A group of four men turned around the corner I was heading for, dressed
too casually to be heading home from the office, but they were too grimy
to be tourists. As they approached me, I realized they weren't too many
years older than I was. They were joking loudly among themselves,
laughing raucously and punching each other's arms. I scooted as far to
the inside of the sidewalk as I could to give them room, walking swiftly,
looking past them to the corner.
"Hey, there!" one of them called as they passed, and he had to be talking
to me since no one else was around. I glanced up automatically. Two of
them had paused, the other two were slowing. The closest, a heavyset,
dark-haired man in his early twenties, seemed to be the one who had
spoken. He was wearing a flannel shirt open over a dirty t-shirt, cut-off
jeans, and sandals. He took half a step toward me.
"Hello," I mumbled, a knee-jerk reaction. Then I quickly looked away and
walked faster toward the corner. I could hear them laughing at full
volume behind me.
"Hey, wait!" one of them called after me again, but I kept my head down
and rounded the corner with a sigh of relief. I could still hear them
chortling behind me.
I found myself on a sidewalk leading past the backs of several
somber-colored warehouses, each with large bay doors for unloading
trucks, padlocked for the night. The south side of the street had no
sidewalk, only a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire protecting some
kind of engine parts storage yard. I'd wandered far past the part of Port
Angeles that I, as a guest, was intended to see. It was getting dark, I
realized, the clouds finally returning, piling up on the western horizon,
creating an early sunset. The eastern sky was still clear, but graying,
shot through with streaks of pink and orange. I'd left my jacket in the
car, and a sudden shiver made me cross my arms tightly across my chest. A
single van passed me, and then the road was empty.
The sky suddenly darkened further, and, as I looked over my shoulder to
glare at the offending cloud, I realized with a shock that two men were
walking quietly twenty feet behind me.
They were from the same group I'd passed at the corner, though neither
was the dark one who'd spoken to me. I turned my head forward at once,
quickening my pace. A chill that had nothing to do with the weather made
me shiver again. My purse was on a shoulder strap and I had it slung
across my body, the way you were supposed to wear it so it wouldn't get
snatched. I knew exactly where my pepper spray was — still in my duffle
bag under the bed, never unpacked. I didn't have much money with me, just
a twenty and some ones, and I thought about "accidentally" dropping my
bag and walking away. But a small, frightened voice in the back of my
mind warned me that they might be something worse than thieves.
I listened intently to their quiet footsteps, which were much too quiet
when compared to the boisterous noise they'd been making earlier, and it
didn't sound like they were speeding up, or getting any closer to me.
Breathe, I had to remind myself. You don't know they're following you. I
continued to walk as quickly as I could without actually running,
focusing on the right-hand turn that was only a few yards away from me
now. I could hear them, staying as far back as they'd been before. A blue
car turned onto the street from the south and drove quickly past me. I
thought of jumping out in front of it, but I hesitated, inhibited, unsure
that I was really being pursued, and then it was too late.
I reached the corner, but a swift glance revealed that it was only a
blind drive to the back of another building. I was half-turned in
anticipation; I had to hurriedly correct and dash across the narrow
drive, back to the sidewalk. The street ended at the next corner, where
there was a stop sign. I concentrated on the faint footsteps behind me,
deciding whether or not to run. They sounded farther back, though, and I
knew they could outrun me in any case. I was sure to trip and go
sprawling if I tried to go any faster. The footfalls were definitely
farther back. I risked a quick glance over my shoulder, and they were
maybe forty feet back now, I saw with relief. But they were both staring
It seemed to take forever for me to get to the corner. I kept my pace
steady, the men behind me falling ever so slightly farther behind with
every step. Maybe they realized they had scared me and were sorry. I saw
two cars going north pass the intersection I was heading for, and I
exhaled in relief. There would be more people around once I got off this
deserted street. I skipped around the corner with a grateful sigh.
And skidded to a stop.
The street was lined on both sides by blank, doorless, windowless walls.
