Waiting in the Twilight chapter 25

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AN: To all my readers who seem disappointed in this story due to the dramatic change it has taken,  I had originally marked it as Romance / Drama. However, so many of you found it amusing you asked that the genre be changed so it could be rec’d or nominated for other things. I changed it. Now some of you seem upset that it has made a turn for the dramatic. If I could choose the genre it would be Romance, Humor and Drama. I do promise a HEA and no James did not rape her.

Waiting in the Twilight

Waiting in the Twilight

Chapter 25

JakePOV

 

First class jerk? Yeah, that’s me! I admitted to myself as I shifted into fourth gear, stomped the gas pedal to the floor and hit fifth. I’d been so pissed off when I left Bella’s yesterday, I couldn’t see straight. I mean, come on! How humiliating had it been to have reported her missing to the cops only to find out she’d been in LA and on national TV the whole time? Excruciating, that’s what! On top of all that, her new bodyguards hand me my ass…twice? Well, pride got the better of me and I lost my temper. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d listened to her. She probably hates me right now and it’s all my fault. God, I fucked up!

Once I’d gotten home, I’d replayed our argument over and over in my head until I’d felt sick to my stomach for saying what I’d said to her. The only way to make sense out of this mess was to get concrete answers, so I’d fired up my computer to research the entire contest ordeal. Thank God for Google because all I’d done was type “Bella Swan” in the search bar and thousands of links appeared. I knew in passing that the Twilight Saga was a big deal to some people, I just hadn’t realized how big until I’d typed “Twilight” and “Edward Cullen” and the search results had gone into the billions!

It had taken some fiddling to refine my search parameters enough to narrow down the links. Unfortunately, the more I’d discovered, the smaller I felt. Everything she’d told me was true. Bells had always wanted to be a writer and her life’s dream was to be published. Obviously, this contest had offered exactly the chance she’d been waiting for. I’d even discovered the book deal she’d landed was for four books instead of just one. She would’ve been soaring for days over that. Not only had she met quite a few movie stars, including Cullen, her absolute favorite, but she’d participated in book signings, TV show appearances and interviews up to her eyeballs! Poor kid must’ve been exhausted.

Finally, I’d come across the video showing how Bells had gotten hurt and watched it a couple of times. Cullen really had done everything he could to protect her but, in all the chaos, that photographer dude had snuck in and caused her accident. Too bad Cullen hadn’t popped him one in the face for that stunt.

So, yeah, I could see how she might’ve forgotten to call. At any rate, I was headed back to her place now to apologize for the things I’d said, congratulate her for winning her dream job, and hopefully find out how serious she was about Cullen.

When I finally pulled into her driveway, there was no one outside, which I found strange. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about all this Hollywood stuff and I sure as hell didn’t know much about bodyguards and their protocol but it seemed to me that, if they were protecting Bella from paparazzi, they should at least be outside guarding her front door. Knowing how tenderhearted she could be, I figured she’d forced them inside and tucked them in with eiderdown quilts! This, I had to see!

I climbed out of my truck and walked straight up to the door. Normally, I’d just walk in without knocking…I always had before, with no complaints from Bella. However, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. I knocked and waited…nothing. I knocked again and waited. Damn it! This was pissing me off! One minute everything was fine and the next everything had changed and, for some reason, I had the feeling it was all Cullen’s fault. Was I worried there might be more than friendship between him and Bella? Hell, yes! She was mine! I was perfectly right for her and I’d be damned if I let him steal her away from me!

I took my chances and turned the knob with every intention of announcing myself as soon as I opened the door, but it was locked! What the fuck? Bella never locked her doors, although I was always on her case about it. I pounded on the door with my fist.

“Bells! Open up! It’s me, Jake!”

No answer. Her truck was still in the driveway along with the bodyguards’ big-ass SUV. Why wasn’t anyone answering me? The hair on the back of my neck prickled and I suddenly got the feeling something wasn’t right. Stepping aside to peek through the windows, my heart plummeted into my stomach and bounced back up into my throat so fast I thought I’d choke on it. Her coffee table and living room chair were knocked over, the dining room chairs were overturned and the lamps lay broken on the floor. I raced back to the front door. Bodyguards, my ass! They were probably the ones responsible for this!

