Chapter 1

AN: Can't promise I'll be quick to update on this one. But it's been forever since I've posted anything so I wanted to throw something out there. If you've got the time and inclination lemme know what ya think.

Disclaimer: SM wrote Twilight, not me.


I raised my hand to slap him, still riding high on the wave of righteous indignation.

But my palm never connected. Instead an over-heated band of steel engulfed my wrist. Hard black eyes met mine. We were standing so close the angle hurt my neck a little but I couldn't pull my eyes away from his. His dark eyes narrowed in anger.

"Tsk, tsk. It's not very lady-like to hit a person, unprovoked." His tone held a hard mocking edge.

I pulled against his grip, trying to free my hand. My anger was dissolving under his withering glare and fear was quickly taking its place. His grip was too strong. He had such a tight hold on me an observer wouldn't be able to tell I was struggling to break free. He had such total control over me through his overwhelming strength my arm wasn't budging at all.

His lip quirked up on the side, but there was no humor in his eyes. "Where do you think you're going, Sweetheart? You're staying right here with me."

I shook my head quickly in denial. "I'm sorry I tried to slap you. If you'll just let me go I'll go home. I'll leave Jake alone. I'll stop coming to La Push."

Whatever it took to get away, I'd do it. I'd stop coming where I clearly wasn't wanted, where I was obviously in harm's way. I would wither away in a slow, painful death in my room on the second floor of Charlie's house, but that was better than being snapped in two by these behemoths.

He growled, like a wild animal. Speaking through clenched teeth, he contradicted me. "You aren't going anywhere. You're mine."

The man next to him, Sam, stepped forward, placing a hand on the arm that held my wrist so tightly. Belatedly I realized that I would have finger shaped bruises.

"Paul, you need to calm down. You're scaring her. Hell, you're scaring me."

"Bella! Paul, get away from her!"

I jerked around at the sound of my name, pulling painfully against the grip on my wrist. Jake was running toward us, a mixture of confusion and anger on his face.

That same growling sound came from Paul again, only louder and more prolonged. And then the scenery was blurring as warm hands wrapped around me, yanking me swiftly backwards. Vertigo took over for a moment, and I lost what was happening around me. When I had my balance again I looked up to realize that I was now behind Paul. But at least he had released my wrist. The hand was hovering there, right by my body. Like he was waiting for me to try to dart away. Like he would grab me if I made a run for it.

His other hand was held out defensively in front of himself, holding Jacob at bay. My friend was watching the aggressive man between us with a wary eye.

"What are you doing, Paul? Why are you trying to kidnap Bella?" Jake asked quietly, his tone soothing.

"She's mine," he repeated.

The boy on the other side of Paul looked between us a couple times, shaking his head. "He's finally lost his mind."

A snort came from the other side of Sam. "No shit. He doesn't even like the leech lover."

Paul's head whipped around. He snarled at the boy, looking more animal than human. "Don't call her that."

I backed up a step at the fierce expression on his face. His head immediately turned to me. "You aren't sneaking off."

I shook my head quickly. No, I was obviously not going to have the opportunity to sneak off.

Sam edged closer, earning a glare from Paul. But the older man continued his careful approach. "Paul. Help us out here. You're acting a little strange. What's going on? Why don't you let Bella go on home and you can have the day off? I think you could use some rest."

"She's not going anywhere!" Paul roared.

I gasped at the intensity of his declaration. I don't think even Charlie with his uniform and shotgun would have made an impression on the crazed lunatic holding me hostage. He really did think I was his. But why? What on earth had snapped in his head to make him act like this?

Someone had to put an end to this stalemate. No one was asking the right questions. No one was doing anything to calm him. Going against everything screaming inside me to run, I took a step toward him. His eyes immediately zeroed in on me again.

"Paul? Can you tell me why I need to stay?"

"You're mine." He reiterated.

I swallowed, leaning toward him a bit. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Jake shaking his head. I could hear him telling me to stay back. But I ignored him. Reaching out, my hand only shaking a little, I gently touched his arm.

"But why am I yours? How?"

As soon as I touched him his aggression seemed to lessen. His eyes were still burning into mine. He was still glaring. His teeth were still clenched. But at least he didn't look like he was about to kill everyone in the yard.

