A/N… Heeheee… So many of you sang, "Reunited and it feels so good…" XD Thank you for that. I needed the laugh.

This chapter is all Edward. I'll let you get to it. See me at the bottom.

~oooOOOooo~

Chapter 26

May 2002

EDWARD

Glancing out toward the window, I smiled that Alice's prediction had been spot-on. She'd said that it would rain the first few days we were back in Boston. Bella's house was quiet. Chelsea was doing laundry down in the basement, along with her usual chores. Her mind was on several topics, a checklist of things to do. Renee was sipping coffee in the kitchen while reading the paper. She'd apparently told her daughter that she could sleep as late as she wished, and she was happy that there had been no nightmares.

Phil was already up and out of the house, though he'd drunk himself almost into a stupor the night before. His thoughts had been blurred with the alcohol, but he'd been almost frantic at the fact that not only was Bella willing to see the detectives working on the cold case, but that she'd looked him straight in the eye with no fear, no hesitation in order to stop him from using the nickname. He was truly an ass. He'd used the name just to spite her, knowing that her father had called her that. Through the fog of whiskey, his panic was palpable. He didn't know what to do next, or who to call. Though, the Browns were the top of his list, and I now knew what he owed and why.

What I found most interesting was that even though he had no idea why, Phil had felt fear just by walking by Bella's bedroom door. And he should feel fear…because that man's days were numbered.

Smirking at that thought, my eyes drifted down to my girl, who was practically sprawled across my torso. She'd been there for about an hour or so. I wasn't sure she'd ever slept as quietly and as comfortably as she was right then. I felt like a dragon curled around the princess in protection of what was his. I supposed that was true in some ways. I most certainly wouldn't back down from a fight.

Bella was cradled in my arms, her sweet, peaceful face turned my way with her cheek on my chest. I lightly brushed her hair back, simply to take away anything that was blocking my view. I counted the light freckles across her nose, trailed my fingers along her arm to where she was gripping my T-shirt tenaciously at my shoulder, and brushed feather-soft kisses to her forehead.

Long dark eyelashes rested against creamy skin, though the dark shadows beneath her eyes worried me to no end. It had been all I could do to leave her alone the night before. I'd missed this beautiful creature to the point of madness, but my first instinct was to take care of her, and her exhausted face told me that sleep was more important than my need to touch her, kiss her. We'd spoken softly until late, but Bella had finally succumbed to sleep around midnight.

As the rain continued to shower softly against the window, Bella's heartbeat changed from the steady rhythm of sleep, to a touch quicker as she started to awaken. I smiled when her fingers left my shirt, seeking out my hair at the back of my neck. When sleepy brown eyes fluttered open, I leaned in to kiss her forehead.

"Morning, love."

Bella mumbled something back I didn't quite catch, but stretched lazily like a cat, her body shivering at the end. "What time is it?" she asked through a sleepy yawn.

"Just before ten."

She groaned, burrowing into my T-shirt. "You could've shoved me off you. It must be boring watching me sleep."

Chuckling, I shook my head. "Never. I like holding you. You sleep better in my arms."

"That's for sure," she muttered, reaching up to trail her fingers across my eyebrow and down my jaw, stopping me when I started to kiss her. "Wait… I should brush my teeth," she said, pushing herself up, but she smiled when I laughed. "My dad used to say it smelled like a baby dragon took a dump overnight…"

My head fell back as I laughed softly, but my arms held her close. Cupping her face, I said, "I assure you, my love, had such a thing happened, the poor dragon would've met its untimely demise. And you needn't worry."

Bella's giggle was utterly adorable and music to my ears, though she still fought me.

"Fine, fine…but hurry back," I relented, smirking as she scrambled out of bed and rushed into the bathroom.

She emerged looking fresher, her face washed and her hair pulled back into a messy knot. I held open the covers for her, and she scurried back into bed, but as close to me as she could get.

"I'm glad you're here," she sighed happily, turning her head to look up at me.

Grinning, I sat up quickly, scooped her into my arms, and cradled her in my lap. "Me, too," I growled into her neck when her head fell back with her laughter. "I think they were plotting against me back in Denali."

"Shut up." She giggled. "Like you wouldn't know."

