Friday, November 30, 2001 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

BELLA

"Spill, Edward," I ordered, once we were on the highway with Alec's car following behind us. I was glad Emmett and Kurt were with him, because I really needed to hear what had happened between my husband and Kyra Bailey.

Edward laughed once, roughly and humorlessly, shaking his head. "You need details, Bella? Really?" he asked, almost sounding angry, but I knew he was embarrassed.

"Not necessarily details, but I am about to meet a woman that knew you. I'd feel better if you told me what happened between you." I sighed in frustration, gazing out the window as he shifted gears and changed lanes, because I hated it when he shut down on me. "I'm not blind or stupid. I know how you were back then, and she's stunning..."

"She was pretty. Is that what you want to hear?" he snapped, glaring at me briefly, and then back at the highway. "I couldn't tell you what she looks like now. I don't exactly watch MTV."

I giggled, which caused the smallest of smiles to curl the corner of his mouth. "I'm pretty sure our remote only gets Disney and Nickelodeon. Please just tell me..."

He finally cracked a smile at the subtle reminder of our kids, letting out a long, slow breath, but he went quiet again.

"I'll call Emmett if you don't," I teasingly warned him, pulling my phone out of my pocket. "He seemed to remember her just fine."

"Fuck no," he growled, grabbing for my hands. "He doesn't know anything, and what he thinks he knows is fucking bullshit. Just...wait." The inevitable hand shot to his hair nervously, gripping it, before it fell back to his thigh with a muted smack. "When you're over there," he started with a groan, gazing almost unseeingly out the windshield, "there's not a lot to do on down time. Any news from home, anything sent our way from the States was a big fucking deal. We didn't exactly have cable, so DVDs became a hot commodity when families shipped them over. Same went for live entertainment, which was even more rare.

"The USO tours were the one thing we all looked forward to, because they were live. They were real. Once a year, those professional wrestling guys would do a Christmas show. Singers, comedians...people like that...they would tour the major bases – or at least the safest ones at the time," he continued, finally glimpsing my way. "They all required a military escort."

"And that was you," I surmised, watching his expressions flit from angry to something I could never quite place when he talked about the war. It was blank, but it was dark, too. It was an expression that shattered my heart, because I hated the terrible things he and our friends had witnessed, taken part in, and barely survived in that fucking desert.

"Just the one time," he murmured with a shrug. "Normally, I flew men into heavy war zones and picked them up. It's how I was teamed with Jasper, Mickey, and Emmett. Occasionally, I'd fly prisoners to Abu Grahib. I flew in hot and armed, pulling out the same way." He paused for a moment, his brow furrowing; I knew that talking about his wartime experiences was difficult for him. "My chopper was damaged during a run, so it was out of commission. And at the same time, the pilot that flew a transport chopper – you know, the big ones," he said, smirking over at me, and I grinned at his simplifying this shit, because I knew he could rattle off make, model...hell, and probably VIN number. "The pilot was killed, so I was asked to fill in temporarily.

"At the time, I was just happy to have a break from the norm," he went on. "It was supposed to be simple. I was to fly the main members of the tour from base to base, while their equipment was either driven or shipped on a cargo plane. It was safer for them that way, because equipment could be lost, but not a guy you see on TV – or in this case, two comedians and a singer. In the chopper, I could maneuver them quickly and easily if something went wrong or we were attacked. It was only for a few weeks, so I took the orders." His voice trailed off, but he looked over at me.

"How many did you fly around?"

He scoffed, rolling his eyes. "A couple of comedians, a few photographers that were documenting the tour, a camera guy, Kyra, and a few of her...people." The last word came out with a sneering tone and a touch of impatience.

I chuckled, because he sounded just like Carlisle had when he talked about Kyra's fame. Neither men had time for fluffy, frilly, or pretentious bullshit. "Go on," I laughed.

"I didn't know her from Adam, you know," he stated softly, shrugging one shoulder. "I mean, I wouldn't have known she was famous, had they not told me. She was this...small thing surrounded by loud and busy people. She and her assistant... Carrie? Cathy? No, Cassie," he corrected himself. "They were the only girls on the tour. Everyone else was a guy, so they had a rough time. Men can piss anywhere, you know?" he chuckled, glancing over at me.

I giggled, shaking my head at him. "Yes, yes... The world is your urinal. Just tell the story, Edward."

A sharp laugh barked out of him, but he went on. "Kyra had her own personal bodyguard – Gator. Damn, he was a cool bastard. Former Army and straight out of New Orleans...hence the name," he stated with a snicker. "He watched every move those two girls made. He was good. A lot like Alec is on a security job," he murmured, almost to himself.

"Anyway," he sighed, running a hand through his hair, "it didn't take long for the two girls to become overwhelmed by just...everything. And that was day one. It's guns and planes and explosions everywhere. It was desert and sand and just fucking uncomfortable weather. It's blazing fucking hot in the day, freezing at night. And the farther north we went, it just stayed cold.

"No one but Gator paid much attention to them, and that included her manager. He was a fucking prick," Edward stated, rolling his eyes. "Asshole only cared about the right photo op or the right angle the video was being shot. It was a big deal for him...not her. I'm not sure he checked on her one time the whole tour."

"Nice," I scoffed, thinking that celebrities had to put their faith into people that were usually only looking out for themselves.

Edward was quiet for a moment, gazing at the road again. "Every guy was falling at her feet," he said, almost at a whisper. "They acted like they'd never seen a woman, especially one that looked like her and was rich and famous on top of it. It was ridiculous and made her uncomfortable. Hell, she was only in her early twenties," he sighed. "It started the very second I picked them all up. And that was how I got to know her. She'd asked if she could hide in the chopper after she performed or before she went on, and I hid her, or I'd take her to someplace quiet, because she just wanted a moment's peace.

"Yeah, I was attracted to her," he groaned, rolling his eyes, "but I knew nothing could come of it. And I told her that when things...changed. We were in Baghdad, not even a week into the tour, and it was one of the safer places that you could actually go out in public, and one thing led to another."

"Did you even like her? Or did you just feel sorry for her?"

"Both, but she was fun and took in everything with wide, open eyes. She hated most of the attention she received, except for when she was on stage. I'd explain how things were in the war, and she'd talk about the States. She'd met everyone, it seemed, so she'd tell Hollywood stories, or stories about growing up in Pittsburgh. She was...normal. Well, more normal than I was expecting, I guess." He grimaced, gripping his hair again. "We snuck around to do it. And that was probably the thrill of it, too, because we weren't supposed to do...what we were doing. I didn't date military women, and she was like a breath of fresh air – someone feminine, not in uniform. Plus, she felt safe with me. I suppose all of that combined made for a golden opportunity. Her manager hated me and probably suspected something, because he bitched to my CO more times than I could count, but they couldn't prove it. I think Gator and her assistant knew, but they didn't say anything, because Kyra paid them to keep the fuck quiet."

"And when the tour was over?" I prompted him, because I didn't need to know the wheres and hows of their relationship. Edward was a physical and sensual being, so I could well imagine how that shit went.

Edward went quiet again, but his nose wrinkled before he spoke. "I saw it coming," he said softly. "I could see her getting attached as the weeks progressed, despite how many times we talked about the last night of the tour. She'd say that we were just having a good time for the moment, but I could tell she was lying," he sighed, looking over at me. "Shit, sweetness, I was only twenty-three, with way too much time left on my tour of duty, even though a year after that was when my chopper crashed and I was released. And she was about to go back to L.A. to record some new album and audition for a movie or some shit."

"Did you want to make it work?" I asked him, because his voice seemed filled with regret, but I couldn't tell if that was from the way the relationship ended or the loss of it all.

"No," he groaned, shaking his head. "I mean, I don't know. I just couldn't see it how it could work, and I wasn't...in love with her, if that's what you're asking. I liked her, but I just...had to let her go. And it wasn't pretty. She was a mess by the time I flew her back to Jordan, because I had to cut off all ties to her. I'd handled it all wrong, hurting her terribly. And despite how well we got along, she wasn't used to being told no to something she wanted."

I rubbed my temple, trying to absorb the whole story. I knew that Edward avoided long term relationships while he was in the Air Force, because he'd felt that he lived too dangerously – something that carried over to when he worked as a mercenary for his dad. He'd felt that he could be killed, and he'd never wanted someone to "wait" for him; it was hard enough trying to survive over there as it was, never mind worrying about someone back home.

"Fuck," he growled, his hands gripping the steering wheel of his Challenger, "I just wish..."

"Hey," I soothed him, tugging at his right hand until it relented and linked with my left, "I know what you wish...that I'd been there, that I'd been waiting for you. That we'd stayed in touch. You can't look at it that way, baby. You just can't. This...situation happened, and now we have to deal with seeing her again."

Edward had voiced this regret to me more than once. He said that I, of all people, could've handled his being away, his dangerous job better than anyone. I was sure part of that was true – not that I wouldn't have worried myself sick over him, but what I did, what we did for a living gave me a perspective that most women he'd been with had never had. He'd also told me that if he'd had me waiting for him back home, he would've never even looked at another woman.

"Y-You're n-not m-mad? D-Disgusted w-with m-me?" he asked, sounding like the sweet, stuttering, shy boy I'd first met so long ago.

I couldn't help but smile, because that was my Edward. That was someone no one fucking knew, but me. "No, Edward. I'm not. I can't judge you any more than you could judge me on the bartender in Virginia that I dated, or Jake, or that guy I can't remember just after high school, for which I still blame Rose."

He chuckled, glancing over at me. "No, I can't judge you, either, baby."

"Exactly," I agreed, because neither of us were saints prior to our relationship.

We were quiet the rest of the way into Seattle, both of us lost in thought, but as Edward pulled into the parking garage, I turned toward him.

"There is a distinct possibility that we will have to take this case, Edward," I said warily, because I knew Carlisle had called us for something important, not just a security gig.

He shut off the engine and glared unseeingly at the gray concrete wall in front of him. "I know," he whispered.

"Can you handle that? Professionally?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him when his head spun my way.

"Of course I can," he snapped. "I'm not that fucker Jake, Bella. I'm not going to...run back to her...if that's what you're asking me. Tell me that's not what you're asking..." His voice was all commanding, all demanding, and not to be ignored. "I don't fucking cheat. I would never..."

"Well, no... I wasn't asking that, though that's good to know," I said, unable not to snicker at his little outburst of indignant emotion. He was loyal to me to the very end; I was well aware of it. "I'm just saying that there's history between the two of you and obviously some regret as to how things turned out."

"I regret that I hurt her – not that we never saw each other again," he sighed, reaching over to tuck a lock of my hair behind my ear. His eyes lightened just a bit to the soothing, deep green I loved so much. "I-I h-have e-everything I-I c-could p-possibly w-want...right fucking here and at home," he said, starting in his sweet sputter and ending in that perfect, confident tone. "Maybe it's like you said, and she won't remember me..."

I shrugged and nodded. "Maybe. She does date a lot of famous people, Edward," I said, finally understanding his worry about seeing her, because he most likely had been a little mean when he broke things off with her. Edward was easy to fall in love with, so I could definitely understand if she hadn't wanted to let him go. My mind then shifted to thoughts of how this Kyra woman would react if she did indeed remembered him. "We should head upstairs, baby," I murmured, reaching for the door.

"Look at me, sweetness," he said softly, cupping my face. "No one...and I mean fucking no one can compare to you, love. Not for me. I mean it." His intense stare flickered over my face, studying my expression, and I had no idea what it was that he was seeing. "I couldn't give a shit if she's dating, or single, or even if she remembers me and still has feelings, though I can't see that last thing happening. You're Bethy and Samuel's mother. You're my wife – and that means everything to me. Y-You're th-the o-only one i-in th-the w-world th-that t-truly knows m-me."

I had to kiss him for that, so I pressed my lips to his, almost roughly. "I know all of those things, baby, but thank you for saying them anyway," I whispered with a small smile against his mouth, pulling back just a bit. "We should go," I told him, jerking a thumb behind us, because Alec, Emmett, and Kurt were waiting for us.

"Bella, I love...you," he urged, like I didn't believe him.

"Love you, too," I replied, finally opening the door.

The walk through the lobby and the ride up the executive elevator was quiet, though I could tell that Emmett was dying to say something. He was stopped by Alec's rather heavy grip on his shoulder. We stepped out into the front reception area outside of Carlisle's office and were met with a smiling Angela.

"Hey, guys," she sang, beaming and rubbing her large belly. She and Benny, our friend at the FBI, were now expecting their first child.

"Lordy, Ang," Emmett chuckled. "You're gonna pop, girl."

"You know, I told my doctor the same thing," she laughed, smacking at his arm. "You'd better get in there. He's been calling me every five minutes for the last half hour."

"Thanks, Ang," we all said at the same time, which always caused her to chuckle softly.

Carlisle's office was exactly the same as when my father had been running Twi Tech. I was pretty sure he kept it that way out of respect, nostalgia, and probably because he just really missed my dad, his best friend. Large bookcases lined the wall that hid the door to the apartment. Charlie's heavy antique desk sat in the center of a wall of windows that overlooked the Seattle skyline. And the sofa and chairs were still in the opposite corner of the bookcases – only this time, they were occupied by three women. Standing against the wall was a rather lean, athletic looking man, his muscular arms folded across his chest as he eyed all of us filing in.

"Ah, you made it," Carlisle sighed, almost in relief, pushing off the front of the desk he'd been leaning against. "Come in, come in... Let me introduce everyone," he said, setting a hand on Alec's shoulder, but his eyes were on the absolutely stunning woman that was slowly getting to her feet.

Kyra really was pretty, even dressed casually – jeans, a white thermal shirt, and a brown leather jacket. Her dark auburn hair hung down in waves, and her hazel eyes took in everyone that was standing in front of her, especially Edward, who was closing the door of Carlisle's office. On TV, she looked larger than life; in reality, and standing right there, she was about the same build as me. My first instinct was to be excited at meeting her, but my second instinct was slowly taking over – to stop her from staring at my husband.

"Kyra Bailey," Carlisle started, "I'd like you to meet the team from Gravity Investigations...or at least some of them." Starting with those closest to him, he called out our names. "Alec Moretti, Emmett McCarty, Kurt Vernon, my daughter-in-law, Bella Cullen, and my son..."

