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BREAKING DAWN 30

30. IRRESISTIBLE

There was so much to think about.

How was I going to find time alone to hunt down J. Jenks, and why did Alice want me to know about him?

If Alice’s clue had nothing to do with Renesmee, what could I do to save my daughter?

How were Edward and I going to explain things to Tanya’s family in the morning? What if they reacted like Irina? What if it turned into a fight?

I didn’t know how to fight. How was I going to learn in just a month? Was there any chance at all that I could be taught fast enough that I might be a danger to any one member of the Volturi? Or was I doomed to be totally useless? Just another easily dispatched newborn?

So many answers I needed, but I did not get the chance to ask my questions.

Wanting some normality for Renesmee, I’d insisted on taking her home to our cottage at bedtime. Jacob was more comfortable in his wolf form at the moment; the stress was easier dealt with when he felt ready for a fight. I wished that I could feel the same, could feel ready. He ran in the woods, on guard again.

After she was deeply under, I put Renesmee in her bed and then went to the front room to ask my questions of Edward. The ones I was able to ask, at any rate; one of the most difficult of problems was the idea of trying to hide anything from him, even with the advantage of my silent thoughts.

He stood with his back to me, staring into the fire.

“Edward, I—”

He spun and was across the room in what seemed like no time at all, not even the smallest part of a second. I only had time to register the ferocious expression on his face before his lips were crushing against mine and his arms were locked around me like steel girders.

I didn’t think of my questions again for the rest of that night. It didn’t take long for me to grasp the reason for his mood, and even less time to feel exactly the same way.

I’d been planning on needing years just to somewhat organize the overwhelming passion I felt for him physically. And then centuries after that to enjoy it. If we had only a month left together… Well, I didn’t see how I could stand to have this end. For the moment I couldn’t help but be selfish. All I wanted was to love him as much as possible in the limited time given to me.

It was hard to pull myself away from him when the sun came up, but we had our job to do, a job that might be more difficult than all the rest of our family’s searches put together. As soon as I let myself think of what was coming, I was all tension; it felt like my nerves were being stretched on a rack, thinner and thinner.

“I wish there was a way to get the information we need from Eleazar before we tell them about Nessie,” Edward muttered as we hurriedly dressed in the huge closet that was more reminder of Alice than I wanted at the moment. “Just in case.”

“But he wouldn’t understand the question to answer it,” I agreed. “Do you think they’ll let us explain?”

“I don’t know.”

I pulled Renesmee, still sleeping, from her bed and held her close so that her curls were pressed against my face; her sweet scent, so close, overpowered every other smell.

I couldn’t waste one second of time today. There were answers I needed, and wasn’t sure how much time Edward and I would have alone today. If all went well with Tanya’s family, hopefully we would have company for an extended period.

“Edward, will you teach me how to fight?” I asked him, tensed for his reaction, as he held the door for me.

It was what I expected. He froze, and then his eyes swept over me with a deep significance, like he was looking at me for the first or last time. His eyes lingered on our daughter sleeping in my arms.

“If it comes to a fight, there won’t be much any of us can do,” he hedged.

I kept my voice even. “Would you leave me unable to defend myself?”

He swallowed convulsively, and the door shuddered, hinges protesting, as his hand tightened. Then he nodded. “When you put it that way… I suppose we should get to work as soon as we can.”

I nodded, too, and we started toward the big house. We didn’t hurry.

I wondered what I could do that would have any hope of making a difference. I was a tiny bit special, in my own way—if a having a supernaturally thick skull could really be considered special. Was there any use that I could put that toward?

“What would you say their biggest advantage is? Do they even have a weakness?”

Edward didn’t have to ask to know I meant the Volturi.

“Alec and Jane are their greatest offense,” he said emotionlessly, like we were talking of a basketball team. “Their defensive players rarely see any real action.”

“Because Jane can burn you where you stand—mentally at least. What does Alec do? Didn’t you once say he was even more dangerous than Jane?”

“Yes. In a way, he is the antidote to Jane. She makes you feel the worst pain imaginable. Alec, on the other hand, makes you feel nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sometimes, when the Volturi are feeling kind, they have Alec anesthetize someone before he is executed. If he has surrendered or pleased them in some other way.”

“Anesthetic? But how is that more dangerous than Jane?”

“Because he cuts off your senses altogether. No pain, but also no sight or sound or smell. Total sensory deprivation. You are utterly alone in the blackness. You don’t even feel it when they burn you.”

I shivered. Was this the best we could hope for? To not see or feel death when it came?

“That would make him only equally as dangerous as Jane,” Edward went on in the same detached voice, “in that they both can incapacitate you, make you into a helpless target. The difference between them is like the difference between Aro and me. Aro hears the mind of only one person at a time. Jane can only hurt the one object of her focus. I can hear everyone at the same time.”

I felt cold as I saw where he was going. “And Alec can incapacitate us all at the same time?” I whispered.

“Yes,” he said. “If he uses his gift against us, we will all stand blind and deaf until they get around to killing us—maybe they’ll simply burn us without bothering to tear us apart first. Oh, we could try to fight, but we’ll be more likely to hurt one another than we would be to hurt one of them.”

We walked in silence for a few seconds.

An idea was shaping itself in my head. Not very promising, but better than nothing.

“Do you think Alec is a very good fighter?” I asked. “Aside from what he can do, I mean. If he had to fight without his gift. I wonder if he’s ever even tried. . . .”

Edward glanced at me sharply. “What are you thinking?”

I looked straight ahead. “Well, he probably can’t do that to me, can he? If what he does is like Aro and Jane and you. Maybe… if he’s never really had to defend himself… and I learned a few tricks—”

“He’s been with the Volturi for centuries,” Edward cut me off, his voice abruptly panicked. He was probably seeing the same image in his head that I was: the Cullens standing helpless, senseless pillars on the killing field—all but me. I’d be the only one who could fight. “Yes, you’re surely immune to his power, but you are still a newborn, Bella. I can’t make you that strong a fighter in a few weeks. I’m sure he’s had training.”

“Maybe, maybe not. It’s the one thing I can do that no one else can. Even if I can just distract him for a while—” Could I last long enough to give the others a chance?

“Please, Bella,” Edward said through his teeth. “Let’s not talk about this.”

“Be reasonable.”

“I will try to teach you what I can, but please don’t make me think about you sacrificing yourself as a diversion—” He choked, and didn’t finish.

I nodded. I would keep my plans to myself, then. First Alec and then, if I was miraculously lucky enough to win, Jane. If I could only even things out—remove the Volturi’s overwhelming offensive advantage. Maybe then there was a chance.… My mind raced ahead. What if I was able to distract or even take them out? Honestly, why would either Jane or Alec ever have needed to learn battle skills? I couldn’t imagine petulant little Jane surrendering her advantage, even to learn.

If I was able to kill them, what a difference that would make.

“I have to learn everything. As much as you can possibly cram into my head in the next month,” I murmured.

He acted as if I hadn’t spoken.

Who next, then? I might as well have my plans in order so that, if I did live past attacking Alec, there would be no hesitation in my strike. I tried to think of another situation where my thick skull would give me an advantage. I didn’t know enough about what the others did. Obviously, fighters like the huge Felix were beyond me. I could only try to give Emmett his fair fight there. I didn’t know much about the rest of the Volturi guard, besides Demetri. . . .

My face was perfectly smooth as I considered Demetri. Without a doubt, he would be a fighter. There was no other way he could have survived so long, always at the spear point of any attack. And he must always lead, because he was their tracker—the best tracker in the world, no doubt. If there had been one better, the Volturi would have traded up. Aro didn’t surround himself with second best.

If Demetri didn’t exist, then we could run. Whoever was left of us, in any case. My daughter, warm in my arms… Someone could run with her. Jacob or Rosalie, whoever was left.

And… if Demetri didn’t exist, then Alice and Jasper could be safe forever. Is that what Alice had seen? That part of our family could continue? The two of them, at the very least.

Could I begrudge her that?

“Demetri…,” I said.

“Demetri is mine,” Edward said in a hard, tight voice. I looked at him quickly and saw that his expression had turned violent.

“Why?” I whispered.

He didn’t answer at first. We were to the river when he finally murmured, “For Alice. It’s the only thanks I can give her now for the last fifty years.”

So his thoughts were in line with mine.

I heard Jacob’s heavy paws thudding against the frozen ground. In seconds, he was pacing beside me, his dark eyes focused on Renesmee.

I nodded to him once, then returned to my questions. There was so little time.

“Edward, why do you think Alice told us to ask Eleazar about the Volturi? Has he been in Italy recently or something? What could he know?”

“Eleazar knows everything when it comes to the Volturi. I forgot you didn’t know. He used to be one of them.”

I hissed involuntarily. Jacob growled beside me.

“What?” I demanded, in my head picturing the beautiful dark-haired man at our wedding wrapped in a long, ashy cloak.

Edward’s face was softer now—he smiled a little. “Eleazar is a very gentle person. He wasn’t entirely happy with the Volturi, but he respected the law and its need to be upheld. He felt he was working toward the greater good. He doesn’t regret his time with them. But when he found Carmen, he found his place in this world. They are very similar people, both very compassionate for vampires.” He smiled again. “They met Tanya and her sisters, and they never looked back. They are well suited to this lifestyle. If they’d never found Tanya, I imagine they would have eventually discovered a way to live without human blood on their own.”

The pictures in my head were jarring. I couldn’t make them match up. A compassionate Volturi soldier?

Edward glanced at Jacob and answered a silent question. “No, he wasn’t one of their warriors, so to speak. He had a gift they found convenient.”

Jacob must have asked the obvious follow-up question.

“He has an instinctive feel for the gifts of others—the extra abilities that some vampires have,” Edward told him. “He could give Aro a general idea of what any given vampire was capable of just by being in proximity with him or her. This was helpful when the Volturi went into battle. He could warn them if someone in the opposing coven had a skill that might give them some trouble. That was rare; it takes quite a skill to even inconvenience the Volturi for a moment. More often, the warning would give Aro the chance to save someone who might be useful to him. Eleazar’s gift works even with humans, to an extent. He has to really concentrate with humans, though, because the latent ability is so nebulous. Aro would have him test the people who wanted to join, to see if they had any potential. Aro was sorry to see him go.”

“They let him go?” I asked. “Just like that?”

His smile was darker now, a little twisted. “The Volturi aren’t supposed to be the villains, the way they seem to you. They are the foundation of our peace and civilization. Each member of the guard chooses to serve them. It’s quite prestigious; they all are proud to be there, not forced to be there.”

I scowled at the ground.

“They’re only alleged to be heinous and evil by the criminals, Bella.”

“We’re not criminals.”

Jacob huffed in agreement.

“They don’t know that.”

“Do you really think we can make them stop and listen?”

Edward hesitated just the tiniest moment and then shrugged. “If we find enough friends to stand beside us. Maybe.”

If. I suddenly felt the urgency of what we had before us today. Edward and I both started to move faster, breaking into a run. Jacob caught up quickly.

“Tanya shouldn’t be too much longer,” Edward said. “We need to be ready.”

How to be ready, though? We arranged and rearranged, thought and rethought. Renesmee in full view? Or hidden at first? Jacob in the room? Or outside? He’d told his pack to stay close but invisible. Should he do the same?

In the end, Renesmee, Jacob—in his human form again—and I waited around the corner from the front door in the dining room, sitting at the big polished table. Jacob let me hold Renesmee; he wanted space in case he had to phase quickly.

Though I was glad to have her in my arms, it made me feel useless. It reminded me that in a fight with mature vampires, I was no more than an easy target; I didn’t need my hands free.

I tried to remember Tanya, Kate, Carmen, and Eleazar from the wedding. Their faces were murky in my ill-lit memories. I only knew they were beautiful, two blondes and two brunettes. I couldn’t remember if there was any kindness in their eyes.

Edward leaned motionlessly against the back window wall, staring toward the front door. It didn’t look like he was seeing the room in front of him.

We listened to the cars zooming past out on the freeway, none of them slowing.

Renesmee nestled into my neck, her hand against my cheek but no images in my head. She didn’t have pictures for her feelings now.

“What if they don’t like me?” she whispered, and all our eyes flashed to her face.

“Of course they’ll—,” Jacob started to say, but I silenced him with a look.

“They don’t understand you, Renesmee, because they’ve never met anyone like you,” I told her, not wanting to lie to her with promises that might not come true. “Getting them to understand is the problem.”

She sighed, and in my head flashed pictures of all of us in one quick burst. Vampire, human, werewolf. She fit nowhere.

“You’re special, that’s not a bad thing.”

She shook her head in disagreement. She thought of our strained faces and said, “This is my fault.”

“No,” Jacob, Edward, and I all said at exactly the same time, but before we could argue further, we heard the sound we’d been waiting for: the slowing of an engine on the freeway, the tires moving from pavement to soft dirt.

Edward darted around the corner to stand waiting by the door. Renesmee hid in my hair. Jacob and I stared at each other across the table, desperation on our faces.

The car moved quickly through the woods, faster than Charlie or Sue drove. We heard it pull into the meadow and stop by the front porch. Four doors opened and closed. They didn’t speak as they approached the door. Edward opened it before they could knock.

“Edward!” a female voice enthused.

“Hello, Tanya. Kate, Eleazar, Carmen.”

Three murmured hellos.

“Carlisle said he needed to talk to us right away,” the first voice said, Tanya. I could hear that they all were still outside. I imagined Edward in the doorway, blocking their entrance. “What’s the problem? Trouble with the werewolves?”

Jacob rolled his eyes.

“No,” Edward said. “Our truce with the werewolves is stronger than ever.”

A woman chuckled.

“Aren’t you going to invite us in?” Tanya asked. And then she continued without waiting for an answer. “Where’s Carlisle?”

“Carlisle had to leave.”

There was a short silence.

“What’s going on, Edward?” Tanya demanded.

“If you could give me the benefit of the doubt for just a few minutes,” he answered. “I have something difficult to explain, and I’ll need you to be open-minded until you understand.”

“Is Carlisle all right?” a male voice asked anxiously. Eleazar.

“None of us is all right, Eleazar,” Edward said, and then he patted something, maybe Eleazar’s shoulder. “But physically, Carlisle is fine.”

“Physically?” Tanya asked sharply. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that my entire family is in very grave danger. But before I explain, I ask for your promise. Listen to everything I say before you react. I am begging you to hear me out.”

A longer silence greeted his request. Through the strained hush, Jacob and I stared wordlessly at each other. His russet lips paled.

“We’re listening,” Tanya finally said. “We will hear it all before we judge.”

“Thank you, Tanya,” Edward said fervently. “We wouldn’t involve you in this if we had any other choice.”

Edward moved. We heard four sets of footsteps walk through the doorway.

Someone sniffed. “I knew those werewolves were involved,” Tanya muttered.

“Yes, and they’re on our side. Again.”

The reminder silenced Tanya.

“Where’s your Bella?” one of the other female voices asked. “How is she?”

“She’ll join us shortly. She’s well, thank you. She’s taken to immortality with amazing finesse.”

“Tell us about the danger, Edward,” Tanya said quietly. “We’ll listen, and we’ll be on your side, where we belong.”

Edward took a deep breath. “I’d like you to witness for yourselves first. Listen—in the other room. What do you hear?”

It was quiet, and then there was movement.

“Just listen first, please,” Edward said.

“A werewolf, I assume. I can hear his heart,” Tanya said.

“What else?” Edward asked.

There was a pause.

“What is that thrumming?” Kate or Carmen asked. “Is that… some kind of a bird?”

“No, but remember what you’re hearing. Now, what do you smell? Besides the werewolf.”

“Is there a human here?” Eleazar whispered.

“No,” Tanya disagreed. “It’s not human… but… closer to human than the rest of the scents here. What is that, Edward? I don’t think I’ve ever smelled that fragrance before.”

“You most certainly have not, Tanya. Please, please remember that this is something entirely new to you. Throw away your preconceived notions.”

“I promised you I would listen, Edward.”

“All right, then. Bella? Bring out Renesmee, please.”

My legs felt strangely numb, but I knew that feeling was all in my head. I forced myself not to hold back, not to move sluggishly, as I got to my feet and walked the few short feet to the corner. The heat from Jacob’s body flamed close behind me as he shadowed my steps.

I took one step into the bigger room and then froze, unable to force myself farther forward. Renesmee took a deep breath and then peeped out from under my hair, her little shoulders tight, expecting a rebuff.

I thought I’d prepared myself for their reaction. For accusations, for shouting, for the motionlessness of deep stress.

Tanya skittered back four steps, her strawberry curls quivering, like a human confronted by a venomous snake. Kate jumped back all the way to the front door and braced herself against the wall there. A shocked hiss came from between her clenched teeth. Eleazar threw himself in front of Carmen in a protective crouch.

“Oh please,” I heard Jacob complain under his breath.

Edward put his arm around Renesmee and me. “You promised to listen,” he reminded them.

“Some things cannot be heard!” Tanya exclaimed. “How could you, Edward? Do you not know what this means?”

“We have to get out of here,” Kate said anxiously, her hand on the doorknob.

“Edward . . .” Eleazar seemed beyond words.

“Wait,” Edward said, his voice harder now. “Remember what you hear, what you smell. Renesmee is not what you think she is.”

“There are no exceptions to this rule, Edward,” Tanya snapped back.

“Tanya,” Edward said sharply, “you can hear her heartbeat! Stop and think about what that means.”

“Her heartbeat?” Carmen whispered, peering around Eleazar’s shoulder.

“She’s not a full vampire child,” Edward answered, directing his attention toward Carmen’s less hostile expression. “She is half-human.”

The four vampires stared at him like he was speaking a language none of them knew.

“Hear me.” Edward’s voice shifted into a smooth velvet tone of persuasion. “Renesmee is one of a kind. I am her father. Not her creator—her biological father.”

Tanya’s head was shaking, just a tiny movement. She didn’t seem aware of it.

“Edward, you can’t expect us to—,” Eleazar started to say.

“Tell me another explanation that fits, Eleazar. You can feel the warmth of her body in the air. Blood runs in her veins, Eleazar. You can smell it.”

“How?” Kate breathed.

“Bella is her biological mother,” Edward told her. “She conceived, carried, and gave birth to Renesmee while she was still human. It nearly killed her. I was hard-pressed to get enough venom into her heart to save her.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Eleazar said. His shoulders were still stiff, his expression cold.

“Physical relationships between vampires and humans are not common,” Edward answered, a bit of dark humor in his tone now. “Human survivors of such trysts are even less common. Wouldn’t you agree, cousins?”

Both Kate and Tanya scowled at him.

“Come now, Eleazar. Surely you can see the resemblance.”

