Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

This fiction is rated 'M' for a reason. There is death mentioned throughout the chapters. No forewarnings of character death will be mentioned past this one. As I am only allowed to pick two genres, I would like to make a clarification before this fic begins. This fic is labeled drama/romance, but also contains suspense/action/mystery and periods of angst.

This story is dedicated to

J.R. Hood


A true 'King' in his own right

And for his daughter

J.R. Marcy


I miss your smile, your infectious laugh, your friendship,

but most of all I miss your determination to be greater than the circumstances

in which you were born and your eventual need to just follow your heart.

My memories of you haunt me every day.

This one's for you.

Chapter One: The Death of a King

War is the trade of Kings

~John Dryden~

Bella Swan, age 12

They said the man in the long, shiny wooden box was my daddy, but I didn't believe that was my daddy. My daddy's skin was warm and ruddy from working on his old pickup truck in driveway. Days of lingering beneath the hot, Mississippi sun left his skin heavily tanned and leathered, leaving small cracks and wrinkles on the surface.

The man in the box was pale and cold. His hands were strategically placed one over the other, the golden wedding ring on his ring finger looking suspiciously like the one my father wore. The gray dress suit he wore was the color of charcoal and I knew immediately that the man wasn't my father, for my father never wore a suit, not even to church. And he especially wouldn't wear the light pink, silk tie that was tucked so neatly beneath the dead man's starched, white collar. Pink is a color for girls, and my daddy's a manly man. A matching pink handkerchief peaked out from the front of the man's suit jacket pocket. The wooden box was shut near his waist and covered in a beautiful spray of flowers, bursting in reds and yellows with huge, glossy leaves springing out between the blooms, their scent lingering over the man like an invisible cloud. My father loved flowers, particularly the ones planted lovingly by my mama in the flower beds surrounding our home.

My daddy was shot in the head by a Cullen, my family's archenemy. My Uncle Aro told me so. The man in the box didn't have a hole in his head. He had a bushy brown mustache and thick sideburns like my daddy, but no bullet hole. Wouldn't there be a hole? I knew there was no hole because I looked really hard when Aro walked with me, hand in hand, to see the man while Aro spoke to my Uncle Marcus. My Uncle Marcus was the burliest of my father's brothers, standing over six feet tall with thick muscles and darkly tanned skin, and his son, my cousin Emmett, looked just like him even at twelve years old. All the Swan men looked very much alike, sporting the same dark hair and dark eyes, such a deep chocolate color, appearing almost black at times. The name 'Cullen' came up over and over as they whispered to one another. It was a name I'd heard my whole life, all twelve years of it.

Uncle Aro let me touch the man's face when I leaned over the box. My fingers brushed against his cheek, and I was shocked at the coolness and hardness that I felt below my fingertips. If he'd just open his eyes, I'd know for sure if he was my daddy, because my daddy has big, brown eyes, the color of warm cocoa...eyes that matched my own.

Aro escorted me away from the box and I finally sat next to my mama and sister on the second wooden pew near the front of the funeral home, the man resting in an eternal slumber tucked neatly in his box a few feet away. My sister sat in our mama's lap, a solemn expression on her face. She was a year younger than me at eleven, and very pretty with inky black hair that flowed down her back in large waves. She had dainty features and big, brown eyes that were normally blissful and twinkling. Today they are solemn and fixed above our heads. I followed her gaze and saw a moth resting on the ceiling of the room, his dark, satiny wings standing out sharply against the faded white ceiling. Alice's eyes never moved as she stared at the insect, lost in her own world, a world that few of us understood.

She did that from time to time, traveled somewhere in her own head, completely unaware of the things happening around her. My daddy said Alice was special...my mama said she was crazy, but she was still my mother's favorite child. I was too serious, too quiet for my mother. She didn't understand me or my love of the galaxy, for science, poetry or my love of reading anything I got my hands on. No, I was my father's child, his pensive little hunting and fishing buddy. He loved Alice to no end, but he seemed to understand my quiet nature. Although I daydreamed, I never lost focus of my surroundings the way Alice could. My parents found Alice's oddities enduring but deep down I knew my sister wasn't like other kids our age. She was different, but then again, we all were, the Swan family, that is.

