Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | By: Drotuno

In Pursuit Chapter 23 & Pics

Chapter 23
Bella POV
We’d been in Forks for four days, waiting for Al to give us a call about the house being ready. He’d finally called just a few hours ago, telling us the house was ready for us and we needed to be up in Seattle the next day. That gave us twenty-four hours to pack up everything from the house here, twenty-four hours to spend with the boys, and twenty-four hours to say goodbye to someplace that had begun to feel like home from all the time we’d spent here. I wasn’t looking forward to leaving, although finally getting settled would be a welcome change. As much as Forks had felt like home, the house wasn’t ours. We hadn’t personalized it at all, and I was looking forward to being able to find and hang pictures I thought were pretty, or picking out new bed linens and covers that matched my style.
Edward and Jasper had offered to pack up all the kitchen stuff we’d bought so Alice and I wouldn’t have to start completely over with dishes and cookware if the furnished house we were renting didn’t come complete with things like that. While they packed those boxes, Alice and I were each going through our clothes and packing those.

We didn’t have a lot – most of our clothes from New York had apparently been picked through by the local Marshal’s office and sent to the the office in Seattle. Anything without our names or initials – anything to tie them to our old lives – was already there waiting for us, and that included some of Alice’s CDs and my books. Al had said it wasn’t standard procedure, but given the way the trial had turned out and the fact that we were clear across the country, he felt it was okay. We would have to start over with new tablets so any books or music we bought were in our new names, but that wouldn’t be a huge deal. Everything else – furniture, dishes, appliances, and most of our jewelry – had been sold and used to pay off what little credit card debt we’d accrued.
Al had also promised he would save our parents’ wedding and engagement rings so we could do something with them. Alice and I had talked at length about it and decided we would get them melted down into a new design with the diamonds in new settings and keep them as earrings for Alice and a necklace for me. That way, they looked completely different, but we would know they were there and what they’d been. Al had told us to let him know what we wanted and he would take care of it personally.
As I folded one last T-shirt and placed it in the box, there was a knock on the door frame. I looked up to see Edward leaning casually against it, feet crossed at the ankles and thumbs hooked in the pockets of his jeans.
“Hey.” I smiled, feeling my heart squeeze as he broke into a smile of his own and came farther into the room to put his arms around me.
“How’s it going?” he asked, nuzzling the top of my head.
I shrugged, gesturing to the bed. “It’s going. I’m pretty much done. I kept out one outfit to put on in the morning, but everything else is packed.” I laughed dryly, the lack of humor evident. “Pretty sad that most of my entire life has been reduced to two boxes.”
Edward’s hands moved up and down my arms in a soothing gesture. “They’re just things, baby. You gotta remember that.” He tilted my face up with a finger under my chin. “It’s what’s in here—” he tapped my chest over my heart “—that matters. That hasn’t changed. The name, the...stuff...” He shrugged. “That’s all it is. Stuff.”
Nodding, I tried to smile, but when that failed, I snuggled back into his chest. “I know. I really do.” Sighing, I realized there was something I wanted to do before we left Forks. “Can we...”
At my pause, his chest rumbled as he asked, “Can we...what, Bella?”
“Can we go to the meadow? I mean, do we have time?”
“Yeah, of course. If we go now, we can be back just in time for dinner. I think Alice mentioned something about wanting to go out, all four of us, to the Lodge.”
I smiled at the thought of the “fancy” restaurant in town. It was loads more casual than a lot of places I’d been to in New York, but they made a mean steak, and the people there were friendly. “Sounds good,” I said, pulling away and reaching for my sneakers. “Give me two minutes and I’ll be ready.”
Edward smiled and nodded at the door. “I’ll go let them know we’re going out, but will be back in time to go to dinner.”
He left the room, and I rushed to the bathroom, using the toilet and washing my hands before pulling my shoes on over my socks. By the time I got downstairs, Edward was waiting on the back porch, staring out over the trees.
“Pretty day,” I said, moving up beside him.
Slipping his hand into mine, he led me off the porch, into the grass. “Yeah, it’s beautiful out here when it’s sunny.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “I’ve gotten used to the clouds, though. It’s still pretty, just not in the same way, I guess, when it’s gray and rainy. Everything’s so green here. I love it.”
As we walked through the woods to get to the clearing, we were quiet, listening to the small animals scampering about and the birds echoing in the trees above us. My mind was on a constant loop, worry over getting settled and being apart from Edward after living with him for three months being the primary thought. I also couldn’t stop thinking of Al’s whispered words to Alice and me during his last visit. He’d said we were good for the boys, that he was amazed at the changes in both of them – especially Edward – and to not worry about the things that were about to change. He’d promised to keep the boys in line for us. At the time, it had made us giggle, but now... Now, I couldn’t help but worry that the changes Al saw in Edward would go away once we got to Seattle. We wouldn’t be living together, wouldn’t be together nearly twenty-four hours a day like we’d grown used to. He would go back to his job, back to his family and his life before me. The bars, the women... I didn’t want to feel like I was holding him back. I knew he wouldn’t cheat on me – I trusted him and knew him well enough to know he wasn’t that kind of man – but I was afraid that he would feel stuck with me and wouldn’t know how to end it.
