Sunday, August 11, 2013 | By: Drotuno

In Pursuit Chapter 26 & Pics

Chapter 26
Bella POV
As soon as Al’s car and Edward’s motorcycle disappeared from view, I stumbled back a few steps. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the door after Jasper closed it, and I ignored Alice’s call of my name. I felt like my chest had been ripped wide open. I’d given him my heart, and he hadn’t been able to get away fast enough. It had been for work, but still, it had also been his choice, not a direct order from his boss.
“Bella, sweetie?” Alice said softly, moving up to stand in front of me.
I shook my head and turned, moving quickly back to my bedroom as my tears finally fell.
Shutting the bedroom door behind me, I stood there, my heart aching, my breaths coming unevenly as I surveyed the rumpled sheets from where we’d spent hours in bed together. Then my eyes fell on the T-shirt he’d pulled off in order to put on the USMS one I’d had. Without giving it a second thought, I pulled my own shirt off and picked the well-worn, soft, black one up from the floor, sliding it on over my head. It was one of his larger shirts, so it nearly swallowed me, but it smelled like Edward, and that was what mattered.
I curled onto my side on the bed, burying my face in the pillow he’d used, and cried.

For what seemed like hours, I couldn’t seem to get a handle on my thoughts and fears and emotions. Had I pushed him away somehow? He’d admitted to needing space from me. Had I been so needy that he couldn’t handle it? Had my declaration of love finally given him the last push out the door that he’d needed? I knew he was gun-shy about relationships since his history with Maggie in college. It was why he didn’t “do” relationships – until me. And I totally understood. I’d been the same way after Mike. But I thought we had something special, something lasting. Maybe I’d just been fooling myself.
“Bella?” Alice’s voice called softly as she knocked lightly on the bedroom door. “Can I come in?”
Sniffling, I croaked out, “Yeah, Pix. Come in.”
She opened the door and immediately crossed to the bed, pulling me into her arms when I sat up, clutching the pillow tightly. “Oh sweetie.” She hugged me as I began to cry again, ignoring the salty tears dripping onto her shirt. “Go ahead and let it out.”
“He...he left,” I gasped out, feeling the ache in my chest get ever-so-much stronger.
“I know, Bella,” Alice said, her hands rubbing up and down my back as she hugged me tighter.
“No, you don’t understand,” I told her, shaking my head. “I told him I loved him, and he left.”
She started to speak, but must have decided not to say whatever she’d been planning to say, because she just rocked me in her arms and let me cry.
When I was finally able to calm down enough to speak, I sat up, swiping at my eyes, and admitted, “I don’t know what to do...what to feel.”
Alice looked at me and smiled sadly. “I can’t tell you that, sweetie. I’m sorry.”
I laughed wryly and shook my head. “No, I know. Just sayin’. I feel like he’s been using the excuse of being busy with his family to pull away, even if it’s his subconscious. He has...not had a good history with relationships”—Alice knew that much of his past, so I wasn’t spilling any secrets there—“and I’m worried that even if he does feel the same, he’s been burned too badly in the past to take that risk again now.”
“B, I don’t think that’s it,” Alice argued softly, putting her hand on my jean-covered knee. “He probably didn’t want to say it as he was running out the door. Don’t jump to conclusions. Hang in there until you’ve had a chance to actually talk to him.”
I knew she was right. Before he’d left my room, he’d said the conversation wasn’t over. But his reaction to those three little words hadn’t given me much hope.
When I didn’t respond, Alice sighed and squeezed my knee. “I hope it’s okay, but I told Jazz to go ahead and go help his friend move. He said if we needed him, we just need to call him and he’ll come straight here.” She paused, biting her lip. “I hope that was okay.”
“Yeah, Ali,” I sighed. “That’s fine.”
“Okay, good.” She smiled and stood, reaching out for my hand. “Come on, sweetie. Let’s go see if our old standby can make you smile.”
Princess Bride?” At her nod, I couldn’t help but grin and said, “Perfect.”
I loved that movie and could almost quote the whole thing. It had been our go-to movie when we were feeling sick or lonely after our parents died. We’d last watched it about two weeks before Eleazar’s murder.
It had been a couple of hours since Edward had left with Al. I was still in shock, feeling pretty damn numb, and my eyes hurt from the crying I’d done on Alice’s shoulder. So when my phone rang, I reached for it hungrily, hoping against hope it would be Edward. Instead, an unknown number flashed across the screen.
Alice paused the movie as I hit Accept and then said, “Hello?”
“Yes, hello. Is this Bella Swan?”
I didn’t recognize the woman’s voice, so I cautiously said, “Yes, this is she.”
“My name is Joyce Robinson, and I’m calling from Virginia Mason Medical Center about your application.”
Freezing, I raised both eyebrows at Alice and mouthed, “The hospital,” before turning my attention back to the phone. “Was there a problem?”
“Oh, no. No problem at all. In fact, we’re very interested in having you come in for an interview.”
“I...yes, of course,” I gushed, feeling nerves and excitement course through me. “When?”
Ms. Robinson chuckled. “Tomorrow morning, if possible. I know it’s short notice, but the woman in the position we’re filling is pregnant, and due to some problems, she’s having to stop working much sooner than we’d anticipated. We’re hoping to have someone new starting Monday so she’ll have a week to train them before she leaves.”
I quickly answered, “Tomorrow morning is fine.”
“Excellent. How about nine o’clock? If you come in the front entrance, ask at the desk for directions on how to get back to the business offices, and someone will direct you. When you get to the offices, ask for me, and I’ll take you back to where we’ll conduct the interview.”
“Great,” I said, cementing her name – Joyce Robinson – to memory. “Thank you so much for calling.”
“Thank you, Ms. Swan,” she replied. “I look forward to meeting you in the morning. Have a good afternoon.”
