L'heure bleue, the blue hour: Rosalie and Emmett didn't wait until September to return to Forks. Instead, they came back in August -- and, unfortunately for Bella and the other Cullens, they didn't come back alone. Bella and Rosalie get thrown together when a new and unexpected enemy arrives in Forks. When their freedom -- and their lives -- are in danger, can Rosalie's animosity last? Set Post-Twilight; it's my version of the events following that novel. Pre-New Moon.
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I may not have anticipated Luca’s actions but Edward’s response was undeniably familiar. As his arm shot out, quickly rearranging himself so that he stood between me and Luca, he lunged forward into a terrifying crouch. Snarling lips curled back over bared teeth, he hissed warningly at the other vampire.
His reaction was immediate and extremely obvious. Acting as the most territorial of creatures, he sent his purported opponent the simplest message possible: Mine.
For just a moment, my memories reared their ugly head again. I wasn’t inside the Cullen home anymore; I was back in the woods, the Cullens’ baseball game suddenly interrupted, terrified that this new threat—this tracker—was after my blood. It wasn’t Luca, with his aura of faux innocence standing before me but James, his nostrils flaring and his eagerness for the hunt already so evident.
One sniff of my scent, courtesy of the careless wind, and the tracker had marked me as human then. This close in proximity, there was no denying what I was now. I was grateful for Luca’s red eyes, grateful that they weren’t black. At the very least, it was a good thing to see that he was fed. I just hope he didn’t think of me when he got thirsty.
And this time, just like last time, it all happened so quickly. I was frozen in place, watching everything as if I was a spectator, rather than being part of the scene. I should’ve felt fear but there wasn’t even enough time for that. My breath hitched, my eyes opened wide as they darted from Edward to Luca and back, and I thought: Not again.
Three things happened then. Edward’s hand, the one that he threw out to separate me from Luca, gestured off to the side. It was a simple flick of his wrist and, before I knew it, Alice was next to me. She hugged me to her petite chest, squeezing me gently as she hurried me away to the far end of the room. We’d moved so quickly that the distance seemed to appear in the blink of my eye. And Luca… he just kept on smiling. As if he found Edward’s intensity amusing instead of alarming, he took one short step back as he grinned knowingly down at him.
He’d stopped clapping.
Edward didn’t break his pose, and he didn’t move. With the exception of Alice, when she whisked me away, none of the Cullens had moved from their place either—well, not really. Jasper’s stance had shifted slightly, leaning his body in more so that he was in the way of the path that led straight from Luca to me and Alice. Carlisle’s hands were in front of him, silently demanding calmness; Esme’s hands were clasped together as she stood tall next to her husband.
They were all waiting to see what Luca would do next.
I was, too.
My heart was beating frantically, the echo of his applause still ringing in my ears. Déjà vu, that strange feeling that I’ve been through all this before, was overwhelming. In an attempt to downplay the fact that I was a human I found that I’d almost stopped breathing. Just before I passed out, though, I remembered that breathing really was essential. One or two shallow breaths and I felt a bit calmer myself—and a lot less lightheaded.
Edward’s head cocked to the side when he heard my breathing. His sensitive hearing caught the sound and I wondered if he could hear the panic and the adrenaline hidden behind the noise. But he didn’t turn to look at me; his attention was only on Luca.
When it became obvious that his words had put five other vampires on guard—and that, if provoked any further, there was a good chance that Edward would go right from his crouch into a pounce—Luca lost his smile. His eerie eyes went from each and every one of the Cullens to the next, a thoughtful expression on his face.
He looked at me last. His searching gaze gave me the chills and I suddenly wished that Alice was a lot taller than she was—or, at least, taller than me. I would’ve gladly, if I could, ducked behind her to hide.
His eyes lingered on me, his eyebrows raised.
And Edward growled.
