Story Title: Breathe Again by ysar
Chapter: 32. Separation
Genre: Twilight – Romance / Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: Strong Language, Violence,
Post Word Count: 7005
Status: Work In Progress
Summary: “If Alice hadn’t seen Bella cliff-dive, what would have happened? Would Bella have given in to her feelings for Jacob? Was she even capable of moving on? Victoria’s hunting, Edward’s coming back—and that’s just the beginning!”
I did some research online, checking out UDub’s courses and schedules, and was pleased to find that not only could I take some classes online, but I could also condense the courses I’d be taking on campus into just a couple of days. I’d still have to live in Seattle, at least technically, but I’d be able to spend more than just weekends back at home. Of course, those weekends would most likely be filled with studying, but at least I would be closer to Jake for that. It was like I was getting everything I wanted, going away to college and yet not really leaving at all. I’d been sitting on my acceptance letter for a couple of weeks, so now all I had to do was get all my registration stuff in order.
As good as that news was, I just couldn’t seem to keep my mind on it. One pressing issue was settled. I’d figured out college. But at the moment, my very unaware father was meeting with the fire marshal and trying to solve a case involving arson, vampires, werewolves, and his own daughter. A small part of me wondered how he could be so tuned into to everything else—like knowing that Jacob had spent the night—and yet not see that something entirely strange and very supernatural was happening in Forks. Then again, there was nothing I could do to help him, short of spilling everyone else’s secrets, and I was pretty sure Charlie’s ability to accept the unexpected had been tested thoroughly enough for one day. All I could really do was satisfy my own curiosity. I wanted to see Forks in the light of day.
I doubted Charlie would beat me home, but I left a note for him anyway, and then got in my truck and headed toward Newton’s. When I pulled into the parking lot, I could see that I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Parked by the requisite yellow tape was a large sedan with dark tinted windows, obviously some kind of official’s car. Next to it were Mike’s suburban and Mrs. Newton’s Cadillac. Across the lot were several other vehicles and a bunch of people, mostly students from what I could see, standing around watching as if something exciting was about to happen. I could understand their curiosity. What I didn’t understand was what they thought they would learn from a few hundred feet away.
I was trying to decide where I should park, by the Newtons or with the gawking crowd, when Mike noticed me and waved. Not only was I glad he’d solved my parking dilemma, but he didn’t seem to hold the other night’s events against me, and for that I was relieved.
“Hey, Bella,” he said a little nervously as I climbed out of my truck.
“Hey,” I said. “I thought I’d come by and see…well, how you guys are doing.” That, and I wanted to know if I still had a job.
“Mom’s a little frazzled, but that’s not unusual, right?” he laughed.
“How bad is the damage?” I asked, truly feeling a bit sympathetic. It looked pretty bad. The front windows had a thin coating of soot, making it difficult to see what was inside, but I could make out a couple of tipped over racks.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” he replied. Most of it was on that side,” he said, gesturing toward one end of the partially blackened façade. “But the storeroom wasn’t damaged at all, and there’s only water damage on the sales floor. They won’t let us go in, but I got a look when they had the doors open earlier. It could have been a lot worse,” he said with a shrug.
If only he knew. “Yeah, I guess,” I said.
“Mikey! This is no time to stand around gossiping,” Mrs. Newton chastised him loudly, narrowing her eyes at me.
“C’mon, Mom! There’s nothing else I can do right now,” he complained. She shook her head and turned back to the uniformed man she’d been talking to. “Sorry about that,” Mike said. “She’s…well, you know how she is.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “But I should probably get out of here. I don’t think she likes me very much right now.”
“She doesn’t like anyone right now,” he laughed. “She’s convinced whoever did this was out to get her. Like she’s that important or something. Don’t let her run you off.”
I felt a little sorry for him. He really was a good guy, and it certainly wasn’t his fault his mom was nuts. His being so nice just served to make me feel even worse about the last time I’d seen him.
“Ah…about the other night—” I started.
