Hello to all! I am still alive! I know that some of you were wondering… Those of you who have remained loyal to the story and occasionally ask for updates – I appreciate you so much. Life has slowed slightly, so I am going to try to update as often as I can. Thanks for hanging in there…

CHAPTER 13

JASPER

It was nearly dawn when Bella finally fell asleep. I sighed with relief as the pulsing pain eased to a dull ache. I couldn't believe that she could still hurt so much after so long. She must have loved my brother very much.

I wondered if she experienced this pain often, if it was something that she lived with every day. If so, Bella Swan was unbelievably brave.

No longer crippled under the weight of Bella's sorrow, I moved to the window. The snow had not slowed at all. It was still so thick that I could not see the tree line. We wouldn't be going anywhere today. Great. What was I going to do, trapped inside the cabin all day with Bella Swan? And how was I going to keep from sinking me teeth into her neck?

JACOB

I was ready to kill someone. And if I didn't hear from Bella within the next couple of hours, promise or not, I was going vampire hunting.

BELLA

I felt like I had been through a battle, physically and emotionally. My shoulder hurt, my head hurt, my heart hurt. The physical pain I could manage. I had drugs in my bag. The emotional pain was not so easy to dispose of. It would not be easy for me to lock away the feelings of pain and sorrow and loss that had surfaced along with the memories of Edward. But, I had done it once before, and I would do it again. The problem was, last time I had been able to rely on Jake and draw my strength from him. And now I was stuck here, in the middle of nowhere, with Jasper Hale, a vampire who had once tried to kill me and whom I despised. The situation was not conducive to emotional stability. Especially since Jasper was able to not only sense every emotion, every feeling I had, but also influence my feelings. I hated that he had that ability.

I had no idea what time it was, but I no longer felt like staying in bed. I didn't want Jasper to think that I was hiding from him. I wouldn't hide from him, no matter how much I dreaded being in the same room with him.

I gasped when I threw back the covers. "Fuck, it's cold!" I couldn't help but exclaim out loud. I grabbed the fleece blanket that lay folded at the end of the bed – I didn't remember that being there before – and wrapped it around myself, then opened the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway. It was quiet. I wondered if Jasper was even there. Maybe he had gone hunting… But then I saw the low fire flickering in the hearth at the bottom of the stairs and knew he must be nearby. I was not going to seek him out, though. Instead, I sat down on the couch, on the end nearest the fireplace, and curled my feet under me. The waves of warmth emanating from the fireplace washed over me.

Knowing Jasper's talent for hiding in the shadows, I half-expected that he was somewhere in the room, watching my every move. But I didn't look for him. I didn't want him to think that he had any advantage over me whatsoever – not even a spatial one.

I had to admit, it was peaceful here. The cabin was dark and quiet – just, as I suspected, how Jasper liked it. But it was how I liked it, too. It was odd, how much I had changed in that respect. I could still remember how much I had missed the Phoenix sunshine when I first moved to Forks, how much I had hated the near-constant cover of clouds there. But my time with the Cullens had changed that. Now I almost preferred a dark sky. So winter in Alaska suited me just fine. As did the darkness of the cabin.

JASPER

She looked so peaceful, so content sitting there on my couch, wrapped in the blanket I had left for her this morning. If I hadn't felt it for myself, I never would have believed that only a few hours ago she had been in such pain it felt like she was going to rip in half. This human continually surprised me – she was not what she seemed.

BELLA

He was there – somewhere. I knew it. I could sense him. That fact was a little disturbing. Being able to sense Jasper Hale was not something that I even needed to do. It was something that I had been able to do with Edward, because I had been so in-tune with him. I didn't want to venture a guess as to why it seemed I could do the same with Jasper. But I could. Even now, while I sat with my head back and my eyes closed, I knew that he was in front and to the left of me, standing in the curve of the bay window, framed in darkness.

"Oh, for God's sake, Jasper, quit hiding in the shadows," I said, my voice impatient.

