Sunday, June 2, 2013 | By: Jenny

In Pursuit Chapter 11

Bella POV
It was dark when I woke up in the middle of the night Tuesday – or rather, early Wednesday morning – and the moon was behind the clouds, so even the moonlight coming through the window of the bedroom didn’t illuminate much. The house was utterly quiet. There were no creaks or groans of the house settling, there was no wind or rain beating against the windows, and I didn’t even hear any snores coming from the second floor, even though I knew Jasper was asleep. He and Edward had stopped any sort of switched sleep schedule. Being off the grid, as they’d called it, meant we could pretty much go about our lives as normal – or as close to normal as we could get it right now.
After lying there for almost half an hour, I decided a cup of warm milk was in order or I would never fall back asleep. A lot of days now, it seemed, my mind had trouble shutting off at night, so half the time, I walked around like a zombie during the day when I didn’t get much, if any, sleep the night before. Figuring I was warm enough in my long T-shirt and socks – and there was no one awake to see me anyway – I didn’t bother pulling on shorts or a robe.

I opened the door slowly, hoping it wouldn’t creak, and then slipped out to the stairs. I’d come to learn that the third and sixth stairs from the top made a noise if you stepped on the right half, so I avoided them and made it down to the first floor without waking Alice or Jasper. Alice’s door was open enough that I could see her bed was empty, so I knew she was in with Jasper. My heart ached at the thought. I was happy for my sister – although if Jasper broke her heart, I’d have to kill him...U.S. Marshal or not – but I had to admit I was jealous. I didn’t want to risk my heart again, not after Mike, and even Edward’s recent behavior, but sometimes, especially lately, I found myself wishing I were brave enough to so I could find what it seemed like she had found.
Padding softly through the living room, I was just about to turn on the light for the kitchen when a voice came floating through the darkness.
“Couldn’t sleep?”
“Jesus, Edward!” I gasped, throwing my hand over my racing heart. “You scared the shit out of me!”
I turned and saw him stand from the couch, his face in shadows.
“Sorry,” he chuckled, not sounding entirely sincere. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Sure,” I scoffed, earning another chuckle. “Anyway, yeah, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep,” I finally answered as I turned back and flipped on the kitchen light.
When Edward gasped, I remembered I was only wearing the T-shirt, and I reached out to turn the light back off.
“It’s fine,” he uttered softly. When I hesitated with my hand over the switch, he growled, “You won’t be able to see if you turn it off. It’s fine.
I nodded and moved into the other room to grab one of the large mugs the others used for coffee.
“I... I thought some warm milk would help,” I told him as I padded over to the refrigerator.
“Here,” he said, taking the milk from me. “Let me make some hot chocolate. Maybe it’ll help me, too.”
I was already shaking my head no as I tried to take back the milk. “It’s okay,” I muttered. “I’ll just warm up some milk. I don’t want to be a bother.”
Edward slammed the milk down on the counter, the plastic container crumpling at the corners slightly. “Christ, Bella! You aren’t a bother. Take a fucking seat and let me make you some hot chocolate.” His tone was softer as he said, “I think Alice and Jasper even bought marshmallows I can put in it... Please?”
I bit my lip and nodded, moving over to a seat at the island. I sat with my T-shirt tucked tightly around my thighs, picking at my thumbnail nervously as I watched Edward prepare two mugs of hot chocolate.
After pouring some milk into a saucepan and putting it on the stove to heat, he combined some powdered sugar, dark cocoa, cinnamon, cornstarch, and a little bit of salt in a bowl and then divided it evenly between the two mugs.
“What’s the cornstarch for?” I asked softly, hesitant to destroy the quiet vibe of the kitchen.
“It helps thicken it a little,” he said, his voice just as gentle as mine had been. “It’s a trick I learned from Rose in high school. She taught me this recipe when we got home from a football game one night and were nearly frozen solid.”
I nodded, not saying anything more, although my head was swimming. The man was one big contradiction. Just a few days before, he’d basically told me that his family was off limits, yet here he was, making me his sister’s recipe for hot chocolate and telling me about it. My brain was rattling from all the back and forth he was doing.
Edward reached into the cabinet and grabbed a bag of mini marshmallows, tossing them to me. “Open these,” he requested. “It’s ready.”
