I FORCED MY EYES — FROZEN WIDE OPEN WITH SHOCK — to move, so that I could not examine too closely the oval object wrapped in tendrils of shivering, fiery hair.
Edward was in motion again. Swift and coolly businesslike, he dismembered the headless corpse.
I could not go to him — I could not make my feet respond; they were bolted to the stone beneath them. But I scrutinized his every action minutely, looking for any evidence that he had been harmed. My heart slowed to a healthier rhythm when I found nothing. He was lithe and graceful as ever. I couldn’t even see a tear in his clothes.
He did not look at me — where I stood frozen to the cliff wall, horrified — while he piled the quivering, twitching limbs and then covered them with dry pine needles. He still did not meet my shocked gaze as he darted into the forest after Seth.
I didn’t have time to recover before both he and Seth were back, Edward with his arms full of Riley. Seth was carrying a large chunk — the torso — in his mouth. They added their burden to the pile, and Edward pulled a silver rectangle from his pocket. He flipped open the butane lighter and held the flame to the dry tinder. It caught at once; long tongues of orange fire licked rapidly across the pyre.
“Get every piece,” Edward said in a low aside to Seth.
Together, the vampire and the werewolf scoured the campsite, occasionally tossing small lumps of white stone into the blaze. Seth handled the pieces with his teeth. My brain wasn’t working well enough for me to understand why he didn’t change back to a form with hands.
Edward kept his eyes on his work.
And then they were done, and the raging fire was sending a pillar of choking purple toward the sky. The thick smoke curled up slowly, looking more solid than it should; it smelled like burning incense, and the scent was uncomfortable. It was heavy, too strong.
Seth made that snickering sound again, deep in his chest.
A smile flickered across Edward’s tense face.
Edward stretched out his arm, his hand curled into a fist. Seth grinned, revealing the long row of dagger teeth, and bumped his nose against Edward’s hand.
“Nice teamwork,” Edward murmured.
Seth coughed a laugh.
Then Edward took a deep breath, and turned slowly to face me.
I did not understand his expression. His eyes were as wary as if I were another enemy — more than wary, they were afraid. Yet he’d shown no fear at all when he’d faced Victoria and Riley. . . . My mind was stuck, stunned and useless as my body. I stared at him, bewildered.
“Bella, love,” he said in his softest tone, walking toward me with exaggerated slowness, his hands held up, palms forward. Dazed as I was, it reminded me oddly of a suspect approaching a policeman, showing that he wasn’t armed. . . .
“Bella, can you drop the rock, please? Carefully. Don’t hurt yourself.”
I’d forgotten all about my crude weapon, though I realized now that I was grasping it so hard that my knuckle was screaming in protest. Was it rebroken? Carlisle would put me in a cast for sure this time.
Edward hesitated a few feet from me, his hands still in the air, his eyes still fearful.
It took me a few long seconds to remember how to move my fingers. Then the rock clattered to the ground, while my hand stayed frozen in the same position.
Edward relaxed slightly when my hands were empty, but came no closer.
“You don’t have to be afraid, Bella,” Edward murmured. “You’re safe. I won’t hurt you.”
The mystifying promise only confused me further. I stared at him like an imbecile, trying to understand.
“It’s going to be all right, Bella. I know you’re frightened now, but it’s over. No one is going to hurt you. I won’t touch you. I won’t hurt you,” he said again.
My eyes blinked furiously, and I found my voice. “Why do you keep saying that?”
I took an unsteady step toward him, and he leaned away from my advance.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered. “What do you mean?”
“Are you . . .” His golden eyes were suddenly as confused as I felt. “Aren’t you afraid of me?”
“Afraid of you? Why?”
I staggered forward another step, and then tripped over something — my own feet probably. Edward caught me, and I buried my face in his chest and started to sob.
“Bella, Bella, I’m so sorry. It’s over, it’s over.”
“I’m fine,” I gasped. “I’m okay. I’m just. Freaking out. Give me. A minute.”
His arms tightened around me. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured again and again.
I clung to him until I could breathe, and then I was kissing him — his chest, his shoulder, his neck — every part of him that I could reach. Slowly, my brain started to work again.
“Are you okay?” I demanded between kisses. “Did she hurt you at all?”
