I knew the front room was crowded - almost everyone had gone in to see the newest visitors - but there was barely any noise. Shallow breathing, that was all.

Carlisle's voice was wary as he responded. "Then what brings you here now?"

"Word travels," a different voice answered, just as feathery as the first. "We heard hints that Volturi were moving against you. There were whispers that you would not stand alone. Obviously, the whispers were true. This is an impressive gathering."

"We are not challenging the Volturi," Carlisle answered in a strained tone. "There has been a misunderstanding, that is all. A very serious misunderstanding, to be sure, but one we're hoping to clear up. What yousee are witnesses. We just need the Volturi to listen. We didn't - "

"We don't care what they say you did," the first voice interrupted. "And we don't care if you broke the law."

"No matter how egregiously," the second inserted.

"We've been waiting a millennium and a half for the Italian scum to be challenged," said the first. "If there is any chance theywill fall, we will be here to see it."

"Or even to help defeat them," the second added. They spoke ina smooth tandem, their voices so similar that less sensitive ears would assume there was only one speaker. "If we think you havea chance of success."

"Bella?"Edward called to me ina hard voice. "Bring Renesmee here, please. Maybe we should test our Romanian visitors' claims."

It helped to know that probably half of the vampires in the other room would come to Renesmee's defense if these Romanians were upset by her. I didn't like the sound of their voices, or the dark menace in their words. As I walked into the room, I could see that I was not alone in that assessment. Most of the motionless vampires glared with hostile eyes, anda few - Carmen, Tanya, Zafrina, and Senna - repositioned themselves subtly into defensive poses between the newcomers and Renesmee.

The vampires at the door were both slight and short, one dark-haired and the other with hair so ashy blond that it looked pale gray. They had the same powdery look to their skin as the Volturi, though I thought it was not so pronounced. I couldn't be sure about that, as I had never seen the Volturi except with human eyes; I could not make a perfect comparison. Their sharp, narrow eyes were dark burgundy, with no milky film. They wore very simple black clothes that could pass as modern but hinted at older designs.

The dark one grinned when I came into view. "Well, well, Carlisle. You have been naughty, haven't you?"

"She's not what you think, Stefan."

"And we don't care either way," the blonde responded. "As we said before."

"Then you're welcome to observe, Vladimir, but it is definitely not our plan to challenge the Volturi, as we said before."

"Then we'lljust cross our fingers," Stefan began.

"And hope we get lucky," finished Vladimir.

In the end, we had pulled together seventeen witnesses - the Irish, Siobhan, Liam, and Maggie; the Egyptians, Amun, Kebi, Benjamin, and Tia; the Amazons, Zafrina and Senna; the Romanians, Vladimir and Stefan; and the nomads, Charlotte and Peter, Garrett, Alistair, Mary, and Randall - to supplement our family of eleven. Tanya, Kate, Eleazar, and Carmen insisted on being counted as part of our family.

Aside from the Volturi, it was probably the largest friendly gathering of mature vampires in immortal history.

We all were beginning to be a little bit hopeful. Even I couldn't help it.Renesmee had won over so many in such a brief time.The Volturi only had to listen for just the tiniest second.

The lasttwo surviving Romanians - focused only on their bitter resentment of the ones who had overthrown their empire fifteen hundred years earlier - took everything in stride. They would not touch Renesmee, but they showed no aversion to her. They seemed mysteriously delighted by our alliance with the werewolves.They watched me practice my shield with Zafrina and Kate, watched Edward answer unspoken questions, watched Benjaminpull geysers of water from the river or sharp gusts of wind from the still air with just his mind, and their eyes glowed with their fierce hope that the Volturi had finally met their match.

We did not hope for the same things, but we all hoped.

33. FORGERY

"Charlie, we've still got that strictly need-to-know company situation going. I know it's been more than a week since you saw Renesmee, but a visit is just not a good idea right now. How about I bring Renesmee over to see you?"

Charlie was quiet for so long that I wondered if he heard the strain beneath my fagade.

But then he muttered, "Need to know, ugh" and I realized it was just his wariness of the supernatural that made him slow to respond.

"Okay, kid," Charlie said. "Can you bring her over this morning? Sue's bringing me lunch. She's just as horrified by my cooking as you were when you first showed up."

Charlie laughed and then sighed for the old days.

"This morning will be perfect." The sooner the better. I'd already put this off too long.

"Is Jake coming with you guys?"

Though Charlie didn't know anything about werewolf imprinting, no one could be oblivious to the attachment between Jacob and Renesmee.

"Probably." There was no way Jacob would voluntarily miss an afternoon with Renesmee sans bloodsuckers.

"Maybe I should invite Billy, too," Charlie mused. "But... hmm. Maybe another time."

I was only half paying attention to Charlie - enough to notice the strange reluctance in his voice when he spoke of Billy, but not enough to worry what that was about. Charlie and Billy were grown-ups; if there was something going on between them, they could figure it out for themselves. I had too many more important things to obsess over.

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