It wasn't until they arrived back in New York that Edward began to sense something was really off. He first became aware of it at the church, an overwhelming sense of wrongness enveloped him, but then he had blamed it on the somber events that led them there. It was quickly was shoved to the back corner of his mind when he had to give his short Eulogy, where it stayed until they landed back home.
Bella was nervous and jumpy when she didn't think he was looking and when she did notice, her mask would slip firmly into place, a tight lipped smile that never quite reached her eyes.
Her sleep was restless even after making love for hours. She tossed, turned and mumbled incoherently on the one night she did stay with him and when he brought it up the next morning, she had made up a lame excuse why she couldn't spend the night after that.
It was now Friday night. He had wanted to take her to a new French Bistro that had recently opened in the neighborhood and was already getting five star reviews. Bella, however, had insisted on staying in as she had for the past couple of nights. Not that he minded having her all to himself, but he couldn't help thinking there was some other, less obvious reason behind her sudden desire to be so private. It was almost like she was secluding herself.
Could she be concerned over the exposure of his real identity? The paparazzi had been fierce at first. New information kept coming out every day. Just this morning, a story broke on Bella and their past relationship, his stepfather and what he did to her.
Damn it. He felt so disgusted with himself. Of course, she was nervous and didn't want to go out. Why risk some overzealous reporter snapping her picture and firing questions at her every two seconds.
"I'm sorry," he whispered to her.
Her eyes snapped to his, startled, as her hand stilled with her wine glass part way to her mouth, trembling so badly, she had to put it back down on the table. "Why?"
"I hate knowing that it was my past that brought yours into the headlines again. That's why you've been acting so jumpy lately, why you can't sleep at night, why you startle when the phone rings, why you're constantly looking over your shoulder. And before you try to deny it, I've noticed. I notice everything about you."
"There is something else," she said, a look of guilt passing over her features. "Something I was waiting for the right time to tell you but there doesn't seem to be one and I'm afraid time is running out."
"What do you mean 'time is running out'?"
She twisted the cloth napkin brutally in her hands. "I had a visitor at your mother's funeral."
Feeling his body tense at what she just said, his hands tightened clenched into fists under the table. He had to remind himself to remain calm, to not lash out, to wait for an explanation. But damn it, they had promised each other honesty and she withheld it from him.
"You have to understand why I didn't tell you before now, first." The words rushed out of her mouth as if she could read his mind. "You just buried your mother after finally reconciling with her after all these years. You've been in the press constantly. That's a lot to deal with already. I didn't want to add to it."
"Bella, please, in about two seconds I'm going to lose it."
"When I was in the bathroom at the church, Emily came to see me."
His brows drew together in confusion. "Who the hell is Emily?"
"I'm not sure if you remember or not but she's um...Sam's fiance'." Bella braced herself for the explosion she was sure to come and she was disappointed. She knew she was wrong in keeping this from him even if her motives were altruistic.
"Damnit, Bella!" His clenched fist slammed down on the table causing the plates to clank and the wine glasses to spill over. Bella immediately jumped up to and began to blot at the wine that was spreading over the table cloth. "Stop it," he demanded, taking hold of her wrist and immediately let it go, afraid of his own anger. "The mess can be dealt with later. Now sit down and tell me what you mean."
Bella cautiously sat and buried her head shamefully in her hands. As the explanation began to flow from her lips, he felt like he was being strangled by every word. Unable to stay still any longer, he got up and began pacing, his teeth grinding together with barely leashed rage.
He was angry at her, not solely for her dishonesty, although that was certainly part of it. If what she was saying was true, she could've so easily been taken from him without any warning. Like always, she didn't think of her own safety but of him, of his state of mind. He loved her for it but hated it at the same time.
Never before had he felt so terrified. It was a living, breathing entity within him. His mind conjured up all sorts of what if scenarios, it made his heart constrict and his breathing labored. He could even hear his own desperate heartbeat pounding in his ears.
"Edward, say something."
He hadn't even realized the room went quiet, that she had stopped speaking. Slowly, he turned his gaze to focus on her. Judging by her horrified expression, he could only imagine how he looked. Not trusting his own voice, he stalked to the bar in search of something harsher than wine.
The burn of the Scotch down his throat felt good. It helped him get his equilibrium back so he could do what was necessary. He pulled his phone from his pocket and pressed the number for his security company.
"Who are you calling?"
