Trees flew by as I raced through the woods. Branches were heavy with recent rain, the drops falling in a shower to the forest floor only after I'd passed them. I stopped abruptly, inhaling deeply and listening for any sound that could give me a clue as to where I should go next.
It was close, but not close enough. A breeze blew my hair off of my forehead. Grinning, my head spun to the left, taking in every movement, but aside from a few birds flitting in and out of the higher branches of the trees and a few small rodents foraging for their next meal, there was no sign of any change. Bella was upwind from me; that much I knew. I may have been fast, but my girl was cunning.
What had started as a simple but necessary hunting trip was now an enormous game of Hide and Seek. At first, I'd thought it silly, but Bella had taunted and run until I couldn't help but give in. It was in our nature to give chase. Personally, I'd rather find a soft, grassy spot and kiss her, pinning her down until her beautiful laugh turned into moans for more, but she was so happy that it was infectious. And now it was a matter of pride, because I refused to let a younger, less experienced immortal get the best of me – mate or not.
I chuckled low when the scent of her shifted. "Oh, Isabella. I can find you," I murmured, knowing she could hear me.
Taking it slower, I followed her trail, knowing it probably was what she wanted. It turned, threaded through the woods, and doubled back countless times, but there seemed to be a pattern that continued northwest.
The snap of a twig drew me to my right, narrowing in on the scent of freesia, orange blossoms, and the leather of my new car – an Aston Martin, which qualified as both fast and ridiculously expensive. It was also the first thing I'd bought for myself in over eighty years.
I was so focused on finding Bella that the sound of a heavy, healthy heartbeat didn't register immediately.
I froze, inhaling again, and the burn in my throat exploded, despite the stag I'd taken just an hour before. I launched myself into the nearest tree, scaling to the top to scan the area for the human. I wasn't far from a cluster of homes, which wasn't unexpected in the Appalachians, but it was still a surprise to see that I'd lost track of exactly where I was.
My phone vibrated in my pocket, but I ignored it, knowing it was probably Alice having seen everything. I made a specific decision, and the buzzing stopped. Smiling at just how amazing Alice's talent could be, I looked across the small field.
A young girl, not quite a woman but not really a child, stepped gracelessly through the tall grasses. She was aiming toward the small creek about twenty yards away. She was thin, with light brown hair, wearing jeans
that were rolled up to just below her knees and a t-shirt with some graphic design on it. Her thoughts were muted, not because I couldn't hear them but mostly because she was simply trying hard not to think...about anything. Flashes of a home, an argument, and a feeling of disappointment were the only things I could really pick up.
The scent I loved the most wafted around me, and Bella appeared on a branch next to my own.
"Edward?" she said softly enough that the human would never be able to detect it.
"I'm okay," I told her, tearing my gaze away from the girl that had almost made it to where she was aiming to see Bella's concerned expression. "I'm okay," I reiterated with a nod and a smile I couldn't help, because for the first time since my change in diet, I was okay.
Bella's mind was open to me to show me that she'd shield me if necessary, but mostly, I saw myself reflected back. Though my eyes were dark due to the situation, they weren't black. They were now a deep amber on a normal basis, the red almost gone, but in her mind, I could see that I was truly in control. My face was almost relaxed, though slightly curious. There was no urge to stalk the girl, to drain the sweet blood I could smell from where I was standing. I could hear the rush of it speeding through her veins, practically feel each thump of her heart, but I didn't want it enough to ruin all the work I'd gone through to get to that point.
Most of all, I didn't want to disappoint Bella...or even Carlisle, because to take this human would be a disaster that might result in having to move us, because we weren't far from Carlisle's home. Both he and Bella had had endless patience the entire three months I'd been with them, no matter what I'd thrown their way. My withdrawal had been harder than expected, shaking my emotions, my beliefs, and my confidence.
We'd gone through it all, but I'd slowly rebuilt my resistance. Though the scent still occasionally rocked me, I found that I could actually push past it.
To distract myself, but also to immerse myself in it, I sat down where my branch met the trunk, and Bella followed suit, reaching over to brush my hair from my forehead.
"She's mad," I said, jerking a chin toward the human girl, who was now dipping bare feet into the creek from the bank. "Her parents are fighting...they're always fighting...and she's wishing they'd stop."
"What's the fight about?"
"Money...or really, the lack thereof," I answered her. "They were supposed to go...somewhere, but now they can't. Some unexpected expense." My brow furrowed as I tried to pick up more from the girl, but she was now reading a book – something about a love triangle in high school. "Now she just wants peace and quiet," I chuckled, shrugging a shoulder.
"Does that help?" Bella asked, tilting her head at me. "Listening?"
"Yes," I stated with a nod. "It really does. It gives...perspective?"
"Makes them...people, not food," she surmised with a nod, but her smile could have melted the heart of the most hardened personalities – immortal or human. "That would've been nice to have about nine years ago... I'm jealous."
