Site hosted by Build your free website today!

7. UNEXPECTED The line of black advanced on me through the shroud-like mist. I could see their dark ruby eyes glinting with desire, lusting for the kill. Their lips pulled back over their sharp, wet teeth 覧some to snarl, some to smile. I heard the child behind me whimper, but I couldn't turn to look at him. Though I was desperate to be sure that he was safe, I could not afford any lapse in focus now. They ghosted closer, their black robes billowing slightly with the movement. I saw their hands curl into bone-colored claws. They started to drift apart, angling to come at us from all sides. We were surrounded. We were going to die. And then, like a burst of light from a flash, the whole scene was different. Yet nothing changed 覧the Volturi still stalked toward us, poised to kill. All that really changed was how the picture looked to me. Suddenly, I was hungry for it. I tvanfec/them to charge. The panic changed to bloodlust as I crouched forward, a smile on my face, and a growl ripped through my bared teeth. I jolted upright, shocked out of the dream. The room was black. It was also steamy hot. Sweat matted my hair at the temples and rolled down my throat. I groped the warm sheets and found them empty. "Edward?" Just then, my fingers encountered something smooth and flat and stiff. One sheet of paper, folded in half. I took the note with me and felt my way across the room to the light switch. The outside of the note was addressed to Mrs. Cullen. I'm hoping you won't wake and notice my absence, but, if you should, I'll be back very soon. I've just gone to the mainland to hunt Go back to sleep and I'll be here when you wake again. I love you. I sighed. We'd been here about two weeks now, so I should have been expecting that he would have to leave, but I hadn't been thinking about time. We seemed to exist outside of time here, just drifting along in a perfect state. I wiped the sweat off my forehead. I felt absolutely wide awake, though the clock on the dresser said it was after one. I knew i would never be able to sleep as hot and sticky as I felt. Not to mention the fact that if I shut off the light and closed my eyes, I was sure to see those prowling black figures in my head. I got up and wandered aimlessly through the dark house, flipping on lights. It felt so big and empty without Edward there. Different. I ended up in the kitchen and decided that maybe comfort food was what I needed. I poked around in the fridge until I found all the ingredients for fried chicken. The popping and sizzling of the chicken in the pan was a nice, homey sound; I felt less nervous while it filled the silence. It smelled so good that I started eating it right out of the pan, burning my tongue in the process. By the fifth or sixth bite, though, it had cooled enough for me to taste it. My chewing slowed. Was there something off about the flavor? I checked the meat, and it was white all the way through, but I wondered if it was completely done. I took another experimental bite; I chewed twice. Ugh 覧definitely bad. I jumped up to spit it into the sink. Suddenly, the chicken-and-oil smell was revolting. I took the whole plate and shook it into the garbage, then opened the windows to chase away the scent. A coolish breeze had picked up outside. It felt good on my skin. I was abruptly exhausted, but i didn't want to go back to the hot room. So I opened more windows in the TV room and lay on the couch right beneath them. I turned on the same movie we'd watched the other day and quickly fell asleep to the bright opening song. When I opened my eyes again, the sun was halfway up the sky, but it was not the light that woke me. Cool arms were around me, pulling me against him. At the same time, a sudden pain twisted in my stomach, almost like the aftershock of catching a punch in the gut. Tm sorry," Edward was murmuring as he wiped a wintry hand across my clammy forehead. "So much for thoroughness. I didn't think about how hot you would be with me gone. I'll have an air conditioner installed before I leave again." I couldn't concentrate on what he was saying. "Excuse me!" I gasped, struggling to get free of his arms. He dropped his hold automatically. "Bella?" I streaked for the bathroom with my hand clamped over my mouth. I felt so horrible that I didn't even care 覧at first蓉葉hat he was with me while I crouched over the toilet and was violently sick. "Bella? What's wrong?" I couldn't answer yet. He held me anxiously, keeping my hair out of my face, waiting till I could breathe again. "Damn rancid chicken," I moaned. "Are you all right?" His voice was strained. "Fine," I panted. "It's just food poisoning. You don't need to see this. Go away." "Not likely, Bella." "Go away," I moaned again, struggling to get up so I could rinse my mouth out. He helped me gently, ignoring the weak shoves I aimed at him. After my mouth was clean, he carried me to the bed and sat me down carefully, supporting me with his arms. "Food poisoning?" "Yeah," I croaked. "I made some chicken last night. It tasted off, so I threw it out. But I ate a few bites first." He put a cold hand on my forehead. It felt nice. "How do you feel now?" I thought about that for a moment. The nausea had passed as suddenly as it had come, and I felt like I did any other morning. "Pretty normal. A little hungry, actually." He made me wait an hour and keep down a big glass of water before he fried me some eggs. I felt perfectly normal, just a little tired from being up in the middle of the night. He put on CNN 2謡e'd been so out of touch, world war three could have broken out and we wouldn't have known覧and I lounged drowsily across his lap. I got bored with the news and twisted around to kiss him. Just like this morning, a sharp pain hit my stomach when I moved. I lurched away from him, my hand tight over my mouth. I knew I'd never make it to the bathroom this time, so I ran to the kitchen sink. He held my hair again. "Maybe we should go back to Rio, see a doctor," he suggested anxiously when I was rinsing my mouth afterward. I shook my head and edged toward the hallway. Doctors meant needles. "I'll be fine right after I brush my teeth." When my mouth tasted better, I searched through my suitcase for the little first-aid kit Alice had packed for me, full of human things like bandages and painkillers and 覧my object now覧Pepto-Bismol. Maybe I could settle my stomach and calm Edward down. But before I found the Pepto, I happened across something else that Alice had packed for me. I picked up the small blue box and stared at it in my hand for a long moment, forgetting everything else. Then I started counting in my head. Once. Twice. Again. The knock startled me; the little box fell back into the suitcase. "Are you well?" Edward asked through the door. "Did you get sick again?" "Yes and no," I said, but my voice sounded strangled. "Bella? Can I please come in?" Worriedly now. "O... kay?" He came in and appraised my position, sitting cross-legged on the floor by the suitcase, and my expression, blank and staring. He sat next to me, his hand going to my forehead at once. "What's wrong?" "How many days has it been since the wedding?" I whispered. "Seventeen," he answered automatically. "Bella, what is it?" I was counting again. I held up a finger, cautioning him to wait, and mouthed the numbers to myself. I'd been wrong about the days before. We'd been here longer than I'd thought. I started over again. "Bella!" he whispered urgently. "I'm losing my mind over here." I tried to swallow. It didn't work. So I reached into the suitcase and fumbled around until I found the little blue box of tampons again. I held them up silently. He stared at me in confusion. "What? Are you trying to pass this illness off as PMS?" "No," I managed to choke out. "No, Edward. I'm trying to tell you that my period is five days late." His facial expression didn't change. It was like I hadn't spoken. "I don't think I have food poisoning," I added. He didn't respond. He had turned into a sculpture. "The dreams," I mumbled to myself in a flat voice. "Sleeping so much. The crying. All that food. Oh. Oh. Oh" Edward's stare seemed glassy, as if he couldn't see me anymore. Reflexively, almost involuntarily, my hand dropped to my stomach. "Oh!" I squeaked again. I lurched to my feet, slipping out of Edward's unmoving hands. I'd never changed out of the little silk shorts and camisole I'd worn to bed. I yanked the blue fabric out of the way and stared at my stomach. "Impossible," I whispered. I had absolutely no experience with pregnancy or babies or any part of that world, but I wasn't an idiot. I'd seen enough movies and TV shows to know that this wasn't how it worked. I was only five days late. If I was pregnant, my body wouldn't even have registered that fact. I would not have morning sickness. I would not have changed my eating or sleeping habits. And I most definitely would not have a small but defined bump sticking out between my hips. I twisted my torso back and forth, examining it from every angle, as if it would disappear in exactly the right light. I ran my fingers over the subtle bulge, surprised by how rock hard it felt under my skin. "Impossible," I said again, because, bulge or no bulge, period or no period (and there was definitely no period, though I'd never been late a day in my life), there was no way I could be pregnant The only person I'd ever had sex with was a vampire, for crying out loud. A vampire who was still frozen on the floor with no sign of ever moving again. So there had to be some other explanation, then. Something wrong with me. A strange South American disease with all the signs of pregnancy, only accelerated... And then I remembered something 覧a morning of internet research that seemed a lifetime ago now. Sitting at the old desk in my room at Charlie's