I curl up into fetal position as soon as I feel the crash, waiting for the roof to come caving in. When I don't feel my spine cracking into my stomach, however, I look up through the crook of my elbow. Edward's glancing sideways at me, a smirk on his face.
I grumble under my breath, lifting my head out of my lap. Edward reaches over and pats my knee in (what he thinks is) a comforting way. "Don't worry, Jess. You're going to be safe."
"Not if there are goddamn vampires jumping all over my car," I mutter. I wait for Emmett to try and break his way into the car, but he doesn't. When I look at the side-view mirror, I find him clenching onto the hood, a look of exhilaration on his face. And for the first time in my life, in that moment, I can't help but feel a little jealous of the vampire. If I was to try and ride on the hood of a car, I would turn into a Stanley pancake within seconds. Not to mention the speed, heightened senses and utter gorgeousness.
The sparkling, though. That I could do without.
"You don't want that," says Edward quietly. I open my mouth to condemn him for invading my mental privacy, but he cuts me off. "It's not worth it."
"Maybe not to you," I reply, shrugging. His eyes dart over to meet mine, and I catch a murderous look in his eyes.
"Jessica, I'm serious," he says, his voice lowering like it does when he's being dramatic. "This life isn't one you want. It isn't one I want for you."
"O-one you want for me?" I sputter, my eyebrows rising. "Excuse me, but the last time I checked, this is my life we're talking – you know what, we are not having this conversation right now. There is a psychotic vampire on our tail, and I don't mean Emmett."
"I heard that!" Emmett's muffled voice comes through the roof. Edward jerks the steering wheel a few times, and I hear Emmett's cries of protest.
"Wait, so you aren't going to come to Florida with Jasper, Alice and me?" I ask, partially to distract Edward but mostly for my own curiosity.
"Not right away, no," says Edward, narrowing his eyes to see through the darkness. "But I'll be there in a few days."
I press my lips together, staying silent. I don't want him staying in Forks; he'll probably do something stupid and get his family – and himself – killed. And though I'd never admit it, I know that James doesn't stand a chance if Edward's around. And if Edward's going to be thousands of miles away...
He glances sideways at me. "Don't forget that this was your idea."
"It was the best idea. Of course it was mine."
His answering smile is bleak and disappears almost immediately. I can feel his disheartened mood bringing me down, and before I know it, I'm whining like a five year old.
"Why did this happen? Why me? Why not Mr. Blume? Hell, why not Bella?"
Edward stares blackly at the road ahead. "It's my fault. I was a fool to expose you like that." The rage in his voice is directed internally.
"That's not what I meant," I insist. "I mean, yes, you screwed up. But it didn't bother the other two. Why did this James character decide to kill me? There are people all over Forks, why me?"
He hesitates, thinking before answering. "I got a good look at his mind tonight. I'm not sure if there's anything I could have done to avoid this – at least, not after he'd already seen you. It is partially your fault." His voice is wry. "If you didn't smell so…"
"Appallingly luscious?" I fill in helpfully. The corners of his mouth lift up at that.
"Appallingly luscious, yes. He might not have bothered if you didn't smell so appallingly luscious. But when I defended you… I guess I made it a lot worse. He's not used to being thwarted, no matter how insignificant the person. He thinks of himself as a hunter and nothing else. His existence is consumed with tracking, and a challenge is all he asks of life. Suddenly we've presented him with a beautiful challenge; a large clan of strong fighters all bent on protecting the one vulnerable – sorry, it's true – element. You wouldn't believe how euphoric he is now. It's his favourite game, and we've just made it his most excited game ever." Edward's tone is full of disgust. He pauses for a moment before continuing with helpless frustration. "But if I had stood by, he would have killed you right then."
"I thought… I didn't smell the same to the others as I do to you," I say hesitantly, trying not to sound like a brat who was being told she wasn't special.
"You don't," he says assuredly. "But that doesn't mean that you aren't still a temptation. You're still human – still filled with blood."
I fold my arms across my chest. Why couldn't I have been born with Kool Aid running through my veins?
"I don't think I have any choice but to kill him now," Edward mutters, interrupting my absurd thoughts. "Carlisle won't like it."
I hear the tires cross the bridge, though I can't see the river in the dark. I know we're getting close. "Aren't the other two going to put up a fight?"
"The woman will. I'm not sure about Laurent. They don't have a very strong bond – he's only with them for convenience. He was embarrassed by James in the meadow…"
"But James and the woman, they'll try to kill you?" I ask concernedly. The last thing I want is for Edward's death to be on my hands. Hell, I don't want Edward's death to be on anyone's hands.
