This was my entry for the mobward contest. It placed third in the public vote. Thank you for your support. If you didn't read it there, here you go - enjoy!
Thank you to Midnight Cougar for her beta work as always.
Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong solely to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended
I raced down the street, tears streaming down my cheeks. The salt stung the abrasions, but I didn't stop to wipe them away. I had to get away—as far away as possible.
I stuck to the shadows, pulling my jacket around me, burying my face in my scarf. My pocket contained the only thing I had grabbed before I fled. My small wallet and the five hundred dollars I had snuck from his jacket.
A busy intersection was coming up. I didn't want to take the chance, and cut down a dark alley. The exact kind a girl was warned to avoid all her life. But, at that point, it didn't matter anymore. If someone grabbed me, they couldn't do any worse than he had. If I stayed, I was dead, and I had decided I would rather die running than stay and let him finish me off.
I heard shouts, and my chest tightened. I started to run faster, not caring where I was headed. I ran until I was breathless, from alley to alley until there were no sounds except my heavy breathing.
Leaning against a crumbling brick wall, I tried to catch my breath and let my heart slow down. I looked around, no clue where I had ended up. I peeked around the corner at the quiet streets. The neighborhood was industrial, the buildings a mixture of rundown businesses and closed, boarded-up warehouses.
I inhaled a shaky breath, pushing my hair off my face. I winced when my fingers met my forehead, and drawing them back, I saw they were wet with blood. More tears ran down my face. Unsure what to do, I began to walk, trying to gather my thoughts. I couldn't go to a hotel since a credit card would be required. He would trace it. I needed a cheap motel that would take cash and no questions. I glanced around—it was the sort of area I might find one, but it had to be soon. My legs were shaking, and my head ached.
A car drove by slowly, and my panic returned. He could find me there as well. When the car stopped a few blocks ahead and sat with the engine running, my heart stuttered. There was a narrow break between the buildings, and I slipped between them. It was dark, and I used my hand to trace along the wall. I encountered a door handle and when it turned, I held my breath. The door creaked in the small passage. I could hear the car that had frightened me coming back and quickly, I slipped through the door, shutting it behind me.
The air was damp and musty, mildew and dust tickling my nose. I was shrouded in darkness and eerie silence. I could hear voices outside. Fumbling, I found the lock on the door and pressed it. I held my breath as the voices came closer. The handle jiggled, the lock preventing it from opening. "Are you sure she came down here?"
"I thought so. Ah, who cares, man. We can find another piece of tail."
The voices drifted away and the car drove off. I shuddered, holding my aching head. They weren't looking for me specifically, but I was still grateful for the door I had found.
A few moments passed, and I knew I had to make a decision. Leave the way I came in, or explore what might be a place I could sit and rest for a while, gather my strength and figure out my next move—as limited as my choices were.
Cautiously, I walked forward, coming to another door. I pushed it open, entering a large room. From what I could see from the partially boarded-up windows, I was in a deserted office building. The dim light helped, and I investigated until I found a glassed-in office that contained some old furniture. I sat down at a timeworn desk. The chair was hard, cold, and damp, but it was big enough for me to curl up in. I drew up my shaking legs, wrapped my arms around my knees and rested my head. I drew in a quivering breath, the feeling of gratefulness for a deserted building and a rickety old chair overwhelming me.
The tears restarted, and I let them flow. My sobs were choked and deep, and the ache in my head intensified. The blackness began to gather, and I fought it. I had a feeling if I succumbed, I wouldn't wake up. But it was useless, and gradually, the world dimmed.
I swam to consciousness, my head spinning. I didn't move, but stared through the dirty glass, confused. The large room I had wandered through was lit up and a group of men stood in a circle, arguing. Their arms flung around, hands gestured, and their voices were angry.
Carefully, I pushed the chair back as far as I could. The little office I was in was still dark, and I didn't think they could see me, but I wasn't taking any chances. One glass pane was missing and by craning my neck, I had a clear view of them.
There were five, tall men, all in black coats. One of them towered over the rest. They moved and I saw another two people. They were sitting on the floor, beaten and bleeding tied with their backs pressed together.
I shrank back, terrified. I heard the loud slam of a door, and another man strode into the room. He was tall, slender, with broad shoulders, his overcoat long and sway around him as he walked. His hair was slicked back, its color dark with gel. His face was sharp angles, his gaze intense and furious. He commanded the notice of all the men in the room. They stood taller, their shoulders back—almost at attention. He stopped, sneering at the men on the floor.
A barrage of words in a language I didn't understand came from his mouth. He raged, his voice echoing in the empty room. More than once he slapped the helpless prisoners, screaming in their face. His leather gloves shone in the dim light, blood-red against black, wet and dripping. He stepped back, his face dark, evil, and twisted. He was like an avenging angel—straight from hell. He held out his hand, and one of the men placed a gun in it.
He stared, cold and ruthless, then he nodded. The circle of men all drew their guns and aimed.
I held my hand over my mouth, holding in my scream, knowing what I was about to witness.
"Burn in hell," he spat.
Gunshots rang out.
The men on the floor jerked, their bodies arched and flailed, then slumped. Blood ran, crimson and thick.
I couldn't control myself. I lurched forward, emptying the meager contents of my stomach. My head swam from the sudden movement. There was more cursing and rushed footsteps in my direction.
"What the fuck?" A low voice growled as strong hands gripped my arms, forcing me upright.
I looked up, meeting a pair of vivid green eyes. They widened then narrowed, brimming with fury. Up close his face was beautiful—the sort of beauty that easily distorted into fierce malevolence. A devil in disguise.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"No one," I whispered, before the world went dark.