house with gray light glowing dully through the window, staring at my ancient, wheezing computer, reading avidly through a web-site called "Vampires A-Z." It had been less than twenty-four hours since Jacob Black, trying to entertain me with the Quileute legends he didn't believe in yet, had told me that Edward was a vampire. I'd scanned anxiously through the first entries on the site, which was dedicated to vampire myths around the world. The Filipino Danag, the Hebrew Estrie, the Romanian Varacolaci, the Italian Stregoni benefici (a legend actually based on my new father-in-law's early exploits with the Volturi, not that I'd known anything about that at the time)... I'd paid less and less attention as the stories had grown more and more implausible. I only remembered vague bits of the later entries. They mostly seemed like excuses dreamed up to explain things like infant mortality rates 覧and infidelity. No, honey, I'm not having an affair! That sexy woman you saw sneaking out of the house was an evil succubus. I'm lucky I escaped with my life! (Of course, with what I knew now about Tanya and her sisters, I suspected that some of those excuses had been nothing but fact.) There had been one for the ladies, too. How can you accuse me of cheating on you覧just because you've come home from a two-year sea voyage and I'm pregnant? It was the incubus. He hypnotized me with his mystical vampire powers.... That had been part of the definition of the incubus /葉he ability to father children with his hapless prey. I shook my head, dazed. But... I thought of Esme and especially Rosalie. Vampires couldn't have children. If it were possible, Rosalie would have found a way by now. The incubus myth was nothing but a fable. Except that... well, there was a difference. Of course Rosalie could not conceive a child, because she was frozen in the state in which she passed from human to inhuman. Totally unchanging. And human women's bodies had to change to bear children. The constant change of a monthly cycle for one thing, and then the bigger changes needed to accommodate a growing child. Rosalie's body couldn't change. But mine could. Mine did. I touched the bump on my stomach that had not been there yesterday. And human men 覧well, they pretty much stayed the same from puberty to death. I remembered a random bit of trivia, gleaned from who knows where: Charlie Chaplin was in his seventies when he fathered his youngest child. Men had no such thing as child-bearing years or cycles of fertility. Of course, how would anyone know if vampire men could father children, when their partners were not able? What vampire on earth would have the restraint necessary to test the theory with a human woman? Or the inclination? I could think of only one. Part of my head was sorting through fact and memory and speculation, while the other half 用葉he part that controlled the ability to move even the smallest muscles2謡as stunned beyond the capacity for normal operations. I couldn't move my lips to speak, though I wanted to ask Edward to please explain to me what was going on. I needed to go back to where he sat, to touch him, but my body wouldn't follow instructions. I could only stare at my shocked eyes in the mirror, my fingers gingerly pressed against the swelling on my torso. And then, like in my vivid nightmare last night, the scene abruptly transformed. Everything I saw in the mirror looked completely different, though nothing actually was different. What happened to change everything was that a soft little nudge bumped my hand 覧from inside my body. In the same moment, Edward's phone rang, shrill and demanding. Neither of us moved. It rang again and again. I tried to tune it out while I pressed my fingers to my stomach, waiting. In the mirror my expression was no longer bewildered 蓉擁t was wondering now. I barely noticed when the strange, silent tears started streaming down my cheeks. The phone kept ringing. I wished Edward would answer it 覧I was having a moment. Possibly the biggest of my life. Ring! Ring! Ring! Finally, the annoyance broke through everything else. I got down on my knees next to Edward 覧I found myself moving more carefully, a thousand times more aware of the way each motion felt覧and patted his pockets until I found the phone. I half-expected him to thaw out and answer it himself, but he was perfectly still. I recognized the number, and I could easily guess why she was calling. "Hi, Alice," I said. My voice wasn't much better than before. I cleared my throat. "Bella? Bella, are you okay?" "Yeah. Urn. Is Carlisle there?" "He is. What's the problem?" "I'm not... one hundred percent... sure___" "Is Edward all right?" she asked warily. She called Carlisle's name away from the phone and then demanded, "Why didn't he pick up the phone?" before I could answer her first question. "I'm not sure." "Bella, what's going on? I just saw 2" "What did you see?" There was a silence. "Here's Carlisle," she finally said. It felt like ice water had been injected in my veins. If Alice had seen a vision of me with a green-eyed, angel-faced child in my arms, she would have answered me, wouldn't she? While I waited through the split second it took for Carlisle to speak, the vision I'd imagined for Alice danced behind my lids. A tiny, beautiful little baby, even more beautiful than the boy in my dream 覧a tiny Edward in my arms. Warmth shot through my veins, chasing the ice away. "Bella, it's Carlisle. What's going on?" "I 覧" I wasn't sure how to answer. Would he laugh at my conclusions, tell me I was crazy? Was I just having another colorful dream? "I'm a little worried about Edward.... Can vampires go into shock?" "Has he been harmed?" Carlisle's voice was suddenly urgent. "No, no," I assured him. "Just... taken by surprise." "I don't understand, Bella." "I think... well, I think that... maybe... I might be ..." I took a deep breath. "Pregnant." As if to back me up, there was another tiny nudge in my abdomen. My hand flew to my stomach. After a long pause, Carlisle's medical training kicked in. "When was the first day of your last menstrual cycle?" "Sixteen days before the wedding." I'd done the mental math thoroughly enough just before to be able to answer with certainty. "How do you feel?" "Weird," I told him, and my voice broke. Another trickle of tears dribbled down my cheeks. "This is going to sound crazy 覧look, I know it's way too early for any of this. Maybe I am crazy. But I'm having bizarre dreams and eating all the time and crying and throwing up and... and... I swear something moved inside me just now." Edward's head snapped up. I sighed in relief. Edward held his hand out for the phone, his face white and hard. "Urn, I think Edward wants to talk to you." "Put him on," Carlisle said in a strained voice. Not entirely sure that Edward could talk, I put the phone in his outstretched hand. He pressed it to his ear. "Is it possible?" he whispered. He listened for a long time, staring blankly at nothing. "And Bella?" he asked. His arm wrapped around me as he spoke, pulling me close into his side. He listened for what seemed like a long time and then said, "Yes. Yes, I will." He pulled the phone away from his ear and pressed the "end" button. Right away, he dialed a new number. "What did Carlisle say?" I asked impatiently. Edward answered in a lifeless voice. "He thinks you're pregnant." The words sent a warm shiver down my spine. The little nudger fluttered inside me. "Who are you calling now?" I asked as he put the phone back to his ear. "The airport. We're going home." Edward was on the phone for more than an hour without a break. I guessed that he was arranging our flight home, but I couldn't be sure because he wasn't speaking English. It sounded like he was arguing; he spoke through his teeth a lot. While he argued, he packed. He whirled around the room like an angry tornado, leaving order rather than destruction in his path. He threw a set of my clothes on the bed without looking at them, so I assumed it was time for me to get dressed. He continued with his argument while I changed, gesturing with sudden, agitated movements. When I could no longer bear the violent energy radiating out of him, I quietly left the room. His manic concentration made me sick to my stomach 覧not like the morning sickness, just uncomfortable. I would wait somewhere else for his mood to pass. I couldn't talk to this icy, focused Edward who honestly frightened me a little. Once again, I ended up in the kitchen. There was a bag of pretzels in the cupboard. I started chewing on them absently, staring out the window at the sand and rocks and trees and ocean, everything glittering in the sun. Someone nudged me. "I know," I said. "I don't want to go, either." I stared out the window for a moment, but the nudger didn't respond. "I don't understand," i whispered. "What is wrong here?" Surprising, absolutely. Astonishing, even. But wrong? No. So why was Edward so furious? He was the one who had actually wished out loud for a shotgun wedding. I tried to reason through it. Maybe it wasn't so confusing that Edward wanted us to go home right away. He'd want Carlisle to check me out, make sure my assumption was right 覧though there was absolutely no doubt in my head at this point. Probably they'd want to figure out why I was already so pregnant, with the bump and the nudging and all of that. That wasn't normal. Once I thought of this, I was sure I had it. He must be so worried about the baby. I hadn't gotten around to freaking out yet. My brain worked slower than his 4擁t was still stuck marveling over the picture it had conjured up before: the tiny child with Edward's eyes2揚reen, as his had been when he was human覧lying fair and beautiful in my arms. I hoped he would have Edward's face exactly, with no interference from mine. It was funny how abruptly and entirely necessary