A/N… There was one major question some of you had, but I think this will answer it for you. I'll get out of your way… See me at the bottom…
I stared unseeingly at the wall across from my bed. It was a dull off-white color, sterile, just like everything else surrounding me. I could hear the mutterings of other patients in the hallways, the mumbled sound of the TV in the main room, and the squeak of the breakfast cart that was slowly making the rounds.
I rubbed my face, trying to get the dream out of my head. Smirking, I sighed deeply. Edward had to be inside the hospital somewhere, because my nightmares weren't as extreme as I was expecting. In fact, only the first night in observation had been the worst, which made me assume Edward had returned, if only to give me calm.
Something about that, something about knowing that, gave me peace. Edward had explained to me once that I could have faith in our love, in the fact that we were mated, but it was more than just knowing he'd never cheat, that he'd always love me. It was the comfort of being able to sense when he was near, of feeling completely and utterly protected.
That last thought caused me to shudder, simply because I knew that had he been near when Phil and Alec had drugged me, there would've been nothing left of them. He would've annihilated them. And as much as I understood it, it would've been bad.
Leaning back against the wall behind me, I wrapped my arms around my knees. Today was my last day in there, the day I was supposed to not only talk to the psychiatrist, but the detectives, too.
I glanced up when there was a knock on my door, but smiled when Carlisle peeked in.
"Ah, good. You're up," he said cheerfully, carrying my breakfast tray.
"They've relegated you to food duty?" I teased him, pointing to the domed lid.
"Pfft, I offered," he stated. "Come. Eat something, and we'll go over what's next."
Grimacing, I shook my head. "I think I'll wait until I'm out of here."
He chuckled. "I don't blame you, but Edward thought you'd much prefer what he got you to the hospital's food."
My eyebrows shot up high, and I lifted the lid. Underneath was a fresh warm bagel with cream cheese, a bowl of fruit, and some scrambled eggs.
"Oh God, he does love me," I breathed, picking up the bagel.
"More than I could possibly explain," Carlisle stated with a grin and an amused laugh.
"Thanks for smuggling it in, though," I mumbled around a big red strawberry before swallowing it down. "So…what's next?"
"Your evaluation with Dr. Peters is next. In order to be released, she has to speak with you," he stated, taking a seat in the chair in the corner. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "She's aware of your history, Bella. I've explained it to her in complete detail, and she's allowing me to sit in on your meeting with her."
I nodded, taking a bite of bagel.
"She's not expecting much of an actual talk with you. You've been a model patient in here, with no attempts at any…"
"Suicide," I muttered. "Right. Got it. Does she know what actually happened?"
"Yes, I've given her the police report. That combined with your behavior has gone a long way. She's well aware you're in here for protection, that Phil filed a false report, but she's going to follow through with procedure, just in case." A dark look crossed his face, and I frowned, putting my fork down.
"What? What is it? Did something… Is Edward—"
"Slow down, sweetheart. Edward's fine. He and Jasper have hardly left the hospital, which is actually a good thing, considering all that's happened while you've been in here." He took a deep breath and let it out, something I noticed he and Edward did when they needed to calm themselves, center themselves for something not so easy. "Your mother has already spoken with the detectives on your father's case. They wanted to meet with her, get her story, but also show the evidence that's now stacked against the Brown brothers, which, in turn, points to your stepfather. She's now aware of everything that's gone on since the beginning."
Grimacing, I gazed down at my plate. "Oh God…is she… Does she understand why I changed my beneficiary?"
Carlisle grinned. "Oh, I think your mother will surprise you, Bella. Yes, she completely understands why you changed it; she knows you were protecting her. I hope that I didn't overstep when I had Jenks emancipate you, sweetheart. I had him…pull some very hefty, probably a touch illegal strings in order to do it. Had your mother contested it, it may not have held up in court, but in the end it worked out just enough to present an element of surprise. Your mother understands that."
"No! No, that was…perfect. I don't blame her, but I needed…"
"To keep her and yourself safe," Carlisle finished, smiling when I nodded. "It was the only way in order to help you change your beneficiary. Your mother understands that, too." He chuckled a bit, shaking his head. "When you told her that you didn't take her pills, she knew you weren't lying. If you weren't lying, then her husband was. And that… Oh, Bella, that opened up more problems than Phil knew what to do with. She's already asking for a divorce. In fact, Jenks has started the paperwork. She's filed a restraining order on your behalf, as well as hers. He can't come anywhere near you or your house without getting arrested. Then again, he hasn't been seen since you came through your 'overdose.'"
My eyes narrowed on him. "What? He's just…gone?"
