Wednesday, November 28, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 23

Chapter 23
BELLA
The sound of Esme pulling into the driveway met my ears. She'd been gone for most of the day, but no one had spoken of why. I'd assumed she was Christmas shopping. But it was the sound of heartbeats that caught my attention, making me ask who was with her.
I froze at the scent that met my nose. I knew that smell. It was as familiar as Edward's – or even my own – scent.
Spinning to face my now-very smug husband, I gasped, "You didn't!"
His smile, his sweet chuckle, and his very, very warm honey-colored eyes told me everything as he cupped my face. "I did. Merry Christmas, my sweet, sweet girl."
I barely heard Carlisle echo that sentiment, because standing in the doorway was someone I hadn't seen in quite some time. Charlie looked amazing – though, inevitably older – and so very happy to see me as I launched myself into his arms.
"Dad!"
I was afraid I might've been too rough, but Charlie didn't seem to care as he lifted me up and spun me around. I barely noticed the scent of his blood, the sound of his thumping heart, because the feel of warmth and home and comfort was almost overwhelming.
His arms shook as he sighed my name. "Am I glad to see you."
Somewhere in the back of my mind I sensed he wasn't alone. It was a scent that should've set me on edge, should've kicked my instincts in, but it didn't. So when I caught sight of Jacob, Seth, and Anna, my mouth fell open as I was pulled into extremely large, extremely warm hugs.
"Son, it's nice to see you," I heard my dad tell Edward. "How'd you keep it from her?"
"I'm the mind reader, not Bella," he said with a chuckle, poking me in order to get my attention.
It took all I had, every bit of my restraint to not kiss Edward senseless right there in front of everyone. However, there was some mistletoe that I seriously needed to give some attention to later. Instead, I hugged him fiercely, thanking him. I knew he'd been up to something. He'd been on his phone and on the computer a lot more than usual, and he'd even walked Esme to her car. I was used to his secretive demeanor around the holidays, but this... This was just...perfect.
A soft kiss brushed across my forehead. "You're very welcome, love," he whispered against my skin.
"Okay, so...where are these new family members I haven't met?" my dad asked, causing Jake and Seth to laugh as they greeted the rest of my family because they'd told him tons about Kevin and Adrian, but I had a feeling Charlie was more interested in Archie – the cause of so much trouble a few weeks ago.
Carlisle chucked, placing a hand on Charlie's shoulder as Adrian and Kevin stepped forward.
"Charlie, meet Adrian and Kevin," he introduced. "Boys, this is Bella's father, Charlie. I think you know Jake and Seth from our time in New York, but that lovely lady in the back is Jacob's wife, Anna."
"Hey!" she chirped, and I had to smile because she looked excited to be here.
There were a round of handshakes and greetings between the boys, but Kevin being...well, Kevin, a little bit of the nerves edged away when he couldn't stop his unfiltered mouth.
"Goodness!" Kevin gasped, placing a hand over his still heart and grinning like a fool. He glanced between Charlie and me, but turned to my dad. "Well, there's no need for Maury Povich here. You are definitely the father."
I giggled, looking up to my dad. I wanted to laugh even harder as realization registered across his usually stoic face. He nodded to Kevin, clearly amused, but then glanced between him and Adrian over and over.
"There it is!" Jake burst into laughter. "It was like watching a light bulb turn on."
"Shut up, Jake," Anna huffed, rolling her eyes. "It's nice to meet you both. I've heard tons about you."
"Nice to meet you, too," Adrian and Kevin said together.
Carlisle turned toward the rest of my family, but his brow furrowed at the sight of the open bookcase door. He grimaced a little, looking to Edward.
"Oh boy..." My husband sighed. "I was afraid of that," he murmured, looking to me. "Archie disappeared."
"Oh," I groaned sadly.
"He left?" Anna asked.
"No," I said, turning to her. "He's still here. He's very...talented, but tentative. I'm willing to bet the boys here scared him. Their scent will be new and potent to him." I gestured to Seth and Jake.
"Did you tell him about us, big sis?" Seth asked, looking around the room.
"We did, but he's..." Edward didn't finish that sentence; instead, he waved Seth forward. Placing a hand on his shoulder, he faced the room. "Archie, there's no need to hide. These are the friends we told you about. This is Seth...and over there is Jake."
"Archie, please?" I asked nicely.
"I know they smell different, but if you'll show yourself, I'll explain, son," Carlisle added.
The bookcase door thumped, but Archie appeared out of thin air. His eyes were on Edward. "I'm sorry."
Anna cooed, just like my sisters and I had the first time we'd seen him. His face just screamed sweet and innocent and utterly adorable.
"There's no need to apologize, Archie," Carlisle told him. "It's true. Your instincts will tell you that these two gentlemen are your natural enemies, but there's no need to worry. They won't harm you."
Archie frowned, his eyes dark as he glanced between Seth and Jake, but his eyes locked onto Jacob. "You... You hurt her," he accused, pointing to me.
Jake's nose wrinkled, but he nodded, shoving his hands into his front pockets. "I did." He looked to Edward, who shook his head once. "It's... I know there's no excuse. It's something I live with every day."
Carlisle turned to Charlie. "He's very protective...of Bella and Edward, especially. They've helped him acclimate."
I walked to Archie, holding my hand out. "I've told you, Arch...Jake has more than made up for what he did. It was a long time ago. But I'd like you to meet my dad. He knows about us. You don't have to hide around him." He slipped his hand into mine gently, and I gave it a squeeze. "You don't have to go near Seth and Jake. But Anna and Charlie...they're no different than the kids that were here the other night. Okay?"
"Okay." He nodded, looking to me nervously.
"You need my shield?" I asked, guiding him across the room.
"I'm okay."
Charlie must've taken pity on him because he met us in the middle of the room. Archie bravely met my father's gaze, holding out his hand.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," he said, all manners and formality. And something about that reminded me so much of Edward, who snorted softly at my thoughts.
