Sunday, May 12, 2013 | By: Jenny

In Pursuit Chapter 7

Chapter 7
Bella POV
I was alone in a strange bedroom when I woke. Sunlight was streaming through the soft curtain, diffusing the light so it wasn’t blinding me as it fell across the bed. Alice’s pillow was gone, so I wasn’t sure where she was, but I knew she was in the house somewhere.
I was still dressed in the jeans and T-shirt I’d thrown on before we fled the house in Southampton the night before, so when I stepped out of the room, I made a pit stop in the bathroom I found across the hall and then hurried down the hall to find the kitchen.
“Morning, sunshine,” Jasper said quietly. He was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping from a steaming mug. “There’s more coffee if you’d like some.”
Shaking my head, I looked around. “No, thanks. Have you seen Alice?” I’d expected her to be in the kitchen when I got in there.
He nodded, frowning slightly. “She had a nightmare last night and came out to the living room. Said she didn’t want to wake you. I let her crash on the couch.”
“Oh! Um, okay...”
For the first time in a long time – and definitely the first time since that horrible night at Eleazar’s office – my sister had gone to someone else for comfort when plagued with a nightmare. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. I’d noticed things between her and Jasper beginning to become more...real, I supposed, but I hadn’t realized it had gotten to the point that she would rather seek out his company than mine. The thought that she didn’t need me was more than a little frightening, and I had to bite my lip to keep the tears at bay.
Jasper didn’t seem to notice my discomfort, because he went on without commenting. “Edward is out picking up some groceries and other items we needed, including a new phone. He should be back shortly with breakfast. I’m afraid this—” he held up the coffee cup “—is the only thing in the cabinets besides a few cans of baked beans, fruit cocktail, and canned meat.”
“Mm, the breakfast of champs,” I muttered, feigning a shiver.
Laughing, he nodded. “Exactly.”
There was some complicated knock on a door off to the side of kitchen that I assumed was a garage door.
“That’d be Edward,” Jasper said, standing and moving to the door.
When he opened it, I saw that I’d been correct. Edward was standing there, his arms full of bags, and the green minivan we’d driven to the house in last night was parked in the closed garage behind him.
“Morning, Bella. Jazz, get the rest of the groceries, man.” Edward smiled as he walked past me. “I got doughnuts for breakfast,” he called over his shoulder. “Hope that’s okay.”
“Mmm.” My stomach was suddenly growling at the thought of the deep fried, sugary deliciousness. “Chocolate-covered custard filled?”
He laughed. “I got a little of a lot of things. Wasn’t sure what you and Alice would like. Jasper and I will eat what you don’t want, I’m sure.”
“Thanks,” I told him, moving over to help him unload.
As Jasper brought another two handfuls of plastic bags full to the kitchen, I started getting things out and putting them on the counter. Edward had gotten drinks, pasta, cereal, bread, fruit, crackers, cheese, lunchmeat, jarred pasta sauces, canned soups, and half the meat case – I saw ground beef, steaks, a big roast of some sort, and a giant pork loin – as well as things like toilet paper, paper towels, and some other household goods.
“Damn, you bought out the store, didn’t you?” I asked with a giggle.
“Hush up, you,” Edward growled playfully. “Go get the doughnuts from the front seat.”
“Sir. Yes, sir!” Laughing, I made my way to the garage, avoiding the teasing grumble from the man in the kitchen.
When I got back, Alice had just walked into the kitchen. Her short hair was standing on end, and she was rubbing sleep out of her eyes, looking rumpled but adorable in a pair of sleep pants and a tank top.
“Morning,” I said as I passed her.
“Mo—” she yawned before finishing “—rning.”
The next few minutes were spent finishing putting away the groceries, and then we all fell on the doughnuts like we hadn’t eaten in a week. I grabbed my favorite, the custard-filled, as well as a glazed and a jelly-filled, sitting down at the table. Alice slid into the seat on one side of me, holding two of her own, while Jasper took the seat beside her, sliding a glass of milk to her.
“Want one?” Edward suddenly asked from my other side.
I looked up to find him holding a stack of doughnuts in one hand and two glasses of milk in the other. He was holding up the milk to show me what he’d meant.
“Oh! Yeah, thanks.” I took it carefully and flashed him a smile. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” he said, shrugging.
