I HATED TO WASTE ANY PART OF THE NIGHT IN SLEEP, but that was inevitable. The sun was bright outside the window-wall when I woke, with small clouds scuttling too quickly across the sky. The wind rocked the treetops till the whole forest looked as if it was going to shake apart.
He left me alone to get dressed, and I appreciated the chance to think. Somehow, my plan for last night had gone horribly awry, and I needed come to grips with the consequences. Though I’d given back the hand-me-down ring as soon as I could do it without hurting his feelings, my left hand felt heavier, like it was still in place, just invisible.
This shouldn’t bother me, I reasoned. It was no big thing — a road trip to Vegas. I would go one better than old jeans — I would wear old sweats. The ceremony certainly couldn’t take very long; no more than fifteen minutes at the most, right? So I could handle that.
And then, when it was over, he’d have to fulfill his side of the bargain. I would concentrate on that, and forget the rest.
He said I didn’t have to tell anyone, and I was planning to hold him to that. Of course, it was very stupid of me not to think of Alice.
The Cullens got home around noon. There was a new, businesslike feel to the atmosphere around them, and it pulled me back into the enormity of what was coming.
Alice seemed to be in an unusually bad mood. I chalked it up to her frustration with feeling normal, because her first words to Edward were a complaint about working with the wolves.
“I think” — she made a face as she used the uncertain word — “that you’re going to want to pack for cold weather, Edward. I can’t see where you are exactly, because you’re taking off with that dog this afternoon. But the storm that’s coming seems particularly bad in that general area.”
“It’s going to snow on the mountains,” she warned him.
“Ew, snow,” I muttered to myself. It was June, for crying out loud.
“Wear a jacket,” Alice told me. Her voice was unfriendly, and that surprised me. I tried to read her face, but she turned away.
I looked at Edward, and he was smiling; whatever was bugging Alice amused him.
Edward had more than enough camping gear to choose from — props in the human charade; the Cullens were good customers at the Newton’s store. He grabbed a down sleeping bag, a small tent, and several packets of dehydrated food — grinning when I made a face at them — and stuffed them all in a backpack.
Alice wandered into the garage while we were there, watching Edward’s preparations without a word. He ignored her.
When he was done packing, Edward handed me his phone. “Why don’t you call Jacob and tell him we’ll be ready for him in an hour or so. He knows where to meet us.”
Jacob wasn’t home, but Billy promised to call around until he could find an available werewolf to pass the news to.
“Don’t you worry about Charlie, Bella,” Billy said. “I’ve got my part of this under control.”
“Yeah, I know Charlie’ll be fine.” I didn’t feel so confident about his son’s safety, but I didn’t add that.
“I wish I could be with the rest of them tomorrow.” Billy chuckled regretfully. “Being an old man is a hardship, Bella.”
The urge to fight must be a defining characteristic of the Y chromosome. They were all the same.
“Have fun with Charlie.”
“Good luck, Bella,” he answered. “And . . . pass that along to the, er, Cullens for me.”
“I will,” I promised, surprised by the gesture.
As I gave the phone back to Edward, I saw that he and Alice were having some kind of silent discussion. She was staring at him, pleading in her eyes. He was frowning back, unhappy with whatever she wanted.
“Billy said to tell you ‘good luck.’”
“That was generous of him,” Edward said, breaking away from her.
“Bella, could I please speak to you alone?” Alice asked swiftly.
“You’re about to make my life harder than it needs to be, Alice,” Edward warned her through his teeth. “I’d really rather you didn’t.”
“This isn’t about you, Edward,” she shot back.
He laughed. Something about her response was funny to him.
“It’s not,” Alice insisted. “This is a female thing.”
“Let her talk to me,” I told him. I was curious.
“You asked for it,” he muttered. He laughed again — half angry, half amused — and strode out of the garage.
I turned to Alice, worried now, but she didn’t look at me. Her bad mood hadn’t passed yet.
She went to sit on the hood of her Porsche, her face dejected. I followed, and leaned against the bumper beside her.
“Bella?” Alice asked in a sad voice, shifting over and curling up against my side. Her voice sounded so miserable that I wrapped my arms around her shoulders in comfort.
“What’s wrong, Alice?”
“Don’t you love me?” she asked in that same sad tone.
“Of course I do. You know that.”
