Raum

Snare


[10-21-2013] Snare is currently my most reviewed story. Once again, thanks for your support! If you haven't read my other stories and you want to give them a chance, I'd love your feedback!


Chapter 21

Into the Woods


"I can't read your thoughts," Edward admitted.

Bella scoffed. She opened her mouth as if she were going to speak, but thought better of it. Less than a minute later, she left.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x

A light drizzle had fallen earlier in the night, and the woods were still damp. The air was filled with the smell of moist soil and the promise of more rain to come. Bella stepped outside the lodge to clear her thoughts with a short walk, and a gust of cold wind chased away her drowsiness. The stress of the last few days was taking its toll, but her body seemed unable to calm down. She had made herself a cup of tea and tried to drink it, taking long breaths between one sip and the next.

According to Edward, they were running out of time. Regardless, she kept telling herself that she couldn't rush a decision that would have serious repercussions for everyone who had worked at the lodge in recent months. One way or another, it was a choice that would change her life.

Being in a hurry is the best way to waste time, Charlie had once told her. How many times in his line of work had he been called to make a decision, knowing that life and death were at stake? Bella wished she could achieve the same level of detachment she'd admired in him.

She recalled the first time Charlie had explained to her what he did for a living. She'd been only a child at the time, and he'd told her that his job was stopping the bad guys, fighting against them. Like the huntsman who killed the wolf and saved Little Red Riding Hood and her grandma? she'd asked.

Charlie had chuckled at the analogy.

But how do you do it? she'd insisted. You're always reading your books, and you don't have a sword. How do you fight against the bad guys?

Years later, they'd watched The Sword in the Stone together. When they'd arrived during the scene where Merlin and Arthur, in fish form, were chased by a giant pike and Merlin taught Arthur the importance of brain over brawn, Charlie had reminded her of that comment she'd made as a child. See? he'd told her with a wink. A good brain can be more powerful than any sword.

Bella sat on the stairs outside the lodge, lost in that fond memory. Wherever you are, don't give up, Charlie, she silently wished. Fight them all and come back. She didn't allow herself to consider the possibility that her father could have been killed, afraid that if she went down that dark alley of thoughts, she wouldn't find her way out.

Her father wasn't there to help her, but she could still draw upon what she'd learned from him over the years. She thought back to the conversations she'd had with Edward; she would examine them as if they'd happened to someone else, checking for anything that could confirm his mind-reading abilities.

She recalled how, on occasion, she'd wondered if Edward could see the future. During one of her previous visits, he'd told her that Charlie was coming and that he'd heard his footsteps, but it had been well before her father had reached the observation gallery. And even if Edward had heard, how could he have been so sure that Charlie was actually heading toward the gallery?

Another time, during one of Walsh's shifts at the lodge, Edward had stopped talking during their conversation and appeared distracted and bothered by something. Could he have been following the thoughts of the man he seemed to despise most?

Bella didn't take her meticulous analysis any further. She'd guessed it was what Charlie would have done in her shoes, but not even that thought eased her mind. She had a gut feeling she was trying to ignore, but it kept nagging her. What truly bothers me isn't the possibility that he can read minds, she finally acknowledged. Although I don't think he's lied. Up until that evening, she'd trusted Edward, no matter what. She'd accepted that there were things he couldn't reveal, like when she'd asked him to explain how he knew so much about the Drainer's homicides without being involved in them in some way, and he'd avoided her question. If he can actually read minds, it would all make sense. Those things he told me could be based on what he'd found in someone's thoughts.

What had made her trust in Edward falter had been his implication that he would leave.

Before Charlie's disappearance, Bella had tried to envision what she and Edward would do once he'd regained his freedom. In every scenario, she'd been sure they would find a way to be together. The more rational side of her pointed out all the reasons they should stay separated—they were different species, he was a predator and she his natural prey, he was immortal while she was not—but those objections faded into the background when she thought about the bond between them. The strength of their connection wasn't something that needed to be proven; it was there, more real than anything they could see or touch.

When she'd been in Edward's arms, Bella had felt free for the first time in ages. They were locked in a prison and didn't have the chance to get a say on anything–not even the time they could spend together truly belonged to them, yet, it seemed to her that with him she had everything she'd ever longed for. With Edward, every mask she'd struggled to hide behind had dropped; she'd talked with him about her sorrow and her feelings, more openly than she'd ever done with anyone else, and when she'd finished, his gaze had shown neither pity nor coldness. She'd bared herself to him, and in turn he had wrapped her in the kind warmth of his acceptance. She'd thought Edward would see her as nothing more than a broken girl; instead, under the caress of his eyes, she'd felt like the most precious and desired of women.

