“Charlie, we’ve still got that strictly need-to-know company situation going. I know it’s been more than a week since you saw Renesmee, but a visit is just not a good idea right now. How about I bring Renesmee over to see you?”
Charlie was quiet for so long that I wondered if he heard the strain beneath my façade.
But then he muttered, “Need to know, ugh ,” and I realized it was just his wariness of the supernatural that made him slow to respond.
“Okay, kid,” Charlie said. “Can you bring her over this morning? Sue’s bringing me lunch. She’s just as horrified by my cooking as you were when you first showed up.”
Charlie laughed and then sighed for the old days.
“This morning will be perfect.” The sooner the better. I’d already put this off too long.
“Is Jake coming with you guys?”
Though Charlie didn’t know anything about werewolf imprinting, no one could be oblivious to the attachment between Jacob and Renesmee.
“Probably.” There was no way Jacob would voluntarily miss an afternoon with Renesmee sans bloodsuckers.
“Maybe I should invite Billy, too,” Charlie mused. “But… hmm. Maybe another time.”
I was only half paying attention to Charlie—enough to notice the strange reluctance in his voice when he spoke of Billy, but not enough to worry what that was about. Charlie and Billy were grown-ups; if there was something going on between them, they could figure it out for themselves. I had too many more important things to obsess over.
“See you in a few,” I told him, and hung up.
This trip was about more than protecting my father from the twenty-seven oddly matched vampires—who all had sworn not to kill anyone in a three-hundred-mile radius, but still… Obviously, no human being should get anywhere near this group. This was the excuse I’d given Edward: I was taking Renesmee to Charlie so that he wouldn’t decide to come here. It was a good reason for leaving the house, but not my real reason at all.
“Why can’t we take your Ferrari?” Jacob complained when he met me in the garage. I was already in Edward’s Volvo with Renesmee.
Edward had gotten around to revealing my after car; as he’d suspected, I had not been capable of showing the appropriate enthusiasm. Sure, it was pretty and fast, but I liked to run .
“Too conspicuous,” I answered. “We could go on foot, but that would freak Charlie out.”
Jacob grumbled but got into the front seat. Renesmee climbed from my lap to his.
“How are you?” I asked him as I pulled out of the garage.
“How do you think?” Jacob asked bitingly. “I’m sick of all these reeking bloodsuckers.” He saw my expression and spoke before I could answer. “Yeah, I know, I know. They’re the good guys, they’re here to help, they’re going to save us all. Etcetera, etcetera. Say what you want, I still think Dracula One and Dracula Two are creep-tacular.”
I had to smile. The Romanians weren’t my favorite guests, either. “I don’t disagree with you there.”
Renesmee shook her head but said nothing; unlike the rest of us, she found the Romanians strangely fascinating. She’d made the effort to speak to them aloud since they would not let her touch them. Her question was about their unusual skin and, though I was afraid they might be offended, I was kind of glad she’d asked. I was curious, too.
They hadn’t seemed upset by her interest. Maybe a little rueful.
“We sat still for a very long time, child,” Vladimir had answered, with Stefan nodding along but not continuing Vladimir’s sentences as he often did. “Contemplating our own divinity. It was a sign of our power that everything came to us. Prey, diplomats, those seeking our favor. We sat on our thrones and thought ourselves gods. We didn’t notice for a long time that we were changing—almost petrifying. I suppose the Volturi did us one favor when they burned our castles. Stefan and I, at least, did not continue to petrify. Now the Volturi’s eyes are filmed with dusty scum, but ours are bright. I imagine that will give us an advantage when we gouge theirs from their sockets.”
I tried to keep Renesmee away from them after that.
“How long do we get to hang out with Charlie?” Jacob asked, interrupting my thoughts. He was visibly relaxing as we pulled away from the house and all its new inmates. It made me happy that I didn’t really count as a vampire to him. I was still just Bella.
“For quite a while, actually.”
The tone of my voice caught his attention.
“Is something going on here besides visiting your dad?”
