I STARED AT HIM FOR A LONG MINUTE, SPEECHLESS. I could not think of one thing to say to him.
As he watched my dumbfounded expression, the seriousness left his face.
“Okay,” he said, grinning. “That’s all.”
“Jake —” It felt like there was something big sticking in my throat. I tried to clear the obstruction. “I can’t — I mean I don’t . . . I have to go.”
I turned, but he grabbed my shoulders and spun me around.
“No, wait. I know that, Bella. But, look, answer me this, all right? Do you want me to go away and never see you again? Be honest.”
It was hard to concentrate on his question, so it took a minute to answer. “No, I don’t want that,” I finally admitted.
Jacob grinned again. “See.”
“But I don’t want you around for the same reason that you want me around,” I objected.
“Tell me exactly why you want me around, then.”
I thought carefully. “I miss you when you’re not there. When you’re happy,” I qualified carefully, “it makes me happy. But I could say the same thing about Charlie, Jacob. You’re family. I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”
He nodded, unruffled. “But you do want me around.”
“Yes.” I sighed. He was impossible to discourage.
“Then I’ll stick around.”
“You’re a glutton for punishment,” I grumbled.
“Yep.” He stroked the tips of his fingers across my right cheek. I slapped his hand away.
“Do you think you could behave yourself a little better, at least?” I asked, irritated.
“No, I don’t. You decide, Bella. You can have me the way I am — bad behavior included — or not at all.”
I stared at him, frustrated. “That’s mean.”
“So are you.”
That pulled me up short, and I took an involuntary step back. He was right. If I wasn’t mean — and greedy, too — I would tell him I didn’t want to be friends and walk away. It was wrong to try to keep my friend when that would hurt him. I didn’t know what I was doing here, but I was suddenly sure that it wasn’t good.
“You’re right,” I whispered.
He laughed. “I forgive you. Just try not to get too mad at me. Because I recently decided that I’m not giving up. There really is something irresistible about a lost cause.”
“Jacob.” I stared into his dark eyes, trying to make him take me seriously. “I love him, Jacob. He’s my whole life.”
“You love me, too,” he reminded me. He held up his hand when I started to protest. “Not the same way, I know. But he’s not your whole life, either. Not anymore. Maybe he was once, but he left. And now he’s just going to have to deal with the consequence of that choice — me.”
I shook my head. “You’re impossible.”
Suddenly, he was serious. He took my chin in his hand, holding it firmly so that I couldn’t look away from his intent gaze.
“Until your heart stops beating, Bella,” he said. “I’ll be here — fighting. Don’t forget that you have options.”
“I don’t want options,” I disagreed, trying to yank my chin free unsuccessfully. “And my heartbeats are numbered, Jacob. The time is almost gone.”
His eyes narrowed. “All the more reason to fight — fight harder now, while I can,” he whispered.
He still had my chin — his fingers holding too tight, till it hurt — and I saw the resolve form abruptly in his eyes.
“N —” I started to object, but it was too late.
His lips crushed mine, stopping my protest. He kissed me angrily, roughly, his other hand gripping tight around the back of my neck, making escape impossible. I shoved against his chest with all my strength, but he didn’t even seem to notice. His mouth was soft, despite the anger, his lips molding to mine in a warm, unfamiliar way.
I grabbed at his face, trying to push it away, failing again. He seemed to notice this time, though, and it aggravated him. His lips forced mine open, and I could feel his hot breath in my mouth.
Acting on instinct, I let my hands drop to my side, and shut down. I opened my eyes and didn’t fight, didn’t feel . . . just waited for him to stop.
It worked. The anger seemed to evaporate, and he pulled back to look at me. He pressed his lips softly to mine again, once, twice . . . a third time. I pretended I was a statue and waited.
Finally, he let go of my face and leaned away.
“Are you done now?” I asked in an expressionless voice.
“Yes,” he sighed. He started to smile, closing his eyes.
I pulled my arm back and then let it snap forward, punching him in the mouth with as much power as I could force out of my body.
There was a crunching sound.
“Ow! OW!” I screamed, frantically hopping up and down in agony while I clutched my hand to my chest. It was broken, I could feel it.
Jacob stared at me in shock. “Are you all right?”
