Friday, January 25, 2002 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 19

CHAPTER 19

EDWARD

Thunder rumbled long and low in the early morning. Hell, I wasn't even sure what fucking time it was, because the storm was making it seem darker outside. I was awake early, as usual, but I was completely unwilling to leave the bed.

Bella was draped across me, her head tucked into my neck, but it was her leg that was fucking killing me. Every few minutes, she'd shift, gliding that beautiful thigh across my now hard as fucking hell erection. A strobe of lightning flickered across the window, and my arm around her shoulders pulled her closer. I was trying to think of anything other than rolling her over, waking her up, and fucking her into oblivion.

It was an unavoidable feeling. I couldn't shake the need, either. I felt protective, possessive, and just down right in want of her, and I wasn't sure if it was leftover emotions from the day before or just being in our quiet room alone before anyone else was awake.

She shifted that leg again, and I tried like hell to hold in my moan, but I failed miserably. I thought maybe if I rolled us to our sides that it would take away the pressure, but before I could move us, warm, sweet lips pressed to my neck and small hands gripped my bare shoulder in order to pull herself closer.

"Bella..." I gasped, because my control was tenuous at best. I was barely holding on.

"Please," she whispered against my jaw, but her hand slipped up the other side of my face and into my hair.

Fuck, my girl shouldn't have to beg for shit. With that said, I finally did roll her so we were face to face on our sides. I locked eyes with dark and needy, which probably matched my own.

"Yeah?" I breathed, brushing her hair from her face and my lips across hers.

"Yeah..." she groaned, her eyes rolling back when my thigh slipped between hers just to give her something, and she took that shit, too, grinding slowly against me.

She was already wet, her hands fucking everywhere, and I grasped at her t-shirt, her shorts, anything I could get my own hands on in order to pull her closer. Our kisses started slow, with nips and barely there brushes of tongue, but fuck, if all hell didn't break loose. My hands dove underneath her shirt and into the back of her boxers as my tongue claimed her deep and hard.

I was a lucky motherfucker. There was just something so damned comforting about knowing someone so fucking well that words barely had to be spoken. These were dance steps we'd taken a million times, and instinct and familiarity took over, but it was never the fucking same. It was always so very desperate, so damned perfect. It was hums of approval when something felt good, grunts of frustration when covers or clothes got in the damn way, and it was smiles and nips against skin and lips. All done without really talking, because we just...knew.

Bella's shirt was tugged off over her head, her shorts shoved down somewhere in the lost confines of the bed. My own underwear and basketball shorts were quickly shoved down, and I was pretty fucking sure my girl had used her feet to do that shit.

Suddenly just needing to look at her, even with the limited light of the morning, I rolled Bella onto her back. Tossing the fucking covers away, I braced an elbow by her head, leaving my right hand to explore, to touch, to trace every inch of her, all while kissing the pure shit out of her. My hands ghosted over her breasts, giving each nipple a loving tweak, down her stomach, and across her thigh, only to skirt between her legs. God, she was soaked.

"Dream?" I grunted, breaking from her mouth in order to follow the path of my hands with my mouth, leaving swirling, suckling bites just about everywhere.

"Yes," she snickered breathlessly, and then grinned beautifully, her head pressing back into her pillow as my tongue teased her navel.

I chuckled dark and low against the skin just above her mound, causing her to squirm. Her legs bent at the knee as my fingers slid through her folds again, bringing that long scar on her thigh closer to my face. After yesterday's topics – her panic attack and telling her story to Jordan – I was absolutely and rabidly possessive of that shit. Leaning closer, my fingers still teasing her entrance, her clit, and the sensitive skin next to her thighs, I pressed a long, slow kiss to that scar.

Tiny fingers slipped into my hair, and I glanced up to see Bella watching me.

"Mine. All of them," I whispered, pressing another kiss to each old burn mark on her stomach and an almost reverent one to her C-section scar, all while never breaking from her sweet, dark eyes.

She nodded frantically, but didn't say anything.

By the time I made it up to her chest, tracing each individual scar with my tongue and suckling each nipple, I was so fucking hard for her that it was almost painful. Kissing her again, I swirled my tongue with hers, practically growling when her nails raked lightly down my back.

"Fuck," I panted, pressing my forehead to hers. "Sweetness, how do you want me? 'Cause I fucking have to have you."

She nodded again and rolled underneath me, exposing that smooth, beautiful back. I couldn't help but reach out and touch, dragging the tips of my fingers down her spine and over each dimple just above her ass. Another dip of my hands between her legs told me that she was even wetter than before.

I grinned like it was fucking Christmas morning. "Oh, hell yes," I grunted, nipping at her shoulder. "You're so fucking tight this way, baby. Did you know?" I asked her softly as I used my knee to spread her legs wider. Wrapping my hand around her hair, I tugged it out of her face, bracing a hand by her head. "Lift that pretty ass for me, love..."

We both fucking froze when my cock glided through her wet heat as she raised up slightly, slipping just inside her entrance. I could feel our hearts beating in tandem, though both frantic.

"Love you so fucking much," I whispered in her ear, pressing my forehead to the back of her skull.

"Love you," she barely squeaked out, and I linked my fingers with hers. "Please, please, Edward..."

"No fucking begging... Ever," I grunted, finally sheathing myself completely inside of her.

The noises that escaped us melted into one single sound. It was something of a mix between desperate and needy, relief and comfort, and feral and wild, though all of it was muffled – hers into her pillow, and mine into her hair.

Pulling back, I pushed back into her with slowness that I didn't think I had, but I wanted to feel every inch of her, let her feel every inch of me. Bella moaned again, burying that shit deep into her pillow, and I started a rhythm that I knew wouldn't fucking last. I wanted her too much, had teased her too long, and had suffered with my erection for what seemed like forever before she'd woken up.

"Yesss," she hissed, and even from this angle, I could see her eyes roll back.

"There?" I verified in her ear, nipping at her earlobe. "Is this where you need me, baby?" I asked, hitting her in the same spot that had caused her outburst.

She nodded frantically, unable to speak through her pants. We were honestly trying to keep the noise down, but I had a feeling that it was taking all we had to accomplish that. Swiveling my hips, I hit that spot again and again, but I was so damn close.

"You gotta come, beautiful," I pleaded in her ear. "You feel too fucking good this way," I groaned the utter fucking truth, gripping her hair tighter in order to expose her neck.

Bella pushed back against me, lifting up just enough to snake her hand underneath to where we were joined. A string of curses hissed out of me against her throat when I could feel her fingers brush against my cock as she touched herself. And I swear to fucking God, I stopped breathing when her pussy finally clamped down on me, fluttering hard.

"Edward," she gasped as she finally fell over the edge.

I drove into her hard, but it didn't take long to not only ride out her spasms, but fall into the abyss with her. Burying myself as deeply as I could, I spilled inside of her. My forehead hit her shoulder, our skin sticky, tacky with sweat.

A sweet, sexy, husky chuckle met my ears, and I lifted off of her enough so that she could turn back over. I was met with sated, but very amused brown eyes.

"What?" I asked, smirking at her as collapsed down along her side so that we were face to face.

"What was that all about?" she snickered, cupping my face and kissing my lips.

"Dunno, but damn..." I huffed a laugh, pulling her closer.

"Yeah... Damn is right," she sighed in post-coital contentment, kissing my cheek, chin, and then lips again. "Hmm, Mr. Cullen. You wake a girl up better than a cup of coffee..."

A laugh barked out of me, and I buried it into her hair, the whole bed shaking with it. "Does that mean we're getting up?"

Her giggle faded out, and she sighed, pushing up to loom over my face, her hair falling around us like a floral smelling curtain. "Yeah," she said with an adorable wrinkle to her nose. "Might as well. I'm pretty sure I've got work to do."

"Anything I can help with?" I offered, tracing her beautiful face with the backs of my fingers.

"Edward, I'm okay. You don't have to watch my ass like a hawk. It was just...yesterday..."

I smiled up at her. "Maybe I like watching your ass," I teased her, shrugging a shoulder and waggling my eyebrows, which gave me the result I wanted – a sweet, happy giggle. "Well, I think we have a trip to plan, don't we?" I asked seriously. "I'm pretty sure Dad wants to check out that place of Ike's. You can help me, then. We have to figure out who's coming with us, who's staying here, and how we go in."

"Us?" she asked, her eyebrows shooting almost up to her hairline.

"Yup, us. Mickey can't go, baby," I stated firmly. "I need you with me."

"Okay," she said, dragging out the word.

"Look, you couldn't do the bank thing, sweetness, because I couldn't afford to have you there if something went wrong, okay? But this... This, I need you. You'll know what to look for around and inside that house..." I explained rapidly, knowing she'd been upset that she couldn't come with us.

She nodded, kissed my lips, and then sat up. "Okay, then we'll get a head start on everyone..."

After grabbing a shower together, getting dressed, and making coffee, the house was still pretty quiet. I could barely make out Eleazar and Felix walking the perimeter in the front of the house, but inside, the place was silent.

My girl was already in front of her computer when I set a cup of coffee down for her. I was pretty sure that she felt she needed to catch up, because I hadn't really let her go back to work the day before. She'd joined me and the kids when I took them out to the shoreline to look for crabs. I kissed the top of her head before taking a walk around the table. The girls were machines, in my opinion. They'd fucking worked non-stop to get us all the information we could possibly need...and then some. I flipped through the pages of the deed on the house, glancing up at the map that Alice had already printed and posted on the wall.

It seemed to be set somewhere just south of the Redwood Forest, and it sort of looked like a cabin, maybe a summer home. I wasn't quite sure. What I was sure of... There was a shit-ton of woods surrounding the place, not to mention an obvious lack of neighbors. Ike Raulson had picked, or stolen, or took over the perfect fucking place to hide his evil extracurricular activities. I shook my head at just how many women may have lost their lives, disappeared from fucking sight, or were left for dead in that very house.

From looking at the stack of photos that Makenna had been working on, I was damn positive that the numbers were staggering. When I'd said that too much innocent blood had been spilled by these assholes, really, I'd meant Molly Parsons, but dammit, it was all together about fifty women.

"She'll kill you if you mess up her system over there," Bella chuckled, eying me from around her computer screen.

I grimaced, shaking my head. "I don't mean to, but shit, sweetness..."

"Yeah, she's put about twenty faces to missing girls," she sighed, sitting back in her chair and sipping her coffee. "I think we're supposed to take what she's done to Wes when we go so that he can start the cold cases...or close them. I'm not sure."

I nodded, letting out a deep breath. "Can Wes do anything with it? Legally?"