“Sorry about my mom,” Mike interrupted. “Hope she didn’t get you in too much trouble.”
He was apologizing to me? “It really wasn’t what…well, what she said,” I replied, on the one hand feeling like I needed to defend my reputation—well, what there was of one— and on the other wondering why it was anyone’s business.
“I know, Bella. I tried to tell her, but she’s kind of crazy sometimes,” he chuckled. “Hey, I know you’re with that guy and all, but we can still hang out, right?”
I probably stared at him a little too long, trying to see if he was being genuine or if he was really just that dense. But the hopeful look in his eye really didn’t look inappropriately hopeful, and so I replied “Of course,” crossing my fingers that I wasn’t making a huge mistake.
He grinned broadly and looked a little amused, almost like he knew what I was thinking. “Cool,” he said. “A bunch of us are going to La Push next weekend, you should come. Invite him if you want. I mean, it’s his backyard, right?”
“Won’t the store be open by then?” I asked.
“Maybe, but I can make sure we get part of the day off. It’s gonna be closed for at least a few days while they get everything cleaned up. Lucky we’ll be in school, right?”
Mike and I talked for a few more minutes. Apparently some of the inventory had been damaged by smoke and water, so they were going to be doing a sidewalk sale soon, but most of it came out unscathed. Mrs. Newton was already talking to a contractor about putting up a temporary wall so they could use the good side of the building to keep the business open. That was certainly good news to me, even if I didn’t like the idea of returning to work. The fact was that I was going to need the money, if not for gas, then for college.
With the fire and the rest of the weekend behind us, going back to school was a lot like returning from vacation. A really strange vacation. Jake and I had spent a little more time together, but it seemed that the pack had picked up the scent of more vampires in the direction of Port Angeles, so they were stepping up patrols again. Fortunately, whatever they smelled, it wasn’t Victoria, and it wasn’t in Forks or La Push, so no one was terribly worried. They were simply guarding the perimeters and hoping that whoever this new visitor was simply passed by.
Unfortunately, the longer patrols meant no sleepovers, something I had been looking forward to even though I was dreading the part where Charlie was involved. I mean, how exactly was this supposed to work? ‘Hey, Dad. Mind tucking us both in?’ I had to give him credit for being so understanding. I really couldn’t imagine any other parent being so…cool. Even Renee probably would have had a fit if she’d found a boy in my bed—followed by an embarrassing trip to the pharmacy, of course. The worst part was that I really wanted to ask Charlie why. Why was he okay with Jake sleeping over? Sure, it was pretty innocent and all, but that didn’t explain why my father, the cop, was suddenly okay with coed sleeping arrangements. To pique my curiosity even further, Jacob had been pretty tight-lipped about his talk with Charlie, answering most of my questions with a shrug, a yes, or a no, and never volunteering any details. So Jake was no help, and bringing up the subject with Charlie probably would have been a lot like pulling my nails out with pliers. So there I was, completely confused and in the dark.
One good thing Victoria’s little attack had done was render the school gym unusable. I almost laughed out loud when I heard the announcement, picturing the look on her face if she knew that she’d done something to make my life better. But then it dawned on me that I was imagining the face of my would-be killer, and while beautiful, it was definitely terrifying. No, there was just nothing funny about that.
So with no gym, our class met in the library instead. Coach Clapp instructed us all to write an essay about the famous sports figure of our choice, and while the rest of the class groaned in disapproval, I was not-so-secretly thrilled. My writing was much less uncoordinated than my attempts at semi-graceful movement. No matter what class I was in, though, there was no escaping talk of the fires. It had apparently been the most exciting thing to happen in Forks since…ever, and everyone had a story to tell.
At lunch, the chatter was much the same. The one noticeable difference, though, was that Lauren walked right past our table and sat instead at the end of a table filled with freshmen. Her hair was combed down almost over her face, and her makeup looked like it had been layered on, but it did nothing to hide the dark purplish bruise of her black eye. I would have been happy with that if she hadn’t spent the entire time glaring at me instead.
