Cheating “Don’t think you can try and talk your way out of this.

” Jake sighed, jogging to match my stride. “Nessie, I didn’t mean it like that – you know I didn’t.” I shook my head, refusing his apology. “No, I think you have a good point. I am part vampire and part human – it makes sense that we don’t really know my physical limitations.” “Yeah, but I never meant for you to feel like that was a challenge! I just made a comment that you probably aren’t quite as strong as me!” I walked faster and smirked as Jake had to pick up his pace to keep up with me. “And what I said is that a vampire is stronger than me,” I countered, trying to appear angry while, in all actuality, I was simply amused by the fact that Jake thought I was all that upset to begin with. “But I never said that you were stronger than me in human form.” Jake grumbled to himself before forming a coherent sentence. “But I’m basically as strong now as I am when I phase into a wolf!” I scoffed. “I’ve seen you as both – you’re not.” “Renesmee, really.” I knew he was serious when he said my full name, and then proceeded to grab both of my wrists and spin me around to face him. I swallowed, trying to ignore the warm feeling his hands always seemed to give me when they touched my skin. I heard an embarrassing thud as my heart skipped a beat, and – I realized with a small amount of horror – that Jake could probably hear that, too. “I don’t want this to turn into a competition,” he said in a soft voice, leaning towards me as he pleaded with me to hear him out. “I just – Nessie, I don’t want you to get hurt.” My eyes widened at this comment. “You don’t want me to get hurt?” I repeated. I forgot entirely about the pleasant feeling of his hands on my wrists. “Meaning you don’t think I can handle myself?” I scoffed and yanked my hands free of his grip. “Oh, it is so on…” “Renesmee – please, don’t do this!” Jake begged, easily catching up to me as soon as I had continued walking without him. “It’s not that I don’t think you’re capable of it – I just – dammit!” he swore, unable to find the right words to say. “Nothing’s coming out right!” I gave him a small chuckle, making him feel somewhat relieved, and then slowed to a stop. “Jake, don’t worry about it,” I told him, crossing my arms over my chest and jutting a hip out to the side. His expression lifted. “You’re not going to do it?” he asked. “I never said that,” I corrected him. “Look, Jake – you’re turning this into such a big deal! It’s just a stupid little basketball game! I don’t get why you’re so against it.” “Well, if it’s so stupid, then, why are you doing it?” he instantly countered, challenging me to back down.

But I wasn’t anywhere close to backing down. “Oh, come on!” I said, jutting out my lower lip as I began to pout. Maybe it would persuade him to see things my way like it had when I was younger… “I really just want to play a game with you guys!” I told him. “It just so happens that my interest in playing happened to have begun because you mentioned something about me being inferior to you…” “Nessie, I never said that,” Jake immediately corrected me, stepping close. His eyes went wide with concern. “You’re not inferior – I would never say that, Nessie!” I steadied my heartbeat at his proximity before continuing. “I’m just teasing,” I told him in a soft tone with a smirk. Jake sighed, looking down at the ground with his hands on his hips. “So, you’re not upset, then?” he asked, frowning. He shook his head, putting a hand up to his temple and massaging it. “I am so confused…” I couldn’t help but be amused by Jake’s worrying. “Look – I’m not really mad at you,” I told him with all the sincerity I could muster. “It’s just a friendly game of basketball with the other guys!” I told him. “I’ve got to show you that I can handle my own, right?” Jake rolled his eyes all the way up to the sky before dropping his hands on my shoulders and giving me a gentle shake, as if knocking sense into my brain. “Ness – you don’t need to show me anything! I believe you!” I pushed his hands off of my shoulders and readjusted the jersey that my Aunt Alice had bought for me when she found out that I had challenged Jake to a game of basketball. “No, you don’t,” I interrupted before he could continue. “Not really.” Jake stopped fighting me for a moment. He seemed to be watching me with an intense gaze, studying me closely. I fidgeted nervously beneath his stare. “You’re really going to do this,” he said. It wasn’t a question or a plea; he was stating the truth. “Yeah,” I told him with a solemn nod. “I am.” “And I won’t be able to talk you out of it,” he continued. “Can I?” “Nope,” I said. “You can’t.” He closed his eyes, making one last effort to understand the situation. “You realize how childish this is, don’t you? It won’t change a thing between us.” “Except bragging rights,” I amended his statement. He tilted his head to the side, contemplating this. “Except bragging rights,” he added with a nod. I smiled, glad that he was finally beginning to see things my way. “Alright,” he finally conceded, throwing his hands up in defeat. “You’re on.”

