Groaning in exasperation, Bella slumped in the seat of her silent truck. She thumped her head against the back window and scrubbed at her face. When she had told her father she was going to leave the wet cold of another Forks winter, and take a road trip to visit her mother in sunny Florida, she probably should have listened to him and bought a newer vehicle.
It wasn’t long after driving past a worn out little mountain town—with buildings so close to the street if you tripped coming out the front door, you’d face plant on the asphalt—the old Chevy had started to sputter and choke. As she steered toward the trash-riddled, nearly nonexistent shoulder, the dash lights flickered and the headlights dimmed. When she put on the brakes to stop the truck, the engine died and the world went black.
She even tried wiggling her fingers in front of her face and couldn’t see them.
So, there she was—in her dearly departed truck, on a desolate road, in the middle of nowhere.
She couldn’t sleep in the truck because it was only going to get colder. Maybe she could walk back to that little town. She didn’t remember seeing a restaurant or a gas station, but there had to be something. The prospect of stumbling through the misty drizzle that was currently falling gave her the chills.
When she finally cracked open an eye, she could just make out a dim light through the drippy gloom. Maybe it was a gas station or a house?
Or maybe she was in the opening scene of a horror movie.
She chuckled nervously about her overactive imagination and firmly shook those thoughts away. The bloodsucking monster had dumped her over a year ago—taking the rest of the vampires with him—and the furry, fanged monsters with fluffy tails were currently three thousand miles behind her.
Groping blindly across the seat, she found her phone and felt around until she hit the correct button.
It was only eight o’clock. Why was it so damned dark?
No signal—no nothing. She couldn’t even call Charlie and tell him he had been right about the truck.
Her lip began to quiver, and it had nothing to do with the damp chill that was seeping into the cab.
Getting a grip on herself, she raised her head, and forced her lips together to stop the worried tremor. It wasn’t a hopeless situation. She was a nineteen-year-old woman who had survived a vampire attack. She’d gotten over being thrown aside like trash by her first love. She had brought her slumping grades up and graduated, and decided to work a year before college.
She had altered her plans a smidge. Since her only real responsibility was herself, she could take some of her savings and blow it on a little road trip.
Driving from Forks, Washington to Florida wasn’t so little, however.
But, in the grand scheme of things, a broken down truck was only a minor inconvenience. She hoped.
Bella squinted through the mist-speckled windshield again and was relieved the faint glow was still there. Thinking that since she could see it, it wasn’t that far away, she decided to look for help.
At least the walk would keep her warm. Maybe.
After unbuckling the seat belt, she found her scarf, wrapped it around her neck, and tucked the fringes into her hoodie. She shoved her knit hat on and tugged her hood over it. It wasn’t easy since she couldn’t see, but she wrestled on her coat, zipped it, and shoved her useless phone into its pocket.
Taking a deep breath, she rummaged for the strap of her backpack, fumbled the keys out of the ignition, and then nearly fell out of the truck when she pushed open the door.
The night was blacker than black, but the pale light in the distance beckoned.
She pulled out her phone, hit the button to shed a little light on the road, and was on her way.
Afraid of tripping, she walked with a methodical, shuffling gait. It didn’t make her feel any better that she was wearing dark-colored blue jeans and a deep purple coat. If anyone did happen to drive by, she’d be invisible to them.
Until they hit her.
She banished the frightening thought and wiped the near-freezing mist from her face. It seemed as if the nasty weather had followed her all the way from Forks.
Bella almost cried when she finally made out the long, low, rectangular shape of a building and saw a neon “open” sign glowing redly in the single, wide window. It was surrounded by Bud Light posters, obscuring her view to the inside. She didn’t care that it was a bar; she broke into run, clutching her backpack to her chest.
She came to a skidding stop in the gravel in front of a concrete stoop. There was an old, warped, wood-framed screen door attached to an even more ancient-looking scuffed and rusted door that served as the main entrance. Examining the building more closely, she felt a twinge of nostalgia. The dull red siding and white trim reminded her of her old friend Jacob’s house.
