A/N #1: Thank you for all the love! It's hard for you to imagine (especially if you aren't a FF writer yourself) just how much the support means to us both. Deb and I cherish every review. :) Couple of things before you read on: So many of you thought the trial ended with the end of the last chapter, but no...that was just the end of the prosecution's side of things. The defense still has to give their case, then there has to be closing arguments, etc. Also, this story is 34 chapters, including an epilogue, so still plenty of story to go. ;) Now, on to the defense's half of the trial. See Deb at the bottom! Mwah! – Jenny
It was hard to believe the prosecution had finished with its half of the trial, but two hours before, it'd done just that. My mind was all over the place – worried about what the defense might have up its sleeves, about whether or not Volturi would somehow weasel out of what seemed to me to be a clear guilty verdict, and about what would happen when the trial was finally over and we made the move to Seattle.
Edward was in the bedroom sleeping. As soon as the prosecution rested, it was like almost all the tension of the last twenty-four hours flowed out of him, leaving him looking happy, but exhausted. I knew he hadn't slept well the night before, as worried as he'd been about Rose and why the D.A. had wanted us to watch the trial. We'd all stayed around the computer for a few minutes, even after Jasper shut it off, talking about the impact of Felix's testimony, and then Edward had excused himself, heading back to the bathroom. When he hadn't come back in over fifteen minutes, I'd gone looking for him. Poor thing had gone into the bedroom, stripped off his shirt and jeans, and fallen asleep on the bed in his boxer briefs, not even bothering to get under the covers. He'd looked so peaceful, I hadn't had the heart to wake him.
I was flipping through channels on the TV, unable to find anything that really kept my interest, so when Alice called, "B, c'mere," from her seat at the kitchen table, I willingly turned off the television and made my way to the seat beside her.
"Check this out!" she squealed quietly. We were both keeping our voices low so as not to disturb Edward.
When she turned the laptop slightly, I saw the most adorable ladybug-themed baby clothes that made my heart absolutely melt.
"You found ladybugs," I sighed, unable to not smile. "How freakin' adorable was he this morning?" I asked her, remembering Edward's face the moment he set eyes on his new niece. If I hadn't already been in love with him – something I was just now finally admitting to myself – that would have sealed the deal for me. When he called her Ladybug, I thought my ovaries were absolutely going to burst. It was the sweetest, sexiest thing, watching his reaction to the newborn baby girl. He'd looked so happy, so relieved, and so proud, and love had radiated from every pore.
"I know, right?" Alice asked, clicking through a few more things on the site. "Oooh, check this one out."
The one-piece footed sleeper Alice had enlarged was a soft pink, with darker pink accents around the end of the arms and the neck, dark little bows on the top of the feet, and little ladybugs all over it. Plus, it was Carter's, so I knew it was good quality.
"Let me grab a pen and paper," I said quickly. "I want to be able to buy these later..."
Once back at the table, I jotted down the item name and store, and then Alice began flipping through more.
"Oh, wait... Go back," I told her when she passed one I wanted to see.
When she backed up a page, I saw that it was another Carter's set. This one had four pieces, including white footed pajamas with red ladybugs on it, a red and white striped onesie with a single bigger ladybug on the chest, a pair of matching red footed pants that had a smiling ladybug on the top of the feet, and an adorable red knit hat with big black dots and two black "antennae" sticking out the top.
Alice oohed and ahhed over it as I wrote down the information.
By the time we finished, our list included a footed romper in a ladybug design, another onesie with a cap and matching socks, some adorable tights, a sweet pair of red ladybugs and hearts booties, and another knit cap – this one white with a green trim and ladybugs on the brim.
"I can't wait to go shopping for those," I said with sigh as I folded the paper.
"Go shopping for what?" Jasper asked, coming from the kitchen with a bottle of water. He'd been playing video games and had apparently taken a break while I wasn't looking.
Alice grinned and turned the computer back to her so he could see over her shoulder.
Chuckling, Jasper said, "Uncle Edward'll love those."
Uncle Edward. My heart pitter-patted, and I decided I couldn't stay away any longer.
"I'm going to go check on Edward," I said, standing and grabbing the paper with the list of baby clothes.
Back in the bedroom, I slid carefully onto the bed, trying to not wake him. He stirred, shifting slightly, but his eyes stayed closed.
Edward was on his stomach, one arm under the pillow, the other hand tucked under his cheek. I took a minute to just look at his face. He looked so peaceful, like he hadn't a care in the world. He rarely looked that unburdened when awake. Whether it was worry over his job and taking care of Alice and me, or worry about his sister, he always seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. He was always sexy, but there was something so beautiful about him at the moment. His dark eyelashes were long, resting against his cheek, and his lips were parted slightly, his breath puffing out over the pillow in front of him.
From there, my gaze traveled down his body. He was lean, all muscle without being bulky, like a swimmer or runner rather than a football player. Underneath his black boxer briefs, I knew even his ass was solid, a beautifully rounded curve that led to his long legs. His legs were one of my favorite parts of his body. They were strong, and when he ran or worked out, the muscles of his calves and thighs flexed with every movement. It was enough to make my heart sputter.
I couldn't see the tattoos on his right arm, but the one on his back stood out in stark relief against his skin, all black and green ink. I knew what the tattoo represented, and once again, I had to hold back my hatred of the woman who had prompted such an action. Even after Mike, I couldn't imagine what Edward had gone through. I knew he was gun-shy about relationships, and that's why I'd tried like hell to push what I was feeling for him so down deep inside that it wouldn't accidentally come bubbling to the surface.
I reached out, suddenly needing to touch him. As I traced the green lines of ink representing life, death, and rebirth, I thought about what I'd finally admitted to myself just since being back in New York. I had fallen in love with Edward Cullen – unconditionally and irrevocably. The thought scared me and thrilled me at once. No matter what happened from here on out, he had changed my life. He'd made me believe in myself again, had made me realize Mike hadn't broken me.
Just as I started tracing the black ink jutting out like blades around the green, Edward stirred beneath my finger.
"Mm, baby?" he mumbled, reaching out for me.
"Shh," I whispered as I snuggled into his embrace. "Sleep, okay?"
He nodded, tucked his face into the crook of my neck, and was breathing deeply again before I could even close my eyes.
