Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyers owns Twilight. I do not. I do however, own my gang.

Flying solo folks.

Chapter 42

Jacob kept his eyes closed when he sensed movement in his bedroom. Carpet muted the approaching footsteps, but he still heard them. Lying still on the bed, he maintained even breaths and willed the intruder closer. The steps came to a hesitant stop and his chest expanded with a deep breath that carried a hint of vanilla. Warmth and the slight rustle of air on his face betrayed the person's proximity. Smothered laughter told him they were up to no good and were on the verge of mischief. But Jacob willed his muscles to relax, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. He'd teach this intruder a lesson about trespassing in his lair.

His hand shot out, seizing the intruder by the wrist. Giggles and squeals pierced the air as he flipped his captive onto the bed and leaped on top.

Bella wore an adorable pout as she peered up at him, trying to control her rapid breathing.

"What are you up to?" Jacob growled.

"Nothing, you crazy werewolf. I was just minding my business when you attacked me!" She rattled off her lie, but a telltale flush filled her cheeks all the same.

"Minding your own business, huh?" He pressed her wrists into the mattress, keeping his full weight from crushing her body.

"That's right and I don't appreciate being mauled." Her lips trembled, threatening to ruin her fierce scowl. She barely resisted the smile lurking beneath her faux outrage.

"Coming in here, causing trouble. I should take you over my knee." Jacob glanced down the length of her scantily clad body, from her disheveled hair to bare legs. In the struggle her white tank top rode up, exposing her pale, rounded belly.

"Hey, don't get any ideas," she warned, trying to draw his focus away from the soft swell of her breasts.

"I have ways of making you talk." Gathering her wrists with one hand, he walked his fingers up her smooth thighs toward her flimsy panties. One flick of his hand would render them useless.

"Don't you dare." Her voice carried a hint of breathlessness.

"Think we should get started on the second baby." He grinned wolfishly while tugging on waistband of her underwear.

"At least let me squeeze this one out first." She giggled, shimmying her hips to evade his questing fingers.

"No dice. I think you've got room in there for five more."

"Five?" A throaty laugh escaped her. "You'll drop that number after the first diaper change."

He buried his face in the crook of her neck and inhaled her intoxicating aroma. God, how he enjoyed indulging the magnetic pull that drew him to her. What a fool he'd been to think he could've been satisfied living a lie. It was no comparison to being with the woman who held the other half of his soul. A lifetime wasn't enough to show how much he loved her.

Unable to resist the urge, Jacob lowered his head and kissed her parted lips. Bella succumbed to his attentions with a sigh, her body melting into the mattress. She whimpered beneath him, answering his kisses with a moan. Fingertips danced along her arm, leaving a trail of goose pimples. His fingers ran along her lips, nose, hair… He couldn't get enough of touching her. Lying on their sides, face to face, their fingers linked, they enjoyed the simplicity of being together.

"After Taylor died, I never thought I'd be this happy again. But now…" She trailed off, profound sadness stole over her features.

"What's wrong, Bells?" He cradled her cheek, compelling her mournful gaze to his.

The sunlight room turned to darkness as she withdrew from his embrace and sat upright. She covered her face, sobbing into her palms. In an instant, he was beside her dragging her hands away.

"Talk to me." His own body shook from desperation, his need to fix whatever was wrong between them.

"I'm going to die." Her glassy eyes barely acknowledged his presence as he wiped her tears away.

"I'll always protect you, Bells. I swear it." His grasp on her forearms tightened and then she looked at him. But the disappointment and grief stamped on her features froze him in place.

"You swear?" A bitter laugh. "Why did you let them take me?"

"I'm sorry…" He couldn't deny the truth of her words. Everything was his fault. He'd failed to protect his mate.

"I'm going to die and it's all your fault."

Jacob reach for her but his hands closed on empty space. "Bella!"

Jacob jerked awake and found himself the focus of every wolf in his cabin. He loathed the concern, the pity in their gazes, but the wolf relished the sharp scent of their fear.

"Everything okay?" Sam asked and flinched at the ridiculous question.

Anything and everything was wrong. Jacob didn't know if things would ever be right again. He scrubbed a hand across his face and discovered he was damp from sweat and nightmares.