My mother began crying and Aro left his place near Uncle Marcus to bring her a wad of tissues, sitting beside her and murmuring gently in her ear as he wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders. My mother's body quaked and shuddered as she sobbed, but Alice never flinched as she sat in Mama's lap, staring up above. Mama used the wadded tissue to dry her tear stained cheeks, trails of mascara lingering below her hazel eyes. Aside from her ruined makeup, my mother looked very pretty in her fitted black dress. Her short, auburn hair was curled at the ends and shone beneath the small, gold chandeliers hanging overhead.

The room was full of family, friends, and flowers. Some of the flower arrangements were from judges and lawyers; crooks that my daddy called his friends. My father called them 'the Southern elite' or 'the good 'ole boys' and he loved surrounding himself with them. The heavy, somber scent of carnations was a trademark scent of death in my mind. Funerals were a way of life, a social event of sorts, and unfortunately I'd been dragged to more funerals in my short life than I liked. It seemed like more people died in my family than anyone else's. Later in life, I'd find out exactly why.

Across the room, amidst my other family members, sat one of my favorite cousins, Emmett. Emmett's deep brown eyes locked on mine, looking despondent and worried. At the time I couldn't figure out why he was so worried. That wasn't his favorite uncle, his fishing buddy in that wooden box. That man wasn't Charlie Swan. That was a mannequin, laying in an infinite, waxy rest.

Emmett's eyes broke free of mine and the church suddenly went silent, all eyes turning to the door of the church where a tall, handsome man and a little boy entered. The man and the boy both wore crisp matching suits, but that's where their similarities ended. The man was strikingly handsome, looking to be in his late twenties with pale blonde hair and sparkling, crystal-blue eyes, the color of the sky on a clear, summer day. The boy at his side was no older than me with a mess of unruly bronze hair, the oddest color I'd ever seen. The strands were too long, flopping in his eyes. The boy's eyes scanned the crowd gawking at them in the church before they landed on mine. The shade of his eyes would forever be embossed in my mind, for they reminded me of the wild ferns that grew in the sloughs below my grandparents house, where me, Alice and our cousins loved to play and catch small, skinny, slithering snakes during the summertime.

The boy's lingering gaze caused me to shift uncomfortably in the pew, and he seemed to sense my unease. The boy quickly broke his eyes away from mine as he followed the tall man down the center isle, casually approaching us near the front of the chapel in the funeral home. A bouquet of white lilies were clutched in his hands, his long, slender fingers wrapped around the deep green stems. The petals were flushed yellow at the base and they were the most beautiful flowers I'd ever seen, far more beautiful that the flowers that covered the man in the box.

Someone shifted beside me and I turned around in the pew, breaking free from my rude staring as Aro stood up. His face was a mask of bitterness before he covered it with an indifferent look. Aro stood uncomfortably near where my mother sat as the blonde man, and the boy approached the dead man. The boy cast one last curious glance my way before he and the man met their destination. The blonde man leaned down, whispering something in the boy's ear; the boy nodded, his eyes glancing over the slumbering man in the box. They stood there for several minutes before turning to the line of family members who stood near the box, my uncles, aunts and cousins. My grandmother sat on the front pew, but stood up unsteadily at the sight of the blonde man and child, shuffling from the main area of the church as one of my aunts assisted her, glaring over her shoulder at the two visitors who were unfamiliar to me. Uncle Felix shook the man's hand with a scowl, in fact, all of my family members shared the same matching scowl as the noble-looking man smiled somberly at them.