“I am absolutely fine,” he promised, burying his face in my hair.
Edward chuckled. “More than fine. Very pleased with himself, in fact.”
“The others? Alice, Esme? The wolves?
“All fine. It’s over there, too. It went just as smoothly as I promised. We got the worst of it here.”
I let myself absorb that for a moment, let it sink in and settle in my head.
My family and my friends were safe. Victoria was never coming after me again. It was over.
We were all going to be fine.
But I couldn’t completely take in the good news while I was still so confused.
“Tell me why,” I insisted. “Why did you think I would be afraid of you?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, apologizing yet again — for what? I had no idea. “So sorry. I didn’t want you to see that. See me like that. I know I must have terrified you.”
I had to think about that for another minute, about the hesitant way he’d approached me, his hands in the air. Like I was going to run if he moved too fast. . . .
“Seriously?” I finally asked. “You . . . what? Thought you’d scared me off?” I snorted. Snorting was good; a voice couldn’t tremble or break during a snort. It sounded impressively offhand.
He put his hand under my chin and tilted my head back to read my face.
“Bella, I just” — he hesitated and then forced the words out — “I just beheaded and dismembered a sentient creature not twenty yards from you. That doesn’t bother you?”
He frowned at me.
I shrugged. Shrugging was good, too. Very blasé. “Not really. I was only afraid that you and Seth were going to get hurt. I wanted to help, but there’s only so much I can do. . . .”
His suddenly livid expression made my voice fade out.
“Yes,” he said, his tone clipped. “Your little stunt with the rock. You know that you nearly gave me a heart attack? Not the easiest thing to do, that.”
His furious glower made it hard to answer.
“I wanted to help . . . Seth was hurt. . . .”
“Seth was only feigning that he was hurt, Bella. It was a trick. And then you . . . !” He shook his head, unable to finish. “Seth couldn’t see what you were doing, so I had to step in. Seth’s a bit disgruntled that he can’t claim a single-handed defeat now.”
“Seth was . . . faking?”
Edward nodded sternly.
We both looked at Seth, who was studiously ignoring us, watching the flames. Smugness radiated from every hair in his fur.
“Well, I didn’t know that,” I said, on the offense now. “And it’s not easy being the only helpless person around. Just you wait till I’m a vampire! I’m not going to be sitting on the sidelines next time.”
A dozen emotions flitted across his face before he settled on being amused. “Next time? Did you anticipate another war soon?”
“With my luck? Who knows?”
He rolled his eyes, but I could see that he was flying — the relief was making us both lightheaded. It was over.
Or . . . was it?
“Hold on. Didn’t you say something before — ?” I flinched, remembering what exactly it had been before — what was I going to say to Jacob? My splintered heart throbbed out a painful, aching beat. It was hard to believe, almost impossible, but the hardest part of this day was not behind me — and then I soldiered on. “About a complication? And Alice, needing to nail down the schedule for Sam. You said it was going to be close. What was going to be close?”
Edward’s eyes flickered back to Seth, and they exchanged a loaded glance.
“Well?” I asked.
“It’s nothing, really,” Edward said quickly. “But we do need to be on our way. . . .”
He started to pull me into place on his back, but I stiffened and drew away.
Edward took my face between his palms. “We only have a minute, so don’t panic, all right? I told you that you had no reason to be afraid. Trust me on that, please?”
I nodded, trying to hide the sudden terror — how much more could I handle before I collapsed? “No reason to be afraid. Got it.”
He pursed his lips for a second, deciding what to say. And then he glanced abruptly at Seth, as if the wolf had called him.
“What’s she doing?” Edward asked.
Seth whined; it was an anxious, uneasy sound. It made the hair on the back of my neck rise.
Everything was dead silent for one endless second.
And then Edward gasped, “No!” and one of his hands flew out as if to grab something that I couldn’t see. “Don’t —!”
A spasm rocked through Seth’s body, and a howl, blistering with agony, ripped from his lungs.
Edward fell to his knees at the exact same moment, gripping the sides of his head with two hands, his face furrowed in pain.
I screamed once in bewildered terror, and dropped to my knees beside him. Stupidly, I tried to pull his hands from his face; my palms, clammy with sweat, slid off his marble skin.
