Disclaimer: All the characters appearing in this work are copyright Stephenie Meyer and are not used with permission. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and all original characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer. No financial gain is being made by this work. Quotes taken directly from Stephenie Meyer's work are in italics. No copyright infringement is intended by the use of these quotes.
Thanks so much to somethingblue for all her wonderful encouragement. I am forever grateful! And thanks also to both Simplicity and Heart Song for the fantastic beta reads! Your help with this is much appreciated!
Each of them had eaten, temporarily satisfying an insatiable thirst. They had ambushed three humans leaving a bar together and within minutes, the three vampires had sucked them dry before stealing their cell phones. It was the only thing they ever took away with them…besides the blood. Victoria knew James found the little devices useful when tracking took him far from her. Long ago, when the only humans who carried the devices were pimps or drug dealers, they had figured out how to retrieve the phone information, use them and then, discard them when the batteries died. Every human carried one these days, so it was no problem to pick up three new ones each time they fed.
Barefoot, as usual, they ran through the state of Washington. This was just another place, another forest and another cloudy sky that would conceal them from prying human eyes. They would feed and move on. Feed and move on. Nomads. Just like so many of their kind, forced by ancient vampire laws to keep on the move, never to stay in one location and feed to their dead heart's content.
The time of the vampire wars were over. Victoria had heard the stories so many times in so many ways. Long gone were the armies that patrolled ever-changing boundary lines.
Now they ran.
Humans were so frail, so completely defenseless against the power of vampires, it was ludicrous not to use them like the stupid cattle they were. Victoria found them quite a nice distraction, as did James. None he had taken an interest in tracking had succeeded in eluding him with the exception of one. With the endless passage of time, the torment of an eternity of sleepless nights, he needed every distraction he could find, Victoria more than gladly being one of those much-needed diversions.
The male running behind James was intelligent, coolheaded, took direction well, and for the most part, did as he was told. Victoria had a wonderful knack for getting them out of tight situations and that worked in their favor on more than one occasion when James had lost control and slaughtered humans with abandon. She wasn't always sure that he necessarily loved her in the same way she loved him, but he cared for her … in his way.
Victoria did have the niggling feeling that one day James would become weary of her constant fawning and that could be the very day he would kill her. Rip her to shreds, set fire to the pieces, and scatter her ashes to the four winds. It tore at her dead heart, but the violence of it excited her just the same.
A storm was rolling in over the west. The lightning flashed quite a few miles away and the crack of thunder rolled to them a few seconds later. Suddenly, another crack of thunder sounded through the forest. The wind carried another sound, that of an aluminum bat hitting a ball with preternatural strength and speed. The party of three instantly recognized it for what it was, a game.
They stopped running and stood completely motionless in the trees, waiting, listening.
Lightning. Thunder. The crack of a bat.
James turned to the male at his side, raising an eyebrow in an unspoken question.
Laurent shrugged his shoulders, "It's up to you." A subtle French accent to his words.
James swiveled his head to look at Victoria, her flaming red hair wild and wind blown as usual. "It'll be fun." He said.
Victoria reached out trying to feel the danger then, smiled wickedly, a slow deliberate curving of her lips. She would never refuse him anything. Even if it meant they might be walking straight into a situation they would ultimately be forced to escape from. She would know, she would feel it and he trusted her. James slipped an arm around her waist, pulling her body against his and kissed her hard, just the way she liked it. Then, with a slight change of direction, they were off at full speed, blowing between the old trees as if they were the wind itself.
James stepped out from the cover of the tall trees for a mere second, just to survey the situation before stepping back into the darkness, allowing Laurent to take the lead. They used subterfuge whenever they approached others of their kind to deceive and mislead. Though James was the leader of this small coven, Laurent appeared less threatening with his smooth hypnotic voice and sophisticated manner of speech. He would use his skill to negotiate while James and Victoria scrutinized every situation to gain the advantage, if one was needed. Slowly and with what would seem caution to those who observed them, they emerged from the forest in formation. Their eyes darted from one member of the large coven assembled in the meadow to the next before tightly closing their configuration.
