“Ruined the mood?” Bella snatched her hands from his and climbed awkwardly to her feet, steadying herself against the cupboards. Hand braced on the top, she scrambled around the island, and away from Peter, to the opposite side of the L-shaped kitchen area and yanked open the drawer at the end of the counter.
Grumbling heatedly to herself, Bella rummaged through it, and pulled out a screwdriver, a pink-handled mini-hammer, and a roll of duct tape, slapping each down on the counter. A little rectangular Tupperware container rattled as it hit the floor. The top had “keys” scrawled across it.
A ball of string bounced and went rolling into the living room.
“What’s that you’re lookin’ for, sugar?” Peter asked from behind her. Still on the floor between the work island, and the refrigerator and stove, he’d twisted around so he could see what she was doing.
“Here it is!” Bella spun toward him, hair flying around her shoulders. A shiny, chromed pistol was aimed right at him.
Watching her every move, Peter rose warily to his feet, one hand extended toward her.
“Uh, you know those don’t work on us.” Peter gestured at himself. “Bullet proof. The most you could do with that is put a hole in my shirt.”
“Oh, yeah?” She pulled the trigger and a six-inch flame shot out the barrel.
Half scared out of her mind, half determined to fight to her very last breath, Bella was pleased to see her grip was rock steady.
Peter’s eyebrows crept up his forehead in astonishment. Speechless for several long seconds, he considered her thoughtfully, his eyes taking on a bright gleam.
Fingers spread wide, he extended both hands, palms facing her. “Where’d you get that, sugar?”
“My friend Jacob gave it to me when I got my gun permit. He said I probably needed a flame thrower, but it was the best he could do. It was a joke. Ha ha,” she explained in a rush, tone flat and humorless. She shuffled stiffly backwards until she bumped into the drawer, shutting it. “I know your venom is flammable.”
Peter’s eyes narrowed shrewdly. “You’d have to get to it first,” he replied, his voice low and smooth. “Ya sure ya wanna do that?”
Bella shook her head, never taking her eyes off him. “I-I don’t want to hurt you, Peter, but I—”
The narrow jet of fire sputtered and died, and Bella’s mouth dropped open. She held the pistol upright and stared in disappointed shock at the end of the barrel. She pulled the trigger and nothing happened. Snapping her mouth shut, she pointed it at Peter and tried again. The impotent clicks echoed sharply throughout the room.
After shaking it vigorously and pulling the trigger again, with no results, she blinked a few times, pressed her lips tightly together, and exhaled slowly through her nose. “I only used it a couple times to light candles and to start the fire in the pit out back.”
Her shoulders slumped and she folded in on herself, the fake gun lowering in slow motion.
Stretching his arm to the limit, Peter delicately plucked the novelty lighter from her grasp and placed it as far from her as he could on the opposite end of the counter.
The last of the iron will that had held her up melted away and her strength was gone. She slid to the floor for the second time, the back of her head thumping against the cupboard. She drew her knees up and closed her eyes. “You aren’t going to say something about me being foolish or silly?”
“No. There’s nothin’ foolish or silly about ya. Like ya said, you can take care of yourself.”
He sounded so close, Bella cracked open an eye. Peter was crouched on the floor right in front of her. Like before, he looked troubled and anxious. Why? All out of options for anything she could possibly use as a weapon against him, she was at his mercy.
“But not against a vampire,” she whispered, defeated. She squeezed her eyes closed and rested her arms on her knees.
“No, not against a vampire,” he agreed sadly. He cleared his throat and inched closer. “Bella, I guess I’m not speakin’ plain enough. Or you aren’t hearin’ what I’m sayin’.”
Her eyes snapped open when his cool fingertips traced faint lines from her elbow to her wrist.
“I told ya, from the first moment I smelled ya, I didn’t care who you were, I had to meet ya. I needed to. I couldn’t stay away.” He swallowed thickly. “The more I learned about ya, the more I wanted to know.” With one fingertip, he traced the scar on her wrist and then encircled it with his large hand, hiding it from view. “There ain’t many in this world with the balls to stand up to me like you just did.” He blew out a breath. “Just like I knew you were, you’re a fighter. The more I see and hear, the more I know I want to be with you.”
