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General Disclaimer: I don't own a thing, just havin' fun… yada yada yada.

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Hey folks,

By request, I'm posting all my old stuff because it technically belongs to you anyway. No need to review (unless you like, of course) this is purely for your amusement. I will read and cherish any notes you feel inspired to leave, of course, but I will not be able to hit you back.

SORRY SORRY SORRY to post a full length novel in a single hit, but I don't want to post chaps individually and blow up folks' mailboxes. At least it's here if you get bored. ;-)

I got so annoyed with the spawn imprint in the movies that I pulled this off (I'm a passionate little thing) however it's actually a pretty good attempt at improving SM's egregious fate for our Jake, if I do say so myself.

The vibe and characters are light and jaunty, but - like all my stuff - they're still "realistic" and dealing with real life's issues. If you're looking for light realism, original takes on characters, well-tended drama but no real gut-wrenching sucker punches, I think you're safe.

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Many Thanks to JACOBSGIRL007 for the lovely banner cropped as this cover.

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As always, thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

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Lesson 1: Change is Inevitable

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"What the fuck-"

"Nessie!" Bella gasped.

"What the frick! There's no motherflippin' way I'm going!" Rennie spat as her fists found their way to her hips.

"Sweetheart, you'll love Ireland…" Bella began, stress making her bell-like voice resonate like that God-awful sound of pulling a wet finger over fine crystal.

Rennie literally stamped her high-heeled sandaled foot (much to her chagrin and far too like her actual six years of human age) as she spun her back on her parents who were wearing identical expressions of anxious concern.

"Nessie…" her father scolded in that dulcet tone. It was a such a pitiful attempt at paternal severity that Rennie always wanted to laugh.

This time, she didn't.

"Nessie," he continued. "Don't forget: 'it's essential to keep an open mind, and to be willing-better yet, eager-to try new things.' You've yet to visit our home-"

"I know, I know," Rennie rolled her eyes rubbing her face in barely tempered irritation. "It's a 'beautiful castle set high on the hills overlooking the green, green moors'…" she recited with a properly sarcastic teenage sneer.

Suddenly she realized that all the casual conversations over the last month discussing the beauty of Ireland and 'Cullen Castle' (wretch) had had an ulterior motive. And she was pissed as hell that she hadn't seen this coming.

"We'll have fun, I swear it, Ness," Auntie Alice's bright voice chimed in. "The shopping in London is-"

"I've been to London," Rennie muttered. Several times. (And she hated shopping, for the record)

"Baby, I know it's scary to think about spending so long away from home," her mother's voice dropped down to a conciliatory croon as her hands wrapped around Rennie's shoulders behind her. "But your Dad and I think the change will be good."

She didn't want a change. She didn't need a change. Certainly not for a whole year.

Her father cut back in breathlessly. "We haven't taken a trip like this with the whole family for … what?"

"Two years," Carlisle provided trying to sound enthusiastic. Trying being the operative word. None of them ever sounded anything but so damn serene. She didn't know how they did it.

Rennie turned with a frown to where her Granpa and Granma were entwined on the couch.

"What about Pappy?" Rennie mourned quietly.

Her mother turned her gently in her embrace and her cool, smooth fingers brushed over her cheek to tuck a long loose curl behind an ear. "Pappy has to work, baby. He can't leave Forks for that long – he's Chief of Police. But you can Skype…"

"What about the Pack?"

"Those dogs'll still be here," Auntie Rose groused from the where she played chess with Emmett.

Rennie gulped quietly. "What about Jake?" she whispered.

Her mother's weight shifted– which was about as subtle as a fricken slap in the face, because they didn't put up the human-front around her, of course. And it had been like this for the last year… like something was wrong. With Jake.

Rennie worried her lip. She was fooling herself; there was simply no hope for it. There was no way she was going to win this thing – she never, ever did. Whatever plans they 'deemed appropriate' for her life… she always just had to suck up and accept.

The 'vampire side,' as she called it, had traveled to many different countries over the six long years of Rennie's life, but never had they moved. For a whole year. Away from her home. Her Pappy. Her Wolves.

Her Jacob.

Her brow furrowed in a scowl as she looked up into her mother's compassionate honey eyes.

"I hate you," Rennie whispered coldly.

Bella's brow shot up in shock. Rennie twisted out of her granite grasp just before the sharp pang of regret could make her take it back.

"Renesmee Carlie Cullen!" her father scolded.

But Rennie was already out the door.

"She's just young… all children say that to their parents at one time or another," she heard her Granma soothe from the house as Rennie darted across the yard.

Well, she was young – a mere babe in human years –but twice as old in her budding teenage body -and it still didn't make it right.

Rennie was ashamed of herself.

But to be fair, she was an impetuous, passionate, determined child. Who had been stuffed into the neat, ordered pressure cooker of others' agendas for far too long: a reactor where nature and nurture exploded like fusion into self and sovereignty.

She had sped through childhood, enjoying only a year at a time of camaraderie with one child or another from the Res (the only place that was safe for her freaky ole self) before she shot ahead past their interest and intellect. A handful of blissful intersections of her expedited age with humanity: a summer playing with Emily and Sam's daughter, Raven… a brief few months with Embry's niece Claire…a raucous year with some Pack kids building sandcastles and forts. But soon she was passing them at full speed, watching her friendships change from playmate to older cousin in the rearview mirror. Objects may be closer than they appear.

Ain't that the truth.

And sometimes Rennie was afraid.

Afraid that all of life was going to pass her by like she was locked in the passenger seat of a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport on the Autobahn - destined to live with her nose pressed against the glass watching the world pass her by. Maybe it wouldn't stop –but they said it would. They said once she got to about twenty-something, she'd jerk to a dead halt.

Totally stop. Skid marks and all. And there she'd stay for her eternity.

And that seemed so much worse.

Eternity was a very scary thing for an six year old going on 13 and the only changing thing in the static vampire universe. Or, conversely, a freak that changed too fast for the mortal side of her family.

It was an uncomfortable place to be, and Rennie was sick of it. Sick of being the only interesting thing to a doting, hovering family. Sick of being a dress up doll. Sick of all the exaggerated oos and ahhs of firsts and accomplishments. Sick of scheduled 'enrichments' and calculated experiences and vicarious pleasures.

She just wanted to be normal.

But she was stuck in world of two perpetually teenage parents with a learning curve that really was more like a cliff, even for the vampire mind. Perhaps especially for the neat, controlled, unchanging vampire mind. Rennie understood, probably more than she should: her parents were doing the best that they could. And she appreciated it. She did.

But right now… right this very moment….she also hated them.

She stomped into their "quaint little house" and took the stairs to the second floor in two freakish leaps, tearing off her Daniel Rainn blouse in one step and stepping out of her Gucci skirt in another. They still had the tags on them –she hadn't bothered to remove them - she'd wear them once and then they'd disappear to be replaced yet another designer outfit matched and mated to stylish perfection. Especially after what she'd learned about global warming and depleting resources, it seemed a ridiculous waste, and she'd said so only to be told by her auntie "high fashion comes at a high price" with a pat on the head and a patronizing smile.

Kicking off her Prada sandals, Rennie stomped into her walk-in closet. She headed straight for the back – kicking aside shoes upon shoes - and pulled open 'her drawer.' She sighed in relief: everything was there. No one was supposed to go in her room, but somehow new outfits appeared magically nearly every day. She didn't complain as long as no one touched this.

She rifled through the several outfits she had gotten on several trips with Jake and Leah to her favorite thrift store in Port Ange. With a huff, she pulled off her bra – she barely needed one anyway – and pulled on her favorite worn, ripped pair of levis and a fabulously plain-assed tank top (with a bleach stain even). Pulling out an old (old) flannel of Jacob's and rolling up the ratty sleeves, she snatched out her Converses and stalked back out into her room. She sat on the edge of the bed (still a lacy, dreamy canopy thing from a year and a half ago when she was into girly) muttering petulantly to herself about plans being made without her permission, while she pulled the battered old purple high-tops on and laced them halfway.

Her feet fell to the floor as she collapsed over her thighs, letting her head hang. What the hell was she going to do? How was she going to survive a whole year without seeing her Pappy, or Auntie Emily, the babies, the Pack…

Uncle Jake?

Tears burned her eyes and she bit her lip harder. She hated crying… hated tears… especially hers. They were amber, not clear like normal people's tears.

At least she had them.

Wiping her suddenly sniffly nose on her shirt impatiently she looked up and caught her reflection in the mirror. Standing slowly she took two steps toward it, tossing her long hair over her shoulders, hiking up her jeans. It seemed like every time she looked in the mirror, there was some kind of difference. With a cock to her head she turned sideways, pulling the long flannel shirt out of the way while one hand came up to the small swell of her breast. She ghosted tentative fingers down over the tight fabric of the tank top, over her flat stomach to the protruding bone at her hip. With a disgusted snort, she grabbed a handful of her fat ass and squeezed peevishly. She'd gotten that little treasure from her mom.

Her brow furrowed as she released her butt and tipped her head the other way, considering. Maybe it wasn't quite so bad.

Turning around she faced the mirror, pulling the shirt over her breasts and shaking our her arms. She didn't know what she thought about herself come to think of it. All of her family were so beautiful and… perfect. She felt like some kind of ugly duckling in comparison. Her legs were too long, her hips too narrow, her bust too small…

Ugh.

At least she liked her hair. She pushed the hair back from her face, her fingers absently plaiting the handful down the back. Her hair was curlier than her mother's, hanging in discrete willowy light auburn curls down to the middle of her back. The long braid was completed by her supernatural fingers in seconds, and she released it to hang down the back amidst the wild loose rest of it. it would stay locked enough to stay out of her face. She'd gotten her father's strawberry-brown hair and a female version of his perfect face, but it was her mother's huge brown eyes that stared out at her… and that plump lower lip. Grabbing a Seahawks baseball cap, she plonked it on backwards and studied her handiwork.

Acceptable.

Sticking her tongue out at her reflection, she snatched up her canvas violin-case backpack, and headed for the door. She clomped down the stairs and out the front door, slamming it behind her– she loved to make noise in flagrant contrast to her family's soundless grace.

"I'm at PJ's," she spoke up at the house in a conversational voice. She knew they'd all hear her… not that they needed to, they knew where she was going: Jacob's garage. Or PJs for Paul and Jacob, as she had named it when she was only a year old.

It was where she always went.

When they let her.

For some reason over these last months, her parents had suddenly started putting the brakes on even that! The Rez – Jake's in particular – was where she could be herself. She didn't have to worry about her Auntie's neurotic visions, or her father's prying mind. Luckily she'd inherited her mother's shielding – as long as she worked at it. She had used her gifts of razing mental defenses to figure out why they suddenly thought she should only go down to see her favorite Uncle once a day and for just a few hours. To no avail.

It was ridiculous. She'd grown up at Jacob's side…mud pies and ice cream, sleep overs and junk food, beach walks and cliff diving (always safe in his massive arms -her moma'd made him promise).

She still wasn't very good at the mind reading thing so finally she'd relented and asked them. Several times.

Their response? "She was getting older."

Well, duh. What the fuck did that mean? (And for the record, she swore just to piss them off).

With an aggravated huff, she launched into a sprint, holding the straps on her violin case so the instrument didn't thrash against her back with the speed. She sprinted all the way to reservation lines, and then slowed to a stop. The Wolves got all itchy if anyone came into their turf too fast. It was just one of those things.

Rearranging her cap more securely, she hooked her thumbs through her backpack straps and continued at a more leisurely pace whistling some silly little tune. Within minutes a howl went up to the afternoon summer sky, and her lips automatically curved in pleasure.

Embry.

And then another.

Jared.

Rennie chuckled evilly; she wondered what they'd done to get stuck with patrols on this awesome sunny day.

Embry came prowling up, nearly silent in the underbrush. Nearly, being the operative word.

A gleeful laugh burst from her lips as she took off at a sprint through the woods, the Wolf crashing out of his hiding and into the race.

Rennie ran, her Converses barely touching the leaves as she nimbly leaped logs and bounded high over ravines through woods she knew as well as her bedroom. Laughing hysterically as Jared tried to cut in ahead of her, she pulled her backpack tighter as she leaned closer to the ground with a burst of speed, passing the huge Wolf who was growling competitively.

With a quick feint left she ducked down to the stream and dashed along beside it, crossing with a lissome spring and then darting up the bank.

Leading Jared right into Embry's path (the one he always took in this game, the dork).

With a yip and a howl, they pounced and tussled, rolling over in the leaves once– it was just too hard for the Wolves to resist the playfully vying gambol (she knew this, mwah ha ha). It gave her a fresh lead in their moment of distraction.

"Suckers!" she quipped with a chortle as she sped on ahead.

Barking their complaints they snapped their heads back into the game and Rennie heard their paws pounding hot on her heels.

Al… most… there…

"Squee!" she shrieked as she broke the tree line, spinning around with a grin of triumph as her breath heaved on ahead.

Embry nearly collided with her, and Jared was only half a body behind, as they groused and growled melodramatically. Like she was a cub who they'd let beat them at Go Fish.

"Ha!" Rennie smirked, as her hand dove into Embry's thick fur, scratching vigorously. "You SO did not let me win you big bozo. I kicked your furry little asses!"

Jared barked once in reprimand at her language and Rennie just grinned unrepentantly as she reached her other hand out to scratch behind his huge felt ears.

"You, old man… we're gonna hafta get you Wolf walker soon," she snickered.

He growled resentfully with a playful snap that chomped air.

"Nah, I'm just joshin'," she smiled, throwing her arms affectionately around his neck and squeezing hard. She realized the tease was actually more than just banter: it was the leaching out of some of her latent stress…

Jared was going to stop Phasing after the summer.

Kim had just given birth to their second child around Christmas. Sam had already stopped last year before Emily delivered the twins .

More changes. It was frightening: that strange, udgy feeling in your stomach you get when you're shopping (with Auntie Alice) and they announce it's five minutes before closing.

With a soft sigh, she picked her head up and looked into Jared's steady, yellow eyes. He understood.

A big fat tongue lapped over her face to that effect, leaving a slimy trail.

"Ew!" she squealed, batting at her face while she spluttered dramatically.

A lupine chuckle bounced in his throat like a ping pong ball on bass drum.

"Kay guys," she leaned over and gave Embry another brisk pet. "Laters!"

Rennie threw a wave over her shoulder as she skipped over the little field toward the road. She drew in a long deep breath of Rez air and let it out in a gratified sigh. Here, she was could be herself… here, she felt like she belonged… here, she was Rennie (not some freaky sea monster namesake).

The sharp-tongued, punk-assed, violin-playing, Wolf-racing, tomboy.

Here, she was home.

Tucking her thumb back into her backpack straps, with a spring in her step, she strode down the crappy pot-holed road like it was paved with gold. PJ's Auto Shop was just around the corner. She could hear the coughing sputter of one of its 'patients' from here.

Umm…. 1998 Nissan Sentra… and damn, the distributor cap and rotor were shot to shit.

She smiled smugly to herself as she wove around the various cars parked haphazardly around the beat-up shop like a flock of pigeons around a bird lady.

"Rennie!" Seth looked up from the detailing he was doing in the yard. Could you say summer job? More like slave labor: the perfect excuse for Jake and Paul to give him all the crappy stuff they didn't want to do. Last summer though… Seth was headed for college in Seattle next year.

He wiped his hands on his filthy jeans and stood with a twinkle in his eye.

"Yooow," she exaggerated the greeting with a humorous gangsta purse to her lips as they slapped hands and then he pulled her in for 'the one-shoulder-bump.' Well… chest to shoulder, actually. She was getting taller, but it looked like her mother's midget genes were going to pull her just shy of 5'7. Exactly a foot shorter than Jake.

"Did I hear Messy out here?" Paul's deep voice boomed as he strode out of the garage with his signature smirk hitching up one side of his lips and the opposite brow.

Rennie narrowed her eyes with a humorous warning frown.

"Okaaay…" he capitulated as he grabbed her up in his beefy bare arms and swung her around. "Skinny Rennie, mess a-plenty!" he chanted, dislodging giggles despite her very best effort.

He hadn't been around the garage for the last month or so– Rachel had just given birth to their first. A son. (And so damn cute… Rennie had gotten to hold him of course.)

"Damn, girl! You get more growner every time I see ya," he laughed, squeezing her in a crushing hug to his chest. "Just a little layyydeee now-"

Paul's typical ribbing was lopped off by a low warning growl from the garage that scurried around the cars like rats.

Jacob… he was always so testy these days.

"Forgive me, O Great Alpha," he snorted derisively. Mouthing an exaggerated wide-eyed 'whoops' he set her on the ground and held his hands up in mock surrender.

Rennie rolled her eyes. "How's little Caleb?" she asked as she readjusted her backpack and craned her neck up at her uncle.

A completely foreign, sappy grin melted that mischievous face. "Awesome," he breathed.

Rennie giggled. "Pussy-whipped and baby-whipped, huh?"

"RENNIE!" Jacob boomed from the garage.

Paul wagged his finger, his brow furrowed in mock sternness while his lips flirted with a smile.

It was a pretty damn funny expression. Rennie gave him a toothy grin and turned on her heel for the garage.

"Seth, let's take a few, huh?" Paul said as she strode for the shop. " 'buy you lunch."

"Sweet," Seth enthused.

Paul wasn't subtle because he knew Rennie wasn't stupid. That's what she liked about her uncles… they didn't try to play stupid games. There was no doubt about it: Jacob had told him to jet as soon as she got there.

Rennie suspected her mom had already spoken to Jacob about their 'sabbatical' (as they called it), but even if she hadn't he'd have known Rennie was upset anyways. He always seemed to know. And he never pushed her. Ever. He always waited for her to come to him.

And she always did.

She sauntered out of the sun and into the dim garage that smelled of gasoline, old oil, Jacob and comfort. She hesitated at the door, her eyes running over the 1998 Nissan Sentra (score) and her uncle's jeans-clad butt sticking out from under the hood.

Something seemed 'off.' Well, even more 'off' than it had sadly become these days.

For one, there was no classic rock playing on the mp3 dock. It was silent except for the tinny metallic scraping of Jacob replacing the Distributor Cap (double score). He grunted softly as he shifted his weight on his bare feet. Only a freaking Wolf would go barefooted in a damn garage.

When he didn't say anything, she ambled tentatively forward, dragging her finger restlessly along the side of the old car. She didn't know why - maybe it was this weird 'only a few hours a day' rule or nerves about all the babies and stopping-Phasing and change… or maybe just intuition about this impending sabbatical – but these days she felt nervous around him.

Or maybe it was because Jacob seemed to be pulling away.

His bear hugs and bare hugs were fewer and fewer. She used to spend hours cuddled in his lap in the garage or scrunched up against him with her head in his lap watching movies or riding him bareback through the waves at First Beach. But these days he seemed twitchy, and edgy and … like he didn't want to touch her at all.

And if anything, Rennie wanted him to touch her more.

She needed it. She needed him. When everything around her – including herself – was exploding in change after change after change. Jacob was her rock, her anchor, her home.

She sidled up to the open hood and peered under it as Jacob wordlessly fiddled with the Capacitor with his agile large hands. Rennie loved his hands. She could watch them for hours: fixing engines, carving wood, making sandwiches, drawing restless circles on the armrest of the old lazy boy. She'd never get tired of them: so sure, so strong, so kind.

But they were hands that didn't want to touch her. Not anymore.

Swallowing thickly, Rennie pressed her lips together. 'You're getting older,' buzzed poignantly in her head. Maybe that's why. She was basically a full-on teen, not a cute little kid. And there were plenty of cuter littler babies around now. She'd only gotten six measly years of those hands… she'd gotten gypped, dammit.

And it seemed now he didn't want to talk to her either. Rennie drew in a long slow breath.

" 'Sup, Jay?" Rennie exhaled going for nonchalant.

Jacob's head lifted slowly, his face hard and severe. But his eyes… his soft, warm, Jacob-eyes just made her lips curve on their own.

"What the hell kinda language was that out there?" he ground out through gritted teeth.

Rennie raised her brow guilefully as she leaned over and rested her elbows on the edge of the car. "English and a lil' bit of French," she quipped flippantly.

"Shit, Rennie!" Jacob spat, standing so fast that he hit his head against the hood. "And I' been hearing about all the language at home…."

" 'Shit' is one of those words," she mused casually as her eyes darted innocently off to the side.

Jacob didn't even smile. "You never used to talk like that!"

"Well, in case you haven't heard the gazillion of people who've said it, 'I'm getting older!'" she scoffed, straightening herself as agitation rose like a cold tide.

"Yeah, well I'm a bad influence on you, apparently," Jacob huffed with a frustrated roll to his eyes.

Rennie froze, she could feel the color drain out of her damn glowy skin. She could hear her father saying those exact words. "Is that why?" she croaked.

Jacob blinked, his expression changing like he'd flipped a switch.

"Is that why Jake?" she quavered as her eyes started burn. "Is that why I can't come here when I wanna… why they're taking me away?" She took two steps back as the pieces all fell into place. Damn her rebellious-assed mouth.

Suddenly huge palms were cupping her face, tipping it upwards to dark, melting concern. "Aww, honey," his voice was like a Friday dusk, full of apologies and recompense. "No, that's not it."

Her eyes darted frantically between his gaze, searching for answers in his sorrow. A sob shimmied up her chest and she hiccupped.

"Oh, chica," he sighed, pulling her head to his chest and wrapping his heavy arms around her. It was the bestest feeling in the world. With another stupid sniffle, her arms snaked around his waist as her cheek pressed to his pec. For several minutes she just focused on breathing in his delectable scent and listening to the most beautiful sound in the world: his heartbeat.

Oh, how the hell was she going to live without this? For a whole year? It might as well be ten.

He felt so warm… warmer than usual actually. It made her feel melty, like her bones had all dissolved. It lit a little blue fire in her belly and started up some kind of electromagnet in her chest. Like Jacob was metal, she had to get closer… to crawl inside of his skin. With a soft sigh and a dreamy smile, she turned her face up to rest her chin on his chest as she took another half step closer, pressing her body against his.

Mm… he felt soo good.

And just like that, Jacob stepped away.

Rennie blinked several time in surprise, her entire body rebelling at the loss of that warmth. That touch. Her arms around his waist tightened, trying to pull him back. Needing to.

But Jacob's hands had slipped to her shoulders where they held her fast. They were shaking -he needed to Phase? Paul maybe, but Jacob?

He cleared his throat. "Why don't you grab a Coke, chickadee," was all he said.

Rennie's eyes narrowed in confusion.

"Tell me about all this …fucking bullshit," he wiggled his eyebrows with a sly look to his eye.

Rennie's face melted in a grin. His apparent swearing carte blanche effectively distracted her from that crazy little hum in her body and she dropped her hands from around him.

"Yeah, it's Goddamn fucking bullshit, alright," she hissed, getting in every last one she could while she had the chance.

But she didn't miss the way Jacob quickly stepped up to the side of the car, leaning over it in an odd sort of way… like he was embarrassed or something.

She sniffed a laugh at his expense as she strode around the front of the Sentra. "You're changing the Rotor too, right?" she breezed casually as she glanced back at him with a shit-eating smirk.

"Gettin' good, chica," Jacob smiled, a sparkle of pride in his eye. It made her feel good. Really good.

She snatched a warm Coke from the shelf without pause on her way to the old battered couch in the corner.

"Hey, where's your caveman music?" she taunted as she dropped her case and plopped down on the ratty cushions. She popped open the can, propping her feet up on the old bucket.

"Hey, Limp Bizkit's not that old," Jacob snorted, grabbing up a wrench.

"Sure, sure," Rennie laughed, sticking out her tongue.

Jacob gave her sardonic grin. "Of course if you were really 'getting older' you'd recognize true timeless awesomeness…"

"Fuck, Jay," Rennie snorted.

"Don't get carried away," he warned, with a raise to his brow that looked suspiciously like an Alpha expression.

Rennie sat back on the couch and took a sip of the warm, bubbly coke as her mind turned to more somber and serious things. She didn't even know where to begin. How could everything be so… messed up?

"Plus," Jacob added as he ducked back under the hood. "I kinda thought I might be able to solicit a serenade," he smacked his lips in that voice that was a veiled imitation of her father – though he'd never admit it.

He was sneaky, that one. Jake knew that when she played, it made it easier for her to talk about… well, important things. Like fixing cars was for him when he needed to bitch about Wolves or sisters or stuff like that.

She looked up and caught his eye watching her cannily from under the hood. That warm, easy understanding that was so uniquely theirs flowed between them and Rennie had to stifle her smile.

Yup, he had a car. She had her violin and a warm soda. There was nothing they couldn't tackle this afternoon.

Setting the soda on the bucket she grabbed up her case and unzipped it. "Whattaya wanna hear?" she asked as she unclipped the bow and deftly tightened it.

"Limp Bizkit," he deadpanned. "Break Stuff." A perfect selection for the day, actually.

But then Jake knew that.

Rennie's lips curved in a slow smile. "I can do that," she nodded as she hoisted her violin under her chin.

And Rennie played.

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Review if you like.

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Chapter 2: Lesson 2 Learning to Let Go

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It's just one of those days

When you don't wanna wake up

Everything is fucked

Everybody sux

You don't really know why

But you wanna justify

Rippin' someone's head off

No human contact

And if you interact

Your life is on contract

Your best bet is to stay away motherfucker

It's just one of those days!

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Jacob leaned against the Sentra – safely on the other side – as he watched Rennie spit the words out in a harsh whisper while her bow tore that instrument to fucking shreds. That girl was a Goddamn professional on that thing – never doubt that for a second. Only she could channel the raw, driving rhythm of hard-core rock-rap on a classical violin and do it justice (and not sound like some lame high school choral arrangement). He needed to get that thing threaded with a mic - like they'd been talking about -so she could go electric and distortion. She'd love that.

And it would piss her father off something fierce – which was of course just icing on the cake. For both of them.

Naw, that wasn't fair… he and Eddie actually got along marginally okay these days. Or used to. But between Jacob's protective rage for his imprint (against his dorky, clueless parenting) and Edward's paternal possessiveness, over the last few months they were both toeing the line between ripping out each other's throats.

But who was he fooling? Jake himself would have killed another man in a second – no questions asked – for the hard-on he was hiding behind Quil's Auntie's car. In fact, come to think of it, he very much wanted to take himself down right about now. In the very worst way.

It was getting worse by the day. Over a few short months, her scent had morphed from sweet, crisp daisies in sunshine… to smoky, sultry Jasmine tea. A settled, alluring scent that sat at the back of his tongue like plump ripe papaya and made his mouth water, his stomach drop and his balls burn.

It made him sick.

And he hated himself for it.

All this after he'd finally conceded–coincidentally about six years ago– that the gods had actually known what they were doing in his crazy, messed-up life. He finally understood Bella was not the woman for him – and never had been. As strange as it sounded, she was a trial run for the real thing. Not that he compared Rennie to her mother, if anything it was the other way around.

Jacob had always given his heart unconditionally -which was both a strength and weakness (and consequently allowed her to jerk him around so much back then) -so he still loved Bella like a sister, of course, but he barely recognized who she'd become. Conversely it was also always who she'd wanted to be he realized: a beautiful, flawless, sublime, controlled, perfect… and boring-assed woman who didn't have to ever make waves. Or stand up for herself. It made him wonder if she'd ever been the girl he thought or she'd merely become what he'd wanted. He'd have suspected the latter, except for her daughter.

Rennie was becoming everything Bella could have been… and so much more.

She had a sharp mind and a quick tongue, she was fearless and original. She could be playful or serious, stubborn but giving, analytical yet intuitive and she was so strong, but also so very, very kind. She could spend hours talking or listening, and when she gave you herself in attention or heart… she gave it all. Every last drop. Not a single fucking string attached.

And Jacob loved her to fucking pieces.

He'd gotten to relive his childhood: storytimes and Dora the Explorer (thank God that hadn't lasted long), piggy back rides at the playground and Wolf-back rides through the trees, cartwheels and flips on the beach (she was such an agile little thing), stupid G-rated movies and popcorn fights, cloud watching, and long rambling talks about nothing and everything at the same time – little kid style. Hell, he'd even played dress up when she was into that shit (and, for the record, he was going to kill Embry if that that sneaky picture ever showed up again. He'd already thrashed his ass good for bringing it to the Pack meeting two years ago).

He'd tucked her in, calmed her down, called her out, cheered her up, pushed her on… he'd been by her side every step of her childhood. As easy as breathing.

But now this.

This.

Fuck this.

He'd never thought of her in a sexual way. Ever. In fact, he'd beaten the shit out of Quil the one time when he'd even hinted at the topic (no doubt worried for his own imminent demise with Claire – Jake didn't care. He couldn't be charitable, not when Rennie was concerned).

And Jacob still couldn't think of her that way, but, unfortunately.. other parts of him were beginning to try.

It was fucking ridiculous. Just an innocent hug like mere moments ago, and his body locked and loaded with humiliatingly magnificent aplomb. Some small part of him knew that he was reacting to her changing hormonal reception: the soft flush that rushed to her cheeks spreading so temptingly over her ripening chest, her quickened breath and jumping pulse… and, worst of all, the way she would press her tiny body against him, unconsciously begging for more.

But Jacob didn't care. Rennie, his Rennie. She was just a little girl.

He didn't know if he could ever think of her in any other way. But he should have seen the telltale signs of his body begging to differ. Of course, like most things ignored, it popped him in the chin when he least expected it.

About two months ago, Easter at the Cullen's egg hunt, (when Pack , mates and kids all descended for an outrageous celebration that only Alice could put together), his body had finally sprung it on him (literally).

And hard (again, literally).

He could remember it like a movie he'd watched a million times ('cause he had): Rennie, running up to him – a basketful of colorful eggs dangling from a dainty fist, curls flying, catching sunlight and rainbows, eyes bright, glowing cheeks flushed –throwing her arms around his neck.

And planting a sweet, honeyed kiss… square on his lips.

His entire body had ignited like gasoline coursed through his veins and he'd doubled over, pushing her frantically away as he choked on strangling passion like a sucker punch.

Of course, moments later after well-choreographed distractions– having been silently dragged in his dazed stupor to the woods behind the house – that sensation of his heart and soul imploding? It had been replaced by a Edward's fist to his gut.

And another.

And another.

Jacob had come to senses finally and beat that shit right on back – and the two men had viciously torn each other to shreds until Emmett and Jasper, Paul and Embry had finally managed to pry them apart. Jacob didn't know who he'd been fighting, Edward, or himself.

Shit… himself, all the way.

But as much as his body's reaction disgusted his mind, it unapologetically enervated his lonely soul.

Mate… mine, a voice whispered.

They'd never said it was like this.

And he hated it.

Pressing his thumbs into his eyes with a low growl, Jacob let his hands fall to the engine of the car. He couldn't even follow his own thoughts- they staggered and stumbled like a chronic drunkard in anything but a straight line. If he'd gotten pulled over by the thought police (her father) he'd have gotten a Felony DUI with a 50 year min.

Fuck, he was a Goddamn hopeless mess. That's why they were taking her away.

"Look, about this bullshit 'sabbatical,'" that voice that he loved so dearly suddenly piped over the continued hard jam of her violin, pulling his head back in the game. "I've got a' idea, Jay."

But no matter what, right now she needed him. And if he had to fucking castrate himself to do it, he'd be there for her, dammit. Jacob shuddered reflexively at the thought as his gaze looked up and found Rennie watching him with a perplexed little pucker between her brow.

He gave her a sickly smile. "What's da plan, chica?" he tried brightly as he picked up a wrench, ignoring the questioning narrowing of her gaze. He nervously looked down at an engine that looked like nothing but a twisted mess of metal and hoses, instead of something he knew like the back of his hand. He didn't really understand anything… not any more.

Silence.

Jacob's face jerked up to see Rennie with her bow lowered to her lap and her eyes dripping with melted chocolate concern. So achingly sweet and pure.

"It's not just that I'm leaving is it?" she asked plainly in a whisper. "What's wrong, Jacob?"

Oh shit.

She'd caught his distress over the last month and, as she always did, and she'd tried her best to get inside and comfort him. Even though she was merely a child; only a few months shy of seven years old, and probably mentally somewhere around early teens. Parts of her were mature past her immortal years, other parts lagging behind her carefully controlled and sheltered existence.

And it only made it so much worse.

Suddenly all the oppressive torture and confusion of the last few months - of the last decade, really – tumbled over him like a stone cold avalanche, taking his breath away and leaving him stunned with a concussion to his soul. The visceral reaction shocked the fuck out of him – but it really made a whole hell of a lot of sense… 'cause no matter what demons he was trying to slay right this moment, he couldn't imagine doing it without her. A whole year? He could barely imagine a day. Their imprint had wound the cord ever and ever tighter like a noose – slow and stealthy - until Jacob suddenly realized there was no space left to breathe. Without her.

Jacob felt like he was swallowing a golf ball. "Look, chica… it's just that I'm gonna miss you. Nothin' more –"

"Liar," she intoned – almost reflexively - as her violin slowly fell to her lap. She cocked her head for a moment, her gaze soft and thoughtful. "Jay, tell me," she whispered, in a voice like the first breath of Spring – warm, redolent and pregnant with peaceful promise.

Jacob squeezed his eyes shut a moment. "Rennie –"

"Please."

It was like a compulsion, but it wasn't really. She hadn't demanded it, she'd asked. Which was probably ten-times more powerful. She asked for next to nothing from him… only his time whenever she could get it. She never complained about what they did, or didn't do… she was always unequivocally thrilled by anything he'd planned.

She stood then, graceful and flowing like a reed in the water – carefully placing her violin on the couch - and crossed garage toward him, as his hands curled into quivering desperate fists around the wrench. Jacob straightened a little bit more, stepping into the frontal protection of the car … he just had no control these days.

Rennie stepped up to the bumper and those soulful eyes turned up to him as her small, soft hands wrapped tenderly around both his and the wrench he was clutching for dear life. Jacob nearly gasped at the halcyon warmth that descended over him like a sigh and shook him out lax like an old sweater.

He swallowed thickly.

Rennie's gaze darted between his eyes for a moment intensely. "I've been selfish," she confessed soberly in a quiet, little voice.

The words surprised him, and it was a blissful distraction from the hum of her palms that enfolded his huge knot of fist.

"I know you've been sad, Jay… and I've been so fucki-"

"Ah," he interrupted with a sly smile, grateful for the lifering of habitual duty.

Her eyes flitted to the ceiling in annoyance, but she soldiered on. "And I've been so damn wrapped up in my own freaking thing, that I haven't even helped."

Jacob sniffed in a cavernous awe that settled in the back of his throat like a muggy summer's day. He shook his head slowly.

"Rennie," he whispered. "You're six years old."

"Nearly seven," she corrected. "And so?" she jutted out her chin in challenge. "What does that matter? I'm breaking all the other rules, anyway."

Jacob pressed his lips together in a sad smile. Even in all this turmoil … that prefaced the next step across the hot, pitiless coals of the next horizon…. she was just so fucking caring. He knew how hard all this both was and would be for her… hell, it was excruciating enough for him. And suddenly he understood, it was finally hitting them both, like an anvil to the face, just what this next year really meant. He felt his eyes burn.

"So tell me, Jacob Black," she continued in a soft, breathy voice that whispered straight from her heart, was entirely too wise for her meager, tender years. "What's wrong?"

He couldn't lie to her… but he couldn't tell her the truth either. He'd Alpha ordered the Pack not to speak of imprinting around her – and the girls were good enough on their own that they'd never let it slip. It seemed wrong on some level, but Jacob couldn't care. She already had a hell of a fate that she'd never asked for. Add overprotective, smothering parents -and a control-freak father, his inner voice added - a nearly psychotically obsessed vampiric family, no friends who could keep up with her age, and she had so very few choices left in her life.

He wasn't going to take this one.

Drawing a deep breath of resolve, he expelled it in a tired sigh. "Chica," he began, all tender to sweeten the burn. "I can't. It's something I gotta do on my own – we all got stuff like that. You more than most."

"Is it Leah?" she shot back cannily, making him choke in surprise, snatching his hands back reflexively to drop the wrench into the engine.

Leah and him were good friends. Friends with benefits who took care of mutual needs; hands could only go so far, after all. But they hadn't been hanging out so much for the last for months or that way for considerably longer and Rennie'd intuitively noticed. Of course, Jacob was just beginning to understand why he'd lost his meager interest in even that casual intimacy. Because Rennie was growing up.

"No, it's not Leah," Jacob returned evenly.

"Is it-"

"So what's this plan a' yours, chickadee?" Jacob interrupted blithely, even as his hands curled against the car with a white knuckled grip just to keep him grounded.

Rennie frowned at him but allowed herself to be distracted. Her energy drastically shifted as her gaze dropped down to the engine with a huff and she pulled the corner of her lower lip into her mouth insecurely. She fished out the wrench and turned it over absently.

"Well I could run away…" she began in a voice so small that it was like gnat in his ear.

Jacob merely blinked at the sensation of knife slipped between his ribs. "Honey, that's not-"

Her head jerked up suddenly and burning, determined eyes met his. "With you."

Jacob stood there like a fucking moron for nearly a silent whole minute, his heart sprinting ahead and draining his mouth dry like a sump pump. Her eyes stayed locked with his – earnest and pleading - even while her hands betrayed her anxiety in their relentless, restless fiddling with the wrench.

"Rennie," he finally gasped. "We can't-"

"We could jump in the Mustang," she interrupted quickly, desperately, as she dropped the wrench to the floor with a clatter. "Drive down the coast… they'll never know! Auntie Alice can't see me with you… she'll never know! It can be like a road trip- we could go to Disney world then Mexico, I dunno, but we could be free and we could go to the sunniest place on earth, a desert maybe, and-" Her reckless words sped up until they crashed together like a highway pile-up.

Her eyes were wide and frantic as she pushed away from the car with several steps, reading his refusal in his eyes before his mouth had to traitorously speak it.

Oh, it was a beautiful, awesome plan that this little girl had, make no mistake about it. There was something in Jacob – something insidious and frightening – that made him want to do just that. Right now, without a second thought. To snatch her up with nothing but her violin on the couch and his wallet on the shelf and throw her into the car parked just outside this door – the car with V8 engine that purred like a dream and had just happened to have a full tank – and never look back but just drive and drive and drive…

But Jacob knew – in the boiling pit of his stomach, in the cantering beat of his heart - that he couldn't run away from himself. And his Rennie wasn't safe with him anymore.

Jacob licked his lips, his fingers digging into the metal of the Sentra and leaving dents. "Rennie," he said.

She shuddered involuntarily like she was about to step into a cold shower.

"You can't run away from the circus," he smiled, slipping humor in to deaden the biting sting of truth.

A laugh burst from her lips like she'd thrown a box of Crayola crayon's in the air: blue, black, yellow, red, spilled messily across his garage in a kaleidoscopic explosion of every emotion in the book. Stress, fear, hopelessness, anger… they continued to vomit forth in her hysterical laughter, dislodging her cap to the floor and her sanity to despair.

Jacob's lips curved in sympathy, but he couldn't find it in him to smile. It was the most painful thing he'd ever witnessed. And just as quickly the mirth turned to tears, and she doubled over in full body sobs. Jacob's arms were around her in a New York minute, pulling her to his chest – fuck the consequences.

"Shh," he murmured into her hair as she uncontrollably convulsed against him. Her small hands fisted in his shirt and clung for dear life. "Everything will be okay, honey," his hands smoothed over her back with empty promises.

"N-No it w-won't," Rennie hiccupped into this chest. She turned her face up to him with anguish rotting those endless dark eyes and she drew in a pitiful hitching breath through trembling lips. "I c-can't bear it, you see…" she chattered.

"Yes, you can," he whispered, his large dark palm slipping up to cup her flawless glowing cheek.

She shook her head vigorously. "No! Can you imagine? !"

No, he really couldn't.

She visibly trolled herself up from sorrow's swampy depths by the vision in her minds eye.

"I mean can you imagine!" she shrieked.

He still couldn't.

"Being stuck in some moldy old castle," she continued in a voice frosted with indignation. "With milquetoast mom and dial-tone dad…"

A grin cracked Jacob's face without his permission. It was wrong of him to vicariously enjoy the – insightful and pretty fucking accurate – epithets that had blossomed with increasing hilarity along with her adolescence. But Jacob figured he deserved a few guilty pleasures for the simple pain they had put him through over the years (and now, her too) so he didn't ever scold her. He didn't encourage her either, even though he wanted to join right in sometimes. Now, being one of them.

"Endless online college classes and fucking…" (Jacob of course didn't correct her language this time) "… strolls through the moors and… and sheep-tipping... the only diversion being dragged down to frou-frou shops with your militant fashionista auntie? !" her brow dipped horror as she envisioned the scene.

"Sheep tipping sounds fun," Jacob interjected blandly with a wry grin bent on grounding her.

Rennie blinked as a sly smile ghosted her lips, accepting his solacing humor. "Yeah," she agreed deadpan. "But once you've tipped a few…"

"You've tipped them all," Jacob finished, that smile growing roots that seemed to viscerally wrap the two of them together. "But Rens, it's gonna be better than that…"

"There's no one to play with! No Wolves to race! No babies to hold! No Pappy to fish! No-.. No-…" she paused, her eyes darting between his as the humor evaporated like dew at noon.

"No… you," she whispered.

Jacob swallowed audibly as her distraught, ingenuous eyes bored a hole straight to soul. His thumb rubbed over her quivering lip without his permission. He shifted his weight and that hand slipped around to cup the back of her head and he pulled her again to his chest.

"Rennie…" it was all he could muster.

She wrapped her arms around his huge body and squeezed tightly as she buried into his sternum, wiping her tears and snot unapologetically on his shirt. He was never going to wash it.

"I-I only have one whole day to say g'bye to everyone," she mumbled forlornly into his chest.

Jacob froze. Literally. It felt like a bathtub of liquid nitrogen was poured over his head and his spine stiffened brittly.

He licked his lips, barely trusting himself to speak. "What?" he croaked.

Rennie tipped her head up, resting her chin against his pec as she looked up at him with a furrowed brow. "I only have one day," she repeated, as if it were only the words that he hadn't understood.

Jacob looked down over the plane of his cheeks as a fire ignited in his gut, instantly liquefying the shock and evaporating it into a burgeoning rage. "One day?" his words were no more than a growl in his diaphragm.

Rennie blinked, her body stilling in understanding. "They didn't tell you when.." she whispered.

Jacob's hard eyes stayed locked on hers. He didn't answer… he didn't move a muscle even. His face was solidified into a cold, hard mask of utter hate. For them.

"We leave on Sunday," she informed him in a tiny, tentative voice in the face of his visceral wrath.

"FUCK! !" he bellowed, pushing her desperately away – and so hard she sat on the bumper of the car. Jacob turned his back on her as he doubled over, fisting his hands in his short hair as a violent tremor hit him like sonic boom.

His Wolf had officially had enough, and was making no bones about telling him so. The beast flailed and clawed, ripping his insides to shreds as it fought its way out. Jacob roared as he clamped down as hard as he could, falling unsteadily to his knees as his instinct went utterly berserk. He couldn't let it out… he was afraid, because he knew. He knew the Wolf would run straight for the Cullen's with murder in its eyes - probably rallying the Pack along with it.

"Run, Rennie," he gagged as he fought the impulse to Phase with everything he had, catching himself on his thighs as his body vibrated like a jackhammer.

MINE…that whisper raged. MINE!

"Jacob, no!" Rennie's voice screamed, and just like that small arms were being flung around his neck as if he were a drowning victim. Which, after all, he was.

"Uncle Jake! JACOB BLACK!"

He tried to push her away, he tried. But at that first soothing touch, his Wolf instantly surrendered, sheathing its claws and dampening its railing to merely bumping petulantly against the bars of Jacob's desperate cage. They'd never, ever hurt her – strangely both cub and mate to a beast with blue Alpha blood coursing through its veins . It wasn't even a question ….or the slightest possibility.

But Edward knew that… that's why the fucker hadn't bothered to prepare him for this. Jacob had known they were planning 'their sabbatical,' for several days now. Bella had requested passage to discuss it – yes, even she wasn't exempt from his hard, fast rule of no leeches on their lands… perhaps especially so – and at the time Jacob had thought the trip a necessary, if not agonizing, idea, all things considered. But now this? Didn't those two ever get sick of digging his heart out with a fucking teaspoon?

"I'm sorry, Jacob…" Rennie was repeating, over and over into his hair, her tiny body slowly relaxing as his tremors subsided in her mollifying death-grip. Her breath heaved against his in a syncopated kata like Capoeira.

And then her smooth cool hands – with just enough luscious living warmth – were slipping around his fevered jaw. Tipping it upward with a tenderness that turned his bones to ash. She looked down into his eyes – only slightly below eye-level on his knees – with a gaze that was leaking sorrow.

"Oh Jay," she whispered sadly. "You' got tears."

Jacob mutely blinked, numbly feeling the hot tracks swell anew, burning his face like acid. He struggled to scrape himself together – to lock the cage of the beast, to resurface as adult and uncle, to drown his own selfish desolation in duty – but then she leaned closer. Close enough that he could feel her sweet breath wash over his cheeks.

And everything simply went blank.

A furrow in her brow, she rubbed her cheek against his, first one side, then the other, mingling tears in the most intimate gesture he'd ever experienced.

"Mm," she hummed quietly, as she continued to brush her cheeks against his in movements that slowed to a lazy indolence like the relishing nuzzle of a cub.

Jacob's hands couldn't resist wrapping around her slender waist, holding her precious body loosely in his arms as she fondled and nudged and snuggled against him with increasing fervor. Every cell in his body hummed in pleasure, a raw, addictive tune that insidiously razed both sorrow and sentience.

Soon it was her mouth, caressing over his cheeks with sweet kisses, a small, rough tongue like a cat's flicking over his tears, pressing over his eyelids, smothering an effervescent coo of contentment with each bright little smack of lips. A low purr of pure bliss vibrated in Jacob's chest, radiating outward in a starburst of narcotic warmth.

Rennie trailed kiss after cherishing kiss over his cheek, in soul-rending tender caresses, moving lower and lower and lower – Jacob so drunk on her touch that he didn't even notice. Or care.

Until her lips brushed against his.

Just lightly, like a breath… pulled away almost instantly along with the rushing gasp of rapture.

His body seized like he'd grounded a lightning strike.

Then those gentle, callow lips pressed again over his, more soundly this time, in an innocent experiment of contact that sent fire through his veins.

She pulled back with a soft smack, her heavy eyes laden with intoxicated want.

"Oh, Jay… you taste gooood," she murmured over his mouth… breaking contact just long enough for him to hear that frantic little voice in his head.

Only then could Jacob breathe.

And breathe he did. With an audible whoosh, he gasped, his body billowing like a sail to his feet and making her stumble forward for the force of it.

What the fuck was he doing? !

Rennie froze, wide-eyed and startled, looking up at him like a deer in headlights while Jacob reeled on his feet, a vertigo so sound that he staggered.

Her finger came up to touch her trembling lips in unconscious wonder, even while her brow knit in confusion.

And Jacob nearly wretched.

"That kind of kiss is only for Leah, Ren," he said quietly.

Her gaze dropped like lead.

"I think you should go," his mouth announced without preamble – his mind desperately struggling for traction in the chaotic maelstrom of what had become his body, heart and soul. "So you're leaving on Sunday?"

An instinctual rejection glimmered in eyes that were instantly liquid.

"Ireland will be good for you," he intoned like a recitation. He didn't even recognize his own voice in the swirling undertow of a million confluent feelings that threatened his sanity. But he had to do this.

"No, Jake… I… I w-wanna stay with you…" her voice quavered, her eyes round and bleeding amber.

Jacob shook his head, hardening his eyes. "Naw, chica. You're getting older," he said using those hated words pointedly and watching her face freeze over with shock at his betrayal. it was just the effect he was looking for.

Distance. He had to get distance. Make her give it to him, because he didn't have the strength.

As if on cue, Rennie gave it, taking a brisk step back and pressing herself back against the car. Her hands reached behind to steady her as she gaped at him.

"Y-you… you want me to leave?" her guileless and vulnerable question tore his heart out of his chest right then and there. At least there'd be nothing left for her parents to scavenge.

"I don't want you to be here," he said carefully. It wasn't safe. He wasn't safe. Not anymore.

Rennie blinked furiously, her lashes like a hummingbirds wings sending a shower of tears sprinting over her smooth cheeks.

Jacob had to turn his back. He couldn't bear to see that pain in those eyes.

Rennie, his Rennie.

But it was better this way – like ripping off a bandage. Even though his heart, his very soul was hemorrhaging so convulsively that he'd have nothing left in a matter of minutes.

His hands reached for some kind of tool from the bench that he couldn't even name right now. "You're not a kid any more, Rennie. You gotta go off an' do your thing," he spoke to the cold, rusting metal in his hands. "And I gotta do mine."

Jacob fitted a bolt to the socket wrench, and callously twisted the device, listening to the series of metallic clicks hem the soft, muffled sobs behind him as Rennie heart-breakingly tried to hold it together.

For minutes, or maybe hours, her gulping, hiccups staggered on through the silence, pulling the tourniquet ever tighter around his chest and caving his shoulders with each attempted inhale. He was seconds from just turning around and scooping her back up in his arms when…

"You're just like them," she rasped hatefully.

Jacob swallowed thickly and looked over his shoulder as she viciously slapped at her tear-stained cheeks and pushed off the car.

Her bow lips pursed with indignation, she glared at him. "Just. Like. Them," she repeated like a punch.

Jacob's shoulder shrugged casually, though inside his heart died just a little more. "It's just life, chica."

Her face darkened into an expression he'd never seen. Aimed at him, that is.

"Y'know? I don't even care, Jay," she lifted her chin with a cheap veneer of scorn. "I thought you'd understand… but it doesn't fucking matter anymore. I don't want to stay here. I don't need you."

With that she turned on her heel, stalking back to the couch. "I don't need you, I don't want you," she was hissing under her breath, like she was trying to convince herself.

Strangely enough, her words – even spoken in the fury of adolescent indignation – viscerally loosened the noose around Jacob's neck just enough that he could draw in his next breath. He was giving her what she needed… not what either of them wanted, and in her acceptance, the imprint relented it's white-knuckled grip. A little.

She spat the words from the song under her breath as her trembling hands replaced her violin in its case…

But you wanna justify

Rippin' someone's head off

…and loosened the bow and snapped it in its clasp in the top…

No human contact

And if you interact

Your life is on contract

… then slammed it shut with a bang...

Your best bet is to stay away motherfucker

It's just one of those days!

... followed by the snarl of the zipper.

Rennie pulled the backpack up onto her shoulders and then spun around, her face a mask of steely determination.

Jacob set the wrench down and turned toward her expectantly as she scowled at him with flashing eyes.

"So Jay," she began, using that tough little voice she always used when was trying not to cry. "Guess this is g'bye, huh?"

Jacob leaned over and picked up her hat. "Yup, looks like it," he matched her detachment, word for heart-rending word as he took a few more steps toward her, holding it out and willing his hand not to shake.

Eyes locked intently with his – looking for the slightest clue of duplicity, any subtle waiver in his resolve – as she snatched it harshly out of his hand. She found none.

Jacob's hand fell back uncomfortably to his side. "Y'gonna take care of yourself?"

Rennie nodded brusquely as she slammed her cap on backwards and tossed her strawberry curls over her shoulder.

Fuck, she was beautiful to him in every way. He could no longer deny it.

Before his eyes she was becoming a woman: brave, stormy, passionate, strong. Yet he saw the way that full lower lip trembled, despite her best efforts. She was also still just a child.

He took another long step toward her as his eyes softened infinitesimally. Rennie craned her neck up to look at him with a stubborn clench to her jaw.

"Look, Ren," he sighed, as both hands lifted to finger each side of his old flannel. "You know I'll always crazy love you..." he whispered as he pulled the shirt decorously over her pert little nipples that were poking through her tank and kept drawing his eye.

A little inadvertent shudder went through her body. Hell, it went through his too.

"And I'll be here when you come back. You know that, right?" he murmured as his hands fell back to his sides.

Rennie's nostrils flared as she tried to hold onto her brave façade while her eyelids fluttered, rebelling with more tears.

"There's Skype and shit…" he ventured, hating the desperate little break in his voice.

She visibly swallowed, but nodded briskly anyways. Her wrist lifted with rough impatience to wipe her nose with a loud sniffle.

"Bye, Uncle," she whispered hoarsely, turning toward the door with a jerking step.

"See you next year," Jacob nearly choked on the words as he followed listlessly after her stomping step.

A bitter laugh burst from her lips. "They'll think of some stupid excuse to make it longer, and you know it…" she spat over her shoulder, not breaking her stride.

Jacob closed his eyes as he drew in a deep breath. Yeah, he did.

He trailed after Rennie's pointed stalk… out into the insultingly beautiful summer's day while his mind spun. It was surreal. He couldn't even fathom that this was the last moment he'd have with her for a year or –as she had so insightfully pointed out –more. But, if he tried to hold onto her right now – drew out this good bye - he'd never let her go. It was the God's honest truth and he knew it. It had to be this way; for both of them.

But especially for her.

She didn't pause or hesitate, weaving deftly around the cars parked in the yard, her thumbs tucked in the straps of her backpack, her stride confident and strong. But just before her sneakers touched the road, she stopped.

So did Jacob. He could hear her breath hitching erratically with silent tears as her head bowed slowly to the ground. "Tell everyone, bye, Jay," she whispered in a hollow voice. "I'm gonna see Pappy tomorrow… I jus' can't-…" her words died on her tongue. "Just tell 'em all bye."

And she was gone.

In a flash of preternatural speed, his Rennie disappeared into the woods leaving Jacob alone with a yard full of cars, a shell-shocked mind, pulverized heart, and a whole hellova lotta nothing. His body began to quake as he slithered slowly to his knees in the dusty driveway.

My mate… MINE!

Sitting back on his heels, he bowed his head under the weight of the voice that rose in rage, deep in his very being. Whoever the fuck had said that "an imprinted Wolf would be whatever the girl needed"… well, he was a fucking sick sadistic bastard. And he certainly had never been there.

How? Jacob wanted to know. How!

His insides were nothing but a decimated battlefield right now between his heart and his head, between protection and need, craving and disgust, taking and giving. He shook his head violently as his muscles slithered under his skin. He couldn't even Phase and run off this sickening feeling - submerge his human confusion and anguish in the driving oblivion of instinct. Because he had no illusions what would happen: his Wolf would chase her down. And keep her, destroying anyone who got in the way without a second thought.

It was just himself against himself, unless he wanted to start a war. A different kind than what raged right now in his soul.

"Jake?" a deep voice suddenly sliced through his roiling turmoil.

Jacob's head jerked up on its own accord, his eyes heated and teeth chattering in his head.

"Go home, Seth," Paul hissed without tearing his eyes from the ravaged shell of his Alpha.

Jacob was gulping at air like his lungs were starving, his insides so twisted he barely recognized his Packmate merely twenty feet away.

"Phase?" Paul simply asked.

Jacob shook his head tersely.

Paul pursed his lips with a nod, and his eyes darted off to the side for a moment as he shifted his weight. "Alright," he crooned, his dark eyes snapping back to the beast before him. In a lithe, efficient movement, he stripped off his shirt.

Jacob's hands curled into fists against his thighs gratefully. Their best frontline man and fiercest fighter was offering himself.

How? This was his answer: his Pack.

Paul cracked his neck as his lips hitched up in lopsided smirk of relish. "Okay, Alpha-bit…" he taunted, his body going into an aggressive crouch. "Show me what you got…"

A roar ripped from Jacob's chest as he burst forward.

And all afternoon, Jacob showed him.

It was one of those days after all.

'

'

Review if you like.

Chapter 3: Lesson 3 Things Fall Apart

Word of the day: Cabal – 1 a small group of secret plotters, as against a government or person. 2. the plots and schemes of such a group; intrigue.

Word-you-already-know of the day (but do you know it's full meaning?): Thrall - 1 bondage; enslavement. 2. morally or mentally enslaved or dominated by some power, influence.

Lyrics are from Dirty Vegas - "Days go by" (I dunno what the deal is with the music lyrics in this fic. Just roll with it)

'

Lesson 3 – Things Fall Apart (and people)

'

You

You're still a whisper on my lips
A feeling at my fingertips
That's pulling at my skin

You leave me when I'm at my worst
Feeling as if I've been cursed
Bitter cold within

The "old school" (it was a year older than her!) dance song in her ear phones packed a poignant punch. When they had "family time" like this, Rennie was always armed with both music and e-books simultaneously on her iPad. It deadened the stark, cold stillness that even the vapid show playing on the 60 inch flat screen TV couldn't touch.

Rennie watched Jasper's steady hand poke the wooden block through the swaying Jenga tower at his turn as the music blared in her earbuds. She liked this game… so much like her life: how many pieces could you remove before it simply tumbled in on itself? For four months now she'd been similarly teetering dangerously between fury and despair.

The first month in Ireland had bled out piteously into days upon days of shutting herself in her cavernous suites and sitting by the window, overlooking the overcast Irish summer sea, doing one of two things: staring out the window or playing her violin. But Rennie had little patience with self pity. She'd heard the stories – told by Jacob with frustration, and her father with an anguish infused with a sort of pride – of the days her mother had spent pining for love in the months following her father's selflessly heroic attempts at leaving her.

And those stories had settled over Rennie with a waxy film of uncomfortable disgust. So, in that way that children have, she had made a vow to herself long ago to never, ever be like that.

To be like her mother.

Yet here she was, only seven and already breaking that promise. The realization had been like a slap to the face.

It had clicked after reading Nelson Mandela's speech (she preferred philosophy over the literary romance of her mother) where he likened holding onto anger and resentment to drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. She realized that, indeed, she was both breaking her promise and chugging that poison like it was the first drink after crossing the Sahara desert.

And just like that, she decided to return to the living. Well, the living dead, she supposed.

The following long months were therefore spent playing her violin (her eternal staple), reading anything she could get on Kindle, walking on the cliffs through the drizzle, wandering through moors, enduring shopping trips with her Auntie, exploring quaint villages with her parents, diving into the internet, surfacing in stoic measured conversations with her family ..and generally being bored to tears. She'd even tried the sheep tipping – until she realized that, unlike cows, they didn't sleep on their feet and merely ran away in a pathetic bleating woolen canter.

But despite her best efforts, she just couldn't rise above it: the unfairness, the isolation, the boredom.

The loneliness.

She missed all of them, really. Her Pappy, her Wolves, her aunties and the babies.

And Jacob.

Days go by and still I think of you

She missed Jacob more than she could have ever imagined. It was a physical ache. A cold dead weight sat heavy in her chest, morning, noon, and night where her heart used to be. It was a ballast that dragged her down despite how hard she fought to tread these icy desolate seas that had become her life. No matter what plans she crafted and then caulked with resolve, they always took on water and she found herself right back down at the rocky, barren bottom of despair.

But Rennie was as proud as she was stubborn, so of course she couldn't tell him that: her uncle…the one who had wanted her to leave because she was 'growing up.' She didn't want to disappoint him. And she wouldn't.

So that meant she didn't talk to him … not even once. She refused his phone calls, skype requests and left emails unread and unanswered. Extremist? Survivalist, more like it. If she read his words, heard his voice, (worse if she saw his face!) she had no illusions what would happen. It was simple, really: she would fall apart. Her life was a house of cards - or this Jenga tower -teetering on a foundation that had been hopelessly compromised. And Rennie was just trying to survive it.

"Your turn, darlin'," Jasper's drawl pierced the hollow of her preternatural ear through the music blaring in her earphones. She looked up from where she was staring blankly at the iPad in her hands – an e-book staring back with unread words on its screen.

See? Even the most innocent passing thought of her Uncle Jacob left her hopelessly devastated. Still… after four whole months. She was a total loser.

Rennie's eyes met Jasper's honey gaze and she swallowed thickly. She set her iPad down as her gaze darted across the room to catch her father's canny eye watching her. He was sitting beside her mother at the piano while she divided her attention between his fluent hands and the garish images on the obscenely large television screen. With that vampiric perspicacious, Bella's eyes snapped up to follow Edward's lead and her amber attention settled also on her daughter's shoulders with a heavy expectancy sweetened by a doting curve to her lips.

Rennie blinked and her gaze washed over the others in the room: her grandparents snuggling on the couch – a medical journal held in Carlisle's hands, intricate needlework in Esme's – to her Auntie Alice perched on the armrest with a pile of fashion magazines in her lap, and finally Uncle Emmett and Auntie Rose at their feet with a three dimensional chess board between them. It was the same exact scene that played out every single night – with only minor variations – because, for them, it never got old. Nothing did – including themselves. Their minds were frozen, rigid, unchanging.

Just like them.

As if on cue, the other five sets of eyes snapped up to light on her like a flock of pigeons on a statue. Is this what adulthood… her eternity… was going to be like? Destined to repeat the same thing, over and over, with no purpose, no point… no passion? !

Rennie's gaze dropped like lead to her lap. She couldn't breathe!

"Nessie?" her mother's voice chimed in concern at the same time someone muted the television.

She suddenly realized her breath was coming harsh and erratic in her chest. She was losing it. Damn, she was losing it! Who was she kidding… she'd already consummately lost it four months ago.

Rennie's frantic gaze darted up to Jasper's furrowed brow – knowing he felt what hopeless turmoil was churning in her gut – and she desperately tried to return her attention to the game as the music continued to pulse in her headphones.

You're still a whisper on my lips
A feeling at my fingertips
That's pulling at my skin

She yanked out the earbuds and her hand reached out toward the fragile tower with fingers that hopelessly shook. Rennie's eyes flicked to Jasper's eyes that now were softened in pity. She grimaced and licked her lips as she tried to still her hand.

Everything was hopeless… she didn't know why she even tried to play this useless game, no matter what she did, the tower always fell apart eventually anyway.

Just like her.

Gritting her teeth, Rennie violently backhanded the structure, jettisoning pieces across the room with a clattering that echoed hollowly in the shocked stillness. Standing so forcefully that her chair toppled over with a crash, Rennie ran from the room biting her lip against the sobs that rose up like a storm surge in her throat.

"Baby stop!" she heard her mother's voice agonize.

"Hush, love, I'll get her," her father's voice soothed with the scrape of the piano bench.

"Naw, Edward…"Jasper crooned. "Let me..."

But Rennie was running through stone hallways, past antique cupboards and coats of armor (yes, really), long stately tables and flowers flown in from France, bursting heedlessly through the heavy double doors and out into the gloomy, misting midnight.

Those sobs finally burst forth, choking her, as she ran blindly through the wet grass toward the ominous pounding of the ocean that was so much like her own stumbling heartbeat.

Her mind was a hopeless mess – like costume jewelry necklaces in the bottom of her old dress-up box – and there was simply no help for it but to cut the cords that tangled around her rotting twisted heart. She didn't need anyone. She didn't want anyone.

Her feet came to an abrupt staggering halt at the edge of the cliff and suddenly she realized it was because of a cold stone hand wrapped around her bicep.

"Y'need to watch where your goin' little darlin'," a voice murmured softly by her ear.

Rennie stared out over the tossing ocean crested by the icy moon as her sorrow rose and hiccupped like the waves riding the tide. Was she going to jump? Rennie hadn't given it any thought… she wasn't thinking at all just now. She was feeling.

And feeling… hurt. A lot. More than she could manage at the moment.

"It's not like I'd die or anything," she spat bitterly over the dark plunging rocks.

"Of course not," Jasper scoffed in an overstated ridicule, as if agreeing to her silent entreaty not to acknowledge her passing intention to perhaps do just that. He turned her in his arms slowly and his hands slipped to her shoulders.

She kept her chin tucked as her breath heaved along like the wake of her racing, reeling mind.

"Rennie," he whispered.

Her face jerked up in shock; none of them called her that. Just the Pack … and Jacob.

Jasper's face was furrowed with a soulful concern. "I'm worried about y'sweetheart," he breathed.

Rennie sniffled miserably even as she attempted an appropriately acerbic teen eye roll. The tears gushing down her face drastically reduced its intended effect.

One of Jasper's hands came up to cup her cheek as his thumb smoothed sadly over the liquid amber that she hated. "You're not takin' care of yourself…" he murmured quietly over the midnight winds and sigh of surf. "Y'can't sleep?" He touched just below her eye at the subtly darkened hollow.

Rennie shook her head miserably. Sleep was optional for her – for all intents and purposes – and she had only closed her eyes once since she'd left Forks. Once and never again.

Because when she slept, she dreamed of home: hanging in chaotic car garages, racing wolves through the trees, cooking with Emily in her kitchen, walking on the beach with Seth, thrift store trips with Leah, holding Paul and Rachel's baby, babysitting cousin Claire….

And, of course, anything done with Uncle Jacob. Or nothing at all. Just him.

"You haven't been eatin' enough either… or drinkin'," he mused while both of his hands raked soothingly through her hair, pushing the wild, wind-blow curls back over her shoulders. "Maybe you need more blood?" he lifted a brow. She barely could shove nourishment past her lips these days– human food or the bagged blood they kept for her. (Her vampire family couldn't partake of 'dead' blood that she could and Rennie refused to hunt for the grossness factor alone – something her father insisted was merely a teen ' phase.')

"I don't need anything or anyone!" the words burst bitterly from her lips surprising them both.

His widened eyes cinched astutely as he Jasper nodded, keeping his face impassive. "I understand," he said evenly.

Rennie collapsed her face in her hands as she twisted out of his arms and paced a few steps along the cliffs. "I'm sorry," she mumbled into her palms.

"No, I'm sorry darlin'…" Jasper's tone more than his words piqued her interest.

She turned back around, peering over her fingers. "Why are you sorry," she asked suspiciously.

" 'Cause I caved in to this lil' cabal…" he began cryptically. "Even though I reckoned what turn it would take."

Rennie knew Jasper's signature obliqueness well enough by now not to bother asking for clarification. She closed her eyes as her hands fell to her sides in defeat. Even Jasper couldn't comfort her these days even though he was her favorite uncle… the only one who came close to understanding the emotion that ran so hot in her veins. Her father and grandfather both loved to debate the academic intricacies of the things Rennie both studied and thought, her mother and grandmother loved the literary or culinary, Rosalie and Emmett argued cars or reality TV and Alice…well, Alice talked fashion at her. But only Jasper could discuss life itself.

"Looky here lil' lady…" Jasper began with a scintillating promise spicing those cheeky words.

His hand on her arm, made her do just that. The complex and intense expression on his face made her pause.

"Y'know how Alice can't see those wolves a' yours?"

Rennie's forehead crumpled in confusion at the strange shift in topic.

Jasper took another step, drawing her tenderly to his side and wrapping an arm around her shoulder.

"An' y'know how she can't see you when you're with 'em?" he continued on obliquely as he turned his gaze out over the ocean. "An' it makes her all fussy?"

Rennie blinked furiously as she laid her head on his shoulder, her mind frantically trying to follow what he was telling her. She was used to the Vampiric mercurial mind, but she sensed that these words were not a victim of that phenomenon. It was something important. She could feel it in his pointedly casual tone – like he was trying to insinuate a secret.

Rennie's eyes darted back and forth the over the sea as the moon ducked behind the clouds, the roar of the turbulent waves seeming to surge like gossip.

"Think on the time when Jake and Leah took y'to the carnival in Sequim and you wandered off. They didn't find y' for hours later...holding court with that charm a' yours at some coffee shop down the road…" his chuckles paused, hanging in the air expectantly.

Rennie picked her head up and looked at him with searching eyes.

Jasper turned to her with a raised brow and a sly smile. "Remember your daddy going all crazy when you told us that night? Did Alice see all that before you told us?"

Rennie shook her head as the inaugural clicks of logic fell into place. "She couldn't see me, even though I'd ditched 'em …" she breathed in novel understanding.

"Yup." The corner of Jasper's wry smile twitched higher as he returned his gaze to the sea.

"But she can see me other times…" Rennie began, her intense gaze trained on his profile.

"Only when you're with us," Jasper mumbled out of the side of his mouth.

Rennie blinked furiously as she turned back out to the ocean, her mouth hanging open in surprise as the last pieces came together. "She can't see me… only when I'm with someone she can read!" she gasped. "Like towers triangulate a cell phone!"

Jasper chuckled as he grabbed her face between his palms with a fond smile. "Such a charmin' lil' geek," he pursed his lips sarcastically. "Y'got that from me." He leaned forward and placed a sweet smacking kiss on her forehead. "But s'not so strange, huh sweetheart? You can block out your daddy, and my lil' gift don't work neither."

Rennie's eyes searched his uncomfortably. "Why are you telling me this?"

Jasper's brows raised in melodramatic surprise. "I didn't tell y'nothin'!" he grinned innocently. "Y'figured it out on y'own."

Rennie smiled before her brow furrowed with indignation as her mind sped on ahead. "They didn't tell me!"

"Our kind are all about thrall, darlin'…don't be too hard on 'em," Jasper soothed, a thumb coming up to smooth the wrinkle between her eyes. "Thrall of all flavors… I often wonder just how much of your mama's…" He let the thoughtful words drop along with his hands. Rennie watched chagrin darken his eyes.

She went up on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his jaw. "I've thought about that too," she whispered over his cheek.

Because she had… she'd seen the way humans reacted around her family – the blatant enchanted look they got at the most mundane smile, the eagerness to cowtow to every whim. Only the Wolves themselves seemed immune. She tried to imagine her mother as human - the same child that toddled and tousled with Jacob in the old vhs movies – and when she did, she couldn't help but wonder…

She shook her head briskly. It was a futile exercise: her mother was very happy (except perhaps with her) and the past was inevitable.

Rennie rocked back on her heels as she pulled a lip thoughtfully into her mouth. That Alice couldn't see her every move meant that she had loads more leeway than she had originally thought. That revelation was like finding the ripcord of a parachute on this hellish leaden plunge into icy despair. Suddenly her heart and mind inflated with something that she hadn't ever expected to find again (in her extremist teenage mind)… hope.

And a whole hell of a lot of freaking possibilities.

With a little squeak of pure excitement, she threw her arms around Jasper. "Thanks Uncle Jaz!"

Jasper's chuckles jostled against her embrace. "Now, I didn't do nothin' sweetheart," he maintained slyly.

Rennie pulled back with an eager and affirming shake of her head that launched her curls into the wind.

"Y'wanna try y'hand at another game a' Jenga?" he asked shrewdly.

Rennie grinned with a nod and put her hand in his offered palm as he turned toward the mansion on the hill.

She was already strategizing her next move.

'

'

Jacob's phone buzzed against his thigh in an all too familiar vibe-tone that always sent his pulse rate skyrocketing. If anything, Bella's magnificently obnoxious timing had only gotten better.

"Motherfucker," he spat as his fist plunged into his shorts. "Guys, I gotta take this…" he growled …to the entire Pack – sitting in dutiful attention for the second most important meeting of the year. Of course.

"Guys?" Leah grumbled petulantly.

Jacob rolled his eyes as he stalked off to the side so he could think. It would be pointless to try to procure privacy with nine sets of preternatural ears.

Yes, nine.

Nearly to the day after the Cullens… and Rennie… had left, the first symptoms had been reported. Sam's (and Embry's… that was another story) cousin, Toby, Phased only five weeks later, shocking the hell out of everyone. Only two months later – not-so-coincidentally after Jared stopped Phasing – Alex, Quil's younger brother, followed suit (whose official welcome meeting Bella just happened to be interrupting).

After both council meetings and Pack powwows, the best anyone could determine was – with the Cullen's having stayed in proximity over the last decade – that the Pack was keeping itself in apparent equilibrium at an even ten Wolves.

At least it kept Jacob busy.

Jacob voraciously buried himself under work, duty and charge just to be able to keep mechanically waking up each morning to this hideously barren world without Rennie. He would have fallen apart long ago (four months to be exact) if he... could. He had no doubts about that at all. But with two new Wolves and his brothers (and sister) who needed him, it simply wasn't an option.

And right here on the other end of this buzzing phone was the woman who'd both taken his imprint from him… and was also, perversely, his only connection left to her.

It was a total mindfuck.

"Bells, wassup?" Jacob tried balance his tone on the fulcrum of his 250bpm heart rate.

The rushing high-pitched gibberish that shrilled over the speakers made the phone vibrate and incinerated his sensitive ears. Along with the other 18 within hearing range. Groans of agony erupted behind him as Jacob ripped the phone away from his head with a snarl that met that horrid sound head on.

"BELLA!" he boomed. "Slow down!" Cautiously he edged the phone back toward his head.

"Sorry, Jake," she hiccupped. She was sobbing.

Jacob's gazillion mile per hour heart screeched to an utter halt, a hiss of fear erupting from his lips like burned rubber.

"She's GONE! Oh my God, Jake! She's gone!" Bella was literally keening. Which was an awful thing in the melodious leech-speak.

"Rennie?" he gagged.

"Nessie," she corrected automatically pulling a reflexive growl all the same from his chest. He didn't know why they insisted on using that dumb-assed nickname when she didn't like it. "She snuck out last night… while Edward and I were hunting." she bewailed.

Hunting what? Sheep? Jacob's lips lifted in a smirk that was entirely in self defense.

"We can't find her, Jake!" Bella shrilled frantically. "We looked everywhere – there's no trail … nothing!"

He had thought his heart had been completely excised when they'd technically taken it to Ireland. Obviously there was something left, because it felt like his chest had just been rammed through with a red-hot poker. And it had definitely pierced something on the way. He doubled over with a gasp.

"And Alice can't see her…"

"What!" Jacob straightened with a frown.

"She's never been able to see her… just when she's with either us or Charlie… or another human we know," Bella admitted feebly.

Well I'll be damned, Jacob thought with a shake to his head. They'd always thought Alice's visions tethered Rennie like a GPS anklet if she weren't with the Pack. Guess the leeches liked them all thinking that.

Jacob struggled to snap his head back in the game. "Does she have any friends? Where would she go?" he asked, and suddenly his brain registered the words his own mouth had spoken. Holy shit!

"Well.. that's why I'm calling," Bella sniffled. Wait a minute… because she wouldn't let him know that his young seven year old imprint had gone missing otherwise? A dark burning rage settled over him like Napalm, giving him whiplash.

"We think she might try to go back to the Rez," Bella ventured. Everything was always fucking 'we.'

"Oh, you think?" Jacob growled, pacing across the autumn leaves, completely ignoring the nine sets of eyes that were unapologetically glued to the conversation before them. "That's kinda a longshot, huh Bella?" he twisted the sarcastic words in a snide voice. "Really going out on a limb to think that maybe, just maybe…she's homesick? !"

Or missed me! (Jacob didn't say that part.)

