Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


I've had this idea for over a year now, but the itch has gotten unbearable. Needing a break from an original project, I thought I'd scratch it and share – maybe someone else will enjoy it too.

Or maybe not.

A warning that this is not my usual fare. it's not a typical romancey-romance though there will be romantic resolution at the end. At its core, it's a "realistic" tale about a man who's lost his humanity and woman who's lost everything and how they find both together. All while playing with concepts of contracts and wolf social structure, that feral lupine dominion versus socialization and how it might really change man. As I was writing it, I realized that this completes the trilogy playing with each of the three most dominant wolves (my faves).


Please read: DO NOT confuse any of these characters with my other fics. Whether it's the hallmark of complex characterizations or simply psychosis (I'm going with the latter) I have no problem taking a character and developing them in all different kinds of directions. Of special note, this is NOT the Paul of any of my other fics. This is another way that general character could have been developed (and probably, unfortunately, far more realistic). I'll try to leave him a little better at the end.

Ground rules: I love Chaske as a person but not necessarily as Sam. In my mind this Sam would be cast as someone like Michael Spears (see icon and/or look him up – he's a beautiful man). Basic twi plot is maintained except that Edward never came back and Sam never imprinted. Everything else is up for grabs. Hold on.


This is ROUGH! No prereader or beta (painfully obviously). This is just me sharing playtime with you.


Part 1 - Rain



Bella Lahote readjusted the canvas grocery bag on her shoulder as Jacob Black came striding out of the garage before she'd even set foot on the driveway. Of course. After four and a half years, she was used to lupine senses.

"Hey honey," he bent down and pulled her into one of his magical hugs.

Bella melted into his chest, wrapping one arm around his waist, and let all her worries melt away in the embrace of her best friend. Just for this moment. His heat and scent soothed her like no one else's.

"Hey Bella," that cashmere voice pried her heavy lids up.

Except maybe Embry's. But it made sense; they were half-brothers, after all. She owed them everything - they had tag-teamed being life-ring for her in the turbulence of the last three years.

She was blithely passed from brother to brother and into another embrace that wordlessly let her down easy:

Paul wasn't at the shop.

"How are you, sweetheart?" Embry murmured over her hair.

Bella nodded silently against his chest – it was so much easier to lie without words. The soft thump from the bag of groceries hitting the ground told the truth as loud as thunder: Bella didn't know if she could survive another round of this.

She was so damn tired.

Tired of trying. Tired of trusting. Tired of having her heart broken over and over after the frenetic promises that things would be different this time.

In the distance the thunder tumbled in the late afternoon sky. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to reset before she picked her heavy head up from Embry's chest.

"He's not here," she intoned dully. It was a statement, not a question. Slowly her eyes lifted to that melting chocolate gaze, peering out from under boyish bangs that softened the athleticism of his face and 22 years. At least he finally looked his age.

They all did. Bella's gaze swept out to her best friend, fatigue and latent anger tugging at a face used to its perpetual sunny smile. She chose the easier of the two.

"You look tired, Jake," Bella smiled sadly. "Liam's still not sleeping through the night?" It was his and Malia's second. Four years ago to the day he'd imprinted on Rebecca's husband Kimo's little sister. At Paul and Bella's wedding, no less. Actually there'd been two imprints that day and it was the best wedding present she could have imagined.

Jacob pressed his lips together, refusing to play her usual game of deflection and simply pulled her into his side. "C'mon, let's talk."

Keeping one arm around her, Embry picked up the groceries and, sandwiched between the two brothers, they silently made their way to the garage.

The sky was overcast making it look later than it was. It was only three and Paul usually got off at four so she'd come early to be sure not to make him wait – waiting made him restless. More restless.

Embry's cell went off and he reached in his pocket.

"Hey Angel, how 'you feeling?" Embry murmured. Bella looked up as his face crumpled in a sympathetic grimace.

The second imprint of the day, Angela had first met Embry at Bella's wedding, and the rest was, as they say, history. He and Jake had a wedding a month apart and they were having their families in sync too without even trying.

"I'll be there in a minute, Ange," he soothed and then changed his voice to as stern as Embry every got. "You tell that little man he'd better have it all picked up by the time I get home. Love you."

Bella searched his face intently, trying to find her cue, as he put the phone back in his pocket. He grinned with a comedic roll of eyes and she quickly smiled with him.

"That Cody, man," he huffed. "He threw crayons all over the living room while she was in the bathroom. I think it's the last straw."

"He's just keyed up because Ange is getting so close," Bella empathized as she sat down on the ratty couch.

"Well if he keeps going he's going to make his baby sister come early," Embry smiled, leaning against her truck pulled into the bay for some major engine work. They would have lent her a car, but Bella liked walking.

"I'm sure Ange wouldn't mind," she laughed softly. Angela was in her last two weeks and several miles past miserable. Bella stopped by almost every day to check in on her way home from her work as the Rez high school's only English teacher.

"Let's take the whole damn weekend off, Emb," Jacob chuckled. "I'll just have Joe and Tommy open on Saturday."

"No way they'll be in before noon," Embry snorted. "And they'll be so hung over they-…"

"Emb," Jacob interrupted.

He froze, meeting his brother's eyes with understanding.

Bella's gaze drifted down to her sneakers as she propped her elbows on her knees. Paul had probably gone out with them. It didn't even matter anymore

She heard Embry clear his throat uncomfortably. "I'd better get going."

Bella looked up to a face that was tainted by both chagrin and worry. "It's okay Emb," she gave him an exonerating smile. "Maybe I'll see you guys Saturday?"

"I was going to take Cody down to the beach," he set the grocery bag down. "Give you two some girl time."

