Tuesday, February 5, 2002 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 21

CHAPTER 21

BELLA

We were not going to make it inside the fucking house. I couldn't help but laugh when Edward practically skidded the Camaro into the driveway, throwing it into park. I was still giggling when he turned toward me.

I'd teased him the last twenty or so miles. I'd touched him, leaned over and kissed him, skimmed my hand over his ever growing erection, and whispered how badly we needed to break in my new car – the right way. I couldn't help it, because it felt so freeing just being away from everyone, if only for a quick trip home to grab Edward's tools and helicopter. It wasn't that we forgot ourselves or what we were supposed to be doing, but we'd always taken every opportunity to fuck with each other when it was just the two of us.

"Sweetness," he grunted, shaking his head slowly as his nostrils flared. "I hope you meant it, because this car will never be the same again." He lowered his head, looking up at me through his very long eyelashes, mouthing, "Ever."

Another giggle escaped me, because he looked wrecked. His hair stuck up everywhere from where his hands had tugged at it in order to maintain his composure, his eyes were black fire, drinking in every inch of me, and his jeans looked like they were about to rip open with how hard he was.

I glanced around, loving the fact that we had no neighbors, no witnesses to see what we were about to do. "Every word, baby," I said, tugging my t-shirt off over my head and tossing it into the back seat.

He was up and out of the car in a flash, slamming the driver's side door. My door was suddenly yanked open, and he reached down to drop my seat flat and slide it back as far as it would go. Somewhere between his door and mine, he'd lost his shirt. A quick glance to the discarded pile of fabric on the hood through the windshield told me where it had landed, but fuck, if he wasn't sexy as all hell when he crawled in on top of me.

Reaching out just to touch, I skimmed my hands up his strong arms and across his broad shoulders, leaning up to brush my lips over his ink – my ink. Dragging my nails down his back, I found a secure grip just under the waistband of his jeans, which caused our denim covered hips to grind together. My eyes never left the deep green in front of me as he let me do what I wanted.

"I want you," I whispered, my brow wrinkling with just how true that simple statement was.

I loved that man, but sometimes, he was so damn sexy that I couldn't help but just ache with the need to touch, to be touched, to hear his deadly mouth say things to me that would make a hooker blush. And it was because he was mine. All mine. He no more looked at another woman than the man in the moon. Edward only saw me, and that was a power that was both breathtaking and humbling.

"Aren't you glad we don't have neighbors?" he purred with a slight chuckle, echoing my thoughts from just minutes prior as he slowly reached up to pop open the front clasp of my bra. "Hmm, though I don't care who hears you call my name," he murmured sensually, his right hand flat between my breasts. He spread his fingers wide, his pinky just barely teasing one nipple, his thumb teasing the other, all while his left hand was braced against the car's seat by my head.

"Edward," I breathed, my brow furrowing and my back arching when my nipples instantly peaked higher, tighter under his light touches.

"Yeah," he said, slowly nodding his head as a wicked smirk crawled up his face. "Just...like...that."

When his mouth met mine, open, wet, and claiming, I didn't want gentle or slow. I wanted hard, fast, and deep. And for a split second, I hoped he'd set the emergency brake, because I wanted every bit of power and strength my husband had to offer me. I'd teased him too long and too much in the car ride, and now I needed him. Badly.

Fingers grabbed, tugged, and lowered zippers, and we barely had our jeans and underwear down and crumpled in the floorboard of the front seat before he was back between my legs. His hands grabbed the top of my headrest, his forehead pressed to mine.

"Wrap those legs higher, love," he commanded, nipping my jaw lightly with his teeth. "I want to bury myself inside of you..."

I did as he asked, though he still reached down to hook one of my legs in the crook of his arm. My mouth hung open, a whimper caught in my throat, and it felt like every nerve ending I had was on edge as he coated his cock with my wetness before lining up at my entrance.

"Oh, God," I cried out, digging my nails into his back and ass once he'd sheathed himself completely inside of me.

"Fuck, yes," he growled into my neck, and I could tell he was gritting his teeth, that the words had barely made it out. "You're so fucking sexy when you tease, Bella," he gasped, pulling almost all the way out, only to slam back into me.

I wanted to smile at the rocking motion the poor car made, but I couldn't see, feel, or concentrate on anything other than Edward – his body above me, his cock inside of me, and his mouth at the soft spot just below my ear, whispering things that made my eyes roll back into my head.

I knew with the pace he was setting, we weren't going to last long. We were too worked up, too needy. His desperate claim that he wished I was the only woman he'd ever been with had caused something in me to come undone. I wanted to tear him up, eat him alive, and kiss him stupid, but instead, I'd touched, flirted, and teased him until he couldn't hold back anymore.

Gliding my hand up his chest, around his neck, and into his hair, I gripped him hard, pulling him from my neck to my mouth. We kissed with heavy breathing, tongues swirling, and hips meeting roughly. Slapping skin echoed around us in the tight confines of the car. Edward moaned, pulling back a little, his teeth dragging across my bottom lip.

"I need you to come, baby," he panted. "I want you to come so hard for me," he ordered, pushing himself up a little. The hand that wasn't holding my leg slipped between us, his long, knowing fingers finding my clit in the perfect spot. He knew my body almost better than I did. "But I want to hear you...tell me when that delicious pussy can't take it anymore, sweetness..."

