Thursday, August 15, 2013 | By: Drotuno

In Pursuit Chapter 27 & Pics

Chapter 27
Bella POV
I had to fight to blink back tears as Edward once again walked away from me. Anger and hurt and joy were battling in my stomach – anger and hurt that he’d left like he had four days ago and stayed away, and joy that he was safe and wanted to see me.
Despite how upset I was, I’d wanted nothing more than for him to pull me into his arms and kiss me stupid. I knew he couldn’t have done anything but walk away there in the middle of the hospital cafeteria, especially with his father watching, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.
When I felt sufficiently calm, I took my coffee and left the cafeteria, going directly back to the office.
All afternoon, I had to fight to keep my mind on the job. It kept straying to Edward, what he’d said and done...and what he hadn’t said. By the time five o’clock rolled around, I was a big mess of contradictions, and rather than go straight to Edward’s, I decided to go home first and change clothes. Alice should have gotten off work an hour earlier, so I wanted to see how her first day had gone and vent some of my frustrations before going to Edward’s.

“Have a good evening, Bella,” Joyce called from her office as I passed.
I smiled and waved, turning back just in time to see Caroline join me.
“You heading out?” I asked, watching the adorably pregnant woman move out into the hall ahead of me.
She paused and waited for me to step up beside her. “I am,” she said, smiling to another woman we passed – Jackie, if I remembered right. “How’d your first day go?”
Shaking my head, I chuckled. “Way too fast, but good. There’s a lot of information, but by the end, I think I was getting the hang of it.”
Caroline chuckled. “You were, definitely. It took me twice as long to understand Form 2142G, but you figured it out and had it down in an hour. That’s impressive,” she said as we exited the main office, moving toward the hospital entrance.
The praise felt good, especially considering how nervous I’d been at first. “Thanks.” I smiled, feeling the breeze from the automatic doors blow down on my face.
We made small talk as we walked to the hospital’s parking garage.
“I’m on level three,” I said as we walked into the garage. “You?”
She smiled and pointed down the row of the first level. “One. See you tomorrow?”
“Absolutely,” I assured her. “Haven’t scared me off yet.”
She laughed and waved before turning away, leaving me to make my way to the elevator.
Edward’s Audi was still in one piece, no scratches or dings that I could see, thank goodness. I climbed in and started the engine, the napkin with Edward’s address on it burning a hole in my pocket.
When I pulled into the driveway a few minutes later, Alice’s Bug was already parked in front of Jasper’s truck, leaving me the space on the other side. I walked into the house and Alice jumped up from her seat on the couch, hurrying to me.
“How was it? Did you like it?”
Laughing, I said, “It was great. I liked the people a lot, the job was a lot more challenging and interesting than I’d thought it might be, and I’m excited to go back tomorrow. How was yours?”
Alice chattered on about her day, explaining how it had mostly been catching up on administrative stuff, rather than teaching, but how she’d gotten to truly dance for the first time in months, as I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge.
She finally took a breath after saying, “I’m so excited, though, because I teach my first class tomorrow!”
“That’s great, sweetie.” I smiled and then sighed. “I...I saw Edward at the hospital today. He was there visiting his dad. He wants me to come over, said he has some things to explain. I told him I’d be there at six. Come with me while I change clothes?”
Sobered, she nodded and followed me out of the kitchen.
I waved at Jasper, giving him a small smile as we passed the living room. Once in the bedroom, I dropped my purse on the bed and began to undress.
“How’d you feel when you saw him?” Alice asked quietly as she sat down on the edge of the bed.
Shrugging, I admitted, “Relieved, happy. Hurt, angry.”
She nodded. “Did he say anything about why he didn’t call or whatever?”
I laughed wryly, shaking my head. “No, just that we needed to finish the discussion we started right before he left – not that there was a discussion – and that he wanted to explain.”
“Are you mad that he left to go find the guy?”
I finished zipping up and fastening my jeans and then pulled a T-shirt on over my head before answering. “Oddly enough, no, not at all. I get that it’s his job and he can’t always control when stuff comes up. It sounds like he’d have gotten called in regardless. I’m not even mad that he didn’t say it back when I told him I loved him. But he stayed away for days afterward – days! – without one word. If he’d needed more time, I’d have understood. He went from being with me twenty-four-seven to being around his family all day, without a break to just...be home and relax. I get that. All he’d have had to say was that he was taking a couple of days and he’d see me in a couple of days. I get that. Instead, he disappeared, telling no one – not even his partner. What if something had happened to him? Or to us? I just...” I made a sound of frustration and sat down on the edge of the bed beside her. “I don’t know how to feel,” I admitted.
She wrapped an arm around my shoulders and rubbed my upper arm. “I know you don’t, sweetie. Hear him out when you go over there, okay? From what you said, it sounds like he’s ready to talk about it, and it sounds like he knows he didn’t handle it correctly. So give him a chance to explain, but make sure you’re okay with it before you forgive him or it’ll eat at you. Okay?”
I sighed and nodded, leaning my head against her shoulder and looking over at the clock on the wall. “I need to go. I told him I’d be there at six, and it’ll take me a few minutes to get there and find his house.”
“Call if you need me, okay? Jasper and I are gonna make tacos for dinner, so we’ll be here.”
“Thanks. Love you, Pix.”
She squeezed my shoulder. “Love you, too. Now go get your man back.”
Laughing, I stood and slipped on my sneakers, tying them before grabbing my purse from the bed. Even though I’d memorized his address – I’d only pulled the napkin out and looked at it about a hundred times throughout the afternoon – I still dug it out of my skirt pocket and entered it into the GPS of my phone before leaving the house.