Bella had repeated to herself the loving words he'd spoken to her, treasuring them as if they were the finest jewels. With you I've gotten back more than I could dream of, he'd said. You're everything to me, he'd declared, leaving her overwhelmed at the thought that she could be so important to an immortal who had spent centuries roaming the world.

So why was Edward thinking of leaving her? Did it mean he was denying how much they meant to each other? In her opinion, that would be the worst betrayal.

Bella drank the last of her tea and went back inside. She'd just closed the secondary door behind herself when a car pulled up in front of the lodge.

-x-x-x-x-x-x-

Robert Walsh went through the treasure trove of files he'd collected, a smug grin spreading across his face as he considered how nicely his plan was coming to fruition. According to what Bella had told him about her meeting with the Feds, they hadn't mentioned anything about Alice Whitlock and her presence at the Portland conference. In his opinion, the key to his boss's disappearance was to be found in the conversation he'd had with that girl who'd appeared out of nowhere; Charlie hadn't been the same afterward. As long as he was the only one who knew about that mysterious girl who had captured Charlie's attention, he had an additional ace up his sleeve.

He'd been afraid that Miss Whitlock would be an obstacle for his career; instead, she'd unwittingly helped him. When Charlie had suddenly left with her, leaving him alone to attend the dinner after the first conference, Walsh hadn't wasted the opportunity. As long as his boss–the star of the conference–was out of the picture, he'd been happy to take his place in replying to questions and taking care of public relations, and he'd taken advantage of the interest generated by Charlie's speech. A couple of journalists had attended the conference as well, and Walsh had paid special attention to them, seizing the opportunity to exchange contact information.

Who could have guessed that those contacts would come in handy so soon? he asked himself as he checked his email and went through the latest incoming messages. Judging by the rate at which he was getting new offers and requests for more details about the news he'd hinted he might reveal, he had a busy evening ahead.

He wondered how Bella was spending those hours. I wouldn't want to be in her shoes, after everything she's gone through in the last few years. First her mother, and now Charlie... All things considered, Walsh concluded it would be better for all concerned if he was the one dealing with the media. Bella seemed so broken that he doubted she would be able to handle the stress of interviews and questions from prying reporters. If I can keep her away from the worst of the storm, maybe she'll even thank me for it.

He set aside the documents he'd collected and got ready to leave. The next step of his plan would be difficult, but also rewarding: the most important files–such as videos that revealed the subject's speed and strength, or the full transcripts of the interrogations–were kept in Charlie's office. While Bella was at home and no one but the guard was at the lodge, he would have time to get a copy of the files and grab whatever else might come in handy; he counted on being back in Seattle before morning.

-x-x-x-x-x-

The clock on the computer monitor showed Bella that it was past midnight. A new day was beginning, and if things had gone like she'd hoped, it was the day Edward would have been freed. He'd agreed to stay until she could tell Charlie the truth about the Drainer, which she'd planned to do on Sunday morning. Instead, she spent that Sunday not knowing if her only remaining relative was still alive.

She turned her attention back to the screen, checking the settings she'd modified on Saturday. Her screw-up on Friday evening had left her feeling ashamed. If, instead of Edward, an actual danger had been behind the doors she'd unlocked by mistake, she would have paid for her distraction dearly.

With that in mind, she was determined to do better on her next try, so when she'd worked on the security system again on Saturday, she'd double-checked that everything was perfect. She'd set a timer to unlock all three doors: the one to Edward's cell, the one at the top of the stairs connecting the cell to the observation gallery, and the gallery's exit. Once she started the process, the cameras and the alarms would shut off, giving Edward a window of a few seconds to escape. Even if the guards were alerted by the sudden failure of the cameras, they wouldn't have enough time to activate the flamethrowers before Edward left the building.

Bella held her index finger above the key that would give the command to open the doors. She still had a choice: she could press it, or she could go back and undo the whole thing. She knew what it would mean if she chose the latter; with every line of code she erased or altered to its original state, she would be renouncing her affection for Edward and denying him her trust.

