The rapid knock at the front door startled Bella as she took another pan of cookies out of the oven. She quickly set it on top of the range, tossed the oven mitts to the table, and exited the kitchen, finger combing her hair. She knew it was a mess. She’d been mixing stiff cookie dough and baking for hours.
There had to be enough autumn and Halloween-themed goodies for the pack and for the little party they were hosting for the kids of the Reservation at the community center. It was her own fault for putting it off as long as she had.
Embry would be over soon and she’d set aside a few special treats just for him.
Tugging at the worn flannel shirt she wore over a deep purple sweater, she couldn’t resist pulling the collar to her nose and inhaling deeply. It was Embry’s shirt and it still smelled like him—summer in the pines and a hint of the warm, strong, loving man he was. There was even a hint of the cinnamon she’d put in the cookies.
She smiled as she thought of him and yanked at the door. It always stuck a little.
The hardened expression on Embry’s face wiped the smile from hers. “What’s wrong? Oh, crap! What time is it? It’s later than I thought!” She grabbed his hand and hauled him into the house. “I’m sorry, Embry! I was in the kitchen and completely lost track of time! I wanted to get a shower and oof!”
Her breath forcibly left her as she was engulfed in his arms and crushed to his warm chest.
“I don’t care about that, Bella,” he murmured into her hair. “You smell great to me.” His voice hitched as he continued. “And now you smell like oatmeal and vanilla, and chocolate chips and cinnamon, and … and h-home.”
“Home? Weren’t you just there? Oh, Embry. What’s wrong?” Her right hand swept over his head to hold it to hers, as her left ran firmly up and down his back. “C’mon in the kitchen. I have some macaroni and cheese in the fridge I’ll heat up for you.”
Like the others, she knew good, hot food would help her wolf as much as her presence.
After ravenously cleaning his plate, he carefully set his fork down and met her anxious eyes.
The devastation marring his handsome face tore at her heart. She shoved her mug of coffee to the side and reached for his hand. “What is it, Embry? Was there trouble? Was there a vampire? Was somebody hurt?”
It had been months since there was any sign of a Cold One near La Push. Had one returned? Had one of the Pack been injured?
“No, nothing like that.” Embry stood from his chair, lifting Bella from hers. He buried his nose in her long hair and breathed deeply of her scent.
When his breath hitched again, Bella hugged him even more tightly. “Whatever it is, Embry, I’ll help you through it.” Tears sprang to her eyes at his obvious distress.
“My Mom,” he choked out. “You know she never told me who my father was. At first, I thought she was just embarrassed—she was only seventeen when she had me. Then I turned into a wolf.” He swallowed thickly and nuzzled into Bella’s hair. “After … after I phased, I thought it could have been Sam’s father, Josh. But when she still wouldn’t tell me, I thought she was protecting someone. Maybe my father was Harry Clearwater or Billy Black. They have the wolf gene. If it was the Chief, then that meant he had sex with her while Jacob’s mother was pregnant with him!”
A sob escaped him and he clutched at Bella.
She kissed the side of his head and pulled back, placing her hands on either side of his face. Her heart broke at seeing the tears coursing down his cheeks.
“Did she tell you who it was? You know I’ll never tell a soul.”
He swiped angrily at his wet eyes. “She doesn’t know. She was … she was raped.”
Bella gasped and her hand flew up to cover her mouth, beyond shocked. She couldn’t imagine what Embry was feeling—what his mother had felt, and still felt, about it.
“Oh, God, Embry. I just … I don’t know what to say.” Stroking his dark hair, she urged his head to her shoulder. “She loves you, Embry. I know she loves you so much.”
“She could have, but she never blamed me. She didn’t take it out on me. Until tonight. We were arguing again. She was so mad at me.” He jerked away from her and paced through the kitchen. “You know I couldn’t tell her about the wolf. She’s been thinking I was in a gang and getting in trouble because I was gone all the time. Tonight, she tried to forbid me to ever see Sam or the guys again. I got so pissed, I backed her into the corner. I swear I wasn’t going to hurt her, but …”
“I scared her,” he confessed. He halted in front of the sink and stared, unseeing, out the window into the darkening yard. “You know she grew up on the Makah Reservation. When she was sixteen, she’d gone to a harvest ceremony.” He hung his head. “There were elders there from La Push—Billy Black, Harry Clearwater, Josh Uley, and some others.”
Bella went to him, put her arms around him, and kissed his back. She didn’t know what to say, she just knew he needed feel her with him.