It was Carmen who responded to Edward’s words. She stepped around Eleazar, ignoring his half-articulated warning, and walked carefully to stand right in front of me. She leaned down slightly, looking carefully into Renesmee’s face.

“You seem to have your mother’s eyes,” she said in a low, calm voice, “but your father’s face.” And then, as if she could not help herself, she smiled at Renesmee.

Renesmee’s answering smile was dazzling. She touched my face without looking away from Carmen. She imagined touching Carmen’s face, wondering if that was okay.

“Do you mind if Renesmee tells you about it herself?” I asked Carmen. I was still too stressed to speak above a whisper. “She has a gift for explaining things.”

Carmen was still smiling at Renesmee. “Do you speak, little one?”

“Yes,” Renesmee answered in her trilling high soprano. All of Tanya’s family flinched at the sound of her voice except for Carmen. “But I can show you more than I can tell you.”

She placed her little dimpled hand on Carmen’s cheek.

Carmen stiffened like an electric shock had run through her. Eleazar was at her side in an instant, his hands on her shoulders as if to yank her away.

“Wait,” Carmen said breathlessly, her unblinking eyes locked on Renesmee’s.

Renesmee “showed” Carmen her explanation for a long time. Edward’s face was intent as he watched with Carmen, and I wished so much that I could hear what he heard, too. Jacob shifted his weight impatiently behind me, and I knew he was wishing the same.

“What’s Nessie showing her?” he grumbled under his breath.

“Everything,” Edward murmured.

Another minute passed, and Renesmee dropped her hand from Carmen’s face. She smiled winningly at the stunned vampire.

“She really is your daughter, isn’t she?” Carmen breathed, switching her wide topaz eyes to Edward’s face. “Such a vivid gift! It could only have come from a very gifted father.”

“Do you believe what she showed you?” Edward asked, his expression intense.

“Without a doubt,” Carmen said simply.

Eleazar’s face was rigid with distress. “Carmen!”

Carmen took his hands into her own and squeezed them. “Impossible as it seems, Edward has told you nothing but truth. Let the child show you.”

Carmen nudged Eleazar closer to me and then nodded at Renesmee. “Show him, mi querida.”

Renesmee grinned, clearly delighted with Carmen’s acceptance, and touched Eleazar lightly on the forehead.

“Ay caray!” he spit, and jerked away from her.

“What did she do to you?” Tanya demanded, coming closer warily. Kate crept forward, too.

“She’s just trying to show you her side of the story,” Carmen told him in a soothing voice.

Renesmee frowned impatiently. “Watch, please,” she commanded Eleazar. She stretched her hand out to him and then left a few inches between her fingers and his face, waiting.

Eleazar eyed her suspiciously and then glanced at Carmen for help. She nodded encouragingly. Eleazar took a deep breath and then leaned closer until his forehead touched her hand again.

He shuddered when it began but held still this time, his eyes closed in concentration.

“Ahh,” he sighed when his eyes reopened a few minutes later. “I see.”

Renesmee smiled at him. He hesitated, then smiled a slightly unwilling smile in response.

“Eleazar?” Tanya asked.

“It’s all true, Tanya. This is no immortal child. She’s half-human. Come. See for yourself.”

In silence, Tanya took her turn standing warily before me, and then Kate, both showing shock as that first image hit them with Renesmee’s touch. But then, just like Carmen and Eleazar, they seemed completely won over as soon as it was done.

I shot a glance at Edward’s smooth face, wondering if it could really be so easy. His golden eyes were clear, unshadowed. There was no deception in this, then.

“Thank you for listening,” he said quietly.

“But there is the grave danger you warned us of,” Tanya said. “Not directly from this child, I see, but surely from the Volturi, then. How did they find out about her? When are they coming?”

I was not surprised at her quick understanding. After all, what could possibly be a threat to a family as strong as mine? Only the Volturi.

“When Bella saw Irina that day in the mountains,” Edward explained, “she had Renesmee with her.”

Kate hissed, her eyes narrowing to slits. “Irina did this? To you? To Carlisle? Irina?”

“No,” Tanya whispered. “Someone else . . .”

“Alice saw her go to them,” Edward said. I wondered if the others noticed the way he winced just slightly when he spoke Alice’s name.

“How could she do this thing?” Eleazar asked of no one.

“Imagine if you had seen Renesmee only from a distance. If you had not waited for our explanation.”

Tanya’s eyes tightened. “No matter what she thought… You are our family.”

“There’s nothing we can do about Irina’s choice now. It’s too late. Alice gave us a month.”

Both Tanya’s and Eleazar’s heads cocked to one side. Kate’s brow furrowed.

“So long?” Eleazar asked.

“They are all coming. That must take some preparation.”

Eleazar gasped. “The entire guard?”

“Not just the guard,” Edward said, his jaw straining tight. “Aro, Caius, Marcus. Even the wives.”

Shock glazed over all their eyes.

“Impossible,” Eleazar said blankly.

“I would have said the same two days ago,” Edward said.

Eleazar scowled, and when he spoke it was nearly a growl. “But that doesn’t make any sense. Why would they put themselves and the wives in danger?”

“It doesn’t make sense from that angle. Alice said there was more to this than just punishment for what they think we’ve done. She thought you could help us.”

“More than punishment? But what else is there?” Eleazar started pacing, stalking toward the door and back again as if he were alone here, his eyebrows furrowed as he stared at the floor.

“Where are the others, Edward? Carlisle and Alice and the rest?” Tanya asked.

Edward’s hesitation was almost unnoticeable. He answered only part of her question. “Looking for friends who might help us.”

Tanya leaned toward him, holding her hands out in front of her. “Edward, no matter how many friends you gather, we can’t help you win. We can only die with you. You must know that. Of course, perhaps the four of us deserve that after what Irina has done now, after how we’ve failed you in the past—for her sake that time as well.”

Edward shook his head quickly. “We’re not asking you to fight and die with us, Tanya. You know Carlisle would never ask for that.”

“Then what, Edward?”

“We’re just looking for witnesses. If we can make them pause, just for a moment. If they would let us explain . . .” He touched Renesmee’s cheek; she grabbed his hand and held it pressed against her skin. “It’s difficult to doubt our story when you see it for yourself.”

Tanya nodded slowly. “Do you think her past will matter to them so much?”

“Only as it foreshadows her future. The point of the restriction was to protect us from exposure, from the excesses of children who could not be tamed.”

“I’m not dangerous at all,” Renesmee interjected. I listened to her high, clear voice with new ears, imagining how she sounded to the others. “I never hurt Grandpa or Sue or Billy. I love humans. And wolf-people like my Jacob.” She dropped Edward’s hand to reach back and pat Jacob’s arm.

Tanya and Kate exchanged a quick glance.

“If Irina had not come so soon,” Edward mused, “we could have avoided all of this. Renesmee grows at an unprecedented rate. By the time the month is past, she’ll have gained another half year of development.”

“Well, that is something we can certainly witness,” Carmen said in a decided tone. “We’ll be able to promise that we’ve seen her mature ourselves. How could the Volturi ignore such evidence?”

Eleazar mumbled, “How, indeed?” but he did not look up, and he continued pacing as if he were paying no attention at all.

“Yes, we can witness for you,” Tanya said. “Certainly that much. We will consider what more we might do.”

“Tanya,” Edward protested, hearing more in her thoughts than there was in her words, “we don’t expect you to fight with us.”

“If the Volturi won’t pause to listen to our witness, we cannot simply stand by,” Tanya insisted. “Of course, I should only speak for myself.”

Kate snorted. “Do you really doubt me so much, sister?”

Tanya smiled widely at her. “It is a suicide mission, after all.”

Kate flashed a grin back and then shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m in.”

“I, too, will do what I can to protect the child,” Carmen agreed. Then, as if she couldn’t resist, she held her arms out toward Renesmee. “May I hold you, bebé linda?”

Renesmee reached eagerly toward Carmen, delighted with her new friend. Carmen hugged her close, murmuring to her in Spanish.

It was like it had been with Charlie, and before that with all the Cullens. Renesmee was irresistible. What was it about her that drew everyone to her, that made them willing even to pledge their lives in her defense?

For a moment I thought that maybe what we were attempting might be possible. Maybe Renesmee could do the impossible and win over our enemies as she had our friends.

And then I remembered that Alice had left us, and my hope vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

Iklan

BREAKING DAWN 29

29. DEFECTION

We sat there all night long, statues of horror and grief, and Alice never came back.

We were all at our limits—frenzied into absolute stillness. Carlisle had barely been able to move his lips to explain it all to Jacob. The retelling seemed to make it worse; even Emmett stood silent and still from then on.

It wasn’t until the sun rose and I knew that Renesmee would soon be stirring under my hands that I wondered for the first time what could possibly be taking Alice so long. I’d hoped to know more before I was faced with my daughter’s curiosity. To have some answers. Some tiny, tiny portion of hope so that I could smile and keep the truth from terrifying her, too.

My face felt permanently set into the fixed mask it had worn all night. I wasn’t sure I had the ability to smile anymore.

Jacob was snoring in the corner, a mountain of fur on the floor, twitching anxiously in his sleep. Sam knew everything—the wolves were readying themselves for what was coming. Not that this preparation would do anything but get them killed with the rest of my family.

The sunlight broke through the back windows, sparkling on Edward’s skin. My eyes had not moved from his since Alice’s departure. We’d stared at each other all night, staring at what neither of us could live through losing: the other. I saw my reflection glimmer in his agonized eyes as the sun touched my own skin.

His eyebrows moved an infinitesimal bit, then his lips.

“Alice,” he said.

The sound of his voice was like ice cracking as it melted. All of us fractured a little, softened a little. Moved again.

“She’s been gone a long time,” Rosalie murmured, surprised.

“Where could she be?” Emmett wondered, taking a step toward the door.

Esme put a hand on her arm. “We don’t want to disturb . . .”

“She’s never taken so long before,” Edward said. New worry splintered the mask his face had become. His features were alive again, his eyes suddenly wide with fresh fear, extra panic. “Carlisle, you don’t think—something preemptive? Would Alice have had time to see if they sent someone for her?”

Aro’s translucent-skinned face filled my head. Aro, who had seen into all the corners of Alice’s mind, who knew everything she was capable of—

Emmett cussed loud enough that Jacob lurched to his feet with a growl. In the yard, his growl was echoed by his pack. My family was already a blur of action.

“Stay with Renesmee!” I all but shrieked at Jacob as I sprinted through the door.

I was still stronger than the rest of them, and I used that strength to push myself forward. I overtook Esme in a few bounds, and Rosalie in just a few strides more. I raced through the thick forest until I was right behind Edward and Carlisle.

“Would they have been able to surprise her?” Carlisle asked, his voice as even as if he were standing motionless rather than running at full speed.

“I don’t see how,” Edward answered. “But Aro knows her better than anyone else. Better than I do.”

“Is this a trap?” Emmett called from behind us.

“Maybe,” Edward said. “There’s no scent but Alice and Jasper. Where were they going?”

Alice and Jasper’s trail was curling into a wide arc; it stretched first east of the house, but headed north on the other side of the river, and then back west again after a few miles. We recrossed the river, all six jumping within a second of each other. Edward ran in the lead, his concentration total.

“Did you catch that scent?” Esme called ahead a few moments after we’d leaped the river for the second time. She was the farthest back, on the far left edge of our hunting party. She gestured to the southeast.

“Keep to the main trail—we’re almost to the Quileute border,” Edward ordered tersely. “Stay together. See if they turned north or south.”

I was not as familiar with the treaty line as the rest of them, but I could smell the hint of wolf in the breeze blowing from the east. Edward and Carlisle slowed a little out of habit, and I could see their heads sweep from side to side, waiting for the trail to turn.

Then the wolf smell was suddenly stronger, and Edward’s head snapped up. He came to a sudden stop. The rest of us froze, too.

“Sam?” Edward asked in a flat voice. “What is this?”

Sam came through the trees a few hundred yards away, walking quickly toward us in his human form, flanked by two big wolves—Paul and Jared. It took Sam a while to reach us; his human pace made me impatient. I didn’t want time to think about what was happening. I wanted to be in motion, to be doing something. I wanted to have my arms around Alice, to know beyond a doubt that she was safe.

I watched Edward’s face go absolutely white as he read what Sam was thinking. Sam ignored him, looking straight at Carlisle as he stopped walking and began to speak.

“Right after midnight, Alice and Jasper came to this place and asked permission to cross our land to the ocean. I granted them that and escorted them to the coast myself. They went immediately into the water and did not return. As we journeyed, Alice told me it was of the utmost importance that I say nothing to Jacob about seeing her until I spoke to you. I was to wait here for you to come looking for her and then give you this note. She told me to obey her as if all our lives depended on it.”

Sam’s face was grim as he held out a folded sheet of paper, printed all over with small black text. It was a page out of a book; my sharp eyes read the printed words as Carlisle unfolded it to see the other side. The side facing me was the copyright page from The Merchant of Venice. A hint of my own scent blew off of it as Carlisle shook the paper flat. I realized it was a page torn from one of my books. I’d brought a few things from Charlie’s house to the cottage; a few sets of normal clothes, all the letters from my mother, and my favorite books. My tattered collection of Shakespeare paperbacks had been on the bookshelf in the cottage’s little living room yesterday morning.…

“Alice has decided to leave us,” Carlisle whispered.

“What?” Rosalie cried.

Carlisle turned the page around so that we all could read.

Don’t look for us. There isn’t time to waste. Remember: Tanya, Siobhan, Amun, Alistair, all the nomads you can find. We’ll seek out Peter and Charlotte on our way. We’re so sorry that we have to leave you this way, with no goodbyes or explanations. It’s the only way for us. We love you.

We stood frozen again, the silence total but for the sound of the wolves’ heartbeats, their breathing. Their thoughts must have been loud, too. Edward was first to move again, speaking in response to what he heard in Sam’s head.

“Yes, things are that dangerous.”

“Enough that you would abandon your family?” Sam asked out loud, censure in his tone. It was clear that he had not read the note before giving it to Carlisle. He was upset now, looking as if he regretted listening to Alice.

Edward’s expression was stiff—to Sam it probably looked angry or arrogant, but I could see the shape of pain in the hard planes of his face.

“We don’t know what she saw,” Edward said. “Alice is neither unfeeling nor a coward. She just has more information than we do.”

“We would not—,” Sam began.

“You are bound differently than we are,” Edward snapped. “We each still have our free will.”

Sam’s chin jerked up, and his eyes looked suddenly flat black.

“But you should heed the warning,” Edward went on. “This is not something you want to involve yourselves in. You can still avoid what Alice saw.”

Sam smiled grimly. “We don’t run away.” Behind him, Paul snorted.

“Don’t get your family slaughtered for pride,” Carlisle interjected quietly.

Sam looked at Carlisle with a softer expression. “As Edward pointed out, we don’t have the same kind of freedom that you have. Renesmee is as much as part of our family now as she is yours. Jacob cannot abandon her, and we cannot abandon him.” His eyes flickered to Alice’s note, and his lips pressed into a thin line.

“You don’t know her,” Edward said.

“Do you?” Sam asked bluntly.

Carlisle put a hand on Edward’s shoulder. “We have much to do, son. Whatever Alice’s decision, we would be foolish not to follow her advice now. Let’s go home and get to work.”

Edward nodded, his face still rigid with pain. Behind me, I could hear Esme’s quiet, tearless sobs.

I didn’t know how to cry in this body; I couldn’t do anything but stare. There was no feeling yet. Everything seemed unreal, like I was dreaming again after all these months. Having a nightmare.

“Thank you, Sam,” Carlisle said.

“I’m sorry,” Sam answered. “We shouldn’t have let her through.”

“You did the right thing,” Carlisle told him. “Alice is free to do what she will. I wouldn’t deny her that liberty.”

I’d always thought of the Cullens as a whole, an indivisible unit. Suddenly, I remembered that it had not always been so. Carlisle had created Edward, Esme, Rosalie and Emmett; Edward had created me. We were physically linked by blood and venom. I never thought of Alice and Jasper as separate—as adopted into the family. But in truth, Alice had adopted the Cullens. She had shown up with her unconnected past, bringing Jasper with his, and fit herself into the family that was already there. Both she and Jasper had known another life outside the Cullen family. Had she really chosen to lead another new life after she’d seen that life with the Cullens was over?

We were doomed, then, weren’t we? There was no hope at all. Not one ray, one flicker that might have convinced Alice she had a chance at our side.

The bright morning air seemed thicker suddenly, blacker, as if physically darkened by my despair.

“I’m not going down without a fight,” Emmett snarled low under his breath. “Alice told us what to do. Let’s get it done.”

The others nodded with determined expressions, and I realized that they were banking on whatever chance Alice had given us. That they were not going to give in to hopelessness and wait to die.

Yes, we all would fight. What else was there? And apparently we would involve others, because Alice had said so before she’d left us. How could we not follow Alice’s last warning? The wolves, too, would fight with us for Renesmee.

We would fight, they would fight, and we all would die.

I didn’t feel the same resolve the others seemed to feel. Alice knew the odds. She was giving us the only chance she could see, but the chance was too slim for her to bet on it.

I felt already beaten as I turned my back on Sam’s critical face and followed Carlisle toward home.

We ran automatically now, not the same panicked hurry as before. As we neared the river, Esme’s head lifted.

“There was that other trail. It was fresh.”

She nodded forward, toward where she had called Edward’s attention on the way here. While we were racing to save Alice…

“It has to be from earlier in the day. It was just Alice, without Jasper,” Edward said lifelessly.

Esme’s face puckered, and she nodded.

I drifted to the right, falling a little behind. I was sure Edward was right, but at the same time… After all, how had Alice’s note ended up on a page from my book?

“Bella?” Edward asked in an emotionless voice as I hesitated.

“I want to follow the trail,” I told him, smelling the light scent of Alice that led away from her earlier flight path. I was new to this, but it smelled exactly the same to me, just minus the scent of Jasper.

Edward’s golden eyes were empty. “It probably just leads back to the house.”

“Then I’ll meet you there.”

At first I thought he would let me go alone, but then, as I moved a few steps away, his blank eyes flickered to life.

“I’ll come with you,” he said quietly. “We’ll meet you at home, Carlisle.”

Carlisle nodded, and the others left. I waited until they were out of sight, and then I looked at Edward questioningly.

“I couldn’t let you walk away from me,” he explained in a low voice. “It hurt just to imagine it.”

I understood without more explanation than that. I thought of being divided from him now and realized I would have felt the same pain, no matter how short the separation.

There was so little time left to be together.

I held my hand out to him, and he took it.

“Let’s hurry,” he said. “Renesmee will be awake.”