When I clicked to hang up the phone, I squealed and turned to Alice, explaining what she hadn’t already deduced from the conversation.
“You know what this means?” Alice asked excitedly.
I shook my head, laughing at her enthusiasm. “What?”
“Girls’ night!”
Jasper had been called into work not long after he’d left. Alice had gotten a quick call from him on his way to the office, explaining that everyone had been called in on the case of the escaped rapist, so he was going to be over comms with Edward – Alice was just glad he’d be in the office, relaying messages and instructions via radio and phone instead of out in the field.
Shaking my head away from thoughts of Edward, I grinned. “Manis, pedis, and John Hughes?” We’d gotten a big selection of his movies when we bought the Blu-ray player and we hadn’t broken into them yet.
“Hell yes,” she said. “Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles...”
I laughed, pulling her from the couch as I stood. “You get the movies, the wine, and the towels. I’ll get the foot soak and nail stuff. We’ll meet back here in five.”
Friday morning, I woke up from a fitful sleep when the alarm on my phone beeped. I was a mix of emotions still – worry over Edward’s safety and our relationship, nerves over the upcoming interview, and fear that I’d screw one or both of those things up. I desperately wanted a shot of something strong to calm my nerves, but figured showing up with alcohol in my system wasn’t the best way to get the job. Instead, I took my time in the shower, shaving and then letting the hot water soothe the tension from my shoulders.
Then I dressed in the clothes Alice and I had picked out the night before – a navy skirt that fell to my knees, a white long-sleeved blouse, and a lightweight, light blue cardigan. I pulled on a pair of black low-heeled pumps, blew my hair out in loose waves, and added just enough makeup for a soft, natural look.
By eight fifteen, I was ready to go, insisting to Alice that we go ahead and leave, even though I knew we’d be early. When she agreed, I grabbed my small purse, into which I’d added my lip gloss, compact, and phone – which was turned completely off – and the hard copies of my resume before moving out to her little car.
“You’ll be fine, Bella,” she soothed a few minutes later as she pulled up to the hospital entrance. “Stop worrying so much. You’ve got the stuff memorized that you needed to know, you’re more than qualified for the job, and they’re going to love you.”
Swallowing back my nerves, I nodded. “Thanks. You’ll be out here when I finish?”
“Of course,” she chirped, smiling. “Now, go wow them, okay?”
“Thanks, Pix.”
Once I’d closed the car door behind me, I steeled my shoulders, took a deep breath, and then headed through the automatic doors.
I nearly skipped out of the hospital almost an hour and a half later, feeling so much lighter than when I’d entered. The interview had gone well, and they’d seemed to like me as much as I’d liked them.
Alice pulled up to the entrance a couple of minutes later, after I pulled out my phone, turned it on, and texted her to let her know I was finished. I got into the car and squealed excitedly. “It went so well! Joyce was so nice, and Caroline, the woman I’d be replacing, was really sweet.” I continued telling her all about the interview, finishing with, “They said they’d call to let me know one way or the other by this afternoon, but I feel really good about it, Alice. Truly.”
“That’s so great!” Alice said excitedly, turning more fully to face me. She’d parked in a spot at the far end of the parking lot while I told her about the interview. “I have news of my own...” Her face was calm, her tone even, but her eyes held a light and excitement that could only mean one thing.
“You got the job?” I gasped.
She nodded, bouncing in her seat. “ADI just called about twenty minutes ago and said if I wanted it, it was mine. I start Monday!”
“That’s so great, sweetie!” I leaned over as best I could with the seat belt across my chest and hugged her tight. “I’m so happy for you, Alice.”
When she pulled away, there were tears in her eyes. “Thanks, B.”
I spent a nervous three hours waiting to hear from the hospital. When the call finally came, I bit my lip and hit Accept, answering with a shaky, “Hello?”
“Bella? This is Joyce at Virginia Mason.”
“Yes, hi.”
There was a pause, and then the sweet older woman said, “We were all quite enchanted and impressed this morning, and your background check came back clean, so we would love it if you would accept the position to start Monday.”
“Really?” My mind began racing, nearly making me dizzy. “That’s amazing! Thank you so much.”
I listened, nodding dumbly, as she rattled off the salary and benefits, including holiday schedules and paid time off.
“Would that be acceptable, Bella?”
“Yes, that sounds great. Of course I accept,” I told her without missing a beat.
Joyce sighed, sounding relieved. “Great. That’s great, Bella. You’ll start at eight o’clock Monday morning, but if you can be here about thirty minutes early, you can fill out all the necessary paperwork before then.”
I listened as she told me where I could park, where to go first to get my ID picture taken for my badge, and what paperwork I needed to bring.
“I think that’s it, Bella,” she finally said. “Do you have any questions for me?”
“No, I think you answered everything this morning. Thank you for everything, Joyce.”
“My pleasure, Bella. We’ll see you Monday morning. Have a good weekend.”
When I turned around after hanging up, Alice was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, and Jasper, who must have arrived when I was on the phone, was behind her.
“You got it?” she asked, her tiny little body nearly vibrating with excitement.
I paused, watching her bounce in place for a moment, and then nodded with a grin. “I start Monday.”
She squealed and threw her arms around me, and both of us jumped up and down in place for a minute like teenage girls, until it finally registered to me what Jasper being there meant.
Pulling away, I asked, “Did they get him?”
He smiled, nodding. “They did. Ed and his team, along with the sheriff and his deputies, caught the runner, and Edward’s escorting him back to prison where the asshole belongs. I came here as soon as Al sent those of us at the office home.”
“And Edward’s okay?” I was worried and a little hurt that I hadn’t heard from him, but I knew he probably still had his hands full with the transport.
“He’s fine, darlin’. He shot the guy in the leg when he wouldn’t give up the hostage or the knife he had to her throat, but he’s okay.”
I swallowed hard, nodding, and managed to get out, “Okay,” without shedding the tears I could feel beginning to sting my eyes.