"He said he'd try. In fact, I know he was thinking of talking to Eleazar about some of this illegally obtained evidence we've found. Something about setting up a way to 'find it.'"

My eyebrows shot up, and I took a seat next to her. "Like accidentally stumbling upon it?" I asked her with a chuckle.

"Yeah," she said with a smile. "Just in case they needed it against Preston when he's caught."

I nodded, reaching over to grab the map of Raulson's place. "Well then, I guess we'd better figure out the next step, love." I looked up at her. "I'm thinking Emmett and Alec to go with us. You?"

"Your dad, too, definitely," she agreed, not bothering to look up from the computer. "Kurt?" she asked, glancing up.

"Maybe." I shrugged. The kid was good, and he'd more than proven himself in the bank run, even though he didn't really have any tactical training. Bella might've had a point, because he was good at some of the shit Alice needed from us, as well as his observation skills. "Okay...Kurt. Anyone else?"

"Well, if we're meeting up with Wes and Benny, then do we need more?" she asked, tilting that gorgeous head of hers at me. "And that would leave Jasper, Eleazar, Felix, and Mickey here. Not to mention the girls. So we'd be covered at both places, yeah?"

God, I fucking loved working with her. I wasn't sure if it was just her calm demeanor or the fact that we just made a phenomenal team, but whatever it was just made it perfect.

"Probably not, because I think that guy from the L.A. office is coming. Myles?" I said, looking up at her.

"Yeah, I think so," she replied, gesturing my way. "Wes told your dad to have you call as soon as we had a team together, so call him. I'm not sure if he wants to go in tonight or not."

"Yes, ma'am," I said, pulling out my phone. Wes answered immediately, despite the early morning hour. "Okay, Wes...let's talk plan..."

~oOo~

BELLA

"Alice, if you could get me a thermal shot down on this area, that'd be great," Wes said over the speakerphone.

The entire office was packed with the crew, and they had been working out the minute details for the last hour before we all loaded up to make our way to Ike's hidden house. The small crew that Edward and I had discussed that morning was the same, except for one change. Eleazar wanted to go, so therefore, Emmett was staying behind. Despite how pissed Mickey was that she couldn't go, she didn't argue with Edward in the least. Not one word. She knew better.

According to Wes, he was taking a smaller crew as well, because technically, this was just a lead, not a take-down. He did tell us that it would be himself, Myles, and...

"Benny!" the whole office cheered, and I grinned up from the kitchen to hear congratulations sung his way. We hadn't heard from him since he'd called to let us know that Angela had given birth to a healthy baby girl. Those two, unlike the rest of us, had wanted the sex of their child to be a surprise.

"Unca Benny," Bethy chirped from her perch at the kitchen counter, glancing back over her shoulder and then back to me. "I wanna see the baby," she said, grinning up at me before taking a ginormous bite of her hotdog.

"Me, too," I whispered back to her as I packed a first aid kit on the counter top.

Personally, I was just enjoying time with the kids, so I'd offered to give them dinner before we left. I was comfortable with the plan, though I knew I wouldn't be but mere feet away from Carlisle or Edward at any point. Plus, I was also giving Sarah time with Alec before we took off.

"Wha' baby?" Caleb asked, his mouth completely packed with food. He was getting more like Emmett everyday.

"Chew and swallow, Caleb," I chuckled, shooting him a wink when he laughed. "Then talk."

"Aunt Angela's baby, silly," Abby huffed, rolling her eyes and popping a tater tot in her mouth. "Don't you know?"

"Oh yeah," he said slowly, smiling sweetly, all dimples and innocence, and again, he looked just like his dad.

Their conversations were so funny, because if you added a few years on them, they were us made over. They joked, teased, chided, and snapped at each other all damn day, but at their core, they were a tight little gang of kids. And not one of them was ignorant of the things going on around them. I was pretty sure they heard everything. I smiled at them all, going back to my first aid kit.

Abby was sharp, but the calm one, something I wasn't sure whether it stemmed from her mother or from Alec's influence. He'd been her stepfather now for going on two years, and she loved him madly, but hell, who didn't just adore Alec? Seriously.

Bethy was the top of the food chain leader, which was neither good, nor bad. It just was. She was the oldest, the strongest personality, and the quickest to know the answer to whatever it was that they were doing. She'd been responsible for getting them all into trouble more times than I could count, but they didn't care one bit. When their timeouts were over, they'd look to her for the next thing on the list.

Caleb was the comedy relief, hands down. He was the first to shove something in his nose, say something silly, or pick on someone, all to get a laugh. And he could imitate just about anyone. He had Jasper's Southern accent down to a tee and had just started picking up on his Aunt Alice's three time chant. But it was his dad he loved to copy – his walk, his speech, his laugh. Emmett was Caleb's fucking hero.

And then there was Sammy. My eyes shot up to make sure my baby was doing okay with his dinner, which he was. He was obviously the youngest, and as much of a drag as he could be to their little clan, they didn't want to do shit without him. He was the happy, quiet, shy one. He had no problem telling them no to something he didn't want to do, but he also was limited on what he could do. He also required naps when they didn't, but they'd wait for him, watching TV while he was down. Bethy watched him like a hawk, and she loved teaching him to talk – which he'd picked up quicker than any of them, because he had no choice but to keep up.

"Okay there, handsome?" I asked him, and he smiled, dunking his tater tot into ketchup and popping it into his mouth. "You're wearing more ketchup than your hotdog, pal," I giggled, shaking my head at him.

The three other kids leaned over to look at him, bursting into laughter. It was such a good sound to hear, and I sighed contentedly, soaking in every last bit of it. I needed it, just like Edward sometimes did, in order to make it through what I was sure was going to be an ugly mission.

"Yeah," he said slowly, giggling with the rest of them. "Dot dawg," he laughed, picking up a piece I'd cut for him and adding that to the tot in his mouth. My son did not fight food. I wasn't sure there was anything he wouldn't eat, especially if his daddy made it.

"It sounds awfully fun in here," Kyra chuckled, walking into the kitchen.

"Hi, Miss Kywa," Abby and Bethy sang, which caused another deep chuckle.

I glanced over to see Jordan leaning in the doorway. They'd been in the living room with Esme all morning, only taking a break for lunch. The topic of the day was Kyra's progress, her medication, and if I knew Esme, it was what Jordan's intentions were concerning the singer. My mother-in-law had come to care for Kyra – something that happened when she took on a patient. And despite their history and Jordan's sudden vow to help Kyra, I was damn sure that Esme wanted to make sure that he not only meant it, but was aware of the tough and rocky road that lay ahead.

But it was the way he watched Kyra that had me fighting my smile. He looked like he wanted to jump in front of a train, kiss her stupid, and hug her all at one time.

"Will you pway for us, Miss Kywa?" Bethy begged, pointing toward the guitar that could be seen leaning against the wall in the living room. "Pwease?"

Kyra laughed, nodding slowly. "Sure, I'll play."

"Yesss!" they all hissed, pumping their fists in the air.

When all but Sammy started to scramble down from the counter, I had to stop them.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" I laughed, holding up my hands. "No one leaves this kitchen until they're finished. And then...you're gonna go get cleaned up."

"Aw, Mommy," Bethy groaned, giving the living room a longing look.

"Don't you aw Mommy me," I chuckled, pointing to a half eaten hotdog on her plate. "Eat, Miss Ma'am."

"'Kay," she sighed grumpily, and Abby and Caleb followed her lead, picking at their food.

I zipped up the first aid kit, setting it at the end of the counter. When I could tell that the kids were just going to continue to pick, I finally gave in.

"Okay," I huffed, pointing to the kitchen sink. "Paper plates in the garbage, and wash those hands. Only then can you go."

I wasn't sure I'd seen them move so fast. Kyra, Jordan, and I all chuckled at the sight of three sets of legs scurrying to the garbage can, only to practically shove at each other to get to the stool in front of the sink.

Walking over, I picked up Samuel's plate, tossing it into the bin. "What about you, my handsome?" I asked him, starting to wipe his hands and face with a baby wipe. "You want to listen, too?"

"Yeah," he said, squeezing his eyes closed adorably when I wiped his face again. "Mom-my," he huffed, fighting me every second, but he was giggling the whole time.

"Silly boy," I whispered against his head, before scooping him up and setting him down to the floor. Before Bethy could escape the room, I called her back to me. "Pretty girl, come here," I said, setting her bottom on the counter. Cupping her face and kissing her nose, I told her, "I need you to be good for Gamma tonight. Okay? Don't drive her too crazy..."

Bethy grinned, looking so much like Edward in her mischievousness that I snickered at her and kissed her forehead.

"I won't dwive her cwazy, Mommy," she vowed, which caused Jordan and Kyra to chuckle softly.

"Good. Love you," I whispered, kissing her adorably puckered lips.

"Love you, too, Mommy," she sang back. "Is Daddy goin' wif you?"

"Yes, he is. You'd better go give him loves and 'mooches, don't you think?" I asked her, setting her down.

It was absolutely impossible to not watch her bolt across the dining room and burst into the office. She ran straight to Edward, who was studying a map of the location we were heading to tonight, but his face changed from fierce concentration and a worried expression, to the sweet, carefree and happy smile. It was an instant change in him. He grinned, scooping her up into his arms and burying his face in her neck. Walking away from the crew a bit, they had a quiet father/daughter conversation, where his attention was solely on her.

"I'd hate to see the first boy she brings home," Jordan muttered, and I laughed, glancing over at him.

"No kidding," I chuckled. "The guys have a bet. That he'll clean his gun and sharpen his kitchen knives, all while Apocolypse Now plays in the background, making sure that he puts a GPS tracker on the poor boy's car."

Jordan laughed, his head falling back. "Yeah, I can only imagine."

"I'm not so sure his father wouldn't be just as bad," Kyra mused aloud, jerking her chin toward Carlisle, who was stealing Bethy from Edward.

"Maybe worse," I sighed, shrugging a shoulder.

I went to reach for the first aid kit, but Kyra stopped me. "Are you sure it's a good idea for you guys to go tonight? I mean, what are you hoping to find?"

"We'll be fine," I promised her. "We want as much ammunition against Preston that we can get, because when it comes down to finally luring him to us, we want to be able to nail him...with all of it." I raised an eyebrow at her until she nodded silently. "This is what they do." I pointed toward the office. "I'm only going to make sure they don't blow the damn place up," I teased with a grin, because Edward had just joined us.

"Blow it up," he scoffed, rolling his eyes. "What's the fun in that? Well, unless Preston's there..."

I smiled over at him, because there was touch of truthfulness to his words. "What fun, indeed?"

"Miss Kywra!" the kids called from the living room.

