Sunday, August 25, 2013 | By: Drotuno

In Pursuit Chapter 30 & Pics

Chapter 30
Bella POV
I tugged on the bottom of my sweater and then straightened my skirt...again. I was restless and fidgety and couldn’t sit still, no matter how much Edward tried to convince me that it was going to be okay.
He reached over and laid his hand on mine, settling them on my thigh. “Baby, it’s gonna go fine. They’re gonna fucking love you. I’ve told you that.”
Shrugging, I said, “I know. But this is so big, ya know?”
The first time meeting the parents? Yeah, it was huge. I’d been nervous ever since Edward had brought it up after getting home from the bar Thursday night, but until today, I’d played ostrich and buried my head in the sand. I’d even been able to put off thinking too hard about it Saturday because of our date, but today, Alice had cornered me first thing – well, not first thing, because that had been waking to Edward’s head between my thighs – to tell me we were going shopping.
“I repeat, beautiful, they’re gonna love you. So chill, okay? If you bite at that lip any more, you’re gonna make it bleed, and while red lips look...fuck hot on you, it’s not so sexy when it’s not lipstick.”

I made a conscious effort to release my abused lip I’d been worrying between my teeth and tried to relax. “You think the gifts are okay?” I asked, using my free hand to point to the back seat.
Using the list Alice and I had made right after Edward’s Skype session with his family and new niece, we’d gone out and found several outfits for Emma. After seeing her for the first time myself on Monday, I knew they would be perfect, but I was worried Rose wouldn’t like them. We’d also gotten a bottle of wine – Edward had assured me it was one of his parents’ favorite kinds – and Alice was stopping by on her way to the Cullens’ house with Jasper and picking up some fresh flowers.
“B, they’re great, I promise. My mother’s gonna adore them, and Rose... Well, she may groan about it because it gives me even more of a reason to call her Ladybug, but she’ll love ’em too. I’m not worried about that. What I am worried about is her having enough food. It’s gonna be a packed house.”
I gasped, turning in my seat as much as my seat belt would allow. “Please tell me you told her I was coming! Edward Cullen, springing company on your mother is not—”
His laugh rang through the car, relaxing me more than anything else had. “Of course I fucking told her, baby. I knew you’d kill me if I didn’t, but really, it’s going to be a packed house. I had to tell her, or there wouldn’t be enough food.”
Blowing out a breath, I nodded. “Okay, good.”
Edward brought my hand up to his lips as he slowed to a stop at a red light. “Seriously, Bella,” he huffed. “There’s no need to be nervous. You’re smart, beautiful, well-educated, funny...and you put up with my cranky ass. They’re gonna love you for that fact alone. You already met Emmett, Dad’s seen you at the hospital a few times, and my mom’s been dying to meet you, so you have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
I hummed to show I’d heard him, even if I didn’t fully believe him, and went back to staring out the window at the passing scenery.
Five minutes later, Edward was turning the Audi, which we’d brought in deference to misty rain outside, into the driveway of a three-story turn-of-the-century house with a roof that looked almost like a flat Chinese pagoda. There was a large front porch wrapping around one side of the house, and the second floor included a deck that was just as large. The front porch and ground floor were done in red brick, while the rest of the house was painted a light gray, with a darker trim.
“It’s beautiful,” I sighed, butterflies swarming in my stomach once again.
He made a noise of agreement. “My mom’s pretty happy with it. Being an interior designer, she mostly focused on the inside, but she made a lot of changes outside, too.” He pointed to an older man shuffling along the sidewalk, a little dog on a leash trotting along beside him and sniffing at the grass. “The tree branch I had to clear out of the driveway by the garage in back? Belonged to old Mr. Dobson.”
I giggled when the man glared at Edward as he stepped out of the car, calling out a cheerful hello.
“He needs to get laid,” Edward whispered playfully as he opened my door for me and helped me out.
Smirking, I said, “Maybe I should set him up with Betty?”
“Hell no,” he grumbled, shaking his head. “She’s way too good for him, the cranky bastard.”
I laughed, leaning in to grab the gift bag and bottle of wine just as Jasper pulled in behind us. When I straightened up, I looked around again and noticed a familiar car parked at the curb. “Hey, isn’t that Al’s car?”
Edward nodded, closing the back door. “Mmhmm. Told you it was gonna be a packed house, baby.” He took the wine so I had a hand free, and then once I’d straightened my skirt and sweater, he laced his fingers through mine. “Come on, B. I can guaran-damn-tee you Mom’s got her nose pressed to the glass, spying on us.”
I took a deep breath, catching Alice’s eye as they stepped up beside us and smiling when she gave me a nervous smile of her own.
The front door opened when we were halfway up the steps to the porch, and Mrs. Cullen stepped out. She was beaming and looked so much like her son at the moment that it took my breath away. I’d noticed the resemblance in the pictures I’d seen, of course, but there, live and in person, they were that much easier to spot. They had nearly identical color hair, although hers was long and beautifully curled. Her skin was the same light tone as Edward’s, and while their eyes were different, his smile was all hers.
“Edward!” she called, moving out to us as we stepped onto the porch. Then her eyes lit on me and her smile widened. “And that makes you Bella. You’re just as pretty as my husband and son said you were.” She pulled me into an awkward hug, given that I hadn’t released my death grip on Edward’s hand.
“Thank you, Mrs. Cullen,” I said, giving her a shaky smile as I stepped back.
She put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “None of that Mrs. Cullen stuff. That was my mother-in-law. Call me Esme, please.”
