Sunday, November 25, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 22

Chapter 22
BELLA
I giggled, sniffing the air. Edward's scent wafted around our bedroom, but I couldn't see a thing because he'd blindfolded me, sat me down in the chair, and ordered me not to move.
You know...so not fair. I huffed, folding my arms across my chest as the scent of evergreen pine met my nose and the sound of something being plugged into the wall met my ears. The last time I was blindfolded...
"Isabella..." Edward's voice was a low, warning growl, but there was a smile in there. I could hear it.
Suddenly, I was lifted, deposited into his lap, and kisses were pressed to my cheek.
"Ready?" he asked softly.
I nodded, wearing a stupid grin, I was sure. "Yes!"
When the blindfold was removed, I opened my eyes to a dark room where the only light was from the small Christmas tree across from us. Edward had given us our own tree. It was no more than two and a half feet tall, with multi-colored lights and decorated with just a few of our very own ornaments, but the major color on it was red.
My brow furrowed, but I spun to look at him. "I love it."
He smiled, all shy and sweet. "I just thought...you know, just for us."
"It's perfect," I whispered, glancing from the pretty tree to his even prettier face. That same face was glowing with the colors from the lights, and I cupped either side of it to kiss him softly. "You spoil me," I told him, kissing him again.
He chuckled, rubbing his hands up and down my back. "I try. I like the lights, though."
I nodded in agreement. It was like candlelight but better. It was also the sweetest of gestures because he knew I loved the little things. I also remembered that we loved to turn out every light in our house in London just to leave on the lights of the tree, which reminded me...
"Mistletoe?" I asked with a giggle, cracking up when his beautiful warm honey eyes drifted up and up to stare above the chaise we were sitting in. "You might be the cutest thing I've ever seen," I snorted, shaking my head.
Edward merely grinned. "Might be?"
"I'll get back to you on that. I think I need to handle this mistletoe situation first," I whispered, turning fully in his lap so that I was straddling him.
I knew we were due outside, but that didn't stop me, nor did our family complain. Yet. They were spread all over the house, anyway, wrapped up in various activities until it was time. It was just a week before Christmas, so we were all very mellow. Even Archie was enjoying the lackadaisical feel of the house.
"You know," I breathed against his lips just before I kissed him, "putting it there could be a potentially bad idea."
Edward chuckled darkly, yanking me roughly to him so that we were pressed so very closely. "That's what I'm hoping for..."
Grinning, I said, "I love you."
"Good...now kiss me," he growled dramatically.
It was a good kiss. So very good. It was sweeps over top lips, bottom lips, suckling just enough to cause a purr or a moan. It was turned heads to deepen it, to beg for entrance with sweet, claiming tongues. It didn't escalate to anything other than just more kissing. Fingers threaded into hair, silently keeping us right there, begging not to stop.
Edward's hand cradled the back of my head as mine played with the shorter hairs at the back of his neck. We gripped shirts, caressed thighs, and snuck in brief touches to skin.
"Guys?" someone called from downstairs.
"Go away," we muttered at the same time, and I loomed up on my knees to bring my whole body in contact with Edward's.
"Edward? Bells?" someone called again. "If we're doing this, we gotta get started."
I huffed frustratedly, pressing my forehead to his, and our eyes met. Edward rubbed up and down the outside of my thighs, his eyes so very warm and filled with so much love. But he didn't say anything.
"Don't care," I murmured, kissing him again, practically sighing in contentment because I wasn't sure that kissing Edward wasn't my favorite thing. Ever.
Edward grinned, pulling me back. "First...I might be the cutest thing. And now, you're not sure?"
I laughed. "You're scrambling my brains, Cullen... I can't help it."
He kissed me roughly. "You're forgiven."
"Guys!" they all finally yelled from downstairs.
I growled, scooting back a little and sitting on Edward's knees. "I want Archie's talent. Where can I trade mine in?"
Edward laughed, his head falling back. "You can't, I'm afraid, my silly girl. Believe me, I'd trade mine for anything some days."
My nose wrinkled. "Yeah, I can imagine." I sighed forlornly, gazing up at him. "Guess we're just going to have to push the mistletoe limits later."
Edward smiled, crooked and sexy and secretive, reaching for my face. He turned my head toward the raised area where our bed was, and I snorted into hysterics. Just above our bed was another sprig of mistletoe.
Scrambling down from his lap, I stood up, still laughing. When he stood up in front of me, I tugged him closer.
"Well, there you go. You are the cutest thing I've ever seen."
"Yes!" he hissed, punching the air, and I decided that happy, silly, sweet Edward owned every inch of my heart, body, and soul.
"Silly ass," I chortled, shaking my head and handing him his black hooded sweatshirt. "Come on, before someone has a meltdown downstairs."
I tugged my own hoodie on, but before I could leave the room, he stopped me.
"And favorite pastime?" he asked, wearing the silliest grin yet.
