The Load, Chapter 8: Things That Go Bump In The Night by TheLadyInGrey42
For what felt like the hundredth time, Bella turned over and rearranged her pillow beneath her head, punching it down before settling on her back, closing her eyes and searching for calm. But it wasn't any use. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't sleep.
It wasn't really a surprise, though. She had never been a terribly sound sleeper, and once her mind got to spinning, she was often hard-pressed to quiet it down again. And goodness knew she had enough things on her mind tonight.
Between the gorgeous (if temperamental) mob thug sleeping down the hall from her, the newness of her bedroom, the unclear intentions of her employer, the loss of her truck, and that godawful scratching sound coming from the window downstairs —
Bella sat up with a start, listening hard and trying to hear anything over the thundering of her heart. Met with crushing silence, she was just beginning to relax when she heard it again. Scratching.
Bella's whole body shivered, and she felt a cold tickle of fear make its way up her spine, paralyzing her. She squeezed her eyes shut and fought to concentrate, knowing full well that this was not the time to panic. Her father's voice rose up in her head, telling her to keep her head on her shoulders and to just think. She wasn't a helpless girl after all. And she was damned if she was going to act like one.
Summoning up all of her courage, she unlocked her limbs and moved silently across the room to the box in the bottom of her closet. When she found the case that contained her father's gun, she thanked God again that she hadn't been forced to sell it after all. Her hands shook slightly as she loaded it, remembering the careful instructions her dad had given her.
What she would have given to have him there with her now.
After tucking the gun into the waistband of her long johns, she padded to the door, turning the knob carefully and looking up and down the darkened hall before stepping out. She'd made it halfway to the stairs when she heard another voice. Raspier. Closer.
"Touch it, baby. You know you want to. Oh God, my sock monkey loves it when you..."
Bella shuddered with a mixture of confusion, revulsion and arousal, and she paused. The sounds from within her sister's room quieted, but it didn't change the fact that there was a very dangerous, very perverted man sleeping in there. For a minute, she hesitated, uncertain if she should wake him or not.
The fact of the matter was that she had no idea whether or not Edward Masen was trustworthy. He'd ruined her truck, kidnapped her, literally scared the piss out of her, snooped around her house (ostensibly looking for bugs), gotten a hard-on while watching The Biggest Loser and then insisted on sleeping in her baby sister's room.
Never mind. She was one hundred percent sure she shouldn't trust him. But on the whole, she would feel better having a mob thug standing beside her if other thugs were trying to break into her home than having a mob thug possibly standing behind her, preparing to shoot her in the back.
The scratching downstairs morphed into a series of low banging sounds, spurring Bella into action. Swallowing hard, she strode back down the hall to the bedroom opposite hers. Relieved to find it unlocked, she slipped inside and closed the door behind her before turning to face the bed.
But then all thoughts of intruders and the many, many faults of the man before her were driven from her head.
Because, damn, the man was a sight to behold.
Laid out on the bed on his back, bare-chested with the sheets pulled up to just above his hips, he was ... stunning. Bella let her eyes linger on the lines of muscle carved into his trim frame, the light smattering of hair, and then the bolder line of it that led down to —
Bella's eyes practically bugged out of her head. Sock monkey didn't even begin to describe it. Sock gorilla might be more apt.
As she ogled, Edward stirred slightly, moaning and reaching down to adjust the aforementioned gorilla. Licking her lips, Bella watched as the long line of his body shifted beneath the sheets.
As much as it turned her on, hearing him whisper her name in his sleep brought her back to herself. Pushing down the shameful desire to find out exactly how loudly she could get him to call out for her while he was awake, she took a deep breath and approached the bed. Reaching down, she tentatively touched his shoulder, shaking him and whispering his name. When he didn't respond, she shook him harder, speaking louder and closer to his ear. "Edward! Edward, wake up!"
His sleepy eyes drifted open, the deep circles of his irises rotating up until they found her face. "Huh?"