"Please, Jake," Bella pleaded. "I'm sorry."

His fist squeezed the phone tightly with a little pop of the plastic seams. Since Rennie wouldn't take his calls or answer his emails, he was relegated to Bella's weekly reports which were blasé at best. She had said things were 'going well'… but Jacob had detected the stress in her voice and simple lies by omission. Rennie was probably doing just about as well as he was in the holding it together department - which was to say she was slowly falling apart and things about sucked as much as things could suck. He berated himself daily for ever allowing this.

"She's been so depressed, Jake. We thought she'd snap out of it… we were going to give it just a few more months," Bella began remorsefully. "Jasper's doing a scan of flights – we're headed down to Heathrow in London now to see if we can find her. He found her name in a register going to Spain."

"SPAIN!" Jacob roared.

"Wait!" Bella interrupted Jacob's heaving breath. "He said she probably just hacked it to throw us off. She's good with computers and stuff like he is…"

A flash of pride shimmered over his frown.

Bella disintegrated back into tears.

"Aw, Bells, she'll be alright," he soothed while she hiccupped into the phone over Eddies' sickeningly effusive consoling. "She's smart and kick-ass strong, no one can mess with her."

He sounded way more confident than he felt. And it wasn't that it wasn't absolutely true. She had supernatural strength, enhanced senses, a razor-sharp intellect and the skill to be able to use them all, even if she was only something like a 15 year old. It's just he knew that girl better than he thought he knew himself sometimes and he knew that stubborn, rebellious mind. He hoped she was coming home to him… but he feared she would first go out and prove she didn't need to. They'd done her a real disservice keeping her on such a short leash.

Shit.

He'd also done a shitty job through this thing, no doubt about it. But things were so confusing back then: his Wolf was going ballistic, his hormones going haywire, all while his mind was struggling to keep up with a an abrupt about-face that was gut-wrenching, treacherous, uncomfortable territory when he cared so deeply about her.

And he'd totally, absolutely, no-doubt-about-it fucked it up.

Suddenly there was a muffled shuffling over the speaker.

"Jacob?" Edward's annoying-as-shit mellifluous voice crooned over the line.

"Yes, Edweirdo?" Jacob came back hatefully. It was childish, he knew, but he was so fucking filled with disgust right now– both for them and himself - that he could barely stand it.

Edward expelled a melodramatic long-suffering sigh. Edward didn't fucking know the first thing about long-suffering.

"We just wished to request that you call us, should Nessie return to Forks," he urged in a voice oozing patronization.

Jacob paused a moment as his gaze darted up to his Pack who were almost comically hanging on every play like they were watching the Superbowl.

"Will you tell me if you find her?" Jacob challenged through gritted teeth.

"Of course!" Edward gasped as if his inference was offensive. He obviously hadn't been keeping score for the last seven years. Make that ten.

"Well," he met Paul's steely gaze – he was barely holding it together himself. "If Rennie shows up, someone will call you," Jacob capitulated carefully.

"Thank you," Edward breathed. And then the line went dead.

Someone. Because if Rennie did come home, it certainly wasn't going to be him.

'

'

I might be posting this on a pretty fast schedule, because I might need to finish it before I continue with my other fic, but I know it'll be a whole hellova lot easier if you hit me up and let me know if you're enjoying the ride.

Chapter 4: Lesson 4 Growing Up

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Lyrics are "Beautiful" - Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell (And I told you I have no idea where this song thing came from. Really.)

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Lesson 4 – Growing Up

'

Come and see the Dogg in a hood near you-in (Oh-hooo!)

You don't ask why I roll wit a crew, and

Twist up my fingers and wear dark blue-in (Ehh... oh yeah, there's something

about you...)

On the eastside, that's the crew I choose

Nothin' I do is new to you (Oh-hooo!)

I smack up the world if they rude to you (Ehh...)

'Cause baby girl you so beautiful...

"Oh my God, Jake!" Rachel snorted with exasperated amusement. "How the hell do you stand him all day!"

Jacob rolled his eyes as he looked up from under the hood of the 2009 Chevy Silverado. His sister was standing with her sassy hands planted on her hips while Paul devilishly traced her jaw with a finger and mouthed the words into a wrench in his fist to his crappy "whine cooler rap" (as Jake called it).

With dorky Snoop Dogg hand motions and everything. Jesus.

They were both flirting with smiles but their eyes were covertly locked in a much more serious conversation that spoke of love, devotion, and – thankfully – humor.

It was awesome to see them both so happy. Deep down, soulfully happy. But, of course, Jacob would never admit it. His big sister and his Second? Shit. He was never gonna let Paul live down that imprint. (Though frankly, if anyone, he was glad it was Paul – he had the best mental control. Jacob so didn't need to see that shit.)

He shook his head as he returned his attention to the punctured radiator he was removing. "Paul, you'd better check Rache's purse, 'cause I think that klepto swiped your balls," he chuckled as he waited patiently for the chorus.

He'd heard this fucking song enough times to know it by heart which was one of the many (many) drawbacks of letting Paul pick the playlist as he had done for the last nine months. Why would he submit to such scurrilous torture? Well, because all of Jacob's music just reminded him of one thing, or more accurately, one person…

Oop, here it comes...

With a slight of hand Jacob had his phone out of his jeans. He subtly pressed the buttons one-handed as he continued to scowl at the engine, furtively scrolling to the camera feature…

Beautiful, I just want you to know (Oh, oh)
You're my favorite girl
See, I just want you to know

that you are really special

Oh, why, oh why, oh why, oh why

Paul was now kneeling with a with a melodramatic furrowed brow as he sappily sang into the wrench in his fist while Rachel laughed outright.

Click.

But even with the jacked-up music that was buzzing their crappy speakers, the tiny click of the camera might as well have been a clap of thunder. Paul spun around, the wrench skittering across the floor, and he lunged across the room, his face going from pathetic to pissed in a lightning second.

But Jacob was ready.

He sprang back from the car, holding his cell up and away, his other fist finding Paul's gut. In Paul's frantic myopia, Jacob's punch met it's mark and his Second doubled over with an incensed snarl. In the second's distraction, Jacob fumbled with the buttons to send the jpeg to email.

Al… most…. he watched the hourglass spin as Paul growled, aggressively snatching for the phone while he landed a few bruising punches on the way. Good thing Jacob was several inches taller.

"Done!" Jacob turned with a saccharine smile.

Paul bared his teeth, his eyes flashing dangerously, all humor evaporated in the kiln of his innate temper. He shoved his Alpha roughly, sending him flying back onto the couch with a crash. He turned with a petulant huff and stalked back toward his wife who was rolling her eyes with a "now, children" smirk.

"I have two words for you…" Jacob taunted. "Face Book."

"That's one, you fucking moron!" Paul hissed over his shoulder.

Jacob rubbed his pummeled chest absently – two cracked ribs. "Shit, maybe I'll pass around flyers too."

"Fuck you!" he snarled, switching off the music brusquely and then leaning against the counter with his arms crossed peevishly over his chest.

Rachel sidled up to him, wrapping her arms around her mate. "Aw baby, don't let Jay-Jay get to you," she crooned as she glanced impishly at her brother. "He won't really post it… 'cause I have -…" she leaned up and breathed into his ear.

Paul's dark expression, morphed into a positively evil leer as his eyes darted to Jacob's with relish. "Nice," he crooned in a blackstrap molasses bass.

Jacob knocked his head against the wall with a long sigh. He knew just the picture she was talking about and… well, he just wasn't gonna go there.

"You are sooo pussy-whipped, it's sickening," Jacob sighed to the ceiling instead. "Rennie was-.."

Jacob's chest seized in pain as her name slipped over his lips in a momentary lapse in defense. His eyes darted down to Paul and Rachel, frozen with identical expressions of apprehension – like they expected him to self destruct the next second.

And, for the record, he didn't blame them. One time - when he had simply caught a stray thought of her in the head of one of his brothers - he'd exploded in rage with no warning, his wolf going from ballistic. (Luckily they had Paul in the Pack, or they might not still have one.) Another he'd simply broken down and humiliatingly sobbed like a total pussy right in the middle of dinner and Emily's kitchen. So yeah, that deer in headlights look they both had was understandable.

Jacob collapsed forward over his lap, rubbing his face with his hands as he gasped through the all too familiar constricting pain. Kinda like a heart attack. With no heart.

Nine whole months now. She didn't come home. They didn't find her. Jasper had received on anonymous email from an untraceable IP address that said simply: "I need time to grow up."

And that's it.

To say those months had been a rollercoaster of kick-ass torture and grief would be the fucking understatement of the century. He'd learned to live with the chronic physical pain by now – the headaches, the tightness in his chest, the tingling ache that sat, restless and yearning, in the marrow of every last bone in both of his forms – but the emotional pain was a whole 'nother story.

Oh, he could get by… even join in with a few odd moments of Pack levity here and there (like just now) but inside, Jacob was just a burned out shell. Blacked, scorched, holes in the ceiling, sooty walls, beams falling down… the whole nine yards. He didn't think it was salvageable, actually. Nothing left to do but demo and rebuild. In another life.

He'd manned up to his duty as Alpha – sadly more as a desperate survival tactic than some baseball and apple pie code of honor – and his blue-blooded inheritance allowed him perhaps more control than others so that he could do so. But Jacob, the man – the lonely 25 year old man with a heart and soul, needs and wants, hopes and dreams - well he hadn't been seen for a while.

Jacob pressed his knuckles into his eyes as he drew in a long slow breath as the twisting in his chest slowly slipped back to the edges of endurable. He could hear Paul and Rachel shift uncomfortably.

"Kay, Snoop," Jacob began, his hoarse voice eroding a good measure of his attempt at humor. He tried to spare his Pack all the gory details of what a hopeless wreck he was inside. He tried. "You guys are outta here, yeah?"Jacob looked up with tired eyes and a weak smile.

Rachel had come to pick him up; tonight was their date night – Sam and Emily alternated kid-sitting with them a few times a month.

Paul was absently smoothing his hand over Rachel's hair he had gathered in his fist. His sharp eyes washed over his Alpha for a brief second, silently assessing.

"Yeah, I gotta sit through a chick flick…" he rolled his eyes, fluently steering them back into less sensitive seas. "But… you know what that means afterwards? I get my dick flicked." That comment along with his salacious leer earned him a slap from Rachel and a disgusted groan from Jacob.

"Dude!" he complained. "That's my sis-…" but the incongruous sound of a 2009 Toyota Prius pulling into the yard at this time of night instantly snagged his attention.

It was Josiah Walker's car. And therefore, by default, Leah Clearwater's (And the jokes about taking a hyphenated last name when they tied the knot this summer were getting so damn old).

Josiah was a part Quileute, part Black and part who-knew-what-else Berkeley grad who'd come up last summer in search of his heritage. Leah'd imprinted on him, and suffice it to say, he'd never left. He was a computer animation geek – who was surprisingly un-dorky for his craft – and he could work remotely so at least he could still eat… when he had time. Yeah, it was kinda that bad; the two of them were crazy in love. Jacob didn't even know why the gods had bothered with the imprint.

The fact that Leah'd found her mate was the best thing that had happened all year for Jacob, as strange as that sounded. She was still one of his best friends in addition to them having had a loose and casual 'agreement' over a few years. But Jacob had been feeling guilty. It was well over a year ago that he'd had to admit that he just couldn't handle their occasional trysts anymore –in hindsight it was about exactly the same time that his imprint had started transforming into something more like interest – and while she'd taken it like a champ, like she always did, Jacob knew she deserved better.

And she'd gotten it. Finally.

Josiah was a good man: smart, cool - even with his privileged background – kind, and loyal to the core. He loved Leah to fucking bits and was tough enough to handle her. (And he had a good left hook, too. It had been Jacob's duty to test that one out.)

But the tension in the slam of the two doors, prefaced their uncharacteristic and unmistakable scent of stress. Jacob lunged to his feet with Alpha reflexives.

Leah barreled into garage, her gaze immediately finding Jacob's. Her expression was cold, stone serious. A brazen change from the habitually blissed-out tranquility that shown in her eyes these days.

"Sit down, Jake," she asked quietly as she crossed the room toward him. Something in her voice made his stomach pull 50 g's as it dove clear down to his toes.

Josiah entered after her, balancing his fancy-assed open Apple laptop in his large hand. "Hey, guys," he greeted in his deep voice. He looked uncomfortable. Josiah never looked uncomfortable.

Jacob collapsed heavily on the couch.

His gaze darted up to his Second briefly out of habit. Paul was watching the two arrivals with a furrowed brow and covert vigilance. "What's up Lee?"

Leah shook her head as she sat on one side of Jacob, patting the small space of cushion on her other. "Jo, sit here."

Jacob wordlessly scooted down to the end, giving them both more room.

Leah turned to Jacob and placed her hand on his thigh as her mate sat back and started scrolling through screens.

"Seth called, Jay…" she began awkwardly, her eyes darting between his. "He and his buds were up late last night surfing YouTube…"

So? Jacob wanted to say. Isn't that what all college freshmen did?

Instead he licked his lips nervously, "Jesus, just spit it out Lee," he rasped.

But he knew. There was only one thing this could be about with her uncharacteristic timidity. Rennie.

"Here," Josiah handed Leah the laptop with a full-screen video queued. Jacob's gaze flitted over the screen searching for confirmation as his breath quickened.

The title was: 'bad a$$t violen bich'

Jacob nearly puked his pulse jacked up so fast.

"So they found this vid," Leah was saying as her gaze ran over his face in concern, frozen in a blank stare to that 17in LCD screen as he struggled to pull air into his incinerating lungs. "And he thinks it's her. It's crappy though..it's taken with someone's phone…"

"Just fucking play it," Jacob heard a voice growl in a grating hiss that sounded like steel rending. It was his own.

"This button here, Boo," Josiah murmured.

Leah tapped play.

Distorted harsh sounds of a rock band rasped through the speakers as the camera pitched and careened over body parts and faces of a packed party in what looked like some underground rave. Drums hit out a muddy rhythm against the chaos of electric guitars and a muddled bass. Suddenly all the disparate noise was gathered into the fist of a single imperious note. There it hovered, shucking off the messy bedlam as the drumbeat rose to carry it on its back with a quivering crystal tension that incited roars of anticipation throughout the dark smoky room.

The camera was lifted amongst a sea of raised arms as, with a teasing little trill, an impossibly fast arpeggio dashed the band to the ground where it broke out into a driving cohesive unison. Everyone yelled as hands waved in the air and then fell down to sides one by one as bodies began jumping to the heavy rhythm like a tossing ocean of heads. But the camera stayed up, trolling over the sea of people and jostling up unsteadily to the ceiling as its owner danced to the addictive beat pulled by the nose by an audaciously bold and unapologetic leader. It was then that the camera phone finally dipped down to the uncontested champion on the stage.

And that was, without a doubt, Rennie.

Rennie.

He would recognize her anywhere, even though it looked like nine years had passed instead of nine months. She tore her violin to shreds as she squatted low and then sprang up with a crescendo, spinning with a tangible joy and wrapping herself in the music like cotton candy at the fair. Long loose curls flying, she stomped across the stage toward the lead guitar where they played off each other - both with smiles cracking their faces in half.

In the crappy pixilated video, he could barely make out the details, but it was painfully obvious that she was no longer the little girl he remembered. Still lithe and slender, she wore a tight black camisole that showed pert, ripened breasts sweeping down to a stomach that was bared in a toned, flat swath between her top and loose cargo pants that hung low on the swell of delectably feminine hips.

Her playing had matured just as much: her violin injected an undeniable depth and energy into the music, infusing it with spice; it was sensual, alive. Rennie breathed incinerating heat into the band instead of cooling it down. Fiery staccato skips, supple slithering melodies, and low sultry chords, teased and coaxed the music ever higher.

The jam held the violin on the shoulders of its rhythm and grind, tossing it up to give it levity and sparkle, lending drive to her momentum. Every last musician on that stage was focused on Rennie, providing blindly, compulsively, what her instrument demanded. She had that stage, that entire room enchanted…

Without warning, the scene jerked to an abrupt halt as a collage of "other related videos" peppered the screen ripping Jacob's heart out right along with it.

He gaped at the computer as his breath heaved, rough and erratic in his chest over the utter silence of the room. As if waiting for more.

Or the punch line.

For maybe minutes, or maybe hours, no one dared move a muscle as Jacob stared at the little collage of picture squares that flitted like dominos across the screen.

Finally, with shaking hands, Jacob reached out and gently tugged the laptop out of Leah's grip and into his lap.

"Jake?" Leah whispered, her fingers still lingering on the computer unsurely.

"It's her," he choked in a voice like raw hamburger, as his eyes stayed locked blindly on the flickering screen while his muscles visibly twitched and slithered over his forearms.

A splash of liquid fell to the pristine brushed metal of the laptop. And then another. It was only then that Jacob realized that tears were falling in a silent, steady, pitiful stream down his face. Jacob didn't give a fuck.

Leah's fingers darted out to wipe at the drips discreetly.

"Never mind, Lee," Josiah reassured her quietly as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her into his side.

In his periphery, he saw Leah nod beside him, her gaze darting worriedly over his profile and then out to Paul and Rachel.

"S-Seth said they messaged the guy who posted it…" she ventured in a halting whisper that cracked and bled with concern. "He hasn't replied…"

Jacob shook his head tersely, sending more numb tears flying like the shake of a wet dog.

Leah audibly licked her lips. "It looks like it might be from the UK –"

"Leave," Jacob growled like he blew tar bubbles in his chest, his eyes staying unfocused before him.

"But Jay-"

"Leah…" Paul warned low.

"You should-"

"LEAVE!" Jacob roared, his face snapping up to skewer her with eyes that flashed hot yellow with fury. And grief. And shock. And a soul-rending yearning. He struggled to temper the strength in the white-knuckled grip on the computer in the overwhelming deluge of every emotion in the book. And some they probably left out. For a reason.

Leah's eyes flitted anxiously down to the two thousand fragile dollars that were vibrating in his fists as Josiah pulled her up off the couch. "It's okay, Boo. It's backed up.. it doesn't even matter," he was whispering reassuringly in her ear.

Jacob didn't even have the bandwidth to be appreciative. He needed them all to leave. It took all his strength just to hold it together right now…

"Don't read the comments," Leah whispered.

"Leah! NOW," Paul warned through gritted teeth, shepherding his Pack mate and her fiancé briskly toward the door. Doing what he'd done so well throughout these hellish months: picking up the slack.

The four of them hustled silently out of the garage as Jacob's large, calloused finger skated over the smooth metal of the touch pad experimentally. The arrow flitted across the screen.

As the engines of the two cars started almost in perfect unison, Jacob navigated the cursor to the little circle arrow in the corner.

"Replay"

How long did the battery last on these things, anyway?

Click.

'

'

Thanks for the notes. They really help motivate me, and so far I'm kinda on a post-a-dayish kick (and I'll just that let that little not-so-subtle inference hang right there…)

Chapter 5: Lesson 5 Fucking Up

'

Lyrics (Yeah, I know) are "It's Been Awhile" by Staind

Thanks for reading chickadees, and I hope you enjoy, whether we agree on all points or not.

'

Lesson 5 – Fucking Up

'

It's been awhile
Since I could
Hold my head up high
And it's been awhile
Since I first saw you
And it's been awhile
Since I could stand
On my own two feet again
And it's been awhile
Since I could call you

And everything I can remember
As fucked up as it all may seem
The consequences that I've rendered
Have gone and fucked things up again

'

Jacob stood abruptly and stalked the radio that was playing a song that was just a little too fucking close to home. Baring his teeth at the offending device, he punched the radio button on the MP3 deck and the song was swallowed by a quiet Friday summer's evening and the tapping drizzle against the window pane of PJ's Auto Shop. He spun back around and paced wordlessly back to the four lounging around cards and beer with poker-faced stares.

His Pack was used to erratic behavior like this by now, so no one so much as batted an eye or fielded a question as he collapsed back into the backward folding chair and snatched his cards back up in his quivering hand.

Sam's eyes cut down to the fan of cards in his fists, then up to Paul as his nostrils flared. "Lessee, I call…$2," Sam said with his usual fiscal caution, pushing the crumpled bills into the middle of the card table set up in the back corner of the garage.

"Pussy," Paul sneered as he tipped a bottle of beer to lips that curved up in a slow, wry smile against the amber glass. "Why don't you just make it $1.99 like you wanna, tight-ass?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "So Lee, when're you gonna go cold turkey so you can pop out some pups for Jozi, huh?" he goaded, with a pointed switch to the subject and a sarcastic smirk that was tossed unrepentantly to Paul.

Leah snorted from where her elbow was propped against Josiah's shoulder, a finger idly tracing his wavy shoulder-length hair that was perpetually pulled back into a low pony tail. "We're not in any rush…enjoying this too much," she crooned, leaning up to press her lips to the lobe of her mate's ear. He shuddered and leaned into her automatically, his eyes, however, still trained stoically on his hand.

"The imprint don't change after you stop Phasing…" Sam crossed his arms and sat back with a smile. He enjoyed seeing his ex happy. Finally.

"Believe me Sammy, the whole fucking tribe knows," Leah groaned, with an eye roll. Sam still tried to swallow Emily whole every chance he got, no matter who was watching. If anything it had just gotten worse.

"Pass," Jacob sighed, setting his cards face down on the table and propping his forearms over the backward crappy folding metal chair. It started vibrating with a low buzz.

"I take it back Sam," Paul snorted, setting his bottle down on the table with clack. "I'm gonna crown Jake Princess tonight."

Jacob's gaze flitted up briefly in annoyance as he hunched over and tried to temper the tremors that rolled through his body. He usually enjoyed their monthly poker night. He sucked at poker, so he usually lost his shirt (though Leah pointed out he barely ever wore one anyway, now being the perfect case in point) but they used it as a kind of informal Pack leadership bonding thing – Sam was his former Second and his current "advisor" and still very much involved with the Pack. With the addition of Josiah's laid-back, settled energy, that balanced both the human element and did wonders for Leah (his Third), these Friday nights of friendship and Full Houses in back of the garage had become an oasis in Jacob's turbulent seas.

But tonight these unrelenting tremors ruined the usual stolen moment of respite. They had wracked Jacob's body all afternoon; he felt like he was going to jump out of his skin.

Even more than usual.

"I like my Wolf-girl," Josiah was murmuring under his breath as he rearranged the cards in his hand. "She can take all the time she wants."

"You mean your bitch?" Paul snickered.

Josiah looked up with a cool raise to his brow. "I'd hate to break both my fists on your face and then have to watch Lee kick your ass for hurting poor lil' me," his deep voice slipped in a milk chocolate chuckle over pursed lips. Those green eyes that were so striking in his dark complexion cut down to his fiancée and he gave her his signature easy -going smile. Leah's face melted in a ridiculously sappy grin.

Josiah was quietly comfortable in his own skin. He was one of the few men Jacob had ever met who were confident enough in his masculinity to be neither emasculated nor threatened by the fact his lover was technically stronger than him. The way he'd fluently navigated both Leah's defenses and the Pack's politics had even earned him Paul's respect. Jacob sniffed an appreciative laugh.

"I'll protect you Jo-Jo," Leah veritably purred, leaning in to luxuriantly taste his lips.

"Ack!" Paul gagged, miming sticking his finger down his throat.

Josiah smiled against Leah's lips but took his time ending the kiss. He turned slowly and met Paul's gaze. "I raise you…" he arched a shrewd brow. "$10."

"Ho!" Paul's body jerked melodramatically in his chair with his theatrical expression of shock. "There's a man at the table!"

"Let's see if there're two…" Josiah came back smoothly, sitting back and propping his cards on his broad chest.

Paul's face darkened with the goading challenge and then, without warning, his nostrils flared as his gaze cut across the table.

"Fuck, Jake!" Paul growled, suddenly slamming his lightning fist down on the rattling table.

In Josiah's human fumble to catch his toppled beer bottle, his cards launched from his fist and fluttered down like leaves to the garage floor. He groaned in annoyance.

Sam righted the other two beer bottles and scowled at Paul with a low human growl – a remnant of the Wolf that would forever sleep latent in his now-human veins.

Paul ignored him.

"Phase or whatever you gotta do," Paul grumbled, only marginally less testily as Jacob stood with a flash of canines, straddling the backward folding chair that had been vibrating the game and apparently grating against his Second's hair-trigger nerves.

A soft snarl scampered up the back of his throat as Jacob turned his back on the group. His shaking hands came up to rub briskly at his face.

"You guys wanna call it a night since my panties are showing?" Josiah chuckled as he put a staying hand on Leah's shoulder and stood to retrieve his hand of cards that was now currently on display across shop floor.

Jacob turned around and met Josiah's ubiquitously good-natured gaze from where he wiped an oil-slicked Queen of Hearts casually against his jeans.

"Yeah, sorry man…" Jacob squeezed his eyes shut in frustration. "I don't know what the fuck's wrong with-"

"You were bluffing!" Paul interrupted incredulously as his eyes scanned the scattered cards.

Josiah's face cracked in a shit-eating grin while Leah burst into laughter at Paul's comical gape of disbelief.

"Who's the pussy, Pee-pee?" she snickered. "C'mon we all know that was just a lame-assed stunt to keep from havin' ta spread your legs."

Paul growled petulantly with a hot slap to his thigh.

Sam ignored them as he tipped his beer bottle to his lips and sat back. "Y'okay for real, Chief?"

Jacob pushed a hand through his hair as he closed his eyes with a sigh. "I dunno… I jus-"

The exaggerated banter died quickly and Jacob opened his eyes to four comical copies of the same worried expression.

"Shit, you guys," he sighed, laughing humorlessly at their expense. "Look, I'm fine. It's just been a rough day."

Every last head bobbed in a nod of a little too hasty understanding and Jacob rolled his eyes and paced to the couch, collapsing onto it with a groan.

What was his fucking problem? Other than the usual sucky suckiness, of course.

It had been nearly a month – 27 days to be exact - since Seth had found that video. (For the record, an Apple Macbook Pro lasted five hours and 23 minutes on a full charge.) Josiah's computer had shockingly survived Jacob's abuse, because he'd taken Leah's advice and had not read the comments. The purveyor of those comments later, the crappy old Gateway still at his father's house, hadn't been so lucky.

But Jacob was now the proud owner of a Best Buy special - a new Acer netbook. Every fucking day that video – that Josiah had saved on the desktop (which was pretty damn lucky because it had poignantly disappeared from YouTube the very next day) – woke him up in the morning, and put him to sleep at night. It was officially pathetic. Jacob didn't give a fuck.

They hadn't found any others on the web– even though both Seth and Josiah had tried and continued to, so that one crappy video was all that he had.

Jacob hadn't told the Cullens. It would have felt like a betrayal of her wishes.

He also hadn't tried to find her - though the most they could figure is that she was somewhere in London. He told himself it was because he didn't want to usurp the self-determination she had run away to find, but, if he was honest, it was more about being scared shitless to fuck up again - like he had when she'd left.

Yet every day he fought the urge to scour London 'til he found her.

And every day was worse than the last.

"You guys ready for the weepies?" Leah asked snidely as she gathered up clinking bottles and set them on the shop's counter.

"Huh?" Sam folded the last leg up on the table with a snap as Paul put away the chairs.

"You do know what Rache and Em are watching tonight, don't you?" she turned around with her arms crossed smugly over her chest. "PS I Love You."

"NO!" both Paul and Sam groaned in comical unison.

"Yup," Leah gloated, crossing to where Josiah was leaned against Sam's pick-up, pulled halfway into the garage.

"Not again," Paul grumbled as he ripped up his jingling keys and tossed them once in the air while he frowned at Leah.

Leah snickered wickedly.

"Yeah, she talks shit, but you shoulda seen Lee when she came back with them from watching 'Precious' that time," Sam laughed softly. "She had to stay over 'cause she couldn't drive she'd been bawling so hard."

Leah snarled viciously as she shot him a venomous glare, but Josiah's large, brown hands slipped over her shoulders turning her around.

"Aww, Boo," he chuckled, lifting his chin to press his lips sweetly between her brows. He was only three inches taller.

Leah's humiliated antagonism melted like butter in his embrace and she sighed, collapsing against him.

"Jo, you got the Midas touch," Paul smirked.

Josiah just met his gaze with a soft smile as he stroked her hair.

"You gonna be okay, Jay? Wanna crash at our place?" Sam turned to where Jacob had collapsed on the couch and was silently watching the interplay of his Pack; beneath all the banter and fraternal irritation ran an unmistakable current of respect and affection. It soothed his soul to see them all contented – like the mother hen that he was. Or Alpha Wolf – that was a far more flattering metaphor. At least something soothed his soul these days.

"Naw, I'm good," he quickly snapped back to it, sitting up straighter.

"You guys meeting at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon?" Sam asked with a raise of his brow as he walked around to the side of his truck.

"Yeah," Jacob's gaze darted to Paul's thoughtfully. "Why don't the four of us meet at 2:00 though before the rest of the Pack gets there." The Pack still all met at Sam and Emily's – they had the most room.

Paul, Leah and Sam all gave him brisk business-like nods. They could all be spectacular pains in the ass, but when it came down to Pack stuff, they were all business. Jacob led with a firm hand and a hard ass…but also a warm heart, and every last one of them respected him for it.

He just wished he was doing a better job of keeping his head in the game these days. He felt like he just kept fucking up everything.

Sam climbed into the truck and the other three drifted out of the garage. But Jacob didn't miss the covert glances of concern sent over shoulders on the way.

As the truck pulled out of the garage, Jacob wandered over to punch the button, and the roll-up steel door grated and groaned as it slowly lowered. The sounds of their engines slowly died as they drove out into the night and Jacob was left in the quiet, empty shop with nothing but the competing hum of the yellowed florescent lights, the buzz of the little cube refrigerator and tapping of rain on the tin roof.

His gaze panned the rusting metal and oil spots, tool-strewn counters and scavenged parts. The back door was open to the damp summer evening and his cabin. It stared back at him with dark windows from across the yard.

They had built it when they'd added onto Jacob's childhood home. Billy had found love again late in his life with someone he'd met early on. Faye Tsosie had been a high school sweetheart back in the day, and when she moved back to the Rez after her husband had run off with some young little thing, it seemed that Billy had only thought it right to make her feel at home. Add in the arrival of little Caleb and it was fair to say, his old man's face was never without a smile. It made Jacob ridiculously happy.

At the same time Faye'd moved in, they'd built a cottage out back of the shop for Jacob and he was psyched to finally have a place of his own. But truthfully -over the last year - most of the time he just slept right here. In the back of his garage.

He sighed softly to himself as he crossed the cool concrete on filthy bare feet and collapsed back onto the dirty, beat-up couch. He wasn't doing a very good job keeping up face these days.

Swinging his feet up, he leaned back and propped his head on the armrest, bringing his large hands up to cover his face. They were still trembling.

And he was still a fucking mess.

He felt like his heart was in a tourniquet. And suddenly realized that, added to the usual tightness, a strange numbness had started tingling in his chest, like his heart had gone to sleep. Startled, he blinked rapidly, his eyelashes fluttering against his palms.

One of Jacob's hands slipped down to cover his heart– seriously wondering if had finally stopped beating altogether– but his pulse throbbed evenly under his fingers. The sensation slowly spread out over his chest like a starburst and Jacob's breath hitched, light and shallow as his attention snapped more intently to way it crept down into his stomach like a slow flood of prickling warmth. What the fuck-

Snick.

A crisp metallic click sent an instinctual burst of adrenaline through his veins, and with the lightning reflexes of the Wolves, he was off the couch in an aggressive crouch before he drew his next breath.

There, on the other side of the garage, perched up on the counter – one knee drawn up to her chest, the other tucked under her - was a young woman with long, strawberry curls who was holding a lighter in one hand and a cigarette to her lips with the other.

Rennie? !

" 'Sup, Jay…" she whispered quietly.

'

'

I am dividing this chapter in two because I wanted this story to be more bite-sized, digestible bits and because the emotionality of the second half is best served up "fresh."

''

Lesson 6 – And Fucking Up S'More

'

Snick.

A crisp metallic click sent an instinctual burst of adrenaline through Jacob's veins, and with the lightning reflexes of the Wolves, he was off the couch in an aggressive crouch before he drew his next breath.

There, on the other side of the garage, perched up on the counter – one knee drawn up to her chest, the other tucked under her - was a young woman with long, strawberry curls who was holding a lighter in one hand and a cigarette to her lips with the other.

Rennie? !

" 'Sup, Jay…" she whispered quietly.

"Rennie…" the utterance came out in a rasping breath as his heart sprinted into overdrive like he'd let out the throttle and punched the NOS at the same time. His breath caught in his chest as he swayed forward, catching himself on his knuckles on the floor as the world reeled in a nauseating vertigo.

She lit the end of the cigarette and then let the hand with the lighter drop slowly to her lap as the tip glowed a bright orange. Dark kohl-lined eyes rose hesitantly, the thick fringes of lashes fluttering against her cheek.

Jacob stayed frozen, unable to breathe as her bottomless gaze locked with his. Long graceful fingers with short nails painted a dark blue plucked the cigarette from between naked, raspberry lips. She silently blew a long, sultry stream of smoke as her head tipped slightly.

"How've you been, Jacob Black?" she asked quietly, her eyes steady, somber … hollow.

"Ohmygod! RENNIE!" Jacob wheezed, straightening and taking several pitching steps toward her in one jerking movement.

But she flinched, drawing her knee more to her chest with her forearm, her gaze dropping with a quick, reticent jerk of her head off to the side.

Jacob stopped.

Something was wrong.

Swallowing thickly, he frantically tried to surface from a rushing deluge of emotions. Realizing he hadn't been breathing, he drew in a slow deep breath of consciousness into his burning lungs. So he could fucking think.

Her scent unfurled within him: warm, dusky jasmine tea. He had no doubt that he could forgo food and water and simply live on that scent alone. But over the blossom of her pure and sumptuous essence swirled an oily and volatile film like gasoline: stress, heartache…fear. Terror, really.

And the stale mustiness of old smoke.

And the sharp tang of fresh alcohol.

As if she felt his assessment, she tucked her chin more to her chest and her fingers brought the cigarette back to her lips and took a long drag that hollowed her cheeks. Her hand was trembling.

"Rennie…" Jacob drew her name out on a low, hollow breath. "Honey, are you-…?" he took another step and she shied away, letting the leg tucked under her drop as if preparing an escape route.

Well that just about fucking stopped both his body and his heart cold.

Jacob's body froze, his hand splaying flat at each side in an unconscious gesture of placation, as his gaze flitted over his imprint. Desperately trying to figure out what she needed while his breath stumbled and tumbled over the choking race of his heart. He was scared to fucking death that he was going to fuck this up.

Like he had last time.

He shifted his weight, planting his feet under him. Rennie had come back -she was right here not 20 feet before him! - and he would wait until she could tell him what she needed.

He would wait. He would.

He tried to measure his breath and capture his charging heartbeat as his eyes washed over every last detail in the meantime. She was dressed in long jeans shorts that stopped right above her knee, her slender calf disappearing in low, soft leather boots. A sheer and flowing white cotton peasant shirt with little silver beads sewn into the loose neckline hung off one shoulder, exposing a dark tank top underneath. Her hair was tousled and wild, with several loose random braids woven with brightly colored ribbons worked into the mass of curls. On the counter beside her was the same – but well-worn – violin backpack. With the eyeliner that encircled both eyes, she looked like some kind of exotic gypsy violinist, not the little girl that he'd known.

And she was abso-fucking-lutely beautiful.

And sexy enough to eat.

The thought caught him off guard, and he choked on his tongue.

When Jacob neither moved nor spoke, Rennie's gaze darted back up to him. He watched her eyes wash briefly over his nude chest, flitting down to his jeans and bare feet before snapping back up to his eyes as if disconcerted.

She opened her mouth to speak, but then, just as quickly, closed it.

Unexpectedly, both her gaze and hand darted out to Leah's half-drunk beer bottle and she snatched it up. As Jacob's brow dipped in concern, she tipped it up to her lips and drained the rest in slow gulping swallows that drew Jacob's eye to the long slender column of her neck and down to the hollow of her throat… to the little silver beadwork and the open ties of her shirt… to the soft curve of her breast, to…

FOCUS, Jake.

With a soft gasp, Rennie replaced the bottle on the counter with a click. She tapped the ash from her cigarette and brought it again to her lips.

" 'You got any more of those?" she asked quietly as she blew out a lungful of billowing smoke that captured the phlegmatic florescent light in its tumbling swirls.

Jacob blinked. "You're not old enou-.." his mouth began marching to the tune of habitual duty even before he could rein it in with the strategic subtlety this situation demanded.

Rennie laughed, a sad humorless sound. "How old am I, Jay?" the words bounced over a dark, bitter chuckle as her derisive gaze snapped to his.

Jacob swallowed. Again.

She spread her arms grandly. "How fucking old am I?" she glanced down at her undeniable woman's body and then back up to his gaze with a sardonic smirk. "Eight? Eighteen? Twenty-eight? I mean I don't even know!" her voice stretched thin and taut as it teetered in some other emotion all together. "I don't even know what I am!" Her hands snapped back down to her sides as her face warred with shadow. "I don't even know who I am anymore!" her exclamation was laced with a shriek.

He licked his lips, feeling the way they cooled with his quick puff of breath over them.

Without a word he strode toward the mini-fridge in the corner. He opened the icebox like a poignant memory (where there used to be only soda and yogurt and string cheese for her visits… and was jarred by the sight of oily left-over take-out and Belgian beer). He reached in, pulling out two amber bottles by their long necks.

Closing it with a thunk, he turned and met her gaze, opening the metal cap with an incidental flick of each thumb. The bottle-caps skittered across the cement floor with a jingle.

He paused, meeting her gaze that bled overtly with an anguish that had been stuffed down and shellacked and ignored far too long.

Holding out a bottle, he crossed slowly toward her.

She pulled her leg tighter to her chest and he his bare feet stopped. Five feet from the counter. His hand held out the bottle toward her.

Rennie's gaze dipped to the drink then up to his eyes, as she reached out and took it from his hand. Their fingers brushed and it felt like fire.

Jacob clenched his jaw with the jarring sensation and watched the two rapid blinks of her lashes that she tried to ignore.

"I know who you are…" Jacob whispered. "You're Rennie."

Jacob resituated his grip on his own drink and held out the neck meaningfully. Rennie paused and then tipped hers out, clinking amber lip to lip in a brief toast.

"Cheers," Jacob murmured as he brought the beer to his lips and took a long swallow, his eyes never leaving her.

She tipped the bottle to her mouth and closed her eyes as she pulled several long draughts like she was dying of thirst.

From this distance, Jacob's starving eyes took in every last detail; the way her delicate, balanced features had exaggerated with the undeniable blossoming of womanhood. Her jaw line and high forehead framed the flawless palate of an incontestably feminine face that was as delectably organic as it was radiantly exquisite. A fine brow highlighted large intense eyes fringed with thick, curling lashes and high cheekbones who's smooth, refined hollow was brushed pink like a sunrise. Her petite, straight nose swept gracefully down to those endearingly mismatched and sensual lips. She wore no make-up –save the stylized eyeliner – and she was authentically, unequivocally drop-dead gorgeous.

Yet her ephemeral beauty was merely the framework upon which was hung a palpable fatigue and upset. She was thin – too thin – and there were subtle shadows cast under darkened bloodshot eyes. Her flawless complexion had lost its ethereal luminescence, and there were subtle lines of fatigue at the corners of her mouth.

She was tired. And distraught. And confused.

And hammered off her ass.

Jacob took a step to the counter – sneakily gaining a foot of proximity – and leaned his hip against it while he cocked his head in continued assessment and tipped his own bottle to his lips.

Rennie gasped and smeared the back of her hand across her lips and then set the half-drained beer down on the counter beside her, leaving her fingers curled loosely around it. Her gaze darted timidly back to his and a tentative smile ghosted tense lips.

Jacob returned it with a decidedly easy, accepting grin as his eyes flitted to the cigarette she again raised nervously to her mouth.

"It's a nasty habit," she mumbled and then took a long draw. "But it's not like it's gonna kill me," she hissed with an acidic bitterness as she blew smoke up and away with a practiced twist of her lips.

Jacob shrugged a shoulder non-committally. "It stinks," he commented as he casually raised the beer again to his lips.

Rennie blinked, like his opinion disturbed her somehow, and her gaze fell to her lap as color rushed to her cheeks.

"But you're an adult," he pursed his lips with a dismissive lift of his shoulder.

Rennie's eyes snapped back up to his and narrowed skeptically.

One of his eyes ghosted in a capricious wink as Jacob shifted so his back was against the counter, propping his elbows behind him (and furtively gaining another six inches).

God, he wanted to touch her so fucking badly!

But he wanted her to stay even more. And her body still quivered with a cagey tension that still flirted far intimately with bolting.

He pried the weight of frantic worries and yearning from his shoulders and forced himself to pretend this was just another day. As easy as breathing. A day in the life of Rennie and Jake… two years ago.

That's all this was.

"So…" he drew the word out on an exaggeratedly conversational tone. "How 'you been, chica?" His lips peeled back from a grin – acknowledging both the absurdness and the rightness of such a flip question.

Rennie sniffed a laugh at the innate humor of the situation and his adroit steer back to the habitual foundation of familiarity.

"Shitty," she quipped under her breath.

"Yeah," Jacob sniffed as he tipped another swallow of beer to his lips. "Tell me about it."

"You're shitty too?" Rennie's gaze darted up, open and concerned – a flicker of her former innocence glimmering in the familiar earnest pull of her brow.

Jacob smiled sadly. "I missed you," he simply stated.

Rennie's gaze dipped ruefully as her pearly teeth pulled at her lower lip.

"I mean," Jacob continued, leaning more on one elbow and turning toward her. "I didn't know what was going on, where you were, if you were even alive…" his own stress bled unbidden into both his tone and his words without his permission.

Rennie tucked her chin tighter and absently flicked ash on her cigarette.

"I found a video of you on YouTube, but I figured you didn't want me to try and find you…" Jacob ventured quietly.

Rennie sniffed a laugh. "Yeah, that," she snorted her eyes rolling up in annoyance. "Idiot can't spell so my Spider Script didn't find it."

Jacob's lips twisted in humorous bewilderment and she laughed.

"A computer thing," she dismissed with a smile that actually warmed with overt affection.

Jacob returned it tenfold.

Rennie's lips slowly melted slack as she blinked at him several times, as if finally really seeing him. "I missed you too, Uncle Jake," she whispered.

Jacob scooted a little closer as his hand reached out and took the cigarette from her surprised fingers. The brush of her skin felt like he'd stuck his wet thumb in a socket.

He ignored it.

"I'm not technically your uncle, you know," he informed her with a lift to his brow as he brought the cigarette to his lips.

"What are you?" she asked hesitantly.

He'd wanted merely to establish that he wasn't there to judge or chastise, but the surprise in her eyes made him realize how quickly both his mind and voice had descended to sultry.

He quickly backtracked. "Now that you're all grown up, I thought I could just be your friend," he smiled softly and took a drag. The horrible tasting butt was also laced with nectar from her lips. It made his eyelids droop for a moment as he drew in a slow breath…

And then coughed several rounds, hitting his chest with his fist.

Rennie laughed and took the cigarette back with a heart-breakingly gorgeous smile that bled sunshine into her eyes.

"It's been a long time," Jacob choked in apology as his eyes watered. He'd played around, like any adolescent, back in the day, but he'd never understood what the draw was to sucking exhaust into your lungs.

"Like I said, it's a nasty habit," Rennie muttered cannily as she brought it back to her lips. She subtly sniffed at the tip, her tongue darting unconsciously to taste it, before she put it to her lips.

Jacob smiled to himself.

"So why d'you do it?" Jacob asked, inching a little closer. He wasn't quite sure what he intended on doing. Maybe grabbing her and holding her and never letting her go?

Mine, the voice whispered.

Jacob blinked and shook his head.

FOCUS, you fucking moron.

Rennie released a heavy smoke-laden breath. She thankfully hadn't noticed his momentary slip into insanity.

"Well… I…" she began.

Jacob's attention instantly sharpened in attention at the quaver in her voice.

She snatched up the beer bottle and took another couple of gulps before setting it down on her thigh. Her fingers stayed wrapped tightly around it as if holding on for dear life.

"It helps with the pain," she breathed quietly to her lap. Her eyes squinted at the smoke from the cigarette in her hand as her thumb and forefinger picked something – real or imagined – off the tip of her tongue.

"Pain?" Jacob whispered, his fingers reaching out to rest on her jeans-clad knee of their own accord. She flinched, but the delectable soothing wash that siphoned up his arm seemed to have the same effect on her. The tension in her shoulders relaxed infinitesimally.

"Oh, Jay…" the words dropped off her lips in a sigh along with all pretenses. "I' fucked up so bad." Her gaze darted up to his in agony.

The anguish and self-loathing in those dark, endless eyes made his heart clench. "Everyone makes mistakes, Rens," he murmured, squeezing her knee. "We can fix it."

Rennie shook her head briskly, making her curls fly and releasing a waft of the sweet honeyed scent that had mellowed in the heat of her scalp. Jacob drew in a deep silent breath.

"Some things can't get fixed," she mourned in a barely audible whisper as she bit her lip.

In the next erratic moment, she was draining her beer and pulling her other leg up under her. And subtly out from under his hand.

Jacob let his hand drop back to the counter and leaned back on his elbows casually, even though his every cell rebelled against the loss of contact.

"How's everyone?" Rennie asked in a tight voice who's subtext was an anxious petition for a change in subject.

Jacob nodded, taking another swig of his beer. Just for something to do to distract himself from the impulse to make a grab for her.

"Your Pappy's doin' good. He and Sue are finally getting close to moving in. The babies are all growing up – fuck, Caleb's already starting to talk."

A sentimental smile warmed Rennie's angst. "Takes after his daddie with his big-assed mouth, huh?" she chuckled, reaching out and pulling the beer out of Jacob's hand.

He released it, his worried eyes watching as she brought it to her lips with shaking fingers.

"Yup," he continued with forced casualness. "Jared stopped Phasing but there's two new Wolves too – Toby and Quil's baby bro Alex. They're doin' good. Leah's getting married in two weeks -…"

Rennie's eyes darted sharply down the plane of her cheeks, finding his. She lowered the bottle slowly, swallowing her mouthful with an audible gulp.

Jacob gave her an uncomfortable smile. "He's a good guy. A rich California dude, but he's cool. 'Computer geek like you."

Rennie pressed her lips together and her gaze dropped to her lap.

Jacob was confused. "Rens?" he ducked down, peering under her hair, searching for her eyes.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Huh?"

Her eyes looked up from under her long curling lashes. "She hurt you," she whispered.

"No, Ren," Jacob breathed, unable to keep his feet from taking another step closer even though she subtly leaned back. "She's my friend. We never really had anything, honey…" he pressed with an ardent earnestness who's motives he really, really didn't want to psychoanalyze right now. "I'm over-fuckin'-joyed she found her mate."

Rennie sniffled and lifted her chin with a little dubious twist to her lips. "What about you, Jacob?" she whispered, almost challenging. A single question that encompassed a million queries.

Jacob blinked, leaning back and pushing his hand through his short hair. "Well… I' been… um, busy," he hedged lamely. " 'Work… dad an' Faye …new Wolves... shit like that…" Jacob's anxiety spiked. Fuck, he absolutely fucking sucked at this shit.

Rennie turned her head to the side, her gaze absently staring across the garage for a moment as she took another drag from her nub of a cigarette. She absently flicked it out onto the floor.

Jacob shifted nervously.

Her eyes cut back over to him and her nostrils flared. "I shouldn't have come," she whispered like a knife through his chest. With no other word, she hopped down from the counter, her toe finding the butt and crushing it under her boot.

Jacob's chest constricted painfully. Without knowing how, suddenly his were hands grabbing both shoulders and roughly turning her around in a frantic grip.

"Rennie, please," he rasped, his eyes wide and rolling in his head. He wasn't sure what he was asking, perhaps any remnants of sanity had finally just snapped. She made him crazy… this imprint, this yearning, this love made him absolutely certifiably bonkers.

Rennie's eyes darted between his in shock. "Let me go, Jake," she breathed.

It was only then that Jacob realized how tight his fists were clasped around her slender upper arms. With a gasp, he released her, raising his trembling hands in placating surrender.

To his heart, to his soul, to the impossibility of losing her again.

Her brow was furrowed in confusion, her disconcerted eyes locked on him as she took the two steps back to the counter and yanked up her bag, hauling it up on her shoulder.

Jacob's breath was rasping through his nose, his nostrils quivering as he watched her head bow to the floor. He could scent her fear and confusion – an addictively potent combination that made his Wolf's protective instinct go berserk. He wanted nothing more than to simply grab her up and hold her – whether she wanted it or not - until it went away.

Until he could fix it. Or at least figure out how.

Rennie kicked at an oil spot on the floor for a moment. She looked back up with eyes that were bewildered and liquid. "Jay, I'm not any good. And I can't-" her words tumbled in the currents of the emotional maelstrom that swirled behind those chocolate eyes. "Everyone's good here and- .. I-..I-… I was selfish … I thought…"

"This is your home!" Jacob protested hoarsely, his hands curling into fists at his side.

Rennie shook her head slowly as an amber tear rose up to quiver on one of her lashes. "Not anymore," she breathed.

And she walked toward the door.

And Jacob fucking lost it.

All the tension and hopelessness that had been simmering over this last year exploded in a volatile despair like the fireworks finale on the Fourth of July.

"FUCK!"

With a bellow of rage he turned and slammed his fists on the counter, making one of the supports crack with a groan and the surface tilt. One arm violently swept the bottles and tools from the surface and they crashed to the floor with the clank of metal and the shattering of glass. His entire body vibrating, he fisted his hands at his temples as a strangled roar bled from between gritted teeth, scraping his gums raw with its coarseness.

But in the space of merely two heartbeats, that driving rage turned in on itself, metastasizing into something far more elemental and frightening. His muscles slithering painfully under his skin, his heart emulating the same choreography in his chest, he collapsed over on into palms that were quaking, as a tsunami of desolation rose from deep inside his soul.

And Jacob wept.

It wasn't a pretty thing: his big, muscled body jerking, his hoarse, fallow sobs sounding crude and hollow like the scrape of a spoon inside a Halloween pumpkin.

Suddenly delicate arms were stretching around his massive shoulders. A cheek pressed against his back as a slender, quivering body molded against him.

Jacob choked on his sorrow. That touch instantly infused him with a visceral melting warmth that seeped soothingly into the painful, tingling marrow of his bones. Like a spring rain, it tenderly danced over his convulsing heart…washing over the parched, aching soil of his soul with a redemptive nurturance.

Rennie's body shook against his as the soft sounds of sorrow bled liquid over the bare skin of his shoulder blade.

Jacob's sobs unfurled into hiccups.

His hiccups quieted to gasps.

His gasps stretched to thin hitching breaths.

"Jacob," Rennie breathed finally, his name a petition. Her small hands were tugging at his muscled shoulders, begging him around.

Rubbing his face, Jacob sniffled miserably, and straightened, turning and casting swollen, vulnerable eyes over the woman before him. Amber was streaming over the ashen cast of her cheeks, her lips quivering.

"Aw, Jay," she murmured, reaching a dainty finger up to the plane of his cheek. "You' got tears."

A sad smile of mutual recognition – the last time she'd said that, and the last time he'd seen her – curved both of their lips.

With a soft sniff, Rennie's finger traced down the track of his sadness, over his jaw.

Jacob shuddered inadvertently.

But Rennie's eyes had locked on her own finger, following it with an almost feral gaze, as the tip drew chill bumps over his collar bone, tracing down the tense musculature of his bicep. Her palm splayed over his forearm until it got to his big hand. She clasped it in hers with a slow hitching inhale.

Bowing her head, she tugged him toward the couch.

'

'

Review if you like.

Chapter 7: Lesson 7 Fessing Up

'

Lyrics: "Loca" [Spanish ver]- Shakira

'

Lesson 7 – Fessing Up

'

Jacob's entire being felt skinned raw, shucked down to the intimate quick and swirling with private emotions that rose, tender like a bruise under the surface of his razed defenses. He followed after her on heavy, leaden feet.

"Sit, Jay," she asked quietly, releasing his hand.

He ignored the niggling burst of anxiety at the loss of contact yet still he complied. He turned and sat cautiously on the couch keeping his eyes glued to her, fearful she'd bolt.

Rennie bit her lip nervously under the weight of his gaze as she shifted her weight to one hip.

Jacob leaned over, wiping impatiently at his nose with the back of his fist before propping his forearms on his thighs.

"Oh, hell," she spat, and turned on her heel.

Jacob's face crumpled anxiously as he began to push off the couch after her.

"Wait a sec, Jay," she admonished over her shoulder as she stalked to the mess on the floor at the far side of the room.

Jacob sat back down in position, momentarily distracted by the sumptuous sway of her hips that was smooth and sensual like a samba.

FOCUS.

He pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger as he squeezed his eyes closed and tried to tamp down his impatience. And his Wolf.

When he opened them a breath later, Rennie was standing before him, head bent over a cigarette and lighting it in shaking hands. The tip flared orange as she drew in a slow drag in an obvious attempt to sooth her raw nerves. Her eyelids fluttered indolently with her inhale. She released a breath of smoke like a sigh as she tossed the lighter to the floor. It skittered with a plastic rattle across the cement.

" 'Kay," she announced, meeting his gaze again and visibly steeling herself. "I'm sorry Jake, first off. I just… I-…" the confidence she'd begun with quickly shriveled to uncertainty.

"I want you to stay," Jacob's heart blurted suddenly, without his permission. "Please."

Rennie blinked for a moment, clearly surprised by his bluntness. And then a tentative smile flirted with the corners of her lips.

Apparently Jacob should listen to his heart a whole hell of a lot more. That smile was like a jolt of some illicit drug to his system.

"But I'm such a freaking mess inside, Jay…" she began ruefully.

Jacob shook his head with a purse to his lips. " 'Don't matter. I don't care what fucking mistakes you made. I don't care how fucked up you are. Just stay," he spoke straight from his soul, clipped and efficient, easy and true. Jacob was a fast learner.

Rennie drew in a quick hitching sigh and released it. She shoved her lower lip through her teeth thoughtfully. Once. Twice.

"It might not be safe…" she ventured quietly. "I might hurt someone, or somethin' …and that would kill me, Jake," her words sped up with anxiety. "It would kill me." She nervously brought the cigarette back to her lips and took a frantic drag.

Though she didn't know it, she'd said exactly the right thing. For his Wolf. This shit, he knew how to deal with.

Eyes boring intensely into hers, he leaned forward over his thighs. "I won't let that happen, Ren," he said evenly, certainly. "S'not your job anyways… that's mine. It's my job to keep everyone safe, and I do. And I will."

"But what if-"

"I want you to stay," Jacob repeated firmly, feeling more confident by the second as he passed the first milestone of familiar territory.

And like some light bulb in a floating bubble over his head had switched on, Jacob suddenly got an inkling of just what the hell was going on. She'd gone from an overprotective prison to total freedom, from stunted to omnipotent, from a child to an adult… in one short fucking year. And whatever had happened – whatever she'd done, and there were a whole hell of lot of possibilities -scared the shit out of her.

She was afraid. Of herself.

"But-"

Jacob shook his head tersely, lowering his bass voice to the depths of his Alpha inheritance. "Do you trust me, Rennie?"

Rennie hunched up her shoulders as her one hand came up to grasp the other elbow. "Yes," she stated quietly.

"Then trust me on this. I can handle you," he stated resolutely. "Whatever's happened – and I don't care what the fuck it is -I can deal with it," he said carefully. "We can deal with it. And I want you to stay."

Rennie's gaze darted between his convicted eyes as if looking for any cracks in his strength or sincerity.

She didn't find the slightest hint of weakness – because there wasn't a fucking shred. It was his job, and he did it damn well; it was a delicate, difficult thing to lead a Pack of Wolves who needed to be contained to both feel safe and stay in control, but who also needed rein to run free to keep from going mad. Apparently it was a similar need for young immortal girls. Young, immortal women, that is.

But if there was anything Jacob knew, it was how to handle this shit. He was born for it.

Finding nothing but the fires of his soulful certainty starting to heat his eyes yellow with resolve, Rennie released a breath and her body subtly shifted, relaxing. Like a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

"C'mere, honey," Jacob's invitation was more a command cloaked in velvet. And t they both knew it.

He stretched out a hand.

Rennie took another hasty drag of her cigarette and then blew it out as she took tentative steps toward him. Jacob reached out and took her free hand, tugging her gently closer as he sat up more. His eyes ran over her face, twitching in shadow as she fought to keep her inner turmoil from bleeding out in more tears.

His gaze darted down to the cigarette held between her fingers and he reached out slowly to take it. She released it to his calloused touch and he flicked it away across the floor and then held her hand.

"Rennie," he breathed, looking up into her teak eyes. "No matter what… I love you."

Like a cord had snapped, she fell to her knees between his and collapsed into his chest, burying her face in his pec as soft sobs finally bubbled free, warm and wet against his skin.

Jacob released her hands and encircled her slight frame in his arms, resting his cheek against her hair as her sorrow convulsed against him.

And Jacob held her.

His arms were big and strong – big enough to hold all the pulverized pieces and fears, strong enough to hold every last fear and the cancerous self-loathing. Until she could put herself together again.

And she knew it.

When her sorrow finally stuttered to hitching breaths, he pulled back, grasping her head in his huge hands and tipping her face up to him. "I missed you, honey," he murmured, leaning in and pressing his lips to her forehead for an entire breath.

He sat back a bit as she sniffled wretchedly and wiped her nose on her cotton shirt pulled over the heel of her hand. Jacob's thumbs came up to rub the leaking eyeliner from the bruised circles under her eyes. She looked tired, malnourished, too thin. Too empty.

"Have you been eating, honey?" he asked with concern as his fingers ghosted over her face, simply unable to stop touching her.

She shook her head miserably.

"And you haven't been drinking either?" he speculated. Rennie hated drinking blood – even the bagged kind. But it was part of who she was; she needed to accept that. Jacob had.

Rennie barked a pitiful laugh. "Well, lots of alcohol," she sniffled juicily.

" 'You check the label? It probably don't have the same nutritional content," Jacob chuckled with a sly grin that coaxed a smile from her lips.

His fingers kept combing her silky curls back from her cheeks. Over and over, as his eyes washed in utter elation over the beautiful face that he'd yearned for over this year, sitting mere inches before him. Even as twisted in sorrow as it was.

She closed her eyes indolently at his touch as if it soothed her. He hoped it did. His palm settled at the curve of her jaw and his thumb brushed over her lips. She hummed softly and leaned into his hand. It looked huge beside her delicate features, his complexion dark against her creamy skin.

"So what happened, honey?" he murmured low and soothing.

Rennie's eyes popped open and immediately found his. He watched her pupils dilate… and then contract.

"Oh, Jacob," she whispered, no more than a breath. "I really messed up."

Jacob nodded, his other hand stilling in her hair and slipping down so he framed her jaw in his palms. "Tell me," he asked simply.

Immediately tears sprang to her eyes as her nostrils quivered. "I-…" her eyes darted between his frantically. "I- …I can't," she bemoaned collapsing forward into his shoulder.

He pressed his lips together thoughtfully as his hand smoothed over her hair for several soothing strokes.

"You wanna try your thing?" he ventured quietly.

She froze stiff in his arms.

Rennie had stopped using her gift - of being able to project her thoughts and images to others - around the time she began dipping her toes into the adolescent waters. In part, it was just to piss off her father (which it did magnificently) and in part because all kids that age just wanted to feel normal. But Jacob suspected it most poignantly a reaction to having had so little privacy and control in her life. She certainly didn't need to share her inner life too. That was simply her last sanctuary.

Rennie pulled back slowly, an inscrutable expression darkening her eyes.

Jacob's hands slip down to rest on her shoulders. He just couldn't stop touching her. (And he didn't give a fuck, by the way.) Luckily she didn't seem to mind.

Her single, curt nod surprised him.

Jacob blinked as her fingers crept up and entwined with his, pulling both their hands down to rest on his thighs.

Her eyes closed softly and Jacob felt a sensation he hadn't felt in a long time …and he realized he'd missed it terribly. It was indescribable, but very real. Like a soft, gossamer brush against his mind that was completely, undeniably Rennie. Her deepest self. And it was such a sublime and ethereal thing.

Jacob's eyes fluttered closed and images bloomed in his mind.

'

A beautiful, but incontrovertibly masculine man. Teak complexion, shoulder-length raven hair, sparkling heavy-lidded eyes, a strong jaw and russet lips. With his coloring, he could be one of the Pack. With his facial structure, he could be Jacob's brother.

Rennie was sitting beside him on a worn couch of a worn room, in the muddy, murky light of dusk and squalor. She was smiling.

"What do you think of cariño?" the man's deep voice rolled with a Spanish accent like storm clouds.

"I like the way you look," Rennie answered guilelessly, with a little cock to her head that made her long hair dance to the side.

His large hand reached out fearlessly to dive into those curls, luxuriantly burying into them.

'

A flash of heat ignited Jacob's gut and he struggled to tamp it down. FOCUS.

'

"This is good, querida," he smiled, showing white teeth. "I like the way you look also."

His hand worked its way through her hair and then settled against Rennie's jaw. She turned to nuzzle into his palm. It smelled of cologne and cigarettes.

His other hand rose to trace fingers down the curve of her neck with a sensual relish. Rennie sucked in a breath through her teeth and closed her eyes.

"Mmm… you're so beautiful," he murmured, scooting closer to her while she tried to relax into his touch.

Suddenly she felt lips press to her jaw as his hand bushed brazenly down over a breast.

Rennie flinched with a quiet squeak.

"Shh, cariño," he soothed in her ear. "Do not be afraid."

She felt the sweep of chapped lips over her cheek as his hands turned her face to him, placing slow, lingering kisses over her eyelids which she squenched closed. That mouth then trailed down the bridge of her nose as her body started to tremble.

She wanted this… she did. Didn't she? This was the first man in all of these months who had caught her eye.

Large hands fell to her shoulders and Rennie's eyes popped open.

"Come, querida," he tugged her forward sitting back against the couch.

Pressing her lips together timidly, she did as he asked and climbed into his lap, straddling him uncomfortably.

His lips curved in a smile that dripped desire as his eyes darted over her expression. "Here," he said as his hand reached out to the side table and came back with a glass. "It will make it better."

Rennie eagerly took the glass in both hands and tipped it to her lips, watching him nod encouragingly over the rim while the strong drink burned a path down her throat. She gulped and swallowed until the entire thing was drained and the man's brow lifted with sly pleasure.

She wanted this. She did.

One hand staying on her back and smoothing down to knead her ass, he took the glass from her and set it back on the table with a soft clack.

His hands immediately slipped back up under her hair on either side of her neck. His eyes had become heavy with ardor as his lips twitched at the corner with anticipation.

"It will be good, I promise, cariño," he murmured huskily as he pulled her face down to his.

Hot, demanding lips crashed into hers, taking her breath away…

'

Jacob was going to fucking rip him to shreds.

His eyes popped open. They were already heated in yellow – he could feel it. He suddenly realized his body was already vibrating with rage and indignation, dangerously close to the Phase.

MINE, the voice bellowed inside every last cell of his being.

"Get back," he choked in a barely intelligible snarl, as he pushed her away. Vicious growls climbed from deep in his gut, flaying open his chest.

Rennie's eyes opened wide as she sat back on her heels, snatching her hands back.

His breath heaving, his muscles twitching and bunching, Jacob collapsed over his thighs into his palms.

"SHIT!" he gasped.

Gritting his teeth, he forced his breath through his nose as he struggled to rein in his wildly railing instinct. With a roar of utter fury, the Wolf ruthlessly flailed against his restraints, tearing his insides to bloody tatters in the process.

But she needed to get this out…

He had to be better than this.

Or she'd leave. Again.

That thought was like a bucket of ice water dumped over the fires of his possessive rage. Pressing his palms into his face as a visceral gesture to close the lid on the Pandora's box of his wrath, he jerked his head up… terrified she already had.

But Rennie sat before him, her knees bent and legs splayed out on either side like a little kid. She was blinking up at him with huge, worried eyes.

"I'm sorry," he rasped, his voice still only hybrid human.

Rennie shook her head vigorously.

"I just feel so… protective of you," he whispered as the beast slowly settled back into a resentful crouch in his gut.

Rennie went back up on her knees and put her small hands on his knees. "It's not me you need to protect," she whispered somberly.

Jacob's gaze popped back to focus in her eyes. They were aching… oozing a destitute self-loathing.

His hands covered her own as his fingers encircled her dainty wrists. His thumb smoothed over her pulse soothingly as his gaze softened, even while he slammed shut the cage of his fury and turned the lock with a palpable snick.

"I'm sorry..." he whispered hoarsely. "Tell me, Ren."

Rennie's eyes darted between his, assessing. With a brief nod, she closed her eyes again.

Jacob did the same.

This time, instead of being party to the scene, he was thrown into her body. A visceral experience that was more awareness and emotion than anything.

'

A hurricane of sensation - large hands, pressing against her hips obscenely… pushing something hard into the apex of her thighs. Rubbing the sensitive flesh roughly through her jeans. Hurting. Wild lips pulling at her pulse, nips of teeth that stung with unchecked avidity. Frightening, fevered jerking movements of unabashed fervor. Vulgar deep grunts of desire.

And Rennie in the middle, an utter calm in the storm.

This didn't feel good.

Her cheek was resting on the man's silk-shirted shoulder, her nose being pressed into his neck as the sound of the cloth rending ripped through his gasps. The sounds of unshared passion rasping like white noise in her ears was hemmed by a low, seductive quickened thrum.

She turned her attention toward it.

Rennie drew in a long breath through her nose, searching. She could taste the scent on the back of her tongue: sultry, salty, sweet.

Alluring. Tempting.

A pulsing vein was throbbing just under the surface of caramel skin, whispering with each susurration the promises of a siren.

This part wasn't so bad.

Rennie's tongue darted out to test that spot that jumped in the hollow of straining tendons. She pressed her lips over it with a kiss and the man shuddered under her.

Then another, and another.

This was how you did it.

She mapped out each muscle, each tendon, each pore of the side of his neck, nuzzling under his jaw to push his neck to the side while he gasped with pleasure. She scraped her teeth down over the sand-paper stubble of his neck and then over smooth, sweet skin as her hands came up to hold his broad shoulders with her increasing intensity.

Ooo, this felt gooood…

Her lips latched over that beguiling rhythm, her tongue twisting and carving out a teasing dance against the moist, wet thud. The man's movements had slowed and a long, aching groan rose from his chest as Rennie pressed her body into his hard, muscled chest and he rose to meet her.

She tilted her head from one side to the other with a luxuriant relish, lapping and licking like a cat, as the man's large hands pushed her ass into his quivering hips. Wanting her. Urging her.

"Mmm…."she hummed against his skin, running her nose along his carotid artery.

Yesss… this was how you did it….

Her lips slowly latched over the side of his neck and sensuously massaged as he moaned in rapture beneath her.

And then she bit.

A soft prurient gasp escaped the man's lips as pure honeyed warmth squirted into to her mouth like liquid ecstasy. Pulsing and surging with the rhythm of his heartbeat pressed under her breast. Rennie's lips latched tightly to his skin, pulling and suckling as that nurturance soothed some ache deep inside her and bathed her entire body in bliss. Her jaw worked with increasing avidity, her tongue curling as if it could coax that nectar faster.

Pulling, drawing, drowning…

The sluice began slowing as that rhythm under her stuttered and faltered. Oh, this could never end… she just wouldn't let it. She bore down harder but it only seemed to further squelch the flow. More… she needed more…

Loca, Loca, Loca!

A bright buoyant voice born on vivacious Latin music tore through that haze of rapture. Rennie froze, as a cold wave of dread slammed into her like an ice floe.

Yo soy loca con mi tigre!

Rennie tore her lips away and gaped in horror at the man lying beneath her: head cricked to the side, eyes glassy and wide, lips trembling with his wheezing butterfly breath.

Loca, Loca, Loca!

As the ringtone of the man's cell phone on the table continued blithely on, Rennie's hand shot up to her face, wiping the back roughly over her slick lips and tearing it back down with a mewling wail of terror.

Glistening shocking scarlet against her white skin.

Blood.

Her wide-eyed gaze snapped back down to her rasping victim watching in utter revulsion as the seeping crimson quickly darkened his silk shirt like a creeping nightmare.

So much blood!

'

Rennie tore her hands out of Jacob's steely grip, sprawling out on her back across the floor with the force, as her body convulsed with soul-seizing sobs.

Jacob heedlessly scrabbled off the couch toward her as she turned on her side, curling into a fetal position. A long keening wail rose as a requiem to the tormented despair that was rotting her soul.

"Rennie, honey…" Jacob embraced her even as she flailed against his arms.

"Shh…" his muscular arms fought her preternatural strength as he drew her disconsolate body against his chest. She bucked several times in his grip and the force of it threw him off balance. He fell down heavily over onto his back, pulling her along with him to spare her the impact. He wrapped his long arms and legs around her hysteria.

And he held her.

"Honey, it's okay… everything's gonna be okay," he crooned softly as she resigned her struggling to futility. A soft lupine whine slipped from his lips as he slowly loosened his hold on her, bringing a hand up to stroke her hair as she buried her face in his peck, her hitching sobs pulling at the skin.

"I k-killed h-him…" she wailed hoarsely. "J-Jake… I'm some kinda-… I… I'm s-so f-fucked up." Her small hands slowly snaked around his neck and fisted at the nape as she pressed her face into his shoulder while she gasped with convulsive sorrow.

Jacob unwrapped his legs and sat up a bit more bringing her with him as she clung to his neck desperately. With some awkward maneuvering, he had them sitting back against the couch. He pulled the rest of her body into his lap and wrapped his arms around her.

And he held her.

With wordless wolvish croons, he rocked her soothingly back and forth… back and forth…. as his own mind tried to resurface from the deluge of his own emotions enough to get his head into the game.

He felt drunk himself – like he reminded himself she still was – on a veritable Molotov cocktail of emotions that were burning him hollow: the toxic adrenaline of the evening, the heartache and rollercoaster of the last years, the possessive, protective rage that sat in an aggressive, threatening crouch in his chest.

Fuck he couldn't even think straight. And oh, he so needed to right now.

C'mon, Jake…. think!

Rennie's delirium had slowly dissipated to hitching whimpers in his arms, her hands still clasped in a death grip around his neck. Jacob leaned down and kissed her temple where she was pressed soundly into his chest as if she could find solace from all of the demons she fled in her own heart.

"Rennie," he whispered into her hair. "Honey."

She shook her head fiercely against him, burrowing deeper.

"What happened next, baby? I just need to know what happened next and then we'll leave it all for now," he murmured. "C'mon tell me. Please," he pressed kiss after kiss over her head, interspersing his words in silken petition. "Then no more tonight. C'mon chica. I promise. Tell me."

A small whimper, had Jacob pull his head back expectantly. He needed to know this.

For her sake.

Rennie finally tentatively turned her head, staring up at him with bleary, bloodshot eyes that were totally devastated. "Th-then… I called 9-9-9… and then I left," she whispered in a voice that was wrung out in a hollow, halting monotone. "And I got my violin …and I went to the airport… and took the next flight home."

Home. She'd said home.

FOCUS, motherfucker.

"9-9-9?" he asked with a furrow of his brow.

"It's 911 there," she supplied, the practical fact blinking a little more sentience back into her gaze.

Jacob nodded . "Just one more question, kay?" he leaned down and kissed her nose and she sniffled. "Where was this? The address? 'You remember?"

"4634 Ravenscrofft in London," she related numbly like a child reciting a lesson. "Flat 207. His name was…" her voice broke and Jacob squeezed her encouragingly. "H- he was R-Raoul Catina," she intoned in no more than a breath.

" 'kay, honey," he whispered sadly as his gaze darted between her haunted eyes.

All of the trauma and confusion and despair that she had stuffed deep inside – just to get her here - had exploded in a tangled, twisted, fiery mess. But Wolves were all about plans. Action. And there was simply nothing he could do about it tonight. Except let her sober up.

And hold her.

"That's all, honey. You did good, Rens. Real good coming here," he soothed. "Ready for bed?"

"Yes," she whispered. And with no other word, she turned back into his chest drawing in a deep shaking breath and releasing it slowly in a sigh that was pockmarked with shrapnel.

Jacob pushed off the floor like an ungainly crab, rearranging her light, small frame, so he was carrying her bridal style. He crossed his shop slowly, his eyes glued to the woman in his arms who was incrementally relaxing in his embrace with each lulling step.

By the time Jacob had pushed open his front door, and shimmied into his bedroom sideways, Rennie was fast asleep in his arms. Shifting her slender body in his arms, he swept the mattress clear of the dirty clothes, mail and other shit that collected on a large horizontal surface when it wasn't being used.

He lay her down on his pillow and marveled at how many times he'd wanted to see her there. He hadn't exactly expected it to be under such circumstances… but hell, he'd take what he could get.

Tenderly he smoothed several locks of hair back from her damp cheeks and then leaned down and pressed his lips to her temple with relish.

Fuck, he was so glad she came home. Things were still a Goddamn fucking mess, alright, but with her here. In his bed. In his arms. Home. They were a whole hell of a lot better.

But he'd better get on what he needed to do next…

He couldn't tear his eyes from her beautiful face, finally peaceful in her slumber, as he pulled his cell out from his back pocket. He flipped it open one-handed only glancing down briefly to choose the Contact.

Ring, ring.

Ring, rin-

"Howdy there, lil' pup," Jasper began with his usual drawled impertinence. "You're the last-…"

"Shut the fuck up, Jaz," Jacob interrupted him in a terse whisper as his finger idly smoothed the lingering pucker between Rennie's brows.

"Listen, I need your help. We got ourselves a little mess to clean up…"

'

'

Story note: As most of you may know, SM's cannon dictates that Renesme doesn't have venom.

'

'

Lesson 8 – Asking For Help

'

Rennie woke to silence…except for the pounding in her head.

Eyes still closed, a hand fumbled clumsily up to a throbbing temple, pressing against the pain in a futile attempt for relief.

Jesus, she needed a drink.

With a soft groan, she turned on her side, pulling her knees up to her chest as sheets rustled crisply around her. A warm calloused palm smoothed over her cheek…

And Rennie's eyes popped open with a squeak of fear.

There, head propped in his hand on his side, not two feet away, was Jacob Black.

Jacob!

Suddenly all the horrific memories of the last thirty hours flooded over her and she bolted upright.