“No, dammit! You broke my hand!”
“Bella, you broke your hand. Now stop dancing around and let me look at it.”
“Don’t touch me! I’m going home right now!”
“I’ll get my car,” he said calmly. He wasn’t even rubbing his jaw like they did in the movies. How pathetic.
“No, thanks,” I hissed. “I’d rather walk.” I turned toward the road. It was only a few miles to the border. As soon as I got away from him, Alice would see me. She’d send somebody to pick me up.
“Just let me drive you home,” Jacob insisted. Unbelievably, he had the nerve to wrap his arm around my waist.
I jerked away from him.
“Fine!” I growled. “Do! I can’t wait to see what Edward does to you! I hope he snaps your neck, you pushy, obnoxious, moronic DOG!”
Jacob rolled his eyes. He walked me to the passenger side of his car and helped me in. When he got in the driver’s side, he was whistling.
“Didn’t I hurt you at all?” I asked, furious and annoyed.
“Are you kidding? If you hadn’t started screaming, I might not have figured out that you were trying to punch me. I may not be made out of stone, but I’m not that soft.”
“I hate you, Jacob Black.”
“That’s good. Hate is a passionate emotion.”
“I’ll give you passionate,” I muttered under my breath. “Murder, the ultimate crime of passion.”
“Oh, c’mon,” he said, all cheery and looking like he was about to start whistling again. “That had to be better than kissing a rock.”
“Not even remotely close,” I told him coldly.
He pursed his lips. “You could just be saying that.”
“But I’m not.”
That seemed to bother him for a second, but then he perked up. “You’re just mad. I don’t have any experience with this kind of thing, but I thought it was pretty incredible myself.”
“Ugh,” I groaned.
“You’re going to think about it tonight. When he thinks you’re asleep, you’ll be thinking about your options.”
“If I think about you tonight, it will be because I’m having a nightmare.”
He slowed the car to a crawl, turning to stare at me with his dark eyes wide and earnest. “Just think about how it could be, Bella,” he urged in a soft, eager voice. “You wouldn’t have to change anything for me. You know Charlie would be happy if you picked me. I could protect you just as well as your vampire can — maybe better. And I would make you happy, Bella. There’s so much I could give you that he can’t. I’ll bet he couldn’t even kiss you like that — because he would hurt you. I would never, never hurt you, Bella.”
I held up my injured hand.
He sighed. “That wasn’t my fault. You should have known better.”
“Jacob, I can’t be happy without him.”
“You’ve never tried,” he disagreed. “When he left, you spent all your energy holding on to him. You could be happy if you let go. You could be happy with me.”
“I don’t want to be happy with anyone but him,” I insisted.
“You’ll never be able to be as sure of him as you are of me. He left you once, he could do it again.”
“No, he will not,” I said through my teeth. The pain of the memory bit into me like the lash of a whip. It made me want to hurt him back. “You left me once,” I reminded him in a cold voice, thinking of the weeks he’d hidden from me, the words he’d said to me in the woods beside his home. . . .
“I never did,” he argued hotly. “They told me I couldn’t tell you — that it wasn’t safe for you if we were together. But I never left, never! I used to run around your house at night — like I do now. Just making sure you were okay.”
I wasn’t about to let him make me feel bad for him now.
“Take me home. My hand hurts.”
He sighed, and started driving at a normal speed, watching the road.
“Just think about it, Bella.”
“No,” I said stubbornly.
“You will. Tonight. And I’ll be thinking about you while you’re thinking about me.”
“Like I said, a nightmare.”
He grinned over at me. “You kissed me back.”
I gasped, unthinkingly balling my hands up into fists again, hissing when my broken hand reacted.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I did not.”
“I think I can tell the difference.”
“Obviously you can’t — that was not kissing back, that was trying to get you the hell off of me, you idiot.”
He laughed a low, throaty laugh. “Touchy. Almost overly defensive, I would say.”
I took a deep breath. There was no point in arguing with him; he would twist anything I said. I concentrated on my hand, trying to stretch out my fingers, to ascertain where the broken parts were. Sharp pains stabbed along my knuckles. I groaned.
“I’m really sorry about your hand,” Jacob said, sounding almost sincere. “Next time you want to hit me, use a baseball bat or a crowbar, okay?”
