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Smoke & Mirrors

CHAPTER one EDWARD


"Why are you here?" I heard the asshole ask Emmett again in a thick accent, as if we hadn't told him a million times, and I heard the sound of Em's laugh, despite the slap that preceded it. I glanced up at where my hands were bound to a pipe, tugging on it again. Smiling when rotten concrete showered down around me, I did it again. The bolts securing it were loosening, but not quickly enough, and I wasn't sure getting free would do me any fucking good, because there were three more assholes just on the other side of the door not to mention an entire fucking factory filled with armed men. They'd taken our weapons, shirts, and phones, separating us when we were questioned. "Fuck," I hissed, shaking my head at what should've been a simple fucking missing person case, but we'd fallen into something bigger. Eileen Vincent had contacted Gravity just a few days ago, practically begging us to help her find her husband, Frank, who was currently in China. She'd heard that we had no problem searching outside of the country for missing persons, which was something the local authorities and the American Embassy couldn't help her with. Frank was a doctor that preferred missionary work to the drab walls of a hospital. She'd offered us an ungodly amount of money to find him, because he should have contacted her, but she hadn't heard from him in a week. No one had seen him. He'd left the tiny little hospital just outside of Beijing to head back to his room for the night, and no one had seen him since. Emmett and I took the case, because Alice's intel seemed to scream kidnapping for money. The Vincents were extremely well off, but good people. They liked helping those in need, liked giving back, and were widely recognized for it. Dr. Vincent had even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize at one point for his dedication to cleaning up areas with poor or contaminated water supplies. The

man had worked all over the fucking world, but he'd run into trouble when he reached China. Once we'd started tracking the good doctor, we realized that he'd accidentally pissed off the wrong people some asshole businessman who'd watched The Godfather too many damn times, considered himself a mafioso, and was offended when his niece didn't make it through her emergency appendectomy. Chang had taken Frank hostage, which brought me to the cell I was currently in. We'd followed Vincent's trail to a small village, and that's when things went all wrong. Emmett had asked the wrong question the wrong way, and the Air Force tattoo on his upper arm had sent up alarms everywhere. We'd suddenly found ourselves surrounded, outnumbered, and out-fucking-gunned. We'd been accused of being murderers, rapists, and "stupid American soldiers." It was all bullshit, because it was Chang running shit in the area. He had a small fireworks factory in the village, and there wasn't a soul that lived there that didn't work for him, so they did anything he asked of them, which included taking the doctor, me, and Emmett prisoner. The metal door clanged open, and three men brought Emmett in. I sneered at his guards, but it morphed into a smirk when he fought all three of them. Despite his bound hands, Emmett swung his two fists around, knocking the smallest guy on his ass and ramming the next one into the concrete wall with his huge shoulders. In a split second, he had his large hands wrapped around the guy's neck, lifting him up off the ground. But it was the loud metallic click of an automatic weapon being engaged that caused him to freeze. "Let him go, Em," I sighed, rolling my eyes to the smallest guy, who slowly got up off the floor, only to give Emmett a quick jab to his side. His friend fell limply at Emmett's feet. "Their time will come." "You think so?" the gunman asked me, gesturing for his friends to tie Emmett back up to the pipes. "I know so," I spat at him. "You don't stand a fucking chance, little man," I taunted him. He fucking smiled, glancing up at my tied hands, and then down to his gun. "I've got the advantage," he noted. "And there are more of us..."

I smiled back. "Untie me and put that gun down. We'll be even, asshole. Then I'll show you who has the advantage," I chuckled, lunging at him just enough so that it took him off guard, and he stumbled back two steps, almost tripping over his own feet. Embarrassing his ass only earned me the butt of his gun rammed into my stomach at the same time that the metal doors clanged open again. "Motherfucker!" I growled, trying to catch my breath that the little prick had knocked out of me, but a sharp voice stopped my guard from swinging on me again. "Enough!" Chang said, strolling in, wearing a crisp, clean suit and a smug ass smile as two more armed men brought an unconscious Frank Vincent into the room. "We need them whole and unharmed," he stated. The doctor wasn't holding up as well as Emmett and I were. He looked wrecked, sick, and weak as they threw him into the opposite corner of our make-shift prison cell. "Aw, damn," Emmett sighed from beside me, shaking his head at how bad Vincent looked. "He doesn't look so good, Ed," he muttered, glancing up at me. I grimaced, but nodded, giving Chang a long look. "What do you want?" I asked, shifting my hands, because the metal was cutting into my skin. "What does anyone want?" he countered. "I want to move out of this little town. There's a building in Beijing that I need, and the doctor over there is going to bring in enough money for me to get it." "There's not an authority in the U.S. that will give into a kidnapper's demands, pal," I told him, shaking my head. "You're kinda fucked." I chuckled, because I knew for a fact that all calls to Eileen Vincent had to go through my wife's office first. "I've already spoken to Mrs. Vincent," he stated, waving me off. "In fact, her lawyer is on his way as we speak." "Lawyer?" Emmett murmured, raising an eyebrow at me.

I chuckled again, shaking my head. "Well, that should prove to be an interesting meeting, Chang. Did you happen to catch this laywer's name?" "Why do you care?" he asked, stepping closer to me. "I told you, asshole. We were hired to find Vincent, and we will walk out of here with him," I vowed to him, raising my eyebrow at him and tugging on my restraints some more. "Whether you're alive to see us do it... Well, that's yet to be seen," I taunted with a half-ass shrug. Chang laughed, looking to one of his goons and gesturing to me. "Shut him up," he commanded, and he grabbed my arm, looking at the ink there. "Cullen," he read my tattoo, his voice coming across as thoughtful, but he was grinning. "Mr. Cullen...you need to learn respect." The guard with the automatic rifle stepped forward, smiling like it was fucking Christmas. I lunged at him, and he fell for it again, only this time, he came back at me with the butt of the gun. After one hard jab to my stomach, he countered it with a smack to my face, causing my world to go dark.

"No, Daddy," Bethy begged. "I want to go wif you." "You can't, little sweetness," I sighed, falling down on the edge of the sofa and pulling her to my lap. "There's a man that's missing, and I've got to bring him home." Her nose scrunched up adorably as she studied my face. "How far?" "China," I replied, glancing up when Emmett appeared in the door, dropping his duffel bag to the floor. "I'll be back before you can miss me," I told her, but at five years old, Bethy was no longer as easily placated. In fact, she rolled her eyes at me, looking just like Bella, which caused both Emmett and me to chuckle at her. "I already miss you, Daddy," she sighed, folding her arms across her chest, like I was dumb for not realizing this shit.

"Me, too, baby," I breathed against her temple, pulling her into a hug. "You'll take care of Mommy and Samuel for me?" "Yeah," she said, grinning and biting down on her bottom lip. "Love you," she sang, grasping either side of my face and kissing my lips. "Be safe."

"Give Daddy his hat, handsome," Bella giggled, leaning up against my car as Emmett loaded the trunk with our bags. "Take, Da'ee," Samuel commanded softly, holding out his arms for me from his mother's embrace. He opened and closed one hand, while my baseball cap was firmly gripped in the other. "Thanks, buddy," I chuckled, taking my hat from him. He grinned up at me, showing off his new teeth, as he held his hand up for a high five, which I gladly gave, only to lean in tokiss his forehead. He grabbed at my face when I pressed my head tohis, simplyso I could take in the scent of clean kid, his mother, and just...home. "Hey," Bella whispered, looking up at me with worried, deep brown eyes that matched the one-and-a-half-year-old in her arms. "I'm going to miss you, you know." I chuckled, gliding the backs of my fingers up her cheek, only to slip them into her hair at the base of her neck. "I love you, sweetness." "Love you," she stated, and I could see that her eyes were filling with needless tears, because we just fucking hated to be apart. Unfortunately, I didn't feel comfortable bringing any of the girls this time. "We'll be right back. I promise." She sighed, pressing her lips roughly to mine. "Yeah, well...I've still loaded you and Em down with GPSchips, just in case. If I don't hear from you every day, we're coming to get you. Got me?" she snapped, but kissed me again before I could answer her.

"Yes, ma'am," I said with a small nod. "No one has my back like you do, love." She grinned, and it was beautiful and sweet, strong and no nonsense. "And don't you forget it, Mr. Cullen." "Yeah..." Samuel whispered, grinning up at me. "Don' forget."

I snapped awake, my arms now numb from being over my head so fucking long, but I shot a quick glance around me. Vincent seemed to be asleep, Emmett was watching me carefully, and guards paced just on the other side of the door. I couldn't tell whether it was night or day, and my head gave a dull throb when I tried to look around a bit more. "You haven't missed anything," Emmett whispered, giving the door a side glance. I nodded, swallowing as best I could without having anything to drink in two days. "They'll come," I rasped out. He chuckled darkly. "Oh, I know they will. I have a feeling that 'lawyer' is your dad." I huffed a short laugh. "I'm pretty sure you're right," I sighed, wincing as I shifted my arms again, because I was damned certain my hand was either badly sprained or fucking broken. "Bella said she'd call him if something went wrong." "This is as wrong as we could get," he barked a laugh, but I could see he was in a little pain. Because he was so fucking big, the assholes had attacked him first, hoping to take him out as a threat, but Emmett was a tough son of a bitch. He was smiling, but I still wanted to keep an eye on him. However, both our heads snapped to attention when alarms started to sound, pounding feet ran past the door, and loud voices called out to each other. It was all punctuated by sharp and rapid gunfire and an explosion so loud that it rocked the foundation of the cellar we were being held in, sending concrete dust showering down over our heads. The door slammed open, and three guards came barreling into the room, snatching Dr. Vincent up off the floor and carrying him out, not even bothering to look our way.

"Yup, your dad's here," Emmett muttered, smiling when another explosion wracked the factory. I laughed roughly, shaking my head. "Um...no. Bella's here. And it sounds like she's pissed."

BELLA
"We're going in dark and silent. Got me?" Carlisle confirmed in a rough voice, pulling off to the side of the narrow dirt road. "Alice, any changes?" he asked. "Nope, nope, nope," she chanted over our headsets as she sat in comfort back at the hotel room in Beijing, though her voice was rather subdued, because we'd all panicked when Edward and Emmett hadn't checked in for two days in a row me and Rose, especially. We'd brought her with us this time, because we wanted her online and accessible, which apparently, was perfect thinking. "Both chips are showing strong and still in the same place. You'll have to watch yourselves in that building, though. It's a fireworks factory, so it's nothing but..." "Gunpowder," we all groaned at the same time. "Well, that's just...fan-fucking-tastic," I sighed, shaking my head as I checked my weapons. "Pixie, send me a layout of that building." "Already on your phone, Bells," she countered. "There's a shit-ton of activity in that little village, guys, but the main concentration of it is around that factory. In fact, if you take the next side trail, you'll be able to pull up at the south end of the building near the woods." Carlisle followed her suggestion, killing the lights on the Land Rover as Jasper and Alec followed suit behind us. Once he'd stopped, we exited the cars, keeping to the shadows of the surrounding forest. I tugged one of Edward's black bags over my shoulder, checking to make sure I had an extra gun for him, ammo, and a few other supplies, including a first aid kit. Knowing Edward, I never went anywhere without it.

Mickey pulled up the layout of the building, and we both studied it together, the bills of our baseball caps touching. "Through the fence, you think?" she muttered, looking up at me, and then through the binoculars. I nodded, looking through the binoculars myself. "We've got a back door facing this way, and it's covered by...three guards and several armed men making rounds throughout the property." I took a deep breath and let it out slowly to calm either my temper or my nerves. All I wanted was my husband and Emmett back. I'd had the sickest of feelings when he'd called two days prior, letting me know that they were leaving the city of Beijing to check out a lead in a neighboring village. Something just hadn't felt right. Edward had explained all about this guy Chang, about a little girl that hadn't made it through surgery, and when Alice had pulled a background on him, it was nothing but one financial problem after another. My gut-wrenching suspicions were confirmed when Edward didn't call the next day to say good morning to his kids. Edward never missed a phone call to Bethy and Samuel when he was away from them. Ever. "Relax, sweetheart," Carlisle soothed, placing a warm hand on my shoulder. "We'll get him out," he whispered in my ear, taking the binoculars from me and scanning over the situation in front of us. "Jasper, I want you to get to that truck at the edge of the property and dig in. That should give you a clear shot of just about anything coming out the front of that building, because the rest of us are going in the back," he commanded, finally turning to us. Jasper spun his sniper rifle to his back in order to look at the layout in my hand. "You're gonna push them my way?" "I think we can," Alec chimed in softly, giving the building a long, slow study, only to turn to Carlisle. "It's a fireworks factory. The very sight of fire or smoke is going to send these assholes into a panic. We could...fake it."

"Flash discs?" Mickey suggested, digging around in the side pocket of her cargo pants, pulling out a handful of the small, but extremely useful weapons. They were about the size of a half-dollar, giving off a bright flash and pop to take the enemy by surprise. "They still set off a hefty spark," Carlisle mused, taking one from her and turning it slowly in his hand. "They'll still ignite that gunpowder if it touches it just right. But you might be right; the smoke alone will start them running." "Alice, how many are inside? And just where is that GPS signal?" I asked, not wanting to start any fucking fires anywhere near Edward and Emmett. I knew she'd been studying the thermal satellite images since we'd locked onto Edward's and Emmett's signals. "I'm looking at about twenty people, Bells," she answered immediately. "Some are concentrated around some of the machinery, and others are pacing up and down the corridor. Edward's signal is down that corridor. Last door at the end." "That's here...this end of the building," Mickey stated, pointing to the side of the factory closest to us, and then to the phone's screen. "If we hit this entry, this hallway, and this window, then we'll send them out the front door toward Jazz." "Corral them, you mean?" Carlisle verified, but he was already nodding slowly. "Fine. Keep all gunfire to a minimum, try not to blow us to hell, and stay low and quiet. Girls, you take that window and stay together. Alec and I will take the two doors. Jasper, get going." "Sir," we all answered, checking our weapons and breaking away from him. Mickey and I ran quickly at a crouch, skirting alongside the fence line and sticking as much to the shadows as possible, though I was pretty sure we couldn't be seen. We were both dressed in black, both small in stature, and we weren't making a sound. The fence wasn't really made for any security purposes, so Mickey was able to lift up on the barbed wire to allow me to crawl through, and I did the same for her, once on the other side. We paused behind a tree, making sure that Jasper was in place before continuing. Carlisle used silent signals to tell us he wanted us to all go in at the same time, using the flash discs as a big distraction.

Once we were on point outside the window, Mickey and I waited for Carlisle's go. Peeking inside the window, I noted that it was some sort of office, and it wasn't empty, which I was quick to show Mickey. She nodded, a small smile creeping up her face, because we could see exactly who it was. Chang. "We've got Chang," she barely breathed over the radio. "Take him out," Carlisle ordered softly, crouching down just outside the door he was about to enter. "From what I've heard, he's a tyrant in the area. Look around you. My Chinese contacts hate him. In fact, they've asked me to use this opportunity to take care of this shit." It didn't shock me that Carlisle had called on some old business contacts to inquire about Chang. It shocked me even less that he was stepping back into an old role to do this, especially since his son was involved. My eyes took in the area, and even though it was the middle of the night, I could tell that the small village was repressed. Crops were meager and withering, homes were shabby and falling apart, and the livestock was too thin almost emaciated. He was starving these people, yet he looked quite fat and happy. "Fucker," I muttered, a sneer curling up my top lip. "Can we please get our boys? On you, Carlisle." He snickered softly, most likely at my sharp tone. "This will be loud and fast. On me... Go!" Mickey took the butt of her rifle and swung it hard toward the glass, shattering it instantly. I clicked the flash disc and tossed it into the room, and we turned our faces away in order to avoid getting the brief blindness that came along with the loud pop that echoed three times throughout the building. A tinny, sad sounding alarm broke out as Mick and I dove into the window. Two guards flew through the office door, and I took them both out, my shots ringing loud in my ears in the small space. I spun to see that Chang was making a run for it down the hall. "Fuck," I groaned, rolling my eyes. "Chang's loose," I stated over the radio, though I could hear that Alec

and Carlisle had their own issues to contend with. Commands were shouted left and right in Chinese down the hallways and in English over our headsets, and we paused to give the corridor a brief glimpse, ducking back into the office. "Okay," Mickey started, "so we've got four doors before the end. Alice, talk to us." "Behind those four doors, you've got eleven warm bodies," Alice answered immediately. "Three of them are in the last room. That's the boys and most likely Dr. Vincent." "Hmm, so eight against two, huh?" I mused, pulling Edward's extra Glock out of my bag and engaging it. "Those are decent odds," Mickey chortled, giving me her wickedly sarcastic grin and a wink. I laughed silently, rolling my eyes, but nodded. "We've certainly dealt with more, Mick. Ready?" "Yup," she answered, pulling out a small grenade. "Since we're away from the factory part..." Her voice trailed off at my nod. She pulled the pin, saying, "Fire in the hole," over the radio, and Alec and Carlisle acknowledged back. She bowled it perfectly down the hall so that it came just shy of the door we needed to protect, but right smack in the middle of the doors we wanted to open. We wanted them to panic, needed them to burst out of the rooms in which they were hiding in order to shoot them like fish in a barrel. And it worked. The rumbling explosion shook the building, sending bits of wall, doors, and floor shooting past us. "Let's go. Let's go," I snapped, pointing both guns out in front of me and taking down three men as they flew out the first room. Mickey took the next two. I could barely see the end of the corridor through the

smoke and debris, but there was movement. "Bells, Mick... You've got three coming out of that last room, and it looks like they're carrying a fourth," Alice piped in helpfully over the radio. "Go, go, go," Mickey hissed, and we ran up the last half of the hallway. Dr. Frank Vincent looked unconscious as two men held him, while the third was raising his weapon. Mickey and I came at him so quickly and quietly, he didn't have a chance to react. I pressed the muzzle of my nine mil to his temple, pointing Edward's Glock toward the other two men. "Drop your weapons. All of you," I ordered, not knowing whether they could understand English or not, but I was pretty sure they were getting the idea, because two automatic rifles and a revolver hit the dusty floor, especially when I pulled back on the hammers of my guns, barking the order again. Mickey caught Dr. Vincent just as Alec and Carlisle came around the corner. She eased the older man to the floor, checking his pulse. "We've got these assholes, Bellissima," Alec said, gripping two men by their shirts and shoving them down the hallway, while Carlisle took the other. "Mickey, stay with him," Carlisle ordered, jerking his chin toward Vincent. "Bella, find those boys." "There's still three warm bodies in that last room," Alice advised, "but it looks like the rest of that factory is emptying out." The door wasn't completely closed, so I nudged it open in order to peek inside. I groaned internally when I saw a small flight of steps leading down into what looked like a basement or a boiler room, because ever since Miller had taken me captive, basements made me extremely uncomfortable. I glanced back to Mickey, but she was trying her best to stem the flow of a cut on Dr. Vincent's forehead. She was whispering softly and kindly to him, and all he could do was nod. Taking a deep breath, I pushed the door open just a little more. A voice with a thick Chinese accent echoed up from below, and I took the steps at a crouch, one by one, both my guns at the ready.

"Whoever is here for you is too late," Chang said, strolling slowly from left to right. I couldn't see the boys, but I smirked when Emmett chuckled wearily. "Sure, big dude. Then why do you look so fucking scared?" he asked, continuing to laugh. I slowly took another step down, and Edward and Emmett came into my vision. My heart clenched at the sight of them, imprisoned with their arms shackled to what looked like water pipes above their heads. It was all I could do not to rush to them, but Chang was waving a handgun around and looked to be quite on edge. One more step down, and I was on the concrete floor. And it was Edward that saw me first, shooting me a sweet, cocky wink, despite the gun in his face. I rolled my eyes at him, bringing both guns up and taking another step closer to Chang. "Not scared. Under pressure," Chang replied, reaching into his pocket. "I've got to burn this room before your friends get here." "Won't fucking happen," Edward stated nonchalantly, glaring at his captor, and I wanted to smack him for his smugness, because nestled in the corner of the room were a few old boxes of fireworks, not to mention the furnace behind me. The room was a giant explosion waiting to happen, and I was pretty sure Chang knew that. "I told you we'd fucking walk out of here with Vincent, and we will still walk out of here with him." Emmett shifted, finally seeing me, and he fought his smile and barely won. Flickering his eyes above, he struggled against his restraints, causing the pipes to pull away from the ceiling just a little. My eyebrows raised and I nodded, knowing what he was trying to tell me. I stepped silently up behind Chang. Both hammers on my guns clicked loudly behind Chang's ear, and he froze, beginning to turn around. "Drop the gun," I ordered, and the fact that it was a woman's voice must have shocked him, because at that point, he spun around, his eyes wide. But he still hadn't dropped what looked to be Edward's Glock. "I said drop it." Chang tossed the gun at my feet, and I kicked it behind me, sending it skittering across the floor.

"Hey, sweetness," Edward sang, at the same time Emmett boomed, "Hey, Bellsy." "Hello, boys," I said back, fighting my smile at their overly sweet tones. "We got a little worried, you know. So...I thought we'd just come check on you. We didn't get a chance to give you all the info on this guy." Edward chuckled low, deep, and sexy, shaking his head. "I bet. Do tell, Bella." In my ear, Carlisle's voice commanded, "Keep him talking, Bella. I'll take him from you. We've got military police heading this way... We've got to go." I wanted to answer him, but I couldn't. And I knew for a fact that both Edward and Carlisle never wanted me to assassinate someone. Shooting in defense was one thing, but Carlisle and Edward would rather put the responsibility on themselves, not me. "This guy is small time...a thug and a bully," I continued, poking Chang in the forehead with the muzzle of my nine mil and tapping my ear so that they knew I was listening in to Carlisle. "And he's broke. So he saw Dr. Vincent as a paycheck. It most likely has nothing to do with his niece, considering that Chang here is estranged from his brother." I smiled up at a very upset Chang. "We should leave you to the locals. Do they know that you can't pay them? Because I bet if they knew you were the reason their families were about to go hungry, I wouldn't need these." I waved my guns just a bit. "I didn't do anything wrong," Chang said, changing direction on me. "I merely was protecting the honor of my family." "Ah, yes...family," I said with a sneer. "You mean the daughter you sold on the black market, because you wanted a son, instead?" That alone caused Edward to jerk in his restraints, his face glowering with black fury. Emmett kicked him to get him to calm down. Chang paled, his mouth falling open in shock at what I knew, but with Alice, not much could stay hidden. "Who are you?" he asked, shifting on his feet a little. I smiled and shrugged. "Someone you should've never fucked with," I said, using one of Edward's old lines, which caused him to grin and shake his head. "Now...have a seat." I kept one gun pointed to his head, while the other gestured to the floor by a post. "Move. Now."

"Coming in, Bells," Mickey stated, softly coming down the stairs. Her automatic rifle was at the ready, but her teasing smirk at the boys hanging from the ceiling was hard to miss. "Oh, damn," she chuckled, rolling her eyes at the glares they were giving her. Before Chang sat down, his arm shot out, a lighter lit in his hand. It was one of those metal military ones, where it didn't need to be in-hand to stay lit. He threw it toward the back of the room, but his aim was off, because Edward's legs were suddenly around the man's neck. My husband had used the pipes above him to pull himself up. "Mick, the lighter!" I ordered, pointing across the room. She dove for the small flame, because it was mere inches away from the stack of fireworks in the corner. Chang was struggling against Edward's hold, but with one graceful twist of his body, Chang fell to the floor limply. "Damn, baby. Did you break his neck?" I asked, bending down to check for a pulse and finding a faint one. "No, but I could have," Edward answered gruffly, righting his feet back down on the floor and looking like pure muscle and strength and power as his upper body flexed with the motion and his biceps bulged. "He's just unconscious." "Guys!" Jasper called over the radio. "We've got company comin' down the road. We've got to go!" Mickey and I looked at each other, and then to Carlisle and Alec, who were rumbling down the steps. "The doctor is loaded up in the car," Alec said as he and Carlisle yanked Chang up. "You okay, boys?" Carlisle asked, eying his son and Emmett as he shoved an awakening Chang toward the stairs. "Yeah, Dad," Edward groaned, but looked to Emmett, who was nodding. "Girls, get them down. We've got to get the fuck out of here." Carlisle's voice was brusque, but it was because he was about to take care of the asshole in front of him that Alec was currently threatening with a low, smooth voice.

"Get your ass up the stairs, Chang," Alec muttered, pointing his gun to the man's head. "There are some people that want to see you." Mickey walked to Emmett, eying the cuffs at the same time that I finally was able to give Edward the once-over. He looked tired, but aside from the cuffs cutting into his wrists, he seemed relatively unharmed. Dragging a box over by Emmett's feet, Mickey pulled out a handcuff key to unlock him. "You okay?" I asked Edward, cupping his face and making his gaze lock with mine. "I'm fine," he sighed, smirking down at me. "Thanks for coming." I chuckled, rolling my eyes and shaking my head. "Like I wouldn't. That was the plan, right? If I didn't hear from you for forty-eight hours, I was to come to you?" I verified, and he nodded, shifting uncomfortably as we waited for Mickey to finish helping Emmett. Mick kicked the box my way and tossed the handcuff key at me, and I stood up on it, looming over my husband. "These fingers look broken," I noted softly. "Maybe," he sighed, gazing up at me with sweet, warm green eyes. "Just...get me down, sweetness," he ordered softly. "Please?" he tacked onto the end with a chuckle. I grinned at his beautiful mix of sweet and commanding something that always drove me crazy when he'd first rescued me from Riley Miller, but that now turned me on completely. "I don't know," I sang softly in his ear, starting to unlock the cuffs anyway. "You're kinda fucking hot all tied up and at my mercy here, handsome." Which he was...utterly delicious. He was totally rugged and dirty, sweaty and flexed in a way that turned me on to no end. It didn't help that he exuded pure confidence, despite the circumstances. "We can test that out later, love," he crooned up at me, dragging his nose along my neck, which just happened to be right in front of his face as I worked the restraints off of him. Opening his mouth to my skin, he murmured softly,

causing chills to break out along my neck and arms. "But turnabout is fair play, Bella." His voice was smooth and thick, with a touch of huskiness to it. "Would you like that?" I laughed once, and I noticed a small moan escaped me at the same time, which caused Edward to chuckle low and sexy. His eyes, despite how tired they looked, gazed up at me with naughtiness, pure love, and respect, but also with a deadly carnal gleam. It was truly funny how we could lose ourselves in the most desperate of moments, because we needed to get the hell out of that factory. "Maybe," I teased, rubbing his arms and lowering them slowly. "Keep rubbing them, baby," I told him, hopping down from the box I was standing on and reaching into my bag. "You've got to get the blood flowing again." He did what I told him, and I tugged out an extra black tshirt, holding it out for him. Walking across the room, I picked up his Glock and disengaged it. He tugged on his shirt, and his wince did not go unnoticed as he pulled it down over his taut stomach. I could imagine that his arms were achy, but those fingers looked downright painful. "We gotta go, Edward," I told him, handing him his weapon and an earpiece; he tucked the latter into his ear immediately. "I'll look at that hand in the car, okay?" "Okay," he said, but leaned into kiss my temple sweetly. "Sorry shit went to hell." "Just glad you're all right," I sighed the pure truth as we ran up the stairs, where Mickey and Emmett were waiting for us. "And that we got Dr. Vincent back. He should be okay." "Guys?" Carlisle called over the radio. "Sir," we answered automatically. "You can come out the front. And stand down," he ordered in a voice that sounded calm. We did as he'd asked, exiting out the front of the factory to see a shit-ton of men milling about the front of the property. Carlisle was standing off to the

side, speaking to an Asian gentleman, who was wearing a suit. They were laughing together and shaking hands. The rest of the men around the building were wearing military garb. They were loading Chang into the back of an SUV, and they weren't being gentle about it. "Okay there, kid?" Alec asked as we came to stand beside him. "Em?" "Yeah, we're good," Edward replied, eying the whole property. "Who is that guy?" "Lee," Jasper answered with a shrug of one shoulder. "Apparently, Chang has owed him money for too long. And your dad knows his dad or some shit." We all paused, but it was Alice that explained over our earpieces. "Twi Tech owns a few subsidiary companies in Beijing. Lee's father managed them for Charlie for years. Now, Lee's son does it for Carlisle. That fireworks factory has been losing money for the past year and a half," she rattled off quickly. "In fact, that's how Mrs. Vincent found out about Gravity, because she and her husband have attended charity functions with Twi Tech for years." "Is there anything Twi Tech doesn't own?" Mickey asked wryly, smirking at our chuckles. "I've found that the answer to that...is no," Edward replied, rolling his eyes, but wincing when he reached up to tug off his baseball cap. "Sit," I ordered softly, tugging open my bag at my hip. "Let me see that hand, baby." I looked to Emmett, who was swiping at a cut above his eye. "You, too. Sit." Both men sat on the back tailgate of our rental SUV as Carlisle called Jasper, Alec, and Mickey over to help unload some supplies that Lee had apparently brought to the people of the village. Not only were we taking out a problem by removing Chang's influence, but we were helping out hungry people at the same time. Using what I had, I splinted Edward's hand, wrapping it from the tips of his left fingers, all the way to just inside his elbow. It wasn't great work, but it would do for a temporary fix.

"Better?" I asked him. "I don't think they're broken, but keeping them straight will keep the pain down." "It's perfect, sweetness," he chuckled, kissing my fingers. "I'm sure I've been worse off." With a kiss to Edward's forehead, I turned to Emmett, cleaning the wound just above his eye and butterflying it carefully. "Okay, Em?" I asked, making sure he was all right. "It's all good, Bellsy," he said with a wink and a kiss to my cheek. "Thanks for the rescue. I'd better call Rosie," he murmured, asking for my phone. I giggled, rolling my eyes and ducking his hand when he tried to ruffle my hair, despite my cap, but my eyes fell to the back of the SUV at Dr. Vincent. He was weak, but didn't seem to be injured other than a few bruises and scratches here and there. "He needs water, Bella," Edward said, kissing the side of my head once he and Emmett stood up. "They roughed him up pretty badly, but they needed him in one piece." "Gotcha," I sighed, reaching into my bag and pulling out a bottle of water. "I'll take care of him. Go help your dad so we can get the hell out of here. Okay? You're little soldiers were kinda pissed when I left." Edward grinned, his cheeks tinging a touch pink at the mention of Bethy and Samuel, and I couldn't help but smile up at him, because he was nothing if not the best dad. "Yes, ma'am," he said, smacking at Emmett's shoulder. "We're on it." I snickered once, watching them walk away, and then turned back to the doc, who seemed to be coming around. "Hey, Dr. Vincent," I said, soothing him when he jerked awake suddenly. "You're okay. My name's Bella." I crawled into the back seat beside him, opening the bottle of water. "Here. Drink this slowly." He drank a little, sputtering when he overdid it, but nodded when he'd had enough. "Thank you," he sighed, looking weary and scared.

"You can relax now," I told him, smiling slightly and checking the bruise next to his eye. He was an older gentleman, with sun-bronzed skin and wise gray eyes. "Your wife sent us..." "Eileen!" he gasped, trying to sit up, but he was rather weak. "Easy. She's fine, and we'll get you back to her soon, okay?" I consoled him, easing him back against the seat again. "She told me to tell you that retirement was eminent." He cracked a real, honest smile, even though his eyes were closed, and I chuckled at him. "She may be right this time," he snickered softly, cracking one eye open to look at me. "Thanks, Bella." I smirked and nodded. "Mmhm...now relax for me. You're safe now."

EDWARD
"Elizabeth Renee, why on Earth do you insist on dictating Samuel's every move?" Bella sighed exasperatedly into the phone, her head thumping to the hotel widow as the lights of the city at night shone around her like an angel's halo. Her eyes snapped up to meet mine as I came out of the bathroom. "Daddy told you to do what?" My eyebrows shot up, because there was no telling what my daughter was about to rat me out on. Bella pulled her phone away from her ear, turning on the speaker. "Daddy s-said to t-take c-care of y-you and S-Sammy while he was g-gone," she sputtered adorably, and I smirked, because she only stuttered when she thought she was in big trouble. "Yes, he may have," my wife said, her eyes narrowing on me as I walked across the room to the window seat she was sitting in. "However, I'm sure that forcing him to play with you and Abby was not what Daddy meant. Samuel doesn't always want to play house...and he definitely doesn't want to lay in a baby crib while you two play dress up."

I grinned, shaking my head. "Little sweetness, give your brother a break, will ya?" I chuckled, sitting down next to Bella on the cushions. "D-Daddy," she groaned, and I could just imagine her huff and eye roll. "B-But we n-need a b-baby...C-Caleb is the dad." I could very well imagine the gender war that had ensued while poor Esme was babysitting. "Bethy, boys don't always want to play house. Let them do their own thing." A loud, dramatic sigh sounded through the phone, and Bella smiled up at me, shaking her head. "Even it out, baby. Play what they want sometimes, too. Okay?" she asked, picking up my now unwrapped hand to check out my fingers. "Yeah, but..." "No. No yeah buts," Bella and I said at the same time. "Ooookay," Bethy finally conceded over the phone, dragging the word out. "When are you coming home?" she asked, changing the subject beautifully. "Our flight is in the morning," Bella answered her, "so we won't see you until the next night. We'll pick you up on Saturday night. Be good for Gamma, okay? Try not to drive her crazy." Bethy giggled, a sound that was too cute and a touch naughty, if I were to be honest. And I couldn't decide just exactly who she sounded like more in that moment me or her mother. "I won't," she laughed. "But I miss you. Hurry. You pwomised the park, Daddy." "I did," I agreed. "And when we get home, we'll all go. How's that?" "Yay!" she cheered, babbling to whoever was in the room with her. After "I love yous" and "be safes," Bethy was a little better on the phone, and we hung up. Bella set it down beside her and picked up my hand again. "How's it feel?" she asked softly, gently caressing my middle and ring finger. "They're a little swollen."

"Like they did when I jammed them playing baseball," I chuckled, shrugging. I made a fist, though it was a little painful, and then wiggled my fingers. "Sprained, baby. I'll live." She smiled up at me, leaning in to kiss my cheek. "Good. Can't have them out of commission for long, Mr. Cullen. I'm rather fond of those hands specifically those fingers," she giggled, letting out a sweet squeak when I suddenly pulled her to my lap. She was just fucking beautiful as she loomed over me, wearing nothing but the hotel's silk robe. Her hair was still a little damp from her shower, her skin glowing in the soft light from lamp on the bedside table. Cupping my face, she pressed her forehead to mine and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath when my hands ghosted softly up and down her back over the silky material, finally landing on her sweet ass. "Good thing I'm right handed, huh?" I chuckled, nuzzling her nose up one side and down the other and giving her ass a light squeeze as I leaned back against the window. "I prefer you...ambidextrous." Her smile was wicked and sexy, but totally honest. I laughed, and it felt fucking good to have her in my arms again, even though this last mission was tame in comparison to some other things we'd been through. Leaning in just a little, I kissed her softly, relishing the taste of her, the sweet sigh that always rushed out against the skin of my cheek. Pulling back, I said, "Th-Thank y-you f-for c-coming to g-get m-me," my stutter emerging because her warm gaze was slowly unraveling me. I wanted her right there in that window for all of fucking China to see, though we were high enough that it would've been impossible for anyone to be watching. "Were you scared?"

"No," I sighed deeply, playing with the belt on her robe. "I was pissed off for allowing us to get ambushed, but I knew the plan. I just had to wait." "He could have killed you," she countered, watching my hands as I finally pulled the belt off and let it fall to the floor behind her. I let the robe hang loosely against her skin, licking my lips when her nipples peaked hard and tight. "Chang's fear of American soldiers kept him from killing us, because he wasn't quite sure what we were," I explained to her, tracing my nose over each silk covered breast. "He was afraid of retribution if he'd killed two American military men in cold blood. However, I'm not sure he was prepared for a pissed off wife." She grinned, and a small giggle burst from her. "His face was priceless when he realized a woman was holding two guns to his head." I nodded slowly, and suddenly, I was done with talk of Chang, my weariness disappearing. Skimming my fingers down either side of her face to her neck, I gently slipped the robe off her shoulders. It pooled silently onto the floor. The only thing that was between us was the towel from my shower. Shamelessly, I ogled my wife, because she was fucking stunning. She was perfect to me, despite old scars that she didn't even give a second thought to anymore. She continued to work out, sparring with Kurt, so she was in excellent shape, no matter that she'd had two beautiful children. Bella was soft curves, strong muscles, and breasts that were full and made my fingers twitch to touch them, which I did. I wrapped my left arm all the way around her waist, bringing her smooth, warm skin in delicious contact with mine, while I flattened my right hand in order to feel all over her at once the curve of her back, the side of her breast, her heart beating heavily, and the sweet dimples just above her ass. She whimpered when my pinky slipped just barely between her cheeks. "We're in the window, Edward," she

whispered, nipping softly at my lips. "Someone could see..." "Fuck them," I rumbled, tracing my fingers up her body and pausing just long enough to brush my thumb across her tightly peaked nipple. "You're beautiful, and they should see who you belong to," I said, my voice taking on a huskiness I couldn't control. A small smile flickered across her face, and she hummed against my lips. It was all I could do not to kiss her fucking senseless, but she seemed to be holding back. "Perhaps I don't want to show off what's mine," she countered, and then suckled lightly on my bottom lip, letting it fall from her mouth sexily. I grinned and shrugged one shoulder, not giving two shits who saw me. I was owned by the girl in my arms and had been since the moment I'd scooped her up off of Miller's table. Giggling softly at my silly ass smile, Bella reached around to capture my hands in hers. She pushed them up until they were pressed against the glass. "And perhaps... I still want you at my mercy..." "Sweetness, don't you know?" I chuckled darkly, rolling my hips against her heat and moaning when my towel loosened, "I'm always at your mercy." Lightly scratching her nails down my arms, she threaded one into my hair, while the other snaked down to finally rid us of my towel. I took the opportunity to put my hands back on her, slipping one up the side of her neck to bring her mouth to mine. I couldn't hold back from her anymore. She was wet and hot grinding against me, her hand taking a firm grip of my cock. Gripping her ass with my pain-free hand, I jerked her closer at the same time her thumb swirled over the head of my heavily leaking dick. Tongues swirled and teeth nipped, and it was comfortable, it was home, and it was never fucking enough. Claiming her with long slow strokes of my tongue, I started to writhe underneath her, finally breaking away from her sweet mouth to kiss down her neck, because I was so fucking hard for her. "In this fucking window or on that damn bed, baby... Tell me," I practically growled against the flesh of her neck as her head fell back. "I'm going to take

you hard no matter what," I warned her, which only resulted in the best of wicked smiles. "Here," she commanded, and I flipped her onto her back, looming over her and settling into the cradle of her strong thighs. She laughed at the quick movement, her head falling back against the pillows stacked behind her in that window seat, and I couldn't help but smile against her neck as I let my body finally line up with hers, because her laugh was the best of sounds. And fuck, if she wasn't soaked for me. "Oh, sweetness...so very wet," I crooned, dragging my lips along her jaw, only to tease her lips with my tongue. "Tied up was very hot on you, Edward," she purred, biting down sexily on that bottom lip of hers, but her body rolled in a gorgeous wave of want and lust when my hand skimmed down her side and stomach to the apex of her legs. "Oh God, yes..." she breathed in shock, her eyes rolling back when I slipped my uninjured fingers through her saturated folds. "Did you think I couldn't touch you?" I asked, pressing my forehead to hers just to watch her struggle to answer me when I slid deep inside of her. Curling my fingers just right, I grinned when my name burst out of her in a breathy rush. "Oh, my Bella... You should know pain is the furthest thing from my mind right now..." Her breath caught when my thumb brushed across her clit just right. "Oh, so close...so soon..." She shook her head, pulling at my hand. "You, baby. I want you..." Never wanting to deny her anything, I pulled my fingers from her, only to lift her leg into the crook of my arm. I lined up with her entrance and slipped slowly inside of her as deeply as I could, both of us moaning at the complete and utter feel of just...perfection. "You wanted hands...now you want my cock?" I asked her, pulling out only to thrust back into her. "Such a demanding pussy, baby..." "I want all of you," she countered, her fingers digging into my back and my ass and her leg wrapping around my hip. "Mm, my needy girl," I rumbled in her ear, nipping at her earlobe as I thrust hard into her over and over.

Bella was so damned beautiful, and it didn't matter that we'd been married for going on six years. It didn't matter that we worked together just about every day or had two adorable kids. When we were alone like this, it always felt new and perfect, fulfilling and just as hot as the first time I'd kissed her all fire, lust, and unending want. I used to think it was how we'd started, having to take things so very slowly, having to measure progression with each touch, but I'd thrown that theory away years ago, because by now, I was convinced it was just...us. Her insides clenched down hard on me as her hips met me thrust for thrust. "Edward..." "Sweetness, come for me," I begged her softly in her ear. "I want you all night long..." It didn't take long for her body to obey that command, though she was damned close to begin with, and she shattered hard around me, causing my own stumble into the abyss with her. The sound of hips meeting hips and heavy breathing filled the hotel room. Curses and our names pushed out against sweaty skin as our bodies pulsated, her sweet pussy milking me for all I had. "Mm, all night?" Bella purred, her hands gliding over my back and up my arms. I grinned at the post-coital bliss that was practically radiating off of her. "Indeed," I said against her lips. "No kids waking up early. No having to keep the noise down..." She smiled lazily, dragging her tongue along her bottom lip. "And we can sleep on the plane..." I chuckled, nodding slowly. "And we can sleep on the plane," I repeated in a whisper. The giggle that erupted from her was sweet, though filled with a sexy, deep tone. "Then it seems, Mr. Cullen...that I am at your mercy."

CHAPTER two BELLA


"You might as well just stay, sweetie," Esme snickered softly as we took in the living room of the penthouse apartment in Twi Tech. "Yeah," I sighed with a stupid ass grin creeping up my face. "He's exhausted, really, but he missed them." Stretched out on the sofa, Edward was draped in sleepy kids. Our plane had been late taking off, so we'd landed in Seattle just before bedtime, but he'd insisted on seeing them and had asked Esme to keep them awake until we got to Twi Tower. Samuel was on the right side of his chest, a heavy, protective arm wrapped around the chubby, twitching baby boy, and Bethy was on his right, gripping her daddy's t-shirt in one tiny fist. They'd attacked him with kisses and stories, wrestled with him, and then all fallen asleep after Edward had eaten a late dinner. "Then leave them be," she chuckled, kissing the side of my head. "What about you?" "I'm okay. I slept on the plane," I said, fighting my smile, because Edward had held true to his word. He'd kept me up all night at the Beijing hotel, and my whole body felt every minute, every touch still. Lowering the volume on the TV, Esme and I left the room, but not before I took a picture on my phone, because my little family was too sweet for words. I'd peel the kids off of him in a bit, but for now, they looked just blissful, and it hurt to imagine breaking that up at the moment, so we left them to find Carlisle quietly at work on his laptop at the kitchen table. "Honey, you can work tomorrow," Esme chided gently, patting his shoulder on the way to the cupboards. "I'm sure the world will survive eight hours without you."

He grinned up at her. "It's not that, Es," he chuckled. "I had to postpone a meeting until Monday... You know...some rescue thing..." He waved a nonchalant hand toward me, rolling his eyes. I chuckled, kicking at his foot when I sat down next to him. "Shut it. He's your son. He'd have come for you!" "And you would have gone without me, too," he countered with a raised eyebrow. "But it's fine. Chang had been a problem for some time. We actually killed two birds with one stone." "Small world," I muttered, taking the hot cup of tea Esme was handing me. "Not really," Carlisle stated with a shrug. "Mrs. Vincent is greatly involved in Twi Tech charities. It's how she knew to use Gravity to find Frank. In fact, she's one of the biggest contributors to the homeless shelter we built with Preacher." "Oh, okay," I said, taking a sip of tea. "And she's been pushing her husband to open a free clinic in the neighborhood, though he may actually finally consider it after what happened in China," Carlisle chuckled. "She may have enough ammunition to convince him." I grinned, remembering the doctor's sweet smile at the mention of his wife's message that he needed to retire. "Well, maybe he won't have to retire after all," I chirped, shrugging a shoulder and glancing over at his computer. My eyebrows shot up at the info on the screen. "You know Kyra Bailey?" I asked him, my mouth hanging open at the thought that he knew one of the most popular singers on the radio. "Who? Her?" he verified, pointing to his screen, and I nodded, probably looking a lot like Bethy at the moment. "No... No, I don't, but I'm scheduled to meet with her Monday. Her agent contacted me a month or so ago, because Twi Tech just bought the record label that promotes her. She wanted to make sure that the studio was still booked to record her new album. Apparently, they want to take her in some 'new direction.'" Carlisle used air quotes and rolled his eyes at the same time. "Shut up," I chuckled, spinning the computer around to look at her.