She let a little bit of the panic she'd felt earlier seep into her voice. "I think I heard something downstairs."
Edward's eyes squinted and focused a bit more tightly before widening. Then, to her shock, he closed them again and rolled over, grumbling, "Already fell for that once."
Confused, Bella reached out again and nudged him, hissing for him to get up already.
"I bet you're not even naked," he mumbled.
Her half-shriek seemed to wake him up. He rolled back over and looked at her, his gaze sharper this time as it traveled down her body. Rather than admiring her curves, though, his eyes seemed to be on a fact-finding mission, and once he'd completed his perusal, he sat up suddenly, throwing off the sheets and revealing his black boxer briefs.
"Shit," he cursed as he reached behind him for a shirt and pulled it over his head. "I'm sorry. You heard – what?"
Bella had a hard time concentrating on her words as her eyes moved over the pale skin of his legs. "Noises," she stammered. "Downstairs. Scratching and then some banging. And voices."
He nodded and grabbed his jeans, tugging them on as he stood before reaching beneath his pillow and pulling out a handgun. Instinctively, Bella reached for the handle of her revolver, and Edward eyed her sharply.
"You know how to use that thing?"
Bella bristled at the implication. "Damn right, I do."
Edward regarded her with irritation, but then he sighed and motioned toward the door. "Follow me."
Deciding she'd rather have his back than the other way around, she nodded her agreement. He moved to the door, approaching it much the way that she had. Signaling that the coast was clear, he moved out into the hall, his gun pointed straight out in front of him.
Though it made her nervous to do so, Bella mimicked his position, staying a couple of feet behind him as they moved down the stairs, hugging the wall as they approached the front door.
"What the fuck?" he hissed, pulling up short.
Bella looked up at him quizzically, then followed his gaze down to the chair that was propped up against the front door. Embarrassed, she shrugged. "Habit, I guess. Our old apartment was in a crappy neighborhood."
Edward shook his head. "The only people you're going to stop with shit like that are idiots that don't know how to pop a win – "
His explanation cut off at just that moment as the window next to the door slid open with a groan. As one, Edward and Bella turned on their heels to face the intruders, and Bella felt a cold sweat rise up on the back of her neck as her finger hovered over the trigger.
But then a very familiar voice floated in, giggling dreamily. "Oh my God, Jasper, you're so bad."
Another voice pierced the darkness, laughing, and a blond head poked through the window. Bella's eyes widened, and she lowered her gun in a panic before tapping Edward's shoulder.
She needn't have worried, though. He was already dropping his arm, and when Bella looked up, it was to find his face rippling with emotion, his eyes blinking rapidly and his mouth falling.
Jasper's body landed with a thud inside the house. Without even glancing Edward and Bella's way, he leaned back out the window and pulled a smaller figure through. Setting down daintily, Alice was a mite bit more graceful in her dismount than Jasper had been, but there was something a bit off about her movements, and she was giggling erratically.
And then, before Bella's very eyes, the two teenagers shared a slow, tender, sensual kiss.
Bella watched slack-jawed for a minute before all the maternal instincts she had developed in the time since her father's death asserted themselves. Without thinking about the consequences — or about how the presence of the gun-toting man beside her would be received — she stalked over to the wall and flipped on every light-switch she could find.
Alice and Jasper leaped apart as if they'd had cold water dumped on them, and in her most disapproving voice, Bella ground out, "Alice Mary Swan. What on earth do you think you're – "
Alice had the decency to at least looked chagrined, but Bella still stopped mid-tirade when she realized no one else in the room was listening to her. Her eyes darted from Edward's face to Jasper's and back, finding the two of them staring at each other with dumbfounded expressions.
It was readily apparent that, for all that both of them were shocked, their reactions were swiftly diverging, Jasper's into anger and Edward's into matching levels of despondency.