I grinned, resisting the urge to let out a high-pitched squeal and throw my arms around Jake to give him a big hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I cried instead, bouncing slightly in my place as I clasped my hands together in front of me. “Don’t thank me yet,” Jake muttered, slinging an arm around my shoulders. He pulled me along with him towards the basketball court that we had been walking towards ever since we had left my house. “Just remember, you’re going to be playing basketball with a bunch of guys – rude, crude, and completely inappropriate when you throw them into a competition – who all happen to be capable of transforming into wolves the size of a car,” he told me. “So don’t say I never warned you if things start to get rough out there…” I brushed off his warning. “You’re just trying to make me forfeit so you can win.” “Oh, please,” Jake said with a booming laugh that trembled down his arm and reverberated in my body. “I don’t need you to forfeit to win. I could play with one hand tied behind my back and still beat you.” “I’m not sure that’s right.” I tried to hide my gleeful smile, pleased that Jake was finally beginning to loosen up and realize that this was just a fun little competition. “You might have your story backwards, ’cause I think you’re going to be sobbing like a little girl when we get on the court.” “Oh, is that so?” Jake and I continued bantering in that manner for quite some time until the basketball court – and our teammates – loomed into view. “There they are!” Embry shouted, waving at us as with both arms. “Finally,” Seth moaned. He was lying flat on his back, staring up at the cloudy sky, but at the mention of our presence, he quickly got to his feet. “Took you two long enough!” I apologized for the delay. “Sorry, guys – Jake wasn’t as easy to convince as I thought he would have been…” “Was he sitting in front of the television again?” Brady asked, casually dribbling a basketball on the court as he spoke. “All you had to do was tell him to get his lazy – ” “Hey!” Quil shouted over Brady before he could finish his sentence. He had his hands pressed flat against ten-year-old Claire’s ears, shielding her from the profanity. “There are young, impressionable little girls here!” Brady rolled his eyes, irritated by Claire’s presence since that meant he now had to censor his own language. I, on the other hand, was amused. “Claire!” I cried, walking straight towards her and giving her a big hug once Quil had backed away and was occupied shooting baskets. “You look so nice today!” I said, noticing her red and white striped tank top and skirt. “Are you going to be our cheerleader?” Claire gave me a toothless grin, bobbing her head up and down in excitement. “Yes!” she shouted enthusiastically. “See, look!” she shook the pom-poms in her hands and twisted her hips back and forth so that the small skirt around her waist fluttered lightly in the wind.

“Wow!” I nodded at her outfit with wide eyes. “Do you know any cheers?” “Yeah – Quil taught me this one – ready?” Before waiting for anyone to respond, she immediately jumped into a cheer, throwing her arms around in big circles and kicking her legs high up into the air. “Two – four – six – eight – Quil will dominate! Q – U – I – L – he will give you hell!” “Whoa – Claire-bear!” he shouted, speeding towards us faster than a bullet. He chuckled nervously, avoiding our gazes. “Er – nice cheer, baby girl.” The other guys, meanwhile, were about to begin rolling on the ground with the laughter that was shaking their bodies. “Oh my god!” Brady shouted, slapping his knee. “I can’t decide what’s worse – the fact that Quil is a hypocrite for telling me not to swear in front of Claire, or that Quil was the one who taught her the cheer!” “Hey – shut it,” Quil replied in a flat tone, allowing the others to tease him. He focused his attention on Claire instead. “That was really great,” he told her, hugging her. And then, glancing up at me since I was the only one who was laughing the least, he softly whispered, “You have to admit, though – that high kick of hers was pretty good, wasn’t it? That was Claire’s idea.” I snorted, forcing myself to look away from the pair. I couldn’t hold in my giggles much longer, unable to resist picturing Quil – a relatively large guy – trying to teach this adorable little ten-year-old a cheer routine. “Alright, alright!” I called once I had gotten myself back under control. “We all had a good laugh at Quil’s expense,” I said, patting Quil on the back. “But can we just get this show on the road?” “Good point,” Jake agreed. He jogged towards Seth and Embry, who were in the process of throwing the ball back and forth between each other, and snatched it out of mid-air as they threw it one last time. “It looks like it might rain soon, so let’s just get started.” I glanced up at the cloudy sky, noticing the clouds getting darker the closer that they got. “Nessie – you can pick your team first.” Jake roughly threw the basketball at my chest, nearly catching me off guard, but I maintained my balance. Well – if he was going to play that way, then so was I! “Why am I picking?” I asked, shoving the ball forcefully back in his direction. I put my hands on my hip and lifted an eyebrow. “You need all the help you can get.” The guys snickered quietly behind me, but I was too focused on Jake to pay too much attention to them. I was pleased to see Jake stumble backwards a step, surprised by the strength behind my throw. But instead of tossing it back, like I had been expecting, he took several slow, calculated steps forward until he was staring straight down at me with a smug smile. He lowered his voice until it was just shy of a whisper. “Ladies first.”

And then he shoved the ball directly into my abdomen, causing me to let out a small grunt at the sudden jab. I remained staring up at Jake, straightening my posture. “Fine,” I quickly replied, refusing to show any sort of pain or weakness. I took the ball and turned towards the four boys. “Quil.” Quil clapped his hands together and rubbed them back and forth, smirking. “Alright!” He jogged to my side. “First pick!” “Yay, Quil!” Claire cried, jumping up and down from the sidelines. “Two – four – six – ” “Claire-bear – not quite yet,” Quil interrupted her cheer. “Do it when I make the ball in the basket, alright? We don’t want you to get too tired doing all of those cheers, do we?” Claire made an “O” shape with her mouth and shook her head as Seth started laughing. “Quil, you better let her cheer now,” Seth told him, “’cause I doubt she’ll get much of a chance to cheer for you during the game.” Before Quil could make up a retort fast enough, Jake spoke up. “Now that’s what I like to hear,” he said with a grin. “Seth – you’re on the team.” “What?” Embry cried, throwing his hands up in the air. “Really, Jake? You picked Seth because he made fun of Quil? But I do that every day!” He sighed, irritated by Jake’s choice, and then crossed his arms over his chest. “I thought we were friends!” “We are,” Jake told him, slinging an arm around Seth’s shoulder once he had run to Jake’s side. “But Seth here has an inch on you – we need the height advantage over Nessie.” I rolled my eyes and made a face at Jake, beginning to feel somewhat bothered by his insults. “I can handle my own, thanks,” I told him, turning back towards the remaining picks. And then while I was silently cursing Jake for making fun of my short height – from my mother’s side, of course – I realized that I probably could use the help and shouted, “Embry!” Embry grinned as he ran to my side of the court. Brady, however, was not pleased. “Seriously?” he whined, trudging towards Jake. “I even played basketball in school before I phased, and you still left me for last!” “Well, look at it this way,” Jake said, giving Brady a friendly punch in the shoulder. “If Nessie hadn’t have been the team captain – I can guarantee that you wouldn’t have been last.” My jaw dropped, surprised by this insult. He had just implied that I would have been picked last! I had been expecting – even initiating – some of the teasing, but I never realized just how much it would sting coming from Jake. “Thanks, Jake,” I spit back at him with a frown. He played innocent, holding his hands out in the air. “What?” he asked. “Do you still feel comfortable playing with us? I sure hope you’re not thinking about quitting, yet, are you?” I pursed my lips, counting down the minutes until I could wipe away that little smirk of his.