His eyes focused on me; with obvious effort, he pulled his clenched teeth apart.
“It’s okay. We’re going to be fine. It’s —” He broke off, and winced again.
“What’s happening?” I cried out while Seth howled in anguish.
“We’re fine. We’re going to be okay,” Edward gasped. “Sam — help him —”
And I realized in that instant, when he said Sam’s name, that he was not speaking of himself and Seth. No unseen force was attacking them. This time, the crisis was not here.
He was using the pack plural.
I’d burned through all my adrenaline. My body had nothing left. I sagged, and Edward caught me before I could hit the rocks. He sprang to his feet, me in his arms.
“Seth!” Edward shouted.
Seth was crouched, still tensed in agony, looking as if he meant to launch himself into the forest.
“No!” Edward ordered. “You go straight home. Now. As fast as you can!”
Seth whimpered, shaking his great head from side to side.
“Seth. Trust me.”
The huge wolf stared into Edward’s agonized eyes for one long second, and then he straightened up and flew into the trees, disappearing like a ghost.
Edward cradled me tightly against his chest, and then we were also hurtling through the shadowy forest, taking a different path than the wolf.
“Edward.” I fought to force the words through my constricted throat. “What happened, Edward? What happened to Sam? Where are we going? What’s happening?”
“We have to go back to the clearing,” he told me in a low voice. “We knew there was a good probability of this happening. Earlier this morning, Alice saw it and passed it through Sam to Seth. The Volturi decided it was time to intercede.”
Too much. My mind refused to make sense of the words, pretended it couldn’t understand.
The trees jolted past us. He was running downhill so fast that it felt as if we were plummeting, falling out of control.
“Don’t panic. They aren’t coming for us. It’s just the normal contingent of the guard that usually cleans up this kind of mess. Nothing momentous, they’re merely doing their job. Of course, they seem to have timed their arrival very carefully. Which leads me to believe that no one in Italy would mourn if these newborns had reduced the size of the Cullen family.” The words came through his teeth, hard and bleak. “I’ll know for sure what they were thinking when they get to the clearing.”
“Is that why we’re going back?” I whispered. Could I handle this? Images of flowing black robes crept into my unwilling mind, and I flinched away from them. I was close to a breaking point.
“It’s part of the reason. Mostly, it will be safer for us to present a united front at this point. They have no reason to harass us, but . . . Jane’s with them. If she thought we were alone somewhere away from the others, it might tempt her. Like Victoria, Jane will probably guess that I’m with you. Demetri, of course, is with her. He could find me, if Jane asked him to.”
I didn’t want to think that name. I didn’t want to see that blindingly exquisite, childlike face in my head. A strange sound came out of my throat.
“Shh, Bella, shh. It’s all going to be fine. Alice can see that.”
Alice could see? But . . . then where were the wolves? Where was the pack?
“They had to leave quickly. The Volturi do not honor truces with werewolves.”
I could hear my breathing get faster, but I couldn’t control it. I started to gasp.
“I swear they will be fine,” Edward promised me. “The Volturi won’t recognize the scent — they won’t realize the wolves are here; this isn’t a species they are familiar with. The pack will be fine.”
I couldn’t process his explanation. My concentration was ripped to shreds by my fears. We’re going to be fine, he had said before . . . and Seth, howling in agony . . . Edward had avoided my first question, distracted me with the Volturi. . . .
I was very close to the edge — just clinging by my fingertips.
The trees were a racing blur that flowed around him like jade waters.
“What happened?” I whispered again. “Before. When Seth was howling? When you were hurt?”
“Edward! Tell me!”
“It was all over,” he whispered. I could barely hear him over the wind his speed created. “The wolves didn’t count their half . . . they thought they had them all. Of course, Alice couldn’t see. . . .”
“One of the newborns was hiding. . . . Leah found him — she was being stupid, cocky, trying to prove something. She engaged him alone. . . .”
“Leah,” I repeated, and I was too weak to feel shame for the relief that flooded through me. “Is she going to be okay?”
“Leah wasn’t hurt,” Edward mumbled.
I stared at him for a long second.
Sam — help him — Edward had gasped. Him, not her.
“We’re almost there,” Edward said, and he stared at a fixed point in the sky.