Without giving an answer, he unbuckled his belt and rose from his seat in search of a lavatory. He located one toward the rear of the cabin. As he made his way down the aisle, he kept his gaze straight ahead, ignoring the vampires on one side and the humans on the other. The vampires wisely kept their distance from him and stay out of his path. He was in no frame of mind to engage either of the groups so he pretended they weren't there.

The private plane's engine quietly propelled them through the air. At least the weather had been on their side, ensuring a smooth take off and uneventful flight.

Once he shut the hardwood sliding door, he stood over the washbasin and splashed his face with cool water. He used a plush hand towel to dry his hands as he tried to ignore the hushed voices of his wolves.

"You get a look at his eyes?" The sounds of the plane's engine did nothing to mute Colin's fearful whisper.

"Yeah. Freaks me out when the wolf's that close to the surface," Brady replied.

"He's getting worse. I'm so fucking worried he'll lose his shit and go feral." A trace of panic colored Quil's tone.

"Jake's holding it together as best he can, but I worry about the outcome of this battle." Sam's voice held a mild chastisement, but he too was fearful.

"You talk to him about what we're supposed to do if…" Embry trailed off, a precautionary measure in case the Alpha was listening.

Sam heaved a weary sigh. "I haven't found the right opportunity."

Jacob knew what they wanted to discuss with him. But the conversation would have to wait until he wasn't trapped inside a flying tube. All of his willpower was engaged in keeping his human skin and resisting the wolf's advancement.

Paul muttered a curse. "You sensing the pack bond right now? Makes me want to claw my skin off."

For the first time since he'd entered the lavatory, Jacob regarded his haggard reflection in the mirror. His pupils had enlarged until his iris was a tiny ring of brown. Lips parted to reveal rows of razor sharp teeth and long talons tipped his fingers. He usually kept the hair on his head trimmed and manageable, but since Bella's disappearance it had lengthened into a shaggy mane. At this rate he'd never pass for human, and if the Italian authorities got a decent look at him there'd be trouble. His wolves were right to be concerned, he was losing control. Feral. Was what happened when wolves lost all sense of self and craved violence above civility.

His imprint was missing. Bella, who'd already overcome many hardships, was alone and terrified in the clutches of his enemies. Exhaustion prodded him from behind nightmare filled sleep. Each time he closed his eyes, he was confronted with his abject failure to protect his mate. To keep her and the baby safe.

A quiver shook his frame, and he gritted his teeth, fighting off another of the wolf's attempts to seize control. He would not give in. Would not fail her again. If the wolf emerged looking for his stolen mate, people would die. Eventually, the wolf relented, disappearing into the murky waters of his mind and he sagged against the sink. Right now Bella needed the man to be stronger than the wolf. When he reopened his eyes, the man in the mirror had blunt, human teeth again. He couldn't do anything about his wild eyes or hair, but hopefully the humans wouldn't pay too close attention.

As he made his way back to his seat, he overheard Emmett and Rosalie's whispering to each other. A short distance away, Carlisle spoke in Italian with someone on the phone. He assumed the vampire was busy making arrangements for their stay. Walter's contacts had supplied the pack with their travel documents in record time. Taylor's father had been livid at the news of Bella's abduction and that of his only grandchild. However he once learned of their intention to meet with the draken clan, the businessman only had words of caution for them. Marianna and the draken clan were not to be trifled with.

"I want to save Bella, Em, but a part of me is afraid of what we'll find." Rosalie's eyebrows drew together, fingers digging into Emmett's muscular arm.

"Good or bad, we have to know what happened to Edward and the others, Rose." Emmett tenderly stroked his wife's alabaster cheek. "If they're alive, we'll free them."

"What will we do if they aren't?" A tremor shook her voice.

Amber eyes hardened. "Avenge them."

As Jacob turned away, his gaze touched on the humans and the vampire hovering over them both. Liz slept on a beige leather sofa while Ryan stroked her pallid face, his dark brows pinched with concern. Esme wrung excess water from a cloth and dabbed at Liz's bruised cheek. Despite the relatively cool air circulating the cabin, a sheen of sweat beaded Liz's forehead. A slight sniff brought the stench of illness to the wolf's nose. Carlisle had grown concerned about her fever and increased risk of infection. Jetting to Europe was the last thing Liz should've been doing, but they had no other choice. If her presence at the upcoming meeting with the draken clan wasn't needed, he would've gladly left her in Washington. Though there was plenty of blame to go around, the beast held her most responsible. If it hadn't been for her childish objections to their relationship, Bella wouldn't have gone to Seattle. She and the baby would've been safe at home. None of this would be happening.