"You'd better save your guitar," Edward chuckled, pointing to a now rockin' Caleb. He looked like a miniature Elvis, swiveling his hips while strumming the instrument poorly.

Before she walked away, she looked between the two of us. "Be careful, yeah?"

"We will," Edward and I said at the same time.

A warm hand slid across my shoulders, an even warmer voice at my ear. "You about ready, sweetness? Dad wants to go over the plan one more time before we get on the road."

I nodded, finally grabbing up the first aid kit. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm ready."

~oOo~

The SUV was quiet as we drove on the empty country road. It was still pretty rainy, the streets still wet as our headlights reflected off the pavement. Alec was driving, with Carlisle in the front seat beside him. Kurt and Eleazar were in front of Edward and me, and I couldn't help but set my chin on his strong upper arm and place a kiss over the material of his long-sleeved black shirt where I knew his tattoo was inked onto the skin.

We were to meet Wes and Benny approximately a mile and a half away from the property. At that point, we were to wait until Alice hacked the thermal satellite images. It was illegal as all hell for her to do that, so we had no choice but to save it for the last minute.

I was mentally trying to prepare myself for whatever it was we were about to find. Best case scenario would be that Preston was there and this was all over in one big take-down. Worst case... Well, the worst case flickered between whatever evidence we'd find, to the hellacious conditions this house could possibly be in. My imagination couldn't stick to one single thing. The room filled with blood kept coming to the forefront, only worse.

Edward shifted, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. He didn't say anything, but he really didn't have to. The warm, firm hand rubbing lightly up and down my arm said everything. He knew this could be ugly, but he also knew that we'd face it together. He handled the pre-mission shit better than I ever did. But he dealt with it in complete and utter silence, his face darkening as the minutes ticked by and the destination drew closer.

Even the radio was silent, though I knew my girls were anxious and at the ready for whatever we needed from them. The kids had been put to bed just before we left, with "I love you" and "be safe" whispered to us after sweet kisses and giggles.

Finally, Alice broke the quiet.

"You're nearing your stopping point, Alec," she stated. "Take that next side dirt road. It's a service road to the national park."

"Ten-four," he replied back to her.

I sat up, letting out a deep breath as I tugged on gloves. The fingers were free, but it would give a better grip to my gun with all the rain. It was a trick I'd been taught by Mickey and Jasper, both of whom had told me that leaving the fingers free still gave me the sensitive touch of the trigger, but the glove would keep the butt from slipping. Next, I pulled out my weapon.

"Not the new one?" Edward finally spoke, smirking over at me as he eyed my old, trusty nine mil.

I shook my head, popping the clip and checking the chamber, only to click it all back together. I looked up at him. "I haven't even test fired it. I have no idea what it's like."

Eleazar turned around to face us. "Can't have that. You should always know your weapon. Inside and out. If you're not used to it, shit can go wrong. What if it has a hard recoil? Or it jams because it's new? Smart thinking, Bells."

I snorted, leaning into Edward's kiss to the side of my head. "We'll have to test it, then," he muttered into my hair.

I nodded, smiling up at him. His face was still very serious, but his eyes showed his love for me. Even in the barely there lights of the car, I could tell they were evergreen and sweet.

"Okay." I agreed readily, because I was excited to try it out; I just didn't want the first time to be in a possibly dangerous situation.

"We'll set up a target practice away from the house, Bellissima," Alec added with his sweet, deep chuckle. "That's a sweet piece those boys gave you. I wouldn't mind firing off a few rounds."

The tension in the car broke just like that, because everyone chuckled.

"You think we'd give her crap? Really?" Jasper scoffed over our earpieces. "Me, of all people?" he asked, sounding offended, but I knew he wasn't. He was a collector of fine weapons, though his tended to be more on the illegal side of things, but he would never have bought a piece of junk. That was a fact.

"They have no faith in us... Assholes," Emmett added, and I laughed, looking out the window.

"You can test the gun, but hands off my car!" I told them, which caused a laugh to finally bark out of Carlisle, who'd been pretty quiet up front.

"You tell 'em, sweetheart," he chuckled, turning to give me a wink.

"Hey!" Edward whined, nudging my arm with his elbow. "That's not what you said..."

Poor Edward was dying to get behind the wheel of my new Camaro. Not just dying, drooling. I saw it every time we had to walk out the front door. He'd eye it like a man in a strip club stares at a half naked woman. It was longing and a touch of teenage excitement.

"Yes, baby, you can drive it," I cooed at him, leaning over to kiss his cheek as he huffed some sort of approving sound.

"Damn, lucky bastard," Emmett grumbled over the radio. "She won't even let me sit in it."

"Yes, I am." Edward chuckled the words softly and slowly, almost as if he were confirming it to not only everyone, but himself, too. And that caused another round of laughter.

"Okay, focus. You should see Wes and Benny up ahead," Alice added with a slight snicker to her voice, most likely due to the conversation.

"Good," I said, sitting up straighter as the Feds' vans came into view. "Alice, go ahead and start the thermal. Tell us when you're up and running."

"On it, on it, on it," she chanted, and I could hear her fingers flying over her keyboard.

Alec parked the SUV behind the first van and shut off the engine. We all piled out, and I pulled my hair into a ponytail, tugging on a black baseball cap. The dirt road was more mud than dirt, and we splashed our way toward Wes and Benny.

The first thing I did was hug the latter, telling him congratulations, as everyone else shook hands with Myles and Wes. I grinned when he beamed like a proud daddy should, which caused a few snickers.

"Luckily, she's beautiful like her momma," he laughed, holding up a picture for us on his phone.

Hannah Grace Cheney was gorgeous, with a head full of dark hair and fair skin. She had tiny fingers and toes and a little button nose that reminded me of Angela's.

"Oh God, Ben, she's perfect," I gushed, my hands itching to hold her.

Edward smiled down at me. We'd discussed over and over having another baby, but at the end of the day, Samuel's birth had scared us. The whole pregnancy had taken quite the toll on my body. The mere thought of something happening to me was absolutely not up for discussion with Edward. We had two perfect and beautiful kids, and we were happy. We didn't feel the need to push our luck.

"Oh, I'm so babysitting when this is all over," I murmured, handing him back his phone.

"And I'm so taking you up on that," he countered, giving me a wink. He pulled out a map, opening the back of the van to spread it out. With a few keystrokes on a laptop, he patched into our radio frequency. "Alice, we're on you," he told her, but looked at the rest of us over his shoulder. "If the thermal shows no heat, we'll go in slow and easy. I have no idea what these assholes may have set up out here."

"Sir," we all grunted.

"We'll take this in two teams," Wes stated, pointing to either side of the house. "Come in from the left and the right. Technically, we aren't here," he stated to himself and his small crew.

"But I am," Eleazar stated gruffly. "So if we do find anything, I'll hand the arrest over to you."

Eyebrows rose up on just about all of us. We'd had no idea that Eleazar was taking any responsibility for this mission. We'd simply thought he was giving us a hand like he always did.

"I called this shit in as a precaution," he went on to explain, shrugging a large shoulder. "I wanted to cover our asses just in case this went...badly. Or if this asshole is here."

"You sure?" Benny verified.

"Yeah, here," El huffed, handing over the manila envelope we'd put together for the Feds. "I believe this is my main reason for taking the heat. Fifty women. Fifty. And Mack isn't finished matching their faces to missing local girls. So...yeah. I'm really fucking sure."

Wes took the envelope and peeked inside. He shook his head slowly. "You have everything in here. All of it."

"We do," I told him with a nod. "The financial statements, the videos, the photos of the girls, transcripts of witness interviews, and our profile. You will be surprised just how many of those videos Preston is in...watching, just hanging out in the background. All starting at a young age." The group quieted down. "We just wanted to keep Kyra safe. The details of Preston's case are all yours."

"How is she?" Myles asked, tilting his head at me.

"Getting better, but worried about what we'll find tonight," I stated, wrinkling my nose a bit.

"Thanks, Bells," Benny said softly, giving the heavy envelope in Wes' hands a side glance.

"I'm in!" Alice piped up, almost causing us to jump. "And we've got a heat source..."

"Oh shit," Wes breathed, tossing the envelope into the back of the van and slamming the doors. "Lock and load. Eleazar, Carlisle, Alec... You'll be with me and Myles. Bella, Ed, Kurt... You'll go with Benny. But Edward's controlling the sweep."

This had been debated prior to even leaving the house. Edward felt that Kurt being with us would be beneficial, because even though we were split into two teams, it was Benny's team that was there for evidence and observation. Wes and Myles were there for security back up, and while Edward would've probably proven better on the other team, there was no way in hell he was leaving my side. However, everyone was conceding control to Edward, because he could run a ground team better than even his father.

"Take these woods quickly and carefully," Edward ordered, pointing to the west and then the east. "The last thing we fucking need is a broken leg out here. Got me?"

"Sir," we answered him.

Wes' team broke away from us disappeared into the dark, wet forest surrounding us.

A firm grip squeezed my shoulder. "You are to be in my sight at all times. Do you hear me, sweetness?" Edward ordered, giving me no room for argument.

Giving him a quick glance, I nodded, because despite whatever debates or arguments we had on a daily basis, no matter how our heads butted on other things, which was rare anymore, I still would follow his lead on these types of missions.

"Yes, Edward."

"Good," he huffed, his face and eyes back to the dark concentration he'd been wearing in the car. He looked to Kurt and Benny "Then let's move out."

~oOo~

EDWARD

The air seemed to change as we approached the small house. It was stale and still, the smell reminding me of a rotting log. With a quick glance around, I halted my team by raising up my hand. I eyed the small building, catching a flicker of movement just on the other side, which told me the other team was in position.

To be honest, I'd have missed the damn house had I not known it was already there. It blended in with the surrounding woods so well that it looked like it had grown up out of the ground. The moonlight was blocked out by the canopy of trees above us, there was no light coming from inside, and the long, winding drive on the opposite side from where we were was empty.

"Alice?" I barely breathed over the radio.

"No movement, Edward," she replied back. "But I'm telling you, there is a very small heat source. It's so faint that I can't tell you if its upstairs, downstairs, or what. Shit, I can't even tell if it's just a TV that's been left on."

I grimaced, shaking my head and rubbing my face. "It's no TV. The place is dark," I countered with a whisper. Looking up at my team but speaking to everyone, I said, "My team take the front door. Wes' team, take the back. Make sure to position someone along the side. We go in as quietly as we fucking can. Got me?"

"Sir," was hissed back at me.

Once my team double-timed it to the front, I pointed to Kurt to post his ass at the opposite corner from the one I saw Myles guarding. That way, if someone was inside and decided to jump out a fucking window, one of them would see it.

