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Eve of Eternity

Summary:
 Edward and Bella are getting married. But danger is never far from the star-crossed couple. With the return of the Volturi, the conflict with Jacob and the werewolves, the sudden appearance of members of the Denali clan, and the date of her turning looming ever nearer, can Bella survive the remaining months until the big day and finally become a true part of the Cullen family? Or has her luck finally run out…


Notes:


4. Wars and Worth

Rating 5/5   Word Count 6385   Review this Chapter


Tanya?” I gasped out. I refused to believe it. Surely I’d misheard him.

Edward turned worried eyes on me, his expression conflicted.

“Can’t we just…” I made a swooping gesture towards the window to indicate an escape.

If I sounded hopeful it was because I was. The last thing I wanted to do right now was exchange pleasantries with the female vampire who had once set her sights on my vampire.

Edward’s mouth formed a grim line and he shook his head almost imperceptibly. “She knows we’re here. It wouldn’t do any good.”

Great. This day was just getting better and better.

I sighed.

“Well, at least she won’t try to eat me, right?” I attempted to smile and of course failed miserably.

Edward’s frown deepened and I saw the worry in his eyes grow more distinct. “You don’t have to meet her if you don’t want to, Bella. I can tell her you’re sick.”

“No,” I replied, shaking my head. “Might as well get this over with. Wouldn’t want her to think I’m rude or anything.”

I made a face and stepped out into the hallway with a still tense Edward following close behind me.

What I didn’t tell him as I made my way down the stairs was that a part of me was a little curious about her. Call it a morbid fascination, but I did want to see who my competition was, even if ‘competition’ was hardly the correct word for it. I was Edward’s and he was mine. But Edward had known Tanya before all of that. Before we’d fallen in love. If he’d decided to stay in Denali then there was a chance that Tanya’s and my position could have been switched.

Well…okay, maybe not, but that’s what my torturous mind wanted me to think. And the torture was only about to increase tenfold, I just didn’t know it until I took a deep breath and opened the front door.

My jaw unhinged and dropped slightly at the sight that was now before me. I realized quite rapidly that I’d been terribly wrong. The vampire that now stood in the doorway wasn’t beautiful.

She was stunning.

The sight of her knocked the air from my lungs. I was vaguely aware that I was gaping at her, but surely she was used to such reactions. She had to be. I didn’t know what feature of hers was more incredible. The perfect, pouty lips. The high cheekbones. The long, dark lashes that only seemed to make her golden eyes more breathtakingly unusual. The tiny waist accentuated by the slight curve of her hips. Or the long, flowing, strawberry blonde hair that glinted like spun gold even in the overcast of the day. The color was shocking. One that no doubt longed to be copied by every girl who saw it, and also one that would never ever be able to be duplicated or worn quite as well.

All of these observations hit me like a punch to the gut, leaving me utterly incapable of speaking. My heart was sinking to the pit of my stomach in pure dismay.

This was what Edward could have had?

I’d never felt more inadequate or plain in my life.

Tanya must have recognized how awed I was by her (really, you would have had to be blind not to be) for she was suddenly smiling with a knowing glint flashing in her eyes. Edward saved me by placing a cool hand on the small of my back, thus bringing me out of my stupor, and cleared his throat. I’d have to thank him for that later.

“Tanya,” he greeted curtly. His expression was polite, yet distant. “What are you doing here?”

Tanya’s gaze flickered to where Edward’s hand still rested protectively on my back, but the glance was so brief I thought I might have imagined it. She was smiling again and her perfect white teeth flashed at me.

“I followed you,” she told him, sounding apologetic but not looking it in the least. Her voice was melodic…entrancing. “You ran out of there so quickly I thought something might be wrong.” Her gaze met mine and held it in interest. “Is this the famous human then?”

There was something insulting about the way she said ‘human.’ It was as if she was referring to something of little importance. Like an insect. I hated myself for agreeing with her. But I certainly felt like an insect next to the two beautiful creatures in front of me. How could I not?

