Chapter 1

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Paul hated being on patrol around the leech-loving little moron’s house. Chief of police’s daughter, just moved to town, and she got herself hooked up with the goddamn Cullens.

 

How stupid could she have been? Pretty damn—especially since when the leeches left she took to hanging around Jacob Black—another moron, just not so little.

 

Paul sighed and adjusted his position slightly on the thick branch he was lounging on and ran his hand through his short-cropped hair.

 

As usual, his hair was wet from the ever-present drizzle, but he resisted flinging the water away. He didn’t give a shit about Bella Swan, but he didn’t want to take a chance on spreading his scent around his perch any more than he already had. He knew the leeches could smell them from miles away.

 

Just like he and his brothers could detect them and their sickly-sweet smell of corruption and death.

 

He peered through the branches of the surrounding firs and easily spotted the girl’s bedroom window. He could see very well in the drippy gloom, but even if he couldn’t, he didn’t have a problem picking out the faint rectangle of light. The Swan girl had started hanging around Jacob Black a few months after the corpsicle had dumped her, and according to Jacob, she’d had a low light on in her room every night since.

 

She missed the one named Edward. She was heartbroken. Her true love had left her. Did she leave the light on for him? Was she waiting for him to come back?

 

Paul rolled his eyes in disgust and thumped his head against the tree trunk. They were dead. How could they love anything?

 

Besides, the girl would be an old woman or six feet under by the time they might decide to come back—if they followed their pattern from the last time they had lived in the area—when they had made a bullshit treaty with the previous wolf pack.

 

It was bad enough he, Sam, Jared, Embry, and Quil had phased, but the blood suckers left, and then the heir apparent Jacob Black decided to join the pack. Sir Sam the Alpha ordered the baby alpha not to see Charlie Swan’s daughter for a while because he might phase accidentally and hurt her.

 

Jacob wept.

 

Paul’s heart bled for him.

 

He had wanted to bite Jacob right in the face to shut up the howling. Jacob loved her, and needed to see her, and …

 

It was sickening. He almost wanted to puke.

 

Other than knowing she was kind of skinny and had long brown hair, Paul wasn’t even really sure what she looked like. Of course, he’d seen her in Jacob’s warm, fuzzy, squishy thoughts, but he didn’t trust them. In Jacob’s mind, the anemic-looking pale-face had damn near achieved angel or saint status—complete with the sparkling innocent eyes, a golden shimmery glow, and a halo over her shiny flowing hair.

 

She was in Baby Alpha’s thoughts almost constantly, and Paul was sick of it. He loved his wolf form, but he almost hated to phase when Jacob did because all the asshole ever whined about was how much he missed Bella, wonder when he would be able to see her again, and count the reasons why he loved her so much.

 

Sharing the pack mind was a real pain in the ass sometimes.

 

Jacob was worse than the wolves that had imprinted. Quil wasn’t so bad, but at least Sam and Jared managed to control themselves and their thoughts about their women. It didn’t keep everyone from knowing they were whipped.

 

Paul almost wished Sam would let Jacob go look at the girl and just get it over with. He would imprint on her or he wouldn’t. At least the crap would be over.

 

He sincerely hoped it would be over.

 

With his luck, it would probably get worse.

 

Jacob was so damn bad already; Paul didn’t think he had enough imagination to envision Jacob being even worse.

 

Paul readjusted his bare back against the rough bark again and, not for the first time, was glad the legends spoke of how rare imprinting was. He didn’t need that kind of fuckery. If imprinting was supposed to be about breeding, how come it turned the imprinted wolves into neutered lap dogs?

 

He almost chuckled out loud at his own joke.

 

With a slight shift of the variable breeze, Paul caught a trace of scent of a Cold One and was instantly on alert. The drowsing wolf inside him came fully awake and inhaled deeply, drawing the cloying odor in. He knew instantly it wasn’t the red-haired female that had been skipping back and forth over their borderlines, just out of their reach.

 

She was a wily one, and Paul had learned a few things from her. The main thing was all vampires weren’t as fucking deceitful as the Cullens. Regardless of the color of their eyes, they were all killers. He didn’t care if they had yellow eyes—that just made them bigger liars than the rest.

 

The red-head had evaded them by racing across the ground, taunting them as they got closer, and then jumping up into the trees where the wolves couldn’t go. On the ground, the wolves were just as fast, but in the trees the animated corpses had the advantage—having thumbs and all.

 

That had made him think of people sitting in high deer stands when hunting. The deer were less likely to see or smell the human predators up in the trees.

