Tuesday, April 3, 2001 | By: Drotuno

Blood & Glory Chapter 16

CHAPTER 16
EDWARD
For the first time in weeks, I could tell Bella finally felt safe. Not just safe, but comfortable. I didn't know if it was the farm, my Aunt Kate, or the fact that we weren't staying up odd hours of the night to run in the woods. We didn't have to here.
It had only been a few days since we'd all trudged into my aunt's home, exhausted, weary, and just plain wrecked. We'd worked as a flawless team, but we had just come from a big gunfight, clean up, and traveling through another damn country to get where we were. We were all fried – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
We did nothing but sleep the first day. All of us. Aunt Kate told us not to worry about a thing, that Alec, Sam, and her two men, Tom and Obie – whose names were actually much more complicated than that because they were part Inuit or Eskimo or some shit – were watching the grounds around the clock.
Tom and Obie preferred to stay in the barn, in an office that Kate had converted into an apartment for them, because they were brothers and were used to living together. They handled not only her security, but the animals, as well. From what I could tell, they didn't say much, but they'd do anything she asked of them and seemed to treat her with the utmost respect. However, it didn't take long for the girls to dub poor Obie as...cute.
Alec and Sam used to be a part of my father's first crew, so they tended to be more accessible, more talkative with everyone. Alec was in his mid thirties and probably the youngest member of my father's crew at one time, besides myself. He was an easygoing guy who occasionally took bodyguard gigs in his spare time, now that he was a retired mercenary. He was Italian and boisterous, loving a good joke and even better a girl's blush. He and Emmett had hit it off right away, and all the girls loved him.
Sam, on the other hand, was a big, scary fucker. He'd always scared the shit out of me as a kid and still unnerved me as an adult, even though we were on the same side. Despite his age – because he was older than my dad – he was in phenomenal shape, standing tall at over six-foot-four. He was scary because he was huge and seemed to take up more space than even Emmett, but in reality, they were about the same size. He could walk into a room without fear, without a weapon, and I was pretty sure Godzilla could be in there, and Sam would still come out on top. He was also horribly scarred on his hands, arms, and part of his face. That alone had scared the shit out of the girls the first day...well, all except Bella.
While Rose and Makenna had flinched at the sight of Sam and his scars, Bella's eyes had softened, almost to the point of tearing up. She introduced herself immediately, gazing up at him with such sympathy, it almost hurt to watch. She saw the man, not the scars. She saw his pain, not his intimidation. She saw Sam, not the results of a mine he'd accidentally stepped on twenty some-odd years ago.
And he fucking adored her for it.
Not that I blamed him one bit because she was easy to love, but he'd go out of his way for her. It was hilarious watching him fawn over her because he was totally pushing fifty. It was like she'd tamed a fucking giant, and she completely changed my perspective of him. He'd open doors, carry shit, and basically became her guardian if I wasn't around or was busy doing something else. Bella, in turn, got him to smile – something I'm not sure I'd ever seen him do the entire time I'd known him.
By the third day, the girls and my crew were all pretty much caught up on rest, and they started getting bored; Emmett was itching to help Kate around the place.
My crew was used to her farm because we'd come here around holidays or to cool off after some major mission. Mickey loved feeding the animals, Jasper liked working whatever vegetables Kate had planted, and Emmett and I always fixed whatever was broken or run down.
What surprised us most was that Bella and her girls were completely willing to pitch in. They had all proven themselves in tough situations, but they were – at their core – city girls, so we assumed heavy labor was out. We would've been okay with that, but Bella wasn't having any of it. They wanted to help and wanted to pull their weight, which they did – in spades.
Rose and Bella wanted to work with Mickey. Both girls had taken riding lessons when they were kids, so they were all for taking care of the barn, feedings, and basic care of the horses, dogs, and chickens. Makenna made excellent help for me and Emmett. She couldn't swing a hammer to save her life, but she could paint, stain, and sand with the best of them. Alice, of course, worked with Jasper, though, to be honest, of all the girls, the little computer genius wasn't exactly cut out for farm life. She did her damnedest but ended up working most of the time inside with Kate, monitoring the computers for messages from my dad while cleaning.
I still tried to cook at least one meal a day for everyone, though Kate loved to do it. Alec even got in on the act because he loved to cook – especially traditional Italian – so it became a rotating thing.
And then there was Esme, who I'd been concerned wouldn't be welcomed into my mother's best friend's home, but she had been...warmly. Aunt Kate had pulled me aside, telling me that my mom would want my father to be happy, and if Esme made him happy, then she had a new friend – that I shouldn't worry so much.
So as the sun set on our fourth day on the farm, it seemed we'd found some sort of comfortable rhythm at my aunt's home. Did I miss my house? Yeah, but not so much that I'd be willing to walk away from the best thing that ever happened to me – especially not while she was still being hunted by that motherfucker, Miller. Were we all still petrified something would happen to my father, or someone would find us, or Charlie's testimony that still loomed overhead? God, yes. In fact, Bella had nightmares about it just about every time she shut her eyes. However, we were all so strangely comfortable, despite the circumstances, that it made me nervous. I hated like hell to think something could go wrong.
I watched from the front porch as Bella played with the dogs, just before their last feeding. They were damned big dogs, looking more like wolves than huskies, but they'd seemed to take to her – especially Tia, the oldest female, who was looking excitedly at Bella to throw the stick so she could give chase, which she did over and over, until the dog was a panting mess.
I smiled as the dog lay the stick at her feet, waiting patiently for the next go round. Her tongue lolled out the side of her mouth, and her tail wagged so hard that it shook her whole body, so with a sweet laugh, Bella threw it again, finally calling an end to the game. All three dogs followed her happily to their bowls, and once she filled them, she headed back toward the barn.
"You're in love with her," I heard from the screen door.
I looked up at Kate, nodding silently and running a hand through my hair as I sat back on the swing. She sat down beside me and patted my leg.
