“THAT HAD TO BE THE LONGEST PARTY IN THE HISTORY of the world,” I complained on the way home.
Edward didn’t seem to disagree. “It’s over now,” he said, rubbing my arm soothingly.
Because I was the only one who needed soothing. Edward was fine now — all the Cullens were fine.
They’d all reassured me; Alice reaching up to pat my head as I left, eyeing Jasper meaningfully until a flood of peace swirled around me, Esme kissing my forehead and promising me everything was all right, Emmett laughing boisterously and asking why I was the only one who was allowed to fight with werewolves. . . . Jacob’s solution had them all relaxed, almost euphoric after the long weeks of stress. Doubt had been replaced with confidence. The party had ended on a note of true celebration.
Not for me.
Bad enough — horrible — that the Cullens would fight for me. It was already too much that I would have to allow that. It already felt like more than I could bear.
Not Jacob, too. Not his foolish, eager brothers — most of them even younger than I was. They were just oversized, over-muscled children, and they looked forward to this like it was picnic on the beach. I could not have them in danger, too. My nerves felt frayed and exposed. I didn’t know how much longer I could restrain the urge to scream out loud.
I whispered now, to keep my voice under control. “You’re taking me with you tonight.”
“Bella, you’re worn out.”
“You think I could sleep?”
He frowned. “This is an experiment. I’m not sure if it will be possible for us all to . . . cooperate. I don’t want you in the middle of that.”
As if that didn’t make me all the more anxious to go. “If you won’t take me, then I’ll call Jacob.”
His eyes tightened. That was a low blow, and I knew it. But there was no way I was being left behind.
He didn’t answer; we were at Charlie’s house now. The front light was on.
“See you upstairs,” I muttered.
I tiptoed in the front door. Charlie was asleep in the living room, overflowing the too-small sofa, and snoring so loudly I could have ripped a chainsaw to life and it wouldn’t have wakened him.
I shook his shoulder vigorously.
He grumbled, eyes still closed.
“I’m home now — you’re going to hurt your back sleeping like that. C’mon, time to move.”
It took a few more shakes, and his eyes never did open all the way, but I managed to get him off the couch. I helped him up to his bed, where he collapsed on top of the covers, fully dressed, and started snoring again.
He wasn’t going to be looking for me anytime soon.
Edward waited in my room while I washed my face and changed into jeans and a flannel shirt. He watched me unhappily from the rocking chair as I hung the outfit Alice had given me in my closet.
“Come here,” I said, taking his hand and pulling him to my bed.
I pushed him down on the bed and then curled up against his chest. Maybe he was right and I was tired enough to sleep. I wasn’t going to let him sneak off without me.
He tucked my quilt in around me, and then held me close.
“This is going to work, Bella. I can feel it.”
My teeth locked together.
He was still radiating relief. Nobody but me cared if Jacob and his friends got hurt. Not even Jacob and his friends. Especially not them.
He could tell I was about to lose it. “Listen to me, Bella. This is going to be easy. The newborns will be completely taken by surprise. They’ll have no more idea that werewolves even exist than you did. I’ve seen how they act in a group, the way Jasper remembers. I truly believe that the wolves’ hunting techniques will work flawlessly against them. And with them divided and confused, there won’t be enough for the rest of us to do. Someone may have to sit out,” he teased.
“Piece of cake,” I mumbled tonelessly against his chest.
“Shhh,” he stroked my cheek. “You’ll see. Don’t worry now.”
He started humming my lullaby, but, for once, it didn’t calm me.
People — well, vampires and werewolves really, but still — people I loved were going to get hurt. Hurt because of me. Again. I wished my bad luck would focus a little more carefully. I felt like yelling up at the empty sky: It’s me you want — over here! Just me!
I tried to think of a way that I could do exactly that — force my bad luck to focus on me. It wouldn’t be easy. I would have to wait, bide my time. . . .
I did not fall asleep. The minutes passed quickly, to my surprise, and I was still alert and tense when Edward pulled us both up into a sitting position.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay and sleep?”
I gave him a sour look.
He sighed, and scooped me up in his arms before he jumped from my window.
