Two men with dollies came toward the truck so Edward took Bella's hand and led her to a back veranda where they sat on a bench swing. She appreciated the privacy, but it seemed much more intimate than the open truck and she crossed her arms to keep her hands from shaking.
"What did you want to say," Edward asked to encourage her to speak. He had decided no matter what she said he was going to beg her to stay and give him a chance, even though he had no job and a child that needed his attention. It had been brutal without her and he wasn't letting her out of his sight again.
"I want to know if you came to Virginia to pack up your apartment, or to see if we had anything to salvage between us." She refused to look at his face and was unconsciously holding her breath.
"Until talking to you at the airport, I never gave my apartment a thought," he admitted and she finally raised her head to look at him.
"I didn't understand," she explained. "I thought you walked out on the possibility of us when you left San Francisco. Then when you said you came to pack your apartment it was telling me goodbye."
"I left in San Francisco because I was going to find Victoria and kill her. I couldn't bring you along for that and I was afraid you would be able to stop me. I was so blinded by my pain and I thought it made you not want me anymore." He reached over and took her arm to pull it from its crossed position and held her hand in his. "Why did you leave after bringing Cade to me?"
"You had a lot of decisions to make, and I didn't want to add to your burden. I thought you would call but when you came to Virginia to pack, I thought it meant we were over." Bella realized how silly it sounded when she said it, but at the time it all made sense.
"What made you come now?" he asked.
She shook her head and laughed as she blushed. "I wrote a story about it, and all the comments told me you came to Virginia for me and I was too stupid to see it. If the readers are wrong, just tell me and I'll get out of your way."
He chuckled and asked, "Was I a vampire?"
"Yes," Bella lied and they both laughed loudly.
He finally took a deep breath and looked out at the trees lining the yard. His whole life had been turned upside down and he wasn't sure what he had to offer Bella to entice her to stay. If she wanted him, it meant becoming an instant mother, and that was a lot of pressure.
"Would you leave the agency?" he finally asked her so they would have a place to start when talking about a life together.
"I already have. I can't be an agent, it isn't for me," she admitted and felt like a bit of a failure.
"Yeah," he said as he shook his head. "I think Vampires are less brutal."
Bella nodded in agreement.
"If I kissed you right now, would you let me?" he asked and turned to face her.
"I'd only wonder what took you so long," she smiled and he leaned in and kissed her softly. They both inhaled and began moving their arms around each other until they were grasping tightly. When his tongue entered her mouth she moaned and felt tears fall from her closed eyes.
She imagined this, but it wasn't anything close to the actual feeling. He never let himself imagine it, terrified he would never feel it again. His arms were a bit too tight around her but he couldn't force himself to loosen them. The sound of a baby crying somewhere in the distance brought them back to their senses.
"May I introduce you properly to my son," he smiled and she stood, anxious to see how much he changed in just over a week.
They walked quickly to the house and upstairs to find Esme tending to the baby. She looked up to see Bella and rushed to hug her. "I didn't get to thank you for everything you did for us," she said holding onto Bella tightly.
"I'm just glad he's home where he belongs," Bella answered and tried to wipe her own tears. Edward had picked up Cade and was rocking him in his arms as he waited for his mother to let go of Bella.
Esme smiled and left the room so Edward walked up to Bella and said, "Cade, this is the prettiest, bravest woman in the world and I love her. Bella, this is my son."
She reached out for the baby and pulled him into her arms. "We're old friends, aren't we Cade?" She looked up at Edward and said, "He hates flying, just so you know."
"How did you find him," Edward asked, finally ready to really hear the explanation.
"I was reading a story and something felt familiar, or maybe off, would be a better description. When I looked up the author it was Angela. My gut told me the baby in the story was Cade, so I went to Forks. She was passing him off as a girl as she prepared to move."
"God, I came so close to losing him forever," Edward said as he rubbed the soft hair on Cade's head. "I was in Forks and my gut never told me anything."
