5. Title: She Wasn't on the Menu at Waffle House

6. Summary: Who could have guessed a stop for breakfast would impact so many lives? Life is full of funny twists and turns. Whether it's scattered and smothered, smothered and covered, or even covered, chunked, and topped, you just might find your destiny at Waffle House.

7. Pairing: Jasper/Bella/Peter

8. Rating: M

9. Word Count: (Google doc) 12,831

10. DISCLAIMER: Twilight and its inclusive material is copyright to Stephenie Meyer. Original creation, including but not limited to plot and characters, is copyright to the respective authors of each story. No copyright infringement is intended.

She Wasn't on the Menu at Waffle House

"Alice." Jasper gritted his teeth so hard he felt like he might break his own jaw as he stared out the bedroom windows into the forest, wishing he were anywhere but where he stood. "Back before Christmas, we talked about me going to check up on Peter at his place in Arizona, and now you're havin' visions of trouble and telling me not to go. What's this about?"

Alice sat in silence smelling a long-stemmed rose, a playful moue on her lips.

"I haven't gone to visit him since Charlotte left in '77." The break-up had been hard on Peter. It changed him. He had withdrawn into himself, and even Jasper couldn't break through his friend's sorrow. In fact, Peter never had told him the reason Charlotte left. He figured he'd tell him eventually after his heart had time to heal.

"Peter could always come to visit you here." Alice's voice rang with the sound of tinkling yet taunting bells.

Jasper scoffed, "The Cullens haven't exactly rolled out the red carpet in welcome."

"You know how I feel about Peter." The moue twisted into a scowl. "He's not good for your control. He's against our way of life and a bad influence."

Jasper leaned his forehead against the glass, wondering if he, too, was against the Cullen's way of life. He was sure he would be if it included fifty more long years of going to high school over and over and over again. "I know what this is about. You want to go to the dance. Don't we spend enough time pretendin' to be teenagers?"

"But, Jazzy," the diminutive girl whined from her place in the center of the large bed. Legs curled to the side, she twirled the rose between her fingers, before bringing it to her nose for another delicate sniff. "You bought me the rose, of course you're going to take me to the dance. I saw we would have so much fun!"

Jasper couldn't suppress the cringe at the unwelcome nickname. He'd even told her some years back he wasn't fond of it, but that only seemed to encourage its use. The more she did it, the more he disliked it. He let out a world weary sigh. "Alice, I always buy at least one of whatever the school is sellin' in their fundraisers, and who else would I give it to?"

"Oh, I don't know." A spark of jealousy lit her darkening eyes. "Who did you give the other dozen roses you bought to?"

A sly smile spread across his handsome face. "You didn't see that? Emmett and I bought 'em and had 'em delivered to our beloved little brother Edward one-by-one." His low chuckle filled the room.

"It's not funny!" Her hand came down on the pale pink, ruffled comforter so fast, she crushed the rose stem, and petals went flying into the air. "Edward was so embarrassed."

"Not funny? It was hilarious. We only bought the first dozen. By the end of the day, he had enough flowers to open his own shop."

She sniffed and turned her back to him. "You shouldn't be so cruel. All day long, everywhere he went, the flower committee kids were walking up to him and handing him roses. It was humiliating. You feel everyone's feelings. You should know that. He has no one and—"

Jasper spun around to face her. "And that's my fault? Everyone loves Edward! All he's gotta do is pick someone, and he's got himself a special little friend. Loneliness solved." He crossed his arms over his chest. "And we can't forget about the Denali girls. Any one of them would—"

"And did you choose your special little friend from the girls, or boys, who sent you flowers?" Alice glared at him through narrowed eyes.

Surprised, Jasper took a step back. Alice's jealousy was palpable. "You didn't send them?"

Her jealousy quickly morphed into a flash of triumph. "Of course, not." She demurely looked down and smoothed the fabric of her skirt. "It's your job to romance me, not the other way around. So you don't know who sent them?"

"No. I thought you—"

"Okay!" Clapping her hands together, she looked up and smiled brilliantly at him. "I already have the perfect outfits picked out for Valentine's Day at school and for the dance. The corsage you're going to buy for me will be so cute!"

She jumped off the bed and dashed toward her closet, flinging open the door. "For the dance, your shirt and tie will match my dress." She disappeared inside and soon reappeared, holding up a shirt in one hand and a floral print dress in the other. "You can't see my dress for the dance yet. I want it to be a surprise! But I'll wear this dress on Valentine's Day, and you'll wear this shirt." She studied the pale blue oxford with a slight frown. "Maybe the grey one would go with the grey slacks better. No matter! The tie I picked out matches my dress perfectly! We'll have to come straight home from school that day so I'll have time to get ready, and I'm sure Rosalie will ask me to help with her hair." She darted back into the closet. "We're going to have so much fun! Now make sure you remember to hide your accent. It was getting pretty thick today."

She was in the doorway holding up another shirt. "You'll wear this one. You'll need to hunt to make sure there are no incidents, but you'll have to hurry back to take a shower and let me fix your hair and—"

"No."

"And so I can … what?" Astonished, her head snapped up, eyes and mouth wide. "What did you say?"

"I said 'no' Alice. I realize you've never had to deal with it before." He stood in the middle of the room, one thumb hooked in the waistband of the slacks Alice had chosen for him that morning. He was supposed to take Edward's, and everyone else's, feelings under consideration, but no one ever gave a thought to his. He'd been with Alice and the Cullens for decades—tempering their moods, keeping the peace, and not letting the youthful humans' rollercoaster emotions overtake him at the latest school they wanted to go to, and he was supposed to be considerate of Edward's feelings because Alice said so?

"I ain't wearin' the shirt. I ain't wearin' the slacks." He tore them from his own body and dropped them to the floor like trash. "I ain't even gonna buy you a super cute corsage."

Alice blanched at the sight of the scars criss-crossing his chest and arms, and flinched as if she'd been struck each time he repeated the word "ain't" and with every dropped "g."

"Ya wanna know why I ain't doin' any of that? Cause I'm goin to Pete's."

~0~0~0~

The quietly hissed heated words of an argument drifted down the stairs to the living room.

Carlisle lowered his newspaper and his eyebrows drew together in concern as he looked over to his wife seated at the other end of the couch, the latest Architectural Digest in her hands.

Worry clearly written across her face, her gaze met his. "Fighting again."

"What can we do to help them?" Carlisle asked.

Rosalie snuggled into Emmett's side on the loveseat, and he paused the movie they were watching. "Help them? Whose bright idea was it to send a war veteran to high school?" Before Carlisle could draw breath to answer, Emmett continued. "I'll tell ya whose idea it was. Edward's, that's who."

"Now, Emmett," Esme chastised the large vampire. "Edward would never say it, but you know he's terribly lonely, and—"

"Never say it?" The stunning blonde interrupted, lifting her husband's arm from around her shoulders. "When does he stop saying it? Oh, I'm so lonely." She wagged her head from side to side as she mimicked her brother. "My life is like a moonless night," she lamented, gesturing with a flourish. She stood and clasped her hands in front of her chest. "I'm constantly surrounded by loving couples, and I have no one. I am a monster, and I'll never have anyone because who could love one such as I?" She leaned back and touched the back of her wrist to her forehead as she closed her eyes and whimpered plaintively. She then stared up at the ceiling and huffed loudly. "My God, he's a bigger drama queen than ten Lauren Mallorys."

"Rosalie!" Esme lowered her magazine. "Edward could be back from hunting any moment, and he could hear you!"

Emmett snorted derisively. "The pipsqueak never stays out of our heads, so it's not like he doesn't already know what we think."

