24. A Stranger Among Us
I hate you! I hate you, and I hate you!
This was the very confrontation Sam had been dreading for over a week, and after much wrestling and nearly biting into the thick gray fur of her collar to get her attention, he now had the furious she-wolf pinned to the ground. The last thing Sam wanted was to hurt her more than he already had, especially physically. Though Leah's thoughts were expressed telepathically, her words were cutting into him like a razor.
I'm sorry, Leah. How many more times can I say I'm sorry? I never meant to hurt you. I can't help how I feel about Emily.
Yeah. Doesn't change anything.
So, what're you gonna do? Just torture me for the rest of my life?
Damn straight I am.
There were times when she could be downright cruel.
Well, then there's nothing I can do except tell you to calm down or you won't phase back into human form.
Furious, Leah growled at him, snapping her jaw upward to bite at him, but he moved his head away. I don't have to listen to you.
That's where you're wrong.
I hate you, Sam Uley!
Sorry. Doesn't change anything.
This is all your fault!
My fault? Do you think I caused this to happen to you? Sam wouldn't have wished this on his worst enemy let alone his former lover, and he felt he was cursed that the strength of the Clearwaters' lineage caused this to happen.
That was when the disjointed thoughts came through, momentarily interrupting his and Leah's non verbal sparring session.
Oh, no, I'm a wolf. Not good. Now what? I really wish Jacob had prepared me for this.
What the hell?
What the hell?
As rage coursed through his body, Edward growled at the gray and white wolf before him even though he knew Paul was not a threat to him. The distressing thoughts from earlier of Jacob kissing Bella and Billy's and Embry's smug comments had flooded his mind, begging Edward to unleash all the anger he was feeling. And seeing Desiree helpless in Paul's grip as he forced a kiss on her was just icing on the cake. The only thing Edward wanted to do was to tear Paul's head off. With his intention clear, Edward took a threatening step forward on the sand.
You're not Jacob. Who the hell are you?
Another growl escaped Edward as he fought back the red hot madness. Somewhere deep inside him, a whisper of reasoning battled its way into his consciousness causing him to realize that he didn't like Paul or his advances on Desiree, but he shouldn't have been angry enough to want to kill him.
Paul's gray and white body was now on all fours, and he began growling back. In a moment of frightening clarity, Edward realized his own thoughts were no longer private.
How do I change back? What are the others going to think? Will they know I'm not him? Maybe they won't know if I pretend…
Being in wolf form was jarring enough, but then to realize that this very thing was what Jacob had been trying to avoid, Edward did his best not to think of anything suspicious, but the barrage of his thoughts continued to flow as freely as breaths of air, and he began to retreat, stepping backward.
I said, who are you? Paul's internal voice demanded.
The wolf before him was advancing, ready to pounce, and Edward considered running away when three more voices intruded on his consciousness.
Aw c'mon. Back off, Paul.
What's going on?
Let's calm down.
From the east, Edward could see the figures of the others running toward them. The picture before him was clear and vivid as he noted the rich colors of their coats, the details of the landscape, and his sense of smell was nearly overpowered by the scent of the salty ocean tickling at his snout as well as by the individual scent of each pack member. Their mental voices came across as distinctly as if they had spoken. Paul hadn't needed to reply as the three approached the two wolves cautiously on the beach, already hearing Edward's involuntary panic.
He's an imposter.
Who are you?
What are you doing in Jacob's body?
The alpha command came in loud and clear suddenly, halting the group's questioning. He was nowhere in sight, yet Edward recognized at once the tone of the pack's leader.
Realizing now there was no way out, Edward had no choice but to relay the events as they occurred, hearing the disbelief not only in the rest of the pack's minds, but the shock in a voice he had not recognized – a female's.
Oh my God. No way.
Her internal voice had quickly disappeared afterward, and Sam called for the wolves to assemble at their meeting place, but this time he would be joining them.
It hadn't taken long before Sam arrived to meet the rest of them, only Edward noticed that the one female whose voice he'd heard earlier – Leah – had not accompanied the pack's leader. Meanwhile still in wolf form, Edward had become the subject of the group's interrogation.
Are you spying on us?
No, Edward thought warily as the barrage of thoughts coming from the circle of wolves around him seemed to blend together.
He already said that he never meant for this to happen. He's no spy.
How do we know he's not lying?
It had been easy for Edward to pick that thought out, judging from the snarl on Paul's gray snout.
C'mon, you know we can read each other's thoughts. We would know if he was lying or trying to hide something.
Or trying to fool us.
He already fooled us once.
Yeah, but that was in human form. And I knew there was something off about Jake this week.
Yeah, me too.
That seemed to be the consensus.
So, Bella knows?
Well, that explains why she was making out with you. She knows you're her bloodsucker.
They all seemed to agree with this, and it was infuriating to Edward how the entire reservation seemed to be aware of an exchange that should have remained private, yet he was not in any position to gripe about it. However, there was another term that bothered him. Please. Being called a bloodsucker is the equivalent of us calling you a mongrel. And if there's anything I've learned is that you are no more mongrels than we are leeches.
Their thoughts seemed to scatter at that point, more as individual opinions rather than direct questions. Sam addressed him next.
Where is Jacob now?
He's with my family.
In your body?
And so do those blood-…do they know?
No. The curse doesn't exactly allow us to communicate the change.
But Bella knows?
Yes, but it took a lot of convincing. And I had nothing to lose by telling her. Listen, neither Jacob nor myself want to be in these bodies. We're stuck. If there were a way out, we would gladly take it, but nobody seems to know how to break the curse.
Edward looked around hopefully at the faces, although different in colors and sizes, all bore the same mystified expression.
So what do we do with him?
He's not one of us.
Yeah. And, he knows nothing about being a wolf.
We have no choice. The redhead is out there, and God only knows if she's brought some friends with her. We need Edward. And as long as he is in Jake's body, he is one of us. We will teach him.
Wait until Billy finds out his son is really a Cullen!
No. The word rang out loud and clear. Nobody outside our circle is to know.
But that's not fair. He has a right to know.
It would only create unnecessary conflict. It stays between us. That's an order.
There seemed to be a collective groan that echoed throughout the group.
Now, as soon as Leah returns, she and I and Edward are going to take the first shift.
We're going to see her naked. The involuntary thought slipped out in a giddy way.
The wolves turned to look at Embry, who looked at the rest of them, careful to avoid Sam's gaze. What, like you've never thought of it?
The leader's tone became impatient. What are we? Ten years old?
Yeah, and she's going to see all of us, too, dummy.
Changing the direction of the meeting, Sam gave orders to the group and then closed out the meeting, assigning Quil and Embry to take the second shift.
The first to phase back into human form was Paul, and to Edward the transformation appeared easy and natural, yet he had no idea quite how to accomplish it. With the exception of Sam, the others were now back on two feet and locating their clothes.
Clothes…Edward thought. Without any idea of his predicament, he realized that the outburst from human flesh to wolf had ripped through Jacob's clothing back on the beach, leaving him nude once he were to phase back.
Edward looked away as Paul's naked form approached him, laughing, as though he could still read his mind. "You'll get used to it. But, hey, no matter what Sam says, you will never be one of us."