Standing motionless in the middle of the darkened kitchen, sweat trickled down Bella’s temples and the back of her neck beneath her high pony tail. She wondered again why she thought a fresh cup of milky, honey-sweetened coffee was a good idea.
From upstairs, she could just make out the thrum of the box fan jammed into her bedroom window drawing the hot air from her room.
Well, it was moving the hot air from her room to the extremely warm air outside.
Yes. That bedroom window. The very one Edward had used as his own personal entrance to the house.
After the way he had treated her, if she ever saw him again she thought she’d break that fan over his head—after lighting it on fire first.
On the off chance he ever showed his baby face again, she had a can of lighter fluid at the ready and several boxes of matches placed strategically about her room.
Teeth clenched, she inhaled a deep, soggy, not-quite-cleansing breath and released it, bringing her back to the nearly unbearable conditions in the house. Every light was off in an attempt to make it appear cooler, and every window was open to try and catch the nonexistent breeze.
It had been hotter in Phoenix, but at least drowning in the humidity, and her own sweat, had never been a real concern.
Charlie’s excuse was it had never been so hot before, and that was why he’d never had air conditioning installed in the house.
She thought it was more like Charlie was being a nickel-noser, and they would definitely be having a discussion about it when he got home from work. Right after she set a nice, chilled, fresh-from-the-refrigerator salad in front of him for dinner, and he’d better eat it before it wilted.
If she hadn’t died of heat stroke by then. It was much too hot to cook that slab of meat he expected every night for dinner.
Grabbing a faded dish towel from the cupboard by the stove, Bella swiped at the fresh beads of perspiration forming on her face. She peeled her tank top loose from her sticky skin, and flapped the thin material.
Completely useless exercise.
She shoved the towel in the back pocket of her cut-offs and pressed her forehead against the slightly cooler metal of the ancient refrigerator. The heat was so stifling, she would almost prefer that she’d been scheduled to work, but even Newton’s Outfitter’s frigid air wasn’t worth dealing with Mike following her around like a little lost puppy.
A puppy would have been a more engaging conversationalist.
At least he was nice. But why couldn’t the boy take a hint?
He’d kept his distance after Edward had left her. Not that she’d given anyone a choice about it with her stupid wallowing in self-pity.
Like she was the only person, ever—in the whole wide world—to get dumped.
To avoid Mike, she fled to La Push. As her friend Jacob had coaxed some life back into her while distracting her by working on a couple of little motorcycles she’d saved from the salvage yard, whenever Mike happened to see her, he would angle closer. He’d even been jealous over her friendship with Jake.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, at the bonfire on the beach after graduation, Jacob had been panting over her and had gotten all bristly and Neanderthal-like when, with a smile, Bella had handed Mike a soda and a hot dog. She’d been standing right in front of the table with the food. What was she supposed to do? Ignore him? She was only being polite. Just like with everyone else.
And how had she not been aware of Jacob’s increasing possessiveness?
Too caught up in her own little world.
Neither one was getting the message she just wasn’t interested in dating them, and they had been getting on her very last nerve. She had harrumphed at them and stomped off to sit with Angela before she slugged them both.
Contrary to what she assumed were her deeply ingrained beliefs, a sly smile grew across her face at the mental image of slapping the eager grins off each of their faces. So what if she broke her hand against Jacob’s wolf-hardened, thick skull?
No one else hounded her as much as they did.
Ha! Hounded. Jake the wolf and Mike the Golden Retriever.
She chuckled at her own joke.
To celebrate the oddly satisfying thought of physical violence, she decided to make her hot coffee into a frosty milkshake.
As she reached for the freezer door to dig for the ice cream, a welcome puff of cool air wafted over her neck and shoulders, and she sighed in relief. “A breeze! Thank God.”
Whirling around to confront the unknown owner of the deep voice, her feet tangled in her flip-flops, and she fell back against the refrigerator. It had been a while since anyone had suddenly just appeared in her house, and she was already more than a little irked.
It was dim enough in the kitchen, she couldn’t tell who he was, and at that moment, she didn’t care. Nobody invaded her kitchen. She was fed up with people, or creatures, just waltzing in like they owned the place. “Who … who the hell are you?”
One leisurely step brought him out of the shadows.
Her mouth fell open and her mind stalled at the sight of the tall blond standing there. “J-Jasper?” There was something different about him, but otherwise, he looked exactly the same. “What are you doing here? Why’d you come back?”
“I never left,” he replied, cocking his head to the side and crossing his arms over his wide chest.
“What? I thought everyone left. Edward said—”
Jasper’s eyebrows rose. “And you believed everything Edward said?”
Flummoxed by his sudden appearance, and the fact he was wearing a T-shirt and worn blue jeans instead of a crisply ironed Oxford shirt and khakis—though the tasseled loafers he had on threw her for a loop—Bella stammered, “Yes … uh, no.” She thumped her head to shake her stuck brain loose. “Edward’s a jerk!” She glowered at the smirk creeping across the vampire’s handsome face.
“Huh?” Mimicking his pose, Bella folded her arms over her chest and scowled darkly. “And what do you mean you never left?”
“Just what I said. They left. I didn’t.”
“You’ve been here the whole time?” Bella threw her hands up. “What were you doing? How come the wolves didn’t know you were here?”
“I was watching you.” Another indolent step brought him closer. “Those wolf cubs are idiots. Keepin’ under their radar was child’s play.”
Bella was having a hard time assimilating what he was saying. He’d been there the whole time? The wolves hadn’t seen or smelled him? He’d seen her falling apart and hadn’t even said a word? “You could have let me know you were here!” she complained. “I … I was …”
“All broken up over your boyfriend leaving you. Pining over your lost love.” Jasper scornfully finished her sentence, and blew out a disparaging breath. “That wasn’t entirely your fault. Edward used every trick in the book to keep you under his control—including dazzling you every moment. He was in your room each night, ensuring you, and your bed, were saturated with his scent. There’s nothing a human can do to fight it.” Jasper then grinned at her, displaying brilliantly white teeth. “You became a whole lot more interesting when you started to. It was making Edward nervous. It’s why he decided to leave for a time.” Jasper paused to examine his nails. “With a little help from me.” His eyes flicked up to hers.
Fingertips pressed to her forehead, Bella was shaking her head again. “But you attacked and then Edward said—”
“It was the only way to make him leave without him killing you first.”