"Wake up, sleepyhead," I whispered into Bella's ear, placing a long kiss just below it.
"No," she grumped but reached up to thread her fingers into my hair. "I don't want to."
I smiled, burying my face into her sweet-smelling neck because it hadn't taken two hours after leaving the cabin before she admitted she was too tired to drive. Not that I could blame her because the last forty-eight hours had been really rough, with very little sleep for anyone.
I wasn't complaining, either, because her car was a sweet ride and a hell of a lot of fun to drive. It was almost as fucking sexy as she was, and that was saying something.
"Where are we?" she asked, not looking up or opening her eyes but nuzzling closer to my face.
"The ferry, love," I whispered. "And I hate to admit it, but you gotta take the wheel for a bit. Can you wake up enough for that?"
She groaned, shifting in her seat, finally opening those gorgeous brown eyes to look at me. "Buy me a cup of coffee, Mr. Cullen, and we'll talk about it."
I chuckled and nodded. "Yes, ma'am. Though you should know that once we're over the Canadian border, Carlisle wants to stop for dinner and a meeting. He's not going the whole way with us but wants to make sure we get through the check point first."
"'Kay," she said with a yawn, stretching adorably and opening her door.
She joined everyone else, the wind blowing her hair back, and I had to fight the urge to pull her back into the car and do whatever things she would allow me to do. It had taken all the strength I possessed to not ravish her when she'd stood up to my father about my mother's cabin. Everything in me. I knew I'd scared her with my actions, but had I kissed her, touched her the way I'd wanted to, I truly would have scared her and most likely ruined the boundaries we'd worked so hard to cross.
Bella got it, though. She understood it when we were just kids, and she still understood it. She just handled it differently than I did. She relished fun memories of her mother, but the fun memories for me were hard because while my dad had been in the service, it was just me and my mother. She was all I had for the most part growing up, and losing her had wrecked me.
I took a deep breath of cool sea air to clear my head. Bella had said that she'd wanted to hear about my mother, but we hadn't said much on the trip so far. I wasn't opposed to telling her anything because Bella never made me uncomfortable, but I was nervous as to what emotions speaking about my mother would bring out in me.
I watched as all of the women followed each other around the side to the restrooms together, and I made my way inside to get the coffee she wanted.
"Hey, sweetie," a raspy voice chuckled, making my head spin from where Bella had disappeared around the corner to look at a woman that had to be in her mid- to late-fifties. "What can I get ya?" she asked, giving me a big smile with a sparkle in her eye.
"Two coffees, please...cream and sugar," I requested, tossing a bill on the counter and resuming my ever-watchful gaze out the window.
Bella and Rose came back around the corner, all smiles and laughter, and I couldn't help but smile with them because they were such a tight group of girls – all four of them, really. It was like they knew what the other was thinking, what the other was going through. Again, my thoughts went back to those same girls standing up to my father, to stop him from burning down my mother's cabin.
"You're all set, honey," the woman said behind me, sliding two paper cups my way. "Pretty girl," she commented softly.
I smiled, looked over at Bella chatting with "her girls" and then back up to the woman behind the counter. "Yeah," I said with probably the goofiest grin I'd ever worn.
She chuckled. "Have a good day, lover boy."
"Thanks," I snorted, rolling my eyes at my own behavior, but I couldn't help it.
I stepped out the door of the ferry's concession counter and took a long look around. Something was making me uneasy, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Directly in front of me, the girls – which now included Mickey – were all laughing around Bella's car while she pulled a sweatshirt out of the trunk. To my right, my father and Esme were talking quietly as they leaned on the ferry's railing. Emmett and Jasper were walking my way, but they were obviously picking up the same feelings I was.
"Something's off, Ed," Jasper whispered, his brow furrowing as he surveyed the ferry like I was. "I feel like we're being watched or some shit..."
"No kidding," I growled.
"Shit, shit, shit," Emmett breathed, but he wasn't looking at us.
"You sound like Alice," I chuckled, turning to look at him, but what he was glaring at made my heart stop.
"Fuck," I snapped, staring at a drawn rendering of my own fucking face.
There was a missing persons sign on the side of the concessions stand – one of Bella, and one of myself. Both stated that we were wanted for questioning. And if the lady that had made my coffees could notice Bella, someone else could, too.
"Dammit," I growled, walking away from Emmett and Jasper toward Bella, whose conversation ended abruptly when she saw my face.
"Edward, what's wrong?" she asked, tugging on her sweatshirt.
"We have to hide our faces, Bella," I told her, reaching to the back of her shirt and tugging the hood up over her head. "There's a sign with our faces on it on the wall over there."
"Shit," she sighed, reaching back inside the trunk of her car and pulling out my baseball cap. "Here," she said, handing it to me, and I tugged it on backwards.
"Come on," Rose said, taking Bella's hand. "We'll hide you in numbers, though you could just sit in the car."
"I need to wake the fuck up," Bella snapped grumpily, which only made us all chuckle at her.
I quickly handed her the cup of coffee I'd gotten her.
"Thank you," she grumbled.
"This way, then, sunshine..." Rose laughed, rolling her eyes.
