Thursday, May 8, 2014 | By: Drotuno

Masen Manor Chapter 17 & Pics

Chapter 17
January 2002
“You gonna eat that?” Emmett asked, pointing to my dinner roll.
I popped the back of his hand with my fork, which made Rose laugh and shove him.
“Christ, Emmett, you act like you’re never gonna eat again!” she exclaimed, shaking her head. “Go get one from the line and leave people’s trays alone.”
The big guy merely grinned, unfolded his large form from the table, and walked away to the serving line. We all laughed when he returned with not just one extra roll, but a half dozen.
“Heart attack waiting to happen,” Rose muttered, rolling her eyes, but her endearing smile his way only made him grin bigger…and shove an entire roll in his mouth.

Giggling, I went back to my food. Rose and Emmett had started sitting with Alice and me just after Christmas break. It had started because Alice and Rose were in the same art class, but it continued when it became fun and comfortable. Emmett was an easygoing guy, fun and silly. I didn’t speak much around him, but whenever I did, he puffed up like he was a king. I was pretty sure Rose had told him of my past, and that was okay. He didn’t seem like the gossiping type. In fact, he was really loyal and level-headed.
However, the fact that they were both dorm captains kept Mike and Messica in check…and away from Alice and me. A glance around the dining hall showed all the small cliques that always developed in any school. Mike and Jessica were sitting with Tyler and Lauren, though the latter couple didn’t always go along with the former couple. Also at their table was Rachel, the girl who always eyed Edward like he was her next meal. The table to my left was filled with some of the younger, more timid classmates. Eric Yorkie and Angela Weber sat together in awkward silence, but the baby-faced Brady chatted aimlessly at anyone who would listen.
Alice was quiet, but her eyes would dart up to Mike and Jessica’s table occasionally.
She narrowed her eyes, muttering, “I wish they’d make up their damn minds.” We all looked over at her, and she sighed deeply. “They sneak around so damn much! It fucks with my head! I’m having a hard time figuring them out.”
We all chuckled at her, which caused her to break out in a smile and shrug. I reached over and tapped her temple gently.
Her brow furrowed. “Weird shit. They have major tests coming up, so they really are focusing on studying, but they also haven’t been together in a few weeks, so they’re getting…restless.”
Emmett barked out a laugh. “So they’re horny? You’ve got to be kidding.”
Alice giggled. “Not in the least. It’s rather ugly to see, actually. Your sympathy is overwhelming.”
Emmett grinned, but Rose and I exchanged disgusted expressions. My mind immediately went to Edward, wondering just how much he could see in people’s minds. The thought was disturbing, and I pushed my tray away. I laughed when Emmett picked up my roll and ate it anyway.
“Thank you,” he sang with a mouthful of bread as I stood up and gathered my things.
I shot them all a wave and made my way toward Dr. Cullen’s office. I’d promised Edward a week ago that I’d see him, and Edward was supposed to be meeting me after dinner in the infirmary office.
The receptionist was gone for the day, Mrs. C’s office was closed, but I caught raised voices as I got closer to Dr. Cullen’s door, which stood open.
“Carlisle, I don’t have a choice!” I heard Edward growl as I neared the doorway.
“You should take Jasper with you, son. That’s all I’m suggesting,” Carlisle replied calmly.
I stepped into the room just as Edward said, “No, I can’t take the chance. He needs to be here just in case Jacob catches that scent again.”
Edward was adamant and fierce standing face to face with his father. Carlisle was the epitome of calm and collected, but his expression was warm and understanding.
I tapped the door lightly, breaking both men out of their standoff.
Edward’s face immediately melted into the sweet, crooked smile I loved, which made me roll my eyes and snicker softly. Carlisle chuckled at him, but walked my way, holding out his hand.
“Hello, Bella,” Dr. Cullen said, shaking my hand. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Thanks,” I whispered, looking between them.
“Bella,” Edward started, but looked nervous, “if you want, I can stay or go. Whatever makes you more comfortable.”
“Stay. I’m…I’ll…” I stammered, not wanting to offend Dr. Cullen.
“You’ll talk with Edward here,” he surmised, and when I nodded, he smiled. “Then why don’t you both take a seat.”
Edward and I took the chairs across from Dr. Cullen’s desk. My fingers nervously toyed with my charm bracelet until Edward gently reached over and took my hand in his. He said nothing, but when I looked up at him, his eyes were warm, sweet honey and filled with understanding.
“Bella,” Dr. Cullen said softly once he was sitting behind his desk. A file was open in front of him. It looked thicker than just my medical records, but I met his gaze when he spoke. “I want you to know that anything said in this room is kept strictly confidential. Anything you say will stay within these four walls. And it’s obvious you trust my son.” He said that last thing with a sweet, happy smile.
Nodding, I said, “Completely.”
Edward squeezed my hand, kissing the back of it, but stayed quiet. He seemed to be letting Carlisle lead.
