“Bella. Bella, wake up.”
A low male voice was whispering in my ear. I smelled smoke and something sweet. Too sweet.
My eyes fluttered slowly open, only to realize it was dark. The acrid burn of smoke stung my nose.. Had there been a fire?
My legs, arms, and butt ached in protest. Where the hell was I?
I blinked again and realized that my face was pressed against the rough bark of a fir tree. I was sitting on a limb. My arms and legs straddled the trunk, but my legs were resting on other limbs. Something was holding me to the tree.
I was tied to the tree.
I looked straight up. Through breaks in the needle covered limbs I spotted bits of cloudy sky, faintly lit with moonlight.
Then I remembered.
Edward grabbing me and running from my house into the forest, and his shoving me into Emmett’s arms. Emmett carrying me, and climbing the tree. He tied me to the trunk with a black strap and knotted it up high so I couldn’t reach it to untie it.
Then Alice … Alice!
That newborn …
My chin trembled as I drew in deep gasping breaths. Tears sprang to my eyes, and my hands tightened into fists and shook. My heart was splitting, cracking, breaking, and the tearing pain of it burst through my chest and tore through my throat in a wailing howl.
A cold hard hand clamped over my mouth, cutting off the sound, and the owner of that hand loomed over me. He whispered into my ear, “We don’t have time for that, Bella. You need to hang on to this tree while I untie you. You’re going to climb onto my back, and I’m going to tie you to me so you don’t fall off. Do you understand?”
My eyes flew open and strained to see who was speaking. I knew it wasn’t Edward. In the faint moonlight, I could make out pale-colored hair that looked silvery in the moonlight.
Jasper. It was Jasper.
I blinked at him. He held my face so tightly I was unable to nod at him.
He leaned back and stared into my face. As dark as it was, I could tell his eyes were black.
“I’m going to take my hand from your mouth. Do not scream.”
I could only blink at him again. I felt his palm ease away from my mouth.
“Hang onto the tree,” he ordered.
I clamped my arms around the trunk as he swiftly untied the strap.
He turned his back to me. “Climb on.”
I was afraid to move and my mind went blank as I stared at the center of his back.
“Your T-shirt is ripped.”
“Yes, it is. Now climb on.”
My arms wouldn’t let go of the tree. Cramps seized my legs, locking them in place.
“I can’t, my arms won’t move,” I whimpered. “My legs …”
He sighed and turned to face me. He leaned in and pried my arms from the tree then bent them around his neck. He reached between my stomach and the rough bark, grabbing my hips, and pulled me away from the trunk. He slid his hands under my thighs then to my knees and wrapped my legs around his waist. At vampire speed he bound me to him and started to climb down the tree.
With my head tucked into my shoulder, I couldn’t see what he was doing but when he reached the section of trunk where there were no limbs he paused and looked around.
“Jasper?” I whispered into his chest.
“What, Bella?” His voice rumbled through his chest.
“Thank you for coming back for me.”
He didn’t bother to say anything.
“What’s that sweet smelling smoke?”
“Fires. Burned vampires.”
Burned vampires? Newborns?
“Jasper, what happened to Alice?” I asked, afraid he wouldn’t answer me; afraid of the answer he might give me.
He took in a deep breath then stilled. “She … she’s gone.”
I only heard him because I felt the cool puff of his breath on my ear.
My own breath hitched and caught in my throat.
I didn’t want to, but I had to know. What had happened to the rest of them? What had happened to Edward? Why wasn’t he there with us?
I couldn’t force my throat to work to say his name, but I felt compelled to ask. I had to. I needed to know.
The muscles in my throat tightened, but I forced his name through my lips. “Edward?”
Jasper still didn’t move. His cool breath sighed across my face as he bent his head down toward mine.
Dead? Edward could not be dead. He hadn’t said good bye to me. He said he would be back. I didn’t tell him that I loved him. He couldn’t be dead!
The pain welled up within me again, trying to find a way out. A terrible ache built in my chest, and I inhaled a ragged breath, preparing to let it go.
Jasper clamped his large hand over my mouth again and held my head tightly against his chest.
“Bella, you must be quiet. You cannot scream. What I know right now is that Esme, Edward and … Alice are dead. I don’t know what happened to the others. There were 19 newborns. You were right when you told Edward at your graduation that Victoria was connected to the newborns—she created them. She had another male attempting to control them. I took out ten of them and that male. I found five in pieces so I burned them. Victoria was distracted by your scent near this tree, and I got her. Two of the newborns ran directly north —a male and a small female. Two males ran toward Forks. I didn’t chase them. It wasn’t worth the risk. Two newborns loose in Forks won’t cause that much damage.”
Shuddering at the thought of two vicious newborn vampires running loose in Forks, I thought of the damage just two of them could do, at how many people they could slaughter. Nausea twisted my stomach.
Jasper continued in his low, expressionless voice. “I don’t think the Volturi are here yet, but with everything that’s been going on over the last several months, I’m sure they would have sent a scout here. It’s what I would do.”
He gripped my jaw tighter and forced my head up so I had to look into his ink black eyes. “I’ve never lost a fight, Bella. Jacob Black and his wolves … You should have listened to me.”
He released my jaw. “You must be quiet. I’m going to jump through the trees for a while before I drop to the ground to run. It’ll help to hide our scents.”
With his last word, he hurled himself into the air, and I squealed—his right hand cutting it off. It looked like we were going to crash into the next tree, and I screamed against his palm. He caught hold of a limb with his left hand and swung us around it, planting his feet against the trunk.
“I told you to be quiet.”
He glared at me, and I knew no more.