Sunday, December 2, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 24

Chapter 24
Deep brown eyes gazed unseeingly out over the skyline of New Brunswick, but the sharp mind behind them was much farther away than that. Bella seeing her dad was a double-edged sword. It always was, and it most likely always would be. Carlisle and I had discussed at length what bringing Charlie in for just a few days would do. She adored her father, but he came wrapped up in all her human memories, not to mention the reality of never seeing her mother ever again.
I'd worried when Bella had gone to her father's room, but despite the sentimental subject and gift, my girl was just...thankful. She was thankful to Charlie for thinking of her, to Jake, Anna, and Seth for coming along, and to me for setting it all up as a surprise. And she'd thanked me. Repeatedly. She thanked me in ways that I was trying not to think about, lest I take her again. She was tempting enough, lying on her stomach, completely bare with the sheet covering her legs.
My fingers danced lightly down her bare back as I relived her old human memories through her mind. I was pretty sure she was trying to remember every time Renee wore the necklace Charlie had given my Bella just a few hours ago. I smiled, leaning down to press kisses to her shoulder blades as I viewed the world through a very young Bella's eyes. It was those moments when I was grateful for my mind reading ability because it gave me so much more than if she'd have just told me.
One such memory made me laugh out loud. "Was that...Barbie?" I asked her.
"Shut up, Edward!" Her giggle was happy and sweet. "I hated Barbie, but my mother insisted on that theme for my birthday that year. I was six! Everything was pink. Ugh..."
", no. I can't imagine you bowing down to the Barbie franchise. At all," I teased her, grinning when she rolled over to face me. "G.I. Joe, maybe..."
She laughed, squirming closer to me when I tugged the hotel's comforter over our heads and wrapped an arm around her waist. I lost myself in sweet chocolate brown and a little girl's memories. A slow smile crept up over her face.
"No, but Beanie Babies, on the other hand..." she stated with a nostalgic sigh. "Those, I wanted. I had a few, but Renee couldn't always afford the newest ones."
"I remember that craze," I huffed, rolling my eyes. "Even Alice and Rose were affected."
Bella grinned, biting her bottom lip. "I had a polar bear, a gray tabby cat, a penguin, and a wolf."
"You had a wolf, but no lion?" I gasped in mock disgust. "I'm somehow offended."
"I was six years old, Edward!" she cried out, pushing me onto my back and slipping over me. My body reacted instantly to the feel of her as she straddled me and braced her hands on either side of my head. "Had I known the significance of the lion in my future, I would have traded them all in," she stated in an overly serious tone, and I could see her mind fighting not to roll her eyes at me.
"Had you understood the significance at six, I would've worried," I countered with a laugh, but something told me that my Bella would've handled it all with a style and grace that only she possessed – even as a child.
Bella laughed, leaning down to kiss me briefly. "I would've crushed on you. Hard."
Smiling up at her, I didn't know how to counter that because knowing my girl, she would've accepted me just as I was – immortality and all – no matter what the age. I was pretty certain she'd never have given anything different about me a second thought.
"I would've really wanted to hear that mind," I said with a chuckle, but then a shiver wracked my entire frame as I remembered just how potent Bella's blood had been to me when she was seventeen. I couldn't allow myself to even approach what would've happened had she been just a child when we first met – easily removable from any mall, backyard, or school playground.
I simply shook my head, my brow furrowing as my hands sought out soft skin and even softer hair. I pulled back the covers just to see her – really see her – in the pale light of the morning that was trying to dawn through thick, heavy clouds. Tucking her hair behind her ear, I just gazed up at her.
"You wouldn't have hurt me, you know," she stated softly, keeping her eyes on my face.
Smirking up at her, I asked, "Who's the mind reader?"
"I can read you," she snorted, rolling her eyes. "I know where that mind of yours goes. You wouldn't have hurt me. You may have walked away, but you wouldn't have allowed anything to touch a child – whether it was me or another little girl."
I wanted to argue with her, telling her that she had no idea just how close I came to wrecking everything when she first stumbled into the biology classroom, but she knew that story, and I knew myself better than that now. I had been stronger than I'd given myself credit for back then. And she was right. I would've walked away – or run, really – in order to prevent anything from happening.
Nodding, I fought my smile. "How'd you get so smart?"
"It's purely natural," she huffed haughtily with a single nod, squealing into a writhing, giggling mess on top of me. "Edward, no!"
Chuckling darkly when she collapsed against me, I said, "I'm kind of glad we didn't meet any other way than how we did."
She folded her arms across my chest and rested her chin on top of them so that we were practically nose to nose. "Why's that?"
"Because I wouldn't have wanted to scare you as a child or wait for you to grow up, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted you to 'crush' on me," I rattled off, shrugging a shoulder. "The way it happened was real, the way it should be, even though I denied it at the time. It was more than just meeting my mate. Controlling my thirst gave me a chance to learn about you, truly fall in love with you. I'm not sure I can regret that. Ever."
Bella giggled softly, kissing my lips briefly. "You're a hopeless romantic, Edward Cullen. And I love it."
I laughed, but it was true. However, I couldn't keep from teasing her. "Besides," I sighed dramatically. "I met you when you were beautiful and all grown up. I'm not sure about those...knobby knees." With that said, I gripped her knee by my hip and gave it a rough tickle.
