“Hold off on that recess, Rosalie,” Carlisle said as the doors
closed behind him. “And await my instructions.”
Rosalie announced her agreement to the court, causing Bella to ask more questions. Carlisle tuned them out, hating the thought of paining his human daughter further.
“I just wanted to look hot in my uniform for Rosie,” Emmett groused as they dragged Edward down the hall, around the corner, and down the stairs. “I didn’t know I’d be doing double-duty as a bouncer.”
“Emmett.” Carlisle shook his head, and his brawny son fell silent.
But Edward felt no such urge.
“Put me down!” he roared as Carlisle gripped his legs with enough force to snap them in two. “Now!”
“Here is fine,” Carlisle said as Emmett kicked open the metal door no human would be strong enough to move.
“Let me go!” Edward cried again.
“Gladly.” Emmett tossed Edward across the large, empty room into the opposite wall. Edward came immediately to his feet, his nostrils flared as he eyed the door behind Emmett.
But the latter had his sleeves rolled up and stared him down. “I’d love to see you try.”
“I need to get back up there,” Edward said.
“You’re not going anywhere, son.” Carlisle stepped around Emmett, clasping his hands in front of him. “Not until we talk.”
“I don’t have time to talk!” Edward’s voice bounced off the wall of the chamber, amplifying its agitation. “He’s up there with her, and he…”
“He?” Emmett shouted.
Emmett looked at Carlisle before stepping into Edward’s space. “Billy Black isn’t the problem here.” He poked his brother in the chest with an accusing finger. “You are.”
Before Edward could reply, Jasper burst into the room, his golden eyes burning with fury. “You want to tell us what the hell that was about?”
Edward pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t have time to…”
“You better make the time!” Jasper would have been nose-to-nose with Edward if not for Emmett serving as a barrier. “It is bad enough you insist on this farce of a trial, but to terrify Bella with your…”
“Terrify?” Edward looked between Jasper and Carlisle. “What do you mean?”
Jasper raised his hand as if to strike him then dragged it down his face instead. “What I mean is you scared the ever-lovin’ snot out of Bella! What I mean is I nearly passed out trying to calm her down. Why do you think Rosalie asked Esme to restrain her?”
Edward turned to Emmett. “She had Bella restrained?”
Jasper threw up his hands, walking away. “Clueless,” he muttered as Carlisle took over.
Carlisle turned to Edward, harnessing the best of his paternal patience.
“Rosalie asked Esme to restrain Bella to keep her from following you,” he told his son. “Like the rest of us, Bella has no idea what set you off. But unlike the rest of us, her instinct to comfort kicks in when she sees you in distress.”
“The rest of us just want to kick your ass,” Emmett added.
“Seeing you this way would serve no purpose,” Carlisle continued, “so Rosalie asked Esme to keep Bella upstairs—away from you—until you calm down.”
Edward barked a laugh, startling them all. “This just gets better and better.”
Carlisle frowned. “Bella’s worried about you, yes. But she’s confused and anxious because she needs answers. So you need to explain yourself so Esme can explain this to her.”
“And she will,” Jasper warned. “Word-for-word.”
Edward turned away from his brothers, running his hands
through his hair. His head dropped to his chest as he pinched the bridge of his
nose. “This is all my fault.”
“Obviously,” Emmett and Jasper said without missing a beat.
Carlisle ignored them. “What do you mean?”
Edward sighed, a sound full of torment. “I asked Billy to come, thinking he and the wolves could protect Bella from Victoria. She doesn’t know they exist and would be no match for them even with Laurent’s help should he prove untrustworthy.”
“Go on,” Carlisle said.
Edward paused, and Emmett opened his mouth to speak, but Carlisle raised his hand to stop him. For all Edward’s gifts and insights into human nature, he was slow to understand the folly of his own ways. And admitting those failings was akin to streaking in front of the entire town.
“But she would not be safe there,” Edward said.
“Why not?” Carlisle asked.
