Bella's head felt like an entire troop of dwarves were clog dancing inside her skull when she woke up New Years Day. Her head was pounding in time with her heartbeat and it felt like if she moved too fast, her head was likely to fall off. Which might be a good thing at this point, because then she wouldn't have to feel so violently ill.
She squinted into the bright sunlight, blinking as Angela's sympathetic face came into view. "You look a little green, Bella. Can I get you anything?"
All she wanted was McDonald's french-fries and a coke. Craved it in fact. That and a new brain because apparently the one she had was defective to think that drinking as much as she had would be a good plan. She groaned pathetically, dragging a reluctant grin from the other girl. Scooting up so that she was leaning against the wall, she reached out and began running her fingers through Bella's hair to help sooth her throbbing brain.
Bella quirked her lips minutely upward. "Ugh…I can't believe I drank so much."
"I can't believe you drank at all," Angela chuckled quietly.
"I know. I really shouldn't have. I know they say that alcohol messes with your brain but I didn't realize just how much. I still can't believe that happened," Bella quietly murmured.
"What happened?" Angela asked, brow lifted in curiosity.
Bella suddenly went still, eyes slowly widening as she clapped a hand over her wayward mouth. "I didn't mean to say that out loud," she mumbled from behind her hand.
Angela's own eyes widened at the gesture. Bella was generally pretty open with her and for her to have clammed up like she had, it must have been something pretty serious. Mentally running through the night before, she couldn't see anything that might have garnered such a telling action from the smaller girl. But something must have because Bella was blushing fiercely. "Okay. Now you have to tell me," Angela quietly insisted, looking around to make sure no one was paying attention to them.
But instead of answering Bella sat up and looked about, before putting a finger to her own lips to silence Angela's questioning. Angela complied, utterly mystified but willing to follow as Bella beckoned her out of the room and towards the stairs.
They seemed to be the only ones up from what she could see as the two wandered through the house until they came to a clean corner of the family room. Seating themselves, Bella seemed to gather her scattered thoughts. Her brow was furrowed as she nibbled her lower lip, arms curled about her knees as she sat on the huge, squishy leather sectional.
The girl glanced at her, eyes troubled. "Hmm?"
"Lauren had me."
Huh? What did that mean? "How did she have you? I know she embarrassed you with her questions but you answered?" Granted she'd not thought that the girl had gone as far as she must have with Edward, but she'd not lied. That much had been clear despite how drunk Bella had been at the time. She'd said one boyfriend, and that had been the truth. She'd said she had both kissed and touched according to Lauren's specifications. Also the truth. Not that she'd really been obligated to answer that second question because the rules stated only one question per round.
"She wanted me to say I never had kissed of touched someone. She had me, and I would have had to admit to it."
"But you didn't lie." Angela must have been fuzzier this morning than she'd realized, because she just wasn't getting it.
"I didn't lie. It was the truth." Bella's eyes were willing her to understand without her having to spell it out.
And Angela suddenly got it. Lauren had had Bella under her thumb until Paul had arrived, then Bella had come back, her lips as rosy as her cheeks. Her head had been held high as she admitted that she had been physically intimate with a male as per Lauren's standards. Not that she hadn't paid the price for her honesty, because everyone had started hooting in glee. Everyone except for Mike, who had stopped smiling and had in fact scowled. Last night, Angela had thought it was just because Bella was proving to be not as innocent as she looked. She knew that lots of guys had a thing about innocent girls, something about getting there first. And at the time, she had thought that it was ridiculous to be jealous over a relationship long over.
It still was, because Mike had no clue about where Paul was in regards to his friendship with Bella.
But Angela knew better. Somehow, instinct said that there was more to that picture than the two of them were admitting to. Maybe they were simply working at cross purposes, or maybe both were just stubborn. Or maybe Paul was indeed only biding his time till he pounced, though there was never anything overt on his part. Then there was Bella, who was obstinately clinging to this strange notion that Paul was only and could only ever be her platonic friend. Whatever it was, the two had been locked into this strange song and dance for as long as they had been friends.
Because no one who looked at a girl the way Paul occasionally watched Bella, like he was hunting his next meal, could be so completely anti-sexual like Bella claimed.
Still, it had to be frustrating as hell for Bella, laboring under her delusions as she was. She knew that Paul had had a rough upbringing, apparently being a very angry child and teenager had had a detrimental effect on how he was seen by his tribe, causing them to ostracize him from an early age instead of trying to understand him. Granted as big and angry as he had been, it might have proved difficult, but the effort should have been made regardless, Angela felt.
And for all of that, Bella apparently felt that Paul was somehow so emotionally stunted or deprived that he was incapable of romantic regard.
Angela doubted that conclusion. Severely. He was far too physically friendly with the little brunette for it to be anything but attraction on his part. At least, she believed that to be the case. She had never met anyone like him before. Never heard of a friendship like theirs where the pair slept together in the same bed and were practically inseparable without there at least being some underlying attraction. She knew Bella was attracted to him. That she loved the man was pretty clear.
"Bella," Angela began somewhat hesitantly. "I know that you insist that you two are just friends, but…if what you're saying is what I think you're saying then…that's not the act of a friend. That was something a little more personal."
Bella absently nibbled a fingernail as she pondered. But then Angela could practically see her tuck tail and metaphorically run. "He only did it because of Lauren, though. I mean, there I was complaining about having to fess up to my lack of experience and all. Pretty sure he only did it so I could save face in front of everyone."