I shuffled into the kitchen in my socks, rubbing my eyes as I yawned. I hadn't fully woken up yet, and I needed to be awake before the trial started, so I headed for the coffee maker, even though I normally stayed away from it.
Edward and I had slept for a few more hours Friday, waking up just after lunch. Alice and Jasper had ordered in Thai food, so we had heated it up and then lazed around in the living room with them, watching TV as a group while Edward and I ate. Most of the day Friday and through the weekend was spent in just such a fashion. Television and movies, light-hearted, easy fun. The hard part of the trial was over for us. The prosecution's case had gone perfectly – especially with the addition of Felix's testimony – so we'd been able to relax and not worry as much as we had been.
"Morning," I mumbled to Alice and Edward, who were in the kitchen.
Alice chirped a good morning from her spot on the counter while Edward handed me a mug of steaming coffee, perfectly lightened with milk, and gave me kiss on the forehead.
"Hey, baby," he said, holding me close as I sipped the coffee, which was still bitter, even though he'd added plenty of sugar.
I grimaced but took another sip anyway, letting the caffeine do its job of fully waking me up.
"Okay, Ed, it's all set up," Jasper said as he came into the kitchen. He smiled, ruffling my hair as he passed. "Mornin', darlin'."
Sunday evening, Santiago had come upstairs and said Banner had called and asked him to relay a message. The closed-circuit feed would still be available to us if we wanted to continue watching the end of the trial. He'd handed Jasper a cable and said if we wanted to watch it on the bigger screen, we could use it.
Edward glanced at the clock. "Ten till. Let's get the feed pulled up and settle in."
The four of us carried our coffees and took our seats around the television. Edward sat on one end of the bigger sofa, propping his feet on the low table in front of him, beside his coffee cup. I set my own cup beside his, and he patted the seat beside him. Once I was down, he pulled me around so my legs were draped over his. Alice and Jasper took the other end, with my sister beside me, her legs curled up under her.
Like Friday, the courtroom was a low buzz of activity for a few minutes as attorneys, the court reporter, and the audience filtered in, and then everything got louder for a moment before quieting when Caius Volturi was led in, looking like a dark storm cloud had permanently settled over his head, shadowing his features and giving him an unending scowl.
The courtroom then fell silent as the judge took his seat on the bench. He called the proceedings to order, reminded the entire room of the rules, and then asked the bailiff to bring in the jury.
Once everyone was in place, he said, "Mr. Goldman, you may call your first witness."
The defense attorney stood, buttoned his suit coat, and said, "The defense calls Jacob Black to the stand."
I froze, suddenly wishing we had decided to not watch today's part of the trial.
Edward rubbed my leg through my sleep pants and tilted his head, murmuring, "It'll be okay, baby."
Nodding, I kept my eyes on the screen, almost afraid to look away.
After Jacob was sworn in, the attorney went through the generalities of his name and where he worked. Then he said, "And Mr. Black, you were working the night of May eleven of this year, correct?"
"Yes, sir. From eight o'clock until closing."
"And did you see Marie and Mary Brandon there that night?"
Jacob nodded. "They came in just before nine."
"What did they do when they came in?" Mr. Goldman asked, sounding very casual.
Smirking, Jacob said, "They ordered a drink from me at the bar, and Marie began flirting with me while her sister looked around at the crowd."
The attorney continued to ask him things like how much we had to drink – and whether he'd seen us with anything harder than the two beers and a shot – and how...friendly I'd been with him, until Mr. Banner objected on the grounds of relevance.
"Goes to the state of the mind of the witness, Your Honor," Mr. Goldman said confidently.
Judge Afton nodded after a moment, but then warned with a raised eyebrow, "You're on a short leash with this line of questioning, counselor."
The attorney nodded once and then turned back to Jacob as Mr. Banner sat back in his seat. He repeated his last question.
"Yeah, sure," Jacob answered. "She was all over me from the moment she sat down at the bar. I could tell she wanted to f—" Mr. Goldman cleared his throat, and Jacob immediately changed what he'd been about to say "—to be with me," he finished.
Through back and forth between the attorney and Jacob, he told the story of asking me to dance, getting us both hot and bothered, before he'd taken me to the back room of the bar.
"And what happened when you got into the private room?" Mr. Goldman asked.
"Objection!" Mr. Banner called. "Relevance?"
"Please, Your Honor," Mr. Goldman said humbly. "My reasons for this line of questioning will soon become apparent."
I bit my lower lip so hard, I tasted blood. I didn't want to relive what I'd done with Jacob that night, nor did I want it thrown in Edward's face. The man himself rubbed my arm with one hand and reached up to pull my lip free, brushing away the spot of blood with his thumb.
"Careful," he muttered low, squeezing me close. "I like those lips. Don't want to damage them more than you already have."
In the courtroom, Jacob had obviously been coached, because he answered the question of what had transpired in the back room without going into too many gory details, until Mr. Goldman paused and then asked a question that made Jacob smirk.
"At any point during your...liaison with Ms. Brandon, did she hit her head?"
"Objection!" Mr. Banner cried immediately, getting to his feet. "The court doesn't need to hear details of the sexual encounter between this witness and Ms. Brandon."
"Your Honor," Mr. Goldman said smoothly, "this will go toward showing whether or not Ms. Brandon was operating at full mental capacity when she identified Mr. Volturi a few minutes after her encounter with Mr. Black. By her own words and those of her sister, Ms. Brandon...drifted from her surroundings mentally several times on the way from the bar to the building in which she worked. If—"
The judge frowned but nodded, interrupting him. "All right. Again, a short leash, Mr. Goldman."
"Wait, what's that mean?" Alice asked, her voice tight. "Bella was fine after leaving the bar. She was just lost in her thoughts. She didn't pass out or anything."
Jasper explained quietly that the defense was fishing as Mr. Banner sat down in his seat, his features giving nothing away about how he was feeling, while the defense attorney turned back to give Jacob a nod.
"Go on, Mr. Black," he said. "Did Ms. Brandon hit her head while with you in the back room of the bar?"
I sat numbly as Jacob spoke again.
"Yeah, she did." When the attorney made a motion with his hand, he continued. "When I was...uh, doing it hard like she wanted, she hit her head a few times on the door behind her."
I could feel Edward tense beside me, although his hand on my arm never stopped moving slowly up and down my skin.
"Was she injured?" the attorney asked, sounding – obviously falsely – concerned.
