Edward pulled up slowly, staying well back from my truck. All three of
them were acutely alert, ramrod straight in their seats, listening to
every sound of the wood, looking through every shadow, catching every
scent, searching for something out of place. The engine cut off, and I
sat, motionless, as they continued to listen.
"He's not here," Edward said tensely. "Let's go." Emmett reached over to
help me get out of the harness.
"Don't worry, Bella," he said in a low but cheerful voice, "we'll take
care of things here quickly."
I felt moisture filling up my eyes as I looked at Emmett. I barely knew
him, and yet, somehow, not knowing when I would see him again after
tonight was anguishing. I knew this was just a faint taste of the
goodbyes I would have to survive in the next hour, and the thought made
the tears begin to spill.
"Alice, Emmett." Edward's voice was a command. They slithered soundlessly
into the darkness, instantly disappearing. Edward opened my door and took
my hand, then drew me into the protecting enclosure of his arm. He walked
me swiftly toward the house, eyes always roving through the night.
"Fifteen minutes," he warned under his breath.
"I can do this." I sniffled. My tears had given me an inspiration.
I stopped on the porch and took hold of his face in my hands. I looked
fiercely into his eyes.
"I love you," I said in a low, intense voice. "I will always love you, no
matter what happens now."
"Nothing is going to happen to you, Bella," he said just as fiercely.
"Just follow the plan, okay? Keep Charlie safe for me. He's not going to
like me very much after this, and I want to have the chance to apologize
"Get inside, Bella. We have to hurry." His voice was urgent.
"One more thing," I whispered passionately. "Don't listen to another word
I say tonight!" He was leaning in, and so all I had to do was stretch up
on my toes to kiss his surprised, frozen lips with as much force as I was
capable of. Then I turned and kicked the door open.
"Go away, Edward!" I yelled at him, running inside and slamming the door
shut in his still-shocked face.
"Bella?" Charlie had been hovering in the living room, and he was already
on his feet.
"Leave me alone!" I screamed at him through my tears, which were flowing
relentlessly now. I ran up the stairs to my room, throwing the door shut
and locking it. I ran to my bed, flinging myself on the floor to retrieve
my duffel bag. I reached swiftly between the mattress and box spring to
grab the knotted old sock that contained my secret cash hoard.
Charlie was pounding on my door.
"Bella, are you okay? What's going on?" His voice was frightened.
"I'm going borne," I shouted, my voice breaking in the perfect spot.
"Did he hurt you?" His tone edged toward anger.
"No!" I shrieked a few octaves higher. I turned to my dresser, and Edward
was already there, silently yanking out armfuls of random clothes, which
he proceeded to throw to me.
"Did he break up with you?" Charlie was perplexed.
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"No!" I yelled, slightly more breathless as I shoved everything into the
bag. Edward threw another drawer's contents at me. The bag was pretty
much full now.
"What happened, Bella?" Charlie shouted through the door, pounding again.
"I broke up with him!" I shouted back, jerking on the zipper of my bag.
Edward's capable hands pushed mine away and zipped it smoothly. He put
the strap carefully over my arm.
"I'll be in the truck — go!" he whispered, and pushed me toward the door.
He vanished out the window.
I unlocked the door and pushed past Charlie roughly, struggling with my
heavy bag as I ran down the stairs.
"What happened?" he yelled. He was right behind me. "I thought you liked
He caught my elbow in the kitchen. Though he was still bewildered, his
grip was firm.
He spun me around to look at him, and I could see in his face that he had
no intention of letting me leave. I could think of only one way to
escape, and it involved hurting him so much that I hated myself for even
considering it. But I had no time, and I had to keep him safe.
I glared up at my father, fresh tears in my eyes for what I was about to
"I do like him — that's the problem. I can't do this anymore! I can't put
down any more roots here! I don't want to end up trapped in this stupid,
boring town like Mom! I'm not going to make the same dumb mistake she
did. I hate it — I can't stay here another minute!"
His hand dropped from my arm like I'd electrocuted him. I turned away
from his shocked, wounded face and headed for the door.
"Bells, you can't leave now. It's nighttime," he whispered behind me.