"You're my imprint."

The words meant nothing to me. But they sure had an impact on the rest of his audience. Sam let out a gush of air and stared at Paul and me with astonished comprehension. I heard what sounded like "Holy Shit" and "Fuck" simultaneously from the other two goons who had accompanied Sam and Paul from the forest.

Jacob had the most explosive reaction. Literally. I'd arrived at the Black residence already half believing his stories about the tribe descending from Wolves. How could I discredit him when I had dated a vampire? Who was I to say he was lying? But giving the legend the benefit of the doubt and seeing a person explode into a huge wolf are two completely different things.

I hadn't even managed to make up my mind yet whether I wanted to scream, pass out, or just stare when I felt a rough shove pushing me back. I stumbled a few feet before landing hard on my rear. And when I looked up again Paul wasn't there anymore. Instead there was another wolf standing where he used to be. He was facing off with the Jake wolf, a deep growl reverberating from him. My whole chest vibrated with the sound.

"Jared! Embry! Get Bella to safety! Take her to my place!" Sam commanded before turning into a large black beast.

The two cohorts moved to my side, one of them offering me a hand up. As soon as I reached for it the Paul wolf's head jerked around, sending a warning snap toward the boy. The boy jumped slightly before turning toward the wolf with an exasperated expression.

"What the hell, Man! I'm trying to get your girl to safety you Asswipe. You want her sitting here where you guys can roll into her? Crush her? Accidentally take a swipe at her?"

I scrambled to my feet, my eyes on the two wolves facing off. Jake, the rust colored wolf, kept lunging for every opening he thought he saw, trying to get to me. The slightly smaller, silver colored wolf was relentless though in his defense. I couldn't help but think he'd make a really good goalie.

Jake rushed our grouping again, pushing the silver wolf back a few steps. My two new friends put their arms out in front of me, pushing me backwards. Not being at all equipped with natural grace, I of course tripped over my own two feet. I hit the ground hard again, guaranteeing not only a bruised wrist but a bruised back side as well. My pride wouldn't be doing too well either if I survived this, if I'd had any after they left anyway.

"Shit. Jake wasn't kidding. You do fall down a lot." The one on my right said with a laugh.

The other nodded as he reached down to pull me up. "I just figured you were making excuses for that monster of a boyfriend."

As soon as his hand slipped under my elbow to pull me up, the Paul wolf whipped around again with a fierce snarl. The hand disappeared from under my elbow, taking all of my support with it. I suffered the indignity of being dropped on the ground as he jerked his hand away, heeding the warning Paul was giving one and all. It seemed Paul didn't want anyone touching me, not even to help me stand up. So I had to push myself to my own feet.

As suddenly as the wolf standoff had begun, it ended.

And then Paul was Paul again. Paul was a very naked Paul. Blushing, I looked over to the two boys standing with me, silently asking them to get me out of this embarrassing situation. The one on my left shook his head at Paul.

"Manners, Paul. Manners."

Paul sneered at him. "She might as well get used to it. Get away from her."

They both jumped away from me like I had suddenly revealed a bomb strapped to my chest.

Paul brazenly stormed over to me, not appearing the least bit modest about his nude state. I closed my eyes for a second as his hand slid around my bicep. Holy crow, there was an angry, naked man touching me. How was this really happening to me?

"We're going to Emily's."

"Isn't that where Sam told us to take her in the first place while you and Jake had your pissing contest," one of the boys popped off. Finally, my brain kicked in, labeling him as Jacob's friend Embry who had joined Sam's little cult. I opened my eyes quickly to confirm I was hearing who I thought I'd heard.

Paul bared his teeth at Embry.

Embry saluted, stepping back toward the forest. "See ya there."

The other one turned to us. Sam had named him, but I couldn't remember what name he had used. "You really aren't doing much for the whole 'keep the pack inconspicuous' rule there, Paul. Have you considered shorts?"

Paul gave a warning growl.

The other boy glanced over at the two wolves watching the scene. "You got some extra shorts in the house, Jake? I think Bella might be a little more comfortable if she wasn't being manhandled by the Pant-less Wonder here."

