It's finally here. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. I wouldn't be living in a ramshackle bungalow in the middle of shit, Belgium if I did.
AN at the bottom
Having Bella step into my house again was a startling relief. I hadn't realized how much I disliked her leaving until she had come back. I watched her as she dumped her bag by the door and shrugged off her parka, revealing an outfit that was both casual and sexy as all hell. Yoga pants. Designed specifically to drive men batshit crazy. I made sure I wasn't still staring when she turned around to me and I smiled at her.
"Thanks for coming back," I told her, leaning past her to pick up the bag. I placed it on the stairs as she slipped behind me into the living room.
"No need to thank me." I could hear her gentle smile reflected in her voice and my chest warmed ever so slightly. I followed her into the living room, watching as she stepped up to the pram in which Grace was very much awake.
"Hey baby," she cooed, and I came to stand next to her. Grace was wide awake, kicking her legs and gurgling adorably. The sight was amazing, if it weren't for the fact that she was keeping me wide awake and I could feel my brain start to throb behind my eyeballs.
Bella turned to me and placed her hand on my arm. "Why don't you go upstairs and get some sleep?"
I started to protest, wanting to tell her that she needed sleep as well but she told me she was fine and that she had already slept a couple hours. I felt horrible, but getting some sleep sounded amazing so I nodded and started to make my way upstairs.
"Grab anything you want," I told her from the stairs and she said she would. Most of the lights in the living room were being turned off by her as I climbed the stairs and went into my bedroom. The moment my head hit my pillow I was gone. A while later, I barely registered someone coming up the stairs, quietly slipping into the room on the other side of the hallway.
I woke up a few hours later when I heard the baby crying. My mind was immediately assaulted by the smells and sounds of an alley and a porcelain doll, cold and alone, waiting to be found and letting the world know she was not to be forgotten. Shooting up in bed, I realized the doll had already been found and was now fiercely demanding to be fed.
I got out of bed and opened my bedroom door. The door to my guest room was open and I could see Bella sitting on the bed there, holding Grace and begging her to be quiet. I quickly crossed the hallway and into the room.
"Give her to me," I told Bella, holding my arms out and making my way to the bed. "I'll go feed her. You get some more sleep."
Bella looked up at me and nodded, her eyes hooded with sleep and her hair a tangled mess around her head. The sight was as adorable as it was beautiful. I took Grace from her, smiled at her tired face and rocked the baby in my arms as her demand for food grew louder.
"Get back to sleep," I nudged Bella, leaving the room as she lay back down. Downstairs, I rocked the little angel in my arms while I prepared her bottle. With the bottle full and warm, I went to the couch. Grace immediately went quiet when I started feeding her and in the quiet I looked around my dark house. It felt different, it smelt different. Warm somehow, and I realized that Grace and even Bella had turned into a home. It made my heart explode with realization.
What I'd been so desperately searching for in stupid flings and burying myself in work, was so easily filled by the presence of the two ladies currently under my roof. I didn't even really know Bella, nor did I know if Grace would stay with me, but somehow I felt like everything had fallen into place. The pieces of the puzzle were clicking together.
It was weird as fuck.
Softie, my brain taunted me and my heart responded with an epic, Go fuck yourself.
After burping her, I put her in the pram, tucking her in tightly and watching as she drifted to blissful sleep. Looking at the clock, I saw it was barely four in the morning but I couldn't wait. I took my phone out, made my way back to the couch and searched my contacts for the man I knew could help me.
I gave my phone the order to make the call and waited until the other end picked up.
"Jenks," came a gruff voice after the fourth ring.
"Jenks, it's Edward Cullen."
There was a grunt and a thud before the man started talking again. "Ed, I know you think I never sleep but I actually do. Granted, not a whole lot which is exactly why I get real grumpy if someone disturbs me."
"I'm sorry, Jenks," I said and I meant it. Jay Jenks was Seattle's top private investigator and I've made use of his skills many times before on my cases. This was the first time I needed him for personal reasons. "But I need your help."
Another grunt. "I should charge you extra just for waking me up. I'll be at your place in the morning."
After that the line went dead and I was momentarily content with having made the first steps into finding out where Grace came from. I reached over and flicked on the small light next to the couch. I got my briefcase from the corner of the room and opened it, taking out a couple of case files and started working. Hours passed like that until weak sunlight filtered into the room through the drawn curtains.
I emerged from my work, putting the files back where they'd come from and looked around the room. There was a spit cloth on the kitchen island, along with an empty can of coke and I realized Bella had left those behind before she went upstairs last night. Mixed emotions came up, the sight made me happy in the fact that someone was using my house in the way I wanted to; like a home. On the other hand, my somewhat OCD tendencies demanded of me to clean it up just like the pile of baby stuff I still hadn't even tidied. So I went to work and an hour later, when Grace woke up, all the baby stuff was neatly put away. The clothes she'd worn yesterday were in the hamper, along with the spit cloths we'd used. Her bottle was in the dishwasher and a fresh, purple one was on the counter, ready for the day. I took her out of the pram, smiling as she cooed up at me.