Jessica, of course, talked non-stop about Embry. I flinched a little at her description of the reservation, calling it poor and acting like she was some kind of goodwill ambassador for even going out there. Sure, a couple of the houses were small. Sam and Emily were young and couldn’t afford much. And Billy was a disabled widower living on disability. But most of the homes there were just as nice as the ones in Forks, and a few were simply stunning in both size and design. I had to wonder if Jessica had watched one too many documentaries on poverty stricken reservations in the southwest and was now applying that image to all of La Push.
Mike sat down next to me and, strangely enough, managed to behave himself. I wasn’t getting any of the same lapdog or creepy stalker vibes he usually gave off, and I allowed myself to think that maybe we had reached a point where we really could be friends. Before I could give that much thought, though, Jessica said something that forced my soda to go down wrong.
“We’ll probably get an apartment together. I mean, Embry doesn’t want to leave his poor mother, but he knows how important it is for me to get out of Forks,” she said.
“Wh—what?” I choked out, the burning of carbonation in my windpipe making it hard to process what I was hearing.
“For college, Bella,” she said in that same way one explains something to a toddler. “I mean, he loves me, and he wants what’s best for me.”
Okay, it was now official. Jessica was insane.
By the time school was out, I never wanted to hear the word “fire” again. I was even considering replacing Charlie’s stash of emergency candles with glow sticks just so I would never have to see another fire. But at least the day was over and I could now call Jacob. With any luck, Sam would give him tonight off, and maybe I’d be able to fall asleep with him by my side again.
“Hey, Billy. Is Jacob there?”
“No, I’m pretty sure he’s at Sam’s.”
“Oh.” I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I’d assumed Jake would be just as anxious to see me, but instead he’d gone straight to Sam’s after school…if he’d even gone to school at all. I told myself it was probably some kind of pack thing he had to be there for, but it still hurt a little. I wondered if it would be okay to call him at Sam’s.
“You should probably get over there.”
That didn’t sound good. Billy gave me the number and got off the phone quickly. I debated about calling for all of five seconds, and then I was dialing again.
“Hello?” It was Emily.
“Hi, Emily. It’s Bella. Ah…Billy told me I should call Jacob?” I said a little uncertainly.
“Oh, of course,” she said pleasantly. I heard a muffled, “Jake! It’s Bella!” through the phone.
“Hey, Bells.” He didn’t sound happy.
“Jake, is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. But you should come over.”
“Yes. Can you come right now?”
He didn’t have to ask twice. The part of me that was dying to see him was in complete agreement with the part of me that was now very worried about what was going on.
I managed to get my truck up to fifty-seven miles per hour, and even though it groaned and shook, I didn’t care. Jacob was waiting out front when I pulled up. The second I was out of the truck, Jacob’s arms were wrapped too tightly around me.
“Can’t—breathe—” I gasped.
His grip on me loosened just enough that I was able to take in one breath, but the next second he took that breath away with a ravenous kiss. I clung helplessly to him as my legs instantly collapsed, and I swear my eyes rolled into the back of my head when his tongue slipped past my lips. For a few passionate seconds I completely forgot my worry and was lost in his kiss. When he let me go, I was gasping for air again, but now for a completely different reason.
“Hmmm, maybe I should do that more often,” he chuckled as I swayed unsteadily, trying to get my land legs back.
“No argument here,” I replied, a little embarrassed. Then, remembering my purpose, I asked, “So are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
“Nothing for you to look that worried about, Bells. Come on inside,” he said, my hand disappearing in his large grip as he pulled me toward the house.
Once inside I could see that the whole pack was gathered, as well as a few faces I wasn’t familiar with. Two of them looked really young, and they were standing off to the side, kind of behind Sam, like he was blocking them from everyone else. I wondered if these were the boys Jacob had told me about.
“Tie up any loose ends and meet here in thirty minutes,” Sam was telling them. “Leah and Seth, Emily will make an excuse for your absence after we’re gone. And Seth, no heroics, okay? You are to do exactly as I tell you, or as Leah tells you if I’m…distracted.”