"Weapons out," I muttered, pulling my Glock from its holster but placing a hand on Bella's shoulder when she pulled out a flashlight along with her nine mil. "We'll kick in these doors at the same time. On me...three, two...one!"

The FBI boys couldn't help themselves. They all called out, announcing our arrival to what seemed to be an empty place. With every bit of strength my leg had, my foot landed right at the door knob. The wood and locks gave way instantly, like they were barely holding their shit together to begin with. Both doors slammed back at the same time, giving us a direct view of each other, not to mention flashlights in each other's faces.

The house was what Jasper would have called a shotgun house. It was an old Southern term, but it was the best way to describe it. The front door and back door were exactly opposite from each other. The term shotgun house meant that if you fired a gun from one door right down the middle of the house, it would exit out the back without hitting a single wall. It was a way to ventilate a house prior to air conditioning. Open both doors, and the breeze would sail through the entire house.

"Watch those sides," I ordered, giving the kitchen and first bedroom a sweep. "Front's clear."

"Back's clear," Eleazar countered, and I saw the big man reach for a light switch.

Dim light from the back room flickered into life, giving Bella enough sight to reach for the kitchen's switch.

"Ed, I've got a few rooms over here," Benny stated, pressing his back to the wall beside the door.

Indicating to Eleazar and my dad to take a room, to Bella and Wes to take a room, I finally turned to Benny and nodded. The sound of cracking wood echoed through the entire house when we all kicked in the doors.

"Clear," I called once I'd swept the small bedroom.

"Clear," my dad echoed back.

"Oh shit," Wes and Bella both gasped, and Benny and I locked gazes before bolting down to the room they'd entered.

I wasn't sure anything could've prepared me for what I was looking at. It was familiar and disturbing, and my first instinct was to reach for my Bella to pull her out of the way, because the fucked up mess in front of me was so close to what I'd seen when I'd pulled her from Miller's basement that I felt like vomiting.

Laying in a small, twin-size bed was someone I could only guess to be Robert Reynolds. The room reeked of urine, vomit, and blood. The man was handcuffed to the headboard and beaten so badly that his lips, nose, and eyes were swollen. The only reason I recognized him was he was still wearing the same shirt that he'd been in when he'd been shown on TV.

"Christ," I breathed as Wes, Eleazar, and Benny rushed to the man.

Eleazar's fingers searched for a pulse, while Wes hurried to uncuff the man. Benny took a small flashlight to the guy's eyes, prying them open to flash his pupils.

"Oh, fuck me," Benny gasped. "He's still alive. Myles! Go pull one of the SUVs around. We've got to get him out of here. He's barely hanging on. I'm not sure we have time to wait for an ambulance to get out here."

"Ten-four," Myles replied.

A hand landed on mine and Bella's shoulders, and we both looked to my dad.

"Let's clear the rest of the house. There's an attic and a...um..."—he rubbed the back of his neck, looking to me—"basement."

Bella nodded, giving the bed one last, dark glance before taking my hand and leading me out of the room. We followed my father down the hall, but I stopped us just before the end.

"Sweetness, you and Kurt check the attic," I told her, trying not to sound like I was giving an order, but I really just didn't fucking want her in the basement of this place. Something was just...off. There was an eerie feeling in my gut. "Dad and I will take the basement."

She studied my face, her brow furrowing as she swallowed thickly. I was hoping that she wouldn't argue this shit with me, because she'd just had a panic attack the day before, and now Reynolds was looking like death in the other room. This house screamed flashbacks for her. So far, she looked like she was hanging in there, but my first and foremost responsibility was my wife, and be damned if I was going to let shit push her too far.

"Okay," she said, nodding. "Kurt, come in, please," she ordered over the radio.

He stepped into the house, giving the place a look. "Damn," he whispered, shaking his head. He looked down the hallway toward where Eleazar, Wes, and Benny were still working on Reynolds, only to turn back to Bella. The mask he was trying to wear slipped. Completely. He truly cared for Bella, admired her, so his next words were meant to take the pressure off. "So...I take it this isn't the next safe house, right?"

Bella grinned, and I could feel my dad practically sag in relief as I did the same. "Yeah... I don't think so," she snickered. "Come on...we'll take the attic."

Kurt helped her tug down the folding ladder of the attic. Once they'd both disappeared inside, Dad led me to the top of the basement steps.

"You looked like you were about to jump in front of a bullet for her," he noted softly as we climbed down.

"You have no idea," I mumbled, shining a flashlight around until I found the light switch.

Two bare, dim bulbs glowed to life, giving us a better look at the basement. We called clear, but continued to look around. There didn't seem to be a lot of the Rauslons' things down there. It was like he just shoved all of his old nanny's shit into boxes, tossing them down there. Dusty mounted deer heads sat in a discarded pile. I grimaced at a stuffed beaver.

While my dad and I loved our guns, we'd never been hunters. Ever. It seemed so very unfair on the animal end of shit. All they had were instincts and four legs, and men would douse themselves in deer urine, dress in camo, and hunt them with weapons that could take down a small village. What was the fucking point? To eat? Yeah, only if every grocery store on Earth had shut down.

"Jesus, Alice. Who was this woman?" my dad groaned, looking up at shelves piled high with just...shit – cleaning supplies, old rusty tools, and ruined books.

Alice's amused giggle met our ears. "Gloria Hawthorne. And the place was her father's. Neal Willis. He was an avid hunter."

"You think?" I scoffed, rolling my eyes at their laughter.

"Anyway, she inherited the place when he passed in ninety-eight. She didn't do anything with it, except assume responsibility for it. She changed everything over to her name, paid the taxes, and kept the power on," she explained.

"How'd she die?" I asked, using my boot to nudge at a few boxes.

"She died in a hospital in L.A. It was complications during a routine surgery. She'd developed an infection after having her gall bladder removed."

"Oh," Dad and I said at the same time.

"Well, that seems...anticlimactic," I murmured. "I expected something more..."

"Violent?" Dad snorted, shoving my shoulder.

"Well, yeah..." I growled, gesturing to the top of the stairs. "I mean, she worked for these assholes!"

"Attic's clear," Bella called over the radio, though her tone of voice sounded amused, most likely due to listening to me.

"Sweetness, you okay?" I asked her, reaching out to touch the point on a buck's head.

"Yeah, I'm okay."

"Good. Oh shit," I snickered, jumping out of the way when the buck's head fell off the top of the pile. A small avalanche of big game trophies tumbled to the floor, but it was what was revealed underneath that caused my dad and me to freeze.

"Aw fuck," we both said, backing away.

"Ben, El...you'd better get down here," I yelled over the radio.

Wes popped his head in at the top of the stairs. "They're loading Reynolds up in the van. What'd you find?"

I pointed, only to tug my hat off and run my hands through my hair. I pulled it back on and looked back down to the sight at my feet. Buried underneath those hunting trophies was a skeleton. It was still clothed, though there was no way to tell what exactly it was wearing, barely visible under all that junk. Only a little hair remained, and the whole thing shifted again when a rat burrowed its way out.

Glancing back up at Wes' pale features as he stared wide-eyed at the body, I asked, "What do you wanna bet that's Molly Parsons?"

"Damn," my dad groaned, looking down at the floor. "You'd better go get Eleazar. You're gonna need this shit as evidence."

Bella and Kurt appeared at the top of the stairs, but I pointed to Kurt. "She doesn't come down here! At all. Sweetness, please just trust me on this. Get her out of here, Kurt."

He nodded and gently pulled her away from the door. My girl didn't even argue as he led her away, and for once, I was truly grateful she trusted me. I don't think the body would've bothered her as much as the rats, the smell, and the feel that this particular basement gave off.

"Alice, patch Felix onto the line for me," Eleazar ordered, and over the earpiece, I could hear the sound of an engine pulling away.

"Okay," she said.

Finally, Felix piped in. "What's up?"

"I need you here. We're going to have to take this over, pretend to hand it to the Feds," he ordered, pulling out his phone. "Benny has no choice but to take this..."

"I'm on my way," he replied.

Eleazar took the steps slowly, giving the room a long glance, only to kneel in front of the skeleton. He shook his head, took a deep breath, and turned to face the rest of us. "By the time Felix gets here, we'd better have a damned good story. You're gonna need one. And we have to stick to it. Got me?"

"Sir!" we all answered him, even the girls back at the safe house.

He nodded, rubbed his face roughly, and looked to his phone. "Okay. I'm calling it in."
Tuesday, January 22, 2002 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 18

CHAPTER 18

BELLA

My eyes snapped open at the sound of a door slamming somewhere down the hall. Edward was wrapped around me like I'd escape his evil clutches. I fought my smile as I took mental inventory of hands, legs, arms. My back was to his chest, our legs intertwined, but my husband's hands had a mind of their own – or perhaps they just were used to their owner's deviant thoughts – because they were clearly seeking skin and breasts underneath my t-shirt.

When I shifted, my ears caught the sound of footfalls just outside the door. My first instinct was to think it was one of the kids. Sammy was an early riser and a house wanderer, our little shy adventurer, finding whatever snack he could get his pudgy hands on first thing. Bethy was a parent magnet, preferring to snuggle into bed between us.

Tugging Edward's hands out from under my shirt, I sat up to see our door crack open. I smiled at my oldest baby, who was peeking in. She was too cute in purple camo pajamas, her hair falling down around her shoulders in soft, sleep-messy curls.

"Pretty girl, what's wrong?" I whispered, but Edward snapped awake, rolling over in her direction.

"Dweam," she whispered back, shutting the door and scurrying over to her daddy's side of the bed.

"A bad one, little sweetness?" he rasped, clearly looking like he needed a bit more sleep as he scooped his daughter onto the bed, but he'd give her the world, even if it meant loss of sleep.

He and his crew hadn't been home long, but we'd called an end to work as soon as they'd pulled in. Jordan had stayed in his room all night, causing Kyra to get upset, but Gator had calmed her down by telling her to give him time. In all reality, none of us had been given a chance to even talk to him. But in order to at least face the next day, I'd known Edward and I were going to need a few hours sleep. Glancing up at the clock, I knew that the house would start to come alive soon.

Bethy landed between us with a sigh, wriggling underneath the covers. She gazed up at me, playing with my hair, but then snuggled her face to Edward's chest, mumbling, "Yeah."

Edward held her tighter as I ran my fingers through her hair. Dropping a kiss to the top of her head, he whispered, "Wanna talk about it?"

"I fink dere's a monster in my closet," she muttered against his shirt.

I grinned, almost sighing in relief, because when in came to Bethy's nightmares, occasionally "The Mean Man" that had taken her would reemerge with a vengeance. They weren't so common anymore, but at least this time, the nightmare was a normal five-year-old imagination at work.