"Shh, sweetheart," I chided, smiling down at her. "You make noise, and those two women downstairs are gonna pounce on you. They're waiting for the chance to steal you away."

She groaned, rolling her eyes and holding me closer. "No, I want to stay with you today. I've missed you…"

Gazing down at her, I sighed. "God, I've missed you, too. I'll figure something out, just…"

I couldn't keep my lips from her any longer. Brushing a loose curl from her face, I leaned in. She was sweet and a touch minty, and she was warm, smelling like flowers and the soap she used. She'd told me once that my scent was comforting, that it made her calm, but it also drove her crazy. I knew the feeling. Her scent did the same to me, along with the pounding of her heart, the rush of blood through her veins, and the grip she had on my shirt and my hair. Her blood held no flavor, no call to me, but knowing that my kisses, my touch caused it to fly through her like that was a heady feeling.

My mind recalled how she'd looked glorious in my bed and up against my door the two times I'd brought her to orgasm. I should've been ashamed, but I wasn't. I shouldn't have taken things so far with her, but I didn't regret the outcome, only the possibility that I could've hurt her. She'd been stunning, and I'd felt like a god that I'd caused that reaction from her. It only made me want to see it again and again, which was dangerous considering where we were, but damn, if a wave of possessiveness didn't wash over me. I wanted every climax she had to be from me, from my touch, my body.

My purring growl rumbled between us as I pressed her down into her mattress. One arm cradled her head, but my free hand explored – first, over her sleep shirt and then under.

Bella's lips broke from mine with a gasp of air, her body arching up into my hand. I knew my eyes were as black as pitch as I watched my hand move underneath the cotton. Her nipple pebbled against my palm.

"Cold?" I asked, hoping the answer was no, and I purred again when she shook her head. Her mouth fell open as I brushed my thumb across the tight peak and then around it. "Am I hurting you?"

Her breathing was heavy, and her head fell back as a smile graced her lips. "Stop asking me that, Edward…"

Grinning in pure male pride that had absolutely nothing to do with my immortality, I kissed her chin. "Yes, ma'am. More?"

She nodded. "Yes, more…"

"Can you stay quiet?" I asked her, skimming my hand across the neglected breast and then down her stomach.

"Umm…yeah?"

"You have to, love," I warned her, nuzzling her neck. "Chelsea and your mother are just downstairs."

"What about you?" she asked, starting to sit up and reach for me.

"Uh-uh," I said, shaking my head. "No, Bella. Not now. Let me…this is…" I huffed a frustrated sigh. "This is just for you. It's important for me to learn your body, sweetheart. It'll help me gauge my control better. I've thought a lot about this while away from you. As much as I loved what we did back in my room, my fear of hurting you is… It's too much, love. I could react poorly – too quickly, or with too much force – so let me do this my way… Please?"

She nodded fervently. "Okay."

My eyes raked from her sweet pink painted toenails all the way up her smooth legs to the edge of her sleep shorts. Her stomach was flat with just enough weight on her to give her a woman's curves in all the right places, though I noticed she'd dropped a bit of weight in the last few weeks. Her nipples were showing through her shirt, and finally, I caught her eyes watching me watch her.

"Bella," I panted, not needing the air, but I couldn't help it. She was gorgeous when she was looking at me with love and want and hunger. "May I touch you?"

She swallowed thickly, but nodded.

If I thought I'd felt heat before when we'd grinded against each other, nothing compared to what I felt with my hand when I cupped her between her legs possessively. And her reaction was instant – a low sexy moan, with her whole body arcing up beautifully.

It took all the concentration I had to focus on what I could recall about the female anatomy, about things I'd heard in the minds of men for decades. They were things I used to despise hearing, but now…things were different. Now, I wanted to know, needed to know in order to make her feel good.

The call to shred every last bit of clothing between us and to claim my mate completely was fierce and almost feral. It was why I'd told her to let me learn her body, learn her reactions. I had no choice but to take my time with her, because I knew there was a part of me that could kill her with one wrong move.

My finger traced the seam of her shorts, the heel of my hand pressing just slightly where she was swollen and achy. The fabric was already starting to dampen, and that caused another rumbling growl to surge through my chest, especially when her hips rose up to seek more.