"Ange needs some sleep-time," she sniffed with an attempt at a laugh as she sat back and leaned her head against the wall.

"Hey," Jacob cocked his head as his brother crossed the garage for brusque forearm clasp. "Why don't you ask Sam if two of the pups can take our shifts on Saturday night? We should get some new-daddy cred, right?" He twisted the words sarcastically. "Adding to his litter."

There was no love lost between Sam and Jacob Black.

"For real," Embry snorted. Catching himself on the back of the couch, he sloowwwly leaned over Bella with one of his best marshmallow smiles. She grinned at him on the way until her eyes crossed and he pressed a sweet kiss to her forehead.

"Hang in there, sis," he breathed. He pulled back and all humor had peeled back from raw worry.

Watching him over the plane of her cheek, Bella gave him a tight-lipped smile. It was really all she could muster at the moment.

"Okay, later," he waved and then jogged out to his car as another dusky thunder roll percolated in the distance.

Staring at the ceiling, Bella released a long breath through her nose.

Jacob waited silently beside her. He'd always been good like that: patient, sensitive, kind. She was thrilled that he'd abdicated his inherited position. It would have been like trying to stuff the sun into a lightbox to try to cram Jacob into the role of Alpha.

Instead, he'd looked fate in the eye and spat - it was the bravest thing she'd ever seen. Of course it wasn't a popular decision and his father still really hadn't forgiven him for it. But with that ten thousand kilowatt smile he'd just tell her he didn't need to be popular, just right – and this was what was right for him.

And then he'd imprinted.

She'd helped him through it until he could accept that sometimes fate dealt the right hand. Anyone could see Malia was perfect for him: sweet and spunky, she kept him balanced, happy and well-fed (Bella approved). And Malia loved him fiercely.

With the real kind of love.

The Pack learned many things over the years and one of them was that imprinting wasn't exactly the story-book romance that the Council had sold them to seduce hapless victims to happily accept their fate. As time went by it became obvious that it was very much like love for mere mortals - only scripted. In the beginning imprinting was an irresistible mandate – something that stole attention from every waking hour and made for long and lucious nights.

But as time wore on, that new shininess faded and reality crept in. Jobs, patrols, wars, Tribal and family drama and, for many of the Pack, families of their own.

As time wore down that sparkling veneer of obsession, real love had to take its place. True Love - not rosy valentine fluff, but the messy, frightening kind of devotion that got you through the worst of times. Just like regular, garden-variety mortal marriages, when the imprint waned, if true love hadn't been cultivated, then relationships fell apart.

Didn't Bella know it.

She let her head flop to the side. Jacob was perched on the armrest watching her, a worried brow shadowing bloodshot eyes.

"You look like crap." Bella offered him her own tired smile.

He didn't even try to fake one as he slid down onto the cushion beside her. Turning to her, he propped his knee up between them and studied her intensely for a moment. With huffing sigh, a big warm hand – hands that she loved: caring, tender, careful hands – scooped up hers where it lay limply on her thigh.

"Honey," he whispered, slowly lacing his fingers through hers. "It shouldn't be like this."

"Yeah," Bella whispered. "But it is, so…" Her eyes rose up to the ceiling she shook her head slowly back and forth against the couch at the insanity of it all. There were no more words, no more excuses, no more plans, hopes, dreams.


So now she felt like nothing - a burnt out shell with nothing but a duty stifling her like a heavy wool cloak every moment of the day. At her job, Pack ceremonies, bonfires, Tribal gatherings, she was Paul's imprint, his wife and mate. She had a scripted role to play.

Even if Paul didn't play his part.

"Was he supposed to meet you here?" Jacob murmured, a quiver to his voice like a taut bow.

"Yeah." Bella laughed bitterly. "You know what today is."

Jacob squeezed her hand – he never forgot the anniversary of his imprint. Bella never forgot her wedding day… sometimes she wished she could.

"He left half an hour ago," he whispered.

Bella picked her head up. "I thought he got off at four," she gasped, overstated distress widening her eyes. This was her fault?

"Shh," Jacob soothed with a frown, his gaze washing over her face. "He didn't tell you?"

Bella pulled her lip into her mouth, hating that tears were burning her eyes. She tried so hard to please him.

"I told them on Wednesday," he said gently over the bucking rage in his eyes. Her best friend was the only one who never showed her that pity that she detested. "That I was letting them out around two today."

Bella bit her lip harder while he held her gaze meaningfully: he wouldn't say it out loud. He and Malia were celebrating. Traitor tears welled up with a toxic burn while her nostrils flared against the sting.

"C'mere honey," Jacob crooned and pulled her into his chest.

Bella disintegrated in his arms. For minutes or hours she let her sorrow leak out in a muted trickle, gasping at air through the suffocating pressure of so much more that wanted to come out.

Jacob drew her into his lap and held her. Like he always did.

Finally, when enough was released that she could slam the hatch back closed, she picked her head up and impatiently slapped at the streaks down her face. It was the warpaint in the war of these last few years.

"I can't do it anymore," she whispered.

Jacob smoothed her hair back from her face as he nodded soberly. "What do you want me to do, Bella?"

He so rarely used her name that her eyes snapped into focus in the fire: he'd help her even if it meant taking on Sam and his rightful role. Jacob had a peaceful heart, but he'd always fight for family –though she knew it would not only break his spirit, but his body too to even try. Sam had gotten stronger.

She smiled sadly as her hand molded to his cheek with all the love left in her mangled heart. "Jake, this isn't your battle," she murmured. "You have Malia and the kids. I'll be alright. I've just got to figure out what to do."

This had been her mantra through these last two years when it had finally sunk in that Paul was getting worse, not better.