I nodded, and we were running again.

It was probably a silly thing, to waste the time away from Renesmee just for curiosity’s sake. But the note bothered me. Alice could have carved the note into a boulder or tree trunk if she lacked writing utensils. She could have stolen a pad of Post-its from any of the houses by the highway. Why my book? When did she get it?

Sure enough, the trail led back to the cottage by a circuitous route that stayed far clear of the Cullens’ house and the wolves in the nearby woods. Edward’s brows tightened in confusion as it became obvious where the trail led.

He tried to reason it out. “She left Jasper to wait for her and came here?”

We were almost to the cottage now, and I felt uneasy. I was glad to have Edward’s hand in mine, but I also felt as if I should be here alone. Tearing out the page and carrying it back to Jasper was such an odd thing for Alice to do. It felt like there was a message in her action—one I didn’t understand at all. But it was my book, so the message must be for me. If it were something she wanted Edward to know, wouldn’t she have pulled a page from one of his books… ?

“Give me just a minute,” I said, pulling my hand free as we got to the door.

His forehead creased. “Bella?”

“Please? Thirty seconds.”

I didn’t wait for him to answer. I darted through the door, pulling it shut behind me. I went straight to the bookshelf. Alice’s scent was fresh—less than a day old. A fire that I had not set burned low but hot in the fireplace. I yanked The Merchant of Venice off the shelf and flipped it open to the title page.

There, next to the feathered edge left by the torn page, under the words The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, was a note.

Destroy this.

Below that was a name and an address in Seattle.

When Edward came through the door after only thirteen seconds rather than thirty, I was watching the book burn.

“What’s going on, Bella?”

“She was here. She ripped a page out of my book to write her note on.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know why.”

“Why are you burning it?”

“I—I—” I frowned, letting all my frustration and pain show on my face. I did not know what Alice was trying to tell me, only that she’d gone to great lengths to keep it from anyone but me. The one person whose mind Edward could not read. So she must want to keep him in the dark, and it was probably for a good reason. “It seemed appropriate.”

“We don’t know what she’s doing,” he said quietly.

I stared into the flames. I was the only person in the world who could lie to Edward. Was that what Alice wanted from me? Her last request?

“When we were on the plane to Italy,” I whispered—this was not a lie, except perhaps in context—“on our way to rescue you… she lied to Jasper so that he wouldn’t come after us. She knew that if he faced the Volturi, he would die. She was willing to die herself rather than put him in danger. Willing for me to die, too. Willing for you to die.”

Edward didn’t answer.

“She has her priorities,” I said. It made my still heart ache to realize that my explanation did not feel like a lie in any way.

“I don’t believe it,” Edward said. He didn’t say it like he was arguing with me—he said it like he was arguing with himself. “Maybe it was just Jasper in danger. Her plan would work for the rest of us, but he’d be lost if he stayed. Maybe . . .”

“She could have told us that. Sent him away.”

“But would Jasper have gone? Maybe she’s lying to him again.”

“Maybe,” I pretended to agree. “We should go home. There’s no time.”

Edward took my hand, and we ran.

Alice’s note did not make me hopeful. If there were any way to avoid the coming slaughter, Alice would have stayed. I couldn’t see another possibility. So it was something else she was giving me. Not a way to escape. But what else would she think that I wanted? Maybe a way to salvage something? Was there anything I could still save?

Carlisle and the others had not been idle in our absence. We’d been separated from them for all of five minutes, and they were already prepared to leave. In the corner, Jacob was human again, with Renesmee on his lap, both of them watching us with wide eyes.

Rosalie had traded her silk wrap dress for a sturdy-looking pair of jeans, running shoes, and a button-down shirt made of the thick weave that backpackers used for long trips. Esme was dressed similarly. There was a globe on the coffee table, but they were done looking at it, just waiting for us.

The atmosphere was more positive now than before; it felt good to them to be in action. Their hopes were pinned on Alice’s instructions.

I looked at the globe and wondered where we were headed first.

“We’re to stay here?” Edward asked, looking at Carlisle. He didn’t sound happy.

“Alice said that we would have to show people Renesmee, and we would have to be careful about it,” Carlisle said. “We’ll send whomever we can find back here to you—Edward, you’ll be the best at fielding that particular minefield.”

Edward gave one sharp nod, still not happy. “There’s a lot of ground to cover.”

“We’re splitting up,” Emmett answered. “Rose and I are hunting for nomads.”

“You’ll have your hands full here,” Carlisle said. “Tanya’s family will be here in the morning, and they have no idea why. First, you have to persuade them not to react the way Irina did. Second, you’ve got to find out what Alice meant about Eleazar. Then, after all that, will they stay to witness for us? It will start again as the others come—if we can persuade anyone to come in the first place.” Carlisle sighed. “Your job may well be the hardest. We’ll be back to help as soon as we can.”

Carlisle put his hand on Edward’s shoulder for a second and then kissed my forehead. Esme hugged us both, and Emmett punched us both on the arm. Rosalie forced a hard smile for Edward and me, blew a kiss to Renesmee, and then gave Jacob a parting grimace.

“Good luck,” Edward told them.

“And to you,” Carlisle said. “We’ll all need it.”

I watched them leave, wishing I could feel whatever hope bolstered them, and wishing I could be alone with the computer for just a few seconds. I had to figure out who this J. Jenks person was and why Alice had gone to such lengths to give his name to only me.

Renesmee twisted in Jacob’s arms to touch his cheek.

“I don’t know if Carlisle’s friends will come. I hope so. Sounds like we’re a little outnumbered right now,” Jacob murmured to Renesmee.

So she knew. Renesmee already understood only too clearly what was going on. The whole imprinted-werewolf-gives-the-object-of-his-imprinting-whatever-she-wants thing was getting old pretty fast. Wasn’t shielding her more important than answering her questions?

I looked carefully at her face. She did not look frightened, only anxious and very serious as she conversed with Jacob in her silent way.

“No, we can’t help; we’ve got to stay here,” he went on. “People are coming to see you, not the scenery.”

Renesmee frowned at him.

“No, I don’t have to go anywhere,” he said to her. Then he looked at Edward, his face stunned by the realization that he might be wrong. “Do I?”

Edward hesitated.

“Spit it out,” Jacob said, his voice raw with tension. He was right at his breaking point, just like the rest of us.

“The vampires who are coming to help us are not the same as we are,” Edward said. “Tanya’s family is the only one besides ours with a reverence for human life, and even they don’t think much of werewolves. I think it might be safer—”

“I can take care of myself,” Jacob interrupted.

“Safer for Renesmee,” Edward continued, “if the choice to believe our story about her is not tainted by an association with werewolves.”

“Some friends. They’d turn on you just because of who you hang out with now?”

“I think they would mostly be tolerant under normal circumstances. But you need to understand—accepting Nessie will not be a simple thing for any of them. Why make it even the slightest bit harder?”

Carlisle had explained the laws about immortal children to Jacob last night. “The immortal children were really that bad?” he asked.

“You can’t imagine the depth of the scars they’ve left in the collective vampire psyche.”

“Edward . . .” It was still odd to hear Jacob use Edward’s name without bitterness.

“I know, Jake. I know how hard it is to be away from her. We’ll play it by ear— see how they react to her. In any case, Nessie is going to have to be incognito off and on in the next few weeks. She’ll need to stay at the cottage until the right moment for us to introduce her. As long as you keep a safe distance from the main house . . .”

“I can do that. Company in the morning, huh?”

“Yes. The closest of our friends. In this particular case, it’s probably better if we get things out in the open as soon as possible. You can stay here. Tanya knows about you. She’s even met Seth.”

“Right.”

“You should tell Sam what’s going on. There might be strangers in the woods soon.”

“Good point. Though I owe him some silence after last night.”

“Listening to Alice is usually the right thing.”

Jacob’s teeth ground together, and I could see that he shared Sam’s feelings about what Alice and Jasper had done.

While they were talking, I wandered toward the back windows, trying to look distracted and anxious. Not a difficult thing to do. I leaned my head against the wall that curved away from the living room toward the dining room, right next to one of the computer desks. I ran my fingers against the keys while staring into the forest, trying to make it look like an absentminded thing. Did vampires ever do things absentmindedly? I didn’t think anyone was paying particular attention to me, but I didn’t turn to make sure. The monitor glowed to life. I stroked my fingers across the keys again. Then I drummed them very quietly on the wooden desktop, just to make it seem random. Another stroke across the keys.

I scanned the screen in my peripheral vision.

No J. Jenks, but there was a Jason Jenks. A lawyer. I brushed the keyboard, trying to keep a rhythm, like the preoccupied stroking of a cat you’d all but forgotten on your lap. Jason Jenks had a fancy website for his firm, but the address on the homepage was wrong. In Seattle, but in a different zip code. I noted the phone number and then stroked the keyboard in rhythm. This time I searched the address, but nothing at all came up, as if the address didn’t exist. I wanted to look at a map, but I decided I was pushing my luck. One more brush, to delete the history. . . .

I continued staring out the window and brushed the wood a few times. I heard light footsteps crossing the floor to me, and I turned with what I hoped was the same expression as before.

Renesmee reached for me, and I held my arms open. She launched herself into them, smelling strongly of werewolf, and nestled her head against my neck.

I didn’t know if I could stand this. As much as I feared for my life, for Edward’s, for the rest of my family’s, it was not the same as the gut-wrenching terror I felt for my daughter. There had to be a way to save her, even if that was the only thing I could do.

Suddenly, I knew that this was all I wanted anymore. The rest I would bear if I had to, but not her life being forfeited. Not that.

She was the one thing I simply had to save.

Would Alice have known how I would feel?

Renesmee’s hand touched my cheek lightly.

She showed me my own face, Edward’s, Jacob’s, Rosalie’s, Esme’s, Carlisle’s, Alice’s, Jasper’s, flipping through all our family’s faces faster and faster. Seth and Leah. Charlie, Sue, and Billy. Over and over again. Worrying, like the rest of us were. She was only worrying, though. Jake had kept the worst from her as far as I could tell. The part about how we had no hope, how we all were going to die in a month’s time.

She settled on Alice’s face, longing and confused. Where was Alice?

“I don’t know,” I whispered. “But she’s Alice. She’s doing the right thing, like always.”

The right thing for Alice, anyway. I hated thinking of her that way, but how else could the situation be understood?

Renesmee sighed, and the longing intensified.

“I miss her, too.”

I felt my face working, trying to find the expression that went with the grief inside. My eyes felt strange and dry; they blinked against the uncomfortable feeling. I bit my lip. When I took my next breath, the air hitched in my throat, like I was choking on it.

Renesmee pulled back to look at me, and I saw my face mirrored in her thoughts and in her eyes. I looked like Esme had this morning.

So this was what it felt like to cry.

Renesmee’s eyes glistened wetly as she watched my face. She stroked my face, showing me nothing, just trying to soothe me.

I’d never thought to see the mother-daughter bond reversed between us, the way it had always been for Renée and me. But I hadn’t had a very clear view of the future.

A tear welled up on the edge of Renesmee’s eye. I wiped it away with a kiss. She touched her eye in amazement and then looked at the wetness on her fingertip.

“Don’t cry,” I told her. “It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be fine. I will find you a way through this.”

If there was nothing else I could do, I would still save my Renesmee. I was more positive than ever that this was what Alice would give me. She would know. She would have left me a way.

BREAKING DAWN 28

28. THE FUTURE

Carlisle and Edward had not been able to catch up with Irina before her trail disappeared into the sound. They’d swum to the other bank to see if her trail had picked up in a straight line, but there was no trace of her for miles in either direction on the eastern shore.

It was all my fault. She had come, as Alice had seen, to make peace with the Cullens, only to be angered by my camaraderie with Jacob. I wished I’d noticed her earlier, before Jacob had phased. I wished we’d gone hunting somewhere else.

There wasn’t much to be done. Carlisle had called Tanya with the disappointing news. Tanya and Kate hadn’t seen Irina since they’d decided to come to my wedding, and they were distraught that Irina had come so close and yet not returned home; it wasn’t easy for them to lose their sister, however temporary the separation might be. I wondered if this brought back hard memories of losing their mother so many centuries ago.

Alice was able to catch a few glimpses of Irina’s immediate future, nothing too concrete. She wasn’t going back to Denali, as far as Alice could tell. The picture was hazy. All Alice could see was that Irina was visibly upset; she wandered in the snow-swathed wilderness—to the north? To the east?—with a devastated expression. She made no decisions for a new course beyond her directionless grieving.

Days passed and, though of course I forgot nothing, Irina and her pain moved to the back of my mind. There were more important things to think of now. I would leave for Italy in just a few days. When I got back, we’d all be off to South America.

Every detail had been gone over a hundred times already. We would start with the Ticunas, tracing their legends as well as we could at the source. Now that it was accepted that Jacob would come with us, he figured prominently in the plans—it was unlikely that the people who believed in vampires would speak to any of us about their stories. If we dead-ended with the Ticunas, there were many closely related tribes in the area to research. Carlisle had some old friends in the Amazon; if we could find them, they might have information for us, too. Or at least a suggestion as to where else we might go for answers. It was unlikely that the three Amazon vampires had anything to do with the legends of vampire hybrids themselves, as they were all female. There was no way to know how long our search would take.

I hadn’t told Charlie about the longer trip yet, and I stewed about what to say to him while Edward and Carlisle’s discussion went on. How to break the news to him just right?

I stared at Renesmee while I debated internally. She was curled up on the sofa now, her breathing slow with heavy sleep, her tangled curls splayed wildly around her face. Usually, Edward and I took her back to our cottage to put her to bed, but tonight we lingered with the family, he and Carlisle deep in their planning session.

Meanwhile, Emmett and Jasper were more excited about planning the hunting possibilities. The Amazon offered a change from our normal quarry. Jaguars and panthers, for example. Emmett had a whim to wrestle with an anaconda. Esme and Rosalie were planning what they would pack. Jacob was off with Sam’s pack, setting things up for his own absence.

Alice moved slowly—for her—around the big room, unnecessarily tidying the already immaculate space, straightening Esme’s perfectly hung garlands. She was re-centering Esme’s vases on the console at the moment. I could see from the way her face fluctuated—aware, then blank, then aware again—that she was searching the future. I assumed she was trying to see through the blind spots that Jacob and Renesmee made in her visions as to what was waiting for us in South America until Jasper said, “Let it go, Alice; she’s not our concern,” and a cloud of serenity stole silently and invisibly through the room. Alice must have been worrying about Irina again.

She stuck her tongue out at Jasper and then lifted one crystal vase that was filled with white and red roses and turned toward the kitchen. There was just the barest hint of wilt to one of the white flowers, but Alice seemed intent on utter perfection as a distraction to her lack of vision tonight.

Staring at Renesmee again, I didn’t see it when the vase slipped from Alice’s fingers. I only heard the whoosh of the air whistling past the crystal, and my eyes flickered up in time to see the vase shatter into ten thousand diamond shards against the edge of the kitchen’s marble floor.

We were perfectly still as the fragmented crystal bounced and skittered in every direction with an unmusical tinkling, all eyes on Alice’s back.

My first illogical thought was that Alice was playing some joke on us. Because there was no way that Alice could have dropped the vase by accident. I could have darted across the room to catch the vase in plenty of time myself, if I hadn’t assumed she would get it. And how would it fall through her fingers in the first place? Her perfectly sure fingers…

I had never seen a vampire drop anything by accident. Ever.

And then Alice was facing us, twisting in a move so fast it didn’t exist.

Her eyes were halfway here and halfway locked on the future, wide, staring, filling her thin face till they seemed to overflow it. Looking into her eyes was like looking out of a grave from the inside; I was buried in the terror and despair and agony of her gaze.

I heard Edward gasp; it was a broken, half-choked sound.

“What?” Jasper growled, leaping to her side in a blurred rush of movement, crushing the broken crystal under his feet. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her sharply. She seemed to rattle silently in his hands. “What, Alice?”

Emmett moved into my peripheral vision, his teeth bared while his eyes darted toward the window, anticipating an attack.

There was only silence from Esme, Carlisle, and Rose, who were frozen just as I was.

Jasper shook Alice again. “What is it?”

“They’re coming for us,” Alice and Edward whispered together, perfectly synchronized. “All of them.”

Silence.

For once, I was the quickest to understand—because something in their words triggered my own vision. It was only the distant memory of a dream—faint, transparent, indistinct as if I were peering through thick gauze.… In my head, I saw a line of black advancing on me, the ghost of my half-forgotten human nightmare. I could not see the glint of their ruby eyes in the shrouded image, or the shine of their sharp wet teeth, but I knew where the gleam should be. . . .

Stronger than the memory of the sight came the memory of the feel—the wrenching need to protect the precious thing behind me.

I wanted to snatch Renesmee up into my arms, to hide her behind my skin and hair, to make her invisible. But I couldn’t even turn to look at her. I felt not like stone but ice. For the first time since I’d been reborn a vampire, I felt cold.

I barely heard the confirmation of my fears. I didn’t need it. I already knew.

“The Volturi,” Alice moaned.

“All of them,” Edward groaned at the same time.

“Why?” Alice whispered to herself. “How?”

“When?” Edward whispered.

“Why?” Esme echoed.

“When?” Jasper repeated in a voice like splintering ice.

Alice’s eyes didn’t blink, but it was as if a veil covered them; they became perfectly blank. Only her mouth held on to her expression of horror.

“Not long,” she and Edward said together. Then she spoke alone. “There’s snow on the forest, snow on the town. Little more than a month.”

“Why?” Carlisle was the one to ask this time.

Esme answered. “They must have a reason. Maybe to see . . .”

“This isn’t about Bella,” Alice said hollowly. “They’re all coming—Aro, Caius, Marcus, every member of the guard, even the wives.”

“The wives never leave the tower,” Jasper contradicted her in a flat voice. “Never. Not during the southern rebellion. Not when the Romanians tried to overthrow them. Not even when they were hunting the immortal children. Never.”

“They’re coming now,” Edward whispered.

“But why?” Carlisle said again. “We’ve done nothing! And if we had, what could we possibly do that would bring this down on us?”

“There are so many of us,” Edward answered dully. “They must want to make sure that . . .” He didn’t finish.

“That doesn’t answer the crucial question! Why?”

I felt I knew the answer to Carlisle’s question, and yet at the same time I didn’t. Renesmee was the reason why, I was sure. Somehow I’d known from the very beginning that they would come for her. My subconscious had warned me before I’d known I was carrying her. It felt oddly expected now. As if I’d somehow always known that the Volturi would come to take my happiness from me.

But that still didn’t answer the question.

“Go back, Alice,” Jasper pleaded. “Look for the trigger. Search.”

