Friday, December 28, 2001 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 11



The first thing I noticed when Edward pulled back into the driveway was that not only was Carlisle there, but Wes was currently sitting at the end of our outdoor tables with Ike Raulson, who was wearing an unreadable expression.

"Look!" Bethy squeaked excitedly. "Poppy!"

"Poppy!" Sammy chimed in.

Neither child could get to him quickly enough as he met us at the car, yanking open the back door first. It didn't matter if it had been a few days or a few hours, Poppy always received a huge welcome.

"What's going on?" Edward asked him, giving Raulson a quick glance. "What's he doing here?"

"Well, it was either kill him myself for what he's done...or hand him over to Wes," Carlisle muttered back, a sneer curling his upper lip, even though he was lifting my son into his arms. "It's quite possible that Ike is in some serious trouble."

"What did he do?" I asked, helping a wriggling Bethy out of the car so she could run to her grandfather.

"Well, since the last known residence of Preston Raulson was Ike's home in California, Wes was able to obtain a search warrant for the home," Carlisle said, smiling down at Bethy hugging his leg. "Right now, they're currently combing the place from top to bottom. It seems Ike has been abusive his whole career. And not only that, Kyra's not the only one he took in. There were stacks of video tapes down in his personal recording studio of recording sessions. You know he specialized in underage stars." The last statement was accompanied by a pointed look. "Well, he did up until about five years ago. Then he stopped taking them in, running music camps, and allowing them to live there."

I frowned, shaking my head and giving Ike a long, studying stare. "Not that I don't want him in trouble, but...hasn't the statute of limitations run out on abuse, no matter what kind it is?" I asked, turning back to Carlisle.

"Yes, but not on murder," he answered, and Edward and I gaped at him. "It seems that someone on one of those video tapes was recognized by a Fed as a missing girl from a handful of years ago. That's what they're talking to him about right now. Well, that and Preston's whereabouts."

"What did he do to Kyra?" I whispered, my imagination running absolutely wild with the possibilities.

"That's her story to tell. I haven't heard it myself, but Esme is encouraging her to tell the two of you," he sighed, squatting down to scoop Bethy up into his other arm, "because Kyra insists on continuing to work, so she doesn't want to go with Wes. So she needs Gravity. She needs you two. However, I'm well aware that she's slowly wearing out her welcome here."

"Slowly?" Edward and I scoffed, rolling our eyes.

Carlisle grinned, shaking his head. "Right. So Esme's hoping that if Kyra explains herself, you'll reconsider." He turned his head, kissing Sammy's forehead, only to do the same to Bethy. "I'm taking my grandkids inside, and we're gonna make a mess of your kitchen," he said cheerily, which caused Edward to chuckle. "And then...we're going to veg out in front of the TV with a giant bowl of popcorn."

Both kids cheered, and he grinned, like it was the best sound ever.

"Anyway," he chuckled, turning back to us, "I've got these guys, so take your time. Esme's in the office."

Edward and I made our way across the yard to Gravity's office, not even bothering to give Ike a glance on the way by. We opened the door to see my crew staring at one of Alice's larger computer monitors. It seemed that Rose and Emmett weren't back yet.

"No, no, no!" we heard over the speaker, and then the slam of what sounded like a piano lid, because a discordant note droned just a bit, though the sound of someone crying out overshadowed it. "You'll never make it if you're lazy. Stars aren't lazy. Now...focus!"

On the monitor was a younger Ike, though he still carried a foul, angry look on his face. Sitting at the piano was a boy in his teens, who was rubbing his knuckles, because Ike had apparently slammed the lid down on them.

Alice spun around in her chair after pausing the video. She, Kurt, Mickey, and Makenna were all wearing sickened expressions on their faces.

"He's...he's an asshole," Alice stated, sneering up at the screen. "Wes had his agents forward me some of the tapes they'd found when they searched Raulson's home in California. So far, they're all like that. Verbally and physically abusive."

"And this one," Makenna added, clicking the mouse so that another video started. It was the same setting, though a different student – a girl. "This girl is the one they think is missing. They're not sure. It's been a long time."

"Yeah, I'm running an aging program on her face," Alice sighed, gesturing to another computer. "Wes wanted to know what she'd look like now, just in case she's not really missing. Right now, we have no idea who she is."

Edward and I watched the video in silence, because it seemed that poor girl had it worse than the boy before. He reminded her that she had nowhere to go, that she was worthless without him, and that if she didn't perform up to par, then she would be living on the streets.

"Is that..." Edward started, frowning at the screen and pointing just a little. "Is that...Preston in the background? Can you zoom in on that?"

"I have, and yes, it is," Alice told him, flipping over to a frozen portion of the video.

"Damn, that's disturbing," I muttered, because Preston was watching his father with rapt attention, an almost blissful smile on his face. He would've been about college age, a fair amount of time after Kyra had lived in the house.

"Again!" Ike barked over the speakers, but we all paused when my office door flew open.

An ashen faced Kyra glanced frantically around the room, only to find the source of her terror on the screen. Cassie and Gator appeared at her side in the doorway, but she couldn't take her eyes off the monitor.

"Molly," she whispered, narrowing her eyes a little, but we all jumped when Ike's voice boomed again.

"Preston!" he growled. "Get her out of my sight. Neither of you are doing me a damn bit of good today," he sighed dramatically. "You brought this worthless thing into the house, so you can take care of her. I can't put her in front of the audition board like this..."

Ike waved a dismissive hand at the both of them, but it was Preston's reaction that caused us all to flinch. He snatched Molly up by her arm, whispered fiercely in her ear, and then shoved her out the door.

"Molly who?" Alice asked Kyra.

"Just...Molly. I never knew her by anything other than her stage name," Kyra whispered, still staring at the monitor.

I turned to Alice and Makenna. "Can you narrow in on him? What's he saying to her?"

"I can try," Alice offered with a nod. "I mean, these were taped, not digitally recorded. The Feds converted them and emailed them to me."

I nodded in acceptance, but I knew Alice would indeed try to pull the sound out of it. I turned my gaze to Mickey, who looked like she couldn't decide who to hate more...Preston on the screen, or Kyra in the room.

"Mick," I called. "Get with two search for missing girls about fifteen to twenty-one by the name of Molly. Use her description to narrow it down. Okay?"

"Won't the Feds be doing that?" Kurt asked, though he was already pulling a computer to him.

"Yes, but we're better," I told him.

"You're keeping my case?" Kyra asked, flinching when I rounded my gaze on her.

"Right now..." I started, trying to keep my temper with her in check, because I hadn't forgotten the way that she'd talked to Bethy or the way that she'd touched my husband, but I could see that she was absolutely terrified. "Right now, I'm simply helping an FBI friend."

"Isabella," Esme chided softly from behind Kyra. "You and Edward come in here. I think you need to hear a few things."

Edward took my hand and led us into my office, brushing past Kyra. I could tell my husband had some pretty sharp things he wanted to say to her, because his jaw clenched and his eyes were dark. Esme was sitting behind my desk, a few hand written pages of notes in front of her, so Edward and I took the small sofa I had along the side, while Kyra and Cassie took the chairs in front of the desk. Gator opted to stand in front of the door once he'd closed it.

Once everyone was settled in, Esme sat forward, resting her elbows on the desk. "Kyra has some things she'd like for all of you to hear. I'm going to ask you all to stay quiet until she's finished." She turned to her gaze to me. "You of all people will understand that what she's about to say isn't easy, so bear with her, but she felt that those of you in this room deserved to hear it from her."

My eyebrows shot up, but I nodded, turning my attention to Kyra, who was wringing her hands nervously in her lap.

She suddenly snapped her gaze to meet mine. "Who'd you tell first? About what happened to you?" she asked.

"Edward," I answered instantly, and he linked my fingers with his, letting a deep breath out. "He was there, and he'd seen where I was, so he was the only one that I felt would understand. Eventually, I told everyone."

I paused, letting her study us, because that was what it seemed like she was doing. She took in our body language, our linked fingers with Edward's thumb circling over my own, and Edward's kiss to my head. I couldn't imagine what she was looking for, but I knew what I felt. I felt comfort, our deep history, and Edward's calming presence.

I frowned at her petrified, yet longing expression, because I'd been there. I didn't feel all of my hatred and anger dissipate, but it was suddenly overshadowed by sympathy and pity.

My head shot up to look at Esme. "She has PTSD," I gasped, because I'd just recognized everything Kyra was doing right then – her refusal to see reality, her constant need to work, to bury herself in something she was good at, and her clinging to the one person that made her feel safe.

I'd been so wrapped up in the case, her affair with Edward, and her pretentious attitude that I didn't see it for what it truly was.

"She does," Esme sighed, her eyes sad as she looked back to Kyra. "And a touch of depression and OCD, if I'm not mistaken."

Cassie stayed quiet like she always did, but her eyes flickered around at all of us, finally landing on Kyra. "What happened, K?" she asked, almost in a whisper.

Kyra opened her mouth to speak, but snapped it closed again. Beads of sweat glistened on her forehead, and she suddenly didn't look like the superstar she was. She looked like a child, a lost and scared little girl, despite the fact that she was about thirty years old.

"It gets easier every time you tell it," I murmured, shrugging a shoulder and leaning into another kiss to the side of my head, because Edward hated this type of shit. If he could erase my time with Miller, he'd have done it years ago, and he never spoke of it. At least, not in front of anyone other than myself or Esme. Hell, I wasn't even sure he'd ever talked to his father about it. "Trust me." I swallowed thickly, mentally preparing myself to listen to her. "He hurt you, didn't he?"

All eyes in the room spun to look at her, and she nodded slowly, tears filling her eyes. "Yes," she whispered, licking her lips and taking a deep breath.

With an encouraging nod from Esme, she started.

"My dad was a good man," she sighed, smiling just a touch. "He was a baker in Pittsburgh, but gave it all up when they offered me a national show. He didn't think twice. He moved us to LA immediately." She paused long enough to swipe at her tears, but went on. "He was my manager before Ike. I really relied on him, because it was just the two of us. He set me up with the right banks, the right accounts, the right music, simply by going on instinct. He wasn't a Hollywood guy; he was just a dad trying to take care of his daughter.

"He had diabetes," she sighed, rubbing her face. "So when the show was just about over and Ike offered me a recording contract that was more mature, I jumped at the chance, but my dad... He didn't like Ike. At all. It was the biggest fight we'd ever had, but he eventually gave in, because the contract was too big to ignore. Ike promised huge things for me. You know?"

We all nodded, though I wasn't sure she even saw us, because she was staring back down at her hands.

"One day, his sugar got too low," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "He'd waited too long or something, and he couldn't get to his insulin. By the time he realized it, it was too late. He was gone. I turned seventeen the day of his funeral," she muttered.

"Damn," Gator groaned, shaking his head, because all of this was new to him. He'd only joined her after her second tour. He knelt beside her, but she barely acknowledged his presence.