"Edward," she finished for him, her mouth hanging open in shock. And from the look on her face, despite how long it had been, I could tell she remembered him perfectly.

~oOo~

EDWARD

"Edward," Kyra whispered.

Internally, I flinched, because my hopes that she wouldn't remember me flew out the fucking window.

"You look amazing," she whispered, rushing to hug me.

"Kyra," I greeted with a single nod, barely returning her embrace, before coming to stand beside my father.

Her gaze traveled over every inch of me, like she had the first time we'd met. Only this time, I wasn't a single soldier out for a good time, or wanting to impress her, so it just made me feel uncomfortable. This time, I didn't want the attention. I was a husband and a father, both titles so fucking important to me that nothing else mattered. Anything or anyone that stared, flirted, or tossed innuendo my way was usually ignored, if not treated coldly.

"You two know each other?" my dad asked, his gaze flickering between us.

"Well, holy shit! Cullen," the man in the back of the room chuckled, stepping forward and thankfully breaking the tension, because I felt my wife's body stiffen next to me. "I thought that was you. I didn't even connect you with Carlisle here," he boomed, reaching out to shake my hand. "It's good to see you, Airman," he laughed.

"Milo 'Gator' Carson," I snickered, slapping his shoulder. "How you been, man?"

"Aw, same shit, different day," he scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Well, that's not exactly true, either," he muttered, looking to my dad.

The room had come to a standstill. All eyes were on us, and I could practically feel Bella's assessment of the situation. Emmett was shuffling on his feet, grinning like a loon, and had it not been for Alec's calm demeanor, I think he would have burst into flames. Kurt was just plain star struck with Kyra in the room, but she seemed to be staring my way, as well.

I turned to my dad and Bella. "I flew a USO tour with Kyra and Gator," I explained, causing his eyebrows to shoot up. "It was about a year before my discharge."

"Okay, well, I know that Kyra would like to get settled in some place," he started, speaking slowly, like he was trying to figure out what the fuck had just happened; I knew I'd have to tell him the fucking truth if we took the case. "Gator, this is your show... Why don't you tell them what you told me?"

"Right," he drawled, nodding just once and turning to the women behind him. "Just so we all know each other, Teri Foley...Kyra's agent, and Cassie Winters, her personal assistant," he introduced, and then waited while nods and handshakes were exchanged. His voice was a mix of Southern twang and a touch of Cajun, an endearing sound, once you really got to know the guy. He turned to me, his face sobering. "You remember back in the day how much attention Kyra got, right?" he asked, and I nodded, purposefully not looking her way. "It's a thousand times worse now, and I think she's got a stalker. A real nasty one, from what I can tell."

"Why not take this to the police?" Alec asked, stepping forward, because this was his forte.

"I have...many, many times," he sighed, shaking his head. "They can't prove anything. They tell me that due to her celebrity, the threats could be coming from anywhere. Some have called it fan gifts, and though they appear to be obsessive, they aren't exactly spelling out anything dangerous, because there's no note, no actual contact with Kyra, nothing shows up on video, but I'm at my wits end. I was hoping they would settle down once we left LA, but..." His voice trailed off, and he turned to Kyra, who was looking uncomfortable.

Alec took a deep breath and let it out, rubbing his bottom lip slowly. "What are the threats?"

"Flowers," Gator stated, shaking his head, but his face was fierce when he held up a hand. "I know what you're thinking. That flowers are harmless and come with her popularity, but it's more than that. It's what the flower is and how it's left that scares me."

"What's the flower?" Bella finally piped up, her head tilting up at him.

"Marigolds," he answered.

"Hmm, jealousy and cruelty," she muttered, her brow crinkling. "That's a warning..."

"Yeah, yeah! Exactly!" he gushed, smiling at her, like he was happy that someone else was on the same page with him. "I never thought I'd have to study the meanings of flowers..."

"And how are they left?" she asked him, rubbing her chin.

"Burnt to a crisp and always delivered after I've done a complete security sweep. It's the weirdest fucking thing," he said, his face tinging pink at his language. "Sorry..."

"Don't be. I'm used to it. These boys aren't exactly angels," she snickered, waving a hand at him, and I couldn't help but chuckle against the side of her head, to which she leaned into. "So you sweep the room, the studio, dressing rooms, arenas...but they're still showing up?"

Gator nodded, a wry smile creeping up across his face. "You think it's inside, right?" he asked her, and she nodded. "Yeah, me, too. But I can't find the asshole."

"What's your security situation like?" Emmett asked, his eyes glancing over the women, only to land back on Gator.

"Rent-a-cops," Gator scoffed. "It's not like I can drag a SWAT team with me wherever she goes," he stated, gesturing to Kyra. "They aren't bad guys, but they aren't exactly Clint Eastwood, either."

"You really don't think it's a fan?" Kyra asked, looking up at Gator.

"No, K, I don't. I've told you that," he huffed, pulling her closer and placing both hands on her shoulders. "If I have to sleep at the foot of your bed like a damn dog, I'll figure it out, but I honestly think it's something bigger than a over-zealous fan. I know you're not sleeping..."

I sighed, running a hand through my hair, because despite how badly I didn't want to take this case or to work with a former lover, I could see the curiosity in Alec's face, the concern on Emmett's, and the pure fear on Kyra's. But my wife's expression was completely void of anything I could read.

Kurt tugged Bella's shirt sleeve, pulling her to him. "Bells...there are some...um, cultures that have theories about dreams. The dream of a burning – or burned, in this case – flower means that harm will come to the recipient," he whispered frantically to her, his eyes flicking over to Kyra, and then back to Bella. "He may be right. This could be a threat."

"Alice?" she asked, a wry smile on her face.

"Yeah, well, she was teaching me how to do some research," he chuckled, his cheeks turning pink. "You know how she loves her serial killers..."

"Right," Bella mused, rubbing her temple and studying Kyra, whose gaze had landed on me.

"You haven't seen anything, Kyra?" I asked, tilting my head at her. "Nothing strange? Someone wandering around that shouldn't be? Maybe someone that makes you uncomfortable?"

"No, Edward," she replied, shaking her head, "but we've been getting ready for this new album, so there have been different people around – song writers, musicians, technicians."

"How about phone calls, emails, texts?" Bella asked Kyra. "Anything threatening? Any hangups?"

"Of course, but as soon as it happens, Gator changes my number," she answered. "The paparazzi is always willing to hunt down ways to get to me."

I shook my head, thinking this fame shit was for the birds...or the fucking crazed, I wasn't sure which. My gaze slid from Gator to Alec, and then to my father. "What are you thinking?" I asked him.

My dad bit the inside of his cheek, a wrinkle to his brow as he thought things through. Letting out a slow breath, he said, "I think that while Kyra is here in Seattle for the next month or so, and since she's going to be Twi Tech's responsibility, I'd like to keep her safe."

His answer was not directed to me, but to Bella, because he knew when it came to Gravity, she was the final say. And my father was not stupid by any means, because the whole room could feel the tension rolling off of Kyra and me in waves. It was uncomfortable, nervous, and fucking ridiculous, because we hadn't seen each other in over eight years. Though some of it was coming from Bella, too.

My wife spun in front of me and Alec, but spoke to him softly. "Could we handle this? Safely?"

"Yeah, Bellissima," he assured her with a nod. "I'd want to take total control of security, but if we pulled in everyone on the team, we should be fine. I'd need her entire schedule so we could inspect every building before she steps into it, and a list of people she deals with, because every employee would have to be cleared by the pixie. I don't care how long they've been working for her."

Bella nodded slowly as he spoke, like she'd assumed his answer before he gave it, finally turning her sweet, concerned gaze to mine. "It's your call," she whispered, shrugging a shoulder. "I told you that in the car. If you don't want to take it, considering our prior discussion, then we won't. I'll put her in touch with another security firm, and we'll walk away."

I grimaced, because the other firm she was thinking about was a decent group, and they'd protect Kyra just fine, but they didn't have the resources like Gravity did to find out the cause of the threats. They'd keep her safe, but that would be about their limit. It was possible that the threats would continue once she left Seattle.

I ran a hand through my hair again, muttering, "I don't know."

"If it's about money," Kyra started, but I shook my head and held up my hand to stop her.

"Money isn't the issue," I stated, stopping myself from sounding like an asshole, because my voice was just a touch snippy. I pointed to Bella and my dad. "Can I see you two for a moment?"

Both nodded and followed me out to the waiting area, where Angela was busy on the phone, typing on her computer, and flipping through files all at the same time.

"Guess I was wrong about her not remembering you," Bella snarked, rolling her eyes and folding her arms across her chest.

"Hush, sweetness," I groaned, smirking at her shameless chuckle. "Tell me what you think, Bella."

"I'm thinking someone wants to hurt her, that it will eventually escalate to something more than...burned flowers. And I'm thinking she's not telling the whole story." Her answer was quick and to the point. It was without any emotion behind it. Her intuition was as sharp as a razor's edge, and I nodded in acceptance.

"What's that history, Edward?" my dad asked, his voice soft as he jerked a thumb toward his office doors.

"What do you think?" I sniped back, gesturing to the sarcastic laugh my wife just huffed. "I was her pilot during that USO tour, and we had...something."

My dad snorted and rolled his eyes, turning to Bella. "Has my son repented all his sins, sweetheart?"

"For the most part," she chuckled, pulling me to her and linking our fingers together when I started to walk away from them for their teasing. "Are you taking responsibility for her, Carlisle?"

"I am," he said with a nod. "Now that Twi Tech has bought Solstice Music, she technically is in my care." He turned to me. "Can you set aside this...history between you? I just don't think Boyd's Security will be able to help them like you guys can. She's really frightened."

"I see that," I sighed, letting my gaze fall to my wife. "If we do this... Everyone gets called in. I even need to talk to Benny or Wes at some point. We take over everything, from her schedule to her security. I want Alice on every member of her...her...people."

"And I want her out of Seattle," my dad added. "We'll put her at my house in Forks."

"How big is she?" I asked, because pop culture wasn't something I really paid attention to.

"Huge," both of them answered.

I rubbed my face, but small hands gripped my wrist, and I opened my eyes to Bella's gaze.

"Look at me. If it's no, it's no. Tell me." She studied my face for a moment when I didn't immediately answer her.

I felt I owed Kyra something for the way that I'd treated her, but that in turn made me feel guilty under the sweet chocolate eyes that were waiting for me.

"If it's yes, then I'll call everyone in, and there will be rules, Edward Cullen, because that woman still has feelings for you."

"Bella," I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "That can't possibly be true..."

She laughed, but said nothing more on the subject. "Yes or no?"

My dad and Bella waited, staring at me patiently, and I sighed, completely defeated. "Call them in," I said, waving my hand at her.

"Fine," Bella huffed, her demeanor changing from patient, to all business. "Rules," she said, starting back toward the door.

"What rules?" my dad and I asked her at the same time.

"I don't know yet. I'll probably have to make them up as I go along," she answered, turning to us before she reached the door, a wry and wickedly sexy smile curling up on the corners of her mouth. "But right now," she said in a voice that sounded a touch angry, pointing to the floor, "that woman needs to understand just exactly who the fuck I am."

My dad laughed softly, slapping a hand down onto my shoulder and giving it a rough squeeze as she disappeared through his office doors. "You are in...so much trouble, son. I can't even imagine how much ass kissing you'll have to do."

I rolled my eyes and shirked out of his grasp in order to head back into his office. "Don't I know it."

~oOo~

BELLA

The doors clicked closed behind me, and I was well aware that every eye was on me as I stalked to Carlisle's desk in order to sit down in front of his computer. At the same time, I was dialing on my cell phone.

"Ali's Bar and Grill," she answered with a slight chuckle, and I grinned, pulling the computer keyboard closer to me.

"Hey, pixie, I need you online and at your sharpest. Pronto," I said, clicking open an empty email to get ready to send to her. "And then I need you, Jasper, Mickey, and Makenna at the office ASAP. Wes making an appearance wouldn't hurt, either."

"Oh damn, oh damn, oh damn," she chanted. "Caught a big one, did we?"

My eyes shot across the room to where Kyra, Teri, Cassie, and Gator were watching me with rapt attention. Kyra's narrowed-eyed, studying glare on me did not go unnoticed, either, because she'd completely stiffened when Edward had kissed my head earlier. He'd missed it, but I had not. At all. In fact, from the way that she'd greeted him, I'd been watching for it.

"You could say that," I sighed, trying not to roll my eyes when Edward and Carlisle walked back into the room and Kyra's eyes instantly drifted his way. "This will be...right up your alley," I muttered into the phone.

"Oookay," she said, dragging the word out, but chuckling at the same time as I heard her personal laptop come to life on the other end of the line. "I'm up. Hit me."

"All right, hang on," I told her, setting my phone down and turning my gaze to the room. "Gator," I said, and he stepped forward. "If we do this, I'll need complete and total cooperation on your end."

"Yes, ma'am," he answered with a quick nod. "What'cha need, Mrs. Cullen?"

I smiled down at my keyboard, because I liked him instantly, even from the minute he'd greeted Edward. He'd called me that on fucking purpose. He was sharp and didn't miss a damn thing. He had a sweet Southern charm about him that reminded me of Jasper, but more like Harry Connick Jr. He was lean, but by no means skinny, with light brown hair that fell casually to his forehead. He had a bit of ink showing just below the sleeve of his shirt on his bicep, and he carried himself with a surety that I'd come to recognize in just about all former military men.

"Please, call me Bella," I told him, finally meeting his sweet, eager, deep blue eyes. "I'll need every name of every person that comes in contact with her – makeup, musicians, managers, even down to the coffee runner. I'll need Kyra's itinerary, and I'll need it really detailed. I know she has things that she must get done, but we'll need to know ahead of time every step she's going to take...and for how long. And lastly, you'll have to concede all security measures to Alec and Edward."

Gator's eyebrows shot up, a smirk curling the corners of his mouth, and he turned to see Alec and Edward approaching the desk, but he was already nodding by the time he turned back to me. "You got it. It's done." He turned around. "Teri, you've got the itinerary, right?"

"Right here," she said, pulling a stack of pages out of her briefcase.