“Bellaaaa!” I slammed my shoulder into the front door but it wouldn’t budge so I reared back and kicked it near the door knob repeatedly until the frame splintered and the door crashed open. I ran through the house searching for her, screaming her name every few seconds. I didn’t know what I feared most…finding her lifeless body somewhere, or not finding her at all. My heart froze in my chest when I saw blood on the kitchen floor as I made my way back into the dining room. Where the hell was she? What had happened to her? Was she alive or dead?

All these signs of a struggle made my blood turn to ice water when I suddenly realized I was in  the middle of a crime scene. Clutching my head with both my hands, I silently screamed, Noooo!

Before I completely freaked out to the point of losing my mind, I made my way carefully back outside, yanked out my cell phone and called the police.

 

EPOV

No sooner had we landed at the small airfield and piled into the rental car than Emmett’s cell phone rang. It was Embry, one of the other bodyguards. We listened on speaker as he reported how he and Quil had been unable to reach Sam and that, when they’d arrived at Bella’s home, the police were just pulling up. Apparently, her friend Jake had found the inside of her house trashed, called the cops and reported her missing…again. Although Embry and Quil were quickly cleared of any wrongdoing, the cops now suspected Sam and Seth of kidnapping Bella, or worse, since they were nowhere to be found. Embry insisted their reasoning was ridiculous since neither Sam nor Seth had a motive, plus Sam’s SUV was still in the driveway.

With this information hanging heavy in the air, the hour drive to Bella’s seemed to take an eternity even though Emmett drove as fast as he could.  Jasper had long since given up trying to calm me down or comfort me. Not because he didn’t care but because he knew I was beyond consolation.

By the time we were within sight of Bella’s house, my heart felt like it was being ripped from my chest. Police cars dotted her driveway, along with Sam’s SUV and a monster truck I assumed belonged to Jake.

Before Emmett even brought the car to a complete stop, I jumped out and ran to the front door. At the last second, I remembered to knock so the cops wouldn’t blow my head off. The door was opened by a tall, dark, muscular man about my age and height…who punched me right in the face.

Chaos ensued as Emmett grabbed the man by the throat, slammed him against the foyer wall and pulled his gun. Two detectives started screaming at Emmett, brandishing their guns at all three of us. It was a Mexican stand-off  with everyone yelling at the others to drop their weapons. Embry and Quil tried to explain but all the shouting drowned them out. Finally, the detective in charge recognized me and Emmett from pictures he’d seen on his daughter’s walls and computer and realized Emmett was just doing his job of protecting me. I silently thanked my lucky stars for fangirls of all ages and patient, observant fathers everywhere.

Turned out the dark haired man with the wicked right was Jake, Bella’s friend. He wasn’t a bit happy about me being here or in Bella’s life at all. He blamed me for this whole mess and I couldn’t defend myself because he was right. If I’d never commented that day on MEoW, if I’d never started talking to her on EA, Bella would be safe right now. As it was, she was missing, probably kidnapped, maybe even dead, and it was all my fault. I should’ve kept her safe and I didn’t. Just like in my dreams, I’d failed her.

Eight grown men in Bella’s tiny cottage home was claustrophobic, especially with tempers flaring and anxieties running high. We stood practically toe-to-toe in the living room answering their questions and attempting to ask our own. They told us the forensic team had come and gone, having gathered all the evidence, samples, photos and fingerprints they could find, which wasn’t much. One detective pulled Emmett aside to ask about his security procedures while the other questioned Embry on the time of his arrival and how he’d discovered Seth and Sam weren’t on duty. As morning turned to late afternoon, we were all exhausted from going over the same stories again and again. This was getting us nowhere fast. Why weren’t they already out searching for her? They should be doing something besides wasting precious time better spent finding my Bella.

Seemed to me like they were grasping at straws by the time they got around to asking me why I’d been trying to reach her and why I’d made Emmett call to check on Seth and Sam. With no other obvious suspects, they seemed determined to blame these two bodyguards for Bella’s disappearance, but I just wasn’t buying it. It wasn’t until they started asking intrusive questions about all of our online conversations and text messages that I reached the limit of my patience and damn near lost my temper. I’d just opened my mouth to go all caveman on them when the front door burst open.