I turned and looked up at Jake with a shocked expression. He just shook his head as if to say “Not now,” and continued listening to Sam. I retreated back into the chaos of my thoughts so deeply that I didn’t even realize Sam had quieted and the pack was dispersing.
“Where are you going?” I asked, turning to Jacob.
“Seth was snooping around in town and picked up Victoria’s trail near Spartan. We’ll start there,” he said.
“Spartan Avenue?” I asked. That was right in front of the school.
“Yeah, the trail was fresh, so if we leave soon, we may be able to corner her,” he replied, either not catching or ignoring the connection.
“Fresh?” I asked, a tremor I couldn’t stop making its way up my spine. She’d been near my school, on the street I drove home on, so close this time.
“Shit,” he mumbled, taking in my fearful expression. “She wasn’t at the school, okay?” He waited for me to nod. “She was over at the utility office again.”
“So…the fire there? And the power outage?”
“I don’t know, Bells. But if so, I’ll have to thank her before I kill her,” he said with a laugh. “If not for her, I wouldn’t have seen you in my shirt, and—“
“It’s not funny, Jake,” I insisted. Why wasn’t he being so nonchalant? “If she was in Forks, then she got too close.” My stomach was starting to do anxious little flips. If I hadn’t come to La Push to see Jacob, I would have been in Forks the night of the power outage.
“No, she didn’t. You were safe, I promise,” he said, pulling me into a hug.
“But how—?” I started to ask, taking a step back so I could look at him. I’d spent all day at school, stupidly feeling safe when she had been just a couple of blocks away. I had seen vampires run. I knew a couple of blocks for her was nothing.
We’re always there, Bells,” he said sheepishly. “I mean, we’ve been staying close, one or two of us at a time, just in case.”
“Will you be back tonight?” I asked.
“I’m not sure when we’ll be back. It could take a couple of days—she moves fast,” he explained.
I didn’t like the look on his face. He was way too excited and not nearly worried enough. He was strong, and she wouldn’t be the first vampire he’d faced down, but something told me Victoria was a bigger threat than Laurent ever was. And if she was anything like James…I shuddered.
“Hey, it’s nothing to worry about,” he said, seeing the concern on my face. “She’s outnumbered, and this is what I’m made for, remember?”
“Promise me you’ll be careful?” I asked, stepping so close to him it actually hurt my neck to look all the way up at his face.
He laughed and hugged me again. “Nothing to worry about, Bells,” he repeated.
“Jacob, please,” I pleaded, clinging to him. “I would die if…” I couldn’t say it. I didn’t even want to think it.
His fingers slid under my chin and pulled my face up to look at him. I tried to make out the emotions in his eyes. Excitement, nervousness, sadness…love. It was that last one I chose to focus on.
“I promise I’ll be careful. You just promise to be here when I get back,” he whispered.
He leaned down to kiss me, softly, then his lips became more urgent, one hand tangling in my hair while the other pressed hard against the small of my back, crushing me to him. I was gasping for air when we parted, not sure if I’d simply forgotten to breathe or my fear of his not returning had taken the wind out of me.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he breathed, and then he was gone.
“It’s hard, isn’t it?” Emily asked quietly, breaking me out of my trance.
I just nodded. Emily was probably the one person who truly understood.
We were suddenly alone in the house. It had seemed so big and full of life just minutes ago. Now it was just a tiny shell, an empty memory, even more lifeless than I thought possible. I didn’t really want to go home, but I didn’t think I could stand it there, staring at the evidence that so many people had gone to risk their lives…over me. And Emily was my only link to them. It was like she could read my mind.
“You can call me, you know. Any time,” she said.
The drive back to Forks was long and slow, my old truck complaining noisily the entire way. I watched the trees streak by, wondering if Jake was somewhere behind all that green or if he was far away by now.
“Where have you been?” asked Charlie as I walked in the door.
“La Push” I said.
