A/N: 1) I simply don't have the words to express my pleasure, ecstasy and appreciation for all of your glowing reviews. They have inspired and encouraged me more than you know. 2) I assume that everybody knows that Jacob phased decently both times. I just didn't feel like addressing the obvious need for ripping clothing and carrying clothes and putting clothes back on, etc—I thought it was ticky-tacky and interrupted the flow of the story. But now that it's been noticed a couple times, I shall address it accordingly in the next few chapters. Perhaps I will go back and fix it in the previous one—but forgive me for my little continuity lapse! Thank you, sorry for the delay, and please keep reviewing!
"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones."
I pondered and fought with myself for the rest of the entire night. It was no easy task attempting to figure a way to save lives while also wrapping my mind around several impossible—and disgusting—concepts. My thoughts were only diverted from the dilemma once: when Charlie arrived home around six. I heard the door open and close, and heard him set his keys down on the kitchen table.
At 6:25, I made up my mind. I got out of bed, got dressed—trying not to tremble—brushed my hair and teeth and washed my face as quickly as I could. Then I went downstairs.
Charlie was sitting in the kitchen, cradling a cup of coffee in both hands on the table.
"Hey, Dad," I greeted him quietly. "Merry Christmas."
He sighed and sat back.
"Did you find him?" I made myself ask. He nodded slowly.
"Yep. He's dead."
I swallowed. There's no way I had been dreaming, then.
"How?" I wondered. Charlie shrugged.
"Well, best we can tell, he was finding a Christmas tree and an animal got him and dragged him off."
"What kind of animal?" I wanted to know his theory.
"Dunno yet. A bear, a mountain lion, or maybe a wolf." Charlie still hadn't lifted his eyes from his mug. His voice lowered. "His whole family is in town for Christmas."
I bit my lip, saying nothing. Charlie sighed again, then dragged himself to his feet and into the living room, to sit in front of the Christmas tree.
I strode to the telephone.
I made two calls. One number, I had dialed more times than I could count. The other, I had to get a phone book. One was answered by a voice more familiar than my own heartbeat. The other was picked up by kind, worried tones I had heard only once before. I made specific arrangements. They were agreed upon. I hung up, and waited. Neither knew I had called the other.
I knew what I was doing was dangerous. Like juggling two bottles of nitroglycerine. But I had made a promise. And I had faith in both of them. The best thing I could do was to bring them together using the only common ground they had:
Jacob arrived on his motorcycle at seven o'clock, exactly when he was supposed to. He was wearing long jeans, and a black t-shirt. He also had on a black leather jacket I had never seen before, but I approved—it set off the copper tones in his skin. I put my hands in my coat pockets and went out to meet him.
"Nice jacket. Did you get it for Christmas?"
Jacob dismounted, ran a hand through his hair and then unzipped his jacket all the way.
"I got it from Sam. Sort of a…different kind of present." His bright eyes focused on me. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
I heard a car engine approaching. I didn't look away from Jacob.
"Something really important. But first, I have to greet you the right way." I stuck out my hand. Puzzled, he gripped my fingers. I smiled congenially, not showing how terrified I was.
"Welcome to Switzerland," I said firmly. Jacob's eyes narrowed.
I didn't answer. I didn't need to. A silver Volvo came around the bend just then and pulled into my driveway. Jacob stood ramrod straight, letting go of my hand.
The Volvo parked, and Edward Cullen smoothly got out and shut the door. He was wearing his muted gray pea coat and dark blue scarf, which softened his appearance but also made him appear even more deathly pale.
"Good morning, Bella; Mr. Black." He faced us, and inclined his head like a ghostly Mr. Darcy. "Merry Christmas."
Jacob's mouth hung open. Edward, wisely, did not move, and kept the car between himself and us.
Okay, I told myself. Here we go…
"Good morning, Edward," I answered, smiling. "How was your Christmas Eve?"
He was focusing on Jacob, but he replied.
"Uncommonly nice, actually…until later in the night, of course."
"Really?" I said, keeping my voice light, fighting the tightness in my chest. "What did you do?"
He dragged his gaze from Jacob to me—and his brow relaxed slightly.
"I went to church with Carlisle. First time in…" He took a breath. "…a long time."
"I have never seen such a brazen—" Jacob burst out. I held up my hand.
"Wait—Before anyone says anything, I have to explain the rules."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward smile quietly.