Except he never had a vinyl, blaze-orange “Welcome Hunters” sign tied out front.
Determined to be brave, she told herself, if nothing else, it would be warmer and drier inside than outdoors, and there was probably someone who would help her. There were a couple pick-up trucks parked not far from the door, and the bare-bulb porch light and neon sign were on. She took them as good omens.
The rickety screen door squealed loudly as she opened it, and she glanced around nervously. The rusty hinges announced her presence better than any tinkling brass bells.
After stepping inside, she collapsed against the battered steel door as it clicked shut and breathed a sigh of relief as the welcome heat in the room engulfed her.
There was no one behind the bar to her left, so she inspected the rest of the wide open room. Despite the dim light, the first things she noticed were all the dead, stuffed animals hanging on the walls. Confederate and American flags, and the deer antlers adorned with two little Confederate flags, added to the “ambiance.”
On the farthest wall to her right, beyond the single pool table, and next to a chewed up dartboard, was a huge Confederate flag with a deer’s picture superimposed over the stars and bars.
Between the espresso-colored paneling and little round tables with chrome edges, the place looked like it hadn’t been updated since the mid-sixties or seventies. Despite the slipping-back-in-time appearance, everything seemed clean and didn’t smell bad.
Along the opposite wall were three doors. The first had a small round window. She assumed it was the kitchen because mounted next to it was a blackboard menu. The most prominent items were grits and eggs, biscuits and gravy, hot dogs, and … pepperoni rolls?
The doorway at the center of the wall had a beige curtain over it, and the farthest had a hand-lettered cardboard sign above it that read “restrooms.”
She dropped her backpack on the charcoal grey mat she was standing on and plucked the hood and her hat off her head.
She had just been in Ohio on her way to Pennsylvania. Rebel flags? Grits? And what were pepperoni rolls? Had she, somehow, been transported back in time and down south?
Did it get that cold down there? She’d never been farther east than Phoenix.
Just as she retrieved her phone from her pocket to check for a signal, a man backed through the kitchen door carrying a crate of beer.
He nodded at her in greeting. “Thought I heard somebody come in, but it’s too early for Steve yet. Shift ain’t over. Unless he quit again.”
Bella couldn’t help staring at him. He was gorgeous, even with the orange camo ball cap. He had pale blond hair that curled at the tops of his shoulders, dark eyes, and a beautiful smile.
She hadn’t expected anyone in a place like that to have all his teeth.
Silently chastising herself for her prejudices, she blinked and took note of the grey sweatshirt stretched over the man’s wide shoulders and his long, denim-covered legs.
The reddish-brown cowboy boots were a nice touch.
The bottles clinked together as the tall blond set down the crate and began lifting out the long-necks and stowing them under the shiny wooden bar.
“Can I help ya? Want a beer?”
After her crappy day, she could use a drink. Bella shook her head to make herself stop ogling the man. The way his muscles flexed under the sleeves of his sweatshirt was strangely fascinating. She tore her eyes away and happened to see an old-timey rotary-dial phone on the end of the bar—right next to a huge jar of pinkish purple pickled eggs.
“Uh, no. No, thank you. Um, can I use your phone? Mine doesn’t seem to be working.” She couldn’t stop her hands from attempting to smooth her hair away from her face.
Under the man’s curious gaze, she started fidgeting and shifting from foot to foot.
“That’s right. Cell phones don’t work out here unless you go up the mountain behind us. Then ya gotta face the North Star, balance on one foot, and raise your left hand above your head and shake it around,” he explained with a deep chuckle. “The land line hasn’t worked for a couple days. I reckon they’ll fix it soon. The last flash flood took out the lines in the next holler over. Happens all the time.”
Holler? Where the hell was she?
Then what the man had said sank in. There were no phones! How was she going to get her truck fixed?
