"All changes are more or less tinged with melancholy, for what we are leaving behind is part of ourselves" – Amelia Barr

Chapter One

From: Swan, Isabella

Sent: Mon 5/6/12 9:38 AM

To: Whitlock, Jasper

Mr. Whitlock:

I would like to apply for the position of live-in Housekeeper and Receptionist as advertised.

I am a college graduate with a degree in English Literature. I have several years' experience in household management and administrative support. I am organized, detail-oriented, and very good with people.

In addition, I do not require a relocation package of any sort as I had already planned to move out of state.

Please review the attached resume and references. I appreciate your consideration.

Sincerely,

Isabella Swan

P.S. Are pets allowed with the rental?

oOoOoOo

Jasper Whitlock read Miss Swan's email twice before setting it down on his desk with the other applications his wife had given him that morning. He sighed quietly and thought about the woman in question. Surely, someone with her education could not possibly be interested in such a position. She had a bachelor's degree. Why wasn't she looking for a job in her career field?

She would be required to clean not only his office, his partner's office, and the therapy rooms, but also keep the waiting room in order, greet patients, answer the phone, take messages, file, type up letters, and make appointments for the two doctors. It was a lot of work for one person.

Jasper glanced around his office, taking in the dark wooden bookcases filled with medical journals, the worn, dull sheen of the hardwood floors, and his large oak desk. It was an older building, but they had refurbished it and made it work for them. He and his brother-in-law, Edward, had opened the practice together in the small brownstone in Boston five years ago, both weary from the fast paced, demanding lifestyle of working in a hospital.

His wife, Alice, had been their previous receptionist; however with business at her small clothing boutique downtown finally picking up, along with the discovery that the Whitlocks were about to become parents for the first time, Jasper had seen fit to retire his wife and hire someone else. It was Alice who had suggested that they offer the small basement apartment as part of the employment package. Up until then, he and Edward had only used it for a place to crash when they were working late.

The practice had been without a receptionist for the past two months, and Jasper realized he had to make a decision soon. None of the other applicants so far seemed right. Were it not for the fact that Miss Swan was more than overqualified for the job, he would hire her in a second.

But would he be doing the right thing? Just then, a brisk knock sounded at his door and in walked Edward, coat and briefcase in hand.

"I'm heading out, Jasper. Are you staying late again?"

Jasper nodded his head. "Yes, I want to go over these applications again before I make a decision."

Edward Masen, the senior member of the practice and Alice's older brother, stood smirking, his 6' 2" wiry, muscular body framing the doorway.

"Surely, you've found someone by now, Jasper?"

Jasper frowned. "It's not quite as easy as you seem to think it is. Selecting the right person is a delicate matter. We can't just have anyone coming in here, running about the place."

Edward scoffed at his brother-in-law. "Come now, surely, there's someone in that pile that can answer a phone and vacuum. It's not rocket science."

Jasper sat back in his chair, scrutinizing his brother-in-law. He'd met Edward when he and Alice had started dating and had initially disliked him. His cocky attitude and brash demeanor grated on Jasper's nerves. It had only been after years of family dinners and a year working together in one of the local ERs that Jasper had concluded it was actually a façade Edward used to hide how truly lonely and vulnerable he was.

Edward was single and, much to the disappointment of his family, refused to date. Though his mother and Alice had tried to set him up with numerous eligible women, he had remained adamant. To Jasper's knowledge, he couldn't recall Edward ever bringing a woman to any of the parties, dinners, or business functions they had attended together. He lived in a beautiful Tudor house outside the city with plenty of room for a wife and family, yet he chose to remain alone.

"Are you even listening?"

Jasper glanced up to see Edward staring at him with a look of consternation upon his face. "Yes, I'm listening, but I'm also thinking."

Edward plopped down into one of the two leather chairs in front of Jasper's desk. "Well, stop thinking so hard and just hire someone. You don't have to over analyze this. If someone meets the qualifications and their references check out, then hire them. There's nothing more to consider."

"Really? It's that easy, is it?"

Edward smiled lazily from his seat. "Yes, if the person fits the bill, hire them."

Jasper glanced down at Miss Swan's email and suddenly a deliciously brilliant idea was born. "All right then, I'll contact this applicant. Her name is Isabella Swan. She comes highly recommended by her references, and her resume is impeccable."

Edward stood, gathering his coat and briefcase. "Well, thank God that is settled. Honestly, Jasper, I don't know what you'd do without me."

Jasper's lips twitched. "Yes, I'm sure I'd be quite lost. Anyway, would you like to read over her letter before you leave? You'll be gone for the next two weeks, and she'll be handling your patients and appointments all the while."

Edward waved him off as he headed out the door. "No, I'm sure she's perfectly fine. Just call her. I'll see you when I get back. Give Alice my love, would you?"

The front door slammed shut before Jasper could do more than call out a quick goodbye. He sighed briefly to himself, but then picking Miss Swan's letter up from the pile, he couldn't help but chuckle.

