Easing away from her, Peter’s not-quite beard tickled Bella’s cheek. The only experience she’d ever had with a man’s facial hair was when her mustachioed dad kissed her cheek or forehead.
She wondered what kissing Peter would be like. Would it be scratchy? The hairs brushing over her skin weren’t wiry like she would have expected.
Why did vampires have such perfectly silky hair? Not that she had touched anyone’s but Edward’s. No, she had felt Esme’s hair during a hug. It had been soft, too. Did they all have hair like that? And Peter had been the only one she’d seen with any kind of facial hair. Not that she’d seen a lot of vampires.
It was supremely difficult, but she resisted the sudden impulse to reach up and stroke his face by ordering her hand to her iced tea.
The knowing glint in his eyes made her wonder if he could read her mind.
She actually thought if he could he would have come right out and told her.
He was so close; she could feel his faint exhalations. His eyes weren’t just one shade of red. There was a slightly darker starburst in the center of each.
Realizing she was leaning closer to him, as if he were a magnet and she was a brainless lump of steel, she stood up straight and spun toward the sink to grab the dish rag. “Uh, would you like to go sit in the living room?” she asked, wiping up the water on the counter and gesturing toward the small living room.
He backed away from her, the corner of his mouth lifted in a not-quite smirk, eyes sparkling with humor. “Sure, sugar.” He gave the counter a couple of taps. “Unless you want to go watch some trains?”
Even with an afternoon nap, she still felt as limp as the dish rag in her hand. The dreams—nightmares—the night before, and the emotional upheaval in her kitchen, had left her feeling washed out.
“I’m really kind of tired. I-I didn’t sleep well last night.” Her back to him, she folded the cloth and draped it over the faucet, dawdling long enough to see where he would decide to sit.
Relieved when he chose the recliner, she headed for the loveseat near it, placed her glass on the coaster on the coffee table, and dropped onto the cushions. She kicked off her slippers, pulled her legs up, and slumped against the thickly padded arm, propping her head on her left hand.
“You mentioned school startin’. Are you a teacher?” Peter extended the footrest, crossed one ankle over the other, and clasped his hands behind his head.
The way his T-shirt stretched over his chest, and the smooth bulge of his biceps, held her attention for entirely too long. “Uh, I’m a librarian at Bridgeport Elementary. I love books. It struck me that I wanted to share that, and I thought the best place to start would be with young people.” To keep her attention from lingering in any one location along his lengthy body, she forced herself to look out toward the kitchen. “My mom was a kindergarten teacher for years. I thought I might be a teacher one day, but I just couldn’t see myself in a classroom, trying to teach something to twenty or so kids.”
Her current position gave him a nice shot of her rear end. She probably should have sat on the other side of the loveseat, but that would have been a little close. Even with the end table there, he’d probably be touching her. He hadn’t been rude about it, but he couldn’t seem to keep his hands to himself. She picked at the hem of the oversized shirt and tugged it down over her butt.
Shoving her furniture to the center of the living room so she could have bookshelves covering just about every wall made quite the intimate seating area. Maybe a little too intimate.
Forcing herself to look anywhere but at the completely relaxed vampire, sprawling over the chair her dad usually sat in when he visited, she gulped and carried on.
“I do better one-on-one,” Bella continued. Feeling self-conscious, she pulled her legs up a little tighter and shoved her toes between the cushions.
“What made ya decide to do that?” Peter asked quietly. “I mean, I noticed you like books …” He waved his hand, indicating the full bookshelves behind him and surrounding the flat screen on the wall across from him. “And music.”
With a slight shrug, she replied, “Well, every song is a story.”
She felt a small twinge of … it wasn’t nostalgia exactly. Melancholy? Wistfulness? After Edward, she’d stopped listening to music altogether, but she had missed it—missed all the little stories each song spoke about, even the love-done-me-wrong songs, and decided Edward wasn’t going to ruin that for her, too.
Since moving to Newport, her library, musical and otherwise, had expanded quite a bit.
Thinking about her relocation across the country always brought Emmett to mind.
Emmett McCarty-Cullen—or was it Cullen-McCarty?—had been a part of the very complicated past and there were times she missed him, too.