~oOo~
It took me about twenty minutes to find the house. I recognized Edward’s motorcycle back in the driveway before I even verified the house number. The house was gorgeous and obviously well cared for. It was two stories, plus an attic – or what looked like a converted attic – at the top, with lots of an angles, a pretty blue color with white trim, and an adorable covered porch that extended over part of the driveway, which was sloped down to the street. There were steps leading from the porch to the walk across the lawn, which turned into steps down the slope to the sidewalk. The yard was lush and green, with several trees and bushes surrounding the house and property, and it just looked beautiful and cozy.
After parking under the covered part of the driveway – I was just going on the assumption that he’d pulled his bike far enough up that I could – I sat there for several minutes, gathering my...courage? Nerves? I wasn’t sure what. I knew I just needed a minute to breathe and center myself before taking my next step. Finally, I took a deep breath and climbed out of the car, locking it behind me and making my way to the dark wood front door.
I raised my hand to knock, but it was opened before I got the chance.
He looked...relieved and anxious, and I couldn’t help but let my eyes slide over him for a moment. He was just as sexy as he always was, in a black button down with the sleeves rolled up to his forearms and dark-wash but faded jeans, but my eyes fell to the bandage on his hand. I’d been too shocked at the hospital, but he must have had his dad patch up whatever had happened. When my gaze fell on his face again, he took a step forward.
“Bella,” Edward sighed. “I wasn’t sure you were going to come in.”
Smiling, I shook my head. “I just...needed a minute.”
He nodded, moving forward and pulling me into his arms. “I’m glad you’re here,” he sighed, his breath puffing out against the top of my head.
I gave myself a minute to soak in his warmth, his strength, before disentangling myself from him and stepping back. Smiling an almost sad smile, I said, “We need to talk.”
~oooOOOooo~
Edward POV
I leaned up against my bike, letting a touch of mist land on my face as I smoked a cigarette. I really needed to fucking quit, but my nerves were a damn mess after just walking out of the hospital, where I’d seen Bella. I couldn’t do this shit anymore. I couldn’t run and hide from her. I fucking loved her.
My phone buzzed in my jeans pocket, and I pulled it out, bracing myself as I answered it. “Cullen.”
“Where the fuck are you?” Jasper growled loudly.
“At the hospital.”
That sort of stopped him up short. “Uh, why?”
“My hand got infected, so I came to see my dad. And before you tear into my ass... Yeah, I saw Bella,” I told him, taking another long hit on my cigarette.
“Oh.”
“Right. Oh.” I waited, but he didn’t say anything. “I know, Jazz. I fucked up. I’ve got to set shit straight.”
“Well, as long as you know.” He chuckled. “Good. I didn’t feel like kicking your ass today. You being a hero and all.”
I scoffed, rolling my eyes. “Not to Bella. I believe she called me pig-headed.”
“You are. It’s good she sees it.”
“Fuck you. I gotta go. I’ve got shit to do,” I said, straddling my bike.
“What’s up?”
“I need to stop and see Emmett. He’s been blowing up my phone,” I sighed, but I needed to talk to my brother-in-law more than I was willing to admit to Jasper. And I was afraid to voice my fear that Bella could possibly blow me off.
He laughed a little. “Probably wants you to babysit again.”
Grinning, I shrugged, even though he couldn’t see me. “Who knows. Later, man.”
“Later.”
I ended the call, tugged on my USMS jacket to keep the mist from soaking me through, and put my helmet on to head to Emmett’s station. Traffic was light, and the weather let up as I made my way across town.
Hooking my marshal’s badge through my belt, I let it hang in sight and then pulled on my baseball cap. It was easier to be somewhat in uniform, and I was asked less questions when I wore it into the police station. I waved to the front desk cop, who knew who I was, and he jerked a thumb behind him, indicating that Emmett was there and to go on back.
Emmett’s bullpen was a nightmare. It seemed every cop on the force was milling about. There were two boards up with what seemed like a hundred pictures on it. The drug bust must have been a success, because it looked like they were tracking down every dealer in town.
“Ed! Where the fuck have you been, man?” Emmett called from his desk in his office. “I’ve been calling you for days!”
Walking into his office, I shut his door and sat down in front of his desk. “I know, Em. I had that fugitive recovery that kept me out until Saturday. After that...” I frowned, tilting my head at him. “You got a minute?”
“Barely. That’s why I was calling you,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “But it can wait. You look like you’re about to be sick, so...go.”
Nodding, I agreed with him – I was feeling a bit nauseous – but I needed his advice. “I’m...When you...Emmett, when did you know that you were in love with my sister?”
His eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Is this some late-coming brother speech? Dude, we’re married. We have a kid.”
“No!” I sighed frustratedly, pulling off my baseball cap and gripping my hair. “I need to know how you do this job and not lose your edge.”
“Every step I make, I make sure I do it to be able to get home to my girls.” He sat forward, narrowing his eyes on me and resting his elbows on his desk. “Jasper said you volunteered for that fugitive recovery. Did you do that shit to test yourself? Does this have something to do with...”
“Bella,” I finished for him, the name escaping me with such reverence that he could have razzed me about it, but he didn’t. I looked down at my feet, shuffling them around. “I love her, Em. And I think I fucked up...bad. I just need to know how to fix it and still do my job and tell her without—”
“Losing her.”
“Yeah,” I groaned, locking gazes with him. “I really, really fucked up. She said the words first, ’cause she’s smarter and braver than me. Al said she would be.”
He grinned, shaking his head. “And let me guess. You ran.”
Nodding fervently, I said, “Yeah. Fast. All I wanted was to tell her, but I didn’t. I took the detail, admitting that I needed space. I got completely wasted afterward, ended up on Garrett’s couch. But while I was there, I realized I didn’t need the space.”
