Chapter 19: Claim
Warning: Implied Sexual Content
The hunt for Victoria was on.
Now that the Cullens were back and they realized the danger that Victoria still presented, they doubled their efforts of tracking her on their territory. Grace was swamped with finals prep and Sam told her they had it handled for the time being, so she sat out on night rounds for now.
Jake was busy hunting Victoria so he hadn’t stopped by her texted since that afternoon they fell asleep together. She promised herself that as soon as things calmed down, she was going to ask him the questions she needed to: Why did he try to kiss Bella? Was he in love with her? What did that make Grace to him? What did this all mean?
The questions circled her head as she sat in her AP English class. Bella tapped her shoulder with the eraser end of her pencil. Grace looked over and gave her a gentle smile
“Hey, you okay?” Bella asked. Grace nodded and turned back to her notes.
Grace did know that she could just ask Bella about what happened between her and Jake. She would be honest at least and forthcoming. She had Edward so there was no reason to stymy any details. But Grace knew that Bella didn’t feel intensely for Jake, so it wasn’t really her feelings that she needed to clear up. Still, she might as well ask.
Just as she went to raise her hand to answer a question her teacher posed about the significance of the birds in James Joyce’s novel “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man”, her phone buzzed. Sidetracked now, she flipped it open.
SMS Text— 2:33 p.m.: Paul
Are you ready to talk yet?
I promise I’m cool as a cucumber.
And then there was Paul. Her heart ached every time she thought about him. In any other life, Grace knew she would have readily chosen Paul to be with for the rest of her life. He was so kind and soft and gentle with her. His anger was frightening but never directed at her. She always felt exceedingly safe with him, however, this wasn’t any other life. And being with him meant understanding that something was always going to be missing, no matter what he did. And that wasn’t fair to him.
Grace had asked him to give her some time, what with finals coming up and needing to wrap her head around everything. She also wanted to give him time to cool off as his territorialness over Grace increased once he found out about her and Jake’s afternoon together.
She wrote a hasty reply back saying they’d talk this weekend, in person, and then shut her phone and buried it deep in her bag. Bella had been watching her do this the whole time and Grace looked over to give her a reassuring smile. But worry was painted clear on Bella’s face.
Once the day was over, Grace and Bella walked toward their truck. Relieved that it was finally the weekend and the start of Spring Break, Grace began organizing all of the studying, essays, and projects she needed to do in her head. She had as far as next Wednesday mapped out when Bella slammed the driver side door of the truck and looked over at Grace.
“Hey,” Bella said, her face a little unsure.
“Hey,” Grace said, a little confused.
“Um, so. Would you want to have a sleepover with me and Alice?” As the words tumbled out of her mouth, Bella outwardly cringed.
“We...we sleep in the same room every night. But yes? I guess?” Grace said laughing a little.
“No, I mean, Edward still won’t let me go down to the rez and everyone except Rosalie and Alice are going hunting. And so he asked me to stay the night at his place with Rosalie and Alice just to be safe.” Bella said all of this very quickly. Grace looked at her skeptically for a moment.
“I thought you liked Alice,” she said.
“I do!” Bella said, “I just, I would just feel better if you were there. And I know we haven’t gotten to spend a lot of time together since Edward got back and I--” Bella looked at Grace’s face that was pulled into a broad smile, “Just forget it. It’s stupid.”
“No! No, Bella!” Grace laughed, “It’s just not very….you? I don’t know. Of course I’ll have a sleepover with you. In a vampire coven’s home. On land I’ve been specifically forbidden to enter.”
Bella’s eyes went wide in distress.
“Sounds fun,” Grace concluded.
“Oh god,” Bella said, “If this is gonna get you in trouble with Sam or…..Jake.” Bella again lightly cringed when she said his name, more for Grace’s sake than hers. “Then really. Do not worry about it. I just thought-”
“No, I’m coming.” Grace interjected joyfully. It was true, Sam had told her to never go to the Cullen’s house again. But she wanted to prove once and for all that they posed no threat to them. Sleeping over seemed like a dangerous enough feat that would show that. Plus, if Grace gathered any intel on the vampires, that might be enough consolation for Sam not to totally take her head off.
Or maybe, it was just the old rebellion rising up in her again. She hadn’t felt this need to disobey every order thrown at her since right after her father died. Something in her kept telling her to push harder and harder, just to see how far enough she could go.
Bella gave a small smile and said “Thanks.”
When they got home, they both bolted upstairs to pack a bag, a weird pulsing joy moving through both of them. Grace felt like she was a 6th grader, invited to the popular girl’s party and she didn’t know why. Bella was just thrilled Grace was coming.
When they both tumbled back down the stairs together, arm and arm, and whispering about something they had heard that day, Charlie was just coming through the front door.
“Where do you two think you’re going?” Charlie raised an eyebrow. “Far as I know, you two are still grounded.”
“Dad,” Bella groaned.