“I can hear the gears turning in that mind, beautiful,” Edward said, pulling me into the middle of the meadow.
I looked around, surprised that we’d reached it already. Shrugging, I took a seat beside him in the grass and sighed. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he huffed, pulling me down so we were lying on our sides facing one another. “I wish I could read your mind,” he grumbled almost to himself. “Talk to me, baby. You were a million miles away the whole walk here.”
“I...” I shook my head, trying to figure out what I wanted to say. After a moment, I finally said, “I’m scared things are gonna change.”
Edward reached out and pulled me to him. His legs tangled with mine as he propped his head up on one hand, the other reaching around to rub up and down my spine before settling at my waist. “They will change,” he admitted softly, “but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a bad change.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, my brows furrowing.
“We’re going back to the real world, baby. There’s no getting around that. And for a while, that means we will be living separately, seeing each other in an official capacity when we need to and personally on the down low when we want to. But Bella, we’ll still see a lot of each other, especially since we’ll live so close – hell, we’re practically gonna be neighbors. We won’t be able to go out together for a while, and you can’t come to my place yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t pick up dinner for us and come over if you want me to.”
“I want you to,” I interrupted quickly, squeezing him close and making him chuckle.
He leaned in and kissed me softly. “I’ll be there, then.”
“I’m scared about starting over,” I admitted softly. “There’s so much to think about – driver’s license, job, car, bank account, credit card...and those are just the big things. There’s lots of little things, too. Finding my way around town, getting a library card, shopping for clothes for work – assuming I can find something – and play.” I was beginning to panic, my breaths coming out shorter and shorter. “The list seems endless, and I—”
Edward placed a finger over my lips to stop me from continuing. “Breathe, baby,” he said in a sweet, calm voice. Once I was breathing steadily, he continued. “Remember what I told you before? You aren’t alone, Bella. For one thing, you’ll have Alice, but beautiful, you’ll have Jasper and me, too. We’re gonna be there to help you with everything you need. We’ll help secure you a vehicle until you’re able to buy one. I’ll scour over the want ads with you if you want. I’ll play tour guide, pointing out everything you might need, from the grocery store, to the local yoga studio...” He waggled his eyebrows, making me giggle. “Whatever you need, I’ll be there.”
Like aloe vera on a sunburn, his words soothed my fears, at least for the moment. My shoulders and back unknotted, leaving me feeling relaxed and nearly boneless in his arms as he resumed the slow movement up and down my spine.
We were quiet for a while, sharing gentle kisses and listening to the sounds of nature as we enjoyed the sunshine. A hawk called out as it flew overhead, breaking the silence for a moment.
“I’m gonna miss Forks – and this place,” I huffed, reaching out to brush my hand over the grass by our heads. “I’ve loved it here.” Inside, I wished we could stay in Forks forever, but with Edward’s job, that wasn’t possible, I knew.
Edward’s smile was blinding. “Baby, nothing says we can’t come back here after you’ve been formally introduced to my family. You’ve only been Bella and Alice Swan here in town, so no one knows you from your previous life.”
“Yeah?” I asked, feeling almost giddy that we didn’t have to give up what had become a sanctuary in the crazy storm of the last three months.
“Yeah,” he murmured, kissing me softly. “I’m glad you love it as much as I do.”
I nodded. “I do,” I said with a sigh, raising my head from his arm to look around. “Promise we can come back?”
He smiled gently. “Yeah, B. I promise.”
“Good.” I pushed up to a sitting position, uncomfortable from lying on the hard ground for so long.
“Ready to go back?” Edward asked as he sat up, too.
“Yeah, I think so. Next time, we’ll have to bring a few blankets to put down,” I said with a laugh, brushing myself off once he’d helped me to my feet.
Edward laughed and nodded before taking my hand and leading me back into the trees.
Dinner out with the four of us had been a lot of fun. We’d all dressed up instead of going in what had become our standard clothing – T-shirt and jeans. Apparently, Alice and Jasper had gone shopping while Edward and I were at the meadow, and she’d picked out a pretty dress to go with a pair of the shoes I’d gotten for the trial. The dress had fit her except in length, and when I’d tried it on, it had been perfect. Edward and Jasper had worn slacks and dress shirts, although they’d both rolled the sleeves up.
I was glad to be ho—back at the house, though, because Edward had been unable to keep his hands to himself all evening. At first, it had been light touches to my bare arms and shoulders. Then at the table, once hidden by the long tablecloth, his hand had slid up under the hem of my dress to rest on my thigh. He hadn’t gone any farther up than that, but his fingers were...very long, and by the time the check came, my panties were so wet, I was afraid when I stood up, I’d have a spot on the back of my dress.
