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Bella had awakened from another good night’s sleep and decided she’d finish putting her room back together before tackling any homework or other chores. The night before, Paul had said he might be around at lunch time, and she found she didn’t mind that idea at all.
After seeing him eat, she thought using an entire loaf of bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches might just be enough. If she added several cans of tomato soup to the menu.
She dressed in a bedraggled pair of grey sweats and a ratty old T-shirt, and hummed happily with the songs from the small radio on her desk as she moved around her room. She hadn’t listened to music in months and realized she had missed it. She was glad she hadn’t broken the old radio when she was throwing things at Paul and Sam a few nights before.
Pausing in front of her mirror, she ran her finger over the black feather she had stuck in the frame and smiled, admiring its iridescent sheen. She thought she might have it placed in a glass-covered shadow box to protect it.
She turned to her bed and started to make it, but decided she’d change the sheets instead. As she gathered up the armload of bedclothes, movement outside at the edge of the yard caught her eye. She stared again in disbelief. Her mouth dropped open. She could not believe who she saw walking toward her house from the woods. She threw the laundry to the floor and shoved open the window. She would recognize the deathly pale skin, the white oxford shirt, crisply pleated slacks, and gleaming, tasseled Italian loafers anywhere. She thought if she ever saw him again, she’d be upset or sad or collapse into a blubbering, wailing heap, but she wasn’t any of those things. She was furious!
“What are you doing here?” Bella asked her voice hard and flat.
“Bella, I realized how wrong I was to leave you. I should have never left. I couldn’t stay away any longer.”
She leaned on the window sill, shaking her head. “Um, what was your name again? I know I’ve seen you somewhere before. Oh, gosh, my mind is such a sieve—I can’t seem to remember a darn thing sometimes.” She frowned and tapped her chin with a finger. At his pained expression, a smirk grew over her face. “Oh, that’s right. Edwin! I remember that poor, little, lost boy look you used to get all the time.” The smile fell from her lips, and she started to duck back inside. “You should leave. Now.”
“Bella!” Two long strides brought him farther into the yard. His right hand was in his pocket, but his left rose as if he was reaching for her. “I came to beg you to take me back. To ask you to forgive me for ever thinking I could be without you.”
“See this, Edward? It’s a cell phone. Charlie got it for me. I even figured out how to use it all by myself. I can make phone calls and everything. I have all the Quileute werewolves on speed dial. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.” She pressed a couple buttons on the phone and held it to her ear. “I’m calling them now.”
“You know about the wolves?” Edward shoved his right hand even more deeply into his pocket. “They’ve been patrolling near your house, but … How do you know about them? Do you know how dangerous they are?”
“Dangerous? Not as dangerous as vampires, I guess.” She rolled her eyes and released a disgusted breath. “Yes, I know who they are. It was all in my inadequate human mind, I just didn’t put it all together quickly enough.” Bella shrugged. “Vampires are real—why not werewolves, right? Oh, Sam? It’s me. Edward is here in my yard. I’m in my house. Oh, really? Thank you. Good bye.” She snapped her phone closed and shoved it in her pocket. She tilted her head and one eyebrow arched upward. “You should have left when I told you to, but you never did listen to anything I said. Looking back, that’s probably a good thing.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Live and learn.”
Movement in the trees beyond Edward caught her attention. A wolf the size of a Clydesdale slipped silently from between the trees. His silver-grey fur bristled along his neck, shoulders, and back, while his black-edged lips curled up and away from enormous white fangs.
Without having seen him in his wolf form, Bella knew it was Paul, and she knew she wouldn’t have to worry about Edward Cullen ever again.
Bella was puzzled Edward hadn’t heard him approaching. “It’s a wonder the Cullens are still around if they use you as part of their first defense. Let me get my camera!” Bella darted to her desk, snatched up the camera that had also been a gift from her dad, and was back at the window. “You won’t be able to steal these pictures.”
“But, Bella, I—”
A deep, thrumming growl sounded behind Edward and he spun around in alarm. “You’re Paul! Remember the treaty!” Edward’s head snapped to the left. A dark brown wolf crept from the cover of the trees. “Who are—” He twisted to face the snarling grey wolf again. Beside him was another grey wolf with a darker muzzle. “I’ve been so distracted …This isn’t part of your territory.”
Sure it is. Paul took another step forward. My territory is wherever I happen to be, and you’re trespassing, leech. Haven’t you learned I don’t give a shit about your bullshit treaty? I have even less reason to now. Bella is mine.