I could see in the distance, two intersections down, streetlamps, cars,
and more pedestrians, but they were all too far away. Because lounging
against the western building, midway down the street, were the other two
men from the group, both watching with excited smiles as I froze dead on
the sidewalk. I realized then that I wasn't being followed.
I was being herded.
I paused for only a second, but it felt like a very long time. I turned
then and darted to the other side of the road. I had a sinking feeling
that it was a wasted attempt. The footsteps behind me were louder now.
"There you are!" The booming voice of the stocky, dark-haired man
shattered the intense quiet and made me jump. In the gathering darkness,
it seemed like he was looking past me.
"Yeah," a voice called loudly from behind me, making me jump again as I
tried to hurry down the street. "We just took a little detour."
My steps had to slow now. I was closing the distance between myself and
the lounging pair too quickly. I had a good loud scream, and I sucked in
air, preparing to use it, but my throat was so dry I wasn't sure how much
volume I could manage. With a quick movement I slipped my purse over my
head, gripping the strap with one hand, ready to surrender it or use it
as weapon as need demanded.
The thickset man shrugged away from the wall as I warily came to a stop,
and walked slowly into the street.
"Stay away from me," I warned in a voice that was supposed to sound
strong and fearless. But I was right about the dry throat — no volume.
"Don't be like that, sugar," he called, and the raucous laughter started
again behind me.
I braced myself, feet apart, trying to remember through my panic what
little self-defense I knew. Heel of the hand thrust upward, hopefully
breaking the nose or shoving it into the brain. Finger through the eye
socket — try to hook around and pop the eye out. And the standard knee to
the groin, of course. That same pessimistic voice in my mind spoke up
then, reminding me that I probably wouldn't have a chance against one of
them, and there were four. Shut up! I commanded the voice before terror
could incapacitate me. I wasn't going out without taking someone with me.
I tried to swallow so I could build up a decent scream.
Headlights suddenly flew around the corner, the car almost hitting the
stocky one, forcing him to jump back toward the sidewalk. I dove into the
road — this car was going to stop, or have to hit me. But the silver car
unexpectedly fishtailed around, skidding to a stop with the passenger
door open just a few feet from me.
"Get in," a furious voice commanded.
It was amazing how instantaneously the choking fear vanished, amazing how
suddenly the feeling of security washed over me — even before I was off
the street — as soon as I heard his voice. I jumped into the seat,
slamming the door shut behind me.
It was dark in the car, no light had come on with the opening of the
door, and I could barely see his face in the glow from the dashboard. The
tires squealed as he spun around to face north, accelerating too quickly,
swerving toward the stunned men on the street. I caught a glimpse of them
diving for the sidewalk as we straightened out and sped toward the harbor.
"Put on your seat belt," he commanded, and I realized I was clutching the
seat with both hands. I quickly obeyed; the snap as the belt connected
was loud in the darkness. He took a sharp left, racing forward, blowing
through several stop signs without a pause.
But I felt utterly safe and, for the moment, totally unconcerned about
where we were going. I stared at his face in profound relief, relief that
went beyond my sudden deliverance. I studied his flawless features in the
limited light, waiting for my breath to return to normal, until it
occurred to me that his expression was murderously angry.
"Are you okay?" I asked, surprised at how hoarse my voice sounded.
"No," he said curtly, and his tone was livid.
I sat in silence, watching his face while his blazing eyes stared
straight ahead, until the car came to a sudden stop. I glanced around,
but it was too dark to see anything beside the vague outline of dark
trees crowding the roadside. We weren't in town anymore.
"Bella?" he asked, his voice tight, controlled.
"Yes?" My voice was still rough. I tried to clear my throat quietly.
"Are you all right?" He still didn't look at me, but the fury was plain
on his face.
"Yes," I croaked softly.
"Distract me, please," he ordered.
"I'm sorry, what?"
He exhaled sharply.
"Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down," he
clarified, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose with his
thumb and forefinger.
"Um." I wracked my brain for something trivial. "I'm going to run over
Tyler Crowley tomorrow before school?"
