Tuesday, July 16, 2013 | By: Drotuno

In Pursuit Chapter 18 & Pics

Chapter 18
Bella POV
The morning of the trial, I woke to the sound of Edward’s alarm. When my body registered what day it was, I couldn’t help but bolt to the bathroom, throwing up what little food was left in my stomach. Edward was there behind me immediately, holding my hair back and handing me a damp washcloth.
“Easy, Bella,” he murmured when I tried to stand. “Give it a second to see if you’re okay.”
I nodded, sinking back to my knees and reaching out to flush the toilet.
After three or four minutes had passed without me getting sick again, he helped me to my feet and guided me to the sink. “Brush your teeth. That’ll help get rid of that taste.”
As I brushed, my hands shaking, he walked to the shower and turned on the water. When he came back to me, he slowly stripped my T-shirt off.
“I’m going to grab another washcloth from the closet. Do what you need to do and then get in the shower. I’ll join you in a minute.” Pressing a chaste kiss to my forehead, he left me alone in the bathroom.
Quickly hurrying to take care of Mother Nature, I then stepped into the glass shower enclosure. The steam and heat wrapped around me and warmed me, so by the time Edward stepped in behind me, I wasn’t shivering quite like I had been.
“I’m so scared,” I admitted as he gathered me in his arms.
Edward tilted my chin up so I was looking at him, being careful to keep my head out of the water cascading down onto my back from the showerhead. “What’s scaring you the most?”
I shook my head, shrugging. “I’m not sure. Seeing Volturi, maybe? Getting to the courthouse and back safely? Both?”
I wrapped my arms around him, needing to feel him close.
“We’ve been over the plan from every angle, baby. Getting you there and back shouldn’t be a problem. Santiago and I have both done this before, many times, and Iverson’s got damn good instincts. You’re going to be as safe as we can possibly make it.
“As for seeing Volturi, you don’t even have to look at him once you’ve made the ID, Bella. You set your attention on Banner – or find me. I’ll be right there the whole time.”
Nodding against his chest, I murmured an okay and then stepped back into the spray. When I reached for the soap, Edward took it from me. “Let me.”
He spent a long time washing every part of me, from head to toe and everywhere in between. It wasn’t sexual. It was merely calming and loving, reverent and supportive all at once. Once he’d washed my hair, massaging my scalp and detangling everything with his long fingers, he gently pushed me back into the spray to rinse while he began washing himself. He ignored his rather impressive erection, cleansing himself with efficiency and haste. If it had been any other morning, I’d have delighted in taking care of it for him – with my hand or my mouth – but today, it was all I could do to stand upright.
Once we were both free of suds, I turned off the water while Edward stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. He held another one for me as I stepped out and then helped me wrap it around my body, tucking it in between my breasts.
“I’ll go get dressed while you do what you need to do in here. Do you want any breakfast?”
Just the thought of food made me feel green, so I quickly shook my head. “Some water would be good, and can you send Alice in?” I needed her to help with my hair and makeup.
“Of course.” He kissed me again, his arms tight around me, and then pulled away only to rest his forehead against mine. “We’ll get through today, and when we get back here, we’ll lock ourselves in our room for the rest of the night if we need to, okay?”
I nodded, watching his long lashes flutter against his cheeks as he stayed still for a moment.
Finally, he pulled away and moved to the bedroom, closing the bathroom door behind him so the warmth wouldn’t escape.
Pulling out the hair dryer and everything I needed to fix my hair and makeup, I listened as Edward opened and closed drawers in the bedroom, and then the other bedroom door opened and he walked out to get my sister.
Alice walked in a couple of minutes later with a bottle of water in one hand and a pair of panties and a bra in the other. “I thought you might want these, too,” she said with a small smile. “Easier than trying to keep the towel on.”
“Definitely,” I agreed, taking the clothes from her. “Thanks.”
I dropped the towel and quickly pulled on the simple white bra and panties. She handed me the water, and I downed half the bottle before turning on the hair dryer. Alice sat on the closed lid of the toilet, pulling her knees to her chest as she watched me dry my hair. She didn’t speak, for which I was grateful. I simply needed her presence, needed her there to help calm my nerves, and she knew it. It was how we’d been since we were kids. Even at our lowest points, just being around one another helped.
When my hair was mostly dry, she stood and moved to the stool that sat underneath the makeup desk built into the bathroom cabinet. Flicking on the brighter lights above that mirror, she then pushed my shoulder gently. “Sit,” she said. “I’ll finish that.”
