A/N: As always, thanks so much for reading and leaving your comments. I love hearing what you guys think!
Thanks to Ovie and Dinx!
Disclaimer: Rated M for language, violence and adult situations. Yes, there will be character death. Stephenie Meyer owns any names you recognize. I'm just playing with them.
Edward called her in front of me on purpose, and it worked. That woman's voice sent chills up and down my spine. She obviously meant business. And he lied to her. He said I was no longer a problem.
The direness of the situation has finally hit me.
If I back out of this now, and those people find out I'm alive, it's not just me they'll take care of.
That shouldn't bother me. After all, he is who he is. He obviously likes to be in control at all times and will do whatever it takes to maintain that. But the thought that one more person – or several, his family – could suffer because of me… it doesn't matter that they're apparently cold-hearted, ruthless-
I've got my eyes squeezed shut and my hands clamped over my mouth.
"Isabella? What's wrong?"
"Pull over," I mumble, dropping a hand to my stomach.
He gets the hint and quickly jerks the car into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. I jump out before it's parked and dash inside, straight to the restroom.
Clearly, I'm not cut out for this.
After expelling everything I ate at breakfast, I splash water on my face.
There's a knock at the door, and I know it's Edward.
"I have some water," he says.
I stare at my reflection.
The door handle moves.
I pull the door open and he stares at me, thrusting a bottle of Evian at me. I take it from him and close the door.
"I'm sorry," I hear him say, though I don't think he meant for me to hear it.
I rinse my mouth out and venture into the store. Edward is nowhere to be found. I take my time, picking out some watermelon gum and a bag of gummy bears. When I finally go outside, I see Edward sitting on the curb, the phone at his ear.
He glances my way and stands, says goodbye to whomever he was speaking with, and gives me a wary smile. "Feel better?"
I say nothing. What can I say? By now, the man has to realize that he's taking on more than he bargained for. Apparently, I have a weak stomach and an even weaker resolve.
"I was just speaking with my father," he says as he pulls away from the store. "He'll be joining us for dinner this evening."
Great. Given Edward's propensity for turning my insides into Jell-O, I can only imagine how my nerves will react to his father.
"His name is Carlisle," Edward says, merging into traffic as we near the causeway. "He owns Volturi International. That's where I work. We do a little bit of everything, though we make most of our money in technology."
I have no idea why he's telling me these things. He's been a closed book when it comes to most everything.
"Volturi has offices across the world," he continues. "I spent six months in London getting our office up and running. Have you been to London?"
I haven't been anywhere. I don't even have a passport, but I don't tell him this. I keep my head turned away from him, my arms folded, hoping he'll just stop talking.
"You should go," he says. "London, Paris, Munich, Rome. I bet you'd love Rome. So much history."
The car turns right once we've crossed the causeway, and I watch with interest as we head toward the tip of the island. I shouldn't be surprised when we pull into the drive of a high-rise, but I am. This is one of the most beautiful and fascinating buildings on the island. I've admired it from afar each time I've been on South Beach. It's unfathomable that real people live in a building like this, in all its sparkling white splendor. There are two towers, and Edward drives under the awning of the south building.
A valet opens my door as soon as we stop. I glance at Edward, who is already halfway out the door. He walks around and opens the door behind me, pulling out my bag. I finally step out and the valet jogs around, driving the Escalade away.
I reach to take my bag from Edward, but he moves forward. I look after him, then follow.
"Wait here," he tells me when we enter the massive lobby. He walks toward a security guard.
No problem. I'll just look. After all, it isn't every day that a person suddenly finds herself surrounded by million-dollar marble and artwork. I casually stroll around the lobby, drinking it in. It's really quite ostentatious and a tad overdone, but I suppose there are people, like Edward, who love to be surrounded by such things.
I find myself facing what looks like an original Picasso. As I stare at it, Edward steps up beside me.
"It is," he says. "You know, South Beach is more than tanning lotion and boutiques."
I glare at him, perturbed he would think that I'm that shallow.
"I know that," I snap. "I've been in almost all of the galleries, thank you."
He holds up a hand in mock surrender. "You might just be among the elite, Miss Swan."
I scoff, which causes him to smile. He does that a lot, which makes me believe there's more to him than meets the eye.
"Here." He hands me a key card. "There are four penthouses, and each has its own elevator. No one can access any of them without a specially coded key, and this is yours."
I take it from him and flip it over. It's plain white save for a numbered magnetic strip on one side. How discreet.
He leads me through the lobby and past a row of elevators. I slow, but he keeps walking before he finally looks back at me.
"It's back here," he says, obviously sensing my confusion.
There are four elevators, simply marked A, B, C and D.
"We're in C," he says, gesturing for me to swipe my card.