He was still squeezing his eyes closed, but the corner of his mouth
"He's telling everyone that he's taking me to prom — either he's insane
or he's still trying to make up for almost killing me last… well, you
remember it, and he thinks prom is somehow the correct way to do this. So
I figure if I endanger his life, then we're even, and he can't keep
trying to make amends. I don't need enemies and maybe Lauren would back
off if he left me alone. I might have to total his Sentra, though. If he
doesn't have a ride he can't take anyone to prom…" I babbled on.
"I heard about that." He sounded a bit more composed.
"You did?" I asked in disbelief, my previous irritation flaring. "If he's
paralyzed from the neck down, he can't go to the prom, either," I
muttered, refining my plan.
Edward sighed, and finally opened his eyes.
I waited, but he didn't speak again. He leaned his head back against the
seat, staring at the ceiling of the car. His face was rigid.
"What's wrong?" My voice came out in a whisper.
"Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella." He was whispering,
too, and as he stared out the window, his eyes narrowed into slits. "But
it wouldn't be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those…" He
didn't finish his sentence, looking away, struggling for a moment to
control his anger again. "At least," he continued, "that's what I'm
trying to convince myself."
"Oh." The word seemed inadequate, but I couldn't think of a better
We sat in silence again. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was
"Jessica and Angela will be worried," I murmured. "I was supposed to meet
He started the engine without another word, turning around smoothly and
speeding back toward town. We were under the streetlights in no time at
all, still going too fast, weaving with ease through the cars slowly
cruising the boardwalk. He parallel-parked against the curb in a space I
would have thought much too small for the Volvo, but he slid in
effortlessly in one try. I looked out the window to see the lights of La
Bella Italia, and Jess and Angela just leaving, pacing anxiously away
"How did you know where… ?" I began, but then I just shook my head. I
heard the door open and turned to see him getting out.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm taking you to dinner." He smiled slightly, but his eyes were hard.
He stepped out of the car and slammed the door. I fumbled with my seat
belt, and then hurried to get out of the car as well. He was waiting for
me on the sidewalk.
He spoke before I could. "Go stop Jessica and Angela before I have to
track them down, too. I don't think I could restrain myself if I ran into
your other friends again."
I shivered at the threat in his voice.
"Jess! Angela!" I yelled after them, waving when they turned. They rushed
back to me, the pronounced relief on both their faces simultaneously
changing to surprise as they saw who I was standing next to. They
hesitated a few feet from us.
"Where have you been?" Jessica's voice was suspicious.
"I got lost," I admitted sheepishly. "And then I ran into Edward." I
gestured toward him.
"Would it be all right if I joined you?" he asked in his silken,
irresistible voice. I could see from their staggered expressions that he
had never unleashed his talents on them before.
"Er… sure," Jessica breathed.
"Um, actually, Bella, we already ate while we were waiting — sorry,"
"That's fine — I'm not hungry." I shrugged.
"I think you should eat something." Edward's voice was low, but full of
authority. He looked up at Jessica and spoke slightly louder. "Do you
mind if I drive Bella home tonight? That way you won't have to wait while
"Uh, no problem, I guess…" She bit her lip, trying to figure out from my
expression whether that was what I wanted. I winked at her. I wanted
nothing more than to be alone with my perpetual savior. There were so
many questions that I couldn't bombard him with till we were by ourselves.
"Okay." Angela was quicker than Jessica. "See you tomorrow, Bella…
Edward." She grabbed Jessica's hand and pulled her toward the car, which
I could see a little ways away, parked across First Street. As they got
in, Jess turned and waved, her face eager with curiosity. I waved back,
waiting for them to drive away before I turned to face him.
"Honestly, I'm not hungry," I insisted, looking up to scrutinize his
face. His expression was unreadable.
He walked to the door of the restaurant and held it open with an
obstinate expression. Obviously, there would be no further discussion. I
walked past him into the restaurant with a resigned sigh.
The restaurant wasn't crowded — it was the off-season in Port Angeles.