"Push us," she commanded. "My toes won't touch. Garrett hung this thing too high."
I chuckled, kicking us gently with my foot, and we sat quietly for a few minutes, swaying in the early evening breeze.
"I can lower it for you," I told her.
"Nah, it's one of the last things he did. Leave it," she sighed, looking over at me. "She's a beautiful girl, Edward. Your mother would've loved her."
I smiled but swallowed thickly because I'd just thought that very thing as we'd driven up to Alaska. We'd traded stories about our moms, both good and bad. With Bella, it didn't seem to hurt as much, but looking at the woman that had loved my mother like a sister, it really tore at me.
"I don't mean to upset you, child," she soothed, patting my leg again. "It's just nice to see you happy. It's all she wanted for you." She paused, taking a deep breath. "She worried that leaving you with Carlisle would turn you into more of a soldier than a man, but she was wrong. You got the best parts of both of them. Your mother and I met Bella's parents, did she tell you?"
"No," I gasped, looking over at her with raised eyebrows. "When? 'Cause her mom's been—"
"Yes, I know. Renee died when Bella was very young...younger than when you lost Liz, if I'm not mistaken," she said, a frown curling down the corners of her mouth. "We'd planned this big thing here," she chuckled softly. "Just family, old Air Force buddies, and some friends for a weekend getaway. Your father barely made it in from overseas, but he came, and he brought the Swans with him. He wasn't working with Charlie yet, but they'd been friends forever. Both Elizabeth and Renee were expecting, though you were coming first."
I smiled, shaking my head. "That's cool," I replied. "Did they get along?"
"Renee and Liz?" she verified with a laugh, and I nodded. "Like two peas in a pod. They both knew what they were having...a little boy and a little girl. They had huge dreams for the both of you."
I chuckled and nodded. "I'm sure, but..."
"Yes, Renee killed herself, I know." My aunt sighed sadly. "I'll never understand it. She left that sweet girl at such a young age. I'm not sure why. We all tried to keep in touch, but we all had busy lives. A few phone calls, a few letters, but by the time you were born, we just never got together again. Plus, Bella's father was a damn busy man...not to mention your own."
I snorted, rolling my eyes. "Charlie's...a fool. Trust me when I tell you that."
"So was your own father, Edward," she sighed, cupping my face. "They both lost their wives – differently, yes, but men are aimless without their loves. Carlisle shouldn't have sent you to military school; he should have kept you close. It was the biggest fight we had, your father and I. I even offered to take you in...school you here myself because I felt you needed family and love, not training. But he won, saying he wasn't home much to begin with, and I gave up because you aren't mine."
"It wasn't bad."
"It wasn't good, either, Edward," she huffed. "Your mom would never have let you be sent away!"
I laughed, knowing that was the truth. My mom would've kept me close – bad behavior, smoking weed, and all.
She studied my face, finally reaching up to cup my cheek again. "Carlisle called me a few years ago, just as you joined his crew. It was after your crash and discharge. He was upset. He told me I might have been right, that he'd raised a soldier, not a son. He saw you becoming cold, angry, lethal...and it wasn't what he wanted for you."
I frowned, looking down at my hands. "I was..."
"So when he called me a few days ago," she continued, a knowing smile on her face, "imagine my surprise when, despite these...unusual circumstances, he told me all about Bella, her father, and you."
I smiled over at her. "Spilled the beans, did he?"
"Every single one!" she laughed. "He's never sounded so proud. Or happy for you. He told me that Bella had been...hurt but that you and she had found a way to cope, that I should let you be. I should ignore whatever living arrangements you two chose because whatever you two were doing...well, it was working. For both of you."
I laughed, shaking my head, and I caught sight of Bella coming out of the barn with Rose and Mickey. All three were laughing, with rosy cheeks and big smiles.
"What do I do when this is over?" I asked her, barely able to tear my eyes away from Bella as she walked toward us.
"What do you want to do?" she asked, and I heard my mother's voice in that question.
"I want..." I sighed, gazing at the best thing I'd seen in days – Bella's full-on boisterous laugh. "I want to keep her...never let her go."
"Then don't," Kate laughed, standing up from the swing.
"How?" I asked, frowning up at her. "We...We have different lives, if we can even get her back to hers. I travel, she travels, and we could both get killed with what we do."
Kate snorted but took a deep breath before brushing a kiss to my forehead. "If you love each other, you'll figure it out. It's not hard, Edward. You weigh what's important, and you go with it," she whispered just as the girls hit the steps of the porch. "Your mother would want you happy and in love with a beautiful girl that loves you just as much, not a lonely, rich soldier with no one around him."
I sighed, blinking back tears. "Thanks, Aunt Kate."
She nodded, shot me a wink, and turned her attention to the happily-babbling girls as they joined us. "Well, how are my zookeepers?"
They all started talking at once, but Bella's announcement was the biggest news. "Obie says that Tia's gonna have puppies!"
I smiled because all three girls were just about to bounce themselves right out of their own skin with excitement.
"Again?" Kate laughed, clapping happily. "That's great! We haven't had little ones rolling around here in a while. Did he say how long?"
"Just a few weeks!" Mickey gushed. "And he said if we were still here, we could be there for it!"
I laughed, pulling Bella onto the swing with me, and she immediately curled into my side, happy as she watched the other two tease each other.
"Yeah, well, if he said a volcano was erupting, you'd follow Obie to it," Rose snorted, jabbing Mickey with her elbow, which only caused Bella to burst into silent hysterics.
"Really?" I gushed teasingly with a smirk. "Do tell, Michelle..."
"Shut up, pretty boy!" she growled, but she looked like she was about to burst into flames, she was so red in the face.
Bella chuckled, poking me. "Leave her alone. I think he likes her, too."
"Oh ho!" I laughed, starting to stand up. "Now we're talkin'! Let's just go have a chat with this boy..."