"Good morning gorgeous," I told her, taking her upstairs and into the bathroom where I'd put up her tub and a fresh change of clothes. Filling the tub, with a baby on my arm, was an adventure on its own but after I put her on a towel and undressed her, there was another challenge. A real big one. How the hell was I going to put her in the oddly shaped tub? The girl from the store had explained to me that the tub was designed to mimic a mother's womb and that it would feel nice for the baby. She was to be put in it butt-first and held up by a hand in her neck, but as soon as I lowered her little butt into it, she seemed to give me a look that clearly said, What the fuck, dude? For the life of me I couldn't put her in it without risking her slipping from my hand and going under.
Cursing under my breath, I took her back out and rolled her into the towel. With my foot, I slid the tub into my shower and contemplated how to bathe her without using the baby tub from hell.
"Bathe her in the sink," came Bella's sleepy, amused voice from the door. I looked at her, then at the sink which was deep enough for Grace to be comfortable and back up at Bella.
"Huh," was my genius response, earning a giggle from the woman in the door opening. I rolled my eyes, adjusted Grace so I could hold her with one arm and turned the faucet on, tinkering with it until the temperature of the water was perfect. The sink filled up a lot more quickly than the tub. Half an hour later I was looking at a clean, happy baby being fed by a clearly love-stricken Bella who was looking down at her like she was the most precious thing in the world. She had dressed Grace in another dress-cardigan-tights combo and the cute-factor couldn't be legal.
If I thought Bella during the day was cute, she was downright adorable in the morning. Her hair had been pulled up in a messy bun on her head, a sweater dangled from her shoulders, dangerously close to slipping off and falling down the yoga pants-clad legs that seemed to go on forever but were broken up by fluffy slippers with bunny ears on them. She wasn't wearing any make up and my attention was focused on how beautifully natural she looked. I'd always preferred natural women but somehow always ended up dating fakes.
"I'm willing to bet you don't have any breakfast in the house?" Bella's voice interrupted my thoughts and I immediately got sheepish.
"I have some bread, but it's old," I told her with an apologetic grin on my face. I made a note to myself to go grocery shopping.
"Do you have milk and eggs?" she asked me and I nodded, remembering I did indeed have those things in my fridge. She smiled wide and got up, handing the baby to me.
Bella's French toast was to die for. I'd eaten a full plate of it, and the bread was completely gone, and still I wanted more. I eyed her plate, which held the remaining two pieces, like a starving man and she laughed at me, hitting me on the shoulder and teasing me about being horrible.
"That was so good," I sighed, sitting back on the stool and rubbing my stomach. She smiled warmly at me, her focus shifting from my eyes to where Grace was on the floor behind me. We had put up a baby gym, which consisted out of a soft mat on the floor and two arches crossing over the baby with dangling toys and stuffed animals. Grace was happy looking up at the pretty colors and shapes.
"I'm going to go take a quick shower," I told Bella, stretching and smiling at her. She smiled back and nodded, taking my plate and putting it into the dishwasher, along with the pan and bowl she had used to make the toast. I quickly swiped a small piece of toast from her plate while she wasn't looking, laughing when she smacked the back of my head.
"Go shower, you horrible person," she said, pushing me away and the smile on my face threatened to rip my cheeks.
"Alright," I replied, walking off towards the stairs. "After I'm done, I'll lay out some towels for you."
"Thanks," came her distracted reply, as she was already busy making goo-goo eyes at the baby, her toast forgotten.
I showered quickly, not wanting to be away from the ladies for too long and also anxious about the impending visit from Jenks. I just wanted to get the ball rolling and get closer to the point where, with some serious luck, we wouldn't have to be afraid of the authorities taking Grace from us.
I sped through my routine, dressing quickly and soon I was back downstairs, switching places with Bella as she went upstairs to shower and get dressed. Just as I heard the shower upstairs turn on, there was a sharp knocking on my front door.
Knowing it was Jenks, I took a deep breath, settling the nerves that suddenly came bubbling up from my core. I gently rubbed Grace's belly before I got up from the floor and made my way to the front door.
Jay Jenks was a deceptively small man, easily a head shorter than me, but the width of his shoulders illustrated that he was strong and muscular. I'd seen him work once and had been blown away by his stealth and agility. Still, people always underestimated him.
"Good morning," I told him.
"Yeah, morning," he answered, pushing past me into the house. "You got coffee?"