this vision had become. From that first little touch, the whole world had shifted. Where before there was just one thing i could not live without, now there were two. There was no division 覧my love was not split between them now; it wasn't like that. It was more like my heart had grown, swollen up to twice its size in that moment. All that extra space, already filled. The increase was almost dizzying. I'd never really understood Rosalie's pain and resentment before. I'd never imagined myself a mother, never wanted that. It had been a piece of cake to promise Edward that I didn't care about giving up children for him, because I truly didn't. Children, in the abstract, had never appealed to me. They seemed to be loud creatures, often dripping some form of goo. I'd never had much to do with them. When I'd dreamed of Renee providing me with a brother, I'd always imagined an older brother. Someone to take care of me, rather than the other way around. This child, Edward's child, was a whole different story. I wanted him like I wanted air to breathe. Not a choice 覧a necessity. Maybe I just had a really bad imagination. Maybe that was why I'd been unable to imagine that I would like being married until after I already was 覧unable to see that I would want a baby until after one was already coming.... As I put my hand on my stomach, waiting for the next nudge, tears streaked down my cheeks again. "Bella?" I turned, made wary by the tone of his voice. It was too cold, too careful. His face matched his voice, empty and hard. And then he saw that I was crying. "Bella!" He crossed the room in a flash and put his hands on my face. "Are you in pain?" "No, no 覧" He pulled me against his chest. "Don't be afraid. We'll be home in sixteen hours. You'll be fine. Carlisle will be ready when we get there. We'll take care of this, and you'll be fine, you'll be fine." "Take care of this? What do you mean?" He leaned away and looked me in the eye. "We're going to get that thing out before it can hurt any part of you. Don't be scared. I wont let it hurt you." "That thing?"Igasped. He looked sharply away from me, toward the front door. "Dammit! I forgot Gustavo was due today. HI get rid of him and be right back." He darted out of the room. I clutched the counter for support. My knees were wobbly. Edward had just called my little nudger a thing. He said Carlisle would get it out. "No," I whispered. I'd gotten it wrong before. He didn't care about the baby at all. He wanted to hurt him. The beautiful picture in my head shifted abruptly, changed into something dark. My pretty baby crying, my weak arms not enough to protect him.... What could I do? Would I be able to reason with them? What if I couldn't? Did this explain Alice's strange silence on the phone? Is that what she'd seen? Edward and Carlisle killing that pale, perfect child before he could live? "No," I whispered again, my voice stronger. That could not be. I would not allow it. I heard Edward speaking Portuguese again. Arguing again. His voice got closer, and I heard him grunt in exasperation. Then I heard another voice, low and timid. A woman's voice. He came into the kitchen ahead of her and went straight to me. He wiped the tears from my cheeks and murmured in my ear through the thin, hard line of his lips. "She's insisting on leaving the food she brought 耀he made us dinner." If he had been less tense, less furious, I knew he would have rolled his eyes. "It's an excuse覧she wants to make sure I haven't killed you yet." His voice went ice cold at the end. Kaure edged nervously around the corner with a covered dish in her hands. I wished I could speak Portuguese, or that my Spanish was less rudimentary, so that I could try to thank this woman who had dared to anger a vampire just to check on me. Her eyes flickered between the two of us. I saw her measuring the color in my face, the moisture in my eyes. Mumbling something I didn't understand, she put the dish on the counter. Edward snapped something at her; I'd never heard him be so impolite before. She turned to go, and the whirling motion of her long skirt wafted the smell of the food into my face. It was strong 覧onions and fish. I gagged and whirled for the sink. I felt Edward's hands on my forehead and heard his soothing murmur through the roaring in my ears. His hands disappeared for a second, and I heard the refrigerator slam shut. Mercifully, the smell disappeared with the sound, and Edward's hands were cooling my clammy face again. It was over quickly. I rinsed my mouth in the tap while he caressed the side of my face. There was a tentative little nudge in my womb. It's okay. We're okay, I thought toward the bump. Edward turned me around, pulling me into his arms. I rested my head on his shoulder. My hands, instinctively, folded over my stomach. I heard a little gasp and I looked up. The woman was still there, hesitating in the doorway with her hands half-outstretched as if she had been looking for some way to help. Her eyes were locked on my hands, popping wide with shock. Her mouth hung open. Then Edward gasped, too, and he suddenly turned to face the woman, pushing me slightly behind his body. His arm wrapped across my torso, like he was holding me back. Suddenly, Kaure was shouting at him 2様oudly, furiously, her unintelligible words flying across the room like knives. She raised her tiny fist in the air and took two steps forward, shaking it at him. Despite her ferocity, it was easy to see the terror in her eyes. Edward stepped toward her, too, and I clutched at his arm, frightened for the woman. But when he interrupted her tirade, his voice took me by surprise, especially considering how sharp he'd been with her when she wasn't screeching at him. It was low now; it was pleading. Not only that, but the sound was different, more guttural, the cadence off. I didn't think he was speaking Portuguese anymore. For a moment, the woman stared at him in wonder, and then her eyes narrowed as she barked out a long question in the same alien tongue. I watched as his face grew sad and serious, and he nodded once. She took a quick step back and crossed herself. He reached out to her, gesturing toward me and then resting his hand against my cheek. She replied angrily again, waving her hands accusingly toward him, and then gestured to him. When she finished, he pleaded again with the same low, urgent voice. Her expression changed 覧she stared at him with doubt plain on her face as he spoke, her eyes repeatedly flashing to my confused face. He stopped speaking, and she seemed to be deliberating something. She looked back and forth between the two of us, and then, unconsciously it seemed, took a step forward. She made a motion with her hands, miming a shape like a balloon jutting out from her stomach. I started 覧did her legends of the predatory blood-drinker include this? Could she possibly know something about what was growing inside me? She walked a few steps forward deliberately this time and asked a few brief questions, which he responded to tensely. Then he became the questioner 覧one quick query. She hesitated and then slowly shook her head. When he spoke again, his voice was so agonized that I looked up at him in shock. His face was drawn with pain. In answer, she walked slowly forward until she was close enough to lay her small hand on top of mine, over my stomach. She spoke one word in Portuguese. "Morte," she sighed quietly. Then she turned, her shoulders bent as if the conversation had aged her, and left the room. I knew enough Spanish for that one. Edward was frozen again, staring after her with the tortured expression fixed on his face. A few moments later, I heard a boat's engine putter to life and then fade into the distance. Edward did not move until I started for the bathroom. Then his hand caught my shoulder. "Where are you going?" His voice was a whisper of pain. "To brush my teeth again." "Don't worry about what she said. It's nothing but legends, old lies for the sake of entertainment." "I didn't understand anything," I told him, though it wasn't entirely true. As if I could discount something because it was a legend. My life was circled by legend on every side. They were all true. "I packed your toothbrush. I'll get it for you." He walked ahead of me to the bedroom. "Are we leaving soon?" I called after him. "As soon as you're done." He waited for my toothbrush to repack it, pacing silently around the bedroom. I handed it to him when I was finished. "I'll get the bags into the boat." "Edward 覧" He turned back. "Yes?" I hesitated, trying to think of some way to get a few seconds alone. "Could you... pack some of the food? You know, in case I get hungry again." "Of course," he said, his eyes suddenly soft. "Don't worry about anything. We'll get to Carlisle in just a few hours, really. This will all be over soon." I nodded, not trusting my voice. He turned and left the room, one big suitcase in each hand. I whirled and scooped up the phone he'd left on the counter. It was very unlike him to forget things 2葉o forget that Gustavo was coming, to leave his phone lying here. He was so stressed he was barely himself. I flipped it open and scrolled through the preprogrammed numbers. I was glad he had the sound turned off, afraid that he would catch me. Would he be at the boat now? Or back already? Would he hear me from the kitchen if I whispered? I found the number I wanted, one I had never called before in my life. I pressed the "send" button and crossed my fingers. "Hello?" the voice like golden wind chimes answered. "Rosalie?" I whispered. "It's Bella. Please. You have to help me." BOOK TWO Jacob And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays. William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night's Dream Act III, Scene i PREFACE Life sucks, and then you die. Yeah, I should be so lucky.

