27

Summary: Esme Platt has three daughters, one is more lethal than the other. They learned from the best; chips off the old block. When a job needs to be done with a woman's touch, her girls are the ones to call.

Pairing: All couples

Rating: M

Word Count: 6848

DISCLAIMER: Twilight and its inclusive material is copyright to Stephenie Meyer. Original creation, including but not limited to plot and characters, is copyright to the respective authors of each story. No copyright infringement is intended.

Girls For Hire

The tension in the room can easily be cut with a knife. Rosalie is already thirty minutes late for our crack of dawn meeting. Mama consecutively taps her blood-red fingernails on the desk in a rhythmic pattern staring at the door, while Alice continues to pull Spirit Gum Adhesive from around her hairline. There's a large thump, as she tosses the Victor/Victoria* disguise out from between her legs.

Believe me; I barely knew who she was with her get up.

Alice's feet soak in a pail of steamy hot water with Epsom Salts. The culprits of her discomfort are eight-inch Lucite, platform heels that lay haphazardly on the rug by her side. Her mirrored, sequin gown rides up her legs when she leans back on the chair with reflections of rainbows on her cheeks. She's still in full makeup with lopsided fake eyelashes, continuing to peel and loosen the full pink wig from her forehead.

Rose saunters into the room cupping a pair of red stilettos in her hand. There are lipstick smears around her mouth, rivulets of mascara that run down her cheeks, her dress has wrinkles surrounding her torso, and there are static forces that create a fountain of her matted hair.

I sarcastically whisper to her as she passes by me, "Hard night?"

She smirks with a devious smile, "The best."

Alice glances at her and frowns, "What the hell happened to you?"

Rose stretches out on the sofa in the corner. "I scratched an itch. What's it to you?" She stares at the dildo on the floor. "Did you become an androgynous freak?"

"Jesus, it was only a prop, Rose. What's your problem?" Alice whines leaning to touch her feet.

Rose rolls her eyes, leans back on the sofa and sighs. "I don't want to know."

Mama's patience finally runs thin. Standing she palms the desk with a loud smack startling Rose and Alice. I watch her move around to the front. "Enough, girls. We don't have time for the bitchy bickering. I want details from your … activities during the night."

Mama's cell fires off, 'Janey's Got a Gun', and she reaches over and answers, "What do you have for me, Ralphie?" She pushes the speaker button.

"Es, baby, your girls were on the mark, but the Feds caught wind, and they're pissed."

"Which means?"

"Your girls got to their guys before they could make them talk."

Mama laughs hysterically. "One step ahead, Ralphie."

"Yeah, but they're bringing in four specialists. So, future jobs might get tight."

Rose mumbles, "I like them tight."

Mama gives Rose the death stare.

"So, what are you saying?" Mama snaps.

"I'm saying, Doll, that from now on you have eyes trying to find your hits. Someone wants you out in the open."

"Look, Ralphie, all three clients we deal with run a tight ship." She sends another death stare to Rose. "They haven't seen us. We don't meet in person." She laughs. "We did our job without being made."

"I'm just saying they're weeding out the plants. Your girls have to watch their backs. I'd hate to see them get hurt or worse, taken."

"Thanks for the tip, Ralphie, I appreciate it."

"Anytime, Es, we go back a long way. You did me right, and I'm there for you."

The phone goes dead.

Mama walks back around the desk, sits in her chair and leans her elbows on top, steepling her fingers and staring dead ahead.

No one talks.

No one looks at Mama.

She finally turns to Rose. "You want to tell me what went on last night?"

Rose sits up trying to run her fingers through her tangled hair and patting it down. "As you heard, I did my job."

"Details."

"I'll email the report for you in an hour."

"I want to know now, Rosalie," Mama demands. "Then, you can hand in your account in an hour."

Rose inhales a large breath. "I met your guy, Seth, at the appointed meeting place at seven p. m. on the dot. We left my car in the parking garage on Seventh Street. He drove me to the mark's apartment building and waited around the corner. I walked up the four flights of stairs avoiding any outside contact."

"How did you get into his apartment?"

She sighs. "Ma, this was a hit and run. The guy was a sex peddler. He'd go for anything in a skirt. So, I knocked and told him Jimmie sent me. He went for it hook, line, and sinker. Let me in like I was his new best friend."

"The room was dark, cluttered, and stunk from weed. He was very unsteady."

"Is that why you look all freshly poofed?"