Alice squeezed my shoulders and said, “We should celebrate. Jazzy, know any good clubs? We could go dancing.”
I froze under her arm, remembering the last time we’d gone to a club. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said shakily.
Nodding in understanding, Jasper smiled and said, “How about you trust me with this one? I have someplace in mind I think would work.”
Alice looked at me questioningly, and I nodded, smiling over at him gratefully. “Thanks, Jasper.”
“No problem, sweetheart.”
“I’m gonna go...” I let my voice trail off and gestured to the door. “I need some air, so I’m gonna take a walk.”
Frowning, Alice nodded but said, “Keep your phone on?”
I assured her I would and then slipped out the door after making sure it was in my jeans pocket.
Not having any set direction in mind, I just took off walking, waving to a few neighbors as I passed. The fresh air helped clear my head. I realized that even though Edward hadn’t called or texted, I had to have faith that he would come back to me. I knew he had feelings for me. I even believed he loved me. My hope was that the time away from me, especially after I’d told him I loved him, would give him some perspective and make him realize he felt the same.
If it didn’t... Well, it would hurt – more than anything had hurt in a long, long time, in fact – but I’d have to learn to live with that. My sister and I were safe, we both had great new jobs, and we had an adorable, great house to live in. If it had to be, that would be good enough for me.
The weekend passed in a blur. Jasper took us to a small pub Friday night, where we’d eaten great bar food, played pool, and drunk some of the great house beers. It had been an almost perfect celebration. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Edward had been with us, but I still hadn’t heard from him. Then Saturday, Alice and I had gone shopping for all the new clothes and shoes, handbags, and makeup I’d need for my new job, as well as a few more clothes for her to wear to and from work and when she needed to be dressed in something other than her dancewear. Sunday had been a lazy day around the house, washing clothes, watching movies, and playing a massive game of Monopoly between the three of us that had lasted a good four hours before we finally called it a draw.
Now, I was dressing for my first day of work and trying to not throw up. I felt like I’d lost all my confidence in myself that Friday night in May in New York – and even I knew that didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t shake that feeling. I hadn’t slept much the night before, wishing Edward was there to hold me and tell me things would be fine. I missed him with a sickness. Jasper hadn’t heard from him all weekend. When he tried calling, Edward’s phone went straight to voicemail. I’d given him the space he needed, choosing not to call him myself, figuring if he wanted to talk to me, he’d call. But it had been hard to ignore the pull that kept drawing me to my phone, and I’d found my thumb hovering over his name on my list of contacts more than once.
Shaking off thoughts of Edward and any self-doubt, I pulled my hair back and clipped it with a gold clip at the base of my neck, smoothing out a few stray hairs, and slid on my heels. My gray pencil skirt and soft white short-sleeved sweater looked professional but stylish, my makeup was understated, and I looked ready to take on the world – or at least the business office of Virginia Mason Medical Center.
Alice had already left for the day, needing to gas up her car before work. She’d looked adorable in a soft, flowy skirt and gauzy top, her dance bag full of clothes and dance shoes hanging off her shoulder. She’d hugged me and wished me luck, and I’d watched her go with a heavy heart. But it was for the best, and it was time for us to move on with our lives.
With that in mind, I locked up the house and made my way to Edward’s Audi. I’d been hesitant about taking it to the hospital and leaving it in the parking garage all day, but Jasper had assured me the night before that it was what Edward would have wanted.
Now all I had to do was get through my first day of work, and then I could relax again.
Easier said than done, I thought as I parked in a spot on the third level and began my walk to the hospital.
When I got to the front entrance, I noticed a sleek Mercedes pull up and a tall blond man unfold himself from the front seat.
Holy shit! I knew that face!
How I’d forgotten that Edward’s father was a doctor was beyond me. He’d never mentioned where Carlisle worked, and Jasper certainly hadn’t said anything when I told him about my new job opportunity a few days before, or even after I’d gotten the job on Friday.
A glance at the car showed a beautiful woman with caramel-colored hair, and I recognized her instantly as Edward’s mother, Esme. For a moment, I was worried when she smiled before pulling away, but then I realized they didn’t know who I was, so I was safe.
When Carlisle gestured for me to go first, I so wanted to ask him if he’d heard from Edward, but I kept my smile on my face and thanked him instead.
At the first hallway, Carlisle went one way, while I went the other, and I was able to breathe a little easier as I made my way to the office that would take my picture and give me my ID.
Fifteen minutes after arriving at the hospital, I was the proud owner of a new hospital ID badge clipped to the waistband of my skirt so it was visible but not in the way, and I was standing outside the door to the business office. Taking a deep breath, I whispered under my breath, “You can do this, Bella Swan,” and then stepped through the door with a smile as my new coworkers greeted me enthusiastically.
So far, my day was off to a great start.
Edward POV
“Load ’em up!” Al called from the other side of the SUV in the garage. “I want us on-sight in less than ten minutes.”
“Sir,” was the instant response, followed by the sound of several car doors slamming.
We’d stopped by the office to gear up, gather a team to add to the one already combing the wreck area, and grab as much information as we could before joining the police in this chase.
Al and I were alone in his SUV, but he was on the phone in contact with those at the wreck. My nerves and my temper were both right there on the surface, only being force-fed by the adrenaline now pumping through my veins. I screamed through the streets, aiming for the interstate so I could follow the track the transport bus had been on. Once I hit the I-90, Al ended his call, and I could feel his eyes on me.
“You want to tell me what happened back at that house, son?” he asked.
“No.” I focused on the road in front of me, weaving in and around cars.
He sighed deeply, and in my side vision, I could see his head shake slowly back and forth. “Well, then, since you’re so damned quiet, you can listen to me before we get to the wreck.”