Oh yes, Edward was certainly in for a surprise when he returned from his medical conference. And, knowing his loving wife, Jasper was certain Alice would be more than happy to assist her husband in his diabolical plan. Yes, indeed, Edward Anthony Masen, was about to say goodbye to life as he knew it. Of course, he just didn't know it yet.

oOoOoOo

Thousands of miles across the country, completely unaware of the machinations being worked with her in mind, Isabella Swan, Bella to her friends and family, sat in the window seat of her small bedroom on the second floor of a small white cottage. The cottage belonged to her father, and she'd lived there since she was seventeen years old. She'd moved to the tiny town of Forks shortly after her mother's death in a car accident. Up until then, Bella had not been very close with her father, but with Renee gone she had clung to her one remaining parent.

Charles Swan, "Charlie", was a quiet sort of man, set in his bachelor ways, but he'd loved his daughter dearly. He'd welcomed Bella into his home and had tried to make her comfortable. Until her mother's passing, he'd seen his daughter only for a few weeks during the summer and usually had to travel to Phoenix her mother had chosen to live. He'd had to travel because Renee had hated Forks and refused to allow Bella to set foot in the desolate town.

Bella watched as rain fell in heavy sheets outside her window. It was gray and dreary and depressing, and she felt it quite suited her mood. Everything felt gray and dull these days. Six years. That was all the time she and Charlie had been allowed with each other before he'd been shot and killed in a convenience store robbery six months ago. Though he'd had insurance, it had barely covered the debt he'd left behind, and unbeknownst to Bella, he'd taken out a second mortgage on the cottage to pay for her college tuition. With no money to pay the mortgage, Isabella was forced to sell the cottage along with most of its contents to settle his debt with the bank.

At first, she'd tried to find a job teaching in the area and take on the mortgage herself, hoping the bank would agree to an arrangement with her, but sadly, there were no jobs to be had. So, she'd heaved a sad sigh and called Shelly Cope, a friend of the family, to help make the necessary arrangements. Then, she'd set about finding a job somewhere else.

She hadn't wanted to leave Washington because Charlie was buried there, but it had become very clear she would not be able to stay. The advertisement online had come completely out of the blue. A friend had forwarded it to her after hearing she was looking for work. If she'd had any other options, this would not have been a position she'd have normally considered for herself, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Luckily, she'd been cooking, cleaning, and taking care of Charlie for the last six years, so she knew she could handle the job easily.

She'd updated her resume, spoken to Dr. Cullen and Pastor Cheney about references, and sat down to write her cover letter. The advertisement had stated a small medical practice was seeking a live in housekeeper and receptionist. A basement apartment would be made available to the right applicant, and the salary was really very generous. Bella had quickly sent off her application and waited hopefully.

That was two weeks ago, with no word in reply, and Bella was growing nervous. She was expected to be out of the house in two weeks, and she had no idea what she was going to do. Of course, she had applied to other positions, but this particular one had seemed the most promising. Surely, they would have, at the very least, sent her a rejection letter.

Bella stared back out the window; the rain had dwindled down to a mere drizzle. Mrs. Cope had offered her a room in her home, so she wouldn't be totally homeless. Nevertheless, she preferred not to be dependent on anyone, and Mrs. Cope's home was small and cramped. There would barely be enough room for Isabella let alone her cat, Shadow.

Lost in her maudlin thoughts, she nearly jumped out of her skin when her cell phone began buzzing away on her desk. She picked up the phone and checked the number. It was unlisted, but she quickly noted that the number had a Boston area code. Perhaps, this was the practice answering her application after all.

"Hello?"

"Yes, I'm trying to reach Isabella Swan? Is she available?" The man's voice was soft with a slight Southern accent.

"This is she. How can I help you?"

"Good evening, Miss Swan. My name is Dr. Jasper Whitlock with Whitlock and Masen Associates. I hope this isn't a bad time to call."

Bella shook her head no, but then stopped when she realized that he wouldn't be able to see her on the other end of the phone.

"No, Dr. Whitlock, this is fine."

"Good. I'm calling about your application for the receptionist position."

Bella gripped the cell phone tightly in her hand. "Yes?"

"Are you still interested in the position, Miss Swan?"

"Yes," she practically shouted into the phone but then remembered to whom she was speaking and lowered her voice. "I mean, yes, I'm definitely still interested."

"Splendid. I've reviewed your references and conferred with my partner, and I am delighted to offer you a place with Whitlock and Masen, pending a criminal background check, of course."

Bella's breath caught in her throat, and she nearly choked on her own tongue. "R…really?

She heard Mr. Whitlock chuckle on the other end of the line. "Yes, Miss Swan, really. Also, are you interested in the apartment mentioned in the ad?"

Bella collapsed back onto the window seat. It was almost too good to be true. "Yes, I am very interested in the apartment. I honestly hadn't made any plans as of yet. When would you like me to start?"

"How soon can you be packed and moved?"

She thought quickly. There were a few bits and pieces of furniture she could take: her bed, her dresser, and some kitchen items. All in all, she didn't really have very much to move. The only problem would be that she would have to drive because she couldn't afford a plane ticket, and she had already told them she didn't require a relocation package.