Cassie stood up as well, handing over another stack of pages and saying, "And this is the contact list we've drawn up for our time in Seattle."

I took both stacks of papers, starting with the calendar and flipping through it slowly. My nose wrinkled at the things Kyra had to do. It was busy and complicated. It was recording time, live shows, local TV appearances, and photo shoots. And fuck, if there wasn't a possible video to be made in the future. The list of contacts was a little different. There were some names that didn't have a last name attached, and some phone numbers were incomplete or scratched out.

I held up the contact list. "I'll need full names of these people. Everyone will have a background check done on them, and if they don't pass, they'll be released," I told Gator, who was nodding, but the song diva finally stood up from the sofa in the back of the room.

"Wait, you can't just fire my people," she gasped, rushing to the desk. "And some of those people don't have a last name," she argued petulantly. "My hair guy only goes by Godfrey."

"As unfortunate as that name is," I countered, ignoring Emmett's deep chuckle and Alice's giggle that tittered up through the phone in front of me, "I will and I can remove people from your presence. That is...unless you'd like for these threats to continue. Godfrey had a mother, which means he has a birth certificate and a social security number. He wasn't just hatched. If he can't come clean with a real name, then you'll be doing your own hair. Got me?"

Kyra scoffed, rolling her eyes and turning away from me. I noticed that the whole room had stilled. I could well imagine that no one told this woman no if she set her sights on something, especially the four people that worked with her on a daily basis, who were shifting uncomfortably on their feet. She was their paycheck. She was pampered, coddled, spoiled. But she was also in danger, if I was reading these threats correctly.

"Miss Bailey, you can pout all you'd like, but the fact of the matter is... These threats will only continue to get worse," I told her, and she slowly turned around to face me, her chin jutting out in defiance. "Let me guess how this started. One flower, not burned, but complete and perfect. It was maybe left on your pillow or on your dressing room table for you to find. No note. You maybe got two or three of them that way. Then they started coming wilted and dried out. Next thing you know, they're coming more frequently, only this time, they're burned to a fucking crisp." I tilted my head at her, watching as her mouth fell open in shock. I ignored Carlisle's beaming smile of pride and my husband's hand covering his mouth. "Wanna know what I think is next?"

"What?" she whispered, her eyes wide.

"Your stalker will start to slowly reveal himself. You'll get strange texts or hangups on your phone, no matter how many times we change the number. You'll get a note left on your pillow with the next flower, because he will want you to recognize that he exists soon. Hiding behind his anonymous gifts just won't do it for him. He will only get bolder, Miss Bailey. And soon...notes and flowers and texts won't be enough. He'll want to touch you. And that is when the shit will really hit the fan. That is when our job—" I gestured to myself, Alec, and Edward "—becomes extremely hard."

"What kind of damn flower!" Alice screamed from the phone that was still lying on the desk.

"Patience, Alice," I muttered, waiting for Kyra to respond.

"I can't live without Godfrey," Kyra murmured, her brow furrowing.

"Yes, doing our own hair is a hardship to bear, but believe me, most of us survive it," I said wryly, glancing up when even Cassie and Teri snickered softly. "I'm sure if you explained to Godfrey why you need his full name, he'll give it up, because he wouldn't want to lose the famous Kyra Bailey as his biggest client – especially if he loses her permanently to some crazed fan. Hmm?"

She pursed her lips, but finally acquiesced with a nod. "Okay," she sighed, nodding again. "Fine."

I turned back to Gator. "We'll need to remove her from the city," I told him. "No hotels, away from paparazzi, and no outside contact, except for whatever appearances are approved by Alec and Edward."

"Makes sense," he agreed.

"Do I cancel the reservations?" Cassie asked, pulling out her phone.

"No," I told her. "I'll have someone go by and check in for her. We'll let people think she's there, but she won't be." I rubbed my temple, and just before I picked my phone back up, I said, "And Gator, I'll need one of those flowers, please. Preferably bagged and barely touched."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, pulling out his phone and walking away from the desk a bit, where Cassie, Kyra, and Teri joined him.

I picked up my phone. "Marigolds, Alice," I told her, nodding when she gasped and cursed.

"Well, shit. And did I hear you right? This is Kyra Bailey we're dealing with?" she asked, typing away already. If I knew her well enough, she was already running a background check on the superstar.

"Exactly," I sang, smirking at her laugh on the other end.

"And just why do you sound like you hate her, Bellsy?" Alice teased, and I could only chuckle darkly at her.

"Later," I grunted. "Now... I'm scanning some stuff for you. I need you and Makenna on the contacts list immediately. Well, on as many that are complete on here. Kurt will help you when he gets back to the office. I'll have Rose take a look at this schedule of Kyra's. I need to work out a twenty-four-seven watch over her without killing ourselves."

"And just where are you putting her?" she asked.

"Carlisle's house in Forks at night, and with the crew during the day. If I have to lock her in Bethy's tree house to keep an eye on her, then so be it."

"Nice," she muttered. "Okay. Send me what you have. We'll see you back at the office."

"'Kay, bye," I told her, ending the call.

As I used Carlisle's scanner on the documents that I was sending to Alice, all of the boys, including Carlisle, crowded around the desk.

"You really think this stalker will try to get in contact with her? That he'll hurt her?" Edward asked, giving a glance over his shoulder to make sure the other group of people didn't hear him.

"I do," I said firmly, not looking up from the computer. "Alice taught me a thing or two, as well," I murmured, smirking when he and Kurt chuckled.

"This is gonna be some busy shit, isn't it?" Emmett questioned, picking up the schedule.

"We're starting right now, right?" Alec verified.

"Yeah," I sighed in answer to both questions, hitting send on Alice's email and finally looking up at my boys. "It's more than just guarding her, because she has so much to do. We'll need everyone on this." I rubbed my face, taking a deep breath and letting it out, before looking up at Carlisle. "It's just about September," I said to him. "I'll really need Esme on this, because Kyra's scheduled to stay here in Washington for the next two to three months. Bethy starts school in two weeks," I explained. "And then there's Samuel to deal with...not to mention Caleb," I said, gesturing to Emmett, who was nodding.

If we were going to pull everyone in, then our children needed to be considered.

"Sarah will help, Bellissima," Alec piped up. "You know that."

I nodded.

Carlisle's face was serious when he spoke. "Whatever you need, sweetheart. I'm sure she'll have no problem with that."

My gaze locked with Edward's. "I'm not missing her first day, though."

He grinned, walking around the desk to kneel before me. He cupped my face, his thumbs brushing my cheekbones lightly. "Absolutely fucking not!" he rumbled sexily, pulling me until our foreheads touched. "We'll both take her in, and we'll both pick her up that day. End of fucking story."

I giggled at his language, but his vow was solid. "Okay," I snickered at him, biting at my bottom lip.

"You're fucking sexy when you take control, sweetness," he crooned in my ear, smiling against my skin when I laughed.

"Mmhm," I purred with a smirk, nuzzling his scruffy jawline and inhaling deeply the scent of cologne, fresh cut wood, and clean soap – the smell that made up the deliciousness that was my husband. "Handcuffs," I sang in his own ear. "You know you want it."

The sweetest, sexiest, most hilarious sound escaped him, and his forehead hit my shoulder. It was a mix of a deep and dark laugh, a moan, and a grunt of pure insatiable lust. It was a sound I loved to hear, because it meant that I could still get to him.

"Mean, Bella," was all he said, his hands gripping at my sides, like he was holding himself back.

I giggled, pushing him back by his strong shoulders. "Maybe," I teased, "but we've got work to do. Would you please call Mickey and have her check in at the hotel under whatever name Kyra was supposed to be under?" I tugged the itinerary to me and handed it to him as he nodded and pulled out his phone, not leaving the spot in front of me. I turned to Kurt. "Kurt, honey... Please sit down with Cassie and Teri and go over that contacts list. Maybe they know a few of the names, but they just aren't written down."

"Yeah, sure, Bells," he said, taking the list from me and joining the group that had sat back down on the sofa.

"Amore," Alec called me softly, giving Kyra and her group a quick glance, "I'd like to get them out of the city ASAP, if you don't mind. I'll take first shift at Carlisle's house."

"I'll come with you. Esme and I will meet you there," Carlisle added with a swift nod. "I have a feeling we'll all be commuting from Forks for a while."

"I agree," I sighed wearily, because the road ahead looked tiresome and frustrating. I picked up my phone, dialing Rose.

"Well?" she answered without any preamble.

"We're taking this one," I told her. "I have everyone heading to the office now."

"Okay," she chuckled, and I could just imagine her sarcastically wicked smile. "What's she like?" she asked.

I laughed, humorlessly and darkly. "Oh, Rose... I'll let you see that for yourself," I snickered to my oldest and best friend as she cackled on the other end. "I can't wait until you meet her."
Tuesday, November 27, 2001 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 2

CHAPTER 2

BELLA

"You might as well just stay, sweetie," Esme snickered softly as we took in the living room of the penthouse apartment in Twi Tech.

"Yeah," I sighed with a stupid ass grin creeping up my face. "He's exhausted, really, but he missed them."

Stretched out on the sofa, Edward was draped in sleepy kids. Our plane had been late taking off, so we'd landed in Seattle just before bedtime, but he'd insisted on seeing them and had asked Esme to keep them awake until we got to Twi Tower. Samuel was on the right side of his chest, a heavy, protective arm wrapped around the chubby, twitching baby boy, and Bethy was on his right, gripping her daddy's t-shirt in one tiny fist. They'd attacked him with kisses and stories, wrestled with him, and then all fallen asleep after Edward had eaten a late dinner.

"Then leave them be," she chuckled, kissing the side of my head. "What about you?"

"I'm okay. I slept on the plane," I said, fighting my smile, because Edward had held true to his word. He'd kept me up all night at the Beijing hotel, and my whole body felt every minute, every touch still.

Lowering the volume on the TV, Esme and I left the room, but not before I took a picture on my phone, because my little family was too sweet for words. I'd peel the kids off of him in a bit, but for now, they looked just blissful, and it hurt to imagine breaking that up at the moment, so we left them to find Carlisle quietly at work on his laptop at the kitchen table.

"Honey, you can work tomorrow," Esme chided gently, patting his shoulder on the way to the cupboards. "I'm sure the world will survive eight hours without you."

He grinned up at her. "It's not that, Es," he chuckled. "I had to postpone a meeting until Monday... You know...some rescue thing..." He waved a nonchalant hand toward me, rolling his eyes.

I chuckled, kicking at his foot when I sat down next to him. "Shut it. He's your son. He'd have come for you!"

"And you would have gone without me, too," he countered with a raised eyebrow. "But it's fine. Chang had been a problem for some time. We actually killed two birds with one stone."

"Small world," I muttered, taking the hot cup of tea Esme was handing me.

"Not really," Carlisle stated with a shrug. "Mrs. Vincent is greatly involved in Twi Tech charities. It's how she knew to use Gravity to find Frank. In fact, she's one of the biggest contributors to the homeless shelter we built with Preacher."

"Oh, okay," I said, taking a sip of tea.

"And she's been pushing her husband to open a free clinic in the neighborhood, though he may actually finally consider it after what happened in China," Carlisle chuckled. "She may have enough ammunition to convince him."

I grinned, remembering the doctor's sweet smile at the mention of his wife's message that he needed to retire. "Well, maybe he won't have to retire after all," I chirped, shrugging a shoulder and glancing over at his computer. My eyebrows shot up at the info on the screen. "You know Kyra Bailey?" I asked him, my mouth hanging open at the thought that he knew one of the most popular singers on the radio.

"Who? Her?" he verified, pointing to his screen, and I nodded, probably looking a lot like Bethy at the moment. "No... No, I don't, but I'm scheduled to meet with her Monday. Her agent contacted me a month or so ago, because Twi Tech just bought the record label that promotes her. She wanted to make sure that the studio was still booked to record her new album. Apparently, they want to take her in some 'new direction.'" Carlisle used air quotes and rolled his eyes at the same time.

"Shut up," I chuckled, spinning the computer around to look at her.

She was a stunning woman, with the voice of an angel, but could also work the crowd into a frenzy. She was a mix between a pop diva that made millions dollars and had the same amount of rabid fans, a drama queen that was always in the tabloids doing something or someone famous, and a flawless performer. She'd started as a child star, but had morphed into something more as the years progressed. She'd earned some respect by playing in a film or two, winning an Oscar and countless other awards, and for her constant charity work all over the world. If I'd had to guess, she was probably about my own age – thirty-one – with a beautiful head of deep auburn hair and porcelain skin.

"She's very pretty, sweetheart," Esme huffed, but the taunting gleam in her eye was a dead giveaway that she was just messing with him.

"Well, go on, Biggie C," I teased him, standing up from the table and kissing his forehead. "Are you gonna start wearing baggy pants and shit, too?"

"Hell, no!" he grumped, poking my side. "I've known Teri Foley for years...the girl's agent. I'm merely sitting in on this meeting. Solstice Music was about to lose Kyra Bailey, until Twi Tech stepped in and bought them out. They're hoping working in Seattle will be a better experience than Los Angeles."

Esme and I chuckled at how put-out he sounded, not to mention how pink his cheeks had turned at my teasing.

"Go to your room," he growled, pointing down the hall.

"Ha-ha. You think you're funny, Dad," I chuckled, because the penthouse we were currently in used to belong to my father, Charlie, and my old room now belonged to Bethy. Edward and I had taken the room next to it, and Samuel usually stayed with us. "That's it, I'm stealing my kids back tomorrow. You're officially on Poppy restrictions."

"Oh, no. Wait," he gasped, looking generally disappointed. "What about the park?"

I giggled, because he spoiled my kids endlessly and never missed a thing. "Fine, tomorrow afternoon at the park. The whole crew is coming."

"Excellent," he beamed, rubbing his hands together.

I rolled my eyes at the man, because he was an enigma. He could command a small army in another country in order to save his son and Emmett, or he could play endlessly with his grandchildren and never tire of it.

"Perfect," I told him with a nod. "You can bring dessert."

