Esme was updating their house in Portland, Maine. All the rooms were done, except for three. She sighed when she thought of her four missing children; the one they left behind, and the three that left. It had been twenty years since Forks. She missed their human daughter dreadfully. Though Esme knew she was grown, probably with children of her own, she always designed a room for the beautiful teenager of her memories. Her other three children disagreed with the family’s actions and left the family.
Since leaving Forks, the TV was kept on The Food Network. At the moment, The Kids Baking Championship was on. A sweet Southern voice caught her attention.
“My name is Jonni Beth Whitlock. I’m 12 years old from Houston, Texas. I play soccer, and I love to bake. I have a big family, so we need a lot of treats,” she giggled.
Esme could only stare in open-mouthed astonishment at the screen. She finally found her voice to call for her husband. “Carlisle!”
He raced down the stairs, all senses on high alert. Finding only his wife, he turned to her. “Esme?” She pointed at the television, which was paused on a human child. “What is it, dearest?”
“Whitlock,” she whispered.
He turned his full attention to the program. He studied the girl. She did favor their missing son, but that was impossible. Maybe she was a descendant of his family’s. “Esme,” he began as he faced his wife again.
“Wait,” she ordered. “Don’t look until I tell you to. Okay. Now.”
On the screen was a family picture. The girl was front and center. Four boys flanked either side; two were apparently older, while two were younger. The parents stood behind her, the mother noticeably pregnant. What shocked Carlisle into stillness were the parents. The woman was obviously an older Bella Swan. The man beside her was an equally older Jasper Whitlock.
But that was impossible.
The program was fast-forwarded to show a larger family. Charlie Swan and a Native woman were in the middle and wore white shirts with splashes of color. The colors matched what the other adults wore. Those adults had the same colors as the children. All the shirts were numbered; the adults from one through five, the children one through seventeen.
“That’s Emmett and Rose,” Carlisle breathed in disbelief.
Esme nodded. “Along with Peter and Charlotte Whitlock.”
He sat in a nearby chair. “They’re human. But how?”
“Not only that, but what about their enemies?” She stood up to pace. She whirled around. “Maria! If she finds out that the Whitlocks are human again, she’ll either kill them or turn them! They live in Houston!”
“Esme.” He gathered his wife in his arms. “Look at the bottom of the photograph. ‘Volturi Photography’. They must have some idea about this. They live in Houston?” She nodded. He quickly raced upstairs to grab his laptop. “Is this a repeat?”
She found the information on the show. “Yes, but the finale is tonight.”
Carlisle looked on the network’s webpage. “She’s one of the finalists. The family’s holding a huge party for the reveal.” A few more clicks, and the printer upstairs whirled to work. “Our plane leaves in an hour. We’ll be there for tonight.”
Esme clicked off the TV a few seconds before Alice skipped into the room, Edward on her heels.
“We’re going to Houston, Texas?” Alice queried, her nose scrunched up. “There’s nothing there but cows and dust.”
“No. Your mother and I are going to see old friends. The two of you are more than welcome to stay here,” Carlisle replied.
“I don’t know, Carlisle,” Edward said. “From your thoughts, the trip might be enlightening.”
Sam Uley was the first to spot the intruders, releasing a low growl. Nine heads shot up to look at him, and then to where he was staring. Eyes narrowing, they watched as he made his way to the quartet.
“You have no business here, Cullen,” he ground out.
“We have a treaty, Sam,” Carlisle placated.
“In Forks. This isn’t Forks.”
“We just want to see them,” Esme interrupted. “We saw the girl, Jonni Beth, on the show. Imagine our surprise when they showed a family photo.”
“There’s a room to your right that we can use. I’ll bring the Chief and a few Elders there to speak with you.”
“There are other vampires here,” Edward stated.
“Nothing gets by you, Cullen.” He said with a smirk. “We have an accord with them.” He nodded to the door. “We’ll be right with you.”