I had a funny feeling that, maybe for a few seconds, he’d forgotten that there was anyone else in the room. Edward’s low, guttural warning caught his attention at once and, to my relief, Luca turned his head to meet Edward’s daring stare. He grinned again, laughing under his breath in a hearty, entertained manner.
"I think I better explain myself since you’ve clearly misunderstood. I mean no harm to your young…" Again his eyes were back on me. He bowed his head in my direction before, "… friend here. In fact, I feel like I ought to commend you on your self control. It seems like Emmett truly wasn’t boasting of this coven’s capabilities." He lifted his head up then, his deep red eyes flashing under the fluorescent lights in the foyer. "My apologies, miss. It was never my intent to frighten you."
His eyes had flashed but I could’ve sworn that there was something else there. Frustration, maybe? For some reason, I was vaguely reminded of the expression Edward usually wore whenever he was attempting to read my mind. Yes, there was definitely some frustration there.
Aware that I was staring again, I quickly dropped my gaze to the floor. His newfound eagerness—not to mention his sudden switching on of his charm—made me extremely wary, but I didn’t want to be rude. He was waiting for me to say something and, after an awkward pause that everyone felt, I managed to get out a quick, "Umm… sure. Okay." I sounded flustered and I could just feel the heat of a fresh blush rushing to my cheeks. I attempted a tiny smile in return but, to be on the safe side, I stayed right beside Alice.
Alice, I saw, was peering intently at Edward—actually, all of the Cullens were watching him now. I had no doubts why. With his special gift it was very easy for him to tell if this was all an act on Luca’s part, or if he really meant what he said.
Still crouched down in an aggressive position, Edward was staring intently up at the other vampire. A confused expression spasmed across his face but he immediately shook it off. He was undoubtedly concentrating on something. Finally, with a tiny nod of his head, he slowly returned to a standing position. He didn’t say anything but purposely walked over to where I was standing with Alice. Carefully, meaningfully, he took my hand in his. I suddenly felt a hundred times better.
I don’t know why I was so nervous in the first place. As long as Edward was there with me I would always be safe. My meeting with James in Phoenix only ended the way it did because I was foolish enough to fall for the tracker’s mind games and dumb enough to think that I could go out and meet him on my own. I’d never make that mistake again; I didn’t intend to go anywhere else without Edward.
Jasper straightened up then and it was easy to feel his significant powers at work. The level of tranquility that Carlisle had silently asked for earlier arrived, and I almost had to laugh over how ridiculous my worries all seemed now. Honestly, what did I have to be afraid of? Luca’s strange way of wording things? I was being silly.
Carlisle seemed to be thinking along the same lines as me. He lowered his hands to his side before walking forward, approaching Luca. As if trying to put the defensive mood behind us all, he smiled warmly at the newcomer. Still, his voice was friendly yet firm as he said, "Bella is part of my family, Luca. There is never a question of control where she—or any human, for that matter—is involved."
"She is your guest, as am I. You have nothing to fear from me," Luca answered smoothly. Too smoothly, if you ask me, but it was nice to hear him say that. It only took me a little effort to pretend that his words weren’t almost the same exact ones that Laurent, a former member of James’ small coven, had used.
"Then we understand each other?"
"On the matter of this human girl, Carlisle, we do. But I cannot say that I understand your family’s decision to swear off all human blood. In favor of animals, is it?"
Carlisle nodded before explaining, "It’s a difficult choice but one that my family and I feel works well with us."
"Yes," agreed Esme, pausing only long enough to shoot an affectionate gaze towards her husband, "and I see that Emmett must have told you all about us and our way of life. Not many others are as interested in our lifestyle."
I always thought that Esme was very perceptive. Now that I didn’t have to worry about Luca trying to drink my blood or Edward attacking his family’s guest, it was easy to see that Edward’s parents were just as concerned as to the real reason behind Luca’s visit. After all, there had been a lot of talk about Emmett’s bragging over in Africa. Silently I agreed with Esme’s observation—it was very possible that Emmet, in his goofy, light-hearted way, might not have realized just how much he was telling this stranger at the time.