"Bella…no guy lets you touch his junk if he's feeling platonic." Angela was pretty sure she had that right at least.
Bella's face flamed. "They do if they don't understand that it's not something friends are supposed to do."
The taller girl almost rolled her eyes. Bella could be so stubborn! "Was he soft?" she finally asked bluntly
"When you touched him. Was he soft? Because to my knowledge, guys don't get hard over something that disgusts them."
Bella gaped at her. But Angela could see the wheels begin to start turning in her hung-over brain.
For her own part, Bella had never stopped to consider that. He'd been anything but soft under her touch, as unyielding there as he was everywhere. But then again, it could also be written off to the friction caused by the bike he rode. Bella had squirmed a time or two, herself, after riding that monster. That he used that simple physiological response to her benefit was just like him.
Angela sighed. She could already see the self-delusion taking over the other girl's mind. It was funny, but while Bella could be amazingly insightful about a number of things, she could be completely blind sometimes when it came to Paul. She could never believe that the man might be as attracted to her as she was to him.
But that might also have to do with what Edward had done to her. That, and it was kind of in her blood to take a long ass time to get over being left behind. Her father had taken thirteen years to get over his dumping by Bella's mother. But it had left both of them with a bit of an inferiority complex despite their amazing looks and personalities.
Bella might never believe that Paul could want more from her as long as they stuck to the status quo.
"Bella, you need to talk to him." Angela could insist on that at the very least.
"I know. I know, I just…don't really know what to say. Thank you for saving my ass yet again, though I wish you hadn't done it that way because it's harder to go back to how we were before that?" Bella rolled her eyes. Sure she had enjoyed it…she'd been practically handed an engraved invitation to maul him, no matter that she'd not really taken him up on it. She was pretty sure she'd have to be either stone cold dead or mentally unbalanced not to have enjoyed being kissed like that. "I was just a little too drunk to figure out what the hell to say to him last night. My head was spinning and it was all I could do to walk a straight line to get back to the house.
Angela imagined that being kissed to within an inch of her life might also have had something to do with it, but she wasn't going to continue harping. Bella would get it eventually. Hopefully.
The two girls had absently begun gathering up piles of trash as they had talked, and Angela finally gave in and went to hunt down garbage bags. Her inner clean-freak was clamoring for release and there was plenty of fodder for its needs. When she got back, the pile of trash had grown to respectable proportions and Bella had moved onto the main room so Angela shrugged, bagged the monstrous pile before following along behind hurricane Bella as she worked. The two were of a kind and couldn't really stand a pointless mess.
Halfway through cleaning the crap out of the party room, the room itself slowly began to fill up with the fuzzy-headed and the straight-up hung-over. Ben, one of the sole exceptions along with his girlfriend, quietly stepped over and leaned up to press a kiss to her cheek before wandering into the kitchen to begin starting on a bland but greasy breakfast for the roiling stomachs of those who could actually eat. Some were already carefully stepping about with the determined air of someone who thought jarring their head would have them running for the nearest bathroom to worship the porcelain bowl. Green complected and wincing at the slamming pain in their heads.
He could only be thankful that he really didn't like the smell or taste of alcohol.
Cause Mike looked like pounded crap as he stepped gingerly though the door into the kitchen. He'd been out in the pool house, and had walked across the yard in sleep pants and a sweatshirt. Still, he'd take 'hung-over Mike' to 'pissy Mike' any day, because he and Erik had had to listen to the boy whine and carry on about Bella for hours after she'd come back inside from meeting whomever had brought her overnight bag over for her.
Erik had finally excused himself to sleep his drunkenness off and looked to be much better off than Mike. Unfortunately, last night that had left him with the duty to play comforting friend as Mike rambled on and on about what a good boyfriend he would make to Chief Swan's daughter. Ben was too polite to roll his eyes, but he had wanted to a number of times. He'd gotten a good look at the man Bella was usually out and about with and he had to say that in terms of looks (he knew precious little about him otherwise) Paul had no equal in their small town, despite Mike's bitching about giving himself a fair shake because wasn't he good looking enough?
Ben was also a realist, because even he could see what Angela had been noticing…that Paul would occasionally watch Bella like some small, tasty bit of prey that he was just dying to pounce on. Smart guys just noticed shit like this. Smart girls, too, because Angela had been the one to point it out.
Now for the quandary.
Bella was smart. At times, astoundingly…frighteningly so. But she could never seem to see what was so obvious to her two friends. Paul wasn't always stone-faced. Granted he could be difficult as all hell to read, subtle as the Mona Lisa herself on most occasions. And most days, Bella could read every expression on his face. But one. Because Want? That seemed to slide right by her notice.
Ben could only shake his head as the two girls wandered about the kitchen, cleaning up beer cans (the beer itself being provided for the party by Lauren's slightly obnoxious older brother) and empty red and green Solo cups full of mixed drinks. Again provided by the brother and his equally entitled friends.
Their conversation was too quiet to overhear, if he had been the type to want to eavesdrop. But from the frustration on his girlfriend's face, he could only have been one of a handful of topics, and the most glaring of those was the semi/sort of/will they/won't they dance Bella and Paul seemed to be locked into.
He was just glad that it wasn't his place to try and knock some sense into the hard-headed girl.
Feeling Ben's eyes upon her, Angela turned to face her boyfriend and smiled, rolling her eyes playfully as Bella continued to enumerate all the ways her upcoming conversation with Paul could possibly go wrong. Because she had decided that the taller girl was right. She needed to get some of this off her chest before it absolutely crushed her. Sure, she might stand to lose Paul, but it was just a risk she would have to take, because she needed to tell him how she felt about him. She couldn't let him keep crossing lines, either accidentally or on purpose if he couldn't follow through, because it just hurt far too much.