“I picked,” I told him, tossing the ball in his direction. I bent my knees, crouching slightly in front of him as he held the ball between his hands. “So you can start.” “Fair enough,” Jake agreed. And then – to my utter astonishment – he set the ball down on the ground, locking it between his feet, and started to lift up the bottom of his t-shirt. “Wait – what – Jake, what are you doing?” I spluttered, stumbling over my words as his shirt rose dangerously higher and higher over his stomach. “Why are you taking your shirt off?” Jake lowered his shirt a fraction of an inch, watching me with amusement. “Shirts and skins,” he hastily explained. “I’m just assuming that your team doesn’t want to be skins – unless you’re alright with that,” he amended his statement, raising an eyebrow at me. I stared at him with my jaw hanging loose. “I, uh – no,” I stammered, subconsciously crossing my arms over my chest. “We’re shirts.” Jake chuckled. “That’s what I thought,” he said, unaware of how much of a big deal this really was. And then he – along with Seth and Brady on his team – each pulled off their shirts and threw them to the sidelines. Oh. My. God. They were cheating – and they didn’t even know it. I swallowed, staring down at the ground as I refused to look at Jake anymore. There was no way I would be able to get through this game when he wasn’t even wearing a shirt! I mean – of course I had seen all of them shirtless. It was hard to be friends with a wolf and not see them walking around half-naked, but at least then you could find some reason to look away! But now – I sighed, shaking my head at the ground. “Nessie?” I continued staring down at the pavement as Jake called my name, refusing to look up. “Yeah?” I faintly replied, trying to control my emotions. His face crept into my line of sight as he crouched down to my level and peered up at me. “Are you alright?” he asked in a concerned tone, sounding nothing like the voice that he had just been using with me earlier. “Is something wrong?” My eyes moved of their own volition, wandering over to meet Jake’s gaze, but as soon as they locked on his deep brown ones, he seemed to find it acceptable to stand back up to his full height. Unfortunately, my eyes did not stay with his and were left behind to stare at his perfectly sculpted abs, now directly in my line of sight. I was so screwed. “I, uh – no, nothing’s wrong,” I said with a forced laugh. I quickly put a hand over my eyes as I tried to find some sort of a way to only look at Jake’s face without staring at the rest of his body. “It’s just – kind-of bright today…”

I peered over the top of my hand just in time to see Jake look up at the clouds covering the sky with a puzzled expression. “Are you kidding?” he asked. “Ness, it’s never sunny here.” He looked back down at me and frowned as he saw my hand over my eyes. “Nessie…” he softly sighed. And then, before I could brace myself, he put his hand against mine and forcefully pulled my fingers away from my face. “Ness, what’s wrong?” Absolutely nothing, I thought as my eyes eagerly took in the beautiful sight before me. I slowly let my gaze travel over each of his arms, admiring the prominent, yet subtle, bulges of his biceps. And then, my heart skittering excitedly, as my eyes continued downward until they roamed over his well-defined six-pack – nay, eight-pack – memorizing each and every line indented in his skin. His shorts were riding low on his waist, displaying a distinct v-shaped crevice in his skin as well as hinting at a pair of boxers just beneath his shorts. Greedily, I continued even lower, eyeing the thin trail of hair beginning around his belly button that traveled farther down than I should have ever imagined… Just as my eyes started to drift that low, I immediately snapped them closed, refusing to look any longer. Of course, I didn’t have the need to even look anymore since the image was now burned into the back of my eyelids. Not that that was such a bad thing to have ingrained into my head… But now was so not the time. “Right – we – uh – let’s play,” I stammered, keeping my eyes closed. And then, before Jake could ask me anymore questions that could, if possible, make me sound even more ridiculous than I must already be appearing, I jerked out of his grip and spun around to look at my – fully clothed – teammates. The fog lifted from my head, disappearing the moment that I looked away from his perfectly chiseled body. It was with the vanishing fog that I soon realized that I had been openly checking out my best friend. And not only that – but I was doing it in front of all of our other friends. Could I embarrass myself anymore today? I fixed my stare on Quil and Embry, determined to keep it away from Jake’s body for as long as possible. I used this chance to form any sort of strategy for the game – and what I would do whenever I was confronted by Jake on the court – while I was still able to think clearly. “Alright, so Quil and I were thinking,” Embry interrupted my thoughts. I blinked twice, looking up at the tall boy. “About what?” I asked, fearing that they might have seen me openly drooling all over Jake’s perfect body. “Our game plan!” he told me in an exasperated hiss. “What else?” “Oh, um… alright.” I waved my hand around in the air, gesturing for them to continue speaking. “Well,” Embry began, checking over his shoulder to make sure that the others were occupied before he began speaking. “I think it makes the most sense to send Quil after Brady since he might be one of the most skilled on their team,” he said. “And Quil’s the one that can block him the most.” “Right.” Quil nodded excitedly. “And Embry and Seth are pretty similar in terms of skill and physical appearance, so it would make the most sense for Embry to go after him.” I swallowed, realizing what the last piece of their plan was about to be.