It was one day at the Forks public library where she was struck with what she thought she wanted to do. A little boy with dark hair and dimples had been complaining that he hated to read, it was boring, and he wanted to go outside and play. Bella peeked around a tall stack, and the small child dressed in a Mariners ball cap and team shirt reminded her so much of Emmett she almost burst into tears.
She’d gotten a grip on herself, approached the little guy, and asked him who his favorite ball player was.
“Shin-Soo Choo,” he’d said with a sniffle.
Naturally, Bella didn’t recognize the name, but then she asked, “Why do you like him?”
With a wide, gap-toothed grin, he announced proudly, hand waving in the air, “He’s left handed just like me!”
Bella knelt down and took hold of the wildly waving appendage before she got smacked in the face. “I bet we can find a book about him.”
The little fellow’s excitement in learning about his baseball hero, and being able to find out even more, warmed Bella’s heart. It made her wonder why no one else had ever thought to encourage his reading in that way.
Although she never saw herself with children of her own, she enjoyed helping them discover a whole new world at their fingertips. The internet and e-books were great, but there was something almost magical about the weight and feel of an actual book. And she finally realized why her mother had been drawn to young children. They were so much more open to the wonders of words printed with ink on actual paper.
The coincidence of that little boy, and how he had tugged at her heart strings, prompted her to research Emmett’s home state of Tennessee.
Wandering through the internet one afternoon, she happened to look through open positions at elementary schools. She stumbled upon a nearby house for sale. It was little and cute, and the name of the road had cracked her up.
In a round-about way, she could thank Emmett for leading her to being a librarian, finding a home in Tennessee … and meeting Peter. Although the jury was still out on that part.
Glancing guiltily at Peter for getting lost in her memories, she saw he had raised the back of the recliner.
“You okay, sugar?”
Feeling the familiar ache in her jaw from clenching her teeth, she forced herself to relax. “Yeah. Just an old memory popped up.” She nervously rubbed at her thigh. “Um, one day in the library, I helped a little boy find out more about his favorite baseball player. He was so cute and so excited, running back and forth, grabbing books that were almost too heavy for him and lugging them to one of the tables. I helped create a brand new book lover.”
Another old memory intruded. Her fist tightened on a handful of T-shirt as she tried to shove it away. Funny how so many things Edward had said, and presumed about what he thought she should want, flooded her with anger all over again.
Peter snapped the footrest back into place and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “What’s got you riled up again, sugar?”
“He … that jerk—” She clamped her mouth shut and covered her eyes with her hand, body rigid against the plush arm of the loveseat. Edward wanted her to live a normal human life. He mentioned her having children so often, apparently barefoot and pregnant was his preferred version. His actions, and inaction, made sure it would never happen. Even if she’d wanted a family, she wouldn’t dare with a vengeful vampire still out there. How stupid would she be to have babies?
Jasper had been right when he’d said they should have killed them all. Listening to Edward, and leaving Victoria and Laurent alive, had worked out so well.
And why would Edward assume, just because she was female, that she would want to have kids? It was yet another in a long list of examples of him not listening to anything she said.
It was also kind of funny how she had stopped thinking of Victoria as crazy. When someone has screwed up your life, was it wrong to let them know what a bad idea that was?
Would Edward even find out if, or when, Victoria got to her? If he didn’t, what would be the point? Unless the vengeful witch had a plan to hunt him down next and fill him in. How would she prove it? Some sort of souvenir? Would she scalp her?
Shuddering, Bella heaved herself up off the couch, snatched up her glass of iced tea, and stomped into the kitchen. She rarely drank, but she needed one right then.
All she had was a bottle of Jack Daniels and it was in the cupboard above the stove—right where she’d left it after her dad’s last visit. They’d only had a couple of drinks out of it, but it had made sitting around the fire pit fun.
She couldn’t reach it, of course.
She turned to get the folding step stool out of the laundry room and Peter was blocking her.
“The Jack Daniels? I’ll get it for ya, sugar.”
He was so close, and so tall, and he smelled so good. She could only gawk at him as he poured a finger’s width into her tea, and then reached into the silverware drawer for a spoon to stir it.
“Mind if I have one?”
“No. Uh, what?”
Bella continued to stand there, mouth open in shock, as he pulled a coffee mug out of the cupboard and splashed some of the amber liquid into it.
Mug in one hand, he picked up her drink, walked slowly back into the living room, and placed them both on the coffee table.
