A/N - Okay, story fans, here it is, the tenth and final chapter to Midnight or Later. I want to thank everyone who took the time to review, and also those who followed or favorited me or my story. I loved writing this and I'm a little sad it's over, to be truthful. I've enjoyed every minute, and I hope you have too. So without further ado, I present Chapter 10 - hope you like it...

Love, Brneyedgrrl

Chapter 10

I sleep like the dead, and when I wake up, she's not in the bed with me. Like yesterday, I just want to stay asleep. I've found what makes me content, so why leave it? But I have to - I've got work and to be honest, I want to see Bella. I get up and dart into the bathroom for a fast shower, then make my way back to the bedroom to dress for work.

After putting on my dirty jeans from yesterday and my actual uniform shirt, which is a gray cotton thing with 'Jake' written in script on a little oval patch over my left pec, I saunter into the kitchen. It's empty.

Empty. "Bells?" I say, and my voice echoes ominously.

Immediately I panic. Where the fuck did she go? I look out the kitchen window, and sure enough, the truck is gone. What's going on? Maybe she went for groceries - but didn't Quil say she stopped on the way back from Charlie's yesterday to go shopping? My eyes dart around the room, searching for some clue.

And they stop on the note resting on the counter.

My heart falls as I slowly walk to the counter and pick up the scrap of paper. It's written on the remnants of a white lunch bag that I'm sure she pulled out of my truck. There are still grease stains on it. As for the note, I'm afraid to look.

Dear Jacob,

I'm sorry.

I can't read any more. I let the note flutter to the floor as I throw my head back and slap my palms over my face. "Fuck!" I scream. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"

I'm so pissed off I can barely see. She went back to him. She fucking went back. I can't even believe it. I want to puke and punch something at the same time. I want to call her and chew her out. I want to go to Charlie's and demand he go pick her up. I want to drive my truck head-on into a tree. God dammit, I can't believe she went back to him.

I thought I was prepared for this. I'm finding out the hard way that I'm not.

I can't read the rest of the note, I just can't. I can't even bring myself to pick it up off the floor. And I can't eat - I'll barf up anything I put in my stomach now. I slam the kitchen door hard enough to shake the entire house and the window glass quivers as I stomp out to my bike. I kick the thing started and take off like a madman, spewing gravel in my wake.

I'm not going to work, though. Fuck the stupid T-bird, fuck Sam, fuck everything. I roar my anger out over the tops of the trees, and suddenly I know just what I need. I skid the bike to a stop, laying her down in the process, and trip into the woods before I do it involuntarily right there on the side of the road. I don't even bother to undress, ruining my only uniform shirt as my wolf busts through in a puff of fabric scraps, blowing my clothes to smithereens.

The growl that comes from deep in my chest reverberates across the forest and animals cower when they see me. I feel like I'm going to explode - I've never felt such a murderous rage as this one. Those fuckin vamps better pray they don't cross my path now, because I feel like I could single-handedly take out the entire coven.

The only solution I can think of is to run. And as I run, my mind involuntarily goes back to last night.


Why would she make love to me like that and then leave? Why wouldn't she stick around? I could've helped her. I could have taken that broken, fragile girl and fixed her. Made her happy. Didn't we have amazing sex? Didn't we talk and laugh and...and bond last night?

And what was that throwing herself at me bullshit? She couldn't keep her hands off me; she admitted it herself. Why would she leave after that?

Abruptly, I'm aware of another presence in the forest, the scent of another wolf brother. Someone else is phased. Who would be out wolfing at this hour of the day? I try to calm myself for a second and concentrate.


It's Paul.

I can't hear him, because he's Sam's pack, but I know he's there. He doesn't seem to be on patrol – he's just lurking through the woods. What the fuck, man?

I'm sure he can sense that I'm in no mood for him or his shenanigans. And yet he remains there, somewhere nearby, waiting to see if I'll phase back or continue with this tear that I'm currently on.

I force myself to sit down and stop rushing through the trees like something's chasing me. I sit there, concentrating on my breathing, and somehow try to center myself. I can feel a confrontation coming on. Paul and I are combustible under the best of circumstances – any kind of showdown here may cause a fire that can't be extinguished.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see him saunter, naked, into my line of vision. I know he just phased back; I can smell it on him. He looks at me warily, his eyes narrowing. What does this son of a bitch want?

"Jake," he greets me with a nod.

I grunt in response. Not much else I can do as a wolf.

"You okay?" he asks, stopping in front of me. We're eye level as he takes me in, and I can't quite read the look on his face. He waits a second, and when I don't answer in any way, he continues. "I saw you ruined your uniform shirt."

I chuff at him, a challenge, raising my chin and not breaking eye contact. "What of it?" I want to say, and I think he gets the gist.

"Well, Sam won't like it," he says, finally averting his gaze. He kicks a toe into the bracken on the forest floor.

Now I let a tiny growl escape. "Fuck Sam," I'm thinking. Surprisingly, Paul chuckles.

"You know, it's funny," he says. "I can pretty much tell exactly what you're saying, even though you're wolf now. That sounded like a 'fuck Sam.'" He throws a sidelong glance my way.

I want to laugh, because that's funny. Paul thinks so too, because he continues to look at me with a half-smile lifting one side of his face. "Come on, man. Phase back. Talk to me. Even if we are from different packs, we're brothers, Jake."

I stand up, shaking my head and making a move to walk away from him, but I feel his hand on my shoulder as I turn away. "Jake," is all he says. In that one word, I hear – from Paul mind you – care and concern and…something like love. Like the love you have for a brother. It almost brings a tear to the wolf – but wolves don't cry. I turn back to him and one glance reveals the compassion in his face. He wants to help me. Defeated, I shake my massive head and shimmer down, letting the wolf go as I retake my human form.

"What the fuck happened?" he asks, his hand still on my shoulder.

"She went back," I say hoarsely.

He pats my shoulder now, then drops his hand to his side. "You kind of knew that was going to happen, didn't you?"

I look at him, the pain plain in my face, and his breath catches. "Holy fuck," he says, his eyes round and his mouth popping open. "You gotta be shitting me. How long?" Ah, shit. He knows.

"What difference does it make?" I ask rhetorically.

"Does Sam know?"

"Not that I'm aware," I answer, shaking my head.

"How did you hide it all this time?" he asks.

"It didn't happen until after I claimed my Alpha. After that, Sam couldn't read me anymore, and I did a pretty good job of keeping it under wraps. My pack doesn't even know – except Seth and Embry."

"Jesus, dude." The news has completely blown him away. "How the fuck are you dealing with this? I mean, I…" he's at a loss for words. "Shit dude, I'm sorry. We didn't know."

Now I'm consoling him. I reach out and pat his back. "It's okay, Paul. That was by design. I didn't want anyone to know. It was only by mistake that Seth and Embry found out."

"Does she know?"

"Bella? No way," I answer.

"So Shea…?" he asks with a shake of his head.

I huff a humorless laugh. "No fuckin clue, and she's gone now anyway." My eyes flick up to his face. "Don't even ask if you can call her."

He cracks up and so do I. I know that was the next question out of his mouth. We both turn as one and start walking back to where I left my bike.

"You going to work?" he asks me.

"I couldn't concentrate if I had to," I answer.

"I'll tell Sam," he volunteers.

"Keep it short – I don't want the whole story getting out," I say.

"I'll be careful," he promises. We walk silently for a few minutes, then he says, "What are you gonna do?"

I shrug. "I don't know what I can do. I think I've tried everything."

"You fucked her last night, didn't you?" Paul asks, true to the asshole he is. I roll my eyes.

"I made love to her last night, Paul. It's called making love if you actually love the person," I say testily.

"Whatever," he answers, unfazed. "And that didn't do it, huh?"

"Evidently not," I say, still so pissed off I could spit nickels.

We're coming up on the bike now, and I see that Paul's pickup is there, parked behind where my bike is lying on the side of the road. Right next to the pile of scraps that was my clothes. "Fuck," I say. "I don't have anything to wear."

Paul laughs, then pats my shoulder again. "I have a pair of shitty sweats in the back of my truck. You can have 'em," he says.

"Thanks," I say, my tone somewhat despondent. I take the raggedy gray sweat pants and shake the leaves and dirt off them.