Edward’s expression hardened. “This is Bella, yes,” he said tersely, placing emphasis on my name. “Bella, this is Tanya.”

I didn’t trust my voice just yet so I gave her a nod and an attempt at a smile.

“Bella, of course. I apologize,” she said, sending me a smile of her own. “I heard you were ill. Feeling better I hope?” She gave me a cursory glance over and I felt my cheeks start to redden. I could tell she was skeptical of my being sick at all.

“Oh…yeah. Yes, I mean, I’m…uh…I’m feeling much better, thanks.” I swallowed hard and averted my eyes. So pathetic.

“Glad to hear it.” Her smile tightened.

I shifted uncomfortably. “Erm…would you like to come in?”

Edward shot me a look, but I kept my gaze on Tanya. The last thing I needed in the world right now was another inhuman enemy. I was going to put every ounce of my willpower into being at the very least polite to her. This meant I was also going to have to try and ignore all the small signs that were telling me she disliked me already and might still harbor some feelings for Edward.

Whoa, what? Cut it out, Bella. You’re imagining things…

The voice of reason in my head rang loud and clear and I found myself calming slightly. And for the millionth time I thanked the heavens above that Edward was completely oblivious to what was going on in my head. This entire situation would have been unbearably embarrassing otherwise. Even more so than it was already.

Tanya smiled insincerely in response to my offer and suddenly all traces of cordiality were gone from her beautiful face. “No, I can’t,” she said. “Actually, I was just about to return to your home, Edward.”

I couldn’t help the inner sigh of relief I gave at that. But then her next words sucked the air right back out of me.

“And you two are coming with.”

“Sorry?” I squeaked. Edward gently pushed me a step back into the house and was fixing Tanya with a hard glare. She laughed quietly in response, but it didn’t escape my attention that it once again didn’t quite meet her eyes.

“Relax, Edward,” she said lightly. “We all need to have a chat. I’m sure you know what it’s about.”

Edward paused, staring at her intently. No doubt reading her thoughts. He stiffened.

“No,” he said firmly.

Tanya’s lips turned downward and suddenly she looked more menacing than beautiful. “They need to hear it from her. My sister refuses to accept anything less.”

“I said no,” Edward repeated, clenching his fists now.

Tanya matched his tense posture. “Do you really want to make enemies of us, Edward?” she hissed. “Because of a human?

I paled. “What? Edward, what is she talking—”

Edward growled, cutting me off and placing his body in front of me completely now so that I couldn’t see Tanya. I tried to shift and see around him but he was blocking me effectively.

“Carlisle told your sister what happened. If anything, you would be making enemies of us for not taking his word as a true account. Do you really want to do that, Tanya?” his velvet voice was harsher now and lilting with mockery.

Tanya laughed, surprising me with the sound. She seemed delighted at the change in Edward for some reason unfathomable to me.

“Oh, Edward, I do love it when you’re clever,” she said, sounding infinitely at ease now. Every trace of tension was gone and her voice was musical once more. “I’d almost forgotten how wonderfully amusing you could be when you’re angry. It’s one of the traits I admire most about you, you know…”

Edward visibly tensed and I felt a strange rush of anger pulsing through me. Was she flirting with him?

Tanya laughed again. “Come now, all this is so silly and unnecessary. I don’t want to fight with you. Really, it will only take a moment. No harm done. She only wants to hear a first hand account. You can’t blame her for that, can you? Laurent was a well-liked figure in our coven.”

I gasped before I could stop myself. “Laurent?

Suddenly things were falling into place. Memories of the day I’d encountered Laurent in the meadow rushed through me. Our conversation…he’d mentioned the Denali…and Tanya’s sister. Everything was clear now.

They hadn’t come to give congratulations about the wedding. They’d come to get facts about Laurent’s death.

Edward’s hand was suddenly in mine. I was certain he could hear the erratic beating of my heart and the shortness of my breath. His cold skin calmed me…but only slightly.

“Your toy is too young,” he was saying curtly, leaving no room for argument. “Forgive me for not wanting my fiancée near a new vampire who has yet to be in control of his instincts.”

