Hey you guys! Here's the next chapter. I just wanna thank every one of you for the AMAZING response to the last chapter. Seriously, I loved it okay? And all those people who take out the time to review every chapter while reading the story...youse are amazing! It means so much to me! Thanks a ton, you people (you know who you are).

Thanks a bunch to Heather and Ange for betaing.

And Phoebe and Jen for their lovely work as my pre-readers.

Disclaimer: I don't own nothin' Twilight.

Enjoyy!


I never lie to any man because I don't fear anyone. The only time you lie is when you are afraid.

Chapter 22

Hot Stone

"Bella, Bella, the white or the cream?"

"The white, definitely the white," I say, nodding my head and continuing my guest-list check.

"Okay, now border—golden or blue?"

"Blue, Alice. Your theme is white and royal blue isn't it? Why would your white card have a golden border?" I ask, scrunching up my face in confusion. Being the maid of honor, I had innumerable duties, and on top of that, I had to keep the hormonal, ditzy Alice in check. This wedding…it was turning into a nightmare!

"No," she wails. "I had this awesome idea. See, I was thinking, we could do the white card with the printing color being royal blue, a thin golden border around the edges of the invite, and mine and Jasper's name? We could outline the initials of our names, only our names, with a slightly more subdued golden. It would look so pretty," she says dreamily. "Also, on the napkins? I was thinking along with the A&J in royal blue, we could also have a thin golden border around the letters, and a little flutter of glitter—the kind that sticks to the napkin—around our initials so no one misses it. What d'you say?"

I look at her, dumbstruck, but she's a crazy bride, so I force a smile to my face. "Of course, we can do that." I look over at Ramon who's doing all the field work for us and say, "We can do that right?

He nods and says, "Yes, I don't see why not, Miss Swan. I'll call for the changes to be made right away to the napkins."

I give him a grateful smile and turn toward Alice. "Okay, so the invitation hampers are all sorted, Al?"

"Yup, they are," she says, grinning excitedly at me. She looks at Ramon and says, "Can you please call the printer for me? I want to explain this to him personally so there's no confusion." She turns to me again and starts ticking off all the items in the hamper. "Okay, so the guests get hampers which have a bottle of Merlot, the invite, strawberry fudge chocolates, and a Swiss knife with the wedding date and our names embedded on it. I got it all, right?"

I nod and look over the final edit of the guest-list, sighing when I see that we're still on two hundred guests. Good grief, so many people! I was stressing out just thinking about handling this big a crowd. "Still have two hundred guests, goddammit!" I groan.

Alice waves her hand dismissively and plops down next to me on Esme's couch. She starts to say something when the flamboyant photographer interrupts us. "Lookie here, lovelies! Aaannddd say cheese," he squeaks in this irritating voice, and I force my lips to curve up while Alice squeals, "Cheeeese" beside me. Esme decided that we just had to document all the moments leading up to the wedding, including the mundane preparations, and hired a photographer who keeps clicking random shots all the time. Right now, my life seems like a constant fixture of Alice, Ramon, Alec (my official 24/7 bodyguard), Daniel (the irritating photographer), and the only person that keeps me sane—Edward.

It's been three days since Jacob's little visit to the hospital, and during the drive back home after the target practice, Edward finally caved and told me all about his history with Jacob. He told me how he'd always gotten a bad vibe from "the son-of-a-bitch", and how Jacob had always wanted to be a part of Volterra, but he could never have been a made guy because of his lineage. He told me about Jacob's addiction to drugs, and how Billy Black was a snitch and, after Edward took care of him, Jacob was full of vengeance. He pulled some strings, used his AP brain to get into the FBI, and was out for blood. But, Edward also told me all about the shit we had over Jacob. We had videos which, if leaked, could ruin him; we had pictures of him dealing in China Town, and Jacob Black was a gone fucker. It was only a matter of when and how. Now that I know we have fuck-awesome ammo on him, my worries have ebbed. Edward's promised me that he needs to take care of a few more things, and before Alice and Jasper's wedding, Jacob will be out of our lives for good. I really do hope he's right.

Alice pulls me out of my musings by elbowing me in the side. I give her a questioning glance, and she winks at me. "So," she drawls, "I heard you had a shooting session a few days back, huh. How was it?"

My face lights up, and I bounce lightly on the couch, the very thought thrilling me beyond words. "Oh God, Alice, it was so awesome! You have to try it sometime. There was this one second, when I pulled that trigger, that I felt so powerful, Al, almost untouchable, invincible. And the sex that followed when we got home…damn!" I whistle and fan my face.

