Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyers owns Twilight. I do not. I do however, own my gang.
Flying solo folks.
Bella sank into her chair after carefully stacking her shopping bags on the empty seat beside her. The chair across from her made a metallic screech as Liz dragged it across the polished concrete floor of the Pacific Mall's food court. After depositing her bags in a similar fashion, Liz collapsed onto her chair with a weary sigh. Bella toed off her shoes and wriggled her toes to relieve the stiff ache. For hours they explored Seattle, leaving no baby store unraided. At the rate they were going, Bella was becoming concerned about how they'd fit their haul into Liz's car. Since the roomy trunk was stuffed to capacity, they'd have to use the back seat. Pacific Mall was their final stop before heading home.
Bella glanced around the noisy food court and exchanged smiles with a mother pushing a sleeping baby in a giant stroller.
Pregnancy had been a weird experience for Bella. People smiled at her on the street. Went out of their way to open doors for her and offered to carry her groceries. Her protruding belly was like a maternal bat-signal that summoned people from far and wide. Nary a day went by when a stranger would strike up conversation about her due date and such. Those were the pleasant occurrences that made her feel as if she'd joined a secret sisterhood. On the other side, there were the disapproving scowls when she was seen enjoying her coffee. The intrusive questions about childbirth, feeding methods, vaccinations… On and on it went. Most times she managed to fend off the helpful advice without telling everyone and their aunt to go fuck themselves. Except for that one time she snapped at a cantankerous biddy at the grocery for touching her belly without asking. That was one part she wouldn't miss; her body becoming public property.
She turned back to Liz who was already snout deep, scarfing down her grilled stuffed burrito. Bella dove into her own meal, savoring the flavorful beef and crispy shells that crunched with every bite. Having worked up an appetite from earlier, both women gorged themselves on Mexican cuisine. When Liz came up for air, guacamole smearing the lower half of her face, Bella was washing down the last bite of her crunchy tacos shell with grape soda. Bella leaned back with a contented sigh and felt a nudge of tiny feet against her ribcage.
Liz reach into a shopping bag and produced a burgundy pile of fluff with matching headband. "Isn't this tutu the cutest? I can't wait to see it on Gabrielle."
"Me too." Though it was a frivolous purchase, the pure squee feelings it provoked made it worth the buy. She worked hard to hide her grin, pleased that Liz was already using the name Jacob had picked out for the baby.
Liz tucked the outfit back in a bag and smiled. "Thanks for coming on this trip, Izzy. Can't remember the last time I had so much fun."
"It's been fun for me too." Bella returned the smile, stretching out her legs beneath the table. "So glad we came out here. Though it's not as convenient, it's a lot more fun than internet shopping."
"Taking the ferry was a great idea." Liz tapped her fingers on the table surface, her ponytail swung with the tilt of her head. Her radiant grin dimmed a fraction. "After you have the baby maybe we can come back and visit the art museum?"
"I'd like that." Bella's immediate agreement returned the sparkle to Liz's eyes. She made a mental note to plan more outings with Liz. As much as she loved her cafe, the downtime did wonders for her stress levels. Plus she'd forgotten how much fun she and Liz had when it was just the two of them.
"We should to expose the baby to some culture. If Ryan has his way, she'll grow into a burping, crotch scratching dude-bro." Liz wrinkled her pert nose in disgust.
A giggle tumbled out of her at the idea, prompting a disinterested glance from a balding man at a nearby table. Somehow Ryan had gotten the idea she was gestating a future football star. Gabrielle's potential could only be realized with his expert guidance. Liz and Ryan were locked in a battle of wills for her baby's destiny. Each time Liz made a princess themed purchase, he died a little inside and accused her of sexism against tomboys. An accusation Liz hurled back at him along with discriminating against girly-girls. Not even born yet and already her baby had two adults fighting over her future. Their bitter struggle amused Bella to no end.
"How was your first session with the grief counselor?" Bella drank watery soda through a straw and grimaced. She would've killed for a slice of red velvet cake.
"Fine." Liz broke eye contact, mild tension in her shoulders. "You were right. It helped to have someone get what I'm feeling." A tentative smile. "Jeremiah even gave me some coping techniques to practice the next time I start to feel out of control."
"I'm glad he's helping." She reached across the table and gave Liz's hand a squeeze of encouragement.
"Can I ask you something?" Liz slid a sidelong glance her way.
"You said Sue recommended Jeremiah?" Bella nodded. "Did you ever to see him?"
After a pause, Bella fought through her remaining reluctance. "Yeah. I've had a few sessions with him."
"Really?" Liz's eyes lit up in genuine surprise.
"Taylor wasn't just my husband, Liz. You know how it was between us. We were mated." A wan smile grace Bella's lips. "And when his death severed our connection, I had to learn how to live without him." She also needed help coping with random thoughts of suicide that rarely left her thoughts in those early days. Aside from Rosalie and Alice, no one else knew about her aborted suicide attempt. Not even Jacob. That was one secret she'd take to the grave.
"Why'd you keep it a secret from everyone? Were you afraid we'd judge you?" Liz asked in a soothing tone.
Bella shook her head. "You guys have always been there for me, but that was something I needed to do alone."
