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The ticking of the two clocks – one in the dashboard, one embedded in the rear of the front seat – was the loudest sound the Pierce Arrow made. This, despite a V12 engine and nearly 200 horse power under the bonnet.

I smiled with satisfaction, as my brother-in-law let it fly over the empty road, past woods and farmland, absorbing the occasional jolt from the winter-weathered tarmac like a velvet cushion.

“Good choice, Carlisle,” I congratulated him.

His answer was a grin in the rearview mirror.

“If we could go this fast the entire way home,” Esme said, “we’d make it almost as quickly as we got to Albany.”

“Would that we could.” Carlisle was already slowing in response to an approaching truck a good half mile away. “Traffic is getting out of hand. Imagine what it will be like once this depression’s over.”

The economic downturn hadn’t really been a factor in our choice of a new automobile. Pierce had made a scant ten Silver Arrows, and only five of the sedans, hence the necessity of going all the way to the state capital to pick one up.

“So what do you think, Rose?” Carlisle asked, always careful to include our newest family member in the conversation.

Beside me, Rosalie gave one of her habitual weary sighs. “The machinery’s impressive, but I do wish it was a little more glamorous looking.”

“It cost three times more than the average luxury model.” I said, incredulous. “Just how much glamour do you require?”

She threw me a cold glance. “There are fancier designs. The Imperial Phaeton, for instance. The average person isn’t going to recognize how expensive this is.”

“And why would you want the ‘average person’ to recognize that?” I knew I was starting something, but her utter lack of compassion set me off. “Isn’t it enough that humans are struggling to make ends meet? They’re supposed to be envious of your transportation too?”

Carlisle’s intervention was smooth as always. “I think once we get this baby home, and you have a chance to tinker with the engine, you’ll forget its other shortcomings.”

Rosalie sighed again, and I was glad the touted “seats seven comfortably” sedan preserved a no-man’s land between us.

Out of all the people in Rochester he could have chosen to turn – to join our family – Carlisle had to pick Rosalie Hale, the most shallow, self-obsessed, vain . . .

The Arrow sped up again and I closed my eyes, letting the rushing wind create the illusion that I was speeding through the landscape under my own power, that I had some kind of control here.

I didn’t really blame Carlisle. He’d come across a dying human, one whose life had barely begun. She was past saving by his professional skills, and so he’d taken the only other option.

Rosalie could be a little more gracious about it though. While she had enough sense to be grateful to him, she had a nasty habit of carrying on about her human life as if she’d been wrenched from the Garden of Eden.

I had a difficult time believing her life had been as ideal as she painted it, not when the best she could do for a fiancé was Royce King.

We’d already bent the rules for her, turning a blind eye while she wreaked her vengeance, a decision that wasn’t that hard to make, even for gentle Esme.

With no proof she was anything but a runaway bride and the King family’s influential position in town, any other kind of justice was unlikely. Royce and his little band of monsters could go on to kill again.

No, the sticking point was the very real possibility that, given her intention to murder five people, she’d develop a taste for killing that wouldn’t be easy to relinquish.

“What’s her incentive to give that up?” I’d asked. “You can’t reason with a newborn.”

My own life as an immortal had started under Carlisle’s guidance. I managed to behave myself for nearly a decade before I decided to try the alternative, but I’d had that model in my mind, first as a source of guilt and later, when I’d sickened over the whole experience, as a source of inspiration.

I knew I could live on animal blood. I’d done it before.

“She’s clearly used to doing exactly what she wants,” I argued. “How can we follow the rules, if a member of our own clan is breaking them?”

“We have to hope that once she becomes part of this family, she’ll want to adapt to our way of life,” Carlisle said. “I know she seems frivolous to you, but that’s merely the values instilled in her by her human family. Hopefully, we can do better.”

I had my doubts. They weren’t exactly soothed when her list of victims grew to include two innocent guards. That caused Carlisle a lot of anguish, I knew, which further fueled my resentment.

Still, Rosalie did have a couple of surprises in store. The first came when she’d completed her bloody mission and appeared at our house looking more like a fresh young debutante arriving for afternoon tea than an avenging Fury.

“I burned the bloody clothes,” she explained in an even tone. “I knew you wouldn’t want to smell them. I’m ready to learn your way of doing things.”

“Just like that?” There she sat in our parlour, prim and proper, as though she hadn’t recently slaughtered several full-grown men. “You may feel differently about that when you’re well and truly thirsty.”

“I won’t, you know.” She turned her haughty gaze on me. “I want Royce King’s to be the last human blood I ever spill. It’s important to me.”

“There’s a certain strength of character there,” Carlisle said later. “We just have to give her time. I’m going to need you to help with this, Edward.”

I was very much afraid that what he saw as strength of character was nothing more than habitual self-interest, but of course I would help. Pushing my doubts aside, I tried my best to be a substitute mentor when Carlisle was away.

Esme was better at it. Her infinite patience and soothing presence didn’t ruffle Rosalie’s feathers. Since I was the one who tended to step in when her newborn outbursts got physical, we were at loggerheads from the beginning.

Still, she must have expended most of that savage energy on her attackers, because she passed through the volatile phase in only a few months. Calm was restored and everyone was on their best behavior.

It was during this period that Rosalie surprised me for the second time. Carlisle brought home that year’s automobile – a DeSoto Airflow, and the three of us went out to admire it.

Rosalie seemed positively eager. “Can I look inside?”

“Of course,” Carlisle said, opening the door for her.

“No, no I meant at the motor.”

I would have felt less confused if the car had spoken up. Why would Rosalie, who’d shown little interest in anything except adorning herself, want to see a motor?

Carlisle, of course, didn’t bat an eye, but accommodated her, and the two of them began poking around. They were soon so deep in conversation that Esme caught my attention, shrugging her own bewilderment. Nobody noticed when we went back inside.

I asked Rosalie about it that afternoon.

“Why does that surprise you? Don’t you think I’m smart enough to know my way around an internal combustion engine?”

The truth was, I had no idea if she was smart or not, since she never did anything to demonstrate it. “It’s just that it’s an unusual interest for a woman. I have a hard time imagining you’d want to get your hands dirty.”

“You and my mother,” she said in the sardonic tone I’d come to expect from her. “She thought girls should stick to time-honored activities, like needlework and arranging flowers.”

“So how did you get interested in motorcars?”

I’d been repairing the gate to Esme’s flower garden, recently challenged by a very determined deer, when Rosalie came out to add some dead roses to our compost pile. She didn’t answer my question right away, just standing there in the middle of our back yard with a puzzled frown.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

She didn’t answer, so I put the tools down and led her to the little stone bench under the mulberry tree, where I sat down beside her.

“It’s all so dim,” she said finally. “Memories that used to be perfectly clear. Now it’s like I’m looking at them through a veil.”

“That’s normal,” I reassured her. “It happens when we’re changed. I don’t think we lose them all completely, but they do get harder to see.”

“I do . . . remember. I was seven or eight years old. We were at the dinner table, and Papa had just brought home a new machine – a Rolls Ghost – top of the line, of course. I asked him what made it go.

“My brothers were still too little to understand, so I think my interest pleased him. ‘Well, princess,” he said, sawing away at his roast beef, ‘I’ll be glad to make you a little drawing, showing just what all the parts do to create such magic’.

