Thinking of Renesmee brought her to that center-stage place in my strange, new, and roomy but distractible mind. So many questions.
“Tell me about her,” I insisted as he took my hand. Being linked barely slowed us.
“She’s like nothing else in the world,” he told me, and the sound of an almost religious devotion was there again in his voice.
I felt a sharp pang of jealousy over this stranger. He knew her and I did not. It wasn’t fair.
“How much is she like you? How much like me? Or like I was, anyway.”
“It seems a fairly even divide.”
“She was warm-blooded,” I remembered.
“Yes. She has a heartbeat, though it runs a little bit faster than a human’s. Her temperature is a little bit hotter than usual, too. She sleeps.”
“Quite well for a newborn. The only parents in the world who don’t need sleep, and our child already sleeps through the night.” He chuckled.
I liked the way he said our child . The words made her more real.
“She has exactly your color eyes—so that didn’t get lost, after all.” He smiled at me. “They’re so beautiful.”
“And the vampire parts?” I asked.
“Her skin seems about as impenetrable as ours. Not that anyone would dream of testing that.”
I blinked at him, a little shocked.
“Of course no one would,” he assured me again. “Her diet… well, she prefers to drink blood. Carlisle continues to try to persuade her to drink some baby formula, too, but she doesn’t have much patience with it. Can’t say that I blame her—nasty-smelling stuff, even for human food.”
I gaped openly at him now. He made it sound like they were having conversations. “Persuade her?”
“She’s intelligent, shockingly so, and progressing at an immense pace. Though she doesn’t speak—yet—she communicates quite effectively.”
“Doesn’t. Speak. Yet. ”
He slowed our pace further, letting me absorb this.
“What do you mean, she communicates effectively?” I demanded.
“I think it will be easier for you to… see for yourself. It’s rather difficult to describe.”
I considered that. I knew there was a lot that I needed to see for myself before it would be real. I wasn’t sure how much more I was ready for, so I changed the subject.
“Why is Jacob still here?” I asked. “How can he stand it? Why should he?” My ringing voice trembled a little. “Why should he have to suffer more?”
“Jacob isn’t suffering,” he said in a strange new tone. “Though I might be willing to change his condition,” Edward added through his teeth.
“Edward!” I hissed, yanking him to a stop (and feeling a little thrill of smugness that I was able to do it). “How can you say that? Jacob has given up everything to protect us! What I’ve put him through—!” I cringed at the dim memory of shame and guilt. It seemed odd now that I had needed him so much then. That sense of absence without him near had vanished; it must have been a human weakness.
“You’ll see exactly how I can say that,” Edward muttered. “I promised him that I would let him explain, but I doubt you’ll see it much differently than I do. Of course, I’m often wrong about your thoughts, aren’t I?” He pursed his lips and eyed me.
Edward shook his head. “I promised. Though I don’t know if I really owe him anything at all anymore. . . .” His teeth ground together.
“Edward, I don’t understand.” Frustration and indignation took over my head.
He stroked my cheek and then smiled gently when my face smoothed out in response, desire momentarily overruling annoyance. “It’s harder than you make it look, I know. I remember.”
“I don’t like feeling confused.”
“I know. And so let’s get you home, so that you can see it all for yourself.” His eyes ran over the remains of my dress as he spoke of going home, and he frowned. “Hmm.” After a half second of thought, he unbuttoned his white shirt and held it out for me to put my arms through.
I slipped my arms into his sleeves and then buttoned it swiftly over my ragged bodice. Of course, that left him without a shirt, and it was impossible not to find that distracting.
“I’ll race you,” I said, and then cautioned, “no throwing the game this time!”
He dropped my hand and grinned. “On your mark . . .”
Finding my way to my new home was simpler than walking down Charlie’s street to my old one. Our scent left a clear and easy trail to follow, even running as fast as I could.
Edward had me beat till we hit the river. I took a chance and made my leap early, trying to use my extra strength to win.
“Ha!” I exulted when I heard my feet touch the grass first.
Listening for his landing, I heard something I did not expect. Something loud and much too close. A thudding heart.
Edward was beside me in the same second, his hands clamped down hard on the tops of my arms.
“Don’t breathe,” he cautioned me urgently.
