A/N I known nothing but a battered laptop and an overactive imagination, Stephenie Meyer rules us all.
The music filled the symphony hall in a spill of golden sunlight, the complex melodies created by the orchestra enchanting and captivating the audience. I glanced down at my wife, amused when I noted her eyes were closed and her form calm as she listened to the music. I smiled to myself. This was one of the few times that Alice was ever still.
But her peaceful expression shattered as her eyes flew open when she felt the dull buzzing coming from my phone in the pocket of my tux. She shot me a look of disapproval, but restrained herself from comment because she knew that I never turned that phone off. She understood how important it was that it was always on.
I ghosted my fingertips along her cheek and apologised silently with my eyes, already on my feet and slipping through the side door from the box. The music was muffled here, the hallway deserted and dimly lit while the performance was in progress.
My phone was to my ear immediately; I didn't even bother to check the caller ID. Programming recognisable names into this phone would be tantamount to suicide and would destroy the careful system of anonymity our company struggled to maintain. Barely eight seconds had elapsed since it began ringing.
I didn't speak, but waited for the person calling me to do so. If it was someone I'd given the number to, they knew the score and would speak first. If not, then I knew we had a security breach.
The voice was barely a whisper. She sounded scared. "Jasper?"
Even though we had over dozens of clients on the books at any one time, I knew the voice instantly. "Bella?"
I could hear her sigh in relief. "Jasper, I don't know if I'm freaking out over nothing, but I feel like something's wrong. My boss said a guy had been been by today asking questions about me, about my shifts and if I lived in the area -"
"Did he tell him anything?"
"No! I told them the usual cover that my ex is stalking me, so no one at work would talk about me to strange guys. But Beth said they hung around for a couple of hours after, and she thought she recognised the car they got into, that it might have been hanging around this week."
Shit. "Did they see you?"
"I don't think so, they'd gone by the time I got in for my evening shift. But, Jasper...I know it sounds paranoid but I swear I could feel someone watching me when I was walking to work."
"You're still at work now?"
I hesitated, deliberating. She sounded scared; I could almost see her now, whispering from a corner of the tiny staff room in the bar where we'd got her a job. A lot of clients got spooked easily - unsurprising really, considering that few people with a rosy past needed our organisation's protection. Bella could simply be paranoid, jumping at shadows. She'd be the last to realise it but she was a beauty - some guy could just be hitting on her.
But if she was right...if she was right and I told her to go back to work, she was dead.
And Bella attracted trouble like no other client - she'd been moved more than anyone I'd ever helped protect. She was tough, and she was damn smart - she had good instincts and she didn't rile easily. She wouldn't call this number unless she had reason to worry.
"Bella, I need you to get the hell out of there. Right now."
"But, I - "
"Now, Bella! Nothing but the magic three - now get your ass moving!" The magic three: wallet, phone and taser. I trained her so she wouldn't even go to the restroom without them. Always ready to run.
"To the usual rendezvous?"
"No, the secondary one I told you about. I'll send someone to meet you, just keep your head down until then." I paused, listening to her quickened breathing and I hated scaring her like this but I needed her to move.
"Fucking run, Bella - go now!"
I hung up the phone before she could reply, swearing softly under my breath. I pulled out the other cell I used, shifting with impatience over the moments it took to switch on.
"Emmett? We've got a problem - Bella, again. Who do we have near Pheonix?"
"Damn, that chick is a fucking danger-magnet. What is this, the seventh time now?"
"Chill, Whitlock, you're in luck. Edward's still in Arizona with the whole Carrandine mess. You want me to call?"
"Yeah. Get him to the Crown Hotel in Pheonix, the usual room. Have him call me when he arrives." I paused. "Tell him to hurry."
I hung up, still tense. Logically, this was probably nothing - I was being over-cautious. Not a bad thing - it's why we succeeded where the witness protection program so often failed.
But I had a bad fucking feeling about this. Bella was different, not only because she had gathered a startling collection of enemies in such a brief time, nor because of the extraordinary risk from the precious knowledge locked in that head of hers.
She was different because she was a genuinely good person, a selfless person, something I so rarely come across in our line of work.
We couldn't lose her.
I slid down the wall into a crouch, holding one phone in each hand. I could still hear the faint music echoing through the walls. I knew Alice would be pissed, but there was no way I moving until I knew Bella was safe.
The phone went dead in my hand. I stood, frozen, Jasper's last words echoing in my head. 'Fucking run, Bella - go now!'
Shit shit SHIT! I really wanted to peek out behind the bar, look around to see if I could tell if anyone was hunting me...but the rational part of my brain stomped out that instinct. I had everything to lose and nothing to gain - I had no idea what they looked like. They knew exactly what I looked like.
I clutched my phone, then automatically did the check that Jasper had ingrained in me nearly a year ago: taser in right pocket, wallet in left pocket. The magic three.
And then I ran, slipping out the back door like a thief in the night.
It wasn't the first time.
I remember how at first I'd felt so guilty about slipping away silently, not saying a word to anyone. Since the Cullen Group agreed to protect me I deliberately avoided cultivating any sort of relationship, but some sort of connection was inevitable. My boss, the other barmaids - they'd notice my absence. Now I knew Jasper would take care of it with a phone call in a couple of days, but I still couldn't help the twinge of guilt as I sneaked out the back door and tiptoed down the alley. What would they think of me?
Adrenaline pounded through my system, my heart rate through the roof and my eyes darted into ever shadow as I crept through the alley. I was more freaked out than I'd hinted to Jasper - there had been at least four occasions in the last week when I felt I was being watched, but having no proof I'd pushed it aside. Jasper had emphasised that number was only for emergencies.
I followed the route automatically. Whenever Jasper moved me to a new place the first thing he would do would be to walk me through my escape plan, outlining at least three alternate routes in anyone was after me.
I was fairly sure no one was following me. It was one of the reasons Jasper picked this bar to get me a job at - the back alley was an escapee's wet dream, heavily sheltered and very discrete; impossible to find unless you left the bar by the employee's exit at the back. It led out onto a very public highway where buses stopped every five minutes.
I waited in the shadows until the hulking bus arrived, waiting until the last possible minute before sprinting onboard and shoving a handful of change at the driver.
My eyes scanned the street as I sat down and the bus took off. I felt my heart freeze when I spotted the blue BMW Beth had described. The same BMW I'd seen at least three times this past week.
Shit shit SHIT!!