He raced through the black, quiet forest with me on his back, and even in his run I could feel the elation. He ran the way he did when it was just us, just for enjoyment, just for the feel of the wind in his hair. It was the kind of thing that, during less anxious times, would have made me happy.
When we got to the big open field, his family was there, talking casually, relaxed. Emmett’s booming laugh echoed through the wide space now and then. Edward set me down and we walked hand in hand toward them.
It took me a minute, because it was so dark with the moon hidden behind the clouds, but I realized that we were in the baseball clearing. It was the same place where, more than a year ago, that first lighthearted evening with the Cullens had been interrupted by James and his coven. It felt strange to be here again — as if this gathering wouldn’t be complete until James and Laurent and Victoria joined us. But James and Laurent were never coming back. That pattern wouldn’t be repeated. Maybe all the patterns were broken.
Yes, someone had broken out of their pattern. Was it possible that the Volturi were the flexible ones in this equation?
I doubted it.
Victoria had always seemed like a force of nature to me — like a hurricane moving toward the coast in a straight line — unavoidable, implacable, but predictable. Maybe it was wrong to limit her that way. She had to be capable of adaptation.
“You know what I think?” I asked Edward.
He laughed. “No.”
I almost smiled.
“What do you think?”
“I think it’s all connected. Not just the two, but all three.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“Three bad things have happened since you came back.” I ticked them off on my fingers. “The newborns in Seattle. The stranger in my room. And — first of all — Victoria came to look for me.”
His eyes narrowed as he thought about it. “Why do you think so?”
“Because I agree with Jasper — the Volturi love their rules. They would probably do a better job anyway.” And I’d be dead if they wanted me dead, I added mentally. “Remember when you were tracking Victoria last year?”
“Yes.” He frowned. “I wasn’t very good at it.”
“Alice said you were in Texas. Did you follow her there?”
His eyebrows pulled together. “Yes. Hmm . . .”
“See — she could have gotten the idea there. But she doesn’t know what she’s doing, so the newborns are all out of control.”
He started shaking his head. “Only Aro knows exactly how Alice’s visions work.”
“Aro would know best, but wouldn’t Tanya and Irina and the rest of your friends in Denali know enough? Laurent lived with them for so long. And if he was still friendly enough with Victoria to be doing favors for her, why wouldn’t he also tell her everything he knew?”
Edward frowned. “It wasn’t Victoria in your room.”
“She can’t make new friends? Think about it, Edward. If it is Victoria doing this in Seattle, she’s made a lot of new friends. She’s created them.”
He considered it, his forehead creased in concentration.
“Hmm,” he finally said. “It’s possible. I still think the Volturi are most likely . . . But your theory — there’s something there. Victoria’s personality. Your theory suits her personality perfectly. She’s shown a remarkable gift for self-preservation from the start — maybe it’s a talent of hers. In any case, this plot would put her in no danger at all from us, if she sits safely behind and lets the newborns wreak their havoc here. And maybe little danger from the Volturi, either. Perhaps she’s counting on us to win, in the end, though certainly not without heavy casualties of our own. But no survivors from her little army to bear witness against her. In fact,” he continued, thinking it through, “if there were survivors, I’d bet she’d be planning to destroy them herself. . . . Hmm. Still, she’d have to have at least one friend who was a bit more mature. No fresh-made newborn left your father alive. . . .”
He frowned into space for a long moment, and then suddenly smiled at me, coming back from his reverie. “Definitely possible. Regardless, we’ve got to be prepared for anything until we know for sure. You’re very perceptive today,” he added. “It’s impressive.”
I sighed. “Maybe I’m just reacting to this place. It makes me feel like she’s close by . . . like she sees me now.”
His jaw muscles tensed at the idea. “She’ll never touch you, Bella,” he said.
In spite of his words, his eyes swept carefully across the dark trees. While he searched their shadows, the strangest expression crossed his face. His lips pulled back over his teeth and his eyes shone with an odd light — a wild, fierce kind of hope.
“Yet, what I wouldn’t give to have her that close,” he murmured. “Victoria, and anyone else who’s ever thought of hurting you. To have the chance to end this myself. To finish it with my own hands this time.”