"Ike offered to take me in," she continued, staring at the rug. "He helped me become an emancipated minor and gave me a room in his house. I thought... I thought that since I was working so much with him anyway that it would be okay. He had a son about my age, he had plenty of room, and I could certainly pay my own way, but I didn't realize...I didn't know..." Tears streaked down her face as she finally glanced around the room. "My dad was right not to trust him."

"What did he do?" Edward asked softly, giving Gator a glance, and then the door, because the asshole in question was mere yards away.

"Don't you dare," Esme ordered softly. "Edward, you'll stay right where you are."

"Yes, ma'am," he sneered, but his eyes flickered to the door one more time.

"At first, he was just really strict," Kyra continued, as if no one had interrupted her, "though he treated me better than he treated Preston. He was really tough on his son. We weren't allowed to really go out, hang with friends, or party, because I was pretty recognizable at that point. We both were responsible for chores around the house. Normal stuff, really. It wasn't bad. I kind of liked it, because I felt like a regular kid, not a TV star." She snorted humorlessly, shaking her head. "Preston went to school, while I was taught by a tutor. We got along, I suppose. Preston was dating a girl named Felicia at the time, and I was kind of jealous, because Ike wouldn't let me date. Hell, he barely let me out of the house, except for work purposes.

"After about six months of living in Ike's house is when... when he first hit me..." She took a deep breath and let it out. "Two months later, he...snuck into my room the first time."

"I'm gonna kill that motherfucker!" Gator snapped, standing up suddenly, but he found himself stopped at the door by Edward.

"Wait, man," he grunted, gripping him by the shoulders. "Let her finish. Esme's right. You need to hear the whole thing, Gator."

Gator nodded, but stayed leaning against the door. Edward took his place back next to me.

"Did he..." Cassie asked, but never really finished her question, because Kyra was nodding.

"Fuck," I hissed, leaning forward and putting my elbows on my knees, because it suddenly made sense, the way she'd reacted to my story about Miller. She'd told me I was lucky, and at the time, I'd thought she was referring to my relationship with Edward, but she hadn't been. She'd been referring to the fact that I hadn't been raped.

"How many..." Gator started, but couldn't bring himself to fully ask the question.

"I don't know. I stopped counting," she sighed, shaking her head. "It would always happen after a terrible practice, or a messed up performance. He would...choke me...during..." She swallowed thickly, looking back down at her feet. "It sort of slowed down when I turned eighteen. I'd started touring, met Roger...and Gator," she sighed, gesturing to the seething man still leaning against the door. "Plus, Preston was giving him trouble. He ran away or something."

"To New York," Edward added, and she nodded.

"Yeah, he'd gotten arrested for something to do with his girlfriend," she gasped, gaping up at him like he was reading her mind. "Ike didn't touch me while I was on tour, because Gator became my personal bodyguard. And I moved in with Roger soon after we got married. However, once he found out about my filing for divorce, he started to blackmail me. Said he'd tell the world that the famous Kyra Bailey had slept her way into a recording contract if I didn't keep quiet, because he started again. It all snowballed at the USO tour," she murmured, giving Edward a quick glance.

"That's why he hated Edward," Cassie surmised, her mouth hanging open. "Not because of Edward himself, but because he was..."

"Yeah, taking what he considered to be his." Kyra nodded. "Well, that and the fact that he was terrified of Edward. He was uncomfortable in Afghanistan as it was, but Edward threatened him, told him if he didn't play nice that he'd find himself in the middle of the desert – or even worse, the middle of the fighting."

Edward smirked, shrugging one shoulder at Esme's tsk, but she was fighting her smile. "What?" he asked her.

"Nothing. Please go on, Kyra," she urged gently.

"By then, I'd figured out that if I was dating someone or working, Ike left me alone. I also noticed I wasn't the only one he was...bothering. There were others," she stated, gesturing a thumb toward my office, but she finally looked up at Edward. "I'm sorry, Edward. I'm sorry I panicked when we parted ways. I wanted so badly for him to stop. I thought maybe if you...if we..."

"I get it," he sighed, holding up his hand, and I could see that he just didn't want to hear the details.

"You were my last shot," she stated sadly. "After that, I tried to avoid him. In fact, I almost quit the business, but he wouldn't let me. So I stayed busy. He left me alone while I filmed two movies, recorded another album, and worked the Oscar circus bullshit," she sighed, almost in relief. "By then, I was drinking heavily, dating around, and just...busy."

"Why didn't you tell someone, K?" Gator asked, kneeling back down beside her.

"She couldn't," I muttered, my fingers gripping my hair, because her story was fucking eerily familiar. She was tortured, although in a different way, but I understood it. A warm, strong arm slipped around me as I gazed at my feet. "She felt weak and used. And I'm sure Ike was still holding his threat above her head. Who would everyone believe? The young talent with a drinking problem? Or the music mogul who had made millions producing the biggest and the brightest?"

"Exactly," Kyra breathed, gaping at me. "I just wanted to pretend..."

"That it didn't happen," I finished for her, sitting up straight to look at her as she nodded, because I had a theory. "Ike flipped the fuck out when he found out about you and Preston, didn't he? Ike blames you, but something else happened, didn't it?"

"Yeah," she whispered with a nod. "Preston figured it all out, once I tried to end things with him. Everything. The two of them didn't have just a 'falling out,' like Ike said. It was a huge fight. Preston assumed it was consensual, so he hated us both. He'd never stood up to his dad before, but he did then, and it almost got him killed. Ike just about beat him to death, because Preston wouldn't stop. He was already upset that we'd broken up, but he was so possessive of me that he just didn't want to believe it."

"Ike's currently being questioned about that girl you said was named Molly," I stated, still not ready to face her request to continue her case. "What do you know about her?"

"Not much," she said with a shrug. "She worked with Preston and Ike, but I thought they'd dropped her. It happened a lot in the business. The talent was either there, or it wasn't. The powers that be either loved you or hated you. I wasn't living at Ike's then. I was already out, living in my own house, when I wasn't on a movie set or touring."

I studied her expression, not knowing whether to believe her anymore. She never quite told the complete truth, but it was Cassie that called her on it.

"You can understand why they're a little wary, Kyra," she murmured. "You've not exactly been a model citizen around here."

Edward snorted, shook his head, and looked to me with a hidden raised eyebrow from the rest of the room. I had to fight my smile at Cassie's sugar coating of things and at my husband's expression, but I squeezed his hand.

However, it was with an almost stone, cold face that he turned back to her. "Of all the people in this room, I would've just...understood, Kyra. You could've just told me, or even that you were just fucking scared and needed my help. There was no need for any of your...actions. I'm not sure what you want from me. And I'm not sure if I can ignore how you've disrespected my wife, my kids, and me." He grimaced a bit before going on. "I'll apologize again for my actions back then, if that's what you want, but had I known what this bastard was doing, I could've done something about it. He would've been...stopped."

Esme and I flinched, because we knew what he truly meant by the word "stopped." Edward was just like Carlisle, and sometimes, they used the same intonations with their words. She and I knew that it was quite possible that Ike Raulson would've met his demise in the middle of a desert. And no one would've thought twice about it, because it was a war.

"I know! I'm sorry," she breathed, tears filling her eyes and flowing down her face.

"Kyra, tell him," Esme urged her gently. "Tell him what you told me."

"The last time Ike..." She huffed a deep breath, but her crying was too thick. "We were at my house. We'd found out that Solstice was being bought by Twi Tech. He told me that Carlisle Cullen was personally overseeing the transition and that no one's job was safe. Teri was there, and she was excited about the change, but Ike looked sick, because he told us that every talent was going to be interviewed." She hiccuped a bit, swallowed, and went on. "I told Teri that I wanted to try recording in Seattle, that a new city, a new studio, and a different sound would be a good thing, but I knew then that Carlisle was your dad." Kyra paused swiping at her face, but took a handkerchief from Gator when he offered it.

"Go on," Edward said softly.

"That night, Ike was awful. He threatened to out me for the whore that I was. He told me that his son's behavior was all my fault, and he choked me so hard that I blacked out. I thought he was going to kill me," she sobbed, but took no comfort from either Cassie or Gator. "The only thing I could think of was to get to your dad and find you," she finally blurted out to Edward.

"Damn, honey," Gator groaned, giving Edward a worried glance, but quickly wrapped her up in his arms. "How could you believe him? We would've backed you up, Kyra," he stated, gesturing between himself and Cassie, who was nodding.

"Because when you're told something enough times, you start to believe it," I stated softly, thinking how I'd been pretty sure that Miller would rape me and kill me and no one would know, simply because he'd taken the opportunity to tell me that every chance he fucking got. I'd been convinced I was going to die alone in that basement.

Edward gazed at me, his face unreadable as he reached up and tucked my hair behind my ear, but we both looked up when Kyra exploded.

"I didn't know what to do! I'm so sorry to both of you!" she sobbed hysterically. "All I could think of was that I needed Edward to make Ike go away. I needed him to make them both go away. I couldn't take it anymore. The only time they left me alone was when I was dating someone, and I couldn't think of any other way. I thought if they knew you were back in my life, they'd back off. I didn't mean any of it. I didn't want you that way, but you were the only one that truly scared him, Edward." She turned her gaze to me. "I'm so sorry, Bella. I didn't mean it. I don't have feelings for him, but I panicked. Ike called me this morning after that talk over the phone in the office. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone the truth, because he knew Carlisle was about to ask me about Solstice. I freaked out. I needed Edward to be with me."

I sighed, because her fear was palpable, like it was another being in the room. And it explained everything – every angry snap, every fight, every flirty statement – especially because it had escalated once Ike had flown in from California. It all made sense, because she'd thought that Edward was the same person he was back then, but he wasn't. He'd changed, and nothing she did could break his hold on me, on his kids. Her last desperate attempt had backfired, because not only had Bethy interrupt her, but it had earned my fist to her face, along with the muzzle of my gun. But her sweaty forehead, her heavy breathing, her now endless tears...they told me more of the truth than anything else. She was fucking scared to death...of everything.

"She didn't know any different," Esme said explained softly, her gaze directed at me. "It's what's always worked, so she used it – however futile it was. With any other man, it might've worked like a charm, but not with Edward. Anytime anyone she was dating got too close to the truth, she ended things."

"Oh," Edward and I said at the same time, looking back to Kyra, who was now wrapped up by Cassie and Gator.

They spoke quietly to her, but Esme got up and sat beside me, glancing between me and Edward. "She's a mess. Emotionally, she's probably a decade behind where she should be, so all of these games she's been playing made sense to her. She didn't say anything about her abuse to you," she said, giving me a pointed look, "because you intimidate her. Not because you're running the case, or even Edward's wife and the mother of his children, but because you survived something awful, and she didn't think she would. While you still experience some panic attacks, you're light years ahead of her, and she doesn't think she's that strong. She's still convinced Ike, or even Preston, will get to her."

I turned to look at Edward, who was wearing the familiar face of anger and control as he gazed at the three people on the other side of the room. He looked like he wanted to hit something.