"Right," I nodded crisply. "Like I said, this is Switzerland. Neutral territory. My dad is just inside," I pointed behind me, then started counting off on my fingers. "So, there will be no name-calling, fistfights, biting, transforming or killing." I let out a shaky breath, but managed to nod with finality.
Jacob inhaled, and it thudded, and when he exhaled, the growl snapped through his teeth, vibrating my bones. He focused a venomous look on Edward.
"I have to submit that snarling should be under the 'name-calling' category," Edward suggested, his smile remaining, but his attention was locked on Jacob. Jacob swallowed hard and managed to bite back his growling, but he glanced once at me, fear glinting behind his gaze.
"Whose side are you on, Bella?"
The words cut me.
"No, you don't understand," I said quickly. "This is neutral—"
"I believe, Mr. Black," Edward interrupted. "That the point of this meeting is to prove that it is not necessary for her to choose a side."
"Right," I gripped my hands together. "I'm just here to be the…" My mind flailed. "The…"
"The mediator," Edward supplied.
"Yes. Thank you, Edward."
Jacob was looking at me now—and behind the rage and skittishness, I could see bewilderment, and hurt.
"Bella, what is this?" he demanded under his breath.
"Last night," I began. "Edward came to see me."
"It was him!" Jacob's voice was beastly.
"Yes, it was." Edward remained where he stood, but his calm voice slid in between Jacob and I. "And as you see, she's fine."
Jacob twitched his head toward Edward.
"Why did you go into her bedroom?"
"He came to ask me for help."
Jacob whirled on me.
I gathered myself, feeling Edward watching me.
"He asked me to deliver a message to you for him. He wanted you to know that the Cullens will be staying in town, no matter what, because they are innocent. He wanted you to investigate," I glanced at Edward. "So…that made sense to me…and I thought you two could discuss the particulars of this…investigation."
Jacob's eyes flared at Edward.
"And what makes him think that I want to hear anything he says?" Jacob asked through his teeth.
"He said he convinced his family that the pack leader is just," I said. "And not given to…reckless violence. He knew he would listen."
The tension left Jacob's shoulders, and he stared at me. Then, he stared at Edward.
"How did you know…?"
Edward regarded him silently for a long moment. Then, slowly, he came around the front of the car.
"It's wise to know the ways of your adversary," he said. "The day you confronted me at the school, I knew who you would be—I knew who would emerge as the leader, regardless of the age differences. That's why I made my appeal to Bella." Edward nodded at me. "I knew she had the ear of the entire pack."
"Wait…" I took a step toward Jacob. "What…?"
"He's right, Bella," Jacob was still looking at Edward. "I'm the pack leader."
My heart swelled with pride. But I couldn't voice it, because Edward was speaking.
"Don't mistake me, Mr. Black," he warned. "My disgust for your kind is very sincere. But I would never kill one of you without a just cause. I hope you feel the same way."
Jacob let out a snarling huff, and he glanced around before returning his attention to Edward. Edward smirked.
"Glad to know it."
Jacob's eyes flashed.
"Were you…?" He gritted his teeth. "Get out of my mind, leech."
"I might as well tell you to stop breathing," Edward said flatly. My head spun.
Edward turned to me.
"He called me a leech."
"Don't call him a leech," I said distractedly. "Now what did you mean—get out of my mind?"
Jacob just set his jaw. I wanted to roll my eyes. Here came that old code about each guy keeping his own secrets again…
Edward shifted his weight.
"I can…read minds."
My eyebrows went up as a crawling sensation crept through my gut.
"Really?" I suddenly wanted to run away. "You…Everyone's…mind?"
"Everyone nearby. Except you."
I blinked, the creepy feeling washing away.
He studied me, then frowned.
"I really don't know. That's why I told you that you intrigued me. You're the only person I have ever met whose mind I cannot read."
I gaped at him, unable to speak.
"You weren't just intrigued because she smells good?" Jacob jabbed.
"She does smell good," Edward admitted. He ran his gaze across me. "Intoxicating, in fact. But one reason I wanted to spend time with her at school was so I could get used to her scent, and learn to ignore it. I didn't like the fact that her blood was causing an…abnormal attraction."
"My blood?" I repeated, going cold. Then I shook myself. Come on, Bella, what did you expect—that he liked you for your personality? He's a vampire!
"Because," Edward went on, as if I had not spoken. "I was determined to keep the agreement."
Trying to dispell my shivers, I glanced at Jacob.
"What is the agreement, again?"
"They're not to bite humans," he stated.