She was a stunning woman, with the voice of an angel, but could also work the crowd into a frenzy. She was a mix between a pop diva that made millions dollars and had the same amount of rabid fans, a drama queen that was always in the tabloids doing something or someone famous, and a flawless performer. She'd started as a child star, but had morphed into something more as the years progressed. She'd earned some respect by playing in a film or two, winning an Oscar and countless other awards, and for her constant charity work all over the world. If I'd had to guess, she was probably about my own age thirty-one with a beautiful head of deep auburn hair and porcelain skin. "She's very pretty, sweetheart," Esme huffed, but the taunting gleam in her eye was a dead giveaway that she was just messing with him. "Well, go on, Biggie C," I teased him, standing up from the table and kissing his forehead. "Are you gonna start wearing baggy pants and shit, too?" "Hell, no!" he grumped, poking my side. "I've known Teri Foley for years...the girl's agent. I'm merely sitting in on this meeting. Solstice Music was about to lose Kyra Bailey, until Twi Tech stepped in and bought them out. They're hoping working in Seattle will be a better experience than Los Angeles." Esme and I chuckled at how put-out he sounded, not to mention how pink his cheeks had turned at my teasing. "Go to your room," he growled, pointing down the hall. "Ha-ha. You think you're funny, Dad," I chuckled, because the penthouse we were currently in used to belong to my father, Charlie, and my old room now belonged to Bethy. Edward and I had taken the room next to it, and Samuel usually stayed with us. "That's it, I'm stealing my kids back tomorrow. You're officially on Poppy restrictions." "Oh, no. Wait," he gasped, looking generally disappointed. "What about the park?" I giggled, because he spoiled my kids endlessly and never missed a thing. "Fine, tomorrow afternoon at the park. The whole crew is coming."

"Excellent," he beamed, rubbing his hands together. I rolled my eyes at the man, because he was an enigma. He could command a small army in another country in order to save his son and Emmett, or he could play endlessly with his grandchildren and never tire of it. "Perfect," I told him with a nod. "You can bring dessert." After setting my tea cup in the sink, scooping Bethy up out of her father's arms and putting her in her own room without even rousing her, I knelt beside my two boys. God, they were so beautiful together, a clone of one another. Long eyelashes rested against cheeks, pouting lips pursed in sleep, and dark hair with reddish highlights stuck up everywhere. With caresses to Edward's sleeprelaxed face, sweet green eyes opened up to me. "Let me have him, baby," I whispered, gently taking a slumbering Samuel into my arms and laying him on my shoulder. "Let's go to bed, huh?" Edward nodded wearily, blinking awake just enough to stand up from the sofa and walk down the hall to our room. I settled Samuel in the middle of the bed between us and crawled in after kissing both of my handsome men. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

The park was packed the next day with families cooking out, kids on the playground, and balls and Frisbees in the air. We'd taken over a small corner by some trees, but not too far from the playground, because it was all the kids could focus on especially Bethy and Abby. Carlisle and Esme were on their way, but Jasper, Edward, Alec, and Emmett were manning the grill. All my girls, including Sarah, were camped out on a picnic table as close to the playground as we could get in order to keep an eye on them.

"So I found a place in Forks," Mickey muttered quietly at my side, spinning her soda can in her hands nervously. I wrinkled my nose, because I'd known this was coming for the last few months. She and Obie just couldn't see eye to eye on some things, which had resulted in her moving out of Aunt Kate's. "I thought you had an apartment in Seattle, Mickey," Rose sighed sympathetically, having heard her. In fact, the whole table came to a standstill. "Sold it. Last year," she said, glancing around the table, her eyes finally landing on me. "Obie just won't budge on this, Bells. I think it's why we never got married." "He's really good with Bethy, Caleb, and Samuel when we all go up there," Alice noted, shaking her head. "I don't get why he doesn't want kids." "Yeah, he loves teaching Bethy about the horses," Makenna piped up, her brow furrowing as she shook her head slowly. "He says he doesn't know how to be a dad," Mickey practically growled, and her temper could be seen rising to the surface over something that was obviously still a touchy subject. "You know, because he and Tom were abandoned and shit." I glanced over at Edward, knowing that playing devil's advocate was going to be hard, but Obie had a point. "Mick, he has to be ready, or it won't work," I told her, and all the women at the table nodded with me. "I don't think Obie's giving himself enough credit, but maybe this...break will help him see. What does Aunt Kate say?" "Oh, she's pissed," Mickey laughed, swiping at a tear she'd never want anyone to see, especially the boys. "She told me that she'd talk to him, but to go, just to teach him a lesson. I'm not sure why it's such a big deal, but it is." It was a big deal if you truly knew Mickey. She had no family. None. Her father had died when she was just a teen, and then all three of her older brothers were taken from her on September 11, 2001. I could see how she would want a

family, want children of her own, because she was alone, otherwise. We all claimed her as a sister and the kids all called her Aunt Mickey, but I could see that she really wanted something she could truly call her own, something that was connected to her by blood. "Alec didn't know what he was doing, and he's a great dad," Sarah pointed out, shrugging one shoulder. "But Alec wanted it," I sighed, tucking an unruly stray curl behind Mickey's ear. "Edward wanted it. Emmett wanted it. It makes a huge difference. They're willing to try, willing to work at it. Obie's just scared. Give him time, sweetie." She nodded, again swiping at her tears messily, because she considered them a weakness. "I hope you're right. I miss him, but it became..." "A bone of contention?" Rose finished for her, to which Mickey nodded in agreement. "Yeah, it became the underlying cause of every fight," Mickey sighed. "Maybe it's time for Obie to leave the nest...so to speak," Alice huffed with a frown on her face, folding her arms across her chest. "He's too comfortable at Aunt Kate's. Make him come to you." We giggled at her protective nature, at her assessment of the situation, but she may have had a decent point. "At least let it go for today, or you'll have four very angry boys to contend with as to why their baby sister is crying," I chuckled, wiping away the tears from her cheeks. "It wouldn't shock me if Edward flew to Kate's just to say something." "Don't tell them," she begged, looking around at the guys, and then back to the table. "They're going to know something is up when you're living here, Mick," Rose warned her. "It's your story to tell, but they will figure out something is up." "They'll kill him," she snorted, rolling her eyes.

"No, they won't," I chuckled. "They may fly up there for a very loud...chat, but they won't kill him. They know how much he means to you. They'd never hurt you that way." I knew Edward well enough to know that much. He was as protective as a lion over his pride when it came to family and friends, but he wouldn't do anything to cause them pain if he could help it. "But we'll keep it at this table until you tell us different," I vowed, and she sighed deeply and nodded. Squeals and laughter echoed up from the playground, but it was my daughter's voice that caused me to seek her out. "Don't touch him!" she snapped, shoving a little boy about her age so hard that he stumbled back a few steps. "He's a baby. He can't play our game," the blond boy countered, stepping back up to her. "Oh, Lord," I sighed, because I knew Bethy was just about to ball up a fist. "He's my brother, and he can play if he wants to," she growled back, her eyes darkening to almost black pitch with her temper, just like her father's. I could see where Samuel was picking himself up off of the ground with the help of Abby. He wasn't crying, but he was watching the blond boy with a wary look on his face. "Well, then you can't play," the boy huffed back, rolling his eyes. "Yes, we can," Caleb growled, looking just like Emmett with his fists balling up and his face changing from a sweet, dimpled smile to a red-faced scowl. When Samuel reached for the slide again, the boy knocked him out of the way, and that was when I needed to move, because Abby, Caleb, and Bethy all landed on the boy without shame. "Oh shit," I half-laughed, half-gasped. "Edward!" I called over my shoulder, before taking off to the slide.

Samuel landed roughly this time, because he'd been holding onto Bethy, but her movement caused his stumble. His cry rang out loud, but I needed to stop the little free-for-all brawl first. "Elizabeth Renee," I snapped, tugging her off the boy at the same time Rose grabbed Caleb and Sarah snatched up Abby. "What were you thinking?" I asked her, setting her on her feet, but her angry glare wouldn't leave the pissed off blond boy that was dusting himself off. "Look at me!" I commanded as Edward scooped up a very upset Samuel. "I-I t-told h-him n-not to touch him," she sneered, glancing at me, and then back to the kid. "H-He knocked S-Sammy d-down," she growled, and it was all I could do not to laugh, because that scowl, that pure show of anger was all her daddy. It was unwavering and honest. It was loyalty to her very soul. "Then get away from him. He's not worth playing with," I said, glancing at the little boy, whose own mother had figured out the problem. "In fact, you two should stay away from each other, but fighting wasn't the answer. You should've come and gotten me or Daddy." "S-Sorry, Mommy," she grumped. "Mmhm," I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "Go to the table and sit. Don't get up. It's almost time to eat anyway." Sarah had already put Abby at the table, and Rose followed suit with a still puffed up, angry Caleb. All three looked like pissed off badgers as they sulked at the end of the bench while we fixed them a plate of burgers and potato salad. Mickey chuckled at my side, but my head spun in her direction. "Still want kids?" I asked her with a laugh. "Yeah," she said dreamily, but her eyes were on Edward and a still upset Samuel. He'd sat down on a swing with our son on his lap. They were backwards baseball cap forehead to backwards baseball cap forehead and deep in conversation as Edward checked him over to make sure he wasn't hurt.

"Boy pushed me, Daddy," he muttered with a hiccuping breath, and I smiled at how clear his speech was becoming due to being around Bethy all the time. In fact, his speech was further along than hers was at a yearand-a-half, because he followed her example. "I saw that, buddy," Edward soothed him, but lifted up his shirt, his feet, and his arms. "But I think you're okay. I don't see anything wrong," he chuckled, because the lifting of arms and legs, the tickling of his daddy's fingers was causing Samuel to giggle uncontrollably. "Stop!" Samuel gasped, trying to grab as his dad's hands and finally settled for his face. "No, Daddy!" I chuckled at the two of them, because their laughs and smiles were identical, even down to the slight tilt of their heads. But it was the deep green gaze down at the boy in his lap that was hard to miss. Edward's love for his son was a giant neon sign all over his face. It was the same over the moon gaze he gave to Bethy. "Obie's totally missing out," Mickey sighed, shaking her head and walking away. "Yeah, he is," I agreed, though I spoke to myself, because I couldn't help but keep watching my boys. "I wan' to swide, Daddy," Samuel stated, pointing a pudgy little finger toward the slide. "Well, then, get to it, pal," Edward encouraged, setting him on his feet. Little jean-clad legs pumped furiously to the steps of the small slide, and Samuel took each step one by one, finally plopping down at the top. "Catch me," he yelled to his dad, who was waving him down from the bottom. There were times that Edward was completely oblivious as to how good of a dad he was. He was also completely unaware of the stares he was getting. He

stood tall, strong, and proud, wearing the sweetest of smiles that was meant only for our son. With stubble on his chin, dark jeans, and a tight white t-shirt not to mention the ink that was peeking out from his sleeve Edward radiated confidence laced with a touch of danger, but all that melted away with the laugh that he let loose when he caught Samuel at the bottom of the slide. I smirked at the blatant ogling some of the mothers were doing around the playground, because...yeah, he was just that hot. Samuel ran around to climb again, and I walked to them. "My boys, it's time to eat. Don't you think?" I asked, smiling when Samuel nodded fervently. "Well, then, get down here, handsome," I said, smiling at Edward's chuckle. "What happened?" Edward asked, placing a kiss to my head as we waited for our son to come down. "Your daughter decided to beat the shit out of a kid that hurt her brother," I laughed, looking up at his amused face. "Damn, school's gonna be a bitch," he murmured, rolling his eyes at my laugh. "Laugh it up, sweetness," he warned, giving me that sexy as hell raised eyebrow. "The first time someone picks on Samuel for being shy, she's going to tear them up." I laughed again, only this time, I squatted down to scoop up Samuel at the bottom of the slide. "There he is," I crooned, smooching his face all over, which caused him to giggle and squirm in my arms. I stood up and faced Edward. "Well, at least we have a while before he starts kindergarten." Edward harrumphed, rolling his eyes. "At least," he muttered. What I noticed was that he wasn't upset with Bethy. At all. And that thought caused me to laugh. "Edward," I chuckled, "you have to talk to her."

He grinned, shrugged, and kissed my forehead, and then Samuel's. "Fine, I will, but...food first!" he said to the much happier boy in my arms. "And I think...Poppy's here," he sang, pointing to the table. "Poppy!" Samuel chirped, wriggling to get down, and I set him down just to watch him hurry to his grandfather. Warm, strong arms wrapped around me, pulling my hips flush to his. I couldn't help but snake my arms up around Edward's neck. "I'll talk to her," he vowed, his face much more serious. "She shouldn't be fighting, I know." I giggled, because he sounded like he didn't believe a word he was saying. "It's okay that she's protective of him, but she can't just start swinging..." He chuckled and nodded. "I know. Fuck, if my dad didn't call that one," he groaned, rolling his eyes again. "She starts kindergarten in the Fall, baby," I reminded him, which caused a wide range of emotions to flicker across his handsome face pride, sadness, worry. "I just don't want her to be the kid I get called into class for every day. She's just as protective of Abby, you know." He sighed, placing a small, light kiss to my lips. "At least she won't be alone when she starts," he said with a nod. "Separating her from Caleb and Samuel will be hard enough." "Yup," I sighed, nodding once, because that was one tight little gang. They spent just about every day together. Dragging his lips down my cheek, despite the fact that we were in a public park, he opened his mouth to my neck. "Now," he rumbled softly against my skin, "what's wrong with Mickey?" I grinned, because he rarely missed anything, but I'd promised her that I wouldn't tell. "I promised, baby," I groaned, stepping away from him. "It's her story to tell. Not mine." He grimaced, but shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. "She's moving here." He stated it like he knew, but he looked to me for confirmation.

"Yes, she is." "What did Obie do?" he said, the last word coming out in a low, rumbling growl. "Leave it alone, Edward," I said, using the calmest voice I could muster. "It's their problem. Okay?" He studied my face with intense green eyes that matched the grass and trees around us at the park. He took a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. "But she's okay, right?" "She's okay, baby. Let it go," I crooned to him, taking his hand. "Come. Let's eat." "Bella, she was crying," he argued, tugging me to a stop. I smiled up at him, cupping his face. "Well, yes, she was, but you men tend to wring us out emotionally. Just give it some time. If it was something...dangerous, I'd tell you." He scoffed at my first statement, but my last sentence seemed to placate him just a bit. "Swear?" I kissed his lips roughly. "All the damn time," I laughed. "A habit I picked up from you, if I'm not mistaken." He grinned and shook his head. "Yeah, you probably did..." At the moment, he let it go, but I knew he'd watch her like a hawk, because that was just how my husband was.

Rose and I pulled back into my driveway after taking Caleb and Bethy to Mrs. Cope's for the day. She kept the place open during the summer, running it like a day camp. It was great for the working parents of our small town, plus it gave some of the local high school girls something to do during the summer. They volunteered for Mrs. Cope as a summer school thing. I scooped Samuel up out of his car seat, brushing an errant curl from his forehead so I could kiss him there.

"Did Edward grill you about Mickey?" Rose asked as we pulled a few groceries out of the back of my SUV. "Grill?" I laughed, looking up at her. "No. He did ask, but he let it go when I told him it was not what he was thinking." "Lucky you," she scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Emmett wouldn't just let it go." I grinned, shaking my head. "Those boys, I swear. It's not like they'd want to know. It's a girl thing." "Exactly," she agreed. "I told Em that last night. He got pissed." We dumped the groceries off in my house, making our way out to Gravity's office. There wasn't much on the agenda for the week, though I knew that Rose had some phone calls to return. Alice and Makenna had taken the day off, so it was Alec, Edward, and Emmett in the office when we finally opened the door to the dumbest conversation I'd ever heard. "So I told her...this is my roof...my pussy," Emmett growled, slamming a hand down on the table. His back was to us, but Edward's was not. He barely glimpsed our way when I stopped Rose from most likely slapping the back of her husband's head. In fact, Edward leaned back in his chair at the conference table, kicking his feet up onto the top and crossing them at the ankles. "You told Rose that?" Edward asked as he crossed his arms, obviously egging him on, which I couldn't decide whether it was hilarious or just plain cruel. "Yeah! Hell, yeah, because I'd asked her about Mick and she wouldn't spill, dude," Emmett continued, sounding like a pouting child. "So she got pissed off...threatened to cut me off, man..." I grinned up at Rose, who shrugged and nodded. Alec finally saw us in the doorway, an evil grin crawling up his face. "And just how'd she take that...declaration?" he asked Emmett with the best dramatic acting I'd seen yet. "She came at me with a skillet!" Emmett said incredulously.

I had to slap my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud, because Emmett honestly didn't see what was wrong with what he'd said. "Your roof...your pussy," Edward mused slowly, smirking and shaking his head. "Em...you do realize that the...pussy is mobile, right?" Alec chuckled, looking over at Edward, before turning back to Emmett. "Yeah, Em. It can leave that roof you're claiming, which technically belongs to you and Rosie, because Bellissima gave it to you...both of you." Rose snickered beside me at Alec and Edward, but Emmett wasn't to be deterred from his thinking. "I'm the man of the house..." he started, but his buddies cracked the fuck up. Edward and Alec burst into laughter, their heads falling back, but it was Edward that spoke first. "Being the man of the house only grants you heroism when it comes to killing spiders and shit. Otherwise...you do what they say...or there is no pussy." I grinned, shaking my head and rolling my eyes. "Mobile pussy," he said again, raising his eyebrow, but he made the mistake of letting his gaze fall to me. "Aw hell," Emmett groaned. "They're here, aren't they?" Alec chuckled, turning away from the table to get himself another cup of coffee, but Edward only grinned and nodded slowly. "What happened to bros before..." "Finish that sentence, Emmett," Rose snapped. "Go ahead..." "Umm...no way," Emmett muttered, shaking his head but smacking Edward's feet down off of the table with an angry glare. "Asshole," he hissed, when he realized I had the baby with me. I set Samuel down in the play area that we'd created when Bethy had started coming to work with me; he immediately picked up the building blocks. Edward opened his arms for me, and I sat down on his lap, wincing when the inevitable smack to Emmett's head finally resounded in the office.

"Idiot," Rose mumbled, walking to her desk. "I told you before, and I'll say it again. It's not your concern what happened to Mickey and Obie. So stop gossiping like old women in a hair salon." "Guys," I sighed, kissing Edward's temple. "I know you care about her and want to take care of her," I started, looking around at all three of them. "But this really is personal for her. I'm asking all of you to let it go. She'll tell you when she's ready. Okay?" "We just want to know if she's...hurt," Emmett huffed, setting his elbows on the table. "Because if he hurt her..." "Stop," I said gently. "This is...irreconcilable differences. And that's all I'm saying. Obie would never hurt her, and you damn well know it." I turned to Edward. "And you... bros before hoes... Really?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him. He laughed, pulling me closer. "Used to be that way, sweetness," he sang, shrugging one shoulder. "Now...not so much." He leaned in to kiss my cheek, only to press his lips to my ear, whispering, "I'm not stupid, love. I know what I want, and I'll do anything to keep...mmm, getting it. Loyalties change when you get married...something I'm not sure Emmett has learned." A warm hand caressed my thigh, gliding around to my ass, where he patted softly, only to slip slowly between my legs. "Mhm, loyalties indeed," I chuckled, shaking my head at my husband's shameless groping. "And the whole 'my roof, my pussy' thing?" "Keep the fucking house," he rumbled sexily in my ear as his tongue swirled over the spot that caused my whole body to react. "But this," he purred, grazing a long, knowing finger over the seam of my jeans. "That is mine." I grinned, letting out some sort of sound I didn't recognize, which caused Edward to drag his teeth across my throat even as he smiled against my skin.

"It is, but don't we have work?" I barely breathed out. "Not yet," he sighed, pulling back to look up at me. "I'm sure there's something on Rose's list of call-backs. We were waiting for you guys." "Where's Kurt?" I asked, closing my eyes and running my fingers through Edward's hair. "Coming in later this afternoon," he replied, pressing his lips to mine briefly. "He was stopping by his parents' to see his sister, Evie, off to summer camp." "Oh, okay," I said, thinking Kurt was a fantastic big brother. "Well, let's help him out. Come check the emails with me, and we'll get a list for Rose and Alec to call. Okay?" "Sure, love," he chuckled, tilting his head at me. "I had better ways to spend the waiting time, but if you insist on all this...working shit, then come on." I laughed, standing up from his lap and tugging on his hand. "Shut it. Computer room. Now, mister." We spent the next few hours composing lists of prospective clients for Rose and Alec to contact back. Alec took the security details, calling back to find out if what we could do would meet the needs of the person that needed protecting. Rose took the calls of the more personal nature missing persons, cheating spouses, and lost relatives. By the time Kurt came in, we'd sorted out a list of a few possibilities. I tended to rank things that were of an urgent nature higher than other things. A missing child was top priority in the office. And everyone knew it. "Geez, Bells, I'm sorry I'm late. Did Edward tell you?" Kurt gushed, rushing into the office like his hair was on fire and setting down bags of fast food. "But I brought lunch." I chuckled, shaking my head. "Ah, food always earns forgiveness, and yes, he did," I told him, ruffling his almost black hair as he grinned up at me. "There is life outside of this office, Kurt.

I urge you to go be in it." Kurt had turned into an incredible asset to Gravity. He had a sharp sense of street smarts, but a fairly decent knowledge of computers. Despite his rocky beginnings with petty criminal mischief and his emotional and mental issues that were now being monitored perfectly, he'd proven himself worthy. He loved to learn anything we'd teach him, from guns, to self-defense. He approached cases with a sense of humor and a quirky outlook on everything. "Okay," he chuckled shyly, pulling a bag of burgers to him. "So what'd I miss?" "Not much," Edward said, sitting down at the conference table and setting Samuel on his lap. Tiny fingers immediately grappled for the French fries. "We've got some possible security gigs coming up in a month or two, but everything Rose is looking into is kind of old." Cold cases were hard, and we tended to take our time with them, because we allotted Makenna and Alice to work them on the computers first. The older they were, the harder they were to work, because it required huge amounts of legwork, which sometimes led to nothing. "Pickles!" Samuel chirped, pulling his dad's burger open just to snatch the pickles. He loved his sour stuff. "Go on, buddy," Edward conceded, shaking his head and pulling the other two pickles off of his sandwich. "Anyway," he said, looking back up to Kurt, "we were just about to sit down and list them by priority." "Good freakin' luck," Rose groaned, falling into a chair beside Kurt. "It's quiet out there today. Out of thirty calls, we maybe have a possible...two cases. Though, one is a cheating wife," she stated, before popping a fry in her mouth. "Aw, hell," every last man in the room, except for Kurt, groaned, and Rose and I laughed, because they all hated posing as "man-sluts," as we liked to tease them. "Aren't there any lost dogs or somethin'?" Emmett whined, sipping soda down until it slurped obnoxiously. I laughed again, pointing to all of them. "I don't want to hear it. When you have to catch a gropey man, who smells like the fish he cleans all day, weighs like

three hundred pounds, and sweats constantly, even in a cold room, then we'll talk. Otherwise, you'll play your part." "We'll never top that," Alec muttered to Edward, who was nodding with an adorably disgusted look on his face. "That man was like Fat Bastard from those movies..." "Get in ma' bellah!" Emmett guffawed, which caused Samuel to giggle with him. "Yeah, I wasn't sure whether we needed to save her from his hands, or if he was going to eat Bella." "See?" Rose chuckled. "So you guys can entertain a bored housewife." Suddenly, the biggest, most intense game of Rock, Paper, Scissors started in order to rule out who wasn't going. By the time they realized that they could just heap it all on Jasper, because he wasn't there, the phone was ringing, and Rose and I could barely see straight we were laughing so hard. Kurt answered it, still chuckling. "Gravity Investigations...Kurt speaking." His eyebrows shot up, but he replied instantly. "Yeah... Hey, Carlisle," he said, and we all quieted down. "Um, Bells, Ed, Emmett, Alec, and Rose... Okay, hold on." He put down the receiver and punched the speakerphone button. "You're on..." "Hey, guys," Carlisle sighed over the speaker, "I need you to drop whatever case you're working on. I've got a security detail for you, but I think there's more to it. Can you guys come this way and meet with me?" "Today?" Edward asked, his face growing serious. "What's this all about, Dad?" "I'd rather go over with you in person. And privately." "Damn cloak and dagger shit," I muttered, rolling my eyes. "Carlisle, what do you need?" "I need you to hear this girl's story and tell me if you don't think there's a bigger problem. I think she needs more than just security," Carlisle answered. "Okay, well, who is she?" Rose stated, tugging her ever present notebook and pen closer to her in order to start taking notes. "Kyra Bailey," he answered.

My eyebrows shot up at the same time Kurt muttered, "Whoa..." "Okay," I said, dragging the word out. "Doesn't she have like a billion dollars in order to hire a small army?" "That's why I'm calling you!" Carlisle snapped. "Just humor me, please." "Fine. Be there soon," I told him, ending the call. "Kyra Bailey...Kyra Bailey," Emmett muttered, his brow furrow like he was trying to remember something. "Oh, shi...crap! I remember her," he suddenly boomed, pointing to Edward, who I'd just realized was frozen in one spot. "Isn't she..." "Yes," Edward breathed, shaking his head. "We're not taking this case."

EDWARD
Kyra Bailey. Well, fuck. I shook my head slowly, not knowing whether I wanted to fucking punch Emmett for his outburst and now silent laughter, or call my dad right back and tell him no fucking way. However, the first thing I needed to do was set my son down. "Go play, buddy," I told him, setting his feet onto the floor so that he could wobble over to the play area. "Why aren't we taking this case, Edward?" Bella asked, and I knew her well enough to know that she was reading me loud and clear at the moment. "It won't hurt to hear her story... And Jesus, Emmett, stop freaking laughing!" Finally taking the opportunity to do what I wanted, I reached over and slapped the back of Emmett's head. "Jackass. It's not funny." I turned back to Bella. "I don't want this case."

"Why?" she asked again, this time her eyes narrowing on me like an owl spots a mouse, but I stalled long enough for her to figure it out. "You...know her... How?" "Shit," I hissed, my elbows hitting the table and my fingers gripping my hair. "Oh he knew her all right," Emmett stated with a chuckle, but before I could truly beat his ass, he was up from the table. "She came for a visit in Afghanistan during a USO tour. Guess who flew her from stop to stop..." "Damn it, Emmett," I snapped, slamming my hands down onto the table. "Enough," Bella stated, giving me a look that said there was no room for arguing. "Emmett, Kurt, Alec...get your stuff together and get ready to go." "Bella," I groaned, but she held up her hand to me and turned to Rose. "I'll keep Sammy and go get the kids in a few," Rose answered without even having been asked. "Let me know if you take the case," she said, looking between us. "Otherwise, I'll let the cheating case know that we're in." "I will," Bella said, walking to me. "Did you have sex with her?" she asked softly so that only I could hear her. "Yeah, but..." "Are you still attracted to her?" "No fucking way!" I growled the pure truth, rolling my eyes. Kyra was a beautiful girl, but she was nothing compared to the concerned woman in front of me. "Then what's the problem?" she asked, softly and calmly, tilting her head at me. "We can go listen to what Carlisle needs us to hear, and if you still say no, then it's no." I was shaking my head before she was even finished. Bella bit the inside of her cheek as she studied my face, her sweet chocolate eyes sharp on every expression I was trying to hide, but was failing. "Did you hurt her?"

Fuck, if she didn't hit the nail on the head. But Bella knew me, knew about my past. It wasn't pretty, and I damn well wasn't proud of it. I'd just never kept anyone around long term, but Kyra had been different. Long term wasn't feasible, even if I had wanted it. She was on tour, I was in a fucking war, and I assumed we'd never see each other again. "She wanted...more," I sighed, finally answering her question and looking away from her. "And just how would that have worked?" Bella scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Famous singer...soldier in the desert..." I finally cracked a smile, because no one had my back like Bella did. "Which was what I told her..." My wife took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and nodded. "Your dad doesn't send us clients unless he feels it's something big," she stated. "He doesn't normally ask for our help. And he damn well doesn't ask for the entire freaking crew when he does. Don't you think we should at least hear him out?" Grimacing, I sighed, but shrugged petulantly. I knew I was being stubborn, but I just didn't want to see the girl. In fact, if I could erase my past, only leaving Bella, then I'd be a happy man. "You can't bury your head in the sand, baby," she said, almost as if she could read my mind. She took another deep breath. "To be honest, I'm not thrilled about my husband having had a sexual relationship with one of People Magazine's Most Beautiful People. That's just a little intimidating. But I owe your dad for helping me with going to get you in China. The least I can do is go listen like he asked." "Damn it," I groaned, running a hand through my hair, because I knew she was right, but the magazine statement was pure fucking bullshit. "Y-You'd o-own th-that f-fucking m-magazine, sweetness," I sputtered. I was rewarded with a brilliant smile and a giggle. "Good to know you think so, Edward," she chuckled, shaking her head. "As many famous men as Kyra has been with...she may not even remember you. She's a tabloid queen, you know." "No...hell, no. I don't know," I huffed with a shrug. "And I don't care to know."

"You are such a child," she sighed, a smirk playing at the corners of her mouth. "Perhaps this is an opportunity to apologize for whatever it is you did." "I didn't do anything, Bella," I growled, shaking my head. "I never promised her anything. I thought what we did was just a mutual thing..." "Well, you're going to tell me all about it on the way," she stated. "Let's go."

CHAPTER three BELLA


"Spill, Edward," I ordered, once we were on the highway with Alec's car following behind us. I was glad Emmett and Kurt were with him, because I really needed to hear what had happened between my husband and Kyra Bailey. Edward laughed once, roughly and humorlessly, shaking his head. "You need details, Bella? Really?" he asked, almost sounding angry, but I knew he was embarrassed. "Not necessarily details, but I am about to meet a woman that knew you. I'd feel better if you told me what happened between you." I sighed in frustration, gazing out the window as he shifted gears and changed lanes, because I hated it when he shut down on me. "I'm not blind or stupid. I know how you were back then, and she's stunning..." "She was pretty. Is that what you want to hear?" he snapped, glaring at me briefly, and then back at the highway. "I couldn't tell you what she looks like now. I don't exactly watch MTV." I giggled, which caused the smallest of smiles to curl the corner of his mouth. "I'm pretty sure our remote only gets Disney and Nickelodeon. Please just tell me..." He finally cracked a smile at the subtle reminder of our kids, letting out a long, slow breath, but he went quiet again. "I'll call Emmett if you don't," I teasingly warned him, pulling my phone out of my pocket. "He seemed to remember her just fine." "Fuck no," he growled, grabbing for my hands. "He doesn't know anything, and what he thinks he knows is fucking bullshit. Just...wait." The inevitable hand shot to his hair nervously, gripping it, before it fell back to his thigh with a muted smack. "When you're over there," he started with a groan, gazing almost unseeingly out the windshield, "there's not a lot to do on down time. Any news from home, anything sent our way from the States was a big fucking

deal. We didn't exactly have cable, so DVDs became a hot commodity when families shipped them over. Same went for live entertainment, which was even more rare. "The USO tours were the one thing we all looked forward to, because they were live. They were real. Once a year, those professional wrestling guys would do a Christmas show. Singers, comedians...people like that...they would tour the major bases or at least the safest ones at the time," he continued, finally glimpsing my way. "They all required a military escort." "And that was you," I surmised, watching his expressions flit from angry to something I could never quite place when he talked about the war. It was blank, but it was dark, too. It was an expression that shattered my heart, because I hated the terrible things he and our friends had witnessed, taken part in, and barely survived in that fucking desert. "Just the one time," he murmured with a shrug. "Normally, I flew men into heavy war zones and picked them up. It's how I was teamed with Jasper, Mickey, and Emmett. Occasionally, I'd fly prisoners to Abu Grahib. I flew in hot and armed, pulling out the same way." He paused for a moment, his brow furrowing; I knew that talking about his wartime experiences was difficult for him. "My chopper was damaged during a run, so it was out of commission. And at the same time, the pilot that flew a transport chopper you know, the big ones," he said, smirking over at me, and I grinned at his simplifying this shit, because I knew he could rattle off make, model...hell, and probably VIN number. "The pilot was killed, so I was asked to fill in temporarily. "At the time, I was just happy to have a break from the norm," he went on. "It was supposed to be simple. I was to fly the main members of the tour from base to base, while their equipment was either driven or shipped on a cargo plane. It was safer for them that way, because equipment could be lost, but not a guy you see on TV or in this case, two comedians and a singer. In the chopper, I could maneuver them quickly and easily if something went wrong or we were attacked. It was only for a few weeks, so I took the orders." His voice trailed off, but he looked over at me. "How many did you fly around?"

He scoffed, rolling his eyes. "A couple of comedians, a few photographers that were documenting the tour, a camera guy, Kyra, and a few of her...people." The last word came out with a sneering tone and a touch of impatience. I chuckled, because he sounded just like Carlisle had when he talked about Kyra's fame. Neither men had time for fluffy, frilly, or pretentious bullshit. "Go on," I laughed. "I didn't know her from Adam, you know," he stated softly, shrugging one shoulder. "I mean, I wouldn't have known she was famous, had they not told me. She was this...small thing surrounded by loud and busy people. She and her assistant... Carrie? Cathy? No, Cassie," he corrected himself. "They were the only girls on the tour. Everyone else was a guy, so they had a rough time. Men can piss anywhere, you know?" he chuckled, glancing over at me. I giggled, shaking my head at him. "Yes, yes... The world is your urinal. Just tell the story, Edward." A sharp laugh barked out of him, but he went on. "Kyra had her own personal bodyguard Gator. Damn, he was a cool bastard. Former Army and straight out of New Orleans...hence the name," he stated with a snicker. "He watched every move those two girls made. He was good. A lot like Alec is on a security job," he murmured, almost to himself. "Anyway," he sighed, running a hand through his hair, "it didn't take long for the two girls to become overwhelmed by just...everything. And that was day one. It's guns and planes and explosions everywhere. It was desert and sand and just fucking uncomfortable weather. It's blazing fucking hot in the day, freezing at night. And the farther north we went, it just stayed cold. "No one but Gator paid much attention to them, and that included her manager. He was a fucking prick," Edward stated, rolling his eyes. "Asshole only cared about the right photo op or the right angle the video was being shot. It was a big deal for him...not her. I'm not sure he checked on her one time the whole tour." "Nice," I scoffed, thinking that celebrities had to put their faith into people that were usually only looking out for themselves. Edward was quiet for a moment, gazing at the road again. "Every guy was falling at her feet," he said, almost at a whisper. "They acted like they'd never

seen a woman, especially one that looked like her and was rich and famous on top of it. It was ridiculous and made her uncomfortable. Hell, she was only in her early twenties," he sighed. "It started the very second I picked them all up. And that was how I got to know her. She'd asked if she could hide in the chopper after she performed or before she went on, and I hid her, or I'd take her to someplace quiet, because she just wanted a moment's peace. "Yeah, I was attracted to her," he groaned, rolling his eyes, "but I knew nothing could come of it. And I told her that when things...changed. We were in Baghdad, not even a week into the tour, and it was one of the safer places that you could actually go out in public, and one thing led to another." "Did you even like her? Or did you just feel sorry for her?" "Both, but she was fun and took in everything with wide, open eyes. She hated most of the attention she received, except for when she was on stage. I'd explain how things were in the war, and she'd talk about the States. She'd met everyone, it seemed, so she'd tell Hollywood stories, or stories about growing up in Pittsburgh. She was...normal. Well, more normal than I was expecting, I guess." He grimaced, gripping his hair again. "We snuck around to do it. And that was probably the thrill of it, too, because we weren't supposed to do...what we were doing. I didn't date military women, and she was like a breath of fresh air someone feminine, not in uniform. Plus, she felt safe with me. I suppose all of that combined made for a golden opportunity. Her manager hated me and probably suspected something, because he bitched to my CO more times than I could count, but they couldn't prove it. I think Gator and her assistant knew, but they didn't say anything, because Kyra paid them to keep the fuck quiet." "And when the tour was over?" I prompted him, because I didn't need to know the wheres and hows of their relationship. Edward was a physical and sensual being, so I could well imagine how that shit went. Edward went quiet again, but his nose wrinkled before he spoke. "I saw it coming," he said softly. "I could see her getting attached as the weeks progressed, despite how many times we talked about the last night of the tour. She'd say that we were just having a good time for the moment, but I could tell she was lying," he sighed, looking over at me. "Shit, sweetness, I was only twenty-three, with way too much time left on my tour of duty, even though a

year after that was when my chopper crashed and I was released. And she was about to go back to L.A. to record some new album and audition for a movie or some shit." "Did you want to make it work?" I asked him, because his voice seemed filled with regret, but I couldn't tell if that was from the way the relationship ended or the loss of it all. "No," he groaned, shaking his head. "I mean, I don't know. I just couldn't see it how it could work, and I wasn't...in love with her, if that's what you're asking. I liked her, but I just...had to let her go. And it wasn't pretty. She was a mess by the time I flew her back to Jordan, because I had to cut off all ties to her. I'd handled it all wrong, hurting her terribly. And despite how well we got along, she wasn't used to being told no to something she wanted." I rubbed my temple, trying to absorb the whole story. I knew that Edward avoided long term relationships while he was in the Air Force, because he'd felt that he lived too dangerously something that carried over to when he worked as a mercenary for his dad. He'd felt that he could be killed, and he'd never wanted someone to "wait" for him; it was hard enough trying to survive over there as it was, never mind worrying about someone back home. "Fuck," he growled, his hands gripping the steering wheel of his Challenger, "I just wish..." "Hey," I soothed him, tugging at his right hand until it relented and linked with my left, "I know what you wish...that I'd been there, that I'd been waiting for you. That we'd stayed in touch. You can't look at it that way, baby. You just can't. This...situation happened, and now we have to deal with seeing her again." Edward had voiced this regret to me more than once. He said that I, of all people, could've handled his being away, his dangerous job better than anyone. I was sure part of that was true not that I wouldn't have worried myself sick over him, but what I did, what we did for a living gave me a perspective that most women he'd been with had never had. He'd also told me that if he'd had me waiting for him back home, he would've never even looked at another woman.

"Y-You're n-not m-mad? D-Disgusted w-with m-me?" he asked, sounding like the sweet, stuttering, shy boy I'd first met so long ago. I couldn't help but smile, because that was my Edward. That was someone no one fucking knew, but me. "No, Edward. I'm not. I can't judge you any more than you could judge me on the bartender in Virginia that I dated, or Jake, or that guy I can't remember just after high school, for which I still blame Rose." He chuckled, glancing over at me. "No, I can't judge you, either, baby." "Exactly," I agreed, because neither of us were saints prior to our relationship. We were quiet the rest of the way into Seattle, both of us lost in thought, but as Edward pulled into the parking garage, I turned toward him. "There is a distinct possibility that we will have to take this case, Edward," I said warily, because I knew Carlisle had called us for something important, not just a security gig. He shut off the engine and glared unseeingly at the gray concrete wall in front of him. "I know," he whispered. "Can you handle that? Professionally?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him when his head spun my way. "Of course I can," he snapped. "I'm not that fucker Jake, Bella. I'm not going to...run back to her...if that's what you're asking me. Tell me that's not what you're asking..." His voice was all commanding, all demanding, and not to be ignored. "I don't fucking cheat. I would never..." "Well, no... I wasn't asking that, though that's good to know," I said, unable not to snicker at his little outburst of indignant emotion. He was loyal to me to the very end; I was well aware of it. "I'm just saying that there's history between the two of you and obviously some regret as to how things turned out." "I regret that I hurt her not that we never saw each other again," he sighed, reaching over to tuck a lock of my hair behind my ear. His eyes

lightened just a bit to the soothing, deep green I loved so much. "I-I h-have eeverything I-I c-could p-possibly w-want...right fucking here and at home," he said, starting in his sweet sputter and ending in that perfect, confident tone. "Maybe it's like you said, and she won't remember me..." I shrugged and nodded. "Maybe. She does date a lot of famous people, Edward," I said, finally understanding his worry about seeing her, because he most likely had been a little mean when he broke things off with her. Edward was easy to fall in love with, so I could definitely understand if she hadn't wanted to let him go. My mind then shifted to thoughts of how this Kyra woman would react if she did indeed remembered him. "We should head upstairs, baby," I murmured, reaching for the door. "Look at me, sweetness," he said softly, cupping my face. "No one...and I mean fucking no one can compare to you, love. Not for me. I mean it." His intense stare flickered over my face, studying my expression, and I had no idea what it was that he was seeing. "I couldn't give a shit if she's dating, or single, or even if she remembers me and still has feelings, though I can't see that last thing happening. You're Bethy and Samuel's mother. You're my wife and that means everything to me. Y-You're th-the o-only one i-in th-the w-world th-that t-truly knows m-me." I had to kiss him for that, so I pressed my lips to his, almost roughly. "I know all of those things, baby, but thank you for saying them anyway," I whispered with a small smile against his mouth, pulling back just a bit. "We should go," I told him, jerking a thumb behind us, because Alec, Emmett, and Kurt were waiting for us. "Bella, I love...you," he urged, like I didn't believe him. "Love you, too," I replied, finally opening the door. The walk through the lobby and the ride up the executive elevator was quiet, though I could tell that Emmett was dying to say something. He was stopped by Alec's rather heavy grip on his shoulder. We stepped out into the front reception area outside of Carlisle's office and were met with a smiling Angela. "Hey, guys," she sang, beaming and rubbing her large belly. She and Benny, our friend at the FBI, were now expecting their first child. "Lordy, Ang," Emmett chuckled. "You're gonna pop, girl."

"You know, I told my doctor the same thing," she laughed, smacking at his arm. "You'd better get in there. He's been calling me every five minutes for the last half hour." "Thanks, Ang," we all said at the same time, which always caused her to chuckle softly. Carlisle's office was exactly the same as when my father had been running Twi Tech. I was pretty sure he kept it that way out of respect, nostalgia, and probably because he just really missed my dad, his best friend. Large bookcases lined the wall that hid the door to the apartment. Charlie's heavy antique desk sat in the center of a wall of windows that overlooked the Seattle skyline. And the sofa and chairs were still in the opposite corner of the bookcases only this time, they were occupied by three women. Standing against the wall was a rather lean, athletic looking man, his muscular arms folded across his chest as he eyed all of us filing in. "Ah, you made it," Carlisle sighed, almost in relief, pushing off the front of the desk he'd been leaning against. "Come in, come in... Let me introduce everyone," he said, setting a hand on Alec's shoulder, but his eyes were on the absolutely stunning woman that was slowly getting to her feet. Kyra really was pretty, even dressed casually jeans, a white casual shirt, and a brown leather jacket. Her dark auburn hair hung down in waves, and her hazel eyes took in everyone that was standing in front of her, especially Edward, who was closing the door of Carlisle's office. On TV, she looked larger than life; in reality, and standing right there, she was about the same build as me. My first instinct was to be excited at meeting her, but my second instinct was slowly taking over to stop her from staring

at my husband. "Kyra Bailey," Carlisle started, "I'd like you to meet the team from Gravity Investigations...or at least some of them." Starting with those closest to him, he called out our names. "Alec Moretti, Emmett McCarty, Kurt Vernon, my daughter-in-law, Bella Cullen, and my son..." "Edward," she finished for him, her mouth hanging open in shock. And from the look on her face, despite how long it had been, I could tell she remembered him perfectly.

EDWARD
"Edward," Kyra whispered. Internally, I flinched, because my hopes that she wouldn't remember me flew out the fucking window. "You look amazing," she whispered, rushing to hug me. "Kyra," I greeted with a single nod, barely returning her embrace, before coming to stand beside my father. Her gaze traveled over every inch of me, like she had the first time we'd met. Only this time, I wasn't a single soldier out for a good time, or wanting to impress her, so it just made me feel uncomfortable. This time, I didn't want the attention. I was a husband and a father, both titles so fucking important to me that nothing else mattered. Anything or anyone that stared, flirted, or tossed innuendo my way was usually ignored, if not treated coldly. "You two know each other?" my dad asked, his gaze flickering between us. "Well, holy shit! Cullen," the man in the back of the room chuckled, stepping forward and thankfully breaking the tension, because I felt my wife's body stiffen next to me. "I thought that was you. I didn't even connect you with Carlisle here," he boomed, reaching out to shake my hand. "It's good to see you, Airman," he laughed.