"Hey," I called to him, turning his face my way. "Calm down, just for a minute, okay?" I asked him, because I knew for a fucking fact that there wasn't a force on God's green Earth that would stop him once we left this room. He was going for Raulson, no matter what.

He nodded, but turned his attention to Esme. "You believe her?"

"Every word," she vowed. "I recognized the signs of a panic attack this morning. I'd seen her do something similar before. She needs extensive therapy...and medication. She's probably a razor's edge away from suicidal. If her faith is in you, then I'm asking you to continue the case, because she's determined to work, and Wes won't allow it. It's part of her OCD – constantly working, constantly performing to perfection. If she works, then everything is okay. If working keeps her focused and calm, I see no harm in long as she's protected from Preston and under my guidance."

Edward looked to me, his beautiful green eyes full of only one silent question.

Did we continue the case?

I sighed, giving Kyra one more glance. She was watching us, practically holding her breath and wringing her hands in her lap. Gone was the pop diva, the pretentious star. She wasn't even looking to Edward for the answer; she was looking to me, because she knew it was ultimately my call.

I stood up and walked to her. "He would've done it for you, you know. All you had to do was be honest," I told her. "He would've acted the part, pretended to be with you. It's something we do when catching cheaters. It's not his favorite thing, but he would've done it," I snickered, smiling at Edward's chuckle behind me. "Things are different now."

"I'd never told anyone," she whispered, sniffling a bit.

"It's easier to keep it inside," I agreed, nodding a bit, "but you don't have to be afraid of Ike anymore."

"You can't know that," she breathed, shaking her head profusely, and her eyes darted toward the window.

"Oh, yeah, I do," I chuckled, turning to Edward. "Baby, why don't you go ask Mr. Raulson why he's threatening our client? I'm sure Wes would like to know."

Edward's grin was a mixture of pure wickedness and childlike gratefulness. He stood up from the sofa and walked to me, dropping a kiss to the side of my head.

"Yes, ma'am," he grunted softly into my hair. He turned to Kyra. "No more games, Kyra?" he asked her, raising an eyebrow at her. "I mean it. No more bullshit, no more lying...and you owe my daughter an apology for this morning."

"No, Edward," she sighed, shaking her head. "I know I don't deserve your forgiveness...from either of you, but..." She paled, glancing out the window. "Are you really going to ask him?" she whispered.

"Yes," he huffed, reaching for her hand, "and you're going to watch."

"What? No! He'll kill me!" she argued, tears welling up in her eyes, and I reached for her other hand.

"Kyra, stop," I hissed in her ear. "He wants to show you what happens when the monster gets called out. Come...I'll be right next to you the whole time," I promised her.

Edward yanked open the door, and the office came to a standstill. "Em, Alec, Jazz...on me. Now!" he ordered, and not one of those men questioned him.

They all stood up, pulling their weapons from their shoulder holsters or the small of their backs, immediately following him out the door and into the yard. Ike Raulson paled when he saw what was coming for him, and Wes turned to see what had caught his attention.

"Em, grab his shoulder," Edward ordered, and they snatched the older man up from the picnic bench, practically throwing him into the thick tree trunk at the base of Bethy's tree house.

"Ed...what are you..." Wes started, but Edward held up a hand and turned to Ike.

"Oh," he chuckled darkly, "I always knew you were a piece of shit, Raulson." Edward wrapped his hand around the man's throat and squeezed. "Sucks, don't it? When you can't breathe?" he asked him, and then leaned in. "I know all about you, you know. I know you like to smack people around, talk trash, rape young girls," he growled low. "Did you think I wouldn't find out?"

Ike's eyes went wide, and he tried to gasp for air, but Edward squeezed just a little bit harder. But when his eyes landed on Kyra, three guns engaged in his face – Jasper's, Alec's, and now Gator's. Emmett, however, smacked his face open handed. Hard.

"Ed's talkin' to you, dude. I'd pay attention to the guy that could order your death," he advised, though his sarcastic tone was loud and clear.

"You're done, asshole," Edward continued. "No more threats, no more job, no more music."

"Ooh," Emmett chuckled, putting a hand to his ear. "Do I hear the fat lady singing?"

Kyra huffed a laugh, because damn it, Emmett just took everything in stride.

"Kyra!" he rasped, and Edward squeezed his throat tighter. "What did you tell them? You can't possibly believe anything she says!"

"I know you threatened her just this morning," Edward stated, wearing a smug as hell smile. "I have proof of it, because every single call that goes through Kyra's phone is recorded. We set it up that way when she arrived here." Edward brought his hand back and let it fly open handed across the man's face. "Every video in your recording studio is now being analyzed by my team and the FBI, so by the time they're done, no one will believe you over her. You like beating up on people, then take your best shot, Ike. Let's go."

Edward backed away, and so did Emmett, but Raulson only stayed leaning against that tree. His legs shook, his hands shook, and he didn't move an inch from that tree. My husband chuckled, shaking his head.

"Wes," he called over his shoulder. "You're going to take this asshole away from me, or his body will disappear in those woods," he stated, jerking a chin toward the surrounding forests.

"Sure, man. What are we arresting him for?" Wes asked, stepping closer and pulling out handcuffs.

"Rape, assault, attempted murder, and whatever else you feel like tacking on," Edward answered him in a sneer, but leaned into Ike's face so that they were practically nose to nose. "I should've left you in the fucking desert years ago."

"She asked for it!" Ike snapped, and suddenly a fourth and fifth gun from Emmett and Edward were being pointed in his face. "She was unfocused and scattered without me! She was so easily distracted. She needed me to make sure she paid attention. She needed my guidance, or she would've never made it in this business. Without me, she would've been nothing!"

"She was a fucking child!" Edward growled low, his face a fiery ire. "Kids are supposed to unfocused, scattered, and easily distracted! You outweigh her by what...eighty pounds? You're twenty years older than her? Did women your own age see you for what you really were? A fucking pig? Did you choke your ex-wives? Abuse your other children? Because you've done a fine job with Preston." Edward started to walk away, but he turned back to Ike. "Oh, and for the record, I will hunt your son down. And I'm going to tell him all about you. I'm going to tell him just what his dad really did to the girl that broke his heart. And then?" He grinned, chuckling just a bit. "Then I'm going to call in a few favors and make sure you two are in the same cell together."

With that, Edward turned to his boys. "Stand down. This is Wes' arrest."

"Ike Raulson, you have the right to remain silent..." Wes started, and that was when Ike's true character came out, because he started to sob like a child, like an emotional woman after watching a sappy movie.

Kyra watched with an open mouth as her tormentor broke down in front of her eyes. He was nothing more than a whining, pleading, blubbering mess by the time Wes marched him by us. Esme wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders, because the reality of the situation was hitting Kyra hard. I knew from experience that the feeling of watching your captor, your worst nightmare, get broken down to nothing can be overwhelming. The monster goes from larger than life to a sniveling cockroach in the blink of an eye.

"I'm going to give you something to help you sleep, Kyra," she whispered to her. "It's been a really tough day, but you did really well."

Edward walked by, his face still dark and angry, and Kyra went to say something to him, but I stopped her.

"Not yet," I whispered, shaking my head. "You have no idea the restraint he just used. He's still...volatile. You can talk to him after you've slept and he's calmed down."

I knew Edward well enough to know that it had taken everything within him not to kill Ike on the spot, because Ike was the lowest of criminals in Edward's eyes. I'm sure there were a ton of factors that helped him focus, one of which was the fact that his kids were just inside the house. The other might have been the Feds' presence.

"Right now," Esme sighed, "the only one that can get through to him is Bella."

"Well, then, thank him for me," Kyra whispered through her tears.

"I will," I vowed.

Before Esme could lead her away, she turned to me. "How'd you get through it? How'd you not just...give up?" she asked me.

I smiled, looking around my yard. Edward was opening up his woodshed, his boys nearby, but not bothering him. My girls were leaning in the office doorway, and glancing up at my front porch, I could see Carlisle leaning there as he assessed the situation. I finally looked to Esme, who was smiling warmly at me, because she probably knew what I was about to say.

"Them," I stated firmly, gesturing to everyone. "All of them. They made me talk, made me get it out, and made me see that I'd survived. I wasn't weak, and he didn't take the best part of me." I gestured to Cassie and Gator. "I'm pretty sure you've got the same support system. Just ask them." Her friends nodded profusely, and I smiled. "Get some rest. This will hit you a bit tomorrow, I'm sure. And you've got a show to prepare for."

"'Kay," she whispered, looking to Esme.

I turned away from them, because I had to go calm my husband down. I walked to the shed, waving off the boys, but flinched at the banging from inside the workshop. I went straight in, leaning on the closest workbench to Edward. He'd already tugged his shirt off over his head and tossed it into the corner. I stayed quiet as he lifted a rather larger, but very beautiful piece of what looked like maple onto his sawhorses. I would be willing to bet it was going to be the top of Bethy's desk.

"I wanted to kill him," I heard him seethe as he kept his back to me.

"I know," I sighed, pushing myself up onto the bench. "I'm not sure I would blame you, but..."

"If I'd known..." he growled, finally glancing up at me. "He would've never laid a hand on anyone again..."

I frowned, but nodded. "He'd been hurting her, threatening her for years. She knew nothing better than to hide it, Edward. She was just a kid when he started. I'm not sure how Esme got her to tell it now." I waved him to me, and he came willingly. Pulling him between my legs, I cupped his still angry face, but it slowly softened as he wrapped his arms around me. I pulled at him until his forehead fell to mine. "You didn't know, baby. And she wanted it that way. It's not your fault."

He let out a deep breath, pulling back to drop a heavy kiss to my forehead. "I love you," he murmured against my skin.

"You're the bestest in the whole wide world," I teased him, smiling when he snorted, but he broke out into a sexy crooked smile.


"Yeah." I sighed, brushing my lips across his. "I'm a very lucky woman."



"Edward," Alice called from behind me as I yanked the ties through the eyes of the tarp covering my chopper. "I'm going to record the whole show tonight. The arena is letting me tap into their feed. But I was wondering if you boys will wear cameras, too."

"Sure, pixie," I grunted, tugging one tarp down and tossing it aside. "I'm sure that's no problem."

"Um...what happened in that office?" she asked softly, and she was suddenly at my side.

I pulled the other tarp away, gathering them up to stash behind my woodshed. I turned back to her, because Kyra had given permission to let the whole crew and the Feds know what happened. "You didn't record it, Ali?" I teased her, knowing the whole damn office was wired for fucking sound.

"I did," she said with a cheesy grin.

"Then go listen to it," I said, waving a hand at her. "It's not my story to tell, and I'm not sure I could repeat it if I wanted to."

"That bad?" she gasped.

"That bad." I rubbed my face, because my sleep had been for shit, but I had to ready my chopper, set up teams for that night's show, and make Bethy's and Sammy's breakfast and lunch. "In fact, have everyone listen so that we're all on the same page. And you'll treat it with the utmost care and professionalism, Alice," I ordered, raising an eyebrow at her

I knew those girls were still thinking that Kyra was trying to come between me and Bella, and while their loyalty was always appreciated, it was now a moot point. Once Ike had been arrested, I'd calmed down, and Kyra had been given something to help her sleep, we'd called it a night without explanation, so I knew they were about to go out of their minds with curiosity.

