A/N: So, I could give you a list of true yet crappy reasons why my update "schedule" is the way it is. But it can be condensed to work, kids, husband. I realize it sucks. I totally understand if you flounce or want to wait until the story is complete to read it. But I can promise that it will be completed. I'm not fast, but I am a finisher. :)
That said, it's been a little nutty at my house with (gosh, I can't believe how long it's been since I updated) 8th grade graduation for my twins, crazy summer at work, and now two high schoolers who (happily) have very active social calendars, but (unhappily) volunteer me to drive them and their little posse everywhere. And since they know how to play the guilt card, they usually win. The baby is in middle school and is still the funniest kid I know. He's also inexplicably turned away from his Demon ways, a fact I'm afraid to speak about too much for fear it will break whatever spell he's fallen under.
Big thanks to my friend/beta, Littlecat358, for her enormous help getting this chap polished up. She always takes time to help me, no matter how busy she is - and she's really busy right now! :) Thanks, LC. xoxo
If you're still reading, thanks for not giving up on the story. I truly appreciate it. xoxo
"What's going on with my boss?" Repeating Edward's question into my phone, I frown in confusion. "What makes you think something's going on with Aro?"
"He was just here. He wants to move the closing on your building up to tomorrow," he replies. "And he was jumpy as fuck."
My stomach lurches like I've just crested the hill of a roller coaster, and I press my hand against it, trying to suppress the sudden queasiness. Turning my head to the right, I look into Aro's dark, empty office. He's hardly been here lately, and I suddenly realize that instead of being relieved by that fact, maybe I should have been suspicious.
"You think he's weaseling out of the deal?" Although I try to keep my voice normal, my mouth won't move quite right. I end up mumbling the words… and sounding as nervous as I feel.
"I don't know, baby."
Afraid that everything Edward and I have planned on for the last ten days is slipping away, I grasp at any other explanation for his behavior. "He likes to jerk us around," I offer quietly, still mush-mouthed. "He's probably just being an asshole – as usual."
As I'm talking, my eyes land on Jessica's vacant desk. When I got back from lunch yesterday, she was crying, muttering about Aro coming in and yelling at her while I was gone. Knowing how vicious he can be, I tried to console her, but eventually suggested she go home for the afternoon since she couldn't calm down. She did – and she hasn't shown up or called yet this morning, even though she should have been here almost two hours ago.
"Probably," Edward agrees. As I'm about to mention Jessica's absence to him, I hear someone call his name on his end of the line. "Shit, ballerina. I gotta go. The beer truck's here."
"Okay," I respond, deciding the Jessica story can wait until later. "I'll see you at lunch?"
"Uh, of course," he answers distractedly, holding the phone away from his mouth to greet the delivery guy. Not wanting to keep him, I say goodbye, but he stops me from hanging up. "Hey, wait."
"Don't worry about Aro. I'm sure he's just fucking with me," he soothes, but I don't think he believes that any more than I do. He drops his voice to a whisper. "I love you."
Even though he's said the words every day for the last couple of weeks, his hushed declaration still makes my heart to skip a beat. I smile slightly as I picture him speaking quietly into his phone so the beer man can't overhear.
"I love you, too," I answer. "Bye."
After I set my phone down, I stare at Jessica's desk for several more minutes, wishing I had asked her more questions yesterday about Aro's behavior. I've never seen Aro visibly nervous or skittish the way Edward described; he's always cool and cocky. But now I wonder what he was like when he came in… I wonder what he said that made Jessica so upset… and I wonder where he is now.
On edge, I jump when the office phone rings and swallow nervously before I answer, hoping I don't hear Aro's voice come through the receiver. Fortunately, it's not him, but the caller has to repeat his name and number three times while I try to write down a message.
"Got it, Agent Morris. May I tell Mr. Volturi which case this is regarding?" I ask, breathing rapidly into the phone.
"He knows. We've spoken before." His answer is clipped, his tone somewhere between brusque and outright rude. But not wanting to make any enemies at the DEA or the FDA or whatever agency the man is an employee of, I'm extra polite as we hang up.
Turning toward my computer screen, I email the message to Aro. Then, still wondering where he is today, I log into his calendar, expecting this week to open in all its daily, color-coded glory. Instead, the schedule for the rest of the week is blank – white except for the black-outlined time slots. No orange court dates. No green appointments. No purple brief filings. Mouth gaping, my stomach begins to churn again as I skip to next week. And the week after. And the week after that. His whole calendar, which was crowded and bright only yesterday when I looked at it, is empty.
"What the hell?" I whisper, my heart racing.
Edward's first instinct was right; there has to be something going on. And whatever it is, I'm afraid it's going to mean trouble for Edward and me. Intending to call him and tell him what I've found, I pick up my phone, but quickly change my mind; alarm bells are ringing in my head and, for once, I'm going to listen to my gut reaction and get out of here.
With a shaking hand, I grab my coffee cup and stand, moving so jerkily that my chair rolls backward to the edge of the plastic mat and tips over onto the carpet. I spare it a glance, but don't stop to set it upright again. Rushing to the kitchen, I switch off the coffee pot, dump the contents of both my mug and the carafe down the sink, and then turn on the water to rinse them. In my haste, the carafe slips from my hand and lands in the porcelain sink, shattering as I try to catch it.
"Ouch! Shit!" I cry out when a shard of glass slices across two fingers of my left hand, sending blood dripping into the sink.