"I told you to read the book," she teased and he tensed a bit.
"I read it, and that's how I found Victoria. She was hiding in a family cabin in Canada, like the vampires in the story."
"You were a good agent," Bella said.
"You were a great agent," Edward replied.
"Now we're only unemployed," she laughed and he leaned over to kiss the woman holding his son so lovingly.
"Edward," Jasper called for him downstairs. He walked to the balcony and Jasper motioned for him to come down and tell them where to put something.
"You go, I'll take care of the baby. Is it time for him to eat?" Bella asked.
"Yeah, his bottles and formula are in the kitchen," he said and walked down the stairs with her.
When she turned to head to the kitchen Edward stopped and watched her walk, feeling his life was just now starting. He thought he would be moving his life into the basement to put everything on hold, but now he felt a sense of newness that was exciting and soothing at the same time.
Bella made a bottle and sat in a rocker to feed Cade and sing softly to him. Esme joined her and sat on the sofa. "I'm glad you came, Edward was so distraught when he came back from Virginia."
"I love him very much," Bella admitted. "My life was so sad without him."
"We're trying to talk him into medical school. He has the grades to get in and his gentle nature would make a great physician. We have to small apartment in the basement and we don't mind him staying there for years. It will give us access to our grandson," she said trying to convince Bella and not her son.
"I think Edward could do just about anything," Bella said with a smile. "But I have to know the answer to this question; does he have a gambling problem?"
"Are you asking if he cheats?" Esme said with a smile.
"Yes, I am."
"Is counting cards cheating?"
"Yes," Bella answered and Esme shook her head.
"It isn't illegal at any casino, only discouraged. Carlisle taught the boys as a fun lesson, Edward took right to it, he can side count and complex count just as quickly as he can single count. He doesn't use it for financial gain and usually only wins enough to get the information he was looking for. Emmett never could quite get it, but maybe his biological mother wasn't astute with numbers."
"Edward told me you used and egg donor," Bella said and Esme smiled widely.
"I just want you to know a child you raise feels like yours, no matter whose blood it has. If you raise Cade, he is your son, Bella."
"I feel like Edward and I are jumping into the middle of our lives and we skipped the whole beginning," Bella admitted and looked down at the sleeping baby in her arms.
"I guess you have to ask yourself if you want to start at the middle, or not at all," Esme said with a worried look.
"Oh the middle, definitely," Bella said quickly and Esme laughed.
"Why don't I watch Cade tonight, so you and Edward can go out and have some privacy? He needs to get away for a night and relax."
"I'll take you up on that offer," Edward said as he entered the room, just looking at him sent Bella's heart into overdrive, but the prospect of having him to herself all night made her almost giddy. He took Cade and handed him to Esme before holding out a hand to Bella. "Come see where we'll be living."
She noticed he said 'we' and she felt a bit awkward but also very relieved. But they had a lot to work out and she was getting ahead of herself. Edward led her to the basement and showed her a nice two bedroom apartment with its own entrance. His furniture was in place and boxes were pilled against one wall. Even in his moving he was organized.
When he showed her the master bathroom he opened the shower door and said, "I'm going to shower, do you want to keep me company?"
"I will if you go out to my rental car and get my bag," she said and he spun around to run out the door. She laughed and turned on the shower before removing her clothes and climbing in. When he climbed in she couldn't help but notice how much better he looked. His eyes were bright and he had a smile plastered to his face.
She grabbed him into her arms and pulled him to her body. "I love you, Edward," she said, overcome with emotion.
His mouth went right to her ear and he whispered, "Those words fixed everything, I love you, too."
They both figured things would go a lot slower this evening, but for right now their need for each other won out over tenderness. They used the shower walls to toss each other against and had unrestrained, rushed sex. They were both breathing loudly and trying to remain standing when every ounce of energy had been poured into the other.
