AN: Thanks for not breaking out the pitchforks after the last chapter's cliffy. ;-)
Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Fandom for Preemies cause! Almost $2000 has been raised so far! You all deserve a huge hug! *squishes*
Another huge thank you goes out to the ladies of the Parachute Support Group on Facebook. You guys always crack me up and bring a smile to my face! The pre-reader and teaser comments that I've been getting from them the past couple of weeks has been phenomenal! If you'd like to join them, the link is on my profile!
Even though no one, except those in their immediate vicinity, had any clue that something was amiss, Bella still felt as if the room had gone eerily quiet. Standing before her was the woman who had frequented her nightmares and bloodiest fantasies. There she was, looking smug and confident, when she should have been behind bars or at the bottom of a ditch somewhere. Bella's blood began to boil and she felt her fury bubbling over as she stood up and walked over to that very same woman. Noticing Bella's approach, Victoria raised an eyebrow at her in challenge and it took everything that Bella had in her not to slap the smirk off of the other woman's face.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Edward hissed. Victoria's gaze focused on him, and she smiled widely.
"Edward, baby, you're looking well," she replied in a sickly sweet voice.
"Cut the shit, Victoria. What are you doing here?" he ground out angrily, causing her to laugh lightly.
"Why, Eddie, tonight is in honor of our son, isn't it? What kind of mother would I be if I didn't pay my respects."
"Victoria Anne," Marcus chastised his daughter. His face was red and splotchy, a clear indication of his anger and embarrassment at his oldest child.
Bella's brow furrowed slightly. She had automatically assumed that he had been the one to inform Victoria of Jack's reappearance. If he hadn't, then who had? Her mind started whirling with possibilities and improbabilities. She looked around their group quickly before noticing James standing just off to the side, looking extremely annoyed and slightly angry. At first, she thought it was out of concern for Edward, but then she saw him catch Victoria's eye and shake his imperceptibly, as if in warning. Victoria pursed her lips and winked at him before placing her attention back onto Edward. Bella blinked and quickly looked away before either of them caught her watching. The wheels in her mind started spinning at lightning speed.
Why would James communicate with Victoria? What was that all about? They seemed very familiar with each other. Was he the one who informed her about the Gala? Suddenly, the uneasy feelings that she had earlier upon meeting him all made sense, as memories flooded her brain.
(Flashback from Chapter 2)
"I dunno. It was when the man met us at the park. He told Mommy that she had to ditch the kid or she wouldn't get it. She told me to stay on the bench and that she would be back soon." His little eyes welled up with tears.
Upon hearing that, Bella gasped and looked at her father, whose face was etched with disgust.
"What man was that, Jack?" Zafrina asked, "Your daddy?" He shook his head quickly.
"No, my daddy was at home when we left in the car."
When she asked Jack to describe what anyone looked like, he told them that the man was big, with long yellow hair and that his mommy was tall with orange hair and blue eyes.
Bella looked over once again at James and his blond hair and wondered if his hair color was too much of a coincidence to overlook. What if Victoria had been having an affair with her husband's lawyer? What would've brought them to Seattle? She blinked and shook her head. She chastised herself for pulling such a crazy story out of thin air. Still, she made a mental note to have Jenks look into Mr. Brooks as soon as possible. Charlie had always taught her to trust her instincts; to be cautious and that it was better to be safe than sorry.
She swallowed her apprehension towards James and focused on the confrontation taking place in front of her. Victoria placed her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes.
"You need to leave, Victoria, before I put you out."
"Don't you think you're being a tad rude, Edward? I mean, it's been five years since I've seen my child. No one thought to inform me that he was alive and well? I had to learn from a third party. I never thought that you'd sink that low."
"He's not your son anymore. You signed away any parental rights that you had and washed your hands of him," Edward growled angrily.
"I wouldn't push that issue if I were you."
"And why not, Vic? It's black and white. I was there when you signed the papers. It can't be anymore cut and dry."
