Sunday, April 20, 2014 | By: Drotuno

Masen Manor Chapter 13 & Pics

Chapter 13
December 2001
The rumble of the train was soothing. A glance outside the window made me smile. It was snowing. A light dusting of white was all over everything, though the sky was a pale gray.
My fingers toyed with the crystal heart on my bracelet as I watched the forest fly by, only to glance at Alice across the table. We’d separate at Penn Station. She’d be catching a different train home to Mississippi, and I’d continue on to Boston, where Chelsea would be picking me up. She’d already messaged me.
I hadn’t told Alice a thing that had transpired in the east wing. I felt a touch guilty about that, but she simply seemed satisfied that I was okay.
I was more than okay. I was practically flying.

After spending almost all day Sunday with Edward, after all the secrets were out in the open, everything had made much more sense. But even more, the relief of finally telling someone – someone that truly cared – what had happened the night my dad had died made me feel lighter, like I didn’t have to carry that burden anymore. The release of it all almost made me feel high, but nauseous at the same time. It was as if I’d been filled with a poison, and Edward had helped me get rid of it.
However, I still stayed silent outside his presence, but I wondered now if that was out of habit, or if I’d ever trust anyone other than him.
The thought of Edward made me smile. There were a few things of which I was absolutely certain. He was, indeed, a hundred and twenty-two-year-old vampire who’d been born in the house that was now my school. He’d waited a hundred years for me – his soul mate – for what he’d said had been the best part of a fortune he’d been given so long ago. He was fast, strong, and he’d live forever. And despite all those differences, he was still my Edward. He was sweet and kind and beautiful – inside and out, whether he liked to admit it or not – and I was completely in love with him.
I gazed down at the brand new blue journal that rested on the table in front of me, smirking at it. I’d found it on my nightstand – along with a perfect pink rose – that very morning just before I was set to leave the castle for Christmas break. I hadn’t seen him all day on Monday for our last day of classes, but he’d texted with me. Though it was what was inside the new journal that made me smile.
My beautiful Bella,
I want to do this the right way this time, my love. I want nothing but to be honest on these pages. All our secrets are gone, and I know you miss writing in your journal. I also know that I’ve left you with things to think about that perhaps you’d be more comfortable expressing here, instead of verbally.
That being said, I’m so very proud of you. And I know it wasn’t easy telling me something you’ve kept inside for so long, so I want to thank you for trusting me. I’m well aware that it was probably the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
Sweetheart, I’d like you to feel free to ask me anything, whether it’s here in the journal, in person, or even by text. Nothing about me is off limits to you. I’ll always tell you the truth. In fact, you have no idea how hard it was for me to keep myself split into two people with how I’d mistakenly done things before. I don’t want that anymore, Bella. I only want honesty and truth between us.
I know I’ve given you a lot to think about – decisions that aren’t easy to make – over your holiday break. My years are long and my experience is vast, but I won’t pretend to know everything. I don’t. I can’t imagine how difficult it is. In some ways, we’re a lot alike, but in some ways, we’re so different. You should know that I’ll never force your hand when it comes to this life, being with me. You’ve now heard everything, and you’re so smart, Bella. I love you – more than my own life – and hearing you say the words back was more than I ever expected, but I know that the changes you’ll have to make will not be easy. I will – under no uncertain terms – respect whatever decision you make.
No matter what, I’d love the honor of seeing you New Year’s Eve. No pressure, no decisions have to be made, because we were friends first, and I will miss you so very much. I realize that you’ve missed your family, though, that you’ve been a little homesick, so I hope that you enjoy your Christmas, love. I wouldn’t dare intrude on that, despite the fact that I’ll be close, but I really would love to see you.
You have my phone number, but I’d like you to promise me one thing, my sweet girl. Please promise me if you need anything – I don’t care how slight you think it to be – call me, text me. Even if you just need to talk or you have a nightmare or whatever…please call me. I’m never far from you.
Bella, I’m leaving this notebook for you. I meant what I said – that we can start over. I can’t apologize enough for deceiving you, nor can I thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to tell you everything. I thought it was only fair that I start us out this time.
My apologies for sneaking into your room, but I’m afraid I had no alternative as I had to leave before the sun came up. I won’t be able to see you off before you leave for home. I needed to hunt, as well as attend to some business matters in New York before I make my way to Boston. I hated that it had to be this way, and I’ll more than explain when or if I see you, but I wanted to get it finished before I left so that I would be available if you needed me.
You’re very welcome for your Christmas present. As I gave it to you, I realized how symbolic it had become. You now have me – heart, body, and soul. You’ve expressed it more than one time that you’re worried that I’ll grow tired, and I understand you feel that others have given up on you, but I promise you, my Bella, that I’m not going anywhere. I can’t speak for others, nor will I try, but you are my life now.