“Then why do I see you sneaking off to Vegas to get married without inviting me?”
“Oh,” I muttered, my cheeks turning pink. I could see that I had seriously hurt her feelings, and I hurried to defend myself. “You know how I hate to make a big deal out of things. It was Edward’s idea, anyway.”
“I don’t care whose idea it was. How could you do this to me? I expect that kind of thing from Edward, but not from you. I love you like you were my own sister.”
“To me, Alice, you are my sister.”
“Words!” she growled.
“Fine, you can come. There won’t be much to see.”
She was still grimacing.
“What?” I demanded.
“How much do you love me, Bella?”
She stared at me with pleading eyes, her long black eyebrows slanting up in the middle and pulling together, her lips trembling at the corners. It was a heart-breaking expression.
“Please, please, please,” she whispered. “Please, Bella, please — if you really love me . . . Please let me do your wedding.”
“Aw, Alice!” I groaned, pulling away and standing up. “No! Don’t do this to me.”
“If you really, truly love me, Bella.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “That is so unfair. And Edward kind of already used that one on me.”
“I’ll bet Edward would like it better if you did this traditionally, though he’d never tell you that. And Esme — think what it would mean to her!”
I groaned. “I’d rather face the newborns alone.”
“I’ll owe you for a decade.”
“You’d owe me for a century!”
Her eyes glowed. “Is that a yes?”
“No! I don’t want to do this!”
“You won’t have to do anything but walk a few yards and then repeat after the minister.”
“Ugh! Ugh, ugh!”
“Please?” She started bouncing in place. “Please, please, please, please, please?”
“I’ll never, never ever forgive you for this, Alice.”
“Yay!” she squealed, clapping her hands together.
“That’s not a yes!”
“But it will be,” she sang.
“Edward!” I yelled, stalking out of the garage. “I know you’re listening. Get over here.” Alice was right behind me, still clapping.
“Thanks so much, Alice,” Edward said acidly, coming from behind me. I turned to let him have it, but his expression was so worried and upset that I couldn’t speak my complaints. I threw my arms around him instead, hiding my face, just in case the angry moisture in my eyes made it look like I was crying.
“Vegas,” Edward promised in my ear.
“Not a chance,” Alice gloated. “Bella would never do that to me. You know, Edward, as a brother, you are sometimes a disappointment.”
“Don’t be mean,” I grumbled at her. “He’s trying to make me happy, unlike you.”
“I’m trying to make you happy, too, Bella. It’s just that I know better what will make you happy . . . in the long run. You’ll thank me for this. Maybe not for fifty years, but definitely someday.”
“I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be willing to take a bet against you, Alice, but it has arrived.”
She laughed her silvery laugh. “So, are you going to show me the ring?”
I grimaced in horror as she grabbed my left hand and then dropped it just as quickly.
“Huh. I saw him put it on you. . . . Did I miss something?” she asked. She concentrated for half a second, furrowing her brow, before she answered her own questions. “No. Wedding’s still on.”
“Bella has issues with jewelry,” Edward explained.
“What’s one more diamond? Well, I guess the ring has lots of diamonds, but my point is that he’s already got one on —”
“Enough, Alice!” Edward cut her off suddenly. The way he glared at her . . . he looked like a vampire again. “We’re in a hurry.”
“I don’t understand. What’s that about diamonds?” I asked.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Alice said. “Edward is right — you’d better get going. You’ve got to set a trap and make camp before the storm comes.” She frowned, and her expression was anxious, almost nervous. “Don’t forget your coat, Bella. It seems . . . unseasonably cold.”
“I’ve already got it,” Edward assured her.
“Have a nice night,” she told us in farewell.
It was twice as far to the clearing as usual; Edward took a long detour, making sure my scent would be nowhere near the trail Jacob would hide later. He carried me in his arms, the bulky backpack in my usual spot.
He stopped at the farthest end of the clearing and set me on my feet.
“All right. Just walk north for a ways, touching as much as you can. Alice gave me a clear picture of their path, and it won’t take long for us to intersect it.”
He smiled and pointed out the right direction.
