I COWERED INTO JACOB’S SIDE, MY EYES SCANNING the forest for the other werewolves. When they appeared, striding out from between the trees, they weren’t what I was expecting. I’d gotten the image of the wolves stuck in my head. These were just four really big half-naked boys.
Again, they reminded me of brothers, quadruplets. Something about the way they moved almost in synchronization to stand across the road from us, the way they all had the same long, round muscles under the same red-brown skin, the same cropped black hair, and the way their expressions altered at exactly the same moment.
They started out curious and cautious. When they saw me there, half-hidden beside Jacob, they all became furious in the same second.
Sam was still the biggest, though Jacob was getting close to catching up with him. Sam didn’t really count as a boy. His face was older—not in the sense of lines or signs of aging, but in the matunry, the patience of his expression.
“What have you done, Jacob?” he demanded.
One of the others, one I didn’t recognize—Jared or Paul—thrust past Sam and spoke before Jacob could defend himself.
“Why can’t you just follow the rules, Jacob?” he yelled, throwing his arms in the air. “What the hell are you thinking? Is she more important than everything—than the whole tribe? Than the people getting killed?”
“She can help,” Jacob said quietly.
“Help!” the angry boy shouted. His arms begin to quiver. “Oh, that’s likely! I’m sure the leech-lover is just dying to help us out!”
“Don’t talk about her like that!” Jacob shouted back, stung by the boy’s criticism.
A shudder rippled through the other boy, along his shoulders and down his spine.
“Paul! Relax!” Sam commanded.
Paul shook his head back and forth, not in defiance, but as though he were trying to concentrate.
“Jeez, Paul,” one of the other boys—probably Jared—muttered. “Get a grip.”
Paul twisted his head toward Jared, his lips curling back in irritation. Then he shifted his glare in my direction. Jacob took a step to put himself in front of me.
That did it.
“Right, protect her !” Paul roared in outrage. Another shudder, a convulsion, heaved through his body. He threw his head back, a real growl tearing from between his teeth.
“Paul!” Sam and Jacob shouted together.
Paul seemed to fall forward, vibrating violently. Halfway to the ground, there was a loud ripping noise, and the boy exploded.
Dark silver fur blew out from the boy, coalescing into a shape more than five-times his size—a massive, crouched shape, ready to spring.
The wolf’s muzzle wrinkled back over his teeth, and another growl rolled through his colossal chest. His dark, enraged eyes focused on me.
In the same second, Jacob was running across the road straight for the monster.
“Jacob!” I screamed.
Mid-stride, a long tremor shivered down Jacob’s spine. He leaped forward, diving headfirst into the empty air.
With another sharp tearing sound, Jacob exploded, too. He burst out of his skin—shreds of black and white cloth blasted up into the air. It happened so quickly that if I’d blinked, I’d have missed the entire transformation. One second it was Jacob diving into the air, and then it was the gigantic, russet brown wolf—so enormous that I couldn’t make sense of its mass somehow fitting inside Jacob—charging the crouched silver beast.
Jacob met the other werewolf’s attack head-on. Their angry snarls echoed like thunder off the trees.
The black and white scraps—the remains of Jacob’s clothes—fluttered to the ground where he’d disappeared.
“Jacob!” I screamed again, staggering forward.
“Stay where you are, Bella,” Sam ordered. It was hard to hear him over the roar of the fighting wolves. They were snapping and tearing at each other, their sharp teeth flashing toward each other’s throats. The Jacob-wolf seemed to have the upper hand—he was visibly bigger than the other wolf, and it looked like le was stronger, too. He rammed his shoulder against the gray wolf again and again, knocking him back toward the trees.
“Take her to Emily’s,” Sam shouted toward the other boys, who were watching the conflict with rapt expressions. Jacob had successfully shoved the gray wolf off the road, and they were disappearing into the forest, though the sound of their snarls was still loud. Sam ran after them, kicking off his shoes on the way. As he darted into the trees, he was quivering from head to toe.
The growling and snapping was fading into the distance. Suddenly, the sound cut off and it was very quiet on the road.
One of the boys started laughing.
I turned to stare at him—my wide eyes felt frozen, like I couldn’t even blink them.
The boy seemed to be laughing at my expression. “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day,” he snickered. His face was vaguely familiar—thinner than the others… Embry Call.
“I do,” the other boy, Jared, grumbled. “Every single day.”
“Aw, Paul doesn’t lose his temper every day,” Embry disagreed, still grinning. “Maybe two out of three.”
Jared stopped to pick something white up off the ground. He held it up toward Embry; it dangled in limp strips from his hand.
