Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | By: Jenny

In Pursuit Chapter 8

Chapter 8
Bella POV
“Okay, so first things first,” Edward said, “we need to chop the onion and green pepper.”
I must have looked skeptical because he laughed and handed me the smaller of the two knives in front of him.
“Here. You take the green pepper. It’ll be easier to do than the onion.”
He showed me how to cut off the top and bottom, then said, “Now cut it into strips—” holding his fingers about a quarter inch apart “—and then cut those into small pieces. Any questions?”
“Nope. I can do this.” I began cutting it into strips like he’d shown me, careful not to cut myself. “So this is your mom’s recipe?”
He smiled and nodded. “Yeah. She tweaked it some, but it’s the one she learned from her mom, and it’s the first thing besides breakfast she taught me to cook.” Laughing, he sniffled back tears that were forming from cutting the onion. “It’s one of the only things I can do well in the kitchen.”
I snorted. “Like I said before, it’s more than I can do.”
We worked in companionable silence for several minutes as we listened to Jasper and Alice in the living room. She was trying to teach him some of the beginner yoga poses.
“Alice, there is no way on God’s green earth I’m gonna be able to bend my body in that position, darlin’...”
“Just a little more, Jazzy. You can do it.”
Raising an eyebrow, I looked at Edward. “Jazzy?” I mouthed.
He chuckled. “Just wait’ll I call him that...”
Barking out a laugh, I looked down again to finish the last of the green pepper.
“What’s next, Chef?” I finally asked once the last piece was chopped, looking over to see that Edward had chopped up a mound of garlic, as well.
“Time for the meat,” he said, pulling a plastic-wrapped package of ground beef out of the fridge.
As he cooked that up, breaking it up into little crumbles as it browned, I thought about what else I wanted to learn to cook.
“Do you know how to make French toast?” I asked suddenly.
“Mmhmm,” he answered. “Peanut butter and banana stuffed.”
Laughing, I shook my head. “Oooh, fancy!”
He grinned. “Certainly the most...upscale recipe I know. I made my mom teach me when I was like eleven because peanut butter and bananas were my favorite things at the time.”
“On an Elvis kick, were you?”
I giggled uncontrollably when he curled his lip and did an Elvis-like swivel with his hips.
“Oh yeah, baby. It was all Elvis, all the time for pre-teen Edward.” Rolling his eyes, he chuckled. “Nah, it was more like a favorite character on some cartoon I was watching liked the combination and I had to have it.”
We continued trading stories back and forth as he showed me how to finish the sauce, sautéing up the veggies we’d chopped, adding white wine, tomatoes in various forms, and a whole bunch of seasonings he had me measure out.
And then he pulled out what he called his mom’s “secret ingredient.”
“A jar of pre-made spaghetti sauce?” My eyes widened and I gasped dramatically. “Whatever would Mario Batali say?”
Edward chuckled and poured in half the jar. “My mom claims it adds just another layer, another dimension to the sauce...and I’ve learned never to argue with my mama.”
“Whatever Mama Cullen says goes,” I agreed, taking a big whiff of the sauce that was now bubbling in the pot.
He directed me to pour in the browned meat, and then he added in some bay leaves and said, “And voila! It has to simmer now for an hour, and then we’ll cook the pasta and be ready to eat.”
“It smells absolutely delicious,” I told him truthfully. “Thanks for teaching me.” Grinning, I couldn’t help but add, “You are gonna write it all down for me, right?”
Nodding, he chuckled. “Now come on... Let’s go watch Alice try to get Jasper into the downward facing dog position.”
“Hey, Bella,” Alice called from the kitchen table. “Grab me another soda before you come in, wouldja?”
“Okay,” I answered before sticking my head back in the fridge. When I popped back out, I was surprised to find Edward standing there, holding his hand out. I squeaked and held my hand to my chest. “You scared me!”
He chuckled. “Sorry. I came in to get the ranch dressing for Jasper and another Coke for myself.” Grimacing, he continued, “Why he wants to add that stuff to my mama’s spaghetti, I’ll never understand.”