Her shoulders slumped as the weight of her predicament came crashing down. “Oh, God! I am so lost, and I can’t even call my Dad. My truck broke down up the road … or maybe it’s down the road because I don’t even know what direction I was going because the GPS … I thought I was in Ohio, and I ended up in this … what kind of bar is this? What’s with the Confederate flags and the Welcome Hunters sign out front?” She angrily wiped at her blurring eyes. “I saw your front light and started walking in the stupid freezing rain because …” The back of her eyes were starting to burn, signaling the coming tears. She knew she was babbling, but she couldn’t halt the flood of words. Covering her face, she rasped out, “I have no idea where I am, and—”
“Hey, hey, hey,” the bartender said softly, trying to reassure the girl. He lightly patted her shoulder. “Come over and have a seat. I’ll get ya a cup of coffee or hot chocolate or somethin’.” He urged her forward as he scooped up her backpack. “I’ll just set this right here.” He placed the bag on the bar and helped her up onto a padded stool. “Take your coat off, honey, and set it down.” He made his way back behind the bar. “Usin’ a very loose interpretation of the word, this is just a regular ol’ beer joint. Me and my brother own it. Mostly, we get miners that stop by before or after their shifts. They have a couple beers, pop, or some coffee—get somethin’ to eat. And it’s almost deer season here in West, by God, Virginia. Damn near a state holiday.” He snagged a paper towel from the shelf behind him and held it toward her.
“Thank you,” Bella said through her sniffles.
“West Virginia? I thought I was heading for Pennsylvania.”
“Yup. North-central they call it. We’re about halfway between Mannington and Metz, so you’re a bit south of Pennsylvania. It ain’t hard to get lost out here. In fact, some folks come here to get lost. Maps aren’t too good and a lot of roads don’t have street signs.” Peter was peering over his shoulder at her as he grabbed a pot of coffee and a bottle of Jack Daniels.
“So I noticed,” Bella grumbled.
The man shrugged his shoulders apologetically. “My name’s Peter. What’s yours?” He poured the steaming coffee into a navy blue mug, and held up the whiskey with a question in his eyes. When she shook her head, he set the bottle aside, and produced a sugar bowl and spoon.
“B-bella.” She wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
“Nice to meet ya, Bella. Lemme join ya.” A matching coffee mug with a bright yellow WV emblazoned on it appeared and Peter splashed some whiskey into it. “Where ya from?” Peter asked with an encouraging smile as he presented her with a carton of chocolate coffee creamer. “Have some of this. Makes it just like a Starbucks Frappuccino. Only it’s warm and not as good.”
She peeked up at him and couldn’t resist returning his teasing smile as she dabbed at her eyes. She suddenly wished he would turn on more lights so she could get a better look at him. “I’m from Washington State.”
He glanced over toward the room he had come out of, pursing his lips. “Pretty far from home. Whatcha doin’ back east, if ya don’t mind me askin’? Got a job over this-a-way?”
“No. I was on my way to visit my mother in Florida, and I thought I’d take the scenic route.”
Peter’s grin grew, displaying dimples in his handsome face. “It don’t get much more scenic than the Mountain State.”
Bella saw his eyes flick to the side again and it occurred to her she must have been keeping him from stocking the bar or some other task. “I’m sorry. Am I keeping you from your work?”
“Now don’t you worry ‘bout that, though I do hafta check on the pepperoni rolls. I’ll bring ya one. They’re a delicacy, ya know.” He winked at her. “You drink your nice, hot Frappuccino, and I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Okay. But what about my truck … and what’s a pepperoni roll?”
“Pretty simple. Pepperoni slices rolled up in bread dough. Sometimes we add a little mozzarella. Ya roll ‘em up, brush the tops with butter, and bake ‘em. Folks tear ‘em up.” Before he stepped into the kitchen, he turned back. “We’ll figure somethin’ out about your truck.” Peter disappeared behind the swinging door.
Those rolls sounded good. Like pizza, but without the sauce. It had been a while since she’d eaten. She took a sip of coffee, and as the warm liquid flowed down her throat, exhaustion overcame her and she sagged against the rounded edge of the bar.
