"I-I can't see anything past the next five minutes," Alice whispered urgently. "Nothing. Our futures all simply…disappear.
It took a mere moment before mates were clutching mates, preparing for the worst. The males automatically stepped in front of their females, all vampires lowering themselves into defensive crouches, eyes warily scanning our surroundings from every angle.
The level of alertness to possible danger was unreal among our family of vampires. Jasper was perhaps the most attuned to being at this level of awareness from his past in the Southern vampire wars, but everyone was on high alert as I had never seen them before.
And I found myself instinctively behaving in precisely the same manner as the rest of my family. A low growl rumbled from my chest as all of my senses were at the height of possible acuteness. My hearing stretched outward, my mind alert for any sound that was not natural to our usual surroundings. My breathing was quick as I used my sense of smell to locate any strange scent as my eyes scanned our locale. My sense of touch was very aware of Edward in front of me, his back moving under my fingers as he, too, sniffed the air for foreign scents.
From the way that Edward suddenly tensed in front of me, emitting a warning hiss through tightly-clenched jaws, I had a feeling that the worst had indeed arrived.
"They're back," he ground out, exchanging a significant look with Jasper and Emmett.
"Who is back?" Carlisle questioned tersely, his glance at Edward sharp and demanding, so unlike him.
"Who do you think?" Jasper snapped. "Shit, I can feel their thirst for revenge even from here. I can tell you that they are coming with no hint of mercy—except for one of them. But the vast majority? They plan to destroy every one of us."
"Every one of us, except me, you mean," corrected Edward in a low, tight voice.
"The wolves," Rosalie whispered. "But why do they want to save Edward?"
"They are trying to hide something," Edward reported. "They suddenly divert their thoughts to thinking of their surroundings when their minds start to go a certain direction. They're trying to concentrate only of their plan tonight and how they can't wait to kill each of us…but spare me."
"To make you suffer more?" Carlisle asked bleakly. Already unbelievably tense, I somehow stiffened at Carlisle's question.
Did the wolves want revenge that badly on the man I love, in order to punish me for Jacob's death?
Or is it because Edward changed me?
After all, I've learned that vampires are the mortal enemies of the Quileute shape-shifters, and the Cullens adding me—even though they barely knew me—to the stock of vampires on the Olympic Peninsula may be something that the pack would seek revenge over.
But why Edward? After all, there was no way they could know. No one outside of our family knew that Edward was the one who changed me into Cullen…in every way.
"I don't know," Edward answered, his voice scattering my thoughts. "But if any of them come after Isabella, they are going to have to kill me first, no matter what they're trying to hide from us, from me."
Shivering in fear at his words, I tried to keep my mind clear…to not allow myself to sink into the dread and fear of the last wolf attack….
The attack which I had not technically survived.
Silently I slipped my trembling fingers into Edward's welcoming hand, and his comforting pressure in return helped me to breathe more easily.
For a split-second, anyway.
At the identical moment, both Jasper and Eleazar turned to me, their expressions deadly serious. "Bella," Eleazar said, "you are our secret weapon. We ourselves are only beginning to discover the extent of your gifting, so obviously the pack cannot know what you are capable of doing—and how you may be capable of protecting those you love."
For the tiniest moment, I panicked at the pressure Eleazar just loaded on me, but then I let their confidence in me buoy my spirits, increase my own vengeful feelings toward the pack. Closing my eyes, I let myself remember what I wanted so badly to forget.
The pack had done nothing to protect me from Billy and Jacob—finally one person from the tribe had dared to cross Billy, calling CPS after I had endured years of isolation and abuse, but I seriously doubted that the whistleblower was a member of the pack. Only Sam had protected me that horrible night on the beach when Jacob had tried to rape me. And I remembered what had happened just recently: how they had allowed Jacob to come here to challenge the Cullens once before….
On the night Jacob killed me.
So I let the anger and the thirst for revenge fill me. When I was ready, truly ready, I opened my eyes and met Edward's concerned gaze.