Victoria smirked. "I was high at the time. You knew it, your lawyer knew, hell, mine did, too. I wasn't in my right frame of mine, and you took advantage of that. It's called collusion. If I were to force the issue, I could get that little piece of paper negated."
Edward's eyes widened and his nostrils flared in fury. "Why? Why the hell would you even attempt something like that? You never wanted to be a mother in the first place!"
She took a step closer and glared at him. "Exactly. You forced that on me."
His face lost all of it's color and he went slack-jawed. "I- I never forced anything on you."
"Not physically, no. Emotionally, yes. If I had run off and had an abortion like I wanted, my parents would have disowned me thanks to you. I had no choice. Well, I have a choice now."
Edward straighted as tall as he could and looked at his former wife, wondering what he had ever seen that was attractive. "This is not a fight you'll win, Victoria."
Victoria's gaze landed on Jack's trembling form, an evil smirk resting upon her face. Bella felt an overwhelming wave of anger and protectiveness boil in her veins. She moved swiftly in front of her son, cutting off Victoria's view and placing herself squarely in the line of fire, meeting Victoria's startled gaze. She didn't care whose blood ran through Jack's veins, he was her son and she was protecting him until her last breath.
The red haired witch cocked her head to the side and eyed Bella speculatively, as if she were a hunter analyzing her prey. Victoria's icy blue eyes narrowed and she took a step forward. Bella shifted into a defensive stance and clenched her fists at her sides, thankful for all of her father's self-defense lessons. This bitch wasn't laying a hand on her boy's head.
Esme took a half-step forward and placed her hand up in front of Victoria, halting her movement.
"You go no further," the older woman spoke with authority.
Victoria swung her wide-eyed gaze onto Esme. "And who do you think is going to stop me, Esme?" she asked cockily.
"I am." Esme's furious green eyes never wavered. "You won't lay a hand on my family again. I'll see you in Hell first."
Marcus walked up to his daughter and placed a hand on her elbow. "Victoria, I think it's time for you to leave."
She looked up at her father with confusion written across her face.
"Daddy? Are you really going to throw me out?" She batted her eyelashes and pouted.
Marcus's countenance wavered for only a moment before steeling himself. "Yes, I am. I won't choose you over my grandson, Victoria. You've had too many chances already. Edward was right, you won't win this fight."
Victoria's jaw dropped opened. "Are you fucking kidding me?" She pointed over at Jack and started to raise her voice. "This is bullshit. That's my son over there; I was the one who carried him and gave birth to him. I have every right to see him!"
Edward leveled a hard look at her. "Legally, you don't have a leg to stand on. You signed away your rights. That means you are nothing but an egg donor to my son."
Victoria's hand flew up and smacked Edward right across his cheek with enough force to turn his head.
"Don't fuck with me, Edward. You have no idea what I'm capable of," Victoria spoke in a low, menacing voice. Bella quickly moved forward, but Tanya held her back by the arm.
"No, Bella, don't," her friend whispered in her ear. "I know you want to go all Mama Bear on Vicwhoria for putting her hands on your man, but look at her. She's doing it to garner a reaction. She's trying to goad you into doing something that might cost you Jack. Do not fall for it. She's bringing out the rope, let her hang herself."
Bella was livid, but she understood exactly what Tanya was telling her. She would just have to find a way to wrap her hands around the ginger's neck without an audience. She nodded jerkily, and Tahn let go of her arm.
Bella stepped closer to Edward and placed her hand on his back. He looked back at her quickly and grimaced. A bright red welt was already forming on his cheek and she felt her anger rise to an even more unhealthy level. Victoria's gaze focused back on Bella and she sneered.
"And don't get me started on you, princess. The innocent and saintly Isabella Swan." Victoria laughed evilly when she noticed Bella's eyes widen. "Oh, yes, I know all about you, Miss Goody Two-shoes. You would do best to remember that you're playing house with my family. A piece of paper will never make you Jackson's mother. You're just a warm body for his father's bed; a common whore."
