Standard Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: Hi! So surprise! I wrote for TreatsAndTricks3 Contest this year! This little work of fiction won Hadley Hemingway's favorite Award. A quick note of thanks to the contest organizers for giving us this opportunity to write our hearts out. A hearty shout-out goes to my dear friend and beta reader, Tammygrrrl, and my pre-reader extraordinaire, FangirlinGranmaDee. Thanks for holding my hands throughout this experience, my lovelies. You rock!
"May I ask why you're here, Ms. Swan?" he asks in a deceptively low voice.
"I've been told that you're the man to meet with," she replies.
She sighs. Well, if he needs her to spell it all out for him, she will. "Murder."
One of his eyebrows lifts in a show of surprise. He asks, "I didn't peg you as the criminal type."
"That's why I want to hire you, Mr. Cullen," she explains. "I'm not the criminal type, but you, on the other hand, have quite a reputation."
This time, a sexy one-sided smile graces his lips. "Touché. So who is the lucky pig you want slaughtered?"
She smiles with satisfaction. "Me."
The grin disappears from his face and he frowns. "You want me to kill you? Then why don't you commit suicide? That'll be easier on you, won't it?"
"Ah! You see, Mr. Cullen, therein lies my dilemma. I want myself killed without actually dying," she confesses. "I know that you're more of a huntsman than the wicked wolf."
His eyes widen slightly, but then his shoulders relax. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"On the contrary, I think you know perfectly well what I'm talking about."
He stands up abruptly, shoving a hand deep in his pocket while holding the other one for her to shake. "Ms. Swan, it was an interesting meeting, but I'm unable to take anymore assignments at this moment," he says formally.
She holds in the panic rising inside her and places her hand in his. "I really need your help, Mr. Cullen," she tries once more.
He doesn't acknowledge her words; instead, he says, "Have a good morning, Ms. Swan."
Isabella Swan holds in her tears until she's out of his sight before letting them fall freely. She just wants to live by dying, why does it have to be so difficult?
Edward pulls a face as the smell hits him … pumpkin spice latte—the beverage of the season. He glares at the happy caffeine consumer standing in front of him in line at the popular coffee franchise. If the guy was going to get the seasonal drink all along, he'd just wasted ten minutes of his time trying to decide which drink to pick. And in Edward's line of work, time equals money.
After waiting another three minutes to get his usual double shot espresso, Edward steps out of the coffee shop. He takes a sip of his coffee and inhales deeply, letting the smell of dried leaves and crisp air cleanse his olfactory of the stench of cheap perfume from the overcrowded place he'd just left.
It happens so fast that he can't make up his mind whether it's reality or a figment of his imagination. As the rays of the setting sun reflect off of the windshield of a parked car, he turns his head to the side and catches a glimpse of deep brown hair.
In a flash, his mind goes to the meeting he had almost two weeks ago with a woman who intrigued him to say the least. He looks closely at the approaching figure. No, it's not her, he decides. Her hair is a prettier shade of brown … almost mahogany. The thought catches him off-guard. Since when did he start specializing in women's hair? He frowns and tells himself that it's just the trained marine in him with a set of keen eyes and nothing else.
There's no use in thinking about her anymore, he tells himself. She's history, a very brief one.
However, what we think and what we feel are two entirely different things. And that's what happens to Edward the moment he decides that Isabella Swan is history better to be forgotten. From the way she clutched the mug he served her coffee in, to the way she challenged him with her eyes, to the way her lips curled in mirth at his teasing words … everything comes to haunt him in vivid detail. Until he decides to go somewhere to clear his head … his version of heaven on earth.
The moment the smoke wafting off the coffee cup hits his nostrils, he feels himself relaxing, a smile sliding onto his lips. "This is amazing!"
She laughs sweetly. "You haven't even tried it yet."
"Anything you make is amazing, Esme," he compliments.