"Oh, God," Mickey groaned, looking to Bella, Rose, and finally Aunt Kate before putting her face in her hands.
"Em! Jasper!" I called, still laughing when they poked their heads out of the door. "It seems our fair Michelle has found...a boy," I sang, finally standing up, despite Bella's and Mickey's hands pushing and pulling me back.
"Edward, don't you fucking dare!" Mickey hissed at me as she pushed against my chest the same time Bella was tugging on my shirt. "You don't need to interrogate him!"
"Excellent!" Emmett snickered, rubbing his hands together, only to crack all of his knuckles. "Who?" he grunted, flexing every muscle.
"You boys wouldn't!" Bella gasped, staring at us with an open mouth and raised eyebrows.
"Oh, yes, we would," Jasper said with a shit-eating grin. "Who, Mick?"
"Fuck!" she snarled, looking redder than ever.
"Obie, it seems," Aunt Kate joined in with a chuckle before turning to Bella. "And yeah...they really would. Though, he's a good guy, boys."
"Edward, please!" Mickey begged, shaking her head and stepping in front of the porch steps.
"I don't think so," I snickered, grinning down at her. "It is our job to make sure that he's a decent fellow..."
Bella snorted, rolling her eyes, and folded her arms across her chest. "Unbelievable. I'm so glad I didn't have brothers. You're going to scare him, Edward. He's really shy."
"That's the point, Bellsy," Emmett chuckled, picking Mickey physically up out of the way and setting her aside.
I was just about to take off toward the barn, when Bella's phone went off. It was her scar medicine reminder. I spun to look at her because we hadn't really worked on her scars or her fear of touch since we'd arrived at the farm, but she just waved me on.
"Go...be a bully, Edward," she chuckled, rolling her eyes again. "I need a shower first. I smell like dogs, sweat, and hay," she huffed but broke out into a giggle.
I grinned, kissing her forehead, and took off for the barn as Mickey called uselessly after us.
~oOo~
BELLA
I snorted to myself but looked up at Rose as they all ran off toward the barn, Mickey frantic behind them. "They'll scare him to death," I chuckled, standing up from the swing.
"True," she agreed with a laugh. "Obie's a pretty quiet guy. He'll think the worst when they walk up in there."
"Go make sure they don't like...tie him to the barn beams and hang him upside down," I told her with a laugh. "They'll torture him for his girlfriend history or something."
"Stupid boys," Rose scoffed, rolling her eyes and heading down the steps. "They should just ask Alice to check him out."
She walked away, but Kate's chuckle caught my attention. "Alice won't find anything on Tom and Obie. It's not like there are a ton of hospitals where they came from."
"Oh!" I gasped, breaking into a smile. "Yeah, but they don't need to know that!" I laughed, and she joined me.
"Which reminds me," she continued. "Those two will be making a supply run for me tomorrow. I need all of you to make a list of things you'll need. They're going all the way into Anchorage, so they can hit a bunch of stores for me. They go once a month."
"Okay, no problem," I said with a nod, reaching for the screen porch door. "I'll let the girls know. I'm sure it's time to stock up," I told her, mentally making a note of more scar cream because my tube was almost gone, but that also reminded me of something else I needed.
I walked through the house, finding Esme's room. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, folding clothes. She'd taken the task of everyone's laundry, though not one of us asked her to.
"Hey," I sighed, leaning in the doorway.
"Bells," she sang, glancing up from a pile of socks that would intimidate the most seasoned of housewives. "How you feeling? How's that leg?"
"Fine," I told her. "I...um, I need to talk to you."
"Sure, sweetie, close that door," she said, jerking her chin as she balled up two black socks together. "Maybe you can help me with these..."
I laughed at her tortured expression but nodded and sat down on the other side of Mount Tube-Sock. "Is this everyone's socks?" I chuckled.
"No! Just Emmett's!" she giggled, rolling her eyes. "That boy, no matter how big he is, still only has two feet."
I grinned but picked up a matching set and balled them up together, setting them aside.
"What did you want to talk about?" she asked, tilting her head at me.
I wrinkled my nose but took a deep breath. "Um, just before my last job – you know...Alvarez – I'd been to see my doctor. I needed my...shot." I told her, raising my eyebrow at her. "It's due soon...like really soon."
She took a deep breath and nodded but didn't say anything.
"The reason I'm telling you is Kate is sending Tom and Obie into Anchorage tomorrow," I continued, the words rushing out of me due to nerves. I didn't like having to discuss my birth control with her, but I had no choice; it wasn't like I could visit a hospital without being recognized. "Kate told me to tell everyone to get their list of supplies ready...and I don't want to miss it..."
"Bella, stop." She chuckled, placing a hand over mine. "I'll handle it. Do you know about the other girls? I mean, I've noticed some new...sleeping arrangements. I know about Rose. She prefers the pill, and the last supply run in Trinity, I was able to refill it for her, but I don't know about Alice or Makenna."
"I don't think Makenna takes it, and I really don't know about Alice. You'll have to ask her."
"Very well," she sighed, looking forlornly at the now dwindling pile of Emmett's socks. "I'll see about riding in with them. You and Edward..." she started, but paused to study my face. "You're ready for this step?"
"No...yes," I sputtered, and then opted to just shrug one shoulder. "I don't know," I whispered, feeling tears in my eyes because despite my sexual frustration, I was still terrified of touch. "Yes," I finally blurted out. "But I can't." The last word came out in a breathy sob.
She smiled warmly, pushing the socks out of the way in order to scoot closer to me. Cupping my face, she said, "You can. And you even asking about birth control means you're at least considering the possibility that it could happen, which in turn tells me you haven't given up, my pretty girl. Let me ask you something."
I nodded, sniffling a little. "Go on."
"Set aside your fear, Bella, and tell me... Would you have consummated this relationship by now if you had no fear, no scars?"
