This story has been pulled and published as Bloody Halo: A Secret Baby Dark Mafia Romance by Lara Norman. You can find it here: www dot books2read dot com /BloodyHalo

She will rise. With a spine of steel and a roar like thunder; she will rise. ~ Nicole Lyons

Though I heard the rumors off and on throughout the day, I tried to ignore them. Tuned into my internal thoughts instead of the idle gossip floating on the air, I shelved books and checked out customers. My favorite thing about the library was that it smelled of crisp paper, toner, old bindings, and glue. Any noise was muted, hushed voices excitedly carrying the news as though Edward Cullen, former Forks resident and subject of my first and only crush, was the Prince of India instead of a criminal. At the end of the day, I was happy to clock out, to flip the sign from open to closed and head back to my parents' house. There was no shame in still living with my parents at twenty-two. It was typical in the small, gloomy town of Forks, Washington, where no one ever aspired to be much. Cashiers, waitresses, and retail workers were typical jobs for the others my age who never left for college, and the majority of them lived at home, as well.

Gossip was normal and as expected as a constant cloud cover. A day couldn't pass without talk of who was seeing who—whether it was in public or in secret—who had been fired or who had passed on. Nobody moved away and nobody moved in; stagnant was the best word for our sleepy town. Though I wasn't fond of it, I'd learned to live with it; the routine and monotony was at least somewhat comforting. Gossip was a waste of intellect, but I never said so out loud. Who would care about my opinion if I did? Still, I knew Edward Cullen's visit had the power to shake up the town. In fact, it already had.

"Hi, Dad," I said as I let myself in the kitchen door, hanging my purse and coat on the rack with robotic movements.

My father sat at the kitchen table in one of the three white chairs, flipping through the latest issue of his favorite hunting magazine. He didn't even bother to glance up as I entered, just acknowledged me with his usual greeting. "Hey, kiddo."

"Mom home?"

Mom got a ride home from work since they couldn't afford a second car. The only reason I had a vehicle was because I'd saved up my allowance through high school and added to those funds when I got my first paycheck. My truck was ancient but mostly reliable. Anything was a thousand times better than getting a ride from my father.

"Not yet."

Opening the fridge, I stood looking at what I could make for dinner. I didn't really want fish again, but it was the only thing defrosted. Giving up, I closed the fridge and washed my hands so I could get started making dinner. It was the same routine every night, and every night I wondered what my parents would do without me. For two middle-age adults, they acted as though they couldn't function without help. Mom was the manager at the Thriftway but couldn't put anything edible on the table if her life depended on it. Dad was more likely to burn anything he attempted, but he was less likely to even get up and try. They were a lost cause.

My parents took me for granted, and I knew it, but what choice did I have? I didn't make enough money to move out, and the thought of living alone made me feel depressed. I had no choice but to relegate myself to taking on the meals and chores, or else they would never get done.

Mom came in at the same time I finished making dinner. "Hi, Bella. Ooh, fried fish."

I sighed.

While I pushed the food around on my plate, Mom and Dad talked about the arrival of Edward and what it meant for the police department, apparently feeling as though they were obligated to keep an eye on him. Even the new topic of conversation wasn't enough to keep me entertained. Mealtime was tedious, and I was bored long before I had the chance to flee.

After we'd eaten dinner and the dishes were clean, I went upstairs to my room. It was only recently that I'd begun to feel such a deep sense of restlessness. I hated doing the same thing day in and day out, nothing new ever happening to lift my mood. Go to work, come home, make dinner for my incompetent and overprotective parents, then spend the evening reading. I had friends, or maybe acquaintances was the right word, but I didn't go out. Crowds made me anxious, and my throat closed up at the mere thought of making small talk with a stranger. The life I once thought of as cozy and familiar was now suffocating me.

The rumors of Edward's arrival continued the next day. They were fewer and farther between, but I heard them regardless. Probably because my ears seemed to prick with awareness each time someone mentioned his name. Memories of him were not hard to pull up in my mind; he'd been the most popular boy in school, the most handsome, and the only one with infamous parents. Shaking my head, I went back to eating my sandwich in the small break room in the back office of the library.

A ding from my phone had me checking my bag. My one indulgence was to carry a smartphone, even though almost no one called or texted, but I wanted to be prepared in case of an emergency. As I pulled it out, I saw a message from Angela.

My only good friend, Angela had been fortunate to go on to college in New York, but it meant I rarely saw her anymore. The text said she was in town and wanted to meet at the diner later. Deciding on the spot that I would go, I replied immediately. Anything was better than cooking for my parents. Guess it would be pizza night for them. I sent a text to Mom, knowing she would be less likely to have her phone on her in the middle of the day than Dad. He would make me feel guilty for not being there that evening, even if he didn't intend to. Unlike me, they didn't notice they'd become stagnant.

I caught the answering text from Ang before going back to work, and it made me smile. I couldn't wait, either.

The idea of breaking up the monotony of my life cheered me immensely. The rest of the day flew by, and before I knew it, I was pulling into the lot of the Forks Diner. Spotting Angela's red Celica in a space near the front door, I felt a sense of excitement I'd almost forgotten I was even capable of feeling. With a grin, I pushed my way in and found my friend waving to me from a table in the back.

"I went ahead and sat down because they're crowded tonight and we wouldn't have gotten a table otherwise," Ang said as she stood to hug me. "You've lost weight."