"Milo 'Gator' Carson," I snickered, slapping his shoulder. "How you been, man?" "Aw, same shit, different day," he scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Well, that's not exactly true, either," he muttered, looking to my dad. The room had come to a standstill. All eyes were on us, and I could practically feel Bella's assessment of the situation. Emmett was shuffling on his feet, grinning like a loon, and had it not been for Alec's calm demeanor, I think he would have burst into flames. Kurt was just plain star struck with Kyra in the room, but she seemed to be staring my way, as well. I turned to my dad and Bella. "I flew a USO tour with Kyra and Gator," I explained, causing his eyebrows to shoot up. "It was about a year before my discharge." "Okay, well, I know that Kyra would like to get settled in some place," he started, speaking slowly, like he was trying to figure out what the fuck had just happened; I knew I'd have to tell him the fucking truth if we took the case. "Gator, this is your show... Why don't you tell them what you told me?" "Right," he drawled, nodding just once and turning to the women behind him. "Just so we all know each other, Teri Foley...Kyra's agent, and Cassie Winters, her personal assistant," he introduced, and then waited while nods and handshakes were exchanged. His voice was a mix of Southern twang and a touch of Cajun, an endearing sound, once you really got to know the guy. He turned to me, his face sobering. "You remember back in the day how much attention Kyra got, right?" he asked, and I nodded, purposefully not looking her way. "It's a thousand times worse now, and I think she's got a stalker. A real nasty one, from what I can tell." "Why not take this to the police?" Alec asked, stepping forward, because this was his forte. "I have...many, many times," he sighed, shaking his head. "They can't prove anything. They tell me that due to her celebrity, the threats could be coming from anywhere. Some have called it fan gifts, and though they appear to be obsessive, they aren't exactly spelling out anything dangerous, because there's

no note, no actual contact with Kyra, nothing shows up on video, but I'm at my wits end. I was hoping they would settle down once we left LA, but..." His voice trailed off, and he turned to Kyra, who was looking uncomfortable. Alec took a deep breath and let it out, rubbing his bottom lip slowly. "What are the threats?" "Flowers," Gator stated, shaking his head, but his face was fierce when he held up a hand. "I know what you're thinking. That flowers are harmless and come with her popularity, but it's more than that. It's what the flower is and how it's left that scares me." "What's the flower?" Bella finally piped up, her head tilting up at him. "Marigolds," he answered. "Hmm, jealousy and cruelty," she muttered, her brow crinkling. "That's a warning..." "Yeah, yeah! Exactly!" he gushed, smiling at her, like he was happy that someone else was on the same page with him. "I never thought I'd have to study the meanings of flowers..." "And how are they left?" she asked him, rubbing her chin. "Burnt to a crisp and always delivered after I've done a complete security sweep. It's the weirdest fucking thing," he said, his face tinging pink at his language. "Sorry..." "Don't be. I'm used to it. These boys aren't exactly angels," she snickered, waving a hand at him, and I couldn't help but chuckle against the side of her head, to which she leaned into. "So you sweep the room, the studio, dressing rooms, arenas...but they're still showing up?" Gator nodded, a wry smile creeping up across his face. "You think it's inside, right?" he asked her, and she nodded. "Yeah, me, too. But I can't find the asshole." "What's your security situation like?" Emmett asked, his eyes glancing over the women, only to land back on Gator.

"Rent-a-cops," Gator scoffed. "It's not like I can drag a SWAT team with me wherever she goes," he stated, gesturing to Kyra. "They aren't bad guys, but they aren't exactly Clint Eastwood, either." "You really don't think it's a fan?" Kyra asked, looking up at Gator. "No, K, I don't. I've told you that," he huffed, pulling her closer and placing both hands on her shoulders. "If I have to sleep at the foot of your bed like a damn dog, I'll figure it out, but I honestly think it's something bigger than an over-zealous fan. I know you're not sleeping..." I sighed, running a hand through my hair, because despite how badly I didn't want to take this case or to work with a former lover, I could see the curiosity in Alec's face, the concern on Emmett's, and the pure fear on Kyra's. But my wife's expression was completely void of anything I could read. Kurt tugged Bella's shirt sleeve, pulling her to him. "Bells...there are some...um, cultures that have theories about dreams. The dream of a burning or burned, in this case flower means that harm will come to the recipient," he whispered frantically to her, his eyes flicking over to Kyra, and then back to Bella. "He may be right. This could be a threat." "Alice?" she asked, a wry smile on her face. "Yeah, well, she was teaching me how to do some research," he chuckled, his cheeks turning pink. "You know how she loves her serial killers..." "Right," Bella mused, rubbing her temple and studying Kyra, whose gaze had landed on me. "You haven't seen anything, Kyra?" I asked, tilting my head at her. "Nothing strange? Someone wandering around that shouldn't be? Maybe someone that makes you uncomfortable?" "No, Edward," she replied, shaking her head, "but we've been getting ready for this new album, so there have been different people around song writers, musicians, technicians." "How about phone calls, emails, texts?" Bella asked Kyra. "Anything threatening? Any hangups?"

"Of course, but as soon as it happens, Gator changes my number," she answered. "The paparazzi is always willing to hunt down ways to get to me." I shook my head, thinking this fame shit was for the birds...or the fucking crazed, I wasn't sure which. My gaze slid from Gator to Alec, and then to my father. "What are you thinking?" I asked him. My dad bit the inside of his cheek, a wrinkle to his brow as he thought things through. Letting out a slow breath, he said, "I think that while Kyra is here in Seattle for the next month or so, and since she's going to be Twi Tech's responsibility, I'd like to keep her safe." His answer was not directed to me, but to Bella, because he knew when it came to Gravity, she was the final say. And my father was not stupid by any means, because the whole room could feel the tension rolling off of Kyra and me in waves. It was uncomfortable, nervous, and fucking ridiculous, because we hadn't seen each other in over eight years. Though some of it was coming from Bella, too. My wife spun in front of me and Alec, but spoke to him softly. "Could we handle this? Safely?" "Yeah, Bellissima," he assured her with a nod. "I'd want to take total control of security, but if we pulled in everyone on the team, we should be fine. I'd need her entire schedule so we could inspect every building before she steps into it, and a list of people she deals with, because every employee would have to be cleared by the pixie. I don't care how long they've been working for her." Bella nodded slowly as he spoke, like she'd assumed his answer before he gave it, finally turning her sweet, concerned gaze to mine. "It's your call," she whispered, shrugging a shoulder. "I told you that in the car. If you don't want to take it, considering our prior discussion, then we won't. I'll put her in touch with another security firm, and we'll walk away." I grimaced, because the other firm she was thinking about was a decent group, and they'd protect Kyra just fine, but they didn't have the resources like Gravity did to find out the cause of the threats. They'd keep her safe, but that would be about their limit. It was possible that the threats would continue once she left Seattle. I ran a hand through my hair again, muttering, "I don't know."

"If it's about money," Kyra started, but I shook my head and held up my hand to stop her. "Money isn't the issue," I stated, stopping myself from sounding like an asshole, because my voice was just a touch snippy. I pointed to Bella and my dad. "Can I see you two for a moment?" Both nodded and followed me out to the waiting area, where Angela was busy on the phone, typing on her computer, and flipping through files all at the same time. "Guess I was wrong about her not remembering you," Bella snarked, rolling her eyes and folding her arms across her chest. "Hush, sweetness," I groaned, smirking at her shameless chuckle. "Tell me what you think, Bella." "I'm thinking someone wants to hurt her, that it will eventually escalate to something more than...burned flowers. And I'm thinking she's not telling the whole story." Her answer was quick and to the point. It was without any emotion behind it. Her intuition was as sharp as a razor's edge, and I nodded in acceptance. "What's that history, Edward?" my dad asked, his voice soft as he jerked a thumb toward his office doors. "What do you think?" I sniped back, gesturing to the sarcastic laugh my wife just huffed. "I was her pilot during that USO tour, and we had...something." My dad snorted and rolled his eyes, turning to Bella. "Has my son repented all his sins, sweetheart?" "For the most part," she chuckled, pulling me to her and linking our fingers together when I started to walk away from them for their teasing. "Are you taking responsibility for her, Carlisle?" "I am," he said with a nod. "Now that Twi Tech has bought Solstice Music, she technically is in my care." He turned to me. "Can you set aside this...history between you? I just don't think Boyd's Security will be able to help them like you guys can. She's really frightened."

"I see that," I sighed, letting my gaze fall to my wife. "If we do this... Everyone gets called in. I even need to talk to Benny or Wes at some point. We take over everything, from her schedule to her security. I want Alice on every member of her...her...people." "And I want her out of Seattle," my dad added. "We'll put her at my house in Forks." "How big is she?" I asked, because pop culture wasn't something I really paid attention to. "Huge," both of them answered. I rubbed my face, but small hands gripped my wrist, and I opened my eyes to Bella's gaze. "Look at me. If it's no, it's no. Tell me." She studied my face for a moment when I didn't immediately answer her. I felt I owed Kyra something for the way that I'd treated her, but that in turn made me feel guilty under the sweet chocolate eyes that were waiting for me. "If it's yes, then I'll call everyone in, and there will be rules, Edward Cullen, because that woman still has feelings for you." "Bella," I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "That can't possibly be true..." She laughed, but said nothing more on the subject. "Yes or no?" My dad and Bella waited, staring at me patiently, and I sighed, completely defeated. "Call them in," I said, waving my hand at her. "Fine," Bella huffed, her demeanor changing from patient, to all business. "Rules," she said, starting back toward the door. "What rules?" my dad and I asked her at the same time. "I don't know yet. I'll probably have to make them up as I go along," she answered, turning to us before she reached the door, a wry and wickedly sexy smile curling up on the corners of her mouth. "But right now," she said in a voice that sounded a touch angry, pointing to the floor, "that woman needs to understand just exactly who the fuck I am."

My dad laughed softly, slapping a hand down onto my shoulder and giving it a rough squeeze as she disappeared through his office doors. "You are in...so much trouble, son. I can't even imagine how much ass kissing you'll have to do." I rolled my eyes and shirked out of his grasp in order to head back into his office. "Don't I know it."

BELLA
The doors clicked closed behind me, and I was well aware that every eye was on me as I stalked to Carlisle's desk in order to sit down in front of his computer. At the same time, I was dialing on my cell phone. "Ali's Bar and Grill," she answered with a slight chuckle, and I grinned, pulling the computer keyboard closer to me. "Hey, pixie, I need you online and at your sharpest. Pronto," I said, clicking open an empty email to get ready to send to her. "And then I need you, Jasper, Mickey, and Makenna at the office ASAP. Wes making an appearance wouldn't hurt, either." "Oh damn, oh damn, oh damn," she chanted. "Caught a big one, did we?" My eyes shot across the room to where Kyra, Teri, Cassie, and Gator were watching me with rapt attention. Kyra's narrowed-eyed, studying glare on me did not go unnoticed, either, because she'd completely stiffened when Edward had kissed my head earlier. He'd missed it, but I had not. At all. In fact, from the way that she'd greeted him, I'd been watching for it. "You could say that," I sighed, trying not to roll my eyes when Edward and Carlisle walked back into the room and Kyra's eyes instantly drifted his way. "This will be...right up your alley," I muttered into the phone. "Oookay," she said, dragging the word out, but chuckling at the same time as I heard her personal laptop come to life on the other end of the line. "I'm up. Hit me."

"All right, hang on," I told her, setting my phone down and turning my gaze to the room. "Gator," I said, and he stepped forward. "If we do this, I'll need complete and total cooperation on your end." "Yes, ma'am," he answered with a quick nod. "What'cha need, Mrs. Cullen?" I smiled down at my keyboard, because I liked him instantly, even from the minute he'd greeted Edward. He'd called me that on fucking purpose. He was sharp and didn't miss a damn thing. He had a sweet Southern charm about him that reminded me of Jasper. He was lean, but by no means skinny, with light brown hair that fell casually to his forehead. He had a bit of ink showing just below the sleeve of his shirt on his bicep, and he carried himself with a surety that I'd come to recognize in just about all former military men. "Please, call me Bella," I told him, finally meeting his sweet, eager, deep blue eyes. "I'll need every name of every person that comes in contact with her makeup, musicians, managers, even down to the coffee runner. I'll need Kyra's itinerary, and I'll need it really detailed. I know she has things that she must get done, but we'll need to know ahead of time every step she's going to take...and for how long. And lastly, you'll have to concede all security measures to Alec and Edward." Gator's eyebrows shot up, a smirk curling the corners of his mouth, and he turned to see Alec and Edward approaching the desk, but he was already nodding by the time he turned back to me. "You got it. It's done." He turned around. "Teri, you've got the itinerary, right?" "Right here," she said, pulling a stack of pages out of her briefcase. Cassie stood up as well, handing over another stack of pages and saying, "And this is the contact list we've drawn up for our time in Seattle." I took both stacks of papers, starting with the calendar and flipping through it slowly. My nose wrinkled at the things Kyra had to do. It was busy and complicated. It was recording time, live shows, local TV appearances, and photo shoots. And fuck, if there wasn't a possible video to be made in the future. The list of contacts was a little different. There were some names that didn't have a last name attached, and some phone numbers were incomplete or scratched out.

I held up the contact list. "I'll need full names of these people. Everyone will have a background check done on them, and if they don't pass, they'll be released," I told Gator, who was nodding, but the song diva finally stood up from the sofa in the back of the room. "Wait, you can't just fire my people," she gasped, rushing to the desk. "And some of those people don't have a last name," she argued petulantly. "My hair guy only goes by Godfrey." "As unfortunate as that name is," I countered, ignoring Emmett's deep chuckle and Alice's giggle that tittered up through the phone in front of me, "I will and I can remove people from your presence. That is...unless you'd like for these threats to continue. Godfrey had a mother, which means he has a birth certificate and a social security number. He wasn't just hatched. If he can't come clean with a real name, then you'll be doing your own hair. Got me?" Kyra scoffed, rolling her eyes and turning away from me. I noticed that the whole room had stilled. I could well imagine that no one told this woman no if she set her sights on something, especially the four people that worked with her on a daily basis, who were shifting uncomfortably on their feet. She was their paycheck. She was pampered, coddled, spoiled. But she was also in danger, if I was reading these threats correctly. "Miss Bailey, you can pout all you'd like, but the fact of the matter is... These threats will only continue to get worse," I told her, and she slowly turned around to face me, her chin jutting out in defiance. "Let me guess how this started. One flower, not burned, but complete and perfect. It was maybe left on your pillow or on your dressing room table for you to find. No note. You maybe got two or three of them that way. Then they started coming wilted and dried out. Next thing you know, they're coming more frequently, only this time, they're burned to a fucking crisp." I tilted my head at her, watching as her mouth fell open in shock. I ignored Carlisle's beaming smile of pride and my husband's hand covering his mouth. "Wanna know what I think is next?" "What?" she whispered, her eyes wide. "Your stalker will start to slowly reveal himself. You'll get strange texts or hangups on your phone, no matter how many times we change the number. You'll get a note left on your pillow with the next flower, because he will want you to recognize that he exists soon. Hiding behind his anonymous gifts just

won't do it for him. He will only get bolder, Miss Bailey. And soon...notes and flowers and texts won't be enough. He'll want to touch you. And that is when the shit will really hit the fan. That is when our job" I gestured to myself, Alec, and Edward "becomes extremely hard." "What kind of damn flower!" Alice screamed from the phone that was still lying on the desk. "Patience, Alice," I muttered, waiting for Kyra to respond. "I can't live without Godfrey," Kyra murmured, her brow furrowing. "Yes, doing our own hair is a hardship to bear, but believe me, most of us survive it," I said wryly, glancing up when even Cassie and Teri snickered softly. "I'm sure if you explained to Godfrey why you need his full name, he'll give it up, because he wouldn't want to lose the famous Kyra Bailey as his biggest client especially if he loses her permanently to some crazed fan. Hmm?" She pursed her lips, but finally acquiesced with a nod. "Okay," she sighed, nodding again. "Fine." I turned back to Gator. "We'll need to remove her from the city," I told him. "No hotels, away from paparazzi, and no outside contact, except for whatever appearances are approved by Alec and Edward." "Makes sense," he agreed. "Do I cancel the reservations?" Cassie asked, pulling out her phone. "No," I told her. "I'll have someone go by and check in for her. We'll let people think she's there, but she won't be." I rubbed my temple, and just before I picked my phone back up, I said, "And Gator, I'll need one of those flowers, please. Preferably bagged and barely touched." "Yes, ma'am," he said, pulling out his phone and walking away from the desk a bit, where Cassie, Kyra, and Teri joined him. I picked up my phone. "Marigolds, Alice," I told her, nodding when she gasped and cursed.

"Well, shit. And did I hear you right? This is Kyra Bailey we're dealing with?" she asked, typing away already. If I knew her well enough, she was already running a background check on the superstar. "Exactly," I sang, smirking at her laugh on the other end. "And just why do you sound like you hate her, Bellsy?" Alice teased, and I could only chuckle darkly at her. "Later," I grunted. "Now... I'm scanning some stuff for you. I need you and Makenna on the contacts list immediately. Well, on as many that are complete on here. Kurt will help you when he gets back to the office. I'll have Rose take a look at this schedule of Kyra's. I need to work out a twenty-four-seven watch over her without killing ourselves." "And just where are you putting her?" she asked. "Carlisle's house in Forks at night, and with the crew during the day. If I have to lock her in Bethy's tree house to keep an eye on her, then so be it." "Nice," she muttered. "Okay. Send me what you have. We'll see you back at the office." "'Kay, bye," I told her, ending the call. As I used Carlisle's scanner on the documents that I was sending to Alice, all of the boys, including Carlisle, crowded around the desk. "You really think this stalker will try to get in contact with her? That he'll hurt her?" Edward asked, giving a glance over his shoulder to make sure the other group of people didn't hear him. "I do," I said firmly, not looking up from the computer. "Alice taught me a thing or two, as well," I murmured, smirking when he and Kurt chuckled. "This is gonna be some busy shit, isn't it?" Emmett questioned, picking up the schedule. "We're starting right now, right?" Alec verified. "Yeah," I sighed in answer to both questions, hitting send on Alice's email and finally looking up at my boys. "It's more than just guarding her, because she has so much to do. We'll need everyone on this." I rubbed my face, taking a

deep breath and letting it out, before looking up at Carlisle. "It's just about September," I said to him. "I'll really need Esme on this, because Kyra's scheduled to stay here in Washington for the next two to three months. Bethy starts school in two weeks," I explained. "And then there's Samuel to deal with...not to mention Caleb," I said, gesturing to Emmett, who was nodding. If we were going to pull everyone in, then our children needed to be considered. "Sarah will help, Bellissima," Alec piped up. "You know that." I nodded. Carlisle's face was serious when he spoke. "Whatever you need, sweetheart. I'm sure she'll have no problem with that." My gaze locked with Edward's. "I'm not missing her first day, though." He grinned, walking around the desk to kneel before me. He cupped my face, his thumbs brushing my cheekbones lightly. "Absolutely fucking not!" he rumbled sexily, pulling me until our foreheads touched. "We'll both take her in, and we'll both pick her up that day. End of fucking story." I giggled at his language, but his vow was solid. "Okay," I snickered at him, biting at my bottom lip. "You're fucking sexy when you take control, sweetness," he crooned in my ear, smiling against my skin when I laughed. "Mmhm," I purred with a smirk, nuzzling his scruffy jawline and inhaling deeply the scent of cologne, fresh cut wood, and clean soap the smell that made up the deliciousness that was my husband. "Handcuffs," I sang in his own ear. "You know you want it." The sweetest, sexiest, most hilarious sound escaped him, and his forehead hit my shoulder. It was a mix of a deep and dark laugh, a moan, and a grunt of pure insatiable lust. It was a sound I loved to hear, because it meant that I could still get to him. "Mean, Bella," was all he said, his hands gripping at my sides, like he was holding himself back.

I giggled, pushing him back by his strong shoulders. "Maybe," I teased, "but we've got work to do. Would you please call Mickey and have her check in at the hotel under whatever name Kyra was supposed to be under?" I tugged the itinerary to me and handed it to him as he nodded and pulled out his phone, not leaving the spot in front of me. I turned to Kurt. "Kurt, honey... Please sit down with Cassie and Teri and go over that contacts list. Maybe they know a few of the names, but they just aren't written down." "Yeah, sure, Bells," he said, taking the list from me and joining the group that had sat back down on the sofa. "Amore," Alec called me softly, giving Kyra and her group a quick glance, "I'd like to get them out of the city ASAP, if you don't mind. I'll take first shift at Carlisle's house." "I'll come with you. Esme and I will meet you there," Carlisle added with a swift nod. "I have a feeling we'll all be commuting from Forks for a while." "I agree," I sighed wearily, because the road ahead looked tiresome and frustrating. I picked up my phone, dialing Rose. "Well?" she answered without any preamble. "We're taking this one," I told her. "I have everyone heading to the office now." "Okay," she chuckled, and I could just imagine her sarcastically wicked smile. "What's she like?" she asked. I laughed, humorlessly and darkly. "Oh, Rose... I'll let you see that for yourself," I snickered to my oldest and best friend as she cackled on the other end. "I can't wait until you meet her."

CHAPTER Four EDWARD


"Perhaps you weren't really listening to my wife," I snapped, yanking the phone out of Kyra's ear. Quickly, I took it apart, storing the pieces in my pocket for Alice to study. My patience was running thin with her, because the drive back from Seattle to my dad's house in Forks had been complete and utter torture. She wasn't the Kyra I'd first met years ago. This was someone that was absolutely irritating. She barely acknowledged when my father had introduced Bella...as my wife. She bitched about the drive. She bitched about the forests we were driving through. She bitched about the possibility of losing one of her people, due to Bella's background checks. And she bitched that Teri was only staying one night, that she couldn't get ahold of her manager, and that her room at my dad's house was upstairs. On and on it went. I envied Cassie's fucking earbuds, where I noticed that she'd turned the music up so loud that even I could hear it from the driver's seat. Alec and I drove her, Teri, Gator, and Cassie in his SUV, while Bella, Kurt, and Emmett went back to the office to start working on...well, everything. We had to fucking start from scratch with this case, because we'd had no warning. By the time Alec and I had dumped an ungodly amount of luggage up in her room, she had pulled out her cell phone and started texting, tweeting, and calling various people. "Edward, I need that," she whined, holding her hand out for it. "Not right now, you don't. The point of bringing you here was to keep you from being found. If you're telling everyone on Twitter what you're doing, it sort of defeats the fucking purpose," I explained, debating on whether to just shatter the motherfucker up against the wall, just to shut her up. "Once we've had a chance to look at your

phone, you can have it back." Kyra's face looked like a lost child as she gazed up at me, and I suddenly felt like a dick, because underneath the pampered star, there was a scared woman. I let out a slow breath, running a hand through my hair. "Look," I sighed, trying to soften my tone. "I know that these circumstances aren't all that great, but you have no choice. If you want us to stop this guy, you'll have to do what we tell you." "Did she mean it? Bella, I mean...about my stalker?" she asked, wringing her hands. "Bella takes her job very seriously. She usually doesn't say things she doesn't mean. If she feels this guy will try to get to you, she's probably right. The girls in the office have extensive knowledge on criminal behavior," I told her, trying to not puff up with pride; sometimes, it was impossible. Bella's FBI training added into her natural ability to seek out bullshit and made her a force to be reckoned with. Kyra studied my face for a minute. "How long have you been married?" she asked, suddenly changing gears on me. "Five years," I answered. "Kids?" "Yeah." I grinned, just because I couldn't help it. "Two...a boy and a girl. I'm sure you'll meet them tomorrow. We'll have a lot of things to go over, and I believe Alec is bringing you over in the morning." "Two," she mused softly, a sad smile just barely flickering across her features, before she looked back up at me. "And Bella knows about us?" "There wasn't really an...us," I stated, which caused Kyra to flinch, but it was the fucking truth. "But yes, she knows what happened.

There's nothing I keep from her. And she'd find out anyway, because she's not stupid." "I'm sorry to just pop back up in your life..." she muttered, her voice trailing off. "I know you didn't want to see me again." I wanted to groan, roll my eyes, and scream, but instead, I just rubbed my face roughly, only to grip my hair in order to get control. "Kyra, what I did back then... Well, I owe you an apology for how I treated you," I admitted. "It wasn't right, the way I ended things." "I'm not sure I gave you much choice," she chuckled, turning away from me to set a bag on the bed of the guest room. "I was...young, in so many ways. I'd been sheltered, despite my career." "I remember," I said with a nod. "I thought about you, you know," she said, smiling and shrugging. "I was mad...hurt. You were the only person I've met that didn't care who or what I was. To this day," she tacked onto the end. "That's the truth. And you made me feel safe, something I hadn't felt since before my dad died." She paused for a moment, but glanced up at me. "You had no idea who I was, did you?" she asked, a wry smile playing on her face. I chuckled, shaking my head. "No. Not at all." "You still don't," she surmised with a laugh. "Nope. Not a clue," I laughed. "Sorry." "Don't be," she snickered, waving a hand at me, but paused for just a second. "You're still very handsome when you laugh," she said softly with a nod, almost as if she were confirming it. That compliment changed the mood in the room back to tension-filled. And I felt that was my cue to leave. I wanted to get home to my family. I hadn't seen my daughter since she left for Mrs. Cope's that morning. "Make yourself at home here. Esme will take excellent care of you, and Alec will keep watch tonight," I told her, starting to turn from the room. "Tomorrow, we'll go over what we find out and set up a schedule so that you can still...work."

I stepped out into the hallway, shutting Kyra's door behind me, only to run into Esme, dropping off towels to the guest bathroom. "You'll have to watch how you speak to her," she whispered, raising an eyebrow at me. "She sees you as a protector." "You listened?" I snorted, rolling my eyes at her shameless nod. "Yes. I received a call from my somewhat jealous daughter-in-law, who filled me in a bit," she snickered, patting my cheek at my eye roll and groan. "I'm not sure Bella's correct in thinking this woman still has feelings for you, but it could turn into that. You need to be careful, son." "Yes, ma'am," I sighed, kissing her cheek. "Bella has no need to be jealous." "I know that," she chuckled, "and you know that. But you have to understand how Bella feels," she said, walking down the stairs with me. "This Kyra woman is rich, beautiful, and talented. She's famous all over the world for those things. That is intimidating for any woman. And here her husband has had a relationship with this woman. It's one thing to know about someone's past. It's another to have it shoved in your face. And now Bella has to protect this woman." "We've run into women from my past before," I stated, hating that we even were having this fucking conversation, but at least I could trust Esme. "The key to that sentence is 'run into,'" Esme pointed out. "As in...saw them and they went away. Kyra will be around for awhile." She paused for a moment, patting my upper arm. "Think back to when Jacob Black was under the same roof as us when we were protecting Bella. How did that make you feel to see a man Bella clearly didn't want constantly throwing himself at her?" "I wanted to castrate him," I growled, my hands balling up into fists at the memory. The fucker just wouldn't leave Bella alone, no matter how much she tried to avoid him. "I should have let her shoot him..." I muttered, smirking at Esme's soft laughter. "No, you did the right thing," she corrected, shaking her head at me. "Now the roles are reversed, so keep that in mind these next few weeks as Miss Bailey is around all the time."

"'Kay," I said, sounding a little like Bethy, but I felt lost in this situation. I wanted my wife no other. But I felt bound to do my job in protecting Kyra, and my guilt made me feel like I owed her something. It was a daunting feeling. "Now," she chirped, kissing my cheek, "I think your dad needed to speak with you before you head back to your house. He and Alec...and that adorable Gator are out on the porch." "Gator's cool as shit," I chuckled with a nod. "I have a feeling all the girls are going to swoon all over him." "Maybe," she chuckled. "Go...and kiss my grandkids goodnight for me. Tell them they're playing with Gamma tomorrow." I nodded and stepped out on the porch, where I was greeted by Gator, Alec, and my dad. "You wanted to see me?" "Yes. I need you to let Bella and the girls know that Teri will be traveling back to California tomorrow," my dad answered. "She has other clients she must attend to, so I'm going to be taking her place at Kyra's side." "Okay. Why?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him. "You want to play agent to her?" He laughed, shaking his head, but he gestured to Gator, who started to explain. "You remember Raulson?" he asked me. "Kyra's manager? That prick's still around?" I asked, sitting down in the chair next to him. "Not only is he still around, but he's just as fat and sassy as ever," Gator drawled. "I've never liked the man. Ever. But he'll be coming around soon, especially once she starts recording. I think if Kyra presents him with a new 'agent,' then he'll get a little nervous. Teri will still continue to do it, but she'll just do it through Carlisle here." My eyebrows shot up, because it wasn't a bad idea to have my dad in on this case. "You don't think he..." "I don't know," Gator interrupted me, holding up his hand. "I'm not really sure he'd jeopardize his most precious meal ticket, so I can't imagine it's him."

"Ike Raulson works solely for Solstice Music," my dad added. "His main priority has been Kyra from the beginning. Now that it's been bought out, I've had Angela start a rumor that no one's job is safe. Not that I'll clean house, but I've heard terrible things about this man. I want to know his story, so I want him nervous." "Okay," I conceded with a shrug, standing up, because my dad was a fucking shrewd and brilliant businessman. I turned to Alec. "I guess we'll see you in the morning with a plan," I told him, giving him a fist bump. "You get to have all the fun without me," he chuckled, smacking my arm. "I'll miss the girls picking these people apart. You'll have to bring me up to speed." "You're smart. I'm sure you can keep up," I laughed, heading out to my dad's car. He'd pick it up in the morning when he rode over with Alec and company. It wasn't even a five minute drive from my dad's house to mine. I parked his car next to Bella's, smiling at the familiar squeal of laughter coming from the yard. "Daddy!" Bethy gushed, running to me as fast as her little legs would carry her. "Hey, little sweetness," I chuckled, scooping her up and planting loud kisses to her neck, just to hear her happy laugh. "What are you doing outside this late at night?" "Mommy said I could watch for you," she explained, her cheeks a sweet pink as she panted in my arms. "Then she told me I should give you loud, sloppy 'mooches." With that said, I received a loud raspberry kiss to my cheek. I pulled her back, raising an eyebrow at her. "Hmm," I mused, tsking at her just a little. "That was weak, pretty girl. I'd rank it as maybe a five...six, at most." She grinned, grabbing my face and planting another louder, wetter kiss to my cheek. "What's that one?" "Eh, better. Eight," I scoffed with a shrug, rolling my eyes at her.

"Dad-dy!" she whined, giggling at the same time. "One more..." The last one was really loud, leaving my face covered in slobber, and I cracked the fuck up, because I just couldn't help it. My silly girl wanted to be the best, do the best at all she did. She would have never been satisfied with an eight if there was a chance a ten could be achieved. And that came from Bella, pure and simple. In fact, Bethy looked just like her mother as she bit her bottom lip, smiling at me with a slight tilt to her head as she waited for my judgment. "Yuck!" I scowled dramatically, wiping my face, which caused her to giggle adorably at me. "Okay, okay. A ten!" "Yay!" she cheered, both arms shooting up in the air like a touchdown signal, a gesture that she'd picked up from all of her uncles. I chuckled, bending her backwards and planting my own obnoxiously loud raspberry to her neck, causing her to squeal, laugh, and writhe in my arms. "Ten," I growled against her sweet smelling skin as she sagged in my arms. I stood her up straight. "Where's Sammy?" I asked, using the nickname that Bethy had dubbed him with from almost the day he was born. "Wif Mommy," she said, pointing toward the office, and I nodded, starting to walk us that way. "What color star today, Bethy?" I asked her, raising another eyebrow at her, because Mrs. Cope doled out behavior stars at the end of the day. The color determined just how she'd behaved. Gold was good, silver was average, and red was not good at all. I'd finally sat down with my baby girl after the incident in the park. As much as I could completely understand her feelings on protecting not only her brother, but her friends, too, I didn't want her to become a hot-head like myself. I thought raising a boy would prove to be more difficult, but it was Bethy we needed to watch. Samuel was our sweet, shy one. He was the one with a temperament more like Bella's calm, introspective. And he was painfully bashful, like I'd been before my mother died. "Gold!" she chirped proudly. "Because I helped Mrs. Cope clean up today. I smacked ewasers together. Dust went everywhere!"

"That's my girl," I praised softly, kissing her forehead and setting her on her feet. "That's what I like to hear." I opened the door to the office to find the place a beehive of activity, a stark contrast to what it had been prior to getting a call from my dad earlier. It seemed everyone was busy on computers, tacking shit up on the board and the walls, and putting notes together. Jasper and Emmett were studying what looked to be building layouts. Rose, Makenna, and Kurt were setting out pages on the conference table. Alice and Wes were in deep conversation in the computer room. Mickey and Bella were side by side, studying the same laptop screen. Even Caleb was working, posting pictures of various people on the bulletin board. But it was the other loud, singing, "Daddy!" that just completed my fucking day. It made up for the fucked up shit the day had entailed as Samuel scrambled down from his mother's lap. Short, chunky legs pumped furiously around the conference table, dodging Emmett and Jasper, and poor Kurt had to lift a leg to let Sammy run underneath so he wouldn't run into him. "Hey, buddy," I laughed, due to the obstacle course he'd just maneuvered. "Were you a good boy for Aunt Rose?" I asked, smirking when Rose nodded and rolled her eyes, because he was the easiest kid to watch. "Yeah," he whispered, smiling like sunshine and all things good, but he broke into a wide, heavy, body-shuddering yawn. "You're the man," I told him, holding out my hand for a fist bump, which he gladly gave with a sleepy smile and watery eyes. "Is it time for bed, little soldier?" I asked, glancing up at Bella, who was watching us with a sweet smile and a slow nod. "No, Daddy," he yawned again, clinging to me. "Not bed..." I sighed, because I wasn't ready to give him or Bethy up for the night just yet, so I sat down next to Bella, whispering, "Just a few more minutes, bud, okay?" He nodded, laying his head on my chest and watching his mother's fingers fly over the computer keyboard. "I'm not sure who's cuter...you or him," she chuckled, leaning over to kiss me quickly. "You spoil him."

"I spoiled Bethy, too," I countered with a chuckle and a shrug. "Mmhm," she said with a pursed-lipped and ever so indulgent smile. "Yes, I know," she chided, turning back to the computer. "How's the pop diva?" I grinned, hearing her sarcasm loud and clear. "Running out of things to complain about," I chuckled. "And most likely eating humble pie made by Esme at this point, because she was not impressed by Kyra." "Well, she's really going to have something to bit...complain about when she sees how much her schedule and her security measures have changed. And we aren't finished with the prelim background checks yet," she said, looking over at me and reaching over to brush a curl off of Samuel's forehead as his eyelids got heavier and heavier. "Which reminds me," I said, and explained to her about Ike Raulson, how even Gator mistrusted him. I also let her know that my dad was going to be joining in on the case as a favor to Teri Foley. "Oh, okay," she muttered, pulling the contact list to her. "That may be this IR on the list. I'll check it out." We both stopped when a contented, deep sigh pushed out of Samuel against my neck. "Bedtime," she sighed, reaching for him. "No..." I pouted dramatically, turning our boy from her. "I got this," I growled softly, smiling when she giggled and tugged at me. "Okay, well, take the pretty girl with you...and Caleb, because I'm not sure how long Rose and Em will be here." "I said I've got this, sweetness!" I reiterated in a whisper against her neck, placing a kiss there before getting up. "It's not like I'm any good at this shi...stuff," I said with a gesture to the computers, correcting myself quickly and quietly. "You can fill me in when I get back. I'll just set up the baby monitors, yeah?" "Yeah." She stood up, kissing me and Samuel, whispering to have sweet dreams not that he heard it, because he was out like a light. "And put the boys together, or her Royal Highness will have a gender meltdown." I chuckled and nodded in agreement, because Heaven forbid a lowly boy enter into Bethy's room. Not even her brother was allowed past the doorway. "Little

sergeant, bedtime. Come tell Mommy goodnight," I ordered, trying not to wake Sammy up. "You, too, little man. You're bunking with Sammy," I said, pointing to Caleb. "'Kay, Unca Edwurrd," he conceded, and slowly climbed down from the chair he was standing on in front of the bulletin board. He ran to Rose, and then Emmett, kissing them goodnight. It was the norm around here. If we were all working, then we took turns with the kids, whether it was babysitting, putting them to bed, or feeding them. After Bethy kissed her mother, I marched the kids across the yard to the house.

BELLA
"Edward's back," Alice muttered, pulling her laptop from the desk in the computer room. "Let's get this show on the road. He's going to flip the fuck out with what we found." "I know," I murmured back to her, pulling my own computer from the desk and joining everyone at the conference table. "Are we calling Carlisle and Alec for this?" I asked Edward when he walked in, but he shook his head no. "Nah, we can catch them up with Kyra tomorrow," he said, sliding what looked like several pieces of a cell phone across the conference table toward Alice. "It's Kyra's. Thought you might want it," he told her. She nodded fervently, automatically putting it back together and turning it on. "She was tweeting? Is she trying to get killed?" she tsked, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. "Well, that shit must stop..." Her voice trailed off, but she waved a hand at me to go ahead. "Fine," I sighed, slapping down the little bit of information we were able to collect on such short notice and with the limited shit we'd been given to start out. "We had no choice but to begin with the people that are around Kyra every day...including the woman herself," I started, shaking my head. "And that

shit wasn't easy, because we had to sift through her tabloid life to get to her real life." "Was there much of a difference?" Kurt asked, chuckling a bit. "'Cause that woman is on TMZ just about every night." "Oh yeah," I laughed humorlessly once. "In fact, it was a shocking background check," I said, giving Edward a pointed look. "Kyra Bailey was born Kyra Lynn Hardwick from Pittsburgh. She took her mother's maiden name when she started working for a local television station at ten years old. It snowballs from there. The children's show she started on was picked up by a national network, so she was uprooted to Los Angeles by the time she was thirteen. When she reached the age of sixteen, the show was finally canceled. However, she was already making movies and had recorded her first album." I paused, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, because Edward wasn't going to like what he was about to hear. I tossed a piece of paper down in front of him. "At eighteen, she got married while on tour for her second album. He was a band member...Roger Armstrong. That relationship lasted about a year, but the marriage lasted three," I said, raising an eyebrow at Edward. He grimaced, shaking his head, because that meant Kyra was still married at the time of the USO tour. "Fuck," he hissed, shaking his head. "I swear I didn't know," he vowed, his words only meant for me, but Mickey snorted and rolled her eyes. "No one knew, pretty boy, so don't sweat it," she said, her voice sincere and a touch sympathetic to this current topic. She slid another piece of paper to him. "The divorce was ugly and hushed up. How they kept it hidden when her face was on everything from t-shirts to pillow cases is beyond me, but it's true. Dear Roger tried to sue her for half of what the girl was worth. They finally settled out of court. Want to know when?" "No," he groaned, because he wasn't stupid, by any means. "Yup," I said, setting another page down onto the table. "The finalization of her divorce was two days after her return from her USO tour of Afghanistan."

Edward's gaze snapped to mine, and I raised an eyebrow at him. "It appears you made an impression, baby," I told him, shrugging once. "Oh damn," Jasper whispered, pulling the papers closer. "I remember you two, but Ed..." "Don't fucking say it!" he snapped, standing up from the table and starting to pace behind Emmett, Jasper, and Rose. "She never told me this shit, Bella," he groaned, his hand gripping his hair. "No, I can't imagine she would have," I told him, keeping my voice calm for his sake. I wasn't mad at him, but he needed to know that he hadn't just used her back then; they'd used each other. "Every single part of that marriage, court fight, and final divorce was sealed, due to her being a celebrity. Pay enough money, and anything can just...go away." "Well, sealed for some," Alice chuckled, which caused a few snickers throughout the room. "Edward, if it makes you feel any better, she was the one that asked for the dissolution of the marriage. She'd filed the original paperwork almost on their one-year anniversary, but Roger wanted his paycheck." "Did we check out this Roger asshole?" Emmett asked, taking the pages from Jasper, but giving a still pacing Edward a side glance. "We did." I set down another couple of pages. "He's clean. As in squeaky. He's living in New York, working for a different record label as the company's house guitarist. He hasn't traveled, he's been at work every day, and he's now remarried, with two children...boys. He's removed himself from Kyra's life completely. So he's not like...out for revenge." I glanced up at Edward, who was leaning against the wall and staring at the floor. "Not your fault, Edward. If she didn't tell you, then you would've never known. No one knew. Please sit down for me." He took a deep breath and let it out, before giving a brief nod and falling back down in his chair. "What else?" he asked, looking livid, but I'd have been willing to bet it was her keeping the truth from him more than the fact that she was married when they'd been together that was bothering him. And I had a funny feeling she'd be asked about it tomorrow.

"Well, things slow down with Kyra after Afghan... her divorce," I said, changing direction and taking the focus off of him. This was bad enough as it was. "She did what she told you she was going to do," I explained to him. "She went back to LA, recorded a new album, made a movie or two, and laid low. That is, until the Oscar buzz started. By the time she was twenty-three, she'd won various awards, started touring heavily, and her career skyrocketed way past the teeny-bop shit she'd started out with. She was considered a legit talent by this time. Her love life was a publicized mess. She dated several big names in Hollywood, including a director from one of her movies, a co-star, and a producer." "Which brings us up to date, really," Alice said with a shrug. "Her last breakup with some English actor was nasty. He cheated on her. She tried to ruin him for it. But they weren't married, they each had their own wealth, and the only thing to come out of it was that the guy went from an unknown to a household name almost overnight." She stood up, spinning her laptop around. "Financially, she is swimming in it merchandise, movies, three platinum albums, and a cosmetic line. She's not hurting for money, but I'd be willing to bet it's one of the draws of her stalker." "Why?" Edward asked, glancing up from the financial statement. "I thought stalkers were disillusioned into thinking that they're with the object. Romantically." He grinned when we all stopped to look at him. "Alice teaches me shit, too!" he huffed, rolling his eyes. "Usually, yes," Alice answered him, nodding and chuckling a bit. "But it's the type of flower we're dealing with that causes me to think her wealth might be involved. Marigolds mean cruelty and jealousy. What I'm not sure of is which description applies to Kyra." "Cruelty," Rose muttered, shooting a wink at me across the table when everyone chuckled, but she decided to back that statement up. "No, think about it. I'm not saying she's awful, but I haven't met her. I'd be willing to bet that she's busy as shit, so one wrong look, one bad day, and she goes and says the wrong thing to the wrong person. It's all over. This guy may have only been looking for an autograph, and she snaps at him or ignores him, and he takes it as complete and total rejection. I mean, we've seen it before...that girl on that sitcom..."

"Yes, and her stalker ended up killing her," I said, shaking my head. "We can't let that happen," I sighed, leaning on the table. "There's not much I can do, Bellsy, if I don't have a suspect," Wes piped up. "If you can get me a name and proof, we'll put a restraining order out, just like we did with you and Lilith." My nose wrinkled at the sound of that woman's name, but I nodded. "I know, but I wanted you aware of this case. I may need you at some point to do just that." "Always," he said with a grin and a wink. "Okay," I said, pulling a picture of Kyra and sticking it up on the bulletin board. "There are a few people in her past and probably her present that could mean her harm. It's not the ex-boyfriends, or the ex-husband...all of them check out and were nowhere near her at the time of the last few flower deliveries." "Maybe it's the ex-chopper pilot," Emmett chuckled, elbowing Edward, who couldn't help but crack a smile, because we all laughed. "Don't think I didn't rule him out," I said, trying to sound serious, but snorted into hysterics when my husband flipped me off. "Well, you were in China when the last flower was delivered," I reasoned, shrugging one shoulder. "Sweetness, go on, please," he groaned, still smiling, and I was grateful to Emmett for lightening the mood completely. The air had seemed too heavy in the room. "Which leads us to Kyra's agent, Teri," I said, posting the woman's picture up on the board. "Now, Carlisle says that he's known this woman for a long time. He's vouched for her character, which goes a long way with me...not that it stopped me from checking into her. However, she does check out as far as her background goes. She's pretty damn clean for an agent. There are no dirty deals under the table, all taxes are paid, and there aren't any red flags. She's been with Kyra since she turned eighteen." "Yeah, but she's left for California again," Jasper pointed out. "I'm watching her," Alice stated. "If she catches a flight, rents a car, or even takes the bus this way, I'll know about it."

"Next," I said, posting Cassie's picture. "Cassandra Winters. Cassie was an intern at the LA television studio back when Kyra first moved from Pittsburgh. They've been together ever since." I turned to Edward, because he was the only one in the room that had met the girl before now. "What was she like when you met her the first time? Because there's not much on her, besides her travel records with Kyra. She even lives with her, so there isn't any record of her owning a home or paying rent. She's never been married, no kids...nothing." Edward's brow furrowed, and he dragged his thumb across his bottom lip as he studied Cassie's picture on the board. "She was quiet, shy, and really nice," he started with a shrug. "But she was surrounded by loud and famous people and military personnel. She kind of faded into the background, to be honest. She shadowed Kyra, would show up when needed, but otherwise, she stayed out of the way." "I saw her today, Bells, spoke to her," Kurt piped up. "She's truly worried about Kyra. I don't think she's your problem. She's quiet, because she's overshadowed by Kyra's personality. She got interrupted speaking with me left and right." I nodded, agreeing with him, because I'd noticed the same thing. "On paper, she'd be my first concern, because she would be subjected to daily abuse...the endless, thankless job. She makes okay money, but she's nowhere near Kyra's wealth, so I was just checking. I guess she has no time for a life, for dating..." "Well, she doesn't like men," Mickey piped up, snickering a bit when we all snapped our attention to her, but the boys' smirks told me everything. "You...met her?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at her. "Only met, but I knew what she was," Mickey laughed, getting shoved by Emmett. "Oh, the good ole days," Jasper mused wistfully, shaking his head and rubbing his palms together. "Mickey was better than those letters to Playboy," he said with a crooked ass, cheesy grin. Edward barked a laugh, but looked down the table to Mickey. "That's right...you were on the security team at the Afghanistan show."