"I thought you loved your brother, Emmett." Carlisle set his paper aside.

"I do, but it doesn't mean I don't see what's going on. He doesn't really look old enough to get a job anywhere but at McDonald's, or even to go to college, so we all get roped into going to high school over and over, so he won't be lonely. The Valentine dance is coming up, and it's got his underwear in a wad." Emmett scratched at his head. "Is it any wonder Jasper would get antsy and want to get out of here? Between Edward and the four hundred moonie-eyed teenagers at Forks High …"

"But he offered to go." Esme placed her magazine on the end table and leaned forward.

Rosalie ran her fingers through her hair and let out a long, exasperated sigh. "He's only doing it for Alice. She can't get enough of the high school scene. She loves showing off her clothes and shoes, and making all the other girls envious. She lives for it. And people think I'm vain. He really can't stand it." Her eyebrows drew together in consternation. "She's probably trying to make him go to the dance. I'm sure she's seen they have a wonderful time."

Emmett joined his wife, taking her in his arms and waltzing across the wide expanse of cream carpet. "Jasper's nearly as good a dancer as I am." He took her hand, spun her away, and pulled her back to his broad chest, Rosalie giggling the whole time. "Right, babe?"

"You're my Fred Astaire." She fluttered her eyelashes at him. "But getting back on topic … Jasper wanted to take a few days and go visit his friend Peter, and Alice is planning color coordinated outfits for the dance."

"Well, she can forget about any dancin', color coordinated or not, because I ain't goin'," Jasper announced, alerting them to his presence on the stairs.

Startled, all four family members watched him walk across the room.

A gleeful smile brightened Emmett's face. "Dude, I haven't seen you in blue jeans and a T-shirt for—"

"Too," Jasper replied, setting down a stuffed duffle bag and opening the coat closet.

"Two?" Rosalie asked. "Two what?"

"Too long," he drawled as he rummaged around inside, mumbling to himself. "Ya know, once upon a time, I had a … here it is."

He pulled out a denim coat with a red buffalo plaid lining. After slipping it on, he adjusted the corduroy collar and patted the pockets. "Thanks for keepin' this for me, Esme."

"Of course, Jasper. I would never discard anything of yours."

"Unlike some people," Rosalie added with a slight sneer before addressing her blond brother with approval. "I take it you're not going to join us at the dance," she commented sweetly, still enveloped in her husband's arms.

"That would be a no."

Emmett lowered his dance partner in a dip and kissed the point of her chin before righting her and stepping into another slow spin. "Taking a little trip instead?"

"Don't mind me. Y'all just keep dancin', and yes, I am. It's been a while since I checked in with Peter. It's time."

Carlisle set his paper down on the coffee table and stood. "You're leaving us?"

Esme tucked herself into her husband's side. "When will you be back?"

"I'm not sure." He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his vibrating phone. "We'll see how it goes." Upon reading the screen, his face lit up. "Speak of the devil. It's Peter." He put the phone to his ear. "How the hell do you do that? I was just talkin' about—"

"You alone?" came the cagey whisper.

"I can be. Just a second." Jasper pressed the device to his chest. "I'm gonna take this call out in the garage."

"No, Jasper! You can't!" Alice flew down the stairs and grabbed the front of his coat. "You can't go! It's not time. It's-it's dangerous. I saw it!"

The smile dropped from Jasper's face, changing to stone at her outburst. He slowly pried her fingers from his coat and backed away from her. "You're lyin' about somethin', Alice. Did you forget I can feel your deception? What are you panicking about?" He lifted his bag, opened the front door and strode through. "And this is some kind of record. Twice in one day you're gettin' told no."

He gently closed the door in her face, keeping in mind no matter how angry he was at Alice, it was Esme's house, and he wouldn't cause any damage to it. A moment later he was in the garage, dragging the tarp from his truck at the far end. "I'm alone now, Pete. What's up?"

"Took ya long enough. I got a situation here."

"What kind of situation?" Jasper climbed into the driver's seat and turned the key. It started right up.

"In about three days I'm gonna have a newborn on my hands, and I think I might need a little help."

Even through the phone, Jasper could almost feel his old friend's desperation. "A newborn? Why do you have a newborn? You know how to handle 'em. What's goin' on?"

"It's a long story."

Jasper was sure it would be. When the garage door was fully up, Jasper drove out, not bothering to close it again. "I'll be in Arizona as soon as I can."

"Well, I'm in Florida right now, but I can head that way. It'll be tricky."

"Tricky?" Things usually were a little complicated when it came to Peter. He hit the gas, giving the Cullens gathered on the front porch a distracted wave as he roared by. "Las Cruces, New Mexico is about half way. You still got that little place near there?"

"Yeah."

"It's a date."

~0~0~0~

It was one of those days when it seemed like it would never stop raining. Bella Swan pulled up to the only place in town that was still open at 3 am, the local Waffle House. The sign glowed a cheery yellow welcome with a promise of crispy hot carbohydrates, bringing a sweet syrupy end to a day's worth of hunger.

She'd been at the hospital all day and night. On the very first day of spring training in the Grapefruit League, her mother's new husband managed to slip in the mud and crack his skull against another player while both were diving to catch the ball. If only he'd stayed in their home state of Arizona. It wouldn't have been raining there.

She stepped over the oily puddles in the parking lot and made her way inside.

There weren't too many people in the restaurant, so she had her pick of where to sit. Not wanting to draw attention, she decided on the booth furthest away from everyone else. There were only three other customers in the whole place: two men seated at opposite ends of the counter; one was nursing a coffee, the other looked like a trucker who had way too much energy; and a guy in the opposite corner from Bella, wearing a cowboy hat, whose face was obscured by the newspaper he was reading.

The waitress, a plump woman in her fifties, smiled and leaned over to refill the trucker's coffee.

He whispered something in her ear with a mischievous grin.

She righted herself, rolled her eyes, and chastised the man. "Russell, you are bad."

Russell just laughed quietly into his coffee, looking full of himself.

Finally, the waitress made her way over to Bella, took a pen out of her apron pocket, and asked, "What can I get for you, hon?"

Bella looked down at the menu on the table, already decided on what she wanted. "I'll have the All Star Breakfast, with a pecan waffle, please, with coffee, and a glass of water."

The waitress quickly wrote Bella's choices on her order pad and promptly carried it over to the grill cook.

The trucker was staring a hole through the waitress' backside. "Valentine's Day is comin' up, Doreen. When are you gonna let me take you out?"

Doreen reached over and playfully swatted Russell with her notepad. "I wouldn't go anywhere with you."

Her eyes told a different story.

"We wouldn't haveta go far," Russell suggested, wiggling his eyebrows.

"Yeah. I know. And we wouldn't be gone for long either," Doreen quipped.

That seemed to quiet Russell down for the time being. Long enough for the waitress to tend to her other customers.

Bella sighed and shook her head, as she watched the waitress, coffee pot in hand, make her way out from behind the counter.

The cowboy, feeling her approach, lowered his newspaper. Bella was floored at the sight of him. He was stunningly handsome, but at the same time, very different from anyone she'd ever laid eyes on before. He had pale skin and longish light blond hair. Even the plush shearling coat he wore was a very light tan. Everything about him sort of glowed bright and clean. He graced the waitress with another beatific smile, and Bella had the feeling she was witnessing some sort of cowboy movie star magic at work. Poor Russell wouldn't stand a chance against that guy.

"You didn't even touch your waffle," the waitress noted aloud. "You wanna try something else? The omelettes are real good."

"No, thank you, ma'am, everything's fine." The cowboy smiled up at Doreen again, and she turned away, blushing, although the look on her face appeared unappeased.