Although she'd been granted another chance at happiness with Jacob, a part of her would never fully heal. Jeremiah helped her make peace with the reality of her situation. Life wasn't a romance novel where everything worked out perfectly, and every loose end got tied up in a neat little bow. Taylor was gone. They'd never grow old together. He'd never meet his daughter, and she'd never know the truth about why he hid Marianna and the clan from her. Real life was messy and painful, but it was also punctuated by beautiful moments that made life worth living. Sometimes happy endings were tinged with sorrow.
"You and Jacob still planning to move in together?" Liz asked in a quiet tone.
Bella drew in a breath, steeling herself for another argument. "Yes we are and I know how you feel about—"
"I get it. Jacob being there from the start is what's best for the baby," Liz interjected, surprising the hell out of Bella. "He's not one of my favorite people, but I can see how nuts he is about you."
"Wow." She stared in awe.
"I'm trying to be adult about this, Izzy." Liz pouted, offended that Bella had thought otherwise. "Besides, I haven't seen you this happy since Taylor. Your life has been hard enough. I promised myself I wouldn't do anything to add to that."
"Somehow I don't think an easy life isn't in the cards for me." Bella said, a wistful smile tugging at her mouth.
"What do you mean?"
"Things couldn't be better with Jacob, but sometimes I wish we had a clean slate. I can accept he had a life with Carmen, but its a kick in the tits knowing she's still his mate. He'll always love her." Bella buried her face in both palms with an embarrassed groan. "I feel like such a selfish bitch complaining about that when Jacob has his own stuff to deal with but..." She trailed off.
"It bugs?" Liz finished her sentence.
"It fricking bugs." Bella smiled at her best friend, knowing she'd understand.
"There's one big advantage to you dating Jacob." Liz's impish grin had Bella on her guard.
"What's that?" Why did she get the urge to run for the hills?
Liz leaned forward, a devilish glint dancing in her eyes. "There's nothing stopping you from dishing about your sex life."
"Liz," she whined, but Liz had no time for her bashfulness.
"Don't even. We couldn't talk about that stuff when you were with my brother." Liz produced a dramatic shudder before her earlier mischievousness returned. "Now there's nothing stopping us. We have the long drive back to dish. I wanna hear all about your werewolf sex."
Bella covered her burning face with both hands and groaned. "What have I done?"
After a quick trip to the ladies room, Bella and Liz rode an escalator to the first floor where they encountered a mall directory. Forehead wrinkled in concentration, Liz scanned the smooth, glowing surface of the mall map for their final destination.
Bella juggled her shopping bags, searching for a way to relieve the stiffness in her back and hip. She was more than ready to return home. "What was the name of Mason's store again? Male something…"
"Men's Choice. There it is." Liz pointed to the lower left of the directory. "It's on the fifth floor."
As they made their way back to the escalators, Liz asked, "Did you tell Jacob we planned to swing by Mason's store while we're in the city?"
"Are you kidding? You've seen how weird he's been about me being around other guys. I'm surprised he didn't kibosh our trip." Bella averted her gaze as guilt formed an unpleasant lump in her stomach. She loathed keeping things from him and planned to fess up the moment she walked through the door. She changed the conversation. "Does Mason know we're here?"
Liz nodded. "I called him when you went to the ladies-room, and he said he'd be in the area."
"With Tess and Kyle's wedding coming up, maybe I'll buy Jacob a new dress shirt." She wordlessly declined Liz's offer of gum, fantasizing about Jacob in a tuxedo.
"Thanks for reminding me. Ryan could use a new pair of shoes." Liz popped a peppermint strip in her mouth and tossed the wrapper in a metal bin.
"I have to make a confession, Izzy." Liz continued when she had her full attention. "When I first heard about Mason, I kinda hoped you'd start dating him. Pretty sure the guy has a crush on you."
"What?" Bella cocked an eyebrow. The thought of seeing Mason had never occurred to her. While he was funny and good-looking, they had zero chemistry.
Liz eyed her. "Oh come on. You've never noticed how often he comes to the cafe? How handsome he is? Not to mention him stepping up to take care of his sick uncle? It's not a crazy thought. He's a decent guy."
"I think you're imagining things. Mason's been coming to Bellee's for months. A confident guy like him would've said something by now." The sandy haired jokester didn't strike her as the shy type. She could usually tell when a guy was hitting on her, and Mason never hinted at being anything other than friendly. "But even if he felt that way, I'm not interested."
They arrived on the fifth floor and wandered around in search of Mason's store. After navigating through several shoppers, they found the store nestled between a jewelry and sporting store. Upon entry, they were greeted by a slender, red haired store clerk with pinched facial features. As Sharon displayed the store's selection of high-end merchandise, they forgot about Mason and was soon caught up in shopping fever. Credit card in hand, they stood by the cashier waiting to purchase their items. The counter held shirts, cuff-links, socks and an assortment of ties. During their time in the store, they still hadn't seen Mason.
The clerk handed them their bags and Liz asked, "Do you know what time Mason will get here?"
"I'm sorry? I don't know anyone by that name." Sharon spoke in a clipped tone, barely concealing her irritation at the question. The woman needed a lesson in customer service.
Bella and Liz shared a confused look and they left without another word.
Outside Liz tried to reach Mason on his phone but got his voice-mail. She tucked her phone away. "That's weird."
"Are you sure he said Men's Choice?" She hoped they didn't just dump a bunch of cash in the wrong store.