Toward the back of the boat, there were a few benches that faced the railing and one in the corner. They were set off by themselves, and that seemed to be where we were heading. Arranging me and Bella in the corner, everyone else sat around us, just to block anyone's view.
"It's always something," Bella sighed, fighting her smile but looking out over the water.
"No shit," I muttered, taking a sip of coffee.
I straddled the bench, and Bella sat in front of me, facing the water, her back to everyone else. We were comfortably quiet for a few minutes, as our friends chatted amicably around us. I watched Bella close her eyes and breathe deep the sea air, reminding me of several trips with my mom because where we were going was a place I'd been coming to since I was a baby.
"My mom loved this ferry," I said softly, looking down at the wake the boat was leaving in the water. "She liked the sea air."
I felt Bella's eyes on me. "My mom did, too. She swore one day that she was going to make Charlie move to Florida," she giggled, shaking her head.
I smiled and nodded. "Yeah, mine had no complaints living in California."
Bella shivered, and I opened my arms. She curled into my chest, letting me wrap my jacket and arms around her.
"Drink the coffee, baby," I whispered, placing a kiss to her temple as she nodded slightly.
"I'm not sure I would have liked Florida," she mused out loud, "but I'd go...just to have her back for one day..."
I frowned, squeezing her closer, because I knew that feeling intimately. "Yeah...just one more conversation."
"Exactly," she sighed, pressing her forehead into my neck.
We were quiet again for a minute before I blurted out a question I regretted almost instantly. "What would you ask her?"
She snorted, and it sounded bitter and callous. "How she could be so selfish and leave me. How what my dad did to her overrode her daughter's future. I was fucking eight years old! Didn't she think that I would need her?"
I winced, turning her face to look at me. "I didn't know... I'm sorry I asked."
"Don't be. I found out later – recently, actually – that Charlie cheated on her. It must have shattered her. He was...everything to her."
"Not everything, Bella," I countered with a shake of my head, thinking I didn't know what was worse – my mom taken away too soon because she was sick and it was out of her control, or Bella's mother taking her own life because she was too sad to face reality.
Both fucking sucked, if you asked me.
"Your dad's a fucking idiot, Bella," I growled, rolling my eyes at her snicker. "He is. He's a fool for many, many reasons."
"He was a man of privilege, Edward. He was a man with a lot of money, a lot of power, and it all went to his head. I'm not sure if Carlisle didn't keep him grounded, to be honest. I can't imagine what he'd have been like had you guys not moved closer." She shrugged. "I was twelve and saw the change. I heard phone calls and, as I got older, ran into your dad at the office on the rare occasion. He was always chastising Charlie for something or other," she chuckled.
I grinned, wishing now that I hadn't gone to military school, that we'd have been able to grow up together. "My mother used to say she was my father's moral compass. Maybe it all finally sank in!"
Bella laughed and nodded. "Maybe, but I could always tell when Carlisle had visited because Charlie would come home and try to spend time with me. But Jane and I had a routine, you know? Still, she did her damnedest to accommodate the addition of him on our movie nights or our homework projects."
"Did you always know that my dad was your godfather?"
"Mmhm," she said with a nod and a smile. "Yeah, definitely. Did you know that Charlie was yours?"
"No!" I laughed. "That would have been good info to have."
"Well, Charlie mentioned it once," she told me. "I guess the last time Carlisle went overseas or something. Maybe he knew your mom was sick. It was before I met you, obviously, but he was worried."
"Ed," Jasper hissed, and when I spun to look at him, his eyes flickered to a security guy making his rounds. "You'd better hide your faces."
I felt fingers on my jaw turning my head back to Bella's amused face. "Kiss me," she said with a silly grin and a giggle.
"Now?" I laughed, but damn if I didn't want it, thanks to that little smirk she was wearing. I wasn't big on PDA, though.
"My hood will hide us, silly..."
I was on it because I watched that tongue of hers glide across her bottom lip slowly, and suddenly, our audience didn't matter. In the past few weeks, they'd all gotten used to it anyway. There was some unspoken rule that if they didn't say anything about me and Bella, we wouldn't say anything about Jasper and Alice or Emmett and Rose. And there was plenty that we could've said.
The problem wasn't kissing her or hiding from the guard – it was controlling ourselves, which was becoming more and more of a problem for me. One taste of her, one sweet whimper pushing against my cheek, and I fucking wanted her. It only took one touch of her hand on my face – or in this case, one grip to my shirt, pulling me closer – one gliding caress of her tongue against mine, and I was fighting every urge I had. I'd never loved anyone the way that I loved this woman, and I fought the urge to prove it in every way. It was all I could do to abide by her boundaries, but I'd never fucking hurt her, and that was always what stopped me.
I barely heard the catcalls behind us, barely registered when they called it all clear, because my hand had found the edge of the skin on her stomach. I heard her moan deeply, but I didn't pull away. We'd been there before and conquered that fucking fear, so I touched her there as often as she'd let me. My touch was now the only thing that I wanted her to feel, though we still had a few more fears to face.
Our friends were cracking the fuck up when my father walked up on us.
