“Jeez, Paul, don’t you freaking have a home of your own?”
Paul, lounging across my whole couch, watching some stupid baseball game on my crappy TV, just grinned at me and then—real slow—he lifted one Dorito from the bag in his lap and wedged it into his mouth in one piece.
“You better’ve brought those with you.”
Crunch. “Nope,” he said while chewing. “Your sister said to go ahead and help myself to anything I wanted.”
I tried to make my voice sound like I wasn’t about to punch him. “Is Rachel here now?”
It didn’t work. He heard where I was going and shoved the bag behind his back. The bag crackled as he smashed it into the cushion. The chips crunched into pieces. Paul’s hands came up in fists, close to his face like a boxer.
“Bring it, kid. I don’t need Rachel to protect me.”
I snorted. “Right. Like you wouldn’t go crying to her first chance.”
He laughed and relaxed into the sofa, dropping his hands. “I’m not going to go tattle to a girl. If you got in a lucky hit, that would be just between the two of us. And vice versa, right?”
Nice of him to give me an invitation. I made my body slump like I’d given up. “Right.”
His eyes shifted to the TV.
His nose made a very satisfying crunching sound of its own when my fist connected. He tried to grab me, but I danced out of the way before he could find a hold, the ruined bag of Doritos in my left hand.
“You broke my nose, idiot.”
“Just between us, right, Paul?”
I went to put the chips away. When I turned around, Paul was repositioning his nose before it could set crooked. The blood had already stopped; it looked like it had no source as it trickled down his lips and off his chin. He cussed, wincing as he pulled at the cartilage.
“You are such a pain, Jacob. I swear, I’d rather hang out with Leah.”
“Ouch. Wow, I bet Leah’s really going to love to hear that you want to spend some quality time with her. It’ll just warm the cockles of her heart.”
“You’re going to forget I said that.”
“Of course. I’m sure it won’t slip out.”
“Ugh,” he grunted, and then settled back into the couch, wiping the leftover blood on the collar of his t-shirt. “You’re fast, kid. I’ll give you that.” He turned his attention back to the fuzzy game.
I stood there for a second, and then I stalked off to my room, muttering about alien abductions.
Back in the day, you could count on Paul for a fight pretty much whenever. You didn’t have to hit him then—any mild insult would do. It didn’t take a lot to flip him out of control. Now, of course, when I really wanted a good snarling, ripping, break-the-trees-down match, he had to be all mellow.
Wasn’t it bad enough that yet another member of the pack had imprinted—because, really, that made four of ten now! When would it stop? Stupid myth was supposed to be rare, for crying out loud! All this mandatory love-at-first-sight was completely sickening!
Did it have to be my sister? Did it have to be Paul ?
When Rachel’d come home from Washington State at the end of the summer semester—graduated early, the nerd—my biggest worry’d been that it would be hard keeping the secret around her. I wasn’t used to covering things up in my own home. It made me real sympathetic to kids like Embry and Collin, whose parents didn’t know they were werewolves. Embry’s mom thought he was going through some kind of rebellious stage. He was permanently grounded for constantly sneaking out, but, of course, there wasn’t much he could do about that. She’d check his room every night, and every night it would be empty again. She’d yell and he’d take it in silence, and then go through it all again the next day. We’d tried to talk Sam into giving Embry a break and letting his mom in on the gig, but Embry’d said he didn’t mind. The secret was too important.
So I’d been all geared up to be keeping that secret. And then, two days after Rachel got home, Paul ran into her on the beach. Bada bing, bada boom—true love! No secrets necessary when you found your other half, and all that imprinting werewolf garbage.
Rachel got the whole story. And I got Paul as a brother-in-law someday. I knew Billy wasn’t much thrilled about it, either. But he handled it better than I did. ’Course, he did escape to the Clearwaters’ more often than usual these days. I didn’t see where that was so much better. No Paul, but plenty of Leah.
I wondered—would a bullet through my temple actually kill me or just leave a really big mess for me to clean up?