She kicked out of my grasp, but her eyes were sparkling with mischief as I suddenly found my hands pinned to my pillow on either side of my head.
"Don't hate the knees, Edward," she purred, looming over me. "Just because we don't have picture-proof, I'm sure you weren't always so...perfect. I can imagine there was a gangly teen in your past, so don't even try me, mister."
I laughed even harder, not even bothering to fight her shield. "Oh, there was. It was awful. I was skinny, with big feet and hands and an even bigger head. It's like I shot up overnight."
Her grin was beautiful and sweet...and so very naughty. "Well, you know what they say about big feet, baby," she said in a sing-song sort of way.
"Big shoes?" I asked her, but she shook her head slowly. "Um, enormous...socks?"
She snorted, shaking her head no again. "Mmm, socks... Close, but spelled wrong."
Suddenly, I really wanted to hear her say that word, and I felt my eyes blackening to pitch at the mere thought of it. "Say it for me..."
"Hmm, no." Her voice had a finality to it that I didn't like, but she sat up, the covers falling off her and onto the tops of my thighs. Trailing a finger across my chest and up my right arm, she touched each of my fingers, only to tug a little on my thumb. "They also say something about big hands... Let me see... Oh! They say if you take the length of a man's thumb and multiply it by three, you get an interesting measurement."
Grinning, I dragged my tongue along my bottom lip. "Do tell, my smart, beautiful girl," I crooned up at her, simply because I loved her like this. I loved when she teased and took control. I loved that she was completely bare and never thought a thing about it, unlike when she'd been self-conscious as a human. But more than all of that, I loved that it was me that made her this way, that we'd learned only each other from head to toe, and that she brought out a side of me that I never knew existed. "What interesting measurement is that?"
"I'll get to that in a second," she murmured, giving me a cheeky smile before leaning in to kiss up the side of my neck.
Slipping slowly down my body, she dropped more kisses to my chest and stomach, swirling her tongue around my nipples and in my navel, but I growled low at the feel of her wet center gliding over my now steel-hard erection. She was only holding my hands in her shield, so I couldn't help but buck slightly up into her just to feel her heat, hear her gasp, and it caused a moan to erupt from both of us. But she pulled away too soon, climbing back up my body to press her forehead to mine.
"My thumbs are almost three inches long, Isabella," I told her with a wicked grin.
"I know," she responded, smiling against the skin of my throat. "That calculation ends up grossly inadequate." She paused a second when my prideful growl rumbled around us. "Then they say the nose tells a few things," she continued, fighting her smile when I groaned aloud. "It depends on...length and girth."
"What does?" I asked, struggling against her shield for the first time, because damn it, she was killing me. I wanted to be inside of her so badly that it was almost painful. And despite her teasing, I wasn't prepared to hear her say the word.
"The size of your cock, Edward," she purred, nipping at the edge of my jaw.
"Bella... Baby, please stop teasing," I growled out through gritted teeth as she did things to my neck that made my eyes roll back into my head.
When her lips met mine, I kissed her into oblivion, hoping that she'd lose enough control that her shield would slip. Using my legs, I brought her closer, grinding up into her and claiming her mouth with long sweeps of my tongue. Her shield tightened, wavered, and then I was free.
Sitting up, I kept her on my lap, weaving a hand into her hair and gripping her hip with the other. My lips nipped at her top lip, her bottom lip, and I turned my head to kiss her deeply. Her body moved over me, coating me in her warmth and arousal.
Dragging my lips to her ear, I couldn't resist a little payback. "You seem to have a firm opinion concerning my cock, love." I grinned against her skin when she moaned.
Immediately, her mind searched frantically, trying to remember exactly where the rest of our family was in this "God-forsaken hotel," but she could barely focus past anything outside of our little bubble. Little did she know that I'd picked the location of our room on purpose. Yes, Charlie was right down the corridor, but the rest of the family was on the opposite wing than we were. That put several humans between us and everyone else. And as the morning dawned, that also put a whole lot of activity between us as they got ready to face the day.
Instead of answering my taunt, she locked gazes with me. "I want you...just like this..."
All thoughts of more teasing flew out the window into the chilly Canadian air. I simply nodded, swallowed, and lifted her up.
"Mm," I growled low, watching as she sank down over me. "I love watching you take all of my cock inside of you, Bella. It feels fucking amazing, but it looks a thousand times better."
This was Bella's favorite position, and I knew why. She loved the feel of my arms around her, my chest against hers, and the fact that she had easy access to kiss me. She liked watching my eyes swirl to black, my face when I came undone, and we both loved the feel of just how deep I was inside of her. She felt surrounded, grounded, and secure. It wasn't about deep thrusting or frantic movements, but it was about just the feeling of being one. Sometimes, it was like she couldn't breathe until we melted together.
Heads fell back as long, suckling kisses met throats. Hands gripped, lips brushed lips, and names were cried out into the hotel room.
Cupping her ass, I spread her open, lifting her up and down as she braced her hands on my shoulders. But my eyes never left her face. I wasn't sure there was anything more beautiful than my Bella lost in the feel of us, lost in the pleasure. In her mind, I could see that every inch of her skin was sensitive, like she was being set on fire with every touch, every grip, and every kiss. She wanted to come so badly, but she was waiting for me.
"Don't fight it, baby," I told her, dragging my lips down her throat and bending her back just enough to brush my lips across the sapphire that looked amazing in contrast to her skin, finally suckling my scar that decorated the porcelain flesh over her heart.