Rose whines, "Nooo. He was gross, and the place was disgusting. I didn't let him get handsy with me. I just got close enough to plug him with three bullets. Yes, I had the silencer on. Then, I ransacked the place for anything worth taking."

Rose stands, opens her purse, and throws rolls of bills onto the desk with pill bottles. "Little bugger had over thirty-two thousand dollars and a dozen bottles of Roofies. Scumbag! There were film cans of porn I threw all over his bedroom floor …torn in pieces. Yes, I wore gloves."

Mama smiles and grabs a roll of money. "The women's shelter could use this. Seth can anonymously give the donation."

Mama side-eyes Rosalie. "So, who?"

Rosalie slowly smiles. "Seth. He's kind of cute."

"Go upstairs and take a shower. Don't go home looking like that."

"Seth's waiting in the kitchen. Daisy's feeding him."

Mama glares. "Take a shower. He'll wait."

Rosalie kisses Mama on the cheek, and they hug.

"Good job, Rosie." Mama's hands smoothes her hair and she lightly cups her face. "Don't hurt him. Good help is hard to find."

"It's all in fun, Ma."

Rose alks out of the room singing, "Alice, get a man."

"She's so obnoxious," Alice mumbles to herself.

Mama looks at Alice and smiles with raised eyebrows. "You want to tell me what that's all about?" She points to the dildo.

"Lady Pink Jelly Bean performed last night at the Flamingo Club."

"Oh, do tell, my child." Mama leans forward with her attention on Alice.

Alice sits pulling the wig off her head and running her fingers through her dark, short strands. "God, that feels great. Mom, your macabre instructions were a bit off in meeting Mandy YurBuznos, whose aliases happened to be Sugar Mi Spicy Tidbit and Donut Question all in one. She expected me to entertain her audience. I figured it was a drag club, you never mentioned, and I dressed to fit in. I did my makeup accordingly and added the dildo as a precaution. So, I was a woman being a man as a woman. Hence, the dick, Mom!"

Mama shakes her head. "Go on."

"I didn't stand out any more than the usual queen. But Mandy was minus her star performer and pretty much ordered me to fill in. You're lucky I keep up on certain videos." She giggles.

I finally speak, "What's so funny?"

"Oh, B, I had to strip down to my lacy underwear to dance and pantomime to, 'I was Born This Way' by Lady Gaga." She giggles harder. "I put the dildo in my panties with a little adhesive, but it wouldn't stay put, and as I danced, it shifted on, vibrating my business, so I kept grabbing my lady bits. The crowd went wild as I orgasmed through the song. I was GaGa to die for! Then, one of the dancers asked me where I had my boobs done. He never saw such natural bounce to silicon, and firmly squeezed both of them. It's a good thing I taped my nipples, or I would have been caught red-handed."

"More like red-nippled," I correct.

Mama and I giggle along with Alice.

"I went backstage to clean up and get dressed. When I came out of the dressing room, my mark finally showed up. He was so turned on by my performance that he dry humped me from behind. Oh, Mom, you would have been proud. I faked pleasurable groans and went through the motions."

Mama smiles. "I knew you were the actress."

She bats her eyes. "Oscar performance, Mom."

"How did you give him the poison?" Mama asks.

"You said only a dab would do it, so I coated a lipstick and playfully painted his full, willing lips while keeping my distance."

"Did anyone see you?"

She shakes her head. "It was dark. There were so many people in different hallways all over each other. We all looked the same. There was a chair near the back entrance. So, I helped him to sit and then left."

Alice gets up. "I'm going to shower and write up my report. Then, I'll take a nap."

Alice bends to grab the pail.

"No, leave it, sweetie, Daisy will take care of it." Mama smiles and hugs Alice. "You're a creative killer. "I'm proud of you."

"Thanks, Mom, I try to change it up."

"And they say the middle child is hindered," Mama kids.

Alice smirks. "Not this one!" She turns to me. "Are you coming up soon?"

"I'll be up when I finish giving Mama all the details."

"Okay."

She exits, and I turn to see my mother who sit on the sofa patting the seat next to her. "Come."

I sit and place my head on her shoulder.

"You had the hardest one, my baby," Mama admits.

"They had no idea what hit them, Mama."

"I'm sure."

She kisses my forehead. "The aftermath is never easy."

I quietly say, "No, but I knew they were going to get away scot-free, and I couldn't let that happen. It's good we have low profiles."

"No one recognized you."

"Mama, I took a pic." I pull out my cell and hand it to her."