“Oh,” he said smiling. But then he must have seen it was nothing to smile about. “Is everything okay, Bells?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, though I knew he could tell I wasn’t.
My time with Bella was cut short by the pack. It’s not like I thought I’d get to spend all day with her, and honestly, I was pretty damn grateful just for having the night, but I was still disappointed when I heard the call.
I guessed it was Seth, since I knew he was probably the closest, and I could tell by the tone that it wasn’t anything threatening. Sam was probably just calling a meeting, or—if I was lucky—he had some news about the leech that was after my Bella.
Bella’s eyes had grown wide as saucers, and her voice shook a little when she heard Seth’s call. I assured her it was nothing to worry about, but in my heart I hoped there was more to it. Seeing the fear in her eyes, and knowing her panic this morning, I really just wanted it to be over with. Sure, we would come across more bloodsuckers someday, but knowing there was one out there who had some kind of vendetta against my girl was almost too much to deal with. I needed to do what I was made for. I needed to protect her. I kissed her goodbye and headed for the trees to phase.
‘What’s up?’ I asked the second our minds were connected.
‘Going to Sam’s’ Embry replied.
‘What about Bella?’ I asked, not wanting to leave her unprotected.
‘I got her,’ Leah answered.
Why Leah got to stick around was beyond me, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was because Sam didn’t want to be around her. I couldn’t really blame him for that.
‘Everything cool?’ Embry asked as we ran
‘Yeah, I guess,’ I said, remembering some of our conversation.
I could practically feel Embry’s mind whirring as he read through the details of my thoughts. Hearing Bella’s explanation, feeling my fear and guilt over it, understanding my reaction, even if he did have to talk some sense into me. The rest of the pack stayed mostly silent as Embry and I “discussed” the morning’s events. Paul was amused by the whole thing, which didn’t surprise me one bit, and Leah felt a little sorry for Bella, which surprised the hell out of me. Her thoughts immediately drifted back to her break-up with Sam, and it took everyone chiming in to get her to knock it off. I guess I could understand where she was coming from, but I really didn’t need that replayed for me all over again. I’d seen it enough for one lifetime.
‘Told you she’d be jealous’ Embry said, when I recalled Bella’s questions about Maria.
It was no use denying it. I wanted to insist Bella wasn’t jealous, but I knew she was, and I guess maybe she had a little reason to be. Not that I gave a second thought to Maria anymore, but I had been obsessed with her for a while when I was younger. Hell, we all were. And I knew I’d be jealous of anyone that Bella had been that way about, so it only made sense. I still didn’t really know where I stood with her when compared to Cullen.
‘Dude, knock it off!’ Embry said. ‘It’s that kind of thinking that had you all screwed up this morning, and you saw what it did to Bella.’
He was right. The sheer panic and wild desperation in her eyes when I’d returned was not something I ever wanted to see again, and I especially didn’t want to be the cause of it. She’d looked so broken when I was trying to clean her up, small and frail in that ugly old robe. It was different from how she’d looked when Sam found her in the woods that time. In some ways it was worse. Of course, I hadn’t minded the way she kissed me afterward.
‘Now that’s what I’m talking about!’ Quil interrupted.
I quickly shifted my thoughts to kicking his ass, and he quieted down, at least pretending to leave Embry and me in a private conversation. Embry’s thoughts were harder to avoid, though. By the time we neared the rez, I was almost sick to my stomach of his constant replay of Bella in her yard. I knew he thought I was an idiot for how I’d acted, and he was really just sticking it to me for putting her through it, but I didn’t need to be reminded of it. When the hell had he become Bella’s champion anyway?
One by one, the minds of the rest of the pack left us, each one arriving at Sam’s house and phasing back to human form. Relieved to be rid of several eavesdroppers, I stupidly let down my guard, my mind flashing for one brief second to the image of Bella, standing in front of me with her robe slipping open. Embry’s reaction was an irritating mix of lust and amusement, and before he could complete a coherent thought, I slammed my shoulder into his, knocking him off his feet and kicking up a cloud of dirt and leaves.