Slowly I nodded meaningfully, and Edward's pained eyes hardened, becoming like mine.
Ready to fight…and triumph.
The wolf pack's intent to kill me obviously disturbed my fiancé, but a hint of pride in me also gleamed deep in his fury-blackened eyes.
"Bella," Jasper continued as if nothing had happened between my mate and myself. "Remain hidden behind Edward as much as possible. It is imperative that you not fight."
"Why not?" I challenged, more than ready to kick some serious wolf ass.
Edward answered my question instead of Jasper, his tone even. "We have not yet trained you in battle, and the wolves' main reason for existing is to kill vampires. They are strong enough, lethal enough, to destroy a fully-fledged vampire, much less an untrained newborn—despite your strength and incredible control. Just stay behind me and, no matter what happens, Isabella, do not go off on your own." Edward's tone was detached, but his eyes were full of pain and…yes, fear.
Fear for me.
"I can fight," I objected loudly, more than willing to help defend our family.
"Isabella," Carlisle said gently, "you will most likely be far more valuable in using your shield from a protected position than most of us will be in fighting. This entire battle may depend upon you…and your gifting."
But I nodded in understanding. It was good to know that I wasn't going to be completely useless in this fight, even if I wasn't able to rip and tear into the Quileutes the way I wanted to.
Except for Sam.
I couldn't believe that Sam was out to kill me after all he had done to save my life the night that Jacob had attacked me, even taking me to Carlisle, his mortal enemy, to save my life. Sam had been tricked by Jacob the day of the battle here, too, the day on which I had lost my human life. Jacob had gone behind his back to rally the other pack members to attack the Cullens; Sam had gone along reluctantly with the plan, acquiescing to the majority, but he had held back, prepared to defend himself but refusing to attack our family.
But there was no way that the Quileutes would be fighting today without Sam's approval; after all, he was the boss, the "alpha."
Especially with no Jacob to pull another trick on him.
"They are coming into hearing range now," warned Edward. "No one can discuss what we just planned, especially about our 'secret weapon.'"
Wow. Secret weapon?
That was kind of flattering, you know?
All of us remained silent as Edward tracked to the minds of out attackers. Once he could ferret out their strategy, Jasper would plot our strategy.
Despite all of the mayhem the Quileutes had caused our family, I was impressed that all of the Cullens, even gung-ho Emmett, did not seem to relish this fight. The grim set of the faces around me indicated that this was a necessary but repugnant task, one that each Cullen approached reluctantly.
"I can't believe it," breathed Edward a few moments later, his expression becoming anxious, then furious.
"What is it?" Carlisle asked, tensing even more at Edward's words and manner.
"They killed Sam this morning," Edward replied, his tone shocked and angry.
"Oh my," I breathed. Sam was the humane one, the only one who could keep those wild boys in line.
"I know," agreed Edward sadly. "Apparently the younger pack members have been spoiling to avenge Jacob's death, but Sam held them back. Until today."
The room was silent and still as we all tried to absorb the news that Edward had just revealed.
"Who's the new alpha, then?" Jasper asked.
Holding his hand palm outward, Edward wordlessly asked Jasper to wait as he continued to listen to the minds of the pack. "They're hiding something. Every time one of them starts to think in a certain direction, they steer their minds toward their immediate surroundings."
We waited again as Edward tracked the pack's thoughts. With each passing minute, Edward and Jasper became more serious, with significant glances exchanged between them every few moments. The mood in the room was incredibly tense as we waited for more news that would alert us regarding the pack's plans to act against us so that we could counter that attack.
Then Edward straightened suddenly, a deep, menacing growl rising from his chest. "Paul is the alpha now," he hissed.
The mood among us became even more serious. Paul was, by far, the most volatile pack member, surpassing even Jacob in his thirst for violence and revenge. With Paul in charge, we had no chance of talking our way out of this battle; we would be fighting for our very existence, and we could expect no mercy whatsoever from the pack.
