Bella hovered on the edge of
consciousness, mental clarity just out of reach. She knew she wasn't quite
alone, but some alarm in her head warned her not to open her eyes, that it
But she didn't know why.
Curled in the fetal position, Bella wanted to touch her head but didn't, feeling again this was not a wise move. She was physically comfortable, a fact at odds with the sense of foreboding flooding her brain.
She squeezed her eyes shut to satisfy her inner alarm, but that only lessened the concern. Her heart raced, and she focused on the softness beneath her body to calm it. The roaring in her ears gradually stopped, but she didn't trust the silence. Didn't believe for a moment she was out of danger.
Forcing her mind to work, Bella combed her recent memory for clues. She remembered her birthday party—easily the worst in human history—but felt she'd gone too far back.
She remembered the forest with Edward, his golden eyes cold and distant as he tried to leave her, dragging a trail of lies behind him. She winced as she envisioned his face and moved quickly on. She remembered anger and incredulity battling for dominance, ultimately saved by her ingenuity.
She remembered the trial, Rosalie proud upon the throne, waiting to pass judgment when the proper time came. She remembered her witnesses and opposing counsel's unyielding refusal to concede a single point. And she remembered leaving town, hopping a plane to Florida to escape everything that reminded her of Edward.
Gasping, Bella sat up, adrenaline quickening her weary limbs and forcing her eyes open.
And compared to what she expected, what she saw only confused her further.
"Bella, hello." He sat across the room on an upholstered bench, his golden eyes studying her. "How are you feeling?"
His words made but little more sense than his presence here, and Bella shook her head. "I don't know how to answer that."
He didn't seem surprised. "Allow me to get you a glass of water."
"That would be nice." Bella was grateful Jasper wasn’t chatty, for she would have no clue what to say. But not for a lack of options. If anything, there were so many questions clamoring for expression, her mind felt as if it might explode.
Jasper moved at human speed around a plain but simple motel suite, much like the one they used in Phoenix a few months ago. It boasted an inviting sitting area, a stocked kitchenette, and a rather nice king-sized bed from which Bella watched Jasper prepare her glass of water. As he finished the task quickly, she lamented not asking him for something more complex.
Like an explanation on the rocks.
"You have questions," he said. Bella started at his observation, wondering if he were part-telepath as well. "Some of them I cannot answer, but I will do what I can."
"Who says you cannot answer?" It seemed Bella's nerves were no longer a factor. "Because I've gotta tell you, after the weekend I've had, I'm not in the mood for the coy anymore."
"I apologize. I mean only that you may have questions someone more intimately acquainted with the situation would be uniquely qualified—and more than happy, I would imagine—to address."
Bella sipped her water, reading between his lines. "Fair enough."
Jasper was about to speak when a cell phone rang. Bella didn't recognize the sound, but the cheery tones were suggestive enough. "Yes, Cricket… Yes…. No…. Yes…. Maybe….Always." He smiled as he disconnected the call. "Alice says she'll see you soon."
That seemed as logical a place to start as any. "Alice is here?"
"In a way."
Bella sighed, setting her glass on the night table. "What happened?"
"Is that your first question?"
"Can you be more specific?"
Bella scooted back on the bed until she reached the headboard, tucking her bare feet beneath her. "What happened to bring me from my mother's kitchen to…wherever we are right now?"
Jasper's golden eyes seemed to darken. "The answer to that begins in the courtroom, after you abandoned your petition."
"Yes. You left your petition alone, decided not to keep it." He frowned. "Is that not what happened?"
“Yes, I'm sorry. Go on."
"From the moment of that decision, Alice felt unsettled about your future. She respected your request to keep your plans secret, but…"
"Then how did you know I asked her to do that?"
"Her emotional spike when her phone buzzed in the courtroom suggested as much."
"There is no need to apologize." Jasper looked stricken. "At least, not for you."
Bella knew he could sense her abiding confusion, but she motioned for him to keep talking.
"We assumed her anxiety stemmed from the uncertainty in your relationship with Edward, but she thought it was more significant than that. Once Edward decided to follow you here, her feelings not only worsened but your future disappeared."
"What?" Bella sat up, her heart pounding. It took a moment for her brain to realize this was an alternate, unrealized future, and she returned to a reclining position.
Then she realized the calming process should not have taken so long with Jasper present.
"Have you been forbidden to help me…emotionally?" she asked. "I mean, did he tell you…"
"I am under no orders at present, other than a personal mandate to make amends."
He looked down, his voice a whisper. "For the times I have failed you."