Bella was comfortably warm and unwound the scarf from her neck. She folded it into a neat pile on the gleaming surface of the bar, and then fluffed her hair, checking it in the mirror on the wall. She noticed a sign above the old fashioned cash register: Guns only have two enemies—rust and politicians.
West Virginia was certainly different from the Pacific Northwest.
After another sip of coffee, she decided to rest her head for just a minute—she was so tired. She didn’t even mind that all the beady-eyed animals seemed to be staring right at her. She folded her arms over the scarf and eased her head down. Peter would be back in a few minutes, and she was confident he would come up with some way to help her.
It was only a moment later when it felt as if someone was right next to her. She rubbed at her eyes as she lifted her head. She noticed Peter behind the bar just a few feet away. He’d changed his sweatshirt to a red plaid flannel shirt. She wondered why he hadn’t said something to wake her. “Where’s my pepperoni roll?”
Her heart nearly stopped when she realized it wasn’t him. “Who are …?”
She rubbed her eyes again and gaped in disbelief at the vampire. She never thought she’d see any of the Cullens again, and right in front of her was the one who had tried to take a bite out of her the year before, leaning casually on the wooden surface like he owned the place.
She must have fainted from shock because the next thing she was aware of was being held in Jasper’s strong arms. When her eyes fluttered open, she was staring at the ash grey T-shirt he was wearing under the flannel shirt.
The tousled blond hair, and hint of five o’clock shadow on his rugged jaw, were exactly the same as they had been the last time she’d seen him.
Intellectually, Bella knew vampires didn’t change physically. Their hair wouldn’t grow. They’d never develop crow’s feet or laugh lines—wouldn’t gain or lose weight. Knowing that, she was still amazed to see he was just as ethereally beautiful as he had always been, but something was … off.
Studying his full lips, she saw they were curved into a smirk.
She’d never seen that before.
His eyes …
She gasped and jerked in his arms, scrabbling at and clutching the open edges of the thick, plaid overshirt. Even in the dim light, she could plainly see the deep burgundy of a well-fed human drinker.
“J-J-Jasper?” she stuttered. “R-red eyes? I guess that means you didn’t decorate the place with all these animals?”
“No,” he answered quietly.
In her peripheral vision, she watched his left hand move to grasp the tab of the zipper on her hoodie and begin to inch it down.
She’d never been that close to him before. She was so astonished; her mind was misfiring as badly as her truck had. “W-where’s P—”
Snapping her mouth shut, she was struck speechless with the staggering revelation.
In the muted glow of the neon liquor signs and tiny spotlights above the bar, she hadn’t even suspected. She’d seen the scruff on Peter’s chin and cheeks, and had noticed that his eyes were dark. She had thought they were brown like hers. It never even entered her mind …
Peter had said he and his brother owned the place.
“P-Peter’s a vampire.”
Jasper cocked his head to the side, and his eyes narrowed slightly as he intently examined her. “Yes. He’s my brother.”
She squeezed her eyes shut and sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, biting down on it to keep from making any sound. Jasper was going to finish the job he’d started at her eighteenth birthday. He wasn’t able to reach her then, but there was no one in the isolated bar to stop him.
No one would ever know what happened to her. The last place her phone had actually worked was at a gas station back in Ohio, and the miserable weather wouldn’t hinder the vampires when they shoved her truck over a cliff.
Bella had to accept that, after so long, the supernatural had finally caught up to her, but she still tried to stall as long as possible.
“I … I thought you were with the C-Cullens because you didn’t want to kill people,” she whimpered. She wanted to hold him off, but she couldn’t bring herself to struggle. She knew it would be pointless.
“No. I never cared about humans that much.” His face moved minutely closer. “It was … the assault of their emotions as they were dying that affected me. Finding Alice did help. She was almost always happy, so being around her wasn’t unpleasant, and animal emotions are different.” He shifted even closer to her. “I wasn’t ever content or satisfied, but it was … better. Then you bled right in front of us. I could have handled that. After all, there was hardly a day that went by that some human at Forks High wasn’t injured in some fashion. But then Edward shoved you into that table to get you away from him. His overpowering craving for your blood … He wanted you so badly, I was overwhelmed.”