"Yeah, got it," she murmured, but stopped before walking away. "You should know that so far, there is no mention of Ike Raulson's arrest. It's probably because it was here...out of the public eye," she surmised, and I nodded, opening the side door of my chopper. "Also, you should hear that final call from Ike to Kyra. I have it on my..."

"No, I shouldn't," I snorted, rolling my eyes. "It was all I could do not to kill him in my own fucking front yard."

Alice giggled, and it was just as comforting as Bella's laugh, so I couldn't help but smile back at her.

"He threatened her, yes?" I verified.

"Yeah. He did."

"So she was telling the truth."

"Yes, she was," Alice sighed. "Guess I'd better go hear that whole story, right?" she asked, grimacing at the thought.

"Right," I grunted, pulling myself up into the pilot's seat as she walked back to Gravity's office.

I checked my gauges, hopped down, started to fuel her up, and made sure all was ready to go for that night. I was lost in thought, when the best sound piped up from behind me.

"Morning, Daddy," Bethy sang, and I turned to see her already dressed for school.

"Morning, little sweetness," I chuckled, because she was just picture perfect in sunshine yellow. Two loose braids fell over each shoulder, and my baby girl was once again in overalls. "What are you doing out here?"

"Mommy sent me," she answered, climbing up into the pilot's seat. "Where are we going?"

"You aren't going this time, baby," I sighed, standing up beside her. "I've got to work tonight."

"Miss Kywa's singing, wight?" she asked, grabbing onto the control stick, like she was flying.

"Right, smart girl," I chuckled, feeling my bad mood slowly ebb away as I pressed a kiss to the side of her head. "And believe me, I'll miss my favorite co-pilot." I pulled myself inside, picked her up, and settled her on my lap with her back to my chest. "Tell she fueled up?"

One tiny finger traced over the gauges, finally tapping the fuel gauge. "Yup!" Bethy chirped, grinning at my nod of approval. "I want to fly somewhere wif you, Daddy," she stated, but she sounded commanding, just like I had a tendency to do.

I grinned, wrapping my arms around her in a squeezing bear hug. "Oh, yeah? And where do you want to go?" I asked, chuckling into her neck.

A tiny shoulder shrugged up, but she giggled. "Disneyland!"

I laughed, shaking my head. "You want me to land this thing right in front of Cinderella's castle?"

"Yeah!" she cheered, nodding fervently, and her sweet eyes were the brightest of green.

"You're silly," I chuckled, kissing her cheek with a loud, sloppy raspberry. "Now...why did Mommy send you out here?"

"She said both her boys were cranky and that she needed my help," she told me, turning around to give me an assessing look. "You don't look cranky now, Daddy."

"No, not now," I sighed, kissing her forehead. "What's wrong with Sammy?"

Bethy shrugged a shoulder, so I told her to hold on to my neck, and I swung us down to the landing pad and set her on her feet so that I could close up the chopper. We walked into the house to find a very unhappy Sammy sitting in his highchair and my wife looking a touch worried as she fixed herself a cup of coffee.

I gripped Bethy by the overall straps and lifted her up level to her mother's face. "I found this outside. Should we keep her?" I asked, smirking at Bethy's giggle.

"Yes, and she needs to eat," Bella chuckled, wrapping her arms around our daughter and walking her to a stool.

"Daddy," Sammy whimpered, looking up at me with big, brown, sad eyes and a frown that was almost comical. He was so fucking cute, but obviously unhappy as he reached for me.

"Hey, what's this?" I soothed him, scooping him up into my arms, but when I kissed his forehead, he was burning up. "He's—"

"Got a fever," Bella finished for me as she plated toast and eggs for Bethy. "Yeah, I know. I've got to keep him home from Mrs. Cope's today."

It was obvious Samuel didn't feel well, because he kept rubbing his ears, his eyes, and his nose as I sat him on my lap. Bella set down a glass of juice in front of us, checking Sammy's forehead again, only to replace her hand with her lips. She frowned, sitting next to us and offering him some juice, which took some coaxing on her part to get him to drink.

"I've given him something for the fever, which, as you can tell, made him extremely unhappy," Bella muttered wryly. "I'm waiting for Esme to get here so I can take Bethy to school," she sighed.

"I've got Bethy," I offered. "I'll even drop Caleb off when Rose and Em get here." I kissed Sammy's clammy little hand and made him look at me. "What hurts, buddy? Point to it."

He rubbed his eyes again, but tugged on his ear. He reached for his mother, and she curled him to her, laying his head on her shoulder.

"I'm sure it's just a cold," Bella soothed, running her fingers through his hair. "He's been sneezing. And Mrs. Cope said the virus was going around." The combination of her soothing touches, the cold medicine, and Bella's constant soft voice was lulling him back to sleep.

I leaned in to kiss his cheek, whispering, "Love you, big guy. You've got the best seat in the house. Eat it up."

Bella giggled, which caused one small flicker of a smile to creep up my son's face. He put a finger in his mouth and closed his eyes. Tilting her chin, I brushed a kiss across Bella's lips.

"Thank you," I whispered, kissing her again.

"For what?"

"For the little ray of sunshine you sent out this morning," I chuckled, raising an eyebrow at her.

"Yes, well... You had some pretty bad dreams last night," she explained, kissing my cheek, only to cup it with her free hand. "I had my own cranky guy to contend with," she snickered, rubbing Sammy's back.

I nodded, turning to Bethy. "Let's go, little sergeant!" I grunted, pointing toward her room. "Teeth brushed, backpack, lunch...go, go, go!" I chanted, grinning when she scrambled off the stool with a giggle and ran down the hall.

By the time I returned back home from dropping both kids off, the place was filled with activity. But my father met me halfway across the yard.

"We have a situation," he stated, shaking his head and waving away my instant frown. "It's not a huge deal, except maybe to you."

"Tell me."

"Kyra has asked if Esme could join her tonight," he sighed, grimacing, and I assumed at that point, my stepmom had told him everything. "Which leaves no one to watch the kids."

"What about Sarah?" I suggested, because Alec's wife and the mother to Abby was always willing to pitch in.

"She can't," he told me. "She's visiting her mother in Olympia," he said, grimacing again, "which leads me to your son. He's pretty much holding your wife hostage."

I laughed and groaned at the same time. "So what you're saying is Bella's sitting this out," I snorted, but then sighed in frustration, running a hand through my hair as he nodded slowly. "Shit," I hissed, shaking my head. "Is she pissed?"

"I don't think she's had time to even think about it, son," my dad replied, gripping my shoulder. "Go check on them. Eleazar has offered to take her place at your side, so Alec's about to go over your plan. We'll wait on you. Everyone's already in the office."

"Yes, sir," I muttered, walking into my house to find Sammy holding his own against his mother in the stubborn department.

"No, Mommy!" he wailed, but I could hear the cold had finally hit full force. He was coughing, sniffling, and sounded like all around hell.

I walked into the living room to see the coffee table piled with tissues, both used and new, children's cold medicine, toys, remote for the TV – which currently had a cartoon movie playing low – and an open jar of that smelly shit that you rubbed on chests to help them breathe better. It was that last thing that my wife was trying to apply, but was losing the battle, because Sammy didn't want to be set down.

"Damn, I was only gone an hour. The place looks like a bomb went off," I chuckled, but shut up when she shot me a hateful look. "Okay, okay. Hang on." I walked to them, kneeling beside the couch. "Come here, big guy. Let Mommy put the medicine on you," I told him, but he shook his head no.

"No, don't want it!" he growled, but then broke into a cough and finally a sneeze.

"He's truly your child today," Bella muttered, rolling her eyes at my laugh, but she bent to his ear. "Sammy, what if I hold you while Daddy puts the stuff on? Okay?"

Sammy hiccuped, nodded, and sniffled, and I felt so bad for him, because he truly must've been feeling rotten. Normally, he was an easy going kid, but yeah, when he felt bad, he was me made over.

I grabbed up the jar and groaned dramatically at the smell of it, just to hear a small giggle escape my son and to see a sweet smile around the two fingers he was sucking on.

"Now...let's see... Where to put it..." I mused, giving him a raised eyebrow once I had that shit on my fingers. "Here?" I asked, lifting his arm and going for the armpit.

"No!" he huffed, jerking his arm back down.

"How 'bout here?" I asked, aiming for the bottom of his foot.

"No, Daddy!" he said, laughing in spite of it all and curling his pudgy toes away from me. "Here!" he rasped, lifting his t-shirt.

I tsked at him, shaking my head. "See? I knew you'd know what to do..." I sighed dramatically and slowly rubbed the stuff across his chest.

Bella practically sagged in relief, pressing a kiss to the side of Sammy's head, and I couldn't help but let tickling fingers wander, just to hear one more giggle. She grinned, settling back into the couch and keeping Sammy's back to her chest.

I got up, sitting down next to them and dropping an arm behind Bella. "Seems we have a problem, sweetness," I murmured, kissing her temple. "Esme feels obligated to help Kyra tonight, and this little guy needs you," I said, running a hand flat over his head. He was still burning up.

"I know," she whispered against the top of Sammy's head as he stared almost unseeingly at the TV, but at least he was breathing a little easier. "If this wasn't something you and Alec couldn't do in your sleep, I'd figure out a way to go, but this is your specialty."

"El's coming with us, and probably Felix, too," I told her.

Shifting Sammy to her other shoulder so she could lean closer to me, she narrowed her eyes on me. "I'm going to listen to every second of this thing," she stated, pointing a finger at me.

"Absolutely," I agreed with a nod, kissing the tip of her finger. "I'd prefer it that way. In fact, can you patch in from here? Can we set the girls up in the house? I want you on info lead."

She sighed, pressing her lips to Sammy's temple. "Fine, tell Alice to start setting up in here when you guys finish, ask Rose to go get Caleb and Bethy when school is out, and you, mister..." she commanded softly, pulling my chin until she could kiss me. "Tell me your plan – every detail – and then go get everyone ready."

I grinned, kissing her fully, pressing my forehead to hers. "Yes, ma'am."
Monday, December 24, 2001 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 10



"Isabella, you get your sweet ass back here," I said when she disappeared from my vision, but I heard our bedroom door close and the lock click into place.

I shifted uncomfortably in the handcuffs, looking back to see how she'd fucking locked my ass to our bed. I had to smile, because all I had to do was lift the corner of the bed to slip out from under it, though my wrists would still be bound together. She'd trapped me in a hurry. Had this been a life or death situation, my girl would have been able to get away or kill her attacker, but it wasn't; it merely had been blind fucking rage, something that I couldn't really blame her for.

"Did you really just use my full name, Edward Anthony?" she asked with a touch of a giggle to it.

"Yeah," I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "I'm handcuffed to our bed on our fucking rug, sweetness," I said, and my sarcasm was loud and clear. "What do you expect?"