I tried not to panic as I froze mid-breath. My eyes were the only things that moved, wheeling instinctively to find the source of the sound.
Jacob stood at the line where the forest touched the Cullens’ lawn, his arms folded across his body, his jaw clenched tight. Invisible in the woods behind him, I heard now two larger hearts, and the faint crush of bracken under huge, pacing paws.
“Carefully, Jacob,” Edward said. A snarl from the forest echoed the concern in his voice. “Maybe this isn’t the best way—”
“You think it would be better to let her near the baby first?” Jacob interrupted. “It’s safer to see how Bella does with me. I heal fast.”
This was a test? To see if I could not kill Jacob before I tried to not kill Renesmee? I felt sick in the strangest way—it had nothing to do with my stomach, only my mind. Was this Edward’s idea?
I glanced at his face anxiously; Edward seemed to deliberate for a moment, and then his expression twisted from concern into something else. He shrugged, and there was an undercurrent of hostility in his voice when he said, “It’s your neck, I guess.”
The growl from the forest was furious this time; Leah, I had no doubt.
What was with Edward? After all that we’d been through, shouldn’t he have been able to feel some kindness for my best friend? I’d thought—maybe foolishly—that Edward was sort of Jacob’s friend now, too. I must have misread them.
But what was Jacob doing? Why would he offer himself as a test to protect Renesmee?
It didn’t make any sense to me. Even if our friendship had survived…
And as my eyes met Jacob’s now, I thought that maybe it had. He still looked like my best friend. But he wasn’t the one who had changed. What did I look like to him?
Then he smiled his familiar smile, the smile of a kindred spirit, and I was sure our friendship was intact. It was just like before, when we were hanging out in his homemade garage, just two friends killing time. Easy and normal . Again, I noticed that the strange need I’d felt for him before I’d changed was completely gone. He was just my friend, the way it was supposed to be.
It still made no sense what he was doing now, though. Was he really so selfless that he would try to protect me—with his own life—from doing something in an uncontrolled split second that I would regret in agony forever? That went way beyond simply tolerating what I had become, or miraculously managing to stay my friend. Jacob was one of the best people I knew, but this seemed like too much to accept from anyone.
His grin widened, and he shuddered slightly. “I gotta say it, Bells. You’re a freak show.”
I grinned back, falling easily into the old pattern. This was a side of him I understood.
Edward growled. “Watch yourself, mongrel.”
The wind blew from behind me and I quickly filled my lungs with the safe air so I could speak. “No, he’s right. The eyes are really something, aren’t they?”
“Super-creepy. But it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”
“Gee—thanks for the amazing compliment!”
He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. You still look like you—sort of. Maybe it’s not the look so much as… you are Bella. I didn’t think it would feel like you were still here.” He smiled at me again without a trace of bitterness or resentment anywhere in his face. Then he chuckled and said, “Anyway, I guess I’ll get used to the eyes soon enough.”
“You will?” I asked, confused. It was wonderful that we were still friends, but it wasn’t like we’d be spending much time together.
The strangest look crossed his face, erasing the smile. It was almost… guilty? Then his eyes shifted to Edward.
“Thanks,” he said. “I didn’t know if you’d be able to keep it from her, promise or not. Usually, you just give her everything she wants.”
“Maybe I’m hoping she’ll get irritated and rip your head off,” Edward suggested.
“What’s going on? Are you two keeping secrets from me?” I demanded, incredulous.
“I’ll explain later,” Jacob said self-consciously—like he didn’t really plan on it. Then he changed the subject. “First, let’s get this show on the road.” His grin was a challenge now as he started slowly forward.
There was a whine of protest behind him, and then Leah’s gray body slid out of the trees behind him. The taller, sandy-colored Seth was right behind her.
“Cool it, guys,” Jacob said. “Stay out of this.”
I was glad they didn’t listen to him but only followed after him a little more slowly.
The wind was still now; it wouldn’t blow his scent away from me.
He got close enough that I could feel the heat of his body in the air between us. My throat burned in response.
“C’mon, Bells. Do your worst.”
I didn’t want to breathe. It wasn’t right to take such dangerous advantage of Jacob, no matter if he was the one offering. But I couldn’t get away from the logic. How else could I be sure that I wouldn’t hurt Renesmee?
