A/N: I would like to thank RainDropSoup and Remylebeauishot at PTB. They're generous with their time, knowledge and encouragement. If only everyone was as kind - just think how wonderful the world would be.

***The very talented Goldengirl2707 at Jacob Black-n-Pack and Printing Paws made me an awesome banner for this story. You can check it out on my homepage. So, thank you to her as well.

Chapter Nine: Temptation

Sam's POV:

My imprint was acting strangely — and not just her normal nervous despondency, either. Something new was going on with her. The way she had been acting … it was like she was purposely trying to get under my skin and drive me crazy — and it was working.

I noticed something different about her when I first entered the front door of Chief Swan's house to find her waiting for me in the small foyer. She seemed more agitated than usual — biting her lip and wringing her hands. At first, I assumed her behavior was because she was afraid of me. I sort of expected her to be a little skittish around me after the way I behaved with her earlier in the shed. Thanks to my wolf alter ego, I was an imposing dude — easily more than twice her size and solid muscle. It wasn't uncommon for grown men to give me a wide berth, and Bella was the epitome of small and fragile. She would have been stupid to not be cautious of a man like me, let alone the danger my wolf posed that she wasn't even aware of. Still, it didn't feel right that she was afraid of me. The part of me that wanted to provide for her every need also wanted her to think I was the one person she could always count on, that would never harm her. Judging by the way she was looking at me and shuffling her feet, that wasn't the case.

"Hey," I said softly, not wanting to make her feel threatened. I offered my hand to her, palm up, letting her choose whether or not to take it and accept my touch.

"Hey," she said in return, her voice unsure. The lightness and giggles that she had greeted me with earlier in the shed were gone, but she placed her hand in mine anyway, with only a small hesitation. I looked down at our joined hands, once again amazed at how she responded to her skin being touched by mine, her posture relaxing instantly. I ran my thumb across the scrapes on the tiny knuckles of her right hand. Two days after hurting them on the bathroom tile, they were scabbed over and healing well, their presence a reminder of how careful I would always need to be with her — and how careful I almost wasn't with her.

I'm a fucking tool. I can never lose my temper like that again. Never.

She was my imprint — my supposed soul mate. If I had been given a choice in the matter, it would have been someone else. But I hadn't been given a choice, and now every breath I took was for her. Even though I had no interest in a romantic relationship with her, her safety needed to always be my first consideration. I could never let myself forget that again.

"Do you want me to come in?" I asked, not wanting to assume anything after the way I behaved.

"Yes, please," she answered sweetly, looking up at me bashfully.

She really is kind of cute. Just don't get too attached. Keep it casual. Some kissing and a little cuddling are all she needs — nothing more.

"Okay, just let me go get washed up," I suggested before turning to remove my flannel work shirt and hanging it up on one of the hooks next to the door. When I turned back to Bella, her wide eyes were staring at my T-shirt covered chest. I would have liked to have made a cocky comment about her liking what she saw, but with the way her eyebrows were knit together worriedly, I wasn't sure if she was staring appreciatively, or if my size and abundance of muscles actually scared her.

"You okay?" I asked, not quite sure what to make of her anxious expression.

"Huh? Oh. Yeah. Fine," she stammered, her eyes never rising to meet mine. "I'll … ah … just wait for you in the living room." She pulled her gaze away from body and disappeared quickly around the corner like a frightened mouse.

I washed up and went looking for Bella in the living room to find her standing in front of the couch, once again nervously chewing her lip and wringing her hands. Sitting in the spot she indicated, I patted my leg, encouraging her to join me. She hesitated at first, but eventually she eased herself awkwardly onto my lap where I wrapped her tight in my arms. We both sighed contentedly as her head fell to my shoulder, and my cheek came to rest on the top of her head. I might not have liked the girl, but I sure as hell liked the way it felt to hold her.

"When will Charlie be home?" I didn't want to be caught off guard like the night before.