8. WAITING FOR THE DAMN FIGHT TO START ALREADY "Jeez, Paul, don't you freaking have a home of your own?" Paul, lounging across my whole couch, watching some stupid baseball game on my crappy TV, just grinned at me and then 覧real slow覧he lifted one Dorito from the bag in his lap and wedged it into his mouth in one piece. "You betterVe brought those with you." Crunch. "Nope," he said while chewing. "Your sister said to go ahead and help myself to anything I wanted." I tried to make my voice sound like I wasn't about to punch him. "Is Rachel here now?" It didn't work. He heard where I was going and shoved the bag behind his back. The bag crackled as he smashed it into the cushion. The chips crunched into pieces. Paul's hands came up in fists, close to his face like a boxer. "Bring it, kid. I don't need Rachel to protect me." I snorted. "Right. Like you wouldn't go crying to her first chance." He laughed and relaxed into the sofa, dropping his hands. "I'm not going to go tattle to a girl. If you got in a lucky hit, that would be just between the two of us. And vice versa, right?" Nice of him to give me an invitation. I made my body slump like I'd given up. "Right." His eyes shifted to the TV. I lunged. His nose made a very satisfying crunching sound of its own when my fist connected. He tried to grab me, but I danced out of the way before he could find a hold, the ruined bag of Doritos in my left hand. "You broke my nose, idiot." "Just between us, right, Paul?" I went to put the chips away. When I turned around, Paul was repositioning his nose before it could set crooked. The blood had already stopped; it looked like it had no source as it trickled down his lips and off his chin. He cussed, wincing as he pulled at the cartilage. "You are such a pain, Jacob. I swear, I'd rather hang out with Leah." "Ouch. Wow, I bet Leah's really going to love to hear that you want to spend some quality time with her. It'll just warm the cockles of her heart." "You're going to forget I said that." "Of course. I'm sure it won't slip out." "Ugh," he grunted, and then settled back into the couch, wiping the leftover blood on the collar of his t-shirt. "You're fast, kid. I'll give you that." He turned his attention back to the fuzzy game. I stood there for a second, and then I stalked off to my room, muttering about alien abductions. Back in the day, you could count on Paul for a fight pretty much whenever. You didn't have to hit him then 覧any mild insult would do. It didn't take a lot to flip him out of control. Now, of course, when I really wanted a good snarling, ripping, break-the-trees-down match, he had to be all mellow. Wasn't it bad enough that yet another member of the pack had imprinted 覧because, really, that made four of ten now! When would it stop? Stupid myth was supposed to be rare, for crying out loud! All this mandatory love-at-first-sight was completely sickening! Did it have to be my sister? Did it have to be Paul? When Rachel'd come home from Washington State at the end of the summer semester 覧graduated early, the nerd覧my biggest worry'd been that it would be hard keeping the secret around her. I wasn't used to covering things up in my own home. It made me real sympathetic to kids like Embry and Collin, whose parents didn't know they were werewolves. Embry's mom thought he was going through some kind of rebellious stage. He was permanently grounded for constantly sneaking out, but, of course, there wasn't much he could do about that. She'd check his room every night, and every night it would be empty again. She'd yell and he'd take it in silence, and then go through it all again the next day. We'd tried to talk Sam into giving Embry a break and letting his mom in on the gig, but Embry'd said he didn't mind. The secret was too important. So I'd been all geared up to be keeping that secret. And then, two days after Rachel got home, Paul ran into her on the beach. Bada bing, bada boom 覧true love! No secrets necessary when you found your other half, and all that imprinting werewolf garbage. Rachel got the whole story. And I got Paul as a brother-in-law someday. I knew Billy wasn't much thrilled about it, either. But he handled it better than I did. 'Course, he did escape to the Clearwaters' more often than usual these days. I didn't see where that was so much better. No Paul, but plenty of Leah. I wondered 覧would a bullet through my temple actually kill me or just leave a really big mess for me to clean up? I threw myself down on the bed. I was tired 覧hadn't slept since my last patrol覧but I knew I wasn't going to sleep. My head was too crazy. The thoughts bounced around inside my skull like a disoriented swarm of bees. Noisy. Now and then they stung. Must be hornets, not bees. Bees died after one sting. And the same thoughts were stinging me again and again. This waiting was driving me insane. It had been almost four weeks. I'd expected, one way or another, the news would have come by now. I'd sat up nights imagining what form it would take. Charlie sobbing on the phone 覧Bella and her husband lost in an accident. A plane crash? That would be hard to fake. Unless the leeches didn't mind killing a bunch of bystanders to authenticate it, and why would they? Maybe a small plane instead. They probably had one of those to spare. Or would the murderer come home alone, unsuccessful in his attempt to make her one of them? Or not even getting that far. Maybe he'd smashed her like a bag of chips in his drive to get some? Because her life was less important to him than his own pleasure... The story would be so tragic 覧Bella lost in a horrible accident. Victim of a mugging gone wrong. Choking to death at dinner. A car accident, like my mom. So common. Happened all the time. Would he bring her home? Bury her here for Charlie? Closed-casket ceremony, of course. My mom's coffin had been nailed shut... I could only hope that he'd come back here, within my reach. Maybe there would be no story at all. Maybe Charlie would call to ask my dad if he'd heard anything from Dr. Cullen, who just didn't show up to work one day. The house abandoned. No answer on any of the Cullens' phones. The mystery picked up by some second-rate news program, foul play suspected... Maybe the big white house would burn to the ground, everyone trapped inside. Of course, they'd need bodies for that one. Eight humans of roughly the right size. Burned beyond recognition 2傭eyond the help of dental records. Either of those would be tricky 覧for me, that is. It would be hard to find them if they didn't want to be found. Of course, I had forever to look. If you had forever, you could check out every single piece of straw in the haystack, one by one, to see if it was the needle. Right now, I wouldn't mind dismantling a haystack. At least that would be something to do. I hated knowing that I could be losing my chance. Giving the bloodsuckers the time to escape, if that was their plan. We could go tonight. We could kill every one of them that we could find. I liked that plan because I knew Edward well enough to know that, if I killed any one of his coven, I would get my chance at him, too. He'd come for revenge. And I'd give it to him 2悠 wouldn't let my brothers take him down as a pack. It would be just him and me. May the better man win. But Sam wouldn't hear of it. We're not going to break the treaty. Let them make the breach. Just because we had no proof that the Cullens had done anything wrong. Yet. You had to add the yet, because we all knew it was inevitable. Bella was either coming back one of them, or not coming back. Either way, a human life had been lost. And that meant game on. In the other room, Paul brayed like a mule. Maybe he'd switched to a comedy. Maybe the commercial was funny. Whatever. It grated on my nerves. I thought about breaking his nose again. But it wasn't Paul I wanted to fight with. Not really. I tried to listen to other sounds, the wind in the trees, it wasn't the same, not through human ears. There were a million voices in the wind that I couldn't hear in this body. But these ears were sensitive enough. I could hear past the trees, to the road, the sounds of the cars coming around that last bend where you could finally see the beach 覧the vista of the islands and the rocks and the big blue ocean stretching to the horizon. The La Push cops liked to hang out right around there. Tourists never noticed the reduced speed limit sign on the other side of the road. I could hear the voices outside the souvenir shop on the beach. I could hear the cowbell clanging as the door opened and closed. I could hear Embry's mom at the cash register, printing out a receipt. I could hear the tide raking across the beach rocks. I could hear the kids squeal as the icy water rushed in too fast for them to get out of the way. I could hear the moms complain about the wet clothes. And I could hear a familiar voice.... I was listening so hard that the sudden burst of Paul's donkey laugh made me jump half off the bed. "Get out of my house," I grumbled. Knowing he wouldn't pay any attention, I followed my own advice. I wrenched open my window and climbed out the back way so that I wouldn't see Paul again. It would be too tempting. I knew I would hit him again, and Rachel was going to be pissed enough already. She'd see the blood on his shirt, and she'd blame me right away without waiting for proof. Of course, she'd be right, but still. I paced down to the shore, my fists in my pockets. Nobody looked at me twice when I went through the dirt lot by First Beach. That was one nice thing about summer 覧no one cared if you wore nothing but shorts. I followed the familiar voice I'd heard and found Quil easy enough. He was on the south end of the crescent, avoiding the bigger part of the tourist crowd. He kept up a constant stream of warnings. "Keep out of the water, Claire. C'mon. No, don't. Oh! Nice, kid. Seriously, do you want Emily to yell at me? I'm not bringing you back to the beach again if you don't 覧Oh yeah? Don't用蓉gh. You think that's funny, do you? Hah! Who's laughing now, huh?" He had the giggling toddler by the ankle when I reached them. She had a bucket in one hand, and her jeans were drenched. He had a huge wet mark down the front of his t-shirt. "Five bucks on the baby girl," I said. "Hey, Jake." Claire squealed and threw her bucket at Quil's knees. "Down, down!" He set her carefully on her feet and she ran to me. She wrapped her arms around my leg. "UncaJay!" "How's it going, Claire?" She giggled. "Qwil aaaaawl wet now." "I can see that. Where's your mama?" "Gone, gone, gone," Claire sang, "Cwaire pway wid Qwil aaaawl day. Cwaire nebber gowin home." She let go of me and ran to Quil. He scooped her up and slung her onto his shoulders. "Sounds like somebody's hit the terrible twos." "Threes actually," Quil corrected. "You missed the party. Princess theme. She made me wear a crown, and then Emily suggested they all try out her new play