“William is hardly new,” Tanya said, sounding amused again. “I have him well under control. Your—” she paused before continuing with a note of ill-concealed disgust, “—fiancée…will be perfectly fine.”

Edward was silent but his grip on my hand tightened.

“We’re not leaving until we hear it, Edward.” Tanya sounded deadly serious now. It sent a shiver down my spine. “She has a right to know what happened.”

A pause.

“Besides, I don’t think Bella will be happy to know she caused a rift between our families, do you?”

I felt the air whoosh from me. Edward let out a growl so loud I jumped.

“Don’t,” he hissed at her. “Don’t you dare try and put this on her. Bella has nothing to do with this.”

“She has everything to do with this.”

Edward took a step forward and I gasped, realizing he was ready to attack. I don’t know how I managed it but I ducked under his arm and placed myself in between him and Tanya, my hands flat on his chest.

“Stop!” I yelled. Edward froze and immediately wrapped an arm around my waist as though he was about to yank me behind him again. “No,” I said harshly, giving him my hardest stare. It was enough to stop him, but he didn’t release his hold on me.

“Edward,” I began softly, trying to keep my voice even, “maybe we should just go.” He opened his mouth to protest but I held up my hand to stop him. “Hear me out! Listen, I’m not going to let you fight with them because of me.”

“Bella—“

“No,” I cut him off. “I don’t mind telling them what happened. And you’ll be there. Your family will be there. Nothing will happen.” I placed my hand on his cheek. “It will be fine.”

It seemed ridiculous that I was the one comforting him and not the other way around. After all, I was the only one in any real danger here. And yet the possibility of causing a rift between the Denali and Edward’s family scared me much more than the possibility of being killed by a newborn vampire. I wouldn’t allow it to happen. The Denali had been their friends long before I’d ever stepped into the picture. If all I needed to do to stop it was tell my side of the story, then that’s what I was going to do. Period.

Edward must have seen that telltale look in my eyes that told him I wouldn’t be budging on this issue, because his shoulders slumped a bit and his jaw clenched tightly. He kept his intense gaze on me, but addressed Tanya.

“She tells her story and then she leaves. I will take any hostility shown towards her as hostility shown towards myself. If your sister cannot control her emotions then I’m taking Bella out of there whether she’s finished explaining or not.” He tore his gaze from mine and finally looked to Tanya with a hard glare. “Is that clear?”

“Crystal,” she grinned.

“We’ll be right behind you,” Edward said, indicating the conversation was over. Tanya smirked one last time and vanished.

Edward ignored me at first. He was looking off in the direction Tanya had gone with an anxious expression on his face, but it only lasted a moment before he seemed to collect himself. His back turned to me and I knew what was coming next.

“Get on,” he said bleakly.

I jumped up onto his back and he secured his hold on me as my arms locked around his neck. And then we were gone, suddenly in the trees and rushing toward the Cullen home in a blur. I kept my eyes open, having long since gotten used to the feeling of traveling at such a high speed with Edward.

“Why now?” I said near his ear as the world zoomed by. “Why didn’t they come about this sooner?”

“They only just found out,” he explained, speaking above the rush of the wind. “News of our wedding gave them an excuse to come visit and inquire about Laurent’s whereabouts. Tanya’s sister was particularly eager to learn what had become of him.” His voice turned grim. “We had to tell them what happened. There was no way around it.”

Of course. It made sense, really. There would have been no way for the Denali to know about how Jacob and the werewolves had killed Laurent that day he’d tried to attack me in the meadow. I shivered slightly at the memory.

“But Laurent wasn’t like them. Or you. He fed off humans. He told me he couldn’t adapt to the Denali’s lifestyle completely…” Not to mention the fact that I’d almost become his snack.

Edward tensed as though he’d heard what I’d been thinking. “She’s in love with him. Was in love with him,” he corrected himself. “I saw it in her thoughts when she arrived. It consumes her. It’s all she thinks about. She was convinced that she would have been able to change him and that he’d return to her.” He paused and I could almost hear the humorless smirk in his voice. “Laurent, however, wasn’t quite as attached.”