I shuddered at the ferocious longing in his voice, and clenched his fingers more tightly with mine, wishing I was strong enough to lock our hands together permanently.
We were almost to his family, and I noticed for the first time that Alice did not look as optimistic as the others. She stood a little aside, watching Jasper stretching his arms as if he were warming up to exercise, her lips pushed out in a pout.
“Is something wrong with Alice?” I whispered.
Edward chuckled, himself again. “The werewolves are on their way, so she can’t see anything that will happen now. It makes her uncomfortable to be blind.”
Alice, though the farthest from us, heard his low voice. She looked up and stuck her tongue out at him. He laughed again.
“Hey, Edward,” Emmett greeted him. “Hey, Bella. Is he going to let you practice, too?”
Edward groaned at his brother. “Please, Emmett, don’t give her any ideas.”
“When will our guests arrive?” Carlisle asked Edward.
Edward concentrated for a moment, and then sighed. “A minute and a half. But I’m going to have to translate. They don’t trust us enough to use their human forms.”
Carlisle nodded. “This is hard for them. I’m grateful they’re coming at all.”
I stared at Edward, my eyes stretched wide. “They’re coming as wolves?”
He nodded, cautious of my reaction. I swallowed once, remembering the two times I’d seen Jacob in his wolf form — the first time in the meadow with Laurent, the second time on the forest lane where Paul had gotten angry at me. . . . They were both memories of terror.
A strange gleam came into Edward’s eyes, as though something had just occurred to him, something that was not altogether unpleasant. He turned away quickly, before I could see any more, back to Carlisle and the others.
“Prepare yourselves — they’ve been holding out on us.”
“What do you mean?” Alice demanded.
“Shh,” he cautioned, and stared past her into the darkness.
The Cullens’ informal circle suddenly widened out into a loose line with Jasper and Emmett at the spear point. From the way Edward leaned forward next to me, I could tell that he wished he was standing beside them. I tightened my hand around his.
I squinted toward the forest, seeing nothing.
“Damn,” Emmett muttered under his breath. “Did you ever see anything like it?”
Esme and Rosalie exchanged a wide-eyed glance.
“What is it?” I whispered as quietly as I could. “I can’t see.”
“The pack has grown,” Edward murmured into my ear.
Hadn’t I told him that Quil had joined the pack? I strained to see the six wolves in the gloom. Finally, something glittered in the blackness — their eyes, higher up than they should be. I’d forgotten how very tall the wolves were. Like horses, only thick with muscle and fur — and teeth like knives, impossible to overlook.
I could only see the eyes. And as I scanned, straining to see more, it occurred to me that there were more than six pairs facing us. One, two, three . . . I counted the pairs swiftly in my head. Twice.
There were ten of them.
“Fascinating,” Edward murmured almost silently.
Carlisle took a slow, deliberate step forward. It was a careful movement, designed to reassure.
“Welcome,” he greeted the invisible wolves.
“Thank you,” Edward responded in a strange, flat tone, and I realized at once that the words came from Sam. I looked to the eyes shining in the center of the line, the highest up, the tallest of them all. It was impossible to separate the shape of the big black wolf from the darkness.
Edward spoke again in the same detached voice, speaking Sam’s words. “We will watch and listen, but no more. That is the most we can ask of our self-control.”
“That is more than enough,” Carlisle answered. “My son Jasper” — he gestured to where Jasper stood, tensed and ready — “has experience in this area. He will teach us how they fight, how they are to be defeated. I’m sure you can apply this to your own hunting style.”
“They are different from you?” Edward asked for Sam.
Carlisle nodded. “They are all very new — only months old to this life. Children, in a way. They will have no skill or strategy, only brute strength. Tonight their numbers stand at twenty. Ten for us, ten for you — it shouldn’t be difficult. The numbers may go down. The new ones fight amongst themselves.”
A rumble passed down the shadowy line of wolves, a low growling mutter that somehow managed to sound enthusiastic.
“We are willing to take more than our share, if necessary,” Edward translated, his tone less indifferent now.
Carlisle smiled. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
“Do you know when and how they’ll arrive?”
“They’ll come across the mountains in four days, in the late morning. As they approach, Alice will help us intercept their path.”