Switching the warm water to cool, I hold my hand under the faucet and watch the red-tinged stream run toward the drain, not surprised by the rippling wave of nausea that follows. The sight of blood usually has that effect on me. As beads of sweat break out across my nose and upper lip, I bend forward, resting my elbows on the edge of the counter.
After a moment, the lightheaded feeling subsides enough for me stand up again. I turn the faucet off, and then stand on my tiptoes to reach the folded paper towels on the shelf above the sink. Startled by the sound of hard-soled shoes on the linoleum floor behind me, I freeze, poised on the balls of my feet with my right arm in the air. I'm afraid I know exactly who's wearing those shoes.
"You know, Isabella, I once heard that a dancer's legs are powerful enough to squeeze the life right out of a man," Aro murmurs, confirming my fear. His footsteps are slow and deliberate as he advances across the floor. "Yours certainly look capable of doing just that."
Lowering myself to stand flat-footed again, I close my eyes briefly, knowing I need to stay calm and level-headed despite the ice-cold panic flooding my veins. When I open them again, I pat my hands dry, and then fold a second paper towel into a narrow strip, wrapping it around my throbbing fingers. Gingerly, I use my right hand to apply pressure to the cuts, watching a dark stain appear on my makeshift bandage. In spite of his comment about the strength of my legs, they feel shaky and weak right now, and I take a deep breath, bracing myself for whatever is coming.
Stopping right behind me, he peers over my shoulder. "You've injured yourself," he observes, stating the obvious. "Not too badly, I hope."
"Excellent news… because I believe an opportunity has presented itself with just the two of us in the office today. If you'd care to negotiate, I'm certain we could reach a deal for Cullen to buy both of the buildings he wants." Although this is the basic path I expected this conversation to take, his statement causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. As I fight not to outwardly react, my heart beats in double-time and I shudder when he leans against my back, clamping his hands around my upper arms. "You have the power to give him everything he desires. All you have to do is wrap those strong legs around me, Isabella."
Revulsion surges through my body, rejecting both the idea and the imagery of Aro's proposition. I flinch as my stomach cramps up, and I use every shred of my self-control not to vomit into the sink.
"I wouldn't want to hurt you." Praying it will buy me the time I need to think, I draw the words out and lift my intonation. If his enormous ego is still unchecked, he'll perceive my answer as flirtatious, presuming that all his lies and manipulations have finally worn down my resistance.
"There's an easy solution for that dilemma," he replies smoothly. He slides his left hand down my arm, closing his fingers around my wrist. While my mind races, searching for a solution to this dilemma, I let him move my arm. He wraps it across my waist, using both of our arms to hold me in place against his chest. He skims his other hand down the right side of my body, and then back up to cup my breast. "You do your best and I'll tell you exactly how good it feels."
Without moving my head, I lower my eyes and watch Aro's stubby fingers fondle my flesh. Boiling with anger, I curl my right hand into a fist, bend my arm and swing it back as hard as I can, feeling the resistance as my elbow jams into his ribs. He grunts, stumbling a step to the left.
"Did that feel good?" I seethe as I try to pull away. Although he releases my breast, he tightens his grip on my trapped wrist and yanks ruthlessly, spinning me around to face him.
When I see his right hand coming toward my face, I squeeze my eyes shut, assuming he's going to hit me. Instead, he grabs a handful of my hair, digging his fingers into my scalp and pulling viciously. My eyes pop open as pain shoots along my skin and down my spine. Gasping, my mouth hangs open and I involuntarily step closer to him to lessen the pressure.
"Do you think I'd be so careless as to leave a mark on your face, Isabella?"
"N-no," I stammer, tears springing to my eyes.
"This way it's your word against mine. But you're smart enough to know that, aren't you?" he snarls, bending down so that we're nose-to-nose. "Never underestimate your opponent."
With one arm immobilized, I raise my other hand to Aro's chest, trying to push him away. My efforts have no effect, though, except to make him chuckle snidely.
"Let me go, Aro. I won't tell anyone."
My statement seems to make him angrier. Rearing back, his nostrils flare and he tugs my wrist again, drawing my arm down diagonally across my body as I struggle to get loose. Another burst of pain shoots through me when he squeezes firmly, making me cry out. Using his leverage, he moves us several steps to my left, shoving me back against the refrigerator.
Panting, really looking at him for the first time, I'm shocked by his appearance. His shirt is dirty and wrinkled. His hair hangs loose around his face, not slicked back in his normal style. As he breathes into my face, I smell a mixture of coffee and alcohol.
"Actually, I think maybe this time you should tell Cullen. I'd gladly take a beating from him to ensure that he spends some time locked up."
"No! No! Please." The plea springs from my lips automatically, without thought. My only concern is protecting Edward. Closing my eyes, I remember the way he smiled at me this morning when he kissed me goodbye in his kitchen. Was that only three hours ago? I know what I need to do… and I'm devastated that it will hurt him. With my heart in my throat, I meet Aro's beady-eyed gaze and tell him what he wants to hear – that he wins. "I'll do it. I'll do what you want. Just leave Edward alone."
"No more bluffing, Isabella," he spits, literally. I'm disgusted, but I don't want to shift his focus by wiping my face. What I'm planning to do will either work… or really piss him off. And if it isn't successful, I know what will likely happen to me. "No one's coming to rescue you today."