Charlie's mustache twitched. "You, too. Archie, is it?"
"Yes, sir."
"That's... That was impressive, Archie," he praised him, gesturing toward the bookcase door.
Archie's slow smile caused a chuckle throughout the room. "That's just...me."
"Yeah, it is," Emmett boomed. "Archie scared the shit out of us the first few weeks."
"Emmett!" Esme chided, rolling her eyes, but the ice was broken.
Anna giggled and stepped up beside me. "I'm Anna. And don't let those two knuckleheads scare you. They're all bark and no bite."
Jake snorted but nodded. I could see there was a part of him that was cautiously watching Archie with his Anna. It was to be expected. He didn't know him.
Archie grinned at her, but gazed up at my very tall stepbrother.
"I'm Seth Clearwater, Bella's stepbrother," he introduced himself, placing a hand on my shoulder, which Archie eyed briefly. "Charlie married my mom."
Of all the people in the room, Seth was perfect to deal with Archie. He was sweet and kind and calm. He also was the one that had changed the most since I'd seen him in New York for the whole Tanya debacle. Gone was the roundness to his sweet baby face, and in its place was handsome, sharper, older dark features. But his smile was exactly the same – genuine and almost childlike. Seth was every bit as tall as Jake, but the difference between the two was massive. Jake radiated control and Alpha dog, whereas Seth was just there for the fun of it all.
"Speaking of... Where is Sue?" I asked, turning to my dad, but it was Anna that answered.
"She wanted to come and sends her love, but she's taking care of Izzy and Eddie until we go back," she said, wearing a small smile.
"Yes," Edward murmured to Archie. "Jake and Anna named their children after Bella and me."
"We're their godparents," I added, grinning in spite of myself, because I loved that title.
"Well, yeah!" Jacob scoffed, rolling his eyes. "You can watch over them...well, always if something happens to me or Anna."
Edward chuckled. "That's very true."
That seemed to catch Archie's attention, and he tilted his head up to Jake. "I apologize for my reaction earlier."
"No sweat, Archie," Jake said, smiling at him and waving a hand. "Your reaction is normal. Theirs...not so much," he teased, poking my shoulder, which caused me to laugh.
"Oh ho! Them's fightin' words, Jake," Emmett guffawed, rubbing his hands together.
"Bring it, Em!" Jake laughed. "A little football?"
"Play fair, boys!" Esme stated. "I'll get started on lunch."
"You need some help?" I offered, but she was already shaking her head no.
"Absolutely not! Go be with Charlie," she whispered, kissing my cheek.
I turned to my dad and Anna. "Come on, guys. I'll show you around, tell you all about this place."
~oOo~
"Oh my God, Bella was so pissed," Seth gushed, laughing hard and shaking his head. "One second, she's holding her own, and the next, Jasper's tearing her a new one...snapped her wrist."
"Not as pissed as Edward." Jacob cracked the hell up.
I groaned at the sharing of New York stories, wearing a disgusted look on my face. "God, I've never smelled so bad in all my life. Stupid sewer."
"Yeah...that was pretty bad," Edward chimed in with a grimace, giving my wedding ring a slow, lazy turn as we sat on the loveseat together. "Glad that was a rental car."
The whole room cracked up as we sat around while Esme's food was consumed with exuberance. We were spread all over the living room and dining room. Most of the boys had spent the afternoon playing football until it started to snow. Charlie and Anna had loved the house, but even better was that Archie had taken to them instantly. Especially when he heard that they'd recently spoken to the Dixons, that Caroline and her father were doing okay. It was something we hadn't really told him. Archie had a hard time realizing that the little girl he'd narrowly avoided killing was about to turn eighteen.
Archie also stayed clear of Seth and Jake until Jake finally told him why the scent was making him jumpy. He offered to show him what they truly were. So with Emmett, Edward, and Carlisle by his side, he watched as Seth and Jake transformed into giant wolves. I'd forgotten the sheer size of them, but Archie – thanks to Jasper – stayed calm. When Anna and I walked up to Seth and Jake, the two large dogs lowering their heads so that we could scratch their ears, Archie finally relaxed. But he still liked Seth better.
Archie's loyalty to Edward and me made his dislike of Jacob and our complicated past something he may never overcome. Edward had said to just give it time.
"Damn, I thought I was a dead man. I thought Ed would kill me, for real," Jasper whispered, squeezing his eyes closed. "And it wasn't even my fault."
Burying my giggle into Edward's neck, I thought to him, My over-protective, fierce guardian angel.
Edward snorted but raised an eyebrow at me. "Maybe, but it looked so...messed up from my point of view."
I merely grinned and held up my wrist. "All fine, Edward."
"You're all so close," Anna said, setting her fork down. "I can't imagine you fighting."
"You've met Emmett, right?" Rose asked. "No one can push buttons like he can."
My biggest brother grinned, shrugging a shoulder. "Everyone has a talent."
Charlie choked on that statement, turning to give Emmett a side glance. "It's good to have goals, son."
Edward chuckled. "Don't encourage him. He doesn't need it."
I loved the feel of my dad in the room. It felt right, good. Talking to him on the phone every other week was fine, but I hadn't realized just how much I'd needed to set eyes on him. And I loved the fact that I got to keep him and my friends for the next two days. They'd all promised the kids that they'd be back by Christmas morning, so they were leaving us Christmas Eve. Since they'd be staying at the small hotel in Caribou, that gave me today and the next day.
Edward's head turned toward Archie, who had been silently absorbing the feel of the room. "No, Archie, the fact that Charlie knows about us won't get him or us in trouble. Marcus is aware. Jake is the chief of the Quileute tribe, and their shapeshifting is a secret all its own. When Charlie remarried, he married into the tribe, so he was allowed in on all its legends."
Charlie watched as Edward explained, not bothering to interrupt.