Three of the males stepped forward. A tall handsome blonde a few steps ahead of the other two. The females and one lanky copper-haired male kept their distance across the meadow. From where Victoria stood shifting cat-like from one foot to the other, ever on guard, she could hear a faint rapid heartbeat, which she assumed to be from some hidden animal very close by in the forest. The vampires that stood before them were nicely clothed, clean and well kept. However, their eyes were strange, not the dark liquid burgundy associated with their kind, but a pale shade of sparkling gold. A noticeable amount of tension was in the air, buffeting the space around her, but nothing that would warrant a hasty retreat.
Laurent politely introduced the members of their small coven. The blonde leader introduce himself as Carlisle and then, using the word 'family', he waved his hand toward the group assembled behind him, six members in all, one of which was hidden from Victoria's sight at the moment. Laurent and Carlisle exchanged pleasantries and then Laurent asked about their hunting range, needing to know so the nomads could pass through before feeding again.
"The Olympic Range here, up and down the Coast Ranges on occasion." Carlisle volunteered. "We keep a permanent residence nearby. There's another permanent settlement like ours up near Denali."
Victoria and James hid their surprise much better than Laurent, barely acknowledging the meaning of a permanent residence, something that both Victoria and James found intriguing. Nevertheless, when Carlisle invited them into his 'home', the two vampires could not help but exchange a glance.
"That sounds very interesting, and welcome." Laurent answered. "We've been on the hunt all the way down from Ontario, and we haven't had the chance to clean up in a while." Laurent made it clear he was a vampire who appreciated a shower and clean clothing now and then.
"Please don't take offense, but we'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from hunting in this immediate area. We have to stay inconspicuous, you understand," Carlisle explained.
Laurent assured him that they would not encroach on their territory explaining that they had eaten just outside of Seattle.
Carlisle invited the small coven to run with them to their home. Then, just as he instructed, off-handedly, that the ones named Emmett and Alice were to go with the two named Edward and Bella to get their Jeep, a very slight breeze ruffled the leaves and pines bringing the unmistakable scent of rich sweet human blood to each of the visitors sensitive nostrils.
James' head snapped around. His nose sought the source of the intoxicating fragrance just as Victoria's did. The tension that was so minor only seconds ago, now weighted the air like thick storm clouds.
She is human! The thought flashed through Victoria's mind.
Within the next few seconds, snarling growls erupted in the quiet meadow. The young male lunged a protective step in front of the human girl as James also moved one step forward. Victoria saw every little movement James made from the corner of her eye. The level of danger to her and to James had risen in extremely volatile proportions. If he decided to attack, to take this human, she would go with him. Fight by his side as she always had.
"What is this?" Laurent asked in surprise.
What a fool. Victoria thought of the lanky teenager who dared to strike a protective pose. All this bravado over a silly human girl.
"She's with us." Carlisle aimed his comment toward James.
"You brought a snack?" Laurent's words conveyed his disbelief in such an unconcealed act. The scent of fear from this human had not been apparent until the young one tried to protect her from James.
"I said she's with us." Carlisle repeated with more force aiming his statement at James once again.
It was clear to Victoria that this human was more than a pet or a snack. She belonged to the copper-haired male that crouched so ferociously in front of her. He had feelings for her.
"But she's human." Laurent was unmistakably astonished to find that a coven of vampires would guard one human as if she were part of their coven.
"Yes." Emmett, the large one, said, making it understood they would not give her up without a fight.
With the exception of the one tall blonde female who seemed to display only a vague distain for the girl, the rest of the coven were ready to defend this small frail human at all costs.
James moved out of his attack position, straightening up in order to appear less aggressive. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. This 'family' would never trust James to not take their little human the second she was left unprotected and they were very correct in thinking so. Victoria already knew that James had marked her. She would die at his teeth. No matter what this coven did to protect her, it would never be enough. James would track the human to the ends of the earth if need be. All the same, she would be his in the end.
Acting as leader, Laurent tried to smooth over what he knew was no small misunderstanding, it was a pointless attempt, but he tried nonetheless.
"It appears we have a lot to learn about each other."
Carlisle's response had lost some of its pleasantness as Laurent promised that his coven would not hurt this human or any other within Carlisle's hunting range. Victoria knew by James facial expression that he did not intend to keep such a promise. Still, Carlisle graciously invited Laurent, James and Victoria to run with them back to their home. The tiny dark haired female stepped in next to the girl as the tall lanky youth, Edward, who claimed her as his own, flanked the girl's other side. Emmett moved back to join them while the other vampires formed a line in front of Victoria, James and Laurent, effectively blocking their view of the retreating vampires.