Jacob was a true friend because he respected her words. Respected her boundaries. He didn't try to convince her differently, didn't nose in or go behind her back. He supported her, even in her mistakes. He'd even hired Paul when the construction company finally fired him for the last fight (he was a hard worker as long as no one tripped that hair-trigger rage). Bella thought it was also to keep an eye on him but Jacob denied it every time. He barely spoke to Paul but he didn't touch him either and that right there showed Bella some serious love.

That, and the fact that Jacob never told Charlie. None of them did.

She could certainly leave – she'd tried it out once – but had only lasted two weeks at her mother's. The imprint had made her heart ache, but far worse than that was the dagger twisting in her soul: she'd missed the kids at the school, the Pack, the Rez… her home.

She just didn't know what to do with herself in the big wide world anymore. Bella had always been the type to dream of growing roots anyway, especially since any fledgling foundation had been ripped out from under her every two years like clockwork until she'd moved to Forks.

All she wanted was peace and love. A family. A home. A little wooden house – it was her favorite Coldplay song. She'd been so needy, in fact, that she'd fallen into the arms of the first man to offer her security and a leech, for crissakes!

It had taken months for the thrall to wear off…eventually it had, but not the scars. Now Bella was afraid of the world.

But here she was safe. She had a place, a family. She couldn't imagine living in some flat heartless "human city" where she had to start over again. She might not have money or freedom or the man that she wanted, but here was where her soul was home.

"Come home with me tonight, Bells," Jacob whispered.

Bella blinked back into the present, her gaze cutting over to where he was watching her with anguish in his eyes. It wasn't right. None of it. This was a happy day for him and here she was bringing him down.


"No, Jake," she murmured, leaning in and place a grateful kiss on his cheek. "I need some time to think. And I figure I've got…" she tapped a finger against her lips while her eyes swept up comically. "Probably the whole weekend to do just that." She gave him her best smile.

Jacob closed his eyes as he drew in a breath and released it in a long steady stream of defeat.

"Seriously," she patted his shoulder as she slipped off his lap. "If I'm really going to leave him, I have to get used to being by myself, right?" she asked pertly.

Jacob blinked twice – disbelief melting into a tenuous hope. She'd never said that out loud before.

"You're not alone, honey," he murmured, standing with a worried frown. "You have us, your family, your Pack."

Bella nodded brusquely wiping her fingers under her eyes as another round of thunder tumbled from the sky. "I know," she agreed quietly. "And I can't leave the Rez." She paused at a thought and looked up at him sharply. "They won't make me leave, right?"

"No way!" He gave her a grin that a little too feral to be funny. "Even if I have to kick that bastard's ass."

"Which one?" Bella arched a brow, towing him back to human shores with a gentle smile.

"Both of them," Jacob growled swooping her up into a hug. He now had what could be called a "quietly strained" relationship with his father …and he all-out hated Sam.

His tickles dislodged some giggles and they bounced around the garage with the first taps of rain on the roof.

"Let me close up and I'll drive you home," he blew raspberry kisses on her cheek as he set her down.

"Nuh-uh," she shook her head. "I want to walk – clear my head." It was summer, less than a mile away and Bella loved walking in the rain. Especially in shorts.

"Sure?" he arched a dubious brow.

"Sure-sure," she quipped and leaned in for another hug. Then she turned and hauled her grocery bag up on her shoulder. "It's not heavy," she groaned with a roll of her eyes at his mother-hen concern. It was just a few last things she'd picked up for the dinner she'd planned and breakfast in the morning… with Paul.

Jacob trailed after her to the door of the garage. The sky was heavy, but it was only sprinkling enough to see in lingering puddles.

"Have fun tonight! " she called over her shoulder. "Give love to Mal!"

Jacob's somber stare told her she'd faked just a little too much cheer, but let her off with a raised hand anyway. She could feel his eyes watching her until she turned the bend. Jacob had always watched over her.

The first night, almost three years ago, Jacob had come over to Bella and Paul's house at midnight to her frightened call – even though Malia was sick from her pregnancy at the time. Paul hadn't come home and she was going out of her mind with worry.

Bella had slept with him on the couch draped over Jacob's chest and counting his heartbeats with the hours that ticked by.

The next morning, he was talking to Malia on his cell over breakfast when Paul stumbled in – disheveled and plastered off his ass. Only God-knows how much he drank – but she would later guess by the balance of their bank account.

Jacob had taken one look at him and the cell had shattered his hand. It was the most frightening transformation she'd ever seen (even though he'd stayed in his skin): her easy going friend throwing himself across the room in a blind rage, foaming at the mouth. He tore into Paul with such savagery that Bella hadn't thought twice.

She'd called Sam. It was the first time, but not the last.

Paul was the best fighter in the Pack – it was true and the source of much swagger – but that morning Jacob Black had almost literally handed him his ass on a platter before their Alpha finally arrived.

With thunder in his voice, Sam had broken up the fight. Then, with his usual stoic intensity, he'd picked up Paul's broken body, looked her straight in the eye and promptly left the house with her husband in his arms and not another word. All through the day, an unusually somber Pack filed through her living room fixing things and bringing her a new couch while Angela and Malia sat at her side.

But the house and her husband weren't the only things that broke that day. Paul came back home that night- all healed except for a limp - and threw himself at her feet.

And then proceeded to break her heart.

He'd cheated on her, as Jacob had scented. Actually, more than once that night. And he begged and groveled and swore on everything in the world that he'd never ever do it again.

Until the next time.