I was quiet throughout breakfast, listening to my sister chatter to Jasper and Edward about wanting to see if this place had cable, wondering if there were any board games, and wishing there was someplace she could set up to dance.
“There’s a basement,” Jasper told her. “It’s got hardwood floors, and we could shove all the furniture aside. Won’t be mirrors like you’re used to, but it’ll be somethin’ anyway.”
“Yeah, that would be perfect!” Alice grinned, nodding.
“What about you, Bella?” Edward asked around a bite of doughnut. “Anything you’re missing?”
My answer slipped out before I thought to censor it. “I miss being outside.”
Alice frowned. “Yeah, me, too.”
“In New York, I walked a lot. I mean, I took the subway, but there was always walking to and from the subway, down to the deli on the corner, to the bookstore a few blocks away.”
Edward looked at Jasper for a moment and then back to me. “I can’t promise anything, but we’ll try, okay?”
I nodded, happy that he was at least considering it. That’s when I noticed that Edward’s bandage was gone from his temple, and that reminded me of the night before.
“How’s your head?” I asked, motioning in the general direction of the side of his head.
He shrugged. “It’s fine. I’ve got a hard head.” He winked at me when Jasper laughed and then turned to him and snapped, “Shut it, or I’ll tell the girls about the time you slipped on the ice outside and had to shave a patch of hair to get stitches.”
Alice and I giggled at Jasper’s glare.
“Wasn’t my fault. Someone forgot to salt the sidewalk behind the building,” he grumbled.
“Don’t look at me,” Edward sang, winking at us. “That was Jessica’s job.”
“Jessica?” Alice raised an eyebrow.
This time, it was Edward’s time to glare as Jasper explained, “The receptionist at the office. She’s got the hots for Eddie.”
Edward rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
I giggled and decided to save him any more of being in the spotlight. “Hey, um... We didn’t give the key back to the neighbor last night, did we?”
“We weren’t worried about that,” Edward said, shrugging. “We were more concerned with getting the two of you to safety.”
Biting my lip, I thought for a minute. “Can we maybe...I dunno....send it or something? I feel bad ’cause we left in the middle of the night, didn’t put things right with the house, and we kind of borrowed it without the owner’s permission.”
“Al will take care of it,” Edward said, but then he looked over at the phone in the middle of the table. “That does remind me, though. I need to call him and check in.”
He dialed a number and then pushed the button to put it on speakerphone, setting it down in front of him.
A man’s voice answered almost immediately. “Edward?”
“Yeah, Uncle Al. It’s me.” He winked at Jasper. “How big was the patch of hair Jasper had to get shaved last year?”
The man, Al, laughed. “Three inches. Been telling tales out of school again, Ed?”
Edward laughed, too. “Always.” He grinned and winked at Alice and me. “Hey, listen, Al. I have the girls on here, too. I wanted to get an update on everything. They’re worried about leaving the house so suddenly and not cleaning it for the owners, and I wanted an update on our visitors.”
“Hello, ladies,” Al said smoothly. “My boys treatin’ you right?”
Alice and I giggled. “Yes, sir,” we echoed.
“Good, good. That’s what I like to hear.” He cleared his throat. “So listen. Here’s the latest. We’ve already sent a team to the house to clean it up and get it ready for the return of the owners. Edward, you can dump the key. We’ll have a locksmith out later today to make a new key to give back to the neighbor.
“We also had a team out this morning to the motel you met Victoria James at. They asked around to some of the...regulars, and the few who admit to seeing something said they saw a man who, in their words, looked like he was up to no good. They claimed he opened the car door and then closed it moments later, only to get into a late-model dark blue or black four-door sedan, unknown make or model, and leave the parking lot with another man driving the vehicle.
“I’ve read Pete the riot act – again – for sending a rookie to do a job this important, and Victoria said to please pass on her apologies.”
Edward cursed. “An apology? She almost got these girls killed, Al. Whether she meant to or not doesn’t matter. If we hadn’t been here, they—”
I stopped Edward with a hand on his arm. “But she didn’t, Edward,” I said quietly. “You and Jasper were there for us. We’re okay, and they won’t make that mistake again, right?”
The fire in his eyes died a little as he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You’re right. They won’t make that mistake again. Right, Al?”
“Yeah, Ed. Pete knows that if you guys have to meet with anyone from the DOJ again, he’s it. He’s to trust no one else.”
