Hello again dear hearts.
Thanks to my wonderful beta, Jessica1971. Love you!
Disclaimer: Same as always, I don't own it, but I sure enjoy playing with Mrs. Meyer's characters.
Hope you enjoy!
"What the fuck, Stefan!"
Bella flinched as Edward's voice reached an all-time volume. He paced around the small room where the police officer instructed them they could wait for Stefan. He seemed not to care that Stefan had just explained how he had only that morning returned from following up on a sighting of Demetri in a little town a hundred miles north of Denver.
"How in hell did that bastard get that, huh?" Edward asked, seething. He jabbed a finger at the photo on Stefan's desk. "Because you swore to me that no one had followed."
"Edward, we—" Stefan began.
Edward continued without notice, throwing a hand in the air and stalking across the room once again. "You're the goddamn FBI and you didn't know!"
Stefan drew a deep breath in an obvious attempt to keep cool under Edward's fury. "That's not—"
"How the fuck are you going to catch the son-of-a-bitch if you can't even pick up on a tail. God damn it!" Edward ran both hands through his already out of control hair. He'd done it so many times over the last half hour that Bella felt sure he would be bald by the end of the day if he didn't stop.
Bella swallowed and tried desperately to calm the nausea swirling in the pit of her stomach. The half a bagel she'd had for lunch was trying valiantly to make an appearance. Remi bumped her leg with his nose, making a low, soft whimpering sound. The gesture momentarily brought her out of the spiral and she placed her hand on his big head, scratching him behind the ears. He sighed and pressed his shoulder into her thigh, groaning in ecstasy.
"Calm down," Stefan said in an even tone. His gaze flicked to Bella and then back to Edward. "I can't explain anything to you while you're acting like a lunatic. And besides, you're scaring the hell out of your girl here."
"I'm not—" Edward broke off as he turned from Stefan's desk to look down at her. She blinked, doing everything in her power not to allow the tears burning behind her eyes to fall. Edward was not frightening her, though she admittedly couldn't remember a time she'd seen him so angry and the intensity of his temper was a bit unsettling. It was the situation at hand causing her to feel as though she were ready to bolt in any of a number of directions.
Remi growled low in his throat, lifting his head from her lap. From her peripheral, she could see him staring Edward down. Not that Edward seemed fazed by Remi's warning. His gaze flicked to Remi and then locked solely on her.
His face twisted in pain and he made to move to her, then stopped dead as Remi's warning became a bit louder.
"Damn, Edward," Stefan said. "Don't piss that dog off. It doesn't look like he's exactly fond of you in the first place."
Instead of moving toward her, Edward slowly lifted a hand in invitation. Bella slid her hand in his outstretched palm; his fingers instantly wrapped tightly around hers.
"I'm sorry," he said in little more than a hoarse whisper. "I just—" he broke off. His eyes closed and he shook his head.
"I know," Bella said, squeezing his hand. She murmured a command to Remi and stood. Edward's eyes flashed open. The pain and fear behind the deep green nearly sent her reeling from the intensity. Lifting her left hand, she cupped his cheek and closed the small amount of distance between them. The fluorescent light caught in the diamonds on her finger, casting tiny rainbows on his skin.
"I know," she repeated, softly.
A painful groan rolled in Edward's chest and his arms immediately wrapped around her. One hand curled around the back of her head, pressing her cheek into his chest. She went willingly, soaking up the safety and comfort she found there. Energy pulsed in the muscles under her palms like a live wire. Her body trembled, but in that moment she wasn't sure if it originated from her or Edward. His chest rose as he took in a deep breath. The beat of his heart thundering below her cheek was a comfort as she leaned further into him.
"I'm sorry if I frightened you," he said into her hair.
"I'm not afraid of you, Edward. The situation scares me—not you. This is all just a little bit much."
"It's all right. We're going to figure it out, okay?"
She nodded without lifting her head, whispering, "I know."