"I was," she agreed, still ignoring the razzing from Jazz and Em. "I worked the stage area. They put me there because they wanted them comfortable with another woman. They almost sent me with you, but Em, Jazz, and I had got called on a different run." "Nympho," Emmett coughed loudly, dodging her punch to his arm. "Aw, chill, Mick. You have to admit you didn't exactly care what gender you were with back in the day." "Hush, all of you," Rose laughed, shaking her head. "Love is love...leave it alone," she said, blowing me a kiss, which just broke the table up all over again, because they all knew that we'd drunkenly made out with each other years ago in order to teach one of Rose's old boyfriends a lesson. "Okay, okay," I chuckled, holding up my hands. "So Cassie's cool, yes? We all agree? I mean, yeah, she could be hiding something, but I'm just not getting a mean vibe from her. She seemed helpful and worried at Carlisle's office." Everyone nodded in agreement, and we moved on down the list. Godfrey, the hairdresser, turned out to be George Labeski from Kansas City, which just caused another round of laughter at the things I'd said to Kyra about him. He was clean, no criminal record, no unusual travel habits, and from what we could tell about his Facebook page, he wouldn't touch a woman if you paid him other than her hair. From the kid that ran errands and got coffee, down to the makeup artist, they all seemed clean. No one was cleaner than Milo "Gator" Carson. He was a decorated, retired Army sergeant, bonded, trained, and insured as the personal bodyguard to Kyra Bailey. He'd been with her since her first album tour and had, on many occasions, pulled her from some serious situations. Considering he was the one that had brought up the security issues to Carlisle to begin with, he was ruled out immediately as a suspect. His instant cooperation with me, Edward's high praise of him, and the fact that I'd personally watched how he cared for Kyra gave me a pretty confident opinion that he was a damned good guy. Which left one last person, the one that Makenna had been quietly studying since Edward had brought us the name.

"Ike Raulson," Makenna piped up, sitting back in her chair after spinning her computer around for us to take a look at him. "Ever watched the Muppets?" she asked with a giggle. "This guy looks like those old farts in the balcony." I grinned, shaking my head at her, because it was true. Raulson looked cranky, too old to be dealing with pop music, and overweight. Apparently, following Kyra around for over ten years had fed him well. "God, he was a dick," Edward muttered, sneering as he eyed the picture. "So fucking selfish. It was all about appearances with him. Was the shot right? Did Kyra look good enough? And he'd point out her mistakes onstage after each stop, not praise her. Like those meatheads in the desert cared whether she missed a note or not..." "Well, he sounds...pleasant," Alice sneered, her lip curling in disgust. "Does she like the man? Or did she just put up with him?" "She didn't care about the camera thing," Edward stated, "but the insults to her performance...that bothered her, whether she let on or not." "Well, you can't knock the art or the artist," I stated, shrugging a shoulder. "I've seen her perform...she's amazing. And usually flawless. She sang the National Anthem for the Super Bowl last year, and it was just perfect. So if he's knocking her, then he's just...mean." I turned to Makenna. "What did you find out about sunshine there?" She smirked, but turned her computer around. "He's been with Solstice Music since the seventies. He's managed some pretty big names and some flops. He took on Kyra when they signed her away from her first record company. They are responsible for bringing her out of Disney and into MTV." She studied her screen for a minute. "He's been married and divorced three times. He has kids from each marriage. The youngest son, Preston, works with him as his right hand. In fact, he's the only one that even speaks to Ike. He's got a daughter in St. Louis and another son in New York. There are no calls to California, no emails, no contact. It's like he doesn't exist to them." "Preston?" Emmett groaned, rolling his eyes. "If that doesn't scream pretentious rich boy... Wonder how many wedgies he got in school..." he mused, his voice trailing off. "Or swirlies...those are fun..." I chuckled, waving a dismissive hand at him. "Keep going, Mack."

"Ike pays his bills on time, trades in his car for a new one every year, and is registered Republican. He's made a considerable amount of money over the years, but with Kyra, he really raked it in. He's pretty straight-laced, actually. His criminal record is clean. He donates to St. Jude Children's Hospital once a year. And he's apparently good at his job, because they've kept him around for all this time. He may be an ass, but he's stable. Like a rock, actually." The table came to a halt, because we'd reached the end of our list of people that surrounded Kyra or at least the names available to us. "Could this be a fan?" Kurt asked. "I'm asking, because there are those out of their minds fans that follow their object around for like whole tours and shit." "From experience?" Jasper chuckled. "Yeah, there was a girl in school...Backstreet Boys..." Kurt muttered, rolling his eyes. "She'd have left me for Nick or Howie or some shit, I swear." We all chuckled, but I said, "Yeah, it most definitely could be a fan, or it's someone we aren't aware of. There are still names on this list that we can't get complete information on." "So what now?" Kurt asked, glancing up and down the table. "We protect her," I said simply. "We'll have to be observant, set up strict rules as to who comes near her, and she isn't to be left alone." "Schedule?" Rose asked, holding up her calendar. "Not tonight," I sighed, suddenly just exhausted of the whole topic. "We'll all meet back in the morning with Carlisle, Alec, and company. We'll go over everyone's responsibilities, where she's to be and when, and we'll let her know that so far, her people are good to go. That ought to make her happy." "Not that you care about her happiness," Rose muttered with a chuckle. I stopped, looking over at her. "Not particularly," I stated, shrugging a little. "Nor does she care about mine," I said, raising an eyebrow at my oldest friend, and she smirked up at me. "She chose to argue with me...not her bodyguard, not Carlisle...and Heaven forbid she argue with Edward... She's oblivious as to how threatened she really is, and the only thing that concerned her was her fucking hair dresser." The room grew quiet silent, actually. "Look, she'll be

here in the morning. You'll all get to meet the Oscar winner and see for yourself when we tell her just how little she's going to be allowed to do. Now...get out of here..." I commanded lightly, and the meeting broke up. "Hey, Bells," Wes said, pulling me away from everyone. "Don't forget. If you can get ahold of one of those flowers, I'll most definitely send it to my lab. Okay?" I smiled up at him and nodded. He'd become such a good friend to us since we'd met years ago during the Royce King situation. And he worshiped the ground Makenna walked on. He was so very handsome, standing tall with longer, light brown hair and a sweet smile. "Yeah, Gator is trying to get one for me," I told him, "but I can't promise as to what condition it'll be in. Not that I want her to get another one, but a newly left marigold would be better." Wes nodded in agreement. "Well, call me if you get one. And when you guys narrow this shit down, we'll legally set things in motion." "Thanks," I told him. No one really put anything away, because we were only going to pick right back up in the morning. Once the office was locked up, Caleb was scooped up by Rose, and everyone left for the evening, I walked down my hall, first checking on Sammy, who was almost laying sideways in his bed. I tugged the covers back over him as best I could while he was in that position and kissed his sweet, chubby twitching fingers. But I found myself staring at my daughter as she slept peacefully. I walked into her room, placing the lightest of kisses to her temple and gently brushing a lock of hair from her face. Carefully, I picked up a dropped stuffed animal and put it back in her arms. Mr. Bunny had long been replaced by the now very handsome, very overly dressed Mr. Bear. Bethy loved the bright red bow tie on the dark brown teddy bear. It was a prize Edward had won her at the Halloween fair the night he'd saved me from Lilith.

After shaking off the slight sadness, worry, and pride that came with the thought that my baby girl was starting school in a few weeks, I snatched up discarded clothes, sneakers, and a few stray socks, taking them down to the laundry room. I walked into mine and Edward's bedroom, to find him sitting on the edge of the bed. "Kids okay?" he asked softly, looking up from where his elbows were resting on his knees. He'd taken off his hat, so his hair was in an adorable disarray. "Yeah, and I swear if you watch closely enough, they're growing...right now," I chuckled lightly, walking to him. He immediately reached out to pull me between his legs. "Especially Bethy," I whispered with a long sigh. "I want to count, document, and kiss every freckle on her face so I don't miss out on anything." Edward grinned up at me, nodding slowly. "I don't think she'll hold still long enough." "No, probably not," I snickered. His smile fell quickly, and his gaze fell to his hands on my waist. "I-I d-didn't knknow sh-she w-was m-m-married, B-Bella," he sputtered, and it was worse that his usual nervous speech. "I-I w-wouldn't h-have t-touched h-her." I cupped his face, making him look up at me. "The marriage was over by that point." "The papers weren't signed," he countered. "The marriage still existed. I was an ass back then, but I wasn't...that. That shit was off limits...boyfriends didn't count, but that most definitely did." I sighed deeply, smiling sadly at him. "You two used each other. Plain and simple. You'll have to ask her why she wasn't honest, but I'd be willing to bet that she didn't even consider herself married at that point. It wasn't like you had honorable intentions, Edward." He grimaced, his nose wrinkling, and it was so fucking adorable that I couldn't help but kiss it. "How was it really when you dropped her off?" I asked him.

He huffed a laugh once through his nose, tilting his head up at me. "Torture. She complained the whole way. The drive was too long, there wouldn't be hotel room service, about you possibly taking away her employees, and even more when I snatched her phone from her, because she started to use it." I smirked down at him, but waited patiently for him to finish. "Sh-She s-said I-I w-was h-handsome w-when I-I l-laughed," he said again, his stutter loud and clear, and he looked just like his daughter when she thought she was in big trouble. Laughing, I said, "Well, she's right. Though, I'm not sure how I feel about her just tossing that out there at you." "Me, either," he admitted, toying silently with the edge of my shirt. "Esme thinks you're jealous, sweetness. Please, please don't be," he begged suddenly. "I want nothing to do with Kyra...other than get through this case. I swear." "Ugh, maybe I am jealous. I don't know," I groaned, rolling my eyes, "but I see her...and she's beautiful and there's this history with you...and..." "Mention her looks again, Bella, and I'll hold you down in front of a mirror just to show you how fucking perfect you are to me. Naked. Got me?" he snapped, his green eyes blazing with frustration, anger, and endless love. The sound that escaped me made him chuckle and wrap his arms around me to keep me from either stepping out of his embrace or tackling him. It was a cross between a laugh at the mere idea that he'd actually do that, a moan of sheer want of watching us in front of a mirror, and a sigh of contentment at just how he truly saw me. "Yes, sir," I breathed, giggling a bit at his carnal smile and sexy ass raised eyebrow. "I don't want her, baby," he whispered, dragging the backs of his fingers down my face. "I don't care about what happened years ago between us, what that woman does for a living, or how she looks at me," he stated, and I nodded, extremely grateful that he saw what I saw when it came to how Kyra had stared at him. "And I certainly don't fucking care what she looks like. I apologized to her, so as far as I'm concerned...it's ancient fucking history," he ranted, slipping his hand into my hair at the base of my neck.

I leaned into him, placing my hands flat on either side of his face, letting my fingers revel in the slight stubble on his face. Deep, concerned, and utterly vulnerable green eyes gazed up at me through long, beautiful eyelashes. God, he was so fucking handsome, and so very sweet. And that's when a touch of comfort started to settle over me, because there was no way that Kyra knew anything about the young boy I knew once, the one that occasionally showed himself to me. Like right then. "She doesn't know you," I whispered, my brow furrowing a bit. He shook his head slowly. "Only you, sweetness. I've told you that a million times." I nodded, whether in acceptance of his statement or simply that I'd heard him I wasn't really sure and I let out a slow deep breath. I wanted to crawl inside of him, cling to him, or maybe just kiss him senseless, but my love for him was overwhelming. I wasn't normally the jealous type. I knew what Edward was when we first started admitting our feelings for each other and our pasts. I had faith enough in him to know the love he had for me was real, true, and so very fucking strong. It could be felt, like another entity in the room. Maybe the way we'd reunited after meeting the one time as kids made me feel possessive of him, but he'd been the only person that could get through to me after my ordeal with Miller. We'd had the occasional run-in with women from his past, and it hadn't bothered me, but Kyra did. A lot. "Talk to me, love," he said softly, dragging a thumb across my bottom lip. "Don't hold this in. I need to know what you're thinking." "I look at her, and I look at you...and I see you together with her," I said cryptically, but he understood it, because he grimaced slightly. "If the situation were reversed..." "Yeah," he sighed, kissing me quickly to stop me from finishing that sentence. "I'd be a caveman. I know." I giggled, my head falling back, and I felt warm, wet, smiling lips against the skin of my throat. Strong, calloused hands settled on either side of my face, making me look at him.

"She had me for five minutes, baby. I've had you for five years," he stated firmly, raising an eyebrow at me. "And I want five hundred more with you. I wouldn't change that. I don't want to change that. Never in a lifetime would Kyra and I have worked. I knew it then, and that shit hasn't fucking changed." "She's going to try, Edward," I whispered, because I'd seen determination in her eyes when she'd gazed up at him Carlisle's office, and that might have been what was bothering me the most. No one else from his past had ever looked at him the way Kyra had, because they'd moved on. I wasn't so sure she had. "She will fail." "Swear?" I asked him, kissing his lips softly, slowly, before pulling back to wait for his answer. "All the fucking time," he chuckled, finally pulling me to his lap when I laughed with him, but I knew that he meant it. "She's coming to our house tomorrow," I groaned, rolling my eyes. Edward grinned, squeezing me closer. "Yes, she is. And we're going to treat her like any other case, sweetness." I growled dramatically, my lip curling at just how long this shit was going to take. It was most likely going to test my patience to its very limits. "Your dad so owes me one," I grumped, folding my arms across my chest. "Yeah, he does," Edward laughed, tugging at my wrists until I finally relented and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. "Tell him that. Repeatedly. Maybe that new Camaro you've been eyeballing will be his way of making it up to you." I giggled evilly, biting my bottom lip. "Ooh, I do have a birthday coming up..." "Mmhm," he purred, dragging his lips across my own, the mere flicker of his tongue tasting me. "And what do you want, love?" "You. All to myself. No kids. No friends. No exes. I don't care where or how." He pulled back, gazing at me like I was his next meal. He smirked, his eyes darkening to an evil, carnal black as his tongue glided slowly across his bottom lip.

"That sounds like a damn fine idea, sweetness," he crooned, his hands ghosting down my back, only to cup my ass and squeeze. "On one condition..." He raised a deadly sexy eyebrow at me, tilting his head just a bit. "And that would be?" I asked, matching his eyebrow with my own. "We work...as a team...and we get this shit done quick, fast, and in a hurry," he stated, his voice almost gruff. "Together." I smiled, kissing his lips softly. I could see what he was trying to tell me, what he was asking of me. He wanted our flawless teamwork to solve this case in order to get it done. He was an amazing force of protectiveness. I was good at seeing through bullshit. Together, we were strong, almost invincible. If we worked together, there was no chance in hell anything could come between us, and that was truly what he was trying to get across to me. We'd worked together to take down a mafia leader, and we'd worked together to get our daughter back when she'd been kidnapped. And this current case came nowhere near that dangerous, especially if our team ran things the way we always did, so if we were smart, cautious, and determined, we'd be unstoppable. I nodded once, kissing him again, just because I could, just because he was mine. I kissed him as a thank you for settling my fears like he always did, even when I didn't really know what my fears were. I kissed him, because he was so very sweet, something I'd be willing to bet Kyra knew nothing about. And that last thought caused another smile to creep up my face. I sat up on my knees, straddling his lap and threading my fingers into his hair. Without warning, I claimed his mouth, hard, deep, and wet. Not one to fall behind, Edward let loose my favorite sound a deep, longing, sensual moan and he gripped my hair almost roughly to turn my head, his tongue sliding slowly against my own. I pushed him back onto the bed, bracing my hands on

either side of his head as we lost ourselves for just a moment. Pulling back, I pressed my forehead to his, reveling in just how much, how quickly his want for me was making itself known or he was pressing me against it, I wasn't sure which. Our breathing was heavy, but I finally had to give him an answer. "Deal."

CHAPTER five BELLA


"You so fucking owe me," I hissed at my father-in-law, rolling my eyes at the smile he used as a weapon just like his son. They had all just arrived to mine and Edward's house, and they were piling out of Alec's SUV. Kyra's complaining could be heard as a constant drone she was hungry, she didn't get enough sleep, she hated the woods. That last complaint was cut short when Gator reminded her just whose house she was looking at. Even Cassie rolled her eyes at that one, giving me an apologetic look. "Oh, sweetheart," he crooned, stopping me from stalking away from him. "Walk with me," he commanded softly, draping a heavy arm across my shoulders and walking me toward the house, where his wife had arrived early to help us with a huge breakfast for everyone. "Trust me when I tell you that you have nothing to worry about with this woman and my son," he stated firmly, but softly in my ear. "I know that," I scoffed, spinning in front of him just as we reached the porch steps. "And if she tries, she'll walk onto the stage with a limp for the rest of her career." I tried not to smirk at the laughter that burst out of him, but it was impossible. "Just wait," I told him, holding up a finger. "This is a complicated security case alone. The stalker problem is just the icing on the cake. She is huge! She'll be recognized everywhere. It's only a matter of time before the media starts to get wind of her being in hiding. And then she still has all these engagements we have to get her to." His face sobered up as his gaze trailed out to the yard, where the boys were setting up the three long tables. Edward and I had thought a meeting of this size would go down better with food and plenty of outdoor room. Besides, it was a gorgeous summer morning. Carlisle rubbed his bottom lip slowly, turning back to me. "You're right," he sighed, shaking his head. "It'll be hard, but I need you on this one, Bella. If it was just a breech in security, I would've used my staff at Twi Tech, but it's not.

This is bigger, and because I've acquired her with Solstice Music, she's now my responsibility." "Well, there's more to her than she's letting on," I whispered, pointing past him. "And I don't mean the fact that she looks like she wants to eat my husband...and Emmett...and Jasper, from the looks of it," I muttered, frowning at that new revelation. "There are things she's kept hidden like marriages and I think she knows more about these flowers than she's admitting." "Really?" he asked, his eyebrows raising up high to his hairline. "Yeah," I said with a nod. "She's lying about something. I'm not sure what, but I'm not stupid. I can tell when someone's eyes dilate, when their breathing changes. I've been reading that shit for years. Your son can get away with nothing." Carlisle grinned, leaning forward to kiss my forehead. "Thatta girl." He pulled back, placing his hands on my shoulders. "We'll figure it out. I'm in on this one with you. I'm taking a place at Kyra's side for this. Jake can run the office just fine without me." I let out a short breath, slightly placated, but asked, "How is he?" "Good...really good," he answered. "He's dating a lovely young woman, who seems to adore JW." "Oh, that's cool," I said, slightly shocked, because Jake hadn't dated in a long time. "Now," he said with a grin, clapping his hands once. "Where are my grandkids?" I giggled, jerking a thumb back toward the house. "Their grandmother is teaching them how to make waffles. It's been the lesson since she got here." We walked into my house, and immediately, the calls of, "Poppy!" rang out, even from Caleb, who had adopted Carlisle and Esme as an extra set of

grandparents. And they loved him right back, treating him with just as much love as they did Bethy and Sammy. "Mommy!" Sammy chirped from his highchair at the kitchen counter. "Wook!" Beaming proudly at the happy face waffle he had in front of him, my son was all adorable morning goodness. I chuckled, running my fingers through his unruly hair and kissing his sweet, puckered lips. "That's awesome, baby," I praised him. "Did Gamma help?" "Yeah," he whispered in that slow way he always did as his crooked smile crept up his face. "Helped." I kissed him again, simply because he looked so much like Edward when he did that. It didn't help that he was wearing a camo t-shirt that said "Daddy's Little Soldier," a pair of khaki cargo shorts, and sweet little brown hiking boots that just made his legs look all the shorter and chunkier. I wasn't sure who was more fun to dress, him or his sister, who was running into the kitchen like her hair was on fire. "Mom! Mommy! Mom-my!" she chanted, and I swore I needed to cut her time with her Aunt Alice down a bit. "What? What? What?" I laughed, scooping her up and setting her on a bar stool, because I could see what she wanted. She was holding out her box of "hair thingies," as Edward called them. "Pwease?" she asked simply, holding out her brush. She was wearing denim overalls which she insisted on at least once a week, because she could store a billion things in the pockets a baby blue shirt underneath, and matching baby blue Chucks. My girl was almost OCD when it came to matching shirt to shoes, to hair thingies. Something denim was just about a daily requirement, and it was a miracle if I could get her into something that even resembled a dress. "Sure, pretty girl," I told her, taking the brush. "Which way?" "Half up...two ponytails," she said, using her hands to gesture to her head. "Gamma and Aunt Sawah are taking us to the zoo!" she gushed, and I glanced up at Esme, who was trying to keep Caleb as clean as possible, but he was truly a hands-on type of kid which meant he was covered in flour up to his elbows.

"I figured I'd give you the day. Rose said something about a few appointments in Seattle, so you can just get the kids from our house when you drop Kyra back off," Esme stated, setting Caleb down to the floor as Carlisle scooped up Samuel. "When you're finished, breakfast is ready." "And we'll start the meeting as soon as you're out there," Carlisle added. I nodded as I brushed my daughter's hair, pulling up half of it and securing it with a light blue band. I started to brush the other side, when Bethy reached up and rubbed at the wrinkle to my brow, just like her father always did. "Are you angry?" she asked. "No, baby," I told her, shaking my head. "Daddy and I have a big job to take on. I was just thinking. That's all." Bethy peered around me, causing me to stop with her hair. "Which one?" she asked, pointing out the window. "The pretty lady at the end of the table," I told her. Bethy scowled, looking like her dad, and then sat back up straight so I could resume her hair. "You're prettier," she huffed, clearly unimpressed. "She looks like that lady from TV." "She is the lady from TV," I chuckled, finishing the last little ponytail and scooping her up so I could kiss on her just for being Bethy. Bethy's eyes widened, and she turned toward the window again. "Really?" she asked. "Yup, come on," I said, walking out the screen door. "You can meet her." I walked her across the yard, smiling when Edward met us. "There are my girls," he crooned, kissing his daughter's puckered lips and taking her out of my arms. "I was wondering if you two had run away." "No, Daddy! Never!" Bethy giggled at him, cupping his face and pulling his forehead to hers. "We can't leave wifout you," she vowed. "Well, I should hope not," he snickered, kissing her neck. "Hair emergency," I explained with a chuckle at the two of them.

"Well, you look beautiful...both of you," he told us quietly, taking Bethy by her overall straps and lifting her up, just to hear her squeal into laughter. Once he set her down, she ran straight to Kyra, who was smiling down at her, because Bethy just did that to people. She was nowhere near shy, and her beaming smile was just fucking contagious. The whole table came to a standstill as Bethy said, "I'm Bethy. I've seen you on TV." "Well, hey, Bethy. I'm Kyra," she laughed, holding out her hand. My daughter shook it as she continued, "It's nice to meet you." Not one to mince words, Bethy got straight to the tough question. "Why are you here?" Edward chuckled low next to me as we took our seats, but the little boulder that was my son hit my leg at full force, so I scooped him up so he could watch his sister as I sat down next to Edward. "I'm here for breakfast," Kyra replied, not realizing that Bethy didn't take to being talked to like a baby. "No," Bethy scoffed, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. "Why are you here? What's my family helping you for?" "There is no crap on this planet that the Bambina can't see through," Alec chuckled softly from my side, shaking his head and holding out a fist for Sammy to bump it, which he did with a sweet smile. "Just like her mother," Mickey added with a chuckle, but we all waited for Kyra's answer. "Oh," Kyra said, her eyebrows shooting up. "They're supposed to keep me safe from a bad guy." That answer seemed to fit with whatever Bethy needed to hear, and she nodded once. "Well, they can do it. They're the best!" That earned my daughter cheers from her Uncles Alec, Emmett, and Jasper, but it was to her daddy that she ran to for confirmation. "Wight, Daddy?" she huffed, her face completely serious.

"Yes, ma'am," he answered her, helping her sit down next to him and kissing the crown of her head. "And who's this?" Kyra asked, pointing to Samuel, who was trying to burrow into me to avoid the attention from new people. "This is Samuel," I said, trying to pull him back so he could say hello, but he just wouldn't budge. "You won't say hello, Sammy?" I whispered. He shook his head and buried his face into my neck. "He doesn't have to," Bethy stated, her brow furrowing as she looked from her brother to Kyra. "Easy, little sweetness," Edward chuckled softly against her hair. "I'm going to rename you guard dog if you keep that up." I giggled, but rubbed Sammy's back. "He's our shy one," I told her. "No, he doesn't like her. Can't you tell?" Bethy grumbled, folding her arms across her chest. "Elizabeth Renee, that's enough," Edward chided, but there was hardly any force behind it. And just like his father, Caleb broke the tension around the table. "I'm Caleb Edward McCarty!" he said, giving her the award winning, dimply smile that won people over from the get go just like Emmett. "On that note," Carlisle chuckled, shaking his head. "Perhaps we should introduce everyone you haven't met and what they do, so you know what to expect, Kyra." He stood up as everyone started to pass around food to load their plates. "Kyra, Gator, Cassie...your security team... Edward, Kurt, Emmett, Alec, Mickey, and Jasper," he said, pointing to each of them. "They are experts in weapons, defense, and tactical planning." He gestured to my girls. "The ladies of information and technology... Rose, who will be in charge of your schedule and getting you anything you may need. Alice and Makenna, the computer experts and communications. Nothing is secret with them around."

"Including hushed up marriages," Rose muttered, but it was just loud enough for Kyra to hear her, and her gasp was not missed. "Enough, Rose," I said, turning Samuel around so he could eat some breakfast. "Here, handsome. Your smiley face is melting," I told him, and he grinned sweetly up at me as he reached for it. "And what is it you do?" Kyra asked me, but my daughter's eyes narrowed on her, a fork halfway to her mouth. "My mommy's the boss," she said, and suddenly, she raised an eyebrow at the woman, just like her father. "My goodness, you're in rare form today, Bethy," I sighed, giving my daughter a chiding look. "Eat. Behave. Or the zoo is out...and that'll disappoint Caleb, Sammy, and Abby. Got me?" Caleb kicked her leg. "Shut up, Beffy! I wanna go!" Bethy sighed, shaking her head, but she shut up, despite her family's silent laughter around the table. "I'm just sayin'," she muttered, shoving a giant bite of waffles and syrup into her mouth. "Maybe now is a good time to go over everything," I said, ignoring Kyra's belligerent looks aimed my way and the fact that my daughter was way too much like me sometimes. I gestured for Rose to pass out the new schedule so we could all go over it, bracing myself for the pop diva's reaction. However, I turned my attention to Gator, who was watching my daughter with an amused expression on his face as he chewed his breakfast slowly. "Gator, we had to remove some...engagements from the itinerary. We had no choice. The unknown was too big for us to take a chance with safety." "Okay," he said with a nod, pulling the stack of pages closer so he could flip through it. "I see you left all the recording time, the TV spots, and the concert at the arena. What did you remove?" "The making of the video," I stated, turning when Kyra started to protest, her language not so nice.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," she scowled, flipping through the calendar, most likely to see what else we'd messed with. "I'm going to say this once," Edward started in a low, menacing tone, his face filled with a dark ire as he held up one finger. "When these guys are in your presence, you will watch what you say. Am I clear?" he commanded, gesturing to Caleb, Sammy, and Bethy. Kyra nodded and started to open her mouth, but he didn't let her say anything. "I realize these aren't the best of circumstances, but you will listen, you will pay attention, and you will do as these people tell you. You aren't the first life they've protected, and you won't be the last. Try to show some respect. We will do everything within our power to stop the threats and keep you safe, but you will have to learn to give and take." The entire table froze, because very rarely did Edward lose it like that anymore. He usually maintained his temper a little better, especially in front of the kids, but he wasn't giving her much leeway. I grimaced, because I was pretty sure he was still pissed about her secret marriage. Mickey held out her hand to Rose, who slapped a twenty dollar bill down on it. And I wanted to laugh, because they'd totally bet on how long it would take Edward to lose his shit. But I didn't. I did, however, turn back to Kyra. "If you would've let me finish," I started, keeping my voice calm, "I would've explained that it was only removed until we could get a firm date from the record company, a list of who would be working on the video, and where it would be filmed." "Oh," she murmured, her shoulders hunching a bit. "Right...oh," I sighed, rubbing my temple and breathing in Sammy's hair to calm myself down. "And the next time that you curse in front of my kids, I will force you to pay the swear jar. The boys can give you a price list..." I stated, gesturing to Emmett, who was cracking the fuck up.

"That f-bomb?" he asked, grinning like a fool. "Hundred bucks, pop queen. Trust me," he sang. "Bethy can afford her first car on just what I've put into it. So watch out." I chuckled silently into Sammy's hair, giving Edward a quick glance to see that he was grinning down at his plate, but he said nothing more on the subject. Some days, I could just squeeze Emmett to death. "God, Kyra." Gator sighed, rubbing his face roughly. "Must everything be an argument with you? Really? I was hoping that a new city and new management with Solstice would help me find this guy," he said. Gesturing to my father-inlaw, he continued, "Carlisle here offered us his help. These people are stopping everything else just for you. And you haven't exactly acted grateful." That shut her up and seemed to have knocked her attitude down a notch or two, because she nodded, giving her plate more attention than the people speaking at the table. I was getting the impression that Gator rarely put her in her place, but she respected him enough to listen when he did so. I let my gaze drift to Cassie, who was always so fucking quiet. She shook her head once, giving Kyra a side glance, but she said nothing. I was beginning to think Cassie saw every-fucking-thing and planned to sit down with her alone very soon. Turning back to Gator since Kyra was pouting I said, "This schedule isn't set in stone. We can change, add, or remove from it at any time. We just need plenty of time to do so. We stripped it down to the basics for right now, because not only do we need to be able to cover every minute with Kyra, but we have to be able to check out every person she comes in contact with and every building she's going to be stepping into. We have to keep her safe and find out who is making these threats against her. In order to do that, we have to minimize everything contact with the public and media, unknown personnel, and buildings with poor security." Gator nodded seriously, looking back down at the pages in his hand. "You've got a minimum of two people with her at all times...more in public. And I'm surprised that you left the concert at the arena. Why?" he asked, glancing around the table. "Because that's one of the easiest places for us to cover, believe it or not," Edward answered him, and his voice was now calmer, not so abrupt. "We can cover every entrance, security camera, and she'll be flown in, not driven."

Cassie's and Kyra's heads snapped up at that last statement, so Edward continued to explain. Pointing across the yard to his chopper underneath its tarp, he said, "I still fly. And the arena you happen to be going to has a helicopter landing pad. It's quicker and safer to land just before you go on and take off out of there just after you've finished. You'll have a team with you, including myself." "How much time before I go on?" Kyra asked. "Whatever you need, but if one of us tells you its time to go...it's time to go," he stated firmly, not leaving it up for argument. "You've removed shopping, dinners out, and a record store meet and greet," Cassie noted softly, and we all glanced up at her, because damn, she never said anything. "Again...not set in stone," I said, and she glanced up at me. "Restaurants and stores are security nightmares, so they need to be truly considered. I'd prefer them off the list. Anything you need can be picked up for you," I explained, gesturing around the table. "However, the meet and greet is up for debate if we have all the info on it." Cassie nodded in acceptance, as did Gator, but Kyra frowned. "And with this crew around, you won't starve. Trust me." Sammy turned around in my arms, and I wiped a drop of whipped cream off his chin. "Daddy cooks," he whispered only to me, but Edward and Alec heard him just fine, causing them to laugh softly. "Yes, he does, handsome," I whispered back, chuckling at my sweet boy's smile. "It's good, right?" "Yeah," he whispered back slowly, grinning up at me. "What's your favorite, kiddo?" Alec asked him. "Dot dawgs," he drawled, and I kissed his forehead simply for how fucking cute that sounded. "Fwench fwies," he added with a firm nod of his head. "I like those, too," I told him in his ear, which caused Sammy to giggle and fold in on himself when it tickled.

Edward chuckled, placing a hand flat to his son's head and dropping a kiss to both our temples. "Soon, buddy," he promised. "Dot dawgs and french fries soon." "Guys," Rose piped up, looking at her phone. "You need to get on the road. Kyra's due at her first recording session soon. And after that, she's got a photo shoot." I nodded, giving Esme a pleading look to come take Samuel from me. She smirked, giving a still pouting and quiet Kyra a side glance, before getting up from the table. I turned back to Samuel. "Ready for the zoo with Gamma?" I asked him, and he nodded. "You'll be a good boy, right?" "Yeah," he giggled, turning to his dad. "Wayter, Daddy?" "Yup, later, buddy," he chuckled as he dropped a heavy kiss to his son's head, a stark contrast from his angry moment earlier. "Love you...be safe, okay, pal?" "Love you," he chirped back, reaching for his Gamma, who scooped him up lovingly. "Safe," he added with a sweet opening and closing hand wave. I stood up from the table, waving Bethy over to me. "Come here, pretty girl. I want to talk to you before you go off with Gamma for the day." Bethy wrinkled her nose, but got up and came to me. I picked her up, and she wrapped her legs around me. Walking away from the table, I said, "I love you. Do you know that?" I chuckled a bit, because I couldn't help it. Her strong personality was an amazing blend of me and her dad. She beamed and nodded. "Yeah, love you, too, Mommy." "Good," I huffed dramatically. "Now, I know you like to protect everyone, and I know you don't like it when people pick on your family and friends, but there's a fine line between protective...and rude, Elizabeth." I raised an eyebrow at her until she nodded, her bright green eyes lowering just a bit. "B-But M-Mommy, sh-she w-was l-looking a-at y-you m-mean," she countered, her face taking on a scowl that resembled her father's so fucking much that I couldn't help but kiss her cheek.

"Bethy, I know. Trust me. Miss Kyra doesn't mean it, okay?" I took a deep breath, because it wasn't a true lie I was telling my daughter, but she didn't need to know the details. "Look, she's nervous and upset, so she's just not really thinking...rationally. Does that make sense to you?" Bethy frowned and nodded, but asked, "Like when Sammy doesn't feel good? He cries?" I let out the breath I'd been holding. "Exactly, my smart girl. So just...ignore her for now, but use your manners, Miss Ma'am. Okay? I love that you want to take care of me...and Daddy, but we're grownups. We can handle it," I chuckled, shaking my head. "Sammy doesn't like her," she whispered conspiratorially to me. "And he doesn't have to," I whispered back with a shrug. "He's entitled to his opinion. But you know your brother takes a bit to warm up to people." She nodded, looking past me, a huge grin spreading over her face. "Daddy," she sang, holding out her arms for him. "How much trouble are you in, little sweetness?" he asked her, taking her from me. "I'm suh-posed to be nice," she told him, sneering adorably. He grinned, kissing her cheek. "That's not a bad idea, Bethy," he whispered against her skin. "Are you still all-clear for the zoo?" "Yes," she laughed and nodded. "Good," he chuckled, "then you have fun with Gamma, and we'll see you later." "Love you," she sang, grabbing either side of his face. "Be safe." "Love you, too, baby," he told her, kissing her forehead before setting her down. Before I would walk away toward the office, I was grabbed by strong, yet gentle hands and tugged back into Edward's arms. "Armed and constant communication today. Got me?" he commanded, raising an eyebrow at me.

"Yes, sir," I purred, smirking up at his frustrated huffing breath. "I mean it," he sighed. "Please?" "Yeah," I agreed, standing up on my toes just to kiss him. "Let's get geared up. Okay?" Edward sighed deeply, his sharp, no nonsense gaze landing somewhere behind me. "I'm sick to fucking death of her lack of respect, especially toward you." I chuckled, forcing him to look at me. "Not that it justifies her attitude, but her freedom has been completely taken away, baby. It takes a bit to adjust. I hated it at first," I said with a grimace, because if anyone should know what it was like to be sequestered away from society, it was me. And she had it easy; she could at least continue to do her job. I hadn't been so lucky a few years ago, and it was probably the only thing that was keeping me calm with Kyra's attitude. "And since I'm who everyone is looking to, that makes me the bad guy." His gaze softened, and then turned into something pained. "Are you going to mention that to her? Miller, I mean." "Maybe." I shrugged, not knowing if Kyra needed to hear that part of my life or not. My time with Miller, how Edward saved me, and my scars were still a very sensitive, very personal part of me. "I don't know." Edward frowned, pressing his forehead to mine. "That's totally your decision, sweetness though it may help her understand why you're so...adamant about safety." I smiled and nodded, because I'd thought the same thing. "Yeah. I know. But thank you," I said sincerely, because he always had been loyal to me concerning that time in my life. He told no one about it. Ever. "Now," I sighed, cupping his ever so handsome face, "are you going to ask her about that marriage?" "She could've gotten me fucking Court Marshaled!" he hissed, a touch of a growl to his voice. "It's fucking against the rules for a member of the U.S. Military to have a sexual relationship with someone that's married. Fuck!" His hand shot to his hair, and he shook his head slowly.

Okay, so I wasn't expecting that little outburst. At all. I also wasn't expecting that to be the reason he was so pissed at her. "Hey, hey, hey," I soothed him, making him look only at me. "She didn't. You weren't. It's all over. You hear me?" He didn't budge, continuing to glare her way. "Sweetheart, that marriage was buried so deep in the system that I don't think anyone would've known. Honestly. It took a hunch on Alice's part to find it...and that was only because of the financial side of it." "'Kay," he grunted, finally meeting my gaze. He nodded once, licking his lips. "Okay," he said again, letting out a long, slow breath. "We should go, baby." "Then let's do this," I stated, but squeaked when I suddenly found myself picked up and tossed onto his strong shoulders. "Edward!" I laughed, smacking at his back, but he only popped my bottom in retribution. He carried me that way all the way to Gravity's office and inside, finally setting me on my feet. "Teamwork...together, sweetness," he said, reminding me of our talk the night before. I nodded, kissing him quickly and reaching for the safe to grab our guns. "Yup. Together."

EDWARD
"Here you go, guys," Alice said, holding out a handful of earpieces. "I've patched you into the regular frequency. That should keep the media out of your hair for the time being, considering I've encrypted it." She passed them out to me, Bella, Mickey, and Emmett, but she pointed to me as I tucked mine into my ear. "I'm still working on Kyra's phone, so she can't have it back just yet." "I'll let her know," I said with a nod, tugging on my jacket to cover up the shoulder holster I was wearing. "Is Gator going?" Rose asked, looking up from her

computer. "I think so," I answered, "because he wants to introduce us, in case he isn't with us in the future. This recording thing will take several sessions." She nodded in acceptance, but turned her wry smile and sharp gaze to Bella. "Oh, she hates you, Bellsy..." she sang, shaking her head. "You're right." "Yeah, I know." Bella didn't look up from her gun as she checked it, popping the clip out and back in. "Not much I can do about that." My wife's voice held no emotion to that statement, and I wasn't sure what bothered me the most about it the acceptance she had of Kyra's disrespect, or maybe the thought that she didn't have a choice but to put up with it. Fuck that shit! Jealous or not, Bella didn't need to put up with bullshit, just because she was doing her damn job. Mickey sighed, giving Bella a long gaze, and then shook her head. "This diva's mouth is writing checks her ass can't cash, pretty boy," she murmured to me. "Bells is staying cool and level-headed, but Kyra will push her too far. Mark my words." "I know," I muttered back, "and that's when I'll go off like a motherfucker." Mickey nodded. "I'm pretty sure Bella knows that, Ed, and that's why she's trying to maintain. But does Kyra?" Her wicked smile quirked up on her face, and I chuckled. "Probably not," I snickered, walking away from her. "Let's get this show on the road, sweetness. You ready?" I asked her, kissing her forehead as she nodded. "Yeah. So who's got who?" Emmett asked as we all walked out to the cars, because we knew that we needed to take two vehicles, especially if we were picking the kids up from Esme later that evening. "I'd like to ride with Cassie," Bella said as we joined everyone outside. "I've got questions for her...and Gator, if I'm to be honest. So why don't we ride with them, and Mickey and Emmett can ride with your dad and Kyra?" she suggested. I was just about to agree with her, but Kyra had to go and open her fucking rude ass mouth.

"Overbearing shrew," she muttered, but it was loud enough that everyone came to a complete stop, and that was all I could take. I rounded on her, pointing to the closest SUV. "Get your ass in the car!" I growled, using all the restraint I had not to pick her up and put her in it mydamn-self. "Don't say another fucking word. It's time we had a chat," I told her, only to turn to everyone else. "She rides with me. We'll follow you." "Edward, it's..." Bella started, but I held a hand up. I didn't give a fuck at that point that Kyra was jealous or hating the changes. I didn't care if the woman still had feelings for me or not. This shit was ending now. "No, it's not okay," I grunted, rolling my eyes. "Just...go..." I pointed toward the Volvo that everyone else was silently climbing into. "Son..." my dad started, but I wasn't reachable at that point, so I just shook my head and waved him toward the other car. When I turned back around, Kyra was slowing climbing in, a petrified look on her face. "Now, Kyra," I snapped through gritted teeth, getting in on the driver's side. She'd barely closed the door, before I cranked up and pulled out. "Edward, I'm..." she started, her voice low and subdued. "Let me stop you right there," I said, still fucking seething. "Kyra, one more foul fucking word aimed at my crew especially at my wife and I will personally make sure that we remove ourselves from this case. You'll be on your own, which is dangerous as shit, because you have a serious fucking problem." "Edward, please..." she started again, reaching for my hand, which I yanked away from her. "No." I shook my head, thinking my wife was right hell, she usually was but Kyra was still feeling something for me, and I needed to put an end to it. "What did you think would happen when you realized it was me walking into that room? I'm married. And I realize that the word means shit to you, but to me...there's nothing else."

"It was over with Roger," she stated, shrugging a shoulder. "By the time I met you, it was the lawyers battling it out. I'd stopped being feeling married about a year into it. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Edward, but I swear it was over." I pursed my lips, rolling my eyes, because I didn't care about apologies. She could have ruined my military career. "And when I showed up at my dad's office..." I prompted, raising an eyebrow at her, because I had pretty damn good idea that she was still lying to me. She paled at that accusation, but turned her head to the window. "I knew," she sighed. "I knew Carlisle was your dad." "Excuse me?" I gasped, my mouth hanging open. "As soon as I heard that Solstice had been bought by Twi Tech...I knew," she said, finally turning to face me again. "You mentioned him back then...what he did...where he worked... Cullen isn't exactly an average name, and you were even harder to forget, Edward. I didn't know he'd call you, but I would've asked him about you eventually." I grimaced, groaning and sighing in frustration at the same time. "And?" "Jesus, Edward," she whined, tears filling her eyes. "I fucking waited for you to call me. I gave everyone the all clear to patch you through no matter where I was, but you didn't. I realize that it was just a...a...fuck to you, but I thought we... You just...never did." She spat the word fuck at me, and I flinched, but it was the truth back then. And I was pretty damn sure that she was verbally smacking me in revenge, because I'd totally fucking said that when we ended things. I'd called her just a fuck, just a good time. I'd reminded her that it was only temporary and that it would never work between us. I ran a hand through my hair, gripping it roughly. "I was twenty-fucking-three and in a goddamned war...you were even younger, Kyra, and about to start a million fucking projects. What did you expect?" I yelled, gripping the steering wheel. "I wasn't in any position for commitment." I tapped my temple, shaking my head and glancing over at her. "I told you that. I never lied about that. The way I did it wasn't right, but I never fucking lied," I reiterated.

"I know," she sighed, smiling sadly and swiping at her tears. "Neither was I, but I'd just hoped you'd change your mind. And when there was a chance to see you again..." I huffed a breath roughly through my nose. "Stop right there. There is no chance, Kyra. You have no idea just how non-existent that chance truly is. Bella...my family...they're everything to me." "I see that," she muttered, looking back out the window. "I'm happy for you, Edward. Really." Her voice held no inflection, no emotion to it, so I knew it was bullshit. I didn't need the girls to tell me that. I snorted, shutting my mouth for awhile. In fact, not a word was spoken until the buildings of Seattle loomed up and around us. As the recording studio got closer, I turned to look at her. "You really need to tone down the attitude toward my wife, Kyra. I mean it. I won't stand for anyone disrespecting her. Ever. That includes you," I stated firmly, raising an eyebrow at her when her head snapped around to glare at me. "She's so fucking bossy." "You aren't exactly a dream to work with. You're fighting us at every turn. But she is the boss. My daughter wasn't kidding you," I chuckled humorlessly. "Gravity is Bella's business. I only joined her when we got married." I paused, grimacing at what I was about to say, because I knew it would get back to Bella. "If anyone understands what you're going through right now, it's my wife. She's been where you are. She's got the scars to prove it. And trust me when I fucking tell you that you have it a helluva lot better than she ever fucking did." "When? How?" Kyra gasped. I shook my head, waving a hand at her. "That's her story to tell. You can ask her, but if she tells you, maybe then you'll understand why she's so determined to keep you safe, why she takes her job so very fucking seriously, and why she's been so ever fucking patient with your shitty attitude. Okay?" I asked, my voice getting sharper, so I toned it down just a bit. "She really gets it."

