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"This piece of shit." Paul yanked again, trying to get the mower started. His patience waning, he gave it a hard, final tug. "Arrrrrgh," he yelled up at the sky as the starter cord detached entirely.

It was official. The old girl had eaten her last yard.

"Ern … bad day?"

Paul turned around, startled by the female voice behind him. He grunted, "Where the hell did you come from?" Damn. Was I bitching that loud that I didn't hear her walk up?

"I, uh ... This is pretty much my home away from home." She blushed and tucked a stray hair behind her ear with one hand as she pointed toward Billy's house with the other.

Paul asked, "You're staying with the Chief?"

"Both Chiefs," she said. "I just moved to Forks. Charlie Swan is my dad. He's always working, and I work from home on my laptop, so I just hang out here most of the time."

"Ah, I see," Paul said, smirking. "I'm well acquainted with Charlie." He glanced down her frame, appreciating her muscular legs and the curve of her hips wrapped like a second skin in her denim shorts. Her skin shone like silk in the sun, smooth and shimmery. Straight teeth dug into her bottom lip, the natural pout of her mouth hovering over a small, sharp chin. Paul admired the thick, full lashes delicately set around large chocolate pools. Soft flecks of gray speckled her iris, a combination Paul had never seen before. A light breeze enveloped him in her scent. She smelled sweet and natural, like fruit, vanilla, and lavender. It nearly made his mouth water as his dick throbbed from the lust that shot through him.

Whoa, down, boy. Paul adjusted his stance just slightly to conceal the evidence of the sudden surge of attraction he felt. She was far from the type Paul usually pursued, but there was something about her that he couldn't quite name. She feels … familiar.

He froze as he took in the too-large t-shirt she wore. Despite being tied around the waist, it hung off of her. Paul recognized the crudely cut-off collar as a particular favorite shirt of Jacob's. The v-cut Jacob had added only reached his collarbone but now peeked a hint of cleavage on his friend. As Paul took a closer look, he realized her hair was not just curly but wild. It appeared tousled as if she just crawled out of a good romp.

Shit, that fucker? If Jake is getting laid, he sure kept it to himself. This girl didn't smell like Jacob, either. She smelled clean and sweet, and it was starting to drive him a little mad. He wanted to shove his nose into her hair and fill his lungs with nothing but her scent.

God, I have to know if she is fucking around with Black. It wouldn't do any good to piss off his future alpha by snaking in on his girl. Then again, if the pack didn't know about her yet, how important could she be to him?

Tentatively, Paul asked, "Um, so … you and Jacob?" He gently tugged at the sleeve of the shirt she wore. Hell, when the hell did I even walk over to her? Somehow, he had drifted to her side as a man entranced. He swallowed nervously, hoping she didn't confirm his suspicion.

"We are best friends," she clarified. "Since we were little. I'm surprised he never talks about me."

Paul laughed and said, "Jake and I aren't the best of pals, honestly. We bump heads sometimes. He thinks I'm a dick, and I think he's too goddamned nice."

"He puts up with more than his fair share. From me included," Bella grumbled, looking toward the house.

Paul asked, "What makes you think that?" Another whiff of her sweet scent made him suddenly self-conscious, and Paul hoped he remembered his deodorant that morning. He stood in front of her shirtless, his large, muscular form coated in sweat and cut grass. Grease streaked his eyebrow from the worthless push mower next to him, and he was in desperate need of a haircut. Turning away to keep from staring at her, Paul glanced around the yard and sighed heavily. It isn't even a quarter finished, and Billy has a large yard.

Dodging his question, she asked, "So, why are you mowing anyway? Billy pays you to do it or something?"

Paul snickered, further embarrassed. "Well, for starters, I'm Paul." He rubbed his dirty hand on the leg of his shorts before offering it to her to shake.

She chuckled as her hand was swallowed in his and shook his hand back timidly, squinting from the sun as she looked up at him. "I'm Bella."

Bella. Simple but pretty. It suited her.

She asked, "So you were saying?"

"I got in trouble a few months back," Paul said. "I was ordered to do some community service. Charlie agreed to sign off on it for me if I mow for Billy twice a month. Jake honestly does have more responsibilities than most guys his age, and it lessens his load a little bit. Besides, everyone loves Billy."

