Tuesday, April 10, 2001 | By: Drotuno

Blood & Glory Chapter 18

"Edward," Bella started, but I was too angry to even see straight. "You're coming with me?" she asked, her hand frozen over her bag on the bed.
I wasn't sure what I was pissed about, but the thought of her leaving me, of just walking away – despite how utterly fucking dangerous it was for her to be alone, not to mention that close to Miller – made me possessive, livid, and just about explosive. Nothing could fucking happen to her. Period.
"Yes." It was all I could say because anything more, and I wasn't sure what would come out of my mouth; my internal filter was smoldering and slowly burning away.
"Why?" I growled, spinning around in front of her. "Do you honestly believe I could fucking let you do this on your own, Bella?" I asked her incredulously, holding up my hand when she opened her mouth. "Yes, I'm well aware that you can handle yourself. Yes, I'm completely convinced that I've lost total control of my own life since you've fallen into it. But...fuck, love! I can't just let you go out there alone. I would go fucking insane." I sat down hard on the edge of the bed, fisting my hair in my hands.
"Edward," Bella whispered, and I felt her lips press to the top of my head.
I looked up at her, shaking my head. "You don't fucking understand, Bella. You don't. I just can't let you go."
"Thank you," she whispered, biting on her bottom lip as her brow wrinkled. "Will they be okay without you here?"
I snorted but nodded because my crew was strong, even without my presence. "I'll have to leave instructions with Alec. And I'm sending my dad an email, Bella," I warned her, pointing a finger at her. "So don't be surprised when he reams both our asses."
She grinned, nodding, and grabbed my pointing finger. "We'll go straight there, I promise. We'll be gone...three days, at most."
I humphed, rolling my eyes. Three days. Anything could happen in three fucking days – to any of us. I stood up, kissed her forehead, and continued to pack my bag, but Bella stopped me.
"Go...do what you have to do," she sighed, pulling my bag toward her. "I've got this."
I nodded, wanting to stop her, wanting to keep her in that room where she was safe, but it was hard to ignore the instructions of a parent, especially when they were basically dying fucking wishes. I couldn't fault her for wanting to do what Charlie had asked of her, nor could I even begin to understand what she was feeling or thinking. We'd promised her that her dad would be safe, and now he was dead. I knew my own father must've been feeling like shit right about now because he loved Charlie and Bella like they were his blood.
I walked out of the room and down the hallway. I found just about everyone still up, despite the late hour. They were sitting around the dining room table in perfect silence until I walked in.
Esme rushed to me, cupping my face. "How is she?"
"She's...packing," I snorted, holding up my hands when all of them starting asking questions all at once. "Just...wait," I growled, turning back to Esme. "Apparently, Charlie made her promise that if something were to happen to him, she would go get something he left her."
"Edward, that's insane," Emmett growled. "You can't just let her go!"
"I'm not," I sighed, running a hand through my hair. "I'm taking her."
"It's in the tree house," Rose said softly, looking up from the computer screen that she and Alice had been studying. "I don't know what it is, but that's where he left it. She told me just after Charlie was taken into custody."
"I know," I groaned, shaking my head, but then I turned to Alice. "Pixie, I need you to send a message to my dad. Tell him we'll be gone no more than three days. Any longer than that, and we'll send another message. Can you rig Bella's laptop like yours?"
"It already is," she chirped, closing one of the computers in front of her and handing it to me. "Email only, okay? No Skype, no Facebook. Just email."
"Yes, ma'am," I conceded.
Then I turned to Alec. "I need you here," I told him. "I need you in charge in case something stupid happens."
Alec's face twisted into a wry smile. "Sure, Ed. Your father's gonna be pissed, you know."
"I'm aware," I grunted. "But if I don't take her, she'll go on her own, and I can't have that, either."
I turned back to Alice one more time. "Alice, I need to get through the border, so could you also send a message to Benny? I need to know exactly how to get through without detection."
"Edward," Jasper huffed, folding his arms across his chest. "Your faces are everywhere, dude. How are you going to get through?"
"I don't know," I said with a shrug, "but I owe it to her to try, Jasper. We promised her her father's safety, and she watched – on fucking TV – Charlie get shot in the goddamn head. At this point, she can have my fucking liver."
Esme snorted but caught herself. "Edward, this hasn't hit her yet, so you need to be prepared, sweetie."
"I know," I sighed, looking up when Kate got up from the table.
She walked silently to what looked like a pantry door and pulled on the shelves. They swung out of the closet on a hinge, revealing a cache of weapons. She opened a drawer, pulling out what looked to be two old cell phones.
"Here," she said, shoving one in my hands. "These are untraceable and throw away, if you need it, but only in an emergency," she said, turning on the one in her own hands. "If you need us, or we need you...then it's instant communication. Only call this phone, okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said with a nod. "Got it."
She rattled off the number several times for the phone she would keep there, making me repeat it until I had it cemented in my memory.
"Edward, how do you plan on doing this? You have to know that someone's watching Charlie's house for her," Alec stated, starting to pace in the kitchen.
"We'll wait until nightfall, park away from the house, and go in silently. I don't think we need to get inside the house – just the tree house," I replied, and he nodded, like he'd expected as much.
"And if something goes wrong?" Mickey asked, taking a long draw from her soda but glaring at me.
"I'll hide us at my house."
Jasper snorted, rolling his eyes. "Well, they'll have a bitch of a time getting to you there."
"I don't like us separating, Ed," Emmett growled, shaking his head. "It's too far away, and it doesn't give us enough time to get to you, because they're fucking looking for you, man."
"I'll get us back here," I countered, "even if I have to fly us back."
Emmett huffed but stood up. "Fine, let's get you geared up," he said, leading me out of the kitchen and through the back door to his Jeep.