I woke to stinging on my cheeks. I was back in the chair, but it had been moved to the other side of the room. The devil stood over me, his fingers flicking at my skin. I whimpered and he hunched lower.
I nodded, but the movement making my head hurt.
"What are you doing here? How did you get in this fucking building?"
I cleared my throat. "It–it was an accident. I got scared and the door was open by the alley."
"Scared of what?"
"I thought someone was coming after me."
He studied me. "Looks like they already did."
I didn't say anything as tears leaked from the corners of my eyes.
He crossed his arms, his voice furious. "You made a mistake coming here."
I hung my head. "Please," I whispered, knowing it was useless.
"You saw something you shouldn't have seen."
"Nothing. I saw nothing," I lied.
He laughed, cruel and low. "You are a lousy liar."
"I won't say anything. No one will know. Please let me go."
"I can't do that."
The tallest man appeared in the door. "Boss? You need help?"
"No. Clean up the mess. Dispose of it."
The tall man stepped forward, laying a gun on the desk.
I started shaking, long shudders ran down my spine and racked my body. "Please . . ." I begged, my voice faltering.
"Make it fast, please. And let me shut my eyes." My voice wavered and a lone tear slipped down my cheek. "There's money in my pocket. Could you drop it at a shelter or something?"
There was silence for a moment. "I don't do errands."
"Maybe one of your men?"
"Why would a dead woman care where her money went?"
A sob burst from my chest. Without thinking, I gripped his arm, the material of his overcoat thick and soft under my fingers. "Please. I'm begging you."
"Begging for your life?"
"No. Begging you to show some mercy and give the money to a place that needs it. You don't need it. But it could help someone like me." I reached my hand into my pocket and pushed the roll of cash into his hand.
He stared at me, his gaze moving between the cash and my other hand gripping his coat.
"I don't like to be touched."
I pulled my hands back. "I'm sorry."
He took the cash. "Where did you get this money?"
"I stole it."
His eyebrow rose in question. "You stole it?"
Movement caught my eye and I watched, horrified, as the men in the other room rolled the dead bodies into large tarps. I hadn't noticed them on the floor until now. Once the bodies were moved, there would be no trace of them anymore.
I wondered if they had another tarp for my body.
A whimper escaped, and my shaking intensified.
"Don't look at them. Look at me," he ordered.
My gaze snapped back to his.
"What is your name?"
"It doesn't matter. No one will miss me."
"I asked you your name."
"Who did this to you?"
Why was he toying with me? Why didn't he just kill me?
"Does it really matter?"
He leaned down, his face close to mine. "You, Bella, are trying my patience. You need to learn something. If I ask a question, you answer. If I say do something, you do it. You got that?"
"Y–yes," I breathed out; trying to control the shudders that made my body jerk in small spasms.
"Who did this to you?"
"His name is Mike."
"Is Mike your husband?"
I felt a flash of anger. "Why—if he was, does that give him the right?"
His eyes narrowed, glittering, angry, and bright in the muted light. "No."
My shoulders slumped. "No, he isn't. He was my boyfriend. He started beating me after my dad died."
"When was that?"
"S–six months ago," I choked out.
"Did your father like this man?"
I didn't understand his line of questioning, or why he cared.
"No. He didn't."
He rubbed his chin. "Smart man. Tell me."
With a sigh, I spoke. "It's been getting worse. He always apologized and promised not to do it again. My dad got sick, and I left work to look after him. When he died, Mike insisted I move in with him until I found a job, and that was when it started. Then a month ago, it stopped. I thought he had changed. He brought me here to Chicago on a business trip. Except when we got here, I found out it wasn't a . . . business trip."
I shut my eyes as the tears flowed. "He had planned to take me to some sort of party. Sh–sharing me with other men. He'd stopped beating me so I wouldn't be bruised. When I found out, I tried to leave. He got angry and lost it." I wiped at my cheeks, knowing tears were useless. "He slapped me, threw me against a table and I fell to the floor. I pretended to be unconscious. He left me there and went to get a drink downstairs. I knew when he came back he was going to start again. I ran."
"After you took his money."
"I–I thought at least I deserved that. I had nothing else left. I needed some money to find a place to stay."
"And you ended up here."
That was all he said. When I opened my eyes, he was staring at me. There was an odd expression on his face. He leaned against the side of the old desk, arms crossed.
I wanted to ask him why he cared, but I remembered his earlier warning. "The Conrad."
One of his men walked into the room. "It's done, Boss. Em's out taking the garbage."
The devil stood. "Fine."
"You want me to handle this?"
The Boss didn't say anything, He regarded me with his green eyes, silent and watchful.
"I'd be happy to take her elsewhere and handle it. I'd enjoy handling her if you get my drift," he added, leering at me. "An added bonus for a job well done tonight."
It happened so fast. My terror grew knowing what was about to happen. My life would end tonight, but before it did I would be subjected to even more pain and humiliation. The devil spun on his heel, momentarily distracted, cursing and shouting. I lunged, grabbing the gun on the desk, pushing it up under my chin.
I backed away, my hand shaking, the cold metal of the gun pressing into my skin.
The men froze, and the Boss stepped back, meeting my eyes.
"Give me the gun, Bella."
"No," I rasped out. "I wouldn't let Mike, and I won't let you give me away like some piece of trash."
He moved toward me, his voice commanding and lethal. "Give me the goddamn gun."
I cocked the trigger and he stopped. "No. At least this way, I'm in control."
"You don't have to do this—you don't want to do this."
I barked out a laugh. "Why, so you get the pleasure? At least I get to deny you that much."
"Bella," he warned.
"I'm going to die tonight. I have nothing left. At least I can do it myself." I met his eyes. "Please give the money to someone who needs it."
He nodded, holding up his hands. I slammed my eyes shut and pushed harder, the gun digging into my skin.