When his thumb rubbed me just right, pressing hard on my clit, my whole body constricted around him. My legs pulled him closer, my hands gripped his back and his hair, and my teeth latched on somewhere between his neck and shoulder, trying my damnedest not to scream.

"Out loud, baby," he ordered again.

"Now, now, now," I chanted, my eyes squeezing closed and my head pressing back against my seat as my whole body felt like it shattered into a million pieces. "I'm coming, Edward..."

"Yes," he growled, driving faster, harder, and deeper, though his rhythm was faltering, so I knew he was close. "Fuck, shit...fuck," he ground out, thrusting into me so hard that my ass came up off of the seat when he spilled inside of me.

Carefully, he extricated my leg from his arm, rubbing the side of my thigh as he dropped kisses to my forehead, nose, and chin.

"I can't move," he snickered, pressing his sweaty forehead to mine. "Will you help me pack up the chopper after a few hours sleep?"

"Yes, of course," I said, smiling up at him and wincing when he pulled out of me. "Thanks for test driving...my car," I teased him as he stood up, tugging on his jeans.

He snorted, turning to look at me with a raised eyebrow and a wickedly sexy smirk. "It's a sweet ride, too, baby..."

I giggled, barely able to pull my own clothes back on. "God, I love you..."

He chuckled, shaking his head at me and offering me a hand when I had at least gotten my jeans and t-shirt back on. "Love you, too, Bella. Come... We'll sleep for a few hours, load up the chopper, and then get back to the safe house by lunch."

I curled my body next to his as he walked us to the house, and suddenly, I just couldn't wait to really return to our home. I was ready to bring Sammy and Bethy back to their house. I was ready for this case to be over, for Kyra to be safe, and for Preston to finally get caught.

~oOo~

EDWARD

I rubbed my face, took another sip of coffee, and gazed out at the tarp that covered my chopper. It was a chilly morning outside, much chillier than it had been at the safe house, with fog hanging low on the ground. It was the kind of fog that wasn't going to give me much trouble by the time I took off, because it would most likely dissipate by the time the sun was completely up.

Leaning against the counter, I settled most of my weight on my elbows, taking another sip of coffee. Bella had asked me not to start without her, so I was just waiting for her to get dressed. That was fine by me. I knew exactly what tools I needed to load up, and the chopper wouldn't take long to ready.

This last final plan ticked off in my head like a long list. It needed to be perfect, though I had to admit that it wasn't making me as worried as so many other missions we'd tackled. Royce King had been damn scary, because mafia shit was nothing to play with. Lilith had been crazy, which made her unstable. That was what concerned me. Preston was a wild card... He wasn't involved with anything like King had been, but he wasn't crazy like Lilith. He was a psychopath. Whatever he was, it was something we hadn't truly dealt with before.

We'd taken away his safe house and his girl, exposed his father, and removed the last target we assumed he would go after – Jordan. We'd continuously checked on the guy in London, Ryan, and the ex-husband, Roger, but they were safe and sound. In fact, Alice was monitoring their cell phones just to be sure. Preston couldn't get to them unless he flew, and he couldn't fly, because he was now deemed a threat. The very second he tried to catch a plane, airport security would hold him for us.

The only fucking worry I had was when it came down to switching Kyra and Bella. Kyra's life would then be in Alec's and my father's hands, while Bella's life solely rested with me. And that was the scary part, because we would be the main target, unless Preston caught wind of the ruse.

Warm lips pressed to the ink on my upper arm, and I turned to see Bella freshly showered, her hair up in a sweet ponytail. I smiled at her, because she looked a little like Bethy with her hair that way.

"I made breakfast," I told her as she stole my mug like she always did and took a sip.

"In a minute," she sighed, and I couldn't help but lift her up and set her on the end of the counter. I just wanted to look at her, but her brow furrowed. "You look...upset," she noted softly, reaching up to rub the wrinkle between my brows.

"Not upset...just thinking," I sighed, rubbing the outside of her jean clad thighs as I moved to stand between them. "Are you sure this is the way you want to go with this plan?" I asked her, tilting my head just a bit to study her expression.

Instead of answering my question, she countered it with one of her own.

"Did you know that at any given time, there are twenty to fifty unidentified active serial killers out there?" she posed, taking another sip of coffee. When I shook my head no, she continued. "This is Alice's area of expertise, but still... We've stopped one – and a big one, at that. Ike Raulson will go down in history as someone as big as Ted Bundy. His son may have ended his life, but we were the ones to out him. So far, Kyra has been the only victim to come forward as a survivor. His other living victims won't."

"But Preston?"

"Will only increase his killings," she replied immediately. "He will take over where his father left off. Only this time, it wouldn't be just rape and murder; you can add torture and sadism to that list. He was abused and exposed to violence from the very minute he was taken in by Ike at ten years old. He's socially awkward, having been told nothing he ever did was good enough. And he's very, very angry. He tried one time to have a normal relationship, and he was denied – by his father and Kyra. He's Miller all over again," she stated, shrugging a shoulder.

"So I ask you again, sweetness... Are you sure?" I practically growled, because the mere thought of a monster like that possibly getting his hands on my girl was pissing me the fuck off.