Or tried to.

"Unhh.." she moaned, collapsing back to the pillow as her head literally exploded and her entire body pitched like she was at high sea. Pressing her lips together as her stomach threatened to rebel, she drew in a long slow breath… and cracked a bleary eye back open.

Jacob was grinning.

The jerk.

Her brow furrowed indignantly – though she couldn't really find it in her heart to resent that glorious smile cracking a face she'd been craving like a junkie's next hit. She blinked several times, hoping it pushed some semblance of sentience into her muddled head.

"G'morning, sunshine," Jacob's velvet chuckle nestled around her like a comforting flannel and Rennie found she could do nothing but relax into it.

She'd missed him so damn much.

Her hand reached out reflexively and he met it half way, entwining his large fingers with hers. She squeezed him tightly as her gaze just washed over and over every millimeter of his face, trying to memorize every detail.

Those sparkling dark eyes stared right on back. And even with the freight train that was currently running through her head, they took her breath away.

Jacob Black's face was a work of art.

She'd always thought so. He had straight eyebrows that darted over fierce and striking heavy-lidded eyes; eyes that conversely seemed to be stifling a mischievous glimmer like he was waiting to deliver the punch line. His broad nose balanced high cheekbones and a chiseled, athletic facial structure that was 120% male. But his strong jaw housed surprisingly full and sensual lips, which, if left to their own devices, would be curved up from his pearly front teeth in a hint of his summer smile even at rest. That face was a masterpiece of contradictions, just like his soul: passionate, determined, lethal…and loving.

And Rennie adored him to pieces.

She'd missed him terribly, even though she shouldn't. Because Rennie didn't need anyone. She couldn't afford to. Not when she was such a fuckup.

As reality settled over her like a sickly chill, Rennie pulled her hand from Jacob's and rubbed her face.

"I need a drink," she mumbled in a fallow voice roughened by novel sleep. This was first sleep she'd indulged in in longer than she could remember.

"Yeah, you do," Jacob agreed, shocking the hell out of her so much that her hand fell down to the bed.

In disbelief, she watched him sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. The sight of him striding out of the small room with his loose, easy gait sent a jolt of anxiety through her and she bolted upright.

The world tilted on its ear and she doubled over gasping, feeling like a fist had just shucked all the blood in her body up into her head. Her stomach lunged for her throat and she scrambled desperately off the bed, careening against the wall in a mad dash for the bathroom in a house she knew as well as her own. She stumbled into the bathroom and pounced on the toilet just in time to catch a convulsive wave of acidic liquid. Rennie's body seized uncontrollably with wave after wave of retching that only produced an unimpressive trickle of the pitiful contents of her stomach.

But it sure sounded dramatic. And disgusting.

As the paroxysmal puking marched onward like a train wreck, she was suddenly mortified to feel tender hands brush over her jaw as they gathered her hair up off the nape of her neck. She shuddered even as she tried to shrug him off: somehow that touch was so soothing, but she didn't want Jacob to see her like this.

"G-gross, Jake," she gagged between her retches. "N-no -"

"Shh," he soothed, and she felt something cool and wet dab against her temple.

Finally the compulsive cramps in her stomach decided to give it a rest and one of Rennie's hands fumbled blindly for the toilet's handle while she gasped into the bowl.

Jacob's hand found it first, flushing the commode and pulling her back into his lap at the same time. Sitting on the floor, his back against the wall of the small bathroom, he cradled her in one of his solid arms as he patted a damp washcloth over her forehead.

Rennie grabbed the rag from his hand and wiped at her mouth as she tried to turn out of his embrace, humiliated.

Jacob allowed her to do so and she sat up, swaying dangerously with a wave of vertigo. She collapsed back against his chest with a groan.

Jacob's deep chuckles vibrated behind her head as he stretched out his long legs across the tiled floor on either side of her. His fingers gently combed her hair back from her face.

"It's not funny," Rennie complained, relaxing against him all the same.

"You're right, it's not," Jacob's voice softened as his palm stilled against her head. "But I'm just so fuckin' glad you're here," he whispered.

Rennie's eyes fluttered closed and she leaned into his touch….it seemed to help dampen that fierce thrum in her head. "I'm a mess, Jake," she lamented quietly as her hands flopped to her lap in resignation.

"You're doin' okay, honey," he murmured, as his deliciously heavy arms snaked slowly around her.

Oh that felt so damn good. His substantial, caring arms always made her feel safe and secure like nothing could ever, ever go wrong.

But this time, she knew better.

Her body stiffened as the unbidden ghost of Raoul's listless body and glassy eyes flashed in her mind's eye – a true skeleton in her closet. "Oh God, Jake, I-"

"Rennie," Jacob's voice interrupted, deep and quiet and sprinkled with Alpha compulsion like nutmeg. (Like he did whenever something was important -she didn't think he even realized he did it.) She heard him rest his head up against the wall with a quiet bonk and a sigh. "You didn't kill him."

"What! ?" Rennie sat up, whipping around in one motion. And regretting it immediately. She pitched forward unsteadily and caught herself on his muscular thigh.

Gasping, she frantically turned to him with eyes squinted against the impact of the hammering in her head. "H-how..?"

Jacob's head was tipped back against the wall, his Adam's apple jutting out, as he regarded her with intense eyes over the plane of his cheeks. "You didn't kill him," he repeated in that commanding voice of his.

Rennie blinked several times as that little tidbit settled hesitantly into her heart with a stutter. Sniffling, she achingly pulled her legs around as she rearranged herself between his legs, facing him.

"Are you sure? How do you know?" she asked in a small tentative voice. Though she knew the answer.

His Adam's apple bobbed with his swallow. "I called Jasper," he said with a quiet, unapologetic heat. "They were still in Ireland and they went down to check it out. Catina's in ICU, but he'll live. They're fucking with everyone's minds - picking up the pieces. He called an hour ago to let me know it was goin' good."

Rennie collapsed her face into her hands with a hitching sob that encompassed too many emotions to name.

"I had to Ren," he continued. "The Volturi are just looking for any fucking excuse, you know that."

She did.

"So you had to call in 'Sweepers' to clean up my fuckup," Rennie laughed bitterly, pressing the heel of her hands into her eyes. There was nothing more important to Vampires than their secret. They always covered their kills carefully. Those who didn't were quickly eliminated. And the Volturi couldn't wait for an excuse to get rid of her.

"Something like that," Jacob's bass agreed carefully.

Rennie drew in a long shaky breath and lifted her head. Jacob was watching her intensely, his face a hard, impassive mask. Anticipating what came next.

"So mom and dad know I'm here," she stated numbly, her weak stomach churning dangerously.

Jacob nodded once.

Rennie closed her eyes as her head fell back to the ceiling in anguish. "They're gonna kill me… and they -… oh, shit. I gotta-"

"Rennie," Jacob interjected calmly. "They're gonna want you to go back to business as usual, you know that just as good as me."

Anxiety rose like a full moon tide and she lunged to her feet, catching herself on the sink behind her.

"And you can keep running, or you can make a stand," he continued in a soothing monotone.

Rennie's gaze whipped down to him, still frozen in the same position against the wall, his eyes unreadable and a steely quiver to his muscles.

She blinked.

And then again.

With a soft sigh, Jacob slowly pushed himself up off the floor, his eyes locked with hers. Like he was moving underwater, or approaching a wounded animal (appropriate), he straightened and pressed his hands behind him against the bathroom wall. He pulled her eyes all the way up as he squared his shoulders in full Alpha full height.

It was kinda intimidating.

"And I can help you, if you want." His burning eyes defying his carefully measured tone. "You just have to ask."

Rennie turned to fully face him, leaning shakily against the sink as her mind raced. "Help me run or stand?" she asked suddenly with a furrow to her brow.

"Either, but I'd rather you stand up for yourself," he admitted with a little purse to his lips. "But whichever way you wanna play it, you're under our protection. If you ask for it," he repeated meaningfully.

Rennie's mind sped ahead. She wasn't blind. She knew the tension that reverberated between her family and the Pack. If she stood up to her family, and Jacob stood behind her….

"B-but that would mean trouble, Jay," Rennie hedged quietly, her fingers digging into the Formica behind her.

Jacob subtly shrugged one shoulder as his eyes sharpened in a flash of yellow that teetered on frightening. "I'm not one to run from trouble," he whispered, a subtle growl thickening his voice.

It made chills go up her spine.

She instinctively lowered her gaze, pulling her lip into her mouth uncertainly. Having grown up with him - with his sunny personality and big heart - Rennie could sometimes forget all that Jacob was.

But now was not one of those times.

"Think about it," Jacob's voice shed its dominant bite to swirl in his regular, creamy bass.

She looked up to see him stretch his long arms up over his head. He pressed his palms against the ceiling and tipped his face back with a soft grunt while the muscles bunched in his arms. Rennie's eye darted down to the swath of brown skin bared between his plain grey tee shirt and his jeans cut-offs. A subtle muscular V, and a light line of black hair lead under the low-rise waistband. And drew her eyes down along with them.

To the bulge in his jeans.

Like those videos about the dangers of dried out Christmas trees and flame, a flash of heat ignited between her legs and viscerally rushed up her body ending in a blush and renewed throbbing in her head.

Oh, fuck.

Her eyes snapped up quickly to his face, just tipping down and regarding her curiously, and Rennie launched herself the several feet to shove him toward the door.

"I'll think about it," she mumbled hastily as she pushed him out of the bathroom. "Lemme take a shower."

She slammed the door.

On a lot of things. But especially that.

Rennie had learned a bunch of things this year. She'd learned about life and desperation and lust. She'd turned down a new come-on (or more) every week and watched her roommate fuck a new guy (or more) every weekend.

And she knew the scent of arousal, and therefore, she wagered, so did Jake.

Him figuring out that she'd had that kind of reaction to a simple stretch against a bathroom wall was definitely at the bottom of the things Rennie wanted right this moment. Or ever.

Rennie rubbed her face with hands that shook from hunger and various withdrawals. She glanced sideways at the mirror and nearly choked; she looked like shit. She needed to get cleaned up … so she could have a cigarette.

And a drink.

She turned on the shower and let the sound of it soothe her nerves as she hastily stripped. Stepping under the tepid stream – luckily she wasn't so sensitive to temperature – she let the water rush over her and take all this complicated mess with it.

But as she lathered and scrubbed all her worry away (and relief – God, she was so glad she didn't have Raoul's death on her shoulders), she was left with an intimate quick that was raw and sensitive.

What the hell was she going to do? Even the hung over mess she was, she hadn't felt this good… since she'd left. And she didn't want to leave again.

At least, not right now.

But staying was also a very, very frightening thing. She didn't know exactly why. No wait, she did. Because there was a deep down soulful needing for this place. And needing something… or someone, meant they could hurt you. Because when she disappointed them (them being Jacob, of course – she wouldn't lie to herself) as she would inevitably, it would hurt. A lot.

And then there was the little thing of her family. Her father in particular. Sometimes she wondered if his thrall didn't actually work on her – though of course, it didn't – because whenever she reached for something he, or any of them, thought she shouldn't need he had a way of making her feel just so incredibly imbecilic. He never yelled or anything, but in some ways it would be better if he did. He would just relentlessly erode away her resolve in calm and collected comment or suggestion, in inexorable pressure or attenuating disdain until Rennie couldn't remember why she had ever disagreed with him in the first place. Or, perhaps even more terrifying, who she was.

But Jacob was right.

It was about time that she cut the bullshit and grew up. She'd spent the last year turning the paradigms of her childhood on their heads. Proving to herself that who she was inside wasn't all wrong: that playing the violin didn't mean you couldn't rock out, that being smart didn't mean you weren't creative, that you could have style without labels or money, and that being educated didn't necessarily mean having a stick up your ass. And – current spectacular mistake aside– she'd done alright. Too much partying, angst and alcohol, perhaps. But hey, she was a work in progress, right?

Rennie jerked off the water with renewed purpose. Wringing out her hair, she pushed the shower curtain aside to the sight of her duffle bag and two fresh towels. It was stupid, but a flush rushed up her chest to her cheeks.

Jacob had been in here when she was naked.

Why was such a thing so titillating? (She wasn't six going on 14 anymore, she was 8 going on... 18? Who the hell knew.)

Oh, who was she fooling? She knew damn well why, and it was going to be a problem. She could already tell.

The London underground music scene had embraced her with open arms. And for the first few months she'd been simply too entranced by the magnificent beguiling distraction of a human life on her own. Yet, as the days wore on, she'd started to wonder whether her heart was simply as abnormal and fucked up as the rest of her. The steady stream of suitors that queued up like a buffet in the drunken druggy haze of West-End nightlife didn't even whet her appetite – the men or the women – though she'd sampled a taste here and there (being the curious and impulsive thing that she was).

She would have resigned herself to the not entirely distasteful fact that music was her only true love, except that - when she got herself off (and that was hella fun, so she certainly didn't skimp in that department) - there was only one mental image that could get her over the edge.

It'd started out as a blurry, indistinct face. Brown skin, silky black hair, strong masculine features; Rennie'd chalked it up to the cold hard fact that she'd grown up among some of the most beautiful men in the world (and she'd seen a lot of men at this point, so she knew that was the God's honest truth). But slowly it began to change. Sharpen. Until that face was clearly and undeniably one that she knew better, in fact, than her own.

Jacob Black's.

It was kinda sick.

And extremely awkward at this point in time, to say the least. Suffice it to say, Rennie was probably the last person Jacob wanted all kinds of crushed out on him. She was the baby daughter of his first love and best friend who'd jerked him around before dropping him in favor of her father (she'd heard the story told much more delicately, but Rennie could read between those lines well enough). Add in the little part about her being a half-breed of his natural enemy? (And being a crazed almost-killer who'd nearly puked on him). It was safe to say that the fact Jacob tolerated her (or her mother) at all was a big freaking testament to his kind-hearted character.

Plus he was her uncle. Well, not technically, but still.

So let's just shut that shit down right now.

Rolling her eyes at herself, she grabbed up a towel and dried off while she considered her meager options for wardrobe. She'd just stuffed the contents of her drawer into the duffel in her haste to flee. Rummaging through her bag, she decided on a short black camisole – that had a bra sewn into it and made her boobs look awesome – and some army green cargo capris. She hadn't brought her brush so she worked her fingers through her hair uselessly - there was no way Jacob's black comb was gonna get through her mop – while she considered her reflection in the bathroom mirror (which hadn't even fogged up because Jake's shower was so lame). She leaned in closer, tipping her face to one side and then the other as a finger came up to touch the dark shadows under her eyes. She looked passable, but still very much like death warmed over (which, if she thought about it, was actually an apt descriptor for a half-breed vampire).

It shouldn't really matter of course. Except that it did.

Taking a deep breath, Rennie reached down and grabbed up her bag and turned the bathroom doorknob.

She pulled open the door to the small hallway and blinked. Jacob was leaning against the far wall with a tall glass of something red garnished with a thin stalk of celery and an impertinent smirk.

He held out his hand for the bag.

"What's this?" she asked as she handed it to him absently. Though she could smell exactly what it was and it smelled freaking awesome.

"You needed a drink, right?" Jacob shrugged playing along. "So I made y'a Bloody Mary." His face broke out into a dorky grin – the kind he always got when he told a bad joke that he thought was hilarious.

Rennie couldn't help the giggle the bubbled up despite her best efforts as she stepped into the hallway and took the drink.

Their fingers brushed and it felt like… well, it felt like she was going to drop the fucking glass. Her other hand quickly darted out to the bottom as she pulled it toward her shakily, keeping her eyes carefully trained on the floppy leaves of the celery sticking out of the glass of blood.

"Who'd ya kill?" she quipped with a an attempt at humor, until she realized – in light of recent events –it wasn't very funny.

But Jacob kindly ignored that fact. "No one… today. It's a juicebox-special courtesy of Sue and the clinic," he chuckled using her childhood nickname for bagged blood that –with a straw stuck in it – looked remarkably like a large Capri Sun. Only grosser.

She chanced a glance up to his eyes.

Jacob was staring down at her with an unreadable expression as his grin faded slowly from his lips.

It made Rennie's stomach twist all kinds of funny, and she took a subtle step back.

"And you don't eat celery," Rennie observed mildly, as she pulled the stalk out of the grisly drink and caught a drop of the crimson on her tongue. O-positive and chilled to perfection.

"Nope, I asked Sue to pick it up on the way."

Rennie nodded slowly, trying to hide her smile as she licked up the stalk with an increasingly eager tongue. Oh, this tasted sooo freaking good.

And she hated it.

She dipped the celery back in the blood and suckled the delectable liquid off the end with an inadvertent throaty groan. Her gaze darted up to Jacob's, embarrassed.

He was watching her intently with a strange look to his eye. He was probably disgusted.

A blush ripening her cheeks, she pushed pass him into the main room of the cottage as she tipped the glass to her lips, simply unable to help herself. It tasted so good. So damn good. Her feet stopped moving as she unconsciously dropped the celery to the floor and both hands wrapped around the glass and drained it with long greedy gulps.

Without even realizing how, she was suddenly tipping the glass at a 90˚ angle, her tongue sweeping the last drops from inside like some voracious… leech. Ugh.

Rennie froze.

She hastily pulled down the glass, cutting her eyes over to where Jacob was trying to act busy at the kitchenette counter.

Shit.

He'd never made her feel the least bit bad or ashamed of drinking blood, ever. But she'd heard enough of the Pack's epithets to know what he really thought about the habit.

"More?" Jacob tossed casually over his shoulder.

"No thanks," she murmured as she crossed to the sink. Bumping him out of the way with her shoulder, she silently washed her glass.

Jacob folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the other counter, kitty corner and wordlessly watched her.

She glanced back and saw that he'd already grabbed up the celery when she'd been 200% focused on guzzling down hemoglobin. Dampening a paper towel, she wiped the wet spot on the floor and then tossed it with casual (but deadly, of course) aim into the garbage across the room.

With a victorious quirk to her lips, she shoved her hands in her pockets and rolled her shoulders. As much as she hated to admit it, the blood was doing wonders. The pounding in her head was starting to lessen and she was slowly starting to feel more… solid.

But still twitchy.

"Where'd you hide my smokes?" she turned to Jacob who was still leaning against the counter, watching her.

He blinked and pushed off the counter. Reaching into his back pocket he pulled out the box and tossed it once into the air thoughtfully.

"Sure?" he asked, with a raise to his brow.

Rennie rolled her eyes and held out her palm emphatically.

With a snort, he tossed it toward her. "Outside," he jerked his chin meaningfully.

She snatched it blithely out of the air. "I know," she grumbled and turned on her heel.

"Hey…"

She jumped at the yank on her back belt loop, effectively stopping her and she whipped around. Or tried to, warm palms slipped to her hips, holding her fast.

'Wha-what?" Rennie stuttered as color charged to her cheeks.

"Lemme see," Jacob intoned quietly by her ear. One of his large hands wrapped completely around one hip, his fingers resting around on the prominent pelvic bone in front as he bent over. The other swept her shirt up from her lower back. Rennie's entire body turned to jelly in his hands. Immediately.

"Nice," he murmured as his calloused fingers dragged lightly over the intricate purple and teal lotus tattoo that stretched across the base of her spine. It was one of the reasons she liked this shirt – in addition to the boob thing – it was short enough to show it off when she moved.

But right now shirts and boobs and tattoos didn't matter one teeny weeny bit. That gentle touch and firm grip had stopped her heart altogether and it was desperately flailing and fluttering like a moth against a light bulb, trying to restart. Which, of course, he could hear. Shit.

"When'd you get that?" he was asking in a voice that swirled like cream in espresso as he turned her around, leaving one his hands resting idly at the small of her back.

Rennie's gaze locked with his as he straightened slowly, his other hand tucking one of her damp curls behind her ear. Her insides felt like liquefied honey and she was pretty sure her mouth was hanging open like a moron, she certainly wasn't having any luck making it work.

It was pretty much horrifying.

Jacob cocked his head as a small smile flitted at the corners of his mouth like a firefly. "When?" he raised his brow expectantly.

"I-I… uh.. " she began with spectacular brilliance. "Um, New Year's," she finally gasped. "Chinese New Year," she amended.

Jacob smacked his lips with a slow nod. "I like," he murmured.

Rennie's stomach did a flip. For some crazy reason.

The reaction she was having to the innocent hand that splayed across her lower back was absolutely mortifying. She could feel the warm skin of his palm on the bared swath skin over her pants and felt like it was burning a hole clean through to her ovaries (if she had them, no one was sure).

Jacob seemed to be completely oblivious, his gaze was washing over her face intently. "Did you think about it?" he asked quietly as his hand again reached out and fiddled or something with her hair.

Rennie didn't know or care, she couldn't tear herself away from the infinite depths of those eyes.

Oh, this was so not good.

"I-…I need a fag," she rasped, turning her back abruptly on him and stalking straight out the door without another word.

"A what?" Jacob laughed trailing after her, catching the screen door she tried to slam behind her.

"A fag!" Rennie called out as she dug out the lighter that had been stuffed inside the box and shook a cigarette out and put it to her lips. "It's Brit for cigarette," she mumbled.

"C'mon, away from the house," Jacob tugged a lock of her hair mischievously as he passed by her. "I gotta clean up the garage anyway. We're supposed to have our meeting at Sam and Em's, but I changed it to here."

Just about to light the cigarette, she froze and let the lighter fall to her side. "The Pack?"

"If you don't wanna see anyone, you can stay in the house," Jacob chuckled richly as he strode into the garage. "That's why I moved it."

He ducked back into the doorway, hanging on the frame. "But they wanna see you. No presshah," he grinned impishly and then swung back out of sight.

With a huff, Rennie raised the lighter again and lit the cigarette, drawing in a long full lungful and then releasing it with a sigh.

Yeah, she was feeling a whole hell of a lot better. Well, physically. Mentally? Yup, still a freaking mess.

She crossed the rest of the small yard leisurely, drawing another soothing pull of addiction into her lungs as she let her mind spin.

She stopped in the doorway at the sight of Jacob, now bare chested as he stooped over the floor sifting through metal tools and parts from the broken glass and chaos of last night while the musculature on his back stretched and bunched with mercury tension under the smooth mocha of his skin. She leaned against the doorframe for a moment, letting her head hit the wood as shaky fingers brought her cigarette back to her lips and she took a steeling drag.

Damn, the man was fucking gorgeous.

The thought both caught her off guard and reminded her just how messed up she was still emotionally too. Here's someone who was undeniably the best friend she'd ever had, the one person who – if she admitted it – she actually trusted to help her when she really fucked it all up (like she had). And, no matter how hard she tried to deny it, she needed him.

Like her next breath. Like her next heartbeat.

God, Rennie, don't fuck this up too.

Shaking her head at herself, she pushed off the door, and moseyed on over to the industrial counter that ran around the perimeter of the room. Part of it was hanging awry from Jacob's explosion last night.

"Wow, you really fucked this thing up, Jay," Rennie whistled as a hand pushed against the surface experimentally. "I thought it was strong enough to hold an engine?" Deciding it was still intact enough to hold her weight, she hopped up, hanging her feet off the side.

"Yeah, it is," Jacob looked up with a smug little hitch to his lips. "Was."

Rennie gave him a sarcastic smirk. "Macho man," she quipped.

Jacob comically pumped a bicep which, even in jest, compressed in an impressive bulk. It made Rennie's stomach flutter.

She kicked her feet idly as he returned to his work.

Rennie swallowed thickly and kicked harder.

She took another drag of smoke and held it as she tucked her head.

She blew it out as her finger picked at a stain on the counter.

"Jake?" her voice was no more than a breath.

But he, of course heard it. Jacob's head jerked up. When she didn't say anything more, she watched him straighten slowly in her periphery. He crossed to right in front of her and stood silently.

Waiting.

Rennie took another quick puff of cigarette and blew it out briskly.

Her eyes darted up from under her lashes.

"Jake, I need your help," she whispered.

'

'

Your reviews really help keep me going strong. So thanks in advance (how's that for presumptuous? ;-)

Chapter 9: Lesson 9 Make a Game Plan

I wanted to address a very serious review from Ana who is anon with no PM. Re: Smoking Yeah it's totally bad. Technically, of course, the character is immortal (and fictional) but this is part of the allegory of her self-destructive year and not meant to glamorize it. She will eventually stop when she realizes she wants to kiss someone way more than she wants to suck on a butt. *wink*

'

Word of the Day: Effete – 1. lacking in wholesome vigor 2. worn out 3. sterile.

For those music/violin people: the song being played is Chopin Nocturne 20. Paste this into YouTube to enjoy a very talented artist's rendition (Chang is phenom): "Sarah Chang - Chopin Nocturne" (not the 'NEW' one – the old one has footage of her playing)

Interesting fact: the fire truck story is a real one about a kid I know.

'

Lesson 9 – Make a Game Plan

'

"So whattaya think, Jay?" raspberry lips slipped over the words like melted sherbet.

Jacob blinked, straightening from where he sat on the overturned industrial bucket in front of Rennie on the couch. She had gone back to the house to fetch her violin and had collapsed on the old sofa and was now pulling heartbreakingly long, sweet tones from that little wooden box like strings of melted caramel.

"I… uh," Jacob began fluently. His voice was hoarse. Flustered.

Rennie's eyes cut over to him with a comical scowl that bunched her lips up on one side. She sniffed a laugh at his expense. "Good answer," she quipped sarcastically.

Jacob rested his elbows on his knees and shoved his hands through his hair. "Gimme a sec, kay?" he lamely asked his lap. "I just gotta wrap my thick skull around everything."

"Sure," she agreed easily. And just like that, she let herself slip down under the soothing currents of the classical piece she was fingering.

She'd always been good like that. She was accepting, generous, patient… even as a child. She'd always given him the unassuming space to be whatever he felt at the moment: she didn't demand to be entertained or pout for attention or push for outcome. She offered herself up unconditionally and then waited for the world to unfold around her.

And right now Jacob needed just that. Because inside, he was fighting a war.

His gaze rose to wash over the stunning creature lounging so casually on the couch. Her open unpretentious beauty while she pulled that sublime music from her instrument's strings made his heart ache.

Both Jacob and his Wolf were utterly entranced: by the soul-rending passion of her musical expression… by the way a little pucker and dip appeared at her brow with each switch of her bow's direction…the sensual movements of her arms and the delicate play of lissome fingers.. the way her breasts rose and fell with each sumptuously deep and even breath… the soft peaceful smile that curved her lips and made her eye lids flutter closed.

But those plump, sensuous lips had been saying all kinds of important things just a moment earlier: like how Rennie had realized that she had an eternity to explore the world, but only decades to experience the mortality of her home. That she wanted to go to university – a real university, with people and lectures and labs – and study whatever she felt like. That she felt like right now - especially having come so close to being the death of another– she might want to learn how to heal. That she was interested in western science and eastern medicine and all kinds of music and that she didn't see why she couldn't combine all three.

Important things.

Really important things.

But, shamefully, Jacob had barely been able to follow the words of such an articulate and thoughtful soliloquy.

He could just stare. Like a fucking idiot.

His breath was rapid and shallow. His heart was skipping and skittering.

She was here.

And she was his.

MINE.

His Wolf was no longer whispering, he was demanding. Commanding. No matter that just last night, she'd been nearly comatose with alcohol, confusion and pain. He'd decided she was ripe. That she was ready. And he wanted her.

Now.

Jacob, the man, was fighting a vicious losing battle. Especially when that sweet, sultry scent of arousal rose from her skin at the slightest little touch of his. She was going to kill him before all this was over, he was sure of it. He'd nearly come undone by simply watching those sumptuous silken lips suckle blood from a celery stick – of all things!

She was attracted to him; that much was obvious even without his preternatural senses. But instead of stoking his confidence and loosening the noose, it had merely catapulted every last hormone and instinct into overdrive. An intense, myopic overdrive that didn't give a fuck about the complexities of life.

Jacob had never before experienced the imperative of the lupine imprint first hand, and, he had to say, the vicarious snatches he'd gotten from his Pack had been merely an effete monochrome husk of the real thing. The strength of it was staggering – even to a congenial Alpha – and he found that every last thought, every last impulse, every last touch and word was unequivocally focused like a laser beam on just one thing:

Claiming her.

Mine.

Yet the man - with a man's mind - was still acutely disturbed and painfully uncomfortable. She was only eight years in the world and physically …18? She felt somehow intuitively both older and younger: but just a baby to a healthy 25 year old male whose dick was hung with protective concern, propriety and heart.

So he'd compromised: upped the ante… just a smidgeon.

He'd experimented with allowing a whisper of his need to peek out as he relented and pulled her into his arms under the pretense of looking at a tattoo he'd already memorized several times over in the course of incidental moments that morning.

Of course the joke was on him.

He'd nearly lost it (literally) at the feel of those delicate hips caught in the huge span of his hands. And he'd come fucking frighteningly close to tracing that tattoo with is tongue, not his fingertips.

If that had happened, he had no illusions of what he'd have done next.

It was a war of epic proportions. And he was so incredibly fucked that it wasn't even funny.

All of these thoughts and fantasies were tumbling in his head while Rennie had sat, innocently pouring out her heart and soul to a friend while she painted a breathtaking aural backdrop with her bow.

Jacob had decided he was a total asshole. Pure and simple.

And he had to be better than that: 'cause there was a whole 'nother kind of war brewing.

Rennie'd taken his hint and asked him – officially - for his help, which made it so much easier. (She'd understood, of course, because that girl was fucking on it – even hung over.) When you were the leader of a Pack of ancestral protectors - who just might end up embroiled in a physical conflict on tribal lands – the lines were much neater when he didn't draw them.

With Charlie's decades of Rez support and intimate ties to Elders, he was technically already tribe. Charlie's granddaughter asking for protection against his leech in-laws (who he not-so-subtly disliked), was a far easier sell than Jacob deciding to use his resources to interfere with his unclaimed imprint's familial affairs.

Of course, as always, he'd have done whatever the fuck he felt like anyway. But with 'old age' he was just getting smarter about it.

A soft brush against his forearm snapped Jacob's head back in the game.

His gaze dropped to the two sets of little bare toes that were wiggling on his knee and he smiled. Sitting up, he scooted the bucket closer and drew Rennie's feet into his lap, looking up at the soft, lazy smile that curved her lips. Her eyes were still indolently closed, head resting against the wall, as she blithely continued playing.

Jacob's palm smoothed over the tendons that ran like reeds up her graceful feet, continuing over her dainty ankles. He inched her pants leg up as he continued up her shin. Her bow stuttered on the strings and sparkling eyes popped open.

Jacob smiled with pleasure.

Drawing in a deep breath as he repeated the soothing motions with the other leg as he spoke quietly: "So, those are kick-ass ideas, Ren. But you know me… we gotta make some kinda hard and fast plan."

Rennie's bow stopped and she lowered it slowly to her lap as her gaze dipped down to his languid caress of her feet. Her eyes darted back up to his as she set the violin down on the couch, cocking her head thoughtfully.

"Well, I was thinking of spending this year here. Maybe taking some pre-reqs at the community college in Port Ange so I could transfer to Washington State … sometime?" she shoved her lip through her teeth with a shrug. "I don't really care if all that happens this year or whatever…I'm in no rush."

Jacob nodded – close to home. He liked that. "So whattaya want this year to look like?" he coaxed. She was great at big-picture, but not so good with the details.

"Hmm," she pursed her lips as her gaze darted up to the ceiling. "Well… I want to spend a lot of time down here – with Pappy, the babies, the Pack…with you –" that little admission seemed to slip out on its own, and her eyes snapped down to his, disconcerted. "I-I mean if that's okay."

Oh, it was more than fucking okay.

Jacob yanked her pinky toe in reprimand and she squeaked, her insecurity being submerged by a glorious smile. "No bullshit, Rens. This is your home – you don't have to ask."

Rennie set her violin and bow down in their case and folded her hands over her stomach as she stretched her legs out farther in front of her. She stared up at the ceiling thoughtfully for a moment as her toes pressed into his stomach, absently wriggling.

Jacob subtly scooted her heel further onto his thigh and out of the danger zone. He was as hard as a fucking rock. As he had been since last night.

"I wanna do things my way," Rennie mused quietly to the ceiling. "I mean just me… I don't care about what anyone else does. I wanna do things like I did in London: make my own schedule, dress in the stuff I like, not have to go shopping, mic my violin and play rock or gypsy … maybe start a band," she murmured almost to herself with endearingly childlike simple dreams. She never asked for much, that girl.

A mosquito or something buzzed around her face and she batted it away as her eyes drifted back to Jacob's. "And I wanna see… um, people whenever I wanna…" she said quietly.

'People' was undeniably Jacob. His stomach did a flip.

"I mean when they wanna too," she amended, with a chagrinned flutter of lashes.

Jacob smiled. "I think they wanna see you whenever you got time to see them," he answered cryptically.

A slow smile curved her lips.

And then suddenly her brow furrowed. "And I don't wanna move back home!" she spat.

Jacob laughed. "That sounds like a plan, chica," he offered, grounding her but giving her the space to keep going. He could listen to her all day, as long as he got to rub his hands over her feet and legs. His Wolf was too engrossed in memorizing every single millimeter of skin to protest.

"But Jay," the stress in her voice had his instant attention. "I don't know what to do about Dad. He really fucks with my head," she paused and lifted a shoulder to her ear. "I mean not literally – I can keep him out if I keep up my defenses– but everything I think that he doesn't like… it's like he twists it all up. Like a pretzel."

Jacob nodded slowly. He knew just what she meant. "You just have to draw your line, honey. You've come up with your terms and you just gotta make them stick to them," he tore his hands away to count off on his fingers. That mind was so fast and complex, it always seemed to help when he condensed and summarized for her.

"One, you set your schedule. Two, you determine who you get to see and when. Three, you make whatever plans for your future that you want," Jacob's hands fell back to her legs with a shrug. "Simple. You're an adult. And if you're not at home, it might be easier," he added with a meaningful squeeze to her foot.

Rennie's head hit the wall as she pulled her lip into mouth thoughtfully.

"Can I move in with you?" she asked in no more than a breath, her eyes carefully fixed on some spot on the ceiling.

Oh fuck, yeah, Jacob wanted to say. But he knew better. She needed space and time to figure things out for herself – plus he didn't trust himself. Even with her only marginally recovered, he didn't even think she'd survive one night in his bed unscathed. That was the God's honest truth. And it was disgusting.

That, AND he wanted to avoid an actual full-scale war, if at all possible.

"How about with your Pappy?" Jacob offered quietly instead. "Kinda like a stepping stone: Charlie's barely ever there anymore, it's close to the Rez, and it'd make it easier on your mom and dad."

Rennie's head tipped down and considering eyes washed over him for a minute. "You think he'd mind?"

Jacob shook his head vigorously. "I think he'd love it." Actually, he knew it for a fact.

Charlie and him had a good relationship – even better after Jacob (as Alpha) had decided that he needed to know the full story of Wolves and vampires, of his daughter's strange behavior and his even more unusual granddaughter.

It hadn't been a popular decision, but Jacob didn't need to be popular. He just needed to be right. And Charlie had assured him that he was. Jacob had called Charlie last night to let him know Rennie was home, and the man hadn't been subtle in his petition that Jacob do "whatever he had to" to convince her to stay. He liked Edward just as much as Jacob did…which was in effect, a negative much that dipped into hate if not closely guarded.

"When're they coming back?" Rennie asked tentatively.

Jacob licked his lips, his hands stilling on her feet. "Um, tonight," he answered apologetically.

Her entire body jerked and stiffened like she'd stuck her finger in a socket.

Jacob soldiered on with feigned casualness, trying to calm her: "So I figure we meet over at your Pappy's? Neutral ground. You lay it down for them – they accept or I step in and take 'em to task - and then that's it." He didn't think going into the details of just how he was planning to 'take Edward to task' (and how much he was looking forward to it) would be very productive at this point.

Even still, Rennie's face flushed like she was being strangled as she pulled her feet from his lap.

"I need a drink," she gasped, standing and moving with uncharacteristic unnatural speed to the fridge. She had internalized human traits so deeply, she rarely ever reverted to her actual preternatural ability.

It surprised him. But luckily he could be just as fast. Jacob scrambled off the bucket and was beside her just as she had cracked it open.

"Wait," he whispered as his palm clamped firmly over the top of the door, holding it fast in his steel grip.

Rennie spun around on him with indignant fury in her eyes - her lips opened to deliver a complaint as scathing as that look -but he brought his other hand up to still her lip with a calm finger.

"Just hear me out, Ren," he petitioned evenly. "You can do whatever you want, but as your friend… I don't think it's such a good idea. You gotta be sharp for this meeting."

Rennie's moth closed and her gaze fell to the floor. "No, I need jus' one… I just gotta…I need it-" she stuttered over her denial, but let her hand fall from the door anyway.

Jacob closed the mini-fridge with a clunk. "Why?" he breathed.

Her eyes darted back up, anguished and liquid. "I -..I dunno… it's-" she mumbled miserably.

Jacob's hand came up under her chin and he tilted her head up more fully to him. "Why, Rennie?" he repeated softly – a simple question for things far more complex. And serious.

And she knew it.

Her eyes darted between his as her lip quivered with the effort of bearing the weight of repressed tears. And hopelessness.

When the agitation and turmoil just continued to rise in her frantic eyes, he answered for her. "It hurts, huh?" Jacob Black knew a lot about pain.

She swallowed thickly. "Yes," she answered in a tiny little voice.

"And you're scared," he continued, bending over so he was looking straight into her eyes. "And sometimes it seems easier to just try to hide from all the fucked up shit – all the stuff that sucks and is scary and hurts. But Rens, it never is," he shook his head slowly. "It's never easier. When you check out, you only come back to even more fuckup."

Rennie sucked in a hiccupping breath, and Jacob realized she was silently crying. Inside.

He paused for a moment, his gaze washing over her in concern as her nostrils quivered with the press of sorrow. Something deep within him wanted to comfort her, show her that things wouldn't always be this way. He needed to.

So he continued, drawing the words from his heart.

"And," Jacob whispered as he leaned closer, her eyes endearingly crossing with his proximity. "If you check out for the shitty stuff…" he could feel the heat of her skin surge over him only inches away, hear her heart sprint wildly in her chest.

"…then you miss the good stuff too," he murmured and pressed his lips right between her brows in a sweet and lingering kiss that he infused with all the love in his being.

He felt her sharp intake of breath in the hollow of his throat.

Lips hovering above her forehead, Jacob let his eyes flutter shut as he drew in a long slow breath of her scent and released it in a shaky sigh laced with a subtle purr. She smelled so, so fucking good: female, all ripened honey and mate and…

MINE.

Rennie didn't move a muscle.

He brushed his mouth over her skin like a whisper, his lower lip dragging over her silky brow, on his way to the side of her head and leaned into her hair, inhaling again, quiet, indulgent. Lost.

"Don't run, Rennie. Stay with me," he pushed the breathy appeal over his exhale by her ear and felt her shudder.

"We'll figure it out together. Promise," he murmured low, his words getting snagged in his throat on an inadvertent growl of craving.

His body was literally on fire – his forbearance was teetering on the perilous edge. This was a dangerous game he was playing: using this attraction as a distraction, a promise, a reason when she had none, while still capitulating to his reeling, resistant mind.

Clenching his eyes shut with the effort, he swallowed audibly and then straightened, letting his fingers fall from under her chin back to his side.

He shoved his hands in his jeans short's pockets - just to keep them from grabbing her up in his arms like he wanted to so very badly - as he lethargically blinked, feeling drunk.

Rennie was staring wordlessly up at him with a slack-jawed expression of utter bewilderment - guileless eyes heavy and unfocused from the heady allure of their chemistry. Jacob pressed his lips together uncomfortably, waiting for her reaction.

"Holy SHIT!"

Rennie literally jumped a foot off the ground as Jacob whipped around, his stomach taking a nose dive like he was a little boy who'd been caught being naughty.

Fucking Paul.

An dark growl ripped from Jacob's chest and stopped his Second's jaunty entrance dead in its tracks.

A moment of uneasy silence descended on the garage while Paul's gaze stayed locked guardedly with his Alpha's. Jacob struggled to rein in the unexpected territorial rage that sent his heart rate skyrocketing like he'd been injected with an equine dose of steroids.

Rennie broke the uncomfortable tension.

" 'Sup, Uncle Paul," she drawled, the soft hoarseness in her voice betraying her lingering disconcertion.

Paul's gaze snapped back to her, that sharp mind recovering instantly like he'd flipped a switch.

"Don't 'sup' me… " he laughed, spreading out his arms. "Get your ass over here!"

Rennie ran across the room, curls flying behind her, and launched herself into his arms like the little girl she used to be. And still was.

"Hoah!" he hugged her to him in a muscled bear hug, shaking her back and forth exuberantly, while his eyes snapped cannily over her head back to Jacob.

Jacob shook his head tersely in response to Paul's silent questions and then roughly rubbed his face with restoring palms. This was getting worse – this pull, this need, this craving

He needed to take his own advice and fucking tell her about the imprint – because even his mind couldn't ignore the cold hard fact that, in current configuration, if she stayed here – anywhere - he was NOT going to be able to keep playing this "friend" game. Not with her so delectably mature, so exquisitely receptive.

And certainly not with his Wolf so at the end of his fucking rope.

Even just watching his imprinted Second grasping Rennie's head between ebullient hands while he made some joking comment that had her laughing hysterically… a boiling and incensed territorial indignation slammed into him like a freight train.

MINE!

It fucking shocked Jacob something fierce and he whipped around simply to keep from charging across the room and ripping her out of Paul's clearly paternal arms. Jacob braced his hands on the counter as he let his head hang and he tried to measure his heaving breath.

It made intellectual sense: he was Alpha with the dominant and potent hormonal cocktail that went with it. The Wolf had waited eight years for his imprint and the man had forgone any kind of sex for two (more than that if he considered Leah and his occasional trysts more the mutual masturbation that they'd been). But he had to be able to navigate this with more delicacy.

He had to!

Slapping his palms on the counter, he rolled his shoulders and turned around.

Paul was ambling across the garage with a casual arm thrown around her shoulders, his eyes locked intensely on his Alpha while he was relating some story about his son, Caleb, to a giggling Rennie.

Jacob must not have done a good enough job of submerging his inner turmoil, because whatever expression was on his face, made his Second's arm drop to his side.

Paul's expression deftly brightened as he turned smoothly to Rennie's questioning eyes, instantly distracting her. "And when the thing tore by – lights flashing, siren going - Caleb screamed: 'Mommy! Fiowe fuck!' Rache nearly decked me right then and there."

Rennie dissolved into pealing giggles as Paul related the legendary story of the first time Caleb's lispy pronunciation of 'fire truck' came to light. That boy loved trucks… unfortunately he still couldn't pronounce the word correctly which created many an awkward and hilarious moment. Especially in context of his father's dubious linguistic infamy.

Luckily the sound of Rennie's laughter shot a dose of dopamine - or maybe crack - through Jacob's system, and his shoulders subtly relaxed as he leaned back against the refrigerator and expelled a slow breath.

Rennie was struggling to breathe through her laughter as Paul chuckled at her expense. His eyes covertly cut over to Jacob again, assessing.

Shit. This was going to suck.

The understated whine of a Prius pulling into the shop's yard had both Jacob and Paul turning expectantly. Paul crossed to the roll up door and punched the button. The steel groaned over the slam of car doors as it slowly raised.

"Who has a Prius?" Rennie's sarcasm bounced along over her residual chuckles as she turned to Jacob. That laughter had done wonders in diffusing her anxiety – Jacob sent up a little prayer of gratitude for his Second.

"I didn't think any of the Pack were that evolved," she snorted.

Jacob smirked. She'd always been quite the little environmentalist. "It's Josiah's … Leah's mate," he provided.

Rennie's expression instantly darkened with distaste.

Jacob blinked, surprised: she and Leah got along great. He watched curiously as she turned around to Sam – who'd apparently snagged a ride, Josiah must be helping Em with the kids – and Leah weaving around the cars in the yard with big-assed smiles.

"Damn girl!" Sam exclaimed. "You're a bona fide lady, now huh?" He jogged the rest of the way and scooped her up into a big hug.

Rennie wrapped her arms around his waist. "Hey, Sam," she sighed happily into his chest.

"Lemme look at you," Sam pulled back, holding her shoulders. "Shit! You look great chicklet. We missed you crazy-like." He leaned in and pressed his lips to her temple as he tucked her under a muscled arm turning her toward a beaming Leah.

Jacob growled low, crossing his vibrating arms over his chest. He scowled petulantly at the warning look Paul shot his way.

"Hey sweetie," Leah grinned.

"Hi, Leah," Rennie mumbled, making no move to step out of Sam's embrace.

The uncharacteristic tepid greeting stopped Leah cold. Her grin seamlessly mutated into a smirk as she raised a shrewd brow. "Well, don't overdo the enthusiasm, chica," she jeered snidely as her gaze flitted briefly up to Jacob.

Jacob's brow furrowed in confusion.

"C'mon," she groused humorously, holding out her arms.

With a sigh, Rennie stepped out of Sam's arms and hesitantly into Leah's.

"That's better," Leah sighed, hugging her tightly while she pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "Now what's wrong, huh?" She pulled back and looked down into Rennie's eyes, leaving her arms wrapped around the girl.

"Nothing, sorry…" Rennie mumbled.

Leah squinted with theatrical suspicion. "Don't bullshit me," she warned with her usual audacity.

"Nothing," Rennie repeated glumly. "Congratulations."

Jacob could hear the eye roll in Rennie's tone.

"Ahh," Leah's lips lifted on side in a sly smirk as her eyes darted over to Jacob knowingly. "You think I hurt your Jakey-poo, huh?" her gaze again found Rennie's

Rennie drew in an irritable breath as she shifted her weight to one hip.

Leah chuckled at her expense. "And that dork hasn't set you straight?" she taunted as she grabbed her jaw and shook it affectionately. "Well …let me lay it down for you, girl. Woman to woman," she turned them both toward the couch, draping an arm around her as she leaned in conspiratorially, aiming a wink over her shoulder at Jacob. "He broke up with me two years ago – all friendly like an' everything like the little goodie-two-shoes he is."

Leah threw herself down on the couch and looked up at Rennie as she stretched her arms over the back. "Jake never was my man, honey. And believe me some day you're gonna thank me all kinds a ways for that."

Rennie stared down at her for several seconds – Jacob wished he could see her eyes.

"Huh?" Rennie's hands came up to her hips in a gesture that had survived from her saucy childhood. It made Jacob smile. "When?" she challenged, showcasing an endearingly intact glimmer of that same naiveté.

Leah's lips tried to suppress her amusement. "When he's all happily ever after with his mate," she answered wryly as her smiling eyes flitted briefly to Jacob. "Now, c'mon," she patted the cushion next to her. "Tell me what you' been doing with yourself."

Rennie turned and cast a glance behind her, meeting Jacob's gaze as if checking on the validity of Leah's assertions. Jacob gave her a commiserating eye roll and her lips cracked in a breathtaking smile.

His Wolf stood down subtly for the first time since Paul had arrived: a female was safe for his mate. Jacob was still watching her sit beside his Third with a sappy smile playing at his lips when Sam called to him.

"Jay?"

He blinked and his gaze found Sam and his Second standing in a furtive huddle. His eyes darted up to the ceiling in annoyance as he pushed off the fridge.

"Why don't you take Paul outside and tell him how you wanna play this thing," Sam suggested in a low voice. "Let him run the meeting?"

Jacob scowled. "What?"

"C'mon, Chief," Paul jerked his chin toward the back door meaningfully and then started for it himself without another word.

Jacob huffed but followed as Sam strode over to the two on the couch. "Wait, this ain't girl talk right?" he chuckled as he pulled up the bucket and plopped his ass down. " 'Cause I want in on this too."

"Sammy, you're an honorary pussy anyway," Leah cooed tauntingly.

"Oo!" Sam clutched his chest. "Like a knife, Lee."

Rennie giggled, tucking her feet under her as she leaned back against Leah's arm - looking very much at ease. Like she was home.

It made Jacob ridiculously happy.

Jacob laughed softly to himself as he followed after his Second out into the small yard. Paul was standing back by the side of the house – obviously just out of preternatural hearing distance. The realization irked him for some reason and his face darkened with annoyance. He was grateful for his team, but he wasn't in the mood for their benevolent meddling just at this minute.

"What the fuck?" Jacob grumbled peevishly. "Why you wanna run it, P?" he asked as he stalked up to where Paul was leaning against the house, eyeing him with that annoying-as-shit appraisal.

Paul shrugged and stood up straight. "So, Rennie's a hot an' sexy lil' thing now-"

The words had barely crested his lips when fury tore through Jacob's veins like a firebolt sending his fist snapping through the air in a lightning punch to the man's face. But Paul seemed to anticipate it with a quick, efficient block-and-duck.

His evasion incensed Jacob's Wolf and the quick left-hook follow-up caught his Second's jaw, snapping his face back with the sickening crack of bone.

"FUCK!" Paul spat, as he remained cowered over, kowtowing instinctively to his Alpha's wrath enough for Jacob to rein in the Wolf.

A low growl grated his innards as Jacob doubled over, fighting with the instinct to finish the job. The lupine compulsion to simply eliminate the competition – especially as dominant as Paul – was a viscous, burning impulse that clung like Napalm. And it was frightening.

Terrifying, actually.

MINE! the voice roared, making Jacob feel like his skull was vibrating with the edict.

"Nice one," Paul hissed venomously as he spat out a molar into his palm.

Jacob braced himself over on his thighs, panting as his Wolf continued to rail in territorial rage.

"This is why, muthafucker," Paul growled low and then spat blood as he fingered the tooth . Scowling at Jacob, he opened his mouth to press the molar back into its space.

Jacob closed his eyes as he forced his breath through his nose.

Shit. Holy shit!

"Sorry," Jacob gasped ruefully.

"Ah-ah-ah," Paul replied what sounded like an open-mouthed 'it's okay' as he continued to hold the tooth in place while it reset.

A humorless laugh burst from Jacob's lips as he straightened, shoving his hands through his hair as he shook his head in disbelief. "What the fuck!" he asked the sky.

Paul pulled his hand out of his mouth with a smack of lips. He tentatively tested the tooth with a tongue before he rubbed his jaw gingerly.

"Shit, that was awesome though, Chief," Paul muttered appreciatively with a sly smirk. "You're gettin'better…"

Jacob rolled his eyes.

"So yeah," Paul leaned back against the house, still fingering his jaw. "Half the Pack ain't im-" he choked on the word as his gaze darted instinctively to the garage. Apparently the Order was still working just fine. "Well, y'know… mated. And we got two genuine teens. More if you count maturity," he snorted sarcastically. "And she's beautiful."

Jacob's gaze snapped back to Paul with a low snarl.

"She is, Jake," his eyes were utterly sincere.

The brotherly pride and affection that sparkled in his eyes diffused his Wolf's resentment. A little.

"And when they react like any normal, unmated male," Paul paused, his eyes going intense. "You're gonna wanna kill 'em if you aren't on your game. You got it bad, Chief."

Jacob's hands slapped to his face and rubbed roughly. Paul (and Sam) were abso-fuckin-lutely correct. He hadn't been prepared for the sheer… strength of this thing.

"Sammy thinks you should sideline it … beside her," Paul continued quietly. "It'll make it better."

"This is-… it's just…" Jacob mumbled into his palms. "How the fuck did you do it, Paul?"

Paul barked a laugh. "I'm sure you don't wanna know the details, bro," he snickered. "I had your sis in my bed that same night. That's how I did it."

Jacob let his hands drop to his sides as he vacillated between commiseration and wanting to punch him again.

"Think about it… the longest anyone's gone after they imprinted – other than Quil, and I really don't wanna see how that's gonna play out after seeing your shit," he quipped with a melodramatic grimace.

Jacob laughed humorlessly. "Fuck, no."

Paul's face melted to serious. "The longest is Sammy," he murmured softly, leaving the inference dangling poignantly in the wind.

Sam had resisted the imprint only two weeks (13 days to be exact) before … well Emily's face used to speak to the rest of that sad tale. Paying for her surgery was the one thing the Cullen's had done right, as far as Jacob was concerned. Other than giving him Rennie.

Jacob drew in a deep breath and released in a slow capitulating sigh. This imprint shit was so fucked up.

"When're you gonna tell her, Jay?" Paul asked quietly.

Jacob's eyes fluttered closed as he collapsed back against the clapboard cottage. He hit his head against the wood thoughtfully. Several times.

"Christ! She just a kid!" he complained. "She's not ready…"

"Who're you to say?" Paul murmured.

Jacob's eyes popped open.

"She doesn't look like a kid," Paul asserted.

Jacob flashed his canines in warning.

Paul continued fearlessly on. "And, correct me if I'm wrong…but aren't we gonna step up to bat against the bloodsucking-Sullens on the point of her being a big-girl now? An adult? A woman?"

Jacob's eyes darted between his Second's steady, even gaze. He blew a harsh breath of defeat from his cheeks. "Fuck."

Paul grinned triumphantly.

"I'll tell her after this meeting tonight," Jacob grumbled.

Paul groaned in frustration. "Why not now?"

Jacob slapped the house hotly and then pushed off of it pacing a few steps out in the grass. He spun back around.

"Because she's gonna be pissed," Jacob growled. "She almost killed a guy. She's scared. She's fucking teetering on addiction. She's already confused enough….and now she's gotta meet with her mind-fuck family! She's got enough goddamn drama right now without that!"

Jacob's gaze darted back to the garage as he realized he'd ended his passionate soliloquy in a near yell. When Rennie didn't charge out after him with murder in her eyes, he turned back to Paul.

Paul's lips were hitched up in his signature smirk. "Right…" he agreed sarcastically. "What's the real reason, Chief?"

Jacob frowned, taking a reflexive step back.

He blinked.

He swallowed.

His shoulders fell.

Shit.

"What do you think! ?" he bit back tartly as it all suddenly dawned on him like a sunny day in December.

"I got my ideas," Paul raised his brow shrewdly. "But I wanna hear you say it."

Jacob licked his lips as a cold sweat broke out on his forehead at the mere thought of the possibility. The thing he really feared, if he was honest about it: it might not be reasonable or rational - fears rarely were. Shit, even his Second had figured it out.

His mouth was suddenly dry and sticky like it was coated in oatmeal.

" 'Cause she could refuse me," he rasped as his hands came up to rub his face briskly.

"Just like her mother," he breathed.

'

'

Feedback makes me really happy. And when I'm happy I write more. Ahm jus' sayin'.

Chapter 10: Lesson 10 Don't Procrastinate

'

I don't know if Domo is popular character where you are. It's a brown fluffy Japanese anime thingy with big teeth that's cool with the kids here. Google it – it's a great mental image.

Words of the day:

Busk: to entertain by dancing, singing, or reciting on the street or in a public place.

Sough: a sighing, rustling, or murmuring sound.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

'

Lesson 10 – Don't Procrastinate

'

A soft jingling from the bedroom made Jacob sit up a little straighter– his eyes glued to the hallway with barely tempered anticipation.

He ignored Paul's chuckles at his expense where he was lounging cross-legged in the center of the small kitchen table, his forearms resting on his knees.

"Jesus," Leah hissed disparagingly beside him on the small sofa in the main room of Jacob's cottage. "You're like some fuckin' mutt tied outside the grocery store!"

"C'mon Lee," Sam reprimanded over a chuckle where he sprawled in the second-hand easy chair - kitty corner - feet propped on the coffee table. "Cut 'em some slack."

"Yeah," Leah capitulated with a theatrical sigh. "I guess I owe him one for not gutting my bro..."

"That shit was hi-fuckin'-larious," Paul snickered. "What the hell did you say to 'em Sam? Looked like the boys took bitch-hug lessons from Rache's LA Housewives show." He made loud smooching noises as he mimed a pretentious air-kiss. "Or maybe it was just their lover-boy Alpha growling in the corner like a fuckin' Domo doll," he snorted.

With an irritable snarl, Jacob jettisoned to his feet with a flash of canines.

"Oo, scary," Paul drawled.

"Watch it, P. Don't mess with The Dentist..." Leah warned melodramatically.

Paul barked a laugh as he fell back, bracing his hands behind him: a movement that effectively both broke eye contact and bared his belly and neck. Sneaky fuck.

Jacob's Wolf immediately settled at the subtle –but undeniable – gesture of submission.

Jacob closed his eyes and expelled a harsh resetting breath. He took two steps and slowly sat back on the two-seater couch. He knew they were just keyed up in response to the imminent show-down – which unfortunately meant pushing Jacob's envelope every last chance they got. Normally it wouldn't be an issue; Jacob was infamously even-keeled and they always knew when to stop.

But things were anything but normal.

The Pack meeting had gone as well as could be expected. As Paul had so aptly pointed out, all the young Wolves had taken Sam's phone-in heads-up to heart (and Jacob's non-stop murderous stares) and had done a good enough job at keeping a deferential (and painfully obvious) bubble around his imprint to allow him to fucking think.

Of course, it had only left Rennie unsettled and confused – she must have smoked half a pack over the course of one hour. But she done so pressed against Jacob's side, and enduring the nasty smoke had been worth every second of those nervous little hands twisting absently in his tee shirt. She'd kept an unconscious hand on him throughout the entire afternoon and it made Jacob's Wolf ecstatic. And that was probably the only thing that saved Seth's (and Alex, Toby and Brady's) life. Jacob had been seriously close to ramming those starry-eyed slack-jaws shut with his fist.

So no, Jacob hadn't beaten the shit out of any of them. Yet.

Leah'd taken Rennie to Cody's general store to pick up a few personal affects as the day wore on, so the Pack could discuss things like how they'd hit it if the Cullens decided to play hard ball. But Jacob wasn't stupid. He expected this battle was going to be a hell of a lot more subtle – and less satisfying – than a physical confrontation.

Jacob's attention snapped back into focus like a rubber band at the sound of the bedroom door opening. .

"Lee? 'You seen that brush…" Rennie called as jingling footsteps sounded down the small hall.

"Y'left it out here," Leah answered, leaning forward and pulling said implement off the coffee table.

Rennie stopped in the doorway and blinked at the four in the room as a tentative smile curved her lips. "Does this look okay?" she asked.

Oh, it looked more than okay, Jacob thought as he slowly leaned back on the couch.

This was nothing like the designer dress-up Rennie of the Cullen's creation. Or the cute little tomboy of her adolescence. She was wore a gauzy peasant blouse who's scooped neckline showcased her delicate collar bones and hugged delectably under the curve of her breasts, hanging loose over the tantalizing silhouette of her slim waist. The sheer layered skirt that flowed gracefully down to mid calf was complimented by low beaded sandals and a silver anklet of tiny bells. The ethnic earth-tones of the skirt and stitching brought out the red of her long, loose strawberry curls and the soft blush of porcelain cheeks. Wearing nothing but a dusting of copper shadow, eyeliner and lip gloss her natural beauty and supple, willowy figure was served up to sensual feminine perfection. It was like she'd successfully turned herself inside out and painted her image in the ethereal organic sweetness of her soul.

She was stunning: she exuded a warm, delicate and guileless femininity that simply begged to be ravished.

"You look awesome," Leah interjected softly. Since the men were currently lost in the staring department.

Rennie's gaze darted uncertainly to Jacob.

He closed his slack mouth and nodded with a smile. "Beautiful," was all he could manage.

Leah deftly flipped the brush up in the air a few times. "C'mere, chica," she beckoned as she pushed the coffee table out with her feet and patted her thighs. When Rennie was a child, Leah often would brush her hair – it was kind of a girly ritual that they both enjoyed.

That seemed to somehow jumpstart the other two, and Sam lunged forward and moved the little table out of the way while Paul sat up straighter on his perch.

Like water, Rennie seemed to glide across the floor, the tiny bells jingling at her light step and the flowing skirt accentuating the smooth sultry sway of her hips. With each mercurial stride, the fabric tortuously hinted at her slender curves and long, lithe limbs. Jacob gripped the sofa's armrest as she neared and her unsullied and delectable scent washed over him like jasmine and green tea.

Mate. Mine, the Wolf purred, utterly captivated.

Rennie held Leah's gaze as her chin tucked self-consciously under the intense weight of his stare and Jacob blinked in chagrin. Swallowing thickly he ripped his eyes away only to catch Paul's infuriating smirk. The knowing wink he tossed in for good measure pulled a warning, rumbling growl from Jacob's chest.

Rennie's face whipped up to him in confusion as she folded nimbly to the floor in front of Leah like a throw of silk.

"Paul's just messin' with him," Leah chuckled smoothly as she gathered up Rennie's heavy damp hair in her hands. She'd just taken another shower that had washed off the remnants of the afternoon's smoke.

"Everyone seems so tense," Rennie observed quietly as she craned around to look at Leah with a furrowed brow, obviously searching for the comfort that Jacob hadn't been able to offer her all day. He'd been too busy alternately glaring or staring.

"Y'know sweetie?" Leah's hands fell to her shoulders, squeezing them sweetly. "These ole' Wolves are the PMS-iest bunch a dicks I ever seen. 'Really just a Pack a bitchy lil' girls."

Jacob's lips lifted from a snarl in a fabulous illustration of her point.

Leah ignored him. "We're glad to have you home, honey," she murmured with an affectionate pinch to the girl's chin. "For real. They jus' don't know how ta act 'cause you went an' growed up into such a cutie pie," Leah leered with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle.

Rennie rolled her eyes, with a snort as she turned back around to hide the blush that raced to her cheeks.

Leah gave Jacob an exaggerated grin and turned her attention to Rennie's curls. Once again, his Third had successfully diffused Rennie's anxiety by addressing it directly. Jacob was a lucky sonofabitch to have his Pack, because he himself was failing miserably on all fronts.

Because of fear.

Terror, really.

In contrast to the Wolf and his unshakable confidence, the man was terrified like the wuss it seemed he was. He could lead nine Wolves of various ages and temperaments (including Paul), negotiate a council of crotchety old men, keep the peace and secrets of an entire tribe, go toe to toe with any vampire who wanted a go of it… but Jacob had no fucking clue how to navigate his own heart.

Eight years of waiting – of pining, yearning, craving - it had all culminated in this. And between this looming meeting, his fears, and simply what a total simpering mess he was reduced to in her mere presence, he just hadn't been able to broach the subject of imprinting.

But he wasn't stupid. The longer he waited, the more ammunition he gave her dickhead father.

Edward had always simply tolerated him. Were it not for Bella, he'd have killed Jacob years ago. Or tried to (back in the day he just might had succeeded, but now was a different fucking story). Eddie had seemed happy enough to leave his daughter in his care when she was a child – Jacob was the perfect 'nanny' (like the dog in Peter Pan, he had joked once – Jacob hadn't laughed). But as soon as she got older and the lines had started to blur, the cracks in the thin veneer of tolerance began to reveal his innate loathing and fermented contempt. On more charitable days, Jacob understood that as his natural enemy and former competitor for his own wife, Jacob was not exactly the kind of guy Edward would ecstatically embrace as his son-in-law. But all that fucking bullshit was irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Because Rennie was his. Pure and simple.

"I like this gypsy-vibe you got goin'," Sam commented as he sat back in his chair, picking up the pieces that Jacob was simply restlessly rearranging over and over in an endless reeling mess.

"Yeah when I got to London, the Travelers kinda took me under their wing," Rennie laughed quietly, pulling her knees to her chin and her skirt over her shins. "There's a lot of style in London, but I like theirs the best."

"Travelers?" Paul asked curiously from the table.

"Gypsies, in point of fact," Rennie nodded. "When I got to London, I wanted to do stuff on my own so I didn't hack the 'rents account like I coulda," her lips lifted in a private smile. "I busked in the Underground for change – it's actually a pretty good gig - and that first day I met Leila," she glanced over to Jacob as if she wondered what he thought about all that.

Jacob's body had gone utterly still, his Wolf snapping to rapt attention. They didn't like hearing that she'd been hanging around dark subway stations alone.

"She took me back to her place in the East End-"

"Wait," Leah stilled the brush in her hair. "Isn't that, like, a slum? It's kinda rough, right?"

Rennie's shoulders subtly hunched. "Well, yeah. But I wanted to see real life… not some stuck-up glossed-over Hollywood version."

Jacob's hand curled into fists on his thigh as an inadvertent protective shudder rippled down his body.

Leah's eyes cut over to him. "Hey, Jay…Switch with me."

Jacob blinked like an idiot at the plastic brush she offered.

Rennie looked over her shoulder and captured his gaze, holding it wordlessly for several heartbeats. Hopefully, he realized. It made his pulse stutter.

Eyes locked with hers, his trembling hand reached out and took the brush in acquiescence. Rennie's gaze dropped uncharacteristically as her lips flirted with a shy smile he'd never seen on her face before. Something about it made his stomach flip.

Leah was just starting to haul herself off the couch when Rennie scooted agilely across the floor in front of Jacob's legs. Head tucked, she settled back against his knees, her hands gathering in her lap and twisting in her blouse nervously.

Like a pin, her touch deflated all the anxiety and adrenaline that ballooned his soul with a slow hissing sigh through his teeth. He couldn't suppress his Wolf's purr that percolated in his chest as a palm reached out to smooth over the rippling curls of her silken hair.

To the enigmatic lupine instinct, there was something profoundly symbolic about her moving to sit at his feet – especially in the lovely instinctually submissive way she had done it. He wondered if something inside her understood it as well. Jacob realized she had communicated to his Wolf – and the others in the room – that she belonged to him. Not the Pack. Him.

Mine, the voice relished.

Fuck yeah, the man agreed.

It was barbaric and Neanderthal perhaps… but Jacob found himself caring less and less.

A burning heat ignited in Jacob's gut as his fingers reached out and ghosted over the flowing copper curls. Setting the brush on his thigh, both hands dove into her thick hair, smoothing it off her cheek, picking it up off the nape of her neck, dragging the lengths like spun sunrise into his lap.

He leaned down and took an audible, indulgent inhale and his pleasure leaked out in a throaty susurration. Like the Wolves, with her sensitive sense of smell, Rennie had always preferred unscented soaps and washes.. and he was so very glad.

Shit, she smelled so good.

The warmth of her scalp rose against his palms as his hands continued their caressing ministrations through the locks, stoking a delectable burning ache in his belly.

Sam cleared his throat. "So tell us about these gypsies, Ren," his deep resonant voice brought Jacob back from the crumbling precipice of insanity. He didn't know whether it had been seconds or minutes or days.

Jacob squeezed his eyes shut with a little shake of his head as he straightened and picked up the brush.

He heard Rennie's gulping swallow; Jacob wished he could see her face

"Well, I guess there's lots to tell, but the cliff notes version is Leila and I shared a little flat in Council housing," Rennie's voice began, sounding thin and shaky.

"That's like the Projects in Portland?" Leah ventured.

"Yeah, low-income apartments," Rennie provided.

Jacob began drawing the brush with a tentative gentleness through the tousled curls, the bristles barely skating over the surface.

"You can press harder than that," Rennie giggled leaning more into Jacob's knees. He spread his legs, letting her settle back against the couch as his calves hugged each of her sides.

"Boys," Leah commiserated with a little playful slap to Jacob's thigh.

Rennie giggled again and it was like crack, making his own lips curve instantaneously. He set the brush at the crown of her head and carefully pushed the bristles into the curls, drawing it with exaggerated slowness down the lengths that lay over his lap and watching in wonder as they corrugated in cohesive waves behind his brush. Oh, why the hell hadn't he done this several years sooner?

"So she was part of a big Traveler family- gypsies – and I started out playing gypsy rock with 'em," Rennie began relaxing against him, her head tilting back indolently against his knee to give him better access as he meticulously pulled the bristles through her hair.

"They were big-into partying so eventually I was playing clubs, raves, anything really. All kinds a music. I got to see a lot of cool stuff," she sounded happy as she spoke to the ceiling.

Jacob could see that her eyes had fluttered closed and an expression of contentment had descended over her face. He leaned over and pressed his lips to her hairline and her eyes popped open with a smile. "That feels good, Jay," she sighed.

"A close up of the low-life and gutter, huh?" Sam chuckled derisively, quickly drawing her attention back to the conversation.

Rennie's head snapped up and turned to him, causing Jacob to throw all kinds of curses toward his former Second.

"Yeah, lots of booze, hookers, gangs… other stuff. Some of it was scary and a lot of it was pretty heart-breaking," Rennie conceded with a subtle defensive edge to his inference. "But a lot was pretty beautiful too. Everyone did the best they could with what they got. And a lot a people don't get much."

Sam's lips peeled back from a toothy smile and Jacob realized he was testing her a little – pulling out her true inner reaction like he did so well. A little too well Jacob had thought on many occasions.

Rennie realized it to. She huffed and turned more to him, crossing her arms over Jacob's huge thigh and resting her chin on her hands as she stared thoughtfully after him. "It was good… I mean, there were so many different kinds of people. And the best was that lots did drugs that kept 'em up all night so I wasn't alone. And didn't hafta sleep. When they crashed during the day I could explore."

"You didn't sleep?" Leah asked, fluently tugging the conversation past the drug-using part – Jacob realized his hand had frozen in her hair.

Rennie shook her head.

"Why?" Leah asked.

Rennie's lips pursed as she pillowed her cheek on her hands. "Well then I dream," she whispered quietly. "Of home. And that was just too hard."

Jacob's heart simply stopped. Along with everything else.

"Well good thing you don't have to dream about it anymore," Leah smiled, reaching out and stroking a sweet finger over her cheek.

"Yeah," Rennie breathed out in a sigh as one of her hands slid down over Jacob's knee, smoothing down over his shin to wrap around his calf, and causing his entire body to erupt in chill bumps. "I'm glad to be home," she whispered.

Jacob's heart restarted in a sprint as his palm slipped up of its own accord to rest over her shoulder blades.

Leah's gaze flitted up to his with a soft, sentimental smile. He realized, in that brief reflective instant of seeing them through her eyes, that Rennie was curled around him both like a lover and child. Her cheek resting on her hand on his thigh, cherishing fingers curled around his calf, his big hand splayed possessively across her back: it was a poignant physical metaphor for the subtle shifts in their relationship.

"We gotta jet in a few," Paul's bass – even as apologetic as it sounded – sent a palpable jolt of anxiety through Rennie's body. Her head jerked up and turned to him as she pulled instantly out of Jacob's embrace.

"Shh," Jacob soothed, dropping the brush and bending over his thighs. "Honey, you got this," he murmured, instantly snapping out of his own indulgent haze to focus on her need.

Rennie turned around with a fearful pucker between her brows. Jacob rested his elbows on his thighs and ghosted his fingers over her cheekbone tenderly. "You do, Ren. You lived in London on your own - without any help. You're an adult. You just gotta remember that – no matter what they say."

"We all know you're a kick-ass mo'fo Rens," Paul added as he sprang lightly to the floor.

Rennie whipped back around and Paul gave her his signature smirk, complete with a little eyebrow wiggle.

Jacob turned her face back around with a finger to her chin. "Your Pack knows who you are," he said simply, pausing and letting those words sink into her insecurity. Rennie's eyes darted between his for several heartbeats. "We're gonna be right beside you. Paul and I are coming with and the rest of the Pack's gonna be waitin' in the wings."

Rennie blinked, her gaze darting over to Leah who was preparing to stand from the couch. "Not Lee?" she asked quietly.

"I gotta keep the mutts in line," Leah snorted.

Jacob again turned her face back to him. "And Paul and I have the best mental control which is an advantage with your father's …"

"Advantage," she completed for him. She nodded slowly, closing her eyes as she licked her lips.

"We're gonna get going," Leah stood smoothly meeting Jacob's gaze.

He nodded.

"Call me when you guys are done," Sam said –albeit needlessly - as he stood with her. Sam was one of the first people Jacob called. Always.

"I'll be at the car," Paul murmured as he pushed open the screen, holding it while Sam and Leah filed out ahead of him. "Hurry up – we gotta get there first."

Jacob lifted his chin in subtle assent and then returned his gaze to Rennie. Her eyes were still closed, as she obviously tried to measure her breath against the frantic beat of her heart.

"Hey, c'mere," Jacob whispered, his fingers tugging at a lock of her hair in petition.

Rennie's eyes popped open and she immediately went up on her knees, falling into his offered embrace. Jacob wrapped his arms around her tightly as she settled her cheek against his shoulder. Her small hands slipped under his arms to snake around over his shoulders.

"It's just your mom and dad, Ren," Jacob breathed into her hair – trying his hardest not to be submerged in the heady undertow of her scent… in the way her small body felt clasped in his arms… the soft press of her breasts against his chest. Oh, God.

His hands slipped around to her shoulders and he pushed her back into the safety zone, looking into her eyes. "And you know what? I'll bet they surprise you and agree to everything without a hitch. In fact, I' been doing a little more poker playing and I bet you ten bucks," he wagered melodramatically.

Rennie's anxiety cracked and fell in shards away from her smile. "You suck at poker," she chided.

Jacob shrugged, catching her smile. "I'm gonna win this bet, though. They're gonna want you to stay – they're gonna be scared you're gonna bolt again so they'll agree to anything tonight," he continued confidently. Sam and Paul were the strategists and Jacob certainly hadn't had the wherewithal in this place in time to play this thing forward, but he agreed with their assessment. "So use it to your advantage… they won't start getting sneaky 'til later."

Rennie's brow dipped as she considered his words. She gave him a sober little nod.

Jacob smiled reassuringly and an impulsive hand came up to cup her cheek. His entire body melted at the soft, hitching sigh that slipped over her lips like velvet as she turned into his touch. Entranced, his other hand brushed back her curls from her cheek. She was so fucking beautiful.

She nuzzled into his dwarfing palm as a small smile of pleasure curved her lips and her eyelids fluttered indolently. "You feel goood, Uncle Jay," she whispered languorously.

Jacob's heart skipped a beat as he leaned in close to her ear. "I'm not your uncle," he whispered.

Her eyes popped open, as he pulled back away a few inches.

"Technically," she agreed slowly.

She picked her cheek up out of his hand and he felt her cool soft hands creep hesitantly up his chest.

Jacob's body both froze and ignited as her fingertips ghosted over the line of his jaw, her eyes following the movement with a little serious pucker between her brows. His breath snagged in his chest as she reached up traced her thumb over his cheek, fingers dancing over his brow then down the bridge of his nose.

"It feels different," she mused, like a thought had escaped over her lips in a breath.

Jacob cleared his throat softly. "It does," he whispered like the tattered edge of a well-worn blanket.

Her gaze snapped to his eyes as her fingers froze in place just at the side of one nostril. "You too?" she gasped as her bottomless eyes bored intensely into his.

