“You … what?” Bella stared in stunned disbelief at the blond vampire. And, God help her, she couldn’t think of one single thing to say. Her poor, overloaded brain had shut down.
He wasn’t anything like them. How could he know them?
She needed another drink. Plucking Peter’s hand from her feet and placing it on his own thigh, she hauled herself up from the squishy cushions. Wobbling a bit, she steadied herself against the coffee table so she could get hold of her glass without spilling it all over the floor.
Once she finally made it to the kitchen, she poured a bit more of the golden amber liquor into her glass and gazed absently out the window above the sink while she waited for some sort of order to reassert itself in the chaos of her mind.
The sun was going down. The few clouds she could see above the trees were nearly the same color as the whiskey, which was almost the same color as the eyes of the animal-drinking coven. She’d never noticed before.
Both had a way of messing with your head.
When she reached for the refrigerator to get more ice, she saw Peter had followed her and was leaning on the far side of the island, one finger sliding up and down the side of his mug. Did some part of him always have to be in motion? When his fingers weren’t moving, were his toes wiggling inside his boots?
Bella set the fifth of Jack Daniels in front of him and then dug some ice out of the freezer. In the weighty silence, the half-moon cubes tinkled loudly when she dropped them into the adulterated tea. Feeling a little dizzy—she didn’t know if it was from his revelation or the alcohol—she propped her elbows on the counter opposite him and looked directly into the deep wine of his eyes. “Uh, small world, huh?”
He nodded cautiously, no trace of humor on his handsome face. If anything, he appeared wary.
Pointing one finger at him, she advised him, “Ooookay. I think you got some s’plainin’ to do, and don’t lie to me, Peter.” She took a long drink and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’ve had enough of that from vampires.”
“No, ma’am,” he assured her. One eyebrow rose. “Ain’t it Lucy that’s supposed to do the s’plainin’ to Ricky?”
Was he just another one playing games with the human? She shook her finger at him. “Only when Lucy was trying to hide things from Ricky, and I haven’t hidden anything. I’ve been explaining, and don’t call me Lucy.”
“But you called me Bucko.” The ghost of a smile tugged at his lips.
“You look like a Buck.” Bella shrugged and leaned heavily on the counter. “Buck,” she teased with a grin. “I like that name for you. You are hereby and henceforth known as Buck-the-Vampire.” She gave him a sharp nod and almost giggled.
She waved her hand in the air and shook her head, and then flipped her hair over her shoulders, her face taking on a somber cast. “Quit changing the subject. This is serious.”
“Oh, I’m well aware. I’d like to mention that I wasn’t the one—”
“Did you know who I was the entire time?” Bella squinted at him, attempted a scowl, and only swayed a little bit.
“No, ma’am, I didn’t,” Peter answered earnestly.
Skeptically, Bella studied him. Alice had promised to always tell her the truth, but that only worked if Bella happened to ask the right question, and if Edward didn’t happen to be around. Other times, Alice would dance away with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, claiming she didn’t want to change the outcome of whatever she allegedly saw.
Right. Alice just didn’t want to change the outcome she thought was best, regardless of what other people, or humans, thought—if she’d actually seen anything at all.
Bella realized her questions had to be worded carefully. If only she’d known that when she had first met them all.
For some reason, that jostled loose another fragment of memory. Of Edward following her to Port Angeles when she’d gone shopping with Jessica and Angela because he’d been concerned about some human-drinking guests. Ironically, he’d saved her from predatory humans at the time.
“You’re that Peter!” she exclaimed, slapping the counter. “The red-eyed monster who didn’t know how to control himself!” Next, her fist thudded on the counter. “Jasper’s friend. Right?”
Without giving Peter a chance to answer, Bella whirled around, lost her balance, and threw her hand out to brace against the refrigerator. “Not long after we first met, Edward followed me to Port Angeles because you and … and … Carol?… were coming to visit Jasper, and Edward thought you were going to kill me because, well, why wouldn’t you? Human drinkers have absolutely no control over themselves, and my blood’s totally irresistible, and he started calling me a danger magnet. Weird how nothing like that ever happened until after I met him.” She walked unsteadily toward the table and trudged back. “It happened to work out because Edward saved me from some dirtballs who were probably going to rape me because I got lost, but they were human—no lurking vampires but Edward. Which was a good thing after all,” she admitted.
After taking another drink, she slammed down her glass and continued pacing around the kitchen, her arms waving wildly. “That’s when I found out he could read everybody’s mind except for mine, and he was stalking me because he was protecting me from Jasper and his incorrigible friends. Funny how things work out. Well, stalking me that time. ”
She stopped her angry rant at the back door and did an about face to confront Peter, hands on her hips. “You’re that Peter, right? So where’s Carol? Isn’t she like your wife or something?” Her body canted a bit and bumped into the back door. She decided to stay there since the room didn’t seem very steady any longer.
Several unidentifiable emotions flashed across Peter’s face as he slowly approached her, taking her hand. “Maybe you oughta sit down before you fall down, sugar.” She didn’t resist as he gently led her to her chair at the table.