"Yes, and I'll tell you why," she stated calmly, leaning in to kiss my forehead. "Because I trust you, and I trust our crew. Once we trap him, we'll have removed another threat off of the streets."

"What about you?" I asked, because I was well aware, had watched as much of those fucking videos that I could stand – which wasn't very much – and I knew what this Preston was capable of; he was so fucking familiar that my biggest concern was Bella's emotional state.

She smiled, cupping my face. "You make me strong, Edward. It's as simple as that. If you're my 'bodyguard,' then I can handle it. Remove that, and I'm not so sure."

I sighed, grazing the backs of my fingers across the smooth skin of her cheek. I shook my head, but said, "Fair enough," because I hadn't planned on letting her out of my sight.

I started to set her back down onto the kitchen floor, but she stopped me. "Hey," she whispered, leaning in, her hands still caressing my jaw. "I'm not promising this won't freak me out, but you know how I feel about men like this, Edward. No woman—"

"Should ever have their power taken away from them," I finished for her with a nod. "I know, baby. I'm just... I hate it. The thought of it makes me crazy."

"And that's probably what will help us the most," she snickered, kissing my lips. "Your...vigilance will keep me focused."

Smiling at her, I finally nodded, because she'd used the word "vigilance" with a touch of wryness to her voice. She was downplaying my personality.

"Now," she sang, setting the empty cup onto the counter next to her and smiling a sweet, warm smile. "What's the game plan for this tool business, coach?"

Laughing, I finally set her down onto her feet. "Come on, I'll show you."

~oOo~

"God," Bella groaned, falling into the co-pilot seat next to me. "Tell me again why you just didn't bring Emmett or Jazz with you?"

I grinned over at her, chuckling a bit. She normally wasn't a complainer when it came to physical work, but it had not gone unnoticed to me that my girl was sore after our time in the car, and loading up the chopper and getting her ready for take off wasn't exactly helping Bella out any. But I really and truly couldn't resist messing with her just a little. It was payback for the shit she'd pulled while I was driving.

"Because I can't fuck them in a brand new Camaro," I told her, giving her a wink when her gaze suddenly snapped to mine, her mouth hanging open. "You asked." I shrugged one shoulder, laughing when she snorted into an adorable giggle.

"You brought me here to get laid?" she chuckled, rolling her eyes at me. "We're married, Edward. You can get a little somethin'-somethin' anytime."

"No...I brought you here because I wanted you out of the safe house for a bit...and I wanted to drive your car. Getting laid inside said car was a bonus," I told her, grinning when she burst into hysterics.

"Baby, I swear..." she snorted, shaking her head and rolling her eyes at me. "You are so shameless."

"Only for you, Mrs. Cullen," I sighed the God's honest truth. "You ready?" I asked, handing her a headset.

She nodded, pulling it on, and strapped herself in. "Yeah, I'm all set."

I called in my flight, gave Bella's leg a squeeze, and pulled up on the stick.

It was a simple flight, with very little turbulence, and I took it lower than I normally would have, simply because flying over the preserves of Oregon was just damned beautiful. I couldn't help it, either, because Bella's sweet brown eyes took it all in. It had been a while since we'd taken a flight just the two of us.

I hadn't been kidding her about removing her from the safe house for a bit. After her panic attack and what we'd found at Ike's hunting cabin, I just wanted her to get away, if only for one day. Hell, it wasn't even one day. But I think she welcomed the break, though she hated leaving Bethy and Sammy behind.

"I think I'm going to take Alec's advice," she said out of the blue just about the time we crossed over into California. "I think I'm going to practice with that new gun while you guys start this...stage thing."

"Okay." Looking over at her, I picked up her hand and brought it to my lips in order to kiss the back of it. "Any particular reason why?"

"Besides the fact that I want to play with my toy?" she giggled, gazing up at me. "No, but a little shooting practice wouldn't hurt. I don't think the girls have fired a weapon in some time."

As the safe house loomed closer, I focused my gaze on my landing sight, but I said, "It's not a bad idea, love, especially considering most of you will be mixed in with the crowd for this thing. Take Alec with you."

"Okay," she conceded with a nod.

I set the chopper down just off to the side of the house. There was plenty of room between the beach and back deck. Once I'd powered her down, I reached over to unbuckle Bella's straps, both of us tugging off the headsets.

"Thanks for the help, sweetness," I whispered, kissing her lips quickly, before the whole damn house interrupted us to unload the chopper.

"Thanks for the ride, flyboy," she chuckled back, but it fell quickly. "Hey, Edward?"

"Hmm?"

"Just so you know..." she murmured softly nuzzling my jaw before I pulled away. "We may not have kept in touch as kids, and we may both have...pasts, but you know what?"

"What, love?"

"Not one experience came anywhere near what it's like with you, even after five years of marriage. Not one. So as far as I'm concerned, you are my first," she whispered. "And last."

I felt the exact same way, though I wasn't sure I could get those words out without kissing the ever loving shit out of her. Never mind that the whole house was approaching, including our kids. But my next statement gave me what I loved to hear – her giggle.

"Y-Yeah, m-me, t-too, B-Bella, but we're so getting you a number ten baseball jersey," I whispered, finally pulling back.

Her laugh was full and happy, her cheeks tinging pink as she opened her door and slid down to the sand. I snickered, shaking my head at just how ridiculously insane I was over that woman. It never ceased to shock me that she always knew exactly what I needed to hear.