 

It was why that night, after running the perimeter to check the area and add to the various wolf scents, he phased human and scaled a tree. With his enhanced physique, and thumbs, he could easily leap from tree to tree until he was close enough to sit as sentinel.

 

Why the Swan girl was so special he had to hang out near her house …

 

Sam probably told them to do it to keep Jacob off his back.

 

Well, he was hunting vampires, and Bella Swan did happen to be a human.

 

The slight breeze brought more of the leech’s stink to him, and he knew it was coming closer.

 

Bella Swan made good bait. At least she was good for something.

 

Noiselessly, he stood on the limb and stripped. He laid his cut-offs over the broad branch and prepared to pounce. He was high enough he had plenty of room to drop, phase, and bite the fucker’s head off.

 

The sweet, nose-burning stench billowed through the moist air. Paul stealthily peeked around the trunk of the tree and caught sight of a pale figure moving slowly through the forest—straight for Chief Swan’s house.

 

As the vampire glided closer, Paul finally got a look at the creature. He knew that face. He’d seen it often enough in Jacob’s mind. It was the one the Swan girl had been in love with. Edward.

 

Even as a human, Paul’s lips pulled back from his teeth in a silent snarl. Not only was the slightly glowing creature dead, he was ugly.

 

Paul knew he could take the abomination alone, but he did begin to wonder why he hadn’t heard any of his brothers in his mind while he had been running the lines as a wolf.

 

He remembered some of the Cullens had special gifts. The one heading for the girl’s house was supposed to be able to read minds. Paul tensed even more, wondering why his thoughts hadn’t been picked up by the … thing. When it came closer, would it hear his heartbeat?

 

It kept moving, at a slightly faster than human pace, in a nearly direct line to the two-story white house.

 

Paul almost growled out loud when the leech passed beneath his hiding place. Paul dropped out of the tree.

 

Between one strong beat of his heart and the next, he reveled in the familiar heat that rippled up his spine. He felt the surge of power through his body, blinked his eyes, and saw the black claws of his wide paws aiming right for the vampire.

 

Then his alpha’s voice rang through his head.

 

Paul, you can’t attack if it’s one of the Cullens.

 

Fuck that shit, Sam. He’s heading right for the girl, and she is, technically, human.

 

I think that one is named Edward. You can’t attack him if he hasn’t broken the treaty.

 

As Paul’s lips curled back from his fangs, the leech stopped and spun, looking right at him with eyes as black as the night around them.

 

The Cullen threw his arms up to block the wolf’s attack, and Paul finally snarled as his jaws closed down over one of the cold, hard hands.

 

Sam’s voice echoed in his head.

 

Paul! Stop!

 

“Paul, stop!” the Cullen shouted. “The treaty!”

 

Paul didn’t give a shit about the treaty and didn’t care that the vamp knew his name. The voices shouting at him, inside and outside of his head, were nothing but background noise to the wolf’s snarls and growls. He crunched through the rock-like hand and wrenched his head up, breaking off the vampire’s fingers as they both slammed to the ground.

 

He’d known the vampires were hard, but not having bitten one before, he hadn’t realized how hard.

 

The volume of the leech’s shriek of pain pierced Paul’s skull like a spike and stunned him for an instant. It was enough time for the undead bastard to slap at the left side of Paul’s chest with both arms, making him stagger to the side.

 

Paul’s nails dug into the wet earth as he spit out the rock-like digits and whipped his head around to take another bite, but the maimed vampire had rolled away. It gained its feet, and sprinted away in the direction it had come from.

 

Paul! I’m on my way. Don’t chase him!

 

I can take him!

 

No, Paul!

 

The deep timbre of the words made it an Alpha Order and Paul was incapable of making chase.

 

He dropped to his haunches, threw his head back, and howled his rage. He knew he could have torn it apart!

 

Phasing human so he wouldn’t have to listen to Sam anymore, Paul started spitting to clear his mouth of the sweetly bitter traces of venom and then heard someone scream.

 

It was coming from the Swan house. Had the leech he’d seen been a distraction so another one could attack the girl? He hadn’t smelled a second one.

 

He bolted for the house and jumped up, catching hold of the trim around her window. There was a gap between the curtains, and he could see there was no vampire in the room, but she screamed again.

 

Had she been bitten? He didn’t know what the hell he would do if she had.

 

He reached for the upper sash, found that it was unlocked, and pulled it down. He climbed up and through, knocking the curtains and rods to the floor.

 

The noise from that should have awakened the girl, but she was tangled in the sheets and purple blanket, whimpering and crying. Paul didn’t detect any vampire scent—all he could smell was her and her salty tears.