Once out to the SUV, Emmett opened the back door, lifting the false floor to reveal all of his "toys." He snatched a pair of binoculars, two radio ear pieces, and two extra guns – forty fives. He also grabbed some ammo, two extra clips, and two black Kevlar vests, throwing them all in a bag for me.
"You need to be careful, Eddie," he said with a frown as we walked back toward the house. "I understand what you're doing because Charlie was well aware of just what danger he'd put his daughter in. When we had him those first few days, he was crazed about her – where she was, who was taking care of her. But mostly...he was wondering what would happen to her if he were to get killed. If he told her to do something, then it's important, because he wanted to keep this shit as far from her as he could, though the timing fucking sucks..."
I looked over at Emmett, who on a normal basis wasn't so insightful, but I'd forgotten that he and Mickey had picked up Charlie Swan at the same time my father and I had gone on the hunt for Bella. I took a deep breath and nodded at him before walking back into the house.
"What the hell, Bella?" Mack yelled, having joined the group in the kitchen.
She hadn't been in there earlier, and from the looks of it, we'd woken her up, because she was in sweats and a T-shirt, her hair in some sort of twisted knot on the top of her head.
"You're practically walking into their hands, Bellsy!" she snapped again.
Bella was shaking her head back and forth, her hands on Makenna's shoulders. "Stop, Mack. We won't be seen. We won't be gone long. I just need to see what my dad left me," she said, her voice breaking on that last sentence.
I had a feeling Bella was barely clinging to her composure at this point and that she wanted to stay strong.
"Bella, if we're doing this, we need to get on the road," I told her gently, trying to give her an out.
"'Kay," she sighed, nodding slowly, but she turned back to her girls. "We'll be back. Stay here, and we'll get you a message soon."
There were hugs all around, and then we walked out to the cars. Bella started for her car, but I stopped her.
"No, baby," I said, guiding her past the Mustang. "Mine. No offense, and as sexy as you are driving that, it's a giant neon sign pointing that you've come home," I whispered in her ear.
She grimaced, giving her car one last glance, and nodded as she walked to my car. "You're right. Thanks for doing this."
I took a deep breath once we were seated in my car and looked over at her. "Let's just hope that whatever Charlie left you is worth this shit," I told her, my voice sounding way too harsh inside the confines of the car.
She flinched, nodding silently.
"But Bella, there's not anything I wouldn't do for you, okay?" I asked her softly, hoping she knew this. I picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles. "Anything, love," I urged, kissing them again.
"Thank you, Edward," she sighed, but I could see her fighting her tears as we backed out. "I love you so much...you have no idea..."
"Edward," Bella sobbed in her sleep, and not for the first fucking time.
She'd fallen quiet when we left my aunt's farm and stayed that way just about the whole way out of the state. At some point after we'd crossed into Canada, she'd fallen asleep, but her nightmares were atrocious. I would soothe her as best I could, and she would quiet down with the sound of my voice or the touch of my fingers to her face, but I didn't tell her about it once she woke up.
She took the wheel at one point, and I had to distract myself by looking out the window, trying my damnedest not to think inappropriate thoughts of just how fucking good she looked behind the wheel of my car. I finally forced myself to nap, trusting that she would wake me before the U.S. border, which she did.
We stopped long enough to check emails, grab something to eat, and use the restroom before I took back the wheel to drive us through the border gate that Benny had secured for us.
It was on the ferry back into Washington that Bella's nightmares returned, and I just couldn't take it anymore. We hadn't gotten out of the car this time, in order to just stay hidden, so I just scooted my seat back, finally giving in to what I'd been wanting to do since my name had sadly escaped her lips the first time I'd heard it. I pulled her across the console and into my lap, waking her in the process, but she clung to me like a lifeline.
"Shh, baby, I've got you," I sighed, burying my nose in her hair as her sleepy cries changed into fully-awake sobs. "I'm so sorry, sweetness," I whispered, using the term of endearment that had become a joke between us ever since the law office we'd gone to together. I used it because she was so very sweet, sad, and strong...and didn't deserve a fucking bit of anything that was happening to her – most of all, the loss of her father.
"He's gone, Edward," she sobbed into my neck, her little hands gripping at my shirt sleeves. "We'll never get to fix shit between us. He probably died thinking I hated him..."
"No, baby, he could never think that," I groaned, holding her tighter because she shook like she was falling apart. "His sole concern was for your safety, Bella. He made my dad and me swear to keep you safe. He didn't want his mistakes or whatever decisions he'd made to hurt you. I could see how much he loved you, despite how mad you were. He didn't even care about that. Every time he looked at you, it was with pride and awe, baby."
"He was the last of my family," she cried, sitting up straighter. "What do I do now?"
I reached up, cupping her face and wiping her tears away with my thumbs. And God, if she wasn't beautiful and heartbreaking – and everything I never knew to want; at that moment, I'd do just about anything to take away her sadness.
"You're not alone, love. Ever. You have your girls, and you have me and my dad," I soothed her, tucking her hair behind her ears. "I'm not going anywhere, Bella. Even when this is over – and it will be over someday – I'll still want to be with you," I confessed. Though I wasn't sure this was the right time for that particular conversation, I wanted her to know. I never wanted her to ever feel that she was alone. "I love you so much, and that's not going to stop once this is over."
Bella's eyes were red-rimmed and slightly puffy, but she nodded, still looking a little lost. "Love you, too," she breathed, her voice barely there.
"And you'll do whatever it is that you want to do, baby," I whispered, leaning in to kiss her lips softly. "I'm pretty sure there isn't much you can't do," I said with a smirk, tilting my head at her.
She huffed a bit, her lip trembling and her eyes welling up. "I don't know what to feel," she whispered, looking around when the ferry started to dock. "I was mad at Charlie for so long..."
