8. Intent to Kill

12 February 1921

Wrath! As Homer found fit to begin his epic, so I find fit to begin yet another small one of mine. I feel I have become Achilleus, burning with an anger that could easily fuel war. Never before have I felt this emotion to this degree. Certainly Edward and I have had our heated disagreements, and I have been angry with others at points in these long years. (That battle with Aro about my food source comes readily to mind.) But nothing compares—nothing, I imagine, could ever compare—with this burning hatred I feel for Charles Evenson.

Esme, my beloved Esme, is so carefully nonchalant about this monster who was her husband. She has told me so little of him: that they were married at her parents’ request; that he fought in the Great War. I assumed he died fighting those wretched Germans, and she let me believe this was the case, which makes me furious.

Of course, if I listen to my own reason (a part of me that seems to have disappeared of late), I must consider that perhaps Esme kept this information from me in order to protect him. Surely she must sense how badly I desire to take his life just as he, however unwittingly, took hers. It is all-consuming, this incoherent rage. I am nearly afraid to go to work, so powerful is my thirst for the blood of this man who harmed Esme.

Why she should want to protect him, however, I do not know. I am immeasurably grateful that my venom has healed her, for it would be impossible for me to bear seeing the marks that madman surely left upon her body. It is pain enough to see his evil reflected every time Esme flinches from my touch—in this act I see the deep scars he has left on her which no power of mine, mortal or immortal, can possibly heal.

It was for this that she explained the vile behavior of her first husband to me in the first place. Last evening we lay together after a hunt (Edward having already returned to the house—he has recently traded his anger toward Esme for aloofness and I am frankly unsure which reaction I like less), and she pulled away from my hand when I went to touch her beautiful face. I was hurt by this and so by way of explanation she offered the description of what that cretin did to her. Burned as her words are into my memory, I will not dwell on them here except to say that it is my wish that she never have to utter them again.

I realize now that I have begun to think of Esme as mine. Mine to keep, my duty to protect. My mate, if I dare. And while I acknowledge that she once shared her life with another, I am as yet unwilling to accept placidly the horror that befell her during that time. Thus for the first time since I myself was newborn, I again find myself battling a craving to kill.

Columbus is not so very far from Ashland.

C. C.

I ran my fingers across my father’s initials at the bottom of the page as I finished rereading this chilling entry yet again. It made me every bit as uneasy now as it had the first time I’d read these words. Three weeks ago, I might have said that I knew Carlisle better than Esme did. Three weeks ago, I might have thought I knew Carlisle better than he himself did. Now I simply knew better—I had hardly known Carlisle at all.

I had read the journal in a single sitting, hunched over my steering wheel in the In-N-Out parking lot that night. Even after almost ninety years of sharing Carlisle’s home, his life, and his thoughts, there was so much I still did not know about the man I called my father. His introspection was a hallmark of his personality, and no one in our family would contest that he was the most intellectual of us all, but I had never before grasped the complexity of the way these two things came together in his everyday thinking. He analyzed everything down to the most minute detail. If I smiled at Esme, he would go on about it for a page or more, wondering if it meant that I was starting to accept her or if I was simply imagining the joy of tearing her apart. If Esme cleaned the kitchen, he worried that she felt she had to take care of us, but also wondered hopefully if she was trying to take the role of his wife. And he wrote about me far more than I would have ever expected; even consumed as he was with figuring out his own feelings for Esme, I still appeared in nearly every entry. It was a little unnerving to realize how much time Carlisle spent thinking about me.

And then there was the Evenson rant, as I had come to think of it. He spent over a fortnight’s worth of entries spewing vitriol about Esme’s first husband. To read him going on and on contemplating a very grisly murder was disturbing and fascinating at once. I was still finding it difficult to imagine my resolute pacifist of a father in a fury so deep that actually made him fantasize about taking a human life. On the other hand, these entries felt like tacit approval of my current course of action. In hunting Victoria, wasn’t I doing exactly what Carlisle wished he had been able to do? With Esme’s first husband, there had at least been the solace that if we waited him out, he would eventually die. The same could not be said of Victoria.