“Don’t think I’ll forget that,” I muttered.
I didn’t realize where we were going until we were on my road.
“Why are you taking me here?” I demanded.
He looked at me blankly. “I thought you said you were going home?”
“Ugh. I guess you can’t take me to Edward’s house, can you?” I ground my teeth in frustration.
Pain twisted across his face, and I could see that this affected him more than anything else I’d said.
“This is your home, Bella,” he said quietly.
“Yes, but do any doctors live here?” I asked, holding up my hand again.
“Oh.” He thought about that for a minute. “I’ll take you to the hospital. Or Charlie can.”
“I don’t want to go to the hospital. It’s embarrassing and unnecessary.”
He let the Rabbit idle in front of the house, deliberating with an unsure expression. Charlie’s cruiser was in the driveway.
I sighed. “Go home, Jacob.”
I climbed out of the car awkwardly, heading for the house. The engine cut off behind me, and I was less surprised than annoyed to find Jacob beside me again.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“I am going to get some ice on my hand, and then I am going to call Edward and tell him to come and get me and take me to Carlisle so that he can fix my hand. Then, if you’re still here, I am going to go hunt up a crowbar.”
He didn’t answer. He opened the front door and held it for me.
We walked silently past the front room where Charlie was lying on the sofa.
“Hey, kids,” he said, sitting forward. “Nice to see you here, Jake.”
“Hey, Charlie,” Jacob answered casually, pausing. I stalked on to the kitchen.
“What’s wrong with her?” Charlie wondered.
“She thinks she broke her hand,” I heard Jacob tell him. I went to the freezer and pulled out a tray of ice cubes.
“How did she do that?” As my father, I thought Charlie ought to sound a bit less amused and a bit more concerned.
Jacob laughed. “She hit me.”
Charlie laughed, too, and I scowled while I beat the tray against the edge of the sink. The ice scattered inside the basin, and I grabbed a handful with my good hand and wrapped the cubes in the dishcloth on the counter.
“Why did she hit you?”
“Because I kissed her,” Jacob said, unashamed.
“Good for you, kid,” Charlie congratulated him.
I ground my teeth and went for the phone. I dialed Edward’s cell.
“Bella?” he answered on the first ring. He sounded more than relieved — he was delighted. I could hear the Volvo’s engine in the background; he was already in the car — that was good. “You left the phone . . . I’m sorry, did Jacob drive you home?”
“Yes,” I grumbled. “Will you come and get me, please?”
“I’m on my way,” he said at once. “What’s wrong?”
“I want Carlisle to look at my hand. I think it’s broken.”
It had gone quiet in the front room, and I wondered when Jacob would bolt. I smiled a grim smile, imagining his discomfort.
“What happened?” Edward demanded, his voice going flat.
“I punched Jacob,” I admitted.
“Good,” Edward said bleakly. “Though I’m sorry you’re hurt.”
I laughed once, because he sounded as pleased as Charlie had.
“I wish I’d hurt him.” I sighed in frustration. “I didn’t do any damage at all.”
“I can fix that,” he offered.
“I was hoping you would say that.”
There was a slight pause. “That doesn’t sound like you,” he said, wary now. “What did he do?”
“He kissed me,” I growled.
All I heard on the other end of the line was the sound of an engine accelerating.
In the other room, Charlie spoke again. “Maybe you ought to take off, Jake,” he suggested.
“I think I’ll hang out here, if you don’t mind.”
“Your funeral,” Charlie muttered.
“Is the dog still there?” Edward finally spoke again.
“I’m around the corner,” he said darkly, and the line disconnected.
As I hung up the phone, smiling, I heard the sound of his car racing down the street. The brakes protested loudly as he slammed to a stop out front. I went to get the door.
“How’s your hand?” Charlie asked as I walked by. Charlie looked uncomfortable. Jacob lolled next to him on the sofa, perfectly at ease.
I lifted the ice pack to show it off. “It’s swelling.”
“Maybe you should pick on people your own size,” Charlie suggested.
“Maybe,” I agreed. I walked on to open the door. Edward was waiting.
“Let me see,” he murmured.
He examined my hand gently, so carefully that it caused me no pain at all. His hands were almost as cold as the ice, and they felt good against my skin.
