I warn you now, as I did in an earlier chapter, I'm not a lawyer and I did my best to research some things, but please forgive me if I'm a little off.
The next morning was fraught with tension. Everyone seemed to be walking on eggshells, not wanting to address the elephant in the room. At noon, Jasper and Alice showed up at the house with Tanya in tow. Not fifteen minutes later, Emmett and Rosalie arrived. Esme added an extra pair of chairs at the dining room table in the solarium and everyone took a seat. Carlisle sat forward and folded his hands, looking at the different faces in the room.
"Well, I guess we should address the Victoria situation," he spoke quietly. He smiled sympathetically when he noticed Jack stiffen at her name.
"Jack, you don't have to be here for this. You can leave the room, if you want."
Jack looked at Bella, who rubbed his back comfortingly. "He's right, Little Bit. I don't want you to work yourself up."
"Will you tell me anything important?" he asked in a small voice.
She smiled sadly and responded, "Always, Jack."
The little boy swallowed and nodded, before standing up. "Can I use your laptop while you're busy, Mom?"
Bella nodded and felt her chest ache as she watched her son leave the room. She turned and looked at Tanya first thing.
"Did Jenks have any information?"
Tanya sighed and shook her head. "No, but he said he'll keep digging."
Bella groaned to herself and rubbed her temples, trying to stave off the headache that was coming on.
'What do I do now?' she thought. 'Do I tell him or wait? Dammit, I can't keep this from him.'
Jasper cleared his throat. "Since you and Jack are Washington residents, I'll file for a restraining order first thing on Monday morning when we're back home. Since she physically assaulted you last night, Edward, I would suggest filing one for yourself as well. You have enough witnesses that will attest to that. It will also be good to have it in case she follows through on her ridiculous idea of fighting for custody."
Edward absentmindedly rubbed his cheek and nodded. "I'll get James on that right away."
Tanya scoffed and shook her head. Edward glanced at her and shot her a questioning look.
"What's wrong with that, Tahn?" he asked. Tanya looked at her hands and shook her head, not wanting to betray her friend's trust.
Bella sighed and reached out to touch Edward's arm, which caused his gaze to turn to her.
"I don't think that would be a good idea, Edward," she said softly and his brow furrowed in confusion.
"Why not? He's my lawyer and one of my best friends."
Bella shook her head slightly. "I don't know how to say this, except to blurt it right out. I have a bad feeling about him and I don't trust him. I think he was the one who told Victoria about last night as well as the man that Jack saw with her in Seattle, too. He seemed too unaffected by her appearance."
Edward's eyes widened and he sat back, stunned at Bella's line of thought.
"No, I think you're barking up the wrong tree. I trust James, he wouldn't do that to me."
Tanya's fist hit the table soundly. "Look, to be technical, you didn't think your wife would take your kid and abandon him on the streets either, did you?"
Hurt flashed across his face before he glared at Tanya. "If you want to get technical, this is none of your business," he responded coldly, throwing her words right back at her. Tanya's eyes narrowed.
"If Bella wants me to leave, Edward, then I'll leave. Though considering that I at least take the time to hear all of her reasons before blowing her opinions off, I don't see that happening."
All eyes turned to Bella and she threw her hands up in the air in frustration.
"Are you kidding me right now?" she half-yelled in anger. "This isn't a pissing contest. This is about protecting Jack."
She turned to look at Edward. "I know he's your friend, but I really feel like he's bad news right now. I don't even care if he was a blood relative, I don't trust him, and I won't trust my son's life with him. I won't bring it up again because you're close to him, but if Jenks gets back to us with any info pointing that he was with her in Seattle, all bets are off. Whether you choose to trust me on this or not is your own business. I know that this is difficult to hear, but I can't change the situation, though I wish I could."
She turned to Tanya next. "Look, I love you dearly, but throwing digs at Edward is only exacerbating the situation. Put yourself in his shoes. If someone came at you and accused me of doing something terrible, whether I was guilty or not, what would your reaction be?" Tanya looked down at the table, knowing that Bella was completely correct. "I appreciate that your first instinct is to protect Jack and me, but we're on the same side here. We need to work together. Let's not do anything hasty until we have all of the facts in front of us."
