10 years ago…
The young woman was jogging through the park. She really didn’t expect to have any company as it was 4 a.m. The birds were just starting to stir in the pre-dawn light. They didn’t notice her passing; she was so quiet. The early spring air caressed her smooth cheeks as she moved swiftly along the main path of the park.
She suddenly stopped and turned her head towards a sound that shouldn’t have been there. It was the sound of an accelerated heartbeat…a slap and then a whimper.
“I TOLD you that this would happen if you didn’t listen to me!”
Another ringing slap sounded through the darkness, and then the sobbing began. The sound of a foot making contact with something soft came to her ears. Without a thought for herself, the woman sped in that direction. She slowed as she neared the light of a street lamp. A woman was kneeling on the ground, a man towering over her, his hand raised to strike again.
“I told you that I’d never let you go, but NO, you had to run. You had to try and hide.” He sneered down at the woman at his feet. Her face was in her hands, her head bowed as her shoulders shook with sobs. “Where could you go anyway? No one wants you.”
His fist started to fall again. Before it could make contact it was stopped in place. A small, pale hand enclosed his.
He was startled and looked down into the face of an angel…A very MAD angel.
“I would stop now, if I were you,” she said in a quiet musical voice.
He was shocked at the coldness of her hand, at the strength she exhibited and at the dazzling smile she displayed. “Hey Baby, let me finish this, and we can find some place to get to know each other.”
He leaned closer, drawn in by a scent that was filling his head with desire. But he was confused, too. She was so small. How could she be holding back his fist? And, wait, was that scent good? Or was it causing the hair on the back of his neck to rise?
With a small smile on her face, the angel flicked her wrist, and the man was then kneeling, cradling his arm. At the best it was only sprained, but more than likely it was now broken.
He gazed up at her in shock, tears of pain filling his eyes. What he had first thought was an angel now looked more like a demon; her lips were drawn back in a snarl, her gleaming teeth snapping close to his face.
“Also, if I were you, I’d stay away from this woman. Don’t make me finish this. Don’t make me finish you.” With a sound very near a growl, the woman snapped her teeth once again, staring deeply into his eyes. “Do you understand me?” she asked.
With a grimace and tears of pain running down his face, he nodded.
“Good." She turned to the battered woman on the ground. Her sobs had slowed to a sniffle, and she was looking on in amazement. “Can you stand?”
“I think so,” she answered. The angel leaned down and offered her a hand. As she grasped it, she was surprised at how cold it was, but still found comfort in the strength she found there.
“Let’s go,” she said as she put an arm around the bruised woman’s waist and led her out of the park. “My father works in a clinic near here, and I really think he should take a look at your face. You may need stitches.” The woman nodded her head and allowed herself to be led swiftly away.
“I’m Bella,” she added.
“I’m Kendra.” She leaned into the woman, aching from the blows that had so recently struck her body.
“Do you want to talk about it?” her protector asked.
Gathering her thoughts for a moment, she replied, “I left him two weeks ago after he beat me again. I really didn’t know where to go and stayed with a friend. But he found me there last night and dragged me out. Melissa wasn’t home. She’s probably guessed that he came but didn’t know where to look for me.” She stopped talking as she stumbled to a stop. “He dragged me to the park, and he held me in one of those little buildings near the carousel. “ She started to cry again. Bella tightened her arm around her waist. “He told me that he was going to kill me. That I wasn’t worth anything anyway, and that no one would even miss me.”
Again, something close to a growl rumbled from Bella’s chest.
“Come on; let’s get you to my dad.” Bella walked her out of the park and around a corner. There, the friendly lights of the clinic warmed the sidewalk.
The place was clean and nearly quiet. Most of the people who came to spend the night in relative safety were making their way out the door now that dawn was near. They carried a hot cup of coffee in one hand and a bag, with lunch for later, in their other.
When the triage nurse looked up and saw them, her eyes widened at the sight of blood on one of the women. Before she could call for the doctor, he was walking into the room. She briefly wondered, “How does he DO that?”
