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Darkest Before the Dawn

The door opened behind me, with a cold gust of wind suddenly sweeping through the room, rustling the papers on the desk and carrying that scent! I froze. Not again!...I sensed nothing...The fragrance was maddening. I slowly turned my head, following the scent, and there she was. Standing, back pressed against the back wall, waiting. She was haunting me. A reimagining of Twilight from Edward's perspective, starting from the very beginning...The First Time - and continuing on beyond where Midnight Sun ends. NOMINATED: 2009 Bellie's category Canon that's Better than Canon NOMINATED: 2009 Indie's Top 10 Best Canon Disclaimer: All characters, settings, and a great majority of the dialogue are the property of Stephanie Meyer.

I wrote the first five or so chapters of Darkest Before the Dawn before I knew about/read SM’s Midnight Sun. I have since read it, but have tried to stay true to “my” version of Edward, as well as staying true to SM’s original dialogue and plot line.

19. Chapter 19 - Goodbyes

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Chapter 19 – Goodbyes

I pulled up to Bella’s house slowly, testing the dark forest around it for James’ predatory thoughts, or any sign of Victoria or Laurent. The silence in the forest rang in my mind, the only sound Charlie’s meandering thoughts preoccupied with the television. I cut off the engine, and continued to listen. Emmett and Alice were scanning as well, sniffing the pine scented air and peering into the murk. Alice pushed a little forward into the future and saw nothing. It was clear.

“He’s not here,” I said for Bella’s sake. “Let’s go.”

Emmett reached over to unbuckle Bella from the harness, his hands gentle but swift as I sped out of the driver’s side. “Don’t worry, Bella,” he was saying to her, trying to cheer her in a low voice, his concern for her clear in his thoughts, “we’ll take care of things here quickly.” He could sense her anxiety, too, but I couldn’t give any thought to that as I continued to scan the forest, convinced James would arrive and attack at any moment. As I opened the rear door to retrieve Bella from the Jeep, I could see the tears shining in her eyes and she seemed to hesitate, as if she wanted to hug Emmett, or say goodbye. There was no time for that.

“Alice, Emmett,” I commanded, and they dispersed soundlessly. Emmett was covering the back of the house. Alice went to guard Bella’s truck while I took her inside. I would hear James’ arrive in their thoughts if I failed to sense him before he attacked. It seemed unlikely that he would strike now, but if I left her unguarded for a second, it was possible…it wouldn’t take any time at all…I choked back the panic again as I took Bella’s hand and drew her close to me, pulling her out of the car and into the enclosure of my arms. I wished I could just keep her there, but we had to move quickly and get her to a safer place. The bright windows of the house threw patches of light on the inky lawn. I walked her as fast as I dared toward the front door, my mind and eyes still scanning for a sudden vampire appearance. If he attacked, I would only have a moment to intercept…I needed all the warning I could get.

“Fifteen minutes,” I reminded her on our way to the door. I would be by her side as much as possible, but it felt incredibly helpless knowing I had to let her walk into the house by herself.

“I can do this,” she said, sniffling, tears raining down her cheeks. I tried to ignore them, ignore that gnawing feeling about the horror of what I had done to her. I had to focus on keeping her alive.

When we arrived at the porch, she took hold of my face in her warm hands, and looked severely into my eyes. It took me a moment to drag my mind away from the vast open, unguarded stretches around us and concentrate on her. Once I looked at her glistening chocolate eyes, however, I was captured by them, agonized by the pain I saw there.

“I love you,” she said, quietly and forcefully. “I will always love you, no matter what happens now.”

“Nothing is going to happen to you, Bella,” I said fiercely, almost angered that she wanted to say goodbye, as if she was about to die. I will not let that happen. My thoughts flicked to scan the area again.

“Just follow the plan, okay?” she was saying, drawing my attention back. “Keep Charlie safe for me. He’s not going to like me very much after this, and I want to have a chance to apologize later.”

“Get inside, Bella,” I insisted, urgency tugging at my voice. “We have to hurry.” We couldn’t sit here, wasting time, exposed…

“One more thing,” she whispered intensely. “Don’t listen to another word I say tonight!” I barely had time to register her words before she stretched up on her toes and kissed me, pressing her warm lips against my tightly drawn ones. I was surprised by the suddenness of it, frozen in place as she turned and kicked the front door open.

