PREFACE I'd had more than my fair share of near-death experiences; it wasn't something you ever really got used to. It seemed oddly inevitable, though, facing death again. Like I really was marked for disaster. I'd escaped time and time again, but it kept coming back for me. Still, this time was so different from the others. You could run from someone you feared, you could try to fight someone you hated. All my reactions were geared toward those kinds of killers ——the monsters, the enemies. When you loved the one who was killing you, it left you no options. How could you run, how could you fight, when doing so would hurt that beloved one? If your life was all you had to give your beloved, how could you not give it? If it was someone you truly loved?
1. ENGAGED No one is staring at you, I promised myself. No one is staring at you. No one is staring at you. But, because I couldn't lie convincingly even to myself, I had to check. As I sat waiting for one of the three traffic lights in town to turn green, I peeked to the right —u—in her minivan, Mrs. Weber had turned her whole torso in my direction. Her eyes bored into mine, and I flinched back, wondering why she didn't drop her gaze or look ashamed. It was still considered rude to stare at people, wasn't it? Didn't that apply to me anymore? Then I remembered that these windows were so darkly tinted that she probably had no idea if it was even me in here, let alone that I'd caught her looking. I tried to take some comfort in the fact that she wasn't really staring at me, just the car. My car. Sigh. I glanced to the left and groaned. Two pedestrians were frozen on the sidewalk, missing their chance to cross as they stared. Behind them, Mr. Marshall was gawking through the plate-glass window of his little souvenir shop. At least he didn't have his nose pressed up against the glass. Yet. The light turned green and, in my hurry to escape, I stomped on the gas pedal without thinking ——the normal way I would have punched it to get my ancient Chevy truck moving. Engine snarling like a hunting panther, the car jolted forward so fast that my body slammed into the black leather seat and my stomach flattened against my spine. "Arg!" I gasped as I fumbled for the brake. Keeping my head, I merely tapped the pedal. The car lurched to an absolute standstill anyway. I couldn't bear to look around at the reaction. If there had been any doubt as to who was driving this car before, it was gone now. With the toe of my shoe, I gently nudged the gas pedal down one half millimeter, and the car shot forward again. I managed to reach my goal, the gas station. If I hadn't been running on vapors, I wouldn't have come into town at all. I was going without a lot of things these days, like Pop-Tarts and shoelaces, to avoid spending time in public. Moving as if I were in a race, I got the hatch open, the cap off, the card scanned, and the nozzle in the tank within seconds. Of course, there was nothing I could do to make the numbers on the gauge pick up the pace. They ticked by sluggishly, almost as if they were doing it just to annoy me. It wasn't bright out ——a typical drizzly day in Forks, Washington—2—but I still felt like a spotlight was trained on me, drawing attention to the delicate ring on my left hand. At times like this, sensing the eyes on my back, it felt as if the ring were pulsing like a neon sign: Look at me, look at me. It was stupid to be so self-conscious, and I knew that. Besides my dad and mom, did it really matter what people were saying about my engagement? About my new car? About my mysterious acceptance into an Ivy League college? About the shiny black credit card that felt red-hot in my back pocket right now? "Yeah, who cares what they think," I muttered under my breath. "Urn, miss?" a man's voice called. I turned, and then wished I hadn't. Two men stood beside a fancy SUV with brand-new kayaks tied to the top. Neither of them was looking at me; they both were staring at the car. Personally, I didn't get it. But then, I was just proud I could distinguish between the symbols for Toyota, Ford, and Chevy. This car was glossy black, sleek, and pretty, but it was still just a car to me. "I'm sorry to bother you, but could you tell me what kind of car you're driving?" the tall one asked. "Urn, a Mercedes, right?" "Yes," the man said politely while his shorter friend rolled his eyes at my answer. "I know. But I was wondering, is that... are you driving a Mercedes Guardian?" The man said the name with reverence. I had a feeling this guy would get along well with Edward Cullen, my... my fiance (there really was no getting around that truth with the wedding just days away). "They aren't supposed to be available in Europe yet," the man went on, "let alone here." While his eyes traced the contours of my car —o—it didn't look much different from any other Mercedes sedan to me, but what did I know?——I briefly contemplated my issues with words like fiance, wedding, husband, etc. I just couldn't put it together in my head. On the one hand, I had been raised to cringe at the very thought of poofy white dresses and bouquets. But more than that, I just couldn't reconcile a staid, respectable, dull concept like husband with my concept of Edward. It was like casting an archangel as an accountant; I couldn't visualize him in any commonplace role. Like always, as soon as I started thinking about Edward I was caught up in a dizzy spin of fantasies. The stranger had to clear his throat to get my attention; he was still waiting for an answer about the car's make and model. "I don't know," I told him honestly. "Do you mind if I take a picture with it?" It took me a second to process that. "Really? You want to take a picture with the car?" "Sure ——nobody is going to believe me if I don't get proof." "Urn. Okay. Fine." I swiftly put away the nozzle and crept into the front seat to hide while the enthusiast dug a huge professional-looking camera out of his backpack. He and his friend took turns posing by the hood, and then they went to take pictures at the back end. "I miss my truck," I whimpered to myself. Very, very convenient —i—too convenient—4—that my truck would wheeze its last wheeze just weeks after Edward and I had agreed to our lopsided compromise, one detail of which was that he be allowed to replace my truck when it passed on. Edward swore it was only to be expected; my truck had lived a long, full life and then expired of natural causes. According to him. And, of course, I had no way to verify his story or to try to raise my truck from the dead on my own. My favorite mechanic—— I stopped that thought cold, refusing to let it come to a conclusion. Instead, I listened to the men's voices outside, muted by the car walls. "... went at it with a flamethrower in the online video. Didn't even pucker the paint." "Of course not. You could roll a tank over this baby. Not much of a market for one over here. Designed for Middle East diplomats, arms dealers, and drug lords mostly." "Think she's something?" the short one asked in a softer voice. I ducked my head, cheeks flaming. "Huh," the tall one said. "Maybe. Can't imagine what you'd need missile-proof glass and four thousand pounds of body armor for around here. Must be headed somewhere more hazardous." Body armor. Four thousand pounds of body armor. And missile-proof glass? Nice. What had happened to good old-fashioned bulletproof? Well, at least this made some sense —u—if you had a twisted sense of humor. It wasn't like I hadn't expected Edward to take advantage of our deal, to weight it on his side so that he could give so much more than he would receive. I'd agreed that he could replace my truck when it needed replacing, not expecting that moment to come quite so soon, of course. When I'd been forced to admit that the truck had become no more than a still-life tribute to classic Chevys on my curb, I knew his idea of a replacement was probably going to embarrass me. Make me the focus of stares and whispers. I'd been right about that part. But even in my darkest imaginings I had not foreseen that he would get me two cars. The "before" car and the "after" car, he'd explained when I'd flipped out. This was just the "before" car. He'd told me it was a loaner and promised that he was returning it after the wedding. It all had made absolutely no sense to me. Until now. Ha ha. Because I was so fragilely human, so accident-prone, so much a victim to my own dangerous bad luck, apparently I needed a tank-resistant