"God, yes," I breathed as tears spilled down my cheeks. "I love him so much, Esme..."
She smiled sadly, wiping my tears away with her thumbs. "And you want to show him?" she asked, and I was nodding before she even finished the question. "Is Edward pushing too hard?"
"No!" I gasped. "If anything, he's more patient than I am."
She chuckled softly, kissing my cheek. "You two will find the right way, sweetie. Is he helping with your medicine?"
I nodded, swallowing thickly, because I just realized he would probably beat me to his room and then worry why I wasn't in there. "As soon as I get a shower, we're supposed to try again."
"God, sweetie...I've said it once, and I'll keep saying it. Just keep trying," she urged softly, wiping away more tears. "It's not a race, so don't rush yourself. It's not about hormones and chemistry, though I get it, because you two can heat up a room." She chuckled at my sniffling laugh. "It's about making sure that you are a whole person before you share yourself, your body with someone else, Bella. And when that happens, then you won't believe how beautiful it will be because it won't be just sex; it will be love in its purest form."
I knew she was right, but it was different when Edward and I were alone, when I wanted him so badly that it was almost painful. I wanted him, but when I would reach a certain point, I would freeze, and that bothered me more than Edward, which made me love him all the more. It was a vicious fucking cycle.
We stood up from the bed at the same time, and Esme hugged me tightly. "You're doing fine, Bella. Keep doing what you're doing because it's obviously working," she whispered in my ear before pulling back to make sure I heard her. "And we'll take care of that shot tomorrow night, okay?"
I nodded, kissed her cheek, and then said, "Thanks, Esme."
By the time I walked into the bedroom, I half expected Edward to be there, but apparently, he was still off torturing Mickey's potential suitor. I snorted to myself at his protective nature but grabbed my things for my shower.
Edward still wasn't back by the time I'd showered, shaved, and shampooed. By habit, I reached for my sports bra and underwear, but stopped, studying myself in the bathroom mirror. With shaking hands, I just grabbed the underwear, pulling them on, and left the bra on the vanity. I pulled a bathrobe on, cinching the belt tight around me, but I was so nervous for this next step that I could barely breathe. I leaned on the sink with braced arms, just trying to get myself under some control. By the time I heard the door to our room slam shut, Edward chuckle to himself, and my name being called, I was just about seeing stars.
"Bathroom," I wheezed, squeezing my eyes shut and taking the deepest breath I could.
A soft knock on the door made me inhale sharply, and Edward's voice, now softer, sounded from the other side. "Bella, you okay?"
"No," I snorted humorlessly, turning when he opened the door.
"Can I come in, love?"
"Yes," I answered with a nod, still nodding when he stepped to my side.
"Hey, what's this about?" he asked, his voice soothing me, although he probably didn't know it. He turned me around, lifting me up onto the vanity so that he look me straight in the eyes. "We can wait, baby," he said, his hands cupping my face. "There's no rush."
I huffed, rolling my eyes, because those were practically Esme's exact words. "I want to try. I do..."
He smiled softly, pressing his lips to mine briefly. "Then we try...but I don't want you to push, Bella."
I nodded, biting my bottom lip and looking down at my lap. "'Kay," I sighed, glancing up when, in my peripheral vision, his T-shirt came sweeping off. "What are you—"
"I need a shower first, baby," he chuckled, but I saw something else gleaming in his eyes. "You're clean, so I should be, too," he said with an evil grin, his tongue raking across his bottom lip as his hands reached for the button of his jeans.
My own hands fisted in my lap because I so badly wanted to help him out of those damn jeans. I wanted to shove them down along with whatever other impeding material was under them. I wanted to completely feel Edward without anything between my hands and his skin.
"You're just gonna strip in front of me?" I asked him, wanting to laugh at his smirk, but I couldn't because I was having a moment of fight or flight.
"I can," he teased, tugging the zipper down slowly, and thank God Almighty that he had boxers on underneath. "I have no problem showing you..."
"Oh," I groaned, a furrow to my brow as he chuckled darkly, which caused a clench to all my girly parts because damn, if he wasn't fucking shameless and gorgeous. "Edward..."
"I'm not keeping you in here," he snorted, but stepped closer to me.
I noticed that he smelled sweet, like sawdust and sweat and all things that were making it impossible for me to make a clear decision. In fact, I leaned in closer, breathing deeply the scent of him. "Fuck, what did you do today?" I asked, looking up at him.
"Repaired the back porch. The railing was rotten," he answered, but his smile was crooked and sexy.
"Jesus," I whispered to myself, placing a hand in the center of his chest. "Edward, let me out of here...please. I can't look and not fucking touch. That's torture."
He took two steps back, his hands raised in a surrendering gesture, but fuck me to hell, if his jeans – underwear and all – slipped down to his hips just about two inches. At that point, I was just blatantly ogling him. I knew what was beneath that material, and I wanted it.
"I'm not stopping you from touching, sweetness," he snickered, winking when my gaze shot up to his.
I slipped down from the vanity, steeling my nerves because when his shower was all said and done, he would be the one touching, and it wouldn't be as humorous as this moment was. I had overcome my fear of touching him. That had taken longer than I'd expected, but when I'd finally let Miller's abuse of my own hand go and taken back control of what I wanted, I had no problems with the man that was currently backing away from me.
I took two steps toward him, and he found his back pressed into the wall. I allowed my eyes to take him in first, and I blinked away the flashback of Miller placing my own hand against the crotch of his pants to feel an arousal that made me gag. Instead, I focused on the pure art form that was Edward's body as he leaned casually against the bathroom wall.
Tense, wide shoulders, narrow hips, and abs with a vee that pointed down to just the mere hint of hair all filled my vision. His breathing picked up as my hands raised up in front of his chest. Without the T-shirt, his scent was some sort of strange aphrodisiac, and it caused me to actually lick my lips before I placed my hands on his skin.