“Bella?” he questioned while looking down at them both. Kendra gazed up into his kind face. It was so beautiful that she gasped. “Let’s get you into an exam room.”
Bella continued to help her down the hallway and into the exam room. As Kendra sat up on the exam table, she looked at Bella in the light for the first time. She gasped again. Before her was a young woman, probably about 20, with long auburn hair pulled back into a low pony tail. Her golden eyes were deep and filled with concern. Her skin was pale and so clear. It was like looking at the finest porcelain. Small lavender bruises sat just below her eyes.
Her dad, the doctor, followed them into the room. “I’m Dr. Cullen. Let me have a look at those cuts.”
Kendra looked from one to the other. They both smiled gently back at her. “You’re safe now,” Bella said.
o/ O/ o/
At their apartment later that day, Bella sat with her father, Carlisle, and her mother, Esme.
He was just filling them in on Kendra. “A volunteer from the Women’s Abuse Network came and spoke with her. She decided that she really did need to be safe and to make a change that would keep her that way.” He paused and looked out the window, gazing unseeing down at the park. “The worker had already sent someone else to speak with her friend. They both need to be safe.”
“I heard the sirens just after you left this morning, Bella. It appears that the police were tipped off that a mugger was in the park. They caught up to him as he was stumbling down one of the paths, nursing a broken wrist.”
Bella laughed. “He’s lucky that’s ALL that was broken. When I saw him beating her, it was all I could do to NOT end him. I wasn’t even thirsty, but the venom was filling my mouth, and he’s very lucky that I needed to get her away from him.”
Esme reached over and patted her hand. Bella turned hers up and grasped it tightly. “Do you think that’s why I jog there? So I can play 'Super Girl?'" She shrugged and continued, “That’s what, the tenth time this year that the police have been tipped off that some bad guy is loose in the park?” She laughed, showing those gleaming teeth again. “Not that I need the money, but I should be on their payroll.”
Esme laughed gently. “There are worse ways to spend the evening.” She glanced over at her husband, and he nodded his head.
“We know that you’ve been wondering what the next ‘thing’ should be. Maybe this is it.” Bella looked at her mother with a slightly confused expression on her face.
“What better job than to be a bodyguard,” Carlisle said. Bella’s jaw dropped. “You’re faster and stronger than the ‘bad guys’. You’d probably meet lots of interesting people.” He looked into the wondering, intrigued eyes of his daughter. “And, unless it’s another vampire, a werewolf or a mob carrying torches hunting your client, you can’t really be hurt either.”
Bella considered the idea for a moment, and then a burst of laughter escaped her, ringing through the living room like a peal of bells. “I can see my business cards now: Vampire Bodyguard. No threat too big, no threat too small!” She looked back and forth at her smiling parents. “This could be fun!”
“I bet that Emmett would enjoy something like this, too. He’d scare the thugs just by flexing his pecs!” She thought for a moment then said, “Rosalie would be great at distracting anyone that we needed to be distracted.” She laughed. “This just might work out.”
She chuckled again and glanced up at her parents from beneath her lashes. “I’m not wearing a CAPE! But I bet Emmett will WANT to!”
I closed the door of my office softly behind me. A sigh of contentment left my lips. Another job well done. As I sat down at my desk, I thought back to the assignment that we had just finished. A business man was being threatened by an associate. The idiot had started out by parking across the street from the client’s home, just staring at the house. When that didn’t get a big enough response, he actually TP’d the client’s house! Not funny when it’s done by a teenager, and seriously weird when done by a 37 year-old man!
When he then crept into the backyard and stole the family dog, a yappy Pomeranian (worth thousands, by the way), the businessman called us, Elite Guardians, to see what we could do. The trick was to catch him in the act, and the police just didn’t have the time to devote to the job. The guy hadn’t really done anything too bad, yet.