"Come on, man. It'll be okay," he says, attempting to placate me.

"How will it be okay, Paul? She's married to someone else. A motherfucking vamp. How the fuck will that ever be okay?"

He looks at me as we pull our pants back on. "I don't know, man. You're right. I don't know how it'll ever be okay. That just...sucks."

We lean against his pickup and he pulls a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, offering me one. I decline with a shake of my head, and he pulls one out of the pack with his mouth and lights it. He looks like the badass he is, leaning up against the truck and smoking like a thug. I have to laugh. I can't believe Paul Lahote is here comforting me.

When he hears the little chuckle, he glances over at me. "What?" he says, his eyes narrowing.

I shake my head at him. "I'm just kind of surprised. You sort of turned out to be human."

He gives me a derisive grin. "Hey, man. We're bros. You know that. In spite of everything, I got your back."


"No problem."

Neither one of us looks up - we're embarrassed by the obvious display of emotion. Paul and I have never been close. There's always been a brawl between us, bubbling under the surface. It only came to blows once, early on, when I had to protect Bella from him, and things haven't been the same since. But if I was being truthful, I'd have to admit that we'd never gotten along, even as kids. It's surprising to me to see him act like a friend to me. I'm grateful he was looking out for me today. He may have prevented me from doing something stupid. Like going chasing after something I'll never be able to get.

As we stand there contemplating the situation, I hear something vibrating close by. It's not Paul's phone, because he hears it too and checks his pockets to reassure himself that it's not a call for him. I look around, thinking it must be my phone, blown from my jeans as I phased earlier. The vibrating stops and I look over at Paul.

"Want me to call your phone so we can find it?" he asks.

"Thanks," I answer, shrugging off the pickup and walking out to the woods where I think I phased. I see the remnants of shredded material that used to be my clothes, so I know I'm close. Paul calls my phone and I can hear it vibrating - and then I see the glow under a couple of brown, crispy leaves. I bend to pick it up.

"Found it!" I call back to him. "Thanks!"

I carry it back to the side of the road where the pickup and my bike are parked, scrolling through the calls to see who was trying to reach me. The number that just called me is one I don't recognize, but it's from the area. I recognize the area code and the prefix. I just don't know who it belongs to.

"Who was it?" Paul asks.

"I don't know," I say. "I don't recognize the number. It's local, though."

"Lemme see," he says, holding out his hand. I give it to him and he looks at it, squinting. "Isn't this Charlie's number?" he asks.

"I don't think so," I answer, confused. "I have Bells' home number in there. It would come up like that if it was Charlie, wouldn't it? Besides, I think I know that number. I don't think this is it."

"No, not his home number. The station," Paul says.

"The station? The police station?" I clarify.

"Yeah...I, uh...happen to know the number offhand for some reason." He grins at me cockily.

"Are you sure?" I ask, though it would be no surprise that Paul would know the number to the police station by heart. He's been there more than a few times.

"Pretty sure. You should call back," Paul advises.

"I hope you're right," I say, touching the phone number to call it back.

It rings a few times until an official sounding recording comes on. "You have reached the Forks Police Department. If this is an emergency, please touch one or hang up and call 9-1-1. If this is a non-emergency issue, please touch two. Thank you." I touch two like I'm told and Charlie picks up.

"Swan," he says tersely.

"Charlie, it's Jacob Black. Did you call me?"

"Yeah, Jake, was that you in the black pickup at my place this morning? It sounded like someone came in for a minute around 5 am, but when I looked out the window, the truck took off."

I sigh. "Wasn't me, Charlie," I tell him. "It must have been Bella."

"Bella?" he asks, surprised. "Why would she be out at that hour?"

"I have no clue," I answer. "She must have left early today. I didn't even know she was gone until I got up around six."

"You mean she didn't come back to your place?" he asks.

"She wasn't there when I left a little bit ago," I say.

"Well, where is she, then?"

"I don't know, Charlie," I say, my voice hopeless.

Charlie's silent for a second. "Uh, what's wrong, Jake?" he asks.

"Nothing," I tell him morosely.

"She left, didn't she? Went back to Cullen?"

"I don't know, Charlie," I say. "I don't know. All I know is she's not there."

"I'm sorry, Jacob. You never should've gotten mixed up in this." He sounds like he just lost his last friend.

"I knew what I was getting myself into," I answer. "Look, Charlie, I gotta go." I can't listen to his sympathy now. It will make me crazy. I have to do something - I don't know what, but I can't just sit here on the phone.

"Okay, Jake. I'll see you around," he answers, and we hang up.

Paul squints at me around his cigarette smoke. "What'd he say?" he asks.

"He wanted to know if I'd been at his place this morning at like five o'clock."

Paul chuckles. "Yeah, like you'd roll outta bed that early," he comments sarcastically. He flicks his cigarette across the road.

"No, but evidently Bella did. It had to be her; Charlie saw my truck at his place."

"She has your truck?" he asked, his eyebrows meeting as he blows out that final puff. "I thought I saw your truck on the rez earlier. I was out on patrol this morning. It had to be after five. It was starting to get light out."

"What?" I say. Now I'm really confused.

"I thought it was you, and you were just running out for milk or something. Looked like it was on its way back to your place."

Okay, now that was weird. Why would she come back after she left? "Are you sure?" I ask Paul.

"Positive. The truck was on the road that goes to your place. I didn't think anything of it until now."

He looks at me as I shake my head. I'm completely thrown by this. I just don't get it. "Didn't she leave a note or something?" he asks.

I look away quickly so he can't see my face, but he catches my expression anyway. "What is it, Black? Tell me."

Without looking at him, I say wretchedly, "Yeah, she left a note."

"Well?" he asks expectantly. "What did she say?"

"All I read was the first line," I admit, feeling stupid.

Paul rolls his eyes and shakes his head. "Genius," he mutters. "What did the first line say?"

"It said, 'Dear Jake, I'm sorry.'"

"Ohhh," he drags the word out like a sigh. "Wow, that sucks. Yeah, I probably would've stopped reading there too." He stands there a second, thinking. "So you just left, huh?"

"Yep," I said tersely.

Paul seems like he wants to get going, and I realize it's almost time for him to go to work. "You gonna be okay?" he asks.

"Eventually," I answer.

"You gonna be okay today if I go to work?" He looks at me earnestly, and once again I'm struck by his actual humanity. He really gives a shit – it's refreshing.

"Yeah, dude. And thanks. I appreciate it."

"Anything I can do to help," he says, swinging the door of his truck open with a glance at me over his shoulder. "Don't do anything dumb." He climbs in the cab, shrugs a shirt on and starts the truck with a rumble. He does a three-point turn so he's facing the other direction and takes off with a wave.

Quiet settles over the woods as I stand there, watching the truck disappear. I don't even have any shoes on to ride my motorcycle, but maybe my boots survived the phase. I jam my hands in the pockets of the sweats and scuff into the forest, kicking at the underbrush in hopes of finding something.

After a few minutes, I see one boot intact. A few feet away is the other one, and while the lug sole is still one piece, parts of the upper are torn and unusable. Still, the laces are intact, and I pull them on and wrap the laces from the damaged boot around the part that's supposed to go over my ankle. It'll do for the short ride home.

Because I've decided to go home. The initial murderous anger is gone, and all that's left is defeat. I knew this was coming – I just didn't know it would devastate me this thoroughly.

I find the little 'Jake' patch from my uniform shirt and shove it in my pocket. At least Sam won't have to replace that. Then I get back on the bike and head toward home.

As I drive, my mind once again goes over the past few days. I thought I did everything right, but maybe I came on too strong, or not strong enough. And then it hits me. I did what I was supposed to do. I got her to go back to the bloodsucker. She went willingly. Maybe this is what will make her happy. And her happiness is what I want – what I need – what I crave.

I'll have to talk to her to find out for sure if this is what she wants, if she's happy with the situation now. But for the time being, I can try to take a small amount of comfort, a small amount of pride, that I was able to help her. After all, that's what I'm here for - to make her happy, to give her what she needs.

I drive back home slowly, looking around the forest with new eyes. Maybe my girl is happy. Would things look different if she is? Will the trees be greener, the sky bluer? Would the water be wetter? It should be, at least to me. My world revolves around her, so why shouldn't everything be better if she's content and happy? Nothing really looks different to me, though. I hope that's not a sign of how things are with her.

