A: "I'm on Fire" by Stateless. If you actually look it up on youtube, it's a song that should be bathed in.
V: The incomparable Nikitajuice did a gorgeous drawing for this fic. Look it up on "nikita-juice . tumblr" enjoy amazing Taycob archives.
Almost exactly four months later, I've reached the end! This is the final installment in this saga and it chronicles one day a year later.
If I've done it right, it will emotionally rock you back and forth like the ocean, just like life tends to do. Parts may tug at your heart, others may hurt your teeth, but hopefully, all-in-all, it will give proper closure (or perhaps a place to begin) for this tale.
And thus, I present you not an epilogue, but a prologue for your imagination …
Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.
One year later.
With lazy flutters, Bella's eyes opened to soft light, defying drawn curtains and filtering blithely into the room like an impulsive child.
Cheek pillowed on the mattress, she blinked lazily across the wrinkled sheets at a caramel hand laced over her own in a joined fist. Her lips curved in a cashmere smile as she awoke to her body, pinned to the bed by a familiar weight.
They were still sleeping pretty much where they'd fallen.
After making love for hours and hours on end and into the dawn, it certainly didn't surprise her. They'd worn each other out.
Running her tongue idly over her lip, her eyes cut to the long ebony strands draped over her arm. His head resting heavily between her shoulder blades, she could feel Jacob's warm exhales billowing over her skin with each slow sated breath.
God, he'd given it to her good last night.
Hell, every night was good. Well, every morning, afternoon… whenever they could carve out a little time together.
But, fueled by the day, there'd been a kind of urgency and desperation last night to brand new memories over old scars. That heat had ignited a passion and presence so deliciously intense that their sex had singed her synapses.
The day hadn't even started and it was already best birthday ever.
"Mmm," a deep mumble stretched over her with feline languor. "Mdon'twakeup."
Bella's smile deepened and she obediently closed her eyes, sinking back into the sumptuous rhythm of her lover's breath rolling over her like ocean waves.
But Jacob had obviously awoken past the point of return too. He drew in a long indulgent inhale that pushed her body down and then released it in a rush of moist warmth as his body started stirring over her. His hand squeezed hers as he sniffled and then raised his head.
"Mm," he rumbled again as he placed a soft string of kisses down her spine that awoke her skin with chills. His hand wiggled free, smoothing, slow and covetous, over her arm.
He whispered in a gravelly morning bass right by her ear, "Happy birthday." And then rubbed his cheek over hers.
Eyes closed, her lips spread in another smile. "It's definitely started out that way," she purred.
Jacob sniffed a laugh and his heat and weight left her as he thumped back on the bed.
Bella rolled over too, falling against his body and pillowing her head against his shoulder. She opened her eyes to the ceiling as Jacob's arm folded over her. She splayed one hand over his torso while the other slipped up to his brawny forearm and she turned into his bicep, nuzzling his skin and sucking down his delicious scent.
With a sleepy groan, he wiped his hand down his face and then let it fall heavily to the bed.
" 'You sleep good?" he slurred, his hand slipping up to caress lazily over her arm on his stomach.
Bella opened her eyes and glanced at the glowing numbers of the digital clock on the dresser: 9:08 am. "For all of three and a half hours?" she laughed softly.
She felt him pick up his head and then heard the soft thud as it fell back to the bed. He sniffed a laugh.
Bella's eyes drifted closed as her foot climbed his leg and her toes curled into the silky hairs on his shin. Lulled by the sway of his breath and the hypnotic caress of his hand, she drifted in and out of the lapping edges of dream.
They rarely got lazy mornings like this. Usually Jacob was up with the sun for runs and Bella found herself trailing after him for a kiss before shoring up breakfast in preparation for the gaggle of Pack that would traipse back in with him to eat them out of house and home.
She'd never been a morning person before, but this last year she'd found herself looking forward to every one of them.
Jacob leaned his cheek against her head as the hand curled around her slipped down from her shoulder to her breast. He absently kneaded the shape for a moment.
"It's starting around noon?" he mumbled, husky and deep. God, she loved his voice in the morning.
"Mm hmm," she hummed. They were having a picnic and bonfire on the beach today in honor of Bella's birthday and, like all the many firsts she'd enjoyed this year, she was actually looking forward to it.
Jacob's forefinger brushed over a nipple already peaked and primed by the attention and Bella hissed a breath through her teeth. With a soft chuckle, he began rolling it leisurely between a finger and thumb.
"If you keep that up," the words climbed the back of her throat in a moan. "I might have to turn over and molest you a little more."
She heard the crinkle of Jacob's smile by her ear. "That might be the idea, Bells," he murmured.
With her face cracking in a grin, she batted his hand away and then promptly flipped over, climbing onto his chest. Eyes closed, he was trying to smother his smile as his hands settled happily on her ass where she was pretty sure they'd stay 24/7 if she let them.
"Ah-ah-ah," she scolded, reaching behind her with first one hand and then the other and grabbing a thick wrist. Pulling them up, she thumped his hands down on either side of his head. "I said molest, not help yourself, Mr. Jacob Black."
That smile snapped its reins and burst freely over his face, sparkling with sunshine and white teeth. " 'Think I'm gonna let you get away with that?" he crooned, nostrils flaring in spite of his grin.
"Uh huh," she nodded, leaning on his wrists as she wiggled up closer. "Birthday girl, remember?"
Brows pushing together with not-so-mock challenge, he cracked his eyes open at her, their luminescent gold glowing softly in the dim room. Her lips couldn't help but soften into a smile at their first daylight gaze – she never took for granted the gift that was waking up with him alive and whole.
Keeping their eyes joined, she leaned down and placed a kiss to his chin, followed by another and another along his stubbly jaw – penitence and persuasion to sweeten the power play. She watched some of that knee-jerk defiance melt from his face as he blinked slowly into a smile that took five years off that heavy brow.
It was a delicate game she played, but she played it well. And hell, it was her birthday and she was damn well going to make use of every second. The dominant he was, it was good for Jacob to have those boundaries pushed every once in a while.
Plus it always came with a bonus: she was rewarded handsomely when those restraints finally snapped.
Convinced that his hands were going to stay on the bed (at least for now), she released his wrists so she could play.
Her fingers began combing through his hair and she watched luminous eyes swim under heavy lids with the scrape of her nails on his scalp.
She loved his eyes now.
She could get lost staring into the kaleidoscope of unfathomable lifetimes swirling in a human iris. They were haunting and sober and wise, even when she'd coaxed a jaw-cracking sunny smile from the face they were set in.
Like the shapeshifter he was, he could effortlessly don many facades: tenderness, ferocity, dominion. Melting black eyes, smoking glares or fur. But when his eyes were like this – as they were whenever they were alone or with his Pack – it meant that the mask had been dropped from his supernatural soul and he was whole and relaxed in his skin.
So yeah, she loved these eyes.
A soft rumble lit in his chest like a lantern as she slowly stroked over his hair and Bella's smile deepened. She leaned in, nuzzling his cheek with primal comfort in that way that spoke to both forms. Never was he more wolf in this skin than when they were touching. And they touched as much as they could with the duties that weighed on them both.
Bella knew it helped keep him balanced and at peace and this soft contented rumble was proof perfect. She could (and did) spend hours just exploring every millimeter of skin with fingertips or brushing through a thick pelt in his other form. Sex was the most primal way of communicating – and they were quite the conversationalists – but there was something much deeper about simple touch.
And Jacob needed it – a reminder that he was more than man or beast or killer – so he didn't forget that he was both loved and a lover himself.
Ghosting her nose down his broad bridge, her fingers tightened into the hair at the crown of his head and she held him under her mouth as she pressed delicate spider web kisses over his face. She could hear his jackhammer-wild heartbeat under her breast, pounding an impatient tempo against the cage of control and every muscle down his torso engaged in restraint. But she took her sweet time, tasting his salt and musk, while she breathed honey words in both her language and the ones she'd learned in his own.
He panted softly against her, his breath warm and moist, while she brushed love over his eyelids and brow. Hemming his jaw with her lips she finally took his mouth in a tender kiss. That purr vibrating in against her breasts, dissolved into a low groan in her mouth that tasted of licorice and sugar. His tongue parted her lips as he lifted his head from the bed pressing into the kiss as his hands trembled in loose claws an inch off the mattress.
With soft grunts, he painted the inside of her mouth with velvet, fluently taking over the kiss like he did so well. He tasted delicious, warm, decadent. Stars fell under her eyelids as he suckled on her lower lip and hummed into her mouth and she could feel control slip from her fingers as her body melted into pliant submission – another thing he did so well.
Using every ounce of strength in her puny human body, Bella pushed off the bed.
Jacob's tenacious mouth followed her until her palms pressed soundly on his chest and the kiss popped open with a shared gasp. Panting, she licked him off her mouth as she sat up more, watching his pupils yawn in yearning as a soft whine escaped up the back of his throat.
She gave him a chastening smile as she tried to catch her sprinting breath – this was such a hard game, but oh, so worth it.
Jacob's hands left the bed to fall to his side, sneakily snaking along her calves in a little old fashioned boundary pushing but she let it slide. He paid the fine for the infraction several times over with that expression.
Soft, craving, a smile hid in the corners of his sensuous mouth while his eyes stroked up and down her face with lust and love. Never did he look so erotically feral or deliciously human at the same time.
Her palms smoothed over the shuddering plains of his chest as she shimmied down his torso and his hands let her calves slip passively by. Her sopping center met the heated head of his erection and Jacob's eyes snapped closed with a harsh hiss that smothered the low rumble in his chest.