As they made their way to the room, Edward spoke at vampire speed. “I can’t read any of the Quileute. Charlie’s still fuzzy, and Bella’s silent, as always. Even Emmett is hazy.”
“And the children?” Esme asked.
“One or two are silent like Bella. A few are fuzzy like Charlie.”
“None of the Quileute?” Carlisle questioned.
Edward shook his head. “I could hear them one hundred years ago, even twenty years ago, but nothing now.”
They were stepping inside the room when a voice answered. “It must be old Native magic to protect from intrusive individuals such as yourselves.”
“Aro, Caius, Marcus,” Carlisle greeted with a nervous smile. “It’s, uh, quite a surprise to see you here.”
“We are here to celebrate with a member of our family. She became one of the top three on the show. We will celebrate her win or console her loss.” Aro glanced at his watch. “We find out in an hour. That is when the last episode airs.”
“Since when do you care about a family of humans?” Alice hissed, her eyes darting quickly between the three kings.
“Since we traced their genealogy back to ancient times,” Marcus responded.
“Ah. Genealogy. A fascinating world. It’s all through the women, I’m behooved to say,” Aro stated. “We have all kept up with our families after we finished our newborn year. My line ended within a decade of my new life. My sweet sister birthed a son and a daughter. My niece died when she was only 12.”
“But your nephew …” Edward interrupted.
“Only the women shall the line be carried through for accurate purposes. A man can be cuckolded. Each of us had sisters. I had only Didyme. Marcus had two, while Caius had five. Even our wives had sisters.”
“Renee Dwyer, nee Swan, nee Higginbotham, and Isabella Whilock, nee Swan, are descendants of one of my sisters,” Marcus informed. “Emmett McCarty is from the other.”
“Rosalie Hale is from my beloved Sulpicia’s line,” Aro said. “Actually, from her only daughter.”
“Jasper and Peter Whitlock and Charlie Swan are from three of my sisters, while Charlotte Whitlock is Athena’s many times removed granddaughter,” Caius finished.
“How are they all human again?” Esme asked.
“A well-kept secret, my dear,” Aro answered. “When a vampire has been especially naughty with humans, we call on a pair of our kind to come and turn them back human and wipe the vampire’s memories.
“Twenty years ago, we had several visitors to the castle; Peter and Charlotte Whitlock, and Emmett and Rosalie McCarty brought us a nearly comatose Major, and a red-headed harpy barged in. We were in council with the Whitlocks, and I had just ascertained the Major’s memories, when the doors were flung wide. This red-headed . . . thing demanded we help her kill a human.
“Have you ever had a chance to see the Major in action, Carlisle? No? You missed a most impressive sight, my friend. He moved faster than lightning. He had the harridan against the wall before any of us knew he had moved. I had Alec use his gift before her head was completely detached.
“The things this woman and her mate had done. Even I shudder. And to find that you listened to a sheltered boy over an experienced warlord? Tsk, tsk, Carlisle. You disappoint me. Anyway, we gave the woman a sporting chance—she would fight the one who killed her mate. Again, it was utter poetry in motion.”
Aro sighed dramatically. “We then had to decide what to do about a knowledgeable human. Charlotte and Rosalie pleaded to keep her human. Marcus did as well. His last descendant. We convened with the Whitlocks and McCartys, after speaking with the vampires with powers. It would take several months to complete.”
“We changed the Whitlocks and McCartys, and kept them under Alec’s influence,” Caius took over. “During this time, we journeyed to Forks. The towns peoples’ memories began to be altered. The new memories were that there were only four members of the Cullen family. Yes, Edward Cullen dated Bella Swan and broke up with her in a horrific way.” He frowned at the boy. “Yes, she went into a depression for several months. But with the perseverance of her family and friends, she slowly came out of it. Also, meeting a new beau helped. Enter Jasper Whitlock and his older brother, Peter.”
“Where do Emmett and Rose come in?” Esme asked.