"Ung," she gasped, her fingers gripping at me frantically, her eyes rolling back in her head, and her sweet, warm flesh clenching down around my cock. "Fuck, Edward..."
Her reaction was instant, intense, and pulled me under right along with her, because for some reason, my scar on her was somehow connected directly to her clit – or at least, that was the inane thought that ran through my girl's head as she tried her damnedest to calm down. Wrapping my arms all the way around her, my forehead fell to her shoulder.
I could hear that Charlie was getting ready, that Seth had already checked on him. I could even hear Anna and Jake stirring down the hall. I sighed, squeezing my sweet girl tighter just before pulling back to look at her gorgeous yet very sated face.
Her eyes drifted to the clock on the nightstand, and a brief wrinkle crept over her brow. "It's almost time, right?"
I nodded, playing with her new necklace. "Will you be okay saying goodbye, baby? Was it too much to bring him here?"
"No!" she gushed, smiling a genuine smile. "No, Edward. It was the best gift you've ever given me. I had the best time with my dad. Thank much," she whispered, kissing me softly on the lips.
"I could see that you missed him, sweet girl. And as long as you can, I want you to take advantage of being able to see him," I explained to her, because she had something none of the rest of us had.
"I'm very many, many ways," she sighed contentedly, laughing a little with a shake of her head. "I know that's what you're telling me. But it's more than just my dad. It's my whole life. You've given me everything, Edward. Never, ever doubt that you haven't. Okay?"
Nodding, I whispered, "Okay."
"I know that sometimes, you think that I'm missing out, but my life is very, very full. You did that. It's you that makes it all worthwhile."
I smiled at her, grateful that she saw it that way. "I love you. More than I can express some days."
"Good. And as much as I'd like to keep you right here in this bed, it's time to get ready to go to the airport," she told me, wrinkling her nose adorably.
Her mind was torn – staying in my arms or seeing her dad off. Her conflict was merely an immortal moment of indecisiveness, and it made me chuckle that she still experienced some things that she couldn't control.
"Easy," I said with a laugh. "I'm staying...Charlie's leaving. I'll be here for whatever gorgeous ideas float through that awe-inspiring mind of yours."
She laughed at herself, looking like my young human for a brief moment as she looked away, embarrassed, before scrambling off my lap. Had blood still coursed through her veins, she'd have blushed crimson.
"Right, got it." She giggled, standing up off the bed. "Sorry about brain went haywire thinking way too much all at once."
Laughing, I scooped her up to tote her into the suite's bathroom. "Believe me, Bella...that happens to the best of us."
"I'd say I'll send you an invitation to the wedding, but I don't think you can come. Some people from Forks will be there," Seth said sadly, but a giant smile crept over his face. "I know! We'll send you guys a video!"
Bella giggled, hugging her stepbrother fiercely. "Lexi had better treat you right, or she'll have all sorts of problems heading her way."
He wanted to tell her that imprints had practically a non-existent divorce rate, but he loved her gushing over him as his "big sis," so he kept quiet and simply nodded.
I flinched at the sounds, minds, and scents of the airport but stood silently off to the side next to Carlisle and Charlie, though Adrian, Esme, and Jasper were just a few steps away, discussing the trip back home. Due to the new precautions, we had to leave Charlie and everyone at security, despite how much Bella wanted to see them down to the gate.
"I forgot how much airports affect you," Carlisle stated softly.
I shrugged. "School is worse," I said with a grin, which made him chuckle. "But yes, there is a wide range of loud minds. Mostly, they're excited, due to the holiday, but some are sad." I jerked my chin toward a soldier saying goodbye to his family; he had a little girl in his arms and a sobbing wife to attend to. "Travelers are stressed out as it is – money, itineraries, reservations, unhappy kids. But reunions..." I gestured to the opposite side of the large atrium toward a very happy couple in an embrace. "Those are nice. They haven't seen each other since the summer." I grinned over at Carlisle when he chuckled.
"Does it bother you, son?" Charlie asked, having heard me.
"Not as much as it did in the beginning," I answered honestly. "The only time it truly bothers me is when someone is thinking...not so nice things. Even worse, when it's about someone in my family."
"Meaning..." he urged, wondering how I maintained my composure over nasty thoughts of Bella.
"My entire family, but yes, especially Bella. Humans can be...jealous, petty creatures, and those thoughts give way to the meanest of ideas and daydreams. Sometimes, it's hard to ignore or shield Bella – or anyone in my family, really – from it."
"Is that...instinct? Or just you?" Charlie chuckled, and I really respected that he was able to ask honest questions simply out of curiosity.
Laughing, I said, "Both."
All three of us glanced over toward Alice, Bella, Kevin, and Anna when they laughed loudly. It was a chatter-fest, all of them promising to call, email, text. Bella wanted Anna to keep an eye on Charlie, since they were working at the station together. Both the boys and Anna all vowed to do that, as well as give Sue our best and make sure the kids got all the Christmas presents we'd sent.
Jacob gave the girls a hug but picked Bella up to swing her around. "I'll be sure to head down to Newtons after the holiday," he teased her. "Maybe I'll just pick a fight with him. I'll say Edward was my BFF just to piss him off."
I cracked up, my head thumping back to the wall behind me. "That'll do it," I said, giving Jake a fist bump and grinning over at a scoffing Bella, who was trying hard not to laugh at that, because Mike still hated me.