Raising an eyebrow, Edward asked, “And you trust Peter?”
“With my life,” Al answered. “Hell, with your life, and the lives of Jasper and those girls you’re responsible for.”
Edward was quiet for a moment, and then he nodded. “Good enough for me.” He looked at Alice and me and asked, “Sound okay to you, ladies?”
Alice and I nodded.
“All right, then. We’re good here. Thanks, Al.”
“You shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place,” he said. “No thanks are necessary.”
We’d been at the Connecticut house for a week, and I had a horrible case of cabin fever. The guys had been trying to find things to keep us occupied, but after today’s game of Pictionary, I was more in need of the outdoors than ever.
It had started off badly and only gone downhill after that.
I call Jasper!” Alice sang, dancing to his side.
I didn’t know who looked more surprised: Jasper or me.
Alice and I had always been a team, all the way from childhood, but even more so since our parents’ death. Ever since we’d been put in protective custody, I’d felt her pulling away from me. This was just one more hint that things – our lives – were changing.
She must have noticed my reaction, because she looked at me and asked, “I mean, if that’s okay...?”
I was tempted to tell her no, that I wanted her to be my partner, but I couldn’t deny the excitement in her eyes, the hope... After everything else I was forcing on her, I couldn’t take this away from her, too.
Pasting a smile on my face, I said in a falsely cheerful voice, “Of course! Edward and I can partner up, right, Edward?”
He eyed me for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, sure. We’ll have fun.”
For some reason, I didn’t believe him any more than I believed I was okay with Alice partnering with Jasper.
I hadn’t been able to get into the game, although I’d tried my hardest to relax and have fun for Alice’s sake. She’d seemed to have more fun during the game than we’d had since the beginning of all this started. She’d laughed and flirted with Jasper, who had flirted right back. I’d heard more southern drawl during that hour than I’d ever heard before. And for Alice’s sake, I was glad she was happy...but I wasn’t.
Edward’s voice pulled me out of my thoughts. “Hey, B. Come with me.”
I set down the book I’d been trying to read and stood. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” he answered mysteriously.
I followed him from the living room through the kitchen to the back door. When he stepped outside, I paused.
“Well, come on.” When I hesitated, he laughed. “Don’t you want to come out?”
Rather than answering, he turned and sat in one of the patio chairs, pulling out a pack of cigarettes.
Taking a tentative step outside, I closed the door behind me and moved to one of the other chairs, looking out over the grass of the backyard.
“You know, that stuff’ll kill you,” I said without looking at him.
I heard the hiss of the lighter and smelled the smoke as he took the first drag of his freshly lit cigarette.
“Yeah, well... Everyone’s gotta die sometime,” he said matter-of-factly.
We were quiet for a few minutes, enjoying the late-afternoon sunlight.
“It’s pretty out here,” I whispered, not wanting to break the silence but unable not to comment.
Edward hummed his agreement.
“The grass is so green. Not a lot of that in the concrete jungle of New York.”
He smirked. “Wait’ll you see the Pacific Northwest.” He motioned around the yard. “You can go explore if you want. Don’t leave the yard, but at least it’s something.”
I nodded. “Thanks, really.”
We were quiet again, and I slowly felt the tension easing slightly. Then I heard Alice laughing from inside and it was back, tightening my shoulders.
“What’s wrong?” Edward asked quietly, looking over at me. “You suddenly seem...upset.”
Eyeing the house over Edward’s shoulder, I stayed quiet, not wanting to admit to how guilty I felt all the damn time and how sad and jealous I was over my sister’s seemingly burgeoning relationship with Jasper.
Finally, I quietly asked, “ we have to stay together once the trial is over?”
Edward stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray on the table before looking over at me. “Why are you asking? You both specifically requested you stay together, right?”
I couldn’t help but look back at the house again.
He lit another cigarette and blew out a ring of smoke. “Is this about you or Alice?” My flinch must have given me away. “You can talk to me, Bella.”
Scrubbing a hand over my face, I said, “I just... I’ve been feeling so guilty, and I feel like I’m taking her away from the chance at a normal life. And now...” I blew out a breath, ruffling the hair around my face. “She... I feel her pulling away from me. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t the one she turned to when she had a nightmare, and then she chose Jasper over me earlier for the game.” I laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “God, I sound like a baby. It’s just one more change among all the others right now, and I’m not handling it well. It’s always been the two of us, since childhood, but especially since our parents died, and now... I feel like I’m holding her back.”