“What? He … he left me in the woods. He said he didn’t want me. I was no good—”
“Oh, he did want you. Or rather—your blood. It was one of the many lies he told you. Like you were forbidden to ever be alone with me because I was the newest vegetarian and would drain you.” A sardonic smile appeared on his face. “Your blood was the most wondrous thing Edward had ever found, and it was nearly impossible to resist. Your shielded mind was an added bonus. It gave him a moment of peace he could never otherwise have. After your birthday, he concluded he was going to lose the battle against his thirst for you. It was imperative he not disappoint Carlisle by killing the little human.” Jasper lowered his head until his mouth was at her ear, causing her to shiver. “Edward convinced daddy we were much too dangerous to be around you, and the whole family should leave to protect you—especially from me.” His lips brushed over her neck. “Another lie. It wasn’t me you needed protection from. As always, I knew they wouldn’t listen to anything I said, so instead of blaming Edward for his weakness, they blamed me. I’d had enough of Edward’s, and everyone’s, holier-than-thou bullshit and left.”
With his lips so tantalizingly close, Bella’s mind was spinning. Was everything Jasper implied about Edward and the Cullens the truth? Or was he manipulating her as Edward had?
When Jasper kissed her neck, her mind went blank and she froze in his arms, fearing he was finished talking and was going to end her.
She gulped. “You’re going to kill me.”
“No.” Then Jasper let out a throaty chuckle. “Not yet. It wasn’t only your blood I was hungry for.” He spread open her hoodie, and then loosened her fingers from their stranglehold on his shirt. He brought her fingers to his mouth and delicately kissed them.
She was too confused to even try to pull her hand away. “What … what do you mean?” Bella’s other hand tightened in the soft flannel and pushed against his chest. She had no idea what was going on—her thoughts were one big tangled knot—but she suddenly had the compulsion to touch him.
She wanted to see his mouth on her fingers again.
“You scent is so … enticing. I knew you would make either an extraordinary meal or an exceptional vampire, but Edward was never going to change you.”
He tipped his head down, his mouth pressed against the backs of her fingers, and he looked up at her. His eyes were as black as the night. “I’m going to taste the forbidden fruit.” He took her right hand and guided it slowly down his chest and stomach until he spread her fingers over his growing erection.
Bella’s breath caught in her throat when she felt how aroused he was. She’d never been in that position before, as much as she had wanted to be when she was with Edward. He had told her repeatedly it wasn’t possible.
Had Jasper been saying that he wanted her? Something flickered and caught fire in the pit of her stomach. Her mind was such a bewildered, jumbled mess, she couldn’t think of anything to say. “J-Jasper … what …?”
He moved his hips, compressing her hand between his rigid length and her thigh. He sighed into her hair and then nipped at the corner of her jaw.
“We both know you’re much smarter than that, Bella.” He licked her from her collar bone to just beneath her ear and slid his body over hers again. “I’ve been hard from the moment I caught your scent when you walked in here.”
“You can’t! Edward said—”
“Edward had no fucking clue what to do with the woman he had right in front of him. I can give you what he never would or could.”
Her heart leapt in her chest. “But Peter—”
Jasper’s lips silenced her. “Peter’s taking care of your truck. Bar’s closed.”
His sweet tongue slipped into her mouth as the fingers of his right hand curled at the back of her neck, gripping a handful of hair. He released his hold on her hand that he had placed on his dick, but she didn’t remove it. He groaned low in his throat when she tentatively squeezed him. “I knew I would find you again. Who knew you would come to me?”
In the blink of an eye, he shoved her jeans and panties down. His fingers were between her legs, touching and exploring like she had never experienced before. It sent a flash of heat through her body, joining the fire he lit in her belly.
His cool mouth and tongue were flames dancing over her skin, and she melted into him.
She could clearly recall how Edward’s timid and restrained kisses had excited her, but they were nothing compared to the hunger of Jasper’s. She groaned loudly as his fingers entered her, caressing her on the inside.
