Noonday Sun

By LKM8

This book is dedicated to

Stephenie Meyer,

without whose characters this story

could never have been told

and to

Beth who saw the vision

and helped me continue

and

to Craig

who dazzled me the first time I saw him

and who continues to dazzle me

I love you

CONTENTS

Prologue

Dartmouth

Christmas

The Wedding

Imprint

Return

Reunion

Eating Crow

Life Changes

Graduation

Papers

Just Say No

Denali

Life Happens

Bella's Room

The Wait

Many Happy Returns

Cherubim and a Flaming Sword

School Starts

Sacrifice

Raining Vampires

The Awakening

The Letter

Preparation

Volterra

Choices

Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

To some it is given by the Holy Ghost

to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,

and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

To others it is given to believe

on their words,

that they also might

have eternal life…

Doctrine and Covenants 46:13-14

Prologue

The Cullen/Volturi incident had taken the vampire world by storm. There had been nearly fifty vampire witnesses at the event, and it had been like watching meiosis in action. You could see the birth of a new vampire world taking place, and it wasn't the ugly, monstrous world that everyone had thought it was. Suddenly vampires all over the world were seeing the distinct, human possibilities in their monster world. It was like the morning sun after a new dawn. Things as they were didn't have to be.

The absolute love and devotion of the Cullens and their family had impacted the vampire world like nothing in the history of the world – with one exception. The birth of the first vampire. But that was another – an unknown, and vampires had been too tied to their insatiable appetites to focus on the beginning. But this was a new world, with new rules, and Carlisle had begun the search….

Chapter 1

Dartmouth

Hanover, New Hampshire. Home of Dartmouth College. At the normal, human rate of travel, Boston was just two hours away, Montreal three, and five hours to New York City – not that we ever felt a need to go to The City. Canada was the preferred location. There was plenty of wildlife there to hunt.

My forever eighteen-year-old face was reflected back at me from the jumbo jet's window. I still wasn't accustomed to the white skin, the eerily attractive features. Little pieces of my human self had survived. My long mahogany hair was the same. My lower lip was still a little too full to match my upper lip, and the shape of my brow was the same as my human one, but the stunningly attractive beauty staring back at me still seemed alien. I was grateful the freaky red eyes had faded into a color closer to Edward's golden ones. It was our shared vegetarian diet that colored our eyes – vampire vegetarian, anyway. Those of us that chose to dine on animal rather than human blood shared the golden eyes. Mine were closer to a soft Topaz. I was still only a few months old. It took time for the initial horror red to fade.

I shivered in anticipation. The plane would be landing in Boston in a few minutes, and I wasn't sure how ready I was to accept the changes in my life. I still wasn't accustomed to traveling first class. This flight would have seemed a lot longer in coach. As it was, the flight was over before I was ready to get off.

Edward, a lock of his forever seventeen-year-old bronze hair falling forward, squeezed my hand with his long pale fingers. He sensed rather than heard my agitation. He could hear the thoughts of everyone else who shared the jet with us, but he'd never been able to hear my thoughts until I learned how to lift my shield. I was too distracted to attempt lifting it just then.

Jacob, my Quileute shape-shifting nearly seven foot tall future son in law, and Renesmee (Nessie now, even to me) were in the row ahead of us, Nessie's head snuggled against Jacob's shoulder. Her bronze curls framed her perfect face.

Would I ever get over the wonder of her face? Her beautiful skin was slightly luminescent, but nothing that would keep her out of the sun. She looked about six even though she was only a few months old. Thoughtfully, I blurted out, "Nahuel reached full maturity at the age of seven. I'm just waiting for Nessie's growth to slow down. His aunt didn't really say what his growth rate was through infancy. I never thought to ask him if his sisters' development differed from his. He didn't seem to like them very much, so I didn't want to pry…" Nahuel and his three sisters were the only other half immortal beings I'd ever heard about, and Nahuel was about 150 years old.

A familiar crease formed between Edward's eyes. "I didn't think to ask, either. I was just relieved that her abnormally fast development was … typical." His lips turned into a small smile. "As if 'typical' could be used for Nessie."

We had never thought in our wildest imaginings that our vampire family could include a child. Of course, I had been human when we were first married, but we didn't know that a vampire could conceive a child with a human. I hadn't even wanted to be a mom when we were first married. I just wanted to be with Edward – forever. It was Edward who'd brought up the subject of me and children. I never really wanted any, but the moment I felt Nessie's first nudge, I loved her with the same intensity that I loved Edward. It had been very difficult for Edward to watch me dying while I carried his child, and he had to transform me into a vampire to survive the birth, but our beloved daughter was the light of both our lives.