“Wonderful,” I sighed. “Yet another vampire who will probably want to kill me for causing the death of her mate.”

Edward slowed to a stop and swung me around until I was standing on two wobbly feet before him. We were at the edge of the woods now. I could hear the river that indicated the Cullen home was near. But Edward was grasping my shoulders and staring down at me with his liquid golden gaze, making no move whatsoever of moving onward.

“Bella, listen to me,” he said firmly. “Nothing is going to happen to you. I won’t allow it. Understood?”

His eyes had put me under a trance. I’d forgotten what I’d been worried about in the first place. And yet I found myself nodding at him. Trusting him. He brushed a cool finger across my jaw line and leaned down to place a soft kiss on my lips, chuckling when my knees gave out.

As usual, his arm snaked around my waist, supporting me while I turned beet red from embarrassment.

“I really hate when that happens,” I muttered.

Edward merely smiled and kept his arm around me as we began to move forward at an easy pace. The smile faded the closer we got to the house and I found that the knot of worry had begun to form in my stomach once again. I was glad for the extra time alone with him. We were delaying the inevitable, of course, but the walking gave me time to prepare myself for what was about to come.

“So what was all that talk about Tanya’s ‘toy’?” I asked, breaking the silence that had fallen over us.

Edward paused to pull a branch away from my path, but I noticed him grimacing slightly. “Tanya’s quite fond of…males,” he said carefully. “She’s constantly changing companions due to the fact that she grows bored with them fairly easily. It’s a game for her. She…collects them.”

Collects them?” My eyes widened at him.

Edward’s grimace grew more distinct. “Yes. For lack of a better term.”

“So this…William guy, he’s the new fling?”

“Correct,” Edward affirmed.

“Did she turn him?” I asked, slightly aghast. The notion that Tanya could be turning any man she found appealing was disturbing, to put it lightly.

“No…although she’s certainly not above such a thing,” he said darkly. “He was turned elsewhere. Tanya discovered him feeding off of a group of humans who had been camping in the woods near their coven.” His gaze flickered to mine when I gasped. Edward sighed and nodded grimly. “She took him under her wing. She’s spent the past year or so trying to adapt him to our lifestyle.”

I stared ahead unseeingly. “And…how has that been working?” I asked nervously before tripping over a fallen branch. Edward caught me and swung me into his arms before I could protest. He continued on as though nothing had happened.

“Fairly well, actually.” But his eyes were still hard and there was nothing pleasant about his tone. “Tanya can be quite persuasive.” His gaze seemed far off for a moment, as though lost in a memory he didn’t want to relive. But it was gone in a flash and suddenly he looked angry.

“It still doesn’t make him safe to be around, however,” he nearly growled.

But my thoughts were not on the new vampire. They were miles and miles away in Alaska. Alaska a year and a half ago, to be exact.

“Edward…” I started softly. I couldn’t look at him but I felt his eyes on me as he carried me through the trees. I took a deep breath.

“Were you one too?” I finally asked, my voice so small I was certain that anyone else wouldn’t have been able to hear it. But Edward did. And I knew he knew exactly what I was talking about.

We halted so abruptly it made me look up at him. He was staring down at me in dismay and the look made my heart ache. But the immediate denial I’d been hoping to hear didn’t come.

I couldn’t breathe.

“Bella, no!” he finally said, bringing me closer against his chest. And then I was on my feet again and his arms were wrapped tightly around me. He sighed and began to rub my back with his cold hands.

“I only meant that…” Another sigh. “Yes, to her that’s exactly what I was. What I was meant to be. But I didn’t lie to you, Bella, I swear it. I told you I rejected her advances and that’s exactly what happened.” He pulled me back from him until I could see his eyes. They were filled with sadness. “And that time I left after first seeing you…I came back. I came back to you. Every single moment I was in Alaska I was consumed with thoughts of you…of your smile…your infuriating beauty.” He gave a small smile. I scoffed and turned away, but I found that I was beginning to smile too. He brushed his thumb across my cheek and stared down at me with such adoration that it made me feel incredibly foolish for ever doubting his love for me.

