AN: Thank you all for reading.
Mauigirl60 helped make this look lovely.
The waves were choppy as they hit the bottom of the boat. Bella stared at the cresting waves as increasing winds moved them forward. The dark clouds filled the sky, eclipsing the sun and casting an ominous feeling over the only breathing members of the crew.
Her fingers strummed the deck quietly. Bella hadn't realized she was unconsciously filling the boat with a song about fruit salad. Jason loved that song and the chortling Australians who'd made it so popular. Bella always said that they gave her a headache, but she would do anything to see her little guy dancing and trying to sing along, missing every other word.
Seth had his head buried in his arms. A sniffling sound escaped him every few minutes. Paul's death and the unknown whereabouts of Claire had hit him to the core. Bella just rubbed his back, as the boat rocked them.
"It's going to storm," she whispered. Looking into the threatening skies, Bella wondered if perhaps they needed to get below.
Seth looked up, his eyes rimmed with red. "Does it matter?"
"Probably not," Bella admitted.
Seth gave her a sad smile. "Being wet would be a bummer. We already had showers."
"Yes, Seth. That's the worst thing that could possibly happen to us in this mess." She looked at his face which immediately turned remorseful. She patted his hand, returning his smile. "Paul was a good man. I'm sorry."
Seth looked at the deck. "We knew what we were getting into. There was always a possibility that we could get hurt. I could've never imagined that he'd be just ripped up. We are a family, all of us in the tribe!"
"I don't think they care about family, anymore," she pointed out. If Jacob had cared about family, he wouldn't have tried to kill his wife or children. She wiped away more tears that slipped out.
Bella swallowed hard. What were the intentions of this band of golden-eyed vampires? Could they truly be heroes and speak of war? What about the children?
There were so many questions with no clear answers. Unfortunately, she was now blindly following their whims to get back to her babies. It was frustrating.
"Claire . . ."
"She's fine, Seth." Bella had no clue of Claire's safety or lack thereof, but she had to have some semblance of hope. The wind whipped her hair around, making the tendrils seem alive.
Seth's head popped up like a jack-in-the-box. He looked over to where both Edward and Garrett were staring at the oblivious Bella. Her every movement was being tracked by the men.
"Your boyfriends are salivating," he observed. "You might as well be wearing the bikini that redhead was trying to talk you into."
Bella snickered. It wasn't certain what Victoria's plan was with the wispy pieces of gauze, but it was pointed out quickly that the approaching inclement weather wasn't the prime opportunity for sunbathing. It would have been funny, if the situation wasn't so dire.
Glancing over at the men, Bella frowned as she noticed their eyes on her. They appeared to be unraveling heavy ropes, but even she could tell that their actions weren't making much progress. She pulled at the snug t-shirt, trying to stretch it out in order to give her more coverage.
"They're probably starving. You can't beat the way to get rid of the evidence. Just drop the bloodless corpses overboard. Makes me think of that show Dexter."
A hiss and a chuckle were heard clearly over by the ropes.
"Bella, please stop antagonizing our fellow passengers. They'll eat us, girl!" Seth took a deep breath. "I don't know why you have to give them a hard time."
"I'll go mad if I don't," she admitted. The skies were growing even darker. "I need some control, you know; a feeling that I have some power in this mess. You can turn into a very powerful animal, Seth. The vampires are strong and can break my neck with a flip of their pinkie fingers. I have nothing except my smart-assed mouth and a hope that they might feel my bravery is a reason to keep me around."
Seth hugged her close. "You're more powerful than you think, lady! There has to be a reason they're keeping you around."
"Bait." She glanced at a laughing James. "Are we almost to our destination, James?"
"Soon, Bella dear. We need to make a pit stop but, after that, we shall get you to your little ones."
Garrett came over to her and bowed. "Princess Isabella, may I escort you below? This storm is coming closer and I would be amiss if I lose your beautiful person overboard."
"Unless I was a bloodless corpse," Bella joked.
"That is a given, Princess Isabella. We can't have evidence left for the authorities to find! I do watch CSI!" He winked at her.
Edward made a strangled groan and stomped down below into the ship's hull.
"Teenagers today! You would think the boy would at least be a little more respectful in his hundreds! Geriatric youngsters are such a troublesome sort. We should ground him, Laurent!" Garrett called to the dark-skinned vampire who was trying desperately to prepare for the upcoming ill weather.
Laurent was securing the group of large boxes and glanced at Garrett in exasperation. "Stop flirting with the human, get them down below and then start helping! Jesus, man!"
Garrett hustled Bella and Seth down the stairs. Bella's damp shoe slipped and she fell. Bracing for a fall, Bella was quickly caught up in two muscular arms.
Edward brushed her face with his hand. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she said, looking into his concerned face.
For a moment, there was a flicker in her mind that maybe she would be.
That feeling was brief because as the boat swayed violently, Bella felt like she was going to die from seasickness. The cot she sat on felt like a roller coaster.
"It's going to be fine!" Edward promised in an attempt to soothe her. His cool hands rested on her brow. "James may be an ass, but he's a good sailor."