It hadn’t helped any that the waitress had been all over him, flirting and trying to get his attention. She’d called him handsome – “Can I tell you the specials, handsome?” and “How’d you enjoy your dinner, handsome?” – and had even tried to slip him her number with the check. He’d ignored her advances, keeping his attention focused on me, but it had still pissed me off. I’d been right there, and she’d still flirted with him. Of course, along with the anger had come the pride that he wasn’t able to keep his hands off me, that he hadn’t paid her a bit of attention, and it was those two facts that had kept me wet for him the whole drive back to the house.
“You’re too gorgeous,” I told him as I slid off my shoes. My entire body felt alive, like I could still feel his fingers on my skin, and the thought was nearly making me tremble. “Didn’t you see the way the waitress was looking at you? Like she wanted you inside her.”
“You’re the beautiful one,” he said, turning me to face the mirror. “I wanna be inside you.” He pressed against my ass as his hand trailed down my cheek, my neck, my chest. “Can’t you tell?”
“God, Edward.” My breaths came out quicker, my heart pounding beneath his hand. I leaned back against his chest and lowered my hands.
He slid the narrow strap of my dress down my shoulder and stroked the skin of my upper arm. Capturing my gaze in the mirror, he bent his head and placed a string of light kisses along the nape of my neck. My shiver was all the encouragement he needed.
I squirmed beneath his touch, and he released me, nudging me forward just enough to get his hand between us. Gently, he worked down my zipper, then stooped and kissed my shoulder blade. First one, then the other. I held my breath, and he smiled, caressing my body beneath the loosened material. He traveled north across my rib cage, stroking upward until he found my breast and cupped it in his palm. I trembled beneath his touch, and his smile grew.
With his other hand, he eased the second strap down my arm, and the dress pooled onto the carpet. The reflection in the mirror of me wearing nothing but a tiny blue thong held his gaze. He hooked his thumbs into the scrap of material. My eyes fluttered closed as he grazed his fingers between the fabric and my skin.
The spell broke when I stretched up, arching my back and thrusting out my breasts. I slipped my hand behind his neck and weaved my fingers into his hair. He swept his hands up my body, his cock throbbing harder against my lower back and ass with each caress.
“Turn around, baby.”
My nipples tightened as he rubbed his fingertips across their hard points, my arousal almost dripping down my thighs at his next words.
“I ache for you to come all over my cock.”
I wanted bad...but I wanted to touch him more. “Not yet,” I whispered, shaking my head.
He was still as I reached out and slowly unbuttoned his dress shirt, pushing it off his shoulders until it hit the floor. The low light in the room put the hard planes of his chest and stomach in shadows, but I was still able to see enough details that I nearly drooled.
I trailed my fingernails from his shoulders down his torso and stopped at the brown discs of his nipples. Stepping closer, I bowed my head and brushed across each peak with my tongue as my hands followed the arrow of reddish-brown hair to his belt. With a flick of my fingers, I released the thin leather strap. He gasped as I slid my hand into his waistband.
The rasp of his zipper filled the silence in the room. I glanced up to see his hooded eyes watching my every move. I tugged the pants over his muscular ass, dragging his boxer briefs along with them. The mushroomed head of his cock popped out, purple and swollen, and my entire body clenched in anticipation.
I skimmed my hands along his thighs, guiding the slacks down his legs, and slowly sank to my knees. His rigid cock grazed my cheek, the soft skin like velvet over steel. Nestling into him, I swirled my tongue against the coarse hairs. I lapped at his balls, luxuriating in his all-male aroma, before sucking one into my mouth.
He groaned when I glided my tongue up his shaft, along the rigid veins, and he clutched my shoulders as I licked a drop of pre-come from the tip. With my hands on his thighs, I sucked the thick head into my mouth, loving the way his legs trembled.
“Fuck, baby, I can’t take this.” His voice rasped from deep within his chest, but I knew he was strong enough to take this and more, so I didn’t let up.
He pulled my braid loose with one hand, his other still digging into my shoulder, and combed his fingers through my hair.
I continued to tease my lips over him, nibbling at the head, laving the tender underside of the crown, softly humming, and sucking harder on each upstroke. My desire grew as I consumed him faster and faster, swallowing him deeper with each caress.
“Shit, Bella, you have to stop.” He maneuvered his hands under my arms and pulled me up. “Anything. I’ll do anything you want, but if you keep doing that, I’m gonna come.”
“I want you to,” I said with a frown.
“No, baby. Not yet.” He pulled me close. “I haven’t tasted you yet.”
My insides clenched at the heat in his words.
He leaned forward, caressing his palms along the curves of my breasts, my torso, and lower until he arrived at my hips. With a devilish smile, he tangled his fingertips in the curls between my thighs. I moaned as electric shocks streaked through my clit, and my hips jerked.