A couple other vampires had said they wanted to be with her. When she tried to pull her hand away, Peter wouldn’t let go. “You want to be with me?” Scorn dripped from her words. “I’ve heard that before, too. One said he loved me, the other claimed I was her best friend. Vampires lie.”
An instant of hurt flashed across his face. “I know you don’t know me from Adam, but I ain’t lyin’ to ya, sugar. Here. Stand up.” He tugged her to her feet and led her over to the table, directing her to the seat with the full view of the rooms. “I know that’s your regular spot. Your scent is strongest on that one.” He took his hat from the chair next to her, tossed it onto the coffee table in the living room and sat down, taking her right hand again. His eyes were shiny with venom. “Vampires can and do lie, but I ain’t lyin’ about this. I guess all I can do is show ya I mean what I say.”
“Mean what you say? Like when you said you wanted to change me?”
“So you did hear that.”
“Yeah, I did, and here I am—still human. So you lied. Or …” she raised her head and peered down her nose at him suspiciously, “you don’t want to because you believe that would damn my human soul to Hell.”
The soft red of his eyes took on a hard edge. “After I got turned into this, I didn’t believe in nothin’ but my own self and my sire, sugar.” He glanced away and shook his head. “And I don’t know if he’s worth believin’ in anymore. Haven’t talked to him in a while.” He took a deep breath and looked at her from the corner of his eye. “I know he ain’t worth the waste of breath right now.”
Peter scooted his chair a little to face her squarely. “I didn’t lie about wantin’ to change ya to be like me, but I found I wanted to know more about ya. The more ya talked the more I wanted to know. You survived meetin’ vampires. That’s a story I wanna hear, and you might forget it durin’ the burn. You might, but I’ll remember. Tell me everything. I’ll remember it all for you.”
In a movement too quick for her to follow, Peter was on one knee beside her, pressing her hand to the center of his chest. His words came faster, taking on more urgency. “Those vampires lied to you. I think they nearly destroyed you, but you didn’t give up. You scraped their shit off, got back on your feet, and made a life for yourself. A life I wanna be part of.”
Reticently, as if afraid she’d refuse; he reached forward with his right hand and caressed her cheek with his knuckles. “I’m askin’ if you’ll let me share it. My life now ain’t so bad, but it would be so much better with you in it.”
His eyes, his voice, his very posture—everything about him—was pleading with her to allow him in, and, against her better judgment, a tiny seed of compassion sprouted within her.
Until she vehemently squashed it.
Despite her doubt, his touch was welcome and oddly comforting. It felt good … right. She could still feel the feather light kiss on her hand from when they’d met the night before. As much as she relished the contact, almost craving the physical connection with him, she turned her face away. A single tear spilled down the cheek where the sensation of his touch still lingered.
He sounded so sincere, but how could she trust anything he said? She had believed the others had cared and they’d all left without a trace. Perhaps she had read more into it than was actually there, naively trusting Edward’s extravagantly poetic, but empty, proclamations of devotion, and Alice’s enthusiastic declarations of undying friendship.
Their utter indifference to her feelings and opinions, and their desertion, had spoken louder than any words they’d used. She definitely got the message about what they really thought of her—loud and clear.
Edward’s piety and fear for her soul had been just another act in his performance.
Well, ye shall know them by their fruits and all that.
Their fruits had practically spoiled the whole barrel. She had to try and remember Peter was not Edward Cullen. Was she willing to give him a chance?
Actions did speak louder than words, and Peter’s, so far, had been nearly diametrically opposed to theirs. He’d whined a little about the size of her truck, but he hadn’t tried to talk her into getting rid of it or offered to replace it with something he thought was better.
He hadn’t brazenly insinuated himself into her every waking, and sleeping, moment. As far as she could tell, he hadn’t even been in the house until she allowed it.
He hadn’t said, or even implied, her choice of wardrobe, house, job … food … were less than adequate or not up to the correct standard.
He hadn’t swept into her life like a tornado and tried to take over and change everything about her.
He’d asked to share.
The Cullens, Edward and Alice especially, had seemed like a fantasy beyond her wildest dreams. It had all been surreal.
Peter had been coarse and a bit crude … more than a little suggestive. Slightly arrogant, but without tearing anyone else down. He hadn’t tried to impress her with pretentious, flowery speech, grandiose promises, or lavish spending.