“Jessica invited us to a slumber party at her house to kick off spring break,” Grace quickly interjected. She thought mentioning a town girl instead of a rez girl would keep Charlie from double checking a story since he knew of Jessica, but didn’t have enough face time to place her in town.
“Jessica?” Charlie said.
“Yeah, is that okay? We wanted a,” Bella paused, the words making her cringe ever so slightly, “A girl’s night.”
Charlie seemed pleased that this seemingly had nothing to do with Edward.
“Pleeeease, please please please,” Grace feigned begging.
“Alright, alright,” Charlie said. “A slumber party?”
“Yes!” they both said in unison.
“No boys?” Charlie confirmed.
“No boys allowed!” Grace replied.
“Alright then, have fun.” Charlie said stepping aside and trying to conceal a smile.
“Yessss!” Grace bounded out the door and Bella lagged behind to hug Charlie goodbye.
When they pulled into the driveway of the Cullen house, Grace had to stop herself from admiring the sheer immense beauty of the home in the daylight. The windows glittered in the low light sun still and the trees shimmered in bloom. As they hopped down from the truck, Edward was already down the steps to greet them.
“Grace. Good of you join,” Edward said politely. He wrapped his arm around Bella pulling her into his side and taking her bag.
“Of course. Any chance to hang with some vampires,” Grace said nonchalantly. As they walked through the house and up the stairs, Edward guided them toward the kitchen. When the huge island countertop came into view, Grace gasped at the fanfare of food, party snacks, and candy littering the counter.
“Thought we’d lean into the sleepover theme,” Esme said kindly from behind the counter.
“You didn’t have to go to this much trouble,” Bella breathed. Esme waved a dismissive hand at her and beamed.
“Wow,” Grace breathed. Suddenly Carlisle was beside her taking her bag from her shoulder.
“I’ll place this up in the guest room for you. Good to see you, Grace,” Carlisle nodded.
“Likewise,” Grace said sincerely back. Something about Carlisle’s calm demeanor and sincere stare put Grace at ease.
He was back in a flash and then nodded to the others, “Ready? We should get going if we’re going to make it by nightfall.” The others agreed and said their goodbyes to their partners. Edward held onto Bella for just a little bit longer than anyone else and then quickly departed leaving Alice, Grace, and Bella in the kitchen.
“Rosalie’s just running a quick errand, she’ll be back,” Alice said. “Okay, so what first! Nails? Face masks? Hair braids?” Alice was clapping her hands together on every suggestion. Bella’s anxiety climbed more and more and Grace’s eyes grew bigger and bigger with glee at each suggestion.
When Rosalie entered the converted dining room that Alice had made into a very high end blanket force with gauzy curtains, colorful pouf pillows, and lush faux fur blankets, she was surprised to see everyone on the floor in some state of disarray. Sleepless in Seattle played on the too big TV above the fireplace. Grace was pulling on Red Vines and clasping a magazine in her hand, staring at it seriously, with mashed avocado smeared across her face. Bella, also clad in green avocado, had an intricate braid winding over her most of her head that Alice had perfected and placed flowers throughout and was taking bites of pretzels and popcorn while tracing her pencil over a crossword puzzle. She intermittently answered Grace’s questions while Alice bounded from the tent and back again with another concoction from the kitchen to now slather over Grace’s free hand.
“When you’re alone, what’s your favorite activity to do together? A) Gaze adoringly into each other’s eyes in a field of flowers….Bit specific.” Grace said in between bites of her Red Vine, “B) Do some dare devil defying feat. C) Go out to eat followed by a late night movie. Or D) Go to a party and get silly.”
“What are you three doing?” Rosalie said a little surprised, with wonder filling her face.
“We’re trying to figure out how old Edward is based on their relationship traits with this Cosmo quiz,” Grace replied, her eyes still focused intensely on the page in front of her.
“Oh.” Rosalie said looking around the room, “You should really condition your hair with egg whites.” She suggested as she saw Alice rubbing coconut oil through Grace’s hair.
“Is this a way for you to get to crack eggs on my head or something?” Grace asked as Bella tried to conceal a laugh.
“No! It’s just an old trick I remember from my time,” Rosalie said matter-of-factly, “Here I’ll show you.” She strode over to the refrigerator and started gently separating eggs in a bowl.
“Answer the question, Bella,” Alice prompted. Bella snapped back to attention.
“Ummm, A I guess?” She replied with an embarrassed smile.”
“Yeah, we all knew it was A, no need to fret,” Grace said pressing on. Rosalie settled behind Grace expertly draping a towel over her shoulders with a satisfied smile on her face before expertly applying the whisked egg whites.
The night pressed on with too much food, rinsing their hair in the sink and having to advise on temperature to two people who couldn’t perceive temperature, and quoting Roman Holiday. Bella fell asleep just after midnight and Alice carried her up to Edward’s room that was repurposed into a guest room.
When Grace turned in for the night, she heard her phone beep.