“Go away, Edward!” she turned and yelled at me, and then ran inside and slammed the door in my face. I stood stunned for a moment, before I realized this was part of the charade. Charlie was immediately alarmed and hurried toward her.

“Bella?” he called from the living room. I lingered by the front door, unsure of what Bella had planned next.

“Leave me alone!” she screamed at Charlie, wounding him immediately. Her loud stomps and Charlie’s bewildered gaze followed her as she ran up the stairs to her room. I sped around to the back of her house, hovering just outside her window, waiting for the moment to enter. She flung open the door to her room, twirled around and shut it forcefully again, locking it. As she retrieved her duffle bag from under the bed, I slipped soundlessly into her room, and went straight to her dresser. Charlie was fully roused to alarm now and pounded on the door.

“Bella, are you okay? What’s going on?” He was frightened that Bella was hurt, that I hurt her. If he only knew the danger I had put her in…

“I’m going home,” Bella shouted, her voice breaking convincingly in the middle. I scanned the forest, and Alice and Emmett’s thoughts, as I rifled through the top drawer of the dresser for clothes for her. Still no sign of James.

“Did he hurt you?” Charlie’s alarm built toward anger, looking for some explanation for Bella’s sudden fury.

“No!” Bella shrieked, her voice rising. I threw some clothes to her to pack and proceeded to the next drawer.

“Did he break up with you?” Charlie asked more timidly, now in unfamiliar territory.

“No!” Bella yelled, breathlessly, as I threw another drawer’s worth of clothes to her.

Charlie was pounding again, confused and angry, shouting, “What happened, Bella?”

I broke up with him!” she shouted back, trying unsuccessfully to zipper the bag shut. I gently pushed her hands away, and zipped it closed. I carefully hung the strap over her arm. We need to hurry…

“I’ll be in the truck—go!” I whispered and gave her a soft nudge toward the door. I turned and sped back out the window, closing it as I dropped to the soft earth below. Alice still warily guarded Bella’s truck. I relieved her, and sent her to keep watch over the front yard for when Bella came out.

Inside, I could hear Charlie grilling Bella. “What happened?” he yelled, following her as she hurried down the stairs. “I thought you liked him.” And then I heard him…in the forest, close enough to hear the battle inside Bella’s house…James. He was calm, listening to determine the lay of the situation, and elated to see that we were already guarding her…he knew we were here. The plan that formed in his mind at the field had grown sharper since he left. He would wait until she was unguarded, and then snatch her, and then…

Charlie’s thoughts snapped my attention back. He held Bella by the elbow in the kitchen, determined to keep her from leaving Forks. She glared at him, tears in her eyes. Charlie softened, undone by the wetness flowing down her cheeks, uncertain if it was him or me that caused them.

“I do like him—that’s the problem. I can’t do this anymore!” Bella shouted into his face, making him cringe away, afraid that it was his fault after all. “I can’t put down any more roots here! I don’t want to end up trapped in this stupid, boring town like Mom! I’m not going to make the same dumb mistake she did. I hate it—I can’t stay here another minute!” Her words shocked and hurt him and he dropped his hand from her arm, horrified. Bella turned away from him, heading for the door, and he dazedly watched her go.

I slunk down in the truck, so Charlie wouldn’t see me if he followed Bella out. The darkness encroached upon me, trapped there. I wanted to warn Alice and Emmett that James was near, so he couldn’t grab her as she walked from the front door to the truck. He lurked deep in the forest and still seemed uncertain whether he would strike. He listened to Bella’s rant with cool interest. He had already assessed the scene, sensed Emmett shadowing the backyard and Alice waiting, hidden near the front. He thought I was nearby but hadn’t heard me move and wasn’t sure exactly where I was. Somehow, he knew I was here…he sensed me. He saw me as…part of the hunt. He wondered whether I would be more agonized if he took her while I was watching and thought with satisfaction…yes, that would put a pretty spin on the game. He wanted to snatch her out from under my grasp, but decided the odds were long with three of us here, guarding her, so he waited, listening…

Charlie was begging Bella not to leave, but his resolve had withered in her assault. She didn’t want to be in Forks, with him…just like Renee. It agonized him.