car to keep me safe. Hilarious. I was sure he and his brothers had enjoyed the joke quite a bit behind my back. Or maybe, just maybe, a small voice whispered in my head, it's not a joke, silly. Maybe he's really that worried about you. This wouldn't be the first time he's gone a little overboard trying to protect you. I sighed. I hadn't seen the "after" car yet. It was hidden under a sheet in the deepest corner of the Cullens' garage. I knew most people would have peeked by now, but I really didn't want to know. Probably no body armor on that car ——because I wouldn't need it after the honeymoon. Virtual indestructibility was just one of the many perks I was looking forward to. The best parts about being a Cullen were not expensive cars and impressive credit cards. "Hey," the tall man called, cupping his hands to the glass in an effort to peer in. "We're done now. Thanks a lot!" "You're welcome," I called back, and then tensed as I started the engine and eased the pedal — —ever so gently——down___ No matter how many times I drove down the familiar road home, I still couldn't make the rain-faded flyers fade into the background. Each one of them, stapled to telephone poles and taped to street signs, was like a fresh slap in the face. A well-deserved slap in the face. My mind was sucked back into the thought I'd interrupted so immediately before. I couldn't avoid it on this road. Not with pictures of my favorite mechanic flashing past me at regular intervals. My best friend. My Jacob. The have you SEEN this boy? posters were not Jacob's father's idea. It had been my father, Charlie, who'd printed up the flyers and spread them all over town. And not just Forks, but Port Angeles and Sequim and Hoquiam and Aberdeen and every other town in the Olympic Peninsula. He'd made sure that all the police stations in the state of Washington had the same flyer hanging on the wall, too. His own station had a whole corkboard dedicated to finding Jacob. A corkboard that was mostly empty, much to his disappointment and frustration. My dad was disappointed with more than the lack of response. He was most disappointed with Billy, Jacob's father ——and Charlie's closest friend. For Billy's not being more involved with the search for his sixteen-year-old "runaway." For Billy's refusing to put up the flyers in La Push, the reservation on the coast that was Jacob's home. For his seeming resigned to Jacob's disappearance, as if there was nothing he could do. For his saying, "Jacob's grown up now. He'll come home if he wants to." And he was frustrated with me, for taking Billy's side. I wouldn't put up posters, either. Because both Billy and I knew where Jacob was, roughly speaking, and we also knew that no one had seen this boy. The flyers put the usual big, fat lump in my throat, the usual stinging tears in my eyes, and I was glad Edward was out hunting this Saturday. If Edward saw my reaction, it would only make him feel terrible, too. Of course, there were drawbacks to it being Saturday. As I turned slowly and carefully onto my street, I could see my dad's police cruiser in the driveway of our home. He'd skipped fishing again today. Still sulking about the wedding. So I wouldn't be able to use the phone inside. But I had to call___ I parked on the curb behind the Chevy sculpture and pulled the cell phone Edward had given me for emergencies out of the glove compartment. I dialed, keeping my finger on the "end" button as the phone rang. Just in case. "Hello?" Seth Clearwater answered, and I sighed in relief. I was way too chicken to speak to his older sister, Leah. The phrase "bite my head off was not entirely a figure of speech when it came to Leah. "Hey, Seth, it's Bella." "Oh, hiya, Bella! How are you?" Choked up. Desperate for reassurance. "Fine." "Calling for an update?" "You're psychic." "Not hardly. I'm no Alice ——you're just predictable," he joked. Among the Quileute pack down at La Push, only Seth was comfortable even mentioning the Cullens by name, let alone joking about things like my nearly omniscient sister-in-law-to-be. "I know I am." I hesitated for a minute. "How is he?" Seth sighed. "Same as ever. He won't talk, though we know he hears us. He's trying not to think human, you know. Just going with his instincts." "Do you know where he is now?" "Somewhere in northern Canada. I can't tell you which province. He doesn't pay much attention to state lines." "Any hint that he might..." "He's not coming home, Bella. Sorry." I swallowed. "S'okay, Seth. I knew before I asked. I just can't help wishing." "Yeah. We all feel the same way." "Thanks for putting up with me, Seth. I know the others must give you a hard time." "They're not your hugest fans," he agreed cheerfully. "Kind of lame, I think. Jacob made his choices, you made yours. Jake doesn't like their attitude about it. 'Course, he isn't super thrilled that you're checking up on him, either." I gasped. "I thought he wasn't talking to you?" "He can't hide everything from us, hard as he's trying." So Jacob knew I was worried. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. Well, at least he knew I hadn't skipped off into the sunset and forgotten him completely. He might have imagined me capable of that. "I guess I'll see you at the... wedding," I said, forcing the word out through my teeth. "Yeah, me and my mom will be there. It was cool of you to ask us." I smiled at the enthusiasm in his voice. Though inviting the Clearwaters had been Edward's idea, I was glad he'd thought of it. Having Seth there would be nice ——a link, however tenuous, to my missing best man. "It wouldn't be the same without you." "Tell Edward I said hi, 'kay?" "Sure thing." I shook my head. The friendship that had sprung up between Edward and Seth was something that still boggled my mind. It was proof, though, that things didn't have to be this way. That vampires and werewolves could get along just fine, thank you very much, if they were of a mind to. Not everybody liked this idea. "Ah," Seth said, his voice cracking up an octave. "Er, Leah's home." "Oh! Bye!" The phone went dead. I left it on the seat and prepared myself mentally to go inside the house, where Charlie would be waiting. My poor dad had so much to deal with right now. Jacob-the-runaway was just one of the straws on his overburdened back. He was almost as worried about me, his barely-a-legal-adult daughter who was about to become a Mrs. in just a few days' time. I walked slowly through the light rain, remembering the night we'd told him___ As the sound of Charlie's cruiser announced his return, the ring suddenly weighed a hundred pounds on my finger. I wanted to shove my left hand in a pocket, or maybe sit on it, but Edward's cool, firm grasp kept it front and center. "Stop fidgeting, Bella. Please try to remember that you're not confessing to a murder here." "Easy for you to say." I listened to the ominous sound of my father's boots clomping up the sidewalk. The key rattled in the already open door. The sound reminded me of that part of the horror movie when the victim realizes she's forgotten to lock herdeadbolt. "Calm down, Bella," Edward whispered, listening to the acceleration of my heart. The door slammed against the wall, and I flinched like I'd been Tasered. "Hey, Charlie," Edward called, entirely relaxed. "No!" I protested under my breath. "What?" Edward whispered back. "Wait till he hangs his gun up!" Edward chuckled and ran his free hand through his tousled bronze hair. Charlie came around the corner, still in his uniform, still armed, and tried not to make a face when he spied us sitting together on the loveseat. Lately, he'd been putting forth a lot of effort to like Edward more. Of course, this revelation was sure to end that effort immediately. "Hey, kids. What's up?" "We'd like to talk to you," Edward said, so serene. "We have some good news." Charlie's expression went from strained friendliness to black suspicion in a second. "Good news?" Charlie growled, looking straight at me. "Have a seat, Dad." He raised one eyebrow, stared at me for five seconds, then stomped to the recliner and sat down on the very edge, his back ramrod straight. "Don't get worked up, Dad," I said after a moment of loaded silence. "Everything's okay." Edward grimaced, and I knew it was in objection to the word okay. He probably would have used something more like wonderful or perfect or glorious. "Sure it is, Bella, sure it is. If everything is so great, then why are you sweating bullets?" "I'm not sweating," I