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I'm nothing but a monster burning in a hell that only exists in my head. There's no hope left until one harmless glance chances logic and binds two eternal enemies together in a twist of fate. Can the escape from this hell be found in an infuriating dimpled grin? Or is this another dark, dirty trick of my own mind? A forbidden passion, heat, and intense anger—this is no fairytale.

[Disclaimer: Monster is an originally plotted fic. The ideas within this fic are not to be copied in any way, shape, or form—I have not given my consent to any manner of copying. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of their respective owners. All canon concepts and characters are the property of the Twilight Saga's author, Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. Similarities are for the sole use of fan fiction, and no profit has been or will be benefited from the posting of this fic.] Emerging Swan Award 2012, nominated into Fandom Choice Awards.

32. First Impressions

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"Your eyes, they shine in through this shaded tree." - Imagine Dragons.

Chapter Thirty Two

First Impressions

Rain crawls down the window, the wetness blurring the glass. Some drops are sucked away into the air, evaporating before they can even be noticed. The lucky drops continue to hustle down the window, striving for the ground, dragged down by the mighty force of gravity. Very few make it all the way down, but some are lucky enough to survive the fall and splash onto the ground, shattering into thousands of microscopic bits before lazily seeping deep into the roots of the unexplored earth.

My eyes study the process many times over, cycle after cycle, drop after drop. The black wave of my hair rests on my shoulders, sprawled down my back in messy tangles. I don't pay any mind to it. I sit statue-still on the ground, my back perfectly erect, my hands folded into my lap. In the mirror of the window, the misty reflection of my gaze stares steadily back at me, unmoving. The dark blue depths of my eyes are filled with an intense, unbreakable focus.

The focus is indirect and completely meaningless. It's merely an exercise—clear the mind, stop the thoughts, and breathe. My stomach is full. Not with food; no, I haven't eaten since dinner. A heavy weight has settled in the pit of my stomach, weighing me down. It's not something I've ever felt before, yet I know exactly why it's there.

His memory burns in my mind, an icy fire that no element can extinguish. Blood races in my veins, carrying tiny bits and pieces of the flames in their flow. Everything about him is completely and utterly breathtaking. The boom of his laughter, the dimples in his grin, the shine in his eyes, the sweetness of his scent, the hidden humor of his words, the chill of his breath, and the firmness of his body. Every part of him is flawlessly amazing.

And I fucking hate it all.

Hate is a strong word that is commonly misused. And of course, I'm misusing it now. The sensations of him—just Emmett being himself—are stronger than any hint of fury or pain I've ever felt. It's nearly passion. Passion for someone I barely know. Passion for a being that I'm meant to slaughter. Passion for the enemy.


Breath leaves my parted lips in a soft breeze. I slide my fingers through the thick layers of my hair, bowing my head away from the window. My muscles lock back down into place, my body going still once more. The war raging in the front of my dark thoughts is unavoidable. I've changed sides time and time again, never settling on one for more than a few minutes.

Go with it, end it. Go with it, end it. Go with it, end it. The decision is impossible. I'm bound back down to earth; bound to my damn enemy. So ready to fight, to kill, to drive his species into extinction. And now this.

I'll have to break away from this, somehow. I'll have to undo this curse that fate has set upon me. This has to be a mistake, or maybe even a punishment. I can't be destined to find love, of all things, with a creature that I'm designed, trained, and ready to slaughter. He will only have to lay a hand on me, get to close to me, say the wrong thing to me, and instinct will unleash the monster. No matter how large his muscles are, he won't stand the slightest chance.

A part of me is relieved by the thought. But another part of me, the part locked up and suffocating deep within me, reacts to the thought of his death. It's the part of me that is bound to him—a part of me that has been long silenced finally starting to rise up again.

The shrill screeching of an alarm clock sucks me back into the moment. I'm on my feet the instant the sound touches my ears, my body tightening and becoming completely alert to my surroundings. My ears reach the muffled sounds of stirring people: Sam's exhausted groan, the smack of a hand against an alarm, the squeak of the mattress as another repositions to fall back into the arms of gentle slumber.

I shake my head and tear off my clothes, bundling them up before tying them to the string on my leg. I'm gone then, down the stairs and out through the door before Sam even has a chance to sit up. The others won't care much. I've done them a favor, making sure that I won't be a spoil to their lovely family morning.

On my way out, I nearly break the door down, having no patience for obstacles. The wolf in me stretches, sending shakes throughout my muscles as it demands release. I give into it without a thought, diving forward into the green maze of the tree line. The chill of the morning whooshes over my naked human skin, caressing it for just a moment before I'm gone to the wolf. My paws hit the ground running.

How come I couldn't do this earlier?


This is so awesome; I don't have to even talk! Hey Brady, how's it going?

Oh, you know, just changing into a big huge wolf and heading out to kill vampires!

Can we change into other things too? Oh my God, I want to be a lion!

You can't, but can you at least shut up for one damn second and listen? This is serious. We have to focus.

Yes, please shut them up, Jared. We all would like a bit of peace and quiet, for once.

Ha, look at their paws, Jared! They're gigantic!

The thoughts of the pack mind hit me all at once. There are so many thoughts shooting through one mind to the next that the images drawn by their senses are muddled, giving only short flashes of the green of the forest and the occasional fur color. My change is felt but not yet noticed. I shoot through the forest, thundering across the ground without bothering to be quiet. The scents of the current patrol has mixed in with a new musk—the scents of two new wolves.

Whoa, did you feel that, Collin?

Yeah . . . creepy. Are we changing back?

No, that will take patience. That feeling means

Damn, Jared, you're awful at this. Let me handle them, scrawny little snots.

I break through the trees into the light, muddy clearing just as Paul lunges out to stand over two cowering figures. Both are clearly newly phased—the excitement, shock, and fear is mixed inside their heads as if they can't decide what they really feel. Both wolves stand on large, oversized paws that slip through the wet sand as they press back against a pile of freshly chopped and stacked wood. The wolves appear to be very similar, though they are different in their colors. The wolf nearest to me is covered in an ashy-brown fur that appears to be nearly gray, while the other wears a red-brown coat colored with darker markings.

A brown wolf stalks behind Paul, his ears pressed flat but his stance at ease. The brown wolf wears an air of authority around him. I remember then that Jared has been the beta of the pack for a while now; the news of Jacob's denial has passed through to me earlier. My stare grows more critical as I study Jared's actions. He doesn't seem embrace his control or have even acknowledged it much at all.

The silver wolf—Paul—peels his lips back, exposing his long, white teeth. A growl rumbles in his chest as he hovers over the wolves, snapping his teeth at their muzzles. The smaller, red brown wolf's eyes widen. Both of them whimper, pressing further into the wood.

Damn, Paul. I think I might piss myself. I allow my thoughts to grow present in the pack's mind as I press forward. Both of the wolves glance warily in my direction, taking in the sight of my white fur against the sand.

Paul's growls cut off abruptly. His gaze darts to the side, taking in my form as if he has never noticed me. He is quick to avert his gaze, his muscles stiffening beneath his fur. His mind scrambles before he turns to Jared.

You know, maybe I should head off. I'm starving.

Jared considers this, his thoughts hesitant before he nods his head once. Okay, but make sure that you're back soon. We have a patrol to run.