"Jacob Black," Charlie warned, shaking his head and fighting his smile. "Don't make me arrest you."
Jake merely grinned and shrugged, turning back to Bella. "Have fun training the newbie."
"Archie's not really new, Jake," Bella corrected. "He's just...never been taught."
Jake grimaced because he'd heard the story. The fact that it was Victoria that had changed Archie made him a little more sympathetic toward our new friend, because like Bella and me, he'd seen firsthand exactly what that woman was capable of doing. It was the reason he'd been so patient with him, and it had been appreciated by everyone in the family. He'd held no ill will for Archie calling out Jake's past behavior with Bella. In fact, he understood it completely. Jake made no excuses for his relationship with Bella, just simply apologized, because he'd been unable to stop his temper back then. His fairly recent wolf transition combined with his feelings for Bella and his prejudice against "bloodsuckers" – and me in particular – had made Jacob a completely different person. But he was no longer that man. If anyone knew that, it was me...and Anna.
"What are you going to do with Archie?" Charlie asked, his gaze flickering between Carlisle and myself.
Carlisle sighed, shaking his head a little. "We'll keep teaching him, guiding him. We've offered him plenty of opportunities to make his own decisions, but so far, he's content to be with us. I don't know what that means in the future. Alice can't always see him, but so far, he's made no decision to go anywhere."
"He's determined to try...everything," I said, wrapping my arms around Bella's shoulders from behind when she joined us. "He's missed out on so much that it's like he's trying to make up for lost time."
"And when you move again in a year or so?" Seth prompted.
"That's the question, isn't it?" Carlisle replied. "He's only known that house. So I have no idea what he'll do, or even how he'll react when that time comes."
"Poor thing," Anna sighed. "He's so sweet. You can tell he never wanted any of it, that he tried his best, but so many things were stacked against him."
Carlisle nodded in agreement. "And that's what he's just now learning...that it was all unfortunate, but never his fault."
"The key will be when he starts to do things on his own," Jasper finally piped up, though he'd been struggling to maintain his talent with the heavyhearted soldier and his family so close by. "When he can hunt alone without someone with him. When he ventures out by himself, that will be when he's truly making progress. But he leans on Edward and Bella like a crutch. I can't imagine what he'll do if they take an extended trip – or even more, if they get their own place the next time, because we all do it."
I grimaced, hiding it in Bella's soft hair, but my brother spoke the truth. It was something that had been plaguing Carlisle. He'd noticed it more and more lately. Even Charlie had seen a touch of it, and he'd only been in the house two days.
"And then there's the way he interacts with humans," Alice sighed, wrinkling her nose a little. "He's learning, but he hates it. But in order to get better, to fit in, he's going to have to really take some acting lessons."
We chuckled at that, but she was right. However, she was basing that on one experience. And Archie had not been comfortable around the girls more than humans in general. It was something I sort of understood. He would've really hated to have seen what Faith had been thinking that night; never mind how she'd flirted with him. If Archie thought Faith was forward just by talking, he'd lose his mind over what she'd really wanted to do with him. I wanted to tell him that unfortunately, that reaction had been mild in comparison to some of the things my brothers and I had been through concerning flirtatious behavior, but I didn't want to scare poor Archie back into the basement.
"Aw, he's doing fine," Kevin said with a laugh, shaking his head. "You forget that he didn't even want to show himself when we first found him."
Adrian chuckled with him, reaching for his hand. "It's true. And really, it's only been a few months. Imagine what he'll be like say...three or four months from now."
My eyes narrowed on an older couple that eyed Kevin and Adrian with disdain. My nostrils flared, and my hands gripped Bella just a little harder than I'd meant to.
Charlie followed my line of sight, but he wasn't stupid. In fact, his mind was a lot like his daughter's. He could see the foul look my brothers were getting.
He snorted humorlessly. "I'm standing with two giant boys that can change into wolves and eight vampires," he muttered, raising an eyebrow my way, "and that's what they're getting twisted over?"
"Welcome to my world, Charlie." I grinned because Kevin and Adrian looked at Charlie like he was their new best friend.
"Oh, Daddy Swan...I think I love you!" Kevin gushed, folding his hands beneath his chin and batting his eyelashes dramatically. "And don't let the old misers get you down. We don't." He gestured between Adrian and himself. "But then again, we can't hear what Heavy E hears."
"Hea...Heavy E?" Charlie asked, looking around when everyone tried to hide their laughter.
"Don't ask, Dad," Bella sighed, shooting a scathing look at Kevin.
"Really, it's just not worth it," I groaned, shaking my head.
Jake checked his watch, saying, "We'd better get through security and check in."
Bella hugged everyone again, but she and her father stepped away for a private moment.
"Yo, Ed," Jake said, holding out his hand. "Thanks for setting this up. I know it was for Bells, but you have no idea how much it meant to Charlie." He smiled slightly. "He really needed to set eyes on her, I think."
I nodded because I knew. I could hear it every time they talked on the phone.
"Yeah, and if you need us, call us," Seth chimed in, smiling and shaking my hand as well. "You'll have to keep us posted on what Big D is dealing with in D.C."
I smiled when Anna hugged me, her thoughts simply happy that she'd gotten to see us again. She'd forgotten how much she loved our family dynamic, but she'd really missed chatting with Bella and my sisters and mother. And now she added Kevin and Adrian into that mix.