The landing gear touched down. What would my new life bring?

We worked our way through the airport. It had been a late flight so the normal daytime airport traffic was reduced to an occasional weary passenger. At the exit was a tall man in a black uniform. "Cullen" glared darkly on the whiteboard he held to his chest. I looked over at Edward, one perfect eyebrow raised in a silent question.

Even though he couldn't hear my thoughts, he could read my face, and he replied, "I had a limousine ordered to drive us home. Our cars will be in the garage."

Of course, that made sense. Uniforms just made me nervous. They reminded me of the Volturi.

I had a constant, nagging worry about the Volturi. I knew they would be back, sometime. Aro wanted Alice and Edward in his guard. The Volturi had never run away from a battle. But they had run from us, and they were scheming. I was sure of it. I knew Aro feared us. He knew Alice would be watching for their move and that we would be prepared for whatever they planned to do. Alice's ability to see the future would prevent him from launching a sneak attack.

He also needed more weapons; I had effectively shut his worst ones down. My shield had bested him. Bella Cullen besting Aro Volturi. Weird. I was sure he wished he'd killed me the day I'd gone to Italy to save Edward, but Aro's desire to see how my skills would develop as a vampire had convinced him to wait. My strange ability to block Edward had extended to Aro and Jane and Alec and Chelsea. I was sure I could've handled Renata, as well, but I was never given the chance.

We didn't have any luggage. I suspected Alice had arrived previously and filled our closets to bursting. She had a peculiar view of clothing as being disposable. I could picture her, her small pixie-like body neatly ordering all the piles of clothes she'd had delivered. Her dark hair would've been in her normal spike, and her vampire beauty would've been in sharp contrast to her business-like attitude. Clothing was a serious business for her. I smiled at the vision. Alice was my best friend. I would miss her.

As we approached the uniformed man, his eyes revealed a sudden hint of fear. Jacob was almost seven feet tall, and his muscles were impossible to hide under his t-shirt and sweats. Edward could look intimidating, as well. His cat-like grace and vampire features shouted danger to any normal human. We were an intimidating group. He swallowed, then said in a perfectly-controlled voice, "Cullen party?"

Edward nodded curtly, and the chauffer led us out to the waiting limousine.

I watched carefully through the dark limousine glass as we drove through Boston. We would be in Hanover in a couple of hours. The airport in Lebanon was just ten minutes from Dartmouth, but it was a smaller airport and didn't accommodate the bigger jets. We hadn't wanted to take a puddle jumper with Nessie aboard.

"Our place is near Fletcher Reservoir," Edward volunteered when I turned to him.

The driver didn't seem perturbed when we turned into the overgrown track that served as the drive to our house. It wound through the trees and reminded me of the drive to Carlisle and Esme's home. Carlisle had created my Edward and his own wife, Esme. He only used his venom as a last resort. Both of them were nearly dead when he'd created them. I could picture them, Carlisle's golden hair like a halo around his head with his arm around Esme, her heart-shaped face and carmel-colored hair reminding me of the silent-movie era. My throat constricted. I missed them already.

We broke through into a clearing to face a beautiful two-story home. The rock walls were softened by ivy and it reminded me of our cottage in Forks. This home was definitely bigger, though. I bit back my protest. Nessie would need the space. She was growing fast, and Jacob made any normal room seem small. He was as much a part of her life as Edward and I were.

Billy had taken Jacob's moving to New Hampshire in stride. As his father, he understood the whole imprinting thing, but Charlie had a hard time understanding why Jacob, my former boyfriend, would feel the need to travel to Dartmouth with us. He had seen Jacob transform into an enormous wolf – as big as a horse – so he knew Jacob wasn't exactly what he seemed, but he failed to see why I'd need to have Jacob hanging out with Edward and me. We didn't think it was wise to explain that Jacob had imprinted on Nessie. It had weirded me out. There was no way Dad would understand, so we said we were hiring Jacob to watch Nessie for us and left it at that. Jacob was the best protector we could ever have for her.

As dark as it was, our departure from the limousine didn't alarm the chauffer. A daytime departure would've required us to be in cloaks. Our vampire skin would've glistened like diamonds in the sun.