"It's time to load up, guys. We're docking now." He chuckled, and I pulled back from Bella, licking my lips.
"Love you," she whispered, biting that bottom lip.
"Mmhm, got me busted," I said with a snicker, kissing her nose before helping her up off the bench. "I used to be the tough guy. I used to have a reputation to uphold."
"Tough guys can be good kissers, too, Edward," she teased, glancing at me out of the corner of her eye. "And being a jerk isn't a reputation; it's a personality flaw..."
I laughed, pushing her to follow my father. Ignoring the last part of her verbal jab because she was right, I decided to focus on the first part. "You think I'm a good kisser?"
"Really, Edward?" She laughed, looking up at me and coming to a halt by her car. "Has that ever been a worry prior to this moment...right here?" she asked, poking her finger on the roof of her car.
"No." And I shamelessly laughed because she could shove back at me just as hard as I pushed at her.
"Then shut up!" she scoffed, rolling her eyes at my shameless grin.
Just before we got in, my dad stopped us all. "There's a restaurant just off the main highway. It's right after the border. We'll stop there. And Alice, they have Wi-Fi," he added, raising an eyebrow at her.
She grinned, nodding, and climbed up into Jasper's truck. She was so short, it was comical to watch. When she saw me laughing, she flipped me off and stuck her tongue out at me.
"Come on, hot lips. Quit making fun of shorty back there," Bella chuckled, starting her car once the ferry had completely stopped.
"I can show you hot lips, love," I purred, leaning across the center console of the Mustang. "Anytime...mmm-mmm...any place," I crooned, looking her up and down and licking my bottom lip, just to watch her fight her smile.
"I know you can...but it's gonna be a long drive to Alaska, baby," she sang, pulling out after Emmett. "A long, long drive..."
I could tell the border cross was making everyone nervous, but not as nervous as Carlisle. He had secured a specific entry point for us through Benny, but that didn't mean someone else wouldn't recognize me or Edward from the signs that seemed to be posted here and there.
The fact that Carlisle also made sure that it was sunrise when we crossed was brilliant on his part because wearing sunglasses helped hide our faces. But as always, Ben came through... While some cars were detained or asked more in-depth questions, we were practically waved through.
My breathing finally calmed down by the time we all parked in the restaurant's parking lot about an hour later.
"Hey, Edward," I whispered, brushing his hair from his forehead. "We're here."
He'd fallen asleep just about the time we'd driven over the Canada border and had slept damned hard up until I turned the engine off. I hated to even wake him because he looked so sweet, so peaceful.
"Where?" he mumbled, his brow furrowing and his eyes squinting as he looked around.
"Your dad wanted to stop, remember?"
"Yeah," he said with a wide yawn, which in turn made his eyes water and turn so very, very green.
"Come on, sleepy," I chuckled because he was pushing his adorable limits for me. "Dessert's on me."
"Mm," he rumbled, rubbing his face roughly only to shove his hand through his hair. "Can dessert be you?" His sexy, crooked smile just made me bust out into a giggle and roll my eyes.
"Oh, Edward...the things I could do to you with just syrup," I teased him with a wink, getting out of the car.
I wanted to laugh as he almost fell out of the passenger's side seat, slamming the door behind him in order to catch up to me. "Baby, wait," he gushed, pressing into me from behind as I reached the entrance. "Like what?"
"No way...I can't give away my secrets," I sang, opening the restaurant door.
"Y-You..." he sputtered, raising an eyebrow at me and pointing his finger. "Y-You're the d-devil."
I smirked at that delicious stutter of his, shrugged, and left him to his thoughts as I joined everyone else. We took over a back room, closing ourselves off from the rest of the diners. Just before I sat down, I felt warm lips at my ear.
"One day, Bella," he warned, his voice husky, sexy, but full of that commanding thing he always carried on the surface. "One day? There will be nothing to hold us back, baby. No fears, no scars, no clothes...nothing, because you're getting better, whether you admit it or not. And I'm going to show you...secrets. Secrets that will keep you...mmm...wet for days. Have you begging me to let you come. So...you bring your syrup...we can work with that, too."
"Sweet Jesus," I breathed, closing my eyes as his tongue ran up the edge of my ear.
My back suddenly felt cold because he was gone, pulling out chairs for the two of us with the sickest, sweetest, most innocent fucking expression on his face. And I immediately had the urge to punch him – or take him on top of the table; I wasn't sure which.
"Bells, you okay?" Carlisle asked, his brow furrowing as he studied my face – never mind that his son was laughing his ass off. "You look pale."
"Tired," I mumbled, falling into my chair. "I need coffee...and pancakes." I growled the last word, narrowing my eyes over at Edward, who was still laughing. "Ass," I muttered but smiled when he placed his hand on my thigh.
"Has Eddie pissed you off in some fashion, Miss Bella?" Jasper drawled, grinning at the two of us.
"What? Ed? No!" Emmett guffawed, practically falling out of his chair with laughter.
"Nothing I can't...handle," I said with a big smile at Edward, who opened his mouth to say something, but I stopped him with a shake of my head. "Just...don't. Just quit while you're ahead, Edward."
