due to a youthful appearance I had no control over. A hazard of being a shapeshifting werewolf. “I recently acquired an MG MGB Roadster, and the engine appears to need some work. Would you mind taking a look at it?” he queried. “Sure thing. Is it outside?” I followed him to the front of the garage. The cane he used to walk with slowed our progress, and I wondered what had happened to his leg. He was just under six feet tall with a hawk-like face, and he was dressed in pricey clothes. The only reason I knew that is because I had lived in a home with Alice Cullen for the last six years. His suit looked professionally tailored and very expensive. The car was a beauty. Extremely well-maintained. “Wow, this car is in amazing shape. 1966 right?” I asked. He smiled arrogantly, “Yes. I believe that’s correct.” I lifted the hood and noticed some regular wear and tear along with a glaring issue in the engine that needed immediate attention. I pointed it out to him and said it could be fixed but it would take me some time to get the parts and correct the problem. He listened while staring intently at me with his light blue eyes. Again, some part of me felt strange to have him so near, almost like I knew he had a contagious disease. When I was finished explaining the issue to him, he smiled in satisfaction and said, “It sounds to me like I’ve come to the right place. How long do you need me to leave the car here?” I thought for a moment. “Maybe about two to three weeks?” “That sounds fine. Just let me know when it is completed.” He began to walk slowly towards a waiting chauffeured Town Car that I had not noticed earlier. “Sir? Would you like me to write up an estimate for you? I can call you if you leave me your number,” I said, puzzled that he had not thought to ask for a price. “Oh, how remiss of me. My name is Niall McFadden. Here is my card. The price is not a concern. If I were cheated, I would know. I trust that you will treat me honestly and fairly Mr. Black. I will be in touch in two weeks for an update.” He turned back towards the Town Car without waiting for a response or looking back. I was beginning to place his lilting accent as either Irish or Scottish. I could never tell the two apart. I looked at his business card. He was a chemical engineer, and he owned his own consulting and research business in that field. I did not know what about him made me feel uncomfortable, but it was clear that Niall McFadden was an interesting character. I would have to remember to tell Nessie about him later. She loved people with memorable idiosyncrasies. Nessie! I looked at the clock. I was running behind to pick her up from school. Dammit! She was already mad at me. “Hey guys,” I yelled to Dave and Eric, “I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you later to close up.” I grabbed my keys and hopped into my Mustang. I was halfway there when the rain started to fall. Man she was going to be pissed if I left her waiting in the rain. I pushed the accelerator on the car in an attempt to get there sooner. The tires squealed as I rounded the curving driveway of the school. I saw her waiting on the stairs in the rain from a distance with a look of extreme irritation on her face. She was holding a notebook on her head to save her hair from getting wet. Even though I knew she was mad at me and that she unknowingly held the fate of my happiness in her delicate hands, I was so glad to see her that I had to restrain myself from looking overeager as she bounded down the steps and to the car. “Late much?” she said sarcastically as she threw herself into the passenger seat.

I took in a deep breath of the perfume her hair and her skin always carried . . . it was like inhaling a sedative to my overstressed nerves. It’s pretty funny when the thing that could kill you also manages to save you at the same time. Being around Nessie nowadays was a blessing and a curse, and I would keep the curse forever if it meant never having to leave her side. I began driving home. “I mean seriously Jake. Do you need a watch? Dad has about twenty of them. I’m sure he wouldn’t miss one of his older Piagets or Rolexes.” She seemed a bit edgy to me, and her eyes were overbright. I wondered what was wrong as I ignored her comments. “Did you have a good day at school?” “If you haven’t forgotten Jacob, I’m still mad at you, and therefore not talking to you. My day was interesting. Let’s leave it at that.” “How was it interesting?” I asked in a lame attempt to keep her talking. “So now you’re incapable of punctuality and you’ve eaten your eardrums. I said we would leave it at that!” She was clearly highly irritated. Or could she be stressed? Her gaze darted all around the car, and she seemed unable to sit still. I pulled myself from the mental haze I had existed in all day and focused harder on Nessie. When I tried to hold her gaze, blood rushed to her cheeks and she quickly looked out her window. “Nessie? I know you’re mad at me, but did something bad happen in school today? You look upset.” She glared at me for a moment as she regained better footing on the anger she was using as a distraction. “You know why I’m upset Jake. Don’t act coy. If you don’t want me to be upset, all you have to do is tell me what’s wrong.” As she finished her sentence, her voice rose in a panicky fashion, almost like she desperately wanted to know what was wrong, and at the same time she wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear it. I had rarely seen Nessie acting so erratic. She usually had Edward’s calm, albeit snide, self-possession. What I wouldn’t give if she had inherited Bella’s patience as well. “I told you Nessie. I really need this extra day. Please be patient with me,” I pleaded softly. “I don’t want to be patient anymore Jake. I need to know what’s going on. If something is wrong with you, then I have a right to know.” “Nothing is really wrong with me Nessie. I just need to deal with something difficult, and I need time to prepare for it mentally,” I said, praying that she would just let it go. It didn’t work. “Jake pull over. Pull over now.” The note of hysteria in her voice increased again. “Nessie, what are you going to do? Walk home in the rain? Don’t be ridiculous.” “Pull over the damn car right this minute Jacob Black before I scream loud enough to break the glass!” It almost looked like she was trying to escape. She was breathing hard and the blood was still rushing to her face as she glanced outside the door with wide eyes looking for a way out. There was no other word for it . . . Renesmee Cullen was panicking in the passenger

seat of my car. I pulled over onto the shoulder for the second time that day. She yanked open the car door and scrambled into the pouring rain without caring that it quickly soaked her hair. I threw open the door and ran after her. “Nessie! Get back in the car! If your dad finds out that I let you walk home in the rain by yourself he’ll kick my ass!” “Who cares! If you don’t care enough about me to tell me what’s wrong, then I’m not going to worry myself over whether or not Dad kicks your ass!” she said as she spun around to face me, her eyes filled with accusation and . . . fear? The rain was soaking through her white blouse, and I tried hard not to look below her neckline. Her damp hair curled attractively around her face in loose tendrils. Damn her for being so obscenely beautiful, even soaking wet. She saw me trying to avert my eyes, and her lips parted slightly as she took in a quick breath. Her gaze widened. “Are you going to say it or aren’t you?” she said as the blood rushed to her cheeks again. It only made her look more enticing. My dreams were going to be hard to control tonight. “What do you want me to say Nessie?” I asked desperately. “You’re going to make me do it! I can already tell!” she stated angrily. “Make you do what? Good God woman! What do you want from me?” I saw the panic rise into her face again, and she struggled with it until a flash of anger resolutely doused the rising alarm. Renewed in her quest, she gritted her teeth and made herself stare right at my face. “Just tell me Jake! Just tell me you love me! Tell me you love me so I can do what I’ve been dreaming about all day!” Frozen. My mind comprehended her words slowly, as though I were listening to someone speak to me while I was underwater. Nessie wanted me to tell her I loved her. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I just stood there looking at her like an absolute moron. “Jake!” she wailed. “You are such a pain in my ass!” She ran over to me quickly and before I could even process what was going on she had thrown her arms around my neck and pressed her lips to mine. “You idiot,” she murmured, “If you weren’t going to tell me you loved me, fake it for a second and kiss me back so I don’t feel like a fool.” Slowly I wrapped my arms around Renesmee’s body and lifted her from the ground. My heart flying through the air like a soaring eagle, I bent my head towards hers. Her lips tasted like honey and they felt like petals on a rose. I pulled her even more closely to me and inhaled honey and roses until I couldn’t breathe anymore. She curled her fingers into my hair and whispered my name in a voice that made my heart ache with joy . . . and there was nothing else. No rain, no trees, no fear . . . only the taste of her on my lips and the warmth of her in my arms. “I love you,” I breathed. “I dreamed about kissing you all day,” she said with a smile. “So don’t stop.” Anything you want. Just ask. My life, my love, my everything. Chapter 12: Revelation – Bella The look of horror and shock on Edward’s face only heightened the fear generated by Carlisle’s frozen silence.

“What’s wrong?” Rosalie said impatiently. “What does this stupid tattoo mean?” Carlisle cleared his throat, and I reached over to put my hand on Edward’s back tentatively. “Edward?” I whispered softly, “What’s going on?” “I don’t know how we missed this,” Carlisle began. “It makes perfect sense now . . . the unique abilities and the penchant for self-serving destruction . . .” Carlisle was muttering to himself. Finally he refocused on us. “It appears that Nathan and Colin McFadden are warlocks,” he said simply. What? I had no idea what he was talking about. Jasper stiffened at the word, but the rest of my family looked with puzzlement at Carlisle’s deduction. “Can someone be bothered to tell me what exactly that means? Aren’t warlocks pretty much in the same category as witches?” Emmett stated. Carlisle frowned. “Unfortunately I know very little about warlocks. They have a history stemming from the Druidic era, and their initial roots have some links to Wicca,” Carlisle responded. “Wicca? Like Satan worshipping?” Rosalie questioned. “No that’s a common misconception. Wicca is not about Satan worshipping. It’s a belief system stemming from a more nature-based perspective than anything else. I do know that warlocks were all but banished from Wiccan tradition many centuries ago.” “Banished?” I asked. “The word ‘warlock’ essentially means ‘oath-breaker’ in Old English,” Carlisle explained. “I read years back that there was a great schism in the history of Wicca between those practicing white magic and those deeply vested in the dark arts. Whenever a group of individuals is uniquely gifted, there are always certain members of that group who believe their gifts can and should be used to control rather than enrich the lives of other humans. I believe that warlocks were cast out of Wicca because they believed they should be allowed to use their powers strictly for personal gain without concern for the harm it might cause. True Wiccans believe that a Mother Earth-type figure is the source of all life and power, and any action that threatens or harms Mother Earth’s gifts is to be avoided at all cost. Beyond that, I know little else,” Carlisle admitted. “Wait. You said ‘other humans.’ That means that warlocks can be destroyed in much the same way? After all, this means they are at their core simply gifted humans,” Jasper asked, his intention clear in his voice. “I would assume so.” Carlisle frowned. “As I mentioned before, we do not know the extent of their powers, and I think any action on our part would be grossly premature if we do not go to lengths to find out what they are capable of.” “Siobhan,” Edward murmured. “Excuse me Edward?” Carlisle said with surprise. “Whenever Bella and I first met Siobhan, she was very impressed with the gifts that we possessed and had passed along to our child. She thought of a particular family of witches she knew about. She has never met another vampire who could read the minds of others without physical contact, but she did recall a story about a group of very powerful witches who may have possessed this ability. I only heard about it in passing in her thoughts.”

“I think we should talk to her Carlisle,” Esme said anxiously. “Perhaps she can shed some light on what exactly we’re dealing with.” Carlisle stepped away with the phone. Edward was still standing next to the kitchen island with the drawing of Colin’s tattoo beneath his hand. He was deep in thought. “Alice?” he asked quietly. “I know Edward! I don’t have any trouble seeing what it is that they are going to do, but I had no idea that they were warlocks! I didn’t even see that possibility!” “Does this mean that parts of their future are hidden to you Alice?” Emmett said. “I don’t know!” she wailed. “It’s too soon to tell.” “I could not have told you based on their thoughts that they thought of themselves as anything but gifted,” Edward stated. “Does it matter though?” I queried. “Irregardless of what they are, they have powers we’ve never seen before in humans. Why does it change things if they can or cannot put a name to their abilities?” “It changes things considerably,” Jasper said in frustration. “I once heard Maria call someone a ‘child of a warlock’. She said that, as the ancient ways of the world faded from human memory and experience, most people did not realize that those who practiced the occult still existed. Additionally, she said that some people possessed unique abilities that could only be explained by a common ancestry based in witchcraft. This particular human Maria spoke about was an extremely gifted gambler. She said that the only way he could be that ‘lucky’ is if he were the child of a warlock,” he frowned angrily. “She also said warlocks are practitioners of black magic. Having powers is one thing. Using them for dark deeds is another.” This was why Jasper had been so uncomfortable. Whenever he felt that Alice was even minutely threatened by something, Jasper tended to behave in much the same manner as Edward did regarding me. Carlisle walked back into the room. “Siobhan, everyone is here to speak with you. I’m going to put you on speaker phone now.” “Hello my dear Cullens!” Siobhan said in her warm Irish accent. “What can I do for you today?” “Siobhan, it’s wonderful to hear your voice. We’ve actually encountered individuals you may be able to tell us some information about,” Edward stated thoughtfully. “Edward! How are your wonderful wife and beautiful daughter? Nessie must be nearly grown by now!” Edward smiled wryly. “She’s grown and wreaking all sorts of havoc on me.” Siobhan laughed. “I would expect nothing less from a child as headstrong as Nessie. Tell me what information you need.” “I don’t want to waste your time, so I’m just going to get right to the point. Do you possess any information on warlocks?” Edward asked. Dead silence. “How do you know you’re dealing with warlocks?” Siobhan said in quiet surprise. “At this point, it’s simply based on the fact that one of these human males appears to control minds and the other seems to know the difference between truth and lies, much like Maggie.”

“Interesting that you should bring that up. Maggie is from a long line of witches,” Siobhan stated matter-of-factly. “Excuse me?” Esme said with shock. “Maggie’s family has a great history in the religion of the Horned God and Triple Goddess. Of course, they always practiced white magic, never the abhorrent deeds of the warlocks.” “I thought warlocks were simply male witches,” Emmett asked. “That’s a common misconception. Male witches are usually called wizards. They are more like wise men, which is where their name is derived. Warlocks are not welcome in the society of witches and wizards who practice white magic.” “Why is that Siobhan?” I said. “Because, my dear Bella, their very existence defiles the source of their gifts. They broke favor by abusing the fundamental tenet of their faith . . . the Wiccan Rede. The Wiccan Rede simply states ‘and it harm none, do what ye will.’ It’s very easy to understand. Witches and wizards may use the powers gifted to them by the Triple Goddess as long as they do not harm another person in the process. Warlocks care not whom they harm. They only care to further their own means. This is why I wonder what makes you so certain you are dealing with warlocks.” “They are definitely not using their powers with consideration for the well-being of others,” Carlisle responded. “They also marked their bodies with the Celtic word for warlock.” “How foolish of them! Well, I guess the modern era has made them lax in concealing their identities. They walk amongst us without fear now, and some of them don’t even know what they are. It’s amazing how many are out there who possess powers and have no idea that the source is in the old ways!” “What do you mean?” Alice asked in a soft voice. “Many humans often attribute their good fortunes or accomplishments to mere luck or accident. Oftentimes, their minds possess an uncanny ability to do something that they cannot explain. Some are merely fortunate, others are truly gifted. They have not properly studied their history. In fact, I feel certain that your family may have roots in the occult Carlisle.” We all looked around at each other in shocked silence. “Oh please! A soothsayer, a mindreader, a shield, a handler . . . all of this cannot merely be chance! Edward especially. There was a famous family in the annals of witchcraft, the Masons of the New Forest Coven in Southhampton. Before their disappearance in the late 1800s, they traditionally were said to have the ability Edward has – to read the minds of those around them with perfect clarity.” “Did you just say ‘the Mason family’?” I asked quietly. “Edward’s biological surname is Masen, with an ‘e’.” Edward just stared at me as he processed the information. “See!” Siobhan said triumphantly. “Not by chance are you gifted.” Edward frowned. “How can we expect to deal with these warlocks Siobhan?” “Warlocks are difficult creatures and unbelievably stubborn, from what I’ve heard. Maggie’s grandmother had a spat with one, centuries ago. They do not give in when they desire something. They believe that their powers grant them access to everything they can acquire regardless of the cost, which is why they were thrown out of favor and branded ‘oath-

breakers’. I can’t imagine that it would be terribly hard to control them though. They have a terrible fear of vampires.” “They’re afraid of us?” Emmett asked with the first hint of humor in the room for a long time. “Of course they are! Vampires and warlocks have a stained history as well. You see, vampires possess something warlocks have desired immensely for centuries and have failed to acquire: immortality. Many years ago, warlocks attempted to trap vampires and study them in an attempt to learn the source of their unending youth. As you can imagine, these vampires could not be contained, and they unleashed their wrath on the warlocks with a vengeance. In an attempt to rid us of their nuisance, the Volturi even assisted the church during the Burning Times . . . you would know them better by their common name – the era of the Witch Trials. Unfortunately, many witches and wizards practicing white magic were destroyed after being erroneously implicated. A peace covenant was formed after that between the High Priests, High Priestesses, and the Volturi. In essence, warlocks cannot attempt to steal immortality or alert humans as to our existence. Similarly, we will not cause them bodily harm without provocation and keep their powers a secret as well.” “What constitutes provocation?” Jasper asked as his face hardened. Siobhan laughed. “As I mentioned earlier dear Jasper, it should not be hard to control them. They are very aware of the fact that they cannot win in a fight with vampires unless they are able to change themselves into one. The most they can be to you is a simple nuisance.” “What do you think we should do?” Carlisle queried. “I should think that that is obvious. If warlocks are causing you grief, simply reveal to them what it is that you are. They cannot tell other humans, and they will not cross a coven as large and powerful as yours. I should think that your problem would be solved rather quickly once they know to respect you. A bit of fear never hurt anyone, especially not a warlock,” she laughed to herself. “What if that doesn’t work?” Edward said dubiously. Siobhan paused. “If you consult with the leader of their coven, you should be able to handle it as well. The leader will possess the coven’s Book of Shadows – this is the book that is handed down from leader to leader and contains spells, warnings, experiences, and other useful information to be passed along to subsequent generations. He will know that it is particularly disadvantageous for his coven to anger a vampire. The rest of his coven should follow his lead. What exactly is the problem?” “One of the warlocks has shown a preference for Bella,” Carlisle answered with a rueful smile. Siobhan let out a hearty laugh. “I’m quite certain as to how well Edward handled that. Dear boy, trust me when I tell you that his interest will wane quickly when he discovers that he must best a powerful vampire to win her affection.” “Even that won’t be quite enough,” I said sarcastically. Siobhan laughed again. Edward’s gaze was thoughtful. “Are you certain that it would not be better for us to simply leave and begin our lives again elsewhere?” he asked. “I don’t think that’s necessary. Additionally, warlocks do not give in easily. They hate being bested at anything. When they are thwarted in their goals, it’s impossible to tell how far they will go to rectify it. It’s safer not to underestimate them, especially if you do not know the extent of their powers. You also do not seem to know how many there are or how farreaching their net is. It’s safe to assume that there are more than two, especially if the two

are young boys. The best way to handle an annoyance is to deal with it early on before it mushrooms into something beyond control.” I had a hard time disagreeing with Siobhan. Years ago, we had all made the mistake of underestimating other vampires in their zealous hatred of us. A great deal of my young adult life had been spent in fear, and we had risked our family and the lives of our friends to correct that misassumption. I did not want it to happen again. “I just don’t feel comfortable disclosing what we are to humans,” Carlisle said unhappily. “I understand Carlisle,” Siobhan replied. “It is a less-than-ideal situation. May I suggest that the alternatives are also unpleasant for you . . . your unique philosophy on human life dictates that destroying these young warlocks is a last resort if not impermissible. Revealing what you are through the truth is the best way to ensure that your family’s lives are not interrupted and that these young warlocks understand the limits to their reach. Perhaps you will also serve the people of your town by giving these boys a dose of reality, however horrifying it might be,” she stated with amusement. “Won’t the Volturi have a problem with us telling the warlocks what we are?” I asked as another terribly memory from my past loomed into my mind. “They may. If you recall, their problems lie with the humans who know what we are, not that we were the ones who told them. Worse case scenario, they destroy the warlocks. I’d say that solves everyone’s problems,” Siobhan remarked mercilessly. “You’ve given us a great deal to think on,” Carlisle mused. “I thank you so much for your time dear Siobhan. Our love and well wishes to Liam and Maggie.” “Of course Carlisle! Anytime. Do update me on your situation. It always seems like your family has the most interesting time! I think I might come and visit again just so that I can inject some excitement into my monotony! I’m sure Maggie will be ecstatic to know that all of our research on the occult is proving to be more beneficial than a mere attempt to pass the time!” Carlisle laughed with her. “Oh! One last thing. If these young men know that they are warlocks, then they have probably descended from a powerful line. Nowadays, only those warlocks who are careful with regards to their progeny and their lineage have knowledge of its existence. Because there has been so much intermarriage with outsiders, many families no longer have the ability to practice any sort of magic. That they are able to control minds and know the difference between truth and fiction as mere humans indicates that their line has been very carefully controlled. Their families have married and reproduced very astutely with attention to history and genealogy. Be aware of this, and never forget that warlocks greatly desire two things: immortality and the advancement of their progeny.” “Thank you so much again,” Carlisle said warmly. They exchanged a few more pleasantries before disconnecting the line. Carlisle turned to us after he hung up the phone. “Well,” Emmett said with a big smile. “I guess you all know what I think. It’s time to scare some warlocks! My vote is for theatrical . . . maybe we could leave a bear or a mountain lion drained of blood on their front step? Kind of like that scene from The Godfather.” “Emmett!” Rosalie scolded. “I’m still not convinced that disclosure is the way to go,” Carlisle stated thoughtfully. “I really don’t want to move again,” Rosalie remarked. “Normally I would agree with Carlisle. I hate it when outsiders know that we are vampires. In this circumstance, I think I feel differently. Is it so bad if they know what we are, especially if they can’t tell anyone? It

won’t be too difficult for them to believe it’s the truth. After all, if there are witches and warlocks in the world, vampires can’t be such a stretch.” “I’m not as worried about their ability to believe in what we are. I’m just more concerned with being able to control what is done with that knowledge,” Carlisle answered. Jasper furrowed his brow. “Since Edward can read their minds and Alice appears to be able to see their future, we should be able to tell if they want to do anything damaging to us. Siobhan also stressed that they have an innate fear of vampires that will prevent them from wanting to provoke us. I think it might work. I must admit that it’s very appealing to me to show these loathsome boys that they aren’t the scariest things in town.” Alice laughed affectionately and narrowed her eyes. “I think it will work. In fact, I’m fairly certain that Nate will lose his interest in Bella if he discovers that we are vampires. They are already struggling a great deal to determine why she cannot be controlled by them. I’m almost sure that the truth will force them to give her a wide berth so that they don’t piss Edward off. At the very least, if it scares them into avoiding us, we can live our lives in peace.” All of a sudden, Rosalie started to laugh. Her laughter grew as it echoed off of the walls in the kitchen. The corner of Edward’s mouth twitched a little. Rosalie held her stomach to help calm her curious bout of mirth. “What’s so funny?” I demanded. “Oh!” Rosalie gasped as she tried to finish laughing. “Bella! You’re like a screwed-up Helen of Troy! Everyone wants a piece! First you swoop into little Forks and quickly own the soul of a lovesick vampire – one Edward Cullen. Then Jacob Black, the erstwhile werewolf, pledges undying love for you. Finally, a warlock from an ancient line of creepy Satan worshipers wants to perform black magic to make you fall in love with him. You can’t make this stuff up!” She began laughing again. I frowned at her until I realized that the rest of my family appeared to be holding back laughter. Edward’s lip kept twitching, and Jasper’s shoulders were shaking. Emmett eventually buried his head in Rose’s shoulder, but not before a loud guffaw managed to escape his mouth. Alice had covered her mouth with her hand, and Esme’s eyes were brighter than usual in her attempt to conceal the humor. Carlisle’s loud burst of laughter did it. I stood there trying to hold on to my righteous indignation as the rest of them hooted and cackled at the irony of the situation. Eventually, I couldn’t help joining in. “You know,” Edward said as the laughter began to die down, “I could be okay with us divulging what we are if I were certain that the information would not cause problems for the humans around us. If Nate and Colin wish to be difficult, I agree that we are much better equipped when we don’t have to hide our advantages from them anymore.” “This means Bella could actually beat Nate up if she wanted to,” Alice said with another chuckle. “I’d much rather they find out and try to ignore us. I hate having to pretend like I don’t see everyone staring at me and whispering behind my back. I’ve had enough excitement this first week than I ever had in all the years I was a human attending school. Minus Forks High, of course,” I stated with a smile. “The more we consider it, the clearer it becomes,” Alice announced resolutely. “If we tell Nathan McFadden that we are vampires and that he should steer clear of us, he will definitely give up harassing Bella. It’s almost certain.”

“That’s all I needed to hear. So, anyone else on board with theatrical?” Emmett grinned. “Emmett,” Edward groaned, “Some panache wouldn’t hurt.” “Theatrical panache? What do you suggest Edward?” he retorted. “For starters, I wouldn’t drag a dead carcass to his door.” “It was only a place to start discussion. Man this is fun!” “It’s only fun if it works,” I said. “Which it will,” Alice chimed. “I wonder if I could also scare Nate McFadden into being more careful in the decisions he makes that don’t necessarily involve our family. It wouldn’t hurt if he never raised a hand to another girl ever again,” Edward considered thoughtfully. “I agree, but I do think that we should conceal our other abilities from them, if possible. It’s only a greater benefit to us if they are unaware of our unique advantages beyond being vampires,” Jasper contributed. “I agree,” Carlisle said. “Okay, okay! So we all agree! Now how are we going to do this?” Emmett said with impatience. All of a sudden, the calm look on Edward’s face disappeared. I heard the sound of Jake’s Mustang rounding its way down our long driveway. Edward groaned and grabbed my hand. Stalled by my confusion, he threw me over his shoulder and blurred to our bedroom. “Where’s the fire?” Emmett chuckled. Edward placed me gently on the floor by the bed. “Edward? What’s wrong?” “This is more than I can handle at the moment. I just needed a reprieve.” “Nessie’s almost home. I heard Jake’s car,” I said, hinting that I wanted to go back downstairs to see her. “That’s why I need a reprieve!” Edward sighed. He fell back onto our bed with a blank look on his face. “He’s holding her hand Bella.” “Really? That must mean he’s told her!” A strange mixture of happiness and loss took hold of me. Edward sat up in a flash. A trace of anger was present on his face. “He’s kissed her! My baby girl! That dog put his hands on her!” There was no mistaking the fury in his voice. I walked carefully over to him and put his face in between my palms. “My love. We told him he could date her. These are the normal things that come with that.” “You can’t be so calm about all of this Bella. It must bother you too.” “It does. I almost feel like I’m losing her. I just keep reminding myself how much happier I became when I found love. Nessie’s already such a happy girl. Can you imagine how ecstatic she will be when she’s in love?” I said with a small smile. “She already is in love Bella. They are both disgustingly and hopelessly in love. Jake is trying so hard to hide it, and Nessie is defiantly screaming it with every thought.”

I didn’t have time to hide the dismay on my face. Edward stood up and looked down at me with an ironic smile. His eyes were so filled with warmth when he looked at me that I couldn’t help but smile back. “You’re trying hard to hide it Mrs. Cullen, but I suspect that this is much harder for you than you want me to think.” My shoulders sagged at his correct assessment. “Whatever,” I scowled, not attempting to hide my frustration. “He’d better not screw it up. I hope he asked her before he kissed her!” I recalled the evening that I broke my hand trying to punch Jake for kissing me without my permission. Edward chuckled, “She kissed him . . . and she did not ask first.” My look of surprise caused Edward to chuckle more. He leaned in and put his lips on my temple. The pressure of his kiss melted the tension in my body like a flame to ice. Inhaling, he skimmed the tip of his nose from my temple to my chin. He placed a kiss on the underside of my jaw and moved slowly to my neck while running his fingertips down my stomach and around my back to pull me close to him. Edward Cullen could write a book on seduction. In less than thirty seconds, all I could think about was that I wanted more. After rendering me an incontinent fool, he regretfully released me when we heard the sound of Nessie’s excited voice in the house. He gritted his teeth and took my hand to go downstairs. “And once more, into the breach,” he quoted under his breath. I sighed and kissed his hand. Chapter 13: Revelation – Renesmee “Nessie, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jake said, paranoia causing the timbre of his voice to rise. “You’re being ridiculous. How do you plan on hiding this from Dad anyway?” “I wasn’t planning on hiding it . . . I was just going to avoid him for a couple of . . . years,” Jake said as he turned the engine off in the garage in defeat. He just sat there in silence looking at me with a mixture of emotions. We had spent the last ten minutes bickering about whether or not to just come clean and tell everyone at home that we were . . . well, to be honest, I wasn’t really sure what we were. Whatever it was, it was the greatest thrill I had ever experienced. Never in my entire life had I felt so alive as the moment when Jake had kissed me in the rain. The whole world could have crumbled into pieces around me, and I would not have noticed anything except his strong arms crushing me to his chest and his demanding mouth caressing mine with soul deep kisses. It had not been enough. At this very moment, my greedy little heart knew it wanted more even though my face was flushed and my hair was a mess from earlier. In fact, both Jake and I looked like drenched alley cats. I looked down at my rumpled blouse and tried in vain to straighten it. Even though I had fervently insisted to Jake that my family would be happy for us, I knew that Dad was not going to like the images my mind could not stop replaying. Oh well. I had never been anyone’s prim and proper princess. I’ll bet Mom never tried to push Dad on the hood of a Mustang the very first time she kissed him. It was too bad that Jake had stopped me out of common decency. After all, we were on the side of the road in broad daylight. “Watch out for Dad’s car!” I said to Jake as the door he swung open distractedly nearly nicked the side of Dad’s latest obsession. The Murcielago glinted tints of silver as the illumination of the garage highlighted its gleaming facets. Leave it to Dad to impulse purchase a Lamborghini.

“Wouldn’t that have been perfect? The final nail in my coffin,” Jake said under his breath. I laughed and waited for him by my side of the car. “Are you sure you want to do this Nessie?” he asked dejectedly, already knowing my answer. “Absolutely.” I held out my hand for his, and he laced his fingers through mine and squeezed. I smiled hugely at him, and it was impossible for him not to smile back. The happiness we both felt would be infectious. I trusted my family. I marched to the door and threw it open. “Hey everyone!” I said with an even tone. Aunt Rose was standing in the kitchen reading the latest issue of Car and Driver. She turned to smile at me warmly, and her eyes narrowed immediately when she saw Jake’s hand in mine and our disheveled appearance. She glared at Jake. Then she smiled wickedly. “Edward? Oh Edward?” she said in a singsong voice laced with anticipation. “There’s something you need to see in the kitchen.” I already heard my parents gliding down the stairs. Uncle Em breezed into the kitchen with a gleam in his eyes. “Jakey-poo’s in big trouble,” he said menacingly. Aunt Ali walked in and smiled kindly at us. I had already instinctively known that Aunt Ali would not have a problem with this situation. Uncle Jazz did not look that happy, but I knew that he would get over it soon because of Aunt Ali. My heartbeat quickened as Dad walked into the kitchen with Mom behind him. Even though I had insisted to Jake that Mom and Dad would be really happy for us, I could not keep a current of fear from eating away at my confidence. I saw Dad’s shoulders stiffen and his jaw muscles flex when he saw us, but my mother put her arms around his waist and pressed her lips to his shoulder. He relaxed slightly, but his eyes were hard and focused on Jake and I. I took a deep breath. “Well! I didn’t want to make a big production out of this, but I thought everyone should know that . . . well, um . . . Jake and I are . . . I guess we’re . . . dating.” Damn. I had botched that up royally. Honestly I had not even thought about what to say beforehand. I couldn’t exactly force myself to utter the words ‘we’re hopelessly in love’ because it sounded like something uber-cheesy that my Dad would say. He always said things like that to my Mom that made me want to hurl, and she reveled in it by smiling at him like he was some gift from the gods. Yuck. Honestly though, I guess what I said sucked even more than what my Dad would have said in this situation because at least Dad would have sounded suave. I just sounded like a retarded valley girl. I saw the corner of my Dad’s mouth turn slightly upwards in amusement as he listened to my thoughts. “You probably should have practiced that at least once or twice Renesmee. You can’t march in here trumpets blaring and not even know what you’re supposed to say,” he said wryly. “Uh, that’s basically it. We’re dating, and I hoped everyone might be happy about it?” I said, as the intonation of my voice turned the intended statement into an unintended question. The silence and the tension in the room had definitely given my positive certainty a sound trouncing. “Of course we’re happy dear,” Grandma Esme said with a sweet smile. My Mom unwrapped her arms from my Dad’s waist and walked over to me with a careful face that hid a bit of pain. It made me grimace because I had always been very protective of my Mom and her feelings. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that she had suffered so much to bring me into this world. She had nearly died in the process. Somewhere along

the line, I think I picked up my Dad’s habit of ferocious concern for her, but I never became quite as obsessive as Dad. If Dad saw even the hint of anguish on Mom’s face, it leveled him. She wrapped her small, cold arms around me and said, “Nessie baby, we’re so happy that you’re happy.” I hugged her back and felt a lump in my throat that I knew was a precursor to an embarrassing fit of tears. I swallowed it quickly. My Mom turned bravely to Jake. I saw a spark of irritation in her eyes but she smiled at him with the knowing look she reserved for her best friend. “Well Jake. Don’t screw it up. She’s the best you’ll ever get!” She held open her arms for a hug from him. I saw my Dad’s shoulders sag a bit in reticence. “Amen to that,” Uncle Em murmured. Everyone else was watching Dad carefully. It made sense. Dad was always the one to blow things way out of proportion. A ticking time bomb of immense strength combined with a penchant for highly intelligent over-analysis made for a deadly combination. Oh yeah, and did I mention that he could hear the thoughts of everyone around him? “I won’t blow this out of proportion sweetheart. I don’t need to say anything to Jake. Everything that needs to be said has been said.” He looked pointedly at Jake and a look of understanding passed between them. I noticed that Jake’s eyes looked pained for a moment, and my Dad’s gaze was a look of warning. “I love you dearly Nessie, more than my own life. If you’re happy, that is enough for me,” he said softly. I let go of Jake’s hand and ran to my father’s open arms. “Thanks Dad. I love you.” I looked up at my Dad’s handsome face to make sure he was telling me the truth. His eyes were filled with unabashed love and honesty. I turned and walked quickly back to Jake’s side before the tears could take hold. Jake looked around with an uncomfortable smile. “Thanks,” he said simply. “I will spend however long it takes proving to you that I deserve her.” “Well you’d better live a long life then mongrel,” Aunt Rose stated bitterly. “Even forever might not be enough.” I smiled at her with a hint of humor. Aunt Rose and Jake had always had an antagonistic relationship. At their cores, I knew that the biggest reason was because they both cared about me so much. It was unlikely that any boy would be good enough for me in Aunt Rose’s eyes. With looks of love and grudging acceptance, my family began to disburse to their regular nighttime spots, so I took Jake’s hand and walked towards the backdoor so that we could spend some time away from the lingering tension that our announcement had produced. I also thought it would be fun for us to go on a walk together behind the house. Alone. “Nessie,” Dad said from his place in an armchair with my Mom casually wrapped in his embrace, “If you’re planning on going hunting while on your walk, stay close to the property line and don’t chase after unnecessarily large animals. We’re having some issues right now that have spawned a troubling new development, and I’d rather we limit the risks as much as possible.” “What’s wrong Edward?” Jake asked with concern. Dad sighed. “You both should know even though I wish it had not come to this. Out of all of the high schools we could have matriculated in, we chose one with warlocks as classmates.” “Uh, what the hell is a warlock?” Jake asked incredulously.

Shock had caused a momentary lapse in my ability to speak. I recovered and thought for a moment. “You’re talking about the male equivalent of a witch, right Dad?” “More or less.” “Are they dangerous to us?” I queried. “The biggest danger they have posed is in being a large nuisance. Their powers do not have a huge impact on us, but they’re gunning for our family right now because they’ve been thwarted in their attempts to establish control. After consulting together, I believe the family has decided that the best way to handle the situation is to reveal to them that we are vampires.” “Edward!” Jake argued, “How can that possibly be the best way to handle it? Hasn’t the idea always been to keep the secret, not to disclose it?” “Yes, that has been the general modus operandi thus far. This situation is unique. Warlocks are loath to cross vampires, and it appears that we can firmly establish the upper hand by letting them know that their powers end at our feet,” Dad stated matter-of-factly. “This decision was not made lightly, and we all spent a great deal of time debating it. I want both of you to be aware of the fact, and make sure not to expose yourselves to any level of vulnerability until the situation has been properly handled. This means no more instances where your level of vigilance regarding your surroundings is otherwise occupied.” The color had left Jake’s face, and he had focused his gaze on the floor. Dad’s eyes glittered with irritation. Ugh. Why did I have to have a father who could read my mind? He probably wasn’t too thrilled about the free show I had been about to give everyone driving down I-26 this afternoon. Yeah, that was probably not a good idea. I was pretty sure he wanted me to behave more like Mom, which sucked. Mom was basically an angel compared to me. “That’s not entirely accurate Renesmee,” Dad said with a sly grin. “In fact, the last thing I want is for you to be like your mother about this. Your Mom’s behavior may surprise you. The first time I kissed her, she attacked me. Not that I minded in the least.” “Edward!” Mom said as she smacked her hand onto his chest in embarrassment. She rolled her eyes petulantly. “You two have fun, but don’t go far. Be sure to pay attention, and if something looks strange or feels strange, come back home right away.” “Did Uncle Emmett do something to these warlocks? Why are they so hell bent on making problems for us?” I asked curiously. “Ask Helen of Troy,” Aunt Rose said nonchalantly. Mom sighed in frustration. “What?” I said. “I don’t get it.” “I made the mistake of sitting next to a warlock the first day of school. He thought I was attractive. He didn’t back down whenever he found out I wasn’t interested. It was all blown way out of proportion,” she said through gritted teeth. “Getting upset because a warlock shoved my wife into a wall of lockers and pinned her against them with his forearm while threatening her is not blowing things out of proportion,” Dad said angrily. “What! He actually touched Bella?” Jake said, irate. My Dad’s eyes darkened with fury. “We’ll take care of it. Just be on the lookout.” Before Jake and Dad could start feeding off of each other’s rage, I took Jake’s hand and led him outside.

I breathed in the twilight air. The transitioning sounds and smells of the forest at twilight always made me stop and listen. I remembered my father saying that this was one of the most bittersweet times of the day for him. I didn’t agree. I loved twilight. The creatures of the day calmly took their places in their nests and dwellings and stepped aside for the creatures of the night. Both existed in harmony, and both had their time and their place. As long as the world understood the balance between night and day and the necessity for one to exist so that the other could, I found the transitioning medium of twilight to be a poignant segue from one reality to another. We walked in companionable silence for some time. The lights of home faded into the distance, and the smell of the woods saturated the air with a thick blanket of earth and moss. “Jake,” I breathed into the night. “When did you know you loved me?” It was a question I had wanted to ask all day, and now felt like the time for the answer. “Nessie,” he said as he squeezed my hand, “I’ve always loved you. My love has just changed throughout the years. First I loved you as a child I wanted only to be happy. Then I loved you as a friend. Recently, I . . .” He stopped himself with embarrassment. “You what?” I asked with impatience. He hesitated. “I think I knew that my feelings had changed when I started dreaming about you. Sometimes I left the house at night and took a drive to sleep somewhere else so that your dad wouldn’t know what I was dreaming about. I’m not sure if he can see my dreams, but it was safer not to chance it.” “What were you dreaming about?” The warmth in my stomach was growing again, and the desire to kiss him was flooding my senses with anticipation. In the distance, I heard a hawk calling out into the night. A predator to its prey. “Nessie, I can’t . . .” Jake stumbled over his words as I soundlessly put my hands on either side of his face. “Were you dreaming about this?” I said with a slow and wicked smile as I looked directly into his dark eyes. The images I sent to his mind with my touch made my heart pound with expectation. He covered my hands with his and closed his eyes as his breathing became haggard. I felt the heat rising around us, and I knew it was only a matter of moments. The cry of the circling hawk came closer. I couldn’t take it anymore. I pulled my face to his with a gasp and pressed my lips against his. I could feel him wanting to resist. We were so close to home. So close to my Dad’s tangled web of mind theft where nothing escaped his scrutiny. With a moan, he surrendered. In the distant reaches of my overloaded mind, I heard pounding footsteps running towards us through the trees at a furious pace. Dammit Dad, it’s just a kiss! I broke free from Jake as my Dad blurred into view. Dad could run so quickly that it was impossible to see him until he stopped. His eyes were filled with pure hatred and rage, and his lips were curling back from his teeth in a low growl. “Dad you’re being ridiculous!” “Enough Renesmee. Both of you back to the house, immediately. He’s out here. He’s trying to spy on us.” My dad’s fury made his soft voice sound even more frightening. “I haven’t heard anything Edward! I swear I was paying attention! All I heard were the animals around me and a hawk in the air!” Jake said as he tried to reconcile his shame with my Dad’s displaced anger.