“I love you, Bella Swan. I loved you even when I hated you,” he whispered.

I rolled my eyes and laughed as I stepped into his arms, resting my cheek against his chest and wrapping my arms around him.

“Edward Cullen, you say the most romantic things.”

His responding laugh was musical.

We stood there for a moment, holding each other. I wanted it to last forever. But a sigh escaped me as thoughts of what I needed to do seeped through the barrier I’d tried to build against them in my mind. Edward seemed to realize the same thing, for I felt him tense against me. And then I was in his arms once more. There was a blur, a rush of wind, and I was on my feet staring up at the enormous white house I’d come to know and love. It seemed menacing somehow now. Intimidating. I knew it was because I was very aware of what lay behind its doors waiting for me.

“I don’t want you to do this.”

Edward’s voice was so quiet beside me I had to strain to hear it. I turned and grabbed his hand and gave it what I hoped was a comforting squeeze. He looked troubled again.

“It’ll be fine,” I promised, reaching up to turn his face towards me. “I’ll just tell them what happened and then we’ll leave.”

He paused and then nodded reluctantly. Esme was waiting for us at the door before we’d even climbed the porch steps.

“Bella,” she said, holding her arms out for me and smiling her warm, welcoming smile. I went to her and gave her a hug, smiling too when she kissed my forehead. “I’m so sorry you have to do this, darling,” she said quietly as I pulled away. Edward’s hand was in mine once again and he looked dark and sullen beside me.

“I don’t mind,” I assured her. “Really.”

She smiled sadly at me and exchanged a swift glance with Edward. I saw him nod almost imperceptibly from the corner of my eye. He shifted nearer to me and placed a hand on the small of my back as we followed Esme to the living room. I swallowed hard as I realized that everyone was there, along with Tanya and two vampires I didn’t recognize, a male and a female. Her sister and William, I gathered.

Carlisle stood upon our entrance and nodded at us in greeting. Esme glided gracefully to his side while I scooted closer to Edward’s. Every pair of eyes was focused on me and I realized that my palms were sweating. I was suddenly extremely nervous.

But not a moment later I felt a wave of calmness pass over me, effectively slowing my heartbeat. My gaze automatically flickered to Jasper’s and I smiled gratefully at him. He gave a small smile back.

“Bella, Edward.” Carlisle greeted us warmly but there was a slight edge to his soft tone. One I didn’t fail to miss. His eyes met mine and I realized he was just as unhappy about this as Edward seemed to be.

“Bella, this is Irina and William,” he said, indicating the two vampires I hadn’t recognized. “I believe you’ve already met Tanya.”

Tanya flashed me a grin and I shifted uncomfortably before nodding. I took this time to observe the two vampires beside her more thoroughly, slightly surprised by what I saw. I wasn’t sure why I’d thought Irina would resemble her ‘sister.’ The contrast between the two was startlingly different. Irina was gorgeous, of course, but there was something cold about her beauty. Her features were sharp, angled. Her hair hung thick and straight on her shoulders and was so black in color it made her already pale skin appear even more shockingly white. Her eyes were a darker gold…almost black, I realized somewhat apprehensively. The dark circles beneath them told me that it had no doubt been a while since she’d fed. What made all of this even more troubling was the fact that her eyes were fixed on me, and though the stare was not openly hostile there was still something sinister about it that made me feel very uneasy beneath it. I shifted my gaze to the male beside her.

And immediately regretted it.

William’s stare was infinitely more disturbing. The male vampire was hunched over on the couch, appraising me with ocher eyes through the few strands of dark brown hair that hung loosely across the marble white of his forehead. I’d seen the look before. It was one that had been mirrored in Jasper’s own stare the first time I’d met him. One that betrayed the hunger behind the tense control. I couldn’t look away, though I desperately wanted to. I heard a dangerously low hiss from beside me and William’s eyes tore away from mine to meet Edward’s hostile glare. Carlisle cleared his throat and I turned back to him, relieved to be free of William’s hold on me.