"So…at some point, your people…talked, rather than killing each other?" I ventured.
Edward considered me with something like admiration.
"Yes. Jacob's ancestor, as a matter of fact, arranged it with us."
Edward ducked his head.
I shot a look at Jacob, but his face was stony. I returned to Edward.
"How old are you?"
He gazed at me for a long time before speaking, very quietly.
"One-hundred five this June."
No one moved for a moment. I swallowed, regaining my composure, trying to rein in my racing thoughts.
"Then…how do you stay alive, if you…can't bite people?" I wasn't sure I wanted to know…
Edward smiled crookedly.
"Carlisle likes to call us 'vegetarians.' We eat animals. They don't satisfy us completely…but they keep our thirst at bay."
I swallowed very hard again.
"Until last night, it looks like," Jacob's tone was low.
"None of us would ever do anything to bring danger to our family," Edward said sharply. "At least give us credit for that much intelligence."
"Oh, really?" Jacob snapped back, folding his arms across his chest. "Fine, then. Who else could possibly have done it?"
Edward went still.
I squeezed my hands together.
"Another…?" I whispered. Edward met my eyes.
"Vampires attract vampires," he said. "How else would we find each other?"
My vision swam for a moment as I recalled the horrible section in Dracula—the Count exchanged bites with Mina, and their minds were connected…
"We hear each other, smell each other," Edward went on, and the tension in my chest eased. Okay, good—they didn't suck each other's blood…
"So a friend of yours is running around in the forest now?" Jacob bristled. Edward gave him a sour glance.
"Just because they're vampires doesn't mean we're friends with them. Are you friends with every other dog on earth?"
"Don't call him a dog," I stepped in, as Jacob's eyes blazed again. I spoke to Edward. "So…where would another vampire come from?"
"There's a group in the north—it's possible he came from there," Edward guessed.
"Why would he leave?" I asked.
"Hard to know," Edward shook his head. "It could be that he was tired of the area after a few decades and wanted to move." He took a breath. "It's also possible that the prey was getting thin, and he wanted to find better hunting grounds."
Jacob watched Edward keenly.
"Possible. But it's also possible that you're trying to distract me from you and your family."
"There's an easy way to find that out," Edward answered. "I've heard you have a good sense of smell—almost as good as mine." He smirked. "Come with me and smell each member of my family, then compare it to the smell at the crime scene."
"Right," Jacob snorted. "Like I'm going to your house alone."
Neither of them moved. I realized that it was my turn.
"I can fix that."
Both boys looked at me, startled, but I ignored them. I turned around and walked loudly up to my front porch, opened my door and swung my head inside.
"Hey, Dad? Can you come here for a sec?"
It took a moment, but Charlie came out of the living room, set his coffee cup down and pushed open the door. Then he caught sight of Jacob.
"Jake!" He truly smiled for the first time this Christmas, and pushed past me, down the stairs. The awkward tension broke, as the werewolf and vampire's attention was diverted. Jacob immediately shook off his hostility and gave my dad a grin.
"Hi, Mr. Swan."
"We haven't seen you around here in a long time!" He slapped Jacob's shoulder, then shook his hand. "I like the jacket—looks sharp."
"Dad," I cut in. "This is Edward Cullen—Dr. Cullen's son."
Charlie stepped forward and stuck out his hand.
"Good to meet you," he said seriously. "Your dad did a great job with Jake and Bells after that accident last year. I'm really thankful to him."
Edward did not hesitate to grip Charlie's hand. He probably decided that any chill could be attributed to the cold weather.
"I'll be sure to tell him," Edward said. I felt some of the stiffness reenter Jacob's frame.
"Edward came over to invite Jacob and me to his house for a couple hours," I bluffed. Dad gave me a look.
How come? I had no idea…
"We have a fantastic Christmas tree this year," Edward inserted smoothly. "We just got it two days ago—we haven't had one for a few years. It's huge. And my mother has an incredible ornament collection. Antiques from all over the world." Edward glanced at Jacob and me. "I just…wanted to give my parents a chance to show it off before we have to take it down, and I thought Bella…and Jacob…might like to see it."
My dad thought for a minute.
"All right. Under one condition." He held up a finger. I braced myself. Jacob watched him.
"We'll trade," Charlie said. "The Cullens can have you for a couple hours, and then the three of you have to come back and hang out here for a little bit. We'll eat cookies, watch a movie, play Monopoly, whatever—I'm just done with being by myself on Christmas Day. Got it?"