I frowned, helping her back into her seat, but I kept her facing me. "You've only just lost him, love. Take a deep breath, and just give yourself some time, okay?" I asked, and she nodded, swiping at her tears. "Good girl," I sighed, kissing the side of her head. "Now, let's find some place to lay low until the sun goes down, shall we?"
"This is your 'hood, baby," Edward sighed in my ear as we both looked out over the darkened streets. "What's the best way in?"
I took a deep breath, holding the binoculars up to my face. We were one street over from my father's place, but it was the backyard I needed to get to, so I'd been thinking about cutting through the neighbors' yards like I'd done as a kid.
My heart twinged at the thought because I'd now lost the last connection to my childhood. My mom was gone, Jane was gone, and now, Charlie was gone, and I had to force myself focus on the task at hand in order not to curl up in Edward's lap and just cry the rest of the night away; in all reality, it was taking everything I had not to do just that. He'd held me each time I'd lost it, and it was a level of comfort like I'd never known. I knew he was uncomfortable, but you wouldn't know it because he'd been sweet, and kind, and so very soothing. He'd told me how much my father had worried about me, that he'd been proud of me and completely frantic about my safety. No matter how angry I'd been at Charlie, my father still loved me.
I took a deep breath, swallowing the sob that wanted to escape, forcing back the urge to just bury myself in Edward's embrace and let it all out. Again. I looked out the window to make sure there no one was watching us.
There was absolutely no movement on the street I'd grown up on. It was one o'clock in the morning, and it was deadly silent and so very still, but if we got out of the car, the street lights would still reveal us, despite the fact that we were both dressed head to toe in black – including Edward's backwards black baseball cap, which I'd come to realize he wore every time we had a situation like this.
I pulled out a drawing I'd hurriedly sketched out on a restaurant napkin when we'd stopped the last time. "Look," I said, pointing to where we were. "If we cut through these two backyards and cross over here, we'll come out in Charlie's side yard. The tree house is right there," I explained, looking up at Edward's handsome face. "The Crowders never had good lighting back there, and the Schwartzes have enough shrubbery to start their own nursery..."
Edward snorted, looking up from the crude map I'd drawn; it wasn't a Monet, but it had gotten my point across. "You sound like you know this from experience, Bella," he noted, his mouth curling into a wry smile.
"There was...a guy," I sighed, shoving him slightly when he started to chuckle. "Jane didn't like him much, and she grounded me..." I grinned over at him as he continued to laugh. "There were parties that Rose and I just had to go to..."
"Such a bad girl, baby," he snorted, kissing the side of my neck. "Sneaking out to meet boys... It makes me wish we'd stayed in contact..."
"Yeah," I sighed wistfully, pulling back to look at him. "Yeah, me, too."
As I gazed at him, it seemed that our minds were running along the same track, because I wondered if had we stayed friends, stayed in contact, would we still have fallen in love? Would we have dated in high school, even with the slight long distance? And the one that made my heart clench with want and desire and a touch of regret... Would we have been each other's firsts? First kisses, first dates, and first time making love...
"Would you have snuck out to see me, Bella?" he chuckled, his tongue gliding along his bottom lip and proving my theory that we were thinking the same thing.
"Maybe," I teased, kissing his cheek as he gasped dramatically. "But I would've definitely snuck you in..."
He laughed, nodding, and then took the binoculars from me. "I don't see any movement, love, so whenever you're ready, we can go."
"'Kay," I told him, quietly opening my car door.
We bolted into a dark side yard, and Edward whispered, "Weapon out, baby. I don't know if someone's watching for us or not, but I don't want to take any chances, okay?"
I nodded, pulling out my nine mil, but aware that the forty-five that Emmett had given him was still at the small of my back. "Ready?" I asked him, looking over my shoulder.
"I'll follow you," he said, his body lining up behind mine. "You seem to be the expert on sneaking in and out of your house."
I grinned and darted for the Crowder backyard. They hadn't changed a thing. It was still dark, still without any flood lights to reveal us, and I led us quietly to the back corner of their property, where we needed to climb the fence. Edward hopped over it with ease, reaching for me once he was on the other side and setting me down gently.
Mrs. Schwartz had always had a green thumb, and when I was younger, I'd helped tend to her flowers during many a spring, so I knew that there was plenty of space between her rose bushes and the back wooden fence. It was the far corner of the wooden fence I needed.
I came to a stop, trying to remember which wooden plank Rose and I had loosened all those years ago. "Which one is it?" I thought out loud, finally finding the knot we'd used to tug it. "Ah, still there," I said with a grin, hooking my finger into the board and swinging it just enough for us to squeeze through.
"This must've been some guy," Edward muttered wryly.
"Mmhm," I sighed dramatically, fighting my smile. "He was really hot..."
Edward huffed, and for the first time, I could see he might be a touch jealous, so I spun in front of him, grabbing his face.
"Nowhere near as hot as you, baby," I purred, looking up at him through my eyelashes. "If you'd been around, he wouldn't have stood a chance, Edward..."
I watched him fight his smile, tilt his head, and swallow thickly before leaning in close to my ear. "If I had been around...you wouldn't have even known he existed. I would have ruined you for other boys, Bella."
"You still have time to ruin me, baby," I whispered against his lips. "Any ideas on how you plan to do that?"
He snorted, shook his head once as if to clear it, and gazed down at me with dark, lust-filled eyes. "Oh yes, ma'am," he rumbled, his top lip almost in a sneer, and fuck, if it wasn't sexy. "Remind me to give you my...hmm, game plan later, sweetness."
I laughed softly, diving into my father's backyard. My tree house was in the opposite corner of the yard, but the problem was that Charlie had installed motion lights.
"Never had to get to the tree house," I muttered, studying the yard. "I only needed to get to the trellis that led up to my bedroom window."