Within hours of being on the job, Emmett had found the guy’s rental house, with the dog in the back yard. Rosalie had snapped a hundred pictures of the guy outside the client’s home, outside of his own house and actually walking the stolen dog!
Criminals tended to be stupid, which was good for those of us who hunted them. The wiretap on the client’s phone had also turned up about a dozen incriminating phone calls, which had been taped and saved for the police.
I had turned the information over to the SPD this morning, and now the guy was in the local lock up awaiting arraignment.
Once again, Elite Guardians had won. We had saved the day and the dog, too.
I sighed again. This job was an easy one. A lot of our jobs were easy. But then sometimes something big came along. Like the Maguire Baby Stealing Ring. Good grief, that guy had kidnapped several babies so that he could sell them to the highest bidder. We had seen the pattern after four little ones disappeared from the Seattle area in the course of a week. Through diligent effort we had tracked the guy down. At least he had had the good sense to hire a couple of women to take care of the babies. They were in fairly good condition when the police rescued them. It was quite a sight to see the reunions of those families. The women were arrested, too. It was good that they had taken such good care of the babes, but Holy Crow, just what had they been thinking? They were accomplices, too, and would pay the price.
That had been a pro bono case. Rosalie had insisted that no money change hands. She had a soft spot for babies. The Seattle Police Department was very grateful for our help and sent work our way when they could. Sometimes people approached them for information on bodyguard services, and they always gave them our number.
Besides our bodyguard duties, we also found things for people. Everything from stolen items to lost cats and dogs. I really had to think to remember how many lost pets we had recovered. Our vampire sense of smell really did come in handy!
Yes, Elite Guardians, consisting of Rosalie, Emmett and I, could do the little jobs…and the big ones, too.
My intercom buzzed, and I hit the button, “Yes, Angela?”
“Bella, there’s a Jessica Newton on the phone. She’s calling on behalf of her boss, THE Edward Masen.” Angela paused, gulped and continued, “He’s in the latest People Magazine…he’s one of the hottest bachelors around. His green eyes just give me the shivers.”
I waited for Angela to get to the point. “And…?”
“Oh yes,” she continued. “He’s been getting some threatening letters, and some weird stuff has been happening. His assistant is worried, and she’d like to set up a meeting with E.G.” Angela paused again. “Shall I set it up for tomorrow afternoon? He’s getting ready for a big concert here in Seattle this weekend, and he’ll be down at the University, in their concert hall.”
I hadn’t heard of this guy before, but it sounded pretty straight forward. “Yes, set it up for 3, okay?” Angela agreed, and then I said, “Please be sure and fax them the paperwork right now. They can fill out the information and then have our messenger service pick it up and bring it over to the house. I’ll look over it there this evening.”
“Sure, and, um, maybe tomorrow I could come and take notes for you?”
I rolled my eyes at Angela’s request. “If we take the job, I’m sure that there will be an occasion for you to see him,” I said.
“Great! I’ll set it up.” The intercom went silent.
I chuckled quietly to myself. I could hear Angela through the walls of the office. She really was sounding professional, but I could also hear the underlying current of enthusiasm that was in her voice.
This guy must really be something to get Angela in such a tizzy. We had guarded several VIP’s over the past 10 years. Rock stars, movie stars, Heads of State, the famous and the infamous. We had guarded items of immense value and things that had very little worth except to the person who owned it. I had never heard Angela so excited about someone. Well, except for Paul McCartney. But then, I had been pretty impressed with that assignment, too!
I decided that this would probably be a good time to hunt. It had been about three weeks, and if this job got busy, it could be awhile before I had another opportunity. It was only 1:00 in the afternoon, plenty of time to get out to the mountains and back. I’d be able to go over the new client file later in the evening. I grabbed my purse and headed out of the office.
“Angela,” I said. “I’m leaving for the day. You can finish up and take off yourself.”
Angela nodded and said, “Great. Ben’s off this afternoon, and we were going to head over to his folks’ for dinner.”
“I think I’ll go and catch an early dinner, too,” I said with a smile.
