Bella screamed in unbridled, unrestrained, absolute terror, and struggled to press her face into the hard muscled chest beside her against the violent whipping. The rushing wind stealing her breath, Bella bit her lip and groaned with the roiling, jerking impact.
Then, just like that, it all simply… stopped.
Eyes popping open in fearful anticipation, she felt the telltale slow lurch of and sway that heralded more certain punishment.
"Oh my God! Not another one!" she squeaked as she looked up to where Jacob was laughing boisterously.
"Oh yessss…" he growled playfully with an evil eyebrow wiggle. "And this one's gonna be the fucking shit!"
Bella grinned like a maniac and smooshed herself further into his side as the rollercoaster's ascent wound the knot in her stomach fabulously tighter.
They hovered at the top of the towering peak, slowing almost to a complete stop that made her tremble. Bella gasped, her eyes panning the 6-story view of an amusement park that she and Jake had only dreamed of visiting since they were old enough to say Mickey Mouse without a lisp.
Jacob tightened his arm around her shoulders and bent down, whispering in her ear, "three, two, one…"
Bella screeched at the top of her lungs as the cart hurdled down the face of an impossible incline toward an ominous triple loop.
"Open your eyes Bells!" Jacob yelled, even while he squeezed her protectively to his side.
Bella did so to see the ground rushing toward them at an alarming speed, only to be yanked into a head-spinning, topsey-turvey vertigo as they swooped upside down with enough g-force that Bella's long braid clung to her waist.
"Holeeey shhhiiiit!" Bella screamed the uncharacteristic curse while Jacob chortled in glee at her expense, holding his other arm up with carefree abandon.
Panting raggedly like she'd just sprinted five miles, Bella's cheeks were flushed and she felt like her eyes were plastered open in permanent shock by the time the cars rolled into the boarding dock at a duplicitously sedate pace.
It was fantastic.
Jacob leaned in and kissed her temple as the attendant lifted the padded bar. "Welcome to Disneyland. We finally made it, Bells," he murmured over his breathless chuckle. "… wanna do it again?"
Bella nodded enthusiastically as he stood and effortlessly lifted her out of her seat, swinging her onto the platform.
Blinking in disoriented overwhelm, Bella was just frowning at the tenor of a particular familiar hum as Jacob was turning around and…
Paul threw his fist into Jacob's jaw. He hadn't put his heart into it – not really - because Jacob's face merely snapped back with a deafening crack.
"Sir! You can't…" a strained female voice was shrieking behind him as Paul wrapped his arms around Bella and lifted her off her feet into his chest, burying his face in her neck.
With another glare at Jacob, who was rubbing his jaw and simultaneously trying to hide his snigger, Paul stalked past the manager who was shrilling uselessly for security. Paul snarled petulantly in her face as he reached a hand up and effortlessly vaulted the six-foot high fence with his wife held facilely in one arm, ignoring both Bella's squeak and the stunned silence of onlookers.
On the other side, he pulled her closer, snuffling over his mate's face, neck and body in agitated lupine assessment as he strode slowly towards the rest of their party.
His body was still trembling.
Bella sighed with tender exasperation as she pulled his jaw down to press her lips reassuringly to Paul's. "Shh, sweetie. Everything's okay," she murmured against his mouth as she nuzzled him.
Bella understood –now, just a little too late - that in combination with the crowds and unfamiliar territory, her very normal screams of absolute terror on the largest roller coaster in the park had been too much for his wolf to handle. And she felt guilty.
Well, a little.
Bella looked over her shoulder to see Jacob rolling his eyes melodramatically at his Pack mate as he patiently pushed through the squeaky turnstile and jogged out of the exit line. He punched Paul in the bicep as he fell into step with them.
"Jesus, Paul. I had my arm around her the whole time…she only almost fell out that once," he whined humorously with a conspiratorial wink for Bella.
Bella scolded him with a mock frown, and he snickered unrepentantly over Paul's warning growl.
"Mommy!" Caleb squealed in bouncy greeting from where he was being held in Leah's jerking arms. Unlike Jacob, she was making no bones about laughing her head off at Paul's expense.
"Cay! Did you see mommy?" Bella smiled as the four year old nodded enthusiastically, reaching out to her with chubby arms.
"But it was funny," Caleb informed her as Paul set her down and their child was hoisted into Bella's arms by Leah who was struggling to breathe through her chortles. "Papa almost got furry," he giggled covering his mouth as his mirthful eyes looked up at his father.
Bella kissed his rosy, brown cheek. "Papa was just worried. He's a very good protector," Bella soothed automatically – even in such an innocent context she was always fiercely supportive of Paul.
"But you know what this means, don't you?" Bella asked mysteriously in a stage whisper.