Laughing, I grasped her by the back of the neck, pulling her in for a kiss. "Don't be," I whispered against her sweet lips. "It's helpful but disturbing at the best of times."
She giggled softly, but it was an innocently sexy sound to my ears. "I can imagine."
My Bella was all I never knew I wanted or needed. Since I'd been with her, nothing was the same. Nothing.
She was my comfort, my strength, my sparring partner – both verbal and physical – and my reason for smiling more in the last few months than I had my whole long life. She'd become everything. She celebrated even the smallest of victories with silly dances and cheers, but never judged me on any steps backwards, only standing steady to push me onward. When the family became too much, she was my escape. But mostly, she was my best friend, giving me an audience that I didn't think I'd ever need, and was so damned beautiful and sexy and sweet that she was the best of distractions.
Picking up her hand and kissing the center of her palm, I said, "We should probably head back."
"You need to hunt on the way?" she asked, leaning to kiss me one more time before standing up.
"Yeah, I should," I sighed. "One more couldn't hurt."
"Nah, it couldn't," she snickered, dropping from her perch to the soft ground below without making a sound. This time, she waited for me.
"Game over?" I chuckled, taking her hand again.
"You almost had me," she giggled. "We'll call it a draw due to interference."
"Deal, love," I laughed, tugging her hand so that we could leave the young human to her peace and quiet.
A few hours later, we wandered up into the backyard hand in hand, completely sated. Not only had we each hunted down another deer, but I'd taken her under the shade of a large willow tree, ravishing every inch of her in the tall, cool grasses. We took the last few yards at a human pace, only to run into Carlisle on the back deck.
"Alice says you came across a human while hunting," he stated, his face filled with concern.
"Well, hi to you, too, Carlisle," Bella snarked back, giving him a wink, which worked on him like magic, melting his overly concerned expression into something a little calmer.
"No, not close," I answered him, unable to stop my smirk. "I was more interested in why the girl was in the clearing than the fact that she was there."
"Without Bella's shield?" he asked verbally, though his thoughts were centered more on pride that I'd come a long way since my return.
"I was right there," Bella sighed, rolling her eyes. "He was fine...never even flinched. I would've stopped him. Honestly, you men have no faith. In fact, we sat right there with no problem...got me all curious as to why she was out there in the middle of no-damn-where. Now I'll never know where it was she was supposed to be going that her parents couldn't suddenly take her."
Carlisle and I grinned over at her, both of us chuckling and shaking our heads at her little rant.
"Sorry, love. I can't always hear everything. She never thought about her original destination," I explained.
The nickname Spitfire flickered through Carlisle's thoughts. He'd forgotten how fitting it had been during her newborn phase. It had come from Jasper, but all had agreed it suited her.
"Yeah, a little bit," I agreed softly without taking my eyes from her, because she was stunning when she was all riled up, which caused Carlisle to laugh almost silently.
"Tell him I offered," she huffed, folding her arms across her chest.
"She did," I said with a nod. "I declined it. And I'm glad I did, because I was able to endure it."
"Excellent, son," he praised, squeezing my shoulder and switching to thoughts. You've acclimated quicker than I expected. I'm proud of you. All your hard work has certainly paid off, though I had no doubt you could do it.
His praise embarrassed me, and I only nodded that I'd heard him.
"Let me ask you something," he started, looking between us. "Do you think you could handle the city?"
"If I could stop during the hunt," I began, giving a giggling Bella a side glance, because I didn't elaborate that it was her that I was hunting, "then I can probably handle anything at this point. Nevertheless, Bella could shield me if I had an issue."
He studied my face and then Bella's, finally chuckling. "I think Alice has cabin fever, because she wants you guys to head into the city tonight."
Bella groaned, rolling her eyes up to me and then over to him. "She wants to go to the club?"
"Yes, I believe that's the plan," he laughed, draping an arm across her shoulders.
"You know you want to!" Alice yelled from somewhere inside the house. "I've already seen us there!"
I laughed softly as Alice showed me what she'd seen. We were back at the club that I'd followed Bella to, only this time, I was with them, and it looked like I was having no problem dealing with the humans all around us. But Alice made sure to show me a specific part of her vision – a dance with Bella. It wasn't dancing like I'd known as a human, all stiff and barely touching, and it certainly wasn't like the classic type of dance I'd seen throughout Spain and Italy. This was entwined limbs, bodies pressed together, and lips sharing the same breaths. And I wanted it. Badly. I wanted that experience with her.
Alice laughed maniacally when I made a decision to thank her in some major shopping event way. I was thinking car, yacht...highrise in New York.
"What are you two up to?" Bella asked, her gaze flickering between me and the house.
"Nothing," Alice and I both answered innocently.
"Mmhm," she hummed through pursed lips.
"What?" I asked, which only cause Carlisle to laugh unabashedly.
"Nothing, Edward. So you want to go, then? You're ready?" Bella asked.
