“What is it with you vampires and dissing my choice of vehicle?” Bella left Peter standing there and stomped off down the gradual slope to her little red truck parked on the gravel shoulder.
“I didn’t really mean nothin’ by it, sugar. It’s just it’s … kind of small.”
“It suits me just fine, thank you very much!” Blood boiling, Bella tripped over a rock but quickly caught herself. She wasn’t nearly as clumsy as she had been. Thank God. To forestall a word vomit about Edward, and his constant disparaging remarks about her father’s gift, she locked her jaw down tight. She had loved that truck.
“Sounds like another story!” Peter beat her to the driver’s side door and opened it with a flourish. “Ya know you should lock the doors.”
“Locks only work against honest men,” she grumbled. “Honest humans,” she amended, remembering Edward had no problem getting into anything, but he hadn’t exactly been completely honest had he?
She dug her keys out of her pocket and held them up in front of Peter’s nose. When he didn’t immediately take them, she gave him a confused look. “Aren’t you going to insist on driving?”
“No, ma’am. It’s your truck. I was just bein’ polite.” When Bella climbed in, he shut the door, and then made his way around to the passenger side. After taking off his hat, he carefully folded his long body into the seat and pushed it back as far as it would go. He scooched down until his knees were braced against the dashboard and he was hunched over the hat in his lap. “I just took you for a Silverado kind of gal.”
Bella snapped her seatbelt into place, started the engine, and turned on the headlights, fighting to keep the amusement from her face at his obvious discomfort, even though he actually had plenty of head room. “Blue jeans and flannel shirts equal Chevys?” She checked her mirrors and pulled out onto the asphalt, making a U-turn to head toward home.
“Uh, somethin’ like that.” He faced forward and clasped his hands together on his knees, sitting stiffly. “A little close in here.”
Suddenly concerned, Bella hit the button on the door armrest to roll down the window. “My scent too much for you?” Why was she worried about whether he was comfortable or not? She had just been trying not to laugh at him having to fold himself in half to fit.
“Nah, I like it, you smell good. It’s just I’m practically sittin’ in your lap, which wouldn’t be a bad thing as far as I’m concerned, truth be told, but it might distract you from your driving.” The side of his mouth lifted in a half-smile.
Was he flirting with her again? Peeking at him from the corner of her eye, she decided to ignore the last part. She’d never admit it to him, but he smelled pretty damn good to her, too. “I used to have an old Chevy pickup. My dad bought it for me.”
“It’s obvious you’ve been in contact with my kind before. Right damn rude of ‘im to bite ya because he didn’t like your truck, if you ask me.”
“That was two different vampires,” Bella casually supplied. At the startled looked on Peter’s face, she laughed out loud.
She was still chuckling when Peter recovered and asked, “You knew two different—”
She drove cautiously around the first dog leg curve in the road, ever watchful for deer or other animals that might run into the road. “It was ten of them. A coven of seven, and then three nomads.” After another near hairpin turn in the road, she drove a bit farther and then bumped onto a gravel lane that could barely be seen in the dark, situated between some trees. “Two of those nomads are dead.” She took a quick glance at her silent passenger and, even in the dim lights from the dashboard, she spotted an unidentifiable emotion flash across his face.
She continued on past a white picket fence and around to the back of the little house. An outdoor flood light lit the area, and she parked, shutting off the engine.
“Well, this is my house,” Bella said with false brightness, trying to lighten the tension filling the cab. She unbuckled the seatbelt and opened her door, peering closely at Peter’s face when the dome light came on.
She would have sworn there was an angry cast to his handsome features, but it was gone too fast for her to be sure.
“Nice place ya got here.” Once again, he was out of the truck and standing on the porch before she had her keys out of the ignition.
Bella just shook her head as she walked up the steps to join him. Peter propped open the screen door as Bella unlocked and pushed open the crossbuck entry. “Here’s my kitchen. Have a seat while I make a cup of tea.”
She bustled about the kitchen area, keeping the work island between them, feeling his eyes on her the whole time. Studiously ignoring him while she waited for the water to boil, she nervously wiped down the counter and stovetop before fetching a mug from the cabinet and the canister of tea bags.
Once the tea pot began to whistle, she fiddled with the tea bag and mug as long as she could, but she couldn’t delay any longer. Making her way around the island, she noticed he had chosen her usual chair—the one against the far wall where he could see both the kitchen and living room, and the front and back doors. He had taken his hat off and placed it on the chair next to him at the little round table.
Setting her drink down, she pulled out the chair opposite him and dropped onto it. “So which story first?”
Hands folded over each other on the simple wooden table, Peter leaned forward with a small smile. “I wasn’t putting down your truck. Let’s start with that.” He sat back and draped his arm over the chair back, as relaxed as if he’d done it a hundred times.