"Well, he left the hospital. No one saw him leave, either. He got up to take a phone call and never came back to the waiting room. He left before the police could truly question him. We're not sure if he's running due to all the truth coming to light or if the guy he owes money to is looking for him. My guess is fingerprints came back showing that Alec Brown was there, that it was he who drugged your glass of milk. It was Phil's prints on your mother's prescription bottle upstairs…a bottle that no one's touched in months because it was expired. And Jacob gave the police a full account of your phone call."
I gasped, my mouth falling open. "Oh God, I forgot he'd been listening!"
"Yes, ma'am," Carlisle said with a smirk. "He told them everything. See…he didn't hang up with you. He'd had enough forethought to bring an extra phone, or maybe his mother told him to take it. I'm not sure. But he stayed on the line with you, and as soon as he heard things go badly, he called 9-1-1, if only to cause interference. It was when he heard crashes and your struggle that he almost lost control of his phasing. It was then that Harry took over, leading the police inside." He sat up straight, linking his fingers together. "So all that being said, Bella… Your meeting with the detectives today is really important."
I nodded, pushing my tray away. "I know."
"Now, Edward tells me you want to actually speak for this. Are you sure about that? The reason I ask is…no one will think less of you for writing it. You've been through a lot these last few days, so…"
His voice trailed off, but his worry was written all over his face. And he wasn't looking at me like my doctor. His wrinkled brow, his wringing hands, and his intense gaze reminded me so much of my dad that it caused tears to well up in my eyes. No one would ever replace him, but I knew – I could feel – just how much Carlisle cared for me. And it went beyond the fact that I was his son's mate.
"I didn't mean to upset you," he whispered, tapping my chin.
I shook my head, wiping away my tears. "You didn't," I told him honestly, but took a deep breath in order to face the truth I was about to admit. "I need to do this. I need to stop hiding from it all." I shook my head. "Maybe hiding isn't the word, but it's time I let my voice be heard. I need to do this for my mother, who has been deceived for too long. For my dad, whose voice was silenced, and for Edward, who deserves someone whole, normal."
"Bella, Edward loves you just as you are…"
"I know," I agreed, nodding and wiping a few more tears away. "I know he does, and I know that without that, I wouldn't be as strong as I feel now. He's been…amazing. I just hope that someday, I can give him back even half of what he's given to me. I have plenty of time, which helps…" I smirked at his chuckle. "But I need to do this for me." I pointed to my chest, only to trail my fingers across the scar on my neck. "They need to know they didn't beat me. My dad wouldn't have wanted me to stay silent…especially this long."
Carlisle smiled, and it was pride and love and probably a little surprise all at the same time.
I sniffled and laughed at the same time. "He's listening, isn't he?"
He laughed, nodding a little. "Yes, most likely. He's waiting for your release, and he's probably pacing the waiting room like a caged lion."
Grinning at that thought, I nodded. "I've missed him, too," I chortled, now hoping Edward was listening. "But it was better I followed this…procedure, because when I sit down with the police later, I'll be clean of the drugs I'd been given and cleared of this suicide thing Phil tried to push. No one can question my testimony – at least, that's what Mr. Jenks advised."
"Ah, I was wondering…" Carlisle grinned, but stood up. "You know…now that you're emancipated, you could fight for your trust fund."
"Oh God, no. Just no, Carlisle," I groaned, smirking at his chuckle. "I have enough going on. Just let it do its thing on my birthday, though I'd like to change some things."
"Well, we'll help you, sweetheart," he said, nodding with a face filled with understanding, but he stood up.
My eyes narrowed on him. "Thanks, Carlisle. That was a sneaky thing you did with Jenks."
He chuckled, leaning over to kiss my forehead. "I'd do anything to protect my family, Bella. Anything." When I smiled up at him, he simply tapped my chin and winked. "Okay, so let me take a look at you, and then you can get dressed so we can go see Dr. Peters." He pointed to a bag he'd brought with him. "She's only going to ask you a few questions. Just answer as honestly as you can. I told her to try to keep them yes or no, simply to give you a break."
Carlisle gave me a brief checkup, listening to my heart and breathing, not to mention checking my reflexes and eyes. He unwrapped my wrist, shaking his head at the small, round burn that marred the inside. He muttered something about it filtering my blood somehow, but he needed to talk to Leah about it.
The chat with Dr. Peters was short, almost insignificant. She asked a few questions about how I felt and what happened, but from the looks she gave Carlisle, she seemed pleased with my answers. She was kind, allowing me to answer her minimally. She signed my release when it was over. However, it was the last thing she said to me that made me smile, because it reminded me so much of Rose.
"Bella, as strong as you are – and you are very strong – I think you'd do well to eventually seek counseling. From your medical history and speaking with Dr. Cullen, I can see you've come a long way in a very short time, and it's truly commendable, but I think eventually, you could use someone to talk to. I know things are stressful at the moment, but just keep it in mind."
"I will," I vowed to her with a nod.