Bella closed her eyes softly for a moment while her focus switched to that smoldering apex where their skin greedily fused together. Her own body was now pleading to be filled but she would make them both wait.
Regaining her control, her eyes fluttered open and watched his face carefully as she slid millimeter by millimeter down over engorged flesh, luxuriating in the burning stretch and the way Jacob arched his head back into the bed, his breath hitching, shallow and rapid, over parted lips.
Her bracing hands climbed down his torso as she seated herself fully on his body and she sat up. He filled her completely, body and soul.
"Jacob," she whispered.
Those eyes snapped open like it was a direct command, instantly focused in hers over the plain of his cheeks. Her lips climbed one side in a lopsided smile as she rearranged herself on the balls of her feet at his hips. Fingers winding around her ankles like vines, he bit that full lower lip in an expression that was pure dark chocolate sex.
Steadying herself on his quivering abs, she pushed off of him… slowwllly… enjoying the torturous pleasure.
This restraint hurt so incredibly good.
His nostrils flared and trembled as she pulled up to the tip of his shaft and hung there for a moment before slipping back down and swallowing him whole in slick soaked heat.
And then she started riding him hard.
She caved in to the voraciousness of her body, pounding into him with pistoning thighs that pumped pleasure through her veins like liquid fire. Bella's lips slipped lax with a deep groan, milked from the marrow of her bones, as she slammed into him with strokes that only seemed to pound heated need into her womb.
Inferno eyes locked with hers, he watched her unabashedly take what she needed from his body while a rumble too low for ear started vibrating under her hands.
Each drag of flesh and slap of skin just increased the pressure, like her blood volatized into expanding desire until she felt like she was coming apart at the seams. With a cry, she threw her head back with abandon, her hair getting stuck in the perspiration down her back while her breasts jiggled and jumped and thighs burned.
Oh, God, she was going to fucking lose her mind!
"Jake-Jake-Jake," she chanted desperately.
Her perch shifted under her as heated hands climbed her legs, changing the angle of him in her body.
Gasping, her legs gave out as she opened her eyes to the man now sitting before her, mouth hitched in a heated smirk while he ravenously ate her alive with his eyes. Slowly his hands skated down her back to her hips.
"Right…" he whispered, effortlessly pulling her up his body. "Here."
He slammed her back down with a twisting thrust of his hips that hit that last puzzle piece into place, piercing the burgeoning black hole of desire and combusting like fission. Fireworks exploded, lighting up every neuron.
Her shriek of release warbled as he pounded all the embers to dust with pummeling thrusts.
With a hoarse gasp, she collapsed onto Jacob's shoulder his rumbling purr wrapping around her along with his arms, holding the charred pieces together.
She lay on his shores for long moments, soothed by that deep sound and the raging rapids of his heartbeat.
His palms slipped around to her shoulder blades then, contrastingly gentle and cherishing, smoothing down her sides before fingertips crept up her spine, pulling her hair free from the beads of sweat on her back. He brushed calloused pads over the bone at the nape of her neck and then ghosted over the string of scars on her shoulder making her gasp and shudder.
His hand wound into the back of her hair, tightening into a fist and making blood reignite. He pulled her head from his shoulder with just enough pressure on the roots to spill chills down her spine.
Her eyes rolled under their lids as Jacob rubbed his nose along her jaw, purring softly against her. He'd been so patient, but a wolf could only wait so long.
Bella was more than ready for her reward.
"Mine," he whispered beside her ear and then dragged lax lips down her racing pulse.
Over the last year slowly ours became mine and we became I as the two souls that were tied to her heart by this body finally started to live in it as one. Edward had tried to tear them all apart, but in the end, wrapped in love, fused with scar tissue, he had inadvertently bound them closer together.
Her breath hitched over parted lips as he tugged her head to the side and her eyes cracked open to find him watching her with pupils yawning so wide they nearly swallowed the preternatural gold.
"Love you," he breathed, deep and velvety like steam.
With a slow blink, her lips curved into an intoxicated smile. "Yours," she whispered.
His lips softened subtly with a combination of feral relish and a man's cherish.
Holding her submissive head firmly in his fist, his eyes darted between hers as he leaned in slowly and took a long audible inhale. The rumble in his chest turned over in a guttural moan as his eyes closed and he brushed his nose down her jumping pulse, drawing embers over her skin. A hot tongue laved it away up the curve of her neck until he butted his nose under her jaw.
He released her hair as he nuzzled behind her ear. "Need you," he breathed again as his hand smoothed down to her shoulders.
Resting a warm palm over his mark for a moment, he stroked a thumb down her throat while he idly bumped his jaw against her temple, slathering her with lupine affection while his stubble caught in her hair.
His hands slipped down her back to her hips and he slowly pulled her up like she weighed nothing, making them both hiss at the drag of skin.
And then he was turning her around.
Settling on her knees, Bella arched back into his chest with a soft moan while calloused hands slipped up from her hips. Rooting through her hair with that lupine rumble, he took her ear into the corner of his mouth and chewed lazily while a tender human touch smoothed over her stomach and ribcage.
His dwarfing palms slipped up to her breasts where he kneaded their shape while her blood sang breathlessly through her veins.
"Love you, Bells," he breathed.
One hand left her breast and smoothed covetously down her side to wrap around her waist. Lolling her head back onto his shoulder she rubbed her temple against his neck as she reached over her shoulder and fisted her hand at the crown of his head.
That soft purr shimmied down her spine as she pulled his head down to her shoulder where he pressed gentle kisses over his mark that awoke starbursts behind her eyes.
He pushed one knee between hers while he mumbled over her skin, "Tell me if it's not right."
They'd both learned from past mistakes - their sex could be unbridled and wild, tender and sweet, craving and carnal, but always was he careful.
His palm left her breast, smoothing down her stomach and catching her fingers in a brief embrace as he bent her forward. Hand tangled in his hair, she brought him down with her as they fell over the bed and he caught them on a strong arm.
Outside their window, the sun yawned through morning clouds and the rain tapped against the window like a petulant child as he pushed into her body. She closed her eyes into thrusts that pushed pleasure over her heart in sumptuous waves.
Moaning deep in her throat, she grabbed Jacob's wrist on the bed and arched into his strokes, patient and deep, sweltry and slow, as he primed her body with his soul.
His low gravelly growl broke with a gasp in her ear, "Bells."
And then the leash snapped.
Forest life quieted out of respect and fear around him as Jacob cantered over sodden leaves and stone. Eyes locked on the woman standing in the window, he shook the misting rain from his pelt as he broke the tree line.
While her head bowed over the sink, he jogged on light paws across the grass while he cataloged the subtle furrow between her brows. He tried to draw her eye with a huff of breath that condensed and hung as steam in the air, but she was too lost in thought. He'd longed to feel her fingers in his coat this morning, but in a glance he could tell she needed him in his skin.
Inhaling sharply, he tamped down fire and wild and forced himself into his other form. It was a frame that felt confining – limbs and muscle so ungainly, so weak and stiff in comparison – but this was the only body that could touch her like he craved to do every moment of every day.
It was she who held him in this world, this life, this skin. And it was this mind that could understand her thoughts, her words, her needs. This body could feast, this heart could love.
He'd been such a fool to be bifurcated by fire and hate for so long, content with a half-life, half-lived. Together now, he could relish and protect, give and receive, hold and seek comfort. Trying to do so as mere man or wolf was like trying to understand a painting by touch or a song by vibration, the depth of it all was lost to deadened senses and ignorance.
Jacob was the lucky one when he used to think himself cursed. He pitied his brothers and sisters – banished to life on the shadow edge of dream-walking like the Spirits they were. Having become wholly flesh he could finally experience the touch, comfort and peace that was mate.
After unfathomable eons, he was no longer alone.
Jacob took the five steps in a single leap, landing on the porch without a sound. Still she hadn't looked up from troubled thoughts.
He crossed the smooth finished planks of the backyard deck, eyes darting over the home he'd built her this year from the skeleton of his house before. He absently cataloged any new imperfections that needed his attention – a scuff from the porch chair against the siding, screens that needed cleaning after a summer of open windows, a leak in the drain-spout from the roof. He remembered every nail and every plank he'd cut to build onto his house to make room for her and his Pack: a suitable den. His wolves had helped, of course, but he'd inspected every corner and sheetrock wall.
As he opened the kitchen door, the scent hit him like a ton of bricks to the crotch. He paused on the threshold to gather himself as hormones and instinct went wild.
The house smelled like sex – as it always did – but she hadn't taken her usual neurotic shower (that didn't fool any of the supernatural noses usually camped out in her kitchen and living room at any point of any day).
But the combination of the day, their fresh arousal, her honey-sweetness, and scent of his seed still dripping from between her creamy thighs just made him want to throw her down on the massive kitchen table they'd moved from Sam's and mark every inch of her again…
Until it erased that lingering ocean salt sorrow that hung in the air.
Bella's lips moved as she looked up from the coffee cupped between her palms on the counter and he literally couldn't remember his human name. He wanted to lick her all over and then sheath himself in her silken heat, pumping those sighs over her cherry lips until neither of them had the breath for names.
She was so fucking beautiful.
One foot was propped on her shin and she was dressed in his tee-shirt with sex tousled curls hanging come-hither sultry around her delicate face. Swollen lips, rosy cheeks, marks from his mouth fading under creamy skin, her liquid chocolate eyes swallowed him whole in a single blink.
Her lips curved in private smile and her gaze dropped back to her coffee.
She'd probably said something that he'd missed. In fact, she could have delivered a whole fucking soliloquy and he'd have had no clue. Bless her, she was used to it by now.