Her entire room filled with the scent of her. I could taste her in the air, hear her heart pounding, and feel her hands groping for my bicep, my hair, anything to keep me close. Pressing my forehead to hers, I closed my eyes and breathed deep as my fingers traced the waist of her shorts. And suddenly, I was nervous.

"Bella, I… I've never…"

My girl took a shaky breath and released my arm, placing her hand atop of mine. She started to push our hands beneath the fabric, but I stopped.

"If you… If it's too much…tell me."

"You won't hurt me," she assured breathlessly.

"I could."

"But you won't," she stated again, guiding my hand beneath the band of her shorts and the elastic of her underwear.

I could feel cotton and heat and soft skin and hair, and something about not actually seeing her made my remaining senses come alive. They snapped to attention, giving me the focus I needed to make this good for her. There was something comforting about not seeing all of her just yet. She stopped our hands as they cupped her, and my eyes shot to hers at the same time she pressed her middle finger down on mine.

"Oh, Jesus," I whispered, kissing her lips softly. "You…you feel…"

I'd seen this experience in the minds of others, read every text known to man, from medical journals to poetry. Nothing came close to how she felt. Nothing. I wasn't sure if it was the pure, unadulterated trust I could see in her dark eyes, or the fact that she was so soft, so wet. I could now understand the reference to flower petals, the layers and softness that they inferred to, but I could see that certain places caused bigger reactions.

"Edward," she barely said aloud, and I kissed her, letting her fingers guide my own.

When they pressed harder at the top, her breathing caught for a second.

"There?" I asked, riffling through every memory I had, which unfortunately included Jacob's porn collection.

She nodded vehemently, pulling her hand away from mine to grip my shoulder as my finger continued to explore, circling the little bundle at the top before gliding down to her entrance. Her eyes darkened almost to pitch, and for a moment, she looked immortal. My nostrils flared as I sought to control my lust, my need to mate, and as I dipped a finger just inside, I smiled when a hiss escaped her.

"Yes," she moaned, still using a soft whisper, but I couldn't tell if it was because she was mindful of where we were, or habit of staying quiet. I didn't care.

"I'll keep you quiet, love. Just…feel," I vowed to her, my eyes rolling back in my head at the feel of her unbroken innocence. Careful not to hurt her, I went back to the swollen part of her.

She was slick and smelled like heaven and hell all rolled into one beautiful package. I wanted to drink from her, taste what I was doing to her, but I knew just how dangerous that could be. One wrong slip, one wrong move from her, and my teeth could hurt her.

Licking my lips, I vowed to myself that I'd simply devour her one day, and I had to bite down on my bottom lip in order to keep from blurting it out.

"There, there, there… Don't stop…"

"Yes, ma'am," I whispered, preparing to kiss her in order to keep her quiet, because I could tell she was close as my fingers circled her over and over. Her muscles tensed, her breathing changed, and her heart sounded like drums beating in my ears. "Bella, look at me," I whispered, brushing kisses across her lips. "Let me see you when you let go. Please?"

She didn't answer, though I could tell that keeping her eyes open was taking quite the effort. When she inhaled sharply and her stomach tightened, every part of her pulled me in. I leaned in, capturing her sharp gasp, her low moan, but nothing could stop the shaking beneath me. She shattered completely.

Watching her come down was just as sexy as watching her explode. She was flushed and boneless, stretching lazily in my arms. Her eyes were still dark, but glazed, and I smiled down at her.

"I love you," she whispered, tears gathering in her eyes, but her body jerked when I pulled my hand from her shorts. She smiled when I frowned. "Too sensitive," she explained softly.

"You're beautiful, Bella," I stated, shaking my head. "I feel like…you don't… I don't have words," I finally admitted with a chuckle, trying my best to ignore how hard I was for her after touching her. "I love you. That's all I've got."

She grinned, cupping my face. "I'll take it."

My head turned toward the door, and my nose wrinkled at the fact that both women downstairs were ready to see her.

Turning back to Bella, I said, "You're safe with them today, but I'm still going to have Jacob follow you if you go somewhere. I want to take you out tonight. So…"

"So I'll tell them I have plans," she said with a sweet giggle. "What will you do all day?"

I smiled ruefully. "I've got some people to see."

She sat up, cupping my face. "Knife proof, bullet proof… You'd better stay that way."

Grinning, I kissed her until she was flushed again. "Always, my love."