Edward clenched his hand as he turned around, his blackened eyes failing to meet his father’s. “Sam, the oldest of the two from earlier. He has a mate, Emily. And…”
Carlisle stepped forward. “Yes?”
“There was an incident.”
Jasper and Emmett glanced at each other. “What kind of incident?” Emmett asked.
“The kind that leaves a young girl permanently scarred because she fell in love with the wrong man.”
Jasper’s eyes narrowed. “You mean ‘scarred’ as in…”
“As in scars, Jasper!” Edward snapped. “The ones you have are love bites compared to the abomination on that sweet girl’s face.”
Carlisle reply was cut off by Bella gasping upstairs. “Is that true?” she asked Billy.
“It was an accident,” the elder replied, and Carlisle noted the remorse in his tone. “Sam feels terrible.”
“Not as terrible as Emily does, I’m sure,” Edward spat as his ire rekindled.
“How did it happen?” Bella asked, her heartbeat picking up speed as she spoke.
“She’s fine,” Jasper said before Edward could ask. “Just give her a minute.”
“Esme, let Bella go,” Carlisle said softly.
There was a beat of silence then Bella’s muted thanks to Esme. “Billy, please answer the question,” Bella said, her voice stronger.
The entire building was quiet save Billy’s answering sigh. “To answer that adequately, I need to tell you about another aspect of Quileute life.”
“Do whatever you need to do.” Bella’s footsteps echoed above them, presumably as she approached the witness stand. “But make me understand.”
“With the ability to transform comes another change to your natural design,” Billy explained. “Shifters find their life partners, mates as you call them, by imprinting.”
“Which is?” Bella asked.
“It is what happens a man sees that certain woman the first time.” Billy’s voice deepened with respect. “It is as if she eclipses all else in the world, and that man, no matter what happens from that day forward, will live and die for her pleasure. He will be her friend, her comforter, and ultimately, hopefully, her life partner.”
“Okay,” Bella said slowly. “Keep going.”
“Sam was dating Emily’s cousin Leah. But when he saw Emily,” Billy sighed. “Leah ceased to exist. He didn’t want to leave Leah, but he imprinted on Emily. The choice was no longer his.”
“How did Emily respond?” Bella asked after a moment.
“This is a bunch of melodramatic nonsense,” Emmett cried. “How did Sam come to hurt Emily?”
“Wait,” Edward said gravely. “He’s getting to that.”
“…were like sisters,” Billy was saying. “But Sam imprinting destroyed that. He pursued Emily despite her protests but to no avail.”
His voice lost its luster, and he spoke more slowly. “One day Emily demanded he go back to Leah. When he refused, Emily accused of him of being a liar just like his father.” Billy swallowed. “Sam flew into a rage and transformed on the spot, lashing out at her.”
Bella’s horrified gasp spoke for them all. “What happened?”
“I could have helped,” Carlisle said as Billy described the gashes in Emily’s face. “The Quileute hospital isn’t sufficient to handle such a difficult case. That’s why the scars are so bad.”
“Her boyfriend attacked her,” Edward said sharply. “That’s why the scars are so bad.”
“My god,” Bella sighed in the courtroom. “How did she… I mean, is she okay?”
“She’s mending, thank you for asking,” Billy said. “And they’re working things out.”
“Emily and Leah?”
“No, Emily and Sam.”
Bella’s heart rate increased again. “Working what out exactly?”
“You know.” Billy waved a hand. “Their relationship.”
“Relationship?” Bella cried. “So he forced her to stay with him?”
“No,” Billy said. “She made that choice on her own.”
“But why would she do that?”
Billy’s voice hardened. “For the same reason you’re fighting to stay with a leech.”
“Your Honor.” Bella’s rising anger was palpable to them all. “I am done with this witness.”
Carlisle looked at Edward who had banished himself to the corner of the room, balancing on the balls of his feet with his hands in his hair. “I think Edward’s finished with him too, Rosalie,” Carlisle said. “Best dismiss him.”