I wandered into the woods, leaving the clear yellow light of the strangely sunny day in the clearing behind me. Maybe Alice’s blurred sight would be wrong about the snow. I hoped so. The sky was mostly clear, though the wind whipped furiously through the open spaces. In the trees it was calmer, but much too cold for June — even in a long-sleeved shirt with a thick sweater over the top, there were goose bumps on my arms. I walked slowly, trailing my fingers over anything close enough: the rough tree bark, the wet ferns, the moss-covered rocks.
Edward stayed with me, walking a parallel line about twenty yards away.
“Am I doing this right?” I called.
I had an idea. “Will this help?” I asked as I ran my fingers through my hair and caught a few loose strands. I draped them over the ferns.
“Yes, that does make the trail stronger. But you don’t need to pull your hair out, Bella. It will be fine.”
“I’ve got a few extras I can spare.”
It was gloomy under the trees, and I wished I could walk closer to Edward and hold his hand.
I wedged another hair into a broken branch that cut through my path.
“You don’t need to let Alice have her way, you know,” Edward said.
“Don’t worry about it, Edward. I’m not going to leave you at the altar, regardless.” I had a sinking feeling that Alice was going to get her way, mostly because she was totally unscrupulous when there was something she wanted, and also because I was a sucker for guilt trips.
“That’s not what I’m worried about. I want this to be what you want it to be.”
I repressed a sigh. It would hurt his feelings if I told the truth — that it didn’t really matter, because it was all just varying degrees of awful anyway.
“Well, even if she does get her way, we can keep it small. Just us. Emmett can get a clerical license off the Internet.”
I giggled. “That does sound better.” It wouldn’t feel very official if Emmett read the vows, which was a plus. But I’d have a hard time keeping a straight face.
“See,” he said with a smile. “There’s always a compromise.”
It took a while for me to reach the spot where the newborn army would be certain to cross my trail, but Edward never got impatient with my pace.
He had to lead a bit more on the way back, to keep me on the same path. It all looked alike to me.
We were almost to the clearing when I fell. I could see the wide opening ahead, and that’s probably why I got too eager and forgot to watch my feet. I caught myself before my head bashed into the nearest tree, but a small branch snapped off under my left hand and gouged into my palm.
“Ouch! Oh, fabulous,” I muttered.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. Stay where you are. I’m bleeding. It will stop in a minute.”
He ignored me. He was right there before I could finish.
“I’ve got a first aid kit,” he said, pulling off the backpack. “I had a feeling I might need it.”
“It’s not bad. I can take care of it — you don’t have to make yourself uncomfortable.”
“I’m not uncomfortable,” he said calmly. “Here — let me clean it.”
“Wait a second, I just got another idea.”
Without looking at the blood and breathing through my mouth, just in case my stomach might react, I pressed my hand against a rock within my reach.
“What are you doing?”
“Jasper will love this,” I muttered to myself. I started for the clearing again, pressing my palm against everything in my path. “I’ll bet this really gets them going.”
“Hold your breath,” I told him.
“I’m fine. I just think you’re going overboard.”
“This is all I get to do. I want to do a good job.”
We broke through the last of the trees as I spoke. I let my injured hand graze across the ferns.
“Well, you have,” Edward assured me. “The newborns will be frantic, and Jasper will be very impressed with your dedication. Now let me treat your hand — you’ve gotten the cut dirty.”
“Let me do it, please.”
He took my hand and smiled as he examined it. “This doesn’t bother me anymore.”
I watched him carefully as he cleaned the gash, looking for some sign of distress. He continued to breathe evenly in and out, the same small smile on his lips.
“Why not?” I finally asked as he smoothed a bandage across my palm.
He shrugged. “I got over it.”
“You . . . got over it? When? How?” I tried to remember the last time he’d held his breath around me. All I could think of was my wretched birthday party last September.
Edward pursed his lips, seeming to search for the words. “I lived through an entire twenty-four hours thinking that you were dead, Bella. That changed the way I look at a lot of things.”
“Did it change the way I smell to you?”
“Not at all. But . . . having experienced the way it feels to think I’ve lost you . . . my reactions have changed. My entire being shies away from any course that could inspire that kind of pain again.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
He smiled at my expression. “I guess that you could call it a very educational experience.”
The wind tore through the clearing then, lashing my hair around my face and making me shiver.
“All right,” he said, reaching into his pack again. “You’ve done your part.” He pulled out my heavy winter jacket and held it out for me to slide my arms in. “Now it’s out of our hands. Let’s go camping!”