"Jessica, don't you dare waste your time worrying about me. Your only concern is keeping yourself safe and please, please try not to be reckless."
I ignore that last bit. "Is he still following?"
"Yes," says Edward, glancing at the rearview mirror. "He won't attack the house, though. Not tonight."
He turns off onto the invisible drive, with Alice following behind. We drive right up to the house. The lights inside are bright, but they do little to alleviate the blackness of the forest. Emmett has my door open before the car stops; he pulls me out of the seat, tucks me like a football into his monstrous chest, and runs me through the door.
"Touchdown!" he roars as we burst into the large white room, Edward and Alice at our sides. All of them are there; they're already on their feet at the sound of our approach. Laurent stands in their midst. I can hear low growls rumble deep in Emmett's throat as he sets me down next to Edward.
"He's tracking us," Edward announces, glaring balefully at Laurent.
Laurent's face is unhappy. "I was afraid of that."
Alice dances to Jasper's side and whispers in his ear; her lips quiver with the speed of her silent speech. They fly up the stairs together. Rosalie watches them, and then moves quickly to Emmett's side. Her eyes are intense and – when they flicker unwillingly to my face – almost furious.
"What will he do?" Carlisle asks Laurent in chilling tones.
"I'm sorry," he answers, not sounding sorry at all in my opinion. "I was afraid, when your boy there defended her, that it would set him off."
"Can you stop him?"
Laurent shakes his head. "Nothing stops James when he gets started."
"We will." Emmett growls. There's no doubt what he means.
"You can't bring him down. I've never seen anything like him in my three hundred years. He's absolutely lethal. That's why I joined his coven."
His coven, I think, of course. The show of leadership in the clearing was merely that, a show. What a pussy.
Laurent's shaking his head. He glances at me, perplexed, and back to Carlisle. "Are you sure it's worth it?"
My mouth drops open, but Edward's enraged roar fills the room before I can snap at Laurent. I catch Laurent cringe back.
Carlisle looks gravely at Laurent. "I'm afraid you're going to have to make a choice."
Laurent deliberates for the slightest of moments. "I'm intrigued by the life you've created here. But I won't get in the middle of this. I bear none of you any enmity, but I won't go up against James. I think I will head north – to that clan in Denali." He hesitated. "Don't underestimate James. He's got a brilliant mind and unparalleled senses. He's every bit as comfortable in the human world as you seem to be, and he won't come at you head on… I'm sorry for what's been unleashed here. Truly sorry." He bows his head, but I see him flicker another puzzled look at me. I try to hold it back – I really do – but it's impossible.
"How can you say that?" I ask, taking a step forward. Edward steps forward as well, but I throw him a 'don't start with me' look before turning on Laurent again. "How can you say that without being completely disgusted with yourself?"
Laurent looks at Carlisle and Edward, as though asking for permission to talk to me. "I – I'm not sure what she means."
"She is standing right here," I snap. "And here's what I mean, Sherlock. From what I gather, all vampires are born equal – with the exception of those with weirdo abilities like Edward here. If James is as brilliant as you say, it isn't because he was made that way. It's because he grew a pair of balls, unlike you, and lived up to his potential. The biggest advantage to being what you are is the absence of fear, but you're running off to Denali now because you're afraid of James. You're a damn waste of a vampire."
Emmett whistles lowly. Rosalie's eyebrows are raised high up on her forehead, though I can't tell if she's impressed or appalled by how stupid I am. Carlisle walks over to me and places a hand on my shoulder before turning to Laurent. "Go in peace, Laurent."
Laurent, who still looks stricken from my outburst, leaves out the door as though he's underwater. The silence lasts less than a second.
"Damn, Stanley." (Emmett)
"She's going to get herself killed." (Rosalie)
"How close?" Carlisle looks to Edward. Esme's already moving; her hand touches an inconspicuous keypad on the wall, and with a groan, huge metal shutters begin sealing up the glass wall. I gape, feeling like I'm in a Bond movie.
"About three miles out past the river," Edward replies. "He's circling around to meet up with the female."
"What's the plan?"
"We'll lead him off, and then Jasper and Alice will run her south."
Edward's tone is deadly. "As soon as Jessica is clear, we hunt him."
"I guess there's no other choice," Carlisle agrees, his face grim.
Edward turns to Rosalie. "Get her upstairs and trade clothes."
She stares back at him with livid disbelief. "Why should I? What is she to me? Except a menace – a danger you've chosen to inflict on all of us."
I raise my eyebrows at that, but I know better than to say anything. Something tells me this has to do with a lot more than just me. Edward, however, looks away from Rosalie as if she hasn't spoken. "Esme?"