Automatically, my eyes followed his. There was a dark purple cloud hanging low over the trees. A cloud? But it was so abnormally sunny. . . . No, not a cloud — I recognized the thick column of smoke, just like the one at our campsite.
“Edward,” I said, my voice nearly inaudible. “Edward, someone got hurt.”
I’d heard Seth’s agony, seen the torture in Edward’s face.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“Who?” I asked, though, of course, I already knew the answer.
Of course I did. Of course.
The trees were slowing around us as we came to our destination.
It took him a long moment to answer me.
“Jacob,” he said.
I was able to nod once.
“Of course,” I whispered.
And then I slipped off the edge I was clinging to inside my head.
Everything went black.
I was first aware of the cool hands touching me. More than one pair of hands. Arms holding me, a palm curved to fit my cheek, fingers stroking my forehead, and more fingers pressed lightly into my wrist.
Then I was aware of the voices. They were just a humming at first, and then they grew in volume and clarity like someone was turning up a radio.
“Carlisle — it’s been five minutes.” Edward’s voice, anxious.
“She’ll come around when she’s ready, Edward.” Carlisle’s voice, always calm and sure. “She’s had too much to deal with today. Let her mind protect itself.”
But my mind was not protected. It was trapped in the knowledge that had not left me, even in unconsciousness — the pain that was part of the blackness.
I felt totally disconnected from my body. Like I was caged in some small corner of my head, no longer at the controls. But I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t think. The agony was too strong for that. There was no escape from it.
No, no, no, no, no . . .
“Alice, how long do we have?” Edward demanded, his voice still tense; Carlisle’s soothing words had not helped.
From farther away, Alice’s voice. It was brightly chipper. “Another five minutes. And Bella will open her eyes in thirty-seven seconds. I wouldn’t doubt that she can hear us now.”
“Bella, honey?” This was Esme’s soft, comforting voice. “Can you hear me? You’re safe now, dear.”
Yes, I was safe. Did that really matter?
Then cool lips were at my ear, and Edward was speaking the words that allowed me to escape from the torture that had me caged inside my own head.
“He’s going to live, Bella. Jacob Black is healing as I speak. He’ll be fine.”
As the pain and dread eased, I found my way back to my body. My eyelids fluttered.
“Oh, Bella,” Edward sighed in relief, and his lips touched mine.
“Edward,” I whispered.
“Yes, I’m here.”
I got my lids to open, and I stared into warm gold.
“Jacob is okay?” I asked.
“Yes,” he promised.
I watched his eyes carefully for some sign that he was placating me, but they were perfectly clear.
“I examined him myself,” Carlisle said then; I turned my head to find his face, only a few feet away. Carlisle’s expression was serious and reassuring at the same time. It was impossible to doubt him. “His life is not in any danger. He was healing at an incredible rate, though his injuries were extensive enough that it will still be a few days before he is back to normal, even if the rate of repair holds steady. As soon as we’re done here, I will do what I can to help him. Sam is trying to get him to phase back to his human form. That will make treating him easier.” Carlisle smiled slightly. “I’ve never been to veterinarian school.”
“What happened to him?” I whispered. “How bad are his injuries?”
Carlisle’s face was serious again. “Another wolf was in trouble —”
“Leah,” I breathed.
“Yes. He knocked her out of the way, but he didn’t have time to defend himself. The newborn got his arms around him. Most of the bones on the right half of his body were shattered.”
“Sam and Paul got there in time. He was already improving when they took him back to La Push.”
“He’ll be back to normal?” I asked.
“Yes, Bella. He won’t have any permanent damage.”
I took a deep breath.
“Three minutes,” Alice said quietly.
I struggled, trying to get vertical. Edward realized what I was doing and helped me to my feet.
I stared at the scene in front of me.
The Cullens stood in a loose semicircle around the bonfire. There were hardly any flames visible, just the thick, purple-black smoke, hovering like a disease against the bright grass. Jasper stood closest to the solid-seeming haze, in its shadow so that his skin did not glitter brilliantly in the sun the way the others did. He had his back to me, his shoulders tense, his arms slightly extended. There was something there, in his shadow. Something he crouched over with wary intensity. . . .
I was too numb to feel more than a mild shock when I realized what it was.
There were eight vampires in the clearing.
