A blaring sound invaded her ears. Had Edward set the alarm clock? It was too early to wake up. When she tried to turn over and reach to shut off the alarm, a jabbing pain seared though her head. A unbidden moan escaped her lips. What the hell was going on? Why did her whole body hurt and her face and neck burn?
"Bella! Bella!" A hand cupped her chin, tilting her head back. "Can you hear me? Come on, open those browns for me."
With a groan, she tried to pry her eyes open but nothing would focus. Everything around her was a morph of blurs and twists of shapes and white…lots of white. She blinked a few times to clear her vision and Edward's worried, bloodied face hovering over hers was the first thing she saw clearly.
"You're bleeding." She reached up to touch him but her wrist was throbbing. She hissed and dropped her arm.
Edward wiped at the blood oozing from his nose, with the back of his hand. "So are you."
Before she could respond, the car door on Edward's side was being yanked open and an EMT stuck his head inside asking if they were okay. In a matter of minutes, they were pulled from the vehicle.
Only a small crowd of curious onlookers circled around the Escalade and the emergency vehicles surrounding it. Car horns blared in the distance, too far away to see the accident that caused the traffic standstill.
Darting his eyes around him, Edward searched for the vehicle that crashed into them and it was suspiciously absent from the scene. He let out a stream of curses as he was placed on the gurney. In light of recent revelations, he couldn't afford to think that it the accident wasn't planned. Were they being watched? A shiver went through him at the idea. He immediately sought out Bella.
"She goes with me," he demanded when he noticed the EMT's were putting her in a separate ambulance. She still looked disoriented and in pain, barely awake but she was breathing. He had to hold on to that. An oxygen mask was over her face and a brace was around her neck holding it stable. He wasn't about to let her out of his sight for a second.
"Sir, there's no room and you need your own."
He could give a rat's ass about himself but as much as he needed Bella with him, he didn't want to compromise her care either.
"Where's the other car?" He bit out, needing the confirmation for his fears.
The EMT shook his head. "There wasn't one. Looks like a hit and run. The police are here. They'll ask the witnesses. We're just concerned about you and the lady right now."
They had been very lucky or at least that is what the ER doctors at Lenox Hill Hospital had told them after they were examined, tested and released hours later with treatment instructions. Most of their injuries were largely superficial; bruises, sprains, whiplash and surface chemical burns from the wall of airbags that deployed in the Escalade at the moment of impact. Bella suffered a mild concussion. Completely unprepared, she had no time to brace herself; her whole upper body was jarred in the collision.
She and Edward had briefly spoken with the police officers that had been on scene at the accident. They were told witnesses could only describe the car that hit them as a black Ford Explorer with tinted windows that had clearly ran a red light. It had glanced off the side of Edward's car and as it accelerated forward, the side of it collided with them again right before it raced off. The police had a BOLO out on the car but the officers weren't exactly optimistic since the vehicle was so common and they didn't have a plate number to go by.
Bella had her suspicions of exactly who was responsible. It was playing out exactly as Sam and Emily said it would. Maybe this time they were lucky, next time maybe, not so much. Yet, it was nothing she could report or claim without concrete proof. All she had was third party hearsay from an ex-boyfriend. It was hardly a smoking gun.
"Our enhanced security should be here soon," Edward said as he guided Bella into his penthouse and seated her on the couch. She looked exhausted and drained and although the car hit them on his side, she seemed to have fared slightly worse. "How do you feel? Are you nauseous? Lightheaded? Dizzy? We have to take you back if you are so you need to tell me if that happens." He paused and took a deep breath, the need to be useful when he felt so powerless affected him deeply. "Do you need me to get you anything? Water?"
"Edward, stop," Bella said rubbing her temples with her fingers. He was making her head pound more than it already was. His worrying was incessant. "Sit down and stop worrying about me. You were in the accident too."
"You can't ask me to stop worrying about you." He sat next to her and pulled her to his chest, his heart still thumping wildly. "Those few moments when you were unconscious were perhaps the most terrifying moments of my life. I need to be here for you, to take care of you for me as much as it is for you. I wasn't there for you before when you needed me most. I can damn well be here now. You have to let me."
She sighed into him. His words as demanding as they were, implored, asked permission for a chance at redemption. It was unnecessary in her eyes but necessary in his.
"I don't resent you for it."
"I know you don't." He gave her a careful kiss on the top of her head. She knew him so well, knew exactly what drove him even when he wasn't so sure himself. "But it's something I resent within myself."
"No, Emmett, you do not have to come up here. I told you I'm fine." Bella rolled her eyes for the fifth time in fifteen minutes since her brother called right after hearing about the accident from Alice. He went from asking her if she was okay to interrogating her about the crash, berating all New York City drivers. Now he was looking on line for the cheapest flights from Florida to New York.
"C'mon Bells, everyone knows 'I'm fine' is women code for things are definitely not fine."
"Who told you that? Rose?"
"Experience. Look, I just want to see for myself that you're okay."
"I can take a picture and send it to you."
"Knowing you, you'll Photoshop it or some shit."
He knew her too well. Between the bruises, swelling and the burns from the airbags,she looked awful and she knew it. If he caught a glimpse of how she really looked, he'd hop on the next plane out.