Rennie's hands dropped down to rest against his chest.

Jacob returned her gaze, flaying himself open to his soul. He nodded once.

She blinked rapidly several times, her dark lashes fluttering against her cheek like a butterfly's wing.

Jacob licked his lip, his breath shallow in his chest. "I need to talk to you about it," he whispered.

Rennie gulped audibly. "About what?" she asked, her words no more than sough across quivering lips.

Her eyes had gone wide, her pupils yawning with guileless seduction. Her ingenuousness was like drug: it leached into his veins like a mesmerizing narcotic. She was open, trusting , real…

Mine.

Jacob's heart was bruising his ribs as his hand slipped slowly around to the nape of her neck.

Her eyes darted in bewilderment over his face, looking for clues to his intentions as her breath fluttered light and rapid in her breast like a hummingbird.

"Yeah… we gotta talk about this…" he heard himself whisper.

Oh, God. He really shouldn't.

He shouldn't….

He had to.

"About this, Rens," he intoned in no more of a breath as his fingers gently feathered into the hair at the back of her head and pulled her closer. His other hand slipped up under her jaw tipping it up, his thumb resting in the hollow of her throat.

Rennie drew in a short sharp breath through her nose and he could feel her pulse charging under his fingertips, an echo of his own racing heart.

"This…" he sucked the word through his teeth as he brushed his mouth over the full sumptuous curve of her lower lip. She sighed into his mouth as he dusted satin over apricot, back and forth, soft and light - just the moist glossiness of her lipstick tugging at his skin. With a gasp, his lips settled just at the corner of her mouth, pressing a gentle kiss infused with all the tenderness of his being.

Tingling starbursts bloomed behind his eyes, as his body strained against the frantic, tenuous leash of his mind and he pulled back slowly, the subtle cling of his skin in desperate petition for more. With a soft grunt, he jerked himself away, releasing her as he fell back against the couch, panting with the effort.

His entire body was thrumming like a million watts of electricity were crackling through his body, searching for grounding in more of that delectable touch. His Wolf railed against his restraint even while Jacob's mind tumbled like sneakers in the dryer:

He'd kissed her.

On the lips – well, the corner.

An undeniably romantic kiss.

Rashly, with no warning to either of them, he'd irreparably crossed the line.

Of fantasy and dream… of guardian… of friend…

Jacob had kissed Rennie.

Oh, God.

Cracking an eye open he looked down to see her frozen – eyes closed and face expressionless in flagrant contrast to her heaving breath.

Eyes widening in concern, he sat back up, his trembling hand smoothing over the crown of her head.

"Shit.. I'm sorry," he croaked as his heart constricted like a fist was squishing it like a lump of raw steak. "I-…I jus'.." words couldn't squeeze through the constriction of his throat.

He couldn't take it back, either.

Rennie's hand came blindly up to grip his knees as she lowered herself to her heels and her eyes blinked slowly open. Her dilated pupils instantly contracted as she focused on him.

Delicate fingers came up to flutter over her mouth with no less than awe. "Oh, Jay, that felt so good." The words effervesced from her lips as if he hadn't spoken.

Jacob blinked. Like the moron he was: there was no way in hell he wanted to take that back.

"Jeez, I don't give a shit about this meeting now," she murmured, the words bouncing along over a breathy laugh as her face lit up with a resplendent smile like the dawn of the last day.

Jacob's lips curved automatically as he leaned back over, resting his forearms on his thighs as his suffocating panic tentatively started to unwind. But as bright, astonished eyes washed over him with patent wonder, Jacob felt the cold hard knot of anxiety melt into a seeping sweetness like heated honey.

"Wh-what does it mean?" she asked with an endearingly earnest cock of her head that made her wild curls dance to the side.

She paused. "Other than you're not my uncle," she murmured wryly out of the side of her mouth.

Jacob sniffed a laugh and she giggled nervously.

His own amusement slowly slipped from his lips as his brow dipped with sincerity. "You'll have to tell me, Rennie," Jacob whispered.

Rennie's smile melted from her lips and her eyes darted between his for several breaths as confusion began to roll like fog over her face. "I-…I-…"

BEEP!

The sound of a car horn shattered the suffocating intensity like glass on concrete. They both jumped back from one another.

"Fuck!" Venomous frustration burst from his lips as Jacob met her wide, rattled eyes with his own.

"We gotta go!" Paul's admonishment from the front of the shop echoed as loud of thunder in their preternatural ears.

Jacob swallowed thickly, leaning back against the couch, his hands curling into annoyed fists against his thighs as he watched Rennie blink up at him with a distinctly disconcerted expression.

"Um," she choked, shakily pulling her feet under her to stand. She tucked her chin and a painful blush rose to make her cheeks look splotchy. "Can I have my brush?" she rasped not looking at him as a finger nervously twisted the end of one of her locks.

Jacob fumbled it off the couch beside him and held it out in numb fingers, his mind reeling. Her gaze snapping to his hand, she took it and then turned on her heel without another word.

Jacob watched her hasten back down the hallway and heard the sound of the bathroom door close with a resounding thump.

Silence.

Shit.

He couldn't take it back... he wished he could take it back...no fucking way he wanted to take that back... she seemed to like it... he should have talked to her not kissed her ...he just couldn't help himself... or maybe..?

"Ugh," he groaned as he fell forward, fisting his hands in his short hair as his mind swung back and forth like a pendulum on speed.

He felt sick to his stomach.

BEEP! BEEP!

"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Jacob boomed, lunging to his feet as he glared snarling daggers through screen door, through the garage in front of the house, through Paul's 2009 Honda CR-V's windshield and straight into his motherfuckin' impatient ass.

The sound of the bathroom door opening had Jacob spinning around on a dime, his face going from dangerous to desperate in a second flat.

Rennie strode slowly down the hall, her anklet tinkling with each hesitant step. She stopped in the doorway to the main room, eyes downcast, her fingers fiddling nervously with the strap on her duffle bag.

" 'Kay," she murmured. "I'm ready."

Jacob took two tentative steps forward.

"Here, lemme carry that," he offered hoarsely. Make that, lamely.

Rennie wordlessly held out the bag and Jacob practically tripped the last few steps to grab it out of her hands. He slung it hastily over his shoulder as his frantic gaze washed over the stoic woman before him.

"Look Ren, I'm sorry…" he began, again, lamely. "I shoulda… I-… We can talk about it later. I jus'-"

Rennie's head jerked up and the exasperation in her eyes instantly silenced his babbling. Thank God, something needed to.

Her lips bunched up on one side in vexation and she took two purposeful steps forward until she was nearly toe-to-toe with him. Jacob blinked rapidly.

"You," Rennie began, pressing a pointed finger into his chest.

"Jacob Black," she punctuated each word with a trenchant finger. "Are a big."

Poke.

"Fat."

Poke.

"Fucking."

Poke.

"Procrastinator."

Her nostrils flared over her pursed and perturbed lips. With that she pushed him out of the way and strode toward the door.

Jacob rolled his eyes at himself.

"Yes I am," he sighed, and followed her out across the yard.

'

'

Yeah, so nothing is ever as easy as it seems. That's just a fair head's up for the next chapter. Not really in the mood for a cocky request for feedback… so I'll go with my old standby: review if you like.

Chapter 11: Lesson 11 Life is Rarely Predictable

Flippy Cat: a guy who does these mega amazing domino creations on YouTube and then sets them off in an amazing chain reaction. I'm using a lot of pop references in this fic because… I wanna.

Word of the Day: Loutish - awkward, stupid; a clumsy, ill-mannered boor; oaf.

Another thing to keep in mind: no matter what, your parents are your parents (or whoever raised you) and all the mental machinations in the world can't subvert that emotional reaction.

'

Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoy.

'

Lesson 11 – Life is Rarely Predictable

'

Jacob Black had kissed her.

On the lips… well, the corner.

It was enough to make a girl's head spin. Or maybe explode. Wait, did she even still have a head?

Rennie's fingers drifted up to check and got caught fluttering over her lips again. Ground zero. They still tingled.

With a sigh, Rennie leaned her head against the passenger side windshield as Paul drove them through a dusk that was falling heavy and fast. Her mind was racing – like a suped up Ferrari on a closed circuit track. A million thoughts and emotions whipped by at a million miles an hour like the blur of scenery, but one thing was as clear as the dials on the dashboard:

Jacob Black was the biggest freaking procrastinator in history.

As soon as she had shut the bathroom door – on the shock, the confusion, the wonder – all the pieces had fallen into place like those Flippy Cat domino YouTube videos that she liked as a kid. Played backwards:

This is why he'd been so tense all day.

This is why his body had seized like an epileptic any time she'd touched him.

This is why he'd been snarling like a junk-yard dog anytime a male looked at her.

This is why he had stopped touching her those heartbreaking months before she had left.

And this is why her parents had taken her away.

Because Jacob wanted to kiss her.

Rennie propped her arms on the window ledge of the 2009 CR-V and stared blindly out at the shadowy forest passing them by. She felt like she was trying to tread water in a tsunami, and she was dangerously close to drowning. The inversion of life as she thought she knew it, the transposition of the most central relationship of her short life and the subversion of its power dynamic, left Rennie on the crumbling edge of a precipice that she really, really didn't want to look down into. Not right now.

Because it meant looking into her own heart.

How much easier was it to relegate her feelings for Jake to the childish – bordering on pathetic and lame– daydreams and fantasies of a little girl? A helluva lot easier, that's how much.

In one simple brush of his lips over hers, all the external boundaries and conventions that she'd been comfortably propping her heart against had been razed flat. And now she was falling.

Free falling.

And it was scary as shit.

Oh she was all about being an adult, but the minute these stakes had changed – the moment she'd had to wager her heart – it was suddenly looking like a whole different ball game.

With a distressed sigh, she pressed her forehead to her forearm, desperately trying to make her mind stop it's delirious spin-out donuts that felt like they were leaving brain matter behind in a black tread.

"Rennie?" a deep voice hemorrhaging regret slipped through the dark car, followed by a feather touch to her shoulder.

Rennie whipped around with an exaggerated startle response, like she'd just downed a gazillion Red Bulls.

Jacob was leaning between the two front seats, anguish melting the lines of his face like it'd been painted on in the rain.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

His abject desolation excavated her heart in one quick efficient twist.

She blinked rapidly. "Don't you dare apologize Jacob Black," she hissed as she sat up straighter, turning around and pressing finger again into his chest. (Partially because she liked that she could, the last person to try that had been Paul – and his finger had been hanging at a very wrong angle by the time Jacob had finished with him.) "Don't you dare."

She didn't want him to apologize. Somehow that made it all perhaps even more frightening. Rennie wanted to figure this all out… she just needed a little time.

Throwing in another little scowl with a staged bravado for his benefit, she turned back to her little corner of solace against the window, closing her eyes against that heartbreaking expression in his eyes. She'd never, ever seen Jacob like this: frightened, unbalanced, unsure.

It scared the fucking shit out of her.

This was nothing like Jacob Black.

She knew him better perhaps than she knew herself . Or she thought she did, obviously she was missing out on some major freaking fronts. But his character she absolutely knew. Jacob was the most honorable, conscientious, kind-hearted man she'd ever encountered. And she'd encountered quite a few.

While Rennie knew she was easy enough on the eye, there was no way Jacob would cross these lines without a hell of a freaking reason. (As much as she wished she were simply irresistibly charming and generally fabulous enough to break him- and hell, she knew better than that) It was completely incongruous with a heart and soul that she didn't doubt for a minute.

There was something else going on.

Jacob was not the kind of man to treat any relationship flippantly. Hell, he was even shamelessly patient and endlessly kind with her own mother – who could be as frustrating and wishy-washy as sin (didn't Rennie know). She'd speculated over the last few years – not often, because it was simply too painful to imagine – that perhaps Jacob was still in love with Bella.

But Jacob didn't act he was pining over unrequited love. In fact he'd never shown any woman interest that she could remember, except Leah, even looking back with her age-acquired sophistication.

He acted like a mated Wolf.

Rennie had thought the relationships she'd grown up around were simply the norm. Well, the Pack's relationships. (Her family were similarly devoted with unchanging loyalty and affection to each other, but they had none of the passion and unfettered love that ran hot and thick between a Wolf and his mate.) Even as hot-blooded as they were, once a Wolf was mated, his eye never wandered, his dick never twitched. But once she had really gotten out in life, she realized that the standard they'd set was anything but. The vast and diverse examples of human relationships she'd witnessed were nothing (and by nothing, she meant nothing) like the Pack's, or her family's for that matter.

The only woman she had seen him pay attention to in any way was, in fact, Rennie.

So what did this mean?

Was she somehow predestined in some strange way to be Jacob's mate? How did it work with Wolves anyway? Is that why her family and the Pack tolerated each other? Why they hadn't moved away years ago and simply come back for visits? Because frankly, that had never made any sense at all. It was awkward with the mortal nearby town and her mom didn't spend much time with her Pappy. It couldn't simply be for her own benefit because she knew they resented her spending time down on the Rez.

And "resent" was too kind a word for what her father felt for Jacob.

Jesus Christ.

A little mewling groan of overwhelm slipped from her lips and she sat up, leaning back against the headrest, and rubbed her throbbing temples.

"Y'okay lil' one?" Paul's deep voice scampered through the car as his big hand slipped over to rest on her thigh.

Rennie closed her eyes and nodded briskly – even though she wasn't really sure. Of anything.

Of any freaking thing.

Not at all.

In fact, right now, she was feeling all kinds of crazy. Maybe all of this B.S. was simply the deranged daydreams of a hormone-driven delirium.

Or maybe she was simply wrong. Because there was one other scenario that might make sense – that Jacob was still in love with her mother and had somehow transferred that obsession to her. Oh, God, that would be so fucked up.

And so not Jake.

In fact, Rennie would have never guessed they'd ever had any kinda thing way back when – because they were so… different. And if that were the case, why hadn't they moved or her father simply killed him?

Oh. My. God!

Rennie fell into her palms over her thighs as her mind stuttered and spun out, finally having lost traction and succumbed to some dark ditch.

She had so many questions!

Taking a deep breath she tried to restart.

Rennie was a seemingly incongruous combination of chronic and rabid curiosity and untiring patience. She'd understood early on – whether it was her heritage or make-up or immortality or a combination – that some answers were better answered with time. Especially when it came to people and emotions. She was so sensitive, that she'd internalized the need to let things ripen before they were harvested, otherwise it ended up in a yield of green and callow pain. And she hated causing anyone pain.

But especially Jacob.

However, there was one question that she simply couldn't wait for Jacob to be able to answer – even if it were painful.

She whipped around in her seat, peering over the headrest into the dark SUV. Jacob was slouched down in the back seat, his long legs splayed out all the way into the middle along the aisle by the door. His head was tipped back to the ceiling, an arm resting over his eyes. Jacob was undeniably in pain.

Rennie closed her eyes dolefully for a moment. "Jake?"

As if he'd forgotten she was in the car, his body jerked and he sat up briskly, tossing his arm to the side as wide eyes snapped forward.

Rennie soldiered on, though her heart twisted in her chest. "I need you to answer one thing," she began.

With a sober nod, he slowly leaned forward, readjusting himself on the seat. And in that moment of solemn, attentive earnestness all of the confusion and chaos peeled easily away from a trust they shared that was simply, unequivocally unbreakable.

It wordlessly answered her question with the sureness of a sunrise.

She asked anyway. "Does… " she glanced over at Paul who's eyes were trained a little too carefully on the road. "Does this…" she widened her eyes meaningfully. "Have anything to do with my mother?"

Rennie watched as Jacob's mind clicked back from that question along her trail of logic like breadcrumbs, his eyes ballooning in horror the farther he got.

"No!" he breathed harshly, his hands curling into fists as his entire body tensed and quivered. "Absolutely nothing."

Rennie had to lower her gaze under the burning conviction that punctuated that statement. She nodded mutely and then her eyes darted back up.

"I'll wait," she announced cryptically, and turned promptly back around and pulled down the visor.

She flipped down the cover of the little vanity mirror and peered at her reflection, poking her fingers at her hair as she tried to refocus on the events ahead of her. Usually when she'd made a decision to wait – like she had just now – she had no problems adroitly switching tracks.

Usually, being the operative word.

Grabbing up a measure of hair one side of her head, she plaited it with deft, lightning fingers and then repeated the motion on the other side. Bending down to the foot well, she snatched up her small purse and pulled two clips from the bottom and sat back up. Peering back in the mirror she pinned each loose braid along the side of her head and then tipped her head from side to side, examining her handiwork.

Acceptable.

Before she flipped the visor back up, she caught Jacob's expression in the mirror: his face was etched with transparent affection, soulful worry… and an undeniable pain. Lots and lots of pain.

She snapped the visor up harshly in defensive fury. It wasn't fair. Whatever was going on was literally chewing up that warm, strong heart and spitting it out like tobacco. It was eating him alive and now, looking back with open eyes, she could see it'd been a long, slow, tortuous consumption.

Her blood boiled and she threw herself back against the seat closing her eyes as she tipped her head back and measured her breathing. She needed to focus.

Not on Jacob. Not on his pain. Not her confusion.

On getting through this night.

But her mind continued blithely on, weary from logic, tripping on conjecture, and falling into the abyss of vivid memory.

Of that kiss.

Oh, God… that kiss. Rennie had had her share, she supposed – the infamous upscale West-end nightlife (where the folks from the East End could dress up like Cinderella and pretend the taxi wasn't a pumpkin taking them home to the slums at dawn) provided a rich array of puckered lips from the aristocratic to the devilishly divine. But she'd obviously been playing the wrong game on the wrong field, because that innocent little kiss had

Rocked.

Her.

World.

The way Jacob's hot hand had felt diving into her hair, pulling her closer with the vibrating strength in his muscled arm in flagrant contrast to the tenderness with which he tipped up her chin.

His scent - musky, verdant, male…

the way his breath tasted, rushing sweet and moist over her face like a fine spray from the bite of a peach…

the soft brush of his lips like a trillion thread count Egyptian cotton (washed a million times)…

the way his mouth hummed with molten desire and then extinguished in a sizzling sigh against hers...

His gasping breath that pressed his chest to hers and inflated her soul, melting her insides into a hapless throbbing puddle between her legs…

Like now.

Shit!

Here she was, stuck in an enclosed space with two male Wolves – one the very object of her desire – with that scent rising from her flesh like a freaking neon sign. Rennie's hand darted to the armrest and she frantically pressed the button, making the window recede into the door and cool evening air whip into the car. Hopefully taking the bourgeoning scent of her arousal along with it.

"Can you roll down the window?" she mumbled to Paul in what she hoped was a casual painfully awkward request.

Paul's hand immediately found the button on the door and pushed it. But she should have known better…

"What'd you do?" he muttered with his usual dauntless audacity. "Fart?"

An incredulous laugh burst from her lips as she sat up and turned to him slowly – mortified mouth open wide.

"Oh my God!" Rennie gasped in utter disbelief – well not really, because part of her knew he was using the outrageous to pull them all back into more tenable seas. She decided to help.

"Jake, can you rein in Loutish Lahote here?" she quipped over her shoulder in theatrical dismay.

"Uh-oh…loutish? " Paul's eyes cut devilishly over to with his double-shot espresso smirk. "That don't sound too good. Anyone got a fuckin' dictionary?" he called out to the car – making another play to drag Jacob back into the game.

"Arg!" Rennie groused, leaning over and pushing him square in the face with a reproachful palm. Paul laughed and shook her off, and she moved down to tickle his ribs, searching for that spot that made him guffaw like a donkey. It was hysterical whenever she snuck one in.

"Hey!" He twisted and dodged her searching fingers, his hands sure and true on the wheel all the while.

"C'mon… Jackass laugh!" she begged, using Rachel's epithet.

"He's your 'favorite uncle,'" Jacob snorted, throwing his hat in the ring and moving up to the middle seat.

Rennie finally gave up, flopping back in her seat, gasping with the exertion that had blissfully diffused her anxiety. For the moment.

"He's not my uncle," she laughed and then turned over her shoulder, meeting Jacob's gaze with a saccharine grin. "Technically…" she taunted.

Jacob's eyes flitted up to the ceiling, but she saw the little ghost of a smile twitch his lips. Score.

"I'm your favorite?" Paul piped up mawkishly, towing them back into current of humor.

Rennie turned back to him with an eye roll. "Used to be," she snorted.

"Aww…" he sniffled loudly. " I think I got tears."

Rennie slapped him.

"We're almost there," Paul's gaze darted up to the rearview mirror, meeting Jake's gaze. "You children can fight about who rides shotgun later… but we gotta put up a united front. Ready for that?" he asked cryptically, shooting a veiled assessing glance over at Rennie.

"We're not fighting," Rennie mumbled, reaching down to pick up her purse and hugging it in her lap. Kinda like a kid…. she quickly rearranged her hands to rest over the top of it.

"Really?" Paul asked skeptically. "What're you doin'?

Rennie's eyes narrowed of their own accord in renewed indignation. "We're… thinking about all the reasons procrastination until the very last minute is a very bad idea for… " she stopped, her gaze cutting over to Paul.

His lips lifted up in a saucy smile as he kept his eyes on the road.

"For…some things," she turned over her shoulder and gave Jacob a pointed stare.

He pursed his lips as his gaze dipped in chagrin. His expression made her regret her words instantly: he was suffering.

"Yup," Paul sighed melodramatically. "Jake's a fuckin' slacker all right."

Rennie whipped around, a flash of fury charging up her chest like convulsive vomit. "NO HE'S NOT!" she snarled.

"Got your goat," Paul taunted under his breath, as his lips stretched out in a shit-eating grin.

With an aggravated groan, Rennie fell back into her seat.

In her periphery, she saw Paul glance pointedly in the rearview mirror at Jake and it hit her just how much she was being played. And she didn't give a damn.

This was her family – they took care of her, they took care each other. And Paul was keeping both her and Jacob afloat when they both might otherwise be thrashing and drowning in the turbulent seas between them. She trusted them.

Just like she implicitly trusted Jacob.

Speak of the devil, warm hands slipped around on either side of the chair to gently squeeze her shoulders. The touch made her body melt instantly into a puddle of gooey, sticky surrender. Oh, he felt so freaking good… she didn't know why the hell she hadn't understood all this bullshit a heck of a lot earlier.

" 'You okay, chica?" he asked quietly beside her ear.

Rennie closed her eyes and nodded vigorously as those large fingers massaged along the tension in her neck.

"Think about what you're gonna say. What you want from them… lay it down strong," he murmured soothingly. "We can talk about this other shit later."

" 'Kay," Rennie gulped and his hands slowly slipped back away making her body physically rebel against the loss of contact. With lightning reflexes her hand caught his in a tight grip.

"Love you, Jay," she whispered. "No matter what."

'

All too soon the road smoothed out to city-owned asphalt and Rennie sat up straighter, glancing over at Paul. He drove with his same insouciant confidence, like he was out on a Sunday drive.

Rennie's gaze fell down to her purse and she unzipped it, nervously pulling out a tube of lip gloss. Unscrewing the silvery cap, she painted the little felt tip over her lips, then rubbed them together idly as she closed the top and put it back in her bag.

"SHIT!" Paul spat, his fist banging on the steering wheel and making Rennie jerk up to attention.

Her gaze whipped out to her Pappy's house – lights welcoming and warm in the thickening darkness - with a silver Lexus and black BMW parked out front, boxing in the humble police cruiser like bullies.

"I shoulda known they'd be early," Paul was snarling beside her.

A deep rumbling growl percolated in the back seat.

"So? This is my territory, not theirs," Rennie's voice piped with forced ease, offering instinctual mollifying words to the two Wolves. This was her play now, and she needed step up to the batter's box – prove that she was old enough to handle the big leagues. "It'll be fine."

Fake it till you make right?

Swallowing thickly, Rennie unbuckled the (needless) seat belt and pulled the small purse up onto her shoulder. As soon as the car came to a stop, Rennie's hand was on the handle and her stomach was somewhere around the ankle department. Slipping out, she bit her lip, slamming the door behind her as she turned toward the house.

And into Jacob's chest.

Rennie blinked, her head tipping back to find his face. Warm, comforting Jacob-eyes stared back at her – all the chaotic confusion dispelled, leaving nothing but familiarity and the kind of soul-food love that had to be cultivated for a lifetime.

"Hey," he murmured – so soft and fuzzy, like the word was cut out of felt. "You got this." His hands came up to rest on her upper arms.

Rennie drew in a long, slow breath that squared her shoulders. "You're right. I do," she lifted her chin and let her resolve spill over her like a silk shift. Or Kevlar.

Pushing Jacob gently out of the way, she trained her gaze on the house of her mother's birth and her own childhood. Such a homey, comforting place. She needed to focus on that – baking cookies, straggly Christmas trees, oily pizza, sitting on her Pappy's lap while he watched basketball.

Gathering her hair in a hand she pulled it off her neck and then let it re-fall back down her back, feeling the curls bounce nearly to her waist. The tinkling of her anklet grounded her as her face lifted minutely to the air to catch the scent of her family. The delicate sweet scent of Vampires in general, and them in particular, hit her in the stomach with a surprising punch of nostalgia.

She'd missed them. A lot.

Homesickness rose in her like wave, pushing her forward and quickening her step. In a preternatural second she was standing at the door.

She could scent her Pappy of course… but also mom and dad… Granpa, Granma and Uncle Jaz…her hand paused on the handle of the door. There was another faint scent that she didn't recognize woven into the comforting tapestry of those six individuals in this place full of memories and things – maybe simply of the house itself. Setting that stray thought aside she opened the door, excitement pulling her lips up in a smile.

"Sweetheart!" Bella nearly shrieked.

Rennie's gaze snapped to her mother standing expectantly only several feet away by the couch, held by all appearances in a tender embrace by her father. But he was restraining her.

The pain and fear in her mother's face was like a knife in Rennie's chest, and without another thought she ran into the room.

"Mom!"

Her father released Bella and they met halfway, her mother throwing her cool marble arms around her shoulders and burying her face in her neck. Rennie was taller than her now.

Soft, tearless sobs shook the woman's body and Rennie squeezed her eyes shut in shame as she pressed a kiss to her mother's forehead.

Oh, she'd been a selfish little brat. She hadn't even thought about what her parents had suffered in her absence. Well that wasn't true – she'd chosen not to think of it, actually. Because that was the problem – it always had been – she cared too much about what they thought, and they cared to much about what she did and how she did it. She didn't know how to ask for what she needed and she hadn't had the slightest clue as to how to excavate her tender, fallow self from the monolithic expectations of her family. So she'd taken the easy way out: she'd just left.

It had been a puerile and cowardly maneuver.

But – and Rennie had learned enough about herself and the world by now to be honest – it had also been necessary.

She opened her eyes as her father slowly strode toward her, his honey eyes sorrowful and apologetic.

Rennie released her mom. "I'm sorry," she whispered, stepping into his embrace and breathing in his comforting scent.

"No, I'm sorry, Rennie," Edward murmured.

Shock rounding her eyes, Rennie pulled back, leaving her arms locked around his waist. A small smile flirted with her lips, "hey… did you just..?"

He gave her lopsided smile. "We should abide by your wishes, of course," he replied smoothly.

Rennie collapsed back against him, squeezing his waist gratefully.

She pulled back, her eyes washing over Carlisle standing nearby, his arm draped over Esme's shoulder.

"You're all grown up, sweetheart," she smiled.

Rennie released her father to embrace each of her grandparents in turn.

"Look at you, darlin'," Jasper drawled, sauntering up with his wry, clever smile. "Aren't you jus' the belle a' the ball."

"Uncle Jaz," she cried, falling into his arms. She realized by now that amber tears were streaming down her face – probably making her eyeliner run all down her cheeks. She didn't even care.

Picking her face up from his broad shoulders her gaze sought her Pappy…

And that's when she saw him: a tall, dark man she didn't know, leaning in the kitchen doorway.

Rennie blinked, letting her hand fall away from Jasper's shoulder in her surprise.

It was then the overwhelming emotion of reuniting with her family settled around her like dust leaving only the suffocating residual tension in the room.

She put her confusion on hold in her myopic need to find her other grandfather and whipped around to see Charlie slowly standing from the lazy boy, shoving his hands uncomfortably into his pockets.

"Pappy!" Rennie called quietly – her adoration for her grandfather pulling her toward him, even through the oppressive unease that palpably thickened the air. Charlie met her by the couch, pulling her into a warm hug that smelled faintly of the morning's Old Spice aftershave and Rainier beer.

"Missed ya, kid," he murmured huskily into her hair.

His organic warmth gave her a brief respite from a mind that had suddenly been catapulted into overdrive. Clearing her throat softly – for no other reason than to ground herself in her own body – Rennie released him, stepping out of his embrace, her gaze darting uncertainly back to the stranger.

He looked so familiar!

With his coloring, he could have been related to the Pack, but his facial features were all wrong. Or all right, depending on how you looked at it: he was stunningly handsome. His features echoed more Latin make up than Native American: dark straight brows and bedroom eyes, a smooth broad nose and generous full lips, long black hair pulled back from a strong, athletic jaw. He was maybe six feet tall with broad shoulders and lithe, athletic musculature rippling under his dark silk shirt, its deep purple highlighting his smooth teak complexion. His braid was draped over one shoulder and hung nearly down to his narrow hips clad in black slacks. But his scent… his scent was the anomalous one she had picked up earlier – not human, not vampire, not Wolf.

Like hers.

She felt like she'd been staring at him for bewildered hours, but it was probably only seconds. Her father's cool hand wrapped around hers, tugging her toward him and under his arm.

A jolt of anxiety crackled down her spine when she realized that he'd pulled her across some invisible boundary: one that separated the two sides of her family. Her gaze darted back to Charlie, who remained motionless by the couch. Then to Paul, leaning indolently against the door.

And then to Jacob ...fists clenched, body tense, eyes dangerous and glaring daggers at the man across the room.

"Darling I want you to meet someone," her father was saying, pulling her around toward the kitchen. "I realized how remiss we'd been at keeping you connected to family. And others of your kind," his words stalled pointedly on those words, and Rennie's gaze darted up to a benevolent smile.

"I-…I didn't-" Rennie's mouth stuttered senselessly. She didn't even know what she would have said if her mouth had been working properly, which it certainly wasn't. There was an insidious sense of dread that was creeping, cold and clammy, up her chest and she had no freaking idea why.

"It's our fault, dove. All of it. Trying to keep you sequestered in some castle and not letting you explore the world," her father murmured, his gaze was soft as his fingers came up to lightly trace a braid. "No wonder you sought such things elsewhere. And I applaud your aplomb," his lips twisted in an amused smile at his own alliteration. "But we're going to do things differently this time." Edward leaned down and pressed his cool marble lips to her forehead.

Rennie looked up and realized the stranger was only several feet from her now. He had pushed off the door frame and was standing with his hands clasped before him, a clearly flattering expression sparkling in dark, endless eyes. His beautiful lips curved in the most sensual smile she'd ever seen on a man's face. It was alluring: encompassing kindness, promises and secrets all at once.

"Renesmee, I want you to meet Nahuel," her father's palm opened toward the man.

Silky blue-black hair shining with the movement, Nahuel bowed his head chivalrously, holding her captive with sloe-eyes.

"Nahuel, my daughter Renesmee. Or Rennie, as she prefers," her father graciously introduced her, subtly pushing her forward.

Long, graceful fingers reached out and Rennie automatically put her hand in his. It was soft as silk and invitingly warm.

"It's a pleasure, ad-ngüen," his dusky voice rolled like autumn fog with a sumptuous exotic accent as rich as oiled mahogany. His eyes holding hers from under lush, straight lashes, he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a light, lingering kiss across her knuckles.

A low growl scurried across the room, and Rennie's head whipped over her shoulder to Jacob. The look on his face was the worst kind of murderous. It was only Paul's steely hands planted firmly on his jerking shoulders and his rushing whisper being poured into Jacob's ear that kept him from lunging across the room.

Rennie's stomach took a nose dive, leaving her breathless and dizzy.

Her father subtly stepped in to intersect her gaze as his hand came to the small of her back. "Nahuel has been staying with us for several months now," he began silkily.

Rennie turned back numbly to the man whose expression was utterly unconcerned by the drama behind them. His eyes were trained intently on her, his lips settled in a soft, appreciative smile. Rennie realized her hand was still clasped in his gentle grip.

"And he's the only immortal vampire hybrid that we know of," her father continued by her ear.

Rennie looked up to Edward's serene smiling eyes.

"Other than you, of course."

'

'

ad-ngüen: Mapuche for beautiful (Nahuel's tribe – yes there's an online dictionary, but I've still probably got it wrong – my apologies to that nation)

And have you seen the guy who's gonna play him in the movie? Yummy! Hmm… what's Nahuel's last name? Maybe I should change the title of this fic… (now if you let that comment fly without leaving a review – shame on you! *grin*)

Chapter 12: Lesson 12 Stand Up for Yourself

General note: this is not the Bella of my other fics (who is more extrapolated with a good dose of romanticism from the beginning of the series). Eat some pickled ginger or something to clear your palate ;-) This is how I see Bella becoming based on the end of NM and BD...

Words of the day
Ingenuous - 1. free from reserve, restraint; candid; sincere. 2. artless; innocent; naive.

Mordant – 1. sharply caustic or sarcastic; biting. ; corrosive.

Mailen: (Mapuche) maiden, young girl

'

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

'

Lesson 12 – Stand Up for Yourself

'

"Don'tfuckindoitJake-your'replayin'intohisshit-it'llmakeitworse-your'rebetterthanthis-don'tfuckindoit…"

Jacob struggled to focus on Paul's words, rushing like rapids over his ears, his hot breath spilling over his neck like lava. Paul couldn't physically restrain him, of course…it was Jacob who was clinging to Paul's frantic admonitions and the feel of his fingers digging into his flesh like a man clinging with white-knuckled desperation, a mere hair's breadth from tumbling into a bottomless molten pit.

Because that's exactly what he was.

MINE.

KILL.

NOW.

The words had the calmness of ruthless savagery, the potent depth of a sonic boom, and every cell in Jacob's body vibrated in resonant accord.

He couldn't believe that motherfucking leech's underhanded audacity. Jacob had been prepared for a lot of things, but having Edward fucking Cullen throw Jacob's most threatening – and perhaps, only – competition tauntingly into the ring on the first round was definitely not one of them.

Part of him realized that Edward had known he'd already lost the battle and had come out swinging with desperate measures. Part of him realized he was pulling the rug out from his daughter's feet before she could find her footing. Part of him realized he'd played this wild card simply for its inflammatory effect in hopes of goading Jacob into doing something stupid.

But all of those thoughts were like mosquitoes buzzing in his ear over the pounding fiery mandate of his bloodlust.

But, if Jacob succumbed -if he simply surrendered to the blazing wildfires of instinct -he had no doubt what he'd do: he'd indiscriminately rip each and every throat out of each and every person in this room (with the exception of one).

At this point honestly, genuinely, frighteningly, he didn't give a fuck about what would be merely an incidental massacre. But, consequentially, he'd also drag his entire Pack and People into a war of epic proportions – both supernatural and human – and his mate would never forgive him. And she'd never survive it either.

That fact, shamefully, was the only thing that allowed his Second's puny little grip and empty words to restrain him.

"Jake, are you okay?" a sickeningly sympathetic, bell-like voice grated through his consciousness like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Jacob's burning yellow eyes snapped down to the woman who'd spoken; a woman he realized he no longer knew. A worried pucker between her brows, her ochre eyes framed in mahogany tresses oozed agonized concern.

It made him want to puke.

In fact, a convulsive wretch started in his gut, rippling up his chest and making him double over with a growling gasp. Paul stumbled forward several steps with the force of it, and then his muscled arms snapped like a steel trap around Jacob's waist.

"Oh God, Jake, I'm sorry," her voice whispered.

The words hit him like a visceral sucker punch, making him wheeze with the impact. Never had he understood as clearly as he did in this very moment that Bella was not his friend. And she'd never been. A friend wouldn't have let this happen. A friend would have at the very least given him some kind of warning. She had played right along with this thing – using the element of surprise to fuck him into doing something stupid….to twist him into something Rennie could hate….or, in the very least, to break him.

In other words, business as usual.

Bracing himself on his thighs, Jacob lifted his face with a mordant sneer.

Bella was being restrained in Jasper's arms, his face inscrutable. "Darlin' he don't have any control right this minute," he was drawling in her ear while his steady gaze stayed locked with Jacob's. "Why don't y'all take a lil' walk, son?" he whispered. It was a both a covert warning and plea.

Jacob bared his teeth with a vicious snarl, foaming spittle spraying like snow.

Bella's lips quivered as her gaze dropped to the floor. "God, you must hate me," she gasped.

"Mom, stop it! It's not about you!"

Those words. In that voice. They were like a soothing, healing balm smeared over his tender open wounds.

Jacob's heated eyes snapped up to the originator of that voice.

Rennie.

"Dad! Let me go!" she was begging, as her small hands pushed at the arm wrapped firmly about her middle.

"No, my dove. It's too dangerous," Edward was cooing into her ear. His eyes slowly rose to lock with Jacob's, an incendiary scorn sparking in their malignant sulfur depths.

Oh, Jacob was so gonna kill that motherfucker…

Jacob lunged forward dragging Paul onto his knees with heavy thud. Jasper was in front of him in less than a heartbeat, his cold stone hands digging into Jacob's rock hard biceps, drawing blood with the strength of their frantic grip.

"Don't do somethin' you'll rue later, now," he admonished with a slow, canny smile that effectively refocused Jacob's rage.

"Dangerous?" Rennie was nearly shrieking and Jacob's Wolf froze in rapt attention and he craned around Jasper's blocking body. "Like living in a crack-rotted London ghetto? Or maybe you mean nearly killing a guy and handing the Volturi my head? That kinda dangerous?" Rennie's voice disparaged with a maniacal laugh. "Let. Me. Go!" her voice grated through gritted teeth.

"Edward, things have gotten out of hand…" Carlisle's silken warning rose above the tension in the room.

And just like that, Jasper released him. Jacob's gaze darted to his face in confusion and he raised shrewd brows as he took a quick step back.

In the next instant, Jacob was nearly bowled over by a 5'7 girl throwing herself with abandon into his chest.

"Jake!" Rennie gasped, flinging her arms around his body and squeezing with all her might.

That blissful quenching touch instantly doused the fires of the lupine rage and the residual smoke was expelled in a sizzling sigh over his lips. Like a blowtorch taken to an ice sculpture, he melted around her, his shoulders caving, his arms encircling, his face dropping to the crown of her head.

"Ren," he mumbled, his tongue thick and clumsy.

Rennie pressed her cheek to his jackhammer heart and drew in a long slow breath. "You okay?" she whimpered on its exhale.

"Sorry," he breathed. And he was. One sorry muthafucker.

Damn it… he'd totally taken the bait like an idiot – he could see that as clear as fucking crystal as soon as his brain bobbed back up from the asphyxiating sewer of insanity. What a fucking idiot. His only satisfaction was that – apparently – Edward's game hadn't quite ended as expected even if Jacob had totally bungled the play. This was a hell of a consolation prize wrapped right here in his arms.

Rennie's arms slipped from around his body, and her hands came up to wipe at her amber-streaked face and the smeared eyeliner as she took a half step back. Jacob's body stiffened in rebellion, but somehow he convinced his arms to release her.

Sniffling, she artlessly wiped her nose with her blouse pulled over the heel of her hand, and then tipped her head up to meet his gaze with compassionate, utterly ingenuous eyes. So achingly beautiful.

She blinked uncomfortably for a moment. "Um…"

With no warning, she slung her arms around his neck and dragged his head down as she simultaneously went up on tiptoes. Too surprised to do anything other than comply, Jacob had a brief flash of her face catapulting toward his, her eyes squeezing shut….

And then silken lips crashed into his taking his breath away.

It was no more than a millisecond of confusion before he dissolved into the kiss like a snowflake on a hot car hood. From the initial fervent impact, she seamlessly softened her mouth, turning her head gracefully and massaging his soul with long, luxurious pulls. His knees nearly buckled and his hand drifted up to ground himself against her jaw, feeling its sumptuous movements under his fingertips. Her lips bloomed against his like a crocus through snow, deepening the kiss and melting any last vestiges of fevered consciousness. Her tongue frolicked lissome and sweet, and Jacob hummed in approval as his own slipped to caress it with slow strokes. It was like kissing springtime itself: spirited and alive and full of verdant promise. She tasted so fucking good: sunshine and raindrops and jasmine…

…and Mine.

With a gasp, Rennie tore her lips from his and Jacob's eyes popped open, his mind numbed by both shock and rapture. His fingers fluttered in wonder over her flawless cheek and then fell heavily to his side like they weighed a ton. Rennie was unapologetically gasping through her mouth like she'd run a marathon, and her tongue darted out to flick with relish over her trembling lower lip. Her gaze was exhilarated and wild, her pupils stretched open to the whites of her eyes, as her thumb came up to smear over her lips like she was pressing the memory of that kiss into them indelibly.

Pearly teeth replaced her thumb and her palm came up to cup Jacob's jaw. And he could do nothing but stare at her like a quixotic fool as his mind coughed and sputtered like an engine with a bad starter.

But this blissful moment of ecstasy that had been carved out of his rocky anguish was fading fast, being filled with the salty crashing waves of reality. The silence around them was both loaded and oppressive.

'He's playin' us. That should set him straight,' Rennie's voice sounded clearly in his head with the same wry mischievousness that sparkled in her eyes.

Jacob sniffed and his lips curved in an assenting (and dopey-assed) smile.

'Shoulda kissed me like that, Jay,' she silently added with a little wink.

Her hand fell to her side as she spun on her heel without another mental word.

"Uncle Jaz, that stuff doesn't work on me or the Wolves," Rennie sighed impatiently as she took several steps into the vibrating silence.

Jacob gathered all the pulverized fragments of his shattered mind and took a resetting breath, allowing his gaze to pan over the seven sets of eyes that were darting between the two of them with various expressions of slack-jawed surprise, confusion, and - in one case in particular – revulsion.

"An' jus' what makes you think it's for you, lil' lady?" Jasper quipped with his usual dauntless composure. "I reckon hell woulda broke loose in here without a lil' nip a' toddy, so to speak," he chuckled.

Jacob cracked his neck as he squared his shoulders and refocused his mind and energy. Now that he was …well, not a million percent occupied by the most delectable kiss he'd ever dreamed of, he could scent the empath's thick, heavy thrall muffling the room.

With a brisk nod that jerked with covert nervousness, she crossed back toward her father. Her chin lifted in a subtle gesture that spoke of both defiance and challenge and Jacob wished to high hell he could see her eyes.

"Baby-.." Bella agonized quietly from where Esme had a tucked her under her a consoling arm.

"Mom, just… just don't…" Rennie sighed quietly, glancing over at her mother.. "I'm so pissed… I just... just can't deal right now." She turned back to her father. "Dad, you said things were gonna be different…a-and they have to be. I-.. I can't take this right now," the stress in her voice made it quaver. "We need to talk about stuff. Alone," she said pointedly.

Edward strode smoothly forward, his brow crumpling in overstated concern. "Of course, sweetheart. I thought you'd be overjoyed to have our dear friend Nahuel welcome you home. I had no idea-.." his words broke off with staged dismay as his eyes darted over to Jacob, hardening like frozen piss.

Jacob's lips curled in a silent snarl. That fucker had every idea. Luckily Jacob now knew that Rennie knew it too, so his Wolf kowtowed to the man's dominion. Having regained a modicum of control, Jacob, the man, knew it was critical that Rennie negotiate this meeting on her own – both for her sake and her family's. Plus, her track record was a hell of a lot better than his tonight anyway.

"It was never my intention to cause such an unfortunate uproar," Edward crooned spuriously, returning his gaze to his daughter as he reached out and ghosted his fingers over her cheek.

Rennie flinched away and Edward frowned.

"Darling…"

"Dad… just… let's talk. Now," she huffed, taking a subtle step back.

Edward nodded solicitously. "Nahuel, my apologies, it appears we have some business to attend to…" Edward began, turning to where the man was leaning back against the wall looking oddly nonchalant and completely at ease as if he were watching a sitcom on TV.

"Of course, I understand," the words flowed smooth and easy like melted chocolate from Nahuel's lips, as he pushed of the wall and took several slinking steps toward Edward. His eyes instantly locked again on Rennie and he didn't even attempt to hide his blatant appreciation or interest – even in light of recent events .

It made Jacob seethe. Paul must have seen the same thing, because his hand clamped heavily down on Jacob's shoulder in warning.

"Mailen, we will have time to get to know each other another time, I hope," his thick accent made the innocent words sound suggestive as he extended a graceful hand.

Rennie's shoulders rose and fell with a stiff breath as she returned the gesture and he took her hand in his again. "Are you staying a while?" She asked in a small voice.

"As long as I wish… or you wish," his russet lips peeled back from perfect white in a charming smile as he graciously bent over her knuckles.

Rennie tugged her fingers nervously from his grasp with a brisk nod. "Yeah, that'll be good. I've never met any others like-…" disconcerted words died on her lips as her shoulder hitched up to one ear uncomfortably.

His smile broadened as he nodded once. "We will have much to talk about when you are ready. Take your time," he crooned silkily – in a way that was both affably polite and audaciously confident at the same time.

It made Jacob's blood boil… and Paul's fingers dig into his clavicle.

"Carlisle, would you be so kind to take Nahuel home?" Edward turned to his 'father' whose face was frozen in a carefully neutral half smile.

Jacob didn't miss the pointed word choice, however. Everything with this guy was calculated and controlled – Jacob wondered how he tied his shoes with that stick up his ass.

"Of course," Carlisle nodded, wrapping his arm around Esme's shoulders. Like it was choreographed, Bella was suddenly again at Edward's side and Carlisle and Esme were taking turns hugging Rennie.

Nahuel calmly strode toward the door with the feline grace of a jaguar… he was definitely a predator. His dark cocksure gaze darted up to meet Jacob's and a slow, provocative smile curved his lips.

Jacob flashed his canines in warning, as he callously returned his stare with eyes that simmered.

Carlisle stepped between them, his bland smile a butter knife cutting the animosity between them. "Jacob, I didn't get a chance to say hello," he murmured apologetically. "How is your father? Your sisters?" he extended his hand.

Jacob's jaw tensed as he looked at his outstretched hand for a moment and then relented, clasping the cold marble in his palm for a brief shake. "Fine," he mumbled.

Carlisle gave him tight lipped smile and brief nod. "And Paul," he again extended his hand toward Jacob's Second.

Paul pointedly shoved his hands in his pockets. " 'Sup?" he smirked churlishly.

Carlisle smoothly folded his hands before him. "I hear your son is growing by leaps and bounds…"

"Yep."

"Jacob, you look well," Esme smiled, stepping up and giving him no other choice but to return her motherly hug while he held his breath against the odor of leech rot. She pulled back and gave him a small smile. "It's good to see you again."

"Uncle Jaz, can you stay?" Rennie's voice asked softly, and Jacob's gaze darted up to see her loop her arm through his elbow as she gazed up at him. "It won't take long."

" 'Course darlin'," he smiled openly down at her and covered her hand with his own before glancing up to Jacob and giving him an impudent wink.

With a frown, Jacob's attention returned just in time to see Paul patting Esme's back uncomfortably as she hugged him. His Second met his gaze with an eye roll over her head.

"Thank you Charlie," Carlisle called out with his ubiquitous cordiality.

"Yeah, okay," Charlie stammered as he lifted a hand awkwardly and then shoved it back in his pocket.

If things were different, Jacob would be smothering hysterics over the inherent humor of this whole situation… but as it was, his stomach was boiling with frustration like heartburn. And by the looks of it, Rennie's was too.

As the three made their way outside, Jacob's Wolf immediately perked up to attention as Rennie disengaged herself from Jasper and stalked over to the kitchen, terseness sharpening her anklet's jingle. The sound of the icebox opening and then the clunking of cans prefaced Rennie returning with three Ranier beers. With casually perfect aim, she tossed one to Jacob and the other to Paul and then skirted the couch toward Charlie.

"So, I hear you wish to move in with your Pappy, sweetheart?" Edward ventured (rather stupidly, Jacob thought – he might not be able to read Rennie's thoughts, but only an idiot wouldn't sense the stress and anger emanating off of her in waves.)

Rennie stopped cold and scowled at him. "Did you hear it or eavesdrop?" she bit out bitterly.

Edward gave her a tight-lipped smile, attempting to look properly abashed, which only succeeded in making him look smug.

Rennie's nostrils flared. "Mom…?"

Bella glanced up at Edward and he nodded – as if she need his permission to use her shielding. She looked insecure and sorely out of her element.

Like a slap in the face, Jacob suddenly realized that Rennie's earlier comment had been spot on: Bella was uncomfortable whenever things weren't about her. She'd always leaned toward the passive aggressive side anyway (duh) but after she was Turned, things had only gotten worse. Add in years of happily abdicating choices by having everything decided for her by an opinionated (read: neurotic) family and she had become someone Jacob was finding he was liking less and less.

After all they'd been through together , the fact that she could let him walk into this…this trap (that's what it'd been, really), at the most pivotal moment of his life and concerning the most important thing to his soul, had really opened his fucking eyes.

Jacob was beginning to suspect that Rennie'd been more right than she'd perhaps realized: was Bella jealous in some fucked up way?

Apparently satisfied that her mother was going to shield them from 'Enquiring minds,' Rennie took the last few steps to Charlie's side. The poor man looked painfully edgy.

Rennie leaned up and kissed him on his temple. "Sorry for all the stupid drama, Pappy," she whispered as she popped the top and handed it to him. " 'You sure you're okay with me moving in and all?"

Charlie's smile spread easily, making his mustache asymmetrical. "Sure am," he patted her shoulder clumsily, but his affection (and relief) shown clearly in his eyes. "S'long as you don't mind things bein' kinda messy for a few weeks."

Rennie shook her head. The two of them had talked briefly on the phone earlier in the day so this didn't get sprung on him – some people had the decency to be considerate. Sue was moving in over the next two weeks so that Leah and Josiah could have her place after they got hitched – it was the perfect excuse for something they had wanted to do for years but had been putting off because of a little ole thing called 'fear.' And both Charlie and Sue deserved a little happiness if anyone did.

Rennie squeezed his forearm sweetly and then turned to Jacob. She crossed toward him, ignoring everyone else in the room. Snatching his languishing beer out of his hand, she popped it – while Jacob watched the furious processing that pulled her eyes back and forth with minute jerks.

She tipped a long gulping swallow of the drink down her throat and then handed it wordlessly back to him and turned to her father.

"What the hell is all this about, dad?" she dove in with no preamble.

Edward cocked his head as if he hadn't the faintest inkling of what she was talking about as he took several steps to lean against the back of the couch, pulling Bella between his knees and wrapping his arms around her. "You have to understand, darling, I didn't realize it'd be necessary for you bring the mongrel militia to a family meeting…didn't you want to discuss things alone?"

Somehow Jacob was sure that was a big fat fucking lie; he'd told Jasper on the phone they'd be there.

But Rennie didn't know that. "They're my friends. I asked them to come just for moral support!" Rennie came back hotly. "And this little stunt with Nahuel makes me think that was a damn good idea."

"Baby, we thought it'd be something nice… that you'd be excited to meet someone else like you," Bella spoke up with what sounded like borrowed words. She stepped out of Edward's embrace, tentatively crossing the room toward her daughter. "We were so scared you'd want to leave again, honey… we thought he might make you want to stay," she murmured holding out her arms.

Rennie sighed in frustration and took the several steps into her mother's embrace, collapsing like a little girl. And, even after what she'd been through this year, Rennie was uniquely both – guileless and candid, sharp and strong… part of Jacob hoped she'd always stay that way.

But Bella was totally fucking with her emotions – he wondered if she even knew she was doing it, or if she was just parroting what Edward had drilled into her skull.

"He's been staying with us since April, dove," Edward crooned with a patronizing smile.

Rennie looked up from where she had buried her face in Bella's hair. "Around the time Alice saw me staying at Charlie's, huh?" she surmised wryly.

Edward sniffed a laugh that was as good as a confirmation. "We love you Nes-.. ah, Rennie. I simply want what's best for you . And you have to understand I'd do anything make sure you have it."

The statement was made with a smile but there was an undercurrent of menace that was punctuated by Edward's gaze darting unconsciously to the two Wolves.

Rennie must have seen it too, because she pulled away from her mother, glancing over her shoulder and meeting Jacob's eyes.

"Why did we leave in the first place?" Rennie turned back on her father, her voice low and challenging.

Edward's gaze slipped over to meet Jacob's, assessing. Jacob realized he was trying to figure out if she knew about the imprint yet. A shadow of a smile lifted his lips and he rearranged himself against the couch.

Fuck.

"Because Jacob was showing an inappropriate interest in you," he said flatly.

"Jacob's never been 'inappropriate,'" Rennie hissed defensively.

Like a switch had been flipped, Edward's face darkened. "You've never had the pleasure of being inside his mind," he bit out harshly.

"Oh my God!" Rennie covered her face with her hands as she spun her back on them all in mortification. Only the sounds of her snuffling, hitching breath counted out the next few seconds.

Edward pushed off the couch and slunk to her side, turning her back around gently and pulling her hands from her face. "Look precious, just come home for tonight. We brought your things from London… we can spend the evening talking about anything and everything you wish. Just for tonight – you can get your room set up over here first thing in the morning. I'm sure poor Charlie's wants to go to sleep soon." Edward glanced up with a benevolent smile.

"I'm good," Charlie muttered from the lazy boy and took another sip of beer. His face was red, the vein popping out in his forehead. Jacob wondered whether his barely tempered anger was directed at Jacob or Edward or both.

"Nahuel is a gifted guitarist… he plays electric and bass," he chuckled pinching her chin. "And I hear you're quite the phenomenal show woman, darling. We all want to see you play so badly."

Rennie stared at him mutely for a moment, as if tempted.

Sensing he had her by the jugular Edward continued, "Perhaps you and Nahuel can start a band? Jasper plays drums as you know… you could 'jam' all night."

Jacob smirked. He sounded totally stupid trying to pull off any kind of colloquialism whatsoever with that tight ass.

With a huff, Rennie slapped her thighs. "Dad, I just can't deal with this right now," she shook her head slowly. "I'll come over tomorrow. I need to talk to Jake first," she ended emphatically.

Edward pressed his lip together in consternation. His eyes washed over his daughter's face as his hand came up to smooth back a wisp of hair.

"You need to explore options with your own kind before you make a mistake that your regret," he murmured with the delicacy of a pick axe. "Jacob's a wonderful friend…" he left the 'but' clause of that sentence dangling.

The growl that had been boiling in Jacob's gut clambered up his throat but was stopped cold by the anomalous sound of a rabid hiss. Jacob blinked in surprise – he'd never heard Rennie make the congenital sound of her vampire heritage.

"Jake's been lying to you Ness," Edward hissed low, all silk cloak and steel daggers.

"So have you," her nose wrinkled with her bared teeth as she took a step back. "So you'd better just stop right there unless you wanna dig yourself deeper, dad."

A low-pitched growl rumbled in Edward's chest as he turned on his heel, shoving a frustrated hand through his poofy hair. His dark gaze cut over to Jacob with a hateful sneer. It made Jacob's skin crawl.

"He didn't mean it like that, honey. You're father's just worried about you. Come home with us tonight," Bella pleaded, stepping forward with an expression of distress melting her brow. "Please… you can-"

" I'm staying here tonight," Rennie cut her off tersely. "I'll be by tomorrow afternoon to get my stuff and visit for a while, mom."

Bella sighed and her hand came up to rest on her daughter's shoulders. "All right, baby."

"Well darlin'," Jasper stood from where he'd collapsed on the bottom stair. "On all accounts, it's jus' peachy havin' you back home. We all missed you like nobody's business," he drawled as he crossed over to wrap Rennie in an unencumbered hug. No wonder Rennie liked him the best of her leach relatives– he was the only one of them who was anything near normal. Jacob found himself glad she had at least someone in her corner at the Cullen ring.

Jacob released a long slow breath with the relief of having cleared one hurdle at least. He glanced back at Paul where he'd sat on the old iron radiator by the window, tipping the last of his beer down his throat. Paul furtively lifted a chin – as he cut his eyes back into the room in warning.

With a frown, Jacob turned back around to see Edward stalking toward him, his nostrils flared. Jacob squared his shoulders, drawing himself up to his full height.

"Jacob, I'm remiss with my welcome," he crooned, a supercilious smile that looked every inch sinister peeling his lips back from razor teeth. He held out his hands in a parody of graciousness.

"Naw, I think you did a pretty fucking fabulous job with that, Eddie," Jacob chuckled darkly, reaching out to clasp his hand with aggressive gusto.

"I'm grateful for your understanding," he returned smoothly those jaundiced eyes flashing. Edward's hand squeezed Jacob's with uncurbed strength that made his tendon's pop painfully.

Jacob returned the pressure – to keep this bones from being pulverized – while he kept his face trained in a neutral stare.

"We'll talk again soon," Edward hissed and then closed his lips in a tight-lipped smile – his eyes boring a rancid hole clear through Jacob's head - as his other hand clapped on Jacob's shoulder.

"Dad?" Rennie called questioningly as she disengaged herself from her mother's hug and took several worried steps toward them.

Edward sniffed a humorless laugh and released him. Jacob wiped his hand off on his jeans with a childish smirk.

"Paul…" Edward tipped his head cordially.

Jacob heard the sound of Paul crushing his empty beer can in his fist. "You wanna toss this for me on the way out?" he asked snidely.

"Jake?"

Before Jacob could hear the response, Bella's cold hand was resting on his forearm. He let out a long, slow breath. "Hey, Bells," he sighed.

"Missed you, Jake," she whispered quietly, stepping in to wrap her arms around his big body.

Jacob capitulated and returned the hug as he held his breath against her sickeningly sweet scent. He patted her back flatly – kinda like Paul had done with Esme.

He didn't know what he was feeling right now, but it certainly wasn't the warm fuzzies. What did "missed you" even mean? It had been so long since they'd had any real friendship – in hindsight the last time he could remember was when Edward had eclipsed her heart and she had come to him to put her back together again. After that? It had been one blow below the belt after another. Since she'd been Turned, he'd only seen her in connection with her daughter.

Jacob pulled away feeling oddly unsettled. He supposed that's what leeches did in general and Bella in particular: they pretended everything was normal. Well Jacob didn't have it in him to fake it anymore.

"Maybe you can come up to the house for dinner sometime soon?" she smiled up to him with an expression that was disturbingly clueless.

He was so disconcerted that all he could do was grunt noncommittally as he shoved his hands safely in his pockets.

"I'll take the can, Paul," Bella reached out her hand and Paul made a show of dropping it into her palm without touching her. Those two had never really gotten along, and Jacob was finally beginning to understand just why the fuck that was.

"Dad," Bella turned to her father who had stood from his easy chair. He fumbled with his beer and Jacob took pity on him and took it while Bella hugged him tightly. "Thanks for everything," she gushed.

"Uh, no problem, Bells," he mumbled.

Bella released him and he nervously sniffed as his gaze darted warily to where Edward was approaching.

"Thank you Chief Swan," Edward crooned, reaching out his hand politely.

Charlie shook it briskly and then shoved both his hands in his pockets. "Rennie can stay as long as she wants," he asserted with a hard edge as he rolled his shoulders. " 'Fact I hope she stays a good long while."

"I appreciate that, sir," Edward smiled affably like Charlie was doing him a personal favor. "We hope she eventually comes back home, of course."

"Just 'cause you're forever stuck in high school doesn't mean she's gonna be," Jacob murmured under his breath as he handed Charlie his beer.

Edward's gaze snapped to his with a veiled scowl. "At least some of us have graduated at all, Jacob Black," Edward hissed, clearly not amused.

Jacob's smile widened into a saccharine grin. "Yeah, every fuckin' day I think – 'damn, why don't I have a collection of stupid hats-'"

"Jake," Bella interrupted him with a long suffering sigh.

"I think it's about time we got ourselves goin'," Jasper spoke up from by the door. He was the only of them who didn't waste his time with empty gestures of civility where they weren't wanted.

Edward wrapped his arm around Bella's shoulder. "Come on, love," he leaned in and pointedly pressed his lips to her temple with an overt and flaunting possessiveness. As if that had done anything to Jacob for over eight years. Bloodsuckers never changed - even when the world around them did.

They made a big thing of walking at human pace to the door while Jacob's eyes immediately found Rennie. Her arms were braced against the back of the couch, her head hanging.

" 'Bye, honey," Bella called out.

"We'll see you tomorrow, dove," Edward added.

Rennie wordlessly nodded, her long curls bouncing down over her shoulders and falling against the sofa.

Jacob crossed slowly toward her, concern furrowing his brow. He could only imagine what the hell she was thinking – and feeling – right now.

"Rens?" Jacob ventured quietly.

Rennie just shook her head slowly back and forth, her curtain of hair rippling like liquid copper.

The sound of an understated over-priced motor purred from the front yard followed by the crunching of gravel and - it was probably only Jacob's imagination - it felt like the entire room released a collective sigh of relief.

"Well that was fun," Paul snorted.

"You did really good, chica," Jacob offered quietly as he leaned his hips against the couch.

Rennie sucked in a breath through her teeth and lifted her head slowly. Dark, piercing eyes peered unblinkingly back at him through the screen of her hair. The distracting relief at having simply not having killed anyone melted into the inconsequential and it hit him like a sledgehammer to his face just how much had been both revealed an insinuated in that brief meeting. Jacob's heart jumped into a sprint at the same time his stomach took a dive, creating an unbearable tension that threatened to simply rip his soul in half.

Jacob's mouth had gone dry and cottony as he cleared his throat. "Y'wanna talk?" he asked hoarsely.

Rennie didn't answer but straightened slowly, her anklet tinkling lazily with the movement. Grabbing up her hair in a hand, she let it spill down over her back again and then crossed her arms over her chest while Jacob struggled not to be distracted with the waft of her delicate scent.

"No, I don't," she said curtly.

It was like a slap.

He blinked.

"In two short days I've almost killed someone, I've come home to find all the rules have changed, I get an eviction notice from niece-hood five minutes before a meeting that knocks me on my ass, I have my father parading me in front of some hot guy like I'm cattle..." her voice was slowly escalating toward a shriek like a boardwalk roller coaster. "I got lobotomized by conflicting nuance so thick you could eat it with a spoon, and I feel like I just survived some freaky scene from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner! ! Jesus! I don't wanna talk or think or any freaking thing right now!" she shrilled, slapping her thighs petulantly.

The chagrinned silence that followed was deafening.

Paul shifted on the radiator. "He was pretty hot," he chuckled slyly, with his usual masterful skill at the absurd.

Rennie whipped around. "I know, right?" she laughed gratefully.

Paul smirked with a ghost of a wink.

"Hey!" Jacob complained.

Rennie's eyes crinkled with her syrupy smile. "Jealous?"

Jacob's mouth opened to deliver some snarky reply, but he simply couldn't get it past the cold hard lump of swirly fury and fear and yearning.

Because no matter how much it was a simple attempt at familiar banter, there was absolutely nothing funny about it. Jacob had spent a lifetime rolling with the punches… sunny, funny, Jake. Good-natured, competent, dependable. But for the first time in his life he realized he was willing to throw everything away, destroy anything – or anyone - that got in his way, do whatever it took -overboard or underhanded – for the love of this woman standing only two feet away.

Rennie.

MINE.

"Heyyy," Rennie took several steps toward him and placed her palm on his chest. It was only then that he realized his body was trembling. She took another step into him, tipping her head back and regarding him with concern. Her sumptuous scent and warmth along with that rapturous touch was like an instant antidote to his anguish. He released a long hitching breath as his shoulders relaxed.

"You don't need to be jealous," Rennie whispered, her eyes darting between his, open, sincere, kind.

Jacob pressed his lips together as he swallowed thickly against the impulse to grab that tiny body into his arms.

Rennie went up on tip toes and his head automatically dipped down to meet her. Silky sublime lips brushed sweetly over his. "Jay, you're pretty hot yourself, you know," she murmured.

Jacob sniffed a laugh. At himself, at her gentle, caring humor, at the absurdity of a situation that could have been so incredibly easy … if he hadn't botched it with lies. Edward had suggested they keep the imprint from her until she was ready – but Jacob had agreed. He'd wanted her to have a choice so badly… until it came time for her to make it.

She rocked back down on her heels. "Pappy, you up for a lil' ESPN?" she immediately steered out of the intimate with a sheer and flippant tone that cloaked the looming shadow of a million doubts and worries.

Jacob needed to get himself together and man the fuck up.

"Yeah, kid," Charlie's voice was humorously ecstatic to be back in familiar territory. "There's a replay of the Mariner's game on right now."

Rennie nodded eagerly (even though Jacob knew she hated baseball). "You still got that bottle of scotch?" she asked as she turned on her heel toward the kitchen.

"Yep," Charlie grunted, as he collapsed in the lazy boy and snatched up the remote. "Above the fridge."

He met Jacob's gaze and shrugged. Jake was inclined to agree – after today, he figured they could afford to work on one problem at a fucking time.

"You want another beer, Pappy?" she called out as she rummaged around the kitchen.

"Sure."

"Jay? P?"

"Naw, I gotta get back to Rache," Paul answered, standing up and dusting his palms off on his jeans. He strode toward Jacob and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "You stayin'?"

Jacob's eyes cut over to the kitchen just as Rennie appeared with a bottle of scotch dangling from one hand and two beers balanced in the other.

Rennie crossed the living room, her eyes locked with his intensely. "I want you to stay, Jake," she said softly holding out a beer.

A slow smile curved Jacob's lips as he reached out and took it.

He answered Paul, his eyes not wavering from hers for an instant.

"Yeah, I'm stayin'," he whispered.

'

'

Next chapter takes a jerking turn, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Your feedback's kinda like a punch of NOS.

Chapter 13: Lesson 13 Sometimes You Have To Fight

Sorry, I don't know what it is with me and long chapters...

Calawah River- Runs through Forks etc.

Greek Fire – that burning liquid stuff they pour from castles etc.

Words of the day:

muculent - slimy; moist, and moderately viscous.

doyen - the senior member, as in age, rank, or experience, of a group, class, profession, etc.(Pack)

'

'

Lesson 13 – Sometimes You Have To Fight
(But it seldom ends well)

'

"Okay… put her down," Charlie murmured, his gruff voice softened into sentimental as his eyes ran over Rennie, crashed out in Jacob's dwarfing arms. Shoving his hands in his pockets he stepped back from the freshly made bed as Jacob skirted around the mattress.

Truthfully, Jacob didn't want to 'put her down.' Ever. Rennie felt so good in his arms: cheek resting against his shoulder, tiny body warm, limp and heavy in her drunken slumber.

She hadn't even bothered with a glass – she'd mechanically drained that bottle of scotch between play after pitiful play of the Mariner's disastrous loss recapped in excruciating glory on ESPN.

In spite of the royal screwing of Charlie's favorite team, it had been the most enjoyable baseball game Jacob had ever endured, and, he suspected, that Charlie had either. Rennie's snide running commentary on everything from batting form to ill-fitting protective cups had even her grandfather joining in the spirited repartee against the hated Oakland As. They had sucked down mind-numbing beers – and scotch – and expelled snorting chortles until the bad taste left by the evening's 'meeting' had all but evaporated.

But as the night stretched thin and the programming on to inane commentary on Olympic speculation, Rennie's mockery had grown increasingly less enthusiastic until she'd simply passed out – snoring and sweet against Jacob's broad shoulder.

And that had been nothing short of a little slice of heaven. Snores and all.

Jacob had gathered her up in his arms – she fit perfectly – and carried her up the stairs he had climbed a million times, but in such a different context that it gave him vertigo. Bella's old room sat at the head of the narrow staircase, strangely both the same and completely different. Just like Bella herself. All of her old childhood stuff had been poignantly boxed and stored, leaving just the furniture, the fairy lights, the rice paper lamp… and his dream catcher hanging on the headboard.

It was disconcerting.

But somehow as soon as he stepped across the threshold, carrying this woman in his arms – her daughter, his mate – it was like a spell had been viscerally broken. Rennie was so much her own person - and that person was so strong and sure and true - that her mere presence banished all the ghosts from this room. And from his memories.

Jacob reluctantly lay the girl's slim frame over the mattress, her jewelry tinkling quietly with the movement. Even through the sharp tang of the alcohol, her scent was absolutely edible and it wafted over him having been stoked in the sauna of his own unnatural heat. Her copper curls spilled out over the white cotton, her head falling softly to the side into the pillow. He slipped his arms out from under her and a hand came up to smooth a lock of hair from her cheek and he found himself using every last ounce of forbearance to keep from leaning down and kissing those enticing lax full lips. Hungry eyes, washed over her languid little body as he rearranged the sheer fabric of her blouse decorously over that enticing swath of bared, toned midriff. Without even thinking about it, his large palm ghosted down over the prominent bone of her pelvis and along the side of a lithe hip as he rearranged her flowing skirt down over her slender sylphlike legs.

Shit, she was so fucking beautiful.

"Ahem," Charlie cleared his throat in a not-so-subtle wake-up call as he held a blanket up at the foot of the bed.

Jacob's eyes jerked up to the man's while his lips pressed thin in chagrin. He was shamelessly ogling his unconscious granddaughter right in front of him but, frankly, he couldn't help himself. It was fucked up, but Jacob was disturbingly finding himself caring less and less.

Grabbing the offered corner of both a sheet and comforter, Jacob helped Charlie cover Rennie's body safely with thick blankets.

"Jake, can I talk to you a minute?" Charlie murmured to the girl's sleeping face as he tucked the covers under her chin and then lovingly smoothed a wrinkled hand over her forehead.

Jacob's stomach knotted reflexively at the tone of Charlie's request, but he faked his easy-going bravado anyway. "Sure thing, Charlie."

Charlie didn't meet his eyes as he skirted the bed and then edged passed by him into the hall. Closing the door softly behind him, Jacob apprehensively followed Charlie's clumping sock-footed steps down the steep stairs.

Without a word, the man strode across the living room and picked up two armfuls of the empty beer cans and then stalked to the kitchen. Jacob snagged the scotch bottle and the empty Doritos bag and Oreos package and followed after him. A midnight drizzle had started outside and it tapped against the windows with nervous fingers.

"So," Charlie began as he ducked to the back door and dumped the cans in the recycling bin in the entryway. "Y'never explained to me all this stuff about printing," he mumbled, wiping his hands off on his pants and then turning with an uncomfortably direct stare.

Jacob's feet froze in the middle of the kitchen. He'd told Charlie – as part of their "talk" those years ago – that he'd imprinted on Rennie. He kinda thought he'd forgotten – or maybe he'd just hoped.

Jacob cleared his throat. "Ah, imprinting," he corrected quietly.

"Yeah, whatever," Charlie sniffed, his mustache lifting in a wry smile. Patting his hips like he was missing his gun, he crossed to the sink and pulled open the cabinet below where the rubbish bin was kept.

"Well, it's the Wolf choosing its… mate," Jacob began awkwardly as he took the remaining steps and stuffed the two wrappers into the trash with a loud crinkle of foil that seemed like thunder over the soft rain outside and the hum of the refrigerator. "After you Phase and you meet the girl's eyes, it's kinda like getting socked in the face. You can't see anyone else, you can't think about anyone else – she's… like, part of you. You just know she's who you'll be with," Jacob coughed again uncomfortably. "Forever."

Charlie shut the cabinet with a soft clack and looked up into Jacob's eyes. "And you printed on Ren?"

"Imprinted," Jacob murmured automatically, setting the bottle down on the counter with a clack.

Charlie rolled his eyes. "Whatever."

Jacob smiled. "Yeah," he whispered.

Charlie's mustache hitched up to one side as his eyes washed over Jacob's face with a distinctively paternal (or cop-like) assessment. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned back against the counter. "And just how does that work seein' she was nothin' but a little girl up to about a year ago?" His words edged their way out from under that mustache with a warning tension.

Jacob licked his lip nervously, resisting the impulse to take a step back from that challenging stare. "Well, that's the thing Charlie," Jacob shoved his hands into his pockets and shifted his weight. " 'Up to about a year ago'…" he repeated Charlie's words. "She was my niece… well more than that. My responsibility. Kinda like the Wolf's cub," he paused, his eyes darting between Charlie's stoic stare.

Jacob squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. Enough of the lying shit... enough trying to find the right words... he was just going to lay it right on down. Even if Jacob himself didn't have it strung together in his own brain.

"It's been a mind fuck," he whispered, his eyes popping open, completely sincere and unadorned. "A real mind fuck. I mean, I helped raise her. I've been like a brother or uncle to her since she was born… and for a while that was fine for the Wolf. It's all he wanted – just to be around her, love her, make sure she was safe. Happy."

Jacob let out a frustrated sigh and took the step to the other counter, collapsing back against it as his shoulders caved.

"But she grew up so fast…" Jacob murmured as his eyes fell to the floor and he tried to extricate any sense from the tangled and knotted mess inside of him. He still hadn't worked through all this shit. He certainly couldn't talk to anyone about it– not even his Pack – without his Wolf simply wanting to kill the inquisitor. Until now.

"And then one day… like a fucking slap in the face…"a frustrated growl boiled in his stomach. "It was different," he wheezed. "And I didn't know how to deal with it." Jacob huffed several breaths through his nose as his hands gripped the counter behind him. "I didn't fucking know how to deal with it. I mean it's just so wrong," he choked, and then bit his lip with a disgusted shake of his head. "Damn, I love 'er so fucking much… I could never-…"

Silence swallowed both men down its slick hollow throat as the rain continued to dance against the window. The refrigerator's hum coughed and sputtered into a sulky sleep.

"It's probably a good thing they took her," Jacob spat finally, the acidic bile of self-loathing making his words bite over his tongue.

Charlie shifted beside him with the muffled rustle of his worn flannel shirt. "Maybe," he mumbled. "But you're a good man, Jake. "

Jacob's gaze darted up in surprise at Charlie's inference and found serious, thoughtful eyes. He'd only called Jacob a 'man' (not a kid) on a handful of occasions. And it had always meant something. Like now.

"But she's back now," Charlie continued evenly. "And she ain't a kid no more."

Jacob blinked at him. Like an idiot.

Charlie uncrossed his arms with a deliberate slowness and rested his elbows behind him on the counter. "So now what?"

"She-… uh…" If he could answer that question, Jacob wouldn't be floundering like a drowning man in this mess right now.

Charlie took pity on him. "You gotta talk to her, son," he whispered getting right to the point.

Jacob blinked at him again. Like an idiot.

