“What?” Bella stared up at Jasper’s chin. She had never noticed the five o’clock shadow before. It gave him a rugged look. Unlike Edward whose pretty face had been as clear and smooth as a baby’s bottom.
Which more than matched his infantile personality, she thought wryly. What was it about her that kept attracting such clingy, needy little boys? Were they looking for mommies?
Jacob and Edward had both lost their mothers.
Bella felt a minuscule twinge of guilt.
That didn’t explain Newton, though.
Maybe she should get her head out of her ass and pay closer attention to the other guys—not just dismiss them all out of hand.
College might be different. There might be more mature men there.
The thought she might not make it to college flittered through her murky brain. She looked uncertainly up at Jasper again.
There was something different about his hair. It moved freely and waved in the air, except where coffee was sticking it together. That was proof enough Alice had been gone a while. She wasn’t around to style it with gobs of goo. She had certainly put enough gloppy crap in Bella’s hair.
She discovered her face pressed against Jasper’s chest. He’d been wearing a grey shirt. What was the red … ?
Was that her blood on his shirt? She squinted up at him. There wasn’t any on his face. All that scrumptious goodness leaking right out of her, and Jasper hadn’t taken a sip. Or a lick.
Seemed like such a waste. She almost giggled.
Why were the trees moving past them?
Oh. Jasper was walking through the woods. He was moving rather sedately for a vampire.
Peeking down to the ground, she saw he was barefoot. She could never have walked through the forest with naked tender tootsies. She chuckled and asked, “Where’s your shoes?”
“Edward’s shoes. I kicked them off.”
Why had he been wearing Edward’s shoes? Jasper’s feet were bigger. How had he even gotten them on? She groaned in her confusion and pain. She clenched her teeth against the flaring agony of her throbbing hand and feet, but forced out the question uppermost in her muddled mind at the moment. “What are you doing?”
Jasper glanced down at her and murmured, “Following the plan.”
“You were a regular Chatty Cathy at the house and now …” Her voice faded out.
Grief tightened in a constricting band around her chest and grew into a choking knot in her throat. She sobbed, “My blood is all over the kitchen.”
“It was perfect.” His eyes flicked to hers again. “I didn’t even have to make you bleed.”
“Make me bleed?”
She clutched at his shirt and struggled to raise her head to look him in the face. Her vision blurred even more as tears welled up and spilled over. “Charlie’s gonna think somebody murdered me, and all I left him for dinner was a salad.”
Jasper quirked a brow and eyed her in puzzled speculation. Apparently, the blood loss had really gotten to her.
“Your father, and everyone else, is going to think Edward attacked you and dragged you off.” He splashed his way into a creek and quickened his pace. “Be still or you’ll start bleeding again.”
“Oh, it’s just like the movies. Everything is getting dark,” she gasped dramatically. “I’m dying. Gettin’ too dark to see. Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.”
Jasper snorted. “Not yet.” He began running, holding her securely to his chest. “You know that song?”
Bella let out a derisive snort of her own, her grief having gone as quickly as it had come. “I learned more from the pups than how to ride motorcycles and cuss. They think they’re the shit because they listen to classic rock on the radio.”
Jasper merely grunted in acknowledgement, and then replied, “Everything is getting dark because … the sun is going down.”
“Oh.” She started to giggle.
He’d never heard her do that before. He almost jolted to a stop when she started to sing. If one could call what she was doing singing.
Bella clutched at the collar of his T-shirt and yanked on it to the beat of the music in her head. “Sundown and you better take care if I find you been creepin’ ‘round my back stairs.” She broke out in peals of laughter.
Just shaking his head at her hilarity, Jasper leapt from the creek and quickly scaled the sloping bank. He soon broke through the trees, and jogged smoothly up to a black SUV parked on the shoulder of the road.
A man with long blond hair was leaning against the front fender, his arms crossed over his chest. He pushed away from it, and opened the back door. “Damn, son, I thought you would be bringin’ us a girl. Instead, it sounds like you’re stranglin’ a cat.”
Jasper ducked his head and eased into the back seat, sliding across and settling the still chortling Bella across his lap.
The woman in the front passenger’s side flipped her pale hair over her shoulder and leaned over the seat, unfolding a blanket. She arranged it over Bella and began tucking it around her.
When she reclaimed her seat, she draped an elbow over the seatback and frowned at Jasper. “Not that y’all don’t smell damn yummy—like a blood-soaked Starbucks—but what happened to her? I thought you were gonna ask her for a little blood.”
Jasper grimaced and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. “Charlotte, honest-to-God, she kicked her own ass. I didn’t have to do shit in the house besides leave a few little clues here and there. She destroyed the kitchen—it looks like a slaughterhouse. Couldn’t have done a better job myself.” Jasper smiled fondly down at the frowning beauty in his arms. “Let’s go, Pete. The Chief was due home ten minutes ago.”
Having hopped into the driver’s seat, Pete started the engine and pulled out onto the black top.
Bella thumped Jasper’s chest. “Who are these vampires, and what the hell are you doing? I’m dying, remember? My last request is that you tell me what’s going on. You have to grant it.”