With a self-conscious shrug, I sat across from her. "I hadn't noticed."

"You're a rail, Bella." Shaking her head, Angela picked up a sticky, plastic-coated menu with the tips of her fingers. "Order a burger and fries, on me. And a milkshake."

My lips twisted in a wry smile. "I see going to college hasn't changed you any."

"Maybe I've changed college. Oh, the Frisco melt sounds perfect. It's been so long since I've eaten here."

As the bell over the door clanged, I looked up at some kids from our graduating class who came in, being their usual rowdy selves. I supposed they couldn't actually be called kids anymore, but they acted as if they still were. "It's all the same. I don't think they've ever changed the menu."

"Hey, are you doing okay?"

I looked back at my friend, at the hands folded over the menu on the table, at the short nails with bright red polish, the denim jacket over a shirt of flaming orange, and the chin-length bob. In contrast, I wore khaki slacks and a pale blue polo shirt, leftover from my job at the library. Angela was the complete opposite of me, and yet we had remained friends, if not terribly close. There was an expression of concern on her face, one which I was all too familiar with seeing.

I knew I couldn't hide my inertia from her. "I'm fine."

She rolled her eyes. "Don't give me the classic response, woman. I'm sorry if school has taken so much of my time that I haven't been here for you. I'm almost finished."

"Yes, and then you'll have a career in the city, and that's the way it should be. You're not meant for this town." I was meant for this town, but Angela was meant for excitement and adventure. What a painful reminder of my lack of prospects our shared meal had turned out to be.

"What a nihilistic thing to say."

The waitress came over, halting any more discussion. It was a relief to me, if only because I didn't want to tell Angela she'd misused nihilistic, and I hadn't meant to say anything about the town and its innate claustrophobia. I was there to catch up and enjoy myself. If nothing else, I could live vicariously through my Angela. With an enthusiasm I no longer felt, I brought the subject back around to my friend's future.

"So, you'll graduate in a few months. Do you have an internship lined up, or any ideas where you want to get hired?"

I let her talk as we waited for our food, occasionally injecting a word or two. Listening with half an ear, I watched everyone moving around the diner over Angela's shoulder. When the door opened and a few broad-shouldered men walked in wearing dark suits and black overcoats, I took notice. They lingered near the register, spoke to someone behind the counter, paid, and stood by the door to wait with their hands clasped in front of them.

My heart sped up. That meant he was nearby. Was he outside? Was he waiting in the limo, heater running and radio tuned to a classic station? It was pathetic how much I knew about him when he didn't even know I existed.

My mouth went dry at the thought.

"I'm going to run to the bathroom."

I didn't stick around long enough to find out if she was surprised by the abrupt nature of my announcement. Hurrying to the bathroom, I ran the cold water full force into the basin.

I'm such a loser. Who got heart palpitations at the idea of someone I once had a crush on being within a one-mile radius? So what if he was there? He had better things to do than stop and talk to me, the awkward girl he went to school with once upon a time. He had never acknowledged me back then, and it wouldn't be any different that night or any other time he might cross my path. Was this what my life had been reduced to? Panic attacks at the thought of encountering Edward Cullen in the Forks Diner?

After splashing icy water on my overheated cheeks, I scrubbed them dry with a scratchy paper towel and took a deep breath. Swinging open the door to head back out to Angela, I froze.

Edward was in the hallway outside the bathrooms, glancing between the signs and looking right through me. His hair was longer than I recalled, brushing his collar and flopping in his face, and he wore a knee-length overcoat similar to the ones his men wore with a dark gray suit underneath. His tie was haphazardly loosened, the darkest shade of red conjuring images of pooling blood.

I didn't move until the men's room door swung closed behind him, then walked on shaky legs back to the table. Idiot, idiot, idiot! I chanted in my head. It took effort not to trip over the scuffed linoleum on the way to the booth, and then I practically fell into it.

Angela looked up in alarm. "Is everything all right, Bella?"

I felt ten times the fool and hoped Angela wasn't too observant of that fact. "Of course."

"Okay." Angela didn't sound in the least bit convinced but, thankfully, she didn't push the subject.

There were plates of food on the table, and I ate mechanically, but I couldn't stop watching the doorway where he would have to emerge. Never would I have guessed exactly how deep my feelings ran, or that they'd even lasted all these years until seeing him in person. It was stupid, and bound to give me heartache, but I wished he would notice me just one time.

When he came through the diner, I paused with a fry halfway to my mouth in order to watch him walk. Everything about him mesmerized me; the graceful steps, the straight posture, the casual confidence he exuded. His hair was the same auburn disarray I'd loved in high school, and even the fluorescent lighting couldn't ruin the sheen. He appeared to have grown taller, but that could have been my perception since I was seated. I had a visceral urge to discover if he smelled the same, like pine and wood smoke and everything danger represented.

Everyone quieted in the diner and watched him pass through, so at least I didn't feel too out of place, but I assumed no one else was as agonizingly smitten. I had not felt so pathetically immature since I'd worked up the nerve to say hello to him in the ninth grade, only to have him walk right on by as though I didn't exist.

"Isn't that—"

"Edward Cullen," I murmured, cutting off Angela's question.

The only man who'd ever made me yearn for his attention. The only man who'd ever left Forks to become a wealthy, powerful mob boss.

The only man with the capacity to break my heart.