Two days later, in a press conference, with his fiancé by his side, speaking over the clicks of cameras and the hedging questioning of reporters, Sam Quileute officially stepped down from his Florida state senate campaign. After owning up to what he had done and issuing a grave apology to Bella for him, for his father, he told the public in a very eloquent statement that he no longer felt he could do the position the justice that the people deserved. His career in politics was finished and his father's dreams, as warped as his methods to try to bring them to fruition, were dead.
Both Bella and Edward speculated differently even as relief settled over them that Sam and Emily remained true to their word. The concern was now over the father. Joshua Quileute's absence from his son's side was noted. There was media speculation that he was holed up in his Sanibel Island estate in disgrace or maybe left the states entirely.
The jarring ringing of the phone jolted her awake. Who the hell was calling at -she turned one-bleary eye towards the clock - seven a.m on a Saturday? She was tempted to let voice mail pick up but curiosity won out. After sweeping her hair from her face, Bella fumbled to pick up the phone with one hand and sat up clasping the sheet to her naked body with the other. She mumbled a greeting into the phone, her voice thick with sleep.
"Hello," she said again when there was no answer. There was only a dull static sound, like white noise but with a slight echo. The caller ID was no help either. The number was blocked – Private Caller. "Is anyone there? Hello?"
After a few moments with no break in the static, she hung up the phone and chalked it up to a bad connection. It was as she was stretching, preparing to get out of bed that the phone rang again with a blocked number. Whoever it was, was trying to call back. Maybe she could actually hear something this time.
She hung up again and threw her legs over the side of the bed, fighting the slither of fear working its way down her spine. The room was still cast in darkness but a hint of sun shone through the slits in the blinds, casting shadows across the room, making her feel even more paranoid. Oh, stop being so neurotic Bella, she chastised herself. It was most likely a wrong number or a bad connection.
A long hot shower made her feel much better and more ready to face the day, whatever that entailed. Edward had to go into the office to catch on some work with Jasper. Maybe she'd visit Alice, just to get out. It felt like it had been so long since she'd been able to come and go at will and the boundaries were beginning to chafe.
The cell phone rang again only this time she wasn't going to answer. She just stared at it, watching, waiting for it to stop. When it did, it rang again. And again.
"Oh for the love of God," she muttered, frustrated and hit the answer button. "What the hell do you want?"
"Is that how you answer the phone these days?"
"Yes, it's Mom. I'm surprised you remember the sound of my voice."
Bella winced at her mother's aggravated tone. "I'm sorry I haven't called. I have a lot of things going on." In truth, she hadn't called Renee on purpose. The less Renee knew the better. She would worry and insist on coming to New York, the same way she had insisted on coming to Florida and taking her away all those years ago.. No, it was better if her mother stayed in Phoenix.
"Yeah, I can see that. Phil and I just returned from our trip to Europe late last night and I come home to find out my daughter 's life is a news story."
"That wasn't you trying to call me at seven this morning?"
Renee laughed like that was the most ridiculous thing in the world. "No. I was still blissfully passed out from jet lag."
"Must have been a wrong number then. So, how was Europe?"
"It was so beautiful. You really have to go. Paris was—hey, stop trying to side track me and fill me in with what's going on with my baby girl."
Bella gave the least amount of information she could get away with, purposefully sidetracking her asking about the details of her trip. It was when the conversation turned to her personal relationships that she knew she had to get off the phone. Renee was relentless, always was in her opinions and her opinion of Edward wasn't very high, not after what he did and the events that happened as a consequence. She hated that her mother always managed to find those niggling seeds of doubt and give them a name.
"Love is funny thing, Bella. It can weaken you, blind you or make you strong. I've witnessed the first two with you. I just hope your smart enough not to settle for anything less than the last just because you're afraid to be alone."
"Mom, I'm not settling and I am not afraid to be alone."
"Just making sure."
"Listen, I have to go. I love you."
She hung up the phone, spying the current newspaper sticking out of the trash can. Why would Edward throw it away before she read it? Pulling it out, and smoothing out the pages, she read the headline, her jaw going slack.
"Is it completely horrible of me to wish for someone else's dirty laundry to be aired out in public?" Bella said to Alice with a scowl as soon as she opened the door for her.
"Well, good morning to you too, Miss Sunshine." Alice watched her with a wry smile and turned back to the doorway and the two men in suits standing outside of it. "Is the entourage coming in too?"
"No, ma'am. We'll just wait in the hall." Paul tried to hide a smirk by bowing his head.
"Suit yourself." She shrugged and closed the door, turning to Bella. "He just called me Ma'am. I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
"I told him to call you that. Hey," she said at Alice's scowl, "I have to take my amusements where I can get it these days."
"Thanks. You're a real friend. So, what has your thong in twist this morning?"
"This." Bella tossed the wrinkled morning newspaper on the coffee table. Right above her picture taken from the charity event was the headline, 'Martyr or Mercenary?' "And Renee called. Apparently I am national news."
Alice let out a chuckle and slapped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide. "I'm sorry, Bella. I shouldn't have laughed but anyone that knows you knows that-" she pointed at the headline, "is not you. And the ones that don't care about you, well, who cares what they think? What's that phrase?" She tapped her chin. "Oh yeah, those who mind, don't matter and those who matter, don't mind."
"Really, Alice? I know more than anyone how the court of public opinion can make or break someone. I built a career on it."