Holding my wrist tightly, he twists my arm until I beg him to stop, and then slides his hand to my wrapped fingers, gripping the wounded area cruelly. The resulting flash of white-hot pain steals my breath, silencing my voice. Inside, terror and fury combine with pure adrenaline. Without second-guessing myself – without looking down to perfect my aim – I raise my knee as quickly as I can, ramming the soft tissue of his balls with all the force I can muster.
At first, I worry that I've failed because he doesn't move, but then his eyes widen, he inhales with a hiss, and he lets me go, bending forward to cup himself. Blinded by tears, I punch with my right fist and connect solidly with his cheek and nose. As he falls to his knees, I back away from him, edging toward the doorway.
"Never underestimate your opponent, Aro." Throwing his unsolicited advice back in his face, I wish my voice was stronger, wish I was speaking through clenched teeth instead of broken sobs. "Go to hell, asshole."
He coughs loudly, looking up at me. Swallowing, I try to ignore the blood seeping from one of his nostrils. "Fuck you, you little bitch. Tell your boyfriend the deal's off. I won't sell him either one of those buildings."
"We don't want anything that belongs to you," I state, hoping that Edward will feel the same when I tell him what I've done. Growing braver with each step I take away from Aro, I lift my chin, glaring down at him. "Just so we're clear, I'd never wrap anything of mine around you… and I quit."
Unsure how long he'll be incapable of giving chase, I rush to my desk to grab my phone and purse. At the door, I flip the deadbolt, fresh fear filling my chest when I realize that Aro had locked us in just like he did at my studio two weeks ago. I don't pause to look behind me as I yank the door open and race outside to my truck, driving out of the parking lot as quickly as I can.
Finally, stopped at a red light almost two miles away from the law firm, I think it's safe to call Edward. When he answers, I try to talk, but have trouble speaking around the lump in my throat.
"What's wrong, baby? Are you okay?"
"Aro," I choke. Looking down, I see several dark red stains on my blouse. Dried blood is smeared on my hands and the steering wheel, the sight of it turning my stomach. I don't know if I'm talking to him or myself when I continue. "I'm okay. I'm okay."
"Fuck. Are you at the office? I'll be right there." He sounds like he's starting to panic, so I swallow and try to speak coherently.
"No. Coming there," I say, pausing to take a deep breath. "Five minutes."
"All right. Hang up and drive."
When I pull into the parking lot, Edward is leaning against the outside wall of the Full Moon, smoking. Although I'm relieved to see him, I'm also nervous. Puffing my cheeks out, I exhale slowly. How mad will he be at Aro? Mad enough to do something drastic? And how angry will he be with me for totally blowing his chance to buy the buildings? He flicks the cigarette to the ground, walking toward my truck and opening the driver's door as soon as I stop next to his car.
"Jesus Christ, ballerina!" he exclaims while I set the brake. "What the fuck did he do to you?"
His harsh demand is offset by the way he reaches for my face, cradling my jaw tenderly when I turn sideways on the seat to face him. As soon as I look into his worried green eyes, tears pool in mine.
"He… and I… I was so scared," I stammer. Shivering from the cold – or maybe the residual fear – I suddenly realize that I left my coat at work. Edward shrugs out of his leather jacket and puts it around my shoulders as I mumble a thank you.
"Whose blood is all over you?"
"Mine," I answer quietly, looking down at my hands. For once, my stomach doesn't react. Maybe I'm becoming accustomed to the blood – or to the constant nausea. "I cut myself, and then Aro came in. He's not gonna sell you either of the buildings. And I'm gonna get arrested." Edward huffs in disbelief, pissing me off. Snapping my head back, I stare icily at him. "I'm not joking, Edward."
"Sorry, baby," he says softly. He wraps his arm under my knees to shift my legs to one side, and then steps closer to hug me. I bury my face in his chest, gripping the fabric of his shirt with my uninjured hand. "How about giving me the unabridged version of what happened?"
Although I hear his heart pounding under my ear, he remains quiet while I tell him everything I remember. His back arches slightly when I describe how Aro touched me and the physical fight that followed, but he doesn't interrupt, only tightening his arms around me and pressing his lips against the top of my head.
When I finish, I exhale loudly. "I'm so sorry."
"You just spent all that money on the remodel and now it's my fault that Aro–."
"None of this is your fault, and I don't give two fucks about the money," he interrupts, pulling back to look at me. I recognize the fear in his eyes, the emotion in his gruff voice. "When you called… Jesus, Bella. Waiting for you to get here was the longest five minutes of my life."
I reach up, curling my right hand around his neck and tugging until he bends down to rest his forehead against mine. We hold still for a moment, breathing, comforting each other. Then, pressing my lips to his, I murmur his name, whisper that I love him. He doesn't answer me out loud, but he moves his mouth with mine, kissing me urgently until he moans and pulls away.
"Always trying to fucking kill me," he teases, knowing that will make me smile, and it does – a little. Leaning down for one more kiss, he takes my left hand and holds it up to examine it. "We need to get these cuts cleaned and bandaged. He did this to your wrist?"
Studying the purple marks on my skin, I shrug. "I guess."
"Fucking asshole," he mutters. He keeps his voice low, but I can hear the anger under the surface. "You need to call Claire, ballerina."
I nod when he raises his gaze to meet mine. Back to reality – the reality where I may need a lawyer, may be charged with assault. Just like Aro said, it would be his word against mine.
Afraid he'll see the distress on my face, I cover by twisting away from him to check my reflection in the rearview mirror. He chuckles once in amusement while I try to wipe away the mascara smudged under both of my eyes.
"You look fine, baby."
"I'm a total mess."