Jacob smirked. "I was worried she'd hurt her head, but she seemed to have enjoyed it. She didn't mention it hurting, although she did rub the back of it and shake her head once as she was getting her clothes back on."
Shame and embarrassment flooded me, not for my actions that night, really, but that my sexual past was getting thrown in Edward's face so blatantly. I hoped the floor would open up and swallow...someone. Whether it be Jacob Black or me, I wasn't sure it mattered.
"All right. Just one more question, Mr. Black," the attorney said, smiling at the jury. "How did Ms. Brandon and her sister seem as they left the bar? Were they sober? Or did it seem like they'd had too much to drink?"
"Objection! Calls for speculation," Mr. Banner said quickly.
"Your Honor, Mr. Black has been a bartender for several years. He's seen many people leave the bar after spending a couple of hours or more there. He's entirely qualified to know if someone has had too much to drink."
I was numb as Alice growled, "Two beers and a shot in three hours! We weren't drunk!"
Jasper soothed her quietly as Jacob said, "They both were obviously feeling more than a little mellow, if you know what I mean. They didn't stumble out of the bar or anything, but you could tell they'd been drinking."
Mr. Goldman nodded sagely and then turned to the D.A. "Your witness, counselor."
I zoned out as Mr. Banner questioned Jacob, mostly about his credentials as a doctor – or lack thereof – whether or not he took women into the back room often, and whether or not he or anyone else from the bar had given us a field sobriety test.
Finally, Jacob was released from the stand and a ten-minute recess was called.
Edward was still tense beside me, and I was worried he was upset about my actions that night. It was one thing to hear about it in generalities, but to see the man I'd had sex with – rough sex, according to that man – and hear about the details from the man himself, that was entirely different.
"Edward," I started softly. "Are you..." I wasn't sure what to ask. Angry? Upset? Disgusted?
He shook his head. "Not now," he huffed, motioning softly with his head toward the couple at the other end of the couch. "I don't want to talk about it in front of them."
I nodded, feeling tears prick the back of my eyelids as I turned back to face the TV. Deep breaths allowed me to keep them inside, and soon, I had swallowed back all my emotions, staring blankly at the TV.
When the defense called their next witness, I sat up straight, shrugging off Edward's arm from my shoulders.
"Chelsea Bond?" I raised an eyebrow when the curvy, but gorgeous young woman took the stand.
"Who's she?" Jasper asked.
"She works at Denali and Associates," I muttered, wondering why the defense had called her as a witness. "She was Eleazar's personal assistant."
I listened, stunned, as she claimed that Eleazar Denali had pissed off more than one man. He'd been skimming from several of the firm's biggest clients.
"Ms. Bond," Mr. Goldman said, "did you ever witness a threat toward Mr. Denali?"
She nodded eagerly. "On more than one occasion, actually. My office is...was...connected to his, and I could always hear when voices were raised, even if they weren't yelling."
Chelsea went on to describe several visits from irate clients, a few of whom had physically threatened harm if he didn't get their money back somehow.
When Mr. Goldman gave the floor to the D.A., he didn't have many questions for her, other than asking about me and my character and if she herself had been there the night of Eleazar Denali's murder. She described me as a little buttoned-up tight and standoffish, claiming she was sure I had to have a wild side that I didn't show at the office, to which Mr. Banner promptly interrupted her, asking the judge to tell her to limit her answers to the questions asked. Once she said no, she hadn't been at the office that night, Mr. Banner said he had no more questions.
The judge dismissed Chelsea from the stand, and I wasn't the only one who noticed the small smile she gave Caius Volturi as she walked by the defense table.
"Son of a bitch!" I growled, sitting up straight and sliding my legs off Edward's.
Edward stood, beginning to pace as the judge told the defense to call their next witness. He froze when Mr. Goldman spoke.
"The defense rests, Your Honor, and I'd like to suggest we move right into closing arguments, to avoid keeping the ladies and gentlemen of the jury any longer than necessary."
"Is that what usually happens?" Alice piped up from beside me.
Edward shook his head, getting ready to answer just as the judge said, "That's an unusual request, Mr. Goldman." He looked at the clock on the wall. "It is only noon. We could break for lunch and be back at two o'clock, if Mr. Banner doesn't object."
I froze, waiting for the D.A.'s answer.
Mr. Banner stood from his seat at the prosecution's table and said, "No objections here, Your Honor. We'll be ready for closing at two."
Judge Afton banged his gavel and said court was dismissed for two hours, and then he left the courtroom, followed by his security.
"I need a cigarette," Edward muttered, leaving the apartment without another word.
I watched him go, a deep, heavy weariness settling on my shoulders.
"He'll be back," Jasper said, reaching past Alice to clap his hand on my shoulder. "He just needs some time."
Nodding, I left the living room, feeling the need to shower after having watched Jacob Black's testimony.
Edward still hadn't returned to the apartment by the time I had scrubbed myself as clean as I could and dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. I'd wanted to put on his Batman shirt, or the USMS one, which had been washed the day before, but I didn't want to be wearing it when we had to watch Volturi and his slime of an attorney – and after Edward had left the apartment the way he had, I wasn't sure he'd want me wearing them, either.
"Here, sweetie," Alice said quietly as she set a plate in front of me on the table, where I'd dropped into a chair moments before.
It was a simple turkey and cheese sandwich, and I could see a thick layer of mayo, lettuce, and tomato, but my stomach was in knots, and I wasn't sure I could keep anything down.
"B, you need to eat something. You didn't have breakfast." She pushed the plate to me. "Come on. Just a few bites, okay?"
I nodded and picked up the sandwich, taking a small bite simply to appease her. It was good, made just the way I liked it, but as I swallowed, it felt like a brick in my stomach. I was able to get through a few more bites, about half the sandwich, before enough was enough.
Alice frowned, but nodded and picked up the plate when I pushed it away.
By one forty-five, I was pacing in front of the couch in the living room. "Where is he?" I asked Jasper, getting almost frantic about Edward still being gone.
Before he could answer, the front door slammed open and closed. Jasper had his gun out and aimed at the doorway before two seconds had passed. He slowly put it away when Edward stepped into view.
"Motherfuck, Ed. That's a damn good way to get your ass shot," he growled.
"Sorry," Edward huffed, running a hand through his already unruly hair. His knuckles were scraped and dotted with blood, making me gasp.