"Same here, Jacob," Carlisle stated with a smile, shaking his hand. "Don't hesitate to call."
"Sure, sure," he rattled off with his usual carefree grin.
I gazed over at my girl. Charlie had her face cupped in his hands. He was happy that she was happy. He was ecstatic that she had a family that loved her and surrounded her every day. And he was a little shocked that despite the fact that she still looked her frozen age of twenty, she didn't act it. She was mature and smart and sweet, and he respected her more now than he ever had.
She's okay, brother, Jasper thought to me. All I feel is good things – joy, love, comfort.
"Good. They both deserve it," I told him softly, turning to look at him as Jake, Anna, and Seth stepped into the security line after they'd gotten more hugs from Esme, Alice, and Bella. "Not everyone gets that."
I'd meant their relationship specifically, not really Bella's ability to keep her father despite her immortality. But how they interacted with one another. My family and I were used to it, but Archie... He'd almost been jealous with how close Bella and Charlie were. I didn't remember the ins and outs of my relationship with my parents. Most of us didn't, and those of us that did remember didn't want to. But Archie did. So seeing how it should've been was both comforting and a little painful for him.
"That they do," he murmured under his breath.
Bella waved me over, and I offered my hand to Charlie, but he pulled me into a rough hug.
"Thank you, Edward. You take care of our girl, yeah?" he asked, smiling when he asked it of me, because he knew I would.
"Yes, sir," I said with a chuckle. "Be careful heading back."
"Yeah, call when you get home, okay, Dad?" Bella asked, giving him one more hug because Seth was calling for Charlie to get in the line.
"I will. Love you, Bells," he said before picking up the bag at his feet.
She smiled. "Love you, too, Dad."
For Bella's benefit, we waited until they were all through security and waved from the other side.
I kissed her cheek, nuzzling it just once before asking, "You ready to go home, sweet girl?"
She nodded, turned to me, and smiled. "Yes, definitely."
My head spun to Alice when a vision overtook her. She was frozen for just a moment but then locked gazes with me. "They'll be there when we get home," she said, her brow furrowing.
"Marcus and Demitri are coming," I told our family, but my eyes didn't leave Alice's.
She could see that they wanted something, but not the details because Marcus hadn't decided whether or not he should ask. Part of me worried, but the other part trusted our old friend. Mainly, I was just curious as to what would bring only Marcus and Demitri to us. Carina, Catherine, and Brandon weren't with them; neither was Marcus's faithful guard, Agosto.
"It's only Marcus and Demitri," I added, finally looking to my father.
"Well, they're not there yet, or Emmett would've called, so let's get on the road," Carlisle stated, his face solemn. "We knew Marcus would be here before the year was out, so we'll see what he wants."
"It's a good thing you have a built-in radar detector, Heavy E," Kevin mused softly from the backseat as he gazed out the window. "Otherwise, we'd have been busted way back there."
Chuckling, I shrugged. "Police are really loud, especially if they're waiting for the next speeder. They're usually bored to death sitting on the side of the highway."
It actually was a touch more complicated than that. I monitored the passing traffic going the other way at the same time for any hint of an awaiting police car. Again, that particular thought was pretty loud, especially if the driver had been speeding and didn't get caught. Their relief was deafening.
I did slow down as we passed through Caribou. There was no hurry at this point because Alice said that Marcus and Demitri hadn't arrived yet, but we did give Emmett and Rose a heads-up about it. They said Archie was extraordinarily nervous – meeting new people may always set him on edge. It was something Carlisle and I had discussed once.
Bella's mind was curious, though not particularly worried. She always welcomed a visit from Marcus, and Demitri was like a brother to her, so she simply was anxious to see our old friends. Any issues, bad news, or questions were not a source of fret for her because she always assumed we'd deal with it together – as a family and just the two of us.
That thought made me smile, pick up her hand, and kiss the back of it.
"What?" She giggled. "It's true."
"Yes, ma'am, it's absolutely true," I replied softly against her sweet-smelling skin, ignoring the curiosity from everyone else in the car.
By the time I'd turned onto the road that led out of town toward our house, I noticed a car behind me. But it was the minds that I could hear that made me smile.
"It seems Demitri was tracking me," I said with a chuckle, turning onto our driveway. "Apparently, they'd just pulled into town and caught my mind close by." I grinned, shaking my head at Demitri's talent. He'd always described it as "catching the flavor" of someone's mind, and it seemed mine just happened to be the one he was tracking.
Five heads turned around to look out the back window to see that behind Carlisle's car was a black sedan. Alice quickly typed out a text to Emmett, telling him that we were home, but to prepare Archie because Marcus and Demitri were following us in.
My Bella fidgeted in her seat until I came to a complete stop, and then she was out of the SUV, passing Carlisle's car, and in Marcus's embrace with a sweet laugh.
"Mi amore," he crooned at her, having missed her sweet demeanor. Not every immortal took to their life as easily as Bella had, and he lived to witness it. "I've missed that face," he gushed, kissing both her cheeks.
"It's been too long, Marcus," she scolded him because he'd promised her that he'd visit in Rochester, but it hadn't happened.
"I've been busy, little one. Immortals don't always behave as they should," he reasoned, though he felt thoroughly chastised by her.
"Only Isabella could brow-beat Marcus." Demitri laughed, shaking his head. "Most vampires quake in his presence, but she scolds him."