“You don’t understand,” my Dad whispered so softly that only we could hear. “He is the hawk.” Chapter 14: Exposure – Edward I stood in the shower with my hands pressed against the tile while the hot water ran down my back in a steady stream. My eyes were fixed on a meaningless point in front of me. The water dripped down my face and collected at the tip of my nose and my chin. I was still furious. That bastard had taken it upon himself to come into our personal space, our sanctuary, and spy on my family. Additionally, there was the alarming matter of him being able to change form into a hawk. Clearly, Nathan McFadden was a more gifted warlock than we had initially thought. I had seen the aerial view of our property in his sinister thoughts, and the wind rushing around him in a vortex as he angled his body into a dive through the forest behind the house. The piercing cry of a hawk had emitted from Nate’s mouth. The rage I had felt when his unexpected thoughts invaded my mind in my own home would have been enough to obliterate McFadden had I been able to get my hands on him. I wiped away the water from my chin with my palm. Cool arms wrapped around my waist, and I felt Bella press her cheek to my back. “Edward, please try to calm down. I know how upsetting this is to you, and I was really angry too, but it does no good to let the anger control you so utterly.” I continued staring at the wall, measuring my breaths. “Bella, I can’t control what he does at school, but I’ll be damned if he injects my home with his poison and makes me feel like I can’t breathe freely in my own space.” In a swift movement, she curled under one of my arms to stand with her back against the tile and her head in between my hands. The water from the showerhead swirled in a mist around our faces. Her wet, dark hair framed her luminous gold eyes and pale skin with the perfection of a Rembrandt painting. She rested her hands on each of my biceps tentatively. “We’ll take care of it, my love. He won’t do this anymore. The next time you speak with him, he will know that he has to back off.” I looked at her and moved my hands from the wall towards her face to stroke her cheek with my thumb and push back the damp strands of hair from her forehead. The most precious things in the world to me resided underneath this roof. My very life was positioned between my own hands at the moment and standing in front of me with a look full of unending trust and undying love. I could never make Bella understand completely that anyone or anything that threatens my world would pay for it dearly. There wasn’t enough darkness in her to understand it. She sighed and closed her eyes as my thumb grazed her lips. The haze of steam from the shower made the air thick and humid around us. I angled her chin gently upward with my palm and pressed my lips tenderly to the soft skin on the underside of her jaw. She exhaled with a ragged breath as I slowly made a trail with my lips that ended at her collarbone. When I looked back at her face, I saw the burning desire in her eyes. It still staggered me that she could love me this much. After all she had given up to be with me, it never failed to amaze me that she could still want me with the same insatiable hunger I had for her. Everything about her transition into a vampire had thrilled me more than I wanted to admit. The incredibly selfish creature that I was, I had reveled in the chance to have even more experiences with Bella without having to fear my own strength. Making love to Bella as a human had ripped my soul bare with the agonizing love I had felt for her. A careful,

poignant love. Now that she was a vampire, my soul was no longer bare . . . it was consumed by a blaze of passion that took my breath away and rendered me unable to think of anything but the woman in my arms each and every time our bodies joined as one. A fiery, tempestuous love. As our kisses in the shower began to ignite the inferno, I laughed softly and attempted to douse the flames. “Not here Bella.” One of the only rules we had about sex had come into fruition a night about eight months after Bella had been transformed. We were living in the beautiful cottage that Esme had built for us. Our heaven on earth. In an extremely heated moment of ecstasy, Bella had pushed me into the wall of our frameless glass shower. It had shuddered once and fell to the ground with resounding crashes that were probably heard in Port Angeles. As if that weren’t bad enough, little Nessie had burst into frightened tears at the loud sounds of shattering glass in our bathroom. My entire family rushed down to the cottage with concern for our well-being to find us sopping wet and trying to calm down Nessie. Bella had been mortified. Emmett had been delighted. Thus, the ‘no sex in glass showers’ rule had been born. “Stinking rules,” Bella murmured as the fervor died down. I chuckled warmly. “It’s probably time to get ready for school anyway.” I turned the shower off and grabbed a large Turkish bath towel for Bella and one for myself. Still dripping, I walked back into the bedroom to see what remained of my clothing from yesterday amongst the tangled heap of sheets on our bed. Those Dolce and Gabbana jeans had actually been very comfortable, but I had no intention of telling Alice that. Our mutual anger from Nate’s interloping had not made us gentle with each other last night, I mused ruefully to myself as I found Bella’s torn sweater amidst the ruins. I dressed in the jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt as Bella turned the hair dryer onto her richly hued mane. I shook out the remaining drops of water from my hair and waited for Bella to finish getting ready. “Alice has been considering ways to isolate Nathan so that we can confront him,” I said to her as I leaned in the doorframe of the bathroom. “What do you think we should do?” “Jasper suggested that you ask Nate to meet you in the woods behind the school after classes are over. He thinks that if you make McFadden believe that you might be interested in him, he won’t question your motives due to his own ego.” I frowned. “Why don’t you like this idea?” “You know how averse I am to any plan that uses you as bait.” “I’m not bait Edward. It’s a good idea. Nathan certainly isn’t going to follow you into the woods blindly.” I grimaced in distaste at what I would have to say next. “You realize you’re actually going to have to convince the ass that you like him.” “Which shouldn’t be too hard even though I’m a terrible actress . . . I would assume that Nate doesn’t need too much to be convinced that a girl likes him. It comes with being an arrogant jerk,” she said sarcastically. Her eyes widened knowingly. “You’re telling me this because it’s the plan that Alice has seen will work the best.” I nodded in displeasure. “Unfortunately, it’s the least obtrusive. I was all for grabbing him from his car and putting a bag over his head until we could be someplace private.” She smirked at me. “What happened to panache?”

“I vote against it if panache includes a dangling carrot named Bella Cullen. Remember, fishing doesn’t always work out well for the bait.” “What were we planning on doing about Colin? He’ll know I’m lying if I pretend to like Nate in front of him. He can’t be around when that happens,” Bella posited. “Emmett will take care of that. I’m not entirely sure what he intends to do because he keeps changing his mind. The general gist involves a great deal of baiting and mockery. Colin’s pride is already bruised due to Emmett. It shouldn’t be too hard to get him to follow Emmett to the woods later on as well for the great reveal.” “Well, I’m game. Just let me know what to do,” she said with a cheerful smile. The look of disapproval on my face was difficult to mask. “Edward . . . it will be fine! Alice said it would!” She came over and rumpled my hair playfully. “I sincerely hope so Bella. If it doesn’t, Nathan McFadden may not live long enough to find out exactly what’s wrong with the mysterious Cullens.” She rolled her eyes and took my hand to meet the rest of our family downstairs. “So are we good to go?” Alice asked us. I gave her a measured look and sighed with frustration. “I don’t really like that we’re doing it this way, but since it seems to produce the intended result, I’m resigned.” Edward. Really. Bella is much tougher than you think she is. It will be a piece of cake for her. She stood in front of the entire Volturi guard and didn’t tremble in fear once. This stupid human won’t be a problem. Have faith! I arched my eyebrow at Alice dubiously. “Well,” she said, turning to the others in an effort to underplay my concern, “I’m actually a little bit anxious. It’s not everyday that we theatrically unveil our biggest secret to unsuspecting humans!” “Let’s just get it over with,” Rose muttered. All Emmett can talk about is seeing the look on their faces when they find out. It’s getting tiresome, and it’s draining me of my own excitement. I chuckled at Rose’s ever-present selfishness, and she glared at me. “Alright!” Emmett said as he took to the stairs in one graceful leap. He landed soundlessly by Rosalie who just pursed her lips in annoyance. “Come on, babe! Don’t even pretend like you aren’t a little bit excited!” “You’re excited enough for the both of us Emmett,” but her glare shifted slightly into a look of affection as she considered Emmett. It is nice to see him so happy and full of life, regardless. Jasper held out the car keys to me. I’ll keep my eyes open Edward. Don’t worry about Bella. Really, this is the best way. It won’t do any good at all if someone hears Nate or Colin struggling with us. Bringing them of their own volition into a situation we control achieves the discretion we require. I nodded with reservation and took the keys from his hand. The morning passed uneventfully. Nate did not even turn around to look at us in homeroom. I could hear his seething anger in his thoughts, and it took a great deal of mental coaxing to prevent myself from sitting there without glaring murderously at anyone who took it upon

themselves to glance in my direction. The last thing I needed was more unnecessary attention from other humans at this school. By English, Bella and I had decided with Alice that we would set the trap after lunch. Bella would wait for him by his locker to let him know that she wanted to meet him after school in the woods behind the auditorium. No one else would be around there once classes ended. Alice had already made sure of that. Bella sat next to me at the lunch table. I could see from her body language and facial expressions that she was still uncertain as to whether or not she could pull it off. “I’ve just never been any good at flirting. I hope he doesn’t see right through my pitiful attempt!” she murmured under her breath. “He’ll buy it Bells. Just smile at him. You’re so pretty today that he won’t notice much else besides how you look. That’s the only thing that matters to him anyway,” Alice responded as she looked in the other direction with a hard expression. I pursed my lips together again in frustration at the thought of anyone considering Bella to be merely arm candy. Even though I was loath to acknowledge what it would mean when Nate saw her, I had to agree that Bella did look beautiful in artfully faded jeans and a deep red shirt with a wide tan belt hanging on her slender hips. In an attempt to ease both my irritation and her uncertainty, I placed my cool hand under her hair and on the back of her neck. Physical contact with Bella always eased my nerves considerably. Lunch ended all too soon, and Bella gave me a rueful smile over her shoulder as she left the lunchroom to lay the trap. I almost began walking after her. The last time I had left her alone in this school she had been physically assaulted by a warlock. Cool it. She’ll be fine and everything will work out perfectly. We’ll all keep a safe distance. If something unexpected happens, we can deal with it quickly. Jeez Edward. She’s not a dandelion blowing in the breeze anymore. You’re awful! Let her breathe a bit! Alice and Rosalie’s thoughts slightly mollified and humored me. I walked with my family slowly to the far corner of the lunchroom by the exit nearest to the hallway lockers. We all stood there silently waiting and listening. McFadden’s broad back was facing the hallway as he sorted through his locker. He was still fuming about us. He heard the tapping of Bella’s deliberate footsteps behind him as he turned quickly to see who was coming. His arrogant conceit overruled his frustration as he immediately assumed what we had meant for him to assume. What have we here? Cullen’s little tramp is coming to talk to me without her bodyguard. Maybe she’s tired of his moves. If so, I can remedy that with pleasure. Look at that long hair. I bet it would look unbelievably sexy lying tangled across my sheets. Jasper put both of his hands on my shoulders to steady the building wrath emanating from me. I clenched my fists to my sides and felt the muscles in my face contract and release as my lips formed a sneer. “Bella,” Nathan said with a snide grin. “What can I do for you today?” Bella took a deep breath and fixed a perfect smile on her beautiful face. Damn. She just gets better and better looking. “Nate. I wanted to take a moment to apologize for my behavior the other day. I was out of line, and I’ve been thinking . . . about your offer . . .” She let the sentence fade to give him

a moment to consider what she was insinuating. I saw her eyes grimace a bit before she moved even closer to him. “I think I would like to drive your Corvette to school tomorrow. If you’re still offering.” She blinked her long eyelashes slowly and glanced up at him with a smoldering look that made me want to rip Nate’s eyes out of his sockets for even seeing. Hell yeah. Man I bet she’s worth every second of my trouble. I can’t wait until Cullen hears about all the stuff I’m going to do to her. It’ll be even better than looking at Morales’ pitiful face. Breathe in. Breathe out. The muscles in my neck were so tense that I was certain they were going to snap. “I don’t know Isabella. Your apology sounds a bit hollow. How can I be sure that I can believe you?” he said superciliously. “I’ll prove to you that I’m sorry. How can I prove it to you?” She hesitated, and I saw a fleeting look of disgust cross her face. She exhaled slowly. “Is there something you want?” She tried to smile at him again. “You know what I want.” And you’ll be sorry you asked later. Only because I knew her expressions so well could I pick up on the utter look of revulsion that Bella tried to hide from Nate. It was completely lost on him. “After school. In the woods behind the auditorium,” she said through slightly clenched teeth. Alice made a quick motion that I barely processed in my peripheral vision because I was so focused on Bella. She knew what was coming. What happened next forced both Jasper and Emmett to grab hold of each of my arms to prevent me from running into the hall and throwing Nate through the nearest window in unadulterated rage. With a pompous look of self-satisfaction, Nathan reached over and put his hand on the side of Bella’s neck possessively. Like he was a conqueror claiming his spoils. He ran his index finger along her jaw with slow deliberation. Bella looked like she wanted to vomit as he twisted strands of her hair into his fingers for a moment. She just stared at him coolly. Man her skin is cold. I’ll bet she’s nervous. She won’t be cold later on. He smirked at her and nodded in agreement. Bella turned quickly and walked away without saying a word. I’m sorry Edward. I told Jasper and Emmett to stop you. I knew you were going to overreact when he touched her. It was the only way. Please forgive me. I didn’t even look over at Alice’s pleading face. The fury had consumed too much of my rationale. I stood there trying to calm down and stop the scene from replaying itself in my mind. My self-control would not be able to handle another visual onslaught of that disgusting predator caressing the face of my beloved like she belonged to him. Alice quietly proceeded to tell the others exactly what had transpired. The cafeteria doors swung open, and Bella walked back into the nearly empty room towards the corner where we were waiting. The late bell had just rung. She approached us quickly and hesitated in front of me when she saw the look on my face. “I’m so sorry Edward,” she said, her voice hollow.

I just grabbed her and pulled her into my arms. “Don’t ever apologize. It’s utterly ridiculous that you feel you should apologize. If anything, it just makes me angrier.” Jasper attempted a half-smile when he looked at Bella. “This probably isn’t the best time to say this, but you did a great job.” “He definitely bought it. He’ll be right there after school, no question about it,” Alice affirmed. “He won’t want to miss his chance to get a piece of Helen of Troy,” Rosalie said with pure disgust for Nate. “Well Edward, I’m guessing you don’t care one bit how badly we scare this bastard. Especially after that scene. I’m not really the possessive type, but it would have taken a lot for me to leave McFadden alone if he had treated Rose that way,” Emmett said matter-offactly. “No I don’t care at all. Do your worst,” I said to my brother. I continued to hold Bella as the rest of my family disbursed to their classes. Bella and I just stood there long after they had left until my anger subsided and I felt comfortable letting go of her. I absolutely abhorred this situation. The only benefit to my suffering and Bella’s mistreatment was the die being cast for this afternoon. Now, there was nothing standing in the way of showing Nathan McFadden that incurring my wrath could provoke a lot more than mere words. More than even his twisted mind could fathom. After today, if he even looked at Bella strangely, he would beg me to kill him long before I would give him that release. My nerves geared up in anticipation throughout the remainder of the day. In spite of my misgivings with regards to disclosing what we were, there was a growing part of my psyche that relished the thought of being able to function at my full, preternatural capacity in front of a boy who deserved much more than to be merely frightened by the sight of me. “Edward, I have a favor to ask you,” Bella said quietly as we walked to last period Biology. “Tell me what you want, and you can have it,” I said without thinking. “You’re not going to like it.” Of course not. With everything I wanted to give her, the few things she usually asked for were guaranteed to cause me grief. “What do you want Bella?” “Can you please give me a few moments alone with Nate? I know that as soon as you see him, you’re going to want to get in his face immediately, and I totally understand why. But . . . he insulted me too. I’d like a moment to make him afraid of me and sorry that he ever thought it was okay to treat a girl like that,” she pleaded. She was right. I didn’t like it at all. That monster should not get even one more second alone with Bella. My mouth formed a hard line as I considered her large eyes staring at me, willing me to give her this small boon. Exhaling in frustration, I nodded once. “As soon as things even start to get slightly out of hand, it’s over Bella.” She smiled triumphantly. “Of course.” As the last bell rang, Bella and I quickly gathered our things to take our places before Nate could get there. I held her hand as we moved rapidly across campus and into position. She stood out in plain view near the center of the clearing in the woods behind the auditorium,

and I situated myself at the base of a large oak tree behind her to get the best vantage point. Rosalie hid in the shadow of another tree near the entrance to the small clearing, and Jasper and Alice crouched in the branches above me. Standing alone in the center of the forest, Bella’s small figure looked vulnerable, and I used the anger fomenting in my mind to harness my focus. I gritted my teeth as Nate’s advancing form came into view in the distance. He slowed his steps to a casual swagger when he rounded the bend in the woods and saw Bella standing there alone. I wasn’t entirely sure she would show up, but it’s definitely my lucky day. This is a great spot too, now that I think of it. No one will bother us here. I’ll have to remember it for next time. He stopped a few feet away from her. “Hello baby. I hope you were thinking about me today, because I thought about you every chance I had.” He raked his eyes over her form like he was purchasing a horse at the market. The vulgarities in his mind almost made me forget my favor to Bella. She stared blankly back at him. “Not much for words, huh? That suits me fine. I’d rather do something else with my mouth anyway.” He didn’t give her a chance to respond as he moved quickly over to her to pull her into his arms roughly. Bella backed away quickly. Confusion replaced the look of anticipation on his face. “If I thought of you at all Nate, it was with pure disgust,” she spat at him. Fury quickly overtook the confusion in his features. “Are you playing with me? Didn’t I tell you before? Didn’t I warn you that bad things would happen if you messed with me?” His voice became louder in his rage. “You little whore! I’ll show you what happens when you play games!” Edward wait! Give her a second! Bella’s got this under control. Alice’s thoughts screamed into my mind the split second before I flew out of my hiding place. Even then, I could not stop the low growl from emitting my lips when I saw his hand move to strike Bella. Just wait Edward. Please. His hand flew in an arc towards her face, and Bella reacted so quickly that his dull sight missed the movement. Her hand clenched in a vise-like grip around his wrist just inches from her head. He struggled to release his arm in shocked surprise. What the hell! “Let go of my arm!” Why is she so strong? What the hell is going on here? Bella smiled at him slowly, dangerously. “Say please, Nate.” “Go to hell!” Nate was furious, but his eyes showed a hint of fear as he continued struggling with her hold on his wrist. “How rude! All you had to do was say please. Now I’m really angry,” she cooed wickedly. “Let go of me, you bi . . .” Before he could finish the offensive word, Bella reached over to his chest with her palm open. It looked like she merely meant to touch him, but she placed

the slightest amount of force behind her movement. Nate flew backwards a distance and landed in a jumbled heap in the dirt. He was livid, but the fear was becoming more palpable. He had only begun to consider standing back up when I decided that it was my turn. “Now you’ve done it McFadden. You’ve made Bella upset. Heaven help you now,” I said casually as I walked into view from behind the tree. “Cullen! I might have known you were behind this! You’d better . . .” His words died on his lips as I took two slow steps with him looking right at me, and then I blurred over to stand behind Bella. Shock was the only emotion on his face now. I reached around to caress Bella’s waist as I kissed her neck tenderly. She looked over her shoulder at me and smiled. I must be going crazy. I must be crazy. How did he do that!? “I’ll take it from here sweetheart,” I murmured. Nate scrambled to his feet as I looked menacingly at him. “What the hell is going on here Cullen? You two set up a trap for me? You won’t get away with it. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve too!” I took a flying leap towards him and my hand flew to his throat as I shoved him against the trunk of a tree in less than half a second, pinning him against it with my forearm the same way Colin had restrained Bella. He was horrified. “I know all about the tricks you have up your sleeve McFadden. We have a few of our own,” I whispered tauntingly. Just then, Emmett rounded the corner with Colin McFadden in tow. Colin took one look at the scene in the forest, and his arm wheeled back to punch Emmett in the gut. The sickening crunch of broken bone echoed through the clearing, distracting Nate momentarily. Colin screamed in pain and fell to the ground while Emmett chuckled down at him with malice. “That was a good try. I think I almost felt it. Would you like another swipe? You still have one good hand.” “No baby. Save some for me!” Rosalie said in a singsong voice as she came into view. She flew to Emmett’s side and yanked Colin to his feet in one fluid movement by grabbing the collar of his shirt. He was still whimpering and clutching his shattered hand. “What do you want from me?” Colin said as he writhed in agony. “I haven’t decided yet,” Rose said with sweet spite. The color was draining from Nate’s face. How could he possibly know about our tricks? The freak is lying. “Did you enjoy taking a look at our home last night Nate?” I asked with hatred. Nate’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. He attempted to recover. “What the hell are you talking about Cullen?” “Don’t play coy with us, McFadden. I must say I was impressed. Is there a spell in your Book of Secrets that enables you to change into a hawk?” I posited nonchalantly.

The look of terror on Nate’s face answered my question for me. He tried to free himself from my stranglehold in panic. How!? Finished with being a mere observer, Jasper descended from his position in the tree some thirty feet in the air and landed soundlessly behind us in plain view of Nate and Colin. Their thoughts were becoming jumbled and chaotic with a mixture of fear and doubt. “Since we figured out that you were warlocks, we thought it was only fair to let you know what we are. Just to be polite,” Jasper said as his eyes glittered with a clear malevolence that contradicted his words. Out of all of us, Jasper looked the most frightening as he stood off to the side glaring at Nate with his hands in the pockets of his knee-length coat. Dangerous and unforgiving. “What are you?” Nate whispered, the terror plain on his face, completely eclipsing any other emotion. Alice’s tinkling laugh echoed above us as we all focused upward. She took a dive headfirst out of the tree and curled her body like a diver in midair. She somersaulted gracefully towards the ground and landed in a perfect crouch on Jasper’s shoulders. He rubbed her calf affectionately as he gazed with sadistic humor at the looks of utter fright on Colin and Nate’s faces. “Guess,” Alice said as she turned her head to the side with a playful grin. Alice’s demonstration of our abilities had clearly been the most startling. As she perched on Jasper’s shoulders in a position defying gravity, she also looked the most inhuman. I’ve got to get out of here! If he lets me go, I can transform and get the hell out of here! Wordlessly responding to his thoughts, I pressed my forearm harder into Nate’s neck to prevent him from even considering escape. “No guesses? Aw, come on. I’ll give you a hint. I can hear your heart pounding even from here. It’s getting louder and louder. The blood pumping through your veins is filled with fear . . . and it smells . . . delicious,” Alice sighed as she turned her nose into the air dramatically, closed her eyes, and sniffed. I nearly laughed aloud at her theatrics. Jasper quietly chuckled to himself. What? My blood smells delicious? What in God’s name is she . . .” The horror consumed Nate as the realization began to filter through the haze of confusion in his mind. Blood drinkers? It’s not possible! “Look at his face. He knows,” Bella said quietly as she walked with terrorizing slowness towards Nate and I. “Why don’t you tell us Nathan? Tell us so that we’re perfectly clear. So that nothing is misunderstood.” “What the hell are they Nate?” Colin moaned in pain and fear. “They’re lying. They can’t be that! It’s impossible!” Nate said in increasing panic. “Why not? Is it normal for Edward’s skin to be that cold and hard against your neck? Is it actually feasible for a hundred pound girl to hurl you through the air with no more than a flick of her hand? In case your stupid ass missed it, Jasper and Alice fell from a tree and landed on their feet without a scratch . . . of course it’s possible, you fool!” Rosalie stated angrily.

“Those things may be abnormal for you, but do you know what is perfectly normal for me Nate? Something I instinctively feel each and every moment I’m around you . . . the desire to rip open your neck and feed until there is nothing left but a dry husk,” I whispered soothingly like I was comforting a child having a bad dream as I leaned in closer to him, inhaling for effect. Nate cried out in fright. “Nate what’s he saying to you? Tell me what they are!” Colin was shrieking, and I could tell that his grasp on reality was beginning to lose its grip. “Blood drinkers!” Nate gasped. But it can’t be! How is this possible? This is like a nightmare! I smiled fully, showcasing each of my razor sharp white teeth. “Believe in nightmares Nate. Believe in me.” Chapter 15: Exposure – Bella All day long at school I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach . . . some awful sense of foreboding. Edward tried several times to talk to me about it, and I couldn’t manage to articulate it at all. I’ve never been as good as Edward is at describing how I feel. It just felt like something bad was about to happen. Nathan and Colin McFadden were not in school today. Not that I blamed them. I had never seen such looks of terror on the faces of human beings before. It was the first time I had come to grips with the fact that I was a monster in their eyes. Of course, I knew that the way my family and I chose to live our existence differentiated us from the rest of our kind, but it had never given me pause in the past to really consider what other people would think if they knew the truth. We had left them in the woods yesterday after unleashing the terror. Colin was still clutching his broken hand, and the fear had caused him to hyperventilate. Nate was just staring at nothing with a look of abject horror. Edward and I had been the last to walk away. Edward was still pressing his forearm to Nate’s neck as he gave him the final admonition. “McFadden. This is your last and only warning. If you, your cousin, or anyone marginally associated with you even looks at Bella or anyone else in my family strangely again, then any attempt to stop me from annihilating you will fail. You’re only standing here breathing because Bella wouldn’t want me to hurt you. I won’t listen next time. I will hunt you. You will lose.” He had said the words quietly. Calmly. His eyes had glittered with anger. I had been terrified momentarily for Nate. As proud as I was of the virtually indestructible, glorious being that was my husband, I knew deep down that Edward was capable of horror I could not even imagine. He had admitted as much to me in several conversations. I actually had to stop myself from begging Nate to listen to him. How stupid would that have sounded? Edward and I had silently left after releasing a stunned Nathan McFadden. We had all joked and laughed on the way home at the initial thrill of the moment. Emmett had been uncontrollably excited. As the adrenaline rush died down, I felt a mood of somber reflection take over. Deep down, I knew none of us were happy at what we had just been forced to do. Carlisle had listened quietly to the spectacle, and he had merely smiled through a painful look of distress. Carlisle despised feeling like a monster. I had never really thought about it before, but I knew now that I did too.

I was sitting out on the back porch with Alice waiting for Nessie to come home. Nessie had asked to go hiking with her friend Yuri after school, and she would be coming home in about an hour. Edward had given her permission, but he had also asked Jacob to follow after her unseen and make sure she was okay given our current tenuous situation with a coven of warlocks. Renesmee had angrily agreed after arguing for ten minutes. Alice was online looking at floral arrangements and singing to herself in harmony with the music blaring from her headphones. I was addressing invitations for the girls in Nessie’s class to come over for her birthday party. It was the least nauseating thing on Alice’s long list of to-dos. I decided that I should probably knock something off of that list before Alice raked me over the coals again for not caring about the equivalent of my child’s 16th birthday. Alice had themed the party as being a Sweet Sixteen celebration and was, of course, taking things way too far. Poor Rosalie was on the phone arguing with someone about why it was illegal to have fireworks in the mountains . . . so near to the forest . . . with all of the trees . . . yeah. Alice. Edward, Emmett, Jasper, and Carlisle were playing tackle football in the backyard while it was raining outside. The last couple of days had been damp, and the ground was soft and muddy. Needless to say, Edward and Carlisle were the only ones who had been able to keep themselves fairly clean. Emmett and Jasper were a mess. Esme had to keep warning them not to take it too far as Em and Jazz tried desperately to catch Edward off guard and throw him into a nearby pile of mud. “You’re such a pretty boy Edward! The point of touch football is to get dirty! You’re a mindreading cheater, and you’re absolutely no fun!” Emmett complained. Edward merely smirked arrogantly as he dodged a handful of dirt that Jazz chucked in his direction. It splashed to the ground and into a puddle. Drops of mud flew in all directions and managed to splatter onto Edward’s white shirt. Edward frowned and flew over to an unsuspecting Emmett, yanking his legs out from under him so that Emmett splashed into the mud face first with a resounding thwack. “I don’t know Emmett. That was pretty fun to me,” Edward said with a grin. He pulled his muddy shirt over his head and threw it at Emmett. “Here’s something to wipe your face off with.” Alice and I laughed heartily from the porch as I admired my husband’s muscled physique. Rosalie scowled, hung up the phone, and said, “You boys are a bunch of hooligans. Emmett Cullen, don’t even try to come anywhere near me until you’ve washed off.” Emmett was beginning his slow stalk towards the house covered in mud with the clear intention of provoking Rose, when Alice stopped laughing and her eyes zoned out. The phone began ringing behind us, and Esme answered it. “Yes, you’re speaking with Esme Cullen. Carlisle? May I ask who is calling please?” Alice and Edward were having a silent discussion. Edward’s face immediately darkened, and he motioned for Jasper and Emmett to move back towards the house. Carlisle had already walked in the back door. “Certainly Niall. One moment,” Esme murmured with a troubled look. “Where are they right now Alice?” Edward asked grimly. “They are about five or six miles away from our house. They made the decision to come and see us very quickly and did not want to give us a lot of warning or time to prepare,” Alice replied. “What’s going on?” Jasper said.

“Nathan and Colin McFadden are on their way over here with Nate’s father. They told his father about us, and he is making Colin and Nate come and apologize,” Alice responded. “That can’t be the only thing they want,” I stated dubiously. “It never is,” Edward agreed. Emmett darted up the stairs to wash off. “Don’t let anything exciting happen while I’m gone!” Jasper simply took his shirt off since he was not as covered with mud as Emmett had been. He used his shirt to wipe his face and arms off as Carlisle came back into the room. “They will be here in a few minutes,” he said quietly. Edward motioned for Jasper to follow him to the front door. I knew he wanted to get a feeling for their emotions at the same time he wanted to take advantage of seeing into their minds prior to them arriving here. Alice and I silently walked behind them and stood near the doorway while Jasper and Edward took position at the top of the stairs leading up to the house. “Colin is still terrified. Nathan is very angry, but his fear is strong as well. Nate’s father is extremely curious and unsure. There is also a sense of excitement mixed in with his uncertainty,” Jasper whispered. Edward’s body stiffened as their thoughts came into range. “Colin and Nate have no desire to apologize. Niall McFadden is using the apology as an excuse to find out if we are really vampires. He has never seen one before, but he has read about them . . . in the Book of Secrets. Niall McFadden must be the leader of their coven,” Edward murmured with extreme displeasure. We all gathered behind Edward and Jasper silently, waiting. Jasper had a thin layer of dirt on his arms and his face. It made the alarming scars covering his skin more prominent. I always felt that Jasper looked the most terrifying out of any of us, even Emmett. Almost animalistic. Edward stood on the step below him . . . the point of first contact between the McFaddens and our family. The muscles in his back and in his shoulders rippled as he crossed his arms over his chest. The rain fell in a drizzle around us, and we all stood there with watchful, careful eyes. I cringed with mental discomfort because I did not want Edward to stand in the very front. He was so open and so exposed. Not knowing what to expect, I pushed my shield out in front of me wordlessly until I had enveloped each precious member of my family in the intangible net of safety my mind controlled. Alice reached over and squeezed my hand in support and appreciation. Her eyes were glued on Jasper’s figure. Emmett came traipsing out the door with wet hair and a gleam in his eyes. We heard two car engines in the distance. They slowly rounded the curve before our home and came into view. The first car was Nate’s black Corvette. It shined ominously as the rain beaded off of the glossy exterior. Behind Nate’s car was an old silver Rolls Royce – I only knew this because of the polished double ‘R’s on the emblem. The car was beautiful, and it reminded me of English high society. Nate stepped out of his Corvette wearing dark sunglasses and a hooded coat. He glared at us with a mixture of fury and trepidation. Colin was driving the Rolls Royce, and he did not even look at us as he opened his door and walked over to the passenger door like a chauffeur. His right hand was wrapped in a cast. A grey-haired man stepped carefully out of the car balancing his weight on a polished wood cane. He was dressed in a grey suit and a tan trench coat, and he looked every bit like the proper gentleman his car indicated. His eyes were the same cold, ice blue as Nate’s, and his

face showed undeniable shock and unrestrained curiosity as he took in the eight vampires standing in front of him. He smiled courteously at us. “Hello. My name is Niall McFadden. I am Nathan’s father. It is a very great pleasure to meet you.” His voice was accented and lilting. Carlisle stepped carefully forward to stand next to Jasper. “Hello Niall. I’m Carlisle Cullen, and this is my family. My wife Esme, my son Emmett and his wife Rosalie, Jasper and his mate Alice, and Edward and his Bella.” Niall McFadden’s glance betrayed nothing until the introductions ended with Edward and I. He stared for a moment at me as if he were deciding why his son had unleashed the fury of a coven of vampires merely for the attention of a simple girl. Smiling after looking at me for a moment, he glanced at his son as if to show that he understood. His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly as he considered Edward. I was certain that Nate had spared no detail in sharing with his father the clearly articulated threat that Edward had given to Nate the day before. He frowned a bit at his son after taking in Edward’s black glare and clenched jaw. Edward’s efforts to look menacing and uncontrollable clearly had the desired impact. “I was truly distressed to hear the manner in which my son and my nephew made your family’s acquaintance. You see, they are not used to failure, and it is partially my fault that they feel so motivated in challenging situations. I have not made it a point for my son to consider being second best, even if it is allegedly character-building by its very nature,” he smiled, and it reminded me of a sneer. “You can imagine my displeasure when I heard that my son had made the incorrigible error of coveting a blood drinker’s mate. I am not privy to a fount of information with regards to blood drinkers, but I do know that when a mate is selected, it is a mate for life.” We continued to listen in silence. Nate was staring at me coldly, and when Edward saw Nate’s line of sight, he growled with menace. Niall McFadden immediately focused his attention on his son, and said something harshly in a language I did not understand. Nate flushed with anger, but averted his gaze at once. “Again, please accept my apology. I do believe that Nathan and Colin have something they wish to say to your family.” He looked pointedly back at them and waiting expectantly with raised eyebrows. Colin spoke up first. His voice was a terrified squeak, and he could not bring himself to look up from the ground. “I want to apologize for my rudeness. I promise I will not offend you anymore. I should not have threatened Bella.” It sounded robotic and forced. “Nor should you have touched her, but that’s another matter entirely,” Edward stated harshly. Colin cringed in fear. All eyes focused on Nate. He took a deep breath and grimaced as though he were breathing in air mixed with filth. “I would also like to apologize for offending the Cullen coven. It was not my intention to instigate any sort of feud.” “Well that’s just a load of crap, and you know it,” Emmett said loudly. “Emmett,” Carlisle whispered in warning. “Continue Nathan,” Niall McFadden said calmly as though Emmett had not said anything at all. Clearly the next part of Nate’s rehearsed ‘apology’ was the most distasteful to him because he frowned deeply and his eyes glazed over for a moment in extreme irritation.

He looked directly at Edward. “Edward. I will not give you any more grief with regards to your mate.” “My wife’s name is Bella,” Edward interrupted angrily. Nate continued. “I should not have disrespected you or Bella. It was out of line, and I understand how offensive it was now. I humbly apologize to you both.” There was no sincerity in anything he said. I did not have to have Edward’s gift to know this. He had been coerced by his father and by his fear into coming to us under the guise of humility. Edward merely stood there. I could see in his face how badly he wanted to make an issue out of the blatant falsehoods that both Nate and Colin had uttered, but he controlled his temper and remained silent. “Well now,” Niall McFadden said with a smile, “All of that’s behind us. I must admit that it truly is a pleasure to encounter beings such as yourselves. I cannot deny that I was very doubtful of my son’s assertion that the Cullen family was a coven of blood drinkers, but I can see clearly that he was right. The only difference in the description I have is that blood drinkers were alleged to have red eyes, but this could just be a mistranslation or clerical error.” Carlisle smiled hesitantly. “It happens with the passage of time. I would also assume then that you are the leader of your coven and the possessor of the Book of Secrets.” We had decided as a family not to disclose that we were ‘vegetarians’ to any warlock. Jasper thought it served us better if they did not think we had rules outside of the norm. Niall pursed his lips at our knowledge, but responded by saying, “I am. My father was before me, and one day Nathan will be.” God help us all. “Is Nate the only one of you that can change into a hawk?” Emmett asked directly. “Nathan’s abilities with the mutatio spell have far exceeded even mine. He is the most gifted warlock in our family for generations.” It was impossible for him to hide his pride in his son’s abilities. “Blood drinkers have many gifts of their own, do they not?” he continued eagerly. I could tell he was desperate to walk away with some new knowledge. “We have speed, strength, and stealth on our side. Our senses are greatly heightened as well,” Edward responded automatically. “This was how we were able to tell that Nate had come to visit the other night . . . without an invitation. I could smell him. It would be virtually impossible for him to use even the most covert approach with us.” It was a warning. Niall’s eyes widened in surprise. “I had not realized that the senses were that developed. How very interesting. Can you safely exist in the sunlight?” “Yes, but not without attracting a great deal of unwanted attention,” Carlisle answered with a wry smile. When no one responded further, Niall’s face hardened as he realized that he was not going to gather any more information from us. “I hate to end our conversation on a rather sour note, but I do need to protect my family in whatever way possible. I am assuming that you are aware of the covenant formed between your Elders and the High Priests in 1682?” “We are,” Carlisle stated.

Niall nodded with satisfaction. “I do not mean in any way to be rude, but I would appreciate it if your culinary pastimes did not include any members of my family.” “They won’t as long as members of your family steer clear of mine,” Edward clipped. “That should not be a problem. There is mutual acquiescence regarding discretion as well . . . am I correct?” Niall asked. “Yes.” Edward’s frown was still clearly present on his face. “Well then. I bid you and your family good day. Rest assured that we will not cause any subsequent problems with you, and that we can coexist in harmony for the duration of your tenure here.” Niall McFadden motioned for Colin, and Colin walked automatically over to him to assist him with getting back into the Rolls Royce. Nate and Colin wordlessly got into their respective cars and drove away without looking at us once. Edward and Jasper did not retreat from their positions until they could no longer hear the engines of the McFaddens’ automobiles. I waited for them by the front door until they turned hesitantly to walk back into the house. “Edward, what was going on below the surface?” I asked quietly. He tenderly kissed my forehead and took my hand to sit with our family in the main living area. “This is probably something everyone should hear, love.” We all took our seats except for Jasper, who remained standing next to Alice in the corner. “Niall McFadden is a chemist of sorts in the human world. His work has made him very famous and very wealthy. I could see that his success is intrinsically linked with his warlock heritage. As he was trying to figure out what gifts we possessed as vampires, I saw him visualizing his own abilities and that of his nephew and his son. Niall is a potionmaker . . . he considers this to be an art form of the highest degree. I cannot deny that the elixirs he has successfully created before make me very uncomfortable. He possesses a potion that can instantaneously kill another human without leaving any trace of foul play. He also has a draught that induces a feeling of love in human beings. He wondered blithely if these things would have any impact on us.” Edward’s eyes filled with anger for a moment. “Colin’s gift is his inexplicable ability to read into the spoken word. It’s almost like he can taste in the air a lie, a truth, fear, or happiness. It is not an exact science, and Colin has not been able to cultivate this skill beyond a very rudimentary nature. Jasper’s talent is much more precise and useful in application.” Edward paused to take a deep breath. His eyes narrowed dangerously. “His father was not lying. Nathan McFadden is the most gifted warlock of them all. Many of his abilities he was simply born with. He can control a human mind with only the consideration of doing so. This is extremely dangerous, as he can also erase their memories in the process at his whim . . . if he forced a human to do something wrong, they would have no recollection of the event or of Nate’s coercion; therefore, Nate would never be associated with it or be made to deal with the consequences. Spells work very well for Nate. They have not worked as well for Niall or any other warlock Niall has encountered. Niall relies mostly on his potionmaking ability. Nate’s powers are at their most pivotal stage of development. He has control over a great deal of them, but has not harnessed their full potency yet, which is very alarming to me.” “Niall McFadden also suspects that we have gifts beyond the norm. He did not completely buy my explanation that I smelled his son when Nate was in hawk form spying on us. It was a burning question in his mind, and I felt that I had to address it, even though my

explanation was not as well thought-out as it should have been,” Edward remarked with regret. “No one is criticizing you dear,” Esme said kindly. “We were all taken off guard.” “Which was their intent. Nate’s father is completely fascinated with anything occult. He could barely contain his burning curiosity in front of us. The thing that bothered me most was his wistfulness and envy,” Edward replied. “What was he envious of?” I murmured. Edward paused thoughtfully. “Niall McFadden is dying.” “Dying?” Jasper commented with surprise. “He has multiple sclerosis, and it is advancing at an unusually rapid rate.” “Ah,” Carlisle stated with understanding, “This was why he needed a cane and made no effort to climb the stairs to enter our home. This is a disease that basically attacks the nervous system in humans. Eventually, they lose control of their movement. They are usually in a great deal of pain as well. There is also no known cure for the disease.” “He is very uncomfortable with the idea of passing along the torch to Nate when Nate is still so young and his powers still not under his full control. There is fear that Niall will not have enough time to educate his son fully with regard to being the leader of a warlock coven. I believe MS also ends by diminishing cognitive functionality . . .” Edward looked at Carlisle. “Yes. Since it is a disease that originates in the mind, the mind’s abilities eventually deteriorate as well,” Carlisle responded. “Niall is, as Siobhan warned, obsessively concerned with immortality and his family’s heritage. This was his primary reason for wanting to see us. The idea that immortal beings exist in this world with irrefutable fact is something he had to see for himself,” Edward finished. “Well, I can’t say I feel sorry for the creep,” Rosalie sniffed imperiously. “Don’t feel sorry at all for any of them. Remember, that which we cannot have becomes the thing we desire most,” Edward warned. Deep down, I did feel a little sorry for Niall McFadden. Even though his son was a pernicious jerk, Niall had been very polite with us. He had even insisted that his son apologize to us, even if he did have ulterior motives in doing so. I also appreciated the fact that it appeared Nathan respected him and felt obligated to obey him as I recalled the moment when Nate had rudely stared at me and Niall had chastised him. It was nice to know that someone could control Nate. “What did Niall say to Nate when you growled at him?” I asked out of curiosity. “I’m not sure. It sounded similar to Old English,” Edward answered. “It was Gaelic, and I believe the dialect is more indigenous to the Highlands. The McFaddens must have originated from Scotland,” Carlisle responded. “I did not understand all of it, but he basically called his son a fool and demanded that he show some restraint before Nate’s temper provoked Edward further.” We all sat there quietly taking in the information. “On a happier note,” Alice said in an attempt to lighten the mood, “Nathan McFadden is absolutely done with Bella. Between being scared to death yesterday and his father yelling at him all day today, he has no interest in even looking at Bella again. Mission accomplished!”

