Author's Note: I apologize for the delay! Though I have this story completely outlined, I was having a bit of writer's block with the chapter itself... but it seems to have passed. :) I hope you enjoy.
"Good morning." Landon's voice rang, cordial and deep, through the silent room.
I could feel the color rushing to my face as my heart thumped impatiently in my chest. Had he been standing there the entire time? I stared blankly at his shadowy figure, my mind suddenly kicking into overdrive as I searched for some way – any way – to justify the bizarre conversation he had probably just overheard. At this point, I felt sorry for him.
One quick glance around told me that I was pretty much on my own in the sympathy department. Edward sat perfectly straight in his chair, his body tense and alert. Alice, who had her back toward the doorway, only closed her eyes and shook her head imperceptibly.
"Morning," I responded automatically, but I was the only one who spoke.
Landon took several steps into the kitchen, and I couldn't seem to tear my eyes away from his slowly advancing form. The bright rays of sunlight made his features completely visible, and I gasped – to my utter shock, a pleasant smile had spread across his attractive face.
"Sunny day today, isn't it?" His tone was light and conversational, and his eyes were focused directly on me as he approached. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Edward lean forward in his seat, one hand coming to rest directly in front of me on the counter, almost as though he were shielding me from an invisible attack.
Once again, Landon either didn't notice or chose to ignore Edward's hostility as he leaned over the counter next to Alice, who suddenly looked like a dwarf next to his long-limbed frame.
"The sunlight was streaming into my room so forcefully that I thought I'd try to seek refuge down here, but it doesn't appear to be much better." He chuckled softly, though his laughter didn't quite hold the same musical quality as Edward's.
I swallowed once to moisten my dry mouth. "Been down here long?"
Landon shook his head. "No, I just emerged from doing a bit of reading, actually." He frowned, cocking his head to one side. "Why do you ask? Did I miss something?"
I felt a wave of relief wash over me, so strong that I sagged visibly into my chair. There would be no need to referee a vampire fight after all. "Just Alice's first attempt at human food," I gestured toward the plate, trying to keep my tone light. I meant it as a joke, but Landon leaned forward to examine my half-eaten meal, genuinely interested.
"May I?" He extended his hand toward mine, palm up, and it took me a moment to comprehend that he was asking for my fork. The muscles in Edward's arm, still resting between us, tensed visibly.
"I . . . didn't think you liked regular food," I muttered, my warm fingertips briefly brushing Landon's cool ones as I gave him the utensil.
"He doesn't," Edward muttered sharply, his gaze hard and unwavering on Landon's face. "At least, he shouldn't."
"Oh, I don't," Landon answered cheerfully, spearing a half-eaten sausage link and holding it up to his nose for a few quick sniffs. "But it does fascinate me." I barely concealed my surprise as he popped the food into his mouth and swallowed it. He shifted his gray eyes to Alice, who was now observing him with raised eyebrows. "For a first attempt at human food, not bad at all," he told her with a grin.
"Well, since it's only been a century or so since you've tasted real food, I guess you're the expert," she muttered acidly, "so you should know."
Landon set down the fork with a loud clank and exhaled sharply. His eyes flickered from Edward to Alice, who both glared back at him. "You know, I initially thought it was an overreaction on my part, but I really do seem to be sensing some hostility here," he said quietly.
"It looks like you're not the only one who can read minds, Edward," Alice muttered, swiftly removing the breakfast platter from the counter and taking it over to the sink.
Landon paused, his eyes narrowing as he followed Alice's tiny frame across the kitchen. "Read minds?" He turned his head sharply toward Edward. "You can see others' thoughts?"
"I can." Edward's voice was bitingly cold now, and I shuddered involuntarily at his side. "Speaking of which, I didn't much care for the garbage that was going through your head yesterday evening."
"Edward!" I hissed warningly. I nudged him in the side with my elbow, but I might as well have bumped a brick wall for all the good that did. "Let it go," I muttered, trying unsuccessfully to make my voice sound as fierce as his. The last thing I wanted was to be in the middle of a vampire confrontation – much less one that was caused directly by me.
Landon's friendly disposition had melted away completely. His face was expressionless, and I would have thought he were a marble statue if it weren't for his eyes, which flickered slowly across Edward's face. Was he . . . sizing him up? I swallowed nervously, reaching to grasp Edward's cool hand. How had things become so uncomfortable so quickly?
Landon opened his mouth to speak, annunciating each word slowly and carefully. "If this is about . . . Bella . . ."
I jumped suddenly in my chair as a loud, shrill sound rang through the kitchen and abruptly cut Landon short. The Cullens' telephone. I'd never heard the sound before – it was more high pitched than a regular phone.
Landon pressed his lips shut and returned Edward's cold stare with an intensity that compelled me to look away. Alice, who was busy scraping my former breakfast into the garbage disposal, reached for the receiver next to the sink.