Despite the chuckles coming from our father and from inside the house, I knew it was a serious question, so I nodded. "Yes, I'll be fine."
She studied my face for just a moment, but finally nodded, saying, "Okay, fine. We'll go."
I parked at Bella's old apartment, knowing that Pulse was within walking distance. I wanted her alone for just a few minutes, so when I met her at her car door, I stopped her, pressing her back into my car.
Bella looked incredible, dressed in a short skirt and tight shirt. All the places that my hands continuously ached to touch were accentuated by denim and some sort of blue stretchy material. Her mahogany locks fell down around her shoulders, and she was wearing just enough makeup to appear human. But it was the warm look in her golden eyes as she snaked her arms around my neck that made me completely forget what I'd wanted to tell her.
"You're so beautiful," I breathed, nuzzling her nose with my own.
"Mmm, I could say the same, Edward," she purred, pushing me back just enough to give me an appraising peek.
"Alice," I chuckled, shrugging a shoulder at the black jeans, black blazer with the sleeves rolled up, and white t-shirt the tiny thing had visually forced me into. It hadn't been worth fighting. "You know, you're right. It's nice not having to think about it."
"I see your old boots survived her, though," she pointed out.
"That was a fight the little shit wasn't going to win," I laughed, looking down at my old black leather boots. "It didn't matter what decision she came to, her vision showed me wearing them."
"You're lucky she hasn't broken into my apartment to get to your leather coat," Bella giggled, pulling me back to her, and I couldn't help but kiss her.
"She'd better not," I growled softly as my lips met hers.
Some days, I just couldn't get enough of her. And this was one of them. I was a slave to her, in all honesty. I couldn't get enough running with her during the hunt, enough laughter, enough smiles, or nearly enough touching. The pull to her was stronger on some days than others, I'd noticed, but I knew I wasn't alone.
Bella felt the same way. She'd told me, shown me in her mind. After over a hundred years of solitude, it was a shock and a comfort to find the other half of me, the half that balanced me out perfectly.
As my fingers threaded themselves into her hair, Bella's mouth opened to mine, which caused a low, rumbling growl to escape me as my whole body leaned into her. Our phones buzzed in our pockets, but we ignored them. I was vaguely aware of the fact that we were out in public in a dark alley as I broke away from her mouth to kiss slowly down her neck. I could barely register the sounds of the neighborhood around us – an open window four stories up, a car alarm two blocks over, and the endless din of several TVs on different channels. Luckily, Bella's shield calmed the mental assault that could've been hitting me from every resident of the surrounding apartment buildings. I could hear them; she just merely turned down the volume.
"You know," I purred, licking up the side of her neck, only to capture her earlobe in my mouth, "it wasn't that long ago that I followed you down this very alleyway." I was grateful that my brain finally remembered what I'd wanted to tell her, because the girl literally stunned me stupid sometimes.
"I know," she panted, weaving her fingers into my hair to hold me close. "I knew you were there."
"You did?" I gasped, pulling back to look her in the eye.
She kissed me roughly, giggling against my lips. "I didn't see you, just felt something change. I shielded myself from you."
"You were on the phone with Alice," I whispered, ghosting my lips across her cheek. "You said you hated the club. You know, we don't have to go," I told her, skimming my hand down her thigh and back around to her ass.
"I did," she laughed. "It wasn't easy having no dance partner other than sweaty human boys."
"I know...one almost met his demise that night." I laughed when she suddenly froze, gasping, and pushed me back. "What?" I asked at the sight of her incredulous expression. "I didn't know why I felt that way, love, but I did. He was a weak, useless human in my eyes."
"This one?" she asked, opening her mind and showing me the boy I was talking about.
"Yes," I snarled, shaking my head and frowning at the sight of the two of them dancing, as if I didn't have my own perfect memory of it.
"He was harmless, you know. So nervous that he could hardly speak," she explained, shrugging a shoulder.
"That's because you were way out of his league...and mine, too, for that matter," I told her.
"Mm'kay, whatever," she laughed, kissing me again. "Shut up and take me to my apartment," she whispered, dragging her teeth along my jaw.
"Yes," I hissed, visions of taking her hard on her sofa again running rampant through my mind. Wrapping an arm around her waist to pull her away from the car, I growled low and defeated when our phones when off again. "Fuck," I grumbled, my forehead hitting her shoulder. "You'd better look."
"Dammit," Bella sighed, giving her phone a quick glance. "The whole lot of them will show up without shame. Emmett will make us play Monopoly or some shit. We'd better go."
"We could always come back later," I suggested, giving her the smile that seemed to get me the most kisses.
"Smart man," she crooned, kissing me one more time before taking my hand and leading me down the alley.
Pulse was considered dangerous by humans...or at least, that was the thrill that drew them in. It had a pretty interesting reputation for being a "den of sin," to quote Emmett. It was heavy music, low lighting, and filled with people that considered themselves creatures of the night. Little did they know...