He held his face expressionless. I was impressed with his control. It wasn't every day you met someone as breathtaking as Edward.

Edward's perfect lips were twitching.

My brow furrowed, "What's so funny?"

"He had a hard time keeping his eyes off you." He bent to kiss me. "You're a stunning sight, Mrs. Cullen."

I smiled. I loved that name.

We watched the driver move his long sleek car around the curved drive for the return trip. I looked up at Edward and smiled. "I think I can do this." For the first time, I actually felt excited about the prospect of attending Dartmouth.

Edward reached around my waist and gave it a squeeze. "I've always known that," he said, a smile sounding in his voice. "That cell assignment was a clincher for me." He tapped my nose gently, both of us remembering our high school biology class. My memories were dim, blurred by the blunt human senses I had then. Edward's were clear. I envied him his earliest memories of our time together. I had to work hard to retain them. I had discovered that writing them down helped, and so I had started my life book. I wanted to keep it for Nessie.

He paused a moment, then continued, "I know I was planning on taking some classes with you, but Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has a world-class reputation. I'd hate to miss this opportunity, so I have arranged a residency there. I have two graduate medical degrees. It's time for me to get the experience I need to become a physician."

I pulled away, startled. "Can you do that?" I asked, incredulous. "All that blood…"

Edward grinned. "I discovered after delivering Nessie, human blood doesn't have the pull for me that it used to. Having the sweetest blood imaginable surrounding me and being able to take care of your needs and ignoring my own was a…turning point. Human blood just isn't the same."

I shuddered at the unbidden memory of me drowning in blood. Nessie had shown me the image she remembered at her birth, and the blood had been pouring from me. Edward's quick action had saved my life. I had only moments…

"Wow. A doctor." I looked up at him adoringly. "I always thought you were amazing. Now I know."

Edward smiled down at me. I could see the excitement in his face. His resemblance to Carlisle was unmistakable.

Just a few days before Christmas, and it was our first trip home to Forks, Washington, in several months.

We had left the previous spring for Dartmouth and had settled into our university routine quickly. Even with Edward's long hours at the hospital, we had plenty of time together. It was amazing how much time we had without the need for sleep and only hunting every other week. Nessie ate more often, but Jacob handled her meals. I took night classes through the spring and summer. Edward's residency wouldn't let him off for the summer, anyway.

The classes in the fall weren't as tricky. I could be out during the day with a hooded sweater or coat and gloves without attracting too much attention. I found if I was one of the last students in class, sat at the back of the class, and left first, I didn't have too many problems with the other students. I was much too attractive to be ignored, so it was easier to just limit interactions.

Billy and Charlie were satisfied with their weekly calls, and I was careful to keep Renée updated with a daily email. We hadn't told Renée about Nessie. It was hard to keep her a secret from my mother, but we figured we'd tell her about the "adoption" we sprang on Charlie when Nessie had reached her full growth. Renée hadn't seen me since my transformation into a vampire, and I wasn't sure I would ever be at a point where I could see her. She was pressing me hard for a visit though, and I knew she really missed me.

The Cullens dropped by regularly. Flight fares were never a problem. Sometimes we saw them a couple of times a week. They didn't mind taking the puddle jumper to Lebanon, so it was a short drive to pick them up. Rosalie, the most stunningly beautiful blond I'd ever met, adored Nessie. Her visits often stretched into weeks. Emmet, Rose's dark-haired bear like husband, and Jacob enjoyed hunting together, and Rose kept Nessie entertained. Jacob didn't get many breaks with both Edward and I so busy, so he actually enjoyed their visits. The rivalry between him and Rose sometimes got a little tense. They couldn't stand each other but were tolerant since Nessie obviously loved them both.

I smiled at the memory of Charlie's excited call. It had been Thanksgiving. Jacob answered the phone, "Hi, Charlie. Sure. She's right here." He handed the phone to me, a question in his eyes.

I could tell from Charlie's voice that he was nervous about something. He was usually confident, self assured. "Umm, Bells?"

"Yeah, Dad?" I could hear the intake of Charlie's breath. He could never quite get used to my new musical voice.

"I have some news for you… I hope it's good." He rushed through the next sentence, sounding worried, "Sue and I are getting married the day after Christmas. We'd like you to come out for the ceremony."