"We'd had to fake Bella's death at one point," Carlisle continued. "But circumstances changed when we needed to join forces with the wolves to protect the Pacific Northwest."
"Did you think she was a ghost?" Archie asked my dad, wearing a sly grin when the family laughed.
"Yeah, he did," Jake said with a chuckle. "But then Bells got all fierce and shit..."
I snorted, rolled my eyes and turned to Archie. "He's exaggerating."
"No, he's not," my dad snorted, but his eyes landed on Archie. "I felt the need to blame someone. I blamed Edward at first."
"Oh." Archie stated that with a grimace and a finality that made me laugh.
"But when they explained to me exactly how she'd come to be...this," Charlie continued, "then I understood that I really could have lost her permanently. I'll take this over truly losing her any day."
Edward's fingers linked with mine, giving my hand a squeeze at the same time he pressed a long, slow kiss to the back of my head. I leaned into it because that had to have been Edward's darkest hour, the near miss with Victoria.
"It was," he breathed in my ear.
"Bella protecting Heavy E?" Kevin gasped. "No! I can't imagine..."
I snorted into a laugh. "Shut up, Kev."
When the humans were finished with their lunch, I offered to clean up, but I received help from Seth. He happily brought me up to date on all the goings on with the pack. He rattled on about his imprint, Lexi, and how they were planning to get married soon, which was a shock to me because he would always be my little brother.
The biggest news was concerning Jessica. She and Quil had two children together – a little boy and a little girl. She'd sent her love our way, making sure that Seth gave me all the updates that I'd find interesting. The first had been about her friend Megan, who had mated with Tanya's ex, Mark. We'd found her in New York after she'd been changed by the same man that had changed Adrian – Lord Sinclair. Megan had been terrified to see Jessica, thinking that her old friend wouldn't understand what she'd become. But apparently, the wolves had caught their scent in the area not too long ago. When Seth and Jake realized who it was, they stopped them, begged them to see Jessica. And they had.
Megan had been nervous, but she'd gone willingly. It was a good reunion. Jessica was able to tell her friend the things we had been unable to say. They now kept in touch on a regular basis, and Mark and Megan now resided just over the Canada border.
Seth also told me about Lauren Mallory, who had been living in California the last I'd heard. She was now vice-president of the bank at which she'd been working and was engaged to be married soon. Lastly, he mentioned that Angela and Ben Cheney were doing really well. Ben had gotten in on the ground floor of an internet company, and they were now living in Seattle.
"Then there's Mike Newton," Seth murmured, rolling his eyes.
"Please, don't mention Mike Newton in this house. I'll never hear the end of it," I growled, slamming a pot just a little too hard into the drainer.
But of course, that statement resulted in hysterical laughter all over the damn house – my husband's included.
"I hate you all," I snarled, turning to Seth. "What?! What about Mike Newton could possibly interest me?"
What was sad was the sound of fast feet aiming their way toward the kitchen. I didn't even have to look. Rose and Alice were waiting for the next words to pop out of Seth's mouth.
"Relax, sunshine," Jacob teased, following my sisters into the kitchen. "Mike thinks you're dead, remember?"
"Whatever. Wish he'd thought I was dead in high school," I ground out through gritted teeth. "Tell me again why you didn't kick his ass the night we went to the movies?" I asked him, pointing a rather large butcher knife his way.
"Because you'd have been pissed at me. And because I was running a fever of like...a hundred and ten," Jake said, speaking slowly like I was a child.
Narrowing my eyes at him, I huffed, jamming the knife back into its slot on the knife block. "That's no excuse."
Jacob grinned his big friendly grin. "You say that now. When I go home, I'll make sure to whip his ass for you. It'll be the best Christmas present I've ever given you. In wolf form or not?"
"Don't care," I grunted, turning back to wipe down the counters.
"Anyway," Seth sang, turning me to face him. "Side-track much?" he asked, laughing when I shrugged. "Jessica wanted me to tell you that Mike is doing fine, that his little girl is beautiful, and that he's slowly settling down with a new teacher at Forks Elementary."
"Could've gone a century without knowing," I murmured, which only caused Edward to bark a laugh somewhere in the house.
"And...he's also requested a memorial be built in your honor at Forks High," Seth sputtered out quickly.
I closed my eyes and leaned on the kitchen counter, my fingers digging into the marble surface. "Charlie Swan! If you allow that shit..."
"I'm not! I swear, Bells!" My dad's voice sounded amused and scared at the same time. "Considering I am...or 'was' your closest living relative, they have to put it through me first."
Just as I feared, my brothers didn't let that shit go for a second. Immediately, they started discussing just what type of memorial it would be – a fountain, a naked statue, a bird bath, or the eternal flame, like JFK. That last suggestion caused most of the boys to start singing the song "Eternal Flame" by the Bangles, all in overly-dramatic girlie voices.
"Oh, for crying out loud," I sighed, shaking my head at the uproar of laughter that rang throughout the house. By the time I made it into the library where everyone else was congregated, Edward was laughing way too hard.
"I vote fountain statue...in the shape of a mer..." He stopped, his face sobering up when he caught a glimpse of me in the doorway. "Maid," he finished softly, though his eyes dropped to the book in his lap. Never mind that our brothers were in heaps of laughter.
Edward Anthony Masen Cullen! You're in so much trouble. I can't even begin to tell you how much. You'd really encourage them? Really? I asked him silently, making him flinch at his full name.
Charlie grinned, patting Edward on the shoulder. "May the Force be with you."
"Oh, Heavy E...tsk, tsk, tsk," Kevin sighed dramatically, shaking his head back and forth slowly. "It's a good thing we don't sleep, because you'd truly be camping outside tonight."
"Hmm," I hummed in agreement, thinking that wasn't a bad idea, anyway.
Edward's head shot up. "What? No! Bella, I was only teasing."
My eye twitched at his begging, which only amused my dad that much more.
"Yo, Archie..." Emmett whispered. "Watch this shit... Watch the baby work it hard and make Eddie earn it. You haven't seen these two fight."