lied. I leaned away from his fierce scowl, cringing into Edward, and instinctively wiped the back of my right hand across my forehead to remove the evidence. "You're pregnant!" Charlie exploded. "You're pregnant, aren't you?" Though the question was clearly meant for me, he was glaring at Edward now, and I could have sworn I saw his hand twitch toward the gun. "No! Of course I'm not!" I wanted to elbow Edward in the ribs, but I knew that move would only give me a bruise. I'd told Edward that people would immediately jump to this conclusion! What other possible reason would sane people have for getting married at eighteen? (His answer then had made me roll my eyes. Love. Right.) Charlie's glower lightened a shade. It was usually pretty clear on my face when I was telling the truth, and he believed me now. "Oh. Sorry." "Apology accepted." There was a long pause. After a moment, I realized everyone was waiting for me to say something. I looked up at Edward, panic-stricken. There was no way I was going to get the words out. He smiled at me and then squared his shoulders and turned to my father. "Charlie, I realize that I've gone about this out of order. Traditionally, I should have asked you first. I mean no disrespect, but since Bella has already said yes and I don't want to diminish her choice in the matter, instead of asking you for her hand, I'm asking you for your blessing. We're getting married, Charlie. I love her more than anything in the world, more than my own life, and —2—by some miracle——she loves me that way, too. Will you give us your blessing?" He sounded so sure, so calm. For just an instant, listening to the absolute confidence in his voice, I experienced a rare moment of insight, i could see, fleetingly, the way the world looked to him. For the length of one heartbeat, this news made perfect sense. And then I caught sight of the expression on Charlie's face, his eyes now locked on the ring. I held my breath while his skin changed colors —4—fair to red, red to purple, purple to blue. I started to get up——I'm not sure what I planned to do; maybe use the Heimlich maneuver to make sure he wasn't choking ——but Edward squeezed my hand and murmured "Give him a minute" so low that only I could hear. The silence was much longer this time. Then, gradually, shade by shade, Charlie's color returned to normal. His lips pursed, and his eyebrows furrowed; I recognized his "deep in thought" expression. He studied the two of us for a long moment, and I felt Edward relax at my side. "Guess I'm not that surprised," Charlie grumbled. "Knew I'd have to deal with something like this soon enough." I exhaled. "You sure about this?" Charlie demanded, glaring at me. "I'm one hundred percent sure about Edward," I told him without missing a beat. "Getting married, though? What's the rush?" He eyed me suspiciously again. The rush was due to the fact that I was getting closer to nineteen every stinking day, while Edward stayed frozen in all his seventeen-year-old perfection, as he had for over ninety years. Not that this fact necessitated marriage in my book, but the wedding was required due to the delicate and tangled compromise Edward and I had made to finally get to this point, the brink of my transformation from mortal to immortal. These weren't things I could explain to Charlie. "We're going away to Dartmouth together in the fall, Charlie," Edward reminded him. "I'd like to do that, well, the right way. It's how I was raised." He shrugged. He wasn't exaggerating; they'd been big on old-fashioned morals during World War I. Charlie's mouth twisted to the side. Looking for an angle to argue from. But what could he say? I'd prefer you live in sin first? He was a dad; his hands were tied. "Knew this was coming," he muttered to himself, frowning. Then, suddenly, his face went perfectly smooth and blank. "Dad?" I asked anxiously. I glanced at Edward, but I couldn't read his face, either, as he watched Charlie. "Ha!" Charlie exploded. I jumped in my seat. "Ha, ha, ha!" I stared incredulously as Charlie doubled over in laughter; his whole body shook with it. I looked at Edward for a translation, but Edward had his lips pressed tightly together, like he was trying to hold back laughter himself. "Okay, fine," Charlie choked out. "Get married." Another roll of laughter shook through him. "But..." "But what?" I demanded. "But you have to tell your mom! I'm not saying one word to Renee! That's all yours!" He busted into loud guffaws. I paused with my hand on the doorknob, smiling. Sure, at the time, Charlie's words had terrified me. The ultimate doom: telling Renee. Early marriage was higher up on her blacklist than boiling live puppies. Who could have foreseen her response? Not me. Certainly not Charlie. Maybe Alice, but I hadn't thought to ask her. "Well, Bella," Renee had said after I'd choked and stuttered out the impossible words: /Worn, I'm marrying Edward. Tm a little miffed that you waited so long to tell me. Plane tickets only get more expensive. Oooh," she'd fretted. "Do you think Phil's cast will be off by then? It will spoil the pictures if he's not in a tux ——" "Back up a second, Mom." I'd gasped. "What do you mean, waited so long? I just got en-en . . ." ——I'd been unable to force out the word engaged—2—"things settled, you know, today." "Today? Really? That is a surprise. I assumed ..." "What did you assume? When did you assume?" "Well, when you came to visit me in April, it looked like things were pretty much sewn up, if you know what I mean. You're not very hard to read, sweetie. But I didn't say anything because I knew it wouldn't do any good. You're exactly like Charlie." She'd sighed, resigned. "Once you make up your mind, there is no reasoning with you. Of course, exactly like Charlie, you stick by your decisions, too." And then she'd said the last thing that I'd ever expected to hear from my mother. "You're not making my mistakes, Bella. You sound like you're scared silly, and I'm guessing it's because you're afraid of me." She'd giggled. "Of what I'm going to think. And I know I've said a lot of things about marriage and stupidity —u—and I'm not taking them back——but you need to realize that those things specifically applied to me. You're a completely different person than I am. You make your own kinds of mistakes, and I'm sure you'll have your share of regrets in life. But commitment was never your problem, sweetie. You have a better chance of making this work than most forty-year-olds I know." Renee had laughed again. "My little middle-aged child. Luckily, you seem to have found another old soul." "You're not... mad? You don't think I'm making a humongous mistake?" "Well, sure, I wish you'd wait a few more years. I mean, do I look old enough to be a mother-in-law to you? Don't answer that. But this isn't about me. This is about you. Are you happy?" "I don't know. I'm having an out-of-body experience right now." Renee had chuckled. "Does he make you happy, Bella?" "Yes, but ——" "Are you ever going to want anyone else?" "No, but ——" "But what?" "But aren't you going to say that I sound exactly like every other infatuated teenager since the dawn of time?" "You've never been a teenager, sweetie. You know what's best for you." For the last few weeks, Renee had unexpectedly immersed herself in wedding plans. She'd spent hours every day on the phone with Edward's mother, Esme —u—no worries about the in-laws getting along. Renee adored Esme, but then, I doubted anyone could help responding that way to my lovable almost-mother-in-law. It let me right off the hook. Edward's family and my family were taking care of the nuptials together without my having to do or know or think too hard about any of it. Charlie was furious, of course, but the sweet part was that he wasn't furious at me. Renee was the traitor. He'd counted on her to play the heavy. What could he do now, when his ultimate threat ——telling Mom—p—had turned out to be utterly empty? He had nothing, and he knew it. So he moped around the house, muttering things about not being able to trust anyone in this world___ "Dad?" I called as I pushed open the front door. "I'm home." "Hold on, Bells, stay right there." "Huh?" I asked, pausing automatically. "Gimme a second. Ouch, you got me, Alice." Alice? "Sorry, Charlie," Alice's trilling voice responded. "How's that?" "I'm bleeding on it." "You're fine. Didn't break the skin ——trust me." "What's going on?" I demanded, hesitating in the doorway. "Thirty seconds, please, Bella," Alice