Bella placed both hands flat on the table and stared at her fingers. "The main goal here is that Victoria cannot be allowed near Jack again. He practically had a panic attack last night. I don't want him to have to go through that again."
Tanya looked up and offered an apologetic smile. "I'm so sorry, Edward. Bella's right; that was uncalled for and I apologize. I understand that this is a shock to you, but I can't apologize for protecting both of them with my life. They're like family to me, and I don't have much to start off with, so I may have a tendency to go overboard."
Edward nodded before looking away from her, his jaw still clenched tightly.
Tanya sighed. "What happened after we left last night?"
Emmett's lips quirked, trying to fight a smile. "Mom sucker punched Victoria when she started running her mouth again."
"Esme!" Bella gasped and glanced at Esme, who folded her arms in front of her and looked as proud as a peacock.
"What? She deserved it. I only regret not doing it sooner."
Bella shook her head and tried to hide her giddy smile at the thought of Victoria spread out on the ballroom floor. The wish that she had been the one to have knocked Victoria out last night was immense. She closed her eyes, immediately sobering when she realized that it was a good thing that they had left with Jack when they did. As much as Victoria deserved a righteous beat down, Jack didn't need to witness it.
She sighed and stretched her neck, before looking around the table.
"What a clusterfuck. Oh, excuse my language," she apologized. Esme shook her head and laughed lightly.
"You're right, though. I cannot believe that bitch just showed up like that. The nerve of her! If Edward hadn't pulled me back, I might have done more damage to that pretty face of hers," Esme exclaimed angrily.
Bella nodded, agreeing completely with what had just been said. She took a deep breath and turned towards Jasper.
"Jazz, does she stand a chance of winning, if she chooses to fight for him?" she asked in a quiet, scared voice.
Jasper smiled kindly at her and shook his head. "In my opinion, not a chance in hell. There's enough speculative evidence that she abandoned him in Seattle as well as taking into account her rehab records. Not to mention the plain and simple fact that she signed away her rights to him. Even if she was under the influence when she signed, it's just another strike against her for the drug use."
Bella nodded. "So, the game plan is to file restraining orders and keep her the hell away from Jack, right?"
Everyone around the table nodded or agreed in some fashion. Alice leaned forward and voiced a concern of her own.
"What happens when you go on the book tour next week? Is Jack going with you?"
Bella took a deep breath and turned to Edward. She had meant to have this conversation with him earlier, but the past few days had been so hectic.
"Sorry, I meant to ask you about this sooner, but what would you think of Jack staying here with you, while Tanya and I went on the tour? I thought that maybe you guys could have some one-on-one time. If it's a problem, don't worry about it. He's used to coming on these things with me. Every time I wonder when his own fan club will pop up," she laughed.
Edward smiled brightly and nodded enthusiastically. "That's fine, great even. I've been working on smaller projects since I've been back to work anyway, so it's not a big deal. We'll have fun." He leaned down, close to her ear. "I know you're worried, but I'll keep him safe, Bella" he added softly.
Bella smiled sadly and nodded. Being away from Jack and knowing that Victoria was lurking somewhere was going to make her a nervous wreck, but she couldn't bring herself to pull him away from his father, especially when the time before they left for Washington was limited.
"I know," she responded, barely above a whisper. She stared off into the distance as conversations slowly started to break out around the table. She couldn't bring herself to focus on any of them. All she wanted was her son.
"I'm going to go and check on Jack," she said quietly, before standing.
She quickly made her way up the stairs to her son's room and rested her forehead against the wood, sighing. Not for the first time in these past few months, she was torn in half yet again. She was in love with Edward and and didn't want to leave his side, but now she also wanted nothing more than to whisk Jack up in her arms and hightail it back to Washington, away from the threat of Victoria or James. Jack was her first priority. He had been from the moment she laid her eyes on him and he always would be.