She was so stuck in dreading the worst that she almost missed the faint clearing of a throat. Whipping about, she was surprised to see a slightly nervous looking Jessica standing there. The other short-stack brunette was glancing about as if searching for something, and not finding it, she heaved a tiny sigh of relief.
"Bella. I needed to talk to you."
"…Okay?" Jessica hadn't wanted to have much to do with her after her ill-thought-out avoidance of everyone human during her time with the Cullens. That she felt the need to seek her out now was kind of interesting, but Bella also didn't feel like stringing the girl along, so she stepped into the hallway, Jessica following closely along behind her.
"Here good?" she asked as Jessica once more glanced about shiftily.
"Yeah. Sure. Um…about last night."
Bella's stomach rolled over with dread. Her heart lurched, then pounded, and all she could do was wait for the worst as the other girl cast about mentally for the words she wanted to say. She was almost certain that she didn't want to hear them, because Jessica was almost as big a gossip as Lauren, and if she were just here for a better scoop on what had come out last night, then Bella was gonna turn into a gibbering idiot while attempting to come up with a good cover-story for the information she had let slip the night before.
"I wanted to say that I thought Lauren was a little too focused on you last night. I know she wanted to embarrass you, but that was a little too personal. You should have taken the dare, to be honest. It might have been a bit less damaging. "
Bella's brows lifted in shock. She'd been expecting the worst, and this was anything but. And while, yeah, she might have wished that everyone else might know a bit less about her personal life, she had been the one to open her big drunken mouth and spill her guts. She'd never blame anyone else for that, not even Lauren for asking in the first place.
"Anyway. I just wanted to say sorry about that." She watched Bella for a moment, before leaning in. "And that if you ever tell anyone I said any of it, I'll deny it," she concluded, a fierce light in her blue eyes.
Bella leaned away from her a bit, back hitting the wall as her own eyes widened. "Got it."
Jessica gave her a firm nod, before disappearing, presumably to rejoin Lauren's little group of harpies. Bella watched her go, eyes still wide as Angela made her way over to her. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. Not allowed to talk about it," Bella said with a faint grin. "But everything is peachy."
Bella shivered as she stood in the bathroom, wrapped in a towel after washing away the lingering traces of last night's drunken stupidity. Her eyes were still a bit red but she no longer appeared as if she belonged in the drunk tank.
Ugh, her dad would have been so disappointed in her for having caved to peer pressure…
The girl in the mirror eyed her disapprovingly and Bella squirmed under her regard. She already had enough problems to worry about without her reflection giving her the hairy eyeball for her misdeeds. Sticking her tongue out, she left the bathroom and walked into her own room, shutting the door. After making certain that she was alone, no ninja Were's lurking in the corners, she dropped the towel and moved towards her dresser, quickly pulling on her underthings before glancing at the bed.
Paul's shirt lay atop her comforter.
When he had brought her a bag last night, it had been a mix of things. A long shirt of his to sleep in, and her underthings. Her pants, another shirt of his to wear for the day, and a new tooth brush because she didn't have one at his house. She'd have to thank him for his thoroughness before she metaphorically buried herself.
The shirt she was looking at was the very first thing she had ever seen him in. Blue-grey and soft as hell, it zipped all the way up the front with a black collar and sleeve-bands. It actually made a rather attractive dress on her curvy frame, though it looked a billion times better on him, because there was something about that ringed zipper as it zipped halfway up his neck that faintly suggested an entirely different kind of collar. The leather kind with-
Bella shook her head. Here she was, quite possibly standing to lose her best friend after the coming confrontation and she couldn't get that particular image out of her head.
She was such a horrible pervert!
Glancing at the shirt again as she pulled on a pair of soft-worn jeans, she finally shrugged. She might never get to wear something of his again after this and she wanted to feel close to him for as long as she was able before she lost him for good. She knew she'd give it back to him when it was all said and done, but...a few more minutes of denial wouldn't hurt anyone but herself.
After towel-drying her hair as much as possible, Bella brushed it and let it do its own thing, not really caring how she looked for the time being. She felt miserable enough, so what if she looked the part?
The drive was quiet and almost peaceful in the wake of the party and Bella found herself actually humming along with an old tune on the radio as she turned off onto the highway.
But it didn't stop her stomach from churning or her mind from making mental checklists of all the things that needed to be said. She knew she would have to draw the line for the very first time, because it was far too hard on her to remain where they were when he stepped over the boundaries of friendship. The first kiss could be written off to vengeance on a foolish young man who didn't have any idea just how close he had come to disaster.
But the second?
Because she had been mulling over what Angela had told her. Friends did not kiss friends the way Paul had kissed her. Too intimate and far too personal…and yet, not enough to sate the craving she was developing for him. It wasn't fair to give her a taste of what she could have and then take it away again! The…touching…that he had encouraged just then had been a shock to her, because for as much as she had once pushed Edward for more, she herself had absolutely as little experience as the Vampire had had in that department.
That Paul had been hard under her touch was another consideration entirely, because Angela was right. She clearly remembered the way he had pushed into her hand only moments before his kiss had stopped being a gentle, teasing thing and become something that made her whole body flush just thinking about it.
