Jasper felt my mood change. "Er, Edward, you might not want to distract her like that right now. She needs to be
able to focus."
Edward pulled away. "Oops," he said.
I laughed. That had been my line from the very beginning, from the very first kiss.
"Later," I said, and anticipation curled my stomach into a ball.
"Focus, Bella," Jasper urged.
"Right." i pushed the trembly feelings away. Charlie, that was the main thing now. Keep Charlie safe today. We would have all night___
The sound of Charlie's cruiser got closer and closer. The second of levity passed, and everyone was still. I crossed my legs and practiced my blinks.
The car pulled in front of the house and idled for a few seconds. I wondered if Charlie was as nervous as I was. Then the engine cut off, and a door slammed. Three steps across the grass, and then eight echoing thuds against the wooden stairs. Four more echoing footsteps across the porch. Then silence. Charlie took two deep breaths.
Knock, knock, knock.
I inhaled for what might be the last time. Renesmee nestled deeper into my arms, hiding her face in my hair.
Carlisle answered the door. His stressed expression changed to one of welcome, like switching the channel on the TV.
"Hello, Charlie," he said, looking appropriately abashed. After all, we were supposed to be in Atlanta at the Center for Disease Control. Charlie knew he'd been lied to.
"Carlisle," Charlie greeted him stiffly. "Where's Bella?"
"Right here, Dad."
Ugh! My voice was so wrong. Plus, I'd used up some of my air supply. I gulped in a quick refill, glad that Charlie's scent had not saturated the room yet.
Charlie's blank expression told me how off my voice was. His eyes zeroed in on me and widened.
I read the emotions as they scrolled across his face.
Shock. Disbelief. Pain. Loss. Fear. Anger. Suspicion. More pain.
I bit my lip. It felt funny. My new teeth were sharper against my granite skin than my human teeth had been against my soft human lips.
"Is that you, Bella?" he whispered.
"Yep." I winced at my wind-chime voice. "Hi, Dad."
He took a deep breath to steady himself.
"Hey, Charlie," Jacob greeted him from the corner. "How're things?"
Charlie glowered at Jacob once, shuddered at a memory, and then stared at me again.
Slowly, Charlie walked across the room until he was a few feet away from me. He darted an accusing glare at Edward, and then his eyes flickered back to me. The warmth of his body heat beat against me with each pulse of his heart.
"Bella?" heasked again.
I spoke in a lower voice, trying to keep the ring out of it."It's really me."
His jaw locked.
"I'm sorry, Dad," I said.
"Are you okay?" he demanded.
"Really and truly great," I promised. "Healthy as a horse."
That was it for my oxygen.
"Jake told me this was... necessary. That you were dying." He said the words like he didn't believe them one bit.
I steeled myself, focused on Renesmee's warm weight, leaned into Edward for support, and took a deep breath.
Charlie's scent was a fistful of flames, punching straight down my throat. But it was so much more than pain. It was a hot stabbing of desire, too. Charlie smelled more delicious than anything I'd ever imagined. As appealing as the anonymous hikers had been on the hunt, Charlie was doubly tempting. And he was just a few feet away, leaking mouthwatering heat and moisture into the dry air.
But I wasn't hunting now. And this was my father.
Edward squeezed my shoulders sympathetically, and Jacob shot an apologetic glance at me across the room.
I tried to collect myself and ignore the pain and longing of the thirst. Charlie was waiting for my answer.
"Jacob was telling you the truth."
"That makes one of you," Charlie growled.
I hoped Charlie could see past the changes in my new face to read the remorse there.
Under my hair, Renesmee sniffed as Charlie's scent registered with her, too. I tightened my grip on her.
Charlie saw my anxious glance down and followed it. "Oh," he said, and all the anger fell off his face, leaving only shock behind. "This is her. The orphan Jacob said you're adopting."
"My niece," Edward lied smoothly. He must have decided that the resemblance between Renesmee and him was too pronounced to be ignored. Best to claim they were related from the beginning.
"I thought you'd lost your family," Charlie said, accusation returning to his voice.
"I lost my parents. My older brother was adopted, like me. I never saw him after that. But the courts located me when he and his wife died in a car accident, leaving their only child without any other family."
Edward was so good at this. His voice was even, with just the right amount of innocence. I needed practice so that I could do that.
Renesmee peeked out from under my hair, sniffing again. She glanced shyly at Charlie from under her long lashes, then hid again.
"She's... she's,well, she's a beauty."
"Yes," Edward agreed.
"Kind of a big responsibility, though. You two are just getting started."
"What else could we do?" Edward brushed his fingers lightly over her cheek. I saw him touch her lips for just a moment - a reminder. "Would you have refused her?"
"Hmph. Well." Heshook his head absently. "Jake says you call her Nessie?"
"No, we don't," I said, my voice too sharp and piercing. "Her name is Renesmee."
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