Disclaimer: Not my sandbox or sand, but I build this castle.

A/N: Preread by TheLyricalCutie and dcurley1. Thank you, ladies.

And thank you everyone for all your lovely responses. Hope your holidays are coming along well so far!

And, and, and...Peter will make his appearance next chapter, promise.

Chapter Fifty-Six

Bella balanced with one foot to the seat of the chair and one on the high back as she placed two playing cards, the King of Aces and Queen of Spades, to the top of a card house Emmett had been working on all night. She knew, without a doubt, it would irk her brother to no end that she had been the one to finish his massive creation while he was out getting his ass kicked by Jasper. Given that Emmett wanted some serious training, and Jasper offered, well…

Thunder boomed outside, followed by a snarl of cusses echoing through the forest.

"Try it again," she heard her lover demand, voice turning back to that cold, hard tone she didn't like.

Bella cringed. With Thomas gone and stress levels rising, they all knew Jasper needed some kind of outlet for the next little while. Sighing, she tipped the chair back to the floor soundlessly, shooting Rosalie a look as she did so.

"Scale of one to ten, how bothered is he going to be that I finished this?"

Rosalie couldn't even hide her smile. "Seven maybe?" She waved at the top two cards. The whole structure was a good six and a half feet tall with several intricate layers. At least four decks of cards had gone into making it. "He kept knocking off the top layer every time he got close to finishing. I don't know, maybe it's a stress thing; usually he gets it the first time."

Emmett was bored, that was his problem. There was only so much mischief and jokes he could act out before they started catching on to his tricks and avoided the next one. Also, he'd been handling a displeased mate for the last few weeks, and managing an unhappy Rosalie was like a human walking over jagged glass and trying not to get cut.

Blood always spilled.

"You guys…?" Bella trailed off, hoping her sister got the point without her having to explain it.

"We're getting there."

A beat of silence had both women staring at each other, both in different places but still trying to handle similar things. Bella got her sister had issues. Damn, Rosalie still had the worst case of guilt in the whole family. It shone through the brightest whenever she had a conversation with Jasper or Bella that went beyond a how was your hunt, or you need something in the city.

Suddenly, Rosalie was rambling. "I mean, you know Emmett, right? He's either too cavalier or he doesn't pay enough attention to mind. And then we're on the outside looking in here, on Thomas, on Maria, on you, on Jasper…on you and Jasper."

Bella coughed quietly, averting her gaze. "I didn't realize we still made you—"

"You don't." Blonde curls bounced as the older vampire shook her head. "Not anymore. I know you love him, Bella. As hard as it was for me to understand that it was possible for you to love someone who isn't your mate, I see it. That wasn't what I meant. I just—damn, do you realize how oddly suited you are to him? He likes a woman who challenges him, you did that. He wanted to grow, you helped. He needed a reason to just be here, and he found it. You stand at his side like you're his equal and you were meant to be there. It's not exactly like we could ever deny any of that. Five years ago I would have put a million dollars down that you and Jasper wouldn't ever even be friends and I'd have been a million in the hole today."

"I do," Bella said, tapping uselessly to her thighs as she got down from the chair.

"Do what?"

"Love him."

"Obviously," Rosalie joked. Then, her face turned darker as she added, "But me and Em, we never had to handle anything terribly serious, okay? Everything was so damned easy for us from the time we woke up to the time we ran out of that house ahead of Alice. Sure, we've had spats, and he drives me some kind of crazy at times, but it's never been so serious that we had to think beyond just us. You've always had to think beyond just you, be it with Edward, or when you were human, while Ness was growing up, and now with Jasper. It's like you don't get a break."

"Don't." Bella turned on her heels sharply, a hand raising to keep her sister from speaking more. "I never complained, Rose. I wouldn't give up a day now to go back then for one day, just like I wouldn't take a day from then to have what I've gotten now. Because I couldn't even if I wanted to; this is the life I was given, and I'm going to make of it exactly what I want to. I understood the weight of every choice I made, then and now."

"I know, I know. Listen…" Rosalie stood abruptly, "…I'm just deflecting, really. What I mean to say, is that this was a learning process for Emmett and I, too. Having to struggle, to reassess our priorities and the things we thought we wanted. Realizing there were in fact more important things than just me? Yeah, tough. I'm so spoiled," she laughed bitterly. "Do you know I haven't actually had a hot shower in months? I don't think I've ever went this long without tinkering on somebody's car."

