Bella’s mind wandered over the last several years, reclining in her Special Sitting and Thinking Spot. Yes, she mentally capitalized the name. It was the middle of June, but the night air was cool. She tugged the old flannel shirt she’d snagged from her father a little tighter around her.
She wasn’t real sure why she had chosen to move to Tennessee. In hindsight, seemingly serendipitous decisions had led her there.
After Edward had gifted her with shredding what was left of her self-esteem to ragged ribbons, and abandonment, for her eighteenth birthday, she had been inconsolable. Bereft. Grieving as if someone more dear to her than life had died.
A few months later, during a cold snowy day in January, almost a year to the day since she’d moved to Forks, she snapped out of it. He hadn’t cared about her at all, but she could care about herself!
There had been a rather bitter month or three where revenge on Edward had been at the forefront of her mind and at the top of her list. She struggled, but she managed to not go to the Cullen house and break things or set fires. Or both.
Primarily because she could never figure out how to get away with it and keep it from her dad, Charlie. Being the local police chief’s daughter had a few disadvantages.
She sighed and shifted her position against the tree she was using as a back rest and peered off to the east a bit, waiting for the night’s first train to make its appearance.
The moon was three quarters full and once her eyes had adjusted, she could see fairly well, though the white moonlight washed all color away. Everything shone in shades of white, grey and black. Farther north, out beyond the paved road that had seen better days, and the two sets of parallel train tracks, she could just make out the soft gleam of the fresh concrete of the Dixie Highway Bridge. She missed the previous one. Something about the old-fashioned steel-girder suspension bridge had drawn her in, with its wide, thick iron beams that were riveted and welded together. It had looked strong and sturdy—like it could hold up to anything.
Anything but time.
Tennessee was quite pretty with its rolling hills, and she really enjoyed her job as librarian at Bridgeport Elementary. She loved her cute little house at the dog-leg curve on Pig Trot Road.
Every time she thought of the name, she’d chuckle again. A giddy sort of glee filled her each time she wrote the address on something.
She’d practically dissolved into hysterics when the first box of checks had arrived.
Her house was only a little white cottage—with red shutters, two bedrooms, and two baths, but it was all hers. It suited her to a T. She especially enjoyed the back porch. It was just the place to sip a cup of coffee and greet the new day. It was rather isolated, being surrounded by forest and farmland, but that was what she liked about it when she saw it online. It had recently been put on the market when she began looking. She took it as a sign.
Like when her old Chevy finally died and left her stranded right in front of a Toyota dealer. The little red, extended-cab Tacoma sitting front and center caught her eye. When a beam of sunlight peeked through the clouds, the chrome bumper winked and sparkled at her and Bella was hooked. It was a leftover from the previous year, but she didn’t care. Charlie helped her buy it.
All-in-all, she was rather proud of herself. She was going to be twenty-five in a few months and she had a pretty good job and owned her own home. Of course, not having any kind of social life throughout high school and college had allowed her to put away a decent amount of money for a down payment. And Charlie co-signing the mortgage hadn’t hurt. It was just a year later she refinanced it into her own name.
As much as she liked her house and the solitude, it didn’t hold a candle to the Special Sitting and Thinking Spot.
After the cross-country trip and moving in, she’d been driving along one evening, trying to learn her way around the rural town, and chuckling over the name of her home street again, when a train went chugging by on tracks that ran parallel to the pavement. She still couldn’t understand why, but the sight and sound of the massive, slow-moving engine pulling huge boxcars called to her. She had immediately pulled over and parked. Being dusk she could barely see, so she grabbed the flashlight out of the glovebox, hopped out of the truck, and made her way uphill through the open field to the tree line and sat down.
It had never even entered her mind she was trespassing on somebody’s property. She’d sat there for hours that first night as the bright moon ascended and sailed through the star-filled sky. The train’s steady movement and rumbling clickety-clack had been hypnotic and oddly restful. After it had disappeared to the west, it wasn’t long before another had come into view. She didn’t make it back home until well after midnight.