“Totally shredded,” Jared said. “Billy said this was the last pair he could afford—guess Jacob’s going barefoot now.”
“This one survived,” Embry said, holding up a white sneaker. “Jake can hop,” he added with a laugh.
Jared started collecting various pieces of fabric from the dirt. “Get Sam’s shoes, will you? All the rest of this is headed for the trash.”
Embry grabbed the shoes and then jogged into the trees where Sam had disappeared. He was back in a few seconds with a pair of cut-off jeans draped over his arm. Jared gathered the torn remnants of Jacob’s and Paul’s clothes and wadded them into a ball. Suddenly, he seemed to remember me.
He looked at me carefully, assessing.
“Hey, you’re not going to faint or puke or anything?” he demanded.
“I don’t think so,” I gasped.
“You don’t look so good. Maybe you should sit down.”
“Okay,” I mumbled. For the second time in one morning, I put my head between my knees.
“Jake should have warned us,” Embry complained.
“He shouldn’t have brought his girlfriend into this. What did he expect?”
“Well, the wolf’s out of the bag now.” Embry sighed. “Way to go, Jake.”
I raised my head to glare at the two boys who seemed to be taking this all so lightly. “Aren’t you worried about them at all?” I demanded.
Embry blinked once in surprise “Worried? Why?”
“They could hurt each other!”
Embry and Jared guffawed.
“I hope Paul gets a mouthful of him,” Jared said. “Teach him a lesson.”
“Yeah, right!” Embry disagreed. “Did you see Jake? Even Sam couldn’t have phased on the fly like that. He saw Paul losing it, and it took him, what, half a second to attack? The boy’s got a gift.”
“Paul’s been fighting longer. I’ll bet you ten bucks he leaves a mark.”
“You’re on. Jake’s a natural. Paul doesn’t have a prayer.”
They shook hands, grinning.
I tried to comfort myself with their lack of concern, but I couldn’t drive the brutal image of the fighting werewolves from my head. My stomach churned, sore and empty, my head ached with worry.
“Let’s go see Emily. You know she’ll have food waiting.” Embry looked down at me. “Mind giving us a ride?”
“No problem,” I choked.
Jared raised one eyebrow. “Maybe you’d better drive, Embry. She still looks like she might hurl.”
“Good idea. Where are the keys?” Embry asked me.
Embry opened the passenger-side door. “In you go,” he said cheerfully, hauling me up from the ground with one hand and stuffing me into my seat. He appraised the available space. “You’ll have to ride in the back,” he told Jared.
“That’s fine. I got a weak stomach. I don’t want to be in there when she blows.”
“I bet she’s tougher than that. She runs with vampires.”
“Five bucks?” Jared asked.
“Done. I feel guilty, taking your money like this.”
Embry got in and started the engine while Jared leapt agilely into the bed. As soon as his door was closed, Embry muttered to me, “Don’t throw up, okay? I’ve only got a ten, and if Paul got his teeth into Jacob…”
“Okay,” I whispered.
Embry drove us back toward the village.
“Hey, how did Jake get around the injunction anyway?”
“Er, the order. You know, to not spill the beans. How did he tell you about this?”
“Oh, that,” I said, remembering Jacob trying to choke out the truth to me last night. “He didn’t. I guessed right.”
Embry pursed his lips, looking surprised. “Hmm. S’pose that would work.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Emily’s house. She’s Sam’s girlfriend… no, fiancee, now, I guess. They’ll meet us back there after Sam gives it to them for what just happened. And after Paul and Jake scrounge up some new clothes, if Paul even has any left.”
“Does Emily know about… ?”
“Yeah. And hey, don’t stare at her. That bugs Sam.”
I frowned at him. “Why would I stare?”
Embry looked uncomfortable. “Like you saw just now, hanging out around werewolves has its risks.” He changed the subject quickly. “Hey, are you okay about the whole thing with the black-haired bloodsucker in the meadow? It didn’t look like he was a friend of yours, but. .” Embry shrugged.
“No, he wasn’t my friend.”
“That’s good. We didn’t want to start anything, break the treaty, you know.”
“Oh, yeah, Jake told me about the treaty once, a long time ago. Why would killing Laurent break the treaty?”
“Laurent,” he repeated, snorting, like he was amused the vampire had had a name. “Well, we were technically on Cullen turf. We’re not allowed to attack any of them, the Cullens, at least, off our land—unless they break the treaty first. We didn’t know if the black-haired one was a relative of theirs or something. Looked like you knew him.”
“How would they go about breaking the treaty?”