My nostrils flared, and I did my best to ignore the memory of Bella’s tear-filled face, the sound of her saying that she loved me. I couldn’t allow that to knock me off my game. I needed to do my job. If I were being honest with myself, this was a test as to whether I could do this job with her in my life, but I wasn’t being honest. I was being a selfish prick who kept taking and taking from the one person I cared most about.
“That sweet, beautiful girl really cares about you, Edward,” he started.
“I know,” I grunted, squeezing the steering wheel so hard that my knuckles turned white.
“She’s not Maggie.”
That statement was delivered gently, but it hung in the air between us like heavy smoke. I swallowed thickly and nodded, which seemed to give him an indication that he could continue.
“Bella’s not out for anything but you. Not money, or that car you’re letting her drive, or even your protection. I see it every time she looks at you. I saw it the first time she snapped at me about the shooting in Connecticut. It’s not about what you have or what you do, it’s about who you are, son. And I’d hate to see her hurt because you can’t see it.”
I huffed a humorless laugh. “What about me, huh?” I asked him, finally shooting him a scathing glance.
“You’re a big boy, Edward. And I know you wouldn’t be with her now if you didn’t feel something. You wouldn’t have given her the time of day during that WitSec detail, much less bust your ass to be with her every damn day now that it’s over, if you didn’t care for her. I know that much,” he explained, holding up his badge when we passed through the roped-off scene we were nearing.
I pulled off the side of the road, eyeing the wreck. The grayish transport bus looked like it had rolled. Windows were busted – though the metal bars seemed to be intact – the engine was steaming, and there were several inmates sitting down on the grass in a neat little row with their hands on their heads. Guards and prisoners alike were being tended to by EMTs.
I turned off the car and turned to my uncle. “Bella would never hurt me.”
“So you’re using her?”
I balled up my fists until every knuckle cracked. “No, I just...I wasn’t prepared for her reaction. She expects too much,” I murmured, not believing a word of it.
He laughed, shaking his head. “She expects too much? She expects someone to care for her, about her? She expects not to be pushed away and pushed away? If you’re using her, then I’m pulling you from the detail. You’re no longer her handler. Whitlock can handle both of them. Or I’ll find someone else.” He reached for the door handle of the SUV.
My mouth fell open with the finality of his tone. Gripping his shirt sleeve, I stopped him. “No one, and I fucking mean no one, touches her! She trusts me! I know her, everything about her. You can’t just send someone else in there! They won’t get it! You hear me, asshole?”
He grinned my way. “Huh. Imagine that. You do care. Who knew?” he sang, shrugging a shoulder. “Find me my runner and go back to your girl, Edward. You’ve played the selfish kid long enough. It’s time to grow up. Because I’m telling you now, son, you’ll regret it if you don’t.”
He opened the door and stepped out into a throng of cops and marshals, who were instantly filling him in on facts, locations, and directions. I followed him, slamming the door behind me. Al took the lead, stepping in front of everyone and holding up his hand.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have runners!” he yelled, looking at his watch. “They’ve been on the run for approximately twenty-seven minutes. We have one on foot, the other has stolen a car that stopped after the wreck. Both are without restraints after knocking out the guard in the back and taking his keys, both are still in jail attire, and both are most likely armed and dangerous.” He surveyed everyone around him. “Cullen, I want you and your team to take our car thief, which just happens to be our beloved Donald Carson Handy. Get with the office, have them run down the tracking device. It was a newer car. Go!”
I spun to face my team, which consisted of myself and two other men and a woman. “My team, on me! Load up!” I pointed toward the SUV.
Settling my earpiece into my ear, I patched into dispatch. “This is Cullen. I need everything you can give me on a late model minivan, Chevy, Washington license plate: alpha, charlie, zero, niner, echo, two. It’s a rental, so you should be able to patch into the tracking device.”
“Ten-four,” was the response back, and I cranked up the car, smiling at who was on the other line.
“I thought you were moving someone, Jasper.”
“We all got called in, Ed – new house or not. I’m in your ear. Copy?”
I smiled and nodded, even though he couldn’t see me. “Copy that. Hit me with what you got.”
“You’re gonna wanna head south, Ed. Looks like our boy’s heading toward Oregon,” Jasper advised, and I pulled back onto the road and into traffic. “He’s got you by about thirty miles, south on I-5.”
“Copy,” I sighed, practically pressing the gas pedal to the floor.
“Who’s our target?” he asked.
“Aw, hell. Well, he’s heading toward the woods.”
“Don’t I know it.”
Donald Carson Handy was a serial rapist with an affinity for the great outdoors. He preferred the woods and cabins to people and cities. He liked his girls young, blonde, and quiet. He was already serving three life sentences for three girls in the Seattle-Tacoma area. He’d pulled them off the streets, kept them in his father’s cabin in the woods for three to four days, only to drop them off somewhere with their bodies mangled. Handy was a monster. He was a pompous motherfucker, too. He’d hummed a song the whole way I’d escorted his dumb ass to prison. He didn’t give a shit one bit that he was going away, because he’d only been caught on three murders, but there had been rumors that there had been more.
“We gotta catch this asshole before he snatches up a girl. He’ll do it, too,” I told Jasper over the line.
Jasper grunted in agreement. “Okay, well, let’s get to work.”
I glanced at my watch and then up at the stars. It was close to five o’clock on Friday morning, and my first thought was of Bella. I hoped she was sleeping; she looked like an angel when she was asleep...and the essence of temptation when she was awake. The mere thought of her hadn’t left my mind all night and made my chest hurt.
We’d been after this asshole all fucking night. Just when we thought we had him, he’d pulled off into a McDonald’s and taken another car right out of the goddamn drive-thru at knife-point. And he was smarter this time, having taken an older truck without a tracker in it. And that’s where we were stuck – that very McDonald’s.
“Cullen?” I heard behind me.
Turning to face the one woman on my team, I adjusted my baseball cap. “Yeah, what’cha got for me, Pope?”