“Good,” Dr. Cullen praised, opening the folder, but he then set his elbows on the desktop. “As far as I’m concerned, Bella, you’ve been my patient since we first talked at the beginning of the school year. Edward tells me that you’re aware of all the things surrounding you, concerning your past, your trust fund, and your…stepfather.”
My brow wrinkled, but I nodded.
“Edward also tells me you’re aware of what we are…”
My eyes widened, but I looked to Edward, who smiled softly.
“Relax, love,” he said with a slight laugh to his voice. “He’s not upset. Quite the opposite, I assure you.” He looked to his father. “May I?”
Dr. Cullen smiled and nodded, waving him on.
Edward turned to me. “Bella, we’re here as a way to protect you.” His voice was firm, but then he sagged a little. “Sweetheart, we just think you need someone in your corner.”
Smiling a little at him, I nodded, turning to Dr. Cullen. “What do I need to do?”
“Not a thing, Bella, if you don’t want to,” he replied softly, “but I’d really like to hear from you what happened that night.”
I let out a deep breath, glancing down at where Edward’s and my fingers were entwined. It was hard to tell where I ended and he began. I’d already told Edward everything, which made me realize that telling Dr. Cullen would be easier. The hard part was already done.
So I started talking. When I’d falter, Edward would help, but Carlisle stayed quiet. Once I’d told him as much as I could remember, my hands were shaking and my vision was blurry, but Edward kneeled down in front of me.
“It was easier this time, right?” he asked softly, a small smile curling the corners of his perfect mouth.
I nodded fervently, sniffling a bit and blinking back tears. “Yeah.”
“Good girl,” he praised, leaning up to press a cool kiss to my forehead, which spread a warmth throughout my entire body.
We both glanced up when Carlisle stood and started pacing. Just like Edward had the capability of doing, Carlisle’s face was a mask that was void of any expression. Though, they had something in common. They both carried their stress in their shoulders. I wondered if that was something they’d picked up over their long lives together.
Edward got up and sat back down in the chair next to mine, but Carlisle finally faced us. His expression had changed, and it reminded me of when he’d promised me I was safe inside the castle, that no one could touch me here. It was warm, but fierce.
“Bella, you’ve come so far since I saw you last,” he stated with awe, a half smile tilting his mouth. He shook his head slowly, glancing down and then back to me. “I don’t know if you realize it, but your speech isn’t a problem. Your trust issues are.” When I frowned at him, he smiled a little bigger. “In some ways, you didn’t trust your mother and stepfather…or anyone, for that matter. Since coming here, you’ve started talking pretty much on a regular basis.”
“Mainly Edward,” I countered. “Not really anyone else.”
“Me.” He chuckled. “You’ve had an entire conversation with me today, Bella.”
My eyebrows shot up, but I started thinking about who I’d been speaking to lately, and he was right. I’d rarely pass notes with Alice anymore. I’d have the occasional soft conversation with Rose. I even spoke to Emmett occasionally. However, with Edward, I felt free to be me, which must have included his family. As I thought harder, I realized I’d talk to Jasper and Mrs. C, as well.
“Huh,” I breathed, shaking my head, which caused both men to chuckle softly.
Carlisle sat back down at his desk. “Are you still upset with your mother?”
Grimacing, I shrugged a shoulder. “Yes and no. I feel…betrayed for my dad over what they did.” When he nodded encouragingly, I went on. “But now…I mean… I get it. But there’s a part of me that thinks maybe…she’s a target, too?” I finished, though it came out like a question.
“You mean, with all that Edward has uncovered,” he verified.
“Do you trust your stepfather?” he asked.
“I… Well, I don’t really know him, so…no.”
Edward’s gaze snapped to Carlisle’s, both men seemingly talking in silence. They were quiet for a moment.
“Is that bad?” I asked, my eyes flickering between them.
Edward scoffed. “No. If you don’t like someone, don’t like them. There’s no reason you have to trust him, love.”
I grinned when Carlisle laughed, but Edward was so very fierce about some things.
Edward’s face looked like he’d be blushing, but he then shrugged a shoulder. “I can’t help it. And I’ve seen his mind. Phil’s desperate. I fear he’ll be even worse by the time she goes home for the summer. I’d almost be willing to bet that he’ll try something.”
We all sobered up with that statement, but Carlisle reached into his desk and passed me a card. “If he does, then you need to call me, Bella. Or call Edward…anyone. We’ll come for you, no matter what.”
I looked at the card, smiling a little at what he’d written.
Patient of Dr. Carlisle Cullen. Please call in case of emergency. Patient does not speak. Do not try to force her.
Looking up at Dr. Cullen’s face, I gazed at him in curiosity.
He pointed to the card. “If you feel threatened, if you’re taken somewhere against your will, if he tries to declare you incapacitated, then you hand them this, and I’ll come to you. Understood?”
