“Leonard is not a … a puppy!” Bella sputtered, releasing McCoy’s hand and springing to her feet. “I know what it feels like to be treated like that and wouldn’t do it, so don’t you even insinuate it. He was freezing to death and there were wolves nearby! What was I supposed to do? Leave him out there?”
She stomped over to the potbelly stove and started shoving more wood into it. “Everything was fine, then you showed up. And don’t think I don’t know what you were doing—being all creepy, menacing, creature-of-the-night and shit.” She slammed the little door closed.
“Channeling your inner Emmett?”
Bella spun around and pointed a finger directly at him. “Don’t start your crap with me, Jasper. You’re not funny.”
“You can let go now.” Jasper’s tone remained serenely smooth as she stalked toward him.
She hissed at him as she proceeded to light the oil lamp in the center of the table and waited to adjust the flame to brighten the room.
McCoy was beginning to agree with Bella about Jasper being a cad, and he started watching them more closely.
He’d been the odd man out on a few occasions throughout his life and was getting that impression again. They did have a history with each other—had been friends. Bella had mentioned Jasper teaching her to defend herself—he was obviously a mentor. But was there more?
One could learn a lot by just observing, and he came to the conclusion the two subjects were closer than just in-laws. Or non-in-laws. Whatever they were to each other.
Jasper’s dark eyes flicked to McCoy but he directed his comments to the irritated vampiress standing stiffly in front of him with her arms crossed over her chest. “You never liked it when we talked behind your back in front of you.” One brow arched upward as he rebuked her. “How do you think he likes it? Besides … he knows.” Jasper tilted his head toward the tricorder sitting innocently on the table.
“What? What do you mean he knows?” Bella glanced guiltily at McCoy and back to Jasper.
Despite the intrigue of their cagily worded half-conversation, McCoy’s annoyance was growing. “Know about what?”
Jasper’s gaze slid from McCoy to Bella. “Didn’t you read the report? What have you two been talking about? Those people know about vampires and are already aware that some have enhanced … powers. Garrett really gave them an earful.”
“But you said we weren’t supposed to talk about—”
“He already knows,” Jasper interrupted her, stressing each word.
“No, I didn’t read it. I didn’t ask,” Bella answered quietly. “I was worried about him because—”
Time for McCoy to insert himself into the conversation. “Because she thought I escaped from an institution.” He almost chuckled. Since Bella had returned, and seemed to be able to handle the large male, he was feeling so much better! Adding a touch of humor would help to lighten the mood, as well.
Bella cocked her head at him. “You did say you were from the future. That only happens in movies.”
“I can’t deny I’m having trouble believing it, but the report has details only someone in the know would have.” Jasper’s lightening eyes returned to examine McCoy. “They know there are vampires that can read minds, see the future, cause pain …” He looked at Bella from the corner of his eye. “… have shields.”
“Feel and manipulate emotions?” Bella asked in a sing-song voice as her eyebrows rose and she waggled her head at him.
“Yes. They just don’t have names.” Jasper gave her a slow blink and shrugged. “Names change. Except Carlisle uses his own too often. Are you going to let me go now?”
McCoy couldn’t figure out what the brute was talking about. She hadn’t laid a hand on him. “Bella, what does he mean?”
Bella huffed, pulled out the chair across from Jasper and dropped onto it. With one finger, she traced around the edges of the tricorder. “I’ve been holding him in the chair because I have a shield. It’s like a force field in a science fiction movie, except I guess they’re real in the future. You mentioned them when you were telling me about Garrett.”
“She’s the most powerful shield I’ve ever heard of,” Jasper added.
Bella bared her teeth at him, and then smiled prettily at McCoy. “Alice gets visions of the future. Or the future she wants to see. She never tells you the whole thing. Edward can read minds but only what you’re thinking about at the time. That’s probably the main reason he was ever interested in me. He can’t read my mind unless I let him. Jasper can feel and influence emotions, and I suspect he was doing that to you before I got here. I can block them all.”
Realization made McCoy’s eyes bug out. “You … you were making me even more afraid than I already was?” Jasper really was a jerk! “You were trying to induce a heart attack?!”
“It’s yet another way to incapacitate. Enough fear will cause someone to freeze,” the ass replied. “It’s rather effective.”
Bella growled lowly. “I’m not letting you go until you promise not to do that to him again. Leonard, I have my force field around you. Mr. Emo Vamp can’t affect you anymore.”
Jasper grunted. “Settle down, Leonard. She’s protecting you. She can also use it to keep others from getting close to her, or hold them—like she’s doing to me.” He sighed and rolled his eyes. “I promise I won’t give him a heart attack.” After a moment, he rubbed at his stomach. “Thank you. She’s quite adept at it. Pin-point accuracy.”