With a final shuddering breath, I pulled the trigger.
There was nothing I could do but pray. If I tried to tackle her, more than one person could die. I couldn't talk to her—she wouldn't listen. So all I could do was pray.
Pray the fucking chamber that had advanced didn't contain a bullet. The revolver should only have five bullets in it, if my men had done as I instructed.
And they always did.
"Not her." That was the odd thought that ran through my head as I stared.
I shouldn't care. It would save me a lot of trouble, but I didn't want her to die.
The sound of the trigger and striking metal were loud in the room, but there was no bullet. I had no time to be grateful as I lunged forward and grabbed the gun away from Bella, hauling her tense form back to my body.
Alec shook his head. "Stupid bitch. You should have let her die, Boss. I would have." Then he laughed menacingly. "But at least we can still fuck around with her."
Bella hadn't moved. She hadn't made a sound since the gun failed to give her what she wanted. Death. But when Alec spoke, her body began to tremble. Long violent shudders racked her frame. She was beyond petrified, yet she didn't struggle against my hold.
She was strong. Stronger than she knew. But my loathing of Alec had grown, and his time was up. What I planned to happen later was happening now.
"Felix," I called.
"Bring me the package."
I moved forward, pushing Bella down into the wooden chair where I had first discovered her. "You will sit there and not move—do you understand? You will remain in that fucking chair no matter what happens next."
Only her terrified, shortened breathing answered me.
I faced Alec who was watching me, with a bored, insolent look on his face.
That would be changing soon.
There was a commotion from the other room as Felix returned with the package. He dragged in a highly angry and vocal Jane. She twisted and clawed at him, cursing and hurling obscenities. He flung her on the floor, brushing off his sleeves.
Alec rushed past me, snarling. "What the fuck are you doing?" He kneeled beside Jane, whispering—no doubt telling her to let him do the talking.
I checked the gun, and once satisfied, I cast a final warning look at Bella. "Don't move."
I strolled in the room. "I got you a gift, Alec."
"What's going on? Why is my sister here?"
I walked around them, scratching my chin with the gun. "Imagine my shock, when the crew discovered a new child pornography ring, and Jane's name came up as being part of it."
"Impossible," he sputtered.
I stopped in front of them, ignoring his denial. "Then when we dug further, we discovered she had help—your help."
He shook his head. "Lies, Edward. All lies. You know I'm loyal. I would never . . ."
I narrowed my eyes, pointing my gun. "Filth, scum—the lowest of humanity that preys on the weak and the defenseless. The very basis of what we do, and now I find out you are one of them?"
"No, no . . ."
I cocked my head to the side. The rest of my crew leaned against the walls, watching. I could feel their hate growing. Alec had never fit in. He was never part of us. Garrett had been blind to his weakness.
I pointed the gun between them, cocking the hammer. "I have proof that one of you is part of this. One of you speak up. I'll spare the other."
Jane pushed to her feet. "It was Alec! It was his idea—he said with all the contacts you had he could find everything he needed to make his own ring! He wanted to make millions and he didn't care who he hurt!"
I had planned to set them up, pitting them against each other, playing Russian roulette with the gun. I wanted to watch them throw each other under the bus and fight for their lives. But Bella had changed that plan.
I squeezed the trigger, the pleading on Jane's face turning to shock. She sank to the floor, grasping her chest as blood spread, pooling around her.
Alec stared at her, no emotion showing on his face. He turned his head, a sneer on his face. "I knew she was up to something. And trying to pin it on me. You can't trust a fucking woman. Right, Boss?"
I lifted the gun. "Right."
He was dead before he hit the floor.
There was an odd sound from the room behind me. I glanced over my shoulder. Bella was hunched over, dry heaving. She rested her head in her hands, her shoulders hunched in defeat.
I glanced down at the bodies at my feet. I should feel shame. Guilt at taking human life. All I felt looking at them was disgust.
He approached. "Yeah, Boss?"
"Get rid of them. Liquidate everything they had. It all goes to the fund."
"I'll get Jasper to start right away."
"What about her?"
"I need a wet cloth."
"And bring around the car."
He opened his mouth to speak, then seeing the look on my face, changed his mind.
I held out the gun. "You know what to do." I nudged Alec's foot. "I want his memory wiped away. Completely. His name gets no respect."
"I'll make sure of it."
I approached Bella, my hands held out. She was a huddled mass in the chair, shaking like a leaf. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Her mouth opened and closed. No sound came out.
I handed her the cloth. She stared at it, making no move to use it. With a low sigh, I tilted up her face, wiping it, then her hands. Her skin was pale and her hands cold. I tossed the cloth aside.
I sat a bottle of water on the desk. "I thought you might need that."
She attempted to reach for the bottle, but her hand shook so hard it fell over. When she finally picked it up, she couldn't control herself enough to open the bottle. The bottle fell to the floor, rolling away, unopened. She stared at it, not moving.
I kneeled and picked up the bottle, wiping it on my sleeve. I twisted off the top and held it to her mouth.
She didn't move. Her eyes were fixed behind me, her gaze vacant.
Maybe I had misjudged her. Maybe this was too much for her.
I grasped the back of her neck, pressing the bottle to her mouth. "I said drink."
She swallowed. Then again. She drank until the bottle was empty.
"Y–yes," she rasped.
"What did you just see?"
"You killed those people."
"And you're scared of me?"
She was honest. "Yes."
I sat back and crossed my leg. "Do you have any family?"
She bit her lip, lifting a trembling hand, pushing her hair off her face. A dark bruise skated the length of her cheek. My fists tightened at the sight of it.
"No. Not anymore."
When they started cleaning up the bodies her gaze shifted and I snapped my fingers.
"Here. Me. Focus on me. Nothing else."