After setting my tea cup in the sink, scooping Bethy up out of her father's arms and putting her in her own room without even rousing her, I knelt beside my two boys. God, they were so beautiful together, a clone of one another. Long eyelashes rested against cheeks, pouting lips pursed in sleep, and dark hair with reddish highlights stuck up everywhere. With caresses to Edward's sleep-relaxed face, sweet green eyes opened up to me.

"Let me have him, baby," I whispered, gently taking a slumbering Samuel into my arms and laying him on my shoulder. "Let's go to bed, huh?"

Edward nodded wearily, blinking awake just enough to stand up from the sofa and walk down the hall to our room. I settled Samuel in the middle of the bed between us and crawled in after kissing both of my handsome men. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

~oOo~

The park was packed the next day with families cooking out, kids on the playground, and balls and Frisbees in the air. We'd taken over a small corner by some trees, but not too far from the playground, because it was all the kids could focus on – especially Bethy and Abby.

Carlisle and Esme were on their way, but Jasper, Edward, Alec, and Emmett were manning the grill. All my girls, including Sarah, were camped out on a picnic table as close to the playground as we could get in order to keep an eye on them.

"So I found a place in Forks," Mickey muttered quietly at my side, spinning her soda can in her hands nervously.

I wrinkled my nose, because I'd known this was coming for the last few months. She and Obie just couldn't see eye to eye on some things, which had resulted in her moving out of Aunt Kate's.

"I thought you had an apartment in Seattle, Mickey," Rose sighed sympathetically, having heard her. In fact, the whole table came to a standstill.

"Sold it. Last year," she said, glancing around the table, her eyes finally landing on me. "Obie just won't budge on this, Bells. I think it's why we never got married."

"He's really good with Bethy, Caleb, and Samuel when we all go up there," Alice noted, shaking her head. "I don't get why he doesn't want kids."

"Yeah, he loves teaching Bethy about the horses," Makenna piped up, her brow furrowing as she shook her head slowly.

"He says he doesn't know how to be a dad," Mickey practically growled, and her temper could be seen rising to the surface over something that was obviously still a touchy subject. "You know, because he and Tom were abandoned and shit."

I glanced over at Edward, knowing that playing devil's advocate was going to be hard, but Obie had a point. "Mick, he has to be ready, or it won't work," I told her, and all the women at the table nodded with me. "I don't think Obie's giving himself enough credit, but maybe this...break will help him see. What does Aunt Kate say?"

"Oh, she's pissed," Mickey laughed, swiping at a tear she'd never want anyone to see, especially the boys. "She told me that she'd talk to him, but to go, just to teach him a lesson. I'm not sure why it's such a big deal, but it is."

It was a big deal – if you truly knew Mickey. She had no family. None. Her father had died when she was just a teen, and then all three of her older brothers were taken from her on September 11, 2001. I could see how she would want a family, want children of her own, because she was alone, otherwise. We all claimed her as a sister and the kids all called her Aunt Mickey, but I could see that she really wanted something she could truly call her own, something that was connected to her by blood.

"Alec didn't know what he was doing, and he's a great dad," Sarah pointed out, shrugging one shoulder.

"But Alec wanted it," I sighed, tucking an unruly stray curl behind Mickey's ear. "Edward wanted it. Emmett wanted it. It makes a huge difference. They're willing to try, willing to work at it. Obie's just scared. Give him time, sweetie."

She nodded, again swiping at her tears messily, because she considered them a weakness. "I hope you're right. I miss him, but it became..."

"A bone of contention?" Rose finished for her, to which Mickey nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, it became the underlying cause of every fight," Mickey sighed.

"Maybe it's time for Obie to leave the nest...so to speak," Alice huffed with a frown on her face, folding her arms across her chest. "He's too comfortable at Aunt Kate's. Make him come to you."

We giggled at her protective nature, at her assessment of the situation, but she may have had a decent point.

"At least let it go for today, or you'll have four very angry boys to contend with as to why their baby sister is crying," I chuckled, wiping away the tears from her cheeks. "It wouldn't shock me if Edward flew to Kate's just to say something."

"Don't tell them," she begged, looking around at the guys, and then back to the table.

"They're going to know something is up when you're living here, Mick," Rose warned her. "It's your story to tell, but they will figure out something is up."

"They'll kill him," she snorted, rolling her eyes.

"No, they won't," I chuckled. "They may fly up there for a very loud...chat, but they won't kill him. They know how much he means to you. They'd never hurt you that way."

I knew Edward well enough to know that much. He was as protective as a lion over his pride when it came to family and friends, but he wouldn't do anything to cause them pain if he could help it.

"But we'll keep it at this table until you tell us different," I vowed, and she sighed deeply and nodded.

Squeals and laughter echoed up from the playground, but it was my daughter's voice that caused me to seek her out.

"Don't touch him!" she snapped, shoving a little boy about her age so hard that he stumbled back a few steps.

"He's a baby. He can't play our game," the blond boy countered, stepping back up to her.

"Oh, Lord," I sighed, because I knew Bethy was just about to ball up a fist.

"He's my brother, and he can play if he wants to," she growled back, her eyes darkening to almost black pitch with her temper, just like her father's.

I could see where Samuel was picking himself up off of the ground with the help of Abby. He wasn't crying, but he was watching the blond boy with a wary look on his face.

"Well, then you can't play," the boy huffed back, rolling his eyes.

"Yes, we can," Caleb growled, looking just like Emmett with his fists balling up and his face changing from a sweet, dimpled smile to a red-faced scowl.

When Samuel reached for the slide again, the boy knocked him out of the way, and that was when I needed to move, because Abby, Caleb, and Bethy all landed on the boy without shame.

"Oh shit," I half-laughed, half-gasped. "Edward!" I called over my shoulder, before taking off to the slide.

Samuel landed roughly this time, because he'd been holding onto Bethy, but her movement caused his stumble. His cry rang out loud, but I needed to stop the little free-for-all brawl first.

"Elizabeth Renee," I snapped, tugging her off the boy at the same time Rose grabbed Caleb and Sarah snatched up Abby. "What were you thinking?" I asked her, setting her on her feet, but her angry glare wouldn't leave the pissed off blond boy that was dusting himself off. "Look at me!" I commanded as Edward scooped up a very upset Samuel.

"I-I t-told h-him n-not to touch him," she sneered, glancing at me, and then back to the kid. "H-He knocked S-Sammy d-down," she growled, and it was all I could do not to laugh, because that scowl, that pure show of anger was all her daddy. It was unwavering and honest. It was loyalty to her very soul.

"Then get away from him. He's not worth playing with," I said, glancing at the little boy, whose own mother had figured out the problem. "In fact, you two should stay away from each other, but fighting wasn't the answer. You should've come and gotten me or Daddy."

"S-Sorry, Mommy," she grumped.

"Mmhm," I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "Go to the table and sit. Don't get up. It's almost time to eat anyway."

Sarah had already put Abby at the table, and Rose followed suit with a still puffed up, angry Caleb. All three looked like pissed off badgers as they sulked at the end of the bench while we fixed them a plate of burgers and potato salad.

Mickey chuckled at my side, but my head spun in her direction. "Still want kids?" I asked her with a laugh.

"Yeah," she said dreamily, but her eyes were on Edward and a still upset Samuel.

He'd sat down on a swing with our son on his lap. They were backwards baseball cap forehead to backwards baseball cap forehead and deep in conversation as Edward checked him over to make sure he wasn't hurt.

"Boy pushed me, Daddy," he muttered with a hiccuping breath, and I smiled at how clear his speech was becoming due to being around Bethy all the time. In fact, his speech was further along than hers was at a year-and-a-half, because he followed her example.

"I saw that, buddy," Edward soothed him, but lifted up his shirt, his feet, and his arms. "But I think you're okay. I don't see anything wrong," he chuckled, because the lifting of arms and legs, the tickling of his daddy's fingers was causing Samuel to giggle uncontrollably.

"Stop!" Samuel gasped, trying to grab as his dad's hands and finally settled for his face. "No, Daddy!"

I chuckled at the two of them, because their laughs and smiles were identical, even down to the slight tilt of their heads. But it was the deep green gaze down at the boy in his lap that was hard to miss. Edward's love for his son was a giant neon sign all over his face. It was the same over the moon gaze he gave to Bethy.

"Obie's totally missing out," Mickey sighed, shaking her head and walking away.

"Yeah, he is," I agreed, though I spoke to myself, because I couldn't help but keep watching my boys.

"I wan' to swide, Daddy," Samuel stated, pointing a pudgy little finger toward the slide.

"Well, then, get to it, pal," Edward encouraged, setting him on his feet.

Little jean-clad legs pumped furiously to the steps of the small slide, and Samuel took each step one by one, finally plopping down at the top.

"Catch me," he yelled to his dad, who was waving him down from the bottom.

There were times that Edward was completely oblivious as to how good of a dad he was. He was also completely unaware of the stares he was getting. He stood tall, strong, and proud, wearing the sweetest of smiles that was meant only for our son. With stubble on his chin, dark jeans, and a tight white t-shirt – not to mention the ink that was peeking out from his sleeve – Edward radiated confidence laced with a touch of danger, but all that melted away with the laugh that he let loose when he caught Samuel at the bottom of the slide. I smirked at the blatant ogling some of the mothers were doing around the playground, because...yeah, he was just that hot.

Samuel ran around to climb again, and I walked to them.

"My boys, it's time to eat. Don't you think?" I asked, smiling when Samuel nodded fervently. "Well, then, get down here, handsome," I said, smiling at Edward's chuckle.

"What happened?" Edward asked, placing a kiss to my head as we waited for our son to come down.

"Your daughter decided to beat the shit out of a kid that hurt her brother," I laughed, looking up at his amused face.

"Damn, school's gonna be a bitch," he murmured, rolling his eyes at my laugh. "Laugh it up, sweetness," he warned, giving me that sexy as hell raised eyebrow. "The first time someone picks on Samuel for being shy, she's going to tear them up."

I laughed again, only this time, I squatted down to scoop up Samuel at the bottom of the slide. "There he is," I crooned, smooching his face all over, which caused him to giggle and squirm in my arms. I stood up and faced Edward. "Well, at least we have a while before he starts kindergarten."

Edward harrumphed, rolling his eyes. "At least," he muttered.

What I noticed was that he wasn't upset with Bethy. At all. And that thought caused me to laugh.

"Edward," I chuckled, "you have to talk to her."

He grinned, shrugged, and kissed my forehead, and then Samuel's. "Fine, I will, but...food first!" he said to the much happier boy in my arms. "And I think...Poppy's here," he sang, pointing to the table.

"Poppy!" Samuel chirped, wriggling to get down, and I set him down just to watch him hurry to his grandfather.

Warm, strong arms wrapped around me, pulling my hips flush to his. I couldn't help but snake my arms up around Edward's neck.

"I'll talk to her," he vowed, his face much more serious. "She shouldn't be fighting, I know."

I giggled, because he sounded like he didn't believe a word he was saying. "It's okay that she's protective of him, but she can't just start swinging..."

He chuckled and nodded. "I know. Fuck, if my dad didn't call that one," he groaned, rolling his eyes again.

"She starts kindergarten in the Fall, baby," I reminded him, which caused a wide range of emotions to flicker across his handsome face – pride, sadness, worry. "I just don't want her to be the kid I get called into class for every day. She's just as protective of Abby, you know."

He sighed, placing a small, light kiss to my lips. "At least she won't be alone when she starts," he said with a nod. "Separating her from Caleb and Samuel will be hard enough."

"Yup," I sighed, nodding once, because that was one tight little gang. They spent just about every day together.

Dragging his lips down my cheek, despite the fact that we were in a public park, he opened his mouth to my neck.

"Now," he rumbled softly against my skin, "what's wrong with Mickey?"

I grinned, because he rarely missed anything, but I'd promised her that I wouldn't tell. "I promised, baby," I groaned, stepping away from him. "It's her story to tell. Not mine."

He grimaced, but shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. "She's moving here." He stated it like he knew, but he looked to me for confirmation.

"Yes, she is."

"What did Obie do?" he said, the last word coming out in a low, rumbling growl.

"Leave it alone, Edward," I said, using the calmest voice I could muster. "It's their problem. Okay?"

He studied my face with intense green eyes that matched the grass and trees around us at the park. He took a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. "But she's okay, right?"

"She's okay, baby. Let it go," I crooned to him, taking his hand. "Come. Let's eat."

"Bella, she was crying," he argued, tugging me to a stop.

I smiled up at him, cupping his face. "Well, yes, she was, but you men tend to wring us out emotionally. Just give it some time. If it was something...dangerous, I'd tell you."

He scoffed at my first statement, but my last sentence seemed to placate him just a bit. "Swear?"

I kissed his lips roughly. "All the damn time," I laughed. "A habit I picked up from you, if I'm not mistaken."

He grinned and shook his head. "Yeah, you probably did..."

At the moment, he let it go, but I knew he'd watch her like a hawk, because that was just how my husband was.

~oOo~

Rose and I pulled back into my driveway after taking Caleb and Bethy to Mrs. Cope's for the day. She kept the place open during the summer, running it like a day camp. It was great for the working parents of our small town, plus it gave some of the local high school girls something to do during the summer. They volunteered for Mrs. Cope as a summer school thing.

I scooped Samuel up out of his car seat, brushing an errant curl from his forehead so I could kiss him there.

"Did Edward grill you about Mickey?" Rose asked as we pulled a few groceries out of the back of my SUV.

"Grill?" I laughed, looking up at her. "No. He did ask, but he let it go when I told him it was not what he was thinking."

"Lucky you," she scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Emmett wouldn't just let it go."

I grinned, shaking my head. "Those boys, I swear. It's not like they'd want to know. It's a girl thing."

"Exactly," she agreed. "I told Em that last night. He got pissed."

We dumped the groceries off in my house, making our way out to Gravity's office. There wasn't much on the agenda for the week, though I knew that Rose had some phone calls to return. Alice and Makenna had taken the day off, so it was Alec, Edward, and Emmett in the office when we finally opened the door to the dumbest conversation I'd ever heard.

"So I told her...this is my roof...my pussy," Emmett growled, slamming a hand down on the table.

His back was to us, but Edward's was not. He barely glimpsed our way when I stopped Rose from most likely slapping the back of her husband's head. In fact, Edward leaned back in his chair at the conference table, kicking his feet up onto the top and crossing them at the ankles.

