CHAPTER 1

Alice suddenly gasped. Edward's head snapped up to look at her. That silent conversation they always had with each other was taking place as Bella looked to Edward for answers.

"Alice?" Esme's voice was tense.

The game was on pause, as Alice's blank stare had everyone's attention. Jasper automatically went to her side. His hands up, protective, was ready to catch her after her vision finished playing in her head.

"They were traveling much quicker than I thought. I can see I had the perspective wrong before," she murmured.

"How many?" Emmett asked Alice.

"Three," she answered tersely.

"Three! Let them come." Emmett's muscles flexed along his massive arms.

"Let's continue the game. Alice said they are simply curious." Carlisle said.

The game continued as they'd planned. Edward was at Bella's side, never leaving as the game went on. He had pulled Bella's hair down around her face, to hide any hint of her human presence. If it helped a little.

"Just stay very still, keep quiet, and don't move from my side, please." Edward's voice full of stress.

Edward's eyes were full of concern and worry. Bella touched his cheek lightly, trying to comfort him. Then, Edward's breath stopped, not from Bella's touch, but from what was coming in the distance of the right field. His head turned into that direction. Bella, not seeing anything, obviously, with her human eyes, narrowed them slightly looking for any change in the view before her. Carlisle, Emmett, & the others turned toward the same direction, watching as one by one, the three emerging from the forest.

Bella was quiet as a conversation began between Carlisle and the dark haired stranger. Assuming he was the leader of the three as he took charge to speak with Carlisle himself. The woman who stood behind him was alert, her hair a fiery red, quivering in the slight breeze. The second male, was not as beautiful as the first. His expression was blank, hard to read. Bella tried to glance through the tresses of her hair at the three strangers.

"I'm Laurent, this is Victoria and James," he gestured to his companions. Carlisle introduced his family, including Bella, as part of them. They continued their chat as the others stood by, aware of the Cullens.

The expressionless male, James, studied each of the Cullens carefully, his eyes finally resting on Bella. His head slightly cocked to the one side as he examined her more closely, noting that her face was hidden. Bella, curious about the strangers, peeked from in between her hair again, noticing that James was observing her with curiosity. Bella, uncomfortable from the attention, flushed a dark pink color. James inhaled a deep breath as he noticed her cheeks warm with color.

Edward's head snapped into James' direction. A low, warning growl escaped his lips.

"No." Edward's voice was low and hard.

James exchanged a look with Edward. First, was astonishment from Edward's reaction, then changed suddenly to awareness, understanding why he reacted in such a way.

All eyes were glancing from James to Edward, curious to the present situation. Bella looked at Edward's furious face. His eyes were hard, his muscles rigid. Her hand automatically moved to gently touch the small of his back. Edward still frozen, noticed her gesture of concern.

Carlisle spoke slowly then, not wanting to startle anyone. "Edward? What's wrong?"

Edward was silent for a moment, his eyes still boring into James. "He doesn't understand that she's with me."

"Who?" Laurent asked, puzzled.

"Bella."

James smile widened as Edward mentioned her name. Bella's eyes widened, also, as she finally understood why James was staring intently at her.

Edward growled at James as his silent thoughts bothered him.

"She's human." James mentioned.

Laurent and Victoria eyed James in astonishment, too.

Victoria, clueless before, hissed viciously at Bella as she acknowledged at the thought of James taking a liking to a human. James held up his hand toward Victoria, hushing her. Feeling rejected, Victoria's nostrils flared in defiance. Her burgundy, dark eyes hostile. She curled her hands into cat-like claws, ready to strike. Bella breathed in and out slowly, to calm the terror that was unsettling her nerves.

Edward snarled at Victoria's thoughts, his teeth baring itself. His course of anger directing at Victoria now. James wanted Bella for himself, but Victoria, jealous of James infatuation, wanted something more terrifying. Edward wouldn't have it, not even have her think about it.

Victoria returned a growl. Emmett appeared by Edward's side, then. Still, but ready. Victoria, intimidated by Emmett's large size, lessened the volume of her growl, fading into silence, but the twitch of her upper lip still quivered angrily.

"Victoria." James spoke, his tone soothing. "Let it go."

Victoria's face relaxed and turned to look longingly at James. James gave her a look of disgust. Hurt and devastation was apparent as she lowered her gaze to the ground.

Laurent eyes were apologetic as he turned his direction to Carlisle. "Maybe we will take our leave now... I apologize."

Carlisle nodded. "A wise decision, Laurent."

James glanced at Laurent, aggravated. He didn't want to leave, obviously. James turned his head to look back at Bella once more. A smile lifting his face eerily. Edward wanted to growl, to strike, but changed his mind quickly, afraid that another confrontation will just prolong their stay here. Instead, he started to back up slowly, initiating the leave for everyone to go their way. James kept his eyes on Bella.

"Bella? Go into the forest. Alice and Esme will go with you."

"No, Edward. You have to come with me." Bella voice was frantic.

"I'll be with you as soon as they are gone." Edward assured her.

"C'mon, Bella. He'll be along soon." Alice was at her side, urging her to move toward the forest. Bella nodded in a fast jerking motion.

They moved hurriedly into the forest. Jasper and Rosalie following after them, never turning their backs on the strangers. Carlisle, Emmett, and Edward were left behind, to make sure that the Nomads would take their leave.

Laurent nodded his head once toward the Cullens in silence and stepped back. James followed, as did Victoria, her eyes lifting to glare at Edward. Looking past his shoulder into the forest, also. Finally, all three turned in unison to disappear into the forest before them.

As soon as they disappeared, Carlisle, Emmett, and Edward turned quickly to catch up with the rest, running swiftly in the forest toward their home.

"He's going after her, Carlisle. I saw it. He wants Bella, for himself," Edward's voice was cold as he remembered James' thoughts.

"What is he going to do?" Carlisle asked.

"He's going to try to take her." Edward was silent for a moment before he spoke again. "He thinks of this like some sort of game. I am a challenge to him."

Carlisle huffed in disapproval and Emmett sneered.

"What about the female?" Emmett asked.

"She is, was, James' mate. Or she thought she was. Now she wants Bella...gone." Edward's tone was dark, vicious.

This quickened their step. Edward growled, irritated that he was not going fast enough to get to Bella, as he sped through the forest.