A/N #1: This was written for the Fandom4Christy charity. This outtake for In Pursuit takes place four years into the future.
The usual announcements come with this. We don't own anything but our plot. It's rated M for violence, language, and a sexy Marshalward. ;) I should explain that I tried to keep this as accurate as possible when it came to inmate transport information. JPATS stands for Justice Prisoner and Alien Transport System…or Con Air. And yes, it was influenced a little by the movie. I took liberties on certain things, but for the most part, it's pretty close as far as how they operate.
I hope you enjoy it. It's fairly hefty in length, but Jenny and I had a helluva good time stepping back into Marshalward. :) See her at the bottom, and until next time… Mooches, Deb ;)
I trudged through my house, dropping my packed duffel onto the coffee table. Walking to the secure cabinet that used to house my glass bar, I unlocked the drawer that contained my sidearm, badge, and ammo. The bar may have been gone, but the pictures, which had only grown by leaps and bounds, still remained.
The house was quiet, the sun not even up yet as I fell down on the edge of the ottoman and laced my boots after tucking my cargoes into the tops. I shook my head at how different my life was, at how much change my house had seen over the last four years. What once contained a single man's life now sheltered and protected my whole damn world.
That last thought made my chest ache, so I took the stairs two at a time, carefully opening the door to what used to be my spare room. Gone were the neutral colors, and in their place was…well, anarchy, but in the middle of that chaos was a chestnut head of hair, with long dark eyelashes that rested against pale, chubby cheeks. Masen Edward Cullen was everything about Bella and me made over.
Kneeling by the bed, I reached out to lightly brush a curl from his forehead. I smiled at his Batman pajamas, his fist curled around an action figure, and the wrinkle in his brow that resembled my wife's so much it made me chuckle and rub a thumb lightly over it.
"You can wake him, baby," I heard softly behind me, but I shook my head. "He can nap later."
"No, he was upset enough that I wouldn't be here this weekend," I whispered back, swallowing thickly. "I wish I didn't have to go, but…"
My voice trailed off because I shouldn't bitch. Uncle Al had done his damnedest over the years to keep me on short-term details – Jasper, too. Technically, we were still the handlers of Alice and Bella Swan, two WitSec charges, but they'd long since changed their names…again. In fact, changing Bella's last name to Cullen had been one of the happiest days of our lives. We'd married in Forks, in the small meadow I'd taken Bella to when we'd hidden out there. The ceremony had been small, easy, perfect. We'd found out about Mase a mere six months later.
Leaning over, I pressed a kiss to my son's forehead, smiling when he curled up tighter and burrowed into the covers. I stood up, taking the travel cup of coffee Bella was holding out for me.
"How long?" she asked, looking up at me worriedly.
"At max, a week, sweetheart," I said, giving Mase one last glance before walking to the hallway. "Would you—"
"Have him call you? Yes, Edward," she finished teasingly. "I promise."
Grimacing, I nodded. "I'm sorry, Bella… I swear, I didn't…"
She chuckled, kissing me to shut me up. "Edward, you're down four men at the station. One's got the flu, the other is getting married, and two are on a WitSec detail. It's understandable that Uncle Al needs you."
"I hate leaving you."
She kissed me again before leading me downstairs. "I hate it, too, but…it's what I signed up for, baby." She grinned when I snorted and rolled my eyes. "Well, it's true." I opened my mouth for the usual lecture, but she held a hand up to stop me. "I know… Call Uncle Al if something happens, which it won't because Marcus Volturi is dead, Edward. Call Emmett if anything breaks in the house. Call your dad if either of us gets hurt or sick. If I'm feeling scared, go stay with Alice and Keri, or your parents, or Rose and Emmett. I've got this, baby."
Chuckling, I wrapped my arms around her. "I know, but I'll worry anyway." Cupping her face, I kissed her, losing myself in her taste, her warmth, the feel of her. Despite having Mase three years ago, she was still my beautiful girl – sexy, sweet, smart, and the best thing that ever happened to me. Breaking from her, I pressed my forehead to hers. "I'll check in before we take off, when we land each time, and every possible moment in between. Okay?"
"You'd better," she warned me, kissing me again before backing away. "Just…be careful. And tell Jasper to watch your back."
"He always does," I vowed as I tugged my baseball cap on, snatching up my duffel and slinging it across my chest. I pressed a kiss to her lips once more before chugging a bit more coffee and handing her the cup back. "Love you."
"Love you, too."
I straddled my bike, letting it coast down the driveway before starting her up in order not to wake Mase. The sun still wasn't up by the time I left my neighborhood.
It wasn't quite four thirty in the morning by the time I walked into my office. Jasper handed over a cup of coffee as he sat on the edge of his desk sipping his own. He was still bleary-eyed but was as resigned as I was that we had to do this.
Al walked out of his office, pointing to the large flat-screen monitor. "Cullen, Pope, Whitlock… You'll be leaving here for Airway Heights Correctional Center in just a moment to meet Harris, but I wanted to go over who will be in your custody before you go. You'll be traveling with about twenty prisoners from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, but five of them are our best and brightest," he told us, wearing a wry grin and clicking the remote in his hand. "But don't for one single second let your guard down around these assholes, am I clear?"
"Sir," we all muttered back.
"Good…" He nodded and then tapped the screen. "First up, Raymond Vargas. This gentleman is on his way to Puerto Rico, where he's already escaped a maximum-security prison once. He didn't stay free long, and he's on his way back. Do not let his skinny ass fool you. He's considered extremely violent, and if he gets his hand on a weapon, he knows how to use it. He's also not afraid to fight. He will look for an opportunity.
"Next up, Jack Ruffo… Yes, he's short, and yes, he's not exactly a member of the gym, but he's incredibly smart. He's a smooth talker on his way back to Virginia to answer for more fraud charges than I can shake a stick at. Somewhere in the world is three hundred and fifty million dollars, but the bastard won't spill. Of all your prisoners, this one will charm you instead of fight you, so it's best to just sit him down and walk away."
Al clicked the remote again. "Dale Creamer, lady and gents. He's five-eleven, weighing in at one-sixty. Multiple counts of child pornography, not to mention money laundering. He's headed to Arizona for trial for more counts of the same. Not really a fighter, but…considering what he's in for, other inmates tend to beat the piss out of him regularly, so watch that shit."
The face changed on the screen, and I narrowed my eyes and shook my head. "Oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me," I muttered, my lip curling in hatred. "McClain?"
"The one and only… Frederick McClain." My uncle's face scowled, but he nodded. "Believe me, Ed, I understand." He gazed across the rest of my team. "You do not want this fucker free. He's been accused of multiple counts of sexual assaults on a child for going on twenty-five years. He's been all over this country, but he's heading to Texas to face more. My hope is that he doesn't come out of Texas."
"He won't," Jasper drawled, grinning when I chuckled. "My home state put a fast track in for the death penalty…"
"Indeed," Al agreed, tapping the last man. "And this asshole. If you're gonna have trouble, it'll be from this guy. Trey Humphrey. This bald beauty has a record as long as my…arm," he stated with a grin. "Maybe longer. He's truly a product of the system. He went to prison at twenty-one for killing his girlfriend's uncle, though he only served fifteen years. He used that fifteen years to not only bulk up, but better himself with an education. When he was released, he then finished the job he'd started. The girlfriend, her sister, their parents…all stabbed to death." Al sighed and shook his head. "Pope, you being the only female on this team…you watch yourself around this fucker. He's got no problem with roughing up a female, and he'd be glad to put a federal officer on his resume. Got me?"
Pope's face barely flinched, but she nodded. "Sir."
"Good. Now…the bad news. You'll be riding along for four legs of this journey." Al held up four fingers. "Once you land at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma, you'll stay one night. Unfortunately, you'll have the pleasure of McClain and Humphrey one more time as you ride with them and a few other prisoners into Texas. In Texas, you'll pick up another load for Oklahoma and then back here with our own winners of the week. Luckily, it's a short plane ride between Texas and Oklahoma, so I don't think this will be too bad of a journey. It's not like I'm sending you with Vargas to Puerto Rico."
He grinned when I snorted, but walked to Jasper and me. "Thanks for filling in, boys. Are my girls pissed at me?"
"Yes," Jasper said with a chuckle. "You'll be pleading for kisses from Ali soon enough, old man."
Laughing, I shook my head. "No, Bella's pretty cool, though Mase is pissed."
"Well, he is you made over, sunshine," Al countered with a raised eyebrow, grinning when I shrugged a shoulder. "I'll check on all of them while you're gone. I swear it."
"Thanks, Al," Jasper and I replied in unison.
"Thanks for filling in on short notice."
We started to walk away toward the elevators.
"And boys, you stay sharp. You hear me?"
"Turn around and face the wall," I instructed, tugging on a new pair of gloves and glancing over my shoulder at Jasper.
"Last one," he stated, leaning back to wait for me to finish.
The search of a prisoner was best done in sections so as to not miss anything. They'd already been stripped down before they were led from their cells to make sure they weren't hiding anything in their asses, but they'd be searched a hundred times before they reached their final destination.
Shirt, pants, legs, shoes…all were checked over.
"Turn around and face me," I told the guy, who looked more like the skinny kid that crushed on my wife at the grocery store than a hardened criminal. "Mouth open," I said, grasping his chin. "Tongue up."
I nodded once to Jasper, who stepped forward with the restraints the guy would wear until we landed in Oklahoma. Leg irons around each ankle with separate locks, a belly chain around their middle where their handcuffs were attached in the front, and for the truly nasty, sometimes a face mask was used to keep a fucker from biting and spitting, although no one on this trek would need one.
Spinning the kid around, I guided him with a hand on his elbow to the final checkpoint. A sally-port was the last moment a prisoner was actually inside the jail. An automatic door clanged open, letting us into a garage, which wouldn't open unless the jail door was closed.
Jasper loaded the kid into the white van, and Pope and I grabbed our shotguns, signaling for the garage door to finally be lifted. If there was going to be a problem, it was as we were leaving the jail. Pope and I stepped through the garage, and I held up a hand to stop traffic in order to allow the van to back out onto the street, where we hopped into one of the following police cars before getting underway.
The van was between two unmarked police cars as we made our way to the airport. We wouldn't be the only van there, either, which proved to be true a short ride later once we were on the airport grounds.
JPATS – or Justice Prisoner & Alien Transportation System – was busier than any travel agency in the country. With as many buses as Greyhound, two 727s, three DC9s, and around eight private jets, JPATS moved prisoners all damn day, every day of the week. Our flight into Oklahoma would be on a 727.
Each van was unloaded, one prisoner at a time. Jasper and I took point out front of the loading door, armed again with shotguns. Three vans full later, we stepped up into the plane.
Harris stood at the front of the plane as we passed him by. He was an older guy, with red hair that was turning white, but he wasn't someone to fuck with; he'd been doing these prisoner transports for well over a decade, had his share of fights, not to mention an attempted runner or two. He was also who Jasper and I would answer to while we were on this detail.
The marshals were stationed throughout the cabin in order to keep an eye on things. However, for take-off, we were securely locked behind a metal cage door. On the way back, Jasper took the right side and I took the left, making sure that all seat belts were fastened, finally falling down in seats across from one another as Harris made his usual speech.
"Gentleman," he boomed, his voice carrying through the cabin as the engines started up on the plane. "Welcome to JPATS flight 211, which if you don't know stands for Justice Prisoner and Alien Transport System – or as it's most commonly known, 'Con Air.'" He grinned when some of the transports scoffed or chuckled, but it was more menacing than friendly. "You will not move from these seats, you will not remove your safety belts, and you will keep the talk down to a minimum. We will be landing at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma, where you'll be staying at the Federal Transfer Center. From there, you'll move on to your final destination…wherever that may be. You'll be respectful of the officers on this plane, and you'll do exactly what they tell you. If I hear otherwise, I have no shame in moving you to the cages for the remainder of the flight," he stated, pointing toward the back of the plane where there were individual metal cages with seats and belts. He held up that same finger. "And I'll make sure you travel that way for every leg of your journey."
Harris joined us behind the metal doors as the plane taxied down the runway. The prisoners stayed pretty stoic for the most part until we were well in the air. Though, it was still damned early in the morning. Once the captain gave the all-clear sign, a few of us stood up and positioned ourselves in random places. Jasper chose to lean against an empty seat. Pope, being the only woman, stayed at the back of the plane, ignoring the animalistic stares beautifully. Harris and I stood at the front of the cabin in order to keep watch over the entire lot of them.