As soon as the party guarding the little human disappeared into the forest, Carlisle motioned for those remaining to follow him in another direction. Victoria watched as Laurent willingly moved to step in line before glancing back. James quickly whispered instructions to Victoria and then, disappeared into the forest in another direction and after flashing Laurent an evil smile, Victoria also disappeared.
Victoria's cell phone vibrated in her hand and was open and up to her ear in less than the blink of an eye.
"You are not going to believe this!" James laughed quietly on the other end of the line. "They took her right to her house! From what I could tell, only one other human is living there and for right now, I need him alive. Where are you?"
"I'm waiting not far from their house. It's a big white monstrosity with all the lights on inside." Victoria replied. "Where are you now?"
"I'm following them. Edward and the girl will be pulling up in a big old red truck. Emmett is running next to them. The Jeep is right behind them, dear little Alice is driving."
Victoria wondered how James knew her name when, during the introduction, Carlisle had deliberately lumped all the women together. A flame of jealousy flickered within her. "I could take her out if you'd like. One less little female to contend with." Victoria smiled at the thought of ripping dear little Alice's head from her shoulders.
"No!" James barked into the phone. "Alice holds no interest for me now. Bella is all that matters. Let them work out their pitiful plans. It's so much more exciting this way."
She circled the big white house in the forest, moving silently through the trees to meet up with James. Now all the members of the Cullen coven were in the house, along with Laurent. Suddenly, the small cell phone vibrated in Victoria's pocket. James gave her precise instructions she intended to carry out to the letter.
Victoria ran with the old red truck. James told her to stay close to it, watch it carefully. She knew the drill, but it seemed odd… the truck carried the human girl's scent the heaviest. With a word from James, Victoria could kill the vampire who guarded the human, then hold the girl and wait for James to arrive. She would do whatever he requested of her without question. Always. He was off following one of the other cars. He would play out his game of hunter and prey and the girl's blood would be his. He would feed on her. Drain her of every precious drop. She would die a slow torturous death. Victoria had witnessed him in action hundreds of times, thousands of times. He was a master tracker. A merciless hunter. A ruthless killer.
Why hadn't James called? Why hadn't he come back for her? The last time she spoke with him was to tell him the Cullens were on their way to Phoenix. He had told her to stay with the girl's father in case he needed a hostage. He promised to call her, but it had been days without a word from him.
Where had Laurent disappeared to? Laurent. That traitor. He had run off to the north instead of fighting. Coward. Victoria had no doubt James would track him down and end his existence once and for all and she would be right by his side enjoying every second of Laurent's destruction.
The waiting was unbearable. Too much time had passed. James had never been out of touch this long before. He loved nothing more than to call Victoria to him so she too could enjoy the hunt. He was an arrogant male through and through and loved to brag, to show off his talent even if it was only to her. She looked forward to their reunions and the celebration that would follow. Now, sitting alone in the forest, she ached for him.
She didn't dare approach the house again. The danger of engaging in a fight was too near. James wanted her to watch the human. He would be extremely disappointed, to say the least, if she were run off or caught by the vamps that protected this human man. They had already caught her scent and from then on, never left him unguarded. But tonight, she had no need to get any closer. The human was speaking so loudly into the phone that she could make out his conversation from were she hid in the trees.
The human girl was still alive, injured, but still living.
How is that possible? Where's James? She wondered frantically.
"Yes. I don't know how to thank you, Dr. Cullen. Bella was so lucky you were right there." The man paused for a moment. "Yes. I understand and thank you again."
Victoria couldn't see the human in the house, but just when she thought he had ended his phone conversation, he started talking again.
"Renee, hey, it's me. Listen… Bella's in the hospital. She fell down a flight of stairs and through a plate glass window." He paused. "No, yeah, she's … No … Wait … Renee, she's okay!" His voice shot up another octave, "Wait! She's not here, she's in Phoenix." Another pause. "It's a long story. God, I don't even really know what happened. She came home the other night yelling that she couldn't stay here any more. Packed a few things and ran out the door." He paused again. "What was I supposed to do? She went out on her first date and … Yes, a date … Edward Cullen … Edward Cullen, a boy from school. Well, when she came home … the way she was acting, I thought that maybe Edward had done something, ya know, hurt her maybe, but it wasn't that at all. She just… well, she just … made it clear that she didn't want to make any attachments here. She just wanted to go home to Phoenix and think." Another pause and then, "From what Dr. Cullen says, she's pretty banged up, broken leg, a few broken ribs, cuts and bruises, but otherwise she's doin' okay … Yeah, he's Edward's dad."