We both moaned together – his deep, and mine almost a whimper – as my fingers lightly raked down his chest, abs, and finally, gripping the front of his jeans, including the waistband of his underwear. I leaned in, tracing my nose up his sternum to his throat, and finally up his neck to his ear.
I didn't say anything but just reveled in the feel of his arms snaking around my waist, the smell of him invading my senses, and the tension that just made us...us. His head fell to my shoulder, and a groan escaped him briefly.
"I really, really love that you want to try, Bella," he muttered against the skin of my neck. "But you're killing me..."
I smiled, placing a loud kiss on his neck before pulling back. "And that's what it's like to look at you, Edward," I told him, my hands finally letting the front of his pants go. "Shower, baby..." I sang sweetly, eying his steel-hard arousal.
I started to reach for him, but his warm, strong hand gripped my wrist. "Touch me, and we'll have a problem," he panted, his eyes practically begging me.
I wanted to tease him about stamina, but I didn't have the heart to do it, especially when he was looking at me the way he was at the moment – like he really would explode any second on all levels.
His eyes were almost black with want, his jaw tensing and relaxing with every grit of his teeth, and he looked at me through his long dark eyelashes with heavy lids as his tongue slowly licked his lips.
"Fuck, love, please," he growled. "I love you, but sometimes, I can't be...honorable. You've worked too hard to get to this point, baby. You have no idea how much I want you. Please..."
I nodded and stepped away swiftly, understanding completely because he looked like he wanted to eat me alive. And suddenly, I felt bad for teasing him when really, I was just trying to distract myself from what we were really supposed to be doing. I was scared shitless for this next step because not only would he be touching my breasts, but he'd see the scars on them, too, and they weren't pretty.
"Why do we do this to each other?" I mumbled, shaking my head and turning to leave.
Before I got to the door, strong arms wrapped around me, and I was pulled back to Edward's chest. "Because we can't help it, baby. We both want what you're not ready for. It's how we...deal with it."
I nodded, leaning into his kiss to the back of my head. "Yeah, I guess. I'm sorry. I'm just scared, Edward. It seems so cruel..."
"But a helluva lot of fun," he chuckled darkly. "Now...out. And when I'm...hmmm, done in here, we'll work on the more serious shit, Bella."
I nodded again and left him to his shower.
~oOo~
EDWARD
"Edward, please, please don't do this," Mickey begged as we all walked toward the barn.
I laughed as Emmett was practically skipping in through the wide barn doors. Mickey tugged on me one more time – this time, my hand.
"Why?" I chuckled, stopping in front of her. "After all the shit you've given me over the years about kissing, telling...all that bullshit! All those stories about your failed dates! Oh no!" I guffawed, squeezing her shoulder. "Let's see if we can't break your...string of bad luck..."
"Dammit!" she hissed, looking to Jasper for help. "Jazz, don't let him do this..."
"Him?" he snorted. "Oh, I've gotta see this myself, darlin'! What makes this guy different than...what's-his-name?"
"Chris," she growled through gritted teeth with an eye roll. "Chris was an ass. Obie...isn't!"
I grinned over at Emmett, who looked like a kid that was about to be set loose in a toy store. "Isn't...she says." I turned back to her. "Then what's the harm in a little...chat, Mickey?"
"You'll scare the shit out of him, Edward!" she snapped, but she looked around at all three of us. "He's not my...usual type. He's shy...he's sweet."
Emmett grinned, rubbing his hands together again, like he couldn't wait to get his hands on this poor, unsuspecting soul. "Mick...it's a talk. We just want to know he's a good guy."
"Kate trusts him!" she countered, letting me go and gripping his T-shirt. "Why can't you guys?"
"Just a few questions, Mick," I chuckled, dodging her once more before bolting through the barn doors with Jasper, Emmett, and now Rose on my heels.
"Guys, is this really necessary?" Rose asked, but I could hear her amusement.
"Hell, yeah," we all answered her, but she just snorted and rolled her eyes.
In all honesty, in the four days we'd been at the farm, I hadn't spoken to the two brothers that much. I trusted Kate's opinion explicitly when it came to security because she'd learned from my father and her husband, Garrett. She'd caught on to our world beautifully, smartly, making amazing decisions when it came to this farm. She kept it secret, controlled, and probably the safest house we had. It was completely hidden in the Denali forest of Alaska. If someone were to wander up, which was almost impossible to do, they would see a working farm, nothing else. They wouldn't see the arsenal she kept in false walls of both the house and the barn. They wouldn't see the cameras that caught just about every square inch of the place. And they wouldn't see the four giant half-wolves stalking them until it was too late.
Tom and Obie were both busy cleaning one of the stalls, making what looked to be a place for Tia to have her puppies. They both looked up when all of us walked into the barn, leaning on their rakes. They seemed to be concerned but not scared. However, Obie's eyes betrayed him because they immediately fell from us to Mickey the second she appeared at my side.
"Edward, please don't," she pleaded, this time sounding like she was almost in tears when I stepped away from her.
"Edward Cullen," I introduced myself, using a firm handshake and an intimidating stance. "I really don't think we've all been introduced. However, I think you've met Mickey..." I snickered, gesturing to her as she pouted behind us.
"I'll kick your ass, Edward," she sneered, rolling her eyes at my laugh.
"I'm Tom," the older of the two said, shaking everyone's hand. "My brother, Obie. What's this about?" he asked, but he was wearing a wry smile, like he was just catching on.
"Well, Mickey here was just telling us," Jasper started with a chuckle, "that your brother has been...so sweet and kind. It's not something she normally uses to describe someone..."
I laughed, patting his shoulder. "Actually, what Jasper is trying to say is... We believe that Obie is teaching more than just...animal husbandry," I said with a wide, cheesy grin.
