Chapter One

It was a huge night for my restaurant- the biggest night to be exact. A lot had changed in the past years; Red Wine had grown from a quaint town restaurant to having branches opened all around the country. Red Wine was my pride and joy; it started off as a private dining establishment combining food and lodging in a new innovative style; it was a high- class Diner and Inn. Many laughed at the idea on paper, I was the 'dumb unqualified high school graduate'- and I was glad because it became very popular, so much so that I had to buy the building next to me and expand. Because no investor believed in me, every cent was the fruit of my savings and I owed no one.

I studied. I learned everything I could get my hands on. I developed my skill both in the culinary and in the business world.

Then I opened a few new branches and put all my cousins in charge of them; they were joined at the hip prior and I would have felt guilty if they didn't need a distraction as much as I did.

Tonight, though, was the night of the grand re-opening of the first ever Red Wine. The remodelling was finally over, and we were unveiling it to the public. Photographers, elite, world class chefs and food critics filled the guest list. But what made tonight even more important?

Rosalie Hale and Emmet McCarty were on my guest list.

They were on my guest list.

It was nothing, except that Rosalie Hale was the most famous female model of her time, and a relative of British Royalty and Emmet was the most famous male actor of his time, a relative of the First Family. The press was all over their relationship; it was the relationship of the press' dreams and everyone wanted details so the press was desperate for dirt.

Now, I had to pull off two things tonight.

First, I had to ward off press.

If I could keep the press and cameras out of the restaurant, it would be a huge benefit to the business. Celebrities would feel safe to stay at Red Wine & Dine-Inns everywhere. It would ensure the success of the dream of an old friend; his security company that was now partnered with Red Wine would be set for the foreseeable future.

Second, impress the Celebrities.

Obviously, if they only said the food was 'good', it would launch my business onto the pedestal of permanent success.

The money wasn't the issue- I was already set for two lives. But I wanted to leave my apprentice Bree in charge and focus on my new endeavours.

Bree was a product of teenage pregnancy and she did not have one of the successful parents. Her mother smoked and did drugs while her father drank and slept with women with or without consent. At first, Bree was an angry person, and took it out on everyone and anything she could when her anger flared. But I saw allot of potential in Bree and believed in her.

Only in the kitchen was she at peace. She loved to come and work with me. She'd been assisting me since she was ten. I taught her almost everything I knew; I still had a few secret recipes up my sleeve. But she was more than capable to take over everything, as a manager and in the kitchen.

I'd known I could never truly hand over all my hard work and just reap the profits, but I wanted to focus more on my 'charity' work and simply check in.

I was founder of WOLF PACK, a group against crime, rampant in not too far from the area I was raised; I started it even before the crimes hit too close to home.

We taught young women self defence and gave young men after school activities as well as employing a full criminal investigation team that was paid by me so poor families could employ them free.

Workshops that gave women qualifications in various industries were provided to keep them from trying alternative methods; the 'alternative' workers were at risk of being captured in ghost crimes.

Training that developed boys' skills in sports and handiwork. Unskilled boys were at risk of being sucked into gang life.

It was all so that less mothers would lose their baby boys, and less fathers would hear that their little girl was found dead. So that less people had their loved ones and their lives ripped from them.

A lot of shit had left me where I am, made me who I am today: a woman with unbreakable rock hard granite skin, still appearing soft and peaceful, but on the inside, lonely and hollow.

A lot of shit had tried to pull me down- tried to make me only see black and feel black and be consumed by the darkness.

Somehow, I was able to look beyond the veil of pain around me and find the strength to carry on. Through my hard work and determination, I had achieved so much. All I needed was an extra push to the top of the hill. It would be easy going from then on.

So if tonight went well, my restaurant would be set and I would be free to take lots of time off to improve the foundation.

The name of the business was Red Wine. On every cheque he wrote Red Wine. But the incompetent fool didn't buy red wine.

I was planning to fire Mike Newton.

I wanted the best of the best, which wasn't very expensive. Grandma Marie-ann's favourite brand sold at the grocery store just around the corner.

I figured that I did not need the car, seeing that the brand of wine was an ingredient and not on the menu, that I could carry what I bought. I decided I could stop for a warm cup of tea and at Supernatural's - that always calmed me. They were on the roof of a tall building- breezy and quiet with magnificent views. IT was open this early- the shop might not be.

So I locked up the empty restaurant and left a message to Bree; she would be arriving soon and I didn't want her to wonder where I was.

Maybe we should fire Mike. Have to buy the Steeple's- again. If I'm not back soon, I'm gone to relax a bit. Don't worry about it- I know you're worrying! But everything will be great and you will rock socks! TTYL

I locked up quickly and put the alarm on, slipping out the back door so that the paparazzi waiting right outside couldn't snap a few pictures.

I began walking, and I was never noticed by the paps. I made it far enough that I could hold my head up and enjoy the quiet wind.

