Seeing the new crescent mark, I ran my fingers over his forearm, frowning when he winced almost imperceptibly.
"Overprotective fool," I muttered again, watching him in irritation as he instantly composed his face into the picture of serenity. "How long will it hurt like this?" I demanded.
"It doesn't hurt," he said quickly.
I narrowed my eyes. "Liar. You should know better than to try and get past me."
We both chuckled softly, and he closed his eyes in relief as I touched his arm again, this time feather-light, gently soothing the wound. Watching him, I paused thoughtfully, taking in the sensation of the raised scar underneath my fingertips.
"What does it feel like?" I asked finally, cocking my head to one side.
"What?" he asked, opening his eyes to look at me.
He chuckled. "You've felt pain before."
"No, not like that. I don't remember my transformation, and even in all the times I've fought, I've never actually been bitten."
He paused warily. "Why do you want to know?"
"I …" I hesitated, trying to explain. "It just seems so …"
"Human?" he finished, an eyebrow raised. I nodded ruefully and he chuckled again. "You're one of a kind, Alice."
"So you really haven't?"
He looked at me with a sudden eagerness. "You haven't been bitten?"
"Well obviously I have, once … but no, never in my memory."
A pleased smile spread across his face. "Good. I wasn't sure if you were lying when you said you weren't, after that fight."
"You're always protecting me," I said, crossing my arms petulantly. "You know I can hold my own."
"You can," he agreed.
"You should let me have a little fun next time," I suggested hopefully.
He winced at the word fun. "I'm not sure I trust you."
Instantly I was irritated. "Jazz, you just said I was skilled enough …"
"Of course you're skilled," he said mildly, and I felt a wave of calm settle over me. "You're one of the most talented fighters I've ever seen, really and truly."
"Then why won't …"
"I'm not sure I trust your judgment."
"Jasper Whitlock …" I began indignantly.
He held up a finger. "Hear me out, now. And tell me the truth."
I frowned. "I always tell you the …"
He raised his eyebrows and I fell silent. Then he leaned closer to me, his golden gaze mocking but with an undercurrent of seriousness. "The plane ride with Bella," he said, each word slow and deliberate.
I pursed my lips – I was caught. He smiled slightly and continued. "I seem to recall a certain promise that you made … that you'd get yourself out. You were telling me not to come; you promised to save yourself at all costs." He touched my chin gently. "You lied to me."
I sighed. "How did you know?"
"I know my wife well enough. I did believe you at the time, but once you were back safely and I had time to think it over …" He trailed off, his gaze troubled. "You wanted to protect me."
"Of course I did!"
"You were willing to do anything – even lie to me – to keep me safe."
"Jasper," I said earnestly, "You are the most important thing in the world to me. I can't imagine ever living without you. I'm sorry for the lie, but I'd do just the same thing if I had to do this all over again." I touched his cheek tenderly. "I'd do anything for you – anything."
He closed his eyes and groaned. "Exactly."
"That's exactly why I don't like you fighting. You'd concern yourself too much with protecting me."
I smiled wryly, lightly tracing the scar on his arm again. "You seem to be rather guilty of that yourself, mister."
He sighed. "I know I am.
"That's not fair."
He tried to change the tone of the conversation, playfully ruffling my hair so it stood up even spikier. "You were the one who married a southern gentleman."
I fixed my hair and crossed my arms over my chest, not amused. "You were the one who married a headstrong lady," I retorted.
In the blink of an eye he was a fraction of an inch from my face, his sweet breath gently fanning over my lips. I became perfectly still as desire – his or mine, I wasn't quite sure – began to course through my veins.
"You are the one," he murmured, his gaze darkly intense, "Whose every pain is multiplied a thousand times in my body. Even the thought of you in danger is the most terrible thing I have ever felt … You are the one I'd die a thousand deaths for rather than see hurt, even the slightest bit."
I felt my throat constrict. "Jazz, I …"
He pressed a finger to my lips for silence. "I spent a hundred years feeling other people's emotions. Their hate, their anger, their fear. And yes, sometimes their love. But I never got to feel anything for myself." He smiled slightly. "I didn't feel love for myself until I met you. But I also didn't feel the other emotions either – I never felt real pain until you called me on that airplane, when I realized that the most precious part of my life was a thousand miles away, heading into danger." He closed his eyes for a long moment, remembering, and when he opened them he looked half crazed. "Don't do that to me again, Alice," he begged, his voice strained.
"I won't," I said quickly. "Never again …"
"Do you promise?"
"Anything for you."
He exhaled in relief. "Good. Thank you." He was silent for a long moment, brooding, and then turned to me, trying to smile. "Maybe this will stop me from worrying now."
I frowned. "Maybe. But there's still something wrong."
A little crease appeared in between his brows. "What?"
I pushed my finger between them to smooth it. "You're still anxious."
"Am not," he retorted, lying again.
"Are too," I said, pretending to pout. "You're not smiling."
"Well," he said, drawing me into his lap and held me close. "There's something that you do very well that always makes me smile."
I giggled and pretended to ponder. "Steal Carlisle's underwear and put them in Rosalie's drawer?"
He shook me playfully. "Guess again."
"Color coordinate Edward's socks and then hide them in his piano bench?"
He pulled me so close we were only a breath apart. "Still wrong."
"Well then," I whispered, tracing his lips with my finger. "You'll just have to give me a clue."
He smiled – a real smile that made my heart thrill with joy – and pressed his lips to mine.