Taking a deep breath, I nodded, leading him into the living room. I observed his reaction as he took in the sight of Grace, batting at her toys and simultaneously kicking off one of her shoes.
"Oh baby," I cooed, automatically squatting down and fixing it for her, earning one of her pretty baby smiles.
Jenks was quiet, moving to pull out a stool and I glanced at his face as I got up and joined him in the kitchen to make coffee.
"Cute baby," he said stoically. I nodded nervously, focusing on the coffeemaker. "Do you mind if I hold her?"
Shaking my head to indicate I wouldn't mind, I heard him get off the stool and Grace gurgled when he picked her up. I looked at them briefly and was momentarily surprised to see that he was holding her right and gently rocking her.
"I'd ask if she was yours, but her facial features tell me otherwise."
"You can tell?" I asked, baffled.
"Yup," was his lazy response. "Babies resemble their fathers the most in their first year. It's a biological left-over from pre-historic days when men would kill their offspring for attention from their females. It's a defense mechanism to make a father relate to the baby."
"Also, your fucked up hair color would be dominant in the gene pool and this little darling here is clearly a blonde."
I just grunted, turning back to the coffeemaker, waiting while it brewed.
"So, whose baby is it?" came his inevitable question and I sighed.
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
I sighed again. "I mean, I don't know. I found her in the alley alongside my house."
Silence rang as he took in that information and I could hear the shower upstairs turn off. Hurry Bella.
"Is she healthy?"
"Yeah, we took her to the hospital right away. She's a bit skinny but otherwise she's healthy."
"Yes," Bella's voice sounded from the door opening. Both Jenks and I swiveled around to her, to see her standing there; her hair down her back in a damp braid, no make-up on and a guarded look on her face. Looking over at Jenks, I could practically see his reaction to her. The woman needed to realize what a freshly showered woman clad in jeans and a tight shirt does to a man.
"I was there," she said strongly, moving to take Grace from him. When she had her, I could see a minute sense of relaxation come in the arch of her shoulders but it wasn't enough to make her lose her guard.
Jenks extended his hand to her and introduced himself. She briefly looked at me, as if to gauge whether or not I trusted him. I tried my best to convey I did with the look in my eyes.
"Bella Swan," she told him and he nodded at her, as if he was attempting to calm her nerves.
I cleared my throat, breaking the tension that was quickly mounting in the room and Bella came to stand beside me, looking down at the baby in her arms.
"So," Jenks started the conversation back up. "You took her to the hospital. Were police involved?"
Bella and I shook our heads.
Cocking one eyebrow, he leaned over the counter to take the coffee mug I was extending to him. "Well now, that's odd isn't it?"
I cleared my throat, just as Bella started fidgeting with the baby's dress.
"An abandoned baby most certainly would garner police attention," he mused, observing both of us, drawing us out.
"I mean, the parents have to be somewhere right?"
I could hear Bella swallow thickly and I placed my hand on her shoulder.
"We… ehm," Bella stuttered. Jenks gave her a look that clearly said for her to continue.
I took over. "We lied and told the doctor we were her parents."
There. It was out. Let all hell break loose.
Sitting back, in shock or surprise of my admission, Jenks looked deep into my eyes. It was hard to stand my ground, meeting his gaze even as he tried to make me break but somehow I lasted and by the time he broke contact to take a sip of coffee, I felt like I'd just survived the Spanish Inquisition.
"Can I ask why you two would risk going to jail for kidnapping?"
"We didn't kidnap her!" Bella's incredulence, though understandable, wasn't justified. I knew damn well that taking Grace was kidnapping according to law. I rubbed her shoulder, about to gently tell her that she was wrong when Jenks beat me to it.
"Honey, if you think a judge won't fuck you over hard because of this, you're sorely mistaken and I feel bad for you."
Not so gentle.
I could feel Bella's panic rising and I turned her towards me, putting both hands on her shoulders and looking into her eyes, trying to convey to her that yes, it was bad but we weren't doomed.
"We'll be okay," I told her. "There are steps we can take, strings we can pull. I promise."
Jenks snorted and I glared over at him to shut him up before turning back to her. Seeing the utter mayhem of panic in her eyes I pulled her into me, sandwiching the baby between us and rubbing her back.
"We can work this out. We can. It just won't be easy."
Bella sagged into me a little, relaxing with every breath she blew into my neck and I kissed her forehead.
"I hate to break up your little moment there," Jenks interrupted, making both of us look at him. "But I'd like to start setting up a game-plan here."
"You'll help us?" Bella asked him, stepping away from me. The loss of contact made me feel funny.
Jenks shrugged, "Yeah, I'll help. I owe Ed one for helping me get out of my divorce with both balls still neatly in place and he sends me customers."
"Thanks," I said, with a nod. He nodded back at me.