I didn't turn around. "I'll sleep in the truck if I get tired."
"Just wait another week," he pled, still shell-shocked. "Renée will be
back by then."
This completely derailed me. "What?"
Charlie continued eagerly, almost babbling with relief as I hesitated.
"She called while you were out. Things aren't going so well in Florida,
and if Phil doesn't get signed by the end of the week, they're going back
to Arizona. The assistant coach of the Sidewinders said they might have a
spot for another shortstop."
I shook my head, trying to reassemble my now-confused thoughts. Every
passing second put Charlie in more danger.
"I have a key," I muttered, turning the knob. He was too close, one hand
extended toward me, his face dazed. I couldn't lose any more time arguing
with him. I was going to have to hurt him further.
"Just let me go, Charlie." I repeated my mother's last words as she'd
walked out this same door so many years ago. I said them as angrily as I
could manage, and I threw the door open. "It didn't work out, okay? I
really, really hate Forks!"
My cruel words did their job — Charlie stayed frozen on the doorstep,
stunned, while I ran into the night. I was hideously frightened of the
empty yard. I ran wildly for the truck, visualizing a dark shadow behind
me. I threw my bag in the bed and wrenched the door open. The key was
waiting in the ignition.
"I'll call you tomorrow!" I yelled, wishing more than anything that I
could explain everything to him right then, knowing I would never be able
to. I gunned the engine and peeled out.
Edward reached for my hand.
"Pull over," he said as the house, and Charlie, disappeared behind us.
"I can drive," I said through the tears pouring down my cheeks.
His long hands unexpectedly gripped my waist, and his foot pushed mine
off the gas pedal. He pulled me across his lap, wrenching my hands free
of the wheel, and suddenly he was in the driver's seat. The truck didn't
swerve an inch.
"You wouldn't be able to find the house," he explained.
Lights flared suddenly behind us. I stared out the back window, eyes wide
"It's just Alice," he reassured me. He took my hand again.
My mind was filled with the image of Charlie in the doorway. "The
"He heard the end of your performance," Edward said grimly.
"Charlie?" I asked in dread.
"The tracker followed us. He's running behind us now."
My body went cold.
"Can we outrun him?"
"No." But he sped up as he spoke. The truck's engine whined in protest.
My plan suddenly didn't feel so brilliant anymore.
I was staring back at Alice's headlights when the truck shuddered and a
dark shadow sprung up outside the window.
My bloodcurdling scream lasted a fraction of a second before Edward's
hand clamped down on my mouth.
He released my mouth, and wound his arm around my waist.
"It's okay, Bella," he promised. "You're going to be safe."
We raced through the quiet town toward the north highway.
"I didn't realize you were still so bored with small-town life," he said
conversationally, and I knew he was trying to distract me. "It seemed
like you were adjusting fairly well — especially recently. Maybe I was
just flattering myself that I was making life more interesting for you."
"I wasn't being nice," I confessed, ignoring his attempt at diversion,
looking down at my knees. "That was the same thing my mom said when she
left him. You could say I was hitting below the belt."
"Don't worry. He'll forgive you." He smiled a little, though it didn't
touch his eyes.
I stared at him desperately, and he saw the naked panic in my eyes.
"Bella, it's going to be all right."
"But it won't be all right when I'm not with you," I whispered.
"We'll be together again in a few days," he said, tightening his arm
around me. "Don't forget that this was your idea."
"It was the best idea — of course it was mine."
His answering smile was bleak and disappeared immediately.
"Why did this happen?" I asked, my voice catching. "Why me?"
He stared blackly at the road ahead. "It's my fault — I was a fool to
expose you like that." The rage in his voice was directed internally.
"That's not what I meant," I insisted. "I was there, big deal. It didn't
bother the other two. Why did this James decide to kill met There're
people all over the place, why me?"
He hesitated, thinking before he answered.