“Yes, you did,” he argued, and I frowned up at him. “Ed, had you not taken a step back, you might have really fucked shit up. Perhaps not right then, but later. Had you not gotten away from her, tested yourself as a cop, then things could’ve been a lot worse. Maybe you needed to reassess what you were feeling. I’m not saying how you did it was right, but it seemed to have worked. It gave you the kick in the ass you needed to admit how you feel.”
When I didn’t say anything, he went on. “You’ve been with this girl for twenty-four-seven for months. You’ve protected her, guided her, and...you’ve fallen for her. She’s been right there the whole time. Now you’re here, home, and things will be different. Now shit’s real. Walking away from her may have been the smartest thing you’ve done because it seems like you know now that you can’t live without her.”
I shook my head. “I can’t. She’s beautiful and brilliant and funny, and she’s now working at the same hospital as Dad. I just found that shit out when I was there getting this looked at.” I held up my bandaged hand.
“Then what the fuck does she see in you?” He cracked up, shaking his head.
“I don’t know,” I snorted, but it was an honest answer. But for all of Emmett’s silly mannerisms and brash personality, I was really, really grateful to him at the moment because he always had a way of putting things that made sense. He focused on the center of the problem, not the outlying shit that floated around it.
“Did Dad see her?”
“Yeah,” I said with a light laugh to my voice. “He saw what he thought was me picking up a girl, but...”
He chuckled again. “Sweet!” he boomed, rubbing his hands together. “Now we’re talkin’! I can’t wait to meet this girl. She sounds way too good to be true, and she deserves better than your cranky ass.”
“I know she does,” I stated firmly. “I want to give her that. I need to. She’s been through so much.”
He smiled. “You will. If you love her, Ed, then you’ll figure it all out. It just...hits you, you know?”
There was a light knock on his door, and we both looked up when it cracked open. Emmett’s partner, Jared, poked his head in. “Hey, Ed,” he said with a smile and a wave, and I shot him a wave back. “Em, I hate to interrupt, but she’s waiting for you in interrogation room three. She’s getting...antsy.”
Emmett pursed his lips, rolling his eyes, and said, “She can damn well wait. She hasn’t lawyered up yet, so fuck her.” He eyed me for a moment and then glanced up at Jared. “Gimme a sec. Ed might want to see this.”
My brow furrowed, but I waited until the door closed before turning back to my brother-in-law, who now looked a little sick.
“Emmett?” I prompted.
He smiled a little, and I noted that it looked sad, but he took a deep breath and nodded to himself. “Maybe it worked out better this way, divine intervention and shit,” he muttered softly, standing up and grabbing a file folder in front of him. “I tried calling you – several times. It shocked me, too, but you need to see who’s in room three. Come on.”
I followed him out of his office and through the bullpen. The interrogation rooms were just down a long corridor. He led me to the observation area of room three, and I came to a standstill, my mouth hanging open.
“Maggie,” I whispered, my eyes taking in the sight before me.
“She’s...umm...she’s in some serious trouble, Edward,” Emmett said softly from my side at the two-way mirror.
Sitting handcuffed to the metal table, wearing a county jail jumpsuit, was someone I’d have recognized anywhere, but she’d changed so fucking much. And not for the better. Her long, dark, curly hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, and her face looked older, worn. But it was her hazel eyes that were the biggest difference. They were cold, angry, bitter, and they matched the sneer on her mouth.
“What’d she do?” I asked, unable to look away from her. And it wasn’t like I was glad to see her, either. In fact, the mere sight of her made me want run right back to Bella – my sweet, calm, kind, adorable Bella, who was everything the girl chained to the table never could be.
He slapped the file folder labeled “Simon, Maggie” into my chest, which made me flinch due to my fresh ink.
Grabbing it, I tore my gaze away to flip through the folder. Shaking my head slowly, I snorted. “You’re serious. She’s still pushing...and still with Randy?”
Emmett looked over at me. “We think he’s our main guy. We need her to give him up. So far, she’s been...difficult. I’m holding her on possession with intent, but I can only hold her for so long.”
Gazing back at her, I realized right then that I felt nothing for her. Not nostalgia, not fond memories, and hell, even the hate was gone. It was as if it had never happened. I flipped through her folder again, catching bits and pieces of her life here and there. Jail, probation, DUI, and possession were all on her criminal record, but there was also domestic violence, the removal of a child by Child Protection Services, and...a marriage license.
“She married that bastard,” I groaned, shaking my head.
“Yeah. Look when,” Emmett said, pointing to the file. My brother-in-law hadn’t been around at the time this all went down, but he’d heard enough to recognize the name and dates and most likely had seen pictures. And my sister wasn’t exactly Maggie’s biggest fan, either.
I read the page in front of me. If what I was seeing was true, they got married after the two of them had done their time for stealing from me. However, the marriage had been dissolved a few years later. They had one child, who was in the care of Maggie’s grandmother on the other side of town.
“Well, at least they aren’t married anymore. You can still have her testify against him,” I snorted, handing back the file.
“You okay?” he asked, looking at me strangely. “I thought you’d want to know. Kinda makes you feel—”
“Nothing. It makes me feel nothing. This was what she chose to do with her life, Emmett,” I stated, gesturing at the person in the other room. “I was merely a stepping stone up to this.”
He grimaced. “She’s a mess. And she’s foul. I can’t get a thing out of her. This’ll be my second interview. I really kinda hate her...for what she did to you, because my wife told me I had to, and because she’s so fucking uncooperative.”
Laughing, I glanced up at him. “You should send me in there. That ought to knock her off her game a bit.”
He eyed my badge, my hat, and my jacket, all of which were USMS issued. “Huh... Boy, wouldn’t she shit a brick?”