Well. This wasn't entirely unexpected. Dad and Sue had been an item since Nessie's birth. Sue was a member of the Quileute tribe council and the mother of two shape shifters, Seth and Leah, who were both members of Jacob's wolf pack. She understood weird in a way most humans couldn't. Charlie had been her husband's best friend, and it was Harry's funeral that had led Edward to mistakenly believe that I had committed suicide by throwing myself off a cliff. I shuddered at the thought. I'd almost lost Edward to the Volturi then. I didn't want to face that possibility again.

I suppressed a sigh. Christmas travel could be tricky. I didn't like the possibility of ice on the airplane wings. Travel from the East Coast during the winter wasn't something I really wanted to do. Edward and I would survive anything – including an airplane crash, and I was sure Jacob could, too, but I worried about Nessie.

I had some small inkling of how Edward felt about me when I was mortal. Worrying about Nessie had become like breathing (not that I needed to breathe, exactly). She was so divinely beautiful, so innately good, and so frighteningly mortal.

Everyone she met – human and vampire alike – fell in love with her.

Well almost everyone. I don't think she had that kind of impact on Aro. He was like an unfeeling but thinking virus ready to suck the life out of any living thing he touched to feed his own endless need to survive.

"Dad," I hoped he could hear the happiness in my voice, "we'd love to come. Who will be there?"

"It's just going to be a small affair – nothing big. You know how I hate parties. We were thinking of inviting Sue's kids," I briefly wondered how Seth and Leah were taking the news, "Billy, Rachel, and Jacob, Paul, Quil, Embry, the Cullens, Deputy Mark and his wife, and Renée and Phil, of course."

I groaned inwardly. How could he do this? He was the one who'd told me not to let Renée know about the new me. He knew I really didn't want to have Renée see me like this, but their relationship had warmed considerably over the past year. I had a suspicion that Sue played a big part in that one. She was a strong woman, felt strongly about family ties, and wasn't the type to feel threatened by Charlie's ex. I sighed in frustration.

I was sure Charlie heard my sigh, but he continued without a pause, "Alice was here the day I proposed and volunteered the Cullens' home for the wedding. She's so persuasive, I – we," he corrected himself, "Sue and I couldn't say no. I don't know how Alice does it, but she always pops up at the most opportune time." I smiled. Knowing Alice, she knew about Charlie's proposal before he did. Her ability to see the future came in handy.

She had done such a spectacular job on my own wedding, I was sure she'd make this one just as memorable. Hopefully, she'd tone it down quite a bit. It was, after all, a second wedding for both.

Charlie continued, "We've asked Billy to perform the wedding." I remembered back to a time when his solemn recitation of the Quileute history had touched a very human Bella and was sure his resonating voice would do justice to the simple ceremony. Even though his aging body was confined to a wheelchair, he carried all the dignity of a long line of chieftains.

The weather had cooperated nicely, and we had a smooth flight into Seattle. The cloud cover hid the sun, so we walked out of the sliding glass doors into the passenger pick up area. A black Cadillac Escalade pulled up to the curb just as we stepped out. The passenger window rolled down, and we could see Alice, her small body dwarfed in the leather seat. Jasper, her tall platinum-blond husband, was driving. The scars lining his face were clearly visible in the cloudy light. They were silent testament to thousands of vampire battle victories. I'd forgotten how terrifying he looked.

Alice's tinkling voice broke into my thoughts, "I figured you'd be here about now...I couldn't see – Nessie and Jacob were in the way." Alice's visions of the future were eerily accurate except when a shape-shifter or half immortal were involved. Her ability to see disappeared entirely then.

"Aunt Alice!" Nessie squealed in delight. She raced to the SUV and opened the door moments before us and jumped in to hug Alice.

"What's with this?" Edward waved at the Escalade.

Alice grinned mischievously. "With Jacob's size, I couldn't see us fitting into anything smaller. Enjoy the ride!" We chatted idly about my studies, Edward's residency and family events. Alice was enthusiastic about the coming wedding.

"Renée and Phil are staying at the local hotel. She didn't want to stay at our place with all the wedding preparations going on there." Alice paused, a shadow momentarily crossing her beautiful features. "She's never felt quite comfortable here."

I smiled weakly, dreading the moment when I would see my mother. At least my eyes didn't look as awful as they had after Edward had created me. The soft topaz showed that I had recently eaten. I wanted to be sure I wasn't thirsty with all the humans around for the wedding. The topaz was still very alien compared to my human brown eyes – eyes that looked at me from Nessie's face.

