Edward clasped his hands together and got up from the sofa for the tenth time in the last hour.
"Just go," Alice said. "You're not doing anyone any good here."
"Emmett is perfectly capable of protecting her. I know that. It's too risky for me to be out in public."
He'd been holding off making a decision about Charlie. He didn't want Alice to see anything. But the more he thought about it, the worse the idea of killing him sounded. Sure, it would get rid of one problem, but it would cause even more. A dead police chief would attract attention from the state and the feds. Besides, he knew Bella would crumble, despite her tough persona. He couldn't live with himself if he did that to her.
As he lost himself in thought, Alice walked up to him and put one hand on his shoulder. She turned his head toward her and looked him in the eye. "Edward. You may not see what's going on here, but it's perfectly clear to me." She paused and raised her eyebrows. "You're in love, silly boy. Believe me, sitting around and fidgeting on the sofa isn't going to put your mind at rest. So go. Sit in the woods with Emmett and watch over her house. He'll appreciate the company. We're going to our place in Jackson Hole after this. There's not much companionship there."
Edward sighed. "You're right, you know. About everything."
He pulled at the lapels of his coat, checked his pockets to be sure he had everything he needed. His cell phone, his chain, an extra pack of smokes and the Zippo.
"You'll tell Carlisle I said thank you?"
"Get out of here," Alice said, a huge smile plastered across her face. "We'll see you again. I can't see it yet, because you haven't decided where you're going, but I can feel it, Edward. You can tell him yourself when we all meet again."
Edward was ready to move on from Forks. He was ready to start the next phase of his life, whatever it may be. He found himself feeling optimistic for the first time in decades. He knew it didn't make sense, not with the Volturi after him. But Bella. He'd somehow fallen for her. He had to admit, he liked her attitude. He smiled when he thought about how she was the first person he'd known since he was turned who had the guts to see him as something other than a threat. She wasn't afraid, even though she probably should be.
Being with her made him feel almost human again, not the monster he'd grown used to being.
He walked slowly through the woods, enjoying what he knew would probably be the last peaceful night of his life for some time. As he neared Bella's house, he found Emmett by searching for his thoughts. The big bear of a vampire had chosen a spot near the rear of the house, not with a direct view of Bella's bedroom window, but one which afforded a more complete picture of the whole property.
"Nada," Emmett said. "She went straight up to her room. Didn't even talk to her dad. Since then, it's been quieter than a whorehouse full of Presbyterians on Easter Sunday, dude."
Edward looked at the house. Everything appeared serene. He scanned for Charlie's thoughts, only to find that he was asleep, dreaming about the war again. He was frustrated once again that he couldn't read Bella's mind. He had no real way of knowing if she was safe.
"I'm going to head down there. Take a look around," he told Emmett.
"Sure thing, man," Emmett said with a smile. "I'll hold the fort down up here."
Edward jimmied the sliding glass door on the rear deck and slipped in quietly. He was glad to see that Bella was asleep. She would need to be well rested for their trip.
His curiosity got the better of him, and he headed for Charlie's room. He wasn't sure why, but he was drawn there. He didn't even pause to scan for Charlie's thoughts. He twisted the knob slowly and eased the door open. The room was pitch black. Even with his superior eyesight, he couldn't make anything out.
He stepped carefully toward where he thought the bed might be. He stopped and inhaled sharply when he heard a click and felt cold steel pressed to the skin under his right ear.
"It's Edward, isn't it?"
Charlie flipped a light switch. "Have a seat, Edward." He nodded toward the bed. Edward hesitated. The barrel pressed in tighter and he heard Charlie's heartbeat speed up. He knew he could disarm Charlie and put him down before he knew what had happened, but the truth was that he respected the man's bravery. That must be where Bella got it from. Edward was curious where this was going, so he sat. He knew he was in no danger from a small caliber weapon, no matter what it was loaded with.
Charlie remained standing, two feet away. He kept the gun high, aiming with both hands.
"You're going to answer some questions. Do you understand?"
"Did you kill Mike Newton, Waylon Forge and Tyler Crowley?
Edward said nothing. He bit his lip and contemplated what he should say. He knew he couldn't lie. Charlie surely had it figured out already.
"Answer me. Right now."
"Yes," Edward said. "You'll find Newton's body about two miles from here, to the west."
Charlie paused. "Did you come here to kill me?"
"To kill Bella?"
"I would never hurt Bella."
"Then why are you in my house? In my bedroom?"
"The truth, sir?" He sighed. "I'm not really sure."
"You had better start talking, young man. Because my trigger finger's getting twitchy." He leveled the gun at Edward's forehead and tightened his grip.
Edward moved quickly. He took the gun from Charlie's hands and ejected the magazine. He slid the chamber back and popped the remaining bullet out, catching it in the air. He clicked the safety on and slid the now unloaded gun back into Charlie's hands before the chief had reacted.
"A bit of advice," Edward said, moving toward the door. "Get the shotgun. Load it with the armor piercing rounds. And take this, Charlie." He flipped his Zippo into the air. "You never know when you might need it."
Edward was gone before Charlie caught the lighter in mid-air. He cursed himself for being so foolish. He should have realized Charlie was awake. But whenever he was near Bella, his mind-reading power seemed to go on the fritz. It either got fuzzy or he'd simply forget to use it. He wasn't sure if it was because she distracted him, or something other reason.