I laughed again, but it faded quickly. “I don’t know, Em. She’s always been...that way. I just never saw it. And I’m not sure I can step in that room without asking why.”
“Does it matter why she did it?” he asked, leaning against the two-way mirror. “I mean, now? After all this time? Look what you have, Ed.”
“I know.” I nodded, taking a moment to just watch Maggie.
She was tweaking, craving a hit of some sort, because she was chewing her fingernails down to nubs. I recognized the old habit. Right about now, she’d kill for at least a cigarette. There was no telling what she’d do for more than just nicotine. The thought made me sick.
Deep down, there was a small part of me that felt sorry for her. She’d grown up with shitty parents in a shitty neighborhood, and for that one small moment in college, she’d tried to better herself, but she’d allowed everything to crash down on her. Whereas I had pulled myself up and continued on, she hadn’t. Maggie had let everything swallow her whole.
“I can get you Randy’s location,” I said softly, glancing up at Emmett, who was watching me warily. “Go in, tell her you have someone new that’s gonna talk to her.”
Emmett grinned evilly, nodded once, and slapped my shoulder. “This shit should be good,” he chortled, handing me her file back.
I smirked, watching as he left the observation room and walked into interrogation room three. Reaching over, I turned up the volume on the wall.
“Jesus, McCarty, can’t you take a hint? I don’t fucking know anything. And you fucked up movie night!” she taunted him, trying to look casual, but her hands were still handcuffed to the table, so it simply made her awkward.
Emmett grinned, shrugging a big shoulder as he tapped the table with his finger. “Personally, I don’t think you’re worth talkin’ to. I think you’re shot-out.” He twirled a finger by his temple, laughing at her. “But I gotta do what I gotta do, and I think you’re holdin’ out on me. You don’t like me, but let’s see if you’ll talk to someone else, yeah?”
“Oh, here we go,” she sang, rolling her eyes. “Good cop...bad cop.” She pointed to Emmett, who laughed outright.
“Baby, I was the good cop,” he said with a chuckle as he tapped the two-way mirror. “You shoulda talked to me. I’ll give you one last chance to tell me where Randy Tate is hiding.”
“Fuck you,” she snapped, glaring down at the table and picking at some invisible flaw there.
I stepped out of the observation room and into the hall, where Jared was standing.
He opened the door to the interrogation room, muttering, “Good luck, Cullen,” under his breath.
Maggie didn’t look up as Emmett and I passed each other in the doorway. In fact, she was stubbornly not looking my way while I shrugged out of my jacket and draped it over the chair opposite her. I slapped her file down onto the tabletop and leaned back against the two-way mirror. And I waited.
There was a time in my life that I thought being in the same room with Maggie again would end in a bloodbath. I’d thought through every scenario known to man – fuck her and leave her, curse her the fuck out, beg for answers as to why me. But as I stood there, all I wanted was to do Emmett a favor and get the information he needed and then haul ass home to wait for my girl. My girl. Bella. And my heart swelled at the thought of her. There was nothing on God’s green Earth that came close to what I felt for her, and suddenly, I felt free. I felt so free that a small, deep laugh chuckled out of me. Fuck, I almost felt drunk.
“What’s so fuckin’ funny?” Maggie scoffed, finally giving into curiosity and glancing up.
I smirked, folding my arms across my chest as her eyes raked slowly over my feet, my legs, my badge, my chest, but when she got to my arms, her eyes went wide when she recognized my ink. Immediately, her eyes shot to my face. I wasn’t stupid, and I owned a mirror or two. I knew I wasn’t the same tall, lanky kid that I’d been at eighteen or nineteen. Training in Georgia alone had added plenty of tone and muscle to my frame. However, I took no satisfaction from watching her take in my physical changes.
But still, I waited.
“Edward,” she gasped, her eyes raking over me again.
“No,” I tsked, shaking my head. “While you’re there, in that seat, it’s U.S. Marshal Cullen.”
Her mouth snapped shut so fast that I heard her teeth click together. Her eyes, though, never left me as I walked to the table, flipped open her file, and tapped the top sheet.
“This is quite the rap sheet you’ve built for yourself, Maggie,” I told her, shaking my head in admonishment, and she had the wherewithal to look ashamed.
As she chewed her nails again, I flipped slowly through the file, though I really didn’t need to. This was a head game with us. It had always been that way. So it didn’t surprise me when she switched gears on me as I walked slowly around her.
“You look good, baby,” she purred, looking at me from beneath her lashes. “Powerful.”
I leaned next to her at the table, crossing one ankle over the other. “It’s Cullen, Maggie. Or U.S. Marshal Cullen – or even just marshal. But you’ll address a federal officer with respect. Got me?”
“Come on, Edward,” she crooned, shifting enough that she could reach out and touch my leg next to her. “Don’t be like that. We used to be good. I’m still really good.”
I snorted. “You’re far from good, Mags.” As her finger slipped up my thigh, I stood up and moved away from her gracefully, falling down in the chair across the table. Tugging her file closer, I sang, “Let’s catch up, shall we? You know, for old times’ sake.”
“Don’t,” she said, but I flipped and flipped pages. “Please don’t, Edward,” she sniffled, giving me her absolute fucking best begging face.
Tears welled up in her eyes, and I saw how good of an actress she was. I wanted to bash my own skull in for all the times I’d fallen for that shit right there.
“Cut the fucking shit, Mags!” I snapped, slamming my hand down onto the table and making her jump. “That ain’t gonna fly around me anymore. I used to buy into it, but no more.”
Her tears instantly cleared up as she gaped at me, but she stayed quiet. Once she’d slumped a little in her chair, I went back to her file.
