I was very proud of Jay, not only had he persevered with hunting animals, he had also resisted any craving for human blood for over a year now and most importantly he had finally gone back to doing what he loved best. He had become a Professor of History at the University of Illinois here in Chicago and his book was finally finished and about to be published. He had kept it a secret from everyone except of course Edward but he was sworn, on pain of death, to secrecy.
It had preyed on his mind, the paper he had written about Major Jasper Whitlock having met the man himself and he wanted to put the record straight but as he had found when writing his paper there was very little factual evidence either way. I had helped him with his research knowing he would feel much better and more settled once he finished the book.
Of course that was only the first hurdle, he then had to find a publisher willing to take the book. Carlisle had helped here although we never told him the subject of the book but he may have guessed. His friend Alistair knew a few publishers who specialized in historical fact, he'd written enough of his own books on the subject to understand how to pitch a concept.
Once the book, "A Civil War Hero Unmasked", was accepted Jay was a different man and we decided to throw a party on publication day at our loft apartment in the city. Everyone was coming, including Darius and Sara who after visiting Maggie had settled down in Colorado, close to Peter and Charlotte. I think Sara felt a debt of gratitude to them for what they had done to bring her back to Darius and now she was learning all about photography with her mate's help.
Bella and Jazz had bought their ranch and now raised horses although from what I heard she still didn't ride but I was sure Jazz would overcome her phobia about the creatures eventually. She had taken up painting and was exhibiting in a select Miami gallery having already sold a couple of her works. Her subjects were horses and nature and her interesting use of color and shading made her works particularly striking.
Things hadn't been all smooth sailing though, Aro had called on Jay and Jazz to help the Volturi guard on occasion. With Caius gone along with some of the old guard they found themselves stretched at times. Bella had been terrified that it might be too much temptation for Jazz being among human hunters again and she had every right to be. I remembered the terrible struggle he had the first time round but we were both underestimating his resolve. He would never do anything to upset Bella and though he had admitted to Jay that he had been tempted he had never given in to the blood lust again.
We hadn't seen the others in ages and were looking forward to this party even if we didn't know what it was in aid of. Alice's birthday was last month and Jay's wasn't for several months yet still we were just happy to be seeing everyone. Peter had been disappointed we didn't buy a ranch in Colorado close to them but at the time we needed our space, time to bond in a way we had never been able to. So much had been going on with the Volturi and the Romanians before.
When I found I had a gift of painting I threw myself into it while Jazz concentrated on his horses but of course I couldn't stay away from him for long so the horses and of course my mate figured in most of my paintings somewhere. Esme had insisted on buying one to hang in their new house and a couple of Carlisle's colleagues had enquired about the artist which made me giggle. I couldn't think of myself as an artist, that term belonged to people like Michelangelo and Picasso, not my scribbles although Jazz was very proud of me.
Charlotte who had taken up writing asked me to illustrate the children's books she was writing and though it was very different from my usual style I found I enjoyed it just as much. The money started coming in and Jazz spent it on stud horses and broodmares. Of course the horses were beautiful I could appreciate that but they still seemed intimidating to me which Peter of course found highly amusing.
"Fuck it Bella you could pick up the horse and throw it a hundred yards no sweat, they should be frightened of you not the other way round."
When we reached Alice and Jay's place most of the others were already there and on the feature wall was a blown up photograph of Jasper in his civil war uniform seated on a huge black stallion looking very commanding but equally as sexy as far as I was concerned. I hadn't seen that photograph before and Alice explained they found it in a Confederate Army archive in Alabama and persuaded the curator to allow them to use it.
"You wanted to put a photo of Jazz on your wall? We could have given you a load, every time Sara and Darius visit she takes hundreds of snaps."
"Ah but this is authentic, the real Major Jasper Whitlock."
Jasper had wandered over to speak to Esme at a table in place below the photograph and suddenly I heard him laugh. Joining him I saw the table was piled with books, or rather copies of one book, "A Civil War Hero Unmasked" and beneath the title on the front cover was the same photograph.
"I told you if I got out of this alive I would put the record straight and this is me doing just that."
Jasper nodded and took Jay's outstretched hand to shake.
"There is just one thing Major."
"Will you autograph a copy for me?"
Jazz looked at him in astonishment then roared with laughter taking the proffered pen and signing the fly leaf of the copy Jay held in his hand.
It was good to see the family again and all so happy after all that had happened. The book was a surprise but it did touch me that Jay had thought so much of me that he had written a book. I remembered the day that photograph had been taken, we were about to ride out to collect a convoy of women and children to deliver safely to Galveston, the last command before I lost my humanity to Maria.
Thinking of that reminded me that she had sacrificed herself to save Jay's life and of the journal she had kept. Jay, Peter, and myself, had paid for a headstone to be erected in the cemetery close to where she died. We knew nothing about her except her first name, not her date of birth or even her family name so out of respect for her actions we had engraved the following on her memorial,
"Here lies Maria, an enigma who became good when it counted."
The priest had asked questions at first but when he saw the donation we were willing to make towards church renovations he fell silent and assented. Maria was finally at rest and hopefully reunited with those who had loved her as a daughter, sister, or wife.
Peter and I gravitated towards each other as we always did and I was able to give him the good news.
"We're buying a ranch just outside Boulder, a big one, and we thought you might like to join forces to run it."
"I already have one to run. I wanted to buy the extra land that adjoined ours but the fucker insisted on selling it as a going concern."
"Well I just hope you're going to be a good neighbor if you don't throw your lot in with us."
He looked at me with narrowed eyes,
"You bought it? Fuck me I thought you were staying in God forsaken North Dakota."
"We were but then we decided you weren't safe left on your own so….what do you say?"
I held out my hand and he grinned spitting into his palm before taking mine and shaking,
"Partners again, I like the sound of that Major."
"Yeah me too Peter, me too."
Well that's it folks. Thank you for staying with us to the end and for all the reviews you posted along the way. There will be a new story starting in a few days but for now its Monsters Prey.