Bella hadn’t slept so well in years. She felt … good. It was so sinfully divine to just lay all nestled in her bed—she inhaled deeply and snuggled even farther into her pillow. It smelled heavenly; making her glad she had washed the bedding.
Then she remembered she hadn’t made her bed. She’d fled into the house, and Peter had taken the laundry from the line.
Including her underwear!
Her eyes snapped open and she jerked away from her pillow. With the abrupt movement, she realized she was still in her clothes from the night before. Her jeans were worn and soft, but that didn’t mean she wanted to sleep in them.
The pillow covers were white. Why was she seeing grey?
Bolting upright, she stared down at a piece of fabric she didn’t recognize and lifted it. It was a T-shirt. Tentatively, she held it to her nose and sniffed.
On the verge of panic, she twisted around to see if he was lying on the other side of her bed.
It was empty—as was the bench under the window. She turned back to the door. It was closed.
Clutching the worn shirt to her chest, she strained to pick up any unusual sounds. The bathroom door was wide open and it didn’t appear anyone was in there.
She was alone! She collapsed back onto the pillows.
Not being a drinker, she might have had a little too much the night before, and was quite relieved Peter hadn’t taken advantage. He must have put her to bed and retrieved the quilt to cover her.
Then left his shirt with her.
He’d been half-naked and she missed it. She didn’t bother to suppress the disappointment at that squandered opportunity. She could certainly understand why the sadistic bitch Maria had taken a shine to him, and she was more than a little curious about what was under the T-shirt.
And more than a little appreciative of the good night’s sleep.
Had it been because of the alcohol or Peter’s scent? Impulsively, she sat up and buried her nose in the shirt.
Peter’s scent stirred a memory she couldn’t quite grasp. A memory of a feeling? Whatever it was, she had to admit it was the cause of the best night’s rest she’d had in years.
Was it simply because of the vampire scent? Edward and Alice had each had a syrupy sweet smell. Emmett had reminded her of apples in autumn. She sniffed at the shirt again. It was anything but sugary. It was … she wasn’t sure what it was, but it wasn’t candy-like.
If she had to describe it somehow she would say it was more robust.
Dare she even think it?
Peter smelled like a man. Or what a man should smell like.
A little perturbed, she told herself it was a bit undignified to huff the man’s shirt, and reluctantly put it down.
What had they talked about the night before? With a head stuffed with cotton, she gave herself a thump to try and shake something loose.
Car … er, Charlotte, and how there could be more than one mate for a vampire, though finding them was rare. Jasper’s accent and the fact Alice didn’t have one even though she was from the south. How Alice tried to make over everyone to suit her visions.
Not something a true friend would do.
Bella had a sneaking suspicion that Alice really wasn’t Jasper’s mate if she worked so hard to change everything about him. None of them had had any complaints about Jasper’s particular skill set when he’d torn James to pieces.
James! Bella smacked her head again with both hands and groaned. How could she have forgotten to tell Peter about Victoria? She’d have to as soon as possible. He could be in danger just showing up at her house!
She hoped he showed up again.
If only she’d asked him for his phone number! Did he even have a phone?
Maybe she could learn to act like a grown up and pay more attention to her own.
Her bladder’s state of near-to-bursting suddenly made itself known. A quick look at her alarm clock had her flinging back the covers and leaping out of bed. It was eleven fifteen! She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so long. She fled into the bathroom.
After finishing a big bowl of lunch time oatmeal, Bella was absently sipping a second cup of coffee on the back porch and arguing with herself, idly drifting back and forth on the swing.
She should tell Peter to leave. What if he stayed around and Victoria showed up? It had been a couple months since Jacob had mentioned the vengeful vamp. She could be searching and slaughtering her way across the country. Bella knew staying in one place for so long just increased the likelihood of being found, but she liked her job, and she hadn’t really worried about Victoria rampaging through the school. That would attract a lot of attention. If anything, the red-haired demoness was good at keeping under the radar until she wanted to be noticed. Would she massacre a room full of little kids just to take Bella out?
With a shudder, Bella thought the bitch was smarter than that. Although it was puzzling that she seemed to be spending her time taunting the wolves every couple weeks. Did she think Bella would eventually show up in La Push? It’d been years.
Maybe there was some kind of vampire dementia and Victoria was suffering from it. Stuck on repeat in the Olympic Peninsula. She’d been doing it for a long time, but it had easily been two months since she’d led the wolves on a merry chase. Why had she stopped?
