Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyers owns Twilight. I do not. I do however, own my 'gang'.

A/N: Flying solo folks.

Chapter 12

A child. Bella had been pregnant with Taylor's child.

Jacob still hadn't fully recovered from the shock. All this time he'd been angry at Bella for destroying the illusion he'd always had of her. He was still dealing with his anger over her moving on with someone else. The thought that she also had it in her to be unfaithful made him feel as if he didn't know her at all. Unfair as it was, he'd placed her on a pedestal and when confronted with the possibility that she wasn't as perfect as he thought, he acted like an ass and made a horrible accusation.

Bella sat beside him silently, her eyes strangely hollow.

"Two years ago, I got pregnant and Taylor sort of freaked out." When Jacob looked at her questioningly, she went on to explain. "We were both still in college and neither of us had jobs. Not to mention Taylor was still beating himself up over the way I got pregnant."

When her eyes suddenly widened, Jacob realized that her last sentence was not something she'd intended to share.

Jacob's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean the way you got pregnant?"

Avoiding his gaze, Bella angled her body away from him. "Taylor was going through something that night and asked me to stay away. I didn't listen and things got a little out of control."

A deep scowl lined his brow until the unthinkable had him seeing red. In the blink of an eye Jacob grasped Bella by the shoulders and forced her to look at him.

"What did he do to you? You tell me right now." The wolf wanted to tear Taylor apart.

"Wait, you don't think..." Her eyes widened in horror. "Oh God! No! It was nothing like that, Jake. I promise you."

"Then what happened?" The wolf remained wary as Jacob released her from his grip.

She lowered her eyes. "I can't tell you."

Jacob had forgotten just how much he despised it when Bella kept things from him. "You used to be able to tell me anything."

"And you used to smile," Bella shot back harshly, anger darkening her eyes even more. "Don't try to act as though I'm the only one who changed." Her expression softened. "God, Jake. Do you really want a blow by blow of the night I got pregnant?"

"Guess not." He relented reluctantly. Though Bella denied Taylor had forced himself on her, Jacob's suspicions still remained. What other reason could explain Taylor's guilt over the way Bella ended up pregnant?

"When I showed Taylor the positive pregnancy test, he was so apologetic. He promised to support me in whatever I decided to do. If I wanted, he'd drive me to the clinic, so I wouldn't have to go through it alone."

Both Jacob and the wolf were outraged. If Jacob had been the one in Taylor's position, he would've been overjoyed, not offering to take her for an abortion. He was beginning to like Taylor even less than he already did. Jacob didn't speak until he had a firm grasp on his rage. "What did you do?"

"I took some time to consider my options. I thought about what it would mean to be pregnant in my junior year of college, and then have to go through my senior year with a baby. In the middle of all my worrying, I realized I was already trying to come up with ways to make it work. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to keep the baby. But I was still nervous about telling Taylor what I'd decided."

"Were you worried he wouldn't be happy about it?"

She shook her head. "Taylor– His family has money and..." Bella smiled in embarrassment. "A part of me was worried that his dad would think I got pregnant on purpose since I wasn't on the pill at the time."

Jacob shot her a questioning glance.

"I'd been having some really bad migraines, and I went off the pill to see if that was the cause. Of course Taylor knew about it and we were using protection but that night..."

"Things got a little out of control." Jacob repeated her exact words from earlier and her gaze darted away. Again he found himself wondering what exactly happened between her and Taylor that night. What was she hiding from him?

"It was important to me that Taylor knew I didn't need his money. So I had a big speech prepared when I sat Taylor down and gave him an out. Thanks to the Cullens, I had enough money in the bank to support myself and the baby while I finished college. If he didn't want to be a father, then I was fully prepared to raise the baby without him."

"That was brave." Jacob couldn't help but admire her courage.

"Brave?" She laughed as though the thought never occurred to her. "I was terrified. Having a baby in college was so not a part of my plan. But after I was done making my grand speech, Taylor asked me to marry him."

It felt as though Jacob had been punched in the gut. Of course Taylor would ask her to marry him. Jacob would've done the same, if it had been him. "Of course he proposed."

"I turned him down."

The relief he felt both surprised and irritated him. "Why would you do that?

"Taylor and I were... Marriage just wasn't all that important to me, that's all." Her words were too deliberate, careful. She'd slipped up once and didn't want to do it again.

When her gaze cut to the side once more, Jacob understood there was more she wasn't telling him. Other than the tightening of his jaw, Bella would never know how much he hated discovering that there were boundaries in their new relationship. A certain amount of distance between them was necessary for his sanity, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

"Taylor didn't get upset. Instead he took it as a challenge. He said he'd propose every week until I made an honest man out of him." She smiled fondly.

Jacob could hardly keep his biting reply to himself. "How romantic."

Bella barely heard him though. Eyes glazed over, she was knee-deep in the past.

