Chapter 3

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Paul didn’t like the way Quil was regarding him as he hauled a cooler and a little folding table across the beach.

 

“Watcha got there, bro?” Quil’s eyes traveled slowly over his loaded-down pack-mate. “Cooler, table, and a backpack? What’s in the backpack?”

 

“Nothing for you,” Paul answered sullenly. He picked a spot near a driftwood log not too far from the fire, and set everything down. It would be chilly later, and he didn’t want Bella to get cold—if she happened to sit next to him. He hoped she would sit next to him. He unfolded the legs of the table and placed it next to the cooler. He could feel Embry, Quil, and Jacob scrutinizing him while he was digging a blanket out of the backpack. A hush settled over the small group as he unfolded the blanket and arranged it over the log.

 

“What’s in the cooler, Paul?” came Quil’s voice again.

 

“That’s not for you either.” Paul had felt a compulsion to bring food for Bella, but he’d heard in Jacob’s head that she was practically a vegetarian. He didn’t know what the hell vegetarians ate. Except for … well, vegetables. He’d asked the woman in the produce section of the grocery store what he should get.

 

He didn’t know what the hell tofu was, so he’d ended up buying a bag of baby carrots, another bag of pre-cut celery sticks, and a tub of ranch dip. He didn’t know if it was considered vegetarian or not. There wasn’t any meat in it—except for the bacon bits. With additional suggestions from the extremely helpful, and overly flirtatious, produce lady, he’d also picked up a half-gallon of pre-made green tea with honey for Bella. He’d grabbed a few packages of cheap hot dogs and buns for himself.

 

He felt their eyes on his back and couldn’t stand the tension any longer. He spun to face them. “What? Why the hell are you guys staring at me? You never see anybody bring a cooler and a blanket to the beach before?”

 

Embry’s eyebrows rose to his hairline. “Sure we have. Lots of times. Just not you.”

 

“Yeah.” Quil chuckled. “And you’re wearing a shirt. Nobody has a shirt on except Kim and Emily.” He gestured toward the girls making their way down the path from the parking lot, and their bare-chested imprints who were burdened with coolers and backpacks.

 

“Maybe I want to wear a shirt, okay?” Paul squatted down by the fire and poked at it with a long stick. It was none of their business why he wanted to wear a T-shirt.

 

He absolutely refused to pull the green tea and baby carrots out of the cooler until Bella was there.

 

Quil smirked. “I think he wants to look decent for Bella, what do you think, Embry?”

 

“I think you guys need to shut up!” Jacob jumped up from his seat in the sand opposite Paul and the bright fire and stalked off down the beach.

 

“Quil,” Sam admonished him as they drew closer. “I heard Bella’s truck coming when we were up in the parking lot. She’s our guest. Try not to act like jerks and embarrass her.”

 

Paul instantly sprang up from the sand, he hadn’t heard it yet over the sound of the waves, but he wasn’t quite fast enough to beat Jacob to the rumbling old truck.

 

He was seething by the time Bella put the truck in park. Jacob was at the driver’s side door practically vibrating, he was so eager to see her.

 

Clenching his teeth so hard he thought he might crack the enamel, Paul stomped toward the truck. He was immediately mollified when he saw Bella frowning at Jacob.

 

She struggled to crank down the window and only made it about halfway before she gave up. “Jacob, I’m glad to see you, but why are you staring at me like that? Do I have dirt on my face? Get out of the way so I can open the door.”

 

Paul reached toward the door handle of the truck, and the fingers of Jacob’s left hand closed around his wrist.

 

“I’ll get it.” Jacob’s voice was nearly a growl.

 

“You’re gonna get it if you don’t quit fucking around.” Paul’s threat was low and raspy.

 

“Hey, quit it,” Bella began, a worried look appeared on her face. Then she gasped at the flurry of movement outside her truck.

 

In a strike as fast as lightening, Jacob spun toward Paul, reaching for his face. Paul, just as quick, jerked away from him and twisted his right arm to capture Jacob’s wrist in an iron grip.

 

Jacob’s fingertips caught the neck of Paul’s T-shirt and ripped it from his body.

 

Before Paul had a chance to smash Jacob’s nose across his face, he was wrenched from Paul’s grasp. The next thing he saw was Jacob flying across the parking lot toward the trees, arms spinning like a windmill, and Jared and Quil standing there with smug looks on their faces.

 

An unhappy Sam was waiting for Jacob when he tumbled across the ground.  Sam grabbed his arm, hauled him up off the gravel, and dragged him into the trees.

 

Quil was nodding his head and smiling, feeling pleased with himself. He clapped Jared on the shoulder. “Good job.” His eyes turned to Paul. “Hey, man, you got a new tattoo?”

 

Paul wasn’t paying any attention to them. He was moving toward a bug-eyed Bella who was leaning away from them.

 

Holding his hands out, Paul took a step toward the truck. “Bella, it’s okay. Sam will have a nice talk with Jacob. He warned him to behave himself.” He cautiously reached for the door handle. “Everything’s fine.” He slowly opened the door. “Are you okay?”

 

Bella’s long, dark lashes fluttered a few times, her eyebrows drew together, and she huffed loudly. “Uh, yeah. What is wrong with Jacob?” She blinked again and shot a puzzled look at Paul. “Did you get a new tattoo?”

 

“Oh?” Jared grinned and leaned forward to see Paul’s chest. “Nice tattoo. I guess she has seen you without your shirt on before.”

 

“Pfffft! I’ve seen him naked.” She flapped her hand at them. Pursing her lips, she blew out another breath. “Well, that thing with Jacob … uh, that’s something else you all can explain.” She twisted around to reach for one of the plastic bags on the bench seat of her truck. “I brought some—”

 

“Food? We’ll get it!” Quil and Jared darted around the back of the truck and had the passenger door open before she could say another word.

 

Jared grabbed the bags, handed one to Quil, slammed the door shut, and they were gone, running back toward the fire on the beach.

 

“Well … uh,” Bella began, a little uncomfortably, peering up at Paul.

 

“Yeah, uh, well, uh.”

 

“So, new tattoo?” She picked up a jacket she had on the seat and started to climb out of the truck.

 

Paul took hold of her hand. It was so soft and warm. “Uh, yeah.” He brushed his fingers over the fully healed circular design on the left side of his chest. “I drew it. Got it yesterday. Same guy who did the one on my right arm inked it.”

 

When Bella was beside him, he gently closed the truck door and conveniently forgot to let go of her hand. He was thrilled she didn’t pull away.

 

“It’s a bird?” she tilted her head and looked at him from the corner of her eye. A gleam of mischief showed there. “You have a thing for birds and feathers?”

 

Realizing she was teasing him, he smiled. “I do now.” Not wanting to go into detail about the new tattoo just yet, he asked her, “Have you met Kim and Emily?” He knew no one would ever mean as much to him as Bella did, whether she accepted him or not. He was humbled and awed by the depth of his connection to her. He’d created and gotten the tattoo to commemorate the life-altering moment of imprinting on her; just as he and his wolf brothers had honored their bonds as protectors of their home and people with tribal wolf tattoos. He didn’t want to explain it to her with an audience.

 

As they headed for the beach, Bella stopped and picked something up off the ground. “Look! Here’s another feather!” She held it up in front of Paul.

 

It made no difference that he and his brothers ran at a warm one hundred and eight degrees. Another prickly chill raced up his back and over his head.

 

He cleared his throat, giving himself a moment. “You keep that one. Maybe your Holy Crow left it for you.”

 

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