"I dressed down; hair in braids with my hoodie up, no makeup and my glasses on; loose jeans and a baggy T-shirt."

She looks at the picture and gasps. "You look like a teenager." She hums. "Can barely see your face. Good."

"Ralphie was right. No one else was there at the bar, but Sean and Liam. They were in a back room behind a card table counting their take and sharing a bottle of Patron. I stood behind the door listening to their conversation. I made myself stand there and waited as though I needed to hear what they were saying." I pause and sigh. "I'm glad I did. You always say, 'be patient and sit it out'. So, I did, Mama."

"What did you hear, baby?" she asks.

"They were talking about trading off the girls, as though they were a piece of meat. Sending twenty-six, little children to Argentina in the morning. Sean had his eye on twin nine-year-olds, and Liam laughed. I know he hasn't touched these girls, but he did nothing to stop Sean's deviant lunacy. I wanted to end them at that moment, but I kept hearing your voice, 'Wait until more and you will see', and I did."

"What happened?"

"I got the location of the drop off and destination in Argentina. Names, Mama, I got names of the people involved. So, Ralphie came through big time. But my time was running out, so I drew both my guns, stood in the doorway and quietly said, 'I'm the last little girl you'll see.' Then, I shot them both between the eyes."

"Oh, Bella."

"I called Ralphie, and he met me at the docks with backup. We took down the dirtiest, human trafficking syndicate's biggest heist. There were seventy-two little girls huddled together in a warehouse at the end of the pier. They were cold, scared, and hungry, Mama. I wanted to scream. Ralphie took my hand and held me tight. He smiled and said, "You saved them, Bella. You're just like your mother in so many ways."

Mama pats my hand. "He's the best. Saw me through everything."

"Did you ever …?"

"When we were young we were together once." She crinkles her nose shaking her head. "We loved one another like siblings, and kept it that way."

"He arranged for food, clothing, and transportation to an unknown safehouse for all the girls. Then, each one would be taken home to their family. I took the money Sean and Liam had and gave it all to Ralphie to give to the families. I know taking a life is wrong, but taking the lives of these people who wreak havoc and mayhem on innocent girls and their families needed to be stopped. No, Mama, I have no guilt. Seventy-two girls are free from that kind of hell, and I don't regret putting an end to their wrath."

She holds me tight. "My girl has grown into a passionate, caring woman."

"I'm a killer."

She whispers into my ear, "A good one. Tomorrow, we'll celebrate."

"Thanks, Mama."

"Happy Birthday, my sweetheart."

"I have the report on your desk."

"Thank you, baby."

Once I climb the stairs, I feel the fatigue. My arms are sore, and my head aches at the temples. It doesn't matter. My sisters and I are on a streak, and nothing or no one will stop us.

Alice sits at her vanity rubbing makeup remover over her smudged eyes. Her shiny charcoal hair is squeaky clean with feathery wisps outlining her beautiful face. She looks through her mirror at my reflection. "Hey!"

"Hey, yourself."

"It has been a rough few days," I exhaust.

"Are you tired or do you want to go out?" she asks wiping the black from under her eyelids.

I move my hands in circles. "I don't know. I feel like I'm going everywhere but standing still."

"The adrenaline flows through those veins at warp speed, oh sister!" she kids.

"I know you think Ralphie is a creeper, but he came through for me, Alice. We saved seventy-two young girls," my voice cracks.

"Oh, B, that's wonderful. I don't think he's a creeper. I just think he and Mom had a thing."

"Well, you're partially right. They did have a moment, but realized they were better off as friends."

"Seriously?"

I shake my head. "Ya."

"Wow, Rose owes me money."

"You bet her?"

"Long time ago. We were talking, and I told her I thought they were an item."

"It was just one time, Alice."

She points out. "Once is enough."

"Did you talk with Rose?"

"I called her, but she didn't pick up."

I laugh. "That's because Seth is scratching her itch."

"I'm sure he's licking her twitch." Alice giggles.

"Okay, I'm going to crawl into bed and get some sleep."

"You do that, and later this afternoon, we're having a shopping spree and a swanky lunch/dinner to celebrate your B-day."

I frown.

"Shopping spree in an antique bookstore?"

I smile.

"Thought that would get your attention."

"Yes, it did! But we're not on anyone's map!"

When I walk into the office, I find Dad slumped over a thick file, rapidly turning each page. The man is a speed reader.

He looks up with his glasses down his nose. "Son?"