“I’ll sleep in the truck if I get tired,” Bella said, still heading for the front door.

“Just wait another week,” Charlie tried again. “Renee will be back by then.” Charlie briefly considered calling Renee…maybe she could talk Bella into staying…but then he realized with dismay that Renee would completely understand why she was leaving, would be no help. He would lose her for good.

“What?” said Bella, hesitating. I almost growled as she stopped, her hand on the front doorknob but not leaving. As soon as she was out the door, she would be in danger. I wanted to her leave, to get far away from James before he changed his mind and decided to strike now, but I was terrified of the thirty feet stretch between the front door and the truck, where I waited for her. I focused on James. If he made any thought to move, I would hurtle myself out of the truck and into his path, regardless of what Charlie saw. He was listening with interest to Charlie’s explanation that Bella’s mom was going back to Arizona, and that Bella was planning on going there. Charlie argued for her to stay, but Bella was determined to leave. James tried to figure out if this was a ruse, to throw him off the trail, or not. He decided to follow her and wait…wait until Victoria could join him and the odds were better for taking her. He wanted to outwit us, not fight us…not yet…unless he could get me alone and overpower me…that would be even more satisfying. But he didn’t want her dead in a vampire brawl…he wanted her alive, unharmed, in perfect condition for his slow torments to be fully effective. This time, he would have his prey…Bella would not escape, like that other pretty one, the one who got away so long ago. He warmed to the thought of our collective torment at our failure to protect Bella and relished what kind of revenge we thought we could bring. Giddy excitement thrilled him at the idea of claiming victory over us and then eluding us…

His thoughts and mine whipped back to Bella as we heard the doorknob turn and she threw open the door. “It didn’t work out, okay? I really, really hate Forks!” she screamed at her father. I froze in the truck, casting for any change in James’ mind, but he simply watched, fascinated. Charlie was frozen in place on the doorstep, his mind stunned by Bella’s words, while she ran into the dark empty yard. I watched in terror, through Charlie’s grief stricken eyes, as she hurtled to the truck, but it seemed an eternity as she crossed those few feet to safety with me. James made no motion to move, intent on following us and putting his plan into motion. She threw her bag in the bed and wrenched open the driver’s door. I had put the key in the ignition, so it was waiting for her.

“I’ll call you tomorrow!” she yelled. Charlie watched helplessly, thinking he should say something but convinced there were no words that would bring her back. Bella gunned the engine and peeled out of the driveway. As soon as we rounded the corner out of sight, Charlie staggered back into the house. Alice and Emmett, still unaware that James was lurking nearby, sped to follow us, Emmett running and guarding us from behind, and Alice retrieving the Jeep. As soon as they were in pursuit, James ran behind us, ghosting through the forest darkness, tracking us. He sensed me in the truck with Bella, confirming in his mind that I would not leave her side…how did he know where I was? He couldn’t have seen or heard me…

With Bella safely in the car with me again, I reached for her hand. “Pull over,” I said, my voice hoarse from the tension built up waiting for her.

“I can drive,” she insisted, tears still pouring down her cheeks. I stared at her for a brief moment, pain ripping through me that I had caused all of this. I wanted to pull her close to me and wipe away those tears, but there was no time for that. No time for arguing. I gripped her waist as gently as I could and pushed her foot off the gas pedal with mine. I pulled her across my lap, carefully pulling her hands free of the wheel. I drove ahead, eyes locked on the road so I wouldn’t see the outrage, or the tears, or the pain in her face. I couldn’t bear it.

“You wouldn’t be able to find the house,” I explained gently, hoping that would suffice. Alice finally turned on the lights of the Jeep behind us, causing Bella to start and stare out the back window in horror.

“It’s just Alice,” I reassured her. I reached over and took her warm hand in my cold one, offering what little comfort I could, hoping she didn’t feel the pain and horror inside me. I needed her to stay calm. The dark shapes of the forest whipped past us, but James stayed with us.

“The tracker?” she said, fear clear in her voice.