Edward kissed the top of her head gently and tightened his hold before releasing her. He gestured toward the chair, indicating she should take a seat again. Without another thought, she stood on tiptoe and kissed him. Edward blinked in surprise, and then smiled as she lowered herself back into her chair. Taking a calming breath, he turned to face Stefan once again.
"All right, explain."
Stefan chuckled, shaking his head. "Always the hard ass," he muttered, then waved a hand as Edward opened his mouth to respond. "I did tell you that you weren't tailed and you weren't—"
"What?" Edward and Bella said at the same time and Remi woofed in chorus as though he were asking the same question.
"Okay, that was just weird," Stefan said, frowning between the three other occupants of the room. "You were not followed. We don't think that Demetri actually knew you two were in Pueblo at the time."
Stefan raised a hand again to stop Edward once more. "Just let me finish before you go off the deep end again, geez. For one, the sighting of him north of here checked out. We tracked him to a hotel about forty miles from here but we lost his trail. There's still a couple of agents in the area keeping watch." He tapped the photo in question sitting in the center of his desk. "This photo is from a blog set up to promote the state fair."
"Why would someone take a picture of us and put it on a blog?" Bella asked.
Stefan looked across the metal desk and smiled, his harsh features softening as his eyes met hers. He nodded toward Edward. "Your boy here didn't exactly go about proposing in a discrete manner." He chuckled. The springs of his chair protested as he sat back, lacing the fingers of his large hands behind his head. "The fair committee has a blog where they encourage fair goers to upload pictures from their experiences at the fair. Evidently, some chic thought it was, and I quote, 'the most romantic thing I've ever witnessed'." He shrugged, looking up at Edward, grinning. "I would've never thought you had a romantic bone in your body, my friend."
"So … wait," Edward said, ignoring Stefan's jab. "Let me get this straight. You're telling us that this picture is from some random person."
Stefan nodded as Edward continued, frowning.
"And that Demetri just happened to be scanning the internet, came across this photo on said blog, and printed it off? Is that what you're saying?"
Stefan sat forward once again, resting his elbows on the desktop and glared down at the photo in question. "Essentially, yes."
"That doesn't make a bit of sense," Edward said through gritted teeth.
"Maybe not," Stefan admitted. "But the fact remains that this photo came from that blog. How Demetri came across it isn't as clear, but what you've described seems the simplest of explanations. There are only two things we know with absolute surety; he was not in Pueblo at the time you two were, and this photo came from that blog."
The next several days flew by in a blur. With no further contact, sightings, or leads on Demetri's whereabouts, Bella and Edward settled into a routine that resembled their norm. They did their best just to live their lives, and as much as possible forget about the monster in the closet so to speak. On most days, they were relatively successful.
In addition to the investigation surrounding Demetri's at large status, and preparations for the fall's busy season, Edward had been on the phone with his lawyer almost daily regarding Heidi's appeal. Bella knew that the stress from trying to handle all those situations simultaneously was wearing him thin.
Regardless, Edward had been nothing but gentle and loving with her. They each seemed to recognize what the other needed. Having recognized some of the mistakes they had made up to their impromptu trip and subsequent engagement, they had both made more than an effort at remembering what was truly important. The need to continue to make their relationship work was their highest priority.
The reassurance of the others body, the knowledge that no matter what they would weather this storm together, became almost an unspoken mantra between them. In response, they had spent every night wrapped up in one another, effectively shutting out everything except each other—if only for a little while. Unfortunately, the rising of the sun would bring with it the return of the concerns from the outside world, but they were handling them—together.
Thankfully, not all of the balls they were juggling were unpleasant. Renee had called a few days before to make them aware of her success in reserving Stonebrook Manor for the wedding.
Bella had been beside herself with that knowledge and had called Edward immediately upon ending the call with her mother. In her excitement, she'd scared the hell out of him when he answered to her squeals of delight, which he had initially misinterpreted as distress.