“I’m getting older here, Bella,” Jacob taunted. “Okay, not technically, but you get the idea. Go on, take a whiff.”
“Hold on to me,” I said to Edward, cringing back into his chest.
His hands tightened on my arms.
I locked my muscles in place, hoping I could keep them frozen. I resolved that I would do at least as well as I had on the hunt. Worst-case scenario, I would stop breathing and run for it. Nervously, I took a tiny breath in through my nose, braced for anything.
It hurt a little, but my throat was already burning dully anyway. Jacob didn’t smell that much more human than the mountain lion. There was an animal edge to his blood that instantly repelled. Though the loud, wet sound of his heart was appealing, the scent that went with it made my nose wrinkle. It was actually easier with the smell to temper my reaction to the sound and heat of his pulsing blood.
I took another breath and relaxed. “Huh. I can see what everyone’s been going on about. You stink, Jacob.”
Edward burst into laughter; his hands slipped from my shoulders to wrap around my waist. Seth barked a low chortle in harmony with Edward; he came a little closer while Leah retreated several paces. And then I was aware of another audience when I heard Emmett’s low, distinct guffaw, muffled a little by the glass wall between us.
“Look who’s talking,” Jacob said, theatrically plugging his nose. His face didn’t pucker at all while Edward embraced me, not even when Edward composed himself and whispered “I love you” in my ear. Jacob just kept grinning. This made me feel hopeful that things were going to be right between us, the way they hadn’t been for so long now. Maybe now I could truly be his friend, since I disgusted him enough physically that he couldn’t love me the same way as before. Maybe that was all that was needed.
“Okay, so I passed, right?” I said. “Now are you going to tell me what this big secret is?”
Jacob’s expression became very nervous. “It’s nothing you need to worry about this second. . . .”
I heard Emmett chuckle again—a sound of anticipation.
I would have pressed my point, but as I listened to Emmett, I heard other sounds, too. Seven people breathing. One set of lungs moving more rapidly than the others. Only one heart fluttering like a bird’s wings, light and quick.
I was totally diverted. My daughter was just on the other side of that thin wall of glass. I couldn’t see her—the light bounced off the reflective windows like a mirror. I could only see myself, looking very strange—so white and still—compared to Jacob. Or, compared to Edward, looking exactly right.
“Renesmee,” I whispered. Stress made me a statue again. Renesmee wasn’t going to smell like an animal. Would I put her in danger?
“Come and see,” Edward murmured. “I know you can handle this.”
“You’ll help me?” I whispered through motionless lips.
“Of course I will.”
“And Emmett and Jasper—just in case?”
“We’ll take care of you, Bella. Don’t worry, we’ll be ready. None of us would risk Renesmee. I think you’ll be surprised at how entirely she’s already wrapped us all around her little fingers. She’ll be perfectly safe, no matter what.”
My yearning to see her, to understand the worship in his voice, broke my frozen pose. I took a step forward.
And then Jacob was in my way, his face a mask of worry.
“Are you sure , bloodsucker?” he demanded of Edward, his voice almost pleading. I’d never heard him speak to Edward that way. “I don’t like this. Maybe she should wait—”
“You had your test, Jacob.”
It was Jacob’s test?
“But—,” Jacob began.
“But nothing,” Edward said, suddenly exasperated. “Bella needs to see our daughter. Get out of her way.”
Jacob shot me an odd, frantic look and then turned and nearly sprinted into the house ahead of us.
I couldn’t make sense of their confrontation, and I couldn’t concentrate on it, either. I could only think about the blurred child in my memory and struggle against the haziness, trying to remember her face exactly.
“Shall we?” Edward said, his voice gentle again.
I nodded nervously.
He took my hand tightly in his and led the way into the house.
They waited for me in a smiling line that was both welcoming and defensive. Rosalie was several paces behind the rest of them, near the front door. She was alone until Jacob joined her and then stood in front of her, closer than was normal. There was no sense of comfort in that closeness; both of them seemed to cringe from the proximity.
Someone very small was leaning forward out of Rosalie’s arms, peering around Jacob. Immediately, she had my absolute attention, my every thought, the way nothing else had owned them since the moment I’d opened my eyes.
“I was out just two days?” I gasped, disbelieving.