I smiled as the air around us flowed more freely and the postures of my family members began to relax. I could not say it then. The sense of foreboding in my mind had not left, and my ability to understand it was even more clouded in doubt. I had no idea what it meant. Chapter 16: Exposure – Renesmee The rain fell in a light drizzle around us, and the smell of the air flowing down the mountain filled my senses with pine needles, dried leaves, and . . . werewolf. Ugh. I could not believe that Dad had forced me to bring Jake along. I definitely wanted to be around him every chance I could, but Yuri had been hounding me all day long for details of Jake and I’s first kiss on the side of I-26. It’s impossible to dish about your boyfriend properly when said boyfriend has changed into a werewolf and is walking out of human sight but within hearing distance of you. Man this sucked. “Nessie! You haven’t really told me anything! At least tell me if he’s a good kisser!” Yuri complained. With my heightened senses, I heard the crunching of leaves under huge paws in the distance abruptly halt. “Yuri, I don’t know why it matters!” I said with exasperation. “Renesmee Cullen! Kissing matters a ton. Most girls swear that the first kiss tells you everything you need to know about a man,” Yuri proclaimed. “Yuri, you’re reading too much chick-lit and watching too much Oprah.” Yuri pushed my arm in mock anger. “Whatever Nessie. I’m not going to back down. I’ve never even been kissed, and you really should do me a favor and put me out of my misery. God, Jake is so hot! At least you can tell me if his kisses are as good as he looks!” There was no envy in her voice. She was just very happy for me. I knew that I had found a good, honest friend in Yuri Chung. I sighed in surrender. Well fine, Jacob Black! If you’re going to hear it, then I hope to God you are blushing under all that fur when you do! “Fine Yuri! I give up! Kissing Jake was . . . it was the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life . . . so far,” I admitted. “Now you’re talking!” Yuri crowed triumphantly. “I don’t know. I knew it would be great to be kissed one day, but it was a lot more than that to me. It just felt . . . right. I can’t really explain it well. All I know is, I definitely wanted more.” I chuckled to myself at the sound of paws tripping uncharacteristically over each other from far off to the side of us. “How much more?” Yuri said eagerly. “Do you think . . . I mean . . . do you think you might go all the way with him?” I almost laughed to myself as I imagined Jake in his wolf form holding his breath with his big black eyes staring off into space . . . wondering what the heck I was going to say. “I would be lying to you if I said I hadn’t thought about it,” I responded nonchalantly. I heard a creature choking in the background. It almost sounded like an old man with a wheezing cough. I knew that Yuri couldn’t hear it, but it still renewed my spark of annoyance at not being allowed to conduct this conversation with the privacy it deserved.

Yuri and I came to a stop on an outcropping of rock. The sheer wall of the crag rose behind us, and the view was spectacular. We stopped to sit on a boulder that must have rolled down the mountain and come to rest on this large precipice. Yuri sighed. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to find someone. Not in Brevard at least. My mom has honestly freaked me out so much about men that I think it will be virtually impossible for me to even trust a guy enough to kiss him, much less fall in love.” “You know, I used to be pretty jaded about love. I think it had a lot to do with my parents,” I said. “Do your parents have a bad marriage?” “No the total opposite. They are madly in love and completely obsessed with each other,” I chuckled. “Then why would you be jaded about love?” “I don’t know. I guess I thought that it would be almost impossible to find something as wonderful as my parents have. I knew that if I couldn’t have that, I’d rather not have anything at all. I know it sounds weird, but my father would die several times over for my mother. The way he looks at her . . . it kind of makes other guys seem stupid to me. Who can live up to that?” I said honestly. “Do you think Jake can live up to that?” Yuri asked. I mused for a moment. “The truth is, this is all so new to me. I hadn’t really thought too much about it.” “I think that he can. He really loves you Nessie. I can feel it,” she said with a sweet smile. I grinned back at her. “I hope so . . . or he’s in major trouble.” In the form of irate vampires. “Do you think he’s it for you?” she murmured. Again, the hacking cough began in the background. The irritation of Jake’s presence compounded by the overwhelming nature of Yuri’s question demanded that I have a moment of reprieve. I pretended to shiver. “Do you want to collect some wood and make a fire? It’s actually a little chilly up here. Come on! Let’s spread out and get some old twigs. We can just make a small fire. It’ll be fun!” My falsely bright enthusiasm was not lost on Yuri. She smiled with understanding and decided to play along. “Sure thing. Don’t go too far because I know this is your first time up here,” Yuri said. Ha! I wasn’t too concerned for myself. “I’ll go this way . . . do you want to go over here and meet up in five minutes?” I asked. “Okay. See you in five!” I began marching towards the cover of the trees pretending to look for twigs and branches. As soon as Yuri was out of sight, I took off towards the section of the forest where I knew Jake was hiding while supposedly watching out for me. “Jake!” I hissed as I came into the grove of trees that smelled most strongly of dog. Even though his scent as a werewolf was not as unpleasant to me as it was to the rest of my family, it was nevertheless not my favorite in the world. Jake as a human smelled so much better . . . a woodsy, musky scent. Potentially my favorite scent in the world.

He trotted out into view. His eyes were huge as he looked at me, and even though he was a werewolf, I could see the embarrassment in his face through all of his dark hair. He was probably mad at Dad for making him come too. “Can you please leave us alone for just a few minutes? It’s so mortifying having to talk about you and knowing that you’re right there listening!” I begged in a harsh whisper. Jake shook his huge head and whined asking for my understanding. “Dammit! This is so uncomfortable!” I moaned. Jake was looking at me with forlorn and expectant eyes. I walked over to him and put my hand on the side of his face right next to the rows of razor sharp teeth that were the size of my fingers. He sighed in contentment. “I wish you would just go home, but at the same time . . . I don’t want you to leave. Does that sound weird?” I murmured. He pressed his nose into my hair, and I felt him take a deep breath. I stood there looking at him, and I knew that the goofy grin growing on my face was impossible to stop. I was just really happy around Jake. There was no way to deny it. I kissed the tip of his nose. All of a sudden, the hackles on the back of Jake’s neck rose and his gaze turned in the direction of the peak behind us. In the distance, I heard the tumble of rocks rolling down a mountain. With my enhanced vision, courtesy of my vampire genes, I saw a huge boulder begin rolling down the crag . . . right in the direction where Yuri was looking for firewood. “Oh my God!” I gasped as I took off running as fast as I could. Yuri wouldn’t hear the rockslide in time. She would be crushed. I heard Jake running right beside me. I pushed my legs harder than I ever had before. As the path of trees cleared in front of me, I saw her raise her head, startled by the sound of rocks behind her. She saw the boulder rolling towards her and froze in horror. I hurled my body into the air some thirty feet away from the huge rock with the intention of forcing it to change trajectory by colliding with my indestructible body. Jake growled in anger when he saw what I was going to do and leapt before me. “No! You idiot!” I cried out when I saw that the boulder was going to hit Jake. All of a sudden, the enormous rock stopped in midair. I mean stopped in midair. It was just hanging there from an invisible string. In astonishment I turned around to face Yuri. She was holding her hand out strangely towards the boulder. As if . . . as if she were grasping it in her hand. Here eyes were the size of saucers. I knew that she had seen me leap through the air from an inhuman distance away. There was no way she could miss a black wolf the size of a horse standing right next to me. “Get out of the way,” she croaked without taking her eyes off of us. We moved quickly to the side. She slowly rolled her outstretched hand in the opposite direction. The boulder shifted with her movements. She set it down gently even though I could see her knees and torso were beginning to shake. She turned back to us, and the shock set in. With a strange sound coming from her lips, Yuri collapsed in a heap onto the ground. I just stood there completely taken aback. Yuri Chung, my new friend from school, had levitated and moved a four-ton boulder with one outstretched hand. Like freaking Yoda.

Jake ran off into the woods behind a tree. A moment later he was tying the strings on his black sweatpants as he rushed back to me. “Renesmee . . . don’t you ever do that again!” Jake yelled as he yanked me into his arms. He pulled me off of my feet in his embrace, and I could feel his heart racing through the bare skin of his chest. “Yuri . . .” I squeaked. “We have to get her back to Carlisle,” Jake said quickly while he set me down and ran over to her. He pulled her into his arms after checking for her pulse and began running back towards his car. I took off after him. “Nessie,” Jake said as I piled into the backseat with Yuri to make sure she was okay, “What the hell happened back there? How in God’s name did this little girl do that?” “I have no idea Jake,” I whispered. “Well, Edward is going to be pissed to no end. She definitely saw you trying to pull that WWF maneuver, and it’s going to be tough to convince her that the huge black wolf she saw was your pet dog Rover,” he said in consternation. “I’ll deal with it. Hurry home.” “As soon as we get within a few miles of the house, Edward will know exactly what happened. Brace yourself. That’s the last time he ever lets you go hiking,” he moaned. As we squealed into our driveway, I saw that Grandpa Carlisle was already waiting on the front porch . . . along with Dad. Crap, he looked so pissed! Dad yanked open my door on Jake’s Mustang and pulled back the front passenger seat. I could see how angry he was as he reached in for Yuri. He rushed back into the house with Grandpa Carlisle, and Jake and I followed like two guilty children wringing our hands in shame. “Nessie!” my Mom cried out as soon as she saw me. She ran over and pulled me against her ice-cold body quickly. “Are you okay baby?” “I’m totally fine Mom,” I replied. “But save me from Dad just in case.” Mom pursed her lips. “Edward told me about the stunt you tried to pull.” She shook my shoulders. “What were you thinking, honey? What if that rock had crushed you?” “I don’t think it could have hurt me Mom. I mean, I might have gotten a little bit banged up, but it definitely was going to kill Yuri . . . um, did Dad tell you what happened with the rock?” I asked tentatively. “Not in much detail. We didn’t have time,” Mom responded. Her eyes narrowed. “What happened Renesmee?” “Renesmee,” Dad called from the dining room where they were taking care of Yuri, “Can you come in here please? She’s going to wake up soon, and you should probably be here when she does so that she won’t panic.” Grateful for the opportunity to escape an explanation, I ran into the dining room with Mom in tow. Grandpa Carlisle had put an IV in Yuri’s arm, and Dad was bent over her face with a look of concern. I noticed that the rest of my family had taken refuge upstairs. I briefly wondered why. “Yuri?” Dad whispered quietly. “Yuri, honey?”

“Ugh,” she moaned as her eyelids fluttered. Her light blue eyes opened and looked with surprise upon my Dad’s face. “Oh God!” she croaked hoarsely. “You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen! If this is a dream, don’t wake me up.” She closed her eyes quickly and took a few deep breaths. Her heart was hammering in her chest from seeing Dad’s face. I guess I took it for granted. I mean, he’s my father, after all. Dad chuckled softly. “Yuri, you’re at Nessie’s house right now.” Her eyes flew open. “Nessie?” She struggled to sit up, and Dad helped by leaning behind her and putting his arm under her neck. Her heartbeat fluttered again. Mom laughed quietly. Yuri saw me, and her eyes widened in shock again. She stuttered a bit, and cleared her throat. “Uh, Nessie? Do you want to tell me what the heck happened?” she asked quietly. I became a little angry at the accusation in her voice. “Whatever Yuri! I could ask you the same damn thing!” “Nessie,” Dad scolding angrily, “She just fainted from shock. Tone it down a bit.” “Who are you?” Yuri breathed as she looked over her shoulder at my Dad’s perfect face. He smiled down at her calmly, and her breath caught in her throat. “I think we all need to sit down a moment and take some time to sort through this,” Mom murmured. “I agree,” Grandpa Carlisle said. Yuri’s gaze focused on my Mom and then on Grandpa Carlisle as her eyes widened again. “Why are all of you so darn beautiful?” she whispered. Calm laughter filled the room as Grandpa Carlisle leaned over to Yuri. “May I carry you into the living room? It’s much more comfortable there.” “Uh sure . . .” She waited expectedly for a name. “Carlisle,” he answered with a smile. We all moved into the living room. Jake was already seated in an armchair. I could tell that Yuri felt better to see a familiar face there. Her eyes did pop out of her head when she took in his muscled arms and rippling abs. I pouted my lips a bit in irritation. “Jake? Need a shirt?” I whispered with annoyance. Damn, I could feel the blood rushing to my face. Jealousy did not become me at all. “Not really,” he said with a grin. My Dad took another armchair and calmly pulled Mom into his lap. Grandpa Carlisle gently placed Yuri at the end of the sofa, and I took a seat in the middle between Jake and Yuri. Dad opened his mouth to start talking and Mom put her index finger on his lips before he could start. “Edward, I think we should let Nessie handle this.” “Why? Since she’s done such a good job so far?” he said blackly. My Mom just looked at him with her big caramel colored eyes. As usual, he relented with a scowl. “So Yuri,” I said uneasily. “Rock, paper, scissors to see who goes first?” “Renesmee!” Dad hissed. “I’m just kidding,” I hesitated and took a deep breath. “Yuri, I know you saw some weird things today, and I really wish that I didn’t have to force this information on you, but I’m

pretty sure that you’re too smart to believe some lame lie, so I figure the truth is the best answer I can give.” Yuri continued to stare at me. “Also, I know this sounds strange, but . . . I really feel like I can trust you,” I whispered. “I know Nessie. I feel that way too. I owe you the truth as well,” she admitted. “This is not just my secret Yuri. This is the secret of my entire family. It’s really important that you understand that.” She nodded, and I could not doubt her earnestness. Again, I attempted to control my nerves through careful breathing. Jake took my hand quietly, and I continued. “Yuri, I’m not a normal teenage girl. In fact, there is not much that is normal about me at all. I’m . . . well, I’m not actually human. Half of me is, and the other half is . . . well . . .” Not ready to say it yet, I tried a different approach. “I’d like to introduce you to my parents Yuri.” I forced a smile onto my face. The look of confusion she gave me almost made me lose my nerve. I put out one hand in the direction of Mom and Dad. “This is my Mom, Bella . . . and this is my Dad, Edward.” Yuri was speechless for a moment. “Um. What? How is . . .? Your Dad is the most beautiful man in the world?” she gasped. Dad laughed. “Aren’t you a little young?” Yuri asked him. Dad looked expectantly at me. I gritted my teeth. Out with it you big chicken! “My family doesn’t age Yuri. We’re immortal.” I let that sink in for a moment. She said nothing as she took in a quick breath. “I’m half human and . . . half vampire,” I whispered quietly. Yuri sucked in air through her teeth. “You’re serious Nessie? Your family is a family of . . . vampires?” “Yes.” Her heartbeat quickened for a moment, and I saw her look around the room wildly. Grandpa Carlisle, Mom, Dad, and Jake watched her with careful, patient faces. Oddly enough, her heartbeat slowed down, and her breathing returned to a normal pace. I observed her with surprise. “Where’s the horse-dog?” she asked matter-of-factly. I smiled ruefully as I pointed to Jake with my thumb. “Seriously? You can change into a bigass dog?” she said calmly. “Technically, it’s a werewolf,” Jake responded testily. He probably didn’t like being referred to as a ‘bigass dog’. The next thing that happened absolutely floored me. Yuri Chung burst into laughter. She grabbed her stomach and laughed until tears poured out of her eyes. Crap, I’d made her go crazy! At first, my Dad’s face darkened, but as he listened to the flood of thoughts running through her mind as she laughed, his expression eased and began bordering on amused. Uncle Jazz, Aunt Ali, Uncle Em, and Aunt Rose waited at the top of the stairs. Grandma Esme quietly came in from the kitchen.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” my Dad murmured. “What’s going on?” I demanded angrily. “Yuri! What’s so funny?” “Oh Nessie!” she gasped for air. “I always thought I was the only freak like me in the world . . . the only one who wasn’t concretely one thing or the other. Fate has a funny way of working. The half-vampire and the half-witch . . . friends!” She started laughing again. Witch!? Yuri was a half-witch? “What are you talking about?” Her mirth began to subside as she looked carefully at me. “Remember the story I told you the first day we met? About my family?” I nodded. “The man who fathered me and my halfbrother . . . they are awful, terrible people and they come from a long line of disgusting human beings. My so-called father ruined my mother’s life. He’s a warlock Nessie. So is my half-brother Nate.” “What!” Uncle Jazz said in fury. “You’re related to Nathan McFadden?” “Calm down Jasper,” Dad said quietly, “I can already tell you that Yuri Chung and Nate McFadden have absolutely nothing in common besides Niall McFadden.” Jake stiffened when he heard the name. “You know the man who fathered me?” Yuri asked with surprise. “We’ve encountered him, yes,” Dad replied. He looked over at Jake for a moment, and his eyes narrowed carefully as he considered the information Jake was giving him through his thoughts. I’d have to ask them about that one later. “Nessie, I told you it was impossible to avoid Nate. He’s just awful . . . just like his father.” Yuri shuddered, “Niall McFadden is the biggest creep in the world. I can’t even stand to be in the same room with him.” She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. “It’s probably better for you to hear my mother’s background with the McFaddens from her own lips one day. As to my abilities . . . in a nutshell, I am able to levitate things with my mind. It’s the only thing I know I can do, and I’ve never tried any of the other stuff. Frankly, I have no interest in it at all. It’s dark and evil. The man who fathered me asked me if I wanted to study it when he found out I had inherited his ‘gift’,” Yuri said bitterly. “I refused. I don’t want anything from him.” The rest of my family had moved quietly down the stairs while Yuri spoke. Her eyes widened when she saw how large my family was. “Um. This may be a stupid question . . . but you’re not going to hurt me right?” she asked with the first sign of fear I had seen on her face. “No Yuri. We would never hurt you dear,” Grandma Esme said with a facial expression that could not be questioned in its veracity. “So,” Jake said as he looked at Yuri with amusement. “You’re basically like Yoda.” “That’s what I thought too!” I laughed with Jake. Yuri chuckled and smiled wickedly at Jake. “Well, I think Yoda is infinitely cooler than some bigass dog. I mean, what is it that you do exactly?” “I’m a werewolf,” Jake said through clenched teeth as the rest of my family began laughing with us. Aunt Rose laughed the loudest. “Technically, Jake is a shapeshifter,” I corrected. “It means that he can change into animal form at his command.” “Wow. Have you ever tried to change into something besides a bigass dog?” she smiled.

“No Yoda, I have not,” Jake said with a grin back at her. For some reason, it gave me immense pleasure to see Jake and Yuri already getting along so well. As I looked out of the corner of my eye, I saw my Dad nod at my Mom with satisfaction. They were always having these wordless conversations that drove everyone nuts. My Mom stood up and walked shyly over to Yuri. “Hi Yuri. I’m Bella . . . Nessie’s mom. I am so glad to meet you and even happier to see Nessie with such a wonderful friend that she can trust.” “Um. Thank you so much . . . Bella. I’m really glad I met Nessie too.” Yuri’s face was so full of honesty that no one could doubt it for a moment. My Mom leaned in and pulled Yuri into a soft hug. I saw Yuri’s body stiffen at the sensation of being hugged by a statue, and then Yuri’s arms wrapped around my Mom’s waist to return her hug. I swear, Mom nearly looked like she might cry if it were possible when she pulled away from Yuri. What a sap. It was probably a hazard of being married to a man who used words like ‘destiny’ and ‘beloved’ to describe his wife. You were bound to become a pathetic sap one day. Honestly, sometimes she gave Grandma Esme a run for her money. The rest of my family spent the next half hour introducing themselves to Yuri. As much as I hated to admit it, there was a small part of me that was actually really excited about being able to tell Yuri absolutely everything. I guess the boulder debacle had positive repercussions. “So Yoda,” Uncle Emmett said with a huge smile. I guess Yuri had a nickname now. “Want to show off a bit? I’ve never seen a levitator. Let’s see what you’ve got!” Yuri grinned back at him. She put her hand out towards the vase that was resting on the table in the entryway. It silently lifted from its position, and Yuri quietly directed it over to Aunt Rose, who smiled in return. “Dang,” Uncle Em exclaimed. “Now that is what I call a friend.” Me too, Uncle Em. Me too. Chapter 17: Unexpected – Edward “Jacob? Can I speak to you a for a moment?” I asked quietly. Renesmee and Yuri were in the backyard talking excitedly together while Jacob watched them indulgently through the window. The love we all shared for Nessie made seeing her happiness at having a friend outweigh the pain of sharing our secret with yet another outsider. Bella had always worried that Nessie would have a hard time making friends because she was so different from her peers. Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, Alice, and I had chosen to keep our sphere closed off from the outside world whenever we were in school as it made it easier to maintain an air of anonymity. Even though I had felt the dull pain of loneliness often before I met Bella, I had always had my brothers and sisters to fill a part of the void. Bella had conscientiously chosen a more private existence as a human because she felt comfortable in solitude. Neither Bella nor I wanted to force Nessie to keep herself secluded from her peers in an attempt to keep our family’s secret, even though we knew the potential for exposure was heightened as a result. If the knowledge that our family consisted of a coven of vampires were to be entrusted with someone, I felt confident in my daughter’s choice of Yuri Chung. The entire time I had been in her presence, I had focused all of my efforts into reading her mind. It was a kind and peaceful mind filled with a concern for her mother that reminded me a great deal of Bella when I first met her. Yuri was honest and straightforward and had

made the best of a life begun in the shadow of shame for being the product of an adulterous union. Where many could have become bitter and scornful at this unfortunate hand dealt by fate, Yuri had tried to find happiness in her existence and create happiness in the lives of others. Her inherited gifts from Niall McFadden repelled rather than peaked her interest in the occult. The scars that he had left on her mother made her hatred for all things associated with him deep and irreparable. She was trustworthy and loyal to those she loved. All in all, my daughter could have done infinitely worse in picking a friend. The irony of the fact that Yuri also possessed exceptional abilities that differentiated her from other girls her age amused me and heartened Bella. Yuri and Nessie were able to understand each other in a way I had not anticipated being possible for our unique child. Nevertheless, Renesmee was still due for a lecture later on why she needed to make decisions with more deliberation and thoughtfulness. It was a good thing no one had told her about the day I saved Bella from being smashed against her truck by Tyler Crowley’s van. Much of the story behind our romance had not been shared with Nessie because of the sensitive nature behind it. Understandably, Jacob had not wanted Nessie to know that he had been in love with her mother for years before Nessie came into the world. Throughout the years of Nessie’s life, it had been a veritable non-issue because Jake’s past history of love for Bella paled in comparison to his present devotion for Nessie. Now that she was old enough to understand, I was still unsure as to how she would react if she knew about my personal history with Jacob and his erstwhile feelings for Bella. I can only imagine that Nessie would be less than thrilled to know that the man she loved had initially desired her mother and had thus attempted to steal her mother away from her father. At the moment, it overwhelmed me to have to think about telling her. Jacob Black was both an unsung blessing and an unending curse in my life. He turned around and looked at me with the trepidation I had come to expect recently in his eyes. “Is something wrong?” Look, I couldn’t stop the damn rocks from falling down the mountain. I really was trying to watch out for her. If I could have stopped her I would have. She’s just so unbelievably stubborn . . . I wonder where she gets that from . . . I smirked at him. “I’m not here to blame you for the rocks. I actually wanted to talk to you about Niall McFadden.” Thank God. The look of relief on his face was marked. He really did an abominable job of hiding his emotions from the world. Jacob was like an open book. I almost didn’t need to be able to read his thoughts in order to see what he was feeling. “Honestly Edward, I never heard any of you say the name McFadden. If I had, I would have been able to connect the dots sooner, and I probably wouldn’t have told him I could repair his MG.” “I know,” I said quietly. “Alice told me that you guys were having trouble at school, and I asked Bells about it . . . you know she has a tendency to underplay the urgency in situations that pertain to her. She kind of made it sound like it was a bandaid issue instead of an intricate surgical procedure.” I chuckled at his analogy. “Is it taken care of?” Jacob asked. “More or less. The McFaddens know not to cross our family. I’m not sure if that knowledge will actually result in the wide berth I’d like, but it’s certain to stop any of the unwanted

advances I’ve had to watch for the last few days.” My face twisted as a spark of anger ran through me. “Honestly, I think you’ve handled yourself well Edward. I’m not sure that I would have been so levelheaded if that creep had tried to pursue the woman I loved,” he said. “Well, I’ve had a little bit of experience with that,” I replied wryly. Jacob flushed. “Um. Yeah. I forgot.” Well not really, but I keep hoping you’ll forget. “No you didn’t. In truth, dealing with you was a completely different experience. Not easier, but definitely better.” “Do you mind if I ask why?” he murmured. I thought for a moment. Choosing my words carefully when pertaining to Bella and Jacob’s past had always been the safest course of action for me. “Nate McFadden is a predator. His only desire is to possess. I cannot fathom him having love for anyone but himself. I could see that you loved Bella . . . even if it was only a whisper of the love I had for her. As I said before, it didn’t make it easier. In many ways, it actually pained me more. When a situation has many complex layers, finesse is ever more important. I . . . struggled with finesse many times when it came to you. McFadden is very simple. It makes my solution and attitude in dealing with him simple as well.” I narrowed my eyes thoughtfully, briefly considering retribution. I saw him shiver involuntarily as he looked at my face. Man, Edward sometimes scares the crap out of me. “Are you thinking it’s going to come to that?” Jacob asked uneasily. “It had better not. For the sake of the McFadden family, I sincerely hope that Nathan bows to the will and order of his father. I could see in Nate’s thoughts that he is beginning to feel ever more omnipotent as his powers grow and become closer to being under his control. I hope fervently that Niall McFadden is able to temper Nate’s destructive attitude prior to handing over the reigns to him. I know that Niall only wishes to control Nate in as much as it prevents Nate from wreaking havoc on their coven . . . unfortunately, Niall is also morbidly fascinated by Nate’s abilities. I shudder to think what might happen if Niall did not control Nate.” “Well, the sooner we no longer have anything to do with them, the better,” Jacob said. “On that note, when do you think Niall McFadden’s car will be ready?” “Well, the parts should be coming in sometime tomorrow, and I will clear out my schedule to take care of it personally. Believe me Edward, I want that thing out of my shop just as much as you do.” “I know . . . Jacob . . . there’s,” I began before he interrupted me. “Don’t worry Edward, I know what you want already. I won’t let Nessie out of my sight any more than absolutely necessary.” I smiled. “Also . . .” “ . . . And I’ll make sure she doesn’t know about it too.” “And I’m supposed to be the one who reads minds,” I joked. “Honestly, I think we’ve been more on the same wavelength than either of us are willing to admit. I nearly lost it whenever I saw Nessie trying to redirect that boulder with her own body . . . I have no clue how you managed to watch Bella all those years. I kind of want to

grab a bunch of pillows, wrap them around Nessie, and strap her to a two-ton weight so that she can’t go anywhere without me.” I laughed heartily. “I was never very far away from Bella . . . even in the moments she is totally unaware of. It did nearly drive me mad though.” Crap, I guess this is going to make me a freaky stalker too. I smirked at him. “Join the club . . . just stay out of her bedroom.” Again, Jacob flushed crimson. Change the subject, change the subject . . . “Oh! I meant to ask . . . Seth wanted to come visit this week for Nessie’s birthday, do you think that would okay?” “I don’t see why not. I’ve actually missed talking to Seth . . . Bella will be really happy to hear that he’s visiting too.” “Well, I’ll let him know. Thanks.” It probably won’t hurt to have another werewolf in the area too. “I couldn’t agree with you more,” I admitted. “Well, I’m going to go outside and spend some time getting to know Yuri,” Jacob said. I knew that his ability to remain comfortable around me for extended periods of time had recently taken quite a beating, so I nodded in agreement as he opened the back door and walked quickly to Nessie’s side. I stood there watching the three of them joking around in the backyard. As much as I wanted to tell Carlisle that I still thought our family should consider relocating, I knew that it would be difficult to tell Nessie that she had to leave behind the first and only friend she had ever made. I frowned in frustration as Bella came to stand next to me. I soundlessly moved to pull her into my arms. “Something has been bothering you for the last few says, and you haven’t told me what it is,” I mused simply. She sighed. “I don’t know. Do you remember when I told you that I felt worried, but I didn’t know about what?” “Yes.” “That feeling hasn’t left . . . I wish I knew why,” she said quietly. “Maybe you’re just overwhelmed by everything that has happened recently. You’ve also been very concerned about me and about Renesmee. I apologize if I’ve been too focused on what has been going on to give you the attention you deserve.” “Please. Don’t be ridiculous. It has nothing to do with me feeling underappreciated . . . if anything, you always go out of the way to make me feel special. I’m possibly the most spoiled woman in the world,” she said with a wry smile. “I hope that the feeling will dissipate once you truly realize that Nate McFadden won’t be causing us any more grief. I’ve asked Alice so many times that I’m certain she’s upstairs with Jasper complaining about how obsessive I am. She says it’s extremely clear . . . Nate will not pursue you anymore.” “You’re right. Maybe I just need some time to digest it.” She smiled up at me. “I have news that might cheer you up a bit.” She looked at my face expectantly.

“Seth Clearwater is coming to visit.” She beamed in undisguised delight. “That’s wonderful! I’ve missed Seth. Will he be here for Nessie’s birthday?” I nodded. I knew that outside observers would find it ridiculous how much her happiness impacted mine. I never cared. Bella was Edward. Edward was Bella. If the center of the world glowed with warmth, it was inevitable that this warmth would permeate all corners even to the farthest reaches. I bent forward to put a soft kiss on her lips. “You know,” she breathed. “I might be hungry as well.” “Hungry for what,” I murmured with amusement into her hair. “Both,” she said with a wicked smile. “Let’s take care of the more pressing issue and then we can hunt.” She grabbed my hand and moved towards the stairs. Chapter 18: Unexpected – Renesmee I was lying on the hood of Jake’s Mustang reading The Scarlet Letter while he worked on the car next to me at the repair shop. It really was a beauty . . . an old MG. The open garage door allowed a spicy fall breeze to circle around us and fill the air with the perfume of burning wood and dried leaves. Normally, Jake didn’t work on the weekends, but he mentioned needing to finish this car quickly and decided to go work on it when no one else was here to distract him. It was almost as though he wanted it out of his shop as soon as possible. The parts had arrived yesterday, so I had asked him if I could come with him while he worked on it. I had been hoping he would be less interested in fixing cars and more interested in making out, but so far I had been wrong. He slid out from underneath the MG and stood up in one fluid motion. I watched as he peered under the hood of the convertible and began studying the various components in an attempt to figure out what he needed to do next. His dark eyebrows were furrowed with concentration, and there was a smear of grease on his cheek. Why had I only recently discovered how sexy he was? I remembered the old adage suggesting that women were attracted to men who reminded them of their fathers. Jake was a far cry from my Dad. Dad was polished and elegant. Even when he hunted, it was almost like a stylized performance. Not a hair was out of place in its purposeful disarray, and he never even got his hands dirty. Dad moved like a panther and spoke like an elocutionist . . . every action was deliberate, every word was thoughtfully chosen. His clothes were tailored and impeccable, and I had rarely seen him wear the same outfit twice. He loved to read and play music, and he would debate philosophy with me until my Mom reminded him that I needed to sleep as the grey light of dawn filtered through the night sky. My Dad’s presence soothed me. By contrast, Jake was messy and unkempt. His hair spiked in black strands strewn in all directions, and there were always at least one or two locks that I desperately wanted to rearrange and find a place for on his shaggy head. His jeans were invariably torn and covered with grease. Cotton t-shirts completed his requisite uniform, and his only adornments were handmade Quileute wristbands and leather necklaces with tribal symbols hanging from them. My Dad wore pricey watches and a silver chain Mom had given him.

Jake was loud and passionate in his opinions. He oftentimes said things he regretted. My Dad soothed me, but Jake’s presence made my heart race in anticipation. Dad and Jake were like fire and ice. Night and day. Complete opposites. Their only commonality was their love for me. There were times when I felt as though I were missing something whenever I watched Dad and Jake interact . . . one day I should really ask what that was about. I stood up soundlessly and moved behind Jake as he continued to peer under the hood of the MG. I reached around him and slowly slid my fingertips from his inner wrists to his shoulders. He immediately froze at my touch and let out a shaky breath. “Jake?” I whispered breathlessly. He said nothing. My hands dropped from his shoulders to wrap around his waist. With a wicked smile, I slowly picked up the bottom of his t-shirt so that I could caress the defined muscles of his stomach. His abdomen contracted reflexively, and I could hear his heartbeat quicken. “Nessie,” he murmured as his posture straightened. He turned around and pulled me into his arms. When his lips met mine, I pulled his head roughly downward to trap him in my embrace. Consumed by passion, he pushed me against the wall of the garage, and I jumped into his arms and wrapped my legs around his torso as our kisses grew more and more frenzied. I yanked his shirt over his head and gripped my fingers around the bulging muscles of his forearm. I wanted him. “Jake,” I gasped. “Make love to me.” He stopped moving. He stopped breathing. Wordlessly he began pulling away from me. He put his big hands on my waist to disentangle my legs from around his abdomen. “What’s wrong?” I said angrily. He had a pained look on his face. “I don’t understand. What’s the problem?” “Nothing’s wrong,” he said quietly. “If nothing’s wrong, then why did you stop? You didn’t have to stop. I didn’t want you to stop.” His eyes blazed for a moment as I attempted to wrap my arms around him again. “Nessie. Not here. We can’t do this here.” My eyes widened and inexplicable fury overtook me. “You’re not still afraid of Dad are you?” “No. It’s too soon. You need to think about this.” I could see the lie in his eyes. “I don’t need to think about anything. I’ve known you forever. I trust you and . . . and you must know how much I love you.” I was almost shouting the words. I knew that my anger also came from a place of hurt. Who the hell did he think he was anyway? Weren’t men constantly trying to find ways to seduce women? Here I was practically handing it to him on a silver platter, and he decides to be picky? His face softened at hearing the first time I actually voiced my love for him. “Nessie. I love you too. In fact, the words don’t do my feelings justice. I love you so much that it’s not good enough to share that moment with you in a dirty garage. Frankly, I’m not good enough for you. At least let me make sure that when it happens, it’s not some random occurrence based on an uncontrolled moment of passion.” “Don’t I have any say in this at all?” I pouted. I did feel somewhat mollified, but it didn’t entirely erase my irritation at the ill-timed arrival of his conscience. “You definitely do . . . but let’s take this a little more slowly.”

“Jake, you know that’s not my style.” He just smiled at me and his dark eyes filled my soul with their warmth. “I’m fully aware of the fact that doing anything slowly is not your style.” “Then why are you trying to change the way I operate when something is so . . . mutually beneficial for the both of us?” I said with a smirk. His facial muscles hardened with resolution. “Mutually beneficial or not, I’ve said my piece . . . not in a dirty garage.” Jake’s mannerisms showed no signs of relenting. Ugh. I was sure that Dad had put the fear of God into Jake. No matter. I was a tough nut to crack, and I was certain that it would only be a matter of time before Jake gave up. I was pretty sure Jake wanted me . . . but maybe not as much as I wanted him. I frowned as I considered that notion. He looked at me with concern. “Did I piss you off?” he asked bluntly. I thought for a moment. “Not today, but if you keep this up your window of opportunity will shut right on your fingers . . . and it will take Herculean effort to reopen it.” He grinned. “It’s a good thing I’m so strong.” “You may not be strong enough,” I warned. “So screw the conscience next time, okay Jake?” He just looked at my face with a pained look. I could see a war going on in his eyes. I wondered why the hell he was so worried. It had to be about Dad. “What exactly did Dad say to you Jake?” I asked as my eyes narrowed. He averted his gaze quickly. “Edward didn’t say anything Nessie.” “Don’t lie to me. I’ve never understood why you’re so . . . afraid of Dad. He would never hurt you Jake.” The war continued to rage in his eyes. “I know you’re right . . . I just . . . I hate making your Dad upset at me.” It was at that moment that I realized something . . . Jacob Black was hiding something from me. Something about Dad. “What? Why? It just makes no sense Jake . . . it’s almost like you owe him or something. Why else would you jump through so many hoops to avoid offending him?” “I owe Edward a lot,” he said simply. “Such as . . .” “One day, you’ll understand Nessie.” He leaned over to kiss me in an almost chaste manner that flared the irritation in me again. At that moment, the phone in the main office began to ring. Jake smiled at me wistfully and walked across the garage towards the door to the main office. I was still really pissed off about being rejected. There was also a good deal of frustration at the fact that, for some strange reason, Jake worried inordinately about my Dad. I grabbed my book again and put my stomach on the hood of Jake’s car, crossing my ankles and pointing my feet towards the ceiling absentmindedly. Drowning my irritation in Hawthorne seemed like a good way to cool off. “Hello?” A voice echoed behind me. I turned around and rolled off of the Mustang. A guy who looked about my physical age was standing near the open garage door. His hair was

dark and cut very short against his scalp, and his ice blue eyes were staring at me with unabashed curiosity. Damn, he was extremely hot. “Can I help you?” I said as I walked casually over to him. “I certainly hope so.” His piercing eyes attempted to hold my gaze. A strange feeling of euphoria entered my mind, and for a second I felt like he was the only man in the world. I shook off the delirium with great effort. “What do you want?” I asked breathlessly. “I’m not sure anymore. I came here to check in on my father’s MG, but I’ve found something infinitely more interesting.” He leaned in closer to me as he smiled slowly. I held his gaze again. For some reason, I felt incredibly attracted to him . . . as though his mere presence were intoxicating me. “Well, the MG is here. But you’ll probably want to speak with Jake about it. The only thing I know about cars is how to drive them fast.” “You like fast cars?” he asked seductively. “No. Love. Love fast cars.” “I’ll have to give you a ride in mine someday,” he said with a smirk. “I don’t like to ride. I like to drive,” I said forcefully. “Are you sure you can handle it?” He seemed equally intrigued by me. “Please,” I snorted. “Your question should be . . . are you sure you can handle it?” “Is that so? I like to race cars, so I’m sure I can handle whatever you throw my way.” I could see that he was trying to hide his astonishment at my cavalier attitude. My Dad had once told me I was a walking juxtaposition . . . I looked like an English rose and lived like a hurtling meteor. Whatever. Had this guy never met a girl who didn’t mind getting her hands dirty? “So do I. I used to race my Mom’s Ferrari on drag strips outside of Vegas.” His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Your mother let you take her Ferrari?” “Of course not. I took it without permission. It adds to the excitement,” I still could not totally focus on my thoughts as I looked at him, but it was getting easier. “What did your mother have to say about that?” he asked with a mixture of amusement and amazement. “She didn’t say much. My Dad handed me my ass though. It was a shame. My next grand theft auto would have been his Murcielago.” “Sounds like I need to be hanging around you more, with all those fancy cars,” he said dryly. “My Dad collects cars. I’m sure if you’re a client of Jake’s, we can arrange something.” Damn, I felt like a silly schoolgirl as I thoughtlessly volunteered Dad’s cars to this handsome stranger in an attempt to impress him. “Even if we can’t arrange something with regards to the cars, I would definitely like to arrange something with regards to you . . . how about dinner sometime?” His voice was smooth as silk, and there was no way for him to hide his extreme interest as he reached over to hold my chin in between his index finger and thumb. His blue eyes penetrated my concentration again.