"The next day Taylor went out and bought a blue pair of knitted booties because he was so sure it was a boy." A faint smile curved her lips. "We agreed not to tell my parents until I could do it in a way that didn't end with Charlie showing up in Hanover with his shotgun."

Jacob snorted at the image of Charlie, shotgun in hand, forehead vein on the verge of exploding.

"For three wonderful weeks, we were so happy. We were already picking out names for the baby. Taylor really liked Evan." A radiant smile lit up her eyes which shone with the memory of that happiness. Then the light faded along with her smile. "I'll never be that happy again."

The defeat in her eyes, coupled with the sad conviction in her voice was almost to much to take. An unshakeable sense of foreboding gripped Jacob, and he forced himself to relax his tight shoulders.

"I told Alice. Of course Alice being Alice, she couldn't resist peeking into the future to see what I was having. I guess she saw me sick or something because the next thing I knew she was rushing me off the phone. A few days later, Taylor and I were on our way to a prenatal exam when Carlisle and Alice showed up to give me the bad news... I had my first seizure."

First seizure? Expression grim, he focused on Bella's face as she stared unseeing into space.

"A brain tumor, Carlisle said. I needed to have immediate surgery and treatment. The longer I waited, the less likely I was to survive." She shook her head in disbelief. "Taylor wanted to know if the baby would be okay because I was still in my first trimester. If I went ahead with treatment, Alice predicted I'd miscarry. She thought it'd be better if I just..."

"Ended the pregnancy," Jacob finished for her.

"Alice said it was the kind thing to do." Bella's laugh was colored by bitterness.

"Did you do it?" He asked, thinking he already knew her answer. She'd had an abortion. He didn't blame her. It would've been pure suicide for her to continue with the pregnancy.

"When it came right down to it, I just couldn't go through with it." When Jacob shot her an incredulous look, Bella explained, "This baby was Taylor and me. It was us. I was determined to find another way."

"What did Taylor think?" Jacob couldn't imagine him being all right with Bella endangering her life like that.

"He didn't say much of anything, so I thought he was on my side. He went with me to the doctor's to get second opinion, but the answer was the same. End the pregnancy if I wanted to have any shot of surviving."

Her eyes pleaded with him to understand, and he caught a glimpse of desperation. She wasn't just Bella anymore. She was a mother willing to go through anything to save her child.

"After discussing it with Carlisle, I agreed to consider waiting until the second trimester to start treatment. But the more I thought about it, the more I didn't like the idea of growing a baby in a toxic dump for a body. I said no." Despite her deceptively calm tone, Jacob noticed the way her fingers dug into her knees.

"Edward came up with an idea. We'd wait until after I'd had the baby and then he'd turn me himself."

Bella flinched when Jacob growled low in his throat. Even then, Edward was still trying to get his eternity with Bella.

"It's not what you think. Edward always wanted me to live a human life, but this was different. It wouldn't be as if he stole my life away. He'd be saving it instead."

Jacob's anger grew. After all this time, Bella was still naive when it came to Edward Cullen. Defending the vampire was like second nature to her. Jacob had underestimated the vampire once, never again. In his gut, Jacob knew Edward hadn't offered to turn Bella solely out of the goodness of his cold, dead heart. Edward had seen an opportunity and seized hold of it. All he had to do was wait for Taylor to die of old age and Bella would be his.

"You should've seen the look on Taylor's face when Edward made his suggestion. As if Edward offered to throw acid in my face. Still it was better than nothing. A hell of a lot better than dying and staying dead. I'd still get to raise my baby with Taylor, only I'd do it as a vampire. But Alice quickly put an end to my delusion."

Bella bit her trembling bottom lip, her pulse rate elevating. She drew in a deep breath before continuing. Jacob remained silent, choosing instead to allow Bella to tell her story at her own pace.

"Being a vampire wouldn't have been anything like what I thought, Jake. Alice said it'd be at least fifteen years before I'd be able to stand being in the same room with a human. So not only would I miss out on most of my son's childhood, I wouldn't care because I wouldn't be me anymore."

"I don't understand. Why wouldn't you care?" Other than the physical changes, Jacob always assumed that Bella's personality would remain unchanged if she'd gotten her way and became a vampire.

"Becoming a vampire would've destroyed some of my memories and altered the way I felt about the people who were important to me. I wouldn't give a damn about the baby or Taylor. My body would still move..." She placed a hand over her heart. "But I'd be gone."

"You would've been a step above an animated corpse."

Bella winced at his harsh words, but nodded.

The thought of Bella, red-eyed and driven insane by bloodlust made his skin crawl. Everything that made her Bells would've been gone forever. Replaced by an indifferent creature wearing her skin.

"I would rather be dead than do that to the people I loved." Jaw set, she boldly met his gaze.

Jacob was beginning to see just how much Bella had changed. She'd come so far from the girl that thought becoming a vampire would be nothing short of a fairytale. The girl who'd been willing to leave everything and everyone behind to get what she wanted. The girl who had thought nothing of crushing his heart in exchange for immortality.