I jumped down to the sand, turning to slide open the bay doors. I spun back around when Emmett's big hand landed on my shoulder.

"Okay?" he verified, raising an eyebrow at me.

"Yup, we're good," I stated with a nod, gesturing to the tools in the back. "Let's get unloaded, and then we can start building this thing."

~oOo~

BELLA

"Elizabeth Renee!" I scolded, rolling my eyes at the fact that my oldest was on the go twenty-four-seven. "Not one of you will go outside without a jacket on. Period. No arguments, pretty girl."

"But Daddy's got a fire out there," she countered.

"Don't care," I sang back, tugging a hoodie onto Samuel, only to cup his chunky cheeks and smooch on his puckered lips – my sweet and cuddly one. "Please, just humor me, Bethy. Okay?"

"Okay," she sighed, and I swear, she looked just like me when she rolled her eyes and dove into the closet.

A tug on my own sweatshirt made me look down to see Caleb grinning up at me with jacket in hand. "Help, Aunt Bewwa."

I chuckled, setting Sammy down onto the floor, only to lift Caleb up onto the dresser in his place. "Okay, big guy. Let's get you set up."

The kids wanted to be outside with everyone else, and I had wanted a few minutes with them – all of them – while the guys unloaded the chopper. The girls and I were going to target practice, while most of the guys had started to sort out that stage building project. Alec would be with us and was already setting up our targets, while Esme and Sarah had said they would watch over the kids. However, the day had turned chilly, so I had to make sure the little ones were dressed for it, especially with the breeze coming in off the water and the fact that it hadn't been long since Sammy had been sick.

I zipped up Caleb's sweatshirt, tugging the hood down over his face, just to hear him giggle. He looked so much like Emmett, with his sweet dimples and his happy smile, that I couldn't help but ruffle his short curls. His eyes, though, were all Rose – deep blue, expressive, and just sharp.

"Better?" I asked him, and he nodded, wrapping his arms around my neck so I could lift him up and set him down to the floor. "Come on, guys," I sighed, making sure both Abby and Bethy had found their coats.

I scooped up Sammy, just because I could, smooching his sweet hand that reached for my face. I carried him as the older kids rumbled down the stairs, all giggles, squeals, and excitement. I set Sammy down in the dining room so he could bolt out the door with the rest of them, making a stop off in the office to grab my weapons out of the top drawer of a bureau in there. My brand new gun was still in its box, but my old nine mil was right on top of it, along with a few extra forty-fives that we'd taken from the house in Forks. Taking an extra box of ammunition, I joined the rest of the women at the sliding glass doors.

"Really?" I scoffed, raising an eyebrow at them all when they spun to look my way. "It's not reality TV, you know."

"Shut it!" Alice hissed, spinning back toward the area that the guys had designated as the construction zone. "I should make a DVD of this shit, too, though nothing beats the chopping wood one..."

Makenna laughed, her head falling back. "You seriously still have that?"

Alice sighed, "Yeah," at the same time Rose and I did, which only caused more laughter, but it was at Kyra's and Cassie's confused faces that I couldn't help but start to explain.

"Um, safe house...mountains. Edward, Jasper, and Emmett were chopping wood. This was before any of us were really...together," I chuckled, gesturing toward the eye candy that had started this whole conversation. "Alice thought she'd be the genius that she is and film it. She turned it into a DVD for us. I think we all got one for that very next Christmas."

"Yeah, we did," Rose laughed, her head falling back.

Kyra grinned at me, only to turn back to the windows. "I've seen porn that doesn't even come close to this hot..."

"Dear Lord," Cassie chuckled, rolling her eyes.

"Don't hate," Alice scoffed, waving a hand over her shoulder without tearing her attention away from what was most important at the moment.

Cassie laughed, but I took a glance at the sight just past the kids playing in the sand with Esme and Sarah. Kyra was right; it was damn hot.

Despite the chilly air, most of the guys had either removed their sweatshirts or jackets, unbuttoned their flannel shirts, or just shed their top layer of clothing altogether, leaving themselves in white undershirts and jeans. I shook my head at lumber being lifted, toted, and dropped, at muscles rolling as saws, hammers, and measuring tapes were put to use, and at sweet, carefree smiles as they let the work they were doing take away the stress of what they were actually making the stage for.

But it was the handsome thing wearing the backwards baseball cap that my eyes fell to, because no one out there came close – and yeah, I was totally biased. Edward's jeans hung low on his hips, his eyes were sharp and focused on using the table saw in front of him, and his tight gray t-shirt highlighted every muscle. His entire profile was just stunning, including the dark, sexy ink that peeked out from under his sleeve.

I shook my head once, because he was innocently turning me on. Hell, all the boys were doing a damn good job at distracting my girls. In fact, most of them were teasing Kyra about Jordan.

"Come on jeans...just a little farther, and we'll be able to read that tat," Mickey laughed, tapping the glass door in front of her.

Kyra groaned, her brow furrowing as the breeze blew Jordan's unbuttoned shirt back, revealing smooth skin, a fairly decent tan, and damn nice abs.

"He's driving me crazy," she huffed, rolling her eyes and pushing away from the window, but we all jumped when we were totally fucking busted.

