Ch. 3 Who Are You Now?

I was five minutes from the hotel when the wind changed course, dragging a familiar but unwelcome scent across my path.

Vampire.

My muscles locked down, freezing me in place.

I inhaled deeply, feeling my lungs expand in my chest as I processed this new information on the breeze. My mind began processing the data instinctively and I knew that I could smell three distinct scents. I could estimate where the scents had come from, where they were going and where they had been.

It looked like my guardianship over Isabella would be tested sooner than I thought.

Because I knew there was no way they didn't notice my scent.

If they cared enough to follow it, it would have lead them straight to-

Isabella.

Anger flooded my heart like it had been doused with boiling water.

Without making a conscious decision I began to run.

I didn't care about witnesses. I didn't care about being outnumbered. I didn't care that vampires fighting to the death in front of human witnesses would bring the law down on my head faster than I could say "Volturi".

And it would be a fight to the death if they went near her, I had no doubt about that.

She was Renee's.

She was mine.

And if a fight went down with humans around the Volturi would come. They couldn't be allowed to find me. My memories would endanger Isabella. I'd have to die. Kill myself before I could be found. Isabella would be safe among her kind. Someone would find her abandoned and call social services. She could grow up in foster care hating me for leaving her without a goodbye as long as she was alive.

Her life was mine to protect, preserve. I took the responsibility on when I ripped her body from her mother. I knew this could happen. We could be discovered. I'd hoped it could be explained. I still hoped I could explain. But if I couldn't, I would kill. I would sacrifice myself for her.

I went around to the back of the building. Climbed up the wall in seconds and slipped through the window preparing myself for the worst.

I fell to my knees in relief.

Isabella was still sleeping soundly.

I got up and checked the room. They hadn't been in here. They hadn't been curious enough to follow my trail.

Nomads?

If they didn't live here they might not be interested in protecting the territory.

She was safe for now.

But we'd have to move on in the morning.

I would not have her living here.

I had to make her safe.

I crawled into the bed beside her overheated body and she instantly rolled over to throw an arm over me. I looked down at Isabella where she snuggled into my chest.

Not for the first time I questioned my actions. She was innocent. How long could she stay that way, living in my world? How safe was she really, with a monster as an adoptive… father? Was that even what I was to her?

I shook my head ridding myself of all thoughts except for counting every beat her heart gave, every breath her lungs took. I shoved my worries into a back corner where they could fester without being acknowledged.

She was safe.

"Shhh… Charlie, you're safe. You're safe now Charlie."

I listened to Peter croon to a sobbing newborn. I ran my tongue over my arm, using my venom to speed the healing process. I spit the flavor of the stranger's venom from my mouth.

I turned to see Peter licking the wounds of a newborn that had survived the fight.

I could understand his fascination with her. She looked like a Christian painting of Mary Magdalene. She was tall and slender when she was on her feet. Long pale red hair ran down to the small of her back and fell over her shoulders like silk curtains on either side of her face. The profile of her face was severe, sharp angles dominating until you looked at her straight on. Only then could you look past the high cheekbones, the sharp nose, to see the graceful curve of her cheeks, the gentle pout of her lips, her eyebrows elegantly arching over her eyes making her face undeniably seraphic.

I understood his fascination.

I didn't condone it.

"Get the bitch to her feet!" I snapped at him.

He looked at me, his face darkening at my words.

"If she can't get up she's useless and you can add her to the pyre."

I turned my back on him walking toward where our enemies smoldered.

We had taken another city, adding to the Maria's growing collection.

Our attack had been swift, silent, and above all, successful.

"C'mon, Charlotte," I heard Peter whisper, hoisting the newborn with the saintly face to her feet.

She whimpered in pain, but didn't object. At least she learned quickly.

"Peter?" I called without turning to look at him.

His footsteps paused.

"Be careful." I warned. "I like you."

There was no sound behind me, so I turned to look at him.

I nodded to Charlotte. "You know how Maria feels about pets. Get permission from her before you get attached."

I felt his hatred. Of Maria? Of me? I wasn't sure. I didn't care.

I turned my back on him and reach my hands forward, warming my skin over the flames that would undoubtedly burn me to ash if I gave it the chance.

There are moments in your life that define who you are, maybe even direct who you become. I didn't know it then, but looking back that had to be one of them. I considered Peter a friend and he hated me. I didn't care then that the closest thing I had to a friend wanted me dead.

Had I known who I was back then? Probably not. I only cared about staying on top and Maria's mission to dominate. Once I had accepted my new life as a murderer, it was easy enough to let myself be the monster she told me I was. And I was good at it.

Looking back now, thinking of the brutality I was capable of, I knew who I had been then. Evil.

But when I heard them approaching - one in the hallway outside the door of our room, the other two lurking outside the building - only one thing mattered. It wasn't who I had been that would be the deciding factor now, instead all that mattered was who I was today.

Who was I today?

I looked at the little girl sleeping ignorantly beside me.

A protector, her protector, with the capacity to be evil, the desire to be good, the will to survive, and the ability to dominate.

I scooped her up, taking care not to wake her, and moved her to the front room, lying her down on the couch. I hadn't wanted her so close to the confrontation, but with the two vampires lurking below on the street, I had no choice. I needed to keep my eyes on her.