"You're beautiful," he contends, wrapping his hands around my outer thighs. I turn to roll my eyes at him, but his are downcast. I hear him swallow before he speaks again. "Bella, I'm so fucking sorry that I didn't protect you today."
"Edward," I object, gripping his arm with my right hand.
"I should have known that he would head straight for you."
"How could either of us have guessed that? He was hardly around last week. And you didn't know I was alone at the office."
"Goddammit, Bella. Quit making excuses for me," he fumes through gritted teeth, glaring at me with fiery eyes. Wrenching his arm from my grasp, he scrubs his hands roughly across his face. "I'm trying not to fucking explode here, but I want to hunt the bastard down for saying that shit to you, for having the fucking nerve to put his hands on you."
"You can't, Edward. Please," I beg, remembering the way Aro delighted in the idea of Edward being locked up. "It'll just make things worse if you go after him."
A gust of cold wind ruffles his hair and causes goose bumps to erupt on my bare legs. He drops his hands, resting them on my knees. The sides of his jaw twitch several times before he opens his eyes and looks at me. "I don't want to fight. Let's go inside. It's fucking freezing out here."
Nodding mutely, I pick up my purse and get out of the truck, walking beside him toward the side door of the bar. He holds it open for me, placing his hand on my lower back as I pass. Inside, several televisions are turned on to sports channels and classic rock music is playing over the sound system, but the bar is empty. After suggesting I go wash my hands, Edward takes his coat and my purse while I go into the bathroom. When I come back out, Emmett is walking down the steps from the second floor.
"Hey, Tiny," he greets, waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. "What are you doing here so early?"
"Punched my boss. Quit my job."
"You hit Volturi?" he asks, eyebrows raised. He holds his fist toward me when I nod, and I bump it lightly with mine. "Sweet. He's a douche. You all right?" He points to the blood stains on my clothes, looking concerned.
"Yeah, it's just a cut," I answer, turning to walk toward where Edward is sitting at the bar. "I'll go to the studio and change in a minute."
"The fuck you will," Edward declares. He doesn't look our way as he continues rummaging through the first aid box. "You're not going over there alone."
"I wasn't planning to," I retort, irritated by his assumption that I haven't learned anything from what happened this morning – and by his bossiness. "I'll take Emmett with me."
"Edward." I mimic his heavy sigh and exasperated tone, making Emmett snicker quietly.
"Cut him some slack, Tiny." Leaning down, he whispers his advice as I veer away to sit down on the barstool next to Edward's. I pick up the bottle of ibuprofen Edward pushes my way and pour two pills into my hand. Behind the bar, Emmett fills a glass with ice water and sets it in front of me. "Can I go get your stuff from next door while E patches you up?"
After I swallow the pills, I nod sheepishly, embarrassed by my immature outburst. He holds his hand across the bar for my keys, but I'm not sure where Edward put my things when we came inside.
"Here. There's a key to her place on my keychain," Edward mutters, pulling them from his front pocket. He glances at Emmett as he tosses the keys across the bar.
"I'll be right back. The cooks are in the kitchen, so you two keep it clean," Emmett teases, whistling as he walks toward the side door.
"You have a key to the studio on your keychain?" I ask, placing my left hand on the towel Edward laid out on the bar top. His fingers are gentle as he spreads antibiotic cream on the cuts.
"Yep. When Aro locked himself in with you, I had to use the key you gave Rosalie to get inside. I kept it." He pauses to look up at me. "I told you that."
"Oh, right." We're quiet as he puts small butterfly bandages across the cuts to pull the broken skin back together. Watching him, I recall how he comforted me on that day so long ago when Aro first propositioned me. Warmth blooms in my chest at the memory of wearing his hoodie for the first time, being kissed by him for the second time… and knowing that I was falling hard and fast. I spin my stool toward him. "We're sitting in the same spot we did last fall when I came here after Aro kissed me. Remember?"
"I remember," he answers quietly, still bent over my injured fingers. "We were sitting one stool farther to the left that day, though."
Smiling slightly, I lift my right hand to his shoulder and slide it toward his neck. With the lightest touch, I trace my fingers over the three moles just above the neck of his shirt; it's one of my favorite places to kiss. He shrugs his shoulder when I hit a ticklish spot and his lips curl upward a bit at the corners.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you."
Turning his head, he looks at me, and then raises up to peck my lips. "We're both a little rattled right now, baby. I'm sorry for snapping at you, too." He finishes bandaging my fingers, and then closes the lid of the first aid kit. Swiveling his stool to face me, he traps my knees between his. "What do you want to do now?"
"This." Standing up from my stool, I wind my arms around his shoulders, shutting my eyes when he pulls me close. Completely wrapped in him, I feel my tension melt away a little more with each silent breath.
After a moment, I open my eyes and see Emmett through the window. He's walking back across the parking lot with the duffle bag I asked him to get, his cell phone pressed against his ear. When I tell Edward, he groans, holding me more tightly.
"Shit. I bet he's calling Rosalie. And Rosalie will call Mom," he grumbles. "Neither one of them can keep their fucking mouths shut about anything."
"They would have found out anyway," I reason.
"Yeah, but now my mom's gonna fucking show up here in twenty minutes to check on you," he replies. Although he sounds grumpy, I know he likes it when his mom stops by – and he knows how much it means to me that she cares about me, too. "You know they won't leave us alone all afternoon, ballerina. So if you're gonna kiss me, you'd better do it now."
