As beachcomberlc had to remind me this week, this is my story and I'm going to tell it my way. I owe her a great deal of thanks for her help with this story and all my work. Many thanks to IpsitaC77 for all that she gives without asking for anything in return.

Chapter 16

The sound of the surf, the lack of ambient light and the heavy meal all helped Bella have a deeply refreshing sleep. The bed she rested on was enormous; she could've slept like a starfish and not come near the edges. Not even the skittering sound of Victoria hunting roused Bella. She woke up later than usual and lounged in bed for a long time. Only the desire for coffee and the need to pee convinced her to get up and start her day.

The sun hung several feet above the water as the waves gently rolled up to the shore. Bella took her coffee and a plate of fruit out to the pilapa to watch the waves. The dinner last night was lovely. Having been so alone for such a long time, Bella had worried that dinner with strangers would be uncomfortable or awkward, but she fit in with the group and found it easy to hold up her end of the conversation. She talked fishing with Garrett and Kate, TV with Laurent and Irina and cooking with Tanya. It was like being with old friends. Tanya and Kate offered to come by after lunch and give Bella, Emmett and Rose a tour of the island.

Carmen had hand-drawn a map of the island last night, pointing out the best swimming spot, the better snorkeling places, as well as ocean and jungle areas to avoid. Kate embellished on the map with her own favourite spots during the tour. There was a listing of garden plots and the produce grown in each, as well as a general notation of where the best fruit trees were located. Part of the tour included how to choose ripe fruit from trees they were unfamiliar with, such as breadfruit, jackfruit and sapodilla. Or Bella could get whatever ripe produce she needed from the storeroom.

Back at Bella's cottage, Kate showed them how to prepare some of the more exotic fruits and which parts could be given to improve Victoria's temperament. Tanya showed Bella the small garden to the side of her cottage where tomatoes, sweet peppers and green onions grew.

There were two each of avocado and mango trees and a couple of coconut palms growing between Bella and Rosalie's cottages. On the other side of Bella's cottage were a lime tree and two papayas. Bella had a smile on her face the entire day. Dinner was at the main building again that night. The leftover chicken from the night before was turned into a spicy stew served with warm, fresh corn tortillas. Bella found her appetite on the island.

Days filled with swimming, catching rock lobster with Garrett, or reading a thick novel took up the bulk of Bella's time. She and Emmett went running up and down the runway at the end of the island a couple times a week for fun and exercise. Carmen taught her how to make tortillas and local dishes. Hurricane season started, but the little island weathered the storms well. There were days when Bella didn't leave her cottage, choosing to stay alone, music blaring. There was the occasional sleepover with all the women, like they were silly schoolgirls doing each others' hair and nails while talking about men, who were banished to the other side of the island for the night. They even had an overnight at the main building after a movie marathon that saw Bella sleeping in a hammock under the stars. The girls introduced her to the television series Lost, which made Bella look at the jungle and beaches on the island in a new light. They poured over each episode, watching the outtakes and cut scenes for clues. Light-hearted arguing about their theories and suspicions made for long, but hilarious nights. Tanya and Kate were hoping to get season three by Christmas, if the mail delivery ran smoothly on the mainland.

Bella felt happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She gained weight, but was toned from daily exercise. The sun had lightened her hair, giving her red highlights and a dotting of freckles across her nose. The humidity curled the ends of her hair and the wind tossed it into a riot of waves. The lack of work stress showed on her face, in the set of her shoulders and the way she carried herself. Week after week of good sleep made her eyes brighter and her smile wider.

Two months passed quickly and easily. All too soon, it would be time for her to go back to Canada. But there was nothing there for her to go back to. Bella spent considerable time thinking about Edward's offer of five million dollars in exchange for her silence, in exchange for her soul. She wondered if she could really quantify one of her body parts like that. What was a kidney worth? More or less than her dignity or autonomy? Other than her scar, which healed very nicely, she had no real proof. She knew Cullen would cover his tracks well; he had more than enough money to bribe his way out of the situation.

She wondered about Alice, about Edward's family and his reasons for doing this. Bella hoped Alice was recuperating well. Despite everything, Bella worried for Alice more than herself. Alice certainly looked well; weak, but well when Bella met her. She didn't wish any harm to Edward's sister, nor to his mother and father. It must have been hard waiting for a donor, and all the medical stuff that goes along with failing kidneys had to have taken its toll on the family. Bella didn't begrudge Alice her health with Bella's kidney, just the manner in which it was taken. For that, Edward Cullen must pay.

With the five million dollars, Bella could go back to school and get a degree, rather than her handful of community college diplomas and certificates. She could travel and see the world, starting with Seth in Melbourne and possibly her mother in Hokkaido. She could buy a small house somewhere in a small town and live out a quiet lifetime there; reading, watching TV and doing things that make her happy.

But then he'd own her. Bella would be bought and paid for by Edward Cullen. He could do whatever he liked because he would have a hold over her. More than the hold she would have over him. Five million dollars was nothing to him, just like she was nothing to him. If she took his money, she'd be worth less than nothing. Bella decided to confront him and make demands her way, on her terms.

Bella assumed she would be delivered back to Cullen's clutches after her sojourn on the island. She practiced, pacing up and down the deck and along the beach. Long, eloquent diatribes which always ended with Edward in tears, awestruck by her verbal skills and begging for her forgiveness. He'd throw himself at her feet and at her mercy. She'd look at him with disdain and then her imagination would run out. She couldn't think of what would satisfy her enough to forgive him. But she knew, as sure as shit, it wasn't his money.

One long, rainy night she figured a few things out and put them on paper. She made a list of what she wanted and what she dreamed of. Laying out her rules and stipulations helped her heal. She would be ready when she next met with him. She would force him to listen, command his attention and get everything she wanted. Bella planned to cut him down, slice by slice, until he felt an inch tall.

Of course, all her bravado failed the afternoon she saw him sitting on the rocks on the other side of her cottage. Bella ducked back under the cover of the pilapa and hurried back inside the cottage as quickly as she could before he could notice her.

AN: My rec for this week is a trilogy, Isabelle Sumner's Secrets of the Court, The Broken Throne, and The Weight of the Crown. I haven't had time yet to dive into these but I've heard wonderful things about these stories.

Thank you for reading.