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