It took him a while to rouse the human side of his brain after he'd slipped back into skin, and even then, sometimes she was just so-…
Just so damn…
He stalked her across the kitchen and slipped up behind her, splaying covetous hands over the smooth plain of her stomach. She sighed quietly as she leaned her head back against shoulder and he bowed his head to rub his jaw over her temple while a contented quiet rumble awoke in his gut.
He strong-armed some sense into the lust boiling his brain.
"You smell sad," he whispered.
She sniffed, leaning into his head as her hand slipped over his, warmed by her coffee to the temperature of his own skin. Jacob pressed a kiss to her head and urged her around as his hands wrapped around her waist. He lifted her up on the counter so he could be closer to those eyes.
Bella stared back at him from under long lashes, drooping and damp. He tenderly stroked over her auburn curls, watching those eyes flit over his face while he waited patiently for her to gather her thoughts – like she always did for him.
They never lied to one another – not any more. And there were times that were sad or joyful, angry or hopeless, or sometimes so exhausting they could only lie without words in each other's arms. The world was like that when there was so much weight piled onto their shoulders.
He knew the life he'd been born to and all that it took from her. He tried so desperately to give her everything he had in return. It seemed like laughably too little most of the time or sometimes too much, but that's the way love was. It consumed you, threshed away your flesh, burned you up and left your naked bones to be bleached in the sun.
It could be painful but it was beautiful. It made him better and he wouldn't trade it for the world.
"I was just thinking…" she began in a soft, melting voice.
Jacob's eyes snapped to hers, aching and open clear down to that sublime soul.
"This is your birthday too," she murmured, lifting her fingers to his cheek.
He leaned into the tenderness of her touch, letting his eyes droop closed for a moment as he let her words seep into him. In reality, it was. These were the days he'd stopped fighting and become whole.
He turned into her palm and pressed a kiss to her lifeline. "My rebirthday, huh?" he smiled, trying to lighten her mood while letting her know he understood.
Bella tipped her head to the side, tracing an index finger down the bridge of his nose while she studied him silently. He let her have at it, watching private thoughts flit behind her eyes.
She combed her fingers through his hair with a gentle touch and then tucked it behind his mangled left ear, slowly caressing the shape while she watched her hand.
He hadn't had the will to heal that night until she'd held him again. Kneeling in a bathtub filled with water blackened by dirt and damage, she'd washed him as tenderly as if she bathed his battered heart. With loving hands she'd buffed the filth from his skin and under the absolution of her touch, bruises faded and wounds sealed.
Those same redemptive fingers curled around the nape of his neck and Bella pulled him in so she could press her lips to what was left of the shell of his ear.
Her warm breath spilled over the sensitive skin like a blessing. "He didn't win," she whispered and then pulled back.
A molasses smile poured over his lips as Jacob met her eyes with a slow shake of his head.
No he didn't. They both wore scars from that night, but with time they'd faded, becoming just part of the binding that held their hearts together. Over this year, they'd had many talks - filled with anger or sadness or both - about that fateful night. The old didn't need to be dredged back up again.
Every day they started a new beginning but this one was special – even though she didn't know it yet – and he didn't want it tainted with shadow ghosts of the past any more than it already was. They lived with enough demons as it was.
"Hey," he whispered as his hands cupped her cheeks and he searched that beautiful face. "We're here together now, right?"
A thin smile flitted over full lips and she nodded in his hands, blinking that sadness free into tears that crested her lashes.
"Each day we're getting better," he leaned in and pressed a kiss to her brow. "Doing the best we can…" he kissed the other, whispering the words over her skin.
He pressed his lips to the bridge of her nose. "With what we have…" He moved down her cheek, kissing away a salty track, "Loving… learning…" And then he peppered her with soft sugar as his thumb rubbed away droplets from her other cheek.
"We take care of our Pack," he murmured, rubbing his jaw over hers as that lupine rumble turned over in his chest uncontrollable just like this hard-on. "We take care of each other. You taught me that, remember?"
She nodded against him with a little teary squeak in the back of her throat.
"You're my best friend, Bells," he whispered, turning to brush his mouth over hers.
"Love you," she sighed shakily. Her hands tangled in his hair to hold him to honeyed lips a little longer and he certainly wasn't one to complain.
While her hands twisted desperately in his hair, Jacob massaged away that sadness, sweeping it all from her mouth with his tongue and swallowing it down until it siphoned up a moan in her throat.
Rebirths and old traumas aside, today was her day and he let her lead as much as he could. But he was such a physical creature… he just couldn't help himself.
One taste of her always sent control out the window and he would be gobbling her down like there was no tomorrow. His Pack was used to it by now and they'd just patiently sit on the sidelines - which he figured was their fair fucking penance for being in his fur 24/7. Oh, he'd had to beat the snide comments out of Quil (Paul knew better) because they embarrassed her, but Jacob certainly didn't give a damn. He took what he needed pure and simple so, in turn, he could give everything away.
It was what he'd been born to do.
Coming up for air with the sweetest little gasp that set his balls on fire, Bella smiled up at him with stars now shining in cloudless eyes. It made him feel like the richest man alive.
Aww, shit. They needed to make use of this solitary while they had it, right?
"Well Bells, since it's my day too, can I get a birthday breakfast?" he crooned, scooping her off the counter into his arms.
Her answer was already laughing in her eyes but her legs locked around his naked hips to rub it in. "Bella over easy?" she arched a brow with that dorky humor that always brought him through the worst of times.
He cracked a grin and drizzled a relishing gaze over her face. How was it possible to love her this much? "Yeah you're easy, alright," he murmured dipping in for a kiss. "Lemme show you…"
He placed smacking kisses over her giggles as he walked them across the kitchen. "God, I love this table," he sighed as he spread her out over it like a birthday banquet.
"This end's going to get worn down from all the scrubbing," she muttered wryly as he yanked off her panties and then swooped over her, bringing her shirt up in one sweep as his mouth landed promptly on a breast.
"Doesn't do shit," he mumbled around a nipple.
Bella fought the shirt over her head, throwing it to the floor. "What?" the sharpness of her indignation was dulled by a groan.
Jacob looked up with sly brow. "Didn't you ever wonder why everyone likes to sit at this end?" He flicked her nipple devilishly with his tongue, making her hiss even as her mortified eyes widened.
Oh, she had no idea. She just couldn't understand without being a wolf of the male persuasion – as Alpha pair, their combined scents was like an narcotic to that burning instinct. His Pack would snort it if they could.
Jacob did… daily.
"I thought because you sat here…" she gasped under her breath.
He gave her a wolvish smile. "I'm part of everyone, right?"
Bella's eyes paced between his as he drew an idle circle around her breast with the tip of his nose, waiting for her obligatory freak-out so she could let it go into the sea of crazy that came with living with supernatural wolves. She was the only human who really got it.
"Eww!" she erupted, slapping his head half-heartedly. "Nasty, Jake!"
"Yeah," he sniffed a laugh as he turned his attention to that pink rosebud straining for his attention. "Mwawesome," he mumbled as he drew it into his mouth.
Hand clawing into his hair, she answered him in a groan.
The rain had lumbered by into a partly cloudy afternoon sporting fleeting patches of sun that raced over the ocean. Jose had hooked his sound system up to the generator and was DJing summertime jams that joined the pounding surf.
Canopies swayed in the wind over food tables, young families and old. Folding chairs had been brought for council elders and pregnant mates. The atmosphere was as upbeat and relaxed as the music - laughter and shrieks were caught by the wind and carried like a kite over First Beach.
Everyone in attendance was also in the Pack know. Any beach wanderers were easily encouraged away – over the last year the entire reservation was growing to respect this group of people. Not that they knew for certain about the wolves to the point of problem, but instead of whispers of fear or derision following the Pack wherever they went, they were now becoming shrouded in mystery and awe.
The council was doing a good job bringing myth and traditions into more reverent focus through the schools and tribal gatherings and slowly but surely, it was bringing magic back to the Rez. At the same time it knit the entire tribe closer together with pride in the old ways. Now when wolves –supernatural or not – howled through the hills, children squealed in excitement, women shivered, and men tipped their chins up a little higher.
"Mom! Go long!"
Bella was stumbling backward over the sand, eyes frantically searching the tangled knot of brown muscled bodies. Toby took Seth to the ground and suddenly she could see Jedi leaping away from Nebi's tackle.
"Mom!" he yelled.
And let the Frisbee fly.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh-…
"Holy Cronoli!" she shrieked, leaping up in the air and snatching it desperately into a two-handed death-grip.
Only to remember gravity about a second later.
"Oof!" she grunted as she slammed back to the sand on her back – and damn wasn't it hard from the rain this morning.
Children's pealing giggles tinkled across the beach from the little peanuts in their sand castle gallery nearby.
Bella turned her head with a humorous glare as she held up the disk in a triumphant hand from flat on her back. "Woo hoo!" she hooted as soon as she could catch her breath.
And the beach erupted in laughter, groans and – something she'd never heard before… cheers?
Bella picked her head up off the sand in confusion, her gaze immediately finding the intense pair of black eyes that had followed her all afternoon. Tipping back a beer, Jacob was poured into a long blackstrap molasses lounge against a log amid a knot of Council members including Billy and her father. They were all laughing.
"She doesn't even know!" Quil's guffaw rang from somewhere on the beach.
Jacob's lips were curved around his bottle. With a jump of brow, he lowered it and tipped his chin beside her.
Bella's wide eyes followed it to the telltale pile of shirts in the sand. With a gasp she whipped around to find another on her other side.
This looked suspiciously like a…
"Touchdown!" she screamed springing up from the damp sand and waving the disc wildly.