Another giggle met my ears, and I started to push up on the bed, but a kick to my foot stopped me. I glanced up to see her standing at my feet.

"Don't. Please?" she whispered. There was a look on her face, a darkness to her eyes, and a slight frown on her face. "I'll let you up. I promise. Just not...yet."

"Bella..." I started to argue, but she walked slowly up my body, straddling me, only to sit herself gently down on my stomach.

"The kids are gone to school, Wes is here with his rather small army, and Kyra's been taken to the office," she stated softly. "I looked out the bathroom window. I wanted to make sure they'd leave us the fuck alone."

"I did say we'd finish what we started in the kitchen, didn't I?" I asked her, still unable to pinpoint her mood. "But I can't very well do that from here, baby..."

"Oh yes, you can," she breathed, glancing down at my chest, my arm, and then back to my face.

My eyebrows shot up, because right then, I recognized what Bella was doing. I'd done it myself not so long ago. It had been at the mountain top cabin just after we'd gotten Bethy back from Lilith, after hunting down the DOA's location in order to get Bella back. I'd been interrogating suspects, and Kenny Porter had falsely admitted to touching my wife.

I'd lost my fucking mind, practically killing the little shit with my bare hands right there in a drafty barn somewhere in Northern California. I couldn't stand the mere fucking thought of someone touching Bella, especially against her will. I couldn't fucking see straight with the chance that she'd been violated or that everything that she and I had worked together to overcome would be ruined. I'd taken Bella hard in the fucking woods, just to reassure myself that she was mine.

And that was what I was looking at – possessive, protective, and worried. The first of those emotions was what was keeping my ass bound to the leg of our footboard. She'd seen Kyra touch me and had seen that I hadn't wanted it, and despite the fact that I was a grown man, deeply in love with my wife, and a father to two children, Bella only saw a violation of personal space, the taking away of one's choice, and someone else touching what my girl considered to be hers. Not to mention the angry mother bear had come out in her when Kyra had snapped so rudely at Bethy. There had been no stopping Bella's temper.

Meeting her dark gaze and wanting to hold her so fucking badly, I just...gave in, because deep down, I just got it. It was fucking hard to watch someone else want what was yours, and Bella had been fighting this shit for weeks. It had built and snowballed until Kyra had finally pushed too far. In fact, I wasn't sure that Bella wouldn't have killed her right there in my woodshed had I not snatched her away.

"What do you need, sweetness?" I asked her gently.

"You," she hiccuped. Tears welled up just a bit in her deep brown eyes, her hands balled up into tiny fists as she braced them on my chest, and her breathing was heavy. She leaned over me, her hair falling in a curtain around our faces, saying, "I need you... like this."

"Hey," I whispered, lifting my head enough to brush my lips across hers. "She didn't win this," I said again, making sure Bella was looking me in the eye, because she needed to know that what she was feeling wasn't defeat. "She simply cornered me after my run...nothing more."

Bella simply nodded, stretching her body along mine, but her fingers ghosted up my arms to my wrists. "You okay?" she asked, tracing the metal of the handcuffs.

I chuckled darkly. "Let's see...I'm trapped underneath the most beautiful woman I know, she's got me at her mercy, and she's looking at me like I'm her next meal. Yeah, sweetness...I'm just...fine."

Bella cracked a smile, letting a little giggle out.

"There's a serious problem, though," I said with false sincerity.

"What?" she gasped, sitting up straight but remaining on my stomach.

"You are...way over dressed, baby," I told her, raising an eyebrow at her. "If I'm stuck here, then you gotta help a man out, beautiful. I would've already ripped that shit off of you by now, you know."

She grinned, biting down on that bottom lip of hers and reaching for the hem of her shirt. With swift movements, it was gone and in a heap beside us. I let out a shameless, wanton moan at the sight before me, licking my lips at just how fucking hot my wife truly was, especially when she was fucking teasing the absolute shit out of me.

"Oh, Bella, please tell me you match," I chuckled, shaking my head, because I just had to see the whole underwear set.

"Always," she snickered, standing up from her perch on my belly and kicking out of her jeans and sneakers, which left her standing in front of me in the sweetest, sexiest thing I'd ever seen her wear – though it could just be that I was a biased motherfucker.

"Mm, mm, mm," I hummed, licking my lips at the woodland camo bra and underwear, all trimmed in girly, light pink lace. It was such wicked mix, but it suddenly had my dick standing to attention. Breasts were pushed up, and boyshorts hugged my wife in all the right places. My fingers twitched, wanting to touch, to feel, to tear away, because my girl looked amazing. "Fuck, love... I want to touch you..."

"No," she said, slowly shaking her head back and forth. "Not yet, Edward," she chided sexily, standing over me again, and I couldn't help but drink in every inch of her, finally meeting her dark gaze.

She knelt between my legs, grasping the waistband of my basketball shorts. She had them down and off of me in seconds, and then they, too, ended up somewhere on the floor, but I couldn't concentrate on anything other than the sight of her hands skating up my thighs, over my boxerbriefs, and finally wrapping around my erection.

"So hard, so fast, baby," she noted aloud, giving me a small, but proud smirk.

"Yeah...been that way since the fucking kitchen," I panted, squeezing my eyes closed, because every pass of her hand over the cotton of my underwear had my hips raising up off the floor. "Running the perimeter check was a fucking...treat like this."

"Aw," she crooned, bracing a hand on my thigh, only to bend closer to my crotch. "Poor baby," she purred, her hair tickling the skin of my stomach.

I swallowed thickly as her nose and lips traced the same path that her hand just had – across my stomach, around each hip bone, and over the fabric of my underwear. She let a lip catch on the tip of my cock, but still didn't reach to take the damn underwear off. My whole body ached for her to really fucking touch me, but it seemed that she had other ideas, because those same beautiful lips dragged up my stomach, dropping warm, wet, open mouthed kisses all the way up to my chest.

"You're still sweaty, though," she pointed out, tracing the tip of her tongue over every inch of my Air Force tattoo, but her eyes were locked with mine. Licking her lips, she said, "Mmm, salty. I like it."

"Want me to tell you where you taste best, love?" I asked her, my voice deeper than I'd expected, but damn, if she wasn't driving me crazy.

She smiled, shaking her head no. "I think I've figured that out." She sat back a bit, eying my hands and body. "Can you roll over?"

My eyebrows shot up, and I mentally assessed my situation. "Yeah, though the floor may break under the pressure, baby," I told her, glancing at my now hard as steel dick and back to her face.

"I won't hurt you. I promise," she chuckled, helping me roll over on the rug, with my hands crossed over my head.

Immediately, strong fingers met the muscles of my shoulders, my back, and then my ass. Fuck, if I didn't moan out loud, my forehead thumping to the floor. I felt her body line up with mine again, and I glanced back over my shoulder at her.

"Do you know why I didn't want this tattoo on your back, Edward?" she asked, her little fingers tracing the ink on my upper arm.

I shook my head no, but couldn't say anything, because I was losing myself in the feel of her slipping down my body. I could feel soft skin, scratchy lace, hard nipples, and firm grips all the way down my back.

"Christ, Bella, you're fucking killing me," I muttered, my forehead thumping once again to the floor, because it was all I could do not to break the bed, flip over, and take my girl hard, deep, fast. She was so fucking sexy on a minute to minute basis, but when she put her mind to it, she was absolutely fucking deadly.

"I didn't want it on your back," she said, ignoring my most likely whiny voice, "because the day I first saw that crest, you had the most beautiful scratches from me across your skin, and that was better than any ink."

I grinned, because that was fucking awesome. Lifting my head, I tried once again to look at her, but she was just far enough back that I couldn't see her.

"And your reason for the tattoo was so damn sweet, baby. If it was a reminder of family first, then I wanted the whole world to fucking to be able to see it," she growled against the skin of my shoulder blade.

I heard the pure unadulterated hurt in my wife's voice, because it wasn't that Kyra had merely touched me, or that she'd spoken rudely to Bethy, it was what Kyra had touched. My ink, my crest...the reminder of family, loyalty, and just...Bella. It was the meaning behind it, and the violation of all of it.

"Fuck," I hissed, turning back over, despite her protestations. I started to push up on the bed to set myself free, because the call to hold her, pull her to me was just about too much, but Bella stopped me by gripping my wrists in her hands.

"No, don't," she begged, leaning over me and forcing my hands back down to the floor.

"I-I'm s-sorry, b-baby," I sputtered. "I was coming down from a five mile run. I-I d-didn't kn-know sh-she w-was r-right th-there!"

"Shh," she hissed against my lips, pressing her forehead to mine. "I know."

Nothing could stop me from kissing her. Nothing. I felt I needed to do something in order to take away whatever it was that had my girl upset. And if I couldn't fucking touch her, I was going to kiss the ever loving shit out of her. My whole body rocked up when our tongues met, all slippery, forceful, and deep, claiming, soothing, and tasting each other. My girl shifted so that my aching dick found some sort of friction between her legs, and we both moaned shamelessly.

Frantic fingers reached up, grabbed my hat, and flung it away, and then Bella slid her hands into my hair and gripped hard, turning my head. I moaned again, not from the pain, but from the mere idea that Bella was just fucking...taking. And she could have whatever the hell she wanted.

Her sweet, hot pussy rolled over my dick, and even through our underwear, I could tell she was so very fucking wet. My eyes rolled back into my head when she did it again, causing herself to gasp into my mouth.

"Shit, sweetness," I panted when she broke from my mouth, just to sit up and roll those fantastic fucking hips again. "You're gonna make me come like that," I told her, unable not to meet her rhythm, because shit, she felt so damn good.

She stilled, slipped down my legs, and grasped ahold of my underwear's waistband, pulling it carefully over my dick and off my legs. She reached behind her back, unclasped her bra, and dropped it beside her. Hooking her thumbs into the waistband of her boyshorts, she paused.

"Oh, don't tease, baby," I warned her in a low, rumbling voice, raising an eyebrow up at her.

A sweet little giggle escaped her as she stepped out of the fuck-hot underwear and crawled back up my body, pausing just long enough to drag her tongue up the shaft of my cock, drinking the severe leakage that had already beaded at the tip, because it was kinda fucking hot that I couldn't touch. But it was when her very hot, very wet pussy ground down on my thigh that I just had to say something.

"Mmm, so very wet you are, love," I crooned, unable not to use my leg to rub against her sex, which caused the sweetest sound of my name to hit the empty room in a breathy, yet whimpering tone. "If you bring that aching pussy to me, baby, I promise to take really good care of it," I bargained, licking my lips at the mere thought of tasting her, eating her until all she could say was my motherfucking name.

"Yeah?" she asked, giving me my own crooked smile. And it looked damn good on her, too.

"Oh yeah," I chuckled darkly as I nodded slowly, gripping the bedpost in order not to just break the whole fucking thing to get to her. She wanted me at her mercy, and she could have me that way, but fuck, I needed to taste her, fuck her, something. "Bring that pretty thing to me, and I'll take that ache down a notch or two..."