As I opened the bag and pulled out a small handful for each of us, Edward poured hot milk into each mug, added a spoon, and stirred to blend it with the cocoa mix. Once that was mixed, he slid one mug in front of me and then took a seat beside me. I scooped up one pile of marshmallows and held it out to him. Our fingers brushed as he took them from me, sending zings of electric shock throughout my body. Under my T-shirt, my nipples hardened to little points, and I had to fight not to squirm in my seat as my clit throbbed and my core clenched.
If Edward’s flip-flopping attitude didn’t kill me, the attraction and lust I felt for the man certainly would.
We drank in silence for a moment, and when I thought I was calm enough, I finally said, “This is good—really rich and delicious.”
He smiled over the rim of his mug. “Thanks. I’ll tell Rose she has another convert.”
Again with a mention of his sister... Rather than bringing that up, I just nodded and said, “I’m thinking of seeing if Alice wants to rent a movie tomorrow—” I paused when I remembered the time “—or today, rather, since the cable guy isn’t coming out until Friday. I can ask Jasper to take us—”
“No, I’ll take you,” Edward interrupted quickly. “I mean, if that’s okay.”
I nodded. “That’s fine. If you don’t mind.”
“I wouldn’t have offered if I minded, Bella, okay?”
I nodded again, falling quiet.
Silence filled the kitchen as we both worked to drink our hot chocolate. It wasn’t entirely comfortable, though, so to fill it, I tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t be too personal.
“I like the haircut,” I told him, flicking my eyes to his newly done hair. He’d gotten it cut shorter all over, leaving it slightly longer in front. It still stuck up everywhere, evidence that he was still trying to run his fingers through it and pull at it in frustration, but it was styled such that it looked...right, like it was meant to be that way.
To my amusement, he reached up and scrubbed at it with his hand. “Yeah? It’s shorter than I’ve had done in a while. I wasn’t sure...”
“No, it looks good,” I reassured him. “Very stylish.”
“Thanks.” He looked at me for a moment before looking back to his cocoa. “Yours looks great, too.” Reaching out, it seemed like he was going to tuck it back behind my ear, but then he pulled his hand away. “It, uh...looks really soft. Shows off your eyes well, too.”
“Thanks,” I murmured, bending my head so I couldn’t see his face. I could feel my cheeks heating, and I knew the last thing he’d want would be to see how much his comments had affected me.
We were quiet then as we finished our hot chocolate.
When I finished the last bit of mine, I yawned and stood, moving over to the sink to rinse out my mug. “That was good, Edward. Thanks. I think I’ll be able to get to sleep now.”
As he said something about him being able to as well, I bent to open the dishwasher, forgetting about my lack of clothing...until I thought I heard him groan. I straightened quickly, but when I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, his gaze was trained on the island in front of him, so maybe I’d heard wrong.
Not wanting to embarrass myself, I said goodnight and hurried out of the kitchen. His soft goodnight echoed in the quiet darkness of the living room as I headed for the stairs and my room.
~oOo~
All four of us decided to go into town to get a movie. Alice had been excited, immediately knowing she wanted the romantic comedy, The Back-Up Plan, starring Jennifer Lopez and her TV crush, Alex O’Laughlin from Hawaii Five-0. “He’s sooo cute!” she’d squealed, giggling when Jasper had cleared his throat and raised his eyebrow. “He’s no Jazzy, of course, but he’s cute.”
I had immediately vetoed that one, saying if she wanted to get it for herself, that was fine, but I wanted something other than a romantic comedy.
“I’m thinking the newest Transformers,” Jasper said as we walked through the shelves at the local video store. “I haven’t seen it yet, and I’ve been meaning to.”
Batman,” Edward said, reaching out and grabbing out to grab The Dark Knight.
Jasper cracked up, shaking his head. “Dude, you’ve seen that movie like fifteen hundred times.”
Edward shrugged unabashedly. “So? I like it.” He grinned at me when I giggled. “I almost got the Bat symbol right...here.” He reached up and tapped his chest, just over his heart.
“That would have been...colorful,” I teased, imagining the bright yellow and black on his muscled chest.
He nodded. “Okay, so Alice wants the chick flick, Jas wants robots—”
Alien robots, man. Keep up!” Jasper interjected.
Edward sighed, rolling his eyes. “Sorry, sorry. Jasper wants alien robots. And I want the most bad-ass superhero ever. Bella, what about you?” He put the Batman movie back and walked along with us as I led the way to the next aisle.
Picking up one of my go-to favorites, I said, “Good Will Hunting.”