~oOo~

Pulling my hood up on my sweatshirt to shield myself from the light rain, I answered my cell phone. "Jacob…"

"I just wanted to let you know that everyone's back home, Edward," he told me. "They only went out for lunch and some shopping."

"Did they see you?" I asked, grinning at his chuckle.

"Bella did, but the mom and housekeeper, not so much."

Laughing softly, I shook my head. "Well, Bella knew to look for you, so that doesn't surprise me."

"Where are you?"

"In a pretty ugly side of town," I sighed, giving the neighborhood a long assessment. "I just got off the phone with Clearwater."

"He'll be able to retire once this shit is all over…and that's just with what you've got him doing."

Snorting, I nodded. "That's very true. Though, he is an old friend of Charlie Swan's, so he's just as interested in getting to the bottom of this as we are. He told me that he and Charlie met in college, but kept their friendship secret. Apparently, Charlie used Clearwater's services for more than just personal investigations. He'd used him for court cases and finding stuff on dirty lawyers. It was beneficial for both of them. Today, he's got a guy on Dwyer, but he finally got the name of Alec Brown's girlfriend: Heidi Daniels. She's been with this jackass for years. And he's put her in the hospital more than one time."

"Asshole. Well, call me if you need me, and keep your nose clean."

"I need you right where you are, Jake. Just keep my girl safe…"

"With my life, Ed. Go get 'em."

I was just about to tuck my phone back into my jeans pocket, but it rang in my hand. Frowning, I answered. "Jasper, what's wrong?" I asked, but pulled my phone away from my ear at the sound of yelling and feral growls.

"Brother, Alice had a vision…and she's… Well, here, you talk to her."

I heard him remind her of her strength, but she came over the line sounding almost frantic.

"Edward, don't you dare go to that garage!" she growled over the line. "You can't. It won't end well. You kill them all, and it's not…you'll… Just don't go alone. I'm sending Jasper to you."

Frowning, I sighed. "Whoa, slow down, Alice, and take a deep breath. What did you see?"

"I saw you going to that garage to confront those guys, and…and…and Bella's stepdad shows up. He can't see you there, Edward! He can't know that Bella's boyfriend knows any-damn-thing!"

"Okay." I groaned, shaking my head. "Well, damn…"

"You can, however, talk to the girl. I see you in a diner of some sort with a blonde girl. But you can't approach that garage without someone with you. You lose it. Totally. Jasper will be there in two days."

"Aw, Alice, I can't do that. He needs to be with you."

"You need him more. You'll really need him when Bella talks to the detectives. He comes back to me; I've seen it, Edward. Just…please listen."

I sighed deeply, leaning against the light post behind me. "Okay, fine. I'll wait to talk to Alec and Demetri's father. I was gonna—"

"Pay Phil's debt. I know. I see that, too, but you can't today. And you can't without Jasper there to control the room. Edward, I know I see a lot of shit, but this…this I'm certain about. If you lose control, you kinda lose your head a bit. You avoid Bella, and you can't do that. Just…please wait."

Frowning at that, I finally said, "Okay. I'll wait. I promise. Tell Jasper to call me when he lands."

"You got it. And you and Bella have fun tonight," she said with a giggle.

"Don't spoil anything." I chuckled and ended the call as she was still laughing.

I tucked my phone back into my pocket as I eyed the garage. It was small and grungy, with only three bay doors, two of which were occupied with cars. I saw no sign of Alec or Demetri, but Patrick Brown, their father, was there. To look at him, it wasn't obvious that he had money. He was grizzled and weathered, smoking a cigarette just outside the office doors under an awning, wearing beat-up coveralls and an old worn baseball cap. His thoughts were focused on the next shipment coming in, the meeting he had later that day, and his sons, both of whom were late.

His next thought made me smirk. He wanted to know where his best dealer had disappeared to. Felix Sumner had packed up his house, checked his mother out of her nursing home, and filled his car with what he could fit, disappearing without a trace. None of Patrick's contacts had been able to locate him. And they wouldn't find him. I'd given Felix enough money to get them to some extended family in Colorado. I'd deposited even more into Mrs. Sumner's account under the guise of Social Security. They were gone, and they wouldn't be back. All Felix had wanted was a fresh start, an excuse to get away, and he had one.