Driving through the reservation, then turning off onto the dirt road that lead to Paul's cabin, she could feel her heart steadily climb up into her throat, making it hard to swallow. She almost wanted to turnabout and escape, pretend that everything was just fine, but the same thing that had gotten her into trouble the night before steeled her backbone. Because of all things, Bella wasn't a coward. She could be an adult about this, even if she just wanted to run in and cuddle up to him like she was used to when she was upset. Funny how the thing that would give comfort was the very thing that she might need to demand a stop to…
Finally pulling into the driveway, she sat there for a few more minutes, trying to pull herself back together. She had things she needed to say, and if she didn't get them said, she knew she would never forgive herself for being such a little wimp.
Pulling the keys from the ignition, she zipped up her hoody to help block out some of the chill winter air, squared her shoulders, and then climbed out of the truck.
Smoke drifted up from the chimney and Bella could feel a tiny part of her mourn that she wouldn't get to cuddle up to him in front of the fire. Shuffling up the walkway, she wondered if she would even be there long enough for her engine to cool, because she didn't want to drive back in the storm without heat.
Reaching the door, she was just lifting her hand to knock when the door opened to show Paul standing in the doorway and Bella just wanted to reach out and touch him.
Ripping her eyes away from the pretty picture he presented, she forced herself to look him in the eyes. Eyes that were curious and questioning as he slowly held the door open in invitation. "Didn't expect to see you till tomorrow." His tone was mellow as Bella ducked under his arm to enter his home.
His brows pulled together in question at her expression, but Bella simply stood there and gazed into the fire. She could do this. She had to do this. With him no longer in her line of sight, it was a tiny bit easier to concentrate on what she needed to say, though it hurt not to look at him.
"We need to talk."
Fear. Sadness. Anxiety. Relief. Frustration. Shame.
So many emotions chased themselves across the girl's face that if he hadn't of had a good working understanding of what made Bella Swan tick, he might actually have gotten whiplash.
Lips twisting up into a feral smile, he waited her out. Because he always seemed to be waiting when it came to her. A pattern that had been established early on in their relationship. Even from that very first night. He had led her to the path, waiting for her to follow him, even if just with her eyes. Those hungry cinnamon eyes that devoured him like he wanted to devour her.
Amused as fuck, Paul watched as Bella shifted anxiously from foot to small foot, no doubt mentally enumerating all the different ways she could go about this. But brave as she was, she couldn't even look him in the face, and that told him all he needed to know. Because the simple truth was, the little female had come into his home hunting a confrontation that he knew damned well she wasn't truly ready for.
Innocence was a funny thing.
He cocked his head as he watched her. Because it bled off her in waves.
Making her want him? That had been the easy part. She had wanted him from the very first moment, even as she tried to deny it. Her eyes always told the truth, helplessly drifting over him before forcing herself to act like nothing had changed. Smiling nervously, because he knew exactly how dangerous he came across as even as he pretended to be housebroken. He'd never acted so tame in his life, but it had been worth it as the girl came at his urging, shivering under his touch like the innocent little thing he had discovered her to be. Drunk off his ass he may have been, but he couldn't fail to smell her reaction to the simple puff of air he had blown across the vulnerable nape of her neck. Her scent had spiked and it had been all he could do to stop from bending her over the front of his bike. His smile had turned distinctly malicious behind her back and he'd had the pleasure of seeing that blond boy-bitch recoil. Smell his scent sour with traces of fear even as disappointment covered his face.
That she had tried to trick him into her bed for his own safety had been a laugh. But her well-intentioned earnestness had gotten to him like nothing else and he'd followed along behind that curvy ass like a beast on a leash as it climbed the stairs in front of him. And again, drunk as he had been, he would likely have followed it to hell and back. Hate had been the very last thing on his mind, because the only thing he could think of just then was getting himself wrapped around that gorgeous little body.
"I know that we've gotten a lot closer than most friends," Bella began hesitantly, and Paul forced himself to stop smiling. She was trying to be serious and he was going to respect it. "We're always together. We sleep in the same bed. And I know a lot of it is my own fault for allowing it, but I think in some ways…we might be too close. Friends, well normal friends anyway, don't act the way we do."
That damned innocence again. She assumed that he didn't know damned well that they had crossed lines. He had gleefully stomped all over them and she had let him with a guiltlessness that stated more clearly than words that she didn't truly understand what she had let him do. Because she had let him into her life. Let him claw his way into her tender heart.
"It may not have been intentional, but I think I depend on you far too much. And while I appreciate that you let me lean on you so much, I think certain healthy boundaries got crossed. I didn't understand what I was asking of you. But now I do. And I wish you hadn't let me have so much of you, because it hurts so much that you don't reciprocate my feelings."
She wrapped her arms about herself, looking smaller than he'd ever seen before.
So that was it. She assumed that he was simply too emotionally retarded to see the forest for the trees. Too developmentally fucked up to give her what she didn't even want to admit she wanted from him. Too God damned innocent, himself, to see just how much she wanted him.
Innocent. He wanted to snort in derision. The word implied a certain purity of thought, and he was anything but pure. Because while she assumed that he existed in an asexual bubble due to his upbringing, he knew that he'd quite happily fuck her until her pretty legs buckled.
"You know I care about you," he hedged.
She winced, and he knew that it was a cool, pale imitation of what she so desperately wanted, yet despaired of ever hearing. "I know you do," she agreed.