She gave him a dazzling smile and nodded. Paul could not help but smile back at her.

"Made it pretty hard to say no to the whole deal," he added sarcastically." She glanced down to his chest and back before turning toward the house, laughing.

Wait. Was Bella checking me out? Oh, here we go. Paul was an attractive young man. He knew this about himself and was plenty smug about it most of the time. Paul liked women. He loved their soft, sweet sounds and making them laugh. He enjoyed sex, too, just like any other young male he knew. His past was a bit more colorful than the rest of the pack, and finding a decent girl to hang out with more than a few times had been a pain in the ass. Due to his size and short fuse, most found him intimidating. His snarky attitude alone often turned folks away from his company, something he found a perk rather than hindering. He didn't even have to speak for people to shy away from him. He towered over others in both height and muscle. It couldn't be helped with what he was - the entire pack looked this way. Most of them were close to the same age, but their appearances ranged from twenty-five to thirty, and no rhyme or reason for who looked older. Many couldn't help but feel nervous around the pack.

Paul tried his best to flirt with anyone that caught his attention regardless. You don't know if you never try, right? Paul's tries had been plenty successful, but

Only one type or girl showed interest in Paul first. Crazy. She is also a cop's daughter. Charlie Swan's daughter. And friends with Jacob? Shit, she can't possibly know about the pack, right? So far, Charlie was the only human that wasn't an imprint or part of the Council to know about the pack. Most pack members were not allowed to even tell their parents when they phased.

Bella asked, "So, what did you do to cause so much trouble?"

"Honestly? Got arrested for fighting with my cousin on a public beach," Paul said. "My cousin knows Charlie and got him to help me out of it, seeing as how he was the so-called victim and all. Sam was the one that started it."

"I know Sam, and that sounds like Charlie," she laughed.

Paul merely nodded. Charlie was well known for his kindness. It was the real reason he was in charge of the station, and no one ever ran against his position - not that he wasn't excellent at his job. Charlie treated everyone like family. He put up with more than his fair share of bullshit. Charlie had a stomach made of steel and handled every situation encountered with an incredible strength that made Paul almost ashamed of his own lack of control. Of course, Charlie wasn't a shifter either, but he had connections to the tribe. Everyone loved the guy. His ties to their extended "family" certainly helped.

Paul asked, "You're Quil Ateara's cousin, aren't you?"

Bella blushed, laughing as she nodded. "Yeah. Cousin Quil. Our own little Don Juan."

Paul burst out laughing and said, "Oh, he wishes. We love to call him beefcake to give him shit. His arm muscles are ridiculous. Quil could probably leg press a compact car at this point."

"You're not so tiny yourself," Bella said and blushed again.

The twitch in his groin almost made Paul groan as color spread down her neck to her chest. He had a sudden urge to follow the trail of color under the t-shirt and see where it ended. God, Paul. Get your shit together.

He looked around at the yard again and sighed. "I guess I should get my ass moving and find a different mower," Paul said. He grabbed the handle and pulled his broken push mower to his truck.

"Just use ours," Bella offered. She sucked in her breath as he effortlessly lifted it into the truck bed. Paul grinned back at her smugly.

"Are you sure that is okay? I mean I have the gas for it."

Bella shook her head as if clearing her thoughts. "Um. Yeah. I'm sure it's fine. The green mower Jacob uses is actually Charlie's. I'm sure no one will mind. Jake will be glad it got done. Just don't break it. It's in the garage next to my bike."

Surprised, Paul asked, "Your bike?"

Bella beamed at him proudly and said, "Yeah. My motorcycle. Right next to the Harley."

Paul shook his head in disbelief and laughed.

You could knock this girl over with a feather, and she drives her own motorcycle? His groin throbbed again as he pictured her astride a motorcycle wearing far less than she probably did in real life. That's it, Lahote, you are going to the bar tonight or something. You need to be laid. Fuck.

Her giggle caught his attention, and Paul realized he adjusted his fucking crotch right in front of her. "Uh…" Paul grinned in embarrassment as she began walking away. She turned back to smile at him over her shoulder, and he was immediately irritated with himself.

