Hey there! Welcome back to my mind. Glad you're here.

This is the third installation in my Fitzgerald Trilogy. They can be read in standalone fashion, but if you want to read them in chronological order, please read: (1) Tender is the Night; (2) This Side of Paradise; (3) The Beautiful and Damned. There is some overlap/interweaving of stories and chapters as you move through them. No pressure! I'm just really proud of the story/continuation I've been able to craft, and I want to share it with you all.

Enjoy.


Embry

I have the worst luck of all the wolves, or quite possibly of any single person in Washington. I would say the entire world, but there's people out there that actually enjoy stuff like country music. Knitting. Pottery. And I'm allowed to say that, because my mom likes that shit.

Exhibit A: Quil Ateara is my roommate.

Exhibit B: As much as I hate weddings, I'm in one this weekend.

Exhibit C: My bike won't start. Again. It's the third time in as many weeks I've had to jump it, and Quil's getting annoyed that I keep waking him up early to get his keys.

Exhibit D: Quil and his car are gone already today; he went to see Claire (of course) before heading to the venue.

Exhibit E: I'm about to be late to the rehearsal for said wedding, since I don't remember where I put the keys to my backup vehicle, a busted-up Acura.

I look in the kitchen, on the coffee table, dig through my drawers. My last resort is to scrounge through my nightstand, all the way at the back. My fingers hit the mix of metal and paracord that adorns my car keys, and I sigh in relief. Maybe my luck's turning.

I grab my wallet from the kitchen counter, locking the handle on my way out so I don't waste time I don't have turning around.

Exhibit F: The gas light is flashing at me before the car's even turned over all the way.

I'm just hoping Kim's either buzzed or nervous enough already that she won't notice me showing up late. Fat chance, especially with my aforementioned bad luck.

After I put a fiver's worth of gas in the car because that's all I have time for, I speed toward the venue. I slide into the parking lot at the same time as Sam and Emily, and my tension eases. I can't possibly be counted as late if I show up with the best man and maid of honor, can I?

When I tell that to Emily, she smiles, her face crinkling around her scars. "It's called a matron of honor if you're married," she says softly.

"Where's Little Man?" I ask, noticing for the first time that neither Sam nor Emily are holding the light of their life – Levi. He's nearly one; Quil hung up the invitation for the party on the fridge last week.

Sam slips his arm around Emily's waist. "My mom's watching him for the weekend."

So I'll show up at Sam's tomorrow morning to get ready, and he'll smell like he bathed in Emily. Not like that's much different than normal.

We get inside, and Jake pulls me into place in front of him, in line with the other groomsmen. He rustles my hair. "Close one, dude."

It ends up not being a close one, though, because even after ten minutes of idle time talking to Jake, the wedding coordinator lady wants all eyes on her as she drones on for at least ten more minutes about "how this weekend is going to go," and "our attention to detail is much appreciated," and "we all want Kim and Jared to have the best day of their lives, don't we?"

Finally, we get to start the actual rehearsal part.

Leah and Quil are up first – it makes the most sense to pair them together, since Quil's imprint is only thirteen, and Leah's is still practically a total stranger to everyone here besides Jake and Nessie and Seth and Katie.

Leah met Adam last winter while he was installing some windows at Jake's cabin – met as in imprinted on, so that clears up that question. Adam had been married at the time, and it was a real shit show for a little bit, before he left his wife. Leah packed up her life, sold her house, and moved to Seattle with him without looking back.

Although Jake claimed his cabin was for him, everybody knew he bought it for Nessie, in hopes of wooing her over with his handy man skills. It didn't matter, of course, because he's freakin' Jacob Black and Nessie fell in love with him anyway, before she even knew about the cabin. He could have saved himself some money – and the rest of us. There was a pretty big betting pool on when they'd get together. Katie Clearwater made off with close to five hundred bucks. That was the last time I allowed people more than one entry.

Seth and Katie, his wife and imprint, are next down the aisle. That's a story I'm proud to have a part in. Katie was on First Beach, taking pictures of Quil and Seth and I while we were surfing. Seth was smitten as soon as he saw her. Imprinting must work both ways to some extent, because eight months later she'd packed up her college life in Olympia, got married at nineteen, and switched schools and majors, all to be closer to Seth.