Alice brushed and poked and prodded, pulling my hair this way and that, finally satisfied once she’d pulled the top half back, securing it with a gold hair clip and smoothing out the bottom half underneath.
Then she turned her attention to my makeup. “We’ll keep it simple. Understated. You’re not going there to look like you’re ready for a night on the town,” she said as she applied a light coverage of foundation on my T-zone, followed by powder all over my face. She applied a light shade of eyeshadow and then added my mascara and blush before holding up two shades of lipstick. “Pick one,” she said, wiggling one of the tubes back and forth a few times.
I laughed quietly and took the hint, pointing to the moving one. “That one.”
“Good call,” she said with a wink. “I doubt this will stay on long...”
She was right; I’d end up biting it all off.
“...but you never know. It can’t hurt to go out looking your best so you can try to feel the same.”
I nodded, reaching for the little black tube, which she let me take and apply myself.
“Know what you’re going to wear?” she asked once I finished.
As she followed me into the bedroom, I said, “Yeah, Angela brought a pair of dark pants with a wide, silver-studded belt, an off-white blouse, and a dark pink cardigan that I think will look okay.”
Alice nodded, moving to the closet and finding the exact clothes I’d mentioned. I pulled on a pair of knee-high hose – there was no point in wearing full hose with the pants – and then grabbed a thin T-shirt from the drawer and carefully pulled it over my head. Then I grabbed the dreaded Kevlar vest, and Alice helped me strap it tight before I finished dressing. Once I was completely dressed, I slid my feet into some low-heeled pumps and did a three-sixty spin in front of her.
“How’s it look?”
She smiled softly. “Perfect. They won’t know what hit ’em,” she said, carefully pulling me into a hug so she didn’t muss up the makeup or hairdo.
There was a knock on the door, and then Edward said, “Baby, it’s time to go. You about ready?”
I sighed, closing my eyes for a moment, and then answered, “Yeah, I’m ready.”
When Edward opened the door, I saw that he was dressed in a black suit, with a white dress shirt and black tie. His jacket was unbuttoned, his USMS shield clearly visible on his belt. I could see the bulk of his own vest under his shirt, but it did nothing to detract from how sexy he was in the suit.
“You look great,” he said when he noticed me fiddling with the hem of my sweater. “Let’s go, B. Iverson’s here to escort us downstairs.”
Alice and Jasper walked us to the door, and then she gave me one last hug.
“Be safe,” she whispered before releasing me.
I smiled, trying to project more calm and confidence than I felt. “You, too.”
Edward opened the door and ushered me out. Tim was waiting in the hall, dressed similarly to Edward, although his suit was navy blue and he didn’t have a badge on his belt.
“Morning,” he said. “You look great, Marie.”
We were quiet as Tim led us to the elevator and then out through the side door of the lobby to the garage. When we walked out, a white cargo van, not a delivery truck like I’d been expecting, with a crazy logo – a dancing loaf of bread and a cupcake with eyes – and the name Simon’s Bake Shop on the side was parked right by the door. The side door slid open and Damon Santiago was there, face serious.
“Right on time,” he said, stepping back. “Sorry about the lack of seats back here. I did add a couple of clean crates for us to sit on.”
“No worries,” Edward said as he climbed in and held out his hand.
I took the help and climbed carefully inside, not wanting to get my clothes dirty. Tim closed the back door of the van before getting into the passenger seat beside a man I recognized as another marshal named Shawn Nolan, who was driving. Once everyone was settled, Shawn took off, heading out into the sunshine.
“We’ll go to the service entrance of the courthouse,” Santiago said a few minutes later, startling me out of my artificial calm brought on by the quiet inside the van.
Edward nodded. “Any idea how far from that door to the room we’ll be waiting in?”
“I walked it a few days ago,” Santiago explained. “From that door, we’ll go down a short hallway, then wind through several more before turning right to take us to the main hallway. The room we’ll end up in is right across from where we’ll enter that main hallway, so not far.
“Nolan will stay with the van and move to the entrance we’ll take to get out of the building. Iverson will be standing guard just inside that door, and I’ll stay with the two of you,” he finished.
Edward nodded again. “Sounds good.”
“Two minutes out,” Shawn called back, speeding up after the light turned green.
My stomach clenched, and I wished with everything in me that I could reach over and grab Edward’s hand. I needed the strength I always felt from his touch. But for now, I couldn’t have that, so I clenched my hands into fists and tried to swallow back my nerves.
When the van finally pulled to a stop, Shawn and Tim climbed out of the front seats.