The girl was curled into a small ball beside the flames, her arms wrapped around her legs. She was very young. Younger than me — she looked maybe fifteen, dark-haired and slight. Her eyes were focused on me, and the irises were a shocking, brilliant red. Much brighter than Riley’s, almost glowing. They wheeled wildly, out of control.
Edward saw my bewildered expression.
“She surrendered,” he told me quietly. “That’s one I’ve never seen before. Only Carlisle would think of offering. Jasper doesn’t approve.”
I couldn’t tear my gaze away from the scene beside the fire. Jasper was rubbing absently at his left forearm.
“Is Jasper all right?” I whispered.
“He’s fine. The venom stings.”
“He was bitten?” I asked, horrified.
“He was trying to be everywhere at once. Trying to make sure Alice had nothing to do, actually.” Edward shook his head. “Alice doesn’t need anyone’s help.”
Alice grimaced toward her true love. “Overprotective fool.”
The young female suddenly threw her head back like an animal and wailed shrilly.
Jasper growled at her and she cringed back, but her fingers dug into the ground like claws and her head whipped back and forth in anguish. Jasper took a step toward her, slipping deeper into his crouch. Edward moved with overdone casualness, turning our bodies so that he was between the girl and me. I peeked around his arm to watch the thrashing girl and Jasper.
Carlisle was at Jasper’s side in an instant. He put a restraining hand on his most recent son’s arm.
“Have you changed your mind, young one?” Carlisle asked, calm as ever. “We don’t want to destroy you, but we will if you can’t control yourself.”
“How can you stand it?” the girl groaned in a high, clear voice. “I want her.” Her bright crimson irises focused on Edward, through him, beyond him to me, and her nails ripped through the hard soil again.
“You must stand it,” Carlisle told her gravely. “You must exercise control. It is possible, and it is the only thing that will save you now.”
The girl clutched her dirt-encrusted hands around her head, yowling quietly.
“Shouldn’t we move away from her?” I whispered, tugging on Edward’s arm. The girl’s lips pulled back over her teeth when she heard my voice, her expression one of torment.
“We have to stay here,” Edward murmured. “They are coming to the north end of the clearing now.”
My heart burst into a sprint as I scanned the clearing, but I couldn’t see anything past the thick pall of smoke.
After a second of fruitless searching, my gaze crept back to the young female vampire. She was still watching me, her eyes half-mad.
I met the girl’s stare for a long moment. Chin-length dark hair framed her face, which was alabaster pale. It was hard to tell if her features were beautiful, twisted as they were by rage and thirst. The feral red eyes were dominant — hard to look away from. She glared at me viciously, shuddering and writhing every few seconds.
I stared at her, mesmerized, wondering if I were looking into a mirror of my future.
Then Carlisle and Jasper began to back toward the rest of us. Emmett, Rosalie, and Esme all converged hastily around where Edward stood with Alice and me. A united front, as Edward had said, with me at the heart, in the safest place.
I tore my attention away from the wild girl to search for the approaching monsters.
There was still nothing to see. I glanced at Edward, and his eyes were locked straight ahead. I tried to follow his gaze, but there was only the smoke — dense, oily smoke twisting low to the ground, rising lazily, undulating against the grass.
It billowed forward, darker in the middle.
“Hmm,” a dead voice murmured from the mist. I recognized the apathy at once.
“Welcome, Jane.” Edward’s tone was coolly courteous.
The dark shapes came closer, separating themselves from the haze, solidifying. I knew it would be Jane in the front — the darkest cloak, almost black, and the smallest figure by more than two feet. I could just barely make out Jane’s angelic features in the shade of the cowl.
The four gray-shrouded figures hulking behind her were also somewhat familiar. I was sure I recognized the biggest one, and while I stared, trying to confirm my suspicion, Felix looked up. He let his hood fall back slightly so that I could see him wink at me and smile. Edward was very still at my side, tightly in control.
Jane’s gaze moved slowly across the luminous faces of the Cullens and then touched on the newborn girl beside the fire; the newborn had her head in her hands again.
“I don’t understand.” Jane’s voice was toneless, but not quite as uninterested as before.
“She has surrendered,” Edward explained, answering the confusion in her mind.
Jane’s dark eyes flashed to his face. “Surrendered?”