“And then, of course, we figured that since you challenged Jake to this game, you would probably want to go head to head with him yourself.” “Er – no,” I interrupted them before they could get much further. “I mean – well, I could take Jake myself – that would be just fine, but…” I searched for any sort of excuse that might get me out of having to follow Jake around the whole game, but could find nothing. “You could still back me up, right?” I verified, realizing that I couldn’t talk myself out of this mess. “You would jump in if I couldn’t – watch Jake for whatever reason, right?” Embry looked puzzled. “Of course,” he said. He folded both arms over his chest. “Why?” he asked, leaning towards me as he lowered his voice. “What’s your plan?” I debated on telling them my real plan – to do whatever I could to stay away from Jake – but decided against that. “Oh – I don’t have one, exactly,” I said, my eyebrows furrowing with concern. “Should I?” I asked. “I was just planning on winning.” Quil looked inspired by my words. “That’s excellent!” he told me in a soft voice. “Just think positive, right? Don’t plan too much – just do.” He nodded appreciatively at my apparent wisdom, nudging his fist into my shoulder. “Brilliant.” I chuckled nervously. “Right.” I cleared my throat, afraid to turn back around to look for Jake. “So, um – do we just start now?” “Sure.” Embry shrugged and looked past me. Then, raising his voice, he called, “You guys done talking yet?” One of them must have given him sort of nod of affirmation because he silently began to walk towards the center of the court. “First to twenty-one,” Embry announced to both teams. “No playing dirty – ” “ – or Claire will call you out!” Quil interrupted. I caught him pointing fingers at the other team out of the corner of my eye. “I taught her all of the rules, so you better look out.” I caught a deep laugh from Jake, but still refused to spin around. Just don’t look right at him, I firmly told myself. You’ve seen the entire pack in this much clothing before; it’s not a big deal. You already got your chance to gawk at him once today, and now you’re over it. He won’t affect you anymore. I started nodding to myself, believing that I was right. They’re all ripped, I told myself. Nothing I haven’t seen before. I can get through playing an hour of basketball against a half-naked Jake… Once I had finally worked myself up to actually believing this fact, I took one last deep breath and turned around. My will practically crumbled then and there as I fought the urge to pounce him. Alright – new plan. I would just have to avoid him. I’d think about nothing but the ball and getting it to the hoop. I would ignore everyone in my way and just shove past them. And maybe – I was praying for a miracle, but I could still hope – I would, over the course of the game, become immune to the physical attraction I had for him.

I stepped back and forth in my place, shaking my arms out as if I were loosening up before a big game. But, in reality, I was simply trying to rid the image of Jake from my head. “Jake, it’s your ball,” Quil’s voice interrupted my thoughts. I glanced up, surprised to see everyone spread out across the court, each guarding a different person, while I was standing directly in front of Jake. “You ready to get crushed?” he asked with a cocky smirk, dribbling the ball slowly before me. Take it! a voice in my head told me. Just take the ball – he’s only trying to bait you! Take it now while he’s distracted! I was thinking far too long. By the time I got up the nerve to reach out and swipe the ball away from him, Jake had circled me and was running toward the basketball hoop. “Ness!” Embry called as soon as Jake had easily thrown the ball in the basket. He caught the ball as it fell through while the others on the court jogged to the other end. “I thought you were good at this game!” “I – well, I’m – ” “Get your hands out!” he told me, waving his own in demonstration out at as his side. “At least try to block him next time, would you?” I listened to his words, taking them to heart. It was good to have someone yelling at me, I realized. It helped occupy my thoughts from other distractions… “Alright,” I said, nodding. And then he threw the ball at me and sprinted away. I turned around, bouncing the ball casually back and forth from hand to hand. “Was that all you got?” Jake asked with a teasing smile as I slowly approached him. Don’t look down, I firmly told myself. Keep your eyes above the neck. “Maybe wolves are just a bit more superior than – ” Before he even got a chance to finish his sentence, I slipped the ball beneath his leg and darted past him. I swerved effortlessly around Brady – who must have been better at this game than I gave him credit for, to have gotten away from Quil so easily – and threw the ball into the hoop. I turned to see Jake, staring at me from several yards away. I kept my eyes focused on his dropped jaw – nothing lower than that – and was pleased to see that he was stunned by my action. But for a flash of one second, I caught a brief smile on his face, as if he were impressed. “Nice one,” he finally said once he had recovered the ball from Seth and was staring me down again. I continued focusing on the ball, refusing to look at the muscles on Jake’s body, flexing every time he made the smallest movement. “You know,” he said with a hint of amusement, “you’re shaping up to be some fine competition, Nessie.”