Mama's sobs faded away as she scooped Alice up like a baby, mumbling something about checking on Nana. She shuffled out of the room, Alice's chocolate colored eyes finally leaving the moth on the ceiling to meet mine.

"You see that man, Isabella?" I heard my Uncle Aro whisper as he sat back down on the pew, scooting next to me. Following his harsh glare, my eyes landed on the blonde man who now stared directly at me, causing my heart to jump in my throat in shock.

"Yes, sir," I replied quietly, in a low whisper, taking slow, deep breaths. The man had his hand placed softly on the little boy's shoulder and was bent slightly at the waist, whispering in his ear as well as they watched us, mirroring us. I wondered if they were having the same conversation that we were.

"That's Carlisle Cullen," he said quietly, indicating the blonde man who stood a short distance away. "That little boy is his nephew, Edward. Carlisle and the little boys' father, Edward Sr., were brothers." I nodded my understanding, my young mind mapping out the relationship of the two males standing nearby.

"Edward's father died not too long ago and Carlisle raises the boy now as his own. Carlisle Cullen...he's the king now, now that your daddy is gone," my uncle mumbled, his dark eyes staring deeply into mine.

I'd heard people refer to my daddy as a king. I never understood what they meant. We lived in a pretty decent house compared to others in our poverty-stricken state of Mississippi, but it wasn't a castle. It was a lake house, a house that my father and grandfather built with their own hands before Alice and I were even born. He didn't wear a crown. Kings wore crowns, right? My father only wore faded caps with chewing tobacco logos splashed across the front.

"Where is his mama?" I asked, looking up at my uncle.

"She passed away when he was still a baby. Lung cancer, they say."

"What happened to his daddy? How did he die?" I asked curiously, momentarily shoving my thoughts of kings, crowns and red furry robes aside as I met the green eyes of the boy.

"He was murdered, just like your father. The poor bastard was shot in the head. He never stood a chance," he replied quietly, resting his arm on the pew behind me, his musky cologne burning the inside of my nostrils.

"Who murdered him?" I asked, always morbidly curious in my young age. I felt Aro's stern gaze and I glanced up at him, his wise, dark eyes narrowing in on my innocent ones.

Aro stared at me intently for a long moment before asking, "Can you keep a secret, baby girl?"

"Of course I can," I scoffed, clearly insulted as I crossed my arms and rolled my eyes at him. He chuckled quietly, a cold, bitter sound.

"You're right, Bella," he smiled. "I know you'll keep my secret, because you're a Swan. Are you sure you want to know, though? It's a heavy burden to carry, Isabella, knowing the truth when no one else does."

"Yes, just tell me who killed him!" I hissed quietly as the man and boy lingered only a few paces away, quickly closing in on us. Aro leaned forward, my ears burning in anticipation as he said two words, two words that I'd remember for the rest of my life.

"I did," he hissed, his breath tickling my ear as my eyes went wide and I turned to stare at him.

Ignoring my gaze, he pushed himself up from the pew, standing tall to greet Carlisle who now was stationed directly in front of us, his left hand casually in the pocket of his suit pants, the other hand reaching out to shake Aro's hand in greeting. My mother and Alice re-entered the room. I saw them in my peripheral vision, but I couldn't turn my attention fully away from the boy who stood in front of me. His mossy eyes drew me in and I was rendered still as he walked even closer to me, his pink lips drawn in a firm, hard line...just as hard as his eyes that bore into mine. The boy was only inches from where I sat when he reached out, offering me the breathtaking flowers in his hands. Hesitantly, I took them, gazing down at them in awe. They were pure and white, the smell mesmerizing. They were held together by a long, white ribbon. Pressing the petals to my nose, I closed my eyes and drew the scent into my lungs, savoring the soothing, clean smell.

"Death and innocence," I heard Aro mutter gruffly as he watched me sniff the flowers. "How appropriate for you to present them to the child who just lost her father."

"Is that what they symbolize?" Carlisle asked, sounding sincerely surprised at the meaning behind the flowers. My family glared at him from all directions.