However, despite the rumors that surrounded the place, it actually wasn't bad. The security kept the place clear of troublemakers, the bartenders never let someone drive drunk, and the DJ was damned good. They played a wide range of music, from current dance to heavy techno.
The place was pretty full, so I needed a moment at a table to truly get used to the scents, the sounds, and the feel of so many minds and bodies. It took about an hour there before I was acclimated.
I once liked dance clubs, because the nastiest of men got up to no good. If I didn't have time to actually hunt down a criminal, then a bar was the next best place to go, because there was always someone trying to take advantage of someone else. Whether it was a breech of personal space, slipping something into an unsuspecting woman's drink, or simply following her out into the street where no one could see, I was always able to find my next meal. I'd found that the date-raping, roofie-dropping cowards whined and cried more just before their death than any other offender. They'd beg, bargain, and sob, but it never worked. In the end, I'd shown them what it was like to have their control taken away. I despised a rapist; they were the lowest of the low. The tears of someone weaker should not be a turn on.
I also liked the clubs for the music. It didn't matter that the latest songs were IQ-dropping idiocy – lyrics had just about dropped to an all time low – but the music itself was complex and twisted. Strange sounds were combined to create impressive chords – something that had been going on for decades, from the first orchestra, to the invention of rock and roll.
Soft lips pressed to my cheek, and I smiled, looking over at Bella. "I'm okay," I told her in a chuckle, answering her silent question. I'd asked her to please keep her mind open to me, and she'd done it so far with no argument. "Just...getting used to being in here without an agenda."
"Ah," she said, and then scrunched up her nose in the most adorable way as she immediately guessed why I'd be in a bar. "And they say chivalry is dead," she murmured wryly, giggling when I barked a laugh.
"A bit archaic," I snickered, bowing my head to her, "but I'm not dead. Well...depending on your definition."
She smiled sweetly, leaning closer, but I shifted, setting her feet on the bottom rung of my stool so that she could stand between my legs. "You're really hot for an old man, baby. But now is not the time for the whole dead versus undead versus monster debate, Edward," she stated.
Grinning, I nodded in agreement and kissed her lips softly, my eyes falling to the table in the far corner. It was the one I'd sat at when I'd followed Bella.
"You looked dangerous that night," she whispered, and despite the loud music, I heard her just fine. She'd caught my line of sight. "And so, so sad."
I gazed up at her, sighing deeply at just how true that statement was, but I didn't say anything. I was surprised that she'd seen me, but I'd been wrapped in a personal debate that night – walk away and stay Aro's toy, or take her to him and basically destroy the beautiful creature in my arms. Now I understood why I couldn't come to a decision that night, but then, it had been pure hell.
My eyes fell to the dance floor and her – our – siblings, and I smiled when a Latin-based beat started.
"Dance with me," I said, laughing when my girl didn't just smile, but fucking beamed, because she apparently loved the song. "Silly girl," I chuckled, setting her down to the floor. "Come on."
According to Bella's mind, the song was by Jennifer Lopez. Taking her hand, I led her to the floor, pulling her hips to mine. It had been decades since I'd danced, and that had been because Esme had taught me a few moves. She and Carlisle had wanted to head down to Rio to get away for their fifth anniversary, so she'd practiced with me while he was working at the hospital. And while I was pretty sure this was going to be completely different, the basics were still the same. Thanks to my perfect memory, I was able to pick right back up.
Nobody knows what I'm feeling inside.
I find it so stupid, so why should I hide,
That I love to make love to you, baby.
So many ways I wanna touch you tonight.
I'm a big girl, got no secrets this time.
I knew as soon as Bella's darkening eyes locked with mine and her arms wrapped around my neck, I was lost to her. There wasn't an inch of space between us as her thighs were on either side of one of my own.
Our hips moved in sync, our foreheads pressed together, and my hands couldn't stop from skimming down her sides in order to guide her and keep her close.
Only got just one life, this I've learned.
Who cares what they're gonna say.
I wanna dance, and love, and dance again.
I wanna dance, and love, and dance again.
I was well aware we had an audience in not only our family, but in the humans dancing around us, but it didn't stop me. I had no use for exhibitionism, but something deep inside of me needed to mark my territory for all to see, to claim her in front of the whole lot of them. Instead, I grinned, took her hand, and spun her out, only to tug her right back into my arms, which made her laugh.
Baby, your fire is lighting me up.
The way that you move, boy, is reason enough.
That I love to make love to you, baby.
I can't behave.
Oh, I want you so much.
To see Bella's mind agreeing with the words of the song was my undoing. My lips met hers softly, only to trace down her cheek to her neck, my fingers weaving into her hair at the base of her skull. My other hand hooked her thigh around mine, and I smiled against her throat when she squeaked in surprise but continued to keep the rhythm.