The second time she called, Malia had just given birth so Embry came over to sit sentry at her side. In the morning, like clockwork, Paul strode in and Embry dragged him back out. Their fight tore apart her lawn until their Alpha pulled a poor battered Embry free. Paul was the best fighter, especially sober. Which he had been this time.

After that, Bella stopped calling.

It became a ritual, every few months Paul would come home pleading and trashed …or sober as the day is long. It didn't seem to matter – something much deeper was broken.

Then came her favorite part: Bella would have a few weeks of flowers and sweetness, gentle hands and a man she could love - a glimpse of what a shattered Paul looked like whole. Somehow, she was always able to forgive.

But slowly he'd slip back into someone with a rough touch, dark moods and darker smirks. He'd grow restless and tough, stomping away anytime she tried to reach in. Bella finally began to realize he craved numbing, not nurturance… and nurturance was all that she had to give.

The imprint was still there but now it felt like a shackle. "You're just a fucking ball and chain!" he'd yelled at her one night.

"That chains you to life when you're freaking self destructing?!" she'd screamed back and lost yet another couch. Thankfully, he'd never laid those hands on her in anger. They were rough enough at other times.

Bella loved him – she really did. She hoped time would heal the wounds buried deep under childhood scars. Because she certainly hadn't…. and lord, how she'd tried. She could feel it in her heart: this heaviness, this pining ache of a soul ripped in half. She loved him and deep down, she knew he loved her too.

But it just wasn't enough when he didn't love himself.

The sky let loose then and cool redemptive rain washed away fruitless despair. Bella blinked up into the sky as a deep soothing thunder broke over her head and rolled some of the tension from her spine. Arms spread wide, she spun around as she laughed – at nothing and everything at the same time.

It was all that was left to do.

She skipped and twirled and ran. Jumping into puddles like a little girl as rain poured over her, soaking her hair, clothes, groceries.

Bella didn't care.

God, she couldn't remember the last time she'd felt this free.

Catching herself against a tree, she was panting from exertion, a smile still on her lips when she looked up and saw where she was.

Bella liked to walk through the forests, houses sprinkled here and there on this far edge of town. But she could count several times over the years that she'd look up and see that her feet had somehow brought her here.

Sam Uley's house.

He'd been Leah's boyfriend before his change and was now a carpenter by trade along with their Alpha, but that's about all she knew. It's about all any of them did. At 6'6 he was a giant among giants but he moved, quick and agile like an animal in a very unsettling way. Always dark and intense, with a stony face and razor eyes, he never wasted a frivolous word. He ran his Pack with an iron fist doling out commands and punishments wrapped in a thunder bass that sent shivers down any spine that heard it.

Bella could count times she'd spoken to him on one hand. There were several nights early on when she'd called him, gasping and sobbing into the phone when Paul had gotten into yet another a fight.

And that was it. He never socialized, never hung out with the Pack, never bothered with pleasantries after meetings.

Except there was that one time at Jacob's house.

Malia had just given birth to the Pack's first cub and they were all gathered and joyous while Jacob passed out cigars. But when that celebration was abruptly choked into silence and every lupine head turned, the girls had scurried to their mates' sides because it could only mean one thing: their Alpha had arrived.

Sam had strode into the house with that hunting cat gait and every eye hit the floor and head bowed.

Except for one.

Jacob stood behind where Malia sat in the easy chair with their infant, grinding his cigar in an undisguised grimace. As usual, Sam ignored him. Tall and proud, he stalked to the newborn's side. To the stunned silence of the room, he went down on one knee in front of Malia and then placed a huge hand over the child's head. After murmuring something in Quileute that she didn't understand he then promptly stood with no more than a curt "congratulations" before turning on his heel.

But on his way back out of the house he'd paused in front of where Bella was trying to hide behind the couch. Her lowered gaze crept up in utter confusion. She still remembered every second of what came next:

"Do you like children." he asked in an terse monotone, more like an order than anything else.

Bella swallowed, fighting to make her mouth work under that intimidating stare. "Yes," she whispered and then bit the corner of her lip. His eyes darted down to her mouth for a moment then back up to her eyes. With the subtlest flare of his nostrils, he'd turned abruptly and strode out of the house.

It was odd, but that was Sam. No one ever dared question anything he did.

Later she would realize he was probably fishing for why she and Paul were waiting – they'd gotten married second after Jared after all who was weeks from welcoming his own first.

But it was only in the Pack with the almighty mating bond that couples started families in their early twenties. If anyone else asked, she told them she dealt with 87 kids at work every day so she could afford to wait a little longer and they never blinked an eye. But the Pack never had to ask, they knew: Paul didn't want kids. Yet, Bella would always add.

What was she going to do?

With a huffing sigh, she looked up ahead at the house staring back at her through the trees. Pushing off the trunk she squeegeed the water from her face and hiked the bag up higher on her shoulder. Another lightning flash heralded a cracking rumble as she slowly made her way down the dirt road. She'd just walk on by.

Tucked away in this corner of the forest, his place wasn't the usual clapboard, it was an old wooden house he'd inherited from someone down the line. With two stories and a big wrap-around porch-...

Bella blinked through the rain at the figure sitting on the top step.

Like he was waiting.

Elbows propped on his thighs, Sam Uley had his head bowed, over a knife shaving little curls of wood from a carving dangling between his knees.

Bella pushed her sopping hair back as she took a step closer. Then another and another, not really understanding why. The storm was getting bad, and she was now two miles from home, but that's not what pulled her down the driveway toward an enigmatic man and his house in the woods on the edge of town.

It was him. He was magnetic, always had been.

Bella had snuck glances at him from her under her dutifully bowed head every chance she'd gotten over the years, curiosity trying to deconstruct what drove this man. And now, whether her sanity had finally snapped its tether or she just didn't care anymore, she was brazenly drinking in her fill while she had the chance.