“Was that supposed to be a compliment?” I asked him, watching his eyes as they flickered over my right shoulder. “I suppose it could be,” he retorted in a soft voice, meeting my gaze. “Oh, well then…” I watched, as if in slow motion, as he lifted his arms up high over his head, carrying the ball with him. I could tell that he was about to throw it over my shoulder, in the same direction that he had glanced at earlier. But then, as if my arms and legs were acting upon impulse, I leapt off the ground, just as Jake released the ball from his grip, and swatted it to the side, sending it soaring through the air and into Embry’s possession. Jake was dazed for a moment, looking down at his empty hands. He glanced back up at me, confounded. I simply shrugged, as if I had nothing to do with the fact that his ball was missing, and continued staring up into his face. “Thanks for the compliment,” I told him with a wink and a smirk. I strode away without looking back at Jake, heading towards Embry as he made an easy basket and gave him a high-five. The next few baskets seemed to go on in this similar pattern. Jake would make a point, and then I would turn around and do the same thing. Occasionally, one of our teammates got a chance to make a shot of their own – Claire even got to cheer for Quil, though it was only once – but Jake and I were far too stubborn to let the others get in the way of our competition. The game had turned into a one-on-one battle while our teammates were merely obstacles around the court. Jake had also started to reevaluate my skills. After making a few sloppy moves at the start of the game, Jake quickly corrected his strategy. His constant flow of teasing and insults had subsided once he realized just how equally matched he and I were at this game. By the time I had made my fifth basket, Jake wasn’t even saying anything to me anymore, now that he was focused on winning. He would simply narrow his eyes, study his surroundings, and develop some sort of new tactic to make it to the other end of the court. Unfortunately, that plan usually worked for him, which meant that I, in return, had to step it up a level as well. I couldn’t rely on the surprise factor, now that Jake realized I was a credible threat. However, I wasn’t nearly as proud over the outcome of the game as I was over the fact that I was actually able to ignore his flawless body. For a moment, I even contemplated the truth in the idea of actually becoming immune to his good looks when I had originally thought that the theory was absurd. Until it started to rain. We were more than halfway through our game – we were up by two points – when small beads of water fell from the sky. I paused, holding the ball in my hands as a drop of water fell onto my hands. “It’s starting to rain,” I called out to the others as I made the observation. “Doesn’t matter,” Jake immediately replied, possibly thinking that I was using the weather as an excuse to stop the game since I was ahead. He was crouched in front of me, hands on his knees, but his gaze was level with mine. “We’re not stopping because of a little rain.” I bounced the ball up and down a few times, lifting an eyebrow in his direction. “I know,” I snapped, irritated by his anger towards me. “I was just saying…”

“Well, then, stop talking and let’s play,” he growled in a deep voice, urging me to get on with the game. I huffed, letting out a strong puff of air, and proceeded to dribble past him in a blur and slammed the ball into the opposite hoop. I allowed myself a smile at the significant lead that our team had made. Quil even ran over and picked me up in the air as he gave me a large hug. “Just a few more and we win!” he told me enthusiastically, jogging off to continue his watch on Brady. “Right,” I muttered, more to myself than to anyone else. I rolled my shoulders forward a couple of times, feeling the rain start to pick up. Just a few more points and we would win! That would show Jake – and I wouldn’t be ashamed to gloat about it for the next year, too. It was just a shame that I hadn’t made a wager with him. That certainly would have made things much more interesting if he had – I froze in my place the moment my eyes were drawn back to the game. Jake was directly in front of me. He was in his usual stance, poised and ready to dart past me, but there was something different about him. Something I could no longer ignore. Those small drops of rain, which I had previously been able to overlook, were now trickling down his forehead. They slipped over his cheek, dangling momentarily from his chin. Then, with the slightest movement from Jake, they dropped onto his bare chest, sliding tantalizingly slowly down the center, past all of those, now, glistening muscles that I had been doing so well at ignoring earlier… Needless to say, Jake was able to score a point long before I even had time to recognize that he was on the other end of the court due to my clouded state of mind. “What was that?” Quil called to me as he jogged past. “Nessie, you were doing great! Come on – just a few more, remember?” I nodded wearily, catching the ball from him as he threw it towards me. Eyes on his face, I reminded myself. My heart was pumping faster as the image of water running down Jake’s body filled my mind. Above the neck, I firmly repeated to myself. Above the neck! Jake stood directly before me, just like he had earlier. I lifted my eyes to his face, refusing to look down, but found that this was much easier said than done, now. His chest was no longer the only thing that I was finding hard to resist, now. The water, that was causing little Claire to run and hide beneath the nearest picnic table, was steadily growing stronger and coming down heavier and faster than before. It had caused Jake’s hair, which was only an inch or so long to start with, to grow damp. It matted together, pressing to his forehead. As if the constant flow of water, streaming over his rippling muscles wasn’t enough to handle, his eyes seemed to grow more intense, dark like the night sky as he watched me, waiting for me to make a move. His lips were parted, breathing in deep gasps of air as the adrenaline from the game rushed through his bloodstream. Then – the last straw – he lifted his long, slender fingers up to his head and ran it through his dark hair, making it momentarily stand straight up on end before falling limply to the side, giving it the appearance of a styled mess.