She straightened up and knocked on his door before peeking in. He was lying sideways across his bed, tapping away at the laptop keys. He looked up and smiled at her. "Hey, Ma. Is everything okay?" he asked, frowning slightly. She shook her head and stretched out next to him.
"Yeah, it's fine. I just wanted to check on you. I know this has been rough. Do you want to talk about it?"
The boy paused, before closing the laptop and turning on his side to lean on his elbow and face his mother.
"It was weird. You know, seeing her. Like, I was caught in a dream." He closed his eyes. "She looks the same as I remembered. I was really scared, but now I think I'm just angry."
He opened his vibrant green eyes and Bella gasped at the hostility swimming in them.
"Jack," she whispered, reaching out rub his shoulder.
"She doesn't get to win, Mom. I'm not a little baby that she can hurt; I'm bigger, and I can fight for myself now. I'm not scared of her anymore."
Bella reached out and pulled him into a hug, her heart breaking for everything this little boy had been out through.
"It'll be okay, baby. It'll all be fine," she whispered as she he held him tightly.
The next day, Bella found herself tapping her foot nervously as she waited for her father to disembark from his plane. She and Jack had both missed him terribly and the new drama surrounding them now didn't make things any easier. Edward wanted to come along with her, but she talked him out of it, not wanting his first meeting with her father to be in a busy airport. Instead, Esme offered to come and keep her company, which Bella gratefully appreciated. After a few moments, the older woman reached out and squeezed Bella's hand in comfort, when her nervous tapping started going overboard.
"Relax, Bella. It's going to be fine."
She gave Esme a grateful smile and turned back just in time to see Charlie's face in the crowd of people deboarding the flight. His face was leaner, as if he had lost some weight and his cheeks were covered in stubble that she wasn't used to seeing. She grinned and her feet started moving of their own accord. She quickly found herself wrapped in her father's arms, the smell of Old Spice and leather assaulting her senses. It was an immediate comfort and brought tears to her eyes.
"Baby girl! I missed you guys so much! Where's my boy at?" he asked excitedly, a warm smile upon his face.
"He's back at the house with Edward. We're going straight there, unless you want to stop and grab something to eat?"
Charlie grinned and nodded. "Some coffee and a burger sounds perfect right about now."
He stepped out of their hug and took off his Mariners baseball cap when he noticed Esme smiling off to the side.
"Oh! Dad, this is Esme Cullen, Jack's grandmother."
Charlie reached out and took her hand gently and smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ma'am."
"The pleasure is all mine, Chief Swan. Jack speaks so highly of you."
Charlie's face blushed a soft pink hue and he rubbed his neck, sheepishly.
"Thank you, Mrs. Cullen. It's Charlie, please."
"As long as you return the favor and call me Esme."
Charlie nodded before returning his cap to his disheveled head of hair before taking Bella's hand. She smiled up at him and placed one of her hands on his cheek, rubbing his surprisingly soft stubble.
"What's up with the facial hair, Dad? Are you trying to look hip?"
Charlie snorted and shook his head, shrugging. "Between Sue's new promotion keeping her at work for long hours and missing you two, I've been in a funk of sorts. Plus, we've been shorthanded since Mark had a heart attack a few weeks ago."
"Oh, no. How is he?" Bella asked in concern. Mark had been her father's deputy for over ten years. The fact that he was the one to have a heart attack made her instantly concerned over Charlie's health.
"He's fine, just resting easy for a little. He's bound and determined to get back to work soon."
She nodded and he nudged her with his shoulder.
"Baby girl, drop the sad face, I'm as healthy as a horse. I even had a full physical last month and it came out perfect. Now, what do you say about getting out of this airport and away from the tin can I flew in on? I can't wait to see Jack."
Esme let out a laugh and shook her head. "I know how you feel, Charlie. I hate flying myself."
The pair continued to bemoan their flight experiences as the made their way to the parking garage. Just about an hour later, they were pulling up in front of the Cullen home. Bella stifled a giggle at the excitement coming off of her father in waves as he quickly hopped out of the car and hefted his bag over his shoulder. His over-eagerness reminded her completely of Jack.