"I thought you liked it here?" Bella tried hard to keep the snide tone out of her words, knowing she failed miserably.

"I do." Rosalie almost looked offended. "That's not—"

"Are you jealous of me?" Bella interrupted.

"Excuse me?"

"Me, are you jealous?" Bella didn't think the statement was that hard to understand. "With Thomas, or that I was able to have a child with Edward, and now I know it must seem like I'm making this brand new family all over again."

"Jealous," Rosalie repeated quietly. "Uh, no. Did I think at first you were replacing what you'd lost? Maybe. I also thought you were pushing Jasper into something he didn't need or want. I figured I knew him better, spent more time with him than you ever had, so how could you possibly understand Jasper really? Didn't take me long to realize I was wrong, Bella."

The sound of thunder booming outside, a little too close to the ground for it to have come from the sky, shook the cabin on its foundation. Two distinct sounds of loud, raucous laughter echoed back to the females inside. Bella found herself smiling when she heard Jasper shout, "Damn it, Em. That hurt like a bitch!"

"You got me with a cheap shot! You can't just punch another man in his junk, Jasper!"

"You threw a tree at me!"

"You threw me into that tree!"

"Because you tried to bite me, dumbass!"

"Oh, suck it up, princess. It's not like you can't take a bite!"

"That doesn't fucking mean I want one!"

The argument between the brothers continued, more cuss words getting thrown in than Bella had heard in a long while. Eventually they must have ventured far enough from the cabin again, because their voices were no longer heard but the occasional sound of rolling thunder began once more.

"Jeeze," Rosalie muttered, looking up at the ceiling in exasperation. "It's like Forks all over again."

"Remind me to thank Emmett for distracting Jasper."

God knew he needed a distraction. If he just sat around and waited for Maria to get back and report that Thomas had arrived to his destination safely, Jasper wasn't likely to be a happy or tolerable vampire. Not that she couldn't manage him like that; she managed a bitchy Jasper just as well as she handled him any other time. And what a fickle man he could be at times. Bella figured a lot of his emotional mood swings was due to his gift and trying to deflect others' emotions around him, more so than being unable to deal with his own. He'd spent so long being totally in control, appearing calm and collected for the sake of everyone else and how he wanted to be perceived by them.

Now, he either didn't care, or he needed to learn not to. Jasper had a lot to deal with, she knew. Between the new relationships he was beginning with her, to the strange feelings Thomas invoked in him, the grief over losing Alice and his clan, to the everyday requirements of managing his new spot as head of their family. It was a lot. There was no arguing that. Bella sure as hell wasn't about to.

And she wouldn't begrudge him his moods at times.

"Will do," Rosalie finally replied. "He knows Thomas will be okay, right?"

Bella shrugged. "I think inside he knows, but rationally? No one can care for Thomas better than Jasper. Add in the fact that he doesn't know this vampire…"

"A she," Rosalie added quietly.

A quiet giggle escaped Bella. "A she. Jas said Maria felt…interesting, to say the least, when she mentioned her."

"Do you think she's…?"



Bella wasn't really sure. "I think she's a vampire, and we're all pretty carnal. Maybe a woman feels safe for her. She's no different from us, honestly. Sex is something we all want and need at the end of the day, but for Maria, I think sex with males always leaves her feeling like it was a job. I like to think that this woman perhaps makes her actually feel something, if that's what it it's about. And we don't know that it is," she added pointedly. "I wouldn't ask, by the way," Bella warned. "She'd probably remove your head."

"Doubt it." Rosalie fingered the pages of a magazine with disinterest. "We've all seen her, you know? Beyond the nasty and hate, we've seen it. She acts like she would, but I don't think that's really her."

No, it definitely wasn't.

"And about Italy," Rosalie said, turning her back to Bella. They hadn't even spoken about Volterra, so she was confused why her sister was bringing it up now. Bella had just assumed everything was good on that front. Wasn't it? "I was weighing the reality of losses over gains. Kept thinking about if I left without him, or he without me. Could I, would I? That kind of thing."