told me. "Your patience will be rewarded." "Humph," Charlie added. I tapped my foot, counting each beat. Before I got to thirty, Alice said, "Okay, Bella, come in!" Moving with caution, I rounded the little corner into our living room. "Oh," I huffed. "Aw. Dad. Don't you look —4—" "Silly?" Charlie interrupted. "I was thinking more like debonair" Charlie blushed. Alice took his elbow and tugged him around into a slow spin to showcase the pale gray tux. "Now cut that out, Alice. I look like an idiot." "No one dressed by me ever looks like an idiot." "She's right, Dad. You look fabulous! What's the occasion?" Alice rolled her eyes. "It's the final check on the fit. For both of you." I peeled my gaze off the unusually elegant Charlie for the first time and saw the dreaded white garment bag laid carefully across the sofa. "Aaah." "Go to your happy place, Bella. It won't take long." I sucked in a deep breath and closed my eyes. Keeping them shut, I stumbled my way up the stairs to my room. I stripped down to my underwear and held my arms straight out. "You'd think I was shoving bamboo splinters under your nails," Alice muttered to herself as she followed me in. I paid no attention to her. I was in my happy place. In my happy place, the whole wedding mess was over and done. Behind me. Already repressed and forgotten. We were alone, just Edward and me. The setting was fuzzy and constantly in flux —u—it morphed from misty forest to cloud-covered city to arctic night—u—because Edward was keeping the location of our honeymoon a secret to surprise me. But I wasn't especially concerned about the where part. Edward and I were together, and I'd fulfilled my side of our compromise perfectly. I'd married him. That was the big one. But I'd also accepted all his outrageous gifts and was registered, however futilely, to attend Dartmouth College in the fall. Now it was his turn. Before he turned me into a vampire —4—his big compromise——he had one other stipulation to make good on. Edward had an obsessive sort of concern over the human things that I would be giving up, the experiences he didn't want me to miss. Most of them ——like the prom, for example—4—seemed silly to me. There was only one human experience I worried about missing. Of course it would be the one he wished I would forget completely. Here was the thing, though. I knew a little about what I was going to be like when I wasn't human anymore. I'd seen newborn vampires firsthand, and I'd heard all my family-to-be's stories about those wild early days. For several years, my biggest personality trait was going to be thirsty, it would take some time before I could be me again. And even when I was in control of myself, I would never feel exactly the way I felt now. Human... and passionately in love. I wanted the complete experience before I traded in my warm, breakable, pheromone-riddled body for something beautiful, strong... and unknown. I wanted a real honeymoon with Edward. And, despite the danger he feared this would put me in, he'd agreed to try. I was only vaguely aware of Alice and the slip and slide of satin over my skin. I didn't care, for the moment, that the whole town was talking about me. I didn't think about the spectacle I would have to star in much too soon. I didn't worry about tripping on my train or giggling at the wrong moment or being too young or the staring audience or even the empty seat where my best friend should be. I was with Edward in my happy place.
2. LONG NIGHT "I miss you already." "I don't need to leave. I can stay___" "Mmm." It was quiet for a long moment, just the thud of my heart hammering, the broken rhythm of our ragged breathing, and the whisper of our lips moving in synchronization. Sometimes it was so easy to forget that I was kissing a vampire. Not because he seemed ordinary or human —2—I could never for a second forget that I was holding someone more angel than man in my arms——but because he made it seem like nothing at all to have his lips against my lips, my face, my throat. He claimed he was long past the temptation my blood used to be for him, that the idea of losing me had cured him of any desire for it. But I knew the smell of my blood still caused him pain——still burned his throat like he was inhaling flames. I opened my eyes and found his open, too, staring at my face. It made no sense when he looked at me that way. Like I was the prize rather than the outrageously lucky winner. Our gazes locked for a moment; his golden eyes were so deep that I imagined I could see all the way into his soul. It seemed silly that this fact ——the existence of his soul——had ever been in question, even if he was a vampire. He had the most beautiful soul, more beautiful than his brilliant mind or his incomparable face or his glorious body. He looked back at me as if he could see my soul, too, and as if he liked what he saw. He couldn't see into my mind, though, the way he saw into everyone else's. Who knew why ——some strange glitch in my brain that made it immune to all the extraordinary and frightening things some immortals could do. (Only my mind was immune; my body was still subject to vampires with abilities that worked in ways other than Edward's.) But I was seriously grateful to whatever malfunction it was that kept my thoughts a secret. It was just too embarrassing to consider the alternative. I pulled his face to mine again. "Definitely staying," he murmured a moment later. "No, no. It's your bachelor party. You have to go." I said the words, but the fingers of my right hand locked into his bronze hair, my left pressed tighter against the small of his back. His cool hands stroked my face. "Bachelor parties are designed for those who are sad to see the passing of their single days. I couldn't be more eager to have mine behind me. So there's really no point." "True." I breathed against the winter-cold skin of his throat. This was pretty close to my happy place. Charlie slept obliviously in his room, which was almost as good as being alone. We were curled up on my small bed, intertwined as much as it was possible, considering the thick afghan I was swathed in like a cocoon. I hated the necessity of the blanket, but it sort of ruined the romance when my teeth started chattering. Charlie would notice if I turned the heat on in August___ At least, if / had to be bundled up, Edward's shirt was on the floor. I never got over the shock of how perfect his body was ——white, cool, and polished as marble. I ran my hand down his stone chest now, tracing across the flat planes of his stomach, just marveling. A light shudder rippled through him, and his mouth found mine again. Carefully, I let the tip of my tongue press against his glass-smooth lip, and he sighed. His sweet breath washed—2—cold and delicious——over my face. He started to pull away ——that was his automatic response whenever he decided things had gone too far, his reflex reaction whenever he most wanted to keep going. Edward had spent most of his life rejecting any kind of physical gratification. I knew it was terrifying to him trying to change those habits now. "Wait," I said, gripping his shoulders and hugging myself close to him. I kicked one leg free and wrapped it around his waist. "Practice makes perfect." He chuckled. "Well, we should be fairly close to perfection by this point, then, shouldn't we? Have you slept at all in the last month?" "But this is the dress rehearsal," I reminded him, "and we've only practiced certain scenes. It's no time for playing safe." I thought he would laugh, but he didn't answer, and his body was motionless with sudden stress. The gold in his eyes seemed to harden from a liquid to a solid. I thought over my words, realized what he would have heard in them. "Bella...," he whispered. "Don't start this again," I said. "A deal's a deal." "I don't know. It's too hard to concentrate when you're with me like this. I ——I can't think straight. I won't be able to control myself. You'll get hurt." "I'll be fine." "Bella . .." "Shh!" I pressed my lips to his to stop his panic attack. I'd heard it before. He wasn't getting out of this deal. Not after insisting I marry him first. He kissed me back for a moment, but I could tell he wasn't as into it as before. Worrying, always worrying. How different it would be when he didn't need to worry about me anymore. What would he do with all his free time? He'd have to get a new hobby. "How are your feet?" he asked. Knowing he didn't mean that literally, I answered, Toasty