She took a few paces before turning again and asking, "Are you sure I can't get you anything else?"

"Just the check, please, ma'am," the strange, yet intriguing-looking cowboy replied as he raised his newspaper.

Undeterred, Russell resumed his flirting with Doreen as soon as she stepped behind the counter. Bella began to feel as if she were eavesdropping, so she searched for something to occupy herself. Spying a local paper on the bench seat across from hers, she picked it up to give it a read.

The bold headline was disturbing. There had been a murder. Another murder. She'd heard about the string of killings on the TV news back at the hospital. The most recent body found was the third in a series the police thought were related. All the victims were young women and all had been killed in a similar manner.

Halfway through the cover story, Bella felt someone approach.

Doreen stood over her, plates in hand, with a sad look on her face.

She shook her head slowly from side to side and tsked as she set Bella's meal down on the table. "The last girl they found was my hairdresser's cousin. Losing her like that tore the whole family up."

Bella set the paper down, unsure of what to say.

"I don't remember seeing you in here before. Are you from around here?"

Bella shook her head.

"Well, you be careful, sweetie," Doreen cautioned, as she refilled Bella's coffee. "There's a serial murderer out there, and all the girls he's killed have been young and pretty like you. They all had brown hair, too."

"Um. Thank you." Bella nodded as she pushed her hair back behind her ears, feeling uncomfortable with the compliment followed by the dire warning. She lifted her fork, eager to change the subject. "This looks great."

"Holler if you need anything." The waitress placed Bella's check under a plate and returned to her flirting with Russell.

Bella was famished. Everything was especially tasty after the long day she'd had without food. Being in the hospital all day watching over Phil was no fun, but he was family, and her poor mother needed her to stand in and take watch because of her delicate condition. Bella almost choked on the food she was eating, practically inhaling it. She needed to slow down.

Peering out at the heavy mist trickling down the windows, she thought about how life could take some funny turns, and she smiled sardonically at the irony. She had planned to move in with her estranged father, who lived in the rainiest place on earth, just after her mother married Phil. They wanted to travel together, but then her mother had gotten pregnant, and had major bouts of all day morning sickness. Bella stayed home to help take care of her, but there Bella was, doing the traveling to check on Phil, sitting in a Waffle House in Florida, getting rained on.

Why Phil couldn't have gone to spring training back home in Arizona, where it was nice and dry, was beyond her.

She continued to peruse the paper while she ate. The waffles were hitting the spot.

A man walked past her and out the door, letting in a cool wet blast of air. She glanced up, hoping to see the cowboy. It wasn't him, but the quiet, dark-haired man from the other end of the counter. The cowboy was still over in his booth with his paper. Above him, the clock on the wall said it was already four in the morning. She needed to get some sleep. She'd planned to rent a hotel room for the night and get back to the hospital bright and early.

The cowboy walked by just then, and she realized she was the only one in the restaurant, besides the cook somewhere in the back, and Doreen and Russell, who had just started to sing along with a love song that had begun playing on the jukebox. Not wanting to intrude on their serenading each other, she felt it was definitely time to go. After a quick sip of coffee, she paid, pulled the hood over her head, and made her way out into the early morning drizzle.

Nearly to her rental car, she was startled to hear a man call out, "Excuse me, miss!"

She whipped around and saw the cowboy from the Waffle House.

"Uh. Is that your car?"

"Yes," she answered warily.

"Well, um, don't go over there. I saw a guy get into your car. He's hidin' in the back seat."

Bella didn't like the sound of that. The extremely good looking man suddenly started to look more like a dangerous man. Thoughts of the killings she'd just read about swirled through her brain. She looked over her shoulder to her rental car but could see nothing through the fog-covered windows.

The cowboy reached his hands out in front of him as if to appease her. "I'm a police officer, ma'am. Do as I say. Come this way."

Her father had warned her about that—bad men using any means to abduct young women. He'd always told her to resist and never go anywhere with them.

"Show me your badge." Her voice trembled. All the while her fingers inched towards the mace her father had sent her.

He reached around to his back pocket.

Bella had the mace in her hand, ready to scream.

He flipped open the wallet, but it was fast . . . too fast. Her eyes were unable to follow the speed of his movements. Something wasn't right.

"Please, miss, just step away from the car."

"Stay back," she growled. Even though the cowboy was surprisingly polite for an assailant, she wasn't taking any chances. It could just be a ruse to get closer, to try to make her trust him. Hadn't Ted Bundy been described as a very courteous young man? She backed away from him. "Don't come any closer!"

The cowboy slipped his wallet back into his pocket and took a step. "Miss, I'm tryin' to tell ya there's a man in your car. I've been trackin' him and—"

He was too close! Heart pounding, Bella jabbed the mace toward him, clamped her thumb down on the button hard, and a stream of blue shot out of it right into the cowboy's face.

Charlie had sent her the kind with the dye in it.

Not waiting around to see what happened next, Bella spun and leapt toward the car.

"Damn stinkin' blue bullshit!" she heard the cowboy exclaim. "Ruined my favorite coat! I'll never get this shit out."

As she reached the rear fender, the back door of her rental swung open, and a man with dark hair rolled out, a long knife in his hand.

Absolutely shocked at seeing the other stranger from the Waffle House, all Bella could think to do was throw the little empty canister at him and scream.

Before she had a chance to retreat, he grabbed her arm and yanked her toward him. He tried to force her into the car, but she clawed at his face with her free hand, slicing open her own arm in the process on the long blade.

She had to fight! Resist! It's what Charlie had told her. She gave it her all; kicking and screaming, and trying to push herself away from the car. Anything to keep from being shoved inside and stolen away.

The man grunted, yelled out, and then was gone, but not before the point of his knife raked across her shoulder and chest, ripping her jacket and shirt, and cutting into her a second time.

She dropped to the curb and slumped against the side of the car, her head thumping against the wet, cool metal. A muffled scream to her right caught her attention, but she couldn't comprehend what she thought she was seeing.

The cowboy was hugging the man who had attacked her and was kissing his neck.

She started to feel dizzy and shook her head to try and clear it. It didn't help. She strained to focus on what was happening just a few feet away. Her assailant stopped struggling and went limp in the cowboy's arms. Then the cowboy raised his head up to the predawn sky, letting the light rain that was still falling wash over his face.

After a moment, he absently tossed the apparently unconscious man up against the neighboring building, watched him hit the brick wall, and drop in a heap to the wet sidewalk below. He wiped his arm across his mouth and stalked toward her.

"What did you do? Did you kill him?" Bella asked. Or she thought she asked. She was feeling so weak. "Are you going to kill me now?"

Giving no answer, all he did was cock his head to the side.

Life went and took another one of those funny turns. If only Phil had gone to spring training in the Cactus League. No rain. No muddy puddles to slip in. No Bella being assaulted and sitting on a sidewalk in the rain in Florida. She hated the rain. She looked down at herself and noticed what resembled blood all over her clothes, though it was hard to tell with just the glow of the streetlights. Her clothes were torn.

If she were in Arizona, she would have been safely in her own bed, sound asleep, and not becoming increasingly aware of pain from multiple sources on her body.

She looked up as the cowboy crouched down in front of her, his ruggedly handsome face deadly serious. And what a beautiful face it was, even with the blue dye dripping off of it.

"Well, girl, you're all cut up from fightin' him hard. You did good, too." He tipped his hat up with his thumb. "You're bleedin' out. If I took ya to the hospital down a ways, they could probably save ya. Maybe. You'd be all scarred up." He looked down the street before his attention returned to her. "But you've seen too much. Ain't many rules in my world, but ya broke the big one, and ya might remember what happened after ya woke up. If you woke up. Can't take the chance." He rubbed at his chin. " Let me tell ya, that blue mace tasted like shit. We'll have to have a discussion about that later. Anyhow, I'm pretty full, but you smell too damn good to waste."

