"The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love."

Hubert H. Humphrey

Chapter Nine


She could hear voices. Faintly, but they were there.

"Is she going to be okay?" Bella heard a worried voice ask – a soft but masculine voice brimmed with concern and…was that guilt?

"She'll be fine, don't worry Jasper. She'll need stitches for that cut on her forehead and her ankle might be sore for a while but other than that she should recover quickly," came a deeper, confident voice that she immediately recognized to be her father's. Relief flooded through her and slowly she started coming back to her senses.

That was when she felt the pain.

It felt like she was covered in bruises from head to toe and not only that but her head was throbbing. Was it normal to be in this much pain? Or maybe it was simply her imagination. She had read on the internet once about how the brain could psychologically trick one into thinking they were in pain. Well at the moment Bella seriously doubted that concept was working because her brain was too preoccupied hammering away in its attempt to drive her literally insane.

"Bella?" The same gentle, concerned voice called out to her but with a turn of her head she pushed it away and let out a groan.

"Bella!" The voice was closer this time and soon she felt a familiar pair of warm, rough hands grasp hers. With a start her eyes flung open.

A flash of bright light hit her eyes instantly and with another groan she closed them again.

"Bella it's me, Jasper," he murmured softly, lightly squeezing her hand. "Are you in pain?"

Hmm, let me think about that, she thought to herself sarcastically. The corner of her lips curved downward into a frown and she scrunched her face into a grimace.

"I'm guessing that's a yes," he said with a slight chuckle.

She heard her father question, "Bella, how do you feel?", and an irritable sigh escaped her lips.

Like you should leave me alone and let me rest. She cocked her eyebrow in annoyance.

"I think we should just let her rest a little bit more…" Jasper told Charlie, glancing down at Bella's face with a worried frown. "She'll talk once she feels up to it."

Yes! Thank you! Bella exclaimed inside her mind, mentally thanking Jasper for being so amazingly understanding. She waited silently for her father's response.

"I guess you're right," Charlie grumbled, sounding a bit uncertain. However after a couple of moments she heard his feet start to shuffle towards the door. "I'll be in the kitchen," he added, before opening and closing the door to what was most likely Bella's bedroom.

Silence followed soon after and Bella wondered what Jasper was doing. Staring at her? Bella thought about that for a moment and immediately decided she didn't like that - talk about majorly awkward.

And then out of the blue he did something not so awkward. In fact after saving her life from the cougar she might have even called it sweet.

He leaned forward with his hand still placed on top of hers and kissed her cheeks, both of them. Following that was a kiss to her forehead and by that time her lips were positively aching for his. But instead of giving her what she wanted he caressed one of her cheeks gently with the back of his hand and kept it there for a couple moments before turning to head towards the door.

No! Bella peeked her eye open to stare at Jasper's back. Don't go…please.

When he left, the door shutting softly behind him, Bella closed her eyes and sunk deeper underneath the covers. She wished that Jasper was still standing next to her, holding her hand and whispering to her that everything was going to be okay. And that he was here for her unlike her stepfather, Phil, who betrayed them all; or her mother, Renee, who left her to face this world alone and afraid.

With this last thought drifting through her mind Bella cried herself to sleep, the silent tears falling from her eyes and staining her cheeks as she slipped once more into unconsciousness.

"Jasper, I am perfectly capable of walking down the stairs by myself," Bella complained, flashing the over-protective cowboy an annoyed glance. She stood on top of the stairwell, her hand gripping the railing securely as she began her descent.

"Bella, your ankle is still a bit sore, it's best if I carry you," Jasper persisted, wrapping his arm tightly around her waist.

Bella bit back a groan. "The doctor said that putting a little weight on it will be good for it. Stop being such a worry-wart, I'm fine." Bumping him off with her hip Bella started down the stairs, keenly aware of Jasper's close presence right behind her.

Ever since the doctor had told her that it was okay to get out of bed Jasper had stuck to her side twenty-four seven, helping her in just about every way possible. Despite the flattery she felt for having him care about her so much it was still embarrassing to have him around all the time. She was used to being independent and doing everything herself.

Once she made it all the way down Bella flashed him a triumphant grin. "There, told you I could do it."

"Good. Now sit down."

Bella narrowed her eyes. "I've been sitting down for ages. Can't we go outside? I want to see Sweet Thing and Lucky." I miss them, she thought with a sigh.

"Only if you let me carry you," Jasper compromised.

Bella nearly growled, "Fine."

Grinning, Jasper scooped her up easily into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and then made the mistake of glancing up into his eyes – his deep, passionate golden eyes that pierced straight through her soul. Her breath caught in her throat and for a moment she could barely breathe as they stared heatedly at each other, her heart racing about a mile a minute.

"Bella," he whispered huskily after a long moment and before she could register what was happening his head lowered and his smooth, hard mouth melted onto hers.

