I decided to leave them to their destruction and wandered into the living room. The family surrounded Ian, Tara and Adelaide. All wore intense expressions.
"What happened?" Grandpa Carlisle asked kindly.
Adelaide took a deep breath. "The Volturi found us."
My heart froze in my chest. How was that possible? How had they found them so quickly? Had we led the Volturi straight to them?
"Two of them just appeared in the house. They said they were taking us to Italy to stand trial before Marcus, Aro and Caius."
"I had to kill them," Ian said softly, his eyes locked on Tara and Adelaide. "I couldn't let that happen."
A slow, sinking dread filled me. This was the end. They'd killed two of the Volturi, and now they would exact their revenge. There would be no excusing what had happened. They would destroy the Winter coven, and as soon as they learned that we'd befriended them, we'd be next. I looked around at my family. I was suddenly aware of just how little time I'd had with them. The dread was replaced with a horrible, heart-wrenching grief. We were supposed to have eternity together. Now we would be lucky if we had another week.
And Jacob. My Jacob.
A sharp pang stabbed my heart. He would die because of me. If I hadn't been so selfish, he wouldn't have felt the need to stay. I'd never told him to stay in as many words, but I'd made my feelings on the matter clear.
Grandpa Carlisle gave a heavy sigh. "Well. How do we proceed?"
"I will stay," Adelaide said firmly. "Tara was never involved with our father's…work, nor were Rob or Ian. The rest of you should leave, while you still can."
"No, you will not stay," Ian said brusquely. It didn't seem like the first time they'd had the conversation.
She unleashed her hair-raising glare on him. "I am not asking for your permission, Ian." She was quiet again and looked at us. "I'm so sorry," she said, her voice barely a whisper.
"Why?" asked Mom. "It's not your fault." She hadn't yet come to the realization I had.
"We should have told you to stay away," she continued, her eyes now fixed on the floor. "We should have kept our distance."
"Why?" Mom asked again.
"Because they'll kill you now, too," Ian said finally.
Mom and Dad looked at each other and then at me instinctively. Fear began to seep into their honey-coloured eyes.
"We need to know everything about you that we can," said Grandpa Carlisle. "To your knowledge, it's just the two of you, correct?"
Tara nodded. Adelaide was motionless.
Grandpa Carlisle hesitated. "Adelaide?"
She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, bowing her head. "God forgive me," she murmured. She lifted her head slowly. "There are five that I know of, but there will be more by now."
Jaws unanimously hit the floor.
"Five?" I croaked. I had thought two others were impossible, let alone seven.
Tara stared at her sister in shock. "What are you talking about?" she demanded, her musical voice strained.
I still couldn't believe that any of this was real. The past hour had changed everything that I'd thought I'd known. I waited for Adelaide to speak. There must have been an explanation for this.
"Adelaide, answer me!" she snapped.
Adelaide looked at her sister, the agony on her face nearly bringing tears to my eyes. "I'm so sorry I didn't tell you."
You're lying," Tara insisted, her voice cold. "How could there be three others? I would have known."
Grandpa Carlisle looked at Adelaide. "We need you to tell us everything."
She took a shuddering breath and turned away. "I'm the oldest of my family, but I am not the oldest of my kind. I was born near what is now Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, as I told you before, in 1711."
My eyes widened. This had been going on for three hundred years?
"I spent the first four years of my life there. My father then took me south, to the Amazon, where we lived with Joham. He had two daughters then, named Zaniyah and Citalli, with whom I became quite close. But from the day we arrived, they all drilled their half-breed superiority nonsense into my head.
"We left in the 1740's to live in Ireland. There we met–" She swallowed suddenly. "Uh…others of my father's kind. And after a few years, we went to England and did our best to join society. It made it easier for him to access his future….prey. We spent most of our time in London. He liked big cities. He didn't have to be as careful. He could hunt and choose his next wife with far more ease."
I shuddered and glanced at Uncle Jasper. William Taylor's mentality reminded me of the strategy of those involved in the Southern Wars.
