Okay. You can do this. Just lift your hand. Ring the stupid doorbell. This is not the apocalypse!

Bella took a deep breath and lifted her hand yet again…only to fail spectacularly at the simple action just like she had the previous three times.

Crap. She really didn't want to do this. She didn't want to be here at Lauren's house. She didn't want to be at a party where dumb kids were going to be doing even dumber things because of their blood-alcohol content. Didn't want to be around music cranked up so loud that the bass could disrupt the beat of her heart. But she had agreed to come, much to her own dismay.

Smacking herself in the forehead, she wondered why she'd done such a stupid thing. Then she was reminded as her phone buzzed with a text message.

-You still coming?- It was Angela.

Bella groaned. She was the only reason Bella was even considering making her fifth attempt. She'd promised the other girl that she would come and she'd already put it off for hours now. It was going on ten o'clock at night and Bella was pushing fashionably late into the zone of rudeness by this time. She knew it, had been raised better than this, but still…ugh.

Instead of texting her back, she shrugged fatalistically before lifting her hand and finally making hesitant contact with the doorbell. It depressed with a sinister sounding Bong! Heart-attack-loud, she could hear it even over the music and it startled the hell out of her. Though to be fair, she was already so tense that even an ant coughing in her direction would have made her jump.

The door banged open and a tipsy Mike Newton stood in the open frame. "Bella! Hey, glad you could make it!" He stumbled forward to hug her in welcome, and Bella found herself wrapped in a cloud of liquor-fumes and an overabundance of Axe body-spray. Wrinkling her nose in an effort to preserve her sense of smell, she forced herself to pat him lightly on the back in an attempt to hurry the embrace along and make him let go. But drunk-Mike was apparently a bit more handsy than sober-Mike and Bella smiled tightly as she twisted her hips to the side in an attempt to avoid the seemingly accidental swat to the ass as Mike leaned into her.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Mike pulled back with a goofy grin. "How was your Christmas?"

Bella forced herself to smile brightly. "It was pretty good. How was yours?" she asked politely.

"It was awesome!" Mike declared a bit loudly. "My parents got me a car!"

Oh, wonderful, Bella thought cynically. This, coming from someone who was barely walking in a straight line at the moment. But then again, maybe she wasn't being fair, because this was the very first time she'd ever seen Mike drunk. Luckily the boy also happened to be a cheerful drunk and he rambled happily about this and that as he led Bella into the heart of the house where the party was already in full swing. She was actually very thankful for this because it meant that she might get away with not making a grand entrance. She wouldn't have to become the center of attention with so many people already present.

Still, it took her a while to escape Mike and make her way through the crowds of her fellow seniors, bumping into the familiar and unfamiliar alike as she went with a somewhat sheepish smile. It was as she was about to go on a hunt for a non-alcoholic drink that she finally spotted Angela and hurried over with a far more authentic smile.

The girl had been standing against the far wall, watching the goings-on with the look of someone watching the animals escaped from the zoo and hoping like hell that they didn't see her. She turned her head right then as if sensing Bella's approach somehow, and Bella could have laughed at the way relief seemed to completely transform the taller girl's face.

"Oh, thank goodness," Angela exclaimed once Bella was within hearing. "I was beginning to think that you weren't coming after all!"

"I could never do that to you," Bella laughed, hugging the poor girl who looked completely out of her depth. And if she had her way, no one would ever know how close she had come to doing exactly that out of cowardice. "How long have you been here?"

Angela smiled wryly. "Long enough to have help set things up before the rest of them arrived."

Bella winced in sympathy. "I'm so sorry! If I had known you were going to come so early, I would have done the same!" She would have just sucked it up and grown a pair to deal with Lauren and Jessica's antics because Angela was worth a little discomfort to her. She was one of her dearest friends and had put up with all of her hermitesque ways during those last few months with Edward and those first few weeks without him. She was stubborn enough to stand up to Bella's mopeyness, and strong enough to not let it get to her personally.

"Don't worry about it," Angela asserted. "I wouldn't have been here, either, if Mom hadn't of insisted that I come and help. Ironic, really."

It kind of was, because while not a zealot by any means, Emma Webber was a deeply religious woman who had sent her daughter to help set up a New Years party for a bunch of drunk teenagers. Granted last year's exploits had somehow managed to miss the ear of anyone in a position of authority, but still…it seemed a given that there would be alcohol at any unchaperoned party thrown by teenagers. No one could be quite that naive…could they? Or was it simply that the woman would insist on good manners when in the company of the Devil himself?

