This is my entry for the Short Story contest, Wolfy edition. I'm very happy to announce that I won the contest. Thank you to everyone who voted for me! Since the contest now is over, I'm free to post the story on my profile. I'm going to post the original five chapters of the short story, and then I'll continue with new chapters. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Loads of love to my beautiful beta and friend Similar for working on this story for me!

Disclaimer- All recognizable copyrighted and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owner, most especially Stephenie Meyer. Everything else belongs to the respective author.

BPOV

I clutched the newspaper article tight to my chest while I watched the landscape pass by the window. I knew she would catch up to me some day, but I hadn't expected her to go to this extreme. I should have known though, and that thought had been eating at me for since I found out. By now I was resigned to the fact that it didn't matter how many times I second guessed myself and my actions in the past. No amount of regret would change the outcome, and I was just relieved that it would all be over soon.

The bus came to a stop and I grabbed the bag that held all of my worldly possessions. I pulled my hoodie up and stepped out onto Forks' land for the first time in four years. It felt odd to be back in the place where my life had been irrevocably altered, but it was fitting in a way that it would end where it had begun.

I threw my bag over my shoulder and started to walk towards the little old house I had once called home. I held my head low, hoping no one would recognize me. I had no desire to talk to anyone, let alone try to offer up an explanation of my whereabouts, and I definitely didn't want the sympathy or pity people were sure to bestow onto me.

When I took the turn into my old road I could see that nothing had changed. My old truck was still parked in front, and the paint on the house was chipped and in desperate need of restoration. The steps creaked under my feet and I closed my eyes for a second before pulling my old key out of my pocket. I slowly unlocked the door and walked inside.

The familiar smells of take-out food, beer and cologne assaulted my nose and my legs gave out from under me. I slid down against the wall in the hallway and landed on my ass with a thump. Everything was exactly as I remembered it, but one crucial piece was missing. I pulled the newspaper clipping out from my pocket and stared at it for the hundredth time.

SMALL TOWN CHIEF OF POLICE MURDERED

The small town of Forks, Washington, is in a state of shock after the grisly murder of the local chief of Police. The body of Charles 'Charlie' Swan was found early Wednesday morning in the woods by a local man walking his dog. The police are reluctant to release any details at this time, but according to witnesses, Chief Swan was brutally murdered, and the perpetrator had carved a 'V' in his chest.

Chief Swan is survived by his 22 year old daughter Isabella Swan. According to town's people, Isabella has been travelling for a few years, and has been uncontactable. If you have news of Isabella please inform the Forks Police Department.

The funeral is scheduled for…

No matter how many times I read the words, they still didn't really register as the truth in my mind. It was too surreal. My father was dead, murdered, because of me, and I find out through a newspaper?

After the initial shock had subsided, I had known what I needed to do. It was time to finish it, once and for all. I had been a fool for thinking I could escape, and Charlie had ended up paying the price with his life.

I shook my head to expel the thoughts of guilt that had crept up on me again. I had not made it back to Forks to dwell on my mistakes. I was here for a reason and I needed to go on with it.

I stood up, folded the newspaper clipping, and put it back in my pocket. I walked into the living room and brushed my hand against the back of Charlie's recliner. If I closed my eyes I could see him sitting there with a can of Vitamin R, watching a game on the flat screen. I expected to feel the familiar pain flare up, but instead an eerie calm descended upon me. I calmly picked up the items I was after, took one last breath of Charlie scented air and left.

The key to my truck had been in its usual place, and I prayed that the truck would still function enough to get me where I was going. I grabbed the can of gas that Charlie always kept in the shed for emergencies, emptied it into the tank and drove off.

I arrived at the cemetery, which thankfully was devoid of other people. I didn't know where Charlie was buried, but it was a fairly small lot and I figured if I looked for a fresh grave I would find it quite easily. I searched the ground for about five minutes when I spotted a grave with a huge amount of flowers and candles around it. I steeled myself and walked slowly towards it. When I got close enough, I could see the writing on the headstone. It was my dad's name.

I dropped to my knees in front of the place where my father was lying, buried deep underneath six feet of soil. A sob threatened to escape me, and I clamped a hand against my mouth, fighting it off. I took out the picture I had taken with me and looked at it for a long time. It was a picture of me and Charlie, taken a sunny day when I was about eight years old. I had spent the summer in Forks as usual, and on that particular day, Charlie had brought me to the lake to go fishing with him.