“If they bite a human. Jake wasn’t so keen on the idea of letting it go that far.”
“Oh. Um, thanks. I’m glad you didn’t wait.”
“Our pleasure.” He sounded like he meant that in a literal sense.
Embry drove past the easternmost house on the highway before turning off onto a narrow dirt road. “Your truck is slow,” he noted.
At the end of the lane was a tiny house that had once been gray. There was only one narrow window beside the weathered blue door, but the window box under it was filled with bright orange and yellow marigolds, giving the whole place a cheerful look.
Embry opened the truck door and inhaled. “Mmm, Emily’s cooking.”
Jared jumped out of the back of the truck and headed for the door, but Embry stopped him with one hand on his chest. He looked at me meaningfully, and cleared his throat.
“I don’t have my wallet on me,” Jared said.
“That’s okay. I won’t forget.”
They climbed up the one step and entered the house without knocking. I followed timidly after them.
The front room, like Billy’s house, was mostly kitchen. A young woman with satiny copper skin and long, straight, crow-black hair was standing at the counter by the sink, popping big muffins out of a tin and placing them on a paper plate. For one second, I thought the reason Embry had told me not to stare was because the girl was so beautiful.
And then she asked “You guys hungry?” in a melodic voice, and she turned to face us full on, a smile on half of her face.
The right side of her face was scarred from hairline to chin by three thick, red lines, livid in color though they were long healed. One line pulled down the corner of her dark, almond-shaped right eye, another twisted the right side of her mouth into a permanent grimace.
Thankful for Embry’s warning, I quickly turned my eyes to the muffins in her hands. They smelled wonderful—like fresh blueberries.
“Oh,” Emily said, surprised. “Who’s this?”
I looked up, trying to focus on the left half of her face.
“Bella Swan,” Jared told her, shrugging. Apparently, I’d been a topic of conversation before. “Who else?”
“Leave it to Jacob to find a way around,” Emily murmured. She stared at me, and neither half of her once-beautiful face was friendly. “So, you’re the vampire girl.”
I stiffened. “Yes. Are you the wolf girl?”
She laughed, as did Embry and Jared. The left half of her face warmed. “I guess I am.” She turned to Jared. “Where’s Sam?”
“Bella, er, surprised Paul this morning.”
Emily rolled her good eye. “Ah, Paul,” she sighed. “Do you think they’ll be long? I was just about to start the eggs.”
“Don’t worry,” Embry told her. “If they’re late, we won’t let anything go to waste.”
Emily chuckled, and then opened the refrigerator. “No doubt,” she agreed. “Bella, are you hungry? Go ahead and help yourself to a muffin.”
“Thanks.” I took one from the plate and started nibbling around the edges. It was delicious, and it felt good in my tender stomach. Embry picked up his third and shoved it into his mouth whole.
“Save some for your brothers,” Emily chastised him, hitting him on the head with a wooden spoon. The word surprised me, but the others thought nothing of it.
“Pig,” Jared commented.
I leaned against the counter and watched the three of them banter like a family. Emily’s kitchen was a friendly place, bright with white cupboards and pale wooden floorboards. On the little round table, a cracked blue-and-white china pitcher was overflowing with wildflowers. Embry and Jared seemed entirely at ease here.
Emily was mixing a humongous batch of eggs, several dozen, in a big yellow bowl. She had the sleeves of her lavender shirt pushed up, and I could see that the scars extended all the way down her arm to the back of her right hand. Hanging out with werewolves truly did have its risks, just as Embry had said.
The front door opened, and Sam stepped through.
“Emily,” he said, and so much love saturated his voice that I felt embarrassed, intrusive, as I watched him cross the room in one stride and take her face in his wide hands. He leaned down and kissed the dark scars on her right cheek before he kissed her lips.
“Hey, none of that,” Jared complained. “I’m eating.”
“Then shut up and eat,” Sam suggested, kissing Emily’s ruined mouth again.
“Ugh,” Embry groaned.
This was worse than any romantic movie; this was so real that it sang out loud with joy and life and true love. I put my muffin down and folded my arms across my empty chest. I stared at the flowers, trying to ignore the utter peace of their moment, and the wretched throbbing of my wounds.
I was grateful for the distraction when Jacob and Paul came through the door, and then shocked when I saw that they were laughing. While I watched, Paul punched Jacob on the shoulder and Jacob went for a kidney jab in return. They laughed again. They both appeared to be in one piece.
Jacob scanned the room, his eyes stopping when he found me leaning, awkward and out of place, against the counter in the far corner of the kitchen.