I rocked against him, craving his touch, but then he pulled his hand away.
His smile softened as he stood there in front of me, and I took a step closer, glanced into his eyes, and gasped. In their depths was something familiar, an emotion I was afraid to put a name to. I shivered, and that broke whatever spell he’d found himself under.
He pulled me into his arms. “Cold?”
I shook my head and then stretched up, my nipples sliding against his chest, and kissed him. He clutched me tighter and then scooped me up into his arms. In a few long strides, he stood at the side of the bed and lowered me onto the center of the blanket.
As he looked down at me, his fingertips skimmed along the curve of my hip as my legs fell open, exposing me to his gaze. I was still – barely – covered by the thong, and I could feel how wet I’d made it as I reached down to trace my finger over it.
Edward growled. “I love watching you touch yourself, Bella, but this time, I wanna unwrap you.”
He slid onto the bed, bracing his arms on either side of me, and swung his body between my wide-spread thighs. He kissed my lips, along my cheek, moving lower to my throat. I wiggled and tried to thrust my hips against him, but he caught me and held me still.
“It’s my turn to have a little fun.” He sucked my nipple into his mouth, swirling the peak with his tongue until I moaned.
My body shook from my head to my toes, and I reached for his cock. He reared up just enough to stop contact.
Edward kissed his way down my body, laving at my navel, and then lower until he reached the apex of my thighs.
The wet thong came away easily from my slick body, and he slid it down to my knees. I pulled one leg up until he could slide the tiny piece of blue material over my foot, leaving it hooked on one leg.
My pussy was wet and throbbing as he ran an index finger between my folds, making me moan. My hips bucked as he slid his finger up and down along my slit, barely grazing my clit.
He lowered his shoulders, nestled between my thighs, and traced his mouth along the skin of my inner thigh until he reached my center. Slowly, he sucked first one of my lower lips and then the other into his mouth, nibbling gently.
I grabbed the rails of the headboard and rose to meet his face, but he pinned my hips in place.
“I want you to come on my tongue, beautiful,” he murmured, the vibrations against my clit making me jolt.
He dipped his index finger inside me, curling it just right. I moaned and my muscles clenched around him, holding him tight. He edged out and then slipped two fingers back in, twisting and turning, curling them again to stroke just right.
“Fuck, Edward. No more torture,” I begged, my words coming out strangled as he flicked his tongue over my clit. When he sucked it into his mouth and pressed harder with his fingers, I shattered, coming hard on his face and hand.
After a moment, his fingers slid out of me, and he wiped my wetness from his face and repositioned himself between my thighs. A hand on each of my calves, he lifted them and hiked my ankles onto his shoulders.
His cock rubbed over my still-sensitive clit for a moment, until he reached between our bodies and guided himself inside me. I gripped his thighs, urging him to move. He thrust in hard, causing ripples of desire to spread throughout my body, and I clenched around him.
Apparently, that was all it took, and he was unable to hold back any longer. Edward began pumping harder and faster, driving into me with a ferocity I’d been needing since he’d started touching me in front of the mirror. With a gasping cry, his thrusts faltered as he came.
Limbs shaking, he sank onto the mattress, holding me tight as we waited for our breathing to even out.
Wednesday morning, we were all quiet as we ate a quick breakfast that Edward had run out to pick up from the diner. None of us wanted to go, but we knew we needed to leave for Seattle as soon as we could.
“Ready to go?” Edward murmured into my ear as I dumped the remains of my breakfast in the garbage.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I guess I have to be, huh?”
He held me close for a moment until Jasper came in to grab the trash bag. We’d asked the diner if we could drop off one bag of trash into their dumpster on our way out of town, and they’d agreed easily. The house was clean, and once Edward set all the security shutters, no one would ever be able to tell we’d been there.
As Edward pulled the car out of the garage and turned to drive down the long driveway, I turned in my seat and took one last look at the beautiful house. I could only hope that he’d been right and we’d be able to come back one day, because I knew I was going to miss it.
Once the car turned a curve in the driveway and the house slipped out of view, I turned back to face front, smiling when Edward’s hand reached over and took mine.
Edward POV
As I drove through the streets, everyone in the car was too fucking quiet. It was nerves and changes, I was sure of it. The back of the car was packed to the damn top with everything the girls had accumulated since we’d taken them from the East Coast.
Taking the last turn down their street, I realized they weren’t just near my place, but they were barely a fifteen minute drive. I started to reconsider whether Al needed that punch in the face after all. He’d picked this place on purpose. I pulled into the driveway of the little cottage with a shake of my head, because to look at it, the little house just about screamed the girls’ names. It was an off-white trimmed in baby blue, with a small front porch, and the drive went all the way to the back of the house to the garage below a deck.