When Patrick's thoughts changed to Phil Dwyer, I knew I needed to heed Alice's warning and get the hell out of there, because he was indeed coming. I jogged across the street and around the corner, where there was a small, dingy diner. The scent of grease and coffee assaulted my senses, but I shook the rain off and stepped inside, pushing my hood back. A small bell rang, alerting them to a new customer.

"Sit anywhere, honey. I'll be right there," a female voice called from behind the counter.

I scanned the restaurant, noting there were only a few customers scattered around: a couple in the back, two single men at the counter, and a man reading the paper in a booth on the end. I took a seat at a booth by the window. A shadow fell over the table, and I smiled at the waitress when I saw her nametag, but even more when I saw her face. She was the girl I'd seen in everyone's memories when I'd asked about Alec Brown. In their thoughts, they always saw her with a black eye.

"Get caught in the rain, sweetie?" she asked with a laugh, pointing to my clothes.

"Yeah, something like that," I replied, again smiling up at her.

Heidi was probably in her early thirties, but she carried herself as someone who had been through just about everything. Her blue eyes were hardened with life and troubles, her nails were chewed down to nubs, and not only could I see a few scars on her face, but I smelled fresh bruises on her. One glimpse at her upper arms told me someone had roughed her up recently.

"Coffee, please. Black," I told her, and she nodded, stepping away to the counter.

When she returned, she set a cup down in front of me. "I don't think I've seen you in here before. I know just about all the regulars."

Smiling, I wrapped my hands around the mug to warm my hands. "No, not from around here." I chose my next words carefully, simply to read her mind's reaction. "My car broke down, so it's at the shop around the corner."

Her heartbeat sped up, and I smelled sweat, but she kept her face blank of expression, most likely out of years of habit. But her thoughts centered on Alec Brown and his family. Heidi was trapped, and it wasn't even out of any sort of loyalty. Flashes of a beautiful baby with dark hair and blue eyes, who was now a boy in his early teens, came to the forefront of her mind, and I knew her predicament. Heidi was the mother to Alec Brown's son. She stayed because Alec and his father threatened her. She could leave, but the child couldn't. They'd take him from her. She thought with her past drug use, her minimum wage job, and being alone that she'd lose.

"Oh, well, Pat's fair, and he'll get you back out on the road soon enough," she said softly, pointing to my cup. "Let me know if I can get you anything else."

When she walked away, I pulled out my phone, dialing quickly.

"This is Harry," Clearwater answered.

"It's Cullen," I stated.

"So soon? What can I do for you, kid?"

"Alec Brown has a son with Heidi Daniels. Know anyone in Child Protective Services? Or women's shelters?"

"Oh ho…it's like that?" he sang, and I could hear him shuffling papers around. "Um…I might know someone. It's a women's shelter. They get the girls and the kids out of the house. They'll put them someplace they can't be found by the abusive bastards. Got any proof?"

"She's covered in bruises. And her medical history shows a pattern, you said so yourself," I reminded him. "I don't know about the boy."

"Gotcha," he said, still rustling around in the background. "What'cha plannin' to do, kid? Slowly take away everything?"

"I want them to pay," I sneered with my temper barely controlled. "I don't give a damn about dirty deeds done in back alleyways. They can all kill themselves with it, but they won't touch the Swan household again."

Harry was quiet for a moment, finally humming in agreement. "Charlie would be glad to know little Bella has someone watchin' out for her. He didn't trust his wife."

"I think Renee was…manipulated. I think she's still being manipulated."

"She still cheated."

"She did. But I don't think she intended for her husband and daughter to get killed. Dwyer looks good on paper. In person, he's an ass."

Harry chuckled. "Never met the guy, and I don't want to, either." He sighed again. "I gotta ask you, Cullen… What are you after?"

I smiled ruefully. "I don't need her money, if that's what you're asking. If Bella's trust fund evaporated, she'd still never want for a thing for the rest of her life. I promise you that." He snorted, but I went on. "Have you ever met her?"

"Bella?"

"Yeah."

"Once, but she probably wouldn't remember me," he replied. "She was just a little shit. Probably six or seven. Charlie took her out for ice cream, and I needed to meet him with some info on a case. She was her daddy made over, except as pretty as a little doll. She was chatty and funny and looked at Charlie like he'd hung the damn moon."

