"Alice, when will they arrive?" Grandpa Carlisle asked, laying a hand on Dad's shoulder. He stood behind my mother's chair, shifting his weight nervously. His hands gripped the back of the chair tightly. The wood groaned in protest, but he seemed too distracted to notice.
"I don't know," she muttered irately. "I can't see anything because of the half-breeds."
The entire family was tense. As soon as Aunt Alice had explained the situation to them, they'd been eager to come. Adelaide and Tara were planning to bring their mates as well.
Uncle Jasper and Uncle Emmett jogged into the room then. Grandpa Carlisle had sent them to make sure that the Volturi had truly left the area. We didn't need the Winters thinking we'd set them up to be found by the Volturi. I wondered what they'd done to merit a visit like that.
"You're sure that there aren't more of them?" Dad asked me.
I shrugged noncommittally. "Adelaide only mentioned her sister, herself, and their mates."
"But it is possible that there are more?"
I gave him a look. "Come on, Dad. Stop. Grandpa's right, there's no way they'd attack us. Our family's twice the size of theirs."
"They're here," Aunt Alice said.
Sure enough, I could hear the sound of car tires as on the long, winding driveway. We all moved towards the door. We watched as they all got out of the car. Rob got out of the driver's seat of a long black car that even looked expensive.
"No way!" Uncle Emmett muttered from behind us. "They have a Phantom? A Rolls-Royce Phantom? Why on earth don't we have one of those?"
"Maybe it would be better if Jacob–" Dad started to say.
"No," I interrupted. "He's a part of this family. They'll have to get used to him." I glanced at Jacob. He smiled back.
As soon as Rob got out of the car, he rushed around to open the doors for Adelaide and Tara. As soon as they had reached the front door, he and Ian subtly moved to stand in front of their mates. Clearly they were just as nervous as we were.
Grandpa Carlisle opened the door before they could knock. He smiled warmly. "Hello. I'm Carlisle Cullen. You must be Adelaide and Tara's mates."
Ian glanced at Rob for direction. He smiled stiffly. "I'm Robin Stanton. This is Ian McMaster. I believe some of you already met my wife, Adelaide, and her sister, Tara." His eyes flashed to Aunt Alice and me.
I studied Rob and Ian for a moment. They were even more handsome close up. Ian was extremely tall, around 6'5". His well-defined muscles were clearly visible under his close-fitting grey shirt. Rob was shorter, about 6', and not quite as muscled as Ian, was inhumanly attractive.
"Welcome to our home. It's a pleasure to meet you," Grandpa Carlisle said. "This is my wife Esme, our children Edward, Bella, Jasper, Emmett, Rosalie and Alice, my granddaughter Renesmee and her best friend, Jacob."
All four stiffened as they looked at Jacob.
"Heya," Jacob grinned, clearly enjoying the effect he had on them.
Rob and Ian each took a tiny half-step backwards. Rob's arms extended behind him ever so slightly to shelter his mate, who had wrinkled her nose. His eyes narrowed and darted to Grandpa Carlisle suspiciously.
"Jacob," Dad hissed beneath his breath as a warning.
After several tense seconds, Rob's eyes moved again, this time to Uncle Jasper. The intensity of the hatred in his expression shocked me. I had never seen anyone look at another being that way.
Rob's gaze shifted to Uncle Jasper, his expression somehow both cold and hot with rage. "Whitlock," Rob spat, his voice icy and vaguely threatening. "How...unexpected."
"Robin," Uncle Jasper murmured, his face twisted with guilt as he stared at the floor.
Dad looked at him with a frown.
I couldn't understand what would make him so hostile towards my uncle. Whatever the "complication" with his transformation had been, it wasn't deserving of this.
He glowered at him for several seconds until I saw Adelaide lay a hand on his arm. He relaxed, his eyes snapping back to Grandpa Carlisle. "You mentioned this was urgent?" Rob said.
"Yes," Grandpa Carlisle said. "Let's discuss this in the other room."
We led the way into the spacious living room, the Winter coven keeping a good distance between us and them.
"Please, be seated," Grandpa Carlisle said.