By the time he returned to his seat, cold rage flowed through his veins like liquid nitrogen. Wolves eyed him with caution but at least no one asked how he was coping. A small mercy. In his absence, the flight attendant had served lunches. The appetizing aroma filled the cabin, making him hungry despite himself. He suspected that it wasn't a coincidence that the attendant, a mousy woman in her thirties, had waited until he'd left the cabin to serve meals. In his present state, most humans shrank away and avoided being in his presence on pure instinct.

Sam set his phone on the table. "Talked to Billy. He said the situation on the res is tense with all wolves on high alert. But everyone's safe and Micheal's adjusting nicely to his new leadership role."

"Bella's disappearance hit Micheal real hard. They were like siblings," Paul spoke around a mouth full of turkey.

There had been a few objections to Micheal being left in charge, but out of all the pups he showed the most promise. Jacob hadn't forgotten how he'd rallied the pups behind him that night he came to the Alpha's house to threaten him. The pup was smart and one of the few to have faced vampire in singular combat. The other pups were upset at being left behind, but Jacob remained confident in his decision. Besides their inexperience in battling vampires, he couldn't in all good conscience take boys to what could be their deaths. As Alpha Jacob was tasked with the responsibility of protecting the reservation, and ensuring the continuation of werewolf species. If the worse happened, it was their duty to continue the bloodline. Jacob was certain Bella would've agreed with his choice.

Separated by an aisle, Leah attacked her meal in livid silence, stabbing lumps of beef with her fork. In between chews she tossed glares in her brother's direction. Seth made it a point to ignore her, keeping his eyes on his plate as he chewed with lackluster effort.

When the tension became too much, Leah broke her silence. "You owe me an explanation, Seth."

Seth's head snapped up, eyes narrowing. "Bella's missing. Maybe now is not the best time to talk about this." They fell into guilty silence, their gazes drifting unwittingly toward the Alpha.

"It's time, Seth," Jacob said, taking the pack by surprise. They were headed into war and unresolved issues were distractions they couldn't afford. No one in the pack had the privacy he'd given Seth. The young wolf had hidden long enough. For years he'd kept Seth's secret while he figured out who he was, but the young wolf needed the push. It was time for the wolf to come clean with his brothers. Besides, he needed something to distract from malice twining in his gut. Anything to take his mind off the searing pain gnawing at his insides.

"What's time?" Embry paused in the middle of cutting his steak.

Seth wiped his mouth on a napkin and tossed it on the table with a sigh. He fell back on his seat and swiped a hand through his hair.

Regret filled his eyes as he regarded his sister. "I never meant for you to find out that way."

"Find out what?" Colin asked, inquisitive eyes darting from one sibling to the other.

"Leah walked in... I kissed Trent," Seth admitted and a shocked silence descended on the cabin.

Without words, Jacob knew what the others were thinking. Seth was a well-known skirt chaser, the guy who never dated the same girl twice. At least he was to the people who didn't know better.

Leah was the first to voice her disbelief. "You can't be gay. We've all seen you date women."

"I'm gay, Leah." Seth's weary gaze settled on his sister, and yet another emotion lurked beneath. Acceptance. He was finally ready to face himself.

The tightness in Leah's face eased. "So those women…"

"Was me trying not to be gay."

Head tilted to the side, Jared pursed his lips in thought. "We share the pack mind where nothing's secret. How did you keep this from us?"

"Yeah, how come we never heard any…" Brady trailed off with a guilty look.

"Gay thoughts?" Seth finished his sentence with a twisted smile and Brady gave a jerky nod.

"Two years ago Seth came to me with a request and I agreed to use an Alpha command," Jacob said, briefly drawing their focus away from Seth. No wolf was brave enough to look at him with hard eyes, but he sensed their heavy disapproval. He'd broken one of their rules for Seth. No secrets in the pack.

"Two years ago?" Leah stiffened, realization dawning in her eyes. "Does this have anything to do with why you went off your rocker and did all those drugs?"

Seth's chin dropped to his chest as he crumpled under their intense scrutiny. If they hadn't been watching him closely, they would've miss his slight nod. "It started when I first realized I was… different."