"He's usually home for dinner by six if he doesn't get held up."

We were quiet for a few more minutes, neither of us feeling the need to fill the silence, but my need to care for her caused me to wonder. "Did you eat today?"

"Yeah, some," she replied. "It's not as easy without you."

It was a problem that I couldn't be with her every second of the day to make sure she was eating properly. If I could be, I would, but that wasn't feasible. Instead, I had to think of a way to motivate her to take care of herself in my absence.

"Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you?" I asked, distractedly twisting one of the curls in her long hair around my finger.

"Um. Well, I … I liked it when you kissed me last night," she said shyly. "I slept better … you know … after that."

That little tidbit wasn't news to me. After all, I had sat outside her window last night and watched that for myself. But after what happened last night in the kitchen and today in the shed, I wanted to slow things down a little between us physically. I knew how easy it was for the imprint to cause us to get carried away. But if kissing her was the only way to help her, then what choice did I have?

"So, if I give you more kisses, you think you would be able to eat your dinner for me?"

Her eyes became wide and excited as she quickly lifted her head from my shoulder and turned to face me. "We could give it a try," she said hopefully.

"Yeah," I agreed, a little startled by her sudden enthusiasm. "We could try."

Over the last two days I had come to find Bella's behavior always full of contradictions — acting like a scared little girl who was afraid to hold my hand or sit in my lap one minute, then switching to a woman eager to experience whatever sexual relief I had to offer the next. The strangest thing about it was how whether she was at one extreme or the other, she always seemed to have an innocence about her. I would have almost thought she was a virgin had I not known better — but I did know better. I just decided to put aside any thoughts about her screwing around with the bloodsucker and get on with kissing her before they could piss me off.

When I pulled her close, she wrapped her arms around my shoulders and leaned forward expectantly. She obviously wasn't interested in taking it slow, but I had to be careful. I took my time, not wanting the chemistry between us to influence my judgment like it had before. I wanted to keep control, only doing what I needed to do to help her.

The power of the imprint had its own agenda though, demanding that I take the opportunity to look at her face. I noticed how long her eyelashes were, how they feathered like angel's wings over her cheeks when she blinked. Compelled to feel her skin, I ran the backs of my fingers over the apple of her cheek, savoring how soft it was. Unable to resist the draw any longer, I slid my fingers to the back of her neck and leaned in to kiss her puffy, pink lips.

I kissed her softly, slowly — just a little tickle as my lips ever so slightly grazed hers. I kept my eyes open at first so I could watch her face as she surrendered to me, her eyes closing and her skin becoming flushed. I could feel her melting into me, her tiny body fitting perfectly in my arms. I closed my eyes and deepened the kiss, but when she wove her fingers into my hair and the passion between us started to ignite, I pulled back, trying to slow things down. I had to remind myself that I was going to set the pace — that I was in control.

She pulled back from me, her eyes looking up into mine with a confused, hurt expression on her face. I ran my fingers through her hair reassuringly. I didn't want her to take my hesitancy as rejection. I wanted her. I didn't want to want her, but I fucking did. If I had been given a choice, the imprint would never have been made, and I wouldn't feel the need to be holding her or kissing her, but it wasn't about what I wanted — it never was.

It was about her, and me having the ability to help her heal. If she needed my touches and kisses, then I would give them, but nothing more. I wouldn't let myself get so caught up in my desire for her that I couldn't control my urges. There may have been an animal inside me, but that didn't mean I had to act like one. Besides, I didn't think becoming sexually involved with her was in her best interest right now.

Just take it slow and easy. She just needs to feel wanted. Make her feel special.

I bent to place tender kisses along the line of her jaw, showing her that she was cherished. It was my job now to build her confidence, to fix the mess that fucking leech made of her. I cradled her head as I took my lips from her jaw up to her earlobe, where I nibbled, before running my tongue along the shell of her small ear.