Whether Edward heard him or not, I had no idea, because I knew him well enough that he hated when I was pissed. I wasn't really pissed, but I detested being teased about Newton, whose crush never seemed to end, and I wasn't so sure that Jasper wasn't feeding Edward all sorts of mischief. I sealed off my thoughts from him, which only made him pout that much more.
"Mike? He's funny to them. He shouldn't be funny to you. If I remember correctly, you wanted to shatter every bone in his body," I huffed.
"Did you?" Charlie asked, a laugh barking from him.
"Yeah...well...he followed her around like a lost puppy," Edward explained, wearing a grimace. "The guy couldn't take no for an answer from her."
"More like a starving stray," I grumbled, folding my arms across my chest.
"That offends me," Seth piped in, grinning, but he ducked when Anna smacked his head.
Edward's eyes locked with mine. "I meant no offense, Bella. I'm sorry."
"Yeah, it's just Mike," Jasper piped up. "Although, turnabout is fair play. Shall we remind Eddie of all the crushes on him?"
I raised an eyebrow at Edward, who groaned, his fingers sinking into his hair.
"We could, but we'd be here all night," I responded. "There's..."
"No, no, no..." Edward whined. "Okay, okay! I'm sorry. It'll never happen again. Just...don't bring up Tanya or the principal with the mole or Lauren Mallory or Henry from Rochester..."
"Henry?!" Charlie, Jake, Seth, and Anna all bellowed.
I laughed softly, remembering the rather large boy from New York. "I liked Henry."
It works both ways, Edward, I thought to him, and he nodded fervently. I don't like it any more than you do.
The face that gazed up my way caused every woman in the room to groan and every man to scoff. It was beyond pitiful. It was puppy eyes and long eyelashes. It was a pouting lip and a deep sigh. It was a wrinkled brow and hands that couldn't be still, so they thumbed through the book in his lap. He looked every bit his seventeen years of age and absolutely terrified.
"I can't believe that works," Emmett chortled.
Esme laughed softly. "Of course it does. It worked on me, too."
"Unbelievable," I muttered, rolling my eyes, because there wasn't a force on this green Earth that could stop what that look did to me, to my insides. And Edward Cullen knew it. He used it to his advantage in the most dire of situations.
Charlie laughed. "Okay, gotta remember that face when I accidentally forget my wet towel on the bathroom floor."
"He uses it then, too," I said, pointing in Edward's direction, which caused my husband to grin. "Next time you think Mike is funny, I'm going to have Emmett tell me about every girl that's ever pined over you. In front of you!"
Edward laughed, his head falling back. "Mike Newton...forbidden subject. Got it, love."
"FYI," Alice chirped, wearing a silly smile, "they turn Mike down for the memorial."
I sighed, shaking my head. "Well, thank God for small favors."
~oOo~
"You guys don't do anything small, do you?" Charlie chuckled the next morning, gazing around the backyard.
I laughed a little as I stoked the fire in the fire pit Jasper had brought out of the garage after my dad, Anna, Jake, and Seth had left for their hotel the night before. We'd moved all the chairs, chaises, and loungers around it from the deck.
"Uh, no," I finally answered him, "but we really can't do small. There are ten of us. Eleven, if you count Archie."
"Archie," he mused, rubbing his mustache. "He's had rough time, huh?"
"Yeah, pretty bad," I sighed, sitting next to him and explaining all that Archie had been through – from his father on down to Victoria.
"Oh," Charlie groaned, looking over at me. "So the Dixons..."
"Unfortunately," I told him with a nod. "In his defense, he didn't want to, but his fears, what he is, and his lack of...nourishment up until Lisa Dixon cut herself in her kitchen was snowballing into something he couldn't control."
"Have you ever felt that way?" he asked, and I could see he was merely curious.
"No, but my shield helped me through the beginning," I explained. "Well, that and I wanted this life. Carlisle thinks that when you're prepared, when you know what you're getting into, it makes the transition easier. Kevin was like me. His frantic newborn phase was barely there. But when you don't know...or aren't ready, then you fight it, which makes your struggle that much harder.
"Has someone smelled...tempting?" I continued with a chuckle, and he nodded. "Yes. Sure. But Edward was there to remind me that she was a new mom, that I had to pay attention to everything about me – my thirst, my reactions, even my eyes. It happened in London."
"And you've never..." he started, but I was shaking my head.
"No, I've never taken a human life," I told him proudly. "Rose, Kevin, Carlisle, and I have a clean slate."
"Carlisle, really? As long as he's been around?"
I laughed at my dad's grin. "Nope. Not one time. The only time he's tasted human blood was to change Edward, Esme, Rose, and then Emmett. Oh, and I guess he took part in Kevin's change with Marcus, but I'm not sure."
"What's Archie going to do?"
"I don't know," I said, shrugging a shoulder. "I mean, we just moved here, so we have a bit before we have to even think about the next place. He has time to acclimate, and he's done amazing so far. I've never seen anything like it. He hunts on his own, we've introduced the scent of humans to him – and let me tell you, he was phenomenal – and he's just about caught up on a hundred years of history."
"I have to say...I can't see him going anywhere. He's pretty attached to you guys. If he's not with you, he's with Edward."
"Or Esme. She mothers him," I said with a giggle.
The word mother caused a small moment of silence between us, my mind swirling around Renee. My face must've given it all away because Charlie hit the nail on the head with his next words.
"You haven't asked about your mother in a long time, Bells," he stated softly, tilting his head my way.
"I try not to," I whispered, frowning down at my hands. "I'm supposed to leave her alone, not check on her or search her out. If I did, then I know myself; I'd never be able to walk away."
He got up from the chair he was in to sit next to me on the chaise. Wrapping an arm around me, he pulled my head to his shoulder.
"I miss her," I murmured. "But she can't know."