Carlisle turned to the three guests and addressed them now to introduce me. “Bella is Edward’s intended, as you know, and soon-to-be member of this family.”

“She is a member of this family,” Alice corrected from her seat beside Jasper. She smiled at me and I blushed, smiling back.

“Thanks Alice,” I said.

From the corner of my eye I saw Tanya scowl. I tried to ignore it.

Edward gently led me forward and we took a seat on the couch next to Alice and Jasper. I noticed Rosalie sitting in an armchair near us with Emmett standing behind it, towering over her. His enormous arms were crossed and he was glaring down at William, eyes alert and eager as though he were waiting for an excuse to fight him. He must have felt my gaze because his eyes flickered to meet mine and he grinned and winked at me. I held back a laugh.

“Our congratulations,” Irina said stiffly, breaking the silence.

Edward’s hand found mine. “Thank you,” he replied formally. I tried to smile at them but it felt forced and unnatural.

“I assume you know why you’re here, Bella?” Carlisle asked gently. I swallowed and nodded at him. He smiled encouragingly at me.

“Why don’t you start from the beginning? The day in the meadow.”

I cleared my throat and tried not to let the intense stares I was getting bother me. I could practically feel Irina’s sharp scrutiny. Edward gave my hand a squeeze and it gave me the strength I needed to get over my nerves and speak.

“I met him in the meadow,” I began unevenly. “It was an accident. A…chance meeting. He was surprised to see me and I was…well, I was happy to see him at first.”

Edward frowned beside me. I swallowed hard. This was difficult for me to talk about. To relive. The time when I was without Edward had been the worst in my life.

“But then I saw his eyes,” I went on. “They were red and he…well, he confessed to having had a difficult time adapting to the diet you all have. And then he told me about Victoria and her plans to kill me.” I swallowed again. “He said I should be grateful that he found me first and that I wouldn’t feel a thing.”

I felt Edward turn to stone and this time I was the one who gave his hand a squeeze.

“He was going to attack. But then the wolves came and chased him off. When they were gone I hurried back home. I didn’t see anything else,” I finished. I felt Alice take my free hand and when I turned she was smiling warmly at me.

“Thank you, Bella,” Carlisle’s soft voice murmured. I looked to him and nodded, watching as he returned his attention to the three Denali vampires sitting stoically across from us.

“There you have it,” he said to them simply. “It’s as we told you.”

Tanya simply smiled thinly and William looked rather bored beside her.

“I assume the wolves killed him then?” Tanya asked in a detached sort of way. Her eyes drifted almost lazily to me and I simply nodded.

“Then they shall die as well,” Irina suddenly hissed.

I stared at her in surprise, feeling like the air had been knocked out of me.

“No!” I cried, shooting to my feet. I looked at Irina in complete horror and disbelief but her return gaze was cold…lethal. And deadly serious.

“You…you can’t mean that,” I gasped, taking an involuntary step forward. Edward was at my side in an instant, wrapping a cold, restraining arm around my waist. The sudden contact made me turn to look at him, but his eyes were glued to William, who I only just noticed was on his feet as well, along with Tanya and Irina. He was staring at me with that same interest again, as though the sudden pounding of my heart and my movements were exciting him. I caught his stare for a brief moment and he grinned. A deep, low growl sounded from the back of Edward’s throat beside me. He bared his teeth at the other vampire.

Everyone was on their feet now, tensed and alert. Emmett was leaning towards William, looking ready to pounce. I think he would have too, if Rosalie hadn’t placed a restraining hand on his arm. Irina ignored all of this. She was focused only on me.

“Of course I mean it,” she snapped, clenching her fists. “They will die for taking him from me. Every one of them.”

“But they did it to save me!” I yelled, furious. “Laurent would have killed me if they hadn’t come in time.”

“Better the death of some worthless human girl than a great vampire like Laurent,” Irina seethed at me, lip curled distastefully over her teeth.