"You look absorbed."

"I'm engulfed." He hands me a photo. "Quite enlightening."

I raise my eyebrows in surprise as I examine the four women. Three stand side-by-side with their arms around one another while the fourth one is behind the middle, older woman hugging her around the neck. I look at my father and shrug.

He points. "That's Esme Platt and her three daughters.

I exhaust, "Jesus, they're all gorgeous."

He smirks. "Damn straight, badass babes, and this is the only pic of them. They're quite elusive in their work."

"This couldn't be …" I trail off.

"Ya, they're paid vigilantes."

"No wonder there was no forced entry with the porn popper. He was shot three times at close range. And miraculously, a rather large donation was given to a women's shelter from Seth Clearwater."

"Ha, Ralphie's runner?"

"They're all tied to one another."

"Jasper's working overtime."

"No, I am. Ralphie and I go back many years. Esme Platt, well, Esme Platt-Hale-Brandon-Swan, and back to Platt has been a thorn in my side for years. She was your mother's best friend."

"You didn't like her?"

"On the contrary; she was an excellent friend to your mother. She was … is, an overachiever. She always bucked the system and did things her own way."

"Sounds like Mom."

"They were the dynamic duo. But Esme moved around a lot and … well, things changed."

"Which one is this?"

"Her youngest, Isabella."

"She's sweet looking."

Dad chuckles. "She's a killer, Edward, a black belt, ex-Marine with an IQ of 185. Her sisters are just as smart, trained, and lethal. They don't go by the books. They shoot and ask questions later. All they know is that their client's mark is a liability, and the next day there's a tag on their big toe ... if there's a body."

Emmett stands by the door. "Not exactly so, dear father. They do their follow-ups. Jasper just squeaked into a file and apparently, they make pretty damn sure their guy is on the wrong side. Jesus, Isabella knocked off eight men to saved seventy-two young girls from slavery. Her older sister, Rosalie, put a damper on a porn ring worth millions, and the middle sis, Alice, poisoned a top-notch, honcho, drag club owner dealing in drugs and murdering off certain officials who don't cooperate. In one day, they did all that … not one guy was on the right side of the law. And if we helped the FBI make the collars, most of them would get off scot-free. So, Dad's pushing the right thing to do, but they're getting the scum off the streets."

Dad adds, "You sound as though you're amazed, Emmett."

"I'm starstruck by their efficiency and capabilities. In and out in minutes, finishing off the bad guys. Plus, they aren't hard on the eyes. The blonde alone makes me drool."

Jasper walks in. "I like the small one with the huge smile. She's the mistress of disguise. She had people rolling in the aisles, last night. While she was dancing, her dildo kept vibrating while she moved around the stage. Everyone got a hard-on laughing their asses off."

Emmett shoves Jasper. "Looks like your sporting one now, little brother," He guffaws.

"Well, we've been hired to put them out of business," Dad mumbles.

Emmett shakes his head. "I want to no part of it. Leave these babes alone. They're doing good work."

Dad glances up. "It's for their protection, Emmett. There are hits out on them."

"Where did you get this information?" Emmett asks.

"From the horse's mouth," Dad slips.

When I finally get the truth out of Ralphie, I want to kill him. Well, not really, but I'm pissed.

We argue in hushed voices in my office.

"And why did you send them a pic of us?"

"Look, Es, you need help with this. I don't know who ordered the hits, but you four can't be running amuck."

"But no one has a clue of our identities and descriptions. I've kept us on the QT for the last three years."

"Well, there's a leak. Someone you've dealt with is playing two sides of the coin." He points at me. "And until I find out who that is, you have to stay put. I spoke with Carlisle, and he has his boys on board. They'll be ready in a few days."

"How do you know this guy, Ralphie?"

"We're childhood chums. His family lived in the back of my house. We shared backyards."

"Was he blonde and kind of tall?"

"Yeah, yeah."

"A sniveling know-it-all?"

He chuckles. "No, that was his brother. Carlisle was always quiet and a real thinker. My Ma loved him because he was so polite."

"Round glasses?"

"Yeah, he was a nerdy kid with his head in a book."

I think back. "Yes, very pale blue eyes. He would never look at me."

"That's because you gave him your death stare and it was pretty scary coming from a little girl in pigtails with two missing front teeth."

"Har. Har." Sadly, she says, "I do know him."

"Ya, I know you do. So promise me, no more jobs until we get this squared away," Ralphie warns disregarding her tone.

