A/N I know it's a bit late, but I say it anyway: Happy New Year to everyone!

Oh my God you blew me away with all the responses for the last chapter. Over 30 reviews on the first day alone, that's a new record for me. Thanks everybody, I love you guys, and if it is not too much to ask, please keep them coming. I like to hear from you … but no pressure *grins*.

And since I'm so bad with responding to your reviews I'm going to do this way. Thanks to: storymaniac, arwen01, grabski8, NativeMoon95, LunarEclipse1, Nicoconsd, fallunder, gredelina1, JXB Addicted, frlarsson, Nissa-Cullen, slytheringrl17, roon0, TheLadyKT, Color me cruel, greywolflove, TwilightAddict71484, GaduenAlicefan27, slc6548, Robin.D, seza3175, wendy1969, T, cathy29jes, dkpatton, mousse, tabby1216, sonyabrady1971, AriesFireQn, MoonPrincess623, dizziestdaydream, sweetmel21, mmelody6, twimama77, The Red Phoenix, brighteyes343, bamagal110, JASPER'S MATE, Dacoops, IzzyBFFAddict92, PurpleMaeve, Descartes1, Twisted-Twilighter, WhitlocksBaby, loveyoualways21, SassyFrassKerr, natashar, Bell 1, Grazy Luts, patimi, smelsies, Jazzella, Minnakoda, mama4dukes, TinksVamps, acw1 and SAVAGEGRACEx.

Well, since you all keep asking me about Jasper's whereabouts, I've decided to let you know … prematurely. I'm just kidding. I've already planned to fill you in with this chapter.


Chapter 9 Who wants to free the captive princess?

A few days earlier … somewhere in Arizona …

Jasper POV

I had the house all to myself today. This was the first quiet I had for days.

Don't get me wrong. I liked my new, old life. Living with Peter and Charlotte was uncomplicated … no rules, no restrictions, no more playing the human, no more trying to fit into a world that was no longer mine. I could finally be myself … for the most part.

Peter and Char left two hours ago to go hunting. They didn't ask me to join them, because despite everything that had happened I stuck to my dietary plan, hunting game instead of humans. The only difference now was that I did it purely for myself. And should I slip up, nobody would fault me for that, but me. I had no intention to go back to my old ways, not after struggling so long and hard to get where I was now. Even though they didn't understand it completely, Peter and Char tolerated my decision, supporting me as best as they could. And since neither one of us brought food back to the house, everything worked out just fine … in that compartment.

Settling back in with them had been quite easy. No surprise there. They had welcomed me back into their life and their home with open arms, but without much fuss. None of us were the touchy feeling types, not even me, the infamous empath. It was almost like I was gone for just sixty minutes instead of sixty years.

Time really does fly … for someone like us …

But maybe it was supposed to be like this, forgive and forget and all that crap.

After all, they were my real family, if there was such a thing in our world. Well, sure, I was their sire, so in a twisted sort of way it made me their father. Of course, neither one of us has ever seen it that way. I was their creator, their superior, their mentor, but never ever a father figure. And after they had come back for me, I had become their friend and brother, and remained being that even though I'd left to join another coven. We've barely seen each other over the years, but we've kept in contact one way or another. And with the technologies nowadays it hadn't been a problem, to reach out to them, whenever I'd wanted.

There was only one downside, a minor one.

Living with a mated couple, especially one as sexually active as Peter and Char wasn't easy … far from it actually. Their constant passion for each other was hard to cope with sometimes, especially for someone like me, who could feel everything they were feeling.

Needless to say, I didn't like being the third wheel.

And Peter, being Peter, actually had the audacity to offer me to join him and his wife in bed. Of course I've declined. For one, we were close, but not that close. And not to mention, Char wasn't my type. But more importantly I knew he wasn't serious. Sharing his mate? That was simply ludicrous. No mated vampire would allow another to touch his or her mate, intimately and sometimes even at all. Peter surely had a wicked sense of humor.