The garage was open when I shut off the car, turning to Bella next to me and then Alice in the back seat. Both were wide-eyed as they took in their new home.
“Ready?” I asked, wanting to chuckle because they looked more than a little excited and just a touch scared.
Bella nodded fervently and then swallowed nervously when someone stepped out the back door and through the open garage.
Picking up her hand, I said, “Relax. That’ll be the landlady. Remember? Al said she’d meet us here to sign the lease and hand you the keys. Umm...”
“Granger? No, Grayson,” Jasper said. “Betty Grayson.”
“Right.” I glanced between the girls. “She’s your first test as Bella and Alice Swan. You guys can do this. You were kinda doing it in Forks already. This is just the first of many real steps. Okay?”
Once the girls nodded, we all stepped out of the car. I smiled at the older lady in front of us. She had to be pushing mid to late sixties, but she gave off a calm, sweet vibe. Her dark, curly hair was cut short and had a touch of gray, and her hazel eyes were twinkling as she smiled.
“Hi. You must be Alice and Bella,” she greeted the girls first. “Now, which is which?”
“Bella,” my girl said, stepping forward and shaking her hand.
“Alice,” her sister copied. “You must be Mrs. Grayson. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Oh, stop. It’s Betty. I insist.” She smiled at the two of them and then looked to Jasper and me.
“Jasper Whitlock, ma’am,” he crooned, kicking that Southern accent into overdrive, and I almost laughed out loud because it took her off guard.
“Oh, gracious,” she stammered, smiling at him and then gazing up at me. “Which must make you Edward. Al’s told me all about you.”
“Oh hell,” Alice, Bella, and Jasper muttered all at the same time.
I grimaced but shook her hand. “Pay no attention to my uncle. Please.”
She chuckled, patting the top of my hand. “All good, sweetie. I promise. Al and I go back a long way. Now, let’s show you around, yeah?”
I gave her a half-smile and shot a glance at Jasper. Again, Al had set the girls up with someone he knew, someone he trusted, and I’d have been willing to bet that she knew why we were there. In fact, she asked few questions as she showed us around the house.
The house was really nice, with three bedrooms and three baths. There were hardwood floors throughout the living room and dining room, covered with expensive rugs. The furniture was comfortable, mostly using dark woods and neutral tones. The kitchen had the same wood floors, but looked like it had been recently renovated, with stark white cabinets and appliances, but the countertops were a solid dark gray marble.
The largest bedrooms were carpeted in beige, and they both had French doors leading out to a deck that overlooked the garage and small backyard. The girls were in love instantly. But they were head-over-heels when they saw the bathrooms – double vanities, garden tub with spray jets, and a separate shower. By the time we made it back to the kitchen where the lease was on the counter waiting to be signed, the girls were practically giddy, and Betty was just about to adopt the two of them as her own.
She set down the lease and looked between the two of them. “Feel free to move things around, decorate with your own touches. I don’t mind. Most every room as been recently repainted and the roof is new. But if you want to change the bedding in the bedrooms, I’ll totally understand.” She smiled at them when the girls nodded. “Good. We’ll just get you all signed up.”
The girls didn’t even hesitate with signing their new names. They flew through the lease as Jasper and I hung back a little. Betty folded up the papers once they were finished and handed over two sets of keys.
“Now, I’m not far if you need me – just across the street, two doors down. I know you’re new to the area, so if you need anything, let me know.” It was then that Betty gave me and Jasper a look that said she knew why we were all there. “Oh, and I wasn’t sure if you had time for lunch, so I put a few things in the fridge for you.”
“Thanks, Betty,” Bella said, shaking her hand one more time.
“Any friends of Al’s are friends of mine,” she sang, giving a wave as she made her way toward the front door. I could see she was going to walk back to her home.
“May I see you home, Betty?” I offered, because it didn’t seem right for her to walk alone – decent neighborhood or not. It was the gentlemanly thing to do, one of the important things my mom had taught me about how to treat a lady.
She smiled when I opened the front door. “Thank you, Edward.” We stepped onto the front lawn and across the street before she piped up with, “You want to know how I know Al, right?”
I laughed softly. “Well, it doesn’t surprise me, considering he seems to know every-damn-body.”
She giggled, a light, young sound coming from her, but her eyes seemed sad for a split second. “My husband, Harold, was a U.S. marshal. He was killed in the line of duty. They said it was his fault, but Al fought it tooth and nail, making sure I was still taken care of after he passed.”
We stopped at her front steps and both turned toward the house we’d just left. I wasn’t sure what to say to that, but it sounded like something Al would do.
“We raised three kids in that house. They’re all grown up with families of their own now.” She pointed to her current residence. “We’d bought this one to rent, but after Harold died, I couldn’t stay another minute in the old house – too many memories, too many ghosts.”
I nodded, shoving my hands into my front pockets, but then I gasped. “Harold Grayson!” My mouth hung open. “I’ve heard that story. He was on a fugitive recovery. The big issue was that he allowed the guy to get by him. He was shot.”