warm." "Really? No second thoughts? It's not too late to change your mind." "Are you trying to ditch me?" He chuckled. "Just making sure. I don't want you to do anything you're not sure about." "I'm sure about you. The rest I can live through." He hesitated, and I wondered if I'd put my foot in my mouth again. "Can you?" he asked quietly. "I don't mean the wedding ——which I am positive you will survive despite your qualms—2—but afterward... what about Renee, what about Charlie?" I sighed. "I'll miss them." Worse, that they would miss me, but I didn't want to give him any fuel. "Angela and Ben and Jessica and Mike." "I'll miss my friends, too." I smiled in the darkness. "Especially Mike. Oh, Mike! How will I go on?" He growled. I laughed but then was serious. "Edward, we've been through this and through this. I know it will be hard, but this is what I want. I want you, and I want you forever. One lifetime is simply not enough for me." "Frozen forever at eighteen," he whispered. "Every woman's dream come true," I teased. "Never changing... never moving forward." "What does that mean?" He answered slowly. "Do you remember when we told Charlie we were getting married? And he thought you were... pregnant?" "And he thought about shooting you," I guessed with a laugh. "Admit it —u—for one second, he honestly considered it." He didn't answer. "What, Edward?" "I just wish... well, I wish that he'd been right." "Gah," I gasped. "More that there was some way he could have been. That we had that kind of potential. I hate taking that away from you, too." It took me a minute. "I know what I'm doinq." "How could you know that, Bella? Look at my mother, look at my sister. It's not as easy a sacrifice as you imagine." "Esme and Rosalie get by just fine. If it's a problem later, we can do what Esme did ——we'll adopt." He sighed, and then his voice was fierce. "It's not right\ I don't want you to have to make sacrifices for me. I want to give you things, not take things away from you. I don't want to steal your future. If I were human ——" I put my hand over his lips. "You are my future. Now stop. No moping, or I'm calling your brothers to come and get you. Maybe you need a bachelor party." "I'm sorry. I am moping, aren't I? Must be the nerves." "Are your feet cold?" "Not in that sense. I've been waiting a century to marry you, Miss Swan. The wedding ceremony is the one thing I can't wait —4—" He broke off mid-thought. "Oh, for the love of all that's holy!" "What's wrong?" He gritted his teeth. "You don't have to call my brothers. Apparently Emmett and Jasper are not going to let me bow out tonight." I clutched him closer for one second and then released him. I didn't have a prayer of winning a tug-of-war with Emmett. "Have fun." There was a squeal against the window ——someone deliberately scraping their steel nails across the glass to make a horrible, cover-your-ears, goose-bumps-down-your-spine noise. I shuddered. "If you don't send Edward out," Emmett ——still invisible in the night——hissed menacingly, "we're coming in after him!" "Go," I laughed. "Before they break my house." Edward rolled his eyes, but he got to his feet in one fluid movement and had his shirt back on in another. He leaned down and kissed my forehead. "Get to sleep. You've got a big day tomorrow." "Thanks! That's sure to help me wind down." "I'll meet you at the altar." "HI be the one in white." I smiled at how perfectly blase I sounded. He chuckled, said, "Very convincing," and then suddenly sank into a crouch, his muscles coiled like a spring. He vanished —2—launching himself out my window too swiftly for my eyes to follow. Outside, there was a muted thud, and I heard Emmett curse. "You'd better not make him late," I murmured, knowing they could hear. And then Jaspers face was peering in my window, his honey hair silver in the weak moonlight that worked through the clouds. "Don't worry, Bella. We'll get him home in plenty of time." I was suddenly very calm, and my qualms all seemed unimportant. Jasper was, in his own way, just as talented as Alice with her uncannily accurate predictions. Jasper's medium was moods rather than the future, and it was impossible to resist feeling the way he wanted you to feel. I sat up awkwardly, still tangled in my blanket. "Jasper? What do vampires do for bachelor parties? You're not taking him to a strip club, are you?" "Don't tell her anything!" Emmett growled from below. There was another thud, and Edward laughed quietly. "Relax," Jasper told me ——and I did. "We Cullens have our own version. Just a few mountain lions, a couple of grizzly bears. Pretty much an ordinary night out." I wondered if I would ever be able to sound so cavalier about the "vegetarian" vampire diet. "Thanks, Jasper." He winked and dropped from sight. It was completely silent outside. Charlie's muffled snores droned through the walls. I lay back against my pillow, sleepy now. I stared at the walls of my little room, bleached pale in the moonlight, from under heavy lids. My last night in my room. My last night as Isabella Swan. Tomorrow night, I would be Bella Cullen. Though the whole marriage ordeal was a thorn in my side, I had to admit that I liked the sound of that. I let my mind wander idly for a moment, expecting sleep to take me. But, after a few minutes, I found myself more alert, anxiety creeping back into my stomach, twisting it into uncomfortable positions. The bed seemed too soft, too warm without Edward in it. Jasper was far away, and all the peaceful, relaxed feelings were gone with him. It was going to be a very long day tomorrow. I was aware that most of my fears were stupid ——I just had to get over myself. Attention was an inevitable part of life. I couldn't always blend in with the scenery. However, I did have a few specific worries that were completely valid. First there was the wedding dress's train. Alice clearly had let her artistic sense overpower practicalities on that one. Maneuvering the Cullens' staircase in heels and a train sounded impossible. I should have practiced. Then there was the guest list. Tanya's family, the Denali clan, would be arriving sometime before the ceremony. It would be touchy to have Tanya's family in the same room with our guests from the Quileute reservation, Jacob's father and the Clearwaters. The Denalis were no fans of the werewolves. In fact, Tanya's sister irina was not coming to the wedding at all. She still nursed a vendetta against the werewolves for killing her friend Laurent (just as he was about to kill me). Thanks to that grudge, the Denalis had abandoned Edward's family in their worst hour of need. It had been the unlikely alliance with the Quileute wolves that had saved all our lives when the horde of newborn vampires had attacked___ Edward had promised me it wouldn't be dangerous to have the Denalis near the Quileutes. Tanya and all her family ——besides Irina——felt horribly guilty for that defection. A truce with the werewolves was a small price to make up some of that debt, a price they were prepared to pay. That was the big problem, but there was a small problem, too: my fragile self-esteem. I'd never seen Tanya before, but I was sure that meeting her wouldn't be a pleasant experience for my ego. Once upon a time, before I was born probably, she'd made her play for Edward —u—not that I blamed her or anyone else for wanting him. Still, she would be beautiful at the very least and magnificent at best. Though Edward clearly——if inconceivably——preferred me, I wouldn't be able to help making comparisons. I had grumbled a little until Edward, who knew my weaknesses, made me feel guilty. "We're the closest thing they have to family, Bella,'7 he'd reminded me. "They still feel like orphans, you know, even after all this time." So I'd conceded, hiding my frown. Tanya had a big family now, almost as big as the Cullens. There were five of them; Tanya, Kate, and Irina had been joined by Carmen and Eleazar much the same way the Cullens had been joined by Alice and Jasper, all of them bonded by their desire to live more compassionately than normal vampires did. For all the company, though, Tanya and her sisters were still alone in one way. Still in mourning. Because a very long time ago, they'd had a mother, too. I could imagine the hole that loss would leave, even after a thousand years; I tried to visualize the Cullen family without their creator, their center, and their guide —2—their father, Carlisle. I couldn't see it. Carlisle had explained Tanya's history