“But I want my drink,” she complained.
He pushed her down in her seat. “I’ll get it for ya.”
By the time she planted her hands on the table to stand up, Peter had returned and was sitting in the chair next to hers, his hand covering hers.
“Did the boy kill those scumbags?” Peter’s eyes had a harsh glint.
“Uh, no. He growled at them, they ran away, and then we got in his car and left.” Frowning, she pulled her hand out from under his and crossed her arms. “What about Carol?”
Peter pressed his lips into a thin line and grumbled, “The little pissant shoulda killed ‘em. Damn, that animal blood makes ‘em stupid.”
“Yeah, he probably should have, but he didn’t.” Bella did her best to glare at him. “At least I don’t think he did.” She waved her hand as if to shoo away those thoughts and recrossed her arms. “Where’s your wife? Because if you’re here cheating on her … well, I don’t care how good looking you are, I’m no home wrecker.”
“Her name is Charlotte, and I ain’t cheatin’ on her, sugar. She wasn’t my wife. We were …” Peter scratched at his head, raked his fingers through his hair, and let out a gusty sigh. “We were … comrades. Brothers-in-arms. Companions.” He lowered his head and peered up at her. “Lovers,” he added reluctantly. “But when she met the fella that touched her heart, we parted as friends and I wished her well. If she needs a hand, all she’s gotta do is call. If I should get in a bind, I know she’ll come and help me out of it. I’ve met a lot of vampires, but she’s one of the very few in this whole world I can call a true friend.”
Peter was looking a little blurry around the edges and Bella was struggling to bring him into focus. “She was your girlfriend and you broke up? She left you for another guy?” Saddened, Bella felt bad for Peter. She knew what it was like to be dumped. “I thought when vampires were in love they stayed in love forever. Or that was what I was told. But I guess Edward lied about that along with everything else. He didn’t really love me anyway.”
Peter was shaking his head. “That boy don’t love nothin’ but himself.”
A tear trickled down Bella’s cheek as she leaned toward him and grabbed his hand. “I’m so, so sorry Charlotte broke your heart Peter,” she sniffled. “I really am.” She wiped the tear away and gripped his hand with both of hers. “You love somebody and then they go and rip your heart out and it’s just not fair and so … so sad.”
“Bella … babe.” With his free hand, he combed her hair back from her face and cupped her cheek. “You’re somethin’ else when you’ve got a snootful.” His chuckle was deep and throaty. “She didn’t break my heart. She didn’t break up with me. She met her mate, and I wasn’t gonna stand in her way.”
“You just let her go? What made her think he was the one when she already had you?” Bella’s tear-filled eyes implored him.
“You’re makin’ me feel all kindsa special, sugar.” Peter winked at her. “Pheromones don’t lie, babe. They led Charlotte right to her man, and they led me right to you.”
“Pheromones?” Bella sat back in her chair, a puzzled frown on her face, hair trailing through Peter’s fingers. “Edward said I smelled better to him than anything, but he—”
“Is a lyin’ fool,” he finished for her. “It’s different, sugar. Humans sense pheromones, they just don’t realize they’re doin’ it. Some folks ya just like better’n’others. Others ya wanna smack in the face the first time ya meet ‘em. It’s because of how they smell to ya.” Peter subtly moved his chair closer to her. “From what Jasper did tell me, to the boy you were the bacon-wrapped filet mignon at a banquet of cheap, greasy cheeseburgers. Completely different.”
Bella opened her mouth to speak and slowly closed it again. Looking down, she nodded slowly. “I kinda knew that. He told me often enough.” She sighed resignedly. “He told me over and over again how hard it was not to kill me. I guess I was nothing more than a lab rat he was trying not to eat. I suppose the clinical trial was successful since he didn’t kill me.”
Peter’s fingers, that had worked their way back into her hair, began to tremble. “I’m gonna kill that useless piece of shit.”
“You can’t kill him!” Bella protested, her left hand taking hold of his to pull it from her hair and place it back on the table where she patted and held it down. “We’ll discuss it later.”
“What? After what that high-and-mighty, thinks-he’s-better-n-everybody-else—” Peter cut off his tirade when he saw the dark glint in Bella’s eyes.
“We’ll discuss that later.” Her eyes grew wide as she raised her chin. “Now, what makes Charlotte think she’s going to get along with this guy just because he smells good to her?”
“Charlotte doesn’t take any shit, so as long as he behaves himself, they’ll get along just fine. If he doesn’t she knows how to make him real unhappy.” The smirk reappeared. “It’s like … um … she scented him out and we found him. He was just a potential mate until they fell in love. They’ve been together seven years now. I think she’d have told me if he pissed her off because she woulda killed him and I’da helped her dispose of the body.” Peter chuckled again. “Scent draws you in … points you in the right direction.”