I threw myself down on the bed. I was tired—hadn’t slept since my last patrol—but I knew I wasn’t going to sleep. My head was too crazy. The thoughts bounced around inside my skull like a disoriented swarm of bees. Noisy. Now and then they stung. Must be hornets, not bees. Bees died after one sting. And the same thoughts were stinging me again and again.
This waiting was driving me insane. It had been almost four weeks. I’d expected, one way or another, the news would have come by now. I’d sat up nights imagining what form it would take.
Charlie sobbing on the phone—Bella and her husband lost in an accident. A plane crash? That would be hard to fake. Unless the leeches didn’t mind killing a bunch of bystanders to authenticate it, and why would they? Maybe a small plane instead. They probably had one of those to spare.
Or would the murderer come home alone, unsuccessful in his attempt to make her one of them? Or not even getting that far. Maybe he’d smashed her like a bag of chips in his drive to get some? Because her life was less important to him than his own pleasure…
The story would be so tragic—Bella lost in a horrible accident. Victim of a mugging gone wrong. Choking to death at dinner. A car accident, like my mom. So common. Happened all the time.
Would he bring her home? Bury her here for Charlie? Closed-casket ceremony, of course. My mom’s coffin had been nailed shut.…
I could only hope that he’d come back here, within my reach.
Maybe there would be no story at all. Maybe Charlie would call to ask my dad if he’d heard anything from Dr. Cullen, who just didn’t show up to work one day. The house abandoned. No answer on any of the Cullens’ phones. The mystery picked up by some second-rate news program, foul play suspected…
Maybe the big white house would burn to the ground, everyone trapped inside. Of course, they’d need bodies for that one. Eight humans of roughly the right size. Burned beyond recognition—beyond the help of dental records.
Either of those would be tricky—for me, that is. It would be hard to find them if they didn’t want to be found. Of course, I had forever to look. If you had forever, you could check out every single piece of straw in the haystack, one by one, to see if it was the needle.
Right now, I wouldn’t mind dismantling a haystack. At least that would be something to do. I hated knowing that I could be losing my chance. Giving the bloodsuckers the time to escape, if that was their plan.
We could go tonight. We could kill every one of them that we could find.
I liked that plan because I knew Edward well enough to know that, if I killed any one of his coven, I would get my chance at him, too. He’d come for revenge. And I’d give it to him—I wouldn’t let my brothers take him down as a pack. It would be just him and me. May the better man win.
But Sam wouldn’t hear of it. We’re not going to break the treaty. Let them make the breach. Just because we had no proof that the Cullens had done anything wrong. Yet. You had to add the yet, because we all knew it was inevitable. Bella was either coming back one of them, or not coming back. Either way, a human life had been lost. And that meant game on.
In the other room, Paul brayed like a mule. Maybe he’d switched to a comedy. Maybe the commercial was funny. Whatever. It grated on my nerves.
I thought about breaking his nose again. But it wasn’t Paul I wanted to fight with. Not really.
I tried to listen to other sounds, the wind in the trees. It wasn’t the same, not through human ears. There were a million voices in the wind that I couldn’t hear in this body.
But these ears were sensitive enough. I could hear past the trees, to the road, the sounds of the cars coming around that last bend where you could finally see the beach—the vista of the islands and the rocks and the big blue ocean stretching to the horizon. The La Push cops liked to hang out right around there. Tourists never noticed the reduced speed limit sign on the other side of the road.
I could hear the voices outside the souvenir shop on the beach. I could hear the cowbell clanging as the door opened and closed. I could hear Embry’s mom at the cash register, printing out a receipt.
I could hear the tide raking across the beach rocks. I could hear the kids squeal as the icy water rushed in too fast for them to get out of the way. I could hear the moms complain about the wet clothes. And I could hear a familiar voice.…
I was listening so hard that the sudden burst of Paul’s donkey laugh made me jump half off the bed.