Once the song was over, I dipped her and gave my girl one more kiss on the lips, my head snapping up to meet Jasper's gaze, because apparently, we'd not only kicked up some serious lust in the building, but severe jealousy. It was envy over our looks, our dance, and our obvious attraction to each other.
"We'd better take a break, love," I whispered in her ear. "Jasper's having...trouble."
Bella laughed, her head falling back as I wrapped an arm around her waist and lifted her up, only to set her down once off the dance floor. She gave Jasper a sheepish grin, but shrugged. In her mind, she was basically saying, "Sue me." He merely shot her a crooked smile and a wink as he and Alice stayed out on the floor. I sat down at our table, pulling Bella into my lap.
"Damn, Bells," Emmett laughed, sitting down next to us with Rose on his other side. "Who knew you had it in ya?"
"Not me," she chuckled, shaking her head.
"All in the leading," I sighed haughtily, grinning at their laughter and leaning into Bella's kiss to my jaw.
Emmett and Rose stayed with us at the table for a little while longer, but he was determined to see if they could beat me and Bella at completely driving Jasper crazy. So finally, they left us to dance some more. The competitiveness between the guys never slowed down. There was always a bet, always a contest.
I discovered that my Bella was what some would call a "people watcher." I'm sure it came from being the outsider of three mated couples, so she had to occupy her mind in some way, but she was too cute trying to guess what different people were up to inside the club.
Definitely together, she thought to herself as she studied a young man and woman who were obviously flirting.
"Nope," I laughed, shaking my head. "Not together. They both want to be, but they aren't. They'd be cheating on significant others if they did."
Bella gasped, her eyes wide as a smile crept up her stunning face. "Okay," she said, dragging the word out. "How about...that guy?" she asked, showing me in her mind the guy at the end of the bar.
"He'd be happy with a one night stand," I told her, pressing my lips to her temple as she rested her head back onto my shoulder. "He's had a 'shit week' – his words, not mine – at work."
"The bartender?" she asked, now thinking it was a game.
"Bored...and tired. She's got class in the morning and is running over what looks to be chemistry formulas in her mind. Fitting that she's a bartender," I mused, my eyebrows raising up. "That's a mixing of components in a form..."
Bella giggled, nuzzling my cheek with her own. "I love you."
"Love you, too, sweetheart," I sighed, shaking my head at just how different things had changed since the last time I'd seen that very bartender.
I wrapped my arms all the way around her, dropping a kiss to my mark on her skin, where her neck sloped into her shoulder, and smiling when it caused a shiver to wrack her frame.
Bella was just about to ask me to take her out of there so that we could make use of her apartment, but Alice's mind screamed at me from the dance floor, and my head snapped around to see her rush up. But it was the minds of several humans that caused a growl to escape me.
That is one scary looking motherfucker.
Damn, he's ginormous!
I smelled him before my eyes locked on him. Ignoring everyone around him, he walked toward our table, which now had all of us waiting for him. We couldn't make a scene, and he was blocking his mind from me – something he'd gotten really good at over the years.
Setting Bella on her feet, I took her hand and squeezed it, but I didn't let go.
"Edward?" she breathed, but I just shook my head as the enormous immortal made his way to us. He made Emmett look the size of a normal man.
He studied my face with scarlet eyes, his mind focusing on WWI battle sights. Finally, he cracked a smile. "Edward," he said, his German accent still thick, despite his many years of speaking English.
"Felix," I stated, which caused everyone around me to stiffen.
"I see the rumor is true," he muttered, jerking his chin toward Bella. She's a beauty, junge ein, he thought to me, calling me "young one" in German, which was ridiculous, because he was only fifteen years older than me. It was more of a jibe against my frozen age of seventeen.
"She is," I agreed, trying to keep the growl from my answer but failing.
"Easy, I'm hear to warn you," he told me. "I followed your last flight. I didn't think it would be so simple to locate your scent. You need to know...Aro is coming for you."
"I don't think so," Emmett snarled, but calmed when Jasper's talent kicked in to settle everyone's anxiousness.
"We should talk, Edward. You should know the details," Felix urged, giving the club a hungry look.
"Not here," I said, referring to not only his need to talk, but to his need to hunt, as well. I turned to Alice.
"Call Carlisle. Have them meet us at Bella's apartment. He's going to want to hear this," I told her, because we both caught flashes of the conversation to come. I stood up from my stool, saying, "Come. We'll take this someplace else."
Felix took caution when it came to his thoughts as we walked down the street. He noted the color change in my eyes, the fact that I'd mentioned Carlisle – a legend in Volterra, despite the many years he'd been gone – and the immortals surrounding him. He was strong, but he knew if the rumors were true about Carlisle's coven, he wouldn't survive it if he fucked up. He wasn't here for a fight.
His mind wasn't the only nervous one. Emmett and Rose were concerned, but they trusted Alice and me to warn them if this was going to go badly. Bella trusted me completely, though she was nervous about whatever news Felix was about to tell us. She also had confidence in her shield to protect the family. Old friend or not, she'd ruin Felix if he made one wrong move.