"So how was your Christmas?" Bella asked, this time genuinely interested unlike when she had asked the same of Mike.

"Oh boy." Angela puffed out her cheeks.

"That bad?"

"Well, it wasn't awful, but Joshua and Isaac seemed to be revisiting their terrible two's. Nana thought they were hysterical, unfortunately, and egged them on. Mom wasn't terribly impressed by it and I think the twins spent more time in timeout in a single week then they did all year. Dad hid out in his office because he knows he's a soft-touch on those two and didn't want to undermine Mom."

Bella tried to smother a smile behind her hand, but Angela just grinned at her letting her know that she'd been caught out. "It's okay. Those two are adorable enough to compensate for their shenanigans."

Someone bumped into Bella's back just then, sending her stumbling into Angela who caught her with a tiny grunt. Bella felt an apologetic pat on her back and turned to see Eric Yorkie, drink in hand with a deeply remorseful look on his face, eyes comically huge and somewhat glazed. "Duuude! I am so sorry! You both okay?"

He looked so incredibly worried that for some reason Bella could only giggle for a moment before she could even begin attempting to reassure him. "Don't worry, we're both fine. And see, look, you didn't even spill your drink!"

Relief in the form of a bright, if somewhat silly, smile crossed his face before he stuffed his drink into Bella's hands. "Here! It's a new glass, so no worries, no cooties!" he said with a drunken giggle before disappearing back into the crowd of meandering drunks.

Bella looked dubiously down at the red plastic cup in her hands, before shrugging and taking a sip. It was actually pretty good, and she took another minute sip before looking back to Angela who was watching her in surprise. Bella shrugged. "It's actually good, and I figure if I keep sipping it no one will think that I need another. Besides, it's only one drink?"

Angela blinked and seemed to be pondering while chewing absently at her lower lip. Then she shrugged. It wasn't her body and Bella did have a point. She thought that maybe getting a glass of club soda might be a good plan. Didn't mean she wasn't curious though. "What's it taste like?"

"Mostly pineapple. I think. There's some other flavors. Strawberry. I also taste some coconut," Bella answered. "I don't taste any alcohol but it's probably in here. Want a sip?"

Angela glanced down into the big red cup, before carefully taking a taste, glancing about as if someone were going to shake their finger at her any moment. But pineapple juice was her favorite and she couldn't help but take another appreciative sip. It was good. But her parents were counting on her to set a good example for the twins and so she couldn't bring herself to drink much more and still have a clean enough conscience to be that example. Handing it back, she licked her lips with a grin. "That's really good."

"So how was your Christmas," Angela asked as soon as a gaggle of boys had passed on by.

Bella face-palmed.

"Really?" Angela said, wide-eyed.

"Not all of it, but…it was definitely more stressful than last year." Bella turned a glance on Angela. "Paul actually came down to Florida because I was having trouble sleeping again."

"I still can't believe your dad lets him sleep in the same bed with you," Angela said with a shake of her head. It made no sense to her. But for as many times as she had seen the pair together, and there had been any number of times over the past months, she had never seen Paul cross over the admittedly blurry line that existed between the two. But there was this energy about him whenever Bella came into his sphere...something hungry that stood on the sidelines just waiting for that one little misstep that would leave her at his mercy. It wasn't overt, nothing that Angela could pinpoint as dangerous to Bella no matter how clear it was that he was. And if she was more superstitious, she would say he was some sort of fallen creature, beautiful and lethal, and to be carefully guarded against in order to save one's immortal soul.

Angela gave her mental meanderings a tiny headshake, before focusing in on what Bella was saying. The pitcher kissing her was stupid because the girl was clearly in love with Paul and for the first time not hiding it all too well, but obvious too because the girl was smoking hot in a way that she would never understand. Boys and men alike did double-takes as the short, shapely little brunette walked by because she was absolutely stunning, and Angela would say that without shame.

Before Bella had become attached to Paul, her shyness stood as a buffer between herself and anyone who might have approached her. She wasn't sure how Edward had done it, but he had managed to entice the girl into perusing him.