“’Nonsense, Victor,’ my mother said. ’That is hardly an appropriate topic for a young girl. Please, let’s have no more talk of it at our dinner table.’

“Then she turned to me and said, ‘Darling, your father’s quite right about the magic. When you hear the machine making that frightful noise in our driveway, just imagine there are dozens of magical little horses hidden inside, like those that pulled Cinderella’s carriage’.

“I didn’t believe her version, and later when I came upon my father working on the engine, I asked him to show me the different parts, how they worked. He could never refuse me anything. He even let me help change the spark plugs that first time.

“Unfortunately, my mother discovered us and she was furious. I went to bed without supper. On top of that, she took my new party dress from the armoire and told me I couldn’t wear it until I’d shown I could be a proper young lady.

“Who knows,” Rosalie continued, “maybe I wouldn’t have stayed intrigued if the subject wasn’t so forbidden. I begged my father to tell me more, and sometimes, when my mother was safely out of the house, he did. Those were the best moments with my father.

“Once Roy– . . . my fiancé . . . said the clunking noise in his Alfa Romeo was just a timing problem. I told him it sounded more like a bad U joint. He just laughed, but when he finally took it to a mechanic, I was right.” Her hands twisted in her lap. “Maybe that’s what convinced him I wasn’t marriage material.”

I hadn’t meant for the conversation to lead in such a painful direction and quickly tried to turn it. “You’re welcome to work on our automobiles any time you want.”

“Uh . . . you don’t have one, Edward. Why is that?”

“I don’t see the point in transportation that’s slower than I am. When they come up with something that can beat me in a fair race, I’ll buy it.”

“They’re getting pretty close, at least on the racing circuit. Do you think Carlisle will let me work on the DeSoto?”

“I’m sure he’d be grateful to you.”

It was beginning to look like the family idea might work after all. The unpredictable newborn phase was behind us. Rosalie and I seemed capable of coexisting, if not ever fully approving of each other.

Then Esme discovered that Rosalie played the piano.

Ours had been neglected ever since she came here. Getting lost in the music, which I tend to do, is not a good idea when you’re the only one who can hear what a crafty newborn is intending to do before she does it.

Several times I was able to preempt one of those towering rages that budding vampires are susceptible to before too much damage was done.

Once she escaped during the night. We all gave chase, but I was the one who caught her. The resulting melee was anything but pretty. I ended up smashing her head against a concrete wall in an effort to silence her screeching before someone called the police.  

Of course, there was no lasting damage, and she didn’t even remember my methods once she regained her senses, but in retrospect, I wished I’d taken more time to enjoy the experience.

Esme thought we should encourage Rosalie to play again, that it would comfort her to know not all human attributes were lost. Accordingly, we began spending an hour or two each evening in the studio letting her entertain us.

She was an accomplished pianist. Not inspired, not intuitive, but the music was listenable. At least our applause rendered her temporarily amiable. I wondered if she really enjoyed making music at all or if it was just another way to get the attention and praise she so obviously craved.

One day, when the others were out, I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with our baby grand. I started with a tune that was getting a lot of play on the radio, Begin the Beguine, upped the tempo to Scott Joplin, settled into Debussy and finally wandered off into a territory of my own imagining.

I must have been immersed in the music, because I looked up to find Rosalie staring at me from the doorway. It was not a pleasant stare.

“You bastard!” she hissed and stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

What did I do?

She truly was the most irrational creature on the planet. I suppose a gentleman would have gone after her, encouraged her to take a turn at the keyboard, fed her voracious ego.

Instead, I slammed out a speeded up version of Hall of the Mountain King that could probably be heard in Poughkeepsie. Hopefully that fortissimo’ed and con fuoco’ed the hell out of her sensitive new eardrums.

“I’m trying,” I told Esme later. “I’m really trying to be patient, but she brings out the worst in me.”

“We couldn’t have handled her without you, sweetheart,” she said, reaching up to stroke my hair.

I never minded when she did it.

We’d been posing as brother and sister since my four-year cruise on the River Styx. I suspected the idea was Carlisle’s attempt to save me from feeling like a misbehaving child who’d learned his lesson, a way of acknowledging my new maturity.

It didn’t much matter. Nothing could squelch Esme’s maternal instincts. Perhaps her knack for nurturing was inborn, or a natural response to the fact that she was the oldest of us to be changed.

Even a Freudian explanation could be in order. She mourned her only child; I’d lost my mother too young. Whatever the reason, though most of the time we behaved as peers, the dynamic suited as both.

“I realize Rose isn’t the easiest person to get along with. Hopefully, that will change when she finds her niche.”

“Rosalie will never be satisfied with a niche. It’s the top of the pedestal or nothing.”

She laughed, ignoring my surly tone. “It can’t be easy having to suddenly deal with sibling rivalry, but I imagine, as you get to know each other, you’ll learn which subjects to avoid.”

“You could be right,” I said, my mouth crooking into a half-smile. “There’s only one subject she cares about, and it happens to be the one I most enjoy avoiding.”

“Give it time.” She chuckled, ruffling my hair. “It will get better. You’ll see.”

Over the long term, she was basically right, but in the short run, she was horribly off base.

It started subtly enough with Rosalie asking what I thought of this new outfit or that. Mine wasn’t the only opinion available, so it surprised me that she seemed to crave it so much, posing to show each ensemble to its best advantage, smiling her encouragement.

Then she began closing the distance between us when we happened to speak, brushing against my arm, looking up at me through her lashes like the women on the covers of those motion picture magazines.

It was extremely irritating, but if Carlisle and Esme noticed her behavior they didn’t let on. That is, not until one afternoon when Carlisle brought home a new game. It was called Monopoly.

Vampires by nature are competitive, and the four of us took to this new challenge as if it were a matter of life and death. Rosalie was losing due to her highly predictable decision to focus exclusively on acquiring Park Place and Boardwalk.

Carlisle was testing the wisdom of being a railroad tycoon, while I worked out that the best odds lay in the orange properties. Esme, meantime, was quietly amassing a small fortune with those “darling little wooden houses.”

We were all having a good time, until Rosalie reached across the table to push an errant lock of hair off my forehead. Smiling sweetly, she took her time coaxing it into place.

I seriously doubted my hair looked that hideous. Worse, I caught a quick glance between Esme and Carlisle that I didn’t understand. They looked almost pleased.

Distracted, I nearly missed Carlisle’s attempt to sneak away from New York Avenue without paying me rent.

The incident continued to nag at me. I was still in a foul mood the next morning when Rosalie waylaid me in the hall.

“I’m not sure these stockings fit exactly right,” she greeted me, lifting her skirt and turning from side to side, so I could get a better view.

“They’re fine, Rose. They’re on your legs. They aren’t falling off. What more do you want?”

Her mouth compressed into a thin line. “You’re such a jerk, Edward Cullen!” she said, and – thank heaven – flounced away.

“Rosalie seems to think you’re being rude to her.” Carlisle commented mildly that afternoon.

I was being rude?

“Rosalie doesn’t think at all, as far as I can tell. She’s supposed to be my sister, but she keeps flirting with me. With all the subtlety of a pile driver, I might add.”