Caleb shook his head earnestly, his fine curls floating in the early summer breeze. He had auburn hair that streaked butterscotch in the summer; a striking contrast against his rich tawny complexion.
Bella looked up with a sly grin at Paul, who still had a possessive palm on her shoulder. "Papa's gonna have to go on the next one with mommy!" Paul was under the mistaken impression that he was just here to play bodyguard and not play himself.
Boy, was he gonna be surprised.
Paul snorted with a properly affronted eye-roll, but squeezed her shoulder in silent concession.
"And you know what that means, Auntie Lee?" Jacob announced grandly, continuing on past them to wrap her in his long arms, even while she batted at him playfully. "That you're gonna have to go on the next one too with Uncle Cheese!" Jacob gave Leah a slovenly, slurpy kiss on the jaw while she squirmed and tried to pry herself out of his grasp with a groan of disgust.
It was no secret that Leah was uncomfortable with both PDA and rollercoasters.
"Uncle Chee!" Caleb squealed, reaching his arms out to get in the game. Ever since Paul had explained that Jacob was the Pack's chief… the "big cheese" – which Caleb had found hilarious – Jacob had been eternally dubbed "Uncle Cheese" in the eyes of the tyke. The name had been enthusiastically embraced by the Pack, of course, because Jacob was both big and cheesy (as Embry had pointed out on numerous occasions).
Jacob reached out a long arm and snatched his nephew out of Bella's arms pulling him into the knot of loud smooches.
"Chee! Chee!" a little voice shrilled in demand as Raven leaned forward eagerly from where Sam held her.
"And another one?" Jacob growled, scooping up the three year old to the musical giggles of both toddlers.
Bella leaned back into Paul's chest with a sigh of bliss at the loving antics before her. Their son was the spitting image of his father – except his eyes and hair – and it made her ridiculously happy to see him squealing in delight. Having the childhood that Paul, himself, had never gotten but was doing such a wonderful job of fostering at her side.
They were a family. Her mate. Her child. Her Pack.
Paul wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on the crown of her head with an echoing purr – obviously content to have her back in his arms.
Emily was turned talking to Sam quietly, a palm resting idly on the small bump of her stomach.
"Em, you doin' okay?" Bella called out in concern. She had just finished the months of morning sickness for their second – and the Pack's fourth cub – and they had all decided now would be the perfect time for this impromptu and much deserved vacation.
Because Bella would be next.
Emily had conceived Raven almost immediately after Caleb was born – to fatherly Sam's ecstasy – and the two children had grown up as close as siblings. Just over nine months later Sonya had been born to Jared's mate Kim… and then shortly after, Emily had gotten pregnant again. It had been like clockwork, even though the women had neither prevented nor planned it.
And like accepting the quirks of scent, the intricacies of dominance and possession, the power of the two imprinted bonds of the Pack and all the other idiosyncrasies that came with the supernatural wolves, they had all easily embraced the fact that the same instinctual magic would determine the order and timing of the Pack's cubs. Bella supposed it was only natural that there would be only one pup at a time for the Pack: the pregnancy and birth of each child had such a profound effect on every single one of them. But a selfish little part of her wished it had been her turn again this time; both she and Paul wanted another.
Emily glanced up to the two children now laughing in escalating hyperness with the well-placed tickles being administered by their uncle. "I'm good," she smiled with a wink. "I was just discussing the possibility of an ice cream option with Sam," she said in a low conspiratorial murmur.
"Ice cweam!" Caleb shouted jubilantly with an uncanny ability to hear the whisper amid the jostling distraction. "Rae-Rae! Ice cweam!" he incited his cousin's squeal of delight with a frenetic bounce up and down in Jacob's hold.
"Uh, oh…" Bella groaned with a commiserating glance to Emily. Jacob had a way of riling those two up like no one else. It was probably a good thing Leah couldn't conceive while she was still Phasing.
"C'mere you little monsters," Paul growled playfully, absently nuzzling Bella's hair before disengaging himself and stepping forward to grab up a tiny child in each massive arm.
Still grinning wildly at each other, the two immediately settled down - as they always did in his arms– and the looming threat of an over-excited toddler meltdown was successfully avoided. Even the cubs responded intuitively to Paul's gentle – but tangible – dominance.
He hoisted one up to straddle each shoulder in typical configuration and Caleb and Raven began playing their usual rhythm games back and forth over the top of Paul's head.
Emily looped an elbow through Bella's and they strode off together toward the next ride. Jacob had petitioned just two rollercoaster rides before heading over to the thrill of the main attraction: Winnie the Pooh.