“B…Bella? Bella, w…where are you? Are you alr…right?” Sam yelled as he stumbled in the front door and collapsed. One side of his cheek was a deep, dark red, looking somewhat like a blister or burn, possibly from the cold. Dried blood marked the left side of his neck, along with two puncture wounds that looked oddly enough like a vampire bite. Fresh blood drooled from a head injury on the right side of his head at the hairline. Emmett was the first to reach him.

“What happened, man? Where’re Bella and Seth?”

“Th..they aren’t h…here?” he asked. The look on his face said it had been his worst fear now become a reality. I knew that look. It was exactly how I felt.

“No. Both are missing. The place was trashed. What happened?”

“I…I don’t know,” Sam chattered, shivering from the cold. “I was at my p…post, near the front door. Em…bry and Quil had just left. A few minutes later, I h…heard a noise. Then I saw a f…figure approaching…in the darkness. No car, just someone walking up into th…the yard. I drew my g…gun at the same moment I real…ized it was a ffe…male. I thought it was a rep…porter or a friend of Bella’s. I asked her to…to state her business and sh…she giggled. Nnn…ext thing I knew I ffff…felt like I was bb…being electrocuted. The bb…itch tasered me. I heard fff…footsteps, more than just hers, and then my head exploded in pain and everything w…went black. I woke up in the w…woods, behind the house. I didn’t know where I was. I’ve been wanddd…dering around back there for a couple hours trying to f…find my way back.” Emmett removed his coat and put it around Sam’s shoulder.

“What about Seth? Where’s your radio? Your gun? Your cell?” Emmett questioned him. Though it was never said out loud, Seth was like the security team’s baby brother. He was well equipped to do his job, but  he was the smallest member of the team. His lovable nature and boyish face in the group of much larger, stern faced men earned him the baby brother status.

“Ggg…gone. It was the first thing I trii…ied, sir. I had hoped Sss…Seth would have gotten Bella to safety.”

“Chances are, whatever happened to you probably happened to him, too.” Emmett stated.

“Call an ambulance,” Jasper said to Quil.

“No! I’ll be alright. I w…want to help if I can.” Sam insisted. With considerable effort on his part, Sam made it to his feet. “I c…can’t tell you much, but I can help look for Seth. He m…may be our only clue to f…finding Bella.”

“Look here, son. I’ll get some of my officers out here to look for your friend and Miss Swan. The last thing I need is a bunch of rookies out there destroying evidence,” the detective in charge said.

Emmett wasn’t used to being told what to do when he had always been the one in control. Now, when it mattered most, I could tell he felt restrained and useless. I watched him storm out the back door to get some fresh air and regroup his thoughts, which didn’t take long.

“Detective! Get out here now. Seth may not have enough time to wait for your search party!” he yelled.

We all headed for the backyard where Emmett stood pointing at three different sets of footprints in the snow. One set ended and was replaced by blood…a lot of blood. Everyone assumed it was Seth’s, but I couldn’t help fearing they were wrong and that the blood belonged to Bella.

“That’s some fabulous forensics and investigative work you’ve done here, detective! Ever hear of looking for evidence? Taking a footprint mold? Taking samples of blood? Of  following a trail of blood?” Emmett yelled as he glared at the detective who was obviously seeing the footprints and blood for the first time. “Did you even bother to look outside the house? Never mind! It’s obvious you haven’t!”

The chagrined detective had been so positive this was the work of Seth and Sam, he’d botched the entire investigation and overlooked vital evidence.

With Emmett leading the way, we charged into the woods behind Bella’s house. Every step wound my nerves tighter and tighter. Every crunch of our footsteps in the snow squeezed my heart like a vice, terrified of what we would find and afraid not to find it. It didn’t take long before we discovered the body. I hadn’t known it was possible to feel such relief and even greater fear in the same instant. Seth lay unconscious, half buried in snow. From the deep purple coloration on one side of his face, I assumed he was suffering from hypothermia. His head was split open and he’d lost what appeared to be an impossible amount of blood which had pooled in the snow around his head like a halo.

One look at Seth had the detective calling for an ambulance, but Emmett knew Seth wouldn’t last much longer in the cold so he picked up the slightly built bodyguard and began the journey back to the house. Halfway there, Seth groaned and woke up for a moment.

“Don’t worry, dude. Help’s on the way,” Emmett told him. Though he showed no visible signs of it, I could tell how hard it was for him to hold Seth in his arms while he bled to death.