I love you.
Smiling at the hotel information he’d left for me at the very bottom, I closed the notebook.
If anything, that was the best note he’d left me. It was everything MG wasn’t and all of Edward’s heart right there on paper in his beautiful script. He’d put the ball in my court. Completely. And while I knew, without a doubt, that I loved him, I also knew that there was so much to think about. He’d been right; everything had to change, but the real part of him would have to stay secret, hidden. He called it playing a part, and I loved that he trusted me with the truth. He had to be one thing to the human world around him, and I understood that. I also understood that in order to be with him, I had to learn how to play a part, too, and that it wouldn’t be easy. I’d have to lie to family and friends in order to protect him – him and his family.
If Dr. and Mrs. Cullen were worried, I couldn’t tell. They’d been at the train station, seeing us all off. They’d given me waves and smiles, and when I’d started to apologize for taking Edward away from them for the holidays, Dr. Cullen had simply chuckled, squeezed my shoulder, and told me that Edward was doing what was best for him and not to apologize.
As the forests started to give way to the city, I glanced up at Alice. As badly as I wanted to share, I knew I couldn’t. At least, not right away. This was a decision I needed to make, a reality I had to come to terms with, and even though I trusted her, I needed to do this alone. However, I knew Alice was in love with Jasper, and Edward had told me that Jasper knew and felt the same, only he seemed to be fighting it, where Edward had given in. He’d said it was hard to do, fight the pull to a soul mate, and Edward didn’t want to fight anymore, but he honestly didn’t know how Jasper had lasted this long. Edward had explained that staying away from me, not being honest, and not being able to express how he felt actually started to become painful, that Jasper had a small advantage of being able to manipulate Alice’s feelings. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but Edward promised me he’d talk to him.
I really had no idea how Edward and I would have a relationship, but I supposed that was part of the big picture. I almost didn’t care if we had to keep our love secret, for a while, at least. However, the one thing I did know was that I loved him, that I trusted him, and that for the first time in my life, I’d told someone about the night my dad had died.
What I hadn’t expected were the feelings that came with expelling the story of that awful night. I felt a little raw, incredibly exposed, kind of empty, and emotionally thin, but I also saw holes in my story…or maybe missing moments in my memory. I wanted to know what had set my dad on edge months before we’d been robbed. Why had he been so angry? Had he known someone was coming? Did something happen with his job to scare him? I’d never given it any thought before, though I’d been locked in my own head for so long that it wasn’t surprising.
The problem was…I wasn’t sure who I could ask. Any talk of my dad or that night made my mother nervous and upset. Phil hadn’t been around at the time. The only person that came to mind was Chelsea, and I wasn’t sure what she’d be able to tell me.
“You okay?” Alice asked, breaking me out of my thoughts.
I nodded, smiling her way. My eyebrows shot up at how quickly the trip to Penn Station had gone by. Frowning, I looked over at her.
“Don’t sweat it. It seemed you were making some decisions,” she stated knowingly with a tap to her temple. “I let you be. I, um…I hope you find out some answers, Bella,” she said, gathering up her things. “Text me? Email?” she asked, standing up from our table.
I got up when she did, and we hugged. “Merry Christmas, Alice,” I whispered in her ear.
She grinned, pulling back. “You, too. Let me know what’cha get.”
I giggled. “Like you won’t see it.”
“True,” she said with a laugh and a wave over her shoulder. “But you can still tell me!” she called out before leaving the train.
By the time the train pulled into Boston, I’d nodded off a few times, but never completely fallen asleep. I was too afraid of having a nightmare, which would’ve been embarrassing had I woken up screaming.
I’d only brought one bag, figuring I could wear the clothes I’d left at home, so I didn’t have to wait for anything. I found Chelsea by the magazine stand just like she’d said she’d be, and I rushed to her.
“My sweet girl!” she gushed, hugging me fiercely and swaying me back and forth. “Gracious, Bella… You’ve gotten prettier, I think.”
Giggling and rolling my eyes, I pulled back and let her look me over. She cupped my face, smiling warmly as she looked me up and down.
Her eyes narrowed on my face. “Hmm, something’s different about you. You’re practically glowing. That school suits you. You must like it.”
I nodded and smiled widely.
“That’s really good, sweetie. I read your report card. You’re top of your class,” she explained, grinning when I shrugged. “C’mon, silly girl. Let’s get you home. I’ve made your favorites tonight.”
She led me to her car, stashing my bag in the trunk. When I sat down, my phone vibrated in my pocket. Pulling it out, I couldn’t help but smile at Edward’s text, and I replied instantly.