He reached out and lightly slid his hand down over the side of her face, curled into her neck, and swept over her shoulder. "In fact, I never smelled anything as good as you before."

~0~0~0~

Jasper paced in front of the small cabin, and wandered aimlessly throughout the interior, waiting for Peter to arrive with the transitioning human. He felt a strange quivering in his belly. Almost like he was nervous. It had been a long time since he'd dealt with a newborn vampire, but he was confident he could handle it. Or him. Her? Jasper never even asked if the human was male or female. Not that Peter had given him a chance to ask, and not that it mattered all that much. Newborns were all cantankerous pains in the ass.

Peter's hideout was in the Gila National Forest. The rustic cabin was actually closer to Silver City, but Las Cruces was the closest big city, and El Paso wasn't much farther. They had mountains around them and tree cover. There was even some snow. The cabin was sparse, yet quaint. Staying there wouldn't be so bad, as long as the newborn didn't tear the place down.

Since the last time Jasper had seen it, which had been decades, Peter had added a metal roof. They were good for the long haul, but not much else had changed.

When Jasper had first arrived, he'd opened it up, and got a fire going to warm up the house, so he could turn on the water. He'd gotten a little spoiled living all those years with the Cullens. Hot and cold running water was a luxury he didn't want to do without if he didn't have to.

In the distance, he heard the low rumble of an engine approaching. Jasper stepped out of the house, and onto the porch, watching for any sign of Peter.

He didn't have to wait long before a 1978 Plymouth Roadrunner came fishtailing down the long dirt pathway like the devil was on its tail, throwing up dust and rocks, making tracks.

The Super Coupe drifted to a dust-raising, gravel-slinging stop, and Peter hopped out of the car.

The two old friends smiled broadly and immediately embraced each other.

After a few short seconds, Jasper squeezed Peter a bit tighter and moaned, "You smell so fuckin' good."

Not exactly the greeting Peter had been expecting, he abruptly let go, took two steps back, and jabbed a finger in Jasper's chest. "It's good to see you too, weirdo, but I didn't bring you any. I wouldn't want to upset your little lady by temptin' you with the good stuff."

An expression Peter couldn't read crossed Jasper's face. "We've got a lot of catchin' up to do."

"Boy, do we ever!" Peter grinned, his eyes twinkling.

Jasper was pleased to see Peter looking so happy and content, unlike their last visit. With everything going on, he knew it wasn't the time to unload all of his Cullen woes, and tell Peter he had done quite a bit of soul searching on the long ride to New Mexico. "The sounds coming from inside your trunk are definitely of the feminine variety," he joked.

"That's what smells so damn good." Peter sighed.

"Well, I knew it wasn't you." Jasper scrunched up his nose. "You always smelled like rotten cabbage seasoned with dirty socks and," Jasper sniffed again. "Hot sauce?"

"That's the mace."

"Oh?"

"She sprayed me with some God-blamed, blue, stinkin' to high Heaven dye. Soon as she wakes up, me and her are gonna have words." He set his jaw and frowned a bit. "I got it mostly washed offa me, but I had to trash my best jacket and my favorite hat!"

"Don't you have like a dozen favorite hats? Like the one you have on?"

"That's besides the point." Peter shot him a withering look. "I got that coat for next to nothin' on eBay, and it looked good on me. It was vintage . . . Man, I don't know if I'm ever gonna be able to find another one like it."

Jasper just raised an eyebrow at him.

"She was bleedin' all over the place, it got all over me, had to change my clothes. Had to stop for gas a couple times, and bein' dyed blue and covered in blood woulda drawn too much attention."

"You don't say." Jasper wished Peter would stop rambling and tell him what was really going on. He'd never changed anyone before. Not that he was aware of. His old friend had horrible control when it came to drinking, and the girl smelled so damn good, he wasn't sure how anyone could have stopped. "Why didn't you put her in the back seat?"

"And get blood all over that expensive upholstery job?" Peter scoffed.

"Well, I came all this way. Might as well show me what you've got in the box."

They walked around the sleek vehicle, and Peter paused before popping the trunk.

"To keep her from wreckin' my car or hurtin' herself anymore, I hogtied her. Then I had to put some tape over her mouth when she started screamin'."

Jasper gave him the side eye. "You always keep rope and duct tape in your car?"

With a shrug, Peter reached for the trunk. "Doesn't everybody?"

The trunk lid lifted, and the scent from inside hit him like a ton of bricks. Jasper was immediately overwhelmed. He'd never smelled anything so good in his century and-a-half, and all he could do was stare in awe at the bound and gagged brunette.

He finally found his voice. "Damn," he murmured, a touch of wonder coloring his tone.

"I know," Peter readily agreed, nodding slowly toward the writhing woman. "I almost forgot my own damn name when she walked into the Waffle House. She was a little wet from the rain, and her scent was … I don't know. In my brain. Then I got a look at her and that pretty long brown hair, and …" He scrubbed at his face. "I almost snatched her up and ran out of the place, to hell with anybody seein' me."

Quicker than a blink, Jasper had the squirming woman in his arms, and his nose was buried in her hair. He decided right then and there he wouldn't ever go back to Alice. He wanted to be wherever Peter's changeling was. He propped his foot on the bumper, settled the woman's butt on his thigh, and slowly peeled the wide silver tape from her mouth. His breath caught in his throat.

Peter beamed as he reached inside the trunk and plucked out a small leather handbag. "Not only does she smell like Heaven, she's pretty, too. Nice bonus."

Jasper had been so overtaken by the young woman's natural perfume, he'd forgotten Peter was beside him. "Do you know her name?"

"Got her purse right here. Didn't have a chance to look, since I was in a hurry and all."

A blood curdling scream interrupted them, and the woman started struggling again.

Jasper sprinted to the porch and into the house, but Peter beat him to the lone bedroom, stripping the quilt from the queen-sized bed.

"What the hell, Pete?" Jasper growled before placing his precious cargo in the center of the bed.

"I appreciate you takin' it out and shakin' off the dust, but I don't need her rippin' it to shreds." He worked at the knots of rope holding her ankles and wrists and soon freed her.

"I'll buy ya ten damn quilts," Jasper groused, digging through the little purse. "How the hell do women get so much shit in these tiny little bags?" Finally finding her ID, Jasper was surprised to see it had been issued in Arizona. "Here's her license. Her name is Isabella Marie Swan. You picked her up in Florida? She was a long way from home."

"Her name is as pretty as she is." With utter delight, Peter took the ID and looked it over. "Maybe she was on vacation."

"What were you doin' in Florida, and why did you decide to change her, and how did you do it? I honestly don't think I would have been able to stop." Jasper was unable to hold off his curiosity any longer.

"Hey! I got plenty of control, bein' on the proper diet. And, I don't know. I wanted to drink her down, but I wanted her more. I just had to change her." He scratched at the side of his neck. "Long, strange story."

Peter proceeded to fill him in on the events leading up to finding her at the Waffle House—how he had traveled to Florida on one of his whims, heard about the serial killings, and decided to track the killer down. How Isabella just happened to get in the way, and subsequently very nearly became the man's next victim. "It was just bad luck. She got cut up pretty bad with the asshole's knife as she was fightin' him off. She's a real pistol."

"Cover story? Somebody's going to be lookin' for her."

