AN: Once again, HUGE THANK YOUs to everyone who took the time to read through this story so far. And for those of you who reviewed, if I could give you all a big shiny star, I would. Sorry again for the delay. I'm a slow poster, I guess, but I promise that I will finish this story. It's getting somewhat close to the end... I think. Damn muses won't give me a clear answer on where, exactly, this thing is going.

Oh, please forgive typos and etc. I am not on speaking terms with grammer and proof-reading at the moment.

Hope this chappie was worth the wait!

I had seriously pissed off whoever or whatever controlled the cosmos. There was no other explanation for the craptacular sewage dump of my life. Let's recap, shall we?

My oh-so-devoted boyfriend ditched me for my cousin (who now expects me to be a cheerful, supportive bridesmaid), I furploded into a giant, shaggy wolf, and my dad died all within a year. That's like a trifecta of horrible or something.

I go out one time- one freaking time- to have fun, and what happens? I end up with a creepy, obsessive stalker that wants to kill me. Or turn me into some kind of twisted pet. I can't get a clear answer out of Edward or Jasper on that one. So, now I've had to quit my job and give up any semblence of freedom or privacy because I can't even go to the bathroom without somebody knocking on the door to make sure Cyrus wasn't hiding behind the shower curtain to nab me or something. It's fucking ridiculous.

I have the most moronic Alpha ever born, and the scariest woman on the North American continent for a mother. The result of that combination? A mom on a rage-and-worry fueled rampage after finding out about my little stalker-problem from the aforementioned moronic Alpha. Thank god Jake's few and seldom-working brain cells actually kicked into gear and stopped him from telling my mother all the unpleasant details- although Carlisle still had to step in and calm her down with some clever not-quite-lies about Cyrus and our situation. She became almost liveable again once that she thought Cyrus was just some random Vamp who merely happened to catch me alone, and now we were working on hunting him down.

And, as if numbers 1-3 weren't bad enough, in a weak moment of insanity and repressed sexual frustration, I went and tried to jump my best friend's bones. I might've succeeded, too, if it weren't for Obsessive-Stalker-Freak Cyrus and his horrible timing. Or maybe it was good timing... I couldn't decide. On the one hand, it was good, because just by kissing Embry, I'd stepped way over the line of 'Okay and Acceptable Behavior of "Just Friends"'. And, just to make things even worse, I couldn't get the memory of his hands sliding up my sides and his lips grazing my neck out of my mind. Blame it on years of complete and utter celibacy, but I physically ached for more. Sweet lord, could anyone blame me? Embry Call was one fine specimen of beautiful maleness, and he was- literally- at my fingertips. And that is exactly why I couldn't decide if Cyrus' scent showing up wasn't actually a bad thing. Maybe, just maybe, if things had gone a teensy bit farther, I wouldn't be feeling all sexually repressed and frustrated and jonesing after the one decent guy in my life.

Add all that shit together, and voila- you get me in my current predicament. Here I was in Port Angeles' one and only bridal shop, terrified of leaving the safety of my dressing room for fear that one of my Packmates (okay, mainly Embry) would see me in this... this thing that was supposed to be a pretty bridesmaid dress... all the while knowing that in less than a month, I'd have to walk down an aisle wearing it for all of La Push to see. I would've been suspicious of Emily just getting a sneaky bit of pay-back for all my bitchiness of the past few years, but Kim and Rachel were being forced to wear it, too.

She usually had such good taste in clothes. Well, okay. Decent taste, at least. I realize I had been spoiled by Alice and Rosalie, and my new-found love of haute couture, but this... this was just bad.

Orange. Who the hell picks orange for their wedding color? Correction- orange and brown. Granted, Emily had been planning for a fall wedding, but still. Orange and brown? Puke me up.

I picked at the mid-thigh length, rusched, skirt (complete with a brown, Flaminco-dancer double ruffle, no less!) with a despairing grimace before trying, yet again, to readjust the strapless top into a semi-flattering position. No matter what I did, the stupid brown band of silky fabric holding the dress in place around my torso refused to do anything but squish my boobs either up until they looked like they were going to topple right out of the dress, or push them down at a weird angle. And the huge, brown bow that sat right below my butt above the ruffles? Yeah, that sucker had to go.

For the love of all things cute and cuddly, was Emily on medication when she picked out this hideous abomination?

There was a light tap on my dressing room door before Embry's low voice reached my ears.

"Hey, you okay in there, B?"

"No," I replied bleakly. "No, I definitely am not."

Before I could stop him, Embry whipped open the door, slid inside, and shut it silently behind himself. His dark, chocolate eyes latched immediately onto mine, full of concern, and I had to fight the now-familiar urge to just jump his adorable ass right there.