"Over the years, we traveled most of Europe," she continued. "My sister Georgina was born in 1800, the daughter of his wife of merely two months. I was largely left to raise her. That was part of my job." Her voice soured. "In 1914, we left Europe to escape The Great War. We came back to Canada and briefly settled in the Maritimes. My sister Catherine was born in Halifax in 1917, and then Juliet in 1939. He chose their mothers as Joham did: based on their beauty." She glanced at Tara, who was trembling as she stared at her. "Tara was the only one I ever bonded with, the only one I ever really loved." She closed her tortured blue eyes. "I did anything and everything he told me to almost entirely without question, from hiding bodies to raising the children. It was all I had ever known. He had truly convinced me that half-breeds were the ideal race," she spat.
I was too frozen to even think. This wasn't possible.
"Stop it," Tara hissed.
"I didn't want you to hate me as they did," she said pleadingly. "I didn't want you to see me for the monster I am."
"I said stop!" She flew to her feet.
"No," Adelaide said. "You need to know this. I should have told you this long ago."
Tara shook her head frantically as Adelaide continued. "Things changed when Lillian, Tara's mother, died. She was the only mother figure I've ever known. I began to doubt that we could really be such fantastic creatures if the cost of our existence was a life such as Lillian's.
"My father became different as well. He didn't quite seem to believe in his 'mission' as earnestly as he had before. He was exceptionally detached with Tara. He had been contented enough with daughters, but he desperately wanted a son. He was…disappointed. It began to bother me.
"It was around this time that your friends Kate and Irina came. They told me about Carlisle and how he had found a way to survive without taking human life, which had become a concern of mine. If their timing had been even slightly different, I don't know that we would be here today. But within four hours, they had made me begin to realize that I had spent two hundred and thirty-nine years living a lie. For a month afterward I tried to continue life as it had been. I knew that everything I had been told was wrong, but I didn't want to uproot Tara. She was only two at the time." She glanced at her sister and swallowed. "One day he came home to tell me he had found a new bride. That was the last that I could take. We left the next day. I haven't seen him since."
"Where are they, then? Where are the others?" Tara demanded suddenly.
"They stayed in Quebec to wait for us. We were due to return in 1960. He decided that it would look too suspicious if he went into Yellowknife with four women, so he chose only me to go with him. I pretended to be his sister."
Tara stumbled back, as though someone had struck her. Her wide eyes were filled with unspeakable horror. "Did you help him choose my mother, too?"
Adelaide bowed her head.
Tara's voice shot up an octave. "Did you hide her body?"
Adelaide didn't move.
"No," was all Tara said. "No."
Adelaide stood as well. "Do you still want me to stay?"
I was speechless. I glanced around the room, noticing only now that Rob, Dad and Uncle Emmett had returned.
Adelaide looked at her sister for a moment. "Now you know," she said and then promptly left the room.
The silence that followed was by far the worst thing I'd ever heard in my life. Tara was still staring at the spot where her sister had been. Ian was watching her worriedly, as was Rob.
"Well," said Uncle Emmett. "That was a biggie."
Mom smacked his head with a glare. "Nice, Emmett. Really nice."
"Ow!" he said. "What was that for?"
Everyone that wasn't frozen rolled their eyes. Leave it to Uncle Emmett to wreck the mood.
Uncle Jasper and Aunt Alice rose. "We'll talk to her," Uncle Jasper suggested.
Rob growled, turning on Uncle Jasper. "No you will not. You will not go anywhere near her."
Uncle Jasper met his eyes. "I believe that I understand how she feels, Rob."
"I doubt that," snapped Rob. "A soulless child-murderer like you couldn't possibly understand her."
I felt my teeth bar involuntarily.
"Rob," Ian said firmly, stepping between my uncle, who bore his now-familiar guilty expression and Rob.
"What?" snapped Rob.
"Stop. He's not the enemy."
"And who is, Ian? Adelaide?"
I was really starting to detest this man.
"Of course not," Ian said evenly. "But this isn't going to help her. Has she told you that she's planning to give herself up to the Volturi? Or are you too focused on Jasper?"
Rob froze abruptly. I looked away. I couldn't bear to see such heart-wrenching torment, not even on Rob's face. He vanished from the room without another word. I tried to put it in perspective, to imagine that someone had just told me that Jacob…
I stopped the thought in its tracks. Jacob would never do that. Jacob was perfect.
Uncle Jasper glanced at Grandpa Carlisle for permission to follow.
"I'll go with you," Grandpa Carlisle said.
"I'll go too," Dad offered.
Grandpa Carlisle nodded.