“Stay behind Santiago and right in front of me,” Edward said, catching my eye and holding my gaze for a moment until I nodded. “Ready?”
When I nodded again, he banged once on the door, which slid open.
Tim was there, turning back around to face away from the van after having opened the door for Edward. I could see Shawn standing near the front of the vehicle, scanning the area as first Santiago and then Edward climbed out of the van.
Edward held a hand out. “Now or never,” he teased as I hesitated.
“Is never an option?” I quipped, knowing of course it wasn’t, but unable not to let out some of the tension with a joke.
His gaze was tender for a moment before his features smoothed out, and then he helped me step from the van.
Tim led the way, going through the door first. Santiago was next, and then I stepped through with Edward behind me.
I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting, but the calm quiet of the hallway we entered wasn’t it. Maybe a lot more people, a lot more noise. But there was no one there, and what noise we did hear was muted, like they were far away or around multiple corners.
Tim stopped just inside the door. “This is where I leave you.” He smiled. “Kick ass,” he told me with a wink before disappearing silently back out the door.
“Let’s go,” Edward ordered, ushering me forward with a hand on the small of my back.
With each corner we turned, the noise got slightly louder. It was still quiet when we reached the main hallway – there were trials going on behind some of the closed doors, after all – but now I could see the activity and hear everything that went along with that. People talking in hushed tones, shoes clacking on the tile floor as people rushed here and there or paced restlessly, papers rustling. I didn’t see anyone I recognized, for which I was beyond thankful.
“Here we are,” Santiago said, unlocking the door to a room. “I’m the only one with a key.” He stepped in and made a quick visual sweep before stepping aside and letting us enter. “I’ll be right outside the door,” he told us, giving me a small smile before pulling the door closed behind him.
“C-Can I...?” I pointed at my chest, silently asking if we could remove my vest, which felt like it was beginning to suffocate me.
Edward thought about it for a moment and then finally nodded. Once I had my sweater and shirt off, he helped unstrap me from the Kevlar, setting it down while I put back on my shirt and cardigan.
“Better?” he asked, slipping a hand under my hair and cupping the back of my neck.
I nodded. “Yeah, thanks.”
He guided me down into one of the chairs around the small table. “Relax, baby,” he uttered quietly so no one outside the room would hear. “We should have a few minutes.” He took the seat beside me, pulling over one of the legal pads and a paper. “Tic-Tac-Toe?”
Chuckling, I said, “Bring it.”
For the next few minutes, we filled in the front and back of two sheets of paper with games like that. I never forgot where we were or why we were there, but it did allow me to relax a little bit, at least.
Then we heard quiet voices just outside the door, and Santiago knocked once and said, “Coming in.”
Edward stood and threw away our papers as Assistant D.A. Emily Young walked in, looking professional and poised in black-skirted suit with a deep brown leather briefcase.
“Good morning, Marie,” she said, smiling. “I’m just here to tell you everything is running on schedule, so you should be called in to testify within the hour. Do you have any questions for me? Now’s the time to ask.”
I thought for a moment and then shook my head. “No, no questions.”
“All right. Then I’ll be back to get you when it’s time for you to take the stand, okay?”
When I nodded, she smiled again and then left the room, closing the door gently behind her.
“You’re doing great, sweetheart,” Edward murmured when I collapsed back against the seat.
I felt sick to my stomach again, and my lip was beginning to hurt from where I’d chewed off most of the top layer of skin.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I needed to move. Trying to practice some of the deep breathing we did during yoga, I paced. Edward stayed standing by the door, watching me, but I paid him little attention as I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and controlling my breaths.
Edward’s soft, “Baby, come here,” startled me out of my routine.
I moved to him without question, and he once again slid his hand to the back of my neck, squeezing and rubbing gently, which calmed me more than any Valium in the world could have done at that moment.
He turned slightly and whispered, “You're gonna kick their fucking asses, sweetheart. Relax for me, yeah?”
Taking a deep breath, I nodded, closing my eyes and trying to find my center...whatever would allow me to let go of some of the nervous agitation I was feeling. When I felt as calm as I could possibly be, I finally answered, “Yeah.”
“Thatta girl.” His voice was full of pride and love as his hand rubbed my neck one last time before he let me go.
He’d succeeded in relaxing me enough that when someone knocked on the door, it startled me so much, I gasped and nearly tripped over my own two feet scrambling away.