“Esme,” I agreed, nodding.
“Mom,” Edward interrupted before she could speak again. “This is Bella’s sister, Alice.”
Esme’s eyes cut to Alice and Jasper, who were standing just to our right, and she smiled, pulling Alice into a hug as well. “It’s good to meet you, Alice,” she said, releasing her and turning to Jasper. “And you, young man... Where’ve you been hiding since you boys got back into town?”
Edward interrupted again before Jasper could reply. “Ma, come on,” he teased. “May we come in, or are you gonna make us eat out on the porch?”
Esme laughed, stepping back. “Sorry, sweetheart. Come on in. Everyone’s in the living room. Maybe you can calm Emma down. Your father and I are having no luck.”
“Where are Rose and Emmett?” Edward asked, ushering me in with a hand on my lower back, and that was when I finally heard the whimpering cries of an upset baby who was not being soothed.
“We offered to watch the baby for the afternoon so they could go to the movies. They haven’t been out much since she was born,” Esme explained, leading us into the living room.
Edward’s father was standing with the baby in front of the window, rocking her back and forth. He smiled and said, “Hey, son. Come get your niece and see if she’ll be happy with Uncle Edward, huh? She’s not too fond of Grandpa right now.”
Edward looked at me with a raised eyebrow. I squeezed his hand and smiled, reaching for the wine.
“Go, Edward. You know you wanna.”
He grinned and nodded. “Make the introductions,” he said to Jasper before moving to take Emma from his dad.
When Carlisle walked up, he put an arm around Esme’s waist and smiled. “No need for introductions, Jasper. I recognize this one from the hospital, so that must make you Bella, and that means you’re Alice,” he said, looking to my sister.
“Yes, sir,” we echoed.
“It’s good to finally meet you, Dr. Cullen. I’ve seen you around the hospital a few times,” I said.
He nodded. “Please, call me Carlisle. We’re far from formal around here.”
I smiled and held out the wine to him as Alice handed Esme the flowers. “These are for you. Thank you so much for having us over.”
Carlisle looked at the bottle and nodded. “This is our favorite. Thank you, Bella. Alice.”
“These are beautiful, girls. Thank you,” Esme said, turning the vase to look at the different flowers. Alice had included roses, lilies, and a few other ones I didn’t recognize in a short, rectangular glass vase. They were a vibrant mix of orange, yellow, white, and green, and there was even a pop of purple here and there.
We all turned when Edward began cooing to Emma.
“Come on, Ladybug,” he crooned softly. “Grandpa not doin’ it for you, huh? Did you need Uncle Edward? Of course you did.” Emma’s whimpering died away as she looked up at him, her little fist waving and smacking his chin, making him chuckle. “See? It’s not so bad, is it?”
His smile as he looked down at her just about melted my heart, and I definitely heard Esme sigh from beside me.
“Well, would you look at that,” Al suddenly announced from behind me. “All it took for her to be happy was Uncle Edward.”
I turned and smiled. “Hi, Al,” Alice and I echoed, making him grin.
“Hello, ladies. It’s good to see you again.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Esme said, raising an eyebrow when she turned back to Edward. “I forgot. Al’s already met them.”
Edward shrugged apologetically. “We were over at their house when Al called, needing to see us about something. They said he could come there so we didn’t have to go out.”
Esme huffed. “That’s all right, son. First Al, then Emmett. A mother’s the last person to meet her son’s new girlfriend. Nothing upsetting about that.” She turned her head and winked at me, and I knew she wasn’t really upset.
Moving to stand beside her, Edward brushed her cheek with a kiss and then bumped her hip with his. “You met her before Rose. That’s something, right?”
With a put-upon sigh, Esme said, “I suppose that’ll have to do.” Then she smiled and patted his cheek – hard – before turning back to us. “Now, everybody have a seat. Dinner will be ready as soon as Emmett and Rose get here.”
As if she’d timed it that way on purpose, there was a knock on the door, and then it opened. I turned and saw Rose step inside, followed by Emmett. She was a gorgeous blonde and didn’t look at all like she’d just had a baby a month before.
“See, Em,” she grumbled, elbowing him lightly. “I told you they’d beat us here. You couldn’t have just taken the interstate like I suggested?” Turning back to us, she smiled and said, “You must be Bella and Alice. It’s good to finally meet you.”
I smiled, nodding. “It’s good to meet you, too,” I said, and then Alice echoed my greeting.
Any further conversation was cut off as Esme said, “Good. Everyone grab a seat at the table. Carlisle, would you help me in the kitchen?”
“Yes, dear,” he said, smiling before turning back to the group. Holding up the wine we’d brought, he asked, “Would anyone like wine?”
Everyone but Emmett raised their hands.
“I’ll grab a beer, Dad, thanks.” He followed Carlisle into the kitchen.
Edward handed the baby to Rose, kissing both her cheek and the top of Emma’s head before making his way to me. “How ya holdin’ up, beautiful?” he murmured, reaching up and tucking a piece of hair back behind my ear.
I gave him a tentative smile. “Um, okay. Your mom’s not really mad, right?”
He chuckled low and shook his head. “Nah. She was just yankin’ my chain.”
Nodding, I let out a breath and then held up the gift bag, asking, “Where should I put this?”