“He heard the end of your performance,” I said grimly.

“Charlie?” she asked, her hand shaking slightly in mine.

“The tracker followed us. He’s running behind us now.” At least she would know that we kept Charlie from harm…for now. I could only hope that would keep her from hating me…if…when…I focused on the road, thinking about what our next steps would be to get Bella safely away.

“Can we outrun him?” Bella asked, holding still, and probably frozen in fear.

“No,” I said, coaxing Bella’s ancient truck faster. The engine whined in protest. She stared back into Alice’s headlights, ludicrously looking for a vampire in the dark with her human eyes. Emmett chose that moment to reach the truck and jump in the bed to join us. Bella’s bloodcurdling scream echoed through the cab of the truck before I could get my hand clamped down on her mouth.

“It’s Emmett!” I chastised her, instantly regretting my harsh tone. I released her mouth and wound my arm around her waist, pulling her closer to me. “It’s okay, Bella,” I promised. “You’re going to be safe.” I reassured her as best I could, but was horribly uncertain myself. We raced as fast as her truck would allow through town and toward our house. If there was any hope of keeping her alive, I needed to soothe her fears—now, and especially in the days to come, while we were separated. My heart, frozen with fear and dread, sank even further as I thought of not being at her side, protecting her, while she was in her deepest peril. I would make sure she was safe. And I knew now that meant I would hunt and kill James. Carlisle wouldn’t approve, but he didn’t understand…James’ thoughts kept pushing into mine, and it felt as if he was in the cab with us, menacing us, although I knew he was well behind the truck. He saw Alice’s car in the distance, but made no move to close the gap. He simply followed for now…tracking…waiting…I wrenched my thoughts away from his, so I could spend these last few moments with Bella.

“I didn’t realize you were still so bored with small-town life,” I said lightly, hoping the words would settle her. “It seemed like you were adjusting fairly well—especially recently. Maybe I was just flattering myself that I was making life more interesting for you.” I tried a small smile, but it fell flat.

“I wasn’t being nice,” she said morosely staring at her knees. “That was the same thing my mom said when she left him. You could say I was hitting below the belt.”

“Don’t worry. He’ll forgive you.” I smiled unsuccessfully again. Charlie would forgive anything to have her back, but I knew she couldn’t see that. “Bella, it’s going to be all right.”

“But it won’t be all right when I’m not with you,” she whispered, cutting through me again. At least her eyes had dried, so I could look at her tear-streaked face with less agony.

“We’ll be together again in a few days,” I said, tightening my arm around her. “Don’t forget that this was your idea.”

“It was the best idea—of course it was mine.” She could charm me in my bleakest moments. My smile disappeared almost before it arrived. I wouldn’t be able to go on without her. “Why did this happen?” she asked, her voice catching. “Why me?”

I couldn’t look at her and see the fear and confusion splayed across her beautiful face. I turned to stare at the black road instead, watching the streetlights beat a steady rhythm as we passed. “It’s my fault—I was a fool to expose you like that.” Stupid, reckless, selfish fool.Was there no end to the danger I was to her?

“That’s not what I meant,” she insisted. “I was there, big deal. It didn’t bother the other two. Why did this James decide to kill me? There’re people all over the place, why me?”

I hesitated, wondering how much I should share with her. I wanted her to be properly warned, so she wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks, but at the same time a terrified Bella would be much more difficult to keep safe.

“I got a good look at his mind tonight,” I began. “I’m not sure if there’s anything I could have done to avoid this, once he saw you. It is partially your fault,” sweet, delicious, Bella…I smiled wryly. “If you didn’t smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered. But when I defended you…well, that made it a lot worse. He’s not used to being thwarted, no matter how insignificant the object. He thinks of himself as a hunter and nothing else. His existence is consumed with tracking, and a challenge is all he asks of life. Suddenly we’ve presented him with a beautiful challenge—a large clan of strong fighters all bent on protecting the one vulnerable element. You wouldn’t believe how euphoric he is now. It’s his favorite game, and we’ve just made it his most exciting game ever.” I grimaced as James’ thoughts intruded again. He was calling Victoria to arrange a rendezvous, enjoying how readily she obeyed his commands and joined the hunt. He told her he wanted to see where we stopped tonight, but he intended to wait…until there were less of us and they could attack together. He thought coldly of how to make Laurent pay for his disloyalty. I wrench my thoughts away from him and back into the cab with Bella.