Jack looked up sharply and glared in her direction. "STOP IT," he growled out, a sound similar to a wounded animal. "Leave my mother alone."
Victoria cocked an eyebrow and smirked, misunderstanding the boy's plea. Bella straightened and smiled sweetly, which caused the other woman's confidence to waver.
"He's talking about me, you moron. I'm his mother, not you, and there's not a Goddamned thing that you can do about it."
Bella turned her back on Victoria and walked over to Jack, who was staring at her with wide, frightened eyes. He had one arm wrapped around his waist, as if he were trying to hold himself together. She smiled sadly, and he flew at her as soon as she opened her arms to him. She hugged her son tightly as his little body trembled.
"It's okay, Little Bit, no one's going to hurt you," she murmured quietly in his ear, while rubbing his back.
"Bella, why don't you take Jack to get some air?" Esme offered.
Jack pleaded up at his mother with sad, tired eyes. "I just wanna go home. Please, Mom?"
Bella nodded quickly and looked over at Edward, who was still deep in argument with Victoria and Marcus. James walked towards Bella and smiled.
"I'd be happy to take you and the little guy home, Miss Swan."
Bella looked up at him in shock, every part of her screaming, 'No chance in Hell, buddy.' Even though she had no proof, there was no denying that her intuition was telling that James Brooks was dangerous.
She felt Jack stiffen and start to tremble harder when he looked up at James. The boy swiftly turned his head and buried his face in her shoulder.
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Brooks," Demetri spoke up. "I'll be more than happy to escort Bella and Jack home."
Esme placed her hand on Bella's shoulder and whispered into her ear. "Go on, I'll explain to Edward."
Bella nodded and then shot Tre a thankful look. They gathered up their things and stole quickly out of the ballroom undetected.
Bella and Jack curled up together in the back seat of Demetri's car as he and Tanya buckled into the front.
"You didn't have to leave, Tahn," Bella said quietly. Tanya looked over her shoulder and rolled her eyes.
"If I had remained in that room, you would definitely be dipping into your savings for my bail money, Bella. Someone was going to get maimed, either the creepy guy or the bi-" Tanya glanced at Jack and bit back the curse that was about to fly out of her mouth. "Well, someone was going to get hurt."
Bella nodded and looked down at Jack, whose head was resting against her shoulder with his eyes closed. Her heart broke for her son. Not only had he been dealing with nervousness about the Gala, but Victoria showing up must have thrown his anxiety into a whole other level. Jack sighed and shifted, opening his eyes and gazing into hers.
"I was scared. When I saw her, I was so scared. I- I've been having nightmares about her. That she takes me away from you and Dad. That she hurts one of you or she hurts me. I don't want to see her ever again. Please, Mom, please. Don't let her take me."
Bella's heart completely shattered as the listened to the distress in Jack's voice. In that moment, she could have committed murder and not thought twice about it. Victoria Preston deserved to be be sitting at the gates of Hades right now, waiting to have her soul judged. Bella kissed the top of Jack's head and rubbed his back.
"Ssh, baby. It's okay to be scared, but no one will let her hurt you. There's no force on Earth that will take you from us. Now that he has you back, your dad will move mountains to make sure you're safe, and you know that I would fight like hell for you. There's a very long line of people willing to stand between you and Victoria."
Jack nodded and just stared off into space. Tanya turned in her seat and gave Bella a sad smile.
"I think we should get Jazz to work on a restraining order as soon as possible," she said quietly.
"I was just thinking that myself," Bella replied. "We'll need to see about getting copies of their divorce record and where she signed away her rights to Jack. James is Edward's lawyer, and I don't know what his reaction will be to that, but we all need to sit down to discuss where we go from here. We need a plan of action to make sure that Jack is safe, no matter what."
"You'd probably be better off talking to Carlisle about that," Demetri chimed in from the driver's seat.
"What do you mean, Tre?" Tanya asked.