"My friends freaked out. Liz begged me to reconsider having the abortion, but I still couldn't do it. Taylor stuck by me though. Said he'd support me if having the baby was what I really wanted, but I could see he was starting to waver." She cleared her throat.

Jacob went into the kitchen and returned with a glass of water for Bella and a beer for himself. He momentarily regretted that there wasn't anything stronger in the house. Even though getting drunk would be difficult, he would've been grateful for the buzz.

She accepted the water with a wan smile and took a sip as Jacob reclaimed his seat.

"The next day Taylor came home in a panic. I'd never seen him so upset. He said Alice tracked him down and told him if I went through with the pregnancy I'd die a horrible death. I'd end up paralyzed on one side of my body and I'd loose the ability to talk. I'd be in so much pain that I'd barely know who he was at the end."

Just then the alarm on Bella's phone went off and she paused to take a pill.

"Jesus, Bella." Jacob felt a sickness in his gut. "Even after hearing all that, you still continued with the pregnancy?" When she nodded, he barely kept himself from exploding. "Goddamn it, Bella, weren't you scared?"

It was insane. Even for Bella. Though he had to admit, looking back on their past together, her survival instincts had always been lacking. How else could Jacob explain Bella's fondness for vampires and werewolves? Not to mention her habitual way of running toward danger instead of away from it.

A burst of anger. "Of course I was scared! Do you think I wanted to die? There were so many things I'd never get to do. My life would end before I got the chance to really live it. So many things were out of my control, but the choice to keep the baby was mine to make. And I made it."

Jacob still thought she was crazy to risk her life like that. Although it was a courageous kind of crazy he couldn't help but admire.

"Taylor said he didn't want the baby, not anymore. Not if it meant that I would die. He asked me to have the abortion."

It would've been so easy to judge Taylor, but Jacob was finding it increasingly difficult to do so. What would he have done in Taylor's place? Would he have been able to stand by, and watch the woman he loved wither away and die?

"I was so fucking pissed. Up until that moment I thought he was on my side. I thought we were in this together. Instead he chose to believe Alice and her scaremongering. We fought and in anger, I told him to leave if he couldn't support me. And he did. He packed up his things and... left me." Disbelief and hurt colored her features.

A blood rage tore through him then, leaving the wolf snarling with outrage. Jacob couldn't say for sure what choice he would've made, but abandoning the woman pregnant with his child was not one of them. Yeah, he was judging the hell out of Taylor right now.

"I never really thought he would leave," Bella continued numbly. "Even though our apartments were in the same building, it still felt like he'd moved to another state."

"He just walked out on you." The dangerous edge in his voice drew Bella's focus.

Looking at Jacob, her gaze softened. "It's not black and white, Jake. Nothing in life ever is."

"Don't make excuses for him, Bella." The look on his face resembled disgust.

"I'm not but there are things you don't know."

Her lips curved into a sad smile when Jacob snorted. "What else is there to know?"

"Would your opinion of Taylor change if I told you that his mother died from cancer when he was ten?"

That made Jacob hesitate.

"By the time his mother found out about the cancer, it was too late. But there was hope for me. All I had to do was end the pregnancy. In Taylor's mind, by refusing I was choosing death. I was choosing to leave him. He just didn't have it in him to watch another woman he loved die from the same terrible disease. Can you really blame him?"

Jacob felt conflicted. In his mind he kept imagining Bella pregnant, alone and scared out of her mind. He didn't like feeling sympathy for Taylor, but he also knew how it felt to lose a mother. Pain like that never truly healed.

"The baby wasn't real to him yet. It was just a blurry image on an ultrasound. I knew he'd feel differently after the baby was born. Or at least I hoped he would."

"I hate knowing you had to go through that alone. Why didn't you come home, Bella?"

"Because I knew my parents would do everything in their power to convince me to end my pregnancy. And honestly, I couldn't handle another battle at that point. I was getting enough pressure from Alice as it was. My decision had created a terrible conflict among the Cullens." She leaned back in her seat and hugged a cushion to her chest.

Jacob had trouble imagining the Cullens being at each other's throats. Last he remembered, the vampires were one big kumbaya family.

"They all chose sides. Rosalie and Esme supported my decision,but Alice and Edward thought I was throwing my life away. Emmett refused to go against Rosalie, but as a doctor and my friend Carlisle tried to remain neutral. Jasper didn't care either way, he was just worried about Alice."

"I kept on going to my classes like I normally would."

"You didn't drop out then?" That surprised him.

"I wanted to keep going until I... couldn't go anymore. And I was too afraid to stay in the apartment alone all day."

"You were scared because of Taylor?"

"Not him. Alice." Her arms tightened around the cushion. "At first I started hearing noises in the apartment at night. Then she'd show up on campus everywhere I went. And one day Rosalie stopped me from eating something that had Alice's scent all over it."