She grinned, shifted up my body, and suddenly, I was surrounded by beautiful thighs, soft skin, knees on either side of my head, and the most delicious pussy I'd ever had the honor of tasting. Licking my lips one more time, I locked eyes with my girl, who was now bracing her hands on the edge of the mattress above me. I placed one simple kiss to each thigh, before lifting my head a little. She was spread perfectly for me, and I happily dragged my tongue from one end of her to the other, relishing the cry of relief that escaped her.



"Oh, God," I moaned, my head falling back at the feel of Edward's mouth on me.

Just looking at him, touching him, feeling his want for me get harder and harder with every second that ticked by, had me absolutely hurting for him. And he totally understood and caught up to my mood. I needed to take back what was mine.

"Fuck, you're so damn good at that," I gasped, letting go of the bed and bracing my hands behind me on his thighs.

And God, he was fucking phenomenal at it. He kissed my sex like he kissed my mouth – thoroughly, deeply, with lips and tongue and suckling pressure claiming me, making me absolutely incoherent. There wasn't an inch of me that he didn't pay attention to, dragging tongue, teeth, and lips over me. With a flattened tongue, he raked it over my folds, only to suck hard on my clit, but he stopped just before I was about to come. It was teasing at its best, causing me to get wetter and wetter with each second he worked me over. And he relished every drop, drinking from me like he could never get enough.

Edward couldn't hold me still, so he went with every roll of my hips, moaning deep against my flesh every time my core would twitch. And that was when he backed off, nipping with teeth on the inside of my thighs and smiling evilly against my skin when I cried out.

He brought me so close that my arms could no longer hold me up. They started to shake, and I finally collapsed back on him, which just opened my legs up that much wider for him. Another pass of his tongue, swirling around both entrances, and finally latching onto my clit with his lips in a hard, sucking kiss had me reeling, my back arching, and my toes curling.

My breathing stopped for a moment, and my whole body wound tight before exploding. "Christ!" I gasped, my eyes rolling back in my head, and even in the midst of my orgasm, I could feel his smug smile against my sex.

Tears of ecstasy filled my vision as I came down from my high, trying to sit up. When I was finally facing him again, I couldn't help but smirk at him, because he was licking his lips like he'd just eaten the best meal ever, and he was wearing a slight but adorable pout that he couldn't have more.

"Better, sweetness?" he purred, gazing up at me as I leaned over him.

"Yes," I breathed against his mouth, before kissing him into oblivion. He still tasted like me, and all that did was make me want him that much more. We broke apart with gasps for air, but I pressed my forehead to his. "But I want...mmm, more."

He grinned, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip. "Shall I tear this bed apart, baby? Or are you going to ride me fucking senseless. We can play, Bella, but fuck, I'm dyin' here."

Giving his cock a glance, I moaned in sympathy and in want of it. He was so fucking hard, standing at attention like the good soldier he was. And he was still leaking from the tip. Slithering down his body, I positioned myself over him, finally locking eyes with his, and suddenly, it all hit me at once.

An almost rabid feeling of possessiveness took over me as I sank down on him, both of us moaning at the same time. Edward was mine, and someone had tried to come between us. I'd been through too much, needed him too much for that to happen, but another feeling followed right behind that one as I stared at my husband's handsome face, which was trapped somewhere between needing me to move and needing me to be still. That feeling was calm, peaceful faith.

Edward was mine, but he was mine because he wanted to be. He wouldn't have allowed anything to come between us, and that included my uncontrollable rage toward Kyra, her vile attitude toward Bethy, and her endless come-ons. He'd stepped between us not because he cared what happened to her or was concerned with her feelings, but because nothing bad could happen to me – or Bethy, for that matter, who happened to have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that was why he'd stopped me from killing her, no matter how justified I'd probably thought it was at the moment.

I rolled my hips, taking him deeper and relishing the feeling of how deeply he was filling me. My wants and needs were divided; I wanted Edward's hands on me, but I also wanted to continue to just claim, to take, to make him mine again, wiping the memory of Kyra's touch from him.

Edward's hips met mine thrust for thrust, but I could see his hands balled up in fists above his head, his teeth biting down on his bottom lip, and every muscle in his torso rolling under my fingertips.

"Edward..." I gasped, overwhelmed again by my conflicting wants.

"You look so good fucking me, baby," he rasped, his hands grabbing the foot of the bed in order to use it as leverage. "If you need harder, sweetness...then take it."

It was then that my need for hard, claiming, rough fucking just...changed, because I didn't need to claim him as mine; he gladly surrendered to me.

"Baby, I love you so much," I said, tears welling up in my eyes, because I couldn't get to him, I couldn't stop riding him, but I needed his touch, his voice in my ear, and his arms around me.

With a few swift movements, Edward lifted the bed, slipped the chain of the handcuffs free, and was sitting up and wrapping his arms around me, restrained wrists and all. As he captured my mouth with his, I could feel the cold steel of the handcuffs pressing into my back. The clink of metal as a firm grip captured my hair at the base of my neck echoed in my ear, but Edward brought his forehead to mine as I continued to move over him.

"Right here, sweetness," he purred, his dark gaze locked with mine. "I'm right here."

I nodded my sweaty brow against his. "I know," I gasped.

"I love you, too, Bella," he whispered, brushing his lips across mine, down my cheek, and then lightly suckling my neck. "You're so fucking beautiful, baby. Just flawless taking what's yours. And you own me, love."

I cupped his face, bringing his lips back to mine, because he always knew what I needed to hear. It seemed he'd been doing it forever.

"Nothing's changed about that," he murmured, his voice deep, soft, and soothing, but it was still filled with a sensual tenor. "Fuck, always fuck me so damn well. I'm so fucking close... Come with me."

I shook my head, my breathing heavy, because I wanted to feel him come hard inside of me, feel him fall apart in my arms. Clenching my muscles around his cock, I dragged my lips across his shoulder, up his neck, to his ear. The feel of cold steel practically stung my lower back as he gripped my hips to guide me over him, muttering for me to fuck him harder, faster, and for just...more.

I gripped his upper arm where his ink resided. "Come, Edward. For me," I ordered, and I couldn't help but smile against the skin of his neck as a string of curse words pushed out of his mouth and ghosted across my shoulder.

Not coming with him had its advantages, because I could feel every inch of him inside of me twitch, finally spilling hard. Edward's face was the picture of beauty, frozen in a heart stopping, open mouth expression. His head fell back just a little as his hands gripped my hips, forcefully pulling me flush to him.

"Jesus, Bella," he panted, his forehead falling to my shoulder. "Please tell me you have the keys to these fuckers," he said, chuckling when I giggled against his neck.

"What keys?" I asked, squealing into hysterics when he growled low, his fingers digging into my sides. "The bathroom! The bathroom!" I squeaked, my head falling back with laughter.

"Even better. Shower, baby," he grunted, standing me up on my feet. Once he was on his own two feet, he lunged, tossing my ass over his shoulder and giving my bare bottom a light smack. "Your rules, sweetness," he chuckled as he stalked into our bathroom. "Can't go to bed after a run without a shower..."

"Good boy," I praised, which earned me another smack to my butt, and then he set me on the chilly ass vanity, where I squeaked in surprise.

"Where, Bella?" he smirked, holding up his wrists.

Giggling, I reached over into the drawer beside my legs. "Here," I said, tugging him between my legs. "We need these free for that shower..."

"We do, huh?"

"Oh yeah...we're awfully, awfully dirty. You, especially," I chuckled, pointing a finger at him once his restraints were removed. "I have to get that bitch's touch off of you."

Edward rolled his eyes, but chuckled anyway as he mumbled something that sounded like, "I thought you just fucking did that." He reached into the shower, turning the water on, only to turn around and tug me off the vanity.

"Then get to scrubbin', woman!"

My laughter echoed off of the tiles, but died quickly when my hands were captured above my head, my fingers linking with Edward's. I grinned up at my very sexy, now very wet husband.

He grinned crookedly, pressing his forehead to mine as he pinned me against the shower wall. "My turn, sweetness..."



Muted and hushed voices echoed in from my yard and what sounded like my kitchen. I squeezed my eyes closed, and then glanced over at the clock. Bella and I had tumbled into bed after our shower, exhausted, spent, but very, very sated. We'd done what we always did when something rocked us; we brought it back to just us, losing ourselves in each other.

It seemed we'd gotten a few hours sleep, but from the way my eyes still felt like they had sandpaper behind the lids, I could've really used more. Rolling onto my side, I took in the sight of my sleeping wife. She shifted when I shifted, so her hand blindly reached out to my pillow, finding my face and cupping it. I fucking loved that shit, because it not only reminded me of the picture of us as infants that was hanging in our living room, but it meant that even in her sleep, she needed me.

Ignoring the voices I could barely make out and placing a kiss in the center of her palm, I traced my fingers lightly down the middle of her exposed back, just relishing the rare bubble of alone time. I knew we had to get up. Decisions about Kyra had to be made, and after that shit this morning, I was pretty fucking sure Bella would want to pick Bethy up from school herself, just to make sure our girl was okay.

"I should have her arrested for assault," Kyra's whiny voice ghosted in from the bathroom window, which meant she was on the front porch.

"Not sure what you mean," Alec stated, and I could almost see his raised eyebrow and smirk, just from the wry tone of voice. "No one saw anything," he told her smoothly.

"You were all there! She had a gun to my head," Kyra countered.

"Hmm, no...didn't see a thing. Came to it pretty late, though," Jasper drawled. "Personally, I thought you fell and she was helping you up."

I grinned, shaking my head, because my crew was fucking shameless about backing each other up. They'd swear that shit in court if it came down to it.

"Without any witnesses," Wes added in, "then I don't have a case against assault."

I heard thumping steps on my porch, like someone was pacing, but Wes continued.

"Let me explain something to you, Miss Bailey," he said, and his voice took on a tone he rarely used. It was no nonsense, with zero humor or sarcasm. "I can't say that I blame Bella one damn bit. No, not at all. Because let me tell you, if the roles were reversed and it was Eddie that had to watch some asshole touch her... Well, he'd destroy the guy. He's done it before, and I'm confident enough to say that he'd do it again. Repeatedly. What you're doing, the trouble you're causing these people, is what got you into this mess to begin with. You never fucking know just who you're pissing off now, do you?"

My eyebrows shot up with that, because Wes was a fairly laid back guy. He was also extremely professional. So for him to threaten her, albeit as subtle as it came out, was really rare.

"Miss Bailey, I won't lie to you," Wes continued. "I can and will take you into my custody, sequester you away from everything. You can't work, you can't do your job, and you'll speak to no one. And that includes Cassie and Gator here. You'll be alone, but you'll be safe. I know from experience, though, that this group of people is extremely capable of not only protecting you, but they'll find this...this...Preston guy."

"Yeah, but..." Kyra started, but he interrupted her.

" can find some way to get along with this crew, and we can all work together. It's really that simple. And let me explain something, if you can't... If you can't be honest, giving us everything you know, then I'll arrest you for hindering my investigation. Got me?" he snapped.