Glancing over at Jasper, who was running every scenario of defense, I shook my head. "Not yet," I stated.
He's nervous, but he's not lying, Jasper thought to me, his brow furrowing. He has information for you. And he's...happy to see you?
I smiled, nodding one time as we filed into Bella's apartment building, because I hadn't been lying when I said the large man and I had become friends. Felix had no patience for politics, which meant he had no trust in the three brothers. He knew I'd been in Italy essentially against my will, and the days he'd take me hunting in the very beginning, he'd been very curious. He was well aware of his position. He was a thug, a strong arm, and nothing more. Aro used him, and he knew it. He stayed, because like most of Aro's guard, he wasn't given much choice.
Bella let us inside her place, shutting the door behind her. Felix sat down in the chair in the far corner, Emmett and Rose took the sofa, leaving enough room for Carlisle and Esme, and Alice perched herself up on Bella's kitchen counter, with Jasper leaning almost casually next to her.
"We'll wait for Carlisle," I told Felix, sitting on the edge of the loveseat with Bella beside me. "Does Aro know you're here?"
"No," he sighed, frowning. "He thinks I'm scouting a newborn situation. I'm supposed to be in Louisiana."
"You'll be ash if he ever finds out differently," I warned him, shaking my head.
"Aro will not touch me again," he stated firmly, almost in a growl. "He can send the trackers all he wants, but Demetri will not best me. And that little weasel James..." He scoffed, rolling his eyes.
Chuckling, I got up when there was a soft knock at the door. Felix and I felt the same way when it came to James. He was talented, yes, but he was very unstable. I knew for a fact that he was loyal to Aro, simply because Aro allowed James to unleash his cruel nature.
I opened the door to see Carlisle standing there with his hand at Esme's back.
Son, is everything all right? His thoughts were laced with concern, because Alice had not given him a lot of detail.
"Yes. Felix tracked me down. He has information concerning the Volturi, and he's putting his life on the line to get it to us," I explained, trying to let everyone in the room know that I trusted Felix; it was everyone else in Italy that couldn't be trusted.
Felix was immediately on his feet, which caused everyone in the room to flinch, but Carlisle smiled at him kindly, his mind trying to wrap around the man's sheer size. For a split second, he wondered who was stronger – Felix or Emmett.
"It's an honor, Carlisle," Felix stated, bowing his head.
"Well, any friend of Edward's is welcome. Have a seat. Why don't you tell us what brings you here," he suggested gently.
I smiled at Felix, because he instantly felt at ease. Even Jasper snickered at Felix's new calm demeanor. It was just the way Carlisle was; he treated every man with respect unless they gave him reason not to.
"Aro wants you back, Edward," Felix blurted out bluntly. "I was in the castle when Carlisle called. Aro doesn't believe that you're mated. He snapped. Several low level guards were destroyed with his temper. Not even Marcus could calm him down, and Caius encouraged him to visit you."
"Of course he did," I muttered, taking a deep breath and letting it out.
"Yes, Caius has always loved conflict," Carlisle mused, rubbing his chin. "Do you know when Aro will head this way?"
"Soon," Felix replied with a nod. "He was preparing his guard just before I left Italy." He sat forward, leaning his elbows on his knees. "There are some of us that are...uncomfortable with Aro's ways. He wants all the power, and he's willing to go to any lengths to get it." Felix's eyes traveled around the room, but his gaze locked onto Bella and then suddenly to me when I released a snarl. "Aro is willing to do anything to get her...and that one over there," he stated, pointing to Alice. "Even if it means breaking his own rules."
"What are you saying?" Bella whispered.
"I'm saying that he'll use the illusion that Carlisle was lying about Edward having found a mate in you. He'll manipulate the guard – even his brothers – in order to take Edward back, take you, take the seer over there."
Not one breath was taken, nor could any thoughts be heard for a fraction of a second. Then, minds exploded. Emmett immediately went into stand and fight mode. Jasper started strategical planning. Rose didn't want to run, but she would if it meant everyone was safe. Carlisle was relatively calm, but angry; he didn't like his family threatened, and he really didn't like his honor questioned. Esme was just plain worried for her "children." Bella, however, was eerily quiet, her thoughts disappearing on me.
"Fuck," I breathed, weaving my hands in my hair. "Sorry, Esme," I whispered in regret of my language.
"I'm sure we can overlook it, given the circumstances," she replied without missing a beat, and I could hear her slight touch of humor in her mind, because I was apologizing for that when so much else was going on.
Meeting Alice's gaze once more, because she was running every scenario, I asked, "It doesn't matter, does it?"
Her eyes glazed over as she shook her head slowly. "He's right. They're coming."
"No!" Bella suddenly growled, and there was a shift in the room. It was physical, almost pushing me away from her, but Jasper was instantly up and kneeling in front of her.