Her gaze shifted back to mine.
"When I'm in the room, that's all you pay attention to. Nothing else, do you understand?"
"Okay," she whispered.
I kept questioning her. Her replies were short and non-committal. I repeated myself, and she never faltered. Her gaze never strayed from my face. My determination grew, the inkling of an earlier idea, solidifying.
"I have a problem, Bella."
"Yes. No matter what you say, you did see something. You saw a lot."
"I can't let you go."
A shudder ran through her. "Can I please ask just one thing?"
I withheld my smirk. She was a fast learner. "Yes."
"Just kill me. Don't let anyone . . ."
I leaned forward, resting my arms on my thighs. "Why are you so willing to die?"
"I have nothing left. Even if you let me go, Mike would find me and either beat me to death or worse."
She only nodded. Without explanation, I knew what she meant.
I was shocked when she reached out her hand, laying it on top of mine. I could feel the tremors racing through her, and strangely I didn't mind her touch. "Please make it fast, and give the money away. Don't let anyone else near me." A tear ran down her face. "Please, Boss."
I covered her hand with mine.
"I can't do that, Bella."
She began to shake her head, getting ready to beg. I interrupted her.
"I can't kill you."
"I–I don't understand. You can't let me go."
I stood. "No, I can't." I raised my voice. "Emmett!"
He appeared at the door, his massive shoulders almost filling the space.
"Is the car here?"
"We're going to the house."
"Call Carlisle and Father Aro. I want them both to meet us there. We'll be leaving in five minutes."
He hid his surprise. "Done." He turned and walked away.
Bella stared at me.
"I don't understand what's happening."
"Carlisle is my personal physician. He will examine you so I know you're all right."
"And your father?"
I laughed. "Not my father. My priest."
Her brow furrowed. "You're going to make sure I'm all right, then give me last rights?"
I shook my head. "No. He is going to marry us."
After making his announcement, I had gaped up at the man standing in front of me.
"What?" I sputtered.
"I can't let you go; I can't kill you, so I have no other choice."
I looked over his shoulder to the room behind him, remembering what I had witnessed.
"You killed those people—I saw you do it."
He lifted one shoulder. "Yes."
"Your men expect you to kill me." I dragged in a long breath. "I expect you to kill me."
"We don't kill innocents. Ever. But I need your silence."
I pointed behind him. "They–they weren't innocents?"
"No," he snapped.
"I don't understand."
"Under the law, you can't be forced to testify against your husband. I already know you're a loyal person. You'll marry me for the protection I offer you; I will marry you for your silence, and . . ." His voice trailed off. "You will be safe," he repeated.
"But those people . . ."
He pulled me to my feet, holding onto my arms when I swayed. "I will explain when I am ready to explain. You don't question what I do. How I do it. You need to accept this." He shook me gently. "There's no choice here."
His voice was low, and he met my eyes steadily, no emotion showing.
He was right. What choice did I have?
"Will you hurt me?" I whispered.
His face softened, but he stood tall, with conviction. "No. I will protect what's mine."
The dull light showed the green of his eyes. As he studied my face they became liquid, and warm. His expression changed, the stress leaving his face. He looked handsome, almost approachable. He raised one eyebrow quizzically. "Well?"
"I don't know your name."
He smiled; it was slight, but it changed his features. He stepped back, shrugging off his coat, draping it around my shoulders. "My name is Edward."
"Why?" I breathed. "Why don't you just kill me? You don't know me. I don't mean anything to you."
He tilted his head, studying me. "I can't kill someone so beautiful and innocent, and whose only mistake was stumbling into a place she shouldn't. You've already been punished." He ran his finger down my cheek. "And you are wrong. You do mean something. Time will tell us what that is."
I shook my head, still confused. "But . . . why?"
He held out his hand, his tone brooking no argument. "Because I can." He waited as I stared at his outstretched palm. "Your choice, Bella. I suggest you choose wisely."
I let him lead me out of the building.
The car raced down the highway, the rhythmic sounds of the tires almost soothing. Beside me, like a silent sentinel, was Edward. He had been busy on his phone, spitting out orders in the same foreign language he used earlier and now he stared out the window.
"Is that Italian?" I asked bravely.
"When we arrive, you don't ask questions. You don't fight. I expect you to show respect and act like a lady. Do you understand?"
A tremor ran through my body. "Yes."
I was surprised when his large hand covered mine. "I will not leave you alone, unless needed. I will help you through the evening. I know you're hurt and exhausted. I promise you, Bella, you will not be mistreated. But I need your promise you will do as I ask."
His eyes were serious, his touch gentle, and his voice low. In that moment, he was only a man reassuring me. My fear lessened at his promise.
He squeezed my hand. "Good girl."
Those two words brought me unexplainable comfort. The odd sensation of wanting to please him surprised me.
When the car stopped, Edward helped me out and escorted me inside. The house was large and grand, and I felt overwhelmed. I stumbled, and Edward's arm shot out, steadying me. He didn't stop, sweeping me up into his arms and climbing the steps. He set me on my feet in a spacious room, sliding his coat off my shoulders. Then he urged me toward a door.
"The bathroom is there. Have a shower and clean up. I will return with Carlisle."
"My clothes . . ."
"My robe is on the back of the door. Clothes will come soon."
"O–okay," I whispered.
"You can do this, Bella. I have faith in you."
I could only nod. I had no choice.
I emerged from the bathroom, clean and wrapped in Edward's long robe. He was talking with another man; their voices hushed. When he saw me, he held out his hand, and I went to his side.
"Bella, this is Carlisle."
Carlisle stepped forward, holding out his hand. His blond hair gleamed, and his blue eyes were kind. "Bella."