“But if I had stood by, he would have killed you right then,” I finished, frustrated. The only way this could have been avoided was for Bella not to be there…not to be a part of my life. I should never have brought her to that field. Foolish, greedy, self-indulgent…my internal curses were running out of words, but not venom.

“I thought…” Bella brought me out of my self-loathing again. “I didn’t smell the same to the others…as I do to you,” she hesitated.

“You don’t. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t still a temptation to every one of them. If you had appealed to the tracker—or any of them—the same way you appeal to me, it would have meant a fight right there.” She shuddered.

“I don’t think I have any choice but to kill him now,” I continued. “Carlisle won’t like it.” I said that mostly for Emmett’s benefit. I knew he would be listening into our conversation from the back of the truck, while keeping an eye out for James. I hoped that Carlisle would join our hunt, but if not, Emmett and I would go alone. I would make her safe again. The Jeep vibrated as we crossed the bridge near the turnoff to our house.

“How can you kill a vampire?” Bella asked softly, looking at me timidly. I glanced at her, angry that she had to know about that part…what it would take to keep her safe.

“The only way to be sure is to tear him to shreds, and then burn the pieces.”

“And the other two will fight with him?”

“The woman will. I’m not sure about Laurent. They don’t have a very strong bond—he’s only with them for convenience. He was embarrassed by James in the meadow…”

“But James and the woman—they’ll try to kill you?” she persisted.

“Bella, don’t you dare waste time worrying about me. Your only concern is keeping yourself safe and—please, please—trying not to be reckless.”

“Is he still following?”

“Yes. He won’t attack the house, though. Not tonight.” There will be too many of us tonight. I turned at the small drive leading to our house, Alice close behind. I drove straight up to the house, the lights from the windows pushing back the darkness of the forest and illuminating the drive. Emmett leapt silently down and opened Bella’s door before I had stopped the Jeep. He gently pulled her out of her seat, tucked her close to his chest and ran her through the door, taking no chances. Alice and I were close at his back as we all burst into the main room of the house.

They heard us, of course, and had been waiting. Esme and Carlisle were relieved to see Bella in one piece. Carlisle was thinking he held them at the field as long as possible, trying to buy us time, but wasn’t sure if it was enough. Jasper was beside himself with relief to see Alice, questions flying through his mind. Was she hurt? Did he attack? Rose stood as still as a statue. Seeing Emmett fly through the door with Bella in his arms, sent conflicting thoughts of anger and relief coursing through her. Laurent stood awkwardly in their midst, wondering without much hope if I would have good news. Seeing Laurent, Emmett softly set Bella down next to me and tensed, standing between her and Laurent, ready to take Laurent at the slightest hint of danger to Bella.

I glared at Laurent, although his thoughts were clearly relieved to see Bella unharmed. “He’s tracking us,” I spat at him, so there would be no doubt as to our situation.

Laurent looked pained. “I was afraid of that.” He remembered the look of excitement on James’ face as he and Victoria made wry excuses about needing to ‘hunt’ and left the field before he did.

Alice sped to Jasper, whispered quickly into his ear, careful not to say anything about our plans in front of Laurent. Jasper quickly grasped what needed to be done, and they flew up the stairs together. Rosalie realized immediately that Emmett would be involved in the hunting party and moved quickly to Emmett’s side. Panic gripped her and her furious eyes kept flicking to Bella. That Emmett would be in danger on account of Bella made her cold anger turn flaming hot.

“What will he do?” Carlisle asked Laurent, dread filling his thoughts. He knew James was a true predator, just as I did, even if he didn’t know the details.

“I’m sorry,” Laurent answered. “I was afraid, when your boy there defended her, that it would set him off.”

“Can you stop him?”

Laurent shook his head. “Nothing stops James when he gets started.” Images of previous hunts…previous slaughters…flashed through Laurent’s mind.