It had been those entries that had given me the fuel I needed to stay hunting. I spent another week skulking around in the shadows and darkness of San Francisco, trying to pick up any trace of the blond vampire or Victoria. Two more mauling deaths—both attributed to an overpopulation of cougar—had drawn me to the outskirts of the city. I prowled around the generic suburban neighborhoods for several days, all the while battling a growing desire to move my protective circle back north to Forks. During the days I lay low, staying indoors and out of the sun, and at night I stretched my own running capabilities to their maximum, covering huge swaths of the state before returning to the Porsche in the mornings.

Ten days had passed without incident and I had grown uneasy, knowing that my enemy would have to feed sometime soon. I took to staying as close to the human population as I could manage, hunting frequently so that I could keep my own strength at its peak. And so a moonless night had found me again standing by my car in the darkness, paging through the journal and waiting for any sign of the blond. His unsuspecting potential victims drifted idly by me, cheerful from their holiday celebrations and shopping trips and oblivious to the danger that surrounded them.

My goodness he is so pale, I heard, and dismissed it. Nearly everyone who looked at me, especially at night, had some sort of similar thought. But then I looked up from the page and realized that the street on which I stood was temporarily deserted. I chucked Carlisle’s journal back into the Porsche and took off at a flat run in the direction from which I had heard the thought.

What I saw when I rounded the corner stopped me cold.

It was neither the blond nor Victoria. Bathed in the hazy orange glow of an aging streetlamp stood a tall, dark-haired, muscular vampire. His eyes were wild with bloodlust, and his irises, as I finally saw them, were a vivid red.

A newborn?

He had targeted the woman who had noticed him and unwittingly alerted me—she was maybe a quarter of a mile down the street. But just before he moved after her, he caught my scent and whirled on me, snarling.

The look in his eyes was pure confusion—I watched in his mind as he registered the color of my eyes. Gold? It seemed to connect with something for him. And then I caught a glimpse of her, red hair flying wildly behind her as she spoke: “They have golden eyes. That is how you know them.”

This vampire knew of my family. And he knew Victoria!

I didn’t think about newborn strength or speed in that instant. My rational mind left me completely as I let out a horrific snarl and launched myself down the street. In an instant I had pinned the unsuspecting newborn on his back, the cement breaking beneath us with a boom that shook both our bodies. I knew I had mere seconds until he recovered from his surprise—I had to get what I could as fast as possible.

“Where is she? Where is Victoria? The redhead?” I snarled.

He shook his head, but in his mind I saw her running away, laughing, hand-in-hand with the blond vampire I’d been searching for. The image stunned me. I had assumed I was merely protecting Bella from yet another nomad—I had long ago dismissed the notion that the blond was somehow connected to this other, more important quarry of mine.

My god, I had been right.

I grabbed the newborn’s jaw and he did nothing. If she had created him, Victoria had told him nothing of his strength. For this I was momentarily thankful. “Where is she?!” I demanded again.

I don’t know, I don’t know. The vampire was shaking his head forcefully. Texas? She said something about going to the South. But I’m not telling this gold-eyed one anything…

And he spat in my face. My split-second of surprise was enough time for him to throw me backwards, and I slammed into the streetlamp behind us with a resounding crash. The top of the lamp fell to my shoulders, exploding around me in a shower of glass and sparks. Two car alarms went off, the honking and screaming sirens adding their chorus to the cacophony.

Having momentarily stunned me, the newborn raced away into the distance, my attack thankfully having diverted him from his prey. She continued ambling down the street, somehow oblivious to the devastation behind her.

Humans.

I used my shirt to wipe the venom from my face as I slowly returned to my car. Again behind the wheel, I paused. Did I go after the newborn? If he got too close to Forks, he might seek out our home. And moreover, knowing Bella, she would figure out some way to walk right into him if he got within a hundred miles of her. On the other hand, I couldn’t take on a newborn of that size by myself. It would take someone like Jasper, with more experience, to take that vampire down alone.