“Get out of my house,” I grumbled. Knowing he wouldn’t pay any attention, I followed my own advice. I wrenched open my window and climbed out the back way so that I wouldn’t see Paul again. It would be too tempting. I knew I would hit him again, and Rachel was going to be pissed enough already. She’d see the blood on his shirt, and she’d blame me right away without waiting for proof. Of course, she’d be right, but still.
I paced down to the shore, my fists in my pockets. Nobody looked at me twice when I went through the dirt lot by First Beach. That was one nice thing about summer—no one cared if you wore nothing but shorts.
I followed the familiar voice I’d heard and found Quil easy enough. He was on the south end of the crescent, avoiding the bigger part of the tourist crowd. He kept up a constant stream of warnings.
“Keep out of the water, Claire. C’mon. No, don’t. Oh! Nice , kid. Seriously, do you want Emily to yell at me? I’m not bringing you back to the beach again if you don’t—Oh yeah? Don’t—ugh. You think that’s funny, do you? Hah! Who’s laughing now, huh?”
He had the giggling toddler by the ankle when I reached them. She had a bucket in one hand, and her jeans were drenched. He had a huge wet mark down the front of his t-shirt.
“Five bucks on the baby girl,” I said.
Claire squealed and threw her bucket at Quil’s knees. “Down, down!”
He set her carefully on her feet and she ran to me. She wrapped her arms around my leg.
“How’s it going, Claire?”
She giggled. “Qwil aaaaawl wet now.”
“I can see that. Where’s your mama?”
“Gone, gone, gone,” Claire sang, “Cwaire pway wid Qwil aaaawl day. Cwaire nebber gowin home.” She let go of me and ran to Quil. He scooped her up and slung her onto his shoulders.
“Sounds like somebody’s hit the terrible twos.”
“Threes actually,” Quil corrected. “You missed the party. Princess theme. She made me wear a crown, and then Emily suggested they all try out her new play makeup on me.”
“Wow, I’m really sorry I wasn’t around to see that.”
“Don’t worry, Emily has pictures. Actually, I look pretty hot.”
“You’re such a patsy.”
Quil shrugged. “Claire had a great time. That was the point.”
I rolled my eyes. It was hard being around imprinted people. No matter what stage they were in—about to tie the knot like Sam or just a much-abused nanny like Quil—the peace and certainty they always radiated was downright puke-inducing.
Claire squealed on his shoulders and pointed at the ground. “Pity wock, Qwil! For me, for me!”
“Which one, kiddo? The red one?”
Quil dropped to his knees—Claire screamed and pulled his hair like a horse’s reigns.
“This blue one?”
“No, no, no…,” the little girl sang, thrilled with her new game.
The weird part was, Quil was having just as much fun as she was. He didn’t have that face on that so many of the tourist dads and moms were wearing—the when-is-nap-time? face. You never saw a real parent so jazzed to play whatever stupid kiddie sport their rugrat could think up. I’d seen Quil play peekaboo for an hour straight without getting bored.
And I couldn’t even make fun of him for it—I envied him too much.
Though I did think it sucked that he had a good fourteen years of monkitude ahead of him until Claire was his age—for Quil, at least, it was a good thing werewolves didn’t get older. But even all that time didn’t seem to bother him much.
“Quil, you ever think about dating?” I asked.
“No, no yewwo!” Claire crowed.
“You know. A real girl. I mean, just for now, right? On your nights off babysitting duty.”
Quil stared at me, his mouth hanging open.
“Pity wock! Pity wock!” Claire screamed when he didn’t offer her another choice. She smacked him on the head with her little fist.
“Sorry, Claire-bear. How about this pretty purple one?”
“No,” she giggled. “No poopoh.”
“Give me a clue. I’m begging, kid.”
Claire thought it over. “Gween,” she finally said.
Quil stared at the rocks, studying them. He picked four rocks in different shades of green, and offered them to her.
“Did I get it?”
“Aaaaawl ob dem!!”