I gazed back down at the card and then to Edward, finally nodding. “Thanks, Dr. Cullen.”
He tsked, shaking his head and standing up. “In this room, away from the other students, you’ll call me Carlisle.”
He gave my shoulder a squeeze when I muttered, “Okay,” and then he left his office.
I turned to Edward. “Thank you.”
He smiled, leaning in to kiss me. It started sweet and soft, turning into something more. Edward’s fingers slid into my hair at the back of my neck, tugging me closer.
My moan only seemed to spur him on, and I found myself out of the chair and standing between his legs. Strong arms wrapped around me, pulling me onto his lap. Cupping his face, I smiled down at him as I tried to catch my breath. But my smile fell at the worry etched into his beautiful face.
“What’s this?” I asked softly, rubbing the wrinkle between his brows with a single finger.
He kissed my lips once. “I have to leave the castle, love. I don’t want to, but I need answers.”
Licking my lips caused his eyes to snap from mine to the movement, but I nodded. “Okay. When will you be back?”
“A few days, sweetheart. Not long. I swear it. I’ll be back for our piano lesson Friday.”
“Is that what you and Carlisle were fighting about when I got here?” I asked, and he nodded. “He’s worried?”
“No, not worried, Bella. He just wants me to be careful. He wanted me to take Jasper with me, but with…” He seemed to falter a bit.
“The other vampire that Jacob was tracking…”
“Yes,” he whispered, looking up at me. “I need the castle protected. I’ll be fine. I need everyone else here.”
“You promise?”
He grinned. “Which part?”
“That you’ll be fine.”
He chuckled, hugging me closer. “Bella, the only human that can hurt me…is you.”
“Never.” I giggled, kissing his sweet lips.
He cupped my face, his eyes warm and amber. “Then I have nothing to worry about.”
“Love you,” I said, snuggling closer and laying my head on his shoulder. I knew I needed to get back to my dorm room soon.
“Love you, too, Bella.”
“When are you leaving?”
I popped up from his shoulder, pouting a little, which only made him grin. “No.”
“Yes, love. I just want to get this done. I’ll be back before you can miss me.”
I snorted, but crawled down from his lap. “I doubt that.”
He chuckled, but stood up in front of me. I studied his face, and I could see that he was determined to get answers. He was hell-bent on finding out who had killed my dad, but I knew him well enough now that he was really looking for revenge for it all.
“What will you do to them?” I asked softly.
He shook his head. “You may not want to know that, Bella.” When I didn’t argue, he tacked on, “Whatever I have to do in order to find the men that did this,” he whispered as he trailed a finger along my scar. “What I do with them once I find them remains to be seen. I’m going to try my best to give you justice, Bella, not revenge.”
His voice sounded harsh, yet a touch unsure. He didn’t trust himself when it came to these men – or at least, he didn’t trust his temper. I knew what my father would want, but there was a part of me deep down that understood what Edward was trying to do. I was of two minds on the matter, so I simply nodded, wrapped my arms around his neck, and kissed him.
“Just hurry back to me.”
He smiled into the kiss. “Always.”
My yawn was long and deep, making my eyes water. It didn’t take twenty-four hours for Edward to be out of the castle before my nightmares returned to their full force. They’d started to change to something somewhat manageable, but with his absence came the true, ugly memories they’d once been.
Alice yawned right behind me, her head propped up on one hand at our usual table in the library. The poor thing had been up with me most of the night. We’d barely made it through classes the last two days. I felt terrible, but she never complained, nor would she take an apology.
I missed Edward something fierce. My mind told me he’d be back tomorrow, but my heart wouldn’t hear it. Nothing felt right when he wasn’t near, so in order to ease the pain, I reread his last journal entry, preparing to answer him back, simply to keep him close.
My love,
I want nothing more than to answer your question, but I fear the truth will scare you. Is all that you’re feeling a part of being with me? Yes. I told you once that when my kind change, it’s irrevocable and permanent. The same goes for you, as well, Bella. Esme has told me that for a human, the feelings are quite overwhelming and breathtaking. She said it can be scary and fast and mind-boggling.
I never, ever want you scared, sweetheart. Never. Not of us. Not of me.
But what we are is mated for life – however long our lives turn out to be. Emotionally, we’re attached at the soul, the heart. Physically, we’re in constant need of each other…whatever those needs may be. It could be friendship or love or a simple touch, but we can’t go long apart. Logically, however, we have to learn to maintain all of that into something we can live with, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
You can understand why the reality of you worried me, why I fought it so damn hard once you appeared. I can’t change any of it, yet I don’t want to. I feel it’s stolen something from you, but the selfish side of me has been given so much. For the first time in a hundred years, my life makes sense, has purpose, and I feel whole, but only with you by my side.
