It had taken me just five minutes of conversation to decide that I liked him. A genuine like, and not an imprint forced affinity. I liked his way of speaking; his playful humour and easy grin. I liked the way he moved; fast and strong, with a natural grace that seemed effortless.
And I liked that while he held all the power of an alpha – the dominance, the authority – he didn't seem to use it at all. In fact, he seemed perfectly happy to let me lead as we walked through the trees.
'Where are we going?' Jake asked, giving me a curious look.
'My sister's house.' His face didn't show his surprise, but the bond did.
'You have a sister?'
'I didn't know that.' I laughed softly at his remark.
'You didn't even know me until half an hour ago.' He grinned.
'True.' There was a pause, before he spoke again. 'So she's your niece?' He asked, jerking his head to indicate Ani, who was happily running ahead of us. I nodded, giving him a soft smile.
'Is that why you're here? To visit them?'
'It's one of the reasons.' I gave him a thoughtful look, squashing down the burst of sadness that flared to life.
'You ask a lot of questions.' I said, and he grinned, clearly not at all ashamed.
'Why not?' He retorted with a grin, and I smiled, laughing quietly.
'Are you always this welcoming with strangers in town?' I asked, and he grinned again.
'Only with the ones I like.' I couldn't help but smile at that, and I began to wonder when exactly our conversation had changed from friendly to flirty.
'So, are you going to tell me what your other reasons for being here are?' He asked, his eyes bright as he stared at me. I grinned before shaking my head.
'It's a secret.' He laughed softly, before sighing.
'Now I really want to know.'
'I thought you liked mysteries?'
'I like solving mysteries.'
'Does that mean you're going to keep trying to get it out of me?' He grinned slyly, eyes sparkling.
'Definitely.' For some reason, I couldn't but laugh at that, smiling.
'Speaking of mysteries, why does your sister live so close to the outskirts? It's pretty isolated, being surrounded by the woods.' He asked, and I raised my eyebrows at him in response.
'This is La Push; everyone's house is surrounded by forest.' He laughed at my remark, grinning.
'Can't argue with that.'
'I thought you said this was your sister's house?'
'It is my sister's house.'
'Then why are you trying to break in?' I paused in my search for the house key to give Jake an accusing look.
'I'm not breaking in! I'm trying to find the spare key.' I defended, returning to my search of the door frame. Running my hands over the brown wood, my fingers felt for hidden key.
'I swear she said they were hidden in the door frame.' I muttered, and Jake laughed softly, watching me with interest.
'Why don't you just ring the doorbell?' He asked from his position casually leaning against the porch rail.
'Because I want to surprise her.' I replied, standing on my tip toes to run my hands over the top of the door frame, and making a happy noise as my fingers found cold metal. Snatching the keys up from the hidden nook, I dangled them happily in Jake's direction.
'Found them.' I said with a smile, and he laughed.
'You're really just going to let yourself in?' He asked, slightly disbelieving.
'And she won't mind?'
'Of course not. Besides, I always turn up unannounced.' He raised his eyebrows at that, and I just smiled. He shook his head softly, giving me an amused look as he regained his feet.
'As much as I'd like to watch you get arrested, I have somewhere else I need to be.' He said, and I couldn't quite hide the sadness from my smile.
'It was nice talking to you.' I said softly, and he grinned.
'Likewise. I hope it won't be the last time.' Now it was my turn to smile.
'Something tells me it won't be.'
'Mama!' Ani called out, running through the doorway ahead of me as I headed inside. Giggling excitedly, she ran forwards into the arms of a very familiar dark haired woman, who was staring at her in surprise.
'Ani, what are you doing here!?' Sera yelped, her gaze wide-eyed as her eyes fell on me in the doorway.
'Thea!' She exclaimed, her previous shock turning into pleasant surprise. A broad grin appeared on her face, her eyes lighting up as I stepped forward to meet her, both of us clutching at each other in a tight embrace.
'Where have you been?! Oh, I've missed you! It's been almost a month now!' She gushed, and I grinned.
'I missed you too. As for where I've been, that'll take longer to explain.' She laughed.
'Of course it will. I just can't believe you're here! I hoped you'd come, but it's been so long since you've come back, and I wasn't sure if you going to this year. Have you spent all day at the cemetery?' Pulling backwards, I gave her a sad smile, and she gave me a sympathetic look, tugging me back into another hug.
'I thought I heard talking outside, but I was sure I'd imagined it! Was that you?' I'd forgotten just how talkative my sister was; her rapid chatter flowing over me was both soothing and familiar.