"Hmm, and it would have been the tree house I would've rather met you in," he chuckled, turning me along the inside of the fence. "Move slow, keep away from the sensor, and we should be fine.
We edged slowly around my old backyard, darting up the tree house's ladder as quickly as possible. I drew the blinds before flicking on a small flashlight.
"Fuck, this thing hasn't changed one bit," Edward muttered, looking around the space where we'd hung out for the first and only time. "Did you ever get to see Alcatraz, baby?" he asked in a whisper, still staring around at all of my travel posters.
"No," I snickered, shaking my head and looking around for anything that might have been out of place – something that my father would have left. "I worked in San Francisco but never made it to any attractions," I whispered, shifting through pillows, piles of magazines, and old CDs. "And Charlie promised to take me to Paris, but he never did." I froze at just how bitter that sounded, my eyes flying to Edward's flinching gaze. "Damn it," I sighed, blinking hard to fight the tears.
"Hey," he whispered, crawling to my side. "What are we looking for in here? I want us out of this place ASAP."
"I don't know," I sniffled, sitting back on my heels, my eyes falling onto the bookcase. "He didn't tell me what to look for...just that he'd put something in here. The cryptic bastard," I growled, suddenly and inexplicably angry with Charlie. Edward's silent kiss to the side of my head helped calm me down.
Edward was quiet as I ran through the titles and authors on my bookshelves, remembering every book like an old friend. My maturity could almost be tracked with the novels that lined my shelves – Beverly Cleary, The Hardy Boys, Stephen King, and Anne Rice. There were classics and non-fiction, but there was one title that stood out: The Wizard of Oz. My own worn-out copy was with my things at Rose's apartment. This copy looked brand new.
I reached out and took the book down, noticing instantly that it wasn't a book at all. It was a storage box that was made to look like a book. My dad had chosen that particular title because he'd called me "munchkin" my whole life, it seemed. It was the perfect fucking hiding spot because only I would notice its appearance, its newness in comparison to the rest of my books.
"Oh, Dad," I sighed, shaking my head and cracking open the box at the same time.
Inside was a manila envelope and what looked like a letter folded in half on top. I didn't even have to open it to recognize my father's heavy-handed script that raised up on the other side of the paper. I took it out with shaky fingers, but Edward's hands covered mine.
"No, baby," he whispered, shaking his head. "Not here. We'll go somewhere safe, but I'm not having you read this shit here. Okay?"
"Safe? Where?"
"Just...let's go," he commanded, closing the storage box and stowing it in the bag he had on his shoulder. "I feel like we're being watched or some shit, love. It's making me fucking nervous. I swear we aren't alone out here."
I nodded, swallowing thickly, and looked out the window before scurrying back down the ladder. We backtracked around the yard, through the neighbor's garden, only to come to a halt back at the edge of the Crowder's side yard. I could see Edward's car, but I could also see what was making him completely still, completely silent, as he held up a finger to his lips. He pointed to the sidewalk just on the other side of his car, and I saw what he was talking about. A shadow. Someone was up at nearly two o'clock in the morning.
The person continued down the sidewalk at almost a leisurely pace, like they were waiting for something to happen. They seemed to be waiting for us.
Edward turned in front of me, his mouth right by my ear. "These streets," he whispered oh-so-softly. "Do they all end up at that main road we turned off of, Bella?"
I nodded, taking the bag he'd just pulled off of his shoulder. "Yeah... What are you doing?"
"I'm going to run past this asshole. If he gives chase, we'll know he's watching for us. But that will also give you enough time to get in the car and take off. Meet me at that gas station on the corner."
I frowned, but I knew better than to argue at this point because he was right in his planning. If the guy took off after him, that gave me the clear to get in the car. It focused the attention on Edward, not me, and by the time the guy realized it was a ruse, I would already be picking Edward up two blocks away.
"You...be fast," I growled at him with a raised eyebrow and then rolled my eyes when he grinned smugly.
"Oh, baby, I'm fast at everything except sex. With that, I like taking my time," he rumbled in my ear before leaving an open-mouthed kiss to my neck. "I can't fucking wait to show you that..."
"He's the devil," I stated to myself with the silliest of grins on my face, watching him run stealthily away. "But fuck, I love him, anyway..."
I shouldered his bag, watching through the binoculars as Edward pretended to jog past the nighttime wanderer. The guy's reaction was instant. I faintly heard a curse, saw the guy reach for a gun and take off after Edward, but the latter was indeed quicker than the former, and soon, I had the silent street to myself.
I darted from my hiding spot, hitting the button on the key to unlock the doors. I was in and had the engine cranked before the door was even closed.
As quietly as I could, I tore through my old neighborhood, not wanting to wake anyone but also not wanting to leave Edward hanging too long. A right, a left, and another left, and I was back at the entrance to my father's community. I could see the gas station from there to my left, and I practically spun the wheels of the Charger when two shadows – one right after the other – darted across the street a few houses down.
I turned into the gas station, practically taking out Edward's pursuer as I spun the car between them.
Edward barely had the door open before he was yelling, "Go, go, go!"
What I noticed immediately was that, despite the gun in the other man's hand, he wasn't shooting at us. At all. At any point, he probably could have taken Edward out, but he hadn't.
"Fed?" I asked Edward, spinning the wheels to tear out of that gas station.
"No fucking clue," he said, maneuvering in his seat to look behind us.
"Tell me where I'm going," I said, turning out onto the main road, leaving the guy that had been chasing Edward in the dust.
"Take the highway south," he panted, taking off his hat and raking his hands through his sweaty hair. "Then take the 101."
"Where are we going?" I asked, looking away from the highway to look over at him.
"My house."