With my release papers in hand, Carlisle led me out of the psych ward, exiting out into a main corridor. Two police officers were posted on either side of the door, but Carlisle released them.
Looking up at him, I frowned, but his answer was expected.
"You're under guard, Bella," he stated as we took the long hallway toward a waiting room. "Detective Clearwater – who just happens to be Harry's son – felt you needed the extra protection, especially since Phil and the Brown brothers are still out there. There were officers posted here, and there are a few at your home to watch over Chelsea and your mother. They'll guard you for a while."
I nodded, but as we pushed through the door, I felt him. My smile widened, and I was wrapped up in my favorite arms before I could actually adjust to seeing him.
"Edward," I breathed into his neck, my feet dangling off the ground and my arms holding onto his strong, broad shoulders. "I missed you."
Edward pressed a kiss to the side of my neck before pulling back to gaze up at me with those warm honey eyes. He didn't say anything for a moment, until I placed my hands on either side of his face.
"I saw…this. In Alice's mind, she showed me a vision of you in the hospital. I…I hated it. I thought it would…break you, but it seems to have done the opposite," he whispered, and he smiled when I kissed him. "I hate to have to share you, but some people are getting impatient."
I glanced behind him, smiling at the small committee that was watching us with amused faces. Turning back to Edward, I whispered, "You have to put me down," swinging my feet for emphasis.
"Oh, yeah," he teased with that gorgeous crooked smile of his, which caused chuckles from my mother and Chelsea and an eye roll from Jasper as I was set down gently to the floor.
Once I stepped around him, I could see more people. Jacob was sitting next to Leah, and even Mr. Jenks was patiently waiting. There was one person who looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place him, until he smiled. Harry Clearwater.
My mother rushed to me, hugging me fiercely and whispering in my ear. "Oh God, Bella…you're okay. You… I… I'm so sorry, baby girl. I didn't know! I swear, I didn't know!"
I let her cry on my shoulder, simply because she needed it and because she was just as much a victim as I was. Probably more. Not only had Phil deceived her, but he'd stomped all over her heart to do his plotting and planning. I wasn't sure which was worse, actually. There was no love lost between Phil and me, but my mother loved him, and to find out it was all a lie must've been heartbreaking. It was that thought that made me look over to Jasper, pleading with him silently to help her. He shot me a quick wink, and a soothing wave of calm hit the waiting room. It seemed like the whole lot of us sighed with a breath of relief.
I caught sight of Jacob, who looked nervous, his hands shoved into the front pockets of his jeans. When I walked to him, his gaze hit the floor as he muttered an apology.
I huffed a laugh, which caused his almost black eyes to snap up. "You saved my life. Don't apologize to me."
"I wasn't fast enough," he argued.
"You acted as quickly as anyone would have, son," Harry stated from beside us, but he held out a hand to me. "Bella, we met a long time ago. I'm an old friend of Charlie's. Call me Harry."
My brow wrinkled as I tried to remember the sweet-faced man in front of me. He had smiling eyes and gray hair. He was thicker in the middle, but he still looked strong and agile for someone my father's age.
I gasped. "Ice cream!" I said softly, making the man laugh. "You…you had ice cream with us."
The room laughed softly, but Harry nodded. "I did."
I felt Edward's hand on my shoulder, and I leaned back against him as he bent to my ear. "Bella, we thought it would be better if you spoke to Detective Clearwater at your house. He's going to meet us there. Are you okay with that?"
I stiffened, but Edward squeezed me gently. "Yeah…that's fine." When I glanced around at everyone, I asked, "Who's—"
"We're all going to be there," Edward stated. "Except Jasper…he can't," he whispered, shaking his head once. "He's going to escort Leah home."
I understood immediately that the emotions – both mine and my mother's, especially, but also Edward's renewed anger – would be too much for him. I looked over at Jasper and nodded sadly.
Leah was deep in a quiet conversation with Carlisle, who was pointing to his wrist, so I knew he was asking about my charm and the burn it had left on my skin. I'd be interested to know what her answer was, but I knew it wouldn't be in front of everyone.
Edward's gentle fingers wrapped around my wrist, but he reached into his pocket with his free hand, pulling out my bracelet. He was quiet, almost reverent as he put it back on me. His warm gaze met mine.
"You ready?" he asked simply, though his face asked a million other things.
When I nodded, my mother stepped to me. "Baby, are you sure? We can put it off another day or so. Seth said we could."
I swallowed nervously, but shook my head, linking my fingers with Edward's. "No, I'm sure."
Seth picked up the tape recorder and stopped it with a click. His sympathetic gaze landed on Bella. He was in awe of her, though the entire dining room table was completely blown away.
"We can take a break, Bella," he told her, shaking his head.
"I'm okay," she argued softly.