I laughed at the mock enthusiasm in his voice.
He took my bandaged hand — the other was in worse shape, still in the brace — and started toward the other side of the clearing.
“Where are we meeting Jacob?” I asked.
“Right here.” He gestured to the trees in front of us just as Jacob stepped warily from their shadows.
It shouldn’t have surprised me to see him human. I wasn’t sure why I’d been looking for the big red-brown wolf.
Jacob seemed bigger again — no doubt a product of my expectations; I must have unconsciously been hoping to see the smaller Jacob from my memory, the easygoing friend who hadn’t made everything so difficult. He had his arms folded across his bare chest, a jacket clutched in one fist. His face was expressionless as he watched us.
Edward’s lips pulled down at the corners. “There had to have been a better way to do this.”
“Too late now,” I muttered glumly.
“Hey, Jake,” I greeted him when we got closer.
“Hello, Jacob,” Edward said.
Jacob ignored the pleasantry, all business. “Where do I take her?”
Edward pulled a map from a side pocket on the pack and offered it to him. Jacob unfolded it.
“We’re here now,” Edward said, reaching over to touch the right spot. Jacob recoiled from his hand automatically, and then steadied himself. Edward pretended not to notice.
“And you’re taking her up here,” Edward continued, tracing a serpentine pattern around the elevation lines on the paper. “Roughly nine miles.”
Jacob nodded once.
“When you’re about a mile away, you should cross my path. That will lead you in. Do you need the map?”
“No, thanks. I know this area pretty well. I think I know where I’m going.”
Jacob seemed to have to work harder than Edward to keep the tone polite.
“I’ll take a longer route,” Edward said. “And I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Edward stared at me unhappily. He didn’t like this part of the plan.
“See you,” I murmured.
Edward faded into the trees, heading in the opposite direction.
As soon as he was gone, Jacob turned cheerful.
“What’s up, Bella?” he asked with a big grin.
I rolled my eyes. “Same old, same old.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Bunch of vampires trying to kill you. The usual.”
“Well,” he said as he shrugged into his jacket to free his arms. “Let’s get going.”
Making a face, I took a small step closer to him.
He bent down and swept his arm behind my knees, knocking them out from under me. His other arm caught me before my head hit the ground.
“Jerk,” I muttered.
Jacob chuckled, already running through the trees. He kept a steady pace, a brisk jog that a fit human could keep up with . . . across a level plane . . . if they weren’t burdened with a hundred-plus pounds as he was.
“You don’t have to run. You’ll get tired.”
“Running doesn’t make me tired,” he said. His breathing was even — like the fixed tempo of a marathoner. “Besides, it will be colder soon. I hope he gets the camp set up before we get there.”
I tapped my finger against the thick padding of his parka. “I thought you didn’t get cold now.”
“I don’t. I brought this for you, just in case you weren’t prepared.” He looked at my jacket, almost as if he were disappointed that I was. “I don’t like the way the weather feels. It’s making me edgy. Notice how we haven’t seen any animals?”
“Um, not really.”
“I guess you wouldn’t. Your senses are too dull.”
I let that pass. “Alice was worried about the storm, too.”
“It takes a lot to silence the forest this way. You picked a hell of a night for a camping trip.”
“It wasn’t entirely my idea.”
The pathless way he took began to climb more and more steeply, but it didn’t slow him down. He leapt easily from rock to rock, not seeming to need his hands at all. His perfect balance reminded me of a mountain goat.
“What’s with the addition to your bracelet?” he asked.
I looked down, and realized that the crystal heart was facing up on my wrist.
I shrugged guiltily. “Another graduation present.”
He snorted. “A rock. Figures.”
A rock? I was suddenly reminded of Alice’s unfinished sentence outside the garage. I stared at the bright white crystal and tried to remember what Alice had been saying before . . . about diamonds. Could she have been trying to say he’s already got one on you? As in, I was already wearing one diamond from Edward? No, that was impossible. The heart would have to be five carats or something crazy like that! Edward wouldn’t —
“So it’s been a while since you came down to La Push,” Jacob said, interrupting my disturbing conjectures.
“I’ve been busy,” I told him. “And . . . I probably wouldn’t have visited, anyway.”
He grimaced. “I thought you were supposed to be the forgiving one, and I was the grudge-holder.”