"I thought you were good with this, that you understood why," Bella said, her voice turning hard. "Are we going to do this again?"

"It's worth it." Rosalie turned on her heels, an eyebrow raising. "Whatever could or would happen. We think it's worth it to stand with you and him for them. Okay?"

This was what Bella loved the best about Rosalie. She wasn't always easy to get along with, or straight to the point, but she hit her mark when it counted the most. What else was there to say?


A half beat of silence passed before Rosalie asked, "Are you jealous?"

Of her sister? That only set to confuse the younger vampire. Why in the hell would she be jealous of Rosalie? Maybe right after her mate had died and Bella was still dealing with that direct aftermath, all the while watching her brother and sister who still had their mate at their side…well, maybe then. That was an understandable jealously. What vampire wouldn't have been? But now?


"I meant of Thomas," Rose clarified with a shrug.

Still, Bella didn't understand. What exactly was there to be jealous of when it came to the vampire child? "Again, no."

"Really?" Rosalie's voice rose in her surprise. "I mean, given the feelings between you and Jas, it'd be normal for you to feel like too much of his time is spent somewhere else when it could be spent with you. Especially if you don't feel like the mother figure to Thomas."

Bella disagreed on multiple levels. Jasper wasn't her mate, and she wasn't his. Their entire lives didn't have to necessarily revolve around one another. Yes, they loved, and so long as they continued wanting to love, they always would, but that didn't mean there had to be constraints that dictated specific things about their love, or the depths of it. Why couldn't it be just as it was? That was more than good enough for her. It didn't hurt her that he had other interests, especially if one of those interests was someone like Thomas.

"I couldn't be jealous of Thomas in regards to Jasper even if I tried, Rose."

"You're not bothered at all that he's outside, completely overwhelmed by the fact that Thomas isn't here right now instead of realizing that you still are?"

That…just no. Bella was simply concerned because Jasper was anxious. There was no other way to put it. "Nope, and with that said, I have something to do."

Rosalie didn't bother to argue.

Jasper tossed a rubber bouncy ball through the canopy of trees, listening as it cut through leaves and branches, rebounding off in all different directions as Emmett attempted to catch the object. By Emmett's cuss, followed by the dull thud of the ball hitting solid ground, Jasper knew he hadn't caught it.

"Point for me," Jasper called into the dark forest.

"Fuck you."

It took a good thirty seconds before he heard his brother laugh, finally finding the ball wherever it had landed. It was thrown again, Jasper could hear it cutting through more branches and leaves, giving him an idea as to where it was coming in from. Emmett was a good two miles away, Jasper's mind began calculating how fast the ball had to be travelling and by the sounds echoing through the forest, where exactly it was bouncing around to. He took off in a flash after the toy.

It was a pretty basic game, one Thomas had invented after he finally hit the mountain playing baseball and wanted something new. If the ball hit the ground, it was a point for the person who threw it. If the person caught it, it was a double point for them and minus a point for the other side. Given the speed the ball would travel and the likely hood of it hitting something and bouncing off in another direction, it was actually a decent challenge for them. The first person to one-hundred points won.

After Emmett had taken enough of a beating from Jasper earlier, they decided to blow off steam with the simplest game they'd ever created.

It was, after all, the simple things in life.

That, and Jasper couldn't seem to stop fidgeting for one damned second.

He missed Thomas' shadow already. Wanted his boy back at his side. And he was worried. Jasper had a pretty good idea of where Maria had taken him, so he knew how long it should have taken her to get him there and then get back to their spot to inform him of Thomas arrival. Safe arrival, that was. Because if not, hell would be paid.

The ball flew over Jasper's head. He skidded across wet ground, failing terribly at stopping himself in time to turn before his side crashed into a thick tree. "Damn it!" Emmett's laughter rung out just as he took off again.


The r in his name rolled off her tongue with a sensual sound, the purr of the word reverberating straight to his gut. The feral, animalistic side of him reacted to her voice like never before with eyes that scanned through the thick forest for her, irises fading to a flat black, and a responding growl fighting its way out from his middle. His run stopped up short, skidding along the ground once more. Fingers dug into damp earth, steadying his body. Bella's teasing tenor rolled over his body like a wave of want, hot and heady. He could feel her sweet emotions drifting back to his spot. And honest to Jesus, her voice was like liquid silk running over hyperaware senses. Venom rushed through dead veins like a drug.