After Seth starts to usher Katie down the aisle, I take a step forward and lock eyes with my partner. I rake my eyes over fiery red hair, cloudy green eyes the color of sea glass, and freckles. So many freckles.

I know meeting someone for the first time is awkward, especially when it's for a wedding and everybody's a little nervous anyway and you have to pretend like you've known each other for more than five minutes. It's part of the reason I hate weddings so much – the fake niceties people put on.

But I'm unprepared to meet my partner. And I'm even more unprepared to imprint on her.

My physical body freezes, but I feel warm, so warm, warmer than I should feel in the beginning of March in an outdoor wedding rehearsal at sundown, when it's also just barely drizzling.

Just like that, I get it. I get why Jake bought his damn cabin, why Paul didn't bat an eye when Rachel said she wanted a baby and got twins instead, why Seth willingly, eagerly, hoofed it to Olympia every other weekend and came crawling back with his tail between his legs. Why Leah moved to Seattle for Adam. Why Quil listens to school drama from Claire and practically does her math homework. Why Sam gave up being Alpha to raise his son.

Why Jared snuck in and out of Kim's window for years when she lived at home, waiting, just waiting for college, only to be devastated when her parents said No, not yet, not until you're done with school and established in your career, Kimberly. Why he'd gone out that same day and had her a key made for his own place, why he couldn't shut up when she'd given him one of hers.

Why when Jake gave the wolves an inch and offered us all a chance to leave the pack when the Cullens minus Nessie moved to Chicago last summer, Jared didn't hesitate to take the full mile, left wolf life behind altogether, and dropped to his knee in front of Kim not twelve hours later.

Everything that has never made sense in my life, suddenly, instantly, inexplicably does.

I'm the luckiest person in the world. The Milky Way. The whole damn universe.

Exhibit infinity: Her.

My knees nearly give out. I must still be frozen in place, because someone shoves me forward. I stumble briefly before remembering I have to act like my entire world didn't just tilt on its axis.

I extend a hand to her, and she slips her arm through mine. I feel warmth, even through my sleeve. I think I might still be in shock, because I feel like I'm floating down the aisle as opposed to walking.

"Nice to meet you," she says softly, voice like honey for a sore throat. It makes my heart skip a beat. "I'm Bethany."

"Embry," I sputter back. At least I think that's still my name.

The aisle is short, too short, because I haven't even had time to say anything else, still comprehending her name, when she's pulling her hand from my arm and turning to sit on the front pew.

I do the same begrudgingly.

"What's with you, man?" Seth asks, following my eyes. "Dude, did you just…?"

I just barely register Jake taking a seat next to me, and only because he's chosen to sit directly in my line of sight to her. "Hangin' in there, buddy?" he asks, voice dripping with amusement as he claps me on the shoulder.

I lean forward a hair and am surprised at the amount of relief I feel when I can see her again, see that she's safe and apparently happy as she chats with Nessie.

"How do you go through life like this?" I groan.

He laughs. "It takes some adjustment."

"How do I even talk to her?" I ask, leaning forward again as Paul plops down next to Jake and blocks my view again.

Paul, clearly entertained, leans forward, forcing me to meet his eyes. "Get her drunk, that's a good start," he says. "If she reacts badly you can just tell her you made it all up."

Jake smacks the back of Paul's head, and Paul shuts up, sitting back. Jake turns to me. "You'll figure it out," he says, but I can't acknowledge him with anything other than a grunt.

Nessie keeps distracting Bethany, but I think – or maybe I imagine – she looks at me a time or two. Actually, I'm pretty sure that's what she's doing, because I feel warmer whenever her glances wander in my direction.

The rest of the rehearsal makes me feel like my life is in limbo. I still feel like the luckiest man alive – how could I not be, when she exists? When I see her, hear her laugh, hear her heartbeat? When I know she's safe, here with me?

But that damn coordinator lady, the one who could probably even give Alice Cullen a run for her money, says we "need to rehearse at least three more times to ensure smooth transitions."

So every time I touch Bethany again, her hand on my forearm, I feel lucky. But then, on either end of the aisle when we're pulled apart, my heart sinks.

Exhausting. Exhilarating. Can't decide.