Brady laughed from where he was camped out with the kids at a significantly more sophisticated sandcastle than last year. "It's a goal, Bella," he corrected.
She didn't care what it was called.
Jumping up and down wildly across the sand, she was grabbed into Elan's burly arms and spun around while her team whooped and cheered over the catcalls of sore losers.
He set her back down, breathless and grinning like a freak. She turned to the beach only to drop the Frisbee with a shriek as she started running in an instinctual burst of adrenaline from her charging step-brother.
"No!" she gasped as Seth grabbed her around the waist and slung her blithely over his shoulder. "We're not even on the same team!" she wailed, hitting her fists on his back as he jogged down to the water.
"This is a revenge dunk," he laughed maniacally. "And a hundred times worse!"
"SETH!" she screeched as he sloshed through the waves.
Suddenly he stopped short, making Bella flop into his back with the force. "What?" she whimper-laughed, pushing off of him and trying to crane around.
"Jake's pissed," he snickered.
Bella just had the chance to look up at Jacob's hard eyes when she was being flung back over Seth's shoulder, her head supported by his big hand as he turned to shore…
And then dropped backward without warning. Bella screamed as she was dangled by her knees from his strong arm.
"How 'bout like this, Jake?" Seth yelled up to the beach as he held her tauntingly upside down over the swirling shallows while she squawked and laughed. Her pony tail dragged in the water as Seth teasingly threatened to dip her face first.
Nostrils flaring, Jacob congealed to his feet.
"Okay, okay!" Seth laughed, pulling her back up into his arms and facilely rearranging her bridal style.
Cheeks flushed, Bella wrapped her arms around his neck while she giggled, her gaze sweeping out to her lover.
His eyes flickered subtly as that mask he wore shimmered like a mirage, but his lips curved in the smallest smile as he lowered himself back down to the log and took another swig of beer.
Seth galloped her through the waves as she turned to that boyish smile.
"Almost got my assed kicked," he snickered unrepentantly.
""Still are, I'm gonna do it for him," Bella threatened through a smile.
He painted on mock fear. "Even worse!"
They laughed together as he trotted her back up to dry land. Jacob still ruled his wolves with the iron fist and uncompromising dominion that the lupine instinct demanded to stay in control. But now they respected his every boundary with love.
Which meant they weren't afraid to tease.
"Oh good, he's not looking," Seth hissed in a stage whisper, whipping back around to tromp through the waves.
"SETH!" Bella cried.
Laughing his head off, her step brother turned back around and jogged up to the beach. He was in an unusually good mood ever since he'd gotten back from his honeymoon with Talia last week.
"What a little nookie will do to a boy's head," Bella snorted.
Seth's eyes grew incredulous. "Hey, I got nookie-…"
She covered his mouth with her hand. "Don't wanna know," she told him wryly.
Chuckling he set her down on the sand, bending down to whisper in her ear. "Talia's stopped taking her pills."
He pulled back with a full-on sappy grin slapped on his face.
Understanding broadened her smile. "You guys are gonna start on the puppy mill?"
"Yeah," he sighed, his eyes finding his mate sitting beside his sister.
"It's all Leah's fault," Bella laughed softly as she started toward them.
Jedi jogged down the beach, wrapping his arm around her and placing a kiss on her head. He'd grown another three inches this year. "Mom, you rocked it," he gushed.
She looked up into big brown eyes with a smile. "And I think I'm gonna quit while I'm ahead."
"Aww," he pouted.
Squeezing him around the waist, she shooed him off. "Go play."
"Jedi!" Elan called, making the boy turn back to the game.
Flashing her another sweet smile he jogged back off down the beach to another game of Ultimate Frisbee. She watched him go thoughtfully.
At Thanksgiving dinner last year the "mom" slip-up had slipped over his lips at the Pack dinner. Surprisingly (or not – they'd all seen into their brother's battered heart) not a single joke was cracked at his expense. In fact, even a human could have heard a pin drop at that table as all eyes became suddenly interested in their turkey. While her heart broke and Jacob squeezed her hand under the table, Bella had casually shrugged it off, telling him she was den mommy after all. The meal had continued blithely on.
Over the coming months, though, the nickname had stuck like glue. It was now used by the younger wolves interchangeably with her name (or by Quil and Paul when they wanted to annoy her, which was often).
But she knew it meant much more than a Pack nickname to Jedi.
Jacob had been telling her he was doing much better and deep inside she was both touched and pleased the boy had found home in their crazy little family. While it had robbed Jacob of so much, becoming a wolf had given others much more than they'd had as humans – like Paul and Jedi.
Bella watched her laugh at something Rachel had said as she slowly rubbed her swollen middle. Talk about glowing? Leah glowed like the moon. She was happy now. No, it was more than that: she was at peace. Bella's eyes flitted off to Josiah, chatting with Jose as they picked out tunes and he kept a surreptitious eye on his mate.
They were so good together.
They'd left the Big Apple and moved to the Rez where Josiah had set up shop. After she'd regained control, Leah had commuted to West Coast modeling gigs a few times a month. After their wedding celebration in December, they'd settled in nicely and seemed content enough with country life… until the spring. Apparently female wolves had the same annual heat that their cousins did and, with birth control long abandoned, in April she was shocked to find her scent changing.
And that they were pregnant.
It was the first time Leah's fate had actually given her something, rather than taking it away.
Bella had never seen her so content. As the pregnancy progressed, she naturally stopped Phasing – apparently because the change was so hard on her body. Leah had decided to leave the wolf behind after the baby was born.
She'd been the perfect Second, but Jacob took it in stride like he did most things these days. He was no longer waiting to run from what he'd been born to do.
As she approached the three women near the food tables, her eyes darted down the beach and found Jacob talking to one of the Elders.
As soon as she glanced at him, he met her gaze with a subtle sexy smile meant just for her – connecting them for a moment in the private world they shared, no matter who was around. With that perfect vision, she knew he was always watching – even if it looked like he wasn't. He took such good care of them all.
Bella ached to join him. She'd been playing with the Pack or chatting with mates or shepherding new wolves all afternoon – but she knew once she touched him, she'd never leave his side. And she was starving.
Just a little bit more…
"How' you feeling, sis?" Bella asked stopping in front of the women.
Leah snorted a laugh. "Fat."
Twenty-feet away at the food tables Paul looked up. "Karma sure is a you-know-what, huh Lee-lee?" (With a son now starting to babble, he was becoming a pro at sanitized… at least around mixed company. He made up for lost time around Pack.)
"Yeah lard-face," she called over her shoulder. "And what I know is this is your effin' third time to that table."
"Fourth," his lips spread in a saccharine grin. "And how can I resist such a magnificent spread?" he drawled in a piss-poor imitation of Josi before he threw Bella a wink.
"Oh poor-taste thinks he's gourmet now," Leah barked a laugh.
"Watch it, he chose me," Rachel popped her friend in the arm as she rocked her sleeping baby.
"And I cry for you every day," Leah lamented melodramatically.
Laughing at their antics, Bella dragged her hand over her sister's shoulder as she passed. Leah caught it, letting her head fall back so she could see behind her. "You' having a good birthday, B?" (B was for both for Bella and bitch – they were all getting creative around the kids.)
Pursing her lips, she nodded, confused by her question. It was wildly different from the glitz and glamor or last year but - while it had been a fun experience while it had lasted - honestly this was more her style: a day spent with family where she wasn't the focus of attention.
" 'Cause birthdays always come with surprises," Leah wiggled her brows upside down at her.
"Oh, God," Bella rolled her eyes. "What!" she demanded.
Leah positively leered. "Then it wouldn't be a, y'know, surprise…"
"I hate surprises, Lee!" she complained, slapping her shoulder.
With a megalomaniacal laugh Leah lifted her head and took another sip of water while the other two women ominously grinned– obviously in the know. Huffing petulantly, Bella turned back toward the food tent.
Paul was chuckling as he piled a piece of bacon-wrapped chicken on a plate that looked like it should have collapsed a few miles back under the load.
"Don't worry 'bout them," he smirked. "I think you're gonna like this one, moms."
Bella playfully bumped his shoulder and the precarious chicken tumbled off the top of the pile. He caught it easily and arched a shrewd brow that made her giggle. But while family life had brought him down a few notches in the troublemaker line-up, Paul was still one of the most sensitive wolves under all that bravado. His reassurance instantly took the sting out of Leah's tease.
With a casual shrug he took a bite out of the chicken in his fist. "S'good," he mumbled.
"Toby made it," Bella smiled up at him sweetly and he mimed choking.
"Good thing Tiffany's here," he wheezed. "We're all gonna need CPR."
Snorting, Bella pulled a plate from the stack and started filling it while Paul leaned back against the canopy's pole and munched away, keeping her company.
Bella surveyed the spread with satisfaction as she liberally piled on meats on one side and salads on the other. She was proud of her boys; in a year they'd learned to be quite the cooks (well, some were better than others and Paul was hopeless, but she was pretty sure that was by design). Her favorite hobby would always be the kitchen, but she wasn't like Emily or Kim – there was no way she was going to spend her entire life in a never ending cycle of cooking for boundless appetites, meal after meal.
Between her relationship, helping with the Pack, her career and tutoring wolves for their GEDs at that special end of the table – oh God, she wasn't going to think about it – she simply didn't have the time. Plus she didn't want her boys growing up as helpless male imbeciles who couldn't cook and clean up after themselves.
"You've gotten to be quite the pro, huh Swan?"
Bella glanced over her shoulder. Paul had his head tucked over his plate and was watching her from under his lashes while he chomped away like the champ he was.
"At frisbee?" she balked. She sucked… today was just a fluke in honor of her birthday. Fate wasn't always such a bitch after all.
