Chapter One: Content Dimension is what is said and done.
Boo! Do you want to listen? Bella's mental voice slid clearly through all other influences to capture my full attention.
We had been married for fifteen years and still my Bella surprised me. She had lifted her mental shield for me so often since Christmas that I could not help but be amazed and humbled by her willingness to be so open with me. She smiled, her eyes that beguiling jeweled amber that I appreciated – even though I did sometimes miss the deep brown that her human self had had.
We had already agreed that neither of us were perfect.
"Whom are you going to call?" I inquired as she stood, tiny tortoise-shell phone in her hand. I was not touching her, skin to skin, so our surprising mental connection was not available. The connection we had discovered after her "adventure" in Italy that had required her to stretch herself and her gifts far beyond what anyone would have asked or expected.
We sighed, having one mind on this subject. My apologies for leaving her after her eighteenth birthday, hers for falling in love in her own way with another. Our explanations on how we felt about her marriage – including her regret and my edged happiness – had been communicated and explained and incorporated.
Still, she wanted to make sure there were no secrets between us – especially with her relationships and dealings with any male. The pain I had suffered wrongly thinking she had been unfaithful – for even a short time as immortals count it – was impetus enough for her to make the effort. Her sorrow at causing me such pain was incentive enough for me to allow it.
"No, but thank you. I'll provide a little musical background to your conversation, however," I said, stepping across the living room to the grand piano. A Walter, it was of outstanding quality with a bright treble that suited my recent optimism.
Bella nodded and punched the phone number before reclining in the chaise across the room. She let down her shield as the phone rang in the Black residence in La Push. Images rushed through her mind, seductive, imaginative. At one particular image, my fingers faltered on the keys and my entire body tightened in response. Her lips twitched just as we heard,
"I'll get you back for that," I murmured.
Counting on it, she thought back to me. "Jacob, hi! How's the family?"
Jacob's voice was a hearty as it had ever been. "Doin' good, Bells. Things are good. I managed to quite phasing, finally. Kendra's relieved." He chuckled and I could hear him. "She said she was feeling like a cougar."
Did people still use that term for an older woman pursuing a younger man? I hadn't heeded the latest slang in a while; Bella and I had taken to sequestering ourselves on the Montana property while the rest of the family aided Carlisle in his quest to construct a new system of accountability for our species.
The mysterious and deadly "Capil Virus" that had apparently had an outbreak six months ago had not been an epidemic at all – it had been vampires cut free from the fear of Volterra. They had acted like small children in a candy store. Instead of decapitating the over-indulgent, Carlisle, Alice and Jasper had met with them, along with the Brazilian illusionist, Zafrina. Between them, the vampires were encouraged to be more discreet with their feeding habits. Carlisle was also quietly encouraging others to consider changing to an animal diet.
The latter was not proving effective, but it was early yet, Jasper reported. "We can hardly expect an entire species to adapt to something so distasteful," he had surmised.
I agreed. "So long as they're discreet...what can we do."
Jasper grinned an evil little grin. "Terrify them."
"The problem," Jake said, sounding more serious, "is that no sooner did I manage to stop phasing than we started seeing vamps."
I swore under my breath and flashed across the room to kneel at Bella's side. "Jacob? It's Edward."
"Oh, hey. Yeah. We've got a problem here, Edward. Why the sudden influx of vampires? I quit phasing, but Leah and Embry are still at it and they've been having a hell of time out there."
I met Bella's eyes with my own. She lifted her brow. "Jake, have you ever had leadership issues with the Quileutes?"
I rolled my eyes. For a man in his mid-thirties, he sounded so immature. "Well that's what happened, Jake." Bella bit her lip. This is all my fault!
Oh no. She wasn't going to do that again. "Jacob. A vampire coup, of sorts, was staged in Italy and the result is that some vampires have," gone off the reservation, was what I wanted to say, but that was hardly appropriate. "Have are acting quite overindulgently in their feeding habits."
"Correction: They were acting like that," he shot back. "Leah and Embry have pretty much torched most of them. What I want to know," he continued, acting for all the world as if he had initiated this phone call, "is if we are starting a new vampire epidemic or something."
It wasn't far from the truth, but I didn't want for him to declare – as chief of his people – an all-out war, either. I inhaled deeply, dragging Bella's scent into my lungs. She plowed her fingers through my hair to soothe me. "I think it's getting more controlled, now. A new system of governance is being developed. Tell the Council, if they're worried, that Carlisle Cullen is one of the prevailing leaders."
Silence. "Uh, okay. Sure. Tell him to get a move-on, will ya, Bells? We've only got two wolves here to protect the Rez."
A voice called, "Dad!" and Jacob said his farewells, sounding distracted.
Bella opened her mouth, but I gripped her hands in mine, pushing aside her darkened cell phone. "No, sweetheart. Don't even think it. It is not your fault. And you are not going off on some – solitary crusade to try to fix it, either."
"But, Edward, it is!"