I cross my heart. "Scout's honor. And thanks for bringing Rosalie home."

"She didn't give me a problem. I think she was more worried about all of you."

"As long as we're together, we'll get through this."

"Oh, I have a file on your guards for you to sift through." Ralphie pulls me into a hug. "I won't let anyone touch you or the girls." He looks into my eyes. "You're my family. Besides, I think the Cullen boys are what you need."

Ralphie leaves me to my thoughts as I stare at the folder on my desk. The girls come barging in, all three talking at once.

"What do you mean we have to stay put?" Rosalie questions.

"Mom, this is ridiculous," Alice whines.

But Bella quietly stands, and cooly pleads, "C'mon, give Mama a chance to explain. I'm sure there are good reasons for this."

Rose argues, "What reasons, Bella? No one has a description, no one knows where we live, and certainly, they can't find what they don't see."

"We don't need anyone looking over our shoulders. We need to get out there and end this nonsense. We hit before they do," Alice angrily snarls.

Mama throws back at Alice, "And you don't know who you'd be searching for. You don't have a clue."

"I have my resources."

"Ralphie wants us to lay low and stay put. I trust him. And if he says the Cullens are what we need, then we need them. He would never place us in danger."

I toss the file to the edge of the desk. "Read, there's a man for all seasons."

Rosalie's eyes widen as she pulls a photo out of the file. "Whoa, they're good looking."

Alice peers around her arm. "A man buffet."

"The tall muscle man with dimples." She waves her face.

Bella grabs the file and reads, "Carlisle Cullen, age forty-nine. He's a widower. Lost his wife, Elizabeth, in childbirth. A Rhodes Scholar of the University of Oxford. Hmm, smart man."

"He was a bookworm as a boy," Mama announces.

"Then, you knew him?" Bella asks.

"He used to live near Ralphie. We never talked."

"Why not?"

"Apparently, I scared him." Mama sadly giggles.

"Badass baby, Ma?" Rosalie taunts.

"He was three years older than me. I guess I didn't impress him. But he married my best friend, and he had to deal with us."

"Wow." All three of us moan.

"Yeah, I was with Elizabeth through all of her births, and she with Rosalie and Alice."

"Why not mine?" Bella asks.

"We lost her when she gave birth to Edward. Something went wrong. After the funeral, I decided it was time to move on. I knew Carlisle would raise his sons his way and I couldn't watch."

"Too rigid?" Rosalie frowns.

"Yeah, a stick up his ass."

Alice asks Bella, "So, how old are the sons?"

Bella searches the pages. "Emmett Andrew is the oldest at twenty-six." She addresses Rosalie, "Muscle man with dimples."

Rosalie swoons, "I'm in love. He can guard me all night long."

"Excuse me?" I stare her down.

"Oh please, Ma, you wouldn't be all over Carlisle? It looks like the bookworm blossomed," Rose states.

Mama huffs, "He was my best friend's husband. We had a code of ethics, 'Honor amongst thieves' and that's something you abide by."

Alice chimes, "Well, he's single now."

Bella continues, "Second son, Jasper Alexander, is twenty-five. He's a computer expert and a master at disguise." She flashes to Alice. "You two have a lot in common

And he has a bulging rocket you may want to explore."

Alice grabs the photo from Rosalie and scrutinizes his lower extremities.

"And Baby Cullen, Edward Anthony, is twenty-three and six-foot-three."

Rosalie chirps, "You're five-foot-three will fit him like a glove."

"They're all trained in Taekwondo, served in Afghanistan for two tours as Marines, and now they don't use any ... firearms."

Rosalie complains, "Sure, we'll get hit because they aren't carrying. Ma, that makes no sense."

"Ralphie said that Carlisle likes to go by the book," Mama adds.

"What book, 'The Book of Mormon'?" Alice sarcastically asks.

"That doesn't reassure me." Rosalie unhappily gripes. "Give me a man who carries a huge piece and I feel safe."

Alice giggles.

"It doesn't matter Rose, you'll be packing."

"For God's sake, they all went to Afghanistan and survived," Bella points out.

"But they had rifles," Alice says waving her arms.

"Ah, my girls, let's just wait and see."

A few days pass, and, as promised, we receive word that Carlisle and his sons are in position. What that means I have no idea, but it just feels creepy not knowing where they're located. I look out the back kitchen window expecting to see them in a tree.

Alice stands behind me. "What are you looking at, Bella?"