“Can I help you?” I could hear the rage in Jake’s voice even from across the room. I looked over at him. His eyes were glittering black orbs as he tried to control his fury. The boy in front of me calmly turned to look at Jake without missing a beat. “I was driving by and noticed that the garage door was open, so I wanted to come in to check on my father’s car.” Jake walked over to us contemplatively. “Which car is your father’s?” Jake asked as a look of horrified realization began to cross his features. “The MG. My name is Nate. Nate McFadden.” Jake’s fists clenched reflexively as he took a deep breath to steady his anger. “You’re Niall McFadden’s son,” he said simply. It was then that I realized what was going on. The handsome stranger was the creep who had given my family so much trouble. He was a warlock. My eyes widened with the knowledge, and I took a slow step backwards. How strange that I still felt inexplicably attracted to him. “Yes. You must be Jacob Black. My father said that he was impressed with your knowledge of cars. Is this your sister?” he asked, with a hint of hopefulness in his voice. “No. She’s not my sister. She’s my girlfriend.” Jake’s voice was cold. He crossed his arms over his chest, and I could see the muscles ripple threateningly. I wasn’t exactly sure why this boy had caused so much trouble for my family. I could totally take him. “Renesmee,” I said. “My name is Renesmee . . . Cullen.” I shook my head to banish the remaining haze from my mind. Nate’s eyes narrowed as he mirrored the careful step backwards that I had recently taken. “Cullen?” he whispered. “Yes. Cullen. As in Edward Cullen,” Jake said coldly. He was incredibly pissed. “But . . . you’re not . . . I mean, you’re . . . warm,” he said in hushed confusion. “It doesn’t matter. She’s related to Edward. I’m fairly certain that you know why it’s in your best interest to take that fact very seriously and never put your hands on her again,” Jake spat. Nate did not respond well to Jake’s warning. “I’m also fairly certain that your interest in her prevents you from remaining objective. Perhaps it would be a good idea to see what she thinks about what I do with my hands?” he said with equal venom. “I know what you are. I also know that you’ve treated my family abominably,” I said in an attempt to be firm even though the strange scent of attraction still lingered in the air. “I know what your family is as well. I also think I could make the argument that your family has judged me too harshly. Maybe it would be a good idea for you to not be a sheep and make your own decisions.” His words struck a nerve. I pursed my lips in irritation. “Her family has her best interest at heart. If you have no questions pertaining to the MG, it’s probably a good idea that you leave,” Jake said loudly, as his anger began overruling his control. “That’s fine. Renesmee . . . I race on the weekends with a bunch of friends. If you ever get tired of being a sheep, call me.”

“When hell freezes over!” Jake raged. His arms were beginning to quiver dangerously. If he phased . . . “Get out of here Nate. Now,” I said hurriedly. He turned and walked outside to a gleaming black Corvette ZR1 with an Eaton supercharged engine that looked like it had been heavily modified. I was sure it easily housed over 650 horses under its wicked hood. I could not stop the thrill from coursing through my veins as I thought of racing it. Dad’s Murcielago would give it a run for its money with me at the helm. Jake’s shoulders were still shaking precariously. “Nessie,” he choked. I looked over at him. “What’s wrong?” “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Do you have any idea how close he was standing to you?” Jake shouted. “Chill out Jake. I can take care of myself. You have no reason to act this way.” “Is that really what you think? You really think I have no reason to be furious by the fact that a warlock was trying to seduce the woman I love?” “Give it a rest Jacob Black! Jealous much? You don’t need to worry . . . as long as you don’t piss me off anymore!” I yelled back. “Your Dad is going to murder me!” Jake bellowed. “You know what Jacob? Maybe you should confess your undying love to Dad, since Dad’s feelings are the ones that seem to matter most to you!” He crossed over to me in three huge steps and yanked me roughly into his embrace. I tried to push him away, the anger still coursing through me . . . but I gave in as I felt his desperate caress of my face. “Renesmee . . . I don’t know how to make you understand . . . if I ever lost you . . .” he shuddered. I wrapped my arms around him soothingly. I loved him so much . . . sometimes it scared me to realize how quickly he had become everything to me. Things in my life always happened so fast. Sometimes I wondered if I might be missing out on something. And . . . for some strange reason . . . If you ever get tired of being a sheep, call me. Chapter 19: Tempest - Jacob Nearly a week had passed since that awful Sunday when fate had brought Nathan McFadden into my world . . . that awful Sunday when a warlock had dared to touch my world as though it were his to take. The scene that had waited for us at the Cullen compound was not a pretty one. I had barely spoken to Nessie the entire way home because of my untamed fury. I knew if I even opened my mouth, it would not help the situation at all. Two bad tempers do not equal a healthy discussion. She was already pissed off at me for what she perceived to be my rejection of her advances. If she only knew how amazingly difficult it was for me to even be in the same room with her. I felt hyper-aware of every movement she made. I had watched her from underneath Niall McFadden’s MG as she toyed with a lock of her hair absentmindedly and read her book on the hood of my Mustang. She was so unaware of how sexy a picture that made. Her glowing skin and shining eyes captivated me, and her long legs dangling over the

side of my classic car nearly made me lose my mind. All I wanted to do was stare. It had taken everything for me to pretend as though she weren’t there so I could work to get that malignant tumor of a car out of my garage as quickly as possible. It had not been fast enough. We had rounded the corner in front of the house, and Bella was standing outside with Jasper. She was absolutely irate in a way I had not seen for a very long time. I could tell that Jasper was trying hard to keep her calm. As soon as we stepped out of the car, Bella had growled, “What exactly happened to watching out for her Jake?” “Mom, chill out! My God, everyone’s acting like I’m a loose cannon about to go off! Give me some credit. Lose the face Mom, it’s okay!” Nessie had exclaimed. “Renesmee, if you think my face looks bad, just wait until you see your Dad’s.” Damn. I could have waited. Forever. “Where is Edward?” I had asked uneasily. “He left with Emmett to speak to Niall McFadden. As soon as he found out what happened, he left.” “What’s the big deal Mom? God, this is utterly ridiculous!” “The big deal is that he’s a warlock Nessie! An evil, unfeeling, selfish warlock! Were you not paying attention when we said that he can control minds?” Nessie pursed her lips as awareness washed over her. “Honestly, I didn’t think it had that big an effect.” The rage nearly overtook me again. “You mean he was trying to use it on you?” I shouted. “Don’t you dare shout at me Jacob Black! I told you, it didn’t really make a big difference. How was I supposed to know that he was Nate McFadden!” she yelled back. “Anyway, nothing’s going to happen. If he tries to do it again, I’ll know what’s going on,” she said more calmly. “You’re anticipating that you’ll be seeing him again?” Jasper asked with quiet anger. “No, I didn’t say that. I just said that there’s no reason to get all bent out of shape. Knowledge is power and all that crap,” Nessie remarked dismissively. “You won’t see him again! I won’t allow it! If he tries any more mind games on you, it will literally be the last thing he ever does with his miserable self!” The obscene amount of anger pouring from me forced Jasper to turn his calming wave in my direction. “I swear Jake. If you tell me what to do one more time . . .” Nessie’s voice was low and full of undisguised disgust and barely controlled fury. “Enough!” Edward’s elegant voice rang out from behind us. I needed a hole. A big one, somewhere far away. “Renesmee, I expect you to be obedient. Nate McFadden is unsuitable company for my daughter. There is to be no discussion on the matter,” he said calmly. “Dad, this is completely ridiculous!” “I won’t repeat myself. Go inside.” Edward’s collected manner unnerved me. I almost wished he had gone off instead. I would have understood that.

“Jacob.” Edward still seemed completely unfazed . . . like the calm before a storm. “I know that you are the last person I need to convey any displeasure with regarding this situation. That being said, I am extremely frustrated with the fact that the McFaddens know about Nessie. It was information I never wanted them to have, and surely you can understand why.” I’m a little too pissed off to follow that Edward. What exactly are you talking about? “What did you tell them Edward?” Bella asked quietly. “The truth. Nessie is our daughter . . . a product of the union between a vampire and a human. I weighed the options and decided that the McFaddens knowing that Nessie is literally our flesh and blood is the best way to put a stop to this. Nate knows she is not simply a vampire. He will know exactly what she is whenever his father talks to him. He will also know the cost of making any further inquiries.” His eyes began showing signs of losing the control he had been carefully cultivating. I knew that we were thinking of the same image. Don’t think for a moment that I didn’t consider ripping that bastard to shreds for touching her . . . if she hadn’t urged him to leave . . . Why is it a big deal that they know about what Nessie is? He looked at me for a moment, considering. “Nessie is half-human Jacob. Niall McFadden’s dangerous obsession with immortality has now been driven even further down an alarming path. It could not be helped . . . if Niall did not find out today what Nessie was, he would have tried to garner the information any way possible. I cannot have the McFaddens infiltrating any more of our lives. To them, Nessie is an aberration . . . the scientist in him sees her as a successful experiment.” “What? Our child is no one’s experiment!” Bella seethed. “I know love. This is merely another reason for us to maintain heightened vigilance at all times. I trust that you will not be taking Renesmee anywhere near your garage again as long as any vehicle belonging to the McFaddens is there, Jacob.” “Seriously. You don’t even need to tell me. I’m sorry you had to speak with Niall because of this. How did that go, by the way?” I asked dejectedly. “Niall McFadden is externally a very sophisticated human. He handled it well and agreed that it was not in Nate’s best interest to foster any feelings towards vampires or their kin.” “That’s a good thing right?” Bella murmured. Edward frowned in response. “Yes. The remaining problem stems from the fact that I don’t trust Niall McFadden. The last thing I need for him to do is retain any more than a passive interest in our family.” I couldn’t have agreed with him more. I didn’t trust anyone outside of the family and my pack . . . and I still thought it was a huge mistake for us to tell a group of psychotic magicians what Nessie’s family was. This conversation had replayed in my head several times throughout the passed week, and it had been difficult for me to quell my feelings of unease. Nessie’s pending birthday celebration had provided a much-needed distraction. There was still the issue of whether or not I needed to tell Nessie about my past and her parents. I was not catching many breaks recently. Nevertheless, I tried repeatedly to put up a cheerful front. Deep in thought regarding the conundrum of my existence, I stared contemplatively ahead of me as Nessie and I waited in the arrival queue to pick up Seth from the airport.

As soon as I saw Seth come bounding through the sliding glass doors, I felt as though a portion of the weight had been removed from my shoulders. Seth Clearwater was the closest thing to a brother that I had. Any burden of mine Seth willingly took on even when no one asked him. Nessie ran from my car and collided with Seth as he grabbed her around the waist and swung her through the air. Their laughter was infectious. I grinned hugely as I walked from the car towards Seth. “What’s up Wolfman?” I said sardonically as he planted a big kiss on Nessie’s cheek. “Nothing much Chief.” He put out his fist for mine. Nessie was still clutching him tightly. Seth had been her big brother since she was a little girl. Even though I knew that there was nothing more than a brother/sister relationship between them, it irritated me marginally to see another man’s hands on Nessie. Christ, I was in for a long life. “Boy, I sure am glad to finally see that you grew a brain Chief,” he said to me with a smile as we loaded his things into the car and piled in for the ride home. “What do you mean?” I asked with amusement. “Well, I was wondering for the longest time when you were going to come clean and fess up to Nessie.” He eyed Nessie’s fingers interlaced with mine from the backseat and grinned in contentment. Seth always had this way of overlooking any obstacle in life by focusing only on happy things. I oftentimes vacillated between loving and hating his approach. “You know Seth, Jake didn’t really come clean. I basically forced it out of him.” Nessie ran her index finger along my jaw affectionately. “Figured as much. Jake is like a burnt marshmallow . . . he looks all crusty and tough on the outside, like a man who can do anything. You break him open, and the whole thing just falls apart!” Nessie and Seth laughed together at my expense. The combined sound of Nessie’s melodic laughter with Seth’s loud guffaw elicited a grin on my face that all but banished my somber musings of only a few moments ago. “Watch it Clearwater. I may be a burnt marshmallow, but you can’t fool anyone, even from a mile away. You’re hopeless,” I teased. We picked on each other for the duration of the car ride home. It was nice to have a moment’s reprieve. Everyone in the house had been on high alert for the last few days in order to make sure that everything was perfect for the Cullen family’s prized princess and her birthday. I knew that Alice was waiting to pounce on Seth the moment he arrived . . . there were still many things to do at home to prepare for the party tonight. “Ugh, back to hell,” Nessie joked as we rounded the corner to park in front of the house. “Seth!” Bella’s clear voice rang out as she flew out of the front door and towards the car. He bounded from the backseat to sweep Bella into a bear hug every bit as warm as the one he had given Nessie. The entire Cullen family adored Seth Clearwater, for good reason. A flurry of activity was going on inside the house. Hot pink, light pink, and black balloons decorated the ceiling . . . sweet smelling flowers could be found on any flat surface as well as glittering pink and black rhinestones. Alice had themed the party around pink diamonds and Formula One race cars to showcase Nessie’s love of both. “Wow!” Seth exclaimed. “This is every racecar loving Goth girl’s dream!” He grinned as Nessie punched his arm. “Seth Clearwater!” Alice exclaimed as she appeared out of nowhere. “You have things to do and making snide comments is not one of them! Nessie, it’s time for you to head upstairs and start getting ready.”

“Before that happens,” Edward interrupted, “I’d like to give Renesmee her present.” “Edward! We don’t have time!” Alice groaned. “We need to make time. I don’t want to give it to her when all of her classmates are here. It’s neither my style nor Bella’s style to give a gift in a publicly grandiose fashion. If we can all step behind the house for a moment . . .” Edward had already begun moving towards the back door. I knew Nessie would absolutely lose it whenever she saw her present from the Cullen family. Even with Alice’s continual reassurance, I was still not sure that my present was going to even merit notice. It was too late . . . I crossed my fingers and followed everyone to the backyard. The Saleen glinted black in the sunlight, throwing shining facets around it that almost overshadowed the prisms thrown from the tiny diamonds on the skin of the vampires around us. It was wicked and angular at the same time that it was sleek and graceful . . . a perfect analogy for Renesmee Cullen. Alarmingly fast and unerringly beautiful. “ARE YOU FREAKING SERIOUS!?” Nessie’s scream seemed to reverberate off of the nearby trees. She ran like a kid towards the car. Edward’s grin warmed my heart almost as much as Nessie’s excitement. After making several quick rotations around the car admiring every angle, she started jumping up and down. “Is this seriously for me?” she yelled again. “Happy birthday baby!” Bella said with a smile. Nessie yanked open the car door to sit in the front seat. She put her hands on the steering wheel and threw her head back with a laugh of pure joy. Damn, she looked unbelievably sexy behind the wheel of the Saleen. I glanced uneasily at Edward. He was looking at Nessie in absorbed amusement . . . but I saw him cock his eyebrow in my direction to let me know he heard my thoughts. Of course. “Thank you all so much!” she exclaimed as she tore out of the car and into Edward’s waiting arms. She began planting kisses on everyone’s cheek and hugging them all with almost crazed excitement. The faint flush in her cheeks grew with her exhilaration, making her creamy skin look even more beautiful in the light of the late afternoon sun. She turned to look at the car again after giving Emmett a loud high-five. “What’s this?” she asked in surprise as she walked back over to the front of the car. The small silver wolf I had designed as a hood ornament caught everyone’s attention as it glinted off of its perch. I had spent many late nights in the shop while Nessie slept carving a model of a wolf out of wood to then be fabricated by a metalsmith. It was about the size of Nessie’s hand, and the wolf’s stance made it look as if it were in mid-leap. Alice had surreptitiously ordered two small black diamonds as eyes for the wolf. I knew that I was taking a chance by adding my adornment to Nessie’s already-perfect car without her permission, but Alice had assured me that it was the perfect gift for Nessie from me. “It’s something your Aunt Alice and I put together,” I said dismissively. “I hope you don’t mind. I probably should have asked your permission.” She looked at it quietly and then ran her hand across it. “It’s a wolf. Jake designed and carved it for the metal worker to copy,” Alice said with excitement. We all waited for her reaction. I realized I was holding my breath. Bella looked at me with kind eyes of understanding . . . Edward’s face looked a bit pained, but accepting nevertheless. “It’s perfect,” Nessie murmured. “It’s absolutely perfect.”

She walked slowly over to me and put her arms around my neck. Nessie! Please don’t kiss me in front of your Dad! She must have known exactly what I was thinking when she looked at my panicked expression. She smirked and said quietly, “Oh, shut up.” Then she leaned in with thoughtful deliberation and planted a soft kiss on my lips. As she stepped away from me, my look was an embrace. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Edward’s averted gaze. Bella had clasped his hands in hers and was looking bravely at us with a smile that looked a tad bit forced. “I’m really glad you like your gift Nessie!” Alice said brightly. The frozen postures of those around us relaxed at Alice’s merriment. “It really is perfect. I can’t believe that I’m this lucky,” Nessie said with graciousness. “Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.” “Now, let’s get upstairs and get you dressed and ready!” Alice grabbed Nessie’s hand and began dragging her towards the house. Seth and I waited outside while the rest of the family disbursed to finish their tasks. Edward and Bella walked silently over to us. Bella took a closer look at the wolf. “I told you that your best gifts are the ones you make,” she said kindly. “Jake’s a man of many talents!” Seth remarked with a grin. “That he is,” Edward murmured thoughtfully. “Truly Jacob, it’s a remarkable likeness.” “I hope you don’t mind that I inserted myself into your gift. I don’t know . . . I almost wanted her to know that I would always be there watching out for her . . . that I would always be between her and whatever darkness lies ahead.” I felt unbelievably cheesy saying it, but for some reason I knew that Edward would understand. “Jacob . . . it’s the perfect gift.” Edward slowly put his hand on my shoulder in a gesture of understanding and affection. “Thank you Edward.” “No Jake . . . thank you.” Chapter 20: Tempest – Bella “Alice, Edward is not going to like this at all,” I mused under my breath as Alice and Rosalie put the finishing touches on Nessie’s hair and makeup. “This is a Sweet Sixteen party Bella! He needs to realize that his kid is not a little girl anymore,” Alice protested. “He’ll get over it. I was damn surprised to see that he didn’t rip Jacob’s face off whenever Nessie kissed him earlier,” Rosalie stated with obvious disappointment. Alice let out a peal of laughter in response. “Dad won’t be too upset . . . at least not at first,” Nessie said with a grin. Alice had designed an outfit that suited both Nessie’s taste and the party’s theme perfectly. The black leather pants hugged her long legs like a second skin, and Nessie wore a jacket that was modeled after the top portion of a Formula One racing outfit. It was black and shiny with gathered cuffs and a zippered front. Emblazoned across the back in studded pink rhinestones was the name ‘R. Cullen’ with the number ‘16’ below it. The tight leather pants were going to be enough to make Edward angry . . . but under the jacket was a light pink bustier encrusted with tiny glittering crystals in an intricate pink and black pattern. Alice had

laced Nessie into it, and her voluptuous figure was even more apparent even though the cut of the bustier was rather modest. I had come to realize recently that it was basically impossible to hide Renesmee’s blossoming attributes from the wandering eyes of men. Edward was going to freak out. Jacob was going to be incredibly conflicted. “Seriously Alice, maybe we should just get her a tank top to wear under the jacket,” I muttered for the fifth time while contemplating Edward’s reaction to the overall effect. Frankly, a tank top would be more conservative, but it wouldn’t cover any more skin than the bustier. Nessie pursed her lips and flipped her hair over her shoulder in a gesture of protest. She looked absolutely beautiful. The careful and subtle application of makeup to her features made her big brown eyes look even more like molten chocolate, and Rosalie’s artful arrangement of Nessie’s flowing curls down her back created a wonderful contrast of old world and modernity in her appearance. Her high pink heels pushed her close to six feet tall. She was going to be the most stunning girl at the party, of that there was no doubt. “At least zip it up for the first half of the party,” I said with resignation. “I guess I’ll deal with Edward later on.” “Don’t worry Bella. I’ve seen what some of these other girls wear to their Sweet Sixteen parties, and Nessie honestly looks tame compared to the skimpy little dresses I saw online.” Alice took a step back to admire her handiwork. “I highly doubt that Edward knows or cares about that Alice.” I smiled at my sister affectionately. It was impossible to steal Alice’s thunder whenever she got going. “Nessie!” Yuri’s voice rang out from behind us as she stepped into the bathroom. “Holy crap you look amazing!” “Thanks! So do you!” Nessie reached for Yuri to give her a big hug. Yuri’s long straight hair looked almost blue-black in the glowing light from the bathroom, and she was wearing a simple black dress that came to her knee. The cut of her outfit had an Asian flair to it that suited Yuri perfectly. “Are people starting to arrive?” Nessie asked anxiously. “Not yet, I just came early to see if I could help with anything,” Yuri responded. “We could wait downstairs together and let people in so that no one feels weird . . . I have a really big family, and it can get a little bit overwhelming,” Nessie laughed. “Now you tell me,” Yuri giggled. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait until everyone gets here before you go downstairs?” Alice queried. I could tell by her pout that she had been hoping Renesmee was into the idea of a theatrical unveiling where all eyes were on her. I didn’t think it would make a difference. All eyes would be on her regardless. “Nah. I’m not keen on the whole ‘big entrance’ thing . . . it will be more fun to be in the thick of all the action as it happens!” Alice rolled her eyes, but stepped aside with a smile. “Thanks so much Aunt Ali and Aunt Rose! I love it!” She gave both of them warm hugs and took my hand while linking her arm through Yuri’s arm to go downstairs. Jacob was waiting at the bottom of the staircase with a single pink rose in his hand. His eyes warmed over immediately when he saw the jubilant look of anticipation on Nessie’s face, and a flush rose in his cheeks as he attempted to stop his gaze from lingering too long on her leather clad form. Poor Jake. I looked around uneasily for Edward . . . this outfit was

going to give him an aneurysm. My only solid argument for Edward to let it go lay in the fact that our guests were mostly girls from Nessie’s school. “You look beautiful Nessie,” Jake said with soft sincerity. “Happy birthday.” She took the rose and wrapped her slender arms around his neck. Jake pulled her into a warm hug and closed his eyes poignantly. How could I ever complain about Jake when he was this devoted to my daughter? “Seth!” she called out as she looked towards the kitchen. Seth bounded towards Nessie in a few short strides of his long legs. “Well you’re looking pretty sexy tonight Miss Cullen!” She giggled as she punched his arm playfully while he hugged her. Seth set her down and turned to face me. “You look beautiful Bells, as always.” “Thanks Seth. This is Nessie’s good friend from school . . . Yuri,” I said as I looked towards the girl standing to my left. She smiled warmly and raised her hand to shake Seth’s in a gesture of introduction. Seth did not pick up his hand in response. I looked over at Seth with the intention of making him feel bad for being rude, but the look on his face silenced the words already forming on my lips in an instant. Seth Clearwater was gazing at Yuri Chung like an utter moron. His eyes were huge and his lips were slightly parted in wonder. His body was rigidly frozen in a conflicted posture of complete surprise and finite awareness. “Good Lord,” Jake whispered. He looked at me and in a split second I knew that we both had realized the same thing . . . Seth Clearwater had just imprinted on Yuri Chung. “What’s wrong? Seth? Hello?” Nessie waved her hand in front of Seth’s face in an effort to force him to regain his focus. “Nessie, give him a moment,” Jake said quietly. I watched Seth with curiosity. I had never witnessed any of the Quileute shapeshifters imprint before, and I wondered to myself if this was how Jacob had looked the first time he saw Nessie not long after Edward had pulled her from my broken human body. “Um, hi.” Yuri sounded incredibly confused and taken aback by the look on the face of the man standing in front of her. The melody of her voice seemed to awaken Seth from his stupor. “I’m so sorry. I’m Seth . . . Jacob’s friend from Washington.” He spoke to Yuri as though she were the only person standing in the room with him. He moved carefully closer to her to shake her hand, and when her small palm rested momentarily in his large one, I could swear I heard Seth sigh with complete contentment. What a potential mess we had on our hands! I only hoped that Yuri Chung took the news that a werewolf had just fallen completely in love with her as well as she had taken the news that her best friend was a quasi-vampire. The doorbell began ringing, and I stepped away to give the small group of friends their privacy. I was deep in thought in the kitchen while the sounds and smells of the young girls that were beginning to arrive in our home flooded my senses. The scent of human blood had never truly overwhelmed me, but it was definitely a sensation that had taken time for me to get used to. I smiled to myself as I thought of poor Edward lying next to me when I was a

human night after night while I slept . . . his throat on thirsting fire for my blood and his heart longing for nothing more than my love. How had he ever had the strength to allow the latter to control the former? I smelled Edward’s scent before I felt his granite arms wrap around my waist. I breathed in deeply, saturating my nostrils with the best perfume in the world . . . my husband. “So, it appears we have a small problem,” he whispered in my ear as he gently kissed below it. “Actually, we have two . . . I’m never trusting you again to help Alice pick out Nessie’s clothes.” “I don’t know. I only hope that this doesn’t cause even more trouble for Nessie or for Yuri.” I conveniently ignored his second issue. “I don’t think it will. Seth is intent on gluing himself to her side for the duration of the evening. She has never experienced any man giving her that kind of singularly devoted attention. Seth Clearwater is one of the best people I’ve ever encountered. I can’t imagine that any woman with a clear mind would be able to overlook that fact.” The doorbell had begun to ring with increasing frequency. I turned to take his face in between both of my hands. “Let’s hope so.” He bent his head towards mine as his mouth turned into the crooked smile that had become my idea of perfection. “Happy birthday sweetheart,” he murmured. I laughed in realization at the truth of his words. The day of Nessie’s birth was also the last day of my life as a human . . . and the beginning of my forever dawn. We kissed slowly. “Showtime,” I said with a laugh as we moved out of the kitchen. We walked hand in hand to take our place amongst the rest of our family as Nessie’s classmates were introduced. The party progressed seamlessly, just as we expected it to. An Alice Cullen production was always planned to the tiniest detail, and her joy at seeing her efforts come to such perfect fruition made me forgive her for driving me nuts for the last two weeks. Nessie was in her element. I could hear her laughter and excitement ringing throughout the house, and each time it filled my senses, an uncontrolled smile took over my face. I was standing by the table of food after bringing out more dessert trays when I heard something that surprisingly irritated me. Clearly, the girls standing in the corner about fifteen feet away did not think I could hear every word they said with perfect clarity. “That’s the one right?” the plain looking girl with mousy brown hair said as she gazed covertly in my direction. “Yes. She’s the one he’s with . . . I think.” The other girl had carefully highlighted blonde hair and a pompous look to her face, even though she was probably considered to be pretty. “I don’t know Marie. She’s pretty gorgeous,” the brunette said ruefully. “Yeah, if you’re into the pale, skinny type. He’s to die for . . . I’m going to see if he wants to dance with me.” It didn’t take rocket science for me to figure out what was going on. The pompous blonde was scheming to get Edward’s attention. Interesting that she had chosen the words ‘to die for’ to describe him. Stupid girl. If she only knew . . . I turned and walked directly over to them with a sweet smile on my face.

“Hi girls! Can I get you anything?” I asked. “Um, no thanks.” The brunette averted her eyes with discomfort. “Actually I was wondering how you were related to Nessie . . . it’s all kind of confusing to me! Your family is so large!” The blonde girl said the word ‘family’ like it was alleged instead of the truth. “Well, I’m Bella . . . Carlisle and Esme are my foster parents. I’m dating Nessie’s older brother, Edward.” We had all decided that this situation would make the most sense to our guests as Nessie’s resemblance to Edward was too obvious. Nessie had inherited my father’s curls and my eyes . . . since my eyes were now the amber color of an immortal, no one would make the connection unless they had known me as a human. “I see. I’m Marie, and this is Jenn. How long have you been dating Edward?” The blonde girl made it sound like her friend’s identity was unimportant with her dismissive introduction. “A few years now,” I said with a vaguely flippant air. This girl was getting on my nerves. “Great.” Her forced enthusiasm sounded so fake that I almost laughed. “Well, let me know if I can get anything for you two.” I walked away before I began engaging in a catty battle of words with Marie. When she thought I was out of earshot, she muttered, “You can get me a moment alone with your boyfriend.” Jenn giggled nervously. It would take two seconds to rip her blonde hair out of her head, I thought to myself with a sarcastic smile. As I made my way back into the main living area where the music pulsed in time to the flashing lights hanging overhead, I noticed that several of the girls were crowding around Edward while he stood in the corner engaged in patient dialogue with Nessie’s classmates. I’m sure they were less interested in what he had to say and more interested in standing in as close proximity as possible to the most beautiful man in the room. Perfect. Alice and Jasper were dancing together in an attempt to get other people onto the dance floor. A few of the braver souls were hesitantly moving in time with the beat. I hated dancing, but I decided to join in so that I wouldn’t be inundated with the girlish voices around me admiring my husband in less-than-hushed tones. I saw Marie standing close to Edward and staring at him with a sickeningly adoring look. She had managed to weasel a prime spot in the group of girls. I wondered if my face had ever looked that stupid when I gazed at Edward . . . ugh, probably. Alice and Jasper took each of my hands, and we began dancing in a small circle. We were quickly joined by Yuri and Seth . . . they were beginning to look incredibly comfortable around each other, and their eyes had that glazed over look of happiness that I definitely recognized from my own experience. Jake walked over to me from his post by Nessie’s side as she stood laughing with some of the other girls and telling a funny story. “Do you think I could dance with you Mrs. Cullen?” he whispered with a grin. “I hate dancing Jake, but sure.” “Nessie is having a blast. Alice sure does know how to plan a party right,” he said. “Ha!” I said with a scowl. “Why do you look so ticked off Bells?” he mused as he took a closer look at my face. “I’m not ticked off.”

“Whatever. You’re still a terrible liar. What’s going on?” He moved his head in closer to me, and memories flooded my mind of a time when his scent had been a remedy to pain in my life. Even though he smelled a bit like a wet dog to me now with my sharp sense of smell, I could still detect the hint of the past in the breaths that I took. It was not unpleasant. “Aw, come on Bells. Tell me. I bet I know what it is,” he joked as he looked around. “It’s nothing. Save it Jake,” I warned. “What’s nothing?” Edward’s quiet voice resonated from behind me. Jake released me with a knowing grin into Edward’s arms and marched back over to Nessie. “Bella?” Edward asked as he pulled me carefully around the dance floor in a slow circle that did not match the pumping beat of the music. “Yes?” “You’re upset about something. Tell me what it is so that I can take care of it. If something is troubling you, then it becomes something I need to handle.” “It’s nothing Edward! Jeez! I’ll be fine!” “It’s not what Jacob was thinking right?” As he said the words, I saw a hint of amusement in his eyes. “That depends on what Jacob was thinking.” “You’re not . . . jealous . . . are you?” “No!” Even I knew how much my quick response sounded like a contradiction. “Isabella Cullen . . . you can’t possibly be mad at these silly children and their inane attraction to me?” “Well, would you like it if a bunch of men stood around me fawning for my attention?” I said with the petulant tone of a little girl. Yuck. “No,” he agreed. “But you know it’s utterly ridiculous for you to worry.” “I wasn’t worried about that. I was just mad that these girls don’t appear to care at all that you’re . . . well, you’re . . . mine!” As soon as I said the words, I realized how childish I sounded. Edward barked out a loud laugh that I did not expect. I saw Marie glaring at me from the darkened corner of the room where she had been watching us intently. Edward pulled me close to him and put tender kisses on my forehead while he slowly ran his hands down my back in a gentle caress. “It’s not that funny!” I said, unable to hide my pout. “It’s not funny. It’s unbelievably cute when you’re jealous. Of course I’m yours . . . but even if they don’t know that, I know that. Just in case you had a momentary lapse in memory, you’re mine as well Bella. Forever.” He looked into my eyes for a moment with a gaze that washed over my frustration like a trickling fountain across a dry patch of earth. Somewhat mollified, I rested my cheek against his chest as he cradled the back of my head in his hands. I sighed as the feeling of utter contentment I experienced in Edward’s presence began filling the void that my irritation had caused. Just then the doorbell rang as I felt Edward’s posture stiffen in my embrace. Who could be arriving this far into the party?

Emmett was the first one to the door. A well-dressed man in a black suit and tie stood there with a bouquet of roses in one hand and a small blue velvet box in the other. “Can I help you?” Emmett asked politely. A great deal of attention had become focused on the formal gentleman standing in the foyer. “My name is Andrews, and I’m Niall McFadden’s personal valet. I’ve come to deliver a gift on behalf of Niall McFadden for the young girl’s birthday.” His speech was formal and accented with the curling lilt of Highland brogue. “What?” Rosalie said loudly. A low murmuring of voices filled the room. The name McFadden was well known to our guests. “Of course. Please convey our thanks to Niall. It was extremely considerate of him.” Carlisle had stepped in quickly in order to avoid an even bigger deal being made out of this situation. “Of course.” Andrews silently handed the flowers and box along with an ivory card to Carlisle. He turned and walked back outside without so much as looking around. Edward released me and walked towards Carlisle. I followed and motioned for Nessie to wait with a subtle raise of my hand. I could see Carlisle and Emmett carefully raising the lid of the box to see the gift that had been sent for our daughter as Edward opened the card to read whatever the note said. He looked over his shoulder at me with a look of extreme frustration. Nessie’s curiosity overcame her, and she pushed her way towards us to see the gift box lying open in Emmett’s large hand. In it was a platinum necklace with a diamond-encrusted pendant. One large chocolate brown stone hung from the center in a teardrop shape. It was absolutely beautiful, and it looked extremely expensive. Wordlessly, Edward handed me the card. Nessie read the elegant flourish of script over my shoulder. Please accept this small token of our esteem on behalf of the McFadden family in honor of the beautiful Renesmee Cullen’s 16th birthday. We wish her joy and happiness on this most august occasion. Regards, Nathan Lachlan McFadden Chapter 21: Tempest – Renesmee “For God’s sake Jacob Black, it’s my birthday! Why won’t you tell me what happened?” I asked for the fifth time. As had become the pattern, Jake sighed with what seemed like the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Nessie, it’s difficult for me to explain, and I don’t really want to get into it right now.” “I don’t care! I feel like everyone’s been sneaking around telling stories behind my back, and I’m the only one who doesn’t know what the hell is going on. I’ve had just about enough of this crap!” “Please don’t fight with me today Nessie. I wanted it to be a special day for you,” he pleaded. “Then tell me why Seth was looking so weirdly at Yuri! Why was he staring at her . . . and why did both you and Mom look like you understood what was going on?” I was practically shouting at the roof of my new Saleen.

We were sitting in my car in the middle of a field about ten minutes away from home. The birthday party had ended around eleven, and Dad had given me permission to take my new car out on a drive . . . as long as we were back by midnight. Yuri and Seth had followed us in Jake’s car, and we had split up not long ago. Yuri had wanted to show Seth the view from her favorite spot on the mountain. Those two had been acting really strange all night, and Seth had been staring at Yuri like she was a breath of fresh air on a hot summer night. They’d invited us to come along, but I really wanted to talk to Jake . . . I also wanted a proper birthday kiss, but since we were fighting right now, that was starting to seem rather unlikely. “Look, if I tell you what’s going on, will you promise not to ask anymore questions about it tonight?” he barked back at me. “Yes.” Of course, I was probably not going to keep my end of the bargain . . . “Nessie, you have to promise. You’ve got that weird look in your eyes . . . the one that tells me you’re going to have your way regardless of what I say.” “Fine! I promise . . . if you tell me what’s going on with Seth and Yuri, then I won’t ask anything else . . . tonight.” Hmm, maybe I would get a birthday kiss after all! “Okay then . . . this is rather complicated, so just sit there and listen while I try to figure out the best way to say this. Whenever shapeshifters . . . uh . . . dammit!” His voice was filled with exasperation. I started to feel guilty for putting him on the spot. “It’s okay Jake, just say it. I already promised not to be a brat about it for tonight,” I said softly, trying to make him feel a little more comfortable. He exhaled and took another deep breath. “Whenever Seth saw Yuri, his life changed, Nessie. His life changed forever. You see, Seth has found his match in her . . . I’d say she was he soul mate, but I honestly feel that it’s even more than that. Yuri has basically become the reason for Seth’s existence. It’s not something I can really explain. Sometimes it happens to shapeshifters . . . we call it imprinting.” My jaw dropped. I just sat staring at him for a moment. Damn! I had so many more questions! I bit my lower lip as I tried to stifle the flood of curiosity from spilling unchecked out of my mouth. He watched me carefully. “Is that a good enough answer?” he queried. “Of course not . . . but I did promise not to be a brat.” I continued staring at him uncomfortably. I wasn’t used to this . . . I usually had the answers, not the questions. He sighed again as he saw the conflict raging on my face. “You can ask one question Nessie. Only one.” “Have you ever imprinted on anyone?” I rushed through the words. As soon as I said them, I almost didn’t want to know the answer . . . what if he had? What if it was someone else? I had no recent memory of Jake looking at me the way Seth had looked at Yuri.A cold feeling began forming in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t swallow. “Yes,” he whispered as he looked into my eyes. Who?! I wanted to scream. If it isn’t me, I’ll . . . die. I opened my mouth as the burning question rose in my throat, threatening to consume me in a blaze of heartbreaking doubt . . . and then I felt his lips on mine. The heat ran through my kiss and passed into him, igniting a different kind of fire. Desperate to feel as though I were more than just a mere soul mate to Jake, I grabbed him by the shirt to hoist myself onto his lap and into the passenger seat. Our kisses became even more passionate . . . far more passionate than ever before. I began

to feel lightheaded, and the desire for more took over all of my senses . . . until Jake broke away with a gasp and firmly lifted me from his lap to put me back in the driver’s seat. The extreme sensation of my unrequited need quickly transformed into a painful fury . . . a fury of anguish. Jake didn’t want me. He had someone else . . . someone better than a soul mate. The hot tears stung my eyes as I threw open the door and flung myself into the night air. Jake scrambled to get out of his seat. “Nessie! You didn’t give me a chance to explain!” he pleaded. “To hell with explanations! You don’t want me! You have someone else!” I gasped. “No! No Renesmee! No! There is no one else for me but you!” “Go away! Leave me alone!” The pain in my chest was threatening to explode into uncontrollable sobs. I had to get away. Immediately. “Don’t follow me! If you value my sanity, then leave me the hell alone!” I shouted behind me. I took off running into the woods in a furious sprint. I ran almost as quickly as my Dad until I was certain Jake wasn’t behind me, and then I stopped short to gasp away my tears. I stood there for a few moments until I re-established control over myself. I thought about turning around to find him, but my pride was still too wounded. Instead, I began walking towards the road I heard cars traversing on in the distance. I needed some time alone to think. If Jake had imprinted on someone else, then there had to be an explanation for why he was not with her. Of course, he had never actually said it wasn’t me, but I had a tendency to assume the worst . . . after all, I had thousands of memories of Jake . . . even as a little girl, I could remember his booming laughter and musky scent. I had never seen him in love with anyone – the thought of him loving someone other than me was a knife through my heart. I couldn’t bear it. If Jake had ever cared about someone else that way, I didn’t want to know about it. Did I? Had he ever kissed another girl? Did I want to know about her? Ugh . . . I’d probably just want to kill her anyway, I mused wretchedly to myself. In the distance I heard a car coming up behind me. I kept walking at a quick, confident pace. Dad was going to throw a fit when I got home. The car slowed down as it came closer to where I was walking. “Hey baby, do you need a ride?” a young man’s voice drawled. I didn’t turn around. I just kept walking as though I hadn’t heard anything. “Aw baby, come on! Don’t be like that! It’s a little late for you to be out by yourself . . . you look so helpless . . . you need someone to take care of you. I’m available for that.” His friends sniggered. That did it. I didn’t need anyone to take care of me. I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I stopped short and turned the full force of my frustration onto the carload of boys who appeared to be my age driving slowly along next to me. “Why do you have to make me say it?” I demanded angrily. He was surprised by my boldness. “Excuse me?” “Why do you have to make me tell you what a giant ass you are?” I yelled. “That’s a little harsh. I just thought you were hot, that’s all.” His friends began jeering at him, which caused his confusion to begin morphing into irritation.