“Been thinking about that last time a lot, have you?”
He laughed. “Either you’re lying, or you are the stubbornest person alive.”
“I don’t know about the second part, but I’m not lying.”
I didn’t like having this conversation under the present conditions — with his too-warm arms wrapped tightly around me and nothing at all I could do about it. His face was closer than I wanted it to be. I wished I could take a step back.
“A smart person looks at all sides of a decision.”
“I have,” I retorted.
“If you haven’t thought at all about our . . . er, conversation the last time you came over, then that’s not true.”
“That conversation isn’t relevant to my decision.”
“Some people will go to any lengths to delude themselves.”
“I’ve noticed that werewolves in particular are prone to that mistake — do you think it’s a genetic thing?”
“Does that mean that he’s a better kisser that I am?” Jacob asked, suddenly glum.
“I really couldn’t say, Jake. Edward is the only person I’ve ever kissed.”
“But I don’t count that as a kiss, Jacob. I think of it more as an assault.”
“Ouch! That’s cold.”
I shrugged. I wasn’t going to take it back.
“I did apologize about that,” he reminded me.
“And I forgave you . . . mostly. It doesn’t change the way I remember it.”
He muttered something unintelligible.
It was quiet then for a while; there was just the sound of his measured breathing and the wind roaring high above us in the treetops. A cliff face rose sheer beside us, bare, rough gray stone. We followed the base as it curved upward out of the forest.
“I still think it’s pretty irresponsible,” Jacob suddenly said.
“Whatever you’re talking about, you’re wrong.”
“Think about it, Bella. According to you, you’ve kissed just one person — who isn’t even really a person — in your whole life, and you’re calling it quits? How do you know that’s what you want? Shouldn’t you play the field a little?”
I kept my voice cool. “I know exactly what I want.”
“Then it couldn’t hurt to double check. Maybe you should try kissing someone else — just for comparison’s sake . . . since what happened the other day doesn’t count. You could kiss me, for example. I don’t mind if you want to use me to experiment.”
He pulled me tighter against his chest, so that my face was closer to his. He was smiling at his joke, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
“Don’t mess with me, Jake. I swear I won’t stop him if he wants to break your jaw.”
The panicky edge to my voice made him smile wider. “If you ask me to kiss you, he won’t have any reason to get upset. He said that was fine.”
“Don’t hold your breath, Jake — no, wait, I changed my mind. Go right ahead. Just hold your breath until I ask you to kiss me.”
“You’re in a bad mood today.”
“I wonder why?”
“Sometimes I think you like me better as a wolf.”
“Sometimes I do. It probably has something to do with the way you can’t talk.”
He pursed his broad lips thoughtfully. “No, I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s easier for you to be near me when I’m not human, because you don’t have to pretend that you’re not attracted to me.”
My mouth fell open with a little popping sound. I snapped it shut at once, grinding my teeth together.
He heard that. His lips pulled tightly across his face in a triumphant smile.
I took a slow breath before I spoke. “No. I’m pretty sure it’s because you can’t talk.”
He sighed. “Do you ever get tired of lying to yourself? You have to know how aware you are of me. Physically, I mean.”
“How could anyone not be aware of you physically, Jacob?” I demanded. “You’re an enormous monster who refuses to respect anyone else’s personal space.”
“I make you nervous. But only when I’m human. When I’m a wolf, you’re more comfortable around me.”
“Nervousness and irritation are not the same thing.”
He stared at me for a minute, slowing to a walk, the amusement draining from his face. His eyes narrowed, turned black in the shadow of his brows. His breathing, so regular as he ran, started to accelerate. Slowly, he leaned his face closer to mine.
I stared him down, knowing exactly what he was trying to do.
“It’s your face,” I reminded him.
He laughed loudly and started jogging again. “I don’t really want to fight with your vampire tonight — I mean, any other night, sure. But we both have a job to do tomorrow, and I wouldn’t want to leave the Cullens one short.”
The sudden, unexpected swell of shame distorted my expression.
“I know, I know,” he responded, not understanding. “You think he could take me.”
I couldn’t speak. I was leaving them one short. What if someone got hurt because I was so weak? But what if I was brave and Edward . . . I couldn’t even think it.
