Early Update numero dos! This is for Maple and Annie!
Thank you Iris, Nic and Nin, y'all are the best Beta and Prereaders a girl could ask for! And my readers are super wonderful as well! Ready?
"Since when do you enjoy muddin'?" His voice is a low hiss in my ear. "Maybe since the last time you decided to stop talking to me. People change."
"Yeah, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they stay exactly the same." What the hell's that supposed to mean? My brows furrow, and I try to reign in the anger in my voice when I ask, "What are you talking about, Edward?"
His lip curls into a sneer, and he replies, "I'm just saying that you're the same, selfish little girl you've always been." A smirk plays across his lips before he adds, "You know, only thinking about yourself?" I'm not going to lie; that hurt. I see a flicker of emotion flit through his eyes, and his smirk falters before he recovers the veneer of arrogance.
"Yeah? And you're a fucking asshole, which is a new development!" My palms meet his shoulders with all the strength I can manage, making him stumble back a few steps before catching his balance. He looks stunned and a little worried as to what I'm going to do next.
I surprise us both by keeping a calm, even keel. My hands rest on my hips and I look to the ground while I try to come up with something to say to diffuse the situation. "Why are you being like this? After everything that happened Saturday night, you really want to revert back to pushing buttons and calling names?"
If I'm being the voice of reason here, then something's definitely wrong. Something's happened in two days' time, but I can't come up with anything that would make him act like this. He looks contemplative, like he's judging how fast he can bolt by me and get to his 4Runner.
We're staring each other down when Chase and Emmett pass us on their way to the lot. "Whaddya two doin' over there… all alone?" Emmett teasingly calls out in a sing-song voice. Chase's gleeful smile disappears.
They walk over and join us behind the truck. Chase slides in as close as he can get to me. And this is why using people comes back to bite you in the ass. Edward stands across from us with his arms crossed over his broad chest, looking slightly menacing. The tension of the situation seems to be lost on Emmett as he starts talking about his day. Apparently, Crowley decided to streak into the pond that lies in the middle of Sutton's vacation rentals.
He's trying to reenact what Crowley looked like running out of the pond by letting his arm hang between his legs, demonstrating Crowley's dong swinging as he tried to chase Jake down and wrestle him for the clothing.
Not getting the laughs he expected, Emmett stops his impersonation and quickly takes stock of the situation around him. Aside from my apprehension, it's just Edward and Chase squared off, looking like they're ready to brawl. Emmett hedges his way over and, with a serious tone, asks what's going on.
Edward answers before either Chase or I can think of anything to say. "We were just discussing Bella's new love of muddin' and how her good friend Chase has offered to take her on Saturday. And since there's a group going, I figured we could go, too, since we're all friends." He does a finger movement between himself and Emmett to convey who the "we" is in this scenario.
Emmett's eyes widen, and his mouth opens into a huge, face-splitting grin. "Hell yeah! Rosie and I haven't been muddin in forever!" Again, Emmett seems oblivious to the barely controlled rage that's simmering beneath Edward's skin. "Good. Then it's all settled. Good friends having some friendly fun!" Edward spits out before stomping away.
The next few days sail by with no interaction between me and Edward. The distance he put between us on the first day feels like it's tripled since then. I haven't texted or called him, but I've gotten calls in the middle of the night for the past two nights. Both times, the phone flashed "Unknown Caller,"and I answered it anyway. He didn't say anything either time, but I know it was him.
Chase calls me shortly after noon on Saturday, and we decide to get a bite to eat before trekking up to Black Camp Gap. Given the plans we have for the rest of the afternoon, something casual seems to be in order. Zaxby's is on the way, and fried chicken sounds amazing.
"Thank you for coming with me today, Bella." His hand reaches across the table between us. It looks like he's about to try and hold my hand before he thinks better of it and pulls back. "I'm actually excited. I've never done this before." We drive through Maggie Valley and take a left turn onto an unmarked side road. Chase drives a lifted Jeep Wrangler with mud tires, and it bounces us up the side of the mountain. His seatbelts are racing harnesses that keep us strapped down and firmly in place.
The side road turns from pavement to gravel, becoming narrower and more inclined the farther up we go. The sun's high in the sky and breaking through the trees, making it more difficult for me to peer out the window at the drop-off along the side of the road. I have no idea how this is even considered a road. It's little more than a path, with no possibility of another car passing us in the opposite direction.