In her mind's eye, Bella could already picture the two of them standing before their family and friends, the pristine, white snow floating in the air outside, and on the ground surrounding their little haven inside the chapel. The best thought of all was that at the end of that day, she would be Mrs. Edward Anthony Masen.
She couldn't wait.
Her mother had also relayed the fact she had booked a photographer and that they had an appointment to meet with him the day after they returned from Forks. Bella had expected that her mother would go into full-blown planning mode, so knowing that she had already put so many things in motion was not a surprise. She was less than enthusiastic about that tendency her mother had for taking over when Renee suggested she do all the arrangements for the wedding. Renee had ensured Bella that she wouldn't go overboard and would keep the whole affair 'small and intimate'.
Edward had been completely on board with the idea. His reasoning was sound, suggesting that under the current circumstances and considering the short time frame before their wedding date it might be a good idea to take that pressure away from Bella's shoulders. The problem being that the she knew the concept of small and intimate to herself—and by proxy, Edward—was not the same one held by her mother. Bella laughed, knowing that most likely he envisioned their closest family and friends gathered to celebrate their union. She, on the other hand, knew how over the top her mother could and would become if given the green light.
Memories of parties thrown for occasions such as birthdays, recitals, or anything Renee deemed worthy of celebration floated through Bella's mind. She had not suffered miserably during those parties; she'd actually had a wonderful time. It certainly wasn't as if she had an aversion for being the center of attention. She'd danced in front of thousands of people on many, many occasions. Bella truly wanted to celebrate. Hell, she wanted to shout it from the mountaintops, but more than that, she wanted that one day be completely about her and Edward. Bella feared that wouldn't be possible on the grand scale her mother would inevitably attempt to employ.
Deep down she knew Renee would not force them if they weren't comfortable with a detail. She might do her very best to persuade them into seeing the matter her way, but Bella knew in the end she would do what they wanted.
It wasn't until Edward suggested that allowing Renee to plan their wedding on such a tight time line might help focus her attentions on something besides worrying over Bella's safety that sealed the deal. Bella had the sudden realization that he was right, and resolved not to complain about one single detail.
Without really knowing how it happened, days had passed and they were preparing to leave for their visit to Forks. With hopes of catching at least a few hours of sleep before leaving for the airport the following morning, they had decided to turn in much earlier than usual.
Bella exited the bathroom to find Edward already in bed but unfortunately far from prepared to sleep—or any other nefarious activities she might have been hoping for. He was sitting atop the comforter with nothing but a pair of dark blue cotton sleep pants, his long legs stretched out before him crossed at the ankles, his long, graceful toes wiggling in that adorable way he moved them unconsciously when deep in thought. Despite the deep scowl he wore while staring at the computer screen, he was incredibly sexy.
Taking advantage of his distraction, Bella allowed her eyes to drift over his body. Defined pectorals flexed and relaxed as he moved, dipping into a deep groove where they met in the center of his broad chest. His lightly tanned skin seemed a deeper shade of bronze in the soft, golden light cast by the lamp on the bedside table. Her fingers curled and itched with the desire to run through the sparse auburn hairs covering those delicious muscles. Slowly, her gaze drifted along the thin trail of hair that led into the waistband of his pants. Even relaxing in bed, they sat low around his trim hips. Desire twisted low in her belly with the knowledge of what lay beneath those soft cotton pants.
A long sigh slipped from her lips and Edward glanced up, grinning slightly when his eyes met hers.
"See something that you like?" he asked, causing Bella to startle.
She quickly composed herself, biting the inside of her cheek to stop her own smile when he smirked, knowing damn well that she did.
"Meh, it's all right, I guess," she teased, shrugging as she crossed the room.
He chuckled and watched her intently as she slipped into bed beside him.
"See something you like?" She lifted an eyebrow mockingly but this time was unable to stop the smile from spreading.