As overwhelming as I’m sure it is, the positives truly outweigh the negatives. My sweet Bella, I’ll never love another. I’ll always love you just as much as now, if not more, another hundred years from this moment. I’m incapable of even looking at another. You’ll always be everything to me. My sole purpose in life is to love you, make you happy, and to keep you safe. And the same goes for you. There’s a touch of comfort in that, something in which you can have complete faith. Where human relationships can be a gamble, ours is a solid, unmoving thing.
Again, I’ll never presume to know everything. What I do know, I’ve learned from the minds of others. I see how Carlisle and Esme think about one another. I’ve even seen it in other mated pairs. I see it in poor Jasper, who fights it every day, who feels unworthy of such goodness. Does that make him strong? Or merely stubborn beyond comprehension? I’m not sure, because I don’t regret a single, solid second with you, and I know if he’d give into it, he’d never go back.
However, all of those examples are different, just as we are different. We are what we make us. How we met or choose to live is ours, and ours alone. The future is whatever we want it to be, and for the first time in my very long life, I’m actually looking forward to it. Every long year before you was a dark, lonely road traveled. You’re my reason for being.
My only fear is that we have to face your past before we can step forward. I’m not worried for me, but for you. I want so badly to hand over the animals that killed your father, that marred your sweet, precious skin, but for all your strength, with every amazing step you’ve made so far, my fear is that this will set you back, that the truth is far worse than the unknown. You’re strength incarnate, my love, but even the strongest can break. I never, ever want to hurt you – it would kill me to do so. But I also can’t let someone get away with what they’ve done to you. I will, however, continue to hunt them until you tell me otherwise.
I love you,
I hid my smile. His words did more than comfort me; they soothed my aching heart like a balm to a burn. To know he was feeling the same, that mated couples before us had felt these things, was helpful. It made me feel not so overwhelmed, and a part of me noted that if I ever needed to ask something, I could go to Esme.
Putting my pen to paper, I wrote him back, simply to make time go faster. Had Edward been inside the castle, I might have sneaked off to the east wing, but instead, I poured my heart onto the page. I was fairly caught up with my school work and pretty confident concerning my test in history the next day, so I was able to relax into the words.
When I was finally finished, I glanced up at the clock, it was almost time for dinner, and poor Alice was asleep across the table from me. I reached over and touched her hand, causing her to snap awake.
“Let’s go put our stuff away,” I whispered. “We’ll eat and go to bed. I’m—”
Alice tsked, glaring at me. “Stop apologizing for shit you can’t control, Bella,” she huffed, slamming all her books and notes back into her bag haphazardly. She raised an eyebrow at me, but her little smirk made me chuckle.
“Yes, ma’am,” I grunted softly.
We gathered our things, shouldering our bags, and left the library together. Alice chatted away about her upcoming French test. She was pretty sure she’d be fine, but she knew that the teacher was planning some sort of surprise questions.
“If he’d just make up his mind, I’d know what to study!” she growled dramatically, looking my way as I laughed. “Now I have to study every-damn-thing.”
“Welcome to the world of tests for the rest of us, Alice,” I teased her, bumping her with my hip as we rounded the corner of the hallway.
We were still giggling when we saw Mrs. C at the end of the hall. She was wearing a stern expression. She was standing next to Rosalie, who looked like her patience had completely run out. Their focus, however, was on the two disheveled people standing against the wall.
Mike and Jessica were a mess, like they’d dressed in a hurry…or in the dark, because I was pretty sure Mike was wearing Jessica’s shirt. All four heads spun our way, but it was Jessica that reacted.
“You!” she snarled at Alice. “You ratted us out! You told them where we were, you freaks. You saw this!”
“They did no such thing, Miss Stanley,” Mrs. C stated calmly. “The two of you happened to make enough noise that I was sure a bear was trapped in the linen closet.”
I snorted, but it fell quickly when Mike’s eyes snapped my way. He didn’t get a chance to say anything because Mrs. C was right there.
“You two have a choice,” she stated calmly. “You’ve earned enough marks against you to send you home, which will ruin your chances for Yale. I can well imagine that will disappoint your parents.”
Mike and Jessica started to argue, but she snapped a hand up. I noted it was almost too quickly, but maybe I was simply used to how strong and fast Edward and his family were.
“Or…” she continued, dragging the word out a little. “Or you can ride out the rest of your senior year on probation and in-school detention.”
Jessica’s eyes narrowed. “Meaning?”
“Meaning… Mr. Newton, you’ll report to Mr. Black. You’ll be helping him every school day after class on the grounds, along with Mr. Whitlock. Miss Stanley, you’ll report to the kitchen to Mrs. Odom for the same,” she explained, and her tone was not to be argued with. “If you’re late, if you fail to show up, or if I hear that you’re disrespecting anyone, you’ll be sent back to D.C. to your parents.” She sighed deeply, shaking her head. “I brought the two of you here three years ago because your parents wanted a better education for you than the norm. You’ve done exceptionally well here – grade-wise – but your behavior is…lacking. Perhaps by the end of the year, you’ll understand why we have rules.”