"Take my word for it then. If I weren't fine, don't you think I'd still be in the hospital?"
"They miss things all the time, you know. I watch television."
"Personal injury attorney commercials don't count, Emmett. Their sole purpose is to scare the shit out of you so you think you can make money off a claim."
"I guess you would know, being in advertising and all. You're sure you don't need me?" he grumbled. Good. She was able to talk him down. The last thing she needed was for him to find out about what was really going on. Not only did she want him where he couldn't get hurt but he would literally lose it.
"I promise. Edward's taking good care of me."
"Yeah," he snorted. "Like that's a vote of confidence. I seem to recall him being a reckless driver as a kid. Maybe he's the real reason you crashed and you don't want to tell me."
"No!" she denied. "he's different now, Em," she added in a quieter voice.
"I bet. It's amazing what being a millionaire can do for your image. You can cover up all sorts of tracks."
It was billionaire but she wasn't about to correct him. "That's not fair and you know it. Can't you give him a second chance? If I was able to, you should be able to do it too."
"Let me speak to him then," Emmett's voice took on the same firm tone their Dad would have. "I want to see for myself if he's really changed."
"Oh, I don't know if that's a good idea right now, Em." She clutched the phone tighter to her ear.
Before she could say more, Edward tapped her on her shoulder. She whirled around, her eyes narrowed. How long had he been listening to her conversation?
He held his hand out, beckoning for the phone. She gave an emphatic shake of her head and immediately regretted it for the pain it produced.
"Please," he whispered.
"Fine," she huffed then turn her attention back to her brother. "He wants to talk to you too."
"Good," Emmett said.
She could picture him cracking his knuckles at the thought.
"Be nice," she warned, speaking to Emmett but looking at Edward. She handed him the phone but if she expected to be able to listen to the conversation, she'd be disappointed. Edward took it and disappeared into another room.
"Well, that's just great," she mumbled to herself.
It was only two days after the car crash and she was still all aches and pains but she could take no more time off from work. Caius was an understanding boss but she didn't want to take advantage and with the meetings she had scheduled, the arrangements for the photo shoot in Central Park for James' campaign that still had to be solidified, working from home was not an option.
She wished she could. Between the accident, wondering who caused it and a barrage of phone calls placating Ali, Emmett and Rose, assuring them she was banged up but okay, she was mentally and physically exhausted. It also bugged her that no matter how many times she asked, neither Edward nor Emmett would give her an answer. It seemed though that they came to some sort of truce. She'd have to be satisfied with that.
"I wish you would take more time off." Edward watched her from the bedroom mirror as she slowly glided her stockings on, aware of every painful flinch she made.
"I didn't have a concussion."
"No, you just had cracked ribs and a hurt leg you've been busy trying to hide. Don't think I haven't noticed you limping around and groaning in pain. Plus your face looks like you went ten rounds with a heavyweight champion and lost."
"Thanks," He frowned. "I'm the boss. I have to go in." He didn't dispute the pain he was in, though.
"Only half the boss," she reminded him. "And what good is being that if you can't take off when you want to?"
"Fine." He gave a decisive pull to knot his tie and turned from the mirror to face her. "Have Paul shadow you today. I'll take Eric with me."
Bella scowled. It was unnerving being followed everywhere by a bodyguard. It wasn't that Paul wasn't polite, he was. It was just obvious he took his job very seriously with his stoic expression and stiff posture; hand placed clasped right in front of him or at his sides at most times. His looks reminded Bella a little of Jake in a way; very muscular with short dark brown hair and deep set, serious brown eyes that had no laugh lines around them. If he ever cracked a smile, she would probably die of shock.
Edward told her both Paul and Eric were ex-military. That probably accounted for the no nonsense demeanor and why they always addressed her as Miss Swan, no matter that she told them to call her Bella. Supposedly, it "wouldn't be proper protocol". She had the feeling that it was Edward's protocol, his way of asserting his position in her life and theirs.
How would she explain a 6'4" hulk of man that shadowed her every move, inspected every room before she entered it, even the ladies' room? Until they identified and eliminated the threat, the constant presence of security could go on indefinitely. They were only a couple of days in and already she wanted it over.
It could be. The resolution was right there. She only had to decide to take it.
She rose from the bed, smoothed out her skirt and blouse and faced Edward head on. "I've made a decision. I'm going to do what you suggested."
His body stilled even as his lips curled into a smirk. "I've made many suggestions," he said, his voice dipping into a sensual rasp, causing a faint blush to stain her cheeks. "Which one are you referring to?"
"I want to do the interview exposing Sam but on my terms, with someone of my choice. As soon as possible."
His expression barely changed but she could tell by the almost imperceptible release of stiffness in his shoulders that he was relieved. "I'll have my P.R. Department set something up." He cupped her cheek and swept his lips over her forehead. "You're doing the right thing, Bella."
She hoped so otherwise there would be hell to pay.
A/N - Sorry, so late. I never meant for this to go so long without an update. I have some real life issues that have taken precedence but I will aspire to be more timely in my updates. Thank you for bearing with me and I appreciate any and all reviews, critiques, etc that you would like to give.