Watching the trains had become a ritual—her own form of meditation—and she looked forward to it during the times when the moon was brightest. She’d even taken Charlie once during his visit the previous summer. After he stopped worrying about being shot by an angry farmer, he had enjoyed it as much as she did. He’d said it was almost as much fun as fishing.
High praise from Charlie.
There was no need for her mother’s burning incense, chunks of crystals, or unusual instrumentals. Bella’s heart rate slowed with the lulling cadence of the steel wheels’ rhythmic pace, and the high-pitched peeps and trills from insects, amphibians, and birds were the perfect musical accompaniment. Even the trains’ deep whistle struck a chord within her. It was a lonely, mournful sound. Perhaps that was what drew her. She had to admit she was a little lonesome at times, but overall, she was content.
Bella sighed quietly again and redirected her thoughts to happier subjects.
School was out for the year, and it was two weeks before the summer school session started. She’d be back in her library soon enough. She’d never wanted kids of her own, but she really enjoyed sharing her love of reading with the young ones. It was especially satisfying when she’d discover the one thing a child who said they hated to read was interested in. She’d show him how to find out more about his favorite baseball player, superhero, or musician, and another book lover would be born right before her eyes.
Breathing in the warm earthy fragrance of the land and small forest at her back, a peaceful serenity filled her as she patiently waited for the first iron horse to trundle by. Until she heard the sharp snap of a twig breaking somewhere in the trees behind and to her left.
She opened her eyes a crack and peered down the hill toward the road and railroad tracks, and slid the heavy revolver from the holster on her left hip. Its load should knock down just about anything.
A few years before, her sense of self-preservation had finally kicked in. When Charlie had insisted she take the NRA Gun Safety course and get a concealed carry permit, she jumped at it. He’d bought her a 12 gauge shotgun to keep in the house, but she’d picked up the handgun for when she was train watching. It was much easier to haul around. She thought the black leather belt and holster made her look a little badass, too. They were both plain, but she’d made them herself from kits she’d bought online.
She desperately hoped the sound was a bunny and not a rabid raccoon. Even a deer would be preferable. All she’d have to do was stand up and it would probably run away.
A person, or a vampire, would run right at her.
Since she had moved so far from Forks, she hadn’t thought very often about Victoria, who’d found some bizarre pleasure in taunting the Quileute wolves, but the red-haired vampire was never too far from the front of her mind.
Knowing a gun wouldn’t hurt her, Bella fervently prayed if it was Victoria, being fired at would stun her long enough for Bella to try and run. Not that she could ever outrun the bitch.
A jolt of fury at Edward shot through her. There were times when she could almost understand Victoria’s unending need for revenge. She forced the thoughts away. She had to keep her wits about her.
She heard a faint shuffling in the leaves, coming from the same direction as the snap. She inhaled deeply and rolled, straightening her legs, propping her elbows on the ground, and taking a firm hold of the rubberized grip with both hands. One finger was poised over the trigger.
She left the little flashlight in her pocket, remembering that Charlie had told her it would help her to see, but it could also make her a target.
The moon was full enough she could discern shafts of slightly less black in the woods.
When a human-shaped shadow, wearing what appeared to be a cowboy hat, broke away from a wide tree trunk, sweat beaded on her upper lip and a cold chill shivered down her back. Her breath left her in a rush. “Stop!”
The man jerked to a halt, half in and half out of the moonlight. His hands came up level with his head.
“I ain’t gonna hurt ya, honey,” he said cautiously, his voice low.
“What are you doing out here?” Bella sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and bit down, trying to keep herself from hyperventilating. She’d never pointed a gun at a person before, though she had fantasized, more than a few times, about shooting Edward just because.
The man shifted sideways into the moonlight until all of him was revealed by the soft white light. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“I came out here to watch the trains. Is this your land?” Bella blurted and instantly regretted it. She could have kicked herself! She’d just admitted she was trespassing!
“No, ma’am. I suspect this isn’t your land either.”