Then Paul had come along and suddenly Bella's shyness was no longer enough of a barrier to keep her safe from unwanted attention…when he wasn't around. Because when he was? It was a damned rarity for anyone to dare to look at her from more than afar. She was untouchable for anyone with less than a third testicle or more than half brain capacity.

Then Bella's next few sentences got her attention and she sputtered in disbelief because she'd been around the man for a while and even she wouldn't dare touch him without written consent. In triplicate. And even then it would be a hair-raising event because while he no longer outright scared her, he did unnerve the utter crap out of her.

So the fact that some dumb blonde had decided to try and get into bed with him and he hadn't broken her was shocking in and of itself. Because Bella had told her, reluctantly, that Paul had a reputation. He didn't like to be touched and people respected it or got hurt. Angela was perfectly willing to respect that, and she suspected that anyone with a lick of sense would say the same because there was something in Paul that screamed predator.

"That's just…crazy," Angela said with her brows furrowed in shock.

"I know! I could hardly believe it myself. I mean, we all know he's kinda ridiculously pretty but for some reason he seems to attract crazy people." Bella could only shake her head. "Its nuts how people treat him. They are either absolutely terrified of him and treat him like he's rabid and they don't want to get bitten, or they treat him like he's catnip and they just want a piece of him regardless of what he wants."

"I just can't believe someone would be stupid enough…sorry I know she's your cousin…but I can't believe anyone would be stupid enough to climb into bed with him against his wishes! I know you love him, but he's not exactly a run-of-the-mill guy, Bella," Angela said, a dubious expression on her face.

Bella wasn't so sure how she felt about that, but she also had to be honest. Paul wasn't a typical guy, and never would be. He would never be the guy your daddy wanted you to date because daddy would be intimidated…would take one look at him and ground you. Charlie was a different story because he knew all about Paul, but even he stepped carefully around the younger man.

Taking another sip of her drink, Bella realized the glass was almost empty. Frowning, she glanced around for Eric and finding him close by, she momentarily excused herself so as to get another glass. She completely missed the surprised look on Angela's face as Bella explained that she needed to get the name of the drink so she would know what to ask for.

Lava Flow…yummy.

She suspected that she shouldn't be getting another drink, but the first one had been delicious. She was staying overnight, so she'd just have to make sure that she was sober enough to go straight to Paul's after she woke up tomorrow, because she knew that Charlie would never go for it. He was a fairly understanding father, but he wouldn't look the other way with underage drinking, especially if it was his own daughter.

It never occurred to her to account for the alcohol content of the second drink and so she was smiling as she made her way back to Angela. Angela just shook her head and mentally wished her friend well because if she didn't slow down, Bella was going to be in for a world of hurt with the hangover she was sure to acquire.

A sudden cheer went up as space began to clear in the middle of the room. And Angela had a sudden, very bad feeling.

"Truth or Dare!" Mike howled out over the crowd and Angela groaned in dismay. She didn't admit to it, but last year she'd almost been conned into running naked through the woods. She had hoped that with Bella there, she would have her in her corner and would be able to avoid having to play. One more sane person and all.

She'd just never imagined that Bella could be tempted by a well-mixed drink. But she would have completely understood if she had known the reasons.

For her own part, Bella was enjoying the sudden lack of stress she was feeling. She was worrying about Paul in regards to Jacob's upcoming succession to singular Alpha. She was worried about Embry's situation, because she knew just how well Leah was going to take the whole thing for months to come. She was worried about her own misery because she was in love with someone who didn't love her back. She didn't have any doubts that he cared about her, but it hurt that it wasn't the way she wanted him to.

Now, all her worries were falling away and while she knew that she might pay for it later, she was enjoying herself now, something she hadn't thought she could do. She could only hope that she didn't do anything she regretted later, but right now she felt wonderful!

Until someone caught her by the arm and dragged her over to the expanding group of kids all chanting 'Truth or Dare!'. Her eyes widened comically, even as Lauren smirked slyly and sat herself down, claiming that as host, she would go first. No one argued, instead they cheered the girl on as she turned and looked directly at Bella. Angela cringed, but luckily, all Bella was dared to do was chug another drink. It was straight alcohol, unfortunately, and even Angela laughed at the look on the girl's face as the liquor burned its way down her throat.