'Yes.' I said, letting her tug me over to the couch, Ani having disappeared through a door which I assumed led to her bedroom. Sitting down next to me, she turned her attentive gaze to mine.
'I could have sworn I heard a male voice-' I couldn't repress a small smile, and she cut off when she saw it, her eyes gleaming as she gasped.
'Oh, it was a man! Who were you talking to?!' She asked eagerly.
'I'll tell you later.'
'Later! Oh no, you're going to tell me now!'
'Not now. Someone might hear.' She gave me a disbelieving and slightly annoyed look, which changed suddenly to one of realisation. Standing up, her eyes wide, she pulled me up and tugged me to the bathroom, shutting the door behind us and turning on the tap. Perching herself on the bathroom bench, she gave me a look full of anticipation and excitement. Grinning, I sat myself on the floor opposite her.
'Now, tell me everything.'
'So you're telling me that not only are there shape-shifters in La Push again – shape-shifters that tried to kill you – but the alpha of the pack has imprinted on you.'
'Is he good looking?' I laughed at her query, and Sera gave me an indignant look. 'What? It's a valid question!'
'But not the most important one.' She waved me off.
'Just tell me; is he good looking?' I sighed, smiling.
'Yes; very.' She grinned at my words, and gave me a pointed look, to which I responded with a sad sigh.
'You know it doesn't make a difference.' I said quietly, and she gave me an understanding look; because we both knew it was never going to work.
I was an outcast; an exile. Being here, standing here, was forbidden. It wasn't allowed.
I could not stay. I could break the injunction, I could step foot on forbidden soil, but I couldn't stay. It was the one thing – the one rule – I could not break.
Three days. That was longest I had stayed in the last 36 years I had spent sneaking in. Three days that could not be extended. Three days was pushing it; three days was the maximum.
Because after three days, that was when the poison began to take its toll.
It hadn't been enough just for him to banish me. The man – the shape-shifter – that had betrayed me; he had wanted to make sure that I would never return. He had thought – foolishly thought, foolishly believed – that I was the danger.
All because of my vampire father. It hadn't mattered that the wolves had killed the vampire before I was even born. It hadn't mattered that I'd never tasted blood, human or otherwise, and ate the exact same things they did. It hadn't mattered that I was half Quileute, and that I'd been living with the tribe for 31 years; 31 years where I'd been nothing but a human with a few different traits.
None of it had mattered. The shape-shifter that had tried to kill me had been too prejudiced to see any of that. All he had seen, all he had known, was that I was part vampire. And he had held it against me, pretending that it didn't bother him for years; until one day, he final gave up the ruse.
When Ephraim had first brought me back to the tribe, having saved from my mother's dead body, there had been distrust. No one had seen the likes of me before; no one had known what to expect. Ephraim had raised me, protected me; he had made it clear that I was staying, and as the chief, no one argued. And as I had grown – a little faster than I most – it had become clear; I was not a danger.
I was happy, friendly; everything you expected from a human girl. Those with doubts had had their misgivings squashed, their worries alleviated; and for most of my life, it had seemed that everything was fine.
Then he had died; my beloved father had left us all. And less than a year later, when Ephraim the chief was no longer around to champion for me, he had come forward.
Through his actions, I had found myself banished. And not only banished, but unable to return. The poison worked its way into me, spreading through my body, growing more intense and deadly the further I went into the forbidden territory. Through previous experience, I had discovered that if I stayed on the outskirts, I could last three days before the physical manifestation of the poison became apparent. I hadn't ever stayed longer to find out exactly what the affects were, but I knew the inevitable outcome; death.
After 36 years, I had grown used to living outside of La Push; I had accepted, more or less, that it was no longer my home. I knew, every time I visited, that I could not stay. I knew, when entering Quileute lands, I had to leave.
And until now, I had never come across anything that would prevent me from doing exactly that.
Now, though; now, the alpha had imprinted on me. Jake had imprinted on me
But if any of the stories I'd heard about imprinting were true, he wasn't going to be happy about me leaving.
They could not be separated. A wolf could not be apart from his imprint. It just wasn't done.
And he was the alpha. The strongest, the most powerful; everything was more with him. Imprinting was so much more for the alpha.
He would not be able to stand it. I would not be able to stand it. Already I could feel it; my very being balked at the thought of walking away from him. My heart was screaming at me to stay, refusing to even contemplate leaving.
Refusing to accept that which could not be changed.
The imprint didn't matter; I couldn't stay. To stay was to die, and that I would not do.
I had to leave. There was no choice; no other option.
I. Was. Leaving.
And I was going to have to fight the imprint to do it.