"Yeah… I think so." Liz's eyes clouded in bewilderment. "He said he was in the area though."
They waited around hoping they would run into him, but gave up after a few more unsuccessful attempts to reach him by cell. They finally bumped into him as they headed toward the garage.
"There he is," Liz said in mock outrage.
"Sorry about that. My meeting ran longer than I expected." Mason grinned, his clothes appearing slightly disheveled. His chest rose and fell with exertion as if he'd ran there.
Bella held up shopping bags with his store's logo. "Well I'm sure these purchases make us even for all those muffins you bought."
"Damn. You already saw the store? I wanted to show you around." He seemed genuinely disappointed.
"Yeah. Funny thing, the clerk said she didn't know you."
He paused, a frown creasing his eyebrows. "Ah, the clerk's a new hire and I tend to let my manager handle the day to day stuff."
Bella thought to bring up Sharon's attitude, but refused to be responsible for the woman losing her job. Still something didn't ring true with Trent's explanation. If her memory hadn't failed, she recalled him mentioning the never ending trials of running the store. When did he get a manager? She was about to inquire when he touched her shoulder.
"Uncle Bernie said to thank you for last time. He really enjoyed the coffee and scones you sent."
That brought a smile to Bella's face. "You should bring him by the cafe sometime."
"Good idea. His hip's mostly healed, so it's easier for him to get around with his cane. I promise to bring him by next time I'm in Port Angeles." Mason grinned, revealing movie-star white teeth.
"Sorry, Mason, but Izzy and I should get on the road now if we want to beat the afternoon traffic." Liz glanced at her watch.
"You're right." Bella agreed, her hip was acting up, and she longed to get home to Jacob. Though she wasn't looking forward to being interrogated about Jacob's sexual prowess.
"Here, I'll carry those for you." Mason hurried to take Bella's shopping bags and Liz gave her a knowing look. She rolled her eyes in amused annoyance. The guy was only being helpful. Still the idea that Liz could've been right made her feel awkward about accepting his help.
Bella's mouth twisted in a sarcastic smile. "I had it, you know?"
"I'm trying to make sure you don't have it in front of this appliance store." He flashed a boyish grin and Bella giggled.
Together they left the bustle of the mall, taking the elevator to the multi-level parking garage. Bella suppressed a shudder at the tomb-like atmosphere of the carpark. They'd hardly come across another form of life the entire time they wandered searching for Liz's car. Somehow the garage had taken on a sinister air since they parked. The distant screech of car tires, haunted footsteps that announced no one raised goose pimples along Bella's forearms. Where were all the fucking people?
"Crap. Do you remember where we parked, Izzy?" Liz worried her lower lip, her head swinging left and right.
"Maybe you have baby brain," she teased halfheartedly, trying to ignore the uneasy pounding of her heart. Liz stuck out her tongue, failing to notice Bella was nearing panic-mode.
"Baby brain?" Mason inquired, his blond hair appearing gray under the garage's bad lighting.
"Pregnancy forgetfulness," Bella clarified, and he nodded in understanding. She realized she was lagging behind them and redoubled her steps to keep up. Getting lost in this vehicular tomb was the stuff of nightmares. Any moment now she expected a monster to emerge from the shadows and snatch her.
The phone in Bella's pocket began to vibrate, and she jumped, prompting questioning looks from her companions. She fished out the phone and relaxed when she saw Jacob's name on the screen. She pushed a button and held the phone to her ear.
"Hey, boyfriend." She laughed, amazed at how easily her spirits was lifted by the mere sound of his voice.
"Bella, where are you?"
Liz's fist pump drew her attention. They finally found the silver Camry parked beside a black panel van. Liz unlocked the doors and she and Mason set the bags in the backseat.
Hearing the agitation in Jacob's voice, she halted in the tight space between Liz's car and the van.
"Relax, we're just about to leave the shopping mall." She tried to reassure him, assuming the wolf's protective instincts was driving him nuts again.
"God, is he freaking out?" Liz rolled her eyes and shut the rear door. Mason, having stuffed as many bags as he could, did the same on his end.
"Bella, I need you to listen." Something in Jacob's strained tone set off alarm bells.
"Is something wrong?" In all the time they'd known each other, he'd never sounded that way. As if he was on the verge of losing control. Had something happened to her dad, or someone in the pack? "What's—"
Words died in her throat when she noticed the gun in Mason's hand.
His easygoing, boy next door features had hardened in an unforgiving mask. Blue eyes regarded her with an icy, calculating stare. The man pointing a gun was a complete stranger to her. Even with a car between them she sensed that Liz seemed frozen in time as well. Bella's lips parted, to bargain, to plead for their lives. Money, car, her purse, he could take whatever he wanted. Before she could utter a word, his eyes narrowed with a cruel, unspoken warning. Quiet! A panel door slid open beside her, shattering that enforced silence.
On instinct Bella's eyes swung toward the noise and discovered a crimson-eyed man crouched in the gaping interior of the vehicle.
Bella's face turned a deathly shade of gray, eyes widening in unspeakable terror. The Volturi had finally come for her.
"We meet again, Isabella." Felix winked, sending a bolt of fear through her body.
"Bella, what's happening?" In her ear, Jacob's alarmed voice attempted to plunge through the horror consuming her mind.
