Disclaimer: All publicly recognized characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: First, I'd like to thank the reviewers. I truly appreciate your kind words! Secondly, I'd like to thank my other readers. I hope everyone is enjoying the story! Also, I'd like to add that the banner for this fan-fiction is a photograph of my Randall. Since he's such an anomaly, I thought I'd give him a face. Isn't he handsome? I colored his eyes red, but the banner is too small to notice. Oh, well!

The Soldier
Chapter Two: "The Rancher"

The vow of solitude ended after two years. Drifting in the boundless ocean allowed the newborn to accept her predatory nature. As a teenager, she believed vampirism to be a beautiful gift. Her girlish fantasy based on the Cullens' ease around human beings. Bella had never looked past their dazzling smiles or their aged charms. Now, she understood Edward Cullen's warnings. Though her human memories suffered through the change, she recalled his self-hatred. Bella mistook his honesty for apathy. She had been nothing more than a naïve child encouraged by fairy tales. After murdering the search party and five other nameless victims, the vampire finally grasped the weight of his conscious.

Feeling indebted to humanity, the immortal clung to vegetarian ideals. Bella fed from wandering whales; their massive size sated the thirst for several days. However, the consistency was comparable to wet sand. It took months for her to stomach the fluid. "Mind over matter," she thought. Of course, the newborn had no mind during the first year. Every urge dictated by thirst. Her jumbled thoughts focused solely on the hunt.

The following summer, Bella's gentle disposition reemerged from the recesses of her mind. Snippets of the past flickered between synapses. The majority of her human recollections involved a middle-aged man with a bushy mustache. She felt fiercely protective over him – the mysterious policeman. He possessed kind eyes but sported a stern expression. The world had hardened him; abandonment depressed his laidback character. Bella recognized him as a kindred spirit. She wanted a reintroduction. Unfortunately, the vampire couldn't remember the officer's address. Simple deduction pointed her to the United States of America. Decidedly, the vampire planned to explore the states once she perfected human mannerisms.

Bella managed to practice on an uninhabited island in the Atlantic Ocean. She trained herself to move at a snail's pace. It was very difficult. Every movement had to be calculated. Luckily, a vampire's brain could process hundreds of details at once. The soldier gradually adapted to slow speeds, subconsciously blinking, and ghosting touches. Bella even practiced speaking; each syllable lingered on the tip of her tongue. She felt like an idiot most days – creeping along the coast, muttering to herself. However, the humiliation was worth the endless possibilities. Nothing would deter her.

When she deemed herself controlled, the immortal returned to civilization. She swam into the Gulf of Mexico – welcomed by the sight of Texas. Bella hid beneath the murky waters waiting for darkness. Gradually, the sun set over the horizon. The soldier wandered onto shore, tattered fatigues clinging to her perfect body. She felt lost at that particular moment. Months of effort led to an anticlimactic transition. A miserable sigh slipped through cold lips. If this was eternity, she loathed existence.

Avoiding contact, Bella explored the beaches. She needed to find fresh clothes before reentering society. Her current state of dress would only cause alarm. Unfortunately, nothing suitable was within reach. Only swimsuits littered the beach, drying in summer's heat. "Damn it," she huffed. Frustration overclouded her senses. The vampire snatched a bikini from a lawn chair, eyeing it with dismay.

"I don't know, Sugar," a masculine voice chuckled. "You might want to rethink that ensemble. We wouldn't want the menfolk to die at the sight of you."

The immortal crouched. A menacing growl vibrated within her chest. Tucked in the shadows stood an undead rancher; blonde locks trapped under a cowboy hat. He tipped the brim, a smirk pulling at the left. "Now, now," he cooed, "don't get your knickers in a twist. I'm not here to hurt you." The drawl of his words exacerbated the situation. She formed tactical fists, preparing to rip the male into pieces.

The interloper whistled, unaffected. "So, the kitten has claws – beautiful and deadly. Now, I understand the Major's fascination with you."

"Who's that," Bella hissed, pivoting deeper into the rocky earth.

The rancher ignored the question. Instead, his focus shifted towards a large duffle bag lying beside him. The vampire collected the object and tossed it towards her. The luggage skidded across the ground, landing beside her. "It's from the Major," the vampire explained. "He asked me to hand-deliver it to you."

A distantly familiar scent wafted into the air. The bag smelled of sweet grass and clover. Bella's mind recognized the scent – Jasper. Dropping her defenses, she kneeled on the beach and unzipped the black duffle. A manila envelope and a set of clothes rested inside its lining. Carefully, she examined the items – forged identification, a debit card, a pair of hiking boots, a pair of dark-wash skinny jeans, a set of wool socks, a wife beater, a lace thong, and a black sports bra. Relief consumed her.

"You're a Whitlock," the stranger grinned. "We take care of our own."

"Jasper wanted to kill me," she stated; brows furrowed.

"That's the Major for you," he laughed. "But if you want my advice, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. He inducted you into our fucked-up family. Just accept his generosity."

"The Cullens don't want me."

"Who said anything about the bunny munchers," he sassed. "We're talking about Jasper Whitlock, my sire. He is not a fucking Cullen."

"I don't understand any of this," the soldier admitted.

"What's there to understand? The Major has taken you under his wing. He's given you a new name, a hefty bank account, and a fresh set of britches. When the time comes, he'll find you – answer your questions."

Bella nodded, still processing.

"Look, Sugar. I don't know your story, but you seem like a good kid. Why don't we get better acquainted? You can come to mine – meet the missus. It's only a quick run from here. Hell, I'll even let you snack on a coyote before we reach the house."

Golden irises met crimson. Their stillness anchored to the unanswered invitation. "Stranger danger," Bella mused. Despite his lighthearted banter, the unknown vampire oozed dominance. Crescent scars littered his neck and hands. However, the rancher seemed like an honest man. He claimed to be family – a son of Jasper Whitlock. His dangerous presence derived from years of experience. If Bella accepted his company, she could pick his brain for information. Ignorance bred fools; she refused to live eternity as an uneducated twenty-year-old. Decided, Bella gifted the rancher with a tightlipped smile. "I'll accompany you if the offer still stands."

"Of course, it stands," he huffed. "I'm a man of my word."

The rancher closed the distance between them. Without request, he grabbed the duffle bag and threw it onto his shoulder. Bella frowned at his chivalrous display. She hated being treated like a helpless woman; the distaste ingrained in her psyche. The soldier began to voice her disapproval, but the southern vampire darted north. Strings of boisterous laughter acted as breadcrumbs to his trail. Annoyed, Bella followed him. Her previous inclination of worry was long forgotten.