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Rachel wiggled around on the couch, put her feet up on the coffee table, and groaned. “I am so full, I feel like my stomach is going to split open. I can’t believe I ate six of those sausage biscuits and two bowls of soup.”
Next to her, Leah leaned over and patted her arm. “Don’t worry. In a few hours you’ll be starving again.”
“Unimaginable.” Groaning again, Rachel propped her head on her hand. “The soup was good, but it seemed like there were a lot of noodles.”
“Mom started adding more noodles to it after Seth and I phased. She didn’t used to make it like that. Pasta is cheap and it helps to fill us up. You know how expensive groceries are.” Leah clasped her hands over her stomach and stared up at the ceiling. “Before … well, before Seth and I phased, she used to make it in a six-quart pot for us and there’d be enough left for Dad …” Leah trailed off and sighed sadly.
Turning to Leah, Rachel tucked her long black hair behind her ear and wiped the sweat from her brow. Even wearing just a T-shirt and a little pair of shorts, she was hot. “I’m sorry about your Dad.”
“So am I. I blame the Cullens.” Leah swallowed thickly. “Anyway, now she uses a twenty-four-quart stock pot and you saw there wasn’t any left. Seth used to go through a gallon of milk in three days. Now we go through more than one a day—sometimes two. Just us. Mom started mixing up powdered milk and combining it with fresh milk because it’s cheaper. We’re down to only about a pint of fresh milk in a gallon. It tastes a little odd, but it’s not so bad if you drink it ice cold or if you cook with it.” Leah scrubbed at her face. “Won’t be long before you get to try the elk, deer, and bear. They’re practically free. I guess I was a little spoiled because I really don’t like the gamey taste, but it’s not so bad in chili or spaghetti sauce and stuff. It might have been in the sausage.” Leah’s fist hit the couch cushion. “We go through so much food … the grocery bill … I blame the Cullens for that, too.”
Rachel could feel her temper building again. She pursed her lips and pulled in long, slow breaths to keep herself as calm as possible. It seemed those couple of yoga classes she had taken were coming in handy—at least the breathing part.
She blew out a breath and spread her fingers wide to relax her hands. She was so tired, but she didn’t want to succumb to sleep just yet—there were so many questions spinning through her head. With her excellent new hearing, she could hear Sam humming softly with the radio as he and Seth washed a mountain of dishes while Embry and Quil played cards. “Should we help with the dishes? I should have asked before.”
“No. Sam’s doing it for Emily. He’ll put the kitchen back the way she likes it.”
Wrinkling her nose, Rachel grumbled. “Imprinting? Soul mates? Sounds like total bullshit to me.”
Leah tensed slightly, but tried to cover it with a shrug. “I agree. Prepare yourself. When you phase again, you might get a brainful of what the wolves think of their imprints. In fact, it’s pretty damn hard not to. It’s pretty damn disgusting, too. All the mooshy, gooey, sickly sweet … Gah. Makes me want to puke.”
“Nothing against you, Leah, but I can see Sam and Emily, and Jared and Kim, as couples … sort of. But Jared and Kim are only sixteen! What if he knocks her up? And Quil and Claire?” Rachel couldn’t suppress her shudder. “That seems just a bit … I mean … it’s kind of creepy really.”
Leah leaned closer and whispered, “And nothing against you, Rach, but be thankful Jacob’s not here so you don’t have to listen to that whiny crap about Bella Swan. I’ve wanted to slap that shit right out of his head.”
They heard Quil let out a discouraged groan, and Embry was at the doorway to the living room. “It’s not like that, Rachel. When we’re wolves, we can all see what Quil thinks about Claire and it’s like he’s her big brother or favorite uncle or something. The legends say we don’t age as long as we’re phasing, so she’ll grow up, catch up to him, and maybe—”
“Have puppies with him? A guy she thought of as her brother practically her whole life?” Rachel raised one eyebrow and tipped her head to the side. “Ya know … that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better.”
Seth elbowed his way around Embry. “We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen. It’s really hard to explain, but think of it as like when you get a dog and the dog bonds with one particular person in the family over anyone else. He’s loyal and faithful and protective. He loves that one person more than anyone and will do what he can to make that person happy. The dog doesn’t make the person do anything; he just wants her to be safe and happy.”
Leah and Rachel just stared at him in disbelief as a large hand appeared behind Seth and smacked him in the back of the head, knocking him into the living room.
Quil took up the space Seth had been occupying. “You callin’ me a dog?”
Embry snorted and rolled his eyes. “If the tail wags.”
“Hey!” Quil exclaimed as he turned to grab his friend.
“Enough!” Sam shouted, materializing behind them. “All you boys outside. We have a garden to weed. We might have some beans that are ready to pick.”
“It’s dark,” Rachel said incredulously.
Seth grinned and tapped his cheek under his eye. “We’ve got that super wolfie eyesight, remember?”
They jostled and shoved each other as they made their way out the front door, and Sam paused before going through. “We’ll be just out back if you need anything, okay?”
Leah flapped her hands at him, shooing him away. “We’ll be fine. Get out.” She crossed her arms and huffed. “That reminds me, we need to look at our garden. Everybody has a garden of some kind to help feed us.”
“Wolfie eyesight and wolfie hearing,” Rachel whispered, turning her head back and forth, listening. “Do you hear where they are?”