The host was female, and I understood the look in her eyes as she
assessed Edward. She welcomed him a little more warmly than necessary. I
was surprised by how much that bothered me. She was several inches taller
than I was, and unnaturally blond.
"A table for two?" His voice was alluring, whether he was aiming for that
or not. I saw her eyes flicker to me and then away, satisfied by my
obvious ordinariness, and by the cautious, no-contact space Edward kept
between us. She led us to a table big enough for four in the center of
the most crowded area of the dining floor.
I was about to sit, but Edward shook his head at me.
"Perhaps something more private?" he insisted quietly to the host. I
wasn't sure, but it looked like he smoothly handed her a tip. I'd never
seen anyone refuse a table except in old movies.
"Sure." She sounded as surprised as I was. She turned and led us around a
partition to a small ring of booths — all of them empty. "How's this?"
"Perfect." He flashed his gleaming smile, dazing her momentarily.
"Um" — she shook her head, blinking — "your server will be right out."
She walked away unsteadily.
"You really shouldn't do that to people," I criticized. "It's hardly
"Dazzle them like that — she's probably hyperventilating in the kitchen
He seemed confused.
"Oh, come on," I said dubiously. "You have to know the effect you have on
He tilted his head to one side, and his eyes were curious. "I dazzle
"You haven't noticed? Do you think everybody gets their way so easily?"
He ignored my questions. "Do I dazzle you?"
"Frequently," I admitted.
And then our server arrived, her face expectant. The hostess had
definitely dished behind the scenes, and this new girl didn't look
disappointed. She flipped a strand of short black hair behind one ear and
smiled with unnecessary warmth.
"Hello. My name is Amber, and I'll be your server tonight. What can I get
you to drink?" I didn't miss that she was speaking only to him.
He looked at me.
"I'll have a Coke." It sounded like a question.
"Two Cokes," he said.
"I'll be right back with that," she assured him with another unnecessary
smile. But he didn't see it. He was watching me.
"What?" I asked when she left.
His eyes stayed fixed on my face. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," I replied, surprised by his intensity.
"You don't feel dizzy, sick, cold… ?"
He chuckled at my puzzled tone.
"Well, I'm actually waiting for you to go into shock." His face twisted
up into that perfect crooked smile.
"I don't think that will happen," I said after I could breathe again.
"I've always been very good at repressing unpleasant things."
"Just the same, I'll feel better when you have some sugar and food in
Right on cue, the waitress appeared with our drinks and a basket of
breadsticks. She stood with her back to me as she placed them on the
"Are you ready to order?" she asked Edward.
"Bella?" he asked. She turned unwillingly toward me.
I picked the first thing I saw on the menu. "Um… I'll have the mushroom
"And you?" She turned back to him with a smile.
"Nothing for me," he said. Of course not.
"Let me know if you change your mind." The coy smile was still in place,
but he wasn't looking at her, and she left dissatisfied.
"Drink," he ordered.
I sipped at my soda obediently, and then drank more deeply, surprised by
how thirsty I was. I realized I had finished the whole thing when he
pushed his glass toward me.
"Thanks," I muttered, still thirsty. The cold from the icy soda was
radiating through my chest, and I shivered.
"Are you cold?"
"It's just the Coke," I explained, shivering again.
"Don't you have a jacket?" His voice was disapproving.
"Yes." I looked at the empty bench next to me. "Oh — I left it in
Jessica's car," I realized.
Edward was shrugging out of his jacket. I suddenly realized that I had
never once noticed what he was wearing — not just tonight, but ever. I
just couldn't seem to look away from his face. I made myself look now,
focusing. He was removing a light beige leather jacket now; underneath he
wore an ivory turtleneck sweater. It fit him snugly, emphasizing how
muscular his chest was.
He handed me the jacket, interrupting my ogling.
"Thanks," I said again, sliding my arms into his jacket. It was cold —
the way my jacket felt when I first picked it up in the morning, hanging
in the drafty hallway. I shivered again. It smelled amazing. I inhaled,
trying to identify the delicious scent. It didn't smell like cologne. The
sleeves were much too long; I shoved them back so I could free my hands.