Don't let her get away, you fucking Goob. "Wait. Bella, wait," he called out, jogging after her.

She stopped and turned to face him as he reached her and immediately stepped back as they nearly collided. She laughed and asked, "Need something?"

Paul asked, "Are you seeing anyone?"

"Hmm." Coyly, Bella cocked her head to the side and teased, "That depends on how you look at the situation, I guess." She bit back a laugh as his face fell.

Damn. Figures, Paul thought, cursing his bad luck. A chick being taken was usually enough to curb his interest. Paul was surprised at himself when the pull he felt toward her remained. "Well, would you like to hang out with me tonight anyway? Have a few drinks or something." Her eyes widened at the suggestion, and Paul groaned. "Shit. How old are you? Please tell me you are not jailbait. Fuck."

Bella laughed and shook her head no. "I'm twenty-two. I just … I have plans with Jake later."

Paul nodded in understanding. "I see," he said. "Rain check?"

Suspiciously, she asked, "You really want to hang out with me?"

Paul snickered. "Yeah. Is that so unbelievable?"

"No," Bella said. She began walking away again. "We can hang out. I just thought you might ask me on a date, that's all."

Paul scoffed as she reached the front door. Shit. She must be crazy. He yelled, "And what? You don't hang out with the people you date?"

"Nope," she called back. "I date them." She gave him another beaming smile as she shut the door behind her.

Well, I'll be damned. Paul ran his hands through his hair, looked down at his sweaty, grass-covered body, and laughed. Still got it, Lahote. He turned and headed toward the garage, eager to finish the yard and go home to shower.


"What did he do?"

Bella turned to find Jacob grinning on the couch. He asked, "Did he do it? Did he hit on you?"

"Yes," she admitted, and Jacob burst into loud laughter, oblivious to her knocking knees. Bella did not flirt. It just wasn't her style. Despite that fact, she had tried her best just a moment before. Now, Bella was practically a nervous puddle in the doorway, and Jacob seemed to find it hilarious.

"I told you he would. Paul hits on anything that walks," Jacob said and shook his head before shoving a handful of popcorn into his mouth.

Bella winced as the words cut. While she knew he didn't mean to insult her, he did. Jacob was well aware of her insecurities and was usually more careful with his words. Her best friend for life knew her better than anyone else probably ever would.

"Thanks, Jake. That was wonderful. That makes me feel awesome," Bella grumbled. She picked up a pillow and smacked him in the face with it. Jacob grunted and coughed around his popcorn, sending pieces flying around them. They both laughed as she collapsed on the opposite end of the couch. Bella glanced toward the door as the lawnmower started outside.

"You know that was not what I meant," Jacob said as he picked popcorn off his bare chest.

"Sure, sure," Bella said, mocking him.

Jacob carefully placed the bowl and offending pillow on the floor at his feet. A growl emanated from his chest, and Bella immediately shivered.

"Don't," she warned, unable to keep the smile from stretching across her face as she tried to sink further into the sofa. "Don't do it!"

She shrieked as Jacob pounced over her. He cringed at the sheer volume of her cry and froze, waiting for the ringing in his ears to stop. He shook his head rapidly before glaring down at her.

"Sorry, Jake," Bella said guiltily, barely holding back her laugh. He resumed his predatory stance over her and growled again. Jacob groaned as there was a knock on the door. She realized that the lawnmower had stopped as the front door flew open. A nervous laugh escaped her as she tilted her head back over the arm of the couch to look at the intruder. Paul's shocked face made her blush as Jacob laughed, pushing himself off her.

As he resumed his seat at the other end, Jacob asked, "What's up, Paul?"

Paul asked her, "Are you okay? Girl, I heard you scream over the fucking lawnmower. I thought someone was trying to hurt you in here."

"Don't be fucking dumb, Paul," Jacob said.

Paul gave Jacob an accusatory glare, the suspicion written on his face. "So, that wasn't what it looked like when I walked in?"

Jacob scoffed and said, "What did it look like, Paul? Enlighten us."