“And you’re not . . . receptive to that?” Carlisle said carefully.

“Have you lost your mind? Rosalie and I are like oil and water. I’m trying my best to hold my temper around her, but she’s making it exceedingly difficult.”

Suddenly, a ghastly possibility occurred to me.

“Oh, please tell me you didn’t do this for me.” The words were polite enough, but my tone was icy. The glare I fixed on him caused him to break eye contact.

“If you mean, did I change her for your sake, of course I didn’t. Not everything’s about you, son.”

The reproof stung a bit, but I probably deserved it.

My mentor was smiling wryly. He looked more embarrassed than angry. “I will admit that it occurred to both Esme and me that if you happened to be attracted to each other, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. We know you’ve been lonely.”

“Trust me. I could never be that lonely.”

“Okay,” he said with a laugh. “Point taken. I won’t give up medicine for matchmaking.”

“And for the record, I don’t for one minute believe Rosalie thinks of me that way either. I don’t know what her game is.”

“Oh, I think it’s pretty apparent. She’s used to manipulating men with her beauty. It’s probably second nature to her. I suspect she decided it was about time she pulled you in line. The fact that you’re not cooperating probably strikes her as a personal affront.”

He was, as he is about so many things, absolutely right. The seduction routine vanished as quickly as it had begun, to be replaced with a brittle hostility. Secretly, I rejoiced.

I give great hostility.

That had been the state of our relationship for the better part of a year when we were ignoring each other in the capacious back seat of the Silver Arrow.

“How fast?” I called to Carlisle.

“One hundred and twenty-five miles per hour,” he said proudly.

The congratulations never left my mouth. Esme started to scream, but it was too late. Something big slammed into our left front wheel, sending the Arrow spinning across the deserted road and back again. But it didn’t roll over.

I gave it points for that.

“Sorry,” Carlisle said, already opening the driver’s door. We all followed him out and watched as he swiftly broke the neck of the 10-point buck thrashing at the roadside. “Anyone care for lunch?”

We pulled the auto into the trees, and I set to work smoothing out the fender and jerking the chassis back into place. “It looks all right,” I said, as I joined the impromptu picnic, “but we better have it checked.”

“We’ll stop in Utica,” Carlisle agreed.

“Utica?” Rosalie wiped her mouth with a handful of leaves, her face alert. “I’d like to go to Utica.”

“Why is that, sweetheart?” Esme asked.

“My friend, my best friend, and her husband moved there. Her little boy Henry must be nearly four years old now. I’d love to see what he looks like now.”

We all exchanged glances.

“You know you can’t let your friend see you,” Esme reminded her gently. “We’ve taken a risk staying in Rochester for as long as we have, but the hospital’s been so short-handed.”

“And you’ve all been extremely helpful accommodating that,” Carlisle added. “I appreciate it, but we’re pushing our luck. I hope to be out of here by the first of the year.”

We’d decided on the Pacific Northwest – lots of cloud cover. It sounded practical and very, very boring.

“Vera doesn’t have to see me. Nobody has to see me. I’d just like to watch secretly and get one last glimpse of Henry, especially if we’re leaving here forever.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” Carlisle promised. “Do you know her address?”

She did. When we reached the city limits, Carlisle bought a street map at a filling station. We had no trouble finding Larkspur Lane in a quiet neighborhood of tidy bungalows and sprawling lawns. There was a park across the street from the house in question, so we pulled into the lot and set back to observe.

Patiently waiting for prey is doable. There’s a fine sense of tension, of anticipation, a steeling of nerves and sinews to perform efficiently.

Sitting still in an automobile, whose main attraction is speed, while your so-called sister indulges some voyeuristic impulse, is not my idea of entertainment.

Nobody came in or out of the house. For all Rosalie knew, they could have moved again or gone on vacation.

Far be it from me to be the one who insisted we move on. After an hour or so, I could hear Carlisle’s own thoughts growing impatient. Another half hour and he said, “Rosalie, I’m afraid we can’t wait any longer or the garages may be closing.”

She didn’t protest but adopted a wounded expression as we drove off in search of a repair shop. She didn’t even join Carlisle and me under the lift when the mechanic checked out the chassis.

There turned out to be minimal damage – or possibly none, though two men in greasy overalls tightened a few things on the front axle. Mostly they were buying time to study this rare example of their favorite species.

When it was time to leave, Rosalie balked. “Can’t we stay in the area – just one more day?”

“I’m sorry, Rose. I promised to be back at the hospital tomorrow, and they can’t spare me.”

“Then I’ll stay!” she blurted. “I really want to do this, and I promise I’ll be careful that no one sees me. I can hide in the park.”

“How will you get home?” Esme asked her, but I sensed it was more a stalling tactic than a real concern. Rosalie hadn’t been off on her own for two years.

“The same way we all got to Albany. Please, I’m going to be so disappointed if I don’t get to do this.”

Translation, I thought, you’re going to be hell to live with if you don’t get your way.

“She can take care of herself,” I said.

“Thank you, Edward.” Rose’s look of surprise quickly deteriorated into a suspicious frown. I offered a dazzling smile in exchange.

“Well, if it means so much to you,” Esme said with one of the warm hugs that are her specialty. “Promise you’ll telephone if you run into any trouble.”

Rose promised, and so the three of us completed the majority of our drive home in peace.

 

The next day Rosalie still hadn’t returned.

Esme was starting to worry

“I can’t imagine what’s keeping her. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or two for her to get home once she’s seen the child.”

“The family may have gone away for a while,” Carlisle reasoned. “Rosalie’s not the type to leave until she’s gotten what she came for.”

“Then she should have called.”

Carlisle slipped his arm around her. “We only told her to call if there was trouble. I think we can assume that no news is good news.”

“Besides,” I asked, “what could possibly happen to her? She’s a vampire.”

Now that she was letting it show, Esme was reluctant to let go of her concern. “She could have run into another vampire, one stronger than she is.”

“Not likely, my love.” Carlisle said, kissing her forehead. “I’m sure she can take care of herself.”

“Seriously. You have to bash her against a wall to stop her.” Before they could get any wrong ideas about that little tidbit, I added, “Do you want me to go look for her? I’ll be happy to, if it makes you feel better.”

“No, honey,” Esme sighed, visibly relaxing. “You’re right. There’s no reason to jump to conclusions. Let’s give it another day and see if we hear from her.”

But another day wasn’t necessary. Two hours later Rose turned up like the proverbial bad penny, none the worse for wear.

“Henry is just as adorable as ever and so cute in his short pants! Nobody saw me,” she hastened to add. “Vera brought him home with a little suitcase. He must have spent the night at his grandmother’s. He was smiling and carrying a teddy bear.”

This scintillating news failed to ignite me, but at least it had made Rosalie brighten, and it had reassured Esme that our newest coven member had no wish to desert.

Worst luck.

Busy as he was, Carlisle always tried to keep each of us happy. A few days later he returned from the hospital to announce we were taking a vacation. A colleague had offered the loan of his mountain cabin where we could do some “real hunting.”

He looked at me, as he said this, and I grinned back. Mountain lions were few and far between this close to a city. Carlisle knew they were my favorite prey.