“Very well,” Rosalie said aloud for Bella and Billy’s benefit. “Elder Black, you may step down.”
Carlisle nodded toward the door. “Emmett, go bailiff. Jasper, go… be Jasper.”
Both boys nodded, sparing a sympathetic glance for their cowering brother. Jasper stared at him, causing Edward to shiver. “Save your assistance for someone who deserves it,” he muttered. “Like Bella.”
“She wouldn’t want to see you like this,” Jasper said as he quit the room. “If you can’t straighten up for yourself, do it for her.”
“Everything I’m doing is for her, but nothing’s working!”
He dropped his head again, and Carlisle waved Jasper from the room. He waited for the boys to reach the main level before taking a deep breath and approaching his son. It tore him up inside to watch Edward torture himself, and he had reached his limit.
Enough was enough.
“Edward.” Carlisle’s tone made him look up. “It is time to end this.”
“What do you think I’ve been…”
“Stop.” Carlisle dropped to the balls of his feet, looking Edward in the eye. “Just stop.”
Edward sighed, cradling his head in his hands. “I’m tired, Carlisle.”
“I know, son.” Carlisle laid a cautious hand on Edward’s knee. “So let’s not do this anymore.”
“What would you propose I do?”
“What Bella asked.”
Edward frowned at his father until Carlisle fed him the answer in his mind. He shoved his father’s hand away, throwing him off balance as he came to his feet, snarling. “That’s your big plan? Save her from a red-eyed monster by turning her into one?”
Carlisle brushed the soot from his pants undeterred. “Bella does not see it that way.”
“She’s a barely-legal human,” Edward spat. “She doesn’t know what she wants.”
“Yes, she does. And that’s what scares you.”
Edward whirled around. “What?”
“Bella is sure of you.” Carlisle stepped forward, his eyes intent on his son. “Surer of you than you are of yourself. It terrifies you to think someone could love and want you that much when you don’t even love yourself.”
“I…” Edward closed his eyes and shook his head. “This is not about me.”
“It sure feels like it is.” Carlisle folded his arms. “You decided to leave Bella after that horrifying accident at the house. You decided to lie about your feelings and include us in the charade under the guise of keeping her safe. And you will not make the obvious, logical choice to change her, despite her very clear feelings on the subject. If this entire process is not about you, then what is it about?”
“You…” Edward turned away again, muttering under his breath. “I cannot condemn her to this life! It would be selfish and wrong.”
“So am I selfish and wrong for changing Esme?” Carlisle asked. “Did Rosalie condemn Emmett by changing him?”
“They were dying!”
“But by your logic, they are condemned by the change and forever prevented from spending eternity with their savior. By your logic, it would have been selfless and right to let them die.”
Edward raked his hands through his hair again. “It’s not the same with Bella.”
“Why? Because she chose you and you have no soul?” Carlisle laughed without humor. “I thought this wasn’t about you.”
Edward ground his teeth. “You’re twisting my words.”
“Your words are twisted when they leave your mouth,” Carlisle replied gently.
“We are not having this discussion! Bella will never become one of us, and that is the end of that!”
“Do I get a say?”
Carlisle and Edward were stunned to find Bella in the open doorway, neither having noticed her approach. Her eyes were moist and seeking as they landed on Edward, and Carlisle wondered how his son could miss what was right in front of him.
Bella was everything he needed and more.
As if hearing Carlisle’s thoughts, Bella turned to him with a half-smile. “May I have a word alone with Edward, please?”
“Of course.” Carlisle ignored the panicked look from his son, patting Bella’s shoulder as he reached her. “Take all the time you need.”
He quit the room and proceeded up the stairs, praying as he walked. Though lacking in supernatural gifts, Carlisle was well-versed in love and life. And he knew enough to know Edward had lost sight of the one and was about to permanently destroy the other.
Unless Bella found a way to stop him.