By the time Edward told me to slow the car down, the sun was trying to peak out over the trees. And that's all I saw: trees. When he'd told me that Forks was quiet, small, and nothing but surrounding forests, I'd only half believed him because it had seemed unreal that I'd ever see it, but pulling off a deserted paved road onto what seemed to be a dead end, it all came to fruition.
Edward dug around in his glove box and pulled out a garage door opener, and what I'd thought was shrubs and a dead end was really a gate that slowly started to slide open. I was barely through it when he hit the button again, safely concealing us as I drove down a long, winding driveway.
"Park over there," he said, his voice soft, almost sounding unsure, as he pointed toward a smaller building. "Th-This is g-good, love."
I had to fight my smile because his stutter told me everything. He was showing me something that was close to him, something hardly anyone saw, and he was nervous.
I got out of the car, looking around as I walked to the back of the car to get my things. The air smelled so fresh, so clean. The building we were parked behind must have been his workshop because there was saw dust and chips of wood around the doors. I tried to imagine what was in there – what unfinished projects he had waiting for his knowledgeable hands to pick up where they'd left off.
But it was his house my eyes fell on, almost making me trip on the way up the walk. To say it was beautiful wouldn't have been correct; neither would the word cute have given it the justice it deserved. It was just...perfect. It wasn't audacious, or too small, but it seemed to have its own personality. It was an older home – white, with dark blue trim and shutters, and a small front porch decorated with a few plants, a couple of rockers, and a swing. The roof was gray but shaded by large trees with long overhanging branches. On the right side of the steps, an American flag hung still in the morning air.
"That's...really pretty, Edward," I murmured, looking up at him as he tugged his keys out of his pocket.
He smiled shyly, turning the key in the lock. "Thanks," he said, opening the door. "Let me give you the tour, then," he snickered, disengaging the security system, "and we'll get you somethin' to eat, 'cause I'm starving."
I smiled, looking around his home. "'Kay," I sighed distractedly because I couldn't quite figure out his taste.
It seemed to be an eclectic collection of just...stuff. I could tell he'd made most of his furniture because the pieces seemed to fit him just perfectly. They were masculine, but with clean lines and a dark stain. The living room was a mix of new, old, and just...male, because there was a ginormous flatscreen TV in the middle of a bookcase that took up the entire length of the wall. Every shelf was filled with something – DVDs, CDs, framed pictures, Air Force medals and memories, books, and a large stereo.
The sofa and chair were modern and leather, but the throw on the arm of the couch looked old and maybe handmade. The art on the wall was even more of a mixture. There was a large modern painting over the sofa that seemed to pull all of his colors together, but over the chair was what looked like a collection of aerial shots – not only of his home, but the farm in Alaska, the cabin in the mountains, and a few other places that I didn't recognize.
"My dad took those," he explained from behind me. "I'd flown him up with his camera. The first one...this one," he said, pointing to his own home, "was the first one we'd tried. We were trying to scope out how secure this place would be. It came out so cool that he wanted to add to them."
I smiled, turning around to the bookcase, but was stopped.
"You can snoop later, love," he chuckled, kissing my head and guiding me through the room. "I need a shower and food. What do you say?"
"You're giving me permission to snoop? Me? You know it's what I do for a living, Edward," I teased him, coming to a standstill in the kitchen.
"I'm aware of what you do," he snorted, rolling his eyes. "If I were hiding something, I'm pretty sure you'd have wormed it out of me by now. This is the kitchen."
It was stunning, modern, and a chef's haven. The cabinets, which I was sure he'd made himself, were a light cherry finish, topped with dark marble counters. Every appliance was shiny, silver, and looked brand new.
"Whoa," I huffed, my eyebrows raising up. "That's amazing."
"Told you that it was the first room I redid," he chuckled. "Keep going."
He guided me down the hall, showing me the guest room and the bathroom, but it was in the master bedroom that our bags finally dropped to the floor – and so did my jaw.
If a room could be described as sexy, then Edward's bedroom was the picture next to the description. It was manly, modern, and saturated with his smell – that clean, freshly-cut wood smell that drove me crazy. His walls were dark blue, and the furniture had a light, clear stain. His king-sized bed was covered in a khaki-colored comforter with navy blue stripes running up the center, with a pile of fluffy pillows at the headboard.
Edward's stomach made a fierce growl, and I giggled, turning to look at him.
He grinned, shrugging, and pointed behind me. "Bathroom's right there, baby. Make yourself at home. I'm going to make something to eat."
"Seriously," I said, still giggling. "You'd better feed that monster..."
"Hush, sweetness," he snorted, rolling his eyes. "A man's gotta eat," he muttered, leaving me alone in his room.
I gave Edward's bed one last glance, barely allowing thoughts of how many – if any – women he'd taken in it. I wasn't normally the jealous type, but looking at that bed, now knowing that man, I couldn't help but think about it. My fears had held me back for far too long, and I wasn't sure if I was jealous of the women Edward was with before me or just their freedom from dark basements and wicked men, their freedom to be with him in every way.
I shook my head and took a deep breath, letting those thoughts go because Esme was right. When I was finally able to be with Edward completely, it would be beyond amazing because it would be a true loving connection.
The bathroom was just as gorgeous as the rest of the house. Again, it was modern, with real wood cabinets, marble tops, and silver accents. As I turned on the shower and undressed, I realized I still had my father's box to go through. With a deep sigh, I stepped under the spray.
I wasn't sure what was making me more nervous – showing Bella my home that I'd never really brought anyone outside of my crew to, or the looming necessity of reading Charlie's letter. I couldn't imagine anything more daunting for her, more terrifying. When she'd said that her father had left her something, I hadn't taken her seriously until Emmett had mentioned it. But watching her face crumble at the sight of that "book" was almost too much for me to bear.
I'd probably been the only person to have seen that beautiful woman at her very fucking worst, and I swore to myself that I'd never let her hurt again, so allowing this next step was going against everything that I'd promised to protect her from.
