AN: Miss me? I've certainly missed you guys so much!

Long story short, life has been hectic, and my health has been crappy, but I'm working on trying to get both of those under control. Until then, I'll do my best to keep up with my updates.

RH should only have six or less chapters left, since several people were wondering. =)


Chapter 19: Closer to the Edge

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Can you imagine a time when the truth ran free?
The birth of a song, the death of a dream
Closer to the edge

This never ending story
Paid for with pride and fate
We all fall short of glory
Lost in our fate
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Closer to the Edge by 30 Seconds to Mars

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Bella leaned back in her seat on the plush couch, waiting in the green room for her turn on the Tonight Show. The past week had been a series of interviews and appearances that had exhausted her, both physically and mentally. Jet-setting from place to place, only to end up falling into bed after hearing Edward's voice over the phone line. A knock on the door drew her attention and she lolled her head lazily to the side, watching as Alistair poked his head into the room.

When he caught her eye, all he could do was smirk and shake his head. He walked over and held his hand out to help her up.

"Come on, lazybones. You're up next."

Bella slid her hand into his, allowing him to gently pull her to her feet. She sighed and ran her hands through her hair, attempting to tame the riot of curls that the show's stylist had insisted upon. She covered her mouth quickly as a large yawn ripped through her.

"Damn, sorry," she murmured. "Tanya's been running me ragged this week."

"Well, look at it this way, after tomorrow your schedule is free for the next two days, so I'm sure you'll be able to get some beauty sleep. Not that you need it, of course." He smiled and touched her softly on the elbow, steering her toward the hallway.

"Ha!" she scoffed, laughing slightly. "If it weren't for all of the makeup, I'd look a mess."

He turned, his eyes looking deeply into her own, and cocked his head to the side. "You really don't see yourself, do you? With or without the makeup, you're the most beautiful woman in this building."

Bella felt a blush rise up her neck and tried to laugh off his compliment.

"Seriously," he replied, shooting her a wink, "if you weren't my boss, I'd totally ask you out."

She swallowed and shook her head. "Uh, thanks for the ego boost, but I already have an awesome man in my life."

Alistair smiled enigmatically and nodded. "So I've heard. I can't wait to meet him."

One thing she'd come to learn about Alistair over the past few days was that you never knew when he was being facetious. He was intelligent and had a great sense of humor, but his temper left a lot to be desired. Thankfully, she hadn't witnessed the violence he was well-known for firsthand as of yet.

She stood nervously on her cue, chewing on her bottom lip while waiting for her introduction. Alistair nudged her with his shoulder and stuck out his tongue, making a goofy face. She snorted and giggled, the tension easing its way from her shoulder.

"Thanks, Al," she whispered.

"Anytime, Bella."

"Is Mac in the audience, or did he take a cab home?" she asked in curiosity, peaking through the curtains into the crowd.

"He wanted a front row seat, so he's in the crowd."

Bella took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Knowing her uncle was out there made her feel so much better.

"Let's welcome our next guest, musical sensation Izzy Dwyer!"

She shook her hair around her shoulders and plastered on a dazzling smile, before walking on stage and being assaulted by the bright lights.

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By the time they found themselves back at her house, Bella was exhausted. She flung herself face-first onto the couch and groaned.

"Is this week over yet?" she mumbled against the cushion.

She heard the men chuckle and turned her head to glare at them. Alistair smiled and shook his head, squatting down next to her on the couch and patting her shoulder gently.

"Goodnight, Bella," he said quietly. "Get some rest, and I'll be by tomorrow around noon, okay?"

Her annoyance melted at the kindness in his eyes. "Alright. Night, Al."

He smiled and stood up before addressing the older man. "See you tomorrow, Mac."

Mac nodded and followed him out, setting the alarm system afterward. When her uncle returned to the room, she was sitting up and rubbing her tired eyes. Mac sat down beside her and gave her warm smile.

"So, Alistair seems like a nice guy," he murmured.

Bella raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, he does. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, though."

Mac's brow furrowed in confusion. "What do you mean?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. He just seems too good to be true sometimes."

Mac nodded. "I can see what you mean. Especially after reading online about previous violent behavior."

She bit her lip, holding back a smile. "Online? Since when do you go online?"

Her uncle huffed in annoyance. "I do know how to Google, you know."

Bella immediately succumbed to giggles, which turned into a full laughing fit with Mac quickly joining her.

She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. "Oh, Mac," she sighed. "I love you so much."

He chuckled, nudging her with his shoulder. "Let's hit the hay, sweetie. We have long day and I have a date tomorrow night." He shot her wink and walked over to the staircase.