“Ah, let’s see. Besides, you know, grand larceny, what have we got here?” I posed lightly. I called out a few of her old charges, some old arrests, finally falling on the picture of her daughter. I pulled out the photo of a chubby-cheeked little girl around the age of three or so. She had her mother’s dark, curly hair, but her father’s bright blue eyes; she was obviously Randy’s daughter, as well. “Congratulations. What’s her name?”
“Abigail Marie,” she whispered, her eyes not leaving the picture.
The middle name made me smile, made me think of first meeting Bella. “Good name.” I sniffed, noting that I had my “in” with her right in front of me. “Shame you won’t see her for a very long time. Or do you give a shit?”
Her eyes snapped to my face, her expression going from sad to fiery in a flash. “Of course I give a shit!”
I raised my hands in mock surrender. “Just sayin’,” I taunted. “I mean, you don’t have custody, and you can’t see her without supervision. Plus, it doesn’t look like you’re trying very hard to get her back. Drugs have aged you, Mags. You should cut that shit out. How is Grammy, by the way?”
The one thing I knew about Maggie’s family was that her grandmother was the only one that gave two shits about Maggie, about family. She was a sweet old woman, and it wasn’t a surprise to me that she had taken in Abigail.
“She loved me. Said I was good for you. She was always pretty blind. Little did she know you were beyond redemption,” I boasted, kicking back in my chair and propping my feet up on the table. I grinned at Maggie. “She still have that fuck-awesome hidden basement?”
There it was. Maggie’s eyes widened imperceptibly, but she recovered quickly.
“Does Daddy go visit Miss Abigail often? Oh, I bet he does,” I sang. “Randy was always about family. Beat the shit out of his step-dad for hitting his mother, right? And I bet he sneaks in through that hidden basement.” I laughed lightly, shaking my head. “And knowing Grammy, she lets him in...for the baby.” I held a finger up, my feet falling softly back to the floor. “Or he’s threatening her. Maybe he’s paying her off with all this bank he’s makin’, hmm?”
Maggie snapped, lunging at me without thinking, and her cuffs snapped her back into her chair. “You stupid son of a bitch!” she yelled, and I merely smiled, closing her file. “You sent us to prison before, and now you’re gonna do it again!”
I snorted, rolling my eyes. “You put yourself in prison, Maggie. You stole ten thousand dollars.”
“Always about the money,” she sneered. “You flaunted it around us like an asshole.”
My hands came slamming down on the table and I loomed over her. “It was never about the fucking money!” I growled, glaring at her, and she shrank back. “I simply tried to help you, and you shit on it!”
The door opened to the interrogation room, and Emmett stepped in, looking a combination of proud and worried.
I pointed toward him, my eyes not leaving Maggie’s. “Do yourself a fucking favor. Do the right thing.” I pushed Abigail’s picture closer to her. “Do it for her. Tell him when Randy visits his daughter and how. Because if I do it, then there will be no leniency on you. They may take pity if you do it. Otherwise, you’re goin’ away for quite a while. You’re lookin’ at...what?” I glanced up at Emmett. “Six months? A year?” I asked, and when he nodded, I turned back to her. “Fuck. By then, Abigail will have forgotten what you look like.”
Maggie’s nostrils flared, and real tears welled up in her eyes. She glared me down for another moment or two, finally taking a deep breath. “Randy goes on Monday and Wednesday nights...when Grammy leaves Abigail with the neighbor. He parks two streets over and sneaks in through the backyard. He’s fucking the babysitter.” Her voice sounded bitter.
I looked over at Emmett, who looked like he needed more, but like he’d take what he could get.
“And?” I asked, picking up the file, but leaving the picture.
“And he’s storing everything down there. Grammy doesn’t know because she can’t handle the stairs. Her hips won’t let her,” she finished without any emotion to her tone. She locked gazes with me. “You just signed my death warrant.”
“No, I didn’t,” I told her, pushing away from the table and snatching up my jacket. “You’re smarter than Randy. You always were.”
“Edward, I’m sorry!” she called out as we started to leave the room. “He made me do it! He threatened me!”
I believed Randy had threatened her, and I nodded, turning to look at her, but I knew she was also partly lying to me, because Randy sure as hell hadn’t been holding a gun to her head the night I found them on his bed in our dorm room. “I didn’t come in here for an apology, Maggie. I came to help my brother-in-law.”
That shut her up as her eyes took in Emmett slapping my shoulder.
“So, see you at Mom and Dad’s for Sunday lunch?” he chirped without shame, giving his best dimpled grin.
Smiling back and handing him Maggie’s file, I said, “We’ll see. I’ve got to fix something important first.” When he smiled and nodded, I chuckled at him. “Wish me luck. And it’s your turn to bring the beer.”
Laughing, he shot me a wink and a wave. I didn’t look back when I left. I needed to get home and get ready for Bella.
~oOo~
Bella was late. I poked my head into the oven to check dinner, but my eyes never strayed far from the fucking clock. My panic had started to kick in when five o’clock rolled around and I realized Bella would be off work. Since I’d come home from the police station, I’d cleaned, showered, cleaned again, until finally, I’d just called my mother for some idea of what to cook. I didn’t want delivery or takeout, but I was tired of making the same old shit.
The thick, heady smell of chicken marsala filled my nose, but I slammed the oven door back closed.
“Fuck, she’s not coming,” I muttered, feeling something akin to shards of glass fill my chest, until I heard my own car’s engine in the driveway.
Through the front window, I watched as she pulled all the way into the drive and under the carport behind my bike. The engine shut off, but she sat there for what seemed like forever.
“Come on, baby. Please, please let me fix this...” I whispered to her or God or any deity that would listen.
My forehead thumped to the kitchen archway, and my eyes slid closed until I heard footsteps on my front porch. Before she could knock, I tugged open my door.
“Bella,” I sighed in relief, staring at worried, hurt, and just plain beautiful. “I wasn’t sure you were going to come in.”