“I’ve been thinking. This guy we’re after, he’s from Hoquiam, right?” Amanda Pope asked tentatively, though I didn’t blame her. I’d been a hard shit all damn night.
“Mmhm,” I hummed with a nod.
“And it was thought that there were more women than just the ones he’d been convicted for. Plus, he was a...souvenir-keeper, right? Pictures. So maybe he’s heading—”
“Fuck me! He’s heading home! Everyone in the car!” I yelled, gripping her shoulder to stop her. “If we’re wrong, then we’ve wasted time, but if we’re right...”
“Yes, sir,” she simply said, smiling a little. “I just hope he’s creepy enough that I’m right.”
Grinning, I nodded, yanking open the SUV and tapping my earpiece at the same time. “Jazz?”
“Talk to me.”
“I need the local Hoquiam cops to surround Handy’s old cabin, but do not approach! I need them to find out if anyone has seen vehicles head down that old road. He’s got enough of a head start that he should’ve already been there.”
“On it.”
We passed Aberdeen within the hour, and I pulled off the two-lane highway when I saw the local sheriff up ahead. I was approached by an older gentleman wearing jeans and a cop’s button-down. He reached out his hand to shake mine.
“Cullen? I’m Sheriff Morris.”
“Sir,” I said with a nod. “This is Pope, Crawford, and Collins,” I introduced.
He nodded at my team, giving his attention back to me. “The news kinda gave us a heads-up. We saw the alerts go out, too, so I had already made sure my guys were on the road. Donnie is pretty damned predictable.” He sighed with a slow shake of his head and a glance at the woods around us. “I knew the kid growing up.” He looked back to me. “Anyway, we think he’s down there. The closest neighbor swore she saw a truck pull in when she left for work. Called it in to me. This road had been blocked off, as you can see.” He gestured to some old chains that had been tossed to the side.
“Got it.” I glanced down the old, weather-beaten dirt road, biting my lip in order to think. “I’d like to go in on foot.”
“We can back you up.”
“Roger that. Much appreciated, Sheriff,” I stated, tapping my earpiece with one finger while silently telling my team to gear up. “Jasper, patch me into Al.”
“Hang on a sec, Edward. You need to know...a girl went missing in Aberdeen.”
“Shit!” I growled.
“Yup. She was last seen walking to the local convenience store, and a big blue pickup stopped.”
That brought the whole group of us to a standstill.
“Got it. Get me Al.”
The line beeped, but Al grunted a loud, “Chambers.”
“Al. We think we have Handy. I’m in Hoquiam.”
“The little fucker went home, huh?”
“Yes, sir. We’re about to approach on foot.”
“Roger that. You’ve got the last runner. The other one was caught not long after you left.”
“Al, we think he has a hostage,” I told him.
The line was quiet for a moment, until he said, “I’m on my way to you. Keep me posted. Patch every step you make through to me.”
I turned to face my team and Morris. His two deputies stepped up to listen. “On me... We’re going in silent, on foot, and fast. I want a perimeter around the entire cabin. Collins, take the west side. Crawford, take the east. Pope, you’re with me around to the back. Sheriff, if you and your men could take it straight up the driveway, I’d appreciate it.” When everyone nodded in agreement, I barked, “Let’s move out!”
The radio was silent, save for a few whispers of location. My vest, my equipment, and my cap made me sweat like hell as I ran through the woods. Pope and I veered off to the left to round the property, but I noted a small flicker of light coming from inside.
“We have movement inside,” I stated in a whisper over the radio. “Keep your distance and keep your eyes peeled.”
Once Pope and I were in position, she looked to me. “Did you bring me with you ’cause I’m the girl?”
I huffed a quiet laugh, shaking my head. “Nope. I brought you because you seem to have Handy’s file memorized. I’m nothing if not an opportunist.” The very second the words left my mouth, my thoughts went to Bella and a conversation we’d had about what we were doing with each other.
She laughed. “Yeah, I studied him in training.”
“Ah,” I said softly. “Excellent. Then tell us about this place.”
Smirking, she nodded. “There are two points of entry – front and back. There are only two rooms in this cabin – a living area and a bedroom – plus the outhouse in the western corner of the property. No electricity, no running water, and a well just out front.”
A muffled cry came from the cabin, and the hairs prickled up on the back of my neck.
“Collins, you and the sheriff take the front door. Crawford, you and Pope watch those two windows on the side, and if the deputies could back me up at the back, we’re going in on my say,” I ordered quietly over the radio.
Pope split off to my right, and I could see Crawford moving closer to the cabin on my left. I motioned to the two deputies to take the left and right of the back door. I readied my weapon, flipping the safety off.
“In three, two, one...” I whispered, giving the back door a swift kick at the same time the front door shattered on its hinges. An exposed nail caught the back of my hand, but I ignored the pain. “Handy! Put your hands where I can see ’em!” I ordered, locking my weapon on him.
“No can do,” he sang with a grin, pulling a small-framed girl in front of him, a rather large knife pointing at her throat. He was still in his orange prison jumpsuit, and his hair was a greasy mess, his hands filthy.
The poor girl couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen. She had long blonde hair and red-rimmed blue eyes, and she was clawing at his arm that was around her neck.
“You gotta ease up on her, Handy. She can’t breathe,” I warned him, stepping two steps closer.
The sheriff and Collins moved in at the same time.
Handy laughed and gave the girl a cursory glance. “She’s fine, right, baby?”
“I’m pretty sure that knife is gonna keep her in line. She’ll do what you want, so ease the fuck up!” I snapped at him, trying to decide where I was going to put a bullet into this asshole. His shoulder, upper thigh, and the middle of his goddamn forehead were looking pretty fucking good. “This won’t end well, Handy. You won’t get what you want from her, you’re still going to back to prison, and you’re still a fucking loser,” I taunted him, giving him a small half-grin, happy that the girl was no longer turning blue from lack of oxygen.