"We were just playing around," Bella said as she sat up. Her cheeks were hot, flushed with embarrassment. "We tend to revert to fifteen-year-olds when we are around each other. Big bad wolf here likes to playfight." Her eyes darted to Jacob quickly as she realized what she had said.

Bella timidly looked back at Paul as he glared at Jacob. Fuck, she groaned, and Jacob burst out laughing.

Jacob asked, "You are just stumbling into trouble today, huh, Bells?"

Paul snapped, "She knows?"

"I'm sorry," Bella said as she stepped toward Paul. "Look … Everything is okay. I have known what Jake is for years. I have literally never, ever made a peep about it before. It probably just slipped because I know what you are."

Paul asked Jacob, "Does Sam know that she knows?"

"Don't be stupid," Jacob said and threw a piece of popcorn at Paul. "She grew up hearing our legends because of Charlie. She guessed before I ever needed to tell her. Do you remember when Sam was all stressed because a family friend was staying here right after I phased?"

Paul glanced toward Bella and asked, "That was you?" Bella merely nodded. Turning back to Jacob, he asked, "And you have managed not to let it slip this entire time?"

Jacob said, "I keep a lot more than that to myself, trust me." He nodded toward Bella. "Like Bells, for example. She's not usually a bigmouth."

"Um? Hello? Right here," Bella snapped angrily. It was a shame she couldn't have been a shifter like Leah. Bella certainly had the temper for it. As it were, Jacob glanced down at her much smaller frame and laughed outright.

Paul looked down at her as Bella turned to glare up at him. To her aggravation, he let out a sigh of relief and chuckled. He asked, "You're a real fucking firecracker, huh?"

Jacob wagged his eyebrows at her suggestively and said, "You have no idea."

"Oh whatever," Bella hissed as her face flushed in embarrassment. "You have acted like an idiot all day."

Paul looked more than a little confused as he said, "Okay … Well, I'm gonna mow now." He awkwardly fumbled his way outside and pulled the door shut behind him. Jacob burst into laughter as Bella fanned her heated face and sat back down.

"Well, if you didn't want me to go out with him, I think you just accomplished it," she grumbled.

Jacob sighed as his laughter slowed and yanked her to his side. He asked, "You actually wanna go out with him?"

"I don't know," Bella said and shrugged against his shoulder. "Maybe. Paul seems kind of sweet."

"Please," Jacob scoffed. "He is an asshole. He is not a bad guy, but … He has got one hell of a reputation, Bells. Paul has been the fuck 'em and forget 'em type for years."

"Jacob, I'm twenty-two fucking years old, and I have not been on a date in three years. It is not like I want to marry the guy," Bella said. "It is a goddamn shame that you and I aren't just in love with each other because I'm pretty sure you have ruined me for normal fucking men."

Jacob grinned cockily at her confession, and Bella poked him in the side. "I'm sorry, Bells," Jacob said and kissed her forehead as she sighed. "Maybe in another universe or something."

Jacob had been her best friend all of her life, but friendship was all they had - besides sex. Hot, sweaty, incredible sex. But, it wasn't enough for either of them. She asked, "Do you regret any of it?"

Jacob said, "I don't have any regrets with you, Bells. I love you more than anybody on the fucking earth, and you know that. We are just not meant for each other."

"We have to stop fucking around entirely one day. You know that, right?"

Jacob smirked and said, "Yeah. Our future partners may not be copacetic with our extracurriculars."

Bella laughed and said, "You say it like our relationship is a science project."

"It's goddamn beautiful is what it is," Jacob said. He reached up to cup her face, turning her to look at him. "I want you to find the right person for you. That person was not Edward or me, but they are out there. I just highly doubt it's Paul." He pecked her lips quickly and laughed as she lightly swatted his arm.

Bella released a heartfelt sigh. "I'm going to hate whatever bitch you end up with. She better be fucking incredible."

Jacob gave her a dazzling smile before placing another gentle kiss on her lips. "I never said thank you, you know?"

Bella leaned back and asked, "For what?"

"Trusting me," he said. "First for trusting me enough to help you get through your breakdown."

"Well, when a girl gets dumped, she usually wants her best friend around," Bella teased.

"Please, I had to fight you tooth and nail to let me in," Jacob said and rolled his eyes. "You opened up eventually, though."