Jasper softly stroked her hair. “Shhh, baby. You’re not dying—just a little loopy from blood loss.”
“A little?” Pete chuckled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she’s drunker than a Southern Baptist preacher at a high school dance.”
“I am not your baby!” Bella tried to slap Jasper but missed and hit his neck. “Shit. And I’m not a Baptist, either.”
“Can’t you zap her with a little knock-it-the-hell-off so she’ll stop wigglin’?” Charlotte asked, still watching the both of them.
“I’m only helping her enough to ease her pain. Okay, Bella,” he said, trying to soothe her. “Hold still or you’ll start bleedin’ again.” Jasper caught her hand as she tried to slap him a second time and tucked it between them. He pulled the blanket up a little higher to hold her arms down.
Charlotte’s nose wrinkled with a little snicker. “You’ll be our baby vamp soon enough, sweetie.”
“Not helpin’, Char.” There was a hint of a growl in Jasper’s voice. “Bella, I’d like you to meet Charlotte and Peter. For lack of a better term, they’re my sister and brother.”
Peter thoughtfully turned on the interior dome light, waggled his eyebrows at her, and turned back around to watch the road.
Bella peered at them and dropped her head against Jasper’s chest again. “Peter kinda looks like you.”
“It’s the blond hair, sugar.” Peter clicked off the light and glanced into the rearview mirror, obvious mischief in his eye. “I’m actually the better lookin’ one.”
“And so humble,” Bella muttered. “At least Jasper isn’t being so pissy anymore,” she groused.
Charlotte rubbed Jasper’s arm and finished with friendly pat. “He’s just glad to see us and happy to get you out of Forks, honey.”
“Huh.” Bella nodded. “I think I remember … aren’t they old friends of yours? They came to visit, and Ed-wad didn’t want me to meet them because they’re heinous fiends or deplorable monsters or something? Nice to meet you both.”
“Ed-wad.” Peter outright guffawed. “Perfect. She’s a pistol, Jasper.”
Bella noticed the sneer she thought was permanently etched into Jasper’s face was gone. He was smiling so sweetly at her; he looked just like an angel. Sticky-haired, shirt stretched out, and bloodied, but still an angel.
A damn sexy angel.
“Well, this pistol is going to go off if you don’t tell me what’s up.” She attempted a growl, but it only made her cough.
Peter let out a disbelieving groan. “This gal isn’t the meek little mouse you told us about, Jas. You sure you got the right one?”
“I got the right one.” Jasper eyes dropped to Bella’s. “I want you. I’m kidnapping you,” Jasper explained, his voice taking on a seductive tone.
“I don’t want to be kidnapped,” Bella whined. “I have a life, you know. It isn’t much of one, but it’s mine. I have a job, and I’m going to the community college this fall.” Her brows drew together in a heated glare. “You guys dumped me, remember?”
“I didn’t, and at the moment, it doesn’t matter if you want to leave or not. I’m taking you.” Jasper’s eyes widened slightly. “Like I said before, everyone is going to think Edward murdered you and carted off your body.” His face drew closer. “Damn shame he lost his wristband and car keys while you were fighting for your life. You fought valiantly. Your kitchen was destroyed during the struggle. Blood everywhere. I splashed a little around for effect.” His nose was touching hers.
“You get them ashes spread around like we talked about?” Peter asked.
“Ashes?” Bella was captivated by the liquid amber of Jasper’s eyes.
“Victoria’s. She let the stupid dogs chase her right into our trap.” Jasper’s voice lowered. “Strategically placed, they’ll confuse the scents. Not that the wolves can tell the difference between us yet. I’m sure your little buddy, Jake, will be all over it. I left a trail leading to Edward’s car parked a few streets away from your house. There’s some hidden inside, too.”
“Whoa. You so set him up.” Bella nodded, impressed.
“That we did, sugar.” Charlotte was smiling brightly.
“So what took so long? I mean … it’s been months. Don’t you vampires do everything at hyper-warp-speed or something?”
“Well, sugar,” Peter drawled. “Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.”
At Bella’s blank look, Charlotte smacked Peter’s arm. “Ignore him, please.” She gave him a cutting glance. “That ain’t all. We even left some ashes at the Cullen mansion. You can bet those mangy mutts will be crawlin’ all over that place, and if the Cullens ever go back, they’ll be hatin’ life.”
“My lovely mate and Jasper neglected to mention we didn’t burn all of the soulless ginger to ash.” Peter grinned saucily at her in the rearview mirror. “Crushed her to glittery dust. One little piece at a time. Burned some. Some of the rest is mixed with the ashes. The rest of it contributed to a little home improvement at Casa de Cullen.”
“Huh? Home improvements?” Bella was even more confused.
“Yup,” Peter said with a sharp nod. “Sprinkled some of those ashes and vampire fairy dust in some of that blown-in insulation up in the attic. A little may have gotten into the walls of Edward’s couch-room—he sure didn’t need a bed. Doesn’t take much. The Boy Dunder ain’t a real vampire, but even he’ll smell it. Some got stirred into cement. Poured the Cullens a whole new patio out back.”
