Waking up with Bella still curled into me felt like the most natural thing in the world. Looking down at her, I softly grazed her cheek with my finger, smiling at her when her eyes opened, blinking and shocked, still stunningly brilliant in the pale early morning light.
Leaning forward, I kissed her cheek. "Hey, Chefgirl."
A small, shy smile appeared as she stretched, and it was only then that I realized just how entangled we were under the covers. Lifting the blanket, I looked down at the mass of entwined legs. "Guess I don't have to ask how you slept." I waggled my eyebrows at her. "Obviously last night was good for you. You can't stop yourself from touching me."
She stared at me for a second and then began laughing. I chuckled at her reaction and enjoyed the sight before me. Her dark hair was a mass of tangles around her face, her cheeks a warm shade of pink from her amusement and her glorious eyes shining, the pools of color lit with mirth.
"You never stop … do you?" she gasped out between chuckles.
Shaking my head, I rolled her under me, leaning on my elbows as I gazed down at her. Her laughter stopped as she looked up at me. "I'll never stop if I can see this breathtaking vision when I'm being entertaining."
Her brow furrowed. "Vision?"
I smiled at her, as my finger traced under her eye. "I knew you'd be lovely when you laughed. I just didn't know how lovely. Your soul shines in your eyes, Bella. They draw me in."
The color on her cheeks deepened. "Nobody has ever said anything like that before," she whispered.
"I'm not nobody, remember?" I whispered back and gently kissed her soft lips, wishing I could really kiss her but knowing she wasn't ready for that yet.
"I don't know what to say," she confessed.
"You don't have to say anything. We'll talk tonight and this weekend." I paused. "If … you want to?" I asked. I studied her face briefly, noticing that she still looked tired and her eyes were anxious. "Am I overwhelming you, Bella?" I swallowed deeply; suddenly worried I had pushed too hard last night. "Is this too much for you right now?"
"It's just…" she trailed off.
"I was hoping for a cup of coffee with you last night, Bella. It's a little unexpected for me as well." I smiled softly at her. "Not that I'm complaining about waking up with you."
Her answering smile was shaky.
"Tell me, Bella. What are you thinking?"
"You seem so … sure of this."
"I am." I frowned down at her. "You're not?"
"It's … a little frightening for me."
My finger traced her cheek gently. "I won't hurt you, Bella. I promise."
"I don't know how to react to some of the things you say, Anthony. I've never had anyone say them before. Or treat me the way you do."
"Do you … like it, Bella?"
She drew in a deep breath. "Yes."
"But you're still scared?"
"Because I worry how I'll feel when it stops."
I frowned at the word 'when'. "It's not going to stop, Bella. I meant what I said last night. I want us to be together, as long as you want it as well."
I smiled down at her. "Good." I kissed her gently, my lips nuzzling hers softly, loving how they felt against mine. "We'll figure it out, together, yes?"
I breathed out a sigh of relief. "Okay, then. Run time?"
"You don't have to go with me. I'll be fine."
I sat up, pulling her with me. "You aren't going anywhere alone. Understand? It's with me or a treadmill at the gym in my building. With me right beside you. Your choice."
"Guess I'm stuck with you then?"
I kissed her chastely again. "Yep. Cellphone, remember?"
"Okay then, Samsung, ... let's get at it."
An hour later I was grateful to see the houses come back into view. "Do you run this far every morning, Chefgirl?" I gasped as I collapsed at the table with a glass of water.
"Usually. I didn't go as fast today as I normally do."
I paused in between sips. "You went at a pretty good pace."
"I can do faster." She stood up. "I'm going to go have a shower and get ready for work."
I stood up, frowning. "Okay ..."
"I need to shower as well, but I don't want to leave you alone."
"Anthony." She shook her head, her voice patient. "Mike hasn't seen this side of 10 a.m. since we were teenagers. He would never think to show up here this early. He doesn't even go into work before eleven. It's perfectly safe for you to go and have a shower."
"What does he do that allows him to go in so late?"
"He's a mechanic. He owns his own shop so he goes in late every day."
"Good business man. So responsible." I snorted. "Although, it explains how he can afford to deck his dumbass truck out like that."
Bella chuckled. "You have a hate on for it, don't you?" She grimaced slightly, wrinkling her nose. "It is rather ugly. And noisy. I never understood why he liked it so much."
I stood up and stretched. "He likes the attention, Chefgirl. And it makes him feel better about his … shortcomings."
She looked at me. "Shortcomings?"
I nodded seriously. "Guys who drive suped-up vehicles like that are usually trying to compensate for having … um …" I hesitated.
"Small dicks." I shrugged.