Alice was the first to break the silence. "What the hell are you doing pointing guns around?" She turned with a huff toward Edward. "And who the hell are you?" So quickly it would have been comical had the situation not been so tense, she shifted back again to look at Bella, her eyes widening. "Did you have a boysleeping over?"
Bella sputtered for a moment, even as Edward and Jasper continued to stare at each other. She quickly found her voice again, though, and with it her righteous indignation. "No. Well, yes. Er ... it's not what it looks like. And anyway, never mind what's going on with me and Edward – which is nothing by the way. Why wouldn't we come down here with guns? It sounded like someone was breaking in!"
Huffing and crossing her arms across her chest, Alice answered with an equal level of annoyance in her tone. "Well, if you hadn't put that stupid chair against the door – "
"Excuse me! I didn't expect anyone I knew to be trying to get in at two o'clock in the morning."
Alice laughed and rubbed her eyes. Bella was surprised to find them looking alarmingly red. Alice replied, "Jasper's mom was out of milk, and we had all these brownies, and I know you always have milk. I love milk. And you have to have milk with brownies." Her eyes darted to the kitchen. "They were really good brownies, too. Kinda different, though. Jasper said they had a special ingredient ... "
At the same time, Jasper jerked his gaze away from Edward, and Bella widened her eyes.
"Alice, babe," Jasper said frantically. "Don't mention the – "
"Alice Mary Swan. Are you high!"
Seemingly uncertain where to look, Alice's eyes started ping-ponging between the two of them. "Um..."
Jasper stepped back toward the window. "Maybe I should go."
"Damn right, you better," Bella growled. Alice was her baby sister, her best friend, her reason for everything she had put herself through over the last few months...
"No, wait," Edward choked out as Jasper lifted the window.
Jasper turned his head to look at Edward for just a moment. When he did, his eyes were shockingly cold. And then without another word, he stepped through the small space there and out into the night.
For a minute, Edward just stood there, the piercing look his brother had given him searing itself into his chest. He didn't know what the fuck he'd been thinking, hoping Jasper might still want to have anything to do with him. It had been years, after all, and in that time, Edward hadn't made any real sort of contact. All he'd done had been to disgrace himself again and again.
And yet still, he'd had such hope...
Sparing just one look over his shoulder to see that Bella was following Alice into the kitchen, still screaming at her, Edward hesitated, but then made his mind up.
He was about to follow Jasper out the window, but then stopped short, rolling his eyes at himself and kicking the stupid chair out of the way. It landed with a hollow thud, and in the next moment, he yanked the door open and ran after his brother.
Jasper was already halfway to what Edward recognized as their mother's old car by the time Edward caught up to him. In the back of his mind, he knew full well that Jasper wasn't old enough to have his license yet, and he was about to say something about it when he decided that, considering his own brushes with the law, that was among the very least of their concerns.
Instead, Edward called out his brother's name, and when Jasper ignored it, he reached out and yanked on his sleeve.
The moment Edward's hand connected with his elbow, Jasper cursed and tore his arm away, rounding on Edward. The coldness in his eyes had been replaced with pure fury. Only, if Edward looked a little closer, he could see that there was hurt there, too.
Edward had put that hurt there.
"Fuck off," Jasper sneered. "And keep your hands off me."
Edward raised his arms in a gesture of supplication, but it did nothing to break through his brother's hostility. Jasper did stop walking away, though, so at least Edward hadn't managed to fuck things up any worse. Yet.
"Just ... listen to me. Please. Can't we ... talk, or something?"
Jasper crossed his arms over his chest. "Now? You want to talk now? That's rich."
"Look, I know – "
"No, you don't. You don't know anything. How could you? Years, Edward. It's been years. And now suddenly, you show up out of nowhere in my girlfriend's house, pointing a gun at me. And now you want to talk?"
God, that did sound bad, didn't it? Edward raked a hand through his hair and pinched his eyes shut. When he looked up again, Jasper was huffing and walking away again, opening his car door.