Just then my phone rang. The caller ID said Alice. I waved goodbye to Angela as I walked out the door and answered the phone.
“Hey, Sis, what’s up?” I asked.
“Hey, Bells. Jasper is at the University until late this evening. He took my Porsche because Rosalie is tinkering on his car. I didn’t think I’d need it, but a client just called and wants to move our appointment up to this afternoon…and the fabric swatches are in my car. Could you stop and pick them up for me? They’re clipped together on the back seat.” Alice paused for a moment, “You’ve got a key, right?”
“Sure, I was just coming home and then heading out to hunt. Stopping by his office won’t take long.” I paused. “I’ll swing by, get them then come on home. Want to come with me and hunt? I think that I’ll hit the back side of Snoqualmie Pass.”
“Thanks, but I’m good. Jazz and I are planning on going up into Canada this weekend.” She giggled and continued, “He’s got a long weekend, and we thought we’d take our time. Since my appointment was moved up to today, we can leave early tomorrow morning.”
I smiled and shook my head. “So, is hunting the only thing on the agenda?”
Alice’s laugh came over the line. “What do YOU think?”
“Okay, I don’t really want to know. I’m already in the car. I’ll be home after I pick up the swatches.” I turned out onto the street, heading towards Jasper’s office.
“That’s great, Bella. Jasper’s car is parked next to his office...” Her voice tapered off, and I wondered what was going on.
“Alice, are you still there?” I asked.
“Yes, I’ll see you soon. And, Sis…” Alice paused again. “Be careful, okay?”
“Um, okay. Did you see something?” I asked.
Alice had a gift; she could get flashes of the future. Sometimes they were clearer than others. She could always see the weather. The future in regards to people depended upon how set their minds were. Once a person made a solid decision though, she’d see the outcome pretty clearly.
Not all vampires had a gift, besides being overwhelmingly strong, fast, gorgeous and deadly. Jasper could feel and influence peoples’ emotions. I was what we called a shield. I could protect myself from mental attack and infiltration from others of our kind. I could also stop physical attacks briefly. That had saved me from getting tackled by Emmett more times than I could count. A nice perk for the bodyguard business was that I could throw my protective shield over those in close proximity to me. That little trick had kept a client alive after someone had thrown a knife at him during our first year in business.
“Yes, there’s something, but I’m just not getting a good read on it.” I could almost see Alice’s face in my mind, her pixie nose scrunched up, her brow furrowed in thought.
“Well, don’t worry about it. You know that won’t bring the vision on any clearer.” I merged out onto the freeway. “Just let me know if anything concrete shows up. We’re meeting with a new client tomorrow. Actually, the meeting is near Jasper’s office at the Concert Hall.” The traffic was getting thicker. “I’ll be home in just a bit. Maybe by then you’ll have a clearer idea of what’s going on.”
o/ O/ o/
Alice’s bright yellow Porsche was easy to spot in the crowded parking lot. Classes were in full swing as it was still early afternoon. Jasper had gotten a space close to the building. I parked a lane over from him.
As I exited my car, a midnight blue Volvo S60R, I faintly heard Claire de Lune being played on the piano. The soft music was coming from the Concert Hall across the lot. The Hall and Jasper’s office building shared the parking area.
I stopped. The music was beautiful, full of feeling. At one point in my very long life, I had learned to play the piano, but had never really felt like I had a major talent in that area. I had the technical skills but not the heart for it. It was just something to fill the long nights. I hadn’t played in years, even though we did have a piano at the house. Esme kept it in tune as she and Rosalie occasionally liked to play.
Without consciously thinking about it, my footsteps took me to the Hall. As I opened the door, the music filled my ears. Another lovely melody had started up. I didn’t recognize this one. Quietly, I opened one of the double doors into the auditorium. The sound of the piano was joined by an entire orchestra. The music poured over me, rather like the swell of a tsunami. Then, once again, it was soft and sweet.