"I got a good look at his mind tonight," he began in a low voice. "I'm
not sure if there's anything I could have done to avoid this, once he saw
you. It is partially your fault." His voice was wry. "If you didn't smell
so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered. But when I defended
you… well, that made it a lot worse. He's not used to being thwarted, no
matter how insignificant the object. He thinks of himself as a hunter and
nothing else. His existence is consumed with tracking, and a challenge is
all he asks of life. Suddenly we've presented him with a beautiful
challenge — a large clan of strong fighters all bent on protecting the
one vulnerable element. You wouldn't believe how euphoric he is now. It's
his favorite game, and we've just made it his most exciting game ever."
His tone was full of disgust.
He paused a moment.
"But if I had stood by, he would have killed you right then," he said
with hopeless frustration.
"I thought… I didn't smell the same to the others… as I do to you," I
"You don't. But that doesn't mean that you aren't still a temptation to
every one of them. If you had appealed to the tracker — or any of them —
the same way you appeal to me, it would have meant a fight right there."
"I don't think I have any choice but to kill him now," he muttered.
"Carlisle won't like it."
I could hear the tires cross the bridge, though I couldn't see the river
in the dark. I knew we were getting close. I had to ask him now.
"How can you kill a vampire?"
He glanced at me with unreadable eyes and his voice was suddenly harsh.
"The only way to be sure is to tear him to shreds, and then burn the
"And the other two will fight with him?"
"The woman will. I'm not sure about Laurent. They don't have a very
strong bond — he's only with them for convenience. He was embarrassed by
James in the meadow…"
"But James and the woman — they'll try to kill you?" I asked, my voice
"Bella, don't you dare waste time worrying about me. Your only concern is
keeping yourself safe and — please, please — trying not to be reckless."
"Is he still following?"
"Yes. He won't attack the house, though. Not tonight."
He turned off onto the invisible drive, with Alice following behind.
We drove right up to the house. The lights inside were bright, but they
did little to alleviate the blackness of the encroaching forest. Emmett
had my door open before the truck was stopped; he pulled me out of the
seat, tucked me like a football into his vast chest, and ran me through
We burst into the large white room, Edward and Alice at our sides. All of
them were there; they were already on their feet at the sound of our
approach. Laurent stood in their midst. I could hear low growls rumble
deep in Emmett's throat as he set me down next to Edward.
"He's tracking us," Edward announced, glaring balefully at Laurent.
Laurent's face was unhappy. "I was afraid of that."
Alice danced to Jasper's side and whispered in his ear; her lips quivered
with the speed of her silent speech. They flew up the stairs together.
Rosalie watched them, and then moved quickly to Emmett's side. Her
beautiful eyes were intense and — when they flickered unwillingly to my
face — furious.
"What will he do?" Carlisle asked Laurent in chilling tones.
"I'm sorry," he answered. "I was afraid, when your boy there defended
her, that it would set him off."
"Can you stop him?"
Laurent shook his head. "Nothing stops James when he gets started."
"We'll stop him," Emmett promised. There was no doubt what he meant.
"You can't bring him down. I've never seen anything like him in my three
hundred years. He's absolutely lethal. That's why I joined his coven."
His coven, I thought, of course. The show of leadership in the clearing
was merely that, a show.
Laurent was shaking his head. He glanced at me, perplexed, and back to
Carlisle. "Are you sure it's worth it?"
Edward's enraged roar filled the room; Laurent cringed back.
Carlisle looked gravely at Laurent. "I'm afraid you're going to have to
make a choice."
Laurent understood. He deliberated for a moment. His eyes took in every
face, and finally swept the bright room.
"I'm intrigued by the life you've created here. But I won't get in the
middle of this. I bear none of you any enmity, but I won't go up against
James. I think I will head north — to that clan in Denali." He hesitated.
"Don't underestimate James. He's got a brilliant mind and unparalleled
senses. He's every bit as comfortable in the human world as you seem to
be, and he won't come at you head on… I'm sorry for what's been unleashed
here. Truly sorry." He bowed his head, but I saw him flicker another
puzzled look at me.
"Go in peace," was Carlisle's formal answer.
Laurent took another long look around himself, and then he hurried out
The silence lasted less than a second.
"How close?" Carlisle looked to Edward.
Esme was already moving; her hand touched an inconspicuous keypad on the
wall, and with a groan, huge metal shutters began sealing up the glass
wall. I gaped.
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