“Thank you for the information. We will watch.”
With a sighing sound, the eyes sank closer to the ground one set at a time.
It was silent for two heartbeats, and then Jasper took a step into the empty space between the vampires and the wolves. It wasn’t hard for me to see him — his skin was as bright against the darkness as the wolves’ eyes. Jasper threw a wary glance toward Edward, who nodded, and then Jasper turned his back to the werewolves. He sighed, clearly uncomfortable.
“Carlisle’s right.” Jasper spoke only to us; he seemed to be trying to ignore the audience behind him. “They’ll fight like children. The two most important things you’ll need to remember are, first, don’t let them get their arms around you and, second, don’t go for the obvious kill. That’s all they’ll be prepared for. As long as you come at them from the side and keep moving, they’ll be too confused to respond effectively. Emmett?”
Emmett stepped out of the line with a huge smile.
Jasper backed toward the north end of the opening between the allied enemies. He waved Emmett forward.
“Okay, Emmett first. He’s the best example of a newborn attack.”
Emmett’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll try not to break anything,” he muttered.
Jasper grinned. “What I meant is that Emmett relies on his strength. He’s very straightforward about the attack. The newborns won’t be trying anything subtle, either. Just go for the easy kill, Emmett.”
Jasper backed up a few more paces, his body tensing.
“Okay, Emmett — try to catch me.”
And I couldn’t see Jasper anymore — he was a blur as Emmett charged him like a bear, grinning while he snarled. Emmett was impossibly quick, too, but not like Jasper. It looked like Jasper had no more substance than a ghost — any time it seemed Emmett’s big hands had him for sure, Emmett’s fingers clenched around nothing but the air. Beside me, Edward leaned forward intently, his eyes locked on the brawl. Then Emmett froze.
Jasper had him from behind, his teeth an inch from his throat.
There was a muttered rumble of appreciation from the watching wolves.
“Again,” Emmett insisted, his smile gone.
“It’s my turn,” Edward protested. My fingers tensed around his.
“In a minute.” Jasper grinned, stepping back. “I want to show Bella something first.”
I watched with anxious eyes as he waved Alice forward.
“I know you worry about her,” he explained to me as she danced blithely into the ring. “I want to show you why that’s not necessary.”
Though I knew that Jasper would never allow any harm to come to Alice, it was still hard to watch as he sank back into a crouch facing her. Alice stood motionlessly, looking tiny as a doll after Emmett, smiling to herself. Jasper shifted forward, then slinked to her left.
Alice closed her eyes.
My heart thumped unevenly as Jasper stalked toward where Alice stood.
Jasper sprang, disappearing. Suddenly he was on the other side of Alice. She didn’t appear to have moved.
Jasper wheeled and launched himself at her again, only to land in a crouch behind her like the first time; all the while Alice stood smiling with her eyes closed.
I watched Alice more carefully now.
She was moving — I’d just been missing it, distracted by Jasper’s attacks. She took a small step forward at the exact second that Jasper’s body flew through the spot where she’d just been standing. She took another step, while Jasper’s grasping hands whistled past where her waist had been.
Jasper closed in, and Alice began to move faster. She was dancing — spiraling and twisting and curling in on herself. Jasper was her partner, lunging, reaching through her graceful patterns, never touching her, like every movement was choreographed. Finally, Alice laughed.
Out of nowhere she was perched on Jasper’s back, her lips at his neck.
“Gotcha,” she said, and kissed his throat.
Jasper chuckled, shaking his head. “You truly are one frightening little monster.”
The wolves muttered again. This time the sound was wary.
“It’s good for them to learn some respect,” Edward murmured, amused. Then he spoke louder. “My turn.”
He squeezed my hand before he let it go.
Alice came to take his place beside me. “Cool, huh?” she asked me smugly.
“Very,” I agreed, not looking away from Edward as he glided noiselessly toward Jasper, his movements lithe and watchful as a jungle cat.
“I’ve got my eye on you, Bella,” she whispered suddenly, her voice pitched so low that I could barely hear, though her lips were at my ear.
My gaze flickered to her face and then back to Edward. He was intent on Jasper, both of them feinting as he closed the distance.
