"It's a risk," I said, trying to ignore the other eyes I felt on me and to talk only to him. "Sam's calmed

down some, but I'm pretty sure that in his head, the treaty is void. As long as he thinks the tribe, or any other human, is in real danger, he's not going to ask questions first, if you know what I mean. But, with all that, his priority is going to be La Push. There really aren't enough of them to keep a decent watch on the people while putting out hunting parties big enough to do much damage. I'd bet he's keeping it close to home."

Carlisle nodded thoughtfully.

"So I guess I'd say, go out together, just in case. And probably you should go in the day, 'cause we'd be

expecting night. Traditional vampire stuff. You're fast - go over the mountains and hunt far enough away that there's no chance he'd send anyone that far from home."

"And leave Bella behind, unprotected?"

I snorted. "What are we, chopped liver?"

Carlisle laughed, and then his face was serious again. "Jacob, you can't fight against your brothers."

My eyes tightened. "I'm not saying it wouldn't be hard, but if they were really coming to kill her - I would be able to stop them."

Carlisle shook his head, anxious. "No, I didn't mean that you would be... incapable. But that it would be very wrong. I can't have that on my conscience."

"It wouldn't be on yours, Doc. It would be on mine. And I can take it."

"No, Jacob. We will make sure that our actions don't make that a necessity." He frowned thoughtfully "We'll go three at a time," he decided after a second. "That's probably the best we can do."

"I don't know, Doc. Dividing down the middle isn't the best strategy."

"We've got some extra abilities that will even it up. If Edward is one of the three, he'll be able to give us a few miles' radius of safety."

We both glanced at Edward. His expression had Carlisle backtracking quickly.

"I'm sure there are other ways, too," Carlisle said. Clearly, there was no physical need strong enough to get Edward away from Bella now. "Alice, I would imagine you could see which routes would be a mistake?"

"The ones that disappear," Alice said, nodding. "Easy."

Edward, who had gone all tense with Carlisle's first plan, loosened up. Bella was staring unhappily at Alice, that little crease between her eyes that she got when she was stressed out.

"Okay, then," I said. "That's settled. I'll just be on my way. Seth, I'll expect you back on at dusk, so get a nap in there somewhere, all right?"

"Sure, Jake. I'll phase back soon as I'm done. Unless ..." he hesitated, looking at Bella. "Do you need me?"

"She's got blankets," I snapped at him.

"I'm fine, Seth, thanks," Bella said quickly.

And then Esme flitted back in the room, a big covered dish in her hands. She stopped hesitantly just behind Carlisle's elbow, her wide, dark gold eyes on my face. She held the dish out and took a shy step closer.

"Jacob," she said quietly. Her voice wasn't quite so piercing as the others'. "I know it's... unappetizing to you, the idea of eating here, where it smells so unpleasant. But I would feel much better if you would take some food with you when you go. I know you can't go home, and that's because of us. Please - ease some of my remorse. Take something to eat." She held the food out to me, her face all soft and pleading. I don't know how she did it, because she didn't look older than her mid-twenties, and she was bone pale, too, but something about her expression suddenly reminded me of my mom.

Jeez.

"Uh, sure, sure," I mumbled. "I guess. Maybe Leah's still hungry or something."

I reached out and took the food with one hand, holding it away, at arm's length. I'd go dump it under a tree or something. I didn't want her to feel bad.

Then I remembered Edward.

Don't you say anything to her! Let her think I ate it.

I didn't look at him to see if he was in agreement. He'd better be in agreement. Bloodsucker owed me.

"Thank you, Jacob," Esme said, smiling at me. How did a stone face have dimples, for crying out loud?

"Urn, thank you," I said. My face felt hot - hotter than usual.

This was the problem with hanging out with vampires - you got used to them. They started messing up the way you saw the world. They started feeling like friends.

"Will you come back later, Jake?" Bella asked as I tried to make a run for it.

"Uh, I don't know."

She pressed her lips together, like she was trying not to smile. "Please? I might get cold."

I inhaled deeply through my nose, and then realized, too late, that that was not a good idea. I winced. "Maybe."

"Jacob?" Esme asked. I backed toward the door as she continued; she took a few steps after me. "I left a basket of clothes on the porch. They're for Leah. They're freshly washed - I tried to touch them as little as possible." She frowned. "Do you mind taking them to her?"

"On it," I muttered, and then I ducked out the door before anyone could guilt me into anything else.

15. TICK TOCK TICK TOCK TICK TOCK

Hey Jake, thought you said you wanted me at dusk. How come you didn't have Leah wake me up before she crashed?

'Cause I didn't need you. I'm still good.

He was already picking up the north half of the circle. Anything?

Nope. Nothing but nothing.

You did some scouting?

He'dcaught the edge of one of my side trips. He headed up the new trail.

Yeah - ran a few spokes. You know, just checking. If the Cullens are going to make a hunting trip...

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