So there was an unspoken rule that you had to wait a while before you could dare a person again, so at least Bella was safe for the time being. Angela watched, biting her lip. She had wanted more than anything to avoid another game like last year's. Then Angela shrugged, supposing that if that was the worst that Lauren could come up with, then it couldn't be so bad. Though Bella was already just a bit tipsy. Her thoughts were even easier to read as they crossed her face, because her natural guardedness seemed to have melted away in the wake of the booze.

Suddenly, her face froze with anxiety, exaggerated by her current state. She turned to Angela and stretched up to her ear. "I forgot my overnight bag," she whispered. She'd brought her sleeping bag, but forgotten everything else.

"And you can't have your dad bring it, either," Angela put in.

"I know. He'd take one look at me and know I was a little tipsy."

Charlie was pretty observant. Besides, it was probably safer to keep the man away from a bunch of drunk, hormonal girls for fear they'd jump him and tie him down to have their way with him. The man was hot and not even Angela was afraid to admit that. And tall enough that even Angela, standing at six feet plus, didn't tower over him. It was kind of funny, because Bella's mother was also tall, leaving her to wonder where Bella had gotten her shortness from.

"Can you call Sam, then?" She knew that Bella considered the man to be an older brother. But Bella shook her head.

"He'd tattle on me after giving me the disapproving Eyeball of Doom."

Angela chuckled. That sounded about right from what she had seen of Sam. He adored the girl, that much was clear. But along with that love came the drive to keep his little sister on the straight and narrow.

"Well…what about Paul?"

Bella started to shake her head again, then brightened. "He gets off in about ten minutes! He might be able to come. Excuse me for a minute?"

Then she was gone, and Angela was being dared to kiss her boyfriend Ben, something that made her blush painfully. Jessica claimed that she just wanted to see them kiss because she couldn't believe the two of them actually kissed on their dates. As if Angela was somehow too pure to kiss just because she was a minster's daughter. But blushing or not, she decided that if she had to kiss him in front of an audience, then she was going to do it right, so she kissed him for all she was worth and watched as Jessica sat back with a sour look on her face, thwarted in her attempt to embarrass the taller girl.

Outside, Bella was fumbling her phone out of her pocket and thanking her phone's contact list for the fact that she wouldn't have to remember Paul's phone number. Waiting for the phone to ring through to his voicemail, she was surprised to hear Paul pick up.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Uh…hi, Paul. I didn't think you were going to answer," she said awkwardly.

"Should I hang up so you can try again?" he teased.

Bella giggled, something about that striking her as hilarious. "Nah. I actually wondered if you could do me a teensy tinesy…tiny? Tiny favor. It's just that I forgot my overnight bag at home and I can't call home 'cause Dad would know. He always knows these things. Don't know how. Maybe it's cause he's a cop?"

There was silence for a moment. Then the Were's deep, rich laughter echoed from the phone. "Bella," he purred, voice shivering though her nerve endings. "Are you drunk?"

Bella tried to stop giggling…she really did. Even as she was forced to squeeze her thighs together because that sex-voice of his had dipped a few luscious octaves. But she discovered that it was impossible to stop the bubbling of hilarity. "Nope. Not drunk. Maybe a little tipsy?"

"Mmhmm," he rumbled dubiously, humor lacing his voice. "And you need clothing?"

"I'm at that stupid New Years party and I forgot my overnight bag," she repeated. "Can you bring me something to wear?"

"I suppose I might," he said, and she could tell he was grinning. "Directions?"

"I'll text you the address," Bella answered.

"See you in thirty," he returned, then hung up.

"Bye?" Bella looked at her phone, then just shrugged. Phone etiquette wasn't always his thing. Following through before she forgot, she sent the address to his phone. Then, walking back into the monstrosity of a house, Bella was thankful to see that she still had a few people to go before she could legitimately be tagged for another dare.

"He coming?" Angela asked her as soon as she got her butt planted on the carpeting.

"Yeah. He gets off right about now and said it would take him about thirty minutes."

"Good deal," the other girl answered.

Then it was Bella being tagged again. She looked up and winced at the cunning look in Lauren's green eyes.

"Bella. Truth or Dare?" Lauren purred maliciously.

Bella actually took a moment to think about it. On the one hand, she didn't want to give the blonde a chance to ask an embarrassing question because it couldn't fail to be hurtful by the look on her face. But on the other hand, she didn't really want to get any drunker or run naked though the woods. She didn't want to kiss anyone, and she didn't want to eat anything disgusting.