I do, and the door slides open. Marble, mirror and soft lighting surround us as we step inside.
I feel like I shouldn't be so enamored with this, given the circumstances, but I can't help it. It's a far cry from living in a garage apartment, although my apartment was lovely and cozy and warm.
This feels … well, it feels forced. No shit! my inner voice screams.
Material things have never had a place in my life. I was happy driving a beat-up Toyota, drinking out of chipped cups and eating off paper plates. I've owned the same several pairs of jeans for years, and if I weren't a teacher, I'd probably wear nothing but those jeans.
After a couple of tense and quiet minutes, a pleasant feminine voice announces through a speaker that we've reached the penthouse and the door slides open. My eyes widen as I stare down the long hallway and straight at the ocean. The way the sun bounces off the water and straight into the room makes it look like he has the place decorated in crystal.
Edward steps out and I follow.
"Lights," he says, and the lights flicker on in the hall.
"Everything is automated," he says. "We used the penthouse to test a voice-activation system, and I decided to keep it." He shrugs, smiles. "I'm not lazy, I promise."
"Everything?" I ask, looking at the artwork lining the walls as I follow him toward the main room.
"Yep. Try it. Say something." He drops my bag on a chair and looks at me expectantly.
"Um…" I'm flummoxed. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this.
"Music," Edward says, watching me as the sound of classical music filters into the air.
He smiles. "You know opera."
"I love opera music," I say, watching as he walks into the kitchen area. It's open to the dining and living areas. The whole main room is one big open space, full of black and white leather furniture with a few red pillows scattered about. It's actually sparsely decorated, and tastefully so. I can't keep my eyes from going to the massive wall of windows. All I can see is blue.
"Water on," Edward says, looking at me with a smirk as the faucet comes to life.
I roll my eyes. "I get it."
He chuckles. "It was my first big project at Volturi. I'm quite proud of it."
I bite back a laugh and turn toward another hallway.
"OK, so you've seen the kitchen. It's pretty standard." He walks out and stops next to me. "The restaurant here has twenty-four hour room service. Needless to say, I don't cook a lot, so there isn't a lot to eat here. There's a market downstairs in the lobby. They sell the basics, if you want to get anything."
He moves ahead of me, picks up my bag and starts down the hall. I follow.
"There are three bedrooms and three bathrooms. My room," he says, pointing toward a closed door at the end of the hall. He directs me away and points out a massive bathroom wedged between the two other bedrooms.
"Your room," he says, pushing open the door. "The other bedroom is currently housing my office."
I step into the room, but I'm not interested in the giant king-sized bed, or the lavish mahogany furniture. I'm walking toward the glass doors that take up a whole wall. I push aside the sheer drapes and what I see takes my breath away. I slide the door open and step out. The smell of salt immediately fills my nostrils and I inhale deeply.
Azure blue water as far as the eye can see.
"It's impressive, isn't it?" he asks.
"It's beautiful," I reply, leaning against the railing.
"The view is what sold me on the place. You can see the ocean from any room."
He leaves me alone for several minutes, and I hear the overpowering horn of a cruise ship as it leaves port. From this spot, I can see the bay, and three cruise ships are lined up, ready to begin their journeys.
I finally venture back inside and open a door. It leads to a bathroom, smaller than the main bathroom, but still impressive. The floors are white and the walls are tiled in black. The shower is surrounded by glass. There is no tub, unlike in the main bathroom.
I poke my head out to see if Edward is around. When I don't see him, I clear my throat and move toward the shower.
"Shower on," I say.
Water cascades out of a large showerhead and I cover my mouth to suppress a giggle.
"Shower off," Edward says behind me.
I spin around to find him leaning against the door, his arms crossed and an amused expression on his face.
"I told you," he says. "It works for everything. But you have to be within five feet."
I'm sure my face is crimson, but at least he isn't teasing me.
He moves aside to let me pass and I find the closet, large and empty. I have enough clothes to fill half of it, which almost seems criminal. One wall of the closet is for shoes, of which I own six pair.
There's a writing desk on one wall and a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall opposite the bed. I want to ask who has used this room, but decide against it. It doesn't feel homey at all. It feels like a lavish, expensive hotel room.
"I can get you some bookcases," he says. "Whatever you need, let me know. You have a lot of books, and you'll need some space for your things."
I nod. "Thanks."
He looks at me and nods before leaving the room again. I notice he brought my bag in, setting it on the bed, and I dig around for my phone.
It's time to call Jasper. I step out onto the balcony, careful to slide the door closed behind me, and hit Jasper's number on speed-dial.
"Bella, hang on one sec," he says on the second ring.
The line goes quiet and I realize he must be on another call. A minute passes before he's back on the line.
"What's up, sis?"
"Um, there's something I have to tell you. And you're going to get really upset, so maybe you should sit down."