We'd had a great time at first, Charlie had been so excited about sharing his favorite pastime with me, and I had really enjoyed the tranquility of the water and the sounds of the birds chirping. Of course, me being me, I managed to get tangled up in the fishing line and ended up falling into the water. The fishing trip got cut short and I had grumbled the whole ride home, to Charlie's amusement. When we got home, Harry Clearwater had been there and Charlie asked him to take a picture of us, he wanted a memento of the big 'fish' he had caught in the lake. He had the picture framed and it had stood in the living room ever since.

Looking at the picture now was bittersweet. I wanted to scream at the little grumpy soaked girl to stop moping and savor the time spent with her father. I wanted to yell at her to take a look at the man standing there with his arm around her shoulders, not caring if he got wet as well. I wanted her to see the look of adoration in his eyes when he looked at his little girl. I wanted to tell her to never do anything that would cause him to lose the light in his eyes. To never make him worry about her, to never get mixed up in a world she had no business being in, a world that would ultimately lead to her father's death.

"I'm so sorry, Charlie," I whispered. "I'm sorry that I wasn't here for your funeral. I'm sorry for only calling you a few times over the last four years, for making you worry about me, for not being able to tell you what was going on with me. I'm sorry for being such a naïve kid and putting my trust in the wrong people. I'm sorry that you got hurt-" My voice broke and I had to take a moment to collect myself.

"I'm so sorry you had to pay for my mistakes, dad," I continued whispering, tears running freely down my cheeks. "I wish I could do it all over again. I would be smart and stay away when I was told to." I took a deep breath and briefly thought about Edward trying to warn me off. I had been so stupid and infatuated back then, refusing to see the danger that literally stared me in the eye.

"I wish I'd had spent more time with you, dad. I wish that I'd hugged you more and told you that I loved you. I love you, daddy, I love you so much." The sobs took over and I couldn't speak.

I allowed myself to cry one final time, to mourn my father. A man that had dedicated his life to serve and protect others, a man that showed his love for his only child through actions rather than in words. A man that stepped out of his comfort zone to buy purple sheets for his daughter. A man that put snow chains on his daughter's truck so she would be safer on the icy roads. A man that had been viciously murdered in order to draw his daughter out of hiding.

I pulled myself together and the eerie calm started to come back. "I can't fix things, dad, but I can end them." I gently placed a kiss to the picture and then put it down on top of the headstone.

"I will make sure that this ends today, I'm not letting her kill anyone else in my place," I promised. "If there's a place for me where you are, we'll see each other soon, if not, then at least know that I'm finally facing the consequences of my actions head on, like you would have done."

I took one last look at my father's final resting place and then turned around for the second part of my mission, time to face my demon and get this finished once and for all.

"I'm not running anymore, Victoria," I yelled. "If you want me, you know where to find me." It was time to go back to the place where it all had begun.

I was going to their house.

My truck miraculously made it all the way to the big house in the woods. It was obvious that no cars had been driven on the secluded road for years, and if I wasn't driving a truck I would probably been stuck somewhere in the vegetation by now. I gave my old truck an appreciative clap on the dashboard and stepped out. Aside from the overgrown garden and the weeds everywhere, the house looked exactly the same as I remembered it.

I walked up the stairs and peeked in through the windows. I could see Edward's piano covered in dust sheets, and it seemed fitting in a morbid sort of way. It was packed away and left behind, just like me. I pressed my hand against the window and said a silent goodbye to the Cullen family.

I turned around and sat down on the bottom of the stairs, preparing myself for what I was about to do. I knew it probably wouldn't take long for Victoria to show up, but I didn't want to wait any longer than I had to. I bunched the sleeve of my hoodie up over my elbow, pulled the Swiss army knife out of my pocket and switched the blade out. I put the tip of the blade on my arm and pressed down. The pain from the cut barely registered with me and I watched the blood trickle down my arm with a satisfied feeling.

"I'm here, Victoria," I shouted and waved my bloody arm around. "Come and get me!"

I heard some rustling noises in the trees to my right and I couldn't help but smile. It was finally ending. My pathetic excuse for a life was coming to a long overdue end. The relief was overwhelming and I closed my eyes for a second to relish in the feeling. The noises grew louder and I could sense that I was being watched. I opened my eyes and saw… wolves?