She bit her lip and the other kids started chanting her name in an attempt to hurry her along. Shit…"Truth?"

Lauren narrowed her eyes, and Bella instantly knew that she'd made the wrong choice. "How many boyfriends have you had?"

Bella's eyes widened and she gulped, dismayed. She knew better than to give Lauren an opening, and the witch had picked an embarrassing one. A chink in Bella's armor. She knew right then that Lauren had invited her simply to give herself an in on embarrassing Bella. But she'd been dragged in and she couldn't lie…


There was a roar of laughter and Bella flushed, humiliated. Mike looked even more slavishly enthralled with her than before, much to her disgust, and she glared at him. He didn't even had the good grace to look embarrassed, simply winking at her drunkenly. Crap. That was the last thing she needed, other than to set herself up for Lauren's ribbing. Because by the look on her face, she wasn't done, and Bella didn't want to know what was going to happen next.

She would have just ducked out of the rest of the game, but she didn't want to deal with the mockery that would rain down on her if she did. But more than that, Bella wasn't a coward. She could deal with whatever crap that Lauren could put out. At least, that was what she told herself as the round continued.

Angela was stuffed in a closet with Eric, much to Ben's dismay.

Jessica was dared outside into the freezing pool. She'd come back shivering before changing into her night clothes, blushing despite herself as a few of the boys whistled at her.

Krystie was forced to fess up that she'd had sex in one of the classrooms with an unnamed partner. Nathan's blushing gave it away, however.

On and on it went. One person after another either dared into unfortunate situations or forced to admit to appallingly funny truths. Bella tried not to laugh too much, but it seemed like the alcohol had gone to her head and she couldn't stop giggling. The one exception was when Angela was freed after the prerequisite seven minutes in the closet. She looked every bit as neat and tidy as she had going in and Bella strongly suspected that the tall girl had simply looked down her slim nose at the drunken Eric and refused to have anything to do with any of it. Other than that, Bella giggled and guffawed along with the rest of them. Even Angela snickered a time or two.

Especially when Mike was forced to borrow a pair of Lauren's lacey underwear and wear them for the rest of the night.

Bella was just getting comfortable again, when Lauren's turn once more came up. Bella set herself for more embarrassment, because it was only fair after all. Everyone else had been dared or embarrassed in some way and she was no different, even if she didn't like it. But for the first time she actually felt like a part of the student body instead of an outsider masquerading as one of them. She wasn't sure if she liked the feeling or not, but felt that it needed to be given a fair shake before she decided.

"Truth? Or Dare?" The platinum blonde's expression was almost diabolical.

Bella bit her lip. She should just go with dare, but she already knew that Lauren would make her do something truly atrocious. The liquor had just been to soften her up for worse things and to see if the goody goody Chief's daughter could be persuaded into breaking the law in the name of a dare.

Closing her eyes, Bella ignored the chanting as the others urged her to make her decision. "Truth."

"Have you ever had a real kiss?"

Opening one eye, Bell glanced at Lauren suspiciously. That was it? As questions went, it wasn't really all that bad. Bella had dated Edward, and while the Vampire had been sexually repressed, they had shared kisses just like any other couple. They were real kisses as far as she was concerned, even if they would no longer do anything for her. Paul's kiss, well, she wasn't sure if it was a real kiss because the parameters had been so entirely false. But deciding that it felt real to her, she opened her mouth to answer. Only to be cut off as Lauren sneered.

"A kiss isn't a real kiss unless it involves tongue, Bella."

Oh. Shit. How did she know? How could she possibly know that?! Because that was one thing that Edward had not allowed in their kisses. They were relatively chaste for all the supposed passion involved. Hands in appropriate places and all that. It had been very…Victorian of him. And at the time, Bella had accepted it because she had found it all to be very romantic.

What a crock.

"In fact," Lauren continued, her voice almost syrupy sweet with wickedness, "I would almost be willing to bet money that you've never even really touched a guy before. And I don't mean holding hands."

Bella flushed crimson. She knew exactly what the other girl meant and it was true. She'd never even seen a guy below the waist other than the occasional accident around the Wolves, let alone touched one.