Edward’s POV
The back hallways of the courthouse were a beehive of activity that did nothing to calm my nerves. I didn’t trust a single motherfucker in there except for Ben, who I knew was roaming around somewhere, although I hadn’t seen him. We were down a maze of halls close to the judge’s chambers, but they weren’t my concern. My biggest concern was slowly pacing back and forth in front of a row of chairs. I wanted to grab her, kiss her, tell her she could do this, but instead, I held my position at the door. Santiago was just on the other side in the busy hallway.
Bella looked beautiful, wearing gray and pink, and it fit her like a glove once we’d removed the Kevlar vest. But her face was pale, despite the makeup she was wearing. Her hands shook, her teeth were going to make that bottom lip of hers bleed, and her eyes were almost wild.
“Baby, come here,” I whispered, not giving the video camera in the upper corner of the room any notice. When Bella walked to me, I slipped my hand into her hair at the back of her neck and rubbed, smiling as she settled down just a bit. Turning away from the camera, I faced her. “You’re gonna kick their fucking asses, sweetheart. Relax for me, yeah?”
She took a deep breath, nodded, and tried to shake the nerves off. “Yeah,” she finally murmured back.
“Thatta girl,” I praised her, giving her neck one more squeeze before letting her go, though I was hating it.
A soft knock on the door made Bella practically jump out of her skin, but Santiago cracked it open to show Emily Young standing there next to him.
“Marie, it’s time,” she said, and Bella nodded, swallowing nervously.
Santiago turned to me. “I’ll take the back of the courtroom at the door. You stay with her. They’ll bring her in the side door.”
“Got it,” I murmured, guiding Bella out into the hallway.
Emily and Bella led the way, with Santiago and me right behind them. He deviated to the right at the first corridor, but we continued on to the side door of the courtroom, where Emily stopped. It took most of my concentration to keep my face blank as Emily gently told Bella that she could do this, that they’d take a break if things got too hard, and that she should stay calm, no matter what the defense’s lawyer said or asked.
The judge’s own security stood sentry in front of us. The name on his chest stated Shepherd. He was a tall African-American man, somewhere in his mid-twenties, and he was the one who finally opened the door. Bella gave me one last terrified glance before she was led into the courtroom full of people. Shepherd and I stood in front of the side door – the same door I assumed the judge had used to enter the courtroom.
The large room wasn’t exactly like it was on TV. There were similarities – dark wood, the tall judge’s bench, two tables for the prosecution and defense, and the sectioned-off set of twelve chairs where ordinary citizens sat trying to make sense of everything that everyone threw at them. What was different were the amount of people at the front. The court court clerk and the law clerk – the assistant to the judge – both sat on a one-step-up platform to the right of the judge, with the court reporter on the main floor level in front of them. Aside from the judge’s security, there were also two more bailiffs to either side of the courtroom.
The court clerk stood and asked Bella solemnly, “Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give is true?”
“I do,” Bella said, taking a seat beside the judge as the court clerk resumed sitting as well.
Banner moved to the podium in the middle of the aisle as Emily took her seat at the prosecution table. I gave a slow gaze around the room, noting that Santiago was slipping in silently at the back of the room. He stood at attention, his arms behind his back. My eyes continued to glance over the room as Banner started with Bella like he had in their meeting. I listened as she answered him confidently, but I continued to spy members of the press, a few cops from the NYPD, and finally, the fucking reason we were all here – Caius Volturi.
My teeth clenched as I watched his pompous ass try to intimidate Bella with just a look, which she wasn’t catching due to her attention being on Banner. Volturi seemed smaller sitting in that courtroom than what we’d all probably built up in our minds. And in all reality, he was just a short, slightly overweight old man who wasn’t worth any bit of all this trouble. Pushing mid- to late fifties, Caius had graying hair and a nose that clearly stated he drank way too much. His suit was flawless, expensive, and most likely Armani, tailored to fit him. His hands looked spotted and aged, and I internally rolled my eyes at the clichĂ© pinky rings adorning each hand. The fact that he and Felix were being tried together made him look all the more confident. If their trials had been separated, he’d have had no clue what Felix said in his testimony.
Felix was a different story. He looked calm, almost passive, as he sat there, but sweat glistened on his upper lip and brow.
Bella told her story without wavering, taking way longer than I expected, but she was on the stand for close to two hours. She answered Banner like he and Emily had coached her, pausing only when the defense objected, but really, there was nothing to object to – she merely was stating what she’d seen.
“The men you saw that night, Marie. are they in the courtroom today?” Banner asked, and I turned my attention to Bella.