"Come on," I said, pushing him toward the kitchen. "Let's get you cleaned up."
"We don't have ti—"
"We've got time. Go," I ordered.
I turned on the water in the sink, grabbing the first aid kit from underneath before motioning him over.
As I rinsed his hand, he winced and said, "Bella, I—"
"Not now, Edward. We don't have time for this."
Shaking my head, I repeated, "Not now."
I couldn't think about whatever he wanted to talk about. He smelled like he'd been through an entire pack of cigarettes, and while he didn't have time for a shower, he could change out of the shirt he'd sweated through and brush his teeth.
I said as much as I finished cleaning the fresh wounds on his knuckles from where he must have hit the wall somewhere. They weren't bad enough to need to be bandaged, but they looked sore.
Nodding once, Edward stepped past me to the bedrooms, while I headed back to the living room.
My stomach was in such knots, I could barely pay attention to the words coming from the District Attorney's mouth as he began his closing argument.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have one job here today, but it's the most important job you could possibly have right now. Your job is to decide if Caius Volturi is guilty of murdering Eleazar Denali on the night of Friday, May eleventh, 2012. How do you do that, you ask? Simply by reviewing the evidence. Let's begin with the testimony of the medical examiner."
He reiterated that Eleazar had died of two gun shot wounds to the chest and one to the head, and while the medical examiner had been unable to detect which of the shots ultimately killed him, any of the three would have done the job, but the three combined had insured that he would never breathe another breath.
As Mr. Banner continued to speak, Alice and I huddled together on the couch, hands squeezing one another as he told of our eyewitness accounts of what we'd heard and saw. He reminded the jury that no matter what the defense tried to suggest, the first officers on the scene, as well as the detective who had questioned me shortly after, had seen no indication that I was impaired in any way.
"In fact," he said, raising his hands, "they said she was well-spoken, clear-headed, and as calm as she could be, given the situation she had found herself in. That in no way speaks of a young woman who had had too much to drink or one who had hit her head hard enough to hinder a positive ID of the men she saw walk by her after she heard gun shots."
His speech about Alice's – Mary's – testimony and the opinions of the officers and detectives on the scene was similar to the one about me. Then he turned his attention to Ben's testimony of my positive ID and Alice's later, separate one, before seeming to relax.
"Finally, you heard directly from Mr. Volturi's close associate, Felix Guardiano, that the two conspired to kill Mr. Denali, they went to the victim's office specifically to do that job, and then Mr. Volturi ordered him to get rid of the gun. That, along with the testimonies of Marie and Mary Brandon, makes three eyewitness accounts.
"Now, you may recall the defendant's lawyer making the claim that Eleazar Denali had stolen money from other men, made other enemies. I'm not disputing that, ladies and gentlemen. But a good man or bad, Eleazar Denali was killed in cold blood by the hand of the defendant, Caius Volturi. In 1903, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote: Criminals do not die by the hands of the law. They die by the hands of other men. Being a criminal does not mean Eleazar Denali deserved to die.
"I'm asking you to consider all the evidence, all the witness testimonies, and use your good judgment to bring about a guilty verdict on all counts, including first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and..."
I tuned the rest out, not caring what other charges the prosecution tacked on. The murder charge was the big one. It wouldn't get him sentenced to death if he were convicted – New York had reinstated the death penalty, but it had then been ruled unconstitutional or something – but it would get him a life sentence in prison, and that would have to be good enough for me. If there was any sort of justice, he'd find out in prison that he had made enemies, too.
Alice's sigh brought me back to the present, and I turned back to the TV just in time to hear the last line of the trial from the prosecution's side.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I would implore you to remember the quote by Theodore Roosevelt: Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong. Thank you."
Suddenly exhausted, I buried my face in my hands and cried.
I could've heard a pin drop in the apartment, even with the TV up pretty damn loud. Since Jasper had set up the computer through the flatscreen, the courtroom could be seen and heard in so much more detail. Though, there wasn't much to hear. The defense was about to give their closing statement, so everyone was fucking silent.
I sat forward with my elbows on my knees to see how this weasel would spin his tale. He didn't have much in the way of evidence, except for a tiny seed of doubt that he could plant. When the jury was finally left to their verdict, it would all come down to who they believed. Goldman could've changed the plea to something different, but he was taking a different route. Instead of claiming that it wasn't premeditated or that it was snap decision, he was still spewing "not guilty" of murder in the first degree.
"Reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen," Goldman started his closing statement, pacing slowly in front of the jury. "That's what we have here. The prosecution wants you to believe the word of two drunken girls who claim they saw my client on the night in question. They also want you to believe the word of a criminal who is not only facing his own slew of charges, but who was a bitter employee of Mr. Volturi.
"We've heard – right here in this courtroom – a witness give testimony concerning the plethora of underhanded dealings in which the deceased, Eleazar Denali, was involved. Despite the fact that he was respected in his field, Mr. Denali made many enemies. He stole – skimmed off the top, if you will. He manipulated his clients into giving up thousands upon thousands of dollars. He used his knowledge to take from hard-working citizens, such as my client."
Jasper snorted, raising an eyebrow. "Hard-working, my ass..."
I grinned but turned my attention back to Goldman.
"You heard Ms. Marie Brandon testify that the alarm was off and that anyone could've walked into that office. Anyone could've killed Eleazar Denali. There were a number of people he conned out of money who could have sought revenge," he pointed out, still pacing in front of the jurors.
"We heard Ms. Brandon's one-time lover, Jacob Black, swear that she was drunk, that she and her sister were barely walking when they left the bar that night. The question remains, if she was that intoxicated, how can she be a reliable witness?"
My jaw clenched. I was fucking tired of having that caveman thrown in my goddamn face. It was one thing to have a past – I sure as shit couldn't judge a damn soul on that end of things. But fuck me, if he wasn't a pompous, disgusting dog! He'd sat on the witness stand practically grinning at what had occurred that night. Goldman had drawn out in detail the whats, wheres, and hows. No amount of objections from Banner stopped that shit from getting out in the open.
I shot a glance to Bella next to me. Her face was a mixture of nausea and embarrassment, her eyes red from the tears that continuously fell. My head throbbed, my stomach clenched, because it was all I could do not to fall at her knees, beg her never to touch another man again. I wanted to wipe away the tears that streamed down her face and tell her that I didn't give a rat's ass what Marie Brandon had done, but that Bella Swan meant everything to me.