After a long, sorrowful sigh, Embry continued, his voice shaking. “There were stories and dancing, and lots of drinking. She said she was kind of star-struck by the elders from La Push. Especially some of the one who weren’t so old. She’d heard some of their Spirit Warrior stories and they were like celebrities to her, and a lot of the other kids. Then it got late, and she started home. Alone.”
When Embry’s voice broke, Bella ran her hands up his arms and over his shoulders. He latched onto her hand as if he was drowning.
“Those three followed her. They asked her if she wanted to continue celebrating the harvest and urged her join them in another drink.They … they …”
“Oh …” Stunned, aching for him, Bella turned him and threw her arms around his trembling body. “Em, I’m … I’m so sorry.” Tears streamed down her face, unchecked.
“I want to kill them,” Embry growled out harshly. “The only ones left here are Black and Clearwater, and I want to kill them for what they did to my mother. She was just a little older than I am now—hardly more than a kid, and they—”
Still not having any idea what she could say to try and ease his grief, Bella just held him.
“She never told me who my father was because she didn’t know,” he whispered into her hair. “She came here because she didn’t know what else to do. She told each of them separately that she was pregnant. She thought one of them would be a man and step up, but—”
“Uley ran, and Billy and Harry as much as shunned her and you,” Bella finished sadly. “Poor Tiffany. She’s kept this bottled up for so long.” She looked up into the face of her love. “She wasn’t protecting them. She was protecting you.”
Embry squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. “She was. She knew what people said about her and she let everyone think she left home because her parents were ashamed of her. She stayed here, even after she was rejected by nearly everyone, because she knew I was Quileute. Even after what they did to her, she wanted me to be born here and learn their legends and traditions.”
He led Bella back toward the table and dropped onto a chair like his legs wouldn’t hold him up any longer. He pulled Bella onto his lap. “I can see why she never wanted to tell me, but with the advent of the wolf pack everything changed. I don’t care anymore what the elders say. All their secrets have done nothing but hurt people. I told her everything. About the Pack, the elders … you.”
Bella lifted his hand and kissed it. A spark of determination grew within her. She would do anything to love and protect the heart of her wolf, as he would do anything to protect and love her. “Then we should go be with her, Embry. She shouldn’t be alone right now.” She took the hem of the flannel shirt and dried his tears and her own. “Have you told any of the guys?”
He looked down and shook his head. “I came straight here. They’ll see it in my head as soon as I phase again. I don’t know what’ll happen then. Jake practically worships his dad. He’ll hate me.”
“It’s not your fault. Finding out that his father …” She shook her head. “He’ll know it’s not your fault.” She lifted his face and brushed her lips across his. “It was a shameful thing that Billy, Harry, and Joshua Uley did—not your mom and not you.”
She stood from his lap and stared around the kitchen at the multiple containers and piles of cooling cookies. They’d completely slipped her mind. Taking charge, she grabbed Embry’s hand. “I forgot about the party. We’ll drop off all these cookies at the community center and then go to your house.”
Slowly, Embry rose, worry taking over the sorrow. “When the Pack finds out, Jake’ll blow a gasket. I know he’ll confront his dad and maybe Harry. I told her about the wolves and I wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know what they’ll do.”
“I don’t know either, but we’ll face it, and Tiffany is a strong woman. You obviously got that from her,” Bella reassured him. “Anyone who has the wolf gene should be told. The boys’ parents should know what’s going on anyway. Like you said, all the secrets only end up hurting people. It’s almost like they’ve tried to ostracize you all from your families.”
He paused in the middle of bagging tins of cookies. “What about your dad?”
Bella nodded uncomfortably and finally met his eyes. “I’ve kept a lot of secrets from him, too. I was trying to protect him from it all.” She lightly yanked at a lock of hair and flipped it over her shoulder. “Hearing about the supernatural creatures will shock him, but learning about what his best friends did …” Bella shrugged helplessly and dropped her arms to her sides. “I’m going to tell him. He deserves to know—about all of it. The Cullens … the wolves … you and me, and that you’re more than just a boyfriend—you’re a big part of my family now. Then I think your mom and my dad are going to need a friend to talk to.” She reached for Embry’s hand and squeezed it. “We can ask her if it’s all right if we invite him over to tell him, but it’s up to her. Enough has been taken away from her. And you.”
Relieved and grateful, Embry wrapped his arms around her. Out of everything that had happened to him, he’d thought Bella was the one good thing in all the bad. Bella helped him realize that out of all the chaos, his mother’s abiding love had been the one constant throughout his uncertain life. “You’re right. We need to get back. She needs her family.”