“Jake, you know how you’re pretty good at controlling your thoughts around Edward?”
He raised one thick black brow. “Yeah?”
I just nodded, cutting my eyes to Renesmee. She was looking out the window, and I couldn’t tell how interested she was in our conversation, but I decided not to risk going any further.
Jacob waited for me to add something else, and then his lower lip pushed out while he thought about what little I’d said.
As we drove in silence, I squinted through the annoying contacts into the cold rain; it wasn’t quite cold enough for snow. My eyes were not as ghoulish as they had been in the beginning—definitely closer to a dull reddish orange than to bright crimson. Soon they’d be amber enough for me to quit the contacts. I hoped the change wouldn’t upset Charlie too much.
Jacob was still chewing over our truncated conversation when we got to Charlie’s. We didn’t talk as we walked at a quick human pace through the falling rain. My dad was waiting for us; he had the door open before I could knock.
“Hey, guys! It seems like it’s been years! Look at you, Nessie! Come to Grampa! I swear you’ve grown half a foot. And you look skinny, Ness.” He glared at me. “Aren’t they feeding you up there?”
“It’s just the growth spurt,” I muttered. “Hey, Sue,” I called over his shoulder. The smell of chicken, tomato, garlic, and cheese issued from the kitchen; it probably smelled good to everyone else. I could also smell fresh pine and packing dust.
Renesmee flashed her dimples. She never spoke in front of Charlie.
“Well, come on in out of the cold, kids. Where’s my son-in-law?”
“Entertaining friends,” Jacob said, and then snorted. “You’re so lucky you’re out of the loop, Charlie. That’s all I’m going to say.”
I punched Jacob lightly in the kidney while Charlie cringed.
“Ow,” Jacob complained under his breath; well, I’d thought I’d punched lightly.
“Actually, Charlie, I have some errands to run.”
Jacob shot a glance at me but said nothing.
“Behind on your Christmas shopping, Bells? You only have a few days, you know.”
“Yeah, Christmas shopping,” I said lamely. That explained the packing dust. Charlie must have put the old decorations up.
“Don’t worry, Nessie,” he whispered in her ear. “I got you covered if your mom drops the ball.”
I rolled my eyes at him, but in truth, I hadn’t thought about the holidays at all.
“Lunch’s on the table,” Sue called from the kitchen. “C’mon, guys.”
“See you later, Dad,” I said, and exchanged a quick look with Jacob. Even if he couldn’t help but think about this near Edward, at least there wasn’t much for him to share. He had no idea what I was up to.
Of course, I thought to myself as I got into the car, it wasn’t like I had much idea, either.
The roads were slick and dark, but driving didn’t intimidate me anymore. My reflexes were well up to the job, and I barely paid attention to the road. The problem was keeping my speed from attracting attention when I had company. I wanted to be done with today’s mission, to have the mystery sorted out so that I could get back to the vital task of learning. Learning to protect some, learning to kill others.
I was getting better and better with my shield. Kate didn’t feel the need to motivate me anymore—it wasn’t hard to find reasons to feel angry, now that I knew that was the key—and so I mostly worked with Zafrina. She was pleased with my extension; I was able to cover almost a ten-foot area for more than a minute, though it exhausted me. This morning she’d been trying to find out if I could push the shield away from my mind altogether. I didn’t see what the use of that would be, but Zafrina thought it would help strengthen me, like exercising muscles in the stomach and back rather than just the arms. Eventually, you could lift more weight when all the muscles were stronger.
I wasn’t very good at it. I had only gotten one glimpse of the jungle river she was trying to show me.
But there were different ways to prepare for what was coming, and with only two weeks left, I worried that I might be neglecting the most important. Today I would rectify that oversight.
I’d memorized the appropriate maps, and I had no problem finding my way to the address that didn’t exist online, the one for J. Jenks. My next step would be Jason Jenks at the other address, the one Alice had not given me.