“Why are we whispering?”
Frowning, Rachel shoved at Leah’s leg. “I think they’re in the backyard.”
“Yeah, the backyard. Quil and Embry are smacking each other, and Seth is laughing at them. Normal boy shit. Why?”
Holding her finger up in front of her lips, Rachel glared hotly at the other young woman. “Leah, I don’t give a flying fuck about being chosen by the Great Chief Taha Aki, or being a descendent of Ephraim Black, or about this bullshit sacred duty. As soon as I get the chance, I am outta here and running as far and as fast as I can. Shit. I think I’ll even have my tubes tied, too.”
Leah’s mouth dropped open in shock. “You … you can’t—”
Her words were cut off by the other girl clamping her hand over her mouth. “Keep your voice down. I can, and I will. Everybody says the vampire scent burns your nose. I didn’t smell anything like that when I came here. I turned into a wolf because this place has a hex on it, and I’m getting the hell out.”
When Rachel finally removed her hand from her mouth, Leah hissed out, “Sam’s going to hear this in my head. He’ll give you an alpha order—”
“Then I’ll break it. If Jacob can do it I can, too.” She grabbed both of Leah’s hands. “He won’t hear it, if you don’t think about it. I’ve already done that!” She shook the stunned girl’s hands. “Besides, you told me Sam had ordered Jacob not to leave, but he did anyway. You guys heard him for a while and thought he was in Canada. Well, Canada is a pretty big place. You can’t hear him anymore, so he must have gone far enough away.” Rachel released her hands. “I want to choose my own life, and I’m not getting that stupid fucking tattoo. If I don’t phase into a wolf, Sam can’t give me an order. I left here once, I can do it again. I can get another job in Ha—” She snapped her mouth shut.
“Where? Hawaii?” Leah’s deep brown eyes stared into the other young woman’s. “But Rebecca—”
“Is leaving in two days. I’m going with her. If I can’t get on the same flight, I’ll get the next one.” Rachel breathed in a steadying breath. “I will see her tomorrow. Sam can’t keep me away from my sister.”
“But it’s too dangerous.”
“Bullshit. I wouldn’t hurt my own twin. Dad must have told her all about the wolves by now and told her to stay away from me or she would have tried to find me.”
They heard angry shouting coming from the backyard. Leah leapt up from the couch and ran through the kitchen to the back door.
Startled by Leah’s speed, Rachel sat in shock for a moment. Hearing a voice she didn’t recognize, she hurtled over the coffee table and raced through the kitchen. Hands extended, she hit the screen door, and it flew open and slammed against the wall. She skidded to a stop on the porch.
At the back of the yard beside the garden, Sam had hold of another half-naked man’s upper arms and was shaking him. “Paul! I told you I’d talk to you later.”
“You know I never wanted to imprint, but I have to see her, Sam. I can’t stand to be away from her anymore.” Paul’s head dropped into his hands, and then he gripped Sam’s biceps. “She can’t leave!”
“Leave? Who the hell are you?” Rachel was staring at the newcomer and the boys standing back away from them. She took a slow step forward, studying the man Sam was hanging onto. He looked familiar. All the boys she had seen had grown and changed so much, but they all still had a trace of their younger selves in their faces. “You’re Paul Lahote. Becca told me …” She placed her foot on the first step leading down to the lawn.
“Uh, Rach, maybe you should go back in the house.” Leah, standing halfway between Rachel and the two men locked together at the back of the yard, raised her hands toward the dazed young woman.
Rachel’s eyes darted to Leah and back to the men. “Don’t tell me what to fucking do.” She took another step and pointed at Paul. “You’re the one who … Becca said you wouldn’t keep your hands off her, and she’s married!”
Staring down at the ground and squeezing his eyes shut, Paul blurted, “I didn’t lay a hand on her! Okay. One hand. But she slapped—”
Pausing before placing her foot on the next wooden step down, a boiling fire rippled up Rachel’s spine and her shaking hands curled into fists. “You imprinted on my sister!”
In an eruption of fur and fangs, the newest female wolf was nothing more than a red-brown streak of fury across the dewy grass.
Sam shoved Paul as hard as he could, sending him careening away from the enraged wolf and toward the tree line. “No, Rachel!”
Without giving it a second thought, Sam swung around and raised his hands toward the slavering wolf, trying to protect his pack-mate. The claws on Rachel’s left front paw raked down his chest and then she hit the ground and stumbled.
It was probably the only thing that saved Sam’s and Paul’s lives.
Paul tumbled toward the edge of the forest and was a silver-furred wolf before he even stopped rolling.
Stop! Rachel, stop! Quil and Embry bounded on four feet toward them.
The smaller sandy-colored wolf skidded to a stop beside Sam and worriedly nosed his shoulder.
Sam waved him off, his left hand covered in blood from the long gouges down his body. “Seth. It’s okay. Move.” Sam struggled to his feet and stood shakily, hissing at the pain.
Rachel barreled into the silver wolf, using her front paws as battering rams against Paul’s chest and side, knocking him to the ground. I’ll kill you!
NO! Paul shouted. He snarled as he whipped his head around, his teeth bared to defend himself.
Another vicious snarl ripped through the reddish wolf’s jaws, and just before her fangs sank into his throat, her pale yellow eyes met the deep amber of Paul’s.