He was about twenty feet away, but she clearly saw the shrewd curve of his mouth beneath his cowboy hat. A wave of annoyance washed over her and she lowered the barrel just a hair.
The smile fell from his face and his hands dropped to cover his groin. “Okay, look, sugar. I didn’t—”
“Reach for the sky, partner. I didn’t say you could put your hands down.” Bella waggled the gun at him.
His hands shot back up and he gulped. “Uh, why’s a purty thing like you sittin’ out here all alone?”
Bella raised the barrel back up and peered down the sights. If he lunged at her, she’d put all five shells dead center of that plaid shirt he was wearing.
“Uh, you like trains?” The man shifted uneasily from his right foot to his left. “I like ‘em, too. Ever since I was young. I don’t know anything about ‘em, but I do like to watch ‘em and this seemed like a good place with the road right by the double tracks.” He shifted again and nervously cleared his throat, the young woman’s silence unnerving him. “Uh, I won’t hurt ya, I swear. I just wanted to … uh, maybe you’d like some company while you’re waitin’ for ‘em? I mean, do you come here often?” He cringed, squeezing his eyes shut and sucking air in through his teeth. “I didn’t mean—”
Bella cracked a grin at the man’s obvious discomfort. “Are you trying to pick me up?”
“No! Wouldn’t dream of it!”
Bella thought about that for a moment and decided she was a little offended. “Why not?”
“What?” he asked, his dark eyes going wide. “It’s not like I wouldn’t try, you bein’ all attractive and stuff, but I usually pick women up in bars, and they ain’t holdin’ me at gun point. Not that it isn’t a very nice gun,” he added quickly, still attempting to placate her. “Sharp lookin’ weapon. And … and very large, too. I like the brushed stainless over the blued or chromed myself. Is it a Judge? I like those. Been wantin’ one.”
Bella’s smile grew wider. He’d identified her Taurus Judge and he’d said she was attractive. She took a second look at him and decided she liked his ruggedly handsome face, that shadow of stubble on his jaw, and the long, pale hair that reached his shoulders. Quite a bit different from the eternal teen with his short reddish hair and the perfectly smooth, boyish face. The way he was prattling on and on was kind of adorable. “You know you’re babbling, right?”
He coughed out a breath. “Ain’t every day a fella has a pistol aimed at his manhood. Bound to make anybody a might apprehensive.” He turned his head and studied her from the corner of his eye. “What ya got it loaded with?”
“Triple aught shells.”
He nodded thoughtfully, pursing his lips. “Those’d blow a few holes through somethin’.”
Not two minutes before, Bella was in fear for her life, and there she was, fighting to hold in a giggle. Well, she was presently holding all the cards … and the gun. An unfamiliar sense of power coursed through her. She had to admit she liked it. The pistol lowered incrementally until it was pointed at the ground.
“Ya know, I was thinkin’,” the blond began as his hands casually drifted down until they were even with his slim waist. “This could be the start of a beautiful friendship. We already got a few things in common.”
“And what would those things be?” Bella asked, cocking her head to the side but keeping the gun at the ready.
“We both like to wear blue jeans and plaid shirts.”
“Who doesn’t like to wear that?”
“Stupid people, I expect,” he answered drolly.
Good answer. After her experience with Alice and all the haute couture, most of it hideous, Bella had to agree with him, though she didn’t say so out loud.
The man could be an ax murderer on the prowl for his next victim, but she couldn’t resist asking, “What else?”
“We like watchin’ trains in the moonlight and have an appreciation for fine firearms.” His tentative smile returned.
Bella decided she liked the way his lips curved when he smiled. She also came to another decision. She’d been closer to death more times than she cared to think about, and she might be teetering on the edge again, but maybe the guy was a little lonely, too. Why else would he be out in the middle of nowhere, saying he liked trains?
Maybe he sat and thought about the cities they might be going to, or the beautiful countryside they were traveling through.