“No, that’s not all! You suffered from the asinine assumption that I could possibly desire your mindless attention when I’m clearly going for a walk by myself. If I wanted company, I would have it . . . and it certainly wouldn’t be your stupid ass!” Oops, I probably needed to chill out. I heard the sound of another engine approaching. Thank God. Now he was really pissed. He ground his car to a squealing halt as his friends continued mocking him. “Look, I don’t know who the hell . . .” “Is something wrong Renesmee?” The window of the passing black Corvette had rolled down, and I heard the voice of Nathan McFadden lilting from the darkness within. “These boys aren’t bothering you are they?” he said as he put his head out the window to glare at them. “Nate!” The driver of the other car paled as soon as he recognized Nate. “You’re not mistreating her, are you Jeremy?” Nate asked menacingly. “No, I . . . uh . . . we . . .” “Were just leaving, right?” Nate said with a threatening undertone. “Yeah . . . we’re leaving. See you at practice on Monday.” Jeremy scrambled to put his car back into drive and peeled away from us with squealing tires. I stood there in surprise as I looked at my family’s current archenemy. He smirked at me for a moment, and I saw a quick flicker in his eyes that made me think he was making a decision in his head about what he should do next. A second later, I watched as his clear blue eyes glittered with resolution. “All ridiculous attempts to make a pass aside, it really isn’t safe for you to be walking out here alone this late. It’s nearly midnight,” he said matter-of-factly. “You can’t make a pass at me. I know all about your little mind tricks, remember? If you try anything, I’ll just tell my father . . . it won’t work out for you in the end,” I mocked. “I’m well aware of that,” he grimaced. “Damn! Is it really almost midnight?” I asked worriedly. Dad . . . was going to kill me. “Yes.” “Um, do you know how I can get to the clearing in the woods by the Walker cabin? Quickly?” Here was hoping that Jake still waited there for me . . . I’d left my phone in my car. “Hop in. I’ll drive you there myself. No funny business . . . warlock’s honor.” He grinned. “I thought warlocks had no honor,” I jeered back at him, but began walking towards the passenger side of his car. I could handle this bozo . . . no problem. “Touché.” He unlocked the car door, and I slid onto the black leather seat. The car smelled like Nathan . . . almost like a combination of expensive cologne and exotic spices. It burned my nose a little, but it wasn’t a bad smell. I was surprised to hear my favorite Radiohead song, ‘Everything in Its Right Place,’ softly playing in the background. “By the way, thanks,” I said quickly. “For what?” “For the gift. I doubt my family will let me wear it anytime soon, but I really did think it was pretty.” There was no reason to be rude . . . I had in fact found the necklace unbelievably beautiful.

“My father had it purchased. I merely suggested a stone and penned the card. My father’s handwriting has . . . deteriorated. We figured it was a good idea to play nice with vampires . . . dying before my time didn’t seem like a viable option,” he stated wryly. “Why did you pick a brown stone?” I asked with curiosity. “You seem to wear a lot of black . . . but brown suits your eyes better. Nice top, by the way,” he said as he leered quickly in my direction. Suddenly, the crystal-encrusted bustier seemed like a really bad idea. I smacked his shoulder. “No funny business! You promised!” “I promised not to make a pass. You’d do both of us a favor if you never wore a top like that again. It makes my promise . . . hollow.” “You can take the warlock out of the jerk, but you can’t take the jerk out of the warlock,” I teased. “I may be both a warlock and a jerk, but you have to admit that this situation is one for the books.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “I mean that it’s funny in a bad way how every woman I want recently is the property of Edward Cullen, vampire extraordinaire.” How dare he? “I’m not anybody’s property! I belong to myself . . . no one else!” I cried reflexively. “Gloria Steinham would approve . . . but seriously, you do belong to someone. Everyone does.” “Please,” I snorted. “Even you?” “I belong to my father,” he said simply. I could see his blue eyes cloud over in frustration, and I watched his facial muscles tighten. His sharp cheekbones and jagged profile definitely reminded me of a hawk . . . a really good-looking one. “That’s ridiculous. You’re your own person. You don’t belong to anyone. I most definitely do not belong to anyone.” “That’s very quaint Renesmee. A bit trite as well.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Why do you think you belong to your father?” “I’m my family’s future. Everything about me has been carefully cultivated by my father. I am his greatest investment. When you pour your life’s work into something, it’s easy to understand why you expect a return.” “Humph. I still think you’re your own person. You just have to believe it. Stop pretending like you don’t have a choice . . . it makes you seem . . . pathetic.” Even I knew I sounded childish, but it was true. “Pathetic?” He pursed his lips. “Are you pissed at me now? Are you going to try to blow me up with some ‘abracadabra’ crap?” His eyes softened, and he chuckled. I had not expected to like the sound of him laughing, but I did. It seemed a bit unnatural . . . like he didn’t laugh enough in his life. “It’s honestly pathetic that you seem to think you don’t belong to anyone. What about Rin Tin Tin, the overgrown super-mechanic?” he teased.

I ignored the jibe about Jake being a werewolf. I guess Dad had told the McFaddens that piece of information as well in an effort to make sure they knew Jake was not merely an ordinary human. In other words, don’t mess with Jacob Black. “Jake. I don’t know if I belong to him.” The timbre of my voice became sad as I thought about it. Jake might have someone else. I had to fight to keep my tears at bay. He saw me struggling. “Is something wrong Renesmee?” “No. It’s really none of your business. I’ll sort it out myself . . . and quit calling me Renesmee. My name is Nessie.” “I refuse.” “Excuse me?” I said, momentarily surprised into forgetting my sadness. “My family’s from Scotland. I refuse to give something so beautiful the nickname of a Scottish monster,” he stated firmly. “Ha! You think I’m beautiful. Too bad.” I grinned. “Yes, it is,” he agreed. “You’d better keep it a secret though . . . if my Dad catches you thinking I’m beautiful, you’re in a hell of a lot of trouble.” For some reason, I didn’t want any more altercations between Nate and Dad. It was strange, I felt a bit . . . protective of my family’s archenemy. Interesting. Maybe I was a diehard pacifist after all. “Why is that?” “My Dad can see your thoughts, so watch yourself.” He paused for a moment, considering. Then he smiled to himself in amusement. “No wonder why he wanted to rip me apart at school over that sweet little piece.” “Hey!” I hit him again on the shoulder, harder than before. “That’s my mother you’re talking about, jackass!” He laughed at me. “My apologies. Sometimes it’s hard for me to think of vampires as . . . parents.” “And sometimes it’s hard for us to remember not to snap your neck and drink you dry!” I fumed. “Again, my apologies. Truce?” He held out his hand for mine, and I reached over hesitantly to shake it. It was remarkably smooth, and I felt his thumb graze across the back of my hand for a moment before he released it. “No funny business,” I warned. The look in his eyes had softened. I started to feel a bit dizzy. He immediately averted his gaze, and I could see a flush start rising in his neck. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. It’s difficult for me to control it. I’m not used to having to control it. Usually, I get what I want.” I was certain he was telling the truth. “That’s no fun. Isn’t life better when you have to deal with a challenge?” I asked. “Only if I know it will be worth the effort in the end.” He stared at me again for a moment before looking away.

All of a sudden, the car coming towards us in the opposite direction slammed on its breaks with an ear-piercing squeal. “Damn. That’s a Saleen S7!” Nate stated with reverence. Crap. “Twin Turbo.” I grimaced as Jake’s tall frame rose from the driver’s seat. He was absolutely livid. “Is that Rin Tin Tin’s car? If so, tell him we’re racing next weekend near my house,” Nate said exuberantly. “No. It’s mine.” I sighed and yanked open the door of the Corvette. Nate put the car in park and stepped out of the vehicle soundlessly. “Nessie! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Jake raged as his shoulders began to quiver dangerously. “Just wait a second Jacob Black. You . . .” Nathan interrupted me. “She was walking by herself and ran into a nuisance. I thought . . .” “YOU STAY OUT OF THIS YOU MISERABLE FIEND!” Jake bellowed. He was extremely close to phasing. “Nothing happened. There’s no reason to get your panties all up in a twist,” Nate said evenly. “Stop it! Thanks for the ride Nate. You should go. Now.” The look on my face forced him to retreat from his posture of arrogant defiance. He pursed his lips again and quickly drove away. The purr of the Corvette’s engine faded into the distance. I stood there glaring at Jake while the tremors racking his body calmed down slowly. “Nessie,” he began softly. “I don’t want to hear it. Nothing bad happened. Some idiotic boys were marginally harassing me, and Nathan drove by and made them stop. Then I realized that we were going to be late getting home, so he offered to drive me back to the field. End of story. No mind games, no nothing. He behaved well.” He just kept looking at me with an incredibly pained expression on his face. “Why do you keep pushing your luck Nessie?” he whispered. “I’m not. If he had tried to mess with me, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing that happened to me tonight.” My voice was beginning to tremble again as I looked at the face of the only man I had ever loved. I looked down at the ground in an attempt to regain control. He had pulled me into his arms in the next instant. “I’m so sorry sweetheart,” he whispered. “I wish you hadn’t run off like that before I could explain . . . I did imprint. Six years ago this very day . . . the first day I laid eyes on you.” He caressed my face with his warm hands as he said the words my soul needed to hear. The tears coursed down my face nonetheless . . . when tears collect, it’s pointless to stop them from falling. He rubbed them away with his thumbs as he placed a tender kiss on my lips. “Promise? I love you so much Jake . . . you’re the only man I’ve ever wanted. Promise me that I’m the only girl you’ve ever wanted?” I pleaded. He took in a sharp breath and looked deep into my eyes . . . then he kissed me. Hungry for his love, I kissed him back desperately.

I didn’t miss the fact that he failed to answer my question. Chapter 22: Unraveling – Edward I was incapable of recalling an event in the past that had made me this angry with my daughter. I stood over the drained carcass of the cougar before me and seethed with fury as I took a deep breath in an attempt to calm myself. “Edward?” Bella asked quietly. She walked carefully over to me and slipped her hand through mine. As soon as Nessie had come home with Jake, Yuri, and Seth, it had taken every ounce of my self-control not to berate her for hours regarding her poor decision-making. Only Bella’s whispered reminder that it was her birthday stopped me from doing so. Bella had taken my hand and asked me to go hunting with her in an effort to channel my rage and get me outside of the house. In addition to perilously placing herself in harmful proximity to him for an unfathomable amount of time, Renesmee had told Nathan McFadden, a dangerous predator, something he had no business knowing – that her father could read his mind. My anger with her even exceeded my frustration with him. In fact, I grudgingly had to admit to myself that he behaved rather magnanimously this evening. I could not harbor resentment towards Nate for assisting my daughter, and it appeared that his motivations had been as altruistic as one could expect – for a loathsome warlock. It did little to change my opinion of him as anything but a disgusting marauder. “I still can’t believe that Jake let her go off on her own,” Bella said angrily. “Not that I intend to make a habit of defending Jacob Black, but she didn’t give him much of a choice. He ran around frantically trying to find her when he realized that he couldn’t trace her scent anymore,” I mused duly. “Still, it’s a rotten stroke of luck that she ran into McFadden.” “Like mother, like daughter,” I murmured paradoxically. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Bella said. “It’s nothing sweetheart. I just have a hard time reconciling the fact that my wife and my daughter seem destined to tempt the hands of fate in any way possible. Even if I could have anticipated this situation occurring, there is no way for me to prevent a chance encounter with that worthless excuse for a human being.” “What should we do?” “Aside from barricading Renesmee in her room for an undisclosed length of time, I assume that the safest course of action would be a lengthy admonishment – which she is certain to disregard if history is any indication,” I said wryly as I looked at my wife with a pointed glance. “That’s not just my fault Edward. You’re even more stubborn than I am.” We began walking hand in hand through the forest back towards our home. “I can’t disagree with you on that point. It just surprises me that her vast intelligence doesn’t seem to apply to her ability to discern another individual’s character,” I said with frustration. “Edward, Nessie is incredibly smart, but she’s led a very sheltered life. We haven’t been able to expose her to many people her age because she developed so quickly. Her entire life she’s been surrounded by her family . . . why would she know how to deal with someone

who may have less than good intentions? Her family would never harm her, and that fact has only made her belief in her own indestructibility even more strong.” I frowned at the truth of her words. “Growing from infancy to young adulthood in six years is also probably not working to her advantage,” I said in agreement. “Of course not. I wish we could have done something about it, but I don’t know what we could have changed.” Sensing Bella’s frustration in her words, I stopped walking and pulled her into my arms. “You don’t feel as though you’ve made mistakes Bella, do you? I asked with concern. “I don’t know Edward. I guess this is how Charlie must have felt whenever he saw me after Nessie was born. Maybe parents never really know if they did the best job they could have . . . I know that Nessie is loved. I can’t stop her from making mistakes, but I can love her regardless of them.” I smiled ironically at her. With all the years of acumen I should have amassed, Bella had an uncanny knack for understanding situations and humbling my concerns with a poignant simplicity that belied her youth. I placed my hand under her chin to lift her face to mine. “You never fail to impress me, Mrs. Cullen.” “Go easy on her Edward. She doesn’t have the wisdom that comes with these experiences yet. I remember how hard it was for me to interact with other kids when I was in high school . . . and I was actually in the same species as they were!” Bella said as she put her hand on the side of my face. She gently pulled my head downward as she stood on her toes to kiss me. I cupped the back of her neck in my hands and fitted her against the length of my body. In all ways, Bella and I were perfectly matched. She sighed contentedly as I moved to kiss her throat. “I just wish to God that she hadn’t given McFadden information he never needed to know about me.” “I agree. Maybe he’ll be more careful in his considerations now. I bet he’s scared to death of you.” She smiled as she considered something in her mind that I probably would have loved to see. The unending irony of marrying the only person whose mind was a blank sheet of paper to me. “Not scared enough.” She laughed and took my hand once again. We ran lightly back to our home. As we passed through the last thicket of trees, I smelled the scent of a werewolf in our midst. Jacob was waiting for us at the edge of the forest. “Edward. I really need to talk to both of you.” The troubled look on his face almost merited more sympathy than I wanted to give. “Is this about why the heck you let her run through the woods alone?” Bella spat out sardonically. “Bells, I . . .” “It’s fine Jacob. I already told Bella what happened. She’s just frustrated, and you’re her current punching bag of choice,” I said. “I’ll take it Bells, only please help me,” he pleaded. I don’t know what to do about it. I think it will destroy her when she finds out. I don’t even want to tell her, but I can’t keep it a secret much longer. Bella had always been unable to withstand seeing Jacob suffer for any period of time. The look of irritation on her face quickly shifted to concern.

“What do you need help with?” she asked. He groaned. “I used to think that it would be amazing to have a girl jealous over me. Whenever I . . . well, back when I thought all I wanted was you, I fantasized about having you become jealous when you saw me with another girl. I was so wrong. It sucks . . . it absolutely reeks. All those stupid stories that make it sound so awesome are just full of crap.” “Spit it out Jake! Stop rambling!” Bella demanded. I knew exactly what he wanted to say, but I felt that it was only polite to give him his chance. “Bells, she’s jealous of . . . you. Only she doesn’t know it’s you quite yet,” he rushed. I couldn’t lie to her! She wanted to know if I had ever loved another girl, and I couldn’t lie! I just didn’t answer. She misses nothing! She won’t let it go . . . please Edward, help me! His eyes glittered beseechingly as he looked at me. “I think she has to know. I think it’s time,” I said quietly. Bella’s eyes widened as clarity struck her. “She wants to know about Jacob’s past. When she finds that out, she’ll know all about us.” Her voice had lowered to hushed tones. “I mean, I knew that this would happen eventually. I just didn’t think it would be such a big deal. It’s almost like one of those things that you keep meaning to say, and meaning to say, and . . . eventually, it just gets blown out of proportion because you waited so long to say it.” Jacob’s voice almost sounded manic in its desperation. “You don’t think that she would handle it well whenever she hears exactly what happened?” Bella asked with surprise. He shot me a pointed look that showcased his memory of Nessie . . . She freaked out Edward . . . just lost it by her new car only an hour ago. No. She would not handle it well. “Unfortunately, it appears that Nessie has inherited something else from me . . . a fierce possessiveness. That factor combined with the notion that we all hid something so important from her all these years will be a difficult pill for her to swallow,” I murmured. “Why didn’t we just tell her?” Jacob moaned. “It was important to all of us that Nessie grow up in a world that did not contain predestination or any semblance of unnecessary baggage. Many of these issues are too delicate to discuss with a child. We all agreed to this Jacob. Including you,” I reminded him. “I can talk to her,” Bella said quietly. “No, I think I have to do it.” Jacob’s voice was reticent. “Why?” she asked. So that she flips out on me and not on you. It was in moments like these that I remembered how good a man Jacob Black was. “It should be me. I was the one who tried to steal her mother away from her father. Guilty as charged. This is just part of my never-ending sentence,” he joked without a trace of amusement. “We can be there with you,” I responded. His eyes softened considerably. “That might help.” “Of course Jake. Anything,” Bella said kindly.

“Okay. Now just tell me what to say,” he whispered. “The truth is the best place to start,” I stated. Do I tell her about you . . . uh . . . going away? I grimaced reflexively. “If we’re going to tell Nessie everything, then that is what has to happen. I accept it. It’s a part of my never-ending sentence as well.” “Why don’t you let me tell her that part?” Bella asked. Even though she had not heard Jacob’s thoughts, she knew without a doubt what we were referencing. The darkest period of our lives was something that always lingered in the background of my mind. Each day, however subtly, I quietly tried to think of some way to make it up to Bella . . . some way to take back a nightmare I had inflicted on her years ago. Both Jacob and I looked at Bella uneasily. She and I rarely spoke of that time. I avoided it because I hated to see her eyes darken in memory, and she avoided it because she hated to see me mentally flog myself. “Honestly, we all contributed to this in one way or another. I am the best person to tell her why I latched myself onto Jacob out of selfish desperation. It’s not all Jake’s fault . . . just like it’s not all your fault . . . so lose the face Edward Cullen,” she admonished. I pursed my lips and blinked hard to banish the painful images of the past from my eyesight. “I’d really appreciate the help,” Jacob said as a glimmer of hope entered his eyes. “It’s not help Jake. It’s the right thing to do. In fact, maybe we should deliver this tale to her in bits and pieces . . . it might be overwhelming if we try to tell her everything at once,” Bella stated. “I agree,” I said quietly. “The sooner the better,” Jacob stated with uneasiness. I’ll be lucky if I make it one more week before she cries it out of me. I can’t stand to see her cry. It makes everything else in the world seem . . . meaningless. How well I understood. “Maybe Bella and I should begin the tale now. I don’t think it’s necessary for you to be there when I tell Nessie about my shameful part in the debacle.” “Edward! I won’t let you say anything at all to Nessie if you try to paint yourself as a villain!” Bella cried. I smiled sadly at her. How was I anything but a villain? I had inexcusably robbed both her and myself of light in our lives. She had turned to a werewolf for a semblance of the warmth I had cruelly stolen from her without her permission. Villainous? Absurdly so. “Is she still awake?” Bella asked Jacob. “I think so. Alice was painting Yuri’s nails and curling Nessie’s hair before they went to bed,” Jacob responded. Bella took my hand and began marching purposefully back towards the house. Thank you Edward. I know this is not easy. Let me know if I can do anything at all. You’ve done enough Jacob Black, I thought to myself sarcastically. I would never say the words to him aloud . . . if anything, I had many more reasons to be grateful than irritated. He remained downstairs with Seth as Bella and I walked up the stairs. We knocked on the door to Nessie’s bedroom. “Nessie? Baby? It’s Mom and Dad. Are you awake?” Bella asked quietly. The door opened soundlessly. In the background I heard Yuri’s metered breath . . . she was fast asleep. Nessie’s eyes appeared swollen and red. My heart stopped a bit as I realized that she had been crying . . . over a dog. Both my wife and my daughter had shed tears over Jacob Black. The bitter taste in my throat was difficult to swallow. God, I hope they don’t ask me why my eyes are red. Please let them leave me alone.

I smiled at Nessie in understanding as Bella said, “Sweetie, can we talk to you for a little while?” Please don’t let it be about Jake. Please. “Sure,” she said hesitantly as she closed the door behind her and followed us to our bedroom. We all took a seat on the kingsized bed. Nessie curled her knees under her chin and Bella sat closely next to her. I faced both of them resolutely. My daughter would know the truth about her father in only a few moments. Her father had abandoned her mother. I did not know how it felt for other men, but I had to imagine that it was never easy when your child discovered that you were less-than-perfect. It didn’t matter. Eternal penance. “Nessie, I don’t want to intrude on your relationship with Jacob any more than I already have. If you wish to speak to us about something, you know that we are always here.” She nodded. Thank God. “Since you’re beginning your own relationship, I thought you might be interested in some of the stories surrounding your parents’ history.” Hmm. They’ve actually never told me much. This could be good. Sure. Maybe I’ll pick up some pointers on why men are so difficult to understand. I smiled crookedly at her thoughts. “We just think that you’re old enough to hear some of these stories now, sweetheart,” Bella said lovingly as she stroked Nessie curls. “Sure. I don’t mind,” Nessie agreed. I took a deep breath as I began. “When I first met your Mom, I tried as hard as I could to stay away from her.” I ignored her look of surprise and continued. “Her blood was the strongest scent of attraction I had ever experienced, and eventually that attraction blossomed into something much more potent. Soon, I was completely enamored by her.” “Your Dad was the most gorgeous guy I had ever seen. He made me forget how to speak coherently. His kindness and humor eventually made me become slightly obsessed – more like totally obsessed. I had dreams about him. I never thought he would give me the time of day,” Bella said with a smile. “I was willing to give her much more than the time of day. I would gladly have given her almost anything . . .” I paused for a moment. Almost anything? Why only almost? “The one thing your Mom wanted was the one thing I refused to give her.” “What was that?” she whispered. “Immortality. She wanted to become a vampire. I adamantly refused to change her.” “Why?” Nessie asked in shock. I sighed in frustration. “Because sweetheart, I loved your mother too much to end her life and replace it with an endless night.” She just sat there looking at me in stunned silence. How could you have watched her die Dad? “I justified watching her age and eventually pass into whatever afterlife is granted to humans by holding fast to my belief that in doing so I would thus keep her soul intact.” Now came the hard part. I knew that it was highly possible for Nessie’s vision of me to become forever marred by what I was about to say. “I became so obsessed with saving her soul that I . . . left her,” I said simply. Huh? I don’t get it. You . . . left . . . Mom? “What do you mean?” she asked in confusion. “I thought your Mom shouldn’t live in a world as precarious as ours. The threat of death seemed to hover around her like an ominous cloud. I believed I was responsible for it . . . and I didn’t want to be forced to make the choice to end her life or watch her die in my arms. I couldn’t do it. I refused. So I left.” “Mom . . . how did you let him go?” she said incredulously. “I didn’t sweetheart. I didn’t know he was leaving.”

“You mean . . . you just left Mom? Without even saying goodbye?” I could see anger building in Nessie’s eyes. I opened my mouth to answer at the same time that my soul began its cycle of selfflagellation. Bella interrupted me with a look of warning in her eyes. “Yes. I let it go many years ago. There was nothing to forgive. The choice he made was made out of love, and sometimes the choices we make when we love someone are not always the best ones. I’ve made mistakes too, and none of us will go through life hanging those mistakes over the heads of the people we love,” she stated firmly. If I love Jake, do I have to ignore his mistakes too? That is, of course, if he ever tells me what his mistakes are . . . “Real love is not about forgetting or ignoring mistakes, Renesmee. Real love is about embracing all things that make up a person . . . and that just happens to include their mistakes,” I responded. “Has Jake made mistakes that I don’t know about?” she asked matter-of-factly. Our daughter was unbelievably smart sometimes. It was too bad this intelligence had not motivated her to disdain Nathan McFadden with the fervency I had hoped. “It’s not our place to say whether decisions Jake made in his past are mistakes. Nor are we going to sit here and talk about things he is perfectly capable of telling you himself.” The tone of Bella’s voice indicated that she would take no more prodding from Nessie regarding this topic. “The only thing that I can tell you is the Jake has always been a dear friend of mine. When your Dad left, he was my best friend, and he reached out to me when I felt extremely alone. He’s a very good man Nessie. I’m not asking you to cut him some slack, I’m just asking you to give him a chance to show you what a great person he is.” “Under ordinary circumstances, I would never champion a man intent on stealing my only child away from me, but I have to concur wholeheartedly with what your Mom just said. Jacob Black is one of the best individuals I have ever encountered,” I stated. “So you knew that he had imprinted on me,” she asked pointedly. “Yes. We didn’t tell you because we wanted you to have a choice in the matter. It was not our intention to put those kind of expectations on you,” I finished. I reached over to put my hand on top of Nessie’s hand. She turned her palm upward to hold mine as Bella reached around Nessie to pull her close in an embrace. Nessie leaned her hair against Bella’s head and the contrast of Bella’s dark tresses and pale skin against Nessie’s copper mane and rosy complexion almost made me catch my breath as beauty overloaded my senses. “Thanks for telling me this Mom and Dad. It’s definitely given me something to think about.” “Of course sweetheart.” “We love you so much baby,” Bella said as she put a kiss on Nessie’s forehead. I still can’t believe you left Mom, but I’m sure it made sense to you at the time Dad. It’s actually just impossible for me to picture either of you without the other. I have no idea how you managed to pull that one off. “I obviously didn’t Nessie,” I said jokingly. “But that’s a story for another time,” Bella said as she indicated to Nessie that it was time for bed. “Goodnight Mom and Dad,” Nessie said as she uncurled her body from our bed and rose in a fluid motion. “Goodnight,” we both responded.

I guess they want me to understand whenever Jake tells me about his ‘past.’ People make mistakes. I’ll try to understand . . . but she better not have been a beautiful woman. . . . and he better not see her ever again. This was far from over. Chapter 23: Unraveling – Jacob I should have felt relieved. The last week had gone by with surprisingly few problems. Seth and Yuri’s blossoming relationship had provided a much-needed distraction for Nessie. She was thrilled to see them together . . . Seth had decided to give Yuri some time to get to know him before he professed his unending devotion; after all, Yuri was unaccustomed to understanding the quirks of being imprinted upon by a shapeshifting werewolf like Seth. His affection and attention never failed to bring a becoming blush to Yuri’s cheeks, and the discrepancy between Seth’s towering, over six-foot frame and Yuri’s barely five-foot figure had already created a running joke amongst the family – they had officially been dubbed Yoda and Chewy. All weeklong we had spent time laughing, talking, and hanging out with one another. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so at ease. The recent months had brought on countless challenges for me, and the ability to sit back and breathe comfortably for even a few moments without the threat of Edward’s menacing gaze of awareness or Nessie’s bitter look of confusion was a welcome respite. I should have felt relieved. The thing about those moments of peace . . . they never last very long. I kept waiting for my bubble to burst and for the hailstorm to rain down on my erstwhile utopia. It was coming. I could feel it. Each evening, Nessie would sit someplace private with her parents and hear tales from the early days of their romance. When she would return to join us, the look on her face was usually pensive and thoughtful. She would gaze at me for a moment and chew on her bottom lip in consideration of something that I mentally warred with wanting to hear and wanting to avoid. Then she would laugh or make a joke, and the moment of anxiety would pass. The grains of sand in my hourglass were nearly out . . . my dearest love was too smart to give both her brain and me a moment more of reprieve. That Friday evening, the four of us decided to go into town to eat dinner and see a movie. Going out to eat was a special thing that Nessie and I had always enjoyed doing with one another, even when she was a little girl. We were the only ones in the house who could ever actually eat anything that was ordered at a restaurant, and it used to be a time for us to sit down and laugh with each other while we talked about cars and traveling the world one day. I still laughed to myself at the memory of little Nessie, who at the time looked to be around seven or eight years old, ordering a rare filet mignon . . . it was one of the only things she enjoyed eating outside of her preferred source of nourishment. The elfin child with the dazzling eyes and the curly bronze hair wielding a huge knife and fork while attacking an eleven ounce behemoth . . . I laughed aloud again as we piled into Edward’s BMW X5 to ride into Brevard. “What’s funny?” Nessie asked as she settled into the passenger seat. “I was just remembering when you were little, and we used to go out and get dinner together,” I reminisced. She smiled carefully. “Things were a lot easier back then,” Nessie murmured.

I frowned and said nothing. The grains of sand continued their fateful passage through the cinch in the hourglass . . . “So what movie should we see?” Yuri said cheerfully from the backseat in an attempt to waylay any awkwardness from forming in the front. “Something with a lot of blood,” Nessie replied with a grin and a wink. I had really begun to care deeply for Yuri Chung, and this was a prime example of why. She was so much like Seth. Even when Seth was a boy, he had an uncanny ability to make even the direst situation seem better than it had before with his calm serenity and peaceful awareness. He was also unfailingly kind and pure-hearted. Yuri was his match in these respects and so many more. Her carefully placed interruptions saved us from potential scenes more often than I wanted to admit. I watched in the rearview mirror as Seth reconstructed the stare of wonder that pervaded his gaze each time he looked at Yuri. She smiled shyly back at him and reached over to take his hand. The grin on my face became so rampant that Nessie nudged my elbow and arched her eyebrows in warning. “Stop it! Give them privacy!” she mouthed in amusement as she turned up the volume on the stereo. Some of Edward’s freaky ‘off-the-beaten-path’ music blared through the speakers. I think I remembered Nessie talking about this performer . . . Sigur something. “Sorry,” I whispered back. I saw her smile as she watched the trees whirling by in the window. Reaching over with my hand, I grazed the back of my fingers across her cheek slowly. She put her hand over mine and kissed my palm. My mind was content, and my heart swelled with pleasure. If only I could keep it this way forever. We took our seats in a darkened corner booth at the restaurant and ordered our food. Jokes and stories flew around the table as Yuri’s questions about Seth as a boy set us all to laughing once again at the answers. When I mentioned how Seth used to follow me around like a puppy when he was a kid, Yuri squealed with laughter at the unintended pun in my choice of words. Her smile was bright and even though her eyes were the same ice-blue color as the eyes of my enemy, it was impossible to see any further similarity in their refreshing openness. Nessie’s eyes reminded me of melted chocolate flecked with gold, and her laughter rang clear and unabashed above all of us. “What are you talking about with your parents at night Nessie?” Yuri asked innocently after the food had been delivered. She paused thoughtfully. “They’re telling me the story of how they fell in love.” “Wow. Is it everything you expected it to be?” Yuri continued. “No. Not at all actually. I don’t know, I guess I always thought everything about their relationship was perfect. It can be both interesting and disheartening when you discover that the way you always pictured something is not exactly how in happened in reality,” Nessie answered. “Why do you feel that way Nessie?” Seth asked kindly. “It’s difficult for me to explain. I guess I’m learning that even the most perfect love doesn’t have the most perfect history. You also have to fight for love . . . It’s surprising to learn that my parents had to fight for their love almost every step of the way. I’m also learning a lot about the type of people my parents were when they first met.” “So you think they’re different now?” I queried.

“Not different. Just better . . . more at peace. It sounds like my Dad was a little lost before he met Mom. He never looked lost to me. Once he found Mom, I think he found himself. Mom . . . I guess Mom learned to trust herself and stand up for things she believed in. She’s so much stronger now. I still can’t believe that my parents have had multiple altercations with the Volturi!” she shivered at the thought. “What’s that?” Yuri said curiously. “Kind of like our version of High Priests in Wicca. The ones in charge,” Nessie murmured simply. Yuri nodded as she took a sip of her drink. “Bella and Edward have always had a deep connection that many people weren’t able to understand at first,” I said quietly after considering Nessie’s words. “I know. Mom said that people fought to keep them apart. She said they were people she loved, and it was very difficult for her. I guess I understand why they didn’t want her to fall in love with my Dad. I sure am glad they came around though . . . or else I wouldn’t be here!” she joked. The mere thought placed a lump in my throat that I had difficulty swallowing. I was the person who had fought to keep them apart. I had wanted to destroy Nessie for trying to kill Bella as she grew like a cancer in Bella’s womb. I had hated Nessie. If I had had my way back then . . . I shuddered reflexively at the consideration. Nessie watched me with puzzlement. “Are you cold Jake?” “No. I’m not cold. I’m just glad that you’re here too,” I said quickly with a smile. She was not convinced. “Did you like my Dad when you first met him?” she asked point blank. “I didn’t know what he was when I first met him. I didn’t know what I was. I thought he was just a good-looking guy from a rich family. I honestly didn’t think he had enough in common with Bella to stay with her for long.” My words were true. It wasn’t until I found out that Edward Cullen was a bloodsucking leech that had abandoned the girl of my (then) dreams in the forest that my hatred had blossomed. As if Bella Swan could be anyone’s castoff . . . “So, you didn’t think he was good enough for Mom.” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Honestly no, Nessie. But I didn’t really think anyone was good enough for my best friend.” I shot Seth a look that pointedly said ‘Help me.’ “I didn’t think anyone was good enough for Bella either Nessie. It wasn’t until I saw how devoted Edward was to her that I really started to believe he loved her the way she deserved to be loved. None of us really wanted to see Bella make that kind of decision, but I think everything turned out for the best in the end!” Seth’s reassuring grin and the sound of finality in his words saved me from the firing squad again as Nessie retreated from her posture as high inquisitor and returned to cracking jokes at both my expense and Seth’s expense. The combined merriment of Yuri’s giggles and Nessie’s laughter quickly turned the reflective mood of the table back towards light-hearted enjoyment. The grains of sand plummeted even more quickly now. Time was nearly up. After watching an unusually gory horror flick and joking through the main characters’ bad decisions with loud remarks and stilted guffaws, we began making our way towards the main entrance of the movie theater to go home. “Yuri?”

The voice made my blood boil in my veins. I turned around swiftly and felt my hands clench into fists at my sides as I breathed deeply to prevent my arms from trembling in reaction to the anger coursing through my body. “Nate!” Yuri responded in surprise. “What are you doing out with . . . Renesmee?” Nate asked curiously. He was standing in the middle of a group flanked by another arrogant looking boy who vaguely resembled him and a few other harmless lackeys. I noticed that he appeared to be trying very hard to avoid looking at Nessie. “Nessie and I go to school together. What are you doing here? I would have thought your crowd was over the whole movie-thing years ago. Are there no more lives left to destroy?” Yuri spat out bitterly at her half-brother. He smirked at Yuri in amusement. “You’ve always had quite a temper little sis. Who’s your friend?” He arched a dark eyebrow in the direction of Seth. Seth had taken a stance of protectiveness around Yuri, and the frown that etched lines into his face looked unnatural and unusually aggressive. “My name is Seth Clearwater. I’m a friend of Jacob’s . . . you might say we run in the same . . . crowd.” His choice of words was clear. Nate did not miss the inference as his eyes widened and his smirk faded. He lifted his head and narrowed his blue eyes dangerously as the boy who resembled him moved to take a more defensive posture. “Oh, for the love of God . . . would you guys quit it with all the innuendos and ego-baiting?” Nessie said loudly. It was unmistakable. As soon as Nate heard Nessie’s voice, his entire face softened noticeably. His shoulders relaxed. A wave of calm collectedness rippled through his frame. No. A thousand times, no. I clenched my fists even more tightly as he turned his gaze carefully onto Nessie. “Renesmee. It’s good to see you again. I’m glad you made it home safely the other night.” No thanks to you . . . his glare in my direction conveyed the words he refused to say aloud. Oh, hell no. This overgrown bird did not just imply that I did something wrong . . . I took a step in his direction menacingly. Nessie reached up and put her hand on my chest. “Stop it. Both of you. Let’s go Jake.” I did not move. I continued staring into eyes that were filled with frigid evil. Eyes that would have done me harm if they had remained unchecked. I refused to back down. “I’ll go Renesmee. We have to meet some friends anyway. If you’re up for racing, let me know. It should be a lot of fun. You know where to find us.” He smiled at her, and the genuineness of the look contrasted sharply with my perception of him and of his glare from only a moment ago. This was bad. Really damn bad. “Take care,” he murmured as his eyes gently took in one final glance of Nessie’s beautiful face. My mind was reeling in horror. I knew what that look meant . . . but I didn’t want to believe that it was possible. I watched as the elegant thug made a gesture towards his posse and began moving towards the opposite end of the building. Hurriedly, I took Nessie’s hand and began walking quickly towards the exit and into the darkened night. The breeze swirled the dead leaves at our feet and the only thing I could hear was the crunching of their remains beneath our shoes. My anxiety at having run into McFadden again made me single-minded in my purpose to get us all home as soon as possible.

“What a jerk!” Yuri said angrily as we continued the swift pace down the deserted streets towards the car parked near the restaurant. I should have moved it. Why on earth had I thought this was a good night to walk? “I can’t believe he’s related to you,” Seth stated in quiet agreement. I could see the car in the distance. I quickened my stride. “Jeez Jake! Slow down! Where’s the fire?” Nessie said with irritation. As I turned to retort back at her, a hooded figure suddenly appeared out of nowhere . . . blocking our path. We came to a halt as I dragged Nessie’s protesting body behind me protectively. “Get out of the way,” I said furiously. The hooded figure was wearing a mask over his face that hid his features from our view. The shadows from the trees made it difficult to distinguish the color of his eyes. Seth stepped forward to stand right next to me with Yuri clutching onto the back of his shoulder in worry. “Now,” Seth snarled. The figure said nothing. I moved to take a step forward to push him out of the way. “No! Jake!” Nessie screamed when she saw what he was holding in his hand. I barely processed the glint of silver metal as the hooded figure raised his hand menacingly and took aim while I struggled with Nessie to prevent her from stepping in front of me. A resounding bang echoed through the trees around us, and a puff of smoke made the air hazy and filled with the scent of gunpowder. I braced my body for the inevitable impact. Nothing happened. As I focused in front of me, I saw a glint of silver hanging in the air mere inches from my chest. The bullet lay frozen in space, still spinning lazily and fixed in the direction of its spiraling trajectory. Dumbfounded, I turned to look at Seth in shock. He was gazing with dismay at Yuri’s outstretched hand. Yuri Chung had just possibly saved my life. She dropped her hand, and the bullet fell with a small sound that reminded me of a coin hitting the ground. The shooter snarled in anger and surprise before turning around and bolting through the trees. I made a move to follow him, and Nessie grabbed my arm forcefully. “No you don’t! If you’re going in there, I’m going in there. So make a decision . . . either we both go, or none of us does!” she shrieked. “Nessie,” I began protesting heatedly. “No! Never! I’m not going to . . . I’m not going to watch again as someone tries to kill you!” The note of hysteria in her voice forced me to ignore my intended murderer’s race through the woods as I pulled Nessie into my arms roughly. All four of us ran back to the car without a word. Seth kept looking at Yuri as though he were afraid she was about to crumble to pieces. After the last levitation incident with the

boulder, her fierce look of determination was the only thing that made me believe that wouldn’t be the case. “Is everyone okay?” Seth demanded as I sped through the winding roads towards the house. No one answered. “We can’t call the police, can we?” Yuri asked as if she already knew the answer. “No . . . I don’t know how we would explain how the bullet missed its mark,” I said wryly. “Did anyone get a good look at who it was?” Seth persisted. “No . . . but I have an idea,” I growled. McFadden was a dead man. “Jake . . .” Nessie stopped herself before completing the thought. “What?” I said a bit too forcefully as the anger continued its rapid path through my system. “Nevermind . . . Yuri . . . I don’t know what to say to you for . . . saving Jake.” I watched in dismay as Nessie’s hands trembled in her lap and her voice filled with agony as the words died on her lips. “It’s okay Nessie. I was so afraid . . . I thought . . . I thought it wouldn’t work,” Yuri said quietly. “But it did work,” Seth said in admiration. Yuri focused her attention bravely on him. “All I could think . . . all that came into my head at that moment . . . was that he might be aiming at you,” Yuri whispered as she looked into Seth’s eyes. Her face was filled with an emotion I understood all too well. Seth took in a quick breath and then reached over to pull Yuri into his arms. She shyly leaned her face into his chest as he held her there with his eyes closed. Seth buried his face in Yuri’s black hair and breathed deeply. My heart ached at the thought of losing either of them . . . and my heart burned in untamed fury at the idea of Nessie being so near to a gun pointed at us. I peeled into the garage and switched off the car. Even before we had all stepped outside of the vehicle, Bella had yanked open the door leading to the garage and bolted outside. Her eyes were huge, and her lips were drawn back over her white teeth in rage. “Jake . . . you have to take me. Take me to McFadden’s house. Right now,” she said with an enraged voice. “What? Where’s Edward?” I demanded. “He left to go find Nate! He didn’t tell me exactly what happened. One moment we were sitting together and talking, and the next instant he howled in anger and took off. He told me not to go anywhere. He told me to stay right here. Alice let me know what happened after he left. He can’t go by himself! Take me there right now!” Bella’s voice was filled with a toxic mixture of panic and wrath. The door to the garage opened again. “We’re going,” Jasper said, his voice filled with menacing intent as he and Emmett walked over to Emmett’s Range Rover. “Take me!” Bella gasped. “No,” Jasper said quietly. “I promised Edward when he called just now that you would not leave this house tonight.” “Em!” she pleaded.