For the first time since early this morning, I laugh out loud, leaning back to look in his shining, green eyes. Realizing he's trying to make me feel better, I slide my right hand into the hair at the nape of his neck… and then I follow his advice.
When Alice arrives several hours later, we walk to the studio together. As we warm up in the smaller dance room, I tell her what happened with Aro. She hugs me, soothes me – and doesn't say she told me so, although I know she will eventually.
While I'm running through a turn sequence, we hear someone knock at the door, but it's too early for students to arrive.
"It's probably Rosalie," I call as Alice walks out to answer it. "She said she was coming over."
Switching to my weaker leg, I prep, pirouette, and then begin turning à la seconde. I've made four revolutions when I spot Alice and two men in the doorway behind me. Falling out of my turn, I stumble as I look at their sober faces in the mirror.
"B, these men are here to see you," Alice says, her voice more high-pitched than normal.
Swallowing nervously, I nod. Walking to the rear of the room, I'm self-conscious about being dressed in booty shorts and a tank top, but I try to look confident as I approach Alice and the two suit-wearing visitors.
"Miss Swan?" suit number one asks, showing me his badge after I confirm my identity. "I'm Lieutenant Murphy, Seattle PD. This is Detective Green. We'd like for you to come down to the station and answer a few questions."
Fear grips my chest, making it hard for me to breathe. Inhaling rapidly, I instantly regret not leaving Claire a detailed message on her cell phone or sending her an email when I couldn't get in touch with her earlier this afternoon. Fucking Aro. This is just like him, having me hauled in when he's harassed me for months. He knows I was only defending myself this morning.
"Can't we just talk here?" I plead. I'm afraid if I let them take me downtown, I'll never get out.
"No, miss. We'll need you to come downtown."
"Okay," I mumble, understanding that refusal isn't an option. "Um, can I have a sec to get dressed?"
They agree, but follow me back to the office, searching the pockets of my hoodie and sweats before I go into the bathroom to put them on. When I pick up my purse, Lieutenant Murphy asks to look through it. Once he has, he zips it closed, but he doesn't give it back, advising that he'll hold it during the drive to the station.
"My classes," I say, turning toward Alice while Detective Green holds the front door open for me.
"I'll handle it. And I'll go tell Edward."
I nod as our eyes meet, both filled with tears. "Ask him to call Claire."
Anxious and cold, I sit alone at the table in the interview room. My legs bounce uncontrollably. My arms are crossed over my stomach, hands pushed inside the opposite sleeves of my hoodie, trying to get warm. I haven't taken even a sip from the cup of tap water Lieutenant Murphy brought me after I declined to answer any questions without my lawyer. Since I'm not wearing a watch, I don't know how long I've been in here. Realistically, it's probably only been about an hour since I got into the backseat of the unmarked sedan, but it seems like much longer.
Looking around the room again, I study the bare, beige walls. In one corner, a video camera is mounted near the ceiling, pointed directly at me. I stare at the red light over the lens, counting the number of times it blinks until I reach three hundred. Then I lower my eyes, deciding that if the police are watching me, I undoubtedly look either defiant or crazy.
Although I'm reluctant to relive the events of this morning, I go over them in my head several times, memorizing every detail I think may be important. And I worry – about what will happen in here, what's happening at the studio, where Edward is. Lost in thought, I jump when the door opens and Claire walks in, followed by the men who drove me here. Claire winks as she sits down beside me, but it doesn't calm my jitters much.
"Gentlemen, I presume you have a good reason for hauling my client down here this evening," she begins as they settle in across the table from us.
"We have some questions to ask Miss Swan in conjunction with her employment at the law firm of Aro Volturi," Lieutenant Murphy answers. Shifting around in the uncomfortable chair, I scoot closer to the table and fold my hands on top of it. He asks a series of mundane questions: my name, address, work and personal history since moving to Seattle. Claire lets me answer, but becomes increasingly frustrated when they don't get to the point of this interrogation.
"This is biographical information, guys. In fact, I'm sure you knew the answers to most of these questions before you asked," she argues. "Quit wasting my client's time. Either ask the questions you brought her here to answer or let her go."
"Fine," Lieutenant Murphy allows, leaning back in his chair. "Miss Swan, it appears a very serious crime has occurred."
A very serious crime? How much trouble can I be in for hitting one asshole?
"A search warrant was executed at Aro Volturi's law office three hours ago. We've taken possession of various files and all the computers from the office," Detective Green advises curtly. "Do you know what a client trust account is?"
"Yes, it's the account where settlement and escrow money is held until it's paid to the clients."
"If you have any pertinent information to offer about your involvement with the client trust account, now is the time to come out with it."
Frowning, confused, the words are out of my mouth before I can stop them – and before Claire can stop me. "What does this have to do with me punching Aro today?"
Claire's hand clamps on my forearm, silencing me immediately, but Detective Green looks just as baffled as I am.
"I don't have any information about a physical altercation." He leans forward, putting his elbows on the table and locking his gaze with mine. "Have you ever handled the funds in Volturi's client trust account?"
"No, I haven't." From the corner of my eye, I see Claire turn to look at me, and her fingers tighten around my arm.
"Miss Swan, we have substantial evidence that funds have been misappropriated from that account," Lieutenant Murphy interjects, sitting up straight again. "And we believe some of that money may be in your possession."
"What?" I breathe.