She nodded at the same time she said, “Yes.”
“Would you please point them out for the court?” Banner instructed. When Bella pointed over to the end of the defense table, Banner gave her a surreptitious wink before facing the courtroom. “Let the record show the witness identified the defendants.”
My hands balled up into fists behind my back when Caius and Felix sneered at Bella from their seats – something I noticed even the jurors picked up on. The hate, the silent threat, and the looks between Felix and Caius should’ve been deemed scary for her, considering all the shit she’d been through, but with a glance Bella’s way, I wanted to smile. My girl was stubborn, independent, and so smart. Their angry faces didn’t threaten or scare her – they pissed her the fuck off.
Bella shot a quick look my way, and even though my face had to remain completely blank in front of all those people, I couldn’t help but give her a tiny nod. I could almost see her thoughts. She was about to unleash it all. Her beautiful face screamed the words, “Fuck ’em.”
I wanted to kiss the shit out of her right there.
“Defense, cross?” Judge Afton directed.
The lead defense attorney – Goldman – oozed greed and distrust and unethical values, especially considering who his clients were. With his slicked-back hair and his cold gray eyes, he smiled, trying to look kind, but really, he came across as a predator. We were closing in on midday, and I’d hoped they’d break for lunch before the defense got to her, but it looked like they were going to dive on in.
I recognized the look on Bella’s face from when we’d first arrived in Forks. I’d been an ass, and she’d looked at me with fire and what I’d thought was hate, but now I knew it was determination. That’s how she was bracing herself for Goldman. I wanted to feel sorry for the bastard, but I couldn’t.
Bella handled him brilliantly. Not a single question rattled her, even when her sexual activities came into the picture – which Banner objected to. She simply answered Goldman without batting an eye. And I could tell that she’d won the jury over completely. She was articulate and smart, a career-oriented woman – or she was at the time of the murder – and she didn’t apologize for drinking, blowing off steam, or for her activities with Jake. As far as she was concerned, she’d earned it all, and her tone was basically saying, “So what?” And fuck me, she was sexy as she answered every question about how much she’d had to drink, how far the walk was from the bar to her office, and was she absolutely sure the defendants were the men she’d seen.
Bella told that shit like she was leaving it all behind – just like I’d told her to – and by the time Goldman was through asking questions, she looked self-satisfied but exhausted. Her attitude never wavered, though, even after a small break for lunch. Not once.
I was absolutely fucking certain Bella Swan left Marie Brandon in that courtroom at the end of the damn day.
The judge called an early end to the day, stating that they’d pick right back up the next day. Santiago met us in the same room we’d waited in, only this time, Banner and Ms. Young were with him.
“That was perfect, Marie,” Banner praised her, wearing a smile as he patted her shoulder. “You must do better under pressure.”
“No,” Bella sighed, shaking her head a little. “Caius tried to intimidate me, and I just realized...this is all his fault.”
Again, the urge to kiss her stupid washed over me, and I had to grip my hair instead of Bella. As scared as she’d stayed throughout Long Island, Connecticut and, finally, Forks, she’d listened. She’d thrown away the guilt she assumed rested on her shoulders and set it firmly on the true guilty party.
“We should get her out of here,” I told Santiago, grabbing the Kevlar vest off the chair.
“I’ll arrange for a pick up at the side exit,” he stated, exiting the room.
As I helped Bella into her vest, her eyes locked with mine, but we said nothing because Banner was rambling on and on beside her.
“I don’t think we’ll need to call you back for a redirect, Marie. Your sister will take the stand tomorrow, followed by the detectives that were called to the scene. There are...a few more witnesses after that,” he hedged, “not to mention the medical examiner. Then we’ll rest and turn it over to the defense. They won’t put Volturi on the stand. It’ll never happen—” Banner stopped himself, shaking his head. “In other words, don’t leave town just yet, just in case we need you back up there, okay?”
“All right,” Bella sighed, but her eyes were on me again. Several emotions crossed that beautiful face – weariness, nerves, a touch of want, but the one that was most prominent was the need for approval.
When Emily and Banner lost themselves in conversation, I whispered, “Told you you’d kick ass.”
Bella smirked as I tightened the Velcro on the vest at the same time Santiago popped his head in to give me a nod. “Thanks, Edward,” she whispered.
“Mmhm,” I hummed, fighting my smile and helping her back into her sweater. “Ready?”