Kissing and then some, Edward, I thought to him, squealing when he picked me up and tossed me over his shoulder.
He laughed on the way down the stairs, saying, "That's what I'm talkin' about."
~oOo~
"No more than ten miles to the east and to the west," Edward stated, pointing in both directions.
"All talents are legal," Emmett grinned, landing a heavy hand on Archie's shoulder.
Edward grinned smugly, placing his own hand on my shoulder. "Indeed."
Carlisle laughed, pointing to the ground. "No jail. All players are out once tagged, and they'll come here to wait out the remainder of the game."
"End of game?" I asked, looking between Jasper and Edward, who took Capture the Flag way too seriously, but it was a helluva lot of fun.
"End of game is either...the capture of all the other opponents, or the capture of the opposing flag, but the flag trumps all," Edward explained, and everyone nodded in agreement.
Jasper rubbed his hands together, grinning like the Cheshire cat, but he turned his attention to Archie, Adrian, and Kevin. "This is a really good training game for all of you. But Archie, it'll teach you to use your talent right along with your other instincts – tracking, stealth, giving chase, and aversion – not to mention the basics of sight, sound, and scent."
Archie nodded, listening intently. "Okay." He was wide eyes and a small smile, but he looked really ready.
"Blue team, ready?" Edward asked, holding up the blue flag and backing us toward the west.
Carlisle, Kevin, and Rose stepped away with us, leaving Jasper to his team. He had Emmett, Archie, Alice, and Adrian. It was damned even teams, that was a fact. We each had advantages in Edward's and Alice's talents, and we were also even with Archie's and my talents. Jasper and Carlisle were amazing strategists, and Rose and Emmett were stealth and strength and persistence. The newest players looked nervous but ready to play. Esme, who detested this game, was sitting out because she didn't like playing against her husband, nor her kids. She was too biased to be fair.
Kevin grinned. "Anything riding on this shit?"
"Losing team are slaves for a day for the winners," Emmett said with an evil grin.
"No!" most of us growled back.
"How about this..." Esme started, holding up a hand. "Each member of the winning team picks someone on the losing team to do whatever it is they want for twenty-four hours. And not your mate," she tacked on the last three words with a finger pointing to Emmett and Rose and then Kevin and Adrian. "It's the holidays. Keep it clean and fun. No mean slavery. The last thing I want to see is someone being forced to do something they don't want to do."
We all were quiet for a moment, but it was Kevin that piped up.
"Okay, so if my team wins...I can pick someone over there to say...I don't know...watch movies all day with or whatever?" he asked her.
"Exactly, but not Adrian. Keep it clean." She smiled a smile that said Mom had spoken and we'd better listen.
Carlisle chuckled. "I like it. The bet is on!" he said with a big grin.
"Excellent. You kids have fun, behave, and I'll be at the house when you're finished," Esme said, giving Carlisle a quick kiss.
Alice shook her head and groaned, and Edward laughed, leaning to my ear. "Alice can't tell who will win. The possibilities are endless when we're playing with this many people. Not to mention, Archie's talent takes away her sight...makes it splotchy."
"Cool," I said, looking up at him.
I was truly looking forward to this game because this would be the first time Edward and I would be on the same team. Usually, they split us up. His speed and mind reading and my shield were hot commodities.
"Me, too," he whispered in my ear. "Shield our decisions, beautiful. Let's go."
I dropped my shield around us all, and he led us quickly through a maze of trees, rocks, and clearings, stopping several miles into our zone before he felt he could discuss strategy. When he stopped, he gathered us around him.
"Bella, I think you and Rose would make the best last defense. Sweet girl, shield this flag," he ordered, handing me the bright blue flag before continuing. "Carlisle, you take the middle. Kevin and I will lead them on a wild goose chase," Edward instructed.
"You're bringing them to me and Rose?" I verified, making sure we were on the same page.
"Yes...if they give chase, we'll bring them to you and Rose to tag out." He grinned and nodded.
"You're not going for the flag; you're taking out the players," Kevin surmised.
Carlisle nodded this time. "It's easier. And it'll take Jasper by surprise. He'll assume with Bella and Edward that they'll go for the flag...most likely together. Shield and speed. He'll plan for it, use Alice to protect it and Emmett as offense."
"Exactly," Edward stated with a single nod. "Let's plant the flag."
We found a place to mount the flag on top of a large boulder, and Edward and Kevin took off into the night, leaving Rose and me to guard it. I could smell Carlisle not far away, and I could sense that Edward was still within ten miles because our connection was still strong.
It was strange not having Alice with me because she could usually give me the play by play of what was going on, so with Rose, we were stuck blind in the dark, waiting for any sound, any movement. We stood guard over the flag with my shield covering it so that even if someone got through, they couldn't take it.
It was a still cold night, but the sound of an unnatural wind caught my ears.
"Edward," I murmured, looking down, but he dropped to the branch beside me.