Her smile was quick and easy. “I just...needed a minute.”
I stepped forward, expecting to be slapped, but I needed to touch her. I needed the calm she didn’t even know she brought with her. She let me pulled her close.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I said against her hair, inhaling the scent I’d come to love, though there was a hint of the hospital smell that I’d grown used to from my dad.
She stiffened in my arms, pulling away. I frowned when she said simply, “We need to talk.”
It hurt like hell to let her go, but I did it, stepping back so she could come in. “I know,” I conceded. “Come on in.”
Seeing Bella in my living room was surreal. I never invited women to my house. Ever. But she not only seemed to be taking everything in, but she looked so fucking good standing there. I tried to see what she saw – masculine colors, flatscreen TV, my glass bar, all of which my mother had designed for me when I’d bought the house. I was sure it came off as a bachelor pad, but it wasn’t. Mom had merely decorated according to my personality.
“Your house is beautiful, Edward,” Bella said softly, eyeing the glass shelves of my bar, which had both alcohol and a few photographs of family and friends.
“Thanks,” I said, waving a hand. “My mom did it all. I hardly had a choice in the matter. Maybe the TV.” I smiled when Bella snickered softly. “Want a drink? I gotta check dinner.”
“Edward...” She sighed, shaking her head. “I told you that dinner was—”
“Tentative. I know,” I finished for her, walking to the kitchen, but I could hear her follow me. “But I’m starving, B. I haven’t eaten much today, okay? It’s been a really fucking weird, long day. I’ll tell you about it after we’ve talked.” I cracked open the fridge. “So, beer, wine, water...”
“Beer’s fine.”
I grabbed two bottles from the bottom shelf, cracking hers open and then my own. I tapped the neck of her bottle with my own, not bothering to toast anything, lest I jinx this whole fucking thing.
“Will you tell me everything?” she asked after taking a draw on her beer. She slid onto the stool at my counter, her eyes on me as I checked dinner and shut the oven again.
Nodding, I walked around to her, offering her my hand. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” I vowed, and she took my hand. I led her to the living room, and she took the far corner of my sofa. She was avoiding my touch, but instead of letting her scoot away, I tugged my ottoman over and sat down in front of her. “Anything, beautiful. Ask me.”
She looked away from me, her face filling with that steel determination I’d recognize anywhere. Sniffing once, she shook her head. “I want to know why you left me with barely an explanation – nothing more than it was your job – and then stayed away without any notice that you were okay after you got back into town. I want to know why you didn’t call at least once after you dropped off that bad guy you were chasing. You could’ve told me you needed space. Something. Anything! You didn’t even call Jasper!”
She was on a roll. She was fire and hurt, and I let her just get it all out, because when I finally spoke, I wasn’t going to stop with just explanations of my actions and whereabouts.
She locked those liquid brown eyes on me. “Is having me here,” she started, pointing to the floor, “making you uncomfortable? Am I invading your life, Edward? Your family, your job, your friends are all here, and I’m not a part of any of it. Is it bugging you? ’Cause I’ll—”
I leaned forward and cupped her face. “I want nothing more than you, right here. Nothing. I’ve fucking gone crazy trying to figure out how to wait for you to join this place, my family, my friends. Got me?” I said, probably sounding pissed off, but she needed to know. “Now... There’s that question answered. Let’s go back to the top.”
I slipped forward, bringing her knees between my legs so that we were face to face. “I left you without a good explanation because I’m a coward and an idiot, Bella. I left because at that moment, I couldn’t give you what you wanted.” She looked away from me again, hurt on her face and in her eyes, but I brushed her hair from her forehead. “You said the most amazing thing to me, but I couldn’t handle it, sweetheart. Not right then. Believe me, I hear you say it over and over in my head, and I... It’s like music, but...”
I sighed in frustration because this shit wasn’t coming out right. I patted her leg to make her look at me. “Do you remember when I told you that outside my job, my life at home was utter fuckery? Do you remember?” I asked her, and she nodded. “You didn’t believe me, but it’s the fucking truth, B. Now do you get it? But I never, ever wanted to screw this up,” I said, gesturing between us. “I couldn’t hear those beautiful words from you, knowing what I was about to walk out and do. And I didn’t want to say something back just because someone else said it or because there was a possibility I wouldn’t return to you.”
“I don’t care that you didn’t say it back, Edward,” she countered, though I could see that it killed her to say that. “But you could’ve texted, called...something. Jasper was back by Friday afternoon.”
“Jasper wasn’t in Hoquiam, Bella. That’s about two hours southwest from here. He was right here in Seattle.” I gripped my hair. “Jasper also wasn’t lead on that recovery. Al made me lead, which meant I had to wait out everything. I had to wait until he showed up, the area was processed, and the fugitive was medically attended to, and then finally drive back to Seattle with his nasty ass in order to put him back in jail. I didn’t get here until really late Friday night, baby. And I was fucking exhausted. I hadn’t slept since Wednesday night...with you. And if you’ll remember, there wasn’t a lot of sleepin’ goin’ on.”
She smirked when I raised an eyebrow at her.
“So I slept most of Saturday away. And yeah, I should’ve called, I should’ve texted, and I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you I just needed space. And it wasn’t really space that I wanted. I wanted you, but by then, I figured I’d fucked up, so I kinda got a little drunk and wallowed in my own misery. See? Fuckery.”
“Did you get drunk here?” she asked, looking like she was bracing herself for the answer.
“No.” I sighed, sitting back and shaking my head. “No, I went to a bar I used to hang out in, and Mr. Daniels and I got reacquainted. An old friend took pity on me and made sure I didn’t ride my bike while that trashed.”
“Who?” she whispered, looking away with tears welling up.