Felix and another shadow exchanged a quick glance.
Edward shrugged. “Carlisle gave her the option.”
“There are no options for those who break the rules,” Jane said flatly.
Carlisle spoke then, his voice mild. “That’s in your hands. As long as she was willing to halt her attack on us, I saw no need to destroy her. She was never taught.”
“That is irrelevant,” Jane insisted.
“As you wish.”
Jane stared at Carlisle in consternation. She shook her head infinitesimally, and then composed her features.
“Aro hoped that we would get far enough west to see you, Carlisle. He sends his regards.”
Carlisle nodded. “I would appreciate it if you would convey mine to him.”
“Of course.” Jane smiled. Her face was almost too lovely when it was animated. She looked back toward the smoke. “It appears that you’ve done our work for us today . . . for the most part.” Her eyes flickered to the hostage. “Just out of professional curiosity, how many were there? They left quite a wake of destruction in Seattle.”
“Eighteen, including this one,” Carlisle answered.
Jane’s eyes widened, and she looked at the fire again, seeming to reassess the size of it. Felix and the other shadow exchanged a longer glance.
“Eighteen?” she repeated, her voice sounding unsure for the first time.
“All brand-new,” Carlisle said dismissively. “They were unskilled.”
“All?” Her voice turned sharp. “Then who was their creator?”
“Her name was Victoria,” Edward answered, no emotion in his voice.
“Was?” Jane asked.
Edward inclined his head toward the eastern forest. Jane’s eyes snapped up and focused on something far in the distance. The other pillar of smoke? I didn’t look away to check.
Jane stared to the east for a long moment, and then examined the closer bonfire again.
“This Victoria — she was in addition to the eighteen here?”
“Yes. She had only one other with her. He was not as young as this one here, but no older than a year.”
“Twenty,” Jane breathed. “Who dealt with the creator?”
“I did,” Edward told her.
Jane’s eyes narrowed, and she turned to the girl beside the fire.
“You there,” she said, her dead voice harsher than before. “Your name.”
The newborn shot a baleful glare at Jane, her lips pressed tightly together.
Jane smiled back angelically.
The newborn girl’s answering scream was ear-piercing; her body arched stiffly into a distorted, unnatural position. I looked away, fighting the urge to cover my ears. I gritted my teeth, hoping to control my stomach. The screaming intensified. I tried to concentrate on Edward’s face, smooth and unemotional, but that made me remember when it had been Edward under Jane’s torturing gaze, and I felt sicker. I looked at Alice instead, and Esme next to her. Their faces were as empty as his.
Finally, it was quiet.
“Your name,” Jane said again, her voice inflectionless.
“Bree,” the girl gasped.
Jane smiled, and the girl shrieked again. I held my breath until the sound of her agony stopped.
“She’ll tell you anything you want to know,” Edward said through his teeth. “You don’t have to do that.”
Jane looked up, sudden humor in her usually dead eyes. “Oh, I know,” she said to Edward, grinning at him before she turned back to the young vampire, Bree.
“Bree,” Jane said, her voice cold again. “Is his story true? Were there twenty of you?”
The girl lay panting, the side of her face pressed against the earth. She spoke quickly. “Nineteen or twenty, maybe more, I don’t know!” She cringed, terrified that her ignorance might bring on another round of torture. “Sara and the one whose name I don’t know got in a fight on the way. . . .”
“And this Victoria — did she create you?”
“I don’t know,” she said, flinching again. “Riley never said her name. I didn’t see that night . . . it was so dark, and it hurt. . . .” Bree shuddered. “He didn’t want us to be able to think of her. He said that our thoughts weren’t safe. . . .”
Jane’s eyes flickered to Edward, and then back to the girl.
Victoria had planned this well. If she hadn’t followed Edward, there would have been no way to know for certain that she was involved. . . .
“Tell me about Riley,” Jane said. “Why did he bring you here?”
“Riley told us that we had to destroy the strange yellow-eyes here,” Bree babbled quickly and willingly. “He said it would be easy. He said that the city was theirs, and they were coming to get us. He said once they were gone, all the blood would be ours. He gave us her scent.” Bree lifted one hand and stabbed a finger in my direction. “He said we would know that we had the right coven, because she would be with them. He said whoever got to her first could have her.”