Jacob would never forget the naked pain in Seth's eyes the night he begged him to block those thoughts from the pack. After witnessing Seth's agony and self-loathing he made the allowance, knowing the young wolf needed time to come to terms with himself. Nothing Jacob did or said would hurry that process along. So he used an Alpha command and kept Seth's secret from the pack under one condition. The drug use would end.

Leah's mouth opened and closed a few times before she found her voice. "Who else knew?"

"Mom and Charlie." Seth risked a glance in her direction.

Leah sucked her teeth in response and stared at her brother. "Why didn't you come to me? Fuck, I'm your sister! Did you think I wouldn't understand?"

"We're supposed to be brothers?" Paul piped up with flared nostrils. "Why the hell did you hide this from us for so long? I know we joke around a lot but for fuck's sake we aren't a bunch of gay bashers!"

Brady shifted in discomfort. "Yeah! we might not understand those kinds of feelings, but we're not homophobes."

A wan smile tugged at Seth's mouth. "It was hard enough accepting the truth about myself, not to mention being the first gay werewolf in history. I wasn't ready for people knowing."

Leah shot out of her seat and slugged Seth hard in the shoulder.

"The fuck was that for!" Agony twisted Seth's face as he clutched his injured arm.

"For keeping secrets from me, asshole." Her stern expression softened, allowing a glimpse into a side rarely seen. "You're my little brother. You should've known I'd always have your back."

Paul's mouth stretched into a grin as he scratched the back of his head. "We're cool with you being into dudes but be prepared for the wolfback mountain jokes."

Laughter roared through the cabin, helping to ease some of the oppressive tension that had taken up passage since they boarded.

"So this thing with you and Trent." Leah leaned close, her fierce gaze needling her brother where he sat.

"It's new but I care about him." Forgetting his recent injury, Seth's shrug was followed by a wince.

"What'd you tell Trent to keep him quiet?" Jacob asked and forced himself to pick at his roasted chicken. His body needed nourishment for what was to come. Last he heard Trent wanted to contact the authorities. Trent wasn't a mate so Seth couldn't tell him about the wolves or vampires.

"Just that some dangerous people took Bella and we're negotiating to bring her home. He won't do anything to endanger Bella. In the meantime, he and Emily will carry on work at the cafe so they don't arouse anyone's suspicion."

Jacob nodded, pleased with Seth's quick thinking. For everyone's sake, they needed the media and police to stay in the dark. Bella's face splashed all over the news and police poking around the reservation was the last thing Jacob needed. He felt grateful toward Emily and Trent for making sure Bella would have her business to return to when the dust settled.

Carlisle ended his call, pocketing his phone as he strolled into the cabin. Jacob never knew it was possible for vampires to look as exhausted as the vampire doctor did.

"I've been in touch with my contact who says Marcus is the only Volturi leader in Volterra. Caius and Aro haven't been there in days. They've been very secretive about their plans, but he's heard whispers of them hunting a human."

"You trust this contact?" Leah narrowed her eyes.

Carlisle nodded. "I've spent decades cultivating that ally in case things turned sour with the Volturi."

"Then how come this ally didn't warn you about Edward and the others?" Kyle demanded.

"Because whatever befell my children didn't happen in Volterra where my contact resides. One day they left on assignment and he never saw them again."

Everyone noticed the droop in the vampire doctor's shoulders.

Jacob's fist clenched warping the fork in his grasp. Damn. The wolves had depended on the Cullen's familiarity with Tuscany to help guide them through unfamiliar territory. "Why would they leave their stronghold?"

"Probably anticipating my visit and made preparations to prevent any interference." Carlisle's scowled in displeasure.

"Where have they taken Bella?" Jacob didn't bother keeping the growl from his voice.

Discomfort briefly flashed across Carlisle's face. "I'm still working on that, but for now it's a dead end."

"You got any good news," Embry muttered dryly.

The vampire clasped his hand and brightened. "I've secured us a private residence under an alias. We should be safe there until it's time for our meeting."

"At least Marianna said they'd come and hear us out." Quil's monstrous appetite appeared unaffected as he tore a chunk of meat from his turkey leg and chewed.

Jacob made a note of approval, pleased that the draken agreed to meet with them in Italy and not Spain. A time saving measure whether or not the draken agree to help them. Without the draken's aide, their demise was all but certain. He'd do whatever it took to get them on their side. As far as he was concerned, any enemy of vampires were friends of the wolves.