"How about next Saturday? Then, I could officially begin work the following Monday. Would that be soon enough?

"That sounds doable. I had hoped to get someone in sooner. We're short staffed with my partner out of town for the next two weeks, but I can get a temp in until you arrive. I can also have someone meet you at the airport if need be."

"No, that won't be necessary. I'll be driving, you see, because my cat doesn't really travel very well. He'll do better if I drive."

"I see. Well, be sure to call me with your arrival time. Either my wife, Alice, or I will meet you at the office and get you settled into the apartment. You can reach me on my private cell if you run into trouble. The number is 857-555-1865."

"Thank you, Dr. Whitlock. I'll call you as soon as I have everything arranged."

"Excellent. Also, please call me, Jasper. We're going to be working together, and honestly, Dr. Whitlock is my father."

"All right, Jasper. My friends call me Bella, but if that's too informal, you can call me Isabella."

"Bella, I look forward to meeting you."

The two then bade each other a cheerful goodbye and hung up.

Bella dropped her phone down onto the window seat beside her and collapsed back onto the pillows. She'd not only gotten the job but had a place of her own to live as well. Now, she wouldn't have to be dependent upon anyone. She could take care of herself and Shadow without any outside help. She sighed happily and curled onto the window seat, daydreaming about her new home.

She would have stayed there merrily dreaming away for the rest of the night had it not been for Shadow's demand to be fed. He'd come, meowing, into the room, making it quite plain that he didn't appreciate waiting. Bella sat up from the pillows and plucked him up into her arms.

"We have a new home, little man. We're going to Boston."

Shadow merely yawned and moved closer to her left shoulder, curving his large head into her neck. He could care less where they were going as long as she fed him on time.

Shadow was a Bengal and fairly large for his breed, weighing in at twenty-one pounds. Bella had adopted him from the local animal shelter when she'd first arrived in Forks. She'd named him Shadow because he was more or less her shadow when she'd brought him home that first day.

Heading downstairs into the kitchen, she filled his bowl with food and sat both he and it down next to the counter. As she watched him eat, she made a mental list of the things she would need to pack. The bank had been very generous, allowing her to keep her bedroom furniture along with some of the living room furnishings and most of her cooking utensils. The rest would be sold off along with the house.

Feeding Shadow reminded Bella that she had not yet eaten herself, so she heated some soup and continued to work on her list. After she was finished, she headed back to her room to get her cell phone. She would need to call Mrs. Cope and let her know she would be moving soon.

Several hours later, Bella crawled beneath her covers, having shared her happy news with a very excited Mrs. Cope. The older woman had squealed quite loudly over the phone when Bella had told her of her move to Boston. Mrs. Cope was a bit of a romantic who had never traveled outside the state of Washington. She'd found the whole idea of moving across country rather thrilling and had told Bella how much she envied her. Before they hung up, ahe had promised to help Bella pack and to watch over the sale of the house while she settled into her new home and job.

It took only two days for Bella and Mrs. Cope to pack up and load her meager belongings into the U-haul trailer she'd rented for the trip.

The night before her departure, she called to let Jasper know when she would arrive, and they'd also agreed she would call as she got closer in case of any delays.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny, completely out of the ordinary for her rainy hometown. Bella took it as an omen her decision to leave had been right, and as she climbed into her little Honda Civic, she could have sworn she both heard Charlie's gruff laughter and smelled his cologne in the air.

oOoOoOo

Alice Whitlock tottered down the stairs from the apartment she and Jasper shared on the third floor of the townhouse that housed both his practice and another smaller apartment in the basement. Though she was only six months pregnant, she was already finding it difficult to maneuver her changing body up and down the narrow flight of stairs each day. As a result, she had chosen to spend the last month working from home rather than walking to her small boutique three blocks away. Today, however, she'd decided to leave the apartment and make her way downstairs to the basement.

When Jasper had told her he'd hired Miss Swan, Alice had fairly jumped with joy. She'd grown rather stir crazy cooped up in their apartment and couldn't wait to have another female to talk to during the evening when Jasper had to work late. Not that Miss Swan was the only female that would be working at Whitlock & Masen, mind you. Both Edward and Jasper each had a nurse to assist them with their patients, but Alice refused to socialize with either of the two. Jessica and Lauren were both vapid blondes who paid more attention to snagging her brother, Edward, and the latest club craze than they did caring for their patients.

Alice just knew that she and Miss Swan would be great friends, and she wanted to welcome her friend by ensuring that her new home was in good repair and clean before she moved in. When she reached the second floor, Alice turned off toward Jasper's office. He had been working later hours each day, taking care of any emergencies with Edward's patients while he was out of town. The second floor was quiet and dark, but Jasper's office door was still open and a soft light illuminated the doorway and outer hallway.

"Still working, I see?"

Jasper glanced up from a file he was clearly engrossed with to see his wife standing in the doorway, an indulgent smile upon her face and a twinkle in her eye. Sitting back in his chair, he smiled sheepishly at her.