Emmett was sitting on a downed tree when he returned to their spot in the woods.
"How's it going down there? All's well, I assume."
Too late, Edward heard movement in the woods behind him. Emmett apparently heard it too, because he jumped up from a crouch and spun around quickly. Edward's instinct was to run for Bella's house, but he stopped himself. He needed to gauge the potential threat first.
"If it isn't the gentle Edward Anthony Masen," a voice rang out from the darkness.
Edward turned to Emmett. "Go! Now! Get her out of there."
Emmett was a blur in the trees.
"Aro," Edward said. He read two others. Jane and Demetri, the tracker. They joined their leader, flanking him on either side.
"Tsk tsk," Aro said. "One should not agree to follow a set of rules one is incapable of comprehending, Mr. Masen. You are no humble vegetarian." He began to laugh, as if the very concept of a vegetarian vampire were humorous.
"What is it you want, Aro? Or have you come all this way simply to mock me?"
"Ooh, so sensitive."
He flipped his long coat outward with a dramatic flair. His eyes glowed bright red against his pure white skin. He kept his jet-black hair slicked back, forming a prominent widow's peak on his forehead. The whole picture brought to mind some forgotten Dracula movie. Edward would have laughed under different circumstances.
"You have no business here, Aro. Leave me be and I'll go on my way. You'll never hear from me again. That's a guarantee."
"Oh, it's a guarantee this time? Let me just pack up my bags and go then."
He turned as if to leave, but spun back around dramatically.
"Except, well, I seem to remember a similar promise some years back, Mr. Masen. It seems you have trouble keeping your promises."
He put his hands out in front of him, palms up. "Or is it me? Am I perhaps too harsh in my judgment? Are my standards too high? Poor Mr. Masen. He's been entrapped by the evil overlord! Oh, what a tragedy!" He cackled in hideous laughter, rearing his head back. It echoed through the forest like some sort of sick mating call.
Jane smirked. Demetri snorted. Edward said nothing.
"Be that as it may," Aro continued, "the rules, however harsh you may consider them, are there for good reason. I can't have any old vamp disregard them simply because it is convenient. No. That won't do."
Aro rubbed his chin, theatrically furrowing his brow and sighing heavily.
"I suppose I could offer a compromise. Let it never be said that I am not a compassionate dictator." He smiled and pursed his lips. "Yes, then. A compromise."
He turned to Demetri. "You will get the girl. The human. And you-"
Edward lunged forward, but Jane fixed him with a look. He collapsed in pain, his hands instinctively going to his head.
"I was not finished, Mr. Masen. You must learn your manners." He turned to Jane. "You will hold our ill-tempered friend here while I contemplate my options."
Edward struggled to speak. "I'll do whatever you ask, Aro. Just leave Bella alone!"
"The human has a name? Oh, how delightful. Bella the Beautiful!"
He bent over Edward, who was still crouched down in obvious pain. Aro put a hand on Edward's chin and lifted his head.
"The law is perfectly clear, is it not?"
Aro looked around the forest, as if he expected some response from the trees.
"Humans shall know nothing of our existence. It is the first law, Mr. Masen." He bent further and whispered in Edward's ear. "And don't tell anyone I said so, for we can't have people disregarding the rule of law, but it is really the only law that matters."
Screaming rang out from the direction of Bella's house. Edward struggled to move, but he couldn't.
It sounded, to Edward's astonishment, like Demetri. More noise. The sounds of a struggle. Glass shattered. Wood cracked. There was an explosion of gunfire. Edward knew that sound. It was Charlie's shotgun.
Aro perked up. Jane lost her train of thought, freeing Edward. The three of them ran for the house.
They arrived to find Demetri's corpse sprawled across the front yard, his head upside down on the hood of Bella's pickup. Emmett lay on the porch, a hole in his gut the size of a basketball.
"Sorry, dude," he said through gritted teeth. "I killed the tracker, but I didn't plan on a human with military hardware."
Charlie stood behind them both, the shotgun ready. The front door sat askew on its hinges and glass littered the porch. Emmett's wound was already healing, but he would need a few minutes before he'd be able to function again.
Edward put himself between Emmett and Charlie, while Aro and Jane bent over Demetri's decaying corpse, obviously upset.
"Where's Bella?" Edward screamed.
"Now hold on there, Edward. I don't know what-"
Edward was in his face immediately. He put his hand over the end of the shotgun. "Tell me where she is. She's in more danger right now than you can possibly imagine."
Aro stood up and brushed debris from his pants. "Our mutual acquaintance is correct, sir. Charles, is it?"
Edward stepped forward, while Charlie moved the shotgun in Aro's direction. "I don't know where she is, Edward," Charlie said, keeping his eyes on Aro. "I went to get her when I heard trouble coming, figuring it was you, but she's not in her room. She disappeared."
He looked around at the scene in front of his house and shook his head. "Now, before we go any further, will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?"
A/N Well that was fun. But where the hell is Bella? And what must Charlie be thinking right now? And Aro? He's crazier than I thought he'd be. What a nutjob.
Thanks, as always, to MazzyStarla for her wisdom. And thanks to all who've reviewed, followed, or faved for validating my existence. ;) Y'all rule.