With that said, I pulled into the parking garage of the building housing the recording studio and turned toward Kyra. "Tone this shit down, Kyra. I don't want to have to tell you again. Got me?" I asked, not giving her a chance to answer, other than a nod. "Good." I was out and at her door, tugging it open. "Now, let's get this shit done." Emmett took his place on Kyra's other side, his face solemn as he glanced my way, letting his gaze slide just past me. I turned to see Mickey grimacing and tapping her ear. Fuck, if they hadn't heard the whole damn conversation over our earpieces. "Christ," I breathed, searching out Bella, finding her stepping out of the Volvo. "Sweetness?" I whispered over the radio, despite the fact that my crew was listening, because if she listened in, then she heard me practically give Kyra permission to ask her about Miller. I was in so much fucking trouble. She swiped at her face, shaking her head and turning away from me. "Edward, not now," she sighed, but I could hear a slight chuckle in her voice. "Come anywhere near me right now, and this day will be shot to hell," she laughed softly, especially when Mickey giggled a bit. "Shut it, Mick." I smirked, shaking my head as I watched a sweet, but fucking beautiful blush creep up over my wife's face. "Bella?" "We need to get her inside," Bella stated, ignoring me and staying away from me. She was fighting the sexiest smile I'd ever seen on her. "Fine," I said, giving a glance around. "Everyone...on me."

"Shit, shit, shit," Alice whispered over the radio. "Tell me I'm not seeing what I think I'm seeing. Bella...I think we have a problem." My wife's head snapped up from the conversation she'd been in with Gator. Kyra had been inside a soundproof room, working with musicians, sound technicians, and what seemed to be a vocal coach for hours now. Emmett, Gator, and I had done a complete and total security sweep of the floor we were working on, taking our places at different doors. I was just inside the control room, Emmett was down by the elevators, and Mickey was down the hall. Bella

and Gator stayed pretty close to Kyra and Cassie, and Gator was kind enough to give my wife a little history behind some of the people that were in the room. "Talk to me, Alice," Bella stated, standing up from the leather sofa and stepping away. "I don't fucking get it," Alice sighed, and she could be heard typing furiously on the other end. "There's a crowd gathering outside the studio. Like fans and media type crowd. In fact, there's a blurb online about the fact that Kyra's now in Seattle. Who would fucking let that shit out?" "No one," Bella and I answered her at the same time, because we'd kindly asked the people working with Kyra to keep her presence a secret. We'd even taken the stairs up in order not to be seen a fact that had caused more than one complaint from the singer. Bella walked to the closest window, groaning, "Damn it." She glanced up at me, pointing at the glass. "The sidewalk is packed." I walked to her, looking down at what looked to be about a hundred people down below, waiting with signs and flowers. Fuck...flowers. "Alice...can you trace how the info was leaked?" "Are you kidding?" she laughed. "There's no way to tell, but give me a few. I'll work on it. 'Kay?" "Thank you, pixie," Bella murmured, shaking her head and meeting my gaze. "That will be a bitch to get through." Grimacing, I turned from the window. "Emmett, Mickey...when Kyra's done, I need you to head downstairs and drive the cars around. Can we find a back door or a service entrance or some shit? We'll need to keep Kyra out of that crowd. Got me?" "Sir," they both answered. "I'll check out the best way to get out of here," Mickey added. "What's going on?" my dad asked, joining me and Bella.

"We have a leak," Bella told him softly, glancing around the room and stepping out of the way so that he could look out the window. "Alice is on it now, but I'm not sure if she'll come up with anything." "If that's the case, they'll be at the photo shoot, too," he surmised, his brow furrowing as he rubbed his chin. "That's just fucking great," I sighed, running a hand through my hair. "We might as well just point a sign to her...hand out directions on how to get to her." A heavy, sensual beat started from the other end of the room, and one of the techs pointed through the glass window at Kyra. The control panel shifted, moved on its own, adjusting the beat, adding in different instruments as a man inside the room played the piano. The entire room and the activity over my earpiece came to a standstill, because they'd asked us to try and keep quiet when she was actually "laying down a track." I leaned against the window, gazing at the crowd down below. I'd forgotten how well Kyra could sing, though it wasn't really my kind of music. I preferred heavier, older...classic rock, probably stemming from my dad, but Kyra's voice was filled with deep, sad emotions. It was a song about losing love, giving everything, and still not getting what you want. I rolled my eyes as I still faced the window. I was truly losing my patience with her, with her delusions of what could've happened. I didn't understand how just a few weeks together could change someone. It didn't make sense to me that Kyra was still holding on, or hoping for something more, or even just wanting one last fling together. My eyes drifted across the room to land on Bella, and I sighed. Who the fuck was I kidding? Just a few weeks in her presence, and I was fucking done for. Christ, she'd been so broken when I'd pulled her from Miller's dungeon, but looking at her now my wife, the amazing mother to my kids, and my partner she was just...fuck, flawless to me. I didn't give a shit that some magazine had said the woman in the recording room was supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the world. As far as I was concerned, it was the woman currently sitting next to my father. It was all I could do to stay standing right where I was and not pull her up from the sofa and press her into the window next to me. It didn't help that I had a funny feeling she was a touch upset with me over the conversation she'd

overheard with Kyra. I groaned, my forehead thumping to the glass in front of me. My breath fogged up in front of me with every exhale as I tried to calm my worry down, tried to keep my want for Bella under control. "Let's call it a day, Kyra," the tech said over the mic. "We'll pick back up in a few days. Rest those pipes, yeah?" he chuckled. "Sure, Foster," she replied back. "Thank fuck," I grumbled, causing my wife to giggle slightly, so I gave her wink and a small smile from where I was. "Sorry," I chuckled, shrugging a shoulder. "Edward," Mickey called over the radio. "I've got us an out. It's through the loading dock of the little bakery on the far corner of this building. They said we could sneak out that way." "Ten-four," I murmured, glancing up at Bella and Gator, who were both gathering up their stuff. "Emmett, meet me downstairs. We'll pull the cars around," she told him. "On it. Ed, you okay up here?" he asked, but I could hear the ding of the elevator. "Yeah, we're good. Go," I ordered, taking my place by the door. "Let me know when you're in position." When everyone had packed up and Kyra had listened to the last song one more time, I gathered everyone around me. "We're taking a different exit," I explained, "because we've got a crowd down below one I'd like to avoid at this point, okay?" Once Gator, Kyra, and Cassie had agreed, I said, "We're just waiting for Mickey and Emmett to pull the cars around." "You're good, Ed," Emmett barked. "Head down. We'll be in position by the time you get there." "Got it," I replied, opening the doors to the stairwell. "Let's go."

BELLA
"You're clear back here," Mickey stated over the radio. "You should be able to run straight to the cars." "Thanks, Mick," Edward said, taking the lead down the stairs, with Gator and Kyra close behind. Carlisle and I were taking the back, leaving Cassie in front of us. We came out into the lobby of the fairly large building, but instead of heading out the now blocked front doors, we made our way to the little coffee shop/bakery at the very end of the atrium. They must have been waiting for us, because one of the employees gave us a quick nod, waving us past the front counter and through the kitchen. But it was at the back door that I faltered just a bit. "Shit," I hissed, shaking my head at the old fear of steps that led underground. I balled my hands into tight fists, squeezing my eyes closed as everyone paused at the top step. "Down here, straight back. You'll see the bay door at the end. Your people are backed down inside already," the bakery employee explained, pointing down the stairs. "Thank you," Edward said, but when his eyes scanned over us, he saw my face and what was most likely my trepidation written all over it. "Dad, take the lead," he ordered, his face taking on a look that only I knew a cross between pure, unadulterated love and patience, as well as a touch of the old anger at what I'd been through. Carlisle nodded once, darting down the steps with Cassie and Gator close behind him. A firm, warm hand met my shoulder, but it was the soft, soothing voice in my ear that helped me take that first step. "You got this, sweetness. It's not even dark down there," he whispered, placing a kiss to the shell of my ear. "This is fucking nothing. I'm right here, baby." I nodded fervently, swallowing nervously, but I took that first step, looking up to see Kyra watching us with pure curiosity written all over her face. I didn't even have it in me to tell her to go, but she seemed to catch on. With each

step, Edward's touch soothed, caressing my neck, my shoulders, my back, finally linking our fingers together. Damn, if I didn't want him after his temper had completely unraveled on Kyra, after he'd yelled at her that the kids and I were his everything. I was about to kiss him senseless by the time we finally reached the bay doors of that fucking bakery. Edward was loyal and brave. I always said he was my hero, but his unwavering faithfulness, his unending patience with me, and his unbelievable ability to shoulder the weight of the world that made him abso-fucking-lutely irresistible at the moment. "That wasn't so bad, was it?" he snickered so very softly in my ear. I smiled, leaning into him and sighing a breath of relief, but we both looked up when his dad called from the cars. "Let's go! They've been tipped off!" he snapped, pointing at the crowd that was rushing our way. "Kyra! Kyra!" they all screamed. "Over here! How's Seattle? What's with the new bodyguards?" All the questions seemed to fly at her at once. It was cameras, phones, banners, pictures, flowers, and stuffed animals all heading our way. It was a fairly large crowd, and the flashes were almost blinding, as were the screams deafening. "Kyra!" "Oh shit," Edward breathed, taking Kyra by the arm and barking orders. "Em, Mick! Get those doors open. Dad, take Gator and Cassie. Bella, get Kyra in that car!" It took all of Edward's and Emmett's strength to hold the crowd back just long enough for Kyra and me to climb into the Volvo. Fans pushed against them, reaching past their heads toward Kyra, but I kept her moving. "Come on," I urged her gently. "This shit is dangerous. The mob mentality can get you hurt, even if your stalker isn't here."

"Yeah," she groaned, diving into the middle seat and plopping down wearily. "Gator's had his arm broken, his foot stepped on, and I've been gripped too hard..." "Edward, we're in. Go!" I told him over the headset as I took the very back seat behind Kyra. "Carlisle, you okay?" I asked, as Edward barely got in with his jacket intact and Emmett practically slammed some poor boy's fingers in the driver's side door. "We're good. Careful pulling out of here. You don't want to hit anyone," he commanded, as Emmett pulled up the ramp and onto the street, with Mickey following behind him with Carlisle, Gator, and Cassie. A completely disheveled Edward fell down in the seat next to me, giving the crowd a dark, disgruntled look as he ran a hand through his hair. "You okay?" I snickered, because sometimes, I adored that grumpy look. I reached out to straighten his coat collar, urging, "Edward..." "Yeah, damn," he sighed, rolling his eyes and shifting uncomfortably in the seat. "Someone kneed my fucking balls, and then freaked the fuck out when they realized what was inside my jacket." He opened his coat, checking his weapon, but smirked when all of us Kyra included started chuckling. "Sorry, Edward," Kyra tittered, shaking her head as she turned to look out the window. I covered my mouth, trying to hold back, but just like always, Emmett had to say something. "Well, hell... Who knew we had to wear a fucking cup?" he chuckled. "The boys okay, Eddie?" "They will be," he sighed nonchalantly, but he grabbed my hand to place it over his crotch stealthily, giving me my favorite crooked, sexy ass smile and a raised eyebrow. I jerked my hand away, punching his leg, but I couldn't help but laugh at him. "I'm sure you'll live. We'll get you some ice," I told him. "Fuck no," he growled, but he chuckled with the rest of us. "Okay, so where's this photo shoot?" he asked, turning to me.

"It's in a building not far from here," I said, gesturing toward the window. "According to Cassie, they're going to use this garden in the atrium. They're supposed to have cleared it out and be set up and ready for her, because they knew this was a time factor today. I believe Rose called them and told them about the upping of security, as well." Kyra nodded, but turned around to face us. "These don't take long," she said, her voice a little subdued. Actually, she sounded weary just plain tired. "You sound like that's a good thing," I noted to her, and even though it was a tight, not so kind smile, she still answered me. "Pictures are...a requirement," she snorted, rolling her eyes. "If I could just sing on stage for the rest of my life, I'd be happy. But unfortunately, I have to be...seen." "Fuck that," Edward muttered, gazing out the window. He shook his head slowly, a grimace on his face. "I'm not sure it would be worth it..." "Some days...it's not," she answered him. "Like today," she sighed, jerking a thumb behind her. Everyone in the car and on the radio were quiet the last few blocks, and we were lucky enough to have a clear way inside the building. They allowed us to park and leave the SUVs right up front, and we walked inside. We were greeted by a rather flamboyant man named Rodney, who gushed over Kyra, dragging her off toward a room along the side of the little garden. "I don't think so," Edward stated darkly, slamming a hand to the wall and stopping the little man in his tracks. "She goes nowhere without security." "Even the dressing room?" Rodney purred, eying my husband like he was sex on a stick, but so was Kyra, I mentally noted. "Even the dressing room, little man," Mickey chortled, rolling her eyes and pulling her weapon from her back. "I got this," she volunteered, giving me a shit eating grin and mouthing, "and you so owe me." I grinned, shaking my head and turning to Edward. "Where do you want me during this thing?" I asked him.

He smiled slowly, sensually, and wickedly, dragging his tongue across his bottom lip. "You really need me to answer that, sweetness?" he purred softly, stepping closer to me. "Because if you do..." "Stop right there, mister," I laughed, placing my hand flat against his muscular chest. "I meant for security. Not whatever naughty shit is in that evil mind of yours." He chuckled, kissing my forehead, and then gave the garden a quick glance. "With me at the front doors. Emmett and Mickey can take that back entrance. Gator can take the bay of elevators. Dad can stay by Cassie and Kyra while she's...posing?" he said, finishing with a question on the last word, causing all of us to chuckle and take the positions he'd commanded. "What-the-fuck-ever," he snickered, rolling his eyes. "I don't care what this shit is called." I was still giggling at him by the time we took our places at the front doors of the garden and Kyra came out, ready to sit for the photographer. She looked amazing and sort of ethereal in a flowy, white dress. The photographer was going to use the flowers and greenery around her to give her a fairy-like look. My eyebrows shot up as the camera began constantly clicking. "God, she really looks amazing," I muttered aloud without thinking and shrugged a shoulder, because I'd never watched someone get photographed like that before. I jumped when a heavy fist landed against the wall I was leaning on right by my head. "What did I tell you, Bella?" Edward said, reaching into his ear to jerk out his earpiece. He reached for mine, as well, tugging it out and balling it up in his fist. "What did I say about mentioning her looks?" he rumbled, stepping closer to me. "Edward, I..." I gasped, looking up into his really dark, but unbelievably sexy glare. Gone was the sweet, calm green, and in its place was black and wanting. "It was just..." "Mmhm," he huffed, rolling his eyes. "You have no fucking idea just how gorgeous you are, love," he whispered. "You outshine her any day," he stated, raising his eyebrow up dangerously. "Now... What did I tell you I'd do if you uttered anything about what she looked like?"

I whimpered, a sweat breaking out across my brow, because holy fucking hell, he meant it. "You'd hold me down in front of a mirror and show me..." "Show you...what?" "How perfect I am to you," I murmured, finding it hard to even speak, much less breathe when he was in front of me like this, when he was looming over me, radiating pure sexual prowess and carnal knowledge. Everything about me stomach, girly parts, my hands they all twitched in want of him. "At home," he whispered, like he knew what I was thinking, his lip curling just a bit as he gave me a pointed look at the vow he'd just made. "I'm not fucking kidding..." He stood up straight, his eyes still locked with mine as he handed me back my earpiece. Every muscle he had rolled beneath the surface of his skin and clothes as his hands opened and closed for just a moment. He said nothing more as he tucked his earpiece back into his ear, finally breaking my gaze and facing the garden. "Someone tell me this shit is almost over," he commanded into the radio. "Yeah, she's getting dressed, dude," Emmett stated, pointing toward the dressing room. There was a crowd gathering again outside, but we were able to sneak into the cars without as big of an incident as back at the studio. The ride back to Forks was quiet. Everyone was lost in their own thoughts. Kyra fell asleep at one point, and I couldn't say as I blamed her, because she'd had a helluva day getting an ass-chewing from Edward alone could wear a bitch out. Edward drove, but didn't say anything or touch me again, until we pulled in the driveway. The lights were on at Carlisle's house, which meant Esme was there with our kids. We all piled out of the SUVs, weary, a touch cranky, and myself...about to shake with the need to be alone with my husband, yet a touch in awe as to just what he had planned for me. At the top of the porch steps, Carlisle came to a complete halt, causing some of us to run into each other. "Sorry," I muttered to Mickey, but she turned to me with wide eyes.

"You'd better call Wes," she said, pointing to the door. "Looks like the stalker found her." "Shit," Edward snapped, pulling out his gun as the rest of us followed suit. "Alice," he barked over the radio. "I need Wes and Jasper here...like yesterday! Call Alec, too." "On it, on it, on it," she immediately chanted in her three-time manner. "Flower again?" "Yes," we all answered her. "Dad, Emmett," Edward growled, pointing toward the house. "Get Esme and the kids out of the house, now! Bella, Mickey...once they're out here, get them, Kyra, and Cassie back to our house! When Jasper gets here, I'll run a sweep of the grounds." "Got it," I answered him, looking down at the gift left in front of the door. "Oh, hell," I sighed, shaking my head and looking up at Kyra. "Well, this time...he left you a note." "Oh yeah, and Bella?" Alice called. "Go ahead," I stated as Edward leaped off of the porch, Emmett and Carlisle darted inside the house, and I guided a frightened Kyra and Cassie back to my Volvo. "The leak? Yeah, someone's tweeting from Kyra's account," she stated, her voice sounding pissed, like she couldn't figure out who the hell was doing it. I groaned, holding my hair away from my face as all the men listening cursed. "Well, that's just perfect," I spat, closing the doors. "Keep an eye on it. I'll see you back at the house in a few." "Yuppers," she sighed. I turned around, plastering a calm smile on my face when my children and Caleb came bounding out of the house. They were bright and intuitive, but they didn't need to see my concern. I gave all of them big hugs and kisses, loading them up into the car, even without car seats, because we didn't have time.

"Edward, we're leaving," I told him over the radio. "Be careful," I ordered. "Yes, ma'am," he panted as he ran through his dad's backyard. "You, too, love." Once a quiet Esme took the passenger seat and closed her door, I backed out to head to the safest place I'd ever been. My home.

CHAPTER six BELLA


"Edward thinks he's still around?" Esme asked tentatively as we pulled out of her driveway. "He will always assume the worst," I stated, shrugging a shoulder. "He'd rather be safe than sorry." I sighed, shaking my head. "But if he could get to the house, leave the note and the flower, all while you're in there inside...then this guy is pretty serious." "Mommy, I wanna watch a movie," Bethy piped up from the back seat when we pulled into our driveway. I punched the remote for the gate and pulled through. "It's late, pretty girl," I told her as calmly as I could. "And you guys are getting up for Mrs. Cope's tomorrow. So it's bedtime, baby." "Yeah, but..." "No... No yeah buts," I stopped her. "Please, just do what I ask, Bethy. Baths, and then bed. Okay?" "I got them," Esme soothed me, a touch of amusement to her voice. "You get Kyra and Cassie settled in." "Thank you," I whispered, giving her what smile I could. "I'll take Sammy, though," I chuckled, jerking a thumb behind me, because my baby boy was already asleep. "Bellsy, I'll head out to the office and give the girls a hand," Mickey stated, out of the car almost instantly. She snickered. "And don't you dare make room for me," she ordered. "When the boys give the all-clear. I'm going back home." "Yes, ma'am." I turned off the car, got out, and carefully pulled my son into my arms. "Come on," I told Cassie and Kyra as gently as I could. "Let's get you inside." I sighed, grimacing at just how frightened Kyra looked. "Hey," I whispered as she climbed out of the car with shaky hands and a pale face. "You're safe here. I promise."

"Did you see that note?" she asked, grimacing a bit. "I did, and they'll bring me a copy once they've bagged it up. I want to look at it again," I explained softly, placing a kiss to Sammy's twitching hand, because the note was exactly what I'd been afraid it would be threatening. We stepped up onto my front porch, and I opened the door. "I'm going to get him in bed, and I'll give you the dime tour, okay?" I chuckled at Cassie's giggle as they both followed me into the house. Esme immediately took Caleb and a rather disgruntled Bethy straight to the bathroom. Walking into Samuel's room, I set him gently down in bed, tugging off his shoes, socks, and shorts, changing his diaper. He slept through it all, and I couldn't help but kiss his sweet chubby cheek, whispering that I loved him. I tugged the trundle bed open for Caleb, something Edward had added months after Samuel started sleeping in his big boy bed. Bethy wouldn't allow anyone but Abby to sleep in her room, so Edward had built an additional one that stored underneath, because Caleb was always over. "Aunt Bewwa," I heard from the door. Caleb stood there in just a pair of shorts, looking sweet and shy, with big blue eyes like his mother and short, dark curls like his father. "Bedtime, big guy," I chuckled, waving him to me. "Come on. Climb in." "'Kay," he said, crawling onto the bed. He smelled sweet and clean, grinning up at me with dimples that matched Emmett's, and I kissed his forehead just like I had my own kids. Once he was tucked in and comfy, I pulled the door closed, leaving the nightlight on for them. I walked down the hall to Bethy's room to interrupt her debate with Esme. "Yeah, but why is the TV lady here? And why is Mommy mad?" she asked her, but Esme stood up from the bed when I walked in, leaving me to tuck my baby girl in. "I'm not mad, pretty girl," I told her, tugging the covers up to her chin and placing a kiss to her forehead. "Miss Bailey is going to stay here for a while." "Why?" she asked, breaking into a huge and adorable yawn.

"She's safe here," I simply said, shrugging my shoulder. "Where's Daddy?" she asked, before yawning again. "He's working, baby," I told her. "So you'll have to wait for bedtime 'mooches, okay? I promise you can smother him in the morning before you head off to Mrs. Cope's." She giggled at that and nodded. "Tell him I'll save them all up for him and give them all at one time." I laughed, because Edward totally heard her over the radio, asking to speak to her. "Hang on," I chuckled, pulling it from my ear and placing it close to hers. "Bedtime, little sergeant," he told her. "Yes, sir," she giggled. "Only sweet dreams, baby," he sighed, sounding like he would much rather be in the room with us than over at his dad's house. "Okay, Daddy." She yawned again, snuggling farther down into her bed and pillow. "Love you. I'll give you extra love tomorrow, okay?" "I can't wait. And I love you, too, little sweetness," he crooned to her. Her heavy lids blinked slowly, and I took back the earpiece, tucking it back in. "Thanks, Edward," I snickered, kissing Bethy's forehead and closing her door behind me. "Sure, love," he chuckled. "I couldn't resist her. I'll be there as soon as Wes gets here. He's on his way." "Keep me posted," I ordered, walking back into the living room. "Yes, ma'am," he answered, "and don't you dare think I've forgotten about our earlier...conversation." His voice was a deep, rumbling, sexy tenor, and I couldn't help but laugh, because he didn't forget anything. "Shut it," I giggled. "I haven't forgotten anything, baby." "That's my girl," he crooned sexily.

I found Kyra and Cassie in the kitchen with Esme as she made them something to eat. "We aren't going back to Carlisle's, are we?" Cassie asked as I walked through to the laundry room. I came back out with extra towels and blankets in my arms. "Probably not," I told them, grimacing a bit. "We'll have your things brought over tomorrow...if we can't have the boys bring them tonight." Both ladies nodded, picking at the sandwiches that were in front of them. They looked tired, scared, and admonished, a stark contrast to what they'd been that morning especially Kyra, who usually had a snarky comment aimed my way with everything that I'd said. But she really was scared. "We'll find him, Kyra," I vowed, making sure she was looking at me before I continued. "We've got a tough road ahead, but we will do everything we can to stop this. We've done it before, and we'll do it again." I sighed, leaning a hip against the counter next to her. "We've got leaks, people we don't know, and so many other things working against us, but no one will touch you. I swear it." "Thank you," she said, and for the first time, I was pretty sure she meant it, so I nodded once, giving Esme a side glance. "Somehow, your location was leaked, so that will be the first thing they'll look into," Esme stated, pushing off the counter. "That shit wasn't cool today, and it probably alerted your stalker to exactly where you were, especially if they recognized Carlisle," I added. I started to walk out of the kitchen, but Cassie gasped, her fork falling to her plate with a clang at the same time that Alice bleeped in over the radio. "It was me," Cassie breathed, paling under my glare. "The tweet came from Cassie's phone," Alice stated at the same time. "What? No," I whispered, not sure to which woman. "You?" I asked her, and she flinched and nodded.

"I didn't even think," she uttered with a tremble to her voice, looking up at Kyra. "It's my job, you know. It keeps Kyra in the limelight. I tweet what she's doing, where she's going, and the progress of the new album. I'm sorry...I..." I froze, thinking back throughout the day, and I realized that we hadn't exactly communicated with Cassie all day. She melted into the background so much that half the time, I barely remembered she was with us. She was so fucking quiet, always at Kyra's right hand when needed, but she barely made a fucking sound. Taking a deep breath, I let it out. "And you do this...on purpose?" I asked her, trying to keep my voice calm. "Yeah," Cassie said, her eyes tearing up a bit. "It keeps Kyra in the news. I've always done it. Her fans love to hear from her all day." "Bells, I need that phone," Alice ordered in my ear. "She can have it back once I've made sure that it was only her, because I found some interesting shit on Kyra's." "Okay," I mumbled, nodding once. "Phone," I commanded, setting the towels and blankets down on the kitchen table. "Turn it off, take the battery out," Alice continued. "Bring it to me when you can." Cassie handed over her phone, and I did as Alice asked, pocketing the pieces in my back jeans pocket. "Everything is in that phone," she said, but I held up a hand. "Just...wait," I sighed, shaking my head. "From now on...no tweeting, no texting, no phone calls." "Then how are we..." Kyra started to yell, but I spun on her. "Rules," I said, holding up my finger. "In this house, under this roof, and around my family, you will listen, follow, and stick by the following rules to the letter. We will keep you safe, but you have to help, okay? No phones...none. No email. No contact with anyone other than who my team deems trustworthy. Watch your language, make sure you're completely dressed outside the guest room,

and once those kids are in bed, you will try to stay fucking quiet." My last three words came out through gritted teeth, because she'd raised her voice. "Easy, sweetness," Edward crooned in my ear. "Gator says Cassie was only doing her job. She probably didn't even think about it." "Yeah, well, Edward, now we've got a new flower and a threat because of it," I answered him, snatching the blankets and towels back up and storming down the hallway to the guest room. "Christ, baby. Tell me I wasn't this oblivious to my situation when you came for me," I snapped over the radio, but he only chuckled soft and low in my ear, along with everyone else listening in. "You were...different, baby," he snickered. "You were...suffering from PTSD, remember? But you were also much more receptive and used to watching your back, so doing what we needed to do wasn't a big deal...well, until Charlie died," he sighed, and I could imagine his hand running through his hair. "Yeah, well...that was different," I muttered belligerently. He chuckled again. "Stop, baby. It's okay. We'll just...start over with everything tomorrow, or tonight if we have to. But it certainly explains how Kyra's fans got to her so quickly." "Yeah. And your dad's house?" I countered at the same time Alice did. "That one I don't get," he muttered. "Tell me that Cassie wouldn't have let that information out there." I turned around to go ask her, but Kyra was standing in the doorway of the guest room. "She wouldn't have given away where I was staying, Bella," she snapped, pointing behind her, but at least her voice was softer. "Only the studio and photo shoot locations. She knows better. Fans figure out my hotel, but she wouldn't give this away." "Well, someone did," I sighed, shaking my head. "And until we find out how that info is getting out there, we've got a serious problem, because this guy is coming for you. And if he gets to you, it won't be pretty." "What happened to you?" she asked me with narrowed eyes, and I could see her studying me, trying to figure me out, but I could also imagine that her

conversation with Edward had been rattling around in her head all damn day. "Why are you trying so damn hard?" she asked, and I could tell she wanted to tack on something else, but she didn't. "That's a really long story," I told her, my nose wrinkling a bit. "And probably something you don't need to hear tonight," I said, grimacing a bit, because every time I told it, I had nightmares, so I could well imagine she would, too, after reading that note left for her. "Let's just say that I'm trying to make sure no one goes through what I did. Okay?" I asked, waiting until she nodded reluctantly. "I'll tell you, but not tonight, and not while my kids are in the house." She frowned, her brow wrinkling, but she nodded again. "Make yourself at home," I murmured, gesturing around the room and to the bathroom. "The couch pulls out if you need it, or I can throw an air mattress down for Cassie." "The couch is fine," Cassie said, joining us in the room and glancing around. "Bella, I'm sorry about the tweets." "Yeah," I sighed, walking toward the hallway. "Now we just have to figure out how the asshole found Carlisle's house." With that said, I left the room, walking straight out the screen door. I had work to do.

EDWARD
"What happened to you? Why are you trying so hard?" Kyra asked, and I could almost hear the unspoken question: "Why do you care about your husband's ex-lover?" "That's a really long story and probably something you don't need to hear tonight," I heard Bella say over the radio, and I groaned as I made my final

perimeter run at my dad's. "Let's just say that I'm trying to make sure no one goes through what I did. Okay? I'll tell you, but not tonight, and not while my kids are in the house." I stepped up onto the porch, falling down onto the top step to catch my breath from my run. I could hear the old fear, but also the determination in Bella's voice. There was also a touch of surrender in there, as well. My girl felt that the only way to get Kyra to really just think was to tell her just how bad it could be, why staying low and quiet was of the utmost importance, and just why Bella was hell-bent on trying to stop this guy ex-lover or not. "Edward?" she called over the headset. "Yeah, baby," I answered her, trying to sound up and positive for whatever she needed and running a hand through my hair as Jasper plopped down beside me to wait for Wes' arrival. "What's the update?" she asked. "Perimeter is checked. There was no sign of...well, anything. If the asshole drove in, we erased his tracks when we drove up. I can't see that he came through the woods. And there was no attempt to actually get inside the house. He merely...dropped this shit off," I explained to her, giving the crispy, black flower at the doorstep a scathing look, but the note made my stomach twist. "Wes has an ETA of about twenty. He was in Olympia when we called." "Okay," she sighed. "I'm taking out my earpiece and heading into the office. When you guys get done..." "We'll come straight to you," I finished for her. "And Bella?" "Yeah?" "You don't have to tell her," I said, trying to give her an out. "I know." There was a faint pop when she turned her earpiece off, and my head fell into my hands, my fingers weaving into my hair as my elbows rested on my knees. "Shit," I breathed, shaking my head.

"Does she still get nightmares when she tells it?" Jasper asked softly, having heard her over his own earpiece. "Yeah," I groaned, nodding with my hands still in my hair. "Maybe I shouldn't have taken this case," I mumbled. Jasper chuckled softly, and I turned to look at him. "Maybe," he conceded, shrugging a shoulder. "Though I can't see us turning down someone that needs help. How would you have felt if you found out something...awful happened to this Kyra woman after turning the case down?" he asked, pointing to the note. I inhaled a deep breath and let it out slowly, reading the damn thing again. It was cutout letters from what looked like magazines and newspapers, which was creepy all on its own, but the message was crystal clear. Kyra, It's time we met. It's time I show you just what you do to me. Your new bodyguards won't stop me. You won't stop me. And when we're finally alone, I'll make sure that its only me you see. You've ignored me for way too long. No more. The letter sounded so eerily close to Miller's personality that it made me sick. The fear that had crossed not only my wife's face, but Kyra's, Cassie's, and even Mickey's, made me want to catch this guy, hurt him, stop him from what I could well imagine was the most evil of ideas. Jasper let me sit in silence for a few minutes before he went on. "I'm all for stopping cheating assholes," he started with a slight chuckle. "And don't think I didn't find out that I had the next man-slut gig..." He raised an eyebrow at me when I laughed once. "Rock, Paper, Scissors? Really?" "Kurt?" I verified as to who would have spilled to him about the debate just before my dad had called. "Emmett, too," he chuckled, shaking his head. "Anyway...I'm all for it. It's safe, it keeps me close to home, and it can be a helluva lot of fun..." "But?"

"This is what we do," he stated firmly. "With military precision, we could totally stop this guy. We are hunters of men, Ed. With the girls in the office, sharp eyes on the street, and even a bait or two, this guy is toast. Totally. We've done this shit before." "Bait?" I asked, sitting up straight and turning a bit to face him. "Oh, Eddie," he chuckled darkly. "Please tell me you can see just what type of girl you like...or at least used to like before Bella. Dark hair, petite, fair skin...you have to see the similarities..." "Oh, hell...fuck no!" I growled, wanting to grab him, but he held his hand up. "Seriously, Jasper? You want to use my wife as bait? Have you lost your fucking mind?" "I'm not saying throw her to the wolves," he countered, frowning at me. "I'm saying if we needed to hide Kyra, Bella is the perfect decoy. Dress them alike, have Bella move publicly as we tuck Kyra away." I pursed my lips at him, rolling my eyes. "Now?" I asked, thinking this shit was stupid and fucking dangerous as hell. "No, but there may come a time when we need this asshole to think one thing, while we're doing another," he stated, jerking his thumb toward the letter. "Kyra can't protect herself. Bella can. Hell, she's just as deadly unarmed as she is with a gun in her hand." "This motherfucker is another Miller, Jazz," I snarled through gritted teeth. "You didn't see Bella's face when she read this shit! I'll sever the head of the asshole that touches her again. You have no idea what you're saying." "It's just an option, Ed," he defended. "It will be the easiest way to move the singer around. Period. Just...think about it." I rubbed my face, glancing up when Wes finally pulled into the driveway. I stood up, but pointed down at Jasper. "That is a last chance alternative," I stated firmly. "I'm not sure I can put Bella out there like that." "Think about it," he urged again. "Put her with Gator, with Emmett or myself. She'll be seen walking to buildings, shopping, getting into cars. The more she's seen, the more this asshole will make himself known. Even Bella said that he'll get bolder."

"No." I shook my head, waving him off. "I'm telling you drop it for now, J." "Fine," he said, smirking a bit. "But you know I'm right. It'll make guarding Kyra easier." "Nothing about guarding Kyra is easy," I muttered, rolling my eyes at his laughter. "She's spoiled, hard-headed, and has no clue how much danger she's in." "And she hates Bella...simply because she's your wife," Jasper added with a chuckle. "Kyra hates that you're completely taken and there's not a chance in hell you'd go back down your old road. She's fighting you at every turn, because it's a lost cause, Ed. I get the feeling that Kyra has never been told no...except by you. Then, and now." I smirked, shrugging a shoulder. "She needs to hear it more often." Jasper grinned, standing up as Wes approached with his kit in hand. "Which I'm sure she'll hear until she's either sick of it or gets used to it before this is all said and done." "Exactly," I grunted, turning to Wes. "Thanks for coming," I told him, shaking his hand. "Sure, Ed," he said, eying the flower and note. "Looks like Bella was right on this one. This guy is escalating." "She usually is," Jasper and I muttered at the same time, causing Wes to nod and chuckle. "Alice wants fingerprints, if you can pull any off," I told him. "She told me to tell you that she'll run them herself through whatever database she uses." "I figured," he said, pulling on plastic gloves. "And Bella wants a copy of the letter, I'm assuming?" "Definitely," I said, glancing up when Emmett and my dad came out of the house, the former carrying a shit-ton of luggage out to the SUV. "The house is clear, and there was no sign of tampering to get inside it," my dad told Wes. "Think you can get anything off of those?"

"We'll try," he sighed, slipping the note into a plastic sleeve. "I might be able to get some sort of chemical residue off of the flower, and hopefully, prints off of this note. I'll have them rush it. In fact, I'll probably hover, just to be annoying enough for them to get it done tonight," he chuckled. "When I have something, I'll email it all to the pixie." We laughed with him, but my dad looked to me. "You and the boys get back to the office. I know the girls are probably running every possible scenario at this point. Gator has offered to remain here, but appreciates that you took Kyra and Cassie in. I've asked Alec to stay, as well. Tell Esme that she's clear to come back. I know she'd rather stay here." "Got it," I said with a nod. "There aren't any appointments tomorrow for Kyra, so we'll most likely stick around the house." "Raulson will be landing in Seattle tomorrow. Gator, Alec, and I will be picking him up, getting him settled someplace." "Here?" I gasped, looking at my father like he'd lost his mind. Ike Raulson was an asshole. "We'll see." He smirked, shaking his head. "I want him to know that things are different. I'm pretty sure he's coming in with the attitude that he's still running things at Solstice. He's not." Emmett and Jasper chuckled softly, stepping off the porch. "Sure, Dad, whatever," I snorted, rolling my eyes and thinking he enjoyed fucking with bullies way too much. I got into the SUV, cranking it up as Jasper crawled into the back seat, while Emmett called shotgun, acting like the fourteen-year-old he occasionally seemed to be. "So," Emmett said, grinning from ear to ear and clapping his hands together once. "Oh, something stupid this way comes," Jasper muttered, causing me to laugh.

"You've got two women that want you under the same roof, Eddie," Emmett said, either ignoring Jazz, or he hadn't heard him I wasn't sure which. "The wife and the ex. That's a threesome dream, right there." "Told you," Jasper sang softly from behind me. I balled up a fist, pounding it hard into Emmett's arm. "First of all, there's no ex. Kyra isn't an ex anything. She just...was. Second, Bella would remove my testicles with a dull and rusty butter knife for even thinking like that, so shut that shit up. And last...no way in fucking hell!" Just the mere thought made me gag. "Fuck, Ed," Emmett whined, rubbing his arm where I'd punched him. "I was just saying... It's good for the ego to have two women fighting over you." "And the stupidity continues," Jasper snickered, shaking his head. I put the car in reverse, backing out of my dad's driveway, but glanced over at the passenger side. "Emmett, trust me when I tell you it isn't an ego booster. I fear for my dick at every turn." Jasper laughed, his head falling back to the head rest. "Oh, boy, I bet you do. And now they're under one roof. There may be only one survivor." I groaned, knowing he was right, even though he was teasing. "Fuck, I'm a dead man." "Bellsy's awfully calm for this shit," Emmett noted. "She's biding her time," Jasper chuckled. "She trusts Eddie, but Kyra's going to do or say the wrong thing and... Bam! It'll be on and poppin'." He punched a fist into his palm, causing a smack to resound loudly in the car. I shook my head, because deep down, I knew he most likely was right. My Bella could tolerate a lot, especially from me, but I wasn't so sure just what Kyra was capable of. Nothing I'd said to her on the ride to Seattle had made a difference to her. I just wasn't sure how the shit would change once we were all under one roof. "You know what you need to do, right?" Emmett asked as I pulled into my driveway.

"Dear Lord..." Jasper chuckled, causing me to laugh again. "No, I'm serious! Hear me out," Emmett urged, almost in a whine. "You don't want nothin' to do with this Kyra chick, right?" he asked, and I shook my head no. "Well, what you need is some sweet, sexy PDA with Bellsy. I mean, like...right in front of the pop diva. Some kitchen counter, couch, or some front porch lovin'." My eyebrows shot up at that, unable to stop the huff of a laugh that escaped me. "You want me to...in front of her?" "He said PDA, not exhibitionism," Jasper chortled, smacking my shoulder. "Actually, brother's got a point. It may just show Kyra that there's nothing...um, lacking that there isn't any reason to bother workin' it for you." "You assholes are tryin' to get me killed, right?" I groaned, turning off the car and reaching for the door. "You've met Bella, yes? You know she can kill a man..." Jasper grinned, but shook his head. "Have you ever actually listened to those women in the office?" he laughed. "I mean, really listened? Because they are just as possessive as we are, if not dangerously more. They may run the show, boss us around, force us into doing shit we never would've done when we were single, but they own us, dude. They'll cut a bitch for touching what's theirs." "Don't believe us? Ask Mickey," Emmett added with a stiff nod. "She may be one of the guys, but she'll tell you." "Ask Mickey what?" Mick chuckled over the radio. "You guys are fucking idiots," she laughed, and we looked up to see her standing outside the office door. "You're lucky that Alice, Bella, and Rosie are busy. They wouldn't believe the shit I just listened to." I smiled, getting out of the car. "So you agree with me?" I asked her, and she met me about halfway across the yard. "No, believe it or not, I agree with Tweedle Dumb and Dumber over there," she snickered, pointing past me as Jasper and Emmett jogged up to us. "PDA is a fantastic way of...pissing on what's yours, and if you don't think Bella is about five seconds from doing that to you, then you know nothing about women."

"I don't know shit about women," I admitted, rolling my eyes at their laughter. "You're lying," Mickey countered. "You can schmooze as good as Alec, if not better. I've watched you do it. But you know Bella," she sighed frustratedly, rolling her eyes. "She's extremely protective of you, pretty boy." "I know," I said with a nod. "Yeah, well, what you don't know, because you're oblivious as hell," she continued, still chuckling, "is that Kyra is so fucking jealous, her skin could turn green at any moment. I watched her this morning at the breakfast table. She was watching you. And I mean you, Bella, Bethy, and Sammy. She watched you looking at them. Eddie, your love for them is a neon fucking sign all over that pretty face of yours, and the girl saw that. It's why she snapped on Bella this morning. Nothing can touch that, but she'll still try." "Fuck, you sound like Bella," I whined, running a hand through my hair. "PDA," she stated again, and Dumb and Dumber nodded fervently beside her. "You'll take yourself off the 'possibility' table. It's not like you hold back in front of us..." She motioned between her, Emmett, and Jasper. "But you've held back a bit since this chick got here." I wrinkled my nose, but nodded. "This shit makes me uncomfortable." "But your wife shouldn't," Jasper added. I nodded again, letting out a deep breath. "Okay," I conceded, nodding again, but I stopped and turned back to Mickey. "Thanks." "I'm here to keep you boneheads from getting killed by your wives," she laughed, shrugging one shoulder, but there was a deep-seated sadness in her honey-colored eyes. "You all moved in to the new place?" I asked her as we made our way toward Gravity's office, but Mickey glanced up at me and nodded. "And you're okay?" I asked her. Jasper's and Emmett's faces darkened when they realized I'd changed gears on us so quickly, but they studied her as they waited for her answer.

"I'm...fine, pretty boy," she said, but she didn't sound fine. "I want..." She huffed, shaking her head and coming to a halt. "Obie and I can't seem to see eye to eye on something. I want something something really bad and he doesn't. And it became a problem." I could see tears forming in her eyes, and I knew Mickey. I could pretty much guess at what she wanted so badly, because the girls had all but said it aloud, even though they weren't supposed to a girl thing, irreconcilable differences, Obie hadn't hurt her. Mickey had no family and probably wanted one of her own badly. Obie had been abandoned by his and Tom's parents. A child, a family was the underlying reason for their breakup or separation or some shit. But Mickey would never want to feel weak not in front of us so I simply nodded, saying, "His loss, wild child. And if he doesn't realize it soon, then I'll fly to Aunt Kate's and explain it to him. In detail." "No, Edward. Don't," she said, sounding a little defeated. "Just...wait. Okay? Promise me?" I looked at Emmett, who looked like he wanted to hug her, and then to Jasper, who seemed to have just gotten it. He and Alice didn't want children, but he'd been around Bella and Rose; he knew how important being mothers were to them. His face softened as he broke his gaze from her to me, and he winced. "Obie should know, Mick," I whispered, draping an arm across her shoulders and pulling her to me, because she was like the little sister I never knew I needed. "It's an amazing experience...and scary," I admitted softly to her. "But I'll shut the fuck up...for now." I raised an eyebrow at her until she nodded. Her hand gripped my jacket for just a second, and then she let go, nodding. "Thanks, Edward." "Mmhm," I hummed, letting it go for the moment, but before I opened the office door, I turned back to her. "Can you take Kyra and Cassie their things?" I asked her, giving her a chance to calm down, because she was still a little upset. "Yeah, sure," she answered softly with a small smile, because she knew I was letting her tears dry before walking back into the office.