The trip also gave us another excuse to take the Arrow for a spin, a decision I began to question as we wound our way laboriously up into the mountains. Speeding down a straightaway was one thing, maneuvering a giant piece of machinery over twisting, unpaved roads was another.

I think we were all wishing we’d made this journey under our own steam, when we finally reached our destination, a log house clinging to the side of the highest peak for miles around.

Though it might have appeared rustic from the outside, the cabin proved to be a fully equipped human-type dwelling. (Carlisle keeping the women happy.) And while the kitchen and bedrooms might have been extraneous, it did offer a garage for the Arrow and a long balcony with a spectacular view.

This became our headquarters, while we roamed the forest together or alone. I spent two days tracking a mountain lion, deliberately putting off the climax, because I was so intrigued with the strategies the creature used to try to evade me.

It knew which of us was the prey.

When I finally took him down, I didn’t drain him completely. I wanted to leave room for another enjoyable meal like this one before we returned to Rochester.

Arriving back at the cabin, I found that Rosalie had been gone for two days as well, only she had not returned. Esme was starting to worry again.

“She can’t get lost,” I said, interrupting one of her unspoken thoughts. “Wherever she is, she won’t have to go more than a mile or two to intersect one of our trails.”

The next day she still wasn’t back, and I was beginning to fume. Typical thoughtlessness. She had to know we’d be concerned about her.

Around one, Carlisle suggested Esme accompany him to a spot his coworker had recommended where you could see straight down the range as it marched its way south.

“Would you care to join us, Edward?”

“No, thank you. Somebody has to be here to tell Rose off when she finally decides to show up.”

“Edward,” Esme said with a warning look.

“Oh, don’t worry. It’s no trouble,” I said, deliberately misunderstanding her. “I’ll be happy to do it.”

I gave her my cockiest grin, which for some reason always made her roll her eyes in exasperation, but she was smiling as they left.

Scooping up the biography of Hegel I’d brought from Rochester, I went out on the balcony and relaxed in one of the Adirondack chairs for the better part of an hour.

The book finished, I set off on a walk through the surrounding woods, the better to contemplate dialectical idealism, but it wasn’t long before I heard a loud crash from the vicinity of the cabin.

In seconds I was at the front door, which had been virtually ripped from its hinges. The smell of human blood assaulted my nose even before I saw the splotches on the floor that led into the main bedroom.

Rosalie was standing there, disheveled and shaking. On the bed was a mess of a man. He was huge. His clothing was filthy, and bits of bloody rags were tied haphazardly here and there on his arms and legs. I was reasonably sure he was dead.

“Where’s Carlisle?” Rosalie demanded.

“He’s not here,” I said, pushing my own myriad questions aside. I didn’t add that he was too far away for me to hear his thoughts. It was clear what the priority was. The rest could wait. “He and Esme went hiking. They should be back soon.”

Rosalie’s eyes were wild. “But I need him. He has to save him!”

I ignored her, going to the bed and bending over the battered man.

Ah, there it was – a heartbeat. Faint, but it qualified him as alive and, theoretically anyway, a candidate for saving.

“You’re going to have to help me do this, Rose,” I said straightening up again.

“Help you do what, Edward? You’re not a doctor.”

“No, but I’m all you’ve got. I can at least clean him up so he’ll be ready for Carlisle when he gets here. Go get soap and hot water, towels. Do that first.”

I wasn’t sure how much of what I said she was taking in, but she left, and I checked the patient again. Heartbeat still faint, pulse erratic.

She returned quickly and set the pan of water on the nightstand.

“Now,” I said, making sure she was focused on me. “Go find Carlisle’s medical bag. He left it in one of the bedrooms upstairs.”  

That little lie gave me a few minutes to rip the clothing and makeshift bandages off the patient. Up till now he’d been an amorphous bundle, bulky, but now I saw that the bulk was all muscle – no fat. 

He was young. He’d clearly been incredibly strong. Surely that boded well for a chance at recovery. I wasn’t anywhere close to being a doctor, but I had read a few medical books since my return to Carlisle, whose library was extensive.

I knew enough to perform a cursory examination and pull the sheet up over the body before Rosalie reentered the room.

“It wasn’t even where you said it was,” she said peevishly.

“Sue me. Now try to find something in there to kill infection – alcohol, phenol, anything. And dump all the bandages and adhesive on the bed.”

Miraculously, she followed my instructions. “Is he all right?”

“He’s alive. Once he’s clean, we can do a little first aid. I’m sorry I can’t do more.”

She nodded. “I want to help.”

Together we washed him, Rose running to change the water several times.

“Should we turn him over?”

“No.” I didn’t elaborate, but treated the dozens of lacerations, applying clean bandages where it was practical. Most of the wounds were already closing. Too late for stitches. If he survived, the poor devil would be covered with ugly scars.

At last, I’d done all I could, which was precious little. His condition hadn’t changed, but I wasn’t sure that was a good thing. We sat, not talking, our eyes on the face that already appeared bereft of life.

Still Carlisle didn’t come.

The waiting was only emphasized by the utter silence in the room. Rosalie and I didn’t need to breathe. The man in the bed did, but his efforts were failing.

“Rose,” I said, finally. “Who is this?”

“His name is Emmett. I couldn’t make out his last name.”

“He spoke to you?”

“Just once, when I found him.”

I held her eyes, waiting for a further explanation, and, calm now, she finally gave it.

“I was in the woods, when I heard the sounds – an animal roaring and a human screaming. I got there as fast as I could. They were struggling – him and a huge grizzly bear. Before I could stop it, the bear . . . hugged him, I guess . . . and he crumpled to the ground. It must have smelled what I was, because it ran off.

“He was completely covered in blood. I tried to wake him up – so he wouldn’t slip away. He opened his eyes and looked at me, and he . . . smiled. He called me ‘angel’.”

She stopped there, her gaze roaming anxiously over the still features, which to my eyes already resembled a death mask.

“That’s because he sensed he was dying,” I said gently. “He’s lost a lot of blood, but I think the greater problem is internal injuries, and under the circumstances even Carlisle can’t do much about that.”

Maybe she wasn’t listening, because she simply repeated, “He has to save him.”

There was little point in pressing the issue. Her quiet intensity was easier to put up with than the hysteria that might ensue if she realized he was going to die.

“Why do you care?” I suppose it sounded callous, but I was honestly curious. Rosalie was showing more compassion for this total stranger than she’d ever demonstrated toward anyone else.

“He was so brave,” she said, never taking her eyes off the wounded man’s face. “I don’t think that bear ever knocked him down until the end. He must have been hunting, but there was no gun. All he had was a knife. I think he was enjoying the battle just like we do.”

Then he must be stupid, I thought.

We could afford to take pleasure in the battle, since there was practically no chance of losing it. All we knew about this person was that he wore rough clothes – probably from some rural area – and was foolhardy in his hunting habits.

“When I saw his face, it was like I already knew it, that he was meant to be in my life. I guess that was partly because he reminded me so much of little Henry. There’s a kind of innocence about him, the dark curly hair. And he has dimples.”

She said this last part as if it was sufficient proof that he had to be saved. I was fairly confident, she was about to be disappointed in that regard. Too bad that she should develop a conscience only to have her first unselfish wishes thwarted.

Rosalie did not respond well to thwarts. I doubted, after this ended badly, she’d have another empathetic thought in her long existence.