Tara slowly sank back down to her seat, her green eyes, which I noticed now, were much lighter than they had been, more jade now than emerald.
"You will not do this!" I heard Rob shouting from several rooms away. I felt bad for him, strangely enough.
Tara glanced up at the sound of Rob's voice. I had to look away again. The pain was too much to look at.
"Tara?" Grandma Esme said quietly.
Tara looked at her now, still silent.
"Is there anything I can do?"
Tara shook her head.
Ian wrapped his arm around her, stroking her arm. "I'm sorry for ruining your evening like this," he said, looking at Grandma Esme. "We didn't know where else to go." He looked at his mate for a moment. "I'm not sure where we'll go now. Rob doesn't think our home is safe anymore."
"You'll stay with us," she said immediately. "We have more than enough room for all of you."
"No," Tara said quietly. "We couldn't impose on you."
"You'd be no imposition. We have more space than we know what do with," Grandma Esme told her.
"We'd love to have you," I said at last, feeling like I ought to say something. After all, she was my friend.
Tara turned her sorrow-stricken eyes on me now. She forced a tiny smile. "That's very kind of you, Nessie."
I cursed the blush that rose in my face. But at the same time, it was good to know that my heart was still beating enough to circulate blood.
"Thank you very much for your offer," Ian said. "That's very generous."
"Not at all," Grandma Esme said.
Tara spoke again. "We ought to ask Rob."
"Of course," Grandma Esme said.
Jacob shuffled into the room. "Hey guys," he said.
I felt a rush of joy upon seeing him. Before I could even think about what I was doing, I rushed over and threw my arms around him. "I'm so glad you're back," I said.
Jacob tensed for a moment, evidently taken by surprise. He chuckled and wrapped his arms around me as well.
Uncle Emmett whistled from behind us. I heard Mom's hand connect with his rock-hard skull for the second time.
I released him after a moment, ignoring my uncle, and was content merely to have his arm around me.
"So I uh…overheard, and uh…well, the pack's standing by. Leah especially has been itching to rip up some leeches lately." Jacob gave us a tentative grin.
Aunt Rose made a disgusted noise.
"So they're all set, just in case we get the occasion."
"Thank you, Jacob," said Grandpa Carlisle, appearing in the doorway. "But I don't the need will arise."
Jacob shrugged. "Seth's going to try to talk to Sam, too, see if he'll get their pack up here."
"I've always wanted to wrench Demetri's head off," Uncle Emmett said.
"Naw, it'd be over too fast that way," Jacob said. "I'd start with his arms. I wouldn't mind punching that Jane-kid in the face, too."
Mom rolled her eyes. Uncle Emmett shifted away from her, just in case she was planning to smack him again.
"We've decided to stay here," Rob said tersely. "All of us." He shot Adelaide a glare. She was staring at the floor, still radiating misery.
"We are going to continue as usual," Grandpa Carlisle said. "If the Volturi decide to come…well, we'll deal with that if and when it occurs." His voice faltered on the word "if". He knew they were coming. We all knew. It was only a matter of time.
"Rob, Esme has kindly offered to let us stay with them," Ian informed him.
Rob glanced at her, his expression softening. "That would be wonderful. Thank you."
"Excellent," Grandpa Carlisle said. "We'll make up some rooms for you."
Aunt Rose, Mom and Grandma Esme all left to do exactly that. Uncle Emmett and Jacob left the room, still arguing about who they'd kill first, Jane or Demetri. Aunt was muttering about accessories for the rooms as she took her leave. Dad, Uncle Jasper and Grandpa Carlisle all left to prepare some food for the Winter sisters, Jacob and me.
Tara looked up finally, her green eyes resting on her sister. I suddenly felt out of place. I fled the room quickly.
"You told him, didn't you," I somewhat accidentally overheard Tara say to Adelaide.
"Yes, she told me," Rob replied.
"Forty-two years ago."
"She told you when you met?"
"So you could tell him but not me? Your own sister?"
"It wasn't like that, T," Adelaide said quietly. "But if you want me to leave, just tell me."
"No," Tara said after a moment, her voice thick with emotion. "I don't care who you've been. I don't care what you've done. The past is over. You still risked everything so we could have a better life, away from Father, so don't you ever, ever leave me."
I felt tears prick my eyes. When I looked back at them over my shoulder, the two were embracing. I suddenly wished for a sister.