Of their own volition, her hands stroked him and then coasted over his muscled body, up his neck, and into his silky hair, and then burrowed under the soft flannel and around his back, trying to bring him even closer to her. She needed to have him closer.
She knew he could influence her emotions—he’d done it before—but she didn’t care if he was. She wanted him like she’d never wanted anyone.
When his teeth grazed the side of her throat, she threw her head back and moaned, bringing her thighs together over his hand.
Jasper’s fingers drew away. He forced her legs apart as he repositioned her on the barstool. She didn’t know when he had pushed his jeans down, but his smooth, naked hips were between her knees. His rapid breaths were panting over her hot skin. The warm, spicy perfume of his breath was saturating her mind. She was delirious with the scent of him.
“Look at me, girl.” His voice was low and rough.
Her eyes snapped open. She was mesmerized as he brought his long fingers to his mouth and licked them.
“You taste even better than you smell.”
Then he was kissing her, his tongue making love to her mouth. She tasted herself combined with his delicious flavor. She sucked at his tongue, begging for more.
She fought to hold him to her, but he easily pulled away. A lewd grin spread across his beautiful face. “Look at me,” he commanded. “I want to see the look in your eyes when I fuck you.”
Her eyes grew wide when his cool hardness pressed against her. He gradually entered her, spreading and filling her. She cried out in pleasure and pain.
His ebony eyes narrowed to glittering slits. “Am I your first?”
She could only nod jerkily at him. Despite the burning, she was suddenly afraid he would stop.
She prayed he wouldn’t.
It was as if smoldering embers burst into black flames behind his eyes. “Even better,” he growled, licking his lips. His jaw muscles flexed as he eased away from her and smoothly slid forward, filling her again. “Don’t close your eyes. Look at me. Feel me.”
His ravenous lust broke over her and sizzled through her veins, making her forget all about the moment of pain. She clutched at him desperately; her eyes never leaving his as he moved rhythmically inside her, each thrust fluid and unhurried. He licked his fingers again and then placed them on her clit, circling and rubbing, sending jolts of exquisite pleasure through her. She writhed under his gentle, sure touch and hissed, “Jasper!”
“I want you to scream my name.” His eyes flicked down to her heaving chest. “I should have taken all your clothes off, but I had to be inside you. That’s my girl. Fuck me back.” His tongue swept over her lips, and his fiery gaze bored into her. “I feel it. I feel you. You’re gonna cum all over me.” He eased back until only the head of his dick was encompassed by her contracting muscles. “So fuckin’ good. That’s right. Cum on me.”
His hips inched forward, sinking into her scorching, wet heat. She suddenly went rigid, screaming his name as her ecstasy sent shudders through her entire body.
Jasper bent over her, gasping at the sensations. “You’re squeezin’ my dick,” he grunted. “Almost fuckin’ Heaven.”
When her rippling inner spasms slowed, he snatched his hand away and gripped the edge of the bar. His other hand let go of her hair, and he braced it on the top of the bar—still holding her securely in place, but not tightly enough to crush her as his own powerful orgasm exploded within him.
“So worth it,” he murmured in her ear. He nuzzled her flushed cheek as her ragged breaths tickled his neck. “Your heart is pounding. I’m gonna miss that sound.”
Bella’s fingers fanned out over each side of his head. Her tear-filled eyes searched his. “You said—”
“I will give you everything Edward couldn’t,” he vowed.
“You … you’re going to change me?” she asked anxiously, fearing he would still kill her.
“Yes. You don’t need to worry about being a meal. You’ll be a remarkable vampire.”
With trembling hands, she urged his face closer to hers. “He … he said newborn vampires were out of control—blood-crazed.”
Arching one eyebrow, he said, “I’d prefer to think of it as wild and wonderful.”
She smiled as Jasper enfolded her deliciously spent form in his arms and held her tenderly to his chest. He kissed her under her jaw, and then his razor-like teeth sank into her throat.