Yet this man was nothing like the Sam she was used to. In fact, were it not for his signature square jaw and immutable dominion – and the fact he was sitting on his own freaking porch – Bella might not have recognized him.

He was the only one of the Pack who didn't cut his hair – a symbol of power and position - but this was the first time she'd seen it unbound. Shining ebony spilled past those ridiculously broad shoulders and over a loose white shirt that was rolled up his sinewy forearms highlight his toffee skin. Knees were splayed open with a kind of masculine confidence and well-worn jeans hugged muscular legs down to bare feet. She'd only ever seen him bare-chested in cut-offs, hair pulled tightly back in a braid, and something about seeing him like this softened some those hard intimidating lines.

And made him sorta… beautiful.

Bella's uncertain swallow crinkled in the back of her throat as she stopped at the foot of his stairs. She knew he had probably heard her coming a mile away, yet he hadn't so much as glanced up from his carving. So she watched him for a moment: one hand holding the wood in a steadfast grip and the other dancing with a knife, lithe and fluent.

Another angry flash of lightning whipped the sky, buffeting thunder hot on its heels and Bella wiped the pouring rain from her face as she set her jaw with resolve.

"It's raining," she stated the obvious in a clear voice.

His hand finally stilled and she heard him heave a sigh over the rain sluicing off the eves. Then slowly Sam raised his head until his eyes slipped up from under his lashes.

They snapped to hers like a magnet, locked and loaded.

Bella took an inadvertent step back as she blinked rapidly and fought the instinct to tuck her chin.

"Come," he murmured.

And he stood abruptly and turned toward the door.

Bella hesitated only a moment before she started climbing the wooden steps. Once she was on the porch and finally out of the rain, she realized just how sopping wet she was.

"Ugh," she wrinkled her nose as she pushed her soaking hair behind each ear and hiked her soaked groceries up on her shoulder.

Ahead, the door had been left open and another roll of thunder gently pushed her toward it. She paused at the jam, peering into the stillness inside.

It was quiet with dark hardwood floors that ran into the room beyond. Bella looked down at her soaked self in dismay. Setting the dripping bag down, she struggled to pull off the first muddy chuck, hopping on one foot and catching herself clumsily on the doorframe with her usual grace. Leaning against it, she pulled off the other.

She batted uselessly at the mud splatters climbing her leg. At least she was wearing shorts – soaked jeans would have been uncomfortable. Now barefoot, she glanced down at the bag leaching water around it in a pool and decided not to add more insult to the shiny hardwood floors.

She paused, gathering courage. None of the Pack had been to his house which was another source of distrust: of all of them he had a house that could actually accommodate their ranks, now at 14, not counting mates and kids.

Drawing in a deep breath, Bella held it as she took a tentative step over the threshold and then froze right inside. Nothing: it seemed anticlimactic. She didn't know what she'd expected – lightning to strike? Sam to rip her head off?

With a humorless laugh, she squared her shoulders. If the Alpha did take off her head, it would solve all of her problems.

She strode uneasily into a large open living room with a high ceiling. It was almost serene – two large couches and an easy chair were set around a stone fireplace whose glowing embers were winking and popping. It smelled good: fire and male and the green forest outside.

At the soft tonal clanging of metal, Bella blinked from her curious scan of pictures on the mantle and looked toward the sound. It was coming from an open doorway on the far side of the room.

Gathering her courage, she put one foot in front of the other, passing a hallway and set of ascending stairs. She paused in the entryway, catching herself against the molding.

A huge rustic kitchen, the length of the entire house lay ahead of her, its ceiling vaulting up past exposed beams to the roof. The lights were off and the stormy light from outside filtered in on tiptoes, making it feel dreamy and quiet.


She smiled softly as she pushed off the door and took a step onto the linoleum. The kitchen had used to be her favorite room but somewhere over the last few years her hobby had lost its appeal.

A long heavy table with benches on either side ran almost the length of the room. Her eyes swept along wooden cabinets, a large sink, and more counter space than she'd ever dreamed of to where Sam had his back to her as he put a kettle on the blue flame of a stove. Bella pressed her lips together in jealousy: it had eight burners – eight! – and shining copper pots and pans hanging from a rack overhead. She blinked back from kitchen envy at movement.

Sam crossed the room and set two mugs at the far end of the table with a clack. He looked up with those intense, unreadable eyes.

Bella wrapped her arms around her middle. "You cook?" she asked awkwardly, trying to force a little smile. At least she'd have something to talk to him about.

"No," he said simply and then started prowling toward her across the room.

Instinct dropped an adrenaline bomb and heat raced through her veins at the mere sight of her Alpha stalking her with predatory eyes. Every cell screamed at her to flee, but she knew better than to run from a wolf. She'd been warned but had never understood until she'd tried it one night with Paul.

But she simply couldn't stand to watch him approach. Tucking her chin, she snapped her eyes shut and her fingers dug into her sides.

And she waited.

The touch of heated skin made a little shriek burst free.

"Shh," a soothing velvet croon wound around her as a calloused hand slipped to cup her jaw. "You're safe," he whispered over her head.

Bella drew in an open mouth breath that hitched, as fight-or-flight adrenaline instantly evaporated. Some of the Pack might hate him, but even his worst enemies knew that any word he uttered was a blood oath.

His hand stayed at her jaw for a moment, big and warm, while his thumb brushed over her cheek like a whisper.

And then he was gone.

Bella's entire body rebelled. She whipped around to see him striding through the door to the living room without a backward glance.

Bella swallowed thickly. Sam Uley had touched her.