Edward reached up for the shampoo and handed it to Bella. He turned to give her more room and she noticed the scratches she left on his back. "Oh my God," she gasped. "I made you bleed."
He glanced over his shoulder and said with a sexy voice, "You can make me bleed anytime, love."
She stepped closer and kissed his marks but was interrupted by someone knocking on the bathroom door. "Just a minute," Edward yelled and Bella looked at him to ask, "Will they usually knock before coming down here?"
Edward laughed loudly and nodded, "Yeah, eventually."
He got out of the shower and toweled off before stepping from the room. When Bella finished and shut off the water she could hear Emmett's loud voice. She really hoped Rosalie wasn't with him to see her looking like a wet rat. She tried to dry her hair which had turned into wet curls, and dressed to walk into the living room.
Emmett jumped up and pulled her into his arms, spinning her around several times. "Welcome back," he said.
"Thanks, did I miss the wedding?" Bella asked.
"No, I'm ready to tell Rosie to give my ring back if she doesn't find the right damn dress," he said sadly.
"Suck it, Em," Rose said as she walked through the door. "The ring isn't all that great anyway."
Rosalie looked at Bella and gave her a quick smile. "I heard you came back for dickless here, thank God we don't have to watch him mope around anymore."
"I swear she climbed out of a well after Emmett watched a movie," Edward said under his breath and Bella smacked his arm.
"Let's all do something tonight," Emmett said and Rosalie actually looked a bit excited. Bella didn't want to tell them she was looking forward to a night alone with Edward, but she didn't have to when Edward smiled at her and shook his head. He was still wondering if he was actually dreaming, and not willing to share his dream with his brother.
"Bella and I have plans," Edward said and she smiled back as she stared into his eyes. Everything was so up in the air and they would both have to make decisions a lot quicker than if the situation was different. Being with Edward meant moving into the basement apartment and becoming an instant mother. Edward wasn't sure if he was pushing Bella too quickly. They didn't know that much about each other but he was ready to commit for forever.
Edward had so many places he wanted to take Bella and let her experience the city of Chicago, but they needed privacy where they could talk and spend several hours alone. He finally decided on his father's medical office. It had a great view of the lake and they could pick up food and have a picnic in front of the huge glass windows.
Bella loved the idea of a casual night out and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt before feeding Cade and rocking him to sleep. Edward couldn't help but watch her every move. She was loving with his son and able to calm him quickly when he fussed. When Esme suggested they put the baby in his crib and she would listen for him with the monitor they both said, "No," at the same time. After what they had gone through, they would never take chances where Cade was concerned.
"There's one last strawberry," Edward said, "Do you want it?"
Bella reached out and picked it up before walking on her knees to position herself right in front of him. She held up the fruit and when Edward reached for it with his tongue she pulled it back.
"Are you teasing me?" he said and licked his lips as he stared at hers.
"I just want to see how badly you want it," Bella said and he lunged at her, sending her onto her back and took the entire strawberry into his mouth.
She laughed loudly and said, "I forgot how quick you are."
"It's why Tanya wanted my DNA," he said with a full mouth and Bella felt her smile fade. It was out in the open now, and time to have the difficult conversation. Edward sat up and shook his head before saying, "I'm sorry, that was rude."
"No, we need to talk about it," she said and sat up to face him. "Are you going to let her know Cade's alive?"
"No," he said quickly. "And not because I don't want to share him, it isn't the reason. His life will be so much better without her. He'll be safer if she believes he is still dead."
"What are your plans?" Bella asked him and he stared at her for a few quiet moments.
"I want to go to medical school. I don't want to be an agent anymore. Bella, are you sure you want to leave the bureau? If you want to go back, we don't have a future," he said and hoped she would pick him over the excitement of being an agent.
"I'm walking away regardless of where I end up," she told him.
"Okay," he said. "I want you in my life, but my focus needs to be on Cade. Can we work at our relationship with the complication of a baby?"
"I think it has to be all or nothing. I can't come in and out of Cade's life. If I want you it means you and Cade."