Maybe he wanted to be able to share the simple, unpretentious experience. Maybe he just wanted someone to share it with.
Against her better judgement, she found him to be more than a little appealing. There was something about that country boy charm.
Bella narrowed her eyes at his tall figure. “You’re not an ax murderer are you?”
“No, ma’am.” His expression grew hopeful. “I can honestly say I never killed anyone with an ax.”
Why did she believe him?
“Okay, then.” Bella gave him a sharp nod. “We can train watch together. I think I hear one.”
“It’d be a whole lot easier to talk if I could come a little closer.”
As she sat up and resumed her position against the tree, and rested the pistol across her lap, Bella waved him over.
He cautiously walked toward her and sat down on the ground a few feet away. Crossing his legs, he rested his hands on his knees. “So, uh, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
She couldn’t help chuckling at the mischievous look on his face. “I’ve got a gun pointed at you and you’re flirting with me? Using old pick-up lines?”
“Well, I’ve had more than a few folks say I didn’t have the sense God gave a goose.” He leaned toward her. “I’m hopin’ my manly good looks will work for me.”
As she laughed and shook her head at his audacity, he leaned closer. “And I know a pretty girl when I see one.” He extended his hand. “The name’s Peter, by the way.”
“Pretty confident, aren’t you?” Not quite ready to give up the hold on her gun, she reached for his hand with her left. “And I’m Bella. Nice to meet you, Peter.”
She froze when she felt the familiar hard skin she would never forget. Time seemed to slow to a crawl even as her thoughts began racing when his cool fingers enveloped her hand.
She looked down at their joined hands and back up to his eyes. Funny how no matter how bright the moon, she wasn’t able to distinguish colors. She’d assumed his eyes were brown like hers. Were they a deep burgundy or were they black with thirst?
She was sure he hadn’t been lying about never killing anyone with an ax. He wouldn’t need any weapons at all.
He’d done a good job of convincing her he was afraid of being shot.
The train they’d been waiting for finally came around the bend from the east. Bella glanced toward it wistfully; saddened that it would be the last one she ever saw.
She could almost hear Charlie’s voice in her head saying, “I told you so. You shouldn’t be out in the dark like that alone.”
Only he’d been worried about wild animals like coyotes or bears.
She let out a resigned breath. “You’re a vampire.”
The engine passed directly in front of them, and Bella found herself disarmed and flat on her back, Peter hovering above her. She wondered if that was his real name, but what difference would it make? He held both of her hands down on her stomach with only one of his. Her legs were free, but she didn’t bother trying to kick him to get away.
She was only mildly concerned about where his hat had gone.
There was no point in screaming—no one would hear her. It wouldn’t make a difference if anyone did.
She should have realized, with as good looking as he was, he’d have no problem finding company when he wanted it, and she had been sucked in again by supernatural beauty, even if he wasn’t as pretty as the Cullens had been.
It was only a matter of time and her time had run out. She’d always assumed Victoria would be the one to catch up with her, not some random cowboy vamp. Or one pretending to be a cowboy.
The rigid tension left her and she deflated beneath him. “I can’t fight you off. You may as well just go ahead and drain me. Get it over with.”
“I was thinkin’ about it. You smell delicious.” The flirtatious smile gone from his handsome face, he studied her with a calculating eye. “Then I saw that bite,” he said, his voice low. Gradually, he released her hands and pushed the cuffed sleeve up her right forearm. “Made me curious. I figured you were a smart one, but only someone who’s a fighter would have a scar like that and survive to tell the tale.” His fingertip traced over the old silvery mark. “Or maybe you’re just real damn lucky.”
“If I was so damn smart, how come I didn’t realize you were a vampire?” Bella scoffed, her tone full of acid. “And lucky? Here I am, smelling all yummy and about to be eaten by a vampire. Again.”
“I ain’t gonna eat ya. You got a story I wanna hear and we got night trains that need lookin’ at.” His shining hair fell into his face when he tilted his head downward, and his grin grew wide. “I think I’ll keep ya.”