Grinning, he nodded and picked up the menu. His torturing of me was over – or at least, paused for the moment.
Our waiter interrupted us to order, and Carlisle waited until the food was actually in front of us before saying why we were all there. "I want us all on the same page before I leave you here," he stated, looking up and down the table. "So tell me what you know." He sighed, turning to Makenna. "How many faces were taken down, Mack?"
She grinned and said, "We had nine on the wall...well, ten with Miller, but we removed five of the big faces in King's army – or they had an unfortunate accident on a curvy road in Trinity." Her false innocent clarification was hilarious, but she kept going. "Miller's still public enemy number one, with the Savages – both Paul and Peter – Dale Young, and Wes Michaels."
"Good. That's helpful because aside from Miller, the rest aren't that high in King's rankings," Carlisle sighed. "James Hamilton's death will shock Royce King to his very foundations. He was the only heir he had because King's wife, Mary, can't have children."
"Then why is Miller running his shit?" I growled, glaring at Carlisle. "Shouldn't his nephew have been doing it?"
"James's mother," he stated with a nod. "Sasha Hamilton knew what her son was so she took him out of the lifestyle for years. Her failing health is the only reason he was back to work."
I huffed but accepted it. "Well, this will surely kill her..."
Edward snorted with a nod but turned to his dad. "What about Billy? Is he ratting you out?"
"Well, that's what Alice is here for," he said, pointing down to the end of the table, where my pixie was busy eating with one hand and typing with the other; it was quite something to watch, actually. "What have you found out?"
"I found that, despite the fact that TT owns Global Cellular, Billy Black uses another company to make all of his calls," she stated with that knowing tone to her voice. "And if he did that on purpose, then he knew that his calls were being monitored by King – or at least, one of King's men." She sighed, turning the computer so that we could all see it. "Now, I started this program a couple of days after your message to look into his spending habits," she told Carlisle, who nodded slowly. "I'm not quite sure what to make of it because he's not only taking money in, but he's paying it right back out. And I don't mean his paycheck and his bills."
Carlisle's nose wrinkled as he studied her screen. "All overseas accounts?"
"Yep, yep, yep," she chanted, pointing to the screen. "Except for this one..."
"Only cash withdrawals," Carlisle mused, rubbing his bottom lip. "And always on the same day of the month."
"He's paying someone off, isn't he?" I asked, looking from Alice to Carlisle, both of whom were nodding solemnly.
"Yeah, but for protection or to keep them quiet?" Edward added, sitting back in his chair.
"Once a month makes me think protection," Jasper mused with a shrug. "I mean...if someone wants to blackmail you, they'll ask for a lot of money...all at once."
"Usually," Carlisle sighed. "What else, Alice?"
"Well, I did some checking on that redhead from the law office," she stated, and Makenna's head swiveled around.
"Victoria?" she growled, and I knew her well enough to know that because she'd been the one to warn me and Edward the day we were in the law office, she was invested in this woman.
Alice spun the computer back around so that she could read it. "Victoria Hunter. Current employee of Spencer, Wyatt, and Townsend as a legal assistant. That phone call she made was to a throw-away cell phone, so I have no idea who she tipped off that Bella and Edward were there. But after she recanted her story that James was stalking her a few years ago, she found herself in a nice apartment, driving a really nice Mercedes..." Her eyebrow twitched up. "Is she our undercover?"
"I have no idea," Carlisle stated with a firmness to his voice. "I've asked because I'd rather not have to kill a Fed, but Benny won't release a mere hint of the undercover agent – even whether they are male or female. Apparently, the person's position is tentative, and they can't risk anyone finding out."
"Ugh," I gagged. "What a case to catch. Not only is your life literally in the hands of the most notorious mob boss since Gotti, but she has to pretend to be his other woman!"
Edward chuckled. "That would've been you had you graduated from Quantico, Bella."
"Not a chance in hell," I huffed, shoving him. "I don't fake it."
Rose barked a laugh, practically choking on her soda. "Then how did you stay with Jake so long?"
"Wasn't home," I sang, rolling my eyes.
The whole table exploded into hysterics.
"Anyway," Carlisle snorted, giving me and Rose one last amused glance before turning back to Alice. "Is that everything?"
"So far," she stated with a shrug, "but I'll keep at it."
"Good work," he praised her, sitting back a bit. "Now, this is as far as I go with you guys, but I want you to know a few things about where you're going."
"Does Aunt Kate know the level of...importance she's about to let into her house?" Edward asked, his voice taking on such a serious tone, the whole table looked up at him.
"She's well aware, son," Carlisle said with a smirk. "Plus, I've pulled a few men from...retirement," he stated with a chuckle.
"Who?" Edward growled, glaring at his dad.
"Alec and Sam," he muttered.
"Oh," Edward sighed, his eyebrows high, but he visibly shuddered. "Sam's a scary fucker..."
"He's tough, yes," Carlisle laughed. "But they'll both be joining you guys in Alaska. Now...Kate."
"If she's family, won't we be found up there?" Alice asked, looking over the top of the laptop.