I flinched when Edward stubbed out his cigarette and stood, surprising me when he knelt in front of me so we were eye to eye.
“Bella, even if you had stayed in New York, you’d have eventually separated. Whether it was a job, a guy... Whatever. People grow and move on. Even sisters as close as the two of you. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be in each other’s lives. Hell, sometimes it means you’d be closer than ever before because when you did see each other, it would be a bigger deal than just coming home every night.
“As for the guilt...” Edward scoffed. “What the hell do you have to feel guilty about? You certainly didn’t pull the fucking trigger on your boss.”
My sister’s words came screaming back into my head, and I finally said aloud everything that had been running through my head for weeks. “It was my fault. I was the one that left my cell phone at work. It was my boss that was involved with the mob. We were late getting there because we were at the club and...there was a guy.” I huffed, frustrated. “I was blowing off steam like I usually did on a Friday night, so by the time we got to the office... If we’d left thirty minutes earlier, we might’ve missed it all and we wouldn’t be in this whole mess.”
“And maybe you’d have been there in time to see the asshole arrive and he’d have shot both of you because you were witnesses,” Edward argued. “Bella, none of that shit makes a fucking difference. You were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing more.”
“But if I hadn’t forgotten—”
“Bullshit,” he growled, leaning forward with his hands on the arms of my chair. “So you forgot your cell phone. Everyone forgets shit sometimes. My sister will be lucky if my brother-in-law doesn’t forget their kid in the mall or whatever someday.” He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Listen, none of this shit is your fault, that’s all I’m saying. If you want to blame someone, blame that motherfucker Volturi. He’s the one involved in the shit in the first place, and he’s the one that pulled the fucking trigger. Not you. You aren’t guilty because you forgot your damn cell phone or because you were getting your rocks off with a guy at the bar.”
I looked away from him, hearing the words but still having trouble letting go of the guilt.
“And Bella...” He reached out and cupped my cheek, turning my face back to his. “It takes some serious balls to do what you’re doing. Testifying, I mean. Not everyone would have the courage to do that. It’s... You are brave and strong and amazing.”
He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, they were dark, heated. When I flicked my tongue out to moisten my suddenly dry lips, his eyes followed the movement, and we both leaned in, drawn like magnets to one another.
“Hey, Bella? Where are you?” Alice called from somewhere in the house. “Want to watch a movie?”
And just like that, whatever had been there was gone.
Edward stood and backed away, running a hand through his hair. “Remember what I said. If you come out here, stay in the yard, and don’t come out without telling us first so we know.” He raised an eyebrow, waiting until I’d nodded. “I’m gonna go call Al for an update and then crash for a while.”
Then he was gone.
Edward POV
I steadied my breathing as I ran up the sidewalk. There was a huge difference between this neighborhood and the last one. It still had busy people – even on a Saturday – but the money, the cars, the much more in-your-face. The inhabitants were different, too. Where Long Island was mostly people that had lived there for generations and were nosy as all hell, Connecticut seemed younger and more worried about “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Rolling my eyes as two teen girls watched me like a hawk, I turned the corner to make my way back to the safe house. I wiped the sweat off my face with my T-shirt before stepping into the living room. Jasper was stretched out on the sofa, his eyes plastered to the History Channel.
“How was your run, dear?” Jasper snorted, glancing my way. “Did the cougar two streets over molest you yet?”
I grinned. “Nah, she had the pool boy today. His truck was parked in the driveway.”
“Poor fucker,” he said with a chuckle because we’d both been eye-fucked by the same woman on our runs. She was shameless and wore way too much makeup, practically offering us everything from lemonade to cocaine to get our attention.
“Lonely woman,” I countered with a shrug. “She’s not the first I’ve seen...”
“True,” he groaned, sitting forward. “Coffee’s made. And I made Breakfast-in-a-Bowl this morning. Just microwave yours.”
“Cool. Thanks.” I nodded, suddenly fucking ravenous. Jasper’s Breakfast-in-a-Bowl was fantastic – skillet fries topped with scrambled eggs and sausage, and he made a kick-ass gravy for the top of it. It would kill a man with a heart condition, but fuck, if it didn’t taste good.