As she walked toward the SUV, I tugged open the office door. Alice, Mack, Rose, Esme, and Bella all looked up when we walked in the same unasked question written all over their faces. "Wes took the stuff, the house is clear, and no sign of anything," I started. "Gator is staying with my dad. They're picking up Raulson in the morning." "He's not coming here," Alice said, grimacing a bit. "We need one place we can keep Kyra away from everyone...at least until we can narrow it all down." "No, he's not coming here. My dad's maybe, but not here," I vowed, sitting down next to Bella and kissing her temple. "I see Kyra is slowly signing her own death warrant," I teased her in reference to the law she'd had to lay down earlier, placing another kiss to my wife's neck. "There are plenty of places to hide her body," Rose muttered, rolling her eyes. "Famous bitch or not. No one knows where she is, but us," she said with a grin. "And we aren't gonna say anything." "Well, that would be true," Bella chuckled, giving Rose a smirk, "except now...she's been seen with a new bodyguard," she said, turning the computer so that I could see it. I grimaced at the picture on the screen. It was me and Kyra at the record studio. I had a hand on her arm, tugging her toward the SUV. "Fuck," I sighed, sitting back in the chair. "The rumors have already started, Edward," Makenna chuckled, turning her own computer around. "With you in the forefront and Gator in another vehicle, they already assume you're her new...man." Bella snorted, but said nothing, only glancing up when Mickey came back into the room. I glared at Mack's computer, shaking my head at just how nosy one website could get. They wanted to know who I was, where I'd come from, and just how I knew or had met Kyra. In the picture, I was wearing what I'd put on that very

morning jeans, a button down, and a jacket. What couldn't be seen were my eyes, because I'd put on sunglasses just before walking out of that bakery, and my gun. Luckily, that was hidden by my jacket. If the camera had caught that, there was no telling where the rumors would've taken it. "Someone will recognize you eventually," Bella stated, giving the picture a scathing look, only to turn back to her own work. "I just hope no one places you with her from back in Afghanistan," she sighed, shaking her head and getting up from the table. "That would be bad." "Why?" I asked as she made herself a cup of coffee. "Because her stalker will flip the fuck out," Alice answered. "A new man, or one from the past. Oh, he'll freak. She'll offend him in some way. Right now, he thinks she's free and clear. If that changes...you'll be a target, too, Edward." "Bring it," I growled, giving Emmett a fist bump when he grunted in agreement. "No!" Bella snapped, setting her mug down onto the table. "No...there's no bring it. This guy is irrational and delusional. He'll kill you just to get to her. Don't you remember how that fucking goes?" The whole room came to a standstill as we gaped up at her. Very rarely did Bella put her foot down, but she was close. And even more rare did she bring up her past in front of everyone. "Baby..." "No," she said, shaking her head. "I'm sorry if this sounds callous or mean or bitchy, but he can have her. He can't touch you! If given the choice...I'm not having something happen to you. You have to think, Edward. This isn't just me...you've got to think about Bethy and Samuel." "Bella," Esme said, getting up from her chair and wrapping an arm around her. "That's not a choice you'll have to make, sweetie. You're not thinking

rationally. You wouldn't want her hurt, and no one's going to let anything happen...to any of you." "This shit's too close to Miller for my liking," Rose whispered, frowning down at her computer. "And I think we're letting that rule us at the moment. Men like this...or women, too, I guess...they usually stem from abusive homes, they think they are owed this relationship they're fantasizing about, and they start to unravel eventually. Maybe we're thinking too emotionally. Edward's presence could be a way of kicking this asshole into overdrive, getting him to step up to the plate. If it brings him out into the open, he'll be easier to catch." "Bait," Jasper said, raising an eyebrow up at me when my head spun to glare at him. "You and Bella...bait, dude. I'm not kidding." "They are similar," Alice mused, looking up from her screen and eying Bella. "We could so work with that..." I flinched, because I'd known this shit was coming. Bella was already dealing with Kyra's looks, the history between us, and Kyra's fucking attitude enough as it was, but to have everyone in the room just blurt it out was the straw that broke the camel's back. A maniacal laugh rushed from my wife, and she shook her head. "I'm done. I'll finish this shit in the morning." She shrugged out of Esme's arms, walking to the door. "Tell them about the phones. Close this shit up. And go home." We all jumped when the door slammed behind her. I stood up, gripping a fistful of my hair. "Edward..." "Enough!" I barked, spinning to face everyone in the room. "I should've never taken this case," I stated, shaking my head. "Kyra is selfish and spoiled. She's rude and has zero respect, even toward those trying to help her. Maybe she does deserve this shit. Maybe she just pissed off the wrong asshole. But Bella doesn't. You have no idea how fucking hard she's trying to maintain. You have no idea how many memories this shit is bringing back to her." I groaned, everything in me begging me to follow Bella, because the memory of Miller made my girl feel weak, and she was anything but weak. "Look, let this decoy shit go. At least for now."

Esme grimaced, walking to me. "Okay. Just calm down, son," she soothed, and I let out a small breath. "No one's saying you have to take that route. It was merely an idea. That's all. Go to her." I shook my head, wanting to obey that command, but I couldn't. "No, what's this phone shit she wanted you to tell me?" Alice slid both Cassie's and Kyra's phones my way. Both were back together, seemed to be working, and were fully charged. "They can have them back. But I found something interesting in Kyra's. An app...one that gives off a constant location tracker." My eyes narrowed on the pixie, waiting for her to explain. "Gator?" "He says no," Rose said, getting up from the table. "I called him. He only changes her phone number when there's an issue. Which was pretty recent, actually." "Can you see who's watching it?" Emmett asked, pulling the phones to him. He was good with communications, so with quick touches to the screen, he studied the device. "Like what's the site it's posting to." "No, I can't," Alice growled, spinning her computer around. "It works like a social network. You can see just where everyone you know is. That's if they wanted you to. I'm thinking someone downloaded that app when she wasn't looking." "Cassie?" Rose asked. "I don't think so," I sighed. "I heard her over the radio when the whole tweeting thing came out. She's not...like that. I'm just not thinking she's doing anything to Kyra on purpose." "Yeah, I'm getting the impression that Kyra is all Cassie has," Mickey piped up. "It's just something I picked up from being around them all day. Cassie may have some feelings for Kyra, but I think it's really a very close friendship. Though Kyra kind of takes advantage of her." "I get that, too," I agreed, but pointed to the phones. "Alice, tomorrow I want you to be the one to give these back. And I want you to tell them exactly what you found, exactly what they can and can't do with them, and see how they

react. Kyra fights Bella on every turn. Let's see how she takes it from someone that can out-smart her." Alice grinned wickedly, nodding profusely. "Are you telling me to make her look stupid?" I laughed. "Pixie...you make us all look stupid." She chuckled, throwing a pen at me, which I dodged beautifully. "Fine. I'll do it." I turned to Rose. "Kurt will be here tomorrow, right?" "Yeah," she said, closing her laptop down. "He called earlier to check in. He'll be working out with Bella in the morning, though now I kind of feel sorry for him, because she may just beat the shit out of the poor boy out of sheer frustration." I chuckled. "Okay, well, once he's patched up," I said, pausing when they all laughed, "have him scour the internet, that social tracking site, and see what he comes up with. See if someone starts to put two and two together about me and Kyra, about Gravity. Okay?" "Yup, no problem," she sang with a nod. "I'm going to let Caleb stay the night, because we'll just be lugging him off to Mrs. Cope's in the morning. Okay?" she asked, and I was totally fine with it. I left them to close up the office, practically running across my yard to get to Bella. In fact, I wasn't sure I could get to her quick enough.

BELLA
My house was silent when I walked in. The only noises came from the ticking clock in the living room and the low hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen. The guest room door was closed, but I checked on Bethy, pulling her covers up around her and placing Mr. Bear back in her arms. I peeked into Sammy's room, smirking at the little pudgy lump that was Caleb all curled up in a ball. Brushing an errant curl from Samuel's forehead, I dropped a light kiss to his dreamwrinkled brow.

Once I was in my bedroom, I let out the breath I'd been holding. I had to shake the stupid feelings of jealousy, regret, and resentment I was carrying toward Kyra and Edward, if I were to be honest simply for their history. I couldn't blame her for wanting Edward. Fuck, just one look at him and most women wanted him. But she'd actually been with him. Imagining was one thing; actually knowing what you were missing out on was another. The fact that everyone noted just how much we looked alike had been too much to handle. It wasn't that we looked alike, because besides hair color and frame, we weren't alike. Our faces were completely different; it was just what this guy, this stalker wanted from her. I saw myself in her too much. I saw what could've been me if Edward ever decided that he just didn't want me anymore pitiful and pathetic, trying to cling to someone that didn't want them. I saw myself in her, because she was a clueless victim waiting to happen. Miller had wanted to control me, hurt me. This guy wanted the same thing from Kyra. I shook my head as I walked into my bathroom and turned on the shower, thinking she had no idea just what evil lurked out in the world. Everyone catered to her every whim, giving her anything she asked for, but this guy... He was going to take. He was going to take away her dignity and her choice. He would take away her perfect flawless skin, her love for people because she really did enjoy meeting her fans and her happy outlook...well, happy toward everyone but me. He would destroy her, crush her spirit. She didn't deserve it. No one deserved it. Shedding my clothes, I twisted my hair up into a messy knot and stepped under the spray, giving my body a once-over. I looked at scars I hadn't paid attention to in a very long time. Edward's love, his hands, his lips made me forget them, but they were still there. All of them. Some were faint, like the ones on my breasts and sternum. Some were still bold and twisted, like the burns on my stomach, the cuts on my hipbones. And some meant more than others, like the longest and ugliest of them all the one down my thigh. It represented Edward's rescue and his first vow that he loved me. That one represented the end of Miller's torture, the last one he'd given me, because the alarm that sounded when Carlisle and Edward came for me had caused Miller to jump and snag my leg with the tip of his knife.

I dragged my thumb down it, feeling the harder skin under my touch. I closed my eyes, remembering Edward's own thumb there for the first time and the zinging sensation that had come with it. I remembered dark, lust-filled, yet determined eyes gazing up at me through long, wet eyelashes on a rainy afternoon as I leaned against a tree, fighting my feelings for the man at my feet. I didn't think a man like Edward could say the three most important words, but once he'd said the words "I love you," he'd never stopped. He said them over and over. He said them a million times a day, and they never fucking got old. He said them to me and to his kids. He said them with a forcefulness behind them, because he wanted us to not only hear it, but believe it, rely on it, trust it. I finished my shower, drying off and tugging Edward's boxers and t-shirt on my usual pajamas. I'd worn them for years, and he loved it. In fact, I was pretty sure he bought certain colors just to see me in them. Dropping my dirty clothes into the hamper and setting my gun high up on the self so no tiny hands could touch it, I turned when Edward stepped into the room. He closed the door behind him, the soft click echoing in the silence as he leaned back against it. "Don't say it," I told him, holding up a hand. "They want me as some sort of decoy for her," I grumped, frowning at the fact that it could possibly work if we needed it to. "I told them no," he said softly, still leaning back against the door. "Why?" I laughed humorlessly. "It's just...perfect," I said, spitting the last word out. "Maybe," he allowed, shrugging a shoulder when I glared at him, but the slightly crooked smile creeping up his face told me that he thought it was bullshit. "Not that you couldn't do it, but I'm not sure you should." I sat down on the bed, drawing my knees up to my chin. "Maybe I don't want to," I huffed, feeling belligerent and cranky about it. "Maybe I don't want to look like her." He cracked a smile, and it was evil and wicked, his eyes darkening as he walked slowly across the room while removing his jacket and tossing it across the

chair. "Then you don't, Bella," he said, his voice low and deep. "And you don't look like her. You look like you." "She scares me, Edward," I whispered, looking away from him when he sat down in front of me. "She shouldn't," he whispered back, reaching up to take my hair down. It tumbled heavily around my shoulders. Tucking one side behind my ear, he said, "She has no power here, sweetness." "It's not that," I sighed, leaning into his touch. "We could so easily swap places. She could really get hurt...and I could..." My voice trailed off, because as much as I believed in his love for me, if he ever stopped or something happened to him, I'd be devastated. "You could what?" he asked, leaning forward to press his forehead to mine, barely letting his lips brush across mine. "Tell me, baby, because I'm pretty sure that you're letting something mess with you too much." He tapped my temple lightly with one finger, only to trail it lightly down my face. "Now, I know you're not thinking that you could lose me, or that you'd be lost without me. I know you couldn't possibly be thinking something that silly, love. Right?" he asked, raising an eyebrow when I scowled up at him. Sometimes, he knew me too fucking well. "Smart ass," I muttered, rolling my eyes at his pompous chuckle. "No," I pouted, pushing him back as he laughed a bit more. "Yes," I breathed, my eyes watering just a bit. "I don't know. This stalker, Edward...he's so similar." He grimaced and nodded, but gathered me up into his strong arms. "Yeah, I kind of thought that was what this was about," he sighed, his breath pushing out against my cheek as I buried myself into the crook of his neck. "It's too close, huh?" I nodded against his neck, breathing deep the calming scent of him. My fingers slipped inside his shirt, finding a gripping purchase onto the smooth skin of his shoulders, as he pulled me closer, tighter. "Are you worried about you or Kyra?" he asked softly, cradling me on his lap with one strong arm, while he skimmed his hand up and down my thigh, his thumb just brushing across the very scar I'd been studying in the shower.

"She doesn't deserve this," I whispered the only answer I had, taking his finger and dragging it up my scar. "No one does. It doesn't matter if she's spoiled or whatever. No woman deserves to have their choice taken away." "You didn't deserve it, either, sweetness." His voice was firm, unwavering, with a touch of temper lingering in it. He tilted my chin up so he could look into my eyes. "We will catch him. Whether we use that ridiculous decoy idea, or we just keep narrowing down suspects, but we will stop this guy, Bella. He won't touch anyone me, Kyra, and especially not you. I know you're afraid for me, but I can handle it." I smiled sadly, cupping his face. "I can, too. I just wonder if she can. She should get to keep her...perfect skin," I muttered, glancing down at my thigh as Edward's thumb continued caressing, touching, and loving on my scar. A frustrated sound escaped him, and suddenly, I found myself straddling his lap, my back to his chest. "Look in the fucking mirror, Bella," he ordered at the same time my shirt was swiftly lifted off over my head and dropped to the bed. "You want perfection, so I'm going to show you fucking perfection. I said...look." He pointed a finger at the same time he nudged my cheek with his nose. I broke my gaze from dark and angry, to look at my cheval mirror right across from us. I watched as two incredibly strong hands wrapped around me, gripping the material of the boxer shorts I was wearing and he ripped them in half. They shredded in his grasp, his entire body rolling in one big muscular wave as he yanked the fabric away and tossed it unceremoniously to the floor. I gasped, but couldn't stop staring at the image in the mirror. I was naked, sitting on Edward's thighs. He was still in his jeans and button down shirt, with the sleeves rolled up. Every muscle in his forearms rolled beautifully as he started to touch me...everywhere. "I never fucking want you to second-guess just how damned beautiful you are," he said, his mouth at my ear, but in the mirror, he was watching us with eyes so very dark. "I told you that if you said one more thing about her looks, I was going to hold you down in front this mirror and prove to you how I see you."

"Edward..." I gasped as firm grips, soothing caresses, and teasing fingers ghosted all over my skin, across my breasts, up my thighs, and between my legs, never actually touching where I needed them the most. "Shh, sweetness," he purred, opening his mouth to my neck, but our eyes met in the mirror. "Just feel, and just listen." Gliding his hands down my arms, and then down the outside of my thighs, he said, "We started...with this. And that sweet ass I can't get to at the moment...but I will." He grinned a bit, dragging his teeth slowly over the skin of my shoulder. "You have no idea how badly I just wanted to fucking touch you back then, baby. But I couldn't. I had to wait." With one finger, he touched the scar on my thigh, following its twisted path, only to do the same to the burns on my stomach. "These gave me your love...and your sweet, sweet taste," he crooned. "You let me devour you, even through these little striped underwear that I so badly wanted to just rip the fuck off of you. You were so fucking wet for me, Bella. Do you remember?" I nodded frantically, my head falling back a bit to his shoulder. "Fuck, even through the cotton, I could've licked you, tasted you, drunk from you all fucking day," he said, his voice raspy, thick as his fingers slipped just over the outside of my folds, not dipping in, not touching me where I was now swollen and throbbing for him. Flat palms and spread fingers then slipped up my torso, until he cupped both of my breasts, just barely giving my nipples a brush, but they hardened, peaked until my eyes rolled back. "No...keep looking, love," he whispered, nudging my jaw again with his nose until I looked back to the mirror. "I'm not done. These beautiful girls..." He chuckled, squeezing my breasts just a bit. "They told me that you were just about ready for me." He touched the faint scars on each breast, finally gliding

down the one on my sternum. "I would've waited. I wanted to wait, sweetness. And I...didn't wait...for anyone." I whimpered when his hand cupped my sex possessively, rubbing slightly, but still not touching me the way that I needed. "Edward...please..." I begged, trying to writhe, grind, anything on his lap, but a strong arm wrapped around me to hold me still. "And this one," he continued, like I wasn't fucking dying in his arms for release, for his touch, for all that he'd give me. Three fingers drifted across my C-section scar. "This one told me twice just how much you loved me by giving me the most precious of gifts." My love for him came bubbling up out of me with a sound that was close to a sob, but it was a continuous begging sound at the same time. Ignoring me, he pressed firmly against the inside of my legs, opening them wider. "A little wider, love," he ordered softly, shifting us so that I was spread open for him on his lap and in front of that mirror. "Nothing is more perfect than this," he crooned, finally giving in and slipping his fingers through my now saturated folds. He smiled against the flesh of my neck as the pure sound of relief escaped me. "When I was finally able to touch this beautiful pussy, I swore that I'd never, ever stop, Bella. And I haven't." "Oh, God...more," I gasped, reaching behind me to grip his neck as long, knowing fingers delved deep inside of me. His thumb swirled against my clit, and I was so fucking wet that the movement of his hand could be heard as a delicious sucking sound. "I don't see scars, sweetness," he growled low against the soft spot just below my ear, but his eyes were locked onto what his hand was doing to me in the mirror. "I see us. I see every step, every sweet orgasm that made you mine. That made me yours. These aren't imperfections, Bella. They are every single glorious piece of you that you've given to me." My body clenched fiercely, my hips rose up, and I was so fucking close when he curled his fingers just right as he dragged his thumb across my clit at the perfect spot.

"And I'm very fucking selfish and attached to what's mine. I only want my toys to play with, baby," he breathed against my cheek, placing a long, slow kiss there. "Come for me, beautiful. Now!" My whole body spiraled out of control at his command. I had to hook my heels on the edge of the bed, because my hips rose high. Eyes rolled, breathing stopped, and Edward's name was the only word I could articulate, and even that came out as some sort of alien language. The shudders of my bliss didn't even have a chance to calm down before we both moved at the same time. I spun on his lap, but he flipped us so that he was looming over me, settling between my legs. "I swear to God, Bella," he growled, pressing his forehead to mine. "You are so fucking perfect that it hurts me to look at you sometimes. Please, please don't ever forget that. I-I l-love y-you s-so f-fucking m-much," he sputtered, and I snapped, barely saying the words back to him, because that sweet, honest sound was just the icing on the cake. My hands flew to his shirt, pushing and shoving at it. Slipping a hand down my side, Edward hitched my leg up higher as he dove for my mouth. Tongues were possessive, sweeping alongside each other and claiming mouths, teeth nipped, and sounds escaped us into the room, and I couldn't have cared less. In fact, there was a vengeful, possessive, evil part of me that hoped someone heard us. Grazing his lips down my jaw to my neck, Edward suckled lightly on my skin, causing my head to fall back. It gave me the opportunity to glance back over to the mirror, and my stomach clenched at the sight. Edward's strong arm was braced by my head, my bare legs wrapped around his jean-clad thighs, but my eyes didn't stray far from him. The Cullen crest and all its swirls on his upper arm rolled beautifully with every movement as he held himself above me, lost in it all. It was dark ink, shifting with every thrust of my husband's hips. But it was more than that. It was a gloriously strong, sloping back with a shirt barely staying on. It was flexing

thigh muscles behind denim that always seemed to cling to him like a second skin. And it was the beautiful face that nuzzled my jaw, my neck, my breasts. "Fuck, baby. Are you watching us?" he asked, a touch of amusement behind his voice. "You," I told him, finally turning back to the real thing above me and running my fingers through his hair. "I'm watching you." He smirked, licking his kiss bruised lips and letting his eyes stray to the mirror. "I think we should both get to see..." He sat up abruptly, shrugging the rest of the way out of his shirt, only to stand up to rid himself of his shoes, socks, and jeans. Sitting back down on the edge of the bed, he opened his arms for me. He stopped me when I started to face him, turning me around. "No, sweetness. I want to watch us fuck." With my back to his chest again, he lifted me up, guiding me slowly down over his cock. My head fell back to his shoulder, but my eyes couldn't stray from watching him disappear inside of me. Once he was as deep as he could go, we both paused, our breathing heavy, our eyes locked in that mirror. "So fucking good," he growled low against my neck, gathering my hair up so he could pull my head to one side. "Oh, baby, that's fucking perfection right there," he breathed, wrapping a strong arm around me to hold me still so he could start moving inside of me. It was almost too much to watch, and I wasn't sure what to keep my eyes on the black, carnal gaze that met mine, the hands that gripped my hips to move me just the way we both wanted, or the stunning, thick cock that moved in and out of me with a deep, sweet, delicious rhythm that was slowly bringing me back to the brink of another orgasm. "Wait for me, sweetness," he ordered softly. "Not yet, not yet," he chanted in a hissing whisper. "Love you, baby. Please wait." I whimpered an answer, trying my damnedest to stave off my climax, my body begging for another release. "Oh God, please..." We both watched as his hand slid slowly down my torso, his fingers immediately seeking out my clit. We barely breathed when one brush, one little

bit of pressure to my most sensitive nerve caused us both to unravel. His hand on my hip pulled me flush to him as my climax milked his own. Edward's sweaty forehead fell to my shoulder, his breathing heavy. "You're so beautiful, love. I lose my mind when you don't see it," he sighed softly, his breath ghosting over my sweaty skin. "I hate it that you think I'm so easily swayed..." I shook my head, pulling and tugging at him until he set his chin on my shoulder. I pressed my lips to his sharp, scruffy jaw. "I have total faith in you, Edward. I just know that telling Kyra about Miller tomorrow will make me..." "Weak?" he whispered, brushing his lips across mine, even though we were in an awkward position. I wrinkled my nose. "Yeah, I guess. In her eyes, anyway," I sighed in defeat. "I just don't want her to think that." "Hmm," he said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "I'm pretty sure that anyone that's heard you tell that story has never thought you to be weak, sweetness. You're giving her too much power. She's not allowed here," he said, gesturing between us. "She needs to know the level of danger she's in," he said, shifting us until we were laying on the bed, facing one another, "but letting her know just how strong you and I are will be...important. I think she needs to hear it for more than just the 'what could happen' aspect. I think she needs to hear just how much history you and I have. She's certainly not listening to me." I smiled, tears filling my eyes as I pressed my lips roughly to his. I nodded slowly, pulling back just a little. He was right; our bond was so very fucking strong, and I knew Kyra thought she could separate us. It wouldn't happen. But she also needed to know what could happen if her stalker got the advantage over her. "Okay," I said, letting out a slow breath. "Okay. I'll tell her."

CHAPTER seven EDWARD


"Aw, Bells," Kurt whined, as he picked himself up for what seemed the hundredth time. "Must you kick my ass this damn hard so early in the morning? Ed's got coffee, right?" I grinned, shook my head, and went back to putting the kids' lunches together even Caleb's. My Bella had woken up with a touch of nerves this morning, because she was planning on telling Kyra her story about Miller. The subject of her torture, the reasons behind my wife's scars made my girl feel weak and anxious. I wasn't too sure she needed to be. Kyra was self-involved, but she wasn't stupid. "You don't need coffee, Kurt," Bella countered, sounding amused, yet frustrated at the same time. "You need to watch that blind spot I keep catching you on. Someone will hurt you worse than I do if you don't get that crap straight. It won't be a knee in your chest; it'll be a gun. Now...again." Chuckling softly at the pained expression on Kurt's face, I lined up all lunchboxes at the edge of the counter and leaned in the window to watch her. Bella was tough on him, but she'd had to be from the beginning. He was young no more than twenty-two and he had concentration issues due to his bipolar disorder. She made sure he took his meds, stayed focused, and gave him responsibilities to keep him in line. And he did it for her to the fucking letter because she was giving him a chance that no one else would. It helped that all of us liked the kid. He was earnest, quick to learn, and respected each and every one of us. They were working out right next to the chopper pad. The grass was soft, there was plenty of space, and it was just far enough away from the house that they'd been able to start without waking the kids too early.

I let my eyes soak up the sight of her, because she was so fucking sexy, and she had no idea. She pushed herself in these workouts, using them to keep in shape and to stay sharp. And Kurt would rather be taught by her than the martial arts instructor in town. He trusted Bella, but the big, steroid-popping asshole at the dojo, not so much. I had to agree with Kurt on that one. I'd gone with them to a few sessions. The fucking asshole instructor kept his eyes on my wife's ass, not the fucking lesson, which earned him a few kicks to his groin from my tiny, feisty brunette. Wearing little black shorts and a tank top, Bella crouched, giving him instructions I couldn't quite hear, but if I knew her, she'd just told him she was about to take his weapon. I chuckled again, because Kurt tried his damnedest to put on a face of concentration. The kid wasn't a fighter, in all honesty, though at this point, he could protect himself fairly well. I wanted to join them, but I was waiting on Rose to arrive to take the kids to Mrs. Cope's. A tug on my cargo shorts alerted me that I wasn't alone in the kitchen any longer. "Me see," Sammy commanded, grinning up at me. "I wanna see, Daddy." He'd been happily watching cartoons in the living room with Bethy and Caleb, the sound low as to not wake Kyra and Cassie. I bent down, scooping my little man up into my arms. "You want to watch Mommy?" I asked him, pointing out the window, and he nodded slowly. Just as Rose pulled into the driveway, Bella spun, kicking a strong leg out, and knocked Kurt to his ass. Samuel giggled when she landed on the poor guy...again. Kurt winced at Bella's smug smile, but she patted his face and got up. "Mommy won," he stated. "Yes, she did," I laughed softly, pressing a kiss to his temple, because he couldn't keep his eyes off his mother. He was totally and truly his mommy's boy. Not that I blamed him, but he had a bond with her, just like I had one with Bethy. But my son looked at his mother the way I used to look at mine, so yeah, I totally fucking got it. "You'd better go give her goodbye kisses before you head to Mrs. Cope's, yeah?"

"Yeah," he said in his usual slow, smiling way. "Yeah," I mimicked him, walking him to the screen door, only to set him down. His short, chubby legs pumped furiously across the yard, making a beeline straight for his mother. She knelt down, letting him tackle her onto her back, wriggling and squirming up to her face so that he could kiss her. My heart squeezed tight in my chest at how much I loved them sometimes. My family meant everything to me. It had been the reason I'd lost my mind the night before with Bella, because she needed to understand. Every step, every scar, every pregnancy had been ours mine and Bella's. It had been a struggle, a fight, and a fucking phenomenal victory to get where we were. Bethy had been a beautiful surprise that neither of us regretted, and Samuel had been the result of a really fucked up situation. He'd been conceived in the middle of Bethy's kidnapping. And Bella had fought so fucking hard to protect him, to carry him, because he'd been so strong, so big that he'd truly taken his toll on her physically, which probably explained how attached they were to one another. Breaking my gaze away from the yard, I faced the duo in the living room. "Bethy, Caleb...it's time to go," I told them. "Get your lunches and snacks," I said, pointing to the kitchen as they got up from the couch. "Okay, Daddy," Bethy chirped, looking like a setting sun. Today's color was orange an orange floral shirt with a denim skirt, and matching Chucks and hair thingies. Two long braids fell down each of her shoulders as she rushed past me, with Caleb as a younger shadow. "Yes, Unca Edwurrd," Caleb answered. He grabbed his lunchbox and bolted out the door to see his mother, who scooped him up to plant kisses on his cheeks. I looked down at Bethy, who was holding her brother's lunchbox in one hand and hers in the other. "Piggie back, Daddy," she ordered, smiling up at me. "Your wish is my command," I chuckled, reaching down to pick her up, but flipping her so she landed on my shoulders with a squeal of delight and her legs

on either side of my neck, lunches still in a tight grip. "Watch that noggin' of yours," I told her, ducking out the screen door. She leaned down to hug my head, gigging and planting sloppy kisses to my cheek. "I forgot the extra 'mooches this morning," she whispered. "Sorry, Daddy." "Oh, and you're not done, either," I growled dramatically at her. "That's not enough, little sweetness!" I walked across the yard, holding onto her legs so she wouldn't fall, because she had a tendency to just...trust me. She wouldn't hold on, nor would she even try. Bella took the lunches from her hands so that I could spin Bethy around to my front, pretending to almost drop her, just to hear the hilarious squeak of surprise. "Now...more!" I ordered, and my baby girl grabbed my face, giving my lips, my nose, my chin, and my cheeks extra love. "That's much better. I wasn't going to be able to face the day without those." "Now you can!" she sang, puckering her lips for one more. "I stole one last night, though," I whispered to her. "While you were sleeping." She gasped, her little mouth forming an adorable circle. "You didn't!" she argued. "D-Daddy, I-I w-was s-saving th-them!" Bella and Rose giggled softly, turning away, and even Kurt chuckled silently, because Bethy truly sounded affronted. Caleb and Sammy grinned from the car. "Aw, baby," I whined, shaking my head. "I couldn't help it. I needed them to go to sleep."

Bethy pouted, giving me a slight tilt to her head. Sweet green eyes looked up at me through long eyelashes, and I suddenly was reminded of that cat in Shrek. I wrapped a braid around my hand, tugging it lightly. "I'm sorry, little sweetness," I sighed, giving her the same look back, and that's when Rose and Bella truly lost it, hiding it behind their hands. "I really couldn't help it. I'll make it up to you. You can take one back." Bethy's eyes softened, and a slow, wicked grin spread over her face, not unlike one her mother sported occasionally. Tiny hands grabbed my face again, and my cheek was given the sweetest, softest kiss of them all. "Mine," she grunted with a nod. "I stole it back." "That's my girl," I chuckled, wanting to just smother her to death hugs and kisses. There was a part of me that wanted only my family for the day, but I knew it was impossible. We had too much to do. "Be good and be safe today. Okay?" "'Kay, Daddy. Love you!" she told me, and I set her down to let her clamber into the car. Once all the kids had screamed their goodbyes, Rose pulled back out the driveway. Bella spun on Kurt, who truly looked the worse for wear, but he braced himself for some more sparring. I shot him a wink from behind my wife, scooping her up into my arms. "Give the guy a break, sweetness," I crooned in her ear as she burst into an adorable laugh. "You'll hurt him." Kurt sighed with relief, giving me a grateful look. "I'm going to start on that research, Bella," he said quickly, darting away before she could either argue or scramble down out of my arms. "Edward," she whined, but her protests were ignored as I walked her back to the house. "Nope, not listening," I sang, opening my mouth to her neck. "You've worked out. Now you can eat some breakfast, dammit." Bella giggled, sagging in my arms. Tiny fingers cupped my face, because she couldn't get to my hair due to my baseball cap. "You're the bestest in the

whole wide world," she purred teasingly, bringing my lips to hers and sounding just like our daughter. I walked her into the kitchen, plopping her down onto the counter. "What's for breakfast?" she asked in a whisper and a touch of laughter. "You," I growled, stepping between her legs. My fingers slipped just under the front of her tank top, grazing the sweet, but sweaty skin there. My thumb found one of her old scars and loved it thoroughly. "I'm thinking...chocolate syrup, whipped cream, maybe some...cherries. You need your energy back from all that workin' out..." Bella laughed, her head falling back, and I took the opportunity to leave an open mouth kiss to her neck. Movement caught my eye in the stainless steel fridge, which meant someone was just outside the kitchen, but I didn't stop. Dragging my lips up to her ear, I dragged my teeth along the spot that always caused her to whimper just a little. My hand flattened underneath her shirt, pulling her closer to me. My other hand wrapped her ponytail around my hand, forcing her mouth to mine. Warm fingers slipped up my arms and under the sleeves of my t-shirt, and I knew Bella was tracing every swirl of my ink on my upper arm. By now, she had the shit memorized. I claimed her mouth, relishing the taste of her, sweet, salty, and just Bella, finally pulling back to press my forehead to hers. "Love you, sweetness," I breathed, because her laughter, her happy smile at the moment was too much to resist. I fucking lived for that sound. "Love you, too, Edward," she sighed, grazing my lips with her own one more time. "Breakfast, baby..." she reminded with an urging tone and a giggle. "Oh, yeah," I chuckled, stepping back from her, but pointing a finger in her direction. "You make me lose track of shit." "Yeah, like that's hard to do," she chortled wryly, rolling her eyes. "I still need a shower, you know."

"I'll show you hard..." I growled, starting to step back to her, but we were no longer alone in the kitchen. "Morning Kyra, Cassie," I said, barely letting my eyes drift away from my wife's smug smirk. Her back was to them, but I'd been totally busted. However, I was pretty sure Bella didn't give a fuck, because she was looking at me like I was what she was about to devour for breakfast. Bella licked her lips, shook her head, and then slipped down gracefully from the counter. "Morning, guys," she greeted with a smile. Both ladies were dressed casually in jeans and long sleeve henleys, though high end, from the looks of it. Cassie looked like she was fighting her smile, but Kyra's face was expressionless. "Please, join us. Coffee's made, and I think Edward was about to make breakfast," Bella said, snorting on the last word. I grinned, shaking my head and turning away from the women in the room. I gathered down mugs from the cabinet, pouring three cups and setting them on the counter. "Go get your shower, baby," I told Bella. "It'll be ready by the time you're done." "Sure," she said, standing up on her toes to kiss me. "Be right back." I nodded, watching her walk away. I expected a snarky and ungrateful attitude from Kyra by the time I turned my attention to her and Cassie as they took seats at my kitchen bar, but I was wrong. Both were pretty quiet as I pulled out the real breakfast, not the hot fudge sundae shit I'd threatened to pour all over my wife. "Did you guys sleep okay?" I asked, whisking eggs, starting the bacon, and popping toast into the toaster. "Yes, Edward. Thank you," Kyra said, and I looked back over my shoulder to see Cassie nodding quietly. "Um...did you find anything last night?" I shook my head, continuing to work. "No. Nothing. But if the asshole drove up to my dad's, then we destroyed the tire tracks when we came in afterward. No one tried to break in, and it didn't look like they'd come through the woods." I

shrugged a shoulder. "We should hear from our guy Wes today, though. He sent the flower and letter off to the FBI lab." "FBI?" Cassie gasped, practically choking on her coffee. "Easy," I chuckled, sliding a napkin her way. "He's a friend doing us a favor. Alice will still do most of the computer work. You'll see. I'm sure Bella will take you out there today." I jerked a thumb toward the window, where Gravity's office was already starting to fill up. Makenna had just pulled in, with Mickey not far behind her. "Why would she do that?" Kyra asked, narrowing her eyes at me. I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "This type of case requires everyone to help especially you. Sometimes, there will be someone around you that you may not suspect. We'll need you two to look at videos, pictures, maybe try to tell us about some past issues. You don't have any appointments today, so the girls and Kurt want to work with you." "You won't be with us?" she asked, and I rolled my eyes at my stove, because I could hear disappointment. "No. Emmett, Jasper, and I are going to the arena today to speak with security before your show next week. We also have to stop by some TV station you're supposed to go to in a few days. We need to see a layout of the building, just in case something happens," I explained with my back still facing them. I plated the eggs, toast, and bacon, reaching in the fridge to grab a bowl of fruit I'd cut up for the kids. I set it all down in front of them, sliding a stack of plates down. "I see you still cook," Kyra purred with a smile, looking up at me through her eye lashes. "I have since I was fourteen," I countered, shrugging one shoulder, but glanced up when Bella walked back into the room, looking fresher and slightly amused. "Yeah, you told me back then," Kyra sighed, "but you never had the chance to show me." Cassie gave me an apologetic smile, taking a bite of toast. "Thanks, Edward."

"No problem," I told her, giving my wife a wink. "Just in time, sweetness," I chuckled, meaning for both breakfast and for saving my ass, and I swung her up onto a stool. She grinned, shaking her head, because she'd totally heard that shit. Her smile fell, because she had to tug her shirt back down, but it was the stares from the two other ladies that had caused the room to suddenly freeze. I'd exposed Bella's old scars without thinking. "Sorry, love," I whispered, kissing her forehead. "It's all good," she murmured, pulling the bacon closer. "Thanks, baby," she sang with a grin, popping a piece of cantaloupe into her mouth. "I'm going to grab the guys and get on the road, baby," I told her, kissing her cheek. "Is Rose getting the kids?" "One of us will," Bella told me with a nod. "Keep in touch. Be safe." "You, too," I whispered against her cheek. "Love you. You call me when you're done telling them." "'Kay," she whispered back. Grabbing my jacket and keys off of the kitchen table, I gave the ladies a wave and headed out to grab the guys. With one last glance back at my girl, I also decided to have the girls keep an eye out for Bella. I was pretty sure she would need them after her talk with Kyra.

BELLA
"No, Alice, you'll have to handle it until we get out there," I said on my cell phone as I cleaned up the kitchen from breakfast. It had been uneasy in the room, because I could see the side glances that both Kyra and Cassie were giving me after having seen my scars. "You need time to run the prints anyway, right?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she chanted in her usual three time manner. "I just was letting you know that Wes wasn't able to get anything off of the flower. There was a partial print on the letter, so I'll set the search now." "Okay. We'll be out a little later, but you can call me if you need me," I told her. "You all right?" "Yup," I sighed, throwing the dishrag back into the sink. "Never better." "Okay," she said, dragging the word out. "Later." I pocketed my phone, walking around the kitchen and into the living room. Cassie was seated on the sofa, but Kyra was gazing up at a few pictures that Edward and I deemed priceless. They were the photos of our parents, before and after we'd been born. Carlisle and my dad, Charlie, had been best friends from about middle school on, and due to Carlisle's military career and my dad's business, they hadn't been able to get their wives together as often as they'd wanted. When they had, though, Renee and Liz had been instant BFFs. I was pretty sure both beautiful women were plotting to put us together before we were even born, so the fact that we were together, married, and had children made the pictures Kyra was currently staring at all the more special to me and Edward. "You've known Edward your whole life," Kyra surmised, not looking at me, but strolling to the wall unit to look at the rest of our framed memories. "Actually, no," I said, smiling when she glanced up at me. "Our parents wanted that for us, but life kind of got in the way. My mother died when I was almost nine. My dad and I lived in Seattle. Edward's mother died when he was twelve, and Carlisle's job kept him pretty scarce. We met then," I said, pointing to the picture of the day I was born. I was curled tightly around a three-month-old Edward, not unlike how I slept next to him now. "And then again when we were twelve and thirteen. He and his dad lived here in Forks. I went to school in Seattle, Edward was shipped off to military school in California, and Carlisle was

always traveling, so I never really saw him until I was about twenty-six, when he...when he and Carlisle..." I took a deep breath and let it out, well aware that both women were watching me. I gazed up at a picture of mine and Edward's wedding day. I'd been seven months pregnant with Bethy, but the pure unadulterated love that surrounded us was what pushed me forward. I turned back to Kyra. "The guy that's following you, that's leaving flowers for you... We classify him as a stalker, but he's more, Kyra," I started. "What I'm about to tell you will scare you, but I'm hoping you at least listen. This isn't to be taken lightly, because your stalker is showing us signs like we've seen before. He's delusional, claiming that you...owe him somehow. He's smart, because he's able to get so very close to you without alerting you. And he's deadly, because he has every intention of getting to you. Until we study his profile, narrow down suspects, and learn new information, we won't know exactly what we're dealing with, but I..." "Have an idea?" Kyra asked. "Edward said you know criminals... that you understand this...this thing that's happening." She sat down next to Cassie, and both women gave me their undivided attention. "My guess is that he's a serial stalker," I told them, sitting down across from them in the chair, "which means he's done this before, and I'm willing to bet once we're able to really start looking into the people that work around you, study some old security video, and figure out what to look for, we're going to discover there is a trail of...victims prior to you." "Why do you think that?" Cassie piped up, her brow furrowing as she glanced between me and Kyra. "Because his letter to you was a true threat," I stated, looking down at my lap. I was wearing shorts, so the scar on my thigh stood out. I rubbed my thumb over it, drawing from the love that Edward had ravished on me the night

before. I needed it to get through this next conversation. "Because he sounds like Riley Miller." Just saying the name made me queasy. I huffed a breath, finally meeting Kyra's gaze. Her eyes, though, were on my leg as I continued to touch it. "Who?" Cassie whispered, but I went on. "You need to understand why we've placed all these restrictions, all these rules around you. You need to know just what could happen if you let your guard down for one single second," I explained, my voice just a little too sharp. I began to talk, and I didn't stop. I couldn't look at them, either. I spoke to some spot on the sofa between them, but they never interrupted, except to clarify something. Beginning with my job, with Gravity, I told them about Senator Alvarez and his fetish for young girls and spankings. I told them about Charlie, Royce King, and King's reliable right hand man, Riley Miller. I explained how Carlisle had started my business, was someone I could trust, and about a strange phone call from him to stay low and out of sight. And I had to stop for a moment when I spoke of a long shower that I never should've taken, how it had allowed that one brief lapse in caution that let a man into my hotel room just outside of San Francisco. "Miller was...a monster," I whispered, getting up from my chair. "There's no other word for him. Technically, the FBI now has him labeled as a serial killer, but that doesn't even come close to painting the real picture of him," I continued, starting to pace in the living room. I spoke of cabins, basements, and rats. I described my three days of torture, starvation, and thirst. While speaking of the smell of burned flesh, fresh blood, and the feel of being touched without permission, I gazed out my living room window out over my yard. I had to force myself to remember that it was over, that I was home, that Edward's soothing voice was just a phone call away once the story was over. "Miller kept telling me that I couldn't stop him. He repeatedly showed me exactly what keeping me strapped to a table was doing to him. And he told me it would only be him that I would see." I paused, finally facing the women, who

now were on the edge of my sofa, looking rather worried. "Do you hear your letter in there?" Kyra nodded, as did Cassie, but it was the former that spoke. "Did he... I mean, were you..." "Raped?" I asked, and she nodded again. "No. I wasn't, but he came damned close," I sighed, sitting down in front of them again. I rubbed my scar again on my leg. "I'm covered in these...mainly my torso. But this one..." I smiled, shaking my head. "This was the last one the asshole gave me, because just as he was about to...finish, an alarm sounded." Continuing the story, I explained how my girls were working with Edward and Carlisle's crew. I had no alternative but to tell Kyra exactly what those boys used to do for a living. Once I'd told them everything beach houses, PTSD, mountain cabins, Royce King's arrest, fearless, selfless mercenaries I sighed wearily. "What happened to Miller?" Kyra asked, gazing up at me, her face softening a bit. "He's dead," I stated coldly, nodding once. The room fell silent. There was a part of me that wanted to run from the house and call Edward, just to hear his voice. And I totally planned to do just that, but not yet. Meeting Kyra's gaze, I saw awe, nausea, and a whole lot of fear, whether the latter was of me, I wasn't sure, because she flinched when I moved. But I also saw understanding, because she now knew why I'd frozen at the top of some basement steps, why my body was covered in scars, and why Edward was so very protective of me almost violently so. "I know that laying low can be hard," I told her gently. "I know that being unable to follow your routine, speak with friends and family, and constantly looking over your shoulder is a pain in the ass. I had to stay in hiding, speak to no one, and avoid being seen at all costs. You can work, at least...not everything, but some things. We will protect you, but you have to do as we tell you. Trust me...I will do everything that I possibly can to keep this guy away from you. I promise," I said, standing up from my chair. "No one should experience what I did. And when it comes to cases like this, Edward and those

boys aren't just...private investigators working for me; they become something...else." Kyra turned to Cassie, speaking softly. "Will you go get our things? We'll need them out at their office." Cassie nodded and silently stood up and left the room. Kyra turned back to me, swallowing nervously. "I'm sorry I've been...difficult," she said simply, wrinkling her nose a bit. "I really didn't believe Gator when he said this guy was...more. I've had rambunctious fans before, so I just didn't see the difference, you know?" "Yeah, I get it. And if we're wrong, and it is just an over-zealous fan, then I'll apologize now." "But you don't think he is," she stated. "I don't think he is," I sighed, shaking my head no. "I'd rather be safe than sorry." I started to leave the room, because I really needed to call my husband and grab some shoes before we went out to my office. "Look, Kyra," I sighed, facing her, "I know you don't like me, and a byproduct of that is that you don't trust me. But my experience will help you." She was shaking her head no, and then stood up. "I don't know you, Bella, and I envy you," she groaned, looking away from me and at a picture of me and Edward at the beach safe house from when we were hiding out, just the two of us. "You have no idea how much he's changed. I hardly recognized him when he walked into his father's office. He was..." "Cold. Before, I mean," I finished for her, and she nodded. "Yeah, he was that way when I met him. He just...changed." I could still see her jealousy, and I could tell that she'd meant what she'd told Edward in the car the day before. She'd recognized the Cullen name when she'd heard that Carlisle had taken over Solstice Music. No matter how that very first meeting would've had turned out, she still would've asked about Edward. I wanted to tell her to fucking forget it, but I was too drained from the dredging up of Miller's memory. "You're lucky," she sighed.