I'm home before I know it, and I go back inside reluctantly. The note is in there, and I don't want to see it taunting me. As soon as I walk into the kitchen, my eyes are drawn to the spot on the floor and the note is lying there, just where I left it. I kick it under the fridge so I don't have to see it, but still I know it's there. It bothers me, so I leave the kitchen and go to the bedroom, strip the bed, and put the sheets in the washing machine. I need to get rid of every trace of her or I'll go nuts. Pouring bleach into the dispenser, I set the washer for hot and add detergent. There won't be any of her scent left on these sheets if I can help it. While they're washing, I decide that cleaning the bathroom might be a good idea. I remove her strawberry shampoo, resisting the desire to uncap it and take an enormous whiff. I put it in a grocery bag and drop it in the little trash can on the floor, along with her lotion, her razor, and whatever else she left behind. I drop the towels in the hall – they're headed for the laundry too. With a vengeance, I scrub the tub, the shower stall and the sink. I swish a brush around in the toilet. Even the floor gets a once-over. For good measure, I rip down the shower curtain and put that with the towels. Everything she may have touched is getting washed. Last I get glass cleaner and some paper towels and wipe down the mirror, the faucet and the counter. The bathroom sparkles, and, done with that, I move the sheets through to the dryer and put the towels and stuff in the wash.

The bedroom's next, and I put away anything that's lying out, piling dirty clothes and dishes outside the bedroom door in the hall as is my habit. I carefully wrap the cords around my game controllers and put all the games away in their respective cases, arranging them alphabetically by system. The glass cleaner comes into play again as I wipe down the mirror over my dresser, the screen of the little TV I use for video games, and, using a dust rag, swipe the dust from the top of my chest of drawers and the headboard. The rug needs vacuuming, so I run that sucker in there, and by then the sheets are dry so I can remake the bed. I put all my clothes in one load – I'm a guy, remember? – and get the towels into the dryer. Now it's time for the family room.

This only takes a few minutes. It involves collecting the glasses and plates that I've left on the coffee table, and picking up the stray chip bags and pop-tart wrappers. I fold the one blanket that Shea always used and put it in the corner on a footstool. I run the vacuum and dust, though it doesn't really need it, and move on to the kitchen, the part I'm dreading the most.

I don't know why the kitchen is the worst of it, but it is. The dishes we used last night are still in the drainer. The smell of her lasagna still lingers in the air. I open the door and let the wet, cool air in from outside, raising the windows for good measure. I wash all the stray dishes from my room and the family room, put them away, wipe down all the surfaces, clean the already spotless stove, and fill a bucket with hot water and vinegar to wash the floor.

It's while I'm on my hands and knees, tackling the cracked linoleum which will never be really clean, that I see the corner of that fuckin note waving at me from under the fridge. I should really move the fridge and clean under it, I think, but I don't want to see that note.

Then I figure, why not? I already know what it says – Dear Jake, Thanks for getting me to the point where I can fuck Edward. See ya around. Sincerely, Bella. The rest of the floor is done, so I get up and shove the fridge out of its place, pushing it as far as its cord will let it go so I can get the floor underneath. There's a hard layer of dust under there, and lots of pieces of cereal and macaroni - even a few hair ties, probably mine from when my hair was long. I sweep everything into the dust pan, then dump it in the trash before picking up the note. I set it on the counter and wash the dirty floor under the fridge, let it dry, and push the fridge back where it belongs. The kitchen looks great now – the whole house does. I go back to the laundry, take out the towels and shower curtain, put my clothes in the dryer, and go back in the bathroom to hang the towels and shower curtain. Everything smells fresh and clean – and nothing smells like Bella. Yes, I know I'm stalling. I really don't want to read that note. I don't want to, but I have nothing else to occupy me now – so I will.

I go back to the kitchen and set up a pot of coffee. I'm kind of hungry but nothing sounds good to me, so I'm not planning to eat – but I do need a cup of coffee. I look at the clock and can't believe it's almost one – but I'm a guy and it takes me a long time to clean a house properly, even one as small as mine. As the coffee percolates away, I pick up the note and stare at the reverse side, waiting until the coffee's done to turn it over.

The coffee maker bubbles to a stop and I pour myself a cup, adding creamer and sugar even though I don't usually use either. I'm stalling. I don't want to look. Then, disgusted with myself for being such a pussy, I sit at the table, turn the greasy paper over and start reading, my heart pounding.

Dear Jacob,

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for everything that happened in the past eight months. I thought that this was what I wanted. I wanted it for so long that I didn't even think when he came back. I just left, with no thought to you. I'm so sorry, and I see now after the past two months, the six months before that, and especially after last night that I really can't be happy with him. Plus…well, I've missed you more than I thought I could these past eight months, Jake. Almost as much as I missed Edward at first, only worse in a way because what I missed with Edward was only an idea of love, and what I missed with you was real.

I have a few things to do today, a few loose ends to tie up, but I will try to be back before you get home from work. I hope everything is okay with us. I love you, Jake.


What the actual fuck? Is this some kind of a joke? I sit looking at it, my coffee untouched, staring like I think something will pop off the page and cause everything to make sense. Is she saying that she's leaving him? Is that what this note says? Can't she put the actual words down - 'I'm leaving Edward' – would that be too much to ask? Or am I reading something into it that's not there?

Okay, wait. She says she can't be happy with him. Does that mean she's leaving him? I mean, to me it does. It means she wants to leave. Right? And she says she's missed me. That has to be good for me…isn't it? God dammit, I'm more confused now than I was before I read it!

But it says she's coming back, and I cling to that like my dying breath. So what should I do? I wish I had someone I could talk to about this, but Seth is at school and Embry's gone, and those are the only two who know the entire story - besides Paul, and I'm sure as hell not talking to him about it. I wonder again where she is and what she's doing. Loose ends…what's that mean? Is she okay wherever she is?

I consider calling her, but I dismiss that thought immediately. If I'm reading this note wrong and she's not really coming back, calling her would be a big mistake. And to tell the truth, I don't necessarily want to find out if she's leaving him or not. I'm scared that she'll say she isn't, and I'm getting my hopes up for nothing.

I imagine she's probably at the crypt, telling the douche of a husband her decision, whatever that may be. Involuntarily, my face changes to a tiny grin, envisioning his utter confusion when he sees my truck drive up to his house. I think of the all-consuming devastation he'll feel if she does tell him she's leaving and the smile fades. Yes, I hate that guy. I hate him with a passion that I can't compare to anything else in my life. But again, I know the desolation of losing her, and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. Which is him.

I glance at the clock and see that it's after one, and suddenly I'm ravenously hungry. The coffee cup in front of me is empty, though I don't remember drinking it. I'd go to a drive-thru but Bella has my truck and it's kind of hard to go through a drive-thru on a motorcycle. So I get up and pull open the fridge, looking for some leftovers.

The first thing I see is the lasagna from last night and it makes me a little sad – almost kills my appetite in fact, and that's not easy. But then I see other stuff, like groceries I know I didn't buy and something – is that steak? – marinating, balanced on the top of a carton of eggs. It's a clear casserole dish and it's covered in plastic wrap. I know it wasn't there last night, because I wrapped the lasagna and put it away in the fridge when we were cleaning up dinner. So that means she did this today, before she left, and I see no instructions for dinner – so she must be coming back. I've gotta be right about this, don't I?

I take the lasagna out and start a big square heating in the microwave. Pouring myself a glass of milk, I sit at the table and eat it before it has time to cool. It burns my mouth, but I feel like I haven't eaten in weeks – which is weird, because earlier today I didn't want to eat a thing. After I finish, I quickly clean up and decide to run by work and see if Sam has anything he wants me to do for a few hours.

I ride my bike there, noticing for the first time how nice the weather is. Well, at least it's not raining, but it seems nice outside, like the gray cloud cover is somehow less ominous than usual at this time of year. The air seems almost balmy, though I know the temperature hasn't risen measurably. I just feel good, and I actually start humming as I'm riding along.

When I get to the garage, the place is bustling with activity as usual. I check in at my computer and see that several parts I ordered have come in. I grab the boxes off the shelf in the inventory closet after checking them against the order sheets, and make my way out into the garage proper to continue working on the T-bird.