"She's not technically family," Edward explained with a snicker. "She was my mother's best friend since they were in school. They both married military men, so they became even closer. So any connection between her name and ours doesn't really exist."
"Well, Garrett and I set it up that way," Carlisle sighed, taking a sip of coffee. "We wanted to make sure that either family had a place to go...had someplace that was safe. And it was the main reason he moved them to Denali to begin with."
While Edward's crew was listening to this like they knew all about it, my girls and I were confused.
"And what happened to Garrett?" I asked, not really wanting to know.
"He was on my first crew after we retired from the Air Force. He was a sniper, like Jasper here," Carlisle said, smiling slightly as he gestured to the blond at the end of the table. "His last mission for me, he had a heart attack. Kate didn't even know he was sick. He hid it from everyone but had planned well. She doesn't want for anything."
"Anyway, Kate is the coolest woman!" Emmett gushed with his big boy smile. "She's like Katherine Hepburn, Aunt Bea, and Albert Einstein all rolled into one!"
Edward and Carlisle laughed, shaking their heads.
"The downside..." Jasper continued with a snort, giving Emmett a second glance, "is she lives literally in the middle of no-fucking-where. So she grows everything she needs and raises whatever meat she eats. It's a fucking farm, but it's pretty damn cool there."
"Don't think she's in the dark ages," Edward interjected, chuckling at Alice's wide-eyed, panicked gasp. "She's totally hooked up there – satellite, Wi-Fi, because she can't miss her cooking shows – so she's modern, too."
"And she's a helluva shot." Jasper laughed, his head falling back. "I swear, Garrett must've trained her."
"He did," Carlisle snorted, rolling his eyes, but his face sobered when he turned to Esme. "I want you to stick with Edward; he'll protect you...and if you need to get a message to me, then tell Alice. Okay?"
"Are you sure you should go back, Carlisle?" she countered him, looking fierce as she stood her ground.
We all took the hint and left the table, everyone tossing money down and giving them their privacy. Once we were all outside, Edward held his hand out for my car keys and then turned to everyone else.
"My crew," he addressed them. "You all know the way, right?"
"Sir," they called out, probably out of habit, but even Mickey was nodding.
"If we get separated, just head straight there...no phone calls, no stopping. Got me?" he asked, his voice taking that commanding thing again because I could see that when he separated from his father, all the responsibility – our safety, our concealment, our destination – all rested squarely upon his strong shoulders, and he didn't take it lightly. And God, it was hot and sexy and all things naughty that were running through my mind at the moment, but it also made me feel sorry for him because it was a lot of weight to be carrying around.
"Sir," they grunted again in agreement.
He seemed satisfied with their sincerity, and he turned to me. "Keys, love," he stated firmly.
I snorted, shaking my head and taking my keys from my pocket as I leaned against my passenger side door. Dangling them from the tips of my fingers, I purred, "Sir."
He huffed, rolling his eyes, and reached for my keys. "Bad habit, baby," he whispered. "Sorry."
"One day," I crooned, mimicking his sexy-ass rant in my ear from before our breakfast. "One day, you'll realize you aren't my boss."
He stepped closer to me, his feet on either side of mine, his weight starting to lean in on me as he braced his arms on each side of my head. His smile was crooked and sexy but also nervous and almost timid...while his eyes were dark and heavy-lidded.
"No, Bella. I'm well aware of who's in charge here," he said, his voice deep and carnal, all things that made my girly parts twitch.
"If that's the case," I chuckled, looking around as everyone climbed into their respective vehicles, "prove it."
"How do I prove it, baby?" he asked, reaching up with one hand to caress my cheek with his thumb.
He smirked wickedly, dragging his tongue across his bottom lip so slowly, I thought I'd scream from the sheer want of it.
"Ma'am," he grunted in a whisper before his mouth captured mine.
And just like on the ferry, we lost ourselves for a moment. My fingers hooked into the belt loops of his jeans, pulling him as close as I could. Edward's hand slipped into my hair, gripping it almost roughly as he turned my head, his tongue not just entering my mouth but claiming it.
We both moaned, our hips pressing together as we kissed against my car. When we finally broke apart, we were breathless, panting, with flushed cheeks. Edward pressed his forehead to mine, closing his eyes as he tried get himself breathing normally.
My own eyes filled with tears because as much teasing, flirting, and playing that we did, I still couldn't do all that I wanted to with him – and I so wanted to. I wanted to show him that I loved him, show him that I wanted him. I was tired of letting my fears win.
"I love you," I whispered, and I was met with concerned, but oh-so-vibrant green eyes.
"Love you, too. What's this?" he asked softly, wiping his thumb under my eye.
"I'm tired of being afraid," I sighed, looking into his eyes, which softened immediately.
"I will wait, Bella. Please know that. When you're ready...I'm here," he urged softly against my cheek. "Believe me, I want you – so much it's all I think about sometimes – but I can wait. I want to wait...for you. I told you that you're getting better all the time, despite what you believe."
I nodded, unable to say much else because since we'd met, the man in front of me – who had no patience for anyone else around him, it seemed – had endless patience, endless kind words, and made me feel that even though we were far from normal, we were perfect, safe, and right where we needed to be.