I sigh. "Nothing." I turn to her. "Well, Ralphie called. Apparently, the Cullen men are on the job."

Mama enters with her cell to her ear. "If you think that's necessary. Okay, just bring them by. All right, see you around seven."

"What's that all about, Mom?" Alice asks.

"Do you think you girls could share a room? Rosalie's going to come in with me?"

"Why?"

"Ralphie had some disturbing news from his 'source', and he believes Carlisle and his sons should be here on the inside. Going back and forth from the safe house isn't conducive. They need to be in the house. So, would you mind sharing Alice's room and they can have yours and Rosalie's?"

"Mom, are you sure about this? Maybe Ralphie's being paranoid? This came out of nowhere."

"I'm afraid to say that he has been warning me for some time. And the threats are out there. We don't know if there are one or four shooters."

"Or any," Alice mumbles. "Okay, so we're prisoners in our own home."

"Look, I don't like this any more than you do, Alice, but we're being targeted, and Carlisle and his boys have signed on to protect us. I'm sure this won't be easy for them being on a 24/7 watch."

"Mama, they're military. This will be a breeze. And Alice, we could use a few days off. Movie marathon? Binge junk food eating? Yoga pants, tank tops, and thick socks. And I'll do the cooking and baking. Daisy can have the time off."

"I'm glad you said that, Sweetheart. Daisy's already gone. The Cullens didn't want any distractions. They want to be focused without having to worry about another person."

"I can understand that. So, when are they moving in?"

"Ralphie's circling his route. So, they should be here in three hours."

"I'll get my things out of my room and then start dinner."

"Thank you, Bella."

As Rose primps upstairs, Alice watches me prepare dinner, sneaking a taste in between each dish.

"Would you quit sticking your bread in the sauce, you're getting crumbs in it," I snap.

Alice licks her thumb. "It's so good."

I smile. "Dinner's going to be interesting."

"What are we eating," Mama asks as she turns the corner.

"It's a heavy meal, so I didn't prepare any appetizers. I pressure cooked two briskets in gravy. And for sides, there are smashed potatoes, green peas, rolls, and a fresh salad. I made red velvet cakes for dessert, and coffee. Do you think that will do?"

"Quite a feast!"

"Well, I think we should show our appreciation."

"With a meal like this, I think they'll get the point."

A few minutes after seven, there's a knock at the back door. Ralphie's face stares at me as I open it. "I parked in the downstairs garage."

Carlisle follows him. "We need to get all of these windows covered."

"Why didn't you use the elevator?" I ask.

Ralphie answers, "I wanted Carlisle to see the outside setup. Wow, what is that amazing smell, Bella, the beautiful?" He grabs my hand and kisses it.

"Brisket." I smile at him.

Emmett shoves his way through. "One of my favorites."

"I hope you like smashed potatoes and gravy, too."

"Oh, I eat anything, but I think you just stole Edward's heart."

Edward's ears turn a light shade of pink.

"Please, come in and make yourselves at home. Ralphie, are you staying for dinner?"

"I'm sorry, sweet girl, but I have stooges to meet."

Rose stands at the doorway. "Curly, Larry and Moe?"

The joke breaks the awkwardness. Then, Mama walks in from the other side, as

Alice stands near her. "Don't forget Shep."

Mama greets Carlisle. "It's been a long time, Carl."

He quietly addresses her, "Esme."

She suggests, "Well, why don't you boys take your bags and settle in upstairs. Then, come on back down for dinner. Bella is an amazing cook. You're in for a treat."

Rosalie offers, "Come, I'll show you to your rooms."

Carlisle nods. He and his boys follow her with Alice tagging behind.

I whisper in Mama's ear, "You can breathe now."

Ralphie chuckles, "That went well."

"How about I pack you some dinner? I made plenty enough."

I send Ralphie off with a care package, and Mama and I ready everything on the table.

Once everyone enters the dining room, I direct Mama and Carlisle to sit at the heads of the table. Rose, Alice, and I sit to Mama's right while Emmett, Jasper, and Edward sit across from us.

The salad course passes quickly. Alice and Jasper are deep into a discussion of costuming. Emmett and Rose talk about diet, exercise, and cars. Mama and Carlisle keep their heads down playing with their lettuce. But it's Edward and our love for cooking that surprises me.

He helps me remove the dishes to the kitchen and brings out the large platter of brisket and gravy while I carry the bowls of potatoes, peas, and crusty French bread. Alice pours the wine.