The sound of footsteps behind her and a sharp intake of breath made her jump in her seat. She spun around to find Robert Walsh looking at her. His face was frozen, a rigid mask of poorly concealed surprise.

"Bella." His lips curled into an artificial smile, and his voice betrayed his unease as he tried to regain his composure. "What are you doing here so late? You could have called me if there was anything you needed."

He moved closer to her, stopping beside the computer. He threw furtive glances at the monitor, trying to figure out what she'd been working on. Bella stood up and leaned against the desk, hiding the monitor behind her back. "Charlie wanted me to see about installing some new security features," she explained vaguely. It was the same lie she'd fed the guards, so if Walsh asked around, they would confirm her story. She thought that if Charlie was going to come back–When he came back, Bella mentally corrected herself–he would have more urgent issues to deal with than her fooling around with the computers.

"How long before you're done here?" Walsh couldn't keep a certain harshness out of his tone.

Bella crossed her arms in front of her chest, as if she wanted to shield herself before going down the path she'd just chosen. "I'm almost done," she said dryly. "What about you? Isn't it a little late for you to be at work, as well?"

Walsh grinned at her. "You know, your father makes his assistants work hard. You don't get many hours of sleep when you're at Swan's orders."

"I understand," Bella conceded, although inwardly she found his excuse flawed. Walsh seemed to be forgetting that when she'd worked with Charlie, she hadn't received any preferential treatment. Working side by side with him, she'd observed how he never asked his coworkers to do more than what he demanded of himself. In fact, from what she'd seen, it wasn't unusual for Charlie to cover Walsh's shifts as well as his own whenever his assistant couldn't come to the lodge.

"I have a decision to make," she went on.

"A decision? Have you heard something new about Charlie?"

Bella nodded. "The FBI called me earlier tonight. They asked me to tell them everything I know about Charlie's current lines of research. As long as we assume that his disappearance is connected to Sherman's death, the first thing that comes to mind are the Drainer's homicides. But after so many years...for all we know, Sherman's death could be unrelated to what happened to Charlie. It's possible that his latest studies stirred up something, and he attracted the attention of the wrong people. Maybe he's been in touch with someone who wants to hurt him."

Walsh tensed. For a brief moment, he wondered if he should mention Alice Whitlock. "There were a lot of people at that conference in Portland," he recalled. "Are the Feds going to do background checks on all of them? Or are they thinking about other conferences Charlie has attended lately?"

Bella shook her head. "We both know that Charlie's focus hasn't been on his books for a long time. Apart from some articles, the core of his job is the lodge." She tilted her head, indicating the cell downstairs. "And its most recent occupant."

Walsh recoiled as she spoke so openly about the experiments they'd been carrying out over the last few months. "Charlie would never want the FBI to know about the freak."

She narrowed her eyes. "Are you sure about that?"

"Of course! Don't you know how much his former colleagues looked down on him when he first started following this line of research?"

As if I could forget. "But if the Feds came here..." She held her breath, waiting for Walsh's reaction to the bomb she'd just dropped.

His voice rose. "Have you already told them about the lodge?"

"That's the decision I have to make tonight."

Walsh clenched his hands into fists. If the government were to be informed of Charlie's activities, there was no way they would give the media access to either the lodge or the files about the freak. His big scoop would slip through his fingers, vanishing like a puff of smoke on the wind. "Why would you do something like that? Just when they should be focusing on Charlie's disappearance? If you give them the freak, all their attention will be on him, and you risk losing precious time while your father might be in danger!"

"So what do you suggest?" she retorted. "Charlie has been working on this project for years, and I don't have the expertise to take on his job. Didn't you point out how dangerous the subject is? Lee Stephens left, and even if you or the guards were willing to keep working here, how would I ever manage the costs?" She motioned to the room they were in and to the top-security building Charlie had had built. "Charlie invested everything he had in this project, and believe me, it was a lot of money. Without the earnings from his conferences and consulting services for the FBI, I would never be able to go on." She let herself slump in the chair. "I'm tired of all this, Robert," she murmured.

He rested a hand on her shoulder, taking time to process what she was saying. He had to find a way to make her give up on the idea of involving the Feds, even if it meant telling her something about his plans with the media. "I'll help you, Bella."

"If the Feds take the subject, it will be their responsibility. Then I won't have to deal with the lodge anymore. Maybe I'll sell it." She huffed. "It can fall into ruin, for all I care."