Faster than she could blink, Felix knocked the phone from her grasp. That same marble hand smothered her screams as he hauled her into the van's interior. Her braid sprang to life and coiled itself around Felix's neck, attempting to squeeze the undead life from him.
"How interesting." The low victorious laughter in her ear made her skin crawl.
A ferocious hiss ripped from Liz's throat as she dropped her human shell, embracing the draken beast.
Liz had scrambled halfway across the hood when Mason raised his gun and fired in quick succession. The first bullet flung her backward. The second bullet shattered the car window behind her, setting off the high-pitched wail of an alarm. Bella looked on in horror as Liz disappeared between the cars and didn't rise again.
Mason swore and stomped, crushing Bella's phone beneath his boot heel. He climbed into the van and slammed the door, dampening the sounds of chaos outside.
Felix loosened his grip around Bella's mouth and torso. "You fucking idiot. Aro wanted the draken female alive!"
"She surprised me, all right?" Mason raked a hand through his head and swore again.
Felix and Mason continued to argue, but Bella heard nothing above her heart pounding in her ears. Images of Liz flashed before her eyes. The best friend who'd read trashy novels to her when she was bed-bound from chemo. The one who stepped in after Taylor died to take care of her while suffering through her own grief. Five years of tears, laughter and friendship ruthlessly snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Her best friend was dead.
Bella flew into a rage and lunged at Mason. The attacked took both men by surprise, and Mason was unprepared when she raked sharp nails across his cheek, splitting his flesh. Howling her grief, she slapped and clawed at his face while he tried to fend her off. Rage contorted his features, but Bella was too far gone to dodge his flying fist. Pain and light exploded in her eye before she slammed into the floor. She landed on her bad hip and a burst of agony stole breath from her lungs. Its intensity crippled her. She couldn't move, couldn't think.
When the room stopped spinning, she discovered Mason struggling against the grip Felix had on his throat. His eyes bulged, face turning purple as he slapped at Mason's marble face. The vampire growled in warning and Mason froze despite his restricted air supply.
"Fool, Caius wanted the woman unspoiled. If the child is harmed, you'll answer for it not me." Felix shoved Mason toward the driver's seat. "Get us out of here before that fucking alarm draws more attention. I'll prepare her for flight."
The van started with a rumble and Felix's calculating gaze turned on her. He moved out of her line of sight and the sounds of something being dragged reached her ears. The vibration beneath her body and the fading screech of the car alarm told her that the van was moving. They were leaving the mall. Hot tears stung her eyes and trailed across her face. She wasn't afraid for herself, her thoughts and fears centered on the frantic kicking in her belly.
"Here let me help you." Felix returned and gathered her into his arms. The movement reignited the fire in her hip and she cried out in agony. Felix set her down inside a padded box and regarded her with a cryptic smile. "You go to your death so it's only right I help you into your coffin."
Ice ran through her veins when his words sank in. She was in a coffin. Ignorant to the hysteria bubbling inside Bella, Felix seized her chin and twisted. Despite her screams, he stabbed a needle into her neck and injected a liquid that burned. She tried to fight him, but her movement became sluggish, her limbs grew heavy as the drugs took its desired effect. He swatted her feeble hands away before seizing an arm and piercing her vein with an IV needle. Whatever pain she experienced felt removed as though it was happening to someone else's body.
"Jacob…" Darkness had enfolded her by the time he lowered the coffin lid, shutting out the light.
"This is bad," Leah muttered as she sat on the patio steps flicking her switchblade. She thought about Bella and what losing her would do to Jacob, to the pack, to her family.
She directed her focus toward the wolves standing in small clusters, their voices barely above a whisper. Their strained faces bore evidence of volatile emotions sensed through the pack bond they shared with the Alpha. The endless bombardment of rage and grief had already sent at least two wolves racing for the woods. In the background, Quil comforted a sobbing Angela, telling her it would be okay. Face hardened with purpose, Sam made the rounds among the wolves, giving reassurances. With Jacob out of commission, it fell to the Beta to keep the peace. Micheal stood alone, looking like an abused dog that lost its owner. Hushed murmurs came from the wolf girls who huddled on patio behind her.
"I still can't believe this is happening," Kim said, tears choking her voice.
"We'll get through this as a pack. Whatever happens." Emily's useless platitude pissed off the she-wolf.
Leah clenched her teeth so hard a muscle in her jaw throbbed. Whatever happens? The fuck was that supposed to mean?
The sickly sweet stench of vampires mingled with the cold night air, fanning the flames of simmering animosity of every wolf within sniffing distance. This was happening because of them. If Alice hadn't taken Bella to Italy to stop Edward from acting out his emo bitch manifesto, the Volturi wouldn't have learned of her existence. It was just like those selfish fucks to act in their own interest, without a thought for how their actions affected the lives of others. If only they'd done the selfless thing and stayed out of her life, Bella wouldn't be—
Leah gave her head a hard shake, refusing the finish that line of thought. Bella was still alive. She needed to believe her partner, her friend was still alive somewhere out there. Still if what Quil said was right, and the Cullens had betrayed Bella, there would be no end to the vengeance she'd rain down on those dead fucks.
Where the fuck was Zach?
Leah noticed she was bouncing her knee and forced herself to stop. As Jacob's number two, she had to project calm. She couldn't afford to let the young wolves see her losing her shit. Why the fuck did she promise Zach she'd stop smoking? She flicked her blade, wondering again where he was. It had been more than an hour since she'd last heard from him. Inside her mind, the wolf paced, reluctant to settle until she knew Zach was close enough to smell and touch.