"What's wrong?" he asked urgently. I glared at him.

"What's wrong? Just look at this thing!" I gestured wildly at the orange and brown mess sheathing me. "It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen in my entire life, and I'm going to have to walk down the aisle in front of everybody wearing it. Good god, hasn't my life been shitty enough without throwing this into the mix?"

"That's it? You're worried about your dress?" Embry asked, and there was a mixture of incredulity and relief in his voice. I scowled at him, before turning to stare despairingly at my reflection once more.

"This thing is a nightmare. It's like the designer puked up on a piece of paper, and some moronic intern thought it was supposed to be a dress design."

Embry's low chuckle vibrated across the tiny room. "It's not that bad, B."

"Not that bad?" I demanded. "What kind of dress can simultaneously make your butt look enormous and flat at the same time? Oh, and is designed to make sure your boobs look as weird as possible and threatens to fall completely off if you wiggle around to much?"

I huffed angrily and jerked at the top of my dress once more in a futile attempt to fix it, then threw up my hands in exasperation. One little step brought Embry face to face with me, but he was frowning at the brown band now hiked up under my armpits.

"It won't look weird if it's in the right position. Here, let me try..." he muttered, still frowning with concentration while his long, lean fingers reached out to start tugging gently at the top of my dress.

The tips of his fingers brushed my skin, and every nerve ending in my body jolted awake and stood up at attention. Thank god the fabric of the dress wasn't smooth, or Embry would've noticed my twins saluting him eagerly. I mentally repeated all the reasons why, exactly, it would be a terrible idea to seduce the boy right then and there, and when I ran out of those, cleared my throat nervously.

"See? I told you this dress is some kind of torture device," I managed to get out from my dry throat. The side of Embry's mouth twisted up into a grin.

"It's not that horrible, B."

I snorted. "Oh, really? Name me one good thing about it."

Embry leaned back slightly, his lean fingers still on the top of my dress, and examined it critically. "Well... it proves my theory that you'd look good in anything."

His eyes flickered up to meet mine, and I bit my lip to fight back a sudden urge to cry. His gaze shifted to my mouth, and time suddenly slowed, then ground to a halt. My heart thumped erratically as his right hand moved up to cup my face. I felt the calloused pad of his thumb brush across my lips, and my eyes drifted shut involuntarily.

His mouth, soft and warm, and oh, so very gentle, brushed across mine, and I leaned forward instinctively to deepen the contact. It felt like heaven, like I'd been waiting for an eternity, when his tongue finally slipped past my lips and tangled with my own.

The fingers of his left hand were still hooked into the top of my dress, and the heat from his palm seeped through the fabric over the already- erect nub, making me ache wildly for his touch. It could've been because he moved a fraction of an inch closer, or it could've been because I arched toward him, but his palm suddenly pressed into my breast, and I couldn't stop the low moan that escaped my throat. I arched even farther into his hand, encouraging the way he gently squeezed, as if unsure whether or not I would slap his hand away.

Huh. There was no way in hell I was going to slap his hand away. I knew I should. I was well aware of just how bad this was, but my body had kicked all my logic and common sense to the curb. The animal side of me, the one that acknowledged the absolute primal need for Embry's touch, was firmly in control.

Dammit, why did hoity-toity places like this bridal shop have to have a strict no-shirt, no-service policy? Embry's shirt was most definitely in the way. I wanted to feel his over-heated skin against my palms... and my mouth. Deftly, I grabbed the hem of his t-shirt and pulled it up impatiently. After two tugs, Embry caught on to what I wanted, and broke contact just long enough to yank it over his head and toss it to the floor.

Skin! Glorious, smooth, hot skin! My fingers danced across the muscles of his back and shoulders, bringing out a shuddering groan from deep inside his chest.

Suddenly, his hands slid up the outside of my thighs underneath my dress, and I was hoisted off my feet slightly as he pressed my back into the cold mirror behind me. My shock lasted about 0.02 seconds before I wrapped my legs around him, totally uncaring that my skirt was pushed up around my hips. All I really cared about was the way his fingers dug into my thighs, pressing me closer, and the feel of his fiery tongue burning a trail down the column of my throat.

I arched up hard against him, craving contact, as he pushed me even harder against the mirror. His right hand snaked around to cup my backside and support my weight, while his other hand slid up my side to brush against the underside of my breast.