She nodded once. “Yeah. But the reason he let the guy by him was there was a family inside the gas station he’d hidden in. Harold didn’t want them in danger. It was better to let the guy go and continue the chase than to possibly shoot an innocent child.”
“I’d have done the same thing,” I admitted with a shrug.
“And that’s what Al told everyone that would listen. That Harold wasn’t letting the fugitive escape, he was saving innocent lives.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, though,” I told her.
She smiled, patting my shoulder. “Al was right about you. He said you weren’t what the outside appeared to be.” She gestured to the ink on my arm. “He also said those girls could use some mothering.”
Chuckling, I nodded. “Yeah, they probably could.” I held my hand out to her again. “It’s an honor to have met you, Betty.”
“Oh, Edward, I have a feeling I’ll be seeing you around,” she sang teasingly, giving me a wink before she stepped inside her front door.
Smiling again, I shook my head and made my way back across the street. The car was wide open, and I found Jasper with an armload to take inside.
“She knows,” he surmised.
“Oh, yeah,” I agreed with a nod. “She knows. Her husband was Harold Grayson.”
His eyebrows shot up. “No fucking way!”
I simply laughed, grabbing a bunch of stuff from the trunk. I dropped one box that was marked “kitchen” onto the counter next to another one and toted the other into what Bella had deemed her bedroom. I found her staring at the bed, chewing the ever-loving shit out of her bottom lip. Before I could ask her what was wrong, she just started rambling.
“Stay with me...just one more night.” She looked panicked. “I know you have family you wanna see and a house to get back to and shit you probably have to catch up on, but please?”
Frowning at this sudden change, I walked to the bed and sat down on the edge, pulling her between my legs, but she still babbled on.
“It’s a new place, and I just...I’m kinda nervous. Please, Edward?”
We’d talked earlier in Forks, but I could see that reality was crashing down on us. We’d discussed not wanting to stop what was between us, despite the fact that we had to hide it for a bit. I was home, where I had family, a house of my own, a job, and established relationships, but she was completely new here and now essentially on her own. It was a huge change from not only being in New York, but going from being on the run and hidden twenty-four-seven to free to live her new life any way she saw fit.
Cupping either side of her face, I brought her lips to mine simply to calm her...and to shut her up. “Hush, beautiful. What did I tell you?”
“That I’m not alone, and that you’re here as long as I want you here,” she sighed, gliding her hands up and down my biceps.
“Yes. Exactly,” I whispered against her lips, wishing like hell I could just keep her like this, always wanting me, needing me. Fuck, I would’ve begged to stay anyway.
“Well, I want you here. Tonight,” she whispered, almost sounding sheepish for asking. “It’ll just be...strange not having you in the house.”
“Then, I’ll gladly stay. Besides, I’d feel better once we have you up and established with at least one car, and you definitely need a phone. Both of you, actually.”
She nodded but looked away from me. “I hate that I’m keeping you from everything. You’ve been away from them for so long. You have a brand new niece. I know they’ve missed you.”
Grinning with pride at the mention of Ladybug, I nodded. “That’s true. And even though it’s a part of my job as your handler, I wanna help you with this stuff, Bella. They can wait. You can’t. I have plenty of time to see my family. But you,” I told her, pulling her to my lap. “You need me. And I’m really okay with that.”
“Really? Promise? You’re not just saying that?” She was utterly adorable as she ran her fingers through my hair, giving me the sexy-as-hell smile that I could barely resist.
Chuckling, I kissed her until we were both breathless. “Absolutely,” I whispered, dragging my lips across her cheek to her ear. “I think this bed needs...testing.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said, her barely audible voice cracking when my teeth scraped against her skin. “You might be right.”
“I am right,” I crooned, suckling her earlobe and smiling when she whimpered softly. “We have to make sure this mattress is sturdy.”
She giggled, her head falling back a little, and I took advantage of the exposed skin on her throat.
“Bella?” I purred. “Never, ever be afraid to ask me for something, understand? No matter what.” I pulled back to make sure she was listening, and deep, soulful brown met my gaze. “Promise me.”
She leaned in and kissed my lips with the sweetest, softest kiss ever. “Promise.”
“Oh, fuck me! Is that real, homemade oatmeal raisin?” Jasper groaned, tugging the tin full of cookies his way. “All my landlord ever gave me was a hard time when my water heater busted. He sure as shit wouldn’t make me cookies...and fuck-awesome potato salad.”
When Betty had said she’d left food for us, she hadn’t been kidding. It was a shit-ton of sandwich stuff, some homemade cookies and potato salad, and fresh iced tea. The cookies, however, probably wouldn’t survive the rest of the day.
I snorted, shaking my head and turning to Bella. “He’s so easily pleased.”
Both girls giggled, trying their best to hide it behind sandwiches and drinks.
