CHAPTER ONE

Golden brown eyes swam before my vision, briefly before being replaced by a tousle of bronze hair. I tipped my head back to accommodate his lips on my throat and sighed contentedly. My hands found their way into his hair, tugging gently at his locks, determined to move his focus to my lips. With a crooked smile, he leaned up and kissed me so gently that I barely felt him, before he resumed the gentle caress on my throat. His lips vibrated as he chuckled against my skin and I breathed in deeply, inhaling his scent and felt an answering smile brighten my face.

"Just one kiss, my love," I murmured.

"Remember, I am in control here," he said, but his voice was gentle. And of course, his lips came up to mine within seconds, the kiss deepening until he claimed my mouth completely.

"Mmm, that was better than one kiss," I giggled when he pulled away. Edward smiled and reluctantly got up from our bed, pulling his boxers on as he went. I watched him cross the room to the en-suite and sighed deeply.

"Do we have to get up?" I asked.

"Love, vampires don't have to sleep," he replied. I sighed and sank back against the pillows.

"I know we don't have to, but I like it. Well, I like being in bed with you, anyway," I teased. Edward laughed and shook his head.

"I'm going to have a shower. Make sure you're up when I come out. You'll need a shower and a change as well. Alice wants you on the early-afternoon shift today and it's already ten o'clock."

"I don't see why I have to do the early-afternoon shift," I grumbled, getting out of the bed and pulling on my satin robe.

"Because, my love, I have requested your presence for the latter end of the afternoon and you need to fulfil your contracted hours."

"You and your damned contracts," I muttered. "I didn't sign it anyway; Jacob did..."

"With your full consent, my love," Edward reminded me, switching on the water. "He was acting in your best interests."

I swore under my breath, earning myself a sharp rebuke from the shower, despite the fact I knew he was under the water and shouldn't have heard me at all. Sometimes I cursed his exceptional hearing, but then I had to remind myself he didn't like me swearing. Crossing to the chest of drawers, I took out my uniform, shaking it out. My apple charm bracelet dropped on the floor and I bent to pick it up; not that I needed it these days; I was more than capable of defending myself. But Edward would not countenance me going to work without it.

"Isabella, are you up?" called Edward from the bathroom and I rolled my eyes.

"You know I am Mr Cullen!" I called back as he emerged from the bathroom, a towel round his waist while he rubbed another towel over his damp hair. He leaned against the doorframe and smiled across at me.

"Go and have your shower, my love. I want you ready in thirty minutes."

I headed into the bathroom, muttering to myself, but it was more for his benefit than mine; I loved my job and in truth I had no real issue with doing an afternoon shift. Sometimes though I just liked to get a rise out of him. Under the hot water, I smiled to myself. Edward and I had been a lot more relaxed since James' demise just three months earlier. For a while I had thought I had lost him, especially in the early days of my change. Becoming a vampire had been a difficult transition and sometimes even now I still had to fight against my more animalistic instincts. Edward was a lot more patient with me now that my life wasn't in danger. It had been hard when James was first killed, because I was still looking over my shoulder, expecting to see his red eyes watching me, or to hear his voice in my head, but everything had gone quiet. He was truly gone in every sense of the word.

Gradually, my life had gone back to normal. I worked in the club still; generally night shifts as I no longer needed to sleep and so the late shifts were ideal. Plus Rosalie worked nights, dancing and occasionally singing, so it suited Edward to have us work the same shift as he could have Emmett keep a close eye on us both.

I emerged from the shower and wrapped a fluffy towel round me. Edward was standing in front of the mirror fastening his tie and I paused, taking in my lover in his dark grey pinstripe suit with dark purple shirt. Spotting me staring, Edward grinned at me through the mirror.

"Get dressed, my love," he said. Sighing, I crossed the bedroom and picked up my underwear and work clothes, before dressing quickly. As I fastened my hair in a ponytail, Edward crossed the room and gave it a gentle tug. "Bracelet, Bella."

I held out my wrist and he fastened it for me, looking deep into my eyes.

"I love you," he murmured, leaning towards me and kissing my lips.

"I love you too," I replied. "Edward?"