"We need to get on the road, love," he whispered, brushing his lips softly across mine.
We both turned when we heard Carlisle and Esme, who it seemed was still upset, coming out of the restaurant. In fact, she was several steps ahead of him as she walked our way.
"He's taking the BMW, so can I ride with you two?" she huffed, her eyes blazing with anger.
"Yeah, sure," we both muttered, looking over her head as Carlisle pulled her things from Edward's Challenger, which Mickey and Makenna were switching to.
"He's so stubborn," she muttered, rolling her eyes as he stepped up to her and kissed her cheek.
I fought my smile because of all of the couples that were slowly merging around us, they were the two I thought never fought, since they'd been together the longest; apparently, I was wrong.
"Es, I've told you I can take care of myself," he argued, looking uncomfortable at having this conversation around us.
"Yes, I'm aware," she huffed, her nostrils flaring, but we all jumped when she spun to face him. "Carlisle Cullen, you'd better, because I will call Eleazar if you don't."
He grimaced, shaking his head. "You don't have to call your brother. I'm just trying to stop Billy Black from ruining TT, and I want to be there when Charlie finally testifies. I can't do that in hiding, Esme, and you know it. I can't keep a watch over new developments in this situation...while fucking hiding."
To break the tension, I asked him, "You're going to court when Charlie goes?"
"I want to escort him as his guard," he said gruffly, breaking his gaze away from Esme. "Ben is trying to get it approved. Just because he gets on the stand doesn't mean he'll walk away. I can't let that happen."
I looked to Edward and then to Esme, because if there was a second person on this planet that I trusted my father's life with, it was Carlisle. The first was Edward.
"This time, Carlisle," Esme sighed, obviously giving up, "you'll send some sort of message everyday. Okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," he sighed, and I couldn't help but smile because he sounded just like his son.
"Love you," she told him, kissing him softly before climbing into the back seat of my car.
"Yeah...me, too," he told her, locking gazes with Edward. "I'll be in touch."
"Obviously," Edward chuckled, squeezing his shoulder. "I'll take care of her, Dad."
I hugged Carlisle, kissing his cheek. "Be careful. If you see Charlie...just...I mean...could you tell him..."
Carlisle leaned forward and kissed my forehead. "I will, I promise."
With a deep breath, we watched him walk away, and it gave me the most uneasy feeling. Could he take care of himself? And if something were to happen to him, would the two people that meant the most to me be able to handle it? I knew he was a capable man, smart, with an amazing sense of honor, but I just hoped that once this was all over, he'd still be there for us...for his son and Esme. That was the last thought I had before he turned south and we turned north, heading to Alaska.
It could've been a really long ride. It could've been really uncomfortable being in the same car with an upset Esme and an Edward that didn't feel comfortable speaking about his mother, whose best friend we were about to visit. It could've been filled with sexual tension because Edward and I couldn't stop touching – whether it was just holding hands or Edward's fingers on my knee, my thigh, my hair. But it wasn't.
Esme cooled down about thirty minutes after we pulled away from the restaurant. At first, I just let her be, but then, I just couldn't do it anymore. She'd never let me stew before, even when we were neighbors and I was pissed at Jake, so I started asking stupid but curious questions.
"It's really a farm where we're going?"
Edward grinned, turning his gaze from the road to look at me. "Yeah," he chuckled. "It's a pretty cool place. Aunt Kate's been growing her own vegetables for years. And she's got a few sheep, cows, and chickens, but she's most proud of her horses..."
"Mmhm," he snickered with a nod. "And her dogs...Huskies."
I smiled because he looked kind of happy when he talked about the place. When I looked to Esme in the back seat, she was smiling, too. She nodded her head for me to keep him talking, but I didn't have to.
"It's not what you're thinking. I mean, there is a barn," he said, talking more toward the road in front of him than us. "But the house is damn big. My mother helped her design it. It's a bunch of different wings, so when we'd come to visit, we'd have our own space. As my dad changed careers and Garrett joined him, she added on to it over the years so there would be enough room for his crew. It's like a compound," he chuckled, looking over at me. "You girls might hate it because we can't go anywhere – not that there's anywhere to go. The closest city is miles away."
"I'm sure we'll live," I laughed.
"When was the last time you visited, Edward?" Esme asked, leaning forward.
"Thanksgiving," he said softly, but his brow furrowed. "Fuck, I haven't even called her..."
"I'm sure she understands that you're busy," she soothed him.
"Yeah, but...M-Mom asked me to take c-care of her..."
God, I think I fell in love with him just a little bit more at that statement because holy hell, did everything have to rest on his shoulders? And I could see the guilt that he'd missed Christmas, New Years, and some other holiday he probably should've called her on, and I couldn't let him sink into it.
"What were they like together?" I asked, thinking he was a kid when they were last together, so his answer would be interesting.
"Like you and the girls," he snorted softly, his lips turning up in the corners. "They'd stay up late and gossip about people they knew. They'd listen to old music. They'd laugh and cook and make fun of bad haircuts."
I smiled, biting my bottom lip, because they sounded like any two best friends that were really close. They sounded like any two girls that liked to reminisce and revel in their friendship. He was right. They sounded like me and my girls.