makeup on me." "Wow, I'm really sorry I wasn't around to see that." "Don't worry, Emily has pictures. Actually, I look pretty hot." "You're such a patsy." Quil shrugged. "Claire had a great time. That was the point." I rolled my eyes. It was hard being around imprinted people. No matter what stage they were in 2預bout to tie the knot like Sam or just a much-abused nanny like Quil覧the peace and certainty they always radiated was downright puke-inducing. Claire squealed on his shoulders and pointed at the ground. "Pity wock, Qwil! For me, for me!" "Which one, kiddo? The red one?" "No wed!" Quil dropped to his knees 2佑laire screamed and pulled his hair like a horse's reigns. "This blue one?" "No, no, no...," the little girl sang, thrilled with her new game. The weird part was, Quil was having just as much fun as she was. He didn't have that face on that so many of the tourist dads and moms were wearing 2葉he when-is-nap-time? face. You never saw a real parent so jazzed to play whatever stupid kiddie sport their rugrat could think up. I'd seen Quil play peekaboo for an hour straight without getting bored. And I couldn't even make fun of him for it 覧I envied him too much. Though I did think it sucked that he had a good fourteen years of monkitude ahead of him until Claire was his age 覧for Quil, at least, it was a good thing werewolves didn't get older. But even all that time didn't seem to bother him much. "Quil, you ever think about dating?" I asked. "Huh?" "No, no yewwo!" Claire crowed. "You know. A real girl. I mean, just for now, right? On your nights off babysitting duty." Quil stared at me, his mouth hanging open. "Pity wock! Pity wock!" Claire screamed when he didn't offer her another choice. She smacked him on the head with her little fist. "Sorry, Claire-bear. How about this pretty purple one?" "No," she giggled. "No poopoh." "Give me a clue. I'm begging, kid." Claire thought it over. "Gween," she finally said. Quil stared at the rocks, studying them. He picked four rocks in different shades of green, and offered them to her. "Did I get it?'7 "Yay!" "Which one?" Vlaaaaw/obdem!!" She cupped her hands and he poured the small rocks into them. She laughed and immediately clunked him on the head with them. He winced theatrically and then got to his feet and started walking back up toward the parking lot. Probably worried about her getting cold in her wet clothes. He was worse than any paranoid, overprotective mother. "Sorry if I was being pushy before, man, about the girl thing," I said. "Naw, that's cool," Quil said. "It kind of took me by surprise is all. I hadn't thought about it." "I bet she'd understand. You know, when she's grown up. She wouldn't get mad that you had a life while she was in diapers." "No, I know. I'm sure she'd understand that." He didn't say anything else. "But you won't do that, will you?" I guessed. "I can't see it," he said in a low voice. "I can't imagine. I just don't... see anyone that way. I don't notice girls anymore, you know. I don't see their faces." "Put that together with the tiara and makeup, and maybe Claire will have a different kind of competition to worry about." Quil laughed and made kissing noises at me. "You available this Friday, Jacob?" "You wish," I said, and then I made a face. "Yeah, guess I am, though." He hesitated a second and then said, "You ever think about dating?" I sighed. Guess I'd opened myself up for that one. "You know, Jake, maybe you should think about getting a life." He didn't say it like a joke. His voice was sympathetic. That made it worse. "I don't see them, either, Quil. I don't see their faces." Quil sighed, too. Far away, too low for anyone but just us two to hear it over the waves, a howl rose out of the forest. "Dang, that's Sam," Quil said. His hands flew up to touch Claire, as if making sure she was still there. "I don't know where her mom's at!" Til see what it is. If we need you, HI let you know." I raced through the words. They came out all slurred together. "Hey, why don't you take her up to the Clearwaters'? Sue and Billy can keep an eye on her if they need to. They might know what's going on, anyway." "Okay 覧get outta here, Jake!" I took off running, not for the dirt path through the weedy hedge, but in the shortest line toward the forest. I hurdled the first line of driftwood and then ripped my way through the briars, still running. I felt the little tears as the thorns cut into my skin, but I ignored them. Their sting would be healed before I made the trees. I cut behind the store and darted across the highway. Somebody honked at me. Once in the safety of the trees, I ran faster, taking longer strides. People would stare if I was out in the open. Normal people couldn't run like this. Sometimes I thought it might be fun to enter a race 覧you know, like the Olympic trials or something. It would be cool to watch the expressions on those star athletes' faces when I blew by them. Only I was pretty sure the testing they did to make sure you weren't on steroids would probably turn up some really freaky crap in my blood. As soon as I was in the true forest, unbound by roads or houses, I skidded to a stop and kicked my shorts off. With quick, practiced moves, I rolled them up and tied them to the leather cord around my ankle. As I was still pulling the ends tight, I started shifting. The fire trembled down my spine, throwing tight spasms out along my arms and legs. It only took a second. The heat flooded through me, and I felt the silent shimmer that made me something else. I threw my heavy paws against the matted earth and stretched my back in one long, rolling extension. Phasing was very easy when I was centered like this. I didn't have issues with my temper anymore. Except when it got in the way. For one half second, I remembered the awful moment at that unspeakable joke of a wedding. I'd been so insane with fury that I couldn't make my body work right. I'd been trapped, shaking and burning, unable to make the change and kill the monster just a few feet away from me. It had been so confusing. Dying to kill him. Afraid to hurt her. My friends in the way. And then, when I was finally able to take the form I wanted, the order from my leader. The edict from the Alpha. If it had been just Embry and Quil there that night without Sam... would I have been able to kill the murderer, then? I hated it when Sam laid down the law like that. I hated the feeling of having no choice. Of having to obey. And then I was conscious of an audience. I was not alone in my thoughts. So self-absorbed all the time, Leah thought. Yeah, no hypocrisy there, Leah, I thought back. Can it, guys, Sam told us. We fell silent, and I felt Leah's wince at the word guys. Touchy, like always. Sam pretended not to notice. Where's Quil andJared? Quit's got Claire. He's taking her to the Clearwaters'. Good. Sue will take her. Jared was going to Kim's, Embry thought. Good chance he didn't hear you. There was a low grumble through the pack. I moaned along with them. When Jared finally showed up, no doubt he'd still be thinking about Kim. And nobody wanted a replay of what they were up to right now. Sam sat back on his haunches and let another howl rip into the air. It was a signal and an order in one. The pack was gathered a few miles east of where I was. I loped through the thick forest toward them. Leah, Embry, and Paul all were working in toward them, too. Leah was close 2耀oon I could hear her footfalls not far into the woods. We continued in a parallel line, choosing not to run together. Well, we're not waiting all day for him. He'll just have to catch up later. 'Sup, boss? Paul wanted to know. We need to talk. Something's happened. I felt Sam's thoughts flicker to me 2預nd not just Sam's, but Seth's and Collin's and Brady's as well. Collin and Brady2葉he new kids熔揺ad been running patrol with Sam today, so they would know whatever he knew. I didn't know why Seth was already out here, and in the know. It wasn't his turn. Seth, tell them what you heard. I sped up, wanting to be there. I heard Leah move faster, too. She hated being outrun. Being the fastest was the only edge she claimed. Claim this, moron, she hissed, and then she really kicked it into gear. I dug my nails into the loam and shot myself forward. Sam didn't seem in the mood to put up with our usual crap. Jake, Leah, give it a rest. Neither of us slowed. Sam growled, but let it go. Seth? Charlie called around till he found Billy at my house. Yeah, I talked to him, Paul added. I felt a jolt go through me as Seth thought Charlie's name. This was it. The waiting was over. I ran faster, forcing myself to breathe, though my lungs felt kinda stiff all of a sudden. Which story would it be? So he's all flipped out. Guess Edward and Bella got home last week, and... My chest eased up. She was alive. Or she wasn't dead dead, at least. I hadn't realized how much difference it would make to me. I'd been thinking of her as dead this whole time, and I only saw that now. I saw that I'd never believed that he would bring her back alive. It shouldn't matter, because I knew what was coming next. Yeah, bro, and here's the bad news. Charlie talked to her, said she sounded bad. She told him she's sick. Carlisle got on and told Charlie that Bella picked up some rare disease in South America. Said she's quarantined. Charlie's going crazy, 'cause even he's not allowed to see her. He says he doesn't care if he gets sick, but Carlisle wouldn't bend. No visitors. Told Charlie it was pretty serious, but that he's doing everything he can. Charlie's been stewing about it for days, but he only called Billy now. He said she sounded worse today. The mental silence when Seth finished was profound. We all understood. So she would die of this disease, as far as Charlie knew. Would they let him view the corpse? The pale, perfectly still, unbreathing white body? They couldn't let him touch the cold skin 覧he might notice how hard it was. They'd have to wait until she could hold still, could keep from killing Charlie and the other mourners. How long would that take? Would they bury her? Would she dig herself out, or would the bloodsuckers come for her? The others listened to my speculating in silence. I'd put a lot more thought into this than any of them. Leah and I entered the clearing at nearly the same time. She was sure her nose led the way, though. She dropped onto her haunches beside her brother while I trotted forward to stand at Sam's right hand. Paul circled and made room for me in my place. Beatcha again, Leah thought, but I barely heard her. I wondered why I was the only one on my feet. My fur stood up on my shoulders, bristling with impatience. Well, what are we waiting for? I asked. No one said anything, but I heard their feelings of hesitation. Oh, come on! The treaty's broken! We have no proof 覧maybe she is sick.... OH, PLEASE! Okay, so the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong. Still... Jacob. Sam's