"How late is it?"

Alice chuckled. "Not too late. It's only just gone seven o'clock."

Jasper yawned and stretched in his seat. "Right. Time to shut things down for the night."

He closed the file he had been reviewing and got up to return it to the cabinet behind his desk. "What are you up to this evening, my dear wife?"

"Nothing much," Alice moved farther into the room, finding one of the leather chairs and settling she and her precious cargo into it.

"I just thought I'd give the apartment downstairs a good airing out before Miss Swan arrives."

Jasper frowned. "Are you sure you're up to that? I don't want you overdoing it."

Alice huffed in her seat. "Please tell me we're not going into this again. You know just as well as I do that a little exercise is good for both me and the baby."

"Yes," Jasper admitted. "A little exercise is good, but I don't want you to do any sort of heavy lifting. A little light dusting or maybe even some vacuuming perhaps, but I want you to let me do the heavy stuff."

Alice beamed in her seat. This was exactly why she had stopped in Jasper's office. Truth be told, she knew she wouldn't have been able to handle all the cleaning herself, but she also knew that Jasper would buck at the idea if she had asked him outright. This way, she'd made him think it was his own idea, and Miss Swan would indeed have a clean, cozy place in which to move her things.

"If you insist, Jasper. I was actually thinking of heading downstairs to get an idea of what needed to be done. Would you like to come with me?"

Jasper crossed the room over to his wife and leaned over to kiss her forehead. "Sure, just let me get things sorted away here first. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes. In the meantime, have you eaten yet?"

Alice shook her head. "Not yet. My stomach hasn't felt quite up to food today."

Jasper placed a gentle hand on her rounded belly. "We can talk to Dr. Banner about prescribing something for the nausea, you know."

"I know," she sighed and tilted her head back to rest against the chair, staring at the ceiling."But I'm just not comfortable with taking something like that. I know you said that it wouldn't harm the baby, but I don't want to take any chances."

"All right. We'll leave it for now, but if it gets any worse we will speak to Dr. Banner. You wouldn't be helping Junior any by not eating either."

Alice chuckled. "Junior? I thought we'd decided not to find out the sex of the baby just yet?"

"We haven't," Jasper protested. "But, after all, this kid is a Whitlock. It has to be a boy. It couldn't be anything else."

"Oh really?" Alice sat up to face her husband. "What makes you so certain?"

Jasper leaned forward to brush his lips lightly against hers. "I just know, that's all."

Placing a hand against Jasper's chest to nudge him out of the way, Alice stood from her chair and turned toward the door. "Well, Mr. I-Just-Know, how about we head downstairs and check things out?"

"I'm right behind you, darlin'."

oOoOoOo

Bella checked her copy of the Massachusetts state map she'd picked up at the welcome center earlier that evening again. By her calculations, she had about two hours left to drive. She glanced down at the blinking digital clock on her console. It was nine-thirty at night, and she was tired from nearly ten hours of driving. Besides that, it was far too late to expect anyone to let her into the apartment. Spotting a motel off to her left, she pulled off the highway and checked both herself and Shadow into a room. She could rest and get an early start the next day.

She'd been on the road for five days, and she couldn't wait to finally reach her new home. Though driving cross country had certainly been an adventure, she longed to sleep in her own bed again. Motel beds were a bit sketchy; you never knew quite what you were crawling into at night as you slipped under the starchy cotton sheets. A few times, Bella had almost chosen to sleep in her car because a room she'd rented had left her feeling uneasy. In the end, it had only served to make her drive faster and longer, stopping only when she was so exhausted she could barely see to drive. Then, she would collapse into bed without even a moment's thought of what lurked in her room.

Surprisingly, Shadow had proved to be a quiet traveling companion. He spent much of his time either curled around her shoulders or sitting on the back seat, bathing in the warm rays of sunlight filtering through the windows. Though he had not particularly enjoyed the jouncing and bouncing of the car or the small rest stops where Bella had stopped to feed him and allow him to do his business, he'd suffered through the entire trip with little complaint.

The next morning, Bella awoke early, showered, changed, and checked out of her room by eight o'clock. She stopped at a little diner to catch a quick breakfast and to call Jasper to let him know she would arrive in a few hours.

"Hello?"

"Hi? Jasper? It's Bella Swan."

"Yes, Bella. How are you?"

Bella smiled. "I'm great. In fact, I'm just calling to let you know that I should be there around eleven o'clock. Can you meet me then?"

"Actually, my wife, Alice, will be meeting you. I'm just on my way to check on a patient who was admitted last night. I hope that's all right?"

Bella could hear the stress in Jasper's voice. "That's fine. I can't wait to meet her."

"Great. She's really looking forward to meeting you as well, and I should be along later. Maybe we could take you out to dinner tonight after you've had a chance to get settled?"

"That sounds great, Jasper. I'll talk to you later."

"Later, Bella."