"She put something in your food," Jacob concluded through clenched teeth.

"No. Later I found out that she wanted me to think she did. And her plan worked. I turned into a paranoid mess who barely slept, and refused to eat anything that was out of my sight for a second. I was on hyper alert the whole time, afraid she'd try to do something to hurt the baby. On top of all that I was still fighting with Taylor."

"You should've come to me, Bella. I would've kept you safe."

"What would you have done if I showed up on your doorstep pregnant and asking you to let me die? Would you have moved me into your house? I bet Carmen would've loved that," Bella replied, sarcasm dripping from her words. "Despite everything that was going on, I still had my friends and Rosalie."

"Rosalie? Isn't she the one that hated you?"

"Isn't it funny? Out of all the Cullens, Rosalie was the only one to really stick by me. She and Liz helped take care of me when I was dealing with morning sickness. She even started hanging out around campus to keep an eye out for Alice." A dark shadow moved across her face. "When Rosalie blocked Alice's access to me, she used another tactic. Taylor. She told him if he kept trying to talk some sense into me, I'd eventually agree to terminate."

Tears came to her eyes, but she quickly blinked them back.

"So Taylor kept trying to convince me. I don't think we had an argument that didn't end in tears. We said a lot of terrible things to each other. In the middle of one of the worst fights we ever had, Taylor said he'd put the baby up for adoption after I was gone."

"He said what?" Jacob asked trough gritted teeth.

"I made Liz promise she would never let that happen. She and Ryan said they'd raise the baby themselves. I shouldn't have worried. A Reed growing up in foster-care? Taylor's dad would never let that happen."

"In the end it didn't matter. Later that day I passed out in a bathroom on campus and Rosalie got me to the hospital. When I woke up, the doctor told me I had a miscarriage." A tear rolled down her cheek and she angrily brushed it away.

The wolf was overwhelmed, both by rage and the desire to comfort her, but Jacob mightily resisted the urge. They weren't kids anymore. He needed to maintain boundaries with her. For both their sakes.

"I'm so sorry, Bells." Jacob settled for taking one of her hands in his.

"Yeah. Me too." She swallowed thickly. "When Taylor showed up at the hospital, I lashed out at him. I told him it was his fault and called him a monster. He didn't say anything. Just let me scream and cry until numbness set in. Before I even had time to process what happened, Alice wanted to move ahead with treatment. In that moment, I don't think I hated anyone more in my life."

A terrible thought occurred to Jacob then, and it was all he could do to hold his human form together. The wolf wanted to rip Alice Cullen to shreds. "It was all Alice's doing. She knew what would happen if you were too stressed out. and then she upped the ante by pushing Taylor to pressure you. She used him to get you to miscarry."

"I'll never forget the look on Taylor's face when he realized what Alice had done. He was devastated. She'd manipulated us like pieces on a chess board." He heard the pain in her words. "Alice wouldn't let herself dwell on anything else, but her goal to get me into treatment. Nothing else mattered. My baby was nothing more than an obstacle to her. An inconvenience. Now that the problem had been dealt with, she wanted to discuss a treatment plan." Rage and betrayal simmered in her eyes.

"In the end, I had the surgery after Taylor begged me to. I went into the operation not caring about whether or not I'd come out of it alive. It was hard but I made it. I went on antidepressants after my hair started falling out." Without conscious volition, her hand drifted to the wig she wore.

Jacob hated that Bella's hair-loss was a constant source of shame for her. Hair or no hair, she would always be beautiful to him.

"When treatment started, I didn't tell my parents what was happening because I couldn't deal with anyone else's grief on top of my own. But when I changed my mind, Alice wouldn't let me tell them."

"Why not? What reason could she have for keeping your parents away at a time like that?" After everything Alice had done, Jacob couldn't think of anything more cruel than keeping parents in the dark about their sick child.

"You." Bella met his gaze head-on. "She couldn't risk you or Leah finding out and then coming to visit. My life depended on her ability to predict how I would react to certain medications. Wolves being there would interfere with that and that was unacceptable. I had to live. Even if she had to make threats, and drag me kicking and screaming through this world."

"Why didn't you call me?"

"I'd gotten to the point where I was too weak to get out of bed without help. Alice couldn't tell anyone the truth so she took away my phone and told my friends that she had a vision about you finding out. She said you'd come to Hanover but you'd upset me and make everything worse–"

Jacob set his bottle down hard on the table. Bella's face was a mask of sympathy as she reached out and placed a hand on his arm. He couldn't believe her. After all the misery she'd gone through, here she was comforting him. Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised. Bella always had a big heart.

"I tried to tell them that she was lying, but when the choice came down to believing the girl with hallucinations or the psychic vampire, it wasn't a contest. I finally managed to sneak a letter out to you during one of the rare moments when Alice was out. But I guess you never got it," she finished softly.