 

He wasn’t sure what to do. He wondered where her father was, but then remembered he hadn’t seen the cruiser out front. The Chief must have been at work.

 

Still uncertain, but knowing he had to do something; Paul went to the side of the bed and grabbed her arms. “Bella! Wake up.”

 

She flailed against his hold, shook her head, and her eyes flew open. “Holy crow!” She blinked. “Who are you? Are you naked!?!”

 

“Holy crow? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

 

Then the girl tried to pull away from him and tossed her head again to get her hair out of her eyes.

 

Her big, beautiful, deep brown eyes.

 

That happened to be filled with tears and gawking at him in fear.

 

“Uh …” Paul was awestruck. Dumbstruck. Stupified. His grip froze on her arms as his feet seemed to grow to the hardwood floor. He gazed into her liquid brown eyes and found the meaning and purpose of his life in their fathomless depths.

 

In that moment, nothing mattered but her.

 

All the bullshit he had lived with; his shitty parents; his dump of a house; all the disappointments; the dreams he’d had before he had phased into a wolf, and thought he would never realize … none of it mattered in that single moment in time.

 

It all didn’t matter because he would do everything in his power to ensure that Bella Swan was taken care of and safe.

 

“Who are you? Let go of me! What are you doing in my room?”

 

Paul eyelids flapped a few more times. Bella was trying to get away from him. She was scared out of her mind.

 

Belatedly, Paul realized she was afraid of him, and he snatched his hands away from her arms and stepped back.

 

She grabbed a paperback book from her night table and threw it at him.

 

It nailed him right in the head.

 

Bewildered more than hurt, Paul rubbed at the sore spot on his forehead and took another step back.

 

“Get out!” she screamed and reached for her alarm clock. “Get out!” When she tried to cock her arm back to throw it, the cord was strung tight and the little electronic clock was yanked out of her hand. “Arrrgh!” She flung her blanket away and scrambled to her knees. She grabbed a large text book from the night table with both hands and heaved it at him.

 

He jerked his leg up and turned away just in time to keep it from hitting him right in groin.

 

The near miss brought Paul fully back to his senses. “Hey, now, girl, take it easy! That shit’s not—”

 

Something big, dark, and weighty smashed into his face, and he was knocked back against a little desk.

 

He caught the object and saw it was a purple backpack—a very full and heavy one.

 

“Paul!”

 

Paul’s head snapped to the left, and he saw his alpha standing in the doorway of his imprint’s bedroom.

 

At least Sam had pants on.

 

“Oh, God! Who are you?” Bella shrieked.

 

“Paul, get out!” Sam barked as he stepped into the room, his hands extended toward Bella. “Bella,” he said softly. “I’m Sam Uley. Remember me? Uh, don’t throw the lamp.”

 

He managed to catch it as it whizzed past his head, but not without crushing the shade. “Look, Bella, it’s okay. Really. Everything will be … don’t throw—”

 

With a grunt, Bella flung the night table at him. “Sam Uley? You’re in that gang in La Push!” She was standing on the little twin bed and her chest was heaving with her rapid breaths.

 

She wasn’t scared anymore—she was pissed off.

 

Fortunately, the lamp she threw at Sam wasn’t the one she used as a nightlight. There was plenty of light from the beach ball-sized paper lantern in the corner for Paul to appreciate that all she was wearing was a little, light blue tank top and a loose pair of purple sleep shorts. She wasn’t quite as boney as he had originally thought. Add a few pounds and—

 

“Paul! Go!” Sam growled at him.

 

“But she’s—”

 

“I know. Leave!”

 

Bella reached over to the short bookshelf on the other side of her bed and grabbed a few more books to use as weapons. “Paul? Paul Lahote? Jacob told me you’re in Sam’s gang.” She hurled the books at him and reached for more.

 

“Bella, it’s not what you think,” Sam began as he took a step toward her. “Don’t throw—”

 

“And where are your pants?” With her left hand, Bella zipped another book at Paul, and with her right, launched a dictionary at Sam.

 

“Ow!” Sam caught the thick hard-bound book before it hit the floor, but not before the corner of it jabbed him in the thigh. “Paul!” he grunted.

 

“I’m … uh, she—”

 

“I know. Get out! Get your pa—” Sam had to deflect a few more paperback missiles, but at least it gave Paul time to reach the window.

 

Before he got all the way through it, Bella bounced another book off his back.

 

He couldn’t help wondering how many damn books the girl had.

 

He dropped lightly to the ground and jogged back toward the tree where he’d left his shorts, chuckling at Bella Swan screaming in rage and destroying her bedroom trying to get rid of Sam. He’d never thought much of the girl, but she had impressed him. From listening to Jacob moan and whine about her being all mopey and weepy, he’d have never thought she would have gotten so mad. And fight like a wildcat to chase away two strange men.