The silver wolf nods back and swerves around, jogging toward the forest. He heads straight in my direction, but his thoughts are only a fading hum. His front paws slip as he brushes past my form, his shoulder jamming into my side. I give a low growl and ram my own side up against his, causing him to skid. A rumble rises in Paul's throat but he catches himself. He shakes his head and snorts before pulling himself up and disappearing into the forest.

Oh, almighty beta, Leah thinks sourly, tagging onto the quieted thoughts of Paul. The flashes of the green forest slow in her mind as she halts. May I

Go ahead, Leah.

Jared's stance relaxes as Leah's thoughts cut off. His gaze flickers my way, his mind scanning over my firmly placed and confidently held stance. He doesn't give me a greeting, but he doesn't add on any disgusted side comment about my presence, either. It's the closest thing to some respect I've gotten since the night of the chase.

I can feel the curious glances of the two relaxing new wolves pointed in my direction. They shift around after Paul has left, leaning away from the wood pile. The ashy brown wolf's gaze settles on me.

Did she just chase all of the others off? The wolf glances to the red-brown wolf next to him. What's wrong with her?

I don't give the other wolf a chance to answer. I saunter forward, taking their wariness as a chance to mess around with them. You thought Paul was a hassle, did you?He's a fucking lovebird compared to what I'll do to you. I kill, and I kill slowly, listening to your agony. And if either of you are ever, ever to try something with me, I'll be laughing while beg for mercy while I rearrange your skeleton. I come to a stop before them, my gaze steady. Is that clear?

The wolves shake as they take in each word, their forms seeming to blur. Their response is instant and identical. G-Got it!

My head turns over my shoulder in Jared's direction. He is completely frozen, his eyes bulging out of his head as he stares at me. I drop my head, swinging it from side to side. Take a fucking joke.

Jared is the first to realize I'm only messing around. He pauses for a moment before he chortles, the sound ragged and rough in his throat. I glance back at him as he bumps his shoulder lightly into mine, his amusement flowing from his mind into my own. Clearly, his hard feelings have faded, if not disappeared. I bump his shoulder in return, careful to channel my strength into my balance instead of the movement.

The two wolves glance at Jared before echoing his laughter, their tones still nervous. I nod to them, trotting back toward the forest, needing to move. Just kidding. For now.

The ashy-furred wolf finally relaxes. He places his paws down carefully as he jogs forward. Oh, well . . . nice to meet you, uh, Jordan? I'm Brady!

With a huff, the other wolf bounds forward, not wanting to be left out.And I'm Collin! I'll be killing all the leeches around here.

Brady snorts. Dude, really? You're too chicken to even look at a girl. How are you gonna kill a leech?

Hey, now. Jared steps forward, his thoughts suddenly impatient. We'd better get goingyou two have wasted enough time already. We have to run patrol and there's no time left to mess around. He jerks his chin in my direction. Jordan and I can show you around a little until Sam shows up.

I nod. Jared takes the lead and I start after him, although following after another wolf feels . . . wrong. I shake it off, forcing my attention on the forest. Collin and Brady's hesitation hums in the edge of their minds as we depart. I wolf smile to myself and swing my head around, taking one last look at them before I disappear into the forest. Come on, you're already falling behind.

Collin and Brady reluctantly bound forward to catch up. They duck behind Jared, falling in step behind him. Our movements are silent, with the exception of the clopping of the new, oversized paws as they squish through the muck. Each thought is hushed, all fading into a low vibration. After a few miles pass, I find myself in the lead, making my way through the forest without a second thought. I'm home, in the land I've always known. I don't need any instruction—I know the forest like the back of my own hand.

Jared patiently answers to Brady and Collin's never-ending flow of questions, whether they are directed at him or not. He keeps his mind pressed into theirs, always watching. I'm allowed to let my senses wander as I head toward the river, knowing from experience that the treaty line is always the first stop. The calming scents of the river seep into my nostrils as we near.

Water levels have risen with the melting snow. The river is swollen, expanding out over the bank, reaching for the trees. My paws splash through the water, oblivious to the chill. I don't bother being quiet—the point is to keep leeches off our land, anyway. I reach the edge of the river, feeling the water suck my paws in, leaving me standing with the water up to my ankles. I huff and raise my head just as a gust of wind blows through the forest. I breathe in the woodsy musk, tasting the clear, odorless scent of water and the sweet scent of. . .

No. Oh hell no.

Strolling down the bank across the river, shirt on but muscles still in full view, is none other than Emmett. He is not close enough to get attacked, but he is close enough to cause some sort of ruckus. The minds of Jared and the new wolves are all channeling into mine as they stop. They're right on my heels and reaching the edge of the tree line. It's too late to stop them now.

Jared growls softly to himself as he sees Emmett, but it's ignored. Collin and Brady freeze, their muscles locking in place. I feel the cold realization as it seeps into their minds. They stare for a moment before they erupt into a frenzy. Both of them throw themselves forward, yowling and yelping and snapping. Dirt flies as their paws move, the easy silence of the forest disrupted. Cold Man! Cold Man!

I pause for only a moment, my gaze catching Emmett's, but that moment is a waste of time. As I'm standing still, a large silver form charges past me, howling and snarling up a storm. The form hurls itself across the river, splashing through it before knocking Emmett to the ground, planting his paws on his chest.

Got it! Paul turns his head to look back, his wolfish expression smug as he looks straight through me, his gaze focusing on Jared and the new wolves. I have been so focused on the forest, I haven't even heard Paul's thoughts as he joins us.

Emmett grunts, his nostrils flaring as he is held to the ground. "Get off of me!" he snarls.

A moment later, Paul crashes into a tree, a foot-shaped imprint in his fur. Emmett shakes his head and stands, glaring at Paul pointedly. He growls once before glancing over at my tense form. He winks at me, his dimples popping up as he grins.

Jared's unease swells in my mind for a moment, but it quickly disappears. He shakes his head and turns, figuring the situation will solve itself, making himself busy by herding Collin and Brady up the bank and back into the trees despite their noisy protest. I continue to stare, my mind and instincts conflicting. Paul shakes his fur as he picks himself up. His dark gaze shoots between Emmett and me. He snaps his teeth, his hostility on high.

Emmett shifts to face Paul. His grin morphs into a smirk while his eyes narrow. He crouches into a fighting stance, sizing Paul up. Paul's warning growl grows in volume. Emmett leans forward, baring his teeth at the sound.

Paul howls, the sound of it rising above the trees. He spreads his paws out and crouches, snarling through his teeth—he is accepting Emmett's challenge. In my mind, I can picture the two of them charging at each other, and that thought alone boils the protectiveness inside of me. My need to protect a side that is young and uncovered, but as I watch Paul start to circle Emmett, my thoughts change instantly.

He's gonna kick his ass. Paul's gonna shred him. Paul's gonna kill him. Paul's gonna kill my Emmett.

At least, it might seem like that. But I don't even give him the chance to breathe twice.

In the blink of an eye, I have thrown myself across the river. I charge onto the bank and rear up as I near Paul's large silver body. My dead weight crashes down on top of him, knocking him right off his feet. Paul spits and snaps his teeth toward me, his body thrashing. I swing my head directly at his own. My skull meets his opened jaw, bashing upward beneath his chin. Paul howls out as his head slams pack into the dirt. He kicks his legs and thrashes his weight around, rumbling angrily in frustration.