Bella stared at me wide-eyed. Peals of laughter bounced off the walls as she sat down, her hand clamping over her mouth to stifle the snorts as she shook with amusement.
I grinned at her, pleased I could make her laugh again.
"Just saying, Chefgirl. He needs to try and impress a woman with his truck, 'cause once he gets her into bed, she ain't gonna be so impressed with what he's got going on under his hood."
"Stop it!" she gasped, between guffaws. "I don't like him but he is still my brother and that is just ewww!"
I nodded seriously at her. "That's usually what they say once they get a load of what's waiting for them … or not waiting I should say. Ewww."
Tears were coming out of the corners of her eyes that were bright with laughter, and the sight made me smile.
Unable to resist, I crouched in front of her. "I drive a sleek, discreet, but rather sexy looking Volvo." I grinned at her. "Turbo, Bella. I promise, Chefgirl, you won't be saying … ewww. "
Her eyes widened. Grinning, I kissed her nose and stood up. "I'm going home to have a shower. I'll be at the end of the driveway in thirty minutes. Don't leave the house 'til I'm there. And keep your cellphone with you. Call me if anything makes you nervous. Anything. I'll be right over. Okay?"
"You're being over protective."
"I disagree. Lock up behind me."
I had just gotten to the fence when I heard Bella's soft voice behind me.
I turned to look at her. "What if you were in the shower when I called?" she grinned at me, her face lit with mischief.
I smirked over my shoulder as I continued to climb the ladder, loving her teasing. "Then you'd be seeing my fine naked ass a lot sooner than I even hoped, Chefgirl." I winked before I dropped down to the other side, smiling at her giggles. "Feel free to test out the theory though! I'm happy to oblige!" I called before I went inside. I heard her still giggling as I shut the door behind me. I smiled at the success of the morning so far.
Later that morning, my phone alerted me to a new text.
Anthony- why does the head of security have a picture of my brother and instructions to keep him out of the building?
I sighed. The morning had been going so well. I had even gotten another small kiss when I dropped Bella off, with promises of her staying in the building until I picked her up that evening. No doubt, I should have told her what I had done. She might have taken it better coming directly from me.
I told you I was going to keep you safe. This way he can't come near you at work. It was that or I took time off and sat beside you all day, Chefgirl.
Again-unnecessary and overprotective. How did you do this?
I hesitated, knowing she was not going to like what I had to tell her.
I remembered you had a couple of pictures on your computer and I recognized one of them as your brother. I emailed the picture and the letter to the head of security at your building on your behalf.
Should I ask how you found out that information?
He showed me the letter. It mentions a forthcoming restraining order. Anything else I should know?
I grimaced. I hadn't counted on him showing her the letter. I thought I could ease into the restraining order part over the weekend.
I may have called in a small favor and asked a friend to help you get a restraining order against your brother. To keep him away from you. To keep you safe.
How did you arrange this so quickly? Who is this friend?
I shook my head, hating the fact I couldn't just tell her.
Just someone who had the ability to speed this up. He did it to help, Chefgirl.
As I waited for her no doubt unhappy reply, I thought of the information I had sent Emmett. Calling it a small favor was an understatement, but I had been a model hidden witness until now and had not asked for anything much. But this was important and I knew Emmett could make it happen, although I knew this wasn't his idea of me keeping a low profile. His terse reply to the email I had sent let me know he wasn't happy with me, but he hadn't refused. His wife was a counsellor for abused women and I knew he wouldn't be able to ignore the picture I sent of Bella's bruises. He hated people like Mike. His reply informed me we would be meeting next week, so I knew he would chew my ear off then. But with his help I knew we'd get the paperwork done quickly and that was what I wanted. Emmett could yell at me all he wanted; it would be worth it as long as Bella was safe.
Meanwhile, there was no reply from Bella.
Chefgirl? I know you're angry with me. But I can't let him near you again. I have to do everything I can to keep him away from you. I won't let him have the chance to hurt you again. I can't even stand the thought of that happening.
Silence. I tried calling her, but it went right to voicemail. I knew she must be furious that I had invaded her privacy.
I texted her again.
I get it-you're angry. Just promise me you won't leave before I come get you. You don't have to talk to me. But don't make me worry all day that you'll leave without me. Stay where I know you're safe.
I waited and finally got a reply.
I won't leave.
I sighed in relief.
Okay. I won't apologize for trying to keep you safe. But you can yell at me tonight. I'll take it.
There was no response.
I pulled up in front of the lab and got out of the car cautiously. I had used Bella's pass to get me through the gate and Bella had told me that all visitors had to report in, so the chances of Mike showing up here and getting to her were slim, but I had decided to err on the side of caution. Even knowing she was angry with me didn't make me regret contacting her head of security.