“Oh, and Bella’s outside in the backyard. She went out there about thirty minutes ago,” he told me, holding up a hand when I opened my mouth. “I just checked on her when I got another cup of coffee. She’s fine, Ed.”
“Well, keep an eye on her until I can get showered and changed,” I stated before heading upstairs, taking two steps at a time. Forgoing my push-ups, I headed straight for the bathroom.
It had been a couple of days since I’d told Bella she could go outside, even if it was only the fenced-in backyard. She’d looked so damned lost since we’d been in the Fairfield house. I’d catch her alone more times than not, and that bugged the shit out of me. What pissed me off even more was her question about her sister.
I wasn’t fucking stupid. I could see what was happening between Jasper and Alice. What hurt was to watch Bella trying to come to terms with it, trying to find the courage to face the unknown future alone because she felt her sister pulling away. But it would’ve happened eventually. Twins or not, the girls would’ve eventually had to separate, whether they’d been Marie and Mary or Bella and Alice. With all that was going on, and all the guilt that Bella was feeling, I could see she felt completely and utterly alone.
Bella blamed herself for forgetting her phone, for pulling her sister away from their lives, and for running late the night that Denali had been killed. But she had shit all twisted up in her head. Had she been any earlier, it could’ve been disastrous. She and Alice could’ve been killed that same fucking night.
I snorted, shaking my head as I let the water run down my head. Running late...because she’d blown off some steam on a Friday night. I smirked, thinking Bella and I had more in common than I’d originally guessed. I couldn’t blame the girl for going out and getting hers. More power to her. I’d certainly done my share of that, so I damn well couldn’t judge her. Though the thought of someone touching her made me rabidly protective because she was my responsibility.
My forehead thumped to the tiles of the shower. That was bullshit, and I knew it. My attraction to her was only growing by leaps and bounds. She was beautiful and smart, but broken and scared out of her fucking mind, and it was all I could do not to kiss her a few days ago. I rationalized it as wanting to take the sadness from those deep brown eyes, but I was lying to myself. I’d been so fucking close to just kissing the living shit out of her, and had it not been for Alice’s interruption, I wasn’t so sure I’d have stopped at just a kiss. The desire to make everything okay for her was starting to rule my head, and I couldn’t have that. I had to stay focused on the job.
The messed-up part was that I’d avoided her ever since. I’d needed space in order to maintain professionalism. Fuck, that was a lie, too. I was scared as hell. I needed to protect her, but I wanted to know just exactly how she felt, how she tasted, just how limber she really was.
Narrowing my eyes at my traitorous dick as it hardened at the mere thought of Bella, I groaned, reaching down to shut off the hot water in order to dowse myself in cold. I fought my want and was finally able to step out of the shower and get dressed. I didn’t have time for that shit today, and my hand was never as good as the real thing, never mind how hard I was. I’d deal with it later.
The house was quiet, though I could hear the faint music from the basement where Alice liked to practice. I stepped into the kitchen, pouring myself a cup of coffee and tossing my breakfast into the microwave. Gazing out through the back window, my eyes landed on Bella, who had moved one of the lawn chairs directly into the sunshine. She had a bottle of water in the grass next to her and her Kindle in her hand. And fuck, if she wasn’t alone...again.
The microwave beeped and I pulled the bowl out, wolfing it down in several large bites and washing it all down with coffee. I tried my damnedest not to notice that the sunshine caused the prettiest shades of red to stand out in that mass of chestnut hair. I tried not to notice that her legs looked just as long and strong as they bent up at an angle, the daylight highlighting her muscles every time she shifted. When she rolled onto her stomach, I groaned at my own personal hell. Her back sloped into a graceful curve just before that perfect ass, and her hair flipped to one side, exposing the skin of her neck. I licked my lips, wanting to taste her everywhere, especially that bottom lip she was currently gnawing on.
Movement from the other side of the yard caught my attention. A soccer ball bounced once, twice, and then rolled to a stop right by her lawn chair. She smiled at it, setting her Kindle down. I shook my head at just how stunning that simple smile really was, my eyes locking onto the fence. By the time I stepped outside with my cigarettes in hand, two heads had popped up at the top of the fence from the yard next door.