Edward gave her the same long stare as earlier and she finally found the nerve to ask him about it. "I can tell you are thinking something, what is it?"
"I guess I have to lay it all out there so you understand what I'm asking," he said and she noticed how scared he looked.
Her own heart began pounding as she tried to anticipate what he needed to say that made him so nervous. He had been through a traumatic experience and surely that took a toll on him, maybe he wanted to move slowly and see if she was really going to leave the agency before totally committing.
"I love you, Bella, and I know it all happened too fast, but it isn't just a woman I want." He swallowed deeply and looked down. "I need a mother for Cade. I'm asking you to adopt him and be his mother."
"What?" Bella asked, not exactly sure what he meant.
"I'm asking you to make it legal. So if you decide you don't want me, he still has a mother."
"Edward," she said so he would look at her again. "I want you both. I want to live with you, marry you, have more babies with you, and raise Cade with you."
"Medical school will be a long road," he said and she smiled and then shrugged. "You can count cards, we won't starve."
"Do you have a dream you want to follow?" he asked and noticed how she blushed and looked away. "Bella, out with it."
"Don't laugh at me," she said and began biting on her lip. "I really liked writing on FanNet and think I would like to try something more advanced. I'm not saying I won't work; I just want to do something where I can work on writing skills. I think a newspaper would be interested in my contacts and security clearance."
"How long before you'll marry me?" he asked and hoped it wasn't too soon to push for marriage.
She smiled and let her head fall to the side with an adorable smirk on her face, causing him to smile wider. "I'd marry you tonight, Cullen."
"You don't need to perfect dress?" he asked.
"Not when I have the perfect man," she replied.
"We would have to take a baby with us on our honeymoon," he said and began moving closer to her.
"I've never really seen Chicago, so we wouldn't have to go far," she said and felt her heart racing as he grew closer.
"You realize there's one big problem with this plan don't you?" he asked as his mouth was only inches from hers.
"No," she whispered.
"You would have to box up your apartment," he whispered back with a smile.
"Ah shit," she said right before he made contact, pulling her into his arms and kissing her like a man who just proposed.
She knew she would have to return to Virginia and pack up her place, just as he did a week ago, but the thought of leaving him and Cade was almost painful. She decided to stay until the end of the month and help Edward get settled and give herself a chance to bond with Cade before leaving.
They spent every moment together and she grew to know Cade's schedule and the difference between his cries. She had to fight Edward for every bottle and every dirty diaper, since he loved his son so much. Their time together drew them closer and closer and they fell effortlessly into a routine, just as they did on the case.
Jasper kept Edward aware of Tanya's movements and they both had to hope Winston would keep quiet about Cade's existence. His need for an agent like Tanya would keep him silent for now. Hopefully, he would forget about the child completely.
Their lives became so intertwined Bella couldn't leave to pack her things alone, so they all went. Bella worried about the possibility of running into Tanya coming in for a report or a new assignment, but Edward assured her ghosts didn't come in unless called in for disciplinary reasons.
A moving company was hired and they spent two days getting rid of extra stuff they wouldn't need before flying back home. They were sitting in the airport when an older woman spoke to them. "You're a beautiful family," she said in a thick accent.
"Thank you, I'm a lucky man," Edward replied.
"Your baby looks just like daddy, no?" she observed.
"He has his mother's sweet disposition," Edward answered and took Bella's hand.
A flight was called and the woman stood and tapped Edward on his leg with her cane. "You need to put a ring on her finger, young man." And she left to board her plane.
Bella laughed at the look on Edward's face. He turned to look at her with a stunned expression and then began laughing too. "That's it, were getting married right away."
"Fine, call my father and ask for my hand," she said to tease him further.
"Speaking of your parents," he said and got serious. "What do we tell them about Cade?"
"I haven't seen either of my parents in over a year," she said and he waited for more so she clarified. "Cade is my son, there is nothing more to say."