She finally heard the purr of Zach's car as it rolled into the driveway and shot out of her seat. Heart in her throat, she shoved wolves from her path and rounded the corner with a sprint.
Zach barely exited the car before she slammed into him, colliding hard with his body. He returned her welcoming embrace, burying his face in the crook of her neck. Tension melted now they were together. He was her anchor in this fucked-up sea of bullshit. They stayed like that for a long time until Leah withdrew with deep regret.
"What happened to Izzy?" His steady gaze met hers.
"The Volturi kidnapped her from a mall in Seattle. We don't know where they took her." The words sounded ridiculous even as she spoke them out loud. Bella got kidnapped by the vampire mafia.
"Wait Seattle? Shit, Liz was with her. Did those fucks take her too?" Rage stole over his features, a stark difference from the cocky grin that always graced his face.
"She got shot, but managed to call Ryan before passing out cold. The Cullens found her parked near some aquarium." It was quick thinking on Liz's part to leave the mall before a good Samaritan found her. Hospitals automatically involved the police whenever a patient came in with gunshot wounds. That would've led to questions she couldn't answer. "They brought her back three hours ago."
"Jesus, how is she?"
"She lost a lot of blood. Carlisle and Sue are with her now but... it's bad, Zach." The garage door hid Liz's blood drenched car from prying eyes. The stench of copper seeped into the surroundings, permeating Bella's property. Leah didn't know how one person could lose so much blood and survive. Liz's heart beat sounded faint when the vampires rushed her inside.
Leah swore when Trent's car pulled into the driveway behind Zach's. She'd completely forgotten about him when she and Emily made up a lame excuse and left him to close up the cafe alone.
"You guys seen Bella? I heard on the news about a shooting in Seattle and I'm worried. Been trying to reach her and keep getting voice mail. It's not like her to go no contact for long stretches. Can't reach Liz either." Trent paused long enough to notice neither one of them had answered during his rambling. "Guys?"
Leah and Zach traded anxious glances. Trent was in the dark about the existence of supernatural creatures. Humans tended to freak the fuck out whenever they discovered they weren't at the top of the food chain. What the hell were they supposed to tell him? The guy worked for Bella and lived in her house. He was bound to notice her disappearance. If Jacob was in his right mind, she would've left the decision up to him. Telling humans required a council vote and Alpha approval, neither of which were around to give their blessing. After weighing the options, she decided to lie her ass off.
"Bella took a surprise trip out of the country."
From what little Leah knew of Trent, she took him as a tattooed, mellow hippie without the pot. When a pissy customer got on her nerves, he possessed the ability to take the venom out of her fangs. A flirtatious smile, some clever words and he had customers smiling and showering him with huge tips. His charm worked on everybody, even straight guys.
Well, the mellow hippie stayed silent as if turning the words over in his mind and then spat, "Bullshit."
"What?" Leah stared in disbelief.
A slight raise of an eyebrow, betrayed his irritation. "I call bullshit. Bella would never up and desert the cafe without notice. And she could pop any day now. Why would she risk traveling so close to her due date? What airline would risk a heavily pregnant woman shelling her peas on their plane? Instant liability."
"Well damn." At a complete loss, Zach scratched behind his head.
Trent folded arms across his chest. "I'll only ask one more time then I'm calling the police. Where is Bella?"
Shit! The cops were the last people they needed involved. But she didn't have time to nurse Trent through a meltdown. The elders were due to arrive any minute for the emergency pack meeting. Leah was five seconds away from stuffing Trent inside the trunk of his car and leaving his perceptive ass there.
"Let me handle this." Seth appeared from the shadows, taking everyone by surprise.
Trent eyed each of them with suspicion, but Seth opened the front door and walked through it without a backward glance. Seconds ticked by and then Trent followed.
The door closed and then Trent's panicked voice was heard. "Is that… blood?"
Leah and Zach heaved mutual sighs of relief. She didn't know what her brother was telling Trent, but she was glad he was handling it. Still she wondered when Seth and Trent became friends. From her brother's irritation whenever Trent was around, she suspected he disliked the guy. Here she was wondering if her brother was a homophobe. There was no time to dwell on that though as a truck rolled to a stop in front of the house, announcing the arrival of remaining elders. Trevor and Jolon alighted from the vehicle, looking none too pleased at being compelled to meet off the reservation. But they had no choice since Jacob refused to leave his makeshift sanctuary in Bella's bedroom.
"Take them around back. I'll let Jacob know the others have arrived." Leah let herself into Bella's house, leaving her mate to deal with the elders.
She almost expected to see Bella descending the stairs or hear her obnoxious laugh. The house felt empty without her. Leah cleared her throat, relieving the tightness there. Hand gripping the railing she made her way upstairs and down the hall. She passed several closed doors. One reeked of blood. Behind another, Trent was heard arguing about why no one had called the police yet.