Edward directed me to the couch, where I set the bag, and then with his warm palm on my lower back, he steered me to the dining room, where the large table was set for nine. Emma was already rocking slowly in a swing behind Emmett and Rose on the far side, along with Al, and Jasper was seated on one end on the other side with Alice beside him. Edward pulled out the chair beside her and held it for me, helping me scoot it forward once I was set. Trailing his fingers lightly across my shoulder and giving my neck a squeeze, he moved to sit in the seat beside mine.
Carlisle came into the dining room with the bottle of Chardonnay, now missing the cork, and a bowl of steamed red potatoes, which he set in the middle of the table before reaching for one of the wine glasses.
“I hope salmon’s okay with everyone,” Esme said as she came into the room carrying a platter filled with the flaky, pink fish in one hand and a bowl of sautéed mixed mushrooms in the other. “Edward assured me both you girls liked fish.”
She looked unsure, so I quickly said, “We do. It looks delicious, Esme.”
Beaming, she replied, “Thank you, sweetheart,” before taking her seat beside Edward. Once Carlisle had poured all the wine, she said, “Dig in, everyone. Edward, take a piece of fish and pass it to Bella. We’ll go around the table that way.”
Conversation flowed easily as we began to eat. The food tasted as good as it looked and smelled, and I was comfortable and relaxed as I listened to Emmett tell about a guy they’d brought in to the station who was so high that he was sure he was being hunted by aliens at that very moment.
Esme took a sip of wine and looked over at me. “Bella, Alice, tell us a little about yourselves. All I know is you’re new in town, and Bella, you work in the hospital business office.”
After I explained that I had a degree in accounting and had worked mainly on patient accounts so far, Alice told them about her job at ADI.
“A dancer?” Esme nodded, smiling. “I can see that. Where did you move from?”
Alice looked at me to answer, so I explained the story about moving to Seattle from California a while after we graduated from college.
“And your parents? Do they live in California still?”
Biting my lip, I took a deep breath. This was the hardest part of our new history, and it was still hard to lie about. Edward’s hand settling on my thigh gave me the strength to finally answer.
When I told them about our parents, there were gasps from everyone around the table but Al and Emmett, who were watching me with sympathy in their eyes.
“Oh, you poor little lambs,” Esme murmured. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you,” Alice said, reaching over to squeeze my hand.
After a moment, Carlisle cleared his throat. “Well, I had an interesting case today.”
I half-listened as Carlisle told his story, glad the spotlight was off me.
Edward leaned over and spoke low into my ear. “You did well, baby. You okay?”
I nodded.
I leaned in to his kiss on my cheek before he settled back in his seat.
When I looked up, Esme and Rose were watching us with an almost-speculative expression on their faces, but it quickly cleared and they both smiled, turning their attention back to Carlisle.
After dinner, Carlisle volunteered to put away the food while everyone else relaxed in the living room.
It was a pretty room, decorated for comfort, not just style. There were two sofas, along with a couple of chairs. One was similar to a Queen Anne-style, a little more formal-looking, while the second had a lot more padding, was bigger overall, and was very comfortable-looking. That was the one Al promptly sat in, like he’d done it an untold number of times before. Edward led me to the couch I’d left the gift bag on and pulled me down beside him when he sat. Alice and Jasper sat on the other couch, while Esme joined Edward and me, leaving Carlisle in the other chair.
Once Rose and Emmett, who was holding a sleeping Emma, had taken their seats beside Alice and Jasper, I held out the gift bag.
“Alice and I couldn’t resist when we found these...” I let my voice trail off, nervous about her reaction.
Rose pulled out the tissue paper and groaned playfully. “Not you, too?” she huffed, glaring at Edward before grinning. One by one, she held up the ladybug-themed clothing.
“I got the sleeper a little big,” I said, motioning to the adorable pink outfit. “I thought it might be good when the weather started cooling off some.”
She nodded, passing the clothes over for Esme to see. “That’s perfect,” Rose said, smiling. “Thank you both very much, even if it does just give Uncle Edward more reason to call her that nickname.”
He just grinned, earning an exaggerated eyeroll from Rose before she winked at me.
Two hours later, Emmett looked at the clock. “We’d better go, Rosie. Time to get little one in bed.”
“Yeah, we should go, too,” Edward said, looking to me and then to Jasper, who was nodding. “Bella and Alice have work in the morning.”
Everyone stood, and Esme immediately turned to me.
“I’m so glad you could come tonight,” she said, pulling me into a tight hug. Her voice was quiet, just for my ears, as she continued. “You’re so good for Edward, Bella. I haven’t seen him this happy in...” She huffed, shaking her head. “Anyway, come back anytime, sweetheart, with or without Edward. You and Alice are always welcome.”
I smiled, nodding. “Thanks. He...He makes me happy, too.”
She squeezed me one more time and then moved away to take Alice into her arms, murmuring something too low for me to hear.
Emmett pulled me into a big bear hug, patting my back. “Good to see you again, Bella-boo.”
“Thanks, Emmett. You, too,” I said, laughing.
Rose laughed. “Let her go, you big oaf. You’re squeezing her to death.”
When he released me, she pulled me into a much more gentle hug herself. “Thanks again for the clothes for Emma. Call me sometime, and we’ll grab some coffee or lunch one weekend. I’ll tell you all the good stories about Edward growing up.” She grinned as Edward scoffed in the background. “He’s got my number.”
Laughing, I nodded. “I will.”
After saying an easy goodbye to Al and Carlisle and promising to return soon, I let Edward guide me out the door and to the car. He kissed me soundly before opening my door, leaving me breathless for a moment as I tried to buckle my seat belt.
