CHAPTER I

On the afternoon of her sixteenth birthday, Bella Swan hit a car. It was, perhaps, fortunate that she wasn't driving—wasn't even in a car herself. She had been standing with her mother at an intersection several blocks from downtown Phoenix after a girls-day-out lunch at Pour la France (Renee was at the height of her short-lived francophilia), when a Subaru Outback pulled around the corner behind her. Bella, who was looking the other direction, stepped directly into the side of the passing import.

The only reason she knew something was wrong was that she felt nothing at all. One moment there was sunshine and chatter and a pleasant fullness in her tummy, and in the next everything blinked out of existence.

Finally, silence gave way to a small hum, and the blackness to a sizzling gray. And, mercifully, there was no pain at first, just an aggravating sensation like a sleeping appendage, which threatened to become much, much worse. And did.

So the experience on Bella's eighteenth birthday was not entirely new to her. The most important difference was that Jasper was at least a dozen times more powerful than the car, and he had meant to hit her.

A tiny swell of blood appeared on her finger, and as she made to poke it into her mouth, there was a sudden rush of air, and Edward's voice raised in a terrified shout.

Then, someone snapped her off like a light switch, and turned her back on slowly, using a rheostat. Beyond the darkness in her head Bella heard frightening mechanical noises, like angry machinery and gears stripping. Furious voices, words she couldn't understand. She wanted to wave them to a stop, but every limb was crammed full of wet sand and too heavy to lift. Then, so very slowly, a fire kindled at her shoulder and licked its way down her arm. The body memory was so terrifying it awakened her sense of sight.

The first thing Bella identified were two fierce looking points of amber just above her. Next came the flared nostrils and the determined set of the mouth. Carlisle. Her tight-angle vision exploded suddenly into a panoramic shot.

She was lying on the floor with Carlisle kneeling at her right side. To her left, Esme looked down on her, trembling, lips pulled tightly into her mouth. She looked like she wanted to speak, but only swallowed, and Bella realized she wasn't breathing.

Carlisle was, however. In fact, he gasped and turned away, eyes pinched closed, in obvious pain. As if this were a reminder to her stunned nerves, a shot of blinding pain tore through down Bella's right arm and she groaned.

"I'm sorry. It's going to take a bit longer." With a growl of determination, Carlisle buried his face against Bella and the pain swelled again. His blonde hair tickled against her nostrils and eyelids, as he pressed his mouth again to her shoulder.

"Emse!"

"I'm here, sweetheart." The words were strained, but welcome, and Bella's vision faded as Esme's pale hand advanced to stroke her face. The pain was blinding, and she wished she could just succumb to unconsciousness, to wake up only when it was all over. And then she realized--

"Stop! Stop, Carlisle." Bella dug her heel into the floor, trying ineffectively to scootch herself away. "Please, stop!"

Carlisle rose to view again, framed by her shrinking window of vision, but it was hardly the face she recognized. His youthful features were twisted and warped--almost unrecognizable. She had never before seen his face bearing the traces of exertion and strain.

Summoning what energy she had, Bella raised her left hand, and she watched it pass over her chest, until Carlisle's fingers closed around it.

"Let it happen," she said. "There's no way for us. Me and Ed—" her plea was torn by a scream as the burning picked up speed, roaring around the bend in her elbow.

"Oh, Bella." Esme cupped her cheek.

"It can't work if I'm human. I have to change." She groaned again and slammed her heel into the wooden floor to try to offset the pain in her arm. "Right?" Bella demanded.

She felt, rather than saw, Esme's tiny nod. "Yes."

"Are you sure this is what you want?" Carlisle asked. "You want to be a vampire?"

"I want Edward." The fire inside of her seemed to bubble now, like the roiling of a volcano before it erupts. Something passed between Carlisle and Esme, more than a look--an exchange too low for Bella to hear, and their silence spurred an anger that raged through her, a worthy rival for the venom-burn.

"Yes, I want to be a vampire!" she screamed. Then, her vision went black again, resolving slowly to red, as the glowing lava began its slow creep into her fingers and chest.

"We're here. We won't leave you."

Bella couldn't tell who spoke the words. Couldn't even bring herself to care.