When we turned into Carlisle and Esme's drive, my throat caught. I had missed them, and it felt like I was coming home. When we pulled up, every light in the house was on, a warm welcome for us.

Carlisle and Esme stood in the doorway, Carlisle's arm around her. I knew they'd heard us coming. Nessie was bouncing excitedly on the seat. "Grandma and Grandpa!" she squealed in delight, jumping out of the SUV almost before it stopped. She jumped into Esme's arms and hugged her tightly.

She touched her face to relay her memories of our plane trip. Her peculiar talent was like turning around what Edward and I did. He read everyone's minds and I blocked out any abilities that had to do with the mind; no one could keep her thoughts out of their mind when she touched them. When she had a great deal of information to share, she preferred this method of communicating.

After she'd shared her trip with Esme, she pushed away and jumped down, running into the waiting arms of Rosalie. "Aunt Rose!" she hugged her tightly, too. It hadn't been long since her last visit, but Nessie was very fond of her.

My throat tightened. It would be nice to be finished with my studies and Edward's residency so we could move back home. Our house in Hanover just didn't feel like home with the Cullens so far away.

Edward and I followed more slowly, soaking in the sights and sounds of home. Jacob hesitated. It had been a long time since he'd been in Forks, and he was missing his family. Responding to Jacob's thoughts, Edward said, "Go home and see Billy and Rachel." Jacob's sister had been in La Push a lot more since Paul had imprinted on her. "We've got things under control here. Nothing is going to harm Nessie."

Jacob ran to the woods, his shape shimmering as he ran. He hardly made it to the trees before he was in his immense wolf form. I smiled. He'd need another pair of shoes and a new set of clothes when he got back. If he didn't stop to strip, the clothes never survived the transformation. I hoped Billy still had a few spares for Jacob at home.

I saw four other wolves join him. Their excited whines told me that his pack was rejoicing in his return. They must have felt lost without their leader, but they understood too well the call of an imprint. Quil had imprinted on an impossibly-young two year old, so knew the challenges Jacob faced in helping to raise Nessie. I sometimes wondered if Quil ever envied Jacob the fast growth of his imprinted mate. Embry had imprinted on a girl closer to his age.

I expected we'd have another wedding to attend by next summer. Sam and Emily had tied the knot just before we left for New Hampshire. They wanted Jacob to attend the wedding, so they had a simple ceremony in La Push before we left. As previously planned, Leah had been the bridesmaid. Bitter bridesmaid. She'd been the love of Sam's life until he'd imprinted on her favorite cousin, Emily. It had been a hard day for everyone. I shuddered at the memory. At least it was over.

Seth hadn't imprinted on anyone, but sharing the mind of the others helped him feel what it was like. The only member of Jacob's pack that couldn't really relate was Leah, and that was because she was the only female in the pack. She refused to see things the way they did.

We were sure Jacob and his pack would be at La Push in a matter of minutes.

As we entered the Cullen home, our sensitive noses were met with the scent of pine cones and cinnamon. The home was decorated in a Christmas theme – lots of pine boughs, red bows and greenery, an enormous Christmas tree close to Edward's piano. The wooden floors softly reflected the colors of the blinking lights on the tree. Hundreds of red and white poinsettias decorated the home. The white, red and green were festive against the white background of Esme's décor. A white silk archway stood where the wedding vows would take place. White and Red roses were added to the decorations around the arch. Their scent lingered softly in the air. "Oh, Alice!" I breathed, "It's perfect!"

We gathered around the big screen television where a Christmas special was airing. I turned to Edward, a look of consternation flitted across my face. "Ooooh, I almost forgot to pick something up for Nessie and the wedding. Can we go shopping in Seattle tomorrow?"

Edward tightened his arm around me. "Of course we can." He turned to Rosalie, a question on his face. He paused, obviously listening for her answer. "Thanks. We'd like to leave early. That's settled then."

He looked down at me and said, "Rose will be delighted to watch Nessie tomorrow while we shop." I happily settled next to him, the momentary worry about Nessie's Christmas fading away. How could I not be utterly content in this home surrounded by the ones I loved?

Jasper hovered close. He was getting his Bella dose. He could influence the feelings of those around him, but he could also feel the emotions of those same people, and I was supremely happy. As far as I knew, I was the only vampire in existence who had started out this vampire life in a state of happiness. Since we were frozen in time at the state where we were created, I was frozen at the happiest moment of my life – the birth of our child. My resting state was certainly a good place for Jasper to be.