I serve Mama and Carlisle their plates, first. Once everyone has their food, the dinnerware echoes throughout the room along with hums and moans. The quiet chewing is actually pleasant for me because dinner is a hit. Eyes closed, I squeal to myself on the inside. I open to see Edward with his thumbs up.

Maybe, this won't be so bad.

With dinner behind us, I carry out two, red velvet cakes; one with the traditional cream cheese frosting and the other with milk chocolate, butter cream. I cut the cakes while Alice happily serves the coffee to everyone's liking.

Jasper takes a bite of his cake and sighs, "I love red velvet, but I'm not a fan of the cream cheese frosting. This chocolate is great."

Alice broadly smiles, as I point out, "Alice doesn't like the cream cheese either, so I've always made it with chocolate. It's her favorite."

Jasper salutes a bite to Alice. "It's my favorite, too."

I glance at Mama, and she gives Carlisle a death stare. He frowns.

My brain goes to many places. Later, I need to ask her about her attitude.

With the dishes in the dishwasher and the leftovers in the refrigerator, I sit at the island with a cup of peppermint tea, sugar, and a splash of milk. It's quiet in the house. I treasure these moments as I sneak a few cookies to dip into my tea.

Sucking on a drenched cookie, I look up, and Edward stands in the doorway.

"Alice said you were here."

"Did you need something?" I ask as I slip the cookie back onto the plate.

He smirks, looks at the plate. "I'm sorry if I interrupted you."

"It's okay. My family knows I have a sweet tooth. Would you like a cookie … or two?" I ask. "They're chocolate chip."

"I have a weakness for chocolate."

"Would you like coffee or tea?"

"Milk?"

I smirk. Milk, huh?"

"It does a body good."

"Apparently."

I grab the milk, pour a tall glass for Edward and set it on the island. He sits next to me, and I offer him the plate.

Edward finally looks in my direction. "Did you ever want to become a chef?

"Did you?"

"At one time I did."

"Yeah, me, too."

"How do you do it, Bella?" I ask. "I'm not trying to be an asshole."

"You didn't kill anyone in Afghanistan?"

"That's war."

"Well, we have a war waged in our own country. Men who think they can take young girls from their homes and sell them to the highest bidder for sex games. I don't know about you, but they don't want to be rehabilitated, and they don't want to stop making their money by hurting others. There is no other choice. I protect innocent children from living a life of horror. Those men don't deserve to live."

"So, you're the judge and jury?"

"Our jury system sucks. Most judges are bought by these enterprising assholes. And the lawyers are out for themselves. No, I don't believe in any of them. I believe children need to be children in a safe environment."

"But we have laws, Bella."

"And these cartels don't abide by them. We have to fight fire with fire. We have to end them, or they multiply."

"Like Gremlins?"

"Only when they eat after midnight."

"Point taken."

"I know you are a straight arrow."

"Who told you that?"

"Mama and Ralphie said your dad is a man who follows the book."

"I'm not my dad."

"But you work together."

"Sometimes, we just don't see eye to eye."

"And your brothers?"

"Jasper is a strategist. He lives for the kill. And Emmett's all about saving the little guy."

"But you don't carry any weapons."

"Now, that's another fallacy. Because I don't draw a weapon doesn't mean one's not there."

"I thought you were against what we do."

He shakes his head. "On the contrary, we're very impressed." He smiles. "And you can cook."

I blush biting my lower lip and turning my head.

Edward lightly touches my chin and draws my eyes to his. "I don't believe there's anything about you I don't like."

Weeks fly by without any difficulties. Edward only leaves my side at bedtime. The same remains with my sisters. Yet, Mama and Carlisle keep a safe distance. I wonder about that. They're too careful with one another, but I catch their hidden glances. Yeah, something is up.

I'm not the only one who's suspicious.

Edward and I share our evening cookies and milk together, but tonight he has a frown on his beautiful face.

"What's troubling you?" I ask.

"Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed our time together, but something isn't right?"

"Yeah, I agree. Not one attempt, not one scare."

"I've deemed the excuse that they are searching with no idea of your identity, but moles are moles, and if someone wanted all of you dead, you would be."

I sigh. "I agree, despite your threatening appearance as a bodyguard."

"No, no one is doing anything. And every time I ask Ralphie a question, he diverts my inquiry to another subject."

"Exactly. He usually asks me for a doggie bag of dinner."

"Then, maybe we need to corner him and find out the truth. Maybe he knows who the assassins are and he's just waiting out the inevitable."