You know that expression that everything melts away, and the two of you are the only people left in the entire world? Yeah... I totally spaced the fact that the hottest make-out session of my entire life was taking place in a cramped dressing room surrounded by my entire Pack (and most of Sam's), not to mention all the imprint girls minus Nessie. So when Rachel Black knocked loudly on the door, my heart almost jumped out of my throat and into Embry's mouth. I think he was just as shocked as me, because if my legs hadn't been wrapped so tightly around his hips, he would've dropped me flat on my butt.

"Yeah! Uh- just a sec," I shouted through the door, trying to unravel myself from Embry in a complete panic.

"Is everything okay in there?" Rachel's concerned voice asked.

I desperately tried to smooth out my crumpled ruffles and straighten my dress. "Yeah, it's great. I'll be out in a minute!"

Her footsteps headed out of the dressing area, and Embry and I heaved identical sighs of relief. I couldn't even look him in the face as I hastily smoothed my mussed hair and tried to calm down my speed-racing pulse.

Sweet mother of mercy, I'd just done it again. The man says one nice thing to me, and I try to rape him. ... Okay, that was a bit extreme. I mean, he wasn't exactly protesting, which just made everything harder.

Heh. Harder. Just like-

No. I did not just go there. But, bloody hell, Fed Ex could deliver that package to my door any day.

Ugh. My thinking privledges for the day had just been cut off.

"I'd better get out there before somebody else comes looking for me," I mumbled as I flipped a glance somewhere in the vicinity of his chest since I still couldn't meet his eyes. He gave a vague grunt, and I couldn't help but smirk a little as I cracked open the door and slipped out.

"Might wanna put your shirt on the right way before you come out, Tank," I whispered to him, and shut the door on his muttered curse and bright red ears.

Emily was in the main room, absolutely glowing in her white gown with her bridesmaids and flowergirl surrounding her. I had to admit that she looked completely perfect as she stood there radiating happiness and excitement out of every pore. And I...

I didn't feel much of anything.

There was the usual sting of sadness and that familiar longing to be just a normal girl again, but... it wasn't the acid-in-the-wound burn I was expecting. Sure, I absolutely hated the thought of having to be out in public in the hideous dress I was currently wearing, and I knew that the actual wedding, with her standing in the place next to Sam where I'd once believed I'd be, would hurt like a bitch. But right now? I had bigger things to worry about. Like the off-limits hottie currently turning his shirt right-side out and attempting to sneak out of my dressing room without being seen.

I'm pretty sure I smiled and said all the right things to Emily. Her enthusiasm didn't waver for a moment, so I couldn't have done anything too horrible, anyway. Could I help it if I was a bit distracted? Parts of my anatomy were loudly protesting the smexy make-out session interruption, and the rest of me was on high alert for Embry to show up.

Jake sauntered over to me after Emily went to go change out of her dress. I scowled automatically at the giant smirk on his face.

"Nice dress," he chuckled. I socked him in the gut.

"Don't act like I have a choice in this, you ass-monkey. Here, take a picture of it so I can send it to Rosalie."

I struck a porn star pose, and Jacob obligingly took the pic for me, still laughing. It only took Rose about five seconds to respond.

"Christ, it's hideous! That thing made Alice go catatonic. One point to Emily."

Jake and I burst out laughing just as Embry, Quil, and Seth walked in and joined us. Before I could show the text to them, my phone rang. The number was my home phone, and I frowned, wondering why Mom was at our house when she was supposed to be working a twelve hour day shift at the hospital.

I flipped it open hastily. "Hello?"

"Why, hello, my dear Lady Wolf."

My fingers spasmed convulsively around the phone as a spiral of fear curled through my stomach. That cold, genteel voice- How the hell was Cyrus calling me from my own house?

"Surprised? You really shouldn't be, you know," he continued, I could hear the amusement in his voice. My Pack had heard his voice, and I found myself in the middle of a tight, deathly silent circle.

"Cyrus," I ground out through my clenched teeth. "What the fuck-"

"Now, now. Language, my pet."

"Fuck you, you asshole. What the fuck do you want?" I spat out, unconsciously pressing the phone painfully hard against my ear with a shaking hand.

"What do I want? You, obviously. But today, I'll settle for learning more about you," he chuckled.


"I've thoroughly enjoyed going through your things, my lovely Leah Suzannah Clearwater. Your existence simply fascinates me."

"Yeah? Your existence simply disgusts me." I retorted. Childish, I know, but my brain wasn't exactly functioning beyond the 'must kill the leech' thought on repeat.

"Unfortunately, I must run before your little friends find me here. But don't worry, my pet. We'll see each other very soon."