She peeked at him through her lashes and took the time to really examine his clothes. His T-shirt was thin, like he’d had it a long time. She’d noticed earlier his jeans were Wranglers. They were a little dirty, the bottom hems were frayed, and they were faded from repeated wear and washings—not strategically applied chemicals. He probably even wore his clothes more than once. His boots were broken in and well worn. They might even be his favorites.
He reminded her more of the nomads than the Cullens. Anyone would think they were models who’d just stepped off the runway. You didn’t dress like that in Forks, Washington and expect to be inconspicuous.
The front the Cullens showed the world was an improbable fairy tale.
Peter was real.
He had told her he wanted to change her into a vampire. Edward never had. Did she even want that? Did she even have a choice? She looked down at the scar on her wrist, her hand still enveloped in Peter’s.
Logically, no. If Peter just disappeared, as a human, she’d spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder and alone. She wouldn’t want to subject anyone else to her bizarre, and deadly, burden.
Maybe the only choice was to step forward boldly instead of with the attitude she was giving up. Look at it as an opportunity to stand up to the supernatural rather than sitting around and waiting for the supernatural to obliterate her.
When she had spoken, Peter hadn’t brushed off anything she’d said. He hadn’t even interrupted her. He had patiently waited for her to continue—just as he was at that moment. No demands, no arguments, no childish wheedling—just waiting.
She had been lonely.
It certainly didn’t hurt that he was rather attractive.
Her silent regard followed the sinewy muscles of his arm until her gaze met his.
Again, she was struck by how kind and gentle deep red eyes could be. Was that hope, and maybe some expectation, she saw in their jeweled depths?
Could she take a chance on him? If he turned her—if she didn’t actually die—and he left her on her own, she vowed she would figure out how to survive, and she would track him down and beat his ass. It didn’t matter how long it took.
If she died, she wouldn’t be around to care would she?
With another quick look at the silvery, hardened scar on her arm, a flicker of anger reignited within her. Finding that animal-drinking coven just got shoved to the top of her list. Maybe she’d have a chance at putting Edward in her sights and pulling the trigger. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would send a message.
Peter must have sensed the subtle change. He raised her hand to his lips, his eyes sliding shut. His deep voice was barely more than a breath. “Since I met ya, Bella, my mind has been all tangled up. All I can think about is how much I want you. How much I want you to want me. I’ll do anythin’ you want me to. Except leave you. I ain’t ever leav—”
“Don’t,” she warned, reluctantly removing her hand from his and holding one finger up in front of his face. “Don’t make promises you’re not going to keep.”
He just blinked at her. “I don’t, sugar.”
“Huh,” she grunted, raising a skeptical brow. “There are a few conditions.”
“And those would be?” The faint crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes deepened and the dark red glinted with challenge.
“You said you want to turn me into a vampire.”
“Yeah. I do.”
“Summer school starts in two weeks, and my dad will be here for a week in August before the regular school year starts.” She stood slowly from the table, mainly so she wouldn’t fall over him, he was so close. She carefully stepped around him and strode to the refrigerator for a glass of iced tea. She could put everything back into the junk drawer later. Maybe she’d find some butane and refill the pistol.
After draining the first glassful—she was so thirsty—she poured some more and turned, setting the glass down on the island. “After Dad leaves, you can do it then.”
He rose from his kneeling position and stalked toward her, the hint of a smile lighting his face. Keeping the island between them, he leaned forward, one eyebrow creeping up. “Anything else, ma’am?”
“Y-yes.” Her shot of confidence wavered under his intense scrutiny. Such beautiful red eyes. They were perfect for him. She inhaled deeply, breathing him in. Catching herself before she could fall under his spell, she suddenly found the condensation forming on the tea glass fascinating. “I want to be able to keep my house, and …”
“And?” His smile grew as he leaned in closer.
Before she lost all her nerve, the words came tumbling out. “I’m keeping my truck.” Her eyes flicked up to his and back to the water ring on the countertop.
Planting both hands on the work island, he lifted himself just enough to reach her as he bent over it. Unhurriedly moving in, his smirking lips barely touching her cheek, he whispered huskily in her ear, “Babe, I don’t care what you drive, as long as I get to ride shotgun.”