"I realize that I'm not out there to add to the...scenery," Alec chuckled, leaning in the side door with his arms crossed, "but are you ladies gonna do this thing, or what?"

I grinned at him, kissing his cheek. "You're sweet eye candy, Alec. Never forget it. Come on, girls, before Alec squeals on us for ogling. Then we'll never hear the end of it."

Alec huffed, rolling his eyes, but his sweet, pink cheeks told me he was placated for the moment and wouldn't "squeal" on us, even if the boys blackmailed him. He liked to keep his girls' giggles all to himself, never mind that his heart and soul belonged to Sarah. He would never stop flirting. It was just the way he was. Now, it was just a harmless ploy to get smiles, when it used to be a deadly fucking weapon.

Mickey, Alice, Rose, and Makenna made their way outside, but Kyra and Cassie hadn't moved.

"Oh no, you guys, too," I told them, shooing them out with everyone else. "I need you two to at least know how to fire a weapon. It's for your own protection. I don't have time to teach you how to fight, but I can teach you how to handle, load, and fire a gun. So let's go."

"Oh, Bella... I don't know," Kyra groaned, looking back at me over her shoulder. She looked nervous and slightly fearful. "The only gun I've ever touched was a movie prop."

"Well, these aren't props," I chuckled, holding up the three semi-automatic handguns. "These are the real deal. And you need to know," I stressed to her, "because if something goes wrong, you'll at least be able to defend yourself. Got me?"

She nodded silently, her eyes still disbelieving, but she followed me, Alec, and the rest of the girls out to his makeshift shooting range.

He'd set up a fair amount of targets – cans, bottles, and some roughly and what looked like quickly drawn circular bulls-eyes. The cans and bottles were sitting on top of the fence, while the paper targets were pinned to tree trunks.

"I have plenty more, so don't worry about running out," he said, chuckling at our expressions, but he turned to me. "First things first. I want you to try that new gun of yours out first thing. Get a feel for it. Learn it, because Eddie doesn't want anything to hold you back when this shit hits the fan."

I handed Rose my old nine mil, Alice the forty-five, and finally popped the clip of my new gun. It was silver, with a pearl handle, and fucking gorgeous. Alec chuckled at my side when I had it loaded and ready.

"Go for it, Bellissima," he encouraged, all joking and silliness aside.

I nodded, lifted my weapon with both hands, and aimed for the first paper target closest to me. Squeezing one eye closed to aim, I fired off four rapid shots. I couldn't help but grin, because not only were my shots spot on target, but my new gun was a sweet piece. The trigger wasn't too hard to pull, nor was the kickback too bad.

"Oh ho!" I laughed, biting my bottom lip. "I have a new favorite thing..."

The girls laughed, and Alec grinned as he ruffled my hair.

"Okay," he sang, clapping his hands one time. "Who's next?"

It took a little encouragement to get Kyra to actually take my old nine mil from me, much less aim and fire, though Cassie was all over that shit. She took to handling the forty-five like a pro. Rose was a damn good shot, and Alice and Makenna were right behind her. The one person I didn't have to worry about was Mickey.

"Use both hands," I told Kyra, helping her straighten her arms after she'd just about hit herself with the first pull of the trigger. "Yeah, you can shoot with one, and they make that shit look cool in the movies, but the kick will knock your aim off if you're not used to it. Okay?"

"'Kay," she breathed as she took aim at a bottle at the end of the fence. She pulled the trigger twice. The first one missed, but the second one shattered it.

"Nice!" Mickey and Rose cheered, giving her high-fives.

Kyra only improved after that. We kept Alec busy, changing out the targets and reloading as the trash talk never stopped. Everyone wanted to try my new gun, and we made bets and dares, the laughter echoing up to the house, I was pretty sure, because soon, we weren't alone.

As I aimed my weapon one more time – the dare being to take out each and every bottle along the fence without missing – I heard snorts and chuckles behind me.

"Did you teach her about distractions, love?" the sweetest, sexiest voice crooned in my ear as I felt the heat of his chest press to my back while I stood in a side stance, aiming with one hand. His tone was smooth as silk, caressing the skin of my neck, as I tried to fight my smile.

"We tried," I answered without looking back, because suddenly, a Glock was aimed right alongside my nine mil, a strong arm holding it with taut muscles and just a touch of sawdust still clinging to his skin.

"How about speed, sweetness?" Edward asked, again making sure to brush his lips right next to my ear, and it didn't help that he smelled like fresh cut wood, a touch of sweat, and all delicious Edward.

"Meet you in the middle, baby," I giggled. "Go!"

There were fifteen bottles all lined up – mostly beer, thanks to this crew. Edward started from the left, and I started from the right. We ignored the cheers, the catcalls, and the taunting behind us. And I couldn't help but laugh when we both killed the last bottle in the middle.

"Mm, that's my girl," he crooned proudly in my ear as he finally wrapped his free arm around my waist and placed a sweet kiss on my neck. "I just had to take a break and see how this was going," he chuckled sexily.

I laughed, my head falling back to his shoulder. "It's going great," I told him, turning in his embrace. "Though I'm sure it's time to quit...the sun is setting."

"Wish I could say the same, but the guys have set up spot lights in order to work into the night," he said with an adorable grimace. "We'll break for dinner, but we'll quit about the time the kids go to bed."