Charlie suppressed a smile under his mustache. "Just like you're doin' now… tell her everything," he amended. "She's gotta decide, right?"

"Yeah, I know," the words came out in a gust of breath as Jacob pushed both hands through his hair. "I know all that…"

"But you're still a lil' broken up, huh? Scared?" he ventured quietly.

Jacob's hands froze at the back of his head at both his tone and direction. Charlie was a man who skirted anything to do with feelings like they were a leper.

Until now.

The man's body language subtly stiffened, but his eyes stayed locked carefully with Jake's. "Rennie ain't like her mama, Jake." The words slipped so stealthily out of the side of his mouth that Jacob was left doubting his own ears.

At Jacob's slack-jaw stare, Charlie drew in a capitulating breath and broke eye contact, his gaze flitting thoughtfully across the room. "Bells, well…" he sighed as he cracked his neck. "She made herself some decisions I don't agree with, you know that… but we're not talkin' about her right now. I wanna talk about you," his assessing eyes darted back to Jake's.

"An' I look at yeh an' I see myself with her mama," Charlie smacked his lips uncomfortably. "Renee chewed me up an' spit me out ….I weren't good for nothing for a good long time." One of his hands came up to scratch behind his neck in that habitual nervous gesture of his. " 'Til Sue. And well, you know how good I handled that one."

Jacob's hands fell down to his sides and he leaned back against the counter. "You' done alright, Charlie," Jacob soothed.

Charlie sniffed a laugh with an eye roll at his own expense. "Ain't neither here nor there. But Bells weren't never the girl for you – both you an' me know that. But Rennie…" He drew in a long breath through his nose. "Sue told me all about this imprintin' business an' I seen what it's done with her girl… with Paul." He chuckled affectionately at what could only be called the miraculous transformations of their infamous hotheads.

Jacob clicked his tongue reflexively. "If you knew, why'd you ask?" he couldn't keep the incredulity from his voice. He'd even pronounced it correctly the second time around. Sneaky sonofabitch.

Charlie met his gaze with a sly smile. " 'Wanted to hear your take on it," he smirked unapologetically. "And sounds to me, you ain't givin' yourself enough credit. To hear the rest of 'em tell it, that thing'll pretty near break a man if you leave it hanging like you been doin'. You always were as stubborn as your old fool of a papa."

Jacob fought his smile with a macho huff as he crossed his ankles, his body relaxing. Jacob hadn't gone to his own father about all of this – he hadn't wanted to bring Billy down from his long-time-coming bliss with Faye. But Charlie was very much like a second father to him and, as uncomfortable as it made the man, he was stepping up to the plate.

"You gotta talk to her, kid," Charlie returned to serious. " 'Cause however it ends up – an' if today was any kinda thing it don't look like you got nothin' to worry about," he grumbled with properly paternal terseness. "She needs you. 'Cause it looks like her mama's gone an' forgot."

Jacob's brow furrowed. "Forgot?"

Charlie pushed off the counter with a soft grunt. "How it was to be a girl. 'Tryin' to figure out her way. My baby girl never even got a chance herself-…" Charlie's voice broke and his gaze fell to the floor.

Jacob straightened, shoving his hands into his pockets.

"I kinda feel like them damn Mariner's tonight: outta my league with all this twilight zone shit… " Charlie looked up with a little purse to his lips. "But Rennie's half human, don't you forget that."

He held Jacob's gaze until he nodded.

Charlie broke eye contact as he trudged out of the kitchen, signaling the end of this little discussion.

Jacob drew in a long breath and followed after him.

"And Jake?" Charlie paused, his face turning just enough that Jacob could see his cheek. "So are you. Don't you forget that neither."

Jacob's feet froze in place on the old, scuffed linoleum as his mind imploded with the addition of those simple words.

This was the piece he was missing: he'd been so mired in lupine instincts and Pack intricacies, yearning and propriety, duty and fear, turf-wars and destiny that he'd forgotten about his human heart. And in the grand scheme of things, there was nothing more important. Nothing else in this whole mess meant a shit, except that he, Jacob Black, loved her.

In every way it was possible to love a person.

If he let the purity of that love be his compass, then the rest of it naturally became inconsequential.

Jacob blinked as he heard Charlie's first footfall on the stairs. "Thanks, Charlie," he breathed.

"Yup," Charlie grunted, without a pause in his step. "G'night."

Jacob's brain suddenly downshifted back into gear. "Hey, um…" he jogged the few steps to the bottom of the stairs. "Can I stay the night?"

Charlie paused and turned to look over his shoulder. "You mean on the couch?" he emphasized with a warning frown that made Jacob smile. "Sure. You know where the blankets are – not that you need 'em," he grumbled turning back around and ascending the rest of the stairs.

'

'

He didn't know what woke him: Jacob was suddenly sitting bolt upright on the couch.

The little green led numbers on the ancient DVD player said: 1:23 am. Rain skipping over the tin porch roof and whispering against the window, the bubbling murmur of the Freon in the ice box, Charlie's deep hollow snores upstairs.

Silence.

In one lithe, rolling movement, Jacob was over the back of the sofa and in a soundless crouch on the old wooden floorboards. Without a conscious thought, Jacob's feet were lightly ascending the squeaky worn steps without a sound, his very soul pulling him like a magnet to his imprint's side. Jacob carefully pushed open the door at the head of the stairs with the soft squeak of old hinges. Rennie's faint scent – relaxed and sweet – and her soft, even breaths instantly soothed his Wolf.

She was curled on her side, her slight shoulder peaking through neckline of her blouse pulled awry. Jacob stepped to her side and tugged the blanket up to her jaw as his gaze washed over her dainty profile, her cheek pillowed against her hand, dark lashes a fringe on her cheek, plump lips parted.

So fucking gorgeous.

Kowtowing to the impulse, he leaned over and brushed his lips over her temple, inhaling her scent quietly, luxuriantly.

"Mmjay," she mumbled on a soft sigh.

Jacob's heart popped right then and there – delicately, easily, just like a summer afternoon's iridescent soap bubble blown from a slimy purple plastic wand and caught on a toddler's grubby finger.

Pop.

Damn. He adored her.

He remembered days like that: blowing bubbles from his father's porch and watching her chase them like a forest sprite, her curls catching sunshine as they bounced with her impossible lissome leaps. Her girlish giggles so like effervescent bubbles would always lighten whatever burden happened to be weighing down his dutiful shoulders on a particular day.

And, seemingly seconds later, here she was again: a woman fully grown, curled on her side in the sagging childhood bed of her mother. The blankets wilting over graceful, delectable curves, her scent rising to make his mouth water and soul crave to be whole. With the mind of a leader, protector, such an incongruence was confusing, but with a human heart it was simply sublime.

Love. In all its many forms.

Jacob finally realized in that instant that he'd have never taken – or ever take -what she wasn't ready to give… but also that he wasn't wrong for merely wanting it. And it was in that moment, when he stopped fighting himself, that he finally understood what love really was: unconditional and unfettered acceptance. Of the good and the bad, the growing and the stagnant.

And that he couldn't love Rennie, if he didn't love himself.

The realization was as redemptive and cleansing as the rain that wept down the window panes, melting the light of single streetlamp outside by the road like icing against the glass.

Ghosting his hand delicately over her head, Jacob turned from the bed and stalked silently to the window. He knew she was safe … both from himself and whatever nightmares had pulled him up the stairs.

What had awoken him?

As he neared the window, his eyes immediately snapped to the figure standing eerily unmoving like a white specter under the phlegmatic cone of drizzle carved by the streetlamp. Icy skeleton hands crept up Jacob's back, raising his hackles along with hot acidic bile from his stomach.

Edward fucking Cullen.

Hands clasped decorously before him, his face was tipped up, dark shadowed eye sockets trained creepily on Rennie's window. The rain slicked over his pasty skin and soaked his shirt, clinging to his gaunt, rawboned frame.

Jacob immediately slammed his thoughts to a screeching halt, tucking them away behind the steel door that he had developed over his eight years as Alpha. His control wasn't perfect in human form – especially if he got emotional – but it was a hell of a lot better than it used to be.

As if in response – without a single twitch to his marble form - Edward's lips peeled back in a gruesome grin that would look apropos in one of Tim Burton's nightmares. Jacob shuddered involuntarily and pulled closed the dusty ratty curtains that hung at either side of the window.

What the hell did he want?

Jacob turned back to the bed where Rennie slept in flagrant cherubic contrast. Her hair looked like rivulets of spun gold in the soft light that emphasized her balanced features, dark eyes, and full mismatched bow lips. She looked ethereal and delicate, sensuous and sublime, too flattering sweet to be substantial.

And he couldn't believe that thing was her father sometimes.

"Yet you know I am, Jacob," a whisper like a moth fluttered between the raindrops and window sash to his preternatural ear.

Fuck.

Clenching his fists, Jacob skirted the bed, his eyes gulping their last draught of the most beautiful face in world to him. He slipped out the door, pulled it shut and crept down the stairs while his mind covertly steeled itself. He needed to be smart about this. So very smart. Just the slightest misstep and he'd lose his tenuous balance. And things were as good as they were going to get right at this moment.

Which, of course, was why Edward was here.

Part of him berated himself for taking the bait, but the other part knew that this meeting would come sooner or later anyway and the novel peace he had come to this evening was best served up fresh; who knew what the morning would bring? Plus there was the little thing about just knowing he was out there – there was something in Jacob's very DNA that wouldn't let him back down from this challenge.

He just had to keep both his wits and his temper about him – luckily something Jacob usually excelled at… except when it came to Rennie. (He decided to ignore that little caveat.)

He crossed the dark living room toward the front of the house and a wave of rain ominously swept over the roof of the house. The door complained softly as he pulled it open and he padded silently out on the porch. It was really coming down now, so Jacob whipped off his shirt and let it drop to the damp floorboards, and then leaped down the front steps.

The rain was cool and revitalizing, soft misty breaths rising from his heated skin in the evening summer air. He closed his eyes softly as he centered himself and felt the trickles of water find the lines of his face as he jogged across the yard.

All too soon he was six feet in front of the leech, who was standing in the exact same position: head tipped up, hands clasped before him, with that strange shallow curve to his lips that hovered somewhere between ghastly and pitiful.

"What're you doing here?" Jacob growled low.

The vampire blinked once and then lethargically turned his face to Jacob. "Listening to her dream," Edward answered in a soft sing-song voice. "And waiting for you." That smile grew deepening roots in the shadows of his face.

Disconcerted – if there was one thing Eddie did well, it was fuck with your head – Jacob crossed his arms over his chest.

"She dreams of you, Jacob," Edward continued, his hooded eyes piercing and still like death. "But she's confused, she's thinking about-"

"Stop," Jacob intoned, inadvertently in the deep Alpha register. "I only wanna know if she tells me. The mind's a crazy place and some shit's private," Jacob asserted with quiet heat. He knew that all too well being the leader of a group of passionate Wolves – where a lack of respect or sensitivity could create lifelong emotional scarring when the mind of one of his Pack invariably popped a doozy .

"You're lying," he taunted with a laugh and a little assessing cock to his head. "You're dying to know what she thinks of you."

"Duh!… " Jacob's nostrils flared. "But what I want and what I want are two different things, or haven't you learned that in a century of mind raping?"

Edward's lips tucked down over his teeth in a smirk. "Your mind is unusual, Jacob Black," he crooned, complimentary or scathing – Jacob couldn't tell.

"So why're you creeping around at one a.m. spying on your sleeping daughter like some weirdo?" Jacob wiped his hand down his face impatiently, squeegee-ing the water out of his eyes.

"If you weren't her dad, I'd kill ya for that, y' know?" Jacob added through gritted teeth as he crossed his arms again.

Edward smiled… sincerely this time. "I know you would, Jacob," he murmured with an oozing cloying sentimentality. "You've always done a magnificent job of protecting her."

Jacob's brow furrowed in confusion. "Good enough for a bodyguard but not a boyfriend, huh?"

"Come now, it's not like that," Edward scoffed – his body still utterly unmoving. It was freaky… and annoying. There was this one little drop of water that was dangling off the end of the leech's nose that was driving him crazy.

Edward's eyes flitted up to the sky in annoyance and a pale muculent hand reached up to wipe the offending water from his face.

Jacob smirked. "Why don't you tell me how it is, Eddie?"

"Well I thought, seeing she's managed to down an entire bottle of scotch, we could have the privacy to discuss just that, actually," Edward crooned.

"Eavesdropping earlier too?" Jacob sneered as his shoved his hand through his sopping hair. "Just how long've you been poking around Charlie's yard like some stalker freak, huh?"

"Well, I'm patient, as you know," Edward smiled patronizingly. "And I didn't want to let this opportunity pass us by."

Jacob's brows jerked up pointedly. "Yeah?"

"Let me be blunt," Edward sighed. "Since she doesn't yet know about the imprint, I thought I would ask you to entertain an idea…"

"What? ! Oh, c'mon!" Jacob snarled, whipping around and pacing a few steps with annoyance, his bare feet squishing in the muddy grass. "You're not this stupid." Jacob knew just what the fucker was going to ask: for him to wait.

"Just hear me out…" Edward murmured. "Give her a chance to get to know Nahuel beforehand…and let things between you progress naturally…"

"And just why would I do that?" Jacob whipped around with an incredulous shake to his head as he fought the buckling roll of his temper.

Edward's face was frozen in an intense expression. "If you're right, and this imprint nonsense means you're perfectly matched, then you've nothing to lose, yes?"

"Lemme ask again… " Jacob expelled a breath of frustration. "Why the fuck would I wanna do that?"

"Because it's what's best for her."

Jacob rolled his eyes, wiping the drizzling rain again from his face with a slapping palm. "What's best for Rennie is to know the fucking truth. I'm a goddamn moron for lying to her in the first place."

The leech moved for the first time – his hands unclasping and one reaching out in a melodramatic gesture of petition. "Jacob, its what's best for both of you."

Jacob barked a laugh at the absurdity of it all. "What's best for both of us is the no-bullshit, straight-up truth!" his voice vaulted up with vexation. Catching himself, Jacob pressed his lips together as he drew in a long, soothing breath through his nose.

Edward took a step toward him. "Have you thought about it, Jacob?" he urged tensely with the air of a desperate man.

And he was…desperate. Jacob needed to remember that: he had the upper hand here, all he needed to do was keep his temper in check.

As if Edward could see that thought - duh, he could – his voice climbed up over his own misgivings, cracking and bleeding to the quick. "Have you thought past your foolish romantic notions about the reality of your lives? Renesmee is immortal!"

Edward's increasing agitation had the opposite effect on Jacob: it calmed his budding tremors immediately. "I can keep phasing," he stated simply. He had thought about all of this.

Edward laughed disparagingly. "Your kind isn't made to be eternal – that's why you mate like you do: to tempt you into abdicating your immortality," he snorted. "It's difficult for those such as us – static and unchanging as we are – to endure endless day after day without going mad."

"I can see that," Jacob smirked.

Edward's eyelids fluttered urbanely. "What do you think it will do to you?" he bit out.

Jacob shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

"What bridge? !" Edward disdained as a hand raked through his slickened hair in frustration. "The bridge over Calawah river? Do you think Renesmee is going to be content being mired in this godforsaken backwoods hole-in-the-wall for centuries? ! Stuck at the side of a Chief who's nothing but the doyen of a perpetual group of teenage mutants? !" he ridiculed over a laugh. "And they'll keep Phasing you know, she probably has enough of our blood to keep the gene active."

Jacob was finding his embittered argument strangely calming – Edward was growing more agitated by the minute, but there was nothing in the world Jacob was surer of than this: his love for Rennie. While he wasn't making any effort to understand Edward's stick-up-the-ass stilted language, he understood the gist well enough. But no matter what Edward said to belittle Jacob on the outside, nothing he could say could touch that.

"As you pointed out, leech," he gave him a saccharine smile and spread his hands grandly. "Chief. I can do whatever the fuck I want. We can leave anytime."

"And do what?" Edward nearly snarled.

Jacob pursed his lips theatrically as his eyes swept the dark weeping heavens. "Travel, explore, settle, learn to knit ...whatever she wants… whatever we want," he mused and then his gaze snapped back to pierce Edward's.

"I just wanna be with her," his voice slipped down to the bass register of absolute certainty. Because, indeed, there was nothing Jacob was more fucking sure of than this.

Edward huffed as he tipped his face up to the rain. "Just what is an imprint, pray tell?" he murmured to the sky.

"Your other half, your mate," Jacob answered easily.

"Exactly… " Edward's face snapped down, his eyes boring into Jacob's. "Mate!" he hissed. "She can't have children Jacob!"

That little revelation took him off guard – there was something innate in him that yearned to mix their genes and reeled with that disclosure. Jacob drew in a breath as his hands closed into fists and his mind furiously processed.

Edward's gaze was washing cannily over his face as he took a step forward. "She's infertile, you know…" he began in a provocative voice. "Nahuel has said none of their kind can produce offspring. The end of your bloodline?" he whispered with a beguiling intensity that tasted of thrall. "Are you willing to give that up too?"

But far deeper and wider than the biological mating instinct ran his unfathomable love. A slow smile spread over Jacob's lips that made Edward blink in confusion.

"Yup," Jacob popped the 'P.'

"I. Am." He enunciated the words like a punch, just to make sure there was no misunderstanding. A smile cracked his lips at the blatant surprise that tugged at the leech's brow. "We'll adopt if we want kids. I got two sisters and Rache already has one anyway – so nix the bloodline argument," his lips hitched up in a wry smile. "Next?"

"You're infuriating," Edward spat.

"Why, thank you," he smirked.

"She would do better with her own kind. We all know forgoing blood was a major factor in her slip in London…"

Jacob gave him a no-duh expression. "What's the first thing I gave her when she got here?"

"Beer," Edward sneered.

"Get the fuck out of my head." Jacob bared his teeth. "Blood! I agree, she needs to just fucking accept what she is and drink it," he spread his hands in annoyance. "I'm totally over it. She can be fucking vegan for all I care… which would be a hell of a lot worse than drinking a glass of 'red' with every meal. The French 'been doing that for years!" he grinned.

Edward expelled an irritated breath as he interlocked his hands together and rang them loosely in front of him while his mind obviously searched for traction. "Look, Renesmee is half vampire… your mortal enemy…"

But Jacob was done with this.

"You look, Edward," Jacob interjected. This little tete-a-tete had done nothing but stoke his resolve and bolster his confidence and his patience was finally wearing thin. "I don't fucking care what she is, I care who she is. And I love her."

In that creepy mercurial way of their kind, Edward's face suddenly hardened into cold, stone severe. "It's better for her," he hissed simply.

Jacob took an involuntary step back as he slicked the water off his face, sensing imminent danger. "What is?"

"Anything but you," Edward spat, his lips peeling back from his teeth.

It made Jacob's Wolf perk up at the ominous sense of foreboding that that expression stoked in his gut.

But Jacob played it down. "Now that sounds just a little bit personal," he quipped sarcastically.

Edward's eyes were flashing as he slunk forward a step, the rain hitting his unblinking eyes eerily. "Nahuel would be perfect... he's educated, erudite, a musician, immortal, one of her own kind," he crooned, oily and nasty. " Just give her some time to explore other options… she's too young to make a choice about the rest of her eternity."

"She's technically older than Bella was!" Jacob stormed incredulously.

Edward froze, his eyes blinking. Finally.

Jacob's lips curved in a humorless smile. "Does that bother you, leech? That you took a girl before she was ready? She didn't really know what she was doing, did she?"

"Bella is very happy with the life she chose," Edward whispered flatly.

"I'm not gonna force her, Assward!" Jacob snarled, his patience finally bankrupt. "I'm just gonna tell her the fucking truth!"

"Jacob, just wait. Give it two weeks," he pleaded through gritted teeth.

Ugh! Talking to these bloodsuckers was like talking to some chronic bipolar, ADD psycho off his meds! Jacob slapped his thighs hotly.

"Nope… I'm done waiting, Eddie," he spat emphatically. He was going to give this guy one more chance to understand this, and then he was going inside. "Look, this goes beyond the imprint. My Wolf wants her, yeah… he knows she's Mine," he inadvertently growled the word.

"But fuck the woo-woo wolfy bullshit! Me, the manJacob BlackI love her!" Jacob took a step forward with his vehemence. " She's kick-ass smart and headstrong and her own person. She's adventurous and funny and not afraid to make mistakes. Her music's the shit and she knows an engine – foreign or domestic - almost as good as me," Jacob paused, his breath heaving with his impassioned words. "And she's kind. Loving and giving and caring and kind."

Edward stared wordlessly at him while the rain spit tauntingly between them.

Jacob took another step forward, opening his palm in a gesture pleading for understanding. " I love her Edward, and I'm not waiting anymore," he softened his voice in a petition for peace.

Again, silence.

Like a glacier melting into molten fury, Edward's face slowly changed before Jacob's eyes.

Jacob took a subtle step back as his body viscerally reacted to the rising scent of leech fury like rotting tulips.

"You'll kill her with boredom, Jacob," Edward rasped venomously. "You're nothing but a stupid hulking neanderthal brute – perhaps good enough for a roll in the hay, but certainly not fit for breakfast in the morning."

Jacob's hands curled into fists.

He's goading you. Walk away, a voice whispered urgently in his head.

"We're done here," Jacob whispered, and he turned on his heel, striding toward the house and drawing deep, cleansing breaths with each step. 'Teach him to try to have a civil conversation with an undead monster.

"I'm not a monster, really I'm not," that voice whined in the drone of a carpenter bee.

Jacob laughed disparagingly, his gait uninterrupted. That's exactly what you are, he thought pointedly.

" I can be patient and tolerant and charitable, but just like you, I'll do anything for those who are mine," he continued mercilessly like a splinter under Jacob's every nail. "You weren't good enough for Bella and you're certainly not good enough for her," he spat caustically.

"Nope, nothing like me… " Jacob called over his shoulder.

The steps were only thirty feet away when a cold stone hand grasped at his bicep.

Jacob shook it off with a growl. "You're nice when it gets you what you want, end of story," he ground out. "And you don't know the first thing about love. You and Bella are different pieces of the same fucking dysfunctional puzzle." Jacob squared his shoulders over the tenacious press of his rising rage. "We're done here… I'm not gonna fight you. Go home," he hissed.

Edward's eyes were black and grim. The wan light and slicking rain made him look exactly like what he was: a corpse.

"I've tried to solve this in a gentlemanly fashion, Jacob," he began in a no more than a creeping susurration.

BAM!

The next thing Jacob knew, he was flying across the yard from a cracking blow to his jaw. With a quick instinctual twist, he'd landed on the balls of his feet and knuckles in the sodden ground. His Wolf exploded - tearing him apart inside with the shrapnel, begging for release. Jacob audibly gagged with the effort of resistance. His breath was heaving, his eyes struggling to focus on the dark, wet blades of grass, while rain mixed with crimson dripped off his face.

"If you want her, you'll have to fight, Jacob Black," a voice wound quietly around the raindrops. "You seem to think the odds are in your favor these days… of course, all I have to do is bite, you know."

Jacob's lips lifted from his teeth as his head jerked up with the coursing tsunami of adrenaline and the burning abrasion of both human and lupine rage. His eyes were heated – burning his sockets- and a snarl foamed across his bloodied lips.

Edward was standing casually – and pointedly – between him and the house.

Between him and Rennie.

His mistake number two. 'First one was being born.

Oh yeah, he wasn't gonna fight this motherfucker… he was gonna kill him.

His breath rasping harshly through his bared teeth Jacob sprang in human form as Edward lithely dodged, pulling him away from the house. The leech lunged into a lightning strike and Jacob rolled across the grass, congealing to his feet and launching his own offensive.

With a scissor kick, he caught Edward's chin in his attempted evasion and in the follow-through, Jacob phased, whipping around like a spring to pounce after his prey.

Shit! Quil's voice rang instantly in his head. Jake, NO! He's playing you!

Oh, Jacob was way past that point.

This motherfucker's dead. His words leached through the Pack mind and burned like Greek fire.

With a snap, Jacob condensed back into his body, just in time to ram an elbow into Edward's gut that sent him sprawling across the grass. Jacob charged after him, grappling with the leech's throat as he hissed and snapped venomous jaws while they rolled on the ground. In the distance, Jacob could hear the low long lament of entwining howls, joined quickly by others, but he hardly cared.

He'd just do this in human form – easy enough.

He didn't need the fucking Pack conscience getting in the way of something that he should have done a long time ago. Eight years, to be exact.

Jacob slammed a fist into a marble face that shattered under his bloody knuckles before he was thrown forty feet into a tree at the edge of the wood. An infuriated roar burst from his lips as the oak groaned and toppled over with the impact, but the leech was on him again before he could blink.

Eyes wide and burning, razor sharp teeth dripping with venom, nose wrinkled in a savage and merciless sneer, the monster pummeled Jacob's face with a snapping fist.

And that was his first clue.

Some part of Jacob's quickly fleeting consciousness realized Edward was intentionally causing minimal damage – doing more to stoke rage than draw blood. "Some part" was the key phrase there, because Edward was doing a fucking spectacular job stoking years of pent up rage into a wildfire that was razing the man's consciousness as surely as it was feeding the Wolf's rampage.

In one efficient and deadly swipe, Jacob knocked the bloodsucker off of him, following the throw with a lunging, lethal roundhouse kick, that caught his opponent before he'd hit the ground. The impact of the parasite's landing gouged a swath of muddy soil through the lawn as Jacob sprinted after him, leaping and transforming mid-air to land, pinning his quarry with prone claws.

The beast stared down at its prey with panting, growling, drooling relish. The monster's injuries were healing before the Wolf's eyes...which pissed it off something fierce. Bearing its teeth ruthlessly, the beast leaned down to simply rip this abomination to shreds once and for all…

NO! Paul's voice shrilly vibrated through the beast's bloodlust. Fuck, Jay! STOP!

With an incensed snarl, Jacob pushed the Wolf down with an obdurate hand as he coalesced seamlessly into his human form, crouched over the vampire.

"Muthafuckah," he growled, his words barely intelligible. Jacob threw his fist into the filthy parasite's nose.

Edward's face snapped with the brute force of the blow… but he took it.

Somehow that enraged him all the more.

With a foaming snarl, Jacob threw another, and another, and another… his fists flying as a savage roar boiled in his gut.

"Jake?"

That soft hitching voice... that warm, trembling hand on his forearm...

Stopped him cold.

Breath grating raw through gritted teeth, Jacob blinked down at the pulverized man beneath him, his features rearranged under the human bloody residue and torn swatches of his own skin.

Fucking shit.

His heart stumbling in his chest, Jacob pried his eyes from his victim and turned his head slowly.

Rennie was crouched in the grass beside him, dark haunting eyes huge and fearful. Cold, purple lips quivering, the drizzle was collecting in her copper curls, pulling them down around her heartbreaking face: sadness, distress… betrayal was held out with melting earnestness in her searching, liquid eyes.

Swallowing thickly, Jacob climbed off Edward's prone figure and collapsed on his knees before her, bowing his head under the unbearable weight of those endless, innocent eyes. Rennie's fearful, shallow whimpers wrapped his heart in a vise.

It was then that he heard the lupine growls and feral hisses that churned the soggy night behind them like a rolling boil.

His head jerked in one direction to see his Pack – five Wolves Phased with Paul standing nude and tense before them, the agitated howls of the others climbing the distance. His chin lurched to the other side - the Cullens: Carlisle tensely restraining a weeping Bella in front of the others, crouched with antagonized snarls aimed at their foes across the yard.

They were a hair's breadth from full-on war.

BRRAA-TAAH

The metallic rattle of a shotgun cocking, made all eyes snap up instantly to the porch.

On the top stair stood Charlie, backlit by the lighted house, his riffle held ready and aimed stoically, steadily, at the two of them on the grass.

Only Rennie ignored him.

"Dad…" Rennie's voice broke with amber tears that joined the drops of rain on her cheeks as she kneeled beside Edward's frozen body.

"I'm fine, darling," he slurred thickly over his ruined – but healing - lips.

Rennie collapsed back to sit on heels in the mud, her face falling into her palms. Her sheer blouse clung like cellophane to slight shoulder that jerked with sobs that bubbled up like crude oil from a deep drill.

Jacob reflexively reached out to her with a shaking, bloody hand, but she flinched away.

Rennie's face slowly tilted up, anguished, confused eyes peering at him over her trembling fingers. "Why?" she breathed –her brow puckering with a heartrending earnestness.

Jacob's throbbing heart had hermetically sealed his throat.

"Rennie?" Charlie's voice was strong and sure – his cop voice.

It surprised her, and she turned to look over her shoulder at her grandfather, now standing in front of the house, his gun held tersely at his side.

"C'mere, baby," he called softly, opening his other arm invitingly.

Without a backward glance, Rennie nimbly pushed off the ground and was running into his arms, anklet frantically jingling, her wet curls bouncing heavily. Her soaked clothes clung to her slim figure and made her look like some piteous little waif.

She threw herself into her grandfather's shoulder, sobbing like a child and Jacob's heart shattered his chest, a wheezing agonized gasp filling his lungs. Gone was the brave and cheeky young woman, gone was the sharp tongue and sharper mind… all of her fearless strength had been sloughed away to the intimate quick of her sensitive heart, gentle soul and all the pink, tender scars this crazy world had already gouged into her ingenuousness. After all she'd been through, this had been the last straw. It might have been Jacob that Edward had been trying to break, but he'd only succeeded in breaking his daughter.

Jacob gagged on the shards of his own shattered heart as he fought the retching rebellion of his stomach.

Charlie wrapped his arms around her as he crooned soothing nonsense into her hair while his eyes panned the group spread out on his lawn with deliberate and unconcealed scorn.

Bella must have been released from Carlisle, because she silently skidded to Edward's side, helping him sit up with worried hands.

Jacob stood quickly, taking several steps back in disgust.

Disgust with them, with himself.

"You all need to figure this out somewhere else," Charlie veritably growled as his arms squeezed Rennie tighter and she wrapped her thin little arms around his waist like the little girl she still was. Sometimes.

Charlie's hand smoothed over Rennie's head as his eyes washed over Jacob. His nostrils flared in disapproval that made Jacob wither in shame.

Charlie's eyes darted next to his daughter and his expression darkened to a sternness he'd never seen on the man's face. "Bella, I'm real disappointed," he scolded quietly. "You gotta step up on this one."

"Dad-" Bella began, but he held his hand up abruptly to stop her.

With that, he turned his granddaughter around toward the house and helped Rennie up the steps. "C'mon baby let's get you warmed up, huh?"

Jacob rubbed his face briskly as Paul's hand clapped over his shoulder blade. "Let's go Chief," he murmured.

Jacob glanced over his shoulder at Carlisle and Bella helping Edward up.

Carlisle caught his eye. "Forgive me, Jacob," he whispered sincerely. "We'd have been here sooner, but Alice only just now saw this turn."

"Whatever," Jacob grumbled uncharitably as he turned toward his waiting Pack.

"I don't want any a' yeh on my property for a while," Charlie called quietly from the porch, subtly fingering his gun in a laughable but audacious threat. "Unless she asks." He tipped his head toward Rennie who – chin tucked – was shuffling through the front door.

" 'That clear?" he asked pausing in the door with a stern stare that clearly communicated that he meant business. Charlie had run the Forks police department for over 20 years - complete with the political delicacies of dealing with a neighboring sovereign nation and a diverse and restless population of townsfolk, not to mention the resident supernatural freaks in both. Sometimes Jacob forgot that.

Tonight, however was not one of those times.

"Yes sir," Jacob called with a respectful lift of his chin.

"Yes, Chief Swan," Carlisle replied with a deferential nod.

Charlie met each of their gazes in turn and then spun around without another word and stalked into the house.

To take care of Rennie.

For the second time that evening, with every fiber in his being, Jacob praised the many virtues of Charlie Swan.

A man who'd somehow managed not to lose his humanity.

'

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Ride's over, step lively chickadees… Exit's to the left. Next chapter starts the beginning of some sweeter stuff– cotton candy, ice cream. Maybe not right away, but getting there. Hit me up and let me know what you thought.

Chapter 14: Lesson 14 Always Trust Your Heart

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Damn chickadees!

I swear, reading the reviews is just as much fun as writing this! (BTW I am remiss in hitting you back, which I try to do regularly, but I figure you'd rather have me keep writing if I have the limited time?)

'

Regina Carter – famous (ridiculously talented) female jazz violinist. Check her out on YouTube type: "Ray Brown Trio feat. Regina Carter (violin) - Lady Be Good"

Word of the day:beatifically – 1. bestowing bliss, blessings, happiness, or the like: beatific peace. 2. blissful; saintly:

FFnet doesn't allow the AT sign... you'll see what I mean.

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Another looong-assed chapter. Sorry! I was gonna fake you out with an ominous forewarning, but then decided to play nice. There seems to be something significant with me and chapter 14s...

hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

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Lesson 14 – Always Trust Your Heart

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Like the heavy lump in his chest, the rains had sat heavy over the Rez for going on three days.

Jacob sat slumped in the secondhand loveseat in his lame little cottage - his fingers restlessly tracing back and forth over the rough snags in the armrest - as he had all yesterday and all night.

The Pack of course all knew: knew that he'd fucked up so royally that he'd nearly started a war. They cared way less about that than he did, actually. In fact, he'd caught a good deal of heat for not finishing the job when he'd the chance, damn the consequences. The simple flashes of memories that had leaked, uncensored, into the Pack mind on the run home had caused an indignant uproar that Leah and Paul had spent most of Sunday diffusing… in human form. As soon as they'd crossed Rez lines, he'd forbid them all from phasing.

So Jacob could run.

And run he had… through the wee hours and all through the day, until his paws were bleeding and his nails were cracked, his bones were aching and his muscles were burned. All the while his mind replayed in excruciating detail, over and over, the images that tore through his heart and soul like a box cutter: Rennie flinching away from his touch…cowering before him, confused and betrayed…weeping and trembling, her eyes afraid… running away from him and into her grandfather's arms. It was simply more than either the man, or the wolf, could take.

And he ran himself literally into the ground until he could trust himself not to chase her down.

Like he wanted to.

But as the shop's steel roll-up door groaned open on a second day of work that Jacob wouldn't join, he'd decided he simply couldn't sit there any longer. He threw himself up onto stiff legs and staggered forward several steps dragging with him a tangled burden of emotional flotsam and jetsam that made him stumble. Catching himself against the kitchen table halfway across the room, he braced his arms against it as he let his head hang, and tried to scrape together any semblance of composure.

"Chief," a low, soft greeting sifted through the screen.

Jacob closed his eyes against his Second's palpable worry as he measured his breath through his nose.

" 'You workin' today?" he asked quietly.

Jacob wordlessly shook his head and pushed off the table, rubbing his face with his palms.

He needed to see her. Just see her and make sure she was okay.

Of course he knew she was. He'd had his Pack include her house in their patrols; they'd skirted the woods by her house every hour on the hour.

He therefore also knew that that fucker Nahuel had brought by several boxes of her things in a shiny foreign luxury car. And that he'd stayed with her all through yesterday.

Jacob paused in the hallway, turning his cheek toward his Second behind him. "Z'he gone?" he asked in a rough and fallow voice.

"Not yet," Paul murmured.

Correction… yesterday and all through the night.

A low growl boiled his innards as Jacob nodded curtly and staggered down the hallway to his bedroom. He mechanically stripped off his jeans and pulled a pair of knit sweat-shorts from a drawer, deftly rolling them up. He snatched a rag tie from the spaghetti pile on his dresser and stooped to fasten the shorts to his ankle. He then strode back through his house, purpose and resolve strengthening his stride.

He paused by the couch and reached down and snatched his cell off the coffee table, turning it on and glancing at the screen for any signs of a missed text or call – though it'd sat sentry beside him for every last second. Only Paul and Leah's routine hourly check-in texts filled the ordered list of his inbox.

Clear. N house.

At some point during the night, they'd left the tormenting second half of that update off their reports.

Clear.

With a snarl, Jacob tossed the phone onto the couch and stalked toward the door. Paul opened the screen for him onto the grey and drizzling morning and Jacob strode past him without so much as a glance.

"Hey, Jay," the hard edges of his voice had been filed away by a grating concern. " 'You sure it's a good idea-…?"

Jacob turned on him with a dark and threatening growl, daring him to complete that sentence. Paul's eyes instantly lowered as he bowed his head in submission.

Whipping back around, Jacob dove off the porch and landed on four paws in the sodden grass.

He just needed to see her.

Just see her, nothing more.

Jacob repeated the words like a mantra as his Wolf tore through the forest. Leah, Alex and Brady were patrolling – he could feel them on the edges of his consciousness – and they fell prone, whining and cowering in the leaves, the second he phased and his caustic torment had crackled through the Pack mind like lightning.

He heard Leah quietly command the other two Wolves to phase back and the two cubs disappeared with a pop, leaving only his Third a silent ghost at the edges of his mind. He didn't need to tell her to stay out of his way but he appreciated her quiet, comforting presence and the subtle mooring of accountability.

At his top speed, it took Jacob less than ten minutes to round the top of the hill that overlooked Charlie Swan's house. From there the Wolf slowed its pace to a stealthy creep through the forest. Like a shadow, he slipped around rock and trunk, padding soundlessly over the leaves like soggy corn flakes under his paws.

The rains washed scents from the air and expunged them with the redolence of saturated vegetation and soil, but even so, as the Wolf crept through the underbrush, the man wasn't surprised to see the silver BMW m5 still parked beside the police cruiser in the soft sopping morning light. A lupine whine of distress slipped from the beast's muzzle as it crouched in the bushes and peered through the light rain across the yard.

As if on cue, just at that second, the front door opened and out strode a tall, athletic man dressed in a shirt left opened and untucked over a white tee shirt and dark blue jeans . He looked every bit the handsome conquistador gloating at the dawn.

A growl tumbled in Jacob's throat like vomit, and the man's eyes darted instantly up to the tree-line, snapping cannily to lock gazes with the Wolf even cloaked by a screen of shrubbery.

But directly behind him flowed a delicate creature that instantly choked Jacob's ire with soothing solace upon sight: Rennie was laughing as she obliviously followed the man out to the porch.

The Wolf's instant rapt attention momentarily muzzled its wrath as its eyes hungrily cataloged every detail: barefoot, she was dressed in ripped and faded jeans shorts that were shredded over shapely thighs, a hole in the hip showing the white pocket underneath. She wore some sheer white blouse whose loose neckline hung casually over one shoulder revealing the dark camisole underneath and a thick collection of bracelets on one wrist. Soft, strawberry curls rippled nearly down to her waist, pulled back from her face in loose twists on each side of her head. Several crimped wisps of copper sexily framed her huge, dark eyes and restored ethereal complexion.

She looked healthy.

And beautiful.

And happy.

It made Jacob's heart both plummet and soar with such jerking force that it ripped in two and hemorrhaged a soft whine from his lips.

Like the man, Rennie's eyes immediately darted out to the woods and her smile faltered on her lips.

Nahuel turned back to her with a wry grin pulling his lips awry from white teeth.

"I guess you do not need to phone him after all," his deep voice rolled with his exotic accent like the storm clouds overhead.

The curve resuscitated on Rennie's lips and her gaze returned to the man standing before her. " 'Saves my minutes," she smirked.

Nahuel sniffed a laugh and one of his dark hands lifted up to cup her jaw with an easy familiarity that made Jacob's heart blister.

Jake… Leah's soft warning tugged a reflexive growl from between his ribs, and Jacob defiantly congealed into human form with a wet snap. Eyes locked on the scene before him, Jacob stooped to untie his shorts without a second thought.

Pointedly ignoring him, Nahuel bent closer. "Will you be alright, ad-ngüen?" he murmured tenderly around a smile.

Rennie rolled her eyes with a humorous wrinkle to her nose.

He laughed softly as he leaned down and pressed his lips to her forehead. "Of course you will," he soughed against her skin.

"See y'later, Nate," Rennie smiled brightly as he straightened and his hand fell back to his side.

"Later today?" he asked her eyes as he turned his body toward the stairs.

She shrugged. "Probably."

With an answering dip of his head, Nahuel's gaze again darted across the lawn to where Jacob was emerging from the undergrowth, dressed in his damp shorts. Rennie trailed after the man as he jogged down the steps, eyes locked with Jacob's while a slow smile curved his broad mouth.

Jacob stalked toward him, territorial fury putting tension in his stride. Heedless of technically breaking the rules – he was on Charlie's property without permission after all - Jacob stopped on the other side of the car, glowering uncharitably at the suave amusement sparkling in the man's elegant features.

Nahuel paused with his hand on the BMW's door. "You are a fortunate man, Jacob Black," he crooned with a subtle lift to his brow.

Jacob's eyes narrowed to cover his discomfiture.

Nahuel chuckled at his expense as he opened the door. "Be forewarned, should you make any future mistakes, I will be ready," he murmured cryptically and his smile twisted sly as he gracefully slipped behind the wheel and pulled the door shut behind him.

Jacob glared at him through the window as Nahuel ducked down and sent him one last audacious wink and the engine roared to life with the intimidating growl of a heavy foot on the gas. His hands curled into fists as the car jerked backward in a smooth, skillful spinout that angled the bumper toward the road in one efficient throw of gravel. With two short beeps to the horn, Nahuel drove out on the road and Jacob's head whipped around to see Rennie holding up her hand after the retreating car.

Her palm dropped to her side with a soft slap and her gaze slowly met his, the smile melting from her lips like pastels in the rain.

Jacob swallowed thickly as his body turned toward her without his volition.

Rennie rubbed her hands on her hips. "Hey, Jay," she whispered, her chin tucking uncomfortably.

Jacob licked his lips as a palm came up to wipe the misting drizzle from his face. "Am I invited?" he asked quietly.

Pulling the corner of her lip into her mouth, she nodded timidly.

Eyes locked with hers, Jacob took slow bare-footed steps over the wet gravel of the driveway as Rennie shifted uneasily on the third stair. Time seemed to slow for those thirty feet of distance: he felt the bite of each pebble on the soles of his feet, his throat constrict and his shallow breath hiss over his lips as his heart tried to pick up the slack by charging double-time. It made him dizzy. He watched Rennie's lips bloom from under her pearly teeth and press into a straight, quivering line, watched her eyes widen infinitesimally and her nostrils stretch and tremble.

All too soon the distance was swallowed by his tentative steps and he was left standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at the woman nervously before him nearly eye-level with his height.

Jacob swallowed audibly and his lips parted for a silent second before he could force words over his lips. "Are you oka-"

"Oh, Jay!" the words came out in a gasp as Rennie simultaneously fell forward, wrapping her arms around his neck and burying her face in his cheek. Jacob's surprise dissolved into relish as his arms wrapped around her body, pulling her off the stairs and against his rain-slicked chest.

"Jay – Jay- Jay… I missed you," she whimpered into his jaw in a hitching little voice as she nuzzled the rough stubble on his cheek. "Missed you," she whispered.

Jacob's cold, heavy anguish melted from his shoulders as her warm soft body viscerally drained all his anxiety like a sponge. His arms tightened around her small frame as he rooted into her hair and drew in a deep luxuriant breath while an unapologetic lupine purr tumbled in his chest.

Rennie pulled back, and Jacob's heavy eyelids drifted open, watching her eyes dart anxiously over his face like a hummingbird. Her hands came up to smooth his hair back from his temples, over and over, with anxious concern.

"You okay?" she breathed.

Jacob nodded and finally he captured those cinnamon 'n chocolate eyes with his own and held them captive. Eyes locked, his feet slowly ascended the stairs to the porch, her little legs swaying gently against him with each step.

He reached the top - the overhang sheltering her from the rain -and his lips curved slowly with pleasure. "Hey," he whispered into the yawning hollow of her dilated eyes.

Rennie blinked under the intensity of his stare. "Hey," she returned breathily.

Jacob's eyes dipped down impulsively to her smooth luscious lips, ripe and red like summer strawberries.

And he didn't think, he didn't hesitate, he didn't even ask… he simply kissed them.

She surrendered instantly to the press of his mouth with the sweetest sigh that sent a shiver down his spine. The silky, tender give of those lips was like a ripe apricot – impossibly moist and delicate – and it instantly awakened a deep gnawing hunger.

Oh, shit.

One of his hands drifted around to tip her jaw up as his muscled arm slowly lowered her down his body to the floor and his body curved around her. When she was steady on her feet, both of his hands slipped rapturously into her thick curls, catching them in his palms on his way to cup the back of her head. All while his lips tenderly caressed that sumptuous mouth with a sensual patience.

Like a blossom, she opened for him and his tongue indulgently slipped in to claim her mouth, mapping out her smooth teeth and velvet tongue with a quiet heat. Oh, she tasted so good: honeyed nectar with the sultry smoky finish of coffee. His mouth drew her breath into his lungs and massaged with slow, lush movements that coaxed the most delectable little grunts from her throat. Luxuriant, indolent, dreamy, even while his body ignited like his blood was kerosene.

"Ahem."

Jacob barely registered a soft clearing of someone's throat. Fuck, she felt so good – dainty yet solid in his arms. He bent down a little more, changing the angle of their lingering kiss. He felt her hands curl into fists frozen in sensual overwhelm at the back of his neck and her wrists pull him closer as she hummed rapturously.

" 'Want some coffee, Jake?" Charlie's pointed and gruff voice finally pried Jacob's consciousness up from the depths of impassioned delirium.

With a gasp, Jacob tore his lips away as his eyes popped open, still glued to the woman in his arms. Her eyes were closed beatifically, her cheeks flushed with passion. Her swollen, blushing lips curved slowly in a lazy smile of bliss before her eyelids blinked open. Dilated pupils contracted in his and her smile broadened.

"Wow," she mouthed breathlessly as her tongue darted out to idly touch a tooth and Jacob's feral gaze zeroed back onto her mouth like a laser.

Charlie cleared his throat again and Rennie's flush deepened as her eyes dropped shyly.

Jacob's hands slipped down to her shoulders and he blinked several times. Straightening, he turned with an apologetic grimace to where Charlie was scowling through the screen.

Rennie drew in a deep breath as she took an unsteady step back and Jacob's hand slipped down to the small of her back to steady her.

"Um… coffee, Jake?" she asked, her voice breaking adorably as she turned to where her grandfather was holding open the door. "Sorry, Pappy," she mumbled as she started to edge by him into the house.

"That's alright," Charlie grumbled, but his arm reached out and pulled her with uncharacteristically demonstrative affection into a quick embrace as she passed. His eyes however sternly glared over her head at Jacob as he gave her a clumsy peck to the temple, communicating wordlessly - and emphatically - both that she was still fragile and he was still pissed and that Jacob had better tread the fuck lightly.

Jacob deferentially lowered his gaze as he slipped by him after her.

With a nervous glance over her shoulder, Rennie strode toward the kitchen where some morning talk show was cheerfully blathering over the radio.

"Jake," Charlie called, making him turn around. "Put this on." A tee shirt was thrown unceremoniously smack dab into his face.

Jacob snatched it up; it was the shirt he'd left on the porch on that ill-fated night. Sniffing a humorous laugh he dutifully pulled it over his head – the rain was already pretty much evaporated from his unnaturally heated skin.

Especially after that kiss.

While he was shoving his hands through the arm holes Charlie clapped a hand on his shoulder as he passed by him.

"Behave yourself," he grumbled.

"Y'sir," Jacob mumbled as he tugged the shirt down and followed after him.

Rennie was just ducking out of the refrigerator with a pint of half-and-half. She turned and set it by the coffee pot and hopped on the counter herself. She pulled her own half-drunk mug – her childhood favorite, Ariel the Little Mermaid - into both palms and tipped it to her lips, her dark eyes watching him seriously over the whimsical rim.

Feeling nervous and distinctly like he was treading on new and delicate territory (because he was) Jacob offered her an uneasy smile as he crossed the kitchen, his eyes locked with hers.

"Here," she whispered and Jacob looked down at the empty mug she'd gotten out for him: the other one from the trip to Disney World that she'd labeled "his" when she was a child… The Lion King, of course.

With a sentimental chuckle, he poured coffee out of the carafe and then popped the top of the cream – he wasn't much of a coffee drinker, he could only stand the stuff done up like dessert.

With the soft scrape of ceramic, Rennie pushed the sugar dish across the counter toward him.

But then, she knew that.

Jacob stared at the swirling cream as he stirred the steaming liquid with the tinkle of metal on china, just trying to get his bearings.

"Hey, I'm sorry about your dad," Jacob mumbled uncomfortably, as he pulled the spoon out and set it in the sink.

Rennie nodded wordlessly.

Jacob looked up to where she was studying her Mermaid mug intensely.

"I didn't mean to-…" he stopped his lame excuse in its tracks. "I mean, I just let things get out of hand, and I'm sorry."

Rennie's gaze darted up from under her long curling lashes. "S'alright," she whispered. "We can talk about it later, I'm sure he was pretty freaking annoying – whatever happened."

Jacob swallowed his bile at the memory and brought the coffee to his lips, taking a restoring sip of sweetness.

"And one mistake doesn't mess up a lifetime of awesomeness," Rennie added humorously.

Jacob gave her a wry smile and set down his mug.

"I mean, that's what I keep telling myself," she snorted, taking a sip of her own drink. "We both nearly killed someone so I guess that makes us the pair, huh?"

Jacob chuckled uneasily.

Rennie's gaze stayed in her lap as she spun the mug restlessly in her palms.

Jacob cleared his throat and grabbed for his mug, taking another nervous sip. And for several awkward minutes, the radio chattered blithely on while Rennie idly kicked her feet to and fro, and Jacob traced the design on his mug with an uncertain finger.

The snapping crinkle of newspaper behind them prefaced Charlie's smacking sigh at the kitchen table. "So… you kids gonna talk?"

Jacob glanced over the table where the three of them had apparently been eating a nutritious breakfast of frosted shredded wheat. Charlie gave him an exasperated glare over his Seattle Times that made Rennie burst into giggles.

Jacob whipped back around with a reflexive smile at the sound. With sparkling eyes, she pressed her lips together and took another sip of coffee.

"Say Ren, you feel like havin' a talk?" Jacob proposed brightly with theatrical sarcasm and a cowboy accent, as if it was his original idea.

Rennie's renewed laughter nearly made her choke on her coffee, and a hand clapped to her mouth to keep from spraying it over his grinning face. Swallowing down her mouthful she reprimanded him with a slap on his arm as she coughed.

Chuckling, he reached around and rubbed her back… which was a bad idea. The feel of her vertebrae and shoulder blades under his palm instantly kindled that heat in his gut and sensualized the innocent gesture into sultry.

It did, however, also immediately cure her coughing spasm. Rennie swallowed as her huge eyes darted up to his, her lips parting with unconscious receptivity. It sent a zing straight down to Jacob's dick and he snatched his tingling hand back, wrapping it safely around his Lion King mug.

Wow, was right.

Rennie was just as rattled, and her gaze dropped down to her own coffee gripped tightly in her lap. "Um, wanna see my room?" she asked the dark liquid – she drank it black – as she spun the mug around in her palms uncomfortably.

Jacob cleared his throat. " 'You get it all set up?"

She nodded and slipped off the counter without meeting his eyes. Jacob drew in a long slow breath and followed her.

"Jake…"

He looked up to see Charlie watching them. He jerked his chin in summons. Jacob's gaze darted to Rennie who glanced over her shoulder and continued on into the living room, her light footstep ascending the stairs.

Charlie let the paper fall to the table with a crinkle. "Ah… just… um…" he grimaced at himself with a huff and then met Jacob's eyes. "Just take it slow, huh?"

Jacob wished he had pockets to shove his hands into. He rolled his shoulders with a brisk nod.

"I mean… for both a' yeh," he mumbled cryptically. "Y'don't wanna mess anything up."

Jacob drew in a deep breath and then released it slowly through his nose. With another little nod, he strode toward the living room, and then jerked around almost comically with a second thought and tromped back to get his coffee. He needed the prop to fiddle with if nothing else.

"Good luck, kid," Charlie harrumphed after him.

Jacob chuckled to himself. He needed it.

And Charlie was right, which he usually was. He was a man of few words – even more reticent than his own father – and when he spoke up it was always best to listen to him, because it was important.

This whole situation was still a total mind-fuck - for both of them - and Charlie could see that. Soul-melting kisses on the porch and nervous stares over Disney mugs in the kitchen - it was getting easier, but they were still both disconcerted to say the least. Jacob took the stairs slowly, watching his grubby toes climb the worn steps while it felt like a tourniquet was being tightened around his chest with each footfall. This was the moment he'd been both anticipating and dreading for eight years.

This moment.

This very moment right here.

By the time he'd reached the top stair, his lips were numb they were pressed so tensely together and felt like he was going to faint.

Alpha my ass! What a total fucking wuss.

With a low rumbling growl at his idiocy, Jacob tried to draw in a lungful of air, but failed miserably. Squeezing his eyes closed for a moment he tipped his face up to…

"Holy shit!" the unthinking words burst from his lips in shock as he blinked at the totally foreign space on the other side of a door jamb that he'd crossed a hundred times.

Rennie pulled her knees up tighter to her chest from where she sat in the middle of the bed… well, mattress. The headboard, frame and box-springs had been removed leaving the mattress on floor, covered with a colorful spread that looked of Indian (the real kind) extraction with little reflective sequins sewn into the patterned and embroidered fabric.

"Y-you like it?" Rennie's voice quavered, and Jacob's eyes snapped back to her palpable insecurity from their enthralled wandering.

"Hell, yeah!" Jacob enthused. He took another step inside of the completely transformed room. "It's fucking awesome!"

Because it was. And it was totally Rennie to 'T.' Several rugs covered the floorboards and different colored large silk scarves had been draped artistically from the ceiling, giving the room a feeling of an exotic, airy tent. On one wall, three dramatic shadow puppets he recognized from show he'd seen about Thailand were posed in a whimsical dance – one being the shape of a wolf. On another was a stylized poster for the London underground. Yet another sported a rice paper kite, the long tail curling up to the ceiling beside a signed poster for some cool-looking violinist named Regina Carter.

Everywhere he turned there was some sort of colorful piece of art or interesting trinket, yet she'd somehow managed to make the chaos soothing – the multitude of colors were all understated and complimentary and the items and art arranged carefully to be intriguing instead of overwhelming.

The only survivors of Bella's original room were the bookcase, drawers and lights. The rice paper lamp hung in a different corner and the fairy lights had been strung under the scarves, backlighting them ethereally. She'd effective exorcised every last one of her mother's childhood ghosts from this room and made hers. Completely.

"Y'sure?" Rennie asked skeptically.

Jacob's head tipped back down and his lips stretched into a 200 kilowatt smile. "It's totally you, Rens." And that was all he needed to say.

Rennie's face cracked with pleasure as she scooted more onto the mattress, patting the spread invitingly as she leaned back against the wall.

And it was then that he saw it: his dream catcher, hung front and center over her the small tumble of silk pillows at the head of the bed.

Grinning, he sat slowly on the mattress as his eyes continued to dart over every nook and cranny while his Wolf frantically tried to memorize every last detail.

"You kept the lights, huh?" he commented in an uncharacteristic leading question.

Rennie's eyes darted up to the rice lantern. "Yeah and this," she turned and looked at the dream catcher. "Did you buy this for mom? 'Cause I love it," she smiled happily at as her fingers reverentially plucked it off its thumb tack. She spread it on her lap.

"All these tiny little knots, and the beads – someone chose them and strung them so carefully …so the little green streaks all face out," she mused as her eyes washed over it with patent appreciation. "And then they picked feathers that have this cool iridescent green over the brown that matches the beads. I've never seen one of these little dream catchers like this."

Jacob set the coffee down on the floor next to hers and leaned back, bracing his hands on the mattress behind him. She saw the same minute detail he'd put into making it and it made him feel fucking awesome. When he'd given it to Bella all those years ago, she'd thanked him, glanced at it and hung it on her bed. Four hours of meticulous work had been brushed off with a smile. But Rennie appreciated things – especially hand-made things as was evidenced by her little collection. His gaze darted over to the stand set up by her bed that had a carefully arranged display of her "menagerie" as she called it – a collection of little wood carvings Jacob had made for her over the years. Every one of them had a name.

"Did you buy it at the Powwow?" she smiled up into his eyes – referencing the annual regional First Nations festival they'd always go to that sported a slew of craft booths.

"Nope," Jacob pursed his lips. " 'Made it," he grinned.

"Not!" Rennie's eyes dropped back to the dream-catcher in her lap, gaping comically while she appraised it again with the new information.

"Yup," Jacob stretched out his legs in front of him and crossed his ankles basking shamelessly in her transparent admiration.

"How could she just -…" she bit that conjecture off with an indignant frown. "Her loss," she quipped bringing the thing up to her lips and smooching it before turning around and hanging it lovingly on its tack. "My gain," she turned around with smug smile.

And then blinked rapidly, realizing the unintended double entendre of those words.

Jacob's eyes fell to his lap and he leaned forward to grab for his coffee. Rennie shifted uncomfortably and drew her feet under her while she pulled one of those little pillows into her lap.

"So, um," Jacob took a sip to try to moisten his suddenly desiccated mouth. "What an awesome segue-way into what we gotta talk about!" he gibed with sarcastic enthusiasm.

Rennie laughed nervously.

Jacob took another loud gulp of coffee and set it back down, expelling a frustrated breath. He propped his elbows on his thighs as he shoved his hands through his hair. He just needed to spit it out… start talking and hope that it started making sense, because trying to figure out the right entry point or words certainly wasn't working.

"Why don't I tell you what I already know," Rennie offered quietly.

Jacob's face jerked up in surprise. It was tempting…

"Y'know what? No." Jacob shook his head tersely, lithely pulling his legs up on under him on the mattress and turning so he was facing her. She looked surprised.

"I need to fucking man up without you making it easy, Ren."

Rennie's gaze dropped to the decorative pillow and her chipped blue-polish fingers fiddled with a bead.

"Wait, I mean if you want to…" Jacob backtracked uncertainly.

Rennie's face lifted slyly and an amused smile curved her lips at his expense.

"Fuck," Jacob rolled his eyes at himself. "God, I suck at this."

"Why don't you start with the lying part," Rennie suggested helpfully with a saccharine smile.

Jacob drew in a deep breath, closing his eyes at its apex. "You've never been my niece, you're my imprint," he expelled it all at once on a whooshing breath. And then cracked his eyes open.

Rennie's brow had furrowed and her hands had frozen on the pillow.

Jacob licked his lips and soldiered on. "Werewolves mate for life… you know that."

She nodded.

"And the Wolf chooses their mate… their imprint," he continued, propping his elbows on his knees as he tried to still his hands' trembling. "After we Phase, when we see her… see her eyes, actually…" his finger darted up to his eye like they were playing fucking Pictionary or something. Jesus Christ.

Jacob's long arm reached out and snatched his coffee back in his hands like a life preserver while he continued. "When a Werewolf sees his imprint's eyes…it's like pow!… we know it's her."

"Pow?" Rennie lifted a brow with a little giggle as she resituated herself on her side, getting comfortable like he was telling her a bedtime story. Whether she did it on purpose or not, he wasn't sure –he wouldn't put it past that sensitive mind - but her change in body language made it a little easier to breathe. And think.

"Actually, it's kinda like a whoosh," he grinned.

Rennie nodded slowly with a humorous purse to her lips. "A whoosh," she skepticized comically. "I got it, Jay."

And just like that, with her fluent familiarity and the innate foundation of their friendship, everything suddenly felt a whole hell of a lot better. Even if it wasn't, technically.

"Kinda like at the beach, when you're trying to get out of the ocean right after a wave…" he offered.

"Oh, that sucking feeling when the water's getting pulled back out by the next one coming in?" Rennie propped her hand on her cheek.

"Yeah… that. It's like you're standing there and the whole world just gets sucked past you and all you're left with is…" Jacob was rolling with the metaphor all easy-breezy and casual until it got to the end. "All you're left with is… her," he whispered. "She's everything."

Rennie's smile slowly faded into something unequivocally serious.

"S-so…" Jacob took a gulp of his coffee. "An imprint isn't just a random kapow… she's supposed to be your other half. Like a soul mate… " he couldn't hold that earnest, intense gaze any longer, so his eyes dropped down to his mug. The Lion King mug. With Simba on the handle. "It's supposed to go both ways – for the Wolf and the girl-"

"Or boy?" Rennie interrupted and Jacob looked up. "Josiah's Leah's imprint?"

Jacob nodded.

Rennie slapped her palm on the bed, making Jacob jump. "THAT'S what she meant!"

He blinked – ah, she meant when Leah had told her that someday she would thank her for Jake not being her man. A smile relaxed his lips and he nodded.

"Go on," she jerked her chin up encouragingly.

"So they say the imprint just speeds up what would naturally happen anyway if it was given a chance," Jacob continued on a little more confidently as his finger traced the lip of the mug. "Originally the Elders thought it was just about bloodlines and shit, making babies…"

Rennie shifted and Jacob looked up to see her studying the pillow with a pucker between her brow.

"But now… with Josiah…" he paused and Rennie looked back up.

"With you…" he breathed.

Rennie pressed her lips together and her gaze darted nervously back down to the pillow and her fingers renewed their torment of the beadwork. "We think it's more importantly about balancing the Wolf and the man."

"Like Paul," Rennie laughed softly to the pillow. "Rache's Paul's imprint?" she looked up with a raised brow.

Jacob nodded and watched her eyes cut over to the wall thoughtfully. "All the mated Wolves are actually imprinted."

"E-Emily?" she stammered, her gaze snapping back to him.

"Yeah, that's why Sam dumped Lee way back when," he murmured softly. Rennie knew that story, even though she hadn't been around for all the drama. "He tried to resist it…" Jacob left that sentence dangling.

"Is that what happened?" Rennie gasped as she sat up more, clutching the pillow to her chest.

Jacob nodded as he squeezed his eyes shut ruefully. "He tried to resist the imprint, and he lost it…"

"L-lost it…?" Rennie tensely sat up on her knees.

Jacob had the distinct sensation of warning bells going off in his head.

He tried to steer them clear of her worry. "So the Wolf imprints and the girl - or guy -feels it too… an attraction, a pull," he intimated.

Rennie's eyes snapped back to him, though her fingers were still agitatedly digging into the pillow. "Yeah," she laughed flippantly. "Well I definitely feel that," she snorted and then pressed her lips together quickly in chagrin as a blush rushed to her cheeks.

Jacob couldn't help his smile while his Wolf purred in pleasure. She felt it too.

"So they're both drawn to each other, but…" Jacob's smile faded as his lips pressed together insecurely. "She's gotta accept it."

Rennie sat down on her heels and her astute gaze narrowed. "How..?"

"Well, uh…" Jacob cleared his throat. "The Elders say the imprinted Wolf is supposed to be whatever the girl needs, but we've never seen – or heard stories of - imprints become anything other than mates."

"Well that makes sense if you're, like, soul-mates or whatever," Rennie ventured, as her lips hitched up to the side and her eyes wandered thoughtfully. "I mean, every girl needs a m-mate, right?"

Jacob pursed his lips with a hesitant nod of agreement; he knew he wasn't out of the woods yet with this part.

"So how does she accept it?" her gaze narrowed back on his.

Jacob cleared his throat again, feeling distinctly uncomfortable talking about this with her. Kissing her? That was another story, but talking about this shit – especially when he wasn't touching her – felt like he was giving her the low-down on the birds and bees. "Well if she chooses him, then he marks her and it seals it."

"How," Rennie asked suspiciously.

"When they become, ah… intimate."

Rennie blinked comically. "Sex? !"

Jacob nodded with an uncomfortable grimace.

Rennie slumped, patting the pillow in her lap. "Really?"

"Uh, yeah," Jacob took another sip of his coffee. "The Wolf bites her on the neck to mark her, but really that's just a side effect. It's their joining… the, ah, intimacy that does it."

"Sex." Rennie's eyes darted up, challenging. "Jesus, say it Jay!" she scoffed.

"Gah!" Jacob huffed irritably. "Sex, Rennie… SEX!" he growled, his lupine dominance awakened by her dare.

"I don't have fucking issues with sex," he crossed his arms over his chest. "But do y'know how uncomfortable this all makes me? I imprinted on you the day you were born! I gave you piggy-back rides and tucked you in. I even watched Dora the fucking Explorer with you!" he slapped the bed hotly (he really hated that monkey). Realizing he was loosing it, he pinched the bridge of his nose and puffed a breath out through his cheeks.

"Sorry," Rennie whispered.

Jacob looked up sharply and her gaze dropped like lead.

"Chica, shit…I'm sorry… it's just-" Jacob collapsed his face in his palms, rubbing briskly.

"Why did Sam lose it, Jake?" Rennie whispered to her knees.

Jacob expelled a breath and let his hands fall to his lap. "Look, he was the first – you know that – he didn't have a Pack to help him with the Wolf or anyone to tell him-"

Rennie looked up sharply, her face hardening into stubborn, sensing his evasion. "Why did Sam lose it?" she repeated emphatically.

Jacob shoved his lower lip through his teeth. Once. Twice.

Rennie raised her brow shrewdly.

"Because it's really hard on the guy," Jacob admitted. "There's this driving need to be with her, protect her, just… just know she's safe and happy. There's a mating imperative, yeah there's that…" he barked a humorless laugh as his gaze panned the bedspread. He sniffed, his words becoming soft and breathy, "But deeper than that, you just... just fucking wanna be near her. Touch her… hold her. All the time. It hurts, like physically. It drives you fucking crazy not to know where she is, not to know she's safe. If anyone even looks at her funny, I just wanna kill 'em. Just fucking kill 'em. And I would. I'm always fighting that. I'm always missing you. You're always-…"

Rennie burst to her feet and Jacob looked up in surprise as his coherent mind snapped back like a rubber band. He didn't know when he'd succumbed to insanity and stopped talking clinically and started talking about himself, but he'd totally missed the buildup of her angst.

"JACOB! !" Rennie nearly yelled, her eyes wide and worried.

Shit.

"Oh, hell, Ren…" Jacob bit his lip in chagrin. "I'm sorry -..."

"Shut up," she hissed, flicking her hair over her shoulder as she turned her back on him and paced toward the window. "So let me get this straight… I'm your imprint? So when you saw me…" she collapsed her face in her palms and shook her head slowly.

Jacob's heart was in his throat as he pushed off the mattress to stand, every fiber of his being focused on her distress.

"Jesus!" she spat and then looked up at the ceiling with a humorless laugh. "You've been waiting around eight yearsin pain and mom and dad took me a-and…" tears bled into her words making them hiccup. "And JACOB! !" she spun around on him accusatorily. Her face reflected her inner maelstrom: fury, disbelief, worry, heartbreak.

"Rennie," Jacob's face had crumpled in anguish as he took a step toward her, holding out his hand.

She stumbled a step back and Jacob froze, his entire body going numb.

Rennie's wide eyes were darting between his while she processed furiously. "What were they even thinking when they decided to fuck with this!" she hissed. "Fucking with me, with you!" she paced back to the window and slapped the wall sharply with a palm.

Jacob's hand raked through his hair. "C'mon, you know your dad hates me," he murmured.

"Fuck him!" she yelled, spinning around with flashing eyes.

Jacob's brow shot up reflexively.

"I mean, fuck!" she spat shaking her head vigorously. "How the hell did you expect me to choose you if I didn't even know you were an option!" she imputed in a shriek.

Jacob blinked, his mind reeling. Between the sheer emotionality of the imprint combined with the complexities of this situation, he was frozen between fear and uncertainty. But his Wolf wasn't; it was going ballistic. He wanted to lunge forward and just hold her until she stopped being angry and sad at them.

Rennie scowled suddenly and took two stomping steps toward him, brandishing a finger. "And you're such a fucking dork! Why would you even think that I wouldn't be totally psyched to have to someone like you imprint on me! It's fucking ridiculous!" she shrilled, jabbing it into his chest.

With a soft growl and lightning reflexes Jacob snapped her wrist up in his huge hand. With her so upset, his Wolf simply wouldn't let her get that close without grabbing her. The touch thankfully soothed him.

Rennie blinked furiously, a soft sigh slipping from between her luscious lips as her gaze snapped up to his eyes in wonder. Correction, it soothed both of them.

Eyes locked, Jacob slowly lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a pointed kiss to her index finger.

"W-why didn't you tell me?" she whispered brokenly.

Like he'd flipped a switch, Rennie's indignation had instantly metastasized into confused hurt.

"Honey, I was trying to protect you," he murmured, drawing her into his arms.

Rennie didn't hesitate for a second, she melted against him, her arms wrapping around his waist. Jacob sighed in utter ecstasy, as he enfolded her in his big arms and rested his cheek on the top of her head.

"And because I suck," he added with a chuckle.

"You don't suck," Rennie laughed, a quiet indignation heating the humor as she pressed her cheek to his pec. "You're the least sucky of all the people I know, and I know a lot of people."

"You gotta to understand it's been a total mind-fuck, Ren," he whispered. "I mean, you were, like, my niece… or my cub," he rubbed his cheek slowly over the crown of her head, feeling his stubble catch in the hairs. "All I wanted to do was be near you, love you, take care of you. Then one fucking day… bam! Suddenly it's different…"

"Bam?" she giggled. "This s'like a comic book conversation, Jay. We need those bubbles over our heads."

Jacob chuckled, rubbing her back soothingly. "I probably would a' done a better job with bubbles."

Rennie propped her chin up on his chest, looking up at him with eyes that were bleeding amber, but cooling to content. "You did alright, Jay," she smiled.

Jacob pressed his lips together as his eyes darted over her face thoughtfully. "It just happened so fast… I can't keep up," he breathed.

Rennie leaned in and pressed a kiss over his heart. "Easter…" she rubbed her nosed slowly back and forth over his shirt. "That's when it started, huh?"

"Yeah, that's when it hit me," Jacob chuckled low. "Then your dad pounded it in the rest of the way.."

Rennie's head jerked up. "He hit you? !" she gasped, horrified. And furious.

"Shh," Jacob crooned, pressing his lips to her forehead. "We both messed each other up pretty good that day."

"B-but.."

"C'mon… I exacted my revenge anyway last night," he smirked saucily, trying to pull her back from the tumultuous rapids of her temper.

"Yeah, you did." A smile flitted over her lips. "Dad looked like some kinda Picasso painting. Nate said it took him almost an hour to heal."

"Nate?" Jacob raised his brows as a territorial flash of heat ripped through his body.

"Yeah, lame nickname, huh?" Rennie snorted. "But who'm I to talk. Nessie!" She scrunched up her face in disgust.

"Rennie," he corrected, dipping down to kiss her nose. "So, Nate…?" he couldn't just let this drop. He just couldn't.

"I like him, he's nice," Rennie asserted defensively.

"I'm sure he is," Jacob grumbled.

Rennie lips twisted in a wry smile. "So is this one of those territorial things?" she goaded with a wink.

"Damn straight it is," he growled, squeezing her tighter.

Rennie squeezed him back. "It's kinda sick, but it feels good, Jay."

Jacob gave her a saccharine smile. "Hopefully it'll feel good when I rip his head off too."

Rennie rolled her eyes. "Look, you don't have anything to worry about. Anywhere… but especially there. He's actually refreshingly straight-up. He said he's interested and I told him I'm not, and he was good with it. I've never met another mutant like me so it's nice to have a friend."

"A friend," Jacob echoed dubiously.

"Yeah, a friend. He actually helped me figure out a lot of this stuff with you," she informed him pertly. "And he said he hopes it goes well for my sake, but if you fuck it up, then he'll be waiting in the wings… see? Straight-up."

Jacob nodded appreciatively. "I still wanna kill 'em," he admitted with a grin.

"Bah," Rennie huffed. "He knows the score, Jay."

"I don't," he hinted not so subtly.

"Yeah you do," Rennie went up on tip toes and kissed his chin. "I love you, Jake. I've always loved you …in every kinda way. I don't trust a lot of things, but I trust you and I trust my heart. Why would I look for something somewhere else when I already have it here?"

Jacob's own heart felt like it was going to burst from his chest as he sat down on the mattress and pulled her down beside him. He'd always trusted his own heart too, but over the last decade it's seemed more like a liability. Here, she was proving him wrong.

"How can you be this cool?" Jacob asked in amazement.

Rennie blushed furiously. "Um…well, we gotta give this thing a try at least, right?" her gaze darted between his eyes earnestly. "I mean the Wolfy track record doesn't seem too bad…I mean unless you don't-."

"Oh c'mon!" Jacob snorted reaching around tickling her ribs.

"Hey!" she complained in a squeaking giggle as she tried to wiggle free. "I'm entitled to my insecurities, too!"

" 'Sure are, chica," he released her and sat back up with a smile.

Rennie rearranged herself beside him stretching her feet out in front of her with a long sigh.

Jacob watched as her gaze again fell into her lap and her fingers reached up to pick at one of the white threads of the cutoffs. "So is there anything else?" Rennie asked her thigh quietly.

Jacob drew in a thoughtful breath. "Well, once you're mated, it stays intense as hell."

"Sam and Em..." Rennie laughed gently at their expense as she twisted a thread round her thumb.

"Right," Jacob chuckled. "And the imprint comes with this bond thing. Sam and them say you can feel each other sometimes… y'know, when the other's in trouble or happy."

"That's pretty cool," Rennie looked up with endearing earnestness and Jacob smiled.

She turned more toward him, abandoning her fiddling. "It actually seems like a pretty sweet deal."

"It fuckin' definitely is for me," he grinned.

Rennie's eyes darted down in embarrassment.

"Hey I love you, Ren," Jaocb said gently.

Rennie decided to switch the subject. "Y'know, I kinda figured out the big stuff on my own…"

"What'd you figure out?" Jacob pulled a knee up to his chest as he cocked his head curiously.

"Well," Rennie bit her lip. "Like you said, I knew you guys mated for life, and after I got out into life, I realized how crazy-committed those relationships were in comparison to the rest of the world," she laughed softly. "But most of all, I knew you're not the kind of guy who'd get a hard-on for your niece."

Jacob nearly choked.

In fact he did.

He spalyed across the mattress and snagged his coffee from the other side of the bed and gulped down several swallows of the cool liquid while Rennie laughed at him.

He sat up, flushed from both choking and embarrassment. "Jesus, Ren!" he complained.

Rennie grinned unrepentantly. "I mean that'd be gross, right?"

Jacob grimaced. "Skeevy."

"But you're not my uncle," Rennie's face faded into serious and Jacob suddenly realized she was actually addressing how hard this transition was for both of them. Damn, that girl was sneaky.

"And I'm not your niece… I'm your imprint," she whispered with a quiet conviction.

It felt different just hearing her say it.