Tom laughed, shoving his brother, who was now forty shades of red and looking everywhere but at Mickey. "You're in for it now, brother," he teased him. "Her big brothers are checking on you..."
Obie's head snapped up as he looked around at Jasper, me, and then finally Emmett, who had commenced to stretching his huge ass arms in a ridiculously dramatic manner, making me roll my eyes.
Poor Obie broke out in a sweat but kept quiet, only looking to his brother for help.
Emmett guffawed, shaking his head. "Aw, hell, Eddie...he is sweet on her."
"We're just here to make sure that you...don't fuck up," Jasper said menacingly, but he was wearing the funniest of damn smiles.
"Dammit, guys!" Mickey growled, starting toward us. "I can handle my own shit!"
But it was when Emmett jokingly picked her up again to set her aside that Obie's true colors came flashing to the forefront.
"Don't touch her!" he growled, picking up his rake and holding it like he was about to swing a baseball bat.
"Oh hell," Jasper snorted as he and I jumped between Obie and Emmett, who was frozen with Mickey in mid-air. "Maybe this was a mistake," he chuckled.
Tom jumped in on the action in defense of his brother, and suddenly, we were in a standoff.
"Em, put her down," I sighed, thinking that these guys didn't know us well enough to know what was play and what was serious.
"Obie, it's fine," Mickey soothed, rushing to him and grabbing the rake. "They...They're like my brothers... We play around all the time."
Tom snorted but turned to see his brother's reaction. Obie was glaring at the three of us, like a bear protecting its cub, but it was when he turned his attention back to Mickey that his eyes softened significantly.
"Don't mind him," Tom snickered softly to me and Jasper. "He hasn't been around girls much..." He raised an eyebrow at us. "When Kate hired me, she mentioned that she could use one more, so I sent for him, and we've been here for about five months. We're kind of outcasts where we're from because we're half white and don't know who our father is, so Obie didn't even go to school. I, at least, made it to high school. Kate's teaching him, though. He's a good guy – just...innocent."
"Oh damn, you mean...orphans?" Emmett asked in the most distasteful way possible, which earned him a slap to the back of the head by Rose.
"Rude, Em!" she hissed, glaring at him as he shrank back sheepishly.
I shook my head at him but turned toward Tom when he answered.
"Yeah, something like that," he told Emmett. "Our mother is from a small village just outside of Juneau, but our father is white, and we have no idea where he is. He left her in the city with two kids and no money. She had to give us up. There are some Alaskans that still stick to the old ways; they don't want someone else's kids – especially mixed kids," he explained, walking us away from his brother and Mickey, who were now talking quietly.
"My brother means well," he continued with a smile. "We're fiercely protective of Kate because she treats us better than our mother ever did... You know?"
"Our bad, dude," Emmett snorted, holding out his hand to shake. "We live to mess with her, man, so when she got all girly on us..."
I chuckled, shaking my head. "Yeah, she's easy to rile up."
"I see that," Tom chuckled, looking over his shoulder at the couple. "She's fun, a hard worker, and damn good with the animals."
"Which reminds me," I sighed, looking over the stalls. "Is Goliath still able to be ridden?"
"Are you kidding? He loves it. Never acted younger!" He laughed. "I'll get him ready for you tomorrow. He could use a scrub down, anyway."
"Thanks," I said, shaking his hand. "Tell him"—I pointed towards Obie—"we meant no harm. We were just picking on her. We'd never seen her so...embarrassed."
Tom grinned and nodded, saying, "Don't worry... I plan on getting my own teasing in."
Jasper, Emmett, Rose, and I laughed on the way back to the house, but as soon as I started down the hallway, I remembered what I was about to do, and my laugh died as I slammed the door to my room, calling for Bella.
A strange sound came from the other side of the bathroom door and stopped me dead in my tracks. I winced as I recognized Bella's shaky breathing, like she could barely catch it. I'd known the next step for her was going to be big, but she sounded terrified.
I couldn't get in there to her quick enough, but I tried to stay calm, for her sake. I knocked lightly, asking if she was all right, but poked my head in without waiting for an answer. She was practically hyperventilating as she leaned on the bathroom counter. She was dressed in just a bathrobe, from what I could tell, but her face was pale, her eyes looking to me for help.
I picked her up and set her by the sink, brushing her still-wet hair away from her face. I wanted to let her know that there was no hurry for this next step because it was much more intimate than the last few boundaries we'd crossed.
"I want to try... I do," she swore to me, and I saw not only the fear but that fierce determination that she had to put on like a winter's coat.
She was so much stronger than she gave herself credit for, and I knew she could do this. If it wasn't tonight, then some other night, but she would break through.
In all honesty, what happened next wasn't planned on my part. I tugged my T-shirt off, dropping it to the bathroom floor. I turned to start my shower but caught Bella's stare.
"What are you...?" she started to ask, but it was her gaze on my chest that made me react the way I did.
"I need a shower first, baby," I teased her, reaching for my jeans and wanting to laugh as her eyes practically blackened in the blink of an eye. They went from worried, warm brown to dark and wanting. "You're clean, so I should be, too."
"You're just gonna strip in front of me?"
"I can. I have no problem showing you..." I said, realizing how that must have sounded to her, like I was a true asshole calling her out on her fears, but that was not how she reacted.
She leaned in closer to me, breathing deeply before asking what I'd done that day, and I swear she moaned when I told her. Finally, she pushed me back, starting to slip down from the counter, her voice sounding almost pained.
"Edward, let me out of here...please. I can't look and not fucking touch. That's torture."
I backed away from her because I didn't want her uncomfortable and pressed myself against the wall behind me. I wanted to give her space to leave the room so I could finish my shower; instead, she reached out and touched me.
I wanted grab her, take her against the wall behind me, when her hand shot out to grab the front of my open jeans. I couldn't help but wrap my arms around her because I couldn't let her touch leave my skin as she dragged her lips up the side of my neck. I felt my cock twitch with every breath that she feathered against my skin.