As soon as Alice and Jasper backed out of the drive, Edward followed.
“That went well,” he said, reaching over to take my hand.
I smiled, leaning my head back against the seat. “It did. I really liked your family, Edward,” I said softly.
His thumb swept across the back of my hand, igniting all the nerve endings and making me hyper-aware of his touch.
“They liked you, too. Mom threatened me when she hugged me. Said if I didn’t bring you back, there would be hell to pay.” He smirked, which I could barely make out in the dark interior of the car, lit up only by the lights on the dash and the lights from passing cars and businesses.
Laughing, I shook my head. “No hell, I promise. I really enjoyed myself, and your parents and sister couldn’t have been any sweeter. I’ll go anytime you want me there.”
Edward squeezed my hand, his voice soft, but firm as he said, “Always, Bella.”
Edward POV
“That’s it! I’m done. I’m better at this on the damn Wii,” Bella huffed, spinning away from the bowling lane as her ball plunked heavily into the gutter.
Chucking, I set my beer down and walked to her as Alice and Jasper laughed softly. “No, you’re not quitting,” I told her, waiting until her ball came back. “Get your ball, and let’s go,” I ordered with a laugh, pointing to the lightest damn ball we’d been able to find. When her deadpanned face gazed up at me, I grinned. “Don’t give me any shit. C’mon.”
She snorted a soft laugh, sighed in acquiescence, and picked up the ball, situating her fingers into the holes. “This goes back to ball control...”
Laughing, I shook my head. “No, sweetheart. Your control is just fine. Trust me, I know. But your aim is off.” I guided her to the end of our lane as she laughed at me and straightened her shoulders. “You’re letting go too soon, and you’re not using the marks on the floor. Look.” I pointed to the arrows in the wood. “They’re down there to help you.”
It was a Friday night, so the place was pretty busy. It had been a couple of weeks since we’d started going out in public as true couples – since the girls’ birthday. However, this was only the second double date, because Jasper and I were starting back to work the coming Monday, so we all wanted to take the weekend to just have a good time. Bowling was somehow on the top of the list, because Bella was determined to do things that Marie never did.
“Ed, she’s bending her arm,” Jasper called out from behind us as I lined up behind Bella.
“He needs to shut the hell up,” I muttered, rolling my eyes. “I know,” I growled over my shoulder. “I’m getting to that, asshat. Will you shut up? She’s never bowled before!”
“I’m just sayin’,” Jasper said with a shameless grin when I flipped him a middle finger down by my leg so as not to give the bird to every kid in the place.
Both girls giggled at us, but they always did when we barked at one another.
Placing my hand underneath the ball that she was holding to her chest, I whispered in her ear, “He’s right, though, beautiful. You need to keep this arm straight when you bring it back and when you let go.”
“’Kay,” she said, sounding unsure.
Guiding the arm down to her side as she held the ball, I slid my fingers down her arm to her wrist. “Keep it straight, aim for the middle notch on the floor, and follow through, okay?” I pulled her arm back, then slowly pushed it forward, saying, “And let” She glanced over her shoulder at me, and I smiled. “You can do this. It’s not fucking rocket science. Though, that you probably could do.”
Grinning, she shook her head at me and readied herself in front of the lane. I stepped away, and she swung back, then forward, letting go with some pretty good strength behind it. The ball thumped to the wood floor and careened down the lane, taking just about every pin down in its path.
“Yes!” she squealed proudly, and I caught her up in her excitement.
“She left a seven-ten split,” Jasper murmured.
Bella looked at him and then to me. “What’s that mean?”
“It’s a problem for another turn,” I said with a chuckle, setting her back down onto her feet and kissing her forehead. “It’s Alice’s go.”
Bella and I sat down next to Jasper and sipped our beers as Alice got ready to bowl. She’d bowled before, something that seemed to be pretty popular when they were in high school in Florida, but Bella had never gone with her. Just as she let go of the ball, my phone went off in my pocket.
Frowning at the name, I grunted, “Cullen.”
“Are the girls and Whitlock with you?” Al asked, sounding breathless and rushed.
“Yes, sir,” I said tentatively, glancing over at Jasper, where a somber expression had taken over his face. “What’s up, Al? I thought we weren’t due back to work till Monday.”
“You aren’t,” he sighed wearily. “I need to see all four of you. ASAP.”
My heart sank to my stomach instantly, and I gripped my hair. “Okay. What about? Tell me this shit isn’t compromised, Uncle Al...” My voice trailed off, but the three people around me had gone white as ghosts.
“No! Definitely not.”
I sighed in relief as I shook my head at Bella and Alice.
“How quickly can you get to the girls’ house?” he asked, sounding like he was already getting into his car.
“Uh...fifteen? Twenty?” I guessed, kicking out of my rental shoes, and everyone started to follow suit.
“We’ll meet you there,” I told him, but he’d already hung up. I looked at my phone and then back up at everyone around me. “We gotta go.”
We turned our shoes back in, put on our old ones, and were in my car within five minutes. I tried to tell them what Al had said, but there wasn’t much to elaborate. And I knew every last one of us were allowing our imaginations to get away with us.
By the time I practically screeched into Bella’s driveway, Al was already there, parked on the street. He was on his phone, pacing along the sidewalk and speaking in hushed tones. In his hand was his laptop.
“Okay, okay, just keep me posted,” he grumbled, ending his call and looking up at all of us. “Don’t panic. I’m sorry if I worried you, but this wasn’t something I could just state over the phone. Let’s talk, okay?”