I spend most of dinner nervously chugging beer next to Jake and Nessie, trying to figure out how to approach Bethany. I hear suggestive whispers from Katie and Seth, but they're easy enough to tune out when I tune into Bethany's heartbeat, a slow and steady drumbeat.

By the time the speeches are finished, I know all of the wolves are buzzing about me. At least now they'll believe me when I say I'm not gay. There was a bet for that, too.

Finally, as the crowd starts thinning out, the chair next to Bethany opens up, and I'm feeling just buzzed enough to give it a shot. If I screw it up tonight, there's always the reception tomorrow.

"Mind if I join you?" I ask, gesturing to the open chair next to her.

She looks up from her phone, and a small smile comes across her face. I instantly know it's faked, a nicety for a perfect stranger. "No, go ahead," she says, returning to her phone as I slide into the chair.

God, how am I supposed to get her attention?

But then she must sense I'm staring stupidly at her, because she looks up, flipping her phone over on the table, screen down. "You're… Embry, right?" she asks, looking into my eyes.

The intensity is so much, I forget to breathe for a second. But she continues, "I know I didn't get it wrong, did I? Your name. It's pretty hard to forget."

"No," I rush to say, her voice bringing me out of my trance. "No, you got it right. And you're Bethany."

"I am," she confirms, lifting her drink to her lips.

"So," I say, trying to lean back in my chair in attempt to look cooler. Over her shoulder, I see Quil and Paul laughing at me. They're easy to tune out when this gorgeous girl is sitting in front of me. "How do you know Kim?" I ask.

Bethany smiles, flicking her eyes over to where Kim and Jared are talking with Jared's parents. "We work together at the hospital."

"Are you a nurse, too?"

She nods, taking another sip of her drink. "What do you do?"

"This and that. I help my friend Jake at his mechanic shop sometimes, do some part time work for a construction company and timber mill to make up the rest."

"Jack of all trades," she says raising her eyebrows at me as she dips her chin. The combination is almost flirty.

So I try to give her an almost flirty smile in return as I say, "Same trade, really. I'm just good with my hands."

Good with my hands? I deserve the laugh that Quil gives me for that one.

But it seems to work, because Bethany giggles. "Me too," she says with a wink.

I feel like I'm having a heart attack for a second, trying not to get ahead of myself at what she's implying. And then she laughs again, louder, and says, "Because I'm a nurse."

"Right," I say, barely managing to get the words out without tripping on them.

She finishes her drink in one smooth, long gulp, and I watch her throat as she swallows.

"Do you want me to get you another? I'm almost out, too," I say.

Her eyes flick to my beer, still clearly half-full, and she shakes her head. "No, thanks. I actually have to get going," she says, standing to her feet.

I rise to mine also, and I can tell I've shocked her with the movement. She pushes her chair in hastily, already heading toward the exit. "See ya," she says over her shoulder, not looking back.

And so begins the longest night of my life.


The next morning is also excruciatingly slow. Between Jared, who's so nervous he nearly barfs a few times, and Paul, who likes to grate on people's nerves for the hell of it, and me, thinking out loud about how many different ways I could have scared Bethany off last night, there isn't room for much else.

It's time for the ceremony, finally, and I know Kim has waited for this day for her entire life, but I really don't think she's more excited than I am.

I practically shove Seth down the aisle, just to see Bethany again.

And when I do, time stops.

The bridesmaids' dresses are peach-colored and strapless, and it allows me a good look at the freckles that continue down Bethany's neck. Her hair is pulled back out of her face, and I only just now notice the tiny gold hoop hugging her nose.

I suck in a sharp breath. I'm just glad Jake doesn't have to force me to keep walking this time; I'm eager enough to touch her.

The ceremony drags, but only because, as Jake reminds me with a hushed breath, I can't blatantly stare at Bethany without making it clear that I'm not paying attention to Kim and Jared.

After the ceremony we're bossed around by that same tiny lady from the rehearsal, ushered through pictures, where I'm unfortunately situated nowhere near Bethany, and straight through to dinner, where we sit on opposite ends of the table.

Another reason I don't like weddings? They drag on forever before you get to the good parts – the booze and dancing part. I sit through more speeches, watch with feigned interest as Kim and Jared dance with each other and their parents, and shove cake in each other's faces. I almost feel bad, because I know if I didn't have Bethany on the brain that I would probably be enjoying myself more. More than any other wedding I've been to, at least.