I wanted to do things to my girl that I had no business thinking about because she so wasn't ready, but the more she touched, the more I wanted her, almost to the point of losing control. When she caught sight of my erection, I knew I had to stop her because there would be no going back. I had to stop her because I was about five seconds from yanking her robe open, and that would have been the worst mistake I could ever make with her. I couldn't let that happen.
"Why do we do this to each other?" she whispered, turning away from me, and I felt like a fucking asshole because she was using me as a distraction.
I couldn't let her think she'd done something wrong...because she hadn't. At all. So I wrapped her up before she made it to the door, explaining that it was just the way we worked, the way we dealt with issues. It may not have been perfect, but it was perfect for us.
I kissed the back of her head, inhaling the sweet scent of her shampoo as she apologized needlessly. She said it was cruel, but to me, it was never cruel. It was fun pushing her buttons, seeing what reactions she'd throw back at me, and it wasn't as if she couldn't dish it out, as well. She was dead sexy all the time, but when she fucking tried to flirt, she was breathtaking.
"But a helluva lot of fun," I told her honestly with a chuckle. "Now...out. And when I'm...hmmm, done in here, we'll work on the more serious shit, Bella."
I hurried through my shower routine, just to make sure she didn't have time to think too hard about what we were about to do, but by the time I stepped out of the bathroom, I could see the fear starting to creep back in. She was pacing, tapping that tube of cream against her knuckles. She was worrying the fuck out of that bottom lip of hers, her brow furrowed.
I was in just a towel, but I walked straight to the bed and sat down. "Bella, come here," I sighed, tilting my head at her as she came to a standstill in front of me, where I took her hands in mine, setting the cream beside me on the bed. "What about this has you this worried, baby? It's just me."
"This is...different," she whispered, wrinkling her nose and looking out the window behind me. "I used to be...proud of my appearance, but not anymore."
"I'm already impressed, love," I chuckled, kissing her lips softly. "I'm a sure thing. I think you're beautiful, no matter what..."
She smiled sadly, cupping my face. "I...umm... That's not the point, Edward," she huffed, tears filling her eyes. "I disgust myself, despite the fact that I should just be grateful I'm in one fucking piece."
I pulled her closer, sitting her down on my lap sideways and kissing her temple. "But you're forgetting something, baby," I whispered in her ear, smiling a little when she turned to me. "I've already seen you. And I saw you at the worst.
"Look," I sighed, when she didn't get it. I opened her robe just on her legs, exposing the long gash on her thigh that, to me, seemed to be the worst one on her – and the first one we'd conquered. I traced my finger down its length, looking back at her face. "They're already lighter. Can't you tell?"
"No," she sighed, but then shrugged. "Maybe...but I thought it was wishful thinking."
"Nope." I chuckled, kissing her cheek and picking up the tube of cream. "This shit's working, love. So...my point is that if this one is lighter, then the rest are, too. Including the ones I haven't seen. Even still, I saw them as wounds, baby, so this..." I traced my finger down the scar again. "This will always look so much fucking better than the way I first saw you."
Her gaze left where my fingers were on her leg and met mine. She studied my face for what seemed like forever, but finally, she nodded, reaching for the belt of her robe. That's when she froze, her eyes squeezing shut.
"Hey, don't do that," I chided softly, nuzzling her cheek with my nose. "You look at me. Right here," I told her, pointing to my face. "In fact, let's fix it so all you see is me."
I shifted her around on my lap so that she was straddling my thighs, her robe opening a bit, but it didn't matter. What mattered was the deep chocolate pools that were locked with every movement I made. I untied the robe's belt and let it fall to the sides, but my eyes never left hers.
"I love you," I told her, trying to ease her shaking.
"Edward, I love you, too, but you have to do this another way..." she cried, gripping my biceps with more strength than I was expecting.
"Tell me, Bella. I'll do this any way you want me to," I urged her, placing a soft kiss to her lips, "but you can get through this next phase."
She opened her mouth to speak but shook her head when nothing would come out. Instead, she crashed her lips into mine, almost knocking me back. I caught her by the waist and knew immediately what she was seeking – a distraction. She wanted to lose herself in us, just to make it easier.
"Just...do it, Edward," she breathed against my mouth, her eyes fierce, determined, but she was still trembling when my hands made contact with her thighs.
I kissed her again, taking my time with long, slow, languid kisses. I wanted to slow her down, make sure she was focused on feeling and not just kissing, though I could barely think straight.
Continuing up her thighs, I spread my fingers wide, touching as much skin as I possibly could. I touched everything that we'd overcome – her thighs, her stomach, her back, and perfect ass, though the latter was covered in what I was sure was cotton underwear that would make me lose my mind; I hadn't looked to be sure. I skimmed my fingers around her ribs, groaning when her hips finally rolled over mine.
"Mm, fuck, baby," I growled, breaking from her mouth and lightly tracing my thumbs just under her breasts. "You feel so fucking good, love."
"Don't stop," she breathed, finally relinquishing her hold on my arms and ghosting them up to my shoulders so that she could roll her hips again, this time with so much more force. "I want to feel you, not him."
My mouth met hers again, wet and warm, with our tongues swirling in the middle of it all. With one last turn of my head, I moved my hands, cupping both of her breasts at once.
Her breath caught in her throat, causing her to pull away from me with a gasp. She pressed her forehead to mine, her eyes squeezing closed again.
"Oh, hell no," I purred, nipping at her chin lightly. "Me, Bella. You watch this...because you feel amazing."
I flattened my palms over her, smiling when both nipples pebbled up to hard peaks. I skimmed over them, pushing the robe off her shoulders and letting it drop behind her.
We both froze.
"Edward," she whispered, though I could barely hear her.
"I'm right here," I told her, kissing her again while letting my hands resume their position. "If you don't believe me, feel me."