"Yeah…" a non-committal shoulder jumped with the corner of his mouth. " 'Single-handedly saved the home team, if you ask me."
With a slow blink, Bella turned around with a curious cant of her head.
He sniffed a laugh and his eyes fell to his plate as he shoveled another piece of ham into his mouth – obviously having decided to forgo the fork. "They all know it, too," he smacked away. " 'Think any one of 'em would do anything for you."
Her lips eased into an affectionate half smile while Bella watched him become suddenly fascinated with digging through his plate. He wasn't talking about Frisbee at all, he was talking about the Pack. Paul was getting down-right nice in his old age.
"Well, y'know with frisbee," she emphasized meaningfully. "It's a collaborative thing. And I happen to love my home team. I'd do anything for them too."
"You do," Paul's eyes darted up and he gave her a slow greasy smile as he straightened. " 'Guess what I'm sayin'," he crossed toward her and leaned down to place a pert slimy kiss on her forehead before whispering quietly. "S'glad you were born."
It was the sweetest thing Paul had ever said to her and, like with Leah or Sam or any dominant, she was going to be sure and ignore it completely
"Gross, Paul!" she wrinkled her nose, wiping the back of her hand over her forehead.
He chuckled and then ghosted a wink before sauntering off without another word. Bella watched him amble toward his mate while his eyes swept out to the game being played between picnickers and the sea.
Suddenly he laughed. "How the fricken frack did you miss that, Joe!?" he barked, spewing food over the sand.
Grimacing, Bella turned back to the table and found a napkin to wipe the grease from her face.
She finished filling her plate, absently straightening covers and foil along the way, and then turned and surveyed her Pack, strewn across the beach.
The informal Council meeting had apparently dispersed and members had wandered back to families spread out on blankets and chairs in a fanning arc around their epicenter: Jacob.
While his father leaned over the arm of his chair and said something to him, his gaze was trained idly on the game in front of him but she knew he was tracking her and giving her the illusion of privacy to get her bearings. Privacy was such a human convention, but the wolves all faked it whenever they could; it showed how much they cared for one another.
Picking up a potato, she nibbled at it while she took inventory of her charges. The newest wolf, Jordan, was asleep on the blanket by his parents and Quil, Claire and their significant others were now keeping them company. Bella had spent most of the afternoon with them, but like the family they all were, the Pack naturally rotated so someone was always with them.
Even though there'd only been a handful of leeches crossing their territory, eerily like clockwork, there had been three new wolves this year to replace Sam, Leah and then Embry who quit this summer. It was a painful process to watch, but at least families were part of the mix now and they could be embraced by the comfort of Pack after the first few days of their change. As his power matured and strengthened, Jacob was able to shore up their control faster and faster.
At social events like this, the Pack tended to separate into clicks - that were more based on age and family status than anything - but they took care of the children in their midst as the unified group they were. In fact the twins had dropped out of the game and were now helping Embry and Nina shepherd a gaggle of toddlers and first graders from sand castles to the tide-pools down the beach.
While the DJ speakers launched buoyant summertime classics into the breeze - aimed at the span of generations - humans and wolves ate and laughed and played. But below that surface, Pack business continued seamlessly on and shifts subtly switched and reported. With all the many disparate spare parts Jacob had been given as Alpha - some a little rough for the wear – he'd built a well-oiled machine that ran like a custom-tuned race car.
As if he'd heard that thought, Jacob's gaze darted to where she'd gotten lost in her musings under the tent. She smiled at him as she started trudging through the sand – he was a patient man, but there was a limit after all. Between his meetings and her duties with the Pack they'd gotten little time together this afternoon.
He made no bones about watching her like a hawk as she crossed toward him, answering greetings and making small talk as she passed people who looked up to her in both ways.
She passed where Sam's now long and lanky human body was sprawled behind Emily who was nursing their baby and he met her eye with an easy smile. He looked both older and younger at the same time. After his successful return to humanity (and getting his house back) it was like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
Bella supposed it had.
"He said you're off the clock for the rest of the night," he drawled with a wink.
A smile bloomed on her face as she looked up to where Jacob, dressed in her favorite snug black tee shirt and cut offs, was congealing to his feet. With another glance at Sam, she took the last several steps to her mate's side.
Eyes locked with hers, Jacob took her plate in one hand while the other slipped around the nape of her neck and he pulled her closer. At the spark of touch, each of their bodies viscerally relaxed. He leaned down toward her and, with the fluent ease of a blink, his eyes slipped into luminous gold.
"Hey," he whispered as he rubbed his jaw over hers.
"Hey," she murmured, closing her eyes into his addictive scent, inhaling musk and mate and pine – the only real sustenance she needed.
He dragged loose lips over her cheek and then nuzzled along the side of her nose in lupine greeting before he took her lips in a gentle human kiss.
Sighing happily, she stepped in closer and opened to him, relishing the way his tongue slipped in to stake its claim. They kissed, deep and unhurried for several of their synchronized heartbeats and then he pulled back, brushing his knuckles over her cheek before his hand skated down her arm to take hers.
With another blink, his eyes returned to black – the mask he wore to make humans more comfortable – and his mouth hitched up in a lopsided smile. "Nice touchdown," he crooned.
She flicked her eyes with a snort. "I hear it's called a goal."
His grin evened out as he tugged her to the blanket they'd laid out by one of the logs that would later serve as a story-telling perch. He sat down, stretching out on his side and propping a bulky bicep on the log while he balanced the plate on his palm.
Whenever they were together it felt like all eyes couldn't look away, but Bella didn't mind this attention. She was with her best friend and it was just part and parcel of him being the Alpha of the Pack. Absently sprinkling a smile over all the faces turned to her, she sat down on the blanket and scooted back against him.
She turned as her gaze cataloged Jacob's face – both of them taking inventory like they always did whether they'd been apart eight minutes or eight years. His eyes were soft now - some of that expressionless "Alpha mask" he wore for business slipping from the budding peace underneath.
She smiled as she tucked several strands of hair that had escaped from his low ponytail behind first his good ear and then the other. Her fingertips lingered over the ropey caramel, tenderly tracing it before leaning in and pressing her lips to the maimed shell. She always made sure to kiss his scars.
"Best birthday ever," she whispered into his ear.
She pulled back to find her favorite smile firmly in place, all teeth and sun. " 'S not over yet," he murmured with two jumps of his brow.
"Ja-ake," she warned humorously as she took her plate from his hand.
He chuckled as he propped his cheek on his fist and wrapped the other arm around her as she settled back against his chest.
Bella took a bite of a spinach salad and then let her head flop back on his shoulder. While she chewed, her gaze darted out to the glistening bodies playing with supernatural stamina under clouds and sun, just enjoying the peace.
Jacob's hand slipped from around her waist to climb her side and comb idly through her hair. It was a mess of flyaway salt and sand. Neither of them cared.
Setting down her fork she picked up a slab of meat with her fingers as her gaze cut to the black eyes stroking over her profile. She brought the ham to that perfect mouth and he opened up obediently.
"Everything going okay?" she asked cryptically. Best friends that they were, they always understood one another.
Jacob nodded slowly as he chewed. She watched him as she picked up another potato and munched while she waited for more.
Over this last year he'd been negotiating with the Volturi – of all things - but after they'd gotten the supernatural attention they had after Seattle, there hadn't been much choice. It was a slow process because immortals had, as Jacob put it, 'a fucking lame-assed respect for time.'
Billy and the Council were helping with strategy and adding to the human element and so far things were going as well as could be expected. It only made sense really: the Volturi were invested in keeping their secrets and they could hardly take out a whole Tribe of people who knew about them in one way or another without giving them away. The Pack was using that leverage (blackmail) to negotiate some official space on the supernatural playing field along with the official mandate that the vampire world stay out of their little corner of it or accept the consequences.
It was solving some of their problems, but not all of them, apparently. Still wolves were Phasing, even though what was left of the Cullen clan had long been banned and there had been far fewer trespasses this year - the Volturi couldn't control all rogues.
Jacob swallowed as he smoothed his hand over her head and rested it on the crown. "Aro officially agreed today to the territory boundaries," he murmured quietly and then his lips spread in a smile. "Another birthday present."
Bella widened her eyes humorously. "I'll fucking take it," she snorted handing up another piece of meat to those succulent lips.
Eyes locked, he took it from her fingers with a sensuous stroke of his tongue and she lost herself in his slow, languid chews.
"Now that's the way it's done, Rache," Paul chuckled.
Bella turned over her shoulder with a scowl at where Leah, Rachel and Talia had scooted closer along with other Pack. Whenever they were together they were like a wolf magnet, which was endearing at the best of times and annoying the rest of them.
"Then you'd just get even fatter," Rachel snorted, shifting the baby on her shoulder.
"Why don't you do something useful, Lahote," Bella scoffed. "Like get me a coke."
Paul rolled his eyes but stooped down to one of the coolers scattered among the group and pulled out a soda. He tossed it toward them and Jacob snatched it from the air with a deft hand over his side. Grinning her thanks at Paul she set the plate down on her knee and took it from her lover's hand, cracking it open and taking a sip before leaning back against his solid shoulder.
Apparently their Pack had decided the alone-time was up and started congealing around them with casual conversation. While the music pumped and bodies jumped and ran in the sand, Jacob's hand soothed through her hair and Bella kept the conversation going. He'd cut in with a remark here or there or chuckle under her ear but for the most part, he left the socializing to her. It was one of the few times he could really be "off" and he took the break the same way he always did:
He watched her.