“Shut up!” Jasper snarled. “Let’s talk about what your landlady gave you, shall we?”
“I don’t have a landlady anymore. I bought my house from her,” I said smoothly, daring him to push that subject in present company. “She was in the middle of a nasty divorce and needed someone to buy the house before the husband could get his claws into it. She sold it to me for the remainder of the mortgage just to piss off the ex.” I grinned at him, but Jasper snorted.
“A nasty divorce, huh?” Bella mused softly, her eyes narrowing on me. “Hmm...let’s see if I can guess. Jasper, tell me if I’m wrong, but was she pretty?”
“Very. And young. A trophy wife, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Oh fuck,” I sighed to myself, knowing I should just beat Jasper now and get it over with.
“And vengeful?”
“Oh, yes,” he sang, grinning my way when I flipped him off.
“So I can imagine that there was more than one way to get back at a nasty soon-to-be ex-husband besides taking a loss on a property sale. Such as a young, handsome man...” Bella assumed, her gaze glued to my face.
“Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner. And you were right in one!” Jasper praised, clapping his hands before shoving an entire cookie into his mouth.
“I hope you choke, asshole,” I told him and then turned to Bella. “I told you I wasn’t a saint.”
“Obviously,” Alice said with a laugh.
“And I needed a place to live,” I argued. “I’d been there since the middle of my second year of college, almost a year, and didn’t wanna move. My parents helped me buy it.”
“Oh, well, that makes sense, then,” Bella said with a nod.
“It does?” Alice asked, looking at her like she was crazy.
“Yeah, it does,” she said simply, shrugging a shoulder and locking gazes with me. “The homeowner wasn’t the only vengeful one.”
She knew. How she could possibly understand my anger issues after Maggie, I’d never know, but she did. Hell, she not only understood them, but she’d been the same way after her breakup with Mike. Whereas everyone had always judged my lifestyle after college, she didn’t. And it was all I could do not to blurt out my love her right there at the kitchen counter.
Instead, I shoved the last bite of my sandwich in my mouth in order to shut myself up.
“We should show them around, Ed,” Jasper offered, blessedly changing the subject.
I glanced up at the clock and finished off my Coke. “Actually, we could get a few things done while we’re out,” I mused softly with a slight nod. “They need phones ASAP. The banks aren’t closed yet, and they’ll need to know where the local stores are. You know, groceries and shit.”
Alice huffed a laugh. “This isn’t New York. We can’t walk everywhere. We’ll need a car, and soon.”
“Yeah, well, let’s see what we can do, yeah?” I grinned, shooing them off to get ready. “And bring all your new identification, ladies!” I called after them when they bolted down the hall. Turning to Jasper, I balled up a fist and punched his shoulder. Hard. “Asshat,” I growled. “What the blue fuck were you thinking bringing up Desiree? You didn’t even know me then! And it was one time!”
He cracked the fuck up, rubbing his arm. “Relax, Ed. I was just fucking with you. And obviously, Bella gets it.”
“Yeah, well...fuck, she doesn’t need it smashed in her face. It’ll be fucked up enough if we ever run into anyone,” I sighed, shaking my head and waving a hand at the lunch mess. “Clean this shit up. We’ve got things to do. And fucker, don’t you dare eat all those cookies!”
I drove while Jasper helped the girls locate different things. It was a long, frustrating afternoon, but we accomplished a hell of a lot of shit. Despite the fact that the girls had driver’s licenses from Washington, they needed to be updated with the correct address. Victoria had given them a bogus one temporarily. However, that didn’t stop us from opening bank accounts or getting the girls some new cell phones. The latter was the most important for me; they needed to be able to call us. It wasn’t negotiable.
Jasper, who was a whiz with computers, had us stop at an electronics store. The girls needed at least one laptop, which would run just fine from the Wi-Fi hotspot on their phones. From there, they could just about do anything else on their own – update their driver’s licenses, order cable and real internet, or even order pizza delivery in a pinch. But they really needed it for job hunting and car shopping.
With every new step, every new secured piece of their lives that fell into place, the girls became more and more at ease with their names, who they were, and how to talk about themselves. Jasper and I would hang back, only there to interrupt if we felt the need, but we didn’t have to. The girls nailed the entire afternoon as Alice and Bella Swan.
Food – both grocery store and restaurant – was the last thing on the list. The sun had set by the time we were making our way back to the girls’ place. Jasper and I pointed out the best place for pizza, Chinese, and a damned good, cold beer – which was oh-so-tempting – but by the time we lugged two pizzas and an ass-load of groceries into the house, everyone was tired of being in the car.
It wasn’t until after we’d eaten and shut ourselves off in her bedroom that I asked for her new phone. Leaning back against the headboard, I situated Bella between my legs. Alice had gone the iPhone route, but Bella had chosen a different smart phone. I scrolled through it, typing quickly as she watched.