Some side of me knows that if I continue to play the offense, I will do more harm than necessary. My weight leans back, my paws dropping down against the earth. I sense Emmett behind me and hold on to the cold feel of his presence, soaking in the sensation, letting it seep beneath my fur and hold me together.

Paul is up again in moments, shaking his head to clear it. Globs of saliva fly. I'm a heated, towering barrier before Emmett. My jaws have spread to reveal each fine point of my teeth, giving off a clear warning to Paul. Paul doesn't retreat. Instead, he lowers his head and tips his weight from side to side. His mind evaluates and tries to come up with a smart move to get me out of the way, but his temper is getting the better of him.

He snuffs out a breath and slashes a paw through the dirt before throwing himself forward into a straight charge. Paul's head raises, his teeth bared as he closes in. I let loose a sharp bark, the sound booming above his snarls. I launch forward, meeting Paul halfway. The two of us topple into the muddy river, head over heels. For a moment, I'm completely submerged. Paul scrambles on the muddy river bottom as he tries to regain footing. I waste no time in shooting out of it, bracing my paws firmly in the muck.

Paul blasts out of the surface, his snarls echoing out in the forest around us. His dark gaze locks with mine. I register the uncontrolled rage in them. For just a moment, I can sense the fear in the background, nestled into the minds of the other wolves. For a moment, I can feel the awe that the cold being behind me holds as he watches. But the sensations only last a moment. Paul barks once at me before lunging toward me with all of his might.

Water bursts around us in large waves as our bodies clash together, the heat of our temperatures seeming to set the water ablaze. Paul swipes his paws at me, his head pressing in as he snaps at my throat. I return each snarl and snap, but I don't make any move to tear at him. Instead, I lower my body, aiming at his exposed belly before I heave myself forward, knocking him back. My teeth graze his throat as he crashes down, but I'm quick to pull back. My paws drop back into the river and I huff, my shoulders quivering and my body wired with the same need to defend. I ready myself to move again.

Paul rises, but this time he makes no move to charge again. He snorts and shakes his head, sending out a spray of water. His mind burns with tempered rage as he pulls himself onto the bank. He pants heavily as he steadies himself. His thoughts flash into mine, his tone bitter and blunt.

You really love the tribe, Jord.

My mind instantly rejects his words. I curl my lip back and let out one last snarl. Jared, who has stationed himself in the trees, out of the way, steps forward. His gaze moves between Paul and me before he swings his head back, gesturing for Paul to join them. Paul's thoughts focus only on the forest as he trots past Jared, bumping into his shoulder roughly as he passes. Jared shakes his head and nods to Collin and Brady. They glance at each other before moving to follow after Jared. The shock has worn off and they are completely riled up, nearly exploding with excitement.

That. Was. Awesome! Their thoughts start to bounce off one another, coming in too quickly. They sound like over-excited children, jabbering to each other without a single pause, images of the brawl whirring through their mind as they break down each moment at it.

I listen to their thoughts before pulling my focus out of it. My attention settles on the completely relaxed form of Emmett. His golden gaze is bright with amusement as he stares after the patrol, smirking as he slides his finger across his throat. Emmett's eyes narrow again as he studies the forest for any sign of the wolves coming back.

While his attention is divided, I take the opportunity to slip behind a large boulder. I drag in a large breath, allowing my eyes to fall shut for just a moment as I bend forward. The water stirs as it adjusts to my new form, the change only taking a heartbeat. I waste no time. My eyes snap back open, my hands tearing the clothes still secured to the string loosely wound around my ankle. Both the shirt and the shorts are absolutely soaked with water, but I don't mind. I yank each piece in place in record time. I sigh quietly to myself and breathe out again, placing a hand on the rock. I know he's there before I peek around it.

Emmett grins at me casually and raises a hand in my direction, as if he's been waiting for me to look over at him. He raises his voice as he speaks. "Just stopping by."

I shake my head, moving my gaze off him and onto the murky surface of the river. Do I stay, or do I go? The choice threatens to tear me apart once again. Paul's burning gaze still hovers at the edge of my thoughts, but the pull is drawing me in again. I exhale sharply, knotting a hand in my hair. I glance his way once more. Emmett's eyes catch mine and he raises an eyebrow. I'm about to turn away when he grins at me, his dimples appearing as he does.

Damn the dimples.

I quickly wade through the current of the river, stepping onto the bank. Water runs off of me, sliding down my arms and dripping off my fingertips, but I ignore it as I hold Emmett's eyes with my own. I can almost see the pierce of my dark blue gaze reflected in the golden pools of his eyes. He still seems unaffected by all that has happened. Emmett leans back against a tree, crossing his arms tightly to his chest.

"Back for more already?" he asks with a chuckle.

The humor is normally softening, but the fun isn't over just yet. The same suppressed fury is boiling deep within me, blistering hot. I continue to approach Emmett, my steps slow. "Why the fuck are you here?" My tone is flooded with warning. I'm no damsel in distress like any other woman these days. He isn't going to sway me so easily.

Emmett shakes his head again, continuing to chuckle. "I could ask the same."

Suddenly, I'm face to face with him. My instinct goes into overdrive and I'm pressing in close to him, my gaze nearly level with his. The fury settles into my expression.

"What the fuck do you want? Spit it out, damn it!" I demand. "What is it that keeps you coming back? You shouldn't be here, at all, unless you're looking for something. The longer you stick around, the more I wanna beat your ass bloody. And you know damn well that'll cause years worth of shit, so go on, get it over with!" My fingers start to tremble. "A fight? Entertainment? Sex? Hell, it doesn't matter, but enough with all this crazy shit. I'm going mad!"

Emmett doesn't reply at first. He doesn't bother to move me away from him, either. His fingertips brush the side of my neck again, stopping my furious rant in its tracks. All of the rage is bottled up and locked away suddenly at his touch. A smile curves on his lips as he holds my gaze again. "I came here to ask you if I could take you out in Seattle tonight. You know, like a date?"

I curl my fists, my teeth grinding as I hold his gaze, ready to—

I stop short as his words process. It takes me a few seconds to find my voice. "What. . . What's that supposed to mean?"

Emmett laughs, dropping his hand. He tilts his head as if he doesn't understand why the hell I've said something like that. He points to himself as he speaks. "I, wanna take you, on a date."

He rakes a hand through his hair, wearing the same easy-going smile. "It's what I came here for. It was worth a shot, even if you're with," he gestures across the river, "them. From what I've seen, you're a badass. And a badass doesn't back away from a challenge."

I remain locked in place. I don't move my stare. "I'm fucking dangerous," I tell him slowly, making sure to pronounce each word so they can't be mistaken.

"Just my type." Emmett smirks at me knowingly. "Are you really gonna reject me? I mean, I might only be completely heartbroken for the rest of my existence, but if you don't want to. . ."

My eyes trace the joking shape of his smile before resting on his eyes. I search the golden hues, probing them for any signs that they can't be trusted. They find nothing but the same light of shining humor, and maybe something more than that.

"To hell with it," I say in a murmur, then louder, "When should I be back here?"

He grins, nodding slowly in approval. His eyes hold mine a moment longer before he turns his back to me, still beaming. "I'll be back at sundown." Emmett darts away then, disappearing into the dense green of the forest.

He's just as crazy as I am. It's either that or the dimples, but something is making him completely irresistible. I stand there, mulling over what I have just agreed to. It takes me a few minutes, but I manage to cross back through the river and start to head home.