"You told Rose that?" Edward asked as he crossed his arms, obviously egging him on, which I couldn't decide whether it was hilarious or just plain cruel.

"Yeah! Hell, yeah, because I'd asked her about Mick and she wouldn't spill, dude," Emmett continued, sounding like a pouting child. "So she got pissed off...threatened to cut me off, man..."

I grinned up at Rose, who shrugged and nodded.

Alec finally saw us in the doorway, an evil grin crawling up his face. "And just how'd she take that...declaration?" he asked Emmett with the best dramatic acting I'd seen yet.

"She came at me with a skillet!" Emmett said incredulously.

I had to slap my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud, because Emmett honestly didn't see what was wrong with what he'd said.

"Your roof...your pussy," Edward mused slowly, smirking and shaking his head. "Em...you do realize that the...pussy is mobile, right?"

Alec chuckled, looking over at Edward, before turning back to Emmett. "Yeah, Em. It can leave that roof you're claiming, which technically belongs to you and Rosie, because Bellissima gave it to you...both of you."

Rose snickered beside me at Alec and Edward, but Emmett wasn't to be deterred from his thinking.

"I'm the man of the house..." he started, but his buddies cracked the fuck up.

Edward and Alec burst into laughter, their heads falling back, but it was Edward that spoke first. "Being the man of the house only grants you heroism when it comes to killing spiders and shit. Otherwise...you do what they say...or there is no pussy."

I grinned, shaking my head and rolling my eyes.

"Mobile pussy," he said again, raising his eyebrow, but he made the mistake of letting his gaze fall to me.

"Aw hell," Emmett groaned. "They're here, aren't they?"

Alec chuckled, turning away from the table to get himself another cup of coffee, but Edward only grinned and nodded slowly.

"What happened to bros before..."

"Finish that sentence, Emmett," Rose snapped. "Go ahead..."

"Umm...no way," Emmett muttered, shaking his head but smacking Edward's feet down off of the table with an angry glare. "Asshole," he hissed, when he realized I had the baby with me.

I set Samuel down in the play area that we'd created when Bethy had started coming to work with me; he immediately picked up the building blocks. Edward opened his arms for me, and I sat down on his lap, wincing when the inevitable smack to Emmett's head finally resounded in the office.

"Idiot," Rose mumbled, walking to her desk. "I told you before, and I'll say it again. It's not your concern what happened to Mickey and Obie. So stop gossiping like old women in a hair salon."

"Guys," I sighed, kissing Edward's temple. "I know you care about her and want to take care of her," I started, looking around at all three of them. "But this really is personal for her. I'm asking all of you to let it go. She'll tell you when she's ready. Okay?"

"We just want to know if she's...hurt," Emmett huffed, setting his elbows on the table. "Because if he hurt her..."

"Stop," I said gently. "This is...irreconcilable differences. And that's all I'm saying. Obie would never hurt her, and you damn well know it."

I turned to Edward. "And you... bros before hoes... Really?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

He laughed, pulling me closer. "Used to be that way, sweetness," he sang, shrugging one shoulder. "Now...not so much." He leaned in to kiss my cheek, only to press his lips to my ear, whispering, "I'm not stupid, love. I know what I want, and I'll do anything to keep...mmm, getting it. Loyalties change when you get married...something I'm not sure Emmett has learned."

A warm hand caressed my thigh, gliding around to my ass, where he patted softly, only to slip slowly between my legs.

"Mhm, loyalties indeed," I chuckled, shaking my head at my husband's shameless groping. "And the whole 'my roof, my pussy' thing?"

"Keep the fucking house," he rumbled sexily in my ear as his tongue swirled over the spot that caused my whole body to react. "But this," he purred, grazing a long, knowing finger over the seam of my jeans. "That is mine."

I grinned, letting out some sort of sound I didn't recognize, which caused Edward to drag his teeth across my throat even as he smiled against my skin.

"It is, but don't we have work?" I barely breathed out.

"Not yet," he sighed, pulling back to look up at me. "I'm sure there's something on Rose's list of call-backs. We were waiting for you guys."

"Where's Kurt?" I asked, closing my eyes and running my fingers through Edward's hair.

"Coming in later this afternoon," he replied, pressing his lips to mine briefly. "He was stopping by his parents' to see his sister, Evie, off to summer camp."

"Oh, okay," I said, thinking Kurt was a fantastic big brother. "Well, let's help him out. Come check the emails with me, and we'll get a list for Rose and Alec to call. Okay?"

"Sure, love," he chuckled, tilting his head at me. "I had better ways to spend the waiting time, but if you insist on all this...working shit, then come on."

I laughed, standing up from his lap and tugging on his hand. "Shut it. Computer room. Now, mister."

We spent the next few hours composing lists of prospective clients for Rose and Alec to contact back. Alec took the security details, calling back to find out if what we could do would meet the needs of the person that needed protecting. Rose took the calls of the more personal nature – missing persons, cheating spouses, and lost relatives.

By the time Kurt came in, we'd sorted out a list of a few possibilities. I tended to rank things that were of an urgent nature higher than other things. A missing child was top priority in the office. And everyone knew it.

"Geez, Bells, I'm sorry I'm late. Did Edward tell you?" Kurt gushed, rushing into the office like his hair was on fire and setting down bags of fast food. "But I brought lunch."

I chuckled, shaking my head. "Ah, food always earns forgiveness, and yes, he did," I told him, ruffling his black spiky hair as he grinned up at me. "There is life outside of this office, Kurt. I urge you to go be in it."

Kurt had turned into an incredible asset to Gravity. He had a sharp sense of street smarts, but a fairly decent knowledge of computers. Despite his rocky beginnings with petty criminal mischief and his emotional and mental issues that were now being monitored perfectly, he'd proven himself worthy. He loved to learn anything we'd teach him, from guns, to self-defense. He approached cases with a sense of humor and a quirky outlook on everything.

"Okay," he chuckled shyly, pulling a bag of burgers to him. "So what'd I miss?"

"Not much," Edward said, sitting down at the conference table and setting Samuel on his lap. Tiny fingers immediately grappled for the French fries. "We've got some possible security gigs coming up in a month or two, but everything Rose is looking into is kind of old."

Cold cases were hard, and we tended to take our time with them, because we allotted Makenna and Alice to work them on the computers first. The older they were, the harder they were to work, because it required huge amounts of legwork, which sometimes led to nothing.

"Pickles!" Samuel chirped, pulling his dad's burger open just to snatch the pickles. He loved his sour stuff.

"Go on, buddy," Edward conceded, shaking his head and pulling the other two pickles off of his sandwich. "Anyway," he said, looking back up to Kurt, "we were just about to sit down and list them by priority."

"Good freakin' luck," Rose groaned, falling into a chair beside Kurt. "It's quiet out there today. Out of thirty calls, we maybe have a possible...two cases. Though, one is a cheating wife," she stated, before popping a fry in her mouth.

"Aw, hell," every last man in the room, except for Kurt, groaned, and Rose and I laughed, because they all hated posing as "man-sluts," as we liked to tease them.

"Aren't there any lost dogs or somethin'?" Emmett whined, sipping soda down until it slurped obnoxiously.

I laughed again, pointing to all of them. "I don't want to hear it. When you have to catch a gropey man, who smells like the fish he cleans all day, weighs like three hundred pounds, and sweats constantly, even in a cold room, then we'll talk. Otherwise, you'll play your part."

"We'll never top that," Alec muttered to Edward, who was nodding with an adorably disgusted look on his face. "That man was like Fat Bastard from those movies..."

"Get in ma' bellah!" Emmett guffawed, which caused Samuel to giggle with him. "Yeah, I wasn't sure whether we needed to save her from his hands, or if he was going to eat Bella."

"See?" Rose chuckled. "So you guys can entertain a bored housewife."

Suddenly, the biggest, most intense game of Rock, Paper, Scissors started in order to rule out who wasn't going. By the time they realized that they could just heap it all on Jasper, because he wasn't there, the phone was ringing, and Rose and I could barely see straight we were laughing so hard.

Kurt answered it, still chuckling. "Gravity Investigations...Kurt speaking." His eyebrows shot up, but he replied instantly. "Yeah... Hey, Carlisle," he said, and we all quieted down. "Um, Bells, Ed, Emmett, Alec, and Rose... Okay, hold on." He put down the receiver and punched the speakerphone button. "You're on..."

"Hey, guys," Carlisle sighed over the speaker, "I need you to drop whatever case you're working on. I've got a security detail for you, but I think there's more to it. Can you guys come this way and meet with me?"

"Today?" Edward asked, his face growing serious. "What's this all about, Dad?"

"I'd rather go over with you in person. And privately."

"Damn cloak and dagger shit," I muttered, rolling my eyes. "Carlisle, what do you need?"

"I need you to hear this girl's story and tell me if you don't think there's a bigger problem. I think she needs more than just security," Carlisle answered.

"Okay, well, who is she?" Rose stated, tugging her ever present notebook and pen closer to her in order to start taking notes.

"Kyra Bailey," he answered.

My eyebrows shot up at the same time Kurt muttered, "Whoa..."

"Okay," I said, dragging the word out. "Doesn't she have like a billion dollars in order to hire a small army?"

"That's why I'm calling you!" Carlisle snapped. "Just humor me, please."

"Fine. Be there soon," I told him, ending the call.

"Kyra Bailey...Kyra Bailey," Emmett muttered, his brow furrow like he was trying to remember something. "Oh, shi...crap! I remember her," he suddenly boomed, pointing to Edward, who I'd just realized was frozen in one spot. "Isn't she..."

"Yes," Edward breathed, shaking his head. "We're not taking this case."

~oOo~

EDWARD

Kyra Bailey.

Well, fuck. I shook my head slowly, not knowing whether I wanted to fucking punch Emmett for his outburst and now silent laughter, or call my dad right back and tell him no fucking way. However, the first thing I needed to do was set my son down.

"Go play, buddy," I told him, setting his feet onto the floor so that he could wobble over to the play area.

"Why aren't we taking this case, Edward?" Bella asked, and I knew her well enough to know that she was reading me loud and clear at the moment. "It won't hurt to hear her story... And Jesus, Emmett, stop freaking laughing!"

Finally taking the opportunity to do what I wanted, I reached over and slapped the back of Emmett's head. "Jackass. It's not funny." I turned back to Bella. "I don't want this case."

"Why?" she asked again, this time her eyes narrowing on me like an owl spots a mouse, but I stalled long enough for her to figure it out. "You...know her... How?"

"Shit," I hissed, my elbows hitting the table and my fingers gripping my hair.

"Oh he knew her all right," Emmett stated with a chuckle, but before I could truly beat his ass, he was up from the table. "She came for a visit in Afghanistan during a USO tour. Guess who flew her from stop to stop..."

"Damn it, Emmett," I snapped, slamming my hands down onto the table.

"Enough," Bella stated, giving me a look that said there was no room for arguing. "Emmett, Kurt, Alec...get your stuff together and get ready to go."

"Bella," I groaned, but she held up her hand to me and turned to Rose.

"I'll keep Sammy and go get the kids in a few," Rose answered without even having been asked. "Let me know if you take the case," she said, looking between us. "Otherwise, I'll let the cheating case know that we're in."

"I will," Bella said, walking to me. "Did you have sex with her?" she asked softly so that only I could hear her.

"Yeah, but..."

"Are you still attracted to her?"

"No fucking way!" I growled the pure truth, rolling my eyes. Kyra was a beautiful girl, but she was nothing compared to the concerned woman in front of me.

"Then what's the problem?" she asked, softly and calmly, tilting her head at me. "We can go listen to what Carlisle needs us to hear, and if you still say no, then it's no."

I was shaking my head before she was even finished.

Bella bit the inside of her cheek as she studied my face, her sweet chocolate eyes sharp on every expression I was trying to hide, but was failing. "Did you hurt her?"

Fuck, if she didn't hit the nail on the head. But Bella knew me, knew about my past. It wasn't pretty, and I damn well wasn't proud of it. I'd just never kept anyone around long term, but Kyra had been different. Long term wasn't feasible, even if I had wanted it. She was on tour, I was in a fucking war, and I assumed we'd never see each other again.

"She wanted...more," I sighed, finally answering her question and looking away from her.

"And just how would that have worked?" Bella scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Famous singer...soldier in the desert..."

I finally cracked a smile, because no one had my back like Bella did. "Which was what I told her..."

My wife took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and nodded. "Your dad doesn't send us clients unless he feels it's something big," she stated. "He doesn't normally ask for our help. And he damn well doesn't ask for the entire freaking crew when he does. Don't you think we should at least hear him out?"

Grimacing, I sighed, but shrugged petulantly. I knew I was being stubborn, but I just didn't want to see the girl. In fact, if I could erase my past, only leaving Bella, then I'd be a happy man.

"You can't bury your head in the sand, baby," she said, almost as if she could read my mind. She took another deep breath. "To be honest, I'm not thrilled about my husband having had a sexual relationship with one of People Magazine's Most Beautiful People. That's just a little intimidating. But I owe your dad for helping me with going to get you in China. The least I can do is go listen like he asked."

"Damn it," I groaned, running a hand through my hair, because I knew she was right, but the magazine statement was pure fucking bullshit. "Y-You'd o-own th-that f-fucking m-magazine, sweetness," I sputtered.

I was rewarded with a brilliant smile and a giggle. "Good to know you think so, Edward," she chuckled, shaking her head. "As many famous men as Kyra has been with...she may not even remember you. She's a tabloid queen, you know."

"No...hell, no. I don't know," I huffed with a shrug. "And I don't care to know."

"You are such a child," she sighed, a smirk playing at the corners of her mouth. "Perhaps this is an opportunity to apologize for whatever it is you did."

"I didn't do anything, Bella," I growled, shaking my head. "I never promised her anything. I thought what we did was just a mutual thing..."

"Well, you're going to tell me all about it on the way," she stated. "Let's go."
Friday, November 23, 2001 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1

EDWARD

"Why are you here?" I heard the asshole ask Emmett again in a thick accent, as if we hadn't told him a million times, and I heard the sound of Em's laugh, despite the slap that preceded it.