"First JPATS flight?" he asked me.
"No, no…just the first one in a long time," I answered him, shrugging a shoulder. "Jazz and I have done plenty of van transports between prisons and to court and shit, but we haven't ridden Con Air in like six years."
"Oh, right, you two had a WitSec detail."
Smiling in spite of myself, I nodded, glancing down at my silver wedding band as I hooked my thumbs in my belt. "Yeah, we did."
My eyes raked over the seats, hearing soft conversations breaking out here and there. It was the usual chatter – where they were going, what they'd done to get in, and when they were due out.
"How'd that go?" he asked without taking his eyes from the men in our charge.
I chuckled, shaking my head. "Fine…just fine," I hedged, knowing that it was better than fine. Taking that WitSec case had changed my life completely.
I'd gone from a cold, callous man who'd had my heart shattered to finding the best thing to ever happen to me, to marrying her, and she'd given me the best gift ever – Mase. But I couldn't tell Harris any of that was related to my WitSec case. To my co-workers, my fellow officers, I'd met my wife at my dad's office, and from there, we'd introduced her fraternal twin sister to Jasper. The rest, as they say, was history. Only Uncle Al, my family, and Betty Grayson knew the truth.
I heard a hissed curse to my left and caught sight of the last guy I'd shackled. The poor kid looked like he was about to sweat to death, his skin pale and his hands shaky as he tried to wipe his face. He started to fidget but panicked when I walked over.
"You need to settle down," I told him, but his fearful glance up at me made me frown. "What's the matter?"
"Fuck me, I hate flying…s-sir." He swallowed thickly, looking like he was going to be sick.
Chuckling, I reached over and slammed the window closed, grabbing a sick bag. "Easy, kid. Pretend it's a bus ride, yeah?"
He nodded vehemently, closing his eyes and letting out a slow breath. In his hands, the bag shook a little, but the derisive chuckle next to him made me narrow my eyes.
"Right, bus trip," McClain muttered. "It's thirty thousand feet in the air, and we're going five hundred miles an hour, but you go ahead and think bus, Rudy."
"McClain, if I want shit outta you, I'll squeeze your head!" I snapped, forcing myself not to punch his face when he glared my way, but he was smart enough not to say anything. I turned to the kid again. "Your name's Rudy?"
He nodded again, his groan pitiful. "Y-Yeah… Rudolfo Dawson. E-Everyone calls me Rudy."
Nodding, I stepped back. "Hang in there, Rudy. It's not a long flight."
I knew the name from the report we'd been given on exactly who would be on the plane with us. JPATS ran background checks on each passenger so that no rival gangs would be trapped on the plane together, or no leaders of white supremacist groups sat with black gang members. I knew for a fact that Rudy was actually on his way home. He'd served his time in Washington and was being sent back to Texas, which meant I'd have him again, along with McClain, when we left the FTC in Oklahoma.
The rest of the five-hour flight was pretty quiet, and Rudy settled down enough to fall asleep, but more than once did I catch McClain's nasty glare my way.
"He's gonna give us trouble," Harris noted with a jerk of his chin and a flip through the file as we touched down in Oklahoma. "I may cage him tomorrow on the way to Austin."
Jasper and I nodded and then stood up when it came time to unload the transfers straight into the FTC.
"Hey, pal…what'cha doin'?" I asked him over the phone as I got dressed for work the next morning in the FTC locker room.
My eyes fell to my ink – the angel on my forearm, the scales of justice on my bicep, the explosion of bats on my left pec up to my shoulder, and in the mirror behind me, I saw my Celtic knot spread across from shoulder to shoulder. But as my son babbled in my ear about playing tag with Jasper's little girl, Keri, and eating pizza with his cousin, Emma – who was pushing eight years old but still let me call her Ladybug – I took in my son's name across my right pec. Not only was he named after my birth father, but the M in the name was detailed with swirls and loops of black and red, and with a closer look, there was a tribal-like swan in there for Bella. It was, by far, Garrett's best work.
"I miss you," he finally stated, and I could just imagine the pout on his face, looking much like his mother.
"Ah, Mase, I miss you, too, buddy. I won't be gone long. I promise," I vowed to him.
"Mommy misses you, too."
I chuckled. "Yeah? Did she tell you that?"
"What'd she say?"
"She said…she said…that the house was too empty."
Grinning, I shook my head. "I love you, kiddo. Let me talk to her."
"'Kay, Daddy. Hurwy home!"
There was a shuffling over the line, and then my sweet wife's voice met my ear. "Hey, baby."
"Hey, beautiful. I'm about to head out of here," I told her, pulling the phone away just long enough to pull my polo shirt on. "Texas, then back here…and then home. Okay?"
"Okay," she replied softly. "Alice, Rose, and I are taking the kids to your parents' today. Carlisle wants to grill hot dogs for them. Umm…I may stay over there with Mase. I'm not sure yet."
Frowning, I nodded, even though she couldn't see me. "That's fine, baby. You okay?"
"I just miss you, Edward. I hate sleeping without you."
Smiling, I glanced up when Jasper called me from the door. "Me, too, baby. I gotta go."
I ended the call and took a deep breath. I didn't know why I was so on edge about Edward's trip – maybe because it had been a while since he'd had to go out of town for longer than just one night. Regardless, there was a deep, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was going to go wrong, even though I knew that if anyone could take care of themselves, it was Edward.
With a quick prayer under my breath, I turned and called out to our son, who'd run off to play as soon as he finished talking with his daddy. "Mase, bring Mommy your sandals. We're gonna go see Pops and Mémé."
We'd just seen them the night before for dinner, but the way he reacted made it seem like it had been forever.
"Woohoo!" Masen yelled from across the house, making me laugh and shake my head. He came bouncing into the living room – literally bouncing, like Tigger or a kangaroo – one sandal in each hand. "E'rybody comin'?"
"Yep," I answered as I guided him to sit on the couch beside me so I could help him with his shoes. "Uncle Emmett, Aunt Rose, and Emma are there already, and we're gonna pick up Aunt Ali and Keri on the way over."
Reaching out, I tickled his sides, making him giggle. "Uncle Jasper's with Daddy, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he repeated, nodding. "Workin'."
"Right. Working." Standing, I held out my hand. "C'mon. Let's go before Emma steals all Pops' and Mèmè's hugs, huh?"
Masen laughed, shaking his head, but took my hand anyway. "Dey got lots of hugs, Mommy. Dey tell me dat all da time!"
"Oh right. Silly me," I teased, moving him steadily to the door so he didn't get distracted by anything on the way out to the car.
After buckling him into his car seat, I climbed behind the wheel, and we were off. It wasn't far to Alice and Jasper's house – the house we'd rented from Betty Grayson when we first moved to Seattle, which my sister and Jasper had bought before they got married.
When I pulled into the drive, I laughed as Keri's cute little pixie face pressed against the glass of the front window. She waved and then disappeared, and moments later, she and Alice stepped outside. Keri was the perfect combination of my sister and Jasper. At four years old, she had Alice's stature, mouth, and pert little nose, with Jasper's hazel eyes and hair – slightly darker than his, yet more fine, like Alice's – and lips. Unfortunately, she also had his ears, which Carlisle had more than once assured her parents she would grow into.
Alice waved and motioned to her car, and I gave her a thumbs-up, knowing she needed to get Keri's car seat. It didn't take long for Ali to have the car seat and then Keri belted in, and then we took off for Carlisle and Esme's – or Pops, which had amused Emmett something fierce when his nickname for Carlisle had rubbed off on Emma, and Mémé, which had come about when Emma could pronounce the second part of Esme's name but not the first – house.
The kids started chatting animatedly in the backseat, and even though they weren't paying attention to us, I kept my voice quiet as I spoke to Alice.
"Did you talk to Jasper this morning?"
She nodded. "He called about forty-five minutes ago to say good morning."
"I hate this," I huffed. "I hate that they're surrounded by…" I let my voice trail off, knowing she would understand I meant surrounded by the prisoners our husbands were traveling with.
"I know," she groaned, glancing over her shoulder at the kids. "Believe me, I don't like it any more than you do."
Shaking my head, I switched topics, and we talked about plans for the rest of the weekend all the way to the house.
I pulled into the small drive in the front of the house, parking behind Emmett's SUV. Esme appeared on the porch before Alice and I could get the kids out of their seats, and by the time they climbed out of the car, they were already calling out to her.
"Mémé!" they yelled, rushing to her and nearly jumping on her in their excitement.
Esme laughed and squatted down, pulling them into her arms. "Look at you," she said, squeezing them tight. "I think you've both grown since last night."
Keri giggled. "No, Mémé. You need to stand up!"
Masen chortled, his hands across his mouth in amusement.
Esme stood, keeping her hands on the tops of their heads, and grinned. "Well, lookie there! You're little again."
The kids laughed.
"Emma's in the backyard with Pops and Uncle Emmett if you wanna—"
Their twin squeals drowned out the rest of what she was going to say, and they took off around the side of the house before we could say anything. After a moment, there were more squeals and then Emmett's booming laughter. Without seeing it, I knew they'd jumped on Carlisle the same way they'd almost done with Esme, and like always, he'd fallen to the ground, like they'd really tackled him.
"Come inside, girls," Esme said, wrapping her arms around our shoulders as we stepped up to her. "Carlisle and Emmett can handle the kids while we relax."
Once inside, we sat down in the living room, curling up on opposite ends of the couch.
Rose was on the phone, and she smiled but held up a finger, rolling her eyes. "Yes, Gia, I know…No, just leave it on my desk and I'll get to it in the morning…" She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "No, I'll handle it, really." Finally, her face relaxed and she nodded. "Okay. Good. I'll talk to you tomorrow." She tapped her phone and sighed as she set it on the table beside her. "I swear, I should hire you to take over the books for us, Bella. I don't have as much time as I need to, now that Emma's taking gymnastics and playing soccer, and Lord knows Gianna can't do them for me. I know you're happy at the hospital, though."
I laughed. "I am, but I'd be glad to take a look if you have a problem."
She shrugged. "Not really, no. Just too much to do and not enough time to do it. That's the life of a mother who owns her own business."
Esme came back from the kitchen and handed both Alice and myself glasses of ice water, which we set on coasters on the small end tables beside us, thanking her.
"Have you heard from the guys?" Rose asked.
We nodded, and I said, "They both called this morning before leaving for the plane."
Esme settled onto the other couch beside Rose. "Where are they headed now?"
"Austin," Alice answered and then chuckled. "Jasper said he'll feel right at home. It's been years since he was back in Texas."
Luckily, the back door banged open and Masen came screaming in, saving me from having to talk more about Edward's trip. "Mommy, Pops said we can go swimmin'!"
I laughed as Carlisle walked calmly into the room, shaking his head. Keri skipped along behind him. "Not exactly what I said, Mase. I said it'll be warm enough after lunch to go swimming."
Masen frowned, his bottom lip sticking out adorably. "I wanna go now."
"How about you go with Mémé to the kitchen and make some cookies for this afternoon's snack?" Esme scooped him into her arms, covering his face with kisses as Mase instantly forgot his bad mood and laughed, trying to squirm away from her. "I even got M&Ms to go in them."
"I like da red ones, Mémé," Masen said, his voice animated. "But da green ones are good too."
Esme's response was lost as they disappeared into the kitchen.
The rest of the morning was loud and the perfect distraction from my worry over Edward. The kids all ended up helping Esme make cookies, Keri and Masen lasting until time to scoop it up and put it on the metal sheets before growing tired of it. They were more interested in eating the dough than baking it. After just a couple of tiny bites each, she sent them back in to the rest of us, and they dragged us out to the backyard, leaving Emma to finish baking with Esme.
As their grandchildren grew, Carlisle and Esme had added all sorts of fun stuff to their yard. There was now a pool, a trampoline, and a wooden play set, all of which dominated the yard, which hadn't been that big to begin with. Watching Emmett bounce on the trampoline with Masen and Keri was too much fun. Carlisle, Rose, Alice, and I laughed at the sheer joy in their voices when Emmett had them sit across from one another while he stood in the middle and began to bounce. It didn't take long before they were flying everywhere. Emmett knew just how hard to jump in order to keep them safe, yet make it fun. Thankfully, the enclosure net around it kept them from tumbling off.