Jacob drew in a breath and released it through his lips. "Yeah, you are," he murmured as his gaze washed over her face, serious and clever and astute.

Mine, his Wolf proclaimed ardently.

Fuck yeah, the man agreed.

Damn, he was a lucky sonofabitch, that was for sure.

"So whattaya wanna do now, Ren?" he asked quietly. Because he need to. He needed her to say it.

But she answered him in a way that was totally unexpected… as usual.

Her gaze fell to her lap and her delicate hands picked furiously at those little strings again.

"Ren?" Jacob whispered in concern as he sat up a bit more, dipping his head down and trying to see her face under the wisps of hair.

She looked up slowly, a blush ripening those flawless cheeks that glowed in the overcast morning light. She bit her full lower lip as her dark eyes swept over his face for a moment.

Jacob's hand slipped out to rest on her warm, smooth knee comfortingly and the touch visibly relaxed her shoulders.

"J-Jake…" she began, her eyes locking with his. Her nostrils flared briefly.

"I want you to kiss me," she breathed.

'

'

Ho! What a place to end. *grin* Guess you'll have to tell me if you enjoyed it to tempt me into continuing, huh? Nah, just joshing. But a fair warning: while most of the angst is over, this is still going to be an attentive frolic toward the finish line, not a descent into the wham-bam-thanks of smut. Hopefully you wouldn't expect that of these characters (or of me) anyway.

Chapter 15: Lesson 15 Faking it Only Gets You So Far

A shorter chapter, chickadees.

Jacob has his stuff, to be sure, but he is more profoundly developed and mature than Rennie, so go easy on her (and him). I don't know if you've spent any time around precocious children, but my experience is often times the mind can be eons ahead of the heart.

Words of the day:
edacious- devouring; voracious; consuming.

esurience - hungriness; greediness.

deliquesce - 1. to become liquid by absorbing moisture from the air. 2. to melt away.

'

Lyrics from "Fear" by Sarah McLachlan (old-school, but a freakin' fantastic song)

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy!

'

Lesson 15 – Faking It Only Gets You So Far

'

Winter's end

Promises

Of a long lost friend.

Speaks to me of comfort

But I fear

I have nothing to give.

I have so much

To lose here in this lonely place.

Tangled up in your embrace

There's nothing I'd like better than

To fall.

'

'

"You want me to kiss you?" Jacob's deep voice repeated and the surprise that widened his eyes melted like caramel into pleasure.

Score.

It had been the right answer… or question, Rennie decided. Even more than she wanted to taste those addictive lips again, especially in light of what she'd just learned, she wanted to make him happy.

It had been far worse than she'd suspected and thinking of what he'd endured – especially at her own unknowing hand this last year – simply broke her heart. He'd been waiting for her while she obliviously fitted to through life like a freaking butterfly. When she'd run away from her parents, she had never intended to hurt Jacob as well. But she had. And that knowledge tormented her even more than her own tumultuous, self-destructive confusion.

And now she could make it up to him.

Rennie nibbled on the inside of her lower lip and nodded shyly.

She knew he loved her and that she loved him, which was something unfathomably precious. And therefore also unbearably frightening. She had no intellectual problems with the imprint - actually she figured she was the winner in this arrangement by far - but the implications were overwhelming at best to someone who'd just spent a year running away from herself, her responsibility and the threat of inevitable disappointment that came with it. And she just didn't think she could live with herself if she disappointed Jacob Black.

And he'd been waiting eight whole years.

For this moment.

This very moment right here.

Rennie scooted forward on the double mattress that was dwarfed by his huge body and her eyes dropped to the cup held in his big hands. Those hands could make even a Lion King mug look sexy. Her fingers slipped around his warm, work-roughened skin and gently pried it free from his grip and set it on the floor. Her hands again found his and entwined with his calloused fingers. Swallowing nervously, Rennie's gaze trailed slowly back to his.

Was she good enough for this man? Right now, she felt like some messed-up freak who still was struggling to figure out just who the hell she was and how she could live with that person.

But Rennie was selfish. If there was one thing she wanted more than just to be near Jacob himself, it was to feel those silky lips against hers again. Rennie tipped her chin up suggestively and his broad sensual lips curved in a smile that took her breath away.

Jacob's dark eyes, looked almost black. He was watching her carefully – looking for what, she wasn't certain. Without a word, he slowly lowered his face to hers, his eyes washing over her features indolently before getting stuck on her mouth like her lips were some super magnet. His sultry, sweet breath wafted over her face and Rennie closed her eyes into it. She could hear it skittering, light and quick like the counterpoise displacement of his rapid heartbeat. His innate warmth bathed her cheeks with his proximity and she heard him suck in a sharp, icy breath through his teeth. Then heated satin brushed over her mouth making her gasp with the jolt of pleasure that sparkled effervescent through her body.

"Mmm," he hummed quietly as he pressed more firmly, his lips moving like waves of honey over hers. The sensation of such a simple, innocent touch was overwhelming: her body ravenously craved it. Rennie leaned into the kiss and her lips suckled against his, trying to draw more of the succor that deliquesced her insides on contact, making them pool, heavy and viscous, between her legs with a novel ache.

But Jacob's mouth persevered with stalwart and indulgent patience against hers. Rennie's hand slipped out of what had become his tense fingers and ghosted up his chest to his shoulder. His muscles were solid as a rock and quivering under her touch, and it was then that she realized that behind that leisurely pace was a quivering restraint. Her fingers gripped his massive deltoid and leaned up into him, parting her lips in a wordless entreaty.

Jacob's tongue, velvet and honeyed, caressed hers in a brief twist and then… he pulled away with a gasp drawing her eyes open in surprise. His gaze was wide and wild, lit by an unmistakable hunger that burned like flame in flagrant contrast to that cool, luxurious kiss.

Rennie blinked, sitting back as her gaze darted over that transparent expression. No one had ever looked at her that way. In her experience over this last year, she'd seen lust, desire and lecherous fervor, but never this heated feral craving that glittered in his eyes like unquenchable coals. It was like he wanted to devour her. Intractably consume every last ounce of her down to her soul.

His, his eyes silently proclaimed.

It was titillating and terrifying at the same time.

"Wh-why d'you stop?" she stammered in whispered confusion.

Jacob blinked like he was struggling to understand her human words. Instead of answering her, he reached up and smoothed the backs of his knuckles over her cheek. They was shaking.

"Jake?" she breathed.

"Ren, I… I gotta-…" he swallowed his words thickly. "We gotta take this slow," he rasped, his brow dipping down as if he were in physical pain.

And she couldn't stand it.

She frowned in frustration. "I'm not some innocent little virgin, you know," she bit back. Half of it was true.

Jacob blinked rapidly, pulling back unconsciously as his gaze darted over her face.

It wasn't the reaction she'd been hoping for, though she guessed she should have figured as much with that lupine territorial streak combined with what she knew so far of men in general.

"Is that a problem?" she challenged hotly, with an indignant purse to her lips as she tugged her hands back with conflicting insecurity to her lap.

Jacob shook his head vigorously as if emerging from a dream. "No…" he breathed sitting up straighter. "Not at all Ren…"

Rennie's eyebrow dipped dubiously.

Jacob rolled his eyes and his big hand reached out to cover hers where they'd taken to twisting in the hem of her blouse. "I mean, I'm not either," a canny smile lifted the corner of his mouth. "It'd be stupid if I expected you to be."

Rennie fought the flash of heat in her gut at his admission, even though she knew as much. Was she jealous? Damn straight she was.

"I mean, there's shit in my DNA that makes me wanna kill the guy," Jacob continued, his other hand reaching out to ghost over her curls, pushing an errant lock tenderly over her shoulder. "Or guys," he amended hesitantly, covertly eyeing her for corroboration.

Rennie gave him a cocky smile that wordlessly pleaded the fifth.

Jacob chuckled richly – both at her and himself – like espresso and cream. "But I'd be lying if I didn't say it's kinda a relief too," he capitulated slyly. "Takes a lil' pressure off."

Rennie's brow twitched as her eyes darted between his, assessing. Score again.

She'd never lied to him before, but she couldn't stand that he felt like, after all he'd suffered, he had to take care of her even now. It wasn't right. And Rennie had thought a lot about sex… she'd read, masturbated and fantasized enough to count for something, right? She'd certainly been surrounded by enough of it in lurid London nightlife, but among the few men she'd found enticing enough to kiss, simply none of them had inspired her to go further. She'd finally taken matters into her own hands (well, other than that way), figuring she just needed to try what others seemed to enjoy so easily. But things hadn't ended so well with Raoul. Obviously.

"Good," Rennie piped pertly, pleased. She abandoned her nervous fiddling for his hand. "Then… kiss me like you mean it, Jay," she crooned with her best attempt at seductive. Fake it 'til you make it right? Being an 18 year old - or something - woman with mere child's years of experience, she spent a lot of her time doing just that. Good thing she had the mind to do it well.

Jacob's lips hitched up in a wry smile of amusement, but his eyes heated with a contrasting intensity that was dark and steamy like fresh coffee grounds. His hand ghosted over her shoulder, down her bicep and over her forearm for a minute as his eyes seemed to catalog her face carefully, and then his body uncoiled, striking across the bed like a cobra.

His long arm reached out to the door – standing open to the hall – and with his measured tap, it closed to, but didn't click shut; a physical metaphor for the boundary he was silently drawing. Such a seemingly simple thing catapulted both the intimacy and intensity up to record levels between them.

Rennie's stomach took a visceral nose-dive of nervous anticipation.

Seeing him stretched out across her puny mattress, the realization of just how big he was slapped her in the face. He dwarfed her room with that massive body that he kept under such assiduous control. Like a spring, he lithely congealed back to a seated position before her and Rennie blinked several times.

He'd dropped some sort of pretense like a mask, and he held out to her nothing but nothing but the profound and intimate craving that coursed hot through his veins. His piercing eyes skewered her down to her soul from under his heavy brow, his full lips were parted and completely bereft of humor, and the lines of his face etched with intensity. He oozed blackstrap molasses: sticky and dark, virile and bitter, sultry and sweet. And 300% male.

Rennie swallowed audibly.

She hated to admit it, but she was intimidated. Not only by how much her needing of him scared the shit out of her, but, if she was honest, of Jacob himself.

Of this Jacob.

Before her sat a man irrefutably no longer an uncle or friend… before her sat an undeniable lover. For the first time – in her life, really – a cold icy wash of fear drenched her body like a cold sweat and she shuddered reflexively. She felt pitifully out of her depth and sorely lacking in every way.

She knew Jacob misread her. His eyes didn't blink, but a dark chocolate chuckle bounced in his chest as his lips curved with pleasure. "C'mere, honey," he breathed as his hands reached out to creep up each side of her jaw with a seductive languor.

His touch relaxed her instantly, and her eyelids drooped as she released a soft, shaking breath.

She could do this. She could.

She acquiesced to the gentle pressure of his hands at the curve of her neck and went up on her knees, a movement that brought her within inches of his face.

Jacob continued to regard her with those heavy, silent eyes that were as black as a starless midnight they were dilated so fully. They swallowed her whole, still and serene, and effortlessly stripped every last fear and thought like thorn and blossom from the twisting vine of her soul. Jacob's fingers were slowly stroking the hair at the nape of her neck and she trembled in his embrace as desire shimmied up her body like iridescent fire.

"I love you, Ren," his words were no more than a susurration over her lips before his mouth branded her hungrily.

Rennie's entire body seized in shock with the smoldering passion of both those words and that kiss. Like she'd been intravenously injected with some wildly narcotic substance in a Jake-sized dosage, her body was flooded with a psychedelic ecstasy that was staggering. She crashed fervently into his body with a contrastingly feeble whimper as her lips parted submissively under the demand of his tongue. Her hands wrapped around his neck without her volition, pulling him into her with an esurience like her body and soul was a vacuum whose valve he'd popped off with his lips.

Oh, more… she needed more of him.

The only thing even approximating this avarice she'd experienced in her meager years was those first droplets of warm human blood that had squirted into her mouth at the cleaving of her teeth into an unsuspecting carotid artery. And she groaned in greedy rapture.

She was practically gulping Jacob down with frantic movements of her mouth against his own ardent claiming. With a low moan that made his lips vibrate, his arms encircled her back with an enveloping strength and he crushed her to his chest as his mouth continued to brazenly devour her with a withering heat.

This kiss was savage and voracious, there was nothing sweet or gentle about it: their mouths dueled in a relentless rising tide of fervor as their heads tipped back and forth in a kata that was choreographed with white-hot want.

"Fuck," Jacob spat against her teeth as his body shifted.

Suddenly Rennie was on her back, pressed into the mattress by his heavy body, with no real cognizance of how she'd gotten there. The weight of him stoked her own fiery edacious hunger; a novel prurience cremated her alive from the inside out.

And it was frightening.

Jacob's thick thigh pressed naturally between her own and she was painfully aware of his pelvis settling against her. His hot, hard, huge arousal unapologetically pushed against her hip bone making her shiver.

Rennie's lungs burned as she panted against the fervent play of his lips over hers. She felt like she was drowning - in his need, in her want - held down by his weight under the viscous burning waters of ardor that she gulped into her lungs like she was dying of thirst instead of suffocating.

But still her body arched up against his firm embrace, aching for more.

He was so strong – his arms were wrapped around her like steel hawsers. His preternatural strength met and raised hers effortlessly. One of his huge hands was wrapped soundly around her waist, his long fingers reaching around to her spine as he pressed his body into hers while supporting his full weight with his elbow by her head, his fingers threaded soundly into her hair. His hips began to rub subtly against her with a blossoming unconscious rhythm that made her thighs spread in compulsive invitation.

She was completely submerged in her own longing and spellbound in his galvanizing heat …and unequivocally captive. A handful of times overenthusiastic suitors had become overambitious in her meager experience, but she'd never had any problems putting them in their place, no matter their size, with their puny human strength. But suddenly Rennie realized that even if she wanted to stop Jacob…she wouldn't be physically able to.

If she wanted to.

But she didn't, did she?

With a gasp of overwhelm, Rennie broke the kiss, frantically surfacing for air as her hands burst from around him and fell to the bed with a soft thud.

But Jacob's lips were dauntless. His mouth seamlessly spilled over her face to burn a trail across her jaw down to her neck and a spot that made her moan shamelessly and her body buck against him. Squeezing her eyes shut tightly, she tried to tame her heaving breath as Jacob's lips suckled and pulled at the skin on her neck with soft grunts against her skin, making colorful starbursts bloom behind her lids. Her hands curled into fists in the bedspread as his hot mouth stoked her body's pining demand ever higher.

She was out of control.

Of her mind, her body, her heart… of everything!

She was losing herself… incinerating alive to nothing but ash in this crushing passion, this overpowering need, this exigent desire... in the suffocating, swirling vortex of confusion.

She was drowning and she was afraid.

"Ren…?" she barely recognized Jacob's voice murmuring into her collar bone as he inhaled deeply with a low growl. "Y'okay?" It sounded like he'd smoked a two packs a day for years.

Rennie squeezed her eyes shut more and was horrified to feel the betraying warmth of tears drip down her temples. Biting her lip, she nodded briskly, praying he'd believe her.

"Mm…" he hummed softly as he dragged his lips over her clavicle. "Ren?" he gasped again in the hollow of her throat, seemingly unable to pull his mouth away.

"Fine," she whispered.

But something in her voice must have given her away because Jacob immediately ripped his mouth from her skin, her entire body protesting against the loss of contact even while her lungs reflexively drew in a cooling breath of reprieve.

She squeezed her eyes shut tighter, mortified by the inner turbulence that made her lips pull down all funny, like she was fighting a fledgling sob.

Jacob sucked in an audible breath through his teeth simultaneously throwing himself onto his back beside her with such force that the mattress thumped like a heartbeat.

The telltale clinking of ceramic heralded his snarled curse. "Shit!"

Beyond grateful for the distraction, Rennie automatically sprang off the bed eyeing the spreading stain of coffee on the rug and pointedly ignoring Jacob's searching stare. She grabbed a towel slung over the back of the chair at the desk and then, head tucked, knelt on the floor beside the mattress, dabbing at it while her breath staggered unevenly on ahead like a drunkard.

Luckily it was her coffee that had spilled and, while it would stain, it wasn't sticky … and it was a cheap crappy rug from the laundry room anyway. She tried to distract herself with the trivial irrelevant while she mopped up the most of the liquid. But still shame welled around lump in her throat and bubbled up in tears that continued to leak silently from her eyes. Turning her head away from the mattress, she let her hair fall down like a screening curtain as she bit her lip to cage the hopeless sob that bobbed at the back of her throat.

Rennie's tears surged now with embarrassment and she bit her lip to still it while she struggled to scrape together any sense at all in the maelstrom that was tumbling inside her.

There was a rustling on the bed and gentle fingers tucked her hair behind an ear and then stroked down her cheek. "Chica, talk to me," Jacob whispered.

Rennie had somehow stupidly convinced herself that if she didn't look at him that everything would go away. His warm fingers ghosted under her chin and oh, so tenderly begged her head to turn toward him. Rennie squeezed her eyes shut, her tears surging down in shameful tracks down her cheeks, a barefaced testament to her simpering naivete.

"Rennie, please," his voice was soft and beseeching and as much as she wanted to, she couldn't ignore his petition. Her eyes popped open to see Jacob several inches from her. His warm, brown Jacob-eyes had returned and were flitting over her face like a dragonfly with agonized concern.

It hit her like a tsunami – she'd disappointed him. Already.

"Sorry," she choked as she tried to pull out of his grasp.

"Hey…heyyy," he crooned breathily, tugging her gently toward him.

Rennie resisted for a moment, but his touch was so magnetic, filled with the beguiling promise of comfort. She collapsed against his shoulder, turning her face into his shirt as several soft weeps escaped her lips and his warm arms wrapped around her.

Jacob rocked her slowly back and forth and pressed his lips lovingly to her forehead. "Shit," he breathed against her skin. "I'm sorry, honey."

Rennie shook her head fiercely against him, humiliated by her moronic childishness.

"Look..." Jacob murmured, pulling back and ducking down to capture her eyes while his fingers threaded sweetly through her hair.

But the sight of his face - so close, so gorgeous, so alluring - sent a lightning bolt of desire through her body and she stiffened in his arms. His touch was electric and it unintentionally ignited the embers that glowed deep within her being. Their relationship had irreparably changed, and she could never again reclaim the innocent platonic solace of his arms.

Jacob blinked rapidly and Rennie could see the same realization dawn in his eyes.

Clearing her throat, Rennie pulled away and this time Jacob released her immediately. She clumsily stumbled to her feet and she snatched up the towel from the floor like a life preserver.

"Um," she hedged lamely, her gaze dropping like lead to the sopping thing in her hands. "Let me rinse this out," she mumbled and turned toward the door. Pulling it open, she escaped to the hallway without a backward glance. She lunged into the bathroom and shut the door a little too eagerly behind her – it slammed, echoing off the tiles.

Oh, God… what a freaking mess.

She was hopeless. Over the last few days in Charlie's undemanding presence she'd found some measure of peace in the vacuum of expectations (and a good case of bagged blood). Nahuel was also strangely soothing to be around once she'd established the ground rules: he was the only one here who didn't know her and was an extrinsic observer in this convoluted train wreck that was her life.

But it was easy to find peace if you're a monk on a mountain; when you come back down that's when your true colors bleed true.

All this just proved that this person she was trying to be was just the juvenile illusion of desperation caked like a bad paint job over the mental patching and spackling of the mayhem inside her. And she couldn't fake it. She was still a total basket-case nut-job.

And Jacob had born witness to it all. And she wanted to be perfect for him.

Dropping the towel, Rennie slowly slid her back down the door until she was seated on the cool tile. Collapsing her forehead against her knees as her pitiful house of cards tumbled around her, she wept quietly.

'

'

Hopefully I'll have the next up tomorrow, if I'm inspired. And you know how to inspire me…

Chapter 16: Lesson 16 Taking Two Steps Back

I'm a day late and several thousand dollars short, chickadees. This one took a little longer to work through than I thought.

Song is "Farewell" from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (being a Chinese martial arts addict, this one and Hero are my all-time faves - a little more class than the average HK action flick. Phenom choreography by Yuen Wo-Ping) OK, I'll shut my dorky mouth now. Music is beautiful and can be found on youtube by pasting: "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Soundtrack" (Farewell - first one that comes up, this one has pretty pictures)

Words of the Day:
moue - a pouting grimace.

pertinacity - 1. holding tenaciously to a purpose, course of action, or opinion. 2. stubborn or obstinate.

'

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

'

Lesson 16 - Taking Two Steps Back
(can mean going forward)

'

HOLY FUCK!

Jacob's mind was spinning a gazillion miles per hour. For several seconds he remained comically frozen like a statue – half on the ridiculously inadequate mattress and half off, hand in mid-air reaching after her, face contorted in too many emotions to name, not even a blink to his burning eyes… the whole nine yards.

I mean, really… HOLY FUCK!

The soft piteous sobs that floated through the hallway next, made him congeal in a tense crouch. That, and Charlie Swan's stern voice.

" 'Everything okay up there?" he called from the bottom of the stairs.

At such an intimately vulnerable moment, the sound of another male's voice – even her damn grandfather's – made Jacob's Wolf jerk up to attention and he lunged to his feet with a petulant growl. Thankfully, it also effectively snapped Jacob's head back in the game. A little.

"We're fine!" Jacob called in response, a little too tersely, as he caught himself against the wall and peered around the door frame down the stairs.

Charlie was standing at the bottom of them with his hands crossed over his chest. He frowned up at Jacob holding his gaze meaningfully.

Jacob nodded curtly – not sure to what, exactly – and then took the two steps backward to collapse on the mattress again.

Fuck.

The shower came on across the hall, and his eyes darted again to the bathroom door with a cagey vigilance. She was showering? Well it would give them both time.

Okay, Black… fucking pull yourself together.

Like a skin diver fighting an undertow, he flailed his way to the surface of a drowning deluge of hormones, instinct and emotion and drew in a long, gulping breath of sanity.

Holy fuck.

Okay, okay… that little make-out session had been just as completely, ridiculously crazy-making as had everything that lead up to it – his demented crack to Paul's face and the berserker thrashing of her father included - and, make no bones about it, Jacob simply had to be better than this.

And he could be, damn it. He'd been officially Alpha for over eight years and technical leader for more. He'd had a decade to acclimate to the complexities of controlling emotions – both his own and other's.

Get a fucking grip, Black.

Drawing in another deep breath and releasing it slowly this time through his nose, Jacob pulled his feet under him and sat cross-legged on the mattress, resting his arms loosely on his thighs. For several long minutes he did nothing but listen to the whisper of water as he centered himself, measuring his breath evenly through his nose, calming the frenetic beat of his heart…

And then, like the Alpha he was, Jacob took strategic stock.

He knew two things. Well, he knew one and suspected the other:

One, he should have listened a whole hell of a lot better to Charlie.

Two, Rennie was still a virgin.

It was just an intuitive thing based not only on her reaction but the vicarious glimpse she'd given him into her latest encounter with that dickhead in London. He wished he'd trusted his instincts and not her words. Though shamefully, Jacob wondered if it would have mattered this first time around - hell, he'd been knocked on his ass like it'd been his first time too.

Jacob had never been with a virgin before. He'd popped his own cherry in the back of some girl's car he'd met at a Port Ange bar after Bella had come back from Italy with starry eyes and a cold shoulder. It'd been a less than memorable experience – for both of them, no doubt – and the first in a pitiful long line of casual analgesic encounters.

Until Rennie was born.

After that, he'd only sporadically indulged in the pleasant but nearly clinical masturbatory sessions that epitomized his and Leah's little arrangement. But having the experience of ten brothers to draw on over the years, he knew the score. And if that fucking mind-blowing experience moments ago had made him feel like a virgin, he could only imagine what it'd done to her.

The simple power of their connection was mind-boggling. Just the touch of her lips was enough to undo him, therefore with her eager receptivity his Wolf had jumped the gun, snapped his leash and the man had giddily let him run. Had she not so noticeably shut down - his concern for her was perhaps the only thing that trumped this insanity- he was not entirely sure he'd have been able to rein himself in at all, an unlocked door and downstairs grandfather notwithstanding. And that would've sucked, because when (not if) they finally consummated their imprint, they both needed it to be as meaningful as she was to him. Sappy? He'd dare anyone to say so to his face.

Like many things in life, this had been an educational, if not disastrous, trial run.

If he thought about it, Jacob was a total idiot. He'd allowed his own driving need to surmount the innate understanding of how vulnerable she was right now. One thought to the memory of how she'd staggered into his garage a mere handful of days ago - confused, frightened, and hammered off her ass - and he was utterly ashamed of himself.

Jacob puffed a breath out through his cheeks as he drew his spine straight and settled his shoulders. But he'd learned long ago that regret just soured the present. Strangely, even after this magnificent fuck-up, he was more confident than he'd ever felt. Perhaps it was simply having all the cards on the table after eight long years (including a counterfeit V-card – he was going to have ream her for that one… later), but more likely it was because Wolves were all about action. This was familiar territory for an Alpha - things and people falling apart. And Jacob knew just what he had to do.

Backpedal and reevaluate. Use his resources and intuition.

Which was easy, in comparison to the impossibility of losing her. It didn't matter how much restraint, patience, planning or perseverance it required, Rennie was worth it.

He knew Rennie as well as he knew himself and he knew that sharp mind often overran her heart. She was a perfectionist - not perhaps by nature, but as a result of growing up drowned under the overbearing, overprotective, and unrealistic expectations of her dysfunctional leech family. And like he'd been doing all of her life, Jacob had to step up to the plate and help her through this…well maybe not him, exactly. As Alpha, he knew good and well how to use the assets of his Pack, and a call to Leah was certainly on the menu pretty damn soon.

But right now? Right now, he needed to establish the ground rules. She needed the same strong boundaries but respectful lenience that any of his new Wolves needed to be both contained enough to feel safe and free enough to find themselves.

Luckily, Jacob was the perfect man for the job.

Or so he told himself.

Across the hall, the shower turned off then and Jacob's eyes blinked back into focus.

Game time.

Turning, he scanned her room and saw her violin case laying on her desk. He unfolded from the bed and crossed the small room in two long strides. With sure fingers, he snapped up the clips and opened the case. He automatically inhaled deeply; he loved how the thing smelled. Like wood and musty velvet, bow resin and Rennie's fingertips. A sentimental smile curved Jacob's lips as he gently lifted the instrument from its bed. Unclipping the bow, he held both the violin's neck and bow's frog in one dwarfing hand and strode silently to the hallway.

He leaned against the wall across from the bathroom door and centered himself, excavating himself from his own residual turmoil by focusing on the warm soft glow that lit his heart. That in itself was a fucking priceless gift. He'd felt dead inside for far too long.

And he wasn't going to lose it. Or her.

Jacob closed his eyes softly and waited.

Minutes ticked by, until finally he heard the minute rattle of the doorknob and the quiet billowing of her breath. His eyes opened with a sad smile; he could picture her standing on the other side of that door - hand on the knob, steeling herself…

And then it opened.

Jacob licked his lips. "Hey," he said quietly.

Rennie's eyes had been trained on her room, and they snapped, with uncharacteristic start, to his body, lounging across the hall.

"Um, hey," she returned nervously. Jacob watched the visible shuttering of her emotions behind her practiced façade and her lips lifted in a forced smile.

"How 'you doin'?" Jacob murmured.

"Fine," she piped a little too pertly, her gaze dipping to the instrument in his hand.

"Fine, huh?" he drawled as he pushed off the wall.

"Uh… I need a smoke," she hastily mumbled, her feigned courage crumbling as she turned away from him.

In two preternaturally fast strides, Jacob was between her and the head of the stairs. "Wait," he asserted quietly. "I wanna talk to you a sec."

Rennie blinked and her gaze drifted up his body, ending in his eyes with a blush.

Jacob's lips stretched in an impish smile. "Just a second of your time, Miss Cullen."

Rennie pursed her lips in that stubborn little way of hers that Jacob was now appreciating as incredibly sexy.

"One-Mississippi," she smirked. "Done. Now lemme jus' …"

Jacob's long arm braced against the wall abruptly, blocking her.

Rennie blinked, taking an unconscious step back in surprise.

"Make that…um," Jacob's eyes swept the ceiling theatrically. "Nine hundred seconds," he grinned.

"Fifteen minutes?" Rennie came back automatically with a childish smart-ass smile that made Jacob chuckle.

"I want you to play me something," Jacob held up the violin in his other hand.

Her brow furrowed in confusion.

"While I talk," he added softly.

Rennie gave him an arrogant eye-roll. But he wasn't trying to mask his motives or intentions - it would be counterproductive with that clever little mind.

"Look, Jay… I just need a smoke. I'm good," she groused.

"You're good," Jacob repeated, his smile fading on his face as he held her gaze intensely. "Well, I'm not, so humor me."

Rennie's eyes darted between his for a moment…and then she slapped her thighs as she spun on her heel and paced several steps down the hall.

"Everything's not good, Jay!" the words burst from her lips along with all pretenses as she covered her face with her palms. "Everything's so not good. I don't know what to do! I don't know what to say… I'm so freaking messed up right now!"

Jacob frantically tamped down his Wolf's flash of agitation at her tone. He didn't move a muscle as he gulped down his own distress - deep inside they were still very afraid she'd change her mind. Or she'd simply lied to them.

"You don't hafta say a fucking thing," Jacob forced his voice into a low and neutral gear. "Just play.. and listen."

Rennie spun back around, dropping her hands to her sides. Her face was etched in anguish and the mere glimpse of her pain was like a sucker punch. Jacob stoically took the hit.

"Jus' gimme 15 to say what I wanna say," he repeated. "Please."

Rennie closed her eyes dolefully and she let out a long sigh. "Okay," she whispered and without another word, she turned toward her room and shuffled through the door.

Drawing in a long resetting breath, Jacob pushed off the wall and trailed after her. She was sitting on the bed, knees pulled up to her chin, shoulders hunched, staring at her wiggling toes and looking like a little waif who was waiting to be chastised.

Jacob smothered his smile and crossed the two steps toward her, holding out the instrument.

Rennie's eyes darted up to his and lingered for a moment before, with a long-suffering sigh, she took it.

Like magic, Jacob watched her entire body unfold and relax at its touch. The violin seemed to float into position on its own as she scooted back against the wall, habitually tightening the bow without a thought. Drawing her feet under her as she pulled the bow across the strings and deftly twisting the pegs with micro-movements that tuned the instrument to her sensitive ear.

Drawing in a deep breath, she leaned her head against the wall with a soft thump and fluently pulled the first long weeping notes from the violin with the ease of breathing. Her pure, achingly beautiful tone seemed to both saturate and solace his heart and Jacob exhaled quietly into the music.

He could always tell what she was feeling by what she played - and this song was a simple yet haunting tune that spoke of desolation.

"This is the song from that old kung-fu movie?" he asked quietly as he sat down on the mattress several feet toward its foot.

Rennie's eyes darted up from the strings of her instrument and her lips curved slightly, the music working its magic already. "Yeah, Crouching Tiger. It's technically for cello." She'd loved that movie as a child - she'd made him show her the fight scenes over and over until they could act them out together with impossible perfection. Without the wires. She'd always liked superhero and martial arts movies and he'd realized long ago that it was because the fantastical abilities of their protagonists made her feel more normal.

Jacob shrugged. "Sounds awesome on violin," he murmured as he spun his legs over the end of the bed. He laid down over the foot of the mattress so his head was several feet from her as he folded his arms behind his head. He stared up at the ceiling at the scarves, rippling gently with the breeze from the open window and listened to her coax the sublime notes from her instrument as he stretched his legs out over the floor.

"So Rennie," he began quietly as his eyes drifted closed. "This morning was a fucking mess, and it's my fault."

Her bow slipped on her instrument with a little stutter but Jacob ignored it.

"But," he continued emphatically. "…what I' finally figured out is if life isn't messy and fucked up and cringe-worthy sometimes - especially around the big stuff - then you're not doing it right."

Rennie's notes continued to pirouette across the room… but a little softer.

"This is all new for me," he admitted quietly. "So I hope you can cut me some slack. I figure this was strike one, but I hope- if I'm like those damn Mariner's the other night - I get a whole helluva lot more before I lose the game," he sighed as he pressed his lips together with regret.

A rustling heralded her foot sliding down the bed and her little toes curled sweetly into his forearm. Jacob's body immediately relaxed and warmed at her gentle, comforting touch.

"And I owe you a big fat fucking apology for lying to you all these years," he whispered as he pulled his arm out from under his head, and clasped her foot in his fingers, pulling it down to rest against his shoulder. "I mean, your dad thought it was the right thing-…"

"I'll bet he did," Rennie snorted theatrically as she unerringly spun the melody on.

A smile shimmered over his lips. "But I agreed, so it's on me," he intoned decisively. "I was scared. Scared to fuck it up. I wanted to give you a choice… I mean, you've had so many of 'em taken already." His hand smoothed over the top of her foot thoughtfully and then loosely clasped her ankle. "And you gotta know you got a choice in this, Rens. You don't owe me a fucking thing. I mean, I' got balls asking it, but all I want is honesty. Whether you want this thing or not… I can deal," his voice choked hoarsely on the last word despite his best efforts.

Rennie's bow stuttered to a stop.

Jacob opened his eyes and tipped his head up so he could see her at the head of the bed. "Can y'answer me one thing?" he whispered.

Rennie blinked at him as she slowly lowered her violin to her lap. "Cheater," she hissed, but her heart wasn't in it.

Jacob's lips lifted in a tense smile. "If you don't know just say it, kay? I just need straight-up. We're both adults, Ren, and how I feel's not your responsibility I just need the truth."

Rennie pressed her lips together and nodded soberly, all defensive cockiness melted in the face of his earnest plea. They had an unbreakable bond of loyalty and affection, and, just like he'd done for her in the car the other day, when one of them asked for something they needed, the other gave it. End of story.

He licked his lips and turned over on his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows as she drew her foot back under her.

"Do you want the imprint?" he asked bluntly.

Rennie scowled at him for a moment while she set her violin down on the bed. "Duh, Jay!" she scoffed as she deftly loosened her bow.

Jacob held her gaze as he raised his brow questioningly.

Setting the bow down too, Rennie released a long breath through her nose as she leaned forward, extending her hand across the bed. "Of course I do," she whispered, concern furrowing her brow.

Jacob reached forward and interlaced his big fingers with hers. "Sure?"

Rennie squeezed his hand. "Yes," she affirmed simply, absolutely.

His lips curved in a smile as his soul - and his Wolf - heaved a visceral sigh of relief.

"Then none of the rest of this shit matters," he declared with quiet passion as his eyes darted between hers meaningfully. "I'll wait as long as you want-…"

Huffing a sharp breath from her cheeks, Rennie snatched her hand away, sitting back up so quickly she bonked her head against the wall. "You've waited long enough, Jake!" she cried, her anxiety going from zero to sixty in a second flat as she crossed her arms over her chest.

Jacob's innate dominance did the same. "What? !" he came back sharply as he pushed up to his hands with a low growl. "Who the hell are you to say!"

His ferocity surprised her. Her eyes widened as she pressed her lips together timidly. Her flash of fear was like a knife to his heart, but she needed to understand this boundary… as well as how much she meant to him and how little this particular point did.

"Did I say that? Did I ever say anything like that? !" he countered hotly with a frown.

Rennie shook her head once, her lip trembling. It nearly undid him.

"Okay," he huffed as he forced a calming breath through his cheeks and lowered himself back to his elbows on the mattress again. " Okay…Well don't make fucking assumptions. I'll wait as long as I want. As long as you need. As long as I need. Hell, I'm still trying to wrap my head around all this shit too, it's my Wolf that's pushing it," he hissed defensively.

Rennie stared at him, her fear turning to an indignant frown now that the tension was slipping lax.

"Please Ren… just cut me some slack. No more lies… I'm having trouble, kay?" Jacob admitted bitterly.

His desperation instantly had her attention.

"I just… he wants to-.." he blew a hot breath of frustration through his nostrils as he grimaced.

Rennie's brow raised with small and sly smile. "Yeesss…?" she coaxed.

Shit, the power dynamic teetered like a seesaw between them. Just the way it should be, Jacob thought.

"Claim you," he mumbled.

Rennie's smile shook lax with a slight shudder.

"But I need to get to know you better," Jacob asserted quietly.

Rennie scooted the violin over a bit more and pulled her knees to her chest. "Huh?"

"I mean, I know you… but I need to take this slower too," he clarified, clasping each bicep under him and leaning forward with his vehemence. "You're a woman now and I wanna know everything about you. Be your friend. Hear about all that shit in London, know what you did this year, what you think, hear you play… just… you. However you are. Fucked up or not. Mistakes and all."

Her rosy lips pursed with the little cock of her head. "What if you don't like me…?"

"Impossible," he pronounced emphatically. "Imprint aside, I love you… really love you… and that shit don't change," Jacob reached over the bed and clapped a resolute hand on her foot.

They both imperceptibly relaxed at the touch.

Jacob smiled as her hand slipped over his. "But what if you don't like me? I might make a sucky boyfriend."

"No way," Rennie rolled her eyes dismissively. "You're the best guy I know."

Jacob couldn't help the shit-eating grin that spread over his face.

Rennie giggled and slapped his hand playfully.

And then clasped it in hers.

Jacob's grin faded as he got lost in those huge guileless eyes. Shit, she was so beautiful to him; she was watching him happily, her natural effervescence rising easily to saturate the pockmarked surface of her angst. She was tough and spunky, original and brave. She'd just gotten lost over this last year and he was very much looking forward to providing her a safe harbor in which to bloom fully into the exquisite creature she innately was.

Her insecurity started seeping around the edges of her smile, and Jacob realized he was just staring at her - slack-jawed no less- like a total imbecile.

"Look…just let's… " Jacob began, his brow furrowing. "Let's.. can we start this over?" he pleaded quietly.

Rennie's eyes paced back and forth between his for a moment and then a gorgeous and unencumbered smile lit her face like a sunrise. She sat up a bit more, tugging her feet lithely under her.

"Hi," she extended a hand with an impertinent smile. "I'm Rennie."

Jacob chuckled as he sat up himself on his knees, gaining a sneaky foot in proximity. "I'm Jake," he clasped her dainty hand in his and shook it once. "The Rez's nutso mechanic with mad-assed skills and the resident imprinted Alpha of a bunch of ragtag muthafuckin' wolves," he completed with an insolent grin as he brought her knuckles up to his lips and kissed them grandly. If that fucker Nahuel could be all cavalier and shit…

"Pleased to meet you," Rennie giggled, no doubt enjoying the parody. "And I'm a freaky 8-year-old vampire mutant and rebel violin-rocker," she replied pertly.

He tipped his head cordially, continuing the game.

"And a virgin," she added with a grimace.

Jacob blinked in surprise, even as his fucking Wolf purred shamelessly.

"Oh, c'mon…" she demurred, withdrawing her hand as she hitched a shoulder uncomfortably to her ear. "I know you figured it out. I just didn't want you to feel-…"

Jacob sat back on his heels. "How I feel's not your-…"

"Okay, okay!" she interrupted. "I got it," she huffed.

Jacob gave her a cheeky grin and then blinked back into serious. "Look all this is new for me too, chica," he admitted quietly.

"New?" Rennie breathed in confusion.

"I've never been in love, Ren," his gaze narrowed with sincerity. "I mean, Bella was just a kid's crush. And I've never made love-…"

"But," she interjected with a frown. "I thought you-…." she left the sentence dangling. For obvious reasons.

Jacob let out a long breath as his gaze fell to his lap. "I've had sex, yeah. But I've never made love," he clarified in a whisper. "So it's new and kinda freakishly scary, because I've never played this game at all.. and especially when I'm so afraid of losing it..." he looked back up and allowed his heart to bleed through his eyes honestly, vulnerably.

"Oh, Jay," she whispered with a heartbreaking sweetness.

Jacob smiled sadly as he scooted up the mattress so his knees were inches from hers. "Look…This is supposed to be fun," he murmured as his eyes washed over her beautiful face. His fingers came up to lovingly trace her jaw putting all the tenderness in his being into the touch.

Rennie sucked in a soft breath through her teeth as her eyelids drooped.

Jacob smiled as a shimmer of heat rippled down his body. "Feel this?" he whispered.

She didn't answer but her eyes fluttered closed and she leaned into his touch indolently. Jacob brought his other hand up to trace over her cheekbone.

He cupped her jaw gently as he leaned in close. "I just wanna enjoy this," he breathed over her mouth and then brushed his lips over hers - light and affectionate. He tried to ignore the jolt of crack that slammed through his body like a tidal wave. Fucking imprint.

Rennie shivered and her eyes popped open, crossing adorably to focus on him.

"Soooo," he murmured with a smile as he rubbed his nose against hers languidly. "You jus' gotta slap me down, if I get too frisky, kay?"

Rennie's lips curved in a slow and tantalizingly mischievous smile. "You mean," she breathed. "If you start humping my leg or something?" she taunted, completely deadpan.

Jacob pulled back with a wiggle of his brow. "Hey, that actually sounds kinda fun…" he leered.

Rennie slapped his shoulder in rebuke as she giggled.

Jacob chuckled and leaned in again to press his lips to her nose... but she tipped her face up and captured his mouth with hers.

Oh God.

The feel of her crepe-de-chine lips blossoming against his was pure ecstasy. He returned her kiss luxuriantly with a sigh, at the same time he fisted a visceral staying hand in his Wolf's ruff. He let her lead, her hands coming up to rest on his pecs as her lips played sumptuously over his, rolling like a dream, flitting like a memory. But kissing Rennie was like trying to take a sip from a water cannon.

He gasped against her mouth, trying to rein in the straining pull of his craving. "You know how I showed you a bunch a stuff? How to play checkers… ?"

"Mmm…" she hummed against him, dipping in to lick over his lower lip, making him groan. "Ride a bike…?" she murmured, obviously getting where he was going.

"Dive for shells…?" he breathed gathering her lips again in his with a slow caress.

"Change an alternator…?" she nibbled over his upper lip, smoothing a palm over the quivering muscles of his chest.

"Yeah," Jacob smiled against her lips. "Well, I can show you this shit too…" he captured her lips in a slow, searing kiss that lingered like an Indian summer.

As the tide of desire started to overtake him, he pulled back with a gasp.

"You're gonna educate me, huh?" Rennie giggled, her lips pouncing with feline enthusiasm again on his.

Jacob's mouth dueled with hers for a few more breaths before that burn in his groin became incendiary. He broke the kiss and blinked back into focus in her dilated eyes.

"In fact," he quipped pompously, desperately trying to change the seductive momentum of the moment. "It would be my pleasure to further your erudition in this particular subject," he mimicked nasally with his best pretentious Assward expression.

Rennie's face cracked in a grin. "Are you imitating my dad again?" she snorted.

"Never!" Jacob feigned indignant shock.

Rennie laughed.

"Rennie? !"

Charlie's yell up the stairs made them both jump like they were naughty kids. Their eyes laughing at one another, Rennie cleared her throat.

"Yeah Pappy?" she called back, her hands slipped up from his chest to rest on his broad shoulders.

Jacob cataloged every inch of her face as her gaze trained attentively out her bedroom door.

"Sorry kid, but I gotta leave for Sue's to help pack up in a few minutes!" he continued in a - needless - holler. He'd never gotten used to both his daughter's and granddaughter's preternatural ears. "You still want me to take you by your mama's? !"

Jacob stiffened, and Rennie's gaze darted back to his. "I gotta get it over with, Jay," she apologized quietly with a moue. "Since I'm on a roll fucking things up today I might as well try to make it epic."

"You didn't fuck anything up, chica," he corrected automatically. "But I can drive you," Jacob offered, his hands stroking through her hair with concern.

Rennie shook her head. "I think that might be asking for trouble," she hedged with a frown.

Jacob sighed. She was probably right about that part. "Can you-…"

Her finger came up to his lips and she turned back to the hall. "I'll be down in a few minutes, Pappy!" she called.

"Take your time, kiddo," Charlie returned, considerably quieter. Jacob frowned. He wondered just how much his timing of that announcement was just checking up on the long space of silence upstairs.

Rennie turned back, leaning in to press a sweet smacking peck to his nose.

"Can you wait a little? I can have Leah take you," he suggested, following her to procure another soft kiss of her lips. And his Alpha mind liked being able to kill two birds with one stone.

Rennie jerked back, eyeing him thoughtfully and looking like it was tempting.

"Look, Ren, I know some of the stuff he's gonna say," Jacob continued tensely.

"How?" her brow dipped in confusion.

" 'Cause he said it to me already," Jacob confessed. "The other night. That's why I lost it."

Rennie sighed ruefully and she closed her eyes as she leaned in to rest her cheek against his shoulder. Jacob wrapped his arms around her and just silently held her, stroking one hand over the back of her head while she processed.

"I can give you a preview…" he ventured quietly, pressing a kiss to her hair. "Just wait, we can talk more and I can have Leah take you…"

Rennie pulled back with a sigh that told him her answer before she spoke. "Naw," she clucked her tongue. "I just wanna get all the junk thrown on out there in a jumble, and I can play pick-up sticks later."

That girl was stubborn; she liked to do things herself - it was both an endearing and maddening trait.

Jacob's brow crumpled with concern. His hands fell down to hold her shoulders as he gazed into her eyes. "Y'sure? He's got some crazy shit up his sleeve."

Rennie blinked, looking worried, but he could see pertinacity hardening her resolve.

"You know what you said before you left? That there were some things you had to do on your own without help?" Rennie countered with a sassy raise to her brow. "Well this is one of those."

"Yeah, and that worked so well with this imprint, didn't it?" Jacob groaned.

"I get to strikeout too, Jake," she scowled in complaint.

Jacob's gaze darted between her determined eyes before he nodded curtly. It wasn't that he didn't agree with her, it's just he knew her father.

And he didn't play by the rules.

'

'

Don't fret, 'won't be too much angst. Of course, you know my scale is slightly skewed… *grin* Let me know what you think if you've got a sec.

Chapter 17: Lesson 17 Sometimes you gotta do

Word of the Day: charily - 1. carefully; warily. 2. guardedly, cautiously

'

Lesson 17: Sometimes you' gotta do what you gotta do…

'

"Vargas is gonna have to get his damn act together if we're gonna beat them Cubs this weekend," Charlie grumbled. Jacob tore his blind eyes from the screen and watched the man tip the can of beer to his lips as he scowled at the TV and the smiling stock photo of the Mariner's currently-maligned pitcher. "That boy's been throwin' like a grandma."

Jacob had been staring at the same screen, but damned if he could tell the man whether he'd been watching Lifetime or ESPN. Both his mind and heart were somewhere else altogether: Rennie should have been home several hours ago.

Charlie's indignant scowl turned on him, and then softened immediately at whatever he saw in Jacob's face.

Jacob quickly rearranged his expression. "Yeah, Charlie. Um, those Cubs…" he began, making a pathetic attempt at a response with neither the interest or knowledge to pull it off.

Charlie's lips hitched in an amused smirk. "Hey, y'don't have to fake nothin' with me, kid."

Rolling his eyes at himself, Jacob collapsed forward with a groan, propping his elbows on his thighs as he rubbed his face. His nerves were shot and he wondered if any of the tinny tingling in his bones was because Rennie's were too.

That thought certainly didn't help things.

Bursting to his feet, Jacob leaped the coffee table without a consideration as he paced across the living room. "Damn it," he grumbled to himself, slapping the far wall in frustration with both the situation and himself. His cell phone felt like it was burning a tempting hole in his back pocket - but he wouldn't call her. He wouldn't. She needed the space to do this by herself like she'd asked and he refused to be the same kind of possessive, overbearing sonofabitch that…her father was.

"Trust'er, Jake," Charlie murmured from his easy chair.

Jacob spun around on him with an inadvertent growl that raised Charlie's brow.

Squeezing his eyes shut for a moment he tried to reset. "I do," he insisted softening his voice by way of the only apology he could muster at the moment. "It's him I don't trust."

"Cain't quibble there," Charlie snorted bitterly.

Jacob huffed a out a breath as he spun on his heel and paced restlessly back toward the kitchen. She'd asked him to be here when she got back…

Home, she'd called it.

Had she somehow forgotten? Jacob snatched his phone out of his back pocket with a feverish hand. He briskly dialed one-handed.

"Chief," Paul picked up tensely before the first ring.

Jacob had wondered idly over these crawling hours whether his anxiety was leaching out through the Pack bonds, and his Second had answered both that question and the phone at the same time.

"No movement, yeah?" Jacob bit out cryptically.

"Nothin' on our side, but she got past us last time in a car. Crazy muthafuckin' idea huh?" he snorted sarcastically over a child's fussing whines in the background somewhere.

"Language!" Rachel bellowed, sounding two feet away.

"Cay can't hear, babe," Paul complained away from the mouthpiece.

"Jake, can't you Alpha-shut his big mouth?" Rachel pleaded in exasperation, sounding like she'd leaned over into the phone in Paul's hand.

"Think what else I do with this big mouth, huh babe?" Paul chuckled darkly before the juicy sound of a kiss smacked over the line.

At Rachel's breathy theatrical coo, Jacob knew they were both trying to lighten him up… but their heroically unselfish attempts (yeah, right) did the opposite this time. It just made him miss her more.

"Swing by my place, will ya?" Jacob sighed abjectly.

"Sure thing," Paul's voice was back to all business. "Caleb needs a drive anyway. 'Hit ya back in a few."

The phone went dead and Jacob let his hand fall to his side …just as the sound of a well-tuned foreign engine purred into his preternatural purview half a mile down the road.

"She's here," Jacob gasped, stuffing his phone in his pocket.

Charlie's eyes snapped back to him from the TV screen. "Yeah?"

Jacob nodded and tried to casually cross the room, but ended up at the door in a heartbeat. He was acting like some kinda overgrown teen (which he hadn't been for going on six years now), but he just couldn't help himself. Deep down, he was very aware of both the significance and potential of this meeting with her family after the imprint cards were on the table. Tonight was basically Edward's last chance to sway things his way. And perhaps even worse, he knew Edward knew that.

Charlie ambled on up to the door, while Jacob fidgeted like a dog waiting to go for a walk, barely able to resist the temptation to just go outside first and look like the overzealous mutt he was. Jacob barked a laugh at himself. He was officially pathetic.

Charlie shot him a quizzical look as his hand reached out to the doorknob just as the engine outside cut.

Pulling it open, Charlie gasped and stepped back in surprise at Jasper already in the doorway.

" 'Evenin'," he drawled with a sly tip to his head.

Charlie recovered and crossed his arms over his chest, while Jacob looked questioningly over the vampire's head. He didn't scent Rennie.

"Now this lil' visit's statutory, right?" Jasper grinned charily.

Charlie harrumphed. "Where's she?"

"Well Rennie ain't on her way, jus' yet," Jasper grimaced. He was the only of them who sounded natural using her chosen nickname. "Can I borrow your boy for a minute to that end?" The leech's eyes darted over to Jacob, glittering with covert concern.

Charlie saw it. " 'She alright?" he pressed, letting his hands fall to his side.

Jasper returned his gaze to the man. "There was a lil' ruckus back home that got 'er dander up."

"Big surprise," Charlie snorted as his nostrils flared.

Jasper nodded brusquely. "I think she jus' needed a spell to think on it. But I wanna track her down an' make sure she's doin' okay."

"You don't know where she is? !" Jacob snarled, his temper jacking up to the red zone in a heartbeat.

Jasper shook his head brusquely. " 'Thought you'd have a hunch where she went…" the leech began.

With a growl of frustration, Jacob tore his phone out of his pocket. It rang eerily in his hand: Paul.

"She there?" he spat into the mic with no preamble.

"Nope and no sign," Paul's voice jostled like he was jogging. A sound of a car door opening heralded a rhythmic chime.

"Put someone on the Shop and let me know if that changes," Jacob snapped and then pressed 'end.'

"I don't reckon there's cause for alarm, Chief," Jasper soothed the man as Jacob pushed past him. "Think she jus' needed a lil' solitary."

"Yeah, alright," Charlie mumbled, rubbing the side of his neck worriedly. "Gimme a call when y'find her."

"Will do," Jasper nodded.

Jacob was already ripping open the door of driver's side and sliding the seat all the way back with a thunk. Jasper wordlessly tossed him the keys over the hood as he rounded the other side.

Gunning the engine, purely out of frustration, Jacob threw it into reverse just as the leech was pulling the passenger door shut.

"Settle down now," Jasper admonished as he leaned back calmly in the seat like he was out for scenic drive.

Jacob just growled as he peeled out onto the road. Headed for… where the fuck was he going?

"So she ain't answerin' her phone," Jasper began blandly. "We tracked her scent down to the main road, but it looks like she got picked up…"

"What!" Jacob snarled, his eyes skewering the passenger beside him.

Jasper casually tipped his chin at the road, and Jacob jerked his head back in just enough to time to swerve with a screech around a logging truck ambling down the road, hazard lights flashing in the darkness. Good thing this BMW was fast. He needed fast; just to outrun his own heart.

"I think she hitch-hiked," he murmured, concern weighing down that cocky drawl like a ballast. "Alice can't see her with anyone we know and I know she didn't make any calls…"

Jacob glanced over at Jasper's sly raised brow. He did not want to know how he knew that. But for the first time Jacob was just the tiniest bit glad for all their freaky overprotective surveillance.

"She's headed toward town," Jasper provided, staring coolly out the window as Jacob tore down the dark roads indiscriminately, with no idea where he was going.

Get a fucking grip, Black. Jesus, he was a fucking basket case when it came to Rennie.

Drawing in a deep breath, Jacob expelled it slowly through his nose. He loosened his death grip on the steering wheel and strummed his fingers several times as his mind spun.

With no warning, he jerked the car in a U-ie and floored it in the opposite direction.

"I sense you got some kinda inklin'?" Jasper drawled sarcastically as he braced himself on the car door.

Jacob hit both front window buttons on the door and they rolled down with a whine to air out the stench of leech. He readjusted his cramped body in the car, becoming more confident about his hypothesis the more he thought about it. "What's the closest thing to a night club we got here?" Jacob murmured as he glanced over to the leech to gauge his reaction.

Jasper nodded out the windshield with an understanding smile. "That charming house a' intoxicated honky-tonk, Cliff's Dive?"

Jacob chuckled in spite of himself and took in a deep breath of fresh air from the outside.

Cliff's Dive was an appropriately named joint on the bluffs between town and the Rez. It was the only excuse for Forks 'nightlife' they had: a sleezy old-school bar with pool, karaoke and weekend garage bands. She was obviously upset - he could tell it had been bad by Jasper's uncharacteristic tension - but he didn't think Rennie would run. Not yet, at least. She wouldn't leave without telling him good bye, somehow he knew that deep in his heart. But a break, yeah.

It made sense: if she was confused, knowing what he did of this last year, she'd go somewhere where she felt in control and comfortable. And could get booze.

"You need me ta call any backup for yeh?" Jasper offered slyly from his seat.

Jacob tore his gaze from the road to glare at the leech.

Jasper raised a knowing brow. "Rennie in a bar?" he insinuated shrewdly. "With a bunch a drunk boys?"

With a reflexive growl, Jacob's eyes darted back to the road as he fluently jerked the vehicle around a hairpin turn. The car handled like a dream, even if it was a German piece of shit.

"We're just gonna make sure she's okay," Jacob mumbled petulantly, refusing to acknowledge Jasper's insight. He'd have to keep his temper in check, that was for sure. Not so much because he cared rather he ripped off a few heads or not at this point, but because if he didn't handle this right, it could push a vulnerable Rennie, who was seeking both space and answers, in the wrong direction.

Jasper chuckled to himself as he gazed out over the ocean to their left. "I like you, Jacob Black," he mused idly into the rushing wind that scented of saltwater. "Rennie chose alright."

Jacob's brow dipped as he kept his gaze trained carefully on the road. He knew the bloodsucker was probably just trying to throw his volatile emotion a bone of consolation to prevent imminent disaster, but he just couldn't resist taking the dangling bait.

"She chose?" he muttered under his breath.

In his periphery, he saw the leech turn with a gratified smile. "Well she told her papa she had, in no uncertain terms I can tell y'that," he drawled.

"What'd he say?" Jacob grumbled uncomfortably, ashamed that he'd descended so low to be asking a vampire about his love life.

Jasper chuckled richly at his expense as he leaned back in his seat and propped his arm on the door. "Oh he went all kinds of crazy, as y'can imagine. That boy never worried for hittin' below the belt in a fight," he disparaged cryptically with shake of his head.

Jacob couldn't help the rumbling growl that tumbled in his throat.

"It ended with 'em stormin' out in opposite directions. She takes after her papa with that temper," Jasper murmured with a soft laugh. "Bella ran after Edward… me an' Alice went after Rennie."

"Bella needs to mommy the fuck up," Jacob ground out, his blood pressure spiking in protective indignation over the simple fact that, when given the choice, she chose her husband. Every single time.

"Go easy on her, Jake," Jasper replied astutely. "Y'gotta understand our kind's frozen at the point a' the Change. Bella was nothin' but a lovestruck lil' girl who's heart was torn down the middle."

Jacob blinked rapidly, his gaze cutting over to where Jasper was watching him.

Jasper returned his eyes to the road. "And, me bein' the 'emperor of empathy'," he smacked his lips pertly. "I'll tell yeh that that leaves a powerful mess of emotions. That lil' echo of doubt will always be there - both of 'em gotta live with that," he finished under his breath.

Jacob gulped as he squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. Suddenly he understood just what Bella had chosen: she'd chose to live in a single adolescent moment of time for an eternity. She'd never emotionally move on. There was no 'growing out of' a controlling relationship, a lost love, a phase of life… and, conversely, no growing into yourself. It made his heart clench in empathy. As much as she'd hurt him, she didn't deserve that. For the first time in this last decade he felt a deep sadness. For Bella.

And now he understood (yet another) reason Edward had only become more vehement over the years in denying his imprint on Rennie. At first, he'd no doubt allowed Jacob access to Rennie to please Bella, and invariably because it made Rennie so happy. But as the years went by and Jacob's feelings deepened, it had only created more complex and confusing emotions for his wife and thus fomented his hatred.

Well Jacob felt for her - maybe both of them - he really did. But this was his life, his love, his mate.

Mine, the Wolf reiterated querulously.

But Bella had made her choices, against Jacob's best efforts to convince her differently. Selfishly he was now glad she had made the ones she had, come to think of it. Though of course he hoped he'd be able to navigate things with minimal collateral damage, honestly, as callous as it sounded, he wouldn't hesitate for a second to hurt Bella if it was in Rennie's best interest. He was uncharacteristically and unambiguously mercenary when it came to his imprint. Bella might not have moved on, but Jacob had unequivocally. He might not have his high school diploma (as Edward had so snidely pointed out) but his heart, emotions and mind sure the hell had graduated a long time ago.

"Jacob?" Jasper's low hiss, snapped his head back in the game, and Jacob reflexively yanked the steering wheel just in time to make the last turn-in for Cliff's Dive. The lot was surprisingly full for a Tuesday night.

As he pulled up next to a beat up Chevy pickup, Jacob suddenly realized that he could be wrong. Rennie might not have come here at all.

Pushing all thoughts and anxiety out of his head, he centered himself as he unfolded from the sedan. Slamming the door behind him, he strode across the gravel lot toward the collage of neon signs and Christmas lights facing the well-worn and seedy little building. Jasper fell silently into step beside him, and Jacob passed him the keys, idly listening to the little jingle that rose over muffled crappy music and muddled drunken conversation coming from inside.

He took the several cement steps in one leap and his hand paused at on the peeling laminate of the door.

God, please let her be here.

As he pushed the door open, sound tumbled over them like a tidal wave - a toppling jumble of Taylor Swift, clinking glasses, ESPN and tipsy laughter. The odor of working men's sweat mixed with stale beer and deep fried appetizers, but swirling in that foul assault on his senses was the unmistakable scent of jasmine on a rainy afternoon. Jacob sucked in a deep breath through his teeth, trying to shuck off the contamination from that essence as his eyes naturally snapped in the direction of that subtle little pull of his heart like a compass needle.

Sitting at the far end of the bar, her back turned to them, was a woman with a tousle of strawberry curls flowing down a slender back. Rennie's infectious laughter effervesced like sunshine on the surface of the bar's muddy din as her curls rippled and the man sitting kitty corner from her solicitously chuckled. Her dainty, porcelain hand reached back for her half-full glass of what looked like a dry martini, and she emptied it with an expert throw-back, clunking it back on the bar with gusto. Then man's lips lifted in a grin as he motioned for the bartender.

It was only the cold, merciless grip on his arm that made Jacob realize he'd taken two determined steps into the room, a growl already boiling in his chest. His head whipped around with a fierce scowl for his companion.

"Wanna get us a table?" he grinned jauntily.

Jacob blinked. Several times.

Fuck. He had to keep his head in this game.

He nodded tersely and his gaze deftly inventoried the bustling room, lighting on a tall cocktail table in the opposite corner with a perfect and unobstructed view. Yanking his arm out of the leech's grasp, he stalked toward it, his head turned so that his gaze could stay locked on the woman at the bar who - so far - hadn't scented them.

She must already be drunk. But as his gaze quickly cataloged Rennie's corner of the room he realized she'd chosen a spot right in front of the air conditioner, probably in a vain attempt to mollify the stench of a throng of smelly humans in such a small space.

Jacob sat down on the stool - that was supposed to be high for a normal man but was still too short for his size - and fisted his hands before him on the table while Jasper slid onto the seat beside him.

Every last sense was trained on the woman across the crowded room.

"Thanks Rob," Rennie gushed to the bartender as he set an identical drink down in front of her. The handsome blond gave her blinding smile and patted her hand flirtatiously. Jacob's lips lifted from his canines as a low growl got swallowed by the ambient noise.

"Easy," Jasper warned beside him.

Jacob ignored him as his eyes darted to Rennie's companion sitting near her - the one who was cheerfully plopping down a twenty for her drink. He was handsome enough but probably pushing 50, with a head full of well-kempt dreads threaded with subtle strands of grey. He looked like a trucker or laborer of some sort with a stained company tee shirt and time-worn cheap indigo tattoos just barely visible in the dark complexion of his forearms.

But Jacob realized why his Wolf's attention had glossed over this one initially as inconsequential in his assessment of this new territory: his smile. That bright perfect smile that was cast unreservedly over his little companion was overtly appreciative, but kind. He was certainly enjoying her company and attention, but his sparkling eyes showcased no ulterior motive or sordid interest.

Jacob let out a small sigh of relief, for both Rennie's sake and the man's. He didn't know if he'd have had the restraint to sit here like this if the man had shown the slightest sleazy inclination.

"Thanks, Shay," Rennie held up her glass to him like an offering.

With a sunny smile the man picked up his own beer and clinked her glass in a toast before taking a good long sip. Jacob gratefully took note of the big thick wedding ring his finger. Not that that stopped many men, but then again, those types usually left it on the dresser at home.

"Whattaya have?" a cute, co-ed waitress stopped in front of the table awash with a flirtatious smile and the scent of weed.

"Beer," Jacob grunted, craning around her impatiently to watch Rennie as she related some spirited story to her attentive companion.

"We have Ranier, Coors, Bud-.." the girl began her list, trying to draw back his attention.

"Whatever," Jacob muttered.

With a peevish frown, the girl tried her luck with Jasper. "And you?" she crooned, jacking up the seductive allure.

Jasper indulged her with a smile. "Whatever you're bringin' him, darlin'," he replied kindly.

With a coy smile she nodded and wove back through the room.

As the girl withdrew, Jasper laughed outright at him and Jacob turned to glare at the leech letting his Wolf peek out of his eyes. He might be keeping it together well enough on the outside, but inside, the beast was flailing against his restraint with incensed exasperation at the fact that Jacob was simply not crossing the room this very moment and throwing his imprint over his shoulder like some kind of fucking cave man.

Smothering his laughter in a private smile, Jasper suddenly became interested in the stack of cardboard coasters on the table.

With a huff, Jacob returned his attention to the room. Rennie was just turning around, glancing at the door as she subtly lifted her nose to the air.

But unfortunately one of the several men in the general vicinity - who were all watching her like fucking dogs for any opening - stood up from the nearby table. He was well-dressed, well-bred, well-muscled and … symmetrical. He glanced down at his three twenty-something buddies and sauntered toward her while they all watched, visibly tensing in adolescent excitement. Disgusting.

Rennie gave him a one of her usual blithe smiles, that to any guy - especially on that beautiful face - was like a big fat fucking invitation. He was damned well going to have to teach her about that too if he didn't want to end up in jail anytime soon.

"You look like you're having fun," the man commented around a smile, swinging his bottle of beer idly from his fingers as he leaned a cavalier elbow against the bar. He flagrantly ignored the older man across from her.

Rennie nodded enthusiastically, and something about the movement clued Jacob in. It was a little too loose - she was trashed.

Shay sat up a bit more beside her, his smile fading to stern. He'd probably been fending off these hopeful whelps all night.

Rennie hadn't forgotten about her companion - she'd never been the opportunistic sort - and she turned to glance at her friend. "This is Shay and I'm Rennie," she announced brightly, turning her guileless eyes back on the asshole who barely acknowledged the man she'd introduced. "We're celebrating!"

"Cool." The man took another sneaky shuffling step closer and held his beer out in a toast. "I'm Dave."

Rennie picked up her drink and clinked it delightedly.

The dude decided to at least pretend he wasn't a jerk and held his bottle over to Shay, just fortuitously happening to cause him to lean over Rennie. If she didn't have the reflexes she had, his forearm would have gotten a nice cop of her breasts.

Jacob lunged to his feet.

Jasper stopped him with a granite fist on his wrist and Jacob loosed a warning snarl that was swallowed by the 808 bass of the song playing.

"Give her a chance, now, y'ole wolf," he sighed humorously with nothing but an urbane flare of his nostrils at Jacob's undoubtedly baleful expression.

With a scowl, Jacob threw himself into a sullen hunch on his seat and glowered across the room like a gargoyle.

"What are we celebrating?" the boy piped a little too cheerily as he took a sip of his beer, keeping his intimate crowd of her space.

"Marriage!" Rennie laughed as she looked at her drink in her hands and then took a long, gulping swallow, seemingly oblivious to the guy's lame predatory once-over.

"You're a little young to be married," the guy laughed along with her and took another steeling swig of his beer.

"I'm engaged," she turned back to him.

The man's eyebrows shot up as his eyes darted to her left hand. "I don't see a ring," he smiled slyly with perfect teeth.

Rennie's sparkling laughter again skipped through the bar. "You don't need a ring to be engaged," she chided like he was some ignorant kid. Which, for the record, he was.

"Then you've still got time to play…" he gave her a suggestive leer as he leaned in. "And if you don't play the field how d'you know you're in the right position?"

Okay, that's enough.

Jasper let him stand this time.

"You're so silly, Dave!" Rennie laughed like he'd just told some hysterical joke as she pushed him back with a jovial hand to his shoulder. He stumbled back several feet from the force, eyes widened in surprise.

Part of Jacob appreciated Rennie's artful handling of the guy, but that part was pretty fucking small compared to his burgeoning rage. He was behind the guy in a second.

"Silly's not what I'd call it," Jacob hissed as his fists locked on the guy's forearms and picked him several feet off the floor, effortlessly spinning him around toward his table. "Dave," Jacob added as he plonked him back on his feet.

Dave whipped around with a scowl and came face to face with Jacob's pecs. He comically tipped his head back, his indignation melting in drunken surprise. When he reached Jacob's face, he blanched. Murder was undoubtedly written clear as day on his features.

"Jake!" Rennie squealed, her voice lancing through the blood red haze like lightning.

Instinctively Jacob turned, knocking the guy several feet with the movement, and caught her elated lunge against his chest. She wrapped her arms around him and rested her chin on his solar plexus, smiling happily up at him. It melted Jacob's fury to pleasure in a nanosecond flat.

"This is Jake, my fiancé," Rennie was saying, squeezing his ribcage in a fierce betrayal of her covert stress. "Jake, this is Dave."

That name snapped him back to attention.

"We've met," Jacob snarled with a glare at the boy's comically widened 'oh shit' eyes. "Go back to your book club, Dave," he sneered uncharitably.

Rennie pretended not to notice.

"And I want you to meet Shay," she tugged him away from the trembling table of properly emasculated boys.

Shay was chuckling appreciatively over in his corner. Jacob lifted Rennie easily off the floor and set her on her seat as he reached his arm across the bar.

"Jacob Black," he offered a cordial hand.

"How you doin' my brotha?" Shay took it in a firm grip. "I think that boy peed his pants," he laughed under his breath.

Jacob grinned impertinently as his gaze cut back to Rennie who'd picked up her glass again and was eagerly tipping it to her lips. He tucked a loose curl tenderly behind her ear. She was flushed and her eyes were swimming.

" 'There been alotta those?" he murmured cryptically as his gaze darted back to the man.

"Yeah, but the girl can handle herself," he smiled. "She's just had quite a few now," his voice was softened by concern, as his gaze darted meaningfully to the drink in her hands.

"I'm right here," Rennie complained, setting down her empty glass and frowning at the two of them.

Jacob smiled and leaned over to place a sweet kiss on her forehead. But Rennie threw her arms around his neck, tipping her face up and capturing his lips with unrestrained and drunken ardor. For a second, he was completely undone - even under the circumstances - by the volatile combination of her soft mouth and hungry desperation. By her taste distilled by liquor, her addictive scent: female, mate…

MINE.

With a gasp he broke the kiss as his large hands pushed her back firmly and held her delicate shoulders. She pouted up at him. "Not here, Ren…" he whispered, unable to stand that little flicker of rejection in her inebriated gaze.

" 'She gonna be alright?" Shay asked quietly as Jacob pulled her to his chest and she collapsed against him like a spent child.

Jacob nodded. "I'll make sure she is," he murmured with quiet heat.

"She said her daddy don't approve," Shay ventured cryptically, his eyes darting intensely between Jacob's. "Race thing?" he murmured with a subtle lift to his brow.

"Kinda," Jacob sighed. More like a 'species thing.' He smoothed his hand over her curls as her arms lethargically encircled him like she'd just swam the English channel and Jacob was French shores. "It's complicated," he added.

"Always is," Shay grimaced in commiseration around another sip of his beer.

Jacob reached into his pocket with one hand and pulled out his wallet. "Thanks, man," he said quietly, holding Shay's gaze as he pulled his wallet behind Rennie's head and fumbled awkwardly with it while still maintaining his embrace around her. He just couldn't let her go.

Jacob pulled out several twenties. They'd had enough to get by growing up, but nothing extra. Having grown up technically below the poverty line, as an adult he always made sure he had at least two hundred dollars in cash with him at all times. It was just something that was important to him.

"Hey, no way!" Shay complained, sitting back and holding his palms up.

At the man's offended expression - he probably had the same pride from the same place Jacob did - he stuffed all but one back. "I really appreciate you lookin' out for her, Shay. Lemme buy you a drink at least," he gave him a sincere smile.

"Alrighty. It was my pleasure though," the man chuckled and took the bill from his hand with an air of concession. "You got you'self a good lil' shorty there, my man."

Jacob nodded once as he automatically squared his shoulders with pride. He did.

"I'm still here," Rennie slurred into his chest, her complaint sounding more content than anything though.

Jacob shot the man an amiable wink and then he stooped down, gently pulling Rennie's head up. "You ready to go, honey?" he murmured as his gaze washed over her face.

Her eyes rolled a little before focusing on him and a slow, sappy smile crept over her lips. "Jake," she breathed happily. She was so wasted.

"C'mon," he urged as his gaze caught Jasper's across the room where he was sitting with two untouched beers and a sly smile.

"You could buy me a drink," she suggested thickly. "All I got is Euros, but Shay wouldn't take 'em."

Jacob shook his head with a smile. "Another time, 'kay?" He carefully helped her down from the stool as he watched Jasper slap a twenty down on the table.

But Rennie's first tottering step had him swinging her up in his arms without a second thought. His Wolf purred unapologetically in approval.

Rennie, however, squealed like a little girl. "Whoa," she moaned, throwing her arms around his neck anyway. "I can walk, Jay…"

"I know," he rumbled nuzzling her ear and feeling his stubble catch in her hair. "Let me carry you …please-please-please?" he whispered in a comic whine that earned him delicious pealing giggles.

Jacob's gaze snapped to the table of collegiate assholes who were overtly staring like little envious boys trying to covertly memorize some new moves. Jacob sniffed a laugh at their expense as he sent them a scowl that had their gazes scurrying quickly for some fascinating spot on the table.

"Alright." She nestled against him with a smile. "Just 'cause it's you and you're my fiancé," she added clumsily over her liquor-thickened tongue.

"I think I missed somethin'," Jacob returned his attention to the woman snuggling against him.

"Oh!" she picked her head up. "Bye Shay!" she called with a wave as Jacob cooperatively turned around, continuing to make his way toward the door backwards.

"G'night, Sunshine," he smiled, tipping his beer and tossing a conspiratorial wink Jacob's way.

Jacob jerked his chin up in acknowledgement and spun lithely back around as she waved to the bartender. "Like I said, I think I missed something," he repeated, jostling her playfully in his arms.

Rennie giggled again and then frowned. "Huh?" she looked up at him with a theatrical expression of bewilderment that made him bark a laugh as Jasper held the door for him.

"I'm you're fiancé?" he lifted his brow with a furtive smile. He liked the sound of that. Correction, loved it.

"Uncle Jaz!" Rennie beamed.

Okay, now he knew she was avoiding that question.

"Looks like you had fun, darlin'," Jasper smiled, falling into step beside him.

"I did," she bubbled. "Shay picked me up and didn't wanna leave me at the bar alone…" She continued to babble away as they crossed to the car and Jacob found himself liking the man more and more.

Jacob walked around to the back door as Jasper climbed into the driver's side. Jacob gently put Rennie in the car as she continued to relate Shay's whole life story cheerily. But he could tell. She was hyper-focused on the distraction because she didn't want to face reality that blew in along with them picking her up at a bar - plastered off her ass - after the night she'd had at the mercy of her desperate asshole father.

"Jaz, can you pull the seat forward?" Jacob grunted as he scooted in after her. Jasper leaned over and released the catch, yanking it all the way to the front as he squeezed into the back seat. Germans must be pretty fucking tiny.

Rennie snuggled right up next to him, her chatter evaporating in a contented smile as she leaned her head on his shoulder.

"You called Charlie?" Jacob asked, catching Jasper's gaze in the rearview mirror.

He nodded and started the car. "Home?"