Of course she knew that mind was also keeping tabs on everything else around them. Bella couldn't imagine having the senses he'd described to her. But, all in all, this afternoon was as relaxing as it got outside their bedroom walls.
While she chatted and listened, Bella nibbled slowly through her plate until finally she was offering him the last potato that she simply didn't have room for.
Staring into eyes that were flickering subtly, she was just passing it over russet lips when his hand abruptly left her head.
A snap by her ear made her squeak in surprise. Whipping around she found a Frisbee in a casual fist. Jacob hadn't moved so much as a muscle under her.
She turned to him with wide eyes but he was now glaring out over a beach where every foot was frozen in its tracks.
"JOEY WHITEHORSE!" he bellowed.
The wolf in question and apparently the culprit, hung his head. Jacob leaned in and pressed an absent kiss to Bella's temple as she sat up and he pushed lithely to his feet.
He rolled his shoulders and then cracked his neck while his troops stared at him with wide eyes, waiting warily for the punishment for the crime of nearly hitting their Alpha's mate with a wayward frisbee.
"Lahote… Uley… C'mon.," Jacob decreed in a velvet bass that unfurled over every ear on the beach. "Let's show these cubs how it's done."
The beach exploded in catcalls and cheers as Sam and Paul hopped to their feet. Jacob peeled his shirt off broad shoulders and let it drop as he stalked out across the sand.
"Ateara! Call! Clearwater! Cameron!" he barked over his shoulder. "Get your tails out here!"
"We'll go easy on your dainty human ass," Paul chuckled evilly as he slapped Sam's back and they headed out after their Alpha.
"Language!" Rachel snapped.
"I mean, tushie," Paul pinched his ass and got a Sam's sledgehammer fist in his gut.
Grinning like a fool, Bella scooted back up against the log and sipped her soda while she watched teams form, balancing the humans and on each side.
Jacob didn't play with them often because he was simply: a) too competitive, and b) too good. But every now and again he'd join in, usually when only humans were playing too – this would be more about just horsing around.
Beckoned by their Alpha, Collin and Brady jogged down the beach and the original Pack gathered while the younger generation settled on the sidelines in the sand.
Jacob yelled over his shoulder. "Lee! Get that belly out here and ref!"
Groans erupted from the group and Leah veritably cackled as she stood and smoothed down her dress.
"Just like old times," Quil guffawed. "Only older!"
Embry smacked him on the back of his head and then propped an elbow on his shoulder.
"Joisah!" Jacob called the human martial artist. "Round out Sam's team."
And so a game of Ultimate Goof began.
Bella hadn't laughed so hard in a long time – which was really saying something. Interspersed with jaw-dropping athletics and professional-bitch calls by their ref, the Pack showcased both humor and the closeness that had grown among eight people who'd been to hell and back together and had lived to tell the tale.
Every last person on the beach cheered and jeered along with them while the kids shrieked and clapped where they sat in the laps of the newer Pack in the sand.
Finishing off her soda, Bella watched Embry leap up, still unnaturally high, and catch the disk. Jacob charged him and threw him over his shoulder - Frisbee and all – as he ran for the goal line.
"No fricken go, Black!" Leah belted across the sand while Jacob stomped with melodrama worthy of an Oscar.
"Carrying!" Leah mimed some bullshit football ref signs with bravado. "Penalty goes to the Black Bananas. Uley's Tools has the ball." Even with kids around, they always found a way to throw penises into everything.
Bella laughed as she set down her empty can and then looked up at stare s and smile in her periphery. Billy's grin deepened as he motioned her closer.
Pushing off the blanket, Bella took a few steps and sat on the log, looking up at him expectantly.
"I didn't get a chance to tell you happy birthday yet, honey." His weathered hand landed on her shoulder as Charlie looked on beside him.
"Yes you did," Bella frowned.
"Well, not proper-like," he murmured. "I got something I wanna give you. And while they're all occupied, 'seems like the right time."
Bella was enjoying a celebration loosely around the day but she'd made clear her veto on presents and cake. "You didn't have to-…"
"Don't talk back to your Chief, girl," he interrupted sternly.
Bella smiled as he turned and took the box that her father handed him. "I didn't buy nothing," he continued, handing her an unwrapped box. "Jake's got your other gift, but this has been in the Black family for a long time and I want you to have it."
The smile slowly slipped from her face as she brought the box to her lap and lifted the yellowed lid. It was filled with a silk cloth, nubby with age.
Bella carefully pulled it back and a soft gasp left her lips. Nestled in the box was a beautiful hair comb, hand-beaded and decorated in what she recognized as the Quileute style. She lifted it up carefully, examining it with awed eyes. The handiwork was mind-blowingly intricate.
"That belonged to Jake's mom," Billy whispered. "And mine before that."
Bella looked up with round eyes. "God, Billy," she breathed. "Are you sure?" She couldn't help but instinctively glance over his shoulder to where Rachel was sitting.
She was watching her with a soft smile and when Bella met her gaze she nodded her approval.
"It's not for every day," Billy continued as she traced the pattern with a reverent finger. "It's worn by the Chief or Alpha's wife at pow-wows and ceremony."
"Thank you," she whispered, looking up to meet his eyes with her sincerity.
He nodded once, a secret smile playing in the corners of his mouth.
Gently replacing the ornament in the box and nestling the silk around it, she closed the lid, leaving her palm resting on the top for a moment while she contemplated the magnitude of such a gift… and the future that lay before her.
Sometimes it was scary… actually, a lot of times.
If she was honest with herself, and now she always was, she hadn't really thought through all the implications of marking - the pressure on Jacob, implications with children, the 24/7 duty and danger, the intensity of their relationship and all the many people who relied of them not to falter. She couldn't have understood back then.
But now she did.
There were times that were sad or joyful, angry or hopeless, or sometimes so exhausting they could only lie without words in each other's arms. The world was like that when there was so much weight piled onto their shoulders.
Bella knew the life Jacob been born to and how much it demanded. And he tried so desperately to give her everything he had in return. . It seemed like ridiculously too much most of the time or sometimes too little, but that's the way love was. It consumed you, threshed away your flesh, burned you up and left your naked bones to be bleached in the sun.
It could be painful but it was beautiful. It made her better and she wouldn't trade it for the world.
A booming laugh rolled across the beach and she looked up to find Jacob doubled over as Sam dragged a flailing Paul into the waves.
"I never thought I'd hear him laugh again," Billy murmured quietly beside her.
Bella looked up to find him watching her again.
"Thank you, Bella," he whispered.
Turning back out to a game that had disintegrated into raucous horseplay, a bittersweet smile softened her lips. Billy had been right: he never was going to get his boy back again.
Yet that was the way of the world – Jacob was now a man, a leader and a wolf. Slowly his heart was mending but she suspected some things would never fully heal in either of them.
But in precious moments like this when he was spilling sunshine all over a beach choked with clouds, enjoying himself and playing with a Pack who would love him to their deaths, she could fool herself into believing that he was still that boy she'd known…
And that she was a girl who'd made the right choice the first time.
Billy's hand slipped over hers still resting on the box and his fingers laced with hers – similar but so wildly different from his son's.
And together they watched Jacob flip nimbly into the waves. For just a blessed moment in time, he was free.
The sun had set below the cloudy horizon, sucking the dusk along after in its wake. The bonfire had been banked and built and logs and chairs pulled around it while the music played valiantly on.
Bella leaned back against Jacob's shoulder, his arm wrapped tightly around her while the fledgling flames lapped tentatively at their fuel. Conversations and laughter flitted around them like the smoke and Bella sighed happily.
"Don't get too comfortable," Jacob murmured in her ear.
Bella picked her head up, turning to him questioningly but he was craned over his shoulder mouthing something behind him.
Suddenly the song stopped and silence settled over the group.
Then a familiar chord toned across the beach from the speakers.
I can hear her heartbeat for a thousand miles…
Michael Bublé's dreamy vocals slunk across the sand and the entire beach erupted in a whooping cheer.
And the heavens open up every time she smiles.
Bella's rolled her eyes at the first song they'd danced to at the Triple Door. It had followed them around for a year – at Leah's wedding celebration, the New Year's party at the Council hall, Jacob's birthday, a spring dinner, their kitchen on a private night…
Extricating himself, Jacob poured up to his feet while Bella groaned. There had been a lot of dancing this year… still she totally, no-doubt-about-it, sucked.
She gives me love, love, love, love, crazy love
But how could she resist that sexy smile?
She took the hand he offered her and Jacob pulled her to her feet while encouragement or teases shouted around them. People turned on their logs or chairs as he led her out to the free and clear.
Jacob turned and took her other hand. "Step up," he murmured around a lopsided smile.
With a sigh of defeat and smothered grin, she stepped up on his giant bare feet, pinching his ankles with her big toes. One arm slipped around her back, pulling her in close as he gripped her hand at her shoulder.
Bella looked up into his smiling face while that soothing lupine sound began rumbling in his chest. He was so incredibly beautiful.
Flipping back a wayward hair with snap of his head, he swooped her into a dramatic dip and she giggled. Holding her in strong arms, he leaned down and pressed a kiss to her lips and his gaze lit on fire. He pulled them both back up while golden eyes, glowing softly in the dusk, flitted lovingly over her face and his feet did impossible things under hers while her toes clung to his ankles for dear life.
He stepped and spun them across the beach, kicking up sand in a playful dance as other couples followed them out to join in. As Jacob moved them through the dusk, they laughed together, lost in each other's eyes and the private world they shared while instinct purred in contentment.
A little voice pulled them back to reality and Bella felt little arms being flung around both their legs. She looked down at Raven's grinning face, tipped up to them.
"I wanna dance!" she piped.