Nodding, I stretched up on my toes to kiss him. "Okay," was all I said against his lips.

Sweet green gazed at me like I'd hung the moon, and I could tell that getting away from this place, even for just the little bit that we'd been gone, had helped him. Not to mention the fact that his carpentry skills were relaxing for him, no matter what he was putting together. So cool, calm, and sexy radiated from him at the moment. As did the sweet smell that I currently wasn't able to get enough of.

"We're keeping Alec," I whispered to him. "He can help with dinner."

He laughed softly. "Fine, keep the Italian. We'll work until it's ready." He finally let me go, shooting a sweet wink and my favorite crooked smile my way.

Turning to the girls as we headed back up to the house, I said, "We'll call it a day out here. Let's go make Alec cook." That simply made all the girls cheer.

"Damn," Alec huffed, rolling his eyes. "A man can't catch a break when he's in demand like me," he stated pompously, popping his collar as he grinned at his eye rolling male friends. "Chicks dig me."

"You keep telling yourself that, oh-modest-one," Sarah teased him. That knocked him down a peg or two, and he simply chuckled as we all walked back into the house.

~oOo~

"So this is your real color..." Makenna teased Kyra as she got her hair ready to dye, running her finger down the part and causing all of us to chuckle.

"Yes, yes," Kyra said with a smirk, trying not to look back at Makenna as she started to squirt the shit into her hair. "Light brown, dirty blonde, honey, mousy...Whatever you want to call it."

We had to get all clothes, weapons, and makeup coordinated, because the guys were just about done with the stage. In fact, they were done with the bottom portion of it; they were working on the finishing touches. However, they were delayed today due to the rain outside, not to mention there was football on.

"How many colors have you been?" Mickey chuckled, sitting back in the chair in the corner of Esme's room.

All of the girls were with us, including Abby and Bethy. Esme had been kind enough to not only do the shopping for supplies, but had done the laundry, as well, so we'd come in her room and just...stayed. Not that she was complaining, because she was joining in on the girl talk just as much as the rest of us.

"All of them," Kyra snorted, rolling her eyes. "When a part calls for a redhead, you become a redhead. Not to mention that most stylists will change your color almost without even asking. It's like whatever color is in. You know?"

I wrinkled my nose at the thought of having no choice about something as simple as hair color while I brushed out Bethy's long hair. She wanted it in a French braid, seeing as how hair was the topic in the room.

"Tilt back, pretty girl," I whispered in her ear, kissing her cheek.

"You sound like you hate it," Rose chuckled as she sorted clothes on the bed.

"I hate that my life is no longer my own. That everything I do is broadcast everywhere to be scrutinized by critics, fans, and haters. I love music. It was something my dad taught me at an early age," Kyra explained, shrugging a shoulder as best she could while Mack was holding her still. "I can't even go out with someone without the whole world thinking it's something major."

I glanced up at her, and her eyes betrayed her, because they flickered toward the door and then back down to her lap.

"You ever think of quitting?" Esme asked, and I knew damn good and well that she was in full doctor mode, turning this simple conversation into a therapy session.

Kyra was nodding before she even finished the sentence. "Yes, especially when things were at their worst and when Jordan broke up with me."

There it was. There was what the glance to the doorway was all about. It had to do with Jordan, though I couldn't imagine why.

When I finished with Bethy's hair, Kyra was getting rinsed out in the bathroom sink, so I sent the two young ones downstairs.

"Bethy, go check on Daddy and Sammy for me. Make sure that those boys downstairs aren't turning your brother into a complete caveman, simply because football is on," I told her, grinning when she giggled, along with everyone else in the room.

"They said no girls allowed, 'cause it's football," Abby whispered, her eyebrows shooting up.

"And girls aren't suh-posed to watch football," Bethy finished. "But I like the tackles."

"And we wanted chips and dip," Abby added.

"Who said?" Alice laughed, looking up from her computer.

"Caleb and Unca Em," Bethy answered, and her reply caused Rose to tsk and roll her eyes, muttering something that sounded close to "moron."

"Well, you tell them that I said if you two want to be in the room, you can be. And if they have a problem with it, they can march their happy behinds up the stairs and tell me," I said, using a falsely sweet voice.

Both little girls grinned, and they were mischievous, evil little smiles, but before they could bolt out of the room, I stopped them.

"Oh yeah, and girls?" I called, and they stopped and faced me. "Don't you dare serve those guys. Don't you go get them a single thing out of the kitchen. Just because you're a girl doesn't mean you've suddenly turned into their maid. Got me?"

Abby giggled a "Yes, Aunt Bella" at the same time that Bethy laughed, "Okay, Mommy."

As soon as the door was open, Bethy burst out with, "Hey, Caleb...guess what!"

"There's a part of you that wants to eavesdrop on that shit, isn't there?" Mickey laughed, her head falling back.

"Yeah," I chuckled, shaking my head. "Edward doesn't care. He's taught Bethy every sport. She thinks baseball is cool because her daddy played it, but she likes really football and hockey."

"Notice it's the violent sports," Makenna giggled.

"True, but she is her father's daughter," I mused, shrugging a shoulder when they all laughed.

I went to close the door, glancing up when Jordan walked by. His eyes never saw me, but they did lock on Kyra for a brief moment, and they were deep brown, heated, and hungry. But they also looked tentative and remorseful. With a smirk, I closed the door, spinning to see Kyra looking down at her hands again.