Finishing her breakfast, Bella quickly got back onto the highway and pointed her little car east. A few hours later, she caught her first glimpse of Boston's skyline from the Massachusetts Turnpike. She was finally in the home stretch. In a short while, she would be pulling into her new home and starting her new life. She should be excited, right?

On the contrary, Bella's heart began to race, and she broke out in a cold sweat. A tremor shot through her body as, for the first time since she'd climbed into her car, she realized just how much her life was about to change. Bella gripped the steering wheel stiffly, her knuckles white, and inhaled deeply.

Oh Dad, are you sure I can do this?

This was it. There was no turning back now. She was committed. If she failed, she would fail alone.

A car honked loudly behind Bella, startling her out of her moment of panic. Looking in her rear view she saw that quite a few cars were piled up behind her.

What in the world?

She looked around her, trying to see what could have caused the problem. Then, she saw it. A glimpse of her speedometer told her she'd been going thirty-five miles per hour in a fifty-five mile per hour zone. Her face heated with embarrassment, and she waved weakly to the other drivers in apology as she gave the little car some gas and sped on down the highway.

Bella sighed and thanked the highway gods that no one had known her. She'd have died of mortification if someone she knew had seen her in that state.

She glanced back to check on Shadow. She hadn't heard a peep out of him since they'd left the motel. In fact, he'd been napping in the back seat since they started out this morning. Now, he was perched in the rear window staring out as the world went by. Feeling her eyes on him, he looked up at her just then and meowed, as if to say, "Everything okay?"

Mentally berating herself, Bella tucked an errant curl behind her ear. She could do this. She was twenty-three years old, no longer a child. It was time to put on her big girl panties. She squared her shoulders and turned her attention back to driving. It certainly wouldn't help if she wrecked before she made it there. Checking her map again, she turned off the highway and headed into the heart of the city.

The practice was on the west end of Boston in an older neighborhood. Jasper had sent a few pictures to her cell phone, so she knew it was in one of those beautiful, old Victorian brownstones. He had also explained that he and his wife lived in an apartment on the third floor of the townhouse, so Bella would not really be by herself. The knowledge comforted her because she had been a little nervous at the prospect of being alone at night in a strange city. Although she did not know Jasper or Alice, she still felt safer knowing they would be there.

Driving through downtown Boston was beyond frustrating. Bella had cursed repeatedly because she'd gotten lost twice. She'd always hated one way streets and hoped the sadistic ass who'd come up with the idea was burning quite cheerfully in hell. She wished it even more so for the person who had designed the streets of downtown Boston. Most one way streets were set up in a logical pattern with streets alternating. Whoever had designed these must have been on psychotropic drugs, because if there were a pattern, it was completely lost on Bella. Not to mention, who decided it would be fun to leave out street signs?

Bella nearly cried with relief when she found and turned onto Orchard Street, catching her first glimpse of her new home. It was the second townhouse on the right with brown and cream colored brick. Someone had placed two large clay pots of bright yellow mums on either side of the townhouse's heavy wooden doors, and there was some sort of climbing ivy growing up the side of the house. Flower beds, filled with late summer foliage, skirted the outside of the building and even the front steps. All in all, the general effect was welcoming and very cheerful, and the last of Bella's fears quietly melted away.

There were no cars parked in the driveway as Bella pulled into it, but the stone pathway continued on behind the building. Perhaps there was a garage where Jasper and Alice normally parked. She chose to park near the front door in the interim. She would need easy access as they moved her things to the apartment, and she could always move it later.

Just as she cut her engine and opened her door, the front door of the brownstone flew open, and a petite, very pregnant young woman came waddling down the front steps. She was pixyish with black hair cut into a stylish bob. She wore a light blue summer dress and was currently carrying a rather large vase of flowers in her hands. Bella immediately ran forward to help, afraid that she might trip or fall in her haste.

"Here, let me help you with that."

She stopped the woman at the bottom of the steps and reached to take the vase from her.

The woman smiled warmly, and Bella was surprised to find that her eyes were a startling shade of violet.

"Thanks. I was so afraid I wouldn't hear you when you arrived. I'm Alice, by the way." She offered a tiny hand, and Bella struggled to balance the vase in one hand and accept it in another.

"I'm Bella. Jasper said you would be meeting me."

"Yes, he had an emergency with one of my brother's patients and had to run to the hospital."

"Your brother?"

"Yes, Jasper and my brother, Edward, are partners in the practice together."

Bella nodded. "Right. I'd almost forgotten. I've only ever spoken with Jasper."

Alice frowned. "Really? Edward didn't speak with you at all?"

"No," Bella shook her head. "I sent in an application, and a few weeks later, Jasper called to let me know that I was hired."

Alice rubbed her rounded belly and sighed. "I cannot believe he did it again."

"Did what again?"

Bella walked over to the car and sat the vase on top of the hood. Alice continued to frown and seemed on the verge of saying something. But whatever it was she must have chosen to keep it to herself because when she saw Bella watching her, her face immediately brightened.

"Nothing important," she offered instead. "How about I show you the apartment? We can do a quick walk through before we start moving your things."