Edward stepped forward, brushing my wet hair away from my cheek. "She was attacked, Carlisle. Please check her over for me."
"May I?" he asked, addressing me, not Edward. "I won't hurt you."
"Then let's get started."
My mind reeled. Two hours later, I stood in front of a stranger, a man I had witnessed murder three people, and married him.
Father Aro was a small man with a long black ponytail. He looked pleased, and didn't even blink at marrying us. Instead he beamed as he pronounced us husband and wife. Edward stood tall, and handsome, wearing a dark suit, the expression on his face somber. I wore an off-white dress Carlisle's wife, Esme, had brought to me. It was simple, with long sleeves, to cover my bruises. My hair was down, and my feet bare. I had no shoes.
I was shocked when Edward slid a heavy diamond band on my finger, then slipped his hand under my chin, lifted my face to his and kissed me. His lips were soft and full, and his touch surprisingly gentle. When he smiled at me, his eyes were warm, and he drew one long finger down my cheek.
"Forever," he murmured. "You are now mine forever."
I had no words to respond.
His men stood along the wall, witnessing our union. I signed the papers put in front of me, silent.
I sipped at the glass I was handed. As he promised, Edward rarely left my side, his hand spread wide on the small of my back.
There were three other women in the room, aside from me. Esme, Rose, and Alice, who seemed friendly enough; although Rose kept her distance. Esme checked on me often, telling Edward I should sit. He led me to a chair, pushing me down onto the cushion. He leaned down. "Are you all right?"
"This will be over soon." He frowned. "I will get something for your feet."
He turned and left.
Esme sat beside me. "You are very pale. Carlisle wants you to rest."
Carlisle had been kind, and thankfully fast. He had scowled over my bruises, made sure nothing was broken, and assured me I would be fine. He spoke discreetly to Edward who met my gaze as he nodded at whatever Carlisle had to say. I didn't question him—I already knew better.
I looked at her, unsure how to reply. I didn't know if I should talk, remain quiet, or give in and cry. I was lost. She reached across and took my hand.
"Bella, I know you are scared. I know this must seem like a dream." She smiled kindly. "Or a nightmare."
I glanced down at my wringing hands.
"Sometimes," she continued, "things are not as they seem. Edward is a good man. Honorable. And despite what you have witnessed, compassionate. Give him a chance. You may be surprised at what you discover."
"You–you know him well?"
"He's Carlisle's nephew. I have known him for a long time. He married you today and spoke vows. I promise you; he takes his vows very seriously. He will take care of you." She cocked her head to the side, studying me. "I think you may be good for him."
Edward reentered, carrying some socks. He kneeled in front of me, pulling the socks on my feet. "These will keep you warm." He reached up, and stroked my cheek again. "You are doing well, Bella. Soon you can rest and tomorrow we'll begin. All right?"
I glanced at Esme who was fondly watching Edward. I thought of what she had said. I heard the unexpected gentleness in his voice. His men were staring at him, and the way he kneeled at my feet. They all looked shocked at his deferential position. I drew in a deep breath and smiled at him.
"Yes. Thank you, Edward."
He stood and kissed my forehead. "Good girl."
I stood, uncertain, in Edward's room. He entered, carrying a glass and a bottle of pills.
"Carlisle felt some pain killers would help you sleep."
"Am I sleeping here?"
He tugged off his jacket, draping it over the chair. "You're my wife, so yes."
"Relax. I expect nothing, Bella. Carlisle is worried you may have a concussion. I'll check on you throughout the night."
"Why are you being so kind?"
"Is there a reason I shouldn't be?" His brow furrowed as he opened the bottle, shook out two pills into my hand, and handed me a glass of water.
"Ah . . ."
"Don't mistake my kindness for weakness. I'm kind because you've given me no reason not to be." He stepped closer, and cupped my cheek. "I hope you never do."
"Esme was talking to you."
"She told me you're an honorable man."
"And you think I'm a murderer."
I didn't deny it. But I had also seen something else in him tonight. Something human.
"I want to believe her. I want to get to know you."
He studied me for a moment, then wrapped his arm around my waist, drawing me close. He laid his cheek on my head. "You smell like me."
I exhaled shakily, wondering why being so close to him didn't scare me. "I used your shampoo."
He pressed his lips to my hair. "It smells good on you."
I lifted my head. He was so tall I had to lean back to see him. He smiled down at me, his green eyes glittering in the low light. "You are so beautiful, my wife."
I blinked at him. His tone was low, husky. Provocative.
"What you saw tonight is only part of my life. I am more than what you think. If you give me the chance, I can prove it to you.
"I promise you, Bella, you will be safe. Protected. I will everything in my power to care for you." He paused. "Be at my side, support me, and I promise, you will never have to fear anyone, including me."
I was mesmerized.
"I like how it felt when I kissed you. Tell me, my wife, did you like it?"
He bent low, his mouth hovering over mine. "I want to try one thing."
I felt myself tremble. His arm tightened, drawing me up. His eyes drifted shut as his mouth slid over mine. Feather light, gentle and warm.
"Touch me," he whispered.
I slid my hand up his arm, across his neck, and touched the hairs at the nape of his neck. He groaned low and covered my mouth again. His tongue skimmed along my lips, slipping inside my mouth. I had never been kissed like that. Languidly, sensuously. His mouth moved over mine, harder, claiming me. He deepened the kiss, wrapping my hair in his hand and tugging my head to the side. Whimpers escaped my throat. He lifted me easily, wrapping my legs around his waist, and holding me tight. I clutched his shoulders, lost in the sensations he created inside me. He broke from my mouth, dragging his lips down my neck. He pulled on my hair, exposing my neck as he licked and nipped. My head fell back and I gasped in pain.
He stopped immediately, eyes wary.