The understanding of what they were as Wolves had deepened over time. Now everyone of the Pack -mates included - had made peace with the facts of Pack life: there was not a shred of privacy with lupine senses; vying for dominance would sometimes ruin parties; and there was lots and lots of touching. It was something the beast longed for and the man needed now to stay human.

But if Sam touched anyone, he was either welcoming them into the world, saving their life, or threatening to take them out of it.

Shaking her head to clear it, Bella turned back to the kitchen. In her awed inventory she'd wandered to side of the table and laid out before her was his carving knife and an intricate shape of wood where it must have been left.

Curiosity tugged her forward.

Propping one knee on the bench, her fingers reached out to what looked like a section of molding. A little over a foot long, it was a piece of dark mahogany shaped almost like the front of a crown. Carved front and center, a fierce wolf stared back at her with determined heat as if it were guarding over the intricate design that seemed like it was surfacing from the grain, it was so organic and free. Her fingers brushed over leaves, animals and blossoms that seemed to frolic off into the grain to either side of the wolf.

It was magnificent – at once beautiful and wild.

She glanced over her shoulder to see if he was coming back and nearly jumped out of her skin.

Sam was standing silently behind her. With a sharp intake of breath she snatched her had back and turned around with chagrin heating her cheeks. She didn't know why, but she felt like she'd been caught prying into something very personal.

Sam continued to stare down at her with that broad stern mouth.

"Um," Bella bit her lip as her hand twisted nervously in her wet flannel shirt. "It's really amazing," she told him earnestly. Because it was.

That double blink was the most emotion she'd ever seen on his face and she didn't have a clue what was behind it: annoyance, surprise, pleasure?

She didn't get a chance to guess – Sam's hand raised brusquely, offering out a snow-white towel dangling from his fist.

Bella shifted and took a step closer, reaching out with tentative fingers. "Thanks," she whispered as she pulled it from his hand.

Or tried to.

He held it fast and Bella's eyes darted up in confusion to find him watching her with hematite eyes. Perplexed, she dropped her hand to her side, embarrassed that she'd done something wrong.

Sam's eyes did a circuit of her face and then he reached slowly across the distance as if giving her time to object. Bella's eyes widened as she realized his intention.

Biting her lip and winding her arms safely around her middle, she dipped her chin.

At her wordless assent, he brought the soft towel to her cheek. His eyes slid to the work of his hand as he gently brushed away the moisture along her jaw, then over her brow and down the other side.

Bella was too shocked to know what the hell to think so she just stood immaculately still while he dabbed that towel over her face like she was made of glass. His eyes intently followed in its wake as if they were memorizing every pore.

When he paused and lowered himself to one knee, Bella was so surprised she took a step back.

His other hand reached out almost absently and brought her closer again. She could feel the warmth of his hand through the cloth as he stroked the towel slowly over her hair like a caress.

Bella set aside the strangeness of the situation because he was almost eye level now, and she was instantly too fascinated to care. She'd never seen him like this before.

Sam had the high cheekbones of his people and a proud brow that also looked somehow tender close-up. Narrow eyes that were a little too feral to be fully human chased his hand as he worked with that signature intensity. But yet she'd never noticed the way sensitivity lurked in those shadows before. His nose was a little more aquiline than Jacob's but it complimented his broad somber lips and strong jaw perfectly. His face was handsome, regal, fierce... and suffering.

A strand of that sleek ebony hair had fallen over his cheek giving it just enough softness that Bella found herself fighting the impulse to reach out and tuck it behind his ear. Her heart always had a hard time watching people suffer – yet she'd spent the last four and half years watching a man self-destruct.

Sam seemed immune to her study of him, or simply didn't care, as he caught a runaway rivulet down her racing pulse and then swept the towel over the hollow of her throat. He then threw the towel over his shoulder.

Bella stiffened, trying to figure out what was coming next. Without a glance into her eyes, both hands came up to her flannel and started slipping free the three buttons.

Taken aback, she tried to shuffle away but he caught her in her shirt and pulled her close again. Bella's heart lunged into a sprint as she frantically searched his face for clues.

His hands calmly undid the buttons to reveal her tank top and then his eyes slowly raised to meet hers.

Bella's breath caught in her throat. They were complex and luminous with lupine power… yet also the most human she'd ever seen.

"I'll never force you," he whispered.

That phrase had many meanings but right now its inference was painfully clear. Bella stared back at him in disbelief- surely she didn't understand.

His eyes paced between hers for a moment and then returned to peeling the flannel from her shoulders with hands that were firm but careful.

Bella stiffly submitted as he pulled her shirt off and let it drop to the floor.

Pulling the towel from his shoulder, he neither reassured nor explained as he sopped up the water and chill bumps that raced over her skin. He let his hands speak for themselves: calm, steady, gentle.

She saw his eyes wander over her chest and her nipples rose proudly to meet them and a blush rushed up her neck to beat in her cheeks. But his eyes didn't vulgarly linger, they washed over her breasts with the same intensity that they did every inch of her body.

All the while his hands continued their hypnotic ministrations down her arms, over her shoulders, along her sides.

Bella stared down at him in shock, but her body was soaking up his touch like a sponge. A different sort of heat was seeping through her veins, making her feel dizzy. Paul hadn't touched her like this in so long - had he ever? These days it was just the rough, brusque touch choreographed by his need.

"Do you know why you're here, Bella?" Sam whispered in voice cut from dusky felt.

And Bella's mouth popped open automatically to answer. Until she realized she didn't have a clue.

"I called you," he murmured while he watched his hands wrap the towel around her thigh. His touch was soft, intimate, yet had completely avoided any violation. "I've been calling you for a while," he smoothed the towel down her leg and then ran it over her toes. It really did nothing for the mud and her legs were already dry… suddenly she realized this had nothing to do with drying.