Her eyes sort of glaze over, and she immediately texts Jasper to take her shooting ASAP. Esme joins us in the living room a few minutes later, and we spend the rest of the afternoon going over cake ideas, the overall décor for the wedding, and I pester them to go over the guest-list one last time. They glare at me, and I melt in my seat. Esme has very firmly, but sweetly, told us that the wedding will happen in their gigantic backyard. I loved the idea, the place was gorgeous, and when Alice saw it for herself, she was all for it.

The one thing that really threw me for a loop was the sudden onslaught of the media. While I knew that the Cullens often made appearances in print as well as on TV, I never thought Jasper's marriage would be this big a deal. Wherever we went, at least three to four reporters were on our heels all the time. It was unexpected and, I'll admit, a little daunting. When I'd seen my picture in Chicago Tribune, I'd started to hyperventilate. They were calling me "Boss Woman" and "EC's brand new toy" and some even went so far as to say that I was pregnant and Edward and I had already wed secretly. It was a madhouse on some days.

But then Edward would come home, hold me in his arms, tell me to "ignore the motherfuckers, Carina", and I didn't care as much then. About the whole being a Mafia girlfriend thing…I'm getting used to it. I'm acclimatizing myself to having a gun on me at all times, to having a bodyguard for a shadow, and to being addressed as "Miss Swan" all the time. But there are things that test my emotional tenacity—having to stay up till one on some nights to see Edward walk through the door, to getting used to "Bella, I can't tell you where I'm going. You don't talk about the mob—it's a rule. I'm sorry, baby", and to the constant scrutiny by the media and other mob wives. I'm like a sponge, soaking up every little detail of Edward's—our world, adjusting and molding myself and my very personality to be what's expected of me—the girlfriend and future wife of the Boss Man, of the Skip, of EC.

The guys in Edward's crew though—Santino (or Sonny like everyone calls him), Felix, Enzo, Alonzo and Franco, these guys are fucking awesome. Honestly, I never thought a bunch of loud, foul-mouthed, constantly horny, huge Italian mob men would have the capability to make me fall out of my chair laughing instead of scaring the shit out of me, but they do. They're so…so warm, and they respect Edward like he's their God, but they tease each other relentlessly. Their jokes are so crass, but a few minutes in their company, and you're laughing like a hyena.

Things are surprisingly mellow and almost normal right now, but it's just the calm before the storm. Any day now, I expect a shit-storm to blow over and rock our lives; the unvarying fear is always lurking in my sub-conscious.

Wrapping up for the day with the wedding plans, I head back to the apartment with Alice and Ramon in tow, and Alec driving us over. Alice and I part ways with plans to meet up later in the evening in the spa, and then make way to our respective apartment.

As I unlock the door and step inside, I hear the distinct sound of a vacuum cleaner at work. My brows furrow in confusion as I follow the noise to the living room and see a middle-aged woman humming away as she vacuums the carpet.

"Umm…excuse me?" I say, wondering if Edward ever mentioned a housekeeper. This woman certainly looks comfortable in her surroundings.

She turns to me and smiles, bowing her head slightly. "Miss Swan." And then she goes back to silently vacuuming.

I dump my purse on the recliner and plop down on the couch in front of the woman. "I'm sorry, but Edward never told me we had a housekeeper. May I ask your name?"

She regards me with curiosity and then murmurs, a small smile on her face, "I'm Annalisa Frank, Miss Swan. I've been working for Mr. Cullen for the past four years, and I come over to clean once a week."

"But I've been here for a month, Annalisa, and I've never seen you before this," I say, not in accusation, but simply confused.

"I had to take a leave, Miss Swan…my…son was very ill," she says, but doesn't meet my eyes. I inspect her face for any signs of a lie, but I don't see any. But she hesitated when she said "my son", and she shouldn't have. She didn't meet my eyes when she said this, and she should have.

But she's been working here for so long. If something was up with her, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't be here today. Maybe she's just shy…

I still text Edward to make sure she's not lying or anything, and he replies with Oh ye, Mrs. Frank was due today. It's okay, she's no trouble. Miss you, baby, I'll see you soon. -E

I shrug and jump off the couch, giving her a grin and a "nice to meet you, Annalisa" as I make my way to the bathroom to freshen up.

I come out of the bathroom wearing shorts and a hoodie when I see Alec talking to Annalisa. Her head is bowed as she listens to him prattle on in a stern voice, and I listen harder to hear what he's saying to her.