The older woman blushes and Edward can't help but smile proudly at her. An image flashes through his mind of this same woman broken and banged from her jumping off a cliff. He lowers his eyes at his hands, the smile slipping off his face.
"Hey," she calls, placing a hand on his. "You okay?"
He sighs before looking back up at her. "Yeah, I just remembered how I found you."
The mood changes instantly. For a long moment, Esme doesn't speak, and Edward hates himself for bringing this up. Finally, she breaks her silence. "You didn't just find me, Edward, you saved me. Just like you saved many others after that."
He manages to crack a smile then. "Just a couple of people, Esme, not many."
"Nonsense," she chides in her motherly way. "Every life you saved means so much. I'm sure every one of them considers you as their very own guardian angel. I know I do."
He shakes his head, embarrassed by the sudden onslaught of gratitude. "I'm nothing but a glorified killer," he protests.
Esme's eyebrows pull together in a frown. "Now, what would possess you to say something so humongously foolish? Yes, you killed us off, only to give us all new identities so we could live."
He shrugs, trying to get out of answering her, but when she continues to look inquiringly at him, he decides to break his silence. "It's this girl I met."
At those words, Esme's face lights up like a 1000-watt light bulb as she sits at the edge of her seat, looking eager to hear all the gory details. "Who is she? What's her name? What does she do? How did you meet? Do you have a picture of her?" she fires off the questions in rapid succession.
Edward resists rolling his eyes as he answers all her questions with one sentence. "She was a possible client."
"Was?" Leave it to Esme Platt to single out that one word.
"I turned her down," he confesses, suddenly feeling like a little boy about to be rebuked.
And of course she doesn't disappoint. "Why would you do that? That's wrong of you, Edward, especially when you know not many of the survivors can find the courage to ask for help."
"She didn't seem like she needed much help to tell you the truth," he defends himself. "Besides, she knew about what I did for you and the others. What if she was a spy?"
Esme offers him a pitiful smile. Patting his hand with hers, she whispers, "Oh my poor boy! You need to learn to trust people."
"You think she was really there for help?" he asks.
She lifts one shoulder in a dainty shrug. "I can't say for sure, but if you thought she didn't look like she needed help, it means she has strength within herself to put on a brave front. But Edward, dear, let me tell you something: the strongest hurt the most. Not all scars are visible, and it's the invisible ones that hurt the most."
It takes him only a moment to make his mind up, her words resonating deep within him. "I'll look for her."
An approving smile comes over her face as she nods in satisfaction. "Better. Now drink your coffee before it gets cold."
Finding Isabella Swan proves to be harder than he expects it to be. First off, there's no Isabella Swan registered in the directory. He tries to look for anyone with that surname because it's not such a common one but without much luck. Only one name pops up when searching for Swans in the Washington Area and that's Reneé Swan-Dwyer.
Unable to find Isabella, he decides to research this Reneé woman. A google search yields the jackpot he's been looking for. One photo comes up of a fifty-something couple with a man in black polo shirt holding hands with a woman in matching attire. What catches his eyes though is the caption accompanying the photo. It reads: Famous Coach of the Seahawks, Phil Dwyer, with his wife, Reneé Swan-Dwyer and their daughter, Isabella.
First it just appears to be the couple in the photograph until Edward takes a closer look and finally spies a head of mahogany hair peeking from just above Phil Dwyer's shoulder.
He considers the photo for a long moment. This appears to be a typical all-american family. What could go so wrong that she needs to vanish for good? He wonders. Instead of pondering on it for too long, he decides to go ask her the question himself. It takes almost no effort to find Phil Dwyer's home address, and after picking up his surveillance gear, Edward is off to solve the puzzle that is Isabella Swan.
The house looks as inconspicuous as any house on the night before Halloween; with perfectly carved Jack-o-lanterns placed strategically all around the expansive suburban house.