But quite frankly, sex was the last thing on my mind at the moment. I had a lot of other things to ponder over.

Anyway … every time they got busy, I simply left the house. But my guess was today wasn't one of those days. They really liked fucking in the wilderness. But then again, so do I …

I lounged on the couch in the living room with a book in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I've picked up this habit shortly after my arrival at casa Whitlock five months ago … again … after being 'clean' for half a century.

It wasn't like my body needed the nicotine to get through the day, of course not. I simply liked smoking a cigarette from time to time. It reminded me of my human days. The bits and pieces I was able to recall … like sitting around the campfire with some of the men in my regiment, drinking and smoking after a long day walking or fighting.

Sure, smoking had barely any effect on me now, other than calming my nerves to some extent … which was rather strange in itself, but I didn't give much thought, dismissing it as a psychological trick played on my mind.

In any case, I could smoke five packages each day, and my body would show no adverse effect to the poison. I certainly wouldn't get cancer, my teeth wouldn't start to get yellow, and my skin would remain just as smooth and perfect as it has been since the day I was born a vampire. Well, smooth was probably the wrong term to describe my skin, considering that the majority of my body was covered with countless battle scars, vampire bite marks to be precise … but that wasn't the issue here.

Needless to say, smoking was frowned upon in the Cullen household, among a lot of other things … for example using any kind of foul language, especially in the presence of Esme, Carlisle, Edward and Alice. Using a profanity filter was very tough on Emmett, and me, and occasionally on Rose as well. You wouldn't expect it from her, but that woman had one potty mouth, that could put a sailor to shame, especially when her emotions ran high. I rather liked it. At least she was honest, not like some people …

Anyhow … it's not like I've ever considered smoking in the house. I was smarter than to anger the people who 'graciously' allowed me and Alice to move into their house and join their family.

Of course, it had been harder for me than for Alice to adjust to this new life. I'd had to sneak out of the house every now and then, to have a moment to myself and a smoke in private … far, far away from the house and everybody else. But of course, I hadn't been able to keep it a secret, with Alice keeping a very close eye on me, literally and figuratively. I've only kept up with this human habit for a few months, a sort of transitional period, if you will. In the end I'd willingly yielded to Alice's pleading to quit once and for all.

Of course, giving up smoking wasn't hard, considering that as a vampire I didn't have to deal with any withdrawal symptoms whatsoever. But that didn't mean I couldn't miss, which I did, more than I thought was possible.

On the whole, changing habits wasn't an easy task to accomplish for my kind, but not an impossible one either. It just took a great amount of willpower, and a pretty damn good reason to start with.

The biggest and probably the only real challenge I had to face in my entire life (so far) was changing my feeding habits. Though I had to admit, surviving and eventually escaping the hell hole down in Texas came in close second.

But just to be clear, changing my diet didn't mean that I suddenly started to care about human beings. No, I couldn't care less about their pathetic lives. I did it solely for selfish reasons. I simply couldn't stand it any longer … the fear and terror my victims were experiencing while I fed on them. It made me sick, ruining the fun. Sure, I could have snapped their neck, before starting to feed, but that wouldn't have really served its purpose, now would it?

I've fed of humans for almost a century, and of course, I've never questioned it. After all, I was a vampire, and humans were our natural prey. End of story. At the time I had no idea that there was a viable alternative.

Animal blood.

It took me many years to get used to the revolting taste of it, and even more years to get control of my natural responses whenever I was around more than one human being.

Once an addict, always an addict … the craving will never cease …the best you can do is to learn to live with it …

The impulse to hunt and kill was powerful, instinctual. Of course, I didn't manage to suppress those urges completely, but then again, I didn't believe that it was actually possible … at least not for someone like me, someone who'd killed thousands, without remorse.

I knew for a fact that even the good doctor had his weak moments. Though I couldn't remember much about what had happened on that day, I was sure I'd felt his bloodlust, along with everybody else's, thus confirming the sneaking suspicion I'd had from the start. Carlisle wasn't completely immune to the lure of fresh human blood. He was just better in hiding it, controlling it.