I growled, feeling suddenly caged. Nine months ago almost to the day I had found myself in a similar situation: trying to run after two dangerous vampires at once. But then I’d had help. There had been five of us; my mother and sister closing the perimeter around Charlie Swan, my father and brother with me chasing the other monster north.

And Bella had nearly lost her life anyway.

Pressing my forehead to the steering wheel, I considered my options. I could leave California and travel to Texas, in hopes of coming across Victoria there. Or I could stay here, fight not to return to Bella, and still try to destroy this newborn who might pose a threat to her. If I went after the newborn, I could at least assure myself that he was not moving toward Bella. But I would be diverted from Victoria for however long it took me to be certain.

I hurled my fist into the center of my steering wheel.

A loud bang erupted and the airbag exploded back at me, filling the car with a noisome burning odor as it slowly deflated into my lap.

I growled. Now I would need to stop and pick up shop tools somewhere.

I carefully folded the airbag back into the wheel. I was eight hundred miles from Bella, and so was the newborn; whoever he was. Had Victoria been warning him to stay away from our family? Had she even been the one to turn him, if she was no longer here? And Texas…it seemed like Victoria was on the run, but from whom? She couldn’t possibly know I was after her, could she? I had barely been gone a month. On the other hand, it did make sense that she would warn others about us; perhaps try to turn the tide of other nomads against us. We had, after all, killed a member of her coven. But I hadn’t even perceived their bond to be at all that strong.

I needed another dose of fury. Picking up Carlisle’s journal from where it had landed on the floorboard, I thumbed through it quickly, my fingers at once finding the familiar section where my father had unleashed his rancor for Esme’s first husband. But instead of falling open to the usual cathartic vitriol, it fell instead to an entry I’d read only once. My eyes skimmed across it, at first hardly taking in the words, but then they slowed as I began to read it once more.

1 March 1921

How many times can a life change in such a short period of time, I wonder. St. David’s Day will mean something different for me forever onward. Today Esme and I hunted, and instead of forest animals, together we killed Charles Evenson.

I had thought I was being careful not to seem too standoffish, but I was wrong. Esme has noticed every inch that I stand further from her, every chaste embrace that I’ve failed to exchange of late. As soon as we were clear of Edward this morning, she confronted me.

It frightened me then, and that it did is humorous now. It has been nearly two months that we’ve been together in this new life, and still Esme takes me by surprise daily. She is forward with me, which is refreshing. I am constantly reminded that this woman is the same one who fell fifteen feet out of a tree which, at sixteen, she should never have been climbing. Sometimes I worry that she is not enough a lady, but then, what lady would have had the audacity to tell a man she has known only scant weeks that she missed his touch? (And moreover, to recognize that to be so confronted was exactly what that man needed?) At first, I was reluctant to tell her of the demonic thoughts in my head, but she sensed them surely as though she were Edward and would not rest until I had told her their contents.

Instead of hating me for them, she only laughed.

For that laughter, I am eternally grateful. Her laughter forgave me for that which I thought and healed me from the pain of bloodlust. And as though these were not gifts enough, she leaned against my body and told me words I will never forget, but which I write here merely to see them again: “It is you that I love forever, Carlisle.”

Seeing those words I am flushed again with the desire to do nothing more than be with her until the world comes to an end. It was this that I told her today, my Esme: that I, too, would love her for all of forever.

And then she kissed me. It was both exquisite to feel and healing to experience. In that instant, I was whole. One with myself, at long last, and now one with Esme Anne, my mate, my love—my new life.

What happened in Columbus today, I do not know. But in Ashland, we laid Charles Evenson to rest.

C. C.

I ran my finger across the penultimate paragraph. I was whole. The words stung. I had also been whole. From the moment that Bella had mumbled my name in her sleep I had known love. A love which I had understood from the beginning would always be my burden to bear alone. But for a brief moment of time Bella had shared the load; returning that love to me in fits and starts in tiny moments we shared. It was never fully the love that I had for her—how could it be? But even small as those moments were—kissing in the meadow, cuddling in her bed, her face as she told me that she wanted me forever—they had made this crushing pain of loving her more bearable.