Bella exited the building with two other people. A man and woman accompanied her, and I was surprised to see Bella wearing sunglasses as she got closer to the car. She hadn't been wearing them this morning. I pushed off the car and held out my hand, unsure if she would take it and was grateful when she allowed mine to wrap around her slightly shaking one. I pulled her close and wrapped my arm around her as the man stepped forward, his hand extended. "Mr. Masen. I'm Ben Cheney. You contacted me this morning."
I shook his hand. "Thanks for your prompt attention to my email."
He nodded. "Happy to help. Bella is an important member of the staff as well as a friend of my fiancée." He indicated the woman who was standing to his side, staring between Bella and me in amazement.
Smiling, I offered her my hand. "Anthony Masen."
"Angela Webber." She cocked her head to the side. "Bella hasn't mentioned you."
Inside I snorted, hardly surprised. Bella wouldn't have any reason to mention the guy she fed nightly over the fence.
"We're pretty private people, and still new in our relationship." I smiled warmly at her, fibbing just a little. "She has spoken about you often." I turned back to Ben. "I know Bella isn't happy I contacted you, Ben, but I wanted to take every precaution." I pulled Bella closer. "She is too important to me to take any chances."
Angela's eyebrows shot up and she stared at Bella, her facial expression saying everything.
Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do!
Ben's face was far more impassive as he studied us. "Of course. We take care of the women in our life, yes?"
"Yes," I said firmly. "Thank you again. I hope you both have a pleasant weekend." I began to step back with Bella, just wanting to get her home so she could yell at me and then I could start trying to get her un-angry with me. I hadn't expected to be in the doghouse this soon. I was sure I had a good week before she got angry with me.
Angela stepped forward and gave Bella a quick hug. "You'll be okay?"
"I'm fine, Angela. You're all making too much of this." Bella's voice was even softer than normal and sounded raspy.
Shit, she was so mad she'd been crying. That explained the glasses.
All three of us sighed at her words. Ben shook his head. "Anthony is right, Bella. Better safe than sorry."
I opened the car door and let Bella slide in before closing it and walking around to the driver's side slowly. I wondered if we would make it home before the yelling commenced. I was pretty sure I was going to hear the words 'privacy' and 'violation'. As well as 'get out' and 'leave me alone'. Sadly, I sat down and started the car, pausing before I pulled away. "Do you need anything on the way home?" I asked quietly.
"I do need to stop at the grocery store, if you don't mind?" Her reply was just as quiet.
I nodded. "Sure."
I followed her around the store, holding the basket. She didn't have a list, but she moved quickly through the aisles, picking up specific items. I was smiling quietly as I noticed the makings for what I was sure was macaroni and cheese, and I knew she had remembered our texts, even if she was angry. Maybe she wouldn't kick me out after all. I admired the view as she walked ahead of me, her pretty skirt flowing over her hips and backside and swirling around her legs as she walked, stopping occasionally to drop something in the basket. I also noticed a few other guys checking her out and I glared at all of them.
Fuckers. She was mine.
I just had to convince her of that fact.
The drive home was silent and I pulled into her driveway. "Do you want me to come in now so you can yell at me or should I go next door and change first?"
Her head turned toward me, but she didn't say anything except to shake her head and open the door. I grabbed the bags and followed her, depositing them on the counter and leaning back against it.
For a minute there was silence. Then she pulled off her glasses, tossing them on the counter behind me. Her brilliant eyes blazed at me, awash with emotion, the redness telling me how much she had been crying.
"I need to keep you safe."
"I get that." She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "The question is why, Anthony? You don't know me. Why would you care so much about my asshole of a brother and how he treats me?"
I gaped at her. "I don't know you?"
I stepped forward. "You live alone, and unless I'm totally mistaken, you are as lonely as I am. You're a brilliant medical researcher, but, you can't use a computer to save your life. You're amazingly kind and loving. Despite your obviously shitty upbringing, you give to people unconditionally and respond with your heart." I shook my head. "I love our conversations. How you call me out when you disagree with me. How you respond to my teasing. How witty and smart and funny you are." I paused and softened my voice. "I don't think you don't see yourself clearly at all because you've been hurt too much." I gently grazed her cheek with my finger. "You're incredibly shy. And also incredibly sweet and brave. You cook like a dream, wear funny socks all the time and take care of me better than I deserve to be taken care of."
