When she dropped her hands from in front of her face, Bella discovered Jasper had slunk closer. “I don’t understand. Alice said she saw me as a vampire with Edward.” Her feeble and needy tone made her cringe.
“Not exactly.” Jasper snorted in disgust. “It was the truth when she said she saw you as a vampire. The rest of it? Typical Alice bullshit. You have to understand she’s not so bad, but she lives in her own little fantasy world. When Edward showed an interest, she decided you would be perfect for him, and you would be her bestest friend ever—after she made you over first. He never wanted to turn you. What? Change you and lose all that delicious blood? Alice was positive she could convince him to change his mind. She just chose to ignore what he really wanted.”
“Alice decided … but her visions …” Bella’s voice faded away. “Really wanted?”
“You’re smarter that, sweetheart.” Jasper’s sardonic smile was back and one eyebrow twitched upward. “He can read everyone’s mind but yours. Or he thinks he can. Your silent mind was too much for him. Then, from the moment he caught your scent, he planned to drain you dry. In the meantime, it was the ultimate test to see how long he could resist his singer’s blood. By the time he brought you to the house to meet the family, you were already under his spell. I was curious to see how long you would last.”
“But, the baseball game … James …”
Jasper glanced Heavenward, slowly shaking his head. “Edward panicked when he heard James’ thoughts. He was terrified James would get to that sweet nectar first, and he couldn’t allow that. Alice had a vision of him draining you to keep you from James. Don’t you remember his insistence that he take you far away and hide you?” He sighed as if the weight of the world was pressing down on his admirably wide shoulders. “Your father knew you were with us, otherwise, I’d have stepped in then.” The tip of his tongue brushed across his lips. “I told Alice we needed to get you away from Edward before he exposed us all. It was easy enough to talk him into having Alice and me take you to Phoenix. But then you got away from me. You’re the only human I wanted who ever managed that.”
Jasper touched the top of her bare shoulder with one cool fingertip and drew a seductively slow line down to her elbow. It was gratifying to see her pleasurable shiver. “Edward stopped James from getting more than a sip, but, to his eternal regret, he couldn’t take more than a taste with Carlisle breathing down his neck. Daddy would have been so disappointed if Edward drained you then.” Jasper pursed his lips and tilted his head. “While Edward played the part of Carlisle’s dutiful yet self-loathing, guilt-ridden protégé, refusing to damn your soul to Hell, I took care of James. It was a little distracting when Edward got a mouthful of your blood and shot his load. If the rest of us hadn’t been there, he’d have latched onto your neck and fucked you right then.”
Aghast at that little nugget of information, Bella’s eyes widened even farther. Edward had always told her it was too dangerous and that was why he rebuffed her romantic advances. She had begun to think he never wanted to touch her. Apparently he had, but only if there was blood sucking death involved.
“Nice.” Jasper murmured appreciatively as her already flushed face glowed pink. “Afterward, I waited to see how you would react to Edward not allowing you to change. You had to realize then he wasn’t going to do it.”
She had, but she absolutely refused to give Jasper the satisfaction of answering. She could only stare up into his darkening eyes.
“You knew, but you were so enthralled, and so afraid he’d leave, you didn’t protest.” Jasper lifted his other hand and traced the curve of Bella’s jaw. “It took a few months, but you began to rebel. He saw it and was becoming desperate. He enjoyed controlling you too much to kill you yet, although, after tasting you, he was weakening. It was time for him to go. I reminded Alice your birthday was coming up. She thought a party was a grand idea.” He shifted closer. “One little drop of blood wasn’t a problem for anyone but him. But, alas, sucking you dry in front of the entire family would have shattered his carefully built façade. He shoved you across the room to get you away from him. It worked out better than I could have hoped when he made you bleed all over the living room. He convinced the rest of them to leave for your own good.”
Jasper was mere inches in front of her, and his long body was drawing the heat from hers. He licked the tip of his index finger and painted a tingling line across her bottom lip.
She fought the nearly overwhelming compulsion to lick her lips and taste him.
“Mommy and Daddy think their poor boy is mourning the loss of his one true love.” Jasper sneered. “They all believe he’s tracking Victoria. Remember her?”
An image of wild, red curls and delicately lovely pale face flashed through her mind. A jolt of fear glued her to the solid weight of the refrigerator. She gulped.