Sam turned to face Jacob somewhat reluctantly. His voice was firm, resolute as he prepared to broach a perilous topic. "We need to discuss our contingency plan. If the worst happens and Bella—"

Jacob stiffened, intuitively sensing the conversation Sam was attempting to have. He wasn't human enough to have this discussion. Everything inside him screamed to shut it down.

"Not now." Jacob spoke in an even tone, but a warning sparked in his gaze. The wolf would not be pressured, rushed or forced.

The stubborn set of Sam's jaw told Jacob he wanted to press the issue, but Leah wisely interjected, insisting Sam bring her some fresh kiwis from the fruit platter. After a tense moment, Sam relented with a sigh and went to make her a plate while Jacob struggled to make his talon tipped fingers human again.

The wolf wouldn't—no couldn't allow Jacob's mind to contemplate Sam's scenario. For the safety of everyone on the plane, the conversation was best left for a later time.

Hold on, Bells. I will find you.

Bella woke in fear and darkness, uncertain if she was dead or alive.

Thick blackness overwhelmed her, pressing in from all sides. The stifling air tasted thick and stale. She tried to scream, but her tongue was like a parched slug stuck to the roof of her mouth. A stream of garbled nonsense reached her ears. The tiny attempt at movement ignited a fierce pounding in her head. In her dazed and confused state, she struggled to move her arms but they remained glued to her sides. She was paralyzed, trapped in the darkness. As panic began to set in, her body sagged and she was dragged back beneath the waves of Felix's drug. This time she welcomed the reprieve with open arms.

Sometime later there were accented voices, loud noises and the unwelcomed stab of light. In the midst of haze, she was grabbed. Rough fingers pried her jaws open and poured liquid down her throat. She choked and gagged but most of it went down and stayed there. Her blurred captor growled his irritation. Then freezing fingers dug painful holds in her cheeks, ensuring her mouth stayed open. A chunky mixture of warm sludge was poured next, but this time more hands pinned her down so she couldn't resist.

Bella experienced dark pleasure when her stomach revolted, spewing sour scented chunks everywhere. Raised voices, and an argument broke out over whose job it was to clean up the mess. She sank into the darkness with a mean smile and vengeful spirit.

When her awareness returned she was lying on a van's flooring with the rumble of an engine in her ears. In the next breath everything came back to her. Mason betrayed her and Liz was dead.

The taste of vomit lingered in her mouth, but she no longer felt like reheated shit. Slightly damp pants carried the stench of urine that clung to her. How ever long she'd been out, it was long enough for her bladder to reach its limits. Something was wrong with her right eye. The slightest movement brought pain and she could barely see out of it. She moved her hands and feet. No restrains. No mouth-gag either since no one would hear if she screamed. Clearly no one was worried about her overpowering her captors and escaping. Not that she was anywhere near fighting form. Even if she was capable of mounting an attack of some sort, the agony in her hip rendered her incapacitated. She'd never be able to stand without help, let alone walk.

She dragged her heavy arm toward her stomach and palmed her still belly. Crippling fear seized her. Panic flooded her thoughts.

Was her baby okay?

How long had she been unconscious?

Where was she?

"Look who finally rejoined the land of the living."

Startled, Bella inhaled sharply and craned her neck to discover she wasn't alone in the back of the van. Felix sat on a bench grinning at her, one elbow braced against his knee. Mason occupied the spot beside him, cold eyes fixed on the empty space above Bella. Both arms trembled as she pushed herself upright and scanned her surroundings. Head swimming she leaned against the van, squeezed her eyes shut and begged the earth to stop spinning.

Two silent men occupied the front seats. Neither man acknowledged Felix, their gazes solely fixed on the heavily tinted windscreen. From the absolute stillness in their meaty frames, Bella guessed they were also vampires. A belt of static from the radio in Felix's hand. With his gaze locked on her, he pushed a button, and spoke a stream of Italian into it.

"Where are you taking me?" She asked in a hoarse, slurred voice she barely recognized as her own.

"You'll know soon enough." Felix's grin widened as if he was in possession of a hilarious secret.

