Also bad news: The fire inside my heart got hotter.

How was that possible?

My heartbeat, already too fast, picked up - the fire drove its rhythm to a new frantic pace.

"Carlisle," Edward called. His voice was low but clear. I knew that Carlisle would hear it, if he were in or near the house.

The fire retreated from my palms, leaving them blissfully pain-free and cool. But it retreated to my heart, which blazed hot as the sun and beat at a furious new speed.

Carlisle entered the room, Alice at his side. Their footsteps were so distinct, I could even tell that Carlisle was on the right, and a foot ahead of Alice.

"Listen," Edward told them.

The loudest sound in the room was my frenzied heart, pounding to the rhythm of the fire.

"Ah," Carlisle said. "It's almost over."

My relief at his words was overshadowed by the excruciating pain in my heart.

My wrists were free, though, and my ankles. The fire was totally extinguished there.

"Soon," Alice agreed eagerly. "I'll get the others. Should I have Rosalie... ?"

"Yes - keep the baby away."

What? No. No! What did he mean, keep my baby away? What was he thinking?

My fingers twitched - the irritation breaking through my perfect facade. The room went silent besides the jack-hammering of my heart as they all stopped breathing for a second in response.

A hand squeezed my wayward fingers. "Bella? Bella, love?"

Could I answer him without screaming? I considered that for a moment, and then the fire ripped hotter still through my chest, draining in from my elbows and knees. Better not to chance it.

'Til bring them right up," Alice said, an urgent edge to her tone, and I heard the swish of wind as she darted away.

And then - oh!

My heart took off, beating like helicopter blades, the sound almost a single sustained note; it felt like it would grind through my ribs. The fire flared up in the center of my chest, sucking the last remnants of the flames from the

rest of my body to fuel the most scorching blaze yet. The pain was enough to stun me, to break through my iron grip on the stake. My back arched, bowed as if the fire was dragging me upward by my heart.

I allowed no other piece of my body to break rank as my torso slumped back to the table.

It became a battle inside me - my sprinting heart racing against the attacking fire. Both were losing. The fire was doomed, having consumed everything that was combustible; my heart galloped toward its last beat.

The fire constricted, concentrating inside that one remaining human organ with a final, unbearable surge. The surge was answered by a deep, hollow-sounding thud. My heart stuttered twice, and then thudded quietly again just once more.

There was no sound. No breathing. Not even mine.

For a moment, the absence of pain was all I could comprehend.

And then I opened my eyes and gazed above me in wonder.

20. NEW

Everything was so clear.

Sharp. Defined.

The brilliant light overhead was still blinding-bright, and yet I could plainly see the glowing strands of the filaments inside the bulb. I could see each color of the rainbow in the white light, and, at the very edge of the spectrum, an eighth color I had no name for.

Behind the light, I could distinguish the individual grains in the dark wood ceiling above. In front of it, I could see the dust motes in the air, the sides the light touched, and the dark sides, distinct and separate. They spun like little planets, moving around each other in a celestial dance.

The dust was so beautiful that I inhaled in shock; the air whistled down my throat, swirling the motes into a vortex. The action felt wrong. I considered, and realized the problem was that there was no relief tied to the action. I didn't need the air. My lungs weren't waiting for it. They reacted indifferently to the influx.

I did not need the air, but I liked it. In it, I could taste the room around me - taste the lovely dust motes, the mix of the stagnant air mingling with the flow of slightly cooler air from the open door. Taste a lush whiff of silk. Taste a faint hint of something warm and desirable, something that should be moist, but wasn't... That smell made my throat burn dryly, a faint echo of the venom burn, though the scent was tainted by the bite of chlorine and ammonia. And most of all, I could taste an almost-honey-lilac-and-sun-flavored scent that was the strongest thing, the closest thing to me.

I heard the sound of the others, breathing again now that I did. Their breath mixed with the scent that was something just off honey and lilac and sunshine, bringing new flavors. Cinnamon, hyacinth, pear, seawater, rising bread, pine, vanilla, leather, apple, moss, lavender, chocolate.... I traded a dozen different comparisons in my mind, but none of them fit exactly. So sweet and pleasant.

The TV downstairs had been muted, and I heard someone - Rosalie? - shift her weight on the first floor.

I also heard a faint, thudding rhythm, with a voice shouting angrily to the beat. Rap music? I was mystified for a moment, and then the sound faded away like a car passing by with the windows rolled down.

With a start, I realized that this could be exactly right. Could I hear all the way to the freeway?

I didn't realize someone was holding my hand until whoever it was squeezed it lightly. Like it had before to hide the pain, my body locked down again in surprise. This was not a touch I expected. The skin was perfectly smooth, but it was the wrong temperature. Not cold.

After that first frozen second of shock, my body responded to the unfamiliar touch in a way that shocked me even more.

Air hissed up my throat, spitting through my clenched teeth with a low, menacing sound like a swarm of bees. Before the sound was out, my muscles bunched and arched, twisting away from the unknown. I flipped off my back in a spin so fast it should have turned the room into an incomprehensible blur - but it did not. I saw every dust mote, every splinter in the wood-paneled walls, every loose thread in microscopic detail as my eyes whirled past them.