Alice shook her head slowly, her shoulders sagging. “It came out of nowhere, Jazz. I wasn’t looking for them, or even for us. I was just looking for Irina. She wasn’t where I expected her to be. . . .” Alice trailed off, her eyes drifting again. She stared at nothing for a long second.

And then her head jerked up, her eyes hard as flint. I heard Edward catch his breath.

“She decided to go to them,” Alice said. “Irina decided to go to the Volturi. And then they will decide.… It’s as if they’re waiting for her. Like their decision was already made, and just waiting on her. . . .”

It was silent again as we digested this. What would Irina tell the Volturi that would result in Alice’s appalling vision?

“Can we stop her?” Jasper asked.

“There’s no way. She’s almost there.”

“What is she doing?” Carlisle was asking, but I wasn’t paying attention to the discussion now. All my focus was on the picture that was painstakingly coming together in my head.

I pictured Irina poised on the cliff, watching. What had she seen? A vampire and a werewolf who were best friends. I’d been focused on that image, one that would obviously explain her reaction. But that was not all that she’d seen.

She’d also seen a child. An exquisitely beautiful child, showing off in the falling snow, clearly more than human…

Irina… the orphaned sisters… Carlisle had said that losing their mother to the Volturi’s justice had made Tanya, Kate, and Irina purists when it came to the law.

Just half a minute ago, Jasper had said the words himself: Not even when they were hunting the immortal children.… The immortal children—the unmentionable bane, the appalling taboo…

With Irina’s past, how could she apply any other reading to what she’d seen that day in the narrow field? She had not been close enough to hear Renesmee’s heart, to feel the heat radiating from her body. Renesmee’s rosy cheeks could have been a trick on our part for all she knew.

After all, the Cullens were in league with werewolves. From Irina’s point of view, maybe this meant nothing was beyond us.…

Irina, wringing her hands in the snowy wilderness—not mourning Laurent, after all, but knowing it was her duty to turn the Cullens in, knowing what would happen to them if she did. Apparently her conscience had won out over the centuries of friendship.

And the Volturi’s response to this kind of infraction was so automatic, it was already decided.

I turned and draped myself over Renesmee’s sleeping body, covering her with my hair, burying my face in her curls.

“Think of what she saw that afternoon,” I said in a low voice, interrupting whatever Emmett was beginning to say. “To someone who’d lost a mother because of the immortal children, what would Renesmee look like?”

Everything was silent again as the others caught up to where I was already.

“An immortal child,” Carlisle whispered.

I felt Edward kneel beside me, wrap his arms over us both.

“But she’s wrong,” I went on. “Renesmee isn’t like those other children. They were frozen, but she grows so much every day. They were out of control, but she never hurts Charlie or Sue or even shows them things that would upset them. She can control herself. She’s already smarter than most adults. There would be no reason. . . .”

I babbled on, waiting for someone to exhale with relief, waiting for the icy tension in the room to relax as they realized I was right. The room just seemed to get colder. Eventually my small voice trailed off into silence.

No one spoke for a long time.

Then Edward whispered into my hair. “It’s not the kind of crime they hold a trial for, love,” he said quietly. “Aro’s seen Irina’s proof in her thoughts. They come to destroy, not to be reasoned with.”

“But they’re wrong,” I said stubbornly.

“They won’t wait for us to show them that.”

His voice was still quiet, gentle, velvet… and yet the pain and desolation in the sound was unavoidable. His voice was like Alice’s eyes before—like the inside of a tomb.

“What can we do?” I demanded.

Renesmee was so warm and perfect in my arms, dreaming peacefully. I’d worried so much about Renesmee’s speeding age—worried that she would only have little over a decade of life.… That terror seemed ironic now.

Little over a month…

Was this the limit, then? I’d had more happiness than most people ever experienced. Was there some natural law that demanded equal shares of happiness and misery in the world? Was my joy overthrowing the balance? Was four months all I could have?

It was Emmett who answered my rhetorical question.

“We fight,” he said calmly.

“We can’t win,” Jasper growled. I could imagine how his face would look, how his body would curve protectively over Alice’s.

“Well, we can’t run. Not with Demetri around.” Emmett made a disgusted noise, and I knew instinctively that he was not upset by the idea of the Volturi’s tracker but by the idea of running away. “And I don’t know that we can’t win,” he said. “There are a few options to consider. We don’t have to fight alone.”

My head snapped up at that. “We don’t have to sentence the Quileutes to death, either, Emmett!”

“Chill, Bella.” His expression was no different from when he was contemplating fighting anacondas. Even the threat of annihilation couldn’t change Emmett’s perspective, his ability to thrill to a challenge. “I didn’t mean the pack. Be realistic, though—do you think Jacob or Sam is going to ignore an invasion? Even if it wasn’t about Nessie? Not to mention that, thanks to Irina, Aro knows about our alliance with the pack now, too. But I was thinking of our other friends.”

Carlisle echoed me in a whisper. “Other friends we don’t have to sentence to death.”

“Hey, we’ll let them decide,” Emmett said in a placating tone. “I’m not saying they have to fight with us.” I could see the plan refining itself in his head as he spoke. “If they’d just stand beside us, just long enough to make the Volturi hesitate. Bella’s right, after all. If we could force them to stop and listen. Though that might take away any reason for a fight. . . .”

There was a hint of a smile on Emmett’s face now. I was surprised no one had hit him yet. I wanted to.

“Yes,” Esme said eagerly. “That makes sense, Emmett. All we need is for the Volturi to pause for one moment. Just long enough to listen.”

“We’d need quite a show of witnesses,” Rosalie said harshly, her voice brittle as glass.

Esme nodded in agreement, as if she hadn’t heard the sarcasm in Rosalie’s tone. “We can ask that much of our friends. Just to witness.”

“We’d do it for them,” Emmett said.

“We’ll have to ask them just right,” Alice murmured. I looked to see her eyes were a dark void again. “They’ll have to be shown very carefully.”

“Shown?” Jasper asked.

Alice and Edward both looked down at Renesmee. Then Alice’s eyes glazed over.

“Tanya’s family,” she said. “Siobhan’s coven. Amun’s. Some of the nomads—Garrett and Mary for certain. Maybe Alistair.”

“What about Peter and Charlotte?” Jasper asked half fearfully, as if he hoped the answer was no, and his old brother could be spared from the coming carnage.

“Maybe.”

“The Amazons?” Carlisle asked. “Kachiri, Zafrina, and Senna?”

Alice seemed too deep into her vision to answer at first; finally she shuddered, and her eyes flickered back to the present. She met Carlisle’s gaze for the tiniest part of a second, and then looked down.

“I can’t see.”

“What was that?” Edward asked, his whisper a demand. “That part in the jungle. Are we going to look for them?”

“I can’t see,” Alice repeated, not meeting his eyes. A flash of confusion crossed Edward’s face. “We’ll have to split up and hurry—before the snow sticks to the ground. We have to round up whomever we can and get them here to show them.” She zoned again. “Ask Eleazar. There is more to this than just an immortal child.”

The silence was ominous for another long moment while Alice was in her trance. She blinked slowly when it was over, her eyes peculiarly opaque despite the fact that she was clearly in the present.

“There is so much. We have to hurry,” she whispered.

“Alice?” Edward asked. “That was too fast—I didn’t understand. What was—?”

“I can’t see!” she exploded back at him. “Jacob’s almost here!”

Rosalie took a step toward the front door. “I’ll deal with—”

“No, let him come,” Alice said quickly, her voice straining higher with each word. She grabbed Jasper’s hand and began pulling him toward the back door. “I’ll see better away from Nessie, too. I need to go. I need to really concentrate. I need to see everything I can. I have to go. Come on, Jasper, there’s no time to waste!”

We all could hear Jacob on the stairs. Alice yanked, impatient, on Jasper’s hand. He followed quickly, confusion in his eyes just like Edward’s. They darted out the door into the silver night.

“Hurry!” she called back to us. “You have to find them all!”

“Find what?” Jacob asked, shutting the front door behind himself. “Where’d Alice go?”

No one answered; we all just stared.

Jacob shook the wet from his hair and pulled his arms through the sleeves of his t-shirt, his eyes on Renesmee. “Hey, Bells! I thought you guys would’ve gone home by now. . . .”

He looked up to me finally, blinked, and then stared. I watched his expression as the room’s atmosphere finally touched him. He glanced down, eyes wide, at the wet spot on the floor, the scattered roses, the fragments of crystal. His fingers quivered.

“What?” he asked flatly. “What happened?”

I couldn’t think where to begin. No one else found the words, either.

Jacob crossed the room in three long strides and dropped to his knees beside Renesmee and me. I could feel the heat shaking off his body as tremors rolled down his arms to his shaking hands.

“Is she okay?” he demanded, touching her forehead, tilting his head as he listened to her heart. “Don’t mess with me, Bella, please!”

“Nothing’s wrong with Renesmee,” I choked out, the words breaking in strange places.

“Then who?”

“All of us, Jacob,” I whispered. And it was there in my voice, too—the sound of the inside of a grave. “It’s over. We’ve all been sentenced to die.”

BREAKING DAWN 27

27. TRAVEL PLANS

I took mythology a lot more seriously since I’d become a vampire.

Often, when I looked back over my first three months as an immortal, I imagined how the thread of my life might look in the Fates’ loom—who knew but that it actually existed? I was sure my thread must have changed color; I thought it had probably started out as a nice beige, something supportive and non-confrontational, something that would look good in the background. Now it felt like it must be bright crimson, or maybe glistening gold.

The tapestry of family and friends that wove together around me was a beautiful, glowing thing, full of their bright, complementary colors.

I was surprised by some of the threads I got to include in my life. The werewolves, with their deep, woodsy colors, were not something I’d expected; Jacob, of course, and Seth, too. But my old friends Quil and Embry became part of the fabric as they joined Jacob’s pack, and even Sam and Emily were cordial. The tensions between our families eased, mostly due to Renesmee. She was easy to love.

Sue and Leah Clearwater were interlaced into our life, too—two more I had not anticipated.

Sue seemed to have taken it on herself to smooth Charlie’s transition into the world of make-believe. She came with him to the Cullens’ most days, though she never seemed truly comfortable here the way her son and most of Jake’s pack did. She did not speak often; she just hovered protectively near Charlie. She was always the first person he looked to when Renesmee did something disturbingly advanced—which was often. In answer, Sue would eye Seth meaningfully as if to say, Yeah, tell me about it.

Leah was even less comfortable than Sue and was the only part of our recently extended family who was openly hostile to the merger. However, she and Jacob had a new camaraderie that kept her close to us all. I asked him about it once—hesitantly; I didn’t want to pry, but the relationship was so different from the way it used to be that it made me curious. He shrugged and told me it was a pack thing. She was his second-in-command now, his “beta,” as I’d called it once long ago.

“I figured as long as I was going to do this Alpha thing for real,” Jacob explained, “I’d better nail down the formalities.”

The new responsibility made Leah feel the need to check in with him often, and since he was always with Renesmee…

Leah was not happy to be near us, but she was the exception. Happiness was the main component in my life now, the dominant pattern in the tapestry. So much so that my relationship with Jasper was now much closer than I’d ever dreamed it would be.

At first I was really annoyed, though.

“Yeesh!” I complained to Edward one night after we’d put Renesmee in her wrought-iron crib. “If I haven’t killed Charlie or Sue yet, it’s probably not going to happen. I wish Jasper would stop hovering all the time!”

“No one doubts you, Bella, not in the slightest,” he assured me. “You know how Jasper is—he can’t resist a good emotional climate. You’re so happy all the time, love, he gravitates toward you without thinking.”

And then Edward hugged me tightly, because nothing pleased him more than my overwhelming ecstasy in this new life.

And I was euphoric the vast majority of the time. The days were not long enough for me to get my fill of adoring my daughter; the nights did not have enough hours to satisfy my need for Edward.

There was a flipside to the joy, though. If you turned the fabric of our lives over, I imagined the design on the backside would be woven in the bleak grays of doubt and fear.

Renesmee spoke her first word when she was exactly one week old. The word was Momma, which would have made my day, except that I was so frightened by her progress I could barely force my frozen face to smile back at her. It didn’t help that she continued from her first word to her first sentence in the same breath. “Momma, where is Grandpa?” she’d asked in a clear, high soprano, only bothering to speak aloud because I was across the room from her. She’d already asked Rosalie, using her normal (or seriously abnormal, from another point of view) means of communication. Rosalie hadn’t known the answer, so Renesmee had turned to me.

When she walked for the first time, fewer than three weeks later, it was similar. She’d simply stared at Alice for a long moment, watching intently as her aunt arranged bouquets in the vases scattered around the room, dancing back and forth across the floor with her arms full of flowers. Renesmee got to her feet, not in the least bit shaky, and crossed the floor almost as gracefully.

Jacob had burst into applause, because that was clearly the response Renesmee wanted. The way he was tied to her made his own reactions secondary; his first reflex was always to give Renesmee whatever she needed. But our eyes met, and I saw all the panic in mine echoed in his. I made my hands clap together, too, trying to hide my fear from her. Edward applauded quietly at my side, and we didn’t need to speak our thoughts to know they were the same.

Edward and Carlisle threw themselves into research, looking for any answers, anything to expect. There was very little to be found, and none of it verifiable.

Alice and Rosalie usually began our day with a fashion show. Renesmee never wore the same clothes twice, partly because she outgrew her clothes almost immediately and partly because Alice and Rosalie were trying to create a baby album that appeared to span years rather than weeks. They took thousands of pictures, documenting every phase of her accelerated childhood.

At three months, Renesmee could have been a big one-year-old, or a small two-year-old. She wasn’t shaped exactly like a toddler; she was leaner and more graceful, her proportions were more even, like an adult’s. Her bronze ringlets hung to her waist; I couldn’t bear to cut them, even if Alice would have allowed it. Renesmee could speak with flawless grammar and articulation, but she rarely bothered, preferring to simply show people what she wanted. She could not only walk but run and dance. She could even read.

I’d been reading Tennyson to her one night, because the flow and rhythm of his poetry seemed restful. (I had to search constantly for new material; Renesmee didn’t like repetition in her bedtime stories as other children supposedly did, and she had no patience for picture books.) She reached up to touch my cheek, the image in her mind one of us, only with her holding the book. I gave it to her, smiling.

“ ‘There is sweet music here,’” she read without hesitation, “‘that softer falls than petals from blown roses on the grass, or night-dews on still waters between walls of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass—’ ”

My hand was robotic as I took the book back.

“If you read, how will you fall asleep?” I asked in a voice that had barely escaped shaking.

By Carlisle’s calculations, the growth of her body was gradually slowing; her mind continued to race on ahead. Even if the rate of decrease held steady, she’d still be an adult in no more than four years.

Four years. And an old woman by fifteen.

Just fifteen years of life.

But she was so healthy. Vital, bright, glowing, and happy. Her conspicuous well-being made it easy for me to be happy with her in the moment and leave the future for tomorrow.

Carlisle and Edward discussed our options for the future from every angle in low voices that I tried not to hear. They never had these discussions when Jacob was around, because there was one sure way to halt aging, and that wasn’t something Jacob was likely to be excited about. I wasn’t. Too dangerous! my instincts screamed at me. Jacob and Renesmee seemed alike in so many ways, both half-and-half beings, two things at the same time. And all the werewolf lore insisted that vampire venom was a death sentence rather than a course to immortality. . . .

Carlisle and Edward had exhausted the research they could do from a distance, and now we were preparing to follow old legends at their source. We were going back to Brazil, starting there. The Ticunas had legends about children like Renesmee.… If other children like her had ever existed, perhaps some tale of the life span of half-mortal children still lingered. . . .

The only real question left was exactly when we would go.

I was the holdup. A small part of it was that I wanted to stay near Forks until after the holidays, for Charlie’s sake. But more than that, there was a different journey that I knew had to come first—that was the clear priority. Also, it had to be a solo trip.

This was the only argument that Edward and I had gotten in since I’d become a vampire. The main point of contention was the “solo” part. But the facts were what they were, and my plan was the only one that made rational sense. I had to go see the Volturi, and I had to do it absolutely alone.

Even freed from old nightmares, from any dreams at all, it was impossible to forget the Volturi. Nor did they leave us without reminders.

Until the day that Aro’s present showed up, I didn’t know that Alice had sent a wedding announcement to the Volturi leaders; we’d been far away on Esme’s island when she’d seen a vision of Volturi soldiers—Jane and Alec, the devastatingly powerful twins, among them. Caius was planning to send a hunting party to see if I was still human, against their edict (because I knew about the secret vampire world, I either must join it or be silenced… permanently). So Alice had mailed the announcement, seeing that this would delay them as they deciphered the meaning behind it. But they would come eventually. That was certain.

The present itself was not overtly threatening. Extravagant, yes, almost frightening in that very extravagance. The threat was in the parting line of Aro’s congratulatory note, written in black ink on a square of heavy, plain white paper in Aro’s own hand:

I so look forward to seeing the new Mrs. Cullen in person.

The gift was presented in an ornately carved, ancient wooden box inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl, ornamented with a rainbow of gemstones. Alice said the box itself was a priceless treasure, that it would have outshone just about any piece of jewelry besides the one inside it.

“I always wondered where the crown jewels disappeared to after John of England pawned them in the thirteenth century,” Carlisle said. “I suppose it doesn’t surprise me that the Volturi have their share.”

The necklace was simple—gold woven into a thick rope of a chain, almost scaled, like a smooth snake that would curl close around the throat. One jewel hung suspended from the rope: a white diamond the size of a golf ball.

The unsubtle reminder in Aro’s note interested me more than the jewel. The Volturi needed to see that I was immortal, that the Cullens had been obedient to the Volturi’s orders, and they needed to see this soon. They could not be allowed near Forks. There was only one way to keep our life here safe.

“You’re not going alone,” Edward had insisted through his teeth, his hands clenching into fists.

“They won’t hurt me,” I’d said as soothingly as I could manage, forcing my voice to sound sure. “They have no reason to. I’m a vampire. Case closed.”

“No. Absolutely no.”

“Edward, it’s the only way to protect her.”

And he hadn’t been able to argue with that. My logic was watertight.

Even in the short time I’d known Aro, I’d been able to see that he was a collector—and his most prized treasures were his living pieces. He coveted beauty, talent, and rarity in his immortal followers more than any jewel locked in his vaults. It was unfortunate enough that he’d begun to covet Alice’s and Edward’s abilities. I would give him no more reason to be jealous of Carlisle’s family. Renesmee was beautiful and gifted and unique—she was one of a kind. He could not be allowed to see her, not even through someone’s thoughts.

And I was the only one whose thoughts he could not hear. Of course I would go alone.