Up until the trial, Jake Black had been a faceless name – a simple noun in the description of the events. Now, though, he had a face, a foul personality, and I fucking hated him. And I hated him because he was like looking in a motherfucking mirror – he'd seen a beautiful girl and taken all that she'd give him. What I saw in that mirror disgusted me; Bella deserved more, and I wanted to give it to her.
I wanted to erase Black's entire existence from her mind, make it as if he never was. I wanted to claim her, make her mine, fuck the memory of that asshole right out of her beautiful head. And I wasn't sure that made me any better than him.
Bella shifted uncomfortably as Goldman went on falsely breaking down her character, but I couldn't touch her. I could barely look at her. If I did, then I knew everything I'd fought internally when it came to her would be written all over my face. That was a huge problem. It wasn't that she'd fucked a guy she'd never met before – it would be hypocritical of me to lay the blame there. It was the fear of being the next Jake. There was nothing stopping her from starting a new life in Seattle with me as just a mere memory. I didn't want to be a memory – a guy that "used to be." And that was what scared the living shit out of me because the coward that I was had told her back in Forks that I couldn't make her any promises.
At the time, I hadn't wanted to make promises. I'd been burned before, but what scared me about that was what I felt for Maggie couldn't even come close to what I felt for Bella. And that thought made my hands ball up into fists so hard that all my knuckles cracked and the cuts from beating the shit out of the garage wall began to sting. And the mere idea of going back to my life in Seattle with how it had been made me sick to my stomach.
Forcing myself to concentrate on Goldman, I barely caught snippets of the last of his closing statement. He spoke about the lack of a murder weapon and that his client didn't even own a gun, which caused Jasper to scoff aloud, considering we all knew Volturi ran guns in New York. He focused on Felix, making him sound like a barely-there employee instead of the right-hand man that he'd truly been. The last thing he narrowed in on was Denali's character.
"They say it's not good to speak ill of the dead, but we have no choice in a court of law. We have to pick apart every aspect of the deceased's character. The problem here was that Eleazar Denali didn't have much character at all. He was a petty thief who hid behind tax laws and off-shore accounts."
Goldman took a step forward, placing his hands firmly on the edges of the podium. "Reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen," he said again, his voice unwavering. "When you go back to that jury room, you have to ask yourself just how many enemies did Eleazar Denali have. You have to ask yourself if the word of two drunk women is worth putting my client in prison for life."
The defense lawyer sat down at his table, looking confident – almost cocky. I wanted to wipe the smirk right off his fucking face. Instead, I bit the inside of my cheek and clenched my sore hands into fists once more to hold in the anger and disgust.
When Banner stood, he looked relaxed, confident – without looking smarmy or cocky. He stepped up to the podium, but shook his head as he moved to the side nearest the jury. He was straightforward as he reiterated the facts of the case: the witness testimony from the first responders and detectives that stated the girls were coherent, well-spoken, and certain of what they'd seen, with no sign of impairment of any kind; the girls hadn't identified a random theft victim at the scene of the shooting, but they had, without any prompting, identified the defendants, Caius Volturi and Felix Guardiano – that their testimony placed a gun of the same caliber as the murder weapon in their hands right after the shooting; and finally, that Mr. Guardiano himself testified as to what happened that night. By the time he finished speaking, several members of the jury were nodding, while others were almost glaring at Volturi, as if daring him to refute any of the facts.
Judge Afton turned to the jury to give them their instructions. Once the twelve people shuffled out of the courtroom, he called a recess for the moment, telling everyone that they would reconvene once the jury had its verdict. The pounding of his gavel was the last thing we heard before Jasper shut the TV off.
"How long could they take?" Alice asked in a whisper.
"Hours, or days," I answered, shrugging a shoulder. My elbows were still on my knees, but I stared down at the floor, only glancing up when Bella silently got up from the couch and left the room.
I didn't even bother to reason with myself; I simply followed her. I knew this shit was eating her up.
"Let me know if you hear anything," I muttered on the way out of the living room.
"Sure, man," Jasper responded, but he had his own girl to contend with.
I found her coming out of our bathroom, having washed her face. I closed the door to the bedroom, leaning back against it. I knew her well enough to know that she was about to blow up when the pacing started.
"Days? Really?" she squeaked, not even bothering to look at me.
"You've watched enough TV to know that's true, Bella," I sighed, gripping my hair in order to not grip her.
She huffed a pretty bitter laugh, shaking her head. "Just long enough for everything the defense said to sink in." Her fiery gaze met my face. "They twisted everything! He took everything that happened and made seem so...so..." She struggled with what to say, finally ending with, "Hell, he had me believing that shit!"
"Baby, that's his job. To defend his client. You know the truth." When she didn't say anything, I added, "It's not your fault."
"No. But my actions, my choices, could be enough to let Volturi go free, Edward!"
I flinched when her voice rose, but I was already shaking my head. "Bella, stop." I finally stepped away from the door and took her by the shoulders. "You know that's not true. You had way more backup up there than Goldman had on his side. Ben, Alice, even Felix."
Bella's brow wrinkled as she shook her head at me. "Yeah, but Jake said...he made me sound—"
"Don't!" I finally snapped. "I don't want to hear his name again. I'm fucking done!" I could barely find it in me to care that I was yelling. "The only thing that prick did was revel in the fact that a beautiful woman let him touch her. Nothing more!" I panted, glaring down at her, trying to ignore the fact that her face was slightly frightened. "He had you once! And never fucking again. Got me?!"
"Uh-uh," I grunted, shaking my head. "Don't answer that. Know this: If it were up to me, no man would ever lay another finger on you again."
"It is up to you," she whispered, looking away from my face, though she made no move to escape my grasp.
"No. No, Bella. You have way more power than you think," I countered softly, without thinking. I loosened my hold on her upper arms, slipping up slowly to cup either side of her face. I took a deep breath and let it out. "So much fucking power," I whispered, dropping my forehead to hers. "And that's what the jury will see." I closed my eyes. "They'll see a strong woman who could have anything she wants, anyone she wants, and doesn't apologize for it when she takes it. That's an incredibly sexy quality, Bella. Don't be ashamed of it." I brushed my lips across hers, grounding myself in her before my jealousy and anger shot out of control. "I can't say that I blame him, baby. I wouldn't...haven't been able to resist you, either."