“So there’s potentially more than one person who could be your mate or partner? I thought it was like fate or something because it sure seemed like Esme and Carlisle were meant to be together. Then Rosalie found Emmett. She begged Carlisle to change him for her. Then Alice and—”
“Alice,” Peter said with a sneer, “is a delusional bitch. Never trusted her, and I don’t know what Jasper sees in her, the bony little—” He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath. “Anyhow, sugar, all I know is what I hear. There might be more than one possible mate out there for ya, though it seems meetin’ them is rare. Once ya meet and fall for ‘em that’s pretty much it.” He sighed. “Well, they’d have to do somethin’ pretty damn awful for ya to want to get rid of ‘em, but from what I hear, once they fall in love,” he paused to bring her hand to his mouth. “Vampires tend to stay in love.”
Bella’s lips formed a silent O of surprise. She then pulled her hand away and clasped it with the other against her chest. “Uh … uh …” she stammered, her cheeks turning a soft pink. “Um, so how … how did you meet the Cullens?”
Peter drew closer to her and looked deeply into her eyes. “Through Jasper. In our travels, me and Charlotte managed to catch up to ‘em. It was a real short visit after the black-haired runt and the momma’s boy decided they didn’t like us. Red-eyed monsters and all. Our depraved thoughts were disturbin’ the delicate flower’s sensibilities . The usual.”
Bella nodded in agreement. “Edward never was very tolerant of anything that didn’t match his extremely narrow and restrictive idea of how things should be. According to him.” Bella murmured thoughtfully. “He and Alice were two peas in a pod. How did you meet Jasper?”
“He murdered me.”
“Er, oh?” She grabbed her glass with both hands. “Vampire thing, I guess?”
“Yup. A long time ago, Maria, the bitch in charge, took a shine to me and ordered Jasper to catch me and change me into a vampire. She liked big, tall blonds.” Peter waggled his eyebrows.
Transfixed, Bella just stared at him, wide-eyed. “I can see why,” she muttered, not realizing she said it out loud. Shaking her head again, she tried to find something else to look at, but couldn’t tear her gaze away from him. “W-was that the Vampire Wars?”
“You heard about that?”
“Yeah. They say Maria’s mate was killed years and years before, and she put together a group of newborn vampires to seek vengeance. I guess after she got her vengeance, she found a new callin’.”
“Collecting blond men?” Bella was all innocence as she sipped at her drink.
“Oh, you’re a real funny one, sugar.” He flashed her an appreciative smile. “Nah, I think she was more into the world domination.”
Puzzled, Bella cocked her head to the side and spread her hands over the table. “I thought when a vampire lost their mate they wanted to die?”
“Some do. It ain’t hard to get yourself killed if ya really want to. You just gotta piss off somebody bigger or meaner than you. I heard tell there were a couple that just walked into a fire. Then there’s Maria. She found another way to keep herself occupied. Sadistic bitch,” he said with a slight sneer.
He cleared his throat loudly. “She could only control about a dozen newborns herself, but then she got Jasper. With his power, he could handle nearly thirty of the crazy bastards. You know about his power, right?”
“Yeah.” She finally noticed Peter’s finger tracing over the back of her hand. “Empath. He used it on me often enough. Mainly to keep me calm so I wouldn’t hyperventilate or argue with Edward, I think. The jerk.” She took another gulp of her doctored iced tea, pushed her glass away, and laid her head down on her arm.
“Jasper was an asshole sometimes.” A faint smile lit Peter’s face. “I liked him better when he was. He used to be the biggest, baddest dog in the yard. He hooks up with that … well, he meets that snooty little female and she turned him into a prissified poodle. It’s a wonder she doesn’t put pretty little bows in his luscious long locks.”
Snorting out a laugh, Bella protested, “Alice wasn’t as bad as Edward.”
“I respectfully disagree, sugar. Get Jasper a little upset, or get him away from the little dictator, and you can tell he’s from Texas—he’s twangin’ all over the place. You know little Miss Prada Versace was from Mississippi? Ever hear her slip into her southern belle?”
It wasn’t easy while lying on her arm, but Bella shook her head. Her eyes were feeling so heavy.
“A southern accent doesn’t fit the image she prefers to portray.” Peter’s voice lowered. “Jasper had some trouble with the emotions—he needed the break from it. There wasn’t anything wrong with the rest of him, but that … Alice has done her best to make him, and everybody else, think so.”
There was no arguing with the truth. Alice had fought mightily to make Bella over into whatever her vision was. “I didn’t fit her image either. She tried to change everything about me.”
“I take it it didn’t work,” Peter whispered.
“Not even a little.”
He leaned closer. “I’m glad.”
“Thank you, Peter.” Her eyes closed.
After a few moments, her breaths evened out into soft little snores. Very gently, Peter sat her up, rested her head against his chest, and lifted her up into his arms, deeply inhaling her scent. He carried her to her room and laid her on the unmade bed. Dashing to the laundry room, he grabbed the freshly washed and line-dried quilt and brought it back to cover her.
He kissed the side of her head as he tucked her in. “You’re perfect the way you are.”