My eyebrows shot up, and I felt guilty for sneaking into the east wing, but then…I didn’t. However, my attention snapped back to the hallway when Mike and Jessica were released to go to their dorms. They walked by us – or between us, really – bumping us on purpose.
“We know you squealed, psycho. We’ll get you back. Both of you,” Mike warned, disappearing down the stairs with a very angry, very silent Jessica behind him.
Alice snorted. “Like I won’t see that shit coming,” she muttered, looking up at me, but we both looked to Mrs. C when she approached us.
“I want the two of you to tell me if they try anything,” she stated, still looking rather pissed.
“Yes, ma’am,” we both whispered.
We started to leave her, but she reached out and touched my shoulder. “Bella, may I see you for a moment?”
I nodded, handing my backpack to Alice. “I’ll meet you in the dining hall.”
“Yup,” she replied, leaving the corridor with Rose.
Esme gestured toward the teachers’ lounge, and I stepped inside, worried that I may be in trouble.
“Mrs. C, if this is about the east wing…”
She snorted, smiling a little. “Isabella, you are far, far from a problem. As far as I’m concerned, you’re escorted through the east wing every time, correct?”
Smirking, I saw the real Esme, the protective mother Edward simply adored. “Yeah, sure.”
She laughed softly, but cupped my face. “I know he’s not here. And I know you’re probably feeling…out of sorts. I just wanted to check on you. I heard from him a bit ago. He’s fine. Missing you like crazy.”
Giggling, I nodded. “Me, too, but I’m okay.”
She was quiet for a moment, her eyes warm as they studied my face. “You know, he told me you didn’t quite put stock in Leah’s and Giselle’s predictions at first. I must confess, I didn’t, either.” She smoothed my hair back from my face. “But the minute I saw you in your home, Bella, I knew you’d be perfect for Edward.”
“I love him.”
“I know you do,” she sighed with a sweet smile. “I see it all over your beautiful faces when you’re together. You’ve done amazing things for each other. He’s my son for all intents and purposes, so it does my heart good to see him happy. But Bella, to see you speaking…” She shook her head slowly. “There are no words.”
“Ironic,” I teased.
She laughed, pulling me into a hug. “If you should ever need anything, please come to me. Promise me, sweetheart.”
I nodded, loving the motherly feel to the hug. It made me miss Chelsea. “I promise.”
She pulled back, cupping my face. “Good. I’ll let you get to dinner, but I just wanted to check on you. Being apart isn’t easy.”
Nodding again, I smiled. “He’ll be back tomorrow.”
She grinned. “Yes, he will.”
“Edward Anthony, I swear I’ll check on Bella,” Esme sighed exasperatedly over the phone. “You just worry about finding those men.”
“I’ve found one of them,” I murmured softly, eyeing my target from my car. I’d parked in a shaded corner, but the sun was slowly setting, so I was perfectly concealed in shadow. “Harry Clearwater was most helpful when Jenks contacted him. Apparently, he and Charlie Swan were old friends.”
“What’d he say, son?”
I took a deep breath and let it out. “Harry offered to help the police with the investigation, but the only thing they could find out were the same things we’d uncovered – the fact that Charlie was the judge presiding over the steroid case, that Phil knew of the Swans prior to ‘meeting’ Renee, and that Phil is still friends with Alec Brown.”
“And Brown? Have you found him?”
“I’ve found his brother,” I replied darkly, my eyes watching the tall, thin man through the window of the bar. “Demetri is… Well, he seems to fit the description Bella gave me of one of the two men. She said one was tall and thin. The last man I spoke to – Felix Sumner – seemed to think if Brown was involved, so was his brother. They have a reputation of being…not so nice.”
I smirked at Esme’s light, humorless laugh. “I’m sure. What’s your next step?”
Licking my lips and scowling, I grunted, “I’m gonna go have a drink at the bar.”
She was still laughing when I ended the call. Silencing my ringer, I tucked the phone into the inside pocket of my leather jacket. I checked for my identification, making sure it was one that showed me old enough to drink, and then got out of my car, locking it behind me.
I stepped into the dark pub. Music played quietly from an old jukebox in the corner. A few tables had patrons, and not many really looked my way when I took a seat at the bar. The smells that hit me were foul – human sweat, cheap cologne, old beer, and urine. It all reeked.
I counted fourteen heartbeats in the small bar, five of which were female. Demetri Brown was at the opposite end, grinning up at a young female bartender, who looked like she wanted to punch him in the face…and her thoughts matched as she set a beer bottle down in front of him. I couldn’t tell what he’d done to produce such ire, but her thoughts were filled with hate.
However, at the sight of me, she slipped on the professional mask, smiling my way. Once she reached my end of the bar, she slapped down a drink napkin.
“You’d better be twenty-one, handsome,” she warned, melting when I smiled at her.
“I am.” I showed her my driver’s license, tucking it back into my wallet when she nodded in approval.