The stranger-child in Rosalie’s arms had to be weeks, if not months, old. She was maybe twice the size of the baby in my dim memory, and she seemed to be supporting her own torso easily as she stretched toward me. Her shiny bronze-colored hair fell in ringlets past her shoulders. Her chocolate brown eyes examined me with an interest that was not at all childlike; it was adult, aware and intelligent. She raised one hand, reaching in my direction for a moment, and then reached back to touch Rosalie’s throat.
If her face had not been astonishing in its beauty and perfection, I wouldn’t have believed it was the same child. My child.
But Edward was there in her features, and I was there in the color of her eyes and cheeks. Even Charlie had a place in her thick curls, though their color matched Edward’s. She must be ours. Impossible, but still true.
Seeing this unanticipated little person did not make her more real, though. It only made her more fantastic.
Rosalie patted the hand against her neck and murmured, “Yes, that’s her.”
Renesmee’s eyes stayed locked on mine. Then, as she had just seconds after her violent birth, she smiled at me. A brilliant flash of tiny, perfect white teeth.
Reeling inside, I took a hesitant step toward her.
Everyone moved very fast.
Emmett and Jasper were right in front of me, shoulder to shoulder, hands ready. Edward gripped me from behind, fingers tight again on the tops of my arms. Even Carlisle and Esme moved to get Emmett’s and Jasper’s flanks, while Rosalie backed to the door, her arms clutching at Renesmee. Jacob moved, too, keeping his protective stance in front of them.
Alice was the only one who held her place.
“Oh, give her some credit,” she chided them. “She wasn’t going to do anything. You’d want a closer look, too.”
Alice was right. I was in control of myself. I’d been braced for anything—for a scent as impossibly insistent as the human smell in the woods. The temptation here was really not comparable. Renesmee’s fragrance was perfectly balanced right on the line between the scent of the most beautiful perfume and the scent of the most delicious food. There was enough of the sweet vampire smell to keep the human part from being overwhelming.
I could handle it. I was sure.
“I’m okay,” I promised, patting Edward’s hand on my arm. Then I hesitated and added, “Keep close, though, just in case.”
Jasper’s eyes were tight, focused. I knew he was taking in my emotional climate, and I worked on settling into a steady calm. I felt Edward free my arms as he read Jasper’s assessment. But, though Jasper was getting it firsthand, he didn’t seem as certain.
When she heard my voice, the too-aware child struggled in Rosalie’s arms, reaching toward me. Somehow, her expression managed to look impatient.
“Jazz, Em, let us through. Bella’s got this.”
“Edward, the risk—,” Jasper said.
“Minimal. Listen, Jasper—on the hunt she caught the scent of some hikers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. . . .”
I heard Carlisle suck in a shocked breath. Esme’s face was suddenly full of concern mingled with compassion. Jasper’s eyes widened, but he nodded just a tiny bit, as if Edward’s words answered some question in his head. Jacob’s mouth screwed up into a disgusted grimace. Emmett shrugged. Rosalie seemed even less concerned than Emmett as she tried to hold on to the struggling child in her arms.
Alice’s expression told me that she was not fooled. Her narrowed eyes, focused with burning intensity on my borrowed shirt, seemed more worried about what I’d done to my dress than anything else.
“Edward!” Carlisle chastened. “How could you be so irresponsible?”
“I know, Carlisle, I know. I was just plain stupid. I should have taken the time to make sure we were in a safe zone before I set her loose.”
“Edward,” I mumbled, embarrassed by the way they stared at me. It was like they were trying to see a brighter red in my eyes.
“He’s absolutely right to rebuke me, Bella,” Edward said with a grin. “I made a huge mistake. The fact that you are stronger than anyone I’ve ever known doesn’t change that.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Tasteful joke, Edward.”
“I wasn’t making a joke. I was explaining to Jasper why I know Bella can handle this. It’s not my fault everyone jumped to conclusions.”
“Wait,” Jasper gasped. “She didn’t hunt the humans?”
“She started to,” Edward said, clearly enjoying himself. My teeth ground together. “She was entirely focused on the hunt.”
“What happened?” Carlisle interjected. His eyes were suddenly bright, an amazed smile beginning to form on his face. It reminded me of before, when he’d wanted the details on my transformation experience. The thrill of new information.