Edward looked at the ceiling of the boat and chuckled.
"He's calling you dirty names, isn't he?" Bella questioned, momentarily forgetting her discontent until Seth vomited nearby.
"Drain me now!" Bella complained. "It has to be better than this."
"Not amusing, Bella," Edward swallowed and held his breath. It wasn't amusing at all. "You need to be strong for those children of yours."
She looked up at him from the bucket in between her knees. "You don't give a shit about me or my kids."
That was completely wrong. Edward realized he was caring deeply to what happened to her and, by extension, her children. It was uncomfortable as he was unaccustomed to these emotions. Even before his time with the Volturi, Edward had been a loner. Carlisle had changed a boy into a monster, and had attempted to drill the idea that he was more than a villain, he was a creature deserving of love. It had been considered a cruel lie until he met the dark-eyed woman with the sharp tongue. Isabella was intoxicating.
"You have no reason to believe a word I say." He wiped the damp hair from her brow. She would look like an awful mess to anyone but him. He thought she was magnificent. "I want the best for you. All of you. Have some water."
He twisted the lid off a plastic bottle and brought it to her lips. The cool water slipped past her tongue. It felt refreshing, until the boat tilted against the impact of another wave. This was worse than Bella's morning sickness with Sarah. "Oh, God!"
Seth retched next to them and moaned.
Bella took the water out of Edward's hand and stumbled on weak legs to Seth, who was slumped over on a faded beach chair. She imagined this was how a newborn foal would feel taking its first steps without the accompanying nausea. "Hey, buddy, drink this."
"That was for you!" Edward looked at her like she was crazy.
Bella glanced up at him with a grimace, holding the bottle to help Seth sip the water. "Dig deep into that stone chest of yours and find some compassion. Why don't you go help the rest of the undead pirates on deck?"
"My job is to take care of you. Garrett isn't coming near you," he said, his serious expression morphing into a smile. "Plus, I'm horrible with boats. Laurent is afraid I'll break something and we'll end up in the Bahamas."
"Don't be cute and be useful instead!" The floor moved and so did Bella's stomach. Her hands flew to her mouth and she mumbled, "Bucket!"
Bringing it to her, Edward asked cheekily, "You think I'm cute?"
Bella vomited and then looked up. "Fucking adorable!"
It felt like a million years but, finally, they made it out of the storm and to a small island. They had docked in the wee hours of the morning as Bella and Seth slept; now that morning had arrived, the sun was shining brightly.
Sitting with her legs crossed on the deck, Bella gazed at the fellow boaters who were also rising. They busied themselves around their vessels, preparing for their day. Some men were loading a fishing boat with nets. An older couple sat on their yacht, drinking cups of coffee and observing the new morning as smiles graced their etched faces. That was what Bella had imagined her future to be once upon a time. But no more.
James had informed them that they'd be stocking supplies at dusk that Esme ordered so, today, the vampires would be hiding out because of the sun. Then they would load up and finish the last of their trip. Bella would be relieved to see Jason and Sarah again.
Seth stumbled up from below, his hair still damp from his shower. "It's like a statue convention downstairs. Seriously, they aren't talking or moving. All they do is stare at each other. Is it because they don't have their coffins with them?"
"I don't think they use coffins, Seth." Bella looked at a laughing family returning to their sailboat, carrying paper bags and beverage cups. It was most definitely breakfast time. "I would pay anything for a cup of coffee right now."
"I hate coffee, but I can see the appeal after the last few days," Seth admitted. "My body feels like it's been at war. There's nothing in the galley but bottled water and M&Ms."
Bella rested her head on her knees. "Of course. Vampires don't have the best taste in food, do they? I'm surprisingly famished."
A twinkling voice was heard from below. "I thought humans liked chocolate? Did I like chocolate, James? I can't recall."
One thing that Bella could figure out from Victoria was that she was obsessed with the human experience. She was always questioning Bella and Seth about their lives, because her own memories were so vague.
"You did, sweetheart."
Bella heard James coo at her.
Garrett peeked out the door, his face glittering like a million diamonds. "Are you hungry, Princess Isabella? Clifford?"
Bella couldn't help but grin.
"Who's Clifford? I'm Seth!."
Bella patted Seth's hand. "He means like Clifford, the big, red dog. It's a children's book."
"Oh! I had those when I was a kid, but why . . ." Seth's face twisted in a scowl. "Another dog joke? It's starting to get old, leeches!"
"Your puppy is sensitive, Princess Isabella. Methinks he needs some kibble," Garrett teased. "Let me give you some money and—"
Edward pushed him out of the way. "It's not safe!"
"They have to eat, you whiny Daddy's boy!" There was a tussle down below.
"You tell him, Garrett!" James chimed in, egging on the fight.
Edward growled, "You just want to get in her pants!"
"So do you! Good luck figuring out how your dick works, Virgin!" Garrett retorted.
Virgin? Bella stifled a surprised gasp. It really was none of her business.