Jacob's fingers slipped free from their joined hands and he combed them through that ebony hair. "Rave, I think your Papa would be pretty sad if you didn't dance with him."
Bella looked up to see Sam approaching his little girl with a grin and raised brow. With a squeal the girl turned and took her father's hands, stepping up on his feet just like Bella.
Laughing softly, Bella leaned her cheek on Jacob's chest as she wrapped her arms around his waist and his embrace swaddled her to his body. He toned down his fancy feet to a more sedate back and forth and Bella sighed happily.
In the falling dusk, while Jacob slowly rocked them in a circle, Bella watched her family dancing around her– crazy, mismatched, wonderful:
Charlie and Sue were wrapped close and whispering…
Leah had her back to Josiah's chest and he was swaying them back and forth
while his hand rubbed over her belly…
Wolves held their mates or horsed around and kids just jumped and squealed…
Jose had his cheek resting on Brady's shoulder and they were barely moving at all…
Tiffany skipped around Billy's chair as she held his hands and they both laughed…
Claire and Quil were having a dork-off as they cut the sand side-by-side with their dates…
"And when I'm returning, from so far away," Jacob suddenly sang along with the lyrics under his breath in her ear.
Bella picked her head up as a shiver spilled down her spine.
"She gives me some sweet lovin', brighten up my day," his lips hitched in his best roguish smile.
"I can't believe you know the words," Bella laughed softly as he spun her around once in reprimand.
"Yes, it makes me righteous, it makes me whole," he crooned in that velvet bass while incandescent eyes warmed hers. "And makes me mellow, down to my soul."
"Mellow?" Bella snorted lightly as she squeezed him tighter. " 'Dunno about that."
He arched a brow. "It's a relative thing."
"Ah, I see," she said sagely.
Jacob coughed a laugh, and bent down with a kiss to her temple. "Let's get outta her for a few," he whispered into her hair.
He pulled back as she stepped down to the sand.
Ignoring the questions in her eyes, he turned and squatted down. "Hop on," he grinned over her shoulder.
A smile stretching her lips, she flung her arms around his neck and he stood, bouncing her up his back as his forearms crooked under her knees. Laughing like a little kid, she rode him out of the group of dancers who had turned to watch.
"Hold on," he warned ominously and Bella squeezed his neck tighter.
And then he was running over the sand.
"Wooop!" Bella shrieked as suddenly the world was turning on its ear, spinning dizzily around her.
Jacob landed lightly on his feet out of the front flip without a break in his stride as people behind them hooted.
"Show off," she laughed breathlessly in his ear.
His chuckles bounced under thighs.
But as soon as they got down the beach he slowed that breakneck pace to a smooth rolling jog along the water. When they were far enough that the music was drowned out by the rhythmic thunder of surf, he slipped his arms from under her legs and let her down his back.
"I just want to walk a little," he told her quietly, holding out his hand.
As easy as breathing, their fingers slipped into place as she started down the beach at his side, covertly searching his face for clues. His eyes were luminous in a twilight made milky by the rising full moon behind the clouds. His expression was thoughtful, serious.
She was used to his moods: she understood now.
"You okay?" she whispered, squeezing his hand.
His eyes cut down to her with a distracted smile and he nodded before returning his gaze back down the beach. Leaning in closer so their arms bumped with each stride, Bella's eyes swept over sand and the way the moonlight lit the curls of incoming waves. She would wait until he could tell her what was on his mind – just like she always did.
Just like he did for her too.
Side by side, they strolled just on the edge of the sea where the sand was still firm and the bigger sets lapped at their toes. The sound of the waves wrapped around them like a mother's heartbeat.
They were headed out to their "spot" where the old driftwood log had long ago decayed away. Only a rock remained like a headstone marker, but still they came to the same place together whenever they just wanted to get away from their reality and steep in the past.
Bella couldn't walk this beach without being drowned by memories: happy ones of childhood when a sunny boy and a clumsy girl had played in the sand; afternoons of teenage angst, sharing secrets side by side on a sun-bleached log; adult evenings where pain had crackled like the surf, threatening to tear them apart; and then the new memories they'd made in all the seasons of this year.
Jacob's hand wiggled free from hers as he stooped and picked up a stone. Eyes examining it, he turned it in his hand thoughtfully and then jogged into a throw that skipped for farther than she could see along the sheet of water rushing up the sand.
The sea foam was cold on her feet as they wordlessly they fell into step again. For some reason, with all the many memories they'd shared on this beach, the one that always pulled her into its riptide was that night when he'd told her he'd dreamed of swimming out to sea.
Every now and again, they talked about it still.
Bella looked up at the man walking beside her, chin proud, spine straight and a gait as fluid as the waves. She wondered what was on his mind, but she wouldn't ask because she knew he'd tell her when he was ready.
Turning her attention to the sand she gasped happily and jogged ahead to snatch another birthday present. She plucked a prize sand-dollar shell from the sand, glowing under the creamy skies like the moon. A skipping splash made her look up to where Jacob had thrown another stone over the surf.
A wash of water from a larger wave rolled toward her and she squeaked, straightening and running up onto the beach. She examined the shell in her hand for a moment before stowing it safely in her back pocket. Turning around, she found Jacob smiling softly at her as he waded through the knee-deep water, unconcerned by the way it lapped at his cut offs.
"Found another?" he murmured.
"Yeah," she nodded happily.
Sniffing a laugh he pulled her into his side, pressing a kiss to her temple.
Slowly they made their way down the beach, side by side, each lost in skipping stones or shells or thoughts. Bella spied their spot ahead in the dim light and started toward it.
Jacob's hand made her start in surprise as it pulled a windblown strand of hair from across her face.
His eyes held her captive for a moment and she slowly turned toward him. He was ready.
"I wish I could offer you more," he whispered.
Bella's brows pushed together as her lips parted to tell him-...
"But I don't have anything else to give," he beat her to it, a sad smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
"Jake…" she breathed.
His eyes fell between them as he pressed his lips together then he turned and snatched up another stone, fingering it absently as blind eyes swept out to sea. He jogged a step and skimmed it out over the tossing waves.
"I'm never going to stop," he spoke quietly out to the horizon as he watched it bounce and then sink beneath the ocean.
The words were cryptic, but they'd always understood one another well: he was never going to be able to stop Phasing. He'd told her before.
"I know," she said. How could he, without gutting himself again?
Bella wrapped her arms around herself against the wind and watched him stare silently over the sea for a moment. His body looked majestic and wild: muscular with strong shoulders, narrow hips and long legs he was the spitting image of a warrior. Loose strands of his hair sailed in the breeze while his ponytail hung heavily over the bone at the back of his neck softening that hardness to make it darkly erotic.
"You said you didn't want forever anymore," he laughed bitterly as he clasped his hands behind him. "I never did."
Bella blinked, taking a step closer. "Well, here's a dorky line for you," she sniffed, trying to soften that tension in his spine. "Forever without you was too long but with you it might not be enough."
It didn't work.
Jacob sniffed, shaking his head back and forth slowly.
Licking her lips, she soldiered on. "But Jake, it's true," she pressed softly. "And we don't know what's going to happen, right? Taha Aki lived hundreds of years but we might not. This is all new." According to what Old Quil and Billy figured out – and by the mirror on the wall – tied to him by the mark, body and soul, Bella would not only die with him, she would age with him too.
Which, while he Phased, was not at all.
And Jacob was never going to stop.
He drew in a deep breath that raised those stalwart shoulders and then turned around and met her gaze. "I'm never going to want children."
Bella bit her lip as she stared back into those intense lucent eyes. "I know," she whispered softly.
They'd talked about this too and, while she'd always vaguely assumed she would, now, it was a no-brainer. She had more kids - of all ages - than she could handle already and at least she could send them home sometimes when they needed time for them.
But even without an overwhelming duty, she didn't know if she wanted to bring life into a world at war - especially with the imprint and mark. It was so incredibly complicated… just like everything else in this crazy life of theirs.
Jacob took two slow steps toward her, reaching up a hand to cup her face. His eyes fell to his thumb as it strummed over her lip.
"I know it's fucked up," he whispered and then his eyes raised slowly to hers. "But I like to hear you say it."
Tipping her chin up, Bella took the last step into him and her palm slipped over his hand at her cheek. She always knew what he needed to hear – and she'd said it many times this year.
"We're both part of your Pack," she spoke deep into his eyes, softly, firmly.
Jacob had talked to her about everything, including how violently it had torn him up and flayed him open to let her drive off in Edward's car.
Along with the fact that it might be a choice he would have to make again.
"Your job is to make the best decision you can for the good of everyone." She lifted her free hand to his heart and splayed her palm over the deep, steady rhythm. "And if I die, then I'll know you did your best and it was for my brothers and sisters," she murmured as his hand covered hers over his heart. "If you die, I'd miss you too much not to follow you anyway."
Jacob's eyes darted back and forth between hers and then he pulled her into his chest. He squeezed her closely with a ferocity that was fueled by despair and the wretchedness of their fate.
God, Jacob couldn't even think of the end in peace - he'd always been unfailingly thoughtful and caring. Even in death, Edward had been nothing but selfish.
Jacob sucked in a breath. "If you die…" he prompted in a voice that was taut and hoarse under her ear.
She knew the reassurances he sought - one of the reasons Bella didn't want children was because she was afraid she'd either have to watch them leave with old age or they'd be left by both their parents at once.
Jacob was terrified of anything that would hold him in the world when she'd left it.
It might change someday, but, then again, it might not. But she knew what he needed to hear right now.
"If I die," she crooned softly like a lullaby. "You rain your fucking vengeance down and do what you have to do." Bella picked up her head and looked into eyes that were shockingly liquid – pure molten agony.