during one of the many nights I'd stayed late at the Cullens' home, learning as much as I could, preparing as much as was possible for the future I'd chosen. Tanya's mother's story was one among many, a cautionary tale illustrating just one of the rules I would need to be aware of when I joined the immortal world. Only one rule, actually ——one law that broke down into a thousand different facets: Keep the secret. Keeping the secret meant a lot of things —p—living inconspicuously like the Cullens, moving on before humans could suspect they weren't aging. Or keeping clear of humans altogether——except at mealtime—2—the way nomads like James and Victoria had lived; the way Jasper's friends, Peter and Charlotte, still lived. It meant keeping control of whatever new vampires you created, like Jasper had done when he'd lived with Maria. Like Victoria had failed to do with her newborns. And it meant not creating some things in the first place, because some creations were uncontrollable. "I don't know Tanya's mother's name," Carlisle had admitted, his golden eyes, almost the exact shade of his fair hair, sad with remembering Tanya's pain. "They never speak of her if they can avoid it, never think of her willingly. "The woman who created Tanya, Kate, and Irina —4—who loved them, I believe——lived many years before I was born, during a time of plague in our world, the plague of the immortal children. "What they were thinking, those ancient ones, I can't begin to understand. They created vampires out of humans who were barely more than infants." I'd had to swallow back the bile that rose in my throat as I'd pictured what he was describing. "They were very beautiful," Carlisle had explained quickly, seeing my reaction. "So endearing, so enchanting, you can't imagine. You had but to be near them to love them; it was an automatic thing. "However, they could not be taught. They were frozen at whatever level of development they'd achieved before being bitten. Adorable two-year-olds with dimples and lisps that could destroy half a village in one of their tantrums. If they hungered, they fed, and no words of warning could restrain them. Humans saw them, stories circulated, fear spread like fire in dry brush___ "Tanya's mother created such a child. As with the other ancients, i cannot fathom her reasons." He'd taken a deep, steadying breath. "The Volturi became involved, of course." I'd flinched as I always did at that name, but of course the legion of Italian vampires —2—royalty in their own estimation—i—was central to this story. There couldn't be a law if there was no punishment; there couldn't be a punishment if there was no one to deliver it. The ancients Aro, Caius, and Marcus ruled the Volturi forces; I'd only met them once, but in that brief encounter, it seemed to me that Aro, with his powerful mind-reading gift—2—one touch, and he knew every thought a mind had ever held—u—was the true leader. "The Volturi studied the immortal children, at home in Volterra and all around the world. Caius decided the young ones were incapable of protecting our secret. And so they had to be destroyed. "I told you they were loveable. Well, covens fought to the last man —u—were utterly decimated——to protect them. The carnage was not as widespread as the southern wars on this continent, but more devastating in its own way. Long-established covens, old traditions, friends... Much was lost. In the end, the practice was completely eliminated. The immortal children became unmentionable, a taboo. "When I lived with the Volturi, I met two immortal children, so I know firsthand the appeal they had. Aro studied the little ones for many years after the catastrophe they'd caused was over. You know his inquisitive disposition; he was hopeful that they could be tamed. But in the end, the decision was unanimous: the immortal children could not be allowed to exist." I'd all but forgotten the Denali sisters' mother when the story returned to her. "It is unclear precisely what happened with Tanya's mother," Carlisle had said. "Tanya, Kate, and irina were entirely oblivious until the day the Volturi came for them, their mother and her illegal creation already their prisoners. It was ignorance that saved Tanya's and her sisters' lives. Aro touched them and saw their total innocence, so they were not punished with their mother. "None of them had ever seen the boy before, or dreamed of his existence, until the day they watched him burn in their mother's arms. I can only guess that their mother had kept her secret to protect them from this exact outcome. But why had she created him in the first place? Who was he, and what had he meant to her that would cause her to cross this most uncrossable of lines? Tanya and the others never received an answer to any of these questions. But they could not doubt their mother's guilt, and I don't think they've ever truly forgiven her. "Even with Aro's perfect assurance that Tanya, Kate, and Irina were innocent, Caius wanted them to burn. Guilty by association. They were lucky that Aro felt like being merciful that day. Tanya and her sisters were pardoned, but left with unhealing hearts and a very healthy respect for the law___" I'm not sure where exactly the memory turned into a dream. One moment it seemed that I was listening to Carlisle in my memory, looking at his face, and then a moment later I was looking at a gray, barren field and smelling the thick scent of burning incense in the air. I was not alone there. The huddle of figures in the center of the field, all shrouded in ashy cloaks, should have terrified me —2—they could only be Volturi, and I was, against what they'd decreed at our last meeting, still human. But I knew, as I sometimes did in dreams, that I was invisible to them. Scattered all around me were smoking heaps. I recognized the sweetness in the air and did not examine the mounds too closely. I had no desire to see the faces of the vampires they had executed, half afraid that I might recognize someone in the smoldering pyres. The Volturi soldiers stood in a circle around something or someone, and I heard their whispery voices raised in agitation. I edged closer to the cloaks, compelled by the dream to see whatever thing or person they were examining with such intensity. Creeping carefully between two of the tall hissing shrouds, I finally saw the object of their debate, raised up on a little hillock above them. He was beautiful, adorable, just as Carlisle had described. The boy was a toddler still, maybe two years of age. Light brown curls framed his cherubic face with its round cheeks and full lips. And he was trembling, his eyes closed as if he was too frightened to watch death coming closer every second. I was struck with such a powerful need to save the lovely, terrified child that the Volturi, despite all their devastating menace, no longer mattered to me. I shoved past them, not caring if they realized my presence. Breaking free of them altogether, I sprinted toward the boy. Only to stagger to a halt as I got a clear view of the hillock that he sat upon. It was not earth and rock, but a pile of human bodies, drained and lifeless. Too late not to see these faces. I knew them all ——Angela, Ben, Jessica, Mike.... And directly beneath the adorable boy were the bodies of my father and my mother. The child opened his bright, bloodred eyes.