"What the hell?" I cried out. I was expecting to see red hair and red eyes, but instead two larger than life creatures padded closer to me. I had never heard of wolves this big, and I wondered if I had lost more blood than I thought. Maybe I was hallucinating? I closed my eyes again and then slowly opened them. Nope, they were still there.

"Go away!" I stood up and did a shooing motion with my still bleeding arm, causing little red droplets to paint the porch in a speckled pattern. Well, that'll be a nice welcome present for Edward when he comes back to Forks one day. I thought dryly.

The wolves stopped moving and just stood there looking at me. They had probably never seen a human behave like me before. I'm sure most people screamed and tried to run away if they came face to face with these giants. Considering the fact that, at least to my knowledge, no one had reported the findings of overgrown wolves, the odds of getting away alive was slim to none.

"Did you hear me? Go away! It's not supposed to be like this, you can't kill me. She has to do it." I had no idea why I was talking to the animals, but I was starting to feel desperate. One of the wolves let out a little whimper and if I didn't know better I would say that he sounded sad.

"I have a plan, dammit! You're ruining it," I yelled at them. The wolves turned their heads and looked at each other, one of them nodded his head and the other turned around and ran back towards the woods. That couldn't be normal wolf behavior, could it? I knew that wolves were intelligent animals, but what I had just witnessed looked a lot more like human communication than that of an animal.

I stood absolutely still, watching the remaining wolf with confusion. What was going on? Why didn't they attack? Why didn't Victoria show up to chase them away from her prize?

All of a sudden a man came walking out from the place the wolf had disappeared to. He was tall, extremely well built and clothed only in a pair of cutoff jeans. No shoes. I didn't recognize him, but he was obviously Native American, maybe Quileute. What was he doing? Did he not see the giant wolf?

I wanted to yell out to him to not come any closer, but as soon as I looked in his eyes all I wanted was for him to get as close as possible.

He froze, staring me in the eye, a look of wonder passing over him. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the wolf watching us like he was watching a tennis match. The man shook his head as if to clear it and continued walking towards me, never breaking eye contact.

I felt as if I was on fire, my body was trembling and calling out for him. I desperately needed him to touch me. I realized that I had taken a few steps forwards, but I couldn't stop myself.

He was right in front of me now, close enough for me to feel the heat coming off his body. He reached out his hand and gently cupped my cheek. I leaned into his touch, relishing in the feel of his warm hand. His brown eyes were mesmerizing and I wanted to study them, to get to know their exact color. I wanted to know everything about this man, and that thought scared me to death.

I tore my eyes away from him and quickly took a couple of steps back. The action caused him to sigh sadly and I felt a sharp pain in my chest by the thought of him being in distress. What the hell was this? I felt as if I was under some kind of spell, and I needed to snap out of it and focus on the reason I was here to begin with. Whoever this beautiful man was, I was not going to let him get hurt because of me. The longer he stayed here the greater the risk that Victoria would show up and make him collateral damage.

"Look," I started, my voice slightly shaky. "I don't know who you are or what's going on, but you need to go," I pleaded.

"Paul," he said and his voice sent a thrill through me.

"What?"

"My name," he answered in that delicious deep voice. "My name is Paul."

"Paul," I said his name with reverence. His face lit up with a smile and he took a step closer to me. God, he was beautiful. I licked my lips and looked at his lips. They looked so soft and plump; I just wanted to kiss them and maybe nibble a little on that bottom lip. Get it together, Bella!

"No," I said, trying to ignore the look of hurt that appeared in his eyes when I put my hands up to keep him away from me. "You can't be here, it's not safe."

A muffled noise that sounded a lot like a snort came from my left. Startled I turned around and realized that it came from the wolf. I had totally forgotten about the strange, huge animal only a few feet away. What was this power Paul seemed to have over me? I had never reacted like this to anyone and I didn't like it. Not now. It was too late.

Paul sighed a little and said, "I know it's not safe, Bella, but I'm not leaving you here."

"How do you know my name?" I asked suspiciously. "Has she taken to sending humans to do her dirty work now?" I didn't feel as if he was a danger to me, but I didn't know what to believe. He happened to show up at this secluded house in the middle of the woods right when I had called Victoria out, and he knew my name? Something was going on and I didn't like it.

"I don't know what you're talking about, but I know your name because I'm a friend of Jacob Black."