It was eerily quiet as we walked into the house, gathering around the girls’ dining room table.
Bella’s hand shook in mine, but I leaned to her ear, whispering, “No matter what he says, I’ve got you. I’m right here. Understand?” She nodded and leaned into the kiss I pressed to the side of her head, and I couldn’t help but tack on, “I love you.”
That seemed to calm her down a bit. We weren’t the only ones panicking. Jasper and Alice were deep into an almost silent conversation as Al set up his computer at the head of the table. He closed the screen just low enough that he could gaze at all of us, but he smiled.
“Relax. Just wait, okay?” he soothed us.
“Will you just fucking spit it out, Al?” I snapped, thinking now was the time I could probably get away with punching him in the face.
He glanced between the girls, his face warming to something a bit more sympathetic. “I have two pieces of information for you that haven’t even gone public yet. So what I say in this room can’t leave this room. Are we clear?”
All of us answered in the affirmative in some way, so he went on.
He sniffed and looked to me. “A body identified as Demetri Polizzi was found in an abandoned warehouse in Queens this morning. Typical mob hit – two to the pump, one to the head. He’d been dead for...quite some time. Probably since the day I told you he was missing.”
My eyebrows shot up, and I spun my gaze to Jasper, who looked quite pleased with that bit of news. Demetri had been the motherfucker that had almost gotten to us in Connecticut. He’d been on Caius Volturi’s payroll and his strong man for decades.
I took a deep breath, clawing at my hair, and said, “That’s good news, then.”
Al nodded vehemently, smiling a little, but he turned to the girls. “This really is for my boys. You don’t have to look if you don’t want to, ladies.”
He spun the computer around, and Jasper and I leaned in to see photos of a crime scene. Bella buried her face into my shirt, and I wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Despite the decomposition of the body, I could tell by the long hair and heavy brow that it was Polizzi. Flipping through the photos, I saw that they’d found his ID, weapon, and phone on him, all marked as evidence. When I looked to Al, he was smiling again.
“We traced that weapon to the bullets in the Connecticut safe house and the van you left at the hangar. It also matched the fatal bullet in Tony Carmine – the gentleman that Bella so bravely fought off in the girls’ New York apartment.”
Bella’s head snapped up, and she gasped a little, but I soothed her by massaging the back of her neck.
“I told you that you didn’t kill him, baby,” I whispered in her ear, and she nodded a little. Looking to Al, I said, “You said two pieces of news...”
He nodded, turning his computer around so that he could quickly type on it. He stopped and gazed over at me, sniffing once. “Attica has been on lockdown for the last twenty-four hours,” he stated, which caused my eyebrows to raise up. “Caius Volturi was attacked in the yard by several inmates yesterday. It was an ambush attack. From what the security cameras and the guards that witnessed it can tell us, it was several lower members of his own family that got to him.” He paused for a moment. “He died this morning in the infirmary due to his injuries. I believe severe blood loss was the cause of death, but the man took one helluva beatin’.”
“Holy fuck,” Jasper murmured slowly, shaking his head.
Al looked to the girls. “Again, ladies, I need to show this to the boys, so if you don’t want to see, I suggest you turn away.”
Alice did as she was told, but Bella stayed firm, her eyes locking onto the photo on the screen. My eyes took in the man that had once intimidated us all, had threatened and hunted us, and had called in every goon he knew just to kill the two girls at the table. It was the same fat, old, pompous motherfucker that had glared hate and violence toward my girl when she was on the stand, but he’d been beaten to a pulp. His face was a mess of bruises, blood, and cuts, and his hair was grayer than it had been in court. His fingers looked broken and misshapen, and I was pretty damn sure his collarbone was shattered.
The vibe in the room changed completely. Everyone sitting at that table was happy he was dead, but it was Bella that piped up first.
“Wh-What’s that mean? For us?” she asked, looking to Al when he closed the laptop.
“Hang on, sweet one. Let me explain,” he told her, reaching for her hand and squeezing it gently. “Right now, New York is in chaos. Marcus took over his brother’s command, but...” He held up a finger. “We now know the reason.” He got up and started to pace. “We’ve taken Felix Guardiano off the grid and put him in WitSec, but the very second Caius was attacked by his own people, we pulled Guardiano out and interviewed him.” He braced his hands on the chair and looked around at all of us. “It would seem that Marcus Volturi had a son. A son with a promising or outside the family. Just over fifteen years ago, Aro Volturi, who was the firstborn son and named after the founder of the Volturi crime family, had just graduated Harvard Law. He had no intentions of joining the family, and Marcus was okay with that. Caius, however, was not. Caius felt that Aro needed to uphold family tradition and proceeded to include his nephew in a few...well, not-so-legal things. It got Aro killed. He was only twenty-four.
“We think,” he continued, holding up a finger. “We think that Caius had it done on purpose in order to maintain his command. He didn’t want to share power, or hand it over should Aro change his mind, so he insured that he couldn’t take over. Ever. This has been a long time coming. It’s a family full of jealousy and hopes of revenge.” He smiled evilly. “The day Felix turned on Caius in court was the same day Marcus took control. Apparently, the two conspired against Caius in order to put him right where they wanted him: prison, where an attack would be inevitable. Felix’s payment was allowing him to leave the family altogether and assume a new identity.