One was just a kid – maybe seven or eight – while the other was obviously his father.
Before I could stop her, Bella was already walking to them, saying, “Lose something?”
“Yeah, thanks,” the little guy gushed with a toothless smile as she tossed the ball back over.
“You’re welcome.”
The kid was gone, chasing after the ball that Bella had tossed over the fence, but the dad remained. Not that I could blame him, but his eyes raked over her from head to toe. He smiled crookedly, giving her a wave.
“Thank you,” he told her, his eyes aimed more toward her tits in that tank top than her face.
“No problem,” she sang back, turning toward her chair, and the guy eyeballed her ass before he caught sight of me stepping down off the back deck and onto the grass.
Rationally, I knew the two homes on either side of the safe house had been completely checked out. They were monitored at all times so the house could, indeed, stay safe. But Bella’s lack of caution pissed me the hell off.
I walked over to where she’d taken her seat again, standing over her.
“Hey, Edward. You’re in my sun,” she said, her smile falling at the sight of my face.
My nostrils flared as I shot a glance back at the fence, where I could hear the dad coaching the kid. Turning back to her, there was nothing stopping my temper.
“Are you trying to get yourself fucking killed, Bella?” I seethed through gritted teeth, my hands balling up into fists at my side. “That was stupid as hell. He could’ve been anyone.”
“It was just a kid, Edward,” she stated, standing up to face me. “I didn’t leave the yard, and I didn’t think—”
“That’s right,” I snapped, interrupting her and making her flinch back. “You didn’t fucking think!” I shook my head. “You don’t think Volturi’s men don’t have kids? You think they won’t use anything to get to you to shut you up?”
She shook her head, and I felt like an ass when tears welled up in those dark eyes.
“That was a dangerous bet you just made,” I continued, my tone lowering. I bent down to make sure she was looking at me. “There are plenty of people putting their lives on the line to make sure you and Alice live to make it to the stand. It’s hard enough without you taking risks to talk to perfect strangers.” She nodded, glancing down at her bare feet, but I wasn’t done. “Keeping you alive is one thing, but beating off the horny locals is another. I can’t do both. Got me?”
Her eyes snapped back up to mine, and there was fire and venom and what looked like hatred. “Horny locals? As if that’s even remotely on my mind right now? Fuck you, Edward! And leave me alone. Every move I make, you’re there, smothering me. I can’t even breathe without you in my face!”
She snatched up her water and her Kindle, leaving me standing in the yard alone. The sound of the back door slamming made me flinch.
I gripped my hair, letting out a deep breath. “Well, fuck!”
I couldn’t fucking sleep. The house was silent as I wandered slowly and quietly down the hallway. Though, it wasn’t as silent as Bella had been the last week and a half. That shit was not only quiet, but uncomfortable and hateful. She’d leave whatever room I entered, only talk to Jasper and Alice, and sink herself into whatever book she was reading or TV show she was watching, ignoring the fact that I existed.
It was my fault, but I couldn’t risk her making the kind of mistakes that she had with the neighbor. However, in the loss of my temper, I’d done the one thing I’d been trying to avoid all along – I’d left her alone. And it wasn’t like she had much interaction with her sister. Alice had pretty much turned completely to Jasper for everything – comfort, entertainment, safety.
As usual, I carefully opened the door to the girls’ room, making sure all was okay. Bella slept tangled up in the sheets, her brow furrowed even in her sleep. My eyes narrowed on the other side of the bed. It was empty.
I closed the door, turning to make my way down to the living room, but smirked when Jasper’s bedroom door cracked open and the tiny, raven-haired thing tiptoed out into the hall. Leaning against the wall, I folded my arms across my chest, waiting for Alice to turn around.
She gasped in surprise when she realized she was completely busted.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” I taunted, though I was a little pissed off.
Alice shuffled from one foot to the other as I glared at her, not moving from where I stood.
“Edward, I...” she whispered, but I held a hand up.
“Don’t bother. I get it,” I whispered back. “But let me ask you something.” She met my gaze, and I raised an eyebrow at her. “Do you blame your sister for this shit?” I asked, twirling a finger in midair.
“No, of course not,” she gasped, shaking her head.
“Do you know she blames herself?” Alice’s mouth gaped like a dying fish, but I didn’t wait for an answer. “She feels responsible for it all, Alice. She thinks every step that night rests on her shoulders. The murder, the cell phone, the guy at the bar...”