Seth tried to peer down. "Bells, your undead boyfriends are acting like toddlers. Do you think they'll pull you apart so they don't have to share?"
"Shut up, Seth!" Bella looked to see that the loud commotion was causing people on neighboring boats to look at their boat questioningly. Obviously, being ancient had made them lose all sense.
Bella stomped downstairs and hissed, "Cut it out, idiots!"
Every single vampire turned toward her, staring with unblinking eyes. She continued, "If you're trying to be incognito, then you're doing a terrible job. Also, no one will be getting anywhere near my pants. Money, please."
She held out her hand and was pleased to see Edward place a large wad of bills into her hands. He looked sheepish.
"Why don't you buy something for your kids? They deserve a gift of some sort."
Counting the bills quickly, Bella looked up, shocked.
"This is a thousand dollars, Edward!"
"Get something nice for yourself, too."
Garrett shook his head and muttered, "Kiss-ass. Grasshopper has so much to learn."
Bella ignored him and whispered, "Thanks, Edward."
The smile Edward gave her was dazzling. It was too much, way too much.
The café near the marina was small and intimate. The walls were a brightly painted yellow and the furniture was sea blue. It looked as if it had been decorated by schoolchildren, but the food was excellent.
Seth was inhaling his large plate of pancakes with gusto. He looked at Bella, who was just playing with her eggs. "I thought you were hungry?"
She was nervously eyeing their surroundings. "Do you feel like we're being watched?"
Scanning the room and sniffing discreetly, Seth couldn't figure out what she was worried about. He leaned in to whisper, "I can't smell anything that seems otherworldly. There's nobody here like me or sickly-sweet, like your beaus."
Wrinkling up her napkin, Bella tossed it at Seth's head. "Stop it! I have enough on my plate without having to deal with those two overgrown children."
It was true; there she was, trying not to be murdered by her husband while her children were at Camp Vamp. It really wasn't the time to swoon over pretty zombies. She was already internally kicking herself for her momentary loss of brain function when it came to Edward Cullen.
"I'm teasing," Seth said, grinning. "They just dig your warm form. Seriously, though, those surfers over there are checking you out, girl. You clean up pretty nice."
Bella glanced over to a large group of sand-covered young men. Dressed in board shorts and damp hair, they were chuckling at something on the table. A dark-haired one glanced at her and winked. That must be the person who was setting Bella on edge.
Bella rolled her eyes and turned back to Seth, who was stealing a piece of her bacon. She slapped his hand. "Order your own!"
"I do like meals courtesy of Edward, Mr. Money Bags. I wonder if he'll buy me a pony?"
"Finish up, Seth. Let's get this day over with!"
Bella threw her napkin onto her plate and took another swig of coffee.
The sooner it was done, the sooner she would be back with the children.
"Was it necessary to purchase this much clothing?" Seth's arms were filled with bags of kid's clothes and a few stuffed animals.
They were heading back to the boat after a day of purchasing supplies for the children. Bella had no clue if the vampires would know what was appropriate for them and wanted to have all the bases covered.
The sky was darkening, as the sun was heading down onto the horizon. This was never Bella's favorite time of day. She'd always preferred the light of morning which signaled the new day. It always made her feel refreshed and lighthearted. The night always made her nervous. Mostly lately. She wondered if she'd ever be comfortable in the dark again after that monstrous night on the beach. The memories made her shiver.
Seth dropped the bags and draped his sweatshirt over her shoulders. "It's chilly. Hey! I can see them loading the boat."
The dock was nearby as the duo headed down the sidewalk, the dim streetlights leading them toward their destination.
"Hey, it's the girl from the café!" shouted the dark-haired surfer from the morning. His friends hovered nearby, their laughter rating on Bella's ears.
The man brushed his long bangs away from his face. Bella was struck by two things about the man now that she was near him: his crooked nose and the lack of expression on his face. He had dead eyes; the eyes of a human monster.
"Why don't you head back to your house, kid, while the lady comes drinking with us?" he said to Seth.
"Oh, hey," Bella addressed him quietly. "Umm, my husband is waiting for us."
She twirled her wedding ring around her finger. It burned her, but she was still not ready to remove it from her finger. It was her penance for not stopping Jacob sooner.
"I'm not leaving her," Seth spat. Bella saw her friend's body starting to quiver.
"Seth, get back to the boat."
She couldn't have him morph into a hairy beast right now. There were too many witnesses.
"Not without you!" Bella's eyes drifted to his hand, where hair was growing thick and dark. She hissed, "Get Edward, Garrett or even Victoria!"
"Bella . . ." His face was tight. Seth was starting to change.
One of the man's friends laughed, "Lonnie, dude, let them go! There are enough chicks at Sid's."
Lonnie frowned, "I want this one. I love brunettes."
He grabbed Bella's arm.
There was a flash and then Lonnie was pulled away from Bella. He was thrown against a streetlight, his neck being squeezed by Edward.
Lonnie's bulging eyes were finally flickering with emotion: pure, unadulterated fear.