"Spill, popstar," I chuckled, jerking a thumb behind me. "What was that all about?"

All the girls shut up and focused their attention on the two of us. Kyra gazed up at me, grimacing a bit.

"He's...so fucking confusing," she growled, rolling her eyes. "One minute, he's pledging that he's there for me; the next, he's pushing me away. I mean, I get it. I wasn't exactly the dream girlfriend the last time we were together, but..." She sighed, looking up to me and then to Esme. "But I don't want to push him away anymore. I'm done running away. I'm trying to get better..."

I rubbed my temple, but my gaze settled on Esme, who was studying Kyra as Makenna brushed out her hair.

Cassie started for the door, but I caught her, shaking my head. The girl was nothing if not protective of Kyra, and I couldn't imagine what she was about to go say to Jordan.

"Kyra," Esme started, sighing a bit. "You know how he feels. He's told you. In fact, he said it in our last discussion."

"Yeah, that he doesn't want to hurt me," she groaned, rolling her eyes. "I get that, too, but I'm not made of glass. I've been hurt, yes, but the one person I'm looking to for comfort can barely hug me."

"Oh damn," I sighed, sitting forward and resting my elbows on my knees. "He's afraid to touch you."

"Yes," both Esme and Kyra said at the same time.

"Do you panic when he touches you?" I asked.

"No, not at all. Touch wasn't my problem," Kyra muttered.

"Lucky you," I sighed, sitting back up a bit. "Edward wouldn't touch me at first, either," I stated, and the whole room came to a standstill, because I rarely – if ever – discussed my past with someone other than Esme. "See... I would panic when certain places were touched or revealed. We had to really work at it, really take things slow. And then there were my scars. I hated them. I was afraid that they would just scare Edward away."

The scoffs and tsks that echoed in the room made me grin.

"That boy wasn't going anywhere," Alice chuckled, shaking her head. "Jazz told me once that he tried to get Edward to quit your case, to walk away from you, but he said that for the first time ever, he thought Edward would punch him for even suggesting such a thing."

I giggled, shaking my head. "He might have. Edward was...all over the place back then." I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Edward had to make me realize that he didn't see the scars, because he'd seen the wounds when he found me. To him, they would always look better than that first time seeing me."

"I think I've hurt Jordan too much," Kyra whispered, shaking her head. "You have no idea the things I put him through back then. Drinking, drugs, partying...always calling him when I got myself into some sort of trouble."

"You were calling out for help, K," Cassie interjected, her face fierce.

"Jordan knows that now," Esme said, her voice soothing the entire room. "You can't compare yourself to Bella, Kyra," she told her, shaking her head. "It's like comparing apples to oranges. And you definitely can't compare Jordan to Edward. They are both strong men, noble, but they think differently. While there wasn't a force on Earth that could've kept Edward from Bella, Jordan's different. He cares, but he's afraid that anything he does will hurt you. He cares for you...almost too much."

"Maybe he doesn't want me after finding out I'd been...raped," Kyra whispered, tears filling her eyes.

"He wouldn't be walking if that were the case," I stated, shrugging my shoulders. "Edward would've said something...even you know that. I really think he's just wary to touch you." I smiled sadly, but looked up at her. "There is something similar about them, because I'd be willing to bet that Jordan thinks touching you is selfish. Edward felt that way. Here I was, hurt, scared, freaking out all the time, but we couldn't stop how we felt. He constantly slowed himself down. I still don't know how he did it."

Kyra nodded, her brow furrowing a bit. "I miss him."

"Tell him," I stated without thinking twice, shrugging my shoulder. "He won't know unless you tell him. In fact, talking is the key. Whether it's with Esme in the room or in private." That statement went out to more than just Kyra, because I raised an eyebrow at Mickey before I turned to leave the room. Just before I stepped out into the hallway, I said, "I know what it's like...to want something that you don't feel worthy of having. The hard part is coming to terms with the fact that you do deserve it. All of it."

Talking about my past made me need Edward, even if it was just seeing him sitting in the living room with the guys in front of the TV. It was something I couldn't fight if I tried, because dredging up all those memories just...hurt. It wasn't Kyra's fault; it just was.

I went downstairs, taking in the living room. It looked just about how I'd imagined it would. The guys were sitting in various couches, loveseats, and chairs, the kids camped out on the floor, except for Sammy, who was happily crashed out in his Poppy's arms. Beer bottles, soda cans, and snacks were strewn over each and every table.

Edward was lounged back in a loveseat, his arms crossed behind his head as his gaze was locked onto the TV. He was wearing jeans, a wife beater undershirt, and he'd kicked off his boots. The sheer comfort at just seeing him was almost breathtaking. I let out a deep breath, turning toward the kitchen. Grabbing a beer from the fridge, I cracked it open, taking a long, deep draw on it.

"You know, you didn't have to send the little women's lib rep into the room," I heard behind me. Edward's voice was laced with a chuckle, until he saw my face. "Sweetness?" he asked, walking to me. "What's wrong?"

I shook my head, but he scooped me up, setting my bottom on the counter in front of him. Cupping my face, he studied me, his sweet, concerned green eyes flickering back and forth between mine.

"Tell me," he commanded softly, tucking my hair behind my ears.