"Taken care of, and they'll find the killer's body but not hers a' course." Peter was feeling rather proud of himself. "There's canals and alligators everywhere over there. It'll look like he attacked her at her car and couldn't stuff her inside. Then he forced her to the nearby canal, where she fought him some more, stabbed him in the neck with his own knife, and then a gator got her and drug her into the water."

Jasper just gave him an incredulous stare.

"What? It could happen. And how do you think I washed off most of the blood and dye?" He lifted his hat, smoothed his hair back, and replaced it. "Pretty damn ingenious, don't ya think?"

Jasper blinked a couple times when he realized he'd only been half listening to Peter's off-the-wall story. He was unable to focus on much of anything other than the girl he was holding in his arms. "Can I have her?" he asked.

"I don't think Alice would approve." Peter chuckled. "And anyhow, I saw her first. She's mine."

Jasper's mood darkened, the whole atmosphere of the room shifted. Peter felt a heaviness weighing down on him.

"I'm not going back to Alice or going back to live with the Cullens. And I'm damn sure not goin' back to high school."

"Oh." Peter hadn't been expecting that. He'd thought everything had been going well for his old war buddy. Although he had never agreed with the lifestyle the Cullen's lived, Jasper had seemed to have found a place with the family. He still had those crazy yellow eyes from his all-animal diet, so he hadn't partaken of a vampire's natural food source. He couldn't imagine what had changed, but it was probably something serious, judging by the feelings he was throwing off. "What happened, man?"

"Alice doesn't love me, and I don't love her. That's the gist of it. There's a whole lot of other bullshit, but let's not get into that right now. We need to get Isabella cleaned up." He started to peel her shirt back where it had been slashed through with the knife. The dried blood made the fabric stick to her skin.

"Let me help." Peter reached over and Jasper growled, smacking his hand away.

It appeared they were at an impasse.

Peter blew out a long, measured breath and studied the man beside him, not yet ready to entertain the notion that their soon-to-be newborn had the same effect on Jasper as she had on him. He pushed that thought to the back of his mind and said, "I'm gonna let that one slide, on account of you've been suckin' on gentle woodland creatures for so long, and she smells so good, and both of those things put together have obviously made you muy loco."

With narrowed eyes, Jasper finally took in Peter's rigid stance and the odd mix of emotions he was emanating—a warm caring, a contentedness that had never been there before, all edged with a protectiveness directed toward their charge that mimicked the growing feeling within himself. When he suddenly realized he was feeling jealous over the girl, the fog began to clear. He wasn't sure what had come over him. A distant sound reached him over Isabella's twitches and incoherent mutters. "Do you hear somethin'?"

Peter did hear something. It sounded like a vehicle getting closer by the second. By the pitch of the engine's whine, it was traveling fast. "Did you invite somebody?"

"No. Did you?" As he watched Peter shake his head, and listened to the vehicle come ever closer to the cabin, it dawned on him. "Did you buy Isabella some new clothes on your way over?"

Peter cocked his hat back. "No. Didn't have time. I was gonna leave her here with you and do that later."

"Shit."

"What?"

"It has to be Alice comin'. She knew I was headed to visit you, and if she saw an opportunity to go shoppin' and dress somebody, I don't think she'd be able to contain herself." Jasper was mad as hell. "You tell her we don't need her or her clothes, and that I'm busy. I don't want to see her, and I don't want to go the dance, either." Jasper lifted Isabella and hugged her tighter, instinctively soothing himself.

"The dance?" Peter had no clue what he was talking about. All he was sure of was Jasper had lost his mind. "What makes you think she'd listen to me? She never has before." He wanted to be the one holding Isabella, stroking her hair, washing the dried blood off of her naked body.

Jasper gave him a mean look. "What in the fuck is going through your head right now?"

"Nothin'. Gimme back my newborn. You should go handle your wife, or your ex, or your whatever she is." Peter frowned and gave him a hard look.

The vehicle came to a stop outside the cabin and the motor cut off.

~0~0~0~

"We made it in time." Edward breathed a sigh of relief. "They haven't removed her clothing yet."

Alice pushed open the door and climbed out from behind the steering wheel. "I told you we'd arrive before she woke up, and she'll be perfect for you."

Edward had been watching through Alice's visions and was amazed at how beautiful and tempting the young lady was as a vampire, and the best part was she would be his. His very own mate. Alice had assured him of it, and she would be gifted. He wouldn't be able to read her thoughts like every other human or vampire he'd ever met. She would be a complete mystery to him. The idea exhilarated him. How refreshing it would be to not know what someone was thinking. He couldn't wait to meet her. She would awaken, their eyes would meet, and then she would walk straight into his arms and be with him forever.

Alice's eyes glazed over as she searched for the best outcome, hoping to keep things in her favor. "They know we're here. They heard your voice, but they still haven't decided how to handle it. Whatever happens, I'm sure the smell of her blood will be too much for you, Edward. I think you should stay in the car."

"You can't be serious," Edward raged. "I'm going to collect my mate, and then we're taking her out of that shack and away from here."

"I don't think—" Alice warned, but it was too late. Edward was already out of the car and halfway to the porch.

Inside, Peter and Jasper glared toward the front door and the insistent knock.

"What the hell is he doin' here?"

"What if we just don't answer it?" Peter whispered. "You feel anybody else around?"

Jasper concentrated for a moment, staring off into space. "Nope. Just them."

The knock grew more frantic. Edward's voice rang out, "Open up! Jasper, I know you can hear me."

Peter knew by the stubborn look on Jasper's face that he wasn't going anywhere. "He's gonna break it down if I don't go answer it." He looked down at Isabella becoming more agitated and his eyes snapped up to Jasper. "She better still have her clothes on when I get back."

Jasper bared his teeth. "Don't worry. They aren't gonna see her with no clothes on. They won't be puttin' a hand on her."

Peter was beginning to think calling Jasper had been a huge mistake. His old friend was supposed to be happily married, living the quiet life with the Cullens, and what was more, he was supposed to be there to lend a hand. Instead, Jasper was standing guard with his paws firmly attached to his new lady friend. Peter had asked for help and Jasper had brought nothing but a passel of trouble.

Peter neared the front door and could hear the two crazies on the other side, hissing quiet little secrets back and forth to each other. "Comin'!" he sang.

Alice didn't like what she'd seen, and Edward wasn't heeding her advice. She knew he could see her visions, especially the carefully crafted ones she'd let slip. What further proof did he need? "Let me handle this, please. Peter's going to open the door, not Jasper, and that barbarian might hurt you."

"You're forgetting, dear sister, I can see what moves he'll make before he makes them. He'd be a fool to try anything."

"You're both fools, brother. I think her scent—!"

Her warnings fell on deaf ears, and the door swung open. There stood the boorish hayseed in all his loathsome, cocky, redneck glory. From his battered cowboy hat all the way down to his worn-out boots. They were so shabby and dirty, she couldn't even tell what color they had once been.

"Whatever you're sellin' we ain't buyin'." Peter smirked at the duo. "Don't you kiddies haveta head home and get ready for school tomorrow? "

"So rude," Alice uttered under her breath as Edward took a step forward.

"Hold your horses, sonnie," Peter warned, halting the youthful intruder with a hand spread across his narrow chest. "Didn't you learn any manners in any of them schools you've been to, boy? You weren't invited."

Edward inhaled to retort and he was completely consumed. His formerly warm amber eyes instantly bled into a fiery black.

He could have never imagined the affect her scent would have on him. Not in his hundred years had he ever been hit with a temptation so strong. All reason left him, and he began behaving like a crazed animal—like the monster he'd tried so hard not to become. He clawed at Peter and tried to push past the larger vampire.