“I think you’re right about the break,” he said. “I’m proud of you. You must have put some force behind this.”
“As much as I have.” I sighed. “Not enough, apparently.”
He kissed my hand softly. “I’ll take care of it,” he promised. And then he called, “Jacob,” his voice still quiet and even.
“Now, now,” Charlie cautioned.
I heard Charlie heave himself off of the sofa. Jacob got to the hall first, and much more quietly, but Charlie was not far behind him. Jacob’s expression was alert and eager.
“I don’t want any fighting, do you understand?” Charlie looked only at Edward when he spoke. “I can go put my badge on if that makes my request more official.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Edward said in a restrained tone.
“Why don’t you arrest me, Dad?” I suggested. “I’m the one throwing punches.”
Charlie raised an eyebrow. “Do you want to press charges, Jake?”
“No.” Jacob grinned, incorrigible. “I’ll take the trade any day.”
“Dad, don’t you have a baseball bat somewhere in your room? I want to borrow it for a minute.”
Charlie looked at me evenly. “Enough, Bella.”
“Let’s go have Carlisle look at your hand before you wind up in a jail cell,” Edward said. He put his arm around me and pulled me toward the door.
“Fine,” I said, leaning against him. I wasn’t so angry anymore, now that Edward was with me. I felt comforted, and my hand didn’t bother me as much.
We were walking down the sidewalk when I heard Charlie whispering anxiously behind me.
“What are you doing? Are you crazy?”
“Give me a minute, Charlie,” Jacob answered. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.”
I looked back and Jacob was following us, stopping to close the door in Charlie’s surprised and uneasy face.
Edward ignored him at first, leading me to the car. He helped me inside, shut the door, and then turned to face Jacob on the sidewalk.
I leaned anxiously through the open window. Charlie was visible in the house, peeking through the drapes in the front room.
Jacob’s stance was casual, his arms folded across his chest, but the muscles in his jaw were tight.
Edward spoke in a voice so peaceful and gentle that it made the words strangely more threatening. “I’m not going to kill you now, because it would upset Bella.”
“Hmph,” I grumbled.
Edward turned slightly to throw me a quick smile. His face was still calm. “It would bother you in the morning,” he said, brushing his fingers across my cheek.
Then he turned back to Jacob. “But if you ever bring her back damaged again — and I don’t care whose fault it is; I don’t care if she merely trips, or if a meteor falls out of the sky and hits her in the head — if you return her to me in less than the perfect condition that I left her in, you will be running with three legs. Do you understand that, mongrel?”
Jacob rolled his eyes.
“Who’s going back?” I muttered.
Edward continued as if he hadn’t heard me. “And if you ever kiss her again, I will break your jaw for her,” he promised, his voice still gentle and velvet and deadly.
“What if she wants me to?” Jacob drawled, arrogant.
“Hah!” I snorted.
“If that’s what she wants, then I won’t object.” Edward shrugged, untroubled. “You might want to wait for her to say it, rather than trust your interpretation of body language — but it’s your face.”
“You wish,” I grumbled.
“Yes, he does,” Edward murmured.
“Well, if you’re done rummaging through my head,” Jacob said with a thick edge of annoyance, “why don’t you go take care of her hand?”
“One more thing,” Edward said slowly. “I’ll be fighting for her, too. You should know that. I’m not taking anything for granted, and I’ll be fighting twice as hard as you will.”
“Good,” Jacob growled. “It’s no fun beating someone who forfeits.”
“She is mine.” Edward’s low voice was suddenly dark, not as composed as before. “I didn’t say I would fight fair.”
“Neither did I.”
“Best of luck.”
Jacob nodded. “Yes, may the best man win.”
“That sounds about right . . . pup.”
Jacob grimaced briefly, then he composed his face and leaned around Edward to smile at me. I glowered back.
“I hope your hand feels better soon. I’m really sorry you’re hurt.”
Childishly, I turned my face away from him.
I didn’t look up again as Edward walked around the car and climbed into the driver’s side, so I didn’t know if Jacob went back into the house or continued to stand there, watching me.
“How do you feel?” Edward asked as we drove away.
He chuckled. “I meant your hand.”