I was almost sick with nerves as I set a light lunch in front of her so that I could grab a quick shower. I kissed the back of her head on my way by the bar as she opened the computer.
"Just tell them we're safe, baby," I whispered to her, "and that we're at my place for at least another day. You might want to send it to my dad, too."
"'Kay," she sighed, looking up at me. "Are we safe here? I mean, does bringing me here pose a threat to this place...your home, Edward?" she asked, and I could see the worry written all over her face.
I snorted, shaking my head, and said, "You're safe. Trust me. If you think my dad is paranoid when it comes to hiding his properties, then you don't know me. This house is in a name that doesn't even exist on paper." I chuckled at her sweet, wry smile. "You're safe, love. My crew knows it, and you should know it, too."
Her smile grew as she turned around to face me. "So what you're saying is...if I don't send this message...no one will know where we are. Anything could happen to me...as in: my fate rests in your hands..."
I chuckled at her again, kissing her lips. "Hmm...and there's a kidnapping I'm sure you'd enjoy, sweetness. I'd make sure of it," I told her, walking away from her musical laughter.
As I rushed through my shower, I felt a strange sense of home, knowing that Bella was in my house. It was so sudden and so very powerful that I actually had to catch my breath, my forehead thumping to the tile wall. I thought at first it would be unnerving to let her see the real me, but in all reality, she already knew me. Just having her in the one place that I hid myself away from the world was so right, it was all I could do not to rush out to her and beg her to stay, to never leave, even though it wasn't the right time.
I tugged on a pair of old jeans, finding Bella in the living room. She was gazing at my bookcase with a small smile on her face. Everything was displayed in that damn thing – Air Force medals, pictures of my mom and dad, even pictures of Jasper, Emmett, and me overseas.
"You were so handsome in uniform," she muttered, not even bothering to turn around.
I grinned, shaking my head. "Thanks," I muttered, having heard that compliment before from many women; it meant so much more coming from her.
"Do you miss it?" she asked, turning to look at me. "The military, I mean."
"No," I answered honestly. "I don't. I don't miss doing things that don't make sense just because someone told me to..."
She tilted her head at me and nodded, like she understood it, but she couldn't possibly understand everything that went on. Maybe she understood the fighting, the politics, but she couldn't understand what it was like to be the monster that executed hundreds of people just because someone in a big office wanted it done for whatever inane reasons they tried to justify it.
"You have...a beautiful home, baby," she sighed, sitting on the edge of the sofa.
I wanted to fall at her feet and tell her what was mine was hers, that she could stay. I knew it was crazy, that we couldn't stay, but fuck, I hoped for that future with her. I'd joked with Jasper that when this was all over, I was hiding Bella away for a year at this very house, and now, I wasn't sure I was kidding.
"This is...my escape from what I do," I told her, shrugging one shoulder and sitting down next to her. "It's where I come to..." I stalled, not knowing exactly how to put it, but she did.
"Recharge your batteries?" she chuckled, kissing my cheek as I nodded. "Everyone needs a place like that. Mine used to be Esme's house," she said, looking up at me. "Every fight with Jacob or rough job I had, I'd show up at her door with some sort of dessert in hand. We'd drink coffee or wine, sometimes talking it all out or sometimes just ignoring the problems altogether."
I smiled, loving that she and Esme had that type of relationship, that she had found some sort of mother replacement. I had my Aunt Kate, but I was slowly learning to trust Esme myself, and I could see how easy it was to talk to her. She was good for my dad, yes, but she was so very patient and kind with me, which wasn't an easy task. In fact, she and Bella were the only women that had that kind of patience with my temper, my commanding ways, and my pig-headedness.
"Um, do you think..." she whispered, looking up at me but pointing to the book that Charlie had left her.
"This is all you, love," I said, picking it up and handing it to her. "What we do with this is totally up to you."
I watched with fascination as she steeled herself to open the box, the same kind of determination all over her face that she wore when fighting her fear of touch. Her eyes darkened just a bit, but her shaky hands gave away her nerves as she pulled out a folded pile of papers.
I sat back against the arm of the sofa, rearranging her between my legs so that I could hold her because I knew this wasn't going to be easy. Hearing the very last thoughts of a parent that was now suddenly gone forever never was. I ran my hand over her still-damp head, placing a kiss to the back of it. My heart ached for what she was about to hear, and there was a part of me – the irrational, protective, angry part of me – that wanted to shatter that box and set it on fire out in my wood shop.
Bella set the box on her lap and opened what looked like a very long letter. She cleared her throat and started to read.
My Isabella Marie...
If you're reading this, munchkin, then something happened to me, and I'm so, so sorry. I never meant any of this to get near you, Bella. I swear. You have always been, even though I didn't always show it, the very best, most important part of my life. I know most men want sons to pass on their bloodline, but I had never been happier when we found out that your mom and I were having a little girl.
Bella's voice broke, and she passed the letter to me. "I can't, Edward... You have to do this..."
"'Kay, love," I said softly, taking the pages from her and picking up where she'd left off.
I named you Isabella because you were all the most beautiful parts of your mother made over, and I want you to know that I never meant to lie to you, keep anything from you, or hurt you. I really, really never wanted to hurt you, but if you're reading this, then there are things that I need to tell you that you don't know and some things you aren't going to remember because you were so young.
At the time, I considered it a blessing that you didn't remember, and I wanted to keep it that way. I know you think your mother left you, munchkin, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Renee didn't commit suicide, baby; she was murdered, and now that I'm gone, you need to know why...because in order to catch the guy that did it, you're going to need to see this through.
I wrapped my arm around Bella when her breath sucked in so fast, I thought she'd choke. "Easy, baby," I whispered to her. "Let's hear him out, okay?"