"You better believe I do," he said, his smirk becoming a full out grin. The heat of his gaze warmed her skin as his gaze swept over her body, appraisingly. With a groan and a shake of his head, Edward turned back to whatever it was he had been so intently working on when she came out of the bathroom.
She took a deep breath, releasing it slowly as her body began to relax into the mattress.
After a few moments, Bella gently nudged his leg with her knee. A crooked grin began to replace his frown but he didn't acknowledge her attempt to gain his attention otherwise.
"What are you working on?" she asked quietly a moment later. She smiled coyly up at him when he turned to look down at her.
Edward chuckled. "Some files that my lawyer sent over."
"About Heidi's case?" she asked, not wanting to assume. He had mentioned a few days before that he'd been in contact with his family's attorney about some other matters but he had not elaborated on what they entailed at the time.
He nodded, humming and turning back to the screen.
"Is there something wrong?"
Edward shook his head in abstracted response, and then a few moments later said, "No, nothing like that, it's just …" he trailed off, concentrating for a few moments on whatever he was reading. He punched a few keys and then proceeded to shut down the computer, setting it on the bedside table. He stretched massively and groaned in ecstasy, his vertebrae popping. Bella giggled.
"You sound like an old man groaning like that."
Edward snorted as he scooted down on the mattress and folded his arms behind his head on the pillow. "I am an old man, baby. I'm practically decrepit. Haven't you noticed?"
He sighed heavily as his body relaxed. Snuggling into his side, Bella threw one leg over his thighs and slid her hand over his flat abdomen. She ran her fingers over the rise and fall of the muscles, and through the sparse hair below his navel, lightly scraping her short nails over his skin. A grin broke out when he shivered and his skin pebbled at her touch. Moving her hand a bit lower, she traced the obvious outline of his response to her with the tip of one finger. His sharp intake of breath was more than enough to let her know he enjoyed her attentions.
"I'm pretty sure that this—" she cupped her hand over his erection "—proves that nothing about you is old or decrepit." She bent to kiss the area over his heart. "You are a very strong," a kiss to the hollow of his throat, "very virile," a nip at the corded muscle along the side of his neck, "man."
Bella continued to move her hand over him outside his pajama pants while she made her way up to his mouth. Heat bloomed low in her belly at the way his hips moved with her ministrations, his breathing becoming more and more ragged.
"And what's even better than all of that," she said. Slipping her hand up and pushing her fingers inside the waistband of his pants just enough to graze the tip of his erection, "is knowing that you're my man."
"God, baby, you're making me crazy," Edward said. His hips bucked up toward her hand, encouraging her to touch him more fully.
She chuckled against the skin of his neck, moving to take the lobe of his ear between her teeth. She whispered, "What're you going to do about it, hmm?"
Without warning, his arms came around her and Bella yelped, her eyes widening in surprise. Her body trembled with anticipation as she suddenly found herself lying beneath a very aroused, almost feral looking Edward. Her heart thundered inside her chest.
"Oh, I'll show you what I'm going to do about it." He all but growled, crushing his mouth to hers.
The sky was just beginning to show a hint of gray along the horizon that indicated the imminent rising of the sun. Why on Earth she had allowed Edward to talk her into such an early flight, she would never understand. Far from a morning person, it went completely against her grain to drag herself out of bed and try to be coherent enough to interact with others in any comprehensible way. She was always shocked at the number of people who actually chose to be out so early in the day.
As they sped down the highway approaching the airport, Bella remembered that Edward hadn't elaborated on whatever it was that his lawyer had sent him the day before. Granted they had become distracted with much more interesting topics at the time, but now, she was curious.
"What was that stuff from your lawyer?" Bella asked. "You never told me last night."
"Um, he's meeting with the prosecution tomorrow—" A jaw-cracking yawn cut him off, "—or I guess it's really today. Anyway, he just wanted to make sure we were both on the same page beforehand."