Victoria listened intently though the long pause, waiting to hear anything else of importance when Bella's father began shouting.
"What was I thinking? What were you thinking letting her come live here when you know she hates Forks almost as much as you do? As far as me chasing after her, well I'm sorry, but she made it perfectly clear that she didn't want to live here … with me, any longer than she had to. And this thing with Edward, well, I don't know all the details, but he flew down there to talk to her, try to convince her to come back to Forks and yes, his father went along with him."
Victoria didn't stick around to hear the rest of the conversation. She knew where she had to go.
Would they really have gone where they said they were going? Could they be so stupid to think that James would lose their trail?
She had seen him successfully track humans even though they had taken a plane to another country. In the end, he always found them. Always. Humans were far too easy. When James wanted a real challenge, he tracked other, more elusive creatures.
She ran south and when the sky opened up and let loose a deluge, she ran to the highway. The very first car to pass her sodden on the side of the road, stopped to offer her a ride. Within seconds she had drained the driver and thrown his lifeless body far into the trees before climbing in behind the wheel and speeding off down the wet winding road.
As dawn approached, the clouds had thinned out and would give way to the sun. She left the car on the side of the road and traveled on foot, hidden, through the rolling hills that surrounded her.
When she reached Arizona, she also found the sun. In this flat expanse of desert, Victoria had no place to hide. The scrubby bushes were virtually no cover at all, so she was forced to travel only at night and far away from civilization. Any human she came across out here in the middle of nowhere deserved to die for being so foolish. When nightfall came, she moved quickly into the city, stopping once to feed, disposed of the body and then moved on.
Even after all this time she found James' scent easily. The dry desert climate baked it in to the ground. She followed it through the well-lit downtown area, past shops, offices and churches, down dark back streets, past schools and into typical human neighborhoods. The closer she got, the stronger his scent became, until she was standing outside one of the houses, her eyes closed as she breathed in deeply. A smile curved her lips as her body anticipated the feel of his. He was so close.
The house was dark as she crept forward, listening for signs of life inside. Her senses told her there was nothing to fear here. She tried the knob on the door. It turned easily in her hand as if someone had forgotten to lock it. She stepped into the foyer and listened to the silence. If there were someone inside, she would have heard their breathing, their heart beating, but … there was no one.
She sucked in a deep breath and was pleased to find James' wonderful smell was everywhere, mixed with the scent of the human girl he had been tracking. He had been there. Right there in that house and not too long ago either. Her nose led her over to the TV and a cabinet that held at least a hundred videotapes.
He had touched these things. His scent was all over them.
Then she followed his scent over to the phone. His hand had grasped the receiver; his breath had blown over the mouthpiece. She inhaled him. Missed him. Loved him.
Then, she moved out of the house, cat-like, following his scent down the street a couple of blocks. With each step, thousands of odors hit her, but she focused only on his, on James. Soon, the scent of him mingled with the scent of burnt wood. It wasn't the smell of smoke from a nearby fireplace. This was old, wet, burnt wood. Then suddenly, she found herself standing in front of a completely burned out building. Burned to the ground. Not a beam left standing due to the intense flames that must have swept through it.
No. Her mind whispered.
Numbly, her feet carried her through the burnt rubble, her nose followed the scent of her lover until she was standing in front of a pile of purplish gray ash.
Victoria fell to her knees, her hands scooping at the strange ash and bringing it to her nose.
No! No! No! Her mind screamed.
There was no mistake. This pile of ash had once been James, her James, her only love.
She smeared the ash over her stricken face. Reached down and filled her small hands once more, smearing it over her arms and neck as she silently sobbed.
No! No! No!
When she found her voice, she wailed to the warm starry sky. Her scream at such a high pitch it set off car alarms, woke every sleeping animal for miles and seeped into the dreams of every human for blocks, causing each to writhe in their sleep from the terror it instilled.