“I had lots of practice with Emmett ambushing me all the time,” Bella grumbled. “But only when Edward wasn’t around because it was inappropriate for Emmett to tackle me. It wasn’t like he was going to hurt me.” She stared up at the ceiling. “It was good practice, even though it was aggravating, and I don’t care what Edward thinks.” She dropped her head and pressed her fingertips to her forehead and sighed. “Leonard, I’m sorry I wasn’t here. I had to work off a little stress and thought I’d hunt while I was out.”
“It’s okay, Bella. I understand. Everyone needs a little … alone time to think things through.” McCoy couldn’t resist a small smile. He was relieved she was safe and well, and so glad to see her again. Not to mention being grateful—she had saved him again. He knew, without a doubt, the churlish male wouldn’t have felt a twinge of remorse if he’d died.
“I saw the fresh clearing you made.” After eyeing McCoy again, Jasper folded his arms over his chest. “I’m surprised you put up with Edward as long as you did.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I did make a promise to him, whether it was legal or not. He refused to fulfill his to me—it relieves me of mine. He wouldn’t even talk about it. I’ve had it.”
Jasper grinned and gave her a nod.
Leaning over to look down at his feet, he asked, “How are you going to tell him without your phone? Unless you’re going back.”
Bella also glanced down at the phone dust still on the floorboards. “Oh, you noticed that. I’ll get another phone eventually. It’s not like I need to call home. Big girl and all.” She pointed at herself. “And I said I wasn’t going back.”
“He’s not there anyway.” Jasper reached into a pocket and pulled out a new phone. He set it by the lamp. “He decided to track you. He headed south to your hometown, of course.”
“Ug,” Bella groaned. “Why would he think I went there? Like Emmett said, Edward can’t find his butt with both hands and a flashlight.”
“Because the false trails you left easily confused him. He hit one going south and didn’t bother to look any farther.” Jasper pushed the phone across the table. “You did remember to pull the sim card before crushing it?”
“I might be slow, Jasper, but I’m not that slow.” She reached for the phone and snatched her hand back as if it would burn her. “Who has the number?”
Bella nodded. “I’ll look at it later. Thanks.” She faced McCoy. “I’ll have to clear the path again because it snowed some more.” She grabbed the bowl from the table and hopped up. “I’ll get some more snow for water, too. Do you want something to eat? You should eat.”
McCoy blinked and she was at the door. Intellectually, he knew they were fast, but knowing it and seeing it were two completely different things. He’d probably never get used to it.
Then what she was implying sunk in. Embarrassment about having to use the facilities again brought a flush to his face. Though he was damn glad he hadn’t humiliated himself by losing control of his bladder when her friend was terrorizing him. “I’ll help you with that,” he offered.
“No.” Jasper stood from the table. “I’ll help. We wouldn’t want the old man to have a heart attack shoveling snow.”
“Jasper!” Bella spun around, eyes wide. “What is wrong with you? Old man? Look who’s talking. You’re a hundred and sixty-six years old!”
She glided across the floor toward McCoy. “It’s fine if you want to come outside with us. I don’t know why Jasper’s being such a jerk.” She gave the smirking vampire the side eye. “But we can clear a path faster. You can bring in some more wood. Jasper, do you have gloves? Give them to him.” She did an about face and headed for the door, pointing at the cupboards. “Bring a lantern so Leonard can see.”
“Wait a minute.” McCoy could ignore the rude jab at his age, but he couldn’t seem to wrap his mind around the ill-mannered vampire’s age. He didn’t look over twenty. That Garrett fella had been older, but McCoy hadn’t met him. “How old are you?”
Having taken a lantern from the cupboard and lighting it, Jasper went to his coat, took the gloves from the pockets, and tossed them at McCoy. “I was born near Houston, Texas in 1844. It was1863 when I was turned. Bella is also counting the years I was human.”
“He was a Major in the Civil War. And I count those years because they count—we’re still alive. It’s just a different form.” Bella had already returned with a bowl full of snow. “I always hated how Edward said we were dead.”
“But you are alive,” McCoy told them. “Bella’s absolutely right. You’re just another type of life.” McCoy held the gloves to his chest after pulling on his boots. He didn’t feel quite brave enough to approach the door until the ancient, irritable veteran had gone outside. He wasn’t so sure he felt up to facing the cold again either.
Bella went to McCoy and patted his arm. “That’s what I think. We can discuss life, the universe, and everything when we get back inside and you have something to eat. Break it down to high school level. I haven’t gone to college a dozen times like some geezers around here.”