“Well, you did a good job binding his wounds,” I said. “He might have died sooner if you hadn’t stopped the bleeding.”

“Thank God, there were a few campers along the way. I kept raiding their tents and clothes lines for fresh bandages.”  

I frowned. “When did you find him?”

“Three days ago.”

“Three days ago?” I gaped at her in astonishment.

“Where did you think I’d been all this time?” she returned, snippily. “I had to be so careful the way I carried him. The cuts started bleeding again when I tried to run.”

I was still processing this when I became aware of Carlisle’s thoughts – and Esme’s. She was wondering if Rosalie would be here when they got back. He was promising to go look for her, if she wasn’t here by nightfall.

I sensed the exact moment when they caught sight of the mangled front door. Within seconds they had joined us in the bedroom.

“You have to save him!” Rosalie said, jumping up to grab Carlisle’s arm.

It’s amazing how quickly Carlisle turns into a doctor. He asked not a single question, but went to the head of the bed and lifted the eyelid of our guest with one hand. The other sought a pulse.

“Bear attack,” I said in a low voice. “Three days ago. I think he has internal injuries.”

“Esme,” Carlisle said. “Would you please take Rosalie in the other room.”

“I want to stay,” she protested.

“You can come back in a minute. Please shut the door on your way out.”

As soon as they were gone, he swept the sheet from the body and moved practiced hands over the man’s torso.

Carlisle’s never going to get the loan of this cabin again, I thought perversely. The mattress was soaked with blood, and it wasn’t from the lacerations.

He pressed his ear against the scarcely moving chest to listen for the sound he could usually hear from a room away.

Shaking his head, he gently replaced the sheet.  “I’m sorry, Edward. Even if there was a hospital nearby, it’s too late.”

“It’s not too late!” came a shriek from the doorway. “You’ve got to change him. Change him now!”

Esme had followed Rosalie into the room, and now all three of us stared at her in disbelief.

“Rose,” Carlisle said, calmly. “We know nothing about the man. He could be an escaped convict or a mental patient. Immortality is not a thing to be granted lightly.”

“He’s not. I know he isn’t. He’s supposed to be in my life, in our lives. I can feel it. If I’m wrong, I’ll destroy him myself. I’ll drive a stake through his heart or whatever it takes. Just please, do it.”

Good lord, she’d seen too many monster movies. When this was over, somebody better explain to her how vampires die.

I could tell Carlisle was struck by Rosalie’s sudden show of compassion. I could also read his quandary. He’d gotten to know me and my parents when we were all dying in his hospital. He knew what kind of family I’d come from.

The same with Esme. He already knew and cared for her. Even Rosalie was not a total stranger. She and her family were a fixture around town.

This Emmett was an enigma.

Carlisle was weighing the options. Logic told him the dearth of information about this potential candidate made him a bad risk. But people like Carlisle don’t operate merely on logic.

He didn’t look to Esme, knowing she’d agree with his decision no matter what. But he did look to me, and I felt the weight of responsibility like a physical blow.

How did he do this? How did he make the conscious choice whether to let someone die or live forever. It was worse than being a doctor. It was playing God, and now I was expected to be part of it.

I hesitated studying the face of the man who even now might be drawing his last breath. A human was going to die here today – either way, but there was a chance that by making him one of us, Rosalie might find some of the humanity that seemed to elude her.

I met Carlisle’s eyes and nodded once.

That was the last of the hesitation. “This isn’t going to be pleasant,” he said sharply. “I’ll need each of you to hold an arm or a leg. He’s weak to the point of death right now, but there’s no telling how animated he’ll become when the venom hits his bloodstream.”

We all followed orders wordlessly. None of us had ever seen this procedure before, and we stood transfixed as Carlisle bent over the patient and sank his teeth into his throat.

For a moment nothing changed. And then a bone-rattling shriek ripped from the throat of the stranger. His body bucked, and we all began to take this business of holding onto him seriously.

There was more screaming, as the eyes of the dead man flew open, darting frantically around the room, seeing nothing. I was immediately taken back to my own transformation, something I generally tried not to remember in much detail.

Everything was pain. Sheer unbearable pain, and it felt like it would go on forever. Each of us had that memory locked somewhere inside us, and we didn’t mind standing here, not breathing, holding on hour after hour, if it helped someone else get through it.

The day drew to a close and darkness enveloped the mountain. Finally, Carlisle said we could let go, if only to send us for chains and ropes and whatever else we could find to secure our unpredictable guest.

“He’ll be unconscious most of the time,” Carlisle explained. “But there may be bouts of flailing around, and I don’t have to tell you that this is going to be one hell of a strong newborn. We have our work cut out for us.”

“Thank you,” Rosalie said, hugging Carlisle like she meant it. “You won’t be sorry. I’m sure of it.”

Once the patient was secured, the three of us drifted out to the balcony, leaving Rose to sit with him. The cool night air was a relief after that stuffy room, reeking of blood. Away from city lights the vast black sky prickled with stars.

Carlisle pulled Esme down beside him on the glider.

“You were amazing,” she said, wrapping her arms around him. “I don’t understand how you know when to stop.”

“The hard part,” he said with a smile, “is deciding to start.”

“Well, I’m sure it was a good choice. I’ve never seen Rosalie so certain of anything before.”

I pulled a chair up to the railing and put my feet up. “Let’s hope she has a touch of clairvoyance. I honestly don’t see what Rosalie with all her pretensions could possibly have to say to a mountain boy.”  

“Opposites attract,” Esme reminded me.

“I’m not sure I believe that. Look at you two. You’re both warm, compassionate people. It makes sense you’d be drawn together.”

“Love isn’t known for making sense,” she said with a smile. “Sometimes couples have absolutely nothing in common on the surface, but they’re still in love. That’s what they have in common – the love.”

“If you say so.” I returned her smile. “So, Carlisle, did you ever run across anyone with clairvoyance?”

“No, but there are some interesting studies coming out of Duke University. Extra Sensory Perception, they call it. I suspect if there was such a person, he’d find himself a resident of Volterra before he knew what hit him.”

A roar from inside the house told us our brief recess was over.

The next three days were grueling. Just the knowledge of what that poor man was going through weighed heavily on us all, but it was fascinating to watch the physical transformation.

“He’s actually quite handsome,” Esme remarked when the scars had vanished, “and not much older than you and Edward, Rose.”

I had to give Rosalie credit. She seldom left Emmett’s side, which turned out to be hugely helpful, since the sight of her inevitably calmed him.

So the one person who could single-handedly drive me from a room was an inexplicable source of comfort to someone else. There really was no accounting for taste.

As Rosalie’s presence seemed mandatory and Carlisle wouldn’t abandon a patient, it was left to Esme and me to head for the nearest town, where we bought clothes for our houseguest and materials to repair the front door.

A new mattress and bedding were ordered, and just to be on the safe side, a new bed. That was before Esme spotted an antique store on our way out of town.

“There are several nice pieces in the house,” she pointed out. “I’m sure the owners would be thrilled with an authentic 19th century bed. It might even persuade them to let us use the cabin again someday.”

Esme knew her stuff, so we purchased a hand-crafted iron bedstead, which the proprietor obligingly roped together.