"I know, sweetie," he sighed, kissing the top of my head. "She's doing okay, though. She and Phil just bought a new townhouse on the beach. She's taking...yoga." He said the last word with such sarcasm that I couldn't help but giggle. "She says it helps her focus."
"Renee? Focus?" I laughed, pulling back to look up at him.
"Yeah...no clue if it's working," he said wryly, shrugging a shoulder, but he dug around in his pocket, only to pull out his phone.
"Look at you...all high-tech and stuff," I teased as his finger tentatively swept over the touch screen.
"Don't start with me," he said with a dramatic huff. "Blame Seth and Jake...hell, even Sue made me up...up..."
"Upgrade," I provided.
"Smart ass," he sighed, rolling his eyes. "Here." He shoved the phone into my hands. "Thought you'd like to see how she's doing."
"Oh," I simply said, my eyes raking over the picture on the screen.
My eyes stung at the sight of my mom. She looked older as she stood on some beach at sunset. There were crinkles at the corners of her eyes that weren't there the last time I'd seen a picture of her. It was obvious she dyed her hair, so I could assume that she was graying, but her hair was beautiful. She must've used a color close to her own natural shade. Her smile was stunning – breathtaking, really – so that meant that she was happy.
I swallowed thickly, blinking back the venom that burned my eyes. "Does she... I mean..." I sighed, not knowing what I wanted to ask.
"She misses you, yes," Dad told me softly. "There's a bit of her that's not the same since you've been gone."
"She's so pretty."
"She always was, but you took the best parts of her, Bells," he said with pride, and I smiled up at him. He kissed my forehead. "You got the best of us both."
"Thank you," I whispered, handing him his phone back.
We glanced up at the sound of loud music wafting across the yard from the library. I had to smile because my boys were showing off, it seemed. What I wouldn't give to see my dad's face at the sight of those same boys on stage.
The back deck door suddenly burst open, and Alice was in front of us instantly, bouncing excitedly. "Holy hell, can we?"
I laughed, shrugging a shoulder. "I don't know. I can't imagine they'd want to spend their last night in a bar, Ali."
"We were just trying to come up with something to do today. We could totally spend it in New Brunswick!" she gushed, glancing between Charlie and me.
"Why are you asking me?" I snorted, pointing toward the house. "Why aren't you asking...The Band?"
Charlie laughed at the whole exchange, and Alice grinned his way, picking up his hand. "Charlie, do you like old-school rock?" she asked him.
"Old-school?" he snorted. "Is that code for something?"
"Yes, he does," I sighed, turning to my dad. "You do. It's the stuff you've listened to my whole life."
He scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Old-school," he murmured.
Grinning, I said, "Anyway, the boys play on stage every once in a while. Alice here wants all of you to see it."
Several forms stumbled out onto the back deck, Jake and Seth among them. Charlie smirked at them, only to turn to me. However, my eyes were on the tall, lean form in the window of the library.
Edward, you don't mind? I asked him, and he laughed, shaking his head no.
"Whatever you want, love," he said, and even though he'd spoken in his normal voice, I heard him, but Charlie didn't.
"You want to go?" I asked my dad.
"Will we be back in time to get to the airport?"
"Actually, we can rearrange everything so that you can fly out from New Brunswick tomorrow morning. I've made all the arrangements, just in case," Alice piped up, wearing a grin when Charlie laughed.
He looked down at me. "Hey, I'm just along for the ride. I'm cool with it," he said, hugging me when I laughed at his choice of words.
"Yes!" the whole lot of them cheered as we made our way toward the house.
I caught Archie's eye, asking, "You want to go? You want to try?"
He grimaced a little but nodded. "You'll shield me?"
"Of course."
His curious and adorable face broke out into a sweet smile as he nodded. "Okay."
"Okay," I mimicked, reaching for his hand. "Then you need to hunt. Let's go."
~oOo~
"Hey, I'm Raven," the girl from the other band crooned to Edward as the rest of my boys unloaded their instruments. "You're on after us, right?"
Carlisle and Esme were getting everyone checked into the hotel with Charlie in New Brunswick while the rest of us helped the guys set up their stuff. Jake, Anna, and Seth had opted to ride with us to Leather and Lace.
"Edward," he said politely, not shaking her hand, considering his were full of his electronic keyboards. "And yeah, Dwayne wanted us to go last."
"That's cool, so you've played here before," she surmised with a leaning stance against the wall, and her voice was that slightly raspy thing that some men considered to be sexy. It looked like she used it to her advantage. She was everything her name portrayed – dark, mysterious, beautiful, and a little rough around the edges.
And she'd been eye-fucking Edward since we walked in the back stage doors. Rolling my eyes, I made my way to the main part of the bar, where Jake and Seth were racking up some pool balls, leaving Edward to his newest groupie.
"Seriously, Bella?" Edward asked incredulously, but his voice was not loud enough for the humans in the building.
I sniffed, ignoring him and taking the pool cue that Seth was handing me.
"You break, big sis," he told me, grinning his sweetest smile because it had been him to teach me everything I knew about pool. "And ignore the chick..."
I tsked, rolling my eyes, but my break was just a little too hard. The crack resounded throughout the empty bar, drawing the attention of not only the people with me, but the employees and the other musicians, as well.
"Damn," Dwayne said with a chuckle as he stocked his bar. "Firecracker, that one."
"You'd better soften that shit," Jake warned, smirking at me.
"I will, I will," I vowed, trying to tune out the relentless flirting going on behind the curtain because now, Raven's band members had discovered Emmett, Jasper, Kevin, and even poor Archie, for crying out loud, who was merely trying to stay out of the way until showtime.
"You're not still pissed about the Newton thing, are you?" Seth asked, glancing between me and the stage curtain.
"No," I grumbled, taking my next shot, and then my next, until I slowly cleared the table and they had to rack them up again.