I'm busily opening boxes and placing things meticulously in order on a floor tarp when Sam comes up behind me and puts one hand on my shoulder. "You okay, Jake?" he asks, his voice dripping concern.

Immediately I'm on the alert. Why is Sam so worried about me? I'm instantly suspicious – did Paul say something? He told me he wouldn't.

"Fine, Sam, why?" I ask with studied nonchalance.

"I was told you were having a bad time recently," Sam says, neatly evading the question.

"I'm okay," I say, watching him warily. "I was feeling a little under the weather today, but I'm good now."

"You sure?" he asks.

"Yeah." I'm decisive as I go on. "Now if you don't mind, I have some things I'd like to get done before I knock off. Is it okay if I stay until around five?" I'm not being testy, just asking in case he wants me to finish out my sick day.

"That's fine by me, as long as you're okay," Sam answers, overly considerate.

"I'm fine." Now I know Paul must have said something. Why would he tell Sam, of all people? He's the Alpha of the other pack – my problem is not his business. I glance over at Paul, but he has his head buried under the hood of a black Trans-Am and he stays hidden. I turn back to the T-bird, but I see Paul peek around the hood from the side view mirror on the car. He looks guilty all right.

I decide to leave it alone, though. No sense in starting a confrontation – and besides, I don't want to pick a fight with Paul. I feel a kind of fellowship with him now, like our bad blood from before is gone. I don't want to fuck that up.

So what if Paul told Sam about me imprinting on Bella? It isn't the end of the world. Oh, wait. Did I forget to mention that? Yeah, that's what Paul and I were talking about this morning when he looked at me all surprised. It's what Seth and I were talking about Sunday afternoon, when I told him I couldn't help taking care of Bella and he told me he knew I couldn't. We were referring to the imprint.

It happened the day we went to the quarry. That was the best day I've ever had for a lot of reasons – and that's why I still remember it so fondly. Though the morning of that day isn't one I'd care to repeat, the rest of the day was awesome.

It had started out like any other day did before I claimed my Alpha. Sam had me and Embry on patrol, and we were looking for the redheaded female who had been after Bella. We'd spotted her and told Sam we could corner her, but he wanted us to wait. Because of his bad decision, the redhead got away. This pissed me off no end, and Embry and I went to confront Sam.

It doesn't matter now what was said or why – just that there were nasty words exchanged, and Sam threw down the gauntlet and told me to either follow his orders or leave the pack. I know he didn't think I'd do it, but because I could, I went ahead and claimed my Alpha and Embry and I took off on our own. What we didn't know at the time was that Seth had phased right at the end of the confrontation with Sam, and he'd heard it all. He'd decided right away that he wanted to be a member of my pack, and he'd been coming to tell me while I was getting away from Sam and planning my pack with Embry. The first thing I wanted to do, though, was see if Bella was okay, what with that vamp loose in the area, and Embry and I went to find her as wolves. I remember Seth phasing in, but at the time I didn't know about the separate pack minds, so I thought nothing of it. And when I saw Bells…well, the imprint just happened, and I suddenly saw everything in a different light. It was as if my whole reason for being switched in that instant. Every second since then has been completely consumed with her. She didn't know, but Embry was there and since we were connected by the pack mind, he knew exactly what had happened. We talked about it later, and he said it was like I was lit up from inside.

You have to understand that Bella and I were essentially dating at the time, that the bloodsucker was not even on my radar, and that there was a very real feeling between the two of us that our love could last forever. It was as natural as eating when you're hungry – I wanted her and she wanted me and we loved each other. Nothing had changed yet to make us think that our love was threatened. To our friends and parents, we were just kids dealing with our first puppy-love, but we knew…even then…that it was real.

I'll never forget it, I'll tell you that. I realized right away that with her being my imprint, she could be used as a weapon against me, so I swore Embry and Seth to secrecy. I also vowed not to tell her if I could help it, and so far I haven't. I don't know if it would've made a difference eight months ago, when Cullen returned, if she knew about the imprint – but wouldn't that be forcing her hand anyway? I want her to want me for me, not because she feels obligated. But that does explain why I wanted to keep it under wraps. At the time I thought Sam and I were enemies, not understanding that Sam didn't want that in any way.

I took her to the quarry that very afternoon, and we spent the whole day together and I was on top of the world. It was the summer of my senior year in high school, I'd just graduated, and my life spread out in front of me like a golden carpet – I'd be the Alpha, I'd have the girl I loved at my side, and nothing would be able to conquer me. That's how I went through the entire charmed summer – living like a king, happy and content. And then Cullen came back and ruined my life, and I'd been depressed ever since – or at least until last night, when I thought I got my girl back. But even now, my outlook has changed. Something is working on me from the outside, something I can't explain. Something is making me feel friendly toward Paul, something is causing me to enjoy the weather, something is keeping me as hungry as I used to be when I was the Alpha with my imprint at my side. What is it?

I push the thoughts away. I can't think about it now, so I concentrate on the car and do my work until 4:45 rolls around. Then I busy myself with leaving everything in order so tomorrow I can pick up where I left off. As usual, this takes me about ten minutes, leaving me five minutes to check my emails one last time before I go. I do it slowly, reluctant now to leave. What if I'm wrong and she's not there? Or worse, what if she is and it's only to tell me goodbye? I'll never recover from that.

So it's with trepidation that I start my bike and ride home. I take it slow, wanting to savor the feeling I have now, the one where I think she's coming back to stay. I round the bend to my place and get my first clue that things might actually go my way for a change: my truck is parked in front of my place. I hope with everything in me that she didn't just drop it off and leave.

But I can hear her in the kitchen, bustling around with dinner, humming as she does. I smell the steak starting to char, asparagus and potatoes cooking, and something chocolate that she might have made for dessert. Oh, God, if you're there, please. Please keep her here, keep her happy, and keep her with me where she belongs.

I walk the bike to the shed and put her away, then I casually mosey into the house. I don't want her to think I'm hanging too much hope on this, but I'm just about busting when I get to the kitchen and she turns to me. In an instant, I'm almost knocked down again with the force of her flinging herself into my arms.

"Jake," she gasps. "It seems like it's been forever!"

I hold her close, my huge hand pressing her head to my shoulder, and take in the scent of her. I bury my face in her hair and inhale. Ahhh yes, she's here. She's in my arms. We're together again, where we belong. The only question is, how long will it last?

"Bells?" I say quietly, confusion plain in my tone.

"Oh, I missed you today," she breathes, and my body, which I didn't even realize I was holding so tensely, relaxes.

"Bella, baby, where you been?"

She sighs, collapsing into my arms further. "Well, I've been having the day from hell," she answers cheerfully, with a little laugh in her voice. "But I'm here now, so it's all good." She pulls away and looks up into my eyes. I can see in the lines of her face that she's had a rough go of it today. "Let go, baby, the steaks need to be turned."

My arms part involuntarily as I contemplate her words. Baby. She hasn't called me that in…well, in eight months. Am I her baby again?

"Why was it the day from hell?" I ask quietly, not daring to hope.

She expertly flips the sizzling steak over on the stovetop grill and turns to me with a grimace. She points with the tongs to the table. I glance over and see an official-looking manila envelope. "Take a look," she says ruefully.

I step slowly to the table and pick up the envelope, folding back the flap and sliding out the sheaf of paper inside. The top sheet starts like this:




Isabella Marie Swan Cullen


Edward Masen Cullen




I stand staring at it like a first grader who can't understand the big words, but I know what this is. It's a declaration of separation, the first step in getting a divorce in Washington State. It has the stamp of a notary public on the bottom, all signed and official looking. I flip through to the end and see that it's not only signed by Bella, but it also has Edward's signature on it. It's a decree of separation. They're separated. Legally.

I narrow my eyes at her, shaking my head. "Bells?" I ask.

She glances at me over her shoulder and shrugs. "It's time, Jake," she says.

"You're leaving him?" I clarify.