“Now,” he said, wrinkling his nose, “you’ll still have to stay who you are, stay under WitSec protection, due to the remaining straggling few of Caius’s loyal soldiers, but because Marcus ordered a hit on his own brother, you’re safe. Hell, you’re probably under his protection, too, but he wouldn’t know where to even begin looking for you. Anyone that was given the command to find you has turned up dead. And he’s got enough on his plate dodging the authorities and dealing with the shift of power in New York, especially when this news goes public.”
“We’re safe,” Alice breathed, looking to Bella, who looked like she was going to be sick, so I pulled her closer.
Kissing the top of her head, I locked gazes with my uncle. “When this goes public, he’ll have made a pretty fucking big statement.”
He nodded in agreement. “Yes, that’s true. It’ll mean everyone either shifts their loyalty to him, or they die.” He grinned, shaking his head a little, and added, “Your buddy Ben seems to think that eventually, Marcus will dismantle the family altogether.”
The room was so fucking quiet that the only sound that could be heard was the ticking of the clock on the mantle. I rubbed Bella’s arm gently, dropping kisses to the top of her head, but I pulled back and cupped her face when I felt the warm tears hit my shirt.
“Hey,” I whispered, wiping the tears away. “Why are you crying, sweetheart?”
“It’s over,” she breathed back, locking gazes with me. “He’s dead. He can’t find us.”
“Not that I would have let him touch you, but yes. You still have to maintain this identity, Bella,” I told her firmly, worried that she’d want to go back, but it wasn’t possible. “But he can’t hurt you anymore.”
“No, he can’t,” Al stated firmly, drawing all of our attention back to him. “If the wrong person sees you, then you could be used against Marcus, but at the rate he’s going, they’ll all be dead before the year is out. And there’s a part of me that wants to let him finish what he’s started.” He smiled warmly at both girls, who seemed to be in shock. “The imminent danger is over. You just have to stay vigilant as these identities, watch your backstory, and keep doing what you’ve been doing. As far as I see it, you’ll live out the rest of your lives in Seattle...if you choose to do that.” He winked at them both.
Bella spun her gaze to me, her whole face lighting up, and I chuckled at her.
“You look okay with that,” I teased, glancing over when Alice sniffled and nodded at the same time as her sister.
Bella bit her bottom lip and then kissed me. “Yeah, I’m okay with that.”
Jasper tossed a few bills up front to the cab driver, and we all slipped out onto the sidewalk. I lit a quick smoke. No one wanted to be designated driver, not tonight. It had taken almost twenty-four hours for Al’s news to truly sink in, even for Jasper and me. The ramifications of Volturi’s death pretty much hit us full force that next morning when it went public.
The motherfucker was dead. He couldn’t hunt down the girls anymore. And that shit was big. It meant no one was looking for them. It meant the girls would be able to live their new lives in peace. With us. It was that last thing that had us itching to get out of the house.
By the time we’d watched news coverage all fucking day – crime scene footage of Attica, interviews with Marcus Volturi as he tried to walk into his office, and media speculations as to what Caius’s death meant to the crime family – we were all practically clawing out of our own skin to celebrate. And that was what had brought us to the bar in front of us.
The doors swung open, and music burst out into the night air. Barb’s Bar was always pretty busy on a Saturday night.
“Why this bar?” Bella asked with an amused tone and a raised eyebrow. She knew this was the bar I’d come to when I’d fucking drowned my dumb ass in Jack a few days after she’d told me she loved me.
Grinning, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “It may look rough, but a lot of cops hang out here. Since we’re all drinking, I want you somewhere that I know no one will fuck with you. No one will touch you two if you’re with us. Not here.”
“Plus,” Jasper piped up with a crooked smile, “Barb prides herself on a huge selection of on-tap beer and good food.”
“So how’d you find this place?” Alice asked, looking between us as I finished up a cigarette.
I sighed. “I started coming here in college,” I began, turning to Bella, who knew what that meant. “It wasn’t always a cop hangout.” I raised an eyebrow at her. “Randy grew up in this neighborhood, so he introduced me to this place. When I went away to training, they started cleaning up the neighborhood. Some of the same people still come in here, but the trouble, like Randy, is gone. In fact, Rose met Emmett here. She and I had come out for a drink to celebrate my being back in Seattle, along with Jazz, and Em, who was here celebrating his promotion to detective. That was all she wrote for those two. We were ignored the rest of the night.” I smiled over at Jasper. At the time, I’d thought about setting him up with my sister, but they hadn’t clicked that way.
The girls laughed a little. They’d absolutely fallen in love with my brother-in-law – though, the big goof was pretty easy to like. And just like I’d thought ages ago, they’d had a million things in common with my sister. But even more, they’d taken to my parents instantly, like they’d been starved for parental affection – which they had been.
I tossed my cigarette butt into the gutter, saying, “Ready?”
Jasper opened the door, and the smell of food, people, and beer hit us full force, but he turned to me with a chuckle. “Brace yourself.”
“What?” Bella asked.
“Barb,” we both said at the same time.
“You’ll see,” I told her, kissing her temple.
We wound our way to the bar, and the woman in question caught sight of us. Her smile was mischievous and wicked, but she came down toward us with her hands on her hips.
“Well, fucking double trouble is gracing my bar tonight,” she rasped in her booming voice, reaching across to cup our faces. “Lookin’ good, boys.” She eyeballed me, smirking a little. “And look a helluva lot better since the last time I saw you.”
“I am,” I stated with a nod.
“Good. Is this the reason?” she asked without shame, holding her hand out to Bella, who took it firmly.
“Barb, meet our girlfriends, Alice and Bella Swan,” Jasper introduced, gesturing to each one.