But I have no idea how to do this? Do I start with the wolf thing straight off? That's crazy enough. But what about the imprinting? Where does that – should that – come into play?

I can count on one hand the things I know about her – freakin' beautiful. Nurse. Good with her hands.

She's a stranger.

But yet, somehow, she's not.

So I feel more comfortable than I should as I wander over to where Bethany's chatting at a table with Leah and slide into the chair next to Bethany.

Leah gives me a sly grin as she slinks off, probably to whisper in Adam's or Katie's or Nessie's ear (three of the only people on the planet she actually likes, I'm pretty sure) about how I'm going to make a fool of myself.

"Having a good time?" I ask, leaning back in my chair.

Bethany nods, smiling. "How could I not be? Open bar."

I chuckle. "Yeah, I'm glad, too. I didn't remember to bring a flask."

"I never go anywhere without one," she says.

My mouth falls open, and she lets out a laugh at my face. "Seriously?" I sputter.

She studies me, and I'm warm again under her gaze. "Mostly serious," she concedes. "I don't take it to work, although it's very tempting. What'd you get them?" She shifts in her seat to face me more directly as she nods her head at Jared and Kim.

"Uh," I say, taking a deep breath, "Cash."

She runs her tongue across her top lip. "You mean you waited too long to get them something and everything good was gone?" My shocked and guilty expression must give me away, because her lips twist sideways, in an expression that's both cute and alluring. "Me too."

"If I can be honest," I say, not really sure where I'm going when I start the sentence, "I hate weddings."

Her gaze turns pensive. "Why?"

"Aside from the fact that it's a ridiculous amount of money spent on one single day? Just feels kinda fake. Not the love part. I mean anyone who looks at Jared knows he's nuts about Kim."

Bethany nods. "Kim talks about him nonstop, too. Talks about, thinks about, daydreams about."

I chuckle. "Jared's the same." And I know that to be true because I shared a mind with him for years. "It's that people put on a show for it. I know for a fact Jared doesn't know that lady they're talking to right now," I say, tipping my head as the couple makes their way around the tables.

She finishes my thought. "But he'd never say that, right? Because what if she's Kim's long-lost, loaded great aunt who wrote them a four or five-figure check?"

She gets it. I'm so surprised that I can't resist telling her that. "You get it." And then, because I'm desperate to keep her talking, I ask, "What's your favorite kind of music?"

"Country."

Her straightforward, right-away answer makes me let out a nervous laugh. Of course it's country.

"Oh, shut up. It's not that bad," she says, shoving my shoulder playfully.

There's the warmth again, the one I can't figure out yet.

"It's just—" I take a deep breath, trying to get my laughter and heartbeat under control. "My mom says the same thing. She dragged me to a country concert when I was nine. I never recovered."

"I bet you're scarred for life. Cowboy boots, the plaid shirts, knotted right here," she says, pushing her thumb into her breastbone. I can't stop the image that comes into my head, of her wearing that outfit. "And I'm sure you smelled like beer for a week," she says.

I chuckle, mostly because I'm glad she can't see the images flashing through my head. I'm glad I'm not on patrol until Wednesday. "I think my mom actually spilled hers on me."

She giggles. "Poor boy."

"You don't like knitting, do you? Or pottery?" I ask.

She winces. "No. I'm not old."

"How old are you?"

Bethany rubs her lips together. "Didn't your mom teach you not to ask a woman her age?"

There's something in her eyes, a sparkle maybe, that makes me think she's not actually mad. In fact, the word that comes to mind is flirty.

Could this be working? "No, she was too busy spilling her beer on me." That was lame, wasn't it?

I see Quil snickering over Bethany's shoulder, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes or flip him off before turning my gaze back to Bethany.

She doesn't look like she wants to get up or run away. Actually, she's settling in her chair, her entire body facing mine now as she sits sideways in her chair, freckled arm draped across the back.

Could she actually be having a good time right now? Is that what that more-than-warmth is? To test my theory, I ask, "What's your biggest fear?"

She laughs, tipping her cup back. No warmth. "I think I'm gonna need another drink if we're gonna jump right to the deep shit."