The run home is a slow one. My pace is steady and strong, but I can barely move. Each step drags as if chains are wrapped around my feet. The rain around me is only a drizzle, yet I swear I can hear each little drop splashing into the ground. I clench my teeth, practically flying through the front door of Sam's house. I crash through the living room, heading straight for the shower.

Steam escapes as I run the water. Its cloud presses up against the ceiling, frantic for escape. I soak in the muggy feel of it as I slide into the shower, shutting the curtain behind me. My hands instantly snatch up the bottle of shampoo. I squeeze a nice sized puddle into my hand before working it through my hair.

A few moments later, the calm patience is gone. I scrub my nails feverishly into my scalp, scraping at the skin. My teeth grind together, heat pulsing off the top of my head. The surge of thoughts and emotions are powerful, fueled by the warmth of the shower. Each feeling swells inside of me and then explodes, sending off a fresh wave of heat.

Isn't this how it works in all fairy tales? Doesn't one have to make a sacrifice, follow their gut, and then make things right in the end? Or do the two people fall blindly together, forgetting about everything around them? Does the pack really want me to be cut off and deprived of him, even though he is my imprint, just so that I'm folded up in a neat little space inside of me, allowing the monster to take the reins? Or do I let them all shit themselves and go at it? Is it really so bad to go after a change, if it might be a good thing? Is this really such a fucking sin?

As I dive deeper into my internal battle, thoughts start to flow from the other direction. I barely know this man, yet he has an influence over me. A man that I barely know can flash a smile at me and melt away all of my thoughts that are against him. A man that I barely know can be so important that I will go to the lengths of fighting back my own pack brothers to keep him in one piece. But this man isn't a man. He is my enemy. Is it possible that imprinting is a mind trick? Me, of all people, imprinting on a bloodsucker?

This is just like a fight, I realize. I slam my damp back into the wall, both of my hands tangling in my hair, my eyes squeezing shut against the pelt of shower water. To stop the fight, I must first find the source of the attack. The source of the fight is what is allowing the weapons to fly and the blood to be spilled. I think back, flipping through each memory. Meeting eyes with him. Jumping across the line. Racing to find the leech. Gathering in the clearing. Paul's kiss. That first day back with Paul and Jared. Returning home. Being called back home to. . .

My eyes snap open as I target the source of all of this. Being called back home to not only kill a leech, but to keep a leech from hurting our dear, precious Bella.

Bella fucking Swan.

I've seen her face in Jacob's mind time and time again. I don't need to hear the irritated thoughts of the pack to know that he has caused her to be the star of the show while I have been gone. She has entered the picture and become the core of the pack, as if we all orbit around her, surviving to protect her and keep her alive. From what I've seen, her decisions decide how life will go for the rest of us. If she does something stupid, it's never a surprise, but it affects everyone. I don't need to hear those thoughts from the pack mind to know that's how things are—our lives are proof of it. Here the pack is now, laying our lives down for the amazing Bella, running our asses off, and for what? To make sure Bella doesn't get bitten? To make sure sweet, caring, perfect Bella survives, even at the cost that one of us won't? Hell, forget about the rest of us. None of us can ever be as important as Bella.

Eventually, I will need to take care of this Bella. I'll set her straight if no other cowering fool can. But first, I need to meet a sworn enemy at the line so that he can take me out.

I snort, my fingers slowing and once more working through my hair as I rinse out the shampoo. I can't ever expect a dull moment in life at this point.


The ruthless current pulls the river before me, the water appearing black beneath the cloudy sky. The grey, rocky surface beneath my feet contrasts against the towering green of the forest, the hues of them dulled by the blackness. I stand open on the bank of the river, my senses reaching out and my body tensed. I'm an open challenge for any unwelcome being that might be wandering out in the forest, searching for trouble.

I'm still ready for an attack. He's the enemy, and I could be falling for his tricks. I've prepared myself and come out here at sun down, as asked. My hair has dried and softly falls straight down my back, barely contrasting against my dark copper skin. Each nail is clean and my face is grime free, looking much softer with the lightly applied makeup. My outfit is nothing special—a strapless yet casual black dress that fit to my form nicely while being breathable at the same time. I don't bother to hide the Quileute tattoo on my shoulder. I'm fucking proud of it.

My hands shake slightly as I stand here, waiting for Emmett to show up. The dark forest buzzes around me, the night alive with creatures. I can hear mice skittering in the roots of trees and the slightest chew as a deer munches on leaves farther down the bank. The darkness has closed in, coming at the forest from all sides. I'm poised to strike at any minute, counting the soft, silent intake of each of my breaths. 106, 107, 108…

A mighty boom breaks the natural sounds of the forest. The mice freeze in place, their heartbeats racing in their chests. The deer scampers back into the protection of the forest, leaving the rest of its meal behind. The buzz is silenced. Even the gentle breeze seems to have halted.

I flex my fingers, the shaking stopping abruptly. The sound has not frightened me, but it has awoken my full alert. I fix my gaze across the river, expectant. My heart thumps quietly in my chest.

Moments later, a white flash jumps from a tree to the ground. Emmett lands softly on the bank, clapping his hands together. He stands up straight in one fluid motion, his buttery golden eyes settling on me. A grin stretches across his expression. "Hey."

His casual greeting almost makes me want to smile, but I don't know how. I nod to him, taking in the sight of his cleaned up form. He has also gone for the simpler choice, only wearing dark wash jeans and a white button up shirt. I can't help but notice the top few buttons are undone, revealing the bare, smooth skin of his sculpted chest.

Emmett takes notice of the pause, and probably where my stare is directed, too. He grins, waving his hand. "Are you gonna come over here, or do I have to come and get you?"

"I've got two legs," I say, a bite in my words.

The river doesn't seem like a barrier so much anymore, just an obstacle, and I have no problem with crossing it. I pace backward before throwing myself over. The wind instantly wraps around my form, whistling around me as I fall. The current rushes by, hissing as if my undisturbed lunge has angered it. I'm caught up in the thrill for only a moment, though. A heartbeat later, cool hands settle on my sides, gently setting me down on my feet. Emmett pulls away instantly, but he still earns a questioning glance from me.

"Hey now." He raises his hands, playfully defending himself. "I'm just being a gentleman. I hear it's a great way to make a good first impression on a lady." He winks at me before looking me up and down. "You're sure not as fun-sized as I expected."

This is the first time we've actually been so near each other, on normal terms. I turn my gaze on him, realizing it's only a few inches below his. I find myself staring at the smooth lines of his face, so perfect up close. My eyes narrow, slanting into a glare before he can notice. "Us bad asses are full of surprises."

Emmett's eyes squint playfully. "We'll have to see about that, won't we?"

He smirks, allowing the question to trail off as he darts back into the forest. My gaze lands on a huge Jeep that is parked slightly beyond a large tree root, almost as if it has been forced to drive right over the root and exploded.

Emmett opens the passenger door, revealing the spacious inside. He cranes his head over to look at me. "We'd better get going. No need to worry—I won't bite."

"We'll have to see about that," I mutter while moving forward to climb inside. A faint chuckle sounds outside as the door closes behind me. I force myself to settle in the seat, but my gaze still flickers around the wide car, taking in the simplicity of it. This is definitely a man's kind of vehicle—one meant to plow through any terrain and get from place to place, not even bothering with fancy accessories.

Not a bad first impression, so far.