She nodded slowly, leaning her temple to my jaw. Her grip on my forearm was almost painful, but I'd take that and more if it made this easier for her.
I never cheated on your mom, Bella. I know that's what you think, but it just isn't true. I wasn't always the best husband and father, but I loved my family, and I was always completely faithful to Renee. All I wanted was to provide a future for you and your mother where you didn't have to worry about money. I wanted to give you everything, and in doing so, I made some huge mistakes in my career.
Before you were born, I met a man that was up and coming in the business world. He was young, willing to back me on a few technological breakthroughs – one of them being new software because computers at the time were becoming more and more used in the business world. As time went on, I saw this man for what he truly was – a criminal – but by then, it was too late. I found out later that he was running prostitutes, gambling rings, and drug deals all over the city of Seattle.
Royce King met your mother at a Twilight Tech Christmas party a few years before you were born. He became obsessed with her, trying his damnedest to take her away from me. He didn't care that they were both married; he didn't care that I threatened his life. He only cared about her.
Rumors started floating around about King, that he was using TT as a way to launder his money. He was using the computers and software we were developing for businesses worldwide to set up small, phony, check printing stations. He'd print fake payroll checks, using his prostitutes to cash them with fake identifications and giving them a percentage of each check they cashed.
When your mother was pregnant with you, munchkin, we thought Royce's infatuation with her was over, but we were wrong. Even after you were born, he still continued to pursue her, all the while using my company as a front. When you were six years old, he followed your mother to her car in the parking garage. Had I not needed to tell her one more thing, I do believe he'd have raped her right there at TT.
Bella, you've told me before that you watched your mother fade away in front you, that you watched her start to drink, become so sad that nothing could reach her. That was the reason. I never cheated, munchkin; she was almost raped by Royce King.
Bella let loose a sob that shattered my heart, and I held her close, knowing there wasn't anything that was good enough to say to her. When she seemed to settle down, I turned her to face me with my fingers under her chin.
"Should I keep going, love? Or do you want to stop for now?" I asked her, kissing her forehead.
"No," she sighed, shaking her head. "Please keep reading, Edward."
I beat that man half to death, telling him that his life was over. It was then that the police started to catch on to King's illegal activities – not my doing, but I felt grateful, all the same. By the time Royce was busted for the fraud and I was called to testify in front of the grand jury, he had threatened my life and the lives of everyone I knew.
I testified anyway because I naively trusted the system, and King still went free. However, I severed all contact and all business dealings; all accounts that he had brought into TT – whether they made money or not – were immediately urged to find someone else to do business with. I personally saw to it that he was removed from our lives.
If you're wondering why he wasn't arrested for your mother's attack, I couldn't tell you, other than it was her call. She didn't want anyone to know, she didn't want me in trouble for beating that asshole, and she was absolutely terrified what that knowledge would do to you, munchkin. You were young, but you were never, ever stupid. You listened to everything around you, and she didn't want your thoughts, your mind tarnished with the ugly things in the world.
It took a couple of years, but I thought I'd removed King from our lives completely. I learned later that he'd never really left. We attended some of the same functions, and one night at a charity event at the museum, your mother and I ran into him again. If I'd thought his obsession for her was bad before, I could see right then that it was worse.
Munchkin, this is where this is really going to get hard. You don't remember the night your mother died. At the time, the police and I thought it was a good thing, though we worried about when you would actually remember it. You never did.
Bella, you were there, and I need you to try to remember. You were eight years old, sweetie. You spent the evening with your mom, and I was out of town, overnight, at a conference. I know you found her the next morning, but you were there when Royce King knocked on our front door. From what the police and I could piece together, when Renee started to open the door, King kicked it in, because the chain was broken. We found evidence that she'd been raped and strangled but not what happened to you. We asked you, but you said you'd been in bed.
My sweet little girl, everything you need to put Royce King away for life is in this envelope and in that brilliant mind of yours. The police officer on the case and I kept everything from you once we realized that you didn't remember a thing, that you saw it as a suicide and not a murder. Even as you got older, you never questioned why there was no note, why there was a bottle of liquor in the room that was a brand your mother didn't drink, and why there were pills there when she'd never taken pills before. It's still registered as a "cold case," and with what is in that envelope, you will be able to put King away for life because now, DNA is widely used.
After a while, I figured ignorance was bliss when it came to you, Bella. It became easier and easier to let you think I was the bad guy, that I was responsible for your mother's unhappiness, than to see you suffer with the reality of what really happened to her.
I want you to know that your mother loved you very much, that she spent the short time she had with you molding you into the amazing woman that you are today. And you are amazing, munchkin. I never wanted you to work for FBI because I worried for your safety, but you could have done it. You would have shown them all just what a Swan could do, and I would have never been prouder.
I'm sorry I'm not there to tell you this in person, sweetie, and I'm sorry that you're finding out this way, but damn it if I didn't love you too much to tell you the ugly truth. Be strong, munchkin. Stay with Carlisle and his crew because they will take care of you, and always know that you were the best invention I'd ever had.
I dropped the letter on the table next to the sofa, pulling the sobbing girl into my arms. It was bad enough she'd lost her father, but to find out that everything she'd thought she knew was a lie was just too much for her. She wasn't even saying anything as I turned her around in my lap. Her heated forehead pressed into my neck as everything poisonous inside of her finally reached a boiling point.
All I could do was apologize to her, tell her that I loved her, and hold her just as tight as she was holding me. Suddenly, she sat up, grabbing the envelope from the box and ripping it open.