She starts to stand to her feet, but I hold out my hand to stop her. "Let me. What's your flavor?"

Bethany purses her lips only briefly before answering. "Gin and tonic. Extra lime."

When I return with Bethany's drink and my own fresh beer, she's lifting her phone to her ear.

"Hey, baby. How are you?"

My heart sinks, breaks, shatters. I'm not sure why I'm surprised she's already taken, because look at her. The way she speaks, how she carries herself makes it evident that she's a catch, worthy of all the love in the world. Now I get why Leah had snuck around with Adam behind his wife's back for months. I'd do that too, if that's what Bethany wanted.

I slide down into my seat, trying not to let my devastation show on my face as I set her drink in front of her. There's some soft jazz playing – I'm sure Kim's parents picked it, because Kim's more of a hip-hop fan. Either way, it's loud enough and there's enough background noise that I can't hear the other end of the conversation.

I watch her face as she makes small talk with whatever lucky son of a bitch is on the other end. She's smiling, even when she's listening to him talk. There's a sparkle in her eyes I haven't seen all night. Without a doubt, she's smitten. In love.

She nods in my direction, mouthing a 'thanks' as she continues her conversation. "I'm having fun, but I can't wait to see you, either. What are you doing tonight?"

I guzzle my beer, downing a quarter of it before Bethany speaks again into the receiver. "Look, I gotta go, okay? I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. I love you. Now," she says to me, sliding her phone in her bag, "where were we?"

"Who was that?" I ask, and I see her face twist at my apparent jealousy. I'm quick to add, "I only ask because I haven't seen you smile so bright at anything else."

"Oh?" Bethany tilts her chin at me. "In all of the twenty-four hours you've known me, you think you've got me figured out?"

"Not all the way," I admit, feeling warm from a combination of the alcohol and her gaze. "But I'm learning."

Her neck flushes, and she looks down at her hands, resting on the table.

Nessie approaches the table, and I don't miss that Bethany looks relieved as Nessie greets us. "Paul has decided the bridal party's taking shots," Nessie says. "You both should come."

Bethany stands immediately, and I follow out of instinct.

"What do you shoot?" I ask Bethany as we approach the bartender.

"Tequila," she responds in the next beat.

Everyone gets their shots – except Rachel and Leah. Rachel abstains because she's literally about to give birth to twins at any moment; Leah looks like she's had too much already and could puke at any moment. Even Katie and Nessie, who legally aren't twenty-one, are able to finagle shots out of the bartender. After a quick cheers to Kim and Jared, we clink and sink.

Tequila isn't my favorite shot to take. It's messy and it makes me wince. Bethany, on the other hand, doesn't spill a drop. She doesn't even make a face, even as she sucks the lime.

Paul groans, slamming his empty cup back on the bar. "Oh, bullshit. Really?"

He orders two more shots of tequila, and thrusts one into Bethany's hand. "First one to break has to take another," he says.

"Are you sure you want to mix clear and dark?" Bethany asks Paul playfully as he pours salt on the back of her outstretched hand.

"Five on Paul," Quil says softly.

And because nobody bets against my girl – wow, that's possessive and presumptuous – I shake his hand just as they slam the shot.

Bethany's face is stoic, and all I want is to watch her. But I spare a glance to Paul, whose eyes are watering as he sucks his lime.

"Fuck!" Paul yells, wincing. Bethany's mouth turns up in a frisky grin. "Damn, you're good," he says, holding up his hand for a high-five.

Bethany laughs, shaking her head as she slaps his palm.

The DJ switches over to some heavier music – this is the stuff that Kim likes – and Bethany grabs Nessie's and Emily's hands. "I love this song! We should dance."

I spend the next few songs standing next to Jake watching as Nessie, Bethany, Katie, and Emily dance, tracking Bethany's movements with eagle-like focus.

"Jake, I'm so screwed," I groan. "I think she has a boyfriend."

He chuckles, not bothering to tear his own eyes away from Nessie as he responds. "Why do you think that?"

I recount her phone conversation, how she'd referred to the person on the other end of the line.

Nessie comes over then, snagging Jake's drink and taking a long sip. "I don't think she's seeing anybody."

"Then who—"

"She has a daughter," she says, grabbing Jake's lapel and pulling him back toward the dance floor. "She was probably talking to her."