My own hands gripped the basketball tighter, imagining what sort of mess I could create by running my own fingers through his hair, or curious as to what would happen if I reached out and wiped away that solitary rain drop hovering just above his abs, or wondering if he got the same earth shattering feeling when he looked at me… I nearly whimpered just seeing him like this. It was too much to handle. I had been able to pretend that I wasn’t attracted to him when I refused to look at his perfectly sculpted chest, but there was no way to hide that feeling any longer. He was making it impossible for me to do. Just as I thought I might have been able to talk myself out of this pit of despair, I felt the ball being wrenched out of my grip. I blinked, realizing that the statue of perfection standing before me had vanished. Jake had stolen the basketball during my unintentional lack of attention, accidentally shoving my shoulder in the process, and was charging towards the basket directly behind me. I fell clumsily – for a vampire hybrid, at least – to the ground, landing on my rear end with an audible, “Oof!” No one seemed to notice immediately as they were far too concerned with celebrating Jake’s latest victory. “Yes!” Seth called, throwing an arm around Jake’s neck in a one-armed hug. “We’re gaining on them!” Jake laughed merrily. I could tell that the sparkle of excitement was coming back into his eyes as he got closer and closer to the lead. He was no longer concerned about losing by that big of a margin to a girl. His pride wouldn’t be completely damaged. But I couldn’t take it anymore. It wasn’t the game or the fact that we seemed to be rather evenly matched. It wasn’t even because he had been tossing around a few insults prior to the game, simply because he was competitive by nature. It was him I couldn’t handle. “You’re cheating!” I called out, pointing a finger up at Jake as he calmly strode past me. He looked down as I remained seated on the wet ground after my fall and simply chuckled. “No, I’m not,” he scoffed, shaking his head at me. He offered his hand to me in an attempt to graciously help me back to my feet, as if there had been no animosity between us before. “Yes, you are,” I hissed, refusing to make eye contact with him any longer. I wouldn’t be able to keep my ground if I so much as glanced at him for longer than just a few seconds. “I don’t know, Nessie,” Quil interrupted us. “I’m pretty sure he’s been completely legal so far.” “See?” Jake reinforced his point. “Even your own teammate agrees with me!” I blinked down at the ground, unable to find the words to say. He was cheating – they just had no idea that he was! And there was no way I was about to tell them how he was doing it… I scrambled up to my feet, refusing to take Jake’s outstretched hand, and stomped off of the court and into the muddy grass. Claire, hiding beneath the picnic table, watched me walk away with wide, curious eyes before running to Quil’s side to ask why I looked so angry. I ignored the others as they called for me to come back and just finish the game, but I was determined to get away before I did something I would end up regretting. In fact, I was so

focused on leaving that I actually found myself slipping on the damp grass – something you would never catch a normal vampire doing. “Aw, Nessie, come on!” Jake shouted from behind me as he jogged to keep pace. He chuckled lightly as he slowed to a walk just behind me. “It’s just a game,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice. “No need to get upset, right?” Against all instinct, I refused to even peek over my shoulder to watch Jake approach. It would only sway me from my original intent to get away from him as quickly as possible. “Go away,” I warned him in a low, steady tone. I heard the slight falter in his steps as he paused briefly, attempting to identify the menacing sound in my voice before continuing to follow me. “What?” he asked in a soft whisper. He reached out for my wrist, but I immediately jerked it away and crossed it over my chest along with my other arm. “Ness, you aren’t really upset with me, are you?” I didn’t say anything in response. “Renesmee,” he continued, refusing to believe that I was angry. “I never cheated – honest,” he told me. When I continued the silent treatment, he began stammering an apology for whatever fault he could think of. “If this is about the fact that I pushed you over, I’m sorry,” he apologized. I sighed, shaking my head. That wasn’t even close to what I was upset about. “A-and I’m sorry about saying that werewolves were stronger than vampire hybrids,” he continued. Jake was hovering directly beside me, managing to keep up with my quick pace as I exited the small park where the basketball court had been located and headed towards home. Somehow, though, I was able to keep my gaze fixed straight ahead without chancing a glance over at him from out of the corner of my eye. “’Cause everything I said – it’s not true. You’re just as good – no – better than the rest of us.” I heard him swallow audibly, clearly thinking that he was really in the dog house now. “And I never meant to call you short – I was just in the mindset of playing basketball with some of the other guys,” he told me in a rushed tone. “If I had known how bothered you were by it, I never would have made fun of you to begin with! Especially that comment about you getting picked last if you weren’t team captain – it was just a joke – honest.” I was finding it harder and harder to resist his apology. He hadn’t done anything wrong! He really had no reason to be apologizing! It was my own fault for being unable to control my urges when I was around him. It was, however, his fault for continuing to tempt me when all I wanted was to be left alone and given a chance to regroup my thoughts before speaking to him again. “Jake,” I pleaded. I spotted my house far in the distance, wondering if I made a run for it if Jake would follow me inside. “I don’t think you understand – I just need to be alone for tonight.” I was stupid to think that he would abide by my request. “I was just teasing, Ness.” I felt a sharp tug on my elbow as Jake forced me to turn around and look at him straight on. His eyes had lost the intensity that had been building in them for the past hour. Instead, they looked lost – helpless – frantic for my forgiveness. “You have to believe me, Nessie.” His hands gripped the upper part of my arms as his eyes darted nervously across my face, taking in my expression. “Please.”