“We’ll stop him,” Emmett promised, images of pieces of James in his head. Rosalie’s panic hitched a notch. She knew Emmett well enough to know that he wouldn’t stop until James was dead, which meant the very real possibility that Emmett could get hurt. Her hot fury at Bella intensified.

“You can’t bring him down. I’ve never seen anything like him in my three hundred years. He’s absolutely lethal. That’s why I joined his coven.” Of course…James was the strongest among them. Allowing Laurent to play the leader gave him free rein to analyze others. Laurent feared James as much as he coveted his strength. He was shaking his head, glancing at Bella and wondering what her strange hold on us was. Looking back at Carlisle, he added, “Are you sure it’s worth it?”

My enraged roar filled the room, all my anger and frustration vented at Laurent. Laurent cringed back, still not understanding, but convinced.

Carlisle looked gravely at Laurent, unsure if he would be an asset in protecting Bella from James. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to make a choice.” My anger flashed for a moment that Carlisle would even consider allowing Laurent near Bella, much less rely on him in any way…Laurent deliberated for a moment, examining each of our faces in turn, and finally seeing us as we were—a family. He wanted very much to be a part of what we had.

“I’m intrigued by the life you’ve created here. But I won’t get in the middle of this. I bear none of you any enmity, but I won’t go up against James. I think I will head north—to that clan in Denali.” He hesitated, wanting to help us, earn some good will so that someday he might return. “Don’t underestimate James. He’s got a brilliant mind and unparalleled senses. He’s every bit as comfortable in the human world as you seem to be, and he won’t come at you head on…I’m sorry for what’s been unleashed here. Truly sorry.” He bowed his head, genuinely regretting the trouble besetting us, but still puzzled as to why we were protecting Bella. His eyes flicked to Bella once again. I couldn’t wait for him to leave.

“Go in peace,” Carlisle answered him. Laurent took another long, regretful look around at us and then hurried out the door. He would run to Denali, and would probably avoid whatever James had in store for him, as he was already far past the house, going to meet with Victoria.

All thoughts turned expectantly to me. “How close?” Carlisle asked. Esme’s thoughts ran ahead to protecting us in the house, thinking we would bunker down here. She punched in the code for the barricades into the keypad on the wall. The huge metal shutters groaned as they began sealing up the glass wall of windows.

“About three miles out past the river; he’s circling around to meet up with the female.” I could still hear him, faintly. He was nearly at the edge of my ability to sense him.

“What’s the plan?”

“We’ll lead him off, and then Jasper and Alice will run her south.”

“And then?”

I knew he wouldn’t like this part, but there was no choice. And he would not stop me. “As soon as Bella is clear, we hunt him.” My voice was flat, dead.

Carlisle’s grim, resigned thoughts surprised me. “I guess there’s no other choice.” He never had killed another human, or vampire, in all the time I had known him. I cringed that I had forced him into this repulsive act.

I turned to Rosalie. “Get her upstairs and trade clothes,” I commanded. She stared at me with livid disbelief, much as I expected.

“Why should I?” she hissed, her hatred for Bella reaching a peak. “What is she to me? Except a menace—a danger you’ve chosen to inflict on all of us.” She, of course, was thinking of Emmett, and she was undeniably right. I had inflicted this danger on everyone and there was no excuse for it…and no escape from it now.

“Rose…” Emmett murmured, putting his hand on her shoulder and hoping to calm her anger. He knew she was only concerned for him, but she was having none of it and shook his hand off. She knew he would hunt James, regardless of what she said and part of her anger was directed at him, but Bella was a more convenient target. This was no more than I expected and I quickly turned to Esme, who was already ahead of me, thinking of how to lure the tracker away. Bella was her newest daughter, and she was mentally preparing to fight to protect her. She would fight anyone that tried to hurt her, although she had never killed anyone in her life. She was afraid she might fail, she might not be strong enough…

“Esme?” I asked calmly.

“Of course,” Esme murmured, glad for the chance to do something before her fears could take hold of her. She flew to Bella’s side, swinging her up gently in her arms like a child, and dashing up the stairs before Bella could react. I was sure Bella would think that strange, but my hurt surged with the loving care Esme’s thoughts held for her.