He remembered the very first time he'd known she wanted him as something more than casual. The day he'd saved her from the Newton twerp in the men's bathroom in the mall. The way her eyes had dilated and the way the sweet/tart scent of her had washed over his senses had spoken the words for her. It had been much the same the very first time he had gotten her onto his bike, letting her steer the beast while he balanced it for her. He hadn't been able to help pressing himself against her slim back, settling the hard lines of his body into the softer curves of hers. And he'd been fucking lucky that he usually had such precise control over his body or she'd have had a lot more to deal with than stumbling at his proximity.
But it had been near cruelty to have her wrapped around his body in that damned toilet stall because his control that day had been for crap. That was the day that he had nearly flipped his shit and torn the Newton boy apart when he'd heard the kid practically stalking the girl. He hadn't really understood the protective impulse, but he'd nearly followed through on it when Bella herself had stopped him with a tiny hand about his own. And just like that, the need to feel the kid screaming under his hands had bled away into simple drunken humor.
So he'd gone along with it. Let her have her way and copped a quick feel while he was at it. He wasn't going to deny it. He'd had her up off the ground, knees squeezing against his hips just bare moments before the boy following her walked through the door. And he'd had to hand it to her, the Sprite in the toilet had been pure genius.
Telling her that he didn't like to be touched had been a double-edged sword in the silence following the shorter male's departure. He'd guessed, correctly, that she would feel that it applied to her as well, so imagine his surprise when the girl grew a set and practically climbed into his lap to get Jacob to piss off. He'd found the whole situation pretty damned funny. Even helped her pull it off better by pulling her in closer.
The pissy look on the boy's face had totally been worth every second of discomfort…if he had actually felt any. Because he'd begun noticing a few things about Miss Bella Swan. Such as the fact that that hungry ache that he'd never before been able to assuage, no matter how much he ate, who's face he'd pounded with his fists, or how much alcohol he drank? That thing that drove him like a particularly vicious jockey spurring away at a man-killing horse? It lessoned to a degree in her presence. He'd first taken note of it when he had left her after that very first day when it came roaring back and in his rage, he'd ploughed a fist through a tree.
The supermarket meeting had just confirmed his suspicions, and that minor touch had settled him for the first time in days.
He didn't know how she did it, or even why it was her, but he wasn't about to discount it. It also didn't hurt that the girl was like sex waiting to happen. Warm and soft and trying so hard not to want him the way she did. And he couldn't even begin to count the nights he'd fought his body not to respond as he had lain next to her because she was naïve and delicious with huge eyes that ate him alive while he selfishly loved every second of it.
It had been so incredibly easy to invite her into his life. To lure her into wanting him to the exclusion of all else. Subtlety here, blatancy there, with a touch of feigned clumsiness to make it all palatable to the innocent young girl he had apparently deceived into thinking that he would never be more than her friend.
He'd known from the get-go that the only way past her defenses was to start from the beginning. Friendship built slowly and over time because she was so guarded after her experience with the leech. Not that he could blame her, there, because no one deserved to get treated that way, especially the soft-hearted Bella.
Jacob had also fallen away from her due to his own jealous stupidity, leaving Paul with a great deal more time to get to know the girl without the Baby-Alpha constantly breathing down her neck. He had slowly taken the boy's place and more as she all too trustingly let him in.
It had started with casual, gentle touches so as not to spook her. But she had been so hungry for contact that it became a torture to not let her slide too swiftly down the slope into his grasp. Because too quickly would have had her turn tail and bolt like a startled doe. Too slowly would have had an equally deleterious effect on the girl's growing need for him, quite possibly leaving her to turn her affections elsewhere in a desperate need to feel that rush.
He would have likely killed whomever dared to try and take her from him…
Because the Devil had her by the heart and he wasn't about to let her go.
So he had bided his time and like any good hunter, he allowed his prey to walk blindly into his arms. Played the sexless best friend, let her get as physically comfortable with him as a lover would be without the pressure of reciprocated need. And she had come willingly. Sweetly and recklessly stepping into the trap with her generous, gentle self as prize for his patience.
Days of letting her stroke him like a favored pet. Not that he'd ever minded, those slim fingers sliding through his hair and gently raking down his neck and shoulders were their own form of reward. Letting her wrap her warm little body around his own in her bed compensated by her ever-growing trust in him. Holding her in the darkness as she slept while he forced his libido to downshift. And through it all, he was so very aware of how her body reacted to his own, the way arousal would darken her eyes and bring a flush to her cheeks. The scent of her spiking in a rush through his senses.
Not that he hadn't had moments of pure, blinding frustration. Moments where it was all he could do to keep himself leashed before he could scare her by prying those curvy legs apart and licking up the taste that surely matched that particular scent. Those had been the days that he was unable to completely contain all signs of arousal on his part and he'd been damned glad that she was too sleepy to notice it.
Other issues had also arisen. The boy in the theater who had cornered her? Threatening to rip the little bastard's hands off for attempting to touch her might not have been well done of him, but he'd have done it in a second if she'd have asked it of him. The day that he had come in to find his own cousin flapping his lips about her? He'd barely restrained himself from setting about discovering just how much pain a Wolf could endure before the shock of it killed him.
The dumb-fuck redhead in Jacksonville? He'd put his lips where they clearly weren't wanted, after putting his hands on her in the first place. That the pitcher could still throw balls was a testament to Bella's desire to keep Paul out of jail for breaking a human.
That she had endured her grandfather's censure for his sake was something he hadn't anticipated.
He'd expected to be some kind of guilty pleasure to the girl for a while until she got used to him, but she had treated him like a valued friend even to her own family's face right from the start. And hadn't that been a shock, because Charlie had still reeked of anxiety at that point whenever in Paul's company. He couldn't look Paul in the eyes even on the best of days and for Bella to expect him to treat Paul as well as he had Jacob had been a stretch.