"No!" Rennie shrieked, bolting upright like she'd grounded a lightning strike.

"Aren't you livin' at Charlie's now?" Jasper turned to look over his shoulder with a canny raise to his brow as Jacob rubbed a hand down her back in concern.

Rennie relaxed tentatively and nodded.

"Home?" Jasper asked again with a smile.

"Yes, please," she mumbled, wrapping both arms around Jacob's bicep and snuggling back against it.

Jasper tapped the knob on the radio and sophisticated jazz slunk through the car from the fancy satellite radio console.

"I love Wynton Marsalis," Rennie gushed beside him and Jacob glanced at the LCD display. Of course she'd nailed it by the second note.

With an appreciative chuckle, Jacob's hand reached around to stroke down her hair. "Should I be jealous?"

Rennie shook her head, burying her face in his shoulder.

"Because I'm your fiancé?" Jacob asked around a smile, stroking a tender finger down her cheek. It wasn't just because he perversely wanted to hear her say it again that he wouldn't let it go, there was something else. Something instinctual. Sixth sense? Jacob felt sometimes like he had sixty, but if there was one thing he'd learned over the years as both a Wolf and an Alpha, it was to pay attention to every last one.

Rennie shifted against him.

"Ren?" Jacob pressed gently.

She sat up abruptly, rubbing her palms over her face. It was the last thing he wanted, but he let his hand drop to his lap.

"No, I know Jay," she mumbled quietly as she tucked her head, her fingers picking at some invisible spot on her jeans. "I just told 'em that 'cause it keeps the guys away. And because I wanted to pretend," she shrugged a shoulder up to her ear uncomfortably, her hair falling between them and hiding her face.

"Pretend?" Jacob repeated quietly, turning his body toward her as much as he could in the cramped quarters.

Rennie mutely shook her head as her hands curled into fists on her thighs.

Jacob propped a long arm over the back of the seat. "Ren?" he urged quietly as his hand pushed her hair back over her shoulder.

She sniffled dejectedly, turning her cheek away from him. "Yeah pretend you were," she whispered. "P-pretend that I went home and told them and everyone was happy. That I'd told them about the imprint and they said 'congratulations!'" she laughed bitterly as she tried to scoot away from him and her hands came up to wipe suspiciously at her cheeks.

She was crying, Jacob realized. "Oh honey," he soothed trying to coax her back.

Rennie shook her head as her silent tears galloped into sobs. "P-pretend that I'm good for you ...th-that I'm not just a selfish bloodsucking, lifesucking vampire bitch!" her words vaulted up to a shriek.

"Hey!" he objected like velvet over steel as the arm resting behind her tugged her back to his side. "You're mine, Rennie. I chose you," he couldn't extricate his words from the growl.

Rennie shook her head violently. "You didn't choose," she rasped, fighting his embrace with a stubborn grunt. "You didn't!"

"Shh…c'mere, chica," he murmured, his massive arms enfolding her in a careful and relentless embrace with patient power.

Rennie resisted for a moment and then collapsed back against his shoulder with a soft hiccupping sob.

"Did he say that? What did he say Rennie?" Jacob crooned the question in a low monotone, sheathing his own rising fury in cashmere.

Rennie shook her head against him. "I don't wanna talk about it," she pleaded with a juicy sniffle, as he settled both arms around her tightly. "Uncle Jaz doesn't wanna hear all this again. They all heard it already. All of it," she sniffled.

Jacob gulped down fire as he forced a hot breath through his nose. Now wasn't the time for this… not when she was drunk and the emotions were raw.

"I don't wanna talk about it," she whimpered thickly again in a small, sad voice.

"Sure thing, honey," he whispered, as his body melted around her with wordless comfort.

Rennie turned into him, pushing his tee shirt's sleeve up over his shoulder with both hands and pressing her face against his skin, as if she were trying to get lost in his warmth. Luckily with his sheer bulk it was an easy thing to do.

"Don't be mad, Jay," Rennie breathed against his bicep.

It was only then that he realized his body was vibrating like a washing machine on the spin cycle. He supposed it was an accurate metaphor considering how many thoughts and feelings were tumbling inside him. Jacob closed his eyes for a moment as he drew in a long slow breath through his nose and let it out quietly over the top of her head. Right now - her father or not, his friend's husband or not -Jacob wanted to murder Edward. Slowly, painfully just for making her feel like this.

"God, I'm such a freaking mess," Rennie slurred pathetically. "I'm drunk as a skunk…'sorry, Jay."

"Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, honey," Jacob whispered, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Jasper's somber stare in the rearview mirror. There was both empathy and shared protective indignation burning in those honey eyes.

"Rennie, I'm happy," Jasper murmured, holding Jacob's gaze just a moment before he turned to look over his shoulder even while he unerringly steered the sedan down the dark road.

Rennie shivered beside him before she picked her head up raggedly and met her uncle's gaze. Her head seemed to wobble on the column of her neck.

"Really?" she breathed in overstated wonder.. and then hiccupped. She clapped her hand over her mouth and fell back to Jacob's shoulder again.

"Love ain't nothing if it ain't worth fightin' for, sweetheart." Jasper's lips curved in a subtle smile before he turned back to his driving.

"Don't neither 'ya forget that," he whispered as he laid his head back against the headrest and readjusted his hands on the wheel.

And it was then that Jacob decided, like Rennie, that Jasper was his favorite too.

'

'

Review if you like.

Chapter 18: Lesson 18 You Can't Run Away

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Word of the day: feckless - ineffective; incompetent; futile

'

Lesson 18 - You Can't Run Away From Yourself

'

Jacob braced his palm against the slick tiles, his fingers curving along the trench of the grout, as the water rushed like a harsh whisper over his skin. A moan escaped his lips and he squeezed his eyes shut, hunching over as he doused his face, shaking it slowly to and fro under the standard 6'4 showerhead, while the muting spray pounded restraint over his lips.

He felt the cool ceramic bathtub under the soles of his feet. He felt the warm rivulets of water, diverted by the cut of his musculature, twist and undulate in ribbons down his body. He felt the muscles in his back tense and bunch under skin that seemed to slither. He felt the brisk relentless pressure of his palm and calloused fingers as he stoked the searing heat between his legs with long, practiced strokes that pumped fire through his veins.

And he thought… of Rennie.

He'd finally given up standing worried sentry over her drunken slumber in the little nest of blankets and pillows he'd made on the floor in front of the couch. Charlie had insisted Jacob sleep in the living room. Rennie had insisted on sleeping with Jacob.

And so she had: her cheek pillowed blissfully on his chest and little body clinging to him: her small arm wrapped over his broad torso, her leg thrown between his and her foot curled possessively around his calf. It galvanized Jacob's body like his every nerve was detonating cord sparking toward some eminent TNT explosion. Finally - somehow, at some point - he'd succumbed to slumber.

But who knew she talked in her sleep?

Well, talk wasn't the word. That hand tucked cherishingly under his jaw had insinuated a shared REM vision this morning that had knocked him on his ass in surprise. It had dragged him like a riptide through an incendiary dreamscape until the sheer rapture of it had made both his Wolf and his consciousness demand to be included.

Finally Jacob had awoken to the shameless rhythmic bucking of his hips that rocked both their bodies provocatively. He'd been mortified.

But as the staggeringly sublime and sultry scent of her ambrosial arousal washed over him like heated honey as he struggled into awareness, he'd finally understood. Blinking, he'd picked up his head and watched her eyelids flutter and her tongue quiver on parted lips with lush sensuality, while the most delectable vision imaginable played in his head.

Her fantasies were immeasurably more satisfying than his own.

Abashed propriety had finally intervened and made him break the skin-to-skin contact. Like he'd flipped a switch with the prophylactic blanket stuffed frantically between them, his mind had gone blank. Leaving him washed up high and dry on reality's shores with nothing but her soft sighs, her warm body, that deliriously tantalizing scent… and a painful, raging hard-on.

Wiggling out from under her, he'd taken one look at the purple, bulbous head desperately making an escape from the waistband of his jeans and he'd decided to take matters into his own hands.

So to speak.

Gritting his teeth, Jacob groaned, falling forward against the tiles, his forehead resting on his rock-hard forearm. Panting like a racehorse as the shower sluiced over his back, he steadied himself by bracing one foot behind him, making the water trickle over his hips and siphon down his dick for fortuitous lubrication while his hand ardently pumped.

His body was on fire. He could no longer even register the familiar and habitual movements of his hand. All he felt was the molten and overpowering sensual inferno that was burning him alive. He quivered at the precipitous lip of a crushing satiation as his breath was pushed through his teeth in a hiss of violent pleasure.

A low growl vibrated in his gut as he allowed an uncensored glimpse of his deepest desires to bloom in his mind's eye for the first time in the tumultuous struggle against his own self. It wasn't his lurid fantasy it was hers.

Hers.

And it blossomed behind his eyelids with stunning clarity, embellished into vibrancy by his own yearning:

'

His hands caress warm living silk, his complexion dark against the soft peaks of her breasts like whipped cream, the flushed pink nipples beckoning him with her arching ardor. His mouth pounces and captures one like prey. Flicking, suckling, swirling until she's shivering beneath him, he coaxes throaty coos of encouragement from strawberry lips. With a groan, his mouth is suddenly burning a path over her collarbone to the alluring column of her pristine neck. With an amorous gasp, she throws her head to the side in an instinctual surrender to mate that makes his balls convulse and his Wolf purr. Hungry lips latch over her cantering pulse as his large hand slips under her ribcage and he crushes her to him.

"Jake," she gasps his name like a prayer. "Yours."

"Mine," he rumbles so low it vibrates in his bones as he presses her down into the mattress with his weight. Her legs spread avidly with her keening whimper, muffled by his hunger branded against her lips.

Her fingernails dig into his skin as he settles between her thighs. His elbows find leveraging purchase as he tilts his hips, his desire throbbing a percussion of craving for the tight warmth of her body. Tearing his mouth from hers, he takes a moment for his eyes to covet that beautiful face, sensually drunk with desire - her parted lips swollen with passion, his mark on her neck dark and proud, her hooded eyes dilated, her nostrils quivering with want.

Rennie's gaze locks with his and a pink tongue darts over her lower lip. "Gimmeee, Jaayy," she breathes.

'

Muffling his groan fiercely against his forearm, Jacob came so hard his knees buckled, sending him crashing forward into the tile.

"Shit!" he hissed hoarsely as he released his pulsing cock and steadied himself on the faucet nozzle, fiercely searching for balance in the mind-blowing maelstrom that convulsed through his body in a seemingly endless gush.

Jacob picked his head up from the tiled wall and blinked, trying to clear his blackened vision while his body hummed in resonant overwhelm with the most powerful orgasm he'd experienced to date. Panting, he straightened with a shake to his head as he tried to find a way to slip back into his body - like a chrysalis he felt like his skin had exploded into tatters leaving his inner self raw, exposed, reborn. Even the now-tepid water lanced painfully like needles over his sensitized chest.

As he slipped back into sanity he froze for a moment, his senses seeping out around him in testing tendrils. He had no idea how loud he'd been, but he heard nothing from downstairs and Charlie's soft snores marched on, uninterrupted, from the room down the hall.

With a sigh of relief, he surveyed the cum-splattered tile with a mixture of laughable macho gratification and clinical amazement. He had no idea he had quite that… range. Or volume.

A low chuckle bounced in his chest at his own expense as he cupped his hand and sloshed water over the shower walls. Oh he was going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that - Wolf semen packed a particularly aromatic punch that was useful in marking a mate but didn't facilitate discretion in bathrooms shared with others sporting preternatural senses - namely Rennie.

Rennie.

He paused in his feckless splashing and leaned against the cool wall for a moment, letting his eyes flutter closed in blissful relish. Part of him wished he could say this was the first hand-job that had been chaperoned by images of her, but it wasn't. It was shamefully something that had disturbed him more and more over the last two years.

But this time it had been different. Very different. It was the first time he'd allowed himself an unmitigated, unashamed and unambiguously sexual fantasy. Rennie was his imprint, his future mate. The man was (obviously) becoming more and more comfortable with that fact. He couldn't run away from it anymore.

In fact, he could no longer deny it: Jacob Black wanted her. Emotionally, sensually, sexually (and every other kind of way he could think of).

Period.

And if he was going to be able to tender the restraint necessary for deepening their adult relationship first (something he wanted… no, needed just as badly, if he was thinking with the right head) then he was going to have to accept this part of him and take care of his needs regularly. Just like this. A sexually constipated Wolf was in no shape for the kind of forbearance, discernment and calculation that was required by the difficult and complicated things that lay ahead.

Like the discussion(s) they needed to have today.

Those thoughts were as sobering as the ice-water that was prickling now over his skin from Charlie's lame depleted water heater. The Pack was going to have to replace it before Sue moved in - that thing wasn't gonna cut it in a household with two women. And Jacob took care of his own, even with trivial things like this.

With a brisk nod at nothing and everything at the same time, he pushed off the wall and drew aside the shower curtain as he peered out into the bathroom. His eyes immediately landed on the unsuspecting spray bottle of 'Clorox Bathroom Cleaner with Bleach' crouched behind the toilet.

Perfect.

'

'

Half an hour later, Jacob slunk silently down the rickety stairs to a restored and empty living room. He stopped on the last step and surveyed the scene: folded blankets and stacked pillows. The front door was open to the screen and his shirt - which he'd left draped over her as a reminder that he was here - was nowhere to be seen.

Taking the last step out into the room, he glanced into the kitchen as a cool, damp morning cross-breeze breathed through the house like a sigh; the backdoor was open too. With an private smile (she had obviously awoken to the same delectable redolence he had, but had felt quite differently about it), Jacob stalked into the kitchen. The gushing sound of the water filling the washing machine in the alcove by the half-bath was hemmed by the sluggish sputtering of the coffee maker coming to life. He'd been amused by her self-consciousness that had made her air out the downstairs, but he was hardly any better. He was immeasurably relieved to suspect she'd only been awake for about 15 minutes. But even that was surprising: it was still barely seven o'clock.

Jacob strode through the kitchen to the back door. Rennie was indeed outside, sitting on the second porch step and blowing smoke into the light breeze.

"Hey, Jay," she murmured without turning around.

"G'mornin' chica," he replied as he pushed open the screen door.

"I threw your shirt in with the sheets," she informed him as she put the cigarette to her lips again. "I drooled all over you," she blew the words out with a lungful of smoke.

"How d'ya know I didn't want that for a souvenir, huh?" Jacob chuckled as he jogged lightly down the steps.

Rennie looked up at him with a frown that pulled his lips into a reflexive grin as he leaned against the railing on the bottom step opposite her.

"You cleaned the bathroom?" she asked seemingly out of the blue with a perplexed cock to her head. Of course she'd smelled the bleach downstairs.

"Yup," Jacob replied pertly, shoving his hands in his pockets and holding her gaze. Think on that one a little, chica.

Rennie's gaze dropped to her lap in confusion as she brought the cigarette again to her lip without comment.

Jacob's gaze washed over her rumpled morning self. Still in the clothes from last night - jeans and a sexy little top that kept with her gypsy theme but was currently as crumpled as a paper bag - her hair was pulled back into a knot high on the back of her head with what looked like a ragged asymmetrical take-out chopstick shoved through to keep it in place. Wispy tendrils curled sexily around her sleepy face.

"Why'd you get up?" he asked.

"Just did," she replied to her lap as she fiddled idly with the cigarette in her fingers for a moment. "You left…" Her gaze darted back over to his with a little hurt pucker between her brows.

"I needed a shower," he murmured, struggling to keep his face completely neutral. If he wanted her to talk to him, he needed to be completely open himself. As much as it mortified him on some levels, he would go there with her if she asked. He was used to such things after all - though hardly in this context - supernatural senses and shared minds didn't exactly cultivate the usual boundaries of privacy. It was just something all of the Pack had come to accept.

"The drool…?" she mumbled, her gaze again finding her knees.

"Nope," he retorted. "I had some needs this morning I had to take care of."

Jacob watched her eyelashes flutter for a moment against a cheek that lit with a sunrise glow. Her head jerked back to him as if doubting her own presumption.

Jacob gave her roguish grin.

Rennie turned her head again quickly as she gulped, her hand darting down beside her. It was then that Jacob saw the can of Ranier sitting by the railing.

"Wait," he ordered, his voice descending out of habit to its bass register. He was squatting in front of her in a heartbeat, his hand over hers on the sweating, unopened beer.

Rennie blinked, looking up at him in surprise. Her expression quickly melted to piqued indignation.

Jacob softened his concern in a smile. "We need to talk about this," he said lowly.

Rennie's eyes darted a moment between his, trying to ascertain which 'this' he meant.

"This stuff," he provided, his free hand flicking between the beer and cigarette.

Rennie rolled her eyes with a huff, snatching her hand out from under his as she leaned back on the step behind her. "It's not your business, Jay," she scoffed with properly youthful self-righteousness.

Jacob sniffed a laugh and sat back on the dewy grass, pulling the beer along with him anyway. "You're not my business? 'That what you're sayin'?" Jacob raised his brow shrewdly.

Rennie's face crumpled with her inner conflict. It was one of the many things he liked so much about her: she was such an ingenuous open book.

"You're running, Ren," he asserted gently. "And it's gonna bite you in the ass eventually. You don't wanna be like your mom do you?"

That certainly had her attention. Rennie glowered, her spine stiffening a she sat up and tapped the ash off her cigarette uncomfortably. "She doesn't drink or smoke," she snorted dismissively.

"But she runs. And she tried to take the short cut on the hard shit… and it sure as hell bit 'er alright," he disparaged.

Rennie's face snapped up and he watched a million thoughts tumble behind those cinnamon eyes.

"Ren, your mom didn't wanna deal with life. All the Goddamn fucking mess of it: feelings, flaws, problems, insecurities, figuring stuff out, making her own choices and mistakes…" Jacob pulled his knees up in front of him and looped his arms loosely around his shins. "She just wanted the quick fix… the easy way out. A bite… and abra-fuckin'-cadabra…" he made a dramatic flourish with one hand. "Perfect!"

Rennie blinked at him, her lips relaxing into unconscious intensity as her mind visibly processed.

"Now, when I was your age…"

Rennie jerked up a humorous brow.

Jacob chuckled. "Well y'know… your freaky physical age… I did the same thing. I didn't really drink, but I tried to just stuff it all down under 'sunny, funny Jake,'" he gave her a burlesque and bitter grin. "And then, when Bella dissed me, I tried run too. In fact I did - literally - on several occasions. I even tried to fuck my broken heart away for a while…"

Rennie blanched.

He grimaced apologetically. "But I finally figured out you can't run away from yourself. And the longer you sit around and try to blame other people for how you feel, or worse, just run from it…" He leaned forward intensely. "The more fucked up it all gets. Inside."

Rennie swallowed thickly and brought her cigarette again to her lips. She took a long steeling drag.

"Now y'don't exactly have a stellar example of how to deal with all this shit back home. I mean I can't even fucking imagine what last year was like," he shook his head slowly as his nostrils flared. "First you're just this kid stuffed in a padded room by a buncha overprotective parents, then you're a grown woman thrown out into this crazy-assed world? Totally makes sense you'd use stuff like this…" he held up the beer. "Just to keep going."

"But now? Now, you're safe. You're with me, and I got ya," he patted his shins in emphasis. "You've got that space to grow into who you are. And if you wanna give this thing we got here a go, we're both gonna have to be real. We're gonna have to be real with ourselves and with each other… face all the hard, scary shit together. I need to have no bullshit, Ren. 'Zat somethin' you want too?"

Rennie blew out in a whoosh the lungful of smoke Jacob realized she'd been holding through his whole monologue.

"Yeah," she muttered, her gaze falling to her feet.

"Well you're real cute when you're drunk an' all, but you're also not all there. And I like you… I love you… the Rennie-you… confused, passionate, impulsive, crying, laughing, that kick-ass temper…" Jacob's affectionate smile melted into intensity as he leaned forward. "I'm a selfish muthafuckin' bastard, Ren. You gotta understand that about me. And I want it all. I want all of you."

Rennie blinked furiously as she leaned over her thighs with a sigh, the cigarette dangling from her fingers.

"And cigarettes are stinky and I wish you wouldn't do that shit," he amended. "I really wanna kiss you a whole lot more…"

Rennie looked back up and a small smile of pleasure bled through her somberness. For a minute she just stared at him with, that curve in her lips quivering uncertainly. Then suddenly her mouth bunched up in a one-sided smirk and she leaned her elbows back against the steps as her body unfurled into some sort of decision.

"You wanna kiss me more, huh?" she drawled, her eyes going sly.

Jacob gave her an exaggerated nod. "Oh yeah… and a bunch of other stuff too," he added. He was still buzzing from his earlier release… and hey, he'd said straight-up, right?

Her eyebrows shot up in sultry surprise. " 'That so?" she crooned, her eyes darting down to her hand where she stubbed out the butt on the stairs.

It was symbolic and Jacob's heart lunged into an elated sprint.

Rennie looked back up at him from under her lashes coyly as she jutted her chin out in challenge. "How 'bout now with my smoky, hung-over morning breath?"

"Sounds pretty awesome except for the smoky hung-over part," Jacob murmured, pulling himself up on his knees and bracing his hands on the bottom stair as he leaned in. "But I can make an exception this once…"

Jacob's eyes locked with hers as his lips curved in a smile, and he tipped his head with a little petitioning eyebrow wiggle.

Rennie pretended to think about it a moment and then her elbows pushed off the step behind her as she leaned in the rest of the way.

When her lips touched his it was like a little slice of heaven wrapped in the fires of hell. Damn, just the touch of her skin made him…

Rennie jerked back, her hands darting up to caress his jaw luxuriantly. "Oh Jay it's so smooth!" she squealed as her satin fingertips ran delightedly over his cheek and then danced over his upper lip. "Did you use my razor?"

"Is it pink?" Jacob grinned, leaning in more and trying to entice her back while his hands clasped the stair fervently to prevent him from just grabbing her.

Rennie darted back a little, still savoring his fresh shave as she nodded. Jacob was torn between relishing her pleasure and an impatient annoyance at her distraction.

"Yup, I thought you might be more forgiving than Charlie," Jacob mumbled, trying to reel in his desire. She obviously had something to say.

She cocked her head and her fingertips strummed over his lips affectionately before she rested her forehead against his.

"That was, like, the sweetest lecture ever," she smiled as her index finger idly traced down over his jaw.

Jacob sighed into her tender touch. "Hey, I'm the Alpha…" he murmured as his eyes fluttered closed indolently. "I'm good at running my mouth, but none of the Pack ever called it sweet," he sniffed as his laughing eyes popping open.

Rennie nodded against him, her eyes crossing as they swept over his face. "Oh I've heard 'em call it alotta stuff, Jay, and I definitely own the rights on 'sweet,'" she giggled.

Jacob smiled and pulled back a few inches. "But all shitting aside, Ren. 'You really wanna try this thing au naturel?" he asked quietly, his eyes dipping meaningfully to the pack of cigarettes on the steps.

"Yeah," she whispered, her eyes meeting his and showcasing both sincerity and fear. "I do."

"It might be kinda hard just to quit, y'know…" he ventured softly.

Rennie nodded, her gaze darting automatically past him to the beer left in the grass.

"You want me to ask Charlie to keep that stuff outta here for while?"

Rennie's eyes darted back to his as she bit her lip and nodded shyly.

Jacob's lips curved in a gentle smile. "I'm gonna replace his water heater, so I think I gotta little leverage," he winked.

"Yay!" she piped, her little hands patting his shoulders pertly. "That's the suckiest water heater ever."

Jacob nodded, but his heart wasn't in it. His gaze snapped to those raspberry smile, no longer able to wait for that coveted kiss. This time when their lips met it was like a lazy Sunday morning - unhurried, indulgent, cherished. He tipped his head as his lips enticed her mouth open and his tongue flicked her teeth as it delicately carved her sigh, but he resisted the passionate urge to plunder. He wanted - no, needed - to keep this light. He didn't want to test his control in the wake of having opened his sexual floodgates earlier.

His hands skated up her calves and he smoothed palms over her thighs before he planted both hands on the step she was sitting on, caging her between his arms.

Rennie's triceps slid over his shoulders and her forearms bent loosely up behind his head as her fingers feathered in his hair at the crown of his head. A delirious shiver scurried down his spine. Her mouth alternately massaged and submitted to his own with a delectable and sensual relish.

God, she felt so good.

And she tasted delicious too - despite her previous insecurity. He could do without the smoky finish, but it oddly seemed to ground, not detract from, her natural honeyed nectar.

He could feel her attentive presence, delighting in each of his luxuriant kisses, her heartbeat fluttering happily in her chest. Her pleasure was delicate, sweet, innocent - and kissing her was like being served the most exquisitely luscious dessert when he was famished, and trying to enjoy it one patient lick at a time.

In other words it was pure, tortuous, addictive ecstasy.

Jacob feasted on her lips - basking in her settled, sultry jasmine and her soft sumptuous sighs - until the heat in his groin became uncomfortable.

With a breathy hum of regret, he broke the kiss - attentive to the soft, intimate smack of moist skin to skin. His eyelids blinked open lazily.

She was watching him with reverent wonder in her eyes and it made his heart unfurl and bloom with pleasure.

"I love you, Rennie," he whispered, the words rising easily up his throat from his soul.

Rennie's lashes fluttered as several complex emotions passed over her face. One was a soulful happiness… the rest? Well they shouldn't be there. Not at all.

The visible shadow of her uncertainty and pain viscerally shocked him like the cold dry air after stepping out of the sultry sweat lodges he'd attended with his father as a boy. And it reminded him that they still had miles to go before they were free to just revel in the sublime blessing of their imprint - something Jacob was craving more and more.

It should be so easy. Rennie and Jake should be as easy as breathing, as natural as a heartbeat just like it had been so magnificently in all the past seasons of their bond.

And it would be again.

Pulling back a bit more, Jacob blinked back into focus and watched her do the same. Her forearms were now resting on each shoulder, her fingers strumming idly up and down the nape of his neck and making his every cell tingle.

He brought a hand up to finger the curly wisps of hair that gleamed red in the fledgling day just beginning to filter through the trees. She held his gaze wordlessly as a million tangled thoughts rallied behind lips that searched in vain for someplace to begin or even end.

Jacob lightly traced a finger over the shell of her ear. "You wanna get some breakfast before we talk about last night?" he whispered quietly.

Rennie stiffened in his arms, her fingers freezing at the back of neck.

"We gotta talk about it honey," he murmured, as his hand dropped down to her shoulder. " 'Cause you know I gotta run my big-assed mouth again and tell you how everything he told you was wrong," he added, trying vainly to lighten that fearful contracting of her pupils.

It didn't work.

Rennie tried to pull away from him. "But it wasn't, that's the thing," she choked quietly as she whipped her head to the side, her eyes falling to the cigarettes beside her.

Jacob turned her back with a firm hand on her chin. "Yes it was."

Rennie jerked her face out of his hands and Jacob gave her her space this time. He sat back again on his heels as he watched her face crumple in a doleful distress that broke his heart.

"Ren…" he breathed, reaching a hand toward her.

"Charlie's up," she whispered.

He expelled a long quiet sigh. "I know," he said as he unfolded to his feet. "And I can wait," he asserted quietly, firmly. She wasn't getting out of it this morning.

Jacob extended his palm. With a sigh, Rennie put her hand in his and let him haul her up to her feet.

He pulled her to his chest for a brief hug, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "You'll feel a lot better after we talk, honey."

Rennie's shoulders rose with her inhale and then fell dejectedly. "I dunno, Jay."

"Trust me," he murmured. "We'll figure it out."

Rennie didn't answer but just turned out of his embrace and jogged silently up the stairs.

'

'

Wonder what you think about *that* one!

Chapter 19: Lesson 19 All You've Ever Got is Now

Words of the day:
Igneous - 1. produced under conditions involving intense heat 2. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of fire.

Lambent - softly bright or radiant

A divan is like a long backless couch - usually with one armrest. Think: Cleopatra.

'

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

'

Lesson 19 - All You've Ever Got is Now

'

"The bathroom's clean," Charlie commented dryly as he shuffled into the kitchen, showered and shaved, going straight to the coffee pot. He cut his eyes wryly over to Jacob, hunched at the kitchen table, as he pulled out the carafe.

Jacob didn't even want to think about guessing what the man was thinking. "Hey, we're gonna replace that water heater this weekend," he announced instead.

Charlie nodded gruffly as he poured his coffee. "That'd be alright," he mumbled.

Jacob knew that was about the closest thing he'd ever get to a flat out thank you. Charlie might not be good with words (and words were bullshit anyways), but the man showed his respect and appreciation clearly in his actions.

"What're your plans today?" Jacob asked, pushing away his empty bowl of cereal. His fifth empty bowl.

Charlie looked up from over the rim of his mug of black coffee. "What's up, kid?" he asked astutely.

Jacob smiled - Bella had never really given her old man enough credit. "Rennie and I gotta finish our talk," Jacob began, scooting out his chair and leaning back, stretching his long cramped legs out in front of him.

Charlie nodded and took another sip of his coffee. "She doin' better?"

"Getting there," he clasped his hands behind his head and regarded the man thoughtfully. "Hey, I told her I'd ask you if you could keep the booze outta the house for a little while. She's gonna try an' stop."

Charlie's eyebrows shot up in initial - and pleased - surprise and then he pursed his lips with nod. "Yeah, that'd be good. I' been drinkin' too much anyways."

With that, the man turned and reached into the overhead cupboard and pulled out a travel mug. He wordlessly poured the steaming black coffee into it and then paced over to set the mug in the ceramic sink with a clack.

"Well, I think I'm gonna get goin'," he announced, screwing on the cap of the tumbler and without so much as a glance. "Gonna head on over to Suzie's and lend a hand."

Jacob's lips hitched up affectionately at his reticent complicity. The man was good like that.

Charlie looked up and his wry mustache betrayed his own private humor. "So…you two gonna come over this afternoon? 'Gettin' down to the wire, now."

Jacob nodded, listening to the bedroom door open upstairs. She'd taken a shower and then retreated to dress in her room… for the last half an hour.

"I'll let you know if I'm not," Jacob added quietly, hearing her light footsteps on the stairs.

Her arrival and the ensuing drama had certainly thrown a wrench into the works of moving Sue and fixing up Leah and Josiah's new place. Luckily a Pack of supernatural Wolves wouldn't have any trouble picking up the slack.

"Alright," Charlie shifted on his feet toward the door. "Tell Rennie I said g'bye-…"

" 'Bye Pappy!" Rennie gushed, bouncing across the kitchen to throw her arms around him in an exuberant hug. She was rewarded by his usual stammering blush - it was why she did it, after all.

"Later, kid," Charlie mumbled, his wrinkled hand wrapping around her head and pulling her forehead toward him for an awkward kiss. She had dried her hair and it flowed in a riot of ebullient curls that danced down nearly to her waist. Barefoot, she was served up to fresh, organic perfection in a simple white tank top that clung wholesomely to her breasts and grey yoga pants that accentuated her pert round ass perfectly.

And she was absolutely fucking edible.

Jacob sighed appreciatively to himself as he sat up - in an attempt to mitigate the fact things were starting to go south down south - and crossed his arms over his broad and still very bare chest.

His shirt would probably be dry soon, but the question was: did he want to put it on? He had to admit he liked being the recipient of those covert and appreciative glances Rennie had shot his way this morning. He caught himself; hadn't he become the presumptuous little prick after one good jerk-off in the shower?

Snorting at himself, he pushed off the chair to check the laundry while Rennie followed Charlie to the door. He pulled open the metal door of the dryer and a full load of Charlie's clothes mixed with sheets tumbled over once. Thinking about the next phase of their discussion this morning, he fished through them. The shirt was damp, but it wouldn't be so very long on the heat of skin.

That thought somehow degraded into the memory of his mind-blowing (among other things) shower experience earlier. Jacob watched his hands restlessly turn the shirt right-side out as he paced distractedly back out into the kitchen.

A soft hitching breath stopped his feet in the open archway to the living room and his head jerked up to attention. Rennie was frozen in the middle of the room, staring at his chest with an overt and volatile mixture of awe, chagrin and … well, to put it delicately, lust.

In that moment, Jacob realized he was holding his body in the innate posture men favored when their thoughts and intentions were sexualized: head tilted awry, jaw at rest, shoulders squared, pectorals and stomach taut.

Jacob was far from conceited, but, as an Alpha, he was cocksure. And he knew when he turned 'it' on - even unintentionally - it pretty much always worked, whether 'it' was focused on male dominance or female interest (something he hadn't felt in… well, over eight years). But now, especially after his breakthrough shower session, he was definitely 'interested' and his body was communicating that unequivocally. Without his permission.

He wasn't quite sure how long they'd been staring at each other - the air boiling between them like oil in a deep fryer - before she jerked her eyes to the floor with a tuck to her chin while her cheeks ripened in self-reproof.

And Jacob decided he was even more of a prick than he'd originally thought. Rennie didn't need his mixed messages right now: she needed to feel safe and be able to focus.

Jacob cleared his throat uncomfortably as he pulled his shirt on. "C'mere, chica," he murmured gently like a comforting fleece throw as he crossed the room toward her.

She didn't look at him, but she took several shuffling steps forward anyway, and Jacob enfolded her in his arms. His hand cradled the back of her head as he pulled her to his side in such a way that she wouldn't be subjected to the press of his body's spry and insubordinate desire.

"Talk to me…?" he whispered over her hair.

She nodded silently and Jacob pulled back, looking worriedly down into her glum face for a moment before he guided her around the couch. He pushed the coffee table out further with his calf as he released her, and fell down with a thump and groan of the old springs. Adjusting himself so he was leaning against the armrest, he pulled one knee up and stretched his arm across the back. He looked up at where she was twisting a lock of her hair around a finger and patted the cushion in front of him expectantly.

Rennie worried her lower lip as she rubbed her palms over her hips. "Well, at first it was fun," she began, folding gracefully onto the couch, mirroring his position - as far as she could get away from him.

Jacob nodded encouragingly, trying to ignore that fact.

"I' bet they were all psyched to see you, huh?" ventured, trying to make her comfortable.

"Yeah it was awesome," a her lips curved tentatively while her eyes unfocused with memories and her hands tumbled restlessly in her lap. "Mom, Dad…Granpa, Granma, Auntie Alice an' Jaz, Em n' Rose… even Nate. We sat around and talked."

Jacob watch her body relax as she settled more comfortably on the couch, pulling her feet up under her. He splayed his hand open on the back of the couch in petition and she looked up with a genuinely smile as her hand snaked up to meet his. Their fingers entwined and Jacob's entire body instantly hummed in pleasure.

Rennie's eyes darted up to their joined hands and her brow furrowed in awe. She felt it too.

"So it was fun?" he prompted.

Rennie's gaze darted back to his and she nodded. "Yeah we hung out, I played Forza Motorsport with Rose an' Em, Mom and Granma cooked a freaking banquet for me and Nate," she rolled her eyes humorously. Her family always made a big deal about making her way more human food that she could possibly consume.

Jacob chuckled. "Well at least there were two of you to eat it this time."

"Yeah, Nate and I had fun," she smiled. "He's a nice guy, Jay."

Jacob couldn't help the spike in his blood pressure as his jaw tensed with unwitting possessiveness.

"Geez, Jay," Rennie chuckled at his expense and she squeezed his fingers. "It's not like that… he's way too vampy - all stiff and perfect. And he doesn't really understand feelings …or something," she pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I mean he was all honest and stuff about what he wanted. But he just wants me because …"

Jacob arched a brow.

"Well, because I fit," she murmured with a soft sigh. "Looks, family, hobbies… kinda like internet dating. He doesn't care about love," she whispered as she shook her head sadly. "I mean, it was really cool to hang with someone who I can toast some plasma with…"

He chuckled and Rennie smiled but then grew serious.

"But really, I have everything I want already," she admitted soberly as her eyes darted between his. Her guileless sincerity made his heart melt right then and there in his chest.

A gentle smile curved her lips as she scooted closer. "I'm not like my mom in that, huh? I figure out what's my thing and go for it. I mean, I've always known what I want and said it straight-up, right?" she pursed her lips slyly with a teasing eyebrow wiggle.

Jacob nodded, picking up her hand and pulling it to his lips for a kiss, just happening to cause her scoot toward him another few inches. Even as a child she'd been decisive and passionate about who she was and what she wanted. For example, of the gazillion things that were foisted on her by her over-eager family, she'd grabbed a hold of the violin in her own unique way and never let it go. She was stubborn. And committed.

"You're nothing like her, Ren," he murmured as he rubbed his cheek sweetly over her knuckles.

"Well, I don't know about that," she laughed. "But maybe I got that part from my dad."

Jacob's gaze darted to the ceiling with a humorous frown. It would be one thing at least she had Edward to thank for. "Maayybeee…" he hedged playfully. "Or how 'bout we just don't compare. You're you, Ren. You put together all your freaky genetics in your own unique way. And I love it."

A glorious smile lit her face; it was like the perfect tropical summer sunrise and it warmed him deep inside. Jacob brought her hand to his lap, loosely holding it as his other smoothed up her forearm lovingly.

Rennie hitched a shoulder up to her ear as she mutely watched the play of fingers over her arm.

They needed to get this over with and he could tell, if he let her, she'd keep avoiding it as long as humanly (or otherwise) possible. And it was uncharacteristic for her: Rennie was impatient, brave, audacious. It was only around this imprint (and her father's reaction) that he'd ever seen her display such disconcertion and hesitant insecurity.

But he supposed it made sense: it was the most profoundly crucial part of both of their existences - whether they'd always understood that or not - so it was only natural that it would also be the most challenging. Jacob himself had shamefully floundered and flailed around like some damn wussy fool over this last year (with special emphasis on this week) and he had almost two decades of life experience on her.

Man the fuck up, Jake.

"So…" he began, stilling his distracting caresses and wrapping his large hand around her dainty arm. "When did it all go to shit, Ren?"

She swallowed thickly, leaving her gaze locked on his hand on her arm. "Well, I knew we'd get to it eventually," she whispered, and then drew in a long breath. She looked up into his eyes. "I was expecting him to talk smack about you …"

Jacob gave her a sympathetic grimace.

"And that woulda been a cinch," she smiled. " 'Cause I don't know a single thing about you that I don't like… except maybe your crappy taste in music and the fact you like black licorice," she added humorously.

Jacob chuckled. "And those gross Shrek movies?" he grinned.

Rennie wrinkled her nose with a shudder. "When he squeezes the caterpillar guts on his toothbrush-.."

"I think it's a maggot," he corrected helpfully.

Rennie gagged and stuck her tongue out in a theatrical wretch and Jacob laughed freely. She joined him with her effervescent giggles and just like that, the tension melted between them.

"C'mere honey," he urged quietly as he tugged on her arm.

She obliged, scooting across the couch and allowing him to pull her into his embrace. She settled against his chest as his arms wrapped protectively around her. His body exploded in a warm, lazy relish.

Rennie sighed - a lovely contented little sound - and rested her head back on his shoulder. Thankfully his Wolf understood the gravity of the situation and was mollified for the moment by just holding his mate and her need.

"So I expected them to just talk shit about you…" Rennie continued in a quiet voice.

"Yeah?" he choked. Sputtering at the hairs over his lips, Jacob's chin fought to tame her wild curls without letting her go. With a sniffing laugh, she smoothly pulled her hair over her other shoulder and her hands fell to his resting on her stomach.

"But he didn't, you'll be glad to know," she sighed sadly. "It was all about me."

Jacob couldn't help the reflexive and protective growl that vibrated against her. She rubbed his hand soothingly.

"What'd he say, Ren?" he rumbled.

She didn't answer him right away. "Are you gonna be okay?" Rennie finally asked, squeezing his hands meaningfully.

"Yeah honey, I can handle it," he assured her - even though he wasn't exactly sure at all. But he had to be. "I gotta know, so I can tell you just exactly how fucked up it is," he whispered, pressing a kiss to the side of her head. "And how it was all a big fat fucking lie."

"But that's the thing, Jay…"she grew tense in his arms as she tried to turn around. "It wasn't-"

"Shh…" he soothed, holding her firmly while he rested his head against hers. "What did he say, chica?" he crooned.

"Can I show you?" she ventured in a whisper, as her finger traced hopefully over the protruding veins in his hand.

"Sure-sure, honey," he murmured, picking his hand off her warm, flat abdomen.

Jacob looked over her shoulder as Rennie interlaced her hand with his before them, their fingers forming stripes of cream and caramel and…

Suddenly his mind was plunged under the rushing currents of a maelstrom of imagery and voices - whipping past him in a tumultuous and thrashing overwhelm like he was standing on the median of a high-speed freeway.

Jacob sucked a breath through his teeth as he closed his eyes and gripped her hand tighter.

"Sorry," he barely heard her whispered apology as color began to crystallize into chimerical form like geometric chips of light in a kaleidoscope.

He'd never been inundated by such a suffocating mental deluge in the times she'd used her gifts with him, and he realized in that moment how much discipline and focus it must take to feed an organized and linear thought through her touch. And just how much she was hiding the sheer depth of her inner turbulence about all of this from him. Inside she was a fucking mess.

Slowly the images took form and substance and - like watching a DVD on 22x fast forward - faces, feelings and scenes flashed through his mind's eye:

Hugging Alice (she's shorter now)

Sitting on the couch between Bella and Edward - her mother's arm around her, her father's hand resting possessively on her thigh

Shaking her head in dismay at a smiling Bella and Esme elbows deep in a kitchen that looked like it was catering a wedding

Clinking an elegant fluted glass of dark crimson and looking up into Nahuel's suave, sultry smile

Fingers furiously flicking the Xbox controller in her white-knuckled grip while Emmet roars competitively beside her at the cars tearing across the 70" flat screen TV

Stomping a distortion pedal as she pulls the bow across an electric violin, that he'd never seen, as Jasper grins broadly from behind a drum kit

The images flickered through his mind with a sickening speed until - like he'd punched a pause button - they jerked to a halt in a close-up of Edward Cullen's big fat face. Like he took up the entire screen of that 70" screen, every detail was captured in grotesque perfection. And it was horrifying. His balanced symmetrical features were contorted ferociously and his piss-yellow eyes stared back, sharp and hard… and livid.

Somehow he knew this was the last image Rennie had seen and the one that haunted her.

Jacob drew in a slow breath through his nose as that image took up his entire mind's eye for several seconds while he carefully centered himself against his reactive rage. Like no other time in his life, he needed to draw upon his lineage and the control that went with it to keep his cool.

Because this was it: perhaps the single most pivotal moment in his entire life.

Suddenly he was looking at a scene like it was on television: Rennie was pacing beside the picture window in Edward and Bella's living room, casting nervous glances over her shoulder at her parents, sitting in that leechy stiff-spined posture and entwined on one side of the large divan like they were posing for a Victorian photograph. For a minute Jacob wondered how she was doing it: showing the scene clinically - without her usual personal emotion - from a third person perspective like this.

But as soon as she spoke, he no longer cared.

'

'

"Dad, I know everything," Rennie blurted finally as she pulled a strand of hair around over her shoulder and twisted it roughly around her index finger. "I know about the imprint."

Edward didn't move a muscle.

Bella's eyes darted up to her husband first before she spoke to her daughter. "Sweetheart, you have to understand, your father was just looking out for you…" she lamented quietly with that same strange vacant kindness found in Esme's face. "We just-"

"We wanted you to think about things, dove," Edward interrupted, his face frozen like an alabaster mask, his brow furrowed with his signature Emo dolor. "And I must apologize profusely for my behavior earlier. I let my temper get the best of me at your Pappy's house and-"

"I get why you were so mad," Rennie cut him off, she'd always given her father a run for his money. "AND I forgive you. But you have to understand something: I've already chosen. So parading eligible men - well, whatever," she rolled her eyes sarcastically. "Around like this is some freaky episode from The Bachelorette is just plain lame… and embarrassing."

That made an actual emotion flicker across Edward's cold stone features. He shifted on the divan as he smoothed a hand over Bella's lush, unnatural hair. "But darling, you enjoyed your dinner with Nahuel. I think it's prudent to explore…"

"I've chosen!" Rennie came back hotly.

"Darling…"

"Chosen!" she repeated, her hands coming up to her hips. She turned around to the picture window. "Did you hear that, everyone-listening-in-at-the-house?" she called out theatrically.

"Yeah we did!" Emmet's snarky voice was heard in the distance followed by loud crack and an unrepentant snicker.

Rennie turned back around with a smug smile. "Dad, please," her voice softened as she took a petitioning step toward her parents.

Edward looked like he was realizing he'd already lost control of this discussion at the first word.

"I've loved him as long as I can remember," she pleaded softly. "Every which way - brother, uncle, friend… now mate."

Edward winced at the last word and his gaze fell to his lap.

Rennie's hand grabbed a thicker lock of hair to torture with nervous fingers. "Mom, Dad… I want the imprint. I'll marry him if you want… if that's important - I mean if he asks," she added with a glimmer of insecurity.

Edward's eyes snapped up at the first hint of weakness… like a jackal.

Rennie didn't seem to notice.

She took the several steps closer, sitting down on the opposite side of her mother as her gaze darted from one of them to the other. "I love him. I need him, guys," she said softly as she took her mother's hand in hers and rested it on her jeans-clad knee. "We're bound together or something already. I almost went some kinda crazy this last year and I didn't even understand why. I mean didn't you think about what it would do to me to be separated from him?"

"Oh sweetie," Bella whispered in her melodious voice as she wrapped her arms around her daughter.

"I mean, the whole thing with Raoul - didn't he remind you of someone?" she asked her mother, her tearing eyes pleading for understanding. "Well it's because I was missing him so much I-I didn't even realize it. I was looking for J-Jake!" she choked on his name as she fell against her mother's shoulder with a soft sob.

Edward was kneeling in front of her in an instant, staring up them as Bella rocked her grown daughter like a child.

"Oh my lamb, I'm so sorry," he crooned as his hand tenderly ghosted over Rennie's head.

She looked up from her mother's shoulder with a sniffle.

"We should have told you about the imprint, love," he bemoaned as his fingers traced over her amber tracks of tears. "It's my fault, and I'll never forgive myself."

Rennie took the bait. She fell into her father's petitioning arms.

"No," she quavered into his neck as she shook her head. "I understand, daddy. You were just trying to protect me. It's freaky for a guy to find his mate when she's just a baby," she picked her head up with a little nervous laugh and wiped a hand impatiently over her cheeks.

Edward gave her a plastic smile.

Rennie took his hand and looked first to her mother, then back to him. "Look… everything in the past doesn't matter - I made lots of mistakes too," she conceded generously. "But you need to understand something. I don't need to go and 'explore my options' or anything like that," she emphasized with a little stubborn jut of her chin. "I met so many men this last year - I saw lots of different relationships. But I'm the kinda girl to appreciate what I already got - not go looking for something new I don't need. I chose a long, long time ago without even realizing it," she whispered with a quiet heat as she grasped each of her parent's hands.

"And I choose Jacob Black."

Silence.

Rennie looked directly into her mother's jaundiced and worried eyes.

Jacob was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his sentience and not to be completely drawn into the drama unfolding in his head, but he realized Bella knew something - she knew what was coming. Like watching a movie when the heroine opens a door to the dark room hiding the ax murder, Jacob wanted to scream for her to run. But just like a movie, the heroine forged blithely on, oblivious and blinded by her love for her parents.

Rennie's gaze darted again to her father.

"Sweetheart…" he began apologetically.

Rennie stiffened at his expression, pulling both her hands back into her lap. "I've chosen. Period," she reiterated, her expression revealing that she was just starting to understand that this discussion was far from over. She sat back on the divan, scooting subtly away from her mother. "Now you can make me choose between Jake and you guys, but you're gonna be disappointed," she threatened with a little girl's glower.

"Nessie!" Bella chastised.

Rennie crossed her arms over her chest as she pulled her leg up between them on the couch. "Mom, can't you just try to be happy for me? !" she agonized, her face teetering between temper and tears.

It was Edward who spoke next. "My darling… we are happy for you," he soothed.

Rennie whipped back around, her brows dueling in confusion.

"It's Jacob we're worried about," Edward put an apologetic hand on her leg. "You have to understand, dove…Jacob didn't choose you."

Rennie furiously blinked, her arms falling to her lap.

Bella glanced at Edward and then turned her body toward her daughter. "Sweetheart, see… Jake never wanted to be a Wolf. He was always so angry about having that choice taken away from him."

Rennie frowned at her mother for a moment. "So…?"

Bella's lips lifted in a sad smile. "The only thing he hated more, honey… was imprinting. He always told me that it'd never happen to him and if it did, he'd fight it."

"What?" Rennie gasped, sitting back against the single armrest of the divan like all the air had been sucked out of her in a whoosh. Slack-jawed, she turned to her father.

His face was crumpled into a perfectly staged sympathetic anguish. "But he wasn't strong enough, apparently. The imprint took his heart's choice away, my sweet," he whispered gently. "You can understand how difficult that would be, am I right?"

Rennie just stared at him numbly.

"And what's more," Edward continued on with a grimace as if 'enlightening' her to these facts was somehow painful. "You're mother and I've been talking and we think his imprint on you must be some kind of mistake."

Rennie's eyes darted to her mother, who's gaze promptly refocused on Edward.

Edward (needlessly) rearranged himself in his squat in front of her as he rested a hand on her thigh consolingly. "I actually suspect he imprinted originally on Bella when she was human, but she loved me so much that she naturally couldn't accept it. Perhaps Jacob found that impossible to endure - that would explain his pure tenacity in pursuing your mother up until our wedding day."

Rennie looked like she was trying to swallow a golf ball. "He-..he never s-said…he t-told me…" she stammered.

"That's merely conjecture of course," Edward sidestepped smoothly. "But wouldn't it make sense that when you were born, some of that unnatural bond got transferred to you?"

Rennie burst up from the chaise lounge, clapping her hands over her face as she shook her head. "Why!" she spat into her palms and then spun back on them as her hands slapped down to her thighs. "Why's it so hard to think Jacob imprinted on ME? !" she accused in a scream.

Edward unfolded from the floor gracefully as he turned to his daughter. "You're a beautiful and wonderful young woman, Rennie. And Jacob's a good man," he held out placating hands. "But, my darling, you're not the right one for him."

"Why!" Rennie yelled, her body starting to tremble.

Edward took a slow step toward her. "Think about it, love. Why would he imprint on someone who's not even human? How would he stay with you through your endless life? Keep phasing?" his voice was low and hypnotic and calm. "Their kind isn't meant to be eternal - Carlisle and I are certain that's why they have such an unusual procreation mechanism. Their choice of a mate ensures they abdicate their immortality. Do you think he'd be happy living forever at your side?"

"I don't even want to live forever!" Rennie shrieked, her heartbeat stuttering in her chest as her fists clenched at her sides.

"Jacob doesn't either, honey," Bella said sadly from where she stood up from the divan. "He always thought I was crazy to want my forever." She reached out and took her husband's hand.

"Maybe he was right!" Rennie spat venomously.

"So you'd doom him to that fate, my dove?" Edward asked quietly, pulling Bella under his arm. "Think about all it would cost him: with your vampire blood, just you being here will make others phase too. Jacob and his tribe hate us for what we've done to their young men, and I can hardly blame them," he shook his head sadly. "Such a difficult burden to bear."

Rennie turned her back on them both as she bowed her head under her distress. Her shoulders began to shake with silent sobs.

Edward was calm, sorrowful… and relentless. "Even if you decided to leave -you're not going to want to stay in Forks forever, you know. You'll ruin that too without even intending it, love. If you leave, you'll pull Jacob away from his family, his people… from his duty. It will break his heart."

He released his wife and took the several steps behind Rennie. His marble hands slipped up to her shoulders where they rested for a moment. "The Quileute are a proud and pacifist people. They just want peace …" he breathed, turning her gently around.

Golden tears were streaming down her cheeks as she looked up at her father with a million confluent emotions swirling in her eyes.

"You're half vampire, love. A unique and exquisite immortal creation. You need blood to stay healthy, something they'll always despise you for - not intentionally of course," he amended solicitously. "It's so ingrained in who they are - you're their mortal enemy, darling."

Rennie's eyes fluttered closed for a moment as she drew in a long hitching breath.

"Sweetness, there's something else too," Edward whispered. "I've seen it in his mind - Jacob wants children," he confided quietly, making her eyes pop open in surprise.

Rennie took a step back from him. "I do too!" she asserted vehemently.

Edward continued like she hadn't spoken, but he let his hands drop to his side. "The wolves are genetically wired for breeding, love. It's the other reason for imprinting like they do - to further their lineage. To procreate their kind and give the genetic mutation the best chance for propagation."

"I want babies too!" Rennie exclaimed, her brow furrowing in confusion.

"Rennie… Nessie," Edward paused, his eyes darting between hers for a moment intensely. "You can't have children."

She blinked once, her mouth opening and closing soundlessly "What?" she finally choked.

Edward shook his head sadly - a movement that looked strange with the hard, unfathomable look to his eyes. "Nahuel said that your kind are infertile. Nessie you can't give Jacob the babies he wants."

"What!" Rennie's eyes flitted around the room in disbelief. "No!" she screamed, suddenly throwing herself toward her father with a feral hiss. Her anger was beyond the sheer disappointment…there was humiliation mixed in with her anguished fury.

Edward grabbed her by her upper arms in a lightning move, holding her firmly while she scrabbled after him like rabid cat. "Do you see why I've been so adamant, dove?" he continued calmly. "You'll doom the boy to a future that will destroy him. It wouldn't be fair to either of you."

"NO! !" she screamed, making one last flailing struggle. "No! You're wrong!"

"I wish I were," Edward commiserated sadly.

Rennie went limp in his arms.

"I know you love him sweetheart," Edward murmured, pulling her enervated little body to his chest. "I'm trying to protect you," he whispered over her hair. "I know it would hurt you to see him suffer. I'm trying to protect you both."

Edward had gone a little too far in his burlesque magnanimity, Rennie suddenly wrenched herself out of his arms, stumbling backwards with the force. Her eyes raked over her father as her nose wrinkled in a very vampiric snarl.

"No…" she shook her head vehemently as she stared balefully from under hooded eyes. "I love him… " it came out like a growl. "I love him, dad. I can make him happy! I want a chance!" Her voice went from zero to sixty in a blink and shattered in an incensed shriek. "He loves me too! He's MINE!" Rennie crouched over, baring her teeth savagely like she was defending a kill (or a mate) while her breath sprinted ahead in ragged, hitching pants.

Unperturbed, Edward cocked his head as he regarded her for several breaths.

"Love, are you really that selfish?" he disparaged, folding his hands neatly before him.

"He imprinted on ME!" Rennie wailed back senselessly.

"There's a solution to that, my sweet," Edward provided quietly. "We could Change you."

Rennie staggered back several steps as she straightened in surprise. "What? !" she shrilled.

"Change you completely…" Edward extended his arm behind him and Bella took his hand. "Carlisle and I have discussed this hypothesis and we agree. We could make you fully into one of our kind."

Rennie was shaking her head as she backed slowly away from them both.

"As a vampire you wouldn't have to so uncomfortably straddle these two disparate worlds," he continued soothingly as he wrapped his arm around his wife. "You'd be complete. Like us. You could live as a part of our family for your eternity and find peace instead of suffering and causing others to suffer while you struggle to be something you're not. It'd break the imprint, I'm sure of it."

At this point images seemed to blur and skip like there was a scratch on the DVD.

"It would be best for both of you: Jacob can find someone who could truly make him happy and you can find someone better. Nate has lived among our kind for years he…"

"FUCK YOU!"

Edward's face again snapped back into focus - an extreme close-up. The scene had gone full circle to that first image of unbridled fury.

"I hate you! I'm NOTHING like you!" she screamed. "I'll NEVER be ANYTHING like you! I'd rather DIE!"

'

'

Rennie was suddenly violently yanking herself out of his grasp and Jacob numbly let her go. For several seconds, he was shocked by the jarring black stillness in his mind.

To say Jacob was enraged was so fucking inadequate it wasn't even funny. There just weren't words. The breath heaving through his nostrils felt like smoke. His wrath was so violent, in fact, that he was utterly immobile: not a quiver to his muscles, not a vibration to his fists. He was entombed in his incinerating anger and viscerally burning alive. He was fighting a war inside - using his own flesh as fuel (instead of daring to vent) as he strained to cage the inferno. He wanted to kill that motherfucker so bad… and in fact, the only thing that prevented him getting up off this couch and charging off immediately to do so was… Rennie. She needed him.

And he'd told her he could handle this.

He had to.

Rennie.

His eyes cracked open - he knew they were yellow, they viscerally burned and expanded inside his sockets. He cocked his head in the direction of her soft sobs. It was a feral and lupine movement.

She had hopped over the back of the couch and was standing in the middle of the living room, with her hands over her face, her body crumpled under the burden of her angst.

"Renesmee," he intoned.

Her face jerked up in shock at not the use of her full name, but the sound. His voice was not his own. It was something foreign, his Wolf was so close - fierce, guttural and deep like the echo of thunder.

"J-Jake..?" she whimpered, her hands falling to her side as her eyes widened in surprise.

He had no idea what she saw in his face, but it frightened her. The scent of her fear was like a harsh stimulant injected in a rush through his veins and he shuddered. A growl boiled in his gut and he lithely vaulted over the sofa, falling and into a soundless crouch in one fluid movement as lupine power surged over him like a tsunami.

Rennie took a step back and Jacob bared his teeth with displeasure.

"Don't run," he rasped, feeling like his clawing grip on his instinct was gouging trenches in his very being. If she ran, he wouldn't be able to control the impulse to chase her down. He was sure of it. And that would just frighten her all the more.

Thankfully she heeded him, her stiffening spine drawing her shoulders back as her little hands curled into fists against her thighs.

His grinding teeth made a harsh rumble that vibrated in his head as he straightened and stalked forward several mercurial steps, staring down at her while his nostrils flared with each searing breath.

"J-Jake," she quavered hoarsely. "Y-you're scaring me."

"Why?" he crooned like a purr, taking another step toward her. She needed to understand this about him.

She backed up with the corresponding foot from the sheer force of his igneous energy.

"Because I'm a Wolf?" he hissed quietly, taking another step forward that was mirrored by her own back. But she was trembling now, and he couldn't stand it. In one head-spinning movement he snapped her up in his arms at the same time he took the last two steps to the wall. Slowly he lowered himself to his knees, dragging his chest down her body.

They were eye level now. The feel of her soft body sandwiched between his heaving chest and the wall was soothing. She couldn't leave.

MINE, his Wolf asserted vehemently.

Jacob looped his big biceps under her arms and pushed her into the wall as his hands tangled in the back of her hair. He leaned in and took a deep, indulgent breath of her scent and let it out slowly with a resonant purr that vibrated them both.

Ahh… now he could fucking think.

He buried his face in the side of her neck and her body shuddered against him with the most delicate and delectable moan.

"It's a part of me, Ren," he rumbled into her skin, taking another unapologetic and greedy lungful of her sublime scent. "The Wolf's not something separate, it's me," he murmured thickly as he brushed his nose over her jumping jackrabbit pulse. "I keep it hidden, controlled, and we talk about that part of us like it's separate sometimes. But I'm not human. I'm a Wolf… even after I stop phasing. And I'd never…" he pulled back and allowed his eyes to transform completely to lambent gold. "Ever hurt you. No matter what," he proclaimed with a searing heat. "Do you know that?" his voice was still rough like he he'd been a chronic chain smoker for years.

Rennie's eyes darted between his for a moment and then she nodded. There was still a volatile mixture of fear, confusion and longing in her gaze and he wanted… no, needed to fix it.

"He was wrong, Ren," he growled savagely. "In every single way he was wrong." He stared intently into her open gaze as he felt his own eyes cool back to brown.

A tentative hand came up to his cheek and he leaned into it, nuzzling her palm. "Jake," she whispered.

He closed his eyes as he took several moments to luxuriate in her calming touch.

"I love you," he gasped.

His eyes popped back open and her fingers stilled on his cheek. "And I never imprinted on Bella," he announced quietly with no preamble. "Let's just get that straight right now." He raised his brow, searching for confirmation that she understood.

Rennie nodded, and a hesitant smile flickered over her lips.

"But I've lived long enough to know that everything happens for a reason." Both Jacob's hands smoothed cherishingly over her either side of her head. "And if we're going to go down that woo-woo path - is it so hard to believe that I had to crush out on Bella because I had to be close enough to keep her safe?"

Rennie frowned in confusion.

Sucking in a slow breath, Jacob pulled his arms from around her and braced his hands against the wall as he rested his head against her shoulder. Her arms stretched lovingly around his back.

"There's only one girl in the entire world that's meant to be a Wolf's imprint," he whispered as his eyes fluttered closed and his hand slid down to rub down the opposite side of her neck. "Did you know that?"

Rennie wordlessly shook her head as he continued to soothe over the instinctual spot where he'd someday mark her. As his.

"But to imprint... first you have to meet her, Ren," he sighed nuzzling under her jaw as he stilled his hand. His fingers found the warm nape of her neck while his thumb settled in the hollow of her throat.

"And if my imprint was supposed to be you wouldn't it make sense that I had to rally the Pack to join forces with leeches," he paused, emphasizing the improbability of such an occurrence. "…to keep your mother safe from Victoria and the newborns?" he whispered softly. He picked his head up and looked deeply into her eyes. "So that you could be born? So that I'd be close enough to my enemy that I could meet you?"

Rennie's eyes were liquid as they darted between his for several heartbeats. "Y-you think?" she breathed.

Jacob smiled. "That's merely conjecture of course," he mocked Edward's whiny pompous voice with a theatrical hoity-toity expression.

Rennie giggled.

"But it makes a whole helluva lot more sense, don't it?" his expression snapped back to serious.

Rennie blinked at his abrupt about-face.

"Rennie, I'm not an adolescent boy who's interested in fighting his destiny, his nature, his own self anymore," he proclaimed passionately. "I've accepted who I am. What I am."

Rennie's hands slipped up to rest on his shoulders, as her trepidation slowly but slowly dissipated. "B-but.."

Jacob's finger came up to rest against her lips. "Your mom and dad don't change Ren, but I do. I grew up. But if you'd have told me back then when all this shit went down that I was going to imprint on the half-vampire daughter of my first childhood crush… yeah," he smirked sarcastically. "It woulda pissed me off."

Rennie smiled in spite of herself.

"But Taha Aki made me what I am and gave me a purpose and I learned long ago to accept such an honor," he murmured reverently. "It wasn't an accident Ren."

A tear slipped down Rennie's cheek and Jacob leaned in and kissed it away.

"And I did choose," he whispered over her cheek as he felt her damp lashes flutter against him. "My Wolf chose and the Wolf is me. If my human heart fell in love first would it be any more of a choice than my supernatural soul?"

A single sob escaped from her then and Jacob dragged his lips down her cheek to press loving redemption over her sorrow. He kissed her slow and sweet and sensuous until tears stopped, and her arms wrapped around his neck.

Then he broke the kiss with a soft, moist smack.

"No bullshit, Ren," Jacob pulled back and smoothed her hair back from her face with a tender palm."If I just met you right now - this kick ass woman you are?" his gaze washed affectionately over her face. "I'd be nuts for you - imprint or not. The Wolf in me just found you first."

"Aww, Jay," Rennie sniffled, leaning in to press her lips to his with a soggy kiss. "But I can't have babies," she whimpered against his lips.

Jacob ripped his mouth away, a flash of indignant anger igniting in his gut. That motherfucker shouldn't have told her like that. Only a food couldn't see how that'd hurt her - from what Jacob knew of women, that kind of information had a profound emotional impact whether they'd thought about having children or not.

He pulled back, his hands slipping down to her shoulders as his gaze bored a hole straight down to her soul. "I'm sorry Ren," he said with all the sincerity in his being.

Tears welled up in her eyes as her nostrils flared with suppressed tears.

Jacob pulled her away from the wall and into a crushing hug as the first sob escaped into his shoulder.

For several minutes he just let her cry while he rubbed a large hand up and down her back soothingly while the other held all the shattered little pieces together covetously.

"But I don't care," he whispered finally into her hair. "Kids, immortality … that's all stuff for the future with plenty of options. I love you and we'll figure a way around the rest." He stilled his hand on her back. "And did you ever think that maybe they're just wrong - you don't have venom and he does, right? There're differences," he mused as he pulled back and brought his hands to either side of her head. He wiped her tears away with his thumbs and leaned in to place a sweet kiss against her lips. "But you gotta understand, if you can't have kids I don't give a rat's ass. Hell, I've got my hands full with nine furry kids already!" he gave her humorous grin.

Rennie sobbed a laugh and her hands came up to slap impatiently at her tears.

"We'll adopt if we decide we want 'em later, kay?" Jacob rested his hands on her shoulders as she wiped her fist under her snotty nose and ventured a tentative smile.

"And immortality?" he continued. "I'm not bored of living just yet - and I can't imagine ever getting there as long as I got you," he wrapped his arms loosely around her waist. "ANY fucking bullshit he wants to throw at us, I can handle, honey. We can handle. We don't have to borrow his trouble. All we have to do is live in right now," he leaned in and kissed her.

"And now," he smacked another kiss on her lips.

"And now."

Kiss.

"And now."

Smooch.

Rennie laughed - it was an exquisite sound - as she batted him playfully away.

"And in each now I just love you just a little more," he gave her an unencumbered smile as he ducked past her defenses and landed another messy one on her cheek. "Crazy huh?"

Rennie slapped her palms against her thighs as she sniffled, visibly pulling herself together. Her teary, traumatize face was slowly transforming back to her usual blithe and optimistic self.

"But hey Rens…" he paused leaning back with his arms looped around the small of her back. "Do y'love me?"

A radiant and glorious smile lit her face. She nodded vigorously.

Shit, she was so fucking gorgeous. But he had to be sure.

Jacob unwrapped his arms and lithely unfolded to his feet, taking a step back out of her arms.

With a little grunt of dismay, she tried to wrap her little arms around him.

"Nuh!" he chided and he took another step back, raising placating palms with a shake to his head. "Think about it… all freaky imprint ju-ju aside."

Rennie put her hands on her hips in that gesture that had followed her from childhood and scowled at him petulantly. It was incredibly sexy.

"Tell me if you don't know." Jacob tried to keep his head in the game as his hands fell back to his sides. "If you need more time, or whatever, tell me. Do you love me?"

Rennie rolled her eyes with a humorous 'no-duh' expression. "Yes, Jay. I love you all kinds a crazy."

Jacob tried to suppress his smile as his heart flipped in his chest. "Do you choose me?"

She stamped her foot. "Have I ever once said anything different since you finally stopped lying to me?" she huffed.

Jacob snorted in feigned annoyance. "Answer the question, woman!" he blustered.

Rennie clicked her tongue in disdain. "Yes, you cave-man Wolf with crappy taste in music and movies, I choose you!"

"Licorice and all?" he checked.

Rennie sucked in a long, loud snort. "Yes!"

"Good." He snapped her back up in his arms. " 'Cause you're mine," he growled the word into the top of her head.

Rennie wrapped her arms around his waist and sighed contentedly into his chest and for several minutes they just held each other, reveling in the hum of their bond - an island of blissful solace in turbulent seas.

Jacob let out a long, slow breath. Now on to part two.

" 'Kay, your part's done now," he murmured as he pulled back and placed a pert kiss on her forehead. "I'll take it from here, honey."

Rennie tipped her head up with a curious pucker between her brows as she watched him pull his phone out of his back pocket with one hand.

With an distracted grin, he found the contact with a thumb and dialed, bringing the phone to his ear.

It was answered on the first ring. "Jacob Black," Jasper drawled over the line, serious for one time in his fucking life.

"I want a meeting," Jacob announced with no preamble. "The Cullen clan and the Pack in two hours," he pulled the phone away from his face and looked at the time. "That's 10:48," he clarified brusquely.

There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone. "The usual place?" Jasper asked finally.

"Yup." Jacob's gaze darted down to Rennie's widening eyes.

"We'll be there," the leech affirmed crisply. And the line went dead.

"Wh-what are you going to do?" Rennie asked nervously, as her hands slipped from around his waist.

Jacob let her step out of his embrace. "I told you last week I' got your back," he replied simply as his eyes fell back to the phone and he scrolled to the next contact. "That I'd step in and take them to task?" he reminded her. His gaze again found hers as he brought the phone to his ear as it rang. "Well, I'm stepping in."

"Jake?" Leah answered the phone, immediately at attention. She'd always had a sixth sense about this shit.

"Lee, get the guys together. Have 'em at my place in half an hour," he commanded.

"Sure thing, Chief," she returned without question.

"Prep the cubs," he added. "We're meeting with the Cullen coven." He didn't need to say any more than that.

" 'Kay, Jay," she replied. "Anything else?"

"Nope, see y'in a few."

He pressed 'end' and lowered the phone to his side as he watched Rennie's eyes pace restlessly back and forth while her mind spun.

"This is my job Rennie," he informed her with an intractable finality to her unasked questions. "To protect my Pack. And, guess what? You're Pack."

"B-but.." she began, her anxious hands instantly pouncing on an unsuspecting lock of hair.

"Do you want to be Changed?" he asked quickly, with a raise to his brow.

"NO!" she nearly yelled it.

Jacob nodded once rigidly. "Well, they need to understand - they have to respect your choices. All of them, but especially that one. You're ours now. And if they won't…"

"Jake!" she complained, her anxiety bursting past her lips. "You guys are gonna fight!"

Jacob shook his head. "It won't come to that, honey. Carlisle doesn't want to break the treaty and your mom and dad love you."

Rennie frowned suspiciously.

Jacob's obstinacy melted just the tiniest bit. "Look, just trust me…I'm good at this shit," he held his arms out in petition.

Rennie stepped into his embrace without even thinking about it. She pulled her hands up between them as Jacob wrapped her in his big arms. "Do I wanna kill him? Fuck yeah," he chuckled into her hair and she stiffened. "BUT… you might not appreciate it if I tore your dad to shreds and I happen to care about what you think."

Rennie jerked her head up and glared at him.

Jacob grinned roguishly.

A soft blush rushed to her cheeks (he catalogued the effect of that particular expression for later use ) and it made his dick twitch. He needed to stay focused.

"Plus," he leaned down and kissed her between her brows. "He technically gave me you. And you're mine," he reminded her in a low growl.

Rennie rolled her eyes as she smacked his pec in reproof. But he didn't miss that covert smile of pleasure that darted across her face.

"So I might just be feeling just a little bit generous today," he smirked.

"You're a big fat dork," Rennie snorted.

"I thought I was a 'big fat fucking procrastinator'…" Jacob teased with a sly raise to his brow, throwing her words back at her from the other day.

"That too," she smacked her lips blandly.

"But all shitting aside," he grew serious. "I gotta figure out how to make peace… and I will." He brought a hand around to rest reassuringly against her cheek.

Rennie nodded soberly. "I trust you."

"I want your parents in your life if they can respect your choices," he murmured soothingly, looking deeply into her eyes. "But if not? You also gotta understand something, Ren." His gaze hardened as both hands cupped her jaw fervently. "Because you're mine - my Pack, my imprint, my future mate," he leaned down and brushed his lips over hers with a gentleness that was in direct odds with the following searing proclamation.

"I will fight for you if I have to."

'

'

Review if you like.

Lesson 20: Intermission l Secret Weapons

Hey there chickadees…

So I named this one differently to cue you in, even though there are plenty of lessons learned in this one too. I know there was an expectation that this chapter would cover the "anticipated" and ominous Cullen meeting... Sorry (not). I learned long ago that I have to just go with how I "see it." Hopefully you still enjoy this romp through my mind's eye.

Random useless note: There's a pronoun shift in this, that has a purpose.

Word of the Day: lepidopterist - butterfly hunter

'

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

'

Lesson 20: - Secret Weapons

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"I'm gonna go, Jake…" Rennie announced out as she strode into the kitchen.

She came to a halt at the sight of the empty room. Her brow furrowing in confusion, she paced to the open back door.

"Jake?" she pushed open the screen and stepped out on the porch, her eyes scanning briefly over the back yard.

Her stomach dropped like a lead balloon: had she taken too long? Had he just left her? She'd gone up to change clothes and mull over her options: Jacob had said she could come to the meeting with her parents or stay with her Grandfather on the Res. But he wanted her on their lands at least, he wouldn't just leave-…

A short, sharp bark from the tree line lopped off her racing thoughts mid-sentence.

"Wolf!" Rennie blurted happily as she slammed the door behind her and jogged down the stairs. She literally skipped across the still-dewy grass in her soft flats toward the huge russet Wolf crouched in the bushes, shifting back and forth on cagey haunches.

Seemingly unable to wait any longer behind the screen of the trees, it burst out into the yard, meeting her half way.

"Wolf!" she squealed, throwing her arms around its huge neck as they collided. She squeezed him with everything she had as he pulled her off her feet and dragged her up and down in two joyful, huffing hops on its forepaws.

Rennie giggled into the soft, thick fur. She'd missed him. There was something different and necessary about spending time with Jacob's "other half." She'd almost forgotten that.

"Oh, God, I haven't seen you, like, for forever," she sighed, suddenly realizing it was true. Over the year before she'd left - for two years now - she'd barely spent any time with the animal. It must have had something to do with their changing bond like so many of those other anomalous, uncomfortable changes that had set in once she had first started dipping her toes into womanhood .

That thought stopped her in her tracks.

Finding her footing, she stumbled back onto her feet and released the animal. How did the Wolf feel about her now?

She pulled back and cocked her head curiously at the towering animal. It's body was literally quivering in excitement like it was about to burst out of its fur! She had barely pulled back before a huge, wet tongue wiped soundly up her entire face.

"Ew!" she shrilled, squeezing her eyes closed as her hand automatically came up to wipe at the slimy mess. She giggled and squeaked blindly as a cold wet nose seamlessly started pressing over her bare arms and shoulders while she wiped at her face. Blinking her eyes open, she came face to face with a felt ear as the beast began its familiar sniffing inventory of her every freaking pore.

Long tail swishing to and fro and the muscles trembling like an overexcited dog, the animal frenetically scented over her every millimeter as a deep, lupine rumble settled soothingly deep into her bones.

In other words, same as it ever was.

Except perhaps for the level of excitement. It was going crazy!

"Geez, Wolf!" she laughed as her hands reached out to that massive head and tried to rein it in. The animal cooperated for about as much time as took to wipe that hot tongue over her face again, causing her to take a sputtering step back as she slapped at the new coat of slobber. Good thing she hadn't put on any make-up.