Smiling at his description, I said, "You should meet her now. She's…different."

"Aw, hell," he groaned with a deep sigh. "I've heard stories. She doesn't talk."

"She's trying, but the reason she doesn't talk…everyone around her spoke about how nothing she saw, said, or did would've made a difference. She's scared that these guys are out there, that her stepfather is plotting against her. And he is."

"Can you prove that shit? Because that knife you turned in wasn't much to go on. It's fairly standard stuff, can be bought at any sporting goods store. Even though it did match the slice to Charlie's neck and the stab wounds, they can't do much about it."

"I can't prove much yet," I answered. "But I will. Dwyer owes Patrick Brown millions. He'd already be floating in the bay if it weren't for the promise of Bella's trust fund. He's bought himself a few years, but Brown is running out of patience. And with Bella and Charlie's case reopened, not to mention the fact that she'll be eighteen in about four months…"

"Tick, tick, tick," Harry groaned.

"Exactly."

"Wonder what the girlfriend knows," he pondered for a moment.

"Get her and her son someplace safe, and you may get your answer," I told him, eying Heidi as she wiped down tables and poured coffee for the gentleman in the back booth.

"I'll have them go today," he vowed.

"Oh, and Dwyer is meeting with the Browns as we speak."

"How do you know that? I mean, I just heard from my guy tailing Dwyer."

"I have my own sources," I said with a chuckle.

He laughed. "Fair enough, kid. Hey, do me a favor… If I piss you off, just…gimme a chance to apologize."

Grinning, I shook my head. "Yes, sir."

"Good." He sighed. "Oh, and my source at the police station says they're gonna want to talk to Bella soon. Does she know?"

"She's aware and willing. And she won't be alone."

"I didn't think so," he muttered. "Okay, kid, I'll keep you posted."

We ended our call, and I eyed Heidi once more. She was thinking about her son, who was with an elderly woman…a neighbor. While stocking the napkins, she daydreamed about beaches and sand and blue-green water. Florida hadn't been just a vacation back in January; it had been a visit to her parents' home.

With a deep sigh, I reached for my wallet to pay for my coffee that I never even touched. I tossed down an extra few bills on top of the check, stood from the booth, and pulled my hood up before stepping out into the rain. I was around the corner before she realized just how much I'd left her. The bell jingled at the door, but she went back in when she couldn't see me, her thoughts on how to hide that money, which made me smile as I slid into my car.

~oOo~

"Bella! Edward's here," Renee called as she went up the stairs, but it was Chelsea who was letting me in.

Chuckling, I shook my head, but met her gaze. She was honestly one of the easiest minds to be around. She thought clear, precise thoughts, honest and kind and loving. She adored Bella, which made it easy to like her, especially when she only wanted my girl happy, healthy, and healed. And she assumed I was helping with all of that.

"It's good to see you again, Edward," she greeted, closing the door behind us. "C'mon. You can wait for Bella in the library."

"You, too, and thank you," I answered, following her into the room that housed not only Bella's piano, but Charlie's old desk.

Bella had told me it was her favorite room in the house, that there were only good memories in it. Shoving my hands into the front pockets of my jeans, I wandered around the room. The piano was beautiful, of course, but the bookshelves proved more interesting. Charlie's law books still lined the farthest shelf, smelling of old leather and dust. Some of Bella's favorite fictional classics were there, too, making me wonder if it was her father who had encouraged her reading. However, in the middle bookcase, there were framed pictures that brought a smile to my face. They were of the Swan family in what looked like the best of times. Charlie was a proud new dad in one as he held a chubby newborn Bella with a shock of dark hair on her head. There was one of Bella proudly holding up a fish almost as big as she was at the time, which had to have been about five. There were piano recitals, school functions, and birthdays. The one I found most interesting was a young Bella sitting next to an elderly woman at the piano – the very piano that was behind me – and Charlie Swan standing proudly in the background.

"She looks like her father, right?" Chelsea asked from behind me.

Smiling, I turned around and nodded. "She does."

"Do you know…?" she started, wondering if she was overstepping a bit.

"About what happened?" I asked, and she nodded. "Yes, I know," I sighed, turning back to the pictures. "My aunt told me some, and Bella's…trying."