A heartbeat later, the door on the driver's side swings open. Emmett practically throws himself into the Jeep, the force of the movement rocking the car from side to side. He glances at my half-suspicious expression and grins as he starts the engine.

"Do I really look that nice?" he asks, all seriousness set aside.

I glance over at his form. He is completely relaxed against the seat, his hands spread over the wheel, with his skin seeming to glow in the darkness. I breathe in through my nose, tasting his sweet scent.

"Nothing to complain about," I reply easily.

Emmett hums low in his throat, considering. He guides the rumbling Jeep through the forest, allowing the headlights to sweep over the brush beneath. "I could say the same. But. . ." He gives an exaggerated sigh of disappointment. "You don't wear fancy heels. How am I supposed to catch you if you try to run away?"

Amusement instantly floods me. I raise an eyebrow, averting my gaze to hide the flicker of it as it passes over my expression. "You think I run from vampires?"

His gaze travels over my body for a moment. He quickly looks back at the road, a smirk etched on his face. "Just from first glance? Nah. But a vampire did manage to lure you into his car."

My expression turns challenging, but not at all hostile. I find my muscles instinctively tensing, although my mind is too amused to find any reason to grow defensive. "Point is?"

"You're stuck with me," Emmett announces with a nod. "No running." His thumb reaches to a button on the wheel, pressing it for just a moment. Four sharp clicks ring out from all the doors. Another echoes them from the trunk.

"Oh?" I raise a hand, drumming my fingers on the window. "This glass looks like it's really, really sharp."

"And I'm pretty damn sturdy," he adds.

I lean forward slightly, my eyes narrowed. "I live to slaughter vampires. And here is one, in plain view. In just one second, your life could end." I lean away again, assessing his reaction.

Emmett flashes a smile. His teeth shine for just a moment, drawn out in the darkness. "I think you've already had your chance to kill me. But look at us now," he muses.

"Us? That's what you call this?"

"Hell yeah, it'll happen. You won't be able to resist." Emmett wiggles his brow playfully, turning his gaze on me again. "Gotta love a challenge."

I tilt my head slightly. "And how the hell is that one gonna work?"

He raises a hand, gesturing out the window. I follow the movement, my eyes taking in the rows of cars, just realizing that we are already on the highway. "I'll steal you away with my awesome driving skills."

"You might have a chance at that." Sarcasm leaks from my tone.

He chuckles, seeming smug that he has won our joking competition. For now. "Do I?"

"I never went to high school." I work my jaw, trying not to let his scent linger in my nostrils for too long.

"Ooh, drop out, are ya?"

"Mmm. . ." I study the childish entertainment in his expression for a moment, debating whether or not to answer. "Expelled."

Emmett blinks. For a moment, it looks as if he is stunned, until a big grin spreads across his face. "For?"

"Shit," I say curtly. I don't know what he will do if he hears the truth. His personality makes it clear he won't be scared off, but what makes me sure I can trust him?

"C'mon," he presses eagerly. "Was it drugs?"

"Nice try."

Emmett grins. "I knew it." He glances at me and winks. I roll my shoulders, relaxing as I realize he's only joking and he isn't going to press me any further.

"If you get judging rights, what should I call you? A cocky jock, graduated football player, scholarship to college, only to end up as a smartass flunk living in the basement of a public gym?"

"Maybe," he agrees, going along with it. "But I'd be headed for the dare-devil path. Living for a thrill." He chuckles.

"You'd think being stuck in a house full of 'suckers would be interesting enough," I mutter partly to myself.

I pause a moment, considering my words. Talking with him isn't as I have expected it—our conversation flows easily, nearly thoughtlessly. Talking is almost as easy as breathing in his sweet scent and holding his gaze with mine. It is simple.

All until one name spoils it.

"It's great, sometimes. But not always; sometimes, I'm so fucking bored, I could gauge out my eyes for fun. When things happen or chances to actually have a little fun come up, we were always stopped by the 'possible consequences.'" He shakes his head, snorting. "Rosalie never had much interest in everything. She's a pessimist—it always ruined the fun."

Conversation has gotten too easy. I know Emmett hasn't said anything wrong, but just the sound of her name on his lips is enough to set me off. I can't control the sudden tremor that shakes my fingers. Emmett is silent for a moment, awaiting my response, before he glances over at me curiously.

His gaze rests on my trembling fingertips. "Getting a little hot?"

"I'm always hot," I remind him, catching the irritating smirk on his face.

Emmett's gaze brightens in amusement. "Then let me be your 'ice pack'."

He keeps one hand on the steering wheel, sliding it up to the top, while his right hand drops down. It rests on the surface of the small box between us, his fingers opening to invite my hand in. I stare at it for a long moment before I slide my hand into his, feeling another spark at the touch. My fingers fill the spaces between his own.

It's a perfect fit. I feel a large breath whoosh out of my lungs. The shaking quickly disappears. A long few minutes of calm silence rests between us as we both take in the spark of the feel of our touching skin.

Emmett takes in the expression on my face and laughs. He raises our hands, not yet letting them go, gesturing out the windshield. "We're here, by the way. You don't seem to have noticed yet."

I tear my gaze away from him reluctantly, and dip my head down to peer out the windshield. I blink at the unnatural brightness. The night thrives over the city, but it is still brilliant, lit up completely. Buildings tower over one another as if competing to see which one can touch the sky first. The night is dotted with the soft glow of lights in nearly every color. Despite the hour, life hums throughout the city, sending a steady flow of energy throughout the area.

The sound of Emmett's amused, deep voice brings me back to the present. "Dazzled?"

I shake my head to clear it, leaning back in my seat. My eyes meet his again. "That's what this is supposed to be?"

Emmett winks. "If it's working, then yes." He grins and suddenly stops, pulling the Jeep into park inside a wide, filled parking lot. He glances at me for another moment before his fingers disappear from beneath my own.

The door on Emmett's side opens and shuts. In the blink of an eye, he blurs around the front and is on my side, opening the door. He flashes a brilliant smile at me, reaching over to gently help me out of the Jeep.

"Is this making a good impression?" he whispers in my ear as the door shuts.

"Gentleman. Classic." I try not to grit my teeth.

Emmett snaps his fingers, leaning back up and away from my ear. "Damn. I'll try harder, then." He winks and rushes us up to the front door of a very flashy looking place. His hand catches the door before I can even reach for it and he holds it open.

I raise my eyebrow at the scents and sounds coming from inside. "Taking me to a strip club?"

He shakes his head, an amused expression crossing over his features. "Nah, I'm trying to make a good first impression, remember? And if you don't like classic, this is perfect."

I take his word for it and slip inside, leading the way. I'm instantly hit with a familiar scene—loud voices, a steady pulse of music, and a dimmed light, all except for the soft glow over the bar. A small form of a smile stretches over my expression.

As we make our way through the closely packed bodies, Emmett's hand rests on the small of my back. His chest is even with my shoulder, his body only inches a way from mine. His touch is cool and gentle, nearly static. Emmett seems to sense that he shouldn't come on too strong with me. Something about the thought of his patience makes my heart skip a beat.

We take a seat right at the bar—he doesn't even seem to consider making us fade into the background. Two tall, fit, strange, intimidating people, right at the front and center. He doesn't even take any notice, but his eyes do take notice of my legs as I move to sit down. He seems open about that as well, not bothering to hide anything.

"Flattering," I mutter dryly as he settles down next to me and raises his gaze.