E – Just making sure you got to Boston safely, Bella.
B – I just got in. I’m with Chelsea now.
E – Good. Have fun. I’ll be in town by tomorrow, love. Call me if you need me.
B – I will. I promise. Love you…miss you.
E – Love you, too, my Bella.
I had to bite my lip to control my little troop of heavily armed butterflies in my stomach. I wondered if they would always get riled up when Edward told me he loved me. I kind of hoped they did.
“Hmm, maybe it’s not the school, but someone in it that has you all smiling and glowing,” Chelsea teased from the driver’s seat as she pulled out onto the street.
My face heated, and I shrugged, then nodded. “Maybe,” I finally said softly aloud.
Chelsea laughed, loud and heartily. “Good for you, sweetie. You gonna tell me about this guy, or what?”
Shaking my head, I whispered, “Not yet. And please don’t tell Mom. I’m not…”
Chelsea looked at me, her jovial face sobering quickly. “Yeah, Bella. No problem.”
She changed the subject quickly, catching me up on all the latest gossip and news – from what the neighbors were doing, which was getting divorced, to how her son was excelling in college. When we pulled into my driveway, I was shocked to see Mom’s and Phil’s cars both parked in front of the garage.
Chelsea chuckled. “I had to threaten them both, not only to clear today of plans, but to give me the job of picking you up. I missed you, Bella.”
Grinning, I leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Me, too.”
I walked inside to find the house already decorated for Christmas. I felt a little pang of missing out on it, which we usually did after Thanksgiving, but the place looked amazing.
“I wanted to wait for you, but your mom insisted that we decorate with the rest of the neighborhood,” Chelsea explained once we were inside, though her sarcasm was loud and clear. “Like I could give a shit what that old woman on the corner’s doin’.”
Giggling, I sighed. Some things never changed. Chelsea, despite the fact that her paycheck rested upon doing as my mother said, really had no patience for “keeping up with the Joneses.”
I heard my mother’s voice. “Bella, is that you?”
I spun in one spot, smiling when I saw her. I’d missed her. Rushing to her, I gave her a hug, waving at Phil as he leaned against the wall. He was smiling as he watched us.
“Welcome home, Bells,” he said.
I felt my eye twitch at the nickname only my dad had used, but as I smiled in greeting, I realized I’d never told him not to call me that.
Mom cupped my face, smiling at me. “Lord, Bella, you’ve gotten even more beautiful. I’m so sorry about Thanksgiving. I meant to tell you sooner, but we weren’t sure we were going until a few weeks ahead of time.”
Smiling, I stopped her with my fingers on her lips. “S’okay. I had fun.”
The whole room came to a standstill, my mother inhaling sharply when I spoke aloud for the first time since way before the last summer. Chelsea grinned like the Cheshire Cat, but merely stepped past us into the kitchen. My mom looked like she was about to cry, but Phil’s eyes narrowed on me. I ignored it all, picking up my bag and pointing toward the stairs.
“Yeah, sure. Go put your stuff in your room, Bella,” Mom said, giving me a watery smile. “Get yourself cleaned up. We’ll eat lunch when you’re ready.”
Nodding, I made my way up the stairs. I avoided the sixth one, simply because I hated the sound it made. It not only creaked loudly, but it was a sound that was forever in my nightmares. I’d avoided it before, and I probably always would.
My room was exactly the same. It sat untouched, except that it looked like Chelsea had come in to change my sheets and dust a little. Gazing around, I had to smirk at just how different my room was here compared to my dorm room that I shared with Alice. At school, it was dark woods, deep red curtains, and thick rugs. My room at home was white furniture, which was aimed toward a little girl, pinks and purples everywhere, and light beige carpet. Suddenly, I missed the castle so much that it made my heart hurt.
With a deep breath, I set my things down, went into the bathroom to freshen up, and made my way back downstairs. Lunch was quiet. In fact, the house stayed quiet for the next few days. Phil would work in the day, and sometimes, my mom, Chelsea, and I would go shopping or to lunch.
Edward had texted me when he arrived at his hotel, and occasionally, he’d send sweet messages that simply said “I love you” or “I miss you,” but otherwise, he gave me space. Part of me appreciated it, but another part of me needed him on a level I didn’t understand. I found myself shaking with the need to call him, but I didn’t. I pushed through it because it wasn’t always the most convenient times. I wasn’t ready to share him with my family, and I also wasn’t ready to let them know I’d found one person that I could truly speak to.
It wasn’t until the night before Christmas Eve that I caved. I woke up a sweaty, shaking mess from a nightmare. The house was so quiet, except for the ticking of the clock on my wall. I fumbled in my sheets, sat up, and rubbed my face, finally reaching for my phone. I considered texting him, but dialed him instead. He picked up before the second ring.