She chuckled lightly, which made me turn back to her. "I get the impression she's doing better than just trying."

I studied her face and her mind, smirking a little. "I can't take credit for any of it. She's stronger than she thinks she is."

"That's very true," she murmured, nodding once, but then eyed me shrewdly. "You're protective of her… That's good. She needs it."

"I can't help it," I admitted softly, picking up the picture of Bella and her grandmother. "She means the world to me. I'd do anything for her."

I fought my grin when Chelsea's mind flooded with loving thoughts…or as Jasper would've put it: she swooned. But she gathered her thoughts quickly and changed the subject.

"So…Bella says you're in Boston for the summer," she hedged.

Setting the frame back in its place on the shelf, I nodded. "Yes, ma'am. The apartment my aunt had fixed up is finished, and my great aunt is staying there temporarily. Her son and I are watching over her."

"It's good that you have family…" What she didn't voice was the fact that I'd lost my parents, as well.

I hummed in agreement. "Well, Leah and Jacob aren't blood related to me, but I've known them a very long time, so we consider them family."

"Ah, but blood doesn't always determine family, Edward," she stated wisely, smiling my way.

"Oh, yes, ma'am…I know that all too well," I said with a chuckle.

The words handsome and sweet popped into her head just as the front door opened. Her eye twitched, but she forced a smile on her face, saying, "That would be Phil. If you'll excuse me, Edward… I'm sure Bella will be ready shortly."

I nodded once, smiling in thanks, but noted that she merely tolerated Bella's stepfather. Tilting my head, I could hear Bella and her mother upstairs in Bella's room. Renee's thoughts were a mix of what Bella was wearing and how happy and beautiful she'd become, which, in turn, concerned her for the upcoming chat with the detectives. She was worried that Bella had come so far, only to be set back with reliving the nightmare from what had gone on five years ago. She knew her daughter was strong – hell, she could see proof of it in her smile – but losing Charlie, witnessing the attack, and barely surviving it had almost killed Bella, and that was something Renee never wanted to see again. She was procrastinating calling the detectives, if only for those reasons.

A heavy heartbeat resounded from the doorway, and I glanced up to see Phil eying me with barely contained disdain. My smile spread across my face naturally at his thoughts. He could hate me all he wished; I wasn't going any-damn-where.

"Sir," I greeted with a nod and a smile.

"Ah, Edwin…"

"Edward, sir," I corrected, just as he'd wanted me to. He knew my name; he'd heard it too many times for his liking from his wife and Chelsea.

"Right, right," he sighed, walking to the bar and pouring himself a drink. "Edward."

He reminded me of my father in so many ways that it was almost unnerving. They were about the same height and a large, overbearing presence in the room, though that was where the physical similarities ended. It was their pompous attitudes and mean spirits that were almost identical. They liked control and were the basest of selfish creatures. Everything they did was only for themselves. It was conniving and cunning, deceptive. And while my own father was a physically abusive bastard, I was pretty sure it wouldn't take much to push Phil to that point if it meant losing sight of his goal. And it was that thought that almost had me lunging for his neck, but I could hear Bella's sweet giggle, her beautiful thumping heartbeat, and her excited whisper to her mother that she needed to go.

"So…Edward, you two still together," he stated, not really asking, but wanting an answer nonetheless.

"Oh, yes, sir," I replied with a smooth smile, but I wondered if my eyes were darkening too quickly, because he shifted a little with nerves. "Still going strong."

He snorted, but smiled a fake smile. "And when you go to school next year?"

"We'll still be together." My answer was firm and unwavering, but I shrugged, smiling his way. "She's in her last year, and my aunt and uncle live at the school, so it's not like we won't see each other."

"Hmm, I see," he sighed, narrowing his eyes at me, and it was on the very tip of his tongue to ask me if I was "fucking her," though one look at my face shook him a little – I truly would've lunged for his neck had those disrespectful words left his lips – so he changed his mind and went the passive aggressive route instead. "Well, she must be the perfect girlfriend… Never says much, probably doesn't argue. Can't imagine how blissful that would be. Renee chatters nonstop."

I snorted, shaking my head. "Bella says more than you think, sir. And she's incredibly opinionated." And before he could say another word, I turned toward the door to see my girl enter the room. "There she is," I sighed in relief and in the beauty of her.