“Pap…Hunter…got Bella…in the woods…” Seth whispered with all the strength he had left in his body before losing consciousness again. I knew too that Seth holding on long enough to tell Emmett what happened filled Emmett with pride.

“Hunter? He’s out of jail? How?” I demanded.

“I don’t know. His bail was set at half a mill! Dude didn’t look like he had a pot to piss in. Jasper?”

“I’m on it, brother,” Jasper said calmly.  He whipped out his cell phone and started punching buttons. Someday I was going to have to ask these two just what kind of connections they had that I didn’t know about.

Jasper was still on the phone when the ambulance arrived to take Seth to the hospital. He didn’t wake up again and the paramedics told Emmett we’d found him just in time, that at least he had a chance now. I’d overheard them call in Seth’s injuries as mild hypothermia, head trauma and extreme blood loss. Just as they were passing through the front door with Seth on the stretcher, I heard one of them yell, “He’s going into shock.” So much for their positive diagnosis.

Shortly after the ambulance left, the search party arrived…all of 4 officers! But, with the police, Emmett, Jasper, Embry, Quil and myself, it gave us 11 men, which I wasn’t sure would be enough.  Too bad we had to force Sam to accompany Seth to the hospital for treatment himself. He would have been a huge help as I knew him to be an uncanny outdoorsman.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, the story had been picked up by a couple of local radio and television stations and the media circus I’d long feared was becoming a reality. It got so bad that the extra officers who’d been called in for the search party had to be sent outside to help control the crowd. Once this went national, all hell would break loose but I couldn’t worry about that now.  Unfortunately, that meant only the two bodyguards, the two detectives, Emmett and I would be searching for Bella.

I paced back and forth, anxious to get out there and find Bella. As the search party got coordinated and organized, I was left with nothing to do but wait until they were ready to start searching for her. God help the man who tried to stop me from going along with them!

Knowing my EDGe was out there in the cold woods with that insane pap gnawed at my guts. According to what we’d learned from Sam, he’d taken her around 10 PM last night. It was nearly evening now, just getting dark…twilight. How ironic that Bella was out there waiting in the twilight to be rescued just as I’d been waiting in the Twilight films for her to rescue me.

She’d been out there with him all night and all day. Would she be suffering from hypothermia, too? Had she been dressed when he took her? Was she in pain? Did she have her medication? Would he even let her take any if she needed it? Had she had any food or drink all day? Had he hurt her? Killed her? Raped her? God! I was losing my mind thinking of all the possibilities. I sat down on Bella’s sofa and put my head in my hands. What would I do without her? How would I live without her? She was everything to me. No! No, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about life without her! We’d get her back! I had to believe that.

I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and reached for it out of habit. It was a text message from…Bella! A photo was attached which took a moment to download. What I saw on the screen when it finally opened stopped my heart cold. Bella was lying on a wooden floor with her hands tied to a beam above her head with some type of electrical cord. She had a black eye with a nasty cut beneath it and dried blood caking her face. I couldn’t tell if she was knocked out or…or worse. A dirty, terry cloth robe barely covered the black silk negligee she wore, which was torn all along the hem. Her exposed legs were filthy, the cast gone. Both of her bare feet were blue from the cold, I assumed, but her fractured right foot looked deep purple and incredibly swollen. The sight of my EDGe in that condition filled me with such rage and fear for her.

Beneath the photo, a text message read:

Straight out the back door. About a mile into the woods. Old grist mill. Come alone if you ever want to see her alive again.

Fuck! I stole a glance around the room. Jasper was still in a corner talking on the phone, trying to get information on Hunter, his location, and how he’d gotten bailed out of jail. I had a hunch I knew exactly where Hunter was. Despite the fact that the detective had jurisdiction and commanding authority, Emmett had taken control of the entire situation. The detective, having already botched several key points into this investigation, stepped back and allowed Emmett to do his job. Em was ordering everyone around and showing them pictures of Bella and Hunter, explaining to the rescue team that Bella was injured, unable to run and that Hunter had weapons and was considered dangerous. He explained where Sam and Seth had been found and ordered the search party to spread out several yards beyond this point.

With everyone distracted and not paying any attention, I stuck my phone in my denim jacket pocket and made my way silently to the back door. Without a word to anyone, I slipped out quietly and disappeared into the night.