"Jeesh, there're so many people!" Bella exclaimed as their party wove through the crowds, many of whom inevitably stared at the striking party. True to Bella's prediction those years ago, Emily still got stares even after the plastic surgery had restored her beautiful face to near perfection, but it wasn't just her that drew wandering eyes. Even fully dressed – which the men had complained about incessantly having been spoiled by living fairly exclusively among Pack on the Rez – the three huge, perfectly sculpted men and Leah's tall, athletic beauty made a stunning sight. If Bella had another personality, she might feel insecure or even jealous walking in such extraordinary company, but she was quite happy to fade into the obscurity of ordinary.
She realized that this was really Paul and her first foray out into the world at large since they'd been together. At that thought she glanced behind her at her mate, holding a strong arm up around each child as they chanted some sing-song little thing they had made up and tapped a rhythm back and forth on Paul's head.
He strode with the same immutable power and incontrovertible masculinity, somehow managing to look even more dangerously formidable tenderly holding two little singing kids beating their tiny hands against his short jet-black hair. He was a fantastic father, an even better lover, and her perfect mate. The years had made him undeniably the best friend she had ever had, even with such close "siblings" she had in Jacob and, now, Emily. She had patiently listened until he could speak, and he had done her the same favor and together they had grown into both themselves and each other with respect and tenderness.
Tender. Always tender.
A familiar warm flush rose up from her soul in overwhelming adoration. Damn she loved that man.
His eyes always seemed to be watching her and now was no exception. As soon as his dark gaze met hers, his lips curved in a slow and sexy smirk, raising a sultry opposite brow as if he knew she was thinking. He probably did. Their bond seemed to impossibly deepen every day.
About thirty minutes of standing in line and two minutes, 45 seconds of ride later, Paul emerged from Space Mountain with his arms wrapped tightly around his mate.
And he was laughing. Laughing hard.
It had been ridiculously fun to goof around in line, the best part being Jacob and him scaring the shit out of some punky kids who thought they could cut. Then on the stupid ride through what must have passed for darkness to human eyes, it was pretty fucking awesome watching Bella laugh and scream, clinging to him deliciously like a date in a horror film. He was pissed he had let Jacob take her on the first one.
But as if that cake had needed any icing, the piece de resistance was Leah; she squealed like a little girl for every last second. He was never going to let her live it down.
They easily found Sam and Emily, faithfully wiping ice cream from a pair of satisfied faces as they sat on a bench in the shade from the early California summer sun.
"How was it?" Sam asked over his shoulder as he wiped ice cream off of Raven's nose, without even turning to see them weaving through the throngs of other park-goers.
At his preternatural cuing Emily looked up and took in the two sets of ear-to-ear grins with a hearty laugh. "That good, eh?"
"It was freaking awesome!" Bella gushed, squeezing his arm.
Paul snickered wickedly, "Yeah, Lee squealed the whole time like a total pus-"
Bella looked up at him sharply even as Leah snorted loudly in fruitless denial.
"Ahhh… puss-bucket," Paul amended with a saccharine grin.
"What's a puss-bucky, Papa?" Caleb's eyes snapped to his father quizzically with his infamous attention to every minute detail. It was getting impossible to get anything past that kid.
With a devilish glance to Jake and Leah, who were smirking expectantly to see what he came up with to get out of this one, he released Bella and squatted in front of his son.
"Well, Cay. A puss-bucket is what Auntie Lee needs when she has a runny nose; a tissue's just not enough…" he began, dabbing away a drop of ice cream off one of those curls. Bella's huge, soulful eyes stared back at him as their child nodded once.
"Gross," he affirmed soberly.
"Very," Paul agreed with a grin.
"That's snot, Papa," Jacob corrected helpfully over a galloping chuckle. "… not puss."
Paul skewered Jacob with a glare over his shoulder, and turned back to his son with a deceptively even and calm amendment. "Okay, well you can also use one when Auntie Leah gives Papa a pain in his butt and sometimes it oozes…" a humorous smile pulled at his lips at Caleb's instant peal of giggles. 'Butt' was one of those words that quivered hysterically on the edges of 'appropriate' after all.
"Cay, what kind of ice cream did you have?" Bella asked showering glares over the three huge sniggering wolves as she sat beside Emily on the bench.
"Vanilla, and Rae-Rae got scrawberry," Caleb's attention was effectively distracted.
"Scrawberry," Raven confirmed in her bright little voice as she took another careful lick of a cone that was melting all over her fist.
Paul leaned in and took a monster bite from his son's own languishing ice cream. "Mmm," he hummed with a sly smile.
"Papa!" Caleb complained around a smile.
"Okay, children…" Sam interrupted with a mock-stern glare. "I think the real kids have waited long enough to meet Winnie."