It was late when I picked up Nessie, who'd fallen asleep on the couch next to us. We walked out the back door and headed for our home. I jumped the fifty foot span across the river without disturbing Nessie. It didn't take us long to reach the clearing that held our little cottage. It hadn't changed a bit. A rush of emotion tightened my throat. I had so many happy memories in this little place.

Edward laughingly swept me off my feet, "Don't wake Nessie," I protested. He carried us over the threshold and into Nessie's room. I put her gently on the bed carefully made up for her. She had, of course, slept through the trip. She had been a sound sleeper since the day she was born.

Someone had turned down the bed for her. My throat tightened. This little detail was a token of their affection, and it moved me.

I turned to Edward, my eyes drinking in the face that I could never get tired of. My breath caught, the hunger in his eyes lighting a fire in mine. He grabbed my hand and we headed for our own room.

As usual, it was an energetic night.

Rose arrived at 5 am. She'd taken Edward at his word for an early outing. It didn't take me long to change. I tiptoed into Nessie's room. Her growth had slowed down, and I was looking at an eight year old. She slept peacefully, a smile on her angelic face. I leaned down to kiss her forehead then stepped out, closing the door softly behind me.

Rose hovered by Nessie's door. I knew she'd be getting Nessie up the moment she stirred.

Rose and Alice would enjoy playing dress up with Nessie. I was sure there would be a photograph session, too. I never took enough for them. Their visits always involved a lot of pictures. Fortunately, she was good humored about it and we had thousands of smiling Nessies plastered in scrap books. Esme had finally purchased a matched pair of beautiful solid maple antique book cases just for her scrap books. They matched Esme's favorite dining room table and made a fine addition to the main floor of their home.

As early as we were heading out, I was looking forward to driving my red Ferrari. I hadn't driven it very many times before we moved to Hanover. It was too conspicuous. We had cars more suitable for driving Nessie and Jacob there. I actually enjoyed speed now that I didn't have to worry about dying. We flew down the road and Edward relaxed beside me.

We arrived in an overcast Seattle before most of the stores were open, so we parked near The Needle and strolled through the city, hand in hand.

I couldn't imagine what I could buy for Charlie and Sue. They were content with what they had. I finally decided on a new set of dishes. Dad's old set was chipped and worn. Sue might appreciate something new to go with his old house. It took some time to decide on a pattern.

It was noon before we looked for Nessie's gift. As she aged and her human side became more evident, she had developed an interest in dolls. That had surprised me since I'd never been a doll person. She had always been so mature. It seemed odd that she would want to play, but she spent hours playing house with Jacob. He didn't seem to mind, and Edward said he still hadn't seen one hint of any thought about what the future would hold for him and Nessie.

He was just like her faithful big brother at the moment, and we were content to leave it there. We really didn't want to imagine a different life for our daughter. It was too hard to think of her as being grown up.

We found a specialty shop for dolls and selected one that could withstand her strength. There were several models to choose from. The one we picked had long bronze curls like Nessie's. We knew that Alice had probably already purchased the doll a wardrobe since she could see the future and knew what we were going to buy. Edward special ordered a doll house with all its furniture that would be in Hanover when we got home. The clerk handed over a title to the house with an accompanying photograph that could be wrapped and put under the tree.

"I can't wait to see her expression." My eyes were bright with excitement. Edward smiled down at me, and I could see the contentment in his face. This was the kind of life he had always wanted for himself – the kind of life he never thought he could have.

The sky was overcast, the dark clouds pressing down. We walked back to the Ferrari. The sidewalks were full of holiday shoppers, but they gave us a wide berth. Most humans had a natural ability to recognize vampires as dangerous, even if we were attractive. As we were walking, I felt like I was being watched (I had become accustomed to ogling, but this felt different) and turned a couple of times. There was the faint scent of a vampire in the air, but it wasn't really clear. Edward stopped suddenly and turned as well. "Nahuel," his voice sounded warm, inviting, "how have you been?"

I watched in shocked amazement as Nahuel, the half-vampire that had been instrumental in saving Nessie's life during the Volturi raid last January, practically materialized on the sidewalk between a group of humans ambling past. I'd forgotten how divinely beautiful he was. His warm brown skin had a slightly translucent glow, much like Nessie's. His build and dark hair was a product of his South American origin. He was slightly shorter than Edward.