"Kevin's out," he told us both quietly, but pointed down below where Emmett was eying our flag from a few yards away.
I smiled and started to drop, but Edward stopped me, whispering, "It's a trap. He's not alone."
Rose took a deep breath and smiled. "Adrian," she mouthed, and Edward and I both nodded. "Together. Go!"
All three of us hit the ground silently, and I stayed planted while Edward and Rose split wide. The benefit of playing against your mate was knowing how they planned, thought, reacted. I knew how Edward plotted and allowed for his speed to overtake everything else, but Rose could predict Emmett like we couldn't. And that left Adrian for me.
With quick, silent steps, I placed myself between the way back to the other zone and our flag, keeping my shield solid. It kept my movements limited but the flag completely covered. Grinning when I heard Emmett and Rose and a plethora of curse words rumble off to the south, I scanned the area in front of me.
I smelled Carlisle working his way back and forth not far from me, so with a giant push of my shield, I shoved anyone that was close by toward him. I couldn't help but laugh when Adrian's curse and Carlisle's call of "you're out" met my ears. I immediately pulled the shield back in around myself and the flag, making a slow, silent circle around the small clearing.
The next blur of movement caught my eye high in the tree tops. Jasper and Edward were at full speed, full chase, and I wasn't quite sure who was chasing whom. There were grunts and curses from Jasper, taunting laughs from Edward, and several broken tree limbs smashing to the forest floor. When my husband's feet hit the ground, I swirled my shield around him to keep him in the game, but that still left Jasper untouched.
Edward grinned, coming to stand next to me. He kissed my temple before giving the area a long, slow gaze.
You can't hear them, but I thought...better safe than sorry. I thought to him, and he shook his head no and then shrugged.
He leaned in very close to my ear. "Alice is still in. Archie is still in. But we still have Rose and Carlisle."
And they still have Jasper, I stated, my nose wrinkling. Jasper was deadly at this game.
We both looked to the north when laughter and foul language echoed through the woods. It sounded like Alice's laugh and Rose's foul language. We also heard two sets of feet hit the ground all around us. We were surrounded.
Alice and Jasper, I told him. I have an idea...
I showed Edward what we could do, and he nodded and kissed my forehead before launching himself straight up into the tree behind us. With another big push of my shield, I descended it down around a large area like a fishing net. Moving quickly, I trapped Alice on my right and Jasper on my left, but it was my speedy husband that tagged them out. Edward could hardly be seen as he ran from one side of my shield, around to the other.
Carlisle pushed through the trees in a panic. "We lost Archie!" he hissed, spinning in one spot.
We had one more to find to declare ourselves the winners. But it was the one person that could literally disappear.
A twig snapped to our left, and Carlisle darted toward it. But I had to laugh when another branch snapped on the right because Archie was using everything he had – stealth, speed, and his invisibility, which made him scentless and thought-free. What I didn't realize...he was already under my shield.
"Bella!" Edward called, but it was too late.
When I spun to tackle Archie, he was already standing tall and proud atop the boulder that had our flag. He was twirling it in the air as a big grin spread over his face.
"Damn," I groaned, but I couldn't help but smile up at him. "Well played, Arch! Very well played."
With Jasper's offensive plan and Edward's defensive one, Archie had snuck in without anyone knowing. It had essentially been a giant game of chess, sacrificing players so that one person could take the win. It had been brilliant plans on both sides, but Archie's ability gave him the true advantage over all of us.
"That's what I'm talkin' about!" Emmett boomed, punching the air with his big fist as we all congratulated Archie on his well-deserved win. "Now," he growled with a wicked grin as he rubbed his hands together, "who's my bitch?"
Alice flinched, running to Carlisle and tugging his hand. "We'll pick later. We have to go! Now!" she gushed.
"Damn it," Edward sneered, reaching for my hand. "Looks like Ronnie's back...and he's not alone."
"Esme," I whispered. "She's by herself."
~oOo~
EDWARD
The entire family was in a panic as we raced back toward the house. It wasn't that Esme couldn't handle herself in an emergency, but she would have to play a weak human in a situation like this. Carlisle was calling her phone repeatedly but wasn't getting an answer.
Personally, I had faith in my mother. She wasn't stupid, and she'd be able to hear them coming from a mile away – and Ronnie wasn't exactly stealthy. In fact, he was a hot-headed, mouth-breathing, narrow-minded imbecile. I couldn't imagine that any friends he brought were that much better.
As we closed in on the backyard, I visibly relaxed, slowing everyone down, because standing just inside the tree line was Esme. And she looked pissed.
"Esme," Carlisle called her.
"You okay?" I asked.
She nodded, giving the direction back toward the house a scathing look. Her mind was focused more on her anger than the fact that she'd been alone at home. She also showed me how Ronnie and what looked to be four other friends – one of them being Dustin – had snuck onto the property. Parked just down our driveway was a rusty minivan where Tara, Faith, and Lacey all waited inside.