"He's good with them," I said, smiling at Rose, who was watching her husband with a look of amusement and love.
"He is," she agreed, nodding and smiling sadly my way before looking back. "I wish I'd been able to give him more, but…if it hasn't happened before now, I doubt it will."
I reached over and squeezed her hand. After trying for several years, they'd had all sorts of tests run, but even though everything appeared normal in all of them, they'd yet to conceive a second time. Unlike Alice, who was content with her one, Rose and I wanted more kids. I would be happy with two, but I knew she wanted at least two or three more. The longer it took, the more discouraged both she and Emmett got, and that was hard for everyone to see.
"We've been talking adoption," she admitted, smiling when Carlisle whipped his head around to raise an eyebrow at her. "Nothing formal yet. Just…between the two of us, the what-ifs and maybes."
Carlisle stood, stepped over to her, and put his hand on her shoulder. "Any child who comes into your lives will be lucky to have you, and your mother and I will love them every bit as much as we love the three we already have," he said, stressing the three with a glance to Alice, reminding us all that even though they weren't truly related, she, Jasper, and Keri were family. With a glance at the watch on his left wrist, he smiled and called out, "Anyone hungry?"
Three resounding voices called out, "Me!"
Chuckling, he said, "Hot dogs on the grill coming up."
"McClain!" Harris snapped, banging on his cage door. "I am not fucking with you! Shut the fuck up, or I'll strap a mask on your face!"
I glanced up from my phone, eyeing the situation. The plane from FTC to Austin, Texas, was laid out differently than the one we'd taken from Seattle. The seats were centered in the cabin, and the cages were along the sides. Harris had kept his word, but he'd not only locked up McClain this time, but Humphrey, too. The latter had been rather volatile when being shackled that morning, so Jasper and I weren't taking any chances. However, McClain's reputation had somehow leaked out in FTC, and the fact that he was a child molester had burned through the facility like wildfire, so he'd been threatened numerous times. He was in the cage for his protection.
"Want me to shut 'im up, boss?" a deep voice rumbled from the seats.
"No, I want you to stay where you are," Harris ordered, pointing his way.
Jasper chuckled and looked to me. "That's a big bastard," he muttered with a grin and a slow shake of his head.
"No shit," I said with a huffing laugh as I glanced over to the inmate who had spoken up. He had to be pushing six-foot-five and close to two hundred and seventy-five pounds. He was a bear of a man, which was fitting since his name was Baer. He made Emmett seem small. "Seems docile enough, though."
"Well, he's not exactly the brightest crayon in the box, but…" Pope chortled, shrugging a shoulder, but she stepped away from us to wander up the aisle. "Settle down, big guy," she told him, and he grinned up at her.
"Yes, ma'am," he drawled but gave the cage a nasty glare.
The turbulence kicked up again, and my gaze shot to Rudy when he whimpered. The plane shook and then dropped quickly, only to level out again. It was then that I heard the rolling thunder and the spatter of rain. I was truly grateful that this flight was only a few hours long. Between Rudy's fear of flying and McClain's taunting him, it had made for a tense fucking morning.
Pocketing my phone, I stepped carefully up the aisle opposite the cages. There were a handful of inmates heading to Austin, but they were quiet. Aside from Rudy, most were heading to attend court or testify in trials. Baer, however, was simply transferring to another facility to finish out his sentence.
The plane plummeted again, and I grabbed on to the overhead compartment to keep upright. It was then that I heard not only the rattle against the side of the plane but the alarms and loud voices of the pilots. Glancing out the window, I saw heavy rain but also twisting clouds. But it was the smoke coming from the engine that caused me to move. Slamming the window closed, I rushed to Harris.
"We got an engine out…or at least it's about to go out," I muttered to him, not wanting the transports to hear.
He nodded, jerking his chin toward the front of the plane. "Tap on their door, see what they're thinking. They may want to fly around this shit, but they may set down temporarily at the nearest airport. If we land, we'll need to let the local authorities know ahead of time so we'll have backup."
"Roger that," I stated, walking to the door, but only after giving Jasper a look that said to stay sharp.
I rapped on the door. "It's Marshal Cullen."
The door creaked open, which allowed every alarm, every radio call to echo out into the cabin.
"We still got three engines that are a go, Marshal," the co-pilot stated without pause. "We're gonna fly around this storm, but it'll add a bit of time to our flight."
"Time is fine. If you decide to land, though, we need to know," I told him, and my stomach shot up to my throat when we hit another air pocket.
"We'll let you…" he started but trailed off, his eyes locked behind me. "Sir!"
"Ed!" Jasper called, and when I spun around, reaching for my weapon, a low, drawling voice stopped me cold.
"Ah, ah, ah," McClain sang slowly, his arm around Pope's neck, but her weapon was in his now free hands…and pointed at Harris. "Close that cockpit, and I put a hole in their heads."
The co-pilot started to close the door anyway, but my arm shot out to slam it back open, giving him a shake of my head.
"Excellent, Marshal Cullen…now, what I need all of you federal assholes to do is drop your fucking weapons."
When neither Jasper nor I moved, McClain pulled the trigger, killing the co-pilot right where he was standing. My eyes narrowed, but I couldn't do shit because when I went for my weapon again, the muzzle of the gun was then pressed to Pope's temple.
"Now, tell the pilot we have a change in plans." He walked forward, snatched the keys from Pope's belt, and tossed them straight into the hands of Humphrey, who was out of his cuffs and ankle restraints in the blink of an eye.
My lip curled as Humphrey eyed Pope like she was his next meal, and when I made a move to step forward, McClain intervened.
"Grab Marshal Harris's gun, Humphrey," he ordered, "and if you even think about pulling your dick out on this plane, I'll shoot you where you stand." He shook Pope for emphasis at the convicted rapist and murderer.
Humphrey narrowed his eyes but did as he was told.
"Now, lock them all up in the cages."
Humphrey made a cheap shot to Harris's face, knocking him woozy, and slammed the cage door closed, only to turn around and pistol-whip Jasper, taking his weapon as well. I started forward again, but the muzzle of a gun pressed to the middle of my forehead.
"No, I don't think so, Cullen. Tell that pilot to shut those fucking alarms off."
My nostrils flared with my temper, and I bit down hard on my bottom lip. "We're down an engine, asshole. He has no choice but to radio that shit in, McClain. If he doesn't, we'll have military jets on our ass in less than ten minutes." I smirked. "Which is fucking fine by me, but I thought you should know. Personally, I'd rather not end up splattered all over fucking Texas."
McClain faltered for a moment, which made me snort.
"Welcome to the world post 9/11, fuckwit. Any plane that refuses to answer a radio call is deemed a threat by Homeland Security."
We both caught the radio call from the cockpit.
"Justice 213, we're catching alarms on your flight…"
I raised an eyebrow at McClain, trying to keep my cool, because if he lost his shit and put a bullet into the hull of the plane, no radio call would help us. And I needed to keep the fucking pilot alive, no matter where this asshole thought he could take us.
McClain tapped my forehead once with the gun. "What's the pilot's name?"
"Captain Blake," he called, releasing Pope into Humphrey's control but keeping the gun to my head as he pushed us closer to the cockpit door, stepping over the dead co-pilot. "Captain Blake, answer them, but if you say anything other than we're just peachy-keen up here, I'll—"
"You'll what?" we heard behind us, and I turned to see Rudy free from his chains. Behind him, Baer was assessing his surroundings with a blank look on his face. "I get this 'take over the plane' shit you're pullin', but you're a fucking idiot if you kill the only motherfucker on this plane who can actually fly it."
McClain wasn't stupid, but he smiled crookedly. "Relax, Rudy. By this time tomorrow, we'll be lounging in the sand on a beach somewhere." He turned to Blake. "Answer them. And plot your course for the Del Rio airport. Anything different, and I'll start taking out every federal officer piece by fucking piece. I may even let Humphrey loose on Marshal Pope over there."
Humphrey grinned like he'd just won the lottery, but Rudy was sweating fucking bullets. Technically, he was a free man simply hitching a ride home. If McClain knew that, he'd be as good as dead, if only because he had nothing to fight for. However, the rest of the now free prisoners, which numbered about ten, wanted to escape. There wasn't a man on board – aside from Rudy – who was looking at less than five years more behind bars. McClain and Humphrey were lifers.
Blake shot a glance to me, and I nodded for him to go ahead. He silenced the alarms, radioing back that we had an engine failure, that we were rerouting around the storm, and that we were fine. What he also did was trigger a silent alarm, but McClain was too busy with emptying my pockets to notice. I eyed my phone and my sidearm as he set them aside.
When McClain stepped up in my face, I smiled. "You're awfully calm, Marshal Cullen." I shrugged a shoulder, leveling him with a glare. "You know something I don't?"
"I'm pretty sure I know lots of shit you don't, McClain." I laughed humorlessly. "Like you'll need each and every one of us to use as leverage to get across the border into Mexico, which seems to be your plan. I also know you're a disgusting little troll that gets off on taking pictures of little kids…also a draw to get into Mexico, considering from there, you could ooze your way into a non-extradition country like Venezuela or Brazil." I smiled a little bigger. "Oh, yeah…and I know I'm gonna kill your ass before this is all over. Texas won't have a chance to put a needle in your arm. You'll be dead by the time the landing gears touch down."
McClain laughed. "Blake! What's our ETA?"
"A little over three hours."
"And how long until they realize that we're not landing in Austin?"
"They'll chart our progress around this storm. When we don't turn back east in about an hour and a half, JPATS will know something's up," Blake replied honestly.
McClain looked back to me. "Tick-tock, marshal."
Sneering his way, I stayed still.
"Baer!" he yelled, with only his eyes moving away from me. "Why don't you help Marshal Cullen move this unfortunate incident out of my sight." He kicked the co-pilot's body.
The big bastard stepped up to us, locking gazes with me, but his face was still blank – no emotion, no sign of what he was thinking or planning. He nodded, reaching down to take ahold of the dead man's arm, and I did the same.
"Where you want him?" Baer asked in his deep rumbling voice, and for a split second, I saw pure feral hate cross the big man's features, but he quickly covered it up.
"In the back seats," McClain answered, walking to the cages to check on Pope and Harris. He smiled at Jasper, whose right eyebrow was cut and bleeding. "Oh, and Baer? When you're done, lock Cullen in this last cage."
Baer glanced over at me, shaking his head. "Yeah, boss."
We lugged the co-pilot's body down the aisle to the last row of seats. Baer's large hands patted down the man's pockets, finding a cell phone, only to tuck it down his shirt quickly. When he stood up straight, Humphrey was there with handcuffs.
"Cuff him, Baer," he stated, leaning in to me but glancing over at Pope. "She's gonna taste so sweet…"
Baer pulled my hands together, clicking the cuffs tight to my wrists. And I reared my head back, smashing it hard in Humphrey's face. For a brief second, I saw stars, but Humphrey almost fell to his knees, only to run into the wall that was Baer.
"I'm gonna fucking kill you, asshole!" Humphrey screamed, trying to lunge at me around Baer.
"We need him," was all Baer muttered, placing his large hand in the middle of Humphrey's chest and shoving. The man stumbled back a few steps, allowing us to reach the cage.
Baer placed a hand on my shoulder, forcing into the cage and turned me around, but it was gentle. He shot a glance over his shoulder to where McClain was leaning in the cockpit doorway. He reached into his shirt, only to pull out the cell phone. Without looking away from McClain, he stuffed the phone into the front pocket of my cargo pants.
"I'm a thief, boss. Not a killer," he muttered, forcing me down into the seat before slamming the door of the cage shut.
I kept my face blank at that, glaring McClain's way before looking back at the big guy.
"You don't hurt babies, and you don't beat women. My momma taught me that," he stated before walking away, which told me Baer wasn't exactly under the employ of McClain. Ignoring the phone he'd stuck in my pocket for just a moment, I checked on Pope to my left.
"I'm pretty pissed, Edward," she stated back weakly, glaring at where Humphrey had handcuffed her to the caged with her hands above her head.
Snorting, I jerked my chin to the cage on the other side of her. "And Harris?"
"He's out. His breathing is shallow, but he's alive. Humphrey got a cheap shot in."
Nodding, I turned to Jasper, only to meet his angry hazel gaze. He, too, had been handcuffed to the cage wall. He was able to sit down, but his arms were stretched out in front of him.
"Silent alarm?" he asked in a barely-there whisper, and I nodded, glancing across the plane.