"I hurt you."
"No," I insisted. "My head . . ."
He cupped my neck. "I got carried away and forgot you're injured. Forgive me."
I felt my blush. "I–I liked it."
He dropped another kiss to my mouth. "So did I. And we'll explore this more, when you're recovered. For now, I'm taking you to my bed, and I'll watch over you as you sleep. Tomorrow we'll talk."
The painkillers worked and Bella slept. I studied her features in the muted light. She was beautiful. The very second I had seen her in the deserted building, something stirred within me. A deep, protective feeling, almost frantic to ensure her safety overtook me.
When she woke and saw me standing over her, the fear in her eyes was nothing new to me. Yet with her, I wanted to erase that fear.
I knew she had seen too much. I knew she should be silenced. However, I wasn't lying when I told her I didn't kill innocents. My job was to protect them, and something told me this small, frightened woman was in dire need of protection that only I could provide.
When she tried to kill herself, I knew there was only one option. She was willing to die, and as an alternative, I could marry her. She could leave the life she knew behind and join me in this one.
I wasn't a benevolent man. I wasn't given to gentleness or affection. The world I lived in was cold, brutal, and filled with blood. Nonetheless, when I could remove myself for brief time periods, the thought of spending them in her company pleased me. Kissing her earlier hadn't been in the plan, and her reaction to me was unexpected, but it also, pleased me.
My plan was simple. Tomorrow Alice would help her with personal items, Jasper would procure new papers, and I planned to punish the man who had so little regard for her life. It would be my wedding gift to her. I also had to pay a visit to my boss. I knew he would have heard I got married. Garrett would be full of questions, I would have to explain my actions and ask for his understanding. I hoped he would give it.
Then I would take her away for a few days to my island. It was private, isolated and perfect to get to know each other. I would tell her of my life and my expectations for her. She could heal, rest, and come to terms with her new life.
She shifted, rolling onto her back. The blanket twisted, exposing her bare shoulder; my shirt she wore, far too big on her. Her creamy skin beckoned, and I thought of how she felt in my arms. How she tasted under my tongue. Her passionate response.
We would explore a physical relationship soon. I wanted her. I wanted to feel her under me, to bury myself inside her and fill her with my seed.
We would be married in every sense.
She would truly be mine.
I stared at Alice, unsure. My gaze drifted back to the piles of clothes and personal items laid out in Edward's room.
He was gone, but there had been a tray with coffee, breakfast, and a note instructing me to stay in the room until Alice showed up. I had a shower, sipped at some coffee, then waited. She arrived with a flourish, her hands filled with bags, followed by her husband Jasper. She immediately had me change into a dark blue shirt, and brushed my hair back off my face. She added a little makeup and Jasper took my picture. They were both kind, but I knew better than to question them. I did only as I was instructed.
After he left, Alice spread out her purchases, telling me to pick what I wanted, and she would return the rest and get me anything else I wanted and needed.
"What's wrong, Bella?"
"I–I don't think I have enough money for these clothes." My wallet was in my jacket which was gone, and I had given Edward the cash I stole from Mike. The price tags on the items showed they were all expensive.
She laughed, patting my arm. "Edward told me to buy them. I have his credit card. These are for you so you don't have to walk around in his robe and shirt. Once you feel better you can get more clothes and things." She shook her head. "Edward will look after you."
"Oh." I picked up a bathing suit. "I'm not sure I'll need this."
"Oh, yes. Edward says you will need some light clothes for your trip."
She bit her lip. "I think he is taking you away for a few days. Like a honeymoon."
I dropped my gaze, shocked. A honeymoon? Somewhere alone with Edward?
I thought of his drugging kisses from the previous night. The way it felt pressed to his hard body. I had felt no fear, or worry. Only a burning desire for more. More of him. It had shocked me. I should be trying to figure out how to get away from him, but I didn't want to. His promises echoed in my head. Safety. Protection. "I don't kill innocents."
Despite what I had seen, the horror and blood, the only thing Edward had shown me was patience. He was stern and demanding, but he hadn't been unkind to me. In fact, he had shown me more care in six hours than Mike had shown me in six months.
Edward asked only one thing. Loyalty.
I could give him that.
Then I glanced at the bed and saw the flutter of lace and the gossamer lingerie in the piles. My breath caught.
He was going to ask for two things.
I thought of his mouth moving with mine.
Could I give him that?
I looked at Alice who was watching me.
I decided that maybe I could.
The next two days were confusing. Edward told me I could go anywhere in the house, aside from his office unless he invited me in. He said I could go outside and walk the grounds, but I wasn't allowed without my bodyguard, Felix—the giant of a tall man I saw the first night. He greeted me with a simple tilt of his head and a "Mrs. Cullen." Aside from murmuring into his wrist on occasion, there was no conversation.
I saw Edward only occasionally during the day. People came and went. I heard him talk, yell, curse, often in Italian. However when I did see him in person, he was patient and even with me, never losing his temper.
He had been delighted the day I made him a sandwich while his housekeeper was out doing errands. I asked Felix to give it to him, and Edward strode into the kitchen, carrying his plate, and sat beside me eating it. He was quiet, lost in his thoughts, but before he left, he tugged my hair to tilt my head, pressing his mouth to mine.
"Thank you, my wife."
He was never there when I went to bed, but I felt him in the night. He would slide in behind me, pulling me to his chest. As soon as he was there, I drifted into deep sleep, feeling strangely safe in the arms of a murderer.
On the third day, Felix informed me Edward wanted to see me in his office. I entered, looked around curious and nervous.
"Sit," Edward instructed, not looking up from a pile of papers.
I sat, stomach churning. Had I done something? Gone somewhere I shouldn't? Usually, if I ventured too far, Felix would make a low noise in his throat and I would step back closer to him. The high fence seemed to cause him the most displeasure.