Giggling, I handed him the two Cokes and reached back into the fridge for one more and the salad dressing. “I don’t know. It’s perfect without it.”
“Damn straight,” he agreed with a nod and a wink.
I was so glad things were more relaxed than they had been. For several weeks, ever since our almost-kiss – which still made my insides flutter when I thought about it – things had been tense. We’d avoided each other as much as possible, especially after he’d yelled at me about talking to the little boy and his father in the house across the backyard from us.
About a week ago, things had evened out again. Alice was making more of an effort to spend time with me – we’d begun to do yoga again, which we hadn’t done since Southampton, and we had started talking about what we wanted to do after the trial. Alice had been thrilled when the guys had told her she could continue being a dance teacher if she wanted. It wasn’t a high-profile field that required specialized training that she could be tracked through.
As for me, I was leaning toward a freelance bookkeeping or accounting – I hadn’t been kidding when I’d told Edward I was a numbers nerd. They had just always made sense to me, and I’d done my grandmother’s taxes once my parents died and we’d moved in with her. I didn’t want to go back to work at an accounting firm – that was too close for comfort – but that same type of work would be good. Freelance would be ideal, but if I couldn’t get freelance work, Edward had said he believed finding work as a bookkeeper for a small, privately owned company would be okay with the DOJ.
Sliding into my chair at the table, I passed Jasper the ranch dressing as Edward passed Alice’s drink across the table to her.
“Okay, so what movie is it tonight?” Jasper drawled as he drizzled the creamy white dressing around in a spiral over his plate of spaghetti with meat sauce.
Breakfast Club,” Alice and I both gushed immediately, giggling. We’d seen it in the DVD cabinet earlier in the afternoon and decided it had been too long since we’d watched it.
Edward huffed. “Come on, ladies... Let’s at least watch Fight Club. That’s in there, too...and it’s got Brad Pitt.”
“Mmm, yeah...but no,” Alice told him, shaking her head.
Conversation continued around the table, as Edward and Jasper compared the latest notes on the cougar neighbor and Alice and I talked about needing to get a haircut and how that would work.
Once we were all finished eating, Jasper volunteered to do dishes, although Edward had cleaned a lot as he went so there wasn’t much left to do, while Edward cued up the movie and Alice and I changed into PJs.
“Should I wear these?” Alice asked with a giggle once we were looking through our clothes.
I glanced over and saw that she was holding up a pair of silky tap pants and a camisole. We’d been going crazy over a lack of clothes, so Angela had gone shopping for all of us, including the guys, and had secreted away to mail them to us a few days ago. Most were practical – more jeans and T-shirts, shorts, cotton panties and bras, and a few pairs of yoga pants – but she’d also included some tighter shirts, a few short skirts, and some racier undergarments, including the ones Alice was currently holding up.
“Lord no,” I finally answered with a laugh. “Save that for Jasper,” I told her with a raised eyebrow.
She had the grace to blush and nod before tossing them back in the drawer and then grabbing something similar to what I had in my hand: loose-fitting yoga pants and a tank.
I changed quickly, eager to get back to the movie...and Edward, if I were being honest with myself. Just as I finished pulling the tank over my head, I heard the sound of glass shattering and then the thud of feet pounding up the stairs and down the hall.
Then all hell broke loose, and gunfire opening up downstairs rang through the entire house.
Jasper appeared in the doorway, eyes wide, and said, “Down the stairs and to the garage, now! In the van, floor of the back seat. Don’t come out unless one of us tells you. Go now!
Edward POV
“At least it’s Breakfast Club and not like...Pretty in Pink or some shit. You gotta love John Bender,” Jasper stated with a shrug as he pulled the movie out of its case.
Grinning, I shook my head, listening to the girls giggle upstairs. “Technically, John Bender was a delinquent ass that sold weed, contributed to underage drinking, and was a manwhore.”
“So he was like you in high school,” Jasper surmised with an almost sing-song tone.