He regained his footing quickly and sprinted ahead, silently laughing and taunting me with thoughts of giant yellow happy faces. I knew I was in trouble, too. There was no way he was going to be able to keep that thought to himself.
The meeting was quick, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t irritated. It seemed stupid to have to leave Bella’s, especially when we were finally talking about important stuff, just to hear Sam’s ideas about stepping up patrols.
We’d covered all the expected topics, everything from who would be posted where to how our newest “recruits” were doing. I’d snorted aloud at that one. Recruits my ass. Like any of us had any choice in what we were.
Rachel was still staying at Leah’s, and Collin and Brady were doing as well as could be expected. Collin’s mother was still pretty freaked out, but the elders had stepped in, and it looked like she might come around eventually. I was a little surprised to hear that Collin had accidentally phased in my living room, apparently busting out some of the sheetrock when he did. Sam insisted that it was to be expected, and a couple of the guys chimed in with their own stories to make him feel a little better. Sam shot me a look, though, probably wondering why I hadn’t been around to do something about it. I actually did feel a little bad about that. I mean, Dad was in on our secret and all, and I knew he was probably better prepared to calm a newly phased wolf than I was, but he couldn’t have done anything if Collin had really gotten out of control. As much as I wanted to take advantage of the free pass Charlie had given me, I had the feeling I was going to be stuck at home for a while.
The good news, though, was that Sue Clearwater was all set to take her husband’s place on the tribal council. Seth’s face lit up the second Sam started talking about it, and I couldn’t help but be happy for the kid. Finally Sue would understand that her children were anything but delinquents. And if we were really lucky, Leah’s bitchy attitude would improve a little. She’d probably never stop hating Sam or missing her dad, but at least she’d have her mom back.
“Charlie called,” Dad said as soon as I walked in the door.
How he could just casually announce something like that without even taking his eyes off the TV was beyond me. I had a feeling he was enjoying this. Hell, he’d probably just been sitting there, waiting all morning for this moment, just so he could torture me. And while I was sure I knew exactly why Charlie had called, I had no idea what he’d actually said, or how much Dad intended to make me sweat. How was I supposed to respond to that?
“Says you and Bella are getting pretty serious,” he added.
“Yeah,” I shrugged, not really wanting to explain last night to him. I knew he wouldn’t give me any real grief, but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tell him nothing happened, or if I was supposed to let him think what he wanted. I really didn’t want him assuming the worst, just because Bella deserved better than that. But it wasn’t any of his business, either.
“Charlie’s okay with it?” he asked, even though I was sure he already knew.
“Guess so,” I said, trying to sound unaffected. “I mean…he says to leave the door open and all…” I added, trailing off as I wondered just what he was getting at.
“Should make watching her easier,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Bring me a beer, would you?” he replied.
Well, I guess that conversation was over.
I missed her. I saw her every day, but not nearly as much as I wanted to, and it sucked. We were finding trails everywhere, picking up scents of leeches that we didn’t recognize, and we could only hope they were just passing through. All that tracking was taking me farther away from the one place I wanted to be: Bella’s bed. And not like that. I really just wanted to be near her. Why was it that the second Charlie said it was okay for me to just fall asleep with her, everything else had to get in the way? It was like some cruel joke and fate or karma or whatever was sitting back somewhere laughing at me.
Bella and I ended up talking on the phone more than anything else, mostly because Sam never seemed to schedule me anywhere near Bella’s house when she was actually home. Rachel was cool enough to lend me her cell phone, which surprised me. It probably didn’t hurt that Sam had paired me up with Paul, and he was using it to call her, too. I suspected this was Sam’s way of trying to force Paul and me to get along, but if that was the case, he was keeping those thoughts locked up in his mind. Even when I specifically asked him about it, something that would usually cause another wolf to slip just enough to get something useful from their thoughts, all I got from Sam was his rigid patrol routes and schedules At least Paul was missing Rachel enough that he didn’t give me a hard time about Bella.