"Happy to oblige," Edward said easily. Jacob's expression was like steel. But he nodded once.
"Okay. We'll be right back," I assured Charlie.
And that's how Jacob and I wound up climbing into the back of Edward Cullen's Volvo to visit a house full of vampires.
We rode in silence. Edward's driving was terrifying. I'd never seen anyone drive so fast with such precision. Or that close to the edges of the cliffs.
Jacob stared hard at the back of Edward's head, unblinking. Glancing through the windshield, I saw that we were going to be heading straight for a time. I unbuckled, slid over and buckled myself into the middle seat. I then slipped my arm under Jacob's and clasped his fingers, pressing my whole side against his. He glanced down at me.
Edward's head twitched back toward us, as if he had heard a noise behind him, but he quickly turned back to the front. Jacob's fingers gripped mine tightly. Then he leaned over and rested his forehead against my head.
"How much do you want to bet that their house has a moat?" he whispered.
"As much as she wants to bet with me that you live in a den," Edward muttered from up front.
"Cullen—" I felt Jacob's chest shudder with an impending growl.
"Quiet, both of you," I warned. They both fell into silence again. Then, a thought struck me.
"Edward…" I tried to think of the best way to ask this. "You told me your mother…"
"She died, yes," Edward finished. Jacob blinked, and his grip on my hand softened minutely. I went on.
"So, when you say your parents, you mean—"
"Carlisle and Esme adopted me," Edward said. "They also adopted my brothers and sisters, Emmett, Rosalie, Jasper and Alice."
I forgot to think about this, because we now approached a sharp curve, and Edward did not slow down. He took the turn at break-neck speed, the car straining at the edge of its limits. Jacob's arm darted around me and he pulled me close to his chest.
"Could you watch how you're driving?" he protested. "Not everybody in here is immortal."
"I haven't had a wreck in sixty years," Edward answered. "And even that one was on purpose."
"I don't care," Jacob retorted. "You—"
"Edward?" I interrupted. "Does your family know Jacob is coming?"
Edward rounded another corner and sped up a long driveway.
"Not all of them."
I went rigid. But it was too late to say anything. We were already pulling up in front of a huge, very modern, angular house in the midst of beautifully manicured gardens and woods.
Edward parked, got out and shut his door, clearly more at ease here than in my driveway. I unbuckled, which was hard, since Jacob kept tight hold of my hand. I didn't care. I wasn't letting him go. Both of us climbed out and stood next to the car, staring up at the house.
"Scared, Bells?" Jacob murmured, watching the front door.
"Scared? Who's scared?" I whispered.
"I am." I barely heard him say that, but it made me press closer to him.
The birds did not sing here—it was remarkably quiet, and the trees seemed old, and still. Our feet crunched on gravel as we began walking. I pulled Jacob over to where Edward stood waiting for us. Jacob was holding my hand so tightly my bones almost came together. I glanced at him and gave him a tug, and a gentle smile.
"C'mon, Jacob," I murmured.
Edward gave us an appraising glance before falling into stride beside me. I absently wondered at what a strange trio we must look like.
The door opened before we had gotten to the top step of the porch. My heart lurched for a moment—until I saw that it was the handsome Dr. Cullen, wearing soft, ivory fleece that once again reminded me of an angel.
His uniquely auburn eyes flicked over the three of us, then lingered on us each in turn. We came to the top of the porch and stood in front of Dr. Cullen.
"Bella Swan, may I present Dr. Carlisle Cullen," Edward said. Carlisle's gaze found me. It was kind.
"Yes, I remember you," he nodded. "How are you doing, Bella?"
"Fine, thanks," I managed. Edward lifted his head.
"Mr. Jacob Black, Dr. Cullen. Carlisle, this is the pack leader of the Quileute tribe."
I clenched my teeth, waiting, watching…
Carlisle smiled. And it was a true smile.
"It's so good to see that you're doing so well," His voice was warm. "I have to admit that I was worried about that right hand for a while—your wrist was in bad shape." He stretched out his own, white hand. Jacob stared at it, clenching his fingers around mine. Then, he looked up, met Carlisle's eyes, and answered Carlisle's handshake. Carlisle's smile broadened, and he lifted Jacob's hand so he could see it better.
"You healed beautifully, Jacob. Glad to see it." He squeezed Jacob's hand before dropping it. "Forgive me for the cold grip—" His eyes twinkled. "Side-effect of being a leech, I'm afraid."