"I wish my mom had had that," I sighed, looking out the window at the blurry landscape flying by. "She never really allowed herself friends...not close ones, anyway."
"What did your mom look like?" Edward asked suddenly, looking my way quickly and back to the road as he changed lanes.
"Are you asking me or the eight-year-old?" I chuckled, and Esme giggled beside me from between the two front seats.
"Either," he laughed.
"The eight-year-old would tell you she was beautiful, like a princess," I said, smiling in spite of the topic. "The grownup would tell you she looked like me, only I got Charlie's eyes. What about you?"
"Oh my goodness, if Edward doesn't look like his mother. I've seen pictures," Esme gushed with a laugh, patting his shoulder.
"I do," he agreed, running a hand through his hair. "Hair, eyes, everything. It's like my dad wasn't involved."
The conversation about moms and their funniest moments continued for miles, until my eyes started drooping and my yawns got bigger and wider.
Edward's hand caressed my face, running his fingers through my hair, and he said, "Get some sleep, love. We've got a few hours before we get there."
I nodded, curling up in my seat with a deep sigh. I heard soft conversation, but otherwise, everyone got quiet until I could remember no more. It seemed like just as I closed my eyes, gentle, warm hands were touching my face, and a cool breeze shook me out of my little bubble.
"Bella, we're here," Edward whispered.
I stretched as best I could in the car, opening my eyes to see him kneeling in my door. His eyes, though tired, were so very green, and framed with long, dark eyelashes as he looked at me with a sweetness that was almost breathtaking.
It was still daylight, even though it was kind of hard to tell, what with the clouds that covered the sky. I looked around, and I could see through sleep-fuzzy eyes that we were definitely on a farm. The air smelled sweet, like hay. There were sounds of animals and my friends' laughter. And then there was a squeal of happiness.
"Edward Anthony!" I heard from behind us, and I'd never seen Edward's head spin so fast. "You get that handsome face over here and give me a hug!"
He smiled sweetly, a tinge of color to his cheeks. "Aunt Kate," he chuckled, standing up but offering me his hand. "You'll like her, I promise," he murmured to me.
I didn't even have to say a word to her to know that was true. She wasn't a tall woman, but she was very pretty, with light brown hair that was swept up into a loose bun. She was wearing a tan jacket with a hood over a white shirt and blue jeans that had a few smudges of dirt on them. Her face was sweet, thin, but it was her light blue eyes that sparkled with love for the boy whose face she was reaching for.
"Look at you! You look more like Elizabeth every time I see you!" she gushed, smiling widely as she cupped both sides of his smiling face. "And I have to get an emergency call from Carlisle to see you?"
She kissed his cheek as he hugged her tightly, practically picking her up off of the ground.
"Sorry, Aunt Kate," he muttered, looking admonished.
"Don't you 'sorry' me, mister. A phone call would do," she huffed, rolling her eyes. "Now...where are my other boys?" she asked loudly enough that Emmett and Jasper could hear her.
"Right here, Kate!" Emmett boomed, rushing to her and swooping her up. "How ya doin', gorgeous?"
"Emmett McCarty, put me down...you brute!" she laughed. "If you're that strong, I've got chores for you!"
"You name them, Kate," he chuckled, setting her gently back down on her feet.
"Jasper," she snickered, giving Emmett one last wry smile. "How are you, sweetheart?"
"Just fine, ma'am," he drawled, smiling crookedly at her before kissing her cheek.
"And Michelle?" Kate asked, spinning in her spot.
And for the first time, Mickey didn't correct someone about her name. She hugged Kate with almost a reverence I hadn't been expecting.
"Are these boys still picking on you? And what the hell happened to your shoulder?" she asked, looking the poor girl over.
"Of course they pick on me, Aunt Kate," Mickey chuckled, shoving Emmett when he gave her a wet willy in her ear. "And it's just the job," she added with a stiff shrug.
"Ah, yes, the job," Kate snickered, looking around. "So let me meet Carlisle Cullen's goddaughter..."
"Aunt Kate...Bella Swan," Edward introduced, guiding me forward with his hand at the small of my back. "And her friends...Rosalie Hale, Alice Brandon, and Makenna Coleman." He paused for a moment, bringing Esme to the front. "This is Esme Platt."
For a split second, Kate's eyebrows flickered up, and I wondered if she would have a problem with someone seeing her best friend's widower. She shook Esme's hand gracefully, though, with what seemed like a genuine smile.
"It's nice to meet all of you," she said with a beaming smile and a clap of her hands. "Consider yourselves safe here. The entire property is surrounded by an electric fence. There are four good-size dogs that roam the entire area. I've got plenty of protection – two of my own, and two of Carlisle's old retired farts!"
Edward snorted, shaking his head, and raised an eyebrow at her. "You'd better not let Alec catch you saying that."
"Oh, poo!" she huffed with a wave at him. "My house...my rules...my insults. Now, let's get your things inside and get you settled. Every last one of you looks like they're about to fall down. Once you've rested a bit, I'm going to let Edward make up for all the missed holidays and help with dinner. It's been too long since I had a handsome man cook for me..."