"That color blue looks lovely with your skin," he said, watching me. I
was surprised; I looked down, flushing, of course.
He pushed the bread basket toward me.
"Really, I'm not going into shock," I protested.
"You should be — a normal person would be. You don't even look shaken."
He seemed unsettled. He stared into my eyes, and I saw how light his eyes
were, lighter than I'd ever seen them, golden butterscotch.
"I feel very safe with you," I confessed, mesmerized into telling the
That displeased him; his alabaster brow furrowed. He shook his head,
"This is more complicated than I'd planned," he murmured to himself.
I picked up a breadstick and began nibbling on the end, measuring his
expression. I wondered when it would be okay to start questioning him.
"Usually you're in a better mood when your eyes are so light," I
commented, trying to distract him from whatever thought had left him
frowning and somber.
He stared at me, stunned. "What?"
"You're always crabbier when your eyes are black — I expect it then," I
went on. "I have a theory about that."
His eyes narrowed. "More theories?"
"Mm-hm." I chewed on a small bite of the bread, trying to look
"I hope you were more creative this time… or are you still stealing from
comic books?" His faint smile was mocking; his eyes were still tight.
"Well, no, I didn't get it from a comic book, but I didn't come up with
it on my own, either," I confessed.
"And?" he prompted.
But then the waitress strode around the partition with my food. I
realized we'd been unconsciously leaning toward each other across the
table, because we both straightened up as she approached. She set the
dish in front of me — it looked pretty good — and turned quickly to
"Did you change your mind?" she asked. "Isn't there anything I can get
you?" I may have been imagining the double meaning in her words.
"No, thank you, but some more soda would be nice." He gestured with a
long white hand to the empty cups in front of me.
"Sure." She removed the empty glasses and walked away.
"You were saying?" he asked.
"I'll tell you about it in the car. If…" I paused.
"There are conditions?" He raised one eyebrow, his voice ominous.
"I do have a few questions, of course."
The waitress was back with two more Cokes. She sat them down without a
word this time, and left again.
I took a sip.
"Well, go ahead," he pushed, his voice still hard.
I started with the most undemanding. Or so I thought. "Why are you in
He looked down, folding his large hands together slowly on the table. His
eyes flickered up at me from under his lashes, the hint of a smirk on his
"But that's the easiest one," I objected.
"Next," he repeated.
I looked down, frustrated. I unrolled my silverware, picked up my fork,
and carefully speared a ravioli. I put it in my mouth slowly, still
looking down, chewing while I thought. The mushrooms were good. I
swallowed and took another sip of Coke before I looked up.
"Okay, then." I glared at him, and continued slowly. "Let's say,
hypothetically of course, that… someone… could know what people are
thinking, read minds, you know — with a few exceptions."
"Just one exception," he corrected, "hypothetically."
"All right, with one exception, then." I was thrilled that he was playing
along, but I tried to seem casual.
"How does that work? What are the limitations? How would… that someone…
find someone else at exactly the right time? How would he know she was in
trouble?" I wondered if my convoluted questions even made sense.
"Hypothetically?" he asked.
"Well, if… that someone…"
"Let's call him 'Joe,'" I suggested.
He smiled wryly. "Joe, then. If Joe had been paying attention, the timing
wouldn't have needed to be quite so exact." He shook his head, rolling
his eyes. "Only you could get into trouble in a town this small. You
would have devastated their crime rate statistics for a decade, you know."
"We were speaking of a hypothetical case," I reminded him frostily.
He laughed at me, his eyes warm.
"Yes, we were," he agreed. "Shall we call you 'Jane'?"
"How did you know?" I asked, unable to curb my intensity. I realized I
was leaning toward him again.
He seemed to be wavering, torn by some internal dilemma. His eyes locked
with mine, and I guessed he was making the decision right then whether or
not to simply tell me the truth.
"You can trust me, you know," I murmured. I reached forward, without
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