"You're beautiful," I whispered. With her neck bent to the side submissively, giving me an up-close view of her delicate features and the floral scent of her skin on my tongue, I realized how true it was. She was feminine, pretty — like a little doll, but her body had the curves of a woman. She was too skinny, but her tits and her ass were round and soft. I knew she needed to hear how attractive I thought she was, so I said it. And when I pulled back, the hurt look was gone from her face, replaced by a content serenity.

Her hooded eyes returned to mine, and I saw something there that sent chills down my spine — something unexpected. It was like she was looking into my soul with those big brown eyes of hers, seeing behind my walls and laying me bare.

I didn't like it.

I felt vulnerable, like I was at her mercy. I prided myself on being a tough, strong leader, and I thought I was in command of this encounter, but I suddenly felt powerless. I was so caught up in meeting her needs that I hadn't considered that by slowing things down and treating her tenderly I was exposing myself to her, that she could take advantage of the intimacy. It made me falter, second-guessing what was happening between us.

That was when Bella really surprised me. It was like she was waiting for an opening, a chance to turn the tables on me. She took over, using my uncertainty to continue where I left off, with her fingers reaching up to touch my cheek. I sat helplessly, watching her expressions as she curiously explored my face with her fingers, feather-light along my cheekbone, over my chin and up to my eyebrows, as if she was memorizing me. Her touch was hypnotic. It stilled me; I could only watch and feel. My breath locked in my chest as she leaned into me, imitating my actions by kissing along my jaw and up to my ear where she nibbled and licked. She had to know what she was doing to me, how she was tempting me — teasing me with her warm breath in my ear and soft her lips kissing down my neck.

Oh, I am so fucked.

My fists clinched at her waist, and my eyes rolled back at the sensations she incited. It was no longer only physical. She was touching something buried inside me that was better left alone. That shit was on lockdown for a reason, and I never wanted to experience it again. But I wasn't expecting her to have such an effect on me, to make me feel again. She made both my hardened heart and my cock ache. The mixed sensations of being completely exposed to her emotionally, and so hard and ready for her physically, were more than I could handle. My body trembled, not with rage, but with the power of my need for her.

I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths, fighting to reign in my desire to lay her down and have my dick buried inside of her, truly making her mine. When I opened them, Bella had pulled back to watch me warily. She didn't look scared — thank Christ — just unsure, waiting for my reaction. I didn't know what to do because the only way I knew how to reassure her was to kiss her, and that wasn't going to help with my physical control or the unexpected emotions she had unleashed.

So, I did what any red-blooded man would do — I panicked.

"I think I should get going," I said, hurriedly removing her hands from around my neck.

"Oh. Okay." She sounded confused and a little panicked herself as I scooted her off my lap and made a beeline for the front door.

"Will you be back tomorrow?" she asked anxiously as she followed me to the door.

I stopped to grab my shirt and glanced at Bella fluttering around behind me, obviously distressed by my abrupt departure.

"Yeah, of course." I said, feigning nonchalance, before I quickly bent down and kissed her cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow."

I didn't want her to think she had done something wrong, but it was like she unwittingly knew exactly what to do to get under my skin, to provoke and excite me. In the course of half an hour spent with Bella, she had managed to almost break my resolve. If I hadn't left then, I couldn't have been held responsible for my actions.

I had never been so grateful for my supernatural speed.

~*~*~ S&B ~*~*~

The next day was even worse than the last. When Bella answered the door, she was not only wearing her hair in those fucking bouncy curls, but she had also made a change to her attire. Gone were the depressing baggy pants and oversized shirts of the last couple months. Today she wore a tight blue shirt that hugged her perky tits and these snug, dark jeans that showed off her tight ass and shapely legs.

Fuck! She's trying to torture me.

"You came back," she said, smiling and looking relieved.