And let me tell you – seeing that look in Jake’s eyes, showing how desperate he was for me to understand how sorry he felt, was, if at all possible, even more enticing than his body. “Oh, my god,” I moaned, staring back at him. He was irresistible. Jake looked nothing short of panicked. “What?” he asked, taking a step closer so that he was very clearly invading my own personal bubble. “What’s ‘oh my god’?” he asked quickly. And then, forgetting entirely about my words, he returned to apologizing. “Nessie, I’m so – so sorry,” he told me. He bent forward just enough so that he was looking directly into my eyes. “Please, Nessie,” he said, repeating himself over and over. “Please. Please.” My muscles seized up and I locked all of my joints into place once Jake’s hands travelled up my arms. I was relieved when one hand stopped moving at my shoulder, but nearly started to have a panic attack when his other hand didn’t stop until it had reached my neck. “No, Jake,” I whispered, more to myself than anything. I squeezed my eyes closed, trying to pretend that the hands on my skin didn’t belong to Jacob Black. “Please, don’t…” And then he made the mistake of breathing. I trembled as I felt his warm breath fan over my face. I took in his scent, memorizing the way it tasted on my tongue, the way it made my eyelashes flutter, the way it heated my face. It was intoxicating. My eyes flashed open, filled with a new purpose. Jake frowned, noticing my sudden change. He pulled back slightly, but not quite far enough to allow me to think clearly. “Nessie?” he repeated, staring at me. I swallowed. “Shit,” I muttered, staring up into his deep, brown eyes as I realized I would not be able to turn back anymore. He had tempted me for far too long. “Nessie, are you –” I cut him off before he could even finish his words. I took one step forward, enough to close the gap between us, and threw my arms around his neck. With one hand placed strategically at the back of his head, I pulled him forward and pressed my lips against his. It was bliss. It was heaven on earth. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I knew the moment that my hand accidentally brushed over his face; I would not be able to control my power. He would be able to see very clearly into my head and see exactly what I was feeling for him. And that’s when I decided that I might as well go for it now, before he had the chance to turn me down.

Before Jake had time to react to the kiss, I pressed my body flush against his, absorbing every rain drop that had previously coated his chest into my clothing. When he still made no move to stop me, I realized – knowing that I would be highly embarrassed about this later – that I had wrapped both of my legs around his waist without even knowing it. I dropped one hand from behind Jake’s head, letting it slide to the front of his chest. I eagerly pressed my palm against his warm skin, lightly scraping my fingernails over it as I moved. Very quickly, my other hand joined the first, savouring the muscles that flexed beneath. Before my hands could explore anymore of his body, I felt a small thud on my back. I reluctantly pulled away from Jake’s lips at the interruption, surprised. I glanced around quickly, realizing that Jake must have stumbled forward into a tree – one that was now pressing into my spine. “Nessie.” The haze clouding my mind briefly lifted. My gaze returned reluctantly to Jake’s, suddenly feeling very embarrassed and foolish for reacting so impulsively. Jake was staring up at me – the one time I could remember him having to actually look up to see me – due to the fact that my legs were still wound tightly around his waist. “What was that?” Jake asked in a fast whisper. He was breathing heavily. I swallowed, unsure of how to answer his question. Surely he must have realized by now, after I made a complete fool out of myself that I was head over heels for him. Did he really need to ask? “That was a, uh…” I stammered out an answer. “A kiss.” Jake’s jaw slackened as his gaze narrowed on me. “A kiss,” he repeated softly. “Um…” I noticed that my hands were still pressed firmly against Jake’s bare chest. I quickly pulled them away, hugging them nervously around my body. “Yes…?” Jake’s gaze dropped to the side, staring down at the grass in some form of disbelief. “Holy shit,” he murmured in a surprised tone. In the time that it took Jake to absorb the fact that I had practically sexually assaulted him, I started to feel a sudden onslaught of shame and horror. I forced myself on him. I had given him no choice in the matter! Didn’t I have any self control? I had just ruined the best friendship of my life – all because I couldn’t keep my hormones in check! “Jake, I’m really sorry,” I murmured softly. I felt the slight prickling feeling of tears filling my eyes as I grew angry with myself. “I didn’t mean to – I really shouldn’t have done that…” Jake snapped back to attention. He looked up at me with a searching expression. “What?” he wearily asked, as if he had been taken aback by hearing me speak. “I said I was sorry,” I told him in all honesty. “I couldn’t control myself,” I confessed quickly, knowing that I would feel much better if I just told him the whole truth and worried about my embarrassment later. “You just – you took off your damn shirt,” I told him in a harsh tone. Jake’s eyebrows shot up. “What – during the game?” he verified. “It was shirts and skins – I was supposed to.”

I pursed my lips together, debating how much further I would continue with my honesty. “Well, it was a little too much for me to handle,” I muttered softly. Part of me hoped he couldn’t hear a word that I was saying, while the other part hoped that he heard it loud and clear just so he wouldn’t make me repeat any of it again. Jake’s surprised look dropped after he started to replay my words in his head. “And then it rained,” I moaned, clapping my hands to my face. It really couldn’t get much worse than this. “And your hair was wet, and then your eyes got all intense…” I felt my hands being peeled slowly away from my face by Jake, just like he had done before our game. Only this time, instead of seeing Jake’s amused expression as he teased me about playing basketball, his face was devoid of all emotion. That couldn’t be a good sign. “Are you trying to say,” he began in a soft tone, still holding my hands out to the side, “that you’re attracted to me?” I blushed. “You were charmed by my good looks?” he continued, lifting my hands until he had pressed them into the tree trunk directly above my head. My heart started to pick up, realizing that Jake seemed to be heading in a completely different direction than I had anticipated, and he now had me literally pinned to a tree. But I totally deserved it after attacking the guy. “Y-yes,” I stammered, watching him warily. Where was the anger? Where was the yelling? When was he going to just run off and abandon me by the tree? Instead, Jake’s impassive expression slowly turned into a crooked smile. “That’s why you stomped off?” he asked. “You weren’t mad with me – you were –” “Yes, I was turned on!” I very nearly shrieked. Surely I must be incapable of even feeling any embarrassment anymore. “I couldn’t keep playing that stupid game when you were running around without a shirt on!” I shouted. I balled my hands into fists – still locked above my head – in my attempt to take my frustration out on something. “Did you really expect a girl to just be able to play a casual game of basketball with a couple of half-naked men running around on the court – in the rain?” I added with a hiss of irritation. “Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to even focus on the game?” Jake shrugged. “You seemed to be doing pretty well,” he commented softly. “Right,” I scoffed, rolling my eyes. “Until the damn rain…” “Until the rain,” he added with a chuckle. “You know, I didn’t really mind the rain.” I watched him with curiosity, trying to figure out what sort of game he was playing with me. “I mean – if it makes you react this way every time I go outside in the rain –” “With no shirt on,” I corrected him automatically.