"You said you haven't told the Feds anything about the lodge, right?" he mused aloud.

She sighed. "Not yet."

He edged closer to her and lowered his voice. "I think I can help you. Hear me out, okay? If we get the media involved, and make them see the situation in the best possible light..."

Bella felt a shiver go down her back. She steadied herself and found the strength to look Walsh straight in the eye. "What do you mean?"

"If the media knew about your father's research, if they had proof of what he'd accomplished, all those vicious rumors about the...unusual direction he took when he began to study such an unconventional subject would be erased. His disappearance would get more attention from the media, and that would make the Feds work even harder to find him. Meanwhile, I could continue to run the lodge." He averted his eyes, and his voice became a whisper. "I understand your financial concerns, Bella. But if you agree to be interviewed by a few carefully selected journalists..." He let his proposal linger in the air.

"Really, Walsh?" Bella seethed. She jerked her shoulder out from under his hand as if she were touching a snake. "Why do I get the feeling you've been planning this for awhile?"

He took a step back, forcing out a short laugh. "What do you mean?"

"You tell me." She stood up. "How much cash were you hoping to rake in by betraying my father's trust?" she accused. "Looks like he's been hunting monsters for so long that he failed to notice that the worst one wasn't in the cell, but at his side."

He sneered. "You're not making any sense. I'd hoped that you could be reasonable about this and see that it's in your best interest, but clearly you're too screwed up to know a good thing when you see it."

"Am I? Are you going to make a story out of that, too?" She turned toward the computer. "You know what? Too bad that your golden goose is about to fly away."

Walsh grabbed her arm before she could reach for the key that would unlock the doors of Edward's cell. "What do you think you're doing, bitch?" He looked at the monitor and swore as he realized what she'd been about to do. "And you accuse me of having plans, you little cunt?"

Bella tried to wriggle her way out of Walsh's grasp, to no avail. He turned toward her and tightened his grip on her shoulders.

"Let me go!"

"Sure, as soon as you're dead," he snarled. He yanked her toward him, making her lose her balance and fall against his chest. "There's a cliff in the woods, not far from here. What a tragedy that Swan's daughter was so depressed after his disappearance that she threw herself off the cliff."

Bella writhed in pain but couldn't push away Walsh's bulky frame. "Help!" she screamed, although it was almost impossible for the guard to hear her from the other side of the building.

Walsh clapped a hand over her mouth.

She squeezed her eyes shut and bit down on his fingers as hard as she could. Just for a moment, Walsh's grip on her loosened, and she freed herself, staggering backward. She reached out for the computer's keyboard and slammed her hand down on the key to begin the procedure.

Before she could see if it had worked, Walsh slapped her across the face, throwing her against the desk on her way to the floor. Bella cried out, momentarily blinded as pain erupted in her ribs and the side of her face.

She curled up in a corner with her arms covering her head, bracing herself for another smack or a kick.

"You bitch!" Walsh shouted again. He picked up the desk chair that had toppled down between them and threw it against the wall. He bent over the keyboard and started pressing keys at random, trying to figure out what Bella had managed to do with the computer and if there was any way to stop it. "What the fuck have you done?"

He lurched toward her and grabbed her hair in his left hand, yanking her away from the corner. Bella looked up and saw him lifting his right arm, his fist clenched and ready to hit her.

A feral growl shook the air, and the blow never came.

As if a gush of wind had entered the room, Bella saw a blurred figure moving toward her and Walsh. With a swift movement, her attacker was lifted and thrown away from her.

A cage of cold steel closed around her, and her bruised body was cradled against a marble chest. Before she could take a breath to speak, the living statue moved, sprinting away with her in his arms.

They flew outside, and a heavy rain immediately soaked them, blurring her vision.

Bella grasped the neck of her savior and squeezed her eyes shut.

They ran away through the woods, and the night swallowed them.


Thanks for reading!


NOTES

I guess you'd been waiting for this moment since this story began...

The events Bella mentions, with Edward reading in Charlie's mind his intention to go to the observation gallery, and with our vampire following Walsh's thoughts, happened in chapter 8 and 11, respectively.

Snare's extras are available on MyReadingLounge: h.t.t.p : / / myreadinglounge. blogspot. c.o.m/
Thank you! to Snare's amazing prereaders/betas: Camilla10, SatinCoveredSteel, and Marlena516.
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