Edward lets out a soft whistle as he takes it all in. To say that Phil Dwyer was rich will be the understatement of the year. No, Isabella's father was filthy rich. Why does she want to leave all this behind? There didn't seem any evidence of domestic violence when I met her. He wonders yet again. And it's Esme's words that come back to him in that moment. Not all scars are visible, and it's the invisible ones that hurt the most.
He scans the perimeter of the house and tries to figure out which window must be hers when his cellphone starts ringing. He frowns. Not many people know this number. The caller ID shows a number that is unknown to him. For a moment he debates whether to answer it or not, but then slides his thumb over the little green telephone icon.
"So, you still figuring out if I really am worth saving or not?" a voice asks him by way of greeting.
"Isabella?" he asks, recognizing the voice that has kept playing inside his head these past few weeks.
"Yes." Her answer comes in a softer tone, as if she's afraid of getting caught.
"How did you get my number?" he asks.
"I have my ways," she answers. When he doesn't find her reply amusing, she adds, "I found out about you from a friend, but I promised to not tell her name."
He nods to himself, cataloging the possible sources.
As if she can read his mind, she says, "She's someone you saved. And Mr. Cullen, I really do need your help."
There's an earnestness in her voice that catches him off guard, and in that moment, he senses a deep sadness behind her strong demeanor. "Can you meet me somewhere?" he asks.
She thinks for a moment before answering. "I can make an excuse to get out of house. Where do I meet you?"
Edward remembers passing by a diner on the way to her house. "How about the diner?"
"Too public," she says. "How about the library? I can say that I'm going to pick up some scary movies to watch for Halloween."
"Okay. I'll meet you there."
After they hang up, he watches a shadow move at the second storey window, letting him know which was her room.
The thing about visiting a library during holidays is there's an abundance of nook and crannies to duck into and have a secret meeting. He watches from the shadows as she enters the library and looks around, apparently searching for him.
He waits until she passes by him before reaching out and yanking on her arm to pull her to him into the shadows. As they both stand toe-to-toe in the cramped space between bookshelves, their breaths mingle, and for an instant all Edward wants is to kiss her lips to know what she tastes like. Something in his eyes must make her aware of his wayward thoughts because she lets out a ragged breath and lowers her eyes. He lets go of her arms immediately. And she wraps her arms around herself as if taken by a sudden chill.
"Hi," Edward greets her.
She licks her lips and then responds, "Thank you for meeting me. I really do need your help."
He takes a moment to get himself under control before looking her over from head to toe. When he speaks, he tries to tone down the cynic in him. "You look well, Ms. Swan."
"Oh! Uh, thanks," she says, looking flustered. "You look good too."
He can't hold in the laughter bubbling up his throat as he shakes his head. "Thank you, but I wasn't paying you a compliment. I was stating that you look well. Why do you want to be killed?"
In the span of a second, her eyes flash with anger as she glares at him. "Just because I look well, Mr. Cullen, doesn't mean that I am. I was hoping you had come to help me, not so you can taunt me."
He lowers his eyes, cursing himself for being brash when she clearly is on edge. "I apologize, Ms. Swan."
"Bella," she corrects him. "I prefer Bella."
"Okay." He lets out a breath before putting a smile on his face. "Why don't we start over? Hi, Bella, I'm Edward."
She watches him through narrowed eyes and then nods. "It's nice to meet you."
"It's nice to meet you too, Bella. Now can you tell me why you want to end your life?"
Her shoulders slump as she leans her head back against the bookshelf behind her. "Because I can't live this life anymore?" her answer comes out sounding more like a question.
"But it looks like you have a very comfortable life and ..."
With a sharp look from her, Edward's words die in his throat. "Maybe not ..." he amends.
"Yes," she starts speaking. "I do have what looks like the perfect life, but do you know what I have to pay for it with?" Without waiting for his answer, she soldiers on. "My stepfather, the bastard extraordinaire, Phil Dwyer is a gambler and an addict. He amassed all this wealth by gambling on football games. But now he's on a losing streak. And he has gambled something that isn't even his … ME! He gambled my life, Edward."