Humphrey and McClain had the guns. There was a pile of cell phones, keys, and personal items on the seat in front of him. They'd stripped my fellow officers of their shit.
The weather had mellowed out a little when Blake had re-charted our course around the storm, but the turbulence was still pretty shaky. Rudy looked like he was going to puke, and Baer took a seat as if nothing was happening. There were a few transports laughing it up with Humphrey, but McClain paced back and forth at the front.
Moving slowly and carefully, I reached for the phone Baer had given me. Turbulence rattled the plane again, and I took advantage of the distraction in order to send a message to Al. I quickly typed out my name and badge number, knowing he wouldn't recognize the number. I also told him where we were headed, how many were on the plane, and who was holding the plane hostage.
"Hide that shit, Ed," Jasper muttered, his eyes on the prisoners. "Now, man."
I dropped it to the floor of my cage, kicking it under the seat. I heard it vibrate, but there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it as Humphrey wandered over. He obviously couldn't stay away from Pope, which would most likely be his undoing.
Turning to Jasper, I whispered, "Someone's gonna fuck up…hot heads and no discipline."
"Yup," he drawled back. "But until then…you gotta hope Al got your message and the alarm is doing its thing."
"Slow down, Mase," I called as my three-year-old son went careening around the corner, chasing after his cousin.
Esme laughed as she settled into the chair next to mine. "They've been going full-speed for hours. You'd think they'd be tired, yet…"
Shaking my head, I grinned and took a sip of the cold drink she'd handed me. "They'll drop any minute, I'm sure. Mase will come over and claim he wants a hug, and the next thing I know…he's out on my shoulder."
"Edward was like that, too," she mused. "Full of energy – so much that it was hard to keep up with him sometimes – until he fell asleep almost wherever he was standing. I found him in the strangest places: on the little training potty seat—remember that, Carlisle?" She continued when he nodded with a grin. "More times than I can count at the kitchen table with his snack… No place was safe, it felt like."
I chuckled, nodding. "Yes, exactly."
"Not Keri," Alice sighed across from us. "She has more energy than even I know what to do with."
Rolling my eyes, I playfully tossed the tab I'd ripped from my can of Coke, hitting her on the shoulder. She tossed it back at me, and I caught it, laughing. "Come on, Ali. She's exactly like you were – like you are."
She grinned. "Maybe. She mentioned wanting to start gymnastics. I think I'll check with Rose and see if Ladybug likes—"
"Emma loves her class," Rose interrupted, sliding into the seat on the other side of Esme. "Keri wouldn't have the same teacher, but they're all great over there, so I know she'd love it." She took a quick drink of her ice water and then smiled. "I'll text you their number when I get home."
Alice nodded. "Thanks."
"Mase! Keri!" Emma suddenly called from the back of the yard. "C'mere!"
"I should be worried, shouldn't I?" Rose sighed, looking back to where the kids were all hunched down, clearly looking at something we couldn't see. She started to stand, but I waved her down.
"I'll go look," I told her, smiling. "Probably just a cool rock or something."
She smiled gratefully, leaning her head back and closing her eyes as I took a last drink and then stood, quickly making my way back to the kids.
"Whatcha got there?" I asked, grinning when three children promptly shushed me.
Peering over Masen's shoulder, I saw that Emma had managed to corner a big ole' fat frog in the corner of the fence. If he'd been a touch smaller, he could've slipped through one of the holes in the chain-link fence, but as it was, he was trapped.
"Nice, Ladybug. You're probably scaring him, though…" When all three kids looked up at me, eyes wide and worried, I nodded. "Think about it. He's little bitty, and you guys are giants in his eyes."
"'Kay, Aunt Bella," Emma said solemnly. "Say goodbye to the frog, guys."
"Bye, fwoggie!" Mase sang, reaching out to pat it gently on its head. I couldn't help but laugh. He sounded so much like Emma had when Edward and I had taken her to the park and she'd gone to look at the giant frog statue.
Keri echoed him, although she declined to touch it, and then she and Masen took off across the yard, calling for Pops to push them on the swing.
Carlisle stood from his place at the table and went to them as Emma and I started back across the yard.
"I finished Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer," she announced, smiling up at me. "It was good, like you said."
I nodded. "I know my stuff," I teased. "Time to start Harry Potter, don't you think?"
She sighed. "But they're so big!"
Laughing, I reached out and tweaked her nose. "You're a fast reader, Ems. You'll breeze through them, I promise. And I think your mom loves that series, so read them with her. She'll love that."
"'Kay. Maybe we can read some before bed or somethin'."
"There ya go." I smiled and started to say something, but Carlisle's phone rang, and he looked at the caller ID and then up at us.
"Hey, Ladybug. Come push your cousins, please, sweetheart."
Emma hooked a right toward the swing set, while I continued on to the table, my eyes on Carlisle as he paced across the yard.
"You suppose he's gonna have to go in?" I asked, watching as he ran a hand through his hair, so much like Edward it hurt my heart.
"I hope not," Esme said with a frown.
"If he does, I can grill the steaks," Emmett said from beside Rose. "We'll manage."
We waited as Carlisle ended the call and slid the phone back into the pocket of his shorts before coming over to us, his face grim.
"What's wrong?" Esme looked up at him. "Do you need to go in?"
"No…" He sighed and then looked first at me, then Alice, and finally Esme before speaking again. "That was Al. There's a problem."
The buzzing in my head got louder and louder as I listened to him explain what little they knew so far.
"Al said if you want to come down to the office, you can."
I immediately nodded, aware that Alice, Esme, and Rose were nodding as well.
"I'll stay here with the kids," he said.
Emmett nodded. "I'll drive you. We've got the SUV here, so we should all fit."
Looking over at the kids, I was debating what, if anything, to tell Masen, when Esme's light touch on my shoulder drew my attention her way. "Just tell him we're going to pick up things to cook for dinner or something and that Pops will stay with him, sweetie. You don't want to scare him."
"Right," I agreed, grateful that at least someone was thinking clearly.
As soon as we'd all said a hurried goodbye to the kids, we piled into the SUV and Emmett drove us away from the house. Esme was in the front, while Alice, Rose, and I huddled in the far back row of seats, clutching each others' hands tightly.
It didn't take too long to get to the USMS office, even though traffic was fairly heavy because it was Saturday afternoon.
We rushed inside and were met with a loud, angry Al yelling into his phone in his office. He saw us and waved us in, snapping into the phone, "Do it, and call me back ASAP!" Then he slammed it down into the cradle and leaned down with his arms bracing him on his desk. With a sigh, he looked up and said, "None of you are here, you got me?" When we nodded quickly, he continued. "Here's what I know…
"Almost half an hour ago, I received a text from an unknown number. On it were Edward's name and badge number, so I knew it was from him. He said there's a hostage situation. The prisoners they were transporting somehow broke free, took Amanda Pope's gun, knocked out one of the senior transport guards, and shot the co-pilot."
I gasped and my hand flew to my mouth. "And Edward? Jasper?" I mumbled, feeling Alice squeeze my other hand tightly.
"Locked up but okay," Al said firmly. "Hold on to that thought, sweetheart, okay? All of you. The boys are okay. Edward told us where they're headed, and I have a team already on the way to meet them. Now, there's not much you can do, but you're welcome to wait here for more news."
Esme put one hand on my shoulder and the other on Alice's and squeezed gently. "Thanks, Al. We'll wait out at the boys' desk. Let us know when you hear anything, okay?"
Al started to speak, but his phone rang, and he snatched it up, barking, "Chambers!"
Emmett and Esme herded the three of us out into the big room, and I immediately went to Edward's desk, dropping into his chair and closing my eyes as I tried to keep the tears at bay.
"Bells," Emmett said, dropping to sit on his heels so our faces were level. "You gotta be strong, okay? Eddie's gonna get out of this. There's no other option."
I nodded, swiping at a tear that had leaked. "Thanks, Em."
My heart was breaking at the thought of Edward being locked up like one of the criminals he'd been transporting. I hoped he was still okay. I didn't know how he'd gotten the phone, or whose phone it was, but I hoped it wasn't found. He'd better be staying safe, not trying to be a cowboy and take them all out himself.
If he got himself hurt or killed by acting rashly, I'd have to kill him myself.
Humphrey strolled along the cages, reaching up to touch Pope, and I was on my feet instantly, punching the cage doors with my cuffed hands.
"Get the fuck away from her, asshole!" I warned him, noting that my reaction made him not only jump but step back a pace or two.
"I'mma put a bullet in your head, fucker, and still do what I want with her. Or maybe I'll just strap you down so you can watch…"
"No, you won't, Humphrey," McClain stated, walking over to point Harris's gun to Humphrey's skull. "What you're gonna do is go take the co-pilot's seat and make sure Blake doesn't do something stupid." When Humphrey didn't move, he barked, "Now, you slug!"
Humphrey sneered my way, smacking my cage door, but I didn't flinch.
"Sit down, Cullen, before I chain you up like your friends," McClain said with a bored tone. "If you're a good boy, you may live to see this hot piece of ass again… Maybe I should hunt this sweet thing down…or Humphrey could do it."
He held up my phone, where he'd been going through my pictures. Seeing Bella's sweet, beautiful face caused my temper to completely snap, unravel, and explode. I heard Jasper groan just before I launched myself at the cage.
"I'm gonna rip off your head, McClain! I swear to fucking God…"
McClain laughed, smashing my fingers, which were gripping the cage, with the gun in his hand. "Sit your ass down! Another fucking sound out of you, and I'll shoot you. I don't need you. I can use the rest of these guards as leverage. Got me, Cullen?" He turned to the seats. "Someone come over here and guard these cages."
Rudy stood up on shaky legs but stepped forward. He was pale, but his face was harsh, determined.
"Good boy…" McClain patted Rudy's shoulder, handing him another gun. "If they move, if they speak…shoot that one," he stated, pointing to me.
Rudy nodded, leaning back on the seat behind him and facing the cage doors. Once McClain walked away to the cockpit, Rudy shook his head at me once.
I fell back to my seat, glaring his way, and felt the phone vibrate again, but I had no choice but to ignore it.
"Don't do this, Rudy," I warned him, shaking my head.
"Shut up!" he snapped, stepping to the cage quickly. "Here, Cullen," he whispered, holding something between his fingers through the wires of the door. "Don't make me shoot your ass," he said loud enough to make McClain smirk. "Wait for it, sir. You'll know when to make your move. 'Kay?"
I looked at what he was offering. It was a small metal object with what looked like blood on it.
"McClain…that's how he picked his cuffs, man…shoved into his skin. Just fucking take it," he urged quietly, and I snatched it from him. "I just wanna go home…but if they knew that…"
I nodded once that I understood.
"So just…" He winked, pointing the gun my way. "Sit down and shut up."
"Block the cage door," I murmured behind him, and he nodded, taking a spot between my door and Jasper's.
Checking my surroundings, I went to work on the lock of my cuffs. The piece of metal was a thick pin or a thin nail – I wasn't sure which – but I could imagine it hurt like a bitch to hide. McClain had bent it just right in order to pick the lock. At the angle I was dealing with, it wasn't easy. Sweat beaded on my brow and rolled down the side of my face as I finally popped the bastards open, but I made sure they looked like they were still on.
Looking to Jasper, I hissed, "Take this. Hide it."
Jasper nodded, taking the pick in his teeth from my fingers. "Wha' 'bout Pope?" he spat from around the pin.
"Leave her," I said, grimacing. "That fucker Humphrey can't stay away from her. He'll notice something's up."
Jasper nodded and quickly transferred the pin from his mouth to his fingers by leaning forward a bit. He was quicker than I was but only released one of his wrists to keep from looking obvious. I sighed, leaning back in my seat and glancing up at the clock. If my math was correct, then JPATS would be scrambling by now, not to mention Al was probably pissed off like a wet hornet. We'd be officially off-course from Austin in about half an hour. And Del Rio was a little over an hour away.
What needed to happen was to get that cockpit door closed so that Blake was safely away from bullets. Humphrey needed to be locked down or knocked the fuck out. The rest of the prisoners wouldn't be a problem, seeing as how not even McClain trusted them with a weapon. All that, and McClain would have zero backup, which caused a smile to curl up on my lips.
I turned to Jasper. "It's you and me, man. Pope has to stay where she is, and Harris is down."
He nodded, his eyes sharp around the plane's cabin. "What'choo think? Baer?"