She exhaled roughly through her nose but removed her hands from my shoulders, gliding down my arms to my hands, where she cupped her breasts with me. When she finally looked, I could almost see the tension leave her, and her hands shot to my face.
"More," she growled, pressing her forehead to mine, but I needed to move her.
With one swift move, I rolled her onto her back and loomed over her, finally taking a moment to look at her. Really look at her.
"Fuck me," I whispered, shaking my head. "You're so beautiful, Bella."
I leaned onto one elbow, leaving one hand free to continue to touch her. The scar cream had to be fucking working because for the life of me, I could only see the faintest of marks on her. What I did see were perfectly round breasts with rosy nipples that were just fucking begging to be kissed.
"More?" I verified with her before leaning in closer, but I wasn't sure at this point I could be stopped.
"Yes," she squeaked, writhing under me, but it seemed the moment I leaned over her, she relaxed, because my towel was suddenly...gone.
"That's not fair, Bella," I growled, looking up at her through my eyelashes. "We're entering really dangerous ground here. Tell me what more is, love," I said a little too harshly, but she only smiled back at me as I bent lower and lower to the nipple that was calling for me to suck it.
I locked my eyes with hers, waiting for her answer, licking my lips. "I want to taste you, baby," I told her, trying to help her. "Can I do that?"
"Yes," she whispered with a nod.
I don't know what I was thinking, if either of us was thinking at all, because as soon as my lips surrounded her peak, we both lost control. Bella arched beautifully off the bed, and she ground her wet heat against my bare thigh.
I switched to her other nipple, swirling my tongue around it just to see her reaction, and it was just as beautiful. Her head fell back, her mahogany curls splayed around her as she cried out my name, but it was her grip on my hair, holding me to her, that let me know we were...good.
"Fuck, Edward," she growled, almost pulling me to her lips by my hair.
"Tell me to stop, love," I begged her; otherwise, I was about to do something we would both regret.
"I can't," she huffed, almost like she was laughing, and when I looked up at her, she was wearing that same fucking pride-filled smile. "I need...fuck, I want..." she sputtered, finally just gripping my hand by the wrist.
She skimmed my hand down her stomach, my fingertips just barely sneaking under the elastic of her bright pink underwear, and I froze.
"They stay on, but damn it...do something..."
I grinned at her desperation but more at her determination to overcome all her fears because she was pulling and tugging at me.
I knelt over her, bracing my hand at her head while the other traced the edge of her underwear. Just as I slipped under, I hissed when her warm hands wrapped around my already aching, leaking dick.
"Is that the game we're playing, Bella?" I asked her through gritted teeth.
"Together," she panted, nodding fervently.
As soon as my fingers slipped through her warm folds, I was on a mission, because she was so fucking wet. I swirled my middle finger over her clit, and her grip and rhythm on my cock made my eyes roll back into my head.
"One day..." she panted, looking up at me, her hips raising off the bed.
"Tell me," I growled, finally slipping a finger deep within her, my thumb pressing just where she needed it most. "What would you do to me, Bella?"
"Everything," she whined. "I'd lick you, suck you, fuck you, and tease you. I'd want you in me on every surface of wherever we are at the time. I'd sneak in your shower, wake you up, riding you hard...nowhere would be safe, Edward. I'd want you in your car, my car – definitely my car – the barn, that bathroom, the sofa, but most of all... Do you have any idea where I want you the most?" she asked me, licking her lips and rubbing her thumb across the head of my dick, making me moan out loud.
"N-No," I sputtered, adding a second finger inside her and reveling in how tight and wet and warm she was. I couldn't wait to sink balls deep into her. "Where?"
"Fuck, if I don't want you in your helicopter, Edward..." she purred, making herself groan at the thought.
"Goddamn," I snarled, my head falling back because I was damn close to coming. "Please, please say my house..."
"Oh, yeah," she whimpered, looking up at me. "Fuck, baby...so close...with me."
"Wait for me, love. I promise it'll be worth it," I told her, curling my fingers inside of her just right until she cried out my name again. "Mmhmm, fuck, my name sounds good like that..."
I leaned over her, capturing her mouth with mine for a brief but deep kiss, nibbling on her bottom lip. "Now, Bella, come for me now," I commanded, pressing my own hips into her hand.
Bella shattered with a curse and my name, her walls clenching down on my fingers, and I buried my face in her neck, feeling myself release all over her stomach. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" I growled, squeezing my eyes closed for a minute because I was seeing stars.
Bella grabbed the towel I'd had on and cleaned us up, but I didn't want to go far. I pulled her to me, nuzzling her hair and placing random kisses to her forehead.
"Love you," I whispered, still breathing heavily.
"Mmhm," she sighed, curling into my side and kissing my neck, but she groaned.
"What?" I asked her, pulling her face back so I could see her. "Did I hurt you?"
"No," she snickered, rolling her now warm chocolate eyes. "We forgot the medicine..."
I snorted but nodded, grabbing the tube from the edge of the bed. "Okay, but I think we've crossed another fear off your list," I groaned when I moved to start what we had originally set out to do, though it turned out infinitely better than I'd imagined. "There's only one more, Bella," I told her, raising an eyebrow at her as I squeezed the cream onto my fingers.
Starting at her thigh, I covered every scar. Her stomach, ribs, even the faded ones on her breasts and sternum. I handed the cream over to her because I knew that there were more on her hips and below her bellybutton.
She grabbed my hand, squeezing the cream out onto the tips of my fingers. Lifting her underwear, she guided my hand blindly, but there were only three scars covered by the last of her clothing. She looked up at me, capping the tube. I could almost tell what she was thinking.
"Next time, these come off, don't they?" I asked, wincing at her slightly fearful expression as I tugged playfully at her panties.
"Yeah," she sighed, wrapping her arms around my neck. "And when they do," she said, kissing my lips softly, "I want you to make love to me, Edward..."

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