"Jacob?" I squeaked out. That was a person I had tried not to think about for the last years. He had been my best friend and promised to never hurt me, but he had suddenly pulled away from me, ending our friendship without any explanation. His actions had been the catalyst to my leaving Forks.

"Yes, he's always thinking about you, so I feel as if I know you even though we've hardly met before." There were so many things about that answer that didn't seem right and I was starting to lose my patience.

"Look, I don't know what sort of weirdo you are," I spat and instinctively took a step back when his eyes darkened and something akin to a growl slipped past those luscious lips of his.

"I hardly think that I'm in Jacob's thoughts that much, if at all, and how would you know what he's thinking of anyway? And I'm fairly sure that we have never met each other, I would definitely remember you." Why did I have to add that last part?

"Oh, but you wouldn't remember, it was the night when Sam found you in the woods after that leech had left," he said, sounding sad and disgusted at the same time.

"W-w-what did you just say?" I stuttered out. What did he know?

"Never mind," I continued before he had a chance to answer my question. "You need to go, and if you can get that overgrown dog over there to leave too, it would be great."

"We're not going anywhere without you," Paul gritted out between clenched teeth, it seemed as if his patience were wearing out as well. I noticed how he included the wolf in his declaration, but I didn't have time to ask any more questions.

"You're standing here in front of the leeches' house, bleeding, there's not a chance in hell I'm leaving you here." I looked down at my arm, suddenly aware of the pain from the cut.

"You're coming with me to La Push, and we'll get that taken care of." It wasn't a suggestion, it was an order, and I bristled.

"I'm not going anywhere with you! Who the hell do you think you are, showing up here, interfering with things, and expect me to do what you tell me to do? I don't even know you. Go away!" I yelled and turned to walk back over to the porch.

I didn't get very far though, Paul grabbed me by my waist and the heat of his hands sent shivers down my spine. He pulled me back against his body and wrapped his arms around me. His body was as warm as his hands, and I could feel the muscles ripple underneath his skin. I wanted to melt into him and let him do whatever he wanted to me, and that only pissed me off more.

He leaned down and spoke with a husky voice in my ear, "I told you I'm not leaving without you, and I meant it. Now you have a choice; you either quietly come with me, or I throw you over my shoulder and carry you. Either way, you're coming with me."

The tone of his voice, his breathe in my ear, the hardness of his body, everything about him was driving me insane with desire, but my mind was still screaming at me.

"Fuck you," I said, trying to wriggle out of his grip. "You don't understand, I need to be here."

"No you don't. I don't know what you think you're going accomplish here, but I know I wouldn't like it, and I'm not letting you."

"You're not letting me?" I asked incredulously.

"No," he said simply.

"Who the hell died and put you in charge over me?" As soon as the words left my mouth the crushing pain of losing Charlie caused me to go weak at the knees. Paul tightened his grip around me and held me up.

"I just found you," he said in a soft voice, "and I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep you safe."

"I don't understand…" The fight in me started to wane and it scared me more than anything. I had been on a mission to finish things once and for all, and the sense of relief that had come with that decision had been the first soothing feeling I'd felt in years. If I gave in now and let him take me away from here, Victoria would still be after me and more people would be killed because of me. I couldn't let that happen, but I was so tired of fighting. I had fought for years, and I didn't have it in me to be strong anymore. I wanted out.

"Please," I implored. "Please, let me go."

"Never," he said and spun me around impossibly fast, locking eyes with me. "I'll never let you go."

He looked fierce and determined, but there was something else in his eyes that spoke of things I hadn't dreamed of since I was a teenager. My heart constricted and tears started to pool in my eyes. I wasn't going to be successful in convincing him to leave me. I didn't even know if I wanted him to leave me. It didn't matter what I wanted, though, everybody left me sooner or later, and I had worked too hard on not letting people in, to throw it away in the vain hopes that Paul would be different.

He seemed to search my eyes for something, and I didn't know if he found it or not, but he sighed and slipped one arm under my knees and the other behind my back. He scooped me up as if I was as light as a feather and carried me over to my truck.

"Run ahead, Quil, we'll meet you at Sam's," he said to the wolf, and it didn't even faze me that he was talking to an animal as if he was having a normal conversation. The wolf made a yipping sound and ran off towards the woods. Did he really understand what Paul had said? Paul gently placed me in the passenger side of the truck and then slid in behind the wheel. The key was still in the ignition and I watched silently as he turned it and began driving away from what was supposed to be the place of my death.