The irony of his statement was not lost on me: I remembered that Jacob had called vampires "leeches," but I also knew, historically, that "leech" was another word for a doctor. Thus, his soft acknowledgement of what he was, and what Jacob thought he was, took all the sting away from the insult. Warmth sprang to life in my chest and spread everywhere else in my body. That did it: I really liked Carlisle.
"Please, come inside. It's chilly out here," he invited, gesturing to the door. I glanced at Edward. And then I looked at him longer. Edward was fixed on Carlisle, as if reading a message that both alarmed and amazed him. But the next moment, he stepped past us and entered the house. Carlisle indicated that Jacob and I ought to follow, so we did.
The minute we walked into the drawing room, my senses were flooded with the last scent I had expected: pine. I took a deep breath of it, and it relaxed my chest. It made me feel better, safer—maybe because it was the way Jacob smelled.
"Come into the living room and have a seat," Carlisle suggested, leading the way, and Edward followed closely. Jacob and I trailed after, and I glanced around the house. The railing to our left, as we entered the sitting room, was laced around with garlands and twinkly lights. The very modern, cutting-edge furnishings in the living room were set off by lit red candles and tasteful, colorful Christmas decorations.
Two green couches faced each other in the center of the room, and a matching chair completed the half circle. Tall lamps accompanied the couches, and were wrapped round with holly. It all looked very pretty. But the focal point of the room was in the far corner. A towering pine tree, accommodated easily by the high ceiling, stood like a queenly grandmother, lit from within by small white, sparkling lights and covered with intricate ornaments of all kinds. The tree glowed, even though the afternoon light was coming through the tall windows. I immediately drew closer to it, and Jacob came along.
"Oh…look," I whispered. I barely touched an ornament with my fingertips—it was a delicate red horse made out of the thinnest glass I had ever seen.
"Hand-blown, from Venice," came a woman's voice from behind us. "It's one of my favorites."
Jacob and I spun around, probably quicker than was polite, and Jacob moved to stand slightly in front of me.
A beautiful lady had entered soundlessly, and stood next to Carlisle and Edward. She was slender and nicely-dressed in maroon, and her gently-curling brown hair hung loose. She had slightly darker eyes than Carlisle, but they were soft. She smiled at both of us.
"Mr. Black; Bella, this is my mother," Edward's voice quieted as he turned to her. "Esme Cullen."
Her smile didn't fade, but she stood very close to Carlisle.
"Merry Christmas," she greeted us. "It's nice to meet you."
Something thumped above us.
"What is that smell?"
"There's someone downstairs."
"I told you so."
Three voices sounded from upstairs—the first: a woman, the second: a man, and the third a different woman. There came a rushing sound, like wind through sheets on a clothesline. The first person to appear was a lithe young lady with short, dark hair; a spritely bearing; big, bright eyes, and wearing a long-sleeved, tight green shirt, a red dress scarf and a knee-length black skirt. She trotted down the stairs, glancing at her parents before landing right next to Esme. She watched us with unveiled curiosity that reminded me of a cat. Right behind her was a very tall young man, thickset and burly, wearing all black. His expression was subdued, but his gaze was cutting. He said nothing. And following on his heels was the ice queen.
That's what I thought when I saw her. She floated as she moved, and she did not once look at where her feet were placed as she descended—her penetrating gaze was fixed on us. Her outfit was pure white, her lips were blood red, and her angelic blonde hair flowed down past her shoulders. The young man stayed on the bottom step. The blonde woman stayed just above him. They all stared at us.
I looked up at Jacob. He was looking at Edward. Subtly, Edward moved away from his parents to rest nearer Jacob's right side.
Carlisle gestured to the newcomers.
"This is Alice, Emmett and Rosalie, respectively." He nodded to us. "This is Bella Swan, and Mr. Jacob Black, pack leader of the Quileute tribe."
Alice crossed her arms over her chest and smirked.
"I thought so."
Rosalie stepped down and slipped between the other two, her gaze locked on Jacob.
"What are you doing here, dog?" she hissed, moving soundlessly closer. She leaned in toward him, and her eyes widened threateningly. "Are you just hopelessly stupid…or do you have a death wish?"
Jacob lunged forward, his white teeth snapping, and a wicked, lashing bark banged against the walls. Instantly, Rosalie jumped back, emitting a snarl of her own—it sounded more like a mountain lion. I flung myself into Jacob's chest, burying my face.