She nodded, waved goodbye to Emily and Banner, and let me guide her out into the hallway. Santiago led us toward a different exit than the one in which we’d been dropped off. A left turn, then a right, and finally another right put us at the end of a long hall, but I could see the exit sign ahead. I could also see Ben, who wasn’t alone. Riley – the detective from Ben’s department – had his back facing us and was talking to Ben, who smiled nervously and apologetically at Bella and then me.
It was too late to change exit strategies because Iverson was already waiting for us at the door. Ben wouldn’t have known where we were leaving or he would’ve never, ever brought that fucker anywhere near us, I knew that much, but it was too damn late. I gave him a quick shake of my head not to say a word to us.
“Don’t stop,” I whispered to Bella when I saw her eyes light up at the sight of my old friend. “Not now. Ignore him.”
Santiago heard me and shot me a worried glance, but he followed my lead. I guided us past the two cops, straight to Iverson, and out the door, the hair on the back of my neck prickling like a motherfucker. The bakery van was idling, and we dove straight inside.
“Drive. And watch your fucking six,” I told Nolan once the door slammed shut. “And watch it close.”
“Sir,” he replied, putting the van into gear.
“The guy with Ben?” Bella asked, looking nervous.
I nodded, turning to Iverson and Santiago. “The two men we passed in the hall? They’re NYPD. The smaller guy is trustworthy. The other? Not so fucking much.” I turned to Bella. “I want you down and at the ready. Got me? If we have to bail out of this van, you need to listen to every single word I tell you.”
Bella nodded vehemently. “Okay,” she whispered back, settling in on the crate she’d sat on when we’d driven in.
Iverson stepped over boxes and racks, taking a position at the back window. His instincts were good – really fucking good – so I trusted him to keep an eye out. Nolan up front was taking a twisted route to not only avoid traffic, but to just keep moving.
“We got a tail,” Tim warned, giving me a quick glance. “Four cars back – almost a block back, really. A dark SUV, maybe three or four inside.”
“Fuck!” I snapped, gripping my hair and trying to think. It wasn’t exactly a cake walk from where we were to the goddamn apartment. I turned to Santiago. “Guide Nolan, see if we can’t lose these bastards.”
“If not,” he grunted as he stumbled his way to the passenger seat, “then I can get us back another way.”
“I really, really don’t want to do this on fucking foot,” I muttered, shaking my head and giving Bella a quick check. “I want you to hold on and keep low, okay?”
“We don’t have to go on foot, Edward,” she whispered, gazing out the windshield briefly. “We could lose them in the subway.”
Santiago’s head snapped around to her, but he was wearing a devious smile. “Spoken like a true New Yorker.”
She shrugged. “I know how to get around this town. That’s all.”
He looked to me. “It’s a thought.”
I sniffed, shaking my head. “Tim, they still there?”
“And still coming,” he replied, pulling out his gun.
I gave Bella a long gaze and then Santiago, finally, waving them on. “If we can’t lose them soon – and I mean in the next block or two – then at least get us far enough away from them for a head start.”
Nolan nodded that he’d heard me and sped around a couple more corners before Santiago looked back. “Iverson?”
“Still on us,” Tim advised, looking away from the window to me. “What’cha wanna do, Cullen?”
My eyes fell to Bella, my nostrils flaring and my teeth grinding. Nothing could touch her. She’d kicked ass today, and I wouldn’t let that shit be all for nothing. And all that was looking back at me was trust and a touch of worry.
Meeting Santiago’s gaze, I asked, “We can lose them in the subway? This is your hometown, not mine, so I’m conceding this to you, man. I can’t have them catch up to us, but we can’t fucking lead them to where we’re staying.”
“We can do this,” he stated with a nod. “Marie, what’cha think? ACE trains uptown?”
“Yeah,” she answered softly, trying to peer out the windshield. “Where are we?”
“Almost to Washington Square,” Nolan answered.
“Get us as close to the Washington Square subway entrance as you can,” Santiago ordered him.
I knelt in front of Bella. “This is dangerous, baby,” I whispered only for her to hear. “I need you to listen to me carefully, okay?”
She nodded with wide eyes and a bite to her lip.
“I want you in my sight at all times. You’ll hold my hand, do what I tell you when I tell you, and if something happens to me—”
“Edward, no...”
I held up a hand. “If something happens, you stick to Santiago like glue. He and Tim will get you back to Jasper. Got me?”
“I need everyone ready in thirty seconds,” Nolan called over his shoulder. “You’ll have half a block to go before the stairway into the subway, but...” He glanced into his sideview mirror. “Their sight is blocked by two trucks as of now. They won’t see you.”