"Oh damn," Bella breathed, and I spun my gaze to hers. "He's not fucking around, is he?"

I chuckled, shaking my head no, but kissing her lips to hush her, because the conversation wasn't over.

"Good luck with that," Rose chuckled darkly. "I'm pretty sure Bella said we were off the case. And I can't say that I'm upset about that. You're a pain in the ass, Kyra. No lie. You say you need help, that you need Edward's protection, but you won't say why. You insult everyone around you, disrespect someone's marriage and children, and you still think she's going to want to continue this case? Umm, no, princess. Shit in one hand, and wish in the other; see which one fills up quicker."

Bella burst into a giggle, having to bury it into my shoulder to stop the sound from carrying. I couldn't help but kiss the crown of her head, because sometimes, Rose just fucking cut to the damn chase and let people have the bare truth, no matter how cutting it may be.

The chuckles and laughter died down, because another voice piped up, one that I wasn't aware was here.

"Kyra," Esme sighed exasperatedly. "I think it's time you and I sat down to a long talk. Come with me," she commanded. "We'll use Bella's office."

"Uh oh," Emmett sang. "The doctor is in..."

"Hush, Emmett," Esme chided. "Let's go, Miss Bailey. I want this done before my son wakes up, because he won't be happy after those earlier events. And I'm not sure one single person here will be able to stop what he'll have to say to you. So up! Now!"

My heart clenched at the sound of her calling me her son, even more at how well she knew me, because I was indeed planning on having one very ugly conversation with Kyra – no matter what decision Bella made concerning this case. But to hear her call me that caused something deep inside of me to shift, to settle, and to want to hug her.

"She totally sees you as hers, you know," Bella whispered, tracing my face with her finger. "Just like she sees me as her daughter."

I nodded, swallowing thickly. "I-I kn-know. I-I j-just n-never h-heard h-her s-say i-it th-that w-way..."

Bella sat up on an elbow, her hand flat on my cheek, and kissed me. "You're so very easy to love, Edward. It's really that simple. In fact, it's what kept my temper with Kyra under control for so long. I thought that if she was in love with you, then I could understand, but I don't think what she's feeling is love. She needs you, but I'm not sure why. It's the reason she's clinging to you so tightly. However, she went about it all wrong. And I'm not sure she knows any other way..."

"So what do you want to do, sweetness?" I asked her, dragging my thumb underneath her eye, because my girl still looked exhausted. "Is the case over?"

"I don't know," she sighed, sitting up completely and pulling the covers up around her. "What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall of my office right about now, though."

"No shit," I chuckled, shaking my head.

"If we took it, what was this big plan you had in mind?" she asked, tilting her gorgeous head at me.

I sat up in front of her, leaning in to kiss her forehead. "You and me. Bait. If this asshole is gunning for me, then we could in all reality take Kyra out of the picture. You and I could handle it, lure him in."

Bella sneered at me, her brow furrowing. "I don't fucking look like her, Edward."

"No, you don't," I soothed her, kissing her lips softly. "You're way more beautiful, but you are about the same height, and you both have dark hair, love." I cupped her face, forcing her gaze to mine. "You didn't notice her in that fucked up picture, Bella? When I met her, she had light brown hair with blonde streaky shit in it."

Bella grinned, rolling her eyes. "Highlights," she corrected.

"What-the-fuck-ever," I laughed, shrugging a shoulder. "I didn't have a type, sweetness. She's in front of a fucking camera all damn day. She most likely dyes that shit every month. There's no telling what her natural color is."

"The light brown," Bella sighed when her giggles settle down.

"Okay, well, still... You don't fucking look like her. I'm just saying that since everyone knows she's now a brunette, we could pull it off. You and me. We'll act like I'm this"

"Boyfriend-slash-bodyguard?" Bella snorted, rolling her eyes. "So we use the paparazzi to our advantage?"

"Yes." I nodded once, but took a deep breath. "On the other hand, if you're done, then we'll pack her shit now."

Bella reached up, brushing my hair from my forehead and running her fingers through it. "You and Sammy need trims," she muttered, almost to herself.

"Fine, I'll take him to the barber today," I chuckled. "Talk to me, love."

She bit down on that bottom lip of hers, but said nothing for a moment. "This Preston guy has done this before," she started softly, and I could tell she was pretty much thinking aloud. "I'd like to know to whom and to what extent. I'd also like to see what Esme gets out of Kyra, because there are some serious issues there."

"Fine, so we wait?"

"Yeah, just...wait," she sighed in defeat.

"Oh, and sweetness?" I said, giving her a raised eyebrow. "I most definitely have a type now. Want me to describe her?" I asked, pulling her to my lap and smiling into her neck as she laughed. "Beautiful brown eyes, feisty, sexy as fucking hell, and...mine," I growled, nipping lightly just underneath her ear.

Bella stopped writhing in my arms, sagging much like Bethy did when I'd tickled her. "Yeah," she sighed contentedly. "Yeah, yours."


"Okay, okay, okay," Alice chanted softly, scrolling through a large amount of text. "Preston Raulson... So I contacted the police concerning his prior arrest. And it was technically stalking, though back then, it wasn't called that. The laws for stalking are still pretty sketchy all over the country. He had a girlfriend in high school that tried to break up with him, and he didn't want to let go. He followed her, called her constantly, and broke into her family's home. He slashed the tires on her car once she told him she was going to college in New York. That was when things got really ugly, and it was what led to his arrest."

"Did he hurt her?" Bella asked, looking away from Alice back to the screen.

"Yeah, he put her in the hospital. Broken arm, dislocated shoulder, a bunch of bruises, and a pretty bad black eye," Makenna answered, tossing a printout of the newspaper article. "I called her. She's still in New York...married to one of the city's finest, and she's a cop herself. In fact, it was the police academy that she was leaving California for. Her name was Felicia O'Brien. She married a fine Irish boy from Brooklyn," she chuckled. "Anyway, Felicia said that Preston followed her all the way to New York after the hospital time." She held up one finger. "Once the guy realized that she was surrounded by the boys in blue, he disappeared."

"He's a bully," Jasper muttered, frowning up at the picture of Preston on the bulletin board. "Plain and simple. He likes scaring women, likes that he has control, but once someone bigger and badder comes along, he bails out, like a little chicken shit. Interesting. But it leaves us with a problem. He's not scared of Gator, or any 'bodyguards' that he may have hired on, but once he realizes the Feds are involved, we may lose him."

"So he stops. What's the big deal?" Mickey asked, giving the still closed door that Kyra and Esme were still locked behind a scathing look.

"The big deal is that he's escalating," Bella stated, rubbing her temple. "He's no longer able to just sit back and let his little gifts scare Kyra. He needs contact with her. If he leaves her, or we scare him off, the next girl that rejects him could possibly get killed. And she will reject him."

"How do you know that?" I asked her, but Alice was the one that spoke up.

"Didn't you hear what Kyra said about him?" she asked, and I nodded, but I wasn't sure which part we were referring to. "She said that once they were together, Preston needed to know where she was, who she was with, and what she was all times. Preston needs control. And it's stifling to the woman, but he has no idea. Once she told him it was over, it was then that he lost his control over her. It also meant that the facade he'd been trying so hard to make real was shattered. I'd be willing to bet that he started stalking her right then...if he wasn't doing it all along."

"And his dad found him doing it," I added.

They all nodded in agreement.

"And that's the other thing," Alice practically growled, holding up one finger. "He's such a pretentious, abusive, cranky bastard, I'd be willing to bet that he created this monster."

We all nodded with her theory, because Alice was pretty damned convinced that poor, abusive, or neglectful parenting caused damaged psyches in children, which then undoubtedly created future criminals.

"Well, I know where the flower thing comes from," Bella added, spinning her computer around. "His mother owned a florist shop. She specialized in bouquets with meaning."

"Where's Mom now?" Jasper asked, sitting forward to look at the screen closer.

"Dead. Car accident when Preston was ten years old," Bella sighed, her nose wrinkling in sympathy, because losing your mom sucked when you were a kid. "Well, that explains how Preston ended up with Ike. Preston's mother was already divorced from Ike by then, but there were no other relatives for him. His previous marriages and children had moved on. Ike took his son and raised him alone."

"Well, shit," Rose huffed, rolling her eyes. "That house must've been all sorts of rainbows and sunshine for him. Ike's about as cuddly as a pissed off badger."

We all chuckled, but it was true.

Bella glanced up at the clock, and then the door to her office. She frowned, turning to me, but the announcement was for everyone in the room. "I'm making no decision until I hear from Esme. As of right now, I'd be willing to hand all that we have over to Wes and wipe my hands of her."

"Shit," Cassie hissed from where she'd been silently watching us work. She claimed she wasn't tired, and despite how upset she was with Kyra, I'd be willing to bet she was worried for her friend.

"Damn it," Gator groaned, shaking his head. He, too, had been waiting to hear how the talk went with Esme, because once he'd found out exactly what my stepmother did for a living, he was extremely receptive to having Kyra evaluated. And that was exactly what Esme was doing.

He stood up, paced the office floor, only to turn and face my wife. "Bella, I'm begging you to reconsider. Please!"

"Why?" Bella sneered, and I placed a hand on my wife's shoulder just to calm her down. "Gator, I really like you and Cassie, but that woman doesn't want my help. She wants Edward's, but unfortunately for her, we come as a package deal. I won't have my crew, my kids, or my marriage disrespected any longer. I just won't. I don't care if Preston walked up onto this property at this point wearing a TNT belt."

"I know, and I get that, but if what you're saying is true about Ike and Preston, then we have another problem," he countered, kneeling in front of her.

"Jesus, what now?" Kurt drawled, rolling his eyes.

Emmett chuckled, slapping the kid's back, but we turned back to Gator and Bella.

"If Ike abused Preston, then it's quite possible he abused Kyra, too," Gator stated, and that piece of news fell hard into the room like a boulder.

"Well, hell," Rose sighed, shaking her head. "I know the guy's an asshole, but really?"

"Do you know anything about Kyra's family?" Gator asked, but it was only to Bella he was looking.

"Yeah, sure...her mother died when she was born, so she was raised by her father until she turned seventeen..."

"Yes, and at that point, her manager took her in," Gator urged, giving her a pointed look.

"Oh shit," Bella gasped, and turned to me. "When you first dropped her off at Carlisle's house... Didn't she tell you that you were the very first person to make her feel safe...since her father?"

"Yes, but..." I started, but winced and shook my head.

"Oh fuck," Cassie groaned, and we all spun to her. "No wonder Ike didn't like you back then, Edward. You never allowed him to be nasty. Ever. I mean, I knew he kept her under a firm thumb, but I didn't think it was...that."

"What did you do?" Bella asked, narrowing her eyes on me.

"I... Well, he was a pain in the ass!" I growled, shrugging one shoulder. "He wasn't only an asshole to the girls," I said, gesturing to Cassie, "but he bitched and complained about everything. He treated the soldiers guarding him as servants, he tortured the poor camera guy, and he tried that shit with me...once."