Alice’s expression was full of reproach.
“I’ll warn him if your plans get any more defined,” she threatened in the same low murmur. “It doesn’t help anything for you to put yourself in danger. Do you think either of them would give up if you died? They’d still fight, we all would. You can’t change anything, so just be good, okay?”
I grimaced, trying to ignore her.
“I’m watching,” she repeated.
Edward had closed on Jasper now, and this fight was more even than either of the others. Jasper had the century of experience to guide him, and he tried to go on instinct alone as much as he could, but his thoughts always gave him away a fraction of a second before he acted. Edward was slightly faster, but the moves Jasper used were unfamiliar to him. They came at each other again and again, neither one able to gain the advantage, instinctive snarls erupting constantly. It was hard to watch, but harder to look away. They moved too fast for me to really understand what they were doing. Now and then the sharp eyes of the wolves would catch my attention. I had a feeling the wolves were getting more out of this than I was — maybe more than they should.
Eventually, Carlisle cleared his throat.
Jasper laughed, and took a step back. Edward straightened up and grinned at him.
“Back to work,” Jasper consented. “We’ll call it a draw.”
Everyone took turns, Carlisle, then Rosalie, Esme, and Emmett again. I squinted through my lashes, cringing as Jasper attacked Esme. That one was the hardest to watch. Then he slowed down, still not quite enough for me to understand his motions, and gave more instruction.
“You see what I’m doing here?” he would ask. “Yes, just like that,” he encouraged. “Concentrate on the sides. Don’t forget where their target will be. Keep moving.”
Edward was always focused, watching and also listening to what others couldn’t see.
It got more difficult to follow as my eyes got heavier. I hadn’t been sleeping well lately, anyway, and it was approaching a solid twenty-four hours since the last time I’d slept. I leaned against Edward’s side, and let my eyelids droop.
“We’re about finished,” he whispered.
Jasper confirmed that, turning toward the wolves for the first time, his expression uncomfortable again. “We’ll be doing this tomorrow. Please feel welcome to observe again.”
“Yes,” Edward answered in Sam’s cool voice. “We’ll be here.”
Then Edward sighed, patted my arm, and stepped away from me. He turned to his family.
“The pack thinks it would be helpful to be familiar with each of our scents — so they don’t make mistakes later. If we could hold very still, it will make it easier for them.”
“Certainly,” Carlisle said to Sam. “Whatever you need.”
There was a gloomy, throaty grumble from the wolf pack as they all rose to their feet.
My eyes were wide again, exhaustion forgotten.
The deep black of the night was just beginning to fade — the sun brightening the clouds, though it hadn’t cleared the horizon yet, far away on the other side of the mountains. As they approached, it was suddenly possible to make out shapes . . . colors.
Sam was in the lead, of course. Unbelievably huge, black as midnight, a monster straight out of my nightmares — literally; after the first time I’d seen Sam and the others in the meadow, they’d starred in my bad dreams more than once.
Now that I could see them all, match the vastness with each pair of eyes, it looked like more than ten. The pack was overwhelming.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Edward was watching me, carefully evaluating my reaction.
Sam approached Carlisle where he stood in the front, the huge pack right on his tail. Jasper stiffened, but Emmett, on the other side of Carlisle, was grinning and relaxed.
Sam sniffed at Carlisle, seeming to wince slightly as he did. Then he moved on to Jasper.
My eyes ran down the wary brace of wolves. I was sure I could pick out a few of the new additions. There was a light gray wolf that was much smaller than the others, the hackles on the back of his neck raised in distaste. There was another, the color of desert sand, who seemed gangly and uncoordinated beside the rest. A low whine broke through the sandy wolf’s control when Sam’s advance left him isolated between Carlisle and Jasper.
I stopped at the wolf just behind Sam. His fur was reddish-brown and longer than the others, shaggy in comparison. He was almost as tall as Sam, the second largest in the group. His stance was casual, somehow exuding nonchalance over what the rest obviously considered an ordeal.
The enormous russet-colored wolf seemed to feel my gaze, and he looked up at me with familiar black eyes.
I stared back at him, trying to believe what I already knew. I could feel the wonder and fascination on my face.