“What can I get ya?”
“Bourbon…straight up,” I stated, thinking a beer bottle would hide my lack of drinking, but getting rid of the sudsy beverage was beyond disgusting should I have to swallow it. The foam, the bubbles merely built up in my stomach, which couldn’t digest them. Any sort of liquor, on the other hand, came back up easier when I had to get rid of it later.
I thanked her when she poured the drink, leaving me alone. I pretended to focus on the TV, tuned into a sports channel, over the bar, but I was listening intently to thoughts and conversations around me.
There were two men celebrating the end of a long day at work at the farthest table. A man and a woman were arguing next to them in hushed voices. They were both cheating on their spouses. A single man nursed a beer before he had to go home, where he was avoiding his mother-in-law. But Demetri at the end of the bar had most of my attention.
He was attracted to the bartender, knew she was pissed off at him, and apparently, her name was Lori. He found it funny that she was mad at him because he’d “hit it and quit it,” so he continued to vie for her attention. At the rate he was drinking, he’d be drunk within a few hours, if not sooner, which would help me out tremendously later.
I glanced up at the clock on the wall and then to the door when it opened. Smirking, I stood up to greet the woman that stepped into the bar. Her skin was as unique as my own, as were her golden eyes, her hair was an immaculate strawberry-blond, and her smile was familiar and deadly.
“Tanya,” I greeted, and she hugged me with a light laugh, cupping my face.
“Oh, dear…my chance is completely gone. Isn’t it?” she teased, giving me a wink.
Rolling my eyes, I pulled out a stool at the bar for her. “There never was one.”
“I know.” She laughed, but pointed a finger at me. “No bitching about my thoughts. I can’t help them, you know.”
Smirking, I nodded, but sobered quickly. “I really need your help.”
“You’re just lucky I was shopping in New York when I called Esme,” she said, but the silly, teasing expression faded away, and she nodded, glancing around the bar. “We’re family, right?” she asked, smiling when I nodded. “Then of course I’ll help you, but first…tell me about your swan.”
Grinning, my eyes stayed locked on my glass of untouched liquor. “Oh, God, Tanya, she’s…everything. She’s smart and beautiful and plays the piano better than I do. She’s fierce and strong and kind. She’s—”
“Perfect for you,” Tanya finished in a whisper. When I glanced up at her face, she smiled. “Good for you, Edward.” She reached over and squeezed my forearm. “I know I gave you shit for years. Why you put up with it, I’ll never know. You’re a true gentleman. Is that Carlisle’s doing, or something from your human days?”
Laughing, I shrugged. “Maybe both?”
She smiled and nodded, pointing to my glass when the bartender came back. “Same as he’s having, please.” When the drink was poured, she leaned over to me. “God forbid we drink beer. That’s pure hell coming back up. All that foam…”
Snorting, I nodded and threw back the amber liquid in order to keep up pretenses. The bartender poured me another and left us alone.
Looking over at Tanya, I said, “He’s at the opposite end of the bar…tall, thin, dark hair. If you give him a few more minutes, he’ll be putty in your hands. His name is Demetri Brown.”
She smiled evilly and nodded. “And tell me why I’m doing this?”
The growl I let loose was merely a gut reaction now when it came to speaking of Bella’s attack, but I told Tanya everything. I started from the very beginning, speaking in low enough tones that the humans around us couldn’t hear. I explained the cold case, Charlie Swan’s murder, and all the information I’d acquired since I’d met Bella. The more I talked, the darker the look became on Tanya’s face.
While the two of us pretended to drink, Demetri swilled back beer after beer, dividing his attention between the TV and Lori the bartender.
“She was just a baby!” Tanya hissed, shaking her head and swirling the amber liquid around in her glass. “What about her mother?”
“I don’t think she’s involved. I think the Swans were a target from the moment Phil Dwyer stepped inside Charlie Swan’s courtroom.”
She nodded in agreement, but glanced over at me. “Esme and Carlisle have already claimed Bella as their own, haven’t they?”
“You have no idea,” I said with a laugh. “Wrapped around her finger, and she hasn’t got a clue.”
“But I bet Miss Bella knows you are,” she taunted, shoving me with her shoulder. “Signed, sealed, and delivered.”
Shrugging, I grinned. “If she does, then she doesn’t show it.” I took a deep breath and let it out. “I can’t have Bella afraid anymore,” I admitted softly, “and I can’t promise to keep my temper when I finally find the information I need. I’m doing my best to maintain myself right now.”
Tanya eyed the man in question for several long minutes and then sighed. “Okay, then let’s do this.”
We clinked glasses, throwing back another drink. To those around us, we looked no different than anyone else. Tanya got up, and I wanted to roll my eyes and shake my head at the change in her demeanor. She walked with a purpose now; she was hunting: hunting Demetri. And he was falling for it the moment she walked past him to the restroom.