"Have much to atone for, I know." Bella was startled by the intensity in his gaze, and she dropped her focus to the thin blue comforter on the bed. "And there will be time for that. But I should finish answering your question."
Bella swallowed hard. "You, uh…you were saying my future disappeared."
"Yes. And Alice feared you were in physical danger. Edward was on a plane, and with no way to warn him, Carlisle suggested we take the jet and…"
"The jet?" Bella's eyes popped out of her head. "I know there are more important things to consider, but…you have a jet?"
"Sometimes it becomes necessary to leave a location in a hurry," he said with an air of embarrassment. "And to escape human detection as we do so."
"Right." That seemed logical enough. "Okay, so you hopped on the jet…"
"And came here. The jet also provided a safe place to hide until sunset. Alice texted Edward to call as soon as he was out of your presence."
Bella frowned. "Why?"
"Because she wanted to apprise him of her…"
"No. Why did she want him to wait until he wasn't with me?" Jasper shifted in his seat, and she softened her voice. "Whatever it is, I won't get angry with you."
"I do not fear your anger, Bella. But I am reluctant to share outside opinions on the difficulties you and Edward are facing. Such is not my place."
Bella leaned forward. "Did you save me from Victoria?"
He looked away. "I was not the only…"
He sighed. "With the help of my family, yes."
"Then there's nothing you can't say to me right now. I mean, I'd be dead if it weren't for you."
He was beside the window across the room before she finished speaking. "Such was not the case last week."
Bella opened her mouth to protest then his words registered.
Bella disentangled her limbs from the sheets and made her way toward Jasper. His back was to her, and she watched the tension ripple across his shoulders as she neared. She stopped a safe distance away, wrapping her arms around her middle.
"I don't blame you, Jasper," she said softly. "What happened that night was a natural reaction to the scent and sight of human blood. Would you blame me if I were hungry and lunged at a hamburger?"
He snorted softly. "If that hamburger were a cow and a part of our family, yes."
The force of his guilt hit Bella like a lead weight, and she stumbled backwards, dropping to her knees with a muted cry. Jasper blurred to her side, his golden eyes scanning her exposed skin.
"I'm fine, Jas." She reached for his hand, but he slid it out of reach. "Just clumsy as always."
He muttered something she didn't catch and dragged himself away. Back to the window, Bella realized, because it was furthest away from the bed. "Jasper, please let this go."
"Why did he choose me?" he sighed.
"Why did what?"
Jasper laughed, a sound that should never be so dejected. "Edward asked me to stay with you, insisted I do so because I was the right choice. And I cannot imagine why."
Bella nibbled on her bottom lip, until the prospect of drawing blood made her stop. Despite everything they discussed in the past several days, Bella didn't feel qualified to explain Edward's decisions. His mind was a labyrinth: a confusing, contradictory place with one focus.
"Jasper, if I did attack that precious cow in a moment of weakness, do you think I would ever do it again? That I would ever let anything happen to her?"
He half-turned, the corner of his mouth twitching. "I see why Edward resists arguing with you."
"Edward can be wise when he chooses." She smiled in return. "And he made the right choice in choosing you."
He shook his head but resumed the earlier thread of conversation. "Alice feared if Edward answered his phone, it might give the accidental impression that you were not his priority. Or that she betrayed your trust and disclosed your location."
"That was considerate," Bella said. "And not entirely incorrect."
He shrugged and returned to his perch on the bench, but Bella saw the lift of his cheeks. "That's Alice."
"How do you do it?"
"Stay together for decades on end. I mean, Edward and I barely managed six months without falling apart."
Jasper's eyes deepened in color, but Bella couldn't name the reason why. He did not speak for a long time, and Bella resumed drinking her water to wait him out.
Bella nodded, expecting him to continue. When he didn't, she asked, "What about it?"
"That is how we stay together. We stay together because we love. And for us, love means never being apart." Bella's countenance fell, and Jasper continued. "My siblings and Esme were born into a family. They do not know the meaning of lonely, the desperation a solitary life can unleash. Alice and I do, and our love obliterated it. So no matter what problem arises between us, leaving love is never the solution."
Bella stared at the abstract patterns in the bedspread, nodding absently. She didn't trust herself to reply, and thankfully, Jasper took the hint.
"We were idling in the jet when Tanya called Carlisle. You remember her, from our clan of cousins in Alaska? She'd noticed some strangeness in Laurent which made her uncomfortable and demanded Irina glean the truth. After much stalling, he admitted Victoria had contacted him, soliciting information about our family and your relationship with Edward."
"What did Laurent do?"