Edward blinks, unable to comprehend what he's hearing. "He gambled your life?"
She nods. "He lost the house to one of the most notorious mafia in DC—Jacob Black. But he decided that he needs the house so he compensated it with me … my virginity and lifelong service to Black." By the time she utters the last bit, there's tear tracks running down her face and Edward yearns to reach out and wipe them away.
Clenching his hands into fists, he asks, "Has Phil ever hurt you, Bella? Has he or any one of his players touched you inappropriately?" When she doesn't answer immediately and sobs harder, he feels something explode within him. "Bella, tell me. Has anyone ever hurt you?"
With her eyes downcast, she shrugs which could either mean yes or no. When the silence between them become deafening, she speaks again. "He never tried to hurt me that way himself; my mom has always protected me. But there have been multiple occasions when I had to lock my doors to keep his deviant players from getting to me. But ..." Tears roll down her cheeks as she looks back up to his face. "... I can't get away from this by myself. Jacob Black will find me … as long as I'm alive. That's why I need your help to stage my own death so I can live."
It takes several minutes of breathing for Edward to calm his temper. The way this woman in front of her has been treated is despicable. When he's sure that he can speak without cursing up a storm, he asks, "Why isn't your mother leaving him?"
"She's sick … really sick. Doctors are saying that she only has about a month to live. She thinks Phil has arranged my marriage with Black. She's drained of any energy to protest him, thanks to the rounds of chemo." Edward's silence seems to agitate her even more and she grasps the lapels of his jacket in desperation. "Edward, please. I don't want to become a sex slave to some mafia. Please save me."
Placing his hands on hers, he holds her to him, his heart feeling like it might start beating all of a sudden because of how pure this girl is. "Bella," he whispers. "What do you know about me?"
She takes a shuddering breath, her hands starting to shake a little within his. "I know what you are. Alice told me, she went to school with me. She said you helped her when she was at the brink of death."
Closing his eyes, Edward nods to himself. Of course it would be Alice. She's the most empathetic of the ones he saved. "She was buried alive by the Nazis when I saved her," he confides, watching her face closely to see how she takes this news.
Instead of fear of what the implications of his words are, her eyes light up with hope. "Yes, I know. She told me. Please, Edward, I may not be dying, but my life isn't worth living anymore."
"You won't really be alive if I turn you," he warns.
"But I'll feel alive," she counters. "Alice said I could go and live with her once the three days are over."
Edward flinches at how much details she has about the transformation process. "You know about the three days of hell?"
She nods. "Alice said your venom will burn through my blood for three days. But after that, there will be no pain. No one can hurt me after that."
He stares at her for a long moment before sighing, praying to whatever deity still listens to monsters like him that she won't regret her decision later. "You won't be living with Alice," he says conversationally as if they're discussing the weather. "Take the night to say goodbye to your life. Tomorrow, I'll come for you."
"Why wait till tomorrow?"
He smirks at the irony of the situation and says, "What better day for the vampire to come out to play than All Hallow's Eve? Sleep well tonight, Bella, because tonight's the last night you'll sleep."
His words aimed at scaring her, has an opposite effect on her. Instead of shirking back in fear, she throws her arms around him and hides her face in his chest, her tears of gratitude staining his shirt. He can't hold back anymore. Pulling her face from his chest, he places a kiss soft as a whisper on her lips. With a murmur of "Goodnight, my human Bella," he leaves her.
All through the night and following day, Edward keeps track of her through his eyes and … her scent. Her scent, the mixture of strawberry and freesia is a heady concoction—one that he feels like he'll never get enough of. The previous night, he had called Alice to tear her a new one for blowing her cover, but when she recounted the many occasions when she had to keep Isabella from breaking apart by the sexual harassment at her stepfather's men's hands, he couldn't find her at fault for saving her friend.