But keeping track of that phone while phased was no fun at all. At first, we decided to leave it at the edge of the woods and come back for it, but a couple of minutes after we started patrolling, it started raining. We weren’t as afraid of Rachel’s wrath as we were of not being able to call at all, so we finally settled on one of us phasing first and the other one securing the phone before phasing. It was a pain, but it was worth it.
Unfortunately, hearing Bella’s voice over a cell signal did little to ease the distance, and chasing quickly fading scent trails left by unfamiliar leeches did little to ease my worry. I was a mess, and it was showing.
I got some measure of relief when the school finally reopened and Bella went back to class. I didn’t like the idea of her being in the same building with Newton all day, but at least I knew no leeches would be stupid enough to attack with a couple hundred people around. They’d have to get a lot more creative than setting fires if they wanted to get at a student in broad daylight…well, as broad as the daylight ever got around here. But apparently that didn’t stop them from trying.
Paul and I were both getting antsy, bored out of our minds, and starting to grate on each others’ nerves. I didn’t care that his thoughts were concentrated on my sister, but when he took those thoughts to a place I never wanted to know about, I’d had enough. I phased back to human form and absolutely refused to change again. I was ready to just walk home, Sam’s schedule be damned when I heard the call, and this time, it was nothing to shrug off.
Paul took off straight for the rez, no doubt more concerned about Rachel than anything else, and I was just a couple of steps behind him, but I had a detour to make. The second I phased I was bombarded with the alarmed thoughts of the pack. It seemed that Seth had been wandering around, off his scheduled beat, of course, and just happened upon the red-haired leech’s scent. Only it was too close to the school and fresher than it should have been. How she got past our stepped up patrols wasn’t something I cared about. I just needed to make sure Bella was safe.
Within a couple of minutes, I was crouched behind the cars at the far end of the parking lot, not far enough out of sight for Sam, I was sure, but with the best view of the school I could get without waltzing right in. Everything looked normal, though. Just a couple of kids walking around, probably cutting class or taking advantage of a hall pass, but that was it. No cop cars, no frantic crowds, and no reason to think anything was wrong. Just to be on the safe side, I did a full perimeter check, but I picked up nothing.
“I need to call Bella,” I said, as soon as we got inside. I’d waited all day to talk to her. I didn’t care what Sam had to say to us; I needed to call her.
“She won’t be home yet, and there’s no time,” said Sam. “The leech is running, and we can catch her.”
“Bella has a right to know,” I insisted. It was a good excuse…and the only one I could think of that he might listen to.
“Do you want to protect her or not?”
Of course I wanted to protect her, but I also wanted to hear her voice. And she did have a right to know.
As soon as Embry showed up, Sam filled us in, even though we’d all gotten a pretty good idea already just by picking each others’ brains while we were phased. For someone who was worried about time, Sam was sure wasting it. But the more time he spent going over things we already knew, the better chance I had of talking to Bella before we took off. And from the sound of it, that’s exactly what we were doing.
“We’re leaving the rez?” Leah asked, not bothering to hide her shock and disapproval.
“Don’t have much choice,” Sam said. “We can sit here and wait for their next move or we can do something about it.”
“And we’re just gonna leave our families unprotected?” she challenged.
“We’re following the threat, Leah,” he replied tersely. “If you wanna stay, then stay. I’m sure Seth will be fine on his own.”
Leah’s mouth popped open like she wanted to say something, but I think she knew she’d been cornered. As much as she might disagree with Sam’s plan, there was no way she was letting her little brother go after a bloodsucker alone. The fact that the rest of the pack would be with him didn’t matter to her one bit.
“Jake!” Emily called from the kitchen. “It’s Bella!”
Sam did this weird eye roll glare combination and jerked his head toward Emily, silently telling me to get the phone. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help a little bit of a smirk. Served him right for thinking he could just call the shots when it came to her.
“Hey, Bells,” I answered, not quite pulling off the casual tone I was going for.
“Jake, is everything okay?” she asked, picking up on that detail instantly.