"Can you explain why you deposited three-quarters of a million dollars in a bank in Forks during the same month that you began working for Aro Volturi?" he inquires, his voice gaining volume. It isn't necessary for him to talk so loudly; I'm already pretty intimidated. Before I can answer, he pulls a sheet of paper from the file folder he brought into the room with him, sliding it across the table to me. Looking down, my mouth drops open when I realize it's my trust fund statement.
"This is… this money… it's mine," I mumble.
"It's quite a coincidence that you have a lot of money hidden away in a small-town bank," Detective Green muses, "and at the same time, more than five million dollars is missing from Aro Volturi's client trust account."
"Five million dollars?" I gasp, my eyes darting to Murphy's face. Turning to Claire, I shake my head. "I thought I was in trouble because I knocked the crap out of Aro earlier today."
"Gentlemen, I'd like a few minutes alone with my client," Claire says, remaining composed despite my skyrocketing alarm. She waits until they leave the room before she turns to fully face me. "Bella, level with me. Do you know anything about the money?"
"No! No," I insist, grateful that I didn't handle any of the firm's money. It was only Aro… and Jessica. "Oh, my God. Aro must have known about the investigation. That's why he was acting so weird. He must have suspected he was going to be caught."
Struggling to organize my jumbled thoughts, I explain to Claire what's been going on with Aro and what happened today, showing her the bruising on my left wrist. We discuss my duties at work and who handles the firm's finances. I tell her about my dad's accident and the money I received several months after his death. She coaches me a little on how to answer the questions she thinks they'll ask, and then grabs my right hand.
"I gave you some latitude to answer the detectives before because I thought your reaction clearly demonstrated your innocence. I'll continue that if you're comfortable with it, but I won't let you veer too far off course. If I grab your arm again, it's time for you to clam up. Got it?" Once I assure her I do, she gets up to call the police back into the room, muttering under her breath, "Jesus, I hope they fry the fucker."
For the next ninety minutes, I talk almost nonstop. Tearfully, I share the details of my dad's death. I also relate several of the incidents I've had with Aro and admit that I don't know Jessica well enough to guess whether or not she would help Aro steal money from his clients. Lieutenant Murphy nods often as if he believes me, saying that they'll confirm my story with the insurance company and bank tomorrow.
"And when you do, we'll welcome your phone call notifying my client that she's been cleared of any involvement, with your apologies," Claire states firmly, packing her notepad away. "I think we're done here for tonight. Right, fellas?"
They agree, giving back my purse and saying they'll be in touch as we leave the room. I mumble my thanks before Claire and I turn the opposite way to walk down the hallway.
"They may ask you to come back for more questioning after they talk to Jessica," she says quietly. "Don't answer anything without me being present."
"It's going to be okay, Bella. Try not to worry."
"I'm trying," I maintain, but my anxiety level is rising again. The emotional tug of war that played out all day has left me a tangled mess inside. I feel raw, ready to snap, and I cross my arms over my chest to hold myself together.
Exiting the hallway through double doors, I see Edward sitting in a chair against the wall. When he sees us coming, he immediately stands and walks forward, wrapping his arms around me. I lean into him, but don't hug him back. I'm not really paying attention as he and Claire talk quietly – until she tells him that he'll probably be questioned, too.
"No," I croak, backing away from him to look at Claire.
"Not because of you, Bella. Or, at least, not just because of you," she explains. I know she's attempting to alleviate my distress, but it feels like no matter what we do to push him out, Aro's reach extends further and further into our lives. "He's Aro's tenant. He was preparing to buy one of the buildings. All of Aro's business dealings will be relevant to the case."
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I feel tears prick the back of my eyes and know I'm going to lose it soon if I don't get out of here. Edward must sense my growing agitation because he picks up his leather jacket and coaxes me into putting it on. I watch as he pulls on another coat he brought with him.
During the drive to the condo, I stare out the passenger window, not speaking except for an occasional "mmhmm" when Edward asks if I'm all right. The knowledge that Edward is going to be dragged into this chaos combined with the steady throbbing of my injured fingers leaves me with little desire for conversation. I shut my eyes, hoping my mind will go blank, too. But my head won't quit asking questions that I'm not sure I want to answer.
What impact will this turmoil with Aro have on Edward's business? On mine?
What will Aro do when he discovers I've cooperated with the investigation about the missing money?
With all the trouble I'm causing, how much longer will Edward stick around?
By the time I hear Edward lower his window to let us inside his building's garage, the emotional weight in my chest is so heavy that it's a physical ache. In the past, I would lock myself in an empty studio when I felt like this, losing myself in dance for hours, until the pain subsided enough for good feelings to bubble to the surface again. I wish I could do that now, but I think I'll hurt Edward if I ask him to take me to the studio… and he wouldn't let me stay there alone anyway.
He parks and turns off the car, prompting me to open my eyes and look out the window again. I'm surprised to see my truck parked next to us.
"Alice gave me your extra keys. Emmett and Rosalie brought it over. I think they brought us food, too."
Touched by what my friends have done, I'm too choked up to say anything as we get out of the car. Once we're on the elevator up to his floor, I finally look at him.
"Thank you, Edward. For everything," I whisper.
"I didn't do much, ballerina." With a shrug, he turns his head my way.
"Yes, you did," I insist, reaching for his hand. Slipping my fingers between his, the flash of desire I feel is immediate… and just as overwhelming as every other emotion I've experienced today. "I'm sorry you got stuck at the police station all night."
"Where else do you think I'd be?"
"I don't know," I murmur. "I don't want to think anymore."