And it was only then, with the light from the interior of the car spilling out, that Edward got his first good look at his brother in years. He looked so grown up, and Edward gulped at the realization of just how much time he had lost – how much of Jasper's life he had missed. With emotion clouding his eyes, he saw the way his once near-platinum hair had darkened into a sandy blond, the longer cut of it so different from how he'd worn it when he was a boy.
Edward did a double-take as the exact shade of blond registered in his brain. His gaze darted to his brother's other features, the angle of his chin and the blue of his eyes.
And he knew where he'd seen them before.
Bella's words floated back to him. "Edward, Dr. Cullen, Carlisle, is your father."
He hadn't believed it. Not really. But now, staring at Jasper, it hit him with resounding force.
Edward's hollow laugh resounded in the silence of the night, and Jasper turned, agape. "You think this is funny?"
"Hilarious," Edward agreed, scrambling for what he could possibly say that could keep his brother here and listening for long enough for him to explain. It wasn't his style, but eventually he landed on one desperate hope: the truth. Quietly and yet with deadly seriousness, he intoned, "You look just like our father."
It did the trick. Stiffening, Jasper shifted his entire body and closed the car door, facing his brother. "What did you just say?"
Digging into his jeans pocket, Edward pulled out his lighter and a pack of cigarettes, hoping to buy himself some time. As he lit one, he nodded toward the porch in a silent invitation, and he let out a deep exhale when Jasper finally nodded and moved to follow him.
As the two men sat down on opposite ends of the porch swing, Edward puffed on his cigarette contemplatively, watching how Jasper fidgeted, clearly dying to ask him again. When Jasper did speak, Edward couldn't help but notice that it was in a hell of a lot less confrontational of a tone. "You know something about our dad?"
"Yup." He hesitated. "Has Mom ever said anything about him? Since I've been gone?"
Jasper shook his head. "You know how she is. That much hasn't changed."
"No, I wouldn't imagine that it has." Edward stubbed out his cigarette in a potted plant before running his hand down his face. "Listen, I just found this out yesterday, and I don't have any proof. Hell, I didn't even believe it until I saw you and recognized ... God, you look so much like him."
"Who is he?"
Uncertain just how much to reveal, Edward spoke guardedly. "His name is Carlisle Cullen. He's a doctor in Forks. Little town a few hours from here."
And he's made an enemy of the mob. Just so you know.
Jasper shook his head. "Never heard of him."
"I didn't imagine you would have."
"How did you – "
"Bella told me. Alice's sister. Apparently she knows him."
Jasper screwed up his face. "Our housekeeper?"
"Evidently," Edward said with a sigh, rubbing his eyes. "I still don't know what the fuck is up with that."
All was silent between them for a minute as Jasper processed. Quietly, he asked, "Do you think he's ... checking up on us?"
"Maybe. I don't know. Apparently he asked Bella for information on us."
"That's kind of fucked up."
"No shit." Hesitating briefly, he continued, "About as fucked up as me showing up out of the blue like this, huh?"
Jasper stiffened slightly, as if remembering that he was supposed to be mad at his brother. "Yeah. It's definitely on par."
Sensing that Jasper would be more receptive now, Edward tried to take on his most conciliatory tone. "I wanted to get in touch with you. I think about you and Mom all the time. All the time." He watched the way Jasper's mouth twisted into a frown, but he still hadn't gotten up to leave, and that had to count for something. "But I'm ... I got into some stuff, and it's not safe. For me or anyone I'm close to. And after the last time ... "
"You mean when I had to read about you going to jail in the paper?" Jasper asked acidly.
"Fuck," Edward breathed. "Yeah, that. I'm so sorry. I just ... I didn't have any choice. I tried, though, but Mom wouldn't let me see you, or ... "
He let his voice trail off into the quiet of the night.
"Yeah, well," Jasper finally said.
Jasper turned to him, looking him in the eyes for the first time. "So now what?"