I heard Edward’s jaw flex beside me.
“It looks like Riley was wrong about the easy part,” Jane noted.
Bree nodded, seeming relieved that the conversation had taken this non-painful course. She sat up carefully. “I don’t know what happened. We split up, but the others never came. And Riley left us, and he didn’t come to help like he promised. And then it was so confusing, and everybody was in pieces.” She shuddered again. “I was afraid. I wanted to run away. That one” — she looked at Carlisle — “said they wouldn’t hurt me if I stopped fighting.”
“Ah, but that wasn’t his gift to offer, young one,” Jane murmured, her voice oddly gentle now. “Broken rules demand a consequence.”
Bree stared at her, not comprehending.
Jane looked at Carlisle. “Are you sure you got all of them? The other half that split off?”
Carlisle’s face was very smooth as he nodded. “We split up, too.”
Jane half-smiled. “I can’t deny that I’m impressed.” The big shadows behind her murmured in agreement. “I’ve never seen a coven escape this magnitude of offensive intact. Do you know what was behind it? It seems like extreme behavior, considering the way you live here. And why was the girl the key?” Her eyes rested unwilling on me for one short second.
“Victoria held a grudge against Bella,” Edward told her, his voice impassive.
Jane laughed — the sound was golden, the bubbling laugh of a happy child. “This one seems to bring out bizarrely strong reactions in our kind,” she observed, smiling directly at me, her face beatific.
Edward stiffened. I looked at him in time to see his face turning away, back to Jane.
“Would you please not do that?” he asked in a tight voice.
Jane laughed again lightly. “Just checking. No harm done, apparently.”
I shivered, deeply grateful that the strange glitch in my system — which had protected me from Jane the last time we’d met — was still in effect. Edward’s arm tightened around me.
“Well, it appears that there’s not much left for us to do. Odd,” Jane said, apathy creeping back into her voice. “We’re not used to being rendered unnecessary. It’s too bad we missed the fight. It sounds like it would have been entertaining to watch.”
“Yes,” Edward answered her quickly, his voice sharp. “And you were so close. It’s a shame you didn’t arrive just a half hour earlier. Perhaps then you could have fulfilled your purpose here.”
Jane met Edward’s glare with unwavering eyes. “Yes. Quite a pity how things turned out, isn’t it?”
Edward nodded once to himself, his suspicions confirmed.
Jane turned to look at the newborn Bree again, her face completely bored. “Felix?” she drawled.
“Wait,” Edward interjected.
Jane raised one eyebrow, but Edward was staring at Carlisle while he spoke in an urgent voice. “We could explain the rules to the young one. She doesn’t seem unwilling to learn. She didn’t know what she was doing.”
“Of course,” Carlisle answered. “We would certainly be prepared to take responsibility for Bree.”
Jane’s expression was torn between amusement and disbelief.
“We don’t make exceptions,” she said. “And we don’t give second chances. It’s bad for our reputation. Which reminds me . . .” Suddenly, her eyes were on me again, and her cherubic face dimpled. “Caius will be so interested to hear that you’re still human, Bella. Perhaps he’ll decide to visit.”
“The date is set,” Alice told Jane, speaking for the first time. “Perhaps we’ll come to visit you in a few months.”
Jane’s smile faded, and she shrugged indifferently, never looking at Alice. She turned to face Carlisle. “It was nice to meet you, Carlisle — I’d thought Aro was exaggerating. Well, until we meet again . . .”
Carlisle nodded, his expression pained.
“Take care of that, Felix,” Jane said, nodding toward Bree, her voice dripping boredom. “I want to go home.”
“Don’t watch,” Edward whispered in my ear.
I was only too eager to follow his instruction. I’d seen more than enough for one day — more than enough for one lifetime. I squeezed my eyes tightly together and turned my face into Edward’s chest.
But I could still hear.
There was a deep, rumbling growl, and then a high-pitched keen that was horribly familiar. That sound cut off quickly, and then the only sound was a sickening crunching and snapping.
Edward’s hand rubbed anxiously against my shoulders.
“Come,” Jane said, and I looked up in time to see the backs of the tall gray cloaks drifting away toward the curling smoke. The incense smell was strong again — fresh.
The gray cloaks disappeared into the thick mist.