“You want me to help you get that to your truck, young fella?”

“I think I can manage,” I said, pretending to struggle as we left the shop. Then it was back to the general store to cancel the order for the first bed.

We’d placed it with a young girl, but a middle-aged man had taken her place behind the counter, so Esme took over the negotiations.

“Do you think we could leave this with you? Then when the other things come in you could deliver them together.”

“I’m sorry, miss, but we can’t be responsible for somebody else’s goods.”

“Oh, that’s such a shame.” Somehow she managed to flash her dimples while looking woeful. “And after my poor brother nearly crippled himself bringing it in here. Eddie, do you think you could carry it back out to the street? I suppose we’ll just have to leave it for the trash man.”

“Well, hold on there,” the clerk said, visibly flustered. “That’s an expensive piece of furniture you got here. You don’t want to do that.”

“It’s my own fault.” If I didn’t know better, I’d have sworn Esme was on the verge of tears. “I should have asked if the antique shop delivered before I made the purchase. I can’t believe I was so stupid.”

“Now, now, little lady, don’t you fret. How were you to know? I’m the owner here, so I guess we can make an exception this time – long as you folks promise not to hold us liable.”

“Of course! I’d be so grateful.”

The clerk pulled out the order form. “Now where was it you needed this to go?” He examined it closely and frowned. “Maisie!” Maisie, get out here, girl.”

Maisie must have been the clerk who had waited on us initially. Considering the displeasure in her employer’s voice, I suspected she’d found discretion the better part of valor and made herself scarce.

“This says it’s to go to the Redding place. That’s up on Allan’s Peak, right? I’m sorry, but we sent a load up there once before and nearly lost a $500 truck. That’s a treacherous road.”

Before Esme could start emoting again, I stepped forward and peeled off two fifty dollar bills, laying them across the invoice. “That’s for giving it a try.”

His eyes flashed up to me in disbelief and I pinned them with my own. “There will be two more just like them, if you actually succeed.”

“That sounds fair,” he muttered, still unable to look away.

I released him with a calculated smile. “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”

As soon as we were outside, I turned to Esme, “Eddie?”

She laughed, hooking her arm through mine. “Men always pretend they hate shopping, but come on, admit it, you had a good time in there.”

“Kind of,” I conceded, grinning.

Without the clumsy burden of a car, the route back to the cabin was a straight shot that took very little time. Entering the house, we headed automatically to the hub of the action in the front bedroom.

No one was there.

“Don’t worry, Carlisle said behind us. “Everything’s fine.”

“He woke up?” Esme asked.

“Unfortunately, just shortly after you left.”

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry. We should have been here to help.”

Carlisle slipped his arm around her. “I am sorry you missed it, but except for the first half hour, when he was understandably disoriented, there hasn’t been any trouble. We’re going to have to patch a few holes in the plaster, but that’s about it.

“Once he focused on Rosalie, he settled down. She explained what had happened, what he was. Then I introduced myself and told him the basics that he needed to know immediately.”

“But how did he react?” Esme said anxiously. “What did he say?”

“As I recall, the word was ‘swell’.”

I frowned. “Are you sure he actually understood?”

“Oh, I think so. It’s hard to tell under the circumstances, but he strikes me as a very . . . adaptable young man.”

“Where is he now?”

Carlisle chuckled. “When I left him, he was contemplating the bark on a Red Spruce in back of the house. He’d been at it for about 20 minutes, but he showed no signs of quitting.”

“Wait a minute!” Esme suddenly remembered the bag of new clothing she had in hand. “What is he wearing?”

“A sheet. To tell you the truth, he looks like a cross between Paul Bunyan and Socrates.”

This I had to see.

The three of us hurried to the back yard. He was still at it, his nose just inches from the tree trunk, a variety of expressions playing across the unfamiliarly mobile face. Rosalie stood nearby, patiently. She reminded me of a dog walker waiting for her charge to finish peeing.

“Have you seen this?” the newborn said suddenly, turning to look at us with scarlet eyes. “It’s hard to believe what all goes on in this world. Oh, but I guess you know . . .”

“Emmett McCarty,” Rosalie said, taking his arm. “This is the rest of my family.”

“And you’re all vampires, right?” he said with a dimple-framed smile. “Swell. That’s just swell! You must be Esme. You look way too young to be anyone’s ma, but Rosalie here told me the score.”

Before Esme could offer her hand, he grabbed her in a smothering embrace. “I’m pleased to meet you too, Emmett,” she gasped.

“Edward.” I quickly extended my own hand in case hugging was his usual form of greeting.

He grabbed it in both of his meaty paws, pumping vigorously. I wondered if I’d ever play the piano again.

“Swell,” he said again. This is all just swell! The doc here explained some of the rules to me – about getting a yen for human blood and all, but how we gotta try not to give in to it because Rosalie doesn’t believe in that kind of thing.”

Carlisle, you sly fox, I thought, dispensing medicine in the form it would most willingly be taken.

“We understand that may be a problem for you,” Esme said, as always, quick to reassure. “You can stay with us as long as you like, and we’ll all help you learn to cope.”

“Well, we mostly ate game where I come from anyhow,” Emmett said with a shrug that threatened to dislodge his makeshift toga. “Shouldn’t be much of a change to drink it instead.”

“Oh, we bought you some clothes,” Esme added hastily. “They’re in the house. I hope they fit, but if not, we can get others.”

“You folks are awful generous.” For the first time, the enthusiasm in his face faded. “I gotta tell you, I’ve got no way to pay you back. No money, no nothing. Hell, even this sheet is borrowed.”

“You’ll find our way of life requires very little in the way of material goods,” Carlisle said. “Yet at the same time, it grants us certain abilities that make getting anything we want relatively easy.”

“Well, all I want right now is something to eat – or drink, I guess you’d say. I was starving when I woke up, and Rosalie was gonna take me hunting, but I can’t seem to keep my mind on any one thing very long.”

“It’s okay,” Rosalie said gently. “Just do what you want, and I’ll be right here beside you.”

She looked so small guiding him back to the house, but I had no doubt she was totally in charge, and that Emmett was fine with it.

“Well, that certainly went much better than we had any right to expect.” Esme sighed with relief. “He’s obviously enamored with Rose, and the feeling seems mutual. I wonder if they will go off on their own or whether she’ll want him to stay with us. I’d hate to lose her now.”

“I don’t believe she wants to leave us,” Carlisle said, as we started back to the house. “The question will be whether we want Emmett to be a part of our family. That’s not a decision to be made lightly. Let’s wait and see how we all get along.”

I searched his mind to see if that was a barb aimed at me. In all honesty, I could have made a greater effort, if not to change my feelings about Rosalie, at least to hide them better, but he seemed to be considering all our preferences.

Over the next few days, if he was thirsty or confused or agitated by some newborn frustration – it didn’t matter – Emmett’s answer was to hunt.

In Carlisle’s opinion, there was nothing wrong in that. “It soothes him and gets him used to his new diet.”

“But what happens when we get back to Rochester? People may notice the rapid depletion of wildlife if he keeps up this pace.”

He took my point. “All the more reason to get this move to the Olympic Peninsula under way as soon as possible. The mountains are part of a range that reaches up into Alaska. No shortage of game there.”