"Yes, my love?"

"Where are we going tonight?" I asked. He smiled and tapped my nose.

"You will have to wait and see, my love. Trust me, you will like it. Come on." We headed downstairs and I followed him through to his office, where he flopped into his chair and switched his computer on.

"I'll go and find Alice," I said, crossing the room to drop a light kiss on his lips.

"Have a good afternoon, my love," he replied, but then he turned to his computer. I smiled at him fondly and then left the office, closing the door behind me.

"Ah, Bella, just the person," cooed Alice, appearing from nowhere and grabbing my hand, tucking it into her arm and leading me down the corridor to her office. She closed the door behind me. "I have a very special group coming in at lunchtime today and I would very much like you serve them. They will be at the manager's table, so you will be serving only them."

I looked across at her and saw a shadow cross her face. A feeling of trepidation filled me and I narrowed my eyes.

"Ok. Who is it? A business group?" I asked.

"Sort of," she replied, vaguely.

"Alice?"

"Ok, ok. You remember that letter we got?"

"The Volturi one?" I asked, my voice a little strangled as I remembered Edward's panic and Carlisle leaving the country to go and meet with Aro, Caius and Marcus in Italy. He had come back and said that all would be well; they had been curious about the newborns in the Cullen household, not to mention the deaths of three notorious vampires, whom they had been watching. Apparently James and his cohort had not been overly careful about where they took their prey from and there had been news coverage that I had missed in Seattle of numerous mysterious deaths where victims appeared to have been drained. So the killing of James, Victoria and Laurent had not caused us too many problems with the Volturi; they were grateful to have the problem sorted out.

"Yes. They have kind of come to see Twilight," she said, putting as much nonchalance into her tone as possible, but a few small gestures, a raised eyebrow, a hand in the hair, gave away how nervous she was.

"Alice, do you really think it is a good idea for me to serve their table? What does Edward think?"

"Erm, Edward doesn't know," she muttered. I rolled my eyes; great! My overprotective lover was not going to be pleased. Alice glanced up at me. "Bella, please? You can handle them. I don't trust anyone else to do this and if I ask Edward you know he'll say no. Please."

"Fine," I said, at last. "But I want Emmett there."

"I have already asked him," she said, smoothly. Of course she had; she'd known I would say yes all along.

The three men were sat close together at the table, their red eyes looking around with interest. I observed them from a distance, twisting my bracelet round my wrist nervously. Emmett appeared at my side, leaning down to murmur in my ear.

"I have your back, Bella," he said, his eyes fixed on the trio at the table.

"Thanks, Emmett. They are very... intimidating..." I broke off when one of them looked up, a slight smile on his white face. His eyes were crimson and I shivered; a human blood-eater. What had I expected? Alice told me they were Volturi; they were hardly going to be veggies.

"Good luck," muttered Emmett, folding his arms across his massive chest and watching as I approached the table.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen. My name is Isabella and I will be serving you this afternoon," I said, politely.

"Good afternoon, Isabella," said the blonde man in the middle. His red eyes looked me up and down, but his face remained neutral. "I am Caius. These are my companions, Marcus and Aro." The smiling vampire, Aro, met my eyes and held out a hand towards me. Reluctantly I took it and his eyes widened momentarily.

"Remarkable! I cannot read her thoughts at all!" he exclaimed, but he did not seem displeased by this. In fact, his eyes sparkled with excitement.

"What can I get for you?" I asked, when he released my hand, trying to focus them on the menu.

"Nothing, Isabella. We are not here to eat or drink; I am quite certain you do not serve the only thing we do eat here," said Marcus, his sad-looking eyes meeting mine rather forcibly.

"Then what can I do for you?" I asked.

"We want to know precisely what happened with the three vampires who were killed here," said Caius. I felt my hand begin to tremble, but forced myself to sound confident when I spoke.

"I thought Carlisle talked with you about that," I said.

"Ah Carlisle, yes. It was such a pleasure to see him again. I have missed him since he left us... such a waste!" said Aro, broodingly.

"A waste?" I echoed, despite myself.