His cryptic response confirmed her suspicion that they were in Italy. Felix had drugged her and used a coffin to smuggle her out of the country. Jacob would look for her but he wouldn't discover any more than the police would. One woman killed, and the other kidnapped from a shopping mall garage. A story like that would gain plenty traction in the media, but they'd lose interest when the case ran cold. Liz wouldn't be able to tell anyone what happened. Tears stung her eyes when she recalled their last moments together.

Jacob and the pack would know she was missing by now. Would look for her in vain. Wouldn't know to search for her in Italy. Even if, by some miracle, he knew where she was, there was no way the pack could go to war with the guard. Their numbers were too few, the distance too far. Jacob would never find her in time. What Bella couldn't figure out was why now? Why, after all this time did the Volturi come for her? Why didn't Edward warn her?

Anger building inside her, she glared at Mason who continued to ignore her existence.

"Do you feel any guilt or shame for what you've done?" Mason's friendliness had been an elaborate ploy to get close to her. How could she have been so blind? Was she such a ridiculously bad judge of character? Taylor always used to warn her against being too trusting and it wound up causing his sister her life. Liz was gone because of her poor judgment. She couldn't imagine the suffering Ryan was going through.

Mason show no reaction apart from the slight tightening of his jaw.

"Liz liked you. She thought you were a decent guy. How could you do that to her?" Her voice cracked, and she blinked back the tears.

"You waste your breath on that one." Felix said with a smirk that failed to reach his crimson eyes. "Men would butcher the world for a mere chance at immortality."

"You're nothing but a sackless fucking coward." Her mouth twisted into a cruel smile as she took in the ugly red slashes that stretched from cheekbone to chin. "Glad I messed up that pretty face of yours."

"You should see my opponent." Mason returned her smile with an icy stare.

Common sense whispered thoughts of caution, but Bella was beyond reason. Fury overrode terror and made her forget the desperate reality of her situation. Bella refused to cower. Wouldn't let them see how close she was to having a nervous breakdown.

Her upper lip curled in disgust as she turned her rage on Felix. "If anything happens to my baby because of those fucking drugs I'll—"

Felix's cold hand seized her by the throat, cutting off her air supply. She didn't even see when he moved.

"You'll do what, human?" His voice held a soft edge of menace. Warm air fanned her face as he spoke, "You should be careful. Caius ordered your safe delivery, but accidents happen."

"Fuck you, dickless asshole," Bella croaked and Felix eased his grip with a bark of laughter.

"Caius will enjoy breaking your spirit." He touched her chin, eliciting a shiver from his chilly hand. "Too bad. The feisty ones are more my type than his."

Tongue swiping across his lower lip, his lust filled gazed raked her body and Bella shuddered with revulsion. Mason regarded their exchange in silence and then went back to pretending he'd seen nothing. His reaction triggered a deep loathing Bella never felt before. Fucking human race traitor.

Felix returned to his seat and the remainder of the journey continued in silence.

Roughly a half hour later, the van rolled to a stop and the man driving rolled down his window. He leaned out and spoke in Italian to a black-clad man in a security booth. When the brief conversation ended, a giant wrought iron gate swung open, and they drove through. The van drove along a long, winding path lined by cypress trees before rolling to a halt.

Despair threatened to overwhelm Bella until she felt the baby stir as if to say I'm still here. Her mouth firmed into a resolute line. Whatever happened, she couldn't give up hope. Her child's life depended on it.

"Time to meet your destiny." Felix seized her by the upper arm and hauled her from the van.

The moment her feet touched the ground, she cried out as her knees buckled from the searing in her hip. Mason circled around them to grab her other arm and yank her upright.

Pain momentarily forgotten, Bella's mouth hung open as she gawked at the giant manor looming ahead with an oceanic backdrop. They weren't in Volterra. Jacob wouldn't find her because he'd be looking in the wrong place.

As Felix and Mason escorted her through the manor's arched entrance, she was hit by an eerie premonition.

She would die here.

Bella was taken to a throne room where Caius and Aro awaited her arrival on bejeweled chairs. The third chair sat empty. Several guards stood unmoving against the wall with identical blank stares on their faces. If it hadn't been for the red eyes and clothes, Bella would've thought they were actual statues. Both vampires rose from their seats though Aro approached while Caius hung back. Both were impeccably dressed, their finery reminding her of French aristocrats.

"Dearest Bella. How lovely it is to see you again." Aro smiled as if they were old friends. "I pray the trip wasn't too difficult in your delicate condition."