"Brooks had some family issues pop up around the time of the divorce proceedings and wasn't able to handle them for Ed. Carlisle had his own lawyer, Felix Howard, take care of everything for him. Personally, I think Ed was better off. I've never gotten a good vibe from that man, and I know I'm not the only one."
Bella sat back, somewhat startled by the revelation that James had had nothing to do with the divorce. She wondered briefly if he had an ulterior motive for staying away. Like, maybe sleeping with his client's wife? He wouldn't have wanted to be around for the divorce, in case Victoria tried to use their affair against him to get more out of Edward. Puzzle pieces were falling into place and she did not like the picture they were painting.
"Tre, this is going to sound completely off-the-wall, but do you recall if James has ever had long hair?"
Tre met Bella's eyes in the rear view mirror, surprise written across his face.
"Yes, he did. It used to be shoulder length, but he cut it a few years ago. Why do you ask?"
Bella shook her head and decided to keep her suspicions to herself for now. She felt her unease with James' role in Jack's disappearance grow astronomically. Her gut was telling that he was there with them in Seattle. Now, she just needed to figure out why.
"No reason, just curiosity." Bella caught Tanya's questioning look and she shook her head slightly, trying to convey that she'd explain herself later. Tanya understood and nodded in acknowledgement.
"Tahn, remind me later that I need to call Jenks about a few things?"
Tanya's eyes widened and she nodded again, this time putting two and two together and whipping out her cell phone to send a text off to Jenks to start the process of getting dirt on Brooks as soon as possible.
A little while later, the car pulled up in front of the Cullen household. Jack had fallen asleep and was out cold, so Bella slipped off her shoes and arranged him in her arms to carry him to bed. Demetri stepped around to her side and offered to take Jack up for her, but she couldn't let him go. She needed to do this; to feel connected to her son right now.
"Unf, thanks," she huffed, "but I've got him, Tre. Shit, he's heavier than I remembered."
Bella shifted the sleeping boy and made her way inside of the house, leaving Tanya to gather up the few belongings that she and Jack had left inside of the car. When she got to the top of the stairs, she made the decision to lay Jack down in her room, figuring that it was going to be a rough night. She laid him down on top of the covers and sat down to remove his shoes and work his suit jacket off. She looked down at his peaceful face and let a few tears slip. It wasn't fair. He didn't deserve to hurt like this. She ran her hand down his cheek and sighed, before standing and taking his things into his room. She sifted through his dresser until she came across a pair of pajamas and took them back to her room. When she was finished getting him changed, she pulled back the blankets and covered him up.
She heard a soft knock on the door jamb and looked up to see Tanya standing there.
"Hey," she whispered as she walked over to Bella and squeezed her shoulder. Bella smiled sadly and wrapped her arms around Tahn's waist in a hug.
"Listen, I've gotten the ball rolling on the James info and sent Jenks a message. I think I know where you're going with this. What if Victoria was meeting him and not some random dealer?"
Bella nodded against Tanya's stomach. "I'm not saying anything to Edward until we're sure."
"Bell, I don't know if that's a good idea. You two are just starting out in a relationship and you shouldn't begin by hiding things from him."
Bella pulled back and looked at Tanya with a pleading expression. "If we're right, this will hurt him. It will mean that not only did his wife betray him, but his good friend did as well. James is a lawyer, he would have covered his tracks really well. I don't want to say until we're sure."
Tanya nodded reluctantly. "If anyone can find anything on Brooks, it's Jenks. He should have something for us in the morning."
After a moment, Tanya sighed and hugged Bella's shoulders. "You're my best friend, Bell. I'm always on your side, you know? My silence is yours."
"Thank you, Tahn. Listen, how about we meet up with Jasper and Alice tomorrow? They're not heading back until Sunday."
Realizing Sunday's date, Bella groaned. "Dammit, my dad comes in on Sunday. What shitty timing Victoria has. Couldn't she have quietly fallen off the face of the Earth or something?"