Embry moved away from Paul to block Edward’s exit to the front yard and the street. Yeah. She’s his imprint.
Glancing up at Bella leaning out the window and taking picture after picture, Quil slipped silently between Edward and the house. She looks like she’s scared and shit. Sort of.
Edward gaped at the wolf in front of him. “You can’t be serious! You imprinted on her?”
Bella paused in her picture taking. “You guys know I can’t hear you, right? It’s not fair. Edward, they’ve been running around Forks ever since you and your family snuck away.”
Edward flinched at the derisive anger in Bella’s voice. He turned just enough to look over his shoulder at her. “Bella, love, that was to protect you from—”
“Don’t call me that! You have no right!” She was shaking so hard she almost dropped her camera. She shoved the strap over her wrist. “Protect me? Do you realize Victoria has been here? Jasper was right when he said you should have killed her, but no! Edward always knows best.” She shook her fist at him.
Paul lowered his head and took another slow step forward. Guys, show him what we did to the other one they let get away.
“Laurent!” Edward staggered at the barrage of violent images that flooded his mind, and shuddered at the macabre scenes of fangs tearing at vampire flesh, and of flames eating away at the remains.
“Yes. Laurent!” Bella shouted and then slapped her hand over her mouth, realizing she was getting louder. “Can you see him in their heads? He had red eyes, Edward. Paul told me about it last night. It’s a good thing the wolves have been patrolling as far as they have. I guess Laurent didn’t quite take to the vegetarian diet,” she finished with a sneer.
“Paul was here last night?”
“Arrrgh!” Bella’s hand slapped against her forehead. “That’s all you’re worried about?”
Sam’s black wolf crept from the shadows in the forest. One of us has been here every night since you abandoned her in the woods, Cullen. If I hadn’t found her, she would have died. Do you see how she looked when I found her? You didn’t bite her, but you nearly killed her.
Edward grimaced and both hands flew to his head. “No. No! I left to protect her.”
She’s protected now. Paul snarled and inched forward. Better than you ever did or ever could.
“What happened to your hand?” Bella took more pictures. “Only your pinky and thumb left. Must be really hard to play the piano like that. Gosh, did you manage to annoy someone else?” she asked sarcastically.
Embarrassed, Edward shoved his hand back into his pocket. “I … it was merely a misunderstanding.”
Paul growled again. Misunderstanding my ass. Keep fucking around, leech, and I’ll make my meaning perfectly clear.
“And they’re talking to you again when I can’t hear them. This supernatural stuff just drives me crazy.” Bella glared at the wolves—including Jared who had slunk soundlessly from the trees. “Anyway, did the rest of your family come back?”
Edward was warily eyeing the new wolf. “No. Esme and Carlisle are in upstate New York, and Alice and Jasper went—”
Bella flung her hand up as if to stop his words and gritted her teeth. “I do not care where they are. Alice was supposed to be my best friend. Some friend. I see what kind of loyalty you Cold Ones have.” Her fist pounded the window sill. “You know who’s loyal? The wolves. And, oh, look. There’s another one. I think you’re surrounded, Edward. Kinda like Laurent was.”
Jacob padded noiselessly from the edge of the trees to fill the empty space between Paul and Embry. All the wolves adjusted their positions to ensure Edward was completely enclosed.
“I think you need to leave, Edward.” Bella cocked her head and snapped a few more pictures.
“But, Bella, I came back because I couldn’t bear to be away from you. My existence has no meaning without you.”
The yard filled with low, reverberating growls. Bella squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her lips into a straight line. She inhaled a deep breath and her fists rose slowly. “Hang on!” She darted back to her desk, yanked open the top drawer, and grabbed a pack of matches she kept to light the occasional candle. Back at the window, she ground out through clenched teeth, “Edward. You never fucking listen, but you better listen to this. Fuck the fuck off you fucking fucker!” She flung the matchbook out the window.
In the stunned silence that fell, everyone’s eyes flew open and they all stared at Bella in utter shock as the matchbook fluttered to the ground.
Edward was the first to react. “Bella! What’s happened to you? I’ve only been gone … You’ve … you’ve changed.”
You heard her. Paul leapt. He couldn’t believe that cold fucker had the nerve to come back and try to tell his imprint what to do. He dared to say anything about her language? She had changed? She sure did and Paul liked it. Fuck off, bloodsucker!
