a/n: Enormous thanks for excellent beta action by ElleCC and Raina/RaindropSoup of Project Team Beta. I don't own it.

"J. Whitlock." Ha! That's an awfully pretentious moniker for that redneck, serial monogamist, Dukes of Hazzard wannabe, overgrown Confederate tick!

I dig my fingers into the trunk of Esme's favorite maple hard enough to make a dent and then let up a little. Poor Esme. She didn't do anything wrong except marry the most myopic, delusional lunatic ever to drink a deer.

That distinct purring sound of a well-restored American muscle car engine rolls into the driveway. I had been willing to bet he's got one of those "General Lee" replicas, but this is a 1965 Mustang, dark blue. Nice choice, if you like muscle cars.

I want to see how old "J. Whitlock" is doing, by which I mean I 'm hoping he's doing horribly. I hope he's had pieces gouged out of him by werewolves and is saddled with some immortal nag of a woman, preferably one with a facial deformity and an unfortunate love of boy bands. Maybe she likes reality TV and snorts when she laughs. I scowl to myself up in my leafy perch.

Except that the first person I see stepping out of the passenger side of the dark blue '65 Mustang and looking around isn't J. Whitlock.

I know J. Whitlock, and he looks nothing like this.

I should tell you, there's this sublime moment whenever I see a really beautiful, desirable woman, right before I hear her annoying thoughts, where it's just me and my lust and the "what might be" of us. The "what might be" in a world where I can't read her mind and know what she's going to say next and how she's thinking about how she looks or how much my watch cost or how to attract my attention and so on. Or even worse, she's got crazy thoughts and I feel like I'm watching Twin Peaks, but the show won't end after an hour, and I know at some point she's going to want to get it on wearing a prom dress, reciting Sylvia Plath and sobbing. Sadly, I speak from experience.

This girl gives me that "what might be" in spades. This girl is the ultimate in "what might be."

She's wearing a white tank top with a black lace bra showing through. She's got on these tight jeans and ragged-looking black boots and a ton of metal and black leather jewelry. Her hair looks downright dirty, and she's got like two weeks worth of black eye makeup on. It's totally not my favorite look, that grungy "I sleep in a van" look.

But, oh boy, would she clean up nicely. She's small-framed without looking like a little girl. She has dark brown hair and luminous skin and as she turns in the direction of the woods, I see her dark red eyes and delicately pretty face. I indulge in a brief fantasy about her, making the most of my time with her before her repulsive thoughts ruin the romance.

Yes, I said "romance." I'm not a complete dog. My fantasy dallies a moment in the sweet and genuine before diving headlong into the gutter. I think about what it would be like to live with someone who isn't Emmett. Picking out throw rugs, doing crossword puzzles in Arabic, you know. But I think the dirty stuff, too. It's been a while, and she is that delicious.

But my magical moment with my new sweetheart is ruined by the predatory hand of the real J. Whitlock wrapping around her waist, bringing me back to reality. You know, the reality where I'm up in a tree, fa fantasizing about a woman I've never met and will have no interest in once her thoughts come in loud and clear. Which should be happening in 3…2…

And then I realize that I haven't heard her yet, which is weird.

But maybe I should go back a bit and let you know how I got here.

a/n: Thanks for reading!