“Sorry Bells . . . Edward said no,” Emmett responded. They both got into the car and backed out of the garage fluidly, tires squealing. “You have to take me Jacob! I can’t let anything happen to Edward. He’s not thinking straight! He was so furious! He didn’t even take Emmett and Jasper with him . . . if he sees Nate, he won’t wait until they get there. I can’t let that happen! We have no idea what we’re dealing with! If you’re not going to take me, then tell me where they are!” Bella’s heartbreaking pleas were extremely difficult for me to ignore. “Mom . . .” Nessie began. “Renesmee! Don’t do it!” I said loudly. I knew that Nessie was about to tell Bella where to find Nate McFadden as I recalled his parting words to her. “Fine!” Bella yelled. “I’ll just go to look for him myself!” She made a move to snatch the keys from my hand, and I attempted to hold her back. Bella hissed in fury and leaped towards my outstretched hand. In an attempt to calm her down, I pulled her into my chest and wrapped my arms around her, pinning her granite hands behind her back. “Let me go Jacob Black, or else I’ll punch you in the face! This time, my hand won’t be the thing that breaks!” she gasped. “Stop it Bells,” I said soothingly. “Calm down sweetheart. Everything will be fine. Edward’s too smart to walk into a trap. Jasper and Emmett will be with him soon. Nothing’s going to hurt them. Don’t worry,” I murmured rapidly in an attempt to assuage Bella. Her shoulders continued to heave in my arms with her ragged breaths, but she stopped struggling. Just then, Alice came running through the door with a look of dismay on her face as she took in the picture of Bella in my arms. Confused, I looked back at her questioningly. Her eyes were wide with alarm as she glanced over my shoulder. “You stupid dog,” she murmured with pity. “No . . .” I heard Nessie’s whispered voice. Immediately, I turned to look at her. Her eyes were glazed over in abject horror, and her gaze was focused on me . . . holding her mother in an embrace. “It can’t be,” she said hauntingly. “Not . . . Mom,” she breathed. I released Bella quickly. “Nessie, I . . .” “You . . . were in love with . . . Mom?” she gasped wretchedly. “Nessie baby, just wait a second,” Bella tried to reason with her. “No!” Nessie cried out. “I can’t even . . . how could you . . . MY MOTHER?!” she screeched. I just stood there like an idiot. I had no idea what to say. “I have to get out of here! Please! Someone help me get out of here!” Nessie pleaded. “Honey, you should just stay here and talk about it,” Alice said kindly. “I can’t! I just need to go think!” Nessie looked around her wildly trying to find a way to escape. Rosalie appeared in the doorway. She tossed Nessie the keys to the Saleen. “Don’t go far sweetie,” she murmured. Nessie fled to her car and gunned the engine as she roared down the driveway.

My posture had not changed. I blinked rapidly as my mind processed what had just happened. The last grain of sand had run out. Time’s up. Chapter 24: Unraveling – Renesmee This cannot be happening to me. I punched the accelerator on my new car even harder and the engine growled in response as I felt my neck smash against the headrest. I shook my head and closed my eyes in an attempt to banish the image seared indelibly into my mind. Jake holding my Mom in an embrace. My initial reaction to that scene in the garage had been difficult to understand. At first, it seemed odd to me . . . I tried to recall a time when Jake had ever taken Mom into his arms. Usually, Mom was the one who reached over to Jake for a hug. When I stopped to think about it, Jake rarely touched her unless it was in jest. The only times I could recall Jake touching Mom were not in the presence of my Dad, which seemed weird to me. My quick pang of reactionary jealousy was also an interesting phenomenon to experience when it regarded my own mother. The pail of ice water doused onto my head had come with the realization that this scene was awkward only to me. Jake and Mom looked completely natural and unfazed standing with their arms intertwined and her head on his chest. This was not the first time Jake had held my Mom in his arms . . . and Jake knew it wasn’t something Dad liked to see. Click. It was as if I had been observing a pointillist painting from too close a vantage point. With each step backwards, the picture became more and more clear. The proof was incontrovertible. My jealousy. Their comfort. Jacob Black had loved Isabella Swan at some point in the past. The man I loved had loved another. My own mother. How could Dad even stomach looking at Jake? If I were Dad, I’d rather annihilate him than smile with welcome day in and day out. I exhaled as my overloaded mind threatened to release some of the tension building up in a flood of angry tears. This was all too much. I felt so helplessly out of control. I had suspected there was a glaring hole in the story my parents had begun to piece together for me during the past week. For one thing, Jake had been so absent from the tale. It was as if my parents were consciously trying to avoid even mentioning him as much as possible. I should have known better when Mom said that Jake had ‘been there for her’ when my Dad left. I knew from putting together bits of other conversations that Jake had been around for a lot of their relationship, but I never had any concrete indication that he was an important piece of the puzzle. Now it was clear that he had been much more than that. Jake had not liked my Dad. I could see that fact written all over his face in our interaction at the restaurant earlier tonight. In fact, if I had to guess, Jake had hated Edward Cullen. I gasped as I realized something else. Jake had tried to keep my parents apart. He was the person Mom had loved and had to hurt so that she could be with Dad.

Was I some sort of consolation prize!? Second choice!? Some kind of freakin’ runner up!? I tried to banish these hurtful and irrational thoughts from my mind, but the pain was too fresh. I felt utterly powerless. Tonight, a gun had gone off perilously close to me. I’d also discovered I was a part of a love story worthy of Greek tragedy. Oedipus would probably laugh at me. Well, there was something I could control, I thought with a renewed sense of determination. I knew where Nate McFadden was. If he had tried to shoot Jacob, I would find out myself . . . and kick his sad ass straight to hell where it belonged. I spun my car in an illegal u-turn and repositioned it in the direction of the stretch of empty road Nate had described by his home. As my body found purpose and direction, my sluggishly overwhelmed mind began to deal with a thought that had entered it as soon as Jake proclaimed to know the perpetrator of his near-death experience. I didn’t actually think Nate had done it. I couldn’t explain myself, so I had ignored my instincts and remained silent on the matter. Even now, it was difficult for me to rationalize why I felt as though Nate would not do something like that. All the evidence proved he definitely had that kind of capacity for evil. I don’t know. I just didn’t feel as though he could do that . . . to me. I had begun to suspect that Nate might actually care for me. Something about the way he looked at my face . . . At times, Nate reminded me a bit of my Dad. I knew it was ridiculous to think this way because Dad was such an inherently good man, but Nate’s arrogance manifested suave selfawareness that was eerily reminiscent of my elegant Dad. If Nate had been blessed to have the guidance of a father like Grandpa Carlisle and the strong sense of morality that had been cultivated in my Dad, he might have turned out differently, I mused to myself. I continued to drive recklessly fast until I rounded a stretch of road that had been cordoned off for construction, and I proceeded to ignore the warning signs and squealed my tires down the darkened road towards some answers. Channeling my rage at feeling so utterly powerless in my own life, I could feel my heart begin to pound as I saw flashing lights ahead of me and heard the distant rumble of raucous male laughter. Regardless, I would find out if Nate McFadden had threatened Jake’s life tonight. My car curved around a bend and screeched to a halt near a haphazard semi-circle of cars . . . some of them were admiration-worthy, and others were the product of the creative use of junkyard parts. All were some individual’s source of pride. The sleekest of the fleet was most definitely Nate’s black Corvette. I pushed open my door and continued focusing attention on my fury so that I wouldn’t have to deal with my pain. “Renesmee?” Nate’s voice was undeniably excited as he walked away from his group of friends towards me. Low whistles of approval were showered on my new car and on me. I took a deep breath. “Did you do it McFadden?” I demanded. He stopped short when he saw my expression. “What?” he asked. “Did you do it? Answer me!” I said even more loudly. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Did you try to shoot Jake tonight?” I raged. “I repeat . . . What the hell are you talking about?” The look on his face was one of complete confusion. Nevertheless, I needed to feel absolutely certain. “Don’t you dare lie to me Nathan McFadden! In the name of all you might believe in, tell me the truth! Did you or did you not put on a ski mask and aim a gun at Jake tonight?” My voice had become shrill and peevish in its intensity. “Of course not! I don’t believe in much, but I wouldn’t lie to you about something like that . . . and you’d better watch your tone with me Miss Cullen,” Nate said warningly. “Or what? You’ll hit me? If you even try, I’ll kick your ass to kingdom come . . . right in front of your friends!” His eyes narrowed, and I saw a hint of anger flood into his face. Then his lips began to twitch. Before I could process what was happening, he threw his head back and laughed uproariously. His friends just stared at us in shock. “You really would, wouldn’t you?” he said through his amusement. “Why don’t you dare me?” I retorted, but my anger had begun to subside. “I wouldn’t do something that stupid. Is Rin-Tin-Tin okay?” he asked. “He’s fine. I just don’t know what the hell happened.” “Well, rest assured, if I had tried to harm Jacob Black, I would have succeeded,” his cocky smile and easy swagger prompted me to punch his arm yet again. “Shut up!” I demanded. “At least pick a different spot next time Renesmee,” he grimaced as he rubbed his bicep soothingly. “I wouldn’t give you the luxury of escaping even an ounce of pain.” He regarded my wryly. “You really thought I did it, didn’t you?” “What else could I think? I’m not the only one who thinks that way . . . you’d better be telling the truth or Dad will skin you alive and Uncle Jazz will turn you into his next leather jacket.” He laughed again. He had to be telling the truth . . . if he were lying, he was either incredibly stupid or incredibly good at it. I knew he was afraid of my Dad, so he must know the consequences of doing something so ill advised. “Just in case, where is your Dad?” he asked pompously. I could detect an element of concern in his voice, and it prompted me to grin impishly at him. My anger was dissipating at a rapid pace. “He went to your house to look for you.” “No one’s there. My father is most likely at his office. I’m guessing it will take your father sometime to find you . . .” A gleam had come into his eyes as his sentence trailed off suggestively. I should have been alarmed at his words and expression. And yet again, I could not shake the feeling that Nathan McFadden wouldn’t hurt me. Maybe I was naïve, as my Dad had quietly suggested to my Mom when he thought I wasn’t within earshot. “Did you have something in mind?” I said as I arched my eyebrows.

He looked over at my car and then back at his car. “You. Me. Fifteen miles. Now.” I couldn’t help the thrill that coursed through my veins. The practical side of me demanded that I leave immediately before I got myself into any more trouble. Tonight had been full of risks already. Hot on its heels came the realization that going home meant having to deal with my family and the harsh slap of reality I had been dealt less than half an hour ago. My conflict was resolved quickly. Practicality be damned. “What does the winner get?” I demanded. He paused as he looked at me carefully. His expression was unfathomable . . . Again, I felt as though Nate might have feelings for me. “I’d like a kiss,” he said with a half-smile. “Fat chance in hell,” I retorted. “What do you want?” he asked. “Tell you what. I’ll let you know what I’ve won after I smoke you on the road,” I grinned as I spun around towards my car. We lined both our vehicles up along a boundary designated by one of Nate’s racing buddies. His friends had queued up against the trees to watch in eagerness. I was certain that none of them had ever beaten Nate and his supercharged beauty . . . my car was their first serious rival. We were racing until the road dead-ended into the mountain ahead . . . approximately fifteen miles of torturously winding lanes. I rolled down my windows. Nate did the same. He winked arrogantly at me as he began revving his engine in an attempt to psych me out. I yawned theatrically. “Sorry baby. I know that a gentleman usually lets the lady win . . .” “Don’t kid yourself. You’re no gentleman McFadden, and I’m certainly not a lady,” I shouted back. Dad was going to be furious. He chuckled again. A tall guy walked in between our cars and raised his arms in the air to signal readiness. I focused on the road in front of me. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. If I beat Nate, it would totally be worth the three-hour lecture I would receive once I returned home. The tall guy dropped his arms to his sides in a quick motion. I punched the accelerator in the same instant as Nate. Shifting rapidly, I glanced to my left to see Nate keeping up with me . . . frowning, I kicked the car into high gear. The wind roared past me and tangled my hair in a tornado-like frenzy around my head. Our tires squealed as we rounded the first curve neck-in-neck. The odometer eked past 150 miles per hour. A slow grin had begun to spread onto my cheeks at the thrill of the speed. . . I tried to cling to it, but for the first time, it was not enough. I couldn’t stop thinking about Jake. I wanted him to be here with me so badly. The rush of emotions snaking through my body only made the hurt even more acute. I couldn’t believe that all this time, everyone had hidden Jake’s love for my Mom from me. Now that I was faced with the fact, I had to admit that it made total sense. Everyone loved Mom . . . she was impossible not to love. I knew that it was irrational for me to expect that Jake had not cared for any other woman in his life. He had lived for around seventeen years prior to my birth. The problem was that the newly discovered jealous side of me had desperately wanted to hate this faceless girl of Jake’s past dreams. Now it was utterly impossible. I couldn’t hate my own mother. Had they kissed? Oh God . . .

I smashed my foot down to the floor of the car at the thought . . . the odometer teetered dangerously near 180 miles per hour. The roar of the Corvette’s engine beside me was in perfect harmony with the twin-turbo behemoth under the hood of my Saleen. It was almost like a twisted symphony of machinery. I looked to my left again. Nate’s face was filled with delighted awe as we squealed down the last stretch of the race. I could see the wall of the mountain in the distance. Resolutely, I continued pushing my car in an effort to inch past Nate. He wouldn’t give me a millimeter . . . but I was definitely not going to let him beat me. Man, he was going to be pissed. In a last ditch attempt at dominance, I slowed down quickly to slingshot in front of Nate’s car using the force of his trailing airflow. Realizing what I was trying to do, he redirected the tail end of his car out of reach. Irritated, I floored the engine again. Almost . . . We spun out as our brakes squealed to a halt by the stone face of the mountain with inches to spare. Our cars were facing each other. My chest was heaving. Nate’s eyes glittered with a strong emotion as he looked directly at me. He opened his car door and raced over to my Saleen. I thought he was going to beg me to say he won so that he wouldn’t have to lose face in front of his friends by admitting that he had tied with a girl, but he yanked open my car door and pulled me from my seat quickly and into his arms. Shock was the only emotion I could register. “You’re absolutely fearless . . . and completely breathtaking. Why did it have to be this way?” he murmured. “I don’t even know why I’m saying this . . . but I can’t lie to myself anymore.” “What are you talking about?” My voice was muffled against his muscular shoulder. My arms were resting limply at my sides. I should have pushed him and slapped the crap out of his cheek for touching me, but I didn’t. He pulled his face away so that he could look into my eyes. “I love you Renesmee. I’ve never loved anything before in my entire life . . . but I love you.” My eyes nearly bugged out of my head as I comprehended his words. I tried to see a joke, a lie, or a manipulation in his expression. All I saw was . . . love. Incredible. Satan had a heart after all. A different kind of rush began its passage through my bloodstream. I loved Jake. I knew I did. I knew no other love outside of my family. And yet . . . I didn’t stop Nate as he slowly began to lower his face to mine. The adrenaline from our race was still blazing through my frame. He took his time . . . he was giving me the chance to stop him. My heart broke as I thought again of Jake holding my mother like this . . . possibly kissing her. Conflicted, I made no move to prevent Nate from moving ever closer to me. He took in a quick breath before carefully placing his lips on my lips. They quickly became ever more demanding as he raised his hands to tangle in my windblown hair. Nate was not afraid. I was shocked when I raised my hands around his neck and began kissing him back. No. This was wrong. Stop it Nessie. He dragged me against his body. I felt none of the careful restraint in him that frustrated me whenever I kissed Jake. Jake was so safe and warm. Nate was nothing like him. He was totally wrong. This was totally wrong. No! I heard the roar of two engines in the distance following along the trail we had just completed. I put my hands firmly on Nate’s chest and pushed him away as headlights came into view.

Damn. The white angular lights of a Lamborghini are impossible to mistake. My Dad’s car screeched to a halt and the driver’s door opened simultaneously. Uncle Emmett’s Range Rover was in the distance and gaining at a rapid pace. Dad was livid. I had never seen him this awesomely furious before. “I warned you McFadden! I told you what would happen! I’m going to tear you apart limb from limb and feed you to the werewolves!” he bellowed. “I didn’t do it! I didn’t try to kill that overgrown dog! If I wanted to kill him, he’d be dead already!” Nate spat back at my Dad. Dad hissed in fury. The Range Rover stopped beside him and Uncle Em and Uncle Jazz slid from the car soundlessly to stand behind Dad. “Look into my mind you blood-drinking maniac! I didn’t do it!” “Is he telling the truth Edward?” Uncle Jazz asked quietly. My Dad’s jaw was trembling with unchecked anger. “You’re still a dead man. How dare you put your hands on my daughter?” he said in a dangerously low voice. “What?” Uncle Em demanded. He began moving towards Nate with a single-minded purpose. “Stop!” I said quickly. The look of surprise registered on all three of their faces in the same instant. “I came here. Nate didn’t do anything wrong. I knew I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. I was . . . hurt. This is my fault,” I admitted rapidly. I silently pleaded with Dad as I gave him unfettered access into my mind, replaying the scene from earlier in the evening. Another set of headlights came into view. No, no, no! The roar of an old Mustang filled the darkness. Oh God, no! Jake’s tall form materialized into view in moments. He took one look at the scene in front of him and began running towards Nate with a look of unrestrained rage. Seth managed to grab hold of him just in time. Dad nearly choked on his fury as he digested my words and thoughts. “He kissed her. Kissed my daughter! How dare you?” “Seth!” I exclaimed in warning for Seth to hold onto Jake as I ran to my Dad before he could get his hands around Nate’s throat. “I love her!” Nate shouted into the night. All six bodies froze at the words. “Excuse me?” Jake gasped incredulously. Nate ignored Jake. “I love her Edward. Look into my thoughts. You’ll see I’m telling the truth. I know I’ve done nothing to make you think I could ever deserve a woman like her, but I swear to you . . . I love her more than anything in my life. If you’ll give me the chance, I can be the person you . . . ” “Enough!” Dad yelled. “Do you think that for a moment I would consider you on your best day to be suitable for my only child?” Even through his anger, I could see that his face was filled with shock. Nate must be telling the truth.

“You stay the hell away from Nessie!” Jake shouted with fury. “Why don’t you ask her what she wants?” Nate demanded. “She doesn’t want you,” Dad snarled back viciously. “Maybe not today, but you should give her the choice regardless,” Nate maintained. This was going downhill much too rapidly. I needed to stop this while I still had the chance. I needed to stop this before someone else got hurt. “Nate,” I said quietly. “This is not the time or the place to talk about this. Too much has happened to me tonight. I’m sorry for putting you in this bad position. It won’t happen again.” He opened his mouth to speak, and I pleaded silently with him to say nothing. I turned to face my family. “I’m so sorry. I’ll come home now. I behaved wretchedly . . . please forgive me.” Lastly, I shifted my gaze awkwardly towards Jake and Seth. “I’m sorry I made you worry Jacob.” It hurt to see him . . . my love, my heart. For some inexplicable reason, I felt betrayed by him. How ironic. I had kissed another man, and I felt betrayed. Maybe I didn’t deserve Jake, maybe I didn’t deserve to be happy . . . I saw my Dad’s eyes close painfully as he heard my thoughts. “Nessie,” Jake began desperately. “I’m sorry Jake. I can’t deal with anything else right now. Let’s just go home. I’m begging all of you.” The tremor in my voice sealed my plea. I turned towards my car and stepped inside. I felt hollow . . . like a husk of myself. The engine turned over, and I began making my way at a much more cautious pace back down the road that had led to nowhere. Chapter 25: Unraveling – Bella Tensions in our home were unbelievably high. Even though Jasper constantly fought to control the emotions around him, the stress of dealing with recent events had our nerves wound tight, like a guitar string ready to snap. Esme and Carlisle had left to go hunting to escape the building strain. Only Emmett seemed impervious to this effect. Edward was frowning a lot. His beautiful face constantly wore the expression of a man dealing with too much. Each time I asked him to talk to me about it, he would force a wry smile and then pull me close. He said that the inner turmoil of those he cared for was not something he felt comfortable talking about right now, with so many ears around to listen. Edward never overtly abused his gift. He was the consummate gentleman. Surprisingly, I knew that his greatest cause for concern lay in the fragile psyche of Jacob Black. Jake had been a nervous wreck over the last few days. Ever since that night a few days ago when Nate had confessed his . . . love . . . for my baby girl, Jake had basically existed on pins and needles. I felt awful for him. He just couldn’t catch a break on any side. Love had tortured him for way too long. The doorbell rang again, distracting me from my thoughts. Oh no. This was the third time today. Jacob was going to freak out again. Edward left his post in the chair where he had been reading the news while rubbing my leg absentmindedly. I put my book down and stood up to go downstairs. Poor Jake.

Compounding his anxiety was the fodder that Nate routinely tossed into the fire of doubt burning in Jake’s soul. For the past week, Nate had sent roses and jewelry to our home as gifts for Nessie multiple times a day. She always politely refused to accept the jewelry, but the constant reminder of Nate’s zealous pursuit was further fraying Jake’s tenuous hold on sanity. Pounding footsteps flew down the stairs ahead of us. I could see the tension in Jake’s frame as he jumped the last few steps to stand by the front door with Seth. Poor, poor man. If it took nearly everything for me to control my fury at the fact that a demon from hell was basically trying to win my daughter’s love, I could only imagine the suffering of my best friend. I couldn’t even look at Edward right now because the frustration I sensed on his face was too much for me to bear. He had yelled passionately at Nessie for several hours the morning following her racing escapade. She had silently listened and said nothing during his tirade. It was extremely surprising. Usually, she fought like a cornered alley cat whenever anyone tried to point out her poor decision-making abilities, but she merely apologized to us and gave Edward a chance to vent. The only good thing that seemed to be coming out of this terrible situation was the fact that Nessie appeared to be maturing quickly from a stubborn girl into a thoughtful young woman. She never made a fuss over the attention being showered upon her by Nate, and she usually gave the flowers to Rosalie, Alice, and Esme. Occasionally, she offered them to me, but I always disposed of them quickly. Expensive or not, the beautiful red roses offended me. Rosalie quietly handed Nessie a thick ivory envelope with her name printed on the front in elegant calligraphy. Nessie looked over at Jake’s tortured faced for a moment and walked towards the nearest wastebasket. Without bothering to open the letter, she dropped it and silently turned to go back up the stairs. Jake frowned in irritation and marched over to the wastebasket. Nessie whirled around. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “I’m curious to see what a love letter written by Satan looks like,” he said morosely. “Jake, just let it go,” I murmured. Nessie ran back to him and tried to snatch the letter from his hand as he tore it open. “Why are you doing this? Are you really that big of a masochist?” she cried. The painful tightening in Jacob’s eyes as he read the letter tore at my heartstrings. “Ha! The jackass can’t even compose his own love letter. He has to steal that too.” He dropped the paper onto the floor and strolled dejectedly into the kitchen. Nessie ran after him in the third attempt of the day to assuage his battered ego. Edward bent over to pick up the discarded letter. His vampiric mind processed the short poem within mere moments. I saw his teeth clench and the muscles ripple in his jaw as he handed it to me. Renesmee: I don’t have the words to adequately describe my feelings, so forgive me for borrowing the poetry of a much more erudite soul . . . i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling) i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true) and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) e. e. cummings With Deepest Affection, Nate I hated him. The loathing in me grew exponentially. That worm actually believed he had a chance. I tore the letter in half and threw it away. I heard the sound of Nessie’s exasperated voice grow in volume in the next room. “Look, you’re being ridiculous. I haven’t even . . . I don’t . . . Do you really want me to ask if you ever sent love letters to someone else?” She sighed after finishing her sentence. I could hear the conflict in her voice. She was trying so hard. I couldn’t imagine how hard it was for her to conceive of Jake loving her own mother. If I were Nessie, I’d desperately want to hate the ‘other’ girl. I remembered my irrational panic whenever I had first heard of Tanya . . . and this situation was a hundred times worse. I glanced at Edward, and we both began walking towards Nessie and Jacob in the kitchen. “Ask away. I certainly never sent anyone a cheesy-ass love poem,” Jake muttered. “You know what? Sometimes girls like things like that, even if they are cheesy!” “So now you want love letters from Satan?” he accused. “Oh, grow up! I didn’t even read it! You’re the one obsessed with this stuff! It doesn’t even matter to me! If . . .” “Hey now,” I said with a cheerful smile, “Let’s not go through this again.” “Fine! I’m going to be upstairs watching the game with Seth!” Jake huffed like a little boy denied dessert and stomped out of the room gracelessly. “God! What am I going to do with him?” Nessie groaned. “Sweetheart, you’re doing such a great job. I’m really proud of how mature you’re being about all of this,” Edward said kindly. Nessie looked at his face hopefully.

“No, you’re still grounded indefinitely,” he smirked. “I think I’m going to have to tell Nate to stop sending me things. I don’t know when he’s going to take the hint!” Nessie remarked. “Men can be really stubborn sometimes,” I stated. Nessie chewed her lower lip thoughtfully as she regarded me. “It’s okay sweetie. You can ask her,” Edward whispered. “Mom . . . how did you handle this?” Her face flushed a bit. I reached over to take her hand. “It was really hard. I don’t know how similar my situation is though. I knew how much I loved your father, but I also cared very much for . . . Jacob. It’s a little different for you, isn’t it?” The inflection in my voice showed how much I hoped that was the case. “It’s not that I . . . care about Nate. At least I don’t think I do. Mostly I feel so . . . I don’t know . . . bad for him. I complain about everyone being in my business a lot, but I have such a great family. I get the feeling that Nate has never had that. I keep hearing him say in my mind that he’s never loved anything before. It kind of breaks my heart. Imagine not having something to love! I don’t really know how I feel about him,” she admitted. I could see Edward and I mirroring the expression on each of our faces as we considered her words. The ringing of the phone distracted us from our musings. I walked over to the cordless handset sitting on the kitchen island. “Hello?” “Hi. May I please speak to Renesmee?” McFadden. My eyes narrowed. I thought about telling him to harass some other family for a while. Nessie’s words from only a moment ago made me stop myself from commenting on Nate’s psychotic level of persistence. He really seemed almost pitiful to me. I wordlessly handed the phone to Nessie. “Hello?” My acute sense of hearing registered everything Nate said with almost perfect clarity. “Renesmee? I’m sorry to keep bothering you. I saw that you sent back the earrings from earlier today. Did you not like them?” She sighed. “Nate . . . it’s not that I didn’t like them. They were beautiful. I just can’t accept gifts like that.” “Why not?” Even when he was in love, Nate could not hide the arrogance in his voice. “I have a boyfriend. I can’t take expensive gifts from other men. It’s improper.” “I think that’s ridiculous. You’re not married. I don’t see what the big deal is. Whenever a man wants to show a woman he cares about her, this is what he does,” he stated matter-offactly. “Do you really believe that? Do you think that if you keep buying things for me, I’ll start to fall in love with you?” she asked gently. “Isn’t that how it works?” he demanded. “No. At least not with me. Love is . . . so much more than that.”

“Tell me. I want to do things the right way. I . . . don’t really know what to do. Can’t you teach me what I need to do to make you realize how much I care about you?” I was shocked to feel a pang of true pity for Nathan McFadden. “I can’t Nate. I’m so sorry. My heart is . . . not mine to give anymore. It belongs to someone else,” she whispered. He paused for a moment. “So there’s no chance?” “No. I’m really so very sorry.” She grimaced. “I’m not going to give up. I can wait.” His tone became renewed in its firmness. “Please don’t wait. There’s no point. Goodbye Nate.” She hung up the phone quickly. Jake’s thudding footsteps could be heard as he rushed towards the front door. Edward, Nessie, and I raced into\ the foyer. “Jake?” Nessie demanded. “Where are you going?” I asked. “I can’t take this anymore! I’m finished sitting around watching him send her flowers, jewelry, and love poems! Now he’s calling her? He’s trying to convince her that I don’t deserve her . . . and I won’t sit by another second and let him get away with it!” he yelled. “Stop it! You’re not going anywhere Jacob Black!” Nessie shouted back. “No! I can’t deal with this anymore. Not this time. I won’t! I won’t let you be stolen away from me by an arrogant bloodsucker!” he raged. Edward hissed slowly. Nessie’s eyes widened. I looked down at the floor. No Jake. No. “You mean ‘warlock’, don’t you Jake?” Nessie said coldly. I could hear the hurt in her voice. Jacob’s faced paled considerably when he realized his error. “You’re just being a jealous idiot. I refuse to let you act like a sore winner. You walk out that door, and you would have done more to prove Nathan’s case than anything he’s said or done so far,” Nessie stated bitingly. Jake looked pleadingly at Edward for a moment. “It’s the only way. You have to step back. No matter how hard it is . . . you won’t help anything by instigating an altercation. You may not be able to stop yourself from . . . making an irreversible mistake. Trust me. Leave it alone.” Edward said quietly. “I don’t think I can do that Edward,” Jake groaned with exasperation. “You need to try harder Jake. Have some faith in me, have some faith in us. I love you so much. Nothing is going to change that,” Nessie murmured. She walked over to him and put her right palm over his heart. He closed his eyes tightly and placed both his large hands over hers as he lowered his forehead to press against Nessie’s brow. Edward’s cell phone began vibrating in his pocket. When he failed to recognize the number on his caller ID, he stood considering whether or not he should answer it. “It could be Yuri. She’s supposed to come and hang out. I think she might be running late,” Nessie said nonchalantly. Edward flipped open his phone. “Edward Cullen,” he clipped.

“Edward. This is Niall McFadden. I apologize for troubling you. I don’t want to take too much of your time, but I feel as though we should speak privately with one another.” “Regarding?” “My son. I understand that he has developed . . . feelings for your daughter. I’m well aware of the fact that this may not be the most ideal match in your mind. My son is . . . deeply troubled by this. I’m not certain I completely understand the situation. I’d like the opportunity to speak with you on his behalf,” he stated graciously. Edward’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “I don’t think there is a need for that. Nevertheless, I’m fine with speaking on the phone.” “I don’t mind coming over to your home at a time that is convenient for you,” Niall replied as he ignored Edward’s previous statement. “I’d prefer not. The situation here is . . . less than ideal for that.” He glanced quickly at Jacob. “I suspected as much. I can send a chauffeured car for you and your wife.” “That won’t be necessary. I’ll be coming alone,” Edward said firmly. My eyes widened in protest. “I’m at home currently. When may I expect you? Would now be a bad time?” Niall’s voice sounded strangely eager. It furthered my resolved. Edward was not going without me. “I’ll arrive shortly.” Edward pressed the phone shut. “Bella, I don’t want you to go,” he began before I could even get a word out. “No!” I squeaked. “I won’t negotiate on this,” he said in an unyielding voice. “And I won’t negotiate on you going to see Niall McFadden alone! Not today. Not ever.” I fixed my face with an expression of fierce determination. “I’ll go with you Edward,” Jasper said as he moved from his place of silent observation. Emmett leapt from the second floor landing and merely grinned at us as he stood next to Jasper in a show of solidarity. “Are you sure?” Edward asked both of them. Jasper arched his left eyebrow in response. “Like you even had to ask!” Emmett said with a laugh. “She’s my daughter! Why can’t I go?” I demanded. I knew I was fighting a losing battle, but it just didn’t seem fair. “Because I don’t trust Niall. He claims to merely want to talk about this uncomfortable situation, and yet . . . there’s something overtly sinister to all of this. Basically, you’re not going anywhere near the McFaddens. Neither is Nessie. In fact, I’d feel much better knowing you two are safe and together at home.” “It’s not like I can go anywhere anyway. I’m grounded for a hundred years,” Nessie complained. “A fact I intend to exploit for situations precisely like this one,” Edward replied. He paused for a moment and looked at Jake. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go Jacob. I’m sorry. I appreciate your desire to help, but it may have the reverse effect.”

I stood there glaring at Edward while they began getting ready to leave for Niall McFadden’s house. I followed them to the garage with my hands crossed over my chest in the age-old sign of irritation. Rosalie was speaking quietly with Emmett. “Please sweetheart. I’ve told you before. You’re my life. Nessie is my greatest treasure. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect both of you,” Edward said as he pulled my rigid frame into his arms. As always, his touch melted my resolve. I wrapped my arms around him begrudgingly. “Come home to me soon. I can’t breathe the air when you’re not with me,” I whispered. He smiled crookedly and bent to kiss me. I waited until the car was out of sight. I really hated when he left me alone. It always made me feel strangely absent from the things going on around me . . . as though I were walking through a thick fog that clouded my senses. Alice was waiting for me in the kitchen. She affectionately took my hand in hers and smiled with a look of calm understanding. In spite of her seemingly unfazed demeanor, I was fairly certain that she suffered from a similar case of discomfort. She worried about Jasper almost as much as he worried about her. “I wish I knew how to handle this situation. I feel like a blind person stumbling my way through a minefield,” I sighed. “Believe me Bella, I feel the same way. I don’t know what’s going to happen! I keep hoping that one day I’ll be able to see Nessie in my visions with more clarity, but it never happens. I only see flitting images and blurred flashes of light. Nothing I can make any sense out of.” Her frustration at not being able to see Nessie’s future had always upset Alice. Her forehead creased minutely. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” I said with a small smile. “I know, I know. I guess we all rely too heavily on my foresight when we deal with difficult events in our lives. It just makes it so much easier when we know where our decisions will lead us!” Again her forehead creased and the corners of her eyes appeared strained. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I keep seeing images of a forest flash in front of me. I don’t understand it.” “Mom?” Nessie asked as she walked down the stairs with Seth and Jacob in tow. Alice and I blurred over to them. They all shared an expression of concern. Rosalie came in from the garage to stand near Nessie. “What is it?” I queried. Seth spoke up first. “Yuri was supposed to be here over an hour ago. I wanted to pick her up myself, but she insisted on driving. We’ve been trying to call her. No one answers her cell or her phone at home.” Seth was trying hard to sound as calm as possible. The look on his face grossly contradicted the even timbre of his voice. “It’s not like Yuri to be this late. She always calls us.” Nessie frowned. “We were thinking we should go and try to look for her,” Jake stated. “Where would you look?” I asked. Before they could respond, I felt Alice’s body stiffen next to mine. Her eyes glazed over.

“The forest. She’s lost in the forest,” Alice whispered. “I’m going. Now. Give me your keys Jake,” Seth said immediately. “Where?” Jake asked Alice. “I don’t know. I just saw her face. She was frightened, and she didn’t know where she was. I think she . . . fell.” Jake grabbed his keys and began walking with Seth towards the door. “Wait, I’m going too!” Nessie stated forcefully. “No. You’re grounded Nessie,” I replied. “Are you serious? Yuri’s lost! I have to go and help!” “I don’t think it would hurt anything if she went with them Bella,” Rosalie murmured. “Your Dad made it very clear. You are not to leave this house.” My voice was firm. “Mom! Please! I can’t just sit here!” she wailed. “No. I’m sorry. Jake and Seth, will you call whenever you hear anything? Do you want me to call the police?” “This sucks!” Nessie shouted. Her face was contorted in anger as she whirled around and ran upstairs. I heard the door to her bedroom slam. “I don’t think we need to contact the police yet. I’ll call you soon,” Jake said. “Alice, will you let us know if you see anything else?” Alice nodded. Jake and Seth left quickly. I sat on the sofa next to Alice, and Rosalie walked over to the window to peer outside. Alice pressed her fingers against her temples and tried to concentrate. Our bodies were so still I was certain we resembled a photograph. The minutes ticked by, and I began staring off into space helplessly waiting for some news. “No!” Alice’s body flew into a standing position in the blink of an eye. Her face made me catch my breath in unrestrained terror. She was horrified. “What is it?” Rose demanded. “Oh my God. Bella, we have to call Jake!” Alice moaned. “What did you see?” I whispered. “I saw Seth . . . he was crouched on the forest floor . . . in agony,” she breathed. “What! Why? Was he hurt?” Rosalie cried. “No . . . he was holding Yuri.” Alice took a deep breath. I grabbed Alice’s hand as she turned to look at me directly in the eyes. I knew what was coming . . . “She was dead.” For a moment, the three of us stood there looking at one another in terrified silence. Only a nanosecond passed before we leaped into action. Alice grabbed the phone to call Jasper. I began dialing Jacob’s number on my cell phone. It rang and cycled to voicemail. “Dammit!” I muttered as I hit redial again. No answer. Why did he always leave his cell phone in the car?

“Jasper’s phone is not in service. I’ll try Edward’s,” Alice said quickly. I could hear Rosalie leaving a message for Emmett. “Why aren’t they answering?” I cried desperately. “We can’t sit around waiting. We have to go to help Jake and Seth before this awful thing happens,” Rosalie stated. “They could be anywhere!” I moaned. “Jacob and Seth smell terrible. It shouldn’t be too hard to pick up their scent if we spread out,” Rose posited. “Bella you take Nessie. We can’t leave her here alone. Rose and I will go first. We’ll meet you there.” Alice grabbed Rosalie’s arm and they both ran towards her yellow Porsche in the garage. I tried to call Edward one last time. All circuits were busy. I heard Alice’s engine roar down the driveway, and I flitted upstairs to knock on Nessie’s door. I could hear the music blaring from her speakers. No one answered. “Nessie? Honey, I need to talk to you,” I said as calmly as possible. No answer. I pushed open the door. The room was empty. Her window was wide open. Crap. She had left her phone on the edge of the bed. I picked it up. There was a text message from Yuri that Nessie had received only twenty minutes ago. It read: ‘I’m in trouble. Call Nate.’ Sure enough, Nessie had placed a phone call to Nathan McFadden immediately after seeing Yuri’s text message. I had a hard time maintaining my calm in the face of the rage roaring through my system. I hit the ‘Redial’ button without hesitation. After this conversation, Nate’s fear of Edward might just pale in comparison to his fear of me. “Hello?” It was not Nate’s voice. It was Colin. “Colin? I need to talk to Nate. Right now,” I said with a voice of steel. “He’s not here. Who’s this?” I could hear latent mockery in his voice. I gritted my teeth. “This is Bella Cullen.” “Like I said, he’s not here.” “He spoke to my daughter, and then she left without our permission. Do you know where they went?” I demanded. “I think he was meeting her at my uncle’s warehouse. Nate is putting together a search party to find his sister. She called him before her cell died. She’s lost in the woods or something.” It was clear by his tone that he didn’t care about Yuri at all. He sounded bored and snide. My instincts were screaming in warning. Why would Yuri call Nate and not us? A search party? It certainly didn’t sound like something Nate would do . . . but he had done some surprising things lately. I thought for a moment. There really wasn’t a choice. I had to make sure my daughter was safe. That was the most important thing. “Where is this warehouse?” The warning screams continued.

Chapter 26: Flux – Renesmee I continued to push my Harley quickly through the forest towards the highway. I hoped Mom, Aunt Ali, and Aunt Rose hadn’t heard me leaving through the window. Hopefully, the combination of their mutual distraction and the loud music emitting from my speakers had been enough to cover my tracks. As soon as I received Yuri’s text message, I had called Nate’s phone. It made no sense to me that Yuri had called her half-brother. She hated him. Maybe she thought he could change into a hawk and find her quickly? I realized that the urgency of the situation meant I didn’t have that much time to ponder her rationalizations. Nate’s cousin Colin had answered the phone. He didn’t seem to care whether or not Yuri was lost when he told me that I should meet Nate in the woods by Yuri’s favorite promontory. She oftentimes went to hike there, and I had to agree that it was the most likely place to begin a search effort. I toyed with the idea of telling my family, but as soon as I opened my bedroom door to go downstairs and tell Mom, I heard Aunt Alice say that she . . . had seen Yuri . . . dead. As soon as the shock wore off, I became puzzled by the fact that Aunt Ali had seen Seth in her vision . . . usually, she couldn’t see the future of any member of Jake’s pack. Someone else must have been there. Someone who made decisions with a foreseeable future. Who was it? Again, time was too important for me to dwell on my thoughts. I did realize that the presence of someone else meant that this was no accident. The puppet strings were being handled by the hands of an outsider. Mom would never let me go to help now. I knew it. If there were a chance that something had caused Yuri’s untimely demise in the forest, Mom would make me stay in my room. I would never be able to save Yuri. She would die in the woods, and I could do nothing about it. I knew I couldn’t even call Jake. He would forbid me from leaving the house as well. It took me less than a second to make up my mind. Grounded or not, I wasn’t going to sit around while my best friend’s life was threatened. I saw the black asphalt ahead of me and quickly gauged that I had pushed my motorcycle far enough away from the house so as not to attract the keen hearing of my family as I revved the engine and sped towards the mountain. I knew I was going to be in so much trouble. I had tried so hard not to further incur my father’s wrath this week, but this situation went far beyond merely getting in trouble for disobeying. The stakes were so much higher. I would suffer through almost anything if it meant that I could save Yuri. Once I pulled over into the forest, I thought again about calling Jake. Jake. My emotions regarding Jacob Black had gone through extreme turmoil over the last few days. Knowing that there was nothing to be done about his history with Mom and Dad, I had tried hard to be mature and look beyond the pain in the realization. It had tormented me a great deal to picture Jake loving my Mom. Dad’s eyes had winced in hurt whenever he saw the thoughts I was unable to hide from his gift. This situation from the past had undoubtedly caused a great deal of suffering for my Dad. It was clear to me that he had been to hell and back to overcome his anguish and smile at Jake without malice. His strength had been the rock that I clung to in my own torment. If Dad had been able to get over this, I could too. I just had to be strong. If I called Jake, would he send me home now? I debated as I reached into my pocket for my cell phone. Damn. I must have left it in my room in my haste to leave.