"Cullen residence." Her voice was like a wind chime in the silent kitchen. She listened for a moment, nodding her head once. "Sure, I'll get her." Alice danced across the room, then, handing me the phone with a sympathetic look. She didn't seem to be paying attention to the hostility emanating from both Edward and Landon. Silently, she mouthed to me, "It's Charlie."
A wave of nausea washed over me as I realized what it meant if Charlie was calling the Cullens' house, looking for me. I had told him last night that I was staying at Jessica's . . . I took the phone from Alice with a soft groan. "Hello?" I said tentatively.
"You . . . have . . . a lot . . . of explaining . . . to do, young lady . . ." Charlie's voice was the very epitome of poorly controlled rage.
I sighed into the phone. "Dad, I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have lied to you about staying over, but-"
"Do you have any idea how I felt calling the Stanley house and asking to talk to you, only to be told that you were never there?" He sputtered. "That Stanley woman has the biggest mouth in town, Bella – everyone is going to know about this by tomorrow!"
I rolled my eyes. "There's nothing to tell, dad. I stayed over at the Cullens' house to be with Alice. She was having boy trouble, so she needed someone to talk to." I grimaced – how had lying become this natural to me? Alice threw her head back and laughed in the background, quickly covering her mouth with her hand.
Charlie paused before letting out a gruff noise of acknowledgement. "Why didn't you just tell me that yesterday?" he asked, his rage diminishing ever so slightly.
"Because I knew you would jump to these kinds of conclusions, dad," I said, trying my best to sound exasperated. "I knew you'd assume that I was with Edward, so it was just easier to tell you I'd be with Jess."
There was a long pause on the other end, followed by a lengthy sigh. "You just scared me for a minute, there, kid," Charlie mumbled, his voice assuming the calmness I knew too well. I closed my eyes in relief – he was sounding more like himself now. "Next time just tell me the truth." He cleared his throat noisily before quietly grumbling, "You know I'm crazy about Alice – it wouldn't have been a problem."
"Sorry, dad." I bit my lip, hoping that I sounded remorseful enough to placate him for the time being. A fit from Charlie was the last thing I needed right now. I could still feel the hostility emanating from the two male vampires sitting several feet away from me, both of whom hadn't so much as flinched from their cold, locked glares.
"So, when're you going to be home?" he asked gruffly.
My heart thudded in my chest as I remembered back to Edward's words about Landon. I'm not letting you out of my sight until he's gone. This could be a problem.
"It, uh, really depends," I responded, trying to keep my voice even. "Alice is crying a lot and everything, so she might need me to be here for a while." Alice raised an eyebrow at me from across the counter, and I met her amused stare with a pleading look.
"Oh," Charlie muttered awkwardly. I could smell my victory now. He was officially out of his element, in unknown, undesirable territory – female territory. If I'm going to lie, I might as well do it effectively, I told myself, trying to curb my flash of guilt.
"Well, just let me know when you're coming home. I might go out fishin' with the guys if you'll be gone for a while."
"Sounds good, dad. Talk to you later." I didn't wait for him to respond as I pushed the disconnect button and placed the phone in my lap, returning back to what was fast becoming a potentially dangerous situation.
Somewhere in the course of my conversation with Charlie, Alice had become interested in the unbroken glare between Edward and Landon. She was looking back and forth between the two marble faces, her expression unreadable.
"Look," I spoke to no one in particular, not caring that my voice wreaked of desperation, "Let's just calm down, okay? This does not have to be a big deal at all. In fact, I would be very upset if this turns into-"
The shrill ring sounded again, making me jump in my seat a second time. I jerked the phone to my ear and answered it impatiently. "Dad, is it really necessary-"
"Hello? Is this the Cullen residence?" A feminine voice – soft, musical, but slightly anxious – sounded on the other end of the line.
"Oh. Oh! I-I'm sorry," I stammered, noticing all three sets of vampire eyes lock curiously on me. I exhaled in relief – at least I had inadvertently broken that damn stony glare. "I'm so sorry," I repeated to the stranger, distracted. "Yes, it is."
I heard a sigh on the other end. "Thank goodness. This is Blythe Whitley. I was told by Tanya in Denali that my brother, Landon, is staying at your house? He was supposed to arrive at my home in New Orleans last night, so I was worried, and, well," she laughed airily, "I suppose I'm just overreacting. Is he there?"
A relative of Landon's? I blinked as I suddenly recalled what Carlisle had said yesterday, standing in the doorway to Edward's room . . . He stopped by on the way south to visit his sister.
I heard a rustling sound in the kitchen, but I stared intently at my lap as I felt the blood creep up to form twin red spots on my cheeks. I suddenly felt very foolish for having answered the Cullens' phone in the first place.
"Uh, sure," I murmured to the sister, Blythe. "Hang on, he's right here."
I looked up across the countertop. "Landon, it's your-," I stopped abruptly as I found myself staring at the cabinets at the far end of the kitchen. Confused, I looked jerkily from Edward to Alice, who both stared at me warily, before whipping my head around the room. I hadn't even noticed the footsteps or seen the retreating figure, but Landon was gone.