Carlisle was aghast. "I can't believe that the pack is doing this," he said quietly. As always, Carlisle was one to seek a peaceful solution. But I also knew Paul—and the last thing on his mind would be a peaceful solution.
Not when he could be ripping vampires to shreds and burning their remains to ashes.
Jasper shot Carlisle a meaningful look. "Carlisle, the tone of their thoughts is violent and bent on revenge; they mean to kill us and to show no mercy."
Carlisle nodded reluctantly, his eyes saddened. Fighting—defending ourselves—truly was our only option in this situation. But any potential loss of life—even the lives of our enemies—was grievous to Carlisle. And it was one of the reasons I loved and respected him so.
Edward picked up Jasper's point, relaying their thoughts. "They know that I turned Bella, and even though they didn't claim much affection or loyalty toward her, the fact that we created another vampire is their secondary reason for attacking, after our killing Jacob."
Shocked, I asked, "How did they learn that I became a vampire?"
Edward shook his head. "I don't know. Even if they had seen you in your present form—which would be next to impossible as I would have detected their thoughts if they were close enough to see you—they would not know that I was the one who changed you. Obviously they could make an educated guess, but they aren't guessing; they know. And they are acting on that knowledge."
"Then what the hell are we waiting for?" exclaimed Emmett. He had been quietly waiting, anticipating orders—quite a change from his usual restlessness. I had never seen Emmett so still and so focused, but he seemed to be rapidly approaching the end of his patience.
"We're waiting for an indication of their plans as I track their thoughts. Right now we're best off here in the house rather than heading outside where we are more of a target," Edward responded.
Silence reigned for several long moments as we watched Edward's impassive face as he listened to the thoughts of our enemy creeping toward us, bent on attack. Vampires were so still while waiting—not a twitch of muscle, not a shift of expression. Stone-still—waiting, waiting, waiting.
Out of nowhere, Edward suddenly bounded upward from his tense half-crouch. "They're gathering outside the house. And they have a human with them. A hostage."
"Whom do they have?" Esme asked tersely.
My fiancé glanced down at me for a moment, his eyes sorrowful as he answered, "Jane Fairfield."
Emmett cursed and Carlisle's eyes grew huge with shock. Mrs. Jane—my first rescuer, my friend—the only one who had stood up to Billy and Jacob on my behalf—the one who bought me school supplies and a purple backpack when I had nothing. Mrs. Jane—so kind and forthright and indomitable.
A weak human, just as I used to be, Mrs. Jane was now a pawn in a deadly chess match between two groups of immortal monsters.
It would take a miracle of epic proportions to save her life today.
"Is she all right?" I asked my fiancé, my voice barely audible.
Edward nodded. "She is panicky but unharmed thus far. Although from the scattered glimpses I've been getting of their plans, they do not plan for her to remain unhurt for much longer, however."
Carlisle, Esme, and I exchanged panicked glances; we were the ones who knew and loved my tough but compassionate social worker the most.
Please God, I prayed, please keep Mrs. Jane safe…and all of us safe. We need you. Protect us, please. I don't remember the last time I prayed, but now seemed a great time to pick the childhood habit up again.
"What's their plan, Edward?" Jasper inquired, interrupting my prayer, his voice low enough as to not alert the keen hearing of the wolf pack.
Edward's jaw fell agape as he somehow caught onto the pack's plans; we all noticed my fiancé's panic…and anger.
Whatever the pack was planning, it had enraged Edward.
And a furious Edward was dangerous…for he didn't always stop to think through the consequences of his actions when anger got the best of him…as it obviously was doing now.
"We don't have time for explanations," Edward practically shouted at us all. "Everyone outside—NOW!"
Immediately we were on Edward's heels as he raced out the backdoor and across the sloping lawn. As he halted on the riverbank, we spread out along the edge of the river as it provided a clear boundary line for us to defend the property.