Edward smiled against the top of her head, locking gazes with me. "No monsters, baby. I promise," he vowed to her in that soft, soothing tone that could calm a wild cobra. "What makes you think that?"

"Noises," she muttered, pulling back to look up at him, and her little scowl was fierce and serious. "The door squeaks, Daddy," she huffed, her little brow furrowing.

He cupped her face, brushing a lock of hair back. "No, listen. It's the house. I promise. It's older, so it makes creaky noises." She opened her mouth to argue with him, but he placed a finger over her lips. "Shh, listen, baby."

We all practically held our breath as we listened to the sounds of the house. He was right, of course. The beach house was older, and because it sat near water, the wind off the ocean caused the house to creak and settle.

"Believe me now, little sweetness?" he asked her, but she hardly had to answer, because her whole demeanor relaxed against him as she nodded slowly.

I leaned in, kissing first her forehead, and then his lips, telling them I loved them both and smiling when they said it back. I froze when more footfalls sounded down the hallway.

"Bethy, is Sammy up, too?" I asked her.

"I don't know," she muttered, yawning widely and shrugging a shoulder.

I don't think the two of them even gave me much thought when I got up out of bed. By the time I'd tugged on some jeans and a sweater, Bethy had wriggled her way so close to Edward that they were sharing his pillow, and I wanted to just smooch them both to pieces, because there was nothing like the sight of them like that. I also knew for a fact that there was no comfort to be found on the entire planet after a bad dream than in that man's arms. All fears, worries, and what-ifs seemed to blur away so quickly that you couldn't remember what had scared you in the first place. And I was pretty sure they were both out like a light by the time I stepped out of the room.

I checked the kids' room first, the room they'd claimed as their own. It was filled with two twin beds, two blow up beds, and more toys than I ever remember packing on the short notice that Edward had given us when we needed to leave our house. Poking my head in, I could see Abby asleep in one bed and Caleb in the other, but Sammy was absent.

Smirking, I closed the door and walked downstairs. I knew where to find my little walking tummy, so I made my way into the kitchen. The look on my son's face was so Edward when I caught him with his hand inside a cereal box. It was all an innocent and silent "What?" as he blinked up at me at the same time that his hand shoved a fistful of Cheerios into his mouth.

"You want milk with that, handsome?" I asked him in a soft giggle.

He shook his head, looking at the box with a furrowed brow and shoving his hand back inside.

"Whoa, slow down," I laughed, scooping him up along with the box of cereal and setting him in his seat at the counter. "Let's get a bowl, then, okay?"

"Yeah," he said, handing over the box and practically bouncing in his highchair.

Grabbing a bowl from the cabinet, I poured the cereal and set it down in front of him. "Are you sure no milk?" I asked him.

"No, Mommy," he huffed, reaching in with his hand for a few of the little rings. "Like dis," he said with a sweet grin.

I brushed his hair from his forehead and dropped a heavy kiss there. "You're so much like your dad that it scares me, Samuel. I want you to know that."

As if to prove my point, Sammy tilted his head just a little and gave me his sweetest, most crooked smile as he shoved more cereal into his mouth. It was the same damn face his daddy used when he knew that he'd totally gotten his way. It was naughty and innocent, sweet, and just pure adorable goodness all rolled into one beautiful little face.

"Love you, baby," I whispered, because I couldn't help it.

"Love you," he murmured back with a mouthful.

Just in case my baby boy changed his mind, I fixed a sippy cup of milk and set it down in front of him.

The house was still pretty damn quiet as I started coffee for the day. I wasn't sure whose turn it was to cook breakfast, but I decided to hold off on that at least. By the time I poured myself a cup, I wasn't alone with Sammy anymore.

"Coffee?" I offered Jordan.

"Please," he said, glancing down at Samuel, a small smile playing on his face when my son held up his bowl to share. "Nope, little man. I'm good. You look like you're enjoying those way too much to steal them from you."

I laughed, setting a mug down onto the counter.

"'Kay," Sammy simply replied, almost sounding like he was telling Jordan, "Your loss, loser."

He took a sip before setting the mug down and meeting my eyes. "I'm sorry about yesterday..." He waved a hand around. "This is just...more than I was expecting."

Jordan, while extremely handsome, looked very sincere...and worried.

I set my own mug down, holding out my hand. "Then let's do this again. Bella Cullen. I own the company that Kyra hired."

"Jordan Nichols," he snickered, taking my hand firmly in his own. "And who's this?"

"Samuel Cullen," I said with a grin. "My youngest."

Jordan held out a fist, and Sammy bumped it just like he did with his uncles. I was shocked actually, because Sammy was shy by nature, so he must've seen something in the stranger in front of him that he liked. In fact, it had taken several days for him to warm up to Kyra, Cassie, and Gator – though the latter had won my son over early on by sharing French fries with him. And he now loved when Kyra played her guitar.

"I have a nephew about his age. Year-and-a-half?" he asked, glancing back up at me.

"Yeah, right around there," I said, smiling at my son when he picked up his cup and drained half the milk.

When it seemed Sammy was thoroughly ignoring us again, Jordan sighed, took another sip of coffee, and asked, "Why am I really here, Bella?"

Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly. "Kyra has had some threats made against her and some of the people in her life," I started, but sighed, grimacing a bit. "There's more to it than that, and Kyra's side of the story is hers to tell you, but I'll tell you what I can."

Jordan was obviously not stupid, because he immediately asked the most important question. "So the guy that killed Ike Raulson is after her? Me?"

"Yes," I said with a nod.

He frowned a bit down at his cup, shaking his head slowly. "God, I've tried all day yesterday and all night, and I can't seem to find any sadness over that guy's death. I hated that son of a..." He paused, giving Sammy a quick side glance. "I just couldn't stand him," he finished.

"I'm gathering that no one particularly liked him," I murmured, taking a sip of coffee.

"He was too controlling of Kyra, even when we were dating," Jordan huffed, looking around the kitchen.

"And there's a reason for that, but again, it's her story to tell," I stated cryptically, walking to Sammy and kissing the top of his messy hair. "Mommy's going to be in the office, handsome. Okay? Let me know when you're finished."

"Yeah," he mumbled around a mouthful of Cheerios.

"Come. Let me show you something," I said to Jordan. "Bring your coffee. You'll need it."

I led him into the office, flipping on the lights. What used to be a beautiful sun room was now a makeshift war room. The entire case took up every available space on the walls. Maps, photos of faces and crime scenes, lists of locations, and printouts of financial information surrounded the heavy laden table of computers, equipment, and various file folders. The things from Ike's safety deposit box sat untouched in the center of the table in Mickey's bag. No one had been ready to delve into that bullshit the night before.

I pointed to a picture of one of Preston's burned flowers. "Ever seen Kyra get one of these?"

"She told me about them, but I never saw one," he answered, narrowing his eyes on just about everything he could on the walls.

"What do you know about Preston Raulson?"

"Ike's son?" he asked, and I nodded. "I know that he worked for his dad. He was a timid thing. He didn't like me, that's for sure."

I wrinkled my nose, because Eleazar was probably right. Preston might have been crushing on Kyra from the get go. "Preston is stalking Kyra, but he's escalated into...more."

"What do you mean?"

"Preston killed Ike," I stated, watching his expression change from shock to acceptance. "Apparently, Preston has been harboring feelings for Kyra for a very long time, and since he's unstable, things started to change. He started by trying to win her affection, but when that didn't work, he sent her cryptic messages with those flowers. Now..." I sighed, shaking my head. "Now he's removing anyone that ever dated her."

"Dated," he repeated, glancing up at the wall that held the photos of himself, Edward, Robert Reynolds, Ryan Peters, and the most recently added ex-husband, Roger, though the latter two were not in as much danger as the others, because they were so far away. Ryan was in London, and Roger, in New York.

As he studied the wall, I spoke softly. "Robert Reynolds went missing yesterday."

Jordan's head spun to face me, his mouth hanging open in shock. "But..."

"That's why you're here, Jordan," I told him. "We needed to get you somewhere safe. We needed to take a bit of Preston's power away from him."

Jordan nodded, turning back to the board. He pointed to Edward's picture. "He's here. The guy from the USO tour," he mumbled.

"And my husband," I snickered, smiling softly up at Jordan when he faced me once again. I was glad to see that Jordan knew some of Kyra's real history. That had been a slight concern of mine when it came to bringing Jordan into the house with Edward.

"He's been spotted around L.A. with Kyra. What the hell?" he practically growled, and I could see a touch of jealousy start to work into his demeanor.

I laughed, patting his shoulder. "At first, we needed to send Preston a message that Kyra's security had changed. Because no one knows Edward, he added an element of the unknown. We set up those photos. It was also a way to let Preston know that we were back in L.A. We wanted to see if he'd follow us from Seattle – which he did."

"Yeah, but they were kissing..."

"That was me," I chuckled, pointing to my hair, and I watched as the realization that Kyra and I were slightly similar dawned on him. "Yeah...I'm not letting my husband kiss on someone else..."

Jordan smiled wryly at me, relaxing just a touch. "Damn convincing job..."

"We try," I laughed, but it died quickly. "Look, this is a lot to take in, but I promise when Kyra tells you why this has all blown up the way it has, you'll understand."

He didn't say anything, but gave me a look like he was going to have a hard time believing her.

"I'm going to give you a piece of advice, okay?" I asked, and he nodded. "I know she's put you through some tough situations, and I'm sure I don't know the half of it, but there are reasons for that. Terrible ones. My advice to you is to really listen. Have an open heart and mind when you do, because I promise once you've heard it, her actions over the last few years will make much more sense to you."

"Ike really touched her," he gasped, his eyes pleading with me for the truth or for it to all be a lie; I couldn't decide which. "That public announcement, Ike's arrest... It was all true..."

I glanced up when I heard voices from the kitchen. The house was starting to come to life. Esme, Alec, Sarah, and Abby were all up. Esme was dropping sweet kisses to Samuel's chubby cheeks, carefully avoiding sticky fingers, and her eyes locked with mine briefly over my son's head. Alec was already starting breakfast.

I turned back to Jordan. "Kyra's story," I reiterated, wincing at his pain-filled expression, because I was all but telling him it was true. "Please just...hear her out. That's all I'm asking. If once you've heard it, you still feel...angry, then we'll talk again. But it's really Edward you should go to after that." Just before I walked away from him, I said, "Make yourself at home, Jordan. Breakfast will be ready soon. But don't leave the grounds. Mine and Edward's crew will see to it that you have everything you'll need for the next few days."

Jordan nodded, and I left him in the office to go smooch on my son. I picked him up after he'd told his Gamma that he was finished with his cereal.