I threw a pillow at his face. “Fuck you,” was all I said. “I never sold weed.”
That only made Jasper laugh harder.
He slid the DVD into the player, and I grabbed the remote to change the channel. I could hear the girls still thumping around upstairs, when the sound of shattering glass met my ears. Jasper and I locked gazes for a split second before a stench met our noses that we’d recognize anywhere.
Smoke bomb.
“Fuck,” I growled, pointing to the stairs. “Get up to them, send them straight to the garage, but check the windows for how many we got!”
Jasper ran up the stairs taking three steps at a time, and I took a deep breath before running into the kitchen at a crouch. The canister had come through the deck window, filling the dining area with a yellowish smoke. I kicked it hard, sending it down the small hallway out of the way, but suddenly, bullets shattered every window along the back. Diving behind the counter, I flinched as everything in that kitchen was shredded – refrigerator, microwave, stove...even the coffee pot exploded into leftover coffee and shards of glass everywhere.
I needed the goddamn phone, laptop, and my gun, which was on the side table right along the wall. Crawling a little, I reached out, grabbing all of it and spinning to head back to the living room. Once clear of the kitchen windows, I stood up, hearing Jasper yelling for the girls to get down the stairs and into the garage.
“Jasper!” I yelled, holding my hand out for the scared girls, but they seemed to be holding up so far. “Let’s go!”
Shots rang out from upstairs, followed by Jasper’s rumbling down the steps. I stopped them all behind the safety of the stairwell wall, handing Alice the laptop, which she tucked under her arm with their WitSec file. Raking my eyes over the two of them, I saw that Bella had her gun in hand, as well. Smart girls. However, the main problem was that neither had socks nor shoes on, and both were wearing only pajamas.
“Guys, I need you in the van, between the two back seats, on the floor. Got me?” I ordered, and they nodded fervently.
The wall beside my shoulder exploded, and I ducked back just long enough to ready my weapon, spin around the edge, and shoot. The grunt and thump to the floor let me know I’d succeeded in taking at least one asshole out. It was hard to tell with all the smoke that still clung to the air in the kitchen area.
“Ready?” I asked, locking gazes with Jasper for a second. “We’ve got to get to the garage.”
Bella’s eyes widened, but her sight wasn’t on me; it was behind me as the front door burst open. “Edward, get down!” she yelled and brought up that nine millimeter at the same time Jasper raised his own gun.
I fell to my knees as several shots riddled the poor son of a bitch at the door. He never truly even had time to aim his gun, and he was dead before he fell back out the door.
“Fuck, that’s it! Jasper...garage. Now!” I growled, standing up and wrapping an arm around both girls.
Dodging furniture and broken glass as best I could because the girls were barefoot, I slammed open the garage door.
“Go, go, go!” I ordered, and Jasper moved to the driver’s seat.
Bella tugged open the side door of the van, crawling inside with Alice right behind her. I dove into the passenger seat as Jasper started up the van, glancing up when someone stepped into the garage door from the house. He was a tall bastard, obviously of Italian descent, with long, wavy hair straight out of some romance novel cover. I had no choice but to break the window beside me, aim, and shoot, causing him to dive back inside the house.
“Hold on!” Jasper yelled. “No time for garage door openers.”
He reached up, pulled the gear shifter hard into reverse, and floored it. The tires squealed and the scent of burning rubber met my nose, but it was the sound and feel of the garage door’s destruction that made the girls scream in surprise.
“Girls, stay down,” I ordered, holding onto the dashboard as Jasper revved out of the driveway, shifted into drive, and tore down the street. The guy from the garage ran after us, and from the side-view mirror, I saw him get into a dark sedan.
“We got company,” I muttered, crawling over the console and the two sets of back seats to the small open space at the back of the van. I was just about to break the back window, but the job was done for me. “Stupid motherfuckers,” I snapped, ducking down until the shots let up. “Alice! Bella! I know you’re scared, but I need your help.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the phone, tossing it down to the floor between them. “Just hit send.”