So we might be bored in our next home, but at least we would be in no danger of starving.

Rosalie returned from one of these impromptu hunting expeditions as dirty and disheveled as I’d ever seen her.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

“Emmett enjoys the chase more than the catch. I think we went through every briar patch and bramble between here and Knoxville.”

“Why don’t you take some time for yourself. Have a shower, do your hair. I can keep an eye on him.”

She looked dubious. “He gets anxious when I leave him.”

“You’re not going to be able to be with him every minute of every day. Besides he needs to get used to the rest of us.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You better not do anything to him.”

“What am I going to do to him?” I said, exasperated. “Find him a cleaner girlfriend? Go!”

She went.

Emmett was making his way slowly up the path, oblivious to everything but the spotted butterfly perched on his finger. He nearly ran into me.

“Oops, hi there, Edward. Hey, have you ever actually looked at a butterfly? I bet you there’s about a million colors on this thing, prettier than a rainbow. Go ahead, little fella, fly on home.” He wiggled his finger to encourage take off.

Well, it was good to see that, despite decimating half the animal population in the area, Emmett had a gentler side.

“Rosalie’s gone to the house to clean up.”

“Oh, okay,” he said affably. “Boy, she is something. Isn’t she something?”

“She is.”

“She’s got to be the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“It’s a possibility.”

He plunked himself down on the edge of the rocky slope, and I joined him. “Rose told me how you’re not really related, but you live like a family. I’ll bet there’s been times you sure wished she wasn’t your sister, huh?” He leered good-naturally and poked me with his elbow.

“Now and then,” I agreed, unable to suppress a smile. “What about you, Emmett? Any brothers and sisters?”

“Nah, not any more. Once upon a time I had some – a lot older than me, but they all scattered to the four winds when our folks died. I’ve pretty much been on my own ever since.”

“That must be difficult.”

“It’s not so bad. I don’t mind hard work, and I make friends pretty easy.”

I thought that was probably true. “Do you think you could be happy being part of a family?”

“I think I could be happy being wherever Rosalie is, but I don’t know about the other way around.”

That surprised me. “Rosalie really cares about you. I’ve never seen her so interested in another person.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean Rose. I’m not sure why exactly, but I know she likes me.” For the first time, he appeared uneasy. “It’s just that she showed me that fancy car you all have. She and Esme are both real ladies - anyone can see that. The doc must have gone to school forever, and Rose tells me you’ve read just about every book that’s ever been printed. I don’t get what you’d want with the likes of me.”

“The Cullens don’t have an entrance exam,” I assured him, smiling. “Most families don’t.”

“I’m not saying that I can’t read,” he clarified hastily. “I can. I just like doing stuff with my hands better. Hey, but you know what? The best-paying job I ever had was at a roadhouse down near Gatlinburg. I was a bouncer and pretty good at it, so if you folks needed a bodyguard or something like that . . .”

I laughed, but he didn’t seem to take offence. “Vampires are actually rather well known for being able to take care of themselves.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s right, huh?” he said with a sheepish grin. “It’s hard to take it all in – the extra strength and the running and jumping, the way things look and sound and smell. Hey, see those two boulders over there?”

He pointed across the gorge to a jagged outcropping where a pair of stunted pillars thrust themselves skyward. “Do you think I could yank one of those babies right outta the rock?”

“I know I could.”

“Ha!” His face lit up like a five-year-old’s. “Well, what do you say we give it a try?”

“It’s not much of a contest if we can both do it,” I said, feigning indifference.

“Well, okay then, what say we go over there, rip ‘em out of the ground and toss ‘em down the way there. Whichever one throws the farthest wins.”

I slitted a sideways look his direction. “That sounds like a sucker bet to me.”

“What do you mean?”

Not for the first time, I noted that people with dimples can play the innocence card very easily.

“I know you’ve been told that newborn vamps are many times stronger than the rest of us. You’ll probably continue to be stronger than me for months, maybe even a year.”

“Hell, boy,” he crowed, punching my shoulder. “I’ll be stronger than you forever! You know, I always kinda wished for a kid brother. This could be fun.”

“Keep wishing. I’m 34.”

“Huh?” He frowned briefly, then broke into another wide grin. “Aw, I see what you’re doing there – one of those apples and oranges things. You’re talking about vampire years, right? How old were you when you stopped being human?”

“Seventeen. How old are you?”

“Twenty. Ha! My wish came true.”

“It doesn’t work that way. You have to add them together – your age when you were turned and the number of years you’ve been a vampire. I was 17 when Carlisle changed me, and it’s been another 17 years since then, so 34.”

“All right then 20 plus  . . .”

“Zero?”

He gave me the stink eye, but I could tell he was enjoying himself. “You’re just trying to get out of our bet.”

“Which is for what exactly? You told us you didn’t own anything.”

“That’s true. Even had to give back the sheet. How about bragging rights?”

“Sounds fair. So we’ve got rock yanking and tossing. Let’s make it a triathlon. What do you say we race to the other side, sail some rocks and run back here. First one to touch that sapling over there wins.”

“Onetwothreego!” he yelled with a quickness only a vamp could manage, and we were off.

Down the steep slope, across the ancient river bed, and up the other side, arriving almost together. Up close, the granite columns appeared similar in weight, but Emmett pulled his out in one mighty swoop, while I had to twist mine to convince it to let go.

He hurled his missile well before mine left my hand. They flew like paper airplanes down the length of the gorge, and when they landed, he had me by a good 15 feet.

The “wa-hoo” he bellowed bounced back and forth between the rocky walls several times, at least to vampire ears. If he was trying to get on my good side, it wasn’t by letting me win.

Emmett half ran, half slid down the mountainside with me never closing the considerable distance between us, nor did our positions change on the race across the valley floor. As we started the ascent, he looked back over his shoulder, and the cocky grin he aimed at me was absolutely without mercy.

Ah, could life get any sweeter? He was within a few yards of the top when I blew past him and skidded to a stop at our chosen goal.

“What took you so long?” I greeted him when he joined me.

“That was another sucker bet, wasn’t it?” he said, attempting to glower.

“Just a little bit.”

“Well, you live and learn.” He looked back toward the gorge where two dark holes could be seen in the outcropping. “We sure ripped the shit out of those rocks, huh?”

“We did. Just as a friendly piece of advice, Esme’s fussy about rough language.”

“Oh, I understand. My ma was the same way. Thanks for warning me.” We started slowly up the path that led to the cabin. “What would you say, if I told you I let you win that footrace?”

“I’d say, the hell you did.”

“Language, Edward,” he said, grinning. “Are you accusing me of lying?”

“Yes.”

Those were fighting words to most men, much less volatile new immortals, but he only laughed.

“I’ll have you know, I’m one of the most honest fellas you’re ever gonna meet.”

“I know that too.”

He stopped, giving me a puzzled look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I hesitated for a moment. I’d never done this before, not with anyone outside our own small family. “I can hear your thoughts, everybody’s thoughts. It’s not something I do on purpose. It started happening as soon as I was changed. Didn’t Rosalie tell you?”

“She said something, but things were kind of hazy at the time. I thought she was just bragging on her brother.”

It was my turn to laugh. “The odds are against it.”

“So, okay. Show me how this works. What am I thinking?”