"On a scale of one to ten, how upset? Because I'm driving at the moment."
I cringe. "A hundred?"
He sighs. "Great. Let me pull off here."
I take a seat at a little patio table in the corner.
"Okay, Bella. I'm parked. Let me have it."
I chuckle a little. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, seeing as two nights ago I called to tell him I killed someone, this isn't a hundred. Maybe a ninety-five.
"Yeah, sorry." I sigh. "Do you recognize the name Cullen?"
"Cullen." He repeats the name, says it a few more times as if he's trying to jog it loose in his brain. Then he's quiet.
Now I'm frustrated. Maybe this won't be as easy as I thought. "Jasper, this man showed up at my apartment last night-"
"What?" He practically shouts into my ear, forcing me to pull the phone away. "Who, Bella?"
"His name is Edward Cullen. His family is close with the Denalis."
"Fucking Christ, I knew I shouldn't have left you alone! Why are you just now telling me this? Where are you?"
"Jasper, Stephen Denali's parents put a hit on me," I reply, trying to keep my voice calm.
"Where are you?" he asks again.
"I'm safe," I say. "But I have to tell you something, and you're not going to like it, but it'll make sense if you let me explain."
"Explain away, Bella. Just tell me where you are first."
"Jasper, I'm with Edward right now. I can't tell you where."
"The hell you can't! You're with him? Tell me where you are and I'll get someone there right away."
"I said I'm safe, Jasper. Please, just trust me. I don't want to bring you into this, not right now. Edward thinks I have no family. He doesn't know about you, and I don't want him to."
"Isabella Marie, I swear to God, if you don't tell me right now where-"
"Edward's told me some things," I interrupt. "About the Denalis. About his family, too. They aren't good, Jasper. They've … hurt people. I'm under the impression they're some kind of modern-day crime family. They believe in revenge, Jasper. The Denalis asked Edward to kill me because I killed Stephen. How could you not know about them?"
There's complete silence on the other end. I pause. "Jazz?"
"Jesus, Bella," he mutters. "What are you getting yourself into?"
"Edward said he can protect me."
"By marrying him."
I'll admit it sounds absurd, more so when I say it, but it doesn't change my course.
"Are you fucking kidding me? Bella! You can't be serious. How do you know-"
"I believe him, Jazz. If he was going to kill me, he would have done it by now."
"You're telling me that you're going to marry this complete stranger? Who is a member of the one of the biggest..." His voice trails off. Finally, he sighs. "You're crazy."
I glance into the room. There's no sign of Edward.
"Jazz, listen to me. It is crazy, I know that. But don't you see? If I marry him, I'll be one of them. I can get you information, inside stuff that you couldn't get before. It will help you guys bring them down. The Denalis and the Cullens. I'm not sure what kind of business they're in, but I know it's not legal. At least, not under the surface. How many missing persons cases do you think this could solve? Unsolved homicides? Drug smuggling? I'm sure the list goes on."
"I don't like it, Bella," he says. "Forget it. We can go about this another way. And if you need protection, I'll get it for you."
"Why don't you check around? I'm sure that someone in your organization is aware of them, just because you aren't."
He sighs. "Bella, I can't let you do this. If anything were to happen to you-"
"I'm willing to risk it, Jasper," I say softly. "Dad didn't raise me to be a coward."
"He didn't raise you to be so foolish, either! Is that what this is about? I know you still struggle with his death, Bella. I do, too. But there are so many ways to right the wrongs of this world, and this isn't one of them.
"How the hell did you come up with this scheme, anyway?"
"Like I said, he told me some things. I read between the lines. It seemed so simple, but now-"
"Is he there?"
"You're really not going to tell me where you are?"
"No. If he finds out that my brother is on the force, then this deal will be off. I'll end up dead either way, Jazz."
"Goddamnit, don't say that! You will not. I'll get you some protection."
"They're ruthless, Jazz. You could surround me with armed guards, but they'd find a way."
"Alright," he says. "I'm going to make a call. Can you answer the phone when I call back?"
"Bella, I… I'm sorry."
"A multitude of things," he says before disconnecting.
I shove my phone in my back pocket and close my eyes, listening to the distant sound of the waves.
It occurs to me that I've now put Jasper's life in danger, but I'll do everything in my power to make sure he doesn't end up hurt – or worse. I just need him to trust me, and I need for Edward to trust me, too. It's the only way I can possibly put an end to what these families are doing.
I really hope I'm not in over my head.
The phone vibrates beneath me and I glance inside before pulling it out.
"I have a plan," Jasper says.
"OK," I reply. "What do I need to do?"
Chapter End Notes: Okay...so Bella has a plan. Do you think she's in over her head?
See you next time!
And to all my East Coast friends, please be safe!