Ignoring her, he spoke briskly into the phone issuing orders for security on both him and Bella, twenty four-seven. It's what he should've done from the start. He didn't care now if he was being authoritarian. He didn't care if Bella didn't want the intrusion of a bodyguard. He had to do this.
"Don't ask me to call them off this time. I won't."
"Fine...okay. I won't."
"Good." He gave a decisive nod. "While we're at it, we're going back to your apartment, packing up your things and you're moving in here with me."
"Whatever you think is best. I won't fight you on it."
"I'm serious, Bella, don't argue."
"I said, I agree," She soothed her hand down his arm and looked up at him with those soulful brown eyes of hers. "I'm not going to fight you, Edward."
He set his drink down, completely stunned. He had expected another argument, had already built a defense in his mind but her quiet statement of acquiescence gutted him. He knew what that meant. She was terrified; something she usually didn't allow to show. She was showing it now.
Pulling her closer, he wrapped her in his arms let out a breath against her hair. Despite the circumstances, he felt an inner surge of satisfaction. This wasn't the ideal circumstances to get her to move in with him, with desperate fear as a motivation but he would take what he could get. He wasn't going to complain.
"Let's go then."
As they headed down to the parking garage, Edward felt his own fear increase. Now he knew why Bella had been so jumpy and nervous. Every shadow held a threat, every noise felt malicious. He bypassed his Maserati and went straight for his black Escalade. Bigger meant safer. Besides, his mind rationalized, it had more room for Bella's things.
"Do you believe them?" he asked as he drove them downtown towards her apartment.
Bella took a moment to really think about her answer. Did she? She didn't know what or who to believe anymore. They had sounded sincere but then again, Sam was a politician, he was good at acting. Yet, would he throw his own father under the bus like that?
"I think I do," she told him after a moment of unsure hesitation.
He didn't say anything in response, just nodded grimly as he accelerated the car onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, his eyes constantly darting from the front to the rearview mirror.
"You weren't there," she went on to explain to him and maybe to herself. "They were both so adamant and I know Joshua. He would do anything for power, including making a puppet of his son."
"And commit murder," he added in a solemn tone.
She crossed her arms over her chest, feeling a chill worm its way up her spine. "And commit murder."
"Are you going to do what he wants? Come out and tell your story?"
"I don't know. It makes sense. It's smart if he can be believed. This doesn't only affect me, though. It would affect you too."
"Take me out of the equation. Would you do it?"
"I don't know," she said with a groan of frustration. "I can't not think about you in this. You're as much a part of this as I am."
"Then let's talk pros and cons. Come at this from a logical angle. We're both being too emotional and that can cause mistakes."
"Well, I already know the pros. I deflect Joshua, ruin his plans if he has any. It would also relieve me of this secret I've been keeping for years."
"Good," he agreed. "Now the cons."
"Sam could be lying and I would've come forward for nothing just so Sam can live his life. I'd look like a fool. Or like a gold digger if anyone told about the money I accepted in exchange for keeping quiet. Either way, I would lose my integrity."
"Can I tell you what I think?"
"I think Sam is a bullshit artist and he is conning you."
"If you don't think I'm in danger, why call in security, have me move in with you?"
"I never said I didn't think you weren't in danger. I think he's attempting to make you feel secure by making it seem like you and he have a common cause, mainly taking power from his father. He wants you to let your guard down and trust him."
"To what end?"
"I'm not sure," he said thoughtfully, scratching his jaw, his eyes never leaving the road as he worked it out in his head. "Maybe Joshua isn't the one we have to watch out for. Maybe it's Sam. Maybe he just wants you to believe it's his father so if something does happen, Joshua is implicated and Sam gets to walk away, no one being the wiser."
"That doesn't make sense. Why ask me to come forward at all then? He'd be better served just to keep it all buried."
"It could be a trick." The more he thought about it, the more it felt right. Sam may have issues with his father but he was just as thirsty for power. Get the old man out of the way and he has no obstructions. "Sam can't ever really be sure you won't decide to expose him, no matter what you say to the contrary. He wants a guarantee. You said so yourself that Emily wanted you to contact her on an untraceable phone if you agreed to it and they supposedly already had a reporter in mind to give an interview."
He glanced over at her. He could see it so clearly now in his head. They forced her hand. Bella would make the call. A meeting would be set up so they would know exactly where she would be and at what time. Only there would be no reporter to meet with her. It would be a well-orchestrated hit. She go to the interview and would never return.