It could be very bad if Luca knew more about his hosts than the Cullens knew about their unexpected guest. But, if Luca knew what sweet, innocent Esme was implying with her simply statement, he didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he laughed lightly. "If only, dear Esme. With the exception of your names and the type of food you prefer, I feel I don’t know you at all. However, I do hope that that will change."
I felt the pressure on my hand increase and I realized that Edward was squeezing it again. Thinking he was trying to get my attention, I glanced up at him. He wasn’t looking at me, though. He was watching the exchange between Luca and his parents very closely.
Carlisle continued to smile invitingly at Luca. He nodded a couple of times before he and Esme each went to a side of their guest. "Come, Luca. Why don’t you join us in the dining room? There are seats for all of us in there and perhaps I can explain a little more about the way we Cullens do things."
I might’ve imagined it but I was pretty sure I saw Luca’s smile dim as he peeked sideways, glimpsing the sweeping staircase off to his left. He composed himself so quickly that it was difficult to even be certain that his friendly façade had slipped at all. I was beginning to think I was reading way too much into his actions. Huh. Maybe I was more uneasy about him being there than I thought.
"I’d love to, Carlisle," he said as Esme and Carlisle led him away, "and maybe by then I’ll be reacquainted with your Rosalie and Emmett…" His voice—at least to my human ears—faded away as the three of them left the dining room.
Since none of the others made to follow them out of the front room, I stayed put. Not that I really had a choice or anything. Edward’s ironclad grip on my hand was a pretty good indicator that I wasn’t supposed to leave the front room just yet.
He looked strange, almost confused, as he waited for their backs to disappear through the open doorway. As soon as they were gone, he mumbled something under his breath. I don’t think I was meant to hear it.
Jasper crossed the room too, stopping when he was standing right next to Alice. She barely acknowledged his presence at her side, though. Her curious eyes were on Edward. "What’s wrong?" she demanded.
He frowned. "I don’t understand."
"Understand what?" I asked, also very curious. There was something strange about this whole situation, I was sure of it. I wondered if he had that feeling too.
He shook his head slowly and the crazy urge to ruffle his bronze-colored hair lovingly came over me all of a sudden. He looked so forlorn, so concerned, that I wanted to let him know that he didn’t have to get all worked up over whatever it was that was bothering him. I didn’t give in to that urge, no matter how much I wanted to, but I think he could tell just how I felt from my expression. Like my mother always said, I was just like an open book. And he was an expert reader of the Book of (Isa)Bella Swan.
Edward spared me one of his indulgent uneven smiles before trying to explain what was going through his mind. "It’s this… this Luca. I can’t really get a read for his voice." With his free hand he used one of his long, pale fingers to rub his temple. "It’s like a radio that lost its signal. I get bits and pieces, snippets here and there, but then nothing."
"What about what you did hear?" asked Alice quietly. I didn’t understand why she was basically murmuring until I remembered that Luca was a vampire. If he was the eavesdropping type, and I thought he might be, there was a very good chance that he was listening to our conversation. "Do you think we can trust him?"
I knew what she was thinking about. She didn’t look my way—Alice was too thoughtful to make it obvious that she was worried about my presence in the house just then—but it was easy to imagine what was running through all of their heads at that moment. It was going to take awhile before I forgot how intimidating Luca looked as he stood there, clapping for no good reason—or how much his actions reminded me of that climactic meeting of the nomadic vampires in the clearing last spring.
When Edward nodded, it was almost as if he did so begrudgingly. "He seemed sincere enough, and nothing I did hear contradicted his story that he came to Forks just to meet Rosalie’s coven. It is possible, if Emmett told him all about us, that he’s trying to keep me out but—" He shook his head, more vehemently this time, as he huffed in visible frustration. "I just think it would be too hard for him to get away with that without me catching on first."
"I know what you mean, Edward, but…" Unable to say what she was feeling, Alice left it there.