Bella's heart pounded in her chest on the verge of hyperventilation. Felix and Mason retreated two steps behind her, leaving her isolated. Would they execute her right there? If so, why waste time on pointless pleasantries?

On the far side of the room, a door opened and a dark haired, olive toned woman entered carrying a silver tray. She went to Aro, who accepted a wine glass filled with a red liquid.

Aro extended an arm at the woman. "Dearest, Bella. Allow me to introduce you to a distant relative of your late husband." When Bella drew back in confusion, he clarified. "This is Helena Mendoza, Marianna's daughter."

Bella's head spun, recalling when Taylor told her the tragic story of Marianna's lost daughter. Helena, who got betrayed by a human, held captive by the Volturi in a strategic move to lure her mother out of hiding. When Marianna refused to surrender, they turned her daughter as punishment and the clan never heard from her again. The same Helena, who regarded her with a cool stare, was working for the Volturi.

Blood drained from Bella's face when Aro's words sank in.

a distant relative of your late husband. Which meant they knew about Taylor's draken connection and… her baby.

Aro observed her mild freak out with a knowing smile. "Helena will tend to your needs."

Bella laid protective hands on her belly. "What do you want with me and my baby?"

Caius strolled toward Bella, a faint smile playing on his lips. He stood before her and she suppressed the urge to bolt. There was something unhinged in that smile.

Caius placed both hands on her shoulders, lightly touching. "No harm will come to either of you." He threw his head back, laughing at her skeptical expression. "You should rejoice. I've chosen you to be my bride."

Bella simply stared, too shocked to reply.

Aro peered at his drink and then took a sip. "Why is the female draken not here?"

Felix gave Mason a pointed look as he moved away, leaving the human to face questioning.

"During attempts to restrain her, she attacked and startled me into shooting her. She's dead." Mason lowered his head in regret for failing his mission. Not murdering her best friend.

Fresh pain washed over Bella, but she found cold solace in knowing Liz was beyond the reach of nefarious monsters.

Caius prodded her swollen eye producing a wince from her. He snapped his fingers, summoning Mason to come stand beside her. Hard crimson eyes then scrutinized Mason's scratches, prompting the man to make another confession. "There was another incident."

Caius pursed his lips in annoyance and Mason, who'd grown pale and sweaty, hastily performed a stiff bow. "I apologize, Lord Caius."

"Our plans to experiment on the female are for naught." Aro appeared mildly irritated as he continued to sip his drink.

Bella's mouth ran dry, watching the sinister way Caius stared at Mason. Experimentation had been one of Taylor's worst fears. Second only after discovery. Being torn away from everyone he loved and spending the rest of his days enduring painful exams from humans who wanted to know what made him tick was the stuff of horror movies. A fate Liz would never endure. Though the thought comforted Bella, the other things Liz would never do again made her hurt.

"Not only did you screw up a once in a lifetime chance at securing a live draken female, you also disregarded my insistence that my Bella be brought to me unspoiled."

Felix noticed Bella's trembling and gave her a playful wink.

Mason stammered out another apology, but Caius waved a dismissive hand. "I forgive the error. After all, you're only human."

"Thank you, my Lord." Mason expelled a nervous breath, allowing himself to relax and Felix smirked.

An icy breeze and warm droplets splattered across Bella's face. Caius stood with Mason's decapitated head in his hand. Mason's face was frozen in horror, mouth partially opened in a scream. His headless body collapsed twitching, blood pooling at her feet.

"There's no room in my guard for people who can't follow orders!" Caius discard Mason's head like crumpled tissue and licked the blood coating his hand.
Caius turned to Bella—who hadn't stopped screaming—with a brilliant smile. "Now my love, where should we have our honeymoon?"

Bella fainted.

Gentle hands cradled her before she hit the floor, and Helena's concerned face was the last thing she saw before darkness swallowed her whole.

Back to the story

Jacob and the pack are on their way to Italy.

Liz is still unwell.

Rosalie fears Edward and the others are dead.

Seth comes out to his pack brothers.

The draken agreed to meet in Italy.

Bella arrives at an unknown location.

What is Marianna's daughter doing with the Volturi?

Mason's screw up foils the Volturi's plans to experiment on Liz.

Mason dies.

Instead of execution, Caius plans to wed Bella.

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