Bella had a series of scars on the back of the hand he held. He traced the raised marks with his thumb, wondering where she'd gotten them.

When he could no longer stand it, he voiced the question that wouldn't leave his mind. "Why did you write me, Bella?"

The silence stretched out between them longer than he liked. Her next words shook him to his very core.

"To say goodbye. I knew I was dying." Head angled to the side, Bella regarded Jacob with a blankness that disturbed him. "The surgeries, the radiation that fried my brain, not to mention the chemo, all of it. It was just too much for my body to handle."

Suddenly embarrassed, she took her hand away and the wolf bared its teeth in protest.

"I didn't know it was that bad." The weight of his guilt was almost unbearable. He hadn't been there for her when she needed him most.

Bella reached for the glass of water, only to withdraw with a wince. She slowly began to flex her fingers, until she noticed Jacob watching and immediately stopped.

"Something wrong with your hands?"

"I'm fine," she told him, steel in her eyes.

She was so damn proud. So determined not to lean on anyone or let anyone witness her pain. She had the cold and empty eyes of a mongrel that had been kicked one too many times. She had faith in nothing and trusted no one now. Not even him.

"I finally realized that Alice was losing her mind when she tried to turn me." She continued with one hand unknowingly massaging the other.

"What?" A low growl rumbled in his chest.

"Yeah. She waited until the others were out hunting. She thought turning me was the only way to save me. Liz showed up and they got in a huge fight–"

"Fight?" Jacob interrupted. "Liz and Alice fought each other?"

An odd look crossed her face. "Oh, I meant to say argued. They finally stopped when my blood pressure suddenly dropped from dehydration."

Again Jacob got the suspicion that she was keeping something from him, but it was difficult to be sure with her poker face. He disliked not being able to read her like he used to.

"How is it even possible for a vampire to go crazy?"

"Medicine is complicated, Jake. There are so many factors. So many different drug reactions to take into consideration. For two years Alice had been running different visions through her mind nonstop. With my weakened immune system, she had to be on top of everything. Where I went, who I saw and even where I slept. Constantly using her abilities did something to her. In the end, I think Alice snapped under the strain of it all."

Something had always been a little off about Alice. Before now he'd never been able to put his finger on it. Now that he thought about it, she always seemed a little unstable. Not to mention the creepy fixation she had with controlling every aspect of Bella's life. From what clothes Bella wore, to how much time she was allowed to spend with Jacob. Rage clouded his vision when he remembered the time Alice kidnapped Bella to keep her away from him.

"You were helpless, Bella." Jacob had difficulty focusing on anything but the urge to put his fist through a wall. "Alice was fucking insane and the Cullens still let her treat you."

"I think Carlisle and Edward knew she was starting to crack, but..." Bella shrugged. "I guess they chose to look the other way because they needed her visions. But after Carlisle found out she tried to turn me, he put his foot down and started limiting her contact with me. He let Taylor call my parents when he realized that I wasn't going to make it."

"If Alice saw you die, how did you survive?"

"I guess Alice's vision was wrong." Before she averted her gaze, Jacob caught a glimmer of fear and knew there was a lot more to her story than Alice's faulty vision. Though he had enough sense to know she wouldn't tell him, even if he pressed her.

"Where are the Cullens now?" For their own good, Jacob hoped he never laid eyes on them again.

"Carlisle and Renee stayed behind in Hanover, but the others took Alice to Japan. Carlisle knows someone there who might be able to help her. I'm not sure how they're going to help a vampire with mental health issues but..."Her voice trailed off.

"Do you want to hear something crazy?" Conflicted, Bella seemed to struggle to find the right words. "She saved my life. And as much as I hate her for what she did to me, there's this tiny part of me that still wants my friend back. How's that for fucked up?"

More tears rolled down her face, and she accepted a piece of tissue when Jacob offered.

"What are the pills for?" He inquired as she dried her eyes.

Jacob might have imagined the hint of shame that crept into her gaze, but it could've been the light.

"I'm still on meds for chronic pain and seizures." At his incredulous stare, Bella explained, "Apparently survival has its downsides."

Taylor had mentioned her needing different medications to function, but Jacob never had any prior experience with cancer survivors. Naively, he assumed being cancer free meant Bella's life would return to normal.

Bella must have seen something on his face because she gave him a tight smile. "It's really not that bad. I'm off the antidepressants and steroids, so there's that."

He saw through her attempt at levity. She was still angry over everything that happened, even if she didn't know it. It burned in her eyes each time she looked at him.

"After everything, you still stayed with Taylor." And you left me. He left that unsaid. Those words would never see the light of day.

She tilted her head to the side and studied him as though the thought of leaving Taylor never occurred to her. "He chose me and I chose Evan. I could never hate him for that. The least we could do is forgive each other for wanting different things. Even though we're in a strange place now, we've survived worse. I mean hell, if we can get through a miscarriage and cancer, we can survive anything." Determination found its way into her eyes.