“Charles Swan adopted a teenage Emmett McCarty when his parents died. He and Isabella are very much siblings. As I was saying, Peter Whitlock joined the Forks Fire Department and brought his brother with him. Should I go on, detailing Isabella and Jasper’s romance?”
A pained expression on his face, Edward shook his head. “There’s no need.”
“How did you get around Bella’s mental block? Edward could never read her mind,” Carlisle stated.
“A dream walker,” Marcus informed them. “Through her dreams, the memory-altering vampire did just that. The Cullens were eccentric. She never saw Edward’s display of strength or speed. Alice was just intuitive.”
“And the bite mark from James?”
“A dog bite, of course.” Aro flicked his fingers as if to dismiss their concerns. “One of the Quileutes bit her in wolf form. Naturally, we thought of everything. The Swan-Whitlock family thinks that the Cold Ones are just a story told by their Native friends. They know about the wolves, that the protectors are real, just not vampires.”
“She’ll figure it out,” Edward insisted.
“Only if she’s around vampires. She’s not. This is the first time we have seen any of the family since Peter and Charlotte married fifteen years ago. We just send gifts when the children are born. Bella asked that we attend for this momentous occasion for Jonni Beth. We agreed.”
“And Jasper’s scars?” Esme queried. “He was always self-conscious about them.”
“A car wreck,” Caius explained. “They diminished when he became human again. He was in a bad car crash, killing the driver. The glass cut him up as he was thrown from the car.”
“And Maria? She’ll come after them if she knew they were human again.”
“The Southern covens are no more.” Seemingly bored, Caius picked a piece of nonexistent lint from his sleeve. “We allowed the warlords to keep their lives and one or two companions. The rest were destroyed. If there is even a hint of the Wars starting up again, the warlords and their companions will be extinguished. Twenty years and everything is still quiet.”
A knock on the door heralded the Quileute Elders.
Bella was in a back room of the hall having a panic attack. Her sister and sisters-in-law were surrounding her, trying to calm her down. Her step-mother knelt in front of her.
“Bella, you need to calm down,” Sue said. “Or you’re going to go into labor. Do you want to interrupt Jonni Beth’s night?”
“No. But what are they doing here? We were promised that we would never see them again.” She bent over as much as her protruding stomach allowed. Her body soon began to relax. Bella glanced up to see her husband in the doorway. A wan smile graced her lips. “No fair.”
He smirked. “To keep you from droppin’ those babies, it’s perfectly fair.” He shooed the ladies back. “They saw Jonni Beth on the show. They were curious. The kings are telling them our story. We don’t know anything about vampires.”
Rose snorted. “As if we could forget that nightmare.”
“Exactly,” Jasper stated. “It’s all just a nightmare for us. We have no memories of it. If we did, then the Volturi would have to follow their own rules. That would wipe out the lines of a king and both queens. That’s what they were trying to avoid.” He turned back to his wife. “The Elders are gonna get them out of here as soon as possible.”
The door crashed open, revealing Jonni Beth. “Mama, you okay?”
Bella nodded. “Yeah, baby. I just felt a little off. I’m fine now.”
“Okay. Come on. The show’s startin’.”
“Think they bought it?” Embry asked later, his arm around Seth.
The kids were flying high on Jonni Beth’s win. They didn’t know that the dreaded Cullens of the stories were in their midst. The former residents of Forks slinked away while the show was on.
Seth nodded. “I think they did. They had no reason not to.”
“That was fuckin’ close,” Emmett commented, wiping his brow as he joined the couple. “Hey! Slumber party for the kids at your house?”
Embry shook his head. “Charlie and Sue have ours for the night. Try Peter and Char, or Leah and Jake.”
“Can’t. We’re all competin’ to see who will have baby number four first.”
“Well, then,” Jasper interjected, grinning wide. “I win. My fourth is ten years old. Pay up, fucker.”
“Uh, no,” Emmett said, shaking his head. “The fourth between the sane people. You and Bells—y’all nuts.”