Jake laughed. “With no shirt on,” he amended his statement. “Well, I might just have to do that more often.” Wait – what? Before I could voice my thoughts aloud, Jake tilted his head up to meet my lips in a much slower, more tender kiss than before. The rain, still dripping from the top of his forehead, trailed down his face and glided over his lips. This time, when he kissed me, I was able to take the time to taste each and every drop of water that came between us, as if time had stopped altogether. There was nothing rushing us anymore and I could absorb every single detail, down to the comforting heat of his warm hands as they pinned my wrists above me, to the ticklish sensation as his wet hair brushed against my forehead, to the very way that he tasted against my lips. I was wrong when I said that first kiss had been the best thing that ever happened to me. Because this was – by far – the best thing that had ever happened to me. His hands, which had been previously handcuffing my own above my head, now slid down my wrists, over my forearms, past my elbows, and didn’t stop until they slipped all the way down to my waist, gripping me tightly to him. He then pressed himself as far into my body as was physically possible, moulding his shape with mine and making the wood of the tree behind me groan with the weight that we were putting on it. I eagerly returned the favour, tightening my legs around his waist to show him that I wanted him as close to me as he could get. I dropped my hands to his shoulders after he had released them, holding his face between my palms. And then, my own fingers trembling with excitement, I ran them through his hair to make it stand on end, just like I had envisioned myself doing earlier on the basketball court. Before I could increase the intensity of our kiss any more than it already was, Jake pulled away from me with one last kiss and dropped his head wearily onto my shoulder. “I’ve waited too long for that,” he murmured, kissing a trail along the side of my neck. My eyebrows shot up, momentarily distracted from his light kisses. “You what?” Jake pulled away, surprised by my tone. “What?” he asked, sounding defensive. “What’s wrong?” “You’ve been waiting?” I repeated his previous statement. “How long have you been waiting?” Jake shrugged, still not seeing what was wrong with his comment. “Dunno – a while.” My jaw dropped. “Ugh,” I grunted in annoyance, quickly unwrapping my legs from around his waist. I slid to the ground, landing lightly on my feet. “‘A while’,” I mimicked Jake’s deep voice. “Way to be a man, Jake!” He let out a disgusted sound as I slipped beneath his arm and walked swiftly past him, headed straight towards my house. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, immediately tagging along behind me. “I’m supposed to confess my love to you first because I’m a man?” “Uh – yeah,” I smartly replied, smiling inwardly to myself. It was far too much fun to play around with Jake, sometimes. “That’s completely sexist!” he countered.

I scoffed. “No, it’s not.” “Yes, it is!” I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s not.” Jake let out a strangled cry. I almost snickered, imagining him tugging on his hair as he trailed along behind me. “I swear to god, Nessie – you’re just as stubborn as your mother sometimes!” I spun on my heel, making him stop dead in his tracks. I quickly glanced down at his chest, noticing that new rain drops had formed there after we had stepped out from beneath the cover of the tree. “I’m not stubborn,” I told him in a steady voice once I had remembered that his eyes were located above his neck. Jake, unfortunately, noticed the five-second ogling. With a confident grin, he stepped closer, allowing his fingers to brush teasingly over my lower abdomen. “Yes, you are.” I feigned disinterest, leaning away, but he soon wrapped his fingers around my waist, holding me in place securely against his body. “You take that back,” I told him, but my voice didn’t retain the unwavering tone that it had managed earlier. Jake leaned forward, smirking. “Never,” he told me. He was now close enough to continue the process of kissing his way down my neck as he had been doing before I had marched off. An embarrassing squeak came out of my throat as I tried to defend myself again. Jake simply chuckled. “Were you going to keep trying to tell me that you’re not stubborn?” he whispered hoarsely into my ear, kissing the sensitive place just below it in the process. “It doesn’t sound to me like you’re going to have much luck trying to speak anymore, Nessie,” he said, addressing my inability to actually form a sentence when he was making me go weak at the knees. But – in true Cullen fashion – I managed to piece together what little I could of a sentence, just to prove that he was wrong, even though I was struggling to even remember what the point of my argument had been in the first place. “I can’t help that you’re cheating again,” I murmured, giving in as my hands impulsively travelled upward to his chest to rest over his beating heart. And then – forgetting entirely about why I was upset with him – I lifted my thumb and forefingers to his chin and forcefully pulled his mouth to mine.

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