As I stood beside Edward, with Carlisle on his other side, we crouched into position. Through the forest straight ahead of us, we could hear the approach of wolf paws, plus the shuffling steps of two humans and the addition of two human heart beats, one racing with panic and the other fairly calm. One of the wolves must be in his human form in order to bring Mrs. Jane here.
Slipping from the woods on the other side of the river appeared wolf after wolf—gray, sandy blonde, chocolate brown, ashy-brown, blue-black, charcoal gray with black spots, auburn, a slightly lighter brown, another blonde, a grayish white, salt and pepper, dark brown, a light gray. And they kept coming and coming.
They lined up exactly as we were along the opposite river bank, half-crouched and growling.
Twenty-three of them in all.
More than double our numbers.
Then Edward released an expletive I rarely heard from his lips as the sound of footsteps-one person walking and another being partially dragged—emanated from the forest. Carlisle and I shot Edward concerned glances, but he indicated that we should focus our full attention on the wolves and whomever was accompanying them.
From among the trees stepped a triumphant Paul, pulling Mrs. Jane along behind him as she continued to struggle against him the best she could.
Even though I had expected to see her, the very idea that a wolf had her in his possession evoked a deadly combination of rage and resolve—rage at the audacity of the pack for attacking us for any reason whatsoever, and the resolve to bring Mrs. Jane through this crisis, alive and fully human.
Paul's eyes were alight with malice as he yanked Mrs. Jane forward, forcing her to her knees in front of him. She, of course, possessed sufficient spirit to glare up at him balefully.
Yeah. Go Mrs. Jane.
Quickly I ascertained the reasoning behind Mrs. Jane's balance of fight and submission; she was smart enough not to rile Paul up unnecessarily, but she was also letting him know that she wasn't scared of him, either. As her eyes noticed, then scanned across our family in our line along the opposite river bank, she seemed confused, her glance returning to me over and over.
After all, I was supposed to be still recovering from my Jacob-induced injuries and here I was, standing straight and tall, and looking quite a bit more like Miss America than either of us had anticipated.
But that wasn't important now.
I nodded to her in silent greeting, and Mrs. Jane relaxed a bit.
But I knew that the crisis was really just beginning….
Grinning insolently, Paul's eyes roamed our line, sizing us up. His gaze rested on me with some surprise; I glared back at him, repressing a threatening growl.
"Well, well," Paul said softly, not breaking our gaze. "Bella Swan is a weak human no longer. No longer a punching bag for a cripple or…" his eyes clouded for a moment as he brought up Jacob's name, "a sex toy for the pack alpha."
I growled at his untruths. "Lies," I spat.
Paul pretended to be surprised, placing a hand innocently over his heart (which was definitely "two sizes too small"). "So Billy didn't leave you bruised and covering his handiwork heavily in makeup? And Jacob didn't enjoy your…assets? He told us some quite entertaining details about you, Bella Swan."
"Jacob wasn't the alpha," I shot back, pulling away from Edward's restraining hand as he tried to calm me.
"Oh, actually, Jacob was the alpha," Paul stated, smiling with satisfaction. "He turned it down, though, because he wanted to be 'more human' for the girl he loved—you, of course." Paul's voice became increasingly bitter as he continued, "Stupid move on Jake's part—leaving us with 'Sam the Bleeding-Heart' who takes you to the leeches and then refuses to attack them. But Jacob was willing to do anything for you, even refuse his birthright. Once upon a time, you were all that Jacob wanted, but now you've become everything he hated most. A bloodsucker…just like them." He spat at the ground in disgust.
Mrs. Jane's eyes swiveled from Paul to me in some confusion; obviously his words about my no longer being human were confusing and troubling to her. Yet once he started taunting me about Billy and Jacob, her own anger was provoked—I saw it flashing in her eyes. But she wisely kept her feelings hidden from the volatile Paul.