Daughter.

It makes my head spin. What a big word for such a tiny human. It brings a whole new set of questions. If she's not seeing anybody, where's the dad? Dead? Absent? Abusive? Red crowds my vision at the thought. To clear my head, I scan the room.

Paul is standing to his feet. He's got a very intense gaze on his face as he offers Rachel a hand. "Maybe we should just go to the hospital now, Rach."

Rachel rolls her eyes as she accepts Paul's help standing to her feet. "For the last time, I'm not in labor. My water hasn't broken. It's just been a long day. I want to go home and go to bed. Please."

Paul's gaze turns mischievous instantly. "I can take you to bed."

Rachel only rolls her eyes again. "I'm sure you can."

Leah is sitting in Adam's lap, sipping a bottle of water. She still looks gray from whatever had set her stomach off earlier. If I didn't know any better, I'd almost think she was walking in Rachel's footsteps. But she-wolves can't have babies. Then again, nobody knew they could imprint until a year ago, so who's to say?

Shifting my gaze to the dance floor, I watch Seth pull Katie away from the group of girls to slow dance in a corner of their own. He starts spouting off ideas for their next national park expedition before she's even settled into his arms. Katie's a few months away from graduating with a degree in photojournalism or something. She's already got a job lined up, and from what I remember, she had her pick.

Jake and Nessie are dancing now too, but they're talking too low for me to hear, and there's no light filtering between them from how close they are.

Quil's talking with Sam by the bar, asking him what kind of stuff one-year-olds actually need for their birthday.

I don't see Jared or Kim, but I do hear them, off somewhere alone. Gross.

Bethany's still dancing, laughing with Emily. But then Sam, obviously enticed by the slow music that found the other wolves wandering to their imprints, snaked his arms around Emily's waist, and Emily calls an apology before melting into Sam's arms.

As if I'd called her name, Bethany looks directly into my eyes. How does that work?

She tilts her head toward the bar, shaking her empty cup. I give her a small smile.

When I meet her at the bar, she's already slamming another shot – her third, and her fresh drink waits on the bar for her. Her neck is flushed, although I'm not sure if it's from the alcohol or the dancing.

"Not much for slow dancing?" I ask as we collapse at an empty table.

She kicks off her heels, pulling one of her legs up underneath her. "Not with all… all that," she says, gesturing to the dance floor. "Too heavy. And I'm tired of the shoes."

I laugh, because I understand what she's talking about. The air on that dance floor is thick with mushy whispered words and pheromones.

It's late enough now that most of the older adults are already gone, and the younger crowd is well on their way to being wasted. My head, despite being on my fourth beer, is mostly clear.

I wonder if it's Bethany.

The back of my mind is still racing, working, trying to figure out how to tell what I need to tell her. Maybe if she's heard the legends, I can use that.

"Are you from around here?" I ask.

She shakes her head. "No, I grew up in Port Angeles. Are you from the reservation like Jared and Kim?"

I nod. "Yeah, I've been friends with Jared for years. And Kim, by association."

Bethany smiles in understanding. "Kim calls you all a gang."

That's one way to put it, I guess. Maybe that's my segue.

But she's already asking me another question. We talk through another rounds of drinks. It's only surface level shit. Favorite color – yellow, because "the world needs more sunshine, especially in Forks". Favorite food – anything she doesn't have to cook. Favorite movie – The Holiday, which she admits to watching even outside of Christmas, because it's just that good.

"What is your favorite holiday?" I ask.

She shifts in her seat, studying her cup. Her cheeks have become more flushed throughout the night. It's spread down her neck, disappearing into the neckline of her dress. Her red hair is falling out of whatever twist it had been styled in earlier.

"Probably Cinco de Mayo. Or St. Patrick's Day."

"Ah, the drinking holidays. You don't even have to use your flask for those." When she nods and giggles, taking another big gulp of her drink, my heart thuds. "I thought you'd say Valentine's Day."

Bethany grimaces. "Ugh. February fourteenth is my least favorite day of the year. It's a stupid holiday. Made up by—"

"By the greeting card and candy companies, yeah, yeah. But I think it's a little more than that."

"How so?"