Nahuel smiled hesitantly. "I'm fine." His answer wasn't very informative. Edward wasn't as uninformed as I, but I could tell he wasn't about to let me know what was going on in front of Nahuel.

"I thought you'd gone back to South America." I blurted out.

"Nah. I decided to stay and attend the University of Washington in Seattle. I'm majoring in history." He flashed his perfectly white venomous teeth in a smile. "I figured I'd lived through it, so the subject wouldn't be that hard."

I smiled back. It was hard to resist his impish look. "Did your aunt go back?"

"Huilen stayed with me. She's a little …. attached." He grinned again at the word. "She wouldn't know what to do with herself without having to keep an eye on me. We're staying in an apartment not too far from the university."

My jaw dropped. Realizing I looked a little stupid, I snapped my mouth shut. "Isn't that hard on her? All those humans?" I shuddered.

Nahuel's look of amusement turned to concern. "Oh, no, it's not like that. She's never been one to prey much on humans, anyway. It wasn't a stretch to go 'vegetarian.' The humans so close don't seem to bother her that much. We just keep our thirst in check. There's plenty of wildlife around, and Canada isn't that far away…"

He trailed off; my stare had unsettled him.

Edward answered his unasked question, "We're here to attend Bella's dad's wedding. It's in a few days."

Without thinking, I blurted out, "We'd love to have you come. It's at the Cullen's home on the 26th at 5:30 in the evening."

Edward and Nahuel both looked at me in amazement. I stifled the urge to bite my lip. I hoped Charlie wouldn't mind the sudden addition to his guest list. It was a little late to retract the invitation.

Slowly, as if stunned by the sudden invitation, Nahuel accepted, "I'll be there. Do you mind if Huilen comes, too?"

"No. No. Of course not. We'd love to see you both." I was kicking myself. This was one of those awkward human Bella moments coming through. Sometimes I could be so impulsive.

I was amazed at the smile that spread into Nahuel's eyes. He seemed genuinely happy about being included in a family event. My throat constricted. I had never lived the life of a typical vampire, and he had never fit in with the vampire world or the human world. He must've had a very lonely life. I suddenly understood the importance of Huilen in his life. "We'll see you at the wedding, then," I confirmed. Edward and I turned to head to our car. I could feel his eyes follow us as we walked down the street.

"That was kind of you, Bella." Edward put his arm around me and squeezed my waist. He was quiet for a few moments. I could tell he was considering how much of Nahuel's thoughts he should tell me. He was always careful about what he shared. He didn't think it was right to share thoughts that were never meant to be expressed.

"Remember when I told you that Nahuel was changing his view of himself?"

I nodded, my throat too constricted to speak. I remembered well when Edward said that Nahuel had always considered himself a monster. After he met Edward and me, he realized that he could choose a different path. With the example of his monstrous vampire father and knowing the love of his human mother for him even as his growing body was killing her, he hadn't ever dared think of himself as a lovable person, someone who could experience everything life had to offer.

"He's been trying to find himself, and he's not sure where to go or what to do, but he feels tied to us in a way that he can't understand. We are the living example of everything he ever wanted for himself. He'd never intrude in our lives, but he would like to feel accepted by someone other than Huilen." Edward stopped a moment, just long enough to kiss the top of my head, and then walked on. "He is looking forward to coming out to the Cullens again."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "I thought you'd be mad at me. I hope Charlie takes this as well as you."

Edward smiled. "Your dad will be so worried over the wedding that he won't even notice a couple of extra faces in the audience." He was probably right. Edward usually was.

We reached the Ferrari quickly.

As we were pulling into Forks, Edward asked, "Do you want to see Charlie today?"

"Well, we're going to see him on Christmas day and I'm sure he and Sue have a lot of things to do with the wedding just a couple of days away. I think we can pass on that one. Dad's got a lot on his plate. He is handling my being a vampire really well, considering everything. I just don't want to stop in and remind him that his daughter is not what she used to be."

Besides, I was afraid Renée and Phil might be there, and I wasn't ready to face my mom. I wasn't sure I'd be ready on the wedding day, either, but maybe she would be so excited over the wedding that she wouldn't be as observant as usual. I snorted at the thought and Edward glanced at me, one eyebrow raised questioningly. "I was just hoping Mom wouldn't notice how much I've changed and realized that's a false hope if there ever was one." I sighed. "I guess the only thing I can really hope for is that she won't pass out from shock."