The Jake wolf nodded once before taking off at a sprint for the house, leaving me with two strange men and a wolf.

I shifted anxiously, more fidgeting than an actual escape attempt. But Paul didn't seem to know the difference because his grip tightened. A whimper escaped my lips before I could stop it. I would have a matching set of bruises.

His narrow-eyed glare bore into the side of my head. "If you'd stop trying to get away, I wouldn't have to restrain you."

I turned to meet his gaze, carefully keeping my eyes from dipping below chin level. I did not need to see another glimpse of what God had gifted him with. "I'm still in school, Paul. I can't stay here forever. Eventually my father is going to wonder where I am and come looking for me. You do know who my father is don't you? He's the Chief of Police for Forks."

His laughter was the least cheerful I had ever heard. "Let him come. I can take him. No one's taking what's mine."

Jacob came bounding out of his house, interrupting my stream of thought. He was covered only by a pair of shorts, and he held two more pair in his hands. Thank goodness. The mad man would be clothed again.

I averted my gaze as Sam shifted back into human form and pulled on the shorts. When Paul released my arm I took the opportunity to rub some of the blood back into the appendage. It had been starting to tingle from the blood loss. He not only made a good goalie, but his hands could also second as tourniquets.

I shook the nonsensical thoughts from my head as Paul's hand slid around my upper arm again.

"Paul, we're going to take Bella to my place to explain what exactly is going on here. Then you will give her a choice on how she is going to react to this. And she is going home, to her father's house, tonight." Sam's tone brooked no argument.

Paul sneered at Sam as his fingers dug into the skin of my arm. "Fine."

He immediately started hauling me toward the trees. I shot an anxious look toward Jake and Sam. That move only resulted in me missing a small branch on the ground, which tripped me up. Paul's tight grip on my arm prevented me from falling, but my arm twisted painfully as I jerked against him, caught half-way between the ground and his hold on me.

I whimpered as he ruthlessly hauled me to my feet. My shoulder felt like it was on the brink of being yanked out of socket.

"Keep your fucking eyes on the path," he growled at me.

Frowning, I looked at the ground in front of me. But if there was a path he was following, I couldn't see it. All I saw were more branches lying in wait, lightly camouflaged by the past autumn's fallen leaves. I must not have seen them all though because half a minute later I was rushing toward the ground again, only to be brought short by the painful jerk on my arm.

"I said watch where you're going!"

"I don't know where I'm going!" I cried out as he pulled me to my feet again.

"Give her a break," Jake called out angrily from behind us. "She's not used to hiking through this shit. You've got to make allowances for Bella."

Paul paused, turning slightly to meet Jake's verbal assault head-on. "Do not tell me what she does and does not need. I know what she needs. And being treated like a fragile little princess isn't it."

"You don't know shit about Bella," Jake mumbled.

The vibrations moved through Paul's body, down his arm, across his fingers and into my arm. It set off an uncomfortable tingling in my elbow, like I had hit my funny bone, a sensation I was intimately familiar with. His snarl had me cringing back as far as I could get, considering the grip he still had on me.

"The minute I looked into her eyes, I learned more about her than you'll ever know. You want to back the fuck off."

His angry dark eyes swiveled to face me. "Keep your eyes focused on the ground you'll be stepping onto next. I'll pull you in the right direction. Think you can handle that?"

I nodded once, nervously trying to read his face. What was happening here? How could he know anything about me from simply looking in my eyes? And why the hell did the others seem to be giving his claims credence? They were behaving like he really did have a right to treat me any way he saw fit. Like they really did think I was somehow his property. I swallowed around the thick lump of fear in my throat. Would I really be allowed to leave this place? Sam had told Paul that he had to let me go home to Charlie, but when the time came, would Paul really let me go? I didn't see how he could, not with the way he was acting.

"Let's go." He said with one sharp pull on my arm.

I rushed to turn my gaze to the forest floor before me. He certainly wasn't going to wait for me to get my bearings. And I doubted he would react well to me falling so soon again after his little words of advice. The rest of our walk was fairly quiet. I concentrated on staying upright as Paul guided me through the trees, only stumbling a couple more times. I managed to keep myself upright though with minimal assistance from the steel cage around my arm.