"I mean, the world is so dark. Bad shit happens all the time. I don't see anything wrong with a day devoted to telling the ones you love that you love them. Because what if you, like, get hit by a bus or something? I just…" I gulp my drink, trying to gather my thoughts. "I don't think we should keep love a secret if we feel it."

She studies me for a long time, and I can tell I've shocked her with my answer. Maybe this is my bridge – hey I know we just met a day ago, but I'm talking about you when I say that. But then she twists her lips in a way that I already recognize is her attempting to put her own thoughts into words, and I stay silent. Surely whatever I have to say can wait another minute. "So, tell me, Embry," Bethany drawls out my name slowly in a way that makes my heart thud against my ribs, "are you a momma's boy or a daddy's boy?"

Moving back toward the deep questions. When I tell her that, she giggles, but she persists, repeating her question.

If it were anyone else, her question would bother me. It has bothered me in the past. But I'm honest in my answer, something I find easier in Bethany's company. Plus it doesn't help that I'm an honest drunk. "I don't know who my dad is."

"Oh." She looks down at her lap. "I'm sorry. If it makes you feel better, mine died when I was seven."

"How?"

"Don't really talk about that," she mumbles.

"Sorry," I gruff.

"Last time you cried?" she asks in the next beat, effectively changing the subject.

"Most people think guys aren't supposed to cry," I mumble.

Her forehead creases as she takes a swig of her drink, crossing her arms. She holds her drink up near her face, pressing the condensation to her flushed neck. When she pulls away, she leaves droplets of water behind. I track one as it rolls down the small valley of cleavage in her chest.

I realize I'm staring, and I snap my eyes back to her face. She's watching me watch her, and she nearly looks like she likes it. But that's not possible.

She clears her throat. "Don't tell me you believe that bullshit about guys not having feelings. You never cry?"

"I said most people think that. I don't. I probably cried… a few weeks ago. Maybe a month. You?"

Bethany presses her cup to her neck again. "Yesterday morning."

"Why?"

She laughs, throwing her head back. "Why not?" she asks when she meets my eyes again.

"If Valentine's day is your least favorite day of the year, what's your most favorite?"

"January twentieth," she says automatically. I want to ask her what the significance of that date is, but then I see a new emotion cross her eyes – regret. She covers quickly. "You asked me another deep question earlier, and I don't think I ever answered it."

I have to cough to clear the lump in my throat before I can speak again. "I think it was your biggest fear."

"Right," she says, nodding slowly. "You have to go first."

That's only fair. I take a swig of my beer. I run through the generic responses in my head – heights or flying or the dark or clowns. But having her sit here, this close to me, I know what my answer is. And it's different than if I'd been asked two days ago. "Losing a loved one." That's easy enough, can be taken in enough ways that it doesn't necessarily have to mean anything.

What I don't tell her is that she's the only person I care about anymore. At all. Ever.

She nods, leaning forward as she drops her gaze. "I think in short, mine is… not being enough."

My jaw goes slack. How could she possibly, in any circumstance, think she's not enough? I have to show her, prove it to her. That she is enough. More than enough.

I find myself leaning toward her as she shifts her legs onto the table. I open my mouth, ready to tell her how enough she is. And then our eyes lock again, and the fabric of her dress slips off the tablecloth, and her feet tumble into my lap.

A second ago, the air was normal. Breathable. Now it's palpable as the mysterious heat I've felt off and on all night surrounds us like a bubble.

It's when she touches me.

I don't hear the music or see the rest of the bridal party having a great time on the dance floor. I don't see anything besides freckles and sea glass.

I don't think I'll ever have the words to say. So if I can't tell her, maybe I can show her. "Do you want to get out of here?"

She blinks a slow blink, and our hearts skip the same beat. "I can take myself home," she says.

"You had four drinks," I remind her. "And three shots."

She does well to hide her shock, running her tongue over her bottom lip excruciatingly slow. I know she watches me track the movement. My blood pumps sluggishly through my veins waiting for her response.

"I take care of myself," she says finally, although the corners of her mouth are turning up. I know she means it in more than one way, and it jumbles my brain again. Focus, Embry.

I study her as she runs her fingers through the condensation on her cup. Try not to imagine her running her fingers over me in the same determined yet delicate fashion. "I didn't mean to mislead you tonight, with the flirting. I'm not looking to get involved," she says, looking down at her drink.