Alice did not see any trouble with my trip, but she was worried by the indistinct quality of her visions. She said they were sometimes similarly hazy when there were outside decisions that might conflict but that had not been solidly resolved. This uncertainty made Edward, already hesitant, extremely opposed to what I had to do. He wanted to come with me as far as my connection in London, but I wouldn’t leave Renesmee without both her parents. Carlisle was coming instead. It made both Edward and me a little more relaxed, knowing that Carlisle would be only a few hours away from me.

Alice kept searching for the future, but the things she found were unrelated to what she was looking for. A new trend in the stock market; a possible visit of reconciliation from Irina, though her decision was not firm; a snowstorm that wouldn’t hit for another six weeks; a call from Renée (I was practicing my “rough” voice, and getting better at it every day—to Renée’s knowledge, I was still sick, but mending).

We bought the tickets for Italy the day after Renesmee turned three months. I planned for it to be a very short trip, so I hadn’t told Charlie about it. Jacob knew, and he took Edward’s view on things. However, today the argument was about Brazil. Jacob was determined to come with us.

The three of us, Jacob, Renesmee, and I, were hunting together. The diet of animal blood wasn’t Renesmee’s favorite thing—and that was why Jacob was allowed to come along. Jacob had made it a contest between them, and that made her more willing than anything else.

Renesmee was quite clear on the whole good vs. bad as it applied to hunting humans; she just thought that donated blood made a nice compromise. Human food filled her and it seemed compatible with her system, but she reacted to all varieties of solid food with the same martyred endurance I had once given cauliflower and lima beans. Animal blood was better than that, at least. She had a competitive nature, and the challenge of beating Jacob made her excited to hunt.

“Jacob,” I said, trying to reason with him again while Renesmee danced ahead of us into the long clearing, searching for a scent she liked. “You’ve got obligations here. Seth, Leah—”

He snorted. “I’m not my pack’s nanny. They’ve all got responsibilities in La Push anyway.”

“Sort of like you? Are you officially dropping out of high school, then? If you’re going to keep up with Renesmee, you’re going to have to study a lot harder.”

“It’s just a sabbatical. I’ll get back to school when things… slow down.”

I lost my concentration on my side of the disagreement when he said that, and we both automatically looked at Renesmee. She was staring at the snowflakes fluttering high above her head, melting before they could stick to the yellowed grass in the long arrowhead-shaped meadow that we were standing in. Her ruffled ivory dress was just a shade darker than the snow, and her reddish-brown curls managed to shimmer, though the sun was buried deeply behind the clouds.

As we watched, she crouched for an instant and then sprang fifteen feet up into the air. Her little hands closed around a flake, and she dropped lightly to her feet.

She turned to us with her shocking smile—truly, it wasn’t something you could get used to—and opened her hands to show us the perfectly formed eight-pointed ice star in her palm before it melted.

“Pretty,” Jacob called to her appreciatively. “But I think you’re stalling, Nessie.”

She bounded back to Jacob; he held his arms out at exactly the moment she leaped into them. They had the move perfectly synchronized. She did this when she had something to say. She still preferred not to speak aloud.

Renesmee touched his face, scowling adorably as we all listened to the sound of a small herd of elk moving farther into the wood.

“Suuuure you’re not thirsty, Nessie,” Jacob answered a little sarcastically, but more indulgently than anything else. “You’re just afraid I’ll catch the biggest one again!”

She flipped backward out of Jacob’s arms, landing lightly on her feet, and rolled her eyes—she looked so much like Edward when she did that. Then she darted off toward the trees.

“Got it,” Jacob said when I leaned as if to follow. He yanked his t-shirt off as he charged after her into the forest, already trembling. “It doesn’t count if you cheat,” he called to Renesmee.

I smiled at the leaves they left fluttering behind them, shaking my head. Jacob was more a child than Renesmee sometimes.

I paused, giving my hunters a few minutes’ head start. It would be beyond simple to track them, and Renesmee would love to surprise me with the size of her prey. I smiled again.

The narrow meadow was very still, very empty. The fluttering snow was thinning above me, almost gone. Alice had seen that it wouldn’t stick for many weeks.

Usually Edward and I came together on these hunting trips. But Edward was with Carlisle today, planning the trip to Rio, talking behind Jacob’s back.… I frowned. When I returned, I would take Jacob’s side. He should come with us. He had as big a stake in this as any of us—his entire life was at stake, just like mine.

While my thoughts were lost in the near future, my eyes swept the mountainside routinely, searching for prey, searching for danger. I didn’t think about it; the urge was an automatic thing.

Or perhaps there was a reason for my scanning, some tiny trigger that my razor-sharp senses had caught before I realized it consciously.

As my eyes flitted across the edge of a distant cliff, standing out starkly blue-gray against the green-black forest, a glint of silver—or was it gold?—gripped my attention.

My gaze zeroed in on the color that shouldn’t have been there, so far away in the haze that an eagle wouldn’t have been able to make it out. I stared.

She stared back.

That she was a vampire was obvious. Her skin was marble white, the texture a million times smoother than human skin. Even under the clouds, she glistened ever so slightly. If her skin had not given her away, her stillness would have. Only vampires and statues could be so perfectly motionless.

Her hair was pale, pale blond, almost silver. This was the gleam that had caught my eye. It hung straight as a ruler to a blunt edge at her chin, parted evenly down the center.

She was a stranger to me. I was absolutely certain I’d never seen her before, even as a human. None of the faces in my muddy memory were the same as this one. But I knew her at once from her dark golden eyes.

Irina had decided to come after all.

For one moment I stared at her, and she stared back. I wondered if she would guess immediately who I was as well. I half-raised my hand, about to wave, but her lip twisted the tiniest bit, making her face suddenly hostile.

I heard Renesmee’s cry of victory from the forest, heard Jacob’s echoing howl, and saw Irina’s face jerk reflexively to the sound when it echoed to her a few seconds later. Her gaze cut slightly to the right, and I knew what she was seeing. An enormous russet werewolf, perhaps the very one who had killed her Laurent. How long had she been watching us? Long enough to see our affectionate exchange before, I was sure.

Her face spasmed in pain.

Instinctually, I opened my hands in front of me in an apologetic gesture. She turned back to me, and her lip curled back over her teeth. Her jaw unlocked as she growled.

When the faint sound reached me, she had already turned and disappeared into the forest.

“Crap!” I groaned.

I sprinted into the forest after Renesmee and Jacob, unwilling to have them out of my sight. I didn’t know which direction Irina had taken, or exactly how furious she was right now. Vengeance was a common obsession for vampires, one that was not easy to suppress.

Running at full speed, it only took me two seconds to reach them.

“Mine is bigger,” I heard Renesmee insist as I burst through the thick thornbushes to the small open space where they stood.

Jacob’s ears flattened as he took in my expression; he crouched forward, baring his teeth—his muzzle was streaked with blood from his kill. His eyes raked the forest. I could hear the growl building in his throat.

Renesmee was every bit as alert as Jacob. Abandoning the dead stag at her feet, she leaped into my waiting arms, pressing her curious hands against my cheeks.

“I’m overreacting,” I assured them quickly. “It’s okay, I think. Hold on.”

I pulled out my cell phone and hit the speed dial. Edward answered on the first ring. Jacob and Renesmee listened intently to my side as I filled Edward in.

“Come, bring Carlisle,” I trilled so fast I wondered if Jacob could keep up. “I saw Irina, and she saw me, but then she saw Jacob and she got mad and ran away, I think. She hasn’t shown up here—yet, anyway—but she looked pretty upset so maybe she will. If she doesn’t, you and Carlisle have to go after her and talk to her. I feel so bad.”

Jacob rumbled.

“We’ll be there in half a minute,” Edward assured me, and I could hear the whoosh of the wind his running made.

We darted back to the long meadow and then waited silently as Jacob and I listened carefully for the sound of an approach we did not recognize.

When the sound came, though, it was very familiar. And then Edward was at my side, Carlisle a few seconds behind. I was surprised to hear the heavy pad of big paws following behind Carlisle. I supposed I shouldn’t have been shocked. With Renesmee in even a hint of danger, of course Jacob would call in reinforcements.

“She was up on that ridge,” I told them at once, pointing out the spot. If Irina was fleeing, she already had quite a head start. Would she stop and listen to Carlisle? Her expression before made me think not. “Maybe you should call Emmett and Jasper and have them come with you. She looked… really upset. She growled at me.”

“What?” Edward said angrily.

Carlisle put a hand on his arm. “She’s grieving. I’ll go after her.”

“I’m coming with you,” Edward insisted.

They exchanged a long glance—perhaps Carlisle was measuring Edward’s irritation with Irina against his helpfulness as a mind reader. Finally, Carlisle nodded, and they took off to find the trail without calling for Jasper or Emmett.

Jacob huffed impatiently and poked my back with his nose. He must want Renesmee back at the safety of the house, just in case. I agreed with him on that, and we hurried home with Seth and Leah running at our flanks.

Renesmee was complacent in my arms, one hand still resting on my face. Since the hunting trip had been aborted, she would just have to make do with donated blood. Her thoughts were a little smug.

BREAKING DAWN 26

26. SHINY

“I don’t know how much we should tell Renée about this,” Charlie said, hesitating with one foot out the door. He stretched, and then his stomach growled.

I nodded. “I know. I don’t want to freak her out. Better to protect her. This stuff isn’t for the fainthearted.”

His lips twisted up to the side ruefully. “I would have tried to protect you, too, if I’d known how. But I guess you’ve never fit into the fainthearted category, have you?”

I smiled back, pulling a blazing breath in through my teeth.

Charlie patted his stomach absently. “I’ll think of something. We’ve got time to discuss this, right?”

“Right,” I promised him.

It had been a long day in some ways, and so short in others. Charlie was late for dinner—Sue Clearwater was cooking for him and Billy. That was going to be an awkward evening, but at least he’d be eating real food; I was glad someone was trying to keep him from starving due to his lack of cooking ability.

All day the tension had made the minutes pass slowly; Charlie had never relaxed the stiff set of his shoulders. But he’d been in no hurry to leave, either. He’d watched two whole games—thankfully so absorbed in his thoughts that he was totally oblivious to Emmett’s suggestive jokes that got more pointed and less football-related with each aside—and the after-game commentaries, and then the news, not moving until Seth had reminded him of the time.

“You gonna stand Billy and my mom up, Charlie? C’mon. Bella and Nessie’ll be here tomorrow. Let’s get some grub, eh?”

It had been clear in Charlie’s eyes that he hadn’t trusted Seth’s assessment, but he’d let Seth lead the way out. The doubt was still there as he paused now. The clouds were thinning, the rain gone. The sun might even make an appearance just in time to set.

“Jake says you guys were going to take off on me,” he muttered to me now.

“I didn’t want to do that if there was any way at all around it. That’s why we’re still here.”

“He said you could stay for a while, but only if I’m tough enough, and if I can keep my mouth shut.”

“Yes… but I can’t promise that we’ll never leave, Dad. It’s pretty complicated. . . .”

“Need to know,” he reminded me.

“Right.”

“You’ll visit, though, if you have to go?”

“I promise, Dad. Now that you know just enough, I think this can work. I’ll keep as close as you want.”

He chewed on his lip for half a second, then leaned slowly toward me with his arms cautiously extended. I shifted Renesmee—napping now—to my left arm, locked my teeth, held my breath, and wrapped my right arm very lightly around his warm, soft waist.

“Keep real close, Bells,” he mumbled. “Real close.”

“Love you, Dad,” I whispered through my teeth.

He shivered and pulled away. I dropped my arm.

“Love you, too, kid. Whatever else has changed, that hasn’t.” He touched one finger to Renesmee’s pink cheek. “She sure looks a lot like you.”

I kept my expression casual, though I felt anything but. “More like Edward, I think.” I hesitated, and then added, “She has your curls.”

Charlie started, then snorted. “Huh. Guess she does. Huh. Grandpa.” He shook his head doubtfully. “Do I ever get to hold her?”

I blinked in shock and then composed myself. After considering for a half second and judging Renesmee’s appearance—she looked completely out—I decided that I might as well push my luck to the limit, since things were going so well today. . . .

“Here,” I said, holding her out to him. He automatically made an awkward cradle with his arms, and I tucked Renesmee into it. His skin wasn’t quite as hot as hers, but it made my throat tickle to feel the warmth flowing under the thin membrane. Where my white skin brushed him it left goose bumps. I wasn’t sure if this was a reaction to my new temperature or totally psychological.

Charlie grunted quietly as he felt her weight. “She’s… sturdy.”

I frowned. She felt feather-light to me. Maybe my measure was off.

“Sturdy is good,” Charlie said, seeing my expression. Then he muttered to himself, “She’ll need to be tough, surrounded by all this craziness.” He bounced his arms gently, swaying a little from side to side. “Prettiest baby I ever saw, including you, kid. Sorry, but it’s true.”

“I know it is.”

“Pretty baby,” he said again, but it was closer to a coo this time.

I could see it in his face—I could watch it growing there. Charlie was just as helpless against her magic as the rest of us. Two seconds in his arms, and already she owned him.

“Can I come back tomorrow?”

“Sure, Dad. Of course. We’ll be here.”

“You’d better be,” he said sternly, but his face was soft, still gazing at Renesmee. “See you tomorrow, Nessie.”

“Not you, too!”

“Huh?”

“Her name is Renesmee. Like Renée and Esme, put together. No variations.” I struggled to calm myself without the deep breath this time. “Do you want to hear her middle name?”

“Sure.”

“Carlie. With a C. Like Carlisle and Charlie put together.”

Charlie’s eye-creasing grin lit up his face, taking me off guard. “Thanks, Bells.”

“Thank you, Dad. So much has changed so quickly. My head hasn’t stopped spinning. If I didn’t have you now, I don’t know how I’d keep my grip on—on reality.” I’d been about to say my grip on who I was. That was probably more than he needed.

Charlie’s stomach growled.

“Go eat, Dad. We will be here.” I remembered how it felt, that first uncomfortable immersion in fantasy—the sensation that everything would disappear in the light of the rising sun.

Charlie nodded and then reluctantly returned Renesmee to me. He glanced past me into the house; his eyes were a little wild for a minute as he stared around the big bright room. Everyone was still there, besides Jacob, who I could hear raiding the refrigerator in the kitchen; Alice was lounging on the bottom step of the staircase with Jasper’s head in her lap; Carlisle had his head bent over a fat book in his lap; Esme was humming to herself, sketching on a notepad, while Rosalie and Emmett laid out the foundation for a monumental house of cards under the stairs; Edward had drifted to his piano and was playing very softly to himself. There was no evidence that the day was coming to a close, that it might be time to eat or shift activities in preparation for evening. Something intangible had changed in the atmosphere. The Cullens weren’t trying as hard as they usually did—the human charade had slipped ever so slightly, enough for Charlie to feel the difference.

He shuddered, shook his head, and sighed. “See you tomorrow, Bella.” He frowned and then added, “I mean, it’s not like you don’t look… good. I’ll get used to it.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Charlie nodded and walked thoughtfully toward his car. I watched him drive away; it wasn’t until I heard his tires hit the freeway that I realized I’d done it. I’d actually made it through the whole day without hurting Charlie. All by myself. I must have a superpower!

It seemed too good to be true. Could I really have both my new family and some of my old as well? And I’d thought that yesterday had been perfect.

“Wow,” I whispered. I blinked and felt the third set of contact lenses disintegrate.

The sound of the piano cut off, and Edward’s arms were around my waist, his chin resting on my shoulder.

“You took the word right out of my mouth.”

“Edward, I did it!”

“You did. You were unbelievable. All that worrying over being a newborn, and then you skip it altogether.” He laughed quietly.

“I’m not even sure she’s really a vampire, let alone a newborn,” Emmett called from under the stairs. “She’s too tame.”

All the embarrassing comments he’d made in front of my father sounded in my ears again, and it was probably a good thing I was holding Renesmee. Unable to help my reaction entirely, I snarled under my breath.

“Oooo, scary,” Emmett laughed.

I hissed, and Renesmee stirred in my arms. She blinked a few times, then looked around, her expression confused. She sniffed, then reached for my face.

“Charlie will be back tomorrow,” I assured her.

“Excellent,” Emmett said. Rosalie laughed with him this time.

“Not brilliant, Emmett,” Edward said scornfully, holding out his hands to take Renesmee from me. He winked when I hesitated, and so, a little confused, I gave her to him.

“What do you mean?” Emmett demanded.

“It’s a little dense, don’t you think, to antagonize the strongest vampire in the house?”

Emmett threw his head back and snorted. “Please!”

“Bella,” Edward murmured to me while Emmett listened closely, “do you remember a few months ago, I asked you to do me a favor once you were immortal?”

That rang a dim bell. I sifted through the blurry human conversations. After a moment, I remembered and I gasped, “Oh!”

Alice trilled a long, pealing laugh. Jacob poked his head around the corner, his mouth stuffed with food.

“What?” Emmett growled.

“Really?” I asked Edward.

“Trust me,” he said.

I took a deep breath. “Emmett, how do you feel about a little bet?”

He was on his feet at once. “Awesome. Bring it.”

I bit my lip for a second. He was just so huge.

“Unless you’re too afraid… ?” Emmett suggested.

I squared my shoulders. “You. Me. Arm-wrestling. Dining room table. Now.”

Emmett’s grin stretched across his face.

“Er, Bella,” Alice said quickly, “I think Esme is fairly fond of that table. It’s an antique.”

“Thanks,” Esme mouthed at her.

“No problem,” Emmett said with a gleaming smile. “Right this way, Bella.”

I followed him out the back, toward the garage; I could hear all the others trailing behind. There was a largish granite boulder standing up out of a tumble of rocks near the river, obviously Emmett’s goal. Though the big rock was a little rounded and irregular, it would do the job.

Emmett placed his elbow on the rock and waved me forward.

I was nervous again as I watched the thick muscles in Emmett’s arm roll, but I kept my face smooth. Edward had promised I would be stronger than anyone for a while. He seemed very confident about this, and I felt strong. That strong? I wondered, looking at Emmett’s biceps. I wasn’t even two days old, though, and that ought to count for something. Unless nothing was normal about me. Maybe I wasn’t as strong as a normal newborn. Maybe that’s why control was so easy for me.

I tried to look unconcerned as I set my elbow against the stone.

“Okay, Emmett. I win, and you cannot say one more word about my sex life to anyone, not even Rose. No allusions, no innuendos—no nothing.”

His eyes narrowed. “Deal. I win, and it’s going to get a lot worse.”

He heard my breath stop and grinned evilly. There was no hint of bluff in his eyes.