"Oh, yeah," I chortled humorlessly, and that theory was confirmed when Rudy tossed a nod over his shoulder to us.
"Aw, fuck me," I groaned, banging my head against the side of my cage as the same damn song repeated over and over.
"Jesus, McClain," Humphrey growled, but I noted that his voice was close by. "You got anything else other than this redneck bullshit? No one gives a damn about Alabama…and I can't imagine it's all that sweet." The song changed, and we all groaned when it was the same band, just a different song. "Fan-fucking-tastic," he drawled sarcastically.
He walked closer to Pope's cage, and I glanced up at the clock. We were nearing Del Rio. I could hear the radio calls from where I was, but by now, they seemed to be playing along with the answers Blake was made to give them, for which I was grateful. Any slip-up would get him killed – or would send McClain into a rage, which could get us all killed.
Harris was awake but woozy, and I shook my head at him to keep him quiet. He had a hell of a bump on his forehead, and he was squeezing his eyes closed. He eyed the situation closely, but from where he was, there wasn't much he could do, and I couldn't get the pick down to him without everyone knowing.
Humphrey trailed a finger along the back of Pope's hand, and she looked like she was going to be sick. I stood up at the same time a large, heavy hand landed on Humphrey's shoulder.
"McClain said no," Baer rumbled, but his face was fierce, a blazing glare landing on the convicted rapist. "Leave her alone."
Humphrey turned around, and Baer was so much taller that his head fell back to look up at him. If Baer was intimidated by the gun in the rapist's hand, it didn't show on his face.
"What do you care, caveman?" Humphrey asked.
I snorted, shaking my head. "Maybe he's just trying to save us all from watching you fumble around with your dick for thirty seconds. Sounds like a waste of time to me on all our parts, but especially poor Pope." I shot Pope a wink and a smile.
Jasper barked out a laugh, but it was Pope's soft chuckle that caused a fire to flare in Humphrey's eyes. Baer grinned, but it fell quickly. He gave me a pointed look and a nod before turning his attention back to Humphrey, who punched Pope's cage door.
"You think he's funny? You think this pretty boy here could take care of you? Or how about I let you out and we'll see what's so fucking funny!"
"Well," I scoffed, shifting my cuffs so that I could drop them at a moment's notice, while continuing to make it look like I was still struggling in them. "If it were me," I said slowly, "I'd certainly last longer than a little weasel that had been holed up in a cell for ten years. You'd probably blow your shit before you even got it in. Now, I ask you… What's the fun in that?" I turned to Pope, raising an eyebrow. "Pope, care to answer?"
She laughed again, shaking her head in spite of the circumstances. "You're a tease, Cullen," she chortled, rolling her eyes. And I could tell she was just about to say something about Bella, whom she adored, but I merely smiled at Humphrey.
"I'll show you tease," he snapped, walking to the levers to open her cage.
I could see what Baer was about to do, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rudy shift positions. The rest of the transports that were paying attention didn't move from where they were, but they watched closely. Glancing up at the cockpit door, I made sure that McClain was occupied with Blake and the radio calls, because this was about to get ugly as we neared Del Rio's airport, but it needed to be done quickly. I knew what Baer and Rudy were doing. They were going for McClain's second in command, but also the hottest head, the easiest to rile up.
Jasper shifted beside me, giving me a nod when I looked over at him. "It's all on you, Baer," he whispered, and the big guy moved, stepping into Humphrey's path.
"Cover these douchebags, Rudy," Humphrey commanded, gesturing to the rest of the cages as he reached for Pope's handcuffs.
"Yeah, sure," Rudy answered, but his face revealed his true intentions.
Pope went willingly but shot me a panicked glare. I merely pointed to myself in a silent command to watch me, making sure Harris saw me, too.
As soon as Humphrey had her where he wanted her, Baer snapped. The heaviest punch I'd ever seen landed across Humphrey's face, splitting his lip, and I was pretty damn sure he lost a tooth or two. He fell to his knees, spitting a mouthful of blood to the floor. I heard him chamber a round, but in doing so, he left himself wide open.
Shoving my cage door, I kept my handcuffs on to use as a weapon. I smashed the door into Humphrey from behind at the same time Jasper flew from his cage. Wrapping my cuffs around Humphrey's neck, I choked him back, my mouth at his ear.
"Give it up, asshole. Drop the gun," I hissed in his ear, catching Rudy surrender his gun to Jasper willingly.
He dropped the gun but reared back with an elbow to my gut. I grunted, and it gave him enough time to spin and pull back for another punch. Tackling him to the floor, I had my cuffs off me and on him before he could go for another punch. He froze completely when the muzzle of a gun pressed to his temple.
"Don't move, Humphrey," Jasper warned, handing me the other gun and jerking a chin behind me.
I sat back on my heels as Pope corralled all the remaining transports back to their seats. She was holding a gun in one hand and a stun-gun in the other.
"Cullen, you gotta move," Rudy hissed, pushing at me. "McClain's getting up."
Jasper cuffed Humphrey to one of the seats of the plane, staying low as he hurried to the back of the cabin. Moving silently and quickly, I plastered myself just outside the cockpit door. Pope was on the other, her gun in hand but trained on the seated prisoners.
I locked eyes with Baer and then Rudy, the latter giving me a nod as I heard shifting in the cockpit. Holding my breath, I waited until McClain stepped through the door. Lunging for him, I shoved him hard into the cabin wall, causing his gun to fire, but it fell with a thump to the carpeted floor. I also heard someone cry out, and the plane pitched wildly.
"Oh, fuck," Pope cried out. "The pilot's hit, Cullen!"
McClain took advantage of my brief distraction, kneeing me in the balls at the same time he punched my face. Luckily, the hit grazed my jaw. The plane lurched again, causing all of us to tumble forward. McClain landed in a heap next to the seats, and I scrambled to try to stand up.
"We're gonna die!" one of the prisoners called out.
"Seat belts, all of you! Now!" Pope ordered.
Dragging myself along the floor, I was able to pull myself up to the cockpit, where Jasper was trying to help the pilot. I could see blood staining the sleeve of his shirt, where the bullet McClain let off had to have ricocheted off something. For a split second, I was grateful he hadn't hit the hull of the plane, or this whole motherfucker would have been turned into a vacuum.
"I got him! I got him!" Jasper snapped, reaching over to rip the pilot's shirt sleeve off. He wrapped it tight around the man's bicep to apply pressure, only to grab Blake's face. "Blake," he called, smacking his face a few times, "you gotta hold it together, man. You gotta land this bastard."
Blake's eyes were hazy from pain, and probably a little bit of shock, but he nodded, reaching for the controls with shaky hands. The plane leveled out as Jasper gave the man a hand from the co-pilot seat, calling into Del Rio that we'd be coming in fast and hard.
"Cullen!" Pope called, and I spun to see McClain's form making for the back of the plane.
I hurried to the cage where Harris was just about to come undone, unlocking his cuffs and giving him back his weapon.
"I've got McClain. It's not like he can get far," I stated softly, jerking a thumb toward the back. "I'll help you get these bastards back into cuffs. If we have to gag 'em and bag 'em, we will, but go easy on the big guy and Rudy. Without them, we'd still be locked down."
Harris nodded, shaking the blood back into his hands. He looked to me. "Well done, Cullen. I can see you learned a thing or two from Al."
Smirking, I rolled my eyes. "Don't tell him that, Harris. His ego's big enough."
Harris chuckled, stepping out of the cage and into the cabin, where Pope was re-cuffing a few men. It didn't take long before we had everyone back into seats, strapped in, and under control. Only one asshole decided to put up a fight, and that was aimed toward Baer, who promptly punched him the fuck out, even with his cuffs on, without even batting an eye.
I shook my head. "Baer, I'd hate to see you really pissed."
He grinned, chuckling in a deep tone. "Naw, boss…I suppose you wouldn't."
I patted his big shoulder, checking on Rudy, who was pale as a sheet. "Relax, Rudy. We're almost there." I turned to Harris. "I'm gonna head down below."
"Take Pope with you," Harris ordered, looking back at her and pointing toward the back. "Whitlock's got the cockpit. I'll hold the cabin."
"Roger that," I told him, following Pope to the back of the plane, where McClain had disappeared.
She opened the door that led down into the baggage storage and smirked my way. "I'm gonna tell Bella what you said."
Chuckling, I pushed her teasingly. "Go ahead. She'd probably laugh."
The belly of the plane was louder than the cabin. It echoed with the sounds of three engines, if only because it was empty of the normal equipment that was usually on a commercial 727. There wasn't much to store in there, except the small boxes of possessions that the inmates were bringing with them. They were clear containers, mostly filled with letters and a few changes of underwear. However, there were a few blind spots where McClain could be hiding.
I pointed toward the left, and Pope went that way. I stayed to the right, both of us stopping behind metal barriers on the hull of the plane. There were multiples of them, all the way down to the end, like the ribs of a human rib cage.
As we made it to the second barrier, guns drawn, another sound added to the noise down there. I closed my eyes, trying my fucking damnedest to reel in my temper, but knowing that monster still had my phone made my skin crawl and my blood boil. I locked gazes with a shocked Pope across from me as my son's tinkling laugh met our ears.
"Mommy, Daddy! Watch dis!" he called out from the video I'd taken on my phone of my son at the playground.
"Don't fall, Mase," Bella told him, but her laughter was beautifully woven in her sweet warning.
"I won't fawl. I pwomise!"
If I closed my eyes, I could practically see the video in my head. My son was my mini-me when it came to being daring and brave…or hard-headed and stubborn, if you asked his mother. He loved to climb and run and swing and slide. He'd play at the park for hours if we'd let him. He'd be a sweaty, dirty mess by the time Bella could get him home and into the bubble bath, negotiating with her the whole way as he wore a crooked smile just like mine. Bella never fell for it, though, and she always blamed me for his familiar charm, accusing me of teaching him.
And God, he was a perfect mix of us – Bella's dark hair, but it stuck up everywhere like mine. He had her sweet brown eyes, but in the center my green came through around the pupils. He was long and lean like I'd been, but his laugh was all Bella's – light and carefree, contagious as all hell.
Mase's giggle echoed around me again, but the video stopped abruptly.
"Oh, Cullen…" McClain sang tauntingly. "That is one beautiful boy…and he's just about the right age."
My temper flared, but Pope shook her head at me profusely, tapping her ear before gesturing silently in which direction she heard him.
"He looks good on video, Cullen… Now, imagine how perfect he'd be if I got my hands on him," he threatened.
Pope and I walked softly, stepping over the ribs of the plane and around boxes. From what I could tell, McClain was near the front landing gear. I also heard Jasper announce that we were landing, which was probably for Pope's and my benefit.
I stepped closer, hearing another video start up, but I had no choice but to block my son's and wife's voices out. We were close enough that I could hear McClain's breathing.
"I bet you looked just like him when you were his age," McClain stated, and I smiled, knowing he was just on the other side of the box in front of me.
Readying my weapon, I stepped around pointing to McClain's temple. "Thankfully, he looks like his mother," I said, chambering a round. "Don't move… If you move, I'll kill you right there."
McClain smirked up at me as I snatched my phone back and shoved it into my pocket. "Oh, Cullen… One day, someone's gonna fuck up and I'll get out. Lawyers fuck up, witnesses fuck up…even your precious marshals fuck up. And I'm gonna see that pretty boy in person."
He knew what he was saying was just enough to make me snap. I pistol-whipped his face, but he barely flinched, launching himself at me. He wrapped his arms around my middle, and we tumbled back over boxes and barriers. I heard his ribs snap, but he kept coming. He swung wildly at my face, but I blocked his punch, bringing my legs up to toss him over me. I was up on my feet, ramming a shoulder into his stomach.
Pope was calling out shit I couldn't pay attention to, but McClain lost his footing on a box, which made him stumble into the landing gear, which was now opening slowly. I heard Pope kick my weapon, and it skittered right into my hand. Bringing it up to McClain's forehead, I held it steady, but we all lurched forward when the plane touched down roughly at the same time the gun went off. It went straight through the metal floor, and I knew I'd hit the front landing gear's tire when the plane's easy touchdown became rough and jumpy.
McClain pushed at me, but I kept my weapon trained on him as he lunged for me. I didn't even blink when not only my gun popped off two rounds, but Pope's gun, too. McClain's body jerked with four bullet holes hitting him dead center in his chest. He was dead before he fell.