"Which part? Me taking you out to possibly get drunk, or my completely innocent staring?"

I run my tongue across my teeth while my fingers start to drum on the countertop. My mind rejects the thought of holding still for any length of time, especially in this kind of atmosphere. "The eye fuck. I get that sometimes, when I decide to give a damn about what I look like."

"For me?" He raises his eyebrows, the smirk growing on his face.

"That's almost possible."

Emmett chuckles again, playfully slapping a hand into the counter. "Damn, you were just starting to get my hopes up."

I start to reply, but I cut myself off as my senses tune in on a woman approaching us. She is dressed in employee clothing, yet her face is plastered with makeup. She struts up toward us, a notepad and pen in hand. Her gaze sees right through me. She is focused only on Emmett, her sly smile seeming to be a show just for him.

"Good evening," she greets obnoxiously, ending our conversation. Emmett looks up, and she flashes a big smile at him. "I'll be serving you today."

My eyes narrow. I feel the same boil of blood in my veins already starting. Not only is she already proving to only show up to see Emmett, but she hasn't even offered a menu of any sort. It's all an act.

"The strongest you got," I cut in, not allowing the woman to speak. As she casts a burning glare my way, I add on, "With a side of 'fuck off or I'll make sure you'll never be able piss again.'"

The woman—or waitress—huffs once. She doesn't say another word, but only flashes another smile at Emmett before stomping away. I stare after her disappearing form, nearly daring her to come back.

"You tell her," Emmett says once she's gone, nudging my side lightly.

I breathe out a breath of steam, my brow crinkling. "Impressed?"

Emmett nods as he smirks. "I could have dealt with her myself, though."

"Too late," I mutter bitterly.

"Nothing to worry about. She doesn't have anything on you." He gives me another huge grin as he says it, and suddenly, all of the bitterness is drained.

I'm not so bitter about the dimples anymore.

I shake my head, sliding a hand through my hair. The pulse of the music echoes through my body. I feel a tiny part of me pulled out to the dance floor, but there is a stronger urge to stay with Emmett.

"Exactly what do you want from me?" I ask again. My dark gaze settles on his, my fingers continuing to drum on the counter.

Emmett leans back, returning my gaze and another smile. "A chance."

"If you want shit with the pack, you can just keep showing up at the line everyday."

He shakes his head with a short laugh before leaning in closer to me, his gaze staying locked on mine. His hand reaches up, running down the side of my neck lightly. The touch instantly brings a round of new shivers. He doesn't stop there, though, and his hand reaches up to cups my face. A blistering shiver races through my body as his thumb traces the line of my jaw. His touch is gentle, but firm. I can't even consider looking away from him.

"I want you to give me a chance," he murmurs slowly, fully aware of the effect he has on me.

My shoulder twitches, sending a signal to move away from his grasp, but I am rooted in place. "I'm fucking dangerous," I say blankly, my mind far too scattered to come up with a good response.

Emmett laughs quietly, pulling back away, although his body remains seated right next to mine. He rests his arms on the counter, brushing against my own, his head still turned and his gaze holding mine. "You aren't the only monster in town." He winks.

I'm filled with the same amused sensation that tugs at my lips, wanting to force a smile—wanting to make my body react in a way that I have forgotten. I only stare at him, partly because I can't do anything else, and partly because my eyes have found the revealed patch of his chest again.

"Your family doesn't want this, and neither does mine," I point out after a few seconds of silence.

"Can their opinions stop this?"

We both know the answer, so I don't bother saying anything. He grins, waiting for me to go on. I exhale softly again, frozen under his intense gaze.

"Moody doesn't approve of whatever the hell this is leading to, and he seems to be ready to make sure nothing happens."

Emmett raises his eyebrows. "Jasper?" He snorts. "Nah, he has a power, one of empathy. He was feeding off your fire and what you were feeling. He's not so bad. Usually." He shrugs. "They'll come around."

I shake my head, leaning back as I glance around the noisy, packed bar. "Gotta love a bitch with a back bone."

Emmett throws his head back and lets out a loud laugh. The sound booms around the bar, rising above everything else before the sound is swallowed in the rush of things. The waitress conveniently returns with my glass right then, as if she means to end our conversation again. She slides it over to me carelessly, causing some of it to slosh onto the table. I ignore it, knowing full well that she probably slipped some sort of drug in the drink. The waitress is still oblivious to me, though—her eyes are locked on Emmett.

"Is there anything else I could possibly help you with?" she purrs.

"We're fine," Emmett insists. He glances at me and flashes a reassuring smile as he takes in my darkening expression.

The waitress moves in closer, leaning over the counter. "Are you completely sure that's all you want?"

Her words are edged with double meaning, and I don't take to it. The same defensiveness boils in the heat of my body. Emmett says something to her—I think he only repeats his words—but she still doesn't back down. My fingers scrape against the counter as they curl into fists. Only one thought races through my mind.


I push up off the table, breaking the seat clean off the floor. At this point, eyes are starting to focus on us, but I don't bother to even look at any of them. I move to stand right in front of Emmett, my heated hand smacking hers off of his. I lean forward, bracing both my hands on the table. The waitress shrinks slightly underneath my height and steady stare, but she doesn't retreat.

"And who are you?" she asks bitterly, arching her far-too-thin eyebrows.

"Don't even try it. You're wasting my breath," I spit. "Get your filthy ass away from him, now."

The waitress eyes me up and down before she sneers. "Or what?"

In this situation, I don't bother with threats. The waitress is asking for it, and so I answer. The next thing I know, my hand has swooped up the glass on the counter and alcohol is running down the woman's face, burning into her eyes. The glass shatters, bursting into a million pieces over her skin. I watch as she sways, staggering back toward the kitchen before crumpling to the ground.

An uproar instantly breaks out across the bar, as if every eye has been locked on the strange couple at the front. The volume blasts to its limit. Bodies race for the door. Men rush over to help the waitress. Women pull out phones and screech frantically into them. In the background, sirens ring out their sharp scream, already on their way.

All the while, I stand locked in place in front of Emmett, my shoulders heaving with each heavy breath. Heat creeps down my spine and into the core of my body, threatening to break the wolf free. Emmett catches on quickly. He pulls out and wraps his arm around my waist, bringing me close to him. I can't see his expression or sense his response—he guides me out the back door quickly before any questions can be asked.

Emmett shoves open the sealed door without much of an issue, leading us out the back into an alley. The air outside is muggy and humid. Something about it is sour, but I brush it off, assuming it to be the pollution of the city. Emmett releases me and turns to force the door securely shut. His body shakes as he does, his back to me.

I stare at him, waiting. Waiting for his outburst. Waiting for his angry shout. Waiting for the glare in his eyes. Waiting for the accusations. My body is braced and ready to take it. Something about me knows I won't want to argue. I'll only listen, collecting in each vibe of his deep voice.

Once again, he surprises me with his actions. As Emmett turns back to face me, the first thing I notice is his bared teeth. But as my eyes continue to study him, I notice the dimples as well as the sheen of amusement in his eyes. His silent laughter slowly rises until the boom of it echoes around the darkness at a volume that might have burst my eardrums.

My stare intensifies as he leans back, looking me up and down while nodding with approval, seeming to have finished letting out his contained laughter. "Now I'm seriously impressed, Miss Bad Ass."

I slowly start to form something near a smile. "Looks like I proved you right."

