After Peter left so abruptly, Bella just sat at her table, dumbfounded, mouth hanging wide open. She’d been sure she was going to die, even though she hadn’t told the story about the scar yet. Maybe he did want to hear it.
She still wasn’t certain if he was flirting with her, even with a line like that.
Why would he bother? He could have anyone he wanted.
So she smelled good. It wasn’t like she hadn’t heard that one before. Vampires were supposed to be so damn smart—couldn’t they come up with a better line?
Exhaustion draped over her like a thick blanket, and she was that close to lowering her head to the table to have a little nap. Unhappily, she knew if she did, she’d pay for it the next day with stiff, aching muscles.
If she woke up at all.
Groaning in frustration, she hoisted herself out of the chair and pressed her fingertips to her temples, staving off the threatened headache. She couldn’t decide if he was trying to seduce her with his quirky, down-home charm or if he was tenderizing her for his dinner.
Bella spent the next little while checking and re-checking the doors and windows, ensuring they were locked, and the curtains were tightly drawn. She grabbed a chair from the kitchen and carried it to her bedroom to brace it under the door knob.
Unbuckling her gun belt, she set it on the night table instead of storing it in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe like she usually did.
Another idea popped into her head when she was brushing her hair after a long hot shower. She’d take a couple of the long hairs from her brush and close them in the windows at the front of her room.
A little talcum powder on the sills would also let her know if anyone came in.
Shuddering with a sudden chill, she couldn’t believe she used to think Edward creeping through her window at night to watch her sleep was romantic. Anymore, the thought of it knotted her stomach and gave her the heebie-jeebies. She added a long-sleeve T-shirt over the Forks High gym shirt she normally slept in. It was cool for June—an old pair of sweat pants would go over the sleep shorts.
Okay, she was acting a little paranoid. Was it paranoia if someone really was after you?
When she finally got into bed, she pulled the light-weight quilt and top-sheet up to her chin and willed herself to relax enough to try and sleep.
She’d watched a show where the heroes used salt to keep the things that went bump in the night from coming in the room.
It was a shame that little helpful hint didn’t work in the real world.
But, maybe …?
She thought about the shotgun hidden by the front door, and then growled at herself in disgust. Nothing she had done would keep vampires out if they wanted to get in. A salt line around the perimeter of the floor wouldn’t even stop ants.
Flopping over onto her side, she pulled the blanket up over her head and peered at the windows.
Facing the windows meant the door was at her back. She twisted around until she could see it in the dim glow of the nightlight from her bathroom. The chair was jammed securely under the knob.
There was nothing else she could do.
She closed her eyes and hoped the night wouldn’t be filled with reruns of those nightmares she used to have.
Somehow, she fell asleep, but it had been anything but restful. At first, though she couldn’t make out any faces, her dreams had featured distorted images of hate-filled eyes—bloody crimson and bone-freezing ebony. She fled through gloomy, dank forests, unable to escape until the murky scene shifted and she was confronted with hard and unfeeling yellow eyes.
Typically a warm and happy color, she shivered with dread as they glinted coldly with a pale hint of green. They stared right through her as if she wasn’t there until recognition sparked in their cruel depths and they turned a malevolent shade. Running was pointless, but she did it anyway, struggling to break through brush and low limbs that raked at her hair and clothes.
She tripped and stumbled for miles through the heavily oppressive forest until eyes the color of deep red wine swam into view. Panting for air, she stopped, bracing her hands against the thick, rough trunk of a tree. She studied that new pair. They were kind and warm, and Bella wanted to get closer—see who they belonged to. Directly behind her, a branch snapped with a sharp crack.
She jerked awake, gasping for breath and fighting against the tangled sheet and blanket. Looking wildly around the room, her attention settled on the bench under her windows. Thankfully, no one was sitting there, watching her.
Heaving a sigh of relief, she wiped the sweat from her face with a sleeve and flopped back onto the pillows. Even more wrung out than when she’d gone to bed, she knew she’d never get back to sleep. The glowing red numbers on the alarm clock read four-eleven.
Apparently, it was time to get up and take another shower.
After turning on the bedside lamp, Bella stripped the bed of the sweat-soaked sheets and quilt and dropped it all on the floor. It was good day to do laundry and hang everything on the line after the sun came up.
Relieved the hairs were still shut in the windows, and the powder on the sills undisturbed, she grabbed some clothes out of the wardrobe and went into her bathroom.
Hours later, Bella was at the front of her house in the shade, on her hands and knees, kneepads in place, utterly decimating weeds and finally spreading around the bags of mulch she’d bought a couple weeks before. Hot, sweaty, and dirty, she was ready for a break.
She sat back on her heels and pulled off the purple floral-print garden gloves and wiped her hands on her shorts. Next off was the big, floppy pink hat, and she tossed it on the ground next to the gloves. She gazed around the compact yard and smiled at the riot of color of the flowers and the little patch of green lawn enclosed by the vinyl picket fence. There’d been no rhyme or reason to it all—she just planted what she liked—mostly perennials and a few bright annuals. Unfortunately, the deer appreciated most of them as well. The fence helped to keep the voracious creatures out, and it was just so darn cute.