As they entered the front door, Charlie's eyes widened, taking in the view. His gaze stilled when it came upon Edward, standing in the middle of the room, waiting to introduce himself. Bella smiled softly at him and winked. Pulling her dad forward, she met Edward half-way across the room.
"Dad, I'd like you to meet, Edward Cullen, Jack's father. Edward, this is my dad, Charlie."
Edward smiled widely and reached out to shake Charlie's hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Chief Swan. Jack and Bella have told me so much about you. It's an honor to get to meet you and thank you for everything you've done."
Bella swallowed nervously as she watched her father measure up the man she loved. After their experiences with Jacob, Charlie was particularly overprotective any time a man came to pick her up for a date. That was one of the major reasons her dates had been few and far between over the years. As she stood there anxiously awaiting whatever intimidation tactic that Charlie had planned, he completely shocked her by nodding and shaking Edward's hand firmly. Her jaw almost dropped as she watched her normally gruff father swallow and blink away tears.
"It's good to meet you, son. They've both told me great things about you as well. As a father myself, I can't imagine what you've been through, but I'm glad it's all worked out for the best."
Bella clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a sob that she was fighting. She had seen her father be emotional over the years, but she never would have expected it at this moment. When she had first spoken to him and let him know that she was falling in love with Edward, he had sounded skeptical and concerned. A warm and friendly greeting between the two men had never crossed her mind, but she was thrilled with the outcome.
Edward nodded and blinked away his own tears.
The three adults turned just in time to see Jack fly in the patio doors and launch himself at his grandfather. Charlie laughed and dropped his bag as he caught Jack and squeezed him tightly.
"Jack, God, I've missed you, boy!"
"I've missed you, too, Pops! So much! Is Nana with you?" Jack asked excitedly.
"No, I'm sorry, kiddo. She couldn't get away from work this week, but you'll see her soon enough."
Bella glanced at Edward and she saw him flinch at the mention of them leaving, but he recovered quickly. She couldn't help but reach out and grab his hand. He looked down at her and smiled, squeezing her hand. When she looked back, Charlie looked pointedly at their hands and quirked an eyebrow. She groaned internally, knowing that she'd more than likely be facing the Spanish Inquisition when Charlie got her alone.
Charlie stood Jack back on his feet and ruffled his hair. "How have you been liking Chicago, my boy?"
Jack's face lit up and he started rambling on about the "super awesome skatepark" and the huge ferris wheel that he had fallen in love with. He took his grandfather's hand and started to drag him up the stairs. Esme chose that moment to quietly slip out of the room and into the study as well.
"Come on, Pops! You've got to see my room; it's awesome!"
Charlie shot Bella a helpless look but she merely shook her head and laughed. As soon as they were out of sight, Edward's arms were wrapped around her waist and his lips were attached to hers. The kiss started out passionately, but ended slow and sweet. She pulled back and looked into his eyes, smiling.
"Miss me, did you?" she laughed lightly. He rested his forehead against her and sighed.
"Like you wouldn't believe. I've done nothing but pace and be nervous for the past three hours."
She leaned up and kissed him swiftly, yet gently. "You had nothing to worry about. Both Jack and I love you; Charlie didn't stand a chance."
He smiled at her before his face clouded over and his lips turned into a frown.
"What's wrong?" she asked worriedly. He looked hesitant for a moment before breathing deeply in through his nose.
"I spoke with James today about filing for a restraining order."
Bella stiffened and her jaw clenched of it's own accord. She nodded and looked down at her feet, willing herself to see things from his point of view. No one wanted to believe that their best friend could have possibly been sleeping with their wife, even though it happened all too often in real life.
His hand cupped the right side of her face and his thumb caressed the apple of her cheek. She looked back into his eyes and anguish was plainly written in them.
"Bella, please. Don't feel like I'm discounting your feelings. It's just... he's my friend. I can't question anything without proof. I promise you that I'll be more cautious around him until you're more comfortable. I love you, and I would choose you over him in a heartbeat, but I would hate to be put in that position."