He grinned, shooting her a wink. "You're more than okay, but I'm the one who needs a break. Yeah?"
His partner snorted into a soft laugh. Paul came across as the gruffer of the two, but more than one time, he'd pushed back from the table to pace the length of the formal dining room in Bella's home. He'd also taken the evidence photos and walked the entire scene from the night Charlie had been killed. The only mistake he'd made was stepping on the sixth step on the stairs, which had caused Bella to panic for a few minutes. The sound alone brought back too many memories.
However, Bella had done exactly what she'd promised, what she'd wanted to do. The very second the detectives had sat down with her at the table, they'd pushed a legal pad her way, but she'd only shoved it away, wearing a scowl. Seth had pulled out a micro-recorder, and she'd started talking – truly talking – telling him everything.
Renee had cried softly, Chelsea's mouth had fallen open, but my pride in my girl had practically exploded out of me. To hear her speak to people she didn't know – and above a whisper, at that – was something I'd never forget. The determination that crossed her beautiful face was probably the sexiest thing I'd ever seen.
"I want to talk to you about what happened on Sunday, but…it can wait a few minutes," Seth told her.
The kitchen door opened, and Chelsea set down a tray of sandwiches and a pitcher of tea. She'd been the one to clean the kitchen after Bella's attack, after the police had cleared it. It was now as pristine as before, though she tried not to think about it. She also tried not to worry about her son, who'd been released the day that Bella had been admitted for observation. Tim had assured his mother he was fine, that he didn't want a police guard, though Harry put a man on him just in case.
The Swan home had two officers at the front door, not to mention a patrolling car that sporadically drove the neighborhood. Seth's concern was that Phil would come for revenge. The word on the street was that Patrick Brown had a price on his head. Phil had learned that almost as soon as he realized Renee didn't believe a word he said. He'd lost everything all at one time. At this point, we all assumed he was desperate. Personally, I wanted him to try. My thirst for his blood was almost too much to contain.
Harry, Jenks, and Carlisle were busy on a laptop, the slick lawyer absorbing as much as he could, but he was in communication with Bella's trust fund accountant. He was well aware – more so than anyone – what had happened in this house; he'd been a big help to us – both legally and illegally. At the moment, he was doing his best to move money out of Renee's accounts into an offshore account so that no one could touch it. It was shady, but Phil wasn't exactly an upstanding citizen, so none of us said anything to the contrary.
The detectives thanked Chelsea, and I leaned to Bella's ear. "Eat something, sweet girl."
She shook her head, turning to look at me. "Not yet. I will, but when I'm done." Frowning, I sighed, but she stood up, tugging on my hand. "Come with me," she said, and I let her pull me up and lead me through the back of the house and out onto the back porch.
We were lucky it was a muggy, overcast day. It allowed Carlisle and me the ability to be with Bella for this, but we owed a thank you to Alice, who'd called to let us know it would be okay to go out in the daytime. Otherwise, we would've found a way to push off the talk until the sun had set.
I inhaled deeply, leaning against the post. The smell of an impending summer shower was thick in the air. Bella's backyard wasn't something I'd really seen. It was beautifully landscaped, with a pool and tall trees and a privacy fence.
"I guess I should be happy it's gonna rain," Bella muttered, pulling herself up onto the porch railing.
Stepping closer to her, I leaned a hip beside her, shaking my head. "We would've figured something out. Carlisle and I wanted to be here. You asked us to be here, so we would've moved heaven and earth to do it."
She smiled, leaning her head against my chest and hugging my waist. Immediately, my arm wound around her, and I ran my fingers through her hair. She seemed to need the quiet, so I didn't say anything as I hugged her close.
Thunder rumbled low in the far distance, a slight breeze kicking up, but I made no move pull away. Despite how far she'd come not only in the last few days, but in the last year alone, I had a feeling my Bella would always need the quiet, the need to stay silent. It had become a part of her now, and that was fine with me. She calmed the voices in my mind that tended to overwhelm me occasionally. Her mere presence and scent and touch calmed my very soul. We could speak without saying a word.
I pressed a kiss to her forehead when I remembered her conversation with Carlisle back in the hospital. "You know, my love, you don't have anything to make up to me," I whispered against her sweet-smelling skin, smiling when she chuckled softly.
"I had a feeling you were listening."
"Mmhm," I hummed, shrugging a shoulder when she pulled back to look me in the eyes. "I can't help it. I was worried about you. And Carlisle's mind…it's always been pretty clear. Probably because I've known him so long."
Her smile was soft, but she leaned in to kiss me. "It's okay. And maybe I want to make it up to you. I want to get to a point where I'm not a burden."