"We're getting divorced," she admits. Her voice is sad as she continues. "Another teen marriage statistic. It just…it's not working out. Neither one of us is happy. Honestly, we talked it over for a long time, Jake, and even Edward admits that it can't work like this. If he changed me, that would be one thing. But he won't and I don't want him to anyway. The timing is bad. I can't pretend that I'm dead, leave all my friends and family forever." She looks up at me, her heart in her eyes. "I can't leave you. That's the main problem right there. I can't leave you Jake. I love you too much."

Is she really saying this? God damn, today has been a freakin roller coaster. It started out with her being gone, and now look at how it's ending. If this is what I think it is, I'm about ready to jump for joy.

She's staring at me with this little grin on her face. "Why do you seem so surprised? Didn't you get my note?"

I look at her silently for a long minute. "Your note," I say. "Your note confused me."

"Why?" she asks, her beautiful face befuddled. "I thought I was pretty clear."

"Well, I guess if I'd read the whole note from the get-go, instead of just the first line, I might have understood. As it was, I was under a misapprehension until about one o'clock this afternoon."

"What?" she gasps. She turns and picks the note up, which I now see is lying on the counter, carefully folded up. I see her lips move as she reads the opening line. She groans as her head falls back, her eyes closed. "All you read was the 'I'm sorry' part?" she asks, pain plain in her face.

I nod. "Yeah. I thought that was it and we were over. Again."

"After last night?" she questions, her voice going all high and squeaky.

I stare at her silently for a second, and then I say, "What the fuck am I supposed to think, Bells? You were gone. There was a note. You're married. And, um…let's just say, you haven't been the most stable person in town ever since you left me for him." I'm not mad, but I want her to know at least part of what she's put me through – today, the last few weeks – the last eight months.

She looks sad, but I've been sad for…well, it seems like forever. She needs to know that her actions have consequences, imprint or not. "I don't want you to be upset about this, Bells, but you gotta know that this has been killing me. And not just today either, or the last few days. Ever since you left. It's been like a slow knife twisting into my chest. I don't know how much longer I could've taken it."

Her eyes are wet when she looks back up at me. "I thought you and Shea…"

"Shea and I had a physical relationship and nothing more," I say shortly, looking down at the floor. I raise my eyes to hers. "And you know it."

She looks heartbroken, and I feel like I've gotten my point across. "I can't tell you how sorry I am, Jake," she says with a catch in her voice. "I don't even know how to make it up to you."

I've given her enough shit for now. In a jovial voice I say, "You can start by putting those steaks on a plate. I'm starving." The wolf is back and hungrier than ever.

She tosses me a sad smile and sets to work getting dinner on the table. I scarf it down so fast I barely taste it. "So Bells," I say around a maw-ful of mouthwatering meat. "What time did you leave here today? I think that's what scared me the most; that you weren't here when I woke up."

She makes a face. "I'm sorry, Jake, I thought you'd at least read the whole note," she says ruefully. "I woke up early, like really early. Four o'clock or something. My internal clock is completely screwed up from living with people who never sleep." I sneer at her classifying them as 'people.' She ignores me and continues. "And I already knew what my decision was going to be, after…after everything." She looks up at me with a sigh. "And it isn't just sex, either, Jacob. It's everything about you. I can't be without you. I was without Edward for eleven months – and I survived because of you. Those eight months without you were torture. That's why nothing ever worked with Edward. I couldn't. I couldn't do anything with him – it felt like I was cheating on you, and it seemed like such a betrayal…" Her voice falters, catches on the words. She's getting teary again. As her imprint, I know what she needs. She needs to make amends somehow or she's gonna have a hard time getting past this. I know what to do. It might be hard for me, a little bit against my nature – though not too much – but it has to be done. And it should only take one session. I don't know how I'm so clear on this, but I am. It's some Alpha-imprint shit that I just know instinctively. I feel myself getting hard just thinking about it. Maybe it's not as against my nature as I think.

"Okay, babe, okay. I get it. So you left at four am?"

She struggles to recover. "No, I got up and I wrote you the note," she says after a second. "Then I got dressed really quiet and I took your truck and went to Charlie's to pick up a few things and to leave him a note."

Leave him a note? He didn't mention any note. "I talked to your dad today, Bells. He didn't say anything about a note."

She lets out a little, "Tsk!" and rolls her eyes to the ceiling. "God! Can't anyone do anything they're supposed to? I leave notes and no one reads them!"

"Where did you leave it?" I ask, mystified. How could Charlie miss a note, especially when he thought someone had been in the house?

"In the fridge," she answers. "He always goes in the fridge before work! To get his lunch. When I lived there, I always left his notes in the fridge."

I sit for a second, thinking. "Uh, Bells, he doesn't really have the same routines anymore that he had when you were there. He probably goes to Lila's for lunch. I went there with him Saturday, and they act like he owns the place when he walks in there. I have a feeling he's there for a lot of his meals now."

"Oh." She seems subdued, and a little sad, so to take her mind off it, I try to get her back on track.

"And after you went to Charlie's, did you come back to the rez? Paul said he thought he saw you after five driving toward my place."

She thinks. "Yeah, that had to be around quarter to six. After I went in Charlie's fridge, I decided to set a steak marinating for our dinner." She looks up at me with this really adorable shy expression. Then her face changes, and she narrows her eyes at me. "Hey, didn't you see the steak marinating? Wasn't that a clue for you that I was coming back?"

I snort and shake my head. "Bella, you weren't here. I read the note, or at least the first part, and it said, 'I'm sorry' so I pretty much thought that was it. And you think I went right to the refrigerator and made myself a big breakfast after that? No, hon. I phased. Almost involuntarily. And I ran through the forest like I was being chased by Satan himself." I say it nice, but the words are harsh and I can't help that. It's what happened.

She blinks rapidly and I realize she might cry. I want to avoid that - I hate when girls cry and especially when Bella cries - so I ask her, "And then what? You went to see the leech?"

Again she struggles a little to recover. "Yeah," she says with a little sniffle. "Yeah, I went to see Edward and tell him my decision."

"How'd he take it?" I ask, surprising myself that I sort of care.

She folds her lips in as she looks at the table and sighs. Then she looks up at me and answers, "I guess okay. I mean, he was upset, but I think he'll recover. He always said from the beginning that I shouldn't be with him. That it was too dangerous, that it wasn't good for me. I was the stubborn one."

"You both had your moments," I say derisively. "And then it was off to the Clallam County Courthouse?"

"Yeah, we both went. That was kind of hard. The last time we were there was to get our marriage license. But...this had to be done. So it was sort of bittersweet. He helped me a lot. I was upset, but he kept telling me it was for the best, that we'd both be okay, you know. All that crap people say."

I'm surprised the vamp found it in his cold, dead heart to comfort her, but then again, he did always love her. He just had a fucked up way of showing it. Him and his ice.

I finish up the last of Bella's steak, since she only ate part of hers, and inhale the rest of the asparagus. Dinner was great. Shea always made these gourmet meals, but I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I don't need fancy. She gets up to clear the dishes and I don't stop her. She needs to do this so she can feel like she's making up to me for the shitty way she thinks she's treated me these past eight months. I let it go.

She dumps the dishes in the sink and starts the hot water after squirting in a ribbon of dishwashing liquid. She fills the basin and leaves it to soak, then opens the fridge, extracting a pie plate topped with a mountain of white.

"Dessert is French silk pie," she says, setting it down in front of me.

"Oh, yeah," I groan. "That's what I'm talkin' about." She hands me a knife and a pie wedge spatula, and I proceed to cut nearly a quarter of the pie for myself. Then I cut her a slice, slide it over to her, and dig in.

The chocolate and whipped cream mingle together on my tongue and even though I've eaten my fill at dinner, my mouth waters with the flavors. It's incredible, light and sweet. She's covered it with chocolate curls and drizzles of sauce. Before I know it, I'm eating the final bite of the giant piece. She watches me with a bemused grin, and I'm glad when I see her smile again.

"You like?" she asks.

"I like," I confirm.

She stands up and picks up the pie, leaning over to give me a light kiss flavored with chocolate. She carries the pie and the plates over to the sink, dropping the plates in. She puts the pie back in the fridge and I stand up and walk over to the sink to help her. Yeah, I know what I said but I can't just sit there like a jackass while she cleans. I help her with the dishes and we move into the family room.

"So when did you find the time to clean up the whole house?" she asks, settling herself on the sofa and scooting over so I'll sit next to her.