"Do you want a big wedding, Bella? Don't all girls dream of their weddings from the age of three or something?"
She knew he was feeling guilty for denying her something so she tried to ease his conscience. "I know a lot of girls who got their dream wedding, I want my dream marriage. I'd marry you at city hall in jeans and a baseball cap, as long as you promise to be my partner forever."
"Deal, how about this Friday, can you marry me in three days?" he asked with a huge grin and Bella nodded before kissing him deeply.
Nobody was surprised by their announcement a wedding would happen so quickly. Rose was very upset that Edward would marry before Emmett, but it was all her fault anyway. Edward was hired as a security guard at the hospital. He would be able to work evenings and attend school during the day. Bella worked for an online political blog. It was the perfect solution and allowed them to take care of Cade with minimal help.
Life was smooth and they were happy in their little bubble in the basement. Bella wrote for FanNet in her spare time and when she got a really spiteful review she felt a shiver run through her. People would always find a way to lash out and you couldn't hunt down someone and kill them to stop it. Too many people waited in the wings to fill the void.
One night Bella received a late night phone call from Charlie. "Hi, Bella, I have some results for you on that information you wanted," he said. She had forgotten all about the hacker she requested service from. She was just about to tell her father she no longer needed the information because the people had been stopped, but his remark kept her quiet.
"This is a pretty complicated web but it seems to stem from one place and work out from there." She knew he was going to mention Forks and she was only partially paying attention when he continued on. "Activity stalled for a couple of months but picked up again. It is basically a web of people interested in a site called FanNet. When someone responds with a review it locks their IP address and traces movement from that point forward. Someone is collecting all kinds of personal information, even home addresses."
"But it stopped, right dad?" Bella asked and wasn't sure why her gut was trying to warn her.
"No, it stalled out but recently traffic picked up again."
"Do you know where the final stop is, the person all of this is being fed to?" Bella asked.
"It can be followed to Italy and then a firewall loads a virus and the data scrambles," Charlie explained and his frustration was evident in his voice.
"So this is big, like international?" she asked.
"Yes, I personally feel it is a professional service, not one person but some sort of company or conglomeration."
The shadow wasn't sure which one of the girls left the review so the entire dorm room would pay. They came in late after attending a party to celebrate the beginning of a new school year. They had been drinking and weren't paying attention to the fact the door was unlocked.
One of the girls started a shower and locked the bathroom door. The pretty one headed right for the bedroom and fell onto the bed in exhaustion. She took a deep breath, her last one, when a hand clamped onto her face blocking off the air to her mouth and nose. Her eyes shot open and drops fell into them searing and sizzling as the acid ate away at them. When she stopped moving the shadow covered her with her own blanket and stepped back into the black darkness.
Another girl came into the room and was grabbed from behind. Her neck was arched back and a sharp blade made its way across her pulsing artery. Blood shot into the dark room for only a moment until her head was roughly snapped and she collapsed to the ground.
The final girl had never left a review on FanNet and was only vaguely aware of the site, but she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, causing the local police to believe a serial killer was targeting pretty coeds. She opened the bathroom door and was kicked back into the room by a strong foot. The air had been knocked from her lungs so she couldn't scream. She fell back into the tub and the stranger reached over and turned on the shower before turning on the blow dryer and tossing it into the tub with the young woman.
The lights flickered and the smell of burning flesh filled the air as the shadow walked out the back door and across the campus without fear of being stopped.
Charlie's news made Bella sick to her stomach. She stared at her computer and rushed over to shut down her FanNet account. She couldn't stand having the laptop in the house and ran outside to dump it in the trash. Her desire to write stories was gone and she felt lucky to have escaped with her life and Cade's life.
She looked out at the sleepy tree lined street and shuddered at the thought that somewhere in the world there were killers just waiting for reviewers to say the wrong thing, just waiting in the shadows, behind doors, and ready to strike when you least expect it.