"Rose," Edward thundered. The whole room went still. Shaking, I lifted my eyes. Edward's gaze bore down on his sister. His voice was iron.
"Now is not the best time for that."
I didn't see him move. But Edward now had subtle hold of Jacob's wrist, in a grip that was not controlling, but reassuring.
"What was that?" a new voice cried. Everyone lifted his head. A younger man, blonde-headed and alarmed, stood at the top of the stairs. Carlisle quickly held up a hand.
"Jasper, stay right where you are, please."
"Who…What…?" he stammered.
"This is the pack leader of the Quileutes," Edward said deliberately, glowering at Rosalie. "The one person on this continent that we do not want to offend."
"Rosalie, go back by Emmett," Esme instructed. Rosalie's gaze was poison.
"Now," Carlisle snapped. Furious, Rosalie withdrew, and Emmett wrapped his arms around her waist, whilst glaring at Jacob. It was only then that Edward let go of Jacob.
"Who's that?" Jasper asked, pointing down at me.
"Bella Swan," Jacob finally spoke. "She's mine."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw both Esme and Carlisle smile. It was so unexpected, after that moment of tension, that I dared to relax my grip on Jacob's chest.
"Why are you here?" Emmett wondered coldly.
"Mr. Black is here to ascertain our innocence in the murder of Jim Johnson," Edward explained. "The Quileutes know it was a vampire. I want to prove to him that it wasn't one of us."
"They are looking for any excuse to come up here and kill us all, and you—"
"Quiet, Rosalie," Carlisle warned. He turned to Jacob. "All right, Mr. Black—if you could, please tell us what your pack has decided."
Jacob said nothing for a long while. Then, he stepped forward and eased me down onto one end of the couch. He stroked my head, then exchanged a glance with Edward. Without a word, Edward slid past him and stood like a sentinel directly behind me. My fists closed. Something had just happened—something that made Jacob trust Edward to protect me.
"Luckily for you," Jacob announced. "My pack hasn't made a decision. At least, not a verdict." He stepped forward, and addressed Carlisle alone—which I realized lined up with his ways: pack leader to pack leader.
"Bella has informed me that, the night of the murder, Edward came to her and plead your pack's innocence," Jacob said. Alice lifted her eyebrows.
"We're not a pack."
"Herd. Flock. School…" Jacob shrugged.
"We're commonly called a 'coven,'" Jasper said helpfully from the top of the stairs.
"Fine, if you want to be creepy," Jacob muttered, then went on. "Out of my respect for Bella's judgment, I decided to listen to what Edward had to say. He suggested that another vampire may be responsible. Therefore…I am beginning an investigation."
"What does your pack have to say about that?" Carlisle wondered. Jacob did not hesitate.
"I am the pack," he stated. "What I say is what goes. Including my decision as to whether or not to involve the rest of them at this point."
"No vote," Emmett observed. "Rather barbaric."
Jacob's eyes flashed, and he turned to Emmett.
"To each his own. We don't put our decisions to a committee, and you kill animals and suck out their blood with your teeth."
Emmett's anger flared, but behind me, I heard Edward chuckle.
"I'm sorry, Emmett. You walked right into that one."
"What does this investigation entail?" Carlisle cut in. Jacob gave his attention back to the doctor.
"For right now, I will smell each of you, memorize your scent, and go to the crime scene. If any of your scents match the one there, we will come kill the one responsible, and drive the rest out."
Coldness settled on the room. Esme gripped Carlisle's hand. But Carlisle nodded.
"That makes sense. Is there anything you want us to do?"
"Lend me Edward."
Everyone looked at him, now. Until he spoke next.
"I want him with me when I investigate. If anything goes wrong—if any of you interfere, or decide to run, I'll kill him."
"Carlisle…" Esme whispered, her eyes wide.
"No, Esme, that makes sense, too," Edward agreed. He met Jacob's eyes. "As he trusts Bella's judgment…I trust his."
Alice was clearly astonished, Emmett and Rosalie were horrified, and Esme was afraid. Jasper and Carlisle were the only ones who appeared calm.
"All right. I'll go first," Carlisle said. I was confused for a moment, until he came and sat down on the couch in front of me, facing Jacob. His head was now at the height of Jacob's waist. Jacob paused just a moment, then pulled off his coat and draped it on the back of the couch, revealing his broad chest and rippling arms beneath his t-shirt. Then, he stepped forward and bent low, above Carlisle's blonde hair. His eyes fluttered closed.