Edward lightly touched my hand on the steering wheel. "Things will work out, Bella. It'll be fine, I know it." The words were reassuring, but the strain in his voice made me realize he was worried, too. Mom could be difficult. I stifled another sigh and smiled at him instead.

When we got home, Jacob had returned. He couldn't stay away from Nessie too long. He was attached to her in a way I could almost understand. Sometimes I wondered if Edward and I had imprinted. Being physically separated had made us both ill.

Rosalie and Jacob could hardly stand being in the same room with each other, but they tolerated each others' presence because they both adored Nessie. Edward and I could sense the strain. Edward did more than I because he could hear their thoughts. From his grimace, I wouldn't be surprised if they were both plotting the other one's death.

Wanting to lighten the mood, I suggested, "Jacob, would you like to take Nessie out for a walk? I thought we could visit Rainier Field…" I almost shuddered when I said that. Why had I suggested that clearing? I had so many awful memories of that place, but it was a fair distance and would get us far enough out that we could stretch our legs properly and work out some of the tension in the air.

Edward, Nessie, Jacob and I quickly headed out the door for our home. I needed to dress Nessie for a frigid nighttime outing. While we ran home, Jacob moved into the woods to transform into a wolf.

He was always careful to change well away from Nessie. Sam's unintentional scarring of Emily had been a powerful reminder to all the shape-shifters to be careful where they phased. It wasn't much harder for Jacob to carry Nessie in his arms, but he preferred his wolf form when we were going on excursions. He seemed to think he could defend her better as a wolf, and I had to agree.

The air was frigid. It felt balmy to me. My cold vampire skin didn't notice the temperature; but I was afraid Nessie might. Blood flowed through her veins. Even though her temperature was like Jacob's – usually a toasty 108.9, I was afraid she might feel the chill in the air.

I was reminded of a life a long time ago when Jacob had shared a tent with me during a night not unlike this one and then relaxed. As hot as Jacob had been that night – my personal space heater – I knew Nessie wouldn't even be feeling the night air. Still, I bundled her up in a down coat, sweats and boots.

Nessie climbed onto Jacob's back. Edward laughingly grabbed my hand and then we all ran like the wind to the clearing. The last time we had been here was the cold January day almost a year ago when we had met the Volturi to convince them that Nessie was not an immortal child but a half immortal one. I knew there would be another meeting. I was sure we would meet them here. I didn't doubt that Alice would see them coming.

I looked up at the night sky, clear of clouds for once, such a rare occurrence in Forks. I gasped, and Edward turned to me in alarm. "What is it, Bella?"

I stared at the sky in incredulous, stunned silence. I had been a vampire for a little over a year. It occurred to me that I had never really looked at the stars. It was like seeing the sky through a telescope but unfettered by its boundaries. Everywhere I looked at the sky the stars shone at me with all their wondrous brilliance. I could make out the curve of the Milky Way and saw the colors of the myriad stars. Blue. Red. Yellow. Green. White. Why hadn't I noticed this divine vision?

I'd been too worried about the hunt, distracted by my need for Edward, and worried about Nessie to bother looking at the stars. There were so many. A numberless concourse of heavenly lights. All clear. All brightly focused. So beautiful. Like music to my eyes.

I felt a dry lump in my throat and knew if I had still been a very human Bella and seen this vision I would have cried. The beauty of the universe sang in my eyes. Suddenly, Edward saw, too. We stared in stunned silence, hand in hand.

The view was like a visual symphony. How could the hand of God not be in its creation? Maybe Carlisle had bothered to look when he had tried so many times to kill himself as a new vampire. Maybe the vision of the stars had been what induced him to be so very, very good. I felt a stirring within me, a change. And the change was good.

Nessie was nodding off on Jacob's back when we finally headed for home. It was a quiet trip.

When we arrived at our snug cottage, Jacob looked at Edward, a question in his eyes. "Don't worry, Jacob. We have everything under control. Go spend some time with Billy and Rachel." Jacob ran off, still in his wolf form. I watched him go, a wistful expression on my face.

Edward saw the emotions play across my face. "What are you thinking?"

"I was just wondering how different his life would be if he'd never met me."

Edward put his arm around my waist and pulled me close. "I don't think he's suffering." He bent down to kiss the top of my head, then he picked up Nessie and we walked into our home.

After I helped Nessie change and put her to bed, I joined Edward. My fingers traced the outlines of his exquisite face, and he grabbed my fingers and kissed them lightly. I was glad I had an eternity because loving him never got old.