Fog. The city was shrouded in it. The tops of the buildings that seemed to kiss the sky on a clear day had completely disappeared in the swirling mass of cloudy white. The morning brought the threat of rain but Bella hoped it would hold off. Overcast skies were optimum conditions for an outdoor photo shoot, rain was not.
If she were a superstitious person, she might take the weather as a bad omen. There was too much of Charlie's practical logic in her for that. She took another sip of her coffee as she stared out the large penthouse window, debating if she should have postponed today when Edward's reflection came into view behind her.
The dark smudges under his eyes told the story of a night filled with restless sleep. There was one point he had woken up with a guttural shout of denial. He wouldn't or couldn't talk about it, only wanting to hold her. She didn't push him and just let him wrap himself around her.
He was probably more edgy about today than she was. Central Park was too open. Too many things could go wrong. As far as he'd come in handling his controlling, over protective tendencies, this was stretching him a bit thin. If she hadn't put the brakes on him, Edward would be tagging along with her today.
"Nervous?" He wrapped his arms around her waist, her back flush against his chest.
"Anxious," she corrected, still focused on the weather. "I hope the fog clears. What about you? Jazz wasn't happy you canceled the trip."
Thanks to the police investigation into Tanya's disappearance, both he and Alistair thought it would be wise to cancel his business trip to L.A. Jasper understood but it wasn't without argument.
"He's lucky I agreed to a video conference. Jazz just happens to like the personal touch of a face to face meeting."
Bella trailed her finger up his arm. "The personal touch does have its advantages."
"Speaking of personal, Seth will be with you today?"
Bella sighed and turned around in his arms to face him. It was testament to his mood that he didn't take her bait and flirt back. "Yes, he'll be there."
"Good. At least I'll have some peace of mind."
"Thank you for compromising by pulling back on the security. Today is important to me and it wouldn't be right having an entourage trailing after me."
"You're important to me." His jaw clenched and he looked away. He seemed to be struggling with his words. It was a moment before he spoke again, his voice low and raw. "But I know what this means to you as well."
That concession had cost him, she knew. Edward was fighting against his own wants, his own fears, for her. Cupping his cheek with the palm of her hand, she urged him to look at her. He opened his eyes and she gave him a smile she hoped was assuring.
"I'm not worried about Joshua retaliating and neither should you. He isn't going to do a thing to me. I will be fine."
His lips twitched, forming a reluctant one-sided smile. "Promise?"
She held up her pinky finger. Shaking his head with a seductive smile on his lips, he brought he finger to his lips and kissed it.
"I love you."
"I love you too." She brushed her lips against his. "I have to go. Wish me luck."
"Always. I'm so proud of you. You got this, you know."
"Yeah." Bella nodded confidently. "I got this."
With its two sweeping staircases overlooking a large water fountain adorned with an angel, Bethesda Terrace in Central Park was hands down one of the best places for a commercial photo shoot in New York City. At least it would be if it weren't for the tourists, Bella thought. Even on dreary days, they milled about, unable to resist the lure of the beauty of the place.
Alonso, the photographer they hired, was already setting up and drawing a small but curious crowd. She chatted with him a bit, discussing potential shots even though they'd already been over this in pre-production meetings. He was good though, patient and reassuring. There was a reason he was one of the best. They were lucky to get him.
Satisfied they were on the same page, she wandered around, digesting everything; the stone archways under the stairway bridge, the backdrop of the lake with the autumn colors topping the surrounding trees and even the picture snapping onlookers. Before she was even aware, she was clicking away, work forgotten in the desire to capture this oasis in the middle of a giant city.
A half hour had easily slipped by and it was almost time to meet up with everyone over at Cherry Hill, the only place close by where they were permitted to park the production vehicles and trailers. After climbing the wide granite staircase, Bella paused and lifted her camera to take one last shot.