JasperPOV

As soon as I learned Hunter had been bailed out of jail, I started calling in favors with a friend of mine, Mike Newton. His father was LA’s Chief of Police. Luckily for us, LA was five hours behind Indiana which meant Chief Newton was still on duty. It wasn’t long before we were on a three-way call.

Based on the events at the LA premiere and the fact that we had Seth as an eyewitness placing Hunter at the scene of Bella’s home during her purported kidnapping, the Chief agreed to help us. He told me that a woman named Victoria Sutherland had posted Hunter’s bail. At my suggestion, he agreed to send officers over to Hunter’s address to verify whether or not he was at home. As nearby officers responded to the Chief’s orders, we waited to hear back from them. In the meantime, Chief Newton took it upon himself to look up Hunter’s arrest record. All in all, it wasn’t a bit surprising:  petty theft, assault, strong armed robbery, drugs, B&E, trespassing, public intox, DUI. His arrest record had begun at 15 years old.

A few moments later, Chief Newton got the report that Hunter was not at home. In fact, all they’d found was a sink full of his dirty hair, a pair of scissors in the sink, an old dirty cot and a room full of overturned chemicals and trays.  What had at one time been a dark room for film developing had been completely trashed. His clothes, if he’d had any, were gone. The apartment he’d called home was a real shit hole.

Although he balked at first, I convinced the Chief  to look into Victoria Sutherland’s background and tell me if he found anything suspicious. At first, he wasn’t willing to tell me anything, but then he stumbled onto some very  interesting information.

Apparently Sutherland’s parents had died together under mysterious circumstances. How and what those circumstances were, he wouldn’t say but it left Miss Sutherland sole heir to a well known perfume empire. She was worth millions and lived in a mansion in Bel Air. Then he’d discovered something that made him send the officers out to her home. He wouldn’t tell me what he’d found but asked me to stay on the line until the officers had time to check her out. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, answering questions about Edward and Bella and what had actually gone down at the premiere.

I wasn’t prepared for what Chief Newton’s men had discovered.

EPOV

I’d finally reached the old mill only to discover there was no one here. The cuff from Twilight I’d given to Bella was lying on the step at the entrance to the mill, proof that she’d been here. I’d tried to call the son-of-bitch multiple times but he refused to answer Bella’s phone. Now that I was here, I tried again. He picked up on the first ring.

“About time Cullen. I don’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Where are you and where’s Bella?”

“Straight ahead, about two miles…”

“Fuck you! I want to talk to Bella!”

“Temper, temper Cullen. You don’t want to piss me off. You won’t like me when I’m angry.”

“I don’t like you now so fuck off! I’m not going anywhere until I get to talk to B…” I cut myself off when I heard Bella’s pain-filled screams through my phone.

“BELLA! Bella?”

“Edward don’t listen! Run!” Bella cried despite the pain. Her voice was instantly muffled but I could still hear her screams as he inflicted more pain on her for her defiance.

“Bella! NO! I swear to God if you touch her again I’m going to rip your head off and shove it up your ass!”

“Listen, you little prick. I’m not one of your flunkies following you around with a pooper scooper cleaning up all of your messes.  I’m in charge here and don’t you forget it! If you want to see this bitch alive then shut the fuck up and do as you’re told! Straight ahead, two miles. Move!” he yelled and then, as though someone had flipped a personality switch in his head, he became the epitome of a kind English gentleman when he added, “And Cullen, do try to hurry, won’t you? I’m getting bored with your girlfriend.”

I put the phone away and took off running, Bella’s screams reverberating in my mind with every step I took. I ran and ran as fast as I could trying to stay in somewhat of a straight line. I could no longer see the huge old mill but I saw nothing in front of me either. How was I to know if I’d passed them by or still had a way to go yet? It’s not like I had a pedometer on me. Traveling in the cold at night through a dense wooded area was difficult at best. My lungs ached from breathing in the frigid night air and felt as though they would explode. My hands were so cold they felt stiff and ached as well. My cheeks, ears and nose were beyond cold. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath and get my bearings. It was so utterly dark here. Late November and all the trees had lost their foliage giving the dense wooded area an eerie graveyard feeling. I looked up at the moon and saw a dark cloud pass over it before it came into full view. The feeling of déjà vu swept over me with such power I literally fell to my knees from the dizziness that accompanied it. That was the moment I first noticed the thick, knee high fog swirling about my legs. This was the dream! The shared mutual dream Bella and I had been having from the moment we’d met online. I knew where I was and where I had to go!