"Come, my smelly, sticky boy," I chuckled, blowing a raspberry on his neck. "Let's get you changed and cleaned up, huh?"

"No," he laughed, wriggling in my arms, his little chunky legs kicking. "Daddy," he commanded, pointing a finger up the stairs.

"Daddy's sleepin'," I whispered against his cheek. "You can play with Daddy later."

"Wayter," he repeated, looking disappointed, but amiable.

Halfway up the stairs, we almost ran into Kyra on her way down. She looked nervous, but she still reached out to ruffle Sammy's hair. He giggled, ducking her next reach for him.

"He's down there," I told her softly, raising an eyebrow up at her. "He's in a better frame of mind this morning, I think."

She nodded, tearing up a little. "He wouldn't even talk to me last night. He'll hate me for lying...for all the drinking, the fighting..."

"Doubtful," I said with a smile, remembering that brief flash of jealousy that Jordan had shown over Edward. "But he does need to hear the truth from you, and you won't believe how relieved you'll feel once you've told him."

Kyra studied my face, her brow wrinkling, but she nodded, taking a deep breath.

"I also wouldn't tell him without Esme with you," I suggested, shrugging a shoulder. "She'll be able to expound on some of your emotions and issues. Plus, she's a great hand to hold."

"Yeah, I was going to ask her. She's been...a big help," Kyra said softly, smiling at Sammy's sweet, bouncing, happy self, because he'd had his breakfast, so all was right in his little world.

"Yeah, she's great," I agreed.

"Thanks, Bella," she whispered, looking down the stairs like she was trying to muster every bit of courage she could to make it down to the first floor.

"You'll be fine," I assured her, "but I'm sure there are plenty of people inside this house that will back you up, honey. So just be honest, tell him what happened, and then go from there, okay?"

"Okay," she sighed, finally taking the steps down to the bottom floor.

The kids' room was empty by the time I walked in there. After wiping Sammy's face and hands, changing his diaper, and trying to tame my poor boy's hair, I dressed him in jeans and one of mine and Edward's favorite sweatshirts. It was gray, with the saying, "Daddy's Wing Man" on it. It was a gift from his Aunt Alice, and I was beginning to think she was having them made, but I wouldn't dare stop her, because they were hilarious.

I took Samuel back downstairs so that he could join Abby and now Caleb in the TV room. Grabbing another cup of coffee, I walked back into my office, tugging Mickey's bag to me. It was time to get to work. With a brief glimpse out the large windows, I could see that Jordan, Kyra, and Esme were sitting outside on the deck with their breakfast. From their body language and serious expressions, I could tell that the talk had already started.

I felt a kiss to the side of my head and turned to see Alec setting a plate down in front of me.

"Bellissima, at least eat something before starting on that shit, yeah?" he chuckled.

"I have to call Wes and Benny today," I sighed wearily, shaking my head. "They'll need to know about this property, I think."

"And these," he growled, a face full of disgust as he opened the box of Polaroid pictures. "Christ, how many women..."

"I don't know," I groaned, giving the box a scathing look. "I was going to put Mack on it. She's been studying missing girls around this area. She may recognize some of them."

We both paused when he pulled out the four video tapes. Our eyes met, and neither of wanted to address it, but it had to be done.

"They're marked," he muttered, shuffling through them. "Dates, it looks like." His head shot up to look at me, giving me a raised eyebrow. "Eat, Bella. I'd rather not catch shit from Eddie this morning for not looking after you while he was sleeping."

I giggled, picked up a fork, and took a bite of eggs. "Sir, yes, sir," I teased him.

"And don't tackle all this shit by yourself, either," he ordered, standing up. "This is unpleasant stuff. Wait for the girls." He ruffled my hair, saying, "I'm going to check the perimeter. If you need me, call my cell."

"I won't, and thanks, Alec," I told him, watching him leave out the back and give the three on the deck a quick side glance.

Turning back to the envelope from the bank box, I tugged out the papers and got to work.

~oOo~

"Another one," Makenna muttered with a shake of her head, clipping one of the photos from Ike's safety deposit box to a missing persons folder.

"How many does that make?" Rose asked, looking up from her screen where she and Alice had been researching the property from the envelope.

"Hell, I don't know... Twelve?" she groaned, glancing around the table.

"You've recovered twelve missing persons?" Kurt gasped. He peered around the side of his laptop, his mouth hanging open. "Really?"

"I haven't recovered shit," she growled, scowling at the never ending pile of pictures. "All I've done is given them a possible identity."

Mickey's head snapped up from her computer. After just a poke of her finger to Makenna's shoulder, the younger woman calmed down. We were all punchy. It had been a strange, tension-filled morning, but I wasn't sure we weren't feeding off of Jordan and Kyra, to be honest. We'd tried to ignore the conversation out on the deck, but Jordan had not taken Kyra's story well. And poor Kyra had melted down. Esme had played mediator, but in the end, she'd had to give Kyra something to settle her down.

On the other hand, our work wasn't exactly sunshine and rainbows, so that could have just been making shit worse. It was picture after picture of assaulted girls, and the next step wasn't going to get any better.

The video tapes.

Alice had suggested converting them to digital and then studying them. It would make it easier to pause, print screen shots, and rewind if needed. The last one was converting now.

Glancing out the windows, I could see Sarah watching over the kids as they played in the sand on the beach. Bethy had been up for a few hours, but her daddy was still sleeping, though I expected him up at any moment. I could also see Jasper, Emmett, and Carlisle making their rounds, Cassie and Gator having a quiet discussion with Esme on the deck, and Alec readying the grill for lunch.

"Last one, Bells. You ready?" Kurt asked, pulling the tape from the convertor.

"Yeah, let's do this," I sighed, giving his computer my attention.

We'd figured out that the markings Alec had found on the tapes were dates – or months and years, to be specific. If I was guessing correctly, one would be Kyra as a teen. Two others had to be Jen Jones and Layla, if we were calculating the right years. But it was the last one we weren't sure about. Though, I had my suspicions...

"Oh fucking hell," I sighed, pulling my hair away from my face when the video started, because it was Kyra...as a seventeen-year-old girl, and it was of the couch inside Ike's home recording studio.

All my girls rushed to stand behind me and Kurt as we all barely watched every single second of Kyra's rape. If she fought him, he punched her – hard – in places that would never show it. If she told him no, he told her she deserved it, that she owed him, and that without him, she would be nothing.

"He spliced it," Alice whispered, leaning next to Kurt to take over his mouse. "No, no, no...not splice. He would use this specific tape when he knew he was going to..."

"Dammit, he planned each one?" Rose snapped, her gaze snapping from Alice back to the computer. "Like this asshole just woke up on certain days and decided he needed to get a little somethin'?"

"Maybe," Alice answered softly and distractedly, tugging a chair next to Kurt. "Let me just see something," she muttered to him, and he nodded, waving a hand at her to have at it. "Let's scan this video..."

She clicked to open the next one, and we all groaned, because it was the same scenario, but a different girl. Jen Jones. The same result happened with the third video, which turned out to not be just Layla, but Ashley, too. Apparently, around that time, he was hurting the both of them. But it was the last one that made us all pause, because it wasn't Ike in the picture. It was Preston. And the girl? Molly Parsons.

"Oh shit," Mickey breathed, and it seemed we all leaned forward at the same time.

The poor girl looked the worse for wear. She was bruised, beaten, and sobbing as she watched a frantic Preston pace in front of her, raging. She was bound, with duct tape over her mouth and tears streaming down her face. It seemed out of the two Raulsons, Preston was the cruelest monster, because he had no qualms about making her bleed, calling her names, or punching her face, all while telling her it was her fault that his dad was disappointed.

When Preston pulled a knife out of his back pocket, my stomach roiled. He used that knife in such a familiar way that my hands started to shake. With each swipe of the blade, Molly's clothes shredded. But it all came to a halt, both Preston and Molly looking up when Ike walked into the room.

"Clean this shit up," Ike order his son. "Now! And I really mean clean it. You can't let her out of this house like that. What the fuck were you thinking?"

What was probably the most disturbing was Ike's resigned facial expression. He didn't seemed surprised, he didn't flinch at what was going on before him, and he barely gave the poor girl a second glance.

"Get up," Preston growled, yanking Molly up by the hair. "Had you just done what I told you, things would be different. I should've known better..."

"Lock her in her room," Ike stated, looking as if he were having a damned hard time not rolling his eyes, but again, his calm demeanor was just...haunting.

But it was when Preston was marching Molly out of the room that I lost my composure. He took the knife and swiped it across the rest of Molly's jeans, causing her clothes to fall the rest of the way off. Small cuts bled all over her torso, her upper thighs, and her arms as she shivered in nothing but a pair of underwear.

My girls had to dodge my chair as I abruptly stood up, bolting from the room and out the back deck doors. I'm not sure I made it two steps into the back yard before I was falling to my knees and vomiting up my breakfast and coffee. All of it. My head spun, stars flickered behind my tightly closed eyes, and I could barely make out concerned voices through the ringing in my ears.

Two sets of hands grabbed at me, but I fought them.

"Sweetness, it's me. Shh, love," the most beautiful and calming voice in the world soothed in my ear as very strong, very warm arms wrapped tightly around me from behind.

A warm, damp cloth wiped at my face, cleaning me up, but I fought that, too.

"I know you can hear me, Bella," Edward continued in my ear, his hold on me unrelenting. "You're fine. You're right here with me, and no one will ever touch you again. Got me?" he asked, though his voice was just a touch gruff.

"Bella, you have to breathe, sweetheart," Esme's voice added.

The only two people that could get through to me in a panic attack were my husband and Esme. Period. No one else understood it. No one else had seen, cleaned up after, or dealt with my kidnapping better than those two people.

"I...can't," I panted, seeking out Edward's arms and squeezing them hard.

Suddenly, Edward's lips were right at my ear, his next words only meant for me. "I love you so fucking much, baby. Focus. You're stronger than this. Don't let it win. I've got you, and nothing can take you away from me. Do you feel me, Bella?" he asked, his lips pressing to my neck. "Tell me."

He knew to keep talking, to keep touching me. It was the only thing that got through. He told me he loved me over and over, that I was beautiful and strong, and that it didn't matter what had started this shit, I would make it through it.

Finally, touches became more real, his voice became more than just sound and heavy breaths on my neck, and I could finally focus on the cloth gently cleaning my face and not fight it.

"Edward," I finally sobbed, sucking in a deep breath.

"Yes, baby. I'm right here," he said, carefully turning me on his lap so I could wrap my arms around his neck and bury my face in his shoulder.