"I said I would, didn't I?" I sounded irritated, and I was. She couldn't have known I spent every second since I left her the day before thinking about all the ways I wanted her, how I had worked all night to tamp down the part of me that wanted to get to know her as a person as well as the part that wanted to claim her body. She couldn't have known those things, but wearing that getup was an obvious attempt to goad me in some way.

"Yeah, I guess you did." She looked down, deflated and uncertain.

Shit. I did it again.

It was becoming painful to see her hurt expressions every time I said something stupid or insensitive. It was just hard to not be a prick to her when she made me think and feel things I didn't want any part of. Like how I wanted her naked underneath me, looking adoringly up at me with those big brown eyes of hers while I showed her all the ways I could take care of her.

"Do you want to come in?" Her small voice startled me from what had recently become an ongoing fantasy.

"Okay."

I stepped into Charlie's house only to be assaulted by the smell of something baking. "What's that smell?" I looked over Bella's head toward the source of the homey aroma, the kitchen.

"Oh. I just made some cookies. Would you like one?"

Fuck yeah, I'd like one.

"Sure," I accepted politely. "That'd be cool."

I followed her to the kitchen and helped myself to a seat at the small table in front of the window while Bella filled a plate with cookies and poured me a glass of milk. I watched her the whole time, noticing the way her hips swayed as she moved about the small space. I had to fight the urge to stand behind her and grab those same hips when she bent over to remove — and then again to replace — the milk carton from the fridge.

There's no way she's not doing that on purpose — not the way she's displaying that perfect ass for me. No way.

There was definitely something strange going on with my imprint. Between yesterday's teasing and today's flaunting of her ass-sets, I was beginning to wonder what she was thinking in that pretty little head of hers. By the time she brought the cookies and milk over to me, my dick was so hard I was torn between tearing into the chocolate chip goodness she was offering or tearing off her shirt and getting another taste of her. The way she was standing right in front of me with her chest right at eye level, all curvy and supple; I decided to give in to both desires by pulling her into my lap where she belonged and taking a cookie from the plate simultaneously.

Bella squeaked in surprise but didn't question my behavior like she did the other night. Instead, she only managed to set the cookies and milk down on the table without spilling anything while I pulled her in close with one hand and stuffed a whole cookie in my mouth with the other.

My two favorite things — holding my imprint and good food. Fucking heaven.

I enjoyed a few more cookies and a swig of milk while Bella watched me and shimmied herself as close as she could into my chest. I mmm'd and nodded appreciatively at both her amazing baking skills and the way her finger began to trace the skin along the collar of my shirt.

"I have to work all day tomorrow," she said sadly. "I won't get to see you."

"Yeah," I acknowledged. "I have to get some post holes dug for your dad's front ramp anyway."

"Oh. Okay."

I think she was disappointed that I didn't offer some kind of solution, but we both had other obligations. As much as I'd like to spend all day everyday just as we were — with her snuggled up against me while I ate obscene amounts of her baked goods — it simply wasn't an option. Besides, the whole goal of me helping her was to make it possible for her to have a normal, happy life again, independent of me as well as the bloodsucker. That, and I was beginning to feel a little too content in her company — something I desperately wanted to avoid. Some space would do us both some good.

"And Sunday I have plans, so that's out too," I added.

She pushed away and looked up at me, alarmed.

"But … but …" She started to sputter and shake her head back and forth, working herself up into a fit. I could see the waterworks starting. The timid, insecure side of Bella was back with a vengeance.

"It'll be all right," I told her, cradling her cheek with one hand and stroking the hair away from her face soothingly with the other. "I know you like seeing me, but you'll be fine, and I'll be back on Monday."

"Monday?" she asked with her lower lip jutting out and a tear brimming over.

"Yeah. That's only two days. No big deal. Right, doll face?" I used my thumb to wipe away the tear as it slid down her cheek.

"Right." She nodded in agreement, putting on a brave face. "No big deal."

She's a trooper, I'll give her that.