"I honestly didn't know that was their symbolization," he drawled, both of his elegant hands pressed deep in his neatly pressed suit pants pockets. "I simply asked my nephew to pick out some pretty flowers for a pretty girl," he added, his eyes shifting to mine as he shot me a wink.

My uncle ignored his remark. "We're even now, Cullen," Aro spat, growing angry with his niceties. My Uncle Felix crossed the room to stand by his brother Aro's side, once hearing his angry, raised voice. "Your brother is dead and so is mine. Let's end this dispute between our families once and for all. Let it end here, in this room, forever."

"Ah, but I'm not entirely convinced the right brother is being buried today," Carlisle said, his tone no longer friendly, his smiling face now growing cold as he leaned back on his heels. "I'll never be sure who killed my brother, until every Swan is dead." His voice took on a threatening tone that made me shiver as I clutched the delicate flowers between my fingers, hiding my face from the boy who gazed at me curiously by his uncle's side.

"But I agree that we should make some...negotiations, go over the rules and settle some boundaries, so to speak. The moment the funeral is over, you and I will talk," Carlisle continued, reaching out to lightly touch his nephew's shoulder. Edward glanced up at him and Carlisle nodded his head in my direction, giving him a pointed look.

Edward pursed his lips, dropped his gaze to the floor and mumbled, "Sorry for your loss."

Those were the only words he spoke the entire time. His voice was soft and quiet, nothing like the firm, confident tone of his uncle Carlisle. Carlisle smiled down at him and they turned, strolling down the center aisle of the chapel before disappearing through the doors. The quiet building suddenly erupted in hushed whispers and sneers, the audacity of the Cullen man entering the building infuriating my relatives.

The actual service started minutes later. Everyone stood except for my family who took up several pews on both sides of the chapel. My father's brothers and a few of my older male cousins filed in solemnly as the short, stout woman played a somber tune on the old upright piano, slightly hidden beyond a jungle of flower arrangements. They sat quietly on the front, right pew as the preacher requested everyone to sit down. A teenage girl with blonde curls stood near the piano and began to sing 'In the Garden', her youthful, innocent voice hitting every note perfectly in tune, sending the room full of my friends and family sniffing and crying into their tissues. Alice sat by my side now, no longer in Mama's lap. Mama sat on the opposite side of her, next to Nana Swan whose body was wracked with sobs. Alice clutched her tiny hand in mine and I hugged her tiny frame against my slightly taller one, resting a reassuring arm across her shoulders as silent tears flowed down her cheeks.

"Daddy's dead," she whispered, the tears flowing heavily as a man approached the box and carefully shutting the lid. I heard my mother and Nana practically scream out in sadness as they clung to one another and the man disappeared beneath the lid, never to be seen by human eyes again.

"I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses," the young girl sang, her voice rising and falling above the wails of my loved ones.

"That's not our daddy, Alice," I told her firmly, my face void of tears. "He looks nothing like Daddy. That's not him. Our daddy is big and strong. Our daddy is gonna live forever." My words did nothing to comfort my sister as she began to gasp for air, her little body trembling beneath my arm.

"And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and he tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."

"Wake up, Bella!" Alice snapped, her eleven-year-old voice sounding strong and harsh. She wiped her nose with the back of her hand, her breath shuddering and gasping. "That's our daddy! He's dead Bella! He's dead! And it's the Cullen's fault. I hate them! I hate the Cullens!"

"He speaks, and the sound of His voice is so sweet, the birds hush their singing and the melody that He gave to me, within my heart is ringing."

"Alice, be quiet!" I hissed, my face growing hot as my cheeks flamed up. I was not only embarrassed that the sobbing people in the church quieted down as they heard her childish voice ringing across the aisles, but also because I was still lost in my sweet denial, not wanting Charlie Swan to be that man in the long, silent box.