To say that it wasn’t a nice neighborhood would be an understatement. The most nondescript of all the Cullens’ cars was still outrageous on this street. My old Chevy would have looked healthy here. During my human years, I would have locked the doors and driven away as fast as I dared. As it was, I was a little fascinated. I tried to imagine Alice in this place for any reason, and failed.
The buildings—all three stories, all narrow, all leaning slightly as if bowed by the pounding rain—were mostly old houses divided up into multiple apartments. It was hard to tell what color the peeling paint was supposed to be. Everything had faded to shades of gray. A few of the buildings had businesses on the first floor: a dirty bar with the windows painted black, a psychic’s supply store with neon hands and tarot cards glowing fitfully on the door, a tattoo parlor, and a daycare with duct tape holding the broken front window together. There were no lamps on inside any of the rooms, though it was grim enough outside that the humans should have needed the light. I could hear the low mumbling of voices in the distance; it sounded like TV.
There were a few people about, two shuffling through the rain in opposite directions and one sitting on the shallow porch of a boarded-up cut-rate law office, reading a wet newspaper and whistling. The sound was much too cheerful for the setting.
I was so bemused by the carefree whistler, I didn’t realize at first that the abandoned building was right where the address I was looking for should exist. There were no numbers on the dilapidated place, but the tattoo parlor beside it was just two numbers off.
I pulled up to the curb and idled for a second. I was getting into that dump one way or another, but how to do so without the whistler noticing me? I could park the next street over and come through the back.… There might be more witnesses on that side. Maybe the rooftops? Was it dark enough for that kind of thing?
“Hey, lady,” the whistler called to me.
I rolled the passenger window down as if I couldn’t hear him.
The man laid his paper aside, and his clothes surprised me, now that I could see them. Under his long ragged duster, he was a little too well dressed. There was no breeze to give me the scent, but the sheen on his dark red shirt looked like silk. His crinkly black hair was tangled and wild, but his dark skin was smooth and perfect, his teeth white and straight. A contradiction.
“Maybe you shouldn’t park that car there, lady,” he said. “It might not be here when you get back.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I said.
I shut off the engine and got out. Perhaps my whistling friend could give me the answers I needed faster than breaking and entering. I opened my big gray umbrella—not that I cared, really, about protecting the long cashmere sweater-dress I wore. It was what a human would do.
The man squinted through the rain at my face, and then his eyes widened. He swallowed, and I heard his heart accelerate as I approached.
“I’m looking for someone,” I began.
“I’m someone,” he offered with a smile. “What can I do for you, beautiful?”
“Are you J. Jenks?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said, and his expression changed from anticipation to understanding. He got to his feet and examined me with narrowed eyes. “Why’re you looking for J?”
“That’s my business.” Besides, I didn’t have a clue. “Are you J?”
We faced each other for a long moment while his sharp eyes ran up and down the fitted pearl gray sheath I wore. His gaze finally made it to my face. “You don’t look like the usual customer.”
“I’m probably not the usual,” I admitted. “But I do need to see him as soon as possible.”
“I’m not sure what to do,” he admitted.
“Why don’t you tell me your name?”
He grinned. “Max.”
“Nice to meet you, Max. Now, why don’t you tell me what you do for the usual ?”
His grin became a frown. “Well, J’s usual clients don’t look a thing like you. Your kind doesn’t bother with the downtown office. You just go straight up to his fancy office in the skyscraper.”
I repeated the other address I had, making the list of numbers a question.
“Yeah, that’s the place,” he said, suspicious again. “How come you didn’t go there?”
“This was the address I was given—by a very dependable source.”
“If you were up to any good, you wouldn’t be here.”
I pursed my lips. I’d never been much good at bluffing, but Alice hadn’t left me a lot of alternatives. “Maybe I’m not up to any good.”
Max’s face turned apologetic. “Look, lady—”
“Right. Bella. See, I need this job. J pays me pretty good to mostly just hang out here all day. I want to help you, I do, but—and of course I’m speaking hypothetically, right? Or off the record, or whatever works for you—but if I pass somebody through that could get him in trouble, I’m out of work. Do you see my problem?”