“You gonna back down so easy, little sister?” Emmett taunted. “Not much wild about you, is there? I bet that cottage doesn’t have a scratch.” He laughed. “Did Edward tell you how many houses Rose and I smashed?”

I gritted my teeth and grabbed his big hand. “One, two—”

“Three,” he grunted, and shoved against my hand.

Nothing happened.

Oh, I could feel the force he was exerting. My new mind seemed pretty good at all kinds of calculations, and so I could tell that if he wasn’t meeting any resistance, his hand would have pounded right through the rock without difficulty. The pressure increased, and I wondered randomly if a cement truck doing forty miles an hour down a sharp decline would have similar power. Fifty miles an hour? Sixty? Probably more.

It wasn’t enough to move me. His hand shoved against mine with crushing force, but it wasn’t unpleasant. It felt kind of good in a weird way. I’d been so very careful since the last time I woke up, trying so hard not to break things. It was a strange relief to use my muscles. To let the strength flow rather than struggling to restrain it.

Emmett grunted; his forehead creased and his whole body strained in one rigid line toward the obstacle of my unmoving hand. I let him sweat—figuratively—for a moment while I enjoyed the sensation of the crazy force running through my arm.

A few seconds, though, and I was a little bored with it. I flexed; Emmett lost an inch.

I laughed. Emmett snarled harshly through his teeth.

“Just keep your mouth shut,” I reminded him, and then I smashed his hand into the boulder. A deafening crack echoed off the trees. The rock shuddered, and a piece—about an eighth of the mass—broke off at an invisible fault line and crashed to the ground. It fell on Emmett’s foot, and I snickered. I could hear Jacob’s and Edward’s muffled laughter.

Emmett kicked the rock fragment across the river. It sliced a young maple in half before thudding into the base of a big fir, which swayed and then fell into another tree.

“Rematch. Tomorrow.”

“It’s not going to wear off that fast,” I told him. “Maybe you ought to give it a month.”

Emmett growled, flashing his teeth. “Tomorrow.”

“Hey, whatever makes you happy, big brother.”

As he turned to stalk away, Emmett punched the granite, shattering off an avalanche of shards and powder. It was kind of neat, in a childish way.

Fascinated by the undeniable proof that I was stronger than the strongest vampire I’d ever known, I placed my hand, fingers spread wide, against the rock. Then I dug my fingers slowly into the stone, crushing rather than digging; the consistency reminded me of hard cheese. I ended up with a handful of gravel.

“Cool,” I mumbled.

With a grin stretching my face, I whirled in a sudden circle and karate-chopped the rock with the side of my hand. The stone shrieked and groaned and—with a big poof of dust—split in two.

I started giggling.

I didn’t pay much attention to the chuckles behind me while I punched and kicked the rest of the boulder into fragments. I was having too much fun, snickering away the whole time. It wasn’t until I heard a new little giggle, a high-pitched peal of bells, that I turned away from my silly game.

“Did she just laugh?”

Everyone was staring at Renesmee with the same dumbstruck expression that must have been on my face.

“Yes,” Edward said.

“Who wasn’t laughing?” Jake muttered, rolling his eyes.

“Tell me you didn’t let go a bit on your first run, dog,” Edward teased, no antagonism in his voice at all.

“That’s different,” Jacob said, and I watched in surprise as he mock-punched Edward’s shoulder. “Bella’s supposed to be a grown-up. Married and a mom and all that. Shouldn’t there be more dignity?”

Renesmee frowned, and touched Edward’s face.

“What does she want?” I asked.

“Less dignity,” Edward said with a grin. “She was having almost as much fun watching you enjoy yourself as I was.”

“Am I funny?” I asked Renesmee, darting back and reaching for her at the same time that she reached for me. I took her out of Edward’s arms and offered her the shard of rock in my hand. “You want to try?”

She smiled her glittering smile and took the stone in both hands. She squeezed, a little dent forming between her eyebrows as she concentrated.

There was a tiny grinding sound, and a bit of dust. She frowned, and held the chunk up to me.

“I’ll get it,” I said, pinching the stone into sand.

She clapped and laughed; the delicious sound of it made us all join in.

The sun suddenly burst through the clouds, shooting long beams of ruby and gold across the ten of us, and I was immediately lost in the beauty of my skin in the light of the sunset. Dazed by it.

Renesmee stroked the smooth diamond-bright facets, then laid her arm next to mine. Her skin had just a faint luminosity, subtle and mysterious. Nothing that would keep her inside on a sunny day like my glowing sparkle. She touched my face, thinking of the difference and feeling disgruntled.

“You’re the prettiest,” I assured her.

“I’m not sure I can agree to that,” Edward said, and when I turned to answer him, the sunlight on his face stunned me into silence.

Jacob had his hand in front of his face, pretending to shield his eyes from the glare. “Freaky Bella,” he commented.

“What an amazing creature she is,” Edward murmured, almost in agreement, as if Jacob’s comment was meant as a compliment. He was both dazzling and dazzled.

It was a strange feeling—not surprising, I supposed, since everything felt strange now—this being a natural at something. As a human, I’d never been best at anything. I was okay at dealing with Renée, but probably lots of people could have done better; Phil seemed to be holding his own. I was a good student, but never the top of the class. Obviously, I could be counted out of anything athletic. Not artistic or musical, no particular talents to brag of. Nobody ever gave away a trophy for reading books. After eighteen years of mediocrity, I was pretty used to being average. I realized now that I’d long ago given up any aspirations of shining at anything. I just did the best with what I had, never quite fitting into my world.

So this was really different. I was amazing now—to them and to myself. It was like I had been born to be a vampire. The idea made me want to laugh, but it also made me want to sing. I had found my true place in the world, the place I fit, the place I shined.

BREAKING DAWN 25

25. FAVOR

It was only a little while later that Edward reminded me of my priorities.

It took him just one word.

“Renesmee . . .”

I sighed. She would be awake soon. It must be nearly seven in the morning. Would she be looking for me? Abruptly, something close to panic had my body freezing up. What would she look like today?

Edward felt the total distraction of my stress. “It’s all right, love. Get dressed, and we’ll be back to the house in two seconds.”

I probably looked like a cartoon, the way I sprung up, then looked back at him—his diamond body faintly glinting in the diffuse light—then away to the west, where Renesmee waited, then back at him again, then back toward her, my head whipping from side to side a half dozen times in a second. Edward smiled, but didn’t laugh; he was a strong man.

“It’s all about balance, love. You’re so good at all of this, I don’t imagine it will take too long to put everything in perspective.”

“And we have all night, right?”

He smiled wider. “Do you think I could bear to let you get dressed now if that weren’t the case?”

That would have to be enough to get me through the daylight hours. I would balance this overwhelming, devastating desire so that I could be a good— It was hard to think the word. Though Renesmee was very real and vital in my life, it was still difficult to think of myself as a mother. I supposed anyone would feel the same, though, without nine months to get used to the idea. And with a child that changed by the hour.

The thought of Renesmee’s speeding life had me stressed-out again in an instant. I didn’t even pause at the ornately carved double doors to catch my breath before finding out what Alice had done. I just burst through, intent on wearing the first things I touched. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

“Which ones are mine?” I hissed. As promised, the room was bigger than our bedroom. It might have been bigger than the rest of the house put together, but I’d have to pace it off to be positive. I had a brief mental flash of Alice trying to persuade Esme to ignore classic proportions and allow this monstrosity. I wondered how Alice had won that one.

Everything was wrapped in garment bags, pristine and white, row after row after row.

“To the best of my knowledge, everything but this rack here”—he touched a bar that stretched along the half-wall to the left of the door—“is yours.”

“All of this?”

He shrugged.

“Alice,” we said together. He said her name like an explanation; I said it like an expletive.

“Fine,” I muttered, and I pulled down the zipper on the closest bag. I growled under my breath when I saw the floorlength silk gown inside—baby pink.

Finding something normal to wear could take all day!

“Let me help,” Edward offered. He sniffed carefully at the air and then followed some scent to the back of the long room. There was a built-in dresser there. He sniffed again, then opened a drawer. With a triumphant grin, he held out a pair of artfully faded blue jeans.

I flitted to his side. “How did you do that?”

“Denim has its own scent just like anything else. Now… stretch cotton?”

He followed his nose to a half-rack, unearthing a long-sleeved white t-shirt. He tossed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said fervently. I inhaled each fabric, memorizing the scent for future searches through this madhouse. I remembered silk and satin; I would avoid those.

It only took him seconds to find his own clothes—if I hadn’t seen him undressed, I would have sworn there was nothing more beautiful than Edward in his khakis and pale beige pullover—and then he took my hand. We darted through the hidden garden, leaped lightly over the stone wall, and hit the forest at a dead sprint. I pulled my hand free so that we could race back. He beat me this time.

Renesmee was awake; she was sitting up on the floor with Rose and Emmett hovering over her, playing with a little pile of twisted silverware. She had a mangled spoon in her right hand. As soon as she spied me through the glass, she chucked the spoon on the floor—where it left a divot in the wood—and pointed in my direction imperiously. Her audience laughed; Alice, Jasper, Esme, and Carlisle were sitting on the couch, watching her as if she were the most engrossing film.

I was through the door before their laughter had barely begun, bounding across the room and scooping her up from the floor in the same second. We smiled widely at each other.

She was different, but not so much. A little longer again, her proportions drifting from babyish to childlike. Her hair was longer by a quarter inch, the curls bouncing like springs with every movement. I’d let my imagination run wild on the trip back, and I’d imagined worse than this. Thanks to my overdone fears, these little changes were almost a relief. Even without Carlisle’s measurements, I was sure the changes were slower than yesterday.

Renesmee patted my cheek. I winced. She was hungry again.

“How long has she been up?” I asked as Edward disappeared through the kitchen doorway. I was sure he was on his way to get her breakfast, having seen what she’d just thought as clearly as I had. I wondered if he would ever have noticed her little quirk, if he’d been the only one to know her. To him, it probably would have seemed like hearing anyone.

“Just a few minutes,” Rose said. “We would have called you soon. She’s been asking for you—demanding might be a better description. Esme sacrificed her second-best silver service to keep the little monster entertained.” Rose smiled at Renesmee with so much gloating affection that the criticism was entirely weightless. “We didn’t want to… er, bother you.”

Rosalie bit her lip and looked away, trying not to laugh. I could feel Emmett’s silent laughter behind me, sending vibrations through the foundations of the house.

I kept my chin high. “We’ll get your room set up right away,” I said to Renesmee. “You’ll like the cottage. It’s magic.” I look up at Esme. “Thank you, Esme. So much. It’s absolutely perfect.”

Before Esme could respond, Emmett was laughing again—it wasn’t silent this time.

“So it’s still standing?” he managed to get out between his snickers. “I would’ve thought you two had knocked it to rubble by now. What were you doing last night? Discussing the national debt?” He howled with laughter.

I gritted my teeth and reminded myself of the negative consequences when I’d let my temper get away from me yesterday. Of course, Emmett wasn’t as breakable as Seth. . . .

Thinking of Seth made me wonder. “Where’re the wolves today?” I glanced out the window wall, but there had been no sign of Leah on the way in.

“Jacob took off this morning pretty early,” Rosalie told me, a little frown creasing her forehead. “Seth followed him out.”

“What was he so upset about?” Edward asked as he came back into the room with Renesmee’s cup. There must have been more in Rosalie’s memory than I’d seen in her expression.

Without breathing, I handed Renesmee off to Rosalie. Super-self-control, maybe, but there was no way I was going to be able to feed her. Not yet.

“I don’t know—or care,” Rosalie grumbled, but she answered Edward’s question more fully. “He was watching Nessie sleep, his mouth hanging open like the moron he is, and then he just jumped to his feet without any kind of trigger—that I noticed, anyway—and stormed out. I was glad to be rid of him. The more time he spends here, the less chance there is that we’ll ever get the smell out.”

“Rose,” Esme chided gently.

Rosalie flipped her hair. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. We won’t be here that much longer.”

“I still say we should go straight to New Hampshire and get things set up,” Emmett said, obviously continuing an earlier conversation. “Bella’s already registered at Dartmouth. Doesn’t look like it will take her all that long to be able to handle school.” He turned to look at me with a teasing grin. “I’m sure you’ll ace your classes… apparently there’s nothing interesting for you to do at night besides study.”

Rosalie giggled.

Do not lose your temper, do not lose your temper, I chanted to myself. And then I was proud of myself for keeping my head.

So I was pretty surprised that Edward didn’t.

He growled—an abrupt, shocking rasp of sound—and the blackest fury rolled across his expression like storm clouds.

Before any of us could respond, Alice was on her feet.

“What is he doing? What is that dog doing that has erased my schedule for the entire day? I can’t see anything! No!” She shot me a tortured glance. “Look at you! You need me to show you how to use your closet.”

For one second I was grateful for whatever Jacob was up to.

And then Edward’s hands balled up into fists and he snarled, “He talked to Charlie. He thinks Charlie is following after him. Coming here. Today.”

Alice said a word that sounded very odd in her trilling, ladylike voice, and then she blurred into motion, streaking out the back door.

“He told Charlie?” I gasped. “But—doesn’t he understand? How could he do that?” Charlie couldn’t know about me! About vampires! That would put him on a hit list that even the Cullens couldn’t save him from. “No!”

Edward spoke through his teeth. “Jacob’s on his way in now.”

It must have started raining farther east. Jacob came through the door shaking his wet hair like a dog, flipping droplets on the carpet and the couch where they made little round gray spots on the white. His teeth glinted against his dark lips; his eyes were bright and excited. He walked with jerky movements, like he was all hyped-up about destroying my father’s life.

“Hey, guys,” he greeted us, grinning.

It was perfectly silent.

Leah and Seth slipped in behind him, in their human forms—for now; both of their hands were trembling with the tension in the room.

“Rose,” I said, holding my arms out. Wordlessly, Rosalie handed me Renesmee. I pressed her close to my motionless heart, holding her like a talisman against rash behavior. I would keep her in my arms until I was sure my decision to kill Jacob was based entirely on rational judgment rather than fury.

She was very still, watching and listening. How much did she understand?

“Charlie’ll be here soon,” Jacob said to me casually. “Just a heads-up. I assume Alice is getting you sunglasses or something?”

“You assume way too much,” I spit through my teeth. “What. Have. You. Done?”

Jacob’s smile wavered, but he was still too wound up to answer seriously. “Blondie and Emmett woke me up this morning going on and on about you all moving cross-country. Like I could let you leave. Charlie was the biggest issue there, right? Well, problem solved.”

“Do you even realize what you’ve done? The danger you’ve put him in?”

He snorted. “I didn’t put him in danger. Except from you. But you’ve got some kind of supernatural self-control, right? Not as good as mind reading, if you ask me. Much less exciting.”

Edward moved then, darting across the room to get in Jacob’s face. Though he was half a head shorter than Jacob, Jacob leaned away from his staggering anger as if Edward towered over him.

“That’s just a theory, mongrel,” he snarled. “You think we should test it out on Charlie? Did you consider the physical pain you’re putting Bella through, even if she can resist? Or the emotional pain if she doesn’t? I suppose what happens to Bella no longer concerns you!” He spit the last word.

Renesmee pressed her fingers anxiously to my cheek, anxiety coloring the replay in her head.

Edward’s words finally cut through Jacob’s strangely electric mood. His mouth dropped into a frown. “Bella will be in pain?”

“Like you’ve shoved a white-hot branding iron down her throat!”

I flinched, remembering the scent of pure human blood.

“I didn’t know that,” Jacob whispered.

“Then perhaps you should have asked first,” Edward growled back through his teeth.

“You would have stopped me.”

“You should have been stopped—”

“This isn’t about me,” I interrupted. I stood very still, keeping my hold on Renesmee and sanity. “This is about Charlie, Jacob. How could you put him in danger this way? Do you realize it’s death or vampire life for him now, too?” My voice trembled with the tears my eyes could no longer shed.

Jacob was still troubled by Edward’s accusations, but mine didn’t seem to bother him. “Relax, Bella. I didn’t tell him anything you weren’t planning to tell him.”

“But he’s coming here!”

“Yeah, that’s the idea. Wasn’t the whole ‘let him make the wrong assumptions’ thing your plan? I think I provided a very nice red herring, if I do say so myself.”

My fingers flexed away from Renesmee. I curled them back in securely. “Say it straight, Jacob. I don’t have the patience for this.”

“I didn’t tell him anything about you, Bella. Not really. I told him about me. Well, show is probably a better verb.”

“He phased in front of Charlie,” Edward hissed.

I whispered, “You what?”

“He’s brave. Brave as you are. Didn’t pass out or throw up or anything. I gotta say, I was impressed. You should’ve seen his face when I started taking my clothes off, though. Priceless,” Jacob chortled.

“You absolute moron! You could have given him a heart attack!”

“Charlie’s fine. He’s tough. If you’d give this just a minute, you’ll see that I did you a favor here.”

“You have half of that, Jacob.” My voice was flat and steely. “You have thirty seconds to tell me every single word before I give Renesmee to Rosalie and rip your miserable head off. Seth won’t be able to stop me this time.”

“Jeez, Bells. You didn’t used to be so melodramatic. Is that a vampire thing?”

“Twenty-six seconds.”

Jacob rolled his eyes and flopped into the nearest chair. His little pack moved to stand on his flanks, not at all relaxed the way he seemed to be; Leah’s eyes were on me, her teeth slightly bared.

“So I knocked on Charlie’s door this morning and asked him to come for a walk with me. He was confused, but when I told him it was about you and that you were back in town, he followed me out to the woods. I told him you weren’t sick anymore, and that things were a little weird, but good. He was about to take off to see you, but I told him I had to show him something first. And then I phased.” Jacob shrugged.

My teeth felt like a vise was pushing them together. “I want every word, you monster.”

“Well, you said I only had thirty seconds—okay, okay.” My expression must have convinced him that I wasn’t in the mood for teasing. “Lemme see… I phased back and got dressed, and then after he started breathing again, I said something like, ‘Charlie, you don’t live in the world you thought you lived in. The good news is, nothing has changed—except that now you know. Life’ll go on the same way it always has. You can go right back to pretending that you don’t believe any of this.’

“It took him a minute to get his head together, and then he wanted to know what was really going on with you, with the whole rare-disease thing. I told him that you had been sick, but you were fine now—it was just that you’d had to change a little bit in the process of getting better. He wanted to know what I meant by ‘change,’ and I told him that you looked a lot more like Esme now than you looked like Renée.”

Edward hissed while I stared in horror; this was headed in a dangerous direction.

“After a few minutes, he asked, real quietly, if you turned into an animal, too. And I said, ‘She wishes she was that cool!’” Jacob chuckled.