"Then, when you just can't do it anymore, honey?" she soothed with a raise of her brow.
Jacob's melting gaze was darting frantically over her face.
Bella's hand slipped up to his jaw, capturing that desperation. Looking deeply into his eyes she whispered quietly, emphatically, "Then you swim out to sea where I'll be waiting."
Jacob pressed his lips together as a single tear broke over his lashes and sprinted down his cheek. It was heart-rending to see his private pain but she was blessed to share it. This was only the second time he'd allowed himself to cry in front of her.
The first had been last year in her arms.
Brow furrowed, Bella reached up and caught his heartache on her finger. She ferried it to her mouth.
"I'll wait, Jake," she breathed over it. And then kissed it away.
Releasing her with a harsh snuffle, Jacob turned his back, smearing a brusque fist across his face.
Giving him the privacy - such a human illusion that they all faked so well - to get himself together, Bella reached into her back pocket and pulled out the shell. She fingered the star etched in the middle while she listened to his quiet gasps. This love was scarred by so much pain.
With a jagged breath, Jacob turned back around, valiantly squaring his shoulders.
Bella held the sand-dollar out to him along with a soft smile.
With a soggy laugh, he took it, breaking it open easily in those strong hands. He shook the little doves into her outstretched hand.
Prodding through them with her fingertip, she separated them out and then plucked out two of the five to give back to him.
He watched as she pressed them in the deep lines of his palm.
Looking up into his face, she stared into his beautiful inhuman eyes for a moment – so achingly caring, imperfect, and real.
And then she turned to the sea.
Jogging a few steps toward the waves, she flung the pieces out over the water with abandon. Bella watched them flutter down to be swallowed by the voracious surf and crushing unknown.
Feeling Jacob come up beside her, she turned and watched as he tossed his out over the ocean too, along with the broken shards of the shell.
As she watched them join the waves, warm fingers laced effortlessly with hers.
For several long moments – minutes or hours of unknowable time - they just watched the water fold in thundering curls under the dead-eyed moon and milky sky.
A tug on her hand had her looking up into Jacob's smile – it was small and sober… but a little more at peace. He tipped his chin toward the beach and they turned around together while a wave rushed up and tried to pull them by the ankles back out to sea.
Jacob wrapped an arm around her shoulders and she wound hers around his waist as they silently walked up toward the cliffs and the stone that marked the passing of their childhood.
He sat down on the rock and pulled her up on his thigh. Swaddling her in strong arms, he leaned his cheek against her head.
Bella counted his breaths and the steady beat of his heart against her back as she gazed out over the ocean and stroked soothingly along his bare arm.
"Jedi wants to accept the wolf," Jacob whispered. "What do you think?"
Blinking, she turned to him as he picked his head up and met her gaze.
"I think he's looking for family," she told him quietly, frankly. "And we can give him that without the rest. He can live with us, if you'd like."
Jacob sucked in a breath through his nose as his eyes listed off to the side with thoughts. "No," he breathed and his gaze returned to hers. "That's not all of it. The wolf is stronger in the young ones," his brow furrowed and he grazed his lips with his teeth. "It's like the wolves are changing."
Bella turned in his arms a little more. "Changing?"
He nodded, returning her stare while thoughts furrowed his brow. "The new Phasing might not have to do with the number of leeches in the area," he paused, licking his lips. "It might have to do with… me."
Perhaps. Jacob's wolf had always been so powerful and now that he was whole, it was both balancing and strengthening the Pack in a primal way that went far beyond the healthy family and camaraderie displayed on the beach today.
"Or," Bella countered. "Maybe it is about the leeches and there's just more of them. I mean, with how freaking easy it is for them to change people, I wouldn't be surprised." She'd always thought that was a bad design.
Jacob's shoulder jumped in a shrug. "We'll see if something happens with all this Italy bullshit," he sniffed. "But, anyway. I told Jedi he was too young to decide. Gave him an Order," he lifted a hand and brushed a single finger down her cheek while his eyes followed it.
"I think he should wait to decide with his imprint," he whispered.
He met her gaze meaningfully and Bella squeezed his arm.
Rolling his lips, Jacob tucked a flyaway hair slowly back with the rest. "Our den might be a good place for him," he murmured under his breath. "Let's think about it."
Bella nodded, rubbing her palms over his arm while his eyes flitted over her face like fireflies. "But I just thought I'd let you know, Bells," he whispered. "That maybe your pups might stay and then you wouldn't be alone in forever."
He wanted so badly to give her everything, even though it wasn't his to give.
What was unsaid in his eyes was that – like the Cullens had their immortal family - they might have their own too. That thought was oddly reassuring though also irrelevant. They took each moment as it came.
She yanked her mind back from conjecture and dream to all she had right here, right now.
Bella wrapped her arms around his neck, turning and rearranging herself on his lap so both her legs were hanging between his. "Well I know that, Mr. Black," Bella sniffed. "Because I'm not alone. I'm doing this crazy thing with my best friend, right?"
His lips spread in a mischievous smile that looked delicious drizzled over all that intensity. "Yeah, well about that…" he hedged, smoothing his hand over the crown of her head. "I don't wanna be your best friend anymore."
That smile kept her heart afloat and she played along. "Too late," she pursed rebellious lips. "Can't take it back."
"But I can give you more," he lifted a brow.
He chuckled at her confused squint and then leaned down to press a kiss to her nose. "Well y'know that surprise that Leah was talking about?" he began slyly.
"Mm hmm." Bella didn't bat an eye – she knew his senses by now.
"Well those mongrels all need to be a part of it," he tipped his head as his eyes strummed over her face. "But I also know you hate surprises so I wanted to run it by you first."
"A wise man," she nodded pertly.
He stared at her a moment, eyes pressing into thoughtful crescents as he bit that delicious lower lip.
"Wellll…" he drew the word out on a breath. "What would you say if I carried you back to the bonfire…?" he began, gently pulling her arms from around his neck. "Then set you down in the middle of the story circle."
Bella's brows knit as he picked her up off his lap and set her on her feet.
His gaze locked with hers as he stood, continuing lightly like he was telling her one if those tales, "And what if I went down on both knees like this…"
Jacob knelt fluidly before her.
Bella's eyes widened as her brain surged ahead.
"Then said something like this…" he cleared his throat while a smile fought with his lips. "'Bella, you're the best friend I've ever had. You came back and waited," he reached into his pocket while he watched her face carefully. "You never gave up on me when, even when everyone thought I was a hopeless fuck-up."
Tears sprang to her eyes and she blinked at them frantically, trying to keep that beautiful face in focus.
"I love you, now and forever," he pulled out a ring and held it up between them. It was a ring of silver, inlaid with turquoise. "The wolf already belongs to you but I also want to give you the man."
"Jake…" Bella quavered as her gaze fell to the simple ring held up between his thick fingers. Tough and tender and perfect for everyday wear, she recognized it from her memories of Sarah Black's hand.
"Isabella Marie Swan," he breathed. "Will you marry me?"
She looked up slowly from the ring, into those earnest eyes, yearning and aglow in the early night. His smile broadened, cracking with a sliver of white teeth like the moon.
God, she loved him so.
Bella crashed into him, throwing her arms around him and smothering her overwhelm in his neck. He sat back on his heels and she wrapped her legs around him as he pulled her to him with one arm.
"So what would you say, Bells?" he mumbled into her hair.
Bella picked her head up and stared at him, inches away, ignoring the tears rolling down her face.
"I mean," he wrinkled one side of his nose with a lift of shoulder. "If that happened?"
Bella's face shattered with her grin. "I'd say-…"
He cut her off with a raise of brow. "Because living with an Alpha could be kinda tough, y'know…"
Bella arched a bland brow. "And messy..." she agreed.
He wiped away each track of tears with a knuckle of the hand that that held the ring.
That smile stayed in place, but under those golden eyes was something stone-cold serious. "And moody…" he whispered.
Bella pursed her lips as she tipped her head, considering him for a moment. "And loving…" she countered.
Jacob licked his lips slowly. "And dangerous…"
Her gaze fell between them and she fingered the ring in his hand. "But beautiful…" she breathed.
"It can be pretty scary sometimes…" he murmured in that silk chocolate bass.
She looked up with a wry smile. "And hella fun too…"
Jacob's lips spread in a smile. "And maybe really really long…."
Bella covered the ring and his hand with her palm. "But with the best sex ever…" she sighed.
Jacob's lips oozed up in that cocky smirk. "Well, yeah… of course."
Bella coughed a laugh as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Slipping the ring nimbly on the end of his pinky, he encircled her with both arms and pulled her closer.
For several heartbeats they just grinned at one another.
Finally Jacob raised his brows. "So what would you say, Bells?" he asked softly.
"Wellll…" she drew the word out just like he had as she leaned in nose to nose. "Jacob Ephraim Black," she whispered slowly, emphatically, staring deep into yawning kaleidoscope eyes. "I'd say I'll take my chances."
With a long exhale, Jacob's eyes closed in bliss.
Then he leaned in and took her mouth in a caress of russet silk. He kissed her, lazy and slow and tender, like he had an eternity to do so.
And maybe, just maybe, he did.
Review if you like.
So, I'm not the biggest fan of end-of-chapter notes, but a couple things need to be said:
First, all kinds of love to the wonderful folks who faved, followed or actually took the time to leave a note. You guys are the reason for writing. Also sending grateful hugs to the "anon" reviewers too - that I can't respond to - particularly awesome regulars: Frekles, Timmycat, Bluee, Megan39 and Dizzy.
Best to you all and, of course, thanks for reading! ˂3