Charlotte was nodding. “Not her head though. We burned all of that. I mean, she deserved to suffer but not forever. She didn’t actually get near ya,” she added matter-of-factly. “Her scent will be hauntin’ ‘em forever. Unless they burn the house down.”
“Don’t forget the garage, honey.” Peter grinned conspiratorially at his wife. “Some of that mix of ashes and vamp dust may have been washed down the floor drains.” He turned his attention to the road. “Cryin’ shame they took Emmett’s Jeep with ‘em. They left behind the Vanquish, the BMW, and that stupid, canary-yellow Porsche. Everybody knows Porsches should be black or red. Just a pinch in each of the cylinders—”
“And ka-blewy!” With a huge toothy grin, Charlotte threw her hands wide.
In the dim light from the dashboard, Bella thought they both looked rather proud of themselves. She wished she could see the looks on the Cullens’ faces when their ostentatious cars exploded. “Will it blow them up? I mean … the drivers?”
“Nah.” Peter reassured her. “Just the engines … I think.”
Jasper just shook his head at the glee his friends were feeling. They’d been quite creative and had entirely too much fun. He rather enjoyed it himself. He ran his fingers over Bella’s head to regain her attention. “Shall I finish my story?” At her nod, he continued. “After Edward dragged you outside and into the woods, he realized he’d lost his keys. He couldn’t retrace his steps to look for them because there wasn’t time. The car will just have to be abandoned. He had to carry your bleeding body through the woods. He lost his shoes somewhere along the way.”
“Stupid ass,” Bella grumbled.
“Ain’t no lie, sugar,” Peter agreed, barking out another laugh.
“Those shoes were too damn small. I could only get half a foot in them.” Jasper brushed his nose against Bella’s and she snuggled into him.
“And then what happened?” she asked, her eyelids getting heavier and gradually drifting closed. She couldn’t decide if she should be incensed at being stolen away from her home or just go to sleep because she was so damn tired. “You know, you smell really good, Jasper.”
“Atta boy, Jas.” Peter gave him wink as Jasper looked up to him with a delighted smile.
“Yes, Peter. Do tell.” Jasper tipped his head down to Bella again. “Then what happened?”
“Well, sweet cheeks,” Peter began, “and Jas. In about four or five hours, either the US Border Patrol, the Texas Rangers, or the Mexican Federales are going to detain the errant lad at the border because the stupid-ass keeps drivin’ back and forth. You can almost set your watch by him.” Peter rolled his eyes. “In another fuckin’ Volvo.”
Charlotte could hardly contain her giggles. “Instead of runnin’ through the desert like a proper vampire. Of course, he doesn’t know he’s bein’ watched. Five hours should be enough time to have flown from here to Texas. They’re goin’ to hold him until Daddy Cullen’s money can get him out—which might take a while. The Forks PD will be receivin’ an anonymous tip about his whereabouts here in a bit.”
“Oh.” Bella let out a sleepy sound that might have been a chuckle. “Good. He’s a jerk. What if he breaks out?”
“He’ll keep up the charade for a while,” Charlotte mused. “Unless they try to do a body cavity search. But if he does, he’ll become an international criminal. That could be fun!”
“But what about the Voltaire?” Bella mumbled against Jasper’s chest.
“Voltaire?” Charlotte’s nose scrunched up again. “The writer?”
“She means the Volturi,” Jasper answered. “They’ve done it before. Carlisle will make a quick call to Aro to tell him everything is under control, while Emmett and Rose hack into computers to make official records disappear, and the Cullens will seemingly drop off the face of the earth for a few years. Until Carlisle gets bored and is back in a hospital somewhere.”
Bella sighed and relaxed further into Jasper’s arms, but then suddenly stiffened. “You’re gonna change me into a vampire? I had plans. I was going to give the college boys a look. Maybe even the professors.”
“You’re going to be turned.” Jasper’s silky tone took on a razor sharp edge. “As soon as possible.”
Hesitantly, Bella whispered, “I’m going to be a vampire?”
“Yes, you are.” Jasper nuzzled her hair, breathing in her scent. “Now you need to be calm, and I’m going to help you with that.”
“No!” she protested, but under Jasper’s influence, she soon let out a contented sigh. “On the bright side … when I’m a vampire, can I kick Edward’s ass?”
“Yes, you can, baby,” Jasper murmured in her ear.
Still feeling contrary, she pouted. “I’m not your baby.”
“But you are.” He brushed his lips over her forehead. “You’re all mine. You sleep now.”
From the front, came Peter’s rumbling approval. “She’ll make a good vampire. She’ll be a pain in the ass, but she’ll be a good one.”
“She will.” Tenderly pressing his lips to her cheek, Jasper listened to the steady rhythm of her quiet, even breaths. “You’re worth it all.”
“Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.” ~ “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan from the 1973 album Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.
“Sundown and you better take care if I find you been creepin’ ‘round my back stairs.” ~ “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot from the 1974 album Sundown.