"Oh, you're joking," I groaned, looking to my mother before stepping closer to the edge of the treeline.
A few shadows stalked around the backyard, turning over potted plants and flowers, checking lower windows, and they weren't exactly being quiet, because their thoughts were centered around how the house looked empty, like we weren't home.
"We have a serious problem," Alice and I said at the same time.
"What are we waiting for, Ed?" Emmett growled, his eyes flickering between the kid that was shaking the cellar doors and Carlisle and me.
Carlisle, ignoring Emmett's exuberance, glared up at me. "What problem?"
"They're not here to just scare us...or rob us," I sneered. "They're here to burn the house."
"No!" Bella growled, starting for the backyard, but I caught her up quickly.
"Wait, wait, wait, baby," I breathed against her cheek. "We'll get them. Just wait. We need a quick plan."
"Shit," Jasper sighed, shaking his head. His eyes scanned every inch of the backyard and the shadows roaming it. "We spread out. Get into the house via the upstairs windows."
Carlisle flinched when the cellar doors gave way, only to turn back to us. "Esme, call the police. Tell them we've had a break-in. Adrian, Kevin...take the van in the driveway. Don't scare the girls; just make sure that they don't approach the house. Bella, Edward...go in from your bedroom window. Emmett, Jasper, go in the cellar. Rose and Alice, I'd like you to monitor the woods. The last thing we need is to have someone's child lost in these woods."
We all started to separate, but Archie called out, "Wait!" He swallowed nervously, flinching when something glass shattered inside the house. "They think... I mean, the town thinks this place is haunted, right? So...let's show them that it is."
I chuckled, simply because I couldn't help it. Archie had come so very far. What he'd once used to scare people, to hunt what was inside his home, he now wanted to use to defend it. And he wanted to do it without hurting anyone. He simply wanted to make sure the house didn't get burned down.
"I can't see if he does that," Alice stated, but then she paused for a breath. "Oh...but... It seems to work out in the end."
In her vision, I saw the arrest of all five boys...and unfortunately, the girls in the van. Everyone was in one piece, but the boys looked scared to death.
My slow grin couldn't be stopped, and I turned to Carlisle. "Let him do it, Carlisle. We'll go in with him, make sure he maintains control, but Alice sees that they're unharmed in the end – and arrested."
Carlisle's mind worked quickly as he weighed his options. He was always willing to work with the strengths and talents around him, but he worried that Archie would not handle being this close to humans without Bella's shield. But he couldn't carry out his plan if he was shielded.
"Archie... Son, you be careful. Hold your breath, call if you need us. But...go!" he hissed.
Archie vanished in the blink of an eye.
"We follow him. Stay hidden, stay in the shadows. Let's go," Carlisle ordered.
Jasper and Emmett darted down into the cellar doors and, for dramatic appearances, slammed the doors closed behind them. Esme took Carlisle's phone and was already on the line with the police, explaining that she'd come home to intruders. Alice and Rose planted themselves at opposite sides of the house just inside the treeline, and Kevin and Adrian made their way toward the driveway, using the woods as cover.
Once Bella and I had scaled the outside wall and crawled through one of our bedroom windows in the attic, I stopped her, tilting my head in order to tell where all the players were in this very real game. Five heavy, nervous heartbeats thumped all over the house from different rooms – one was just downstairs on the second floor, one was on the stairway walking this way, another seemed to be coming from Carlisle and Esme's room, and the last two were wandering around between the living room and library.
I had no idea where Archie was. None. I couldn't hear him, see him, or smell him. Anywhere.
I turned to Bella, silently motioning that there was one approaching the door of our room. She smiled evilly and nodded, putting a finger to her lips.
Hide, she instructed, thinking she was going to do a little haunting of her own.
I dove into the bathroom out of sight of the human, though I could see just fine. Bella, however, slipped silently into the closet.
Our door creaked open, and the boy that stepped into the room looked scared as hell. The only thing going through his mind was all the fictitious stories he'd heard about this place his whole life.
"He believes the rumor, love," I said low enough the boy couldn't hear me.
Her giggle was priceless...and practically silent, but her mind was focused.
The teenage boy eyed the room, his focus landing on our stereo, our TV, and my guitar that stood off in the corner. He also noted our pictures on the wall. Once he was clear from the door, Bella shot out her shield, slamming it hard behind him.
"Who's there?" he panted.
Grinning when he spun around, I stepped farther into the shadows of our bathroom because Bella wasn't done. With a gentle touch, she drifted her shield by our pictures, causing all the frames to shake, sway, and rattle against the wall. Unfortunately, one fell to the floor and shattered.
Dammit! She was pissed in her mind, but what she was doing was working. The kid was terrified now, and I decided to help her.
I turned the water on in the shower and the sink, just to let it run at the same time that Bella tossed several books at the boy. That did it. He cried out, launching himself for the door, but my evilly sexy girl held it fast with her shield.