His mind drifts back to the present as he watches a small crowd of children all dressed in costumes walk up to the Dwyer house. The door opens a crack and Bella steps out with a basket filled with candy. She hugs and kisses the children and laughs with them when a boy tries to wipe off her lipstick from his chubby cheek. Watching her laugh, it hits Edward like a ton of bricks … Isabella Swan was the most beautiful woman he's laid eyes on in all of his hundred years on earth.
A voice yells from within the house just then, "Stop whoring around with babies, you little slut, and come serve us dinner," a man orders. Color drains from her face as she waves a quick goodbye to the children and closes the door.
Edward sits in his car, a block from her house and allows his enhanced hearing to pick out the sounds within the house. There's clanking of cutlery against china … then a crash ... the same male voice calling her names for the yams being undercooked and then, the sound of a door opening and closing followed by a heart-wrenching sob.
Deciding that he can't keep her in there, Edward moves the car down the street and pulls up in front of her house. There, kneeling amidst the carved jack-o-lanterns, is the woman he feels a need to protect. Getting out of his car, he walks up to her. It's the sight of his boots in her line of vision that makes her look up at him.
The moment she sees him, she scrambles up to her feet and throws her arms around his neck, sobbing uncontrollably. All Edward can do is hold her to him, hoping his presence will be enough to console her. Once she calms down enough to speak, she pulls back and looks pleadingly at him. "Please kill me."
He kisses her forehead and shakes his head. "Let's go live, my Bella."
Clutching her hand in his, he leads her to his car before driving off into the night.
Four days later, Bella Swan sits at a swing facing a perfectly manicured lawn and looks doubtfully at the cup of coffee set before her. "I thought I was supposed to drink blood," she says.
"You did yesterday after your transformation completed," Edward reminds her. "But you can eat human food too. It takes the edge off the thirst."
"Oh!" She feels foolish for knowing so little of her new diet. She picks up the cup and smells cautiously. "It doesn't smell bad, just not appetizing."
Edward places a hand on her shoulder. "It'll get better," he promises. And for the first time in her life, or rather death, Bella trusts the words of a man because this man has given her a new life.
"How did I die?" she asks after taking a sip. "What's the story?"
Edward holds up a newspaper to her and says, "Why don't you read it yourself?"
She takes in the bold lettered headline: Troubled Teen Drives Off A Cliff: Stepfather Under Custody for Sexual Abuse Implicated In Suicide Note.
Bella reads open-mouthed as the article goes on about how nineteen year old Bella Swan-Dwyer drove her stepfather's Maserati off a cliff, unable to take the sexual abuse she was being subjected to by his players. There's also a mention of verbal abuse at the hands of her stepfather. It ends with a promise of a fair trial for the innocent girl who gave her life to bring the criminals to light.
Slowly folding up the newspaper, Bella says, "It says, they found a suicide note. I never wrote one."
Edward clears his throat and takes a seat next to her. "I had some time on my hands while you were undergoing your transformation. So I wrote one for you. I'm sorry, Bella, but they deserve to be punished."
She smiles up him teasingly to show that she's not mad at him … not in the least. "Well, Mr. Cullen, you get 100% customer satisfaction for a job well done."
He reaches for her hand before bringing it to his lips, an action that makes her blush. "You were never just a client, Ms. Swan."
Having had a lifetime of living in fear and insecurities, Bella decides to take this new life by the horns and go for what she wants. So instead of waiting for him, she reaches for his lips this time. Their kiss is sweet, yet full of want. When they finally pull apart; Bella smiles at Edward. "You are not just a killer to me either, Edward."
Her words make him burst into laughter. The sight of his laughing face makes her heart yearn for something she never thought she'd have before … love. As they walk hand-in-hand around the lawn, Bella makes a promise to herself … to live, laugh and love more … with Edward.
A/N: So ... thoughts?
Share them with me and leave a review.
Thanks for reading.