Felix simply looked shocked.
"Aw, now, Spitfire," Jasper crooned, placing a hand on hers as windows rattled in their frames with the pressure she was putting them under. "You can't do that. Reel it in, darlin'."
My eyebrows shot up, because Carlisle had said more than one time that Bella was more powerful than she'd shown me, and I was beginning to feel it. Even more, I could see it in Carlisle's and Jasper's minds.
Bella as a newborn had been more than just bloodlust; it had been an uncontrollable shield. I saw shattered furniture, broken windows, and forests cleared. It seemed to get the better of her when she was upset.
"Hey," I said, leaning down to her ear. "Not a chance. Relax, love. Aro knows he can't make someone work for him. He bribes them, blackmails them, and brainwashes them, but only the willing go. Look at me," I growled softly, pulling her forehead to mine.
When her eyes locked with mine, her mind opened again, showing me her true fears – someone hurting her family, but mainly, someone hurting me. She couldn't lose me, not when she'd just gotten me.
"No, no, no," I soothed her, running my fingers through her hair. "We'll figure something out, but that won't happen. Not ever, Bella." I glanced up when a vase toppled off of the mantle and shattered on the floor.
"Can you pull it back in?" I asked, because I'd never seen a shield so strong before. "Can you do that for me? We can't fix this unless you're calm, love."
You're helping, Jasper thought to me, struggling with the panic that was surging through her. Better than me, actually. Keep going.
Picking up her hand, I kissed the center of her palm, feeling her relax a little more. "Sweetheart, I know how they work. We've got the truth on our side, love." I tucked her hair behind her ear, whispering, "Please relax. For me?"
Bella let out a shuddering breath, which in turn caused Jasper to visibly loosen up. He was able to leave her, taking his place back at Alice's side.
"Good girl," I said in her ear, barely letting sound leave my lips.
"Edward's right," Carlisle said softly. "If Aro wants to verify the truth, we'll let him."
Junge ein, Aro will use the size of this coven against you. Felix's mind was filled with warning. It's always been his problem with Carlisle. He wants the shield and the seer, and he's all but said he's taking you back.
"I know," I answered him without thinking. "It won't happen. I won't allow it," I growled at him, but he smiled warmly, despite my outburst.
"Talk to us, son," Carlisle said, giving Bella a worried glance and sitting on the edge of his seat. "What are you thinking?"
Keeping Bella's hand in mine, I rubbed my thumb over her palm just to keep contact. I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "I think Aro will send his favorite pets...James, Demetri, Alec, and Jane. The two trackers can be easily disposed of, but Alec and Jane are different." I gave Bella a quick glance, turning back to Carlisle. "Though, we would have protection..."
A rather pompous smirk crawled up his face, his thoughts along the same lines as mine. Bella can shield an entire group of us. I'm not sure how long that will hold Aro off.
I gazed slowly around the room. "The talent in this room is what he wants. Even Emmett's strength would prove useful. And as far as I know, there's only one seer in the immortal world," I stated, raising an eyebrow at Alice. "The fact that not one of us wants to work for Aro pisses him off, because he's like a spoiled child – always wanting the next biggest and greatest toy. He will consider our numbers a threat."
"Then we will just prove to him that we are not a threat," Carlisle stated forcefully.
He was pissed, which was rare, but I could see what he was considering as his options. My eyebrows shot up, and I turned to Felix.
"All three brothers are coming?" I asked him, even though Alice was nodding in my peripheral vision. When Felix nodded, too, I turned back to Carlisle. "You think that will work?"
"It's our only hope at this point," he sighed.
"You've broken no laws," Felix suddenly added, pointing around the room. "You've caused no scene, started no wars, and clearly you're all mated. Aro really has no leg to stand on. You just have to show him." He sighed, shaking his head. "However, I will now be considered a traitor for telling you what I know. He wanted the element of surprise."
He smiled wickedly, which made Bella chuckle softly.
"What will you do?" she asked him.
"I will go into hiding, schonheit," he said, calling her beauty. "If they come for me, then I will fight."
"Let us help you," Carlisle offered. "I have friends. They can hide you until this is settled. They are an extended family of sorts."
"Denali?" Rose suddenly asked, her brow furrowed.
"We should bring Eleazar down. Perhaps he could help," Jasper suggested. "He used to work for Aro."
Carlisle's mind scattered into several different directions. If he called the Denali coven, he'd have backup, but he'd also make it look like he was prepared for a fight.
"We may have no choice," I told him.
"I'm aware,"he sighed, shaking his head. I'm not sure what's the right way to handle this. I won't have my family threatened, but I don't want to start a war.
"See?" Felix chuckled, standing up. "You have enough worries. Don't let me add to them. I promise I'll be fine."
"Here," Alice said, hopping down from her perch on the counter. She pulled out an older cell phone. "I saw that I needed to bring this, but not why. Take it. If you need us, call."