"Everything is on their terms, don't you see, Bella?" His voice rose in panic, his limbs trembling. "There is no God damn interview. It's a set up that they would arrange. This way they could control your actions, know your whereabouts, your schedule."
No! He slammed his hand down on the steering wheel, his heat beating laboriously in his chest from fear. It wasn't going to happen. He didn't fight this hard, battle his own demons to get her back only to lose her again, this time more permanently.
Could Edward be right? Could it all be a complicated setup? Was Sam that smart or was he really telling the truth? Bella rubbed her fingers against her temples. She was getting a headache. This was too much and she was getting confused.
"Please, I can't think about this right now. My head is spinning."
"Fine," he said through gritted teeth. "But first thing tomorrow morning, we're coming up with our own plan."
Bella dreaded walking into her apartment. She knew Alice wasn't going to take to this new turn of events too well. She had warmed to Edward somewhat but the thing about Alice was, she was extremely loyal and didn't forgive and forget so easily. She had been first hand-witness to Bella's wallowing over Edward that had eventually driven her into Sam's arms and something like that wasn't easy to let go of for Alice.
She was right. Alice stalked after Bella into her room and shut the door after she made the announcement. She stared at her, arms crossed, tapping her foot against the floor.
"Are you sure about this Bella?" she asked giving up on her mini-tantrum and helped a struggling Bella pull her suitcase out of her closet and toss it onto the bed. "It's only been two months since you reunited. This all seems a bit sudden."
Bella sighed, taking whole handfuls of lingerie and sweaters from her drawers and shoved them in the suitcase quickly while Ali grabbed fistfuls of hangers from the closet. The sad part was Bella wasn't sure but then there was the alternative and that was inconceivable.
"Staying here would only put you in danger and that is the last thing I want."
"Sam could be lying about you being in danger from his father. Shit, Bella, he could be lying about everything."
"He could be." She thought about what Edward said in the car with a frown. "But even if he was, I'm not going to take the chance. Not with your life."
Alice stopped her flurry of movements, fixing her with a sad stare. "Why do I feel like I'm never going to see you again?"
"Don't be so melodramatic." Bella rolled her eyes and tried softening her friend with humor. "I'm only going uptown. It's not like we won't ever hang out, grab margaritas and flirt with the waiters as El Rio Grande."
"You're right. Of course you're right." Alice made a failed attempt at a convincing smile. "Will you be coming back, you know, when this is all over? I can't imagine Edward letting you leave once he has you there."
Would she? She didn't know. It was doubtful Edward would let her. It was doubtful she would want to.
"Letting me has nothing to do with it. If I choose to stay that will be my decision." She gave a noncommittal shrug. "I guess we'll have to see. Besides," Bella said with a smile, "you've survived without a roommate before and now you can entertain Jazz without worrying if I am going to catch you two en flagrante delicto."
"Like that's something you haven't seen before."
"Don't remind me. My eyes are still burning."
Driving back to his apartment with all of her necessary belongings taking up space in back of the SUV, the enormity of what they were committing to, at least for the moment, finally hit her. She was moving in with Edward. Normally, it would be a cause for celebration, a natural step forward in their relationship. There was nothing natural about this. They were being forced into it. He was being forced into it. It wasn't fair.
Life's not fair kiddo. You just have to roll with whatever life dishes out and make the best of it.
It was her father's voice in her head. She remembered the conversation well. He had just told her the treatments weren't working. She'd been devastated but as usual, Charlie had some oversimplified advice that seemed to make everything hurt a little less.
Oh, Daddy, I miss you. I wish you were here to tell me what to do.
Trust your instincts, Bells. They'll never steer you wrong.
Except she didn't trust her instincts anymore. They'd failed her so miserably in the past and she lost part of herself because of it. Now, Edward was in this mess with her, because of her stupid mistakes.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, turning to stare out the window, watching the city lights blur by.
"What the hell for?" Edward glanced over at her in surprise.
"If I hadn't walked into the restaurant that night, your life would be a lot less complicated. None of this would have happened."
"Baby, you forget, I was the one that went looking for you." He grabbed her hand and skated his lips over her knuckles. "I can deal with complications. What I can't deal with is a life without you in it."
She tore her gaze from the city landscape to look at him, needing to see the sincerity in his expression that she heard in his voice. She barely had time to register the bright glare of lights hurdling towards them through Edward's side window right before, with the sickening crunch of metal on metal and a scream dying in her throat, everything went black.