Rob and Adelaide sat beside each other on one of the white loveseats, Ian and Tara sitting on the other. All four were utterly rigid. Aunt Rose and Uncle Emmett sat on the couch across from Rob and Adelaide's, as did Aunt Alice. Uncle Jasper stood behind the couch, his hands clasped behind his back, eyes still tortured. Dad, who stood behind Grandpa Carlisle, glanced at him from time to time.
"Alice mentioned an important development we ought to know about?" Adelaide said at last, ignoring the interaction between my dad, Uncle Jasper and Rob.
Dad and Grandpa Carlisle exchanged glances. "Half an hour ago, two of the Volturi appeared in a clearing a few minutes from here."
All four concurrently stiffened even farther. I hadn't imagined that was possible.
"They wanted information regarding Adelaide and Tara."
Adelaide and Rob exchanged glances first with each other, and then with Ian and Tara. They looked concerned, but not surprised, which in turn surprised and concerned me. If they'd been expecting the Volturi to come for them, they couldn't be involved in anything good. We didn't need any more trouble with the Volturi.
Rob inhaled slowly. "What did you tell them?"
"We told them we didn't know anything about them," Grandpa Carlisle said.
This genuinely and severely shocked them. "You…you lied to the Volturi?" asked Rob.
"It's becoming something of a habit," Dad said.
Rob nodded slightly to Adelaide, who then shifted her piercing blue eyes to Grandpa Carlisle, a strange look coming over her face. "You told the Volturi nothing?"
"Yes," Grandpa Carlisle said, his normal calm unmarred by the strange way her eyes bore into him. It amazed me how he could always be so perfectly passive. It sent shivers tingling down my spine to imagine having that look on me. The intensity of her gaze almost reminded of Jane.
He relaxed slightly after receiving a slight nod from Adelaide. "Why, if I may ask?"
"We have no reason to wish you ill," Grandpa Carlisle said. "Besides, I'm sure my granddaughter, Nessie, could benefit from having people like herself around." He took a step back to slide a stone-like arm around my shoulders with a smile. I gave him a small return smile.
"Ah," said Rob. "So this is the famous Renesmee Cullen."
I shifted uncomfortably beneath their stares, a familiar heat rising in my face. I hated my blush reflex. Another genetic curse from my mother.
"You must be her father," Adelaide said. Her tone was inexplicably cold, borderline hostile.
I frowned. What on earth was wrong with these people? They didn't know any of us from Adam, and yet they all seemed to dislike us already. Perhaps Dad had been right to worry.
"Yes," Dad confirmed, ignoring her uncivil tone. "This is her mother, Bella," he said with a gesture to my mother.
"Her mother?" Tara said very quietly.
"He means adoptive," Adelaide told her quietly, and then looked at us again. "Surely."
"No," Dad said. "Bella is her biological mother."
Both Winter sisters were staring at Mom now. She'd gotten a similar reaction from Nahuel when he'd learned that she'd survived giving birth to me. Adelaide and Tara stared at her with a mixture of sadness and awe.
"That isn't possible," Adelaide murmured.
"I was very lucky," Mom said, glancing at Dad.
Adelaide lowered her eyes while Tara's shoulders slumped slightly. Ian slid his arm around Tara.
"How?" The softly-spoken question was clearly meant for my mother, but Adelaide's blue eyes were fixed on the ground.
"Well, uh…I almost died, but Edward managed to turn me."
I felt for them. I couldn't imagine my life without my parents. I couldn't imagine not going to my mother or Aunt Rose or Aunt Alice for advice, not having my father there to comfort me after a nightmare. I'd had nightmares about that day with the Volturi in the snowy field for most of my life.
The idea of not having my parents there to worry about the little things and freak out over the big things was so strange and foreign. The thought terrified me. It wasn't that I was afraid of being left alone; if anything happened to them, I still had my grandparents and my aunts and uncles, not to mention Jacob, but my parents filled a part of me that none of the others could fill. Aunt Rose came the closest, but it still wouldn't have been the same. I decided not to think about it.
Dad touched my arm lightly. He gave me a small, sad smile.
Several moments passed. "Can I get you anything?" Grandma Esme inquired of our guests, ever gracious.
"No thank you," Adelaide said, her voice still soft with sadness.
Another long moment passed. "What should we do, then?" asked Rob finally.
"You're hiding from the Volturi, I take it?" Grandpa Carlisle replied.