Feeling the combined bloodlust of seven vampires had been too much for me to handle. I hadn't stood a chance, especially in the presence of Edward. The girl was his singer, for crying out loud. Of course, I'd snapped, and in doing so I'd changed the course of my life … again.

I still had some trouble coping with the new reality. I hated changes, especially drastic ones, the ones I had no control over. Sure everyone, human or vampire, knows that life can change in a blink of an eye, but this felt different.

Only six months ago, my life was still intact, not perfect … but I was content. I had a family … no, scratch that … I was part of a coven. My life was secure and solid, and quiet (for the most part). I had a nice roof over my head, two amazing new friends, peace … all the things I've always wanted to have.

And six months ago I was still in love with Alice, and she was feeling the same about me … or so I'd believed at the time. Somewhere deep inside, I've always known that we weren't true mates, but that hadn't changed the way I'd felt about her.

Finding your true mate wasn't really a rare occurrence for our kind, but it wasn't a given either. Even with all the extra time we had at our disposal, there was only a fifty-fifty chance to run into your mate. It was luck, because let's face it; the earth was a very big place. And it wasn't like we had a compass for such a thing. The alleged mating pull only developed after the first sight, not before. And not to mention the fact that it only worked between vampires. So if by chance your true mate was a human, you wouldn't be able to recognize her or him for what she truly was.

This was part of the reason, why I've never been completely convinced that the girl actually was Edward's mate. She could have been, of course, but there was only one way to find out the truth. She had to become one of us, and that was something Edward would ever do. Anyway, it was a mute point now, since he has abandoned her. Just more evidence …

But why did I wrack my brain about things that didn't matter, at least not anymore? Bella was no concern of mine, she never has been. It wasn't that I couldn't stand her. It was hard not to like her, considering she was probably the gentlest soul I've ever met.

But still, I couldn't bring myself to show her the same kind of affection as the rest of the Cullens. Just like Rosalie, I've had my reservations about her involvement with Edward. It was dangerous for more than one reason, and not just for her, for all of us. Maybe it has been a good thing I haven't been allowed to approach her. Thing might have worked out differently …

A small part of me felt bad for ruining her relationship with Edward. But come on, what did they expect? Someone would have screwed up eventually … too bad it was me. But hey at the very least she was safe now from our world, able to live a normal human life, just like she was supposed to. She had no place in our world, not as a human.

But on the other hand I also wanted to apologize to her, and as crazy as it might sound, to thank her. If it hadn't been for her clumsiness, I would have never found out about Alice's betrayal.

With everything I knew now, it was hard to fathom, but there has been a time when I desperately wanted to please Alice, by any means necessary. And if it meant giving up something I liked just to make her happy, I had done so without a second thought, or regret. I did it because I loved her. That's how it was supposed to work.

Now, I could kick myself for allowing the little midget, as Peter used to call her, to manipulate me, on so many occasions. But more importantly, I was very frustrated with myself that it took me … what … only sixty years … to realize that everything has been just a ruse. The life I had built up with her was nothing but a joke. A joke on me, and I certainly didn't like that.

'I told you so.' had been Peter's first words upon my arrival at his house. He hadn't given me the chance to explain anything … at first. One look at me had been enough, and he had known what had happened. I'd finally discovered Alice's treachery.

"Well hallelujah, it's about time." He had added, with a smirk. I hadn't been mad at him, for pointing out the obvious. It was quite easy for me to tell the difference between gloating and relief, and Peter had been feeling the last, although he had every right to feel gleeful. He has been trying to convince me of her falseness for many years, but I hadn't listened. I had dismissed his concern as jealousy.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

The only thing Alice has ever seen in me was a strong protector, a means to an end, to achieve her goals … whatever they were. Unfortunately, I had left before I could figure it out what her true agenda was. But at the time I'd thought it was for the best to put as much distance between her and myself, instead of seeking immediate revenge. Some of the others would have tried to protect her, and I had no intentions to kill any of them, least of all Emmett or Rose.