"He told Victoria he was content and wanted no part in her vengeance. But Tanya could not pardon his delayed confession and the danger it could mean for our family, so she asked him to leave their home. Irina defended him, though not his actions, and Kate suggested the new couple spend some time away from the family for a while."
A derisive retort bubbled up to her lips, but Bella fought it down, refusing to dwell on the negative. "Do we know Irina and Laurent are still together?" she asked instead.
"Esme called Irina from our plane, and she confirmed they are visiting old friends in Switzerland. She accepts Tanya's role as head of their coven but believes bitterness caused her to overreact."
"About being unmated."
Bella suppressed an eye roll. "So that was the root of Alice's anxiety, Victoria being on the loose."
"And coming after you," Jasper said. "That is the salient point."
"How did you get to me before Victoria did?" Bella asked. "I remember her saying I was about to have a nightmare, then I blacked out."
Jasper nodded, distinctly uncomfortable. "Yes."
"So why am I here with you if Victoria did something to make me blackout?"
"Because Victoria didn't do it. Rosalie did."
"Rosalie?" Bella's head throbbed as she lost his train of thought. "I don't understand."
"Despite your orders, Edward only left your house to diffuse his scent. He met some of us in the water and…"
"In the water?"
"The ocean behind your mother's home. Where else could we hide nearby without our scents being detected?"
She blinked at him. "What if someone saw you go in?"
"At our speed? Not likely."
"Right." Another few moments passed before Bella found her voice again. "And I guess Rosalie and Alice refused to go in the water."
"No, I was the other hold out. Edward had deputized me and insisted I stay dry."
Bella had no response to that. "So everyone but you and Rosalie were holed up in the Atlantic Ocean…"
"Then Victoria decided to kidnap you. The faint trace of Edward's scent made her nervous, but when you expected him at the door, Victoria realized you were alone. She was so delighted to catch you unguarded that she didn't hear Edward and Emmett coming behind her."
He paused, expecting Bella to interrupt, but she waved him on.
"Rosalie and I were at the front door waiting for you to open the back door. When you did and Victoria gave her malediction, Rosalie chloroformed and carried you here. Then we..."
Jasper's narrative was interrupted by a sudden outburst of laughter. Bella covered her face but couldn't stifle her amusement, and Jasper waited for an explanation.
"I'm sorry. But with all your superhuman abilities, it strikes me as hilarious that you used good old-fashioned chloroform to knock me out."
Jasper stared a moment before a slight smile touched his face. "Never bet against a classic."
At that moment, the door opened and Rosalie entered with two bags in hand. "I wanted to try the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, but Edward was afraid I'd kill you. Accidentally, of course."
"Of course." Bella never even had a pleasant conversation with Rosalie. But seeing her walk through the door as if she owned the place, as if everything was normal shattered what remained of Bella's nerves, and she flung herself into Rosalie's arms, holding on for dear life.
Rosalie was startled, then she dropped the bags and pulled Bella onto her lap as she sat on the bed. Jasper offered to give them privacy before stepping outside, closing the door behind him.
Bella didn't realize she was crying until Rosalie handed her a tissue. "You know, since my tank top is ruined."
Chuckling as she dabbed her eyes, Bella pulled back. "I'm sure you can afford another one."
Rosalie's eyes were kind, but she did not smile. "Are you all right?"
"I'm not sure. There's so much I still don't know."
"Well, Victoria's dead. Edward made good and sure of that."
Bella's heart picked up speed. "You've seen him?"
"I have." Rosalie seemed far away. "Maybe for the first time ever."
That answer only confused Bella. "Is he all right?"
"He's fine." Rosalie blinked herself back to life. "Should be here shortly. I brought everything from Renee's that smelled strongly of you. I don't know if you planned to return there in the morning, but I wanted you to have some familiar things with you."
"Thank you, Rosalie." Bella held her gaze. "For this and the chloroform and everything else."
"You're welcome." She almost smiled fully. "Though the chloroform was my favorite part."
Rosalie checked her watch. "Well, it's late…or early, depending on how you look at it. We also have the room to your left, so Jasper and I are going to wait there for the rest of the family. Will you be okay in here alone?"
Bella nodded. "I could use some time to process."
"Fine." Rosalie started toward the door. "If you need anything, just call. We'll hear you."
Rosalie closed the door behind her, and Bella released a long, slow breath. She did so several times but only felt calm once she stepped inside the shower. The heat and steam worked wonders on her body, but her mind was ill at ease. Finger combing her locks as she padded back to the bed, Bella reached in her bag for the one thing that would bring some relief.
Pulling out her portable CD player, Bella plugged it into the bedside outlet and put in her favorite CD. As her lullaby filled the silence, she snuggled down beneath the covers and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.