"Sweetie, I have to tell you this but I think you'd live. The two of you are survivors, Bella. Look at everything you've overcome so far and you'll overcome this."
"You know Sam called me."
"Oh?" Alice's eyebrow went up as her lip curled in a disgusted sneer. "What did he have to say?"
"He thanked me and wanted to reassure me that Joshua won't retaliate."
"Do you believe him?"
"He sounded very convincing, even implied he had something he was holding over his father's head. Edward doesn't trust him though."
"He hasn't exactly done much to earn his trust or yours for that matter."
"No, no he hasn't."
The numbers on the spreadsheet before him kept blurring in and out of focus. After reading the same line three times, Edward tossed the paper down on his desk and gripped the back of neck in frustration. His attention kept drifting to his phone as he tried to resist the urge to call Bella, to see what she doing, how she was. It took everything in him to quell the protective surge within him and act. She was hurt by Caius' actions and even though she was making an Academy Award worthy effort to hide it, to conceal how much this whole thing bothered her, he saw right through it.
"Damn it!" He stood up, shoving his chair back from the desk and walked toward the window to stare at the city below. Give her some space, he reminded himself. Don't hover. Don't smother. He was waging a constant battle with himself and it was taking its toll. He was stressed and miserable. Bella was retreating into herself, covering up with pretty lies spoken with a pretty smile and the saddest eyes he ever saw.
"Edward! Did you hear me?"
Edward swung around, his gaze meeting Jasper's glowering one.
"I've been trying to get your attention for five minutes." Jasper entered the office and dropped a stack of papers on the desk. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he gave Edward a speculative look and blew out weighted breath, with a slight shake of his head. "This has to stop."
He let out an exasperated chuckle, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "All of it. You're spending more time going over all those background reports, micro managing Bella's security detail and scaring the staff that you're not paying attention to the bigger picture."
"Yeah," he said with a snort, "and what is the bigger picture?"
"Don't tell me it's over," Edward snapped as he slammed his palm on his desk. "Not when he's still out there."
"But it is. The Quileutes won't retaliate. Sam wanted this outcome and the father isn't stupid. He knows full well, if anything happens, he's going down, one way or the other. The media will go away too. They'll move on to something else. They always do. Bella can handle them until then. You're not giving her enough credit. And damn it all, your crazy obsession with all things protecting Bella, is fucking up our business. What about the meeting in Los Angeles? We both have to be there -"
"I can't go to Los Angeles. Not now. What if-"
"You can't live your life on what if's, Edward and you sure as hell can't control everything with layers of contingency plans. You'll go crazy if you try and you'll bring everyone down with you. I love you like a brother, man, but this has to end, for everyone's sake. especially yours. You're letting your fears of your past control your future and everyone else's around you. I don't need to be a shrink to figure that one out."
"Is that what you think I'm doing?"
"It's what I know you're doing. You may have been here physically but mentally, you're far away. I hear from Alice how miserable Bella feels being 'babysat'– her words."
Edward flinched as Jasper's words hit their intended mark. It wasn't like he was being told anything he didn't already know but to hear it voiced aloud from a close observer was like a slap in the face with reality. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Things couldn't continue as they were, not if he and Bella were going to have any sort of life together, a life he wanted desperately.
"Excuse me, Mr. Cullen?" His new temp rapped on the door, a nervous expression on her face.
"Yes..." He didn't even remember her name.
"I'm sorry to interrupt but there are two police officers here to see you."
Police officers? Dear God, no. Terror unlike any he had ever known slammed into him. Something happened to Bella. Why else would they be here?
Edward sucked in a sharp breath as his body seized and his heart palpitated wildly in his chest. He felt the blood leech from his face as he turned a wild eye to Jasper trying to keep his legs from buckling beneath him. Help me, his expression implored.
"Let them in," Jasper told her. "I know what you're thinking, Edward. Don't jump to conclusions," he said when she was gone. His voice projected a calmness that Edward needed but resisted to feel. "Think. Your security would have called you if something happened to Bella."
Gripping his desk for purchase with white-knuckled fingers, Edward sat down, his legs shaking under the weight to hold him. He picked up his phone, ready to call her, needing to hear her voice but the two stern faced police officers entering his office had him placing the phone back down on the receiver. He schooled his face into a mask of indifference and nodded a greeting to the two officers.
"Gentleman, what can I do for you?" He was surprised he could keep his voice steady.
"If we could have this conversation in private?" One of the officers glanced pointedly at Jasper.
Edward nodded in acquiescence, sending a silent message that it was okay for him to leave. He knew he would probably hover somewhere nearby anyway. Jasper closed the door behind him with a quite click.
"We want to ask you questions about a missing persons case that's recently been reported."
"Missing persons case?" Edward's shoulders lost their tense rigidity and he sat back down in his chair slowly, never talking his eyes off the stern faced police officers.
"You look relieved, Mr. Cullen."
"Since I thought that you were coming here to tell me something happened to my girlfriend, then yes, I am very relieved."
"Isabella Swan, correct?" One of the officer's asked as he thumbed through his notepad.
"Yes, that's right." Edward was immediately on guard and confused at the mention of Bella. "Unfortunately, I don't know how I'll be able to help you. I don't know of any missing persons."
"You'll know this one. She used to work for you. Her name is Tanya Denali."