3. BIG DAY My own eyes flew open. I lay shivering and gasping in my warm bed for several minutes, trying to break free of the dream. The sky outside my window turned gray and then pale pink while I waited for my heart to slow. When I was fully back to the reality of my messy, familiar room, I was a little annoyed with myself. What a dream to have the night before my wedding! That's what I got for obsessing over disturbing stories in the middle of the night. Eager to shake off the nightmare, I got dressed and headed down to the kitchen long before I needed to. First I cleaned the already tidy rooms, and then when Charlie was up I made him pancakes. I was much too keyed up to have any interest in eating breakfast myself ——I sat bouncing in my seat while he ate. "You're picking up Mr. Weber at three o'clock," I reminded him. "I don't have that much to do today besides bring the minister, Bells. I'm not likely to forget my only job." Charlie had taken the entire day off for the wedding, and he was definitely at loose ends. Now and then, his eyes flickered furtively to the closet under the stairs, where he kept his fishing gear. "That's not your only job. You also have to be dressed and presentable." He scowled into his cereal bowl and muttered the words "monkey suit" under his breath. There was a brisk tapping on the front door. "You think you have it bad," I said, grimacing as I rose. "Alice will be working on me all day long." Charlie nodded thoughtfully, conceding that he did have the lesser ordeal. I ducked in to kiss the top of his head as I passed —4—he blushed and harrumphed——and then continued on to get the door for my best girlfriend and soon-to-be sister. Alice's short black hair was not in its usual spiky do ——it was smoothed into sleek pin curls around her pixie face, which wore a contrastingly businesslike expression. She dragged me from the house with barely a "Hey, Charlie" called over her shoulder. Alice appraised me as I got into her Porsche. "Oh, hell, look at your eyes!" She tsked in reproach. "What did you do? Stay up all night?" "Almost." She glowered. "I've only allotted so much time to make you stunning, Bella —2—you might have taken better care of my raw material." "No one expects me to be stunning. I think the bigger problem is that I might fall asleep during the ceremony and not be able to say 1 do' at the right part, and then Edward will make his escape." She laughed. "I'll throw my bouquet at you when it gets close." "Thanks." "At least you'll have plenty of time to sleep on the plane tomorrow." I raised one eyebrow. Tomorrow, I mused. If we were heading out tonight after the reception, and we would still be on a plane tomorrow... well, we weren't going to Boise, Idaho. Edward hadn't dropped a single hint. I wasn't too stressed about the mystery, but it was strange not knowing where I would be sleeping tomorrow night. Or hopefully not sleeping ... Alice realized that she'd given something away, and she frowned. "You're all packed and ready," she said to distract me. It worked. "Alice, I wish you would let me pack my own things!" "It would have given too much away." "And denied you an opportunity to shop." "You'll be my sister officially in ten short hours... it's about time to get over this aversion to new clothes." I glowered groggily out the windshield until we were almost to the house. "Is he back yet?" I asked. "Don't worry, he'll be there before the music starts. But you don't get to see him, no matter when he gets back. We're doing this the traditional way." I snorted. "Traditional!" "Okay, aside from the bride and groom." "You know he's already peeked." "Oh no ——that's why I'm the only one who's seen you in the dress. I've been very careful to not think about it when he's around." "Well," I said as we turned into the drive, "I see you got to reuse your graduation decorations." Three miles of drive were once again wrapped in hundreds of thousands of twinkle lights. This time, she'd added white satin bows. "Waste not, want not. Enjoy this, because you don't get to see the inside decorations until it's time." She pulled into the cavernous garage north of the main house; Emmett's big Jeep was still gone. "Since when is the bride not allowed to see the decorations?" I protested. "Since she put me in charge. I want you to get the full impact coming down the stairs." She clapped her hand over my eyes before she let me inside the kitchen. I was immediately assailed by the scent. "What is that?" I wondered as she guided me into the house. "Is it too much?" Alice's voice was abruptly worried. "You're the first human in here; I hope I got it right." "it smells wonderful!" I assured her ——almost intoxicating, but not at all overwhelming, the balance of the different fragrances was subtle and flawless. "Orange blossoms... lilac... and something else—u—am I right?" "Very good, Bella. You only missed the freesia and the roses." She didn't uncover my eyes until we were in her oversized bathroom. I stared at the long counter, covered in all the paraphernalia of a beauty salon, and began to feel my sleepless night. "Is this really necessary? I'm going to look plain next to him no matter what." She pushed me down into a low pink chair. "No one will dare to call you plain when I'm through with you." "Only because they're afraid you'll suck their blood," I muttered. I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes, hoping I'd be able to nap through it. I did drift in and out a little bit while she masked, buffed, and polished every surface of my body. It was after lunchtime when Rosalie glided past the bathroom door in a shimmery silver gown with her golden hair piled up in a soft crown on top of her head. She was so beautiful it made me want to cry. What was even the point of dressing up with Rosalie around? "They're back," Rosalie said, and immediately my childish fit of despair passed. Edward was home. "Keep him out of here!" "He won't cross you today," Rosalie reassured her. "He values his life too much. Esme's got them finishing things up out back. Do you want some help? I could do her hair." My jaw fell open. I floundered around in my head, trying to remember how to close it. I had never been Rosalie's favorite person in the world. Then, making things even more strained between us, she was personally offended by the choice I was making now. Though she had her impossible beauty, her loving family, and her soul mate in Emmett, she would have traded it all to be human. And here I was, callously throwing away everything she wanted in life like it was garbage. It didn't exactly warm her to me. "Sure," Alice said easily. "You can start braiding. I want it intricate. The veil goes here, underneath." Her hands started combing through my hair, hefting it, twisting it, illustrating in detail what she wanted. When she was done, Rosalie's hands replaced hers, shaping my hair with a feather-light touch. Alice moved back to my face. Once Rosalie received Alice's commendation on my hair, she was sent off to retrieve my dress and then to locate Jasper, who had been dispatched to pick up my mother and her husband, Phil, from their hotel. Downstairs, I could faintly hear the door opening and closing over and over. Voices began to float up to us. Alice made me stand so that she could ease the dress over my hair and makeup. My knees shook so badly as she fastened the long line of pearl buttons up my back that the satin quivered in little wavelets down to the floor. "Deep breaths, Bella/7 Alice said. "And try to lower your heart rate. You're going to sweat off your new face." I gave her the best sarcastic expression I could manage. "I'll get right on that." "I have to get dressed now. Can you hold yourself together for two minutes?" "Urn... maybe?" She rolled her eyes and darted out the door. I concentrated on my breathing, counting each movement of my lungs, and stared at the patterns that the bathroom light made on the shiny fabric of my skirt. I was afraid to look in the mirror ——afraid the image of myself in the wedding dress would send me over the edge into a full-scale panic attack. Alice was back before I had taken two hundred breaths, in a dress that flowed down her slender body like a silvery waterfall. "Alice —u—wow." "It's nothing. No one will be looking at me today. Not while you're in the room." "Har har." "Now, are you in control of yourself, or do I have to bring Jasper up here?" "They're back? Is my mom here?" "She just walked in the door. She's on her way up." Renee had flown in two days ago, and I'd spent every minute I could with her —u—every minute that I could pry her away from Esme and the decorations, in other words. As far as I could tell, she was having more fun with this than a kid locked inside Disneyland overnight. In a way, I felt almost as cheated as Charlie. All that wasted terror over her reaction... "Oh, Bella!" she squealed now, gushing before she was all the way through the door. "Oh, honey, you're so beautiful! Oh, I'm going to cry! Alice, you're amazing! You and Esme should go into business as wedding planners. Where did you find this dress? It's gorgeous! So graceful, so elegant. Bella, you look like you just stepped out of an Austen movie." My mother's voice sounded a little distance away, and everything in the room was slightly blurry. "Such a creative idea, designing the theme around Bella's ring. So romantic! To think it's been in Edward's family since the eighteen hundreds!" Alice and I exchanged a brief conspiratorial look. My mom was off on the dress style by more than a hundred years. The wedding wasn't actually centered around the ring, but around