Jasper grinned, sitting back in his chair and putting his hands behind his head. "This should be rich. Spill it, Ed."

"I flew us into the first camp, Kyra performed for a huge bunch of us, and apparently, it wasn't good enough," I huffed, folding my arms across my chest. "He pointed out every mistake, every ugly thing he could think of, and by the time he was done with her, she was in tears. I told him to chill out, to back off, but he stepped up into my face." I smirked when groans filled the room, because they all knew me too well. "Right, so he starts to tell me to get the chopper ready to take us out of there, and I stopped him...firmly. I told him that I wasn't his fucking personal pilot, that my commanding officer gave the all-clear, not his ass, and then I told him that he had to watch what the fuck he said at all times, or he might just find himself dropped off in the middle of the desert without a way home, because she was giving those guys a big deal...bad notes or not."

"And he left her alone?" Bella asked.

"Not at first. He complained about me to my CO, but that shit didn't fly. So he calmed down, avoided me," I finished.

"He still critiqued her performance," Gator added, "but yeah, Ike did mellow out a bit. I just wasn't sure why... until now." He chuckled, giving me a smile and shaking his head. "Bella, please? Don't give up. I think Kyra's scared shitless..."

Bella glanced at the clock and stood up. "I'm not saying no, but I'm not saying yes, either, Gator. And I need to go get my kids."

"I'll do it," Rose offered. "I need to take Caleb for new shoes. His feet will be as big as Emmett's before he's four."

Emmett proudly hissed, "Yes!" pumping a fist in the air. "That's my boy."

"Yeah, and my boy needs a haircut," I laughed, standing up beside Bella. "Come on, we'll go get them together. We'll get out of here for a bit." I turned to Alice. "Please have Esme call us when she's done."

I wanted just my family for a few minutes. I didn't want fucking research, talk of abuse, or any more decision making, because I wasn't quite sure what would happen once Kyra came out of that talk with Esme, and I damn sure wasn't ready for Bella and Kyra to be in the same room again. I knew heavy decisions still lay ahead, but it needed to wait, if only for an hour or so. Rose and Emmett left with us, following our lead to just get the fuck away for just a moment.


"Same, Daddy!" Samuel said with a grin, pointing to his hair.

"Trust me, pal... There's only so much we can do with hair like ours," I told him, chuckling when Mr. Barney snickered behind me as he took the smock off of my son.

"At least you got to keep your hair," Mr. Barney chuckled, rubbing a hand over his shiny, bald head.

I grinned and scooped Sammy up, paying the man for our haircuts. I glanced out the window as he got my change, smiling at my girls, who were sitting side by side in the swing set at the park. Bella briefly answered her phone, but pocketed it just as quickly.

"Here's your change, Mr. Cullen," Barney said, and then turned to Sammy. "Where's that pretty big sister of yours, Sam?"

"Beffy's wight dere," he giggled, pointing out the window. "Wif Mommy."

"Well, here, big guy. Take her a lollipop, too. Okay?" Barney asked, handing over two of the treats he kept around for the kids.

"'Kay," my son agreed readily, immediately handing his over to me so I would unwrap it for him.

I set Sammy down once we'd crossed the street, because he wanted to go play in the sandbox right behind the swings. He tottered slowly with one hand on his candy and the other in my own.

Before he ran off, I stopped him. "Give your sister her lollipop from Mr. Barney, buddy."

Bella chuckled, looking up as Sammy ran up to his sister.

"Here, Beffy," he chirped, holding out the candy to her, and the poor thing practically fell out of the swing in order not to hit him.

My daughter grinned, taking it from him, and yanked the wrapper off. "Thanks, Sammy," she slurped around it, and Bella and I chuckled at them.

"Sand!" he chirped in reply, to which she nodded, jumped down from her swing, and led him to the sandbox.

He sank down into the sand, chubby fingers digging into the white sugary looking stuff. In general, he was a happy kid, very mellow and quiet, so his more rambunctious sister took the lead, and they began some major building project. Bella and I sat down on a bench close by.

"Esme called," she sighed, laying her head on my shoulder, so I wrapped my arm around her.

"And?" I probed, kissing the top of her head.

"She said...and I quote... 'Sweetheart, I urge you to take this case,'" Bella groaned, and I didn't have to look at her to know that her eyes were rolling.

"Nothing else?"

"No," she huffed, "just that she'd explain when we got back."

We both looked up when Bethy laughed, but Sammy growled, sounding vaguely similar to me. My little man had dropped his candy in the sand. Bethy snatched it up, ruffling her brother's hair, and ran it to her mother.

"Here, Sammy dropped it," she told her.

"Well, I don't want a dirty old sucker," Bella teased her. "Throw it away, silly girl."

I chuckled as my daughter's face took on an expression that basically read, "Oh, it," before she tossed it into the garbage can next to us. Samuel, however, was unfazed by the whole thing and continued to bury himself in sand.

"Esme wouldn't normally ask, knowing what we've been dealing with concerning Kyra," Bella sighed, turning to face me.

"What's wrong wif her?" Bethy suddenly piped up, and we both turned to look at her, because I thought she'd joined her brother again. "Miss Kywa...what's wrong wif her?" she clarified, her little brow wrinkling as she looked from me to her mother.

"Why do you ask, pretty girl?" Bella asked, sitting forward and pulling Bethy between her legs. "I'm sorry about this shouldn't have..."

Bethy rolled her eyes, looking eerily like Bella when she did it, which caused me to fight my smile. "No, Mommy," she scoffed, blowing off her mother's apology. "I mean...she's...sad and mad and she looked...scared."

Bella leaned in to kiss her forehead. "She's all of those things, baby. She's got a lot of not so nice things going on with her," she tried to explain, and it was the kindest Bella had sounded when it came to Kyra, especially since that morning's incident.

"I thought you were catching the bad guy," she accused, looking back to me and landing back on her mother. "Daddy can catch anybody."

"That's very true," Bella said, her amusement at Bethy's statement coming through loud and clear, "but it isn't that easy. I'm not sure we can help Miss Kyra."

"Why?" she gasped.

Bella looked to me, because how did you tell a five-year-old that the woman was insufferable, ungrateful, and was holding back the information we needed in order to just fucking help her? How did we tell her that Kyra wanted to come between her parents in a way that was just...way too mature of a topic? Yet, I wasn't sure that my baby girl would accept just any old bullshit answer, either.

Giving Samuel a quick glance to see that he was contentedly still playing, I leaned in and wrapped my arms around my girls. I gave them both a quick kiss.

"Little sweetness," I sighed, trying my damnedest to think of what to say, "it's not that we can't catch the bad guy, but Miss Kyra isn't easy to help."

"So? Mommy says she's like Sammy when he doesn't feel good...that she's just acting bad," Bethy countered.

I grimaced, because she was right, really, but I wasn't sure if Bethy was pleading Kyra's case, or just in shock that we couldn't solve the problem.

"Why's this bothering you, Bethy?" Bella asked her, reaching up to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. "I would think that after this morning..."

Bethy shrugged, frowning at the two of us. "Don't you want to catch the bad guy, Daddy?"

Bella giggled, kissing Bethy's cheek. "So what you're saying is... If Daddy catches the bad guy, then Miss Kyra will be nicer?"

I chuckled, because the most adorably screwed up expression crossed Bethy's face as she thought it over.

"Yeah," she said slowly, measuring our reactions. "Like when you give medicine to Sammy when he doesn't feel good."

"I'm pretty sure Miss Kyra's problem isn't a tummy ache, pretty girl," Bella muttered sarcastically, rolling her eyes and smirking when I cracked the fuck up.

"So put her in time out," Bethy suggested with a giggle and a grin, because my baby girl, despite how well behaved she normally was, was no stranger to the time out, simply for those moments when her strong-willed nature met head-on with her mother's.

Bella's eyebrows shot up, and she turned to look at me. "There's an idea," she chuckled wryly, smacking my arm when I didn't stop laughing. "No, seriously. Kyra is done with recording sessions, so all she has left is the making of that video after this concert coming up. Maybe we should take her to a safe house, and then use your plan to draw this guy out."

I turned to Bethy. "Go check on Sammy, my smart girl," I whispered against her temple, patting her leg.

"'Kay, Daddy," she sang, skipping back to the sandbox.

I turned back to Bella, tilting her head up by her chin so that she locked gazes with me. "You haven't heard what Esme has to say yet, sweetness," I stated, wanting like hell to read her mind.

"I know," she sighed, reaching up and running her fingers through my shorter hair. "I'm pretty sure your daughter thinks you're a damn superhero, Edward," she chuckled, shaking her head.

"Hell, yes, she does!" I grunted, puffing up with pride and overwhelming love for my baby girl, which only caused Bella to giggle that much more.

My wife cupped both sides of my face, kissing my lips roughly, but she took a deep breath and let it out.

"What if..." She sighed, shaking her head, like she couldn't believe what she was about to say. "What if Ike did abuse her, Edward? I mean, think about it. She wouldn't have been in a house with just one asshole; it would've been two." She held up two fingers, and I nodded for her to continue. "She thought, when she met Roger at only eighteen, that she'd found an escape, but that didn't work. Then...she stumbles upon you...the one person that seemed to scare her abuser. No wonder she didn't want to let you go, baby. And now...she's got Ike angry and Preston coming after her, so she's absolutely terrified."

"And you want to stop them. Both of them," I surmised.

"If she can act fucking civil for five minutes," she hissed through gritted teeth, "then I'm willing to listen to her story. Because fear can really make people act...differently." She sighed again, shaking her head. "Maybe we're going about this all wrong, sweetheart. Maybe we've put too much on her, given her too much control. This isn't really about her; it's about stopping them."

"I don't know if you can deal with her, Bella," I groaned, running a flat hand over her hair and down her back.

"I'm better than what I did this morning," she mumbled, looking down at her hands. "I should never have lost it like that..."

"I would have," I stated, shrugging a shoulder when her eyes flashed back to mine. "If the roles were reversed and this was a man, then I would've broken his jaw if he'd talked to Bethy like that. Even more, I would have broken the guy's neck for touching you. But I couldn't do any of those things, because despite Kyra's faults, I could never hit a woman. Believe me...I wanted to. I completely understand your reaction, and I definitely don't think any less of you. Does that make us wrong? I'm not sure. And I still want to have a with her," I growled, raising an eyebrow up.

Bella smirked, but nodded. "Let's go talk to Esme first, huh?"

"Anything for you, sweetness," I told her, and we both looked up when Sammy sneezed loudly.

"Shoes, handsome," Bella chided gently, hopping up from the bench, because our son was digging bare, pudgy toes into the sand, despite the chilly air of Fall that was almost upon us. "Come on, you sillies," she chuckled, scooping him up and smooching on him as he wriggled adorably in her arms.

I smiled, because if Bethy thought I was a superhero, then Sammy thought his mother hung the moon. And again, I understood it, because he was no different with her than I'd been with my own mother.

"Let's go, guys," I said, reaching for Bethy's hand when she ran up to me. "Mom and Dad have some work to do."