"I'd stay in the garden with Him, though the night around me be falling. But He bids me go; through the voice of woe, His voice to me is calling,"the sweet voice finished, the last note hanging in the air for a moment before drifting slowly away as the stout woman behind the piano quietly ended the song.

The lyrics the girl sang, about the Lord's sweet voice, reminded me of my daddy's sweet voice as he called me his little girl and gave me his trademark grin, his lips curling up beneath the thick mustache. I remembered lazy days on our lake, my father casting in a line as he scolded Alice and I for wiggling around in the boat too much, claiming we were scaring away the fish. His face appeared before me as I cried when my favorite dog died. Daddy buried him beneath an old white oak tree near the house, the very same tree that my pet dog loved lounging beneath. Daddy's comforting, calloused hands patted me on my head as we said a small prayer for the little dog, always taking his daughters emotions into consideration.

Oh, God...what if that is my daddy in that box? My eyes dart around in denial, but there's no denying that my father isn't sitting nearby, looking uncomfortable with the displays of emotion from the ones around him. My daddy was in that box...in that coffin. He was dead. My poor daddy was dead. My heart clenched inside my chest as the tears finally arrived, flooding my cheeks as I began to scream.

"Daddy!" I cried out hysterically, the white lilies slipping between my fingers.

They made a sickening, crunching sound beneath my black Mary Janes as I lurched from the pew and scrambled down the aisle, crushing the petals beneath my feet and bumping into the knees of surprised relatives. They quietly hissed their protests, their hands pulling at my black, pleated dress as I shoved them away. Flinging myself forward I grabbed the gold, metal handle near edge of the heavy lid, struggling to lift it to see my daddy. My frail voice broke across the room as I grasped the handle, pushing and pulling impossibly against the casket. Someone grabbed me from behind and I hollered and cried for my daddy.

Alice appeared by my side, always by my side as she attempted to help me lift the lid. The soft glow of the chandeliers made the gold handle shine, our tiny fingerprints smeared across the gleaming surface. Marcus had me around the waist, whispering soothingly into my ear. Ignoring his words, I kicked and clawed at him, watching as my tiny sister continued to struggle with the lid, her small, childish voice calling out for our daddy as well. Aro broke across the room, easily scooping her up and pulling her away from the casket. The room continued to fill with the sobs and gasps of family and friends, the emotional scene we'd unknowingly caused provoked their wails to grow louder. Marcus and Aro pulled Alice and I from the viewing room, dragging us screaming and fighting as the balding minister cleared his throat at the podium, softly announcing it was time for a prayer.

They pulled us from chapel area, taking us outside, kindly pleading with us to calm down. After the bribing didn't work we were threatened to be silent, pay attention and stop making a scene. We embarrassed our mother, they told us. Alice and I didn't care. She was a year younger than I, but we had twin hearts and I knew she didn't care. She wanted to see our daddy one last time just as much as I did. But we wouldn't see him again. Aro and Marcus escorted us back into the viewing room and we sat quietly near stoney-faced mother, who shot me a glare as she took my sister's hand in her own. Bending down, I picked up the broken flowers, unwinding the long white ribbon from the stems and shoving it sadly into a tiny pocket hidden among the pleats in my skirt.

I was the strong one. I was the smart one. I wasn't one to make scenes or throw tantrums. I was ashamed of myself for the way I'd behaved and terrified of the vengeful look my mother gave me as I slid into the pew. My mother was an angry woman, her spirit only tamed by my father, a father I no longer had. What would become of my mother without my father nearby acting as a buffer for her mood swings?

The minister droned on and on, wiping his watery blue eyes beneath his tiny spectacles with a cotton handkerchief. I tried to drown out his words. They were too sweet, too kind as they spoke of my father and I suddenly didn't want to remember him, for if he never existed he could never be missed. And I didn't want to miss him. I wanted him there by my side, telling me I was his little buddy.