"I would never call you that, Isabella," I practically growled, frowning down at her. "Never." I kissed her lips to shush her gently when she started to argue. "I understand why you feel that way. Truly, I do. I understand you've been struggling for years with a very heavy load, and you've seen terrible things, things that make me crazy just thinking about them, but you aren't a burden, love. Your quiet nature is a part of you now, and that's okay. I never want you to think that you can't come to me and just…be. There's nothing I won't give you, and if it's silence you need, then I can be quiet."
She grinned, shaking her head at me. "I know, Edward. I just… I want to be comfortable with everyone the way I am with you."
"That may never happen, my sweet girl," I sighed, tilting my head at her. "You may always distrust people you don't know, or become shy when meeting someone for the first time. Who's to say that you'd be any different had the attack never happened? Were you all that outgoing as a child?"
Bella frowned, glancing down at my shirt and toying with the hem. Finally, she looked back up at me, shaking her head slowly. "Um, no…not really. But I'd answer questions in class or…or I could at least order something from a damn menu."
"Okay, so you can work toward getting back there again, but, Bella, you're far from a burden. You're not a freak, or damaged, or any of the things you seem to think you are. And I couldn't love you more…"
She grabbed my face, bringing my forehead to hers. "I love you for that."
Grinning, I nuzzled her nose with my own. "That's the easy part. You're…my Bella. You'll always be my Bella…no matter what. Talking or not, you'll always be the one thing that makes me a better man."
A couple of heavy drops of rain hit the pool deck before the night completely opened up. Thunder rolled again, vibrating the porch rail.
"We should go back in," I told her. "They can't decide whether to interrupt us or not." Bella smirked a little, so I told her, "They're in awe of you, especially your mother."
Bella flinched. "How is she?"
I shook my head and sighed. "She's stronger than you think, but she's hurt. She's also filled with guilt, something Jasper was trying to contain back at the hospital. She feels responsible, despite how Phil had truly played the part of devoted husband to her, of the concerned stepfather to you. If I were him, I'd worry for my life." I snorted, my I knew my eyes blackened. "Though…"
"He'll come for me, won't he?"
"He'll come…for all of us," I whispered against her forehead, trying to keep my temper down. I pulled back to meet her gaze. "I'm not going anywhere, Bella. Carlisle spoke to your mother. Chelsea's already made up the guest room for me." I grinned when she gasped, but went on. "It's not a permanent thing – though, I'd still crawl through your window if I needed to – but he suggested that a man in the house may not be a bad idea, should something happen. Even with the police protection outside, he thought having someone inside might help them…and you."
My girl's smile was silly and sweet. "Excellent…a sleepover."
I laughed, kissing her lips roughly. "Without the sleeping, I suppose," I teased her. "However, I will tell you that Seth may suggest to Renee to get out of town for a little while, at least until he's found. Chelsea has an aunt in New Hampshire who Phil doesn't know about."
"No, I don't want go," she argued, shaking her head.
"No, no, no," I hushed her. "If that happens, I'll see if you can stay with me…or Leah, really." I grinned at her snort.
"You've thought of everything?"
"I have to think of everything when it comes to you, Bella," I told her seriously. "You are everything."
She nodded, but glanced around me when we heard the screen door open. I knew it was Renee because I'd heard her mind debate on whether to interrupt us, but she wanted to know if Bella was okay to continue with Seth.
"Sweetie, they're ready if you are," she said softly, but she wasn't really sure she wanted to hear exactly what had taken place in her kitchen a few days ago. She wasn't sure she could handle the story, but she was damn well going to try. She felt she owed it to her daughter.
Smirking, I turned to Bella, who nodded and started to slip down from the railing. Instead, I scooped her up and tossed her gently onto my shoulder to lug her inside. Renee laughed at Bella's squeal and red-faced giggles as she gripped my shirt like a lifeline.
"Oh, she's ready," I told Renee with a grin on the way by. "She's got this. Don't you, Bella?" I asked, tickling the back of her knee.
I needed the sound of laughter more than anything. I needed Bella's confidence in herself to stay strong, to stay this powerful; she owed it to herself to not let them win.
"Yes!" she screamed in hysterics. "Edward, stop!"
With a wink to Chelsea, who was laughing behind her hand, I set Bella down in her chair at the table. The sweet-minded housekeeper wanted to kiss me for the sound that she'd missed so much. For a moment, she couldn't remember the last time Bella had laughed like that.
I kissed the top of my girl's head. "Take your time, sweet girl."
"Bella, are you sure?" Renee asked her daughter for the twelfth time in the last hour as she set her bags down at the front door. "I hate leaving you when…"
Bella shook her head and kissed her mother's cheek. "I couldn't be safer with Edward's family," she stated with complete confidence, pointing to me and then Jacob and Jasper, who were lounging in the living room in front of the TV. "Even Esme's coming for a day or two. Seth said he needed me to identify Alec when they finally bring him in."
Renee pursed her lips, but understood. And on top of that, she trusted Carlisle and me.