And then we were suddenly exiting the forest, breaking out into a small yard surrounding a cute little cottage. Sam circled around us, jogging up to the porch with an eager expression.

Paul's grip tightened for a second, as he halted our forward motion. "Do not stare at the scars on Emily's face."

Then we were moving again. His words played over in my head as I was pulled up the stairs and toward the front door. So, Emily had some kind of scaring on her face. How bad was it? It had to be fairly significant for him to feel the need to warn me.

And then the door was open and I was following Paul over the threshold. Everything went black as my eyes struggled to adapt to the change in lighting. Paul didn't slow down though. I stumbled after him as he pulled me further into the room. My hands immediately shot out in front of me, in an attempt to save myself from slamming into anything.

Just as my eyes were adjusting to the dimmer interior light, my hands bumped into a kitchen chair. Paul yanked it out of my way before roughly pushing me down into it. Finally, he released my arm. Before I could breath a sigh of relief at being free though, he had pulled another chair up and settled himself so close our thighs were pressing against each other from my hip to my knee.

Not comfortable with the intense stare down I could feel from his direction, I looked around the room only to encounter more eyes. I felt like they were all staring right at me. Embry and the other boy I couldn't remember the name of were seated at the table, both shoving muffins into their mouths, their eyes ping-ponging between Paul and me. Jake was leaning against the counter, alternating between glaring at Paul and sending me mournful looks. Then there was Sam and the woman he was wrapped around. For a moment I didn't understand why Paul had warned me about her scars. I didn't see anything unusual about her appearance at all, other than her beauty. Even with most of her face covered by hair, I could tell that this woman was more attractive than the average woman. Then Sam moved her hair to give her a kiss on the cheek and I knew exactly what he was talking about.

There were bold scars right across one side of her face, marring her profile. I could still see the ghost of how beautiful she had been before the scarring event. And judging by the way Sam was plastering her in affection, he didn't seem to think her allure was diminished at all. That made me wonder if he'd always known her in this state, or if he had known her before. And what exactly had happened to her?

The long leg that had been pushing steadily against mine suddenly nudged me, bringing me back to myself. Paul had warned me not to stare. And what was I doing? I was staring. I didn't know why I shouldn't stare, other than the general rudeness of the behavior, if it would upset the woman, Sam, or Paul. But I didn't really want to find out. I wanted this whole ordeal to be over with so I could escape already, if escape was really an option.

Out of the corner of my eyes I saw Sam pull away from the woman. I risked glancing up, carefully training my eyes away from her scars, focusing instead on her eyes. Sam motioned toward Paul and me.

"Seems we've got a new pack member of sorts. Emily, meet Bella. She's Paul's imprint. Bella, this is my imprint Emily."

Great, but what on earth was an imprint?

I sent Emily a small smile that was quickly overrun by nerves. As soon as my lips began to wobble I wiped the grin from my face and looked down at the table.

"Aren't you the one who was dating a Cullen?" She asked.

I nodded once, darting my gaze up to meet hers briefly then back down again. How did she know about my dating history? But then I remembered that Sam had been the one to drag me out of the woods. As close as the two appeared, he would have shared the events of that evening with her. And if the wolves and the Cold Ones were really sworn enemies, as Jacob's legends had declared, then she would know all about the idiot girl in the nearby town who was stupid enough to date one.

"So, you're the Vampire Girl." Even though her tone was nothing but friendly, the words poked at the edges of the hole in my chest.

"She's not a Vampire Girl," Paul responded curtly. "She's mine."

Was anyone else sick of hearing that? Because I'd heard that phrase enough to last a lifetime.

"Why don't you go ahead and explain that now, Paul?" Sam prodded him gently, leaning against the counter, pulling Emily back against his chest.

Paul shifted slightly beside me, so he was twisted in the chair to face me. "You're mine."

I couldn't help but roll my eyes.

Embry snorted. "You've covered that."

Paul's head snapped around, a low growl reverberating from his throat.

"Let him do this his way, Embry," Sam warned.

Paul turned back to me. "An imprint is a wolf's mate. When a wolf sees her for the first time he just knows. The bond is formed and it can't be broken."