“Hey,” I sighed, falling back to my pillow as the velvety voice I’d needed so much met my ear.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
Swallowing nervously, I sighed. “Nightmare.”
“I’m sorry,” he replied softly. “It’s not real, love. I promise you, no one will ever touch you again.”
“You keep saying that…”
“Because I mean it,” he countered with a sexy, yet nervous chuckle, and I could almost see him clawing at his hair with his long fingers. “I…I can’t explain it, Bella, but it’s the reason I’m here in Boston. I can’t not protect you. It’s… How do I put it without scaring you?”
“Instinct?” I supplied, grinning when he chuckled.
“Okay, so it won’t scare you. Yes, exactly, love. Instinct,” he agreed. “Bella, keeping you safe has become my top priority now. I know that sounds…intense, but I can’t help it. It started almost the moment you walked into the castle.”
I couldn’t help but smile a little at that. He’d told me about his struggle, about how he hadn’t been prepared for me.
“Yes, love?”
“Thank you for the journal…and the rose,” I told him, sitting up and getting the blue notebook out of my nightstand. I’d taken a petal and pressed it at the bottom of his entry before I’d left school.
“You’re most welcome,” he said, his voice dropping a little in tenor. “I’m sorry I couldn’t see you off. I wanted to, believe me. I wanted to ride with you on the train, but I needed to see the lawyer in New York first.”
“That’s okay.”
“Okay,” he sighed in relief, and I had to grin, because despite how much we’d confessed in the east wing, despite how much he’d seen in his long life, there was a part of Edward that was as nervous as I was, and I loved that.
He chuckled. “Yes, sweetheart?”
“I love you.”
“God, Bella…I love you, too.”
“And I want to see you on New Year’s.”
He gasped. “Yeah?”
“You’re sure? Bella, I didn’t want to push. I know I said I’d give you time…”
“Yes, I’m sure,” I said giggling a little.
I wanted to tell him I didn’t need time, that three days away from him was too long, even if we’d go that long or longer at school without seeing each other. There was something comforting about knowing he was at least in the same building as I was, but here, at home, it was different. He was only a few blocks away – a short cab ride, really – and it felt like he was unreachable.
I wanted to tell him that I needed him, not time. That I’d meant what I’d said in his room, that he made me feel like me, like I was real again. For years after the death of my father, after I’d healed, I felt shallow, thin, like a shadow in my own home. And since being back, I’d started to feel that way again. At Masen Manor, when I was with Edward, I felt whole.
“Then, I’m there, love,” he vowed. “I’ll pick you up. Leave everything to me, including what we tell your parents, okay?”
“Okay, I trust you,” I told him.
“I know, and you have no idea what that means to me,” he murmured softly, yet it sounded so sexy in my ear, though I ruined it by yawning widely, which made him chuckle. “Get some sleep, Bella. I’ll see you soon…”
“If not sooner,” I finished for him, kind of hoping it was sooner than a week before I saw him.
“Absolutely,” he sighed with a sweet laugh. “Merry Christmas, Bella.”
“Merry Christmas, Edward.”
I sat at the piano, sheet music spread out all over the top of my baby grand. There was a melody in my head I couldn’t quite get right. I’d been charting, playing, testing, and erasing most of the morning. I almost called Edward to help me, but thought better of it. My mother had a few neighbors over, and they were chatting in the kitchen.
Christmas had come and gone, and I was now counting the days until I could see Edward on New Year’s Eve. The holiday had been a strange one. We’d celebrated with Chelsea on Christmas Eve, and Phil had invited a few coworkers over for dinner on Christmas Day. The three men had made me anxious, so I’d stayed quiet. As soon as we’d eaten, I’d escaped to my room, texting the rest of the night with Alice, who’d seen that I’d gotten a new laptop as a gift from my mother. I was glad it wasn’t a repeat of the year before; I’d had a panic attack when one of his friends had sounded eerily familiar. Luckily, the same guy hadn’t said much this time around, so I was able to get out of the dining room quickly.
A sour note hit the air, and I wrinkled my nose, getting up to erase what I’d written, and when I went to change it, the pencil lead snapped. With a deep sigh, I glanced around the library for another one, but didn’t see one. I walked to my father’s old desk, sitting down in his chair. I couldn’t help but smile at the smell of old leather and his cologne that wafted up to my nose. Instead of making me sad, it made me remember sitting in his lap as he told me what bad guys he was dealing with that week.
I opened the middle drawer, poking around for a spare pencil or even a sharpener, simply to keep from having to run upstairs. I checked the right side drawer, and then the left. I was just about to give up when I looked in the left one more time. I shoved tape, paperclips, and Post-it notes around, only to stop when I noticed something about the wooden drawer bottom. It seemed loose, or off somehow.