Edward's heart seemed to stick in his throat. Tugging on his hair, he remembered why he'd wanted out from under Aro's thumb in the first place. "Now ... now I'm trying to get out. What you want to do with that is up to you. But if you're willing, I want ... I want to be part of your life again. I want to find out who this Carlisle Cullen guy is." He forced his voice to remain neutral as he mentioned the name of the man whom it was his job it was to thwart – and who just might be their father. "I want Mom to not hate me."
"She doesn't hate you."
The shock of that statement struck Edward cold. He remembered the way she'd looked at him that second time he'd taken the fall for one of Aro's guys, the horror on her face. The disappointment. He could almost hear her tears as she'd said that she couldn't have anything to do with him again. She just couldn't, she'd said.
"You could have fooled me," he muttered bitterly.
"She keeps your picture in her room, you know. And if she didn't care, she wouldn't have been so devastated."
Edward swallowed hard. "She was devastated."
Nodding, Jasper placed his elbows on his knees and looked out into the distance, then glanced at his watch. "It's late."
It didn't escape Edward's attention that Jasper hadn't confirmed whether or not he'd let Edward see him again. Briefly, Edward considered telling him about everything – the money he'd put aside for him, the phone calls he'd started to make so many times. But he didn't want money or guilt to taint this decision. If Jasper was going to let him make up for the past, Edward wanted it to be because he wanted to.
"Okay," Edward said roughly.
"Do you want to, um ... give me your phone number or something?"
Edward's head snapped up, but then he tried to school his expression. "Yeah. Of course."
"I'm not promising I'll use it or anything. I still ... I don't know what to think. And I need to process, but ..."
"It's cool." It was more than he had hoped for. Then, as they traded phones, he had a second thought. "I'm just putting it in as E, though. Just ... just in case."
He didn't even want to imagine a scenario where he led Aro or one of his goons back to his brother. But he still had to do what he could to be prepared for that possibility.
As Jasper stood, Edward held out his hand tentatively. He couldn't have been more shocked when Jasper ignored it and pulled him into a quick hug. "I'm still mad as hell," Jasper said quietly. "But I missed you, damnit."
Edward smiled and patted Jasper's back, relishing the contact with another human being. It didn't happen to him much. "I missed you, too."
Jasper let go and started backing away. As he did, Edward glanced back toward the window of the house, peering through the gap in the curtains to see Alice still talking to Bella and drinking milk directly from the gallon jug in her hand. The sight of it reminded him of how Alice and Jasper had come to be breaking into Bella's house at two in the morning in the first place.
A cold shiver ran down Edward's spine.
"Hey, Jasper," he called out. When his brother turned around, Edward asked hesitantly, "Far be it for me to be trying to play the protective older brother card now, but ... where did you get the ... special ingredient? For those brownies Alice was talking about."
Jasper sighed and shook his head. "I only offered her one. I didn't realize she was going to go looking for more in the middle of the night."
Holding up his hands, Edward interrupted. "I'm not ... judging. I just want to know."
"A girl at school gave it to me," Jasper said nonchalantly. Edward thought it sounded evasive.
"Please," he insisted. "A name."
Jasper hesitated for a minute before finally admitting, "Jane."
Caius's daughter. Aro's niece.
There was a thin prickle of panic across Edward's skin. "You aren't ... helping her or anything, are you? Doing little jobs?"
Jasper's guard was instantly up. "Nothing big."
Edward's own fall from grace had started out with "Nothing much," too. He tried his hardest to keep the fear and anger out of his voice, but he knew he was failing. If Aro got his clutches into Jasper ...
"You can't mess around with those people, Jasper. They don't play 'nothing big.' They suck you in and ... "
And then the next thing you know, they own your fucking soul.
"You don't get to tell me what to do," Jasper replied, his tone growing chillier.
Edward knew he'd pushed too far. He wanted to keep pushing, but somehow, he managed to put a lid on it. "I know, I know," he said in distress. "Just be careful. Please." Lightening his tone, he added, "And pleasedon't let Mom catch you stealing her car."