The wolf’s muzzle fell open, pulling back over his teeth. It would have been a frightening expression, except that his tongue lolled out the side in a wolfy grin.
Jacob’s grin widened over his sharp teeth. He left his place in line, ignoring the eyes of his pack as they followed him. He trotted past Edward and Alice to stand not two feet away from me. He stopped there, his gaze flickering briefly toward Edward.
Edward stood motionless, a statue, his eyes still assessing my reaction.
Jacob crouched down on his front legs and dropped his head so that his face was no higher than mine, staring at me, measuring my response just as much as Edward was.
“Jacob?” I breathed.
The answering rumble deep in his chest sounded like a chuckle.
I reached my hand out, my fingers trembling slightly, and touched the red-brown fur on the side of his face.
The black eyes closed, and Jacob leaned his huge head into my hand. A thrumming hum resonated in this throat.
The fur was both soft and rough, and warm against my skin. I ran my fingers through it curiously, learning the texture, stroking his neck where the color deepened. I hadn’t realized how close I’d gotten; without warning, Jacob suddenly licked my face from chin to hairline.
“Ew! Gross, Jake!” I complained, jumping back and smacking at him, just as I would have if he were human. He dodged out of the way, and the coughing bark that came through his teeth was obviously laughter.
I wiped my face on the sleeve of my shirt, unable to keep from laughing with him.
It was at that point that I realized that everyone was watching us, the Cullens and the werewolves — the Cullens with perplexed and somewhat disgusted expressions. It was hard to read the wolves’ faces. I thought Sam looked unhappy.
And then there was Edward, on edge and clearly disappointed. I realized he’d been hoping for a different reaction from me. Like screaming and running away in terror.
Jacob made the laughing sound again.
The other wolves were backing away now, not taking their eyes off the Cullens as they departed. Jacob stood by my side, watching them go. Soon, they disappeared into the murky forest. Only two hesitated by the trees, watching Jacob, their postures radiating anxiety.
Edward sighed, and — ignoring Jacob — came to stand on my other side, taking my hand.
“Ready to go?” he asked me.
Before I could answer, he was staring over me at Jacob.
“I’ve not quite figured out all the details yet,” he said, answering a question in Jacob’s thoughts.
The Jacob-wolf grumbled sullenly.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Edward said. “Don’t concern yourself; I’ll make sure it’s safe.”
“What are you talking about?” I demanded.
“Just discussing strategy,” Edward said.
Jacob’s head swiveled back and forth, looking at our faces. Then, suddenly, he bolted for the forest. As he darted away, I noticed for the first time a square of folded black fabric secured to his back leg.
“Wait,” I called, one hand stretching out automatically to reach after him. But he disappeared into the trees in seconds, the other two wolves following.
“Why did he leave?” I asked, hurt.
“He’s coming back,” Edward said. He sighed. “He wants to be able to talk for himself.”
I watched the edge of the forest where Jacob had vanished, leaning into Edward’s side again. I was on the point of collapse, but I was fighting it.
Jacob loped back into view, on two legs this time. His broad chest was bare, his hair tangled and shaggy. He wore only a pair of black sweat pants, his feet bare to the cold ground. He was alone now, but I suspected that his friends lingered in the trees, invisible.
It didn’t take him long to cross the field, though he gave a wide berth to the Cullens, who stood talking quietly in a loose circle.
“Okay, bloodsucker,” Jacob said when he was a few feet from us, evidently continuing the conversation I’d missed. “What’s so complicated about it?”
“I have to consider every possibility,” Edward said, unruffled. “What if someone gets by you?”
Jacob snorted at that idea. “Okay, so leave her on the reservation. We’re making Collin and Brady stay behind anyway. She’ll be safe there.”
I scowled. “Are you talking about me?”
“I just want to know what he plans to do with you during the fight,” Jacob explained.
“Do with me?”
“You can’t stay in Forks, Bella.” Edward’s voice was pacifying. “They know where to look for you there. What if someone slipped by us?”
My stomach dropped and the blood drained from my face. “Charlie?” I gasped.