The eulogy was presented by my father's best friend, Harry Clearwater, who carried a cane and walked with a limp. Leaning heavily on his cane, hand carved from a poplar tree, he spoke kindly of my father, reminiscing about fishing trips. Harry told a funny story about the time my daddy fell out of their boat and into the lake, and the audience quietly laugh between their sniffles. My father grabbed the boat in an attempt to pull himself back in, which caused the boat to flip over with Harry in it. He chuckled lightly as he told his tale, wiping his cheeks with a tattered tissue as he finished.

The teenage girl with the golden curls sang one last song as the minister instructed everyone to stand. She sang 'Shelter In The Arms Of God" as the men in my family stood and walked to the casket, gathering on each side as I watched wide-eyed as a man opened a side door in the room. The men hoisted the casket from the stand on which it perched, one of my younger cousins near one end struggling with the weight as the men carried my father away. A long, black hearse sat outside the door, and I cried as I watched them push the casket into the back of the car, shutting the door behind him.

Alice and I tried very hard to avoid the cheek-pinchers, but inevitably failed. The most frightening ones were the old women, friends of my grandmother, whose makeup settled in the deep wrinkles that lined their faces. They wore tacky, light pink lipstick and funny looking hats resting on their perfectly curled bobs, fresh from their weekly perms. Everyone wanted to speak to the poor little girls of the fallen man, patting us kindly on the top of our heads and staring at us with their sympathetic eyes. I couldn't stand sympathy from others. For someone to feel sorry for me...it was an uncomfortable, crushing feeling. I hated it.

Alice and I rode with our mother and Aro behind the black hearse. Alice pressed her face against the glass, suddenly excited to watch the cars pull over on the side of the road in respect of the funeral parade as we traveled the distance between the funeral home and the cemetery. The police escort in front of the hearse was an unusual sight, and I heard my uncle laugh, shaking his head as he told my mother that daddy was probably laughing, wherever he may be. For even in death my father still couldn't shake the cops. My mother didn't laugh. She didn't smile. She stared bitterly through the window, watching as the hills and trees swirled by as we approached the cemetery. The policeman left us there, waving to Aro who nodded his head in response.

There was a deep green carpet-type material spread around an open grave, my father's casket hovering over the deep hole on some sort of machine. White, wooden folding chairs were lined in front of the casket and that is where we sat while the minister gave one last short speech, consoling the friends and family of Charlie Swan. There was one last, long, sorrowful prayer as everyone began to cry, me included. The machine slowly dropped my father's body into the ground, and that's all it was; a body. My father was no longer of this Earth, his soul gone somewhere beyond. At least that's what the minister said. My mother stood, ignoring Alice and I as she softly chatted to those around her, giving them hugs and thanking them for coming to the funeral. To others her expression was one of seriousness, but I knew that look. Renee was eating up the attention. It's not that she wasn't sad, but my mother loved drama. And what's more dramatic than burying your murdered husband.

There was a dinner for the family at my grandmother's church, provided by all the member's of said congregation. We pulled up to the red brick building, built in the nineteen-fifties with the help of my grandparents themselves. The adults filed into the building, the women with their fine dresses and pantyhose-clad legs, the men in their suits, now free of their jackets due to the sweltering Mississippi heat. It was only April, but April feels like summer in the south, and the sun bore down on us children who were now left to our own devices. Alice and I watched the boys play tag for a while, before Alice left me sitting on the sidewalk to dart after them. Her deep, purple dress stood out boldly against the white slag parking lot, her shiny shoes becoming dusty and scuffed.

The sun sank in the horizon and I watched as the sky became streaked with yellow, pink, purple and gold. A newer model, navy Town Car crept down the small road that the church sat on and I watched it pull into the lot, sending my sister and wild cousins yelling and scattering as they ran around to the back of the church, a basketball game in the works. Wrapping my arms around my legs, I leaned against the building and watched as Carlisle Cullen stepped from the car, closing his door firmly as he spotted me sitting on the dirty sidewalk that ran along the side of the church.