Carlisle and Esme had killed Charles Evenson in the abstract. They had celebrated that day ever since—every St. David’s Day morning a bouquet of daffodils appeared in the kitchen accompanied by some impossibly simple note, often merely Love, Carlisle. Whenever either of them remembered it or spoke about that day, it was only their kiss to which they referred. They had never mentioned to me the declarations to each other that had preceded it, or the tumult that Esme had healed in Carlisle through her words. I had always thought it a rather silly gesture, marking the anniversary of their first kiss. I felt chagrinned for having not taken it more seriously.

Nevertheless, Carlisle had a luxury I did not; he had his love alongside him. I could not be with Bella in that way, not without hurting her in a way that none of us could heal. I would not bring Bella into this non-existence. She would know love like my parents’, but at the hands of someone who could grow old with her, who did not need to fear ending her life, who could nurture her soul with his own.

Bella was not a granite replica of her former self like Esme. The newborn was a danger to her. Victoria was a danger to her. We all were a danger to her. I had begun by removing the biggest threat in September, and now it was time to work my way down the line. It was time to protect my Bella, as I would continue to do, silently and unseen, for as long as that heart which had once beat for me continued to throb. I had no option for grand gestures of romance like my father’s—Victoria had to be destroyed in a very literal sense.

Praying that eight hundred miles was enough buffer from the newborn, I shoved the key in the ignition and peeled out toward the southbound freeway.

Houston was one of those places where it was easy to understand why cold-bloodedness was a necessary trait to truly be a predator. Nothing short of that could enable a being to sit still in this humidity. The air hung thick and wet around me; it was nearly seventy degrees despite being the dead of night in late December. If the weather had been unseasonably warm in California, it had nothing on Texas.

This was the last major populous area I had still yet to search. Dallas had yielded nothing, nor had Austin, although being around the university had been interesting and nice. I liked universities. Although most of the students thought of little more than their next beer and the next time they could jump in bed with someone, every now and then you wandered across someone who was fascinated with Kant or who had just discovered William Wordsworth. They were delightful to eavesdrop upon. But there had been no vampire sightings, even in the memories of the most observant students. So I had moved on to Houston.

Cities were the preferred hunting ground for nomadic vampires, or so I had discovered over the years of listening to the minds of those whose hunting habits were not like my own. It had seemed paradoxical to me at first; in cities humans lived so much more closely that it seemed the missing would be noticed sooner. But the opposite was true. In small towns and hamlets, people looked out for one another, and even kept a watchful eye on the recluse living in the cabin on the outskirts of town. They all knew what happened to everyone around them. It was in cities where people didn’t care—a bleeding body could lay in the street and the strangers who saw it would only look sadly in the other direction. So it was in the cities I had concentrated my hunt for Victoria and the blond vampire.

But I had turned up nothing.

The street I was on now was nearly deserted, although windows lit in the homes that flanked it shone warmly, many twinkling with the light of Christmas trees. I walked slowly below them towards my car, carefully taking in my surroundings in a last-ditch effort to find any sign of Victoria. But every breath was labored, every step became heavier. She wasn’t here. And I was so far from Bella I would never be able to help her if the need arose.

A growl of sad frustration escaped my lips, and I discovered that I was having difficulty drawing breath. I stopped a moment and leaned against a solid wooden sign, hiding in the shadow cast by a streetlamp nearby as I began to reconsider my options. I could expand the search for Victoria and look further throughout Texas and the south. I could return to San Francisco and attempt to keep an eye on the newborn, if he was even still there. I could return to Washington and set up a perimeter around Forks.

Closing my eyes against the uncomfortably warm breeze, I unwittingly conjured Bella’s face before me. Not happy Bella—no matter how hard I tried to bring them to mind, those images were now long-since lost to me. And nor was it her pained face from that fateful day in September. Instead I received again Alice’s vision, watching once more as Bella’s fitful slumber was shattered by her screams, and the familiar, fiery pain began licking at my insides once more.

But she made it to school, I told myself, gritting my teeth. Every day she had made it to school. Eight days had been all it had taken to rid herself of me. And of course she would let me go. Who wouldn’t, after the fantastical lies I had told her? After the blasphemy I had forced her to believe?