She wrinkled her nose and tried to back away, shaking her head. Taking her hand, I sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled her between my legs.
"You don't believe me?" I asked her, entwining our fingers together. "Bella, you have no idea how hard I fought the mere idea of you." I shook my head slowly, my eyes raking over every delicious inch of her. "It's all I can do to not find that guy and tell him how badly he fucked up. I guarantee you he's kicking himself because he only tasted you that one time. I want to rub it in his stupid fucking face that I've lost count of how many times I've taken you, how many times it was my name you called out, and how he has no fucking clue how amazing it is to wake up with you in my arms. He doesn't get that. I do."
Her eyes focused on our hands. "You looked...you...it seemed like I disgusted you."
I laughed almost bitterly, and her eyes snapped to my face. "No. Never. I'm...fuck, I'm losing my mind." I sighed frustratedly, gripping my hair with my free hand, and shook my head at her. "No. I just can't stand the thought of you with someone else. I hate it. It makes me fucking crazy!"
Some sort of realization dawned across her face, and she stepped closer to me, wrapping her arms around my neck. "I don't want him, Edward."
"I know," I agreed, because I did know. I could see how she was looking at me; it was how she always looked at me – like I was the only thing that mattered. It made me feel like a god the first time and even more so now.
"I want you," she said, leaning on the last word like she'd done before. It was as if she was trying to drive it into my thick skull. She leaned down, brushing her lips across mine. "Just you. Only you, " she whispered, her deep brown eyes locking with my own.
"Say it again," I growled, pulling her roughly closer. "Who do you want?" I asked, slipping my hand into her hair at the base of her neck. I leaned in to press a long, slow, open-mouthed kiss to her throat, right where her pulse was pounding.
With a tighter grip to her hair, I pulled her mouth to mine. My tongue claimed, invaded, tasted. I kissed her hard, moaning when her fingers tugged my hair almost hard enough to hurt, though it wasn't a bad pain. I controlled every aspect of that kiss, and Bella let me. It wasn't until I tasted blood that I slowed down, finally pulling back.
Trailing my finger along her bottom lip where she'd chewed it to oblivion, I whispered, "Sorry."
She kissed the tip of my finger, her nose wrinkling a bit. "I'm the one who's sorry, Edward. I wish you hadn't heard any of that. I regret that whole night, trust me."
Swallowing nervously, I nodded but took in her stunning face. Fuck, she was just beautiful, flawless in a natural way – a way that most women paid big bucks to look. And I wanted her. Badly. I wanted her in every way imaginable. But I had one question.
"Do you regret this?" I asked her, toying with the bottom of her shirt while bracing for her answer. The overwhelming fear of being her first regret in her new life made me almost sick.
Bella cupped my face, forcing my gaze to hers. She shook her head. "No. I could never—"
"Good," I grunted, cutting her off.
That was all I needed to hear. Something in my chest broke free, allowing me to breathe for the first time in days. The air rushed out of me as I kissed her again, though this time, mindful of her sweet, tender bottom lip. The next few minutes were nothing but soft sounds, heavy breathing, and the removal of clothes. Our hands had minds of their own, it seemed. By the time we'd kicked out of our jeans and our shirts were tossed to the floor, my dick was so hard for her that a simple brush of her fingertips made him twitch for more, closer, everything. Guiding Bella to the middle of the bed, I braced one arm by her head so that the other was free to touch, squeeze, caress.
Bella stopped me, kissing my angry, red knuckles, and asked, "What happened, Edward?"
Leaning down, I pressed my lips to hers, whispering, "I punched a concrete wall."
"What? Why?" she asked, glancing down at my hand again, only to kiss them even softer, even sweeter than the first time.
I smirked, shrugging a shoulder. "Because I couldn't punch Jacob Black, or Mike Newton, or Caius Volturi, or anyone else who'd ever hurt you."
Bella's eyes welled up with tears, her hands pulling at me until I allowed my weight down on her. Her legs opened and wrapped around my hips, settling my dick where he was happiest – her sweet, wet pussy. He snuggled in like the whore he was.
"Edward, I..." She kissed me hard, not seeming affected by her sore lip, but it left me stupid and breathless by the time she pulled away. "God, baby, I...dammit, I need you."
My hips surged forward of their own accord, causing my cock to slip through her folds, brushing just lightly enough across her clit to make her whole body writhe beneath me. Her own hips tilted up, meeting me with every short, shallow thrust, but my hands were itching to touch.
"Just like this," I begged, allowing the lower parts of our bodies to remain pressed together, but my fingers ghosted over her breasts, under her arms, and up to her hands, finally linking our fingers together until I was pinning her down in every way.
I continued to tease her clit with the tip of my cock, over and over. My lips barely left her skin. I was everywhere, brushing kisses down her arms, paying close attention to the crooks of her elbows, which caused a string of curses to meet my ears when my teeth scraped just right. I was marking every inch of her as mine, trying my damnedest to erase the thought of anyone else with her. Her throat, collarbones, and shoulders all got the same attention, but I knew she was close when her eyes started to roll back into her head, her fingers squeezing my own. Leaning down, I captured a nipple between my teeth, only to soothe it with a long, slow lick, swirling around the peak.
"Tell me when you're coming, Bella. I want to hear it," I whispered, blowing my breath across the other nipple after giving it the same attention as the first.
Fuck, she was so wet. Every glide through her folds just coated me over and over. And I was so ready to be inside of her that I was leaking like a sieve.
"Yes...Edward, I'm..." Bella's breath caught in her throat, her head fell back, and her legs squeezed around me, but just as her climax peaked, I shifted just right and slid as deep inside her as I could go. Her cry out for me almost made me come on the spot, and it didn't help that her walls were clenching down on me like a vise.
Her whole body vibrated with the force of her orgasm. I stayed still, letting her calm just a bit before I started to move. Our bodies stayed stretched, our fingers still woven together.
This was so different. It felt just as good if not better than every other time with her, but this was so much more. This wasn't fucking or sex; I was making love to Bella, and that thought caused me to lean down and kiss her slowly, deeply, trying to communicate everything that I was feeling – whether I could say it or not.
I was completely in love with her. And that gave her all the power in the universe to destroy me.
"You feel so damn good," I whispered, pressing my forehead to hers and driving that much deeper into her.