About 30 minutes later we were driving down the narrow roads of La Push. Neither Paul nor I had spoken a word the entire ride. I sat with my cheek pressed against the window, just staring blankly at the scenery passing me by. I didn't know what was going on, or where we were going, but I didn't care anymore. I was tired. The kind of tired that could be felt down to the bone.

I didn't understand my feelings for Paul or why he seemed to care so much for me, but I refused to think about it. I had nothing left. I couldn't afford to get attached to him, and I could definitely not let him get too close to me. He would only end up paying the price, and for some inexplicable reason, the thought of him getting hurt in any way was beyond painful.

The truck came to a stop in front of little red cottage that looked as if it had come straight out of a fairytale. There were beautiful flowers in the planters underneath the windows, a couple of inviting chairs on the porch, and I could see a wonderful kitchen garden to the right side of the house.

Whoever these people living here were, they did not deserve to get involved in my messed up life. That thought sobered me up and I pulled myself together, preparing to grab the keys to the truck and drive off as soon as Paul got out.

"Not going to happen," he said.

"What?" I feigned ignorance.

"You're not getting away." With those words he took the key out of the ignition and stepped out of the truck. He ran around the truck and yanked the door to my side open, giving me a commanding look that clearly said 'get out here'. I ignored him and stubbornly remained seated.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," he sneered and reached in to grab me. I tried to scoot away from him, but ended up thrown over his shoulder kicking and screaming. He didn't seem fazed by my kicks at all and just walked over to the house, threw the door open and barreled inside. I heard a gasp and a few snickers so I knew there was a small gathering of people there to witness my arrival, ass first. Great.

"Paul, what are you doing? Put the poor girl down now!" a female voice demanded, and I would have kissed her if she had managed to hide the laughter in her voice a little better.

"Damn, Paul," a male spoke. "I didn't know you were that hard up for a piece of ass that you had to drag one home against her will. They usually throw themselves at you, lost your touch?" The room erupted in laughter and I screamed out in frustration.

"But it's definitely a niiiice ass," another male drawled out. Paul abruptly set me down on my feet and stood in front of me, shielding me from the others. He let out a low growl that both freaked me out and turned me on. Humans don't growl. What had I gotten myself mixed up in now?

"Whoa, relax, man," the man complimenting my ass said.

"You stay away from her, Collin," Paul said, the warning clear in his voice.

"Okay, I've had it!" I exclaimed, pushing my way around the infuriatingly gorgeous man that somehow seemed to think I was his. "What the hell is going on? Who are you people and what do you want from me?"

"Bella Swan?" someone asked with shock. I frowned and quickly scanned the faces before me, but I didn't recognize anyone. A beautiful woman with scars running across half her face took a couple of steps forward and smiled sweetly at me.

"I'm Emily," she said, and then gestured towards the group standing behind her. "Please forgive their behavior, Bella, they're just an unmannered pack of wolves." By the glint in her eyes and the chuckles ringing out from the others I got the distinct feeling that I was missing some sort of inside joke.

"Let me introduce you to everyone," she continued. "We've got Embry, Quil, Seth, Brady and Collin." They each gave me a little wave or a nod as Emily went through their names, but my eyes stayed with the one named Quil. That was the name Paul had called the wolf back at the Cullen house. That was one hell of a coincidence.

"Didn't you fill them in on what was happening, Quil?" Paul asked.

"None of them were phased and I haven't had time to tell them yet," Quil answered. "The others know, though, and they're on their way."

The one named Seth suddenly sniffed the air and turned to me. "Are you hurt, Bella?"

"What?" I asked bewildered. I had pulled the sleeve of my hoodie down during the ride over here and my cut couldn't be seen.

"I smell fresh blood," Seth said with a concerned tone.

"Will someone please tell me what the fuck you're all talking about?" I was beyond confused now. "You can smell my bleeding, you're talking about 'phasing', whatever the hell that is, and you all act like you know me." I was so angry and frustrated, my body started to tremble and I could feel myself losing the tenuous control I had over my emotions.

Suddenly I was wrapped up in Paul's arms again. He held me close to his chest and I instantly calmed down. I didn't know if the was the warmth of his body, his slow steady breathing, his tantalizing smell, or just something about him, but I felt safe and comforted in his arms. This only added to my confusion, but I decided to push it all away for a moment and just let myself relax in his embrace.