He laughed but started to gather our things out of the trunk. Everyone else followed his lead. With a bunch of lugging and joking, the very large group of us made our way to the front door.
The layout of the house was almost like a spider, with a central living environment and several hallways jutting off to different rooms. Kate pointed down each hallway, giving us instructions.
"Edward, your room is the same. The rest of you can pick any room with an open door. And believe me, there are plenty, so please make yourself at home," she said cheerily.
Everyone broke away, heading down one hallway or another. I looked up at Edward, not wanting to vocalize that I wanted to stay with him, but I didn't know Kate's rules or whether he would want me with him so I grabbed my bag and hitched it over my shoulder. Before I could take two steps, there was a hand on my waist.
"Electric fence or not, your safety lies with me," I heard rumbling deeply in my ear. "Besides, I got used to my roommate."
I fought my smile because I really only felt safe to truly sleep when Edward was in the room, but when I looked up at him, I noticed he was wary.
"I want you w-with m-me," he sputtered with a shrug.
"Okay," I chuckled, unable to not melt when he stuttered.
"Okay," he huffed but broke out into a wide grin. "Take a right, then. Last door at the end of the hallway."
It was like walking into an apartment, minus a kitchen. There was a small sitting area with a desk, TV, a couple of chairs, and a sofa. There was a door on either side of the room, and Edward headed straight for the one on the left.
"My room," he muttered, opening the door.
I smiled, taking a look around the room that was very similar to his room in the mountain cabin. Dark furnishings, blue accents, and a few framed pictures on the wall of mostly scenery and Apache helicopters – from when he was younger, I assumed. But it was the photo on the dresser that caught my attention.
I set my bags on the bed and walked over to pick it up. It was the Edward I'd first met when we were kids, all arms and legs, with hair everywhere. He still had the baby cheeks, piercing green eyes, and his trademark crooked smile. Standing next to him was a woman that needed no introduction.
She was no less than stunning, giving every bit of that over to her son. She was looking at him like he was all that mattered as she wrapped an arm lovingly around him. They were standing in front of a paddock of horses from what looked like this very farm. Elizabeth was wearing a large floppy hat, her dark hair with rich bronze highlights gleaming in the sun as it cascaded down her shoulders.
"That was just before we found out she was sick," Edward muttered behind me.
"She's beautiful," I said, setting the picture back in its place.
"She was trying to get me to go riding," he chuckled. "I kept telling her no. Horses made me nervous 'cause they're so damn big. They could've killed me. I only weighed like eighty-five pounds then."
I giggled, biting my bottom lip as I studied the picture again. "Did you ever go with her?"
"Oh yeah," he laughed with a nod, his eyebrows raising up. "She made me fight through the fear. I'll have to ask Aunt Kate if Goliath is still around."
"Goliath?" I chuckled with what I was sure were wide eyes.
"Don't let the name fool you," he told me. "He's a big baby. In fact, I rode him the last time I was here. There are trails all through the woods out there...and that's still inside her electric fence."
I started unpacking a few things that I'd need for bed later, but warm hands stopped me.
"I want to show you around, baby," he said, running a hand through his hair. "Just let me get a shower to wake up, okay?"
I watched as Edward grabbed a set of clean clothes, a towel, and his shampoo before heading into the bathroom. The shower turned on, and suddenly, my thoughts were assaulted with visions of a wet, warm Edward standing under spray.
"Damn," I sighed, hopping up from the chair and walking to the door that led to the main hallway.
I tugged the door open, gasping when I ran almost smack dab into Aunt Kate.
"Oh, sorry," I yelped, closing the door behind me.
"Swan," she said, looking at me through narrowed eyes. "As in Charlie Swan's daughter...Renee Swan's daughter."
"Yes, ma'am. How do you know my parents?"
"Oh, I met them years ago. Carlisle invited them here for a vacation before you were born. Well, both you and Edward were on the way. Gosh, child! You look like your mother!" she gushed, taking my face in her hands. "But you have your father's eyes." She paused, tilting her head at me. "I'm sorry about your mother. I didn't know about it until years later...and now your father's in trouble."
I smiled, shrugging, but she kissed my cheek softly.
"You're in good company, child."
"Thank you," I told her, but I noticed as her eyes drifted past me to the door and her brow furrowed.
"Now, Bella," she huffed, her arms folding across her chest and frown curling down the corners of her mouth. "Why don't you tell me what you're doing in Edward's room?"
I gaped, looking from her to the door and wishing Edward would hurry up because I damn well didn't want to offend a woman that looked like she loved him like her own son. I also didn't want to sleep without him.
"I...I mean...we," I sputtered, looking her in the eye. "I love him."
Her eyes raised up high, but I could see her fighting her smile. "I know," she chuckled, wrapping an arm around me. "Carlisle kind of gave me a heads up..."
I sagged in relief, almost leaning into her. "I'm sorry we...I mean...after Edward found me, I sleep better with him near..."
"I know that, too," she said with a smile, leading me down the hall toward the main house. "Now...let me tell you all sorts of stories about our young Edward..."