Her fingers wriggled around mine. "I want to touch you. Please, Edward."
I released her hands, dropping to my elbows on either side of her head. I couldn't bear to be any farther away from her. I moaned, burying my face into her neck to suckle the sweetest skin I'd ever tasted.
"Fuck," I hissed, nipping at her earlobe. "Say it again. That you don't regret this. 'Cause fuck, I don't wanna stop."
Her fingernails raked up my back, across my shoulders, and finally, she grasped either side of my face to pull me away from her neck. She suckled my top lip, bottom lip, only to delve her tongue inside my mouth.
"God, no," she panted after she broke away from my lips. Nipping her way along my jaw, she opened her mouth to the skin just below my ear. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. The very best part of the silver lining," she whispered.
My hips slammed into hers, causing the sexiest of wanton moans to erupt out of her against my neck. I pushed up onto my hands to look down at her face. That answer was not what I was expecting. It was more. It went back all the way to her explanation of Mike Newton. She'd said the silver lining of WitSec – a new life – was that Marie Brandon had an ex named Mike, but Bella didn't. She'd been finding more and more parts of the silver lining ever since.
The sincerity, the emotions all over her flushed face, were all the confirmation I needed that she truly meant that shit. Suddenly, I was ready to come, and come hard.
"Come with me, come with me," I chanted, dropping my forehead back to hers. My eyes locked with deep brown as my hand slithered between us to find the sensitive spot that always sent her over the edge. "Please, baby, I need to feel you come again."
It didn't take much more coaxing before she was shuddering around me again. The halt of her breathing, the flush of her skin, and the tremor of her insides...they were all too much. Combined with all that she'd said, I was done – both figuratively and physically. I was a ruined man, and knowing that, I came so hard that my sight blackened for a moment, leaving nothing but white stars behind my eyelids.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" I growled, stilling all movements. My breathing was heavy, and I knew my weight was bearing down on her, but I couldn't fucking move. I didn't want to, either.
The room was deathly silent except for the slow ticking from the clock on the wall across the room. I opened my eyes to meet hers, brushing my lips over her own.
My brow furrowed as I kissed the tip of her nose. "I'm sorry that I left you earlier."
She smiled, shifting a little, so I pulled out of her and fell down along her side, wrapping my arms around her waist.
"You're kinda hot when you're jealous, Edward," she teased, kissing my chin when I chuckled. "And a little scary..." She held up her thumb and forefinger merely centimeters apart. "I thought for sure you hated me."
I was shaking my head before she finished. "No, far from it," I said cryptically. I hugged her even closer, kissing her again. "I'm sorry I scared you. And I'm sorry for all you've had to go through. I can't fucking imagine having a past indiscretion aired out there for everyone. It's not fair." I cupped her face, making sure she was listening to me. "I'm in no position to judge you on any of it. But I don't have to like it."
She grinned. "Fair enough," she sighed, smirking a little. "I'm sure eventually that we'll run into someone from your past in Seattle. I'm sure I'll hate it, too."
Groaning, I rolled onto my back and draped an arm across my eyes. "Yeah, ummm, we're not having this conversation yet. 'Cause if you're sexy when you're angry, I can't imagine how fuck-hot you'll be jealous..." My dick twitched just thinking about it, but I wasn't sure if it was the thought of Bella jealous or the fact that we were talking about Seattle, a carefully avoided topic.
She snorted, smacking me in the face with a pillow, and then sat up. "Don't flatter yourself, Edward Cullen!" she said with a laugh.
Chuckling again, I sat up and kissed her bare shoulder from behind her. "So you don't care if I'm with other women?" I asked teasingly, knowing the answer.
Her head turned, giving me a fiery glare over her shoulder. "I didn't say that."
Smirking, I brushed her hair from her shoulder and kissed her cheek. "That's what I thought." Trailing my fingertips across her shoulder and down her arm, I said, "Good. I don't want to be."
Bella turned to face me, kissing my lips lightly, but she studied my face. "We need to talk before we get to Seattle, don't we?"
Grimacing a little, I nodded. "Yeah, not only for your WitSec stuff, but for—"
"Us," she finished quietly, biting her bottom lip and nodding in acquiescence.
Reaching up, I tugged it from her teeth. "Stop that, baby," I chided gently. "You're tearing it up. And I happen to really like kissing you."
She smiled a little, but it was tentative and a touch sad. "I'd...I think we'd better wait until after the verdict. If Volturi goes free..."
I kissed her to shut her up – and in relief, because I wasn't ready for that conversation. "Okay," I said, pausing when her stomach growled. "Damn!" I chuckled, placing my hand over her stomach. "What the hell's in there? A walrus?"
Her giggle was pure and sweet and absolutely hilarious. "Okay, so I might be a little hungry."
I stopped laughing and cupped her face, realizing that she'd been upset when I'd stormed out of the apartment earlier. It was my fault she'd lost her appetite, and I needed to fix that shit. "What do you want, Bella? Anything. We'll get it."
She grinned. "Chinese!"
Sniffing once, I nodded. "Chinese, it is. Let's go see if the other two want something. If they don't want Chinese, they can fend for their fucking selves. Go get cleaned up and dressed." When Bella climbed out of bed, I noted her sexy-as-hell curves, her long, sex-mussed hair, and the sway of her hips as I got up and tugged on my jeans. "Bella," I called her before she reached the bathroom, and she turned to face me. Just above her breast was a dark love bite that made my dick start to feel a tad possessive. He twitched to life behind my zipper. I grabbed my Batman shirt off the corner of the dresser, tossing it her way. "And wear that."
"It's not here yet," Santiago said with a smirk as I made my way across the lobby.
I grinned, holding up my pack of cigarettes. "I know. I came down early."
He nodded, turned to Zafrina, and said, "Watch the desk. I'll keep him company outside."
"Yes, sir," she answered, taking the chair in front of the security monitors.
We walked together out the side lobby door, up the stairs of the garage, and out onto the top floor. I lit my cigarette, exhaling slowly. I really needed to quit. Bella hated it, but I didn't see that happening until we were out of this fucking city.
"Any news yet?" he asked.
"No, the jury's still out," I told him.
I set the pack and my lighter down on the wall, gazing out over the city. Santiago reached over, asking me silently for permission. I nodded, waving him on, trying not to eye the spot of blood from where I'd punched the cement wall earlier.