Standing up, I dusted the back on my black pleated dress off with my shaky hands, creeping sideways to the church door as Carlisle watched me, a seemingly gentle smile on his handsome face. I was distrustful of this man. He was a Cullen after all and it was a Cullen who killed my father. It could be Carlisle Cullen himself. I'd heard the Cullen name enough leaving my father's lips through the years to know that the Cullens were our enemies. The Swan and Cullen families were not friends and didn't intermingle with one another. I eased into the church doors, darting inside to find Aro who stood next to Marcus and Felix.

"Carlisle Cullen is here," I told the men breathlessly, their dark eyes darting up to the church doors just as Carlisle entered the building.

He wasn't alone. Edward stood by his side, his green gaze unwavering as I stared back. Maybe it was because I'd heard his surname throughout the years without meeting a Cullen, or maybe it was because he was the descendent of a king just as I was, but for some reason I was morbidly curious about the bronze-haired, beautiful boy.

"Carlisle. You don't waste any time, do you?" Felix sneered, crossing his arms over his massive chest, the seams in his shirt pulling at the motion.

"Ah, you know me Felix. I always make time for the lovely Swan family," he purred. "With the recent...decline in our joined families, I thought it wise to sit down and re-negotiate the rules that our brothers agreed upon long ago."

"Where are the rest of the Cullen swine?" Marcus asked, glancing down at a glowering Edward at Carlisle's side. "I thought y'all traveled in packs together."

"I represent my family now that my brother is gone," Carlisle said quietly as Edward visibly stiffened beside him at the mention of his deceased father. "Until little Edward turns eighteen, that is, if that's the path he decides to choose."

"Fine," Aro replied, glancing down at us children. "Bella, why don't you run along, sweetheart?"

"She can keep Edward company," Carlisle suggested, apparently surprising his nephew from the way his eyes snapped from my face and landed on his uncle's. He began to argue, but Carlisle shook his head firmly, placing a gentle hand on his nephew's shoulder, and murmured, "Edward, I know you think you're old enough to know all the secrets of the family trade, but you're not. Be patient, son. Enjoy being a stupid kid while you still can." He winked at the scowling boy, gesturing towards a classroom nearby full of colorful toys, a long table and chairs. The boy slumped off, his shoulders hunched and his head hanging down.

Aro gestured to the chapel to the right of the lobby in which we stood. The doors were sealed shut and their tiny, square windows showed nothing but darkness beyond. Aro opened the doors and the men entered the room, Marcus flipping on the light before he turned and shut the doors behind the group.

People passed me as I stood in that lobby, some of them leaving to travel a great distance home, others stepping outside to check on their heathen children. After a vast amount of time I tiptoed to the door of the classroom, wringing my hands timidly together as I stepped through the doorway. Edward sat near a window, peering through the wavy glass at the laughing children outside as they took turns passing a ball to one another. His gaze left the window as I entered the room, lingering on me as I pulled out a metal folding chair and sat down at the table, glancing up nervously at the boy who sat nearby. Turning back to watch the kids outside, neither one of us said anything for a long time until he finally broke the silence, his soft voice causing me to flinch at the sudden sound.

"What's your name?" he asked, his eyes dancing across my face, studying my features.

"Bella," I whispered, shy from his watchful gaze.

"Where are your flowers?" he murmured, his green eyes breaking away from my face to glance down at my empty hands.

"They were crushed," I whispered, dejectedly, either my tone or response causing him to glance away from my hands to study my sad disposition. "I'm sorry. They were very pretty. I've never seen anything prettier."

There was a long pause before he whispered, "I have."

His cheeks flushed, and he dipped his head slightly, avoiding my gaze. My forehead furrowed in confusion as I analyzed his words, the insinuation behind them slowly seeping in. My mouth opened and closed a few times, attempting an intelligent response but finding none. I felt my face flame up as well, for no boy ever called me pretty, not even Mike Newton who had a crush on me since kindergarten.