A hungry moan escaped her lips as the gentle kiss suddenly became more demanding. He slanted his mouth eagerly against hers, parting her lips with the tip of his tongue before slipping it inside, seeking the hot sweetness of her mouth. She pressed closer against his chest, shuddering as his hands reached upward to tangle his fingers inside her hair. She tipped her head back as he trailed his lips from her mouth down to her neck, planting warm, passionate kisses onto her soft, delicate skin in a way that made it seem he couldn't get enough.

A loud, amused cough stopped them abruptly and they both jerked away to see Jake standing behind the screen door, staring at them with a wide comical grin on his face.

"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" Jake wiggled his eyebrows playfully. "Bella and…Jasper?"

Jasper shot the younger cowhand a warning glance. "Mind your own damn business, Jake."

"No need to act rude, man." He glanced over at Bella and winked suggestively at her, "Are you sure he's the one you want? Maybe you should kiss me and see-"

"Jake," Jasper growled.

"All right, all right! Sheesh, I was just letting the girl know that she had options. You're not the only cowboy on this ranch, you know."

"Don't make me get out my shot gun."

Jake snorted. "Oh yeah, now I'm afraid."

"Guys!" Bella exclaimed, unable to contain her grin. "Stop acting like a bunch of idiots, I want to see the horses."

"We will, just as soon as Jake moves his fat ass out of the way so I can get through," Jasper muttered.

"Jasper," Bella scolded.

"Sorry," Jasper said with a smirk, "I meant to say his skinny ass."

Jake threw his head back and roared. Bella just shook her head, sighed, and mouthed men.

Once they had made it to the barn Jasper let Bella down and walked her slowly over towards Sweet Thing's stall. The mare, munching on a pile of hay, lifted her head and greeted them with a soft, friendly nicker.

"Sweet Thing!" Bella reached out and smoothed her hand over the mare's neck, grinning from ear to ear. "I've missed you, girl. I'm sorry it took so long for me to visit you. Has Jasper been giving you apples like I've promised?"

Sweet Thing bobbed her head up and down and let out a high-pitched whinny. Giggling, Bella gave her a big kiss on the muzzle and murmured, "I'm glad you're okay, Sweet Thing. It would've been horrible if that cougar had gotten you."

Or me, Bella thought, shuddering inwardly. She glanced over at Jasper, feeling grateful for the millionth time that he had saved her in the nick of time. He seemed to sense this, because suddenly his arms were around her in a warm, comforting embrace.

"You scared the shit out of me Bella," he whispered, tilting her chin up with his thumb to stare straight into her eyes. "What made you do such a stupid thing as to go off the trail? That was foolish and dangerous, Bella. What if I hadn't had found you?"

"But you did," Bella said, "that's all that matters."

Jasper shook his head. "You could've died Bella. That rock you had wouldn't have knocked him out and you know it."

Bella's eyes flashed angrily. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I was stupid, I admit it. I'll never go off the trail again."

"Like hell you will." Jasper's strong, lean arms tightened around her small frame, pulling her close against him. Eyes softening, he leaned his forehead against hers and murmured, "I care about you, Bella. And more than anything, I want you safe."

The corner of Bella's lips lifted slightly into a smile and with a sigh she nestled comfortably against his chest. "I care about you too, Jasper," she whispered, all trace of anger gone from her eyes. She never managed to stay mad at Jasper for long, she realized.

Her cheeks flamed with heat when she noticed the tender expression that appeared on the cowboy's face. Turning her head away, she said quickly, "Lucky. I want to see Lucky."

Slowly they made their way over to the foal's stall. Bella's eyes lit up with excitement the moment she saw him. "Hey there, boy," she crooned and smiled when he let out a loud, happy neigh. She patted his neck when he swung it over the side of the stall, his black beady eyes gazing affectionately at her.

"I've missed you," Bella whispered and he nickered softly, nudging her hand with his muzzle as if saying 'Right back atcha!' She buried her head into his mane and stayed that way for several moments before breaking away and giving him a loving kiss on the nose.

"I'll come back later," she promised and turned around to face Jasper.

He smiled at her and asked, "Ready to go back?"

"Let's sit out for a while," Bella suggested and he grunted softly in agreement.

Once they were out of the barn Jasper lifted her up in his arms and carried her up a hill where they sat down together in the grass and looked down on the ranch. Bella leaned against him and lifted her head to gaze up at the sun that was beginning to set, spreading rays of orange, red and yellow light across the green rolling hills.

"It's beautiful," Bella murmured, awed by the stunning landscape. She had never seen such a magnificent sunset before in all her life. She turned to look at Jasper and saw that he was staring at her.

"What?" she whispered.

"You," Jasper said simply, reaching out to caress her cheek lightly with his hand, "and the way you look right now."

"And how do I look right now?"

It took a moment for Jasper to respond, and when he did Bella's whole body froze and her lips parted in shock.

"You look like you've finally begun to heal."

She stared at him thoughtfully for quite some time before a smile slowly lit up her face. "You know what?"

Returning her gaze to the dying sun she reached out and took Jasper's hand.

"I think you're right."

Sorry for the delay in posting this, I was having some computer issues. Hope you enjoyed this chapter, let me know what you think. :)