"I am," I agreed. "I'll be right back, and then we'll head out to the office." I walked down the hall, pulling my phone out of my pocket. I couldn't dial Edward fast enough. "Sweetness," he answered, almost sounding relieved. "How'd it go?" "Just...peachy," I muttered, snatching my sneakers out of my closet, smiling at his amused and very sexy chuckle. "It went fine. She listened." "I don't care about her," he scoffed, and I could practically see his beautiful green eyes rolling. "How are you, love?" "I'm...tired," I admitted. "I just needed to hear your voice after that." "Okay," he sang dramatically. "Then listen to this shit..." For the next five minutes, he made me giggle by telling me all about the boys pretending to be news anchors at the TV station, and currently, they were rock stars at the arena. Jasper even got on the phone and ratted Emmett out about some threesome conversation they'd had in the car. By the time a cry of pain echoed through the phone, due to someone getting the shit beat out of them, I was in tears of hysterical laughter. The phone fumbled loudly, and Edward got back on the line, panting. "I swear to God, I didn't listen to that fucked up threesome bullshit, baby. I-I p-promise. I-I s-swear," he sputtered quietly. "Oh, Edward," I tried to croon, but it only came out as a chuckle. "We've had that conversation before. I do believe that you and I are fairly selfish bitches, and we don't share. And no matter how fuckhot you are, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't touch me...even to get to you." His laughter was deep and sexy through the line. "No one touches you," he huffed, but broke into another chuckle. "Wait! Did you just call me a bitch?" "I did. Now...hurry the hell up and get home to me," I ordered, still laughing. "Yes, ma'am," he answered through his own laughter.

"Rules," Alice huffed, looking fierce as she slid Kyra's and Cassie's phones toward them. And hell, if she didn't sound like me the night before. "When it comes to communication, there are rules." She rounded he gaze on Cassie, who flinched. "No tweeting, no email, no unauthorized phone calls. From this point on, there will be no more promoting." "Okay," Cassie breathed, pulling her phone closer, but not actually picking it up. I was pretty sure she was afraid to even touch the screen. Alice turned her smart, sharp gaze on Kyra. "And you... Who touches your phone?" she asked. "Well, I... I mean, everyone Gator, Cassie, Ike..." Kyra rambled off, looking a touch nervous. The name Ike caused me, Rose, and Mickey to snap our gazes around to her. He was the one person we hadn't met yet and who was due in later that day. Our curiosity was about to get the best of us. "Sometimes, it freezes on me. And they put appointments and contacts in it for me," she explained nervously. "Okay, well...new rule for you, too," Alice huffed, rolling her eyes. "If it freezes, you bring it to me. And no one is to touch it from this point on. Someone downloaded a tracking app onto it, and that was how they were aware of where you were. At all times." Alice glared at both women. "As much as I live for technology, it can be a pain in the ass. It's the easiest way for someone to snatch your identity, find out where you are, or steal from you. You have to be careful. Now, I've cleared both phones completely, changed your numbers, and now you belong to me," she smiled evilly, causing Rose to snicker softly from her chair next to me. "Every inbound, outbound, and missed call will record onto that computer," she stated, pointing to the computer room. "Every email, text, and photo will come through me first. I'm filtering everything. Hell, if you can...don't use the sons of bitches at all." Kurt snorted, glancing up from his laptop and giving Alice an amused smirk. "Wouldn't tracking her calls make it easier to find this guy, Ali? I mean...let her answer it, use it." "Not at the moment," she answered him, falling down in her chair in front of her collection of computers. "Because this guy has only given us the first taste.

And he's writing, not calling...yet. Which reminds me," she said, spinning to face me. "Bells, he's..." "Dja vu," I stated simply, ignoring my girls' and Kurt's worried looks. "Yeah, I know. Which makes me think there's a history out there to be found, but finding it is the problem." "Okay, so what are we working on today?" Makenna asked, leaning on the table next to my arm. I took a deep breath, looking around at my crew. "Kurt's working on the internet the rumors now flying around about Edward, where the blogs originate from, and he's watching Twitter. Alice is now running a scan for that partial print that Wes found on the note, scanning through call logs from both Kyra's and Cassie's phones, and waiting for Gator's contact to send some old security footage from Kyra's last few gigs. We're specifically looking for the last hotel visit that earned her the flower before the one at Carlisle's." I rubbed my temple, mentally scrolling down the list. "Mack, you and I are going to sit down with Cassie and go over some old issues and photographs. Rose, I'd like you and Mickey to work with Kyra, please. Go over her schedule, what we should expect and from whom. The guys are working with security at the TV station and the arena." "What about Carlisle?" Rose asked, glancing up from the notes she was taking. "He's with Gator and Alec. Ike Raulson is flying into Seattle today. I believe they're getting him settled in someplace, if not at Carlisle's," I told her. Not one word of argument was heard. In fact, everyone teamed off like I'd asked. We had a few hours before the kids needed to be picked up from Mrs. Cope's, and the boys weren't due back just yet. The room became a flurry of work, hushed whispers, and typing. "Okay, so let's see..." Mack hummed to herself, but she was pulling up some pictures that we'd found on Kyra's official Facebook page. They spanned throughout most of the singer's career, including the early stages when she

was working on the children's show. "Cassie, is there anyone you don't like? I mean, is there someone that makes you uncomfortable?" she asked her. Cassie wrinkled her nose, but didn't answer right away. "Think, honey," I urged, softening my voice. "Kyra's used to being surrounded all day by rude, obnoxious people. She probably doesn't even give it a second thought anymore, but you... You would notice. Think back... Is there someone in Kyra's dating life maybe, or even just someone casual that you didn't like?" Cassie laughed, though it was completely humorless. Then she looked up at me apologetically. "Sorry," she sighed, shaking her head. "I know he's your husband, but you have no idea what happened to Kyra after Afghanistan..." I sighed, wincing a bit, but braced myself for this next conversation. "There's not much you can tell me about Edward that will shock me, Cassie, so just...tell us." "Edward really tried to take care of us over there, you know?" she started, still looking rather sheepish, and I knew right then that she liked Edward, respected him and me, too, from how she was so very polite. "We were the only girls, and he felt bad when things got rough or people got out of hand." Mack and I nodded, because that sounded like Edward always the protector, even if it was something as simple as making sure no one overstepped their bounds. I could well imagine that both of Edward's parents had ingrained in him to be that way. Cassie gave a side glance Kyra's way, probably to make sure that she wasn't listening, and then turned back to us. "Oh, they were attracted to each other instantly, but Edward never led her on. I can attest to that," she stated, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. "I love Kyra; she's my best friend, my boss, and I'd do anything for her, but she used him just as much as he used her. Sorry..." she added, giving me another pained look. I chuckled, grabbing her hand. "I'm aware of their relationship, so just talk." "I overheard Edward tell Kyra that he wasn't the dating type. That he was stuck in a war, and he didn't even know if he'd even come home, so he couldn't be anything...more to her. He didn't lead her on...it was the other way around," Cassie said with a grimace. "She knew," she scoffed. "I told her to tell Edward

that she was married, but that it was over, but Kyra was pissed about the divorce taking so long. I think she used Edward to get over Roger, to be honest, because she wasn't with anyone at all up until the USO tour." "Wait, wait, wait," Mack stopped her, holding up her hands. "Let me get this straight... Kyra got married at eighteen, filed for divorce at nineteen, and still didn't knock boots until she was twenty-one?" "Mack," I groaned, rolling my eyes at Cassie's giggle. "That's so crass...stop listening to Emmett." Mack grinned, shoving me a little. "No, she didn't," Cassie snickered. "She really loved Roger, but he cheated...with the woman he's currently married to, actually. But he played her...took her for a lot of money, and she dragged it out. On purpose." "Ah," I sighed, sitting back in my chair, because I could just see how the whole thing had happened. Kyra had most likely been head over heels in love at the young age of eighteen, but Roger saw nothing but dollar signs when he looked at the singer, so he dated her, married her, and then when he found the one person he wanted to be with, he cheated on her. So when she filed for divorce and he'd wanted money, she'd decided to punish him. I wasn't sure that I blamed her on that one. "She didn't sleep with anyone, because she was trying to prove his adultery," I surmised, raising an eyebrow at Cassie. "Yeah, exactly." She nodded vehemently. "Until Edward. He was the first guy that caught her eye. I'm not sure she was in love with him, but he did make her feel safe, protected. I think she just wanted to latch onto that...and not let go." "And now?" Makenna snarked, rolling her eyes at my tsk to her. Cassie snorted, but leaned in closer. "She's so fucking scared, Bella. And seeing Edward again...he really does make her feel safe. You all do," she stated, sitting back up a bit. "I know she doesn't show it, but she is grateful for your help." Mack and I nodded, waiting for her to continue, because she obviously had a point to make.

"Anyway," Cassie sighed, "after we left Afghanistan, Kyra was...angry. She thought for sure Edward would change his mind. She told all of us that if he called, to patch him through to her immediately. She didn't care what she was doing." "But he didn't call," I added, because Edward and Kyra had argued about this in the car the day before. "No, he didn't. And I didn't think he would, either," she answered, shaking her head. "But after a few weeks turned into months, she became...hard, cold. She was divorced by then, working on movies, a new album, and she started dating. If you could call it that..." Cassie's voice trailed off. "I tried to calm her down, get her to stop, but it gave her some sort of satisfaction. She'd really loved Roger, had really felt safe with Edward, and both had rejected her, so she did the same to others." I wrinkled my nose, letting a long, slow breath out. "Was there someone that took it wrong?" "There were a few, but you have to understand how it is in Hollywood," she snorted, rolling her eyes. "They just...get over it. They move on to the next shooting star." "Okay, well, we found a director, a co-star, and a producer..." Mack said, pointing to her screen. "Was there someone else, maybe?" "The co-star was a publicity stunt," Cassie answered immediately. "The powers that be thought that if they acted like they had fallen in love just like their characters, then the draw to the film would be bigger. It worked. The producer was an ass. He used her as arm candy, and then once he was finished with his project, they split up. The director was really sweet, though. Jordan Nichols...so cute that he should've been in front of the camera and not behind it. And I think he got the worst of her attitude. He was young, new to the business, and lucked out with getting her to agree to his film. But he broke up with her. I was there. He couldn't take her drinking, her late nights, or her flirting with other men." "Jordan Nichols is hot," Mack muttered, an incredulous look on her face when she asked the next question. "How'd she let that get away?"

Cassie chuckled and shrugged. "I don't know...I don't look at guys, really. But I liked Jordan. He was polite, willing to look past her attitude, but he just got tired of it after a while, you know?" I peeked over Makenna's shoulder to see what the guy looked like. My eyebrows shot up, because he was really hot. He was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. With chestnut hair that seemed to have a touch of curls to it, deep brown, sultry eyes, and a beautiful smile, he stood next to Kyra at some formal event. He wore a tux in the photo, but even in a quickly taken picture, I could tell that the man was in shape. "Damn," I chuckled, looking back to Cassie. "And he's sweet?" "Oh yeah, like flowers, candles, massages type sweet," Cassie giggled. "And I would love to see her with him. In fact," she said, lowering her voice to barely a whisper, "he's the director for her video." "Hot damn," Makenna cheered, covering her mouth when the whole room looked up at her. I laughed, shaking my head. "Okay, so note to self," I chuckled, thinking that if we could get Kyra's attention off of my husband and back onto Jordan, that would definitely be a good thing. "Now...those are the guys that seemed all right. What about others?" Cassie shook her head. "She started to sneak around after Jordan, because I was pissed and she avoided me. I pleaded his case just about every day. We'd go to bed, but she'd sneak out to party. I was afraid she'd need rehab if it got any worse." "I remember that," Makenna murmured. "She was seen with some of the biggest club-goers in LA." "Fuck," I sighed, giving a glance across the room. "You know...eventually, she's going to have to own up to her sexual history. We'll need to know them. All of them." "She barely acknowledges it to me," Cassie countered, "but I'd be willing to bet this guy may be a jilted lover."

"Can you try?" I asked her. "She's definitely going to open up quicker to you than me. She fights me and considers me in the way of something she wants." "Aw, she doesn't want Edward," Cassie groaned, putting her head in her hands. "She thinks she does, but I really just think it's closure she needs. He's the only guy that told her no...that didn't follow her around like a puppy." Mack sucked her teeth, rolling her eyes. "She'll get closure if she keeps that shit up. It'll be Bellsy that gives it to her." I pursed my lips at the girl I loved like a baby sister and shook my head. "Shut it, Mack." Cassie chuckled, but then shrugged. "Perhaps this is all a lesson for her. Gator and I have been trying to get her straight for some time now. And this will be hard." We all let out a deep breath, but I thanked Cassie for her honesty. She was so damn quiet, but I knew that if I got her alone, she'd be filled with information that she probably wasn't even aware that she had. Mack, Cassie, and I continued to work for the next hour. We searched through what seemed to be a billion pictures. Makenna made a small list of men that Cassie pointed out so that she could research them later. It was men Cassie was unsure of, men that she suspected Kyra had had a relationship with, and men that Cassie had not liked at all. The more we worked, the more she opened up, and I couldn't help but thank her again. I glanced at my phone, seeing a missed text from Sarah. Looking at the time, I stood up. "Cassie, next, I want you to think about behind the scenes people. Maybe a bad mood, a bad day...and Kyra perhaps offended someone?" I said, but posed it like a question. "Mack will work with you, but I've got to go get the kids." "You're going?" Rose asked, looking up from her conversation with Mickey and Kyra. "Yeah," I said with a nod, gathering up my things. "Sarah needs to take Abby shopping for school clothes and supplies. The girls will want to go together. I'll keep Caleb with me. He and Sammy can suffer shopping together," I chuckled.

Everyone gave me a quick update as to their progress before I left. Alice had received the hotel security footage from the hotel that Kyra had gotten one of her flowers. She was currently scanning through it. The fingerprint was still being run through whatever database that the genius pixie used, as well. Rose, Mickey, and Kyra were all still going over the schedule in detail. The next event was another recording session in two days, then a TV interview with a local morning show, and finally, a concert at the arena, the latter having been scheduled ages ago, where most of the proceeds went to charity. Lastly, Kurt looked up, bleary-eyed and tired, telling me that there was no new information concerning Edward's presence in Kyra's life. Oh, blogs, social networks, and fans wanted to know who he was, but they weren't getting anywhere at finding out. As I left, I just hoped that mystery stayed a mystery, because I just couldn't have him threatened, as well.

CHAPTER eight EDWARD


"Little sweetness, at least eat the toast for me. Okay?" I asked her, trying not to ruffle my baby girl's feathers so early on such an important day. She was fucking nervous enough about her first day of kindergarten as it was. I glanced up when Bella walked into the kitchen, carrying a clean, dressed, still pretty sleepy Samuel in her arms. She set him down next to his sister, and he immediately started shoveling Cheerios into his mouth. Appetite was not a problem for my big guy. "Pretty girl," Bella soothed in Bethy's ear, at the same time playing with her long hair. "Eat the toast, or even just the oatmeal, but you've got to have something. It'll make that funny feeling in your tummy not so bad, okay?" In all honesty, I wasn't sure who was more nervous about Bethy's first day of school me, Bella, or Bethy herself. Our daughter was gung-fucking-ho about getting new notebooks, paper, crayons, and pencils, and clothes shopping had been a mother/daughter party, but now that the actual day had arrived and Bethy realized it wasn't Mrs. Cope that she would be seeing, it was a completely different story. I knew for a fucking fact that Sammy would grow up to be just like me, all nervous, shy, and quiet in school. Bethy, on the other hand, I'd hoped would attack school, making friends and socializing like the little hellion I knew her to be. I'd hoped that she'd be like Bella, with a sense of ease at everything she took on. Bella locked worried gazes with me, but didn't say a word about Bethy. "Is everyone gone?" she asked me, still running her fingers lovingly through our daughter's hair. "Yeah," I said with a nod. "They left about twenty minutes ago to head to that next recording session. Alec is handling this one." Bella started to open her mouth, but I stopped her. "And yes, he's totally keeping an eye on Raulson. I can't imagine what Alec will say to the guy if he starts his same old sh...crap."

I fought my smile as Bethy finally picked up her spoon, putting a tiny bite of oatmeal in her mouth though begrudgingly, I noted. "Good," Bella huffed, stepping away to grab my cup of coffee from my hand, before kissing my jaw. "She just needed the focus off of her," my girl whispered, giving me another kiss. "Anyway," she sighed, walking back to Bethy. "I don't trust Ike." I shook my head, because I didn't trust the asshole, either. He'd arrived about a week ago and had chosen to stay with my father, because he damn well wasn't coming to my house. In fact, he wasn't allowed anywhere near it. And that rule came from not only me, but Alice, Alec, and Bella, as well. I wasn't sure he was truly behind Kyra's threats, but he offended everyone at every turn. He was pompous, cranky, and insulting. The first recording session he'd attended had resulted in just about everyone jumping to Kyra's defense and that included my crew and the technicians at the studio. He'd insulted Kyra's performance, her tone, and her pitch. It had been almost abusive. In fact, Raulson had upset everyone so much that the techs at the studio had needed Kyra back the very next day. I'd had to drive her by myself to make up some missing part of the song. It had only taken an hour to record it, but at that point, we were all about to strangle the old fucker every time he was around. From that moment on, my father told him to keep his fucking mouth shut during recordings. The old fart shut the fuck up, but the snide comments continued after the sessions. He truly was a miserable son of a bitch. Kyra, on the other hand, didn't seem to think anything of it. And that bothered every woman on our team. They weren't exactly signing up for the Kyra Bailey fan club, but they thought she deserved to be recognized for her talent. Personally, I thought Kyra had been around the asshole so long that she didn't know any better. And holy fuck, if he didn't recognize me in an instant. I fought my smile at the memory of the pure fear that splashed across the old fucker's face. It wasn't just that he didn't like me; I scared the fucking hell out of the man. Thinking back to when he'd been with Kyra on the USO tour, it made total sense. I didn't put up with abusive, insulting nonsense. I'd unknowingly acted as a shield between them back then.

Eying Bethy as her breakfast slowly started to disappear, I sighed not only in relief that she was eating, but wearily at Kyra's attitude the last few days. She'd been flirty and had started using a new tactic. She'd wait until my wife wasn't anywhere around to say something, speak of the past, toss innuendos my way. In fact, she'd wait until no one was around, except that I told Bella about it each and every time, if she didn't sneak up on the situation herself. I was pretty sure it had gotten worse once Raulson had shown up. "It's not that I think he's behind this," Bella said, dropping a kiss to a quiet Bethy's head, "but he's so mean..." I walked to my girls, kissing Bella's temple, only to look down at Bethy. She seemed to be finished, picking away at her oatmeal. "Pretty girl, is that all you want?" "Yes, Daddy," she answered, looking up at me. "I'm finished." "Go brush your teeth, then. Gamma should be here any minute to take Sammy. We need to leave soon," I told her, swinging her down off the stool onto the floor. Moments later, little thumping footfalls echoed down the hallway. "I'm nervous for her," Bella whispered, snickering a bit, but wrapping her arms around my waist. "Me, too," I sighed, brushing my lips across hers. "If we leave soon enough, we can have a talk with her, yeah?" Bella nodded, and we both turned when Esme walked into the house. "Gamma!" Sammy chirped, his fists still full of cereal. He happily grinned up at her. "Hello, my handsome boy," she crooned to him, placing kisses to his chubby cheeks. "Are you ready for our date today?" "Yeah," he said in his slow, crookedly grinning way, and both women giggled, because on more than one occasion, they'd told me that he was me made over when he did that.

I laughed and rolled my eyes at Esme and my wife swooning over us. I scooped up my boy and kissed his cheek. "Wash your hands there, pal," I told him, turning on the kitchen sink. Sticky hands shot out under the water, and Sammy rubbed his hands together. "Good boy," I praised, flinching when he flicked water at me when he shook his hands. "Tell them that we can't help being this hot, Sammy," I growled dramatically against the side of his head. Sammy giggled, "Yeah...hot!" Esme and Bella laughed, my wife snatching Samuel out of my arms. "Yes, you are," she laughed, smooching a now hysterically giggling boy in her arms. "Both of you," she chuckled, kissing me, too. Bethy came back into the room, and Esme knelt before her. She looked slightly pale, carrying a pink camo backpack that Bella said our daughter had insisted on getting. The color of the day was pink, with jeans, of course. "It's a big day, huh, sweet one?" she asked her. Bethy nodded, smiling a little. "Mommy says it's big kid school." "It is," Esme agreed with a nod. "I'm sure you'll show them just how smart and sweet you are. And you'll be a good girl?" "Yes, Gamma," Bethy whispered, looking to me and Bella. "Okay, it's time to go," Bella said, giving Sammy a kiss before handing him to his grandmother. Bethy was quiet as we loaded her and all her supplies up in the Volvo SUV. She stayed quiet up until we pulled into the parking lot of the school. I turned to look at her, seeing that her little brow was furrowed and her teeth were sinking into her bottom lip, just like Bella's when she was upset. I got out of the car, opened the door, and swung her down to the asphalt, kneeling down in front of her. "Little sweetness, what has you so scared? School never bothered you before," I said softly, tucking an already stray lock of hair behind her ear and looking up when Bella knelt with us. "Haley said," Bethy started, huffing and frowning. "H-Haley s-said th-that th-the b-big k-kids w-will m-make f-fun o-of m-me. Th-The w-way I-I t-talk..."

I looked to Bella, because I didn't know who the fuck this Haley was. "Mrs. Cope's assistant," she whispered, but I could see tears forming in Bella's eyes at our daughter's painful admission. "Pretty girl, did she say this to you?" "N-No, I-I h-heard h-her..." I took a deep breath, pulling my baby girl into my arms as we all stood up. "Bethy, look at me," I said, tilting her chin so that her green met my own. "I won't lie to you, baby. They may try to make fun of your stutter, but you know what you do?" She shook her head, wrapping her arms around my neck. "You ignore them," I told her. "You know that feeling you get when you think you're going to stutter? Like the words just won't come out the way you want?" I asked her, and she nodded again. "That's when you don't say anything. Just wait. Relax, and then the words will come. You know this, my smart girl. We've talked about it before." We had talked about it. A lot. Bethy's stutter was easier to deal with than my own, because she only stuttered when she was nervous or thought she was in trouble. When I was her age, every single word had been utter fucking torture. We'd worked on it together, and I'd thought it was something she rarely thought about anymore. There was a part of me that wanted to find this Haley and tell her she should keep her big fucking trap shut. "And you only talk that way when you're nervous, Bethy," Bella reminded her. "I promise that you'll have fun today. It's not the big deal you're making it out to be. You'll be with Abby, because Aunt Sarah and I made sure to keep you two together." "Yeah?" my baby girl asked, her eyes brightening a bit. "Yes," Bella and I both said with nods. "I'm pretty sure Abby's just as scared, honey," Bella soothed, kissing her forehead. "And you liked Miss Gardner when you met her the other day." Bethy nodded again, looking around when her name was called. I had to grin, because she looked so mixed up...excited, nervous, adorably curious all the things that she got from her mother. I watched in utter amazement as a

defiant little chin jutted out in determination, and I was reminded so much of Bella back when I'd first pulled her away from Miller that it caused my heart to sputter in my chest. Bella had used the same movement in order to steel herself for the next thing she needed to overcome. "Christ," I breathed, hugging my girl close and burying my face in applesmelling hair. "I love you so very much, little sweetness. You'll be just...perfect. Okay?" "Pwomise, Daddy?" "Oh, baby...you can't go wrong," I chuckled, fighting back tears at just how big she'd gotten. No one could rock me as much as my wife and kids could. "Come here," Bella sighed, taking Bethy from me. "You know you can handle this, my beautiful girl. You go show 'em what awesome girls the Cullens are." I laughed as Bella set Bethy back on her feet. "Now...should we go on in?" I asked her, and she nodded, so I grabbed backpack, lunch, and supplies out of the backseat. I knelt in front of her one more time. "And if someone is dumb enough to pick on you, baby...then you tell them what I am, who you are, and that I'll see them after school. Got me, little sweetness?" I asked her with a smirk and a raised eyebrow and there was a part of me that wasn't fucking kidding about that shit, either. Bethy giggled, grinning up at me, and then nodded. "Got it, Daddy." It took all of about sixty seconds before my baby girl was okay to leave behind at school just the sight of some of her friends from Mrs. Cope's daycare, Abby's presence, and the teacher's sweet smile. I grinned, shaking my head as we, along with several other nervous parents, left the room, because my smart girl was going to rock school. But it was my teary-eyed wife I had to contend with once we were back to the car. I pulled her into my arms at the passenger side door. "She's so big, Edward," Bella sobbed and laughed at the same time, because it seemed silly, yet time had flown with our oldest child.

"I know," I sighed, dropping kisses from her cheek down to her ear. "She's so much like you, though," I chuckled. "She'll be running the school before the day is out." Bella giggled, smothering it into my neck. "Probably," she agreed, all sniffly sweet and clingy. "Come on, sweetness," I said, opening the car door for her. "As much as I want to hang out here all day just to make sure she's all right, we have some things to do before coming back to get her." "Yeah, and one of them is hunting down Haley," she growled, her brow furrowing. I chuckled, cupping her cranky looking face. "Let it go, baby. I'm glad she heard it that way. It made it easier for me to talk to her about it, because I knew that was bugging her. Hell, it bugged me my whole life." "Yeah?" she asked, looking hopeful. "Because I'll make a kid disappear for upsetting her." I laughed, thinking the same thing, but I shook my head. "Leave the children alone, love. And yes, I wanted to talk to her about that anyway, so it all worked out. Okay?" "Okay," Bella sighed, finally releasing my shirt from her tight grip. "Back to work, I guess." "Yes, ma'am," I crooned, dropping a kiss to her lips. I took her top lip and bottom, only to tease her mouth with my tongue. "I love you. And we did a fucking awesome job with her, Bella..." Bella grinned, cupping my face. "Yeah... Yeah, we did."

"Just show me, Alice," I sighed in frustration. "Computers and shit aren't my thing, but I'm not a fucking doofus." Alice grinned, because Bella was cracking the fuck up behind us at the conference table. I smirked, rolled my eyes, and grasped ahold of Alice's chair,

rolling her hard enough that she drifted almost the whole way out of the computer room. "Jackass," she laughed, tiptoeing back up to me, only to punch my arm, which didn't hurt one fucking bit from the tiny pixie. "Fine. So you know I didn't get anything on this note the stalker left, right? The partial print just wasn't enough to bring up anything." "Right," I urged her, waving my hand for her to go on. "And the FBI lab didn't get shit on the flower, except that it had been burned with one of those butane lighters. Traces of the accelerant were found on one of the not so burned petals. It's a common fuel, especially in the..." "Restaurant business," I answered for her. "They use those blow torches on like desserts to brown the top. You know...like flan...or lemon meringue pie." "Yes! Exactly!" Alice chirped, ruffling my hair and nodding. "What I also did was take a really good look at the paper of this note. And it's expensive shit...parchment-like, high end, really pretty stuff. It's almost like card-stock. The glue... According to the lab, it's pretty common stuff, but the type that's usually sold in bulk to large businesses." I wasn't stupid, because I immediately picked up on what she was telling me. "This guy has money. The paper alone tells me that. So your theory of Kyra's wealth being a part of her draw is out the window." "Maybe," she said, shrugging a shoulder. "But at least this gives us the tools to narrow it down. I've traced the paper to a company in South America. They ship everywhere, but they mainly supply large quantities to greeting card companies." "Okay," I said, dragging the word out. "How's that point to Kyra?" "The division of Solstice Music that resides in California is in the same building as All-Occasion Greeting cards," Bella piped up from the conference table. Alice pointed a finger toward her, giving me a shit-eating grin. "That!" she chuckled. My eyebrows shot up, and I leaned into look at the computer. Alice had pulled up a list of people that worked in that building. It was a really fucking long list.

"So all I need to do is narrow down this list to people that match up to the profile we're trying to build," Alice said, like it was a simple fucking task. Looking at the list, I was skeptical, because it was a thirty-something story building, with several companies, not to mention what looked like so many names that it would take a week to research them all. "So eliminate the women," Bella said, turning around in her chair, "because this is a man that's threatening her. I'm sure of it, because women don't say 'I'll show you what you do to me.'" "Take away anyone older than say...fifty," Rose added, coming to lean in the doorway, "because even Wes said that this guy would be between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five. Something about how that note was put together and some sort of control that he has over his obsession." "Get rid of anyone that's been hired in say...the last two weeks, because Kyra's been here," Kurt mused, also leaning in the door. "And I'd remove anyone that doesn't have a passport..." We all looked up at him, because that was such a random addition to the list. He grinned, shrugging, but pointed toward the bulletin board, where a map of the world was pegged up. Every place Kyra had received a flower was marked by a pushpin. "Look, she received flowers in London, Paris, and again in Hong Kong. This guy can travel outside of the country. Passport," he sang the last word, looking rather proud of himself. "This guy's got money," I muttered again to myself, shaking my head. I watched as Alice's fingers flew over the keyboard and the list shrank smaller and smaller, but not small enough. "Or he works with her," Rose added, raising an eyebrow. "Who haven't we met?" "The technicians from the LA studio," Bella replied, biting her bottom lip as she watched Alice work. "People from the movie sets, photo shoots...fuck, bartenders from the clubs. Shit, it could still be just about anyone." "No," Makenna stated, walking in the room to join us. "No...we're missing something. We're overlooking something, or over thinking it."

"That still leaves...close to two hundred names," Alice sighed frustratedly, turning to look at us and giving us a glimpse of the list. "I want that list...with pictures," Mack ordered, rushing back to her computer. "I've watched every fucking second of security footage where Kyra's received flowers the hotel in LA, the theatre she did a concert at, and even the small back-lot of the movie studio. I need fucking faces to look at." "Jesus, Mack, that'll take you ages," I told her, and despite the fact that Makenna could not only remember faces and draw them to portrait perfect quality, what she was planning to do would take forever. Bella put a hand on her shoulder to stop her for a moment. She turned back to Alice, saying, "On that list...who has a criminal record? And I mean misdemeanors and dismissed cases, too." "That will take a bit," Alice murmured, her fingers flying over the keys. "Dismissed cases sometimes are sealed." "This is a pain in the ass case," Rose huffed, rolling her eyes when we all chuckled. "No, for real. It is. This guy has gone quiet, just when we thought he'd get more vocal. Kyra...she's...I can't... What a cow!" I barked a laughed, because I couldn't help it. Rose never held back, so I was wondering how long this had been building. "Rose," Bella chided, but her tone held no authority, and there wasn't any stopping Rose once she got going. "God, all she does is bitch! I mean, granted...she's gotten better, but damn! She stares at Edward like he's her next meal, she flirts, she plays stupid. She's so not stupid. She's holding something back. I'm telling you...I guaran-fucking-tee you that she has some sort of mental list of people she's pissed off." Rose folded her arms across her chest, shaking her head slowly. "She needs to give up that sexual history...and soon." "She doesn't remember it," Bella said softly, wrinkling her nose. "Cassie's tried for us. Over and over. The problem stems from her drinking and partying. She was too tanked to remember." Bella's eyes landed on me. "And as far as you are concerned...it's a comfort issue. You make her feel safe. Hell, I'm not so

sure she's not hiding behind you from Raulson. I'm willing to bet he's been verbally abusive to her since she was a fucking kid." "Hell, no! Kyra wants a piece of that again," Mack growled, pointing to me as she glared at Bella. "Oh God, stop!" I groaned, leaning my elbows on my knees and shoving my fingers into my hair. "I'm not a piece of anything!" Bella giggled, and I couldn't help but grin up at her, because she raised a deadly sexy eyebrow up at me. "She's getting worse, too," Alice noted softly from my side, but when I glanced up at her, she winced apologetically. "Yeah, I heard her this morning. Sorry, Edward." I groaned, rolling my eyes, but I was completely grateful that Alice had indeed been in the office just before everyone headed out to the recording session. Emmett had been talking nonsense about one of Kyra's past music videos and the nudity in which it contained, which prompted the singer to state that she slept naked a comment that had poor Kurt's eyebrows raising up high and his whole body shifting uncomfortably in his chair. She'd asked me if I remembered that shit, which I quickly told her no, considering I had never actually slept with her, because I'd had to sleep in the motherfucking barracks. Alice bless her tiny self had jumped in to give Kyra whatever emails she'd screened, almost physically yanking the woman from my presence. "She can look all she wants," Bella grumbled, turning back to her computer. "The first time she touches...well, she won't be on any magazine covers for awhile. Let's just put it that way." The whole room exploded into laughter, except for me. I couldn't decide whether to kiss my girl senseless, until we were fucking drunk with each other, because that shit was sexy as hell, or groan in terror, because I knew for a fucking fact that Bella meant that threat, completely. Luckily, I'd been able to avoid Kyra the last week for the most part. She'd talked, flirted, and batted eyelashes at me, but she hadn't touched, even when I'd driven her by myself the one time back to the studio.

"Shit, she hasn't touched you, right?" Kurt whispered to me, looking terrified between me and Bella, the latter of whom was concentrating more on her computer than anything else. "No," I sighed, shaking my head and sitting back in my chair. "She hasn't." The room split back up again, everyone getting back to whatever tasks they were working on. I turned back to the layout of the TV station, because that was the next day's appointment with Kyra. I'd already spoken to the security team of the building, explained the situation, and requested that the building needed to be tightened down. By the time that the crew had called and said that they were heading back from the recording studio, it was time to go get Bethy from school. I stood up from my chair, walking to Bella, and dropped a kiss to the top of her head. "Let's go get our girl, sweetness," I whispered in her ear. A sweet smile spread over my wife's face, and she spun in her chair to gaze up at me. "Wanna bet she chatters the whole way home?" I laughed, shaking my head. "I'm telling you...she's running the joint by now." Bella chuckled, looking to Rose. "Need us to grab Caleb at Mrs. Cope's?" "Nope, Esme's doing it. Something about taking her two boys to the park," Rose said with a smile. "But before you go...schedule changes." She held up a sheet of paper, only to set it down so that Bella and I could study it. "We're waiting for the people from the studio, but we'll add the making of the music video as soon as we get all the info. Next, tomorrow is that TV spot. Mickey, Alec, and Gator will be joining you two on that one. Then, there's the concert... Am I to assume we're all going?" she asked, glancing between me and Bella. "Security-wise, I need the whole crew, including my dad," I told her with a nod. "Alec, Mickey, Em, Jazz, and Kurt." "I'll be with Edward," Bella told Rose, still studying the schedule. "I'll need you, Alice, Mack in the security office that night." She then turned to look at me. "You're still planning to fly in?"

"Yeah. I think it would be easier. I think if I had you, Alec, and my dad with her, leaving everyone else at their posts, we could get her in, let her do her thing, and then get her out. Safely." "Okay, so the concert is set," Bella agreed, turning back to Rose. "What else?" "Your birthday," Rose said with a cheesy ass grin. "You're off. Both of you. You have a curfew, but at least you can go somewhere, do something, without kids, irritating singers, and the rest of us bugging your asses." I chuckled, kissing the side of Bella's head. "Fuck, yeah. We're going out. No arguments, sweetness." Bella giggled, leaning into me. "I wouldn't dare..." She thanked Rose, and then turned to me, grabbing my hand and tugging me toward the door. "Come on. I want my girl."

BELLA
The school was busy when we pulled up and parked the SUV. I had a feeling it would be, because it was the first day. I'd been nervous all damn day. My Bethy wasn't a baby anymore, and that just about killed me. There was also another part of me that hoped we'd given our little girl enough ammunition to handle herself in life. Her amazingly adorable conversation with her daddy that morning concerning her stutter just about had me wrapping her up and taking her back home, because I knew what Edward had gone through when he was young. And despite how much I loved that she sounded like him, I knew the reality was that kids could be cruel. Really fucking cruel. And with Bethy, that could be a double edged sword. It could either cause her terrible heartache, or she'd blow the fuck up, just like her father. Edward had soothed her the best he could, reminding her of all the work they'd done with the speech therapist. My husband had struggled to overcome his stutter for the most part and was able to work at home with Bethy, though he'd made it seem like a game. He only stuttered around me, and sometimes the kids, but I remembered what he'd been like when I'd met him so long ago.

Every word he'd said was work...hard work. Until he was relaxed and comfortable. And that was what he'd tried to get across to Bethy. But the reality was that we were expecting at least one kid to notice, and that was why Edward had told Bethy to tell whoever bothered her what he was. And as we navigated the school hallways, I realized he'd dressed the way he had on purpose, specifically for today. Bethy loved to tell kids that her daddy was a soldier and a bodyguard. It was the easiest description for her to understand. So Edward, having nowhere to be today other than at his daughter's beck and call had dressed the part. And damn, he looked good, too. Wearing desert camo cargo pants tucked into tan boots, a khaki colored t-shirt, and his black backwards baseball cap, my husband looked larger than life. Why the desert camo made him look that big, I had no idea, but it did. He was broad shoulders, thumping boots, and a muscular chest narrowing to his waist. He turned heads, caused little kids to stop and stare, and he paid none of them any attention. Giggling silently when I realized he'd dressed this way in order for the kids to remember him, I reached out, linking my fingers with his. And suddenly, I felt really sorry for the first boy that ever had the courage to date Bethy. Really fucking sorry. As we approached the kindergarten classrooms, I could see all the little ones waiting outside along the wall, backpacks and lunchboxes all lined up with them along the sidewalk. Abby and Bethy were together, as always, and a little red-haired boy was standing in front of them. "Go away, Todd," Abby huffed quietly, rolling her eyes. "No, say it again, Bethy," Todd laughed. "I said my d-daddy is a s-soldier," Bethy growled, her little fist balling up, and I wasn't sure how close she was to knocking out the boy in front of her. I could

tell that Bethy was struggling hard on keeping her stutter to a minimum, but some words were just impossible. "S-So?" the kid mocked. "Ah, fuck," Edward sighed, shaking his head, but a wicked as sin smirk crept up over his face as he shot me a wink. Bethy caught sight of him, her eyes brightening, as did Abby's, but he quickly put his finger to his lips to tell the girls to keep his presence a secret as he stealthily walked to them. "You sound like a scratched CD," Todd laughed, wrapping his arms around his stomach as he laughed his ass off. Edward came to stand behind the boy and I mean, right behind him glaring down at the poor, unsuspecting child. And I could have sworn the man just grew in size. His eyes blackened as he glared down at Todd. "Y-Your d-daddy's not here," Todd continued to mock, but froze like a deer in headlights when a deep, no nonsense tone barked right behind him. "Yes, he is," Edward stated firmly, fighting his smile when Todd ran smack into Edward's legs, only to stumble back a few steps. My husband's eyebrow shot up menacingly as he leered at the kid. "You know, for someone with so many freckles and no front teeth, you don't really have a lot of room to make fun of someone else." I wanted to laugh my ass off as I watched the kid take in the soldier in front of him. Bright blue eyes raked from boots all the way up to the pissed off face waiting for an answer. "Todd, is it?" Edward asked, and the kid could only nod with a gaping mouth. "Well, Todd, maybe you should find someplace else to wait for your parents, yeah?" But Todd took another route. His curiosity got the better of him. "Are you really a soldier?" he whispered, still gazing up at Edward like he was a walking, talking G.I. Joe doll.

"I was," Edward said with a nod, his voice still smooth, cool, and measured. "Now I'm something different." "Did you shoot guns? Drive in tanks? Did you catch terrorists?" Todd rattled off rapidly, and I had to hide my smile behind my hand, because Edward wasn't quite prepared for the interrogation. "Yes. No, it was helicopters. And yes." "Hi, Daddy!" Bethy chirped, brushing past Todd to get to her father. "Hi, Uncle Edward," Abby giggled, giving Todd a scathing look. "Aunt Bella!" she sang, running to give me a hug. "Hey, Abs..." I chuckled, thinking the beautiful little girl had blossomed in the last year or so. She wasn't as shy as she used to be, though she was the quieter of the two girls. Bethy spun to Todd just before reaching Edward. "Go. Away." Edward smirked, kneeling so that both girls could rush to him. "I'd do what she says, kid. I've taught her everything I know," he lied, just to scare the poor boy, causing him to take off running. "Edward," I chided with a giggle, rolling my eyes, but loving him more at the moment than I probably ever had. "Mommy!" Bethy gushed, planting a big kiss to her daddy's cheek before running to me. "Pretty girl," I sighed, scooping her up and kissing her sweet puckered lips. "How was the first day?" Both girls started talking at once. I caught things about recess, snack time, reading stories, naps, different children, and even something about an art project, but their excited chatter went on until Sarah arrived to pick up Abby. It continued all the way out to the parking lot, and we could barely separate the two in order to get into our cars. "And the first graders get their own desks," Bethy continued once we were in the Volvo, causing Edward to chuckle and give me a pointed look, because

we'd known she would be like this on the way home. "But we don't," she said, sounding disappointed. "We have big round tables, and Abby's sits wif me." "Desks, huh?" Edward verified, but I could see the wheels turning in his mind. He hadn't had a new wood project since Sammy's trundle bed. He turned to me. "Could one fit in her room?" I shrugged. "Not too big. And I think Alice is working on some sort of computer situation for her. You'll have to measure, though." Of course, Bethy heard nothing of that, because she was still trying to get every second of her first day out to us. In fact, Edward didn't seem to want to let it end, so he stopped downtown. "My girls need ice cream," he stated, giving me a sweet as hell grin. "I think the survival of the first day of kindergarten deserves strawberry ice cream." "Yay!" Bethy cheered, letting him pull her from the back seat. He didn't set her down, though. He kept her in his arms all the way to Miss Gladys' ice cream shop, held her during the ordering process, and set her on his lap when we made our way to a park bench across the street. Edward was showing off his girls as he had a tendency to do. But he was also about to ask a really important question. "Did Todd make fun of you all day?" he asked her, taking her cone from her and licking it to keep it from dripping on him. "No," she told him, shaking her head. "He's in first grade. He heard me on the pwaygwound after school." Edward nodded, but asked another question. "How was your stutter?" "Okay," she answered with a shrug, her attention on her treat more than his face as he wrapped a tendril of her hair around his finger gently. "I did it one time in class when I answered Miss Gardner. And one time outside." Her eyes met his. "There's a boy in class that does it, too. Colin. He's nice." Edward smiled and nodded slowly. "Good, little sweetness. It's good you aren't the only one. No one is perfect, baby. I've told you that before."

"Colin was nervous, but he sat wif Abby and me," she told him, and I could see that she had done what Bethy always did. She'd protected this little boy, despite or because of the fact that they both had the same problem. And that seemed to settle Edward down immediately. If no one in her class was picking on her and she wasn't upset, then all was right in the world with Daddy. At one point, she clambered into my lap, telling me all about her classroom and work and how she thought Miss Gardner was a nice teacher, but not as nice as Mrs. Cope. As she spoke, I watched as the baby I'd had slowly slipped away. She was a big girl now. And that caused me to cup her face and kiss her forehead. She'd turned into an amazing blend of Edward and me. She was outgoing, accepting of others, and so very curious like me. She was also strong-willed, tough, and just a touch insecure just like Edward. Her big, beautiful green eyes were the same shade as his, but they were bright and sparkling with mischief as she held up her cone for her dad to lick from it. Warm lips pressed to my temple, and then to Bethy's as she handed over what she couldn't eat of her ice cream cone to her dad, who tossed the whole thing in his mouth at one time just to hear her giggle. "I love you both so much. Did you know that?" he asked us, grinning when we scoffed at him. "Yeah!" we both sang back to him, causing a laugh to bark out of him. "Good," he growled dramatically back at us, standing up and throwing away our garbage. "Let's get home." He turned to his daughter. "What's for dinner, Bethy? Your pick." She didn't even have to think about it. The answer came instantly. "Chilwi dawgs!" Edward grinned, and I kissed his cheek once I stood up with Bethy in my arms, because he just looked so fucking happy at the moment. "Chili dogs, it is. Sammy will be pleased," he chuckled, wrapping an arm around us and leading us back to the car.