You’re no good for me, Bella.” If only she knew. The only thing that had ever been good for me, and she was gone. Gone because her danger was my fault. My selfishness need to be around her had put her squarely in harm’s way, twice. I had to stay away. And I would do it precisely because it was next to impossible for me to do.

The pain seared and I staggered, reaching out to the sign for support.

“Momma, is that a ghost?”

I opened my eyes. A woman and a young girl, maybe seven or so, were hurrying hand-in-hand towards the brightly lit building behind me—a church, I realized. The sign against which I leaned identified the building as “Grace Episcopal.”The little girl had seen me when I’d all but fallen and had thrust a questioning finger in my direction as she addressed her mother.

Her mother shushed her. “Don’t point, Lily. It’s rude to point.” She threw me a long glance. Albino, looks like. Poor thing. And my goodness, he’s only a boy. He looks so scared. I wonder what he’s doing out alone on Christmas Eve?

I stared at them in surprise. No wonder they were hurrying into the church. Now that I took a closer look, I could see that the church was packed with families dressed in their holiday best. The clock on the tower that rose above it read ten minutes past eleven. Midnight services.

How had it become Christmas Eve without my noticing?

It would be just after midnight in Ithaca. Esme, who was insistent about things like the establishment and maintenance of family Christmas traditions, would be leading the annual tree-trimming right about now. She and Carlisle would have gone out earlier in the day for her to select a tree that she liked—frequently the top of some other, much taller tree, which then necessitated Carlisle climbing to bring down the part she wanted. He would have done this cheerfully as always. They would put it up and wait until darkness fell, then enlist the rest of us to decorate it while Esme gave orders, or “suggestions,” as she euphemistically called them. Alice would undoubtedly ignore Esme’s direction and hang ornaments as she saw fit, inevitably protecting them from being smashed when Jasper and Emmett got into a wrestling match that toppled the tree a half-hour later.

I usually avoided the whole mess by banishing myself to the piano and providing music. We weren’t a family that sang Christmas carols, and no one was particularly religious apart from Carlisle, so my Christmas Eve repertoire was mostly classical and baroque, with some of my own compositions thrown in. I had improvised a complicated version of Silent Night some years ago that had become one of Esme’s favorites, and it was a frequent request.

Would Rosalie be playing in my absence? Would they have put on a CD?

My hand closed around the small cell phone in my pocket. I knew I needed to call, but could I? How would I convince them that I was fine? I had caused them all such grief before I’d left, the last thing I needed to do was make them worry about me more.

The congregation in the church began to sing “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” the strains of music tempered with hundreds of voices drifting to my ears. It was a hymn I had learned myself as a child. Music was one of the few human memories that had stuck with me, much to my surprise. When I’d once mentioned it to Carlisle, he’d told me that it was common for people who otherwise seemed to have few memories—head trauma patients, or elderly dementia—to remember songs that they had known from before. It didn’t surprise him at all that it was something I had carried forward into my new life. I leaned against the sign, closing my eyes and beginning to unconsciously whisper words I’d memorized a century before:

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow
Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing
Oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing

I was suddenly acutely aware of the content of these lyrics I sang without thought. Ye beneath life’s crushing load… What load could be more crushing than the burden of loving someone who could not safely love me back?

Was I the one being ordered to rest and listen?

Out of habit I sat, pressing my back against the cool wood of the church’s sign. And I listened. The congregation inside had changed hymns and were now singing “Silent Night.” Closing my eyes, I let the music wash over me in waves. The arrangement the pianist was playing was strikingly similar to my own, with soaring arpeggios in the base line that carried the song such that even a human down the block would have heard its beauty. I thought of Esme, and how she would love this rendition, made even more beautiful by the rich timbre of the combined voices of the congregation. She would love this. Moreover, she would love being here with me…

I thrust my hand into my pocket and drew out the silver phone. I took a deep breath. I could do this.

Focusing on the sounds of the hundreds of voices, I dialed “1” and hit SEND.