Ducking down when our pursuers opened fire on my ass again, I held onto the sides, bracing myself as Jasper took a sharp turn.
“Al... No, not Edward. It’s Alice,” I heard behind me. “We’ve been found... Yes, again!” She paused for a moment but then said, “No, the boys are fine, just...busy.”
Bending down low enough, I could see Alice on the phone and Bella crouched down, but her nine millimeter was in her hand.
“Bella, honey, I need that gun,” I told her, and her head spun my way. She immediately slid it back to me. “How many rounds you got left?”
“Umm, eight or nine?” she guessed. “It was full before the guy at the door, and I shot three times, I think.”
“You did awesome, Bella,” I told her. “You stay down. We won’t let them touch you. Okay?”
She swallowed nervously, but nodded quickly.
I popped up into the back window, pulling the triggers on both guns, and noticed we had more company. “Two on our six, Jazz!”
“Al said to head to the Army National Guard!” Alice yelled. “They’ll be waiting for you.”
“Got it,” Jasper grunted, weaving through a residential neighborhood and dodging around cars parked along the street. They whizzed by in blurs of black and gray. “Ed, I’m turning; aim for tires, man! Tell me when.”
“Yeah,” I acknowledged, aiming out the back and bracing my foot on the side of the van. “, now!”
The van jerked to the right, but it gave me a perfect shot for the second car behind us. Aiming, I pulled the trigger once, twice, and the third time caught the front wheel, sending the dark sedan into a tailspin. I couldn’t help but grin when it not only spun wildly out of control, but suddenly flipped, rolled, and exploded into a bright orange glow right in the middle of an intersection.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Jasper cheered with a chuckle. “Everyone, hold on...”
I glanced behind us as Jasper made another sharp turn and then another.
“Shit!” I hissed, looking up at him. “They’re still comin’.”
“Dammit, Edward!” Jasper groaned, sounding frustrated as all hell.
“You think you’d do better? They’re still fucking comin’. I don’t know what to tell you,” I snapped.
Bullets pummeled the back of the van. One even flew through the shattered window, ripping the two back seats.
“And I need your fucking gun! Mine’s empty,” I yelled up to him.
Jasper awkwardly tossed it toward the girls, and one of them slid it back to me.
“Girls, you okay?” I asked, popping up to send off three shots out the back.
“Yes!” they both replied.
“Edward, Al wants to know where you are,” Alice piped up.
“I don’t fucking know! Jazz?”
“We’re about fifteen miles from the base. But we gotta lose this asshole on our tail first,” Jasper answered, and Alice relayed it back to my uncle.
I glanced up through the windshield to see an open stretch of road in front of us, and the car behind us decided to make its move. The sedan revved up beside us, opening fire, and I ducked down.
“Fuck, they’re gonna hit our tank,” Jasper growled, jerking the wheel hard enough to send the sedan into the other lane. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any oncoming traffic to force him into.
The car slowed down, swerving back behind us, and I aimed again. I shot toward the windshield, giving myself enough leeway time-wise to aim for the engine of the car.
Shot one, the radiator spewed steam, but they kept coming. I fired off round after round, dumping my weapon and snatching up Bella’s. The right headlight, then the left, and again, the windshield – I kept firing as they tried to sway back and forth to dodge my bullets. I ducked down as they fired back, popping out the nine mil’s clip to see how many shots I had left. Four.
Taking a deep breath, I said, “Jasper, on my word, I need you to slam on the brakes for me.”
“Yup,” he responded.
I straightened up in the window, locking my sights on the center of the hood. “Now!”
The van practically stood on its nose as he slammed hard on the brakes, but the driver behind us wasn’t expecting it, so he zoomed up into my vision. I emptied that nine millimeter into the engine, smiling when the motherfucker finally burst into flames, the car dead where it drifted to a stop.
I collapsed back for a moment, catching my breath. “Got ’em.”
“Thank fuck!” Jasper said, turning back to glance over his shoulder quickly. “Alice, Bella...okay?”
