"What time do you want me to pick you up?"

Turning the blinds, I stared out into the wet, cold Washington winter and pressed my palm against the glass.


Everything was gray this time of year, from the gravel drive that needed grading to the dime-sized droplets hanging frozen from the branches by the window. At the edge of the yard, where Charlie's old rake had finally given up the ghost, broken fragments of decaying leaves danced, swirling and twirling against the muted sky.

Beyond, spruce and hemlock lined up like giant soldiers, like they were guarding the forest from civilization. Today, even they had lost their color.

"Earth to Bella…"

My lips curved at the playful huff, and I turned back toward the room, giving myself a little shake. "Sorry. I guess I zoned out for a minute."

"Yeah, no kidding."

"What were you saying?"

Jacob laughed, and the warmth of it made my cheeks crease. "I was asking you what time you wanted me to pick you up tonight?"

"The bonfire is still on?" I plopped down on the fluffy purple comforter that Charlie had never bothered to swap out while I was away. Soft and worn, the fabric slid like silk beneath my fingertips. I stole a glance out the window and shivered. "Jake, it's freezing. Literally."

"Hence the bonfire." He laughed again. "Don't worry. I'll keep you warm."

Which was probably true. Jake was a furnace.

"Plus," he said, his voice dropping into something more serious. "I want to tell everyone. Make it official."

Slouching back against the pile of pillows, I held my hand up to the light. The pretty, delicate stone I still wasn't used to seeing winked and glittered. "Come on, like they don't already know."

I was teasing him, even though it was true. All of them – Embry, Quil, Jared, and Paul – they were all thick as thieves. And Billy had been calling me his other daughter since before I'd left for college.

"It's different now, you know that. I want you to be there tonight, with me."

I shook my head, but when Jacob said things like that, in that tone, where he made it seem like I was his very reason for breathing, my toes and fingers didn't stand a chance. "I guess…"

"I'll show you I guess… afterward."

Warmth curled low in my stomach, because Jake could definitely show. "Yeah?"

The phone suddenly went quiet, like he'd covered it up with his hand. When he came back, I knew he'd stepped outside. One of his neighbor's dogs howled in the distance. "Your dad's working tonight, right?"

"Yeah," I told him, hugging my arms around my middle. The charm he'd carved for me last Christmas – a tiny russet-colored wolf, rendered in incredible detail – dug into my wrist. "I don't think he knows what to do with me back in the house. He's got nights all week."

Jacob made a low, rough sound in the back of his throat. "Good."

The warmth curled tighter and climbed up my neck. "Why's that?"

"Because you're finally home for good and you're finally mine."

Most of the time I rolled my eyes when Jacob said nonsense like that, but today, something was different. There was heat and a growling want in his voice, and I couldn't decide if I liked it, or if it made me want to run screaming through the woods. Maybe both. "Jake, I–

Someone banged on the downstairs door.

My heart skipped a beat, and I bolted upright, knocking over the pile of books I'd just unpacked as I went to the window without even thinking. I guess it was some habit, some effect of being back in this room again.

But the driveway stood empty, the trees beyond silent and still.


Nothing, but the wet, cold, gray Washington winter.

"Bella?" I could hear Jacob saying through the phone, as right on cue, another triplet of bangs echoed up the stairs and through the hall.

"Crap." I blew out a shaky breath as my brain finally started functioning again. I wanted to kick myself for being so jumpy. "It's just someone at the door. Probably the mail guy. Charlie said he'd ordered some kind of fishing stuff. Let me call you back."


"Just a sec. Love you."

Like always, I could hear him grinning. "Call me back. Love you, too."

To make up for my stalling, I pounded down the narrow stairs, past the wall of embarrassing photos that Charlie refused to take down, and took a shortcut over the coffee table to get to the living room door. Instinct had me grabbing the knob, but being my father's daughter, and after more than a few close calls over the years, I peered through the peephole, only to find an empty porch. "Damn it."

Hoping I wouldn't have to chase down whatever Charlie had ordered, I threw open the door. Damp, icy wind smacked into my face and cut straight through the thin fabric of my tee. It smelled like snow and pine and smoke from someone's chimney. As I stepped to the edge of the porch, I squinted against relentless gray.

Something moved.

Across the street, deep in between the soldier trees, where it was dark and I couldn't really see, I swore that I caught a flash of color. Something bright, and moving fast. Something that didn't match its surroundings.

But I blinked and just like that, it was gone.

"What the…" Another gust of wind whipped across the porch, making my teeth chatter. Shoving wild strands of hair out of my eyes, I looked harder, but found nothing but bark and gray-green needles. Muttering under my breath – how I'd now lost it for sure – I finally turned to go back inside.

Then I saw it.

Placed neatly by the door against the wall sat a cardboard box that I'd not seen before. About the size of the ones they use for copier paper, the thing was unmarked and industrial brown, with nothing more than a single string tied around the center. A square of plain white paper had been tucked underneath.

Forcing myself to move, I tried to pick it up, only to realize that whatever was in there wasn't light. When I jostled it, it felt and sounded like… books and paper. Curious, ignoring the biting cold for a second, I slid the paper from beneath the string, nearly dropping it when I read the strange, sweeping cursive inside. It simply said:

For Bella.