Emmett chuckles again, but suddenly, the sound of him fades into background. An undeniable scent has drifted into the damp air, masked by the rain until now. It is then that I realize the sour scent was not from pollution. My nostrils detect the scent in an instant, wrinkling at the burn of it. A growl rises in my throat. I instantly shift into a defensive stance, my senses stretching as they comb over the darkness of the alley, searching.

The laughter silences. Emmett pauses behind me. He doesn't stiffen, though, and remains relaxed. In the corner of my eye, I watch as he looks around and then shakes his head. A cold arm slides over my shoulders, hovering over my skin slightly.

"It's nothing. Well, it is something, but it's not there anymore." Emmett glances around before his gaze settles on me and he raises his eyebrows, amused by my defensive stance. "C'mon, we'd better go before the police catch up."

Emmett guides me back around the building, not pausing at the corner to look for danger. He ambles through the darkened alley toward his large Jeep, unaffected by the possibility of any trouble. Once more, I find myself going along with him, not even having to think about it. I shoot one final warning look back behind me before quickly sliding into the Jeep.

The seat belt is shaped more like a harness to me. It's an unnecessary precaution—if I go flying through the windshield, my healing will fix the scratches on its own. I don't bother to even put it on, and Emmett doesn't either. I glance over as he swings himself into the Jeep, causing it to rock from side to side with the force. He settles into his seat as if it is made for him and him alone before he clamps his hands on the wheel. While starting the car, he grins to himself, listening to the engine coming to life under his touch.

I study his expression, taking in the sight of his childish enthusiasm. His broad shoulders are completely relaxed, the muscles on his arms bulging through his sleeves even though he doesn't appear to even be thinking about a fight any time soon. Rain shines in his hair, tiny little drops of it managing to slip loose from his short curls and run down the side of his face.

Staring hasn't ever been an issue for me, but it seems to have become one ever since I first laid eyes on him. I don't know how long I stare at him, but eventually, he raises an eyebrow and waves a hand at me. I blink, only to notice that the Jeep is moving full-speed down the road. I haven't even said a thing.

"We've had some problems with newborns lately," Emmett explains, misinterpreting my expression. "You know, newborn vampires. There have been tons of humans just disappearing out of the blue. The humans are starting to blame a serial killer." He chuckles as if the thought is very amusing to him. "But the signs point to something else."

Each muscle in my body is slowly locking up, the heat of my skin flaming. Emmett holds my gaze for a long minute, his hands continuing to steer the wheel on their own. My mind is slowed by the golden hue of his eyes and I take a minute to realize he's waiting for me to speak. I exhale softly. "What are they pointing to?"

"Someone is out there, creating these vampires to use them against another in a fight. The newborns are wild and untamed—they don't know how to control themselves. They only know how to use their strength to do whatever it takes to satisfy their thirst." He smirks. "I bet it all comes back to Bella. She's a danger magnet, but hey, she keeps us all occupied."

I nod, allowing another twisted form of a smile to rise on my expression. He isn't the only one who thinks like that. "Then what's so awful about these 'newborns'? Other than the fact that they're a large group of bloodsucking maniacs raising hell miles away from us."

Emmett laughs, completely oblivious to my terms. He reaches over to angle the mirror, smoothing down his rain-darkened hair. "If this anonymous 'someone' is creating all the vampires to get through us and to Bella, they're going to be showing up at some point."

"Great. Red-head and now this batch. We're gonna have a lot or killing to do."

"No, we wouldn't have to kill them." He grins at me. "We'd get to kill them."

I remain seated upright, still tensed and ready to defend myself, but a part of me relaxes. I manage to allow my expression to somewhat mimic his. "Good point."

"How come this seems to be the first time you've heard this?"

Another breath whistles back out through my nostrils. "It is the first time I've heard of it."

"Then it's my honor to let you in on the big secret," he says with a shake of his head and another smile.

I pause for a moment, offering something close to a smile once more. "What about Queen Bella?"

"What about her?"

"You're gonna have to protect her, aren't you?"

Emmett laughs once. "That's the fun part." He glances over at me. "You're a smart one, huh?"

I shake my head. "That's what happens when your mind is full of useful information and not a bunch of crap from textbooks."

He smirks. "Finally somebody is on my side!" His hand claps against the steering wheel, creating a small crack. He laughs as it breaks, and then looks back at me. "You're right, though. They could come here," he reasons.

I raise an eyebrow at the sound of his tone. "But?"

Emmett smiles to himself, shifting his weight in his seat. "Alice can't see anything. If this problem is heading our way, there's no way of knowing when. We'd need numbers, time, hell, even date. But we have nothing. It's not a big deal, I mean, we could take care of the problem. It kinda worries Edward, what with his human woman."

He is talking as if I'm a part of his family, like I've known them all along. I can fill in the blanks he leaves, though, and I assume visions are a mind trick that she has. I nod once, considering his words.

"Even if you can't save Bella, you can protect yourselves. Not that I would blame anybody for taking her out."

Emmett chuckles, leaning forward to peer out the window. "I'm getting the impression that you don't care for Bella much."

"Mmm. Good impression."

His eyes narrow as he pretends to squint through the rain. "And what gave you such a bad impression?"

I study his movements as he turns to look at me. "It might have something to do with the fact that I have this thing called a brain that allows me to think, and eyes that allow me to see. I've seen enough to get a pretty good impression, thanks to me having a brain."

"At least one of us does." He grins, gesturing to his arms. "I treasure muscles over brains, personally."

"So I've seen."

His deep laugh fills the trailing words. Another twisted form of a smile rises on my expression. I glance out the window, recognizing the towering green trees flashing by. My thoughts scatter again before zeroing in on one other problem.

"Jacob will find out about this," I mutter, partly to myself. "He'll flip when he realizes someone else might be going after his special Bella."

"Hmm. . ." Emmett muses, debating to himself. "From what Eddie's been telling me, he seems to have his thoughts on other matters."

I snort. "God, what else is wrong with her?"

Emmett looks at me for a short moment before speaking. "Bella's going to be graduating soon. And after that, she wants Edward to change her. You know, into one of us."

Looks like I spoke to soon. My fingertips quiver as my eyes slant. "Why the hell would she ask for that?"

Emmett remains relaxed. He shakes his head, running a hand through his hair. "For true looooooove," he teases.

"Ha." I lean back, pressing into the seat, willing myself to calm. "More like so she can gather another crowd to gawk and gasp over her. How much attention does she need?"

"Ooh, ouch." Emmett fakes a wince. "Someone has a nasty side."

I clamp my teeth together. "Think about it. First, she gets this leech chasing after her. Then, she plays with Jacob's emotions. Now, she's begging to be changed, although she knows what will happen."

Emmett tips his head to side, smiling. "Not much to argue with there."

"Exactly," I mutter.

Emmett hums low in his throat, not speaking for a moment. "Does this mean you're gonna tattle on me?"

"What don't you want me to say? I have a nice list."

Emmett grins, his teeth showing. He seems to have caught onto the slight layer of joking in my tone. "Cracking the ice, letting you in on the vampire dramatics."

I don't need to think about it. "If there really is an army of suckers coming our way, and we're allowed to kill them, how can we not get involved?"

Emmett rumbles, the sound coming from his chest, low and deep. The Jeep starts to slow. "Maybe if we did come together, they would be less pessimistic." He pauses for a moment. "It wouldn't be as fun, because there'd be less to fight, but it would be worth it, so they all don't worry their asses off."