"What happened, pretty girl?" Esme asked softly, and I felt an extra hand rubbing my back. "Get it out of you now."

"P-Preston," I gasped into Edward's neck. "M-Molly... He cut her fucking clothes off..." I finally explained.

Two deep sighs of frustration escaped them both, but their touches didn't stop, and neither did their soft words of encouragement. However, Edward shifted, slipping an arm underneath my legs, and he scooped me up, taking me up the deck steps. He sat down on a chaise, cradling me in his lap.

"Look at me, sweetness," he ordered gently, brushing my hair from my face. "Please?"

I pulled back, finally gazing up at my husband through tear-blurred vision. His warm hands cupped my face, while his thumbs wiped away my tears. But it was the deep, concerned green eyes that I locked onto.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, my lip trembling.

Brushing his lips across mine softly, he whispered back, "Don't be."

Grasping either side of his face, I brought his forehead down to mine and closed my eyes. He was always such a fucking beautiful sight to see after one of these episodes. He smelled freshly showered, his hair still just a touch damp. He was warm and strong and so very real underneath my fingers. I smiled when I realized that his face was smooth.

"You shaved," I murmured.

"I was scruffy," he chuckled, but I felt his body relax. It always did once he felt I was back to the present. "Or prickly, as Bethy put it."

I smiled, letting out another deep breath. I pulled back, looking up at him. He was all things comforting and soothing. He was strength incarnate.

"Okay?" he asked simply, his eyes flickering between my own as he studied everything about me.

I nodded, sniffling once. "Yeah. Okay."

"Wanna talk about it?" he asked, kissing me swiftly when I nodded again, looking over at Esme, who hadn't left our side.

"God, those videos," I groaned, shaking my head. "Mainly, they were Ike. But one... One was Preston...and Molly Parsons. He's so..."

"Familiar?" Esme provided, tucking my hair behind my ear.

"Yeah. And just...crazy. And Ike didn't even bat an eye when he caught his son," I said with a grimace, but I knew what Esme wanted to hear. "She was bound, gagged, and bleeding from his punches, but when he pulled out a knife and started cutting her clothes off..."

Edward pressed a long, slow kiss to my temple, leaving his lips there as he held me closer and whispered that he loved me. Esme nodded, a little wrinkle to her nose when she scowled.

"I remembered what that felt like," I mumbled, frowning down at my hands in my lap. It was cold steel against warm skin, it was stings when the air touched fresh cuts, and it was the humiliation of being exposed against your will. Though, I didn't say those things. They knew, and it only caused Edward pain when I said them aloud.

"Do you want something to calm you down?" she asked.

I shook my head. "No, I'm okay," I vowed, playing with Edward's fingers and then looked up to the windows. "Maybe it's time for a break in there anyway. We were all a little on edge to begin with," I told her, jerking my chin toward several concerned faces looking our way.

She patted my leg, giving me a warm smile. "Shall I go lay down your law, then?" she asked with a sweet, soft chuckle.

"Yes," I stated firmly, but smiled back at her as she stood up.

My head fell to Edward's shoulder. I wasn't quite ready to have his touch leave me. Placing a hand flat to one side of his face, I nuzzled smooth, aftershave-smelling skin along his jaw with my nose. A shudder of contentment and stress release wracked my frame, and he held me closer.

"Love you," I whispered against his cheek.

"Love you, too, Bella," he sighed.

I pulled back to look at him. "I'm okay."

"Good," he huffed, kissing my lips, only then giving his surroundings a long glance.

"You've missed a few things, sleeping beauty," I teased as I watched him assess...everything.

"Oh, yeah? Like what?" he chuckled, tilting his head at me.

So for the next few minutes, I told him what the girls, Kurt, and I had discovered about the things from Ike's safety deposit box. He was not so shocked that Makenna had twelve possible matches to missing girls from the area.

"And I'm waiting on a call back from Wes or Benny about that property," I finished, shrugging a shoulder.

"And this Jordan guy... Where is he?" he growled, looking around again.

I took a deep breath, letting out slowly. "He took Kyra's story...poorly. And she had to be sedated, so she's upstairs sleeping."

"Poorly...how?" he growled, his eyes fierce, but his hands were sweet and gentle as he touched my face, my arms, my hands, and the tops of my legs.

"Slow down," I snickered, kissing my fierce protector of all things weaker than himself. "He's a very nice man, baby. He's just...really overwhelmed. I think he truly cares for Kyra, but this is all a bit much. You know?" I frowned, sighing wearily as I told him about mine and Jordan's chat that morning and what I'd witnessed through the window. "He was in tears when he finally stood up from their talk."

"Oh," Edward said, nodding once and calming a bit.

"I told him he should talk to you after he'd heard Kyra's story, so don't be surprised if he does, okay?" I asked, tracing his eyebrow. "And don't be afraid to tell him about me if it helps. I know you don't like to, but trust me, it doesn't mean you're breaking my confidence."

"Sure, love," he sighed, looking pained, because he knew I meant it.

"He was jealous of you for a moment," I chuckled, linking our fingers together. I rolled my eyes at Edward's smug grin. "He knew of you...of that USO tour," I told him.

"Oh," he snickered softly. "I thought I you were going to tell me that he was jealous because you're so fucking beautiful and he can't have you. He needs to know..."

I laughed, my head falling back. "No, you possessive, silly ass."

"Fucking sue me," he growled in my ear, giving my earlobe a nip. "I can't help it."

I rolled my eyes again, but smiled at his unabashed chuckle and then at his snarling stomach. "Come on, Edward," I told him. "I see the angry bears are rumbling around in there," I teased him, poking his stomach.

He laughed, but stood up, setting me gently on my feet. His smile fell quickly as he cupped my face. "Do me a favor, sweetness."

"Sure, baby. What?"

"No more work today – at least until you hear back from Wes. Got me?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at me. "Just...take it easy for a few hours. Please."

I sighed, nodding a bit. "Yeah, you're probably right. It's time for lunch anyway," I conceded, jerking my chin to Alec as he brought out the things he was about to put on the grill.

"Good," he grunted sexily, kissing my lips. "Then sit your sweet ass down over there and keep us company while we cook. After that, I'll take the next perimeter run."

I knew better than to argue with him, especially after I'd had a panic attack. Besides, I usually tended to stick close to him after one anyway, something that Esme had pointed out a few years ago. So I took a seat at one of the tables at the end of the deck and settled in to listen to Alec and Edward tease each other about who was the better cook.

~oOo~

EDWARD

What started as a fairly tense lunch settled into normal, but subdued conversation. My eyes drifted around the deck, noting that Kyra was still absent, but Jordan had joined us, staying pretty much to himself. He'd barely uttered a word or taken a bite of his food, opting to pick at it or slowly push it from one side of his plate to the other. His eyes would flicker to the back door occasionally, but snap right back to his plate.

He looked like a tortured man, a man whose thoughts were making him physically fucking ill. After what I could only imagine Kyra had described to him, I would be willing to bet he was feeling like a pretty big fucking failure. His girl had been crying out for help, yet he hadn't heard her. None of us had.

Esme touched his arm gently, urging him to eat, but he shook his head no.

"He's gonna make himself sick," Rose sighed, and my head turned toward where the girls were all sitting together. "Poor thing probably blames himself."

"He asked to see her earlier," Cassie whispered, shaking her head, "but Kyra was still asleep."

"He looks like he wants to punch someone," Mickey added.

"Yeah, but his enemy is dead," Alice growled.

"No, he's not. There's another one still out there," Bella murmured, running her fingers through Bethy's hair as she ate her lunch.

"I hope he doesn't blame her, though," Sarah whispered, grimacing a bit. "She's been through enough."

"I don't think so." Makenna's voice was firm as she gazed across the deck toward Jordan. "He was really upset when Kyra lost it. He looked...helpless."

Jasper chuckled softly from my side, and I turned my attention to him. "It seems he's won the girls' loyalty."

I smirked, nodding, and sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. "He's feeling every last one of those things they just said," I stated softly, my eyes on the deck floor.

"Including the part about being upset with Kyra?" he asked.

"Yup," I sighed, glancing up at him. "All of it. I'm sure he doesn't blame her, but I'd be willing to bet he was wishing he had a time machine right about now."

"You would know, kid," Alec murmured, giving Bella a long, loving gaze, only to look back to me. "She okay?"

"She will be," I said with a nod. "She rarely has a panic attack that big anymore, but they can be overcome. I'm just glad Bethy and Sammy didn't see her. They get upset when she's like that."

"They've seen her?" my dad gasped.

"Once, a few months back," I explained. "Something in the basement had rotted – an onion, I think – and the smell that came up out of there just about knocked her on her ass. She was in the house alone with them. Bethy ran out to the woodshed to get me."

"You know, I'd really like to get my hands on the assholes of the world," Emmett growled, causing us to laugh when his hands curled into claws. "Just put them all in one place, put them through the same torture that they'd put their victims through."

"We did that, remember?" Alec chuckled. "I do believe Miller was unrecognizable by the time he gave up hope."

"I'm not so sure this Preston will make it to South America," Kurt sighed, giving another look toward the table full of ladies. "I'd bet that Bella takes that new gun of hers and pulls the trigger at his temple."

I snorted, because I wasn't so sure he was wrong. Something about this case was really tearing at my girl, and I just fucking wanted it over with – ASAP. Because it wasn't just about Kyra any longer; it was about pulling a monster off of the streets, because Ike Raulson had raised his son to be meaner, nastier, and crazier than he'd ever fucking thought of being, and I had a feeling that he was totally aware of it. Yet, he'd still let the asshole loose on the world.

"What do you want to bet that Ike was blackmailing his own son about Molly Parsons?" I asked the guys suddenly.

They all nodded in agreement, my father adding, "I really want to look at that property. Take a crew of us up there. It's not far."

Studying his face, I rubbed my bottom lip. "Definitely. In fact, when Wes or Benny calls Bella back, you and Alec get on the phone and work out the details. They can come with, but I want to check the place out. And this time, Mickey can't go," I told him, and he nodded in agreement.

"Oh hell," Jasper and Emmett groaned together.

"That's a nasty fight you're setting yourself up for," Alec snickered.

"Doesn't matter. She's not going. We'll take Bella instead, because a team of forty mules wouldn't keep her from going anyway, so we might as well plan on it," I murmured wryly, standing up.

"Where you going?" Emmett asked.

"Perimeter check," I stated gruffly. I walked to Bella, dropping a kiss to the top of her head, only to do the same to Bethy. "I'll be right back, my girls."

"Beach, Daddy," Sammy ordered, pointing a finger toward the water when I knelt in front of him.

"When I get back, I'm all yours," I vowed to both my kids. "Okay?"