What she pulled out as she sniffled made me cringe. It was photos of what I could only assume was Renee the night she died. A woman with the same color hair as Bella laid haphazardly in a bed. On the nightstand was a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels, a prescription bottle of pills, and something that Bella had never mentioned seeing when she talked about finding her mother the next morning: a used condom. Along with the photos, there was a police report, a CD, and the card of the investigating officer, Felix Michaels. There were a few other things that I couldn't possibly imagine were important, but Charlie apparently had: a key, a lighter, and a handkerchief.
"Baby? You okay?" I asked, trying to turn her face away from the awful pictures, but she wouldn't budge.
In fact, she was frozen, completely still, except for the tears that continued to course down her beautiful face. She stared, open-mouthed and barely breathing, as she studied a picture of her mother.
She started shaking her head. "No," she whispered, her brow furrowing. "No...how did I not remember this...?"
"Remember what, love?"
"My mom," she breathed, practically panting. "My mom and I were just finishing my homework, but we weren't in her room... We were in the dining room when someone knocked on the door."
"Bella, please don't do this to yourself," I begged because I was completely terrified of what remembering this fucking shit would do to her.
"He...He kicked the door in!" she gasped, shaking her head slowly. "He told me that if I didn't get up to my room, he'd kill my mom..." she whispered and then swallowed thickly. "I heard them, Edward..."
"Oh, baby," I sighed, again trying to get her to look at me. "I'm sorry, love."
"I sat against my door...I pretended that it wasn't happening! How could that possibly have fucking worked?" she asked, finally looking up at me, but I could tell she wasn't really seeing me.
"You were eight years old, and he threatened you, baby."
"I didn't do anything!" she gasped, covering her mouth with a shaky hand. "I just let him kill her, Edward! Why? Why would I do that? And then the next morning, I didn't remember a fucking thing? How is that fucking possible?"
I watched as she paled to a grayish-white and launched off of my lap. I followed her as she bolted into my hallway bathroom, losing everything in her stomach as she just cried and cried. I fell to my knees beside her, holding her hair as she continued to be sick.
"I might as well have killed her myself," she said, her voice now barely above a whisper and slightly raspy.
"Don't you dare, Bella," I growled softly in her ear. "You were a child. This wasn't your fault. It was never your fucking fault. That's what your dad was trying to tell you."
"I let her die, Edward," she sobbed, gripping me fiercely as I reached for a towel that was hanging on the bar above her head.
"No, you didn't, sweetness. King killed her. If you want someone to blame, then you blame him, but not yourself. I won't let you. Look at me," I commanded, feeling like a real shit for being forceful, but she needed to understand. I made her look at my face as I cleaned her up. "You didn't do anything wrong. King did. Maybe your dad did by keeping it from you, but you didn't do anything wrong. Tell me that you know that!"
"She didn't leave me..."
"No, baby," I agreed with her, tucking her hair behind her ears. "She was taken from you."
"She told me to do what he said," she whispered, a hiccuping sob escaping her.
"She was protecting you, my love," I sighed, relaxing just a little that she was calming down as she nodded.
"He killed her, Edward," she cried, more tears slipping down her face. "He killed them both!"
"And the motherfucker will pay for it, Bella. I swear it!" I growled because this one man had cause my girl way too much heartache. The fucker wouldn't live to see his next Christmas.
I gave her the once-over, noticing that she was a mess, so I helped her to her feet. I guided her down the hall to my bedroom, making her sit on the edge of the bed. Carefully, I tugged off her shirt, jeans, and sneakers, leaving her in her underwear. With a cool, wet cloth, I cleaned her face, hands, and the tips of her hair.
I pulled back the covers, lifting her up and tucking her in, but she did something that she hadn't done since the night I'd pulled her from Miller's basement.
She panicked.
"Don't!" she gasped, grabbing at my wrists. "Don't leave me!"
"I'm not going anywhere, Bella. I'm right here, and I'll always be here," I told her as I crawled in bed beside her, pulling her to me as close as she wanted to get. She pulled me in, burying her hot face in my neck and letting more tears come as I whispered, "There's no place else I'd rather be."
And that was the honest truth because I'd hold her forever, as long as it made her feel safe, as long as it kept the monsters at bay.


sugunary said...

wow...Excellent chapter. Royce is a true monster, poor Bella, the pain all of this must bring her. She was traumatized at 8 by the murder of her mom and it was just easier for her brain to process it as a suicide. I really hope they make him suffer for every minute of terror he caused the Swan family.

Sherry said...

i'm trying again. The site is giving me fits, in terms of accessibility.

Anyway, the chapter was very sad, but very powerful. i don't blame Charlie for how he handled it. how could anyone force their child to remember something that horrible, especially at eight years old? Maybe he should have told her later, but he did the best he could. I'm going to enjoy watching them take King down even more than before. I can't even come up with words bad enough for him.


Lolly said...

Wow, just wow. Poor Bella. I can understand her blocking that as a kid. Most children can block traumatic events so that wasn't a big surprise. I think Edward handled it well too all things considered. I don't dare say that Royce King is going to die a slow and painful death for everything he has done to Bella.. But will it be at the hands of Edward or will it be Bella. I have a feeling though that he won't let her do the actual deed herself.

Looking forward to the next chapter. God your stories get better and better.

Wendy "Dee Dee" said...

Wow! You did it again... you threw in another twist to the story that I was not expecting! Who would have thought that something like that would have happened? Again, WOW!
I'm glad that Bella blocked out what happened that night but still what she thought was still just as bad. Now, Bella can use the anger, that is bubbling under the surface, to avenge the deaths of Charlie and Renee. We all know that once Bella (and Edward) gets her hands on Royce, he isn't going to get a swift and easy death. Here is my theory on why maybe Bella blocked out what happened that night... there was pills and a handkerchief that Charlie left. For some reason, I'm thinking she was drugged with something. I think that handkerchief is the key to what happened to her... Again, that is my theory, for the moment...
You ROCKED this chapter as always!

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