Edward himself. There was a loud, gruff throat-clearing in the doorway. "Renee, Esme said it's time you got settled down there," Charlie said. "Well, Charlie, don't you look dashing!" Renee said in a tone that was almost shocked. That might have explained the crustiness of Charlie's answer. "Alice got to me." "Is it really time already?" Renee said to herself, sounding almost as nervous as I felt. "This has all gone so fast. I feel dizzy." That made two of us. "Give me a hug before I go down/7 Renee insisted. "Carefully now, don't tear anything." My mother squeezed me gently around the waist, then wheeled for the door, only to complete the spin and face me again. "Oh goodness, I almost forgot! Charlie, Where's the box?" My dad rummaged in his pockets for a minute and then produced a small white box, which he handed to Renee. Renee lifted the lid and held it out to me. "Something blue," she said. "Something old, too. They were your Grandma Swan's," Charlie added. "We had a jeweler replace the paste stones with sapphires." Inside the box were two heavy silver hair combs. Dark blue sapphires were clustered into intricate floral shapes atop the teeth. My throat got all thick. "Mom, Dad... you shouldn't have." "Alice wouldn't let us do anything else," Renee said. "Every time we tried, she all but ripped our throats out." A hysterical giggle burst through my lips. Alice stepped up and quickly slid both combs into my hair under the edge of the thick braids. "That's something old and something blue," Alice mused, taking a few steps back to admire me. "And your dress is new... so here ——" She flicked something at me. I held my hands out automatically, and the filmy white garter landed in my palms. "That's mine and I want it back," Alice told me. I blushed. "There," Alice said with satisfaction. "A little color ——that's all you needed. You are officially perfect." With a little self-congratulatory smile, she turned to my parents. "Renee, you need to get downstairs." "Yes, ma'am." Renee blew me a kiss and hurried out the door. "Charlie, would you grab the flowers, please?" While Charlie was out of the room, Alice hooked the garter out of my hands and then ducked under my skirt. I gasped and tottered as her cold hand caught my ankle; she yanked the garter into place. She was back on her feet before Charlie returned with the two frothy white bouquets. The scent of roses and orange blossom and freesia enveloped me in a soft mist. Rosalie ——the best musician in the family next to Edward—i—began playing the piano downstairs. Pachelbel's Canon. I began hyperventilating. "Easy, Bells," Charlie said. He turned to Alice nervously. "She looks a little sick. Do you think she's going to make it?" His voice sounded far away. I couldn't feel my legs. "She'd better." Alice stood right in front of me, on her tiptoes to better stare me in the eye, and gripped my wrists in her hard hands. "Focus, Bella. Edward is waiting for you down there." 1 took a deep breath, willing myself into composure. The music slowly morphed into a new song. Charlie nudged me. "Bells, we're up to bat." "Bella?" Alice asked, still holding my gaze. "Yes," I squeaked. "Edward. Okay." I let her pull me from the room, with Charlie tagging along at my elbow. The music was louder in the hall. It floated up the stairs along with the fragrance of a million flowers. I concentrated on the idea of Edward waiting below to get my feet to shuffle forward. The music was familiar, Wagner's traditional march surrounded by a flood of embellishments. "It's my turn," Alice chimed. "Count to five and follow me." She began a slow, graceful dance down the staircase. I should have realized that having Alice as my only bridesmaid was a mistake. I would look that much more uncoordinated coming behind her. A sudden fanfare trilled through the soaring music. I recognized my cue. "Don't let me fall, Dad," I whispered. Charlie pulled my hand through his arm and then grasped it tightly. One step at a time, I told myself as we began to descend to the slow tempo of the march. I didn't lift my eyes until my feet were safely on the flat ground, though I could hear the murmurs and rustling of the audience as I came into view. Blood flooded my cheeks at the sound; of course I could be counted on to be the blushing bride. As soon as my feet were past the treacherous stairs, I was looking for him. For a brief second, I was distracted by the profusion of white blossoms that hung in garlands from everything in the room that wasn't alive, dripping with long lines of white gossamer ribbons. But I tore my eyes from the bowery canopy and searched across the rows of satin-draped chairs —4—blushing more deeply as I took in the crowd of faces all focused on me—2—until I found him at last, standing before an arch overflowing with more flowers, more gossamer. I was barely conscious that Carlisle stood by his side, and Angela's father behind them both. I didn't see my mother where she must have been sitting in the front row, or my new family, or any of the guests —o—they would have to wait till later. All I really saw was Edward's face; it filled my vision and overwhelmed my mind. His eyes were a buttery, burning gold; his perfect face was almost severe with the depth of his emotion. And then, as he met my awed gaze, he broke into a breathtaking smile of exultation. Suddenly, it was only the pressure of Charlie's hand on mine that kept me from sprinting headlong down the aisle. The march was too slow as I struggled to pace my steps to its rhythm. Mercifully, the aisle was very short. And then, at last, at last, I was there. Edward held out his hand. Charlie took my hand and, in a symbol as old as the world, placed it in Edward's. I touched the cool miracle of his skin, and I was home. Our vows were the simple, traditional words that had been spoken a million times, though never by a couple quite like us. We'd asked Mr. Weber to make only one small change. He obligingly traded the line "till death do us part" for the more appropriate "as long as we both shall live." In that moment, as the minister said his part, my world, which had been upside down for so long now, seemed to settle into its proper position. I saw just how silly I'd been for fearing this ——as if it were an unwanted birthday gift or an embarrassing exhibition, like the prom. I looked into Edward's shining, triumphant eyes and knew that I was winning, too. Because nothing else mattered but that I could stay with him. I didn't realize I was crying until it was time to say the binding words. "I do," I managed to choke out in a nearly unintelligible whisper, blinking my eyes clear so I could see his face. When it was his turn to speak, the words rang clear and victorious. "I do," he vowed. Mr. Weber declared us husband and wife, and then Edward's hands reached up to cradle my face, carefully, as if it were as delicate as the white petals swaying above our heads. I tried to comprehend, through the film of tears blinding me, the surreal fact that this amazing person was mine. His golden eyes looked as if they would have tears, too, if such a thing were not impossible. He bent his head toward mine, and I stretched up on the tips of my toes, throwing my arms ——bouquet and all—2—around his neck. He kissed me tenderly, adoringly; I forgot the crowd, the place, the time, the reason... only remembering that he loved me, that he wanted me, that I was his. He began the kiss, and he had to end it; I clung to him, ignoring the titters and the throat-clearing in the audience. Finally, his hands restrained my face and he pulled back —2—too soon—2—to look at me. On the surface his sudden smile was amused, almost a smirk. But underneath his momentary entertainment at my public exhibition was a deep joy that echoed my own. The crowd erupted into applause, and he turned our bodies to face our friends and family. I couldn't look away from his face to see them. My mother's arms were the first to find me, her tear-streaked face the first thing I saw when I finally tore my eyes unwillingly from Edward. And then I was handed through the crowd, passed from embrace to embrace, only vaguely aware of who held me, my attention centered on Edward's hand clutched tightly in my own. I did recognize the difference between the soft, warm hugs of my human friends and the gentle, cool embraces of my new family. One scorching hug stood out from all the others ——Seth Clearwater had braved the throng of vampires to stand in for my lost werewolf friend.