“Aww, really, Bella?” Alice whined. “Haven’t you seen that enough?”
I shrugged, smiling. “I like it.” I couldn’t resist teasing her. “Plus, it has Matt Damon and Ben Affleck...”
In the end, we decided to get all four of them, but Alice agreed to watch hers when she was by herself, although I overheard Jasper whisper that he would watch with her if she wanted. Her answering grin was adorable and made me giggle as I handed Edward the bag of movies and climbed into the Jeep.
From there, we went to the grocery store to pick up snack foods that we could eat while we watched. Like the movies, it was a mix of opinions, and we ended up getting pizza rolls for Edward and me, taquitos for Jasper, and egg rolls for Alice, as well as meatballs and chips with spaghetti sauce and salsa for dipping for everyone.
When we got home, Alice and I waited in the car with Jasper while Edward made a quick check of the perimeter and did a fast sweep inside. When he waved us inside, Jasper drove into the garage. I grabbed the movies and Alice grabbed the food as we climbed out of the Jeep.
“Let’s watch Transformers first,” Jasper said, digging through the bag, which Edward ripped out of his hands.
“No way. Batman,” he argued, keeping Jasper away with one hand while he held the bag up with another.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s like watching two ten year olds argue, isn’t it?” I whispered to Alice, who giggled.
“Come on, boys,” she called, breaking up the wrestling match that had started in the middle of the kitchen. “There’s plenty of time for both movies. How about you play Ro—”
She was interrupted by the ringing of the cell phone in Edward’s front jeans pocket.
He slid it out and up to his ear, giving Jasper a look that I couldn’t quite interpret, and said, “Hello?” After a moment, he pulled it away and tapped a button, putting the phone down in the middle of the island, where we all gathered around.
“Hey, guys,” Al’s voice rang out. “Everyone there?”
All four of us echoed in the affirmative.
“Good, good.”
“So what’s up, Al?” Edward asked, his hands tensed into fists as he leaned on the island looking worried. “Has someone figured out—”
“You’re fine,” the older man hurried to say. “Your location is secure, Ed. I just called to update you on the case and give you a piece of news.”
“Have they set a date for court?” Alice asked timidly.
“No, sweetheart. There’s no court date yet. I told you it could take months,” he explained. “The defense – and in turn, the prosecution – are investigating the bar, seeing if they can find any witnesses that say the girls were drunk or had taken any drugs—”
“We don’t do drugs,” I hissed, “and yeah, I had a couple of beers and a shot, but I wasn’t drunk.”
Alice nodded, her eyes shooting daggers at the phone from across the island.
“No, Bella,” Al pacified, “I know that. The prosecution knows that, too. The defense is reaching, I swear. I told you they would attempt to drag the two of you through the mud in order to discredit your testimony. That’s their job, as terrible as it may seem. They will pull out all the stops to discredit you and Alice to the jury.”
“Still don’t like it,” Alice grumbled. Jasper put his arm around her and pulled her into his side.
Edward glanced at them and then me before looking down at the phone. “Is that it, Al?”
“No, son...” He cleared his throat. “I got word today that Victoria James, the DOJ attorney you met with, was killed late last night. She was in her car and called 9-1-1 to report that someone was following her. She was speeding, trying to outrun them, and lost control. She died on scene when her car flipped and crashed into a concrete barrier in the middle of the interstate. Peter, her boss, said he believes it was Volturi’s men.”
Alice and I gasped, and Alice buried her face in Jasper’s shoulder.
I felt tears pooling in my eyes as I thought of the sweet, flirty redhead that had been so nice to us. When a strong arm wrapped around my shoulders, I startled and looked up into Edward’s concerned face. He squeezed, and I let my guard down, tears flowing now as I turned my face into his chest and cried.
“Why does he think it was Volturi?” Edward asked, his voice rumbling through his chest.
“Victoria’s 9-1-1 call said it was a big black SUV, and Peter said she hasn’t been working on anything else that would have gotten her killed,” Al explained.
“Why would they want to kill her, though?” I asked, swiping at tears as I stared at the phone.
Again, Al’s voice was soft as he said, “Peter believes whoever it was planned to kidnap her, because after lunch yesterday, she mentioned seeing someone she thought was Demetri Polizzi hanging around when she came out of the deli she went to. He disappeared when she was joined by four colleagues, including Peter.”
“Fuck,” Edward hissed. “They wanted to know what Victoria knew about the girls.”