I crawled over the first seat, taking a glance down at the girls. Alice was still holding the phone up to her ear, Bella gazed up at me, her face almost impassive. I knew that fucking look. She was barely hanging in there.
“I know it’s cramped, guys. You can come up when we hit the base, okay?” I asked, trying to calm the fuck down, but it was nearly impossible because my adrenaline was skyrocketing.
“Al wants you,” Alice muttered, handing over the phone.
I put it to my ear, deciding to stay in the back with the girls as Jasper navigated his way toward the Army Reserve base.
“Al...” I panted.
“Son, you okay?”
“Yeah, just fucking...peachy,” I snarked back. “We left a helluva mess, Uncle Al.”
“I don’t give a shit about that. Did you fucking get them? Are the girls all right?”
Grinning, I sighed. “Yeah. You’ll need a cleanup crew at the safe house. We had to leave everything, and it was a full-out assault. If I had to guess, there were about five guys, two of which are dead at the house, two cars, which we left along the way, and I swear to God, I think the last asshole chasing us was Demetri Polizzi. I recognized his face from the case file you gave me.”
“Caius’s muscle?”
“I think so, but don’t quote me on that. He’s a bigger asshat in person,” I told him.
“Are you at the base yet?”
I glanced out the windshield. “Almost.”
He sighed deeply. “Okay, this is what’ll happen. You’ll tell them my name. They’re going to secure you a chopper ride to Mitchell Air Force Base just outside of Queens. When you get there, we’ll settle on a new safe house.”
“No!” I snapped. “I’m fucking done. I’m pulling us off the grid. We’re going underground. I’m dumping this phone, and I need us on a plane. ASAP! I’m getting these girls away from this shit. The next time, it may not be five men, but fucking ten.”
“Wait,” I ordered when Jasper pulled up to the guard gate.
“Alistair Chambers should’ve called,” Jasper stated.
The guard nodded, glancing into the van, and said, “Follow the road around to the first hangar. They’re fueled up and ready for you.”
The poor bullet-riddled van rattled and shook all the way up to the hangar. Soldiers armed with high-powered rifles stood guard on either side of a very large helicopter.
“Girls, you can sit up,” I said softly, helping both of them into the seat next to me. “Al, we’re on the base.”
“I need to know where you’re going. Just me, Edward. Tell me. You obviously have a plan,” he urged.
I looked to Bella, forcing her gaze up to me. “Do you trust me?” I asked her.
She nodded vehemently. “Yeah. Of course.”
I looked to Alice, who was nodding as she gazed out toward the chopper that was already starting up.
“Off the grid, Uncle Al. No one can know, and this phone is as good as dead as soon as we hang up. You’ll be my only contact. Got me?”
Jasper jerked the van to a stop, slamming the gear shift into park and spinning around to face me. Even he was waiting for the next step.
I’m taking them...home,” I said cryptically.
Al was silent for a moment and then muttered simply, “Huh... Yeah. That works. You sure?”
“Absolutely.” I slid open the van door, stepping out onto the tarmac.
Al was quiet again. “Call me on a new phone when you land.”
“Will do. And Al? Find out how they fucking found us.”
With that said, the call ended, and I snapped the phone closed.
A tall soldier met me at the side of the van, giving it a long, slow gaze. “Rough night?” Belmont, according to his name patch, asked, smirking a little when his gaze met mine.
“Same ole, same ole,” Jasper snorted, rolling his eyes.
Belmont grinned. “Yeah, Chambers called us in a fucking panic. You must be the U.S. Marshals we’re giving a ride. We’re to get you to Mitchel Air Force Base, so let’s get you loaded up.”
I held up the cell phone. “Got a place this can disappear?” I asked him.
Belmont glanced around, his eyes landing on a steel grate. “Huh, well, would you lookie there...” he murmured, reaching down to jerk the grate up.
I tossed it in, hearing the satisfying plunk of the phone hitting water. “Thanks.”