I walked cautiously through the woods towards the outcropping of rock that Yuri loved to spend time near. She and I had spent several afternoons looking at the spectacular view of Appalachia around us from this point. How had she gotten lost? Yuri knew the forest so well . . . it made no sense to me. The foliage grew thicker around me, and my instincts told me to maintain heightened awareness. Even if the decision to disobey my family had been a stupid one, there was no reason to continue being stupid just for solidarity’s sake. As I made my way ever closer to my destination, I began to pick up scents that did not belong here. Someone or something was out there, and I did not recognize the smell. I focused all my energy on vigilance. And then I recognized Yuri’s distinct scent. I made a beeline in the direction of it. Pushing aside the branches, I saw the cliff looming before me. What I saw in the shadows near the trees on the edge made my heart stop. Yuri’s body was lying prone on the forest floor a few feet away from the drop-off. I began running thoughtlessly towards her. The rustling noise in the trees made me stop short as a figure emerged from behind them next to Yuri. The cold blue eyes of the boy before me were impossible not to recognize even if the face was unfamiliar to me. “Well. Nate always did have excellent taste. I can definitely understand his obsession,” he sneered with a sinister expression as he studied my appearance. I was furious. This must be Colin, the boy I had spoken with whenever I called Nate’s phone. I refused to play games with this jackass. He was a mere human, after all. I could throw him over the cliff with less effort than it took to lift my head from my pillow. Ignoring the look of warning on his face, I proceeded to move towards Yuri. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he said smugly. The flash of silver metal in his right hand instigated a bout of wrath in my system that took every ounce of effort to control. I froze mid-step. Colin McFadden was holding a gun I recognized all too well. The gun he had aimed at Jake only a few days ago. “It was you,” I whispered. “Very good. Smart as well as beautiful. I do admire Nate’s taste . . . even if I only ever get his scraps.” “Let her go,” I said firmly. “No. She’s too important. We’re going to wait right here until my uncle arrives. He’ll be so shocked when he realizes that I was able to pull this off. Maybe then he’ll notice me instead of only caring about Nate. Nate’s been useless recently anyway, thanks to you.” His tone grew in excitement as he considered the possibility of becoming Niall McFadden’s favorite. I took one step forward in disregard of his warning.

“Stay right where you are,” he threatened as he pointed the muzzle of the gun at Yuri’s head. I saw that her feet and hands were bound. She was wearing a blindfold, and a gag had been shoved into her mouth. Her unconscious body was completely still. I heard her faint heartbeat and laborious breathing. It made me even more enraged. “You’re not going to get away with this,” I snarled. I pictured Seth tearing Colin apart piece by piece whenever he saw Yuri’s abused form. “Of course I am. Not only am I going to get away with this, but I’m also going to give my uncle the thing he wants most in the world. Something his own son couldn’t deliver,” Colin stated in self-congratulation. I stood there. Terror crept into my soul. “Uncle Niall ordered Nate to get it for him. Nate didn’t want to hurt you or upset your family. That moron actually thinks he . . . loves . . . you. He disobeyed his father. Now I will be the leader of the coven. My uncle promised.” “What does he want?” My voice was barely audible. I waited for the words to confirm my deepest fears. “Immortality.” I gasped in horror. Oh God no! “And you’re going to give it to him,” he declared forcefully. “Or else . . .” He pointed his weapon more emphatically at Yuri’s head. “I can’t!” I cried. “You will.” The sound of him cocking the gun clicked through the air ominously. “No, you don’t understand . . .” My voice was beginning to show its panic. I heard footsteps crunching in the woods over to the side. They were slow and stilted. A man emerged into the light shining on the cliff’s edge where Colin stood. He was older and grey haired. Each step seemed labored as he progressed forward with the aid of a cane. I could see the resemblance to Nate in his distinguished features. He turned to look at me. “Miss Cullen,” he began in a quietly accented tone. “I do regret that our first encounter is in such an unpleasant situation, but time is not on my side.” “Please, let Yuri go,” I said desperately. “Of course. I will let her go. You will also be free to leave. I wish no harm on either of you.” “Where’s Nate?” Colin interrupted in anticipation. He could not wait to best his cousin at something. “He’s on his way. He transformed so he could arrive quickly.” Niall regarded Colin’s rude infraction with a frown of displeasure. “Let her go! You said you would!” “I will, Miss Cullen. I promise. First, you will give me what I want,” Niall responded simply. “What do you want me to do?” I cried. “Make me into a vampire,” he stated. “I can’t do it! I don’t even know how!”

“You’re lying. The lore I retained states that an injection of vampiric venom into the body will begin the transformation process . . . even I know that,” Niall replied. I heard the hint of anger enter his tone. “I’ve never seen it done! The last transformation in my family was my mother’s. I was an infant at the time!” This was all true, but I knew that my final admission was going to infuriate him. I couldn’t make a vampire because . . . I was not poisonous. This was one of the first things I realized as a child. If I told Niall this, he might hurt Yuri. I had to prolong this altercation for as long as possible. My family was strewn all throughout the forest looking for Yuri. Maybe someone else would find us. I thought about screaming for help . . . but the gun Colin held to Yuri’s head was too big of a risk. “Ah, Nathan is nearly here,” Niall stated as he looked to the skies. Sure enough, a hawk was circling towards us gracefully. As it came closer, it began shimmering with tiny luminescent sparks. Its wings pulled back as the feathers stretched outward. The hawk’s head dipped towards the ground and a small flash of light surrounded it. The light spread quickly and disappeared as it contracted in on itself like a small supernova. In its place was Nate. He was crouched with one knee on the ground elegantly. He stood in a fluid motion. If I were not so terrified, I would be in awe of the magic I had just witnessed. Unlike Jake and the other shapeshifters I knew, Nate was fully-clothed after his transformation . . . that was a trick I was certain Jake would be envious of, I thought to myself. “Renesmee?” Nate said in surprise. “What’s going on here?” “What does it look like? I’ve brought your father the thing you refused to give him,” Colin stated triumphantly. Nate’s eyes narrowed in awareness as he processed Yuri’s inert form and my terrified gaze. “As disappointed as I am to admit it Nathan, what Colin says is true. I still do not understand why you were so resistant to helping me achieve immortality,” Niall remarked ruefully. “Please Nate,” I begged, “Let Yuri go. We can talk about this. Just don’t hurt her. She hasn’t done anything to you!” “He knows that what you ask is impossible until I get what I want. I will achieve immortality and put an end to my suffering. He will not interfere,” Niall responded. Nate looked at me with deep conflict in his face. He reached his hand out to me and retracted it immediately. “For the last time Miss Cullen . . . agree to give me my wish or watch as I take the life of someone precious to you.” Niall’s heartless tone left little room for doubt. I stared at him pleading silently. Please! Someone find us! My eyes flashed around me as I begged the heavens for reprieve. He frowned in anger as he snatched the gun from Colin’s hand and bent over to place the muzzle right up against Yuri’s temple. In the light of the late afternoon sun, I thought he appeared manic as he began to lose grasp of his cool composure. “No!” I gasped. “Give me what I want! I grow tired of waiting!” he spat. “I can’t!” I wailed. “I truly can’t! I’m . . . not poisonous!” My voice broke at my admission.

Uncertainty washed over Niall McFadden’s face for the first time. “What do you mean?” he whispered as his eyes narrowed. “I can’t transform anything. If I bite you, nothing will happen,” I murmured. He stared at my face for a moment in dismay, and then his expression regained its resolve. “You’re lying again Miss Cullen. I won’t tolerate it.” He took aim at Yuri’s head . . . and fired. I screamed in reaction and fell to my knees. No! God no! As the cloud of smoke lifted, I saw that he had shot right near her head to scare me into believing the plausibility. “The next time, I won’t miss,” he stated with deadly inflection. “I’ll give you ten seconds to tell me the truth . . .” I clutched at my heart in agony. From my peripheral vision, I saw Nate’s tormented face witness my suffering. I mentally implored my father to appear . . . he would fix everything. He always did. Dad . . . I’m so sorry! Yuri! Please, oh please. I closed my eyes as I silently begged for Jake to take me away from this nightmare. “Ten . . .” “Nine . . .” “Eight . . .” Chapter 27: Flux – Jacob The gunshot rang out deep in the woods to my left, piercing through the relative silence. My breath caught at the sound. I didn’t think it was possible for more terror to storm my senses ... And then I heard her scream. And I ran. The branches tore at my skin as I pushed my heels into the soft earth at my feet. The rapid pounding of my heart filled my ears and pushed the heightened rhythm of my pace far beyond the realm of possibility. Inhumanly fast. I knew I should phase and rally Seth before proceeding . . . but I didn’t care. All that mattered was that someone had fired a gun around Nessie. Someone stupid. Someone about to die. “Six.” I heard a voice in the distance before me. “Five.” A countdown. I pushed my body even harder. My lungs were about to burst at the strain. “Four.” I knew that voice. I had heard it before in my garage. “For the love of God! Please! I’m telling you the truth!” Nessie sobbed. “Three.” “I can’t do it! I can’t make a vampire! If I could, I would do it, I swear! Please don’t hurt Yuri!” I had never heard Nessie’s voice filled with such heartbreaking sorrow.

I growled as I hurled myself through the trees. I could see Nessie kneeling by the edge of the cliff staring at . . . . . . Nathan McFadden. The dead man. Off to the side, two other figures were hunched over something on the ground. Oh God. “Two.” I burst into sight, my chest heaving from exertion. The man intoning the numbers looked up at me in surprise. Niall McFadden. I saw in his hand the gun that had threatened my life earlier this week. It was pointed at Yuri Chung’s head. “What the hell is going on here?” I demanded as I attempted to control my fury. Nessie scrambled to her feet. “Jake!” I made a move to run towards her and pull her safely into my arms. “Stay where you are Mr. Black,” Niall said calmly. “Jake, help me! He’s going to . . . shoot Yuri if I don’t make him a vampire! Tell him! Tell him I don’t know how! Tell him why I can’t do it!” she shrieked. She was grasping for the last shred of sanity left in her overloaded psyche. It took me only a moment to realize all that had transpired. I had to help Nessie. I had to take her away. I took another step in her direction. “Are you so willing to forfeit this young girl’s life?” Niall asked without a hint of emotion in his voice. His words blasted me in a cold jet of evil. His own daughter! “Don’t move!” Nessie begged me. I toyed with the idea of disobeying her wishes. “She doesn’t know how to do it. Moreover, she can’t. She’s telling the truth. As a child she bit me all the time. Vampire venom is poisonous to me and to my kind . . . if she were able to make a vampire, I would be dead many times over,” I replied hoarsely. Adrenaline continued to course through my body. He studied my face carefully, but refused to withdraw the weapon from its deadly aim at Yuri’s temple. “We have a problem then Mr. Black,” he murmured. I stared back at him trying to hide my mounting fear. I grasped onto my anger and fixed my face with a look of defiance. “You knew her as a child? Were you present when her mother was transformed into an immortal?” he demanded. I remained silent. He cocked the weapon and took aim again. “Tell him Jake! Please!” Nessie pleaded. I thought rapidly to myself. I had only one gamble. Only one chance. “Let them go,” I said quietly. He laughed menacingly. “You are not in the position to make demands. Were you there when her mother was turned?” I looked right into his icy blue eyes. “Yes. Now let them go. I’ll stay.”

“First, you will answer my questions. Then I will decide whether or not your answers merit a trade.” I didn’t believe him. Not for a moment. If I made a mad dash, I could grab Nessie and take off with her into the forest. Yuri would be the sacrifice. As I pictured the look on Seth’s face when we drove to the woods earlier today to look for Yuri, I knew I could never look at him again if he lost her forever . . . especially if I could have saved her. My heart broke at the impossible decision . . . Seth’s love for my love. Could I do it? “Who changed Bella?” he asked elegantly, as if he were simply asking for cream with his coffee. I looked into Nessie’s eyes. They begged me wordlessly. “Edward. Edward changed Bella,” I sighed in surrender. He nodded in satisfaction at establishing dominance. “And how did he do this?” “Let Nessie go, and I’ll tell you,” I attempted one last time. “No. You’ll tell me now. We’ll see how much she loves you whenever your games cost her Yuri’s life.” Merciless. Unfeeling. There were three of them and two of us. Colin would not be difficult to take down . . . he had the pompous arrogance of a boy who had likely never be in a real fight. I was certain he wouldn’t know what to do if someone physically attacked him. Niall was an older man . . . holding a gun. Nate could probably hold his own in a fight, but he did not seem like himself at the moment. I quickly gauged that I could handle the situation if necessary . . . but not before someone hurt Yuri. The risk was incredibly high. To make matter worse, I did not think Nessie was in a great place psychologically. She was not thinking straight, and each passing moment made that clear. I couldn’t count on her to think on her toes. To be fair, she had never undergone this kind of duress before. I had to stall . . . the risk of taking unaided action . . . “He injected his venom into her heart with a steel syringe. He bit her multiple times,” I answered. “And she became immortal after that?” he queried. “Yes.” “So Edward Cullen can make an immortal. Can any vampire do this?” “In theory. It’s very risky in practice. If I understood correctly, most mortals don’t live long enough to undergo the change,” I said as my voice filled with resolve. If I frightened him enough, maybe he wouldn’t want it anymore. “Why is that?” “Vampires kill their prey. They don’t stop feeding once they begin. It’s a great risk . . . The transformation is also . . . incredibly painful,” I stated matter-of-factly. He looked at me and studied my face for a sign of falsehood. I returned his stare with the clear look of truth. “Colin?” he asked without looking away. “He’s telling the truth,” the worm replied. “It may not be worth the risk Niall . . . I told you that it poisons my kind. I have no idea what it would do to you,” I murmured suggestively. All in. Would my gamble work? His gaze remained thoughtful.

“You took care of his mate?” Niall asked as he inclined his head towards Colin. “Yes,” Colin said with a sadistic grin. Confusion flooded my mind. What the hell were they talking about? Whose mate? Not . . . Bella. They had Bella!? “If Edward Cullen could control his appetite to change his mate, then he can do it to change me,” he announced with pompous satisfaction. Oh God . . . if they had Bella . . . The horror registered on my face and distracted me momentarily. I saw Niall reach into his pocket and remove a vial of dark purple liquid. He smirked at me and tossed it towards Nessie. It landed harmlessly at her feet before she had a chance to react. “Drink it,” he ordered. “Father . . .” It was the first time I heard Nate say a word. “Stay out of this Nathan. There is no reason to protest. I will get what I want . . . and you will too. Leave your newly discovered morality in the dirt where it belongs,” Niall said nastily. “No Nessie,” I whispered in horror. “Don’t touch it.” I took a step towards her in warning. Niall looked at Nessie’s face and then back at mine before making a decision. He shifted the aim of the gun towards my chest. “Miss Cullen . . . drink it now . . . maybe you could stomach losing your friend, but I highly doubt you will watch the man you currently love crumble to the ground and die.” “No! Nessie don’t listen to him! I’ll be fine!” I raged as I tried to hide my terror. “Don’t be too sure of that Mr. Black. These are armor-piercing rounds . . . they are tipped in solid silver, just in case the lore holds true. In any case, you’ll appreciate the care I took to respect your heritage,” he sneered. In response, Nessie bent over and lifted the vial. “No! Drop it Renesmee! Don’t do it!” I shouted. One more step. She ignored me as she studied the ghastly fluid. “Will it kill me?” she whispered. “Of course not. It will merely make you more . . . cooperative.” Colin sniggered in response to Niall’s words. “Nathan,” I pleaded, “You said you loved her. Don’t let her do this!” “Nonsense. My son will get what he wants too. He won’t stop us. At his core, he knows where his loyalties lie.” “You’ll let them go?” she murmured as she looked at me with eyes that emptied my soul. “Of course,” he lied smoothly. “No! No Nessie!” I yelled. She gazed at Yuri one last time before she faced me again. “I’m sorry Jake. I love you.” I saw Colin step closer as she uncapped the vial. Screw it! I began running towards her in a last-ditch attempt to stop her. She lifted the liquid to her lips. I didn’t care about anything else . . . Colin McFadden’s body slammed into mine, and I heard him cry out in pain at the impact of striking my surprisingly hard skin. I lost balance as he tumbled onto me. In horror, I

realized too late that we were rolling off the cliff. I tried to grab hold of something to stop the force of our fall from propelling me to my death. Colin clutched at my ankle. The root I grasped hold of gave away, and I heard the echoing scream of the boy as he rocketed into nothingness with me in tow. I flew out into the air. The wind rushed at my face. I knew I was going to die. I forced myself to ignore Colin’s screams. The last things I wanted to savor with the remaining moments of my life would not be drowned out by the cries of my murderer. I remembered Nessie’s face when she demanded that I admit my love for her on the side of the road. The recollected emotions caused the muscles in my body to tremble with feeling. Would they kill her? Would they hurt her? Would Edward save her in time? The quaking in my arms grew in intensity until I could feel a familiar heat rise in my core. Nessie’s smile when she saw her new car for the first time. Her very public kiss of thanks for my gift. I was supposed to protect her . . . to stand between her and whatever darkness lies ahead. I had promised her . . . I had promised Edward. The heat burst into flame in my stomach. My skin felt as though it were ripping apart. “Have you ever tried to change into something besides a bigass dog?” Yuri’s voice echoed in my mind. The last thing I brought to memory was the feeling of holding Nessie in my arms and kissing her in the rain for the first time. My heart flying through the air . . . like a soaring eagle. The ground rushed towards my face, and I braced myself for impact as the fire raged through my body. I spread my arms wide in a final supplication . . . . . . and rose back into the heavens. Shock. I called out in surprise as I flew into the sky rapidly. The sound that came from my lips . . . was the cry of an eagle. I was flying. Unsure of how to direct my flight, I attempted to slow down. The first time I had changed into a werewolf, I had been so overwhelmed by the experience that it had been difficult for me to control myself. Now was not the time to humor my nerves. I slowed the beat of my . . . wings . . . until I could control my pattern of flight. The wind buffeted against me as I tried to turn around. There would be time in the future to sort through all of this. With a pulsing downward motion, I attempted to fly higher back towards the cliff . . . back towards Nessie. My sight was magnified a thousand times. I focused on a dried leaf blowing across the expanse of earth below me. It curled and twisted in a macabre dance until it stopped against the trunk of a tree. I climbed higher and higher until I could see the cliff. They were gone. I cried out again loudly. The sound echoed against the stone façade of the mountain and reverberated throughout the sky. The sun was setting behind me, and the retreating fire created a prism of colors that stained the horizon. What happened!? Jake man . . . what’s going on? Seth had phased into wolf-form to talk to me. He was several miles away.

I heard the rustling sound of movement on the cliff. Angling my body downward, I pulled my wings against my ribcage and hurtled back towards the ground as the wind roared past me. I hoped I lived to enjoy this some day. Edward’s blurred figure came into focus as he stopped right by the edge of the promontory. I rocketed past his face. Yeah. No time to explain. Colin is dead. They took Yuri . . . and Nessie. It was all a trick. They . . . made Nessie drink something. I couldn’t stop them. No matter what, Nathan McFadden is mine. His features contorted in rage. Jasper and Emmett whirled into view behind Edward. Edward . . . I think they have Bella. His chest heaved as he held out his hands at his sides and curled them into fists. I heard the guttural snarl with perfect clarity. The twilight sky darkened as the prismatic stain from the sun faded into the distance. Deep in the forest, a wolf howled in fury. Chapter 28: Flux – Bella This was a mistake. I knew it with every motion my body made. I was making a mistake . . . I would be certain to find out how big a gaffe it was in due time. Nevertheless, it was one I couldn’t avoid making. The simple truth of the matter is that I knew I was incapable of sitting around and just letting things happen to my family. My husband had disappeared into a den of warlocks. My daughter had run away to meet a mortal enemy. Would anyone in their right mind be able to placidly sit around twiddling their thumbs in the same situation? My Ferrari continued its purring procession towards Niall McFadden’s complex. I left voicemails for Edward and Jacob to call me as soon as they received my message . . . the phone remained silent on the leather of the passenger seat next to me no matter how much I willed it to ring. I needed to hear Edward’s voice telling me that everything was alright . . . even though I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that everything was far from it. The car flew across the mountain roads, kicking up swirls of dead leaves in its wake. I had always been acutely aware of my discomfort whenever I drove my Ferrari. Even though it handled beautifully, I couldn’t force myself to feel at ease driving something so ostentatious. Both Edward and Nessie looked much more natural behind the wheel of the shining red automobile. The shadow of my former self could not reconcile a car that screamed ‘look at me’ like this one did. I eased my foot off of the gas pedal as I proceeded down the private path leading up to a highly-secured complex. ‘McFadden Chemical Technologies Inc.’ was emblazoned on a sign to my right as I pulled up to the guard waiting to open the gate with a distracted air. “State your business,” he claimed in a bored manner until he turned to actually look at me. His eyes widened considerably as he took in my preternaturally enhanced appearance and the gleaming Italian sports car. I smiled patiently back at him. “My name is Bella Cullen, and I’m here to meet Nathan McFadden.” He pushed the button that granted me access after fumbling around for a few moments on a walkie-talkie.

After I parked the car in the place he had designated for me, I took a deep breath filled with apprehension. My phone remained silent and devoid of any hope. I breezed through sliding glass doors into a marble-lined entry hub. Since it was nearing dusk, the complex did not appear to be full of people, but the security detail was teeming with activity and awareness. It would be a difficult place to move around in undetected, I thought to myself. “Please proceed through the metal detector ma’am,” another uniformed guard directed me in a mechanical voice. His colleague leered appreciatively at me in a manner that would have irritated Edward to no end. I frowned reflexively. Why wasn’t Edward calling me back? Perturbed, I walked through the metal detector. No warning alarms sounded. “They’re very serious about security here, aren’t they?” I mused aloud as I gathered my things. No one responded. Not a good sign. “Please turn over your cell phone, PDA, camera, or electronic device.” I hesitated. The glaring nature of my mistake became even more evident. “All I have is a simple cell phone. I’d rather keep it on me because I’m waiting for an important phone call. Is this really necessary?” “If you don’t hand over your phone, you will not be allowed to proceed any further.” I thought for a moment. “I just need to make one last call,” I said in frustration. I tried again in vain . . . “You’ve reached the voicemail of Edward Cullen . . .” I flipped the phone shut with irritation before surrendering my last means of external communication to the leering security guard. Another uniformed man waited in the wings for me. Without any greeting, he stated, “I’ve been instructed to take you to meet Mr. McFadden’s son. Please follow me.” I thought of that night in Volterra when Edward, Alice, and I were forced to march behind others into the night towards an unknown destination. The eerie similarity did not bode well, considering the outcome of that fateful encounter. We rode in tense silence towards the right-hand side of the vast complex in a small car without doors that reminded me of a golf cart. The scents of many different chemicals assaulted my senses as we moved deeper into the shadows. Their sharpness successfully cloaked the more subtle smells in the night air. Several times I wrinkled my nose in disgust. The little golf cart squealed to a halt by the door of a smaller outbuilding. “Please wait here. Mr. McFadden will be arriving shortly.” “I thought a search party was congregating here,” I clipped back at him. “I have no idea what’s going on, miss. All I know is that Nathan McFadden will be coming here in around ten minutes to meet with you.” I scowled as he turned back towards the golf cart, leaving me alone in the small building. I looked around me. Like many of the other units in this part of the complex, the walls were constructed of steel and the strong smell of chemicals pervaded the air. Many steel barrels were lined against the wall, and a large incinerator took up the back portion of the room. If Nathan did not arrive promptly, I was leaving to go look for him. Entirely too much time had passed already. I began pacing restlessly back and forth. Had they found Yuri yet?

Nessie was going to be in so much trouble . . . honestly, Edward wouldn’t be too thrilled that I had gone off on my own into unknown territory to find her. Oh well. I knew how to take care of myself. I smiled ironically as I contemplated Edward’s impending tirade. As long as Nessie came home with me, it didn’t matter what he said to us. I just needed to know that my child was safe. Soon, I heard footsteps walking towards the door. Three different pairs of shoes. Three? The steel door swung open, and Niall McFadden walked through balancing on his cane. His eyes looked feverish, and for the first time since I met him, his polished demeanor seemed frayed on the edges. As if that were not enough of a surprise, Nate and Nessie followed after him . . . hand in hand. “Nessie!” I called out as I ran towards her. I pulled her into an embrace. It took a moment for her arms to wrap around me. A strange smell lingered on her skin. “Just what were you trying to pull?” I scolded as I grabbed her by the shoulders to stare at her face with anger. “Mom,” she breathed slowly. Something was horribly wrong. Nessie looked as though she had just woken up from a deep sleep. Her lids blinked slowly, and she moved as though she were underwater. The most haunting thing about her appearance were her eyes . . . usually filled with sparkling mirth, the chocolate brown color now looked dull – as though it had been mixed with grey sludge. “What’s wrong?” I demanded as the terror continued to build inside me. I turned to look at Nate. He refused to meet my gaze . . . he almost looked . . . ashamed? “Nothing’s wrong Mom,” Nessie replied in a singsong voice. My fear grew. “I thought you were meeting Edward at your home,” I asked Niall suspiciously. “Plans have changed,” he replied with a semi-crazed sneer. I looked carefully at each of their faces. “Have you found Yuri?” No one answered. “What is going on here?” I demanded “Yuri’s fine Mom. I just saw her,” Nessie sang. She giggled like a schoolgirl and leaned her head onto Nate’s shoulder affectionately. Something was seriously off. It was almost as though she had been . . . drugged. In a flash, I realized what was wrong with Nessie. “What have you done to my daughter?” I whispered furiously. Niall smirked evilly at me. “Renesmee is finally thinking intelligently for the first time in her life,” he responded with satisfaction. “Don’t worry Mom! Everything’s fine! As long as I’m with Nate, everything’s fine,” Nessie purred as she fixed a besotted gaze on Nathan’s handsome face. Her dull eyes chilled me to my core. Oh God no! Wrath blinded my sight temporarily as I remembered Edward saying that Niall had concocted a potion that made people fall in love against their own free will.

“You monster!” I screeched as I lunged at Nate in fury. He vanished right before my eyes with Nessie in his arms. Fear gripped my soul. “Where is she? Give me back my daughter!” I yelled at Niall McFadden. I crouched into a threatening stance as I moved towards him. “Stop, my dear. We can make an agreement. There is no need for violence.” “Like hell! You give me my child this instant and maybe, just maybe, my husband won’t make you suffer before he destroys you!” I spat. “It truly is a pity that you would resort to violence without even listening to the terms of the negotiation,” he replied evenly. “There is no negotiation. Give me my child . . . now,” I demanded. “Poor, poor Yuri . . .” Niall stated in a voice that made my figurative heart stop. “What have you done with her?” I whispered. “Nothing . . . yet,” he smirked. “Have you no heart at all? She’s your own daughter,” I murmured, temporarily floored by the evil emanating from the man before me. “She’s no child of mine. She turned her back on her heritage of her own volition. The day she did that was the day she ceased to have any meaning to me whatsoever,” he intoned mercilessly. I merely stood staring at him. “That being said, the terms are simple . . . I will return both your daughter and Yuri Chung, unharmed. In return . . .” I waited for him to finish. He took a deep breath. His hands were trembling in anticipation as he reached into his pocket and pulled out . . . a steel syringe. “You will give me your venom,” he said in a quiet voice. “No,” I stated without hesitation. He narrowed his eyes dangerously. “You really are unnecessarily stubborn, Bella. The difference between us is quite simple. I am willing to do whatever it takes. You are bound by the laws of decency . . . even I can see that in you. I will get what I want. I will begin by harming Yuri Chung. Then I will make sure that you never see your daughter again.” “You’re wrong on both counts. This is how this will go . . . you’ll give me my child, and then you’ll hand over Yuri, unharmed. In return, you might live to see tomorrow.” I tried to sound strong, but the mounting trepidation caused my voice to tremble over the last few words. He smiled menacingly. “You have ten seconds to make up your mind. Yuri will suffer a great deal for your stubbornness. I doubt even the most gifted member of your family will be able to find Renesmee any time soon,” he retorted scathingly. I thought quickly. Surely, what Niall McFadden was demanding of me was in breach of the agreement formed between warlocks and the Volturi centuries ago. Would the Volturi let him

get away with it? I highly doubted it. Did he know that the transformation would take three days of torturous agony? Even if he injected himself with venom at this very moment, he would be vulnerable for several days as he suffered. If the Volturi failed to intervene before the process was completed, I was certain my family could put a stop to this with relative ease. It was still incredibly risky. Yuri. My daughter . . . “Time’s up.” I stared at his face in hatred for one second more. “You will bring Nessie to me immediately. You will give me a potion to counteract the drug you gave her. Yuri Chung will be handed over to my family unscathed.” His face became even more crazed in its desire. He muttered in Gaelic under his breath. I heard a whooshing sound from the far corner of the room. Nathan and Nessie emerged from the shadows. The look of adoration on her face as she passionately clutched onto him nearly made me sick to my stomach. Nate’s expression was almost unreadable. If I didn’t know now beyond the shadow of a doubt what kind of person he was, I might even think he looked a bit troubled. Niall tossed the steel syringe in the air towards me. I caught it instinctively in my left hand. “Do it now,” he said triumphantly. “Even as a vampire, you will be no match for Edward,” I clipped angrily. “You won’t get away with this. No matter how long it takes, we’ll find you.” “We shall see. We shall see.” I prayed that his crushing arrogance would be his downfall. Chapter 29: Flux – Edward We gathered quickly on the edge of oblivion. Five vampires. A werewolf. An eagle. Not a moment could be spared. “So, Bella is not answering her cell or the house phone. We have to assume they have successfully detained her,” Jasper pronounced with an almost clinical air. I shook my head in a mixture of anger and disbelief. The fury I felt each time I thought about the fact that warlocks were holding my wife and daughter hostage was debilitating. I had to control myself before I took off without my family to poetically terrorize and subsequently annihilate my enemy. The black hatred had poured out of me whenever I first realized they forced Nessie into their control . . . my mind turned into a pool of molten wrath when I learned they had tricked Bella as well. Death was too sweet an escape for these monsters. Why did the little fool even go to them? Rosalie thought desperately as she worried about Bella. I tried to stop myself from being angry with Rose’s criticism to no avail. “The threat of harm befalling your only child is usually enough . . . I should think you of all people would understand that,” I raged back at her. “Let’s not fight amongst ourselves. There will be plenty of time to assign blame after the fact,” Alice murmured. “We need to focus all our efforts on breaching the security around Niall McFadden’s distribution warehouse. We know that it’s heavily guarded. Alice, where is Niall going to be?” Jasper queried. “On the top floor of his office building, in the far right corner facing away from the street.”

“I can scale the building and break through the window to let you in,” Emmett proclaimed. “No. If the human security guards hear you, we’ll have to harm them or deal with exposure. If we approach quietly and carefully, we have the element of surprise on our side. It’s the way that will work the best,” Alice responded. “It’s settled then. We’ll enter from the basement. Emmett, you take care of the security cameras. I’ll handle the guards. We’ll use the emergency staircase to reach the top floor. There must be no traceable evidence of our breach,” Jasper continued. “Do we know yet where Nessie, Nate, and Bella are?” Rose asked Alice. She chewed on her lower lip. “No. They must still be together. Since Nessie’s situation is so closely linked to the outcome, I can’t see clearly where they are. It’s someplace dark . . . maybe even underground.” Yuri. Say something about Yuri! Seth began whining uncontrollably. “I’m trying Seth! They haven’t settled on a course of action yet regarding Yuri, so I can’t really see what’s going on. As soon as I see something, I’ll let you know,” Alice responded. “Rosalie . . . Alice . . . I think that both of you should remain outside the building to make sure no one leaves or tries to escape. All our efforts will be wasted if we manage to successfully break in and find nothing,” Jasper said. Please go along with this Edward. I’m not comfortable with Alice engaging in any sort of brawl with a warlock. Especially since we don’t know what they’re capable of doing. I can’t teach her to fight an enemy I don’t yet understand. You, Emmett, and I will be able to handle this ourselves. “Like hell I will. You need every last one of us,” Rose retorted. “Not a chance Jazz. Sorry,” Alice breathed with a half-smile of understanding. We can do it. I’ll watch from the skies, and Seth will stand guard outside. Normally, I would rather be in the thick of things, but I don’t want to risk the chance of losing anyone to escape or treachery. Especially Nate . . . if he transforms into a hawk to get away, he won’t get far . . . Jacob’s mental image of Nate’s decimated form momentarily elicited a sadistic smirk. His thoughts continued. This was why I transformed into an eagle. It was meant to happen. Shapeshifters are protectors of necessity. I’m quickly starting to realize that there is a purpose behind everything. It’s time for me to protect . . . my family. Our family. Your family is my family now. I merely looked into the black eyes of the eagle perched on the branch near my head. Words were unnecessary. I want to fight! I want to help! Besides, I still don’t know where Yuri is! I can’t just sit outside while . . . please, let me fight! Seth’s pitiful sounds of protest continued. The eagle tossed its head in frustration. I knew instinctually what it was that Jacob refused to share with Seth. We had no idea what they had done with Yuri . . . she was the most vulnerable of all of us because she was expendable to them. She was also the easiest to hurt. A fragile human. It would be difficult for us to control Seth without potentially harming him if he witnessed his beloved suffer . . . as heartbreaking as it was for me to admit this when I knew I would likely behave in a similar manner, I didn’t want to worry about Seth when there were so many untenable factors already. They would not hurt Nessie because she was a valuable bargaining chip . . . if they even tried to hurt her . . . I swallowed quickly to prevent a howl of fury from escaping my lips. Bella . . . my eyes glazed over for a moment. We needed to leave now.

“I think it’s a good idea. Seth, if you both stand guard outside, it will make it really easy for you to coordinate the stakeout since you can communicate with each other so easily without using words. I would really appreciate it. I will call for you both when we need you,” I murmured in as kind a tone as I could manage given the situation. “Come on! Five vampires against two warlocks? Those are odds I’d take any day,” Emmett said with a wicked grin of anticipation. Jacob indicated to Seth that they should go. The eagle nodded to me once before spreading its wings and taking flight. Seth disappeared into the forest following the eagle’s lead. Remember . . . Nathan McFadden is mine. Jacob’s cry into the night was filled with bloodlust. The remaining five of us raced to our cars. Alice’s yellow Porsche blurred through the winding mountain roads ahead of my X5, leading the way towards the beginning of the end. While following Alice and Jasper, I tried to use my phone to call Carlisle, but it would not register any service. How strange. Emmett’s phone also failed to work properly. Using Rosalie’s cell, I left a message for Carlisle briefly explaining to him what had transpired. There was no time to wait for Carlisle or Esme to return from hunting to proceed. About two miles away from Niall McFadden’s industrial complex, Alice pulled over onto a dirt path where we hid our cars away from the sight of passing travelers and pedestrians. Silently, we began our quiet run through the forest towards our destination. The soles of my feet barely grazed against the top of the ground as I moved ever forward with a lethal purpose. I could hear the animals scattering before us as they sensed the presence of death in our scent and in our single-minded ferocity. Even the lowliest creature of the forest knew instinctually to fear us, and yet the McFaddens had failed to do so at their own detriment. Soon, a large rectangular building loomed before us. Emmett tossed a rock at the camera perched on top of the security fence. We climbed over it effortlessly and landed on the cement without making a sound. I motioned for the others to wait until Seth and Jake were in place. Less than a minute passed. Seth is waiting by the gate. I’ll be circling above . . . and I’ll let you know if I see anything suspicious. We paused at the basement door in the rear building of the complex. It was constructed of steel and had several large tumblers that would be difficult to break without making a great deal of noise. Jasper thought for a moment while regarding the security keypad. I began perusing the minds of the security guards nearby to see if they were errantly considering the access code. Without warning, Emmett reared his right arm back and punched the keypad into the wall. “Emmett!” Rosalie hissed. The door clicked open. I heard a commotion as two security guards began moving towards us at the grating sound of the metal box being forced into the cement wall. “Perfect,” Alice breathed in irritation. Jasper walked quietly towards the guards and began sending waves of calm in their direction from his position in the shadows. His eyes closed in concentration as he soothed their nerves to the point of sedation. I heard them fall to the ground as sleep took over their senses.

If we make any more loud noises, I can’t promise that they will stay asleep. I nodded in appreciation as we blurred quickly into the warehouse basement. “The idea was stealth Emmett,” Jasper murmured furiously. “Hey, it worked didn’t it? It’s better than you standing there trying to feel the code out of the box while Edward stares into minds hoping stupidly that someone thinks of the numbers! Action always wins over inaction!” Emmett retorted blithely. “Deliberation is the work of many men. Action, of one alone,” I responded. “We’re in this together Em . . . try to remember that.” He snorted. I’ll try to keep it down. We rounded the corner carefully into the darkened basement as we made our way towards the emergency staircase. I saw the blinking light of the security camera and raced towards it at a pace too fast for it to detect. In one deft motion, I disconnected the power source from the camera. We proceeded towards the stairs at a rapid pace. Each passing second elicited more concern for my family’s predicament. A gasp behind me stopped all of us in our tracks for a moment. Yuri! I saw the image that Alice projected from her mind. Yuri Chung . . . in excruciating pain. Her torso was contorted in agony, and her face was wrinkled with the exertion of trying to remain silent as she suffered. Niall McFadden stood by observing his daughter in satisfaction as though she were a guinea pig in his laboratory. “What’s wrong?” Jasper demanded quietly. “Yuri is in pain,” Alice whispered in a voice so low it could only be heard by those in the room. If Seth realized . . . Emmett snarled in anger. I knew that he had come to regard little Yuri Chung with great affection. “What should we do? We can’t just let her . . . suffer,” Rosalie asked. “Rose, you and I can go look for her . . . I’ll let Edward know what’s going on as soon as we find her,” Alice stated firmly as she pulled Rosalie towards her, intent in her purpose. We began whirling up the stairs only pausing to disconnect any cameras that might detect sound or movement, however unlikely that could be. Halfway up our ascension, Alice yanked Rosalie from our ranks, and they opened the door into the dimly lit hallway beyond. Emmett, Jasper, and I continued towards the top of the building. I paused for a mere nanosecond as we reached the emergency door that led onto the topmost floor. I did not sense the presence of many humans in the vicinity. Carefully, I pushed it open and peered into a small room with the gentle sound of flowing water coming from a fountain positioned on the opposing wall. Large double doors constructed of solid wood lay beyond the fountain. Always aware of our surroundings, Jasper, Emmett, and I moved forward cautiously. Security will alert me whenever the Cullens arrive. They should be here at any moment. Then . . . checkmate. Niall McFadden. I inhaled deeply to keep my anger under control. We strode quickly over to the double doors and pushed them open without hesitation.