“Yes,” Al agreed. “Peter thinks they wanted to gain information on their WitSec file, since they knew she had been the girls’ contact. So when they couldn’t grab her at lunch, they tried following her after work, but she spotted them and tried to outrun them.”
“So what’s being done for security now?” Jasper asked, still holding a crying Alice.
“Peter’s the only other person who knows where their information is on the computer system, but the way it’s set up, he doesn’t know the information himself. Regardless, he’s been put under twenty-four-hour guard until the trial. Your new identities are safe, ladies, and anyone involved is as safe as they can be, so try not to worry, okay?”
Alice and I nodded, and Edward said, “Thanks, Uncle Al.”
“Of course. I’m sorry to have to call with that kind of news, Ed. Take care of those girls, you hear me?”
“Yeah, we hear you,” Edward said, and then he hung up the phone, leaving the kitchen in silence.
“God, that poor woman,” I said through my tears. “She’d be alive if—”
“Don’t,” Edward snapped, turning me around and forcing me away from him to hold me at arm’s length. When I looked up, he continued, his voice much more gentle. “Victoria’s death was not your fault, Bella. She knew when she took her job that there were risks, and when took on your case, she knew the risks were even higher, and she did so willingly. She knew what she was doing, so don’t belittle the choice she made by taking the fault away from the only person it belongs with.”
“Volturi,” I uttered weakly.
“Yes, Volturi,” he agreed. “The best way to get revenge is to stand tall and testify against Caius Volturi so her death, and Eleazar Denali’s, weren’t in vain. Understand?”
“Yeah,” I finally answered, knowing he was completely right. “I get it.”
He nodded, finally releasing my shoulders, and stepped back, raking his hand through his hair as I swiped away my remaining tears.
I looked around and realized that at some point, Alice and Jasper had left the kitchen. “Guess that puts a damper on movie night, huh?”
Edward smiled sadly. “Maybe...but maybe it’s just what we all need to take our minds off everything, huh?”
Nodding, I said, “Yeah, maybe. I’ll go see if Alice and Jasper are up for it.”
Moving to the entrance of the kitchen, I looked back to see him standing at the sink, hands braced on the edge, head bowed, and shoulders tense. I turned back so I wasn’t facing him; it seemed like a private moment, and I didn’t want him to think I was intruding.
Just before I stepped into the dining room to go find my sister, I said, “Thanks, Edward,” and then I hurried off without waiting for a reply.
~oooOOOooo~
Edward POV
“Christ,” I hissed, my forehead thumping to the tile wall of the shower.
I was blind due to the stars flickering behind my eyes as my hand continued to move up and down my dick. Bella would be the death of me – something that had nothing to do with the mob. No, it would be T-shirts with nothing underneath, the pull to her that I couldn’t fight no matter how hard I tried, and the need to never see those beautiful, soulful brown eyes fill with tears again.
“Fuck,” I groaned, eyeing my dick at the thought of the T-shirt again, only this time, it wasn’t the cartoon character on it...it was my navy blue USMS T-shirt. “I hate you,” I sneered at my cock that was semi-erect again.
I hated myself more. What I’d thought would be a good thing had turned into torture. I despised the fact that where I once made Bella feel comfortable and protected, now there was this huge feeling of anxiousness when she was near me. She’d fidget and apologize and barely look at me. What used to be easy conversations were now stilted and tense. I’d thought I wanted space from her. I’d thought distance would bury what I was feeling, but I’d been wrong. It only made me want her more. It made me want things I had no business wanting, and it was just too fucking bad, because I was pretty sure she damn well hated me now. Karma was a bitch, but I really had no one to blame but myself.
Jasper was right: I wasn’t protecting Bella... I was protecting myself from Bella.
With that thought, I shut the water off and grabbed a towel to wrap around my waist, but I froze when I could hear voices through the vent in the ceiling. Grinning, I shook my head and reminded myself to tell Rose how our parents always knew she was sneaking out back in high school. They could hear her plain as fucking day. She wouldn’t find it as funny as I did, I was sure of that.
“This conversation isn’t happening, Alice,” Bella snapped, and I could hear footsteps thumping across the ceiling above me as I stepped out of the shower, swiping at the fog on the mirror. “It doesn’t matter what I think or feel or anything. It’s never mattered to anyone what I feel.” There was a sound of someone sitting on the bed. “Edward’s made it perfectly clear – a giant neon fucking sign – that I’m not even his friend. I’m only good for getting on the stand, Alice. No more. No less.”