Edward snarled loudly at her and the sound echoed off the white walls of the room. This time I was the one who wrapped an arm around his waist to restrain him. Not that it would have done any good.

“That’s enough!” Carlisle said sharply. Edward stilled but none of the fury left his face as he continued to glare at Irina. Carlisle no longer seemed as peaceful as he’d been only moments before. Like the rest of the Cullens and Hales, his posture was tense and his expression rigid. It was strange to see him that way.

“As was stated before,” he spoke clearly, “Bella is a member of this family. I cannot permit you to disrespect her in this house."

“She’s the reason he’s dead,” Irina said, eyes flashing in indignation.

“Yeah, and good riddance,” Emmett replied, crossing his huge arms. He looked smug and completely unconcerned when Irina shot him a murderous glare.

“Emmett,” Esme said firmly. He was silent after that, but I noticed the contemptuous grin he was shooting Irina never quite left his face.

Tanya chuckled softly, but it was a humorless sound. “To be fair, Carlisle, Laurent was an accepted part of our family as well, even if his ties to us weren’t quite as…distinct…perhaps, as Bella’s to yours.” Her eyes flew to mine and I saw distaste in them once again.

“Laurent wasn’t like us,” Alice pointed out with a note of disdain. “He killed humans. He would have kept killing.”

“We’ve all slipped up from time to time,” Tanya said with soft innocence. The stare she shot me was deliberate. William was grinning again and he flashed his teeth at me.

“You’ll be dead before you even take one step,” Edward snarled at him, pulling me behind his body slightly. Emmett cracked his knuckles and Jasper tensed visibly, looking eager. I was certain the sound of my heart thudding rapidly was loud and clear in the room.

Carlisle lifted a staying hand towards the boys but kept his gaze on Tanya, William and Irina.

“I think you should leave now,” he said calmly.

“They will die, Carlisle,” Irina said firmly, ignoring his request. There was something manic in her eyes now. “I’ll accept an apology for the disrespectful behavior shown towards us today in the form of your alliance in the fight. You’ve dealt with them in the past. I’m sure your help could be valuable.”

My mouth almost dropped. Was she insane? My eyes flew to Carlisle, horrified.

The wolves and the vampires were enemies. Had been enemies for years and years and years. They’d fought side by side in the fight against the newborns, but would they risk making enemies of the Denali for the werewolves?

I didn’t know.

A moment of thick silence fell over the room. Carlisle’s mouth was a grim line, but he was composed and polite when he finally spoke.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to respectfully decline your offer. What you ask is impossible,” he said.

I sighed in open relief.

Irina’s eyes flashed dangerously once again. She seemed shocked. Outraged.

“Is that true?” she asked, looking around at every one of us in turn. “None of you accept?”

I watched all of their faces. Edward spoke first.

“I am with Carlisle,” he said firmly, standing tall and resolute.

“And I.” Jasper spoke with the same expression of determination on his face.

“I as well,” chirped Alice, grabbing his hand.

Rosalie nodded curtly in agreement. “Naturally,” she said simply.

“And I!” Emmett boomed proudly.

Esme looked up at Carlisle and smiled. “Till the end.”

I’d never been more proud of my second family than in that moment.

“Then you willfully cut ties with the Denali clan,” Irina hissed. “Taking the side of mutts over us!”

“We take no side but our own,” Carlisle responded coolly. “We have no reason to seek revenge for Laurent’s death. If anything we are in debt to the wolves for keeping Bella safe. And for their assistance in the fight against Victoria’s forces.” He paused, smiling humorlessly. “A fight in which, I might point out, we were denied assistance from you and your own family.”

Irina bristled, barely containing her anger. “Very well. Just be aware of one thing,” she said with quiet rage. “We won’t be forgetting this.”

And then she was gone, barely a blur. Tanya looked to Edward, smiling a sad, mocking smile. “You sure you don’t want to join us, Edward darling? I’ve got your room still made up back home, you know…”

I paled and felt my stomach turn. Edward stiffened and his grip on my hand grew almost painfully tight.