She pretended to stumble, and he was immediately there to right her. With an alluring smile Demetri’s way, she continued into the restroom. I toyed with my glass, glancing up when the bartender offered to pour me another. Both of us eyed the other end of the bar when Tanya returned and offered to buy Demetri a drink as a thank you for keeping her upright.
I snorted at just how easily he fell for it, but it was what she did. In fact, along with her sisters, Kate and Irina, she was considered the original succubus. They liked their human men, liked the stalk, the hunt, the sex. They had the ability to make those human men do or say anything, if only for a chance to be with them. Sensuality radiated from all of them, though Kate was now mated to an immortal named Garrett. It was why I never took any of Tanya’s flirting seriously, and she knew it. However, she never could control her thoughts.
“Isn’t she with you?” Lori asked, pouring my drink.
I chuckled, shaking my head. “She’s my cousin, and she’s always done just what she wanted to,” I explained in rather perfect honesty, which made me smile.
“Well, she should watch herself with that one,” she warned.
Grimacing, I nodded that I’d heard her as my eyes took in Tanya reeling in Demetri with a simple smile and touch. “She can handle herself better than you think.”
It was jealousy that caused the warning. Lori knew Demetri was a “player.” She also knew he had quite the temper and a reputation for dabbling in illegal activities.
Tanya’s thoughts met my mind. Oh, Edward, this’ll be way too easy. He’s already three sheets to the wind as it is. Another drink, and I’ll have him outside.
With a nod, I waved Lori back over, tossing her several large bills. She looked rather heartbroken at the disgusting display of laughing and flirting. I tossed an extra large bill onto the pile, meeting Lori’s gaze when I held onto it for a moment.
“What do you know about him?” I asked, making sure I sounded like a concerned family member, not someone fishing for information.
“Too much,” she sighed, smiling when I chuckled a little. “He’s an ass, really. I should kick him out of here, but he hasn’t started any trouble. He’s usually okay if his brother isn’t around. He’s a love ’em and leave ’em kinda guy.”
She had memories of a few bar fights, mostly stirred up by Alec. There were flashes of a few punches thrown and an unfortunate black eye on a young woman. Lori’s boss had told her repeatedly to keep the Brown brothers out of the bar; her attraction to Demetri was the only thing allowing him to drink tonight.
Again, Lori’s thoughts turned to jealousy as she watched Tanya at the other end of the bar. She thought my cousin to be perfect and stunning and worried what Demetri would do to her.
I tugged the bill that we were both holding onto in order to get Lori’s attention. “Any man who can behave that way truly isn’t worth the time. Not all men are like that,” I told her, shrugging a shoulder and smiling a little.
My thoughts immediately turned to my Bella. I couldn’t wait to get this done and get back to the castle. I needed to set eyes on her, inhale her scent, drown myself in her lips. I needed it to the point of physically aching.
Lori smirked, eyeing me from head to toe. “You got a girl?”
“Yes,” I said with a proud grin and laugh.
“Lucky girl,” she sang, shooting me a wink. She held up the money. “This is—”
I put a hand up to stop her. “Keep it. Spoil yourself or something.” I looked across the bar, catching Tanya’s sharp gaze. “I’ve gotta go. See you later, Tanya.”
She grinned, tossing a wave my way, and went back to Demetri, who was now not only completely hammered, but totally in lust with the woman sitting next to him. In her mind, it would only be a matter of minutes before she could convince him to go outside with her. And I’d be waiting for them both.
Once I was back in the night air, I inhaled deeply in order to not only clear my head, but empty my senses of the smell of the rank bar. I took a right down the sidewalk, making my way toward the closest alleyway, and then disappeared into the shadows behind the dumpster. I quickly took care of the alcohol I’d had to drink and then settled in to wait. It didn’t take long. When Tanya set her sights on something, she usually got her way – except when it came to me, which bugged her to no end, but amused her at the same time.
The back door of the bar slammed open, and I rolled my eyes at the fumbling fool who was trying to touch my cousin everywhere at once. She fended him off just fine, finally pressing him back into the brick wall with a little more force than necessary.
“Oh ho, you like it rough, beautiful?” he asked her.
“You have no idea,” she purred, making me grin in the darkness because immortals weren’t exactly gentle at times when it came to sex. “So tell me, D… How big and tough are you?”
“What’choo wanna know?” he countered, kissing down her neck.
“Well,” she sang softly to him, gripping the front of his jacket, “you’re kinda loaded down with a few weapons here. You ever use them?”
“Maybe,” he flirted back. “A few times.”
“Anything I’d have read about?”
“Oh yeah, but I’ve never been caught,” he countered, reaching for her breast, but was thwarted masterfully. “Coupla big stories in the paper, but they never found nothin’ on me.”
Tanya scoffed, rolling her eyes dramatically. “I don’t believe you.”