The wolf bristled at those words. Finally she'd learn not to cut and run at the first sign of trouble. She was determined to fight for the relationship she had... with another guy. Why the fuck didn't she have that kind of faith in them four years ago? Jacob couldn't help but feel as though he was the butt of a cosmic joke.

Completely unaware of Jacob's inner turmoil, Bella rose from her seat and wandered over to a shelf that held Rachel's knickknack collection.

"You know, it's funny." She picked up an owl ornament and rubbed its head with her fingertips. "Even though the tumor's gone, my brain doesn't work like it used to. In college, writing used to come so easily to me, but now I can't write for shit. My short term memory is so screwed up that I need to set little reminders on my phone. I have a really short fuse and problems with impulse control. In the end, it's like I died anyway."

She set the owl back down and faced Jacob. He'd give anything not to see the defeat in her eyes.

"Cooking, baking. It's the only thing I remember how to do. It's all I'm good for now." Her voice grew thick with emotion. "It's the only thing in my life I still have complete control over."

Jacob sensed how desperately Bella longed for that statement not to be true.

"So, there you have it. The whole sordid tale of my fucked up life. You can tell Carmen I said thanks. I always enjoy talking about the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It always gives me warm tingles inside."

Jacob rose from his seat and approached her. "Bella–"

She quickly stepped out of Jacob's reach when he attempted to touch her.

"You don't have to do that."

Jacob's hand hung midair. "Do what?"

"I know that touching other women is something you don't like to do. I'm not going to fall apart, and I'd rather not have you force yourself to touch me." She snorted dismissively, arms crossed over her chest.

Jacob saw straight through her defensiveness stance.

"Shut up."

One eyebrow rose in challenge. "Excuse me? Who are you tellin–"

"Shut up and come here."

Eyes narrowing, she regarded him warily.

"Don't make me come over there," Jacob warned and she rolled her eyes in response.

A reluctant smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she took several agonizingly slow steps toward him. It was like watching the journey of a leatherback turtle. Of course she would do as he told her, but she'd take her sweet ass time doing it. Standing before him, Bella raised her chin in defiance.


She gasped when he pulled her into his arms. He felt her body stiffen against his. A tense moment passed before she exhaled and the tension left her body. She sank into his embrace, arms encircling his waist and head resting against his chest.

He was ashamed of how good it felt holding her. There was an almost primal satisfaction in having her soft body so close to his. It soothed the wolf. He tried not to think about the perfect way her body molded against him.

He could not fight against the compulsion to comfort her. To promise that no one would ever take away her right to live or die as she desired. Not even him. "As long as I'm around, you'll never have to go through anything like that again."

"You can't promise me that, no one can. Life is too fucking cruel for those kinds of promises." She spoke with the wisdom of someone decades older.

"When have I ever broken a promise to you?"

"Never. Between the two of us, I was always the one who had trouble keeping promises." There was no humor in her laugh.

She didn't need him to dry her tears and hold her together anymore. She seemed to be already doing a good enough job on her own. But Jacob was at war with himself. Bella had awakened feelings of possessiveness that he'd abandoned and given up for dead. Those feelings had no place in his life now. Despite how much the wolf protested to the contrary, indulging those old feelings wasn't fair to Carmen.

The wolf howled furiously when Jacob grasped Bella's shoulders, and placed some agonizing distance between them. The wolf battered against the bars of its cage to no avail. Jacob maintained full control of his body.

"I'm sorry," he apologized sincerely. She'll never know just how sorry he was. Distancing himself, only served to reinforce her belief that he couldn't bear the touch of other women. He read that in her sympathetic gaze. It couldn't be helped.

"There's something I don't understand, though."

Jacob was grateful she chose not to press him about his so-called impotence. "What?"

"What if I'd cheated on Taylor and he took me back? Why would the idea of me cheating upset you?" Her confusion was genuine.

Because he was still a jealous asshole when it came to Bella and other men. He had no right to feel that way, given the fact that he'd moved on with Carmen. And yet every time he thought about her being with someone else, it filled him with blind rage and jealousy. Knowing he had no right to those feelings only made him feel like a selfish prick.

Bella was still waiting for an answer when Liz came barreling through the front door.

Liz halted mid-step, her eyes darted from Jacob to Bella. She seemed taken aback to find them alone together until she noticed Bella's red rimmed eyes. Face contorting in fury, she turned on Jacob with an accusation. "What did you do to her?"

"Everything's fine, Liz. We were just talking." When the awkward silence continued, Bella said, "Yeah, I think we should go."

There was an intense dislike in Liz's frosty green eyes, that made Jacob pause. Liz didn't like him at all. Not one bit. In fact she seemed to be warning him away from Bella. The wolf growled at her audacity.

He stood in the doorway, watching as Bella and Liz descended the porch steps. Halfway to their car, Bella suddenly stopped, her head whipped back to his house. Jacob followed her gaze and discovered a few women stood outside, among them Carmen.