The reprieve was short-lived, however, because the door was slammed open again and another young man stormed in.

"Bella!" he called out. I lifted my head from Paul's chiseled chest and looked at the face of the newcomer. His hair was cut short, and his face was more mature than I remembered, but there was no doubt in my mind, it was Jacob. He gave Paul a look as if asking for permission for something, and Paul gave him a smile and a nod before letting go of me.

As soon as Paul released me from his embrace Jacob swooped down and lifted me up in a bone-crushing hug. He was sobbing and saying my name over and over again as if he couldn't believe I was actually here.

"Jake, can't…breathe…" I squeaked and Paul once again let out a low growl.

"Oops, sorry," Jacob apologized and loosened his grip on me. "I'm just so happy to see you again, Bella. Where have you been? Do you know how worried I've been? What the hell were you doing at the Cullen house? Did you cut yourself or did someone hurt you?"

"Jake…" I tried to interrupt him, but he kept going as if he didn't even hear me.

"Are you alright? Why did you leave Forks? Why didn't you ever call me? I had to find out through Charlie that you were still alive!" He was working himself up towards anger now, and that pissed me off, he had no right to be angry with me. He was the one who stopped talking to me all those years ago and wouldn't even take my calls.

"Jacob…" I said a little louder, and I got his attention.

"Oh God, Bella," he continued, all traces of anger gone. "I'm so sorry about Charlie. We tried… we weren't there… too late," he struggled to say. "I'm so fucking sorry, Bells."

I didn't know why he was apologizing; it wasn't like he could have done something to prevent Victoria from killing Charlie. That was all on me.

I noticed more people coming through the door; they were all huge men wearing only cutoffs. No shoes. Was that the official dress code for young men at La Push? My eyes met the eyes of the last one in, and for the second time today the world around me seemed to disappear. I wanted to hold him, kiss him and never let him go.

"Oh, fuck!" I heard someone say behind me, and that broke me from my trance. What was it with these guys? Why did I react to them this way? Sure, they were hot as hell, and that might have explained my intense need to jump their bones, but it didn't explain my feelings of wanting them to be happy and safe.

For the last four years I had trained myself to not care about anyone, I couldn't afford it, it would only hurt them, and me, when I had to move again. I'd had some one-night stands, but they were only about physical gratification. What I felt for Paul and this new guy was something entirely different, and the questions and confusion of the day kept growing.

"Hi, I'm Jared," the new guy said shyly, holding his hand out for me. Almost against my will I smiled at him and closed the distance between us. His hand was warm and soft, and I wanted to hold it forever.

"Hi, Jared," I whispered. "I'm Bella."

"Bella," he breathed, my name sounded like a benediction on his lips.

"What the fuck?" Jacob suddenly bellowed. "I thought Paul had imprinted on her?" I regretfully let go of Jared's hand and looked questioningly at Paul.

He looked me straight in the eye, tilted his head to the side a little and firmly stated, "I did."

"What?" I asked, not following what they were talking about.

"Well, it looked a lot like Jared just imprinted," Jacob continued, ignoring my question.

"I did," Jared softly said, looking at me with complete adoration. I didn't understand how he could look at me like that, we had just met, but I wasn't unnerved by it and that scared the crap out of me.

"You both imprinted on the same girl?" Jacob said in astonishment, and then his shoulders slumped and he looked very defeated. "You both imprinted on Bella," he said, sounding absolutely heartbroken.

"She must be a wild one, to need two wolves," someone chortled, and both Paul and Jared spun around and growled.

"Shut up, Collin," someone else admonished, and I had reached my limit.

"Everybody shut the fuck up!" I shouted. "I've had it with all of you! Emily, do you have any alcohol?"

"Y-y-yes," she stuttered out, and I felt a little bad for yelling at her, she had been nothing but nice to me. I took a deep breath and offered her a small apologetic smile.

"I need something strong," I implored, and she gave me a nod and headed for, what I presumed, the kitchen. I heard some clinking noises, but no one said a word. Emily returned after only a minute with a bottle of tequila and a shot glass.

"Perfect," I commented and eagerly took the glass and bottle from her. I plopped down on the couch, poured a shot and knocked it back immediately. The burning sensation in my throat and stomach felt great, and I quickly refilled the glass.

I lifted my head from the alcoholic nectar and looked around the room. Everyone was staring at me with astonished expressions. I raised an eyebrow and simply said, "Explain."