Felix thanked her, pocketed the phone, and bowed a head to Carlisle. Turning to me, he used his mind to communicate. It's good to see you, Edward. This...family suits you.
"Thank you, Felix," I said, shaking his hand.
"Take care of yourself," he ordered, smiling a bit.
He knelt in front of Bella. "Little shield, protect my oldest friend for me, yeah?" he asked her as he jerked a thumb my way, grinning when she nodded. "Good. And know this... If all three brothers are coming, they will bring their wives along with the guard. Only you will know what to do with that information if it comes down to a fight. Fight fire with fire, schonheit."
Bella's eyebrows furrowed for just a moment, but she simply said, "Okay."
With that said, he gave one last nod to all of us and left the apartment.
Every one of us turned to Carlisle, waiting for his next step. In his thoughts, he was conflicted, because he didn't want to chance anything happening to any of us, but he couldn't stand idly by and let the Volturi threaten him – especially when he had the means to see it coming. All he really wanted was to defend his way of life, to protect those he loved. He didn't want to fight, but he would if he had to. And it was that last thought that allowed him to make a decision.
"Alice, do you see when he'll be here?" he asked her.
"They're making travel decisions now," she answered. "And Felix is right...they're bringing everyone."
"He's smart, though Aro doesn't know it," I told her with a nod. "They underestimate him. They always have. That may save his life, because they'll never see his betrayal coming."
"I say we plan to fight," Emmett growled, balling up a fist and smacking it into his open palm. "If we don't, then no big deal, but at least we're prepared. Pixie, is there a way you can see where they'll meet up with us?"
"It's changing from the house to an opening in the woods. I'll know more as they get closer," she said, shrugging a shoulder.
"We'll deal with that when the time comes," Carlisle sighed, glancing around the room "I need you all to promise me one thing. You will stay within the law at all times. Do not give them a reason to do anything. Do you understand me? No fighting, no outrageous actions in front of the humans, and absolutely no show of talent. We will be on our best behavior. I don't want anything going back to Italy saying otherwise. I don't want to give them any excuses for doling out punishments."
"So you want us to be the better of the monsters," Rose said wryly, rolling her eyes.
"Yes, actually, I do," he snickered, shrugging a shoulder. "See, the brothers can act any way they see fit, but if they break their own rules, then we won't hesitate to defend ourselves."
I'd never meant for any of this to happen, and I shook my head and sighed wearily.
"No guilt, brother," Jasper grunted, giving a stiff shake of his head. "There's no need for it."
Carlisle's head spun to me. "You are a member of this family, Edward. We'll fight for you. You didn't bring this down on us. Aro has only been biding his time. You said so yourself."
Bella huffed, giving me a dark look and standing up. She offered me her hand. "No one in this family is going anywhere. We aren't toys to be stolen from the next door neighbor. Aro can try all he wants, but he won't get past me."
Carlisle smiled at her bravery. "I'd like everyone back at the house, please. In fact, I'd like us all to stick close for the next few days...at least until Alice can see more. I have to call Alaska, and we need to prepare ourselves."
I could see deep down that Carlisle was trying to approach this situation with civility and reason, but there was another part that was not going to back down from the Volturi this time.
"Carlisle," Bella started, but Alice interrupted her.
"You'll be fine, just as long as you're home by mid-afternoon. I see us sitting down to start planning by then," she said knowingly, and I could see that Bella was just about to ask Carlisle if she and I could stay in the city just for the night.
"Fine," Esme said, kissing my cheek and then Bella's. "We'll see you tomorrow."
Once everyone had left, Bella went about cleaning up the shattered vase. She swept the glass into a dustpan and dropped it in the garbage.
She scowled at the now empty space on her mantle. "I liked that one," she muttered, shaking her head. "I didn't mean to do that."
"It's okay that you did. You're worried," I said, sitting down on the couch and waving her over. "I'm sorry about that."
"I guess I should be happy it wasn't the windows," she said with a grimace, ignoring my apology. "Been there, done that."
Grinning, I gathered her to me, pulling her onto my lap, but my smile faded quickly. "Bella, we should..."
She stopped me with a quick kiss to my lips. "Not now. You want to plan, then we'll do it with the family tomorrow. Not here and not now. Just...be with me. I need just us."
I could see in her mind that she was more than worried; she was just shy of a state of panic, but she was masking it amazingly well. She wanted nothing more than to run away to keep us all safe, but her practical side knew that running would only prolong the inevitable. There was also a deadly side to her thoughts; she'd kill them all to keep us safe. It was at that point that I knew I needed to talk to Jasper and Carlisle, because I really needed to know what she was capable of, and I'd be willing to bet even she didn't know what her abilities were. But it could wait, because she needed me, and there wasn't a thing that could stop me from giving her what she wanted.
Giving in completely, I cupped her face, whispering, "Okay, love. Just us."