She must have finally realized Bella wasn’t going to show. What if she had decided to start hunting for her? What if she showed up when Charlie was visiting?
The smooth, deep, “Hey, sugar,” caught her so completely off guard, an ear-splitting shriek was followed by the coffee mug being flung out into the yard.
“If ya didn’t like my shirt, sugar, you coulda just said so.”
“Peter! You scared the shit outta me!” One hand over her rapidly pounding heart, the other pressed against her forehead, Bella tried to catch her breath. After a moment or two, she stood on shaky legs and stepped toward the porch rail. “What’s wrong with your shirt?”
After retrieving the miraculously unbroken mug from the ground, Peter sauntered toward her. “Nothin’, I thought, but if you don’t like The Eagles …” He gestured to the dark splash across the medium blue graphic T sporting a print of a painted bird skull.
Realizing what the stain was and how it got there, Bella took a step back and dropped onto the swing, elbows resting on her thighs and covering her face with her hands. “I’m sorry, Peter. I was thinking about … stuff … and didn’t even see you.” She dropped one hand and peered up at him. “I do like the Eagles.”
“Good to know.” He set the empty mug on the porch rail and joined her, resting his left arm along the back of the swing behind her. “I made noise comin’ out of the woods, and with my arms sparklin’ in the sunshine, I was pretty sure you’d notice me. I think my feelin’s are hurt.” He gave her an exaggerated sad face and his right hand splayed over his chest.
She jerked upright and turned toward him so fast her hair whipped around her shoulders. “Oh, Peter. I forgot to tell you about Victoria! You need to leave!”
Completely baffled, Peter cocked his head and pushed his hat up off his forehead. “Um, is this Victoria like a lady frienda yours? I didn’t smell nobody else around here, and I know you said ya dated Edward and all, and he’s about the girliest male I ever seen that wasn’t wearin’ a dress and high heels. I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me the least little bit if he did, but if you got a girlfriend …”
“No!” Bella grabbed handfuls of her hair and shook her head. “She’s one of the nomads I told you about. Jasper killed James, then the wolves killed Laurent, but Victoria’s still out there!” She jumped to her feet and had to brace her hand against the rail for balance as she crossed in front of him. “My friend Jacob is one of the wolves and we call each other about once a month or so. For years, Victoria has been taunting them. Every couple of weeks she would show up at the reservation, the guys would chase her and she’d get away—disappear into the woods or jump into the ocean. Always just a step ahead of them.”
When she reached the end of the porch, she turned back and studied him sitting as still as a statue on the old swing. She’d never seen a more handsome man in her life. They’d just met, but he’d already come to mean so much to her. She couldn’t bear to see him hurt. “I’m sorry, Peter, but you need to leave,” she said sadly.
Was that pain she saw in his eyes? Dropping both hands onto the rail and looking out to the yard, she hung her head and let out a long, slow breath.
A moment later, he was beside her, one hand resting lightly on her shoulder. “I don’t understand, sugar. I thought we were doin’ good gettin’ to know each other—gettin’ along. We got the beginnin’s of a plan. Why do you want me to leave? Did I do somethin’?”
Rising up, she took his hand and held it in both of hers. “No, that’s not it. It’s not you—”
“It’s not me, it’s you?” His eyes narrowed and he started to pull away from her. “What’s goin’ on, sugar? You think I don’t know that line’s bullshit?” With his free hand, he pushed her hair back off her shoulder, and then, with one fingertip, drew a faint line down the side of her neck. “You changin’ your mind on me? You know you can’t.”
A shiver overtook her body, but it wasn’t from fear or the coolness of his touch. The burgundy of his eyes grew darker with what Bella could only describe as anger, but she held onto his hand even more tightly. “I know I can’t. Peter, please, I—” She gulped. “I’m not explaining this very well.”
“No, you’re not,” he gruffly agreed. He pulled his hand from hers and took a step back. “I been wearin’ my heart on my sleeve for you, Bella. I know words don’t mean nothin’ to ya since you heard so many lies from that boy, but words are all I got. I need time to show ya I mean what I say, and you want me to leave? I told you I wasn’t goin’ nowhere and I meant it.”
As he took another step away from her, she could see his hands were shaking as he reached up and took off his hat. He tossed it to the swing behind him and combed his fingers through his hair. His chin jerked upward as he propped his hands on his belt. Looking down at her, he took in a deep breath. “How ‘bout you make this all crystal clear so there’s no misunderstandin’s.”