When his words fully sank in, she flew up the stairs behind him. "Wait! Date? What date?"

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The next day felt even longer than the last. After jumping around between different radio interviews, Bella found herself back in the studio for the first time in months. She was worried that she'd be nervous and rusty, but everything came back to her instantaneously.

She fingered her guitar strings, reworking the melody on her new song, softly smiling as she thought back on her conversation with Aro Volturi earlier in the week. He'd been hesitant to agree to the changes in her onstage persona, but after two hours of intense negotiation, they'd come to an amicable agreement.

In exchange for relocating her recording and everyday life to Seattle, she'd promised to return to L.A. when she was needed for media obligations or other important business. In return, she'd sign an extension to her contract with Volturi Records. He'd certainly been less receptive when she requested to be able to play her guitar onstage and in recordings. Eventually he gave in, but she still had no idea why it was such an issue. Many other musicians did the same thing. It wasn't like it would hurt her image.

Once the tune was flowing perfectly, she signaled to the man working the soundboards that she was ready to record. The background music filled her earphones, and she began strumming her fingers across the Les Paul strings. Stepping closer to the mic, she closed her eyes and started to sing soulfully, her thoughts filled with Edward and how much she missed him, physically aching for his touch.

When she woke this morning, she hadn't been able to reach him to hear his voice, and it started her whole day off on the wrong foot. It'd been nine days since she'd left Forks, and she missed him terribly. The phone calls and Skype sessions they shared were the highlights of her day.

When she finished the song, she looked up and smiled, motioning through the glass window.

"How was that, Fred?" she asked through the mic.

The older man smiled and raised a thumbs-up signal. "Perfect on the first try, Izzy."

She nodded and nestled her guitar back in its case, sliding it over her shoulder as she exited the sound-proof room. Something caught her eye, and she froze in her spot. Sitting in a previously empty chair next to the producer was a bouquet of fire lilies. The vibrant red and yellow colors were insanely beautiful, but the sight of them sent a chill up her spine.

Following her line of sight, Fred grinned and lifted the bouquet, handing it to her.

"A delivery boy dropped it off right after you started singing. It's real pretty."

Bella took them into her arms and sniffed the intoxicating fragrance before looking for a card. Unable to find one, she shrugged it off and made her way to the lobby, where Alistair was waiting for her. He eyed the flowers and arched a brow.

"Apparently they were delivered to the studio while I was recording."

His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Only a few people knew you'd be there today."

"I know. It's kinda creepy."

He took the flowers and inspected them carefully. "No card?"

She shook her head. "No, there wasn't one."

He frowned and made a non-committal noise. "Come on," he murmured, lightly touching her elbow. "Mac is meeting us at the photo shoot."

Once they made their way to Alistair's black Corvette, he opened the passenger-side door and tossed the flowers into the small backseat before motioning for her to have a seat. She smiled and slid in, allowing him to close the door once she was settled.

The quiet weighed heavily on Bella as they drove to the magazine photo shoot. Deciding to break the silence, she shifted towards her bodyguard.

"So, what do you think of this Tanya/Mac romance?" she asked.

Alistair smirked. "I think they make a cute couple."

Bella gnawed on her bottom lip. "I guess, but don't you think he's too old for her?"

He laughed, glancing at her quickly before looking back at the road. "Are you jealous?"

"What?" she cried indignantly. "Of course not. Why would I be jealous?"

"You've only recently found your uncle, and a romance might take part of his attention away from you," he replied.

She crossed her arms over her chest, intent upon ignoring his all too accurate observation.

"Since when did you trade in body guarding for psychiatry?"

"What can I say? I'm good at reading people."

She rolled her eyes and reached into her pocket for her vibrating phone. Immediately after their initial meeting with Alistair, James had dragged her to get a new iPhone. Her brow furrowed when she noticed the calling number was blocked. Only a handful of people knew her new number, so she slid her finger across the screen and placed it to her ear.

"Hello?"

Bella's heart started to pound as silence was the only thing heard.

"Hello?" she asked again, her voice cracking.

Quickly noticing her rigid body language and the shakiness of her voice, Alistair pulled over to the side of the road and motioned for her to give him the phone. When she handed it to him, he quietly touched the screen to put it on speaker.

"Hello?" she said louder, gaining courage from Alistair's presence. "Who is this?"

A sharp intake of breath was heard, followed by a heavy sigh.

"Who is this?" Alistair growled angrily. "Stop being a coward."

The tell-tale click of the line being disconnected echoed loudly in the tension-filled car.

Bella turned her frightened gaze to meet her body guard's concerned one. He reached across the console to cup her cheek tenderly.

"Hey, are you okay? You're shaking."