Bella eyed Alice's growing belly with concern. "I'd love to see the apartment, but you don't have to worry about helping me move anything. I can handle it by myself just fine."

"Nonsense," Alice clucked. "We'll do the walk through first. I'll take you on a tour of the townhouse. We'll have some tea." She turned and gestured for Bella to follow her and then glancing back over her shoulder, winked. "By then, Jasper will be home, and he can do the heavy lifting."

A smiled bloomed, bright and beautiful, across Bella's heart-shaped face, and Alice couldn't help but smile in return. Their smiles quickly turned into giggles, and both women breathed a soundless sigh of relief. Alice mentally congratulated Jasper on his decision to hire this woman. Already, she could see that Bella would be a very special part of their lives.

"Come on." She looped an arm around one of Bella's and pulled her on down the path. "I'm dying to know what you think."

"Actually," Bella stopped her. "Hold on a few minutes. I brought my cat, Shadow, with me, and I really need to get him out of the car and set his litter box up in the apartment. He's been pretty patient with the traveling so far, but I don't think he'd like sitting in the car any longer."

"Oh, no problem. You can get him set up while I show you around."

Bella quickly jogged back to her car, coaxed Shadow into his carrier, pulled out his litter box and a few supplies from the trunk and turned back to an admiring Alice.

"He's beautiful. How long have you had him?"

"About a year. My dad and I adopted him from one of the local animal shelters. He thought having a pet around would help since he was always working."

"That's sweet. What does your dad think of you moving all the way out here for work?"

Bella's face froze. "Actually, he passed away about six months ago."

Alice's face went white. "Oh, Bella, I'm so sorry. I didn't know. Jasper didn't mention it."

Bella shrugged. "It's okay. Jasper doesn't know either. I haven't really been able to talk about it."

Seeing the still fresh pain etched in her new friend's face, Alice impulsively gathered the young woman into a hug.

"That's perfectly fine. You don't have to explain anything to me. But, if you ever need to talk, please don't hesitate to find me. I'm really a very good listener despite what you might hear."

After that, the subject was closed, and Alice led Bella and Shadow behind the building to a small courtyard. Off to the left was a three car garage along with a few marked spaces. She pointed them out as they walked.

"Not many people in Boston drive, but we do keep a few spaces in the event they are needed."

"No one drives?" Bella stared at her new friend curiously.

Alice shrugged. "You've driven through the city. What was your take on it?"

Bella blinked. "Umm…."

The pixie smirked. "How many times did you get lost?"

"Twice." Bella ducked her head, blushing.

"Figured."

oOoOoOo

Bella was delighted to find that though the apartment was in the basement of the town home, it was surprisingly bright and open. Floor to ceiling windows flanked the small wooden door that opened out into the courtyard in the back, allowing plenty of sunshine to seep into the cozy space. Inside, a small bar separated the galley style kitchen from the living room. The floors were hardwood, and the walls were painted plain white.

"I know it seems a bit bland at the moment, but I thought you might want to decorate it yourself."

Bella turned to find Alice right behind her. "Actually, this is perfect. I'm not much of a decorator anyway."

"Oh!" Alice came to stand beside Bella. "Well, if you like, I would love to help. I decorated both the offices and my apartment upstairs. I could show you some paint samples and stuff."

Bella grinned. "That's very generous of you."

"Pssh…it's no problem. I love doing that sort of thing. I have a friend, Rose, who owns a decorating firm a few blocks from here. Maybe after you get settled, we could all have lunch?"

Bella's eyes widened at the mention of a decorating firm. That sounded expensive and, with the move, she had very little savings left. "Actually, Alice, I was thinking that I'd do most of the work myself. I'm a hands-on kind of girl."

Alice noticed the sudden panic in her new friend's eyes. At first, she couldn't understand, but then a light bulb went off inside her head. Bella had told Jasper she couldn't afford to fly, not to mention she had just spared the expense to transfer her furniture and car across the country. Of course, she wouldn't be able to afford a decorator for the apartment.

"Of course, I'm a hands-on kind of girl too. I just like to pick Rose's brain every now and then for good ideas. Plus, she knows all the best vintage décor shops in Boston."

Alice smiled as she watched Bella immediately relax. "In fact, after I show you around down here, let's head upstairs. I want to show you my prized possession. It's a genuine Tiffany lamp I found in an old antique shop downtown. I got it for only ten bucks. The old lady who sold it to me thought it was just a dusty old lamp."

Bella chuckled. "Really? Ten dollars. That's a steal."

Alice winked. "And, that's not all I've found over the past few years. Come on. Let's finish up down here."

Bella sat Shadow's carrier down next to the bar and released the catch on the metal door. The cat instantly sprang out and began exploring his new surroundings.

Aside from the galley kitchen and open sitting area, there were two bedrooms and a small bath. The master bedroom, or the larger of the two bedrooms, was at the end of the hall with the bathroom immediately across from it. Bella set up Shadow's litter box in there temporarily until she found a more permanent home. In the meantime, he should have no problems finding it. The other, smaller bedroom was just across from the living room. Bella thought this would make a perfect space for a home office. Already, she could picture her desk and bookshelves lining the walls.