The mood was getting a little too serious for me. I decided I would try to break it up some. "Sheesh, you Cullens," I said, grinning, shaking my head semi-mockingly, "it’s always ‘but’ with you, huh?"
Strangely enough, it was Jasper—nice and serious Jasper—who responded to my teasing. "But," he said, his lips twitching upwards a bit as Alice simply rolled her eyes, "I wouldn’t be so concerned. You saw his eyes—he’s fed. There’s one of him, seven of us and he doesn’t seem particularly strong. Plus, Edward, the only aggression I could sense in the room was coming off of you. There was no malice coming from him, only interest. Excitement, even."
He shrugged, and I was so grateful that he was acting as the voice of reason that I barely noticed the length of his comment; for Jasper, it almost seemed like a speech. Edward was very hard-headed when he entered his overprotective mode. It was always a good thing to cut him off before he got himself too worked up. As it was, he’d been acting strange ever since he met me in Newton’s yesterday. He needed to calm down before his head exploded or something.
Not surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with Jasper and his commonsensical observations. "I think he’s right, Edward, and you did tell me that it’s easier to hear a voice you’re familiar with. Maybe you’re so in tune with your family that his thoughts were just getting lost in the shuffle."
Okay, even I thought that suggestion was a little lame. But if it meant that he might be able to relax a little, then it was worth it. Besides, he already thought I was a little touched in the head since I actually wanted to spend my time around a tempted vampire. Throwing out a too-simple solution to a problem he thought complex was probably what he was expecting me to do, anyway.
"It is possible," he said slowly, repeating himself.
Possible, but not likely, I interpreted.
Glancing at both Alice and Edward, witnessing the quick look the two of them shared, it was easy to see that neither of them was satisfied.
At least I had Jasper on my side. Before either of them had a chance to say anything else, he gestured towards the doorway that led right through to the dining room. "Why don’t we go join them in there? Edward, it’ll give you the opportunity to get another listen."
"And it’ll give me another chance to figure out what it is about this guy that makes my hair stand on end," added Alice thoughtfully. Repaying her thoughtfulness—though I did owe her for making fun of my windblown hair earlier—I decided not to point out the fact that Alice’s pixie-cut black hair stuck out like that already.
Her face brightened then, despite her obvious agitation. "And you know what, Edward? It’ll be fun. We can pretend we’re Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple." There was no denying the mischief that was suddenly at home on her deceptively innocent face. "Je sais déjà le français," she said, her French accent flawless, "so I’ll pretend to be the Belgian. You can be the little old lady." She gave a little snort, punctuated by one of her giggles. "Goodness knows you could act the part enough."
I actually had to bite my tongue again to keep from laughing out loud; this time, I was even able to swallow back the tiny cry of pain. I needed to be more careful, though. By the time I went back to work on Tuesday, I wouldn’t be able to help a single customer. My poor tongue will be too swollen to let me talk!
It was Edward’s turn to roll his eyes. Purposely ignoring what his sister had to say, he nodded over at Jasper. "All right, fine. But Bella has to sit as far away from him as possible."
"You’ll have a hard time separating me from you," I promised.
There was such finality in that one word. This little meeting was over.
Edward stood quiet for a moment before heading through the open doorway, pulling me gently in tow. Muttering something about how someone so tiny could be so annoying, we went down the hallway, towards the door that Carlisle had considerately closed behind them when they left for the dining room.
Trying my best not to make eye contact with Alice, I followed him through another doorway, one that led straight to the other side of the house. I just hoped Carlisle’s foresight, and his decision to put some distance between Luca and the front room, meant that our conversation had not been overheard; I really didn’t want anyone to have to explain to Luca why his arrival was kind of unwelcome.
In fact, I had to keep my eyes on the floor as we headed off towards the dining room ourselves. Every time I got a peek of Edward I couldn’t help but imagine him in a shawl and a Victorian-style dress, a bag of knitting hanging off of his arm. And Alice—she would look ridiculous with a large, fluffy mustache taking over her tiny face!