Maybe the psychic bitch deserved to die, for what she had done to me, but in hindsight, I knew I was as much to fault as Alice. After all, I'd allowed her to change so many things about me. No one had forced me. And for a little I had been happy. I'd had something I've been craving for so long … stability and peace. That wasn't so bad, was it?

So I'd been tricked by the one person I'd trusted the most, but I've learned my lesson.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice …

I would make sure that wouldn't happen again. I just had to find a way to achieve my goals on my own. Maybe all I needed was a new purpose, a real one this time.

Well, I got two PhDs in history. Maybe I should find a teaching post at some college? That could be a start …

Far too soon I sensed Peter's and Charlotte's return. And they were not alone. My brother pushed open the door, rushing into the room, with his wife and a familiar looking male vampire in tow.

I closed my book and placed it on the table. Then I got on my feet, leisurely approaching the blond vampire. "Look what the cat dragged in …" I held out a hand, and he grasped it firmly. "Garrett, what a pleasant surprise … How long has it been?"

"Thirty-two years, four months and twenty-seven days … if memory serves." He said, with a smirk on his face.

I snorted. "Funny …" I sat back down on the couch. Peter and Char went to share a seat on the armchair, Garrett took the other. He glanced curiously around the living room.

Garrett was a nomad, roaming the world for more than four centuries now. As far as I knew he's never felt the need or wish to settle down, at least not permanently. He had spent a couple of years in Volterra, returning there every once in a while to catch up with the brothers, but never staying longer than a year.

Strangely, Garrett was very close to Caius. From what Carlisle had told me, he was the least sociable among the brothers. But apparently Garrett seemed to disagree on that with the good doctor.

I didn't know who was right, nor did I really care. I liked to make up my own mind about people, and their character. Thanks to my special ability I was in a good position to do that … most of the times.

So far, I haven't had the chance to meet any of the brothers in person, and thank heavens for that. I knew that Aro was a collector, a treasure seeker of sorts. He would probably be very thrilled to add me to his collection of gifted vampires, as well as Edward and Alice. Of course, I had no interest to join his guard. I was done working for someone else, in any capacity. Although, according to Eleazar life among the Volturi did have its perks. And apparently they didn't hold anyone against their will. Eleazar and his mate Carmen have been able to leave, and no one has tried to stop them. But I knew how to read between the lines. Aro would undoubtedly use everything in his power to convince me to stay.

Anyhow … Volterra was where Garrett and Carlisle had met for the first time. They had become friends. But Carlisle had left Italy shortly after, and relocated to the New World, while Garrett had stayed in Europe for another fifty years. Almost two hundred years had passed before they saw each other again. But time didn't have the same meaning to vampires as it did to humans. Two centuries were practically nothing.

At the time the Cullens had resided in Alaska near the Denali coven. It was the first and the last time I've seen Garrett. We've clicked at once, probably because we had someone special in common. Peter. Surprisingly, they had met a few years earlier, when Peter and Charlotte still had been living as nomads.

This was why Peter didn't have to twice about bringing Garrett along today. We all knew each other.

"So, Garrett, what have you been up to?" I asked, lighting another cigarette. I offered one to Garrett and he accepted.

He leaned back in his seat, smiling. "Nothing special… I've been travelling a lot, you know the usual. I've spent two years in Tibet, visiting the Dalai Lama … very fascinating man." He said, sounding nonchalant.

His emotions were almost muted, but I could sense something brewing underneath the surface. I was sure, he was hiding … something.

Maybe I was a little over-cautious, but with everything that had happened, it was only logical.

Better safe than sorry …

I had two choices here. I could play along and hope he would come clean on his own. Or I could call him out on it. I decided to do the latter.