My girl beamed proudly at that, hugging Demitri, too. "He likes it," she whispered dramatically, which caused Marcus to shrug and nod uncharacteristically, giving Bella a wink.
After hugs and handshakes with everyone, I tilted my head at the house. It was relatively quiet, but I could hear Archie's nervous thoughts.
"Marcus," I said, drawing everyone's attention, "there's someone you should meet."
Marcus nodded, having been kept up-to-date on our situation not only through Carlisle, but through Demitri, as well. "How's this immortal doing?"
"Very well, actually, but he's had a trying life. He's much more nervous than he needs to be," Carlisle stated, and it was loud enough that I knew Archie had heard him.
"His talent sounds fascinating," Marcus mused, giving Bella a side glance. "I figure it's a bit like yours, amore."
She nodded. "It's like we utilize our talents the same, but..." She huffed a laugh. "Archie's is way different. And really amazing."
Emmett met us at the front door, his gaze meeting mine briefly. The little man is losin' his shit. Rosie's calming him down now in his room. He turned his giant smile to Marcus. "King M! It's good to see you. Tough job rulin' the world, yeah?"
Marcus laughed, shaking his head. "God, I've missed this family."
I snorted because he meant it. He dealt with serious issues every day – rogue vampires, outrageous hunting mishaps, possible newborn wars. He not only had to make life or death decisions concerning Italy, but the entire world. I couldn't imagine the things he'd seen throughout his very long life.
"Ah, Esme," Marcus sighed happily as we walked through the living room and into the library. "You've done another amazing job."
"Oh, no!" Alice and Bella scoffed, pointing fingers around the room. "We did the worst part of the work."
Esme laughed, hiding it behind her hand.
"You should've seen this place!" Alice gushed, shaking her head. "Dracula wouldn't have come in here!"
"And Esme took her sweet time coming back from...ahem...Italy," Bella added, narrowing her eyes on Marcus. "So by the time the rest of these lazy asses showed up, all they had to do was paint a room or hang pictures."
"My apologies, ladies," Marcus said with an amused smile, but he bowed low. "The place is beautiful."
"Thank you," they both rang out together, feeling slightly placated.
"Stop that!" Jasper groaned. "It scares the shit out of me when you two talk at the same time."
Alice and Bella merely grinned, but we all glanced up when Rose came through the bookcase door that led down to Archie's room. She greeted Demitri and Marcus, but her eyes locked with mine.
He's scared, Edward. Thinks he's in trouble, she thought to me.
I nodded and sighed.
Bella watched our exchanged, simply saying, "I'll go."
"Please, both of you, have a seat," Esme offered to Demitri and Marcus.
We all gathered around the living area. Kevin and Adrian had a million questions for Marcus about all the people they'd met while staying in Italy with him. He answered all that he could, but he could see that the two were extremely happy to be back with Carlisle.
I could sense that our friends were holding back with why they were really there. I glanced to Demitri, who simply shook his head as he kept his thoughts and mind focused on the conversation down below. Bella wasn't giving Archie much of a chance to be scared. She told him that if he trusted us, then he needed to come meet Marcus. He was our friend, and it was important that they meet.
Feeling as if he had no other alternative, he took her hand and followed her up the stairs. His faith in her was unwavering – our visitors...not so much.
Carlisle met them at the doorway, placing a protective yet comforting hand on Archie's shoulder. "Archie Varner, I'd like you to meet the leader of the Volturi, Marcus."
Marcus chuckled, giving Archie the once-over before glancing at me briefly. I had to smile because Marcus saw where Archie's loyalties lay. It was a deep purple tie that was bound brightly around Bella, myself, Carlisle, and Esme. He was loyal to the entire family, but us in particular. In fact, the whole room was a rainbow of loyal bindings. Bella and I were the brightest green I'd ever seen, meaning our connection was strong, whole, happy. But Carlisle's was the most interesting. It was gold and thick and was wrapped around each of us so tightly that it was blinding. His tie to Esme was two colors – the gold and a deep red.
"Wow," I said with a slight laugh, shaking my head.
Marcus chuckled again. "Wow, indeed. Archie, it's a pleasure to meet you. Come. Tell me about yourself."
Taking a deep breath, he nodded solemnly and sat down next to Bella and me on the sofa. He glanced over to Demitri, nodding once in a greeting.
"You clean up well, Archie," Demitri teased him. "And I see you've started a different diet."
"Yes, I have," Archie replied softly, but he turned back to Marcus simply out of respect. "Um, what would you like to know, sir?"
Marcus liked him instantly, but I wasn't sure if it was Archie's respectful nature, or the fact that he'd come so far. He asked him several questions, and Archie answered them all as truthfully as he could. If he couldn't remember due to his thirst, I had to provide the answer for him. At the end, Marcus said the one thing we'd all mentioned at one point or another.
"Hmm, if this Victoria was still around, I'd ask for her head," he huffed, nodding one time. "But...thanks to Edward, I don't have to." His voice sounded rather happy about that, but he sobered quickly. "This life is hard enough as it is. She truly made it more difficult for you than it needed to be." He sighed, his brow furrowing a little. "But..." He held up a finger, pointing around the room. "You couldn't have been discovered by a better, family."
"No, sir. I'm very lucky," Archie gushed.