"Of course," Esme murmurs. She's at my side in half a heartbeat, grabbing my arm and pulling me up the stairs.
"What are we doing?" I ask breathlessly as we screech to a stop in a dark room somewhere off the second-story hall.
"Trying to confuse the smell. It won't work for long, but it might help get you out." I can hear her clothes falling to the floor.
"Esme, I don't think I'll fit…" I hesitate, but her hands are abruptly pulling my shirt over my head. Not wanting to be stripped by Edward's mother, I quickly yank my jeans off myself. She hands me something that feels like a shirt, so I yank it over my head. As soon as I'm done, she hands me her slacks. They're way too long, so she rolls the hems a few times. She pulls me back to the stairs where Alice stands, a small leather bag in her hand.
They each grab one of my elbows and half-carry me as they fly down the stairs. It appears that everything's been settled downstairs in our absence. Edward and Emmett are ready to leave, Emmett carrying a heavy-looking backpack over his shoulder. Carlisle's handing something small to Esme. He turns and hands Alice the same thing – a tiny silver cell phone.
"Esme and Rosalie will be taking your car, Jessica," he tells me as he passes. I nod, glancing warily at Rosalie. I wouldn't trust her with my hamster (RIP Nibbles), let alone my car.
"Alice, Jasper – take the Mercedes. You'll need the dark tint in the south," Carlisle continues without missing a beat. Alice and Jasper nod. "And we'll be taking the Jeep."
For a moment, I'm surprised that Carlisle intends to go with Edward. I realize suddenly, with a stab of fear, that they've made up the hunting party.
"Alice," says Carlisle. "Will they take the bait?"
Everyone watches Alice as she closes her eyes and becomes incredibly still. Finally her eyes fly open. "He'll track you. The woman will follow Jessica's car. We should be able to leave after that."
"Let's go." Carlisle begins to walk toward the kitchen.
But Edward's at my side at once. "Are you sure about this?"
"Seriously?" Rosalie calls from across the room, looking irritated. "We can't change the plan now, regardless of what the princess thinks."
I glance up at Edward, fighting a smirk. "If it's worth anything, the princess is sure about this."
Edward glares at Rosalie for a long moment before turning back to me. Before I can come up with the sassiest goodbye my mind can muster, he pulls my face to his, practically lifting my feet off the floor. I'm caught up in the moment for a total of 2.5 seconds before Rosalie's groan of protest makes me snort slightly with laughter. Then it's over, and it's too late. I throw a glare in the blonde vampire's direction – thanks a lot. Edward sets me down, his eyes burning into mine. They go blank, completely emotionless, as he turns away. And then he's gone.
The others look away from me as we stand there in the Cullen house, as though they're expecting me to burst into tears. And for a moment, I'm afraid I will. But then my nose tickles, and every single remaining vampire jumps as my monstrous sneeze fills the silence.
Before anyone can react, Esme's phone vibrates in her hand. It flashes to her ear.
"Now," she says. Rosalie stalks to the front door, but she pauses in the doorway to glance back at me. For a second, I think she might say something. Maybe even throw an insult in my direction. But she turns on her heel and disappears into the night. Esme touches my cheek as she passes, heading after Rosalie.
"Be safe." Her whisper lingers behind her as she slips out the door. I hear my car start with a clean whir, and then fade away.
Jasper and Alice wait. Alice's phone seems to be at her ear before it buzzes. "Edward says the woman is on Esme's trail. I'll get the car." She vanishes into the shadows the way Edward had gone.
Jasper and I look at each other. He stands across the length of the entryway from me, obviously trying to be careful, but he looks curious.
"What?" I ask apprehensively, not sure if I want to hear the answer.
"You're wrong, you know," he says quietly – that's the only way I've ever heard him speak, in a bare whisper.
"I highly doubt it," I reply almost automatically. But my own curiosity gets the better of me. "… But if I was wrong about something, what would it be?"
"I can feel what you're feeling now – and you are worth it."
I blink. I don't even realize until that moment that I'm feeling horribly guilty. Edward's family is putting themselves on the line to save my ass – me, of all people. If they were trying to save someone like Angela, there would be no need to feel guilty. And yet, here I am, being the little bitch that puts the Cullen family in danger. 'Dammit,' I think. 'Rosalie's right. This is my worst nightmare.'
"You're wrong," Jasper repeats, and my jaw nearly falls right out of my mouth when he smiles kindly at me. "Trust me."
Alice steps through the front door at that moment. "It's go time. What're you two talking about?"
"Kristen Stewart's infidelity," I say quickly before Jasper can reply. I see his eyes sparkle with laughter out of the corner of my eye, but I try not to look at him. "Let's go."
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