"I know a cop who owes me big time," he continued. "So I'll pull that string nice and hard."
Bella looked up at me and I briefly met her gaze, fishing the note from my pocket.
"This note was with her when I found her," I said, sliding the crumbled piece of paper over to him. He took it, examining it, turning it over in his hands and analyzing the text. I alternated between watching him and watching Bella watching him until he finally spoke.
"What do you want me to do with this?"
"I," I started, then caught myself. "We want you to try and find the person who left her there."
He nodded slowly. "I can do that. The note tells me what kind of person it is. Teenager, poorly educated, most likely homeless."
Bella made a sound of sympathy in her throat and I rubbed her back.
"But I'll need a DNA sample from the baby. Just a little hair so I can have it analyzed," he told us, looking at both of us. "That way, if either of her parents have a criminal record I'll be able to find them."
We nodded and Jenks put his pack on the counter, taking out a small tweezer and a little plastic bag. Coming over to Bella, he seemed to silently ask her for permission. When she nodded, he leaned over to the baby, gently rubbing her head before pulling a single hair from her head.
He stowed it away carefully in his pack, sat back down and looked directly at me.
"I need you to lay low for a while," he told me. "Don't go around and raise suspicions. You need to go to work, do your thing and act like nothing happened."
"No, I need to go to my father and –" I started but he cut me off.
"No, you don't! Wait until I have more information for you. It'll be a week, tops, before I know who that beauty is and where she came from. After that, you need to go to your father so that he can help you make a birth certificate."
I started protesting, knowing it wasn't in me to summon up enough patience to wait a week but Bella put her hand on my arm and it calmed me down.
"This is what you need to do, Edward," Jenks continued. "Don't raise suspicion; just go about your normal business."
"Okay," I mumbled.
"Don't take Grace outside," he warned and at my confused face he said: "You can't risk paparazzi snapping pictures of you with an unknown baby."
"For fucks sake," I swore.
"He's right, Edward," Bella told me. "I know all too well how sneaky and destructive the press can be."
"Fine," I conceded. "But I can't keep this baby inside all day."
"You have a backyard," Jenks pointed out and I grunted. It'd been months since I did any kind of maintenance on my yard and as Bella walked over to the window, she realized that the backyard was a chaotic shitpile of mess and that it wasn't suitable for a baby to play in.
"I'll have people come over tomorrow to get it cleaned up," I vowed.
"Yes," Jenks nodded. "And while those people are here, as far as they're concerned, Bella is your friend from out of state coming to visit you with her baby."
I nodded, just as Bella whispered a quiet "Okay."
"I should go," Jenks said, downing the rest of his coffee and getting up. "You know the rules, Edward."
"Yeah, I don't call you," I said. "You'll call me."
"Good man," he said with a wink and a grin. "You'll hear from me soon."
I nodded as he said goodbye to Bella. After that I walked him out, stopping him right before he walked through the door.
"Thanks, Jay," I told him.
"No problem, Ed," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "I don't judge you wrongly for taking that baby home. She's safe and obviously loved here. She belongs with you and Bella."
"Thanks," I repeated in a sigh.
"Yeah, yeah, just make sure you get that backyard done, okay?"
I grinned and then he was gone.
Going back to Bella, I watched as she put Grace back on her mat. She got up and turned back to me, sighing.
"What's wrong?" I asked her, stepping over to her and putting my hands on her shoulder. She looked up at me, with those beautiful dark chocolate eyes and brought her hands up to my chest. The contact made my head swim.
"I'm worried," she whispered.
"Don't be," I told her. "We'll be fine. Jenks is the best, I promise."
"I believe you," she sighed. "I just don't want to lose her, you know?"
"Yeah, I know," I whispered, looking at her over Bella's shoulder. I was surprised when she stepped further into me and put her head on my chest. My arms automatically folded around her soft frame. It felt amazing to have her so close to me and when she looked up at me, I responded instinctively.
My lips brushed hers softly and I felt her surprise a nano-second before she melted into me and pushed her lips against mine more vividly. Every nerve in my body burst to flames, just as my head went blank from the sensations of her on me.
I made a noise into her when she brought her hands over my chest, around my shoulders and into my neck, playing with my hair and pulling me impossibly closer to her.
The kiss was unlike anything I had ever felt and I vowed that, from that day onward, I would feel that all the time.
*comes out of hiding* I want to give a big hug to everyone who was patient enough to wait for me getting out of my funk and picking this story back up. I really hope this long awaited chapter didn't disappoint.
A BIG shoutout to wonderwoman Smmiskimen for being the awesome chick and beta that she is. I love you, lady, know that.
Another shoutout to the sweet JM O'Bryant for volunteering to preread this chapter. Thank you hon, it means a lot!
See you all soon. Kisses, Pixie.