I nod slowly, my gaze still locked on him. "We're a fighting force designed for the job. If the question ever comes up, sign us up."

Emmett chuckles, his gaze turning back onto the forest ahead. Darkness is closing in around us, the moonlight that has been so bright on the road being shunned by the trees. "It could be interesting."

"You got that right," I agree.

I hear the churning tires halt in the mud, and suddenly, everything is still. Our easy conversation fades off into silence. I know this is the moment where I should tear off my seat belt, throw open the door, and charge through the river, racing back to where I belong. Only, I don't. I almost don't want to go. I almost don't want to return to the dark, unpredictable life of my homelands.

And it is him that is making me want to stay. His booming laugh and dimpled smile. His sense of humor that never darkens. The dark curls of his short hair and the burning golden life that shines in his eyes. Everything about him is calling me back. Something—or someone—buried deep inside me is begging me to stay.

My head turns slightly as I face him, expecting him to have something to say. But he is silent. Emmett keeps his hands braced on the wheel, his gaze capturing mine the second it has the chance. He flashes a grin at me, the dimples showing once more, but he still doesn't speak. Instead, he leans in toward me.

Emmett's lips brush over mine lightly. The movement is not forced or frantic—just a gentle little touch. Still, chills burst into my veins. This is the first time in years that I have ever felt cold. But it's not the terrified, bone-chilling cold. This is an excited, heart-racing ice that floods me and leaves me wanting—no, needing—more.

He doesn't stop there. He sees me shudder and he chuckles, his cool, sweet breath around my face. An electric current rushes over my skin where his breath touches, brought alive. He captures my mouth with his, his hands sliding down my back and pulling me close.

The kiss is sweet in its own way, but far from gentle. His lips work with mine in a slow motion, the roughness underneath rising steadily. I find myself responding to him. At first, my arms only loosely wrap around his neck, but soon they are tangled in his hair, forcing him to stay close to me. Fire oozes into my system, chasing away the chill. Our temperatures clash, ice on fire, burning and melting and smoldering. He is everywhere, and everything else is nothing. The rain continues to patter down on the windshield, blurring out the world around us. There is suddenly just the two of us and the fiery pleasure of our shared kiss.

A low growl passes through his lips as he feels my fingers knot in his hair. Emmett pulls away then, breaking away and leaning back into his seat. The air around us sizzles. The space seems to be nearly taunting as my body buzzes, unsatisfied.

Emmett's gaze doesn't leave mine. He continues to watch me, studying the expression on my face. He takes a minute, as if he also has to catch his breath before he speaks.

"So, you liked that?"

I stare at him. Liked that? Is that the only way he could describe it? Something that is only temporary, a little tease that is just for a small thrill. I know that I should feel rushed and I should feel disgusted. But no, I don't feel any negative sensation following his kiss. No, I don't like his kiss, either. I feel something far beyond 'like.' The feel of his lips still lingers, the fire of his kiss burning inside of me, captured in some deep, unraveled place. Every part of me is alive, brought to life by the sensations of him.

Emmett is quiet for another moment. He measures the expression in my face for another moment. "Silence, huh? Well, that's gotta mean I kissed you speechless." He leans back, completely relaxing in his seat. His expression grows smug. "Excellent."

I find my expression lightening, feeling something near a smile rise on my face. I want to laugh, but I don't remember how just yet, so I settle with that. My hand slides across the seat, finding the handle. I push it open and slip out, but not before casting one last mystified glance in Emmett's way. "See you tomorrow?"

"Of course. I'll be coming back for more." Emmett winks, laughing at our own little inside joke. He waits for me to shut the door before he drives the Jeep away, not bothering to find a trail. I listen to it crash through the forest, waiting until the sound fades completely before I head back toward the river.

The rain batters at my form almost as if it is scolding me, punishing me for my night out with him. I ignore the piercing cold, my body heat seeming hot enough to blaze right through the rain. I make my way through the forest, heading for the sound of the river.

My thoughts are hushed, relaxed into a steady hum. I can't remember the last time they have been like that, or if they've ever been. Relaxation has never been a part of my schedule, ever. It's something I could get used to, if sleeping ever is more important than my pack duties.

Yeah, right.

The river comes into view moments later. It is still swollen from the earlier rainfall, and this doesn't seem to be doing much for that. Ripples expand over the shuddering surface at every shooting drop of rain, pushing the river farther and farther out into the bank, stretching into the trees.

I barely notice this, though. The second I come up to the river, my eyes instantly lock on the large black form that looms across the river. Even through the heavy rainfall, my eyes still catch the shape of the wide, dark eyes that study my every move. In the distance, I can faintly hear the steady thump of his large heart.

Sam always has been the protective type. One of the pack must have caught my scent as I left and filled in the blanks for him. I press forward, moving smoothly through the river. The water reaches my thighs, barely brushing the hem of my clothing. As I come in closer, it looks like Sam has been waiting for a while—his black fur is plastered to his skin, slicking it down flat to his form.

The current attempts to drag me with it, but I don't have any problem moving straight through. I reach the other side of the river in moments, stepping up onto the sodden ground. I haven't realized it, but my body has been tensed and stiff while on the other's land. Now, as I move onto my homeland, my muscles loosen.

Huffing, the black wolf leans his head forward. His nostrils flex and then wrinkle. He recoils at my scent before shaking his head and pacing around me, looking me up and down.

I allow Sam to have his few moments of fussing. His worrying is useless, though, and has no real reason. I shake my head and start to hike forward, my patience fading. Sam rumbles in disapproval. He jogs after me, his shoulder pressing against my back.

I don't need a guide—I know these lands better than nearly anyone. My feet plant in the mud, my body locking down. I turn my head to look over my shoulder, meeting Sam's widened eyes.

"The fuck do you think I am? I've not been four for a little while."

Sam stares for a moment before his ears press flat, his head lowering in defeat. He exhales heavily before trotting off into the shadows. I continue moving again, my senses focused only on the forest ahead. Minutes later, Sam falls in step beside me, his hands shoved into his pockets.

He takes a long while—nearly the entire rainy walk—until he musters up the guts to say something. He clears his throat, glancing at me. "How'd it go?"

I grit my teeth, snorting at his tone. "He took me to his coffin, fucked me senseless, and sucked my throat dry."

He growls lowly, flashing me a look that was once a warning. "Don't talk to me like that."

I almost bare my teeth. "It's what you want to hear."

Silence settles, thick and sharp between us. Sam picks up his pace, suddenly in desperate need for space. I continue press forward toward the illuminated glow of the distant porch light, feeling a nudge inside me, urging me to speak. My mind spins for a second, twisting; turning; thinking.

"I'll run a morning patrol," I offer.

Sam isn't very moved by my words. His cheeks hollow out as he sucks in a big breath, raking his hands through his rain-spiked hair. I watch in the corner of my eye as his throat expands slightly with a hard swallow. "Really?

I don't have to think. "Really."

He sends another wary glance in my way, breaking through the trees. He saunters up the steps before speaking. "Paul isn't very happy, you know."

"To hell with that."

There's a few minutes of the silent whisk of the winds and the crunch of Sam's heavy footsteps before he speaks again.

"You'll take the morning patrol, bright and early," he mumbles. With another glance over his shoulder, he heads up the porch, opening the door for himself.

Something strange twitches on my lips. "Good."