He inhaled deeply, the first two above Carlisle, the last closer to his neck. Then, he bent down even further, toward Carlisle's chest. Jacob's lip twitched, and he breathed in again. His eyes snapped open.
"You have no heartbeat."
Carlisle smiled quietly.
"No. Not anymore."
Jacob shivered minutely, standing up again.
"I know, it's unsettling," Carlisle admitted. "Especially to someone whose heart beats as loudly as yours."
I covered my lips with my fingertips. No heartbeat…I couldn't imagine. No wonder Edward was so cold.
"It's not the sound, necessarily," Jacob said thoughtfully. "It's the smell. Your heart is your truest scent."
Now the vampires seemed unsettled—though Carlisle looked interested.
"Just out of curiosity…" he ventured. "What do you smell?"
"Well," Jacob canted his head. "If I can get past the scent of blood, which is all around your head," he waved at the general area. "I smell…oak," he decided. "The deep center of a very old oak tree."
This assessment surprised the vampires—I could tell. I suppose they were expecting something insulting. Carlisle studied Jacob for a moment, then got up, and gestured for Alice to sit down.
Alice came around, seated herself and flipped her scarf around her neck. Jacob jerked his head back and snorted. He blinked a few times. Her eyes widened.
"What?" she cried. "Are you suggesting I smell bad?"
"No," Jacob shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "But…I've never been able to put up with much peppermint."
"Ha! Peppermint!" Esme exclaimed from behind. "I always thought that's the way you smelled when you were younger…"
Jasper was intrigued now. He slid past Rosalie and Emmett, and approached with furrowed brow. Alice stayed where she was; she just scooted over and let Jasper sit down. Alice then clasped Jasper's hands.
"Jasper is young," Carlisle inserted, now standing by Esme.
"What does that mean?" I asked. It was the first time I had spoken since arriving.
"It means he's dangerous," Edward said. "Bella, stand up and come back here with me, would you?"
I glanced up at Jacob. But his eyes were locked on Jasper, making sure he did not move. So I got up carefully, and moved around the couch to stand by Edward. Jacob then stepped closer to Jasper, though not as close as he had bent to Carlisle.
Jacob frowned fiercely.
"Blood…Blood…Cellars…" he almost complained, concentrating harder as he took deeper breaths. Jasper held very still, and even leaned his head back away from Jacob's face, exposing his chest. Jacob took one, sharp breath. His eyes opened.
"Cotton." He stood up and backed away.
"Oh," Alice smiled at Jasper. "That's cute." She then stood and pulled Jasper with her. "Who's next?"
Esme moved forward, though reluctantly, Carlisle by her side. Slowly, she sat down and reflexively brushed her hair back away from her throat. Jacob's eyelashes fluttered before he closed his eyes. He did not lean toward her.
"Hm," he murmured. "It's easier to smell the females than the males…"
Esme looked at him warily.
He took a short breath. Then, the tiniest smile quirked the edge of his mouth.
This pleased her. The look she gave Jacob was even softer than before. She twisted around and motioned to Emmett.
"Emmett, come here. He has me curious about you, now."
I folded my arms and covered my mouth to hide a smile.
"What is it?" Edward murmured in my ear.
"Does this remind you of anything?" I whispered back, leaning toward him but watching Jacob.
"Maybe. What does it remind you of?" he wondered.
"A party with a fortune-teller."
I felt Edward smile, too. Suddenly, his presence next to me didn't seem so cold.
My eyes followed Emmett now. He left Rosalie by the stairs, his shoulders tight, like a bear's. He skulked toward the couch and settled down next to Esme.
Jacob's frame had stiffened, and he had straightened to his full height. His eyes narrowed, he clasped his hands behind his back, and he looked down his nose at Emmett. Carlisle's eyes flickered back and forth between Emmett and Jacob.
"What is it?"
"He's going to bite me," Jacob said.
"No, he's not," Carlisle assured him.
"Carlisle…" Emmett growled.
"No, he's not," Carlisle repeated, giving Emmett a pointed look. "Just sit still for a moment."
Emmett closed his fists, but stopped moving entirely. Jacob did not budge, but I saw him breathing. He stood out because of it.
Finally, without closing his eyes, he leaned toward Emmett and drew in a breath.
"This one's easy," he said, never breaking Emmett's gaze. "Cedar smoke. And frost—right before it snows."
Emmett scowled at him, got up and moved away, back toward Rosalie. Jacob's eyes followed him to Rosalie. She stood, frozen. Jacob arose again, almost as if he had been bowing to her. Her hand gripped the railing.
