It was finally Saturday. Blessedly, I hadn't woken up because of my usual bout of dreams. My brain was fuzz-free and I was ready to go over the details of the case afresh.
I hadn't seen Edward in several days, nor had Rosalie called. I was on the verge of calling her when my phone buzzed.
"Uh, hi, Bella. It's Rose." She sounded tentative, like her phone might implode by talking to me.
I paused for a second, trying to figure out what one says in such an awkward situation. I didn't feel that I had been wrong, but I also didn't want to burn any more bridges with my friend. Before I could decide what to say, she spoke again.
"Listen, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what happened. I'm, uh, s-sor-rry." The last word tumbled from her lips like she had forcefully expelled it. Apparently Rose wasn't all that used to apologizing.
"Thanks, I appreciate it."
"So…whatcha doing today?" she asked, as if nothing had ever been wrong to begin with.
"I'm at the office with Victoria, going over some files."
"Oh, yeah, she's the, uh, new agent assigned to protect me." I imagined Rose's flinch as I tried to answer her questions diplomatically.
"Oh." Another awkward pause. "Well, if you've got some time this weekend, would you like to grab coffee or hit the gym?"
"Sure. Tomorrow morning?"
"Sounds great," she said before clicking our conversation to a close.
Her phone call made me chafe a little more, if possible, for Edward. I missed him. Even though I had only known him for a handful of days, he had definitely made an impression. I wanted to get to know him better, to see more of the real Edward Cullen, the man who was kind and fun. His asshole-ish tendencies felt like a distant memory to me now.
Victoria and I had bonded during our time together. She was a laid-back, all around cool chick. We had played pool a few more times and gone to the range and the gym. She was an excellent sparring partner and a healthy change of pace from Rose—I needed to practice with someone whose moves I couldn't readily predict.
"It just doesn't make sense," she said as she peered at the stack of documents piled upon my desk. "How could the prisoners have escaped if only two people knew where they were going?"
"I'm not sure. This is a horrible thing to think, but, I was really hoping one of them would turn out to be dirty."
"That is horrible," she grinned, "but understandable."
I had been wrestling with a decision for several days and finally decided to just lay it out for her.
"Vick, I think I know how we could get some better leads for this case—but, it's not exactly by the book."
At my last few words, her eyes lit up, like breaking protocol was her favorite pastime.
"Let's hear it," she said eagerly.
"Well, when I first started investigating this case, Mitch and I suspected the Italians were involved. I've got a few contacts in Rome who might know more, but a phone call is too risky. And, because of the infiltration of this office, I can't tell Mitch or anyone else about an international trip."
I didn't honestly suspect Mitch, but he was bound by certain requirements that would seriously hamper any international progress I could make…like having to report all of my meetings and actions to his higher-ups. I needed to keep this as quiet as possible.
"When do we leave?"
Her readiness to put her career in peril warmed my heart. Even so, I had to make sure she understood the consequences if Mitch found out we went abroad without authorization.
"This could cost us both our jobs…or worse."
She nodded as I spoke, breaking in, "Bella, if this will propel the case even one iota forward, I'm game if you are."
"I think I love you," I teased. She winked seductively at me and laughed, her icy eyes sparkling with mirth. I marveled at how quickly we'd become so close—I hadn't clicked this well with anyone in a long time…except, perhaps, Ed—
"When are we leaving?" she wondered, breaking into my millionth Edward thought of the day. It was a good question. I'd likely need at least two or three days to get things set up.
"Probably Tuesday, assuming all goes smoothly and I can get in touch with my contacts."
"Sweet, this will be fun!"
The way she had worded her last phrase made me think of Jake and I decided it was time to pay him a much-overdue visit.
"Do you mind if we call it a day? I'm not making any progress and I need to see a friend before we leave the country."
I dialed his number as Victoria began to pack up and re-file all the manila folders we'd pulled out.
"Bella!" his voice rang through the receiver. I took it as a good omen that he was off-duty today, evident by the fact that he had answered his personal cell phone.
"Hi, Jake. Hey, wanna grab a bite?" One of the things I loved about Jake was that I didn't need to pull any punches—I could get straight to the point.
"When, now?" the words rushed out.
"Yeah, if you're free, that is."
"SURE!" he all but roared through the phone.
"Any place in mind?" I asked.
"I have a hankerin' for pancakes."
"Jake! I'm so glad to see you!" It wasn't a lie, I hadn't seen Jacob in nearly two months. I honestly missed him. Even though I knew things would likely take an awkward turn or two when we were together, I needed to see him.
"I've missed you too, Bells." He grinned at me. I remembered what it was like when were together. He was always so sweet, so in tune with what I needed. That hadn't changed.