Glancing up at the library door, I listened as the women in the kitchen laughed loudly. I went back to the drawer, carefully and quietly removing the items from inside it. I found a letter opener in the middle drawer and used it to pry up the loose bottom. It wasn’t just loose, though; it was a false bottom. Underneath was a manila envelope with my dad’s name on the outside. I noticed it had been mailed to his office, not our house.
Pulling the large envelope out and making sure there was nothing else underneath, I let the false bottom drop back down. My hands shook as I stared at my dad’s name. He’d always been honest and open, so I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to see what he’d hidden, but I couldn’t stop myself.
I peeked in, seeing nothing but a stack of papers, so I pulled them out and set them on top of the desk. There was a letter on top from Harry Clearwater’s Private Investigation Firm.
Dear Charles Swan,
I believe you’ll find the evidence that you’d requested. Your suspicions were correct, as you’ll see with the photographic proof I’ve sent you. All pictures are date and time-stamped for your convenience.
In addition to interviewing coworkers, neighbors, and friends of the man in question, I also ran a background check, which is also attached. However, you can see that Phil Dwyer meets up with your wife several times a week, mostly during the daytime hours.
As far as Chelsea Redding goes, you can rest easy in knowing that no nefarious activity was witnessed. She follows a rather strict routine, her financial situation is a little strained – though that is to be expected with most of her pay going to college tuition for a Timothy Redding – and she rarely deviates from her short drives from picking up Isabella and bringing her home from school.
If we can assist you in the future, please let me know.
Harry Clearwater
My heart stopped completely. I shoved the letter aside and went through the pictures. On top were a few of Chelsea going about her normal day, and there were a few with me in them. But it was farther into the stack of pictures that made tears spring to my eyes.
Phil and my mother were caught outside his job, outside a hotel, in his car, even a few at the park not far from his office. And it wasn’t really that they’d been photographed kissing, hugging, gazing at one another… It was the damn dates. My whole body started to shake, seeing that they’d been taken several months prior to my dad’s death.
Now I understood why my father had been so angry before he’d died.
Movement at the doorway made my head snap up. Seeing my mother only served to push my temper over the edge. I held up a picture of her and Phil in a car, my lip twitching in pure hatred.
“Chelsea made that chocolate cake you like so much, Bel—”
“You cheated,” I hissed, trying to control the volume. Now wasn’t the time to panic for speaking too loud. “On Daddy! You cheated on him?”
My mother looked like a deer caught in headlights. Her mouth fell open and closed, making her look like a fish in a tank, and she had the nerve to shake her head.
“No?” I asked, getting up from the desk and walking to her with the stack of pictures. With every one I’d slide to the back of the pile, she’d flinch, though I could imagine that being caught in the act was a little shocking. From her frightened expression, I could see that she’d had no idea that Dad knew. “How long?” I asked her, narrowing my eyes on her.
“B-Bella…” she stuttered, looking up at me.
I could well imagine what was going through her mind. I hadn’t said ten words to them in a year, but I was in her face asking about this. I raised my eyebrows impatiently as I waited for an answer.
“A-About six months before Charlie died,” she whispered. When I spun around to walk back to the desk, she started to ramble. “We…We didn’t know how to tell you, Bella! We hid it from you, and we’re sorry, but…”
Glaring her way, I shook my head and shoved everything back into the manila envelope. My hands were shaking, and I was about a second away from my knees buckling, but I had to get out of the house. I had to get away from her, or I’d do or say something I’d regret…or something that would send me into a panic.
I snatched up the envelope and made my way to the door.
“Bella, we couldn’t tell you!” she defended, grabbing the sleeve of my sweater. “You weren’t…well. Everything set you off…”
Gritting my teeth, I sneered, “Not that you put forth much effort, though, right?”
Sliding by her, I ran up the stairs and into my room, I slammed the door and walked to my closet. I was pulling on my coat when there was a light knock on the door. I glared at Chelsea when she poked her head in.
“Sweetie, what’s wrong? I heard some…” she started, but shut up when I held up a finger.
Walking to the bed, I snatched up the envelope. “Did you know?” I asked her simply.
She pulled the stack of papers out about halfway, only needing to see the top picture and the date stamped on it. Her worried expression immediately morphed into something akin to fury.
She shook her head slowly. “No, sweet girl, I didn’t. I suspected, but I never thought she’d do that to Charlie,” she said, and her face was open, honest, and a little surprised when she handed me back the envelope. She tilted her head at me. “Where you goin’, Bella?”
She nodded, reaching for my wool beanie in my hand. She smoothed my hair, tugging it down onto my head, only to reach up and wrap my scarf tighter. Finally, she cupped my face, bringing my head up to kiss my cheek.