After several seconds of silence, Rob said, "Something like that."
Grandpa Carlisle nodded, an awkward silence falling for several moments more. "Well, might I speak with you in private for a moment, Rob?"
Rob looked surprised. His lips curled back slightly as he looked at Uncle Jasper.
This did not go unnoticed by Grandpa Carlisle. "Edward, why don't you and your brothers go for a hunt?" he suggested.
Dad nodded and motioned for the three to follow him. Jacob winked at me before loping out the door after them. I grinned at him.
Grandpa Carlisle looked back at Rob expectantly.
He glanced warily at his mate.
"We'll be fine," Adelaide said quietly.
"Go," she urged him.
Rob turned back to Grandpa Carlisle and nodded. "Of course," he said.
"I'll go, too," Ian said, following.
"So tell us about yourselves," Grandma Esme said once they had gone, seating herself in a leather armchair. "Where are you from?"
"Why do you ask?" Adelaide said immediately.
I raised my eyebrows slightly. Sheesh. Intense much?
"Forgive me, I'm not trying to pry," Grandma Esme assured her.
Adelaide glanced at Tara, whose cheeks starting to colour. She's worse than I am! I thought with amazement.
Adelaide hesitated, and then said, "I was born near what is now Darthmouth, Nova Scotia," she began. "Tara was born in Yellowknife." Tara went even redder at the mention of her name.
"May I ask how you came to adopt the animal diet?" asked Aunt Rose.
Adelaide's eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"Idle curiosity," Aunt Rose assured her.
Adelaide hesitated again. "When my sister and I were living in Saskatchewan, two vampires passed through one day, named Kate and Irina–"
"You know the Denali?" Aunt Alice asked, cutting her off.
Adelaide nodded. "I understand they're old friends of yours."
"Yes," Aunt Rose confirmed. "We travelled with their coven for a number of years. We still keep in fairly close contact."
"It was they that...persuaded me there was another way, a better way," Adelaide said, her words carefully measured. "They told us about you and your lifestyle. My sister and I instantly adopted it, as did our mates after we met them."
These two just never ran out of surprises. I took a seat on the arm of Grandma Esme's chair.
We spent the next half hour asking them about their lives and Adelaide spent the next half-hour trying to dodge our questions. The conversation finally ended when Rob, Ian and Grandpa Carlisle returned. Dad, my uncles and Jacob reappeared from their hunt shortly thereafter.
"You did not!" Jacob was arguing as he came in, followed by Uncle Emmett.
"Yes I did!" Uncle Emmett insisted. "And it was twice the size of yours!"
He scoffed. "Nessie, tell your uncle he's an idiot."
I blushed stupidly, too flustered to speak.
"Oh come on, Ness! Do you really think I'd be outdone by a bloodsucker?"
"Easily," Aunt Rose added.
"I wasn't asking you, Blondie. I know it's difficult for you to understand with your limited brain space and all that, but I would've said 'Blondie' if I was talking to you," Jacob said condescendingly. "I got my grizzly at least thirty seconds before you did."
"That was a cub!" Uncle Emmett shot back.
"All right, all right," Grandpa Carlisle said, holding up his hands. "Take it outside."
"Gladly," Jacob said, striding towards the door, Uncle Emmett following. They struggled in the doorway as both tried to get out before the other.
"Stop!" Aunt Alice shouted. "You're going to break the–" She was cut off by the sound of shattering glass.
Grandpa Carlisle exhaled. "Emmet….Jacob…."
Jacob and Uncle Emmett stared at the remains of the sliding glass door in horror for several seconds before turning on each other. "You broke it!" Jacob accused, pushing Uncle Emmett's chest.
"That was you!" Uncle Emmett shoved him back.
Jacob growled, barring his teeth at Uncle Emmett as he slipped into a combative pose. His body shuddered, and then he exploded into a wolf.
The Winters hissed in surprise. All four of them jumped back quickly, Rob and Ian throwing themselves into defensive stances in front of their mates. All four jumped again as Jacob snarled particularly loudly at Uncle Emmett.
