"All her bounding manner was gone;

her curves of motion had become subdued lines."

Alec's fingers were pale against the dark wood of the banister, palms clammy as he followed Jacob up flights of carpeted stairs to a short hallway and a set of double doors.

"Are you religious?" Jacob asked suddenly, all traces of his earlier pique gone.

Alec shook his head, and the older boy looked at him sadly before knocking.

"Come," a voice called from within.

The doors opened into an extravagantly large sitting room, long and narrow, shrouded in shadows and plainly decorated. A fireplace sat at the far end opposite the black gleam of a piano. Beside it was a chaise lounge, its plush length occupied by a fair-haired man whose features were obscured by both the room's shadows and a large book. Beyond the windows sat the ever-present forest, a hulking and motionless beast of shadows.

But Alec only took a passing notice of these things, for his eyes were immediately pulled to the two wing-backed chairs that sat facing the fire, imposing as thrones. The chairs were similar, save for a pale, feminine hand draped across the arm of the one farthest from the window.

Standing before the hearth was the stranger who had introduced himself as Edward Cullen, his crimson eyes watching calmly as the boy took in his surroundings. Alec met his gaze and gasped.

"You both certainly took your time," he observed, smiling blandly at Alec's horror.

"We can't all flash through the house like a demon," Jacob retorted.

Edward scowled. "Alexander. I hope you can appreciate the trouble I went to in order to get you here." He gestured to him with his hand. "Come."

Alec hesitated, uncertain, and Edward's eyes narrowed. "Come here," he repeated firmly.

Slowly, Alec moved toward him, the heat of the fire growing stronger, his eyes fixed upon that pale, limp hand.

"Isabella," Edward said, looking down to the other chair's occupant as Alec drew closer. "I've brought you something different."

In later years, Alec would remember her as the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. In the moment, however, her beauty was the second thing he noticed.

Black, he thought immediately, terror overtaking him. Her eyes are black and his are red.

"Odd things tuck themselves away here," Grandma Stengle had told him.

Those black eyes stared up at him from the delicate contours of the beautiful face from the portrait, the woman's features even more stunning up close. Her inky lashes and delicate brows were striking against the bloodless pallor of her skin, her hair a mass of blacks and browns and reds in the fire's light, its waves piled atop her head in a loose twist. She was small, delicate — perfectly feminine and fragile beneath that a dress of white linen. Dark, bruise-like shadows circled her eyes, underscoring the pitch of her irises.

"He doesn't speak," Edward continued, vigilantly watching her face. "Does that please you, my love?"

Isabella ignored him, regarding Alec expressionlessly. The silence of the room was broken only by the gentle crackle of flames, the thundering of his pulse.

After a moment, Edward's shoulders slumped. "You are here to provide a service, Alexander," he sighed. "Has it been explained to you?"

"He's a kid, Cullen," Jacob interrupted sharply.

Edward ignored him.

Jacob huffed a disgusted laugh. "You're sick."

"Careful," warned the man reclined on the settee without looking up from his book.

Edward kept his eyes fixed on Isabella. "I'm sorry we've offended your delicate sensibilities, mongrel. You're free to leave, of course."

"You know I'm not," the young man growled.

"The treaty is unbroken. No one is being turned."

Jacob's mouth curled into a bitter, mirthless smile. "Might as well. At least this one's already mute."

In an instant, Edward was across the room, slamming him into the wall. Plaster cracked behind the boy's dark head as his attacker's pale fingers wrapped around his neck, lifting the boy's large frame with one hand as Jacob bared his teeth, twisting his body in an attempt to escape.

"Edward," the other man interrupted from behind his book. He sounded bored. "Enough."

"Stay out of this, Jasper," Edward seethed, but there was a thud as Jacob dropped to the floor.

Alec watched in shock, feeling each ripple of the growls that filled the room.

"Since you told the boy nothing," Edward snapped, "Isabella will simply show him."

There was a blur of motion and cold as Edward moved back the fireplace, his icy hand clamped onto the back of Alec's neck, forcing him to his knees. His cold fingers worked quickly against Alec's wrist, pulling up the sleeve to expose the boy's forearm.

"This will be unpleasant," he intoned calmly, holding the boy's arm across Isabella's lap.

Alec struggled against him, trying to extricate his hand from his captor's cold grip.

"Hold still," Edward instructed. "This will be over quickly."

Frantic, Alec craned his head, his eyes desperately seeking help from the still-prone Jacob or the bored-looking man behind his book. They came back to the beautiful creature in front of him as she stared down into his face. He felt a small twinge of hope — surely something so beautiful couldn't hurt him.

And then there was pain, panic overtaking him as the previously catatonic Isabella moved, buried her teeth into his flesh like a feral beast, her eyes closed tightly as she sucked at him with long, desperate pulls.

He opened his mouth to release a breathless wail, doubled over in pain and fighting Edward's grasp, Isabella's teeth as they sank further into his flesh.

"Poor thing," came the faint echo of Grandma Stengle's voice as the room spun around him. "Poor thing, poor thing, poor thing…"

And then darkness approached as there was a gasp, a release, a thud. He dropped to the floor, a rag doll discarded as his eyes rolled back, shutting themselves off from a new and frightening world.