Lauren, for her part, finally felt like she had the little bird in her clutches. The girl was turning redder and redder by the moment. There had always been something about her that to Lauren just screamed 'prude' and her little boyfriend had been the same. They rarely touched each other in public, scarcely even glanced at each other in fact. There was no loving kisses, no hand holding…no nothing. But she could have let all of that go with just the minimal amount of teasing. Might have but for one thing little thing.


She had no idea why she felt the need to lower the girl a few pegs but the drive was there. And it was almost all-consuming. She didn't understand why the girl got so much attention. She wasn't model-material like Lauren herself was. She was pretty, but completely unconscious of it. She was smarter than Lauren, but then again, Lauren didn't really care about that, because she had money. And money made the world go round.

But Bella also had a magnetism that Lauren had struggled all her life to emulate. She had had the attention of Edward Cullen right from the beginning. She had had the affections of his family. She had Mike's lust…and the singular focus of that towering biker she was constantly seen with nowadays.

Of all of them, that last one confused her. She knew that she herself was attracted to the man, but for some reason she didn't want to get anywhere near him. He actually scared her. But while she hadn't really imagined that Bella was all that brave, she was apparently braver than Lauren was. And Lauren couldn't stand it.

Her little bird squirmed, her eyes dropping with embarrassment, her mouth opening with what Lauren felt certain was the confession that would drive in the final nail to her public humiliation when the girl's phone abruptly sounded off to Limp Bizkit's old classic, 'Break Stuff'. Lauren scowled, even as Bella blinked, then exhaled with relief before grabbing for her phone.

"Hello? Oh, you're already here?! Awesome, I'll be right out!" Bella looked up as if suddenly aware that she was still the center of attention, though the blush was already fading from her cheeks. She climbed a little awkwardly to her feet with Angela's help. "Um…so I gotta go? Outside for a minute…be right back."

Lauren glared. "You have to answer the question or take a Dare." She could already feel her prey slipping away from her. "Bella! Come back here!"

But the girl was gone, having escaped out the front door. The room was silent as the heavy door thumped into its frame. Lauren's eyes narrowed further, vowing to herself that she would have her way when the girl came back because there wasn't anywhere she could escape to…


Stumbling down the steps, Bella peeked into the trees lining the driveway and finally caught sight of Paul where he had parked near her truck, leaning over to unstrap the bag he had brought her. Turning as her feet crunched the gravel in the driveway, he smiled down at her as she approached, tossing the small duffel down by her feet as she came to a stop.

"You're standing upright," he rumbled. "Impressive."

Bella scowled up at him, lower lip faintly protruding in a pout. "I'm not that drunk."

He gently brushed the back of a knuckle along her lip. "Says you."

She couldn't keep up the scowl for long, however, far too happy to see him and to have escaped Lauren's needling. She gave a mental shrug and smiled back at him. "So how was work?"

"Eh. Crowded and filled with drunks." He flexed a fist, cracking his knuckles almost absently and Bella caught a glimpse of a faint lingering scrape. Jesus, who was stupid enough to give him trouble?

"You okay?"

At his questioning glance, Bella stroked her fingers across the back his hand and he smiled, feral and oddly cheerful. "Got caught up with a drunk who thought he could get round me to get at Kell when he got cut off for the night. Punched a brick wall to catch his attention. Thankfully, he was too distracted to realize that I accidentally cracked a few of the bricks."

Bella could just imagine how distracted the man must have been with Paul getting into his face.

"So…how's your little party going?"

Bella groaned, scrubbing a hand down her face. "It wouldn't be so bad if Lauren would just leave me be. I swear she's out to get me. I mean, yeah, okay I had already had a couple of drinks so the third one wasn't really so bad even though it made me cough like I was going to die. Some of the others admitted to some pretty funny things, even though it would have taken me about twice as much liquor to get me to admit to anything like that, or to do anything like that! But even Angela's having fun with the Truth or Dare despite the fact that she got shoved into a closet with Erik Yorkie. Mike, well, he's currently wearing his ex's panties, and Ben is-"

A big hand suddenly appeared over her mouth, even as Paul chuckled in amusement. "You're rambling, girl. Now typically you do that when you're nervous. So I can start guessing as to why, or you can spill. Either way, I'm getting it out of you."

She would never tell him! Never! Because he'd laugh at her. Everyone else had laughed at her when she'd said she'd only ever had the one boyfriend. Well, everyone but Angela, because Angela would never laugh at anyone for something like that. She was far too kind, and besides, she was terribly picky and had only dated Ben herself.