“No problem. Now...let’s get you in the air.”
The chopper ride from Connecticut wasn’t that long. We flew over the city, landing a little bit away from another hangar on Mitchel Air Force Base. The girls stayed pretty quiet the whole way, holding on to the few things they had, consisting of my laptop, which Bella now carried, and their new lives, which were tucked away in a simple manila envelope that Alice was hanging onto for dear life.
We were met by two soldiers – a male, Iverson, and a female, Davies. The guy offered his hand out to me and Jasper, his eyes raking over the girls.
“U.S. Marshals, right?” Iverson asked, and I was grateful Al hadn’t mentioned our names so far.
“Yes, sir,” I greeted with a nod and a firm handshake.
“Good,” he grunted, pointing to what looked like a private jet pulling out of the hangar. “We’re fueling her up now.”
My eyebrows shot up at the fact that we wouldn’t be taking a military transport. When I glanced back to Iverson, he just smirked.
“Some...higher-ups like to ride in style,” he said with a chuckle. “Where we headed?”
“I need to get to Mountain Home Air Force Base,” I stated. “But I can’t have a public flight plan.”
“Copy that,” he grunted, and he turned to Davies. “Lieutenant, see if you can’t find these girls something to wear. It’s gonna be a long flight.”
She smiled warmly at the girls, giving them the once-over. “I’m sure I can find something. Get them on board. I’ll double-time it back.”
There was a part of me that suspected the two soldiers knew who we were and why we were there. Uncle Al had contacts everywhere from years of working all over the United States and Canada. He’d handled everything from high-profile prisoner transfers, to fugitive hunts, to his own WitSec details. He’d been stationed in several states, working up the ranks to earn the position he now held.
Iverson eyed the plane, turning back to us once some steps had been rolled up to the door. “Come on. We’ll get you on board.”
As we made our way across the tarmac, the sound of bare feet slapping softly onto the concrete made me cringe. Alice was holding her own, and I assumed that was years of dancing because she’d said more than once that her feet were tough as nails. But it was all I could do not snatch Bella up and carry her the rest of the way, especially when I saw her wince as she stepped on some loose gravel and whatever other shit happened to be in our path.
Leaning down, I whispered to Bella, “Hanging in there?”
She nodded but stayed quiet, and I reached down to take the laptop from her, tucking it under my arm. My other free hand guided her up the steps.
The inside of the plane looked like something out of a goddamn movie, and I rolled my eyes at Jasper’s muttered, “Is this where my taxes are going?”
“Shut the fuck up,” I hissed, elbowing him in the ribs.
“I know, I know... Free ride,” he conceded with a chuckle.
Iverson showed us around the plane – a seating area, bathroom, and even a couple of small bedrooms in the back. “There’s a fridge,” he said, gesturing to a mini-fridge just to the right of the cockpit doors. “It isn’t much – some drinks, maybe a few snacks. Considering the time and the fact that those girls look dead on their feet, I figure you guys’ll sleep through the next several hours.”
“Thanks,” I sighed, shaking his hand again. “I know this is some strange shit...”
“Hey,” he said with a shrug. “When you work for Uncle Sam, you know when not to ask questions.”
“Truth,” Jasper agreed from across the plane.
Lt. Davies stepped up onto the plane, her arms filled with what looked like sweats, but sitting on top were two pairs of sneakers.
Bella and Alice gazed at her when she knelt in front of them.
“Ladies, I was able to find a couple of pairs of sweats and a shirt or two. I just hope the shoes fit,” she told them kindly.
“Thank you,” the girls said at the same time.
“You two can clean up a bit and change once we level out, okay?” Iverson asked. “Hell, if I were you, I’d make the men stay up here and you two take the bedrooms. It should be smooth sailing the whole way. It’ll rock you straight to sleep.”
Alice grinned, and even Bella cracked a small smile when she said, “Okay.”
“Okay,” he said, turning to Jasper and me. “Strap in. We’ll be pulling out in about five minutes.”