Stepping in front of him, I lift up to kiss him, hooking my left elbow around his neck. Although he seems surprised by my eagerness, he responds quickly, moving his lips with mine. Within seconds, I get my wish – I'm not thinking. Losing myself in him, I forget everything except how much I love him, how much I want him. I scrape my teeth along his lower lip, then pull it into my mouth, sucking until he groans.
When the elevator bell dings softly, he wraps an arm around my waist, backing me out the doors as they open. Turning us in the direction of his condo, he breaks the kiss to look around, and then bends down to pick me up. I wrap my arms and legs around him, panting into his ear while he walks to his door and unlocks it.
"Get the door," he orders once we're inside.
After I slam it shut, he presses me against it, kissing me again as he locks the deadbolt. I hear his keys land on the wood floor just before he slides his hands to my ass, holding me in place as he rocks his hips into mine again and again. Craving the release, craving him, my body jerks each time he grazes my clit through the thin material covering me, sending sparks of pleasure through me.
After a moment, he sets me down. His gaze stays focused on mine as we hurriedly shed our coats. Bending down to kiss me again, he unzips my hoodie roughly, and soon it and my tank top join the jackets on the floor. He yanks his shirt off, and then rests his palms against the door, leaning into me. Moaning into his mouth, I thread my right hand through his hair as we kiss passionately. Heat radiates between our bodies, and I let my hand drift down to spread wide across his chest, creeping lower… lower. When I rub my hand over the front of his jeans, he pushes forward.
"Fuck," he breathes against my lips as I stroke him.
He moves one hand, ghosting it lightly across my collarbone, nudging the straps of my bra off my shoulders. His fingers trace the skin just above my bra, and then he lowers his head to kiss along the same path. When I arch into his touch, he gives me what I want, closing his hand around one breast and his mouth around the other. I look down, watching him, more aroused with each flick of his tongue across the lace covering my nipple, each gentle squeeze of his fingers. Gasping, I enjoy the heightening passion, but I'm too impatient to wait much longer for him.
I leave my aching left hand hanging at my side and reach for his belt with my right, loosening it from the buckle, and then unfastening the button of his jeans. But Edward shifts away before I get my hand inside. He looks up at me for the briefest second before dropping to his knees. Kissing across my belly, he tugs my pants, shorts and underwear down all at once, lifting my right leg to pull off my shoe and clothes. Skimming his hand up my thigh, he slides it between my legs, groaning quietly as he pushes two fingers inside me. His hot breath beats against my skin, my legs tremble, and just when I think I can't take much more, I feel his tongue scrape over my clit.
"Oh, God. Oh, my God." Sucking air in through my teeth, I reach for his hair, digging my fingers in as he continues his sensual torment. When I get too close, I pull his hair hard enough to get his attention, unsure he'll understand my breathy wishes. "Not this way. Up here."
Standing again at once, he licks my bottom lip, tasting of me. I hear the metal zipper of his jeans just before he lifts me, plunging inside with one deep thrust. Relief speeds through my veins once we're joined, but it doesn't last. I want more.
"Jesus, ballerina." His husky voice rumbles through my chest when he pulls out and slams back in forcefully. "You feel so fucking good."
Unable to answer, I whimper, letting my mouth fall open as we move together, the steady pace quickly turning frantic. Each time he drives into me, the door rattles in the jamb. With each thrust, I hear his belt buckle clang rhythmically against the wood and feel his fingers digging into my skin. Clutching him, I race closer and closer to the edge. Finally, I cry out as pleasure rips through me, spreading wildly in wave after wave. Edward follows right after, holding still as he pulses inside me. After whispering my name, he rests his forehead against the door.
Slowly, as the daze of my orgasm recedes, I'm aware that my pants and underwear are hanging from my left ankle, the button of Edward's jeans is digging into my thigh and I think one of my fingers is bleeding after I gripped his shoulder tightly as I came. Still, I sigh contentedly.
"I love you."
"I love you, too, Bella." His lips brush against my shoulder before returning to mine, kissing me slowly, sweetly.
"Something smells good," I state, twisting my head away to speak.
He lowers me to the ground, and then smiles at me. "I think it's our dinner. Are you hungry?"
"Yeah, but I want to take a shower… no, a bath." Lifting my left leg, I pull off my shoe and let my clothes slide to the ground. "Will you come with me?"
"I never really liked baths," he hedges, pulling up his pants.
"I'll be wet and naked."
"Until today," he amends, chuckling. "Start the water and I'll be right there."
I'm not as comfortable walking around without clothing as he is, but I head down the hallway in only my bra, knowing he's watching. While the water is running into the deep whirlpool tub, I look at myself in the mirror and cringe. Even though I reapplied my makeup this afternoon, I cried most of it off at the police station. My eyes are red and swollen. Most of my hair has fallen from the bun I put it in to teach. I look awful, but I feel great.
"Crap," I mumble, examining my splotchy face and neck while I fix my hair. "I need dimmer lighting."
Remembering that there are candles in Edward's closet, I go get several and set them on the vanity, hoping I'll look better this way. Just after I've lit them and climbed into the tub, Edward comes in, carrying a plate, a bottle of water and two beers. I swallow the two ibuprofen pills he gives me with a few sips of the water, and then he hands me half a cheeseburger and a beer.
"Fresh out of champagne and strawberries," he remarks apologetically, taking off his pants and climbing in with me with his own half a burger and beer.
"This is so good," I moan, chewing my first bite. "And way more romantic than fruit, if you ask me. Thank you."