“You have someone to talk to,” she surmised. It wasn’t a question. When I nodded, a tiny smile flickered at the corners of her mouth. “Good, but remember your curfew, and stay warm.”
My eyes flickered to the sound of someone coming up the stairs, but Chelsea sighed deeply, like she was trying to find her own patience. However, we both relaxed when the sound of my mother’s bedroom door clicked closed.
“Go, Bella. I’ll deal with them,” she ordered, handing me the envelope and my wallet and pushing me out my door.
I bolted down the stairs and through the foyer, yanking the front door open. The cold hit me like a brick wall, but I practically met the sidewalk at a run. I needed Edward. I needed to see him, or else I’d fall apart. Or maybe I needed him in order to fall apart. I wasn’t sure.
Once I reached the corner, I hailed a cab, whispering the name of the hotel. It wasn’t even a ten-minute car ride, and then I tossed money up to the driver before getting out. Nothing really hit me until I was alone in the elevator. Suddenly, my chest hurt, my hands shook, and tears ran unchecked down my face. I could barely breathe, much less see as I stumbled down the corridor to the end.
I knocked on room 1056, the sound muffled due to my gloves and how badly I was shaking. The door swung open before I even finished knocking, revealing the only thing I needed more than air.
“Christ, Bella,” Edward whispered, reaching for me. “What happened?”
Immediately, I was wrapped in strong-as-steel arms before I could fall to the floor. I’d barely registered the hotel room door closing before I lost it all.
“No, Jasper,” I growled into the phone, shaking my head as I paced back and forth. “I followed Phil for two solid days before he took off for Christmas. He simply goes to work and then home. Once, he took a long lunch with a few coworkers, but that looked like an office holiday thing.”
“What about the mom?” he asked.
“She’s been home with Bella,” I sighed, gazing out the window of the hotel. The snow had finally stopped and the sun had come out. I was stuck inside until tonight. “Nothing to see there.”
“Brother, what about…that guy you read about in her journal…the one that you said caused her to panic last Christmas?”
“Mm, yeah, I definitely want to see him,” I sneered. “My guess is that Bella’s mind was trying to tell her something, but…I don’t know, Jasper.” I sighed deeply, gripping my hair and glancing over at my computer that I’d been using to not only keep up with the school’s finances, but to search for more information about Bella’s situation. “We’re completely missing some major point…”
My voice trailed off because I’d heard the elevator ding down the hall. And it wasn’t even the elevator that caught my attention; it was the lack of thoughts as footsteps hurried down the corridor. Breathing deeply, my still heart swelled – flowers, fruit, Bella.
“Jasper, I gotta go,” I muttered, ending the call before he could say anything.
I tossed the phone onto the bed and rushed to the door. She knocked softly twice, but I yanked the door open before the third time. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the broken, beautiful girl that practically stumbled in.
“Christ, Bella,” I gasped, scooping her up bridal style in my arms. “What happened?”
She only answered me with the most heartbreaking sobs that she buried into my neck as I kicked the hotel room door closed. I carried her over to the suite’s sofa, sitting down, but keeping her across my lap. I rocked her slowly, holding her as tightly as I felt comfortable, because it seemed she couldn’t get close enough. I gave her a mental onceover, making sure she wasn’t hurt, but the only thing different was the large manila envelope in her hand.
I tugged at it, finally releasing it from her gloved hand. I noted her father’s name on the label, but set it to the side. She was more important at the moment, though I was pretty damn sure her reaction was a result of what was in that package.
“Bella, love…breathe for me,” I soothed her, pulling off her woolen cap and running my hand over her head and down her back. “I can’t help if I don’t know…”
“I know… I’m sorry,” she hiccupped.
“Don’t be sorry,” I murmured, looking up at her sweet face when she pulled back. “What happened, sweetheart?”
Her entire being shivered, but her face was rage and anger and something I had to say was betrayal as she snatched off her gloves and scarf and set them aside. I reached up and wiped the tears away, feeling whole for the first time in days. We’d been apart for too long, but I was doing my best to give her space, to let her make her choice.
“I was in my dad’s desk…he’d hidden that,” she said, pointing to the envelope, but her nostrils flared, her mouth went into a tight line. “They cheated! My mom and Phil f-f-f…cheated on my dad!”
I wanted to smirk at her almost curse, but didn’t. Instead, I suddenly understood why Charlie Swan may have completely unraveled months prior to his death.
“And my dad knew, Edward,” she whispered, more tears rolling down her beautiful face. “He must’ve been so hurt.”
“And angry, I bet,” I agreed, reaching for the package. “May I, Bella?” I asked her, receiving a nod as an answer.