Both Davies and Iverson started to ready the plane. The steps were pulled away as all four of us buckled our seat belts. The girls stayed sitting together on the right side of the plane, and Jasper took a seat next to me.
He nudged me with his elbow. “Where the fuck are we going, Ed?”
I shook my head. “Not here...”
“We can’t take them to Seattle yet. It’ll blow that whole WitSec packet.”
I looked him straight in the eye as the plane started to pick up speed. “Trust me. It’s not Seattle. But until it’s just the four of us in a car, I’m keeping it quiet.”
Jasper studied my face, his brow furrowing. “Okay,” he said with a nod. “Fair enough, man.”
Iverson eventually called that it was safe to move around, and the girls got up, taking their clothes with them. I took my seat belt off and opened the fridge. I found a few Cokes, a couple of candy bars, and a very, very tempting small bottle of Jack Daniels. With a sigh, I ignored it, grabbing a Coke for Jasper, too.
I handed over what I’d found and paced up and down the aisle as I gobbled up the Snickers bar. I took a long drink of soda, glancing up when Alice made her way back, only this time taking the seat next to Jasper.
“Seat stealer,” I accused teasingly.
“Sue me,” she chirped, shrugging one shoulder.
Lt. Davies had done really well, it seemed. Alice was wearing gray Air Force sweatpants and a hoodie. Her feet were now covered in simple white sneakers.
I looked toward the back of the plane. “Where’s Bella?”
“She was cleaning up in the bathroom. She found some tweezers and was getting a splinter of glass out of her foot,” Alice explained.
When another five minutes passed and then ten more with no sign of Bella, my pacing hadn’t stopped because something just, and I finally couldn’t take it anymore.
Passing the first bedroom and the bathroom – both empty – I stopped in front of the last room. The door was cracked, and I half-expected to see her curled up on the bed, but she wasn’t. She was dressed in navy blue Air Force sweats just like her sister, though she hadn’t put her sneakers on yet. She was sitting on the bed, her legs bent up to her chin and her arms wrapped around them.
I knocked lightly. “You okay? I thought I’d better warn you that Jasper is threatening to eat all the Snickers bars.”
Her eyes looked dark and haunted, but they filled quickly with tears. “I... Edward, I killed a man today...”
I closed the door and locked it, sitting beside her on the bed. “I know, Bella. It’s not something that’s easily gotten over. You were amazing, though. You did nothing wrong and everything right. I promise.”
“I didn’t have a choice, right?” she said, sounding just a touch hysterical.
“No, ma’am.”
“In New York, I didn’t see the guy. But this time, I saw his face, Edward! I watched him die...because of me. You...” She pointed to me as her voice broke. “You said next time to shoot to kill. And I did.” She swiped at her face and then tucked her hair behind her ears. “He was going to kill you! I saw him coming, and he was already aiming and...and...”
Fuck, I couldn’t stop myself if I tried. Reaching over, I pulled her to my lap and wrapped her up as tightly as I could without hurting her. She looked lost and broken but a little proud of herself at the same time. And in those too-big sweats, she looked young and scared and, despite the tears, so very beautiful.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I chanted over and over.
She clung to me, her hands gripping my T-shirt in the back, but her entire body shook against me. She buried her face into my shoulder as I rubbed her back.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed.
Gently pulling on her, I cupped both sides of her face to make her look me in the eye. “You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for...fucking nothing, Bella.”
She sniffled a little, but her eyes slipped away from mine.
“Look at me,” I ordered her. Once her eyes were back to mine, I said, “Since the beginning of this thing... Nothing. Is. Your. Fault. Got me? Not a single bit of it.”
“I know.”
“Do you?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Good,” I breathed, trying my damnedest not to focus on what it felt like to have every inch of her pressed against me, the feel of her hair slipping between my fingers as I tried to calm her down, or the amazing way she smelled, despite all that we’d been through tonight. Instead, I focused on how in awe I was of her. “You went on gut instinct, Bella. We all have it. I would’ve done the exact same fucking thing.”