My nerves are frazzled when we finally crest the top of the mountain. The trees have opened up, and in front of us is a giant mud pit. Farther back, there's a trail leading into the woods. Rocks of varying sizes dot the inside of the pit, making traversing it exponentially more difficult.
Edward's 4Runner is off to the right, and Emmett's FJ Cruiser is turned so they can talk with their windows down. There are people I don't recognize in the beds of a couple of jacked-up trucks. "Who are they?" I ask, wondering if Chase invited them or if they're just randoms.
"Looks like Jake and Embry Call. Embry works for Jasper every now and then, too. He's married to Jake's sister, Leah."
I assumed we'd pull over to where the others are parked, but Chase has a different idea. "Hang on!" he yells out over the sound of the engine as he guns it and slings us away from the others. The jeep jerks us forward and slides through the mud when he brakes and wrenches the wheel back to the right. He stomps on the gas again, and we head to the other side of the pit, passing Edward and Emmett on the way. Mud slings up onto the windows and over the hood while I'm gripping the sides of my seat for dear life.
When we get to the other side, he turns us back in the direction we came and slows down once we've gotten back to Emmett and Edward. Slamming the brakes, we slide to a stop in front of their SUVs, and holy shit was that fun! My heart's pounding, but the adrenaline rush is giving me such a high right now! Chase turns to me and asks, "How was that?" I can't contain my excitement as laughter bubbles out of my throat.
"Oh, my God. That was awesome! Let's do it again!" For a second, I focus only on what this elation feels like: freedom. It's been so long since I've felt this light. Chase gives me a smirk and rolls down my window to talk with Edward and Emmett.
"Are we doing this or what?" Edward snarks. Emmett just shakes his head, and says he'll lead before starting the FJ and pulling out. Chase jumps in front of Edward, and Jake and Embry bring up the rear. We're in a line and drive through the middle of the pit, heading for the trail in the back. We scale the rocks in the middle of the pit, and every part of my body's clenched tight.
I'm expecting us to topple over at any minute, but Chase keeps us on course with a shit-eating grin plastered on his face as we follow in Emmett's tracks. The trail we're driving down doesn't have a clear path, so we're just making our own way deeper into the woods. Upturned tree trunks lie in the road next to broken branches and boulders.
We're able to clamber over any obstacle that comes our way until we come to a gigantic tree across the center of our made-for-us road. Emmett pulls over to the right, coming to a stop in front of the downed trunk. Chase pulls alongside and rolls my window down to talk with him.
"I'm pretty sure this is the end of the line." Emmett looks saddened by this revelation. Looking past him, I see Rose in the FJ watching the conversation. I throw my hand up and wave to her. I get a friendly "Hey!" in return. Decked out in Real Tree, she looks like a camo cheerleader.
"I think I've got this." Chase's rebuttal is infused with confidence as a skeptical-looking Emmett eyes the tree and then Chase. "I don't know, man."
"Are we heading back?" Edward's voice comes from behind my right shoulder as he walks up to stand beside Emmett.
"I'm not stopping now. I know I can get across." His eyebrows rise while nodding in the affirmative. Edward's head swings to his right, takes in the sight of the tree, and then looks back at Chase with a sinister smile.
"Absolutely. You can definitely make it." His words sound agreeable, but his expression and body language are off. Emmett looks at Edward like he's off his rocker.
"Dude, I don't think−" Edward's arm flies out and lands on Emmett's shoulder, interrupting his train of thought.
"Nah. Let him do it." The two of them have a silent conversation before Chase puts the jeep in gear and we inch forward. The tree trunk looks to be about as high as the tires, and I honestly have no idea what he's thinking. There's no way we're getting across it; there's a very high probability we'll get stuck.
The jeep rocks forward and then back as Chase presses the accelerator down. The second time, the tires roll onto the log, and he pushes the pedal even harder, making the jeep sound like it's growling as it tries to heave us over the downed tree. We make it another few inches before he stomps his foot down even harder and we're catapulted forward. Both tires leave the ground and are in traction with bark.
For a moment, I'm shocked he's actually done it and slightly relieved for it to be over. My relief only lasts a second, because we're suddenly jerked to a stop, the tires still spinning. The straps of the harness dig into my shoulders and hips while it tightens enough to take my breath away. Chase looks confused and tries to solve the problem by giving it more gas.