Chelsea held out a piece of paper to me. "This is where we'll be. Harry told me to give it to you, just in case. Otherwise, no one else will know, not even Seth."
Nodding, I tucked it into my back pocket. "She'll be fine," I vowed, smiling a little. "Harry will take good care of you at your aunt's home, and as soon as Phil is found, you'll all come back here."
That was the plan, anyway. We'd formed it the week prior when Bella had sat down to tell everything. My girl's story, her sworn statement, and her innocence in all of this had unleashed hell as far as the police department was concerned. She'd deserved none of anything that had happened to her; she'd done nothing to warrant the violent acts she'd survived not once, but twice. Men who remembered Charlie, men who had daughters of their own, and men who simply hated the injustice of it all had rallied around what was now a full-blown open investigation/manhunt, instead of what had been merely a cold case that had grown dusty on a shelf.
Harry, while in New Hampshire with Chelsea and Renee, would have his own men listening for any word on Phil and the Brown brothers on the streets, along with the police department. No one had seen them. Patrick Brown said no one had turned Phil in, which was the truth, but he wouldn't say a damn thing about his sons. We knew there were several possible places Demetri and Alec could be hiding – New York with friends, Rhode Island with distant family, or Florida with Heidi's family. Every one of those places were being watched by Seth's men. Phil, however, had fallen off the face of the earth, it seemed.
However, what no one knew was that my family was doing their own searches. Jacob could move about in the daytime, keeping a watch over things around the house, and sometimes, he'd sleep downstairs in the living room at Bella's house when Jasper and I would take to the streets in the middle of the night while Chelsea, Bella, and Renee slept. Carlisle had gone back to Alaska to see Esme, and both were considering coming back to Boston for a day or two. It depended on how Alice was doing. I knew Jasper needed to get back to her soon; it was a discussion we'd need to have as soon as everyone was gone.
Bella hugged Chelsea, who had been undeniably uncomfortable as Bella's beneficiary, but when Jenks had explained how it had taken the target off Renee, she'd accepted it.
Internally, I groaned at what was coming my way, but I forced a blank expression on my face as Renee walked to me.
"Edward, can you help me with the bags to the car?" she asked, but really, she wanted to get me alone. As I carried probably more than I should, I stepped out into the garage and set the bags down into Renee's trunk. "Son, I know… You're so good for Bella, but I worry about…the two of you…" she stammered, looking just as nervous as I felt with this topic.
Smirking, I glanced at the ground and shook my head. "Ah, yeah… I promise you that I have nothing but honorable intentions with your daughter, Mrs. Dwyer. Bella sets the pace, and um…"
"Please call me Renee, Edward," she sighed wearily, unable to voice that she never wanted to be reminded of her second husband again. "I see the way you look at each other, and all of it's understandable. Just…be careful. That's all I'm asking. I'm not naïve enough to think it doesn't happen or it won't ever happen, but I'm also still her mother. I just want her safe and happy. That seems to come wrapped up in you, so…"
I took a deep breath and let it out, finally catching what was on her mind, though her face read like a book – just like Bella's. "I can assure you that Bella's it for me. I know you see us as young, but you must understand I don't take anything about her, or us, or this situation lightly." Normally, I would've had this conversation with Charlie, and something about that saddened me greatly. "It's not in me to hurt her, Renee. I love her. And no matter what happens, she's kinda stuck with me until she sends me away."
Renee snorted, sounding just like her daughter. "Hmm…I don't suspect that'll happen anytime soon, Edward. She's crazy about you. I haven't seen her this lively since before Charlie died. In fact, she hasn't stopped speaking since she got out of the hospital. I should thank you for that. I just… Protect her heart as much as the rest of her, okay?"
I smiled and nodded, placing a hand on my chest. "With my life…on both accounts."
Once Chelsea and Renee had pulled out, with a closely following Harry behind them, I walked back into the living room to find Jake and Jasper laughing at the conversation I'd had with Renee.
"Shut up, both of you," I snapped, shaking my head. "Everything she said to me was justifiable. Everything she said was out of pure fear. She almost lost Bella…twice. Do you have any idea how hard it was for her to leave?"
The two of them stopped laughing, and Jake wrinkled his nose, but nodded. Jasper tilted his head at me.
My bad, brother, he thought to me. It was just the whole asking permission to…
"I didn't ask permission for anything," I growled low. "I merely stated my case."
Jacob grinned. "Oh damn…" He waved Jasper away. "Bella said to tell you she's upstairs packing her things. She said we could go when you were ready. We just have to let the officers know outside."
I nodded that I'd heard him, but turned to Jasper. "You… You need to get back to Alice."
He grimaced, sighing deeply. "I know, but it doesn't feel right leaving you while that asshole is still out there."