“He’ll be with Billy,” Jacob assured me quickly. “If my dad has to commit a murder to get him there, he’ll do it. Probably it won’t take that much. It’s this Saturday, right? There’s a game.”
“This Saturday?” I asked, my head spinning. I was too lightheaded to control my wildly random thoughts. I frowned at Edward. “Well, crap! There goes your graduation present.”
Edward laughed. “It’s the thought that counts,” he reminded me. “You can give the tickets to someone else.”
Inspiration came swiftly. “Angela and Ben,” I decided at once. “At least that will get them out of town.”
He touched my cheek. “You can’t evacuate everyone,” he said in a gentle voice. “Hiding you is just a precaution. I told you — we’ll have no problem now. There won’t be enough of them to keep us entertained.”
“But what about keeping her in La Push?” Jacob interjected, impatient.
“She’s been back and forth too much,” Edward said. “She’s left trails all over the place. Alice only sees very young vampires coming on the hunt, but obviously someone created them. There is someone more experienced behind this. Whoever he” — Edward paused to look at me — “or she is, this could all be a distraction. Alice will see if he decides to look himself, but we could be very busy at the time that decision is made. Maybe someone is counting on that. I can’t leave her somewhere she’s been frequently. She has to be hard to find, just in case. It’s a very long shot, but I’m not taking chances.”
I stared at Edward as he explained, my forehead creasing. He patted my arm.
“Just being overcautious,” he promised.
Jacob gestured to the deep forest east of us, to the vast expanse of the Olympic Mountains.
“So hide her here,” he suggested. “There’s a million possibilities — places either one of us could be in just a few minutes if there’s a need.”
Edward shook his head. “Her scent is too strong and, combined with mine, especially distinct. Even if I carried her, it would leave a trail. Our trace is all over the range, but in conjunction with Bella’s scent, it would catch their attention. We’re not sure exactly which path they’ll take, because they don’t know yet. If they crossed her scent before they found us . . .”
Both of them grimaced at the same time, their eyebrows pulling together.
“You see the difficulties.”
“There has to be a way to make it work,” Jacob muttered. He glared toward the forest, pursing his lips.
I swayed on my feet. Edward put his arm around my waist, pulling me closer and supporting my weight.
“I need to get you home — you’re exhausted. And Charlie will be waking up soon. . . .”
“Wait a sec,” Jacob said, wheeling back to us, his eyes bright. “My scent disgusts you, right?”
“Hmm, not bad.” Edward was two steps ahead. “It’s possible.” He turned toward his family. “Jasper?” he called.
Jasper looked up curiously. He walked over with Alice a half step behind. Her face was frustrated again.
“Okay, Jacob.” Edward nodded at him.
Jacob turned toward me with a strange mixture of emotion on his face. He was clearly excited by whatever this new plan of his was, but he was also still uneasy so close to his enemy allies. And then it was my turn to be wary as he held his arms out toward me.
Edward took a deep breath.
“We’re going to see if I can confuse the scent enough to hide your trail,” Jacob explained.
I stared at his open arms suspiciously.
“You’re going to have to let him carry you, Bella,” Edward told me. His voice was calm, but I could hear the subdued distaste.
Jacob rolled his eyes, impatient, and reached down to yank me up into his arms.
“Don’t be such a baby,” he muttered.
But his eyes flickered to Edward, just like mine did. Edward’s face was composed and smooth. He spoke to Jasper.
“Bella’s scent is so much more potent to me — I thought it would be a fairer test if someone else tried.”
Jacob turned away from them and paced swiftly into the woods. I didn’t say anything as the dark closed around us. I was pouting, uncomfortable in Jacob’s arms. It felt too intimate to me — surely he didn’t need to hold me quite so tightly — and I couldn’t help but wonder what it felt like to him. It reminded me of my last afternoon in La Push, and I didn’t want to think about that. I folded my arms, annoyed when the brace on my hand intensified the memory.
We didn’t go far; he made a wide arc and came back into the clearing from a different direction, maybe half a football field away from our original departure point. Edward was there alone and Jacob headed toward him.
“You can put me down now.”
“I don’t want to take a chance of messing up the experiment.” His walk slowed and his arms tightened.
“You are so annoying,” I muttered.