I slipped into a seat in the dark back row. My eyes searched the musicians and came to rest on the man sitting at the grand piano. He was totally into the music, his eyes closed as he moved his long fingers over the keys. The stage lights were on, and they glinted on his bronze hair. It wasn’t overly long, but it was messy, like hands had been run through it several times. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a light blue button down shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows.
The final note sounded, and he was still for just a moment. He then leaned back and turned to the orchestra.
He clapped lightly as he smiled at them. “That was much better than the last time.” Turning to the conductor, he asked, “What did you think, Victor?”
Victor, a man of medium height, with long flowing silver hair, put his baton down on the music stand and walked over to the piano. “I think that we’ve just about got these first four songs done well.” He looked over at the first chair violin and said, “That segue on the last chorus was tightened up very nicely, Eric. Good job.” The violinist smiled in thanks.
“So, Edward, I think that we can let them go for the day.”
I quickly looked at the man at the piano. So THAT was Edward Masen, my soon-to-be client. If I had known that he was there this afternoon, I could have made the appointment for today.
Edward nodded, smiled and said, “Yes, let’s let it go on that good note.”
Several musicians snorted as they stood up and started gathering their music and instruments. It wasn’t noisy, but there was plenty of ambient sound. I could see several of the young women in the group looking longingly over at Edward.
“We’ll see you all back here at nine tomorrow morning.” There were nods of acknowledgement from the group. “I want to thank you all for giving me this opportunity to play with you. It really has been a pleasure.” He smiled at them all and then continued, “The concert is Saturday, which gives us two more days to get up to speed.” He clapped lightly again. “And as well as this has been going, I have no worries.” Edward stood and walked to the edge of the stage.
I could see that he was easily over six feet tall, probably about 6’2”. He called out, “House lights, please,” and looked out at some people sitting in the middle of the auditorium. As the lights came up, I noticed for the first time that there were two men and a woman sitting there. I had been so engrossed in the music and Edward Masen that I hadn’t even noticed that they were there. That was odd; I usually noticed details like that.
As he smiled down at the trio walking towards him, I got a good look at his face. He was gorgeous. No wonder Angela was all a twitter today. His jaw line was chiseled, with a little bit of dark shadow there. The crooked smile on his face made my breath catch in my throat. And the sound of his voice was nearly as beautiful as the music had been…soft, silky, with an undertone of velvet. It was definitely music to my ears.
I shook my head, trying to clear those thoughts away. I watched and listened as the three people approached Edward. The woman was very obviously pregnant. The man to her left kept a supporting hand on her back. She carried a clipboard.
“Edward, that was fantastic. You know, when you mentioned ‘giving back’ and had that brain storm about playing with the local orchestras during your tour, I really did think you had finally lost it.” They were now standing just below the stage, and she was tipping her head up to look into his face. “Nope, haven’t lost it. I’ve just received three more requests, asking us to extend this tour, or at least let them get in on next year’s. You are really shining the spotlight on the local arts in the tour cities.” She shook her head again and grinned up at him. “You are bringing in so much money for these schools!”
Edward laughed and jumped down off the stage. He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a gentle hug. “Well, it was MY idea, but you sure are bringing it to life.” He leaned down and gave her a tender kiss on the forehead.
I found myself feeling jealous of that gentle moment. I shook my head to clear it again. What was that all about? I didn’t even know this guy!
The man with his hand on the woman’s back said, “Hey, keep your hands AND lips to yourself, buddy!” He held his fists up and took a fighter’s stance. “That’s my PREGNANT WIFE you’re kissing up on.”
Edward laughed as he took a step back and put his hands up in a calming movement. “Sorry, Mike. You know how she’s glowing right now.” He winked down at the woman. “Jessica, does he know how lucky he is to have you?”
“Yes, he does, but I remind him often, just in case he should forget.” Everyone laughed as they moved towards the side door.
The other man with them spoke up then. “Edward, I’ve got the contracts for the music deal.” Edward looked up quickly, surprise clear on his face. “We can go over them now if you’d like.”