"Let him go, baby," I chuckled under my breath.
She huffed but giggled again when he pulled so hard on the door that he stumbled backwards onto his ass before scrambling out of the room with the intent on getting out of the house completely.
I'd been so wrapped up in what she'd been doing that I gasped at the sound of my brothers' fits of laughter. And they were trying damned hard to stay quiet.
The library was the focus of Ronnie's rage. Especially my piano. He was ransacking the entire room, throwing books off the shelves, turning over lamps, and yanking down the Christmas tree. But Archie was doing what Archie did best – scaring the living hell out of him...and the three other boys with him down there.
Archie's bookshelf door slammed open, only to reveal... Well, nothing, except for a dark stairway down. Books picked themselves up off the floor and hurled at each boys' head. But Archie took it a step further. Apparently, Archie darted around the room, shoving each boy. Hard. Like, so hard they fell to their knees, causing them to drop anything they had in their hands – stolen iPods, laptops, and for Ronnie, the small container of gasoline. Luckily, that didn't break and spill as it rolled across the hardwood floor.
My sisters, feeling a little bit mischievous all on their own, scared the guy in Carlisle and Esme's room through the window. They popped up, slammed the glass just enough to rattle the pane, and then cried out in an eerie voice. My brothers took it upon themselves to kill the power in the house, so the whole place went dark with one dull thunk.
"What the hell!?" someone called out from just below Bella and me.
It seemed we'd trapped a human in Alice and Jasper's room. The boy couldn't see anything.
Edward! Kevin called in my mind. If you can hear me...the police are on their way. I can hear the sirens.
"We have to get this last one downstairs, Bella," I told her quietly. "The police are almost here."
She nodded, took my hand, and led us down the stairs to Alice and Jasper's room. Using her shield, she slammed open the door, and it made the boy, who I recognized as Dustin, just about jump clean out of his own skin.
"Ronnie!" he called, screaming like a girl when Bella pushed him and shoved him with her shield from every direction. He spun around, finally catching sight of the hallway, and then darted for the stairs. "Fuck this shit!" he huffed. "Let's get the hell out of here!"
When the two downstairs in the library couldn't take it anymore, they abandoned Ronnie.
"Let's go, Ron! Man, this shit ain't worth it!" one of them rambled, tugging on his sleeve, but it only earned him a backhanded smack across the chest. "My brother wasn't lyin'...this place is fucking haunted."
"No...fuck that. I'm finishing this," Ronnie stated, glancing around for his container of gasoline.
His friends left out the front door, leaving him alone in the library. Or at least, he thought he was alone. The cymbals of Emmett's drum kit smashed loudly as Ronnie started to uncap the fuel. Just as he stepped closer to my piano, the lid to the keys lifted, and strings upon strings of notes rang out into the darkness.
"Get out!" Archie howled, obviously running his fingers down the keys again and again, shoving the bench across the floor so that it collided with the sofa.
Ronnie froze, scanning the entire room for something, anything, but he was not thinking clearly. He was too mad and a little too inebriated to make a rational decision.
By the time Bella and I reached the library door, Emmett and Jasper were tucked in the shadows of the stairs leading to Archie's bedroom. The sound of cars approaching met my ears, but mostly, I could hear the long, low growl from Bella as Ronnie got ready to pour gasoline on my piano.
"No, no, no," she chanted under her breath. "Archie, please!" she begged just under her breath.
But she acted on her own at the same time Archie did, which resulted in chaos. The container of gas didn't pour over the piano; it was yanked from his hands before he could open it. And Ronnie fell hard onto his back, but I wasn't sure whether it was Archie's or Bella's doing that dragged his entire body across the floor, through the living room, only to ram his head hard into the front door.
"Oh hell," I muttered, stepping closer to the boy to see check his vitals. He was out cold, but his pulse was strong, his breathing was fine; he was going to have one hell of a headache when he finally woke up.
"Is he..." Archie asked tentatively from behind me.
"He'll be fine," I sighed, standing up to see both he and Bella looking needlessly guilty. "He's just unconscious." I took a deep inhale. "And drunk."
"Well, that'll be perfect. No one will believe them," Jasper stated, joining us with Emmett next to him and glancing out the window. "Dad's talking to the cops. We should get the hell out of here."
I nodded, turning to Emmett. "Text Kevin and Adrian. Tell them to meet us in the woods behind the backyard."
"Gotcha," he said, pulling out his phone.
"Come on... Out Bella's and my window," I instructed them.
We raced up the stairs and had just made it inside the room when the front door finally burst open, causing me to wince because they hit Ronnie's head one more time.
"Damn," I said with a chuckle and a slow shake to my head. "His brain barely functions as it is."
Jasper snorted, smacking my shoulder. "True that, brother. Now, make sure it's clear for us to get the hell out of here."