I pulled my hand through my hair in exasperation. "Maybe the past few weeks haven't been a conventional start for a relationship, but we have gotten to know each other, Bella. There hasn't been a day since you moved in where we haven't spent some sort of time with each other. I've talked to you more than any other person in my life in the past few years. And the last few days without you have been some of the loneliest of my life. I missed everything about you."
I moved closer to her. "Maybe I don't know all about you yet, but what I do know, I like. Very much. And no matter how mad you get with me, I'm not going to let someone hurt you when I can do something to stop it. I'm sorry I embarrassed you at work. I know you're a very private person, and don't like the attention. It wasn't my goal." I shrugged helplessly. "I just … I just needed to do whatever I could do to make you safe."
We stared at each other and suddenly Bella's eyes filled with tears that silently slid down her cheeks. I pulled her against me and her arms wrapped tightly around my waist, her face buried into my chest as she began sobbing softly. I held her securely, nuzzling her hair, totally shocked at her unexpected reaction. I expected yelling and accusations, not tears. I stood, slowly swaying, as she cried, the quietness of her tears somehow sounding even more painful than last night, but I knew she needed to get it out and I had to let her. My hands gently drew small circles of comfort over her back and I rested my forehead on top of her head, breathing in her soft scent. I whispered her name quietly, crooning to her as she began to calm. Finally she pulled back, her eyes still swimming with tears as she tried to offer me a small tremulous smile.
"Better now? I asked quietly.
"Sorry," she whispered.
"No, Bella. It's okay to be mad …"
Her head shook furiously, interrupting me. "I'm not mad."
"No? You're not angry with me?"
"No. I'm not normally like this. I rarely ever cry. But I can't stop crying today and I didn't want everyone to see that. It was just an awful day, Ben came to see me and people kept asking questions and then …" her eyes dropped.
My gut tightened. "Then what?"
"Mike called me."
"How did he get your number?"
"He has my contact information. He knows where I work, Anthony. It's not like I'm in the Witness Protection Program or something. I just moved to another town to get away from them. I purposely hadn't given him my home address although he obviously looked it up. I thought that with Dad now in a care home he wouldn't bother me anymore."
"What did he say?" I asked, ignoring her choice of words.
"He was … his usual … charming self."
"Bella, tell me."
She drew in a shuddering breath. "He called me a bunch of unpleasant names and said to tell you to watch your back. And assured me you'd come to your senses soon and once you'd gotten over your fat fetish you'd be long gone and I'd come crawling back anyway. He says he'll be waiting." She looked up at me, her lip trembling. "He called me a lousy sister and a horrible daughter, all the usual things. He reminded me that I was a loser, and once a loser, always a loser."
I stared at her, shocked. I could feel my anger raging toward the asshole and my hands tightened into fists at my side wanting nothing more than to drive them into his face for his hateful words. I pushed my anger down and shook my head. "You are not a loser. That fucker needs a lesson in manners," I hissed.
Bella shrugged and I hated seeing the look of utter resignation on her face. Her lips were still trembling as she looked at me. "I don't care what he says about me. I was so scared, Anthony, thinking he would hurt you. I didn't know if I should call you or what to do. All I could think about was how you didn't ask for any of this, and now because of me you could get hurt." Her voice dropped. "I can't let that happen."
"Not going to happen, Chefgirl."
"He's … violent at times," she whispered. "He loses his temper."
I cupped her soft cheek. "That's why I have to keep him away from you, Bella." I paused. "Did the police call you about the restraining order?"
"Please tell me you agreed to it."
"I did. And I told them about the threats he made to you and your name has been added to the complaint. We have to go into the station to do the paperwork." She paused. "I have to know you're safe too, Anthony. If you were hurt because of me … I'm not sure I could live with myself."
I pulled her into my arms. "My brave girl," I whispered. "He won't get near me and he won't hurt me. I promise. But, thank you." I wasn't going to argue with her. I was so relieved she wasn't angry with me. She had just been overwhelmed all day and struggling with her emotions.
She shuddered in my arms and I pulled back. "How about a hot bath?" I smiled at her, remembering how my mom always enjoyed soaking in a warm bath. "I'll look after dinner."
I chuckled and held up my finger. "This is highly talented. I push a few buttons and soon food arrives at the door."
She smiled shakily. "Magic again?"
I nodded. "Let me take care of you tonight, Bella. We'll have dinner and relax. Talk if you're up to it. Or watch a movie. As long as we're in the same room, I don't care."
She stared at me blinking and confused, unsure of how to react to someone wanting to take care of her.
Finally she nodded. "Okay."
Leaning down, I kissed her nose. "Okay."
Ah Fenceward... over-protective, sweet and really funny. He loves to make her laugh. I wonder what else he can do with that talented finger? Hmmm...
See you on the weekend!