The plane finally came to a rough stop, and I collapsed back when I heard the sounds of sirens, officers calling out, and finally, Jasper's voice from the ladder.
"Ed…you'd better answer me, asshole!" he called.
"I'm okay. We're okay." I grunted when Pope helped me sit up, looking back at him. "McClain's dead, though."
"Oh-fucking-well," he sighed in relief, shaking his head. He called out to Harris that the baggage area was all clear. "C'mon, guys, I'll help you up out of there."
Nodding, I stood up, walking with Pope to the other end of the plane. My phone vibrated in my pocket, and I pulled it out.
"Cullen," I grunted, smiling at the string of curses that met my ear. "Uncle Al, if you're cussing around my kid…"
"Oh…I'm Uncle Al now that you've scared the living shit outta me! I see," he taunted. "Shut up, Edward, and speak to your wife."
"Edward?" Bella's worried voice met my ear.
"Hey, Bella. I'm okay, baby. Promise," I vowed, smiling when I realized I really did sound like my son.
I grinned. "Nothing we couldn't handle," I hedged, laughing softly when Pope reached out and punched my arm. "I'll tell you all about it when I get home."
I had to hold myself back from rushing into the house after returning to Carlisle and Esme's once I'd talked to Edward. The need to be with our son was almost overwhelming. Alice clearly felt the same, because once we stepped inside, we both rushed to find Masen and Keri, who were playing with Carlisle in the playroom they'd decked out with all the toys the kids could possibly want.
"Mommy!" Masen jumped up and ran to me, throwing his arms around my legs and clinging tightly to me. It was as if I'd been gone days, rather than mere hours.
I didn't care. I sank to the floor and gathered him onto my lap, pulling him into a tight hug. Burying my face in his hair, I closed my eyes and smelled his little-boy scent. Mase was something tangible that I could touch, hold on to, proof of Edward's life and his love for me and our family.
"Mommy, you're squishin' me!" Mase said with a giggle, his words muffled against my chest.
I laughed, pulling back and cupping his face. "Sorry, buddy." I squeezed his cheeks together, giving him a fish face, and leaned down to plant a smacking kiss on his smooshed lips, making him giggle again. "Did you have fun with Pops?"
He nodded and pointed back to where they'd been building what looked to be a castle with the big primary-colored blocks. "We builded a castle for Keri to be a pwincess!" He jumped up from my lap, still speaking animatedly. "Pops was da dwagon. He went grrr, grrr, grrr!" As he made the noises, he stomped around, holding his arms out, more like a bear than a dragon.
Keri ran over to him and squealed, "No, dragon! Go back to your cave!"
Masen stomped off to the corner, where the play tent had been set up, and crawled inside with one last loud growl.
"That's what Pops did," Keri explained, smiling. "Then Prince Masen came to tell me I was safe from the dragon."
Alice and I nodded, looking at each other over Keri's shoulder and smiling. I was still anxious and worried, even after talking to Edward, but I didn't want to let that show with Masen and Keri – I didn't want Mase to worry – so I concentrated on the two of them and tried to put the problem with Edward's flight out of my mind.
That night, I finally collapsed onto the sofa, grateful for the empty room. Masen was asleep in our room, Alice was reading with Keri, and Carlisle and Esme were watching TV in their bedroom. Taking advantage of the quiet, I covered my face with my hands and began to cry. All the tension I'd carried since Al's phone call, all the worry and stress over Edward's safety, came boiling out of me, making me tremble. I tried to repeat to myself that he was safe, but all I could see in my mind was Edward being held hostage by a bad guy with a gun, a bullet going off and sending the plane crashing down, never coming home to me or his son.
Shudders racked my frame as I cried silent tears, relief and fear warring within me.
"Bella?" Esme's voice startled me, but I shook my head, unable to answer. She settled beside me on the couch, pulling me against her side with one arm around my shoulder while she reached up with her free hand and brushed the hair back from my face. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"
"N-Nothing," I stuttered. "I'm f-fine, really."
When Esme raised an eyebrow and stayed silent, I couldn't help it. Everything came spilling out of me – every fear and worry I'd been holding on to for hours.
"I've never been so scared," I started with a shudder. "Normally I can handle his job – really, I can – but this was so scary." My words came out in a rush as I began babbling. "H-How much is too much? First it was the shoot-outs and the chase in New York, and then the bomb in the basement of the building after we moved here. How am I supposed to live with the danger his job brings him, especially when I'm not there to make sure he's safe?"
Looking up, I realized Esme was staring at me, wide-eyed. For a moment, I wondered what had her looking so shocked, but after running over my words in my head, I gasped and covered my mouth, realizing what I'd said about New York.
"Esme, I…" I shook my head, not sure what I could say, my breaths coming faster and faster until I thought I would never be able to draw a full breath again.
"It's okay, sweetheart," Esme murmured, cupping my face and rubbing her thumb over my cheek soothingly. "Breathe, Bella."
"I-I can't," I stuttered, feeling myself beginning to shake again. "I mentioned…you heard…Oh God…"
"You can," she said firmly. "Sweetheart, I know about New York."
"You…no. No, no, no," I groaned, shaking my head. "You can't. We'll have to leave. It's the rules, and we can't—"
"Isabella Cullen, hush now," Esme ordered gently. "Look at me, sweet girl." When I finally raised my eyes to hers, she smiled. "Rose and I have known since shortly after Edward brought you home for the first time."
"But you can't know," I groaned, closing my eyes. "If Edward finds out—"
"Edward knows, Bella." Esme smiled, nodding once when my eyes flew open and found her gaze. "We admitted what we'd guessed, and he stressed how important it is to keep it to ourselves. We've never told anyone, sweetheart – well, aside from Carlisle," she said with a small grimace and shrug. "Edward said as long as we never talked about it with anyone, it would be okay."
"Yeah?" I squeaked.
She nodded. "Yeah, sweetheart."
That was the final breaking point. Between learning that the rest of the family knew our secret and Edward's ordeal on the plane, it was too much. I began to cry – loud, heart-wrenching sobs even to my own ears – until Esme pulled me into a hug, whispering that everything was going to be okay, that Edward was safe and he'd be home soon.
Esme rubbed my back and let me cry on her shoulder for what felt like hours. By the time I'd cried myself hoarse, I felt wrung out, emotionally exhausted. I couldn't hold back the yawn.
My mother-in-law chuckled. "It's been a long day, Bella. Why don't you get some sleep?"
I nodded, agreeing with her about the day. "Good idea," I said, grinning sheepishly when I yawned again. "Thanks, Mom."
"Anytime, sweetheart," Esme assured me. "I'll see you in the morning, bright and early, I'm sure, if the kids have anything to say about it."
I chuckled, nodding. "No doubt," I agreed. "Good night."
She patted my hand and then stood with me, following me down the hall and continuing on to her room once I'd quietly opened the door to the bedroom we used when we stayed overnight at their house.
From the glow of the nightlight, I was just able to make out Masen in the bed, and I couldn't help but smile at the thumb he'd stuck in his mouth. It was a habit we'd tried breaking him of, but so far, we'd been unsuccessful. I spent five minutes in the en suite bathroom, changing into my sleep pants and T-shirt and brushing my teeth and hair, and then crept into the bedroom and pulled back the blanket. Once I'd carefully climbed into bed, I reached over and brushed Masen's hair back from his forehead, smiling when he didn't even stir. I leaned in and kissed his forehead softly and then curled up, listening to his deep, even breathing as I let my eyes close, sleep pulling me under quickly.
By Sunday afternoon, my worry and nerves had finally somewhat settled. Edward had called before he loaded onto the plane to head on his next-to-last leg of the trip. They'd added a few more guards and had all the prisoners go through a metal-detection sweep, which had come up empty. I wouldn't be completely happy until he was home, but at least I wasn't having a panic attack. It had helped when Esme had said that she wanted to take us shopping – she'd winked at me, and I'd realized she'd noticed my anxiety at just sitting around doing nothing. So we'd loaded into her minivan, which she'd bought when Masen was born, and now she, Alice, and I, along with Mase and Keri, were walking around Pike Place Market.
The kids had enjoyed sitting on the bronze pig at the entrance, and I'd snapped a photo of Mase sitting behind Keri and then sent it off to Edward. We'd watched the fish being thrown, tried out a few samples, and looked at all kinds of crafts and goodies. Masen and Keri were currently trying to convince us to get ice cream.
"Momma, we need it," Keri begged, complete with puppy-dog eyes and stuck-out bottom lip, looking exactly like Alice when she was Keri's age.
"Yeah, Mommy," Masen agreed fervently. "We need it."
I laughed, reaching down to ruffle his hair. "You need it, huh?" At their emphatic nods, I glanced at Alice and Esme, who grinned.
"C'mon, kiddos," Esme said, holding out her hands. "Mémé knows the perfect place."
Masen and Keri cheered, jumping up and down for a second before grabbing on to her hands.
She led the way to Shy Giant Frozen Yogurt. Edward and I had been several times, so I knew exactly what I wanted. Esme talked the kids through their order – chocolate ice cream for Masen, as if it could be anything else, and strawberry frozen yogurt for Keri, both in waffle cones – and then ordered a fat-free blueberry frozen yogurt in a cup for herself. Alice ordered pistachio ice cream, and I got the honey lavender, both in waffle cones, and then we all sat down on a bench outside the store to eat.
"When will Edward and Jasper be home?" Esme asked after taking a spoonful of her frozen yogurt.
"Before noon tomorrow," I answered, looking at Alice, who nodded. "I'm not sure exactly what time they're lea—" A flash of light-brown hair atop a petite, curvy body down the aisle caught my attention, and I snapped my mouth closed and immediately turned away.
"What's wrong?" Alice asked, worry clear in her tone.
Rather than answering, I said, "Don't look behind you. Get up and follow me. I'll explain on the way out." Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and blew it out, trying to keep my cool so I didn't worry Masen and Keri. "Esme, if we could get your keys and then you wait five minutes before bringing the kids to the van, I'd appreciate it."
"Yes, of course," Esme agreed, sounding just as worried as Alice, who, thankfully, hadn't argued.
As soon as my sister moved, I stood as well. She followed my example, and we walked as quickly as we could without drawing extra attention to ourselves.
"What's going on, Bella?"
"Chelsea Bond," I huffed, dropping the rest of my ice cream into a trash bin near the entrance.
Alice's quick intake of breath was the only sign that she'd recognized the name. She added her ice cream to mine and then followed me through the parking garage until we got to the van.
Ten tense minutes later, Esme and the kids came walking up. Esme looked worried, but the kids were chattering away, innocent to the fear coursing through me. Opening the back door of the van, Esme ushered the kids inside and then climbed in herself, since Alice and I were in the front seats. Once she'd buckled them into their car seats and then clicked her own seat belt, I started the van and backed out of the space without saying a word. I was glad that Esme didn't ask, because I didn't want to talk about it in front of the kids.
It took us nearly half an hour to get back to Carlisle and Esme's house, where the kids piled out, running inside to find Pops as soon as Esme unbuckled their car seats. By that point, I was almost frantic to get ahold of Edward, but I didn't want to worry him, so I knew I would need to call Al.
We were quiet as we walked inside, and when I could hear the kids in the back of the house with Carlisle, I pulled my phone out of my pocket.
"Bella, wait," Esme soothed, putting a calm hand onto own shaking one. "Can you tell me what happened back there?"
"I saw…someone from our past," I hedged, giving her a pointed look.
Esme gasped and immediately pressed her fingers to her lips. "D-Did they see you?"
"I don't know," I said, drawing a shaky breath. "I don't think so. But I need to call Al."
She nodded, patting my hand and then Alice's shoulder. "I'll leave you to it and go keep the little ones occupied. Come find us when you're done."
Once she left the room, I hit the number nine to speed-dial Al, who answered after two rings.
"Bella," he crooned in his smooth way. "I haven't heard anything new from my reprobate nephew, sweetheart, but I'm sure he's fine."
I sank to the couch, shaking my head, even though he couldn't see me. "That's…not why I called," I told him shakily. I put it on speaker, announced that Alice was with me, and then quickly explained what had happened, falling silent to wait for his reaction.
"Did she see you?" he asked, all business now.
"I don't think so… She was facing the booth she was standing in front of, so I just saw her profile, and then I turned away before she moved."
He was quiet for a minute and then hummed. "All right. No need to panic, ladies. I don't think you have anything to worry about."