“But the way he looks at you...” Alice argued.
Bella laughed humorlessly, and I met my own gaze in the mirror.
“He drives me crazy. One minute, I want to kiss him senseless, and the next, I want to punch his face.” She paused for a second. “Maybe you should take Dad’s gun.”
Alice laughed at the same time my eyebrows shot up. Damn.
“Aw, Bella, he’s not that bad. Jasper says Edward’s just had some rough shit happen in the past,” Alice tried to explain.
“You know what?” Bella squeaked. “We’ve all had bad shit happen. In fact, life is one shitty life lesson after the other. He should join the fucking club, but instead, he hides behind everything like a security blanket.”
“He’s not Mike, sis.”
“No, he’s worse.”
Bella’s voice was completely firm when she stated that, and I had to brace myself on the vanity at how much that fucking stung. My head fell down and I shook it slowly. I was a complete and utter asshole if I was worse than that motherfucker.
“No...”
“Yes. At least Mike was honest. He told me how he felt, how I wasn’t enough. Edward can’t even do that. One moment, he’s snapping at me for asking about his family, and then the next, he’s making me hot chocolate, telling me all about how it was his sister’s recipe. He’s so confusing! He twists shit around to suit whatever he’s feeling at that moment. I honestly can’t keep up.”
“Mike wasn’t honest, Bella. He was abusive.” Alice’s voice rose, and it sounded like she got up from the bed. “And you can’t stand there and tell me you don’t want him. I see it in your face.”
My head shot up, my skin suddenly on fire with the possibility of what Bella’s answer would be.
“More than I’ve ever wanted anything, but...it doesn’t matter. And I have to face that. I have to realize that I’m just a job to him. The kiss, the comforting hugs, the...anything nice that he does is just him doing his job. The rest? That’s the real Edward.” Bella paused for a moment. “You’re really lucky, Alice. Jasper’s willing to give up everything should something go wrong once we’re in Seattle...and that’s if we make it there. He’s a good guy. I’m happy for you.”
Alice didn’t say anything for a second, but then she sighed. “We’ll make it. And maybe once we’re settled, you’ll find someone else. Different city, different people.”
Bella huffed a laugh. “Maybe. That’s a long way off.” The door opened up with a slight creak. “It looks like it’ll be a sunny day. I’m just... I need air.”
“Hey, at least we’ll have TV later. The cable guy’s supposed to come in about an hour, right?” Alice asked.
“Yeah, at least there’s that,” Bella said, and I could hear footsteps thumping up the stairs.
“Way to go, Cullen,” I murmured, running my hands through my still-wet hair. “You’ve officially made her as bitter as you are.”
I took a good look at myself in the mirror. My eyes raked over my face, seeing dark circles underneath my eyes, evidence that my sleep had turned to shit. As I braced my arms on the bathroom counter, I stared at the ink on my arm. Both tattoos represented my birth father. And for a moment, I wondered if he’d be proud of me. Something told me he wouldn’t be, which led me to my mother, and I could practically feel her slap the back of my head for acting like an ass.
I suddenly wished like hell I could talk to Rose. I needed her insight, her blatant honesty, but even without her there, I knew what she’d say. She’d tell me I was acting like a moody, emo dick. She’d call me out on my fears. And she’d tell me that sometimes, diving in head first was worth it. The last thing she’d told me was that one day, I’d want to remember the girl’s name, but I knew more than just Bella’s name. I knew everything about her.
Emmett once told me that he’d give up everything for my sister. I’d worried about his job at the Seattle PD when they first got together. He explained that if he ever felt like he couldn’t do it, like it had become too dangerous, that he’d quit and become a mall cop for the rest of his life if that’s what she wanted.
I’d shaken my head at him at the time. I couldn’t imagine giving up everything I’d ever worked so fucking hard for – years of school, training, working up the ranks. Not for a woman. I’d almost done that once, and it had proved to be a stupid fucking mistake.
My eyes slid to the mirror, but it was the reflection in the glass of the picture behind me that I locked in on. The ink on my back was a permanent reminder of Maggie. No matter how hard I tried to tell myself otherwise, it was simply a sign that I’d been run over once. It might as well be tire tracks rather than the Celtic design that it was.