“Hey,” I said, making her look at me. “I would never do that to you, baby. Never. It was Garrett, okay?”
“Your tattoo friend?” she asked, looking relieved.
“Yes,” I answered, watching her warily. “Do you think I’d cheat? ’Cause that would never happen. I only want you. Tell me, despite all this bullshit, that you know at least that much.”
“No! No, of course not,” she gushed, shaking her head. “I just...”
“You’ve been fucked over before, so you think...” I didn’t even bother to finish that because we both knew it was true.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
“Don’t apologize to me, B,” I sighed, getting up and starting to pace in front of her. “So I woke up on a lumpy-ass couch, missing the shit out of you and thinking I really needed to pull my head out of my ass. Garrett cleaned me up and fed me. We talked about you – as much as I could about you.”
“But still you didn’t call me or anything. I wouldn’t have seen you had we not run into each other at the hospital.”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong, beautiful. I’m sorry,” I told her, coming to a stop in front of her. “I woke up Sunday feeling different – hungover as all hell, but different. I don’t know if it was the drinking or...or the time away from you, or doing a different detail or what. I honestly don’t know. But there was something I had to do before I saw you again, Bella. I needed to do it. Unfortunately, it kept me away longer than I expected.”
Bella’s beautiful face morphed into an adorable expression filled with curiosity as she gazed up at me.
I sat back down on the ottoman in front of her, picking up her hands. I kissed her fingers, trying to figure out how to say this next part. It was so fucking important. I took a minute to revel in her touch, but she turned the tables on me with small tentative touches to my bandaged hand.
“I’m okay, sweetheart. Infected, but okay,” I told her, smiling when she nodded with a relieved expression. “That’s why I was seeing my dad. I woke up swollen and hurting, but I was coming to you afterward. I swear it.”
“Why not Sunday?” she asked. “What kept you?”
I inhaled deeply, running my nose across her palm and placing a kiss in the center. The fact that she hadn’t pushed me away or stopped me from touching her made me stupidly happy.
“Garrett,” I answered, locking gazes with her but letting go of her hands. “Apparently, I’m a sappy drunk. I woke up around one or two Sunday afternoon, not remembering shit about the night before, and Garrett said all I’d done was talk about this beautiful brunette with brown eyes that told me she loved me.” I smiled, shaking my head at her sweet blush. “I’d told him your first name, but I wouldn’t tell him anything else – not where you came from, nor your last name, not even how I met you. He also said I begged him to ink me.”
Her eyes widened and her eyebrows shot up. “Oh, Edward, please tell me you didn’t get something stupid done while drunk,” she groaned, shaking her head at me, but she was eyeing me everywhere trying to find it.
Laughing, I shook my head. “Garrett won’t ink someone when they’re that wasted. He did, however, show me what I’d asked for when I woke up. When he showed me the design, I knew I had to have it. And it took several hours to get it done. It was... It represented you so much – what you’ve done to me. For me. It was as if you’d been there and picked the damn thing out, Bella.”
I sat back and started unbuttoning my shirt before I could chicken the fuck out. The very second black ink came into view, Bella sat forward, gently shifting my shirt back just a little off my shoulder. Her eyes raked over the new tattoo. New ink, tender skin, and the aftercare ointment made it look like a neon sign. As pale as my skin was normally, the Batman symbol really did look like the light in the sky.
“Edward...”
“Wait,” I whispered, almost drunk on how close she was to me. “I think you know I identify with Bruce Wayne, due to my birth father’s death. Batman felt locked into his life, like he had no choice but to keep the people he cared about safe, yet at arm’s length. He considered it a burden and a duty to do what he did.”
I swallowed thickly, glancing down at the tattoo. The Batman symbol started over my heart – exactly where Bella had told me I should put it weeks and weeks ago – but about halfway through it, the solidity of it burst into what looked like a hundred bats that spread out over most of my left pec, all the way up to my shoulder.
“When I met you, I just was doing my duty, my job, but...you’re so much more, Bella,” I started, waiting until her eyes broke away from the tattoo to meet my gaze. “I couldn’t stay away from you, though. And at the time, I didn’t know why. It’s been so long since I’ve cared about anyone outside my family. I kept everyone at arm’s length, but not you. You sneaked in and wrapped yourself up inside me, and I can’t take a breath without thinking about you.” After clearing my throat nervously, I went on. “I’ve been hurt before, and...I... After meeting you, really getting to know you, I realized that she has no power here anymore. You do. You could shatter me, but I think I’ve been in love with you before we ever left the east coast. And knowing that,” I whispered, tapping my new ink, but my eyes didn’t leave hers, which were now filling with tears, “I feel...set free.”
I grasped either side of her face and brushed my lips over hers. “I love you. And I’m sorry I didn’t call or text you. I needed to step back for just a moment, baby. The way I did it was wrong, but I was scared. It’s no excuse, I know. But it’s the truth. I needed to step back from our situation, I needed to test myself that I could still do my job and love you at the same time, and I needed a swift kick in the ass to realize that every second I’m apart from you, you’re all I think about.” I kissed her lips again, tasting salty tears. “Please don’t cry, baby,” I begged her softly. “I also had to come to terms with who you are. Your situation. And I decided I didn’t give a flying fuck. If we had to move you today, I’d go. I’d follow you anywhere – whether you’re Marie Brandon, Bella Swan, or...or Bertha Moskowitz.”
Bella burst into a giggle, and it was accompanied by an adorable sniffle. But she pulled back to look at the ink on my chest again.
“You... You got this for me?” she asked, reaching out to touch. “It’s beautiful.”
“Careful, it’s still sore,” I whispered, but guided her finger to trace the edges of black ink. “And yes, I needed something new, something good. I wanted to show you that what I feel for you is permanent. And that I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you.”