Edward leaned toward him, animated. “She heard me behind her and reacted defensively. As soon as my pursuit broke into her concentration, she snapped right out of it. I’ve never seen anything to equal her. She realized at once what was happening, and then… she held her breath and ran away .”
“Whoa,” Emmett murmured. “Seriously?”
“He’s not telling it right,” I muttered, more embarrassed than before. “He left out the part where I growled at him.”
“Did ya get in a couple of good swipes?” Emmett asked eagerly.
“No! Of course not.”
“No, not really? You really didn’t attack him?”
“Emmett!” I protested.
“Aw, what a waste,” Emmett groaned. “And here you’re probably the one person who could take him—since he can’t get in your head to cheat—and you had a perfect excuse, too.” He sighed. “I’ve been dying to see how he’d do without that advantage.”
I glared at him frostily. “I would never.”
Jasper’s frown caught my attention; he seemed even more disturbed than before.
Edward touched his fist lightly to Jasper’s shoulder in a mock punch. “You see what I mean?”
“It’s not natural,” Jasper muttered.
“She could have turned on you—she’s only hours old!” Esme scolded, putting her hand against her heart. “Oh, we should have gone with you.”
I wasn’t paying so much attention, now that Edward was past the punch line of his joke. I was staring at the gorgeous child by the door, who was still staring at me. Her little dimpled hands reached out toward me like she knew exactly who I was. Automatically, my hand lifted to mimic hers.
“Edward,” I said, leaning around Jasper to see her better. “Please?”
Jasper’s teeth were set; he didn’t move.
“Jazz, this isn’t anything you’ve seen before,” Alice said quietly. “Trust me.”
Their eyes met for a short second, and then Jasper nodded. He moved out of my way, but put one hand on my shoulder and moved with me as I walked slowly forward.
I thought about every step before I took it, analyzing my mood, the burn in my throat, the position of the others around me. How strong I felt versus how well they would be able to contain me. It was a slow procession.
And then the child in Rosalie’s arms, struggling and reaching all this time while her expression got more and more irritated, let out a high, ringing wail. Everyone reacted as if—like me—they’d never heard her voice before.
They swarmed around her in a second, leaving me standing alone, frozen in place. The sound of Renesmee’s cry pierced right through me, spearing me to the floor. My eyes pricked in the strangest way, like they wanted to tear.
It seemed like everyone had a hand on her, patting and soothing. Everyone but me.
“What’s the matter? Is she hurt? What happened?”
It was Jacob’s voice that was loudest, that raised anxiously above the others. I watched in shock as he reached for Renesmee, and then in utter horror as Rosalie surrendered her to him without a fight.
“No, she’s fine,” Rosalie reassured him.
Rosalie was reassuring Jacob?
Renesmee went to Jacob willingly enough, pushing her tiny hand against his cheek and then squirming around to stretch toward me again.
“See?” Rosalie told him. “She just wants Bella.”
“She wants me?” I whispered.
Renesmee’s eyes—my eyes—stared impatiently at me.
Edward darted back to my side. He put his hands lightly on my arms and urged me forward.
“She’s been waiting for you for almost three days,” he told me.
We were only a few feet away from her now. Bursts of heat seemed to tremble out from her to touch me.
Or maybe it was Jacob who was trembling. I saw his hands shaking as I got closer. And yet, despite his obvious anxiety, his face was more serene than I had seen it in a long time.
“Jake—I’m fine,” I told him. It made me panicky to see Renesmee in his shaking hands, but I worked to keep myself in control.
He frowned at me, eyes tight, like he was just as panicky at the thought of Renesmee in my arms.
Renesmee whimpered eagerly and stretched, her little hands grasping into fists again and again.
Something in me clicked into place at that moment. The sound of her cry, the familiarity of her eyes, the way she seemed even more impatient than I did for this reunion—all of it wove together into the most natural of patterns as she clutched the air between us. Suddenly, she was absolutely real, and of course I knew her. It was perfectly ordinary that I should take that last easy step and reach for her, putting my hands exactly where they would fit best as I pulled her gently toward me.
Jacob let his long arms stretch so that I could cradle her, but he didn’t let go. He shuddered a little when our skin touched. His skin, always so warm to me before, felt like an open flame to me now. It was almost the same temperature as Renesmee’s. Perhaps one or two degrees difference.