I thought for a minute, chewing on my lip. “You’ve never seen anyone like me here before? Well, sort of like me. My sister is a lot shorter than me, and she has dark spiky black hair.”
“J knows your sister?”
“I think so.”
Max pondered this for a moment. I smiled at him, and his breathing stuttered. “Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give J a call and describe you to him. Let him make the decision.”
What did J. Jenks know? Would my description mean something to him? That was a troubling thought.
“My last name is Cullen,” I told Max, wondering if that was too much information. I was starting to get irritated with Alice. Did I really have to be quite this blind? She could have given me one or two more words.…
“Cullen, got it.”
I watched as he dialed, easily picking out the number. Well, I could call J. Jenks myself if this didn’t work.
“Hey J, it’s Max. I know I’m never supposed to call you at this number except in an emergency. . . .”
Is there an emergency? I heard faintly from the other end.
“Well, not exactly. It’s this girl who wants to see you. . . .”
I fail to see the emergency in that. Why didn’t you follow normal procedure?
“I didn’t follow normal procedure ’cause she don’t look like any kind of normal—”
Is she a badge?!
You can’t be sure about that. Does she look like one of Kubarev’s—?
“No—let me talk, okay? She says you know her sister or something.”
Not likely. What does she look like?
“She looks like . . .” His eyes ran from my face to my shoes appreciatively. “Well, she looks like a freaking supermodel, that’s what she looks like.” I smiled and he winked at me, then went on. “Rocking body, pale as a sheet, dark brown hair almost to her waist, needs a good night’s sleep—any of this sounding familiar?”
No, it doesn’t. I’m not happy that you let your weakness for pretty women interrupt—
“Yeah, so I’m a sucker for the pretty ones, what’s wrong with that? I’m sorry I bothered you, man. Just forget it.”
“Name,” I whispered.
“Oh right. Wait,” Max said. “She says her name is Bella Cullen. That help?”
There was a beat of dead silence, and then the voice on the other end was abruptly screaming, using a lot of words you didn’t often hear outside of truck stops. Max’s whole expression changed; all the joking vanished and his lips went pale.
“Because you didn’t ask!” Max yelled back, panicked.
There was another pause while J collected himself.
Beautiful and pale? J asked, a tiny bit calmer.
“I said that, didn’t I?”
Beautiful and pale? What did this man know about vampires? Was he one of us himself? I wasn’t prepared for that kind of confrontation. I gritted my teeth. What had Alice gotten me into?
Max waited for a minute through another volley of shouted insults and instructions and then glanced at me with eyes that were almost frightened. “But you only meet downtown clients on Thursdays—okay, okay! On it.” He slid his phone shut.
“He wants to see me?” I asked brightly.
Max glowered. “You could have told me you were a priority client.”
“I didn’t know I was.”
“I thought you might be a cop,” he admitted. “I mean, you don’t look like a cop. But you act kind of weird, beautiful.”
“Drug cartel?” he guessed.
“Who, me?” I asked.
“Yeah. Or your boyfriend or whatever.”
“Nope, sorry. I’m not really a fan of drugs, and neither is my husband. Just say no and all that.”
Max cussed under his breath. “Married. Can’t catch a break.”
“Please! Is that the kind of people you usually deal with, Max? Maybe you need a new job.”
I had to admit, I was enjoying myself a little. I hadn’t interacted with humans much besides Charlie and Sue. It was entertaining to watch him flounder. I was also pleased at how easy it was not to kill him.
“You’ve got to be involved in something big. And bad,” he mused.
“It’s not really like that.”
“That’s what they all say. But who else needs papers? Or can afford to pay J’s prices for them, I should say. None of my business, anyway,” he said, and then muttered the word married again.
He gave me an entirely new address with basic directions, and then watched me drive away with suspicious, regretful eyes.
At this point, I was ready for almost anything—some kind of James Bond villain’s high-tech lair seemed appropriate. So I thought Max must have given me the wrong address as a test. Or maybe the lair was subterranean, underneath this very commonplace strip mall nestled up against a wooded hill in a nice family neighborhood.