"…doesn't know many things, Annalisa. You need to make sure that she knows exactly how to behave when people come over, and you need to keep your distance from her. Answer only when she asks you a direct question and don't look her in the eye. She's EC's girlfriend, and her life is above everything else, Lisa. When you two are alone, you don't say a word to her, and we need to shield her as much as possible from this world. You know more than you ought to, and she doesn't need to know—"

I interrupt him as I step into the living room with my eyebrow raised and my arms crossed across my chest. "So, just because I'm EC's girlfriend, it makes me untouchable?" I ask, my voice betraying my anger.

Alec straightens and nods once in my direction. "Miss Swan, I'm only doing as I was told by Skip."

I look at him shock. "Edward told you to ask her not to speak to me?"

His posture slumps, and he sighs. "EC's only doing what's best for you. And what's best is that you keep your distance from anything and everything that may put you even in the hint of danger. Don't take this the wrong way, but you're a delicate target, and Skip's just looking out for you."

I huff and uncross my arms. "Yeah, I get that. But how is Annalisa a danger to me, Alec?"

"She's not. But"—he glances at her from the corner of his eye and then focuses on me again—"we don't trust anyone but family around here, Miss Swan."

I've heard these words out of Edward's and Carlisle's mouth innumerable times. "Family is everything, kids," Carlisle would tell me and Edward as our young minds absorbed his words in awe. "Never trust anyone other than your family, because no one can love you or guide you better than your family can."

After milling around the apartment for a while, reading books and watching a movie, I finally decide to make the phone call I've been procrastinating for quite some time now. Just before leaving for my appointment at the spa, I finally take the plunge and hit the little green button.

I hold my breath as the phone rings.

With a click, someone's picked it up. "Good morning, this is Nicolas Wales from the London School of Economics. How may I help you today?"

I take a deep breath and close my eyes. "Hi," I finally begin, "I'm Isabella Swan, and I'd like to talk to you about the re-admission procedure, please."

~TETB~

"Rose," I screech, so happy to see my sister again. I haven't seen her or Emmett since the day the whole deal came out, and seeing her here today at the spa really made my day.

"Bella baby," she squeals and runs over to engulf me in a hug. Alice laughs beside us, and Rose pulls her in with a "what you doing over there, Shorty", and then all three of us are hugging and squealing right there in the spa wearing only our robes.

Once we all separate, I turn to Alice and give her a smacking kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for calling Rosalie here today, Al. I loved the surprise! Really, thank you."

She shook her head and grinned at me. "You've been working so hard for my wedding, and I've been a hormonal bridezilla. This is nothing really. And, girls, today's on Jasper." She giggles. "He says we should all pamper ourselves, and I say—pick the most expensive shit 'cos we're so not holding back today!"

We laugh, and Rose pinches Alice's arm. "You gave him real good head last night or something, Al?" she teases, winking.

Alice's face lights up, and she grins mischievously. "Something like that."

"Okay, okay," I say, not interested in hearing about Alice giving Jasper head. "Let's go choose our pleasure for the day."

After we've chosen a massage each, we take off the robe and settle under the covers on our tables. While I chose a hot stone therapy of sorts, Alice and Rose chose some massage suitable for their pregnant selves. I giggled and called them soon-to-be-fatties. They narrowed their eyes at me and told me to "shut the fuck up."

While we lay on adjacent tables, moaning and groaning in satisfaction, Alice decided that she'd kept her mouth shut for a long time and couldn't keep her lips sealed any longer.

"So, Bella," she starts, while I groan and flip her the bird. "I've been meaning to ask you for some time now—"

"Alice," I whine, "shut up." She'll ask me questions, meaning I'll have to answer, meaning I'll have to talk. I don't want to open my mouth.

She continues nonetheless. "—have you thought about going back to LSE?"

My back immediately goes rigid, and all the blood drains from my face. I frantically pull my head out of the hole in the table and whip my face toward her.

"Wh-why would you ask that now?" I whisper, stunned.

I haven't breathed a word about LSE to anyone. And for Alice to bring it up today of all days…

I see her shoulders lift in a shrug as she continues to sip her virgin mojito through the hole in the table. "It was just a thought. So, have you?"

Rose chimes in from my other side. "Yeah, Bella, have you?"

I grunt and flop my face back into the hole, screwing my eyes shut. "Yeah," I say, "I've…thought about it."