Siobhan was directing the behinds the scene staff, making sure the caterers were set up and the wardrobe and make-up folks were happy while Bree was looking through music selections with the DJ they hired to keep everyone amped up and in a good mood during the day. They both looked a little frazzled when Bella found them.
"Is everything okay?" She gave a speculative glance at Bree who was fanning herself with a clipboard.
"Just peachy," Siobhan answered. "Bree, here, stepped into the trailer for the male talent. Caught an eyeful, she did. Claims she was looking for a toilet she could use. Wink, wink."
"Hey, I was desperate. I drank too much coffee and I really don't like to use public restrooms." She shuddered, wrinkling her nose.
"Excuses, excuses," Bella said with a laugh. "You know, there is one in the trailer for the female talent we can use."
"Yeah but what's the fun in that? Bree had the right idea."
Bella smiled and shook her head, feeling extraordinarily lucky to have these two in her life. Always around to offer support and quick laugh. Work was calling though and if they wanted to stay ahead of the weather, they needed to get going.
With her loud voice, Siobhan corralled everyone together. They walked, en masse, down to the fountain while Bella double checked the trailers to make sure they were all locked. The drivers were unlikely to hang around and wait even if they were supposed to. As an added precaution, she managed to talk one of them into giving her a spare key for the door. Bree did have the right idea. There was no way anyone was going to want to use the public restrooms, especially in designer clothes.
She spotted Seth and gave him a slight wave. Acknowledging her with a slight nod of his head, he followed her, maintaining the distance they had discussed in the car on the way over. He was to remain invisible, far enough away not to interfere and close enough where he could act if necessary. She didn't envy his job today.
As the morning wore on, Bella forgot about Seth entirely. Alfonso directed the models over the dance music being pumped through the speakers. She watched how he worked, intrigued by his technique and his command of the camera. Taking photographs of people was never her thing but seeing it in action, she noticed the appeal.
The unguarded shots were her favorites, the ones where the guises were stripped away. Those were the shots she wanted to use in the ads. They were real. That's what would relate to the consumers. Young women don't want to see fake, unnatural smiles and sultry, come-hither looks. Those were ads for the men.
She made a mental note to discuss it with Alfonso and James when they broke for lunch. Her stomach growled loudly reminding her that it was nearly that time.
"We should call lunch soon, I think." James said, looking at his watch. He stood next to her, watching the monitor with her as the photos displayed in real time.
"Oh God." Bella felt heat stain her face. "You heard my stomach didn't you?"
"I have good ears." He grinned. "Do you want to get a head start on the ladies room?" Once that announcement is made, there's going to be a mad dash for it."
She could imagine. "That's a great idea. It will give me time to see if the caterers are ready too. I'll be back in fifteen. If Siobhan or Bree ask for me, just let them know where I went."
Bella didn't see Seth on her way back to the trailers but she assumed he was still watching her. If he didn't want to be seen, he wouldn't be. She stopped first where the tables were set up for lunch and after conversing very briefly with the caterers, she walked up the long path towards the parking lot.
Just as she had suspected, it was deserted. The drivers were nowhere to be seen. With the door locked behind her, Bella was glad for a few minutes to herself. After sending out a quick text to Edward telling him all was well, she did her business and took a few extra moments to fix her make-up and hair. Being around models all morning would give anyone a complex.
She was just putting her camera strap over her shoulder when the door handle began to jiggle followed by knocking. Great. Reprieve over.
"Just a second," she called out.
With one hand on the door ready to unlock it, Bella hesitated. Sure, it seemed unlikely that someone with the intent to do her harm would knock and even more unlikely, that Seth would allow anyone to get this close if they looked sketchy but she was still the daughter of a sheriff. Safety lessons and self-defense had been drummed into her brain from an early age. Charlie gave her ambush tests often. They scared the crap out of her but they worked.
God help her if Charlie ever saw her about to open a door without checking to see who was behind it. Like she was almost about to do now.
"Who is it?"
"Park security," said a gruff voice that sounded like the owner of it smoked too many cigarettes.