thought came slow, hesitant. Are you sure this is what you want? Is it really the right thing? We all know what she wanted. The treaty doesn't mention anything about victim preferences, Sam! Is she really a victim? Would you label her that way? Yes! Jake, Seth thought, they aren't our enemies. Shut up, kid! Just 'cause you've got some kind of sick hero worship thing going on with that bloodsucker, it doesn't change the law. They are our enemies. They are in our territory. We take them out. I don't care if you had fun fighting alongside Edward Cullen once upon a time. So what are you going to do when Bella fights with them, Jacob? Huh? Seth demanded. She's not Bella anymore. You gonna be the one to take her down? I couldn't stop myself from wincing. No, you're not. So, what? You gonna make one of us do it? And then hold a grudge against whoever it is forever? I wouldn't... Sure you won't. You're not ready for this fight, Jacob. Instinct took over and I crouched forward, snarling at the gangly sand-colored wolf across the circle. Jacob! Sam cautioned. Seth, shut up for a second. Seth nodded his big head. Dang, what'd I miss? Qu\\ thought. He was running for the gathering place full-out. Heard about Charlie's call.... Were getting ready to go, I told him. Why don't you swing by Kim's and drag Jared out with your teeth? We're going to need everyone. Come straight here, Quil, Sam ordered. We've decided nothing yet. I growled. Jacob, I have to think about what's best for this pack. I have to choose the course that protects you all best. Times have changed since our ancestors made that treaty. I... well, I don't honestly believe that the Cullens are a danger to us. And we know that they will not be here much longer. Surely once they've told their story, they will disappear. Our lives can return to normal. Normal? If we challenge them, Jacob, they will defend themselves well. Are you afraid? Are you so ready to lose a brother? He paused. Or a sister? he tacked on as an afterthought. I'm not afraid to die. I know that, Jacob. It's one reason I question your judgment on this. I stared into his black eyes. Do you intend to honor our fathers' treaty or not? I honor my pack. I do what's best for them. Coward. His muzzle tensed, pulling back over his teeth. Enough, Jacob. You're overruled. Sam's mental voice changed, took on that strange double timbre that we could not disobey. The voice of the Alpha. He met the gaze of every wolf in the circle. The pack is not attacking the Cullens without provocation. The spirit of the treaty remains. They are not a danger to our people, nor are they a danger to the people of Forks. Bella Swan made an informed choice, and we are not going to punish our former allies for her choice. Hear, hear, Seth thought enthusiastically. / thought I told you to shut it, Seth. Oops. Sorry, Sam. Jacob, where do you think you're going? I left the circle, moving toward the west so that I could turn my back on him. I'm going to tell my father goodbye. Apparently there was no purpose in me sticking around this long. Aw, Jake 覧don't do that again! Shut up, Seth, several voices thought together. We don't want you to leave, Sam told me, his thought softer than before. So force me to stay, Sam. Take away my will. Make me a slave. You know I won't do that Then there's nothing more to say. I ran away from them, trying very hard not to think about what was next. Instead, I concentrated on my memories of the long wolf months, of letting the humanity bleed out of me until I was more animal than man. Living in the moment, eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, drinking when thirsty, and running 覧running just to run. Simple desires, simple answers to those desires. Pain came in easily managed forms. The pain of hunger. The pain of cold ice under your paws. The pain of cutting claws when dinner got feisty. Each pain had a simple answer, a clear action to end that pain. Not like being human. Yet, as soon as I was in jogging distance of my house, I shifted back into my human body. I needed to be able to think in privacy. I untied my shorts and yanked them on, already running for the house. I'd done it. I'd hidden what I was thinking and now it was too late for Sam to stop me. He couldn't hear me now. Sam had made a very clear ruling. The pack would not attack the Cullens. Okay. He hadn't mentioned an individual acting alone. Nope, the pack wasn't attacking anyone today. But I was.

9. SURE AS HELL DIDN'T SEE THAT ONE COMING I didn't really plan to say goodbye to my father. After all, one quick call to Sam and the game would be up. They'd cut me off and push me back. Probably try to make me angry, or even hurt me 覧somehow force me to phase so that Sam could lay down a new law. But Billy was expecting me, knowing I'd be in some kind of state. He was in the yard, just sitting there in his wheelchair with his eyes right on the spot where I came through the trees. I saw him judge my direction 2揺eaded straight past the house to my homemade garage. "Got a minute, Jake?" I skidded to a stop. I looked at him and then toward the garage. "C'mon kid. At least help me inside." I gritted my teeth but decided that he'd be more likely to cause trouble with Sam if I didn't lie to him for a few minutes. "Since when do you need help, old man?" He laughed his rumbling laugh. "My arms are tired. I pushed myself all the way here from Sue's." "It's downhill. You coasted the whole way." I rolled his chair up the little ramp I'd made for him and into the living room. "Caught me. Think I got up to about thirty miles per hour. It was great." "You're gonna wreck that chair, you know. And then you'll be dragging yourself around by your elbows." "Not a chance. It'll be your job to carry me." "You won't be going many places." Billy put his hands on the wheels and steered himself to the fridge. "Any food left?" "You got me. Paul was here all day, though, so probably not." Billy sighed. "Have to start hiding the groceries if we're gonna avoid starvation." "Tell Rachel to go stay at his place." Billy's joking tone vanished, and his eyes got soft. "We've only had her home a few weeks. First time she's been here in a long time. It's hard 覧the girls were older than you when your mom passed. They have more trouble being in this house." "I know." Rebecca hadn't been home once since she got married, though she did have a good excuse. Plane tickets from Hawaii were pretty pricey. Washington State was close enough that Rachel didn't have the same defense. She'd taken classes straight through the summer semesters, working double shifts over the holidays at some cafe on campus. If it hadn't been for Paul, she probably would have taken off again real quick. Maybe that was why Billy wouldn't kick him out. "Well, I'm going to go work on some stuff___"I started for the back door. "Wait up, Jake. Aren't you going to tell me what happened? Do I have to call Sam for an update?" I stood with my back to him, hiding my face. "Nothing happened. Sam's giving them a bye. Guess we're all just a bunch of leech lovers now." "Jake..." "I don't want to talk about it." "Are you leaving, son?" The room was quiet for a long time while I decided how to say it. "Rachel can have her room back. I know she hates that air mattress." "She'd rather sleep on the floor than lose you. So would I." I snorted. "Jacob, please. If you need... a break. Well, take it. But not so long again. Come back." "Maybe. Maybe my gig will be weddings. Make a cameo at Sam's, then Rachel's. Jared and Kim might come first, though. Probably ought to have a suit or something." "Jake, look at me." I turned around slowly. "What?" He stared into my eyes for a long minute. "Where are you going?" "I don't really have a specific place in mind." He cocked his head to the side, and his eyes narrowed. "Don't you?" We stared each other down. The seconds ticked by. "Jacob," he said. His voice was strained. "Jacob, don't. It's not worth it." "I don't know what you're talking about." "Leave Bella and the Cullens be. Sam is right." I stared at him for a second, and then I crossed the room in two long strides, i grabbed the phone and disconnected the cable from the box and the jack. I wadded the gray cord up in the palm of my hand. "Bye, Dad." "Jake, wait 覧,'7 he called after me, but I was out the door, running. The motorcycle wasn't as fast as running, but it was more discreet. I wondered how long it would take Billy to wheel himself down to the store and then get someone on the phone who could get a message to Sam. I'd bet Sam was still in his wolf form. The problem would be if Paul came back to our place anytime soon. He could phase in a second and let Sam know what I was doing.... I wasn't going to worry about it. I would go as fast as I could, and if they caught me, I'd deal with that when I had to. I kicked the bike to life and then I was racing down the muddy lane. I didn't look behind me as I passed the house. The highway was busy with tourist traffic; I wove in and out of the cars, earning a bunch of honks and a few fingers. I took the turn onto the 101 at seventy, not bothering to look. I had to ride the line for a minute to avoid getting smeared by a minivan. Not that it would have killed me, but it would have slowed me down. Broken bones 覧the big ones, at least覧took days to heal completely, as I had good cause to know. The freeway cleared up a little, and I pushed the bike to eighty. I didn't touch the brake until I was close to the narrow drive; I figured I was in the clear then. Sam wouldn't come this far to stop me. It was too late. It wasn't until that moment 4謡hen I was sure that I'd made it覧that I started to think about what exactly I was going to do now. I slowed down to twenty, taking the twists through the trees more carefully than I needed to. I knew they would hear me coming, bike or no bike, so surprise was out. There was no way to disguise my intentions. Edward would hear my plan as soon as I was close enough. Maybe he already could. But I thought this would still work out, because I had his ego on my side. He'd want to fight me alone. So I'd just walk in, see Sam's precious evidence for myself, and then challenge Edward to a duel. I snorted. The parasite'd probably get a kick out of the theatrics of it. When I finished with him, I'd take as many of the rest of them as I could before they got me. Huh 覧I wondered if Sam would consider my death provocation. Probably say I got what I deserved. Wouldn't want to offend his bloodsucker BFFs. The drive opened up into the meadow, and the smell hit me like a rotten tomato to the face. Ugh. Reeking vampires. My stomach started churning. The stench would be hard to take this way 覧undiluted by the scent of humans as it had been the other time I'd come here覧though not as bad as smelling it through my wolf nose. I wasn't sure what to expect, but there was no sign of life around the big white crypt. Of course they