“She told you about Jake?”
“Is that his name?” I snorted, shrugging a shoulder. “Look, I don’t give a shit about him, but I do get the feeling she’s taken care of you your whole life. Maybe it’s time to return that favor... Hmm?” I waited until she nodded. “She hates me, so I’m no help, but you two are family...”
Alice snorted, rolling her eyes. “She doesn’t hate you.”
“Whatever. Just...go to bed. I need to talk to my partner,” I stated, pointing toward the door. “He’s obviously...up,” I said sarcastically, groaning at her smirk.
Once Alice disappeared back into the other bedroom, I slammed open the door of Jasper’s room. He jumped, pulling the sheets up around him.
“You want to get shot, asshole?” he growled, glaring at me.
I found the closest set of clothing I could, throwing it hard at his face. “You...” I pointed to him. “You have sixty seconds to get your ass dressed and in the living room, or I’m coming back up here and dragging your fucking naked ass down the stairs by your leg. Maybe your skull hitting each step on the way down will knock some motherfucking sense into it.”
I didn’t wait for him, but descended into the living room. I sat down hard on the sofa, fisting my hair. Glancing up when I heard his feet on the stairs, I narrowed my eyes at him. He’d pulled on a pair of jeans, and his hair was standing up in several directions, though his laid-back smirk made me want to punch the shit out of him.
“This is dangerous fucking game you’re playing, Jazz,” I seethed, glaring at him as he took the chair across from me.
“It’s not a game, Ed.”
“Oh, it’s not? Tell me. What the hell is it, then?” I asked him, raising an eyebrow when he didn’t answer right away. “To me, it looked like you just got laid. The witness you’re supposed to be protecting just snuck out of your room.”
He sneered at me. “This is more than that,” he snapped. “She’s more than just a quick fuck, Edward. I know what I’m doing. I’m all grown up, you know.”
“I can’t tell,” I murmured, running a hand through my hair and along the back of my neck. “This...can’t happen. I should call Al, have you replaced.”
“What?!” he yelled, standing up, and suddenly, we were nose to nose.
“Keep your goddamn voice down, Jasper,” I ordered. “I should have you replaced. I can’t trust you to make the right decisions anymore.”
“Well, that’s rich, Cullen,” he said with a derisive chuckle. “Tell me... When was the last time you thought clearly when Bella was in the room?”
“This isn’t about me,” I deflected, hating the fact that he was right. “You...” I poked his chest. “You have clearly stepped over the line.”
“Edward, stop. You can trust me on this,” he suddenly said, his tone changing from angry to almost pleading. “You can’t replace me. I can handle this. I swear.”
My nostrils flared and my temples pounded, but I stopped and truly took in his expression. I didn’t look at him like my partner but like the friend I’d had for four years. I shook my head and sighed in defeat. He was falling for Alice, and there was nothing stopping it. And if I had him replaced, he’d do his damnedest to kick my ass. He looked determined as hell, and I knew him well enough to know that he was a stubborn bastard, stubborn enough to play both sides of the fence – to...have his cake and protect it, too.
We stared each other down, and I could see fear clearly written all over him as he stood up to me. He knew with one phone call, I could have him out of this house and another marshal in his place within hours. Finally, I stepped back, gripping my hair.
“You keep your head on straight and in this for real, Jazz. I’m not kidding,” I stated firmly. “And don’t you two dare rub this in Bella’s face. I fucking mean that. She’s got enough going on.”
Jasper grimaced at the mention of Bella. For all his attraction to Alice, he truly liked her sister. “Does she know?”
“Dude, I’m pretty sure the neighbors know,” I groaned, rolling my eyes as I fell back down onto the couch. Suddenly, I was exhausted. “And if you don’t wear a T-shirt for your run tomorrow, the cougar will know, too.” I gestured to his torso, where there were fingernail scratches in bright red.
He grinned once he’d taken a look at himself. That shit was filled with pride.
“Oh my God, get out of my face,” I snorted, waving him away.
Before his foot hit the bottom step, he turned to me. “Edward...I can do this. But I can’t walk away from her. You, of all people, should understand that,” he explained cryptically.