She whimpered a little, shaking her head, but instead of arguing with me, she simply said, “I couldn’t... I couldn’t let him hurt you. They’ve hurt so many already...but not you.”
I smiled. “I probably owe you a big thank you, then. Huh? Yet, you took my job away from me tonight. I’m feeling a little emasculated.”
The sound that escaped her was an utterly adorable mixture of a giggle and a sniffle.
“Really?” she asked.
Snorting softly, I shook my head no. “Nah, but thank you.”
She looked down at her hands, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “I’m scared, Edward.”
“Of what?”
“Everything.” She shrugged a shoulder. “Of making it to the trial, of testifying, of moving, of being someone new, starting all over with friends, jobs, All of it.”
“I told you before, you’re not alone. And you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for, not to mention smart, caring, and...Christ, so beautiful...”
Her dark eyes snapped up to meet my gaze. Reaching up, I wiped away a tear that slipped down her face. It didn’t even occur to me to set her back down on the bed. We’d been here before, this pull, this draw, only this time, no one was interrupting. And as I watched her tongue drag slowly across her plump bottom lip, I realized I didn’t want an interruption.
We locked gazes for a split second, almost as if we were asking permission, but then our lips met. Her lips were so soft, pliant, and they moved with mine in perfect sync – top lip, bottom lip, top lip again. A hint of tongue escaped us at the same time, causing a gasp from Bella and a moan from me. The feel of her hands along my jaw gave me all the encouragement I needed. Threading my hand into her hair, I turned her head and really kissed her. I claimed, tasted, and swirled my tongue along hers. It had been so fucking long since I’d truly kissed a girl like that – kissed them because I just really wanted to, like I couldn’t take another breath without it, like I couldn’t stop. And I couldn’t stop... At all.
The need to be closer was strong, but the reality of where we were was stronger. We were in a bed, but with four other people on a plane. We’d just barely gotten out of this last bullshit intact. But fuck, if she didn’t feel and taste and sound amazing – better than any dream I’d had of her as of late. Her hair was silky in my hand, her skin smelled like soap, just clean and sweet, and the taste of her was rocking me to my soul – salty from her tears but more.
Panting, I pulled away, pressing my forehead to hers and squeezing my eyes closed. My hands were still in her hair and holding her hip. I wanted much fucking more, but that kiss was leaving me feeling naked and bare, exposed. I didn’t know what I was thinking – if I was thinking at all. I’d accused Jasper of playing a dangerous fucking game with Alice, and I now knew I wasn’t any better. My sole priority was starting to become more than just getting to a trial or back to Seattle. The mere idea of anything or anyone getting to the girl in my arms made me almost fucking shake with pure, unadulterated anger. And I didn’t know what that meant, either.
“Is that...chocolate?” she asked, licking her lips.
I grinned, a chuckle escaping me. “I told you there were Snickers.”
She snorted, slipping off my lap and reaching for a balled-up pair of socks. “I’ll be out in a few. I just... I need a moment.” Her eyes gazed up at me, still looking a little freaked out, but at least they were a touch calmer.
I nodded in understanding. “You should try to get some sleep, Bella. We’ll be in the air for a few hours.”
“Okay. We’ll see.” Nodding, she she shrugged once.
She gazed up at me, her eyes warm, still a little red, but her lips were swollen and looking a little bruised. Something about that last thing made my dick twitch because I’d made them that way. My hand gripped my leg in order to not crawl over to her and see just how bruised I could really make them.
“Edward, where are we going now?” she asked softly, turning on the bed to face away from me.
“I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.” I stood up, suddenly feeling awkward about leaving her, but I’d just crossed a pretty big line, and I knew we both needed a little space. Reaching for the door knob, I stopped. “Thanks again. For having my back, I mean.”
“I...” She sighed. “You’re welcome.”
I tugged the door closed behind me and leaned back against it, wanting to bang my head repeatedly. And hard. I’d just kissed her. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I also was pretty fucking sure I didn’t regret it.


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