"Oh, Edward," she sighed. "I don't want to put you in a position like that. I already said that I wouldn't say anything against James without proof. I adore you, but my first priority is Jack and James needs to start praying now if he did have anything to do with what happened five years ago."
Edward let a low growl out and he responded in a hard voice. "Bella, if it turns out that he had anything to do with Jack's disappearance, praying isn't going to do him a damn bit of good."
It felt so wrong, but his fierce protectiveness had completely turned her on.
They broke apart at the sound of a throat clearing behind them. Jack and Charlie stood at the bottom of the stairs, both with their arms folded across their chests.
"I think we need to have a heart-to-heart, Edward," Charlie spoke in his best "tough guy" voice. Bella rolled her eyes and pointed at her father.
"Not necessary. Can you just be happy for me, Dad. Just this once, please?"
Charlie's eyes softened and he sighed. Just as he was about to respond, Edward stepped in.
"It's okay, Bella. I think it's a good idea. I'd like the opportunity to chat with the Chief."
Charlie gave Edward a speculative look before smiling genuinely and nodding.
The two of them made their way to the patio, leaving Bella and Jack to watch their retreating forms.
"So, Chief, what do you think about baseball?"
Jack turned to Bella and rolled his eyes. "They're going to be awhile. Wanna play a game?"
She laughed and shrugged. "What do you have in mind?"
An hour later, Bella slammed the Playstation 3 controller down in disgust. She couldn't control the little football men on the screen to save her life.
"I'm done, I quit."
She heard a boisterous laugh and turned around to find Emmett leaning over the couch.
"What are you doing here, Em?" she asked in curiosity. The burly man shrugged and smiled mischievously.
"There wasn't much work at the shop, so Rosie chased me out of her way. Plus, I wanted to see if my baby brother survived meeting the gun-toting sheriff."
Bella shook her head and laughed good-naturedly. "He's a police chief, not a sheriff. Last I checked, they were outside talking sports, so everything seems to be going well."
He nodded his head thoughtfully, before glancing at the patio doors. He tried to hide his concern, but she saw right through him.
"You were worried for him, huh?" she asked quietly. Emmett turned and fixed her with a serious expression, similar to the looks he had given her when they were first getting to know each other.
"Yeah. You know how I am when it comes to protecting him."
"He's a grown man, Em. You can't handle him with kid gloves, it'll only hurt him more."
Emmett looked at her helplessly. "What do I do then? Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option."
Bella kneeled up on the couch and hugged him tightly around the waist.
"I don't know, Em, but we''ll figure it out, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," he responded sadly before turning to Jack. "Looks like you can use an actual opponent, huh, sport?"
Jack grinned up at his uncle and patted the spot next to him on the couch. "Sounds good, Uncle Em. She did her best, but Mom wasn't cut out for football."
"Ha, ha, ha," Bella deadpanned before heading into the kitchen for a snack. After nabbing an apple, she came back to the living room to find that Edward and Charlie had joined the fray. She smiled and enjoyed the sight of her father playing Madden with Emmett. She squinted at the screen and almost laughed at the score. Charlie was was up by two touchdowns, his Seahawks leading Emmett's Chicago Bears, 21-7.
Edward looked up at her quiet giggle and motioned her over, to sit with him and Jack. She settled between her guys and Jack grinned up at her.
"Mom? Guess what?" he said eagerly.
"Dad's taking us to a Cubs game on Wednesday! Isn't that awesome?"
Bella looked over at Edward and laughed. "Nice job, Cullen. I see you've found the way to my father's heart."
"No, we just share a common love of baseball. The keys to his heart also fit mine, actually."
Her heart melted at the adoration in his gaze as he motioned towards Jack and herself.
"Oh, Edward, you sap," she sighed as she leaned into his side. He laughed lightly and put his arm around her shoulder.
"Eh, you like it. Admit it."
She smiled to herself and agreed with him silently, resting her head on his shoulder.