Speed Dial #01: Carlisle

Calling…

I would have preferred a more human reaction time to collect myself further, but there was no such thing in our family. Phones were answered with undue speed, so it was before the phone really even registered the first ring that I heard my father’s astonished voice:

“Edward?”

“Hi, Carlisle. Merry Christmas.”

He made a quiet choking noise. “Merry Christmas, son. It’s so good to hear your voice. Where are you?”

“Houston.”

“Victoria is in Houston?” Carlisle’s voice rose an octave or so.

“I’m not sure,” I answered, and the story of the past two months began to pour out. Carlisle switched his phone to its speakerphone setting so that Esme and the rest of the family could hear. I told them about returning to Forks—“He managed not to go see her?” Alice had gasped—and about finding the trail of the blond vampire in Seattle. Esme gave a little squeal of disapproval when I relayed the details of my battle with the newborn in San Francisco, but Emmett cheered and congratulated me for still being in one piece. Then I told them about my last several weeks in Texas and my utter strikeout.

“I’m not sure where I’m headed next,” I admitted.

I heard Carlisle swallow. It was a tic he had when he was trying not to say something, and it usually preceded some thought he didn’t want others to hear. It was a little unnerving to not be privy to whatever he was stopping himself from saying aloud. But instead of speaking to me, he handed the phone to Esme.

“What about Forks?” she asked immediately.

I closed my eyes, dropping my head against the sign with a loud thunk. If only she knew how badly I wanted that. “I can’t,” I choked.

“Edward, we should all be there. We should be protecting Bella together. Come home. Let us go back.”

The image of Jasper lunging at Bella flashed in my mind, and I nearly felt the impact of his body at my shoulder as I deflected him and sent Bella flying.

“I don’t want a repeat of her birthday party,” I mumbled.

My mother sighed. “We’d make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

“It’s who we are. She shouldn’t be with us. It’s time to let her go.” The lie came almost too easily.

“You’ll never let her go,” my mother reminded me gently. “You should be with us. And we should be with her.”

“I can’t, Esme. I’m sorry.” The idea of being home with them was delicious. I closed my eyes and prayed she would stop asking.

“Will you at least come to visit?” Her voice was strained and I was reminded vividly of the pain on her face when I’d raced past her to my room the morning I’d finally left Ithaca. If I returned, her happiness would make it next to impossible to leave them again. And I had to find Victoria.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I whispered.

There was a pause and she said something quietly to someone, probably Carlisle, then returned to me. “Edward, we love you. Please be careful.”

“I will.” There was a brief scuffling noise as she handed the phone back to Carlisle.

“Edward,” he breathed, and I could hear his footsteps as he walked—away from the family, I presumed. “How are you, really?”

The mind of the mother who’d spotted me earlier came back to me at once. She had pegged me with an emotion I hadn’t even admitted to myself that I was feeling. But as she had ushered her daughter into the crowded church, she had read me as surely as though she were Jasper.

“I’m sc—” I started to say, but thought better of it. “I’m worried.”

My correction didn’t escape Carlisle. “You’re allowed to be scared, Edward,” he said gently. “Tell me more.”

“I haven’t found her,” I said, and the frustration in my voice surprised me. “And I just—” Just what? I was worried about any number of things. That Victoria would return to Forks before I stopped her. That the newborn would shift his range northward instead of eastward. That Bella would never move on. That she already had. How was I supposed to protect a danger magnet without causing her the pain of seeing me again?

“If Charles Evenson had really posed a threat to Esme, would you have still let him live?” I blurted.

The silence told me I’d caught Carlisle by surprise. But after a moment, he chuckled.

“I see you’ve been doing some reading.”

“Yes.”

“That part must have been distressing to you,” he said carefully. “I’m sorry for that.”

I shrugged. It had been helpful to see that even Carlisle was prone to at least thoughts of violence when it came to protecting his mate.

“You’re not perfect,” I told him, and he laughed.

“I’ve been trying to convince you of that for a long time. And I do think about Charles a lot. Especially since you’ve been gone.”

“And?”

“If the situation had been the same, then yes. I suppose would probably have done exactly what you’re doing. But it wasn’t. Charles was human, and he thought Esme was dead. Not to mention that she was a newborn. I’m quite confident he would’ve ended up on the short end of that stick.” He chuckled again.