It had everything to do with touch.

"A long while," he breathed, pulling the terry cloth down the other leg, the warmth from his hands seeping through and leaving chill bumps in their wake.

Sam looked up at her with eyes that were coal still. "I knew you'd come when it was time." With that, he stood up.

Slack-jawed, Bella's face tipped up automatically with him.

His eyes washed over her face and his lips softened with the subtlest curve as his careful hands urged her around. Bella was too numb to protest, her mind was stuck in neutral and doing donuts.

Sam Uley had called her?

"Why?" She flinched at the sound of her own voice.

He didn't answer her, but deliberate hands gathered her hair in the towel and squeezed the moisture from it, tugging gently on the roots in way that made her eyes roll in her head and care less about the question.

He released her hair and then brushed the water droplets from her shoulders while Bella tried to climb out of the gutter. Her mind fishtailed back on the road of conjecture as she frantically tried to figure out what was going on.

The kettle's whistle suddenly pierced the quiet kitchen, shrilly climbing the walls. Sam threw the towel onto the bench and strode calmly across the room.

Bella turned around numbly and watched him lift it off the blue fire. Taking a resetting breath, she combed her fingers through her tousled hair. She should feel more unsettled than she was: their reclusive Alpha had just surveyed every last inch of her body under the guise of drying her off. But even stranger than that, it had been soothing – the slow rhythmic caress of soft cloth, the heat from his hand seeping through to her skin... it had felt almost caring.

Turning from the counter, Sam's eyes flicked up and met hers as he strode across the floor with that fluid but assertive stride that always communicated immutable dominion. It didn't seem possible that he wasn't born to be what he was – over the years he'd grown into a leader that even the arrogant council feared.

Jacob could do anything he set his mind to, but if he'd had to take this role, Bella shuddered to think what it would have done to that warm heart. Throughout all the drama of old men, tantruming fathers, and her struggling best friend, Sam had stood silent yet indomitable on the sidelines and watched like the Angel of Death just waiting for his cue.

All while he waged war with vampire armies, navigated the complexities of new wolves and secrets, and held the young Pack together with steadfast reins when they would have fallen into chaos.

Sam stopped at the foot of the table and threw down a trivet and then set the kettle on it. A subtle tip of his chin toward the place at the corner had her feet moving before she'd processed the request. The Pack was always in tune with what their leader requested which made it so Sam rarely had to use that iron fist, and Bella was Pack after all. At least for the moment.

She made her way along the long wooden table while curious eyes watched him set a plastic cone on one of the cups and pour water into it. She'd seen these one-cup coffee filters before, but never anyone use one. But then, other than her dad (who was living with Sue Clearwater now), she hadn't known anyone who lived alone.

Because, since Edward had abandoned her in the woods (the best thing to happen in her life to date), Bella had spent most of her time on the Rez. First with Jacob and dirt bikes and waning thrall, then through supernatural revelations, vampire wars, and a volatile head-spinning romance. All the way to the first apartment of her own with a husband - not a roommate - at the tender age of twenty.

It had been a crazy five years but one she surprisingly wouldn't change because she loved her home no matter how she got here. But there was one thing about it (and it was probably her singularly favorite thing): life on the Rez was all about family and Pack.

No one she knew lived alone.

Except Sam Uley.

Bella wiped her hands on her shorts as she slid onto the bench across from where the man in question was watching the water level slowly drop in the filter with emotionless eyes. He poured another measure into the top as Bella propped uneasy elbows on the table and listened to the tinkling water fall into ceramic while steam lazily rose in counterpoint.

The coffee smelled wonderful – earthy and chocolate and the perfect addition to the stickiness of a stormy late-summer afternoon. Outside the rain had slowed to a shower that whispered soothingly through the screens of the open kitchen windows and brought in the smell of trees and wild.

Bella wondered what it must be like to live out here in this big house by himself and lead a Pack that was submissive and respectful because he'd earned it, but didn't like him in any way. Other than Leah's covert animosity from mysterious events long ago, it was nothing he'd done that Bella could fathom… other than make necessary but unpopular decisions and slap them down when they got out of hand (like her husband). Paul was always testing boundaries and Sam was always cinching them tighter as a result, but as far as Bella could see that's what they all did. It was part of the lupine instinct to challenge and Bella thought if they hadn't had his reins, they might have torn each other to shreds long ago. It seemed most of their resentment stemmed from the fact that they didn't understand him.

Sam seemed to want to keep it that way.

With lightning reflexes, he switched cups under the filter without spilling a drop and then poured more water into the top. Instinct made her look up from her thoughts to find Sam watching her with eyes as still as midnight.

Leaning on the table, Bella's hands wrapped around each arm to buff the chills from her skin and she hunched her shoulders uncomfortably to her ears. His gaze did a crisp efficient circuit of her body language and then turned away from the table.

The sound of his resonant bass made Bella jump. "You know that Alpha's don't imprint."

Bella nodded automatically even though his back was turned as he strode toward the refrigerator.

"But do you know why?" he pulled open the door and took out a carton of cream. Here he paused, glancing over his shoulder with a raise of his brow.

Realizing she was supposed to answer this time, she sat up a little straighter and cleared her throat. "Um, because…" Bella ventured. "Because they can't be distracted from leading?"

Sam nodded curtly and then crossed back to the counter.

She'd thought about it before in her consideration of their enigmatic leader – in all these years if he'd ever taken a lover, no one knew about it. It was a source of snide innuendo and some of her husband's crassest jokes.