I didn’t want to tell her over the phone. I knew she’d just worry, and I really wanted to see her. Besides, it was the perfect opportunity to get her to come to me since I knew Sam would probably use an injunction to make me stay put. “Yeah, it’s fine. But you should come over.”
“Yes. Can you come right now?” I wasn’t sure how much longer we would be, but I hoped it was just long enough for her to get there.
Sam called a break a few minutes later, and I went outside to pace and wait for Bella. I was tempted to phase and just run to meet her, but I knew I wouldn’t get far if Sam caught on. He was taking his Alpha role a little too seriously for my liking, stepping outside the pack business and messing with my personal life. Sure, we needed to meet and we needed to get going if we wanted any chance of tracking and trapping the leech, but there was no reason to just ignore everything else that was important to the rest of us. Paul was itching to talk to Rachel, and he’d made a crazy lunge for the phone as soon as everyone dispersed. Sam had gone straight for Emily, which just pissed me off. Why did his relationship matter any more than mine? Imprinting? I didn’t give a damn about that.
I heard the truck before I saw it, and I barely waited for her to cut the engine off before I was pulling her out of the seat.
“Can’t—breathe—” she gasped, so I loosened my hold just enough to kiss her.
God, I’d missed her. Between Sam keeping me everywhere but near her, and Charlie watching me like a hawk when I did get a few minutes with her, it felt like our relationship had actually taken a few steps back. But kissing her proved otherwise.
“Hmmm, maybe I should do that more often,” I laughed.
She looked completely dazed and absolutely beautiful. “No argument here,” she said with a shy smile. But then she seemed to catch herself and her brow furrowed with worry. “So are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
“Nothing for you to look that worried about, Bells. Come on inside.”
Sam didn’t look too please with me, but I didn’t really care. If he could hold pack meetings inside his house with Emily, I could bring Bella. And just as I thought, he didn’t say a word about it. He just kept talking about who needed to do what, and I kept my hold on Bella.
Her eyes were wide as she scanned the room, her gaze lingering on Brady and Collin for a moment. She was tense, and she was probably a little confused, so I just pulled her closer to me and waited for Sam to finish.
“Tie up any loose ends and meet here in thirty minutes,” Sam was telling them. “Leah and Seth, Emily will make an excuse for your absence after we’re gone. And Seth, no heroics, okay? You are to do exactly as I tell you, or as Leah tells you if I’m…distracted.”
Bella was kind of an emotional mess by the time Sam finished. It probably hadn’t helped that he’d gone into way too much detail when he’d covered what he wanted us to do if anyone was hurt. I knew—or at least I assumed—that she’d seen a bloodsuckers fighting. But even though she’d seen us phased, she’d never actually witnessed us take down a leech. And I knew nothing I could say would convince her that I’d be just fine.
“Will you be back tonight?” she asked.
“I’m not sure when we’ll be back,” I answered, hating the scared and disappointed look on her face. “It could take a couple of days—she moves fast.” She looked like she was at a complete loss. “Hey, it’s nothing to worry about,” I told her. “She’s outnumbered, and this is what I’m made for, remember?”
“Promise me you’ll be careful?” she begged.
“Nothing to worry about, Bells,” I replied, trying to keep my tone light.
“Jacob, please, I would die if…”
“I promise I’ll be careful. You just promise to be here when I get back,” I said, leaning down to kiss her again.
I didn’t want to leave her, and I especially didn’t want to leave her so unprotected. I knew someone would be around to watch over her, but I’d have felt better if it was me doing the watching. What if the leech had another big plan? What if she was just trying to lure us away and Sam was falling for it. What if the second we were gone some new group of wild bloodsuckers showed up?
There was nothing I could do, though. I had my orders, and unless I decided to split from the pack permanently, I was stuck following through. And it’s not like telling Bella all that was going to make her feel any better. The best I could do was hurry back.
I kissed her, trying to pour all I had into just that one act, and then, against every instinct I had, I loosened my hold on her and backed away.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”