Chapter 1: The Meadow

My breath, and the scream that wanted to follow with it, caught in my throat as Laurent flashed closer. I could feel the coolness of his body and his icy breath on my skin.

"I'll be quick," he promised. I shut my eyes. I'm sorry, Edward. I love you, I finally allowed myself to think his name, my love for him my dying thoughts, as Laurent's teeth pierced my throat. I love you, Edward, I thought again and suddenly Laurent was gone. It was quick, just as he promised. I had barely felt a thing.

Run, Bella, you have to hide. Edward's beautiful, velvety voice broke through my consciousness. I was expecting him, but not like this. Not telling me to run, not when I was dead.

I finally opened my eyes. I was still in the meadow, exactly where I had been, but Laurent was gone. In the distance I could hear rock being torn to shreds and howling, incessant howling.

Bella, run. Run and hide before they come back. His voice was harder and strained with worry. The skin of my neck, right where Laurent's teeth had broken the skin, began to tingle. No, burn. Every second I could feel the burn spreading, getting stronger. I knew this burn. I had felt it once before. My heart started beating faster as realization hit.

BELLA! Run! Now! He roared at me. I stumbled, tripping over my own feet, back to the trees. I took a few steps towards the direction of my truck before I realized I couldn't go home, if I even made it home before the venom incapacitated me.

I spun in place, trying to think through the panic that was taking hold faster than the venom. The Cullen house, I thought, and started again for my truck. I stopped again, knowing I couldn't drive there either. When I don't show up home tonight Charlie will be panicked again, sick with worry. If my truck is at the Cullen house he'll come in immediately and who knows what state I'll be in. No, I have to leave my truck here. Let him think I followed the hiking trail and the bear got me.

Imagining Charlie made guilt and fear course through me, at putting Charlie through this. But the alternative was worse. I ran half-blindly through the thicket of trees in what I hoped was the right direction. I willed my feet to move faster, to not trip on anything. I willed my heart to slow, slow the progression of the venom just enough to get me to the Cullen house.

As the burning steadily grew and spread I started to feel delirious with both pain and panic. Another burst of adrenaline sent me hurtling through a line of trees into an overgrown lawn at the back of the house.

I nearly collapsed with relief at the sight of the dark, abandoned home, but the pain in my chest kept me upright, stumbling to the wall of shuttered windows. I worked my way around to the front, searching for a way in. I had never seen a key hidden in the eaves like at Charlie's.

Pain and delirium taking over, I tried the door with little hope but, mercifully, the knob turned in my hand and the door swung open. Stumbling over the threshold, I locked the door behind me and made my way to the stairs, crawling up them as the burning increased, spreading farther and faster. Knowing I wouldn't make it up a second flight—and not knowing if I could handle being in Edward's room—I pushed through the first door on the left, to Alice's room, and collapsed on her large bed that was swathed in a scratchy, white dust sheet.

A noise halfway between a sob and a scream tore through my chest. My heart was beating too fast, the venom spreading further, completely consuming me.

You're going to be okay, Bella, but you have to be quiet, Edward's smooth voice broke through the pain as another scream bubbled up to the surface. I did as he instructed, clenching my jaw shut and balling my hands into tight fists.