“You’re thinking you can’t believe I read minds.”

“Hell, you could have guessed that.”

“Language, Emmett. Think of something I couldn’t possibly know.”

“All right.” He sifted through a number of possibilities. “I got it. Where was I born? What town, I mean.”

“That’s too easy. Boston.”

“Ha! Never been there. You were pulling my leg that whole time, huh?”

“Well, it was a tossup between Boston and Turkey Gap, Tennessee.”

“Holy sh-. That’s downright spooky! Can you turn it off?”

“Not really. I’m learning to distract myself when I know someone wants their privacy.”

We started walking again. “Think I might have some weird magical power like that?”

“Possibly. Carlisle says it’s relatively rare.”

“Well, that’s okay. Even the regular ones are swell. The jumping thing – that’s almost like flying. Rose can get higher than I can, though. Is that just cause I’m heavier, or is there a way to get better at it?”

“Shooting straight up takes a little practice. I can show you. Otherwise, it’s just like when you were human – a matter of building momentum.”

We were in sight of the cabin now. “Wonder if I could make it up into that gum tree there?”

“Hmm. Looks like nearly 20 feet to the first branch, but it can’t hurt to try.”

“What are we gonna bet?” He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

“You’ve already got bragging rights to the rock contest, and you’re fresh out of sheets. Why don’t you just do it for fun?”

“Yeah, that could work,” he agreed, as if it was a fresh concept to him.

He fell back down the path, thundering past me, sprang and fell a little short of the lowest branch but grabbed on and succeeded in swinging himself up to a sitting position. He let out a war hoop, pumping his arms in the air.

There was a screech of living wood as the branch splintered from the trunk. Emmett and his precarious perch plummeted to the earth with a resounding thud. A window on the house flew open, and Rosalie stuck her head out.

“He’s going to get hurt, Edward,” she yelled, rather inaccurately. “Would you cut it out with the goddamned competitions!”

“Language,” Emmett and I called in unison.

The window slammed down. “You don’t look hurt to me,” I offered, as he picked himself up, grinning hugely.

“Don’t feel it either. I got up there though.”

“Absolutely.”

We turned toward the cabin and stopped dead in our tracks. Rosalie stood framed in the doorway. She’d piled her golden hair into a sophisticated crown, found time to do her makeup, and she was wearing a black dress of some soft material that clung to her every curve.

A more susceptible male than myself might have thought she looked stunning. I stole a look at my companion. He’d apparently turned to stone.

“What were you boys doing out there anyway?” Rosalie backed up against the door jamb, propping one high-heeled shoe behind her in a pose she’d probably seen on a repair shop calendar.

“We were having a good time. How was the cocktail party?”

“Some of us enjoy being civilized once in a while,” she retorted. “I just put a lovely record on the phonograph if anybody feels like dancing.”

‘Anybody’ quite obviously wasn’t meant to include me, but Emmett still seemed to be struck dumb. Probably wondering why anyone in their right mind would bring party clothes on a hunting trip.

“Carlisle and Esme went out for a hike. I’m feeling a little lonely here all by myself.”

Still Emmett didn’t budge.

“I think she wants you,” I whispered.

“Sweet Jesus, I hope so,” he managed to get out.

I gave him a helpful shove that had little effect, but at last his feet seemed to move of their own volition. He headed toward the doorway like an awestruck pilgrim approaching a shrine.

Or a prisoner going to the gallows, I thought with a smirk, and went the other direction in search of distractions.

 

The last few days at the cabin were busy ones, repairing the damage, getting in a few last gourmet meals. The truck from Halper’s General Store managed to make the journey intact. Our purchases were unloaded by two eager young men, who set everything up in the newly cleaned front bedroom.

“These are for your boss,” I said, handing the promised fifties to the driver as they prepared to leave. “And this is for you two. Drive safely.”

“I’ve never seen so much money,” Emmett exclaimed, when they’d gone. “I thought you said you didn’t need to buy much.”

“We don’t,” I said, enjoying his wide-eyed reaction, “which tends to leave you with a lot of money. Simple economics.”

It was becoming more obvious every day that the bond between Rosalie and Emmett was growing stronger. There seemed little doubt that he’d be joining us – at least for a trial period – in Rochester.

As the time to leave drew near, Carlisle convened an informal meeting on the balcony.

“I’m a little concerned about the long drive back home,” he said. “Emmett, you’ve had a lot of freedom here, roaming the woods, and you can do that again at our house, but being cooped up in an automobile is not a good situation for a new vampire.”

“Yeah, I get a little antsy sometimes,” Emmett conceded.

“Plus, we’ll be passing through populated areas, and you’re not used to that.” Esme added. “Or we could come upon an accident where human blood’s been spilled. Expecting you to resist that at this early stage is simply unrealistic.”

“Then we’ll come on our own.” Rosalie looked radiant at the prospect. “We can stick to rural areas, hunt when we need to, take our time. It will be like a little . . . vacation.”

I realized with amusement that the word she’d been thinking was actually “honeymoon.”

“If you don’t mind,” Carlisle said, “that might be for the best. We’ll expect to see you when we see you.”

“Yes,” Esme added. “By all means, enjoy yourselves.”

It was a tacit admission that they both trusted her – her and Emmett, and even Rosalie got that.

“Thank you both. That means a lot to me.”

She sounded gracious, and what was more, she felt gracious.

I winked at her. Either she’d understand that it was my sign of approval or it would drive her crazy.

Either way had its upside.

 

The Arrow was sitting in the driveway, its nose pointed downhill. Carlisle offered me the keys. “Would you like to drive?”

“No, thank you. Not until we can go over five miles an hour.”

He chuckled. “Can’t say that I blame you. We’ll switch off when we hit the main road.”

“Well, I’m sitting back here,” Esme announced, sliding into the rear seat. “I’ve never seen things from this perspective. It looks very comfortable.”

Gravel scrunched and pinged under the chassis as we lumbered down the narrow rut under Carlisle’s expert steering.

“Dr. Redding wouldn’t hear of taking any money for our stay here, so I’m glad we could leave something in return. I’m sure he and his wife will be happy with the new addition to their bedroom.”

“And it appears we have our own new addition,” Esme said. The happiness was obvious in her voice.

“In case you haven’t noticed, Edward,” Carlisle teased, “my wife has already taken our new friend Emmett into her very generous heart.”

I turned to look at her. “Don’t worry, Mom. We wouldn’t have you any other way.”

It had been a long time since I’d used that term, but the emotion that infused her face made me want to kick myself for not doing it more often.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” she whispered with a tremulous smile before responding to Carlisle.

“Well how could I not? He’s a very likeable sort of person, and strange as it might seem, I’m beginning to think he and Rosalie are perfect for each other. You see, Edward – opposites. She can smooth a few rough edges; he’ll give her something real to hold onto in place of her pipe dreams.”

“Yes,” Carlisle agreed. “There’s something very genuine about Emmett. What about you, Edward – any thoughts?”

“I like him a lot,” I said simply. “He’s brave, easy to be with, knows how to have a good time, and he says exactly what he’s thinking.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to add “Plus he’s a hell of an improvement over the last choice you made,” but Esme wouldn’t have appreciated the language.

And besides, Rose wasn’t here to hear it.

 

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