Soon I was seated at my favourite table at SN. I'd already mixed my favourite- Chamomile Honey.

I jumped, slightly surprised by the sudden ringing of my cell phone. I looked at the caller ID, and the number was not one I recognised.

"Hello?"

"Hi! Bella Ball!"

Renee was calling. I would not let her spoil my day.

"What?" I snapped. She rarely called. Today was a major day that involved me making more money and I'd already guessed that it was why she called.

"Well, you see, I wanted to go to this wedding my old friend uh, Gleneden is having in Mexico. But I don't really have the money and I was wondering in my time of need my lovely daughter could spare me the-"

"Oh shut the fuck up Renee. Don't fucking talk to me about times of need! In my times of need you could spare me a glance! I already told you, you are not entitled to anything of mine after the shit you left me to go through alone! You are not my fucking mother!"

"You should be glad that someone would want to call a worthless piece of crap like you their daughter! You have nobody! You have no man, no friends, no fucking plan-"

"No, Renee. See, that's where you're wrong. I'm a multi-millionaire with thousands of men who would vie for a chance to be my 'man'. I have loyal friends and people that care about me- I have a promise and dreams and a bright future. You have nobody, no man, no friends and no fucking plan but to leech of the same child you spat at before."

I heard a loud gasp through the phone.

A few years ago when she called to apologize and to beg I'd only told her that until she needed blood, not to call me. Her words had hurt me then, and she knew it. But now, I was a new Bella.

"You monster- how could you say those things to me! After the things I've done for you!"

"The only things you've done for me, you had no choice but to do them. And you even tried to avoid that too! You left me alone with dad and ran off as soon as you 'got that thing out'. I read your note Renee. I found it the day after you called me, apologizing for all you did. I didn't believe you before with the 'Oh I left against my own will' bullshit, and not just because in the same breath you called me hopeless crap. That paper only let me get to know you a little better."

"That letter was a fake! Charlie faked my writing! He just wanted to turn you against me! I would never call you a curse!"

"Oh! You must be right, and you definitely don't owe me a real apology. So that's why he never showed it to me! That's why I found it in the basement under your things and that's why you know exactly what was on it! Wow!" I snickered sarcastically, "I must have gotten it all wrong!"

"Yes you have gotten it wrong! I will never apologize to you," she shouted, "I'm the one who has it all!"

"No, you lost it all. You gave up a family long ago; you chased away Phil, now you're losing me forever."

"You stupid bitch! You were a burden! You were a fucking curse you, you piece of shit! I don't want anything to do with you!"

"For once we agree on something- I don't want fuck to do with you either! I'll set up with my lawyer money to deal with any deadly disease or sickness you have, and they will ensure its proper use. See, I have a heart. Don't ever call me again. Anything else you contact me to say will go straight to my lawyer anyway. Enjoy your life Renee."

"You will never find anyone!" I heard her scream. "No one will want you!"

And I dropped the phone into the kettle of water in front of me.

I got up, leaving my now cold tea behind and throwing a hundred on the table.

Renee's call was not a stab, it did not create new piercings into my skin. It was a blade carefully and precisely opening sealed wounds. What she said didn't hurt me. It was the memories that hurt- ones that her call had made less glossy and manageable and more fresh and vivid.

But then her words began to make me wonder. I had always craved something more, something more than Mr. Average Joe could give me; what if I never found it? Even before i had the obstacle of being in the public eye, I was too afraid to find anyone.

I decided that I should continue my walk to clear my head. I took a deep breath and stepped out onto the sidewalk. I was good at dealing with this after all this time. I thought about my friends and family, my home and work, my foundation.

Very soon, I was at peace.

And just when I was going to raise my head to feel the gentle warmth of the late sun on my face, I felt a strong arm wrap around my neck from behind me while the other gripped my arm. As soon as my brain registered the contact, I acted.

I was trained for this.

I trained people for this.

I slammed my pointed knuckle onto one fist and then the other, loosening the arms. Spinning too quickly to give him time to think, I removed his hands with both of mine, forming an X. I brought up my knee and hit gently first, testing for any protection, but when I felt none I reared back and rammed my knee twice into his groin before leaning back and kicking him with the slight heel of my shoe.

While he was still in shock and beginning to be in pain, I punched him in the neck, gashing it with my ring. Then I slammed the back of my foot into the back of his knees while striking his chest and he fell straight back onto the ground.

I knew the threat wasn't over- I knew there were always more, but as soon as I began to run a strong arm caught mine.

"Where you goin' sugar, a feisty one like you."

And as he spoke I felt a point pierce my skin.

"The boss will be glad for a new one." The sick, twisted voice sounded pleased with himself as he held me by the collar.

Even though the world was swaying wildly and I couldn't find exactly where my voice was, I was sure.

I knew what was happening.