Oh, yes. I could already feel my tongue swelling. At this rate I’d be better off letting him hear my laugh already. Who knows? Maybe when he had to worry about why I was laughing out loud at random intervals, he wouldn’t obsess over Luca’s arrival as much…
For reasons I’ve never fully understood, there was an actual dinner table standing in the center of the Cullens lavishly decorated dining room. I suppose it was just another prop, another piece of scenery that helped them in their masquerade as a normal human family, but I wasn’t quite sure that I bought that reason. I mean, a toilet was easily explained, as well as the kitchen—try finding a house without them!—but a dining room table? I didn’t get it.
However, this was neither the time nor the place for me to start questioning Edward about his family’s belongings. It was a really nice table, with more than enough seats for everyone present. Luca, whether he had taken that seat purposely or not, was sitting at the head of the table. Esme and Carlisle were placed at either side of their guest, sitting opposite of one another.
Emmett and Rosalie, I noticed, were not at the table yet.
Hmm. I wonder if their absence was intentional. After all, I hadn’t even seen Rosalie since her return back to Forks last night. If she hadn’t left her room all morning, it wouldn’t surprise me to know that she didn’t plan on coming down at all. And Emmett… well, even less surprisingly, he always did exactly what his wife told him to do.
I followed Edward into the room and watched as he pointedly marked the seat opposite of Luca’s as his own by letting his left hand fall possessively on the seat rest. Before he sat down he automatically pulled the seat to his right out for me. He finally let go of my hand as I sat down in my proffered seat. I kept my eyes focused on the intricate design of the tabletop, waiting for him to push me in. He did and then took his seat beside me.
Alice flitted in the room behind us, all smiles and happiness. I was pretty sure it was all a front, a way for her to observe this new vampire without him knowing that she was inexplicably suspicious of him. Then again, this was Alice so I can’t say I know what her motive really was. For all I knew, she could be smiling because she was picturing Edward as an old spinster lady, too.
Luckily for me—if not for my poor tongue and my tendency to find Alice funny at the most inopportune of times—she took the seat opposite of me. Jasper, entering silently behind Alice’s exuberance, sat down next to her without a sound.
I don’t know what exactly the topic of conversation had been before we joined them, but it had trailed to an amicable close when we entered the room. Carlisle and Esme both appeared to be at ease, murmuring to each other and smiling, obviously delighted that their children had been polite enough to sit down with their guest.
Luca, on the other hand, watched us take our seats with unparalleled interest. I could see him, out of the corner of my eye, as he took notice of the two chairs next to Esme and Carlisle that were still empty.
Then, in a tone that was so off-handed that its utter indifference caught my attention and made me look down the table at him inquisitively, he said, "I wonder where Rosalie is?" There was a small pause, barely recognizable, before, "And Emmett?"
It was like something out of a movie. As soon as Luca asked about them, there they were, appearing in the open doorway as if on cue.
There was Rosalie, a sneer of disgust twisting her perfect face; not even that expression was enough to mask her radiance and her beauty. With her hands on her hips and her golden eyes narrowed defensively at the head of the table—and the vampire that sat there—she looked as much an angel as I’d thought Luca to be. Only, where Luca seemed too innocent to be true, she was an avenging angel. I was relieved that, for once, it wasn’t me who was on the receiving end of one of her dark and moody glares.
Emmett stood just behind her, his spade of a hand resting lightly on her slim waist. Acting like her protector, appearing more like a great, big bear than a man, it occurred to me what Jasper had meant when he said that the only aggression he had felt in the room was coming from Edward. I didn’t need his particular gift to recognize that Emmett’s plans to take on Luca this morning were not simply idle threats.
And, though I’d spent most of the day with him, it struck me again, as I saw him looming in the doorway, just incredibly massive Emmett Cullen really was. That, and just how scary he could be when he smiled like that.
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