Alice also showed her a small linen closet and an even smaller closet that housed the water heater and circuit breaker panel for the apartment. Everything seemed in good shape, though Bella made a mental note to check back over the panel box later and make sure that everything was marked properly. Charlie had taught his daughter well.

It was on their way back out the front door that Alice stopped, squealed, and pulled Bella toward the kitchen.

"Oh, I almost forgot. How stupid of me!"

Just on the other end of the kitchen was another door. Alice opened it and motioned for Bella to follow her. Inside were a stacked washer and dryer along with a small counter for folding clothes.

"I almost forgot to tell you that the apartment comes with a washer and dryer. I don't think Jasper mentioned it when you talked about the apartment initially. You don't already have a set do you? If you do, that's okay. We can always move this into storage."

"No," Bella stepped over to admire the shiny, new appliances. "I don't have a set. I was thinking I'd have to find a good used pair, but these are great."

"Good." Alice smiled, glad that she had thought to have Jasper purchase the new appliances. Just watching the way Bella's eyes lit up made her wish that they could have done more. She would have to talk to Jasper privately later about a housewarming gift, perhaps a gift certificate to one of the local department stores. Yes, that was exactly what they would do.

Back outside, Alice also pointed out the flower garden and a small vegetable garden she had started.

"I don't know why. Call it pregnancy hormones but, earlier this year, I got this wild idea that I could make baby food from scratch. I wanted everything to be completely organic. So, I made poor Jasper come out here and plant a few things. It was a stupid idea in the end because I'm not really that great a cook, and Jasper doesn't have the time. We've been giving away most of the vegetables to the neighbors all summer. In fact, if there's anything you'd like, feel free to help yourself."

"Thanks. I think I will."

They wound back around the stone pathway to the front of the house, Alice wobbling along beside Bella, occasionally waving to neighbors as they walked by or called out to her.

"Do you think your cat will be okay by himself for a while?

"Sure, he's used to having the run of the place. He'll probably just a find a nice quiet corner and nap for a while."

They walked up the stone steps and into the second floor of the townhome, the heavy wooden door swinging closed behind them with a soft thud. Inside was a small sitting area with a few chairs and a coffee table covered in magazines. A large wooden desk complete with phone, computer, and chair sat off to the side of the sitting room flanking a large metal door.

"This is where you'll be working most days. When Jasper gets here, he can show you around down here. Most days, you'll be pretty busy. The phone rings practically off the hook at times."

Bella walked over and glanced over the desk. At the moment, it was covered in paperwork and post-it notes.

"Sorry about the mess." Alice gestured to the papers apologetically. "Jasper and Edward have been without a receptionist for a while now, and I'm afraid things have gotten a little out of hand despite getting a temp last week."

Bella grinned. "It's fine. It shouldn't take me very long to straighten things out. As soon as I know where everything goes, I'll make sure to come in early one morning and get this cleaned up."

Alice sighed. "I'm so happy Jasper hired you. You're just what they needed."

The other woman blushed. "Thanks."

oOoOoOo

When Jasper came home hours later, he found the two women laughing and talking in the living room of his and Alice's apartment. He stopped in the doorway and studied his new employee. She was certainly young, younger than both he and Alice. He mentally went over her resume, trying to remember exactly how old she was. Ah, yes. Her birth date on her application would put her in her early twenties, about eight years younger than himself and five years younger than Alice.

He listened as she laughed, at some no doubt outrageous story Alice was sharing, and he couldn't help but smile. Her laugh was beautiful, musical even. In fact, Jasper couldn't help but notice that Bella was beautiful. She was a little taller than Alice, maybe around 5'5". Her hair, pulled back in a loose pony tail, was long, curly, and the color of melted chocolate. Her eyes, an equally pleasant shade of coffee, were very expressive and fringed by long dark lashes, and her cheekbones were a delicate rose highlighted by creamy, pale skin. She wore jeans and a simple cotton blouse in cobalt blue, but the color complimented her well.

Last but not least, what held Jasper's attention more so was that Bella was not the typical stick thin, model variety he and Edward saw frequently both in their practice and around the city. She was voluptuous with curves in all the right places.

Thinking briefly back to the idea he had shared with his wife after hiring Bella, his smile grew wider. Yes, this could work out very well indeed. The best part was that Edward would have no idea it was coming. Hell, if he weren't a happily married man, he might just keep her for himself.

Jasper chuckled quietly to himself. Yes, indeed, this would work out perfectly.

Clearing his throat, he stepped into the living room, setting his briefcase down in the doorway.

"Well, is anyone hungry?"

The two women immediately stopped talking and turned to face him. Alice grinned and scrambled from her perch on the couch to greet her husband. She kissed his cheek and gave him a quick hug.

"Hey, how was your day? I didn't hear the door. Have you been here long?"