"Did I—did I do something, Edward?" I murmured, throat dry. "I didn't mean to."
He looked up with a frown. "Not at all, Bella." There was a knock at the door and he looked behind me with a smile. "Ah, Mrs. Cope. Good timing."
His housekeeper came in, sliding a tray onto his desk, then left.
"I wanted to have lunch with you. I thought we could eat in here, then talk a little."
"What are you feeling guilty about, Bella? The rose you picked in the garden this morning? The chocolate you snuck from the box last night? The croissant you didn't eat yesterday?"
I stared at him. I was shocked when he winked at me. "I'm a busy man, but I watch you, Bella."
"You fascinate me."
I didn't know what to say.
He pushed a plate toward me. "It won't be as good as yours, but have your sandwich. You aren't eating enough, and I have enough to worry about without adding your health to it."
I picked up my plate—because he asked me to.
What was happening to me?
After we ate, Edward rounded the desk and sat beside me. "We're leaving tomorrow."
"Where are we going?"
"I am taking you on our honeymoon."
He handed me an envelope. Inside, was a new driver's license and passport, both with the name Bella Cullen.
"The birthday is wrong."
He sat back, rubbing his finger over his chin. "No, it's not. You have a new name, a new birthday, a new life." He met my gaze. "Isabella Marie Swan is dead. Bella Cullen is the only name you have now."
"I don't understand."
"Last night, Mike Newton was arrested on murder charges. A woman matching your description and carrying your ID was found, beaten and strangled. His DNA was all over her."
I blinked and gasped.
"He's in custody." Then he grinned. A cold, frightening grin which reminded me exactly who he was. "He won't make it to the trial."
I began to shake as I processed Edward's words. I knew I should feel bad Mike. But the only thing I felt was relief.
He shook his head. "A Jane Doe. Don't ask."
I nodded, with a long exhale.
"You have no family, and as you told me, you know nobody here. Your old life is over. You are my wife, and you will be safe. He will pay for hurting what is mine." His fingers drummed on his knee. "For hurting an innocent."
"Is–is that what you do?" I asked. "Kill those you decide deserve it?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"Yes. I need to understand. Are you with the mafia?"
"All you need to know is that I work with an organization of considerable power. I run a very elite crew."
"You kill people. You're an assassin—a gun for hire."
He chuckled, leaning forward, running a finger down my cheek. "No, I'm not a gun for hire. You watch too much TV."
"I don't understand."
"When I was fifteen, my sister was kidnapped. Until then I was just a normal kid. My life changed overnight. Every waking hour was spent trying to help my dad find her. My mom was a lost cause, crying and drinking all the time."
I reached out for his hand. "What happened?"
He looked at our joined fingers and smiled. "My dad was one of the good guys, you know? A cop. But he had nothing. Just a bunch of dead ends. Even his fellow officers thought she'd just run away. There was no ransom note, nothing."
"But she hadn't?"
"No. I saw it happen. I saw the men that took her. One night I snuck out of the house and went to a bar. My friend was always bragging about his uncle's illicit life and his ties to the underworld. The power he had. We went and found him. We told him what happened, and what I saw. He believed me."
He inhaled. "Long story short, they found her. Brought her home. They even helped with counseling for her and my mother. And the day they did, I swore one day I would become one of them in gratitude."
"What happened to your sister?"
"Rose was messed up for a long time. But she got help, and she married her childhood sweetheart, who also happened to be my friend who got me to his uncle. You met him—Emmett." He smiled. "She's protected—just like you are. He would die before he let anything happen to her."
"And your parents?"
He grimaced. "They died in a car accident that was no accident. I was supposed to be with them, but I wasn't feeling well and stayed home. Garrett came and got me. He took me in and cared for me, and I became part of their family. When I was eighteen, they offered me a place in their organization. It was a chance to eliminate the world of people who prey on the weak and helpless. We break up child pornography and slavery rings. We go after drug pushers, abusers, stalkers, and so many others."
"You're judge, jury, and executioner?"
"I'm part of the investigation team and, yes. Executioner. Once they're dead, we liquidate their assets, and all the monies go into a fund that supports the victims. If possible, we try to unite them with their families, make sure they get counselling, help them back on their feet."
"Those people the other night . . ."
"They liked to get runaway kids hooked on drugs. Then they would sell them. And the man who was part of the team betrayed us. Betrayed me." His expression was furious, once again the avenging angel of death. "There is no gray in this area, Bella. It's black and white. He went against everything we stand for, and chose money over innocent lives." He sat back, crossing his legs. "And he threatened you."
"Have you ever . . . made a mistake?"
"No. Never. I have resources and people who make sure we target only the bad guys. The lowest of humanity. We rid the world of them."
My head spun. Edward stood, leaning against the desk. "That's the man you have married, Bella. It's not going to change. I'm not going to change. You have two choices."
"And they are?"
"You can't leave. That isn't an option. You can stay here—and live a safe life. Read, work in the garden, cook, whatever you want. I will set you up in an apartment on the grounds and ensure your complete safety."
"And what do you get out of it?"
"I get the satisfaction of knowing I saved another innocent from something terrible happening to them."
"What if you want to get married to someone else?"
"That isn't an option."
"What is my second choice?"
He kneeled in front of me. "You can join me in this fight, like Esme, Alice and Rose, helping the people we save. Making sure they are looked after. Whatever you want to do." He drew in a deep breath. "Get to know me, Bella. Be my wife in every meaning of the word—stand with me, support me. Maybe you can learn to love the man, not the job. We could have a family, if you want. I think if you gave yourself a chance, you could be happy with me."