She cupped her hands and he poured the small rocks into them. She laughed and immediately clunked him on the head with them. He winced theatrically and then got to his feet and started walking back up toward the parking lot. Probably worried about her getting cold in her wet clothes. He was worse than any paranoid, overprotective mother.
“Sorry if I was being pushy before, man, about the girl thing,” I said.
“Naw, that’s cool,” Quil said. “It kind of took me by surprise is all. I hadn’t thought about it.”
“I bet she’d understand. You know, when she’s grown up. She wouldn’t get mad that you had a life while she was in diapers.”
“No, I know. I’m sure she’d understand that.”
He didn’t say anything else.
“But you won’t do that, will you?” I guessed.
“I can’t see it,” he said in a low voice. “I can’t imagine. I just don’t… see anyone that way. I don’t notice girls anymore, you know. I don’t see their faces.”
“Put that together with the tiara and makeup, and maybe Claire will have a different kind of competition to worry about.”
Quil laughed and made kissing noises at me. “You available this Friday, Jacob?”
“You wish,” I said, and then I made a face. “Yeah, guess I am, though.”
He hesitated a second and then said, “You ever think about dating?”
I sighed. Guess I’d opened myself up for that one.
“You know, Jake, maybe you should think about getting a life.”
He didn’t say it like a joke. His voice was sympathetic. That made it worse.
“I don’t see them, either, Quil. I don’t see their faces.”
Quil sighed, too.
Far away, too low for anyone but just us two to hear it over the waves, a howl rose out of the forest.
“Dang, that’s Sam,” Quil said. His hands flew up to touch Claire, as if making sure she was still there. “I don’t know where her mom’s at!”
“I’ll see what it is. If we need you, I’ll let you know.” I raced through the words. They came out all slurred together. “Hey, why don’t you take her up to the Clearwaters’? Sue and Billy can keep an eye on her if they need to. They might know what’s going on, anyway.”
“Okay—get outta here, Jake!”
I took off running, not for the dirt path through the weedy hedge, but in the shortest line toward the forest. I hurdled the first line of driftwood and then ripped my way through the briars, still running. I felt the little tears as the thorns cut into my skin, but I ignored them. Their sting would be healed before I made the trees.
I cut behind the store and darted across the highway. Somebody honked at me. Once in the safety of the trees, I ran faster, taking longer strides. People would stare if I was out in the open. Normal people couldn’t run like this. Sometimes I thought it might be fun to enter a race—you know, like the Olympic trials or something. It would be cool to watch the expressions on those star athletes’ faces when I blew by them. Only I was pretty sure the testing they did to make sure you weren’t on steroids would probably turn up some really freaky crap in my blood.
As soon as I was in the true forest, unbound by roads or houses, I skidded to a stop and kicked my shorts off. With quick, practiced moves, I rolled them up and tied them to the leather cord around my ankle. As I was still pulling the ends tight, I started shifting. The fire trembled down my spine, throwing tight spasms out along my arms and legs. It only took a second. The heat flooded through me, and I felt the silent shimmer that made me something else. I threw my heavy paws against the matted earth and stretched my back in one long, rolling extension.
Phasing was very easy when I was centered like this. I didn’t have issues with my temper anymore. Except when it got in the way.
For one half second, I remembered the awful moment at that unspeakable joke of a wedding. I’d been so insane with fury that I couldn’t make my body work right. I’d been trapped, shaking and burning, unable to make the change and kill the monster just a few feet away from me. It had been so confusing. Dying to kill him. Afraid to hurt her. My friends in the way. And then, when I was finally able to take the form I wanted, the order from my leader. The edict from the Alpha. If it had been just Embry and Quil there that night without Sam… would I have been able to kill the murderer, then?
I hated it when Sam laid down the law like that. I hated the feeling of having no choice. Of having to obey.
And then I was conscious of an audience. I was not alone in my thoughts.
So self-absorbed all the time, Leah thought.
Yeah, no hypocrisy there, Leah, I thought back.
Can it, guys, Sam told us.