He reached smoothly behind his back, produced a tattered, soiled piece of cloth, and held it up for inspection. “Ah, Victoria, I hardly knew ye. I have to admit … she did keep the shifter-wolves occupied with her hide-and-seek games. They’re so hopped up on their own delusions of indestructibility, they can’t tell one vampire from another.”
Bella took a wary half-step forward to peer more closely at the bit of fabric.
Jasper opened his fingers, allowing the pale rag to flutter to the floor. “That’s about all that’s left of her. Except for a few bits here and there.”
His lips curved in another lop-sided grin. “Edward’s been skipping back and forth across the Mexican border, indulging in the local cuisine—and not the coyotes and rattlers—while he lets the anticipation of finally imbibing in your blood build. He’s about to crack.”
Utterly flabbergasted by all the disclosures, and the fact the scent of Jasper’s venom made her mouth water, she staggered back and hit the refrigerator with a thud.
She’d never heard him talk so much before. With Alice and Edward around, he hadn’t gotten much of a chance. Couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
No one could.
She found it equally disturbing how mesmerizing the cadence and lilt of the sound of those words were.
Even through the turmoil in her mind, she tried to analyze everything he’d said and place it in some sort of order. Two things stood out.
Edward-the-Pious was eating people.
Victoria was finally dead.
What if Jasper was lying?
What if he wasn’t?
For some reason, she believed him, and she was so relieved Victoria was no longer a threat she almost dropped to the floor. But the other stuff? She had known Edward hadn’t truly loved her, but to think she had been nothing more than a tasty little treat? Letting the wine breathe and enjoying its bouquet before swallowing? An experiment? It cut deep—again—to have her suspicions confirmed, and it sent her mind into a spiraling descent. She had cared for and pined for them all, and she was so angry they had left without even saying goodbye. But who bade a fond farewell to the leftovers that had been in the fridge too long? “But you stayed? You were here and saw me, and you didn’t say anything?”
“I stayed. Little Jakie was more than willing to put up with your shit.” He bent his head, bringing his mouth closer to hers. “I was just waitin’ for you to get over yourself.”
“What?” Bella couldn’t tear her eyes away from the fullness of his lips. “What about your wife?” Bella asked scornfully.
“Hasn’t even bothered to call. She’s shopping, or whatever the hell she does.” He shrugged indifferently. “To shut Saint Carlisle up, Jasper Cullen married her.” His spicy, alluring breath washed enticingly over her face. “I’m Jasper Whitlock.”
All the jagged, dirty little pieces of Jasper’s insinuations crashed into place, and Bella saw the whole sordid picture. Not only had Edward been toying with her, saving and savoring the juicy appetizer for later, Alice had been as well. And Jasper! He must have had a jolly old time, sitting back, laughing, and watching the tragically pitiful human dance to whatever tune they were singing.
She abruptly realized his nose was almost touching hers. Was he trying to kiss her?
Fury detonated within her, sending a raging heat throughout her body. Before his lips touched hers, she planted her hands on his chest and shoved him away, momentarily forgetting she was only able to because he allowed it.
“You manipulative bastard! It was all a set up!” Bella snatched her coffee mug from the counter and hurled it at him. It exploded against his chest, ceramic shards and sweet droplets flying in every direction.
Jasper ignored the coffee dripping from his face and neck. “In a manner of speaking. It’s what vampires do.”
“You son of a bitch!”
“That’s my girl,” he remarked with a hint of pride in his voice.
He didn’t bat an eye when she grabbed the coffee maker, with a nearly full pot, and heaved it with a grunt. It hit his arm and steaming hot coffee, and glass and white-plastic shrapnel flew everywhere.
“Every single one of you were playing with me!”
“No, just Edward and Alice.” He nonchalantly flicked a piece of glass from his arm. “I was playing them.”
The sugar bowl whistled past his head and sailed into the foyer, but she nailed him in the belly with the toaster.
He did flinch when Bella whipped the long, serrated bread knife from its slot in the wooden block and flung it at him, but only because she could have lost a finger. Waiting to get it reattached the human way would have been an aggravating delay in his plans.
With another furious screech, Bella hefted one of the mismatched kitchen chairs and swung. When it connected with Jasper’s hip and thigh, it jarred her down to her toes. She, and the chair, rebounded and tumbled to the floor. She kicked off her flip-flops and scrambled to her feet.