His tone changed and Officer Black suddenly appeared.
"What's with the redhead watching us?" he wondered, motioning at the table where Victoria sat, obviously keeping a less-than-covert eye on me. Damn. It's not like I thought he wouldn't notice her, I just sorta hoped…
"Her name is Victoria, she's assigned to me."
"Assigned to you? What? Why? When? Spill it, now, Bella," he ordered in his best and most intimidating police voice. I was sure that a fair share of criminals had cowered at his wrathful tone. The look in his eyes wasn't exactly heart-warming either. I knew him, though, and wasn't afraid. But ugh, I thought Jacob would overreact when he found out what had happened. I couldn't rightly leave Victoria at home, though.
"It's a long story," I hedged. He shook his head, not buying what I was selling.
"Bullshit. I've got plenty of time."
"Alright, well, remember I asked you to check into that black Mercedes?" He nodded as I continued, "It's all part of my newest case. I'm running point on it." He grinned, pleased at my accomplishment.
"Anyway, I can't go into a lot of detail, but the life of one of DC's hotshots was recently threatened. Whoever is responsible for trying to take him out had two goons attack me in a parking lot."
He reacted like I knew he would. First, his eyes bulged so severely that I really thought they might pop right out of their sockets. Then, a look of base anger so grotesquely contorted his face that he looked like a different person. I took a nervous sip of freshly-delivered coffee as I waited for Mt. Black to erupt.
"Bella, are you alright?" I could tell he was pulling double-duty to keep his voice so tightly controlled. I appreciated the effort.
"Yes, Jake. I'm fine." He looked me up and down, evaluating whether my words comported with reality.
"What happened." It wasn't a question so much as a command.
"They caught me off guard, but I managed to ass-whip them both." He looked impressed but not surprised. Jake had been my sparring partner for many years; he knew the punches I packed.
"Why didn't you call me sooner?"
"Honestly, I didn't want you to freak out."
"Double bullshit. I can't believe you didn't call me! What the FUCK!" He had lost control. Patrons glanced nervously at us as Jacob continued his tirade. Victoria had come to stand silently nearby in case he turned violent. I knew Jacob would never hurt me, but Victoria didn't.
"Is there a problem here?" she interceded, looking sharply at Jacob and pointedly fingering the gun tucked inside her suit.
"Who the hell are you?" Jacob spat at her.
"Agent Victoria James. Who the hell are you?"
"Well, officer, I think you need to tone it down. Don't you?" she said, motioning at the now-silent establishment. People quickly turned away as Jacob finally came back down and noticed that everyone was avoiding eye contact with him.
"Shit, I'm sorry, Bella. I shouldn't have overreacted. I just hate the men who did that to you!"
"It's okay, Jake."
"I want you off the case, now!" He had calmed down, but was still simmering beneath the surface.
"No." I didn't need to yell to get my point across. He got it—I wasn't about to back down from my hottest case to date. Or my hottest client.
"Don't start with me, Jake. This type of case is precisely why I joined the FBI in the first place. Charlie would want me to do some good—stopping the terrorists who are trying to sabotage a company vital to America's defense is definitely what I'd consider good."
Jake sighed and looked at me. I'd pulled the Charlie card before he could get his hands on it.
"But, Charlie would want…"
"…me to be safe? Well, with these terrorists on the loose, I'm not exactly living a carefree life. When I catch them I can go back to having a normal, safe life."
He acquiesced a little easier than I thought he would, but I had to promise I'd contact him every day.
"So, who is this big-shot, anyway?"
"You know I can't divulge that information."
"Wait, black Mercedes, parking-lot attacks, vital American company…you're on the Edward Cullen case, aren't you?"
"Wow, they don't call you officer for nothing." I had to admit, I was impressed.
"Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out a puzzle when he's given all the pieces."
"True, still, good sleuthing skills."
"Listen, I know what you're going to say, but I think I should stay with you for awhile. At least until this blows over."
"Bells, come on, I want you to be safe."
"I can take care of myself, Jake."
"I know but I'd feel better—"
"I've got protection. Victoria's the best."
"Ugh, you are so stubborn. Just like your father."
"And you're annoying—just like yours."
He glared at me and I glared right back. Then it started; a small giggle escaped from his lips. Then a larger laugh. The giggles and laughs kept bubbling up, louder and larger than previously until he was crying from laughter. I joined in, desperately needing a release from the tense situation. We cracked up for awhile, Victoria joining in too. Finally, we stopped.
"Jake," I choked out, "I've missed you."
He nodded and finished eating his pancakes. All was well between us.