But it did make sense that an Alpha wouldn't imprint because the first year or so was insanely obsessive – even longer for others who actually cultivated their bond. That imperative to get together was nearly impossible to resist which – as the biologist in her figured – was the point.

Yet magic might find the perfect mate, but heart had to accept it, then soul had to do the work.

"But there's another reason," he continued, walking back toward her. He kept his eyes carefully trained on the coffee on the table as he approached and set down a sugar dish and the cream.

"Like imprinting, it's an instinct that hasn't kept up with the times," he hissed, a subtle bitterness sharpening the words.

Bella's eyes snapped up to his face to find the source, but, as usual, it was the same wooden mask. Sam didn't look up as he carefully spooned out three measures of sugar into the mug.

"In our past, marriage was a duty to the tribe," he said quietly over the soft clink of metal on ceramic as he stirred. "So, back then, imprinting was a precious gift from the Spirit in recompense for our fate."

He looked up from under his lashes at her. "In other unions, love was a luxury that was earned over time." A brow jumped subtly. "If ever."

Bella shifted on her seat and hugged herself tighter.

He opened up the new cream with the soft rip of paper and poured it into the coffee and, Bella barely breathed, afraid to break the spell while she waited for more. She had no idea why he was telling her this, but she was too enthralled to wonder.

This was the most she'd ever heard Sam Uley speak.

"So an Alpha can mark a mate, but we don't imprint," he murmured as he slowly stirred the coffee to the perfect café au lait. He tapped the spoon on the side and set it on the table.

"Because, technically," he slid the mug toward her. "All females in the Pack already belong to him."

Finally her brain kicked in and Bella froze with her hand poised to pull it toward her. Her eyes darted up to his dispassionate stare - maybe she'd misheard him.

Sam pushed the cup more into her hand and then casually returning to pouring the water into the filter. Bella's blood ran cold as more and more pieces started clicking together.

"There was an archaic tradition that was practiced as late as Ephraim's Pack," his smooth creamy bass couldn't soften the inference. "At its kindest, it's perhaps an instinct to scatter the seed of the most powerful male with the gene," he murmured as he dispassionately watched the water drain through the filter and then patiently poured in more.

"Ephraim took a wife in keeping with the human traditions of the time," he sniffed a dark laugh and then his eyes rose slowly to meet her own. "But, like the wolves, it's the Alpha's prerogative to mate with any female in his Pack."

It felt like Bella's heart had dropped clear down to her toes but somehow it was also beating furiously in her cheeks. Her numb hand pulled the mug in front of her and held on for dear life.

His gaze slipped back down to the filter as he picked it up and watched the coffee drizzle into drips into the cup.

"Ephraim used that privilege - as those of his line have also done," he bit out like he was crunching broken glass. "Back in the days when it was allowed, some took them as wives- Taha Aki had three," he murmured under his breath.

He glanced up at her briefly with assessing eyes. "Though it looks like Billy Black is the last to have inherited this weakness."

Bella quickly picked up her mug and took a gulping swallow, trying to push the knot down her throat as she watched him cross the kitchen to the sink, palm cupped under the filter.

Her gaze snapped down to the coffee in her hand; it was exactly how she liked it – creamy and sweet. Her mind was desperately trying to stay focused in the moment, terrified to take one step down the road of what was coming next.

"That is why there are so many of us," Sam's sonorous voice rose to the rafters. "Over time there have been indiscretions that have passed on the gene."

The sound of the faucet made her look up to where he was glancing over his shoulder at her while he rinsed his hands in the sink.

"Ephraim had a son and a bastard daughter," he jerked the faucet closed and turned around. "I inherited the gene from my mother."

As comprehension finally strung all the pieces together, Bella's eyes ballooned with all the implications. Suddenly so much made sense: why he'd been first, why he seemed born to the job, the tension on the council, Billy's anger, Embry and the twins and the others of the Pack who were a surprise when they phased.

And Sam had been stuck trying to hold it all together. Alone. His mother had passed, he didn't know his father...

Bella looked up from where her eyes had unfocused in her mug. Sam was contemplating her with his signature stoicism as he strolled slowly back to the table. As usual, there was no expression on his face, but behind his eyes churned a tempest.

With that innate grace that defied his size, he slipped onto the bench opposite her. "Jacob doesn't know that I'm his cousin," he stated evenly, pulling the mug of black coffee toward him.

Bella blinked. He was filling in blanks she hadn't thought about yet and it was comforting that this wasn't the reason he hated Sam. She was sure if Jacob knew, he'd be on his side like he had been with Embry.

"Why don't you tell him?" she rasped, her voice fallow. She cleared her throat.

"Because it doesn't matter," he replied, taking a sip of coffee.

Bella's brow knit in dismay. So many secrets! All hell had broken loose when it came to light that Embry was Jacob's brother. After that, and the drama of Jacob stepping down, maybe Sam was right that the Pack couldn't deal with any more strain on its ties.

"And it might make this more complicated," he murmured.

Bella looked up again to find Sam watching her intently – he was always watching. She sat up straighter with a brave tip of chin while she kept a death-grip on her coffee. Whatever was going on – whatever he had to say to her - she wasn't going let him intimidate her, she'd had enough of that with Paul.

Outside the rain was coming down in buckets again, thundering against the roof and throwing handfuls against the windows like rice. Yet inside, the silence was so thick and expectant that it could be eaten with a spoon.

Those intense dark eyes bored silently into her soul for an outrageously long minute until Bella thought she'd die if she didn't squirm.

Finally, Sam tipped his head and his eyes did a restless circuit of her face before returning to her own.

"Bella," he whispered in an inky bass. "I want you to have my child."



*chuckles softly* Review if you like.