Her eyebrows raised up high, but she smiled big. “Oh ho! Ladies, it’s an honor. But if these two give you shit, come to me. I’ll give you enough ammunition to keep their cute asses in line for years. Okay?”
Bella and Alice cracked up and said, “Okay.”
“Excellent!” Barb said with a grin. “Now, what are ya havin’?”
With a round of beers ordered, we made our way to an open table in the corner. Jasper and I waved to a few people we knew and raised our mugs to toast nothing in particular.
“So, what dirt does Barb have on you two?” Alice asked, setting her drink down.
“Plenty,” I answered with a laugh. “But we’ve got dirt, too. Look,” I said, pointing to the big motherfucker at the end of the bar. “See the big guy...tatts, leather vest? That’s Barb’s boyfriend.”
“And bouncer,” Jasper added with a laugh. “But the guy behind the bar pouring drinks with her?”
“Also her boyfriend,” we said at the same time, making the girls crack up.
“No shit?” Bella asked, spinning to gaze around the bar.
Leaning to her ear, I whispered, “And before you ask, yes, they know about each other. Barb says she’s a big woman, so she needs more than one man to keep her the same time.
“Oh,” my girl whispered, taking a sip of her beer, her eyes wide. “Okay, then. Whatever floats your boat.”
I chuckled, kissing her temple as she eyed the three of them talking. “Personally, I try not to imagine it.”
Bella laughed, kissing my lips briefly. “Fair enough, Edward.”
The bar was still busy about an hour after we’d arrived. I pulled Bella to the dance floor when someone pumped the jukebox full of money, filling the air with slow, sappy love songs. She wrapped her arm around my neck, placing her hand on my chest. Her thumb swept slowly across my shirt, but what she was really doing was feeling the raised skin of my ink underneath. One of the individual bats of my newest tattoo had scarred for some reason once it had healed completely, causing a bit of a bump on the surface, but she loved it, claimed it, doted on it.
There was hardly any space between us as I wrapped my arms around her waist, my hands just barely cupping her ass. But my forehead pressed to hers as I lost myself in her.
“What are you thinking?” I asked, because she’d been damned quiet for the last few minutes. We weren’t drunk. Not yet, anyway.
She smiled, brushing her lips across mine – top lip, bottom lip, each corner – all teasing, all sweet. “That you’re going back to work Monday.” She wrinkled her nose and bit down on that bottom lip of hers.
I sighed, lifting my head to press a long kiss to her forehead as I glanced around the bar before turning my attention back to her. “You’re worried,” I guessed, and she nodded a little. “About what? What about it scares you? What I do, or something else?”
“No, you’re so good at what you do, Edward,” she stated firmly with a fervent shake of her head. “I that...” She breathed out a frustrated breath, looking up at me. “It seems we’ll be okay here, and I just worry that... What if you get tired of me?”
Grinning, I hugged her closer, dropping a kiss to her lips, her cheek, and then her ear. “I could ask you that same question, you know?” I whispered, pulling back to see her face, but she rolled her eyes. “I love you,” I stated simply and firmly, shrugging my shoulders. “I fucked up – a lot – with us in the beginning. I should’ve told you that the second I knew what I was feeling. But I didn’t. There was so much against us at the time that I could barely see straight. I wasn’t prepared for you, Bella, and I couldn’t make promises then. But I swear to you that I will be careful at work so that I can come back to you every fucking day, that I’m in this for the long haul, that even though the bastard’s dead, I still would’ve followed you, had you had to move.”
She smiled, though it looked like she was fighting tears. “I love you, and I’ll miss having you free.”
I dropped my forehead to hers again, continuing to sway us to the music. “Me, too. I’ll just have to text you naughty shit all damn day.”
She giggled, but I couldn’t resist her any longer. I kissed her slowly, trying to seal my promise with every sweep of our lips, every light flicker of tongue. She was it for me. And as happy as I was that the pressure was off her, I’d meant it. I’d go wherever she went, because I knew I couldn’t live without her.
We finally pulled apart when the song changed, but Bella’s gazed focused on something over my shoulder.
“Who’s Jasper talking to?”
I spun around to look, grinning at the newest addition to our table. I turned back to Bella, taking her hand. “Someone you need to meet, beautiful. Come on.”
We walked up to the table, and wise, gray eyes met mine and then flickered to the girl holding my hand. Bella eyed the man’s arms, the swirls of colors – some dark in meaning, some simply art. He was wearing a wife-beater and ragged jeans, his long hair pulled back into a low ponytail.
“Edward,” Garrett greeted with a nod of his head, reaching for my hand and pulling me into a rough hug as Jasper tugged Alice to the dance floor. “This must be the famous and mysterious Bella,” he said with a chuckle, holding out his hand to her, which she took.
“Bella, this is Garrett Michaels,” I told her, snickering when her confused face morphed into a sweet, happy smile. “Garrett, Bella Swan.”
“Nice to meet you,” she told him. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
Garrett raised an eyebrow at me and then turned back to her. “Swan... Well, there’s one mystery down. And just seeing you solves the other one. You’re every bit as beautiful as my boy said, so I can see how you’d spun him all around. No wonder he marked himself in your honor.”
She blushed sweetly, which caused me to chuckle, but she thanked him.
“Pssh,” he scoffed, waving it away. “You’ve set him free, Bella. He should be thanking you.”
Chuckling, I shook my head at his all-knowing mannerism. “I do. Every damn day,” I said, kissing her temple.