Renesmee seemed oblivious to the coolness of my skin, or at least very used to it.
She looked up and smiled at me again, showing her square little teeth and two dimples. Then, very deliberately, she reached for my face.
The moment she did this, all the hands on me tightened, anticipating my reaction. I barely noticed.
I was gasping, stunned and frightened by the strange, alarming image that filled my mind. It felt like a very strong memory—I could still see through my eyes while I watched it in my head—but it was completely unfamiliar. I stared through it to Renesmee’s expectant expression, trying to understand what was happening, struggling desperately to hold on to my calm.
Besides being shocking and unfamiliar, the image was also wrong somehow—I almost recognized my own face in it, my old face, but it was off, backward. I grasped quickly that I was seeing my face as others saw it, rather than flipped in a reflection.
My memory face was twisted, ravaged, covered in sweat and blood. Despite this, my expression in the vision became an adoring smile; my brown eyes glowed over their deep circles. The image enlarged, my face came closer to the unseen vantage point, and then abruptly vanished.
Renesmee’s hand dropped from my cheek. She smiled wider, dimpling again.
It was totally silent in the room but for the heartbeats. No one but Jacob and Renesmee was so much as breathing. The silence stretched on; it seemed like they were waiting for me to say something.
“What… was… that ?” I managed to choke out.
“What did you see?” Rosalie asked curiously, leaning around Jacob, who seemed very much in the way and out of place at the moment. “What did she show you?”
“She showed me that?” I whispered.
“I told you it was hard to explain,” Edward murmured in my ear. “But effective as means of communications go.”
“What was it?” Jacob asked.
I blinked quickly several times. “Um. Me. I think. But I looked terrible.”
“It was the only memory she had of you,” Edward explained. It was obvious he’d seen what she was showing me as she thought of it. He was still cringing, his voice rough from reliving the memory. “She’s letting you know that she’s made the connection, that she knows who you are.”
“But how did she do that?”
Renesmee seemed unconcerned with my boggling eyes. She was smiling slightly and pulling on a lock of my hair.
“How do I hear thoughts? How does Alice see the future?” Edward asked rhetorically, and then shrugged. “She’s gifted.”
“It’s an interesting twist,” Carlisle said to Edward. “Like she’s doing the exact opposite of what you can.”
“Interesting,” Edward agreed. “I wonder. . . .”
I knew they were speculating away, but I didn’t care. I was staring at the most beautiful face in the world. She was hot in my arms, reminding me of the moment when the blackness had almost won, when there was nothing in the world left to hold on to. Nothing strong enough to pull me through the crushing darkness. The moment when I’d thought of Renesmee and found something I would never let go of.
“I remember you, too,” I told her quietly.
It seemed very natural to lean in and press my lips to her forehead. She smelled wonderful. The scent of her skin set my throat burning, but it was easy to ignore. It didn’t strip the joy from the moment. Renesmee was real and I knew her. She was the same one I’d fought for from the beginning. My little nudger, the one who loved me from the inside, too. Half Edward, perfect and lovely. And half me—which, surprisingly, made her better rather than detracting.
I’d been right all along. She was worth the fight.
“She’s fine,” Alice murmured, probably to Jasper. I could feel them hovering, not trusting me.
“Haven’t we experimented enough for one day?” Jacob asked, his voice a slightly higher pitch with stress. “Okay, Bella’s doing great, but let’s not push it.”
I glared at him with real irritation. Jasper shuffled uneasily next to me. We were all crowded so close that every tiny movement seemed very big.
“What is your problem , Jacob?” I demanded. I tugged lightly against his hold on Renesmee, and he just stepped closer to me. He was pressed right up to me, Renesmee touching both of our chests.
Edward hissed at him. “Just because I understand, it doesn’t mean I won’t throw you out, Jacob. Bella’s doing extraordinarily well. Don’t ruin the moment for her.”
“I’ll help him toss you, dog,” Rosalie promised, her voice seething. “I owe you a good kick in the gut.” Obviously, there was no change in that relationship, unless it had gotten worse.
I glared at Jacob’s anxious half-angry expression. His eyes were locked on Renesmee’s face. With everyone pressed together, he had to be touching at least six different vampires at the moment, and it didn’t even seem to bug him.