"Well, after I lost it this morning and then ran into Paul, who believe it or not helped to calm me down, I came home and I couldn't just sit. So I cleaned." I don't tell her that it started because I wanted to get her scent off of everything that belongs to me.

"But you went to work, right? I mean, you're all greasy."

I look down at my clothes, which do have some grease smears, but she reaches out and swipes a finger across the hollow at the base of my throat. She pulls her finger away and shows me the gritty smear of grease she's gotten off my neck.

The look in her eyes smolders as she holds the finger out for me to see, and I narrow my gaze as I feel my cock start to harden. It's just the look she gives me – that's all it takes. I shift on the couch until I'm pretty sure that she won't see any trace of a boner, and shake off the feeling I'm getting from her. I'm the Alpha, dammit. I'll decide when it's time to start that.

I grab her hand nonchalantly as if that whole sexy look didn't happen, and answer her question. "Yeah, but I didn't go in till this afternoon. I was pretty fucked up this morning."

The suggestive expression leaves her face and immediately her demeanor changes to one of regret. "I'm so sorry, baby," she whispers, and I can tell she's upset by how badly I took what I thought was her goodbye note. Okay, now it's time.

I lean in and push the thick curtain of hair away from her ear with the back of my hand. I put my lips right next to it, so she'll feel my warm breath fan over her neck as I say, "Well, I'm prepared to let you make it up to me, honey."

Her eyes were closed, but they snap open at my words and look at me, all wide and – is that fear I see? "What?" she gulps.

"You heard me," I continue in a low voice. "You can make it up to me."

Yep, it's fear. It's mixed with excitement, but it's definitely fear. Good. There ought to be a little more fear of me in her – well, maybe not fear exactly, more like respect. If she'd respected me back when we first got together, maybe she would have stayed with me, where she belongs.

There's a little quiver in her voice as she asks, "What would that entail?"

I look right into her wide brown eyes. "Come into my room and find out," I say quietly, my voice pitched low. I stand up and without looking back, amble over to my room. She gets right up and follows me without any further invitation. Before I cross the threshold though, I turn to her. "Coming in here means you're agreeing to whatever I lay down tonight, Bells. Okay?"

She nods, looking up at me from under her lashes. "Okay," she acquiesces.

Now, don't get me wrong. This is all for her. She needs it and as her imprint, my ultimate goal in life is to give her what she needs. Yeah, I'll enjoy it – but probably not as much as I could, if I were that kind of guy. She won't feel right until she thinks she's made the last eight months up to me. So I have to let her. See? See how selfless I am?

Well, anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I lead her into the bedroom by the hand and turn immediately, gripping her waist. I bend my neck so I can kiss her properly, catching her soft pink lips between mine and pressing into them roughly. She gives a tiny gasp of surprise; we've never once had anything remotely like rough sex, and though I have no intention of doing that now, the kiss is much rougher than I've ever been with her. I acknowledge the gasp with a little flick of my tongue across her bottom lip, soothing the rough with a little tender, and I can feel her relax.

She softens into me and I gently start pulling the hem of her top up. Underneath, her smooth, warm skin feels like velvet and I drag my fingers across it as I move the shirt higher and higher. I stop the kiss for a second as I pull her top off over her head and toss it behind me carelessly. Then I'm right back on her mouth, hungrily kissing her as her bare arms twine around my neck.

Ahhh, fuck, it feels so good to have her here. It's better than last night, because it feels permanent. Is it true? Is it real? I have to believe it is – finally she's back where she is supposed to be, safe and warm and vitally alive, her heart pounding with excitement as she eagerly buries her fists in my hair. It feels like she wants me as much as I want her, and it hasn't felt like that in a long time.

"Bella," I whisper. "You need to lie on the bed." My voice is gravelly and harsh, despite the soft tone, and she looks at me for a second with trepidation as I step back, untangling her arms from around my neck.

"You're not going to…?"

I interrupt her. "Just get on the bed," I say.

She opens her mouth to protest, but I stop her, putting my hand on the back of her neck and pulling her face close to mine. "You agreed," I growl, "to follow commands tonight. Now." I stop and narrow my eyes as I look into hers, wide and snapping with excitement. "Lie down on the bed."

Finally obedient, she backs toward the bed and sits, then lies down as she's been told.

"Good," I say quietly, slowly. "Now take off the rest of your clothes."

"Aren't you taking off your clothes?" she asks, breathless.

I stand cockily at the end of the bed, looking down at her with my arms folded over my chest. "Don't question me," I say without inflection. "Just do as I tell you."

She blinks, then swallows nervously without taking her eyes off mine. Her hands reach behind her to undo her bra, and she slides it off her arms. I hold her gaze as she moves to unbutton her jeans. She slips them off in one smooth move and she's lying there on my bed, naked and hungry and all mine.

Still I don't break eye contact. "Much better," I say, and her face colors with pleasure at my compliment. I move toward her slowly, stalking her like prey. I purposely don't look at her body, don't even waver in my long, fixed stare at her face. The Alpha starts to rear his triumphant head, and for once I let him come. I haven't ever let my wolf through during sex, though I've felt him trying nearly every time I'm getting busy, no matter who it's with. But this time it's strong, and I wonder if it's because I'm with the person I'm supposed to be with. It's Bella, it's always been Bella, and my wolf knows it.

My voice takes on the double timbre of the Alpha as I say, "Now. Let's get a few things straight." I savor the mixture of agitation and excitement that passes over her face as I stand there at the foot of the bed, looming over her fully clothed as she lies bare on the blanket before me. The position of power is almost intoxicating. But again, it's what she needs. This will help her realize that she's forgiven, but also that this behavior won't be tolerated by me again. "I only want to say this once, so listen carefully."

She's like a deer in the headlights as I narrow my eyes, watching her every breath. I allow my gaze to wander now as she stares at me. I look over her naked body and a small, arrogant grin lifts one corner of my mouth. "This is where you belong, Bella. Here, in front of me, offering yourself. Do you understand?"

She gulps and nods quickly. "Open your legs for me," I say, my voice quiet and rough. She moves them apart slightly and I growl deep in my chest. "Wider," I order, and she jumps to comply, moving them wide. I allow the cocky grin to return.

"That's better," I say, my voice soothing now. She still looks scared, but that's by design. She needs to realize that this is what's best for her. It might all be a mind game to me, but for her…it's redemption.

"Now take your right hand and feel yourself, Bella." I can see and smell her arousal from where I stand, and it's electric. I want her to know exactly how turned on she is. How I can make her physically ready for me in mere minutes, and how that will translate to emotional readiness too. Because it's true – we really do belong together. She knows it somewhere in her confused brain. I just have to pull it out and show her.

She doesn't like this test, I can tell by the look on her face. "You don't want to do that, do you?" I ask with no inflection. She shakes her head, an expression of relief overtaking her features. She thinks she's off the hook. But I continue. "You need to realize that it's not up to you, Bella. You're going to do it because I said to."

Her eyes change then, take on an almost irresistible look of submission. She nods nearly imperceptibly, averts her gaze, and moves her hand slowly to her center. Her first finger dips in, feeling the slippery wetness there. A gasp escapes her mouth and her eyes shoot back up to mine. I smile my cocksure grin, finally moving on to the bed. I straddle her on my knees and bend down, putting my lips to her ear. I whisper and draw the words out, hissing the sentences as my voice drips with arousal. "You see, baby? That's what I do to you. I haven't even touched you. I did it with words." I'm still not touching her, but I let my lips graze her ear before I kneel back up.

The double timbre of the Alpha emerges again. "Now, let's get those rules out of the way," I rumble. "First things first. You will never..." Here I pause and stare her down until she's literally a quivering mess. "...ever leave me again, do you understand me?"

"Yes, Jake," she squeaks instantly.

I cock one eyebrow at her. "I mean that with every fiber of my being, Bella. Do not do it again."

"I swear, Jacob. I promise," she breathes. Her face is a picture of acquiescence.