“I’m not going back!” he yelled.
“Oh, but you are,” I countered, finally deciding that it was safer to aim for his leg. “The odds are against you, my friend. See...” I jerked a chin toward the rest of the men. “And that’s not all. There are more outside. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s some cross-hairs aimed your way through both windows. Let her go, Handy.”
“You’ll have to kill me,” he stated, shaking his head, but his eyes betrayed him as they glanced from the men surrounding him to the two windows.
I grinned, shrugged a shoulder, and said, “Okay,” pulling the trigger.
Screams from the girl rang out, but Handy hit the floor, holding his leg, and the knife skidded across the wood floor. I tugged the girl out of the way, sending her into the arms of the sheriff, my knee landing heavily into the middle of Handy’s chest. He grunted and then groaned when I didn’t let up, despite the flesh wound I’d given him. I’d just barely grazed the side of his leg.
Pulling out my cuffs, I rolled him over and secured his wrists. Tightly. Looking over my shoulder, I said, “We’ll need a bus. He’ll need this looked at.”
“Already on its way,” Sheriff Morris stated, pulling his cell phone from his ear.
On the front porch, I could see the young girl being tended to by Collins and Pope. She was shaken, but at least she was still in one piece.
“Jasper,” I called over my earpiece.
“Tell Al to come pick this piece of shit up,” I ordered.
“Ten-four,” he said with a bit of a laugh to his tone. He came back instantly with, “He’s twenty from your location. He said to stay put.”
I tugged Handy up by a handful of his jumpsuit, slamming him into the wall before lugging his crazy ass outside. The cabin was making me antsy. I found the closest tree, slammed him into the trunk, and then forced him to the ground.
“Blink wrong and I’ll put a bullet through your hand so you can’t defend yourself from the sisters in your dorm,” I told him, pointing my gun at him before pulling out a much-needed cigarette, which only reminded me that I really shouldn’t be smoking because Bella hated it. Handy paled at the mere thought, and I snorted. “Really? You rape and kill women and you can’t understand how it could possibly be done to you? Sit there and stay fucking quiet.”
All my anger, all the confusion that was bubbling up inside of me wanted to spill out all over this asshole. If I didn’t step away from him, I’d kill him out of sheer frustration and lack of sleep.
“Crawford, come watch this guy so I don’t accidentally kill him,” I said, kicking Handy’s wounded leg lightly on my way by, causing him to cry out – much to my satisfaction.
I fell down onto the front step, blowing out a lungful of smoke, letting the nicotine settle me down. I needed a drink. A strong fucking drink. And I wasn’t going to stop at just one or two. I took my cap off, ran my fingers through my hair, and tugged it back on, eyeing the deep scratch on the back of my hand that had stopped bleeding, and then I leaned back against the post to wait for Al.
“Well, well, well, look who it is...”
Smirking, I took a seat at the bar. “Barb, you’re lookin’ good,” I told the woman pouring me a glass of Jack. “Leave the bottle.”
“Oh, it’s that kinda night, huh, Edward?” she asked with a chuckle, slamming the bottle of Jack Daniels down in front of me.
“It’s been that kinda night for months,” I muttered, giving the bar a long, slow glance. “At least you’re busy on a Saturday night.”
“Where’s your partner in crime?” she asked, pouring a beer for the guy at the end of the bar and coming back to stand in front of me.
Barb was a big woman and as rough around the edges as they came. She liked motorcycles, ink, and heavy metal, and she loved a crude, dirty joke. Plus, she poured a strong-as-hell drink. She’d been managing the hole-in-the-wall bar for as long as I’d been coming in, which was right around my second year of college. Although, I hadn’t been in the old place in ages.
“Jasper’s...elsewhere,” I hedged, shrugging a shoulder and tossing back another shot. My hand instinctively touched the phone in my pocket that I’d turned off before leaving my house.
“Fair enough, sweetie.”
He was most likely at the girls’ house, something I couldn’t give much thought to or I’d drive over there, and I wasn’t ready to face Bella just yet.
After Al had shown up at Handy’s cabin, it had taken hours to process the place, not to mention patch the asshole up. I’d had to be there for every second of it because it had been my detail, my recovery. I hadn’t gotten home until almost sunset Friday night. I’d barely made it through a shower before falling into bed completely exhausted, considering I hadn’t had any sleep since Wednesday night with Bella, and we hadn’t exactly slept. I’d slept most of Saturday away, waking up to texts from Jasper and Emmett, not to mention voice mails. Not in the mood for any of it because I hadn’t seen anything from the one person I’d expected, I’d turned the fucker completely off.
That thought made me toss another shot down my throat, making me wince at the burn on its way down. I was just about halfway through the bottle when someone spoke next to me. Hell, even Barb had left me alone.
“Wow, you look like shit,” I heard from someone sliding onto the stool next to mine.
I snorted, glancing up at someone I hadn’t seen in years. “Garrett. It’s good to see you, too.”
“You sharing that bottle, old friend?” he asked, wearing the all-knowing smirk that I remembered so well.
“No. Get your own,” I said with a laugh, taking in the guy next to me.
He was just about the very same has he had been the last time I saw him – long hair that was now touched with a bit of gray, ink covering every visible inch of his arms and neck, and the same damn mustache. He reeked of beer and weed and wisdom that only came from listening to hundreds of people that sat in his tattoo chair and experiencing life on this side of town. He was Cheech Marin mixed with a Hindu priest, always talking in riddles, but like he knew exactly what someone was going through. His gray eyes cut through to my soul as he looked me over.
“You know, the last time I caught you hoarding a bottle of Jack, you had woman problems,” he reminded me.
I laughed humorlessly, gesturing my middle finger at the bottle. “Mr. Daniels and I have an...understanding.”
He simply nodded and stayed quiet for a moment. “Want to talk about her?”