Swallowing my rage as I worked to gain control of my anger, I replied to Paul as coolly as I could, "Jacob was a liar and a monster. Your 'sex toy' remark is a fucking joke. The one and only time he tried to 'have his way with me' was on his birthday at the beach—right there in front of you all." I ignored Paul's first taunt about Billy; that fact did approach the truth far too closely, but I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of admitting it and hoped instead that Paul wouldn't return to the topic.
But my anger was nearly a physical force around me, pulsating with the desire to damage, to maim, to kill the new alpha of the pack as he mocked me and the Blacks' inhumane treatment of me…and tried to make me feel guilty for Jacob's rotten choices.
Once upon a time, I would have crumpled in guilt. But no more.
In fact, I was completely and utterly pissed at Paul…and at Jacob and Billy and everyone who had hurt me or allowed me to be hurt. Trembling with the effort of containing my building wrath, I concentrated on not endangering my family by reacting…which I was sure was what Paul wanted me to do.
My deduction as to Paul's motivations was almost immediately strengthened by Edward. "Easy, love," he warned me in a low voice as he squeezed my hand comfortingly. "He's trying to rile you up and get you to attack first. Don't fall for it."
Giving Edward a quick nod to indicate I had heard him, I decided to turn the tables a bit on Paul, perhaps take his smugness down a notch or two.
"So where's Sam?" I asked quietly, knowing the answer but wanting him to admit what he and the pack had done himself.
Visibly uncomfortable with my question, Paul stepped forward to grab Mrs. Jane's arm and haul her to her feet, holding her close to his side as if preparing for our attack as he answered.
"Sam isn't here," he growled.
"That wasn't the question she asked, dog," Emmett hissed. "Where is your alpha?"
Paul sneered, "I am the alpha of this pack. Sam was…holding us back from avenging the life of our brother and thus had to be…dealt with."
"But in order for you to be alpha, Sam would have to be dead, wouldn't he?" Rosalie shot out, her hard eyes glittering.
Yeah, try answering that question diplomatically, Paul….
"Sometimes there is a price to pay to make things right," Paul replied, his eyes curiously devoid of emotion.
"So Sam paid the ultimate price, did he now?" Jasper asked pointedly.
A few of the smaller (thus probably the younger) members of the pack growled unhappily at Jasper's question, but with a quick hand motion and order from Paul, all was silent once again.
"Sam was an obstacle to our returning honor to our pack. He refused to avenge Jacob's death—the true alpha of the pack—at the hands of your coven, and then he refused to attack when we found out that Bella became…" he paused, looking completely disgusted, "what she is."
While the other wolves shifted their feet in apparent distress over my "vampirization," a low growl emanated from my chest.
How dare they judge me!
Especially when my change was a direct result of the actions of this pack!
But then I felt Edward's restraining hand on my wrist. Glancing to the side at him, I frowned but obeyed when his eyes warned me to be silent.
Edward returned Paul's icy stare with interest. "And how exactly did you find out about Isabella?"
Paul straightened defiantly. "From a source that not even you would dispute," he stated, his eyes narrowing.
Edward merely raised an eyebrow in challenge.
Paul flipped open a cell phone, hit a few buttons, and the phone started ringing. With our vampiric hearing allowing us to hear both sides of any phone conversation, we were all leaning forward, waiting to listen to whomever Paul was calling. But the person who answered did not speak; there was only the "click" of the connection. Paul lazily ordered, "Now," before closing the phone and grinning at us.
"The witnesses will arrive momentarily," he informed us.
I felt rather than heard the stirrings in our line as our family shifted uncomfortably, sensing, as I did, that something was horribly, dreadfully wrong.
My sense of foreboding deepened as Edward's head yanked up toward the woods from which the pack had appeared. The sounds of two vampires approaching at a full run from the west heading straight east toward the river where we were now congregated put us all on high alert as we lowered ourselves to half-crouches, ready to fight if needed.
Only now must these two "witnesses" have entered the range of Edward's gift. From the expression of fury on his face, I could tell that not only did he recognize the two vampires, but he was beyond livid with anger at them.
I exchanged puzzled and worried glances with the rest of my family as we waited mere seconds for the vampires to enter the clearing.