"The kissing has to stop. Not because I don't like it. But because I like it too much," Bella said, a small hitch in her voice and Paul forced his head back into the game. "I don't want lose my friendship with you, because you're my very best friend. But I can't keep letting things go on like this, because eventually we might cross a line that you won't forgive me for," she ended miserably.
Paul slowly shook his head in bemusement. "It amazes me," he growled quietly.
Bella finally turned to face him, eyes searching his face for the condemnation she was expecting. But failing to find it, she drew herself up straighter. "What does?"
"Where you must have gotten all of this utter bullshit," he stated bluntly.
Bella flinched. "What do you mean?"
He stepped forward slowly, watching as the girl fought not to back away from the sudden predacious glint he knew must have sparked into his alien eyes. "So much crap about being friends. Surely you can see it by now."
The girl suddenly back-peddled as he continued to crowd her.
"I don't…what's wrong with you? Why are you acting this way? If it was something I said last night, I'm sorry!" She looked even more miserable as she continued to back away.
"That's a damned good question," Paul purred, gratified to see the girl shiver as her back met the wall. "What is wrong with me? Might have nothing to do with you letting me kiss you last night. Might have everything to do with you coming here and trying to take yourself away from me."
"You're not making any sense! You set the boundaries at the very beginning and I respected you enough to abide by them! Now you're saying that we're not even friends anymore?" Bella's eyes flashed with a sudden passion that he could practically taste and it was all he could do not to drop her and spread her right there on his floor. His could feel his lips tipping upward into a predator's grin, enjoying the rebellion in her as he advanced on her.
"And you're so sure that's all we are, girl? Friends and no more? That's it, end of the line?"
"What else is there?" Her lower lip protruded slightly into a stubborn moue and he found himself wanting to nibble on it.
"And if I say that I want you?" he pushed, ducking down to run his lips along her pulse, enjoying the shuddering of her body in his arms as he leaned into her, chest crushing against her breasts. Little hands skated up his arms and over his shoulders, helplessly stroking him through the soft crushed velvet. "And not in a friendly way."
He could practically feel her sudden recoil and mentally cursed. Her body went stiff in his hold and a hiccup of a sob escaped her.
"But I love you," she whispered, so quietly that even with his enhanced senses he could scarcely hear her. He could feel her begin to collapse in on herself and chuckled quietly. Her eyes shot up, her face crumpling as her dark eyes turned watery. "I hadn't thought you'd be so cruel about it."
He shook his head before pressing his forehead to hers. "Such a silly thing you are," he rumbled, feeling her hands tighten into his shirt as her huge eyes sought his, going practically cross-eyed with the attempt. "I thought you'd figure it out by now. You're the only person I know how to love."
Bella gasped. And not the little girly-type gasps that he was used to when females first caught sight of him. This was a full-body 'can't get enough air' type of gasp that had her shaking and weak-kneed in his grasp. Paul couldn't help the smile that crossed his face as he leaned down and brushed his lips against her own, satisfied as the girl let out a husky little murmur of pleasure at the touch.
"But how could you love me," she mumbled against his lips. "All that time, and I thought all you could ever feel for me was friendship? I was gearing myself up to never get to speak to you again when you found out, and now…?"
"Now?" he repeated, gently stroking his tongue along that lush bottom lip before pressing his lips back to her own.
"Now?" she questioned back, suddenly appearing lost in the middle of the conversation. She tried to follow his lips with her own, eyes hazy.
Obliging her, he kissed her as slowly and sweetly as he knew how, biting back a growl as slim fingers raked through his hair and then fisted as if she could hold him there. And she could, because he'd give her everything, anything at all if she desired it of him. His hands came down from where they had been braced against the wall, sliding around her waist and pulling her body up into his until her legs curled across the small of his back. One hand drifted downwards from her waist and palmed a firm, round cheek as he rolled his hips into hers, purring roughly against her lips as she squeaked in surprise. His kiss turned rough for a moment, before gentling again as she stroked her fingers along the nape of his neck.
Finally, he pulled back to let her breathe. Her chest had begun to heave against his and while he enjoyed having such an effect on the girl, he didn't want her passing out. Her doe eyes drifted open as he pressed a quick kiss to the corner of her lips and he smiled as they slowly lifted to his. "There you are," he murmured as Bella's eyes began to focus again.
She smiled uncertainly, cheeks a bit rosy as she pressed her palms flat against his chest. "Um…I think I need to get down," she said quietly. "Can't think real well with you this close."
She really shouldn't be giving away such knowledge to the 'enemy', but he shrugged and let her down, observing as she stepped back towards the middle of the room while she apprehensively fiddled with the hem of her hoody. He put his back to the wall as he watched her pace, unashamedly on display because if he couldn't touch her he'd make damned sure he stacked the deck in his favor. She glanced back at him again, eyes widening as she got a good look at him and he couldn't help the smug quirk of his lips as she blushed harder, leaving him to wonder just how far down it went. Yeah, he was hard as fuck. Not like he could hide it at this point and he really didn't feel like trying to force it down just to make her more comfortable.
She looked away, biting her lip uncertainly. Poor thing was unused to such blatant behavior. At the moment, however. But oh, give him time…
"I don't…know what to say. I mean, what do I say? You're you. Special even above and beyond being a Shape-shifter. You're this amazing person and I'm just…Book Girl. The girl who ran with Vampires and now runs with Wolves. The smart girl or the Chief's daughter. Yeah I'm book smart, but in street smarts, I kinda suck. I'm average in looks and personality, and-"
Paul snorted, eyes narrowing on her earnest little face. "Such well-spoken bullshit. You can't really be this blind."