“Speaking of... How’d you heal?” he asked.
“Fine,” I told him with a shrug of a shoulder.
“You left your shirt upstairs. Want it? And I can see how my work turned out. Got a minute?” he asked, picking up his old, worn-out denim jacket from the back of the stool.
“Oh, yeah,” I sighed, shaking my head. I’d worn my button-down home over the fresh ink instead of pulling my undershirt back on. I turned to Bella, picking up her hand. “You wanna come, baby, or stay here with Jazz and Alice?”
“I’ll go,” she acquiesced, shrugging a little.
We told the other two where we were going and then followed Garrett to the building next door. Again, I chuckled to myself at his place – all clean and perfect and almost sterile in his tattoo parlor, but messy and cluttered and worn in his living space.
Garrett walked to the chair, picked up a white T-shirt that was draped over the back of it, and handed it to me, but Bella took it.
“I’ll hold it. Go ahead,” she told me, but she was already distracted by Garrett’s art that was just about everywhere – in books, on the walls, scattered over every flat surface.
“Let’s see how we did, Ed,” Garrett instructed, gesturing for me to remove my shirt. Once I’d reached back and pulled it off, he stepped up to inspect his work. “Looks good. You scarred a bit, but I bet you did that in your sleep.” He rubbed a thumb over the bat that was near my collarbone, his brow wrinkling a little.
“Probably,” I agreed, but shrugged it off. “It doesn’t matter to me. You wanna take a picture of it for your book and shit?”
He grinned. “You know me so well. Hold still.” He walked over, grabbed his camera, and snapped a quick picture of just my chest. “Well, as long as you’re okay with it – and Bella, since it was for her.”
At the sound of her name, her head snapped up from the book she was flipping through. She smirked, her warm brown eyes raking over her ink. “I love the meaning of it. But it’s beautiful. Actually, all your work is stunning.”
Garrett walked to her as I pulled my shirt back on. “Most people that I ink, they’re marking themselves for a reason. Some cover up mental scars...others, physical ones. I have a young woman coming in tomorrow for her fourth session.” He flipped the page of the book in Bella’s hand. “She was in a car accident. Luckily, they were able to save her arm, but it’s pretty scarred up. She’s covering that.”
I gazed over Bella’s shoulder at the full sleeve of ink that was photographed in stages, from outline to color. The ink started at the girl’s neck and traveled all the way to her wrist. It was tropical in theme – all swirls of flowers, butterflies, birds, and what looked like the start of a waterfall.
“Nice, Garrett,” I muttered, because the progression showed how her scars no longer showed.
“It’s her design,” he told me. “She wanted beauty to cover ugly. Personally, the scars weren’t that bad to me, but it’s how someone sees themselves.”
I nodded, knowing what that meant, but Bella piped up, drawing both of us her way.
“I want one,” she gushed, making me chuckle.
“Baby, your skin is flawless,” I argued, absolutely conflicted about her sudden declaration. Part of me wanted her left untouched, but there was another part that was turned on as fuck at the thought of her inked.
“She’s never been marked?” Garrett asked, and I shook my head no, but he turned back to her. “What were you thinking, Bella?”
“The same as Edward’s, but solid,” she stated firmly.
“Where?” Garrett and I asked at the same time, because I couldn’t help it. That was hot as fuck, but I could tell she was determined at this point.
She giggled at me. “My hip.”
Garrett smirked, but backed away, looking to me. “I have time now.” He gestured to his chair. “Have a seat.”
She set the book in her hands back down onto his counter and settled into the chair.
Walking to her, I cupped her face. “Bella, you don’t have to.”
“Hang on, Ed,” Garrett interrupted. “Maybe she does. You, of all people, understand that it’s a personal experience. Bella,” he started, holding up a small Dark Knight symbol about the size of my thumb. “This?”
“And what’s it mean to you?” he asked her as he walked over to gather up his equipment.
She frowned, looking down at her hands for a moment and then to me. “If Edward’s symbolizes that I set him free, then that one means he put me back together. Another silver lining...”
“Christ,” I breathed, squeezing my eyes closed and pressing my lips to her forehead. There was that silver lining she was always fucking looking for, and my chest ached, knowing it was me. “Motherfuck, I love you,” I whispered against her skin. “Beautiful, are you absolutely sure?” I asked her, pulling back to look her in the eye as I braced myself on the arms of the chair. “Baby, you can’t take it back.”
Her little chin jutted out in an almost-defiant manner. “Edward, I never want to take it back.”
Our gazes stayed locked for a moment as Garrett puttered around us. Finally, I asked, “Where, Bella?”
She pointed to just below the waist of her jeans. “Here. Just for you.”
Her giggle made me grin like a proud bastard, but I reached down to unbutton her jeans and then tugged them down just a little. Garrett may have been one of my oldest and most trustworthy friends, but he didn’t get to see some things. My eyes narrowed and my dick twitched when I caught a glimpse of black and yellow, which made Bella laugh that much more. Deadly sexy thing was killing me.
“Focus, Edward,” she ordered, sounding amused as all hell.
“Here,” I whispered, rubbing a thumb just under her hip bone, but as close to the promised land as I’d allow Garrett.
She nodded, looking up at me with wide, excited eyes. “You’ll stay and hold my hand?”
Smiling, I leaned down and kissed her. “Fuck, Bella, I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” I whispered against her lips. I glanced up at Garrett and nodded as he stepped closer to prep her. “She’s ready.”


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