She stood on her tiptoes and peeked through the tiny window on the door and cursed that it had the type of glass that obscured images into blurry shapes. Looking for the tell-tale color of green that all park security wore, she sighed in relief when she spotted the top of a green-capped head.
"Is there anything wrong?" Bella asked through the door.
"Just doing a permit check."
That's weird. "I showed the papers at the park office this morning."
"Just doing my job."
It wasn't like she could fault him for that. Still, it was strange that he knocked here instead of asking at the sight. Maybe someone told him she had the permits and directed him here. With a quick twist the lock clicked out of its chamber. Bella twisted the handle and opened the door just a crack. It was just enough. A shoulder wedged through the small opening as a hand grasped the edge of the door and shoved. Bella squeaked in surprise and protest, her heels grasping for purchase on the floor as she pressed her weight against the door. Her feet slid backwards, her arms strained with effort.
One final push and she stumbled backwards, nearly losing her footing. Before she could right herself, a strong hand that smelled like sweat and grime covered her mouth and another gripped her arm twisting her around against him. The door slammed shut behind them. With the cap pulled far down over his head, most of his face was cast in shadow.
Acting purely on instinct, Bella struggled in his grasp. Using the heel of her shoe, she kicked back against his shin and scraped it downwards. Her assailant hissed in pain but his hold didn't falter. He just became more angry, his hold more brutal.
There was no room for fear, for panic but Bella struggled with both. Who the hell was this guy? Did Sam lie to her? Where was Seth? Shouldn't he be crashing through the doors any moment now? Unless… No, she couldn't let herself think that way. One thing was certain, though. Right now, she was on her own.
The camera attached to the strap around her neck, thumped against her hip. Wait. Camera. Her arm may have been pinned but if she could just move her hands just a little over to the …. Ah, got it. Now if only the flash was on. She couldn't remember. It wasn't pepper spray but it would do in a pinch. Hopefully, it would blind him enough where he would loosen his hold.
She angled the lens up and…click, click, click.
Fuck. No flash. Damn it.
With an almost inhuman growl, he yanked her camera strap, pulling it taut around her neck. At least her mouth was free now but her scream came out more of a strangled squeak. Her fingers tore and pulled at the strap around her neck, her nails digging into her own skin in a futile effort for break free. Tears slipped from the corners of her eyes as her vision began to blur. She wheezed, her breath trapped in her throat.
She had to do something fast. There was no way she was going down like this. What was that maneuver Charlie taught her? Bella stopped fighting against the hold on her neck and went lax, no longer fighting against the strap but going with it. He, whoever he was, didn't expect the change in tact and he stumbled backwards. It was only a few steps but it was enough. It had to be.
Able to get out of his hold, she whirled around to face her attacker, her breath coming hard and fast now. Something cold and metallic pressed hard into her face. Click. This click sound was much more ominous than her camera. Bella sucked in a sharp breath. A gun. The hand that held it was steady. There wasn't a hint of hesitation as the man slid it over her skin in a punishing way.
Mentally calculating her options, she kept her eye trained on the gun even as it caused her teeth to cut against the inside of her cheek. The taste of blood flooded her mouth. She wanted to gag but she didn't dare move. There may have been a slight chance for her to escape before but she couldn't fight a bullet.
Her heart palpitated wildly in her chest as she slowly raised her eyes, following the line of his arm only to look into the cold eyes of the man she never wanted to see again.
No! Her mouth gaped open. It was impossible. There was no way he could be here.
His face split into a leering, victorious grin the moment he sensed her recognition. He advanced on her, the silencer of the gun still pressed firmly into her cheek. She backed away, still too shell shocked to speak, too afraid of what he would do if she did.
"Hello Isabella. Did you miss me?"
No, not for one second.
At her silence, he let out a dark chuckle. "I missed you. We're going to have lots of fun together, you and I."
He raised his arm back and her last thought before the gun came smashing painfully down against her temple was that she had broken her promise to Edward.