“Hey, Bells,” he greeted me cheerfully. He grabbed two muffins as he passed the table and came to stand beside me. “Sorry about before,” he muttered under his breath. “How are you holding up.'”
“Don’t worry, I’m okay. Good muffins.” I picked mine back up and started nibbhrg again. My chest felt better as soon as Jacob was beside me.
“Oh, man!” Jared wailed, interrupting us.
I looked up, and he and Embry were examining a fading pink line on Paul’s forearm. Embry was grinning, exultant.
“Fifteen dollars,” he crowed.
“Did you do that?” I whispered to Jacob, remembering the bet.
“I barely touched him. He’ll be perfect by sundown.”
“By sundown?” I looked at the line on Paul’s arm. Odd, but it looked weeks old.
“Wolf thing,” Jacob whispered.
I nodded, trying to not look weirded out.
“You okay?” I asked him under my breath.
“Not a scratch on me.” His expression was smug.
“Hey, guys,” Sam said in a loud voice, interrupting all the conversations going on in the small room. Emily was at the stove, scraping the egg mixture around a big skillet, but Sam still had one hand touching the small of her back, an unconscious gesture. “Jacob has information for us.”
Paul looked unsurprised. Jacob must have explained this to him and Sam already. Or… they’d just heard his thoughts.
“I know what the redhead wants.” Jacob directed his words toward Jared and Embry. “That’s what I was trying to tell you before.” He kicked the leg of the chair Paul had settled into.
“And?” Jared asked.
Jacob’s face got serious. “She is trying to avenge her mate—only it wasn’t the black-haired leech we killed. The Cullens got her mate last year, and she’s after Bella now.”
This wasn’t news to me, but I still shivered.
Jared, Embry, and Emily stared at me with open-mouthed surprise.
“She’s just a girl,” Embry protested.
“I didn’t say it made sense. But that’s why the bloodsucker’s been trying to get past us. She’s been heading for Forks.”
They continued to stare at me, mouths still hanging open, for a long moment. I ducked my head.
“Excellent,” Jared finally said, a smile beginning to pull up the corners of his mouth. “We’ve got bait.”
With stunning speed, Jacob yanked a can opener from the counter and launched it at Jared’s head. Jared’s hand flicked up faster than I would have thought possible, and he snagged the tool just before it hit his face.
“Bella is not bait.”
“You know what I mean,” Jared said, unabashed.
“So we’ll be changing oar patterns,” Sam said, ignoring their squabble. “We’ll try leaving a few holes, and see if she falls for it. We’ll have to split up, and I don’t like that. But if she’s really after Bella, she probably won’t try to take advantage of our divided numbers.”
“Quit’s got to be close to joining us,” Embry murmured. “Then we’ll be able to split evenly.”
Everyone looked down. I glanced at Jacob’s face, and it was hopeless, like it had been yesterday afternoon, outside his house. No matter how comfortable they seemed to be with their fate, here in this happy kitchen, none of these werewolves wanted the same fate for their friend.
“Well, we won’t count on that,” Sam said in a low voice, and then continued at his regular volume. “Paul, Jared, and Embry will take the outer perimeter, and Jacob and I will take the inner. We’ll collapse in when we’ve got her trapped.”
I noticed that Emily didn’t particularly like that Sam would be in the smaller grouping. Her worry had me glancing up at Jacob, worrying, too.
Sam caught my eye. “Jacob thinks it would be best if you spent as much time as possible here in La Push. She won’t know where to find you so easily, just in case.”
“What about Charlie?” I demanded.
“March Madness is still going,” Jacob said. “I think Billy and Harry can manage to keep Charlie down here when he’s not at work.”
“Wait,” Sam said, holding one hand up. His glance flickered to Emily and then back to me. “That’s what Jacob thinks is best, but you need to decide for yourself. You should weigh the risks of both options very seriously. You saw this morning how easily things can get dangerous here, how quickly they get out of hand. If you choose to stay with us, I can’t make any guarantees about your safety.”
“I won’t hurt her,” Jacob mumbled, looking down.
Sam acted as if he hadn’t heard him speak. “If there was somewhere else you felt safe…”
I bit my lip. Where could I go that wouldn’t put someone else in danger? I recoiled again from the idea of bringing Renee into this—pulling her into the circle of the target I wore… “I don’t want to lead Victoria anywhere else,” I whispered.
Sam nodded. “That’s true. It’s better to have her here, where we can end this.”