She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself in an attempt to settle her nerves. A disbelieving look crossed his face, but he turned on the car and shifted back onto the road.

Forty-five minutes later, she posed and pouted for the magazine's photographer, her favorite shots involving a gorgeous red Fender Stratacaster. She tried to have fun with the shoot, but the events from earlier in the day still weighed heavily upon her.

When David called for a breather, Bella glanced across the room to Alistair's brooding form, talking animatedly into his phone. She picked up a bottle of water and made her way over to him.

"I don't care what you think, James. You hired me for a reason and I'll take care of it," he muttered in annoyance before shutting his phone.

"What?" he snapped, rolling his eyes when he noticed Bella's presence.

She arched a brow and propped a hand on her hip. "What's wrong with James?"

"Nothing you need to worry about."

She narrowed her eyes and shot him a glare. "This is my goddamned life, Alistair. I deserve to know."

"Do you now?" he sneered.

Her brow furrowed, unable to grasp why he was acting so strange.

"Al, I don't understand why you're so upset. Please talk to me," she practically begged.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Whoever is doing this is someone close to you, Bella. In order to figure that out, I can't trust anyone. You can't trust anyone."

Her eyes widened in surprise. She'd had similar thoughts, but not about James. Alistair was insane to even list him among the suspects, so she voiced that very thought.

"You're being naive," he replied, shaking his head.

"He's my best friend," she spat. "He's not responsible for this."

"Your life is on the line here. Watching your back and keeping people at arm's length, or at least on a need-to-know basis until we can figure this out won't kill you. But not doing it just might."

She regarded him stoically, unwilling to back down from her position.

He nodded angrily. "Fine, don't take my advice. But I will continue to do things my way. I was hired to protect you, and protect you I will. Even if it's from yourself."

Alistair turned and strode from the room, leaving her slack-jawed and staring after him.

What the fuck just happened?

Bella was quickly pulled out of her thoughts when the photographer called for the shoot to resume. She was so busy following directions and trying to keep a smile on her face that she didn't notice Mac had entered the room until they were finally finished. Grinning at her uncle, she took a quick swig of water before leading him to her dressing room.

"Hey, girlie," he murmured, hugging her tightly. "Alistair told me about your little scare earlier."

She dropped her arms and took a step back, dropping onto a couch as defeat suddenly coursed through her system.

"I can't do it anymore," she replied brokenly, tears choking her. "This is the exact reason why I came back to Forks in the first place. They're not going to stop."

Mac sat down next to her, rubbing her back gently. "Ssh, it's going to be okay."

She looked up at her uncle with eyes full of tears, breaking his heart. "Do you know what he told me?"

"What who told you, sweetheart?"

"Alistair. He told me I'm too naive and not to trust anyone, even James. He's my best friend!" she cried. "He's my brother from another mother. If I can't trust him, then I can't trust myself."

"Look, I understand you're upset, but maybe you need to take a step back. I'm not saying that he's right or wrong about trusting James, but he might be right about being more careful."

She wiped her face and internally chided herself for falling apart. She was stronger than this.

"Fine," she replied, standing up to walk over to a large glass window. "But he's wrong about James. And I won't stand down."

Mac nodded slowly. "Okay, we'll go from there." He looked at his watched and smiled softly before walking over to kiss her on the forehead. "I've got to head downstairs. Tanya's picking me up for our date."

"She's doing the picking up? How chivalrous of you."

The older man shrugged. "Hey, she's the native and knows this city like the back of her hand. If the lady wants to drive, then who am I to dissuade her?"

She laughed lightly and waved as he left the room, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

Bella placed a hand against the window glass, gazing quietly down at the traffic along South Broadway, and sighed. The sooner Alistair came back for her, the sooner she'd be home and in her comfortable bed. She heard the door behind her open and close softly. Still annoyed at his previous comments, she didn't bother to turn around and left the ball in his court.

When silence continued to fill the room, she sighed. "You know, you're really fucking annoying when you want to be, right? You're my body guard, not my father, Alistair."

Her eyes widened and she stiffened suddenly when an arm wrapped around her waist.

Who the hell?

Lips brushed her ear, sending a chill down her spine and panic racing through her veins.

"Hello, Bella."

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Chapter song: Closer to the Edge by 30 Seconds to Mars

AN: A huge thank you to the ever-awesome ysar for her super fast beta work and her patience with my crappy comma and hyphen usage. ;-)

You can thank our lovely pre-readers this week: 107yearoldvirgin, SabLuvslogan and MinaRivera for the cliffie. Any pitchforks should be aimed their way. But only flesh wounds, please. Their insights and comments on our story are invaluable to me; I'd be lost without them.