"My wife would kill me if she knew," he confessed, grinning over at me. "Nat was the reason I quit in the first place."
Gazing over at him, I had a million questions, but only one came out. "How'd you do it?"
He grinned, took a hit, blew it out. "I was stationed in Dallas straight out of training in Georgia. I'd been there about two and a half years before I caught my first WitSec detail. It wasn't the mob, it was a cult." His nose wrinkled when he grimaced. "You know, Jim Jones, Manson, that sort of shit. My witness, she was young, homeless, saw too much shit, and was finally able to escape, but the members of the cult hunted her, per their leader's command. I took the case." He was quiet for a moment. "I hid her well. My father had a hunting cabin, you see."
I nodded, smirking at how we'd both gone to the same measures to keep our charges safe. And suddenly, I missed the ease that Forks brought.
"My partner?" he asked with a smile. "Al Chambers."
Laughing, I shook my head. "Of course," I snorted.
"Bastard taught me everything I know before he was shipped off to Seattle," he said with a laugh. "He's a sly one. He knew. He knew the second I laid eyes on her that I was done." His eyes were faraway with the memory, and I understood that feeling. "And he made sure we did everything in our power to not only keep her safe, to get her to trial, but so that I could keep her in my life." He sighed, shaking his head. "He told me he wanted me to get 'my everything.'"
Taking a long hit on my cigarette, I grimaced. "He lost his first wife, Irina, in a car accident. She was pregnant with their first child. He's always called her that for as long as I can remember. His everything." I left out the fact that Uncle Al had said the same thing to me before I even took this case, that I needed to find mine, my everything. And now I had – the thought scared the utter shit out of me.
"Well, that makes sense," Santiago agreed, stubbing out his half-smoked cigarette and looking up at me. "For all his wisdom, bravery, and tough demeanor, there's a cheesy romantic underneath it all."
Snickering, I nodded, but waited for him to go on.
"My family is from here...New York." He pointed out toward the city. "So when the trial was over and the cult leader was on death row, I was finally granted a transfer to the Manhattan office. Natalie was given her new identity because some of the members are still running free, and she came with me. My family? They don't know. They'll never know, not that I think they'd give a shit. They adore my wife. I simply introduced her as who she is now."
Santiago raised an eyebrow at me. "Al is the only one who knows the truth. He not only made sure I got my position here, but he was the one that brought her to me. He's technically her handler."
I tossed my cigarette butt to the ground, stepping on it with my sneaker. "So no one knows? No one cares?"
"No," he said simply. "You'll know. I see the way you look at her, Edward. I've worn that same expression. She's more than a case, more than a witness. What you have to do is forget her life before this and focus on who she will be. To your family, to the florist, to her new neighbor, she's now Bella. Marie Brandon is a stranger."
"I know," I hedged, gazing over the city and then back to him. "And if she's made?"
"Can you live without her if she had to move?" he countered.
The answer was screaming inside of me that no, I couldn't live without Bella. But just as I was about to answer him, the cell phone in my pocket went off with a text from Jasper that told me to grab the damn food and get my ass upstairs. The jury was already back.
"Fuck, the jury's back," I hissed, and we double-timed it back downstairs to the lobby.
I thanked Zafrina for paying for the Chinese delivery, tossed a wad of bills her way, grabbed the full bag, and bolted for the elevator.
When I came through the door, I found everyone nervously sitting on the edge of the sofa. I set the bag of food on the coffee table, falling down beside Bella. One whiff of me explained why I'd taken so long.
"Sorry, baby," I whispered, kissing her temple instead of her lips.
"No, I get it," she told me with a nervous smile and a glance at the TV.
Alice came back into the living room with forks and plates, and we divided up the food while the courtroom was abuzz with activity. We all froze when the bailiff called out.
Judge Afton situated himself behind the bench, the entire courtroom taking a seat when he did. One glance at Volturi, and I could see the motherfucker sweating bullets. Afton waved to the bailiff to let the jury in. Twelve people took their places, all of them sitting down except the foreperson. She stayed standing, a folded piece of paper in her hand.
Leaving my plate untouched, I wrapped an arm around Bella. Her frame was trembling beside me, so I slipped my hand to her neck and rubbed softly.
"Shh, baby. Relax," I whispered in her ear. "No matter what, I've got you."
She nodded, her eyes never leaving the flatscreen.
"Has the jury reached a verdict?" Afton asked.
"We have, Your Honor," the foreperson answered, handing the paper over to the bailiff, who took it to the judge.
He opened it, read it, and handed it back. "Caius Volturi, please stand."
"Ooh-wee, he looks like he's about to shit a brick," Jasper snorted as the sweaty old man stood up.
Afton eyed Volturi, turning to the foreperson. "In the charge of murder in the first degree, how do you find the defendant?"
The woman took the paper, opened it, and read, "Guilty, Your Honor."
"In the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, how do you find him?"
"Guilty, Your Honor."
Several more charges were read off – things that just didn't matter – and both the courtroom and the apartment exploded. Alice jumped up and started dancing around, and Jasper wrapped her up and spun her. Bella stood up shakily and stepped away from the room. Before I could reach her, she fell to her knees behind the sofa, a sob escaping her. Falling to my own in front of her, I pulled her into my arms and hugged her close.
"It's over," she sniffled into my neck, gripping my T-shirt like I'd fly away. "It's really over."
"It's really over, baby. I promise." Cupping her face, I wiped her tears away with my thumbs. "Beautiful," I whispered, shaking my head at the need to just ravish the shit out of her, "you did it. I knew you could." I brushed my lips across hers.
She leaned into me, sniffling a little.
"Be proud, Bella. The hard part is over."
A/N #2: The trial is done! And Volturi is going away. This was a tense chapter to write. They're just so stubborn, but completely loyal. And now you know Santiago's story...and more importantly, Edward knows Santiago's story. Not that it changes much at this point, because we're not quite out of NY yet.
I know some of you are worried that with the trial being over, this fic is winding down. No. As Jenny stated, there are 34 chapters to this fic, so welcome to the other side of the hill. ;) Again, I urge you to brace yourselves for a bumpy ride. Now is when things become...real.
There are pictures to go along with this chapter. You can find them on Jenny's site and my blog. :) Check our profile for links!
Okay, so we'll see you on Sunday for chapter 22. Until then... Mooches, Deb. :)