"Rose," Esme held out her hand to her. "Come."
For a long moment, Rosalie did not stir. Then, she strode slowly up to Jacob, and stood directly in front of him.
"I am not sitting down," she said, and jerked her chin. Jacob sucked in his breath, and his eyes darted up to hers.
"Oh…" he murmured, as if he'd been hurt.
"What?" I gasped. Edward clasped my elbow, keeping me there.
Jacob shook his head once, frowning, then nosed forward a little, lowering his eyelids. He let out his breath. It shook.
Rosalie's expression had changed from hatred to something else—it wavered with uncertainty.
"What?" she wondered.
Jacob met her eyes.
"You smell like my mother."
My heart thudded. Rosalie arched a cruel eyebrow.
"I smell like muddy dog?"
"No," his sideways smile was weak. "Gingerbread."
Regret flashed across Rosalie's face, and she cast her eyes down, then backed away. Emmett caught her hand, and she lingered beside him.
"What does Edward smell like?" Alice asked.
"Old books," Jacob answered, not even looking over at him. Edward ducked his head, putting his hands in his pockets. I wondered what he thought of that.
"Thank you, Jacob," Carlisle said quietly, coming toward Jacob with a subdued look. "That was more interesting than I had counted on. I should have been taking notes."
I stepped around the couch and up to Jacob's side, slid my hand down and laced my fingers through his. Jacob's head tilted toward mine. I glanced back at Edward. He was looking at Jacob, smiling almost invisibly.
"Do you think you have what you need?" Esme wondered. Jacob only nodded, his eyes distant.
"One question," Carlisle pressed. "You'll have to forgive an old scientist, but," he gestured to his family. "To each other, we smell rather floral, or like leaves, or honey. How is it that you—"
"That's the blood you're ingesting into your system," Jacob said, disengaged. "It smells good to you. It doesn't smell good to me. What identifies you as you is what I smelled. If I had to guess, you, Doctor, smelled like oak…" he turned his head to Rosalie. "And you smelled like gingerbread…when you were still a human."
She turned away from him, toward Emmett. Jacob looked flatly at Carlisle.
"We'll go now." He started toward the door. I walked right beside him, feeling Edward following.
I stopped. Dr. Carlisle was behind us. I let go of Jacob's hand to face him. Unexpectedly, Carlisle took up my hand, and kissed it in an antique way that made me like him even more.
"I'm sorry, Bella." He stepped back and winked at me. "We won't bite. I promise."
"Thank you, Dr. Cullen," I said sincerely, then addressed all the vampires. "Thanks so much, all of you, for being patient and accommodating. I know this is…kind of hard on everybody."
Alice and Rosalie's brows relaxed a little when I said that. Emmett scowled in the corner, but Jasper smiled.
Jacob waited for me by the door, his hand out. I grasped it, and we let ourselves out the door. Edward passed through, and closed it behind us.
We headed toward the Volvo, the sun above us trying to come through the clouds.
"I think that was maybe the scariest thing I've ever done—and I didn't even do anything," I admitted.
Jacob didn't heed me. I reached up and ran my finger along the edge of his ear.
"I'm proud of you," I said. "You handled all of that really well." My mouth twitched. "Better than I would have."
"Thanks," Jacob rubbed his thumb on the back of mine as he held my hand. He threw his next words over his shoulder. "Nice save, Edward."
My eyes widened, and I looked back to the vampire striding behind us.
"What—Rosalie?" Edward shook his head. "Her bark is worse than her bite."
I pressed my hand over my mouth for a second—it wasn't appropriate to laugh, not when the guys were so serious. And I wasn't just laughing at Edward's statement; I was shocked that Jacob had complimented him.
We climbed into the car, Jacob and I in the back again, Edward driving. No sooner had Jacob and I buckled in than Edward threw the car into gear and sped out of the driveway. There was new purpose to his movements, which I wondered at—until he turned the exact opposite direction of my home.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"The forest," Edward replied. "That's where Jacob wants to go."
I looked at Jacob. His expression did not change. He said nothing rebuking Edward for reading his mind. In fact, it almost looked like he had been counting on it.
"Okay," I breathed out slowly, leaning against Jacob's side. He shifted, and wrapped his arm around me, leaned down and kissed my forehead. Edward tilted his head, as if one of us was speaking, and then nodded. Then, he gunned the engine, and we sped off toward the place where Jim Johnson had been murdered.