Though his back was to him, Edward flinched at the hate-filled force behind Paul’s mental shout, managing to save his head from the silver wolf’s jaws. Instead, Paul’s deadly fangs sank into his right shoulder, and he slammed him to the ground.
“Don’t kill him!”
Bella leaned so far out of the window, Jacob gasped and Quil stood up on his hind legs to reach for her.
“I’m not going to fall! What happened to me? Edward, you are what happened to me. Yes, I’ve changed, and it’s for the better! My little human life is too short to waste on liars like you. Paul! Let him go, please. Let him leave. He can go back to wherever he came from and continue to enjoy his vampy distractions.” Bella crossed her arms. The dangling camera bounced against her hip. “That was your third strike today, Edward. Goodbye.”
Growls harmonized in the damp mid-morning air, and five pairs of golden lupine eyes slid from Bella to the wounded vampire on the lawn. They stalked forward, tightening the circle around him.
Sam brought his nose within inches of Edward’s face, blocking his view of Bella. You heard her. You and your coven may not kill humans, but you’ve found other ways to try and destroy them. Like Paul, I don’t think I give a shit about the treaty anymore. At least as far as it concerns you. Cross our borders …
And you’ll be dead dead, Cullen, and I’ll be pissin’ on your ashes. Paul nipped a small chunk out of Edward’s shoulder, tearing away a large portion of his shirt and making him hiss in pain. Paul spit the poisonous bit of Edward’s flesh toward the woods, and then slapped his plate-sized paw down on the middle of Edward’s chest.
We’ve been cleaning up after you ever since you left. Jacob narrowed his eyes. I’d say you should try to clean up your own mess with that red-headed female, but she’d tear you apart and still be killing people. We don’t need your kind of help.
You think you know everything because you can read minds. Paul’s amber eyes were sparking with his anger. Yeah, Bella also told me last night how that worked. We didn’t have any problem catching you. Paul snorted right in his face. Time for you to go so you can tell your coven not to come around here anymore. We’ll be adding mug shots to our journals. My girl tossing those matches out here closes the discussion.
In a whisper, Edward choked out, “But … but, my fingers …”
Dust. Paul sneered. You don’t need ‘em.
Everybody step back. Let him up. Sam’s eyes roamed over his pack and the adjacent area. We’ve been here long enough.
Paul thumped Edward’s chest once more and backed away.
Trembling in fear, Edward cautiously rose to his feet and looked up toward Bella. “I—”
“I don’t want to hear any more of your lies, Edward. Run home to your daddy,” she said dismissing him with a flick of her hand. “Paul and the rest of you guys, when you’re finished taking out the trash, come on in.” She slammed the window shut, flipped the lock, and yanked the curtains closed.
The wolves each moved back another step, and Paul and Jacob widened the opening between them to let Edward pass.
Not one more word, leech. She told me what you said to her. Jacob’s ears lay back against his ruddy head. His eyes darted to Paul and back to Edward. It looks like the better man won. You’re lucky you only lost a few fingers and she doesn’t want us to kill you.
Paul examined Jacob for a moment. He thought maybe the baby alpha was finally growing up. It would be a relief not to have to kick his ass again.
Edward pressed his maimed hand to his chest and bowed his head. “I only left because I love her more—”
Paul snorted again. Right. Loved her so much you did the best you could to kill her without actually touching her. His fur bristled again as he took one stiff step toward Edward. Don’t make me repeat myself. You’re a stupid mother fucker, but you can’t be that stupid.
Edward, knowing he was no match for six wolves, nodded once, took one last look at Bella’s window, and bolted away; snatching up the piece of his shoulder Paul had bitten off before he disappeared into the forest.
Probably won’t be the last we see of that bloodsucker. Jacob swung his head toward Sam. Hey, Sam, we should head back to the Rez. I think Bella’s making lunch for … Paul. I hear her in the kitchen. We should … uh, go.
Yeah, Jacob, that’s a good idea. Sam nodded in agreement. Maybe the heir to the alpha crown was finally getting a grip and facing reality. With Paul imprinting on her, it didn’t look as though Bella would be running off with any vampires. He would still have her in his life. C’mon fellas. I’m sure Emily has something for us. See ya later, Paul. Remember, Charlie’s fishing and they pull back into shore about sundown. Sam gave him a wink as the group of five slipped into the shadows.
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