We fell silent, and I felt Leah’s wince at the word guys . Touchy, like always.
Sam pretended not to notice. Where’s Quil and Jared?
Quil’s got Claire. He’s taking her to the Clearwaters’.
Good. Sue will take her.
Jared was going to Kim’s, Embry thought. Good chance he didn’t hear you.
There was a low grumble through the pack. I moaned along with them. When Jared finally showed up, no doubt he’d still be thinking about Kim. And nobody wanted a replay of what they were up to right now.
Sam sat back on his haunches and let another howl rip into the air. It was a signal and an order in one.
The pack was gathered a few miles east of where I was. I loped through the thick forest toward them. Leah, Embry, and Paul all were working in toward them, too. Leah was close—soon I could hear her footfalls not far into the woods. We continued in a parallel line, choosing not to run together.
Well, we’re not waiting all day for him. He’ll just have to catch up later.
’Sup, boss? Paul wanted to know.
We need to talk. Something’s happened.
I felt Sam’s thoughts flicker to me—and not just Sam’s, but Seth’s and Collin’s and Brady’s as well. Collin and Brady—the new kids—had been running patrol with Sam today, so they would know whatever he knew. I didn’t know why Seth was already out here, and in the know. It wasn’t his turn.
Seth, tell them what you heard.
I sped up, wanting to be there. I heard Leah move faster, too. She hated being outrun. Being the fastest was the only edge she claimed.
Claim this, moron, she hissed, and then she really kicked it into gear. I dug my nails into the loam and shot myself forward.
Sam didn’t seem in the mood to put up with our usual crap. Jake, Leah, give it a rest.
Neither of us slowed.
Sam growled, but let it go. Seth?
Charlie called around till he found Billy at my house.
Yeah, I talked to him, Paul added.
I felt a jolt go through me as Seth thought Charlie’s name. This was it. The waiting was over. I ran faster, forcing myself to breathe, though my lungs felt kinda stiff all of a sudden.
Which story would it be?
So he’s all flipped out. Guess Edward and Bella got home last week, and…
My chest eased up.
She was alive. Or she wasn’t dead dead, at least.
I hadn’t realized how much difference it would make to me. I’d been thinking of her as dead this whole time, and I only saw that now. I saw that I’d never believed that he would bring her back alive. It shouldn’t matter, because I knew what was coming next.
Yeah, bro, and here’s the bad news. Charlie talked to her, said she sounded bad. She told him she’s sick. Carlisle got on and told Charlie that Bella picked up some rare disease in South America. Said she’s quarantined. Charlie’s going crazy, ’cause even he’s not allowed to see her. He says he doesn’t care if he gets sick, but Carlisle wouldn’t bend. No visitors. Told Charlie it was pretty serious, but that he’s doing everything he can. Charlie’s been stewing about it for days, but he only called Billy now. He said she sounded worse today.
The mental silence when Seth finished was profound. We all understood.
So she would die of this disease, as far as Charlie knew. Would they let him view the corpse? The pale, perfectly still, unbreathing white body? They couldn’t let him touch the cold skin—he might notice how hard it was. They’d have to wait until she could hold still, could keep from killing Charlie and the other mourners. How long would that take?
Would they bury her? Would she dig herself out, or would the bloodsuckers come for her?
The others listened to my speculating in silence. I’d put a lot more thought into this than any of them.
Leah and I entered the clearing at nearly the same time. She was sure her nose led the way, though. She dropped onto her haunches beside her brother while I trotted forward to stand at Sam’s right hand. Paul circled and made room for me in my place.
Beatcha again, Leah thought, but I barely heard her.
I wondered why I was the only one on my feet. My fur stood up on my shoulders, bristling with impatience.
Well, what are we waiting for? I asked.
No one said anything, but I heard their feelings of hesitation.
Oh, come on! The treaty’s broken!
We have no proof—maybe she issick.…
Okay, so the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong. Still… Jacob. Sam’s thought came slow, hesitant. Are you sure this is what you want? Is it really the right thing? We all know what she wanted.