It wasn't really a lie. I was a little unnerved by it. Maybe it was because Edward had found it so damn funny, even after apologizing to me over and over – both in words and with his body. Or maybe it was the rollercoaster of emotions of seeing my dad and friends from back home. I wasn't sure. What I did know was that I was in no mood to watch a rock chick stumble over herself to flirt with Edward.
The sound of something heavy hitting the floor echoed out from behind the stage, and the curtains were thrown open. Edward stalked out, but my eyes were on the girls watching his every move. When he appeared in front of me, essentially blocking my view of them, I finally met his gaze. It was fierce, almost angry, but so very heated.
"It's only funny...because I know who your heart belongs to, Bella. Newton never understood that, so his mooning over you still today is not only sad, but hilarious. What's even funnier is that you despise the attention. You're damned beautiful, so it shouldn't be a surprise when someone falls hard for you. I did," he whispered in a rush, his brow furrowing. "And you should ignore them," he said, jerking a thumb behind him. "I am."
I nodded, feeling thoroughly chastised. "I know. I'm sorry. I don't know what's..."
Suddenly, his fingers threaded into my hair at the base of my neck and his lips met mine. He kissed me absolutely senseless – to the point I wasn't sure of my own damn name. It was deep and heated, claiming and possessive...and it caused whistles and cheers from Jake, Anna, and Seth, not to mention Dwayne.
He pulled back, pressing his forehead to mine, but his gaze was like liquid fire as he licked his lips. "And your name is...Mrs. Bella Cullen, my silly, jealous girl." His voice was raspy, but sexy and firm.
Fuck, I'd really needed to hear that. The weird petty feelings I'd been experiencing faded away completely because he'd just claimed me in front of everyone just to shut up the girls behind him. He'd removed any doubt as to where he stood.
"Nah," he teased, giving me a sweet wink. "You just looked like you could use a good kiss."
I giggled, letting out a deep breath. "Yeah, that, too."
His smile took over his whole face. It was beautiful and sweet. "Then...mission accomplished."
"Go set up. Maybe you'll have time to play with me," I said, not thinking of the double-meaning those words could have, but he did, raising an eyebrow and huffing a laugh at me. "Pool, Edward. Play pool."
"Oh," he sang, like it was a completely new idea. "Okay. I'll do my best, sweet girl," he vowed, walking away from me.
I nodded to myself, murmuring, "You always do."
~oOo~
By the time Dwayne had opened the doors and the first band had played, Leather and Lace was packed. It seemed that people were taking a break from the holidays that were looming closer, because the next day was Christmas Eve. People were rowdy, blowing off steam and taking the edge off with alcohol, and I even heard a few state that they were simply getting away from visiting relatives. It made for an excitable, electric feel to the room.
Edward had been able to join me for two games of pool before the place got too busy, which had been watched by just about everyone in the building. I'd won them both.
Dwayne allowed us to set up three rather large tables up front for our friends and family, and I made sure to put myself right next to Archie on the outside so he was away from the closest humans. However, he was taking in the whole atmosphere with wide, open, deep amber eyes, which were just changing enough that he could pull off a strange brownish hazel.
"How many songs are they doing?" Charlie asked no one in particular at the table from my other side. "And which ones?"
"Three," Rose responded. "And there's no telling. I've seen them decide and then completely change the line-up backstage. Sometimes, it depends on what Jasper feels in the room or what Edward hears throughout the minds. They play into it."
Charlie's eyebrows shot up.
I chuckled and nudged my dad with my elbow. "For example... Tonight? They'll be doing one song that means something. Since they've been reliving history with Archie, it's more of a message about the condition of society, and that'll be the one you want to watch Emmett on...he's amazing. But then they'll lighten it up with fun stuff – that's all Kevin. Not to mention they really like to test themselves with harmony and technical playing, which is all about Edward and Jasper."
That being said, Dwayne popped out from the curtain, dropped the lights, and made his way back behind the bar. When the curtains opened, the boys were already starting. Wafts of strange notes swirled off the stage.
The boys rarely played Rush in front of an audience because they held that band in the highest regard – Emmett especially. He worshiped Neil Peart, the drummer. And there was a skeptical feel to the room almost instantly, but my boys instantly overcame it as the true melody kicked in to "Early Distant Warning."
Kevin hadn't been lying to Tara when he told her that Edward had been working with him on piano, but really, it was the electric keyboards because Kevin loved the software that Edward had installed. So he was pounding out a rhythm as Jasper took the bass guitar and Edward took lead. But this song was all about Emmett...and the state of affairs of the world. Edward's voice was damned near perfect as he sang lead.
An ill wind comes arising
Across the cities of the plain
There's no swimming in the heavy water
No singing in the acid rain
Red alert
Red alert
It's so hard to stay together
Passing through revolving doors
We need someone to talk to
And someone to sweep the floors
Incomplete
Incomplete
The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy
But I worry about you
I know it makes no difference
To what you're going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg
And I worry about you...
The boys couldn't have picked a better song to not only speak to Archie about how life had changed over the years, but to earn the respect of the entire bar. Though, Edward was most likely singing from the heart about the world weighing on his shoulders. God knows, he'd heard it all. By the time the song ended, the cheers, screams, and catcalls were ear piercing. And most of those were for Emmett as he grinned proudly, twirling a drumstick between his fingers.
Checking on Archie as the boys quickly – yet at a human pace – changed up instruments, I saw that he was doing fine. My dad, however, was slack-jawed and in awe. He huffed a laugh when he caught my stare.
"They're good," he muttered.
Grinning proudly, I said, "Yeah. Yeah, they are."
Kevin stepped out from behind the keyboards, taking the front of the stage. Edward changed to a different guitar, but Jasper kept the bass he'd been playing. With a glance back to Emmett, who nodded, and another to Edward, Kevin faced the audience again. He was wearing faded jeans, a black tank top, and a black leather jacket.
But his voice rang out with a statement that had everyone on their feet.
"I wanna rock!" he growled out, and the heavy sound of Twisted Sister hit us like a wrecking ball.