"No, that's not it. He would never allow anyone to harm us, Edward. My mother is like a sister, and we are his nieces. He'd sooner die for us than allow that to happen."

"So we corner him?"

"With a little truth serum." I smile.

The following day, we wait.

Mama and Carlisle hold up in their rooms after dinner while Edward and I fill our sisters and brothers in on our findings. Soon after, Ralphie shows up, and I offer him pie to take home. With his back to me, Alice quickly scoots next to Ralphie and pokes him with a needle.

With a surprised look, he falls into a chair. "Halfpint, what did you just do?"

She smiles. "Nothing to hurt you, Ralphie. Just a little incentive for you to talk."

He frowns and looks around. "About what?"

Edward sits in front of him. "The truth."

I lean over. "About this erroneous story about our lives in danger."

He takes a huge breath. "Yes, my girls are in danger."

Rose shouts, "No, we're not." She runs her hands through her hair. "Ralphie, it's been weeks. If someone were going to do us in, we would be six feet under already."

Alice interjects, "The truth, Ralphie, please."

He closes his eyes, sighs and begins, "I want her to be happy."

We all stare at him and wait.

Impatien, Alice pushes, "Well?"

"I made up the whole thing."

We all say, "Why?"

"For them. I figured if they spent time together in a close space, they would give in to their feelings."

We all say, "Who?"

"My mouth is dry. May I have some water?"

I get Ralphie a glass. His hands are shaky, so I help him to sip. He takes my hand and quietly explains, "They were young when they met. Carlisle could never speak to your mother. He was always dumbfounded by her beauty."

I finally take a breath. "I don't understand."

"It was love at first sight for them. She loved his quirky ways, and he was just head over heels … but they never told one another."

"Mama hates Carlisle," I whisper.

"Not true, Bella. And when a new girl moved into the neighborhood, Esme faded into the background."

Stunned, all of us sit in silence.

"Elizabeth and Esme became inseparable." He huffs. "Best friends at first sight."

"Our mothers?" Jasper asks.

"Yes. They were like sisters, and would never intentionally hurt one another. Both … giving, loving and unselfish. So, when Esme introduced Elizabeth to Carlisle, she saw Elizabeth's desire, and unknowing of Carlisle's, she stepped aside."

"What about our father?" Emmett questions. "How could he not know?"

"Esme knows how to keep a secret. She has the perfect poker face."

With tears running down her face, Alice painfully says, "She watched them get married."

"And she was happy for her friend."

Rose sobs, "But why?"

"They had a code. Their men were off-limits. She never stepped beyond those boundaries."

"But my mother died during my birth," Edward utters.

"Esme felt it would have been a betrayal to your mother to finally tell Carlisle. So, she left. She married a man she barely knew."

"My father," I say.

"Charlie was good to her and your sisters. When you came along, Bella, the man was ecstatic. As far as he knew, he had the perfect family. Then, three days later, he was shot in the line of duty. A simple robbery killed the chief of police."

Edward grabs my hand as I hold back my tears and sit up straight.

"Esme had nowhere to go. When I found out, you girls stayed with me for a while. She watched my comings and goings. She was bitter about her loss … well, losses. Esme asked me to train her. She wanted to make a difference. And when she found out that Charlie's killer got away scot-free because of a technicality, she wanted justice. The rest you know."

I ask, "So, why now are you trying to match them up after thirty years?"

"Because they're alone and unhappy. He still looks at her with longing."

Edward repeats, "His words, 'She has been a thorn in my side for years'. That's what he said to me."

I add, "She said he had a stick up his ass."

"Take my word for it, they still and always will love each other. So, now that you know, will all of you help me? It's all on my nickel."

Rose frowns. "I don't know, they're both pretty stubborn."

Alice giggles. "Maybe if we lock them in a room …"

Jasper snaps his fingers. "Then, they would have to talk."

I sadly say, "But will Mama finally break their code?"

"Nonexistent code," Edward adds.

"Well, I'm in." Emmett puts out his hand.

One by one, we lay our hands over Emmett's with Ralphie's at the top.

"And one last thing, no more sticking me with needles. I hate them. I would have talked."

We all laugh.

* Victor/Victoria … Character from a movie: a woman pretending to be a man in drag.

'Janey's Got a Gun' by Aerosmith

:/ watch?v=45aRMPsOrKM

The Book of Mormon is a musical comedy about two young Mormon missionaries who travel to Uganda to preach the Mormon religion.