It wasn’t a request.
In that moment, eyes dark, nostrils flaring with each breath, he was the embodiment of the apex predator, and Bella still wasn’t afraid of him.
How could she make him understand he would be in danger if he stayed nearby? He was one of the most dangerous beings on the planet, but so was Victoria. It was bad enough her father would soon be there for a week while Victoria had gone missing from her playdates with the Quileutes. Bella couldn’t tell her father to cancel his trip. There was no valid excuse and he had looked forward to it since his last visit. And there was the fact Bella wanted to see him one last time.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she didn’t know what to do, but she knew she couldn’t bear to see Peter injured or killed because of her.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she dropped her head. “James was Victoria’s mate and Jasper killed him. Edward had said he hadn’t read anything in their thoughts but Jasper said he could tell Victoria was really attached to James. He said they should kill her, too. Edward said she wasn’t a problem and the rest of them believed him.” She blew out a breath, and her hand went to her forehead as she looked out into the bright, sunny yard. “A while after Edward and the rest of them left Forks was when Laurent showed up. He said Victoria was after me—a mate for a mate. But she never showed up while I was still there. After I graduated and left, she started making appearances near the reservation. Every two weeks, almost like clockwork. I’m surprised Jake even told me about it. Probably because my Dad is still there.” Her hands dropped to the porch rail and she leaned against it. “The past couple of months, Jake hasn’t mentioned her.” Bella glanced at Peter. He hadn’t moved a muscle. Eyes dropping to the rail, she started picking at the worn paint. “I’ll call and talk to him, but I think I know what she must be doing. I think she finally left Washington and is looking for me.”
She turned to face him and tried to ignore the moisture clouding her eyes. “Peter, I—” She could hardly speak past the lump in her throat. “You need to leave because if she found you here … I couldn’t stand it if you got hurt!”
The tears she’d been holding back began to fall. She spun away from him and angrily wiped at them. Why did her eyes leak every time she got upset about anything?
Before she could take another breath, Peter’s arms were around her and he was nuzzling her cheek.
“You got no idea what you just said means to me. Thank you for bein’ concerned, sugar, but you got nothin’ to worry about,” he whispered huskily into her ear. “How do you think I survived all those years in the Southern Wars? There ain’t but a handful of vampires got a hope in Hell of kickin’ my ass and that bitch ain’t one of ‘em.” He kept her encircled in his arms as he nudged her around to face him.
“You listen to me good, Bella,” he spoke to the top of her head. “You’re way over on this side of the country ‘cause you thought she’d follow you back here? Leave your friends and your dad alone? Yeah, you live and work here, but you got no friends or real kind of life. I know. I checked your phone. Is it to protect them? Fightin’ that vampire the only way you know how? Maybe it’s time for the fighter to be fought for.”
Taking comfort from the broad hand gliding gently up and down her back, she finally looked up at him. His eyes had lightened to their usual deep wine color. “You can’t, Peter. She could hurt—”
“She ain’t gonna hurt me.” He assured her, pressing one finger to her lips. “Isolatin’ yourself like you have, you’ve only lived half a life. The Cullens stole that from ya. Time to take it all back. I saw that anger you got that ain’t buried so deep. You can take it out on yourself, on me, or the folks that deserve it.” His finger traced over her bottom lip. “What’s it gonna be, sugar?” One eyebrow rose with his question.
His body pressed to hers was making it impossible for her to think. Maybe it was time to stop thinking so much.
Her eyes roamed his handsome face—the challenging twinkle in the rich burgundy of his eyes, the upturned corner of his sensuous mouth. He wanted time and offered to give her more. Could she trust him? Maybe, for the first time in a long time, she should just go with the blooming hope in her heart and not get caught up in her fears and the anger he so rightly identified. Every day that she woke up alive, she was taking a chance on it being her last one. What did she have to lose?
Closing her eyes, she inhaled slowly and deeply. She would take a chance on him.
When she opened her eyes, it was to his smiling face. Spreading her fingers over his chest, she returned his smile with a tentative one of her own. “I want to stop worrying about it all the time, Peter. I want to take my life back.”
He pulled her even closer and buried his face in her hair at her neck. “That’s my girl.” After a moment that wasn’t nearly long enough, he eased back, his lips brushing over her cheek. “So when’s Daddy comin’? Can’t wait to meet ‘im.”