Edward muttered an expletive as two familiar and unwelcome figures stepped daintily from the cover of the trees.
I'm sure that the eyes of my family members widened as mine did with the appearance of a very smug Tanya, Irina right on her Prada heels.
Paul glanced over his shoulder at the approaching vampires, then turned back to Edward, grinning insolently. "I suppose that introductions are not necessary," he gloated.
Tanya stepped around Mrs. Jane where she remained standing next to Paul, looking down at the human woman as if she were a pile of garbage. Mrs. Jane's panicked eyes continued taking in every bizarre detail of the unfolding scene.
I pushed my considerable worry for Mrs. Jane's future from my mind; I needed all of my attention fixed on the pack for, as they had just demonstrated, they were more than willing to do anything and everything to destroy us.
Including allying themselves with other vampires.
"But Edward should have been able to hear their thoughts and know they were here," Carlisle stated, glancing between Edward and the two Denali members on the opposite river bank.
Tanya laughed self-deprecatingly. "Oh, Carlisle, I know very well the extent of Edward's gift, so Irina and I waited just out of range. Plus, I have been practicing for years how to block my thoughts from Edward. Obviously I could only let him hear what I wanted for him to hear during our recent visit, especially since the arrival of the newest 'Cullen.'" Her last words were spoken resentfully, with a sneer directed at me.
Carlisle again took up the mantle of leadership. "So what is it that you want, Tanya? I don't see why this issue could not have been dealt with as a family, thus sparing us these dramatics?" he asked coldly.
"What none of you seem to understand," Tanya stated, her eyes moving along the line of our family but skipping over me as though I didn't exist, "is that Edward and I are mates—true mates. I've waited decades for him to finally admit his feelings for me, but he is stubborn, as you all know." Her laughter reminded me of wind chimes, but a shiver ran down my back at the same time as a manic tone was discernible behind her laughter.
Something was definitely "off" with Tanya. Even Irina was looking at Tanya with poorly-masked concern.
"Tanya, when did Edward ever indicate to you that you were his mate?" Carlisle asked softly.
"Every time he came to see me. Every time he invited me here. Every time his eyes meet mine I feel the strength of our connection," Tanya's voice purred sensually as her eyes raked over Edward's body lustfully.
Of course I was seeing red. But a quick glance from Carlisle calmed me, his eyes warning me to remain quiet, but it was only with great effort that I managed to refrain from once and for all removing all doubt from Tanya's unbalanced mind regarding who was truly Edward's mate.
Poor Edward looked completely stunned. "But your thoughts contained little of this subject whenever I was near you," he protested. "I knew that you liked me, certainly, and that you wanted a more intimate relationship, but I assumed that I was only one in a long line of conquests, one that was made more attractive only by refusing your advances."
Tanya tossed her head flirtatiously then winked at him. "No, Edward," she purred in that low, sexy voice that was the equivalent of nails down a chalkboard for me. "You've been the only one. The others," she waved her hand dismissively, "were merely there to pass the time until you came to your senses." She smiled warmly at my fiancé. "As you have now. The warmth in your eyes tells me that you want me to be yours always. You were just passing time with her," she indicated me with a jerk of her chin, "as I was with my human lovers until we could be together. Always."
Her eyes narrowed in hatred at me for a moment before Tanya's gaze fixed lovingly upon my mate, my fiancé. "As soon as my furry friends here tear her to pieces, along with any members of your family who try to protect her, we will be together, Edward…forever."
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I'd love to know what you think about these latest developments.
Thanks to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2012, I am ready to draft the final chapter of Pinned but Fluttering on the final day, TODAY, November 30, so all of the chapters remaining chapters are drafted but not yet revised. It looks like the final chapter will be Chapter 55, with a possible epilogue. I don't want to say more to give anything away….
Thank you for all of your wonderful comments and reviews—I love hearing from each and every one of you. You're the reason I keep on writing! Thank you!
Much love to you all,