*by Stephenie Meyer*

TWILIGHT - chapter 18 - THE HUNT

They emerged one by one from the forest edge, ranging a dozen meters apart. The first male into the clearing fell back immediately, allowing the other male to take the front, orienting himself around the tall, dark-haired man in a manner that clearly displayed who led the pack. The third was a woman; from this distance, all I could see of her was that her hair was a startling shade of red.
They closed ranks before they continued cautiously toward Edward's family, exhibiting a natural respect of a troop of predators 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 dressed in the ordinary gear of backpackers: jeans and casual button-down shirts in heavy, weatherproof fabrics. The clothes were frayed, though, with wear, and they were barefoot. Both men had cropped hair, but the woman's brilliant orange hair was filled with leaves and debris from the woods.
Their sharp eyes carefully took in the more polished, urbane stance of Carlisle, who, flanked by Emmett and Jasper, stepped guardedly forward to meet them. Without any seeming communication between them, they each straightened into a more casual, errect bearing.
The man in front was easily the most beautiful, his skin olive-tone beneath the typical pallor, his hair a glossy black. He was of medium build, hard-muscled, of course, but nothing next to Emmett's brawn. He smiled an easy smile, exposing a flash of gleaming white teeth.
The woman was wilder, her eyes shifting restlessly between the men facing her, and the loose grouping around me, her chaotic hair quivering in the slight breeze. Her posture was distinctly feline. The second male hovered unobtrusively behind them, slighter than the leader, his light brown hair and regular features both nondescript. His eyes, thought completely still, somehow seemed the most vigilant.
Their eyes were different, too. Not gold or black I had come to expect, but a deep burgundy color that was disturbing and sinister.
The dark-haired man, still smiling, stepped toward Carlisle.
"We thought we heard a game," he said in a relaxed voice with the slightest of French accents. "I'm Laurent, these are Victoria and James." He gestured to the vampires beside him.
"I'm Carlisle. This is my family, Emmett and Jasper, Rosalie, Esme and Alice, Edward and Bella." He pointed us out in groups, deliberately not calling attention to individuals. I felt a shock when he said my name.
"Do you have room for a few more players?" Laurent asked sociably.
Carlisle matched Laurent'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 guessed that Jasper was using his peculiar gift to control the situation.
"What's your huting range?" Laurent casually inquired.
Carlisle ignored the assumption behind the inquiry. "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."
Laurent rocked back on his heels slightly.
"Permanent?" How do you manage that?" There was honest curiosity in his voice.
"Why don't you come back to our home with us and we can talk comfortably?" Carlisle invited. "It's a rather long story."
James and Victory exchanged a surprised look at the mention of the word "home," but Laurent controlled his expression better.
"That's sounds very interesting, and welcome." His smile was genial. "We've been on the hunt all the way down from Ontario, and we haven't had the chance to clean up in a while." His eyes moved appreciatively over Carlisle's refined appearance.
"Please don't take offense, but we'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from hunting in this immediate area. We have to stay inconspicuous, you understand," Carlisle explained.
"Of course." Laurent nodded. "We certainly won't encroach on your territory. We just ate outside of Seattle, anyway," he laughed. A shiver ran up my spine.
"We'll show you the way if you'd like to run with us - Emmett and Alice, you can go with Edward and Bella to get the Jeep," he casually added.
Three things seemed to happen simultaneously while Carlisle was speaking. My hair ruffled with the light breeze, Edward stiffened, and the second, James, suddenly whipped his head around, scrutinizing me, his nostrils flaring.
A swift rigidity fell on all of them as James lurched one step forward into a crouch. Edward bared his teeth, crouching in defense, a feral scarl ripping from his throat. It was nothing like the playful sounds I'd heard from him this morning; it was the single most menacing thing I had ever heard, and chills ran from the crown of my head to the back of my heels.
"What's this?" Laurent exclaimed in open surprise. Neither James nor Edward relaxed their aggressive poses. James feinted slightly to the side, and Edward dhifted in response.
"She's with us." Carlisle's firm rebuff was directed toward James. Laurent seemed to catch me scent less powerfully than James, but awareness now dawned on his face.
"You brought a snack?" he asked, his expression incredulous as he took an involuntary step forward.
Edward snarled even more ferociously, harshly, his lips curling high above his glistening, bared teeth. Laurent stepped back again.
"I said she's with us," Carlisle corrected in a hard voice.
"But she's human," Laurent protested. The words were not at all aggressive, merely astounded.
"Yes." Emmett was very much in evidence at Carlisle's side, his eyes on James. James slowly straightened out of his crouch, but his eyes never left me, his nostrils still wide. Edward stayed tensed like a lion in front of me.
When Laurent spoke, his tone was soothing - trying to defuse the sudden hostility. "It appears we have a lot to learn about each other."
"Indeed." Carlisle's voice was still cool.
"But we'd like to accept you invitation." His eyes flicked toward me and back to Carlisle. "And, of course, we will not harm the human girl. We won't hunt in your territory, as I said."
James glanced in disbelief and aggravation at Laurent and exchanged another brief look with Victoria, whose eyes till flickered edgily from face to face.
Carlisel measured Laurent's open expression for a moment before he spoke. "We'll show you the way. Jasper, Rosalie, Esme?" he called. They gathered together, blocking me from view as they converged. Alice was instantly at my side, and Emmett fell back slowly, his eyes locked on James as he backed toward us.