She looked happy and sweet, wearing jeans and a blue shirt that fit her perfectly. Her dark hair was pulled half up, and her makeup was minimal. She was as close to perfection as my mind could even try to imagine.

Bella was sharp, I had to hand it to her. She eyed the two of us, most likely feeling the tension that could be cut with a knife. She furrowed her brows at me, but said nothing, only walking into my arms.

"You look beautiful," I whispered in her ear, ignoring Phil and Renee, who had followed Bella in. "I've missed you all damn day."

She giggled, biting her lip as she looked up at me with blushing cheeks.

"You ready?" I asked her, smiling when she nodded. I didn't expect her to speak until we were in the car. "Good."

Bella took my hand, linking our fingers together and tugging me out of the room after waving to Renee and Phil – the former was smiling at us, the latter was blank of all expression. From the kitchen, I heard the house phone ring and Chelsea answer it. I paused when she stepped out to stop us, though she looked behind us when she spoke.

"It's the detective again, Renee," she said, a hand over the phone. "He wants to schedule that meeting with Bella."

My girl flinched a little, and I wrapped an arm around her shoulders, but we both looked to Renee, who was chewing the inside of her bottom lip.

"It's up to Bella, I think," she finally replied, but then looked to me. "Do you two have plans the next few days?"

"No, I'm on break, too. I can work with whatever Bella decides," I stated, gazing down to my girl. She was shaking a little in my arms. "You won't be alone. I promise you," I vowed to her. "You tell me, and I'll be there with you the whole damn time."

Bella's hands balled up into small fists, and she nodded a little. "Um, couple days?" she asked so quietly that no one but me heard her.

I looked to Chelsea. "Couple days, she said."

Chelsea smirked, but relayed the message to the person on the phone, jotting down the information of when and where to be. The officer on the line stated that Monday would work. They could give her the weekend.

The fact that Bella had spoken directly to me made both women very happy. It caused Phil to panic, and now I understood why. He wasn't quite sure what Bella knew, what she remembered, and whether or not she could identify his best buddy, Alec. If she could, then he knew they could trace back to him, and that made him very, very nervous.

I hid my smile in Bella's hair. "That's my girl," I whispered as Renee followed Phil upstairs. "Sweet girl, have you told Chelsea about Carlisle yet?"

"Um, no… I haven't…" she started, but I nodded, kissing her forehead. She hadn't had the chance.

Stepping into the kitchen, I smiled when Chelsea looked up at me. "Um, my uncle wanted me to give you this," I said, holding out Carlisle's card. "Just in case."

She glanced at the card, but then back up at my face. "Is he helping?"

"More than you can possibly imagine, but Bella's kinda private about it. He's really good at calming her, so if something happens… Just…" My voice trailed off as she nodded, but I was pretty sure I was going to call him anyway, just to see if he could be close for this upcoming interview.

"I understand," she stated solemnly, tucking the card into her pocket. "Why me? Why not her mother?" she asked in a whisper.

I smiled sadly. "I just do as I'm told," I joked, pointing to Bella, who rolled her eyes and giggled.

Chelsea laughed lightly. "Fair enough. You two have fun tonight."

"We will," I told her, taking Bella's hand again. I held the door for her, opened an umbrella to shield her from the light drizzle that was still coming down, and led her to the passenger side door of my car.

Once I sat down in the driver's seat, Bella glanced up at me as she clicked her seat belt into place. "So…where are we going?"

"Wherever you want, my love. The night is yours," I told her, placing a hand on my chest. "Dinner, movie, ice cream…whatever. I'm open to anything. This is your town, remember?"

She giggled again, but her eyes had lit up. "Ice cream! And I can show you that music store."

Chuckling, I started the car. "Sounds like a plan, sweetheart."

~oooOOOooo~

A/N… Edward's patience with Phil is wearing so thin…and so is his restraint for his girl. ;)

Not a lot of questions this time around, just some guesses on Phil – or wishes, really. LOL You guys seem to be bracing yourselves, and that's good. ;)

From this point on, the updates will most likely come twice a week – Sundays/Thursdays. :) I'm going to do my best, anyway. The pic teases will still post on FB and Twitter, so you can watch out for those. :)

Until next time… Mooches, Deb ;)