knew I was here. I cut the engine and listened to the quiet. Now I could hear tense, angry murmurs from just the other side of the wide double doors. Someone was home. I heard my name and I smiled, happy to think I was causing them a little stress. I took one big gulp of air 覧it would only be worse inside覧and leaped up the porch stairs in one bound. The door opened before my fist touched it, and the doctor stood in the frame, his eyes grave. "Hello, Jacob," he said, calmer than I would have expected. "How are you?" I took a deep breath through my mouth. The reek pouring through the door was overpowering. I was disappointed that it was Carlisle who answered. I'd rather Edward had come through the door, fangs out. Carlisle was so... just human or something. Maybe it was the house calls he made last spring when I got busted up. But it made me uncomfortable to look into his face and know that I was planning to kill him if I could. "I heard Bella made it back alive," I said. "Er, Jacob, it's not really the best time." The doctor seemed uncomfortable, too, but not in the way I expected. "Could we do this later?" I stared at him, dumbfounded. Was he asking to post-pone the death match for a more convenient time? And then I heard Bella's voice, cracked and rough, and I couldn't think about anything else. "Why not?" she asked someone. "Are we keeping secrets from Jacob, too? What's the point?" Her voice was not what I was expecting. I tried to remember the voices of the young vampires we'd fought in the spring, but all I'd registered was snarling. Maybe those newborns hadn't had the piercing, ringing sound of the older ones, either. Maybe all new vampires sounded hoarse. "Come in, please, Jacob," Bella croaked more loudly. Carlisle's eyes tightened. I wondered if Bella was thirsty. My eyes narrowed, too. "Excuse me," I said to the doctor as I stepped around him. It was hard 熔擁t went against all my instincts to turn my back to one of them. Not impossible, though. If there was such a thing as a safe vampire, it was the strangely gentle leader. I would stay away from Carlisle when the fight started. There were enough of them to kill without including him. I sidestepped into the house, keeping my back to the wall. My eyes swept the room 覧it was unfamiliar. The last time I'd been in here it had been all done up for a party. Everything was bright and pale now. Including the six vampires standing in a group by the white sofa. They were all here, all together, but that was not what froze me where I stood and had my jaw dropping to the floor. It was Edward. It was the expression on his face. I'd seen him angry, and I'd seen him arrogant, and once I'd seen him in pain. But this 覧this was beyond agony. His eyes were half-crazed. He didn't look up to glare at me. He stared down at the couch beside him with an expression like someone had lit him on fire. His hands were rigid claws at his side. I couldn't even enjoy his anguish. I could only think of one thing that would make him look like that, and my eyes followed his. I saw her at the same moment that I caught her scent. Her warm, clean, human scent. Bella was half-hidden behind the arm of the sofa, curled up in a loose fetal position, her arms wrapped around her knees. For a long second I could see nothing except that she was still the Bella that I loved, her skin still a soft, pale peach, her eyes still the same chocolate brown. My heart thudded a strange, broken meter, and I wondered if this was just some lying dream that I was about to wake up from. Then I really saw her. There were deep circles under her eyes, dark circles that jumped out because her face was all haggard. Was she thinner? Her skin seemed tight 覧like her cheekbones might break right through it. Most of her dark hair was pulled away from her face into a messy knot, but a few strands stuck limply to her forehead and neck, to the sheen of sweat that covered her skin. There was something about her fingers and wrists that looked so fragile it was scary. She was sick. Very sick. Not a lie. The story Charlie'd told Billy was not a story. While I stared, eyes bugging, her skin turned light green. The blond bloodsucker 覧the showy one, Rosalie覧bent over her, cutting into my view, hovering in a strange, protective way. This was wrong. I knew how Bella felt about almost everything 蓉揺er thoughts were so obvious; sometimes it was like they were printed on her forehead. So she didn't have to tell me every detail of a situation for me to get it. I knew that Bella didn't like Rosalie. I'd seen it in the set of her lips when she talked about her. Not just that she didn't like her. She was afraid of Rosalie. Or she had been. There was no fear as Bella glanced up at her now. Her expression was... apologetic or something. Then Rosalie snatched a basin from the floor and held it under Bella's chin just in time for Bella to throw up noisily into it. Edward fell to his knees by Bella's side 覧his eyes all tortured-looking覧and Rosalie held out her hand, warning him to keep back. None of it made sense. When she could raise her head, Bella smiled weakly at me, sort of embarrassed. "Sorry about that," she whispered to me. Edward moaned real quiet. His head slumped against Bella's knees. She put one of her hands against his cheek. Like she was comforting him. I didn't realize my legs had carried me forward until Rosalie hissed at me, suddenly appearing between me and the couch. She was like a person on a TV screen. I didn't care she was there. She didn't seem real. "Rose, don't," Bella whispered. "It's fine." Blondie moved out of my way, though I could tell she hated to do it. Scowling at me, she crouched by Bella's head, tensed to spring. She was easier to ignore than I ever would have dreamed. "Bella, what's wrong?" I whispered. Without thinking about it, I found myself on my knees, too, leaning over the back of the couch across from her... husband. He didn't seem to notice me, and I barely glanced at him. I reached out for her free hand, taking it in both of mine. Her skin was icy. "Are you all right?" It was a stupid question. She didn't answer it. "I'm so glad you came to see me today, Jacob," she said. Even though I knew Edward couldn't hear her thoughts, he seemed to hear some meaning I didn't. He moaned again, into the blanket that covered her, and she stroked his cheek. "What is it, Bella?" I insisted, wrapping my hands tight around her cold, fragile fingers. Instead of answering, she glanced around the room like she was searching for something, both a plea and a warning in her look. Six pairs of anxious yellow eyes stared back at her. Finally, she turned to Rosalie. "Help me up, Rose?" she asked. Rosalie's lips pulled back over her teeth, and she glared up at me like she wanted to rip my throat out. I was sure that was exactly the case. "Please, Rose." The blonde made a face, but leaned over her again, next to Edward, who didn't move an inch. She put her arm carefully behind Bella's shoulders. "No," I whispered. "Don't get up___" She looked so weak. "I'm answering your question," she snapped, sounding a little bit more like the way she usually talked to me. Rosalie pulled Bella off the couch. Edward stayed where he was, sagging forward till his face was buried in the cushions. The blanket fell to the ground at Bella's feet. Bella:s body was swollen, her torso ballooning out in a strange, sick way. It strained against the faded gray sweatshirt that was way too big for her shoulders and arms. The rest of her seemed thinner, like the big bulge had grown out of what it had sucked from her. It took me a second to realize what the deformed part was 覧I didn't understand until she folded her hands tenderly around her bloated stomach, one above and one below. Like she was cradling it. I saw it then, but I still couldn't believe it. I'd seen her just a month ago. There was no way she could be pregnant. Not that pregnant. Except that she was. I didn't want to see this, didn't want to think about this. I didn't want to imagine him inside her. I didn't want to know that something I hated so much had taken root in the body I loved. My stomach heaved, and I had to swallow back vomit. But it was worse than that, so much worse. Her distorted body, the bones jabbing against the skin of her face. I could only guess that she looked like this 覧so pregnant, so sick蓉傭ecause whatever was inside her was taking her life to feed its own.... Because it was a monster. Just like its father. I always knew he would kill her. His head snapped up as he heard the words inside mine. One second we were both on our knees, and then he was on his feet, towering over me. His eyes were flat black, the circles under them dark purple. "Outside, Jacob," he snarled. I was on my feet, too. Looking down on him now. This was why I was here. "Let's do this," I agreed. The big one, Emmett, pushed forward on Edward's other side, with the hungry-looking one, Jasper, right behind him. I really didn't care. Maybe my pack would clean up the scraps when they finished me off. Maybe not. It didn't matter. For the tiniest part of a second my eyes touched on the two standing in the back. Esme. Alice. Small and distractingly feminine. Well, I was sure the others would kill me before I had to do anything about them. I didn't want to kill girls... even vampire girls. Though I might make an exception for that blonde. "No," Bella gasped, and she stumbled forward, out of balance, to clutch at Edward's arm. Rosalie moved with her, like there was a chain locking them to each other. "I just need to talk to him, Bella," Edward said in a low voice, talking only to her. He reached up to touch her face, to stroke it. This made the room turn red, made me see fire 2葉hat, after all he'd done to her, he was still allowed to touch her that way. "Don't strain yourself," he went on, pleading. "Please rest. We'll both be back in just a few minutes." She stared at his face, reading it carefully. Then she nodded and drooped toward the couch. Rosalie helped lower her back onto the cushions. Bella stared at me, trying to hold my eyes. "Behave," she insisted. "And then come back." I didn't answer. I wasn't making any promises today. I looked away and then followed Edward out the front door. A random, disjointed voice in my head noted that separating him from the coven hadn't been so difficult, had it? He kept walking, never checking to see if I was about to spring at his unprotected back. I supposed he didn't need to check. He would know when I decided to attack. Which meant I'd have to make that decision very quickly. Tm not ready for you to kill me yet, Jacob Black," he whispered as he paced quickly away from the house. "You'll have to have a little patience." Like I cared about his schedule. I growled under my breath. "Patience isn't my specialty." He kept walking, maybe a couple hundred yards down the drive away from the house, with me right on his heels. I was all hot, my fingers