Grinning, I looked out over the backyard. There were two cops scoping out the cellar doors, not paying much attention to their surroundings, so I turned to everyone in the room.
"Jump. But do it straight over the yard. Okay?" I asked, and they all nodded.
Emmett led the way, followed by Jasper and Bella.
"Go on, Archie," I told him, smiling when he still looked nervous. "You did...fantastic. But let's get out so that the cops think we really weren't home."
He nodded, climbed out of the window, and jumped across the yard. I did the same, landing not far from where Bella and our siblings were congregated.
"We were camping, right?" Alice verified. "Is that what we're going with? That seems to be what Carlisle has decided to tell them."
"Yes," I whispered. "Camping, and Carlisle and Esme left us to come home. It'll explain all the cars in the driveway, and the fact that none of us were around. Okay?"
When all my siblings and Bella were in agreement, I guided us into the backyard and around to the side. But it was Bella that gave the pure innocent voice to that cover story.
"Mom," she gushed, running up to Esme at a human pace. "You okay? We got your message. What happened?"
I wanted to smile at her; instead, I listened to the officer that was watching all of us quietly. He had to be in his forties, with short hair that was graying at the temples. His mind was kind, a touch sad at the turn of events because he'd apparently dealt with Ronnie before – or at least Ronnie's family. But he noted our clothes, our manners, and our calm demeanor, and then he compared it to the boys that were currently sitting in the backs of several cruisers. He even noticed Esme doting on the girls. We weren't the same, and he knew it, but he wasn't sure if that was upbringing or just the difference in kids these days.
"Young," he called out when two officers lugged out a woozy Ronnie out of the house – one carrying the bottle of gasoline in a plastic bag. "What've you got for me?"
"Looks like the kid was gonna burn the place down, Campbell," Office Young stated, holding out the bag with the bottle and also a bag containing what looked like the contents of Ronnie's pockets, which included a couple of lighters.
Officer Campbell cursed under his breath, shaking his head slowly. "They'll try him as an adult. He's eighteen. We've got him and his buddies on B and E, attempted arson, attempted robbery, and vandalism," he rattled off.
"What about them?" Young asked, pointing to a car off to the side.
We all turned to see Faith, Lacey, and Tara in the back of another cruiser. They were complete messes. Sobbing, embarrassed, scared messes. Their minds were reeling with the trouble they'd found themselves in, simply because they'd been in the car when Ronnie had gotten too drunk to listen to reason. They hadn't wanted to come.
I sighed, looking to Bella and then Carlisle. Finally, I turned to Officer Campbell, who seemed to be the man in charge. "Um, excuse me, Officer...Campbell?" I started, pretending to look for the name on his uniform. "Were they in the house, as well?" I asked, knowing they hadn't been.
"Nah, kid," Campbell sighed, frowning over at the car full of girls. "They were found in a van parked down your driveway. They said they didn't want to come, that Ronnie had threatened to leave them in the middle of nowhere."
Kevin snorted derisively, shaking his head. "A gentleman to the end, yeah?" he sneered, glaring over to where they were checking Ronnie's head but reading him his rights at the same time.
Officer Campbell smirked at that, turning his attention to Carlisle. "You know these kids?"
"Actually, I do. Mrs. Delap was the realtor that found us this house. Most of them visited not long ago," Carlisle explained. "I'm afraid that my boys didn't particularly take to Ronnie."
"Meaning you fought," Campbell surmised, looking to me. "Which one of you?"
"Me, sir," I admitted, frowning over at Ronnie, who was glaring out the cruiser window. "I'm afraid I lost my temper with Ronnie. He was... Well, he became rather violent with Tara."
"My son was merely protecting the girl, officer," Carlisle defended. "We don't condone violence in my family. Edward was only doing the right thing."
"Yeah, I get that," the officer sighed with a nod. "Well, it seems you struck a nerve, Edward."
"Well, too damn bad," Emmett said fiercely, stepping forward. "That ass was just about to yank that girl's arm off!" He placed a hand on my shoulder. "Had my brother not stepped in, he could've really hurt her."
My siblings were used to me playing the dutiful son, and this was no different. Bella's hand slipped into mine, and I squeezed it gently.
"It's not the first time he's hurt her," Bella piped up, and Campbell smiled down at her, noting her sweet face, her hand in mine, and her big brown eyes. Her features reminded him of his wife at home. "We saw him treat her...cruelly at the Halloween festival."
"Is that right?" Campbell verified. "Well, maybe she is scared of him..." he mused softly to himself.
"You should speak with the girl's mother," Esme added with a nod, her arms around Alice's shoulders. "I'd be willing to bet she was not happy with Ronnie when they left that day."
Campbell sighed, shaking his head. "It's no excuse, I know, but Ronnie has not had the same...surroundings as you kids have had. Understand?"