"Um, excuse me… Three assholes, thank you very much," Jake tacked on.
Jasper pointed to Jacob, looking at me. "See?"
"Well, Carlisle and Esme should be here in two days. Jacob is still here. And Leah's been begging to give Bella and me a reading, so… I don't know. You two decide, but I still think Alice needs you," I told them, leaving them to talk it over.
I took the steps, avoiding the sixth one, and walked into the room that I'd been "sleeping" in the past week. When the days were sunny, I'd leave before the sun came up, saying that I needed to take care of Leah, and I didn't come back until the sun had set. The two women simply considered me a responsible young man, nothing more. I'd keep up the pretenses of a nightly routine until Chelsea and Renee went to bed, then I'd either leave to join Jasper on the hunt for Phil, or crawl into Bella's bed to keep her nightmares away.
I'd already packed up the few things I'd brought over, so I lugged my bag across the hall to Bella's room. I couldn't help but smile at my girl, who was sitting in the middle of her bed with our journal open on her lap. She had a suitcase open, partially packed, on the foot of the bed.
"I feel I'm forgetting something," she said softly without looking up, flipping the page of the notebook.
Smiling, I lay down beside her, propping myself up on an elbow. I reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear so I could see her sweet face.
"Don't worry about it. If you did, we – or I – can come grab it for you," I told her.
She nodded, still flipping through our book, but we both glanced up at the door when Jasper and Jacob laughed loudly downstairs.
She smirked, rolling her eyes to me. "I love them both, but can we just…hang out here before we're surrounded in your house by people?"
Chuckling, I nodded. "Of course, love. Plus, I promised Chelsea I'd empty the fridge of stuff that could spoil – um, I'll need your help with that – and then take the garbage to the end of the driveway."
Grinning, Bella crawled over me to set the journal down on top of her clothes in the suitcase. Taking complete and shameless advantage, I couldn't help but reach out and touch. My girl was beautiful. She'd been breathtaking the day I'd met her, and she was even more so now, simply because there was a light in her eyes that had never been there before. It was the lessening of the burden she'd carried for so long, the heartbreak of watching her father die, and her survival. But she'd also told me about the dream she'd had while she was out of it. She'd said it was a memory, one she thinks was the day Charlie had received word that Renee was cheating, but his wisdom was what she'd taken from that dream – to surround herself with people she could trust. She'd told me that she felt she'd done that, and it was that trust that gave her the ability to let some of the old grief go.
Bella turned, crawled up my torso, and loomed over me as I fell back flat to the bed.
Chuckling up at her, I couldn't help but tease her. "You think you can just push me around, don't you?"
A sweet, light giggle escaped her as she nodded. "Pretty much, yeah."
Moving swiftly, yet very carefully, I wrapped her up and rolled her over so that I was gently holding her down. "Tsk. I don't think so, Miss Swan."
She squealed into a brief laugh, but cupped my face, pulling me down to kiss her. And just like that, I was lost to her. Soft, warm, wet lips were all I could concentrate on, along with her sweet moans and her gripping hands in my hair. I was instantly hard for her, my whole body lining up perfectly with hers. Despite jeans and T-shirts, we were trying our damnedest to touch as much skin as possible. Her fingers gripped my hair again with one hand, while the other raked deliciously down my back beneath my shirt. I let loose a low, rumbling growl through my chest, which caused Bella's scent to skyrocket – something I'd started noticing more and more. My vampire side was something that not only didn't seem to bother her, but it turned her on. Pressing my forehead to hers, I opened my eyes, smiling a little as I dragged my tongue along my bottom lip, simply to savor her taste and inhale her scent. I knew my eyes were dark, but so were hers.
I was just about to lean in and kiss her breathless when the creak of the sixth step caused her to freeze. Her eyes went wide with fear, and her heartbeat sounded like it would pound straight out of her chest.
"Look at me, look at me," I chanted, forcing her gaze to mine. "It wouldn't matter if the devil himself was coming up those stairs; he wouldn't live to see another day. But I promise you, Bella, it's just Jacob."
"Aw, shit!" Jacob hissed loudly. "Oh, man… Bella, I'm sorry! I forgot about the step! Ed…tell her I'm sorry!"
Bella's eyes closed as she tried to pull herself together, but her lips twitched when my brothers were suddenly beating each other on the staircase.
"You asshat!" Jasper growled, and a smack resounded through the house. "How hard is it to count to six, you fucker?"
"I said I was sorry!" Jake shot back. "It wasn't on purpose."
"Damn it," Jasper sighed, but the only reason he was reacting that way was because he could feel her fear, and it was harsh and sharp and terrifying.
Snorting, I looked down at her. "You okay?" I asked softly, pressing my lips to hers. When she nodded and her heartbeat had settled down, I stood up off the bed, holding a hand out for her. "Come on, we'll get the kitchen done."