When she called his name softly again, he remembered their conversation from earlier in the day with bark biting against scarred knuckles, his tongue tasting the venom lacing her mouth, and desire licking every nerve ending he had.

"Are you ignoring me?" Mischief soaked his lover's emotions brightly.

He wondered if she was wearing those jeans and boots he wanted. Then, he realized he didn't care.

The ball hit the ground thirty feet away.

Emmett laughed. "Point for me."

"You win by default, Em," Jasper shouted.


Bella finally appeared around the trunk of a tree, hands gripping the bark as brown hair flowed freely over bare shoulders. No, there weren't any jeans or boots, but she was wearing one of the tiniest dresses he'd ever seen cover her body. If he could even call it a dress. And where in the hell had she gotten that thing from, anyway? He was one-hundred percent sure she'd never worn in before. It was more like a too-long shirt, one that barely reached mid-thigh, and didn't have a thing to hold it up over her shoulders but two tiny straps. That left the beautiful expanse of cream colored thighs visible and the length of her legs bare. The way the fabric clung to the curves and dips of her waist, hips, and at the apex of her thighs told him she didn't have a thing on underneath. Not a single damned thing. The faintest tang of Bella's arousal floated in teasing wisps through a soft, whispering wind. His mouth went dry.

She was his barefoot baby. Beautiful sin he wouldn't give up for anything. And didn't she know him so damned well? Bella had to have known his little distractions would only work for so long. She was so much better. Standing there all pretty with toes skimming along the mossy ground, she hummed a sexy little sound that made every muscle he had clench in the best way. Nails tapped a quick beat to the tree. Golden eyes glittered.

"Jasper, don't you want to play with me?"

His throat was turning tighter like his jeans at the heated sound of her voice again. The t-shirt he wore was pulled over his head in a flash of movement, hitting the ground soundlessly. Catch with Emmett, or an adult version of tag with Bella?

Really, was there supposed to be a choice there?

"Bro, you playing or what?"

"Nah, I told you. You win. Default, Emmett," Jasper called out. His voice lowered, a husky, dark tone taking over when Bella grinned salaciously and turned to run as he muttered, "Because I have something much better to catch."

Jasper was getting slightly frustrated. Since when had his lover become so damned good at evading him? Bella took them into the forest, over the range of mountains, and further out than ever before. They were still safely covered, hidden by the vast trees that populated the area. He could feel her emotions whispering from behind, but whenever he got close enough to touch, she'd disappear again. Wisps of her scent floated in every direction, none stronger than the other so he could tell which way she'd went to avoid him that time.

"Damn it, Bella," he warned darkly. "You keep running away from me and I'm going to go back home."

"Liar, liar," she teased, voice light and airy. The sound came from behind and above. Jasper turned, looking over his shoulders into the thick branches of trees but the darkness was keeping her covered.

"You know that I can feel you, right?"

Bella made an indifferent sound. "Pretend like you can't."

"What?" Jasper laughed, like full on laughed at the absurdity in that statement. "I can't just turn myself off!"

His seconds of distraction had given his lover more than enough time to drop from her hiding place and come back into view. She was closer than he'd thought. Close enough to touch. Fingers danced along his naked chest. "Wasn't there a lesson we all needed to learn about never losing our focus on the target, Jasper?"

He swallowed roughly. "We're not fighting; we don't do that anymore. But, yes."

She moved a little closer, standing on tips of toes to lean forward were lips barely opened and she murmured, "Poor pity for you, then."

In a swirl of air, she was gone again, his arms coming up empty as he tried to reach. "Fuck!" Fuck was right. She was the devil. He was so hard it hurt. "Stop running away, Bella!"

Echoing, taunting laughter answered him back. Jasper took off after her as fast as lightning. Like hell he'd ever go back home without her, and really, their game was far from over. The faintest scent caught his attention as he passed a particular tree; Jasper breathed deeply, slowing down as he noticed it once more. It was her arousal, the scent of the wetness he loved so much barely brushed against a tree, and then another.