Bella hummed, and then stifled a yawn of her own. "You're going to have to go to Chicago, aren't you?"
Edward frowned, focusing on maneuvering through the traffic surrounding the airport at that moment. "It appears so … and probably within the next couple of weeks. We'll know more once he's met with the prosecution."
She nodded in reply, unwilling to let him see how much the idea of his traveling to Chicago bothered her. Instead, she turned to stare out the side window as they entered the long-term parking area. Without doubt, it would put a hardship on him and Jasper would be required to continue taking up the slack. He'd already been away or distracted by other responsibilities so much recently. Case in point, their current trip to Forks to spend time with her family, not to mention all the phone calls between he and Stefan, the other investigators and her father, and then his legal team in Chicago. It seemed as if he'd done more of those activities than running his business recently. He had assured her that Jasper more than understood and that it was just one of the many perks of being your own boss. She wasn't totally convinced but had let the subject drop. Now, she wondered how another trip away would affect not only his business but selfishly how she would fare with him out of town for several days. She knew she would not be able to make the trip with him, though he hadn't suggested that she do so—yet—and regardless, knew she couldn't because of her own work schedule.
A state of fearing every unexpected shadow that crossed her path had slowly began to creep into her life again. As much as she fought it, or discussed it with Dr. Ramirez, the niggling sensation seemed always in the back of her mind. It was a huge hit to her ego to admit she was afraid to be alone, even with Remi as her constant companion, but if she were honest with herself, she was.
As if he could read her thoughts, Remi placed his head on the console and looked up at her with a soulful topaz gaze.
She smiled, thankful once again for the uncanny connection he seemed to have with her. He always seemed to know just when she needed a little encouragement and was more than willing to provide it. No words existed for her to express the relief she'd felt to discover that Remi would be allowed to travel in cabin with them on the flight to Port Angeles. Technically labeled a service animal for all intents and purposes, there was no question when Edward had contacted the airline to complete their travel arrangements. It would go a long way in relieving her anxieties and she knew that Charlie would be happy to have Remi home again.
With Remi's reassuring presence, Bella began to relax slightly. As much as she worried, she knew that Edward was right. He wasn't going to do anything that jeopardized his business. If he said that he had everything handled on that front, she believed him and would let it go, knowing there were plenty of other items on her list of concerns at that moment.
"Ready, baby?" Edward asked, breaking into her thoughts.
Bella looked up and smiled. Reaching out to cup his cheek in her hand, she leaned over and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. "I love you."
Edward blinked but a smile quickly replaced the surprised expression. "I love you, too."
A few hours later, Bella found herself experiencing a sense of déjà vu—only in reverse—as the three of them made their way toward the doors leading out of the airport in Port Angeles. Her father impatiently waited just outside, repeatedly checking his watch and then scanning the stream of exiting travelers.
Bella chuckled when she saw that Charlie was dressed in his uniform, leaning against the hood of his black and white Forks PD cruiser, arms crossed over his chest. She knew he was off duty, and therefore had no reason to be in uniform, complete with his sidearm. There was little doubt in her mind that his reasons had everything to do with the man at her side.
Bella tightened her hold on Remi's leash and looked up to see Edward's pained grimace as he caught sight of her father. Charlie may have given his blessing and he may have wholeheartedly offered up his congratulations when they returned from their little overnight excursion. That didn't mean that he would ever be completely comfortable with the idea of giving away his only daughter.
"It doesn't matter that I've proposed," Edward said. "Or that you said yes. He's never going to forgive me for the fact that I'm sleeping with his daughter, is he?"
"No, probably not," she said, giggling. "Come on." She slid her hand into his and squeezed it gently. "You know what they say about just ripping off the Band-Aid."
Edward groaned as she pulled him out the doors and into the damp Washington air.
Thanks for sticking with the story. Again, I hope you enjoyed the reactions to Demetri's little gift. Next up some family time with the 'rents.
Until next time...