I stood up straight, still staring at the swirls of green and black ink on my back. I frowned at the realization that Maggie, while physically beautiful in her own right, was not Bella. Bella couldn’t do the things that my ex had done. It just wasn’t in her nature, which was a thousand times more beautiful than Maggie’s ever had been. I also realized that the thought of Maggie...simply didn’t hurt as much as it once had. And that caused a cold sweat to break out across my brow. I sat down on the edge of the tub, gripping my hair in my hands.
“Holy fucking shit,” I breathed.
“Cullen!” Jasper called from outside my bedroom door. “Cable guy just pulled in.”
“’Kay, I’ll be out in a sec,” I yelled back, rubbing my face and standing up to walk into the bedroom.
I dressed quickly in jeans and a T-shirt, running my fingers through my hair. Thank God it was short enough now that it required less maintenance, not that I’d done much with it before. I secured my gun at the small of my back, making sure my shirt covered it. Al may have checked the guy out, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t take precautions. Lastly, I pulled on my sneakers, finally stepping out into the hall.
I made it to the living room just in time to see a fairly young guy shut the door to a pickup truck with a topper on the back. He was in his twenties and not what I was expecting. I stepped out onto the front porch just as he reached the bottom step.
“Hey. The name’s Seth. Someone called about installing cable?” he asked, his smile easy, free, kind. He had short, dark hair, almost black eyes, and he was just about my height. Not a single thing about the kid screamed trouble.
“Yeah,” I sighed, jerking a thumb around to the back. “The box is back here, on the other side of the garage.”
“Cool. Just show me where it is and I’ll get to work. This place hasn’t had service in a while, so I’ll need to make sure it’s upgraded,” he explained as he followed me around the side of the house.
“Sure, man. Whatever you need to do, just get it done. Can’t watch shit without it,” I muttered, pointing to the box on the wall, but when I looked back at him, his eyes were elsewhere...and wide.
Following his gaze, my nostrils flared. Bella was sitting out in the backyard, Kindle in hand, but I’m sure that the shorts she was wearing were what caused his mental stumble. Not to mention the small smile that was curling up the corners of her mouth.
“Hey!” I snapped, and his head spun my way. “Not her. Here!” I pointed to the wall, raising an eyebrow at him. “Got me, sport?”
“Yeah, gotcha,” he said, opening the box. “Okay, gotta change out a few things. I’ll get the stuff out of my truck. Won’t take long. Promise.”
“Good. Get it done,” I told him, stalking across the backyard and up the deck steps.
I didn’t even glance Bella’s way, but I did leave the back deck door open when I got inside the house. I couldn’t look at her knowing I not only owed her an enormous apology, but that I was on a razor’s edge with her. The sight of those legs, those big brown eyes, would be my undoing.
Jasper was tossing the last bite of a sandwich into his mouth when I walked in. “He seems harmless,” he mumbled with his mouth full. “You got this? I need a shower after my run.”
I nodded silently, waving him off. The kid may have had a staring problem, but he was, indeed, harmless – or at the least, easily intimidated.
I pulled out a Coke, cracking it open and downing half of it before grabbing out the ingredients for my own sandwich. I glanced up from the counter when I heard Seth’s voice.
“Mind if I set this here? It’s better than traipsing back and forth to my truck,” he said, setting down a rather large toolbox on the table next to Bella.
“No, go ahead,” she answered him.
“Seth,” he said, giving her a cheesy smile as he pressed his hand to his chest.
“Bella,” she introduced herself with the most stunning smile I’d seen yet on her, and the plastic knife in my hand snapped into two pieces when they shook hands.
Forgetting my fucking sandwich, I leaned on the counter to watch what was unfolding on my back deck, crossing my arms across my chest.
“That your boyfriend?” he asked her, gesturing toward the house with a pair of pliers.
Bella snorted, shaking her head. “Uh, no.”
Something about that answer sounded off, slightly sad, but all Seth heard was the go-ahead to continue talking.
“So, what’cha readin’?” he asked her, walking back to the box.
“Oh, umm...” She paused, looking at the Kindle in her hands, but then gazed back his way. “Cosmo.”
My eyes narrowed on her, and her face was slightly pink with that lie she’d just spouted. I knew for a fucking fact that Bella despised girly magazines, TV shows, and romantic comedies. She said they lowered her IQ. I also knew she’d been wrapped up in a reread of Pride and Prejudice, because I’d asked her why she was reading it if she’d already read it. She’d told me they were like old friends – comforting and warm. I’d also have been willing to bet she was knee-deep in a ginormous Sudoku game and kicking its ass. But there was no fucking Cosmo on that Kindle.