She'd touched herself. Jasper growled deeply. "Bella…"

He could feel her from above again. Turning a fast circle, he watched her drop down from the canopy of branches. That barely-there-at-all dress rose over naked hips as she jumped down from a tall tree. Feet pressed to earth, a hand disappearing between thighs to find heaven and home. That rush of her breath sucking through clenched teeth made him ache.

"You're a cheat," he accused. "Dirty tricks."

But she wasn't moving to get away from him then, he noticed. The closer he stepped to her, the faster her hand drove between spread open thighs. Her head tilted back, hair fanning. Teeth clenched as eyes rolled and lips parted to release a desperate sound to the sky. The slightest shake in her legs said she was fast approaching an edge he wanted to shove her off of. Her right foot rose, heel pressing to the tree and giving him the best view of her fingers sinking over and over again into her sex.

Close enough to see—touch, he'd told her once.

"Good God, look at you," he whispered, voice thick and throat constricting. He watched as her fingers curled, trying so hard to find that place he knew would make her fly—she couldn't, though, her digits weren't quite long enough, he knew. Arousal coated, smearing against opened legs and dampening the small patch of curls that he knew felt like soft silk. "So fucking beautiful, sweetheart. Your fingers are soaked and I bet they taste like the sweetest damned honey."

Just to tease, he knew, her fingers left the spot between her legs, a foot hit the ground, and two fingers disappeared between pink lips. He watched her eyes darken as she cleaned the digits off slowly. She hummed so low and quiet around her fingers. Jasper hadn't stopped moving closer and he was so damned close now that he could taste and smell her everywhere. And when he was finished? He knew he'd have her smell everywhere on him.

Bella's free hand reached out, hooking his belt loop with one finger. She tugged and he let himself move forward under her want. Fingers left wet lips. "Gotcha."

"Wasn't I chasing you?"

Bella smiled. "You'd think so, but no. And I caught my target."

Of course she did. "Making me lose my focus."

"Damn right. Works both ways. I have to use what I've got."

It wasn't long before that hand on his belt loops was moving, unbuttoning and unzipping him down, pushing denim and boxer-briefs over muscled hips as he pressed her harder into the tree. Jasper skimmed her cheek bone with his nose, teeth grazing lightly to stone flesh as nimble fingers freed him, circling and tightening in the best way.

He drove his hands over her waist and down to her ass, cupping and lifting, pressing her bare skin into bark. One of the best things about vampires were their balance. There was no need for him to support her more than hooking her legs over his hips. No worry of her falling once she steadied herself to his body. He was guided, the tip of his cock pressing through fleshy folds, slick wetness encompassing as muscles fluttered from his intrusion.

Bella's hand didn't move. She kept her fingers barely brushing along the length of his erection as he drove balls deep, pulled back, and sunk right back in. Fire scorched through his body in rushing, heavy waves. Teeth bared to her cheek, air rushing from his lungs. He could taste the faintest trace of her tangy-sweet cum on the side of her face.

"Bella, Bella."

"This," she whispered, fingers between their bodies teasing his shaft as he withdrew once more. "I feel me all over you."

Hips pistoled a punishing beat. Bella whined a high sound to his ears. Every thrust of his body to hers drove her harder into a tree that felt strained under the pressure of two vampires against it. Their movements were jerky, rougher than usual, and fueled with total need. Even still, teeth didn't bite, instead grazing as lips brushed and kissed, tasting skin and venom. Hands and nails didn't grab or score, instead roaming with want, and urge to sooth and feel.

She shuddered and cried out. "Let me see. Jasper, let me see."

He did just that, leaning back just enough. Foreheads pressed together as they looked down and watched. Hands cupped her trembling jaw, her fingers curling tightly around his wrists to lock him to her. Jasper had been right, they could see so damned well like this. The way he sunk so perfectly into her, covered, coated, and wet with her arousal that filled his senses with the scent of heaven and home. There was a pulse in his shaft, venom rushing through veins with every thrust.

His body was tense, muscles clenching as she clamped down on him, and lips pulled back in a violent snarl. She was golden to him, like love and life—flames that burned and ice that froze. Breaths were a stuttering mess of exhales. She was so damned close. He just wanted her to fly, for pleasure to sing through hypersensitive nerves, and for bliss to rage and ravage.

"Love you," he murmured, tone throaty.

At his words, she fucking flew.