"I didn't want to disturb you," he said quietly, moving forward from exactly the spot I knew he would.

"It's a little late for that," I said, low enough to be considered a mutter, but I knew he heard me.

He arched an eyebrow. "Meaning?"

"Meaning, I hate that you're here, intruding on the life I've built." There was no heat in my voice, only resignation.

"Likewise," he returned, in much the same tone.

"I was here first," I said, shooting him a pointed look.

"No, you weren't." He sat down in the chair opposite me. "You just got here in between visits."

He had me there. The Cullens had been friends with the Denali clan for many years, and visited them regularly, even living with them for short periods of time.

"Whatever." I didn't want to argue inane details – it seemed pointless. Especially when what I really wanted was just one good shot at him. It'd probably break my hand if I gave him a good right cross. But I almost thought that it'd be worth it. Just to see the surprise on his face. And to feel the satisfaction.

Jasper whistled a low whistle and gave me an appreciative look.

"What?" I demanded.

"The depth of your anger toward me is impressive."

"You get out of my head."

"Not in your head," he corrected.

I glared at him. He had said something like that to me before. But I didn't know exactly how his gift worked. I didn't like him using it on me. I leaned forward, intent.

"Whatever," I said again. "You haven't seen anger yet. But you keep doing that and you will." I realized that my threat was completely ridiculous. After all, what could I possibly do to him? But it made me feel better to say it, anyway.

"You want me to block you out?" he asked.

I looked at him closely. He seemed serious.

"Absolutely, yes," I said.

"OK." He shrugged his shoulders casually.

"OK?" I asked suspiciously.

"OK," he repeated.

"Just like that?" I was still eyeing him cautiously.

"Just like that."

I leaned back, utterly defeated. "Huh."

JASPER

I had absolutely no intentions of blocking her out. That would be stupid, like making myself blind. No, her emotions were revealing more to me than she could ever imagine. There was no way I was giving up that advantage. She didn't need to know that, though. If thinking that I wasn't getting a read on her would make her drop her guard, then I would let her believe it. It could only help me. And perhaps I would come to understand her, this walking contradiction of a human that my brother loved so deeply.

BELLA

Well, at least we got that settled. Jasper's ability to sense what I was feeling had given him an advantage I did not have. And I didn't understand why he would have given it up so readily and agreeably. But I was glad he had. It made me feel like we were on semi-even footing. Minus his super-human strength, speed, and senses, of course. But I was content with the fact that he wouldn't be able to use my emotions against me. After all, wasn't it enough that I couldn't seem control them anymore myself?

He was still looking at me, though, with eyes a shade that was familiar but a shape that was not. It reminded me that I did not know Jasper very well. I didn't know what I should expect from him, and I didn't know what he expected from me.

And I didn't like the way he was looking at me.

"What?" I demanded.

"Pardon?"

Damn that innocent look on his face.

"Why are you staring at me?" The man was infuriating.

Jasper shrugged, leaning forward in his chair. "I don't remember you being beautiful."

The honest answer rendered me speechless for a moment. No one had ever called me beautiful. Except Edward. Oh, Jacob made playful comments here and there about me being a "hottie" but that was definitely not the same as beautiful. And that was Jacob.

"That's because I'm not," I said flatly.

Jasper sighed. "Do you have to argue about everything?"

"I'm not arguing…" I trailed off when he raised an eyebrow pointedly. Damn. I decided it was best to change the subject.

"Well, it's been lovely, but I think I should be going now. You said you'd take me back today. So please, take me back."

"Can't."

"Can't or won't?" I challenged.

"Can't," Jasper repeated. "The weather's still bad – hasn't let up at all. If anything, it's gotten worse."

"Really?" It was hard to imagine anything worse than last night.

"Yeah. Looks like you and I are going to have to survive in each other's company for a little while longer."

Then the bastard winked at me.

"Survive?" It was an interesting choice of words.

"Figuratively speaking, of course," he said, bowing his head in a show of humility.

But I couldn't stop the small shiver from running down my spine.