"Carlisle was very promising; we wanted him to join us, but he turned from his natural ways to become a... an animal eater," said Aro, with distaste.

"And looking at you, you are the same," said Marcus, softly, reaching up with unnatural speed to cup my face and look at my golden-brown eyes.

"Yes," I breathed, softly, slightly uncomfortable with his touch.

"You have never tasted human blood?" he said. I shook my head. "Ah, poor child, you know not what you are missing." He patted my face and then removed his hand.

"Back to business, gentlemen," said Caius, sitting up a little straighter. "Before her maker comes in here."

My eyes widened slightly; they were concerned about Edward knowing they were here; I remembered Alice begging me not to tell him and felt a shiver of apprehension.

"Sit with us, Isabella," said Aro, gesturing at a chair and I sat automatically, my fingers tracing the charm on my bracelet automatically. "And leave the bauble alone. He could not stop us if he wished to." He looked towards Emmett who was standing a short distance away, his eyes surveying the bar area. I forced my hands away from the apple on my bracelet and looked across at him, chewing my lip nervously.

"What was James to you, child?" asked Marcus. The question made me shiver, but I forced myself to answer.

"I thought he was my boyfriend; I guess I was more like an occasional snack," I replied, with a grimace. Aro laughed at this and I bowed my head.

"Poor child. I am amazed at the fact he did not drain you. I have heard stories of your blood... of the purity of it, the aroma of it. The scent still clings to you now, even as a vampire. That is quite unusual. As is your ability to hide yourself from our powers..."

"Perhaps that is why he did not drain her," said Caius, thoughtfully. "It would most likely have over-stimulated him if he drank her all in one. I would think blood like that could sustain you with just a few drops."

"And James was not a powerful vampire; over-stimulus would have destroyed him instantly," said Marcus.

"But perhaps with the help of his companions..."

"Three worthless vampires who found a treasure they had not earned," said Aro, dismissively, his fingers gliding down my arm.

"But perhaps... James had his unique contacts nevertheless," said Caius, softly, his cold eyes once again meeting mine, forcing me to look away. He made me more nervous than the other two.

"We are not angry that you killed him, sweet Isabella," said Aro, leaning closer to me and breathing in my scent. "And in truth we are not angry you were changed. In fact, we believe you have great potential. We are here to offer you the opportunity to explore that potential."

"Sir?" I said, respectfully, though my mind was working at a hundred miles an hour. What on earth did he mean?

"We are offering you a position with us in Italy, Isabella," said Marcus. "Where we could teach you more about your unique skills, perhaps even improve them."

"D... do I have a choice?" I stammered.

"But of course, Isabella. You are still very young. We do not expect an immediate answer; you have much to consider. You may discuss this with your maker if that is your wish. But do not keep us waiting forever, child. We do not wish to have to return because you have not given us an answer." Aro gave me a level look and I shivered again.

"I... I'm sorry, sir, but I don't think I can accept. Edward wouldn't like for us to be parted..."

"Edward would do whatever we asked him," said Marcus, stiffly.

"Or perhaps he may even join you," said Aro. "Your maker has many gifts of his own that we are very interested in. Perhaps he could be persuaded to join you? No matter. We shall expect your answer within the year; that should give you plenty of time to consider."

"And it is entirely possible, Isabella, that events may conspire to force your hand." Caius got to his feet and the others followed suit; then in the blink of an eye they were gone. Emmett crossed the room and helped me to my feet, taking in my dazed expression.

"You ok?" he asked.

"F... fine," I stammered. Alice suddenly appeared in front of me, her eyes wide with curiosity.

"They asked you to go with them, didn't they?" she said.

"They said a lot of things," I said. "And not much that made sense. They said that James was weak... that my blood could have killed him if he had drained me... and that they... they want me to go to Italy..."

"And what did you say?" asked Alice, tentatively.

"They didn't give me a chance to respond," I replied, truthfully. "But they have given me a year to make a decision. If I don't..."

"They will come for you anyway," she said, her voice, faint. The light of prophecy was in her eyes and I shivered, apprehensively. "Bella, I think you should be very careful when you speak to Edward. He is waiting for you."