"Blind? How am I blind? I'm realistic. I mean, look at me Paul! I get good grades, and I'd like to think that I make a good friend. So I'm pretty enough by high-school-girl standards, big freakin' whoop! I'm also short and yeah I've got some okay curves but they're nothing to write home over!"
Paul groaned and let his head fall back against the wall with a thump. "Christ, Bella. You have got to be the blindest girl I've ever met." Leaning forward again, he deliberately let his gaze rake over a body that could drive him to distraction and quite frequently did. "You could make me fucking crawl for you if you so chose."
Bella blushed harder, something he loved to see, then opened her mouth before her brain seemed to actually catch up with her. "Yeah, like you'd actually crawl for anyone!"
He felt his lips tipping upward with pure wickedness as he slid down the wall until he'd dropped to the floor. "Is that so?" he purred as he slowly prowled forward on his knees toward the girl who suddenly gasped and stumbled backwards with a familiar, adorable squeak. Something had occurred to her and digging it out of her would be a pure pleasure.
He was almost on her when she tripped over the corner of the ottoman, dropping her into his arms. Laying her out on the wooden floor, he came down atop her, bracing himself up on his forearms to keep from crushing her. She wouldn't look him in the eye, however, her face now resembling a tomato.
Nuzzling her neck, he chuckled against her soft skin. Oh, he was going to love this game… "Tell me."
She squeaked again, trying not to move. "Tell you what?"
"Your heart is racing." A gentle scrape of teeth along her clavicle as he pulled down the zipper on her hoody. "You smell like nervousness." A press of lips to the underside of her jaw. "You're just short of hyperventilating." He dropped a thigh down between hers and rocked himself against her. "So tell me…what exactly was it that you just thought of?"
Her legs clamped shut around his, her small hands raking nails up his back under velvet as she bucked under him in helpless response, ripping a hiss of pure pleasure from between his clenched teeth. "When I met you, I…I had this thought." She gasped as he rocked into her again, prompting her along. "That you would be far too much for me to handle…even with both hands and a shock-collar."
Even he could hear the dark humor lacing his tone as his voice roughened further. "And…?"
"And I…I had this other thought that putting a leash on you might be kind of…interesting," she moaned as his lips found a particularly sensitive place on her fragile neck and sucked.
"Now that is interesting," he responded, kissing the small red mark he'd pulled to the surface, not at all surprised by the sense of satisfaction he had in knowing that he'd marked her. "Because I'm rather inclined to let you."
Then he was silencing her stuttering shock with his lips, this artless young girl he loved who hadn't the faintest idea of what she had just let herself in for with her latest admission. Because, while generally he was no one's submissive, the thought of her naked and riding him at a break-neck gallop with a collar locked around his neck was beyond merely…interesting.
She squirmed under him as he shifted to gain more contact, carefully lowering his weight onto one arm to free the other. His now freed hand slid up her bare back under her borrowed shirt, fingers skating across the band of her bra as he was tempted to snap the clasp open. Her legs once more locked around his waist and she clung tightly as if fearing that he intended to escape her, but he had no intentions of-
Oh, you have got to be fucking with me, he mentally growled as his phone went off yet again.
He would have simply ignored it, but Bella had already pulled back, a wild look in her eye as if she'd been caught doing something naughty. She very nearly had been and he was the something naughty.
Baring his suddenly sharp teeth, he forced himself up onto his knees, very nearly groaning at the sight of her laid out before him. She was flushed with kiss-swollen lips as she sprawled on her back in a tangle of his clothing, legs spread around his as if inviting him back.
The third time his phone rang, he practically ripped it out of his pocket. Hitting accept, he forced himself to at least pretend politeness as he throttled back a vicious growl. "What do you need?"
"Well hello to you, too. Caught you at a bad time, I take it?" Haven's deep voice echoed across the airwaves, clear amusement coloring it.
"Haven." The warning was clear in his tone…either talk or get the fuck off the line.
The other man sighed. "We're short a pair of bartenders. Kell had to go to the hospital because his sister was in a fender-bender and Colt is stuck in traffic on his way back from Seattle. I need you to come in for a few hours."
Paul grit his teeth, just managing to keep the sound that wanted to emerge behind them. "I'm not a bartender."
"You have an eidetic memory. You know how to mix drinks. Bring Bella, you can teach her. It's a slow night and I will pay her for her time. Besides, she so damned cute, they'd pay to watch her serve them water."
Paul rolled his eyes, no longer even surprised that Haven already knew she was there. The man always knew shit he shouldn't have been able to, no use getting bent over it. "Fine. Forty minutes." Then he hung up.
Turning to face the girl who still looked a bit mauled, he felt a reluctant smile curl his lips. "Haven needs an extra pair of hands."
Bella looked disappointed, but pushed a hand through her hair and gave him a game smile. "Will I see you tomorrow?"
Snorting, Paul got to his feet, tugging her up with him. "Actually, it's your hands he's requesting. Feel like earning a few extra bucks?"
Blinking, she eyed him uncertainly. "What could he need me for? Not that I wouldn't help him if he needed it," she insisted. He knew she had a soft spot for his boss and the feeling was entirely mutual.