I pulled into an open spot and looked up at a tastefully subtle sign that read JASON SCOTT, ATTORNEY AT LAW.
The office inside was beige with celery green accents, inoffensive and unremarkable. There was no scent of vampire here, and that helped me relax. Nothing but unfamiliar human. A fish tank was set into the wall, and a blandly pretty blond receptionist sat behind the desk.
“Hello,” she greeted me. “How can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Mr. Scott.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
She smirked a little. “It could be a while, then. Why don’t you have a seat while I—”
April! a man’s demanding voice squawked from the phone on her desk. I’m expecting a Ms. Cullen shortly.
I smiled and pointed to myself.
Send her in immediately. Do you understand? I don’t care what it’s interrupting.
I could hear something else in his voice besides impatience. Stress. Nerves.
“She’s just arrived,” April said as soon as she could speak.
What? Send her in! What are you waiting for?
“Right away, Mr. Scott!” She got to her feet, fluttering her hands as she led the way down a short hallway, offering me coffee or tea or anything else I might have wanted.
“Here you are,” she said as she ushered me through the door into a power office, complete with heavy wooden desk and vanity wall.
“Close the door behind you,” a raspy tenor voice ordered.
I examined the man behind the desk while April made a hasty retreat. He was short and balding, probably around fifty-five, with a paunch. He wore a red silk tie with a blue-and-white-striped shirt, and his navy blazer hung over the back of his chair. He was also trembling, blanched to a sickly paste color, with sweat beading on his forehead; I imagined an ulcer churning away under the spare tire.
J recovered himself and rose unsteadily from his chair. He reached his hand across the desk.
“Ms. Cullen. What an absolute delight.”
I crossed to him and shook his hand quickly once. He cringed slightly at my cold skin but did not seem particularly surprised by it.
“Mr. Jenks. Or do you prefer Scott?”
He winced again. “Whatever you wish, of course.”
“How about you call me Bella, and I’ll call you J?”
“Like old friends,” he agreed, mopping a silk handkerchief across his forehead. He gestured for me to have a seat and took his own. “I must ask, am I finally meeting Mr. Jasper’s lovely wife?”
I weighed that for a second. So this man knew Jasper, not Alice. Knew him, and seemed afraid of him, too. “His sister-in-law, actually.”
He pursed his lips, as if he were grasping for meanings just as desperately as I was.
“I trust Mr. Jasper is in good health?” he asked carefully.
“I’m sure he is in excellent health. He’s on an extended vacation at the moment.”
This seemed to clear up some of J’s confusion. He nodded to himself and templed his fingers. “Just so. You should have come to the main office. My assistants there would have put you straight through to me—no need to go through less hospitable channels.”
I just nodded. I wasn’t sure why Alice had given me the ghetto address.
“Ah, well, you’re here now. What can I do for you?”
“Papers,” I said, trying to make my voice sound like I knew what I was talking about.
“Certainly,” J agreed at once. “Are we talking birth certificates, death certificates, drivers’ licenses, passports, social security cards… ?”
I took a deep breath and smiled. I owed Max big time.
And then my smile faded. Alice had sent me here for a reason, and I was sure it was to protect Renesmee. Her last gift to me. The one thing she would know I needed.
The only reason Renesmee would need a forger was if she was running. And the only reason Renesmee would be running was if we had lost.
If Edward and I were running with her, she wouldn’t need these documents right away. I was sure IDs were something Edward knew how to get his hands on or make himself, and I was sure he knew ways to escape without them. We could run with her for thousands of miles. We could swim with her across an ocean.
If we were around to save her.
And all the secrecy to keep this out of Edward’s head. Because there was a good chance that everything he knew, Aro would know. If we lost, Aro would certainly get the information he craved before he destroyed Edward.
It was as I had suspected. We couldn’t win. But we must have a good shot at killing Demetri before we lost, giving Renesmee the chance to run.
My still heart felt like a boulder in my chest—a crushing weight. All my hope faded like fog in the sunshine. My eyes pricked.