Paul lifted a brow and Bella scowled mutinously.

His brows pulled together and a sly smirk pulled at the corners of his unfairly gorgeous mouth, carving his dimples deep. His eyes glowed eerily in the shadows, pinning her own and Bella squirmed.

Then gave in.

"I swear," she muttered, "I think Lauren must have ESP or something. I know the last drink was to either loosen my tongue or dislodge my inhibitions, but either way, she's gonna humiliate me and I don't know why. I feel kind of like she has some motive that I don't know about, which kind of sucks because I would apologize if I knew whatever it was that I did. Maybe. I think? So the second time, I picked truth," she said, rambling from one topic to the next in a way that must surely have made it hard for Paul to follow, but unable to really help herself.

"She asked me how many boyfriends I've ever had," she mumbled, glancing down at the ground and twisting her hands together. "Eighteen years old, almost nineteen, and I had one kinda-sorta boyfriend who took off on me and left me like I was nothing. How awesome am I that I have had one guy to my name, and he rabbited like I was carrying bubonic plague?"

Paul crossed his arms, lifting a brow to prompt her along. "And?"

"I'm getting there! Don't get your boxers in a knot. Not that you ever wear any," she muttered. Then stopped, face absolutely horrified at what had just come out of her mouth. She glanced up just in time to see his shoulders shake with silent laughter at her drunken blunder. Determined to reactivate her brain/mouth filter, Bella drew in a deep breath and tried valiantly to proceed as if she hadn't just called attention to the fact that she knew he went commando. "Anyway, I knew the third time around that I should have picked Dare, because I would rather eat live worms than admit to what…she wants me to say," she finished lamely.

Paul simply canted his head to the side, waiting her out.

Bella blushed, her face flaming with mortification. Looking down, because the ground was easier to face than her best friend, Bella stumbled onward. "She asked me if I had ever had a real kiss. I guess I thought it was more the person than the action that made it real, and even though now I wouldn't spray him with a hose if Edward was on fire, I do still consider those to be real kisses. Or I did until she had to go and publicly define them for me. Apparently tongue is a prerequisite to a real kiss and I get to go in there and tell her in front of everyone that by her definition, I've never had a real kiss. And if that wasn't bad enough, she just had to ask me just how much of a guy I've ever touched, and since I fail there too, apparently, I get to admit to that as well."

Silence greeted her confession, but Bella's courage had tucked tail and hid around her ankles, so she spent a few moments eyeballing the ground in search of it. But the cowardly thing refused to be found. She could practically hear him thinking about what she had just blabbed, and she cringed inside because she would never have admitted to any of it until she'd been forced to by Lauren's question.

But finally the silence got to her. She glanced up through her lashes, dark eyes hesitantly meeting lambent blue. His lips were still tipped up with amusement as he seemingly pondered over what he had been told. His thumb absently stroked over his lush bottom lip as he watched her, and Bella found herself oddly hypnotized by the act. So much so that she almost missed it when he closed the gap between them.

Apparently, he had come to some kind of decision, because the next thing Bella knew, she was being crowded backwards against a tree. Her spine hit bark and then one hard thigh was pressing forward between her own, wedging her higher against the trunk. His broad torso pressed against her breasts as he held there her effortlessly. His face lost in shadows, Bella found herself shivering at the deepening timbre of his voice as he bent and pressed his lips to her thundering pulse. "I told you. All you ever have to do is ask."

She only had time to squeak out something resembling a questioning sound before Paul's lips were leisurely dragging across the fullness of her own.

Bella jumped then went limp, eyes huge and full of shock. She could feel him smiling against her mouth, even as he gently tugged at her lower lip with his teeth, suckling on the soft bit of flesh. She could feel heat spiraling through her in shivers as he shifted before pulling her leg up over his hip and pinning her there, freeing his hands. One went up, curling about her delicate throat and further trapping her. The other went who the hell knows and all Bella could do was gasp and arch her neck under his hold as he slowly licked his way past her gasping lips.

Fleetingly, Bella wondered where he had learned to kiss, because he was almost orgasmicly good at it. She could actually feel that slow build that would launch her over the edge. Then the thought was gone as a low rumble of a purr spilled past his parted lips and down her throat, pleasure spiking in its wake. Bella moaned right back, fingers clutching into the black leather of his motorcycle jacket, body arching into his as her legs locked across the small of his back.