By the time Charlie was due home and I had to say goodbye, Bella was like putty in my hands — all soft and pliant and melded against me. I had kissed her over and over and over again, never becoming passionate, just slow and lingering — comforting and reassuring. I wanted her to still feel my kisses come Monday, to get her through until I saw her again. When I finally drove away in my truck, she watched from the window, her hand on the glass.

Turns out two days was a long fucking time to be away from my imprint. After the last few days of feeling her skin against mine and tasting her sweet mouth, it was hard to take a step back. Of course, I really wasn't away from her the whole time. I still watched her that night and then snuck away to check on her on Saturday while she worked — which, in retrospect, may have been a mistake.

She left for work before I arrived at Charlie's, so I didn't get to see her leave. Imagine my surprise when I did see her, and she was wearing a getup similar to the day before — a tight pair of jeans and an even tighter top that did this scoopy thing that showed the top of her tits. Did she not notice that most of the customers at Newton's were male? Well, I fucking did. Normally when I checked on her, I stayed out of sight along the tree line next to the parking lot. That way when she took her breaks and ate her lunch in her truck, I could watch her. After seeing what she was wearing, I couldn't go back to Charlie's to finish my work. I spent the rest of the day listening to guy after guy come out of Newton's talking about "the hottie" who worked there. It took every ounce of self-control I had to stay hidden and not bust the face of the guy who had the balls to ask his friend if he thought he should go back in and ask for her number — fucking douchebag. Needless to say, I followed her home to make sure she got there without one of those dickwads trying to accost her.

That night, I sat outside her window, thinking about all the shit that had happened between us the last few days — how nothing was going as planned. I had thought I could remain aloof — detached. Instead, I was feeling things for her that I had no intention of feeling when I first initiated contact — things I didn't want to feel. I had expected to feel protective; it came with being a spirit warrior. The pack looked out for each other and the tribe, but this was more than being willing to sacrifice my life for the safety of another. And it was more than just sexual desire, which I was now feeling in spades for the little leech-lover. I could have bullshitted myself and said it was something new and different, but it wasn't. I had felt that way before, and it sucked. Nothing good ever came from those feelings. The way I reacted earlier at the thought of her being with another guy was a perfect example — who wants to feel that jealousy shit?

Since phasing, I hadn't let myself feel much of anything except angry. I liked angry. Nobody could touch me when I was angry. Until Bella. Whether it was the imprint doing its thing or Bella herself, it didn't matter. I was starting to care about this girl — beginning to want her to care about me. In my opinion, that was a stupid rookie move. What made it worse was I knew I was in this for the long haul. She was it. There would never be anyone else in my eyes. The imprint made sure of that. It wasn't that I felt cheated out of any future relationships with other women because I was never planning on becoming involved with anyone ever again anyway. I had planned on living out the rest of my life with my brothers — the pack. That was my family.

But now there was Bella — a girl who had obvious issues with emotional stability. Women were fickle in general, but this girl was blowing in the breeze. The way she was throwing herself at me and wearing provocative clothing — it was clear to me now that she was looking for a distraction, a quick fuck. I got that, and I knew I could give her one. We could have a little fun — take her mind off her broken heart. After all, I'd done my fair share of screwing around after things with Leah went sour. But where would that leave me? After I had put everything I had into her, and she was over the bloodsucking motherfucker and ready to move on, how would she feel about me? She could simply walk away, leaving me behind to go on with her life. I was strong, but I instinctively knew that was a pain I couldn't bear — another humiliation I couldn't endure.

No. I won't let that happen.

As I looked at her sleeping face through the window, I realized that I had already let myself become too attached to her, that I had crossed a line and there was no going back. Even though I didn't want to, I needed her. And if I wanted to survive, I had to find a way to keep her, to make her want to stay with me forever. As far as I could see, there was only one way to get that done. I was going to have to do something I swore I would never have anything to do with again.

Come Monday, I was going to get Bella Swan to fall in love with me.