That threat, uttered in a perfectly pleasant, friendly voice, echoed loud and clear in my ear before he cut off the call. Embry's hand wrapped tightly around my upper arm, like he was afraid I'd suddenly be yanked away from them as we stood in a tight group in the lobby of Port Angeles' premier bridal shop. I didn't mind; it grounded me to the here and now instead of allowing the dark pit of fear and anger swirling inside me to swallow me whole.

Still silent, all five of us moved as one flowing unit out the door to Jake and Embry's cars. Paul and Jared, lounging just outside the shop with a handful of their Packmates, jumped to their feet as we streamed past, and Jacob's six muttered words- "Cyrus just called from Leah's house"- were like setting off a bomb. I kind of felt bad for Emily. Her picture-perfect fitting day was now ruined as everyone freaked out from one tiny phone call.

My house was supposed to be guarded. Sam left three of the young Wolves there specifically for that purpose, not to mention the other three running patrol along the border. Where were they? None of us voiced our worries, but I could read it as clear as black ink all over everyone's faces.

The Wolf in me rebelled against sliding into the passenger seat next to Embry as he revved the engine and sped off toward La Push as fast as the old Ford could go. That part wanted to be tearing through the trees in hot pursuit, not trapped inside a tiny, beat up car. I knew some of Sam's Pack was already doing just that, and I envied them the forest air whipping through their fur.

My cell phone splintered into several pieces in my clenched hands, and the noise cracked through the silence in the car. In the backseat, Seth jumped at the sound and cursed as I blinked dumbly at the broken chunks and the small cuts quickly healing on my palms. Embry's large, calloused hand reached over and grasped one of mine tightly.

I glanced over at him, but his eyes were firmly on the road, his strong jaw was clenched shut, and his other hand gripped the steering wheel with a white-knuckled grip. He didn't say anything, and I was grateful for that. I didn't want to hear any stupid cliches about how everything was going to be alright, and I most definitely didn't want him to ask if I was alright. Because I wasn't, and I didn't want to make it any more obvious than I already had.

Colin came flying out of the woods to meet us as Embry squealed the car to a halt in my driveway. Jacob's Rabbit avoided smacking the Ford's bumper by mere centimeters as he slammed to a halt as well, and all five of us were out and crowded around Colin instantly.

"The sneaky bastard's disappeared again," he exclaimed angrily over our jumbled questions. "I'm sorry, guys. He left us a bogus trail about a mile from here, and we fell for it. By the time we figured it out, he'd already been here and gone."

"So nobody got hurt?" Jacob asked immediately, with the same relief in his voice that was reflected on all our faces. Colin just shook his head with a self-directed scowl.

"Naw, man. We didn't even see the guy."

The poor kid looked so utterly miserable over it, I just couldn't bring myself to be pissed off at him. At Cyrus, and Fate, and the world in general, hell yes. But not a handful of high school boys that were trying their best against an opponent with centuries of experience.

I wanted to say something, one little sentence to let him know I wasn't holding him or any of his Packmates responsible, but I just couldn't get my voice to cooperate. I hadn't said a word since speaking to Cyrus; it was like my throat was stuffed with steel wool and fear.

Silently, I brushed past the boys and headed for my front door. I knew it was all in my head, but the doorknob felt unnaturally cold underneath my palm, and I shivered as it twisted it and threw the door open.

The leech's stench was everywhere. In the kitchen, all over the living room, the furniture, everything. Slowly, my nose curling in disgust, I made my way through the house and up the narrow staircase to my bedroom. I knew my Pack was trailing faithfully behind me, and the feel of their hulking warmth was a welcome distraction from the horror and anger twisting in the pit of my stomach.

I took a handful of seconds to steady the tremors quaking the bones under my skin before lifting my hand to push my bedroom door open.

The stench hit me like a noxious cloud, and it took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to phase. I could hear Quil gagging and doing his best not to retch, but I ignored him and moved slowly forward into my room.

Cyrus hadn't been joking when he said he enjoyed going through my things. Drawers had been opened, the contents jumbled, photo albums, yearbooks, momentos, every bit of my personal life rifled through and handled by him. And on my bed, carefully laid out, was a slim, red, leather dog collar with a matching leash. A collar, complete with a metal tag dangling from it inscribed with 'Lady Wolf' in flowery script. With a shaking hand, I picked up the folded note laying next to it and flipped it open to read the perfect calligraphy.

'I prefer you in red.'

The god damned bastard.