We all nodded dutifully, but my brow furrowed. I'd seen Ronnie's mind about his home life before, but to see it from an officer's point of view was disturbing. Apparently, Ronnie's mother had a drug habit that was widely known throughout the small town. His father was in and out of his life – and it was better when he was out. Both parents treated Ronnie like he didn't exist...until the drugs ran out. Once they were itching for a fix, then it was up to Ronnie to find it, provide it...in any way possible. He was their dealer, if only to keep the peace.
I grimaced but glanced up when another car pulled into the driveway. "Oh, hell..."
"Mrs. Delap is here," Officer Young stated.
"Good. Release the girls into her custody, but let her know that the boys are coming down to the station," Campbell commanded and then turned back to Carlisle. "You had good timing tonight. I can't imagine what you'd have come home to had you been a few minutes later."
"It's scary to think about," Esme murmured, giving the house a glance, only to turn her attention to us. "Come on, kids. Let's go clean up." As we all started to do as she requested, she turned to the policeman. "Merry Christmas, Officer Campbell."
He smiled, nodded her way. "Merry Christmas, ma'am."
~oOo~
Smiling down at my phone, I swiftly typed out a message and hit send. I glanced across the chessboard at Alice, smiling when she nodded excitedly.
You'll get mad kisses for this, you know, she teased me, giving me a wink.
"I already do," I countered smugly, laughing when she threw a pawn at me.
"Just play!"
It was a blur of motion on the table. My move, her move, my move, her move...checkmate.
"Dammit," I sighed, shaking my head. "This is futile, you know."
She grinned knowingly but shrugged a shoulder. Sue me, Edward. I've missed hanging out with you.
It was the night after the arrest of Ronnie and his friends. The winning team from Capture the Flag had picked their partners for the day once the police had pulled out of the driveway. Alice picked me. And I had to admit, it had been a long time since the two of us had just hung out all day. She'd been my best friend in the family almost from the moment she'd arrived on our doorstep, despite the fact that she'd stolen my room. We were different – freaks, according to her words – and it was a companionship that had thrived throughout the decades. The arrival of Bella in our lives changed everything – every dynamic, every emotion, and the closeness of our friendship.
The rest of the house was just as paired off. Emmett had chosen Bella, so they were way deep in a violent Call of Duty battle. Though, he had major plans for her before the twenty-four hours was up, which would be in another two hours and fifty-three minutes – not that I was counting, but I did miss my sweet girl's touch. Bella and Emmett had already hunted together, wrestled – only to give it up when Bella kept pinning him – and now were battling the online world in the living room. I was truly interested to see his last idea, but I kept it quiet.
Carlisle was with Adrian. They'd taken off somewhere for the day. Personally, I think Carlisle was just testing him, seeing how he was faring with the family dynamic, how he handled humans in public, and basically was getting to know him – all without anyone listening in.
Jasper took Kevin hunting – serious hunting. They were currently deep into Canada, according to the last message Jasper had sent Alice. They were going as far as New Brunswick, only to do something Kevin had wanted to do for a very long time. Jasper was going to get Kevin his very own guitar. It was an early Christmas present of sorts. They'd left immediately, so I expected them back soon.
And finally, Archie, who had been showered with all sorts of praise with how he'd handled the Ronnie incident, had chosen Rose, which was interesting to everyone, but I think he just wanted to get to know her. Currently, she was teaching him how to give every car in the driveway a tune up. But it was more than that. She was telling him all sorts of stories about us from over the years as they worked. Most were humorous, some were just examples of how we struggled with what we were, and others were just to help him see how times had changed throughout the decades. At the moment, though, she was preparing him for something much sooner in the future.
Esme, however, was on a secret mission for me. And it was all I could do not to text her again.
Stop it. Alice laughed. First, you'll ruin the surprise. Second, you have to have patience, big brother.
Smirking at her old nickname for me because technically, we were almost the same damn age, I nodded silently, giving the library a long, slow gaze. We'd cleaned up Ronnie's mess, though we'd lost a lamp and a vase in the process. Gratefully, I was glad my piano was in one piece. I wasn't quite sure how my Bella would've reacted if anything had happened to it.
"You haven't called me that in a long time," I told her softly.
"I know," she sighed, smiling sadly. "It's how we see you, even Jasper."
"I know." I nodded, shrugging a shoulder and remembering a time when the Major had intimidated me, but I'd had to be the one to guide him in this diet, help him with his struggle. Alice had been committed, but Jasper had been unsure of himself. Even Emmett and Rose had relied on me. It was a heavy burden and a huge responsibility that I'd shared with Carlisle, but they all had come to feel like I was the oldest, even when I wasn't. It was simply because I'd been here first, and they all felt I had as much control, if not more, than Carlisle. "Sometimes, I felt...younger."
She stood up, holding out her hand for me, and I took it. She knew why I felt that way. Years of watching three couples revel in their perfect relationships. It was the one thing I knew nothing about, yet saw everything through their minds. I was an outsider, an intruder, and a nuisance when it came down to it.