I sniffed, and reached into my pocket for a cigarette before remembering I couldn’t fucking smoke in the bar anymore, and glanced around the bar, finally shaking my head. “Not here.”
He left me alone for another half an hour, finally slapping my shoulder. Grinning, he tossed some bills onto the bar. “Come on, Cullen. I got another bottle next door. Besides, I have a few new ink designs, and you were always more honest when you were drunk. And I can’t let you get on that bike of yours. Barb, I’ve got him. Thanks for calling me.”
Laughing again, simply because I was three sheets to the wind, I merely let him guide me outside. I didn’t remember the walk to his apartment, or even opening the bottle he had. But the next morning, I woke up feeling like pure and utter hell. And it didn’t help that I was on an old lumpy sofa.
I groaned, holding my head when I sat up too quick.
“There’s a bottle of aspirin in front of you and bottle of water. I suggest you use both,” Garrett said, sounding a little too amused at my pain.
I shook out several aspirin and downed the bottle of water, finally giving my surroundings a glance. The place was exactly the same. It was his tattoo shop as well as his apartment. The chair he used and his equipment was all immaculate, but his apartment was a messy disaster. He was sitting in an old, worn-out recliner, looking showered and much better off than me.
He waved a hand. “You know where the bathroom is.”
After taking a piss, washing my face, and stealing a dab of toothpaste to try to rid my tongue of that furry feeling, I wandered back into his living room.
“What did I say last night?” I asked him, thinking it had been a fucking long time since I’d gotten so drunk that I didn’t make it home.
He chuckled. “Not much. Only that you were an idiot. Oh, and something about someone named Bella. And you begged me to ink you again, but I won’t do it when you’re that fucking wasted. Makes the blood too thin.”
I rubbed my face, my heart sinking at what I might have revealed about her. “What did I say, Garrett?”
“That she was your everything.” He grinned my way when my gaze snapped to his. “You didn’t say much more than that. Hell, you wouldn’t tell me where you met her or even her last name, but you said she was ‘fucking beautiful.’” He used air quotes, which made me roll my eyes. “Wanna tell me why you were drowning in a bottle of Jack instead of this beautiful girl, Ed?”
“’Cause I really am a fucking idiot,” I sighed, falling back onto the sofa.
He sat forward, resting his inked arms on his thighs. “The last time you got drunk enough that Barb had to cut you off, you were pissed off about Maggie.”
My eyes rolled to meet his gaze. “This is different.”
“So I gathered.” He got up, walked to his kitchen, and snatched up a paper bag, only to toss it my way. “Breakfast,” he stated. “Eat something. It’ll help you, and then we’ll discuss this ink you want.”
He gestured to the coffee table in front of me, and I couldn’t help but chuckle weakly. Even in my inebriated state, Bella was there, guiding me, urging me. The piece of paper held a Batman symbol, the Dark Knight version, but the end of it shattered into what looked like a hundred bats.
I took a bite of the burger he’d given me, barely paying attention to how it tasted, and studied the design in front of me. I didn’t even need to ask him – and he wouldn’t have known anyway – why I’d picked that design. It screamed meaning – meaning I wasn’t willing to elaborate on until I saw my girl again. And there were a few things I needed to do before I did that.
I tossed the last bite into my mouth, licking my thumb and fingers.
“You gonna tell me about her?” he asked.
“Yeah.” I nodded, stood up, and held up the design. “Let’s do this.”
“Mm’kay,” he said with a smirk. “Know where you want it?”
“Yup,” I grunted, reaching back to grab the back of my shirt. “Right here,” I told him, pressing a hand over my heart.
“And the girl?” he asked with a chuckle, pointing to his chair for me to sit.
“She’s beautiful, and she loves me,” I told him, falling down into the chair.
“And you were here last night...why?” He laughed again, waiting for my response. When I didn’t answer him, he nodded knowingly. “The last time I inked you, Ed, you were young and pissed off at the world. Your heart had been splattered all over hell and back. And then the last time I saw you, what was it? Eight or nine months ago? You left Barb’s bar with two airheads on your arms. Don’t tell me you’re still pissed off. Don’t tell me you’ve let the mistakes someone else made keep you from this beautiful girl that you say loves you.”
I looked down at my hands, unable to answer him.
“What’s this mean to you?” he asked, holding up the paper, but I shook my head. “Is it something good, something positive, something better than what I put on your back? Will the pain of the needle take away the bad?”
He studied my face for a moment and then nodded. “Then let’s get it done.”
“Son, you should’ve come to me sooner,” my dad groaned, frowning at my hand.
Monday morning dawned, and the cut on my hand had flared up into something painful. It was red, swollen. My dad cleaned the cut, wrapped it tight, and pulled out two vials from his white coat pocket.
“I’ve been on detail and out of contact,” I hedged, shrugging a shoulder, and that fucking hurt too because my entire left pec was covered in fresh ink almost all the way to my shoulder.
“Try again, son,” he sighed, looking me in the eye. “Jasper’s been looking for you since Saturday afternoon.”
“I needed a break after I caught that guy, Dad. He was a disgusting pig of a man.”
“Fair enough. He was just worried because your phone was off,” he explained, filling a syringe with one of the vials. “Since it was a rusty nail you scratched this on, I’m giving you a tetanus shot – you’re due – and an antibiotic. That should stop the infection.”
“Yes, sir,” I sighed, feeling like a kid, but I trusted no other doctor but my dad.
He chuckled at my tone, ruffling my hair after he gave me both shots. “You want a lollipop, too?”
“Hells, yes. Grape.” I grinned at his chuckle.
He walked to his desk, reached into the candy jar, and tossed a purple sucker my way. “Walk with me. I have to make my way downstairs.”