Confusing Bella’s scent with ours was just a start, and we needed to be clear about the threat James posed. I turned to Carlisle and Emmett. “He will try to take her when he thinks she is least protected.” Alice and Jasper reappeared, having packed their bag and returning with a backpack for the hunting party. Emmett slung it over his shoulder. Jasper was staring wide eyed at me, no doubt concerned about the waves of terror rolling off me.

“He wants…” my voice broke and then I forced it to go dead, “…he wants her alive to hurt her slowly, away from us. He will bide his time, waiting for the situation to turn to his advantage…” The horror in all their minds began to match mine. Emmett’s hard determination to kill James turned to something more cold. Alice shuddered and Jasper laid a calming hand on her shoulder. I turned to face them.

“Alice, you have to watch her every move.” I smiled grimly. “She’s stubborn and has her own ideas. Don’t let her out of your sight.” Jasper’s black eyes swept my face and I stared back at him. “Jasper, you must keep her calm. She’s liable to do something foolish…” I stopped, unable to contemplate what that might be.

Jasper touched my arm and I could feel his calming waves wash over me, but they didn’t touch me, falling off and dropping to the floor. “I promise, Edward.” His thoughts showed his promise to not harm her, to protect her, to keep her calm…all the things he knew I needed to see. I nodded, and could feel my grasp slip as I looked back to Alice. “She needs to eat—frequently. And she has these human moments, I don’t really understand…” Alice flew to me and threw her arms around my neck. I held her, hard.

“I’ll take care of her, Edward,” she whispered into my ear, and I willed my grief and heartbreak to sink slowly to the bottom of mind. The beast within me gobbled them up, feeding on my panic and fear. I pulled back from her, my face stone silent. Alice flew back up the stairs with her small bag to retrieve Bella.

“Esme and Rose will head west. We,” I inclined my head to Carlisle and Emmett, “will go north. They are waiting, watching us…” I could hear James’ thoughts deliberating whether we would stay the night at the house or attempt to flee. He sat on a large boulder overlooking the river, contentedly waiting, petting Victoria’s soft red hair… “Hopefully, they will take the bait, follow us away from the house, and then you,” I looked at Jasper, “can take her. Keep her safe…until we kill him.” My cold and hard voice was low, my jaw clenched.

Esme and Alice returned, half-carrying Bella down the stairs, holding her by the elbows. Carlisle had planned ahead and had retrieved our cell phones. He gave one to Esme, his eyes lingering on hers for a moment. She gave him a small, reassuring smile. I knew they didn’t want to be separated and that Esme worried about Carlisle, too. He turned to Alice and handed her a tiny silver cell phone as well.

“Esme and Rosalie will be taking your truck, Bella,” he told her, filling her in on our plans. She nodded, glancing warily at Rose, who was still glaring at Carlisle. She resented being a part of this operation, but accepted Carlisle’s command. “Alice, Jasper—take the Mercedes. You’ll need the dark tint in the south.” They nodded as well.

“We’re taking the Jeep,” Carlisle nodded to Emmett and me and then focused on Alice.

“Alice, will they take the bait?” We all watched Alice as she closed her eyes and stilled. Brief images of our vehicles driving through the dark flashed through her mind. Finally, her eyes opened. “He’ll track you. The woman will follow the truck. We should be able to leave after that.” Her voice was certain.

“Let’s go.” Carlisle began to walk toward the kitchen. I moved to Bella’s side, not wanting to leave her, feeling like I was ripping out my own heart to do so. Perhaps it was just as well to leave it with her, for safe keeping. I would not need it for the work that lay ahead. I caught her up in my arms, holding her tightly to me, quite unable to restrain my need to have her close. I lifted her warm pulsing body off the ground, bringing her lovely face closer to mine, briefly pressing my cold hard lips to the sweetness that was Bella’s. I gently let her down, slowly, not wanting to release her. I held her face, once last time, my eyes boring into and memorizing her soft brown ones. I gave her my heart and hid my love for her away in a deep, dark corner. From now on, only the fiend would have my mind.

Goodbye, my Bella.

I turned away, and we sped, three hunters, to the Jeep. I didn’t know how long it would take, but before I saw her again, I would make Bella safe.

Of this, I was certain: I will kill James.