None of the boys behind me said a word as I suddenly ripped the sheets and covers off my bed and balled them up with the horrible 'gift' from Cyrus jumbled into the middle of it. Breathing hard, trembling fiercely, I stalked past them all to the window in the hall that looked out over my backyard. With one hand, I forced it open and ripped out the screen, then pushed the wadded up mess of blankets through it. It fell with a sad plop onto the grass, and I swiftly headed back to my room to grab more of anything, everything, that that cursed bloodsucker had touched. I'd dumped two more armloads out of the window before any of the boys even moved.

Embry stepped up first, and I had a hazy thought in the back of my head that if he tried to stop me, I'd punch him in the face. But he merely picked up my mattress and started carrying it silently out of the room. After that, the other three seemed to catch on, and started grabbing whatever had Cyrus' stench clinging to it to throw onto the growing pile in the backyard. Quil rushed around opening all the windows, and the five of us moved systematically through the house, emptying it of almost all of its contents in grim silence.

Most of my life history was tossed onto that pile. My insides felt hollow, like Cyrus had stolen away a chunk of me that I would never be able to get back again. I hated him for that. I hated him with every miniscule cell in my freakishly unnatural body. And there was nothing I could do about it. It pissed me off so badly, I was seeing double from the effort it took not to phase.

Still silent, I stalked back into the house, conscious of the watchful, wary eyes of my Packmates, and grabbed the ancient bottles of Jack Daniels and Captain Morgan from under the kitchen sink.

"Getting drunk's not really gonna help things, Leah," Seth began timidly, but faltered under my black glare.

Back outside once more, I smashed the necks of the bottles open and began dumping them all over the reeking pile of all that had made up my life to that point. Embry disappeared into the garage and came back with the gas tank from our lawnmower and joined me. The sharp, pungent scent of the gasoline helped to blot out Cyrus' invasive stench, and I welcomed it.

Jacob produced a matchbook from who-knew-where, and pressed it into my hand wordlessly. Swiftly, before I could stop to think, or really look at the broken mound of things in front of me, I struck a match and tossed it into the pile.

The flames lept up greedily, roaring and twisting away into the sullen, grey sky. The heat on my face was too much. It matched the burning in my soul and made my dry throat ache with the fierceness of it. And I knew with the clarity of one of Alice's visions that the heat and smoke with draw Sam, and Emily, and countless others, and my silent facade would crumble under their looks of pity.

So I did what I was good at. I ran.

Once I hit the woods, I shifted without bothering to strip out of my clothes. My brain, like my voice had been, was strangely silent. I didn't know where I was running, and I didn't care. I was simply running away, and it didn't matter that I could be running straight into Cyrus himself. Better that than this kind of existence, this constant state of terror, this slow stripping of away of everything I'd worked to become. If he was going to kill me, then I wanted it done with already. And I wanted to take a chunk of him to hell with me just like he'd taken a piece of me away with him.

But I couldn't run away from my life. And I couldn't just give in and let Cyrus win, either. I just didn't have it in me.

I stumbled to a halt and realized dimly that I was only on the far side of Forks. And with that realization came the feeling of Embry's reassuring, silent company. His large, dark Wolf-form eased out of the woods and gave me a gentle nudge. I barely responded at all, in thoughts or movement, and he disappeared into the trees again. Moments later, he walked towards me again, in his human form this time, dressed only in his shorts and holding his large t-shirt out to me.

"Hey, B," he murmured, laying the shirt down on the leaves. "I'm gonna turn around so you can shift back, yeah?"

He walked away a few paces and dutifully turned around. I stood there, rigid, for a few long moments before finally complying. His t-shirt was drenched in his scent, and I took a moment to inhale it in an attempt to ground myself again. My arms wrapped around my chest tightly like they were holding my body together against the trembling that had nothing to do with shifting.

I suddenly found myself wrapped in Embry's thick, hot arms, and I pressed my face against the bare skin of his chest. He stood there, holding me, while I shivered and tried to blot out the memory of Cyrus' stench with his own woodsy musk.

"I hate him, Tank," I choked out finally. My voice sounded like I'd been screaming for eight hours straight. His arms pressed me closer to him.

"I do, too, B. I really, really do."

We lapsed into silence again. I have no idea how much time passed with us like that. I just know I stayed there, buried in his embrace, until the trembling stopped and I could think clearly once more.

"We'd better go find Alice and Esme and give them the good news," I finally sighed against Embry's chest. He pulled away just far enough to give me a seriously confused look.

"Good news?"

I wrinkled my nose. "Yeah. They get to redecorate my entire house. Oh, they'll act all sorry about it, but inside they'll be giddy as kids at Christmas."

Embry laughed then, and I even managed a smile as he took my hand and led me towards the Cullen's house.

PS: I suck at writing the make-out session scenes. They always just end up so... awkward. That's what took me forever to write... sorry about that!