Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined (Page 107)

“How many?” Eleanor asked Archie.

“Three.”

“Three!” she scoffed. “Let them come.” The long bands of muscle flexed down her arms.

For a split second that seemed much longer than it really was, Carine deliberated. Only Eleanor seemed relaxed; the rest stared at Carine’s face, obviously anxious.

“Let’s just continue the game,” Carine finally decided. Her voice was cool and level. “Archie said they were simply curious.”

The entire conference lasted only a few seconds, but I had listened carefully and thought I’d caught most of it. I couldn’t hear what Earnest asked Edythe now with just an intense look. I only saw the slight shake of her head and the look of relief on his face.

“You catch, Earnest,” she said. “I’ll call it now.”

She stood right next to me as the others returned to the field, all of their eyes sweeping the forest. Archie and Earnest seemed to orient themselves around where I stood.

I stated the obvious. “The others are coming now.”

“Yes, stay very still, keep quiet, and don’t move from my side, please.” I could hear the stress in her voice, though she tried to hide it.

“That won’t help,” Archie murmured. “I could smell him across the field.”

“I know,” Edythe snapped.

Carine stood at the plate, and the others joined the game halfheartedly.

“What did Earnest ask you?” I whispered.

She hesitated a second before she answered. “Whether they were thirsty.”

The seconds dragged by while the game progressed apathetically. No one dared to hit harder than a bunt, and Eleanor, Royal, and Jessamine hovered in the infield. Now and again, I was aware of Royal’s eyes on me. They were expressionless, but something about the way he held his mouth made me sure he was angry.

Edythe paid no attention to the game at all, eyes and mind scanning the forest.

“I’m sorry, Beau,” she muttered fiercely. “It was stupid, irresponsible, to expose you like this. I’m so sorry.”

I heard her breath stop, and her eyes zeroed in on right field. She took a half-step, angling herself between me and what was coming. It made me start to panic, like I had before, imagining her between me and Royal—Edythe in danger. I was pretty sure whatever was coming now was worse than Royal.

18. THE HUNT

THEY EMERGED ONE BY ONE FROM THE EDGE OF THE FOREST, A DOZEN meters apart. The first woman in the clearing fell back immediately, allowing another woman to take the lead, aligning herself behind the tall, dark-haired woman in a manner that made it clear who led the pack. The third was a man; from this distance, all I could see was that his hair was blazing red.

They closed ranks before they continued cautiously toward Edythe’s family. It was like a wildlife show—a troop of predators exhibiting natural respect as it encounters a larger, unfamiliar group of its own kind.

As they approached, I could see how different they were from the Cullens. Their walk was catlike, a gait that seemed constantly on the edge of shifting into a crouch. They were dressed in ordinary backpacking gear: jeans and casual button-down shirts in heavy, weatherproof fabrics. The clothes were frayed with wear, though, and they were barefoot. Their hair was filled with leaves and debris from the woods.

The woman in the lead analyzed Carine as she stepped forward, flanked by Eleanor and Jessamine, to meet them, and she straightened out of her half-crouch. The other two copied her.

The woman in front was easily the most beautiful. Her skin was pale but had an olive tone to it, and her hair was glossy black. She wasn’t tall, but she looked strong—though not strong like Eleanor. She smiled easily, exposing a flash of gleaming white teeth.

The man was wilder. His eyes darted restlessly between the Cullens, and his posture was oddly feline. The second woman stayed unobtrusive in the back, smaller than the leader, with bland brown hair and a forgettable face. Her eyes were the calmest, the most still. But I had a strange feeling that she was seeing more than the others.

It was their eyes that made them the most different. They weren’t gold or black like I was used to, but a deep, vivid red.

The dark-haired woman, still smiling, stepped toward Carine.

“We thought we heard a game,” she said. There was the hint of a French accent in her voice. “I’m Lauren, these are Victor and Joss.”

“I’m Carine. This is my family, Eleanor and Jessamine, Royal, Earnest and Archie, Edythe and Beau.” She pointed us out in groups, deliberately not calling attention to individuals. I felt a shock when she said my name.

“Do you have room for a few more players?” Lauren asked.

Carine matched Lauren’s friendly tone. “Actually, we were just finishing up. But we’d certainly be interested another time. Are you planning to stay in the area for long?”

“We’re headed north, in fact, but we were curious to see who was in the neighborhood. We haven’t run into any company in a long time.”

“No, this region is usually empty except for us and the occasional visitor, like yourselves.”

The tense atmosphere had slowly subsided into a casual conversation; I figured Jessamine was using her strange gift to control the situation.

“What’s your hunting range?” Lauren casually inquired.

Carine ignored the assumption. “The Olympic Range here, up and down the Coast Ranges on occasion. We keep a permanent residence nearby. There’s another permanent settlement like ours up near Denali.”

Lauren rocked back on her heels slightly.

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