Marcus eyed him closely. "You're lucky now. That's all that matters. We live long lives, son. We can, in all reality, reinvent ourselves an innumerable amount of times over eons. Our ability to learn, adjust, and continue on throughout time is a gift of this life. You're young in immortal years. Soon...this will all be just a black spot in your memory. You won't even count it as a part of your life, because now... Now, you'll truly learn to live."
Everyone in the room mentally agreed with him. Carlisle, especially, thought those words were wise. In fact, he felt that, until he'd found me and Esme, his life hadn't truly begun. As much as I appreciated that sentiment, it was the small, warm hand in mine that I squeezed.
The younger of us – Kevin, Adrian, and Bella – took his words to heart. They'd only just started this life, and all three were aware of the decades that lay ahead, but to hear that mistakes could be made, lives could get dull, and we'd continue on was something that they needed to know. Our ability to blend in or disappear or completely start anew essentially anywhere was reassuring to them. Whatever bad things happened right now had no bearing a hundred or a thousand years from now.
"Now," Marcus said with a grin, rubbing his hands together like an excited child. "They tell me you have an extraordinary talent. Would you mind showing me? Please?"
Archie smiled a small smile, but in the blink of an eye, he was gone. Demitri laughed, shaking his head. But Marcus's eyes widened when he glanced around the room, sniffed the air, and turned to his traveling companion.
"Can you even find him?" he asked.
"No." Demitri laughed. "Not at all. And I'd be willing to bet that Edward can't hear him and Jasper can't feel him."
Jasper and I shook our heads no, wearing matching smirks.
"Alice, can you see him?" Marcus asked her.
"Hell, no," she snorted. "It makes looking into his future spotty."
Bella giggled. "But he's still right here," she said, poking the air beside her. "He's still solid."
Archie laughed, reappearing by her side.
"Impressive." Marcus mused, smiling over at Archie, but he turned to Carlisle. "He brought everything from his human days into this life. Only it enhanced far more than I'd have ever imagined."
"Yes, we think so, too," Carlisle responded with a nod.
"Thank you, Archie," Marcus said sincerely. "Well done."
Marcus was quiet for a moment but then stood up and started to pace. His mind centered on how he could use someone like Archie, but he'd never ask it of him, especially when the immortal was still battling within himself over so many fears. But glimpses of D.C. popped up in his mind, which caused me to pay closer attention. Several human deaths had been reported, and even more missing persons. Marcus needed help, but he didn't know if he had the right to ask. He felt the Cullens had done so much for him already. Too much, really. With the fight with Felix, rehabilitating Marcus when he was injured, and the fight in New York against Tanya, he felt to ask us for help would be an insult.
"Marcus," I stated, frowning and shaking my head. "Just ask. Whatever it is, we'll at least discuss it," I vowed.
He smiled sadly and nodded to me before turning to Demitri, "He's who we need." His words were cryptic, but his mind was calculating the distances between Italian cities. Marcus was keeping me out.
"I know, but you'll get more than that," Demitri said, wearing a wry smile.
"I wouldn't dare complain." Marcus chuckled, shooting a quick glance to Bella.
Alice gasped and looked between Marcus and Demitri before setting her eyes on Bella and me. "For what? And how long?" she asked, sounding as if she would cry. "Because they'll go!"
"Wait! Who'll go? And where are they going?" Emmett growled.
"Okay, everyone just calm down," Carlisle said soothingly, but he turned to Marcus to wait for an explanation.
It was Demitri that stood up. "We've run into an...issue in Washington. We believe there is more than one immortal causing the trouble. We've caught two, but the killings keep happening. The authorities blame a serial killer, but it can't be. The humans are...mutilated by the time they're found."
I could see my face flash to the front of Demitri's mind. "What do you need, Demitri?" I asked, sitting forward.
"We've caught a third vampire," Marcus answered instead. "She's violently talented, and Brandon is able to subdue that, but she won't answer a single question."
I inhaled deeply and let it out. "And you need me to read her mind," I surmised.
Bella huffed roughly. "And by violently talented, you mean...what?"
Demitri chuckled. "You've met Kate. You know what she can do by touch?" he asked, and everyone in the room nodded. "This girl can do it without touching. Lightning bolts straight from her fucking fingers... Sorry, Esme." He muttered the last two words, giving my mother a brief but contrite glance. "She can electrocute someone to the point that they burst into flames. She doesn't even need to fight."
"But she's protecting someone," Marcus added. "I know she is! She's nasty and brilliant, but she's not setting this up alone. And even though we've got her...contained, there are still bodies being discovered by the human authorities."
"We could really use your help, Ed. I need to know who she's protecting." Demitri sighed, grimacing when Bella growled low. "And I swear to you both...I'd never separate you. I know what that does, and I know it's a risk none of us would never take. We'd never ask that of you, Bella; trust me. In fact, you'd be most helpful, as well."
Bella nodded and turned to me. It's your call, Edward. If you want to help them, that's fine, but we do it together.
I nodded that I'd heard her and squeezed her hand but looked to Carlisle. He wasn't pleased, but his mind was calm, knowing that Bella and I together were a force to be reckoned with, especially in a fight. Our lives were our own to lead as far as he was concerned, but we were his children, so he couldn't help but be worried.
"Edward, son... That is entirely up to you," Carlisle stated softly, much to Esme's horror. "My only request is that you be careful, take care of one another."