Kevin, however, was a madman on stage when he didn't have an instrument in hand. All those years in the theater had only given him an amazing stage presence. He worked every inch of the space at his disposal. He involved the audience to echo him every time he needed them to scream, "Rock!" And that just made the room all the more excited.
Kevin also worked his brothers – walking around Jasper, rocking next to Edward, and grinning with Emmett. It was the most fun I'd ever seen them have with the audience while on stage.
The next song was something that Rose, Alice, and I had all been looking forward to the most. It had been several years since the first time we'd heard Edward and Jasper sit down and play together. And that had been in our living room in Forks. They were about to go back to that beginning, but they were doing it onstage, live, and just for us.
Jasper picked up an acoustic guitar, Edward changed to the electric guitar I'd first bought for him, and Kevin picked up a bass guitar. All the boys grinned our way when my sisters and I whistled loudly, because "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi truly meant something to us.
With a rake of a drumstick across some small chimes by Emmett, Jasper and Edward took seats on some stools in front of the mic. And when Jasper started the song, I knew that Edward would be the angelic backup.
It's all the same, only the names will change…
Everyday it seems we're wasting away,
Another place where the faces are so cold…
I'd drive all night just to get back home.
I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride…
I'm wanted dead or alive…
Wanted dead or alive.
There was a part of me that always assumed that Jasper sort of felt that way for a long time. The fact that he was from Texas was not lost on my dad with this song, but I could tell that he could feel the real life struggle behind the lyrics for Jasper and Edward.
Sometimes I sleep, sometimes it's not for days…
And the people I meet always go their separate ways…
Sometimes you tell the day, by the bottle that you drink…
And times when you're alone all you do is think.
I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride…
I'm wanted…wanted… dead or alive…
Wanted dead or alive.
I ride…
When Edward stood up to take the guitar solo, I'd never seen an audience react to him like they did that night. They screamed, almost rushing the stage, because not only was he flawless, but his and Jasper's voices melted together to create the most beautiful and soulful sound. It was almost heartbreaking.
I walk these streets, a loaded six string on my back…
I play for keeps, 'cause I might not make it back.
I been everywhere, and I'm standing tall…
I've seen a million faces an I've rocked them all.
When they finished, the bar exploded. Chants for more, more, more made my dad, Jake, Seth, and Anna join in. I laughed, shooting Edward a wink.
"Boys, boys!" Dwayne called from behind the bar. "You got one more in you?"
Jasper and Kevin laughed, but they looked to Edward for the answer. They could've played a million songs, but Edward looked like he couldn't quite decide whether he wanted to do another. A bright spark of light lit behind my husband's eyes, and he shot the sexiest grin my way before leaning in to tell his brothers. Emmett guffawed, Kevin took his place behind the keyboards, and Jasper cracked up, shaking his head.
I nudged Archie. "Hanging in there?"
"Oh yeah," he said with a soft laugh. "I'm fine."
But it was Alice's reaction that had me curious because her head fell back with her laughter.
She turned to me, still giggling. "Oh, Bella... It never fails. Edward always has to give you one song. You should remember this one, though."
"Oh, hell," I said with a laugh as the boys changed up guitars again.
"Always?" Charlie asked.
"Always!" the whole family answered him with the exception of Archie and me, which caused Jake, Seth, and Anna to crack up.
"She freaking loves it," Rose snorted, shaking her head. "Don't let her fool you."
I grinned and nodded, shrugging a shoulder, as if to say, "Sue me." But I truly burst into hysterics when the Kevin started the opening notes of their song on the keyboard. I was still laughing when Edward fought his smile, shot me a wink, and began the first verse of "Bad Medicine" by Bon Jovi. The last time they sang it, they hadn't played it; it had been a lost bet playing pool, and they'd had to sing cheesy karaoke. It had been the first time I'd ever seen my brothers and Edward on any stage. Ever. And I couldn't help but think Edward was giving me a bit of our history to me on a silver platter.
The guitar growled, the keyboards plinked, and Emmett broke into a heavy beat as Edward stepped up to the mic. And the whole bar shot to their feet, singing the opening chorus with them.
I got a fever, got a permanent disease
It'll take more than a doctor to prescribe a remedy
I got lots of money but it isn't what I need
Gonna take more than a shot to get this poison out of me
I got all the symptoms count 'em 1,2,3
Just like the first time they sang it, the boys all pointed to Carlisle at the mention of the doctor, which made him roll his eyes and shake his head, but the chorus was to me, Adrian, and my sisters.
First you need
That's what you get for falling in love
Then you bleed
You get a little but it's never enough
On your knees
That's what you get for falling in love
And now this boy's addicted cause your kiss is the drug
Your love is like bad medicine
Bad medicine is what I need
Shake it up, just like bad medicine
There ain't no doctor that can cure my disease
Bad, bad medicine
Bad, bad medicine
Edward stepped back, giving the lead to Jasper with a giant smile my way.
I don't need no needle to be giving me a thrill
And I don't need no anesthesia
Or a nurse to bring a pill
I got a dirty down addiction
It doesn't leave a track
I got a jones for your affection like a monkey on my back
There ain't no paramedic gonna save this heart attack
I purred at the sight of Edward playing the solo. His forearms and biceps flexed with every heavy chord, every wavering note, and his talented fingers made my stomach flip-flop. Add in that he was in older jeans and a tight, black T-shirt, I could barely keep my eyes their normal brown and not let them blacken to pitch.
Kevin took the last bridge, sending the crowd into a frenzy, and that point, I knew Jasper was only pushing out what he was receiving. Archie and I weren't feeling it, but everyone else sure as hell was, and it was hilarious to watch. Archie and I were dying laughing.
I need a respirator cause I'm running out of breath
You're an all night generator wrapped is stockings and a dress
When you find your medicine you take what you can get
Cause if there's something better baby well they haven't found it yet
When Edward panted, "I gotta... I gotta do it again. Wait a minute...hold on, hold on," I thought the girls in the audience would pass the hell out. "I'm not done. One more time...but feel it!"