"Yeah," Sammy said slowly, grinning with a slight tilt to his head. "Bugs again!"

"They're not bugs!" I growled against his head. "Stop listening to your sister."

"Cwabs wook like bugs, Daddy," she stated, rolling her eyes and looking just like her mother made over, which caused the table full of women to finally burst into laughter.

"You're as stubborn as your mom," I told my oldest, who only shrugged a shoulder and went back to her lunch plate. Kissing Bella's head one more time, I asked, "How you doing, sweetness?"

"I'm fine, Edward. Go do what you need to do," she told me, her voice sincere.

I nodded, stood up straight, and walked to Jordan. "Come with me. I think it's time we talked," I ordered, not giving him any leniency.

Esme started to argue, but I just shook my head at her.

"I'm going to show him the perimeter, just in case there's some sort of emergency," I lied smoothly to the both of them.

Jordan stood up slowly, and I noted a touch of anxiety in his demeanor, but he willingly followed me off the deck steps. It did not go unnoticed that every single conversation on that deck came to a complete and utter halt as they watched us leave.

"If you're taking me out here to kill me, you just left a shit-load of witnesses," he mumbled grumpily, eying the Glock in my waistband.

I was glad he could joke, because that meant he wasn't drowning in his emotions completely.

Smirking, I stopped in front of him. "That many witnesses and they still wouldn't tell a soul if I chose to end you here, but that's not what I'm doing."

"Fair enough," he sighed. "So what are we doing?"

"Showing you the perimeter, but I also wanted to give you a chance to ask questions. I'm sure some of them have sugarcoated some shit," I stated, jerking my thumb behind me and starting to walk again along the edge of the woods. "The girls feel badly for you, so they'll tone the shit down. And the guys won't say a fucking word unless I give the go ahead, so I'm pretty sure some stuff has been danced around."

"Kyra didn't," he mumbled, and I don't think he knew he'd said it out loud.

"I don't imagine she did, especially with Esme's guidance," I told him. "So she told you what happened to her?"

"Yeah," he sighed, stepping over a fallen palm tree. "I should've seen it."

"I said the same thing," I admitted, shrugging a shoulder when he glared over at me. "It's no secret, Jordan. You should know who I am...what I was to Kyra."

"I do, but..." He paused, frowning down at each step he was taking next to me.

"I didn't know, either," I said, shaking my head. "She hid that shit well."

"She was so scared," he countered. "To tell anyone, I mean. He threatened her daily."

"I know."

We were quiet for a moment, walking the long fence. I was giving him a chance to think, but also to get away from the house, because I knew it must've felt like the walls were closing in on him. He couldn't fix shit, and that was probably more frustrating than hearing what horrible fucking things your girl had been through.

"You can't fix her, you know," I said softly, looking over at him. "You can be there, listen, wipe away every tear, but she'll never be...the same."

"Never?" he gasped, looking up at me with a gaping mouth.

"No." I stopped us again once we were several yards from the house, leaning against the fence and folding my arms across his chest. "She'll get better, but that shit she went through... That'll always be there, just under the surface." I grimaced, looking out over the ocean. "Did you see Bella earlier?"

"I saw her get sick," he muttered with a nod. "But it isn't any of my business..."

"My wife wants you to know what happened to her so you can better understand how to deal with Kyra," I stated, trying not to let the guilt for telling this story overtake me, because rarely did I ever mention it to anyone outside of Bella and Esme. "Bella didn't get sick, she had a panic attack..."

For the next few minutes, I told Jordan what had happened to Bella several years back. From her kidnapping, to her torture, to my finally yanking her ass off that motherfucking, God-forsaken table, I recounted it all. I explained the PTSD, the panic, the nightmares, the fears, and the scars – though never where those scares were.

When I finally finished and met his gaze, he was pale, but looking at me like he had a thousand questions on the tip of his tongue.

"How did you do it?" he whispered.

"I just fucking do it. She's...my everything," I stated with an unapologetic shrug of my shoulder. "If you care enough, then you'll find the patience, the courage, and the will to communicate."

"She kept me at arm's length," he said, leaning back against a large rock formation. "I don't know if she wants my help."

"Trust me. Kyra wants your help, and she needs you," I said, pointing at him. "She might've come to me in the beginning, but it was you she was begging for two days ago when she realized you were in danger." I let out a deep breath, looking back at the water. "She pushed you away because she couldn't be what you needed her to be."

"Yeah, that's what Esme said," he groaned, slipping down the trunk of the tree to grip his hair. "Why did she come to you?"

I snorted, rolling my eyes at my behavior with Ike back during the USO tour. "Because I took zero shit from that cock sucker. I demanded his best manners, because if he'd said one more foul word to her, Cassie, or anyone else on that fucking tour, I'd have left him in the middle of a fighting zone...or the desert. I can't decide which. And he listened, because for some reason, I scared the shit out of him."

Jordan huffed a laugh, looking up at me. "Ike didn't really like me, either. I shattered the window of his Mercedes one time when he came to take Kyra to a recording session. He was in such a bad mood that I couldn't help it."

I nodded, finally seeing what Kyra had said. She'd told me that Jordan was a lot like me – brave, strong, and took no shit from Ike. The difference was that Ike had threatened Jordan's career, and Kyra loved him enough to push him away from that threat.

"Anyway," I sighed, running a hand through my hair, "when Solstice Music was bought by my father's company, she jumped at the chance to find me for help. Kyra remembered me talking about my father, his company, and Seattle. But she was slowly unraveling at this point. Apparently, Ike had started threatening her again."

"She could've come to me..." he stated, looking down at his feet, and I saw the jealousy that Bella had mentioned. "I would've helped her."

"Her mind wasn't there yet, Jordan," I countered, pushing myself off of the fence. "It wasn't really about me. Please don't think that. And I allowed nothing inappropriate when she was in my home, despite her misguided efforts."

He grimaced at that last statement, but nodded. "Yeah, Esme told me about that, too."

"Well, then, you know everything." I started walking to finish the perimeter check, and he hopped up to follow me. "I don't mean to rush you, but I don't like leaving Bella for long after she's had a panic attack."

He nodded in understanding, but looked up at me. "What happened to the guy that hurt her?"

I snorted, glancing over at him. "I made sure that he never saw the light of day again."

~oOo~

BELLA

"That's a whole lotta hot takin' a walk," Makenna chuckled teasingly, giving me a wink when I broke my gaze from Edward and Jordan disappearing toward the far fence line at the same time the deck cleared out of men. I even thought I heard Carlisle mention something about calling Wes to hurry his ass up.

Rolling my eyes, I waved her off. "Only half of that is hot enough for me," I countered, grinning when the girls laughed. "The other half is pretty damn well taken," I mused aloud.

"I'm tellin' Daddy you said he's hot," Bethy giggled, curling in on herself when I pulled her to my lap to tickle her relentlessly. "Stop, Mommy!" she begged, her head falling back with her laughter.

"On that note, perhaps a TV break is in order," Sarah chuckled. "Come on, guys. Let's go inside."

Caleb, Abby, Bethy, and Samuel all trudged inside the house. Kyra finally made her appearance a few minutes later. She looked wary as she took in the deck and who was on it – and who wasn't. I saw her face fall in disappointment.

"You need to eat something," I told her, gesturing toward the table full of food.

She nodded, before making herself a small plate and joining the table.

"Jordan is with Edward," I told her, answering the unasked question that was written all over her face. "They're checking the perimeter."

She nodded, nibbling on a French fry. "I think I've finally succeeded in pushing him away. Permanently."

"Don't bet on it, sweetie," Rose snorted. "He's barely eaten a thing, and he's been talking with Esme for some time."

"He's wearing the same face Edward used to," Alice piped up sadly, smiling a bit when we all looked her way. "He is. It's defeat, frustration, and sadness. But there's an underlying determination in there, too. It's actually upsetting to see again. I'm not sure Edward lost that look for the first few months we were all under the same roof."

"If anyone can help him understand, it's Eddie," Mickey piped up softly with a nod as she played with the napkin in her hands. "I've never seen a man change quicker than he did when he met Bells."

I smiled at her, but turned my attention to Kyra. "I told Edward to tell him my story so Jordan would understand that he's not alone here. That this support system is pretty big. And sweetie...he's all about you. Pushed away, broken up, angry...I'm not sure any of that matters at the moment."

"Thank you," she whispered, tears welling up in her eyes. "You think..." she started, but was interrupted before she could get any further.

"Of course we're right," Makenna chuckled, and with an amazing ability – just like Emmett – the next words out of her mouth changed the whole feeling at that table full of girls. "I was just sayin' while watching the two of them walk away that they were a whole lotta hotness."

We froze for a moment, afraid that Mack had offended Kyra in some way, but when a slow, wry smile curled the edges of her mouth, we broke into giggles.

"Yeah, Jordan's..."

"Hot," we all finished for her, which caused her to laugh. It was healing sound coming from her, all pure and happy and young.

I decided to tease her just a bit. "Did I see...ink?"

Her gaze snapped up to mine as she nodded slowly. "Oh yeah. You did. Right here," she said, pointing to her hipbone area, which caused some whoops to echo around the table.

"Spill, girl. What is it?" Mickey laughed.

She stopped altogether, and for a moment, I thought we'd gone too far, because her face fell from happy to an open mouthed gasp.

"His mother was Italian...from Sicily," she whispered, staring out over the water. She sounded like she was in awe, but she just shook her head slowly.

"Kyra, I'm sorry..." I started, but she stopped me by grabbing my hand.

"No, no... It's fine. It's his personal motto scripted over a piece of film. It's beautifully done, actually. He'd always wanted to make movies, but it seemed his family was against it, except his mother. He told me she would repeat the same phrase to him over and over, despite his father's wishes for him to be something else. Non mollare mai."

"What's it mean?" I asked her, because she looked like she was having an epiphany.

"Never give up," she stated, gazing up at me.

"Nice," someone at the table muttered, but I smiled at Kyra, because I could see who was coming up behind her.

"Perhaps he listened," I told her, jerking my chin toward Jordan, who had made it up the steps of the deck. It was obvious he only had eyes for Kyra. Edward was right behind him.

With a pointed look to my girls and Cassie, we stood up from the table, leaving the two of them behind. I squeezed Kyra's shoulder on my way by, only to reach for Edward's hand. Linking my fingers with his, we both glanced over just as Jordan fell to his knees in front of Kyra. The last thing I heard before we closed the deck doors made me kiss my husband's cheek, because he'd totally given Jordan the tools to help her.

"Christ, Kyra. I'm so fucking sorry. Tell me what you need. I'm so there. And I'm not going anywhere."