“That’s my actual, personal cell number, beautiful,” I told her softly with a kiss to the side of her head. “I couldn’t take it with me, so it’s at my house. Besides my family, you’re the only woman I’ve ever given that number to,” I explained tentatively.
Bella turned around and straddled my lap, wearing the sweetest of smiles. “You’re serious.”
“Dead serious,” I whispered, hoping she understood.
Bella looked down at the phone between us and then locked gazes with me. Leaning in, she pressed a kiss to my lips. “Then I feel honored, Edward.” Then she did something that made me laugh. She ran her fingers through my hair, only to bring the phone up to snap a picture. “There!” she chirped. “With your handsome face, it’s perfect. And when I’m missing you, I can look at you anytime I want.”
My brow wrinkled at that last statement, and I cupped her chin. “You can talk to me anytime, too, Bella. Even if I can’t talk, I’ll text you. And that’s not fair! I want my own picture.”
I snatched the phone from her, loving that she was in my Batman T-shirt again. In fact, I never, ever wanted that son of a bitch back. It was hers. Always. I’d never be able to put it on again without growing hard. I took several pictures of her laughing, hiding, and reaching for the phone, but I was able to send them all to myself. It became a wrestling match for the damn thing at that point, but finally, we collapsed into a heap on the bed, and Bella turned the camera to both of our faces, quickly taking the shot.
“I want that one, too,” I told her, waiting until she sent it off before I tugged the piece of technology from her hand and set it on the nightstand. “And I want you...”
She smiled, slipping her fingers into my hair as I crawled over her and braced my hands on the side of her head. “Well, we do have to test this mattress, Edward. You said so yourself.”
Grinning, I nodded. “I did say that, didn’t I?” I whispered, leaning down to kiss her. “Then we’d best get started.”
I couldn’t fucking sleep to save my life. Tugging on my jeans, I stepped lightly through the silent house. I checked locks, I made sure the windows were closed, and I walked the entire place, but I still felt off, wrong. Hell, I even stepped out into the garage. Nothing wasn’t as it should be.
Grabbing a glass of milk and the last three cookies, I ate them standing in the kitchen, wracking my brain as to what was wrong with me. I wanted to chalk it up to a new place, or the fact that I was back in my hometown, but that didn’t seem to be it. I rinsed the glass and set it in the sink, making my way back to the bedroom.
The bed was a twisted mass of covers and sheets – a fact that made me smile. We’d truly tested the bed. It had passed with flying colors. Bella was curled up on her side, reaching for where I’d been moments before, but it was the sweat on her wrinkled brow, the frown on her beautiful lips, and the heartbreaking sound she was making that made me slip back out of my jeans and back into bed.
“Edward, no,” she whimpered, shivering under my touch.
“Shh, baby, I’ve got you,” I whispered against her sweaty brow. “Sleep, beautiful.”
She fought whatever demons were in her dreams, rolled over, and finally settled with her back to my chest. Pulling her close, I dropped light kisses to her bare shoulder, simply inhaling the scent of her that I’d grown to crave.
“You’re okay,” I soothed her.
Just when I thought she’d settled back down, my name hit the air, only this time, it didn’t sound so desperate. It sounded needy.
“Edward, I love you.”
My whole body froze, though I couldn’t have moved had a nuclear explosion happened right outside the door. My heart ached, thudding heavily in my chest to the point I thought it would wake her with the feel of it pressed to her back. Squeezing my eyes closed, I dropped a kiss to her shoulder one more time.
“You shouldn’t, Bella,” I barely breathed across her skin, but holy fuck, did I want it. “You haven’t even started living yet. You have no idea what’s out there for you.”
As if she heard me, a soft sob erupted from her, and for a split second, I thought she’d woken up, because she’d rolled back to face me. She wrapped herself around me like a limpet, but her eyes stayed closed. I couldn’t keep my lips from her skin. I wanted to kiss every drop of sweat away and push away whatever had made her cry out. I wanted to wake her, make her say it again, to say the words back, but I couldn’t. I was a fucking coward. The fear that she’d not meant it, that it was a dream, or that she was merely clinging to me out of habit from being together was too much to think about. In the dark, quiet bedroom, the monsters of my mind were out in full force, and I wasn’t so sure that in the light of day, I’d be any different.
The tiny brunette held my heart in her hands, and she had no fucking clue. I was terrified that she’d realize just what was out there for her, that I’d be tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage. I’d given my heart once, and it had been shit on and thrown back at me. I’d barely maintained my sanity. I wouldn’t survive it if Bella did the same thing. She’d come to mean more than Maggie ever had, and I’d lay down my life for her. She just didn’t know it.
Running my fingers through her hair, I held her close. “Fuck, baby, I really hope you mean that,” I whispered against her forehead, smiling a little when she sighed in complete and utter contentment. “’Cause you have no idea what you’ve done to me.”


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