She slipped slowly off my lap, and even though I hated the loss of her touch, at least she stayed pretty close to my side, setting her cheek against my upper arm.
I pulled everything out of the envelope, setting it on my lap. My brow furrowed as I read that not only had Charlie investigated his wife, but the housekeeper, as well. I was glad that Chelsea had come up clean – it would’ve devastated Bella – but he’d apparently suspected his own wife enough to have her followed.
The entire case was in my hands. Photos of Chelsea picking up a thirteen-year-old Bella from school were on top, but my head shook slowly as I saw damning evidence of Renee’s betrayal. Every photo had a date and time, which were several months before the robbery, and they were mostly in the daytime hours, but there was one at a bar at night. I set the photos aside, picking up a background check on Phil Dwyer. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen, except for a few names listed as friends that were new to me. Otherwise, it was the same dead end regarding Charlie’s death. That thought made me set it all down and turn back to the sweet, sniffling girl beside me.
I turned a little, cupping her face. “All that aside, what happened to send you to me?”
She swallowed nervously. “I…I…yelled at my mom!”
“Oh,” I sighed, frowning, but leaning forward to kiss her forehead. “Did you panic?”
She shook her head, looking down at her hands between us. She fiddled with her charm bracelet, most specifically the heart I’d given her. “No,” she said grumpily. “I was too pissed to panic.”
I grinned briefly, simply because she was too adorable for words, even when angry. “Obviously.”
Her mouth twitched with a brief smile, but she leaned closer. I wrapped my arms around her in a hug.
“I just needed away from her,” she mumbled against my chest. “I can’t believe she did that to Dad. I just can’t.”
I kissed the top of her head, asking, “How’d she react, love? When you confronted her?”
Bella pulled back. “Oh, she tried to lie, but then…I showed her, you know? And then…she blamed their lies on me being…”
“Incapacitated,” I finished.
She snorted, rolling her eyes up to mine. “You put it mildly. She said I reacted poorly to anything, so they kept it hidden.” Suddenly, she sagged in a defeated posture. “Maybe I did.” She shook her head slowly. “God, how bad was I?”
I cupped her face. “Isabella, you were in shock, grieving, and traumatized, not to mention severely injured. No one should blame you for any reaction you had. If they do, then that’s their problem. Understand?”
She sighed and then nodded. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?”
“Make everything okay.”
Chuckling, I hugged her again. “It’s my new job. I like it very much.”
She nuzzled into the crook of my neck, inhaling deeply, but I could feel her smile against my skin. “I’ve missed you.”
“Me, too, love.”
I held her close for a few quiet moments, until she pulled back again, gazing up at me, her nose wrinkling a bit. “Damn, I forgot your Christmas present.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “I’ll live, I assure you.”
She gazed over at the pile of pictures, frowning. “That’s probably what made my dad so angry before he died,” she murmured, almost to herself.
Oh, to be in her mind, but I could read her gorgeous face pretty well. The wheels were spinning, the facts not quite adding up, and the questions were swirling around in her head. But there was fear, too. I could practically feel it. She almost didn’t want to know.
“Maybe,” I hedged softly, but she looked to me.
Her eyes narrowed. “You know something…”
I shook my head. “No, Bella, I don’t. I should confess that I’ve looked into…” I grimaced a little. “I’ve looked into what happened to you that night, but I’ve come up empty.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“Because I love you, and you’d told me – or MG, really – that you were still scared of those men coming back. I just…I wanted to know. I wanted to see if I could help. I know it was considered a cold case, but I thought maybe with a different perspective, a few…not-so-legal contacts, and the fact that I could read minds might get some answers. I haven’t gotten far, and I didn’t mean to pry, but I just…couldn’t let you stay scared, sweetheart. I can’t help it,” I rambled, bracing myself for her temper.
She shook her head, and for a moment, I assumed she’d be angry with me for going behind her back. Jasper had all but made a bet with me that she’d be pissed off for being nosey, but her mouth hung open for a moment. Her brow furrowed a little, but she reached up and placed her hands flat on either side of my face.
Suddenly, her lips were on mine, and I froze at the shock of it. My hands held her waist, pushing back just a little. When I hadn’t responded, she stopped, looking away with reddening cheeks.
“You gotta warn a vampire, Bella,” I teased, smirking when she snorted and looked up at me. “You moved too quickly,” I whispered in explanation, leaning forward and resting my forehead against hers. “Does this mean…”
“I don’t need to think about it, Edward,” she said softly, her breathing picking up and her heart about to thunder right out of her chest. “No one’s ever taken care of me like you. No one’s cared to even keep up with the investigation, much less ask about the cold case. You… I don’t care what it takes, or if we have to sneak around… For the first time since my dad died, I feel safe and loved and secure. I’m talking, Edward, and I don’t even know how you do it.”