"Well, it's a rule that we always have a pair of bartenders, no matter how slow the night. It's a safety thing for the bartenders, buddy system and all that shit in case the customers get disorderly. Now, I could hold the bar alone because not many people actually think they want to fuck with me. But rules are rules and Haven won't break them. He's supposed to be doing payroll tonight or he'd be manning the bar himself. So you can come, if you like. Keep me company?" He wasn't ashamed to whip out the sympathy card, watching as she crumbled with an uncertain grin. But Christ was he going to catch hell when Sam heard that he took the man's baby sister into a bar and let her serve liquor to a bunch of bunch of rowdy jocks and college girls.
His lips curved upwards into a grin. He could hardly wait.
The trees were beautiful in the winter, Sam decided with a yawn as he lumbered through the snow-drifts. The sun was just beginning to set and he'd actually been looking forward to this patrol because of the clear, peaceful landscape. No other Wolves to bother him except for his patrol partner, and she wasn't likely to speak to him anyway. Not that he could blame her, because who in their right mind wanted a clear, unimpeded view into their old lover's mind when the new lover happened to cross it?
He tended to avoid pairing himself with Leah out of courtesy's sake but he couldn't always avoid it. He wanted to say that they were starting to come to an understanding, but she'd been a bit squirrely lately whenever he was around her. Shrugging, he kept his questions to himself, because if she was going to so much trouble to keep whatever it was close to the vest, then it really might not be any of his business and since Sam wasn't a busybody he was going to leave her be.
Leah was smart and capable, so whatever it was, he felt certain that she could likely handle it if given the time and opportunity to do so.
Familiar sounds reached his ears as he changed course and loped along the well-traveled path through the woods. He ducked trees and dodged bushes, eyes peeled for anything that didn't belong and nose lifted to catch any stray scents. It was as he was twisting through a pair of trees along the path that something strange caught his notice. He usually had no problems getting through those two, but today they caught at his sides a little more closely than he'd like. As a result, he was forced to place his forepaw a bit oddly to compensate for the change in pace.
Sam blinked. Then came to a dead stop. Stunned into stillness, his eyes reluctantly dropped to the ground beneath him, only to make out a strange pair of paws.
Those couldn't be his!
Lifting one to inspect it, the claws were long and razor sharp as they gleamed dully in the light. The paw itself was absolutely enormous, actually making a mockery of his more familiar Wolf's paws. The pads were thicker than usual, though just as black as he remembered, but that was the only similarity.
Dread began to build in his heart as he turned over his shoulder to glance at the rest of him… because that wasn't a wolven body he was suddenly inhabiting. He was at least a foot taller and significantly broader than he had been. Sitting down proved to be more difficult as well, because his ass had significantly more junk in the trunk than he was used to, but he did manage it.
Patting gingerly at his face yielded similar changes. Short, rounded ears and a blunt muzzle with a decidedly 'dished' feel to it.
Biting back his panic, he mentally called out to his Patrol partner.
No answer. He waited a few more moments just in case she was simply feeling contrary, but there wasn't even the whisper of an answer in the Pack-mind.
"Leah? C'mon, stop fucking around! This isn't funny!"
Was she okay? Did something happen to her?! They may not be together anymore but he still cared a great deal for her! She would always be his first love. Worry for the only female Wolf beginning to override his panic for himself, he threw back his head to howl for the Pack…but all that came out was a deep, growling roar.
A sound that utterly shocked the man locked inside of whatever new sort of hell this was, because it was a familiar sound. And deep inside his mind, Sam screamed…
…and sat up in bed with a choked off human cry of utter terror.
Blinking his eyes rapidly, Sam realized that he must have been having some twisted new nightmare.
He pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes and groaned. He tended to repress those first few petrified days he had lived as a Wolf. That his imagination chose now to pester him with a different yet eerily similar sort of nightmare was just so not cool.
Forcing himself to take deep, calming breaths, he got himself under control, faintly glad that Emily was still out visiting relatives because this would have only worried her. He hated to worry her for nothing more than a stupid dream.
Throwing back the covers, Sam realized that he was soon due out on Patrol with Leah and got out of bed, ignoring the fact that he was just a bit shaky still and padded barefoot into the bathroom to throw some cool water on his face. The cold air from the open window didn't bother him despite the fact that he was naked. In fact, it was oddly refreshing after…that.
Not bothering to stop and get dressed, because he would only have to strip down again, he wandered down the stairs and into the kitchen. His back yard opened directly onto the path into the woods and he was fast enough to not have to worry about being seen parading about in the buff. He ate a cold lunch of heavily stacked sandwiches and half a gallon of milk before finally getting the last of his shit together. Leah should be waiting for him after he phased and ran through the first set of markers.
Placing his glass and plate in the sink to wash later, he was just opening the door and getting ready to streak through his yard when his eyes widened with horror. Because there were tracks in the snow leading up to his back porch. Human footprints that suddenly became animal prints as his eyes tracked them across the smooth expanse of fresh snowfall. And they were far from Wolven…
Huge and broad, they fed the panic in the Alpha Wolf…because those were Grizzly tracks…
a.n. – This is for everyone who wanted an in to Paul's rather twisted little mind…may you have enjoyed the trip as much as I did! Bella…well, she's in for the ride of her life, and I hope like hell she can hold on!
b.n –Yeah, that just happened :) Everything is finally coming together! And you all got to meet the wickedness that is Paul :] He has been chomping at the bit for a while now. As always, it was a pleasure reading through your responses from last chapter. And just a reminder for our new readers, we try and update every 2-3 weeks :)