When I started to protest, he spoke over me. "Once Marcus had his heart attack and passed away two years ago, the Volturi Family was dismantled. I've kept tabs on things in New York, and from everything I've learned, no one is left for Chelsea to report your whereabouts to – if she even saw you…and it doesn't sound like she did. Even if she had, the two of you have changed a lot in the eight years since she saw you last. Bella, your hair's shorter and looks more red with the highlights you have in it, and Alice, you grew yours out and it's lightened since you had Keri." He paused, and I waited to see if he would continue, which he did after just a moment of silence. "I'm fully confident that you're safe right where you are, but if you don't feel safe, I can come and pick you and the kids up and take you to a safe house until Edward and Jasper get home, and then the six of you can be mo—"
"No," Alice and I both breathed, shaking our heads.
"No," I said again, looking at Alice. "As long as you think we're okay…"
"We trust you," Alice agreed.
"Good," he huffed. "Then try not to worry about it, okay? I'll be sure to keep an extra ear out for any rumblings in New York, but I don't anticipate hearing anything."
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, grasping Alice's hand.
"Thanks, Uncle Al," we said almost in one voice.
"That's what I'm here for, ladies. Talk it over with the boys tomorrow when they get home, okay? If any of you are worried, give me a call."
"Will do," I agreed, and then we said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone, relief flooding me.
"God, I can't wait till Jasper gets home," Alice sighed, raking a hand through her hair.
Laughing, I nodded. "I know the feeling."
Esme peeked her head around the entrance to the living room. "Everything…okay?"
We smiled and nodded.
"Al said everything's good and not to worry," I told her.
The look on her face echoed what I was feeling. "Good," she huffed. "I'm not sure what the protocol is for moving twelve people, and now we don't have to find out." She winked when we laughed.
"That's it!" Jasper called out, looking like he was about crawl out of his own skin at the fact that we were back in Seattle. He slammed the van's door, nodding to Pope and then me, where we'd been standing guard at each end of the plane's perimeter. "Load up."
The ride back to the jail was quiet; not even the transports were talking much. Security on the ride back was intense, if not almost cruel, and the inmates could probably feel our lack of patience for bullshit. They'd hardly even noticed Pope, who usually got a few snide remarks and a whistle or two. Harris's threat of gagging and bagging each and every fucker might have had something to do with it.
A glance down at my phone showed just a little after eleven as we pulled into the prison's garage. One by one, the men were led inside through the sally-port and back into lockdown. I wasn't sure I'd ever been as glad to see the end of a detail in my life – maybe hearing that Caius Volturi had kicked the bucket, even though technically, the girls would always be our responsibility, but still…
Neither Pope nor Jasper said much as we drove back to the USMS office. I knew there'd be a debriefing of what had actually happened on that plane, not to mention a shit-ton of reports to write. I honestly wasn't in the mood for any of it. I wanted to see my girl, my son. We'd had a close call, but so had she. The poor thing had been frantic telling me about seeing the former receptionist for her boss in New York.
We stepped out of the elevator into Jessica's reception area, and I grinned at the sight of an enormous bouquet of flowers on her desk.
"Aw, hell…what'd the fucker do this time?" I asked her on the way by, laughing at her eye-twitch and sneer. She'd been seeing one of the boys in Emmett's precinct. He seemed like a good guy, but sometimes he'd fuck up with some stupid shit.
"He forgot our anniversary!" she practically growled.
"Moron," Jasper sighed, shaking his head. "Don't go easy on him, Jess."
"Pfft! As if!" She scoffed, rolling her eyes. "He won't get any for a long time."
Jasper and I chuckled and then turned around when she called us back.
"Um, glad you guys are safe," she said softly. "You scared the shit out of us. All of us." She jerked her chin toward the glass doors of the bullpen, where Al was already talking to Pope, who nodded, smiling when he squeezed her shoulder.
When she walked away from him, he locked his sights on us. "You two, my office. Now!"
Groaning, I dropped my duffel on my office chair and stepped into his office with Jasper behind me. The door closed loudly, and we looked to him when he braced himself on his desk.
"Jesus fucking Christ," he breathed, shaking his head. "You two okay?"
We nodded, staying quiet. As much as I loved him as my pseudo-uncle, he could tear my ass up as my lieutenant if he set his mind to it.
"And Pope…she's… No one…"
"No, sir," Jasper and I said at the same time.
"No, she was rather awesome, actually. Without her, McClain…" I started, but he held up his hand.
"I wanna hear all about it, but not now. Tomorrow. Got me?" He leaned back on his desk, crossing his ankles. "I want you both to go home, see your girls. They…" He sighed deeply, his eyes warm at the mention of Alice and Bella. "This was a rough one for them, yeah?"
"Sir," we muttered, standing up from the chairs when he reached for the doorknob.
Before he opened it, he added, "And I want you two to know…they did the right thing. They handled themselves perfectly when they saw that woman from New York. They stayed low, moved quickly, and then called me. Perfect, I tell you. Brilliant." He smiled at us when Jasper and I both not only visibly relaxed but puffed the hell up with pride. "I don't see it as an issue, even if they were seen. There's no one in that crime family to report to anymore, so… Yeah. They're in the clear." He snorted, raising an eyebrow at me. "Besides, I'd have to answer to your mother, Ed. Not a chance…"
Laughing, I gripped his shoulder, but he pulled me in for a hug.
"Helluva job, son," he said and then pulled back and smacked the side of my face lightly. "Don't scare me like that again."
"I'll try, Uncle Al," I vowed.
"Oh ho…I'm uncle again. Go! Get outta my face! And I want you here first thing…" He was cut off by the sound of his cell phone blaring "Cold as Ice."
"How is Aunt Jane?" Jasper asked, ducking when Al swung a fist and then running for his desk before Al could come at him again.
"Go, so I can haggle prom dress prices with that witch," he sighed, rolling his eyes at my chuckle. "Katie's growing up too fast."
"Well, give Sparkplug my love," I told him, pulling out my phone as I left him to his ex-wife. Yanking up my duffel, I smiled at the best sound in the whole world.
"Edward?" Bella answered.
"Hey, baby. I'm back. Can I meet you at the hospital's cafeteria for lunch or somethin'?"
"No, go home. I'm only working half a day."
My eyebrows shot up at that. "Okay… Need me to trade out the bike for the car and go get Mase from my mom?"
"No, she's taking them to the park today, said she'd bring him home for dinner."
Grinning like an idiot, I asked, "What? You mean I get you all to myself?"
Her giggle was sweet and like music to my damn ears. "If you behave, mister."
"Oh, I can be good, Mrs. Cullen…" I straddled my bike, tugging my baseball cap on.
Her sigh was adorable and frustrated at the same time, like she was searching for patience. "I've missed you."
"Me, too, baby. See you at home."
The house was eerily quiet when I walked through the front door. Again, I noted the differences between now and only a handful of years prior. When Bella moved in, she'd softened the masculine feel to my house. Just her mere presence made my house feel like a home. Now, it was a place that looked lived in, loved, with toys scattered about here and there, an abandoned coloring project on the dining room table, and a shit-ton of pictures framed about the place. They were everywhere and of everything imaginable – weddings, Mase's birth and every birthday since, my parents, my sister's family, Jasper's family, Ladybug.
I used to finish a detail and seek out the first bar, the prettiest, most willing woman, but now… Now, there was nothing like stepping through my own door after a long day or complicated detail. And this last one had been ridiculously close, so I honestly couldn't wait to get my hands on my girl, wrap my son up and wrestle with him. I needed them more than the air I breathed.
Leaving my duffel by the door, I locked my gun, badge, and ammo in the bar's cabinet and made my way upstairs to my bedroom. The bed was made, perfect, like she'd barely slept in it. And she probably hadn't. From what I'd gathered, Bella had slept anywhere but in our bed alone while I was away.
Deciding to rid myself of the stench of planes, sweat, and inmates, I turned the shower on, stripping out of my uniform. Small cuts on my hands and wrists stung under the spray, bruises were achy, but the tenseness in my shoulders started to fade away with every minute I stood beneath the hot water.
By the time I stepped out and wrapped a towel around my waist, I felt somewhat normal. Even better was the sight sitting on the edge of the bed. Deep brown eyes raked over me, assessing, taking inventory, which made me grin. Teeth worried her bottom lip as she didn't quite know what to do with her hands. Damn, I'd scared the shit out of her.
"I'm okay, baby," I told her, walking straight to her.
I was immediately wrapped in a hug so tight around my middle that I could barely breathe. Her frame shivered a little, and my arms pulled her closer as I buried my nose into the top of her head.
"Fuck me, you smell good," I blurted out softly into her hair.
She smelled like the shampoo she used, the light perfume she'd put on for work, and the detergent we washed clothes in, but even more…she smelled like home.
My eyes closed when I felt lips caress the skin of my stomach, my hips, all while fingers gripped my towel. Tilting her face up, I cupped it when she met my gaze.
"Look at me, Bella," I stated softly. "I promise… I'm okay."
She nodded fervently but continued to touch, to verify for herself. "You scared me…and then…"
She nodded again, her finger finding that one single bat on my tattoo that was raised a bit above the surface of my skin, doting on it like she always did.
"Talk to me about it, beautiful. Uncle Al said you did—"
She shook her head. "Not yet. I will, but not right now."
She shifted on the bed until she was on her knees in front of me, making her closer to my height. Smiling, I wrapped my arms around her as she placed gentle flat hands on either side of my face.
My forehead met hers, and I closed my eyes. I knew that tone. I had every intonation of my name memorized. When I opened my eyes again, I saw dark need and want, a plea for reassurance.
"I love you," I whispered. "I'm okay, Bella. And holy shit, I missed you."
"I love you, too. I'm glad you're home."
Her lips twitched into a small smile just before she pressed them to mine. Some things about us never changed. Despite being married, despite being parents, and despite all the ups and downs, our souls lit on fire every damn time. We didn't have to ask. Hell, we barely had to speak. Years of loving each other brought about a sixth sense. This would be heavy, heated, but it would also be face to face, simply to comfort.
My grin against her mouth couldn't be contained when my towel suddenly fell to the floor in a damp thump. "Not fair, baby," I chided teasingly, pulling back to cup her face. There was the spark I lived for, the slightly mischievous smile she'd had since I first saw her beautiful face. I gestured to her work clothes. "And look at this… All naughty accountant and shit. I bet poor Marvin couldn't stand up from his desk today."
"Shut up, Edward," she said, laughing, her head falling back. "Leave that poor man alone."
I snorted against her exposed neck at "poor man." Marvin was the epitome of the numbers nerd Bella thought herself to be. Skinny, awkward, and crushing on my wife something fierce, he worked two desks away from her, always breaking into a sweat when I'd visit. And yeah, I totally loved that shit.
Shaking my head, I went to work on her sweater, some sort of strappy tank top, and finally, the zipper down the side of her short skirt. Fucking hell, she was a walking, talking wet dream. My wet dream, but a tangible one – something I could reach out and touch. There were tiny lacy things left between me and what I wanted, not to mention the sexiest sight of the small, thumb-size bat symbol on her hip.
"Get up on that bed, Bella. I swear to God, I'm gonna eat you alive…"
How she could remove her underthings and scoot up to the head of the bed all while making it look sexy, I had no idea, but she did. Crawling up the bed to brace myself over her, I shook my head slowly, my eyes drinking in every inch of her. I felt like a starving man, like one of the inmates I'd transported who had been locked away for years. The four days away from her had been too damn long. My dick was steel, already weeping for her, but he was owned by her. He had been since the beginning.
Keeping one hand braced by her head, the other explored skin I knew so well. Smooth across her sternum, sensitive over each nipple that tightened beneath my palm, and what used to be perfect, soft skin on her stomach, which now showed the scar and the stretch marks left behind when she'd had Masen. I couldn't stop from leaning down to press lips to them, loving them a bit more, and ended with a swirling kiss over the ink she'd gotten just for me. I hummed against her flesh in approval when her legs fell open, her hips raised up, and her fingers slipped into my hair to guide me where she wanted me most.
The scent of her want wrecked me, causing my patience to fly out the window. Holding her legs open, I locked gazes with her as my mouth met her heated, wet pussy. Starting with one long lick, I kept her spread open, drinking her in, sucking her, teasing her. Curses mixed in with my name, which was the sexiest thing I'd heard in a long time. Most of the time, we had to stay quiet with Mase down the hall, so hearing her lose herself to us was only making me harder, almost to the point of pain.