Rosalie made a noise of disgust.

“I started to tell him more about werewolves, but I didn’t even get the whole word out—Charlie cut me off and said he’d ‘rather not know the specifics.’ Then he asked if you’d known what you were getting yourself into when you married Edward, and I said, ‘Sure, she’s known all about this for years, since she first came to Forks.’ He didn’t like that very much. I let him rant till he got it out of his system. After he got calmed down, he just wanted two things. He wanted to see you, and I said it would be better if he gave me a head start to explain.”

I inhaled deeply. “What was the other thing he wanted?”

Jacob smiled. “You’ll like this. His main request is that he be told as little as possible about all of this. If it’s not absolutely essential for him to know something, then keep it to yourself. Need to know, only.”

I felt relief for the first time since Jacob had walked in. “I can handle that part.”

“Other than that, he’d just like to pretend things are normal.” Jacob’s smile turned smug; he must suspect that I would be starting to feel the first faint stirrings of gratitude about now.

“What did you tell him about Renesmee?” I struggled to maintain the razor edge in my voice, fighting the reluctant appreciation. It was premature. There was still so much wrong with this situation. Even if Jacob’s intervention had brought out a better reaction in Charlie than I’d ever hoped for…

“Oh yeah. So I told him that you and Edward had inherited a new little mouth to feed.” He glanced at Edward. “She’s your orphaned ward—like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.” Jacob snorted. “I didn’t think you’d mind me lying. That’s all part of the game, right?” Edward didn’t respond in any way, so Jacob went on. “Charlie was way past being shocked at this point, but he did ask if you were adopting her. ‘Like a daughter? Like I’m sort of a grandfather?’ were his exact words. I told him yes. ‘Congrats, Gramps,’ and all of that. He even smiled a little.”

The stinging returned to my eyes, but not out of fear or anguish this time. Charlie was smiling at the idea of being a grandpa? Charlie would meet Renesmee?

“But she’s changing so fast,” I whispered.

“I told him that she was more special than all of us put together,” Jacob said in a soft voice. He stood and walked right up to me, waving Leah and Seth off when they started to follow. Renesmee reached out to him, but I hugged her more tightly to me. “I told him, ‘Trust me, you don’t want to know about this. But if you can ignore all the strange parts, you’re going to be amazed. She’s the most wonderful person in the whole world.’ And then I told him that if he could deal with that, you all would stick around for a while and he would have a chance to get to know her. But that if it was too much for him, you would leave. He said as long as no one forced too much information on him, he’d deal.”

Jacob stared at me with half a smile, waiting.

“I’m not going to say thank you,” I told him. “You’re still putting Charlie at a huge risk.”

“I am sorry about it hurting you. I didn’t know it was like that. Bella, things are different with us now, but you’ll always be my best friend, and I’ll always love you. But I’ll love you the right way now. There’s finally a balance. We both have people we can’t live without.”

He smiled his very most Jacob-y smile. “Still friends?”

Try as hard as I could to resist, I had to smile back. Just a tiny smile.

He held out his hand: an offer.

I took a deep breath and shifted Renesmee’s weight to one arm. I put my left hand in his—he didn’t even flinch at the feel of my cool skin. “If I don’t kill Charlie tonight, I’ll consider forgiving you for this.”

“When you don’t kill Charlie tonight, you’ll owe me huge.”

I rolled my eyes.

He held out his other hand toward Renesmee, a request this time. “Can I?”

“I’m actually holding her so that my hands aren’t free to kill you, Jacob. Maybe later.”

He sighed but didn’t push me on it. Wise of him.

Alice raced back through the door then, her hands full and her expression promising violence.

“You, you, and you,” she snapped, glaring at the werewolves. “If you must stay, get over in the corner and commit to being there for a while. I need to see. Bella, you’d better give him the baby, too. You’ll need your arms free, anyway.”

Jacob grinned in triumph.

Undiluted fear ripped through my stomach as the enormity of what I was about to do hit me. I was going to gamble on my iffy self-control with my pure human father as the guinea pig. Edward’s earlier words crashed in my ears again.

Did you consider the physical pain you’re putting Bella through, even if she can resist? Or the emotional pain if she doesn’t?

I couldn’t imagine the pain of failure. My breathing turned to gasps.

“Take her,” I whispered, sliding Renesmee into Jacob’s arms.

He nodded, concern wrinkling his forehead. He gestured to the others, and they all went to the far corner of the room. Seth and Jake slouched on the floor at once, but Leah shook her head and pursed her lips.

“Am I allowed to leave?” she griped. She looked uncomfortable in her human body, wearing the same dirty t-shirt and cotton shorts she’d worn to shriek at me the other day, her short hair sticking up in irregular tufts. Her hands were still shaking.

“Of course,” Jake said.

“Stay east so you don’t cross Charlie’s path,” Alice added.

Leah didn’t look at Alice; she ducked out the back door and stomped into the bushes to phase.

Edward was back at my side, stroking my face. “You can do this. I know you can. I’ll help you; we all will.”

I met Edward’s eyes with panic screaming from my face. Was he strong enough to stop me if I made a wrong move?

“If I didn’t believe you could handle it, we’d disappear today. This very minute. But you can. And you’ll be happier if you can have Charlie in your life.”

I tried to slow my breathing.

Alice held out her hand. There was a small white box on her palm. “These will irritate your eyes—they won’t hurt, but they’ll cloud your vision. It’s annoying. They also won’t match your old color, but it’s still better than bright red, right?”

She flipped the contact box into the air and I caught it.

“When did you—”

“Before you left on the honeymoon. I was prepared for several possible futures.”

I nodded and opened the container. I’d never worn contacts before, but it couldn’t be that hard. I took the little brown quarter-sphere and pressed it, concave side in, to my eye.

I blinked, and a film interrupted my sight. I could see through it, of course, but I could also see the texture of the thin screen. My eye kept focusing on the microscopic scratches and warped sections.

“I see what you mean,” I murmured as I stuck the other one in. I tried to not blink this time. My eye automatically wanted to dislodge the obstruction.

“How do I look?”

Edward smiled. “Gorgeous. Of course—”

“Yes, yes, she always looks gorgeous,” Alice finished his thought impatiently. “It’s better than red, but that’s the highest commendation I can give. Muddy brown. Your brown was much prettier. Keep in mind that those won’t last forever—the venom in your eyes will dissolve them in a few hours. So if Charlie stays longer than that, you’ll have to excuse yourself to replace them. Which is a good idea anyway, because humans need bathroom breaks.” She shook her head. “Esme, give her a few pointers on acting human while I stock the powder room with contacts.”

“How long do I have?”

“Charlie will be here in five minutes. Keep it simple.”

Esme nodded once and came to take my hand. “The main thing is not to sit too still or move too fast,” she told me.

“Sit down if he does,” Emmett interjected. “Humans don’t like to just stand there.”

“Let your eyes wander every thirty seconds or so,” Jasper added. “Humans don’t stare at one thing for too long.”

“Cross your legs for about five minutes, then switch to crossing your ankles for the next five,” Rosalie said.

I nodded once at each suggestion. I’d noticed them doing some of these things yesterday. I thought I could mimic their actions.

“And blink at least three times a minute,” Emmett said. He frowned, then darted to where the television remote sat on the end table. He flipped the TV on to a college football game and nodded to himself.

“Move your hands, too. Brush your hair back or pretend to scratch something,” Jasper said.

“I said Esme,” Alice complained as she returned. “You’ll overwhelm her.”

“No, I think I got it all,” I said. “Sit, look around, blink, fidget.”

“Right,” Esme approved. She hugged my shoulders.

Jasper frowned. “You’ll be holding your breath as much as possible, but you need to move your shoulders a little to make it look like you’re breathing.”

I inhaled once and then nodded again.

Edward hugged me on my free side. “You can do this,” he repeated, murmuring the encouragement in my ear.

“Two minutes,” Alice said. “Maybe you should start out already on the couch. You’ve been sick, after all. That way he won’t have to see you move right at first.”

Alice pulled me to the sofa. I tried to move slowly, to make my limbs more clumsy. She rolled her eyes, so I must not have been doing a good job.

“Jacob, I need Renesmee,” I said.

Jacob frowned, unmoving.

Alice shook her head. “Bella, that doesn’t help me see.”

“But I need her. She keeps me calm.” The edge of panic in my voice was unmistakable.

“Fine,” Alice groaned. “Hold her as still as you can and I’ll try to see around her.” She sighed wearily, like she’d been asked to work overtime on a holiday. Jacob sighed, too, but brought Renesmee to me, and then retreated quickly from Alice’s glare.

Edward took a seat beside me and put his arms around Renesmee and me. He leaned forward and looked Renesmee very seriously in the eyes.

“Renesmee, someone special is coming to see you and your mother,” he said in a solemn voice, as if he expected her to understand every word. Did she? She looked back at him with clear, grave eyes. “But he’s not like us, or even like Jacob. We have to be very careful with him. You shouldn’t tell him things the way you tell us.”

Renesmee touched his face.

“Exactly,” he said. “And he’s going to make you thirsty. But you mustn’t bite him. He won’t heal like Jacob.”

“Can she understand you?” I whispered.

“She understands. You’ll be careful, won’t you, Renesmee? You’ll help us?”

Renesmee touched him again.

“No, I don’t care if you bite Jacob. That’s fine.”

Jacob chuckled.

“Maybe you should leave, Jacob,” Edward said coldly, glaring in his direction. Edward hadn’t forgiven Jacob, because he knew that no matter what happened now, I was going to be hurting. But I’d take the burn happily if that were the worst thing I’d face tonight.

“I told Charlie I’d be here,” Jacob said. “He needs the moral support.”

“Moral support,” Edward scoffed. “As far as Charlie knows, you’re the most repulsive monster of us all.”

“Repulsive?” Jake protested, and then he laughed quietly to himself.

I heard the tires turn off the highway onto the quiet, damp earth of the Cullens’ drive, and my breathing spiked again. My heart ought to have been hammering. It made me anxious that my body didn’t have the right reactions.

I concentrated on the steady thrumming of Renesmee’s heart to calm myself. It worked pretty quickly.

“Well done, Bella,” Jasper whispered in approval.

Edward tightened his arm over my shoulders.

“You’re sure?” I asked him.

“Positive. You can do anything.” He smiled and kissed me.

It wasn’t precisely a peck on the lips, and my wild vampiric reactions took me off guard yet again. Edward’s lips were like a shot of some addictive chemical straight into my nervous system. I was instantly craving more. It took all my concentration to remember the baby in my arms.

Jasper felt my mood change. “Er, Edward, you might not want to distract her like that right now. She needs to be able to focus.”

Edward pulled away. “Oops,” he said.

I laughed. That had been my line from the very beginning, from the very first kiss.

“Later,” I said, and anticipation curled my stomach into a ball.

“Focus, Bella,” Jasper urged.

“Right.” I pushed the trembly feelings away. Charlie, that was the main thing now. Keep Charlie safe today. We would have all night. . . .

“Bella.”

“Sorry, Jasper.”

Emmett laughed.

The sound of Charlie’s cruiser got closer and closer. The second of levity passed, and everyone was still. I crossed my legs and practiced my blinks.

The car pulled in front of the house and idled for a few seconds. I wondered if Charlie was as nervous as I was. Then the engine cut off, and a door slammed. Three steps across the grass, and then eight echoing thuds against the wooden stairs. Four more echoing footsteps across the porch. Then silence. Charlie took two deep breaths.

Knock, knock, knock.

I inhaled for what might be the last time. Renesmee nestled deeper into my arms, hiding her face in my hair.

Carlisle answered the door. His stressed expression changed to one of welcome, like switching the channel on the TV.

“Hello, Charlie,” he said, looking appropriately abashed. After all, we were supposed to be in Atlanta at the Center for Disease Control. Charlie knew he’d been lied to.

“Carlisle,” Charlie greeted him stiffly. “Where’s Bella?”

“Right here, Dad.”

Ugh! My voice was so wrong. Plus, I’d used up some of my air supply. I gulped in a quick refill, glad that Charlie’s scent had not saturated the room yet.

Charlie’s blank expression told me how off my voice was. His eyes zeroed in on me and widened.

I read the emotions as they scrolled across his face.

Shock. Disbelief. Pain. Loss. Fear. Anger. Suspicion. More pain.

I bit my lip. It felt funny. My new teeth were sharper against my granite skin than my human teeth had been against my soft human lips.

“Is that you, Bella?” he whispered.

“Yep.” I winced at my wind-chime voice. “Hi, Dad.”

He took a deep breath to steady himself.

“Hey, Charlie,” Jacob greeted him from the corner. “How’re things?”

Charlie glowered at Jacob once, shuddered at a memory, and then stared at me again.

Slowly, Charlie walked across the room until he was a few feet away from me. He darted an accusing glare at Edward, and then his eyes flickered back to me. The warmth of his body heat beat against me with each pulse of his heart.

“Bella?” he asked again.

I spoke in a lower voice, trying to keep the ring out of it. “It’s really me.”

His jaw locked.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” I said.

“Are you okay?” he demanded.

“Really and truly great,” I promised. “Healthy as a horse.”

That was it for my oxygen.

“Jake told me this was… necessary. That you were dying.” He said the words like he didn’t believe them one bit.

I steeled myself, focused on Renesmee’s warm weight, leaned into Edward for support, and took a deep breath.

Charlie’s scent was a fistful of flames, punching straight down my throat. But it was so much more than pain. It was a hot stabbing of desire, too. Charlie smelled more delicious than anything I’d ever imagined. As appealing as the anonymous hikers had been on the hunt, Charlie was doubly tempting. And he was just a few feet away, leaking mouthwatering heat and moisture into the dry air.

But I wasn’t hunting now. And this was my father.

Edward squeezed my shoulders sympathetically, and Jacob shot an apologetic glance at me across the room.

I tried to collect myself and ignore the pain and longing of the thirst. Charlie was waiting for my answer.

“Jacob was telling you the truth.”

“That makes one of you,” Charlie growled.

I hoped Charlie could see past the changes in my new face to read the remorse there.

Under my hair, Renesmee sniffed as Charlie’s scent registered with her, too. I tightened my grip on her.

Charlie saw my anxious glance down and followed it. “Oh,” he said, and all the anger fell off his face, leaving only shock behind. “This is her. The orphan Jacob said you’re adopting.”

“My niece,” Edward lied smoothly. He must have decided that the resemblance between Renesmee and him was too pronounced to be ignored. Best to claim they were related from the beginning.

“I thought you’d lost your family,” Charlie said, accusation returning to his voice.

“I lost my parents. My older brother was adopted, like me. I never saw him after that. But the courts located me when he and his wife died in a car accident, leaving their only child without any other family.”

Edward was so good at this. His voice was even, with just the right amount of innocence. I needed practice so that I could do that.

Renesmee peeked out from under my hair, sniffing again. She glanced shyly at Charlie from under her long lashes, then hid again.

“She’s… she’s, well, she’s a beauty.”

“Yes,” Edward agreed.

“Kind of a big responsibility, though. You two are just getting started.”

“What else could we do?” Edward brushed his fingers lightly over her cheek. I saw him touch her lips for just a moment—a reminder. “Would you have refused her?”

“Hmph. Well.” He shook his head absently. “Jake says you call her Nessie?”

“No, we don’t,” I said, my voice too sharp and piercing. “Her name is Renesmee.”

Charlie refocused on me. “How do you feel about this? Maybe Carlisle and Esme could—”

“She’s mine,” I interrupted. “I want her.”

Charlie frowned. “You gonna make me a grandpa so young?”

Edward smiled. “Carlisle is a grandfather, too.”

Charlie shot an incredulous glance at Carlisle, still standing by the front door; he looked like Zeus’s younger, better-looking brother.

Charlie snorted and then laughed. “I guess that does sort of make me feel better.” His eyes strayed back to Renesmee. “She sure is something to look at.” His warm breath blew lightly across the space between us.

Renesmee leaned toward the smell, shaking off my hair and looking him full in the face for the first time. Charlie gasped.

I knew what he was seeing. My eyes—his eyes—copied exactly into her perfect face.

Charlie started hyperventilating. His lips trembled, and I could read the numbers he mouthed. He was counting backward, trying to fit nine months into one. Trying to put it together but not able to force the evidence right in front of him to make any sense.

Jacob got up and came over to pat Charlie on the back. He leaned in to whisper something in Charlie’s ear; only Charlie didn’t know we could all hear.

“Need to know, Charlie. It’s okay. I promise.”

Charlie swallowed and nodded. And then his eyes blazed as he took a step closer to Edward with his fists tightly clenched.

“I don’t want to know everything, but I’m done with the lies!”

“I’m sorry,” Edward said calmly, “but you need to know the public story more than you need to know the truth. If you’re going to be part of this secret, the public story is the one that counts. It’s to protect Bella and Renesmee as well as the rest of us. Can you go along with the lies for them?”

The room was full of statues. I crossed my ankles.

Charlie huffed once and then turned his glare on me. “You might’ve given me some warning, kid.”

“Would it really have made this any easier?”

He frowned, and then he knelt on the floor in front of me. I could see the movement of the blood in his neck under his skin. I could feel the warm vibration of it.

So could Renesmee. She smiled and reached one pink palm out to him. I held her back. She pushed her other hand against my neck, thirst, curiosity, and Charlie’s face in her thoughts. There was a subtle edge to the message that made me think that she’d understood Edward’s words perfectly; she acknowledged thirst, but overrode it in the same thought.

“Whoa,” Charlie gasped, his eyes on her perfect teeth. “How old is she?”

“Um . . .”

“Three months,” Edward said, and then added slowly, “rather, she’s the size of a three-month-old, more or less. She’s younger in some ways, more mature in others.”

Very deliberately, Renesmee waved at him.

Charlie blinked spastically.

Jacob elbowed him. “Told you she was special, didn’t I?”

Charlie cringed away from the contact.

“Oh, c’mon, Charlie,” Jacob groaned. “I’m the same person I’ve always been. Just pretend this afternoon didn’t happen.”

The reminder made Charlie’s lips go white, but he nodded once. “Just what is your part in all this, Jake?” he asked. “How much does Billy know? Why are you here?” He looked at Jacob’s face, which was glowing as he stared at Renesmee.

“Well, I could tell you all about it—Billy knows absolutely everything—but it involves a lot of stuff about werewo—”

“Ungh!” Charlie protested, covering his ears. “Never mind.”

Jacob grinned. “Everything’s going to be great, Charlie. Just try to not believe anything you see.”

My dad mumbled something unintelligible.

“Woo!” Emmett suddenly boomed in his deep bass. “Go Gators!”

Jacob and Charlie jumped. The rest of us froze.