Who would I put this on? Charlie? But he was so defenselessly human. And how would I get Renesmee to him? He was not going to be anywhere close to that fight. So that left one person. There really had never been anyone else.
I’d thought this through so quickly that J didn’t notice my pause.
“Two birth certificates, two passports, one driver’s license,” I said in a low, strained tone.
If he noticed the change in my expression, he pretended otherwise.
“Jacob… Wolfe. And… Vanessa Wolfe.” Nessie seemed like an okay nickname for Vanessa. Jacob would get a kick out of the Wolfe thing.
His pen scratched swiftly across a legal pad. “Middle names?”
“Just put something generic in.”
“If you prefer. Ages?”
“Twenty-seven for the man, five for the girl.” Jacob could pull it off. He was a beast. And at the rate Renesmee was growing, I’d better estimate high. He could be her stepfather.…
“I’ll need pictures if you prefer finished documents,” J said, interrupting my thoughts. “Mr. Jasper usually liked to finish them himself.”
Well, that explained why J didn’t know what Alice looked like.
“Hold on,” I said.
This was luck. I had several family pictures shoved in my wallet, and the perfect one—Jacob holding Renesmee on the front porch steps—was only a month old. Alice had given it to me just a few days before… Oh. Maybe there wasn’t that much luck involved after all. Alice knew I had this picture. Maybe she’d even had some dim flash that I would need it before she gave it to me.
“Here you go.”
J examined the picture for a moment. “Your daughter is very like you.”
I tensed. “She’s more like her father.”
“Who is not this man.” He touched Jacob’s face.
My eyes narrowed, and new sweat beads popped out on J’s shiny head.
“No. That is a very close friend of the family.”
“Forgive me,” he mumbled, and the pen began scratching again. “How soon will you need the documents?”
“Can I get them in a week?”
“That’s a rush order. It will cost twice as—but forgive me. I forgot with whom I was speaking.”
Clearly, he knew Jasper.
“Just give me a number.”
He seemed hesitant to say it aloud, though I was sure, having dealt with Jasper, he must have known that price wasn’t really an object. Not even taking into consideration the bloated accounts that existed all over the world with the Cullens’ various names on them, there was enough cash stashed all over the house to keep a small country afloat for a decade; it reminded me of the way there were always a hundred fishhooks in the back of any drawer at Charlie’s house. I doubted anyone would even notice the small stack I’d removed in preparation for today.
J wrote the price down on the bottom of the legal pad.
I nodded calmly. I had more than that with me. I unclasped my bag again and counted out the right amount—I had it all paper-clipped into five-thousand-dollar increments, so it took no time at all.
“Ah, Bella, you don’t really have to give me the entire sum now. It’s customary for you to save half to ensure delivery.”
I smiled wanly at the nervous man. “But I trust you, J. Besides, I’ll give you a bonus—the same again when I get the documents.”
“That’s not necessary, I assure you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” It wasn’t like I could take it with me. “So I’ll meet you here next week at the same time?”
He gave me a pained look. “Actually, I prefer to make such transactions in places unrelated to my various businesses.”
“Of course. I’m sure I’m not doing this the way you expect.”
“I’m used to having no expectations when it comes to the Cullen family.” He grimaced and then quickly composed his face again. “Shall we meet at eight o’clock a week from tonight at The Pacifico? It’s on Union Lake, and the food is exquisite.”
“Perfect.” Not that I would be joining him for dinner. He actually wouldn’t like it much if I did.
I rose and shook his hand again. This time he didn’t flinch. But he did seem to have some new worry on his mind. His mouth was pinched up, his back tense.
“Will you have trouble with that deadline?” I asked.
“What?” He looked up, taken off guard by my question. “The deadline? Oh, no. No worries at all. I will certainly have your documents done on time.”
It would have been nice to have Edward here, so that I would know what J’s real worries were. I sighed. Keeping secrets from Edward was bad enough; having to be away from him was almost too much.
“Then I’ll see you in one week.”