Her head was absolutely spinning at the taste of him, as dark and rich as anything she had ever had. Though the spinning might also have been from the alcohol. She felt more than heard the low, guttural sound that left him as her hips unconsciously ground into him. One of her hands was caught by the one she had mentally misplaced, his fingers twining through her own. It anchored her whirling thoughts into something familiar…until something not so familiar brushed along the backs of her fingers. It was thick and unbelievably hard as it flexed under her touch, and for a moment Bella was actually stumped as to what it could be.

She dragged her palm up the length of it again, exploring its alienshape, because it seemed almost like it was alive

It wasn't until he actually shuddered and his kiss turned nearly savage for those few moments, that she realized exactly what it was that she was touching. She blushed furiously for what felt like the billionth time that night and could have kicked herself even as she realized that he was literally still within her grasp…a fact that finally percolated inside her smashed little brain and she hurriedly let him go with a muffled little sound that seemingly amused him. Though to be fair, it was a part of his anatomy that she had previously banned herself from even thinking about! Because it went part and parcel along with not allowing herself to think of him as anything other than her friend.

Finally pulling away from her, Paul's hands slid down to her hips and squeezed before carefully setting her on her feet, laughing as she swayed like the little drunk she apparently was. She wanted to glare up at him but that would require looking him in the face. Something currently beyond her capabilities because she had once more let him save her ass at cost to himself.

It just wasn't fair! How did someone like Paul, who likely had already shrugged off the experience as a one-off to help a friend, get those kind of skills? And how was it fair that he had kept them to himself?!

"You okay there?"

All she could do was gape at him, standing there tongue tied like an idiot. The corner of his mouth kicked up as if her inability to speak was about to make him laugh.

Still, it was nice to know that he wasn't actually mad at her. And sure, he'd been hard, but he was male and she'd been stroking his freaking penis…how was that his fault? He hadn't done any more than give her a way to honestly say she'd touched a guy, not his fault at all that she hadn't figured it out for so long a time.

Finally realizing that he wasn't going to get anything out of her, Paul just shook his head with a small grin before stepping back out of her space and moving towards his bike. Straddling it, he winked at her. "Happy New Years," he said, then he kicked the engine over and disappeared back down the drive, roaring off into the night.

Bella watched him go, still tongue tied as she tentatively ran her tongue over her lips, somehow unsurprised to find them tender and just the tiniest bit bruised. Jesus, she must be some kind of freak because she actually liked that he'd left his mark on her. Like she'd been branded his somehow. Shrugging it off as something she didn't really care to examine too closely, or at all while drunk, she reached down to grab the bag Paul had left her and then went to Bess to grab her sleeping bag. Carting both items into the house, she placed her things near the stairs next to Angela's.

That was when the silence of the party reached her ears. It was an ominous silence, and she almost turned tail and ran outside once more like a little coward. But something was pulling her in the direction of the main room.

She was greeted by the sight of dozens of pairs of wide eyes, and one narrowed pair of greens. Bella winced, having hoped to have avoided the question for the rest of the night. But it wasn't to be. Lauren glared heatedly, arms crossed over her low-cut bosom as Bella finally located her spine and marched across the room, head held high.

Lauren made one last attempt to trap the little bird in her claws. "Well? What's it going to be, Bella? Answer the stupid question or take the Dare."

Bella looked her right in the eyes, her lips quirking into a smile that had a bit too much backbone and not enough shame. Those lips were just a bit swollen, in fact, as if she just come away from kissing someone. Lauren's eyes widened, her own lip curling into a faint moue as the little bird got away with a flit of its tail feathers.

"Yes I have," Bella declared, if not proudly then decisively. "On both counts."


a.n. - *watches wide-eyed with popcorn in hand* OOOooo….starting to get good! I love moments like this where things are coming to a head!

b.n - Ta-Da! Thanks for sticking with us. I know this development was long in coming so hopefully it was worth it. We just felt that any type of true development wouldn't realistically be immediate based on the personalities of our characters. Well, we all know Paul is a fiend but Bella requires a little more finesse XD The ball is rolling now, I'm super excited about everything about to come in to play. All the hours of beating our heads against the wall to make our plot as sound as possible are finally growing fruit. Thanks again for your continued readership!