The tires continue to spin, but we're not going anywhere. We're stuck. On top of a tree. And I'm beginning to panic, because I can't move. Outside, I can hear Emmett loudly exclaim, "Damn it! I told you! Now he's fucking stuck!" Chase is still trying to drive us out of the situation but isn't having any luck. This is about all I can take. I have to get out before I completely panic. I can't handle being confined like this.
My fingers claw at the fastenings of the harness, and I'm guessing the shaking of my hands clues Chase into my distress. He reaches over, and with the flick of his wrist, I'm free. "Are you okay, Bella?" He sounds worried.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. I guess I can't take being tied down. That doesn't really bode well for an adventurous sex life, huh?" It's past my lips and out of my mouth before I can catch it. The anxious look on Chase's face is replaced with a smirk.
"Just because you can't be tied up doesn't mean your partner can't be." The tone of his voice is playful, and I know he's just trying to distract me. I roll my eyes but give in to the grin that's climbing my face. "Seriously, are you all right?" His hand has travelled down my arm and is resting on top of mine. Noting how strange the rough and tanned skin looks next to mine, I tell him I'm fine.
Edward and Emmett's voices carry inside the jeep, and I can hear one of them climbing onto the trunk. Worried green eyes peer inside before narrowing at the sight of Chase's hands in my lap.
"Wow. Guess I was wrong. You know what? I'll take Bella back with me, and we'll go get a tow truck to come and pry you off this thing, okay?" Edward doesn't sound at all sorry as he's opening my door. Before I've even agreed to go with him, he's grabbing my hand to pull me out.
As much as I don't want to go with Edward, getting out of the jeep doesn't sound like a bad idea. I think I've had my fill of mudding for one day. Tearing my hand out of Edward's grasp, I tell him with wide eyes and clenched teeth to stop being a dick. Over my shoulder, Chase looks like someone just kicked his puppy.
"Is it okay if I go with Edward? I'm feeling kinda claustrophobic, and getting back down to regular terrain sounds sort of appealing." I make sure to add Bambi eyes and a shoulder shrug in hopes it'll soften the blow. Reaching out, I take his hand in my left and give it a little squeeze.
"I really had fun, Chase. Give me a call, and we can do dinner or something soon, okay?" I mean every word. I like him a lot… as a friend. He seems appeased by this and nods his agreement. "I'd like that a lot, Bella."
Turning back to my right, I look out over the side of the jeep and place my feet on the edge. I'm trying to figure out the best way down when I look over to see Edward staring into the trees while his fists are jammed into his pockets. He notices me about the same time and quickly strides over to me.
Reverting into the decent human being I know he is, he works his way between my knees and holds my hips with both hands. "Hop up and I'll catch you." His voice is deep and low, but I feel the words wrap around me just like his arms do once I've jumped from my seat.
My heart double beats, feeling the warmth of his body through his shirt while clutching me against his chest. I slowly slide down until my feet make contact with the ground, lingering for a few inappropriately long seconds. My head gets foggy when he talks like that or touches me. Once I take a step away from him, everything surrounding us comes back into focus and I remember we're not alone.
Jake, Emmett, and who I am assuming is Embry are standing a little farther back, appraising the situation. "Bella got a little scared, so I'm going to take her back down and send a tow truck up to get him out." Edward thumbs in Chase's direction. My lips purse against my will, and I shoot him a withering glare. Sure. That's why you dragged me out of the jeep: because I'm scared.
"Is this your first time?" Emmett questions in disbelief. "Yep," I reply. "This just wasn't my scene in high school." I spent too much time dreaming about getting away from here to embrace any of the recreational activities most people participated in.
"Before Chase tried to be Superman, were you having a good time at least?" Emmett's question is innocent enough, but I feel Edward's eyes burning a hole into the side of my head, awaiting my answer. "I liked sliding through the mud. It was unexpectedly fun."
"Niiiiice. I love going out with first-timers." He matches me grin for grin before a throat clearing gets my attention. "Bella, you ready?" Edward asks, though he really isn't asking. I say goodbye to the guys and stop by Emmett's FJ to tell Rose goodbye, as well. Then I walk over to Edward's 4Runner.
Before I can attempt to climb into the SUV, I feel fingers slide under the edge of my shirt and dip below the waistband of my jeans. His hands are splayed out underneath my clothes, making goosebumps erupt throughout my entire body, while he swiftly lifts me, drops me into the seat, and then closes the door behind him.