"Good," I say, my voice short and clipped. I continue, folding my arms over my chest again. Like I'm the king. Because I am. "You're free to talk to and see whoever you want, including members of the coven. I'm not your keeper. But remember, Bella, where your loyalties lie. Because if something happens to damage that loyalty, I guarantee - you won't forget this rule again for a long time." I can see in her expression that I'm implying something that scares her, and I like that she's getting a healthy respect for me and for this relationship. I can't have my imprint off gallivanting with the local vamp population. It's not appropriate, nor is it right. She needs to realize that, and to choose it herself knowing there will be consequences if she chooses badly. I don't know what I'd do about it frankly, but just the implied threat is all I need right now. If she crosses that bridge, I'll deal with it then.

I can feel that I'm getting aroused just giving her the rules. Truthfully, I've been working on a boner ever since were sitting out there in the kitchen, but now it's getting noticeable. That's okay, I want her to notice. I want her to see how hot she makes me and how turned on I'm getting just telling her how it's going to be from now on. When I get through with her, she won't remember that fuckin leech's name.

I get off the bed and continue talking to her in the Alpha voice, because I like what it's doing to her psyche. "I have something to tell you, Bella," I say as I reach behind my neck and pull my shirt off over my head, tossing it aside. "And this is probably the most important thing I'll ever tell you. I don't think I need to remind you to listen close." My hands move to my fly, where I unbutton and unzip, then quickly drop my jeans and boxers and step out of them. I stand there, naked as the day I was born, my cock proudly at attention. Her eyes are locked on the purple-headed hooligan as it pulses out my heartbeat. I kneel on the bed again, straddling her. I inch up her body on my knees so they're on either side of her ribcage. Her eyes continue to watch my dick throb. It's right over her face now; she can't miss it.

I let her stare at it as I look down at her. "You don't know this, baby, but something happened that day we went to the quarry. Something changed, and I think it's time you knew."

She drags her eyes away from my rock-hard member and flicks them up to me. "What happened?" she asks reverently.

I raise an eyebrow and look down at her over my crossed arms. I'm really starting to like this position - makes me feel powerful and I like powerful. "I imprinted on you, Bella."

First her eyebrows meet, then her eyes grow as she digests the meaning of my words. "What?" she breathes.

I ignore her question. "So you can see why these rules are important, and why you have to comply with them for me. You're my imprint, and I'm the Alpha. So there's not really much of a question of 'if.' It's been taken out of our hands. It's our destiny."

She makes the perfect response, the one I'd have written for her if that was my thing. "I'd choose you anyway, Jake. Imprint or no imprint. You're my Alpha. Forever. I couldn't change it now if I had to."

Ah, yes. Now that's what I want to hear. And that's enough for me, but I don't think it's enough for her. So I smirk at her and say, "Show me."

She looks confused for a second, but she recovers well and I see a look of determination cross her face. I hope that expression means she's determined to convince me, and sure enough, she lifts her head off the pillow and extends her wet little tongue, licking the drop of pre-cum off the end of my cock. I don't make a noise or a move, I just watch her like this is owed me, like it's my due. She's still looking up at my face, but then her eyes drop to my chest and I see them trace my body all the way to my crotch. She moans as she takes as much of me into her mouth as she can.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, let me enlighten you - this is bliss. Her mouth is warm and wet and silky, and she sucks and licks like an expert, coiling her tongue around me like a snake. Bella is good at this; I knew this from before, but I guess I'd been distracted by Shea's less-than-adept abilities. Despite my resolve not to show any emotion, my head falls back and I sigh as I push further into her mouth.

She knows what to do from performing countless numbers of blow jobs on me last summer. Her neck relaxes and I feel the head of my dick slide past that little ridge at the back of her mouth and skim down her throat. And then she swallows, working the end of me like a pro.


I know she can't really breathe with my huge cock blocking her airway like that, so I reluctantly pull back and she takes a big breath and goes in again like she's diving for treasure. This time after she gets me lodged in her throat she starts this little moan, and the humming sensation vibrates around my sensitive head, driving me wild. She moves her head up and down, giving it all she's worth, trying to show me that I can trust her not to betray me again. The combination of her lying beneath me like this and her mouth on my cock takes its toll, and before I can even think, I know I'm just about to blow. So I reach down and take her pretty face in my hands.

"Not yet, baby," I say calmly, as if I'm depriving her of some awesome reward. "I know you want this, but it's not time yet." In reality, I need a second or I will definitely be ending the night early. This is something I want to draw out.

She lets out a little whimper as I reluctantly draw my shaft out of her warm, soft mouth. Yes, she wants to keep it up. I swear, I fall deeper in love with her with every passing second. Right now, though, I don't want to show anything that might be construed as weakness. So I just get back up off the bed, leaving her there. She makes a move to reach for me, but I stop her with a look.

"Stay on the bed, baby," I say, my tone harsh despite the endearment, "until I tell you otherwise."

She settles back to the mattress slowly and reluctantly, which I like. I like that she doesn't want to stop sucking me off – it's like a balm to my bruised ego. It's addictive. I want more. "Okay, so that's the reason for the first few rules," I say. "You're an imprint now, along with all that implies. You understand that?"

She continues to stare at me, and her expression is completely confused. She doesn't know what it implies. How could she?

I know she doesn't know the ins and outs of imprinting. But after going through this living hell for eight solid months, I do. I'm well acquainted with the workings of the phenomenon. The imprints don't know what being an imprint means until we tell them. From the pack mind I know how it usually goes; the wolf sits down with his imprint and explains things to her in a calm, soothing manner. But I'm done with calm and soothing. I've done that, and I got shit on in return. Maybe it's because I'm Alpha. Yeah, Sam has an imprint, but he wasn't an Alpha when it happened. I mean, you can't be an Alpha if there's no pack. So maybe it's an Alpha compunction, this thing I'm about to do. All I know is as her imprint, I'm as sure about this as I'm sure the sky is blue. This is what she needs in order to function properly as my imprintee.

I continue to kneel naked over her, letting her watch my cock throb right before her eyes. I can smell that she's getting more turned on by the minute, and I like that too. But right now is about laying down the law, and I'm all about rules as I glare down at her from my lofty position. I put just a tiny bit of Alpha in my voice as I say, "I can see you don't really get it, so I'll tell you. Being an imprint is a gift, but it's also an obligation. It means that you're tied to me and it's irreversible. You need to know that the things you've been doing have been slowly killing me inside. It's complete torture. It's as if someone is slowly peeling my skin off my body – that's the only thing I can compare it to."

She looks away from my gaze, her eyes filling with tears. I know this hurts her, but she needs to know, so I don't soften it as I continue. "It's excruciating agony, Bella, and you've been responsible for it. I'm aware that you didn't know, so I don't hold it against you." Now I get close to her and, with my face just as menacing as I can make it, I growl softly, "But you know now. And that means you can't ever leave me, and you have to remember that I…literally…can't…do anything about how I feel." I stay where I am and stare down at her, watching the quiet tears course down her face. She looks more irresistible now than she ever has. She takes a deep breath and sobs out a sigh that ends in a little whimper.

I'm poised over her with one hand on each side of her head, holding myself up, but I shift all my weight to one arm and touch her face tenderly, wiping the tears away with my fingers. She turns her head and presses her lips to my hand like it's a sacred relic. "I'm so sorry, Jacob," she whispers.

I finally lie down next to her, putting my arms around her and pulling her toward me. She breathes a sigh of relief and melts into me, her arms still at her sides. "God, I love you so much, I can't stand it," she says, a catch in her voice. "Can you ever forgive me, Jake?"

"You're forgiven, baby. You're going to have to build up that trust again, but for now you're forgiven. Okay?"

She looks at me, her eyes liquid and her lips swollen and wet. She's ravishing. "If it takes the rest of my life, I promise, Jacob, I'll earn your trust again and I'll never, ever leave. Ever."

"Okay," I say simply, and my mouth closes over hers.

In the kiss I can feel her submission, her acquiescence. It's overwhelming. I wouldn't have ever expected Bella Swan to bend to anyone, last of all me – since she never showed any signs of it with her parasite.

I wonder how far she'll go?

This thought catches me by surprise, and I take a second to contemplate it. Do I want Bella to submit to me? Is that what this is about? But it isn't, because the Alpha drives me to do it, so it must serve some purpose. Is there a little-known Alpha drive that's making me do this, or is this all me?