"How'd you do it, Edward?" I asked, gazing up at him, but my fingers immediately found the ink on his upper arm, tracing every scroll, every swirl. "How'd you not just...go crazy with how I was when you came to get me? How come you didn't just...walk away? It had to have been so much work."

He smiled, rolling his eyes, and kissed my forehead. "I wanted you, love. Hard work and all. Then want turned into love, Bella. What do you want me to say?" he snickered, shrugging one strong shoulder.

Wrapping myself around him, I pressed my ear to his chest, letting his heavy, soothing heartbeat calm my very soul. I smiled when heavy kisses were dropped to the top of my head.

"What's this all about?" he whispered, brushing a kiss to my cheek before pulling me back so he could look at me.

"Kyra and Jordan are...struggling. With her feelings of low self-worth, his fear of hurting her, they are just...floundering," I told him softly so that my voice didn't carry into the living room, not that the guys could hear anything above the roar of the crowd on TV.

Edward frowned, nodding once. "And you talked about us," he stated, tracing my face with the backs of his fingers as I nodded. "Did it help?"

"I don't know. I just think I was lucky," I said, smiling when he chuckled.

"You do?" he snickered, kissing my lips quickly. "I think you have that backwards."

"Maybe," I allowed, grinning up at him and reaching for my beer. I took a long sip from it, offering it to him. He took his own drink as I asked, "How much longer on that stage, baby?"

He shook his head, handing my beer back to me. "Not long. One more day, I think. Then we'll set it up, scope out the warehouse, and meet the extras."

By meeting the extras, he meant a meeting of what was expected of them. We had to make them look randomly picked, even going as far as lining up outside the warehouse to "try out." We were hoping that it would draw Preston out so that we could pick him as well, letting them all in for the filming.

"If the weather will cooperate, then we'll finish tomorrow," he said softly, jerking a chin toward the wall of windows behind me. "Are you going to work with Kyra again?"

"Yeah, one more time. She's a pretty good shot, but she's still not comfortable with the gun in her hand."

"You're sending her in there packing, aren't you?" he asked, and it wasn't in humor. He was completely serious.

"I am," I stated. "If something goes wrong, then I want her armed and able to defend herself. Period, Edward."

"Fair enough, but only if she's comfortable," he conceded. "What else?"

"GPS chips. Alice has them ready," I said, shrugging a shoulder. "I'm covering every angle."

He nodded once, his face taking on a serious expression. "What if this doesn't work? Doesn't draw this asshole out?"

"We went to Esme on how to word each announcement, each leak of this thing," I started, taking another sip of beer. "She told us to word the ad for extras professionally, but to word the leaks, tweets, and internet blurbs like it was a scandal... You know, former lovers working together again, despite Kyra's new man," I chuckled, pinching his cheek as he rolled his eyes.

"I'll be fucking glad when that shit's over," he grumped, pouting almost like his kids, which was just fucking adorable. "The only woman I want to belong to is you."

"Yes, I know, baby," I snickered, cupping his put-out face. "Anyway, she said that the scandal part of it would draw Preston in like a fly to honey. He'll want to take you and Jordan down, because he's removing all traces of her past and present with men."

"He can...try," Edward stated menacingly. "In fact, I hope he does. Little fucker will learn a quick lesson."

"Yes, I'm sure," I sighed, pointing my beer bottle at him. "That's why you and Jordan will be sporting GPS chips, too."

He smirked, shrugging a shoulder, and chuckled. "Whatever you say, love. Personally, I don't think he'll survive meeting me."

"Maybe he won't, but I'm not taking any chances with you, any more than you'd take them with me. Understand?" I snapped, frowning up at him. "You can be smug all you want, and I trust your capabilities, Edward, but I don't trust Preston. He's fucking unstable."

"Okay, okay, okay," he soothed, cupping my face again, only this time, he kissed me until I almost forgot my name. "I didn't mean to come across as an ass, baby. I just meant that I'm prepared for him. That's all. But I'm not underestimating him...no more than I underestimated Lilith. You're right, sweetness; Unstable is trouble." He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "F-Fuck, I-I j-just w-want th-this sh-shit t-to b-be o-ver. I want my family back home again."

I smiled up at him, because I just adored the sound of his perfect mixture of nervous, but sincere stutter combined with his sexy commanding tone. He would sputter out his feelings, but his orders were crystal clear. It was the perfect sound of my Edward. And I fucking loved it.

"Me, too," I sighed, still smiling when I pressed my lips to his.

The boys cheered from the other room, yelling about interference and fumbles. And I had to giggle at the way my husband's head spun toward the room. His conflict concerning comforting me – which always came first – and wanting to see the game was just about comical.

"Go," I laughed, pushing him away. I pointed a finger at him. "But tomorrow, we get back to work," I ordered, trying to sound sincere, but he was way too cute the way he was acting, because he seemed unsure whether it was okay to leave me or not. "I'm fine. Go!" I laughed when his sweet, All-American, panty dampening crooked grin crawled up his handsome face.

"Yes, ma'am," he chuckled, kissing me quickly. "Tomorrow, we'll finish up and start the beginning of the end, sweetness. And you..." he growled, pointing a finger at me. "You don't leave my sight once we start."

I smiled, grabbing his finger. "Yes, sir."

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