The treaty doesn’t mention anything about victim preferences, Sam!
Is she really a victim? Would you label her that way?
Jake, Seth thought, they aren’t our enemies.
Shut up, kid! Just ’cause you’ve got some kind of sick hero worship thing going on with that bloodsucker, it doesn’t change the law. They are our enemies. They are in our territory. We take them out. I don’t care if you had fun fighting alongside Edward Cullen once upon a time.
So what are you going to do when Bella fights with them, Jacob? Huh? Seth demanded.
She’s not Bella anymore.
You gonna be the one to take her down?
I couldn’t stop myself from wincing.
No, you’re not. So, what? You gonna make one of us do it? And then hold a grudge against whoever it is forever?
Sure you won’t. You’re not ready for this fight, Jacob.
Instinct took over and I crouched forward, snarling at the gangly sand-colored wolf across the circle.
Jacob! Sam cautioned. Seth, shut up for a second.
Seth nodded his big head.
Dang, what’d I miss? Quil thought. He was running for the gathering place full-out. Heard about Charlie’s call.…
We’re getting ready to go, I told him. Why don’t you swing by Kim’s and drag Jared out with your teeth? We’re going to need everyone.
Come straight here, Quil, Sam ordered.We’ve decided nothing yet.
Jacob, I have to think about what’s best for this pack. I have to choose the course that protects you all best. Times have changed since our ancestors made that treaty. I… well, I don’t honestly believe that the Cullens are a danger to us. And we know that they will not be here much longer. Surely once they’ve told their story, they will disappear. Our lives can return to normal.
If we challenge them, Jacob, they will defend themselves well.
Are you afraid?
Are you so ready to lose a brother? He paused.Or a sister? he tacked on as an afterthought.
I’m not afraid to die.
I know that, Jacob. It’s one reason I question your judgment on this.
I stared into his black eyes. Do you intend to honor our fathers’ treaty or not?
I honor my pack. I do what’s best for them.
His muzzle tensed, pulling back over his teeth.
Enough, Jacob. You’re overruled. Sam’s mental voice changed, took on that strange double timbre that we could not disobey. The voice of the Alpha. He met the gaze of every wolf in the circle.
The pack is not attacking the Cullens without provocation. The spirit of the treaty remains. They are not a danger to our people, nor are they a danger to the people of Forks. Bella Swan made an informed choice, and we are not going to punish our former allies for her choice.
Hear, hear, Seth thought enthusiastically.
I thought I told you to shut it, Seth.
Oops. Sorry, Sam.
Jacob, where do you think you’re going?
I left the circle, moving toward the west so that I could turn my back on him. I’m going to tell my father goodbye. Apparently there was no purpose in me sticking around this long.
Aw, Jake—don’t do that again!
Shut up, Seth, several voices thought together.
We don’t want you to leave, Sam told me, his thought softer than before.
So force me to stay, Sam. Take away my will. Make me a slave.
You know I won’t do that.
Then there’s nothing more to say.
I ran away from them, trying very hard not to think about what was next. Instead, I concentrated on my memories of the long wolf months, of letting the humanity bleed out of me until I was more animal than man. Living in the moment, eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, drinking when thirsty, and running—running just to run. Simple desires, simple answers to those desires. Pain came in easily managed forms. The pain of hunger. The pain of cold ice under your paws. The pain of cutting claws when dinner got feisty. Each pain had a simple answer, a clear action to end that pain.
Not like being human.
Yet, as soon as I was in jogging distance of my house, I shifted back into my human body. I needed to be able to think in privacy.
I untied my shorts and yanked them on, already running for the house.
I’d done it. I’d hidden what I was thinking and now it was too late for Sam to stop me. He couldn’t hear me now.
Sam had made a very clear ruling. The pack would not attack the Cullens. Okay.
He hadn’t mentioned an individual acting alone.
Nope, the pack wasn’t attacking anyone today.
But I was.