We stepped out into the hallway, and I couldn't help but shake my head at my two brothers. They were poking at the sixth step, finally looking up at Bella.
"I can fix this, Bella," Jasper told her, lifting the loose board a little. "It'll never squeak again."
"Yeah, definitely," Jake agreed with a vehement nod. "Some new nails, some sanding, and some wood glue, and she'd be quiet as a mouse."
She giggled, most likely at their pitiful expressions. "You don't have to."
"But we can," Jacob urged, pointing at it. "I'll raid the hardware store and fix it in a day or two. Okay?"
Bella looked to me and shook her head. When she gazed back at the boys, she smiled. "That's fine, but no rush. We won't be here for a while, anyway."
They nodded, but Jasper looked to me. "I had my manhood threatened by Alice should I go back to Alaska, so I'll be around at least until Carlisle and Esme get here."
Bella and I laughed, but thanked him.
Jacob chuckled at Jasper, but then turned to us. "I'm gonna head back to the house and check on Mom. Need anything?"
"No, we're okay. We'll be right behind you, not even an hour. I promised Chelsea about the garbage."
"Ten-four. We'll tell the officers on our way out, then," Jasper stated.
As Bella went into the kitchen, I checked the front doors for the officers and the locks on the back mind stretched several houses down, and I didn't catch any minds that were out of place. The two policemen out front were talking sports, the neighbor behind us was getting ready for a neighborhood garage sale the coming weekend, and the old woman down the street was already in bed for the night.
Bella helped me with the fridge, and I bagged up the garbage and tossed it in the plastic can, rolling it down to the curb. I nodded to the policemen on the way by, letting them know we'd be leaving soon.
I found Bella back upstairs as she zipped her suitcase shut. I took it off the bed and set it down next to mine. I cupped her face, planning to kiss her before we were, indeed, surrounded by Leah, Jasper, and Jacob in my house.
My phone started to buzz across Bella's nightstand, and I picked it up, frowning at who it was.
"Give the motherfucking phone to Bella!" she ordered. "Tanya's calling the boys back. That asshole is making his way to you right now!"
"Do I have time to get her out of here?" I growled, walking to the window and casting a look from one end of the street to the other.
"No, he's using people's yards to get to you. He's alone, and he's armed, Edward. The two guards won't make it. Give me Bella. I'll tell her what to do. I've already seen it. You…You go get that bastard!" She huffed a slight laugh. "I told you that you'd get what you wanted… You let him think he's getting in, Edward. That's the only way it will work. Understand?"
"Yes," I whispered, my lip curling in hatred.
A part of me wanted to argue with her, simply because I wasn't sure I wanted Bella out of my sight, but I knew Alice well enough now to know that when she'd seen something, it was damn spot-on.
Bella's eyes were wide when I turned to her with the phone. "Love…you do exactly as Alice tells you, and nothing else, no matter what you hear. Bulletproof, remember?" I asked her, and she nodded, taking the phone with a shaking hand. "It's almost over…"
Bella swallowed nervously, but put the phone to her ear. "Alice?"
Just before I left the bedroom, I heard Alice's instructions. "Bella, you're gonna run to the hallway to the electrical box and shut off the power. Next, you're gonna kill the alarm. When you're done, you go straight to your mom's room and pull down the attic ladder. Go!"
By the time I'd hit the first floor, the house went black at the same time I heard the sick, twisted mind I'd been searching for this past week. Using the shadows to my advantage, I hid in the living room, gazing out into the dark backyard. My smile was evil, my growl barely contained.
"C'mon, you bastard," I whispered. "Let's see how you like it when the tables are turned…"
A/N… Sorry for the cliffie, but this was the best break here. The next one ran long.
*glances around* There's no gun pointed at you to read these, but I'm still going to answer a few questions. The reason I do that is because not everyone's first language is English, nor are they familiar with Americanisms. And some of those people have been with me since the beginning, and have thanked me repeatedly, so…it's more for them than anything.
The biggest question from last chapter was… How did Bella change her beneficiary if she was a minor? The answer is Carlisle…and Jenks. They paid some people, slipped a few things under the radar, making Bella an emancipated minor. Had someone held a magnifying glass up to it, it probably wouldn't have held up under scrutiny. HOWEVER, it was enough to get the job done, give the element of surprise, and freak Phil the fuck out. ;) Underhanded as it was, no one would give a shit because Phil's not a damn angel.
I think everything else was pretty much covered, even the flashback with Charlie, which was important. ;)
TO MY FIREFIGHTERS… Technically, Edward stayed away from Bella in the hospital, but he hung out in the waiting room, so…that's a tough bet to call. ;) Good luck. LOL
Okay, so I'll post on Thursday. See you next time… Mooches, Deb :)