EmPOV

The lead detective was so certain Sam and Seth had been involved in Bella’s disappearance he hadn’t followed through with his training. He hadn’t secured the property and scoured every inch of it for clues, fingerprints and evidence. The moment he’d allowed Jake, Embry and Quil in the front door, the crime scene had been compromised. Any clues Hunter had been here were no longer admissible in court.

Despite all the screw-ups the “detective” and his “team” had made, we were finally ready to start looking for Bella. Even though our small team of 6, including myself and Edward, couldn’t cover a lot of ground, and searching in the dark would make the task more difficult, I wouldn’t stop until we found her. Jasper was going to stay here and see what he could dig up on that pap.

“Edward! We’re ready to go. Stay close to me. We don’t know what this creep is capable of or what his plans might be,” I yelled. Edward was out of his mind with worry but I hadn’t had time to console him. The best thing I could do for him would be to get Bella back as soon as possible.

“Edward! We’re ready!” I said, glancing over my shoulder. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere. “Jasper, have you seen Edward?”

“I thought he was mobilizing with you?” Jasper said, looking around the room.

“Awww fuck! He’s gone after Bella alone!”

 

JasperPOV

Chief Newton had sent two officers over to Victoria Sutherland’s mansion in Bel Air based on some disturbing evidence he’d found in her file.

Apparently, the last three times James Hunter had been let out of jail, it had been Victoria who’d posted his bail. The fact that she’d forked out half a million dollars without blinking to free him said a lot about their relationship.

Then there had been her parents’ mysterious death, the true cause of which had never been determined.

Adding to their growing list of concerns was Miss Sutherland’s history of mental illness. Exactly what that entailed was protected by doctor/patient confidentiality.

The officers had arrived at the Sutherland mansion only to find the huge, wrought iron gate at the front of the driveway standing wide open, something that just didn’t happen in Bel Air. They’d made their way cautiously to the front door, but nothing had seemed obviously out of place. No one answered the doorbell, not even any of the house staff. On a hunch, one of the officers had given the door a push and it had opened. Suspecting something might have happened to the heiress, the officers had entered her mansion and searched everywhere for her. All the lights had been left on in most of the rooms implying she’d left, or been taken, while it was still dark outside some time yesterday. They searched the entire property and, other than the lights being on and her property unsecured, there was no reason to believe she’d met with foul play. The Chief seemed to think, and I agreed with him, that James and Victoria were more than likely together. If Seth had indeed seen James taking Bella into the woods, Victoria was probably in on it.

On their way out, the officers had turned off the lights one-by-one until they came to the last remaining light near the front door. As they turned to leave, a glow from under the baseboard of a large, empty wall caught their attention, implying a secret room behind it. With extreme caution, they approached the wall and searched for a way in.

Once they’d found it, the inside of the secret room both shocked and appalled them. The officers had immediately begun taking cell phone pictures and forwarding them to the Chief who, in turn, forwarded them to me as an idea of what we might be dealing with if Victoria was in fact with James. With each new photo, my stomach lurched as if I was going to vomit. I’d been worried for Bella when we couldn’t reach her by phone or internet. I’d been horrified when we’d arrived and discovered her, Seth and Sam gone. When Seth told us James Hunter had Bella in the woods, my fears for her safety had become nearly too much to contemplate. But, after seeing these pictures, and knowing Edward had gone after her alone, cold dread had me by the throat and I knew Bella would soon be dead if we didn’t find her quickly, and Edward…

EPOV

Now I know what it feels like to be hunting something evil only to be stalked by it in return.

Bella is close but I can’t see our tree. Everything is deadly silent and void of color like an old black and white vampire movie. Gnarled tree branches and roots protrude from the ground. I’ve tripped over them many times already. The pale moonlight casts eerie shadows, making the tree limbs seem like skeletal monsters reaching out to grab me.

Hoping Hunter will think I’m someone else and perhaps give away his position, I call out to Bella so she’ll know I’m coming to save her.