“Okay, fine,” he said with a laugh. “Remember a few months back? A warehouse was robbed? That was me. Gotta shit-ton of TVs outta there, not to mention the bastard was dealing drugs out the back.”
“I don’t care about that. Ever shoot anyone?”
“Yeah, sure. Knifed a few poor souls, too,” he bragged, tugging up the leg of his pants to show off the large knife strapped to his shin.
“Pfft, like who?” she urged him on, and I smirked, turning my head when I saw where her hand was heading.
Demetri grunted, his eyes rolling into the back of his head as he lost all trace of coherent thought for a moment. All he could do was focus on the perfect friction Tanya was giving him…until she pulled away.
“Okay, okay…don’t stop… Fuck, whatever you do, don’t fucking stop!” he begged as his mind reeled for anything he could tell her just to keep her close. “A big-time fed judge. It was all over the papers a few years back. That was me.”
Tanya froze, her mental warning to me was loud because she could hear my growl loud and clear when Demetri couldn’t. Don’t you dare move from where you are, Edward. I got this.
“Hurry,” I sneered through gritted teeth.
“A judge, huh?” she purred into his ear, letting her tongue rake up the shell of it. Her mind was disgusted, but she was still doing her damnedest. “Wait…wasn’t there a kid involved? A boy?” she asked, acting affronted.
“Girl, actually. I didn’t wanna touch the kid. My brother did that shit. Tough little bitch, too. Just about bled to death, but survived it. I thought for sure we’d get busted, but the trail ran cold on the cops. Guess we did a fucking bang-up job coverin’ our asses.”
“I guess so,” she stated, and she was cold and harsh when she pushed him back against the bricks again. He was stunned for a moment, which gave her a few seconds to reach down, rip the knife off his leg, and toss it behind her. Once I caught it – strap and all – she rounded on him. “Hmm,” she hummed, glaring at him. “I like tough, but hurtin’ little girls…”
She started to step away, and he reached out and grabbed her.
“No, no, no…beautiful, you gotta finish what you started,” he pleaded, glancing down at his obvious problem. “I swear, I didn’t touch the kid. Just the old man. It was a paid job…got a helluva wad of cash for it, too.”
She scoffed again, mentally warning me to stay put because she knew I was about two seconds from snapping at this slug for more information.
“Who paid you?” she asked him, licking her lips suggestively as her eyes drifted down to the front of his pants.
“Some baseball coach…I think he’s a writer now. Asshole now lives with the girl. Rumor has it, the kid’s worth millions,” he answered with a laugh.
Oh God, Edward, please tell me you’ve got enough, Tanya begged me. If I have to touch him anymore, I’ll gag.
“Yeah, finish him,” I growled, releasing the cold – and now twisted – metal of the dumpster from my hands. It had taken everything in me not to tear this animal apart.
Tanya leaned in, dragged her hand over the front of his pants, and whispered, “You’re really gonna have a nasty hangover tomorrow.” With that said, she pushed him just hard enough that the back of his skull collided with the unforgiving brick wall behind him, and he slid down to the concrete in a heap.
I could hear his heavy heartbeat, so I knew she’d merely knocked him out. She had me by the jacket and onto the sidewalk before I could blink.
“Leave him,” she ordered, lifting my hand where his knife was clenched. “You have evidence in your hand.”
My nostrils flared as I glared back into the dark alleyway, nodding slowly. “Thanks, Tanya. I’m not sure I could’ve—”
“Left him alive?” she asked with a bit of a laugh.
“Yeah,” I sighed, closing my eyes and leaning against the building behind me. “I owe you one.”
“Really?” she sang, grinning when I opened one eye at her when her thoughts turned carnal. “Shut up, Edward,” she chortled, shoving me a bit. “Go home. Tell your swan…she’s one lucky, lucky girl.”
Smirking her way, I nodded. “I will, though I think you have that backwards.” I glanced down at the knife still in its sheath, wondering if I had the weapon that had killed Charlie Swan. “Not sure what I’ll do with this…”
“Keep it,” she said, linking her arm with mine and guiding me toward the parking lot. “Maybe it’ll come in handy. You’re gonna kill his brother, aren’t you?”
I grunted, which turned into a long, low growl. “I don’t know. He’s definitely next on my list of people to talk to, but he’s proven…elusive. And he’s too close to Bella’s stepfather to hunt right now.”
“You’ll get him. The right time will make itself known,” she told me with a sad smile.
Once we arrived at my car, she hugged me. “Now…go home. I’ve still got hunting to do,” she taunted, raising her eyebrows up and down.
Waving that thought away, I laughed. “I don’t wanna know, Tanya. Really.”
She laughed. “One day…you will.”
Grinning, I rolled my eyes and waved, waiting until she’d disappeared into the shadows. I kind of felt sorry for the unsuspecting human male she’d end up with that night. The ache in my chest gave a dull throb, and I cranked my car, peeling out and heading toward Masen Manor. I missed my girl, and I couldn’t wait to see her.


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