SMS Text—12:32 a.m.: Paul
Meet me at my place and I won’t tell Sam where you are right now. ;)
Grace let out a surprised laugh. She expected someone to eventually figure out where she was but the cheeky jibe from Paul was unexpected.
SMS Text—12:33 a.m.: Grace
Are you threatening me, Paul Lahote?
SMS Text—12:33 a.m.: Paul
Come and find out, Spirit Bird.
Grace was definitely intrigued. Maybe it was the expert styling of her hair from Rosalie or the glow from her avocado face mask, or the fact that she hadn’t heard from Jacob in days and she was starting to think he regretted it. Whatever it was, she gathered her coat and made her way out to the forest. Rosalie gave her a confused look as she passed the living room but didn’t try to stop her.
She jogged the short mile and a half to the rez border and once she crossed onto her territory, she quickly recast and landed in front of Paul’s quaint home. It was a tiny little one bedroom with a wrap around porch and modest kitchen. He didn’t spend much time there, but Grace had been there once or twice before when he swung by to grab something before taking her home. She skipped up the porch steps and before she could even knock on the door, he pulled it open. Shirtless as always, he smiled and nodded his head over his shoulder to beckon her inside. She gladly ducked inside.
Grace didn’t exactly know why she came. She thought about making amends, talking about what happened like he had asked, but when she turned to look toward Paul after walking across the short length of her living room, it didn’t really seem like he was all too concerned with betrayal anymore. He looked her up and down appreciatively, taking his time to take her all in. The old fire rose in Grace once again and she smiled warmly at him. While the ache of that familiar absence remained where she knew Jake fit, she was able to keep it quiet, just for now.
“So do you always text girls past midnight who happen to be hanging out with low risk vampires?” Grace said nonchalantly.
“I guess, at least I do when the girl looks as good as you,” Paul said seriously. Grace blushed.
“So you’re not mad? Don’t want to yell at me about betraying the pack and all that?” Grace pressed.
“Not if you don’t want me too,” Paul said, crossing his arms over his broad chest. Grace shook her head no. “Good, then I won’t and we can do something better instead.”
“Better.” he looked at her trying to figure out something before he said, “I’m tired of this back and forth. Who chooses who and all that. So, I’m laying claim.”
“What do you mean?” Grace said, her heart starting to beat faster. She felt like she was on the precipice of something that she might not be able to come back from. Paul crossed the small room in three quick strides and scooped her up, pulling her legs to wrap around his lower torso and holding onto her back before saying in the softest voice Grace could ever imagine he was capable of:
“I’m calling you mine.” With that, he pressed his lips firmly to hers, his breath hot and wanting as he parted his lips and ran his tongue across hers. Grace responded easily, allowing the feeling of warmth to crash through her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer to her.
He easily steered them down the narrow hallway back toward his room without breaking the kiss. He was keen on keeping hands on her at all times. When he sat down on the bed, she perched in his lap, kneeling over him as he kissed her neck softly, running his hands gently down her sides before deftly pulling at her shirt. She obliged and slowly peeled off the soft t-shirt as he pressed his lips to her collarbone and shoulders, pulling one bra strap down gently with his index finger to gain full access to her shoulder.
Grace shivered at his touch and let her hands roam down his neck to his chest and arms. He captured her gaze and stopped for a moment, searching her eyes lovingly before placing a hand behind her head and pulling her to him for a deeper kiss. With his other hand, he quickly unsnapped her bra and Grace let it slip from her arms and tossed it aside before pressing her chest to his. He let out a soft groan as their bodies connected and placed both of his hands on her naked back, pressing her roughly to him for a moment before swinging her around to lay flat on the bed.
He kneeled over her now, leaning up to stare at her for just a minute before kissing down her neck and chest, his hands making quick work of her jean button. He shimmied her out of her jeans and quickly discarded his own shorts before gently sliding her underwear down her legs, kissing at her thigh and calf as he went.
Grace let small gasps of breath escape, allowing herself to relax into this feeling with him. Whatever voice in her that was telling her no, she had stopped listening and the voice had grown quiet. When he finally slipped out of his boxer shorts and hovered over her, Grace opening to him and looping her hands confidently behind his head, he stopped for a moment once more.
His eyes poured into hers and Grace felt intensely loved, more than she had felt in her entire life. The fact that a singular human would look at her like that made her whole lower body tremble.
“Grace Alo, you are the most beautiful, mysterious, and frustrating woman I’ve ever met,” Paul said, heady breaths flowing across Grace’s face. She felt intoxicated by them. He paused again brushing his lips to hers and Grace arched her hips instinctively. He pulled away and leaned back for a moment to take his whole face in and said, “Promise me that you’re mine.”
Grace looked up at him and cupped both hands to his face before whispering, “I promise.” He gave her another achingly sweet smile before pushing forward, resulting in Grace gasping and clutching tightly around his neck in wanting rhythm.
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