 

He was proud of her. He had to hurry and get back to her before she hurt his alpha.

 

Reaching the correct tree, he leapt up, caught a limb, and swung up into the branches. Paul yanked up the ragged denim shorts and felt in his pockets for the tin of mints and lighter he always carried.

 

Two tins. It might be enough to get the nasty taste out of his mouth. Paul snapped open the lid and the white peppermint chips inside reminded him of the vampire flesh he had bitten through. He shoved all of them into his mouth, jumped back out of the tree, and headed back to where the vamp’s fingers had to be.

 

Only finding three, he grimaced in revulsion at the thought of touching them with his bare hands. He could still feel the tingle in his skin where he had touched Bella. Sniffing at his palms, he could still smell her. Her scent was wonderful. Spicy and warm, and it spoke to him of cozy times in front of the hearth with a gathering of family.

 

Not the family he had been born to. Paul knew he didn’t want to have anything to do with his so-called parents. In just an unending moment that ended all too soon, Bella Swan had become the only family he really needed.

 

Her and the other members of his tribe who were also Spirit Warriors.

 

Maybe even the crybaby Jacob Black.

 

Paul stared down at the pieces of vampire flesh and blew out a revolted breath. He really didn’t want the monster’s venom to touch him and obliterate the girl’s scent. He grabbed a stick from the forest floor and poked them into the little metal box.

 

All three weren’t going to fit. He emptied the other tin into his mouth and started crunching up the sweet chips as he squatted down.

 

The finger moved.

 

Okay. Seeing that was slightly disturbing. There was another part of their legends that turned out to be true.

 

With his trusty little twig, he flipped the twitching finger into the second tin, snapped it shut, and shoved it into his pocket with the other one. He didn’t know what he was going to do with them. He could always burn them later. As he turned to head back to the house, he spotted a large black feather on the ground. As dark as it was, he was surprised he had noticed it. He bent to pick it up and thought it might have been a wing feather from a crow. It was practically perfect—smooth and straight.

 

A chill worked its way from between his shoulder blades, up his neck, and over his head, raising goose bumps over his skin.

 

Paul wasn’t real big into the mythology of his people, but he knew the feather was a sign, a message. Crows didn’t drop their feathers any old place for just anyone to find.

 

He decided he would keep the feather, and should probably do a little reading about crows. Maybe Bella had a book about bird mythology. He started moving faster to get back to the girl that cursed by taking a crow’s name in vain.

 

Paul chuckled at that, thinking it was cute.

 

He came to such an abrupt stop; he almost fell over and dropped the feather.

 

What the fuck was wrong with him? Cute? He thought it was cute? Paul didn’t think anything was cute. He hated that leech-loving, skinny, whiny-ass little white girl with a passion and …

 

He let out a gusty sigh. He didn’t hate her. He kind of liked her. She was sort of brave. She had certainly acted differently than he had seen and heard from Jacob. He was curious to know if she had hurt Sam, who was more than twice her size. He wanted to know if she had destroyed her room trying to get rid of him. That shit would be funny. He needed to know what the alpha may have said to her or if he’d had a chance to say anything besides, “Don’t throw that.”

 

More than anything; he needed to be near her and make sure she was all right.

 

By the silence, he could tell they weren’t in her room any longer, so he circled the house and saw lights on in the kitchen. Peeking through the window, he saw Bella in a worn, purple terry cloth robe, and she was sitting across the table from Sam. Steaming mugs were in front of them.

 

Sam and Bella in the kitchen together—drinking tea. Paul wanted to drink tea with Bella, and he didn’t even like hot tea.

 

Paul tapped at the back door and waited impatiently for one of them to decide to let him in.

 

The door swung open and Bella was standing there, her hand on her hip, and a scowl on her face.

 

“You’re Paul,” she stated.

 

“Uh, yeah.”

 

“Is that a feather?”

 

“Um … yeah.”

 

She stepped back and waved her hand jerkily toward Sam. “At least you have pants on. You and your feather can come in.” She closed the door after Paul sidled past her, and crossed her arms over her chest. “Is it a magic feather?”

 

Paul dropped into a chair, and he and Sam stared at her, baffled.

 

“What?” Sam asked.

 

“Magic feather!” Bella exclaimed throwing her hands up in the air. “Does it help you fly?”

 

Paul wrinkled his nose and frowned. “There’s no such thing as magic feathers that make you fly.”

 

“There’s no such thing as vampires and werewolves either.”

 

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