"That's fine. We can just talk some more," I return, not ready to let her go or out of my sight. "Or not talk at all," I add before I can stop myself. Yeah, clearly, I understand Leah's choices more than I'd ever intended.

When Bethany finds my eyes again, they practically pierce my soul. "Then yeah, let's go somewhere. And not talk."

I follow her outside, and I don't miss Quil's shocked expression. He still manages to give me a wink, though. I still can't hear the music. Only her heartbeat.

"Where's your car?" she asks.

I slip my hand through hers and pull her to the corner of the lot. The gesture feels natural, and just really good. I like touching her, like the warmth. I try not to get ahead of myself, considering what she implied about we're going to do.

I open the passenger door to my Acura, but she slams it shut, looking over her shoulder as she reaches for the back passenger door instead. Thank God my bike was dead.

My responding gulp is audible. I get a nice show of leg as she scoops up her dress to make sure it doesn't get caught.

I start to close the door, preparing to walk around, but Bethany's hand shoots out, latching onto my loosened tie, and she pulls me in after her.

I have to stifle a groan as I reach back blindly to shut the door.

I'm starting to wonder if this was a mistake, if maybe I should tell her I have virtually no firsthand experience of what the hell to even do right now. That she deserves more than a backseat quickie. That when I imagined losing my virginity, it wasn't exactly like this.

But she pulls my mouth to hers, and my thoughts fly out the window. The warmth is a blazing fire now, consuming and commanding and uncontrollable.

She tastes like alcohol, first and foremost. But underneath that, she tastes like cherries, and it's a taste I instantly recognize as being purely Bethany. It makes me stiffen against her, and if it were anyone else, I might be embarrassed.

But she moans into my mouth when she feels it, pressing her hips up to meet mine, and I have no room for shame as I shift my legs between hers. She pulses her slick velvet tongue through my lips, and I blow out a breath as I meet it with my own.

I run my hands up her leg, pushing up the fabric of her dress. Her legs are smooth and lean. Like the rest of what I've seen of her body.

She pulls back to catch her breath – I certainly understand that – and I move my lips to her jaw, kissing along its outline before finding her throat.

I run my hands up the side of her body, surprising myself when my hand finds her chest like a magnet.

She moans, and I return the favor when I feel her hands slide down my chest, running over my abs greedily and wandering toward my belt.

I move my mouth to her exposed neck and shoulders, lips skirting along her collarbones, tightening my grip on her exposed thigh. She shifts her hips to mine again, and I smell the most intoxicating smell – Bethany, intensified, and I instinctively know it's the scent of her arousal. I know that, because it makes me stiffen so much it nearly hurts.

It makes me growl, and I'm about to just shove her hands away to get it out faster. How am I this confident? I feel my wolf taking over, begging to be let free, have her, make her mine.

I pull back, looking down at her. Her cheeks are flushed, bottom lip slightly swollen as she bites it in concentration, working against my stubborn belt buckle.

Like word vomit, my thoughts come out unhinged. "You're beautiful."

She freezes under me for an instant. "No talking," she groans, continuing her work on my belt buckle.

Right. Okay. Yes, ma'am. I hold her face, pulling her lips back to mine. God, she's such a good kisser. What is sex going to be like?

What was that about not getting ahead of myself?

When her hand slips inside my pants, a grunt escapes my throat before turning into a low rumbling growl against her lips as she works her hand expertly against me.

I slip my hand under the fabric of her dress, running up her leg, hitting something that feels suspiciously like lace panties, on my way to her smooth stomach.

Bethany lets out a moan against my lips, tearing her mouth away as she gasps for a breath. So beautiful.

Word vomit again. "Go out with me."

She halts underneath me and removes her hand from my pants. That was her one rule, wasn't it? No talking? And I blew it. Nice going, Embry. She attempts to shoves me off; if she notices my hard-as-rock stature, she doesn't comment on it.

I move off anyway. "I'm sorry, I…"

She fixes her dress hastily, keeping her eyes on anything but me as she leans in front of the rearview mirror to check her makeup.

"Bethany, I'm sorry. Please don't go."

She doesn't answer, just throws open the door and climbs out of my car.

Slam.

Well, that probably could have gone better.