"Pooh!" Raven squealed, happily ditching her ice cream to her father's petitioning hand.
With a snarky grin aimed at Paul, Sam made quick work of his daughter's generous left-over cone. It was a running joke that Sam always got the good stuff because Caleb already had his father's ravenous appetite that typically left only scraps of their occasional childhood sweets.
With Bella's ever-useful wet-wipes, their parents soon had the sticky cleaned off hands, face and knees and the group moved in an exuberant pack toward the kiddie side of the park.
With Jacob and Leah on either side, Caleb and Raven swung their clasped hands to their own hilarious version of the Winnie-the-Pooh song, while Emily and Bella trailed chuckling as they bumped shoulders like the two close friends they were. Paul and Sam strode protectively behind the two women, overtly daring anyone to so much as look at their mates.
"Deep and the hunter's aching wood,
Where Cwistopher's robbing paid,
You'll find the unchanting neighborhood,
Of Cwistopher's childed days…"
"Look! It's…"Jacob looked over his shoulder helplessly with a grimace of utter dismay for the tall yellow-suited character who was standing along the side of the path.
"Pluto," Sam snorted.
The two children looked back at the parents mimicking Jacob's expression comically.
"Doggie," Emily provided.
Caleb and Raven both nodded with an "oh, right…" look on their faces that made Paul laugh, before they turned back a little more cautiously to the poor teen in the fur suit who was probably dying of heat stroke.
As they neared the towering creature with a huge head, they each slowed. Bursting apart from each other, Raven nearly climbed Jacob's leg in fear as Caleb cowered at Leah's side.
Paul frowned as Leah tried to cajole the tiny boy closer to the huge character that was dorkily flopping both paws over its leering grin in what was probably supposed to be a cute and unimposing gesture.
At the first little squeak of fear from his son, Paul strode quickly forward to scoop the child up – making him at least eye-level to the cartoon dog.
Caleb clung frantically to his father.
"I don't like that doggie, Papa," the little boy quavered, his hand fisting into Paul's shirt.
"I could take 'em easy," Paul whispered with a wink to his son.
At that, Caleb regained some of his ubiquitous confidence. "Yeah, Playdoh… my Papa wolf is way bigger than you and he has sharp teeth… and nice fur."
Paul tilted his head in agreement, that suit did look a kinda matted. Probably with tears and snot from all the little kids it scared. The fucker.
The character looked up at Paul's towering height and goofily placed both paws over his eyes in mock fright.
"Growl, Papa," Caleb urged in a whisper.
Paul couldn't resist such an impassioned plea.
He bared his canines and snarled – only half-heartedly, but it was still an undeniably inhuman sound. The floppy paws dropped in shock as the boy in the costume lost all pretenses and jumped back in very real terror.
Probably peed his pants, Paul chuckled to himself as he gave his son his signature smirk.
"Yay! Papa!" the boy lauded and collapsed against his father with adorable boyish pride.
The poor terrorized Pluto cowered off with his handlers as Paul turned back to the group.
"Yay, Uncle Paw!" Raven rejoined from Jacob's arms, clapping her tiny hands together.
Jacob's eyes were rolling out of his head. "You really showed him, huh?"
Paul grinned pitilessly.
Leah socked him good in his other arm. "Actually I think we should look for Snoopy too. And Goofy! He could be your Second… and you could start your own Pack!" she goaded, obviously trying to reclaim her "bitch card" from where it had fallen out on that rollercoaster.
Paul's eyes narrowed. "Lee, you're such a little fu-…"
"Ah!" Bella interrupted frantically.
All eyes in the group snapped to Paul.
Leah crossed her damn arms over her chest and grinned triumphantly.
"Say it Papa! Say it!" Caleb bounced in excitement in Paul's arms. He didn't really understand the joke of course, but was always ready to play along with this one.
Bella wrapped her arm around Paul's waist and batted her eyelashes up at him. "What is Leah, honey?"
Paul rolled his eyes as his nostrils flared in indignation.
"Yes?" Leah smiled sweetly.
"Lee, you're a little … fuddie-duddie," Paul sighed in exasperation and the whole group – kids included – burst into laughter.
Paul growled uncharitably. It was his penance for almost letting the f-word slip in front of the kids. There weren't many cover-ups for it, and apparently there was something hi-fucking-larious about Paul saying this one.
With another huff of annoyance, he wrapped his arm around Bella. "Okay, okay. Is this Pooh guy gonna wait for us or what? Let's go see'em…"
"And Tigger!" Caleb immediately switched tracks.
"And Pigwet!" Raven piped.
Leaning down to kiss Bella's lips – just because he wanted to – he lead his Pack... his family... off to the 100 Acre Woods.
And their own unique brand of Happily Ever After.