"Really, that sounds interesting. But I have to ask. What brought you to this neck of the woods? I'm pretty sure it wasn't a coincidence that you ran into Peter and Char." I said, in a calm voice. I didn't use my power on him, but then again I didn't need to. He did get the message without me influencing him.

A small, humble smirk appeared on his face. He was impressed, but not really intimidated. Even though he had a few centuries on all of us, he knew very well that he didn't stand a chance against any of us, least of all against all three of us together.

Unfortunately, Peter recognized the hidden meaning in my statement as well, pushing Char of his lap, not very gently, I might add. He stood up, putting himself between Garrett and his mate. He was in total defensive mode.

"Jasper, what's going on?" He demanded to know.

"Stand down, Peter." I commanded, sending him and his mate calming waves for reassurance, with the desired effect. Charlotte retook her seat on the armchair, without objection. Peter, of course, grumbled in annoyance, but complied nonetheless, positioning himself at feet of his mate. Sure he trusted my judgment, but he still wasn't completely at ease. And to be honest, neither was I.

"I'm sure Garrett will explain everything to us." I gave the vampire in question a significant look and received a nod of compliance in return.

Well, that was what I wanted. But whatever it was, Garrett was about to tell us, I got the impression, it wasn't good.

"Jasper is right. It wasn't a coincidence that I ran into you. Actually I've been looking for you, all of you." The blonde vampire confessed.

I wasn't really surprised. I've expected as much. The question was, why? I didn't need to ask the question, though.

"Jasper, you know I keep in touch with Caius." Garrett said, not looking for confirmation, but I nodded nevertheless. "Well, the last time I spoke to him was two days ago, and he told me quite an interesting story. Until then I had no idea that you have left the Cullens. Isn't Alice supposed to be your mate? Well I guess not, otherwise you wouldn't have parted ways …" He trailed off, settling deeper into his seat. He ignored Peter's growling, and so did I. I wasn't far from over my ex-wife's deception, but for now I was far more interested to hear the rest of his story. "Anyway … Caius told me quite the story. Apparently the Cullens have committed the highest crime. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about."

Of course I did.

"Bella." I sighed, rubbing the back of my neck in discomfort. "Fuck … I knew that was going to bite us in the ass at some point."

"Bella … Edward's human?" Char asked. She was confused, but I could sense a little fear as well. It wasn't truly misplaced. Somehow I had an idea where this was leading.

"Yes." I verified, grumbling. "How did they found out? We've left her months ago."

Garrett grimaced. He was worried for us, not for himself. "I'm sorry. I don't have an answer to that question. Caius isn't very forthcoming … and I didn't ask for any details. All I know is that the Cullens are currently at Volterra, waiting for trail. And so are the Denalis."

"They are rounding up everyone who knew about Bella …" I concluded. I sounded as defeated as I felt.

"Yes." He confirmed, in an equally serious voice.

"So you are here to claim what … some sort of bounty? Is that it?" Peter accused, jumping on his feet. I reacted at once, putting myself between my brother and Garrett. I pushed as much calm I was able to master at the moment into Peter. It wasn't working as well as I hoped, but at least he stayed where he was.

"No, I am here to do you a favor." The blonde vampire exclaimed, clearly at the end of his patience. "Believe me, it's better for you go to Volterra on your own free will, than for the brothers to send somebody to catch you and drag you there against your will. I suggest you turn you self in. It will send the right message."

I believed him. His motives were sincere. He came here to warn us, to help us. And I agreed with him. It was the better choice. We wouldn't stand a chance against the Volturi guard. And there was no way to deny the truth. We all had known about Bella, even Peter and Char, and none of us had done anything to rectify the situation. We were all guilty of treason, and deserved punishment. I only hoped that Garrett was right.

I took in a deep breath, turning my back on Garrett to face my friends. "Charlotte, please book the first flight to Italy … for all of us."

A/N Sorry about the lateness of an update, but at least the chapter is a bit longer than the rest. Is that a compromise you can live with?

So, now that Jasper is on his way, with Peter, Char and Garrett in tow, the real story can begin, don't you think?