There was her chance to get another look at his back pockets and her mind wasn’t lucid enough to appreciate it.
By the time her brain finally clunked into gear, Peter was sitting on the left side of the loveseat, boots off, and huge sock feet propped on the low table. Apparently he liked those grey work socks.
He’d moved his hat and a coaster to the end table to his right and had turned on the lamp.
In a daze, Bella shuffled back into the living room. “You … you can drink? Alcohol, I mean?”
He took a sip from his mug, and set it aside. “Only the clear ones. The milky and fruity stuff is too much like food.”
“You have to throw it up later,” Bella finished for him as she dropped onto the right cushion and grabbed her glass. She took a deep pull and set it back down with a thump.
She didn’t even cough that time.
“You know some stuff about vampires,” Peter graced her with a pleased smile, “but there’s lots more you don’t.” Taking another sip, he smacked his lips and settled down into the plush cushion with a sigh.
He looked as relaxed as a cat in a sunny window, but he was even closer than he’d been before. Did vampires have no sense of personal space? She suddenly regretted not buying a full-sized sofa. At the time, she hadn’t because storage for her books, and room for more, had been the most important consideration—not seating for guests she wasn’t going to have. She curled herself into a tight ball and tucked her feet in between the cushions again.
Peter tapped her sock-clad ankle with one finger, and then began idly tracing over her ankle and the top of her foot. “So how ‘bout that scar?”
To give herself a moment, she took another long drink. The liquor in her belly combined with the heat of the anger that still simmered there. “Essentially, what happened was a nomad bit me and, instead of allowing me to turn into a vampire, my date decided to save me from eternal damnation. He sucked the venom back out.”
Peter’s finger stilled for a moment, but started again, with the addition of another fingertip. The circles and swirls he was drawing were oddly soothing. Bella didn’t think he was impinging on her personal space so much as he was trying to comfort or encourage her.
She let out a weary breath and laid her head down on the padded arm of the small couch. “It’s kind of involved and one thing leads into another.”
His voice was soft and low. “I got time, sugar. All the time you need.”
“The boy …” Bella said, emphasizing the word. A slim ribbon of amusement worked its way through the lingering anger. Peter’s reference to Edward was so apt. “The boy and his coven pretended to be a family—two parents and five foster children who went to high school. They said a cover story like that allowed them to stay in one place longer. They’d been there a couple of years before I moved back.”
“Five full-grown vampires goin’ to high school with a buncha human younguns?” Peter looked Heavenward as he shook his head slowly back and forth.
Bella almost chuckled at the look of disgust on Peter’s face. “At the baseball game I told you about, a group of three nomads showed up. They heard us … well, heard them since I wasn’t actually playing. In thinking about it since then, the boy had time to get me out of there, but … I don’t know. I guess he was in shock or something.” She shrugged. “Not being able to hide my scent or my heartbeat, the nomads knew I was human. They thought I was a snack.”
“Tasty-smelling human like you? A snack?” Peter murmured. “Go figure.”
“Right?” Bella agreed. “The leader, James, decided he was going to hunt me. He was some kind of tracker.” She shifted a bit to fold her arms over the soft upholstery and rested her head on her elbow.
“This boy got a name by any chance?”
Bella caught the unusual strain in Peter’s voice and, though he hadn’t removed his hand, the gentle stroking of her foot had ceased. She chanced a glance and saw his head tilted back and his eyes squeezed shut like he had a headache.
Puzzled at the strange behavior, Bella just nodded. “Um, yeah. His name was Edward. His sisters were Alice and Rosalie, and the brothers were Emmett and Jasper. Carlisle and Esme were the parents, though they didn’t look much older than the kids. Everybody used to wonder why such a young couple would take on five teenagers.”
“Those teeny boppers shoulda burned those nomads right then and there.” His left hand slipped around both her feet, and with his right he covered his face and groaned as if he was in pain.
“Je-sus Christ,” he grumbled.
“What’s the matter?” Concerned about him, Bella patted his arm. “Does something hurt?” She didn’t think vampires could have migraines, but she really didn’t know much about them. She couldn’t exactly trust anything Edward had said.
Fingers splayed over his face, Peter finally peeked at her, his burgundy eyes darkening. “I’m ashamed to say I know those stupid-ass teeny boppers.”