He quickly recovered from his initial look of surprise at our unannounced arrival. Amazing! They were able to move to the top of a twenty-story building undetected. Truly remarkable. What exactly do I pay these idiot guards to do? I would have preferred more warning, but . . . no matter. Soon it won’t make a difference. “Edward! Welcome!” Niall cheered with a semi-crazed sense of merriment from his perch behind an immense mahogany desk. I frowned back at him. His pupils were darting back and forth and his usually coiffed mane of silver-grey hair had begun to spiral into curls of disarray. Madness personified. I stood by the door with Jasper and Emmett flanking me on both sides. “Come now. Why are you standing there like a Triumvirate of Terror? There is no reason for us to conduct ourselves without a modicum of decorum. We are all civilized men,” he chanted with a smile that sent a chill through my frozen body. “Civilized?” I rasped under my breath as I arched my eyebrow dubiously. I attempted to read his mind, but he filled his head with nonsensical images of formulas and data charts. If only Nessie could have kept that key advantage a secret . . . My gaze hardened as he grinned knowingly at my struggle to see into his mind. “Do you think it’s civilized to lure my unsuspecting daughter on a figurative search through the woods? Do you think it’s civilized to blackmail a child by threatening to harm her friend? Do you think it’s civilized to ensnare my wife in your web of deceit?” I demanded in a low tone. He chuckled maniacally. “A simple manipulation. Nothing to get into an uproar over.” I pulled my lips back over my teeth in a snarl. “Enough. Where is my daughter?” Theorems and shipment manifests inundated my mind as I tried to probe once again into Niall’s increasingly erratic thoughts. “Soon I will tell you.” Jasper growled quietly. If you won’t do it Edward . . . I leapt towards Niall and grabbed him lightly by the throat as we flew into the wall behind his desk. “Careful!” he murmured as he smiled again without an iota of fear. “Give me my child,” I demanded in his ear as I hissed menacingly under my breath. “Let’s make a deal of good faith. You can have one of them now, and the other one will be delivered after I get what I want,” he exclaimed. Emmett began barking with laughter. “You’re out of your mind, you crazy old man. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re vampires . . . and we’re not in the mood to make deals with crazy old men,” he stated warningly. “You don’t have much time Niall. Tell me where Nessie is . . . and I’ll make it quick and painless,” I murmured. His facial expression toughened resolutely. “You can have Renesmee. I will keep Bella.” “No.” My self-control was nearing its limit. Jasper blurred to my side. “As detestable as I find these methods, we can begin with your fingers,” he intoned mercilessly as he glared at Niall.

“I don’t care what you do to me. There is no pain worse than what I’ve already experienced through my illness. I will gladly go through hell and back to get what I want. Before the night is over, you will make me an immortal,” Niall sneered back at Jasper. He then turned his focus onto me. You want to threaten me. You want to say you’ll hurt those I love, just as I am going to do to you. The problem is, I love no one. I care about nothing except getting what I want. I will always have power over you because of this. Those with much have much to lose. All I have is my life . . . and I will fight to the bitter end to save it. Checkmate, Edward Cullen. Your move. I glared back at him and tried not to let the truth of his words steer me from my course. I nodded towards Jasper. This was the darkness I didn’t want Bella to see . . . I had inflicted suffering on those deserving of retribution for a shadowy period in my life, and I had relished every moment of my justice. Murderers, rapists, destroyers of innocence . . . Yuri! Oh God! No! Edward, what are we going to do? I froze and placed a hand on Jasper’s arm to prevent him from proceeding. The image seared onto my mind momentarily horrified me beyond words. “You loathsome wretch,” I murmured hoarsely. “What?” Emmett said as he hurried towards us. “Where did you get it?” I demanded in fury as I yanked Niall McFadden into the air by the collar of his shirt. His feet dangled uselessly as he glared back down at me without remorse. It took only a moment for me to piece it together. He had threatened Nessie. It was the only way Bella would have given it to him. “Edward?” Jasper asked expectantly. “He injected Yuri . . . with venom. She is undergoing the transformation.” Emmett roared in outrage. “You madman! I don’t understand why the hell you would do that,” Jasper whispered furiously. “The dog told me that it poisons his kind . . . I had to make sure it didn’t poison those like me. The threat of potential death was too great. I also know unequivocally that Edward Cullen’s venom can make an immortal because he is his wife’s creator. The risk of being duped was high. I will not be tricked due to my own lack of knowledge. All along, I wanted to have the best. Edward is old and strong . . . his gift is unique amongst the gifted,” Niall stated matter-of-factly. I snarled as I threw him to the floor. His convoluted rationalization offered no real explanation for his crazed decision. Niall McFadden had degenerated into a lunatic . . . a lunatic with power over my family. He began laughing sadistically. “Can we take it back out of her? Like you did with Bella?” Emmett demanded in desperation. “He injected it directly into her heart. It’s too late,” I murmured. The looks of shared horror on our faces paralyzed us all as we mourned the loss. Seth . . . “Now you see! You see how far I am willing to take this! Nate will take Renesmee away to a place where you will never find her . . . I will burn your wife to ashes in an incinerator before I let you leave without giving me what I want! Give it to me!” he screamed. I howled with unadulterated rage as I reached over to grab Niall McFadden from the floor again.

“Stop.” We all turned in shock to see the owner of the voice standing at the door. Nate McFadden. Chapter 30: Penitence – Nathan My father cowered maniacally on the floor at the mercy of three enraged vampires. To think, it had all come to this. In what world had he ever thought he could successfully trick these immortals and get away with it? If I had truly cared at all for my father, I was certain this situation would have given me cause for heartbreak – or whatever happened when you were forced to watch someone meaningful single-handedly destroy everything they had worked their lives to build. I could not relate to this . . . yet. My father was not the only one who would lose tonight. I squeezed Renesmee’s hand again. I would only feel her touch for a few moments longer. “You fool! You miserable excuse for a man! Get out of here! You’re ruining everything!” my father screamed. I was prepared for this. The words did not sting anymore. When you hear the same insults enough, eventually they lose their potency. “Dad!” Nessie sighed with a smile of recognition at Edward. She clutched tightly to my arm. The warmth of her hands reignited the newly discovered euphoria in my system. I breathed in carefully and let the rush of adrenaline pound through my veins. I had found an even greater source of power than spells and magic. It was gone in an instant. As she held onto the bare skin of my arm and pressed her cheek to my shoulder, a flurry of haphazard images flashed into my mind. Renesmee running through the forest as a child . . . Hunting animals at night in the trees . . . Laughing hysterically at some unknown joke . . . His face was in every single memory. Each time, only for an instant . . . the overgrown dog. My father’s concoction could not trick her subconscious into loving me. The dog’s indelible imprint was too deeply ingrained in her. Renesmee did not belong to me. She would never belong to me no matter how much potion I forced her to drink or how many beautiful pieces of jewelry I lavished on her. Tomes of poetry would not make her mine. I was bidding on a priceless piece of art . . . and I had nothing but coal in my pockets. I watched as her father picked the thoughts out of my mind with ease. It did not matter. Nothing mattered anymore except giving my love back her life. His eyes widened when he saw his wife’s petite form materialize from behind us. “Edward . . .” Her voice was clear and strong. She moved so quickly that I could have sworn she vanished and reappeared on the other side of the room. He clutched her in his arms for a brief moment. I turned away in shame. When you spit in the face of real love for personal gain, you no longer have the right to look upon it unabashedly. I saw the scary blond one with the scars begin moving towards me with purposeful strides. Edward raised a hand to stop him. I pulled Renesmee carefully off of my arm. For one gut wrenching moment, I reconsidered my decision as a life of selfishness tried to reassert its dominance in my mind. All I needed

was to look at her face. The beautiful brown eyes that had shimmered with the perfect combination of wit and recklessness were now dull and absent. Her complexion had lost its rosy pallor. I had lost everything. “Go to them,” I whispered to her. I put my hand on her cheek one last time. “You worthless imbecile! You . . .” The brawny one hissed in anger and pressed his foot against my father’s throat to silence the tirade of abuse. “I don’t understand,” Renesmee chanted. Her voice held none of the defiant rebellion I had fallen in love with. It was the voice of a listless automaton. I let this happen. I stood by and watched greedily while my father drugged the woman I loved so that I could have what I wanted. I didn’t earn this; I took it without permission. I was a disgusting monster. I didn’t deserve love. “Go to your family. You belong with them.” Each time I said the words, the truth resonated more soundly in my throat. It was an odd sensation. “No. I want to be with you,” she cooed as she wrapped her arms around my waist. I pulled her wrists from around me and held them firmly at her sides. “I want to be with you too. But I don’t deserve you. I never will.” “No! I don’t understand . . .” Her voice sounded sleepy because her body was becoming overwhelmed by mendacity. “Go to your parents. I’ll . . . see you tomorrow,” I lied with ease. For once, a past full of deceitful practices served a useful purpose. “You promise?” she sighed. “I promise to do whatever it takes to make you happy again.” She turned her face upward for a kiss. I smirked for a moment as the barely-contained monster within appreciated the beautiful girl standing before me in complete submission. I bent my head carefully and placed a chaste kiss on her soft lips. The observing immortals had not moved from their places. In fact, I was certain that they had not even blinked. Renesmee turned to walk towards her family. In a second, she was enveloped in the loving arms of her parents. For the first time in a decade, I wondered how different my life would have been if my mother had been courageous enough to continue living . . . at least for my sake. Selfish to the end . . . “I’m sorry. There is no need for me to spend an inordinate amount of time begging for forgiveness and mercy. Frankly, there is not enough time left in the world . . . and clemency is a risky business,” I said simply. “All the same Nathan . . . I would grant you clemency, if you asked for it,” Bella replied kindly. “I won’t. I don’t want your mercy. It’s of no use to me.” It won’t stop the pain of losing her. Nothing you do or say will stop that. Edward’s eyes narrowed as he stared directly into my eyes.

I don’t know where the antidote to the potion is. My father keeps those things locked in his safe. I wrote the ingredients to the potion on a slip of paper. It’s in Renesmee’s pocket. The combination to the safe is ‘Soojin’ . . . the name of Yuri’s mother. He nodded. His gaze was cold and unreadable. I walked over to the window nearest to me and looked outside. The stars twinkled through the trees and a breeze made the topmost branches sway against the glowing backlight of the full moon. I pushed open the window. The wind filled my nose and ran across my features with the caress of absolution. I knew what I needed to do . . . I knew how to stop the pain. I turned around and faced the jury of immortals one last time. “Tell me . . . What is the price for a lifetime of sins? What is the price for stealing love? What is the price for murdering a helpless young girl?” I whispered. No one answered me. Again, it did not matter. I realized then that I was my own jury. I was my own judge. I could be my own executioner. “No,” Edward murmured. It’s the only way. I am a monster. It is taking every ounce of effort for me to let her go. I can’t promise that I will leave her alone. I can’t promise that I won’t change my mind tomorrow, or the next day, or the year after that. I want her too much. She is the only thing that is good about my life. Without her, I am only what my father created. “It doesn’t have to be that way.” You never struck me as the type, Edward. Don’t delude yourself. Today is the first day of my life that I’ve experienced true self-awareness. Capitalize on it while you still can . . . I heard the cry of an eagle outside. Inspiration perhaps? “Goodbye,” I whispered. “You’re leaving? I’ll see you tomorrow, right?” Renesmee asked liltingly. “I love you, Renesmee. Always.” I bent down on one knee and murmured the spell under my breath. I felt a tingling sensation begin at my extremities, and small bursts of energy collected at my joints as my form contracted in on itself. My sight flashed white for a moment, and when I opened my eyes again, everything appeared in sharper focus. A reinforcement of the truth. I looked at the face of my beloved one last time. “Wait,” Edward said in warning as I perched on the ledge to take flight. Don’t risk it. Don’t risk your family again for my sake. “You don’t understand . . . if you go out there . . .” Whatever is waiting for me is my fate. Leave it alone. I spread my wings and rose into the night air. Immediately, I sensed danger above me. The eagle of inspiration was taking an attack position in the clouds over my flight path. Was this the warning Edward had tried to give me? The eagle called out into the night sky in fury. My instincts told me to flee . . . but my heart knew better. I flew straight and steady . . . refusing to veer off course. The sound of the eagle charging in a vortex towards me was strangely comforting. My fate. My sentence.

I thought of Yuri. I thought of my mother. I thought of Renesmee. The eagle was upon me. I closed my eyes . . . the pain disappeared. Today, I saved my soul. Chapter 31: Penitence – Jacob Questions whirled through my mind as I flew home. Seth ran in the woods below me. Do you know what happened Jake? I had no idea. I was extremely confused and a bit frustrated. I wanted the hawk to put up a fight. For some reason, he had not struggled at all with me. It was over mercifully quick. It was almost as if . . . he wanted me to destroy him. How strange. I’d watched from overhead as the Cullen family left Niall McFadden’s fortress in a blur. Edward was carrying a burden in his arms, and Emmett was holding a bound figure over his shoulder. They moved very rapidly through the forest. I assumed we would get an explanation whenever we reached home. Did they have Yuri? I think so. They wouldn’t have left without her. Was she okay? For crying out loud! You know exactly what I know! Which is not much, apparently. Save it, Clearwater. We progressed in silence for a while. Did you enjoy ripping him to shreds for what he did to Nessie? It was weird . . . I didn’t actually enjoy myself as much as I thought I would. He didn’t fight me at all. I felt more like an executioner than anything else. Hmm. At least you know he will never bother Nessie again. I wonder what that potion did to her . . . I have some guesses. Do you think Carlisle can fix it? I didn’t answer Seth’s question directly . . . if Carlisle couldn’t fix it, I would wait patiently by Nessie’s side for the rest of eternity. If I had to start from the beginning and make her fall in love with me all over again, it would be worth every ounce of effort. She was all I wanted in the world. Time was on our side. I paused for a moment before thinking of a response. Honestly, I hope Carlisle can fix it. Me too. I’ll bring you some pants. Wait near the lake. I phased behind a tree and waited for Seth to materialize from the shadows in human form. I pulled on the drawstring pants he brought for me, and we both stood waiting for the Cullens to arrive in their fleet of expensive cars.

Alice’s yellow Porsche pulled in first. She stepped out of the car with Rosalie. The expressions on their faces were unfathomable. For some reason, neither of them could look at Seth. “What’s going on?” I demanded. The red Ferrari screeched to a halt. Nessie and Bella emerged a moment later. Bella’s features were frozen in shock. I ran to Nessie’s side and had to stop myself from yanking her into my embrace out of habit whenever I saw her unfocused gaze. It was not the Nessie I had known all her life. Their drug had served its purpose. Her eyes were a murky brown color, and her appearance was devoid of warmth. “Jake?” she murmured distractedly. “Can you please find Nate for me? I want to talk to him.” I grimaced in pain. “It’s late Nessie. We’ll try to talk to him tomorrow.” Bella pulled Nessie into her arms soothingly. Her brow was furrowed in anxiety. “Jacob . . . you . . . please take care of Seth,” she gasped under her breath. Seth? The X5 roared past us all and slammed to a halt a few inches from the front door. Edward climbed from the driver’s seat, and I saw Emmett fly into the house carrying a small, but indistinct burden in his arms. Jasper stepped carefully out of the vehicle. Alice ran into the home behind Emmett with a look of panic on her face. Edward gazed at me directly. I couldn’t read his expression. He walked with deliberate slowness over to Seth. “Seth . . .” he began. He held his hands open with the palms facing forward as if to sooth us in his approach. His golden eyes showed obvious torment. “Where’s Yuri?” Seth whispered. I could hear the fear in his voice. “She’s inside . . . with Alice and Emmett.” Seth began walking purposefully towards the house. Edward placed a hand on his bare shoulder to stop him. “What are you doing?” Seth asked in confusion. Jasper moved forward apprehensively as he stared at Seth’s face. “What the hell is going on? Is she hurt?” I demanded. “You have to tell them,” Bella murmured as she clutched Nessie even more tightly. “Tell me what!?” Seth yelled loudly. He was definitely near panic. Then, we all heard it . . . a sound that made each of us freeze in place in abject horror. Yuri screamed in anguish inside the house. A bloodcurdling cry of pain . . . one that had been held back for far too long. Seth was beside himself . . . he tried to take off into the house. Jasper and Edward restrained him, but just barely in time. “Seth! Wait! You have to know what’s going on!” Edward said. “Let go of me! Yuri! Let me go!” “What’s wrong with her?” I whispered.

“Niall McFadden . . . injected her with venom,” Edward replied quietly. I stood there in shock. Seth had stopped struggling. In fact, he wasn’t moving at all. “Take it out of her! I know you can do it! You did it with Bella!” I shouted through the haze. “I can’t. It’s too late. He injected it into her heart. Once it hits the heart . . .” I remembered watching Edward change Bella the night of Nessie’s birth. He had stabbed a syringe full of his venom deep into her heart before he bit her multiple times on her body. His intention was to make the transformation happen as quickly as possible by forcing venom into her bloodstream. What better way than to start with the heart . . . I realized in the same instant the futility of being able to stop the change from happening. Unless we made a decision otherwise, Yuri Chung would be a vampire in around three days. Her young life, her future, had been stolen from her by a madman. I sank to my knees overwhelmed by the news. Seth was still frozen like a statue. We all watched him in tense silence. “Let me go. I have to be with her.” Edward looked at Jasper quickly. Jasper studied Seth’s face for a moment and nodded to Edward. They released him. I yanked myself from my own personal hell at seeing Nessie in a drug-induced stupor and followed Seth. He needed me now, perhaps more than he ever had before. We walked up the stairs and into the house. Bella and Nessie were behind us. Another cry of anguish tore through our home. Seth shuddered involuntarily, and I put a hand on his shoulder to steady the trembling in his arms. We climbed mechanically towards Nessie’s room. Yuri was lying there surrounded by Rosalie, Alice, and Emmett. As Alice moved aside for us, the sight in front of me almost made me grab Seth to take him away again. Yuri’s small body was contorted in pain, and her facial muscles were twitching with the effort of holding back the screams. Seth breathed heavily and his hands shook. In an attempt to maintain control, he curled his fingers into fists at his sides before he strode quickly to her. “Yuri?” “Seth? . . . Oh Seth! Make it stop! Please! Make it stop!” she whimpered through clenched teeth. “Can’t you do something?” Seth whispered as he looked around at the tormented faces of the vampires standing in observance. “We can give her morphine . . .” Rosalie whispered. “It doesn’t help,” Bella murmured sadly. “But I thought it worked on you. You didn’t move or make a sound!” Emmett replied. “No. It didn’t work. Please try not to tell Edward.” They merely stared in shock at Bella for a moment. Another horrifying scream of agony.

“We have to do something!” Seth gasped. “Kill me! Kill me! Just make it stop!” Yuri sobbed. “You need to talk to her.” We all turned to the doorway. A collective sigh of relief ran through the room. Carlisle and Esme were home. He blurred to the bed and knelt beside Seth. “Yuri? It’s Carlisle Cullen. I know you’re suffering more than you’ve ever suffered before . . . and I wish there were something we could do to make it better. Your body is changing. You are becoming . . . like us. You are becoming a vampire.” “It hurts so much . . .” Another muted sound of pain followed her admission. My heart nearly broke at the sight of Seth Clearwater . . . tears were pouring silently down his face as he gingerly held onto Yuri’s small hand in his large palms. “I’m so sorry dear. I’m so sorry you weren’t given the choice,” Carlisle whispered. “Cry out if you need to. No one will blame you sweetheart,” Emmett said. I was surprised to see such a look of suffering on his usually joyful face. Nothing bothered Emmett Cullen. At least, that was what I had always thought. Seth stood up hurriedly. He looked at me with the eyes of a haunted man and fled the room. I followed after him immediately. He stood grasping the railing of the staircase. I could hear the wood beneath his fingers start to splinter. “You’re going to break it,” I murmured kindly. “I don’t care.” “You have to go back in there. She needs you,” I said. “I can’t do anything for her! If I could, I would gladly suffer in her place . . . but just sitting there watching her in pain and not being able to do anything about it . . .” He shuddered once more and squeezed his eyes shut as if he could banish the image from his memory. “You can do something about it. You can love her. There is strength in love.” He released the railing and turned to face me. The tears were still coursing down the bronze skin of his face. He dragged his palm across his chin to remove some of the wetness that had collected there. With a shaky breath, he turned back to the bedroom. I continued hovering in watchful awareness. Carlisle was still explaining to Yuri what was happening to her and what she could expect in the coming days. Again, Seth took her small hand. Instead of grasping it in between his, he placed it on the bare skin of his chest directly over his heart. “Yuri? I’m here.” “Seth . . .” It was half a scream. He took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes again, there was a quiet determination lingering in his gaze as he looked at Yuri. “Can you feel my heart? It belongs to you. Without you, it would stop beating. Without you, it would no longer have a purpose. Can you feel how strong it is? It’s strong because of you . . .”

Yuri gasped again and dug her nails into the skin on Seth’s chest as her back arched in another spasm of pain. He didn’t even flinch. Instead he pushed her hand even harder against him. “Cry out. Break things. You don’t have to fight to be strong by hiding your pain. I can be strong for you because . . . all that I am, I am for you. My strength is your strength. Take it.” I couldn’t bear it any longer. My eyes had filled with unshed tears that were beginning to burn precariously. I fled out of the room and down the stairs. The sight of my pure-hearted friend bravely hiding his own torment to give his love strength was pushing me over the edge . . . not to mention the fact that Nessie was under a warlock’s spell. I needed an outlet. I ran outside as the tears temporarily blinded me, and I nearly stumbled in a heap on the ground. The scene in the woods beyond halted my escape. I stopped short to collect myself. Edward and Jasper stood over a figure crouched in the dirt. Their postures were merciless. Their intent could not be mistaken. “Jacob,” Edward said in a clear voice. “Do you want me to leave?” I whispered. “No. You’re welcome to stay if you like. You’ve earned the right.” I proceeded soundlessly over to his side to look down on the maggot wallowing at our feet. Niall McFadden. Bound and gagged. His eyes darted back and forth between us. I’ll bet he was surprised to see me alive . . . Jasper bent down and pulled quickly at the gag. It tore cleanly in two. “Release me at once!” Niall gasped. Edward stared down at him and arched an eyebrow as he studied his prey carefully. He frowned after a moment had passed. “I keep hoping to see an iota of remorse in you,” he stated flatly to Niall. “Remorse is for the weak! I am not weak!” “Hubris is for the weak. Remorse is for those willing to accept the challenge of growth,” Edward responded. Niall spat in the dirt at Edward’s feet. Jasper snarled threateningly. “You aren’t sorry at all? You aren’t sorry that you’ve lost your nephew and your son because of your obsession?” I demanded. I could feel my fury raging just below the surface. “None of that is my fault! Colin died because of his own stupidity. Nathan . . . was a disappointment. You can’t expect me to feel guilty because of his weakness! Love . . . how predictably useless!” “Your son was twice the man you ever were. If you believe love is useless because it is a sign of weakness, then I believe you think forgiveness serves no purpose as well. Neither does mercy,” Edward intoned. “What do you think we should do with this worthless animal?” Jasper asked. Edward looked at me expectantly.

I thought about Nessie. How long would the lost look in her eyes torment me? How much would I have to fight to win her love again? Yuri . . . her suffering . . . her agony. A deeper pain than could be imagined. I looked at Edward. Immediately, I realized that we had come to the same conclusion. “Why don’t you give him what he always wanted?” I stated with conviction. Jasper raised his eyebrows at me. “He wanted so badly to be a vampire that he destroyed his own family. He tried to destroy ours. I say he’s earned the right,” I continued. Niall’s confusion momentarily cheered me. I’d certainly thrown him for a loop! Understanding washed over Jasper. His eyes narrowed as he smiled viciously down at Niall McFadden. “Inspired idea Jacob,” Edward mused with a sinister half-smile. “Can you offer some help Jazz?” “I can’t do anything about the pain . . . but I think I can enhance . . . the terror,” Jasper murmured in anticipation. “What are you talking about?” Niall demanded. I glanced back over my shoulder towards the house. “Should we take him somewhere?” “No. He belongs right there in the dirt. He will not sully our home with his presence, no matter the reason,” Edward stated flatly. Alice flashed into sight next to us. “I want to watch,” she said coldly. “I saw what you’re planning to do . . .” “Alice . . .” Edward whispered. “Spend a moment looking at Seth’s face and then tell me you wouldn’t relish seeing this monster suffer for what he’s done!” she retorted. “Suffer? You intend to cause me pain then. It is of no concern to me as long as I get what I want. I will not behave as embarrassingly as that pitiful excuse for a young woman upstairs. Real McFaddens are not cowards! I am not afraid!” Niall bit out. Jasper and Alice crouched down in attack positions as I growled in fury at the defiant form on the ground. Hissing noises rose in harmony around us. Edward reached down and yanked Niall to his feet with one hand. The look on Edward Cullen’s face made me shiver with a mixture of bloodlust and terror. I was amazed by his control. If it were my prerogative, Niall McFadden would already be lying in pieces strewn across the forest. “Continue mocking the suffering of Yuri Chung and even Satan himself won’t want anything to do with you when I’m finished. You’re not afraid? I believe my family and I are up to the challenge of remedying that . . .” he whispered. In one swift movement, Edward placed a hand on the side of Niall’s face and drew the exposed neck to his teeth. A lush tearing sound filled the silence, and a piercing cry of shock echoed after. Edward threw Niall’s body down with cold dismissal. I saw him drag the tip of his tongue slowly over his lips as if to cleanse them of the taste. He then spit through his teeth into the dirt, mirroring Niall’s insult from earlier.

We all waited motionless for what seemed like a long span of time . . . in actuality, it was probably no more than a few seconds. The writhing began. Sharp intakes of breath like the panting of an animal in pain filled the night. And then . . . “Oh God! It burns! Water! I need water!” We stared down impassively at the suffering creature. There was no room for empathy . . . no room for pity. “Put out the fire! I’ll do anything . . . just stop the burning!” “Jazz . . .” Edward hinted. Jasper crossed his arms over his chest and stared with focused concentration at Niall’s face. Terrified screams began building in Niall’s throat. He could no longer speak coherently. “No! I . . . please . . . kill me! I . . . the burning . . . KILL ME!” The tremors wracking his body reminded me of a fish on dry land. His shrieking grew louder. Ha, and he was so sure he wasn’t a coward. Emmett burst from the house and blurred to a halt a few feet from the writhing form. “I’d love to kill you! I’d love to tear you apart for what you’ve done! Who the hell do you think you are? Honestly, you thought you could get away with drugging my niece?! Your daughter is not a test subject, you soulless fiend!” he bellowed. I placed a hand softly on Emmett’s shoulder to calm him down. Alice quietly linked her arm through his and took him aside to murmur something in his ear. He calmed down quickly. I turned to ask Alice what she had said and the words died on my lips at the sight behind me. Seth was walking carefully out of the house. Rosalie followed with a watchful gaze. His eyes zeroed in on Niall McFadden as he took deliberate steps towards the monster. The Cullens respectfully moved aside to clear a path for him. “I can’t take it anymore! Just kill me! DO IT NOW! TAKE AWAY THE PAIN!” Niall cried out in a high-pitched voice that no longer sounded even remotely like him. Jasper continued to stand nearby as he sent waves of heightened terror towards Niall McFadden. Seth’s arms began trembling. The ripples moved into his torso as he walked purposefully forward. I could feel the warmth rising in his body in bursts of intensity. His eyes never lost focus on their target. “PLEASE! I’LL GIVE YOU WHATEVER YOU WANT! JUST END THE PAIN! KILL ME!” “Liar. You can’t give me what I want . . . but I’ll gladly deliver my side of the bargain,” Seth murmured hoarsely. He phased in a flash of heat. I heard the ripping sound of his clothes as the wolf burst from within the torn remnants. Niall McFadden’s body was yanked in between jagged rows of razor sharp teeth. Carrying his prey, Seth ran towards the woods. The screams reverberated off of the trees and into the night air. They ended as the sound off ripping flesh replaced their echoes.

It was over soon. “Even with his last breath, he didn’t feel sorry at all,” Edward whispered. This time, the howl of the wolf was a cry of sadness. Chapter 32: Penitence – Bella “I can’t understand why Nate hasn’t been by to see me!” Nessie murmured sleepily. I sighed with frustration. The potion had rendered my normally energetic daughter a listless narcoleptic for the last two days or so. She slept constantly and spent most of her waking hours demanding to know where Nathan McFadden was. “I’m sure he’ll call sometime later on sweetie,” I responded automatically. She yawned and placed her head back on the pillow. I quietly closed her bedroom door and walked towards Carlisle’s study where I was sure to find both Edward and Carlisle poring over books, beakers, and formulas to find something to reverse the effects of the draught Nessie had imbibed. “Do we know yet why she is sleeping so much?” I stated with concern as I entered the room. “I believe they forced her to drink a great deal of the potion . . . maybe even ten times the normal amount in an effort to ensure effectiveness since Nessie is only half-human. I guess they had to be sure it would work, so they essentially gave her an overdose. From our research, it appears that the solution works two ways . . . it gives the victim a sense of euphoria around the victimizer, but it also reduces the victim’s focus, which then makes them easier to control. Without this focus, they are basically sleepwalking through life. Thank God that we had access to many of the ingredients via Niall’s safe. Honestly, I think that her system will flush through the substance quickly because the cells of vampiric origin are resisting the solution – it can’t bind with them. Eventually it should lose its potency. I just can’t be sure,” Carlisle responded. I exhaled deeply. “Any luck?” “We’ve pored over everything we took from the safe. There were many unlabeled potions and some haphazard directions for brewing things . . . I think that we can come up with some sort of antidote sometime soon. I’m very uncomfortable with forcing her to drink another potion, but Carlisle seems certain that we can devise something that should work to combat her symptoms,” Edward replied automatically. Sensing how troubled I was, Edward walked towards me and grazed the back of his hand across my cheek soothingly. I closed my eyes and tried to feel calm. “I won’t give up Bella. I promise you. We’ll fix this.” “I know. I trust you.” I placed a kiss in his palm to thank him, and he smiled crookedly back at me. “There are actually things I retrieved from Niall’s safe that may be of interest to Yuri,” Edward stated as he walked back over to the makeshift laboratory he and Carlisle had constructed against the wall. “Such as?” “Well for some reason, Niall had her mother’s diary from when she was Yuri’s age. There are also countless manuscripts to show that Niall kept a journal-of-sorts from that time period,” he mused.

“I don’t know that she would have any interest in reading Niall’s junk, but she might want to see what her mother wrote,” I murmured. “Regardless, I’ll give her the choice of what she wants to do with these things,” he said as he mixed a solution from one test tube into another. The color changed from amber to dark red. He frowned and discarded the failed mixture as he proceeded to restart the experiment. “Do you think it will matter that she’s . . . a half-witch?” I asked quietly. Carlisle paused thoughtfully as he considered how to answer the question. “It’s hard to say. She will definitely be unique. I find that the transformation usually enhances characteristics that we had as humans, so it will be interesting to see how that translates when the human had natural talents based in the occult.” “I’m more concerned with how she deals with Seth than anything else,” Edward admitted. “I don’t think Seth can be convinced to leave her side, and I’ve never seen a newborn vampire handle being around humans well . . . with only one exception,” he grinned indulgently at me. I shifted uncomfortably at his praise. “I really think it’s all in how you see it. I never felt like Jake or Seth smelled appealing to me anyway . . . they smell a lot like, well, animals.” Carlisle chuckled. “I’d like to hope that it works out that way, but I’ve warned Yuri just in case. I spent a great deal of time trying to explain to her everything that was happening, and I also shared your transformation story with her to give her hope that she can transcend the curse of being a newborn. I think she understood everything even through her suffering. It’s a pity that she was too far into the process for morphine to be effective,” he mused. Edward grimaced reflexively at Carlisle’s words and then looked at my face knowingly. Someone must have let it slip . . . either mentally or verbally. Crap. I hated that Edward knew the transformation had caused me pain. He was probably mentally flogging himself right at that moment. I reached over to take his hand and squeeze it. Carlisle poured a solution into a large test tube filled with the same amber-colored liquid Edward had just been experimenting with. It changed to pale blue as he swirled it around carefully. “I think I might have it! And it only took fifty tries . . .” Carlisle grinned in approval as he turned to Edward. Immediately, they placed drops of the blue liquid onto slides to study a reaction as they used tiny syringes to inject purple solution under the microscope. “It stays blue,” Edward murmured. He smiled back at Carlisle as he reached for another vial filled with Nessie’s tainted blood. “The final test . . .” Carlisle muttered quickly. They began putting together a mixture of Nessie’s blood with the light blue solution and proceeded to analyze the reaction under several different microscopes. I saw a look of satisfaction on each of their faces when they were finished, but I could also see trepidation in the glances they exchanged. “What is it?” I demanded. “Did you figure out the antidote?” “There’s only one way to find out,” Edward said thoughtfully. “The experiment is successful, but I hate to think that we have no basis for comparison and are essentially conducting the trial run on our own daughter.” A knock sounded at the door.

“Come in Jacob,” Edward said. His tall form walked into the room as he looked at us in anticipation. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help but overhear . . . do you think you have the antidote?” he asked quickly. “Perhaps,” Carlisle answered. “We just don’t want to make it worse Jake . . . it’s risky to give Nessie something when we don’t know exactly what it will do to her,” I stated flatly. “I understand. I trust you, and I know that you’ll do what’s best for Nessie.” The hopeful look in his gaze was impossible to ignore. “Do you think we should do it?” I whispered to Edward. Conflict raged in his eyes for a moment as he looked at each of our faces carefully. I could see that Carlisle wanted to give her the potion, but Jake’s expression was difficult to read. Edward exhaled. “Yes. I think we should give it to her.” “I agree,” I murmured. Carlisle picked up the beaker containing the blue liquid and poured it into a glass before walking towards Nessie’s bedroom. I quietly knocked on her door and pushed it open to see her sleeping peacefully in bed. Carlisle handed Edward the glass, and we moved over to Nessie. “Nessie?” I gently shook her awake. “Mom? Has Nate called?” she asked as she stretched her arms over her head. “I don’t know baby . . . but we brought you something to drink. It will make you . . . less sleepy,” I said with a smile. “Oh! That would be nice! I don’t know why I’m so tired all the time!” she yawned. “Just drink it all sweetheart,” Edward stated as he handed her the glass. “What a pretty color . . . it reminds me of Nate’s eyes!” Nessie giggled like a simpleton. Jake’s fingers clenched into fists at his sides as Nessie drank down the contents of the glass. She set it down on the night table and yawned again. She fell back asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. I looked at Edward in alarm. “Give it some time,” Carlisle pronounced kindly after checking her pulse and her temperature. “Her vital signs are strong. It may just need time to take effect.” We continued staring at Nessie’s sleeping form for signs of change. After a few minutes had passed, Edward turned sharply towards the door. The sounds of movement from downstairs were becoming louder. “It’s happening. It’s almost time,” he whispered. Carlisle sped from the room. I looked at Nessie and then at Edward. “I’ll stay with her here. You both guard the stairs,” Jacob said forcefully. “That way you can see what’s happening and stop Yuri from coming into the room if she is tempted by Nessie’s scent.”

Edward nodded and took my hand so that we could wait at the top of the staircase and look down into the great room. Yuri had been moved there this morning as a precaution. Since blood ran through Nessie’s veins, it was very important that she and Yuri be as far apart as possible whenever the transformation process completed its cycle. Yuri’s small body was lying on the sofa. Seth sat rigidly by her side. Since the night he had rendered final judgment on Yuri’s killer, he had not left his post except for reasons of necessity. His hand would periodically press her palm to his chest when her moans grew in intensity. For some inexplicable reason, it seemed to soothe her pain. Alice and Jasper hovered over the couch. Esme sat in the loveseat staring at Yuri’s longsuffering form. Emmett stood with Rosalie off to the side in protective observance of both Yuri and the staircase leading to Nessie’s room. Yuri gasped loudly. I could hear her heartbeat begin racing at an even faster pace. Soon, it became difficult to distinguish each palpitation from the next. I remembered this sensation with perfect clarity. The fire was leaving her extremities, but the heat would increase in intensity as it moved ever closer to her core. She cried out as her back arched in pain. It would be over soon. “Seth,” Carlisle began with lingering unease. “I’m not leaving. You’ve warned me enough,” he murmured resolutely. Jasper looked pointedly at Emmett, and Emmett nodded in silent agreement. They were probably thinking of a way to snatch Seth from the room if things got out of control. Her pounding heart took off in one long trill that echoed throughout the room as Yuri screamed once more. Then . . . silence. Seth’s breathing and his strong, steady heartbeat were the only sounds I could hear filling the space downstairs. Yuri blinked her eyes open and inhaled as she sat up so quickly that it caused Seth to gasp in shock. She turned immediately at the sound. Jasper hovered protectively over Seth and looked very surprised at whatever he saw in Yuri’s face. Carlisle was standing right behind Yuri ready to stop any impending attack. “Her eyes . . .” Jasper whispered. Edward exhaled sharply as he saw Jasper’s thoughts. Seth stared wondrously at the face of his love. “Yuri,” he breathed. “Seth.” Her voice sounded as clear as a nightingale’s song. The sound shimmered as it echoed off of the walls. Suddenly, her right hand flashed to Seth’s chest. The quick motion startled my family, and the ranks closed in yet again. Seth was the only person who looked completely unfazed. Yuri opened her mouth to speak again as she pressed her hand over Seth’s heart. “All that I am, I am for you. My strength is your strength,” she intoned musically. Seth smiled joyfully. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Without warning, Seth grabbed Yuri and pulled her face to his for a kiss. Cries of shock filled the air. Jasper stared incredulously at the sight before him as the werewolf held the vampire in a passionate embrace. The vampire curled her fingers through the werewolf’s hair and kissed him back fervently. And then, the real surprise occurred. As they kissed, their bodies began to rise in the air. They rotated slowly as their entwined figures climbed higher and higher. “My God,” Carlisle murmured as he looked at the ceiling in awe. Their kiss ended, and Seth looked below him in delighted shock. “That’s a pretty neat trick,” he grinned at Yuri. She gently lowered him back to the ground and rose even higher into the air as she neared the ceiling above. “I’ll be damned . . . Yoda can fly,” Emmett crowed. Yuri turned to face me and to face Edward from our stance on the landing overlooking the room. She was now eye level with us. I saw what Jasper had been so surprised to see . . . Her eyes . . . looked like glittering amethysts as they sparkled with violet radiance. I remembered the bright red color that had glowed from my eyes for nearly a year following my transformation. Never before had I seen a vampire with purple eyes. The luster of Yuri’s black hair was so strong that the light reflecting from it looked blue . . . and her skin glowed like a polished pearl. She was breathtakingly beautiful. “Yuri!” Nessie’s melodic voice echoed from behind us. I turned to grab her as she ran down the hall . . . the twinkling chocolate brown color shining from her gaze warmed my soul as much as the pink flush growing on her cheeks brought a smile to Edward’s face. Jacob walked behind us with a huge grin. Nessie spun and threw herself into his embrace . . . judging from the shaggy disarray of his hair and the warm tone on his face, I’d guess it wasn’t the first time in the last few moments that Nessie had showered affection on Jacob Black. “That has got to be the coolest thing I’ve seen in a while,” Nessie laughed loudly as she stared at Yuri. The sound of my child’s clear laughter brought peace to my mind. Her unabashedly pure smile was infectious. Yuri returned Nessie’s gaze with mirth. Below us, every vase, every flower, every frame lining all of the surfaces in the great room rose slowly into the air. Even the curls on Rosalie’s head moved in becoming waves around her face. Yuri held out her palm and curled her fingers upward. In an instant, Seth was by her side grasping onto her hand. The smile on her face grew . . . her amethyst eyes sparkled. . . . and her razor sharp teeth shined a blinding white light. Epilogue “Scotch on the rocks,” the middle-aged gentleman said without evening looking up at the flight attendant servicing the first-class cabin.

“Here you go, sir,” she replied automatically as she handed him the drink. “How much longer until we take off?” he demanded as he perused an email on his Blackberry. “I believe it will be at least another fifteen minutes until we taxi down the runway, sir,” she said as politely as possible. “I am not to be disturbed until we arrive in Edinburgh,” he stated. He pronounced the city’s name with perfect inflection in his lilting Scottish accent. “Yes sir.” The phone in his hand vibrated. “Hamish McFadden,” he answered crisply. “Lord McFadden . . . it’s John.” “Did you receive the information I sent to you?” the gentleman murmured. “Yes sir. Were the police able to find anything else?” He sighed in frustration. “Both the explosion and the fire completely destroyed the home, and the authorities were unable to find any trace of their remains. The possibility of foul play has also been tossed aside due to lack of evidence. Their deaths have been ruled ‘accidental’.” “Was the Book in the safety deposit box as Niall instructed?” “Yes, the key worked at the bank. Unfortunately, the safe in his office was completely empty . . . I was unable to retrieve his journals.” “And the will?” John asked quietly. “I do not understand why my cousin would be so foolish . . . he left everything, including Caisteal Ardrain to a woman named Soojin Chung,” he spat into the phone. “This is all most disturbing . . . and quite suspect. Do we know why in God’s name he would bequeath everything to this woman?” “No. She appears to be nothing more than a pianist of humble origins,” the gentleman said with disdain. “This entire situation makes me highly uncomfortable, Lord McFadden,” John said plainly. Hamish McFadden pursed his lips resolutely. “I can’t agree with you more. I don’t have the answers yet, but I swear on the Book that I will do whatever it takes to find out what happened here . . . and make the persons responsible pay dearly for it.” He ended the phone call and proceeded to stare out the small window. His icy blue eyes flashed murderously.

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