"So what is the rest? First for trusting you, and then?"

"For trusting me with your body, too," Jacob said and grinned at her wickedly. Bella blushed and laughed as she nodded.

At nineteen and still a single virgin, Bella had become fed up with her unintentional chastity. After getting drunk in Jacob's garage one night, she confided in him about it, and the idea of being friends with benefits was born. They did not fool around as often as they once had, but it occasionally still happened when Bella went home to visit. Since she had moved back, they had taken full advantage of their adult status and frequent alone time. They were only human, and there certainly was nothing wrong with having a healthy sex life with a trusted partner.

They both wanted more than that, though. Bella wanted a connection so deep that a simple kiss could make her toes curl, and an embrace felt like home. She wanted someone she could plan a future with, confident that she would not be abandoned.


Playfully, he grumbled, "What?"

"If I end up a dried-up old spinster still living with Charlie, will you like … invite me over for holidays and shit?"

Jacob burst out laughing as he shook his head at her. "You will not end up alone, Bells," he insisted. "You are too amazing for that."

"Thanks, Jake," Bella said, snuggling against his side.

"And, if you do, you can babysit my five kids with all of your free time."

Bella laughed and jabbed him in the ribs. He jerked away and cackled at her rueful smile. "You're an asshole," she said. "What makes you think any woman wants to have five of your giant babies?"

"Ah. The right one will, Bells," he said.

They sat in silence for a long time as her mind wandered to Paul. Did she want to hang out with a wolf with a reputation like Paul? Bella worried about the wolves she knew constantly. Would Paul simply end up another person she fretted about?

"You are still thinking about it, aren't you?"

Bella blushed at the question as she realized she had been staring after Paul through the front window. "Not a date," she said. "He asked if I wanted to hang out, and I'm contemplating it. Even if what happened earlier did manage to scare him off a little. I need more friends, Jake."

"I doubt it did," Jacob said. "I honestly can't say that I think it's the greatest idea, but …" He stood up and pulled her with him. "Everyone has to learn their lessons, I guess." Jacob wrapped his arm around her waist and carried her to the door.

"JACOB!" Bella kicked her feet back, cracking her heels against his shins. "Put me down." He cackled at her feeble attempt to struggle and set her down outside.

Jacob said, "Go tell him you'll hang out with him if he still wants to."

Bella spun in his arms and tried to push him back so she could duck inside and hide. "Seriously, Jacob, you are being such a jerk today."

"Hey, Paul," Jacob yelled.

The lawnmower cut off as everything went silent. Bella squeezed her eyes shut in frustration and sighed, leaning her forehead against Jacob's chest. "I hate you," she grumbled.

Jacob wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head affectionately as he chuckled. "No you don't," he said and rubbed his thumb across her scarlet cheek.

"Uh, you guys need something?" Bella turned to glance over at Paul and laughed nervously.

Before she could respond, Jacob said, "Bella's plans for the night just busted wide open if you still want to hang out with her."

Paul hesitated, glancing around suspiciously. "Yeah, that's up to Bella," he said. "I'll be honest, I feel like you're trying to fuck with me, Jake."

Jacob laughed and teased, "I'm just giving Bells a boost. She tries to act confident, but she is actually super shy."

Bella stamped her foot angrily on his big toe and warned, "Jake!"

"What? I'm just being a good wingman," Jacob said, entirely unfazed by her assault. The bastard didn't even bother faking a grimace.

"You are being a dick," she grumbled, making him cackle again. Bella rubbed her face in aggravation and pulled away from him. "Go inside," she ordered. "Let me talk for my fucking self, okay?"

Jacob asked, "And would you be willing to do it without the push?"

Bella grinned at him mischievously and said, "There are many things I would not do if you didn't push."

"Because I'm a great friend," Jacob bragged, wearing one of the sunshine smiles that weakened her resolve every time. He lowered his voice to a whisper as he leaned close to her ear and said, "Now buck up and talk to him." Bella jumped and blushed as his palm smacked loudly against her butt cheek.

She laughed despite herself and said, "Yeah, yeah. Get in the house." Jacob stepped inside and shut the door behind him.