“But even now, Edward,” he said, regaining all seriousness, “are you sure that Victoria actually poses a threat to Bella?”

He had a point. Texas was nowhere near Bella or any of her family. I had no idea why Victoria might have come here—or anywhere in the south at all, save maybe Jacksonville. It certainly didn’t map on to a plan to cause harm to the woman I loved.

“No,” I admitted.

“Then perhaps it would be best to come home? If you wanted, we could even move someplace nearby, but where Bella wouldn’t know about us. Outside Vancouver?”

My heart lifted at once. The idea was delicious. To go home, to be with Carlisle and Esme, hang out with Emmett and Jasper, banter with Alice—even Rosalie didn’t sound like such a bad idea right now. If I pushed the Porsche to its limits, I could be in Ithaca by the afternoon. Carlisle would make a fire, and we’d all sit around it. I’d look at everyone else’s Christmas gifts…

But then Victoria would still be out there. I had vowed to destroy her—not because she was trying to hurt Bella, but because she knew too much. If she was far from Forks, so much the better, but it didn’t change the fact that she needed to be removed.

“I promised,” I mumbled.

“Promised who?”

“Me. I have to find her. I have to keep looking. It’s all I have to hold onto right now.”

There was a long pause on my father’s end. “You have us, Edward,” he said finally. “You will always have us. Please don’t forget that.”

I closed my eyes. “Thank you, Carlisle.”

“Always.” He paused again. “Are you sure you don’t need help? I could be there later today, easily.”

Carlisle had done the same math I had. Pressing my head against the cool wood of the sign, I was again filled with hope. I imagined Carlisle in the passenger seat as we zipped throughout the south in my Porsche. Maybe the two of us could even go back and take care of the newborn and then resume the hunt. It had been decades since he and I had been alone together like that.

But then I remembered the traditions that I was missing tonight, and Esme’s gentle insistence on the phone that we stay together. I couldn’t possibly ask Carlisle to leave the rest of the family. I had caused them more than enough pain already.

“I’m okay, Carlisle,” I answered. “If I need your help, I’ll ask for it. I promise.”

He sighed. “Then Merry Christmas, Edward. We love you. Please call again soon.”

“Merry Christmas. I love you, too.”

I snapped the phone closed and slid it back into my pocket. People were beginning to trickle out of the church, laughing and wishing one another a Merry Christmas. I watched for a moment as families walked by: cherubic toddlers asleep in their parents’ arms, normally sullen teenagers walking arm in arm with their mothers and fathers. I watched two excited siblings begin running around after each other, giggling and shrieking until their mother stopped them and called them back toward the car. It reminded me of playing with Emmett during our winter hunts, which inevitably devolved into chases and drawn-out snowball fights. A sharp pang ripped through me that for the first time in weeks had nothing to do with Bella.

It was time to leave. I turned and walked slowly away from the church, slipping through the dark alleyway between two buildings back to my car.

Sinking into the driver’s seat, I reviewed the conversation with Carlisle and Esme. Carlisle was right; there was no reason to believe that Victoria was indeed after Bella—all the signs pointed to exactly the opposite. But what would I do if I was not hunting Victoria? Slide into dark corners of our home again, and let the pain consume me for the rest of time?

I clenched my fist but before there was a chance for me to break some other part of the dashboard, there came a sharp rap at my window. Too lost in thought, I had failed to pick up the thoughts of the person who had approached. I tuned into them as I swiveled in the drivers’ seat to see who it was.

Well if it isn’t Edward Cullen, came the amused thought, and I looked up into a pair of glimmering burgundy eyes. A tall male vampire stood next to the car, hand-in-hand with his much smaller mate, who was smiling beautifully beside him. Their blond hair shimmered in the light of the streetlamps. Both were peering into my car excitedly, looking thoroughly entertained at having snuck up on me. I rolled down the window so that I could address them more easily.

“Peter? Charlotte? What are you doing here?”

Chapter Notes

Outtake: The Christmas Call (CPOV)

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