Out of nowhere, Jasper and Alice stood beside Edward. Jacob took one more step, and then set me down a half dozen feet from Edward. Without looking back at Jacob, I walked to Edward’s side and took his hand.
“Well?” I asked.
“As long as you don’t touch anything, Bella, I can’t imagine someone sticking their nose close enough to that trail to catch your scent,” Jasper said, grimacing. “It was almost completely obscured.”
“A definite success,” Alice agreed, wrinkling her nose.
“And it gave me an idea.”
“Which will work,” Alice added confidently.
“Clever,” Edward agreed.
“How do you stand that?” Jacob muttered to me.
Edward ignored Jacob and looked at me while he explained. “We’re — well, you’re — going to leave a false trail to the clearing, Bella. The newborns are hunting, your scent will excite them, and they’ll come exactly the way we want them to without being careful about it. Alice can already see that this will work. When they catch our scent, they’ll split up and try to come at us from two sides. Half will go through the forest, where her vision suddenly disappears. . . .”
“Yes!” Jacob hissed.
Edward smiled at him, a smile of true comradeship.
I felt sick. How could they be so eager for this? How could I stand having both of them in danger? I couldn’t.
“Not a chance,” Edward said suddenly, his voice disgusted. It made me jump, worrying that he’d somehow heard my resolve, but his eyes were on Jasper.
“I know, I know,” Jasper said quickly. “I didn’t even consider it, not really.”
Alice stepped on his foot.
“If Bella was actually there in the clearing,” Jasper explained to her, “it would drive them insane. They wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything but her. It would make picking them off truly easy. . . .”
Edward’s glare had Jasper backtracking.
“Of course it’s too dangerous for her. It was just an errant thought,” he said quickly. But he looked at me from the corner of his eyes, and the look was wistful.
“No,” Edward said. His voice rang with finality.
“You’re right,” Jasper said. He took Alice’s hand and started back to the others. “Best two out of three?” I heard him ask her as they went to practice again.
Jacob stared after him in disgust.
“Jasper looks at things from a military perspective,” Edward quietly defended his brother. “He looks at all the options — it’s thoroughness, not callousness.”
He’d edged closer unconsciously, drawn by his absorption in the planning. He stood only three feet from Edward now, and, standing there between them, I could feel the physical tension in the air. It was like static, an uncomfortable charge.
Edward got back to business. “I’ll bring her here Friday afternoon to lay the false trail. You can meet us afterward, and carry her to a place I know. Completely out of the way, and easily defensible, not that it will come to that. I’ll take another route there.”
“And then what? Leave her with a cell phone?” Jacob asked critically.
“You have a better idea?”
Jacob was suddenly smug. “Actually, I do.”
“Oh. . . . Again, dog, not bad at all.”
Jacob turned to me quickly, as if determined to play the good guy by keeping me in the conversation. “We tried to talk Seth into staying behind with the younger two. He’s still too young, but he’s stubborn and he’s resisting. So I thought of a new assignment for him — cell phone.”
I tried to look like I got it. No one was fooled.
“As long as Seth Clearwater is in his wolf form, he’ll be connected to the pack,” Edward said. “Distance isn’t a problem?” he added, turning to Jacob.
“Three hundred miles?” Edward asked. “That’s impressive.”
Jacob was the good guy again. “That’s the farthest we’ve ever gone to experiment,” he told me. “Still clear as a bell.”
I nodded absently; I was reeling from the idea that little Seth Clearwater was already a werewolf, too, and that made it difficult to concentrate. I could see his bright smile, so much like a younger Jacob, in my head; he couldn’t be more than fifteen, if he was that. His enthusiasm at the council meeting bonfire suddenly took on new meaning. . . .
“It’s a good idea.” Edward seemed reluctant to admit this. “I’ll feel better with Seth there, even without the instantaneous communication. I don’t know if I’d be able to leave Bella there alone. To think it’s come to this, though! Trusting werewolves!”
“Fighting with vampires instead of against them!” Jacob mirrored Edward’s tone of disgust.
“Well, you still get to fight against some of them,” Edward said.
Jacob smiled. “That’s the reason we’re here.”