“What’s the matter with you, Bella?” The joking bravado vanished from his face, revealing my Jacob underneath, like pulling a mask away. “If something I said upset you, you know I was only kidding. I didn’t mean anything — hey, are you okay? Don’t cry, Bella,” he pled.
I tried to pull myself together. “I’m not going to cry.”
“What did I say?”
“It’s nothing you said. It’s just, well, it’s me. I did something . . . bad.”
He stared at me, his eyes wide with confusion.
“Edward isn’t going to fight tomorrow,” I whispered the explanation. “I’m making him stay with me. I am a huge coward.”
He frowned. “You think this isn’t going to work? That they’ll find you here? Do you know something I don’t know?”
“No, no. I’m not afraid of that. I just . . . I can’t let him go. If he didn’t come back . . .” I shuddered, closing my eyes to escape the thought.
Jacob was quiet.
I kept whispering, my eyes shut. “If anyone gets hurt, it will always be my fault. And even if no one does . . . I was horrible. I had to be, to convince him to stay with me. He won’t hold it against me, but I’ll always know what I’m capable of.” I felt just a tiny bit better, getting this off my chest. Even if I could only confess it to Jacob.
He snorted. My eyes opened slowly, and I was sad to see that the hard mask was back.
“I can’t believe he let you talk him out of going. I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”
I sighed. “I know.”
“That doesn’t mean anything, though.” He was suddenly backtracking. “That doesn’t mean that he loves you more than I do.”
“But you wouldn’t stay with me, even if I begged.”
He pursed his lips for a moment, and I wondered if he would try to deny it. We both knew the truth. “That’s only because I know you better,” he said at last. “Everything’s going to go without a hitch. Even if you’d asked and I’d said no, you wouldn’t be mad at me afterwards.”
“If everything does go without a hitch, you’re probably right. I wouldn’t be mad. But the whole time you’re gone, I’ll be sick with worry, Jake. Crazy with it.”
“Why?” he asked gruffly. “Why does it matter to you if something happens to me?”
“Don’t say that. You know how much you mean to me. I’m sorry it’s not in the way you want, but that’s just how it is. You’re my best friend. At least, you used to be. And still sometimes are . . . when you let your guard down.”
He smiled the old smile that I loved. “I’m always that,” he promised. “Even when I don’t . . . behave as well as I should. Underneath, I’m always in here.”
“I know. Why else would I put up with all of your crap?”
He laughed with me, and then his eyes were sad. “When are you finally going to figure out that you’re in love with me, too?”
“Leave it to you to ruin the moment.”
“I’m not saying you don’t love him. I’m not stupid. But it’s possible to love more than one person at a time, Bella. I’ve seen it in action.”
“I’m not some freaky werewolf, Jacob.”
He wrinkled his nose, and I was about to apologize for that last jab, but he changed the subject.
“We’re not far now, I can smell him.”
I sighed in relief.
He misinterpreted my meaning. “I’d happily slow down, Bella, but you’re going to want to be under shelter before that hits.”
We both looked up at the sky.
A solid wall of purple-black cloud was racing in from the west, blackening the forest beneath it as it came.
“Wow,” I muttered. “You’d better hurry, Jake. You’ll want to get home before it gets here.”
“I’m not going home.”
I glared at him, exasperated. “You’re not camping with us.”
“Not technically — as in, sharing your tent or anything. I prefer the storm to the smell. But I’m sure your bloodsucker will want to keep in touch with the pack for coordination purposes, and so I will graciously provide that service.”
“I thought that was Seth’s job.”
“He’ll take over tomorrow, during the fight.”
The reminder silenced me for a second. I stared at him, worry springing up again with sudden fierceness.
“I don’t suppose there’s any way you’d just stay since you’re already here?” I suggested. “If I did beg? Or trade back the lifetime of servitude or something?”
“Tempting, but no. Then again, the begging might be interesting to see. You can give it a go if you like.”
“There’s really nothing, nothing at all I can say?”
“Nope. Not unless you can promise me a better fight. Anyway, Sam’s calling the shots, not me.”
That reminded me.
“Edward told me something the other day . . . about you.”
He bristled. “It’s probably a lie.”
“Oh, really? You aren’t second in command of the pack, then?”
He blinked, his face going blank with surprise. “Oh. That.”
“How come you never told me that?”
“Why would I? It’s no big thing.”