"And check in daily!" Esme added with a frown.
My brothers were no help. At all. They'd go just for the fight of it, the thrill of the chase, and Rose was with them. Alice, on the other hand, was calm yet disappointed. If I left, taking Bella with me, then that left the security of the family in her capable hands.
I don't want you to go, but you will. And so far, I see you both returning safely, she thought to me, wrinkling her nose. I also see you doing more than just...listening to someone's mind. You help them hunt...both of you.
I knew the words "so far" meant if everyone stayed true to whatever decisions they were making at the moment. And in a fight or an interrogation, any decision could change.
Clawing at my hair with my free hand, I turned to Bella. "What do you think?"
"It's your call," she reiterated aloud this time.
"Bella... What do you think?" I asked, grinning at my girl.
She smirked. "We've certainly volunteered for worse tasks," she said wryly, aiming a raised eyebrow at Demitri, who simply grinned her way. "Do you want to stop this? If you want to help, we'll help. I'm just not staying here without you."
It really was that simple for her. We came as a package deal. We stayed together, or we left together. It wasn't up for debate. To stop a rogue vampire from preying on humans at the risk of outing us all, she was willing to go, but only hand in hand.
"My only worry is leaving Alice to watch over the family," I said, my brow furrowing. "I don't feel right about that."
Alice smiled, but she'd already accepted our leaving. "Everyone else is staying, big brother," she said, using her old nickname for me to make me feel better. "We'll be careful. I promise."
"What?! No!" Emmett whined. "Come on, Big D... You know you need some muscle!"
"Not at the risk of this family," Marcus countered. "I simply need Edward's – and possibly Bella's – talent to end this killing spree before someone realizes it's not a human doing it."
Jasper hadn't said much, but he looked to me and then Emmett. "We stay, Em. We're needed here. I hate missing out on a fight, but I think Edward would feel better if we were both here." What he didn't say aloud was that with Adrian and Kevin being so new to this life and with Archie still struggling, they would definitely be needed. Alice could only see so much. And my brother conveyed this to me silently. "Right, Ed?"
I nodded in agreement, clawing at my hair again. I hated leaving the family, but despite how Marcus and Demitri thought they'd asked too much of us, they'd always been there when our family needed them. Demitri had tried his best to control Tanya years ago, Marcus had fought beside us against Felix, and they'd both ordered the death of Tanya when she'd gone too far against us. The respect was mutual.
"You're leaving," Archie whispered, turning to Bella and then to me. "For how long?" he asked, but he posed the question to Alice.
"I see there's still snow when they return," she answered. It was the only answer she could honestly give him. Again, it depended on decisions made by too many people to be sure.
"When?" he asked Demitri and Marcus.
"Soon," Marcus stated but flinched when Esme growled.
"Oh, no. You're not leaving on Christmas Eve, dammit!" she huffed.
Demitri and Marcus looked thoroughly chastised, but they didn't want to leave Brandon with their prisoner for long. He could only hold someone without their talent for so long without it becoming trying on him.
"Fine then... Tomorrow?" Marcus asked, trying to placate her, but he wanted to get back. "You have my sincerest apologies for the timing, Esme. It wasn't chosen with malice."
She pursed her lips at him, but everyone turned to Bella and me because I'd yet to say whether or not we were actually going. I looked to my girl one more time.
She wrinkled her nose, thinking, Okay, so maybe it'll be a good thing to go. Maybe Archie needs to separate a bit. It'll be good for him to learn to lean on others in this family. She smirked at me a little. And Mr. Cullen...I've never been to Washington D.C. Will you show me around?
I laughed, loving that to her, everything was something new to experience. If anything gave me the green light to go ahead, it was that last proposition from her. I couldn't help but kiss her temple.
"We'll go," I stated to the room before breaking my gaze from Bella's. When I met Marcus's eyes, I said, "But we'll go in the morning. I won't deny Esme Christmas." That wasn't something I could do. It would hurt her badly.
The room was quiet, but the minds were loud. Archie was not happy whatsoever, but he knew there was nothing he could do about it. My brothers were worried, as was Esme. Carlisle was proud that I'd step in when needed, but our leaving made him anxious. In fact, he was with Esme about wanting to hear from us daily.
"Fine," Kevin huffed, standing up. He and Adrian had been silent throughout the entire discussion because they knew Marcus. They also knew that if it was serious enough for them to ask for help, then they'd accept whatever the outcome was. "No more talk of leaving for a moment. I can't deal with it. Right now... I want presents!"
He was hiding behind his humor, but he hated that we were going.
"Excellent!" Emmett gushed, but his smile didn't quite meet his eyes. "Everyone go get your shit and meet back here ASAP!" He grinned, standing up from the loveseat. "We'll tie on a Yuletide to fuckin' remember!"
"Emmett!" Esme growled.
"What?" he asked with an innocent expression, despite the laughter that enveloped the room.
"One day," she warned him, holding up a single finger. "One day, I'll truly wash your mouth out with soap."
He grinned shamelessly, shaking his head and shrugging. "You'll have to catch me first, Mom!"
Bella snorted, thinking he wasn't giving Esme any credit and that it would backfire on him some day soon. But my girl stood up, holding out her hand.
"Come on, handsome," she sighed, smiling slightly. "You can help me with ours. And I guess we need to pack, right?"
I nodded, kissing her hand. "Yes, ma'am. I guess we do."


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