The two women exchanged scathing looks before Bella climbed into the car and left with Liz.

To someone who didn't know her well, Carmen might've appeared calm on the outside. But even from across the yard Jacob could read her well enough to know that she was beyond furious with him. He'd been alone with the woman she hated, leaving her mind to run wild with thoughts of them doing God knows what.

A soft squeak of a wheelchair gave away Billy's approach. "She's been through so much."

"You listening in on us." It was a statement rather than a question.

"This is my house, incase you forgot." Faintly amused, Billy raised his eyebrows.

Jacob sat down and shoved a hand through his hair.

"I need to say something." Billy wheeled himself closer.

"If this is another lecture about the good of the pack, don't waste your breath." The last thing he needed was another argument with his father. Things were strained enough between them.

"It's not that." Billy folded his hands in his lap. "I did the wrong thing by not telling you about Bella. If you had known, maybe she wouldn't have to suffer through everything she did. I see that now."A pained expression. "My actions hurt you both and I'd give anything to take it back."

"Neither one of us can change the past, but thank you for saying that. "For the first time, Jacob felt hopeful about reconciling a relationship with his father.

Sue entered without knocking.

"We need to talk, Jacob–"

"Not now, Sue." Jacob needed some time alone to sort through his feelings, and decide how he was going to make it up to Carmen. His concern had been about Bella and ensuring she was all right. But Carmen should've been his first priority. How could he have forgotten to place his mate first?

Sue was insistent. "Yes now."

"What is it?" Jacob shook off his exhaustion.

"Carmen wants Bella banned from the res."

Billy's head shot up. "Banned? On what grounds?"

"On the grounds that Bella physically attacked her."

Billy looked toward his son for some kind of explanation.

"They argued, Bella shoved Carmen, but I got her out of there before things escalated." Jacob clenched his fists in anger. He should've known Carmen would be out for blood. "This is ridiculous. I'll talk to Carmen."

Sue shook her head, remorse in her eyes. "That won't do any good, Jake. Carmen lodged a formal complaint with a council member. As much as I hate doing this, I don't have a choice. The elders have to assemble."

Billy hesitantly backed Sue up. "I'm sorry, son. The pack laws are clear on violence among the wolf girls. Tomorrow night, the council will convene to rule on whether or not Bella will be banished from the res."

On the drive home, Bella turned to Liz. "You're really quiet. Did something happen between you and Rachel?"

"I'd rather not talk about her right now, if you don't mind," Liz spoke tersely.

Truth be told, Bella was all talked out and too tired to press Liz for information. Whatever had gone on between Liz and Rachel, all she could do was hope they weren't sworn enemies now. She leaned her head back and decided to take advantage of the silence in the car.

She thought back to the time Taylor disappeared, only to return days later. The day she punched Taylor in the face, he confessed his fears that she could've gotten pregnant the night she slept with Fang. Bella couldn't have known that draken were highly fertile in their true form. Her heart ached, remembering the awe on his face as he placed his hand on her belly after they had an ultrasound done.

How on earth did they end up here?

Liz parked the car and went into the house without saying a word. Bella remained confident that Liz would find her when she was ready to talk. She always did.

Tired from the events of the day, Bella dragged herself up the stairs to her room. She opened her bedroom door and was greeted by a sight that stopped her dead in her tracks. Taylor was lying in bed naked, waiting for her. The covers barely covered his hipbone as he gazed at her with an intensity that stole her breath.

A sexy smile. "Hi."

"Hey." The greeting fell from her lips in a rush of breath. She searched her mind, trying to remember if they'd made plans. "Were we supposed to have sex today? Did I forget?"

"No. I just wanted to surprise you." His eyes darkened as they roamed her figure, before settling on her slightly puffy eyes. Concerned, he sat up. "What's wrong?"

She closed the distance between them and lowered herself onto the bed. "I screwed up."

Bella confessed everything to him, from her argument with Vivian, to her scrap with Carmen and heart to heart with Jacob. Though she downplayed the wanting to kill Carmen part, knowing he would flip out. The guilt of keeping this secret made her ashamed to look Taylor in the face. When did her life become a series of lies and half truths?

After he heard the story, Taylor groaned and pinched his nose bridge.

"I know I shouldn't have gone there with Carmen, but she pushed me to it. She spied on my private conversation and went around telling everybody that Evan was some guy I cheated on you with. I just..." Her eyes shut as her agitation grew. "I couldn't let her get away with it!"

Her eyes shot open when Taylor grabbed her hand and cautioned, "Breathe."

After a few calming breaths, she told him, "I'm good."

He searched her face. "What?"