While we eat, we talk a little, but he doesn't ask me about what happened this afternoon and evening, although I'm sure he wants to know. I finish my burger and most of my beer, and then set the bottle on the wide rim around the tub. Closing my eyes, I sink farther down into the hot, swirling water.
"This is nice, ballerina. I mean, considering that we're sitting in a pool of our own filth," he quips several minutes later, nudging my thigh with his foot. Reaching underwater, I grab his toes, and then skim my fingers along his arch, laughing as he squirms.
"I'm ready to tell you about today," I announce, sliding my hand to wrap around his ankle. Hanging on to him, I keep my eyes shut as I relay the story, beginning with the moment I saw the detectives in the mirror. He asks a few questions, but for the most part, he lets me talk uninterrupted. I finish by telling him that I still don't know if Aro will file a police report for what I did to him this morning.
"You've had a rough fucking day, baby," he says quietly.
"Not my best day. Not my worst either," I muse, slitting my eyes open a little to find him smirking at me. I raise one curious eyebrow at him. "What?"
"Who would have thought you'd be the first one in this relationship detained by the cops?" he jokes, holding his hands up defensively when I splash him. He copies my gesture, except he's more effective. He douses me with water so that I'm sputtering through my laughter.
"What a relaxing bath," I say sarcastically, pushing the wet hair out of my face.
"The best way to relax is to have fun," he asserts.
"Or have sex. But we already did that."
"Ballerina, what we did wasn't sex," he declares lowly, holding my gaze. "That was fucking."
Watching his eyes darken, I feel my face heat, but not from embarrassment. "I liked it."
"I did, too," he nods, reaching over to turn off the whirlpool motor. He stands and gets out, wrapping a towel around his waist before holding a hand toward me. "But it was over too fast. Come on. Let's try it slow."
"My hair's wet," I protest half-heartedly.
"I don't fucking care."
He kisses me as I climb out, and then helps me dry off. After pausing to blow out the candles, he leads me to his bed. The sense of urgency we felt earlier has lessened. We don't rush as we explore each other's bodies, letting the pressure build slowly with gentle caresses and whispered words. The pleasure, when it comes at last, is all-consuming. It's much later, when we're lying face-to-face under the covers, that he frowns and I reach over to trace the vertical line between his eyebrows.
"What's the matter?"
"I fucking hate everything you've gone through with Aro," he replies. "I hate what he's done, what's he's tried to do. But if you'd never gone to work for him–."
"We probably wouldn't have met," I finish as he nods. "I've thought the same thing, Edward. But I wouldn't trade what we have for anything."
"Me neither. And that makes me a selfish asshole."
"No, it doesn't. I'm fine," I insist. "I actually think I did pretty well with him today."
"Jesus, ballerina. You were fucking fantastic. I'm so proud of you – how you handled Aro, how you handled everything. I'd really like to have five fucking minutes alone with him, though."
"No way. One of us being charged with assault is enough."
"He won't do it. He's got no grounds," he responds. I scoot toward him, resting my face against his chest and tangling my legs with his.
"I know you are. And I don't know what we'll have to go through before it's all over," he says, stroking his hand along my spine. "But when it's over, you and I will still be here… together."
"Yeah. I promise, ballerina."
"We're getting pretty good at this relationship shit," I observe, knowing it will amuse him that I sound like him. It does. He laughs, and when I look up at him, my heart is so full that I think it might burst.
"I agree, baby," he murmurs when I stretch up to kiss him. "I agree."
The next day, Edward is called in for questioning as expected. After making me promise to stay at the Full Moon with Emmett, he gets to drive himself to the police station, not be carted away in the backseat of an unmarked car like I was.
He hasn't returned by the time classes start, so I leave the blinds open in the dance room. Toward the end of my first class, I breathe easier when I see him pull in and park. Since it's dusk, I know he can see into the bright studio when he gets out of the car and looks my way. He holds his phone up before turning to walk inside the Full Moon.
The last ten minutes of class tick by slowly, and as soon as the students leave the room, I grab my phone from the stereo shelf to read the text from him.
*It went fine. Quit worrying. See you at 9.
With a laugh, I set my phone down again and twist the blinds closed. When classes are over for the evening, I'm not surprised to hear a key in the lock at the side door. It opens as I'm walking toward it and he comes inside, striding purposefully toward me.
"Hey," he smiles, sliding one arm around my waist. Before I can answer, he kisses me.
"Alice is still here," I mumble against his lips when his hand wanders to the top of my ass.
"She's in favor of groping. She fucking talks about it all the time," he laughs, but he pulls away and hands me the styrofoam cup he brought.
"Thanks. You're in a good mood."
"I'm in a great mood. I heard some very interesting information at the police station today," he says, watching my mouth as I close my lips around the straw and suck. Realizing he's paying attention, I lick the drops of Diet Coke from the top of the straw, then take another long, slow pull, sucking my cheeks in. His jaw goes slack. His eyes lift up to meet mine, and I can't help the smirk that tugs at my lips. "Quit fucking teasing me, ballerina."
"Who's teasing, baby?"
Smiling, he leans down to me again, talking between kisses. "I'm trying to tell you something and you're distracting me."
Putting my hands against his chest, I press him away gently. "Okay, spill it. What's going on?"
"Aro doesn't own these fucking buildings – yours or mine," he says, nodding when my mouth drops open in shock.
"What the–? How did–?" I stammer, struggling to understand. "Then who does?"
"His very, very angry wife."
A/N: Thanks for reading. Please review.