I glanced up at where my hands were bound to a pipe, tugging on it again. Smiling when rotten concrete showered down around me, I did it again. The bolts securing it were loosening, but not quickly enough, and I wasn't sure getting free would do me any fucking good, because there were three more assholes just on the other side of the door – not to mention an entire fucking factory filled with armed men. They'd taken our weapons, shirts, and phones, separating us when we were questioned.

"Fuck," I hissed, shaking my head at what should've been a simple fucking missing person case, but we'd fallen into something bigger.

Eileen Vincent had contacted Gravity just a few days ago, practically begging us to help her find her husband, Frank, who was currently in China. She'd heard that we had no problem searching outside of the country for missing persons, which was something the local authorities and the American Embassy couldn't help her with. Frank was a doctor that preferred missionary work to the drab walls of a hospital. She'd offered us an ungodly amount of money to find him, because he should have contacted her, but she hadn't heard from him in a week. No one had seen him. He'd left the tiny little hospital just outside of Beijing to head back to his room for the night, and no one had seen him since.

Emmett and I took the case, because Alice's intel seemed to scream kidnapping for money. The Vincents were extremely well off, but good people. They liked helping those in need, liked giving back, and were widely recognized for it. Dr. Vincent had even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize at one point for his dedication to cleaning up areas with poor or contaminated water supplies. The man had worked all over the fucking world, but he'd run into trouble when he reached China.

Once we'd started tracking the good doctor, we realized that he'd accidentally pissed off the wrong people – some asshole businessman who'd watched The Godfather too many damn times, considered himself a mafioso, and was offended when his niece didn't make it through her emergency appendectomy. Chang had taken Frank hostage, which brought me to the cell I was currently in.

We'd followed Vincent's trail to a small village, and that's when things went all wrong. Emmett had asked the wrong question the wrong way, and the Air Force tattoo on his upper arm had sent up alarms everywhere. We'd suddenly found ourselves surrounded, outnumbered, and out-fucking-gunned. We'd been accused of being murderers, rapists, and "stupid American soldiers." It was all bullshit, because it was Chang running shit in the area. He had a small fireworks factory in the village, and there wasn't a soul that lived there that didn't work for him, so they did anything he asked of them, which included taking the doctor, me, and Emmett prisoner.

The metal door clanged open, and three men brought Emmett in. I sneered at his guards, but it morphed into a smirk when he fought all three of them. Despite his bound hands, Emmett swung his two fists around, knocking the smallest guy on his ass and ramming the next one into the concrete wall with his huge shoulders. In a split second, he had his large hands wrapped around the guy's neck, lifting him up off the ground. But it was the loud metallic click of an automatic weapon being engaged that caused him to freeze.

"Let him go, Em," I sighed, rolling my eyes to the smallest guy, who slowly got up off the floor, only to give Emmett a quick jab to his side. His friend fell limply at Emmett's feet. "Their time will come."

"You think so?" the gunman asked me, gesturing for his friends to tie Emmett back up to the pipes.

"I know so," I spat at him. "You don't stand a fucking chance, little man," I taunted him.

He fucking smiled, glancing up at my tied hands, and then down to his gun. "I've got the advantage," he noted. "And there are more of us..."

I smiled back. "Untie me and put that gun down. We'll be even, asshole. Then I'll show you who has the advantage," I chuckled, lunging at him just enough so that it took him off guard, and he stumbled back two steps, almost tripping over his own feet.

Embarrassing his ass only earned me the butt of his gun rammed into my stomach at the same time that the metal doors clanged open again.

"Motherfucker!" I growled, trying to catch my breath that the little prick had knocked out of me, but a sharp voice stopped my guard from swinging on me again.

"Enough!" Chang said, strolling in, wearing a crisp, clean suit and a smug ass smile as two more armed men brought an unconscious Frank Vincent into the room. "We need them whole and unharmed," he stated.

The doctor wasn't holding up as well as Emmett and I were. He looked wrecked, sick, and weak as they threw him into the opposite corner of our make-shift prison cell.

"Aw, damn," Emmett sighed from beside me, shaking his head at how bad Vincent looked. "He doesn't look so good, Ed," he muttered, glancing up at me.

I grimaced, but nodded, giving Chang a long look. "What do you want?" I asked, shifting my hands, because the metal was cutting into my skin.

"What does anyone want?" he countered. "I want to move out of this little town. There's a building in Beijing that I need, and the doctor over there is going to bring in enough money for me to get it."

"There's not an authority in the U.S. that will give into a kidnapper's demands, pal," I told him, shaking my head. "You're kinda fucked." I chuckled, because I knew for a fact that all calls to Eileen Vincent had to go through my wife's office first.

"I've already spoken to Mrs. Vincent," he stated, waving me off. "In fact, her lawyer is on his way as we speak."

"Lawyer?" Emmett murmured, raising an eyebrow at me.

I chuckled again, shaking my head. "Well, that should prove to be an interesting meeting, Chang. Did you happen to catch this laywer's name?"

"Why do you care?" he asked, stepping closer to me.

"I told you, asshole. We were hired to find Vincent, and we will walk out of here with him," I vowed to him, raising my eyebrow at him and tugging on my restraints some more. "Whether you're alive to see us do it... Well, that's yet to be seen," I taunted with a half-ass shrug.

Chang laughed, looking to one of his goons and gesturing to me. "Shut him up," he commanded, and he grabbed my arm, looking at the ink there. "Cullen," he read my tattoo, his voice coming across as thoughtful, but he was grinning. "Mr. Cullen...you need to learn respect."

The guard with the automatic rifle stepped forward, smiling like it was fucking Christmas. I lunged at him, and he fell for it again, only this time, he came back at me with the butt of the gun. After one hard jab to my stomach, he countered it with a smack to my face, causing my world to go dark.

~oOo~

~o~

"No, Daddy," Bethy begged. "I want to go wif you."

"You can't, little sweetness," I sighed, falling down on the edge of the sofa and pulling her to my lap. "There's a man that's missing, and I've got to bring him home."

Her nose scrunched up adorably as she studied my face. "How far?"

"China," I replied, glancing up when Emmett appeared in the door, dropping his duffel bag to the floor. "I'll be back before you can miss me," I told her, but at five years old, Bethy was no longer as easily placated. In fact, she rolled her eyes at me, looking just like Bella, which caused both Emmett and me to chuckle at her.

"I already miss you, Daddy," she sighed, folding her arms across her chest, like I was dumb for not realizing this shit.

"Me, too, baby," I breathed against her temple, pulling her into a hug. "You'll take care of Mommy and Samuel for me?"

"Yeah," she said, grinning and biting down on her bottom lip. "Love you," she sang, grasping either side of my face and kissing my lips. "Be safe."

~o~

"Give Daddy his hat, handsome," Bella giggled, leaning up against my car as Emmett loaded the trunk with our bags.

"Take, Da'ee," Samuel commanded softly, holding out his arms for me from his mother's embrace. He opened and closed one hand, while my baseball cap was firmly gripped in the other.

"Thanks, buddy," I chuckled, taking my hat from him.

He grinned up at me, showing off his new teeth, as he held his hand up for a high five, which I gladly gave, only to lean in to kiss his forehead. He grabbed at my face when I pressed my head to his, simply so I could take in the scent of clean kid, his mother, and just...home.

"Hey," Bella whispered, looking up at me with worried, deep brown eyes that matched the one-and-a-half-year-old in her arms. "I'm going to miss you, you know."

I chuckled, gliding the backs of my fingers up her cheek, only to slip them into her hair at the base of her neck. "I love you, sweetness."

"Love you," she stated, and I could see that her eyes were filling with needless tears, because we just fucking hated to be apart. Unfortunately, I didn't feel comfortable bringing any of the girls this time.

"We'll be right back. I promise."

She sighed, pressing her lips roughly to mine. "Yeah, well...I've still loaded you and Em down with GPS chips, just in case. If I don't hear from you every day, we're coming to get you. Got me?" she snapped, but kissed me again before I could answer her.

"Yes, ma'am," I said with a small nod. "No one has my back like you do, love."

She grinned, and it was beautiful and sweet, strong and no nonsense. "And don't you forget it, Mr. Cullen."

"Yeah..." Samuel whispered, grinning up at me. "Don' forget."

~o~

I snapped awake, my arms now numb from being over my head so fucking long, but I shot a quick glance around me. Vincent seemed to be asleep, Emmett was watching me carefully, and guards paced just on the other side of the door. I couldn't tell whether it was night or day, and my head gave a dull throb when I tried to look around a bit more.

"You haven't missed anything," Emmett whispered, giving the door a side glance.

I nodded, swallowing as best I could without having anything to drink in two days. "They'll come," I rasped out.

He chuckled darkly. "Oh, I know they will. I have a feeling that 'lawyer' is your dad."

I huffed a short laugh. "I'm pretty sure you're right," I sighed, wincing as I shifted my arms again, because I was damned certain my hand was either badly sprained or fucking broken. "Bella said she'd call him if something went wrong."

"This is as wrong as we could get," he barked a laugh, but I could see he was in a little pain. Because he was so fucking big, the assholes had attacked him first, hoping to take him out as a threat, but Emmett was a tough son of a bitch. He was smiling, but I still wanted to keep an eye on him.

However, both our heads snapped to attention when alarms started to sound, pounding feet ran past the door, and loud voices called out to each other. It was all punctuated by sharp and rapid gunfire and an explosion so loud that it rocked the foundation of the cellar we were being held in, sending concrete dust showering down over our heads. The door slammed open, and three guards came barreling into the room, snatching Dr. Vincent up off the floor and carrying him out, not even bothering to look our way.

"Yup, your dad's here," Emmett muttered, smiling when another explosion wracked the factory.

I laughed roughly, shaking my head. "Um...no. Bella's here. And it sounds like she's pissed."

~oOo~

BELLA

"We're going in dark and silent. Got me?" Carlisle confirmed in a rough voice, pulling off to the side of the narrow dirt road. "Alice, any changes?" he asked.

"Nope, nope, nope," she chanted over our headsets as she sat in comfort back at the hotel room in Beijing, though her voice was rather subdued, because we'd all panicked when Edward and Emmett hadn't checked in for two days in a row – me and Rose, especially. We'd brought her with us this time, because we wanted her online and accessible, which apparently, was perfect thinking. "Both chips are showing strong and still in the same place. You'll have to watch yourselves in that building, though. It's a fireworks factory, so it's nothing but..."

"Gunpowder," we all groaned at the same time.

"Well, that's just...fan-fucking-tastic," I sighed, shaking my head as I checked my weapons. "Pixie, send me a layout of that building."

"Already on your phone, Bells," she countered. "There's a shit-ton of activity in that little village, guys, but the main concentration of it is around that factory. In fact, if you take the next side trail, you'll be able to pull up at the south end of the building near the woods."

Carlisle followed her suggestion, killing the lights on the Land Rover as Jasper and Alec followed suit behind us. Once he'd stopped, we exited the cars, keeping to the shadows of the surrounding forest. I tugged one of Edward's black bags over my shoulder, checking to make sure I had an extra gun for him, ammo, and a few other supplies, including a first aid kit. Knowing Edward, I never went anywhere without it.

Mickey pulled up the layout of the building, and we both studied it together, the bills of our baseball caps touching.

"Through the fence, you think?" she muttered, looking up at me, and then through the binoculars.

I nodded, looking through the binoculars myself. "We've got a back door facing this way, and it's covered by...three guards and several armed men making rounds throughout the property."

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly to calm either my temper or my nerves. All I wanted was my husband and Emmett back. I'd had the sickest of feelings when he'd called two days prior, letting me know that they were leaving the city of Beijing to check out a lead in a neighboring village. Something just hadn't felt right. Edward had explained all about this guy Chang, about a little girl that hadn't made it through surgery, and when Alice had pulled a background on him, it was nothing but one financial problem after another. My gut-wrenching suspicions were confirmed when Edward didn't call the next day to say good morning to his kids. Edward never missed a phone call to Bethy and Samuel when he was away from them. Ever.

"Relax, sweetheart," Carlisle soothed, placing a warm hand on my shoulder. "We'll get him out," he whispered in my ear, taking the binoculars from me and scanning over the situation in front of us. "Jasper, I want you to get to that truck at the edge of the property and dig in. That should give you a clear shot of just about anything coming out the front of that building, because the rest of us are going in the back," he commanded, finally turning to us.

Jasper spun his sniper rifle to his back in order to look at the layout in my hand. "You're gonna push them my way?"

"I think we can," Alec chimed in softly, giving the building a long, slow study, only to turn to Carlisle. "It's a fireworks factory. The very sight of fire or smoke is going to send these assholes into a panic. We could...fake it."

"Flash discs?" Mickey suggested, digging around in the side pocket of her cargo pants, pulling out a handful of the small, but extremely useful weapons. They were about the size of a half-dollar, giving off a bright flash and pop to take the enemy by surprise.

"They still set off a hefty spark," Carlisle mused, taking one from her and turning it slowly in his hand. "They'll still ignite that gunpowder if it touches it just right. But you might be right; the smoke alone will start them running."

"Alice, how many are inside? And just where is that GPS signal?" I asked, not wanting to start any fucking fires anywhere near Edward and Emmett. I knew she'd been studying the thermal satellite images since we'd locked onto Edward's and Emmett's signals.

"I'm looking at about twenty people, Bells," she answered immediately. "Some are concentrated around some of the machinery, and others are pacing up and down the corridor. Edward's signal is down that corridor. Last door at the end."

"That's here...this end of the building," Mickey stated, pointing to the side of the factory closest to us, and then to the phone's screen. "If we hit this entry, this hallway, and this window, then we'll send them out the front door toward Jazz."

"Corral them, you mean?" Carlisle verified, but he was already nodding slowly. "Fine. Keep all gunfire to a minimum, try not to blow us to hell, and stay low and quiet. Girls, you take that window and stay together. Alec and I will take the two doors. Jasper, get going."

"Sir," we all answered, checking our weapons and breaking away from him.

Mickey and I ran quickly at a crouch, skirting along side the fence line and sticking as much to the shadows as possible, though I was pretty sure we couldn't be seen. We were both dressed in black, both small in stature, and we weren't making a sound.