“Leave,” he said finally, and his voice was so low and menacing my head snapped to look at him. His eyes were dark, jaw clenched. He didn’t look like my Edward. He looked like a vampire.

Now,” he commanded.

Tanya’s smile faded, and so did the glint of playfulness in her golden eyes. Instead she grabbed onto William and, with one last searing glare sent in our direction, they were gone, the front door slamming in their wake.

“Well that was pleasant,” Rosalie sniffed after a silent moment passed.

“Edward…” I said softly. He still had a death grip on my hand. He turned to me and seemed to realize this, for he quickly released his hold on me, looking alarmed.

“Did I hurt you?” he asked.

“No, of course not,” I assured him rapidly. He let out a long breath and carefully pulled me into his arms.

“I’m so sorry, Bella,” he whispered.

“We all are,” I heard Carlisle say from behind me. Edward allowed me to pull away just enough to see him. “You shouldn’t have had to be placed into a situation like that, Bella. It was inexcusable.”

“What?” I gasped. I pried myself away from Edward to stare incredulously at Carlisle. “None of this is your fault! I should be apologizing to you.”

“And why is that?” Edward asked flatly.

I gaped at him. Wasn’t it obvious?

“Oh I don’t know, maybe because I’ve thoroughly ruined every aspect of your lives ever since I entered the picture,” I told them. “Now I’ve pitted you against the Denali. I wonder what I’m going to do next. Probably get you all killed somehow.” I stopped, breathing heavily and suddenly overcome with emotion.

Edward hissed and took my face in his hands. “Bella, stop this. None of that is true. None of this is your fault.”

“He’s right Bella,” Esme said. Suddenly she was beside me, rubbing my back soothingly. I started to tear up and Edward crushed me to his chest, kissing the top of my hair.

“I never liked them anyways,” I heard Emmett say.

Alice snorted.

“What’s done is done,” Carlisle said softly. “I’m saddened by their decision, but I stand by my own. We’re a family. We defend each other.”

“That means you too, human,” Emmett teased, grinning at me.

I laughed and Edward smiled softly down at me, wiping away the last of my tears. But I thought about Irina. About her thirst for vengeance. And the worry swelled in me until it was hard to breath again.

“What about the pack?” I asked. “We have to warn them…Sam and…and Jacob…” I trailed off, suddenly remembering what had happened earlier that day. Jacob was gone.

“You’re friends with them,” Rosalie said, unsuccessfully trying to hide her disapproval. “You warn them.”

“No,” Edward growled immediately.

All of us, including me, looked at him in surprise.

“Bella went there earlier today,” he said grimly. And then he lifted my arm and pulled my sleeve away to show them the bruise that had begun to form on my wrist from my encounter with Paul. They all stared at it, wide-eyed.

“She’s not going back to La Push.” His voice rang with finality.

I pulled my arm back, embarrassed. “They need to know what’s coming, Edward. I have to help them.”

“No.” His stare was hard.

“Well, we certainly can’t go there to tell them,” Alice stated.

“The treaty,” Jasper murmured.

Words of frustration halted in my throat as something occurred to me. A memory from earlier in the day. Paul’s furious face…his harsh words…

“The treaty will be broken anyways,” I whispered after a moment, shoulders sagging.

Everyone was silent. Edward’s jaw was clenched. “Not yet,” he said determinedly.

“Yes…” Carlisle agreed quietly. “We’ll worry about that when the time comes.”

But the words provided no relief from the worries that plagued me now.

I felt like there was a weight upon my shoulders. A ticking clock over my head. Over all of our heads. Too many variables…too many threats loomed in the distance. Threats that came closer with every day that passed. I looked around at all of the faces surrounding me. The people I’d come to love. To accept as my own family. I knew without question that I would do whatever was in my power to keep them safe.

But I was only human. I could only do so much.

And right now it was my very mortality that was placing us all in so much danger.

And somewhere in the deep corners of my mind, buried beneath the worry and determination and courage and fear, was the very real possibility that perhaps Irina may have been right.

I was starting to wonder if I wasn’t a worthless human girl after all.