“That’s cool. My sister loves that magazine,” he stated, clipping wires and attaching new fittings to the end. “So, did you just move in?”
“Something like that,” she hedged, the Kindle long forgotten as she set it down on the chaise in front of her.
“Well, if you want someone to show you around, let me know. I was born and raised here,” he said proudly, giving her a big smile and a fucking wink.
I balled up my fists so hard that all my knuckles cracked loudly. If anyone was showing Bella around, it would be me. But Bella laughed lightly.
“Umm, I’ve seen most of it, I think,” she told him with a giggle, standing up to lean against the deck railing. “It’s not exactly big.”
The fucked-up part was that she didn’t exactly tell him no, but she was getting closer to him, smiling at him, and he was eating that shit up. And I suddenly saw the girl that Alice had told me about, the one that didn’t need strings attached. I remembered thinking that those beautiful eyes could bring a man to his knees...and they were! Right in front of me.
All I could hear was Alice’s last words to her sister upstairs – that Bella would find someone else once they finally got to Seattle. I shook my head to clear it, but all I could think was that only I could protect her, only I knew just what she needed when she was upset, only I knew that she preferred hot chocolate to coffee, her eggs scrambled, not fried, that she’d rather read than watch TV, and that she secretly played that numbers game on her tablet. And she was damned good at it, too.
No new guy would ever really know her like I did. I’d seen her at her lowest, her most frightened and vulnerable, her angriest. I’d seen her hurt – both by myself and Alice. I’d seen her amused, happy, and brave. Bella was beautiful throughout it all. No man would know that; no man would get it. And fuck me, I’d seen her turned on, and of all the emotions, that was the one that drove me mad. I’d had a tiny taste of her, and despite how fucking hard I was fighting it, it would never be enough.
I pushed away from the counter and stepped out onto the deck behind her. There was no stopping me. I’d had enough.
“Cosmo, Bella? Really?” I asked her in a whisper, and she gasped, turning to face me. “Does that usually work? Making out like you’re this...dumb girl?”
Her eye twitched at me. “Shut up, Edward. Don’t give me shit. I know for a fact he wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been so checked out that Uncle Al probably has the results of his last medical checkup. So if I feel like being nice...”
I snorted derisively. “Nice?”
“Yes, nice!” she snapped back in a hiss. “Forgive me if I want to talk to someone that isn’t involved in this shit,” she rattled off in a whisper.
That I understood, but it didn’t stop me. “What’s on the Kindle, Bella?” I asked, but she didn’t answer me.
“All set,” Seth said, holding out a clipboard for me to sign, but his gaze flickered between me and Bella; I wondered for a split second if he could feel the crackling energy that was between us, because he sure as hell backed off.
With barely a glance away from her, I signed the paper, shoving the clipboard back at him.
“Here’s my card, if you need anything,” he offered, and the little rectangle piece of paper came up between us, closer to Bella than me.
I snatched the shit from his hand, glaring at him. “Got it. Thanks,” I grunted, and once he was around the corner of the house, I looked back to the girl in front of me. “Kindle, Bella. What’s on it? Or should I just look for myself?” I asked, starting to move toward it.
She froze, glancing from the chair to my face. “Pride and Prejudice.
Suddenly, she was blazing pissed, her eyes snapping to mine, and I feared for the survival of my dick. If she’d had her father’s gun, she might’ve even shot me. I was pretty certain of that.
“Edward, go away. Leave me alone,” she sneered, shoving me back a little.
Holding up Seth’s card between two fingers in front of her face, I asked, “Do you want him? Want him to show you around?”
Bella looked away from me, her breathing heavy.
“Tell me,” I said softly, because I could barely control myself not to just reach out and take her. I stepped closer until we were chest to chest and Bella was trapped between me and the deck railing. “Tell me you want him. Tell me you really want me to leave you alone, Bella.”
She panted, tears welling up in her eyes as she glared anywhere but at me. Yet, she still didn’t answer me.
“Tell me,” I whispered, forcing her gaze to mine and dropping my forehead down to meet hers. “Say it.”
“I... I can’t,” she barely squeaked.
“Good,” I grunted, tossing the business card away and gripping the railing on either side of her hips. “Because I’d really hate to have to kill him for touching you.”