I nodded to Santiago but looked right back at Bella. “Promise me.”
Her chin quivered, but she nodded firmly.
“Tim, you’re with us,” I snapped, standing up and taking Bella’s hand.
“Sure thing.”
Traffic inched up a bit, Santiago grabbed the door handle of the passenger side, and Tim flanked Bella’s other side. I took a deep breath, waiting for Nolan.
“No guns on the streets,” Santiago suggested. “It’s too crowded. Some shit could go way fucking wrong.”
“Agreed,” Tim and I stated at the same time.
I gave Bella’s hand a squeeze, raising a warning eyebrow at her and saying, “Don’t you dare fucking let go.”
“Okay,” she whispered, nodding at the same time.
The van came to a complete stop, and Nolan kept his eyes on the side mirror. “Go, go, go! I’ll lead them away from you as best I can!” he told us.
The van’s door slid open with a bang, and Iverson and Santiago were on the sidewalk instantly. They gave glances left and right before waving Bella and me forward. The instinct to pull out my gun was hard to ignore, but I focused on the fast-paced walk we were now doing. The stairway into the subway was just ahead, but Iverson gave our six a quick glance.
“Fuck me, they’re on foot,” he seethed, looking to me. “They must’ve seen us when Nolan pulled away.”
“Mm’kay,” Santiago hummed, locking gazes with me. “Then, we run...now!”
The four of us took off at a run, Bella keeping a tight grip on my hand. Santiago led us down the sidewalk, spinning around the metal fence and down the stairs. Iverson took our backs. We narrowly avoided bowling over a young mother and her kid, not to mention an old man just trying to get up the stairs, but we continued to dodge civilians left and right.
Our advantage was our training. All of us. Even Bella was in decent shape. The guys behind us weren’t as fit. We barreled down the long passageway toward the turnstiles, Santiago immediately pulling out his U.S. Marshal’s shield.
“Federal agent. Move!” he yelled to the security guards that were already eyeballing us.
They backed off when Santiago launched over the turnstile on the far right, stopping long enough to reach for Bella when I lifted her up and over.
It was when she was set back down and almost slipped that she let out a curse, giving her shoes a scowl and kicked out of them. “Fuck that shit,” she muttered, taking my hand again.
I pointed to the closest guard. “Don’t let them through,” I snapped, jerking a thumb back to where our pursuers were still coming our way.
“That won’t stop them,” Santiago stated, coming to a stop on the platform. “It’ll merely slow them down. They’ll either pay or go around to another entrance.”
Just as he said that, sounds of chaos echoed up from behind us, along with the sounds of the incoming train.
“Fuck me,” Iverson grunted, looking between me and Santiago.
Three goons were forcing their way through the crowd, but they were making their way through simply due to the guns in their hands.
Iverson stepped forward, glancing down the tunnel and then toward the three hitmen. He sniffed, looking to me. “Do you trust me?”
“What’cha thinkin’?” I panted.
He looked to Bella and then to me. “Jump,” he muttered, jerking his thumb behind him at the tracks below.
“Are you crazy?” Bella whimpered, now seeing that the train’s front light was in sight down the tunnel.
I shot a look to the three mob guys and shook my head. “Go!” I told him before I could change my fucking mind.
Santiago and Iverson dropped to the tracks below. I swung Bella up into my arms bridal-style, handing her down. Waiting on the platform, I made sure that the hitmen saw what we were doing, that Santiago was out of the way, and that the train was almost into the station before jumping as hard and as far as I could, despite the screaming I could hear from Bella – my name and curse words the most discernible.
I swear to God, the back of my suit jacket was hit by the front corner of that motherfucking train, but it was so worth it because there wasn’t a thing the guys chasing us could do about it. I jumped over two tracks, pulling myself up on the other platform, only to be met with smacks to wherever Bella could reach.
“Have you lost your mind? You could’ve been fucking killed!” she hissed at me, every word accented with a pummel to my arms, chest, and stomach.
I grabbed her by the wrists, ignoring the chuckles from the other two men. “No, I haven’t. I’ve bought us time! Look...”
Her wild brown eyes gazed over at the train that was loading. She could see the three men pacing back and forth, but at that moment, another train pulled in on our side, blocking out everything. Guiding a still-seething and now barefooted Bella onto the train, I sat her down in the closest empty seat while Iverson and Santiago took either end of the car.