“Wow, Robert, that was quick.” They all paused at the door.
“Well, after that People article, they really want to keep the buzz going. They want to get the deal set so that they can rake in on your publicity.”
Edward’s face twisted a bit. “I guess I can see that. Use the free stuff before you have to pay for it.” He turned back to Mike and Jessica. “I’ll go over the papers with Robert in my dressing room, and then we can go have an early dinner. Sound good?” He looked back and forth between them. “Shall I guess what you’d like to eat Jess?” He looked intently at her face. “I was thinking it was going to be Mexican early on, but now…Thai?”
Jessica laughed and asked, “HOW do you do that? I was thinking Mexican this morning, and now I can hardly wait for Thai!” She shook her head in disbelief as she looked at him.
“Well, I guess that I can just really read you.” He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
They all chuckled as Mike held the door open for them to step through. I heard them say that they would go home and change and then meet with Edward at the restaurant.
A gust of air was blown over them from the corridor and back through the auditorium to where I still sat in the back row.
With a gasp, I flew to my feet just as the door quietly closed.
Before I knew what was happening, my mouth flooded with venom. A scent, like nothing I had ever smelled, flowed over and through me. My eyes narrowed, and I found myself in a hunting crouch. The scent... it was everything; it was the center of my universe.
It called to me like nothing ever had before.
Spicy musk…a hint of vanilla…warm linen in the sunshine. Heaven…
With no sense as to how I got there, I was at the door. It took all of my strength to not rip it open and follow those people out. Which one of them was the source of it?
Turning from the closed door with difficulty, I followed the scent back to the stage, which was now emptied of musicians. I moved to follow the aroma. It was barely noticeable at the conductor’s stand. I moved on.
When I reached the piano, I sat down on the bench. The smell was so thick there, weighing me down and filling my senses. I leaned forward and sniffed delicately above the keys. I picked up the music that was sitting there and ran my fingers lightly over the pages. I could nearly feel his fingerprints on the pages.
Edward Masen was the source of this calling. Edward Masen, the man who was looking to hire me to protect him. Edward Masen, the man that I wanted to kill and drink from at this very moment.
I stiffened my body against the almost overwhelming urge to turn and follow him out of the side door. The scent called to me, causing my breath to catch in my throat. Nothing had ever done this to me. Not once in all of the 90 years of my life as a vampire had I ever felt the call of blood--of human blood--the way I did just now.
As my phone started to ring, I knew that I had very little time to make the right decision. I glanced down at the phone. A text message from Alice was there.
Sit tight. Jasper’s coming.
A reprieve. If I could only hold on that long. I took the sheets of music and held them to my face, breathing in deeply. I fought to keep myself just sitting…and waiting for Jasper. I wanted to go, to follow the scent...I wanted to HUNT.
He’d never stand a chance against me. I was the ultimate predator, and it didn’t matter that he would tower over my 5’4” frame. I’d smile, and he’d be dazzled. He’d follow me somewhere private and then…
I felt the plan start to take shape. It would only be he and the other man, Robert, in an office. I could take care of Robert in a moment, either to send him away or to kill him; it didn’t really matter. If I sent him away, I’d have more time…
I could savor the moment. Oh, I wanted it badly, so badly. I wanted to drink, deeply. I wanted that hot, tantalizing blood to flow down my throat. It would be heaven…but it would surely send me to hell.
It just might be worth it.
My phone rang again, but this time I ignored it and flew to my feet and over to the door. It opened just as I reached it, and Jasper bolted through and wrapped me in his strong arms.
“No!” I hissed at him. He struggled to hold me against the pull of the want, the need, the hunt.
Jasper hadn’t always been a History Professor. His life was even longer than mine, and at one point, he was one of the most fearsome fighters that had ever walked this land. He held me still while I fought. The door flew open again, and Emmett was there. He took in the scene quickly and got his hands on me, too.
“Come on, Jazz. Let’s get her home.”