Tanya patted her shoulder in comfort. "Look at it this way, maybe having Charlie around will help Jack feel more secure. You know how close the two of them are."
"Yeah, that's true. Ugh, Charlie's going to go ballistic when he hears what happened tonight."
Bella looked at her friend incredulously. "Good? Are you serious?"
Tanya smirked and nodded. "He's the only one of us who can legally shoot someone, remember?"
Bella snorted and shook her head. "Thanks for the image. I needed that."
"Anytime, bb. Listen, I'm going to head out. Tre is going to give me a ride back to the hotel. I'm sure the cavalry will be here soon."
Bella gave her a genuine smile. "Thank you so much for being here, Tahn."
Tanya leaned down and laid a kiss on Bella's head before walking towards the door. "Anytime, Bell."
"Hey, Tanya!" Bella called as the other woman was leaving the room. Tanya stopped and shot her a questioning look.
"Be nice, Demetri is a great guy. Don't do anything that I wouldn't do!"
Tanya rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Oh, Bella... that would make for a very dull Tanya, and we all know that the last thing that I will be called is dull." She shot her wink and left Bella giggling slightly.
Bella shifted restlessly a few hours later. Jack had an arm wrapped around her and her dress was stuck in places that were very uncomfortable. She turned and reached for her phone on the night table. She was shocked to see that it was three a.m. and there were fifteen missed calls, mostly from Edward. She sat up quickly and went to stand when she noticed a dark figure in the chair by the window. She turned on the lamp and Edward blinked, adjusting to the light.
He was sitting there, tie undone and suit jacket strewn across the back of the chair. His hair was in a wild disarray, as if he had been tugging on it anxiously, and his eyes were bloodshot. Bella sighed and walked over to him. He opened his arms and she curled onto his lap, resting her head on his chest, just above his heart.
"Why didn't you wake me?" she asked quietly. She felt his body rumble with his chuckle.
"You two looked so peaceful; I couldn't bear to disturb that, so I sat here watching. On one hand, I was thanking God for bringing the two of you into my life, but on the other, cursing his name for allowing Victoria to come within twenty feet of us."
She put her arms around him and squeezed tightly. "It'll be okay, Edward. She won't get anywhere near him."
He pulled back and looked fiercely down into her eyes with a fiery gaze. "You're right about that. If any harm comes to either you or Jack because of her, nothing short of the Heavens opening up will stop me from tearing her limb from limb."
Bella reached up and stroked his cheek with her hand. "Ssh, it's late. Come and try to get some rest. We'll talk about everything in the morning, okay?"
Instead of answering her, his hands buried themselves in her hair and his lips crashed against hers. It was a desperate sort of kiss, full of intensity and longing. She brought her other hand up to the opposite cheek and gently cradled his face, as the tempo of the kiss slowed and gentled. She pulled back and watched as his eyes slowly opened. A small smile formed on his lips and he kissed her softly one last time.
"For what?" she asked, somewhat confused.
"For grounding me. For loving me. For loving our son. There are too many things to list right now, but each and every one only adds up to my undying love and gratitude for you, Bella Swan."
Her insides melted and she sighed. "You never have to thank me for any of those things, Edward. Now, let's get some rest."
She stood up and took his hand, pulling him to a standing position. She slowly unbuttoned his shirt and slid it off of his shoulders, revealing the undershirt beneath. She went to reach for his belt buckle and stopped herself, blushing.
"Erm, you can do this part. I'm going to change." She nervously pointed to the bathroom which caused him to chuckle.
She walked swiftly over to her dresser and grabbed her pajamas, retreating into the bathroom. When she emerged a few minutes later, she found Edward in his shirt and boxers sprawled out next to Jack, already in a deep sleep. She smiled and situated herself on the boy's other side, before reaching over to turn off the lamp. She closed her eyes and fervently hoped that the next day would be more peaceful than the previous one had been, before settling into a dreamless sleep.
AN: I'll see you all on Monday with the teasers! *mwah*