Crossing her arms over her chest with affectionate exasperation, she watched as the animal blithely continued snuffling over her, meticulously cataloging her from head to toe. She'd put on a brightly colored Indian-silk sundress with spaghetti straps that hugged her breasts and then flowed down to mid thigh sporting a pair of purple Capri leggings underneath. She didn't know what she should wear to a Pack-Coven meeting, but she figured this looked nice enough, yet she could still sprint effectively if she had to.

Kind of a sad thing to have to think about, but hey, she was a practical girl.

With an annoyed huff, she slapped it's muzzle down when it ventured up her leg under her dress' hem. The animal whined in appeasement, but continued diligently on as it circled her.

"Not the hair!" she complained, as she petulantly pulled her mass of curls over one shoulder. It loved to try to groom her hair, and the last thing she wanted to do was have drool matted in her freshly washed tresses.

With a soft, adorable, yip, the animal padded back around before her, bowing down to bump its forehead against her shoulder.

" 'You done?" Rennie arched a brow as she put her hands on her hips for a second… until he tried to sideswipe her again that that tongue. Dodging lithely with a triumphant laugh, her hands dug in.

"My turn, " she pouted as leaned her cheek against that imposing jaw and her fingers scratched over its favorite itchy spots.

"Softy ole Woofy-Woof," she cooed with pursed lips and animated baby talk.

The Wolf let out a chops -fluttering huff of indignation.

"So I guess this part's still the same, huh?" Rennie smiled into those sober yellow eyes and then leaned up and placed a kiss on its wet black nose. He could be so sweet and puppy-like, but also so fierce and imperial at the same time.

Kind of like Jacob, come to think of it.

What he'd said about them being one in the same floated around in her head as she burrowed her face happily in his thick ruff while she scratched behind his ears. It was so easy to think of the Wolf and the man as separate (as she had all through childhood - because they sure as hell looked freaking different), but he'd said they were just different parts of his being: sometimes in conflict sometimes unified… like emotion and intellect. It was a hard thing to understand.

"But we're gonna be late," she grumbled as she pulled back and flicked his snout pertly. Her eyes narrowed with mischief. "Which meeeans…" she taunted mysteriously, drawing out the words until she got the beast's attention.

"Oh my God! SQUIRREL! !" she shrieked, pointing wildly across the lawn. The sheer tone of her voice made the animal's gaze snap with rigid attention into the distance.

Which was exactly what she'd wanted.

Laughing hysterically at his expense Rennie shot off into a sprint at the second's distraction (the tone trumped the human words for the animal every single time. Mwah ha ha).

Just like the dog from 'Up!', she snickered to herself as her feet raced across the leaves, feinting between trees up the hill. In human form, Rennie might almost be able to give Jacob a run for his money, but in Wolf form there would really be no contest, so she had to use her diminutive agility to her advantage. Like a jackrabbit, she darted through the forest, hearing the gargantuan Wolf bursting through the brush behind her, hot on her heels.

And suddenly she knew, this was different.

She couldn't exactly say what had changed - or when she realized it - but the playful race had transformed with an eerie sense of vertigo into a portentous hunt.

Icy adrenaline suddenly flooded through her veins, giving her a burst of speed and a renewed urgency as she tore through a forest that seemed to have suddenly become utterly silent. Like a predator was on the prowl - because it was. There was no bird call, no insect's buzz or animal's rustling, only the soft pattering of her shoes on the sodden leaves, and her rapid, hitching breath.

The calm, even pants behind her made a shiver shuttle up her spine. She could viscerally feel the Wolf's intense focused energy burning into her back as it unerringly pursued; it was surely playing with her - enjoying the chase - or it would have caught her a mile back easily.

Rennie burst out into the small meadow that bordered the beginning of Rez lands with her breath heaving and her heart pounding with both thrill and fear. Now with only a straightway to cross, and no evasive tricks left up her sleeve, Rennie glanced over her shoulder to see the giant Wolf tearing toward her, its mercury gait daunting and powerful, its golden eyes feral and intense.

Like she was prey.

With an involuntary squeak of fear, she whipped back around, stumbling in her frenetic footfall and barely keeping herself upright in her staggering recovery. When she jerked her head up from her faltering feet half a second later, the imposing animal was crouched ominously before her, its muzzle lifted from gleaming canines as a soft growl of displeasure slithered between them.

It was frightening.

Gasping, Rennie skidded to an abrupt halt. With a single burning glance, those fiery yellow eyes pinned her futile flight like a butterfly to a lepidopterist's tray. Her mouth had been desiccated by adrenaline and exertion and she swallowed thickly as she took a step back.

"C'mon Jake!" Rennie wheezed nervously, her words shredding in anxiety.

The animal started at the unexpected sound of her voice, which made Rennie stumble back in a magnificent overreaction that had her landing gracelessly on her ass in a dewy clump of buttercups.

A soft bouncing rumble, that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle, made Rennie jerk her head back up with an indignant glare. The Wolf was standing over her feet, watching her carefully with an overt and volatile mixture of Jakey amusement and lupine reprimand. The beast didn't like that she'd fled from it, she suddenly understood.

'Don't run.'

Jacob's growled admonishment earlier when he'd been so frighteningly close to losing it suddenly clicked into place. She wasn't just a child playing silly games with Wolves anymore, she was the imprint of the most dominant male of the Pack. The Alpha's mate.

And that was serious business.

She'd been very wrong in her earlier assessment: everything had changed.

And she needed to step up to the plate and learn just what her Wolf needed from her - to understand what her role and responsibilities were to help balance his instinct. The realization of both her power and purpose settled profoundly over her with an inadvertent shudder. It was titillating yet terrifying. But it also felt incredibly… right.

The Wolf seemed to be watching all of those thoughts flicker over her features; the human amusement had all but evaporated, leaving only a sober and feral tension that made the flanks of the creature quiver. It was confused too: it didn't know whether to chastise her like a cub, or be distressed by its mate.

Eyes locked with that searing, conflicted gaze, Rennie slowly lay back in the grass, drawing in a long, calming breath. Jacob would never hurt her - in either of his forms - she knew it somehow deep in her being, even without his earlier reassurance.

And she needed to set things right.

The animal tossed its muzzle with a huff and it took two steps over her, snuffling idly along her leg as it watched her stretch out so vulnerably. Nervously, Rennie curled her fists up by her shoulders as she lay her head back on the ground and broke eye contact, instinctually tipping her head to the side and baring her neck.

A low rhythmic rumbling started like an outboard motor in response and her lips curved in pleasure, glad she'd done the proper thing this time. She felt the warmth of the massive animal creep over her body with the slinking step on either side of her torso and the soft brush of fur on her arms. A cold nose nudged gently over her jaw and the touch instantly relaxed her like some crazy chemical reaction that melted her bones to jell-o. Her eyelids fluttered closed in relish.

Mine.

It hit her, then. Really hit her.

This formidable, fierce, supernatural sentry standing over her - who could kill her in an instant with a casual snap of its jaws - was hers. Jacob was hers.

Sultry pants of his breath - sweet and musky like the forest floor - billowed over her face for a moment, then she felt four hot, porcelain points touch to the side of her neck. Freezing, Rennie's eyes popped open and darted down to the huge maw at her throat in her periphery. The Wolf rested its canines on her skin with exacting precision - its muzzle drawn back in an exaggerated grimace from its fangs- for several carefully measured breaths that churned a blissful, soulful purr deep in its chest.

His.

She was his too. And just that made him inexplicably happy.

As much as her logical mind wanted to play it down, it was the most profoundly meaningful moment of her whole freaking life. Her heart had to agree and bled its overwhelming euphoria into welling tears. Rennie squeezed her eyes shut and hot tracks surged silently over her temples.

The air around her shimmered viscerally with heat. The mass looming over her displaced and molded in a strange supple stretchiness like silly putty that brought pressing weight and warmth down over her body. A hot, wet tongue - markedly smaller and more precise - lapped carefully up the side her neck and Rennie smiled, opening her eyes.

Jacob was leaning over her, lowering himself down to his forearms on either side of her shoulders. He was panting softly. His luminescent eyes were still fierce and wild where they watched her with an unfathomable intensity, his face set in dark, severe lines.

"Did you lick me?" Rennie asked with an arch to one brow, instinctively steering him to lighter, more human shores.

The expression on his face softened as his eyes seemed to coalesce into obsidian pools, and those sensual lips smoothed out to a subtle curve.

"Several times actually," he crooned breathily, as his gaze flitted restlessly over her face.

Rennie's lips hitched up to one side. "It's a helluva lot less grosser like this."

"Yeah?" his smoldering eyes snapped to hers as he shifted his weight over her. She could feel his body laid out over her every inch, the hard lines of his bulk pressing her deliciously into the grass.

Eyes locked with hers, Jacob leaned in and very slowly and deliberately licked a solemn line over her lips.

Rennie gasped quietly as her body ignited and her heart lunged into sprint of an entirely different sort. Without a second thought, she rose up and captured his retreating mouth. With a grunt, Jacob's lips snapped over hers with an initial ferocity that pushed her head back to the ground in a subconscious assertion of dominance.

And that was just fine by her, her lips melted under his demand in rapture. At her subtle submission, the kiss instantly softened into something sensual and cherishing. His mouth caressed hers with long, slow movements, but oddly resisting her parted lips' pleading invitation. Instead, his tongue fluttered over her own coaxing it into his hot mouth, in a bid to let her lead this time as it danced languidly alongside her exploration. Part of Rennie's overactive mind was fascinated by the subtle plays of dominance and submission between them… it was all about balance and harmony, equality and need.

But that analytical nature of hers was quickly burning off like gasoline in the fires being stoked in her belly. Her hands slipped down from where they held his shoulders, shimmying under his pits to reach around his back.

Oh, God!

Slick with perspiration and every muscle taut, her palms smoothed eagerly over the power under that satin skin. Her fingers found the valley of his spine and counted his vertebrae reverently as her body arched up into him in a reflexive petition for more.

Jacob broke the kiss with a hitching breath of ardor and Rennie's eyes popped open to see his eyes clenched in a delicious resistant forbearance. She did this to him: made him ache like she ached. And several more of those mooring lines of fear snapped and fluttered free from her own passion.

"You're naked," she whispered, as her fingertips brushed down over his lower back to the rise of his very delectable and solid ass.

Jacob's eyes cracked open with a smile, sunny-side up. "I am," he agreed, his lips hitching up on the right side in sultry amusement that melted her panties.

"Hmm," she mused dramatically as her palms smoothed up and down over his waist as far down as she could reach.

Jacob's brow lifted cannily. "We're gonna be late," he breathed, pulling his weight off her a little more.

"Already are," she conceded, with a dismissive purse to her lips.

"I told Embry," he informed her pertly.

"Yeah?" Pack-mind, she assumed.

"Thanks, Ren," Jacob blurted suddenly.

Rennie blinked, her palms stilling on his hips.

His face had gone serious as his eyes darted restlessly - and with uncharacteristically confusion - over her face. Jacob was always so sure. About everything. She waited.

"I… the Wolf," he paused and licked his lips. "He couldn't stand that you ran," he said cryptically. "I-…didn't expect… I -"

Rennie's hands were already climbing up his sides. They squeezed through the space under his arms, driven somehow to hold that uncertainty in her palms. She cupped his jaw and her thumbs brushed over his stammering lips.

"Shh… I get it. I'm sorry. I gotta learn all this stuff," she soothed.

He shook his head, dislodging her thumbs. "We both do," he admitted with a furrow to his brow. "But what you did?" His face dipped down to her neck and his lips pressed meaningfully, tenderly to her pulse. "It was just what he needed," he breathed over her skin lusciously.

"What you needed, y'mean," Rennie corrected him with a smile.

Jacob picked his head back up with her same understanding crystallizing in his gaze. Balance. She was there to balance him.

"Yeah…and you knew," he breathed with an appreciative wonder.

"Seems like I'm not the only one who's getting an edu-ma-cation, huh?" she snorted, artfully tucking levity over that tender vulnerability in his eyes.

Jacob's eyes flitted up to the sky with the convergence of macho denial and humorous concession.

Rennie laughed at him and he met her gaze with eyes that sparkled. With love, with appreciation… with happiness.

And it felt good.

"You still remember how to ride bareback?" he asked suddenly.

"I think it's like riding a bike," she asserted dryly.

Jacob wiggled his brows. "Yeah you know what they say…?"

Rennie grinned, taking the bait. "What?"

"Once you ride a Wolf, y'never forget," he crooned provocatively. "And once you ride Black, y'never go back."

Heat rushed to her cheeks as her eyes widened. "Raunchy, Jay!" she choked, over the surprising explosion of fire in her belly.

" 'Better get used to it," he smirked evilly. "This is adult Jake, chica. And he's kinda raunchy."

"I like this Jake," Rennie's face cracked in a grin as her hands smoothed meaningfully over his shoulders. "Love 'em, in fact." She tipped her face up and caught his chin in a kiss.

Jacob's eyes softened as he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers once, in the sweetest, most loving kiss ever. It made her heart ache.

"We gotta go.." he whispered ruefully over her lips.

His words leached ice water through her veins with an emotional whiplash. Squeezing her eyes shut she nodded briskly and suddenly he was pushing off of her.

Her eyes popped open quickly in surprise, just catching a blurred glimpse of his long muscular form rolling to the side. His caramel skin melted seamlessly into a russet pelt and blossomed into the massive Wolf landed on its belly two feet away from her. Rennie picked up her head, blushing in embarrassment at her prickling disappointment. Part of her had wanted just a peak.

Actually it was a pretty big part.

"You're too fast," she pouted, laughing at herself as she sat up while Jacob stared at her in Wolf form with unmistakably laughing eyes. Peeling herself off the damp grass, she dusted herself off, smoothing her dress down and then running futile fingers through her hair. It was pretty much hopeless.

Shrugging it off, she pushed her long curls impatiently over her shoulders and turned to Jacob, waiting on his haunches. She realized something about their little interlude had solidified for her that this colossal beast lying before her was inexorably the man she knew and loved no matter how much his external form had shifted. And there was something very settling… and cool about that.

She stepped forward and rubbed an absent hand over his head and he lifted his muzzle into her touch. Smiling gently, she walked her fingers down his snout and tapped his nose sweetly before stepped to his side. Digging her fists into the thick ruff of his neck, she pulled herself nimbly up onto his massive body. All jokes aside, there was muscular memory involved in riding a Wolf, and it brought back a warm wash of childhood memories.

Of course now, she was no longer a child… as was emphasized by the blossoming warmth between her legs at the feel of his ribcage vibrating with his deep rumbles of contentment. She settled down over his back, wrapping her arms around his dwarfing neck.

"Ready," she announced up to his ear standing pert at attention, as he congealed to his feet in an impossibly smooth and mercurial motion. She loved the way he moved - like a water droplet on a lily pad.

"I'm gonna ride you hard, Jake," she whispered suggestively with her best attempt at novel seductive and blushing furiously at her own audacity. But it was worth the discomfort, because the Wolf shockingly faltered on its agile feet.

Rennie giggled triumphantly as an ear flicked backwards in reprimand.

Still chuckling, she leaned her cheek against his neck as he took off with his whisper step across the grass. His powerful body rippled under her soothingly in smooth mercurial waves of stretching and bunching with each loping stride that sent the scenery flashing by with breathtaking speed. The wind pulled her hair behind her in a flowing curtain - hopefully taking the lingering grasses and detritus with it, Rennie doubted she was that lucky.

His soundless paws swallowed the meadow in a heartbeat and then they were rushing through forest, his sure step finding passage without so much as a branch disturbed in his wake.

They were late to the Pack meeting, she knew, but oddly this little intermission had done wonders for her nerves. There was nothing that her parents could do to take this away from her short of ripping her in two. He was a part of her as she was of him. That Truth was now lodged immutable in her being. She knew Jacob would find some way to make this work, but he wouldn't be doing it on his own; because there was something much more arcane and profound at play here. Something that parental disapproval, unexamined jealousies, and ingrained prejudices couldn't touch. He'd said it wasn't an accident - that Taha Aki had brought them together, in so many words. She was still developing her own sense of such things, but she knew unequivocally that there was nothing more pure and potent than love.

And they had it.

Her natural courage and optimism bubbled up to fill in all the cracks caused by the blunt force trauma of the past two years. She could do this.

In that moment she realized - like she'd already been doing all along - that she'd fight for him too, with everything she had, if she had to.

With that in mind, she was extra glad she'd dressed comfortably. That thought made her giggle and Jacob yip curiously.

"Nothin', Jay," she adjusted her hands in his fur. " 'Just cracking myself up…I'm feeling loads better's all."

A low soft rumble tumbled in his chest with pleasure at the admission. She hoped he was too.

After what seemed like mere minutes, they were breaking through the tree line of the familiar fields near PJ's. A long howl of greeting rose in the cloudy summer skies. (It was no longer unusual to hear them call during the daylight hours. Under Jacob's command, the Wolves - while still a guarded secret - no longer had to slink around the shadows. People on the Rez were comfortable with and proud of the mysterious animals that flitted just on the periphery of acknowledgement.)

Without a pause in his aggressive pace, Jacob tipped his head up and loosed a deep and thunderous answering cry. It made the morning seem to quiver with a power that shimmered back with the whipping winds over her body; settling, invigorating, commanding at once. Once again, very much like Jacob himself.

Rennie rubbed her face over the thick fur between his undulating shoulder blades with pride.

Mine.

Rennie picked her head up as Jacob slowed to a trot around the garage. Splayed out over the yard between the shop and his cabin was the entire Pack - minus Embry who had called out the greeting in Wolf form - looking like they were about to board a bus for the Superbowl. It was kind of ridiculous - every last one of them (with the exception of the ever cool and collected Paul and an intense-looking Leah) looked like they were going to pee their pants with an agitated excitement.

Rennie tried to smother the laughter that wanted to burst out at their expense - she didn't know how Jake wanted to handle this, and she didn't want mess it up.

So instead, she reached up and grabbed an ear and pulled it back toward her. "Geez, it looks like someone spiked their puppy chow with crack," she hissed with a giggle as he trotted over toward his porch and every last pair of eyes followed him.

A wolvish chuckle bounced appreciatively under her thighs.

Jacob lowered himself into the grass as Paul ambled over to help Rennie down, followed by Seth. Holding Paul's gaze, she rebelliously slipped down on her own with a cocky smirk.

Paul rolled his eyes and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Show-off," he snorted derisively with a wink.

She gave him a shit-eating grin and dusted the collateral fur from her front.

"Ren!" Seth greeted cheerily - as undaunted by stress as always.

Rennie looked up from where she was smoothing down her dress. "Hey Seth!" she returned brightly. Before this year, being one of the younger Wolves and Leah's brother, he'd been her bud, tagging along with Jake and her on her childhood exploits.

Seth's gaze darted warily to where Jacob was stretching his back with a squeaky lupine yawn, his forepaws prone in front of him. "You've got some kinda shit in your hair," he chuckled as he took the last two steps toward her and reached out to her curls…

It happened faster than she could follow. A savage barking snarl boiled the air at the same time Seth disappeared in a violent flurry of russet fur. Rennie spontaneously cowered with a shocked shriek as her heart lunged into a gazillion mile per hour sprint.

Silence.

Panting rapidly as her pulse hammered syncopation, Rennie straightened, instinctively reaching out to the pelt-covered iron-clad muscular wall before her as she realized with horror what just happened. More grating snarls tumbled in the huge barrel chest in front of her as her fingers threaded through the silky coat, and she tentatively crept around the Wolf's massive shoulder to survey the damage. She didn't scent blood…

Every last one of the Pack on the lawn had fallen into a tense and utterly still crouch, heads down, eyes feverishly averted. Paul had yanked an uncommonly rattled-looking Seth behind him (who was crumpled to the ground and hyperventilating with his wide eyes glued frantically to his feet -poor thing!) and Paul himself was standing hunched over with his eyes carefully downcast and his neck bared.

"Whoa," she mouthed to herself, hesitantly pulling herself along Jacob's heaving and quivering flank. She'd been lulled into carelessness by their bonding this morning - things were still pretty stressful for him (obviously).

He'd said the imprint was really hard on the guy, and suddenly Rennie understood just how hard it actually was. Add in a keyed up Pack, a meeting with her vampire family and having to relive in her memories of her parents' psycho mind games, and it was no wonder he was feeling… testy.

But for all the trembling apprehension in each and every cowering giant on the lawn, Rennie was strangely unafraid.

She petted a tender hand down over Jacob's snout, still lifted back from bared teeth and petulant snarls. He quieted under her touch immediately, his flashing eyes still locked on the two men before him.

Encouraged, she insinuated herself closer and nuzzled instinctively into his hefty jaw as her arms slipped slowly around his neck.

"Mmm… mine," she murmured luxuriantly into his fur. The words really just slipped out on their own, but they was definitely the right ones. It snapped Jacob's attention from his hapless prey in an instant as he turned toward her.

Rennie pulled back, tugging his broad head around, and looking into his eyes.

"Hey, Jay," she smiled happily, holding affection and tenderness openly out to him in her gaze… and not an ounce of censure. "Everything's okay, honey," she crooned. Because it was. Just like he'd been there for her since the beginning - through everything all through her life - she was here for him. And always would be. She watched Wolf-Jake slowly relax into an understanding of that truth as she lovingly smoothed his fur back from his face.

When the tremors had stilled under her caresses, she leaned in to press a blithe kiss to that licorice nose. "Can you get me my brush inside? My hair probably is a freaking rat's nest," she laughed lightly, at both the situation and at herself. She probably did look like some scarecrow.

Those hard eyes softened to sweet and he pressed his snout into her neck drawing a long breath of her scent. Pulling gently away, the Wolf sent another scathing glare toward Paul and Seth who had both straightened but were still diffidently avoiding eye contact, and trotted proudly toward the house, not a hint of remorse in his powerful stride.

Rennie smiled to herself as she watched the animal take the first step and then smoothly transform. A tall, naked man drew himself up to his full height and took the last two steps in one leap without a backward glance. Which was really a damn shame - she'd missed another chance.

But that ass! The curve of his back swept down to perfect, dented cheeks that were simply divine. Damn! Rennie admired the flexing sinews of his powerful legs as he stalked across the porch. Every muscle moved in concert in that magnificently brawny back as he opened the screen…

"You' got a little drool…" a voice chuckled beside her and she turned to Paul's wry smirk. "…right, here." he pretended to dab at her chin.

Rennie snorted in annoyance, glancing back at the door closing with a clatter before turning to the Pack's infamously audacious Second. To her relief, there was not a shred of condemnation in his sparkling eyes. In fact he was grinning like the Cheshire cat; he was enjoying himself far too much, Rennie decided.

"Seth okay?" she asked lowly, her eyes darting over to where he was getting good natured ribbing from his instantly recovered and jocular Pack mates. However he had put some good distance between Rennie and himself pretty damn quickly.

"Yeah," he rolled his eyes. "He's just a fucking...IDIOT!" he called over his shoulder with a guffaw that sounded dangerously close to his jackass laugh.

Rennie decided not to mention it.

She hated to admit it, but she still felt a little disconcerted. She was used to the Wolves' volatility, but Jacob had been ferocious, like a grizzly bear charging for the kill. The fact that the Pack seemed to shrug it off as par for the course was reassuring, but she was worried for… her Wolf.

"Is Jake okay?" she whispered, hating that her voice quavered as she looked earnestly up into her uncle's eyes.

Paul's snarky expression immediately melted into tenderness. "Aww, Ren," he soothed, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. "Of course he is. He just loves you all fierce an' gooey an' shit," he laughed, pressing his lips to her temple as he steered her over to several metal chairs set up under the eaves of the shop. "Shit, I mean you're his imprint… HEY!" he stopped, spinning around in front of her with a maniacal smile. "IMPRINT! ! " he cackled gleefully. "Im-fuckin'-print! FINALLY!"

Rennie arched an amused brow at his antics as she sat down.

"He's jus' bitching about the Alpha Order," Leah provided snidely as she strode up to them.

Rennie clucked her tongue in understanding as she threw an indignant scowl toward the house that made Leah chuckle. So he'd Commanded them to keep his secret, eh? Sneaky bastard. She really couldn't be mad at him though - aside from having done the best he could, they'd already talked about this and she'd forgiven him. And Rennie didn't have the patience or personality for grudges and resentments.

"He's just gonna be all PMSy like that for a while. Seth shoulda known better," Leah smirked, sitting down beside Rennie.

"How long?" Rennie asked automatically… before she thought better of it.

Leah looked stricken for a moment as her gaze darted to Paul, her mouth comically opening and closing with an uncharacteristic word-fail. Paul hardly looked any better.

Rennie barked a laugh at their expense as she fell over her thighs and rubbed her face with her palms. Until she had sex with him, that's how long. No pressure, she thought to herself.

Truthfully her body was starting to pull way ahead of the game - that ass! - but Jacob and she both mentally needed a little time. Which created a playing field that was rife with all sorts of land mines…

"So we need a song," Paul interjected into Rennie's churning thoughts, and she looked up to find him lounging against the wall of the garage.

"What kinda song?" she asked, even while Leah snickered beside her.

"A really fucking annoying one," Paul grinned evilly.

Rennie scrunched her face up with comical suspicion.

"Your mom's s'posed to shield everyone from your dad's mind-thing for these meetings, but Jake doesn't take chances," Leah provided cryptically.

"Wolf Pack Karaoke, baybee," Paul clarified with a meglomaniacal laugh.

"You guys sing in the Pack mind?" she grinned appreciatively as she held out her palm. "Phone?" It was a pretty clever little ruse, she'd give them that. Even though she'd perfected her own mental barriers long ago against her father's prying mind, she'd have to remember it for future tormenting potential.

Leah slapped her iPhone into her hand and Rennie started scrolling through the YouTube app for the most annoying song of all time.

"This one's even got some howls … you guys can go crazy with that," she chuckled as she pressed play and Justin Bieber's "Baby" played through the tinny speakers.

"No way!" Quil shrieked from across the yard.

"Oh yeah !" Paul took Leah's phone and turned to his Pack with a wicked grin. "S'like Bayybee-bayybe -baby-Oooo!…" he sang - off tune and with a prepubescent crack in his voice. Glancing over his shoulder with a gratified wink for Rennie, he strode across the lawn toward the boys, throwing a few comical (and pretty damn skillful) dance moves in for good measure as the song continued to bleat from his phone.

Rennie laughed half-heartedly. According to the time on his phone, they only had about ten minutes before they needed to leave. The weight of that fact settled with the buoyancy of an anvil on her shoulders. She collapsed her face back in her hands.

" 'You okay, chica?" Leah asked quietly beside her, as she rubbed her hand soothingly over her back.

Rennie nodded brusquely, impatient with her own stomach-flipping cowardice. She looked up into Leah's kind chocolate eyes. "I just wanna get this over with."

She nodded sympathetically, continuing her calming circles over Rennie's shoulder blades.

"Do y'think they're gonna fight?" she asked quietly.

Leah pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I think if there's a way around it, Jay'll figure it out, honey."

Rennie blinked and sat up a bit more, her gaze darting to his modest little house. "Where is he?" she worried.

Leah smacked her lips and glanced toward the porch. "I'll bet he's runnin' scenarios with Sammy on the phone," she surmised with a little eyebrow wiggle. "He probably won't tell us what he's planning 'cause we don't got that steel Alpha trap in our heads."

Rennie frowned in confusion.

"Surprise is the best weapon, honey," Leah murmured stilling her hand on Rennie's back.

Wasn't that the truth? Rennie expelled a long sigh, remembering her ill-fated conversation with her father. She should have listened to Jacob instead of being such a stubborn little thing. It might have gone better if she'd known what he'd been planning. She felt betrayed by the fact her father had brought out that little morsel of reproductive enlightenment at that time. And in that way. It made her insides turn all kinds of funny to know she couldn't have kids. She hoped to God Jacob was right and he was wrong… but if not, Jake was still right: it was topic that could be dealt with later. A whole hell of a lot later. Right now, she simply didn't have the bandwidth.

The screen door opened and Rennie's head jerked up to see Jacob stride out of the house dressed in his requisite cut-offs and a black tee shirt shirt (that looked pretty damn hot - she loved him in black).

His gaze locked on hers as he pushed out onto the porch. With her brush swinging casually from one hand, in several strong, purposeful strides he was across the yard.

"Lee, help Paul get 'em ready," he directed in a resonant base as he neared. She'd never seen Jacob in such a setting before, and she had to admit, he was intimidating. Huge anyway, his shoulders were squared, chin lifted with absolute self-assurance and that broad chest tensed and straining under his tee shirt. He oozed utter indomitable confidence. And competence.

With an efficient nod and a pat on Rennie's back, Leah hastened to comply. Rennie stood as well, rubbing her palms uneasily on her dress as her gaze washed over Jacob's hard eyes and stoic, unfathomable expression. She found her gaze needing to slither deferentially to the ground.

"C'mere," he whispered - his voice softening into something familiar as his long arms reached out to draw her into his embrace. His huge, heavy arms rested around her like home and the innate hum of their bond sparkled through her tension like rice crispies in milk. "It's gonna be okay, honey," he murmured.

"What are you going to do?" Rennie found herself asking as she tipped her head up to rest her chin on his sternum.

Those warm, Jacob-eyes were back and they caressed her face with the comfort of a mug of hot cocoa. "That's for me to know, and you to find out," he breathed as an eyebrow quirked mysteriously.

Rennie squinted up at him and pulled back. He released her, offering up her brush between them. Her gaze cataloging his sparkling smile, she took it with one hand as she absently pulled her mass of - very messy - curls over her shoulder with the other, and began pulling the bristles through her hair.

Jacob's smile broadened at her continued unhurried assessment of him and he switched his weight casually to one hip.

"Y'know I'll fight for you too," she informed him suddenly with a willful lift to her chin.

Jacob's white teeth flashed with his pleasure in a gazillion kilowatts of bone-melting gorgeousness. Damn, she was so glad she could make him happy like that.

"You already have, honey," he said quietly, his lulling croon at odds with that expression as he reached out and picked something from her hair. "Now it's my turn." He flicked the leaf dismissively to the ground.

Rennie stilled her brush mid-stroke. "I don't want you to get hurt," she choked hoarsely. "I don't want anyone to get hurt," she amended with a grimace.

"Don't worry," his face melted into a mischievous smile as he cocked his head slyly. "I got a secret weapon."

Rennie's gaze darted down to where his hand patted his hip meaningfully.

With an gasp, Rennie made a defiant and impetuous grab for his pocket.

Jacob dodged easily. "Ah!" he chided around a grin. "It's a secret."

Her hands came up to her hips in complaint - brush and all - but Jacob just smirked unrepentantly.

With a huff, Rennie started on her hair again.

His humor faded like the sun behind the clouds and Jacob reached out a hand and ghosted a finger down over her cheek thoughtfully. Rennie paused for a moment, as she tried to read that serious expression. But as his finger traced over her brow with a lazy, dreamy relish, she found her eyes fluttering closed with a soft sigh of pleasure.

"We gotta leave in five minutes, Ren," Jacob whispered softly and Rennie's eyes popped open to his dark, endless gaze. "I gotta go talk to the guys. But…" he paused, bringing both hands to her jaw as he bent down and placed a kiss on her nose. "You gotta trust me, kay?" he breathed over her cheeks. "I'm gonna go at 'em hard to start, but don't get freaked out…"

Rennie's gaze darted between his intense eyes, inches away. "I trust you, Jay," she stated, quiet and sure.

"Good," he breathed and then pressed his lips to hers for a delectably soulful kiss that lasted far too short for her liking.

"Plus, you gotta secret weapon," she added impishly as he pulled away.

"That I do, chica," he winked. "That I do."

'

'

Your feedback is greatly appreciated for its motivational properties. *grin*

Chapter 21: Lesson 21 Happiness is Nonnegotiable

Word of the day: Trenchant - 1. incisive or keen, as language or a person; caustic 2. vigorous; effective or sharply defined; clear-cut; distinct.

Warning: some parts of this chapter are not recommended for folks with sensitive teeth.

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

'

Lesson 21 - Happiness is Nonnegotiable

'

"First things first…the Treaty's fucking over. You are officially at war."

Rennie's breath snapped harshly into her chest in a gasp of shock at Jacob's deep imperious pronouncement.

One second the two disparate parties were standing on either side of the agreed upon line in the meadow, the next, those trenchant words had shattered the fragile illusory détente between them like a sledgehammer to a crystal vase.

No!

Rennie's gaze jerked to Jacob's commanding physique standing imposingly in front of his entire Pack, phased and in a line of massive wolves at sedulous attention on their haunches. His shoulders squared, chin lifted proudly, jaw tense and hands fisted at his side, there could be no mistake: he meant those words with every fiber of his being.

She'd been prepared for hard ball, but an opening declaration of war?

Like a film being rewound - complete with a squeaky scrambled soundtrack - her mind flashed over the memories of the last fifteen minutes, searching frantically for something she'd missed.

'

The tape came to a jarring stop with Jacob standing tall and proud before his Pack, lined up before him like elite troops behind his scruffy garage. Leah stood to Jacob's left and Paul to his right, their faces stoic and somber like sentries carved of stone.

Arms crossed over his chest, Jacob's eyes slowly scanned over each and every one of the men of his Pack. "Leah's you're Alpha, as far as you're concerned," he mandated in his resonant Alpha bass, bitter and harsh like espresso and as adamantine as black diamond. "Don't look at me, don't concern yourselves with a fucking thing I'm saying. Focus on Leah."

The goofy playfulness that usually sparkled through the Pack was gone: each man's face was etched with intensity as he stared at his Alpha like he was being intimately tasked with some perilous directive. As Jacob's steely gaze swept over each face in turn, pair after pair of eyes dipped deferentially in acknowledgement and then rose as one to his Third standing to his left. It was kind of creepy.

"Except you, Seth," Jacob resolutely announced when he got to the young man who'd positioned himself last - and as far away from his Alpha as possible.

Seth's gaze snapped back to Jacob from where they'd settled dutifully on his sister. Her friend's face remained impassive, but Rennie could see the worry and humiliation in his blinking eyes. She could see that he thought Jacob's pronouncement was due to his earlier transgression; Jacob had neither apologized nor exonerated the boy but had simply ignored him as he'd doled out direction to Leah and Paul and then addressed the Pack as a whole.

"Seth your ONLY job…" Jacob took a step toward him, his eyes heating in yellow severity. "Is to keep Rennie safe," he hissed like steam escaping a volcanic fissure.

Seth's eyes widened infinitesimally in surprise.

"You don't listen to Lee, or the boys," he continued in a croon of hot black tar as he continued to take cagey, threatening steps forward toward the boy. "You don't think about anything, except Rennie. You just concern yourself with staying between the leeches and her. No matter what. If things go south, you don't stop and think, you don't even listen to her…you get her out of there. I don't care if you have to Phase back and fucking throw her over your Goddamn buck naked shoulder. Got it?" He stopped in front of the young Wolf, looking down into his eyes with an utterly indomitable stare.

Seth averted his gaze and his chin jerked subtly in assent. Rennie realized his body was trembling under the weight of his charge.

And Jacob certainly did too. He clapped his hand on the man's shoulder and Seth's gaze darted up to his burning eyes. "You're like her brother, Seth," his voice softened. "I know you love her; you're the only one I trust to do this."

And there it was - an apology wrapped up in strategic necessity. Of the Pack - other than Paul, Leah and Sam - Rennie knew Seth the best. That Jacob was a sneaky little bastard, alright. They were friends and she trusted Seth; so of course she wouldn't fight him if he did something like, say, throw her over his buck naked shoulder. (She was still - shall we say - indignant about that little gem of a suggestion.)

"Paul will tell you more on the way," Jacob added as his hand fell back to his side.

He turned without another word and his gaze found Rennie.

Rennie blinked rapidly and all extraneous thoughts dropped like flies in nitrous oxide. Behind those hooded, luminescent lupine eyes, his mind was racing a million miles per hour and his face had settled into the dark, severe lines of austere and intense determination.

Actually 'intense' was far too frivolous a word.

Every muscle taut and engaged, he strode to her with a deceptively easy gate that seemed to pour his power into each synchronous stride like a slinky going down stairs. His head tipped to one side as his eyes darted up and down her form in overt - and unnerving - assessment.

Rennie was starting to understand just how different this Alpha Jacob really was; he was intimidating… but also magnificent.

In several of those brusque strides, Jacob was before her, his hands reaching out to snake under her jaw with a gentleness that belied that stark expression. Rennie could feel the tense vibration of his strength in his carefully restrained touch. For the first time in these few minutes, Rennie saw the slightest cracks in his severity bleed humanity into his eyes.

Jacob swallowed thickly. "Ren, you gotta stay with Seth," he murmured, his voice instantly softening to intimate with an about-face that gave her whiplash. "No matter what, got that?" His eyes darted between hers as if viscerally trying to burn the mandate in her brain.

Rennie nodded minutely in his firm palms..

Jacob looked into her eyes for a moment longer as Rennie tried to still the fine tremors that shimmered up her body like fissures at his mere proximity. In that moment those huge, strong hands were the only thing that both held her together and on her feet; her body felt like it had had been desiccated to dust inside. It was a sensation that gave her vertigo: nervousness and disconcertion collided with her body's undeniable sensual reaction to his incontrovertible masculinity and dominance.

Her eyes fluttered closed in an attempt to pull herself together.

"Do you have any questions?" he asked quietly, making her eyes pop back open to his veiled concern. She intuitively knew he would offer her no comfort right now nor plead for her trust. At this moment he was neither best friend nor future mate… he was leader. Something that he needed her to realize innately encompassed all of these things rolled into one. Without his reassurances.

She was the Alpha's imprint.

With a subtle lift to her chin, she squared her shoulders. "No," she stated simply. And was surprised to find it wasn't a lie.

A ghost of a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth at her poise and understanding. He was pleased, and it made her feel insanely good to please him.

Jacob pulled her toward him and pressed his lips to her forehead as he drew in a long, grateful breath through his nose that tugged at her hairline.

"Love you," he breathed - barely audible - on his exhale. He instantly released her, turning back to his Pack.

"Again, no one will concern themselves with what Seth, me …" Jacob's voice instantly pitched back to that deep and commanding register. ".. or Paul is doing. Paul answers only to me and will direct Leah. He's 300% dedicated offense." The last word came out like the sound of steel rending.

"Y'mean defense," Rennie whispered, and then clamped her mouth shut with the chagrinned click of teeth. The words had leaked out along with the stress that had flooded back over her soon as Jacob had turned and taken that calking strength with him.

It was quiet enough that he could've ignored it, but Jacob whipped around and Rennie blushed, lowering her gaze.

Mortified, simply mortified.

"Paul doesn't do defense," he chuckled.

Rennie snapped her eyes up at his amused tone. His lips were hitched in a wry grin but there was surprisingly no censure in his dark, glittering eyes. It was clear he was choosing to answer her question for the Pack's benefit.

"And neither do I," he added in a tone that was all silk cloaks and steel daggers. His gaze bored into Rennie's surprise for a moment, punctuating the validity of such an assertion, and then turned back to the Pack. His obdurate and simmering gaze panned poignantly over each of the seven men standing before him like he was assessing both their understanding and resolve. Every last man stoically returned his stare with clenched jaws and squared shoulders like soldiers in some cold war movie.

This was definitely a side of both Jacob and the Pack that she'd never witnessed… or more accurately, she'd perhaps witnessed, but never understood. It made her strangely ashamed: throughout childhood she'd thought of the Pack as nothing more than her playful, raucous brothers that just happened to explode into fur for even more endless and exotic amusement.

Seeing them in this context filled in all the missing pieces in her adult brain - their transformation wasn't about 'fun and fantastical super powers that were handy for impressing little girls,' it was something fierce and solemn. It brought with it a very critical and treacherous duty to their bulky and broad - but still very young - shoulders. In other words, it was some heavy shit.

The world viscerally shifted under her feet and suddenly she saw the endless patrols 365/24/7 as the grueling duty that they were (not simply for the purpose of providing the perfect racing partners on the way to visit Jacob) The reality of just what they'd faced on numerous occasions throughout the years - not only in defense of her own mother and herself back in the day, but every day after - hit her like a sucker punch.

These men were the repositories of an ancient and supernatural inheritance that made them protectors of their people and shackled them inexorably to that legacy. And there was no personal privilege to be gained for the price; they were a secret and none of them were financially comfortable (that was also their inheritance from an inequitable and prejudiced world that they'd never have the luxury to try to escape if they so chose). They'd lost all self determination to a harsh and all-consuming destiny at the moment of adolescence.

And here Rennie had been complaining. Like the spoiled little brat she was realizing she was.

More poignantly, the only thing that these men had to tether them to sanity was the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood (and sisterhood) and love. And her parents were making Jacob (and her) fight for even that.

It wasn't fair.

It was in that moment that Rennie really understood just whose side she was on. And just what that could mean: they would fight to the death for the only thing they had to lose.

Love.

A gentle hand on her shoulder made her look up from under the sober weight of her epiphany. Her breath was rasping harshly in her chest.

Leah stooped down to look into her eyes with kindness and concern. "Offense is just aggressive defense, chica," she whispered quietly, undoubtedly misreading her.

Rennie swallowed and straightened out of her expression. "I trust you," was all she replied. Because she did, and even if she didn't, she owed them the bestowal of her trust. It seemed strange to be standing on the precipice of such a dire situation and feel such certainty. But Jacob was a part of her and she of him - it wasn't even a choice. Well, it was, but Rennie had chosen a long time ago (and was quite pleased with her decision) and she was the kind of girl who didn't look back.

And jumped into anything she did with two feet.

Rennie's jaw tensed with resolve as she subtly pulled away from Leah's hand.

Even if it was a pit of fire.

Her gaze returned determinedly to Jacob.

Her best friend. Her imprint. Her future mate.

At that exact moment, Jacob turned his head slowly and looked over his shoulder, meeting her gaze. His expression was unfathomable …and canny, as if he'd heard her every thought. Or perhaps could see it plainly on her face.

"Come," he said quietly, holding his hand out behind him.

Without a second's hesitation, Rennie strode to his side and took his hand feeling all eyes weighing heavily on her shoulders along with the settling mantle of her own duty and role.

The Alpha's mate.

But his rough, calloused hand in hers was the mooring line of her soul. Strangely, this yoke was so easy and the burden so kind: love. She'd gladly share his load; she loved him.

"Ready?"he asked as he looked down at her beside him. There was a peace and contentment that she'd never seen before in his eyes. If she could put that there even in such troubled times, then indeed, Taha Aki had sure the hell known what he was doing.

"Yes," she breathed as sentiment welled up and overflowed through her tear ducts in prismatic devotion.

A smile softened his lips and he brought his other hand to touch her cheekbone with a gentle middle finger. "Don't worry, Ren," he whispered.

"I'm not worried!" she bit back tartly, annoyed that he'd ruined her big-girl brave moment with his sweet reassurances.

Jacob's face cracked into a comforting and familiar grin at her temper. Then, with a final long look, a dispassionate veil fluttered over his features like a cloak and he turned over his other shoulder.

"PHASE!" he boomed in a voice that rent the overcast skies. And as a heated power viscerally surged behind them like a desert wind, he tugged Rennie into a jog.

They ran hand in hand through the forest ahead of the Pack. A dark grey Wolf came up on Jacob's right and another huge sandy animal loped to her left with a loose, easy stride. There was something primal and poignantly beautiful about the experience: running through the woods at Jacob's side with his Pack flanking them with their powerful lupine majesty.

It would make a great beer commercial, she decided.

No, not beer. Not anymore.

Car commercial, then - that was the other kind of ad that used random histrionic imagery.

See what she had to contend with? These were the sorts of strange things that her crazy-assed mind came up with when it wanted to avoid things like…

Vampires.

The scent wafted through the trees and pulled a whittled flurry of reflexive growls from around her like pencil shavings.

"S'like baybee-baybee-baby ooo," Jacob breathed quietly to his footfall's syncopation, making Rennie's gaze snap up to his face in amused surprise.

"It is the most annoying song known to man," he whispered shrewdly. Jacob didn't look at her but his eye ghosted in a wink at the same time those uneasy rumbles fizzled out into the soft Wolvish pants rising like mist around them.

Ahead, through the trees, was the small meadow - 'the usual place' - nestled up into hills at the edge of Rez lands and on the outskirts of any hunter or hiker's periphery. She could see them already there: eight ghostly white figures standing as still as statues in a line on "their side" of the field in the V-formation of Canadian geese. Gratefully Rennie saw that Nahuel had not come. It was her grandfather's decision (somehow she knew) and it had been a good one; that red herring was the last thing any of them needed.

Carlisle stood at the apex and center with her parents flanking him on either side. Jasper stood behind her father and Esme behind her mother, the others neatly falling into the two dovetailing lines divided oddly by gender.

The sight of her parents brought a conflicting crashing wave of hurtful recoil and childish yearning over her head and Rennie's steps faltered. Jacob's hand squeezed hers comfortingly, as he broke his run.

And then released her hand.

With no more than his brisk nod, the Wolves moved with the smoothness of well-rehearsed choreography. They seemed to slip around her like the Magic Worm Embry had gotten her for her second birthday that did tricks through your fingers with the help of a fishing line. But there were no wires guiding them - just Leah.

Jacob strode forward, Paul at his side as the others shimmied around Rennie -Seth fluently herding her without even a touch - until the Pack had seamlessly filtered around trees separating her from Jacob. As one, with the grace and poise of a ballet troupe of football linebackers, the Wolves surged forward behind their Alpha, tails and heads down.

Rennie glanced up at Seth's sober gaze and reached out a nervous hand. His sandy fur slipped comfortingly under her fingers. With a backward glance, Jacob's hard black eyes swept over them all in clipped assessment before he turned and strode toward the field at a more sedate human pace, his head held high.

When they broke through the tree line, all her family's attention was already trained tensely on her, and her alone. Rennie's gaze swept over them nervously, ending in her mother's anxious honey eyes. Rennie tucked her chin as she swallowed thickly and her fingers feathered deeper into Seth's grounding pelt. Thinking about confronting her family in such an antagonistic setting was far easier than doing it.

Jacob continued in his flowing stride through the grasses, Paul only half a step behind while his muzzle lifted rhythmically from gleaming canines. The Pack crept behind him in a solid, mercurial wall of Wolf leaving Rennie and Seth following in their wake.

Carlisle shifted his stance clasping his hands before him as he painted on an affable smile and Jacob stopped, forty feet from her family. The Wolves behind him instantly folded onto their haunches as one. Shoulders squared he stared wordlessly at her grandfather for several breaths as Seth brought her to a halt at the back of the group. He'd positioned her - purposefully, she realized - on the "female side" of their counterparts. She could see Jacob's profile - hard and severe.

"Good morning, Jacob," her Granpa offered cordially.

Jacob neither replied nor acknowledged that he'd spoken but - holding Carlisle's gaze - he reached into his pocket.

Rennie sucked in a soft breath of anticipation and watched as he...

…Pulled out his phone.

A phone? What an anticlimactic (read: lame) secret weapon! she groused to herself.

Until she realized it had been fished from his right pocket, not his left.

With pointed dispassion, Jacob glanced down at the screen as he pressed the button on the side and waited, eyes fixed on the device. Rennie rolled her eyes in amused exasperation. He'd said 10:48 specifically, hadn't he? Well the bold numbers on the Android phone said 10:47. He was playing a game to annoy them.

And it at worked, at least in the case of her father (not surprisingly). Edward shifted his weight with a huff of vexation. Carlisle merely folded his hands placidly before him, his patient smile never faltering for an instant.

Rennie leaned into Seth's massive side and took the 45 remaining seconds to scan over the faces of her family. Her mother looked like she was struggling not to lunge any second toward Rennie with her trembling anxiety. It must have been an actual possibility because Alice did break from her position and flashed to Bella's side, wrapping her arms around her shoulders. Rosalie rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest as she switched her weight to one saucy hip. Esme just looked worried and painfully out of her element.

Her eyes darted to the other side and the males of the group: her father's face was uncharacteristically twitching, he was so mad, but Jasper - just behind him - seemed to only find the situation amusing (again, not surprising). His lips were hitched up in a smirk at her father's expense: his anger must be rolling off of him in heated waves. Only Emmett looked completely unaffected by any of it. His hulking figure stood at the back of the group, arms loose and easy at his side and lips curved in an open smile as he met Rennie's eyes. He sent her a cheeky wink.

Rennie smiled uncertainly -…

Just then Jacob clicked his phone off and shoved it into his pocket looking back up at the group with absolutely no expression whatsoever.

"Are we radio silent?" he ground out cryptically to Carlisle.

Her grandfather blinked and turned to Bella, but Jacob pointedly didn't follow his gaze.

"Jake, I-" her mother began.

Jacob's gaze didn't waiver from Carlisle; only his clenched jaw indicated she'd spoken. (And that her excuses weren't going to cut it.)

"We didn't realize that was a provisio of this little-" Edward began through gritted teeth.

"Shut the fuck up," Jacob ground out, still refusing to acknowledge anyone but Carlisle with his searing gaze.

Carlisle's hand went out to his side in placation as he turned more fully to his daughter. "Bella, would you be so kind to shield us all?" he requested with a gracious smile.

Bella nodded, glancing at Carlisle and then returning her gaze to Jacob, pleading for recognition with her worried eyes.

Carlisle turned back to the Wolf facing him down. "Thank you, Jacob," he began smoothly. "For initiating this discussion-"

"This isn't a discussion," he bit out crisply, jerking up a harsh staying hand. "First things first…the Treaty's fucking over," he snarled, looking Carlisle dead in the eye. "You are officially at war."

'

So yes - all things considered - she should have seen this coming.

But her family certainly hadn't.

Carlisle's eyes widened in surprise, his lips momentarily parted as if to call back an unspoken response. He quickly recovered, letting an uneasy smile settle back over his features. "Jacob -.."

"Jasper!" Jacob hissed, brazenly turning his disparaging attention to her uncle. "Cut your shit out. I want this thing al fresco. All the cards on the table," he admonished cryptically.

It was only then that Rennie noticed the thick muffling sweetness of thrall that tasted like cotton candy at the back of her mouth. Like the sun burns off the morning mist, his influence receded instantly, and the biting caustic tension jacked up viscerally on the other side of the field.

Rennie's eyes darted fearfully over every last stiff and defensive posture. If Jacob had hoped to yank the rug out from under them, he'd succeeded. Even Emmett now fisted his hands warily at his side.

The Wolves reacted to the changing energy in their foes and stiffened on their haunches which had the effect of ratcheting up the apprehension even higher between the two groups. An anticipant whine leaked from one of the younger Wolves in the line-up as it shifted back and forth anxiously on its haunches. With a snapping growl, Leah quickly put it in its place.

Rennie's hand released its white-knuckled hold in Seth's ruff to twist numbly in her dress as she pulled her lip into her mouth with the unbearable tension. The very fabric of this little secluded steppe under these solemn, heavy skies felt like it was going to pop apart at the seam drawn neatly between the two groups facing each other down.

If it did, things would quickly unravel.

And still Jacob said nothing.

The silence seemed to crescendo into a quivering hum of dread as he stoically faced Carlisle down - leaving the echo of his declaration hanging in the air, winding the anxiety ever tighter like a noose.

Finally he spoke again.

"The only thing keeping you alive right this minute," he crooned, slick and lethal. "…or whatever you are," he added scornfully. "Any and all of you…" His eyes darted first to Bella and then settled on Edward emphatically. "Is her."

With that pronouncement his hand jerked up behind him and his finger unerringly pointed at Rennie without so much as a glance.

What was he doing?

Every last set of vampire eyes turned to her - widened and unsettled - and Rennie felt like she was going to implode. She stilled her hands and made a monumental effort to square her shoulders bravely.

Here was the test.

The test of her trust, of her loyalty, of her strength.

No matter how bad things looked right now, no matter how much she wanted to scream at Jacob or simply run into her mother's arms like a little girl and sob … she needed to stand resolute and firm at Jacob's side.

She needed to trust him.

And, more importantly, she needed to show them that she trusted him too.

Conversely, in that moment, Rennie realized how much Jacob was trusting her. He was betting his entire strategy it on her steadfast devotion and ability to parse through her own conflicted emotions. He hadn't spent hours prepping her for just how she was supposed to act or respond, he'd simply asked her to trust him. And left the rest to her.

No one had ever invested so much faith or sovereignty in her before.

These thoughts injected a new level of steely resolve and determination into her heart and she lifted a pertinacious chin.

Paul burst to his feet beside Jacob then, drawing all attention to his imposing, muscular form as he paced in a mercury slink along the boundary between the two foes. It had the effect of both diluting the tension and cinching it up to a focal point that wasn't her. She breathed a minute sigh of relief.

"Now if you wanna try to renegotiate a little somethin'," Jacob spoke up again, crossing his arms over his chest and drawing all eyes back to him. "I might be feeling generous enough to give it a shot," he cocked his head with an insolent smirk as Paul stopped on the "male side" and crouched down directly in front of Edward and stared intensely at her father.

"BUT, lemme be real fucking clear: there are several things that are gonna straight-up kill ya, no questions asked." He paused for a moment, his eyes boring a hole into her grandfather, completely ignoring all the others.

Carlisle lifted his chin subtly in encouragement.

Jacob's gaze panned over to Edward for the first time. "And if you think I'm bullshitting, you'd be abso-fuckin'-lutely wrong," he hissed low and slick and deadly as his hands fell back to his sides and curled into inadvertent fists that trembled. "I nearly tore out the throat of two of my brothers just for lookin' at her funny. My BROTHERS! So if you think I won't hesitate for a second to do the same to any a' you…you're dead wrong."

Edward returned his stare with eyes that simmered impudently, but he wisely kept his mouth closed.

Having made his point, Jacob went on to others. He crossed his arms again over his chest and returned his gaze to Carlisle.

"One…" he held up a finger off his bicep. "You even think about thinking about Changing her into one of you bloodsuckers again… Your're DEAD," he spat, his every muscle tensing. "Deader," he added with a sneer as his eyes panned over each one pointedly ending pointedly on Jasper. "And one look at how divided you all are over this whole thing tells me just how easy it'd be. We're ready for a fight."

As if on cue - and Rennie suppose it was - there was a subtle growl of confirmation that rumbled the ground under the soles of her feet.

Carlisle swallowed with a curt nod. "We don't want to fight, Jacob. You must know… we'd only discussed it hypothetically," he said carefully. "I'd never condone such a thing. It was mentioned in a fleeting moment of passion," he clarified diplomatically. But the disapproving undertone was not lost on a single one of them on either side. Jacob's glanced to where Edward was standing still as a statue, his flared nostrils the only indication of his furious humiliation at the censure.

"Nice to know, but it's irrelevant," Jacob dismissed with a wave of his hand. But Rennie didn't miss the relief that subtly slackened his posture. Hell, she felt it too.

"Two, three and four, if you stand in her way or try to manipulate what she wants or fuck with her head… you're gonna have to contend with me," he bit out harshly as his searing hatred landed again on Edward like Napalm.

Edward's brow dipped in petulant annoyance. Tilting his face toward Rennie, his incensed eyes finally tore themselves from Jacob to follow after. "Renesmee .. what is it that you want, darling?"

"She's already told you!" Jacob bellowed, his fury overflowing the bounds of his restraint like a flash flood. "Several times!"

Agitated snarls ripped from lupine throats and Paul's posture changed so that he was crouched down closely to the ground, ready for a spring.

"Jacob…" Rennie said quietly.

Jacob whipped around as if she'd called him.

"I want Jacob," she clarified, addressing her father.

Rennie moved to walk forward, but Seth immediately intercepted with his broad body, seemingly out of nowhere. She'd forgotten he was there.

"Seth!" she complained, pushing against his shoulder peevishly. Suddenly the Wolf was moving out of her way, and Rennie looked up to see Jacob finish nodding his permission. Squaring her shoulders, she met Jacob's eyes and crossed toward him - Seth sticking to her side like glue. The line of Wolves shuffled to allow both her and her bodyguard passage.

She stopped at Jacob's side and reached out her hand as she tipped her face up to his. "I want you," she repeated with a quiet conviction.

A smile bled into his stony expression and one of Jacob's big hands slipped to her jaw. Without a word he leaned over and pressed his lips tenderly between her brows for a whole breath. She could feel his heart beat in that kiss.

Pulling back, he stared into her eyes for a moment more and then dropped his hand back to his side.

"Who has a problem with this?" he challenged lowly, turning back to those who faced him mere twenty feet away. His eyes panned over Rennie's family as he held up their clasped hands up between them. "Who has a fucking problem with this? !" he roared.

Rennie's gaze slowly slipped out to her parents, staring at her with conflicting expressions on either side of her grandfather like salt and pepper shakers. Her mother looked like she was trying to smoother her tears…

Her father looked pissed as hell.

Edward's eyes had gone nearly black - Jacob had successfully put him on the defense and her father didn't do well with his back against the wall. His lips lifted minutely from his teeth in displeasure as his gaze slid back up to Jacob. A wave of heat washed over her as Jacob's hand unconsciously clenched hers tighter and his muscles jerked in his arm.

They wanted to kill each other. It was the God's honest truth.

"Dad…" Rennie pled quietly. "Mom…please… don't you remember what it was like?" Jacob's hand was hurting hers now with its fervor, so she wiggled in petition and then slipped it out of his grasp as she stepped more into his side. "Don't you remember? It was like this for you too, right? You wanted to be together but people on both sides thought you were nuts?"

Her gaze darted to her mother beseechingly. Bella's face was crumpled in anguished conflict, her teeth biting her lip to hell as her eyes paced between the Jacob and her. In her mother's honey eyes she could see all the festering confusion of her own unresolved feelings about her past.

Oddly Rennie didn't feel threatened; whether it was she'd never seen Jacob show the slightest interest in her mother or her innate trust in the depth of their relationship or merely a personality quirk, no matter what demons her mom still had to slay, Jacob was hers.

No, she didn't feel threatened, but she felt annoyed as shit.

Rennie wrapped her arm around Jacob's waist possessively as his heavy arm pulled her to his side. "I know you guys are just trying to protect me," she soothed over her own rising frustration. "And I know there's the whole vamp-wolf thing," she laughed nervously, trying to distract her temper with the storybook humor of the whole thing. "I mean it's so Romeo and Juliet." She paused and looked up at Jacob with a grin. "Hey, we're R&J too, huh?"

He smiled down at her (taking her cue to lighten things up) and brought up his other hand with a little twisting motion of his fingers.

"Huh?" she arched a brow humorously.

"Y'know," Jacob smirked, doing the sign again. "The R's the girl in this one and the J's the guy…"

"Dork," she laughed with a roll of her eyes and Jacob squeezed her closer. Their private (and dorky) humor was the perfect antidote to the toxicity of the situation and they each viscerally relaxed against one another.

"But we can rewrite the ending, can't we?" Rennie returned her gaze to her parents. "Can't we just have a happy ending? I want a happy ending!"

Jacob chuckled at her inadvertent stamp of her foot (or maybe it was raunchy humor - she decided she'd be safe and assume it was the foot stamp, but she pinched his side in reprimand anyway).

"And we're gonna make it work. If you guys don't wanna come along for the ride you can just lose me," she tossed her chin petulantly. "But it's not fair that you're messing things up."

"My dove," her father began in a dulcet plea that grated on her nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. "We merely wan-.."

"Look Carlisle," Jacob interrupted her father emphatically and thankfully clipped his retort off before it could gain momentum. He'd returned his attention completely to her grandfather and spoke intensely into his eyes. "You can say Taha Aki is giving us all a chance at redemption…" he paused for a moment poignantly. "Or you can say Mother Nature's telling us to evolve or die. No matter how you look at it, it's the same thing: I know you bloodsuckers suck at change, but you gotta adjust. Period."

Carlisle nodded brusquely and his head turned first to Bella. "Would you become irrelevant to your daughter's life?" he asked quietly.

"No," Bella whispered her honey eyes meeting Rennie's intensely.

Carlisle turned to Edward who wordlessly shook his head as he released a long, slow breath through his teeth.

"As you said," Carlisle returned his gaze to Jacob. "It takes us perhaps more time to adapt to the world around us. And we appreciate your patience," he spoke with a bob of his head.

Jacob nodded once, a clipped efficient movement.

"And we would like to renegotiate the treaty," he continued formally. "With the caveats you've already asserted, of course."

"Nope," Jacob pronounced firmly, popping the 'P.'

Rennie stiffened in surprise as she jerked her face up to see a brassy purse to his lips. Every last being in the field seemed to suck in an unexpected breath (whether they technically needed to or not). Her gaze darted back to Carlisle's blinking bewilderment.

"No?" he asked with a dip to his eyebrow.

"Uhn-uh," Jacob shook his head as he patted Rennie's back and slipped his arm from around her. "There's not gonna be another treaty," he decreed with a cluck of his tongue. "I'm looking for another kinda arrangement."

"I see," Carlisle ventured uneasily.

Without a backwards glance, Jacob strode forward with slow measured steps, making both the Wolves and vampires tense in confusion.

"Jake..?" Rennie called quietly, as Seth seamlessly blocked her from following.

Jacob ignored her.

"I want something better than a treaty. Something permanent," he declared with a little cock to his head as he continued his steady stride toward Carlisle. "I want peace." He paused right at the edge of the invisible boundary that dissected the meadow.

And then he stepped over it.

"And how you answer this next question?" he murmured as he suddenly switched his trajectory toward Edward. "It's gonna tell me whether we're gonna get that, or not," he spoke directly to her father's eyes.

Edward lifted his chin and shifted his weight as Jacob now approached him.

Rennie swallowed thickly as she watched Jacob clasp his hands behind him as he continued his pointedly languid pace toward her father.

He stopped mere feet away from the man.

"Edward," he said quietly, with no preamble. "I'd like to ask for your daughter's hand."

Rennie sucked in an inadvertent breath through her teeth as tsunami of surprise drowned absolutely any coherent thought at all. He… he was…?

Her father hardly looked like he fared any better. His eyes blinked rapidly as his face fell into uncharacteristic patent gaping shock.

Jacob didn't move a muscle, but patiently waited - his back to her - for an outrageously long minute of utter silence. Even the crickets seemed at a loss for words.

"Edward," Bella breathed as she crossed quickly to his side. She grasped his arm, looking up at him. "Edward…"

He blinked again and looked down at his wife. "Edward, please," she begged simply. "He's not my Jacob anymore. He never was."

Edward's eyes washed over her for a moment and a hand came up to her cheek for a moment. Leaning over, he pressed his lips to her forehead. "Darling," he whispered against her hair.

Her father's eyes darted across the field, to meet Rennie's. She nodded with a hesitant but hopeful smile.

Edward painted on a saccharine grin and returned his attention to the Wolf before him. "I'm still waiting for the question," he crooned spuriously.

"Gah," Jacob groaned in annoyance. It was childish: her father's last little defiance. Jacob crossed his arms over his chest peevishly. "Edward," he said again, a cocky edge to his voice. "Can I have your daughter's hand?" 'Motherfucker' was left off the end but implied.

"Your ham-handed attempt at decorum is charming," he smirked with an arrogant lift to his chin. "If she'll have you, mutt," he hissed through his teeth. "I suppose I must consent."

Rennie wished she could see Jacob's face.

But in the next second she got that wish. He whipped around and his triumphant eyes zeroed in on hers immediately without a trace of annoyance at her father's asininity. Rennie couldn't help her face-cracking smile. Eyes locked, he crossed back toward her and she took two steps…

Into Seth's stubborn side.

"Damn it Seth!" she complained in a frustrated shriek as she slapped his sandy pelt.

Jacob's chuckles made her go up on tiptoes to peer over the hulking Wolf's shoulder.

"You did good, Seth," Jacob jerked his chin in dismissal. With a smug huff, the wolf crept back onto acquiescing haunches.

Her smile broadening, she jogged the few yards to meet Jacob halfway. When she would have thrown her arms ebulliently around him, he caught each of her hands in his and squeezed them tightly in a less than effusive emotional display.

Rennie didn't care.

"You did it!" she gasped happily under her breath.

His soft, warm, Jacob-eyes smiled back at her like a sunrise. "Now the terms of this thing are up to you," he wiggled his brows.

Rennie's relief burst free in an ecstatic giggle.

"So I got two questions," he informed her, his smile slowly slipping from his lips to sparkle in his eyes.

"Yeah?" she laughed swinging their hands happily between them -there was no one else in the world but him in that moment.

Jacob paused as his eyes darted between hers, making Rennie blink worriedly.

And then he folded gracefully down to both knees.

Rennie's heart simply stopped. Right there. Dead in her chest. The smile dropped from her lips to hit the pit of her stomach like lead.

The expression on her face must have been pretty funny because Jacob barked a laugh and she pursed her lips in annoyance with a flare of her nostrils.

Smothering his grin, he brought her hands to his chest, pulling her forward a step and looking intently into her eyes now at his level.

"Renesmee Carlie Cullen," he whispered, slow and steady and sincere around his smile. "Will you marry me?"

The world seemed to tilt on its axis. Her adrenaline from the meeting seemed to coalesce with those anticipated words into a suffocating high that inflated her heart and knocked it from zero to sixty in a sprint. She swayed on her feet, but steadied herself against Jacob's strong hands. She could feel his own heartbeat soaring under her knuckles against his chest.

Jacob raised his brow questioningly and she suddenly realized she hadn't answered. She was just gaping at him like a slack-jawed fool.

She blinked happily and as her euphoria curved her lips and her heart settled back into a steady but exuberant rhythm.

"Yeah Jay," she breathed. "I will," she fell against him, her lips searching vainly for his.

But he held her back.

Laughing at her frustrated frown, he captured both hands in one of his and his left hand slipped down to his left pocket.

"You sneaky bastard," she grumbled.

He grinned unrepentantly as he fished the ring out of his pocket and held it up to her while she glared her pleasure.

"It's nothing fancy," he murmured as he brought the ring up between them.

Rennie sucked in a breath of pure awe: a simple, thick circlet of silver whose delicate inlaid panes of turquoise stone crackled with black lightning around its circumference.

"It's perfect," she gasped. Because it was.

"It was my mom's," he whispered as his eyes darted down to the ring that was dwarfed by his big fingers.

"Oh, Jay," she sighed breathlessly. "That's so special."

He looked up and met her gaze with eyes that shone: with elation, with hope… with unfathomable love.

Rennie smiled and tugged her left hand out of his fist and splayed out her fingers in petition. Eyes locked, right hands clasped, he unerringly slipped it over the tip of her ring finger.

Blinking, he looked down. "It's a little big," he frowned.

Rennie's smile widened and she pertly pulled her hand away and poked her index fingertip through.

Grinning, he slid it into place: a perfect fit.

"See? Perfect," she chided, as she wiggled her finger experimentally.

Jacob gazed at the ring on her hand for a moment and then looked back into her eyes. "You're mine," he whispered.

"Always was," she breathed, getting lost in the endless depths of his soul, held out openly in his gaze.

Jacob's fingers reached up to ghost over her cheekbone in an endearingly breathless wonder.

"Can you kiss me already, Jay?" she smiled.

And suddenly she was being drawn into his warm, strong arms, off her feet, into his chest and his silky ecstatic lips were crashing into her own. Rennie threw her arms around his neck and kissed him back with everything she had. And then some.

A deafening tide of howls exploded around them like a dam had suddenly burst and Rennie ripped her lips away in shock. She'd totally forgotten where she was.

"C'mere," Jacob growled, as he tenaciously leaned in and captured her mouth once again.

And he kissed her senseless to the backdrop of celebratory lupine cries that twisted ecstatically in the overcast afternoon. Rennie smiled against Jacob's demanding lips and squeezed him covetously as he grunted his rapture into her mouth.

Gasping, he broke the kiss and pulled back, his sparkling eyes darting possessively over her face.

Rennie raked one hand through his hair affectionately. "Love you, Jacob," she murmured.

His eyes landed soundly in hers as he beamed. "Love you more," he taunted.

"Nuh-unh!" Rennie complained, pinching his ear in reprimand.

He chuckled but reluctantly let her slip down to her feet. Rennie scowled her displeasure but he winked. "Gotta let your fam ratify this accord," he quipped with an impish raise to his brow.

Rennie rolled her eyes but let him go, turning her attention from their little bubble for the first time. The Wolves were pacing with restless buoyancy around the field and loosing intermittent celebratory barks and howls while several of them gamboled their energy in playful tussles. The vampires, in contrast, had all congealed into their respective couples and were watching the two of them with sappy smiles like four matching sets of garden gnomes.

Her family. The whole crazy furry, sparkly lot of them.

Glancing up happily at Jacob, Rennie pulled away and ran into her parents' arms.

"Mom... dad," Rennie sighed as her mother enfolded her into her cool, marble shoulder and father embraced them both in long arms.

"Baby, I'm sorry," Bella whispered into her ear.

Rennie squeezed her eyes closed as she shook her head furiously. She didn't want to sour the moment with regret, resentment or annoyance. And there was still plenty of that to go around on both sides no doubt.

"Are you happy, dove?" her father asked quietly.

Rennie pulled her face from her mother's shoulder and turned to face him, still caged in both their arms. "No, Dad. I'm ecstatic," she asserted emphatically with an unfettered joy. "Totally blissed out."

Her father's lips curved in his crooked smile. "I'm glad," he murmured, smoothing a hand over her hair.

Rennie pulled her arm from around her mother and showed them the ring proudly, nestled on her index finger like a little slice of heaven. It wasn't shiny or flashy, but that the small scratches and nicks were from his mother's hand made it a gazillion carats of perfection. It was just like Jacob and her relationship: sublime, comfortable, earthy… hers.

"It's beautiful, honey," Bella smiled.

Rennie nodded and her gaze panned past her father's subdued appreciation (she didn't care that Jacob would never be able to please him) to Alice who was bouncing in Jasper's arms beside them.

"Ness!" she squealed happily, obviously about to burst out of her skin.

"Rennie," Jasper corrected quietly behind her as she disengaged herself from her parents' embrace and threw herself into her auntie's arms. She didn't care what they called her now; she was truly finding herself inside and names didn't change that a bit.

"Can I plan the wedding?" Alice asked hopefully, her voice quivering in excitement.

Rennie grinned at Jasper's eye-roll over Alice's shoulder. "We can plan it together, Auntie," Rennie capitulated. There'd be time later to figure out how she was going to rein in her aunt's enthusiasm.

"We can have an 'eco-wedding' - everything handmade and local," she gushed pulling back and looking into Rennie's eyes with her eagerness. But it showed a thoughtful attempt at a novel respect and… and a potentially pleasant wedding at that.

Rennie's brows raised in appreciative surprise. "Hey, yeah! That sounds awesome," she agreed.

"There'll be time for all that later, darlin'," Jasper chuckled to his wife as he pulled Rennie into his arms. "Congratulations, sweetheart," he murmured into her hair as he squeezed her cherishingly.

"Thanks Uncle Jaz," Rennie sighed happily, relaxing against him.

"Give 'er up Jizz!" Emmett guffawed as he tore Rennie out of her uncle's arms and blithely tossed her up ten feet in the air and then caught her in fluent hands. "Congrats girl!" he rumbled as he squooshed her into a bear hug against his huge, solid chest while Rennie giggled.

"So if you're marrying a dog…" Rosalie sniped humorously as she demanded Rennie from her mate's arms. "What'uz it make you?"

Rennie grinned saucily up into her aunts snide smile. "A bitch like you, Auntie!"

Rosalie laughed and hugged her warmly. "Aww…I'm so proud," she crooned.

Rennie turned out of her aunt's embrace to find her grandparents smiling kindly at her. She stepped into Esme's motherly embrace.

"I'm so happy for your darling," she whispered.

"Thanks, Granma," Rennie beamed as she turned into her grandfather's serene arms.

He pulled back with fond eyes and pinched her chin wordlessly.

Carlisle looked up past her. "Jacob, you're a wise man. The institution of family is certainly an unbreakable covenant between us," he murmured, wrapping his arm around Rennie's shoulders.

Rennie turned to look up at Jacob standing just outside the knot of her family with his hands shoved into his pockets. He just smiled.

With a glance to her grandfather, she extricated herself and walked to him as the others seamlessly parted. With a contented sigh, she threw her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek lovingly to his chest over the magnificent sound of his stalwart beating heart.

"But Eddie, if you ever call me 'son,'" Jacob advised in a rumble under her cheek. "Lemme warn you, it ain't gonna be pretty."

Rennie's face jerked up to see him smirking at her father.

"The thought never crossed my mind, mutt," Edward assured him with a nefarious grin.

Rennie rolled her eyes as she playfully slapped Jacob's pec. Well some things never changed, but she could live with her father and her mate's innate animosity as long as they didn't kill each other in the process. It was the traditional curse between a husband and father-in-law after all.

"My wife grows weary from using her shielding," her father announced as he wrapped his arms around Bella. "Can you ask your puppies to desist with that beastly ballad?"

Jacob snickered. "What? You don't like the Beebs?" he goaded while Rennie just grinned.

"Kay guys! Head out!" Jacob called over his shoulder to the Pack which was becoming increasingly rambunctious behind them.

"Mom, Dad…" Rennie turned in Jacob's embrace. "I wanna go tell Billy and Pappy, but I'll be over later tonight?"

"Both of you?" Bella's gaze darted between them.

Rennie glanced up at Jacob questioningly.

"Yup," he grinned. "So you'd better get cookin' up a storm, Bells. I'm starving."

"When are you not?" she smiled. And Rennie realized in that moment that she hadn't seen her mother really smile at Jacob for a very long time. Maybe - just maybe - things were going to work out okay after all.

Jacob pressed a kiss to the top of her head as her family began to leave.

"You really are my fiancé now, huh?" Rennie sighed happily as she tilted her head up against his chest and gazed up at him.

"Mm hmm," he hummed as he dipped down to place a smacking kiss on her nose. "Got the ring to prove it."

Rennie blinked as a thought came to her. "Hey, what was the other question you were gonna ask? You said two things…" she pulled away with a confused furrow to her brow.

"Oh yeah," Jacob turned her around with warm, relishing hands on her shoulders. His eyes sparkled as his lips hitched up in that roguish smile of his that made her stomach all fluttery. "Hey Ren… you wanna go on a date?"

"Bah," Rennie snorted, slipping her arms up to loosely wrap around his neck.

"I'm serious!" he pressed with a mischievous grin. "It's part of your education. We still got a lot of ground to cover before the Final."

"I'm a very gifted student…" Rennie gave him a sly smile.

"Oh, I know you are chica," he murmured lowly with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle as he leaned down slowly for a kiss. "That's what makes studying so fun."

'

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Hope you enjoyed the ride.

As always, thanks so much for reading and hope I was able to entertain you for a while.