"Jacob!" Dad snapped disapprovingly. He turned back to our guests. "I apologize. He means you no harm. He and Emmett–"
Neither Jacob nor Uncle Emmett seemed to notice the reactions of our guests. Uncle Emmett's lips curled upwards in a snarl, his teeth glinting in the twilight. He tackled him, sending them both flying out of the spot where the door had previously been. They became a snarling, growling, hissing blur of russet and marble against the dark green of the lawn.
Dad sighed. "Well, I suppose you can see for yourself."
Rob and Ian relaxed after a moment. "Well, we ought to be going," Rob said over the din coming from outside.
"It was a pleasure to meet you," Grandpa Carlisle said, extending his hand to Rob first.
Rob hesitated, and then shook it wordlessly. His eyes swept over my family, skipping over Uncle Jasper before turning and leaving the house, Ian following.
"OW! OKAY! MERCY, MERCY!" Jacob crowed from the yard, apparently back in human form.
Concern clenched my insides. I rushed to the remnants of the back door, picking my way through the scattered pieces of glass. "Jake? You okay?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Dad said, pulling me away from what was left of the door. He strode through the mess and tossed a dark wad outside. "Here," he said. "Put that on."
I went beet-red instantly. "Oh," I murmured. I'd forgotten about that. Jacob was usually very good about controlling his phasing. It was seldom that he changed on a whim as he had just now. I wasn't used to having to remember about clothes.
"Thanks, Edward," his voice said from outside. There was silence for a moment and then another low thud. Jacob cursed. "OW!" he shrieked again. "I SAID MERCY!" he bellowed at Uncle Emmett.
I made my way back to the door. My uncle had him pinned against the ground, his arms twisted underneath him. It even looked painful.
"Come on, Uncle Emmett, let him up," I said.
"Which part of mercy did you not get, bloodsucker?" Jacob shouted. Presently, there was a sickening crack. "OW!" He cursed fluently for several seconds. "Let me go, you idiot!"
"Let him up!" I snapped.
Uncle Emmett smirked and released him. He walked triumphantly back to the hole in the wall where the door had been.
I ignored him and rushed outside to Jacob. "Are you okay?"
"The moron broke my arm," he growled.
I felt a surge of anger rush up in me. I shot Uncle Emmett a glare over my shoulder. He snickered at Jacob's misfortune.
Jacob growled again. "Don't worry, Nessie. It'll be healed by tomorrow," he said loudly enough for Uncle Emmett to hear.
Uncle Emmett's booming laughter echoed in the forest several hundred metres behind us.
"Emmett, fix the door, please," said Grandpa Carlisle, his calm tone mildly strained.
"All right, all right," he said. "You know, I'd watch those two, Edward. I think our Nessie might have a little flame for the mutt."
My jaw dropped and my cheeks flamed simultaneously.
"Emmett!" Mom exclaimed, punching his arm. "Don't be a jerk!"
Jacob frowned, confused. "Huh?"
My cheeks grew hotter. I tried my best to hide my face behind my hair.
"And he calls me 'blondie'," Aunt Rose snorted as Uncle Emmett wrapped an arm around her waist.
"Come on, Rose. We'll go get some things to fix Doggie's accident," Uncle Emmett said smugly, gesturing to the broken glass.
I followed Jacob, who was cradling his right arm, into the house.
"Let's get that arm splinted, shall we, Jacob?" Grandpa Carlisle said. I imagined that repairing Jacob's bones had become quite routine for him. In the past six years, Uncle Emmett and Jacob had gotten into more than a few fights resulting in Jacob breaking limbs.
"Nessie, why don't you go see if you can help with the door?" Grandpa Carlisle suggested.
I hadn't even noticed that I'd been following Jacob until that moment. I realized then that we were in Grandpa Carlisle's office.
"Can I stay?"
He glanced at Jacob.
"'Course you can stay," grinned Jacob.
My head suddenly felt light as my blush intensified. Was the room hot or was it just me? I sat down quickly. Completely normal…I told myself again. September's a summer-ish month. I looked out the window as Grandpa Carlisle and Jacob chatted to take my mind off of the strange feeling worming about in my gut. It was night now. The crescent moon shone clear and pale in the dark blue sky, the glittering, serene stars flanking it. I couldn't believe that all that it had been hours since the day had started. It felt more like years. I sighed and sat back in my chair. This would certainly make for an interesting year.