My fingers slipped into her hair, and I brushed my thumb across her lips. Just that brief temptation, and I wanted to kiss her so badly that a growl was rumbling through me.
Bella’s deep brown eyes met mine, and my chest ached for her to say the words I could see all over her face. “I love you, and…and…I want you to kiss me.”
The moan I released was unstoppable. My eyes closed because I’d never heard anything so perfect.
Leaning so close that our lips were barely touching, I whispered, “Slowly, love. I have to be careful. I could hurt you.”
“You…could never hurt me,” she countered.
“Humor me, then,” I argued with a half-smile.
She didn’t say anything, but she held her breath. I brushed my lips across hers over and over, testing myself, my strength, her reaction. I wasn’t so sure which part of kissing her was the best part – the intensity of finally feeling connected to my soul mate, the sweet whimper that erupted from Bella, or the actual taste of her. Her blood pounded in my ears as I tilted her head just a little, but it held no draw to me, not in the usual way that human blood would pull me in. No, the draw was to truly…kiss her.
With one slow, tentative flick of my tongue along her bottom lip, we both simply fell over some sort of edge. Strong, nimble fingers threaded into my hair, holding me close and urging me on.
It had been a long time since I’d last kissed a woman, but this was completely different. I’d been human then, and that woman had been immortal. I’d been Maria’s meal, so there had been no emotions, except my inebriated ego and eventual fear. This was every emotion that existed. It didn’t matter that my last kiss was a hundred years ago, or that I had no experience beyond kissing; all that mattered was just how right it all felt.
Bella and I moved at the same time. I sat back in the sofa at the same time she crawled into my lap. Tongues met as Bella loomed over me. And as much as I loved her in control, I slowed the kiss down. Keeping my sharp teeth away from her, I sucked her top lip, and then bottom, only to pull back. I didn’t need the air, but I panted anyway as her forehead thumped to mine.
“Okay, so I get it now…” she whispered, grinning when my eyes opened in curiosity. “A kiss did change things.”
Chuckling, I pressed a quick, chaste kiss to her lips. “Indeed, my love.”
She giggled, and it sounded free and happy, and I felt like a damn king that I’d done that to her.
“Hmm?” I hummed, trailing my fingers across her cheek. I was trying to shift myself just a little so my immediate erection wouldn’t frighten her, but she seemed oblivious, which was actually a good thing, because I knew neither of us was ready to face that situation just yet. We had a long way to go, not because Bella was too young – age was a useless thing to me at this point – but because emotionally, she wasn’t ready. Nor was I, if I were being honest with myself. The best part was knowing we had time. Plenty of it.
“What happens now?” she asked, her nose wrinkling when I looked at her questioningly. “How do we…”
Smiling a little, I said, “We do what we want, love. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, we’ll be living two separate truths – the real truth, and the one we want everyone else to see.” I shrugged a shoulder. “Are you ready for that?”
She was nodding before I finished. “Yes,” she barely said aloud. “I know what you are, Edward, but it’s who you are to me that matters.”
I pressed another kiss to her lips. “Thank you, Bella.”
She smiled and nodded, but that beautiful smile fell quickly as she glanced over at the pile of pictures. “And that?”
“Your mom…isn’t perfect, Bella,” I told her gently. “And human relationships can be…complicated.” I tapped my temple to let her know that I’d heard it all in my long years. “Humans are flawed and they make many mistakes, but she and Phil are still together, so maybe they fell in love simply at the wrong time.”
Bella’s nose wrinkled. “How could she have done that to my dad?” she groaned, shaking her head.
“That’s something only she can answer,” I said, lightly touching the scar that marred her pretty skin. “But this… You need to tell me what you want, love. If you want my help, it’s yours. I’ll do everything within my power to find out who did this to you,” I vowed, still paying reverence to that scar. “But if you don’t, then we’ll let it go and move on about our lives.”
She grinned at something I said, and when I looked confused, she simply echoed, “Our lives.”
I smiled back. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I like the sound of that,” she said, kissing me, though she remembered to move slowly. When she pulled back, she was serious again. “Okay, go ahead, but will you promise to be careful?”
I kissed her again, unable to stop now that we’d taken that step, but I nodded slowly. “I promise, but no one can take me away from you, Bella.”
What I didn’t say aloud was that not even little cowards wearing ski masks could scare me, and I hoped with everything I had that they’d try.
As Bella snuggled against me, it was hard to keep the smile from my face.


aelita48 said...

Bella discovered what had lily are angry father...
Fortunately Edward is there to comfort her.
Thank you for this good chapter.

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