My mouth fell open, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to kiss him senseless or steal him off the stage. My Edward was way too sexy for his own damn good. In fact, he had to take several steps back away from the edge of the stage as they ended their song, due to reaching hands and screaming girls. Even older women were swooning over my boys.
Due to the crowd, we decided to give Archie a break and meet the boys out back as they loaded up. They all grinned at Charlie's chuckle as they loaded the back of Emmett's truck.
"Impressive, boys." His laugh was laced with awe and amusement.
"Thank you, sir," Edward said with a snicker, looking a touch embarrassed.
"Okay," Jake said, folding his giant arms across his chest. "I gotta know how you get away with it. I mean, aren't you supposed to stay off the radar?"
Emmett laughed, placing a heavy hand on Jake's shoulder. "It's all false info, man. Dwayne doesn't know a thing. The names, addresses...all of it is fake. It wouldn't matter if Rolling Stone magazine walked up in there; they'd never find us."
"So why do it?" Anna asked innocently.
"'Cause they love it," Kevin stated with a grin, pointing toward my sisters and me. "And it's so much fucking fun!"
"Kevin," Esme sighed, shaking her head.
"I know why," Archie piped up softly, and everyone turned to him. "Because we have to fight what we are...all the time. Not too fast, not to strong, not too this or that... This is the one thing they can do really well and not have to worry."
"Exactly," Jasper agreed with him, wearing a small smile. "Technically, we're just a good garage band. They'll watch us the few times we show up, but then we'll be forgotten once we move on from the area."
"Huh," Charlie huffed, shaking his head. "I can see how tampering down everything you are could get old."
"It does," Edward sighed, his nose wrinkling a little. "It's why we aren't in school this time around."
The boys finished loading the truck, and Emmett and Rose left for home, taking Archie with them. He was on sensory overload, so he decided not to stay out of the house. He wasn't quite ready to play guest in a hotel. However, the rest of us were going to see my dad and my friends off the next day at the airport, so we'd opted to stay overnight.
As we rode up the elevator, Edward squeezed my hand before looking to Charlie.
My dad turned to me, saying, "Bells, could I see you in my room?"
"Yeah, sure, Dad," I told him, leaning into Edward's kiss to my temple.
"Love you," my husband whispered against my skin. "Take your time."
Charlie looked nervous as I followed him into his room after wishing Jake, Anna, and Seth a good night, but he opened up his suitcase and pulled out a small wrapped gift.
"Dad," I sighed, shaking my head a little. "I though we agreed... Christmas was supposed to be about the kids. You know I don't need anything."
"Well," he started, swallowing nervously, "this isn't something I thought I'd ever see again. And after talking to you earlier today, I almost wasn't going to give it to you, but I think you should have it."
I didn't open the gift, but my brow furrowed as I simply stared at my dad. He wasn't always good with talking things out, though he'd gotten better since I'd come back into his life. But this was different.
"A long time ago," he said with a humorless laugh, "I found out that I was going to be a father, and the day after your mother told me, I bought her something to kind of mark the time. I did the math, so I figured out pretty quick what month you were due, so I... Well, you'll see..." He gestured to the package in my hand.
I opened it slowly, finding a fine, silver necklace with a sapphire pendant attached to it – the birthstone for September. It wasn't big, but it was very, very pretty.
"The last time I saw your mother in person, I chattered on an on about Izzy, about how I loved the roll of grandpa, even though she and Eddie aren't really related to me. I think it was my way of not talking about you. It kept me focused not to brag that you were living in London, that you were doing so well, and that you and Edward were so damn happy."
I smiled up at my dad, but I could tell that he wasn't finished.
"Anyway, she teased me relentlessly...until the last day," he sighed, wearing a pained expression. "She handed me this, saying that since our baby wasn't around, that I should pass it on. And since Izzy was named after you, it was only fitting." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "I had every intention of doing that, but then I thought...even if Renee doesn't know, she'd appreciate you having it. So we're passing it on to who it truly belongs to."
I glanced down at the necklace again, my finger playing with the gem that sparkled brightly in the hotel room's light. Venom burned my eyes as I remembered Renee wearing that very necklace my whole life. She hadn't worn it much after Phil came into the picture, except on my birthday, and now I knew why.
I took the necklace out, putting it on quickly and running a finger over it as it rested against my chest. A little too fast, I rushed to my father, hugging him fiercely, but I pulled back when he chuckled and grunted at the same time.
"I'm so glad you came," I murmured into his chest, thinking I owed my husband big time for giving me time with Charlie, even if it was only a couple of days.
He kissed the top of my head, sighing deeply. "Me, too, Bella."
Pulling back, I saw that he was tired. "You should get some rest. Alice booked you pretty early tomorrow...or today, rather." I wrinkled my nose a little, but my dad only smiled.
"Okay," he agreed, and I giggled when he yawned widely. "Merry Christmas, Bella."
"Merry Christmas, Dad," I told him and then left his room.
Edward's and my room was a few doors down at the end of the hall, and when I stepped into the room, he was waiting patiently on the edge of the bed, his elbows resting on his knees. I wasn't stupid; I knew he'd heard the whole exchange, whether he wanted to or not, but he seemed braced for my emotions because we both moved at the same time. He caught me up in his arms.
"Thank you...so much," I breathed heavily into the crook of his neck.
He didn't say anything, but simply pulled me back to gaze at my face. His warm, honey eyes landed on the new jewelry around my neck, and he reach up to trail a finger over it. Smiling softly, he huffed a small, quiet laugh, giving me a gentle kiss.
"I have to agree with Charlie, my sweet, beautiful girl," he murmured sweetly.
"What?"
He fingered the pendant one more time before his eyes locked with mine. "The day you were born, the whole world became a better place."

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