"I have to admit, it felt good to finally talk about everything. Including Evan." She watched Taylor's expression change. It was like a door slamming shut. Her confession started off slowly, but quickly became rambling. "I know it's hard for you to talk about this, but I can't pretend anymore. I don't like not knowing what you're feeling. He was our baby and I have no idea what you think. It feels like there's this thing between us and I–"

"Okay," Taylor interjected much to her surprise. "Let's talk about it."

"Do you wish things had turned out differently?" She needed to hear him say the words.

Taylor nodded to himself. "If everything hadn't gotten so screwed up, we'd have a son right now. Everyday I wake up with the thought that our lives were supposed to be different." He gazed at her tenderly. "I always wonder what he would've looked like. Your eyes, my nose. My love of music, your determination. He would've been the best of us."

A tight knot formed in her throat. It was a relief to learn that she wasn't the only one stuck in the world of might-have-been.

"I love you, Isabella. I love you so much that it breaks my heart. But being draken makes it impossible for me to place anyone above you. You will always come first, it's just how I'm wired." Taylor touched her cheek and she leaned into his gentle caress. "I wanted the baby, I really did. But knowing the alternative was Evan's life in return for yours, I can never bring myself to wish things had ended differently. I'm sorry."

Bella understood then that Taylor still grieved their unborn child, but he didn't feel as though he had the right to. How much of that was her fault? Although she 'd conceived with Fang, Evan had also been Taylor's flesh and blood.

"No, don't apologize. I'm glad you told me how you felt." She planted a kiss on his palm. "Are you mad I talked to Jacob?"

"No, but I am wondering why he got upset when he thought Evan was an old lover." He spoke with a cold bluntness that revealed his irritation.

Bella shrugged her shoulders. "I actually asked him that myself. Didn't really get an answer though."

"Maybe he was jealous."

"If we were talking about any other man I'd agree with you. But Jacob's a really stand-up guy. He's completely committed to Carmen. Trust me, I'm not even on his radar." Though the truth in that last sentence poked at her bruised pride, Bella was determined to work at accepting the new confines that existed between her and Jacob now. Namely his aversion to touching other women.

"A real stand up guy, huh?"

From the wry twist of Taylor's mouth she could tell he had difficulty dismissing his skepticism. She didn't blame him. He knew nothing about the all encompassing logistics of imprinting. Even Bella was having trouble explaining Jacob's reaction to her so-called infidelity. But she was grateful he removed her from his house before she did something really stupid... like dismembering his imprint.

"Did you tell Jacob everything?"

Bella's mind went blank until Taylor tapped the claws marks on his chest. "No! I would never tell him the whole story." If he did, he'd probably freak out and ask her to stay away from his pack. Their new friendship was far too fragile for Bella's confession.

Seconds passed before Taylor smiled. "Good." He raised a finger and slowly trailed it down the column of her throat. An idea suddenly occurred to him."Will you go out on a date with me tonight?"

"Tonight?" She peered at him, her expression turned coy. "Just the two of us?"

It had been a long time since they'd gone out without their friends. Liz always had a way of assuming she and Ryan were invited along on what was supposed to be a date for two. Fortunately Bella didn't think that would be a problem tonight.

"Yeah, time alone will help us reconnect as a couple."

Her smile slipped a fraction. Reconnect? That had to mean Taylor felt it too, the chasm in their relationship.

"Are you attempting to woo me, Spanish-man?" She grinned, openly flirting with him.

He dipped his head and took her mouth in a kiss that left her breathless.

"I can be naked in five seconds." Bella reached for her jeans, but Taylor placed his hand over hers. She looked at him, question in her eyes.

"I think we should wait."

"Seriously?" She started laughing. "Honey, you do know that my hymen won't grow back, right? That ship has sailed."

"The things you say." Taylor laughed right along with her, enjoying the way it transformed her face. He had trouble recalling the last time she laughed so freely. Her laughter ended when he brushed his lips against hers. "Good things, Isabella. Good things."

He left the bed to slip back into his clothes.

"God, you're such a tease." She shamelessly ogled him as he pulled on his pants. "Taylor, when you're ready, we need to talk about what happened to Fang."

His movements stilled abruptly, but he didn't look at her. "I know."

Although it had been weeks since Taylor's last night-terror episode, Bella knew he still carried weight from the consequences of losing Fang.

A/N: This chapter was a tough one to write. Mainly because it was so damn depressing. I'm definitely going to need some happy in the next chapter.

Back to the story.

Despite her confession, Jacob knows Bella is still keeping things from him.

Jacob's disturbed he did the unthinkable and forgot about Carmen.

Jacob's fighting against his re-emerging feelings AND his wolf. Poor guy.

Billy apologized for lying to his son.

Carmen wants Bella off the res... permanently. Will the council agree?

What could be the reason behind Liz's coolness?

Should Taylor have supported Bella's plan to continue her pregnancy to term... Even if it killed her?

Taylor finally opens up to Bella and wants to wait for sex. Is that a good idea?

Finally the reason behind Taylor's night terrors. He lost Fang.

Review and receive your teasers folks.