Would he really go through all this just to protect me from myself? What could have happened during my transformation—my alteration into something he hated—that would soften him so much toward the reason for its necessity?
I puzzled over it, watching him stare at my daughter. Staring at her like… like he was a blind man seeing the sun for the very first time.
“No!” I gasped.
Jasper’s teeth came together and Edward’s arms wrapped around my chest like constricting boas. Jacob had Renesmee out of my arms in the same second, and I did not try to hold on to her. Because I felt it coming—the snap that they’d all been waiting for.
“Rose,” I said through my teeth, very slowly and precisely. “Take Renesmee.”
Rosalie held her hands out, and Jacob handed my daughter to her at once. Both of them backed away from me.
“Edward, I don’t want to hurt you, so please let go of me.”
“Go stand in front of Renesmee,” I suggested.
He deliberated, and then let me go.
I leaned into my hunting crouch and took two slow steps forward toward Jacob.
“You didn’t,” I snarled at him.
He backed away, palms up, trying to reason with me. “You know it’s not something I can control.”
“You stupid mutt ! How could you? My baby! ”
He backed out the front door now as I stalked him, half-running backward down the stairs. “It wasn’t my idea, Bella!”
“I’ve held her all of one time, and already you think you have some moronic wolfy claim to her? She’s mine .”
“I can share,” he said pleadingly as he retreated across the lawn.
“Pay up,” I heard Emmett say behind me. A small part of my brain wondered who had bet against this outcome. I didn’t waste much attention on it. I was too furious.
“How dare you imprint on my baby? Have you lost your mind?”
“It was involuntary!” he insisted, backing into the trees.
Then he wasn’t alone. The two huge wolves reappeared, flanking him on either side. Leah snapped at me.
A fearsome snarl ripped through my teeth back at her. The sound disturbed me, but not enough to stop my advance.
“Bella, would you try to listen for just a second? Please?” Jacob begged. “Leah, back off,” he added.
Leah curled her lip at me and didn’t move.
“Why should I listen?” I hissed. Fury reigned in my head. It clouded everything else out.
“Because you’re the one who told me this. Do you remember? You said we belonged in each other’s lives, right? That we were family. You said that was how you and I were supposed to be. So… now we are. It’s what you wanted.”
I glared ferociously. I did dimly remember those words. But my new quick brain was two steps ahead of his nonsense.
“You think you’ll be part of my family as my son-in-law !” I screeched. My bell voice ripped through two octaves and still came out sounding like music.
“Stop her, Edward,” Esme murmured. “She’ll be unhappy if she hurts him.”
But I felt no pursuit behind me.
“No!” Jacob was insisting at the same time. “How can you even look at it that way? She’s just a baby, for crying out loud!”
“That’s my point !” I yelled.
“You know I don’t think of her that way! Do you think Edward would have let me live this long if I did? All I want is for her to be safe and happy—is that so bad? So different from what you want?” He was shouting right back at me.
Beyond words, I shrieked a growl at him.
“Amazing, isn’t she?” I heard Edward murmur.
“She hasn’t gone for his throat even once,” Carlisle agreed, sounding stunned.
“Fine, you win this one,” Emmett said grudgingly.
“You’re going to stay away from her,” I hissed up at Jacob.
“I can’t do that!”
Through my teeth: “Try . Starting now .”
“It’s not possible. Do you remember how much you wanted me around three days ago? How hard it was to be apart from each other? That’s gone for you now, isn’t it?”
I glared, not sure what he was implying.
“That was her,” he told me. “From the very beginning. We had to be together, even then.”
I remembered, and then I understood; a tiny part of me was relieved to have the madness explained. But that relief somehow only made me angrier. Was he expecting that to be enough for me? That one little clarification would make me okay with this?
“Run away while you still can,” I threatened.
“C’mon, Bells! Nessie likes me, too,” he insisted.
I froze. My breathing stopped. Behind me, I heard the lack of sound that was their anxious reaction.
“What … did you call her?”
Jacob took a step farther back, managing to look sheepish. “Well,” he mumbled, “that name you came up with is kind of a mouthful and—”
“You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster ?” I screeched.
And then I lunged for his throat.