Kneeling in front of her, I said, “I’m sorry I scared you. I needed to buy us time, to block their way—”
“Don’t!” she huffed, looking away from me. “Don’t ever do that to me again.” When she set her sights on me again, her eyes were fire and pure anger and something I couldn’t quite place, but it was sexy as all hell. “I don’t fucking want Santiago...or...or Tim to get me back to Jasper,” she stated in a hissing whisper, using air-quotes to spit my own words back to me. “Do you hear me, Edward?”
Swallowing thickly, I nodded. “Yes.”
“All I could see was you and that fucking train coming,” she muttered, frowning at me but distracting herself by tugging off her now-ruined hose-like things. She wadded them up and stuffed them into the pocket of her pants. “And we’re going the wrong way.”
“We’ll change trains at the next stop,” I assured her, letting out a breath that she’d at least stopped seething at me...and hitting me.
She was eerily silent for the rest of the ride, even when we decided against changing trains and opted for a cab. She sat between Tim and me in the back seat while Santiago sat in the front as we wound around Midtown toward Chelsea. No one followed us, no one looked suspicious, and no one said a word. Even the cabbie, who had been fucking chatty when we first got in, shut the hell up when no one engaged with him.
Just in case, Santiago took his information and told him to keep the ride off the record and to forget where he dropped us off. Iverson followed us as far as the front lobby, but Santiago rode the elevator to the penthouse floor. I opened the door, and Bella bolted inside, but Santiago stopped me.
His smirk was hard to miss. “Thought she’d claw me to death when she watched what you did back there, kid.”
I shook my head but said nothing, afraid anything I did say would be misconstrued.
He chuckled, shaking his head. “She trusts you. Openly. And that’s good.” His eyes narrowed on me again. “Ask your Uncle Al how I met my wife...and why I’m partially retired.”
My eyes snapped to his, and I didn’t have to ask. I saw it all in his expression. “WitSec?” I asked.
“Indeed,” he said with a chuckle. “Your uncle’s a sly old man. I was wondering why he requested me specifically.”
I snorted, rolling my eyes. One day, I was really going to punch Al. Maybe at the next family gathering I could attend. I sighed, shaking my head as Santiago smiled at me while the elevator doors closed.
Walking into the house, I saw Jasper looking worriedly down the hallway toward the room I shared with Bella.
“Ooh, she’s pissed, dude. What did you do? And you look like hell!”
“Later,” I muttered, following the sound of Alice’s chatter.
Bella was rambling about what had happened, but her eyes met mine and she shut up when I stepped into the room. Alice could only watch her sister pace – dirty feet and all – at the end of the bed. She’d already removed her sweater, outer shirt, and the Kevlar vest.
Alice shot me a worried glance, standing up from the bed and saying, “Jasper cooked dinner. We’ll talk about everything later.” She kissed Bella’s cheek, giving her a small smile before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
It was then I got a chance to really look at Bella’s feet. Small specks of blood stained the carpet.
“Come here, baby,” I sighed, shrugging out of my jacket and tossing it on the bed. My tie followed right behind it.
Bella said nothing as I ushered her into the bathroom, plugged up the sink, and filled it with warm water. Lifting her up, I set her next to it on the vanity. I dropped a clean washcloth into the water, but Bella stopped me. With a furrowed brow, she unbuckled my shoulder harness and unbuttoned my shirt, shoving it all off my shoulders to the floor, and then she ripped the Velcro on my own vest.
“Bella,” I sighed, reaching for the wet cloth and starting to clean up her right foot. “I had to keep you safe. I knew what I was doing.”
“I know.”
I dropped the cloth back into the water, causing a small splash, but I grasped either side of her beautiful face, pressing my forehead to hers. “No! You don’t fucking know, Bella. I have to keep you safe. Not for court, not for my job...for me!”
Tears welled up in her eyes, but she nodded. “I don’t want anyone else to get me to Seattle, Edward.”
“I know.”
“No, you don’t.”
I smiled when she locked gazes with me. We were both trying our fucking best to say the same damn thing. Considering our pasts, that was just about the closest we’d probably get at the moment. Trusting someone with your life was one thing; trusting them with your heart was another.
The adrenaline in my veins was still pounding, and I couldn’t keep my lips off her. Strange noises erupted from us at the same time as I kissed the shit out of her. She pulled me between her legs, wrapping those glorious things around my waist as her fingers wove into my hair. I slowed the kiss down, raking my teeth over her bottom lip. Pulling back, I gazed at her.
“I’ll be more careful, Bella,” I vowed softly, and she nodded. Picking up the cloth once again, I said, “Now, let me clean you up.”


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