The fence wasn't really made for any security purposes, so Mickey was able to lift up on the barbed wire to allow me to crawl through, and I did the same for her, once on the other side. We paused behind a tree, making sure that Jasper was in place before continuing. Carlisle used silent signals to tell us he wanted us to all go in at the same time, using the flash discs as a big distraction.

Once we were on point outside the window, Mickey and I waited for Carlisle's go. Peeking inside the window, I noted that it was some sort of office, and it wasn't empty, which I was quick to show Mickey. She nodded, a small smile creeping up her face, because we could see exactly who it was. Chang.

"We've got Chang," she barely breathed over the radio.

"Take him out," Carlisle ordered softly, crouching down just outside the door he was about to enter. "From what I've heard, he's a tyrant in the area. Look around you. My Chinese contacts hate him. In fact, they've asked me to use this opportunity to take care of this shit."

It didn't shock me that Carlisle had called on some old business contacts to inquire about Chang. It shocked me even less that he was stepping back into an old role to do this, especially since his son was involved. My eyes took in the area, and even though it was the middle of the night, I could tell that the small village was repressed. Crops were meager and withering, homes were shabby and falling apart, and the livestock was too thin – almost emaciated. He was starving these people, yet he looked quite fat and happy.

"Fucker," I muttered, a sneer curling up my top lip. "Can we please get our boys? On you, Carlisle."

He snickered softly, most likely at my sharp tone. "This will be loud and fast. On me... Go!"

Mickey took the butt of her rifle and swung it hard toward the glass, shattering it instantly. I clicked the flash disc and tossed it into the room, and we turned our faces away in order to avoid getting the brief blindness that came along with the loud pop that echoed three times throughout the building.

A tinny, sad sounding alarm broke out as Mick and I dove into the window. Two guards flew through the office door, and I took them both out, my shots ringing loud in my ears in the small space. I spun to see that Chang was making a run for it down the hall.

"Fuck," I groaned, rolling my eyes. "Chang's loose," I stated over the radio, though I could hear that Alec and Carlisle had their own issues to contend with.

Commands were shouted left and right in Chinese down the hallways and in English over our headsets, and we paused to give the corridor a brief glimpse, ducking back into the office.

"Okay," Mickey started, "so we've got four doors before the end. Alice, talk to us."

"Behind those four doors, you've got eleven warm bodies," Alice answered immediately. "Three of them are in the last room. That's the boys and most likely Dr. Vincent."

"Hmm, so eight against two, huh?" I mused, pulling Edward's extra Glock out of my bag and engaging it.

"Those are decent odds," Mickey chortled, giving me her wickedly sarcastic grin and a wink.

I laughed silently, rolling my eyes, but nodded. "We've certainly dealt with more, Mick. Ready?"

"Yup," she answered, pulling out a small grenade. "Since we're away from the factory part..." Her voice trailed off at my nod. She pulled the pin, saying, "Fire in the hole," over the radio, and Alec and Carlisle acknowledged back.

She bowled it perfectly down the hall so that it came just shy of the door we needed to protect, but right smack in the middle of the doors we wanted to open. We wanted them to panic, needed them to burst out of the rooms in which they were hiding in order to shoot them like fish in a barrel. And it worked. The rumbling explosion shook the building, sending bits of wall, doors, and floor shooting past us.

"Let's go. Let's go," I snapped, pointing both guns out in front of me and taking down three men as they flew out the first room. Mickey took the next two.

I could barely see the end of the corridor through the smoke and debris, but there was movement.

"Bells, Mick... You've got three coming out of that last room, and it looks like they're carrying a fourth," Alice piped in helpfully over the radio.

"Go, go, go," Mickey hissed, and we ran up the last half of the hallway.

Dr. Frank Vincent looked unconscious as two men held him, while the third was raising his weapon. Mickey and I came at him so quickly and quietly, he didn't have a chance to react. I pressed the muzzle of my nine mil to his temple, pointing Edward's Glock toward the other two men.

"Drop your weapons. All of you," I ordered, not knowing whether they could understand English or not, but I was pretty sure they were getting the idea, because two automatic rifles and a revolver hit the dusty floor, especially when I pulled back on the hammers of my guns, barking the order again. Mickey caught Dr. Vincent just as Alec and Carlisle came around the corner. She eased the older man to the floor, checking his pulse.

"We've got these assholes, Bellissima," Alec said, gripping two men by their shirts and shoving them down the hallway, while Carlisle took the other.

"Mickey, stay with him," Carlisle ordered, jerking his chin toward Vincent. "Bella, find those boys."

"There's still three warm bodies in that last room," Alice advised, "but it looks like the rest of that factory is emptying out."

The door wasn't completely closed, so I nudged it open in order to peek inside. I groaned internally when I saw a small flight of steps leading down into what looked like a basement or a boiler room, because ever since Miller had taken me captive, basements made me extremely uncomfortable. I glanced back to Mickey, but she was trying her best to stem the flow of a cut on Dr. Vincent's forehead. She was whispering softly and kindly to him, and all he could do was nod.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed the door open just a little more. A voice with a thick Chinese accent echoed up from below, and I took the steps at a crouch, one by one, both my guns at the ready.

"Whoever is here for you is too late," Chang said, strolling slowly from left to right.

I couldn't see the boys, but I smirked when Emmett chuckled wearily.

"Sure, big dude. Then why do you look so fucking scared?" he asked, continuing to laugh.

I slowly took another step down, and Edward and Emmett came into my vision. My heart clenched at the sight of them, imprisoned with their arms shackled to what looked like water pipes above their heads. It was all I could do not to rush to them, but Chang was waving a handgun around and looked to be quite on edge. One more step down, and I was on the concrete floor. And it was Edward that saw me first, shooting me a sweet, cocky wink, despite the gun in his face.

I rolled my eyes at him, bringing both guns up and taking another step closer to Chang.

"Not scared. Under pressure," Chang replied, reaching into his pocket. "I've got to burn this room before your friends get here."

"Won't fucking happen," Edward stated nonchalantly, glaring at his captor, and I wanted to smack him for his smugness, because nestled in the corner of the room were a few old boxes of fireworks, not to mention the furnace behind me. The room was a giant explosion waiting to happen, and I was pretty sure Chang knew that. "I told you we'd fucking walk out of here with Vincent, and we will still walk out of here with him."

Emmett shifted, finally seeing me, and he fought his smile and barely won. Flickering his eyes above, he struggled against his restraints, causing the pipes to pull away from the ceiling just a little. My eyebrows raised and I nodded, knowing what he was trying to tell me. I stepped silently up behind Chang. Both hammers on my guns clicked loudly behind Chang's ear, and he froze, beginning to turn around.

"Drop the gun," I ordered, and the fact that it was a woman's voice must have shocked him, because at that point, he spun around, his eyes wide. But he still hadn't dropped what looked to be Edward's Glock. "I said drop it."

Chang tossed the gun at my feet, and I kicked it behind me, sending it skittering across the floor.

"Hey, sweetness," Edward sang, at the same time Emmett boomed, "Hey, Bellsy."

"Hello, boys," I said back, fighting my smile at their overly sweet tones. "We got a little worried, you know. So...I thought we'd just come check on you. We didn't get a chance to give you all the info on this guy."

Edward chuckled low, deep, and sexy, shaking his head. "I bet. Do tell, Bella."

In my ear, Carlisle's voice commanded, "Keep him talking, Bella. I'll take him from you. We've got military police heading this way... We've got to go."

I wanted to answer him, but I couldn't. And I knew for a fact that both Edward and Carlisle never wanted me to assassinate someone. Shooting in defense was one thing, but Carlisle and Edward would rather put the responsibility on themselves, not me.

"This guy is small time...a thug and a bully," I continued, poking Chang in the forehead with the muzzle of my nine mil and tapping my ear so that they knew I was listening in to Carlisle. "And he's broke. So he saw Dr. Vincent as a paycheck. It most likely has nothing to do with his niece, considering that Chang here is estranged from his brother." I smiled up at a very upset Chang. "We should leave you to the locals. Do they know that you can't pay them? Because I bet if they knew you were the reason their families were about to go hungry, I wouldn't need these." I waved my guns just a bit.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Chang said, changing direction on me. "I merely was protecting the honor of my family."

"Ah, yes...family," I said with a sneer. "You mean the daughter you sold on the black market, because you wanted a son, instead?"

That alone caused Edward to jerk in his restraints, his face glowering with black fury. Emmett kicked him to get him to calm down.

Chang paled, his mouth falling open in shock at what I knew, but with Alice, not much could stay hidden. "Who are you?" he asked, shifting on his feet a little.

I smiled and shrugged. "Someone you should've never fucked with," I said, using one of Edward's old lines, which caused him to grin and shake his head. "Now...have a seat." I kept one gun pointed to his head, while the other gestured to the floor by a post. "Move. Now."

"Coming in, Bells," Mickey stated, softly coming down the stairs. Her automatic rifle was at the ready, but her teasing smirk at the boys hanging from the ceiling was hard to miss. "Oh, damn," she chuckled, rolling her eyes at the glares they were giving her.

Before Chang sat down, his arm shot out, a lighter lit in his hand. It was one of those metal military ones, where it didn't need to be in-hand to stay lit. He threw it toward the back of the room, but his aim was off, because Edward's legs were suddenly around the man's neck. My husband had used the pipes above him to pull himself up.

"Mick, the lighter!" I ordered, pointing across the room.

She dove for the small flame, because it was mere inches away from the stack of fireworks in the corner. Chang was struggling against Edward's hold, but with one graceful twist of his body, Chang fell to the floor limply.

"Damn, baby. Did you break his neck?" I asked, bending down to check for a pulse and finding a faint one.

"No, but I could have," Edward answered gruffly, righting his feet back down on the floor and looking like pure muscle and strength and power as his upper body flexed with the motion and his biceps bulged. "He's just unconscious."

"Guys!" Jasper called over the radio. "We've got company comin' down the road. We've got to go!"

Mickey and I looked at each other, and then to Carlisle and Alec, who were rumbling down the steps.

"The doctor is loaded up in the car," Alec said as he and Carlisle yanked Chang up.

"You okay, boys?" Carlisle asked, eying his son and Emmett as he shoved an awakening Chang toward the stairs.

"Yeah, Dad," Edward groaned, but looked to Emmett, who was nodding.

"Girls, get them down. We've got to get the fuck out of here." Carlisle's voice was brusque, but it was because he was about to take care of the asshole in front of him that Alec was currently threatening with a low, smooth voice.

"Get your ass up the stairs, Chang," Alec muttered, pointing his gun to the man's head. "There are some people that want to see you."

Mickey walked to Emmett, eying the cuffs at the same time that I finally was able to give Edward the once-over. He looked tired, but aside from the cuffs cutting into his wrists, he seemed relatively unharmed.

Dragging a box over by Emmett's feet, Mickey pulled out a handcuff key to unlock him.

"You okay?" I asked Edward, cupping his face and making his gaze lock with mine.

"I'm fine," he sighed, smirking down at me. "Thanks for coming."

I chuckled, rolling my eyes and shaking my head. "Like I wouldn't. That was the plan, right? If I didn't hear from you for forty-eight hours, I was to come to you?" I verified, and he nodded, shifting uncomfortably as we waited for Mickey to finish helping Emmett.

Mick kicked the box my way and tossed the handcuff key at me, and I stood up on it, looming over my husband.

"These fingers look broken," I noted softly.

"Maybe," he sighed, gazing up at me with sweet, warm green eyes. "Just...get me down, sweetness," he ordered softly. "Please?" he tacked onto the end with a chuckle.

I grinned at his beautiful mix of sweet and commanding – something that always drove me crazy when he'd first rescued me from Riley Miller, but that now turned me on completely. "I don't know," I sang softly in his ear, starting to unlock the cuffs anyway. "You're kinda fucking hot all tied up and at my mercy here, handsome."

Which he was...utterly delicious. He was totally rugged and dirty, sweaty and flexed in a way that turned me on to no end. It didn't help that he exuded pure confidence, despite the circumstances.

"We can test that out later, love," he crooned up at me, dragging his nose along my neck, which just happened to be right in front of his face as I worked the restraints off of him. Opening his mouth to my skin, he murmured softly, causing chills to break out along my neck and arms. "But turnabout is fair play, Bella." His voice was smooth and thick, with a touch of huskiness to it. "Would you like that?"

I laughed once, and I noticed a small moan escaped me at the same time, which caused Edward to chuckle low and sexy. His eyes, despite how tired they looked, gazed up at me with naughtiness, pure love, and respect, but also with a deadly carnal gleam. It was truly funny how we could lose ourselves in the most desperate of moments, because we needed to get the hell out of that factory.

"Maybe," I teased, rubbing his arms and lowering them slowly. "Keep rubbing them, baby," I told him, hopping down from the box I was standing on and reaching into my bag. "You've got to get the blood flowing again."

He did what I told him, and I tugged out an extra black t-shirt, holding it out for him. Walking across the room, I picked up his Glock and disengaged it. He tugged on his shirt, and his wince did not go unnoticed as he pulled it down over his taut stomach. I could imagine that his arms were achy, but those fingers looked downright painful.

"We gotta go, Edward," I told him, handing him his weapon and an earpiece; he tucked the latter into his ear immediately. "I'll look at that hand in the car, okay?"

"Okay," he said, but leaned into kiss my temple sweetly. "Sorry shit went to hell."

"Just glad you're all right," I sighed the pure truth as we ran up the stairs, where Mickey and Emmett were waiting for us. "And that we got Dr. Vincent back. He should be okay."

"Guys?" Carlisle called over the radio.

"Sir," we answered automatically.

"You can come out the front. And stand down," he ordered in a voice that sounded calm.

We did as he'd asked, exiting out the front of the factory to see a shit-ton of men milling about the front of the property. Carlisle was standing off to the side, speaking to an Asian gentleman, who was wearing a suit. They were laughing together and shaking hands. The rest of the men around the building were wearing military garb. They were loading Chang into the back of an SUV, and they weren't being gentle about it.

"Okay there, kid?" Alec asked as we came to stand beside him. "Em?"

"Yeah, we're good," Edward replied, eying the whole property. "Who is that guy?"