"No," I insisted. "It's not. Those vampires were acting of their own free will. You did not create them. You are not responsible for them." Tension held her rigid, so I tugged her down to rest in the cradle of my lap. We were alone in our subterranean abode and were free to be everything to one another, without restraint. Nuzzling her fragrant, gleaming hair, I sighed a little. "Isabella. Haven't we saved the world enough for one existence? I love you and I haven't had my fill of you yet."
She turned in my embrace until I could feel her lips graze my jaw. "I love you, Edward. I promised. Never again will I leave you." Pulling away, she smiled mischievously up at me. "Distract me?"
Relief cresting in my awareness as she freed her mind for me, I rolled her to the floor and proceeded to ravish my wife, tracing her curves with my fingertips as I covered her mouth with mine.
We had proceeded far enough along that I growled in fury when I heard the thoughts above our heads.
It wasn't our family.
I am sure this is where Carlisle said the family was.
I don't see anyone. The scents here are days old. I don't trust those electronic computer gadgets. We should have brought Demetri. Except that he can't find Isabella or anyone she chooses to shield.
I could just try the door...
"We have company."
Bella squeaked – a charming sound, under different circumstances – and rolled away, gathering her clothes up while she did. Hair swirling around her bare shoulders, she gasped, "Who is it?"
"Felix and Renata."
VV vv VV
"Renata, Felix," Bella said, acting the role of hostess as she so seldom had the opportunity to do. "Welcome." Moonlight flooded the common room of the main house, making odd polygons on the floor. The shapes were broken up by the long shadow of the powerful Felix and the smaller, lithe caped shape of Renata. "It is so good to see you under less stressful circumstances." My mate made a small gesture. "Would you like to sit down?"
Renata laughed lightly. "I have heard so much of Carlisle's coven, but I did not realize how dedicated to preserving humanity you truly are." Eyes alight with a playful bemusement, she followed Bella to the sofa, removed her cape and folded it over her lap. Felix shrugged a bit and followed.
Mind-reader, he thought directly at me without betraying himself by a glance,we have had some news. My mate and I followed Chelsea and her new split-coven to Egypt, if you remember.
With the barest inclination of my head, I silently wondered if he meant Renata as his mate. He understood with surprising accuracy. Yes, she is my mate. My partner. We have chosen one another. I nodded and he continued. We followed Chelsea and found, well. Oh.
He realized, his thoughts said, that he could share better by just recollecting what they had seen. While images poured through his purpose-drawn memories, I also heard Bella becoming better acquainted with Renata.
"It's so unusual!" Renata exclaimed. "I have spent centuries protecting one man and now I am mated to a man stronger than any other. I have no need to be so diligent. It has been a holiday, every single day." Her effulgent joy was obvious.
Then two shields then began what humans called "talking shop" – a discussion with someone who had a similar rarity of power. I was pleased for Bella to have this opportunity. But, remembering all that my dearest wife accomplished on her own, I imagined Renata would have a thing or two to learn as well. Content that our women were content and occupied, I immersed my thoughts in Felix's memories and blessed the many tangents a vampire's mind could explore simultaneously.
Chelsea, whom I remembered from Volterran encounters, was shown as meeting with an Ancient Felix's thoughts identified as Amun as well as two younger vampires, Benjamin and Tia. A female was there, too, but she was withdrawn and apparently subservient. Her name was Kebi and she was Amun's mate. The four of them constituted the only vampire coven in Egypt – a sunny place not entirely conducive to vampires, certainly. They lived as nomads in the desert, like Bedouin, hiding from curious eyes and ranging tourists.
"What has you so concerned, Felix?"
Renata and Bella ceased speaking, giving us their full attention. Felix studied me for a moment, and I could see his thoughts go to Chelsea as she bonded different members of the Guard to one another, breaking bonds of others. The differences were obvious in the vampires' facial expressions.
He decided to speak out loud for the benefit of our mates. "She might try to do such a thing with the Egyptian coven, to encourage them to either act together or split up entirely."
"Why would this be a problem?" Bella wondered. I only then noticed we had not yet put on a light in the Main House. Not that it mattered, but Bella's hair did shine better in the light. I withheld a wistful smile. "If she bonds them more closely... Well, they're already a family, right?"
Renata nodded. "They are, but they still act on their own will. Her bonds could make them co-dependent with interlocking wills."
Bella huffed out an audible breath. "Really? She can do that?"
"How do you think she kept Marcus with the Volturi for so long?" Renata asked with a melancholy air. "Really, you did him a great service, Bella. You and all your family."
Looking down, my wife waved the remark away. I wanted to believe that she had seen how problematic the execution of her plan was, no matter its outcome. She knew she had lost the trust of most of our family and she had been working to regain it. However, I knew this wasn't the case.
Meeting my eyes, she let me into her mind. I knew it wasn't entirely a bad idea, Edward.
I nodded, sighed, and rose to my feet. "How can we help, Felix?"