I waved him on, not bothering to confirm nor deny anything. As I settled back to watch TV, I knew he was right. I could no more walk away from this detail than I could sever my own hand. Something about Bella kept me there, kept me on guard, and kept pulling me in...whether she hated me or not.
The next couple of days went just like that – my sleep was for shit on that couch, Alice and Jasper snuck around, and Bella continued to ignore me.
I snapped awake at an unusual sound in the room with me, and I opened my eyes to see the TV still on but Bella sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table with my laptop open. The bluish glow from both the computer and the television highlighted her face in an eerie glow, but what struck me were the shiny tracks of tears that I saw streaming down her face.
“I’m sorry if I woke you,” she whispered, swiping at her face when I sat up.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her, encouraged that she hadn’t run from the room yet.
I glanced over her shoulder, seeing that she was looking through her collection of pictures again. The photo was of an elderly woman smiling as two little dark-haired girls stood with her in an older kitchen. All of them were covered in what looked like flour, with mixers, bowls, and stacks of cookies surrounding them. I tucked Bella’s hair behind her ear so that I could see her face.
“My dad took that,” she said softly. “It was Christmas...a long time ago.” She snorted once, shaking her head. “Christmas in Florida...we wore shorts!”
I grinned but stayed quiet, keeping my eyes on her, not the picture.
“I miss them. I miss the simple times,” she whispered.
Fuck, it was all I could do not to pull her into my lap. Instead, I slid my hand beneath her silky hair, massaging her neck gently.
“This shit won’t last forever, Bella,” I vowed to her. “It won’t always be this hard.”
She turned to look at me, her face filled with hurt and anger. “That’s easy for you to say, Edward. When this is all over, you get to go back to all you knew before. You still have your family.”
“So do you,” I countered, shrugging a shoulder. “You just know them now under a new name, a fresh start. I kind of envy you that.” When she looked at me like I was crazy, I smirked, rubbing her neck again. “There’s something to be said for starting over, Bella, for being able to erase the past.”
“I can’t erase the truth in my head.”
“Exactly,” I agreed, pointing to the picture on the computer. “I bet you can remember this without the photographic proof...all the way down to what the house smelled like. Keep the good shit and let the bad shit fade away. I didn’t know Marie Brandon all that well, but Bella Swan is pretty damn cool.”
She sniffle-giggled but nodded, giving the computer one last glance before closing it. She took a deep breath and let it out.
“Trust me, I’m not cool. I’m a numbers nerd. But I’m sorry I woke you,” she said again, glancing toward the stairs.
I snorted into a chuckle at the description of herself – there was not a single inch of her that was nerdy.
“Umm, they’re not so subtle...” she muttered, glancing up at me with a wry smirk.
“No. No, they’re not,” I agreed with a wrinkle to my nose. “And you can wake me anytime. I’m sorry about the other day—”
“Don’t be,” she interrupted, starting to stand, and my hand felt the loss of her instantly. “I’m just...going crazy. That’s all.”
“No, you’re not,” I argued softly. “None of this is your fault, and you’re not as alone as you think you are. Got me?” When she nodded and started to step away again, I grabbed her hand, biting back the shock of the zing that happened every time we touched. “I have to keep you safe. You understand that, right?”
“Yeah, it was dumb. I know, Edward,” she said, almost whining, which I found to be utterly adorable, but before she could call me out on my asinine “horny locals” comment again, I interrupted her.
“Not dumb. I’d never accuse you of that. Just...bored stiff,” I said with a snicker.
She grinned, and it was so beautiful, it took my breath away. “I guess.” She reached up, lifting the hair at my temple and eyeing where I was pretty much healed from that goon on Long Island. “There may be a little scar, but you healed well,” she said softly, tracing the mark left there.
Realizing that taking care of others was what Bella did to make herself feel...normal, I nodded, whispering, “Hard head.”
She giggled, shooting me a very sexy smile before walking away. “Believe me, Edward, I know.”
I feigned shock, but I couldn’t fight the grin that curled my mouth when she chuckled going up the stairs. I also couldn’t keep my eyes from her form for as long as it was in sight. Looking down at my hand that still tingled from touching her, I sighed at the sight of the ink on my arm. If anything could remind me that Bella had to stay safe, had to put Volturi away, it was the sight of the angel on my arm. I couldn’t allow another mafioso to create another headstone. I’d die before that ever fucking happened.


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