“You … you knew what they were doing.” Her quivering index finger was aimed directly at his heart. “You knew, and you let them use me! For months, you stood in your damn corners and watched. You orchestrated the whole thing. You’re nothing but a lying sack of shit!” She drew her arm back, determined to slap that superior look off his face.
He caught her wrist a hair’s breadth from striking him. “I never lied to you.”
She wasn’t expecting him to let go when she wrenched her hand away. Arms pin-wheeling, she slammed into the refrigerator for the third time.
There were red drips and smears all over her formerly clean floor.
Searing pain in the bottoms of her feet made its presence known with a fiery pulse, and she shuddered and crumpled, landing hard on her tail bone.
Crying out, she reached for her right foot, drew it up toward her face, and stared in disbelief at the pottery and glass bits sticking out of it.
She blinked and there was blood all over her hands.
With each thump of her heart, bright red oozed and dripped onto her thigh and the trashed floor.
She briefly wondered why she hadn’t passed out yet. Or had she? Could she have bled so much already?
Sucking in a rasping breath through her teeth, she plucked a large sliver of what she thought was the coffee pot out of her heel and examined it. Even coated in crimson, it was still shiny and glittered in the low light. Much like the other blood and coffee-stained fragments scattered across the linoleum.
It finally occurred to her she was bleeding all over the place and Jasper hadn’t pounced.
Her eyes flew up to his.
“Think I’m going to attack? That’s what they thought at your birthday party.”
Bella gawked at the blond. It was extremely annoying the smirk seemed to have found a permanent home.
Indistinct black and grey spots were floating around and popping in and out of her field of view, and Bella was beginning to feel light-headed and woozy. She suddenly couldn’t recall why she had been so angry. She’d remember in another moment or two. Her fuzzy vision returned to the red dripping from her hands. “I have to clean this up,” she mumbled.
Groping for the handle on the refrigerator and the edge of the counter, she hauled herself up, hissing and grimacing with the renewed agony in her feet.
She went reeling when she saw rusty-red streaks and smears across the old white appliance.
Bracing her slick hands on the counter, she worked her way toward the sink, knocking over the knife block and sending the mug tree crashing to the floor.
She almost screamed when she felt a stinging burn on her hand. She looked down and there was a bloody knife lying on the counter and a gaping slice across her palm. More blood was running down her arm and dripping off her elbow.
She collapsed against the sink, gasping, pondering the weird lack of nausea. She expected it to hit any moment. Sweat was pouring down her face, but a strange chill had taken over her entire body. Remembering the vampire behind her, she forced her head around to check on his whereabouts.
He hadn’t moved, but was that blood splattered across the table and window blinds beyond it?
Who had closed the blinds? She’d had all the windows open.
After another slow blink, the next thing she was aware of was being held against Jasper’s cool body as he silently stepped backward across the destroyed room.
He placed something in her unsliced hand. “Hold this,” he ordered.
She promptly dropped whatever it was. “What’s that? What are you doing?” She couldn’t even hear herself over the peculiar buzzing in her head. Jasper answered her anyway.
“Edward’s Cullen crest wristband.” He moved toward the open kitchen door, dragging her bare toes through the puddles and painting lurid streaks across the worn vinyl. “Take this.” He put something else in her hand.
Her fingers refused to close around whatever it was, and it hit the floor with a flat thunk. She didn’t get a good look, but thought it might have been keys.
Jasper didn’t bother to pick them up either. He stepped onto the back porch and pulled the door shut. After he swung Bella up into his arms, he kicked the door open, splintering the jam and embedding the knob in the wall.
“Good,” he grunted. Kneeling down, he gripped the wrist of her uninjured hand and obliterated the bloody shoe print.
As he stood, Bella’s head lolled bonelessly over his arm. Squinting, she peered sideways into the kitchen.
“Looks like a slasher movie.” Her eyelids fluttered as she tried to bring the room into focus. Her father was the police chief. He’d say it looked like a crime scene. “F-fuck.”
“Tsk, tsk. Such language.”
Bella stared blearily up at Jasper’s scandalized look.
“Who gives a shit?” She was having trouble stringing together the words she wanted to say. There was that small problem of even finding words to put together.
There was something about Charlie being a cop …
“Oh, shit! It looks like somebody died in there. Charlie’s going to think I was murdered!” Her head fell back over Jasper’s arm. She no longer had the strength to hold it up.
Jasper’s honey-gold eyes sparked with an inner light. “That’s the point.”