He took my hands. "Something happened the night I found you. There was a protective instinct like nothing I had ever experienced. I couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to you." He shut his eyes. "When you grabbed that gun to kill yourself, I found myself praying for a miracle."
I shuddered, thinking of that night.
"The choice is yours. I won't force you into anything. If you think you can live with this reality, I promise you, I will be a good husband to you." He leaned closer, pressing his warmth into me. "I felt something so strong when I kissed you, Bella. I want to kiss you every time I see you, if you let me. I thought you felt it, too."
His lips met mine and moved hungrily. With a groan, he yanked me close, deepening the kiss. I wound my arms around his neck, letting him explore, learning his taste and the feel of him. He drew back, leaning his forehead on mine.
"What do you say?"
"Take me on my honeymoon, Edward. I want to get to know my husband. All of him."
Edward was in a good mood. He had been since we landed on his island. Gone was the slicked back dark hair and stern expression. Without gel, his hair glowed bronze in the sunlight, his green eyes danced with happiness, and he laughed. We had spent the past two days exploring. He showed me all his favorite spots on the island, holding my hand, often kissing me.
But that was it. At night in the darkness his arm would snake around me, holding me lightly but that was all. I had expected him to advance our relationship. Instead he had stalled it. I was confused, frustrated and feeling off kilter.
"I made pancakes," He grinned, setting out a plate, piled high. His chest was bare, showing off his defined pecs and broad shoulders. His shorts hung low on his hips, his stomach taut, and that tantalizing V prominent.
I had to look away. "Thank you."
He furrowed his brow.
"Would you like some juice? I squeezed it myself."
"How domesticated of you," I said, snarky. "No, thank you."
He scowled, eating his pancakes in silence.
I pushed mine around the plate.
"Would you like to try snorkeling today?"
"Whatever you want."
He crossed his arms. "My wife seems petulant this morning."
"I don't like it. Nor do I like your tone or the pouting lips."
I knew I was acting like a child, but I didn't care. He made me angry, and I wanted to do the same. Deliberately, I pushed my bottom lip out farther.
"Do that again, and I'll bite it."
I rolled my eyes. "Well, that would be an improvement."
His eyes narrowed. "Is there something you want Bella?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes. Tell me what you want. You might get it."
I slammed my hand on the counter. "You, Edward! Dammit! I want you! I want you to make me yours— to fu—"
He was on me before the last word left my mouth. Dishes flew off the table as he swept them aside, setting me on the solid wood surface.
"I never thought you'd break." He growled. "I thought I was going to die of blue balls on my honeymoon."
He kissed me. Deep. Hard. Wet. His tongue claimed my mouth, robbing me of words. His hands gripped, tearing off my robe, and his mouth descended, licking and sucking at my breasts. "You are so fucking beautiful."
I cried his name when he cupped my pussy, his touch possessive. "This is mine now. You are mine."
"I'm going to fuck you, Bella. Then I'm going to take you to our room and do it again. I'm going to make you come so often you won't be able to stop. I'm going to fuck you until you can't remember anything but me. Your body won't ever want anyone else but me. Do you understand?"
I could only whimper.
He yanked off my underwear, and slid his fingers against me. "You're wet, baby. So wet for me. He slid one long finger inside, then a second. "So tight. Jesus you're going to feel amazing wrapped around my cock."
I arched against him, lost to his dirty words, and possessive touch. He was like a python, ready to strike, hovering over me, eyes hooded and dark. He played me like a violin, his fingers knowing exactly where to touch me, how to draw out my pleasure. His mouth covered mine as my first orgasm blossomed, taking over my entire body.
"My name, Bella. Scream my name."
It echoed in the room.
He ran his open mouth down my torso, teasing my stomach with his lips. He stood, tugging me up. I leaned against his chest, trying to catch my breath.
He lifted my chin. "I'm not done with you. Not by a long shot." He dropped his voice. "Look at me, my wife."
I opened my eyes, taking him in. He was naked, his skin golden and taut in the light. His cock was rigid, long, hard, and weeping for me. I leaned back, Edward following me, his mouth demanding on mine. He surged forward, burying himself inside. I gripped his shoulders as he moved, my fingernails digging into his skin. He slammed into me, powerfully, never faltering as I exploded around him. He rode it out, sweat dripping, our bodies sliding on the wood, then his head dropped to my neck, his body shuddering as he stilled.
"Bella." He moaned, his breath hot on my skin.
I wrapped my arms around him, lost to everything he was. His heat, his strength, his lust. I would take it all for him.
He lifted his head, running his fingers over my mouth. "You're mine now."
"I already was, Edward," I countered.
He gathered me in his arms, and carried me to our room. With the curtains still drawn, the light was hazy and dim.
He laid me on the bed, his touch changing. It became light, gentle, indulgent. His mouth was warm and teasing on my skin. His words were low, adoring, and sank into my heart. They broke it open, and I accepted him the same way my body accepted his. We moved together as if we'd done it for a thousand years. The world narrowed down to just the two of us.
After, lying in his arms I sighed.
"I thought you weren't gentle."
"You bring that out in me." He shifted to look into my eyes. "But it is only something you will see in private. I need you to understand that, Bella."
"What are you thinking?" he asked with a light kiss.
"That maybe I should be petulant more often . . . when we're alone of course."
He chuckled. "Of course."
"Why did you wait?"
"I wanted to know you were certain. That you wanted me as much as I wanted you."
"I did. I do."
He pressed his mouth to my ear. "I love you, Bella Cullen. I can't wait for you to join me in this life. I'm going to be even stronger with you by my side."
"I love you, Edward," I replied. I wasn't sure when it happened, but it was true.
He pulled me close. "I will keep you safe. Always, my innocent."
I tucked myself closer. "I know."
We drifted off.