I shrugged. “I’ve had worse.”
“True,” he agreed, and frowned.
Edward drove around the house to the garage. Emmett and Rosalie were there, Rosalie’s perfect legs, recognizable even sheathed in jeans, were sticking out from under the bottom of Emmett’s huge Jeep. Emmett was sitting beside her, one hand reached under the Jeep toward her. It took me a moment to realize that he was acting as the jack.
Emmett watched curiously as Edward helped me carefully out of the car. His eyes zeroed in on the hand I cradled against my chest.
Emmett grinned. “Fall down again, Bella?”
I glared at him fiercely. “No, Emmett. I punched a werewolf in the face.”
Emmett blinked, and then burst into a roar of laughter.
As Edward led me past them, Rosalie spoke from under the car.
“Jasper’s going to win the bet,” she said smugly.
Emmett’s laughter stopped at once, and he studied me with appraising eyes.
“What bet?” I demanded, pausing.
“Let’s get you to Carlisle,” Edward urged. He was staring at Emmett. His head shook infinitesimally.
“What bet?” I insisted as I turned on him.
“Thanks, Rosalie,” he muttered as he tightened his arm around my waist and pulled me toward the house.
“Edward . . . ,” I grumbled.
“It’s infantile,” he shrugged. “Emmett and Jasper like to gamble.”
“Emmett will tell me.” I tried to turn, but his arm was like iron around me.
He sighed. “They’re betting on how many times you . . . slip up in the first year.”
“Oh.” I grimaced, trying to hide my sudden horror as I realized what he meant. “They have a bet about how many people I’ll kill?”
“Yes,” he admitted unwillingly. “Rosalie thinks your temper will turn the odds in Jasper’s favor.”
I felt a little high. “Jasper’s betting high.”
“It will make him feel better if you have a hard time adjusting. He’s tired of being the weakest link.”
“Sure. Of course it will. I guess I could throw in a few extra homicides, if it makes Jasper happy. Why not?” I was babbling, my voice a blank monotone. In my head, I was seeing newspaper headlines, lists of names. . . .
He squeezed me. “You don’t need to worry about it now. In fact, you don’t have to worry about it ever, if you don’t want to.”
I groaned, and Edward, thinking it was the pain in my hand that bothered me, pulled me faster toward the house.
My hand was broken, but there wasn’t any serious damage, just a tiny fissure in one knuckle. I didn’t want a cast, and Carlisle said I’d be fine in a brace if I promised to keep it on. I promised.
Edward could tell I was out of it as Carlisle worked to fit a brace carefully to my hand. He worried aloud a few times that I was in pain, but I assured him that that wasn’t it.
As if I needed — or even had room for — one more thing to worry about.
All of Jasper’s stories about newly created vampires had been percolating in my head since he’d explained his past. Now those stories jumped into sharp focus with the news of his and Emmett’s wager. I wondered randomly what they were betting. What was a motivating prize when you had everything?
I’d always known that I would be different. I hoped that I would be as strong as Edward said I would be. Strong and fast and, most of all, beautiful. Someone who could stand next to Edward and feel like she belonged there.
I’d been trying not to think too much about the other things that I would be. Wild. Bloodthirsty. Maybe I would not be able to stop myself from killing people. Strangers, people who had never harmed me. People like the growing number of victims in Seattle, who’d had families and friends and futures. People who’d had lives. And I could be the monster who took that away from them.
But, in truth, I could handle that part — because I trusted Edward, trusted him absolutely, to keep me from doing anything I would regret. I knew he’d take me to Antarctica and hunt penguins if I asked him to. And I would do whatever it took to be a good person. A good vampire. That thought would have made me giggle, if not for this new worry.
Because, if I really were somehow like that — like the nightmarish images of newborns that Jasper had painted in my head — could I possibly be me? And if all I wanted was to kill people, what would happen to the things I wanted now?
Edward was so obsessed with me not missing anything while I was human. Usually, it seemed kind of silly. There weren’t many human experiences that I worried about missing. As long as I got to be with Edward, what else could I ask for?
I stared at his face while he watched Carlisle fix my hand. There was nothing in this world that I wanted more than him. Would that, could that, change?
Was there a human experience that I was not willing to give up?