Leah stood before Bella's door, trying to gather the strength to enter the chaotic emotions swirling around in that room. Proximity amplified Jacob's grief and rage. The intensity threatened to evict the contents of her stomach. She cracked open the door and peered into the darkened room. Jacob sat in a corner, his back supported by the wall beneath a window. The darkness and his lowered head conspired to shield his face from view. The large bulk of his frame was statue still except for one finger alternating between the call and end buttons on his cell. After a brief ring Bella's voice mail greeting would begin. When it ended, he'd hang up without leaving a message and redial. The sound of his imprint's voice was the only thing keeping him from going feral.
Billy and Charlie sat some distance away from him. From their resigned silence Leah gleaned that they'd long given up trying to reach Jacob. The Alpha was the first to mark her arrival. His fingers stilled as his head raised enough to stare at her, eyes gleaming with predatory intent. Her wolf whined, wanting to get the fuck away, but she forced herself to stay for Bella. For her sake, the meeting needed to happen.
"Leah…" Her name crawled out of his chest like a rotted zombie from a crypt.
"Jolon and Trevor are downstairs waiting to start the meeting." She beat a hasty retreat, stopping by Trent's room to give Seth a head's up.
Leah pushed on the door and stiffened in shock. She stared, her eyes unwilling to accept what they were seeing. For a short space in time Leah believed she'd gone batshit crazy. Insanity was the only explanation that made sense. Nothing else explained why her brother had Trent pinned against the wall, their mouths locked in a passionate kiss. Fucking tongue and everything.
"Are you kidding me with this fuckery!" They broke apart at her shout and began a litany of excuses. "I can't deal with this right now because the meeting's about to start. But when this is over we're gonna have a conversation." She stormed off, ignoring Seth's pleas to wait, to let him explain. Way too fucking late.
Bella was missing and her lady-killer brother was making out with guys. The fucking world's gone mad.
Leah was still in a fog when she rejoined the others in the backyard. Zach took one look at her face and immediately became concerned. "You okay?"
She couldn't bring herself to lie to him. "No."
Before long they were joined by Jacob and the others and the meeting began. Sue and Carlisle were among the last to appear with Ryan understandably absent. Grim faced, Carlisle stood before the pack as if facing a firing squad. However that wasn't far from the truth with many wolves entertaining fantasies of dismemberment and bonfires. The Cullens stood apart from the pack, but close enough to offer support to their patriarch. Leah stayed alert as Carlisle admitted his part in Bella's abduction, fully prepared to crack skulls if a wolf stepped out of line. Sam kept a wary eye on the Alpha.
Carlisle confessed, "We thought the Volturi would leave Bella in peace if Alice, Jasper and Edward joined their ranks. It worked until a scout followed Bella to the cemetery and found out she was pregnant. After questioning Alice and the others, they learned Taylor was draken."
Leah guessed questioning was bullshit talk for torture. As obsessive as Edward was over Bella, she didn't imagine him being the kind to snitch willingly.
"Bella's pregnancy changed things." Carlisle cast a brief glance at his wife. "The draken and the Volturi have a centuries-old agreement. As long as both groups kept to their respective countries, they'd leave each other be. But the Volturi never got passed their fascination for beings with special abilities."
Leah recalled Bella telling the story of how the draken, after centuries of murder and cruel harassment, finally learned how to utilize their powers and fight back against the vampires. The draken had amassed enough power to rival vampires. To maintain invisibility to the human world, they agreed to leave each other alone. Leah was particularly interested in finding out just how powerful the draken were.
"After they learned about Bella's pregnancy, I lost contact with Edward and the others. I even flew to Italy but Aro refused to let me see them." A pained expression flashed across Carlisle's face. "Then the Volturi demanded I send medical reports on Bella and the baby."
Micheal barged his way to the front of the crowd. "We trusted you. Bella trusted you and you betrayed her!"
Grumblings of agreement among the pack. More than a few wolves wanted nothing more than to turn the vampire doctor into confetti. If the situation wasn't brought to order, mob justice would prevail. But so far Jacob hadn't ordered them to stand down. His heavy silence disturbed Leah more than she could explain.
Carlisle shouted to be heard over the rising tide of angry voices. "I sent the files in the hope that it would be enough to satisfy their curiosity. Aro promised if I did as ordered, no harm would come to my children and Bella would remain safe. I was a fool to believe them."
Leah regarded the small group of vampires huddled together and hated the sliver of pity she felt. Even though it was vampire treachery that brought them to this point, she couldn't help but empathize. In their own way, the Cullen's tried to protect Bella. Even going as far as surrendering three of their own to glorified slavery. They gambled, lost and were still paying the price. Were Edward and the others even alive?
Something occurred to Leah, and her question quieted the pack's growing thirst for vengeance. "Why did the Volturi want Bella's records?"
"After they learned about Fang inhabiting Bella's body, they were interested in any side effects she might've suffered. I suspect they wanted to know if a draken could be engineered instead of born." Carlisle paused, indecision stamped on his features.
Jacob's snarl raised the hair on Leah's arms. Fierce brutality blazed in his dark eyes, the only hint of the monster lurking beneath his skin. The Alpha, their leader was barely holding it together. How long would it be until his mind broke without Bella?
"I was untruthful when he assured you and Bella that her hair would return to normal after she gave birth." Carlisle drew in a fortifying breath. "While I'm not completely certain, it's possible Bella might be becoming draken."
"You lied to her face!" Seth's lips peeled away from his teeth with a growled.
"I couldn't risk upsetting Bella until I had more concrete information." Carlisle sighed.