I moved toward the door, snarling softly to let my visitor now that he or she wasn't welcome. I heard my greeting echoed out in the hall.

I opened the door.

I would have laughed at my challenger's appearance, if I didn't know how well looks could deceive in our world. He was a couple of heads shorter than me with a wide build. His physicality showed strength but he probably lacked speed. He had been bearded in life while the top of his head was bare. He looked like a giant lawn gnome, but I kept that opinion to myself.

I did laugh out loud at his reaction to me. He hissed in fear and leapt away, keeping the wall to his back and crouching down defensively. All the time I'd spent alone, I'd allowed myself to forget how I look to other vampires. There was nothing deceiving about my looks. Hundreds of battle scars littered my body, like a neon light flashing the words "Fuck off!"

I was dangerous. Anyone who could see my face properly, not the way dull human vision perceived me, but really see… They knew I was dangerous too.

I stood straighter and took one step forward, just to let him know I wouldn't be backing down.

"I didn't order room service," I told him.

He recovered quickly, straightening.

"We don't appreciate poaching." He growled.

And I had to give it to the overgrown lawn ornament, he was afraid, but he wasn't planning on backing down.

He was brave.

That was very stupid of him.

I had the urge to rip his head off and burn him where he stood, but I restrained myself. I wasn't that monster anymore, or at least I was trying not to be, because I couldn't afford to be. The soft sigh from the sleeping girl behind me, reminded me just how much I couldn't afford to go back to that persona.

"Poaching?" I echoed, eyeing him speculatively.

"This is our city. You're trespassing."

"Poaching? Trespassing?" I gave a sharp humorless laugh. "Human words for human transgressions. Lay it out for me. How do three vampires keep a city?"

His lips curled away from his teeth, but he shook his head and answered.

"This city has a high crime rate. The humans don't notice extra bodies."

"So you live here comfortably and don't want to share. Understood."

He eyed me suspiciously. "You'll leave just like that?"

"At morning light." I thought by agreeing I would be saving myself a confrontation. But my terms weren't good enough.

"No. You leave tonight."

The problem was, his terms weren't good enough.

And I didn't like being challenged.

"Now we have a problem." I said shifting my weight.

I shivered as I struggled to contain my rage.

His stupidity increased; he thought I shivered in fear and that made him bolder.

"No, you have a problem. We don't appreciate you coming here, taking whatever you want without permission, and bringing your little death wish along for the ride."

"My little death wish?" I asked, struggling to keep the amusement from my face.

Did he have any idea what he was getting himself into?

"Your going to make an immortal child!"

I laughed at his assumption. Maybe I was crazy, but I wasn't that crazy.

"Don't be a moron," I told him.

"Then what are you doing with it?" He growled.

"It." My amusement disappeared as quickly as it had come. She was no it.

Before I could answer his question, my attention was diverted by the sounds of his two companions climbing up the side of the building and slipping in through the bedroom window. I hissed and moved back toward Isabella, angling my body so I would remain between her and the intruders. The stranger stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind him.

Two females entered the room.

The first to enter had black hair and beady eyes, eyes that got significantly larger as she took in my scarred face and defensive posture. She hissed and her back arched, her body stuck between a retreat and lunge. She sidestepped closer to the male until she was close enough to touch him.

My gaze flickered to the second female, who froze under my scrutiny. She was afraid, but there was another part of her that was intrigued by me. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. She cocked her distinctly feline face in speculation; the curls of her bright red hair seemed to have a life of their own, floating around her head in a fiery halo.

"Rudeness isn't becoming," I hissed. "You intrude my place of rest and don't even introduce yourselves?"

"You intruded our home." The male growled. "Where was your introduction?"

But my eyes were back on the red haired female. She was too close. I growled and lurched forward. She leapt back. I smiled at her fear and frowned as it faded.

This was getting old.

"I'm Henry." He said after a moment of awkward silence. "This is my mate, Bridget-" he pointed to the dark haired female "- and our coven mate Victoria." He gestured to the redhead.

Bridget face remained impassive; Victoria smirked and inclined her head in a silent hello.

"Now you." He ordered.

"Jasper." I told him my name, guessing he wouldn't recognize it.

I was infamous. But anybody who knew me well enough to know my human name was either dead or smart enough to keep their mouths shut.

Henry was an idiot. He'd given me too much information. His mate; a bargaining chip. His "coven mate"; laughable. Vampires weren't known for their loyalty. If she was isolated she would be easy enough to destroy.

Henry seemed to relaxing now that I had told him my name. Did he really think he was running the show?

"I wonder," Bridget began and I heard the shadow of an Irish accent in her voice, "What a vampire is doing with a child?"

"Breaking the strictest of vampire laws?" Victoria supplied with a smile that was anything but friendly. "Home grown snack?"

I didn't justify it with an answer.

She moved a step closer. I raised a lip in warning.

"Or maybe that's not it at all…" She said, grinning. "Maybe you just like children?"

The tone she used when she asked the final question made my already tarnished soul feel dirtier than it already was and I knew what she meant by liking children. It was no compliment. I couldn't stop the snarl that escaped me at her gross implication.

"Ja..per?"

The four of us froze at that. The small voice mumbling behind me. The change of the heartbeat as her body switched from one state to another.

Isabella had woken up.


Uh-oh. Bet you weren't expecting Victoria.