“I don’t know. Why not? It’s interesting. So, how does that work? How did Sam end up as the Alpha, and you as the . . . the Beta?”
Jacob chuckled at my invented term. “Sam was the first, the oldest. It made sense for him to take charge.”
I frowned. “But shouldn’t Jared or Paul be second, then? They were the next to change.”
“Well . . . it’s hard to explain,” Jacob said evasively.
He sighed. “It’s more about the lineage, you know? Sort of old-fashioned. Why should it matter who your grandpa was, right?”
I remembered something Jacob had told me a long time ago, before either of us had known anything about werewolves.
“Didn’t you say that Ephraim Black was the last chief the Quileutes had?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Because he was the Alpha. Did you know that, technically, Sam’s the chief of the whole tribe now?” He laughed. “Crazy traditions.”
I thought about that for a second, trying to make all the pieces fit. “But you also said that people listened to your dad more than anyone else on the council, because he was Ephraim’s grandson?”
“What about it?”
“Well, if it’s about the lineage . . . shouldn’t you be the chief, then?”
Jacob didn’t answer me. He stared into the darkening forest, as if he suddenly needed to concentrate on where he was going.
“No. That’s Sam’s job.” He kept his eyes on our pathless course.
“Why? His great-granddad was Levi Uley, right? Was Levi an Alpha, too?”
“There’s only one Alpha,” he answered automatically.
“So what was Levi?”
“Sort of a Beta, I guess.” He snorted at my term. “Like me.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I just want to understand.”
Jacob finally met my confused gaze, and then sighed. “Yeah. I was supposed to be the Alpha.”
My eyebrows pulled together. “Sam didn’t want to step down?”
“Hardly. I didn’t want to step up.”
He frowned, uncomfortable with my questions. Well, it was his turn to feel uncomfortable.
“I didn’t want any of it, Bella. I didn’t want anything to change. I didn’t want to be some legendary chief. I didn’t want to be part of a pack of werewolves, let alone their leader. I wouldn’t take it when Sam offered.”
I thought about this for a long moment. Jacob didn’t interrupt. He stared into the forest again.
“But I thought you were happier. That you were okay with this,” I finally whispered.
Jacob smiled down at me reassuringly. “Yeah. It’s really not so bad. Exciting sometimes, like with this thing tomorrow. But at first it sort of felt like being drafted into a war you didn’t know existed. There was no choice, you know? And it was so final.” He shrugged. “Anyway, I guess I’m glad now. It has to be done, and could I trust someone else to get it right? It’s better to make sure myself.”
I stared at him, feeling an unexpected kind of awe for my friend. He was more of a grown-up than I’d ever given him credit for. Like with Billy the other night at the bonfire, there was a majesty here that I’d never suspected.
“Chief Jacob,” I whispered, smiling at the way the words sounded together.
He rolled his eyes.
Just then, the wind shook more fiercely through the trees around us, and it felt like it was blowing straight off a glacier. The sharp sound of wood cracking echoed off the mountain. Though the light was vanishing as the grisly cloud covered the sky, I could still see the little white specks that fluttered past us.
Jacob stepped up the pace, keeping his eyes on the ground now as he flat out sprinted. I curled more willingly against his chest, recoiling from the unwelcome snow.
It was only minutes later that he dashed around to the lee side of the stony peak and we could see the little tent nestled up against the sheltering face. More flurries were falling around us, but the wind was too fierce to let them settle anywhere.
“Bella!” Edward called out in acute relief. We’d caught him in the middle of pacing back and forth across the little open space.
He flashed to my side, sort of blurring as he moved so swiftly. Jacob cringed, and then set me on my feet. Edward ignored his reaction and caught me in a tight hug.
“Thank you,” Edward said over my head. His tone was unmistakably sincere. “That was quicker than I expected, and I truly appreciate it.”
I twisted to see Jacob’s response.
Jacob merely shrugged, all the friendliness wiped clean from his face. “Get her inside. This is going to be bad — my hair’s standing up on my scalp. Is that tent secure?”
“I all but welded it to the rock.”
Jacob looked up at the sky — now black with the storm, sprinkled with the swirling bits of snow. His nostrils flared.
“I’m going to change,” he said. “I want to know what’s going on back home.”
He hung his jacket on a low, stubby branch, and walked into the murky forest without a backward glance.