Jasper leaned down and placed a soft kiss on his wife's forehead, his hand reaching down to rub the place where she carried their child. "It was fine, and I haven't been here long. I was just standing there admiring how well the two of you are getting along already."

"Speaking of which, come meet our new neighbor."

Alice grinned and pulled her husband over to the couch. "Bella, this is Jasper."

Bella stood up from her seat and offered him her hand. Jasper took it and brushed a soft kiss across her knuckles. "It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am."

Her blush was instantaneous. Bella could literally feel the heat radiating from her cheeks. Jasper was gorgeous. There was no other word to describe him. He was that perfect mixture of business chic and casual California surfer, from the flawless gray business suit he wore to his sapphire eyes and short messy sun streaked blond hair. And then, there was his voice. It was like warm, melted caramel. She could definitely see why Alice was married to him. Of course, Alice was beautiful as well, and the two of them together were stunning, but he was breathtaking.

Alice giggled from her stance next to Jasper. "Jasper, I think you've rendered the poor girl speechless."

"Huh?" Bella surfaced from her thoughts to turn and look at Alice and then at Jasper. "No, I'm…f…fine. I…that is…it's nice to meet you too," she stuttered bashfully. She released Jasper's hand, realizing she'd been standing there for God knows how long just staring and drooling. If possible, her cheeks flushed even more.

"Oh, Bella, don't feel bad. You should see his female patients."

Jasper frowned. "My mother raised me to be a true Southern gentleman. And, it's not as if a patient fainting now and then is out of the ordinary. I am a doctor, after all. We do run into this sort of thing."

Though his tone and expression were serious, Bella could clearly see the mischief in his twinkling blue eyes.

Alice punched his shoulder lightly. "Oh you! Southern gentleman my ass! You enjoy every minute of it."

The three of them broke out in a good laugh and then settled into their respective seats: Bella in a cozy arm chair and Alice in the overstuffed loveseat where Jasper joined her. He settled himself back into the cushions, draping a casual arm around his wife.

"So, how was your trip?"

Bella nervously fidgeted in her seat. "It was good. It was actually the first road trip I've ever taken."

"Did you have time to see any sights?"

"Not really. I wanted to get here and get settled as soon as I could. I'd drive all day, get a hotel, and then get up the next day and do the same thing all over again."

Jasper nodded. "Yeah, I've never been much for road trips myself. I much prefer getting there and then having a good time."

"Well," Alice stood, "I don't know about everyone else, but I say it's time to eat. How does Indian sound?"

Bella stood as well. "That sounds great. Do you need help with anything?"

Alice grinned. "No, I was just going to call for take-out. What would you like?"

"Chicken Vindaloo, please."

"Got it."

oOoOoOo

After dinner was finished and Jasper helped her move her few things into the apartment, Bella lay in her bed, just listening to the noises of her new surroundings. The sound of children playing drifted in through her open bedroom window. They were laughing and talking, obviously playing a game. In the background, she heard their mother calling them in for the night. Farther out, she could hear cars on the street and people talking as they walked by.

Burying her face in her pillow, she inhaled the scent of clean sheets and thought back over her dinner with Alice and Jasper. They were so sweet and welcoming. Alice had insisted that Bella join them for breakfast on Sunday as well as offered to help her unpack while Jasper caught up on paperwork.

Bella also thought about her father. She missed him so much. On lazy Saturday nights like this, she would have been curled on the couch, reading, while her dad watched the Mariners on TV. Rolling over, she stared at the ceiling. Tonight, she had opted to go to bed early, the excitement of the day finally catching up with her, but though her body was tired, her brain continued to work furiously.

If her dad were here, he would say, "Bells, even machines have to rest. Shut off the old computer for a while. Everything will be there when you wake up."

One lone tear escaped as she closed her eyes and pictured her father in his uniform, standing in her doorway before he'd leave for his shift at the precinct. Each time she tried to remember, the picture faded more and more. It was the same when she tried to remember her mother. It frightened her because she never wanted to forget either of them. No matter where she was or who she was with, they would always be a part of her life, a part of her.

Shadow meowed sorrowfully from the doorway, and she sat up. "What's the matter?"

At the sound of her voice, he quickly jumped up onto the bed and walked over to rub his long, lean body against her side. Bella scratched his head and laid back down to snuggle into her covers. He settled down beside her, curling into her side.

She sighed. "Yeah, you're not the only one, buddy."


AN: So, here's the first chapter. I can't believe how hard it was just to begin writing, but then once I found my flow it seemed to come pretty quickly. The only problem I encountered was my obsessive need to try to make everything perfect. I want to thank the wonderful people at Project Team Beta for your guidance and help. You are all so awesome. I especially want to thank my betas for this chapter: StoryPainter and shouvley. Your suggestions were just what I needed. Now, I leave it up to you, the reader. Let me know what you think.

Also, as I've mentioned in a note on my FFN page, I am a slow writer. I cannot commit to a posting schedule because I want each new chapter to receive the love and care it deserves. If you have any questions, feel free to PM here on FFN. I will also post my progress with each new chapter on my twitter account.