Peter cursed the scrawny, young, idiot, who was all angles and elbows, trying to get in his house. He hadn't even had the chance to say much of anything, and the angry tumbleweed had just attempted to overrun him in his own territory. Not. Very. Likely.

Peter grabbed Edward by the neck and slammed him to the floor, pressing his face into the rough hewn boards. He dropped to one knee in the middle of Edward's back and caught hold of his ineffectively flailing limbs and yanked. Peter grasped his wrists with one hand and gave them a little jerk, just about to the breaking point. "Boy, real warriors don't need to think about about their moves. We just do what we need to do."

"Stop!" Alice shrieked. "You're hurting him!"

"Is that right?" Peter ground his knee deeper into Edward's spine and tugged on his arms until Edward squealed.

"You're horrible!" Alice cried.

"And I still got one hand free," he reminded her, a frosty glint in his deep red eyes.

Alice stomped her foot in frustration. She didn't need her visions to tell her what a bad idea it would be to try to push Peter off of Edward.

"Maybe you're horrible, too? Ever think of that? Bargin' in a man's private domain, and doin' whatever it was you did to put poor Jasper out."

Alice gasped and her hands flashed up to her mouth. "Me? Poor Jasper? Everything was his fault."

Peter didn't know what had happened between the two, but he was decidedly on Jasper's side no matter what. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Alice had never liked him, and he'd never liked her.

"Nothing was my fault, Alice."

Peter hadn't heard his approach, but Jasper had finally pried himself away from Isabella, and was right there, his sheer presence filling the entire room. Peter could hear her in the bedroom, thrashing around, fighting against the acid in her veins.

Jasper had seemed a little distracted before, but he was all in, on high alert, hands free, fingers curling in anticipation, and by the way he was eyeing Alice, ready to kill something.

Stormy clouds loomed behind Jasper's eyes. "Why did you come here, Alice? Didn't you see this would be a bad idea?"

"That's not the way my power works!"

"How does your power work? When you want it to, and for your own benefit?" Jasper crossed his arms as he stepped over Edward's quivering legs sprawled out over the floor.

"Hardly!" Alice shot back, her voice full of venom. "Do you think I wanted this? Do you? That doesn't even make sense."

"No, you're right. It doesn't make any sense, and what else doesn't make sense is Edward not listenin' to you. Why would he do that, I wonder?" Jasper raised his chin and looked down his nose at the tiny woman he had once loved, before she killed all the feelings he'd ever had inside him. "Maybe Edward is the only one of us who knows how reliable your visions are, because he can see them, all of them, and he knows."

Alice's lips pressed together in a thin white line.

"You owe him, don't you? He keeps your secrets. About how unreliable they can be." Jasper cocked his head to the side in thought. "Or he thinks he knows. We've all learned how to get around him tryin' to dig through our heads. Singin' stupid songs, thinkin' about stuff he doesn't like, but maybe … maybe you figured you could show him what he wanted to see. Show him what you wanted him to see."

Alice gasped, her eyes wide and fearful.

"But I feel your lies."

An uneasy silence passed between the unmoving couple who had been married for years, and perhaps, a few unspoken truths were realized within the steely gaze that held them there.

"I was an easy target. I was looking for the one thing you could give me . . . hope."

"And I did give you that, Jasper."

"You did. I was lost and needed reassurance, and there you were tellin' me how everything could be so great and wonderful and—"

"It still can be."

"No."

"But, Jazzy, a vision of you was the first thing I saw when I woke up all alone," she pleaded. "We were meant to be together, just like Edward and—"

His hand flashed out and stopped a hair's breadth away from her throat. "And if you don't start tellin' the truth, I'll be the last thing you ever see."

Alice gulped, knowing with his hard won skill and years of experience, Jasper could have taken her head off if he'd really wanted to. What scared her nearly as badly was she hadn't seen it coming.

"But she is telling the truth!" Edward snarled, still trapped in Peter's hold on the floor. "Alice told me the girl is mine! My mate!" He was foaming at the mouth, lying in a puddle of his own venom. "Her blood is the most enticing and alluring scent I have ever encountered in all my life! I saw the visions. She will be a complete mystery to me. I won't be able to read her mind." He renewed his struggles. "It's like she was made just for me!"

"Shut up ya jackass." Peter thumped his head with the back of his free hand and jerked his arms again, turning Edward's snarl into a garbled scream. "Weren't you listenin'? The little imp was lyin' to ya. Lyin' to everyone. For years. She was showin' ya what she wanted you to see."

Jasper kept his eyes trained on the tiny vampire, holding the same position, his hand pointed at her throat like a knife. "We've been livin' a lie for years, and I'm not doin' it anymore. You must have seen somethin' else with Isabella, thinkin' you could keep me, though God knows why. You never liked me the way I was, tried to change everything about me." He leaned closer to her. "What did you see, Alice?"

Alice felt her last hold on Jasper break. "I never told you all my visions would come true. It's hard to know what's going to happen, and things do change depending on what decisions people make."

"Yeah, yeah, we know all that," Peter impatiently spit out. "Get to the point, the real one, or the little, slobbery, lonely boy is gonna start losin' parts."

Afraid to move for fear of getting her throat cut, Alice shifted only her eyes to check on Edward and looked back at the man who currently held her life in his hands. "I-I ..."

Jasper loomed closer. "How 'bout you start with this past December when I wanted to see Pete over Christmas break."

Peter blew out a disgusted, "Christmas break. Jesus H. Christ."

Jasper ignored him. "Alice?"

It was over. She hadn't wanted to be the other lonely one everyone pitied in the family of happy couples. She was the envy of all the girls at school, and women on the street, when Jasper devotedly carried her school books, shopping bags, or luggage, or opened doors or held her chair. Of course, none of them could see his hideous scars after she'd dressed him properly. All they could see was the tall, angelically handsome blond on her arm, and Alice thrived on the attention.

It was all gone. Like Edward, she would be alone for all time.

She swallowed thickly, feeling the tip of Jasper's finger barely touch her skin. "In December, I had a vision of Jasper with a young woman—a brunette … Bella."

"S'cuse me," Peter interrupted her. "Bella?"

"She hates to be called Isabella. Her father, the police chief in Forks, named her that but she prefers Bella."

"Her father's the top cop?"

"Knock it off, Peter." Jasper's voice deepened even farther. "Go on, Alice."

"If you had gone to see Peter in Arizona in December, you would have run into Bella then." Alice blinked, clearly baffled. "At a Waffle House of all places."

"The little gal must really love pecan waffles," Peter muttered.

Jasper growled at him.

"Sorry. Sorry. It's just that's what she ordered at the Waffle House in Florida—she really tore into 'em, too—and I was thinkin' it's kinda a shame she can't eat 'em anymore, is all."

"And?" Jasper urged Alice.

Alice blinked again and cast her eyes downward. "Bella was going to move to Forks, but then I saw her decide not to. I don't know why she changed her mind, but I was relieved and thought everything would be okay, but then I saw you leaving for Arizona before Valentine's Day and calling Peter on the way. He was in a Waffle House somewhere, following this dark-haired man, and I saw Bella sitting in a booth across the restaurant from him, and it was raining and—"

"I didn't leave when I first thought of it." Jasper's eyes closed to mere slits. "You told me I should go out for an extra hunt before the flower sale because the kids at school would be all worked up. I didn't leave then, and I didn't call Pete. If I had …" He leaned even closer to her, his nose nearly touching hers. "If I had …"

The words could hardly be heard. "You'd have met Bella near some hospital. I never saw the name of it."

"No matter what you did, or how many lies you told," Jasper drew away from her, a look of disgust on his face. "I would have met her."