Farther down the yard toward the road, she’d sown seeds for a butterfly and hummingbird garden. It was wild and messy and colorful, and she loved it.
The smile turned bittersweet when she remembered it would most likely be the last time she would be able to work in her gardens. She hadn’t even gotten a tomato yet from the little vegetable patch out back.
Easing off her legs so she was sitting, she peeled back the Velcro straps of her kneepads and placed them next to the hat, gloves, and hand tools she’d been using. She might not have much time left, but she would try to enjoy it. Lying back in the soft grass, she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Feeling the warm summer breeze, she could smell fresh green grass and the delicate flowers, and there was a hint of sweet honeysuckle. Something else she couldn’t identify tickled at her memory and she breathed even more deeply to pull in the scent. The contact with the earth seemingly drained the tension right out of her and she sighed in bliss. She’d load everything in her wagon and put it away later.
The idyllic moment didn’t last long. Instinctively, she felt eyes on her and knew she was being watched. The shotgun was in the house, along with her pistol—out of reach. The only nearby weapons were the little garden implements. Straining to hear anything besides the birds off in the woods or the line of trees to the east, she cautiously reached for and grabbed the closest tool, sat up, and rolled to her left, holding the little spade out in front on her like a knife.
Peter, cowboy hat sitting jauntily on his head and thumbs hooked in his pockets, was standing in the gravel driveway, sun shining and glittering off his bare forearms.
Struck dumb at the sight, Bella could only sit there, gaping at him. Obviously, her mind was a sieve because she recalled Edward’s exposed skin having a harsher sparkle. At the time, Bella had believed it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Then there was Peter. His arms glistened radiantly in the midday …
It was more like mid-afternoon. How long had she slept?
No more than a few hours. Fleetingly, the thought ran through her mind she was glad she’d been in the shade.
How long had he been standing there?
She lowered her make-shift weapon to the grass. Peter just watched her, not saying a word.
Attention recaptured by the golden shimmer, Bella wondered, since he was a vampire like Edward, why did he look so different? If he took off his hat and shirt, would his body have the same captivating gleam? And the rest of his clothes …
Shaking her head and tearing her eyes away from him, she couldn’t believe she was thinking that way. He showed up to get the rest of the story and then that would be it for her.
All vampires were beautiful. Or that’s what Edward had said, claiming it was part of the allure to draw in their prey. Except for James, who, compared to the usual standard, had been rather plain for a vampire. Or were the Cullens all exceptionally pretty? She glanced down to the scar on her right arm and back up to Peter.
Head cocked to the side, one eyebrow raised, lips curved in an arrogant smirk, arms crossed over his wide chest—he was pretty, and he knew it.
Though pretty wasn’t the right word.
Bella wrinkled her nose and frowned at him. “Come back for more stories?”
“Sure did.” He walked toward her, braced one hand on a post, and hopped the low fence as if it was nothing.
She should be scared, but she wasn’t. Resignation was the dominant emotion, besides intrigue about her guest. Who he was, who he had been, where he came from.
“I have to put my things away and get a shower—I’m all grungy from—” She waved her hand toward the tools and empty mulch bags. She didn’t want to die all stinky.
“I’ll help ya.”
He was in the shade of the house and his forearms weren’t quite as distracting as they had been, but it was a near thing.
What was it about men’s forearms?
Bella squeezed her eyes shut and started to get up off the ground and her right leg gave out. Over the last few years, the other injury she had received from the nomad James had been giving her a little trouble. An ache from the cold or rainy weather was expected. Not holding her up was a whole new thing.
Peter was right there, a hand at each shoulder, supporting her. “Bum leg or did it fall asleep?”
His cool hands gripping her upper arms, and being that close to him, was a little overwhelming. “Uh …”
That unidentifiable scent. She should have recognized it. It was Peter. She should have remembered from sitting next to him in her truck, but she’d rolled the window down for him and had been preoccupied slightly by running across yet another vampire and not being dead.
She couldn’t find her voice until he took his hands away. Flustered, she backed away from him and almost fell over the wagon. “Er, that’s part of the story.”
“I saw the scars.” Taking her hands to steady her, the warm garnet of his eyes held her motionless. “You just sit tight. I’ll get your stuff.”
When everything was in the wagon and he was pulling it toward the gate on the far side of the yard, Bella tested her leg and hurried after him. “I’ve got sheets and stuff on the line …”
“I’ll get them, too. This stuff goes in the shed out back?” Peter waited and then latched the gate behind her.
He was being so nice and polite. Again, she should have been afraid, but she was actually grateful for his help. Then she remembered what else was on the clothesline and blushed scarlet. “N-no, I’ll get the laundry.”
Little red wagon bumping along behind him, Peter looked over his shoulder at her, the corners of his twinkling eyes crinkled with humor. “Embarrassed? Don’t be, sugar. I’ve already seen your panties. I like ‘em. Can’t wait to see ‘em on ya.” He winked at her. “And take ‘em off.”