My stomach dropped and my throat tightened again. "N-no. That can't be right. He said I was his mate."

Paul's eyes narrowed. "Who?"

I cringed back at the anger in his voice. "E-E-Edward Cul-llen."

His form began to shake. "That damn leech is not your fucking mate. I am."

I watched him warily. Something in me was telling me to shut up, but another, more loyal side could not ignore the insult to the boy I had loved for so long. "He said that once a Vampire finds his mate, he is irrevocably changed. That he'll love that person for the rest of eternity."

His lips pulled back for a second, revealing a flash of startling white teeth before he started to speak. "And where the fuck is he now? Huh? See, I'm thinking I wouldn't leave you laying in the fetal position in the middle of the motherfuckin' woods."

I absorbed his words for a long moment. But apparently that hadn't been a rhetorical question because a second letter he was pressing me on it, slamming a hand down on the table for emphasis. "Well? Where's the fucker now? Mates don't just walk away. Mates don't leave. So where is he?"

I wrapped my arms around myself as the pain flared in my chest. I couldn't meet his eyes as I replied so I looked down into my lap instead. "He didn't want me anymore. I wasn't good enough."

"Bullshit." Paul retorted angrily. "You're too good for him. You have shitty taste in boyfriends, and friends," he flit his eyes over to Jake and back. "You're way out of his league. And he knew that. He realized he was getting in deeper than he ever intended, got scared, and ran like a little bitch."

I frowned down into my lap. I wanted to contradict him, defend my ex-boyfriend's honor. But I just didn't have the words. How did I fight Paul's logic about the mate issue? That had been a question I'd asked myself, in my darkest moments. How was he able to walk away from me so easily if I was his mate, and vampires mated for eternity? But I couldn't agree with the rest of Paul's case. It wasn't that I was too good, it was that I had never measured up. And I never would.

Paul wasn't done though. "But I'm not fucking around when I say you're mine. And now that I've found you, I'm not ever letting you out of my sight."

"Paul," Sam warned. "She does have a choice in this."

Trying, unsuccessfully, to ignore Paul, I locked my gaze on Sam. "What are my options?"

Sam's eyes shifted nervously to Paul, then back to me. Before he could answer though, Jacob pushed himself away from the counter. "You can tell him to fuck off! That's what you can do! He's completely wrong for you!"

"Jacob!" Sam's voice rang out with authoritative disapproval. "You're out of line. Bella is no longer your concern."

Sam turned back to me, his hard expression softening only slightly. "You do have some control over your relationship with Paul. For instance, Emily and Kim both chose a romantic relationship. But Paul will be whatever you need. So if what you need right now is a friend, that's what he'll be."

I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. "So when did I say I need a possessive drill sergeant?"

Paul crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Some things I just know, Babe."

Sam cleared his throat, pulling my attention back to him. "Obviously Paul would be more comfortable if you lived on the reservation, but since you don't, would you have a problem with spending your free time here? Like you've been doing with Jake?"

Paul growled again. "Not exactly like that."

Holy crow, Paul growled a lot.

Sam held a hand up in Paul's direction, sending the boy a 'calm down' look. Then he looked my way again. "You're seeing one side of Paul right now, but there's more to him. I think after the shock of today's events wears off and once you've had a chance to get to know him, you'll find that you really enjoy his company."

So why did Sam's eyes look so doubtful when he said that?

"Not to mention she'll be safer here," the one I couldn't name stated.

Paul grunted, shifting closer to me.

"Safer?" I asked nervously. How could I be safer surrounded by giant werewolves who, according to the police reports and newscasters, were murdering innocent hikers and campers?

And after seeing how easily Paul lost his temper, and the resulting change that overtook his body, I could understand the how if not the why. It must be difficult to control a body that exploded into a beast like that at the slightest provocation. He'd nearly ripped off his friend's arm for offering to help me up off the ground. What would he do to a stranger who actually insulted him?

Sam nodded somberly. "There's been a lot of vampire activity in the area lately."

My heart twisted. What? Were they back? I glanced quickly around the room. "What kind of activity?"

I couldn't let my hopes get up. There were other vampires out there, besides that family.

"It's a female. She's got some kind of goal and we're just in her way."