"You, um, you didn't give my sister any flowers," I accused, shifting in my seat, trying to steer the conversation in another direction, any direction away from my embarrassment.

"I didn't know you had sister," he confessed quietly, glancing back up at me. "Carlisle only mentioned you, but that doesn't matter. Even if I brought two bunches, I'd given them both to you."

My cheeks flamed even harder at his words and I sputtered, "Why...why are you saying things like that?"

"Because it's true. Am I...offending you?" he asked softly, reaching up to rub his forehead. His fingers found their way into his tangled hair. He pushed the strands away from his forehead, but they fell stubbornly back in place.

"No, you're not...offending me," I responded, chewing on one corner of my mouth at his words. I'd never heard anyone my own age speak the way he did or be as openly honest with his own thoughts. "But you can't say stuff like that to me. We can't be friends. Our families hate each other."

"I know they do," he said, his voice taking sharp tone as his eyes narrowed upon me. "Both of our fathers are dead because of their stupid feud. Your father murderedmy father."

I opened my mouth to argue, Aro's confession running through my mind, but my mouth suddenly snapped shut as I remembered the promise I made to him. His was a secret I promised to keep, but not being able to defend my father against Edward's words nearly killed me. I didn't want him to think my father was the one who ended his life. My father wasn't perfect. He made mistakes, many of which I witnessed through the years, but he was no murderer. Tears sprung to my eyes and I brushed them away stubbornly, glancing down at my lap.

"Please don't cry. I didn't mean to make you cry," he whispered worriedly, standing up from his place near the window.

Edward slowly approached me, pulling out a chair beside me and sitting next to me at the table. Sniffing, I took a deep breath, inwardly willing myself to stop crying in front of this boy. He reached out, touching my bare hand that rested on the table. A strange, warm sensation flowed between us at his touch, and we both stared at one another in surprise before we both gazed down at Edward's hand resting lightly on my own.

"Do you know why they call my daddy a king?" I asked him as his fingers rubbed the back of my hand, sending warm tingles up my arm.

"You don't know?" he asked, sounding surprised. I shook my head, staring down at the table instead of meeting his eyes. "He wasn't a king like you're probably thinking. He was a kingpin. That means..." He was interrupted by a sudden, angry voice.

"Isabella!" the voice snapped, and I yelped out in shock.

Edward snatched his hand away from mine and we both stood from the table, the metal chairs making loud, scratching sounds as the motion pushed them away from our bodies. We stared guilty at Aro and Carlisle who stood peering at us through the doorway, identical horrified looks on their faces.

"Edward, don't touch that girl," Carlisle whispered, his face slightly ashen. "Swan girls are nothing but trouble. She'll be the death of you."

Edward cast me one last somber glance before pressing himself past a glowering Aro to meet his uncle just outside the door. They disappeared and Aro entered the room, grabbing my arm and yanking it viciously. I gasped, my head jerking at the action.

"Stay away from him, Isabella Swan," my uncle warned. "Do you understand me? I swear on your father's grave if I ever find you mixed up with a Cullen boy, I'll kill you myself. Is that clear?"

"Yes...yes, sir," I ground out between gritted teeth.

His strong fingers dug into my bony arm as he squeezed and shook it, emphasizing the seriousness of his words. Dropping my arm after one final squeeze, he left the room, shaking his head and muttering to himself as he went.

I stayed in the classroom a long time, remembering the feeling of the boy's fingers against my hand, wondering if I'd ever meet him again. Little did I know that we would, in fact, meet again and our worlds would come crashing down around us, because we were caught in the middle of our family's war...a dirty south drug war.

Beta'd by AliCat0623. I'm not only happy to call her my Beta, Ruzzle and texting buddy, but also my friend :)

Shout out to Cheech83 for pre-reading the first few chapters. I love you my Yankee BFF :)

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