trembling. On the edge, ready and waiting. He stopped without warning and pivoted to face me. His expression froze me again. For a second I was just a kid 覧a kid who had lived all of his life in the same tiny town. Just a child. Because I knew I would have to live a lot more, suffer a lot more, to ever understand the searing agony in Edward's eyes. He raised a hand as if to wipe sweat from his forehead, but his fingers scraped against his face like they were going to rip his granite skin right off. His black eyes burned in their sockets, out of focus, or seeing things that weren't there. His mouth opened like he was going to scream, but nothing came out. This was the face a man would have if he were burning at the stake. For a moment I couldn't speak. It was too real, this face 2悠'd seen a shadow of it in the house, seen it in her eyes and his, but this made it final. The last nail in her coffin. "It's killing her, right? She's dying." And I knew when I said it that my face was a watered-down echo of his. Weaker, different, because I was still in shock. I hadn't wrapped my head around it yet 蓉擁t was happening too fast. He'd had time to get to this point. And it was different because I'd already lost her so many times, so many ways, in my head. And different because she was never really mine to lose. And different because this wasn't my fault. "My fault," Edward whispered, and his knees gave out. He crumpled in front of me, vulnerable, the easiest target you could imagine. But I felt cold as snow 覧there was no fire in me. "Yes," he groaned into the dirt, like he was confessing to the ground. "Yes, it's killing her." His broken helplessness irritated me. I wanted a fight, not an execution. Where was his smug superiority now? "So why hasn't Carlisle done anything?" I growled. "He's a doctor, right? Get it out of her." He looked up then and answered me in a tired voice. Like he was explaining this to a kindergartener for the tenth time. "She won't let us." It took a minute for the words to sink in. Jeez, she was running true to form. Of course, die for the monster spawn. It was so Bella. "You know her well," he whispered. "How quickly you see.... I didn't see. Not in time. She wouldn't talk to me on the way home, not really. I thought she was frightened 覧that would be natural. I thought she was angry with me for putting her through this, for endangering her life. Again. I never imagined what she was really thinking, what she was resolving. Not until my family met us at the airport and she ran right into Rosalie's arms. Rosalie's! And then I heard what Rosalie was thinking. I didn't understand until I heard that. Yet you understand after one second. . . ." He half-sighed, half-groaned. "Just back up a second. She won't let you." The sarcasm was acid on my tongue. "Did you ever notice that she's exactly as strong as a normal hundred-and-ten-pound human girl? How stupid are you vamps? Hold her down and knock her out with drugs." "I wanted to," he whispered. "Carlisle would have___" What, too noble were they? "No. Not noble. Her bodyguard complicated things." Oh. His story hadn't made much sense before, but it fit together now. So that's what Blondie was up to. What was in it for her, though? Did the beauty queen want Bella to die so bad? "Maybe," he said. "Rosalie doesn't look at it quite that way." "So take the blonde out first. Your kind can be put back together, right? Turn her into a jigsaw and take care of Bella." "Emmett and Esme are backing her up. Emmett would never let us... and Carlisle won't help me with Esme against it___" He trailed off, his voice disappearing. "You should have left Bella with me." "Yes." It was a bit late for that, though. Maybe he should have thought about all this before he knocked her up with the life-sucking monster. He stared up at me from inside his own personal hell, and I could see that he agreed with me. "We didn't know," he said, the words as quiet as a breath. "I never dreamed. There's never been anything like Bella and I before. How could we know that a human was able conceive a child with one of us 2" "When the human should get ripped to shreds in the process?" "Yes," he agreed in a tense whisper. "They're out there, the sadistic ones, the incubus, the succubus. They exist. But the seduction is merely a prelude to the feast. No one survives" He shook his head like the idea revolted him. Like he was any different. "I didn't realize they had a special name for what you are," I spit. He stared up at me with a face that looked a thousand years old. "Even you, Jacob Black, cannot hate me as much as I hate myself.'7 Wrong, I thought, too enraged to speak. "Killing me now doesn't save her," he said quietly. "So what does?" "Jacob, you have to do something for me." "The hell I do, parasite!" He kept staring at me with those half-tired, half-crazy eyes. "For her?" I clenched my teeth together hard. "I did everything I could to keep her away from you. Every single thing. It's too late." "You know her, Jacob. You connect to her on a level that I don't even understand. You are part of her, and she is part of you. She won't listen to me, because she thinks I'm underestimating her. She thinks she's strong enough for this___" He choked and then swallowed. "She might listen to you." "Why would she?" He lurched to his feet, his eyes burning brighter than before, wilder. I wondered if he was really going crazy. Could vampires lose their minds? "Maybe," he answered my thought. "I don't know. It feels like it." He shook his head. "I have to try to hide this in front of her, because stress makes her more ill. She can't keep anything down as it is. I have to be composed; I can't make it harder. But that doesn't matter now. She has to listen to you!" "I can't tell her anything you haven't. What do you want me to do? Tell her she's stupid? She probably already knows that. Tell her she's going to die? I bet she knows that, too." "You can offer her what she wants." He wasn't making any sense. Part of the crazy? "I don't care about anything but keeping her alive," he said, suddenly focused now. "If it's a child she wants, she can have it. She can have half a dozen babies. Anything she wants." He paused for one beat. "She can have puppies, if that's what it takes." He met my stare for a moment and his face was frenzied under the thin layer of control. My hard scowl crumbled as I processed his words, and I felt my mouth pop open in shock. "But not this way!" he hissed before I could recover. "Not this thing that's sucking the life from her while I stand there helpless! Watching her sicken and waste away. Seeing it hurting her." He sucked in a fast breath like someone had punched him in the gut. "You have to make her see reason, Jacob. She won't listen to me anymore. Rosalie's always there, feeding her insanity 覧encouraging her. Protecting her. No, protecting it Bella's life means nothing to her." The noise coming from my throat sounded like I was choking. What was he saying? That Bella should, what? Have a baby? With me? What? How? Was he giving her up? Or did he think she wouldn't mind being shared? "Whichever. Whatever keeps her alive." "That's the craziest thing you've said yet," I mumbled. "She loves you." "Not enough." "She's ready to die to have a child. Maybe she'd accept something less extreme." "Don't you know her at all?" "I know, I know. It's going to take a lot of convincing. That's why I need you. You know how she thinks. Make her see sense." I couldn't think about what he was suggesting. It was too much. Impossible. Wrong. Sick. Borrowing Bella for the weekends and then returning her Monday morning like a rental movie? So messed up. So tempting. I didn't want to consider, didn't want to imagine, but the images came anyway. I'd fantasized about Bella that way too many times, back when there was still a possibility of us, and then long after it was clear that the fantasies would only leave festering sores because there was no possibility, none at all. I hadn't been able to help myself then. I couldn't stop myself now. Bella in my arms, Bella sighing my name... Worse still, this new image I'd never had before, one that by all rights shouldn't have existed for me. Not yet. An image I knew I wouldn't've suffered over for years if he hadn't shoved it in my head now. But it stuck there, winding threads through my brain like a weed 覧poisonous and unkillable. Bella, healthy and glowing, so different than now, but something the same: her body, not distorted, changed in a more natural way. Round with my child. I tried to escape the venomous weed in my mind. "Make Bella see sense? What universe do you live in?" "At least try." I shook my head fast. He waited, ignoring the negative answer because he could hear the conflict in my thoughts. "Where is this psycho crap coming from? Are you making this up as you go?" "I've been thinking of nothing but ways to save her since I realized what she was planning to do. What she would die to do. But I didn't know how to contact you. I knew you wouldn't listen if I called. I would have come to find you soon, if you hadn't come today. But it's hard to leave her, even for a few minutes. Her condition... it changes so fast. The thing is... growing. Swiftly. I can't be away from her now." "What is it?" "None of us have any idea. But it is stronger than she is. Already." I could suddenly see it then 蓉耀ee the swelling monster in my head, breaking her from the inside out. "Help me stop it," he whispered. "Help me stop this from happening." "How? By offering my stud services?" He didn't even flinch when I said that, but I did. "You're really sick. She'll never listen to this." "Try. There's nothing to lose now. How will it hurt?" It would hurt me. Hadn't I taken enough rejection from Bella without this? "A little pain to save her? Is it such a high cost?" "But it won't work." "Maybe not. Maybe it will confuse her, though. Maybe she'll falter in her resolve. One moment of doubt is all I need." "And then you pull the rug out from under the offer? 'Just kidding, Bella'?" "If she wants a child, that's what she gets. I won't rescind." I couldn't believe I was even thinking about this. Bella would punch me 2溶ot that I cared about that, but it would probably break her hand again. I shouldn't let him talk to me, mess with my head. I should just kill him now. "Not now," he whispered. "Not yet. Right or wrong, it would destroy her, and you know it. No need to be hasty. If she won't listen to you, you'll get your chance. The moment Bella's heart stops beating, I will be begging for you to me." "You won't have to beg long." The hint of a worn smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "I'm very much counting on that." "Then we have a deal." He nodded and held out his cold stone hand. Swallowing my disgust, I reached out to take his hand. My fingers closed around the rock, and I shook it once. "We have a deal," he agreed.

** PAGE 3 **