Peter's red eyes had darkened to a simmering burgundy. "And showin' ol' fancy pants here those bullshit visions, and tellin' him she was his mate, was your last ditch effort to try and … what? Keep Jasper? Ruin lives? "

Edward's gaze, still black with his uncontrollable hunger, fixed on the one who had claimed to be his sister for decades. "Arm candy. All Jasper was to you was arm candy, nothing more than an accessory … like … like a scarf or a bracelet. You loved how all the females drooled over him and envied you."

Peter stood, hauling Edward to his feet. He grabbed Edward by the scruff of his neck and made sure he had a good hold on his wrists. "Was that shit true, Jas?"

"Yes. Her feelin's confirm what Edward said. Any love I ever felt come from her wasn't for me, it was for the Louis Vuitton bag I was holdin' for her."

Peter let go of Edward's neck and punched him in the back of his head. "And you didn't tell him!"

Jasper rose to his full height and glared down at Alice, trembling in front of him. He poked her throat with the tip of his finger and was gratified to see her cringe at the contact.

The revelations cut deep, but he wouldn't let them see it. He'd put his trust and faith in her, and he was never anything more than an ornament, a thing to coordinate with her outfits and carry her bags.

As much as he wanted her to suffer with the misery he felt, he held it all within himself. Peter and Isabella didn't deserve to be subjected to it. He wanted to crush her. He wanted to break Alice and rip her apart like he wished he could rip out the pain he felt right then.

But he wouldn't. Esme and Carlisle truly loved them, loved her, and if she wanted to go back to them, she would have to break their hearts. He wouldn't do it by killing her and then telling them why he'd done it.

The thumps and groans in the bedroom worked their way to the forefront of his mind and the throbbing ache in his chest eased. He thought about Peter's undying loyalty, no matter how much they argued and fought, and how Peter had called him to help with a newborn, causing him to meet the woman who would be his—their—future. Jasper had no idea how it all might work out, but he was confident they would find a way. Their way. When that thought went through his mind, how he knew Bella and Peter were going to be his future, the last of the hurt Alice caused him drained away.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Alice's citrus scent, Edward's too sweet honey, Peter's comforting hint of cinnamon and pipe tobacco, and Bella's … He couldn't quite put his finger on it. There may have been some of Peter's cinnamon, but there was something else that drew him in and stirred hazy memories of home. "All I have to say to you, Alice," his eyes gradually opened, "is get out."

Knowing some of the details of his life prior to joining the Cullens and what he was capable of, she was truly shocked he hadn't killed her. Then she was so relieved she almost fell down.

Tentatively, she took one timid step back, and then another. Intently watching for any sign Jasper might change his mind, she took yet another and felt the bump of the threshold. Nearly free, she let out the breath she'd been holding and cautiously retreated to the porch. "I really can't tell you what tomorrow will bring. I guess you know that now. I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for." Defeated, head down, she walked out.

"Found it. I've been lookin' for her."

"Um. Hello." Peter yelled. "Aren't you forgettin' somethin'?"

Alice hunched up like she'd been struck. She turned, everything about her defeated and forlorn. She scarcely breathed, not able to see if she was out of the woods yet. "I need to take Edward."

"Well, you damn sure ain't leavin' him here." Peter shook Edward like a dog shaking a rat. "He hasn't been mindin' his manners, actin' all wild and crazy, and I don't want him anywhere near my woman. In case you didn't know, she's vulnerable cause she's changin', and can't protect herself."

Alice nervously picked at her blouse. "Right. I'm going to need to drive away from here, about a mile up the road, and one of you needs to bring him to me. He'll calm down once he gets away from the smell of Bella's blood."

Jasper narrowed his eyes, not trusting her. He didn't feel any deception from her . . . that time. He tilted his head toward the door and Peter responded with a barely noticeable nod.

Alice took their silent exchange as permission to finally escape and trudged toward the car, displaying none of the usual light hearted bounce in her step.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Peter forced Edward to look him in the eye and growled, "Behave, or else." For good measure, he punched Edward right between the eyes and slung him over his shoulder. "Jasper …?"

"Edward, take care of yourself. Peter, I'll be standin' right here when you get back. It's gettin' late and we need to take care of our girl."

"Our girl?"

"Ours."

~0~0~0~

Peter was pacing around the bedroom, though there wasn't much room for that nonsense. He'd tossed his cowboy hat onto the lone dresser quite a while before and kept combing his fingers through his hair. "What if I didn't do it right, Jas? What if I messed her up?"

Jasper sat quietly on a straight-backed chair in the corner, his eyes never leaving the transforming woman lying on the bed. It had been hours since they'd given her a bath, and then dressed her in some of the extra clothes Jasper had brought with him—a soft T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. It hadn't been easy, but she had quieted down after she was clean. He decided he liked the way she looked in his clothes, even if they did swallow her whole. "She's perfect, Peter. Sit down and shut up. Your nerves are damagin' my calm." Peter always had been a talker.

With a long sigh, Peter settled in beside Bella. He checked over her newly healed wounds, of which not a trace could be found, and marveled at her smooth porcelain skin, her cute little nose, and her kissable lips. "She is perfect. What if she doesn't like either of us?"

"She may not at first. She had a pretty traumatic last few minutes of life. Kinda like the rest of us." Jasper got up and walked around to the other side of the bed and sat down, resting against the headboard and folding his arms over his chest. "You never know what to expect when they're wakin' up."

Peter stroked her hair again, recalling the bad old days when he and Jasper were in charge of Maria's army. "That's true." He peered up at Jasper. "What if she only likes one of us?"

The sound of Bella's heartbeat sped up, signaling she would be awakening soon. Jasper didn't get a chance to tell Peter how, more than anything before, he knew they were all in the exact right place at the exact right time. He felt it in the marrow of his bones. Everything they'd all been through had led them to that point in time.

She shrieked with the last stuttered beat of her heart and then lay still. She inhaled deeply, released it, and drew in another breath.

Jasper and Peter remained unmoving, waiting eagerly, and with no small amount of apprehension, for her to open her eyes. It was a coin toss how she would react. She might remember her previous life, only bits and pieces, or nothing at all.

She inhaled again, the corners of her lips lifting in a small pleased smile. She wiggled as if she were snuggling into the most comfortable bed and abruptly froze when her shoulder touched Peter on her right. Puzzled eyebrows drawing together, she shifted a little to the left and jolted to a stop when her shoulder brushed against Jasper.

She stopped breathing, bolted upright, and her eyes snapped open. Looking to her right and left, and seeing that she wasn't alone, she bounded off the bed toward the door.

Anticipating her, Jasper was there, blocking it. She growled, startling herself, and spun away from him. Peter was standing in front of the lone window. She was trapped.

A highly pissed off growl erupted, and she slapped one hand over her mouth and the other onto her chest. "What is that noise? Is that coming from me?" Breathing heavily, she scrambled onto the bed and backed against the headboard. "Who are you? What am I doing here? What happened to me?"

Her chest heaved with every frantic breath she took. Suddenly fixated on Peter, she spoke. "You … I think I …" She dropped forward onto her hands and advanced toward him. "You smell so good." Her feral, blood-red eyes began to darken. "So good." Her voice lowered, and she cocked her head to the side, looking up at him. Her constant growl had modulated into a purr.

"I'm Peter," he blurted. He was transfixed. She obviously wasn't afraid anymore, she was stalking him. The sexiest woman he'd ever seen was crawling, on her hands and knees, right toward him. On a bed. Her hair all wild, glowing red eyes growing darker by the second. She was gorgeous! He almost bit his own damn tongue off when she licked her lips.