“EDGe! EDGe where are you?”

Just as in the dream, I hear a wet rustling noise and a quiet muffled whimper, a sound that comes from Bella. In my heart, I know she isn’t being gagged or muffled; she’s trying not to cry out. I understand it now. She’s stifling her cries of pain to keep me from finding her. Through all this horror she’s been enduring, even in such panic and fear for her own life, she’s trying to protect me!

Sound carries far out here in the dense woods and I distinctly hear maniacal male laughter reverberating and bouncing among the trees, making it impossible to tell where it comes from. Just as the laughter dies, I hear Bella’s softer, choked sob and know which direction I need to go. I take off running as fast as my legs will carry me, stumbling and tripping over roots and vines hidden beneath the ghostly white mist. She sounds so frightened and it’s killing me knowing that her fear is more for me than for herself.

“EDGe!”

I try to remember what comes next in the dream as I run, sucking the cold night air into my raw, aching lungs. Then, way off in the distance on a gently sloping hill, I can just make out the silhouette of our tree.

EDWARD AND BELLA'S DREAM TREE2

In the happier dream, it was a lovely tree but in this dream, in this reality, it’s a gnarled, twisted, nasty thing that fills me with horror for I know beyond that tree I lose her. Not this time! I tell myself.

I look to the base of the tree dreading what comes next…Bella being dragged along the ground. Now I understand why. In this reality, her ankle is broken, lying at an odd angle. Both her feet are filthy but their deep blue color is obviously from being outside in the cold and snow, barefoot for more than a day. How she was even conscience and bearing such pain, I have no idea. What I do know is that I was going to make him pay for every moment and every injury he had inflicted upon her.

“EDGe!” The tree is still so far away. Hang on baby I’m coming! The thought is in my head yet I hear horror in her voice when she seems to reply.

“Edward?”

I’m out of breath, gasping for air. I’m almost there. Bella knows I’m near. I see her small hands grasping the tree. She clings so tightly, her knuckles white despite the blue color of her hands.

“EDGe!” I lunge for her hand.

“Edward! NNOOOoooo!!” she screams as she’s forcefully ripped away from the tree, her arms scraping against the rough bark tearing her delicate white skin.

“You bastard!” I scream, lunging to my feet and dashing around the tree. There’s a small clearing here on top of a small hill. The fog doesn’t quite reach it but encircles the mound like a deathly mist around an arena. Bella is lying against the broken tree looking broken herself. Her black silk nightgown is twisted around her legs, her robe bunched up around her chest. She shivers uncontrollably. Her lips are blue and her face is extremely pale. There are bits of dirt, wet leaves and tiny twigs tangled in her hair. Her hands are no longer bound but I can clearly see where they’d been. It looked like she’d been tied up with barbed wire, for God’s sake! Seriously infected cuts surrounded both wrists and dried caked blood covered her arms. She was filthy from head to toe. Her foot is definitely broken. How long had that asshole been dragging her around out here? I took my jacket off and wrapped it around her.

“It’s alright baby, I’ve got you. I’m here.”

“No, no,” she whimpered, weakly shaking her head. “You ssssh…ouldn’t have come. You mmmm…ust leave. It’s you they www…ant! Thhh…ey want tttt…to hurt you. Rrrr…run Dddda..rlin, rrr…ru…n!”

“They?”

“Yes…they,” I heard James say at the same moment the barrel of a gun was pressed against my forehead. He shoved the gun hard into my flesh letting me know he wanted me to back away from Bella. That was fine with me. The farther I could get him away from Bella, the happier I’d be.

“Edward, dearest!” The feminine voice coming out of the darkness was that of a little girl. It made me think curly blond hair and pink bubblegum. I turned to see a striking woman step out from behind a gnarled old tree. She was wrapped in a calf-length white fur coat with knee high suede boots that tied up the front. Her fire-red hair was a wild tangle, in sharp contrast against her pale white skin and piercing bright green eyes. I would have thought her beautiful until I saw her eyes. They were full of madness.

“I’m so glad you could make it!” she exclaimed as if I was merely late to a dinner party rather than fighting for Bella’s life in the middle of the night.Walking straight up to me, she kissed me on the cheek and draped herself against my chest like she belonged by my side.

“You’re a very bad boy for making me wait for so long,” she purred.