Charlie recovered, then looked at Emmett over his shoulder. “Florida winning?”

“Just scored the first touchdown,” Emmett confirmed. He shot a look in my direction, wagging his eyebrows like a villain in vaudeville. “’Bout time somebody scored around here.”

I fought back a hiss. In front of Charlie? That was over the line.

But Charlie was beyond noticing innuendos. He took yet another deep breath, sucking the air in like he was trying to pull it down to his toes. I envied him. He lurched to his feet, stepped around Jacob, and half-fell into an open chair. “Well,” he sighed, “I guess we should see if they can hold on to the lead.”

BREAKING DAWN 24

24. SURPRISE

“No. No way!” I shook my head fiercely and then shot a glance at the smug smile on my seventeen-year-old husband’s face. “No, this doesn’t count. I stopped aging three days ago. I am eighteen forever.”

“Whatever,” Alice said, dismissing my protest with a quick shrug. “We’re celebrating anyway, so suck it up.”

I sighed. There was rarely a point to arguing with Alice.

Her grin got impossibly wider as she read the acquiescence in my eyes.

“Are you ready to open your present?” Alice sang.

“Presents,” Edward corrected, and he pulled another key—this one longer and silver with a less gaudy blue bow—from his pocket.

I struggled to keep from rolling my eyes. I knew immediately what this key was to—the “after car.” I wondered if I should feel excited. It seemed the vampire conversion hadn’t given me any sudden interest in sports cars.

“Mine first,” Alice said, and then stuck her tongue out, foreseeing his answer.

“Mine is closer.”

“But look at how she’s dressed.” Alice’s words were almost a moan. “It’s been killing me all day. That is clearly the priority.”

My eyebrows pulled together as I wondered how a key could get me into new clothes. Had she gotten me a whole trunkful?

“I know—I’ll play you for it,” Alice suggested. “Rock, paper, scissors.”

Jasper chuckled and Edward sighed.

“Why you don’t you just tell me who wins?” Edward said wryly.

Alice beamed. “I do. Excellent.”

“It’s probably better that I wait for morning, anyway.” Edward smiled crookedly at me and then nodded toward Jacob and Seth, who looked like they were crashed for the night; I wonder how long they’d stayed up this time. “I think it might be more fun if Jacob was awake for the big reveal, don’t you agree? So that someone there is able to express the right level of enthusiasm?”

I grinned back. He knew me well.

“Yay,” Alice sang. “Bella, give Ness—Renesmee to Rosalie.”

“Where does she usually sleep?”

Alice shrugged. “In Rose’s arms. Or Jacob’s. Or Esme’s. You get the picture. She has never been set down in her entire life. She’s going to be the most spoiled half-vampire in existence.”

Edward laughed while Rosalie took Renesmee expertly in her arms. “She is also the most unspoiled half-vampire in existence,” Rosalie said. “The beauty of being one of a kind.”

Rosalie grinned at me, and I was glad to see that the new comradeship between us was still there in her smile. I hadn’t been entirely sure it would last after Renesmee’s life was no longer tied to mine. But maybe we had fought together on the same side long enough that we would always be friends now. I’d finally made the same choice she would have if she’d been in my shoes. That seemed to have washed away her resentment for all my other choices.

Alice shoved the beribboned key in my hand, then grabbed my elbow and steered me toward the back door. “Let’s go, let’s go,” she trilled.

“Is it outside?”

“Sort of,” Alice said, pushing me forward.

“Enjoy your gift,” Rosalie said. “It’s from all of us. Esme especially.”

“Aren’t you coming, too?” I realized that no one had moved.

“We’ll give you a chance to appreciate it alone,” Rosalie said. “You can tell us about it… later.”

Emmett guffawed. Something about his laugh made me feel like blushing, though I wasn’t sure why.

I realized that lots of things about me—like truly hating surprises, and not liking gifts in general much more—had not changed one bit. It was a relief and revelation to discover how much of my essential core traits had come with me into this new body.

I hadn’t expected to be myself. I smiled widely.

Alice tugged my elbow, and I couldn’t stop smiling as I followed her into the purple night. Only Edward came with us.

“There’s the enthusiasm I’m looking for,” Alice murmured approvingly. Then she dropped my arm, made two lithe bounds, and leaped over the river.

“C’mon, Bella,” she called from the other side.

Edward jumped at the same time I did; it was every bit as fun as it had been this afternoon. Maybe a little bit more fun because the night changed everything into new, rich colors.

Alice took off with us on her heels, heading due north. It was easier to follow the sound of her feet whispering against the ground and the fresh path of her scent than it was to keep my eyes on her through the thick vegetation.

At no sign I could see, she whirled and dashed back to where I paused.

“Don’t attack me,” she warned, and sprang at me.

“What are you doing?” I demanded, squirming as she scrambled onto my back and wrapped her hands around my face. I felt the urge to throw her off, but I controlled it.

“Making sure you can’t see.”

“I could take care of that without the theatrics,” Edward offered.

“You might let her cheat. Take her hand and lead her forward.”

“Alice, I—”

“Don’t bother, Bella. We’re doing this my way.”

I felt Edward’s fingers weave through mine. “Just a few seconds more, Bella. Then she’ll go annoy someone else.” He pulled me forward. I kept up easily. I wasn’t afraid of hitting a tree; the tree would be the only one getting hurt in that scenario.

“You might be a little more appreciative,” Alice chided him. “This is as much for you as it is for her.”

“True. Thank you again, Alice.”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay.” Alice’s voice suddenly shot up with excitement. “Stop there. Turn her just a little to the right. Yes, like that. Okay. Are you ready?” she squeaked.

“I’m ready.” There were new scents here, piquing my interest, increasing my curiosity. Scents that didn’t belong in the deep woods. Honeysuckle. Smoke. Roses. Sawdust? Something metallic, too. The richness of deep earth, dug up and exposed. I leaned toward the mystery.

Alice hopped down from my back, releasing her grip on my eyes.

I stared into the violet dark. There, nestled into a small clearing in the forest, was a tiny stone cottage, lavender gray in the light of the stars.

It belonged here so absolutely that it seemed as if it must have grown from the rock, a natural formation. Honeysuckle climbed up one wall like a lattice, winding all the way up and over the thick wooden shingles. Late summer roses bloomed in a handkerchief-sized garden under the dark, deep-set windows. There was a little path of flat stones, amethyst in the night, that led up to the quaint arched wooden door.

I curled my hand around the key I held, shocked.

“What do you think?” Alice’s voice was soft now; it fit with the perfect quiet of the storybook scene.

I opened my mouth but said nothing.

“Esme thought we might like a place of our own for a while, but she didn’t want us too far away,” Edward murmured. “And she loves any excuse to renovate. This little place has been crumbling away out here for at least a hundred years.”

I continued staring, mouth gaping like a fish.

“Don’t you like it?” Alice’s face fell. “I mean, I’m sure we could fix it up differently, if you want. Emmett was all for adding a few thousand square feet, a second story, columns, and a tower, but Esme thought you would like it best the way it was meant to look.” Her voice started to climb, to go faster. “If she was wrong, we can get back to work. It won’t take long to—”

“Shh!” I managed.

She pressed her lips together and waited. It took me a few seconds to recover.

“You’re giving me a house for my birthday?” I whispered.

“Us,” Edward corrected. “And it’s no more than a cottage. I think the word house implies more legroom.”

“No knocking my house,” I whispered to him.

Alice beamed. “You like it.”

I shook my head.

“Love it?”

I nodded.

“I can’t wait to tell Esme!”

“Why didn’t she come?”

Alice’s smile faded a little, twisted just off what it had been, like my question was hard to answer. “Oh, you know… they all remember how you are about presents. They didn’t want to put you under too much pressure to like it.”

“But of course I love it. How could I not?”

“They’ll like that.” She patted my arm. “Anyhoo, your closet is stocked. Use it wisely. And… I guess that’s everything.”

“Aren’t you going to come inside?”

She strolled casually a few feet back. “Edward knows his way around. I’ll stop by… later. Call me if you can’t match your clothes right.” She threw me a doubtful look and then smiled. “Jazz wants to hunt. See you.”

She shot off into the trees like the most graceful bullet.

“That was weird,” I said when the sound of her flight had vanished completely. “Am I really that bad? They didn’t have to stay away. Now I feel guilty. I didn’t even thank her right. We should go back, tell Esme—”

“Bella, don’t be silly. No one thinks you’re that unreasonable.”

“Then what—”

“Alone time is their other gift. Alice was trying to be subtle about it.”

“Oh.”

That was all it took to make the house disappear. We could have been anywhere. I didn’t see the trees or the stones or the stars. It was just Edward.

“Let me show you what they’ve done,” he said, pulling my hand. Was he oblivious to the fact that an electric current was pulsing through my body like adrenaline-spiked blood?

Once again I felt oddly off balance, waiting for reactions my body wasn’t capable of anymore. My heart should have been thundering like a steam engine about to hit us. Deafening. My cheeks should have been brilliant red.

For that matter, I ought to have been exhausted. This had been the longest day of my life.

I laughed out loud—just one quiet little laugh of shock—when I realized that this day would never end.

“Do I get to hear the joke?”

“It’s not a very good one,” I told him as he led the way to the little rounded door. “I was just thinking—today is the first and last day of forever. It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around it. Even with all this extra room for wrapping.” I laughed again.

He chuckled with me. He held his hand out toward the doorknob, waiting for me to do the honors. I stuck the key in the lock and turned it.

“You’re such a natural at this, Bella; I forget how very strange this all must be for you. I wish I could hear it.” He ducked down and yanked me up into his arms so fast that I didn’t see it coming—and that was really something.

“Hey!”

“Thresholds are part of my job description,” he reminded me. “But I’m curious. Tell me what you’re thinking about right now.”

He opened the door—it fell back with a barely audible creak—and stepped through into the little stone living room.

“Everything,” I told him. “All at the same time, you know. Good things and things to worry about and things that are new. How I keep using too many superlatives in my head. Right now, I’m thinking that Esme is an artist. It’s so perfect!”

The cottage room was something from a fairy tale. The floor was a crazy quilt of smooth, flat stones. The low ceiling had long exposed beams that someone as tall as Jacob would surely knock his head on. The walls were warm wood in some places, stone mosaics in others. The beehive fireplace in the corner held the remains of a slow flickering fire. It was driftwood burning there—the low flames were blue and green from the salt.

It was furnished in eclectic pieces, not one of them matching another, but harmonious just the same. One chair seemed vaguely medieval, while a low ottoman by the fire was more contemporary and the stocked bookshelf against the far window reminded me of movies set in Italy. Somehow each piece fit together with the others like a big three-dimensional puzzle. There were a few paintings on the walls that I recognized—some of my very favorites from the big house. Priceless originals, no doubt, but they seemed to belong here, too, like all the rest.

It was a place where anyone could believe magic existed. A place where you just expected Snow White to walk right in with her apple in hand, or a unicorn to stop and nibble at the rosebushes.

Edward had always thought that he belonged to the world of horror stories. Of course, I’d known he was dead wrong. It was obvious that he belonged here. In a fairy tale.

And now I was in the story with him.

I was about to take advantage of the fact that he hadn’t gotten around to setting me back on my feet and that his wits-scramblingly beautiful face was only inches away when he said, “We’re lucky Esme thought to add an extra room. No one was planning for Ness—Renesmee.”

I frowned at him, my thoughts channeled down a less pleasant path.

“Not you, too,” I complained.

“Sorry, love. I hear it in their thoughts all the time, you know. It’s rubbing off on me.”

I sighed. My baby, the sea serpent. Maybe there was no help for it. Well, I wasn’t giving in.

“I’m sure you’re dying to see the closet. Or, at least I’ll tell Alice that you were, to make her feel good.”

“Should I be afraid?”

“Terrified.”

He carried me down a narrow stone hallway with tiny arches in the ceiling, like it was our own miniature castle.

“That will be Renesmee’s room,” he said, nodding to an empty room with a pale wooden floor. “They didn’t have time to do much with it, what with the angry werewolves. . . .”

I laughed quietly, amazed at how quickly everything had turned right when it had all had looked so nightmarish just a week ago.

Drat Jacob for making everything perfect this way.

“Here’s our room. Esme tried to bring some of her island back here for us. She guessed that we would get attached.”

The bed was huge and white, with clouds of gossamer floating down from the canopy to the floor. The pale wood floor matched the other room, and now I grasped that it was precisely the color of a pristine beach. The walls were that almost-white-blue of a brilliant sunny day, and the back wall had big glass doors that opened into a little hidden garden. Climbing roses and a small round pond, smooth as a mirror and edged with shiny stones. A tiny, calm ocean for us.

“Oh” was all I could say.

“I know,” he whispered.

We stood there for a minute, remembering. Though the memories were human and clouded, they took over my mind completely.

He smiled a wide, gleaming smile and then laughed. “The closet is through those double doors. I should warn you—it’s bigger than this room.”

I didn’t even glance at the doors. There was nothing else in the world but him again—his arms curled under me, his sweet breath on my face, his lips just inches from mine—and there was nothing that could distract me now, newborn vampire or not.

“We’re going to tell Alice that I ran right to the clothes,” I whispered, twisting my fingers into his hair and pulling my face closer to his. “We’re going to tell her I spent hours in there playing dress-up. We’re going to lie.”

He caught up to my mood in an instant, or maybe he’d already been there, and he was just trying to let me fully appreciate my birthday present, like a gentleman. He pulled my face to his with a sudden fierceness, a low moan in his throat. The sound sent the electric current running through my body into a near-frenzy, like I couldn’t get close enough to him fast enough.

I heard the fabric tearing under our hands, and I was glad my clothes, at least, were already destroyed. It was too late for his. It felt almost rude to ignore the pretty white bed, but we just weren’t going to make it that far.

This second honeymoon wasn’t like our first.

Our time on the island had been the epitome of my human life. The very best of it. I’d been so ready to string along my human time, just to hold on to what I had with him for a little while longer. Because the physical part wasn’t going to be the same ever again.

I should have guessed, after a day like today, that it would be better.

I could really appreciate him now—could properly see every beautiful line of his perfect face, of his long, flawless body with my strong new eyes, every angle and every plane of him. I could taste his pure, vivid scent on my tongue and feel the unbelievable silkiness of his marble skin under my sensitive fingertips.

My skin was so sensitive under his hands, too.

He was all new, a different person as our bodies tangled gracefully into one on the sand-pale floor. No caution, no restraint. No fear—especially not that. We could love together—both active participants now. Finally equals.

Like our kisses before, every touch was more than I was used to. So much of himself he’d been holding back. Necessary at the time, but I couldn’t believe how much I’d been missing.

I tried to keep in mind that I was stronger than he was, but it was hard to focus on anything with sensations so intense, pulling my attention to a million different places in my body every second; if I hurt him, he didn’t complain.

A very, very small part of my head considered the interesting conundrum presented in this situation. I was never going to get tired, and neither was he. We didn’t have to catch our breath or rest or eat or even use the bathroom; we had no more mundane human needs. He had the most beautiful, perfect body in the world and I had him all to myself, and it didn’t feel like I was ever going to find a point where I would think, Now I’ve had enough for one day. I was always going to want more. And the day was never going to end. So, in such a situation, how did we ever stop?

It didn’t bother me at all that I had no answer.

I sort of noticed when the sky began to lighten. The tiny ocean outside turned from black to gray, and a lark started to sing somewhere very close by—maybe she had a nest in the roses.

“Do you miss it?” I asked him when her song was done.

It wasn’t the first time we’d spoken, but we weren’t exactly keeping up a conversation, either.

“Miss what?” he murmured.

“All of it—the warmth, the soft skin, the tasty smell… I’m not losing anything at all, and I just wondered if it was a little bit sad for you that you were.”

He laughed, low and gentle. “It would be hard to find someone less sad than I am now. Impossible, I’d venture. Not many people get every single thing they want, plus all the things they didn’t think to ask for, in the same day.”

“Are you avoiding the question?”

He pressed his hand against my face. “You are warm,” he told me.

It was true, in a sense. To me, his hand was warm. It wasn’t the same as touching Jacob’s flame-hot skin, but it was more comfortable. More natural.

Then he pulled his fingers very slowly down my face, lightly tracing from my jaw to my throat and then all the way down to my waist. My eyes rolled back into my head a little.

“You are soft.”

His fingers were like satin against my skin, so I could see what he meant.

“And as for the scent, well, I couldn’t say I missed that. Do you remember the scent of those hikers on our hunt?”

“I’ve been trying very hard not to.”

“Imagine kissing that.”

My throat ripped into flames like pulling the cord on a hot-air balloon.

“Oh.”

“Precisely. So the answer is no. I am purely full of joy, because I am missing nothing. No one has more than I do now.”

I was about to inform him of the one exception to his statement, but my lips were suddenly very busy.

When the little pool turned pearl-colored with the sunrise, I thought of another question for him.

“How long does this go on? I mean, Carlisle and Esme, Em and Rose, Alice and Jasper—they don’t spend all day locked in their rooms. They’re out in public, fully clothed, all the time. Does this… craving ever let up?” I twisted myself closer into him—quite an accomplishment, actually—to make it clear what I was talking about.

“That’s difficult to say. Everyone is different and, well, so far you’re the very most different of all. The average young vampire is too obsessed with thirst to notice much else for a while. That doesn’t seem to apply to you. With the average vampire, though, after that first year, other needs make themselves known. Neither thirst nor any other desire really ever fades. It’s simply a matter of learning to balance them, learning to prioritize and manage. . . .”

“How long?”

He smiled, wrinkling his nose a little. “Rosalie and Emmett were the worst. It took a solid decade before I could stand to be within a five-mile radius of them. Even Carlisle and Esme had a difficult time stomaching it. They kicked the happy couple out eventually. Esme built them a house, too. It was grander than this one, but then, Esme knows what Rose likes, and she knows what you like.”

“So, after ten years, then?” I was pretty sure that Rosalie and Emmett had nothing on us, but it might sound cocky if I went higher than a decade. “Everybody is normal again? Like they are now?”

Edward smiled again. “Well, I’m not sure what you mean by normal. You’ve seen my family going about life in a fairly human way, but you’ve been sleeping nights.” He winked at me. “There’s a tremendous amount of time left over when you don’t have to sleep. It makes balancing your… interests quite easy. There’s a reason why I’m the best musician in the family, why—besides Carlisle—I’ve read the most books, studied the most sciences, become fluent in the most languages.… Emmett would have you believe that I’m such a know-it-all because of the mind reading, but the truth is that I’ve just had a lot of free time.”

We laughed together, and the motion of our laughter did interesting things to the way our bodies were connected, effectively ending that conversation.