I flinched. I didn’t want Jacob or any of the rest of them trying to end Victoria. I glanced at Jake’s face; it was relaxed, almost the same as I remembered it from before the onset of the wolf thing, and utterly unconcerned by the idea of hunting vampires.
“You’ll be careful, right?” I asked, an audible lump in my throat.
The boys burst into loud hoots of amusement. Everyone laughed at me—except Emily. She met my eyes, and I could suddenly see the symmetry underlying her deformity. Her face was still beautiful, and alive with a concern even more fierce than mine. I had to look away, before the love behind that concern could start me aching again.
“Food’s ready,” she announced then, and the strategic conversation was history. The guys hurried to surround the table—which looked tiny and in danger of being crushed by them—and devoured the buffet-sized pan of eggs Emily placed in their midst in record time. Emily ate leaning against the counter like me—avoiding the bedlam at the table—and watched them with affectionate eyes. Her expression clearly stated that this was her family.
All in all, it wasn’t exactly what I’d been expecting from a pack of werewolves.
I spent the day in La Push, the majority of it in Billy’s house. He left a message on Charlie’s phone and at the station, and Charlie showed up around dinnertime with two pizzas. It was good he brought two larges; Jacob ate one all by himself.
I saw Charlie eyeing the two of us suspiciously all night, especially the much-changed Jacob. He asked about the hair; Jacob shrugged and told him it was just more convenient.
I knew that as soon as Charlie and I were headed home, Jacob would take off—off to run around as a wolf, as he had done intermittently through the entire day. He and his brothers of sorts kept up a constant watch, looking for some sign of Victoria’s return. But since they’d chased her away from the hot springs last night—chased her halfway to Canada, according to Jacob—she’d yet to make another foray.
I had no hope at all that she might just give up. I didn’t have that kind of luck.
Jacob walked me to my truck after dinner and lingered by the window, waiting for Charlie to drive away first.
“Don’t be afraid tonight,” Jacob said, while Charlie pretended to be having trouble with his seat belt. “We’ll be out there, watching.”
“I won’t worry about myself,” I promised.
“You’re silly. Hunting vampires is fun. It’s the best part of this whole mess.”
I shook my head. “If I’m silly, then you’re dangerously unbalanced.”
He chuckled. “Get some rest, Bella, honey. You look exhausted.”
Charlie honked his horn impatiently.
“See you tomorrow,” Jacob said. “Come down first thing.”
Charlie followed me home. I paid scant attention to the lights in my rearview mirror. Instead, I wondered where Sam and Jared and Embry and Paul were, out running in the night. I wondered if Jacob had joined them yet.
When we got home, I hurried for the stairs, but Charlie was right behind me.
“What’s going on, Bella?” he demanded before I could escape. “I thought Jacob was part of a gang and you two were fighting.”
“We made up.”
“And the gang?”
“I don’t know—who can understand teenage boys? They’re a mystery. But I met Sam Uley and his fiancee, Emily. The seemed pretty nice to me.” I shrugged. “Must have all been a misunderstanding.”
His face changed. “I hadn’t heard that he and Emily had made it official. That’s nice. Poor girl.”
“Do you know what happened to her?”
“Mauled by a bear, up north, during salmon spawning season—horrible accident It was more than a year ago now. I heard Sam was really messed up over it.”
“That’s horrible,” I echoed. More than a year ago. I’d bet that meant it had happened when there was just one werewolf in La Push. I shuddered at the thought of how Sam must have felt every time he looked at Emily’s face.
That night, I lay awake for a long time trying to sort through the day. I worked my way backward through dinner with Billy, Jacob, and C harlie, to the long afternoon in the Blacks’ house, waiting anxiously to hear something from Jacob, to Emily’s kitchen, to the horror of the werewolf fight, to talking with Jacob on the beach.
I thought about what Jacob had said early this morning, about hypocrisy. I thought about that for a long time. I didn’t like to think that I was a hypocrite, only what was the point of lying to myself?
I curled into a tight ball. No, Edward wasn’t a killer. Even in his darker past, he’d never been a murderer of innocents, at least.
But what if he had been? What if, during the time I that I’d known him, he’d been just like any other vampire? What if people had been disappearing from the woods, just like now? Would that have kept me away from him?
I shook my head sadly. Love is irrational, I reminded myself. The more you loved someone, the less sense anything made.
I rolled over and tried to think of something else—and I thought of Jacob and his brothers, out running in the darkness. I fell asleep imagining the wolves, invisible in the night, guarding me from danger. When I dreamed, I stood in the forest again, but I didn’t wander. I was holding Emily’s scarred hand as we faced into the shadows and waited anxiously for our werewolves to come home.