A weird tingle, a shot of warning, spread up my spine. "What does she look like?"

"She's got curly red hair. Red eyes. She showed up after we took out that leech with the dreadlocks in the meadow. The one that was about to eat you."

My heart stopped. My brain froze. Everything in me screamed at me to get up out of the chair and run. Get as far away from La Push, from Forks, Washington as I could. I was glued to my chair though, completely immobile as the reality set in. A band tightened around my chest. Victoria was back and she was back for only one reason. She wanted me. Laurent had warned me but I had been too stupid to get out then. Why hadn't I listened? Why had I let denial shove his threats to the side?

She was going to find me and kill me. Make me pay for the death of her mate. Because that's what true mates did. They were loyal and nothing could tear them apart. And if something did happen to one, the survivor would avenge that loss. There was no choice in the matter. Victoria wouldn't stop coming until she had me.

"Breathe, Bella," Paul ordered gruffly.

Only then did I realize why my chest was growing so tight. I gasped, breathing out one word on the exhale. "Victoria."

"Of course you would know her fucking name." Paul muttered. "Where exactly is the danger magnetic located on you? I can't see it, but I sure as hell know it's there somewhere. So is this another one of your friends? She trying to pop in for some tea and a mani-pedi?"

I shook my head numbly as all the feeling drained out of me. I was just too tired to fight it anymore. I was going to die. A vampire was going to be the death of me. My days had been numbered since that first day he had laid eyes on me, or more accurately, smelled me. He might as well have drained me right there in the science lab. Saved us all some trouble. Carlisle would have been disappointed, Charlie would have been heartbroken but they both would have eventually gotten over it.

"She wants to kill me. Her mate is dead because of me."

A loud squeal filled the room as a chair was shoved roughly across the floor. Paul's steps echoed throughout the kitchen as he paced behind me. I ignored his menacing form and recounted the story, beginning to end, in a hollow, emotionless voice.

Finally, I raised my eyes to meet Sam's intense gaze, speaking wearily. "So now she's going to kill me."

Paul abruptly slammed both hands on the table next to me. "That bitch isn't laying a finger on you! You're going to stay here in La Push where we can keep you safe."

Panic filled me. "I have to go home! I have to make sure Charlie is safe!"

"Like Hell! You're not going anywhere, Sweetheart."

"Paul!" Sam's tone rang out, a clear warning tone. He ran a hand over his face. "The Cullens are gone for good, right?"

I nodded slowly. "He said I'd never see them again."

"Good," Sam stated, raising his head. "We'll expand our patrol to Forks, so we can include the Swan residence. We'll keep you safe."

Looking around the room, a new kind of panic set in. "I can't let you do that! You don't understand how strong these things are. I don't want anyone to get hurt for me."

Jacob chuckled bitterly. "Bella, you're the one who doesn't understand. We can take on those leeches one on one any day. Didn't take five seconds to take care of Dreadlocks."

Embry grinned. "And the best part is, we out number them."

So why was Victoria still on my tail?

As if he'd heard my question, Paul turned his head, staring down at me with an intense expression. "This one is different. We're always just a step behind her. We get there just after she makes another kill, just after she draws attention to herself. And the authorities and media are starting to catch on to the story."

I filed away the information about the killings to analyze later. Instead of focusing on the good news that Jake wasn't murdering innocent hikers, I instead decided to give these people every advantage I could. I wanted to live after all. And with the Cullens gone, they were my last line of defense.

"It's probably her gift."

Every eye in the room shifted to me. Once again, Sam was the spokesman. "What do you mean?"

"A lot of the vampires have a special gift. Like her mate was a tracker. Alice is psychic. E-Edward can read minds-"

"What!" Several voices bellowed at once.

Once they were all calmed down, I attempted to explain again. Guilt stabbed at me. Should I really be sharing these intimate details about the Cullen family with a group of practical strangers? But, then common sense and my self-preservation instinct spoke up to remind me that these boys were willing to put their lives on the line to protect me. The least I could do was share vital information toward that end. Even up the playing field a little. And if this made me guilty, well, it was just one more reason I was unworthy.

AN: So, there ya go. Any good? Complete shit? I'm feeling a little rusty here.