Her thighs tensed, her toes curled, and her heels dug into my shoulder blades as she quickly fell over the edge. Her head fell back to the pillow, but her chest pushed up off the bed as everything in her shattered. I soothed her with a hand on her stomach as I leaned up to kiss the living shit out of her.
"Mmm, Bella, that was the prettiest fucking thing I've seen in four long days," I practically growled into her mouth.
Her giggle was breathy, her arms boneless, but her sarcasm was sharp as ever. "Well, I should hope so, Edward, considering you've been with burly criminals…"
Grinning, I shook my head but kissed her again, feeling the lightness leave and the want increase as she drank in her own flavor off my tongue.
Barely breaking from our kiss, I hissed when her warm hand wrapped around my achy cock – guiding, urging, and finally, lining me up at her entrance. Another warm hand gripped my ass roughly.
Never able to deny her anything, I thrust forward, loving the sound both of us created together when I was finally seated completely inside her. She was wet, warm, and wrapped around me in every way – arms, legs, pussy. It truly felt like coming home.
Nipping at her bottom lip and barely keeping myself still inside her, I whispered, "Tell me, Bella. How do you want me?"
Her mouth gaped just a bit as her hips ground against me, trying to get me to move, but I held still. Barely. I was throbbing inside her. Fingers wove into my hair and scratched deliciously down my back as she did her damnedest to speak.
"I want… Oh fuck… I want to feel you."
"Now? Or tomorrow too?" I asked, dragging my teeth across her throat and up to her ear. "Or do you want me to render you unable to walk, beautiful?"
"Yes, yes… Yes, all of that…"
"Good girl," I grunted, finally pulling back, only to thrust in almost roughly. Her sexy moan told me I was giving her what she wanted.
Lips and teeth dragged across skin, hips created a rhythm that only we knew, and hands gripped and touched places only to encourage, to urge for more, and to hold on when she shattered one more time beneath me. Hooking her leg in the crook of my arm, I continued to work in and out, hoping for one more orgasm from her as one hand braced against the headboard. It had been a few weeks since we'd been able to truly let go without fear of waking a curious little boy. When her hand slipped between us to touch herself, to give herself one more, I knew I wouldn't last much longer. I'd needed her too badly, and she'd looked too damn lost and sexy at the same damn time. Resistance would've been impossible.
"God, yes… With me, with me…" I panted, dropping my forehead to hers in order to watch her face and glance down between us to see her work her clit. Biting my bottom lip, I grunted as I tried to make it last, but it was all for nothing when her pussy started to flutter around me.
Stars exploded behind my eyes as they closed against my will. I tried to watch her fall with me, but as always, it was too much. I panted, releasing her leg and dropping to my elbows. My eyes were still closed when I felt light kisses to my lips.
When I eventually opened my eyes, I smiled down at her. "It's good to be home."
Her grin and light giggle were my reward.
"And I'm sorry I scared you."
Shaking my head, I sighed, brushing her hair from her face. "No, it's really not, but it probably wouldn't have been so bad had you not seen Chelsea. Right?"
"Probably," she admitted softly, shrugging one smooth, creamy shoulder, which I couldn't resist pressing a kiss to. "That was scary, Edward. I know… Al said we were okay, but for a moment…just a split second, I was afraid we'd have to…"
Nodding, I hushed her with a kiss to her lips. "I know. But you didn't. And Al said you did an amazing job handling it, so let it go, baby."
She looked away from me, saying, "It didn't help that I kind of screwed up…lost it in front of your mom. Why…" She locked gazes with me again, continuing on. "Why didn't you tell me she knew about us – Alice and me – about New York?"
My heart sank a little as I took a deep breath. "Because it didn't need to be mentioned out loud, Bella. I didn't want it to be something that anyone felt comfortable talking about. And I also didn't want you two to feel self-conscious about it. Not to hurt you but to protect you. You have no idea how I reacted when they brought their theory to me. I think I scared the shit out of my mother and my sister."
Bella smirked and grabbed my face. "I bet. Well, just so you know, if our identity ever is revealed? Your mother plans on relocating every last one of us."
I laughed, burying my face into her neck. "I wouldn't doubt it, baby. Not a bit."
"Now…tell me what happened on that plane, Edward," she stated, and it was a command not to be ignored.
I told her everything, knowing she could handle it and loving the fact that I could release it all on her without worry. From take-off in Seattle to the fight over Texas at thirty thousand feet, I told her what happened. When I was done, ending with McClain's death, she loved me again, this time rolling me over and taking things slower. By the time we came up for air, it was almost time for my mom to show up with Masen.
As we dressed to head downstairs, Bella held out her hand for me. "C'mon, let's make dinner. Your son requested his daddy's famous pah-sketti."
Grinning, I nodded and let her lead me down to the kitchen. Who was I to deny my boy one of his favorite meals?
Bella cleaned out my duffel, starting a load of laundry while she also helped me cook. I was sliding the garlic bread into the oven when I heard the front door practically slam open.
"Daddy's here. I saw him moto-cycle!" Masen cried happily as I heard his little sneakers thump through the house. When he caught sight of me in the kitchen, he was a blur of speeding legs, squeals, and a huge grin. "Daddy!"
Scooping him up, I grinned up at my son. "Hey, buddy, were you a good boy?"
"Yeah, Mémé got me ice cweam 'cause I was good." He nodded, pointing to my mom, who was leaning in the doorway wearing a smile on her face. She also looked relieved at the sight of me, and I leaned in to kiss her cheek, but Mase was not to be deterred. "Daddy, you makin' pah-sketti?" he asked, using a small finger to trace his own name that was inked across my chest.
"Yup," I said, plopping him down onto the counter. "And it's almost done, bud." I glanced up at my mother. "Wanna stay?"
"No, sweetheart," she said with a light laugh, walking to me to kiss me again. She ruffled my hair and then Masen's. "I'll leave you three to dinner. Glad you're home safe, son."
She kissed and hugged Bella, whispering something not meant for me, but my wife smiled and nodded before walking Mom to the door. When she came back in, she wrapped up Masen, smooching his face until he was a squirming, giggling mess.
"Go wash your hands, Mase, and we'll eat soon. Okay?" she told him as she set him down to the floor.
"'Kay, Mommy!" he yelled, pounding out of the room.
I pulled the garlic bread out, smiling when Bella kissed my cheek. "You okay, baby?" I asked her.
"Oh yeah…both my boys are back under one roof. I'm perfect."
Grinning, I popped her ass teasingly. "That you are. Now, let's eat!"
Dinner was a loud, boisterous affair. Masen told us all about his day with Mémé and Keri, and Edward and I reveled in each and every word. After everyone had finished the pah-sketti, I grabbed all the plates and stood to take them into the kitchen.
"Just set 'em in the sink for now, baby," Edward said, making quick work of Masen's hands and face with his napkin, which he'd dipped into his glass of ice water. "I'll clean everything up later."
I smiled, nodding as he swung our son up out of his booster seat and onto his shoulders. "I'll put the food away and then be in."
From the kitchen, I could hear Edward and Mase in the living room. Masen's sweet giggles echoed through the house, followed by Edward's deeper, but no less infectious laughter. After putting the leftover spaghetti in a plastic container, the garlic bread in a baggie, and covering the salad bowl with plastic wrap, I wiped my hands, turned off the light, and joined my boys.
Edward was on one end of the living room, while Masen was all the way at the other end. When my husband counted down from three, Mase would run at him on the word "Go" and try to tackle his dad to his back. Edward didn't let Masen knock him over every time, sometimes choosing to flip them and pin our son to the floor like a wrestler, with Masen giggling and moving, trying to escape the hold.
When Edward pinned him once more, Masen managed to "escape" and then promptly flung himself onto Edward's back. I laughed when Edward let out an oomph and then collapsed, flailing around and pretending like he couldn't get back up.
"Uncle!" Edward called, falling still.
Masen giggled and leaned forward, putting his face right next to Edward's. "You'we not Uncle! You'we Daddy!"
Edward and I chuckled, and Edward suddenly flipped onto his back, grabbing Masen and pulling him around with him, and then tickled him mercilessly. "You're right," he said once his hands were still. "I am Daddy. And you win. You conquered me."
Masen jumped up – Edward winced as Mase's foot barely grazed his crotch – and started jumping around, pumping his arms. "Mommy, didja see? I won!"
I laughed, nodding. "I saw, baby. Good job."
The rest of the evening was spent as a family. We played games – Mase's current favorite was a throwback to my own childhood, Chutes and Ladders, updated to be current with the "Super Hero Squad" theme – took a walk around the neighborhood, and were now giving him a bath. Well, Edward was giving him a bath. It seemed it was Daddy's night, since it was "Daddy, hold my hand!" and "Daddy, give me my baff!" and not Mommy.
And Mommy was completely okay with that. I knew he'd missed Edward while he was gone. I had too, but I'd had my reunion with him earlier in the day…and had no doubt that even more of a reunion would occur after our son went to sleep.
I'd pulled myself up onto the counter beside the sink to watch bath time, enjoying the fact that Edward was the wet one for once. When Masen had thrown a cupful of water his way, he'd stripped off his T-shirt, leaving him in jeans and bare feet, one of my favorite looks on him. Now they were drawing on the shower wall with the bath crayons, seeing who could make the silliest-looking bath monster.
By the time Masen began to get all pruney and shivery, Edward had him washed and rinsed. I hopped down and grabbed a towel, holding it open. Edward picked him up and deposited him on the bath mat, and I wrapped the towel around him, rubbing his hair dry before tucking the towel in on itself.
"C'mon, baby. Let's go find your jammies while Daddy dries off and changes out of those wet jeans, hmm?"
"'Kay," Mase said, "but Daddy, wead me a stowy tonight!"
I laughed and flashed a grin in Edward's direction. "Of course. You and Daddy can pick out a book when you're dressed."
After following our son to his bedroom, I grabbed the Batman pajamas from the foot of his bed. "Finish drying off," I instructed him, watching as he did the best he could to follow my instructions.
He grabbed a clean pair of underpants – Batman, of course – and then suddenly called out, "Potty!" Dropping the towel, he ran naked to the bathroom.
"Close the door," I heard Edward say from the hallway.
I laughed as I joined him. He'd changed into a pair of Batman sleep pants and a black T-shirt with a yellow bat symbol on the front to match the pants. "Like peas in a pod," I teased, shaking my head.
He grinned and then leaned down to kiss me. "What can I say? The kid's got great taste."
The bathroom door popped open, and Masen said, "All done!"
"Did you wash your hands?" Edward asked, raising an eyebrow. When Masen looked sheepish, Edward turned him around. "Put the britches on and then wash your hands. Then we'll brush your teeth."
As Masen put on his underwear, I handed the pajamas to Edward. "I'll leave you to it."
He smiled and turned away to help our son as I moved back to the bedroom.
Fifteen minutes later, I stood in the bedroom doorway, watching as a sleepy, clean little boy slid his thumb into his mouth as his daddy finished reading "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," which was one of their favorite books. The two of them made a beautiful sight, Edward's reddish-brown hair next to Mase's brown, loving green eyes beside tired brownish-green ones.
I was a lucky woman in so many ways. The beginning of my life with Edward had started off rocky, my future – not only with him but my life in general – uncertain, but now, I couldn't imagine anything better. Our lives were as close to perfect as they could get. My family was together, safe, and growing, I thought as I slid my hand protectively over the still undetected bump of my stomach. I'd just taken the test the other morning, but I'd wanted to wait until Edward was home to tell him, and then our reunion had gotten in the way. But I knew he'd be thrilled. Whether we had another perfect little boy or a beautiful little girl wouldn't matter. What mattered was that he or she would be an amazing addition to an already beautiful life together.
I couldn't ask for anything more.
A/N #2: There ya have it! We hope you guys enjoyed it. We had a lot of fun revisiting the "In Pursuit" world. It wasn't hard to think of things to include, since we knew how so many of you wanted to see them in the future. Hopefully this gave you a great look into all their lives.
Mina Rivera made a gorgeous banner to go along with this. Be sure to check it out on my site, Facebook, or Deb's blog. Links are on our profile.
We would love to hear from you. What you liked, what you didn't like, how much you miss us… ;) LOL Leave us a note and let us know.
Mooches and hugs from both of us! ~ Jenny & Deb