"That information you gave to the Volturi is the reason they took Bella." Sam spoke in a low tone, but the mild accusation hung in the air.
"Where are they're holding Bella?" Embry's hardened eyes scrutinized Carlisle. Leah realized she hadn't thought to ask how he was handling Bella's kidnapping, given that he too was in love with her.
"It's possible an extraction team has already smuggled her out of the country. She's on her way to Italy as we speak." Carlisle regarded them with apologetic eyes. "Once a goal has been achieved, they won't linger. It's how the Volturi have always operated."
That sent murmurs of dismay through the pack. Any hopes of wolves storming some abandoned building to rescue Bella was smashed. She was no longer on American soil. Leah felt a despair she hadn't experienced in a long time. Not since Sam imprinted and her father died. Bella was the only one who understood her rage and pain. The only person willing to look passed the bitterness and offer friendship. The last time they spoke, she bitched about Emily occupying her space. Now there was a real possibility she might never see her best friend again.
Zach, as if sensing the hopelessness closing in around Leah, grasped her hand, loaning his strength for as long as hers faltered. While claiming some support for himself. Bella had become a sister to him. This was hurting him too.
"Wait a minute? How did they make it through airport security? Someone had to notice the hysterical pregnant woman." Paul scowled.
Carlisle said. "Airport officials are not invulnerable to bribery. The Volturi have long kept humans at their disposal. Hopefuls who would offer their services in exchange for eventual immortality."
"Mason." Sam growled.
The vampire doctor gave a somber nod. "Humans can go where vampires cannot."
Leah felt sick to her stomach. Mason spent months befriending Bella until he found an opening. Leah remembered all the times he hung around the cafe. She'd brushed him off as a harmless guy with a crush. A Volturi spy had been right under her nose the entire time. Some fucking werewolf she was! Why didn't she see what he was before it was too late? This was on her.
"What about Liz? How is she?" Rachel stepped forward, concern softening her eyes.
Carlisle appeared relieved at the temporary shift in topic. "Liz suffered a lot of blood loss. But while I managed to extract the bullet, time will tell if she'll ever regain full use of her arm. Apart from that, I expect her to make a full recovery."
Jacob unfolded his large frame from his seat and stood. There was something… unnatural about the way his eyes flitted from face to face. Then the stoic mask slid into place, barricading his emotions. "I called this meeting to bring the pack up to speed on what's happened and why?" His arctic gaze touched on where the Cullens stood in their self-imposed exile, before returning to his people. "I also called you here tonight to inform you of my decision."
Trevor was immediately on his feet, shoulders stiff with tension and anger. "Excuse me, Jacob, but I'm not understanding you. What's happened to Bella is terrible and she will be missed. But there's no decision to be made here. It's regrettable but Bella is gone. There's nothing anyone can do."
Leah stiffened in stunned outrage. Trevor couldn't mean what he was saying. True, he never liked Bella and had been downright rude to her in the past. Did he hate her that much?
"You son of a bitch!" Charlie charged toward Trevor, only stopping when Sue threw her body between both men. His wife was the only thing preventing him from taking a swing at the Elder. "Would you really leave Bella to die in a foreign country?"
"This concerns more than just Bella Swan," Trevor shot back, his own anger flaring.
"I'm going after her," Jacob announced, and all heads swung to him. Billy's head lowered with a resigned sigh, and Jolon placed a consoling hand on his shoulder.
Trevor recovered first. "Do you know what you're saying? Doing this will put the lives of this pack at risk. The council will never give its approval."
"That is my daughter and grandchild you're talking about abandoning!" Charlie promptly lost his composure, emotion shook his voice. Tears sprang to Sue's eyes as she embraced her husband, burying her face in his chest.
Trevor ignored the embittered police chief and focused on Jacob. "Are you willing to risk this pack all for the sake of one woman who consorted with vampires?"
A deafening hush fell over the gathering when Jacob looked Trevor in the eyes. "I'm not asking the Council's permission. This won't be put to a vote. I'm bringing Bella and the baby home. I don't care if I have to tear Italy apart to do it. Or who stands in my way. Every last one of them will burn for this." The quiet malice in Jacob's tone was both frightening and inspiring. Leah felt her fear and uncertainty melt away. Whatever came next, he would lead them through it. "I owe it to Bella. It's my fault she was taken."
"You can't blame yourself, son." Billy brought his wheelchair closer. "You couldn't have known."
"In my gut I knew Mason was bad news. But I ignored my instincts and let her go off to Seattle unprotected. I knew better." He turned to Charlie with fire in his eyes. "I'm making this promise, Charlie. I'm going to Italy and I won't come home without her."
Leah knew with certainty Bella's death would destroy him. To love a mate was to surrender to madness. He would venture into the twisted caverns of hell to rescue his mate. If he failed, either the wolf or death would claim him. She would've done the same if it was Zach who'd been kidnapped. There wasn't a mated wolf there who didn't understand the depths of that love. If the Alpha was heading to hell, they would gladly follow him.
"We're going with you!" Young Alan's pledge, prompted a wave of support.
Cheers of 'damn right' and 'we'll save Bella' and 'let's teach the leeches a lesson' sprang up like errant weeds. Even Leah was forced to stifle her own declarations as her mood shifted from dread to the thirst for battle. They evolved to protect humans from vampires. Now one of their own had been taken, it was their duty to rescue her. Zach grasped Leah's hand and squeezed, fear burning in his gaze. She saw the same worry on the faces of imprint and claimed alike. The ones who would be left behind while their wolves risked death.