Alice smiled again, only she communicated silently. Hey, remember coming home that first day after you talked to Bella?
"Yes." I chuckled, suddenly knowing what she wanted. "Come on, Ali..."
I tugged her to the piano, and we sat down. She laid her head on my shoulder, sighing deeply.
"Ready?" I asked, smiling at her laugh. She sat up, placing her hands on the keys in front of her.
"Heart and Soul" had never sounded so complex, but it was the only song Alice would allow me to teach her. Ever. Although, she'd played an integral part in helping me with Bella's lullaby.
The day she'd mentioned was still clear in my head. My confusion over how I'd felt for a human girl had been palpable, but I'd been...excited that the beautiful brunette continued to talk to me, smile at me, and by the time I'd made it home that day, I couldn't get to the piano quickly enough because new notes, a new idea, had been rattling around in my head my entire time with Bella. And I hadn't touched the thing in ages prior to that day. I'd fiddled around with Bella's song, and Alice had countered with a humming melody. When I'd settled down, she'd played "Heart and Soul" with me...just like she was doing then.
Smiling when the song only spiraled into even louder and more complex, I turned to look at her, but movement in the doorway, along with the scent of freesias and strawberries, caught my attention.
"Well, that's a new development," Bella teased us both, making Emmett laugh.
"Don't hate!" Alice huffed, and we stopped the song that could, in reality, go one forever without stopping. "It's the only song I know!"
"It's not new, Bells," Emmett said with a chuckle. "It's been a long time... What's that? Ten years, Eddie?"
Chuckling, I shrugged a shoulder. "I suppose so."
My head shot up to Bella when recognition swirled around in her thoughts. She remembered my journal, remembered me writing about playing with Alice. Her brow furrowed, but she didn't have a chance to say anything because our brother was guiding her across to his drum kit.
"Sit, baby girl," he ordered.
"Oh, no!" she balked, shaking her head and backing away. "I'll break it...I can't play those, Em."
"Yes, you damn well can," Emmett told her with a laugh. "And anything you break, I can fix."
Alice giggled at them, but her mind saw a vision of Bella at least attempting to play.
Smiling, I met my girl's gaze. "Love, you can at least try. If you've watched him play, then you at least can mimic him."
Understanding smoothed out her wrinkled brow. "Really?"
"Sure," Emmett answered, sitting her down on the stool and handing her his sticks. "Eddie...something easy...bluesy," he told me.
As I played just a simple melody, Emmett instructed Bella. She followed them to a tee, even though she was extremely uncomfortable doing it. But I was proud that she was at least trying. By the time she'd attempted a few different types of beats, Kevin and Jasper strolled into the room, a new guitar case on Kevin's shoulder. Carlisle and Adrian were right behind them.
Despite the bet that we should've been fulfilling, the entire family – with the exception of Esme – gathered together. Music took over for the rest of the night. We tried to get Bella to continue to play, but she wouldn't hear of it. Alice got up to sit with Jasper, Adrian admired Kevin's new guitar, and Bella curled into my side.
Not long before dawn, Rose and Archie joined us after cleaning up. Archie's mind was worried, but I shook my head at him. Thanks to Alice, I knew this would work out, despite the fact that it was touchy for her to visualize.
When we heard the Mercedes pull into the driveway, it wasn't the fact that Esme was home that had everyone perking up their ears. It was the sound of heartbeats.
"Who's with Esme?" Bella asked, but her mind knew that heartbeat. She recognized the scent that was now coming through the front door. She spun her head to glare at me. "You didn't!" she gasped.
Chuckling, I cupped her gorgeous face in my hands. "I did. Merry Christmas, my sweet, sweet girl."
"Merry Christmas, Bella," Carlisle said with a grin.
But it was the man in the doorway that was the most important thing. Bella was suddenly off the piano bench and in his embrace.
"Dad!" she gushed, squealing when Charlie picked her up and swung her around.
"Bells," he sighed in what seemed to be relief at seeing her. "Am I glad to see you."
When he set her down, he stepped aside to show her that he wasn't her only gift. Standing behind him were Jacob, Seth, and Anna.
"No way!" she gasped, and I laughed again because she hadn't seen them in what felt like forever to her.
As Bella was enveloped in hugs from her step-brother, Jake, and Anna, the rest of the family got up to greet Charlie, who gave me a rough one-armed hug.
"Son, it's nice to see you," he told me, his mustache twitching with his sincere smile. "How'd you keep it from her?"
"I'm the mind reader, not Bella," I teased, poking my wife's shoulder.
She launched herself at me, whispering, "Edward...thank you so much!"
I kissed her forehead. "You're very welcome, love."
Charlie clapped his hands together once, getting all of our attention. "Okay, so...where are these new family members I haven't met?"
Carlisle chuckled but turned to face the room. Kevin and Adrian were up front and center, but Archie was...
Gone.

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