Maybe it's a little of both. Maybe to soothe my ego, I need her to capitulate to me. Maybe it's also a pack thing, to keep her safe and to keep the pack in line. After all, Bella isn't known for making great decisions when it comes to her safety, and I can't have the pack see me being ordered around by my imprint. It could cause a breakdown of epic proportions.

The entire thought process flies through my mind in mere seconds, and I remember that I've never let the Alpha out to play in the bedroom – and maybe it's time. Carefully, I let through just a little of the wolf. Not enough to turn me, just enough to make her pay attention.

Like it's an instinct, I disentangle myself from her body and kneel back up in front of her. Something happens then, a feeling takes over, and I hear myself say to her, "I need for you to do what you're told, baby. Think you can do that for me?"

She nods, her eyes big and unblinking. "No matter what," I say, not an ounce of question in my voice. She nods again. "You trust me," I say without inflection. And once more, she nods.

Taking a breath, I reach down next to my knees and grab each of her hands in mine, then pull them over her head so her arms are stretched straight. I let go, and her hands stay where I've put them. Her breathing increases, and I see her chest rising and falling rapidly, her breasts pulled high with the position. She looks absolutely luscious. I can see she's nervous and I don't want that, so I softly tell her, "I would never, ever physically harm you, Bella, and I'm not here to cause pain. I just want you to know who's in charge here." She continues to stare at me warily, but she makes no gesture to leave or even to move. She stays still, her hands over her head obediently, waiting.

"That's my girl," I say approvingly, and she continues to lie there, ready. "Leave your hands there," I tell her. "Can you do that for me?"

"Yes," she whispers, and with that word the scent of her arousal increases exponentially. Hell yeah, baby, I think. A little grin crosses my face as I take my cock in my fist and begin stroking. I can't help it – I'm so turned on I need something.

I realize as I'm caressing myself that this, too, is a show of dominance. I'm right in front of her face, and I know she's wondering what's next. I mean, the logical conclusion is to let it go – but I wouldn't do that to her. It would be disrespectful, and I couldn't ever be that way with my Bella.

Still, it doesn't hurt her to think that. And I can tell she likes the view. I'm pulling on that troublemaker that resides in my shorts like there's no tomorrow, and she watches every stroke. Her face tells me it's her new favorite show.

My head falls back in ecstasy, but I'm careful not to blow. I ease it down and just feel the sensation, her soft skin between my bare thighs, my hand pumping away, and her eyes on me the entire time. It's fuckin heaven, if you want to know the truth. But I'm getting close, and I don't want to finish for obvious reasons, so I slow it way, way down and look down at her again.

The look in her eyes almost makes me jizz right then, and I suck a big breath of air in through my teeth and still my hand on my cock. It's too much. I concentrate on holding it in, quelling the inevitable. And it works; I'm able to hold it off. But now it's time to involve her somehow. I look at her, my eyes narrowing. What to do that will be both pleasurable to her and will show her my dominance? Hmm.

One side of my mouth lifts in an arrogant grin as I think of something I think will work. I bend down to her, bringing my face close to hers. Her eyes are riveted to me. I kiss her roughly, and she eagerly returns it. Then I pull back. "You stay just like that, baby," I whisper harshly. "Keep those hands where they are." She nods, her breath quickening.

I lay next to her and continue to kiss her. She's sweet and delicious, letting me control the kiss, letting me control everything – and it's enough to make me high, it's intoxicating. I'm drunk with it. My hand slides down her velvety skin, taking a second to stop and give a nice tight squeeze to her breast on my way past. Only my hand doesn't want to continue down her belly, and I linger there a minute, rubbing across her nipple with my thumb. It bunches up, standing proud, and I can't resist a little pinch. She gasps with pleasure, sighing out a tiny moan, and I love that she still doesn't move her hands from where I put them.

Satisfied that she's going to toe the line, I move my hand down across her belly, feeling chills rise on her flesh. She shivers uncontrollably, and my hand stops at her hip, my fingers mere inches away from where she's dying for them to be. But she doesn't move, she doesn't even try to nudge her hips toward me. It's perfect. The wolf approves.

I know she's dying for it, but she waits because I told her to. So as a reward, I move my hand oh so slowly toward her hot, wet center.

When my middle finger finally smooths over her tiny pink kernel of nerves, she's wound as tight as a bowstring. She quivers as I move my fingers slowly over it, teasing it with little touches and swipes. I tap it for a second, because I know she's waiting for it, but then I take my hand away. She moans and ends it in a little whimper. She wants more, but still she doesn't move.

Okay, enough teasing. I go back to slowly touching her, circling her clit with little swirls of my fingers. I slip one in, then two, moving them in and out unhurriedly, watching her face the whole time. Her eyes are closed and her face is tense with ecstasy. I grin and whisper softly, "You tell me when you get close, baby."

Her eyes pop open and I can see that she knows what I'm thinking. Her breath is coming in ragged gasps now as I move those fingers in and out, keeping my thumb on her clit and drawing tiny circles with it the whole time. I hold her gaze, her eyes become hooded and misty, and her breath now sounds like tiny mewing. She holds her breath a second, then her lips quiver as she whispers, "I'm close, Jake."

Immediately, I pull my hand away and her eyes squeeze shut as she moans a little cry of protest. But she still doesn't move. Goddamn. How fucking sexy can she be? "Goood girl," I croon, drawing the words out. She opens her eyes and looks at me, begging me with her eyes only. That gives me an idea. "You wanna cum, baby?" I ask.

"Yes!" she gasps.

"Tell me."

"Oh, please, Jake," she whines. But I wait. The wolf wants to hear the words, and I'm helpless against him. I cock one eyebrow as I gaze at her, and she closes her eyes again and whispers urgently, "Please make me cum, Jacob. Please!"

"Bella, look at me," I murmur. She opens her eyes and her face is just unspeakably beautiful. I can't keep it from her any longer. The arrogant smile returns as I slowly push my fingers inside her and my thumb resumes its tender little swirls. "Make sure you tell me when you're close," I remind her. She doesn't respond at all, just lies there in quiet ecstasy, completely still, letting me play her like an instrument. Her eyes finally close and her breathing changes again, letting me know she's nearly there. This time when she opens her mouth to tell me, I thrust my fingers in a little more forcefully, feeling her clench around me. Her eyes stay closed as she quietly moans, "I'm close, Jacob."

I don't stop, don't change a single thing, just keep on going, watching her face. Her brows come together and her lips part with a gasp, and then suddenly she's moaning my name, her pleasure, her emotion. It's incredible, just fucking beautiful, and I watch as she quakes beneath my skilled hand.

Her nipples are like little cherries now and I take the closest one in my mouth, sucking greedily and rubbing my tongue across the sensitive little pearl. She gasps, her back arching as she presses herself into me. I can't defy the wolf as he drives me to take a tiny little bite. She sighs back to the bed, completely spent.

And now it's my turn, the wolf's turn, and I let him lead me. I'm above her instantaneously, my arms holding me poised over her still quivering body. Her hands are still stretched above her, and as I lower myself down on top of her warm body, my hands reach up to hold hers motionless over her head. I pull them a little, just to show her again who's in charge here, and sink my cock in her tight, dripping pussy all the way up to the hilt.

I can cum right here, right now, but that's not the wolf's plan. I begin to fuck her seriously, feeling her satiny walls clutch around me like she never wants me to leave. And that's it – she doesn't want me to leave any more than I want her to leave. We are finally on the same page. I hold her hands up and continue to thrust unhurriedly, kissing her with everything I have, until I feel the inevitable coming on. It's exquisite, that second before orgasm, and I kiss her deeply and let her arms go. They curl around my neck and her nails dig in and rake across the wide expanse of muscle that is my back. I can smell my own blood as I finish, cumming like a fire hose as the scratches heal over.

We lay there, panting, kissing, licking each other's neck. I can sense her submission still. She lets me lead, and I thrust my tongue into her mouth deeply, then pull away with tiny little kisses across her swollen lips. "You understand now?" I ask softly.

"Yes, Jake," she answers, her voice yielding.

"Good," I whisper, kissing her again. This thing we have, it's going to work this time. I can feel it in my bones.

In my mind, I can feel the domineering side of me, the Alpha side, getting bolder. Fuck yeah she's surrendering. I'm the Alpha – her Alpha – and that's as it should always be.