Her eyes suddenly locked with mine. “Edward...”
“I can’t do this shit anymore,” I admitted. “I just can’t... I’ve tried so fucking hard to stay away from you, but I can’t.” With just the right move, I could press my lips to hers, but I didn’t. And it was torture, especially when Bella’s tongue glided sexily across her bottom lip. “I want you, and it’s selfish and stupid because I can’t promise anything. I don’t know...anything. But I know for a fucking fact that no one will ever lay a finger on you. Not Volturi, and certainly not the motherfucking cable guy!
“But Jesus, Bella, I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore,” I declared, closing my eyes, and my heart pounded at just how weak I felt finally admitting that aloud.
My eyes snapped back open when I felt warm fingers slip up my jaw and through my hair. Her face looked pained as those deep eyes raked over me, but then morphed into no expression at all, and I was damn sure she was about to strangle me with her bare hands. And I would deserve no less for the way I’d treated her.
“I’m sorry,” I gushed softly. “For all of it. For everything I’ve said. It was bullshit.” I panted, letting go of the railing and opting for her waist instead. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know about my family. Hell, yes, we’re excited about the baby. I’ve been teasing my sister that it’s a boy from the get-go simply because I know she secretly wants a girl. My parents? They’re over the fucking moon. Hell, they’ve all but put it in sky-writing that they’ll be grandparents.”
Bella’s brow furrowed at my sudden rambling. “You hurt me,” she whispered.
I nodded fervently. “I know. I’m so sorry.” I cupped her face, making sure she was looking at me. “You did nothing wrong. It was all me. All my fault. I thought you’d be better off with someone else, but I realized that the thought of someone else touching you makes me a lunatic and—”
“Edward,” she interrupted me, a slight smile curling her lips. “I... I don’t want the cable guy, and I don’t want you to leave me alone...ever again.”
I studied her face, her eyes, even her mouth, but my hand slid slowly into her hair at the base of her skull. Threading my fingers into the silky locks, I pulled her mouth to mine. This wasn’t like our kiss on the plane. There was no preamble to it. It was instantly deep, claiming, desperate. Tongues twisted and tangled, teeth scraped along bottom lips, but I pulled back when Bella used my shoulder to pull herself up onto the railing.
I panted, realizing she was nearer my height, but my heart thudded in my chest when I stepped between her legs, diving back for her mouth. Still keeping one hand in her hair, I wrapped the other around her waist completely so she wouldn’t fall.
Instantly, I was hard for her and now pressed tightly where I could feel searing heat rubbing against me. It caused a moan to push out of me against her cheek, especially when those insane legs wrapped around my hips to pull me that much closer.
Breaking away from her lips, I bent her head at an angle so that I could catch my breath but kiss down the side of her neck. That sweet skin had been calling me for ages. I’d felt denied the last time we’d kissed, but I wouldn’t be denied again. And fuck, if it wasn’t worth the damn wait.
“Edward,” I heard in my ear, and my God, that was better than how it sounded in my dreams.
“Hmm?” I hummed against the soft skin behind her ear.
“Edward, I want you to show me around,” she whispered, and my head popped up from her neck to look her in the eye. “This place means something to you. I want you to do it.”
Something possessive and feral ran through my soul at the sound of that request. And as much as I wanted to take her right there in front of God and everyone, maybe I needed to earn her trust back. She wanted me; I could feel it in her kiss, the way her legs were shaking around me, and holy shit, the heat coming from between them, but I’d be an ass to force it all right this second. I’d fucked up. I needed to repair that, and this was the first thing she’d voluntarily asked of me in so damn long.
“Yeah?” I said with a quiet groan, mentally trying to force my dick back into submission, but it was nearly impossible when she bit her bottom lip and nodded. “Today? Now?”
“Whenever.”
I shook my head. “No, don’t do that. You tell me what you want, Bella. You wanna go today?”
She grinned, letting a little laugh out. “Yeah.”
I took a deep breath and a half-step back from her, setting her down onto the deck. “Okay. Go get ready, see if anyone needs anything while we’re out, and meet me in the living room.”
Her smile was a billion times brighter than that fake shit she’d tossed Seth’s way, and I couldn’t help but chuckle as she dashed inside the house. I shook my head, feeling whole for the first time since we’d been in my old house, and I realized my need for her was more than I’d thought. Uncle Al was right. I’d been knocked straight on my ass. I just wasn’t sure what the future held for us.

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