What I wanted was to bolt the hell out of there and head to Bella’s, but from what I’d surmised, she’d turned off her phone. And I wasn’t sure I blamed her. Her voicemail picked up on the first ring, and I’d hung up probably thirty times without knowing what to say. By now, she knew the fugitive recovery was over and done with and I’d simply been avoiding everyone. However, I couldn’t just use my dad’s medical services and run, so with every step, we met someone who needed him. It seemed to take for-fucking-ever to reach the main lobby of the hospital.
We reached main reception, and a nurse eye-fucked me from behind the desk, but she turned her attention to my dad, asking him a billion questions. My mind wandered, as did my eyes, and I had to shake my head and rub my eyes to make sure I was really seeing who I was seeing.
Bella, dressed in a fuck-hot tight gray skirt that stopped at her knees and a white sweater, was walking down the corridor toward the cafeteria.
“Dad, I’m gonna grab a cup of coffee, okay?” I told him smoothly, not bothering to wait for his answer because he looked neck-deep in a stack of patient files the nurse was showing him.
Walking as quietly but as fast I as I could, I made sure I stepped up behind her in line. Fuck me, she smelled like heaven and everything I’d missed the last few days.
Stepping as close to her as I could, I asked, “When’s the last time someone told you how beautiful you were?”
The file folders and pen in her hand fell to the floor, and I bent down at the same time she did to pick them up. Our eyes stayed locked as we stood up at the same time.
“Edward,” she gasped, her eyes wide and slightly fearful. No, not fear...hurt. I'd truly hurt her, and that made me feel sick to my stomach.
I eyed the badge that was shiny and brand new clipped to the waist of her skirt, but met then her eyes again. “Tell me,” I said softly, reminding her of the question I’d asked.
She held out her hand at the same time she said, “A few days ago. But he left.”
“Stupid bastard.” I scoffed, my eyes dropping to the slight curl of her lips as I set her things in her hands.
“No,” she stated firmly with a shake of her head. “I'd never accuse him of being stupid. Stubborn, pig-headed, yeah. Stupid? Definitely not.”
My uninjured hand balled up into a fist, causing my knuckles to pop loudly, because it was all I could do not to kiss her stupid in the middle of the hospital’s shitty cafeteria. She was mad, but still beautiful. But she had every right to be mad. She'd handed me her heart, but I'd been too scared to hand her mine.
“Baby, I'm sorry,” I whispered, shaking my head and giving a glance over to where my dad was still busy.
“Next!” we heard behind us, breaking us out of whatever trance we were in.
“What’cha want, B?” I asked her.
“Coffee.” At my raised eyebrow, she said simply, “I haven’t slept well.”
I nodded solemnly, turning to the old lady behind the counter. “Two coffees, please.” I paid, grabbed both cups, and walked to the condiment station, fixing Bella’s coffee the way she liked it – lots of cream and sugar.
“You’re hurt,” she noted, eyeing my bandaged hand.
“I’m fine. And I really am sorry, Bella.” I slid the cup her way, picking up my own and taking a sip. “I owe explanation.” I owed her a lot more than that, but I’d start with that. “We need to finish that conversation we started before I left.”
She nodded, glancing over my shoulder. “Your dad’s watching you.” At my surprise, she smirked. “I recognize him from the pictures, Edward.”
“Yeah, I figured.” I sighed forlornly, reaching over and dragging a clean napkin my way. I took the pen out of Bella’s hand, jotting down my address. “Please? Just...let me explain.”
“When you’re ready? Now would work, but I can wait,” I urged, smirking when she cracked a smile, but she took the napkin with my address.
“I thought I couldn’t see your house.” Again, I noted the hurt in her tone, in her sweet brown eyes.
“Fuck protocol. There's nothing about me I want kept from you, Bella. Not anymore. And it helps that my dad just saw me ‘meet’ you for the first time,” I said with a shrug. “So...will you? Come to my house?”
Her brow furrowed, but she nodded, tucking the napkin into her pocket. “Tonight. I get off at five. I can be there by six.”
“Six.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay. I'll have dinner—”
“No,” she snapped in a hiss, realizing she could be overheard. “I'm coming to hear what you have to say, Edward. Depending on what you say, that will determine whether or not dinner is involved.”
Fuck, she was sexy when she was pissed, but I merely nodded in acquiescence, afraid that if I said anything, it would be from the floor at her feet.
She started to take a step, but stopped. “I’m glad you’re back safe.”
“I'm happy you got the job,” I countered, pointing to her badge. “And I swore to you I’d come back, baby,” I told her, wanting so badly to touch her face when her eyes welled up and her lip trembled. I realized right then that there was a possibility I'd fucked up so badly that she might not show. “I’ll see you at six?” I asked hopefully, begging, pleading with her in my head to say yes. I turned around to see my dad back into another conversation with a different nurse. I faced Bella again. “I gotta go. My dad's waiting. Please tell me you're coming?” I begged, no longer giving a shit that I sounded whiny. At least I wasn't on my knees in front her and everyone around us.
She steeled herself, looking me in the eyes. “I'll be there.”
“Thank you,” I breathed, my shoulders sagging with the tension that surrounded us. “I'll see you then,” I whispered, walking out of the cafeteria behind her.
My dad chuckled, rolling his eyes at me when I rejoined him, and took in the brunette walking by. “She’s pretty.”
“She's more than pretty,” I said, sounding like a fucking sap, but I didn't care. My eyes followed Bella’s progress all the way to the elevator. “And she just started here. Imagine that,” I said, laying the groundwork for what I hoped was a future with Bella.
“Think she'll call?” he asked with amusement to his tone. “I saw you slip it to her.”
Bella's eyes met mine before the elevator doors closed, but all I could say was, “God, I fucking hope so.”
My dad laughed, slapping my shoulder. “Good for you, son.”


Snoopylover said...

Oh Edward is a ass!!

How many times can he push Bella away before she walks away permanently?? She needs to be done with his shit!

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