"Well, so what did you decide?" Rose asks, and then moans as the masseuse no doubt kneads her well and good.

"I haven't decided anything yet. I mean, I haven't really given it much thought either. It's a very remote possibility that I can go live in London anyway, you guys. You know how it is," I say, sighing as the masseuse tells me to loosen up.

I roll my shoulders and slowly re-relax all the muscles in my body. This is absolutely not the conversation I wanna have right now.

Rose sighs beside me and says in a disgusted voice, "Yeah, I know how it is."

~TETB~

When I get back to the apartment at eight, I see that all the lights are off and Annalisa has left. I changed at the spa after a shower, so I go into the bedroom and call Edward to ask when he'll be home. He's usually back by eight, and if he's not, he calls and lets me know.

He doesn't pick the first three times I call him.

It scares me. He always picks my calls. Always.

I text him.

What time should I expect you today, Mr. Simple & Fit? And really, it wouldn't kill you to pick up the phone. –B

There's no reply for an hour after that.

He always replies within minutes.

I break out in cold sweat.

I hurriedly get out from under the covers and shout for Alec who's sitting out in the hall.

"Alec, have you heard from Edward or any of the guys?" I ask, stopping in front of the couch where he's playing chess with himself.

He immediately stands up and shakes his head. "No, Miss Swan, I haven't."

I nod and pull at my hair, suddenly feeling dread creep into my heart. Something's not right. I can fucking feel it. "Can you call Santino or someone and see what's happening? Edward won't answer my calls, and he's not replying to texts," I say frantically, pacing in the living room.

He quickly takes out his phone and dials. "Bella, I'm sure everything's fine. You don't worry, okay?"

It's the first time he's called me by my first name, and if that's not enough of a shock, he actually sounds comforting.

He turns his back on me and speaks in hushed whispers to someone over the phone. I figure he'll tell me later himself, so I don't even try to listen in, too busy trying to keep my blood pressure normal.

He cuts the phone and turns to me with a blank mask over his face.

My stomach drops.

He knows what's going on.

And he's not going to tell me. I can see it in his face.

I stalk toward him and point an accusing finger in his face. "Don't even think about hiding what you know, Alec. Tell me right now where Edward is," I demand.

He doesn't even fucking blink. "I can't."

I collapse on the ground in a heap of jumbled limbs. I can't make him tell me, I know he won't tell me.

"Please," I whisper, "Please, Alec." I try again, pleading.

He picks me up by my forearms and lays me down on the couch, a pained look crosses his face as he says, "I can't, Bella, please. I'm so sorry, but I just can't."

I nod and curl up on the couch, not even trying to hold back the tears that escape my eyes non-stop. My entire being shakes as my mind conjures up the worst case scenarios, and I don't have it in me to be strong. I don't think the idea of calling Esme, Carlisle, Alice or Emmett crosses my mind. My brain has frozen, and only Edward's face keeps me anchored to the present.

Somehow, I fall asleep with Edward's voice in my head lulling me into unconsciousness.

The next thing I know, I'm hearing a key turning in a lock. That's the sound I've been waiting for even in my state of half-asleep-half-awake.

I jump up from the couch and run to the door, wiping my tears on the way, and wrench it open.

Standing there is Edward.

"Bella…" he whispers.

My eyes roam his body as I take in his mud-spattered shoes, his muddy, bloody and torn pants. My eyes make way to his chest, where his shirt is untucked and rumpled, torn in several places, and there are patches of blood here and there.

My heart stops when I look at his face. He's bruised and bloody.

Oh God…

Oh my dear God…

I can't control the whimper that escape my lips, and I crash my body to his.

"Edward," I sob, clinging to his chest. "Edward."

He wraps his arms tightly around me and kisses me on top of my head. "Bella. Mia bellissima Bella."

I sob against his chest. "Don't talk. Come on, let's get you inside."

I pull back, but he keeps his hands wrapped around my waist, and then slowly his hands make way to cup my face. "In a minute," he says, and the pain I hear in his voice… it fucking blows the wind right out of me.

"My Bella," he whispers, and then softly kisses me on the lips.

I return his kiss, pouring all my love into it. Slowly, he pulls back.

And then his knees buckle as he collapses in front of me, at my feet.


Translation:

Mia bellissima Bella - My beautiful Bella

I'll be updating again next week! See you soon!

And, guys, trust me okay? I wouldn't do anything too scarring, and I said initially that this is NOT an angst story. Hold tight for the next chapter though.

Till the next time *smiles*

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