She was in my lap and wrapped around me before I could take the next breath. But it was the relief at the feel of her lips on mine that had me moaning shamelessly and gripping her anywhere I could get my hands – her shirt, her ass, her waist, her hair. I wanted to be everywhere at once with her. While she was careful when she rid me of my shirt completely and touched lightly in order to not hurt my chest, I wasn’t so gentle. Yanking her closer, I practically growled when her center ground down onto my suddenly very hard dick. He was so fucking happy she was that close that he twitched hard against the zipper of my jeans. My tongue slid languidly into her mouth, swirling with hers and savoring every second. But when I broke away, I trailed my lips down her neck, whispering my apologies, swearing I’d never do it again, and I couldn’t stop saying the words, until she said them again.
“I love you, too, Edward.”
I pulled back, bringing her forehead to mine. “Fuck me, and I thought the first time you said it was awesome,” I muttered, smiling when she grinned again.
“Edward?” she asked, and I hummed, opening my eyes to see her worried gaze. “You swore to me you’d never stay away, and you broke it.”
I opened my mouth to apologize profusely. I was prepared to beg, plead, cajole...charm, even. But her fingers landed against my lips.
“Don’t do it again,” she said firmly with a shake of her head.
“I won’t. I swear. I’ll text and call you so much, you’ll think I’m stalking you,” I told her, kind of teasing, but not really.
Grinning, she leaned in to kiss me again, but we both jumped when the timer for my oven went off. She cracked up when I stood up, keeping her wrapped around me, and I stalked into the kitchen, plopping her sweet ass onto my counter.
“Don’t move, but I really need to eat. Will you stay?” I asked her, regretfully letting her go, but I needed to start the pasta.
“It smells amazing,” she whispered, eyeing the pan when I took out the bubbling marsala. “Yeah, I’ll stay.”
As the pasta cooked, I stepped back between her legs, unable to keep from touching her, kissing her.
“What happened?” she asked, tilting her head at me. “You said today was weird and long.”
I snorted, shaking my head and stepping out of her arms to pull out the strainer for my noodles. I set it in the sink, grabbed the boiling pot of water.
“After I saw you at the hospital – congrats again, by the way,” I said with a wink and a grin, which made her smile but bite down on that bottom lip. “I went to see my brother-in-law, Emmett. He’s a detective for the Seattle PD. He knows about you, and he’s trustworthy. Our jobs are similar in the secret and dangerous side of things. I just...I needed to talk to someone who would understand having someone back home while we were out doing our jobs.”
“Why not Jazz?”
I sniffed, glancing up at her as I rinsed the pasta in cold water. “Jasper...he’s just as new at this as I am. And he’s too close to the matter. I needed someone that had been through it – was still going through it.”
“What did he say?” she asked, leaning to the side when I needed to get into the cabinet by her head.
I chuckled. “I told him how I felt about you and that I was pretty sure I’d fucked up completely. But he told me that if I loved you, things would fall into place. He said he made sure that everything he did at work was careful so he could get home to Rose and Emma.”
I plated two full servings, handing her one once she’d slipped down to the floor. We sat down at my kitchen table, taking a few bites.
“This is good,” she gushed. “Where was this while we were gone?”
Chuckling, I shrugged. “I called Mom. She emailed me this recipe.”
She took another few bites. “No offense, Edward, but that chat with your brother-in-law doesn’t sound so weird. What aren’t you telling me?”
“No, the chat was fine. It was what happened after we talked that was strange,” I told her, taking a long sip on my beer. “See, he’s a narcotics detective, and he’s been working on this case. He tried to call me this weekend, but...” I raised an eyebrow at her in order to not rehash my absence. “His partner interrupted us to tell us his suspect – or person of interest – was in an interrogation room. Emmett had tried to get a hold of me to let me know who that was. And I ended up helping him get his information.”
Bella had frozen, her fork halfway up to her mouth, but she waited. “Who?”
“Maggie.”
She set her fork down. “What?”
I nodded, grimacing at the thought of Maggie – how she’d been, how she’d reacted, how nothing about her had changed. “She’s...a complete mess. She married Randy – and then divorced him – they have a kid she’s not really allowed to see, and apparently, she’s involved in some big drug ring with him. Emmett needed to find Randy, so I interrogated her.”
“How’d it go?” she whispered, looking down at her plate and pushing her food around.
“I scared the shit out of her just by walking in the door. And she tried that same old shit – the crying, begging, flirting shit. And I saw right through it,” I chortled humorlessly. “When she finally gave up Randy’s whereabouts, I walked out.” I shrugged a shoulder. “She apologized, but I didn’t care. All I knew was that Emmett got his information, and I wanted to get back here, for you.”
“W-Wait. She apologized, and you just...left?” She gaped at me, and I shrugged again and then nodded. “And this was today? After...After that?!” she gasped, pointing to my new tattoo.
“Yeah, why?” I wasn’t sure if she was pissed at me or not. “Baby, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean... Seeing her was...nothing. I think I let all that shit go when I met you.”
Bella was up and out of her chair, and I flinched like she was going to smack the shit out of me or something. Instead, her hands slipped into my hair, and she pulled my mouth to hers. She kissed me with such fervor, with such a possessive feel, that I couldn’t help but pull her into my lap again.
“Christ, Bella,” I panted when she finally pulled away. “What was that?”
“That was for being ignorantly sexy,” she breathed, kissing me again. “And you’d better hurry up and eat, Edward.”
Grinning, I chuckled. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“Good,” I grunted, standing up with her in my arms again. “Tell me you’re okay with microwaving that shit later.”
She laughed, her head falling back as I toted her up the stairs to my bedroom. “Yeah. Really, really okay.”



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