"Lee," Jasper answered with a shrug of one shoulder. "Apparently, Chang has owed him money for too long. And your dad knows his dad or some shit."

We all paused, but it was Alice that explained over our earpieces.

"Twi Tech owns a few subsidiary companies in Beijing. Lee's father managed them for Charlie for years. Now, Lee's son does it for Carlisle. That fireworks factory has been losing money for the past year and a half," she rattled off quickly. "In fact, that's how Mrs. Vincent found out about Gravity, because she and her husband have attended charity functions with Twi Tech for years."

"Is there anything Twi Tech doesn't own?" Mickey asked wryly, smirking at our chuckles.

"I've found that the answer to that...is no," Edward replied, rolling his eyes, but wincing when he reached up to tug off his baseball cap.

"Sit," I ordered softly, tugging open my bag at my hip. "Let me see that hand, baby." I looked to Emmett, who was swiping at a cut above his eye. "You, too. Sit."

Both men sat on the back tailgate of our rental SUV as Carlisle called Jasper, Alec, and Mickey over to help unload some supplies that Lee had apparently brought to the people of the village. Not only were we taking out a problem by removing Chang's influence, but we were helping out hungry people at the same time.

Using what I had, I splinted Edward's hand, wrapping it from the tips of his left fingers, all the way to just inside his elbow. It wasn't great work, but it would do for a temporary fix.

"Better?" I asked him. "I don't think they're broken, but keeping them straight will keep the pain down."

"It's perfect, sweetness," he chuckled, kissing my fingers. "I'm sure I've been worse off."

With a kiss to Edward's forehead, I turned to Emmett, cleaning the wound just above his eye and butterflying it carefully. "Okay, Em?" I asked, making sure he was all right.

"It's all good, Bellsy," he said with a wink and a kiss to my cheek. "Thanks for the rescue. I'd better call Rosie," he murmured, asking for my phone.

I giggled, rolling my eyes and ducking his hand when he tried to ruffle my hair, despite my cap, but my eyes fell to the back of the SUV at Dr. Vincent. He was weak, but didn't seem to be injured other than a few bruises and scratches here and there.

"He needs water, Bella," Edward said, kissing the side of my head once he and Emmett stood up. "They roughed him up pretty badly, but they needed him in one piece."

"Gotcha," I sighed, reaching into my bag and pulling out a bottle of water. "I'll take care of him. Go help your dad so we can get the hell out of here. Okay? You're little soldiers were kinda pissed when I left."

Edward grinned, his cheeks tinging a touch pink at the mention of Bethy and Samuel, and I couldn't help but smile up at him, because he was nothing if not the best dad. "Yes, ma'am," he said, smacking at Emmett's shoulder. "We're on it."

I snickered once, watching them walk away, and then turned back to the doc, who seemed to be coming around. "Hey, Dr. Vincent," I said, soothing him when he jerked awake suddenly. "You're okay. My name's Bella." I crawled into the back seat beside him, opening the bottle of water. "Here. Drink this slowly."

He drank a little, sputtering when he overdid it, but nodded when he'd had enough. "Thank you," he sighed, looking weary and scared.

"You can relax now," I told him, smiling slightly and checking the bruise next to his eye. He was an older gentleman, with sun-bronzed skin and wise gray eyes. "Your wife sent us..."

"Eileen!" he gasped, trying to sit up, but he was rather weak.

"Easy. She's fine, and we'll get you back to her soon, okay?" I consoled him, easing him back against the seat again. "She told me to tell you that retirement was eminent."

He cracked a real, honest smile, even though his eyes were closed, and I chuckled at him. "She may be right this time," he snickered softly, cracking one eye open to look at me. "Thanks, Bella."

I smirked and nodded. "Mmhm...now relax for me. You're safe now."

~oOo~

EDWARD

"Elizabeth Renee, why on Earth do you insist on dictating Samuel's every move?" Bella sighed exasperatedly into the phone, her head thumping to the hotel widow as the lights of the city at night shone around her like an angel's halo. Her eyes snapped up to meet mine as I came out of the bathroom. "Daddy told you to do what?"

My eyebrows shot up, because there was no telling what my daughter was about to rat me out on. Bella pulled her phone away from her ear, turning on the speaker.

"Daddy s-said to t-take c-care of y-you and S-Sammy while he was g-gone," she sputtered adorably, and I smirked, because she only stuttered when she thought she was in big trouble.

"Yes, he may have," my wife said, her eyes narrowing on me as I walked across the room to the window seat she was sitting in. "However, I'm sure that forcing him to play with you and Abby was not what Daddy meant. Samuel doesn't always want to play house...and he definitely doesn't want to lay in a baby crib while you two play dress up."

I grinned, shaking my head. "Little sweetness, give your brother a break, will ya?" I chuckled, sitting down next to Bella on the cushions.

"D-Daddy," she groaned, and I could just imagine her huff and eye roll. "B-But we n-need a b-baby...C-Caleb is the dad."

I could very well imagine the gender war that had ensued while poor Esme was babysitting. "Bethy, boys don't always want to play house. Let them do their own thing."

A loud, dramatic sigh sounded through the phone, and Bella smiled up at me, shaking her head. "Even it out, baby. Play what they want sometimes, too. Okay?" she asked, picking up my now unwrapped hand to check out my fingers.

"Yeah, but..."

"No. No yeah buts," Bella and I said at the same time.

"Ooookay," Bethy finally conceded over the phone, dragging the word out. "When are you coming home?" she asked, changing the subject beautifully.

"Our flight is in the morning," Bella answered her, "so we won't see you until the next night. We'll pick you up on Saturday night. Be good for Gamma, okay? Try not to drive her crazy."

Bethy giggled, a sound that was too cute – and a touch naughty, if I were to be honest. And I couldn't decide just exactly who she sounded like more in that moment – me or her mother.

"I won't," she laughed. "But I miss you. Hurry. You pwomised the park, Daddy."

"I did," I agreed. "And when we get home, we'll all go. How's that?"

"Yay!" she cheered, babbling to whoever was in the room with her.

After "I love yous" and "be safes," Bethy was a little better on the phone, and we hung up. Bella set it down beside her and picked up my hand again.

"How's it feel?" she asked softly, gently caressing my middle and ring finger. "They're a little swollen."

"Like they did when I jammed them playing baseball," I chuckled, shrugging. I made a fist, though it was a little painful, and then wiggled my fingers. "Sprained, baby. I'll live."

She smiled up at me, leaning in to kiss my cheek. "Good. Can't have them out of commission for long, Mr. Cullen. I'm rather fond of those hands – specifically those fingers," she giggled, letting out a sweet squeak when I suddenly pulled her to my lap.

She was just fucking beautiful as she loomed over me, wearing nothing but the hotel's silk robe. Her hair was still a little damp from her shower, her skin glowing in the soft light from lamp on the bedside table. Cupping my face, she pressed her forehead to mine and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath when my hands ghosted softly up and down her back over the silky material, finally landing on her sweet ass.

"Good thing I'm right handed, huh?" I chuckled, nuzzling her nose up one side and down the other and giving her ass a light squeeze as I leaned back against the window.

"I prefer you...ambidextrous." Her smile was wicked and sexy, but totally honest.

I laughed, and it felt fucking good to have her in my arms again, even though this last mission was tame in comparison to some other things we'd been through. Leaning in just a little, I kissed her softly, relishing the taste of her, the sweet sigh that always rushed out against the skin of my cheek.

Pulling back, I said, "Th-Thank y-you f-for c-coming to g-get m-me," my stutter emerging because her warm gaze was slowly unraveling me. I wanted her right there in that window for all of fucking China to see, though we were high enough that it would've been impossible for anyone to be watching.

"Were you scared?"

"No," I sighed deeply, playing with the belt on her robe. "I was pissed off for allowing us to get ambushed, but I knew the plan. I just had to wait."

"He could have killed you," she countered, watching my hands as I finally pulled the belt off and let it fall to the floor behind her.

I let the robe hang loosely against her skin, licking my lips when her nipples peaked hard and tight.

"Chang's fear of American soldiers kept him from killing us, because he wasn't quite sure what we were," I explained to her, tracing my nose over each silk covered breast. "He was afraid of retribution if he'd killed two American military men in cold blood. However, I'm not sure he was prepared for a pissed off wife."

She grinned, and a small giggle burst from her. "His face was priceless when he realized a woman was holding two guns to his head."

I nodded slowly, and suddenly, I was done with talk of Chang, my weariness disappearing. Skimming my fingers down either side of her face to her neck, I gently slipped the robe off her shoulders. It pooled silently onto the floor. The only thing that was between us was the towel from my shower.

Shamelessly, I ogled my wife, because she was fucking stunning. She was perfect to me, despite old scars that she didn't even give a second thought to anymore. She continued to work out, sparring with Kurt, so she was in excellent shape, no matter that she'd had two beautiful children. Bella was soft curves, strong muscles, and breasts that were full and made my fingers twitch to touch them, which I did.

I wrapped my left arm all the way around her waist, bringing her smooth, warm skin in delicious contact with mine, while I flattened my right hand in order to feel all over her at once – the curve of her back, the side of her breast, her heart beating heavily, and the sweet dimples just above her ass. She whimpered when my pinky slipped just barely between her cheeks.

"We're in the window, Edward," she whispered, nipping softly at my lips. "Someone could see..."

"Fuck them," I rumbled, tracing my fingers up her body and pausing just long enough to brush my thumb across her tightly peaked nipple. "You're beautiful, and they should see who you belong to," I said, my voice taking on a huskiness I couldn't control.

A small smile flickered across her face, and she hummed against my lips. It was all I could do not to kiss her fucking senseless, but she seemed to be holding back.

"Perhaps I don't want to show off what's mine," she countered, and then suckled lightly on my bottom lip, letting it fall from her mouth sexily.

I grinned and shrugged one shoulder, not giving two shits who saw me. I was owned by the girl in my arms and had been since the moment I'd scooped her up off of Miller's table.

Giggling softly at my silly ass smile, Bella reached around to capture my hands in hers. She pushed them up until they were pressed against the glass. "And perhaps... I still want you at my mercy..."

"Sweetness, don't you know?" I chuckled darkly, rolling my hips against her heat and moaning when my towel loosened, "I'm always at your mercy."

Lightly scratching her nails down my arms, she threaded one into my hair, while the other snaked down to finally rid us of my towel. I took the opportunity to put my hands back on her, slipping one up the side of her neck to bring her mouth to mine. I couldn't hold back from her anymore. She was wet and hot grinding against me, her hand taking a firm grip of my cock. Gripping her ass with my pain-free hand, I jerked her closer at the same time her thumb swirled over the head of my heavily leaking dick.

Tongues swirled and teeth nipped, and it was comfortable, it was home, and it was never fucking enough. Claiming her with long slow strokes of my tongue, I started to writhe underneath her, finally breaking away from her sweet mouth to kiss down her neck, because I was so fucking hard for her.

"In this fucking window or on that damn bed, baby... Tell me," I practically growled against the flesh of her neck as her head fell back. "I'm going to take you hard no matter what," I warned her, which only resulted in the best of wicked smiles.

"Here," she commanded, and I flipped her onto her back, looming over her and settling into the cradle of her strong thighs.

She laughed at the quick movement, her head falling back against the pillows stacked behind her in that window seat, and I couldn't help but smile against her neck as I let my body finally line up with hers, because her laugh was the best of sounds. And fuck, if she wasn't soaked for me.

"Oh, sweetness...so very wet," I crooned, dragging my lips along her jaw, only to tease her lips with my tongue.

"Tied up was very hot on you, Edward," she purred, biting down sexily on that bottom lip of hers, but her body rolled in a gorgeous wave of want and lust when my hand skimmed down her side and stomach to the apex of her legs. "Oh God, yes..." she breathed in shock, her eyes rolling back when I slipped my uninjured fingers through her saturated folds.

"Did you think I couldn't touch you?" I asked, pressing my forehead to hers just to watch her struggle to answer me when I slid deep inside of her. Curling my fingers just right, I grinned when my name burst out of her in a breathy rush. "Oh, my Bella... You should know pain is the furthest thing from my mind right now..." Her breath caught when my thumb brushed across her clit just right. "Oh, so close...so soon..."

She shook her head, pulling at my hand. "You, baby. I want you..."

Never wanting to deny her anything, I pulled my fingers from her, only to lift her leg into the crook of my arm. I lined up with her entrance and slipped slowly inside of her as deeply as I could, both of us moaning at the complete and utter feel of just...perfection.

"You wanted hands...now you want my cock?" I asked her, pulling out only to thrust back into her. "Such a demanding pussy, baby..."

"I want all of you," she countered, her fingers digging into my back and my ass and her leg wrapping around my hip.

"Mm, my needy girl," I rumbled in her ear, nipping at her earlobe as I thrust hard into her over and over.

Bella was so damned beautiful, and it didn't matter that we'd been married for going on six years. It didn't matter that we worked together just about every day or had two adorable kids. When we were alone like this, it always felt new and perfect, fulfilling and just as hot as the first time I'd kissed her – all fire, lust, and unending want. I used to think it was how we'd started, having to take things so very slowly, having to measure progression with each touch, but I'd thrown that theory away years ago, because by now, I was convinced it was just...us.

Her insides clenched down hard on me as her hips met me thrust for thrust. "Edward..."

"Sweetness, come for me," I begged her softly in her ear. "I want you all night long..."

It didn't take long for her body to obey that command, though she was damned close to begin with, and she shattered hard around me, causing my own stumble into the abyss with her. The sound of hips meeting hips and heavy breathing filled the hotel room. Curses and our names pushed out against sweaty skin as our bodies pulsated, her sweet pussy milking me for all I had.

"Mm, all night?" Bella purred, her hands gliding over my back and up my arms.

I grinned at the post-coital bliss that was practically radiating off of her. "Indeed," I said against her lips. "No kids waking up early. No having to keep the noise down..."

She smiled lazily, dragging her tongue along her bottom lip. "And we can sleep on the plane..."

I chuckled, nodding slowly. "And we can sleep on the plane," I repeated in a whisper.

The giggle that erupted from her was sweet, though filled with a sexy, deep tone. "Then it seems, Mr. Cullen...that I am at your mercy."