Grinning sheepishly, Jasper's expression softened. "I will. Be careful that is. And don't worry," he said with a wink. "Mom's never caught me before." With that, he got into the car.
It felt like saying goodbye all over again, but Edward held onto the small thread of hope he'd gotten from their conversation, remembering the way his brother had hugged him. That meant he'd let Edward fix things, right?
He was resigning himself to watching Jasper drive away when the car window rolled down and Jasper's head poked out. "So, um... I'll see you around, I guess."
"I'd like that."
Then, with a wave, Jasper drove off.
Feeling the exhaustion of the encounter — not to mention the crash from the burst of adrenaline he'd had when Bella had woken him up after only a few hours of sleep — Edward turned back toward the house. He opened the door tentatively and walked in, locking it behind him.
He didn't bother to replace the stupid chair.
"Did you tell him about his dad?"
Edward whipped his head around, startled, only to find Bella sitting in an armchair in the living room, staring at him expectantly. Through the thin fabric of her top, her nipples seemed to be staring at him, too.
The dream she'd awoken him from slammed back over him with unexpected force, and he was instantly hard. He could almost feel those nipples in his hands and taste them on his tongue, remembering the sleeping fantasy of her hand slipping into his underwear to wrap around his —
Her gaze told him that she knew exactly what he'd been looking at as he wrenched his gaze up to meet hers.
"Um," he started, stammering and flustered. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."
"How'd he take it?"
"I don't know." Edward sank into the chair opposite her and let his head fall into his hands. When he looked up again, it was to see Bella holding her revolver in her hands. For an instant, she pointed it straight at him, staring down the sight of it before she lowered the gun back to her lap.
It was terrifying.
And fuck allif a girl with a gun wasn't one hell of a turn-on.
"So, I'm trying to decide what to do with you," she said, her tone forcedly casual. "I finally got Alice up to bed, so you can't sleep there." Her eyebrow lifted in accusation. "And I made sure to tell her to change her sheets, I'll have you know."
Edward didn't like that implication. They'd been fucking Hannah Montana sheets for goodness' sake. Even he couldn't maintain an erection swaddled in those.
"You've got to be – "
Bella cut him off, lifting the hand that wasn't holding the gun. "I also made sure she locked her door. But this still changes things. Oddly enough, I'm not entirely comfortable with you sleeping here now that she's staying with us. And neither is she. Apparently, she's got a bit of paranoia in addition to the munchies." Bella paused, grimacing. "And since she met you while you were pointing a gun at her, she doesn't entirely trust you." She shifted the revolver in her lap. "And neither do I."
Edward couldn't blame her. The events of the previous day came back to him. The back and forth and the sexual tension. The embarrassing episode when he'd assumed she was a plant from the mob out to destroy his family.
He might have overreacted. A little.
Whether or not she trusted him, though, he still felt like it was his responsibility to make sure she was safe until he could figure out what was going on. Even thinking about the twisted web of intrigue that was woven around Aro and Carlisle and Bella and his family ... it made his head hurt.
Just like looking at Bella made some neglected portion of his chest hurt.
"Look – "
"But, as it happens, you destroyed my truck, and I can't get a new one until I talk to some people in the morning. So as of right now, that couch over there is your home, you are my personal chauffeur, and you and I are stuck with each other."
He could tell that her bravado was only that. Beneath the pretense at dominance, she was just a scared girl in her pajamas, but there was something more there, too. Some spark.
Hell if he could explain why, but he didn't just want to touch her nipples. He wanted to protect her. To keep her safe.
Even from himself.
"So, Edward. Do we understand each other?" she asked, eyes steady but voice wavering.
His own throat dry, his gun digging into his spine, he met her gaze unflinchingly.
Thanks to theladyingrey42 the amazing author of 26 stories, including Our Lives Unbound, The Music of the Night and Love Amongst the Ruins. Please check out our profile for a link to her stories.