He wanted to touch her so bad, his fingers twitched, and she was on him.

"You smell good," she repeated breathily. Her eyes drank in every inch of his face and her gaze returned to his, as she wrapped her arms and legs around him.

He pulled her even closer with one hand on her back, while his other slid down and over her ass. Their lips were poised to meet when Jasper unnecessarily cleared his throat to gain her attention.

She looked over her shoulder, eyes suspicious, studying him.

Jasper held his breath, hoping against hope she would think he was good enough and accept him. He could feel that Peter wanted—needed—her approval, too. He almost felt bad for his old friend ... almost ... but in love and war, it was every vampire for himself.

The next instant, she was in front of Jasper, giving his face the same intense scrutiny she'd given Peter.

She reached her hand up to touch his hair, and he leaned down to give her easy access to more of it.

She inhaled again, and her eyes widened, "You smell good, too!"

Peter's eyes squinted down to slits as he watched Jasper smirk and inch ever closer to Bella, intent on giving her the first kiss that should have been his.

Bella rose up on her tiptoes, their lips met, and Jasper knew he was hers. He had been Maria's once, and then he'd belonged to Alice for a while, but that had been different, very different. The taste of Bella's venom sank into him and released a slumbering beast he'd never been aware of. He could feel a similar awakening building within her, too. She moaned into his mouth, like she was tasting something good. The unexpected feelings overwhelmed him, and even scared him a little. He broke their kiss and warily regarded Peter, who he could tell was fuming at him for kissing her, but he discovered he didn't care all that much, he'd found his mate. His thoughts were a racing jumble in his brain, but his instincts spoke loud and clear. She was his.

Not to be out done, Peter decided he was going to try and kiss her, too. She hadn't seemed to mind it when Jasper had tried it, and nevermind that Jasper was looking like he'd gone and gotten drunk after one little bitty kiss from the newborn. He had wanted to do it from the very first time he'd seen her.

But would she want to kiss him?

Peter decided that two could play Jasper's little game, so he loudly cleared his throat to get Bella's attention back where he wanted it. On him.

She turned away from Jasper. Her eyes were all big and wide and black, and focused solely on him. He took it as a good sign, she liked what she saw. She'd already told him that he smelled good. She was breathing really hard, almost panting. She licked her lips again. He began to feel some hope of his own.

"I'd like ..."

Peter didn't get a chance to finish his sentence because she was wrapped around him again, and her mouth had covered his. When her tongue pushed passed his lips, he groaned at the flavor of her. Oh, God. Fuck! He felt tingly all over, and dizzy, and just plain weird. It reminded him of the first time he'd fed as a vampire, and he'd known, like he knew right then, things would never be the same. Something had changed in him. Ignited.

Jasper's vision was clouded by a furious red haze, and all he knew was he was going to kill the vampire who was kissing his mate. He let out a window-rattling snarl.

Bella pushed away from Peter and got between the both of them, renewing her growl. "Stop!" she commanded, glaring at each of them in turn.

She feared they were about to come to blows, and Bella didn't want them to fight. What she wanted was to keep kissing the two deliciously handsome men. Although they looked a little different. Instead of the oddly compelling red, their eyes were black as coal, and their beautiful faces were etched with pain. She wanted to only ever see them happy. Something deep within had made claim to them, cared for them, and she couldn't stand to see them hurt. She roared out an inhuman noise in protest—a demand they stop fighting.

She faced Jasper and stared him down, chest heaving again. "You're mine," she stated through clenched teeth. She flung her hand back toward Peter. "And he's mine."

She looked at each of them again, placing a hand on the center of each of their chests. "You're both mine."

Suddenly, she snatched her hands away and they flew to the sides of her head. She backed up until she sat down, hard, on the end of the bed. "What am I saying? I don't even know who you are!"

Desperately, she searched for an escape route, leapt toward the window, crashed through the glass, and was gone.

Coming out of his emotional stupor, Jasper leaned toward Peter and clapped him on the shoulder. "And you thought she wouldn't like either of us? I don't think there's too much to worry about."

"But-but, she just busted through the window and ran away from us!"

"I think she'll come around."

~0~0~0~

Jasper was enthralled by the vision above him. Bella—her curls in disarray, draped over her shoulders, luscious, pouty lips parted, eyes closed in concentration, as she rode him to heights of bliss he'd never experienced before. He could never get enough of her.

He reached for her bouncing breasts and squeezed her nipples, causing her to groan and lick her lips.

That sparked a memory of the last time those lips were wrapped around his cock, his back flat against the wall in the living room. He'd barely gotten his pants unzipped before she was sucking and licking and driving him out of his mind. Then Peter had jumped in snarling, tearing away her shorts and mounting her.

Jasper couldn't hold back any longer. He clenched his teeth, his fingers dug into her hips, and he strained up against her, striving to be even deeper inside her as he came.

His orgasm ignited hers, and she ground against him until, at last, she collapsed on his chest, her smiling lips at his throat.

"I love you," she whispered as she slid to his side and cuddled against him. "Are we ever gonna put together the new bed frame, or are we just gonna leave the mattress on the floor?"

With a low chuckle, he kissed her forehead. "You don't like it on the floor?"

"Well," she answered coyly, "I haven't broken any furniture in a while, and it might be fun to see how long it lasts."

"We'll see what Pete says when he gets back. I think he likes the love nest on the floor."

It probably wouldn't last too long, Jasper mused. Their young mate was insatiable, and despite having two more-than-eager males to keep her busy and satisfied, over the last six months there'd been numerous newborn temper tantrums, smashed furniture, and clothes ripped to tattered ribbons . It happened to be Peter's turn to make a run to town and pick up the latest delivery of replacement clothing at the post office.

Jasper had thought jealousy would be a problem, neither he nor Peter had been the type to share, but it hadn't happened. If anything, their combined emotions enhanced, encouraged, and sustained what they all felt for each other.

It wasn't a sexual attraction to Peter, but he knew he needed Peter by his side as much, if not more, than he ever had. He didn't want to be without him. And the feelings Peter had for Bella only made Jasper want her more. He couldn't imagine life without either of them.

And the sex! He sucked in a breath as another memory raced through his mind of Bella lying on her back on the table, her onyx eyes sparkling with desire, legs spread wide, and Peter hovering over her, his thick dick sliding into her glistening wet pussy, giving her such pleasure. Mesmerized by the long, deliberate strokes, Jasper couldn't tear his eyes away.

Then Bella had reached for him, hooked her fingers on his belt, and urged him closer. The instant she had his stiff dick out of his jeans he came all over her breasts. When she spread his cum down her body, and then used those same fingers to grip Peter's slippery cock, Peter had let out a long low snarl, and Jasper had almost cried with the force of their combined ecstasy.

The table hadn't survived the encounter.

Bella's throaty chuckle sounded in his ear right before she nibbled on the lobe. "Ready for another round?"

He rolled until his body covered hers, both of his arms encircling her and holding her close. He nipped at her jaw. "I waited a long time for you. I'm ready when you are."

"And you couldn't wait to start the party until I got back? That's gratitude for ya." Peter was in the doorway to the bedroom, already peeling off his shirt and stepping out of his boots.

As soon as he was stripped bare, he crawled across the floor and onto the bed, black fire lighting his eyes. He laid down beside them and nuzzled Bella's neck. "You fuck, and I'll get to lickin'."

The growl that rumbled low in Jasper's chest, erupted into the room when he thrust into their mate.

Peter captured her deep, hungry groan with his lips. "Best thing I ever got at Waffle House, and she wasn't even on the menu."

~0~0~0~ the end ~0~0~0~