After a sip of her tea, Bella wrapped her hands around the cup and rested her elbows on the dark wood. “I’ll sort of start at the beginning. My parents divorced when I was really young, and I lived with my Mom until I was seventeen. That’s when I moved in with my Dad, Charlie. He bought me this old, rusty truck as a welcome home gift, I guess. It was a 1953 Chevy and wouldn’t go over fifty miles an hour. It was built like a tank, and I loved it. It happened to die right in front of a Toyota dealer. That’s when I bought the Tacoma. If I’d had the money, I would have kept the Chevy and restored it. I just didn’t since I was going to school.”
She shrugged and took another drink. “Anyway, my boyfriend at the time didn’t like the truck. I guess it wasn’t good enough for him.” She couldn’t completely suppress the sneer. “He would make snide remarks and even offered to buy me a proper vehicle. His sister kept buying me these expensive designer clothes, and they both insisted I wear them. I suppose my clothing choices were beneath them as well.”
When Peter raised an inquisitive brow, Bella added, “That guy and his family were pretty well off. Everybody thought I was dating him for his money, but that wasn’t it.” Absently, she stirred the tea, staring down into the steaming liquid. “He didn’t care that I liked the truck or that it was a gift from my Dad, who wasn’t made of money. Dad bought it from a friend of his, and I think he did it to kind of help them out. His friend was confined to a wheelchair and wasn’t able to work his job anymore. It was just him and his son, and they didn’t have much.”
Peter just nodded. “That boyfriend sounds like he was a stuck up snob, and you’re better off. I also think there’s a whole lot more to that story.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Bella knew it was time to just spill it. Since she met Edward and the Cullens seven years before, she’d been living on borrowed time. Being a human, there wasn’t any way to keep ahead of the supernatural forever. She may as well just tell him and when she was done …
She didn’t know what happened to a person after they died, but she thought she would miss her job with the kids at the school. Regret filled her when she realized she wouldn’t be able to tell her father and mother goodbye. What would happen to her little house and her truck? Charlie and Renee would have to take care of them. Would all her stuff be hauled off to the landfill or Goodwill? Or would Peter take what he wanted and just abandon everything else?
Pressing her lips together in a thin line, she then blew out a breath. “That stuck up boyfriend was a vampire.”
Peter pursed his lips slightly and nodded. “I figured as much. And he was not the one who bit you,” he stated.
“Right.” Bella returned his nod and sipped at her tea again. Her throat had gone dry. She had to stop thinking about her parents, her career, her few possessions—every single one she had worked for and earned—and just get on with it. She really wasn’t afraid, but she hoped Peter would make it quick. “I met him in high school and knew there was something different about him and his family. Remember that guy I mentioned who my Dad bought the truck from? He’s the chief of a tribe of Native Americans. There’s something special about their tribe. Certain members are able to turn into werewolves.” Peter didn’t look the least bit surprised at that revelation. “I’d heard some of their legends when I was a kid.” She shifted in her chair. “They turn into wolves to keep vampires off their land.”
The vampire’s fingers tapped out a few staccato beats on the worn wood, the only sign of any kind of tension, but Peter just smiled, encouraging her to continue.
“He—the boy—took me to meet his family and to watch them play baseball. I’d figured out by then they were vampires from the legends I’d heard, so he thought he would introduce me to everyone. They only get to play baseball when there’s a thunderstorm, so—”
“They didn’t try to get ya to play did they?”
“Oh, no. I was an umpire with the … mother, I guess. Which I sucked at because they were moving so fast, I missed most of the actual game.” She tucked her hair behind her ear and wrapped her fingers around the mug again.
Lifting his arm from the back of the chair, Peter rested both forearms on the table between them, weaving his fingers together and pointing at her with his index fingers. “That boy ripped your heart out and stomped it into a million pieces. Then the whole coven left you high and dry.”
Bella gulped. “How … how do you know that?” Wide eyed, she looked up at the serious cast of his face and her gaze dropped back to the cooling mug.
“You just told me, sugar.” Peter stood from the table, placed his hat back on his head, and pushed his chair in. “That and you’re still a live human.” Without a sound, he moved at a human pace to the back door.
In disbelief, Bella just gaped at him. “You’re leaving?”
“Yep.” He reached for the door knob.
“I-I thought you … I mean, I—” Her chair scraping across the floor, she turned to face him completely. “I thought I was going to die.”
“I said I wasn’t gonna eat ya, and you got more stories.” His eyes moved to her hands and back to her face. “I’ll be back. I wanna hear ‘em.” Stepping through the door, he paused and turned back. A beaming grin spread across his face, and he winked at her. “They say the best way to get over a man is to get under another one.” He disappeared—the only sign of his passing was the fluttering of the curtains on the door.