"You're taking the pack on a suicide mission. This is madness!" Trevor's voice cut through the optimism like a hot knife through butter.
"Only the older wolves will make the trip, the pups will stay behind." Jacob's firm statement created an uproar among the pups.
"This is bullshit!" Micheal exploded, but a stern look from Jacob silenced him.
"We can fight!"
"It's not fair."
"Bella was our friend too!"
Leah noted the shaking in Jacob's huge frame that betrayed the difficulty he had holding on to his human skin. She instantly knew he was on the precipice of becoming feral and stepped up to quell the growing dissent.
"You're staying behind to protect the res. There's a real possibility the Volturi might attack our people while were away. It will be up to you to stand guard and I know I trained you maggots right!" By the time she finished the pups stood a little taller. "It'll be up to you to protect everyone."
Jacob gave a discreet nod of thanks. What Leah didn't say was that the pups could be all that was left if things went balls up in Italy.
Carlisle, after a brief conversation with his family, spoke up. "Though I've given you no reason to trust me, I'm willing to offer my assistance in getting you to Italy."
"How can we be sure this isn't a trap to add us to the Volturi's collection?" Paul's upper lip curled in disgust.
"They don't know werewolf shifters exist," Carlisle said.
"How can you be sure?" Embry cocked an eyebrow.
"The Volturi have always been cautious of provoking an all out war with other creatures. The risk of exposure is too great. Bella's ties to your pack would've given them pause."
Leah frowned. Other creatures? There were werewolves, vampires and draken. What the hell else was out there?
"If they don't see us coming, maybe we have a shot." Quil's mouth stretched into a wicked grin.
Trevor slapped a hand over his face in frustration. "Try to see reason and think about your plan. How will you get to Italy? And if you manage to get there, how will you find Bella? Facing an entire army of vampires would guarantee your demise."
Carlisle's forehead furrowed in concentration. "I could provide a private jet and undetected passage into Italy. Though I loathe to admit it, Trevor has a point. Even if we took the entire pack, I'm uncertain they'd survive a battle with the guard. We're outnumbered."
"Fuck," Leah muttered and Zach draped an arm around her, sensing her growing desperation. Trevor was right. Their numbers were too few.
"There might be a way." A weak voice drew their attention.
Ryan emerged from the kitchen and stepped onto the porch carrying Liz's fragile frame in his arms.
Anger gave way to piping hot fury so thick it damn near saturated the pack bond. Despite the dark malice playing havoc with the emotions of every wolf there, Jacob showed no outward appearance of his feelings. None apart from the hardening of his mouth. Jacob and Liz had barely tolerated each other for Bella's sake, but until Seattle she'd been a mere nuisance to him. Now the Alpha despised her. He laid the blame for Bella's disappearance at her feet.
Sue gasped. "You shouldn't be out of bed!"
She, Esme and Carlisle rushed to offer their help as Ryan settled Liz on a lounge chair. Liz's sun-kissed skin now held a pale, sickly hue. Her dark hair hung in greasy strings. Blood dotted the sling that secured her injured right arm to her chest. Dull eyes gazed out at them from a haggard face. She looked nothing like the mischievous beauty who liked to float around the cafe, making friends and teasing customers.
"Liz, your body suffered a serious injury. She's in no condition to be up and should be in bed recuperating," Carlisle chided as he directed the last part at Ryan.
"That's what I told her," Ryan replied, fatigue lining his features. Esme briefly ducked into the kitchen and returned with a washcloth which she then pressed to Liz's glistening forehead.
"You say there's a way?" Menace dripped from Jacob's words.
"Yes, a way for us to improve our numbers." Liz weakly waved off Esme's attempts to fuss with her hair.
Jacob regarded her in silence, no doubt tempted to tell her to go to hell. But he'd do anything to bring Bella and the baby home safely. Even if it meant accepting aid from the person who'd put her in danger in the first place.
Guilt and sorrow shadowed Liz's eyes as she accepted blame without argument. "We still have my clan's contact information. I could call Spain and ask for their help."
Leah's eyebrows flew into her hairline and Zach's grip tightened, betraying his own shock. Holy shit. Liz was talking about contacting Marianna, the draken matriarch and sworn enemy of the Volturi. A maniacal grin pulled at Leah's mouth. All around her she sensed the pack's somber mood lift and harden toward mutual purpose. With the aid of the draken clan, they had a genuine shot at bringing Bella home. If they could rally the draken to their side, they could win the upcoming war.
A/N: Crazy work schedule delayed this chapter but I'm conflicted at how close I am to the end. Just four or five more chapters till curtain call. Makes me elated and depressed at the same time.
Back to the story
Bella and Liz have fun shopping
Mason shot Liz. Sorry I scared you.
Show of hands. Who saw Mason's betrayal coming?
The Volturi sends Felix after Bella
Leah sees her brother and Trent kissing and freaks out.
Emotions run high at the emergency pack meeting.
Though Trevor sounded cold hearted, was he right to insist Jacob put the pack first?
Charlie is distraught
Jacob is on the verge of losing his mind.
Liz plans to reach out to the draken. Will they come?
Review and receive your teasers.