"Edward, it's good to see you again," a rather disheveled older man in a security uniform gushed, shaking my husband's hand. "Ronald," Edward greeted, giving the back entrance of the TV station a sharp glance around. "Are they ready for her?" "We've got a dressing room ready until it's time for her to go on," Ronald answered, his eyes drifting past Edward to me, Mickey, Alec, and Gator. They finally settled on Carlisle and Kyra as they emerged from the SUV. Cassie was still in the car, because she'd been arguing all morning with the producer of the video Kyra needed to make. "I'm telling you, if I don't have an entire employee list, a set schedule of what we're doing, and where it's going to be shot in my possession by the end of the day, this video isn't happening. Carlisle Cullen says we'll shoot it live on stage and use that instead. Okay?" she snapped into her cell phone while she still sat in the back seat. Mickey and I chuckled, because despite Cassie's quiet demeanor, she was tough as nails at doing her job. We liked her. A lot. She'd proven herself time and time again, trying her damnedest to get Kyra under control, pump her for information, and communicate all of that back to us. She wanted her boss, her best friend to be safe, and she was willing to work with us to get that accomplished. The poor thing was so used to the spoiled diva that she was just about the only one that could step in and be a wall of explanation. We relied upon her heavily. Mickey leaned in the car, whispering, "Let Rose call them. That'll light a fire under their asses." Cassie grinned and nodded fervently, finally ending the call with, "Never mind. I'll just have my head of security call you this afternoon to check in on your progress."

"Bellissima," Alec crooned, giving me his sweet smile when I turned to him. He held out his hand, and it was filled with earpieces. "Alice has requested that everyone take one, including Cassie." "Oh, gotcha," I said, grabbing them. I handed one to Mickey, and then turned to Cassie. "Ever worn one?" "No," she admitted, looking a touch nervous. "Okay, well, they fit like a Bluetooth in your ear, and they kind of work the same. You'll be able to hear everything that we say, but for us to be able to hear you, just touch it here," I instructed, helping her figure out how to work it. "The difference is that it's radio. We're connected back to the office to Rose, Mack, and Alice. Got it?" "Yeah, yeah," she gushed with a smile and a nod, tucking the thing in her ear, as we both turned our attention to Edward. "Everyone, this is Ronald. He's head of security at the TV station. He's going to be working with us for the next couple of hours while we're here." He turned to Ronald, giving everyone's name. "Alec and myself will be at the back of the audience posted at those two main entrances. Bella and Mickey will be on either side of the stage, and Cassie will be with them. Gator will take the very front of the building, while my father oversees the backstage. Are we clear?" "Crystal, sir," Ronald stated with a smile. "Let's get Miss Bailey to her dressing room." Navigating the backstage of the TV station was interesting. It was endless wires, bustling people, moving cameras, nonsensical chatter, and winding hallways. We passed a news set, a cooking show set, and finally ended up at the morning talk show set, where Kyra would be giving an interview. "I'll take this side," Mickey murmured to me, "and I'll keep Cassie with me." I nodded, glancing across the stage to the opposite side. It was dark, but I'd have a better view of the interview and the area close to the stage. I glanced

out over the empty chairs where the audience would be, noting to myself that I'd be able to see Edward's and Alec's positions just fine from there, as well. "We'll be going over Kyra's stay in Seattle, her upcoming album, and some of her history," a woman with a large headset and a clipboard babbled to Cassie. "The whole interview will probably only take about fifteen minutes." Cassie scanned over the questions, nodded, and then handed them over to me. They seemed to be the normal shit how she was liking the Pacific Northwest, what direction the new album would take, and some personal questions. I nodded, handing it back to Cassie and making my way through the maze to find the dressing rooms. But instead, I found Kyra up to no good. "Aren't you going to check out my dressing room with me, Edward?" she purred, leaning closer to him. He leaned back, almost as if she smelled bad, and I shook my head. She'd been pushing her limits with him and me for the past few days. She thought she was getting away with what Cassie tried to say was harmless flirting, but I had started to see it for what it really was. She wanted what Emmett would say as "get backs." Edward had repeatedly turned her down from the ending of their time in Afghanistan, to even more so now. She wanted him because he told her no. I'd have been willing to bet had he ever given in, she'd drop him like a bad habit, because she would've achieved what she'd wanted. Closure. Something about his rejection of her bugged the ever-loving piss out of her. And she was just tenacious enough to keep fucking trying. I imagined she thought that eventually, Edward would give in. It wasn't going to happen. "I've got this," I barked, pulling my gun from my shoulder holster, making them both jump, and locking my eyes with Kyra as I checked the chamber, popped the clip, and engaged it all in front of her fucking face. "Let's go, Kyra," I commanded, not even having the time nor the patience to look anywhere other than her slightly frightened expression. I slammed open the door of the dressing room, giving it a brief sweep, and turned back to her. "Clear," I sneered, closing the door and leaning back against it. "Now... get your fucking ass dressed." I raised an eyebrow at her, fucking daring her to say something, but she didn't.

Mickey's maniacal laughter met my ear through my earpiece. "Don't kill her here, Bellsy. Too many witnesses." "And don't take naked pictures of her, either, Bellissima. Because you know that Alice will post that shit on the internet," Alec chuckled. "Don't. Tempt. Me," I murmured back as Kyra nervously started getting ready. That statement earned laughter from everyone over the radio, including my girls back at the office. "I wouldn't have done it, sweetness," Edward stated. "I know," I sighed, rolling my eyes. The poor thing caught no breaks from her. At all. By the time she was dressed, the station had sent in their hair and makeup people and the show's director called for her, Kyra was calmer. She was getting herself into a mind-set for this interview. And I could imagine from some of her earlier statements that she didn't particularly care for this part of her career. It took away from her true calling and talent singing and performing to have to stop, be a certain way on screen for others to see, and promote herself. Just before she left the dressing room, I finally had to give her a warning. "I know what you're doing," I sneered softly, grabbing ahold of her arm. "It won't work. Back the fuck off, or you'll find yourself in a world of fucking hurt. Got me?" Her eyes widened, but I went on. "You're a fool if you think he doesn't tell me about each and every pathetic attempt. You're an even bigger fool to try it here," I said, tapping my ear, because she hadn't realized I could hear her over Edward's headset. "But what makes you the biggest fool of all is thinking that you can take him from his family. He's moved on; you should, too." With that said, I jerked open the door to find Carlisle standing there, his face expressionless as I shoved a quiet and shocked Kyra at him. "She's ready," I snapped, walking away from them to take my place at the side stage. Everyone knew better than to tease me at this point, so the radio was quiet, except for a few muttered instructions from Alec and Mickey. Not even my girls said anything. They knew I'd tried and tried and fucking tried to overlook

Kyra's actions, due to her scary situation, but there was only so much disrespect a wife could take when it came to someone flirting with their husband. They knew if I'd reached the point of actually calling her out on it, I was about five seconds from knocking the pretty woman's teeth down her throat. The host introduced Kyra, who was greeted by loud cheers from the audience. The interview started pretty much like every other interview of a famous person I'd seen. Kyra was asked how she was liking Seattle, and she said that the weather was different than LA, but that she was getting used to it. She was asked about upcoming shows, the new album, and what fans could look forward to in the future. All were answered gracefully by the singer, because she seemed to be quite proud of her new work. But it was when the interviewer some pompous journalist wannabe paused and gave her a smirk that I started to worry. "Now Kyra," the woman gushed dramatically, "why don't you tell about this new man you've been seen with around town." I groaned, because up on the large screen was the photo of Edward and Kyra from the first recording session. It showed him guiding her to the SUV out the back of the bakery. "Fuck," I hissed, shaking my head. "Cassie, did you know about this?" I muttered softly, and from across the stage, a shocked Cassie shook her head slowly, her eyes wide, because another photo popped up on the screen. "Oh, fucking hell," Mickey gasped as I took in the picture on the screen. It was hard to tell the background due to the blurriness, but the forefront of the picture was perfectly clear. Edward and Kyra were wrapped in an embrace, a wickedly sexy smile planted on my husband's features as a laughing Kyra caressed his bare chest. Kyra had one arm around his neck, his hands planted on her waist. Clothes, surroundings, lighting were all a blur, but their bodies from the hips up were crystal clear. They thought they'd been alone at the moment. What the audience couldn't tell, what the interviewer didn't know, was that I knew every fucking inch of that man in the picture, and I could tell that there was something off about it.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," I seethed, pushing away from my spot by the stage, a few stagehands giving me a side glance. "Bella, I didn't..." Edward started, but was immediately cut off by Alice. "Stop, stop, stop!" she commanded in our ears. "That photo's been fucked with." "I know it has," I growled through gritted teeth. "That date couldn't possibly be right, though it does match up with when Edward took Kyra to that emergency recording session alone," I added, walking around the back of the stage as Kyra gave some nonsense answer to the question, because I don't think even she was prepared for that shit. "Why do you say that?" Rose asked. "Look at that fucking picture! You all know him. What's missing?" I yelled, slamming the dressing room door in order to get some privacy. "Oh hell, the Cullen crest," Edward breathed. "Sweetness...that's from... Baby, it's from back then, not now. I don't know how, but..." "I know," I said, pacing in the room and trying to think, but the sight of that picture had me reeling due to my already fragile temper with Kyra. "There is only one single star on your chest in that photograph. You have four now, and even though her hand is covering it, the crest on your arm would still show. It isn't. That's an old picture, but someone changed the date. Why?" I practically yelled, glaring at the TV monitor in the dressing room. "I don't know, love. But I fucking swear to you that I didn't touch her!" Edward said, and I could hear him rushing through the crowd to get back to me. "I know you didn't," I scoffed, trusting that man with my entire being. I looked up when Cassie poked her head in the door. The poor thing was white as a fucking sheet when she closed the door behind her. "We need to talk." "Not now, Cassie," I sighed, because I had this fucked up feeling that she was going to defend this shit.

"Yes! Now!" she hissed, walking to me, and I stopped pacing in front of her, because she looked determined, and yet scared shitless. "What is it?" "We have to go!" she stated, looking around and back to me. "I know that picture. And it isn't from now. It's from the USO tour." We both glanced up when Edward blew in through the door, but Cassie didn't stop. "I took it," she admitted, shrugging a shoulder. "Well, then who the fuck did you give it to?" Edward snapped, stalking closer. He was raging pissed, practically puffing up with his temper, but I placed a hand on his chest to settle him down or at least stop him from scaring the shit out of her. "I didn't. That's the problem." Cassie rubbed her face, and then turned back to me. "Someone stole it. And I know where they got it!" "Where?" Edward and I asked at the same time. "Not here," she hissed, looking around. "We'll need Alice." "Fine," I snapped, pointing toward the door, but barking orders over the radio. "Alice...I want everything that picture can fucking tell you. I want to know who the fuck sent it and to whom at this station. I want it all." "On it, on it, on it," she chanted. "Now... get your asses out of there, because if they were smart enough to do this, then they may still be around. And if they are still there, then they're definitely fucking watching your reactions right now." The whole crew met in the hallway, our eyes wide with that last thing, but Alice knew criminal behavior better than anyone, so we trusted her. Edward was the first to move. "Ten-four, Alice. We're on our way."

CHAPTER nine EDWARD


"Carlisle, I need you to stay here, find out who sent that picture, and how," Bella snapped as we wound our way through the TV station and out the back doors. Suddenly, she stopped, spinning to glare at him, causing most of us to just about run her tiny frame over. "And why isn't Raulson here for this interview?" she asked, her eyes narrowing in on him. "He was going to be, but I told him I'd take care of it, because he had several phone meetings to make. He also was heading to the recording studio to work on the layout of the new album," my dad answered, though as he looked at my wife, I could tell his thoughts were lining up with hers. "In fact, he seemed rather relieved that he wasn't coming..." "Interesting," Cassie mused to herself. "Yes, it is," my dad said to her, but turned back to Bella. "If they don't tell me who gave them the picture, the interview doesn't air. Period." "Wait! You can't do that..." Kyra started to argue, but froze when Bella and I spun on her. It was Bella that snapped before me. "You...have no say right now. In fact, I'm about five seconds from thinking you sent that picture. I wouldn't put it past you." Cassie shook her head furiously behind Kyra, but said nothing. In fact, she was looking rather nervous. Alec exited the station, speaking rapidly to Alice over the radio; he'd been finishing up with security inside. "I want every angle and every minute of that interview, Alice, from the very second we pulled onto this fucking property. They're sending it to you now. I also think we'll have to watch our asses on the way home, because if this asshole's here, there's a chance he'll tail us." "Got it, got it, got it," she answered immediately.

"And we'll need Wes again," he sighed, reaching into his pocket and pulling out two clear plastic bags. Inside were another note and another burned flower. His eyes locked with mine, but flickered uneasily to Bella for a second. "Aw, hell," Gator groaned, wrapping a protective arm around Kyra, who paled at the sight of those bags. "That's it. Load up. Now!" I ordered, unlocking the SUV. "Alec, bring that shit with you. You can explain it on the way. Dad, keep me posted on how that picture got into these people's hands." I turned to Cassie, but again, she shook her head fervently. She had shit to say, but for some reason, it wasn't coming out in front of Kyra. "Let's go," I commanded, and everyone started to get in the car. Once we were settled in, I cranked up and slowly drove through the station gate. Carefully avoiding some lingering fans, I pulled out onto the street. "Mickey, you watch our six. If someone follows us, let me know," I told her, simply because she was in the very back seat. "Sir," she replied back, but she crawled over the seat, facing out the back window. "Don't wreck, pretty boy. You'll kill my ass back here." "'Kay," I snickered, but my laugh died quickly when Alec turned to face me from the passenger seat. Holding up the bags, he said, "Ronald found it on the stage. It was discovered after the interview was over, but no one could pinpoint just exactly when it appeared. It was left in a manila envelope with Kyra's name on it." He held up his hand to Bella when she scooted forward to ask him something. "Security's hands had been all over it. I didn't bother keeping it, because they destroyed it to open it. They didn't know what it was, Bellissima." "What's the note say?" Kyra finally piped up, but she didn't bother to sit forward. In fact, the sight of another flower had her looking rather nauseous.

Alec turned the plastic bag over, and I glimpsed at it quickly. It was made the same exact way the first note had been cut out letters from different magazines or some shit. Alec read the letter out loud. Kyra, After everything I've done for you...and I find this? You lying whore! You're mine. I've told you that. Isn't anything sacred? This guy won't save you...and he can't have you. Doesn't he know that you'll just use him and toss him away like you do everyone else? Soon, I'll show you exactly what you deserve, because your using days are over. I love you, and soon, we'll be together. I promise. From the rear view mirror, I could see Bella rubbing her temple, giving Kyra a side glance, but Kyra was staring out of the window, her face white as a sheet. Gator looked livid, but defeated at the same time, and for a brief moment, I wondered just how long he'd been able to hold up with this shit. He obviously cared for Kyra, so the threats to her alone must have been driving him crazy. "Fuck," I sighed wearily, because this asshole was just fucking creepy. I suddenly felt exhausted, because so many things could go wrong, and it was quite fucking possible that we'd need to change everything. As the car sped down the road in silence, my brain tried every single scenario sequestering Kyra in a safe house, pulling every form of communication away from her not to mention having to cage my wife, because she looked like she was about to kill the famous singer sitting on the other side of Cassie. And then there was the picture. I shook my head, feeling disgusted from seeing it. I remembered so little of my time with Kyra, but most of it blurred into what that picture showed. Fuck, if I didn't hate my past. I wished more than once that I could have toned my shit down, simply because I didn't expect the one fucking beautiful thing to fall into my lap. Had I known Bella, kept in contact with her, I probably never would've even looked at another woman. In fact, I know I wouldn't have. There was another part of me, one that had hope building in my chest, because if I was a target, that made shit a little easier. I could fight, alone or with my

crew, but Kyra couldn't. Something of an unwanted plan started to form in the back of my mind. "Son?" my dad called over the radio. "Sir!" I snapped back, because he'd scared the shit out of me and my mental musings. "The photograph was bought and paid for by a young intern at the TV station. Simone Wilkes. She won't give up her source, paid cash, and handed it over to the host of the show...Paula Dawson. That woman is tough as nails, but I've put a stop to the airing of the show, at least until this threat is over." "What do you mean...she won't give up her source?" I growled, running a hand through my hair. "Exactly that. Miss Wilkes is following an old journalism rule...protecting their sources," he replied. "They don't have to give them up by law." "Yeah, well, the TV station isn't protecting their fucking server, and I'm not the damn law," Alice piped up with a touch of venom to her voice. "Names are all I need. I'll either pull her emails, or I'll snatch their phone records. Just...give me time." "Thank you, Alice," everyone muttered at the same time, because goddamn, she was a lifesaver. "Now, I'm off to have a chat with Raulson," my dad added. "I'll see you guys back at the house." I thought he was gone, but then he said one more thing. "Cassie, I know you're listening and Kyra isn't. If you've got something...you wait until you can say it. There's no place safer than Gravity's office. Got me?" Cassie nodded silently, but her eyes shot to Bella. I was beginning to see respect and admiration coming from her when it came to my wife. She trusted Bella, liked her, and given her sexual preference, may have even been attracted to her. Kyra may have been Cassie's boss and best friend, but Cassie was depending on Bella, and that respect had only increased after my wife had told them about her experience with Miller. Kyra was fighting us every step, but Cassie wasn't. It took serious fucking balls to do that, especially considering Cassie could lose her job, her place to live, and her friend if Kyra decided she didn't like it.

"We're good, Dad. Thanks," I told him for her, because Kyra was the only one that wasn't wearing an earpiece. "Alice," I called over the headset as soft conversations broke out between Alec, Gator, and Bella. "Yeah?" she sang, even as the unending typing continued in the background. "I need Jazz and Em at the house. We're going to set up a twenty-four hour watch, just in case," I stated firmly. "I need Kurt, too, unless he's already helping you." "Em and Jazz are already at the front gates...locked and loaded," she told me. "Kurt is currently pulling everything we can on the fan blogs. We need to know if they've caught wind of you yet, Edward." "Okay," I told her. "Thanks. We'll be there soon." "That picture's been messed with," Kyra muttered, not looking at anyone, but it caused the whole car to go silent. "I haven't seen it in years, but that's not what it looked like. They cropped it or something..." "Not that you care, right, diva?" Mickey snarked back over her shoulder from her perch in the back of the SUV. "I mean, you like the idea that the world thinks you're with Eddie. Yeah?" "Oh boy," Alec mumbled, shaking his head. "I was wondering when she was going to pop. The whole team will explode if they think you're the one in danger." I winced, but he was right. Kyra was a job, just another case. With one of our own in the line of fire, emotions would start to come into play. "That's enough, Mick," Bella chided softly. "No, Bells...she needs to understand. Her lack of cooperation is going to get someone hurt. I don't give a fuck if she slept with an entire football team. I just think we need to know whether it was either the defensive line, offensive line, special teams, or all fucking three. I think this asshole will snap soon, and there will be repercussions. And let me just tell you..." She started to turn around, but I stopped her. "My six, wild child," I reminded her, not giving two shits if she went off on Kyra, but she needed to watch my back.

"Fine. But if one of my team gets hurt or killed because this bitch withheld information, I'll make sure she'll never grace the cover of a magazine again," Mickey stated firmly, her face gazing back out the rear window. "I don't think so," Gator snarled, turning around to glare at her. "Oh yeah, lizard boy? Try me!" she threatened, reaching inside her coat, and I knew she was going for her fucking gun. "You have no idea what my team is capable of..." "Enough!" I yelled. "Mick, you stand down, and don't you dare reach for that fucking weapon!" Mickey huffed, rolled her eyes to me in the mirror, but turned her back on Gator. "Lizard boy," Alice chuckled in my ear, but I ignored her, because everyone in the car was just about to snap. "What I meant was that the background was different, or blurred out," Kyra added, not even acknowledging Mickey's rant. "I wonder how they found my personal things. And what else is missing..." "It's not about you anymore!" Bella finally exploded, and Alec had to thrust his hands into the back seat in order to stop my wife from launching herself at Kyra. "Trust me when I tell you that. You'd better understand right now. You're not the only one in danger now. And it's not only me that will kill you where you stand in order to protect my crew, my family, and especially Edward. Do you get it?" Mickey harrumphed in agreement from the back, as did Rose, Mack, and Alice over the radio. "Wait!" Kurt chimed in. "What does she mean about personal things?" "Later," Cassie barely said over the radio. "What?" Kyra asked her, turning to look at her. "What are you telling them, Cass?" We all flinched at the accusatory tone to Kyra's voice, because Cassie was doing her damnedest to keep everyone happy.

"Nothing...Everything!" Cassie finally snapped, turning to her boss. "Kyra, shut up! For once, just shut the fuck up. Do you want to get yourself killed? Do you want them to back away from the case so this guy can get to you? Because they will, and I wouldn't blame them. You're making enemies with the very people that are trying to help you. Just fucking stop it! I'm doing my best, trying to help them, because I don't want you to get hurt, but you're making shit very difficult." From my view in the mirror, I watched as Gator started to speak, but I was pretty sure Cassie had reached her absolute limit, which was shocking all on its own, because the poor girl stayed so quiet all the damn time. "You shut up, too, Gator. Day in and day out, she barks orders at us, and we cater to her every whim. We make sure she eats, gets where she needs to be, and tuck her in at night. We get shit on, yelled at, and insulted. Yet, we still give a shit what happens to her. Not because we're getting paid to care, but because we actually do care. I'm done. I'm over it." She spun her ire-filled gaze back to a shocked Kyra. "You're so fucking spoiled. I swear to God. Could you even pay your electric bill if I weren't there to do it for you? Damn! All these people have done is bend over backwards to help you, but you spit it all back in their face. You disrespect Edward and Bella left and right, you can't seem to care enough to even try to remember anything, and you fight against every rule that's in place to keep you safe. Fuck, why should anyone give a shit about what happens to you if you don't?" Cassie finally turned to Bella, who looked completely shocked. "I took that picture. It was back from the USO tour. Kyra begged me to get one of her and Edward together when he wasn't looking, because he never posed for one. The damn thing was taken by me...on my phone...and then printed. I deleted it once it was on paper. It was at Kyra's house!" Cassie was panting at this point, but she wasn't done. She glared at Kyra, only to turn back to Bella. "Someone would've had to go in the house, rummage through several scrapbooks, only to steal it. Physically fucking take it!" "Okay, okay," Bella soothed her, because it looked like Cassie was about to cry. "So...who would have access to the house? Who would know where to look? And who would know exactly which picture to look for?"

"I don't know, Bella, because we haven't been in that house in over two months, and that doesn't include the two weeks we've been here in Washington," Cassie said in almost a whisper, and I could tell the thought of someone pilfering around in the place they called home kind of rocked her a bit. "The only people that knew about Edward and Kyra on that USO tour were me and Cassie. Ike suspected, but he couldn't prove it," Gator stated, giving Kyra a side glance. The singer was glaring out the window, tears streaming down her face, and I let out a deep breath, because despite the truth that was just smashed into her face...it was indeed the truth. And sometimes that shit could really fucking hurt. "Boy oh boy," Rose sighed in our ear. "You know, that name keeps popping up. Perhaps it's time to really chat with the cranky old bastard." "You might be right," Alec agreed. We pulled into Forks, and Mickey announced there wasn't anyone following us. When I opened the gate to my property, I was met with Emmett and Jasper on either side of my driveway. They were carrying automatic rifles, giving the gate a fierce glance before walking to my window. "What's the plan, Ed?" Emmett asked, his face no longer the joking teddy bear he wore most of the time. He was on focused fucking duty something I completely admired and appreciated from him. "We weren't followed, but I don't want to take chances. I need perimeter runs every hour, at least until morning. I want everyone armed, focused, and wired. I want to know immediately if something is out of order. Period." "We figured as much," Jasper drawled, giving me a crooked smile. "We called in help. Eleazar should be here in a few hours. He wasn't far."

"Nice," I said with a nod. "Who's he bringing?" "Felix," both men answered at the same time. "Even better," Alec chuckled from my side, but smacked my shoulder. "You're thinking safe house right about now, aren't you?" I nodded slowly, taking a deep breath. "One more incident, and I will most definitely pull this whole crew off the fucking grid without shame. All work, recording, and public outings will fucking come to an end. But I need more information, because I'd rather catch this motherfucker." "I need Bellsy, please," Alice sang lightly over the radio. "We have lots of work to do." "Yes, pixie," Bella sighed, and I could see her prepare for a really long fucking night. I turned back to the boys. "Let me park, get these guys inside, and I'll join you on the first round. We need to turn my motion sensors back on and check my old cameras. This property needs to be on fucking lockdown in less than an hour. No one comes in and no one leaves without my fucking say so...as of this moment. Got me?" "Sir!" they all answered as I pulled the rest of the way into my driveway.

BELLA
I gazed out the window of Gravity, noting that once again, my home was being turned into a compound. Eleazar and Felix had arrived just a bit ago, and they were standing in the middle of my front yard with the guys. Faces were fierce, arms gestured wildly, and finally, there were nods of acceptance. "You know, I'd like to drop kick that bitch right into the middle of oncoming traffic on I-5," Mickey huffed, falling down into the chair next to mine. "How you haven't kicked her ass from here to kingdom come is beyond me, Bellsy." "She may not have to, because Kyra's own people may do it for her," Rose snorted, rolling her eyes. "Man, Cassie went the fuck off!"

"She did," I agreed softly, because I'd never expected Cassie to lose control like she had in the car. In fact, she'd gone from trying to protect Kyra to just spitting everything in her face. My eyes shifted from the guys to my house, where the lights were off. The kids, Cassie, and Kyra were all in bed. The second we'd driven in, Cassie and Kyra walked inside, and no one had heard from them since. They'd ignored our knocks on the guest room door for dinner, though hushed arguing voices could still be heard from the inside. "Ed will move us to a safe house without shame, won't he?" Mickey muttered, following my gaze out the window. "Probably," I sighed, finally looking back to the room. The whole crew was still working, still busting their asses, and I was suddenly pissed off, because the person we were fighting for was about the most ungrateful woman on the planet. Kurt, Mack, Alice, and Rose were all planted in front of computers, all researching something different. Kurt was still working the internet blog and fan website rumors, Alice was breaking down the entire server at the TV station, Mack had been studying that list from the building in LA, and Rose was now scanning through the security video from the station to see if there was anyway possible to see just who'd left another fucking flower. Wes had come and gone, taking the new evidence with him. He'd worn a sweet, concerned smile when he saw how Edward was now the target along with Kyra, but he'd told us to let him know if we needed him. "How does that work?" Kurt asked, glancing up over the top of his screen. "Safe houses?" I smirked, giving a chuckling Mickey a side glance. "Exactly how it sounds," I started to explain, because Kurt had never been on a job with us that required it, except for the time that we'd pulled him away from Lilith, and technically, he'd been in the custody of the CIA then. "Carlisle and Edward have a handful of properties that they've converted into safe houses. That means they have no real title or no real name on the title they're completely set up with security, and they're usually in the middle of no-fucking-where."

"Oh, but I liked the mountain cabin," Alice whined from the computer room, spinning to join in. I smiled up at her, because yeah...the mountain cabin held sweet, sweet memories for me and my girls, if I were to be honest. It was the second place we'd hidden ourselves away after Carlisle and Edward had removed me from Miller's basement. But it was also the place where my girls and Edward's crew had not only worked seamlessly together, but we'd also paired off into the couples that we were. It was at the mountain cabin that Edward and I had first told each other "I love you." "I don't know..." Makenna giggled. "I like Aunt Kate's. The farm rocks." I winced, my eyes flashing to Mickey, but her face was expressionless. "Oh, damn...my bad," Mack said, sounding truly remorseful for bringing up Mickey's former home. "Don't sweat it," Mickey replied quietly, but changed subjects quickly. "Now...what's our progress?" Mack was the first to pipe up. "That building in LA. Fuck, it's full of deviants," she chuckled, shaking her head. "Is there anyone in that city that hasn't been arrested for something?" We laughed with her, but gave her our attention. "Okay, so I've narrowed down the list a bit. Wes told me to drop out the drug charges, DUIs, and lesser crimes, like bad checks and shit like that. He and Benny said to look for more personal and a touch more violent crimes. Personal, meaning...um, domestic violence, assault, date rape, that sort of shit. But you know what I found the most interesting?" she asked us, and we all shook our heads. "Even without a criminal history, I didn't find Preston Raulson anywhere on this list. I thought he was Ike's personal assistant." "He is," I stated, frowning at her list of every occupant of that LA building. I watched as she took away the search parameters, showing everyone that worked at the location. Raulson's son wasn't there. At all. "What the hell?" I

spun in my chair to face my computer, pulling up a search on Preston, while Rose explained what she'd found. "Okay, so you gotta love this TV station, because they're all about the best angle," she chuckled, spinning her laptop around so that we could watch the handful of cropped videos she'd saved. "Clearly, someone dropped this shit off prior to the talk show. Watch," she commanded, and she enlarged one particular video where the camera was facing the stage of the show. I frowned at the screen, because an obviously male form was walking toward the stage as people milled about to take their seats. The problem was that he was well aware that he was being monitored. A black hoodie covered his face as he pulled the manila envelope from the front pouch. The man wore all dark clothing, but no one seemed to pay him any attention, because he blended right in with the rest of Kyra's fans that were anxiously awaiting her interview. My eyes shot up to Rose's, but she shook her head. "Nothing. I've looked at every camera, every angle, even outside, scanning for that same man. If he's in it, then he either changed clothes, took down that hood, or removed it altogether. He disappeared into that crowd. And I have slowed that flower drop off down until I can barely see straight. There's no getting a glimpse of that face." I nodded, turning my attention to my search on Preston. He'd gone to a fairly upscale private school, and then attended USC for business administration and music production, before finally signing on as an intern for Solstice Music. "He did work for his dad," I murmured, shaking my head. "At least at one point, he did." Alice slid gracefully from her computer room to the conference table in her desk chair, coming to a stop beside me. "Travel records. Pull them. I just found a really fucking interesting email at the TV station to that Simone chick." "On it," I said, feeling hopeful for the first time, because it seemed we had our first real lead when it came to Kyra's case. With a few clicks and a few tricks that Alice had taught me, I was looking at not only Preston's credit card charges, but a few car rentals, airline tickets, and restaurant receipts. My head spun to face her, because we both gasped at the same time.

"There it is," I breathed, looking at her wide eyed, as Rose, Makenna, and Kurt gathered around me, Mickey, and Alice. "Sure as shit! He flew into Seattle a few weeks ago. He rented a car at the airport." "And he's still here. There's no return flight. It was an open-ended ticket," Alice added, turning to go back to her desk, but everyone was in her way. "Move, move, move!" she chanted, rushing back to her computer. "This email had been deleted, but I was able to recover it, because as you know..." "Once on the internet, always on the internet," we all chanted together, which caused her to laugh. "Well, at least you're listening," she giggled, slamming a piece of paper down onto the conference table. "Look at this..." Simone... I have an exclusive photograph that I think your show might be interested in. Kyra Bailey has a new love interest, and I have the proof. The price is $10,000. Meet me for coffee to discuss the transaction. Bring the cash, and the picture is yours. I'm pretty sure your host will want this exclusive. There wasn't a sign off on the email, only directions to one of the bazillion coffee shops in the city of Seattle, which turned out to be not far from the record studio or the TV station. Mack sighed deeply, frowning at the email. "That's awful cheap for a picture like they showed, especially for someone as huge as Kyra. Honestly. I've seen some magazines and entertainment shows pay in the millions for an exclusive picture like that. The racier, the higher the price." Makenna was all about the entertainment news. She loved actors, movies, television, and music, but what she loved even more was the reality of it all. Who was doing whom, celebrity weddings and divorces, and every bit of gossip she could absorb. "Maybe revealing that picture wasn't about the money," I mused, shrugging one shoulder. "Yeah, well...you might be right," Alice chuckled, pulling her laptop over to the table, "because I totally hacked the cameras surrounding that particular coffee shop."

"Fuck, Ali, you rock," Kurt sighed in relief. "Tell us you got something..." "I did. Look," she said with a shit eating grin, pointing to her screen. "Holy messed up managers, Batman," Mack muttered, her mouth falling open. On the screen, which clearly had been the traffic camera at some fucking intersection, Ike Raulson sat at a table with Simone Wilkes on the sidewalk of a little cafe. One manila envelope sat on the table, but when Simone peeked inside, she pulled out another envelope that was bulging, so it was clearly the money. "Shut the fuck up," Rose whispered, her eyes unable to leave the video. "I knew he was a mean son of a bitch, but to throw Kyra to the wolves like that... I don't get it." "Oh, and guess what!" Alice sang. "Even though this is from a free email account, there was another email sent from that address. And this time, it had the photo attached to it. Guess who it went to..." "Preston," we all answered her. "Well, shit fire and save matches," Mickey growled. "No wonder the creepy bastard was pissed before the interview. He fucking knew about the picture ahead of time." "Get Carlisle on the phone," I ordered someone, anyone, launching myself from my chair and running to the front door. I threw it open, yelling, "Boys! Get in here!" Edward, Emmett, Alec, and Eleazar all hurried into the office, the rest most likely off doing perimeter runs. With a hushed tone, Kurt brought them up to speed. But we all turned our attention to the speakerphone on the conference table. "This an awfully late call, Bella," Carlisle chuckled, but I could tell that he was wide awake. "Shut it," I told him gently. "Are you with Raulson?"

"Actually, yes. We just got back to my house," he said, his voice turning a little gruffer. "Why?" "Ask him where his son is," I requested. "Ask him why his personal assistant isn't on the payroll of Solstice Music, and ask him why Preston's here in Seattle, but he's yet to even make mention of him." "Here, Bella. You ask him," Carlisle stated, and there was a fumbling of the phone, before Ike Raulson came on the line, Carlisle obviously turning his own speakerphone on. "Hello?" he answered. "Mr. Raulson, this is Bella. Where's your son?" I asked him point blank. "He's in LA, working with another client..." "No... No, he's not. He took a flight into Sea-Tac Airport. And he can't be working with another client. He doesn't work for Solstice Music anymore," I told him. "At least, he's not an official employee." "I...I mean...he..." Ike sputtered for a few seconds, finally not saying anything at all. "And why did you sell that picture to the TV station, Mr. Raulson? We have your email, and we have you on video making the exchange with Simone Wilkes. Ten grand is awfully cheap for the normal going rate of exclusive photos of pop stars these days. Why?" "I don't know where my son is!" Raulson finally huffed. "He and I had a falling out months ago." "Why not just tell us that?" Carlisle probed. "What are you hiding?" "He's hiding Preston's arrest records," Alice chirped, spinning my computer around, because my background check had popped up. "My, my, my," she sang, shaking her head. "He's quite the little devil, isn't he? Assault, destruction of private property, breaking and entering... Hmm, sounds an awful lot like...stalking." "What was that falling out about, Raulson?" Edward finally spoke. "Spill it, asshole. We haven't got the time for your bullshit."

"Kyra. It was about Kyra," Ike answered, sounding flustered. "I knew he had a thing for her, but I didn't realize just how...wrong it had gotten. I found him skulking around her house, peeking in windows...so I fired him, ordered him to seek help, but he disappeared on me." I rubbed my face, shaking my head. "And the fucking picture?" I prompted him, because I needed to know why. "Christ," Ike sighed. "I saw the picture of Cullen and Kyra on the internet leaving the studio. I remembered that sneaky shit from back on the USO tour..." "That sneaky shit... That's my son! You wanna watch your step, Raulson. Your job isn't that secure," Carlisle barked, and I heard the fierce father, the commanding mercenary come flying back to the surface in just one stern warning. Edward smirked, rolling his eyes, because we all grinned up at him. "Anyway, I knew Kyra had an old picture of the two of them. I'd seen it when Cassie put the scrapbook together. I took it, had someone alter the date and take away the defining features of the background. I was thinking if Preston thought Kyra had moved on, he'd let go of this ridiculous idea that he was in love with her," Ike explained rapidly. "So...you broke into Kyra's house, took her personal property, and sold it...all to prove a point to your son?" I asked incredulously. "You're messing with people's lives, and your son...he's not stable, Ike." "Aw, hell, the rumors would've blown over quickly. They always do. And Preston's just...misguided." "He's threatening lives, Raulson!" Edward snapped, his fists balling up tightly at his sides. "He's sneaking into secure locations, which I can only assume he's getting away with because he's still got his badge from Solstice. He was watching our every move, because he'd downloaded a tracking app on Kyra's phone. And now that you've added my ass to the problem, my crew, my family,

and myself are now targets. You stupid fucking bastard... This isn't a crush your son's dealing with!" Edward may have entered into the situation late, having to be brought up to speed quickly, but my husband wasn't stupid by any means. I hadn't even thought that the way Preston was getting into certain locations was due to his credentials from Solstice, but it made perfect fucking sense. He was acting as someone working for Kyra, so no one would've batted an eye not hotels, arenas, TV stations. None of them would've thought twice, especially since his last name matched up to her manager's. I turned to Mickey. "I need Kyra and Cassie out here. Now. I don't give a shit if the princess is getting her beauty sleep or not. I have a funny feeling...and only they can answer it." "Got it," Mickey smirked, bolting out the office door. By the time she returned with two disheveled looking women, whom I was pretty sure Mickey had just about physically removed from their beds, Raulson had changed directions on us, because apparently, nothing was his fault. "If Kyra hadn't led my son on, we wouldn't have this problem!" he yelled over the speakerphone just as the girls opened the door. The look on Kyra's face was a mixture of shock and pure terror, the latter of which had me rethinking her relationship with Ike. But I had other important shit to attend to, so that would have to wait. Rose took the lead on this one. "Kyra, did you have a relationship with Preston Raulson?" she asked the singer as Kyra and Cassie sat down at the table. "What?" Kyra asked, her mouth gaping, and despite the fact that she'd won awards for her acting skills, that shit wasn't flying with anyone, because her eyes kept landing back on the speakerphone. "Answer them, Kyra!" Ike yelled. "What did you do to Preston?" Kyra jumped, but it was Cassie's sneer at the speaker that had me fixing this situation.

"Shut his foul ass up," I ordered, pointing to the phone. "Carlisle, turn the speakerphone off. Ike will hear what I want him to hear." I turned to Kyra. "Did you lead Preston on? Sleep with him?" "I don't remember..." she muttered, looking down at her hands on the table. "Bullshit, Kyra. Think! No one gets so trashed that they can't remember anything," Edward growled. "Were you with him or not?" Cassie studied Kyra's face, but she gasped. "Holy shit, you did! Preston? Really?" The singer nodded slowly, tears welling up in her eyes, but they continued to flicker to the phone. "And what? It didn't last?" Rose probed her to elaborate. "Did you dump him? Use him for a one night thing? Come on, Kyra, work with us." "Is Ike listening?" she whispered. "No, it's just my dad," Edward told her, frowning a bit, his gaze meeting mine briefly. "Preston started out really sweet. He worked with me on a daily basis when his dad couldn't be there," she said, continuing to whisper. "But then he became clingy, wanting to know where I was, what I was doing, who I was with...all the time." She took a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. "I ended it. He took it badly, but not long after that, his dad fired him. I haven't seen him since." "And you didn't think to tell someone this crap?" Cassie snapped, rolling her eyes. "Damn, Kyra. We've been probing you for bad breakups, and you withhold this? What the hell?" "She's scared shitless," Edward murmured so only I could hear him. "Yep," I whispered right back. "And not just of Preston, either." "I see that," he sighed, pressing his lips to the side of my head. "Really fucking awesome work, love," he praised. "Now we have our suspect." I smiled, looking up at him as he shot me a wink and pulled out his phone.

"Wes," he greeted gruffly, "we have a name, man. We need your help." Edward's voice trailed off as he walked outside to finish his conversation. We all broke apart, and the feeling of amazing accomplishment settled into the room, but we stopped when we could still hear Carlisle's voice on the speakerphone, saying, "Have a seat, Ike. We need to talk," before the call ended.

"Hey, sweetness," Edward crooned as I snuck up behind him in the kitchen. With a giggle, I reached around him to steal his cup of coffee as he quietly read the newspaper. It wasn't like he really cared, but it was something I'd always done. I was pretty sure he kept it full just for that reason. "Going for a run?" I asked him as he gently manipulated me until I was standing on the bottom rung of the stool between his legs. He looked fuck-hot in just his black basketball shorts, running sneakers, and black backwards baseball cap. His face was scruffy, his eyes a sweet green that matched the surrounding forests of our house as the sun tried to rise. Despite the fact that he looked tired, his smile at me was genuine and so very sexy as I traced every curl and scroll of the Cullen crest tattoo. "I am," he crooned, leaning in to kiss my forehead, cheek, and then neck. "One last perimeter check. Oh, and Esme called. She's going to take the Bethy to school and Caleb and Samuel to Mrs. Cope's. Maybe then you'll catch some sleep." "Mmm," I hummed against his lips. "Only if you join me," I bargained. Edward chuckled low and sexy, his hands ghosting up and down my back, only to land on my ass and give it a good squeeze. "Deal, Mrs. Cullen," he purred, his eyes darkening at my mouth as I took another sip of his coffee and licked my lips. "That gives me a couple of hours. Mind if I make my run, and then work in the wood shop until the kids leave?" I grinned. "Desk?" I asked him. "She'll love it."

Edward nodded, as a slow, crooked, shy smile crept up his face. "You think? She's old enough, I guess. I wanted to make it big enough that she could grow with it." "You could make her anything, and she'd love it," I giggled, rolling my eyes. "She just likes that you do it for her." "Yeah," he sighed contentedly, looking so much like Sammy that I couldn't help but giggle and kiss him again. I set the coffee cup down onto the counter and leaned into him, wrapping my arms around his neck. My forehead pressed to his, but movement on the front porch caused me to look past him. The porch swing wasn't empty. Edward chuckled, cupping my bottom and pulling me to his lap so that I was straddling him. "She's been out there for awhile," he whispered, shrugging one beautiful, strong shoulder. "But she hasn't said a word." I couldn't decide whether I gave a shit or not. Really. I was still standing by my word to take care of her, but she was making it so hard. I'd had to finally warn her to back off of Edward, but during the last conversation with Ike, I could tell the girl was fucking scared to death. I was so very conflicted, so I did what I thought was best; I changed the subject. "You should go for your run, baby," I told him, starting to get down from his lap. "I imagine Wes will be filling this place up soon with agents." "I will," Edward whispered, stopping me from leaving him. He pulled me closer, cupping my face and caressing my cheeks with his thumbs. "I'm sorry about that picture..." I shrugged, because I knew where his heart lay. "Don't do that. Don't blow this off," he sighed, shaking his head. "I didn't know the fucker existed, love. I swear." He slipped his hands into my hair at the base of my skull, forcing me to look at him. "D-Do y-you r-really f-fucking th-think I'd p-pose f-for s-something l-like th-that?" he hissed, barely above a whisper. I shook my head, but leaned in to kiss him. I was tired, having not slept yet, I was emotionally drained, and his honest stutter was too much for me to resist, because even with Kyra in listening distance, he only had eyes on me. His top priority was me, his family, his crew.

"No, Edward," I finally murmured against his lips, losing myself in him completely. God, he felt so good smooth skin under my hands, against my lips and he caught up instantly. And pretty much like always, we lost ourselves for just the moment. Edward gripped my hair, turning my head so that he could completely claim my mouth with long, slow, deep strokes of his tongue. I moaned, unable to stop the sound, because suddenly, I wanted his mouth everywhere. Blatantly, I rolled my hips, feeling strong fingers grip the sides of my t-shirt, whether to hold me still or grind me harder, I wasn't quite sure, because our hands went everywhere all at once. "Christ, sweetness," Edward barely breathed, breaking away from my mouth, only to ravish my neck with open mouth kisses, dragging his teeth across my skin, and swirling his tongue to take away the sting. "What time do the kids leave?" he asked, smiling against my earlobe when I couldn't help but giggle wantonly. "Not til eight," I panted, nuzzling his scruffy jaw. "You'll have to wait, baby." "Nope...can't," he growled, diving for my mouth again this time, suckling on my bottom lip. But it was the soft shuffle of feet and a raspy, "Mommy...Daddy," that had us breaking apart this time. I smiled against my husband's lips, turning from him to look down at my sleepdisheveled Samuel. "Good morning there, handsome!" I sang. Edward chuckled at the big grin that spread over our son's face. I slid down from Edward's lap, scooping up my baby boy. "Come here," I said, plopping his bottom down onto the counter so he could be face to face with us. "Lookin' good, pal," Edward laughed softly, patting the always wild hair that was so much like his own. "Yeah," Sammy drawled, laughing at his daddy, but his eyes watered, his face screwed up adorably, and he finally let out one helluva sneeze. "Oh, my goodness," I chuckled, grabbing a napkin. "Bless you!"

Samuel laughed, despite the fact that I was cleaning his nose, because his dad was over-dramatically wiping his face. "Yeah, bless you!" Edward growled into his son's neck, causing him to curl up on himself as he laughed. He stood up from the bar stool, giving us both a kiss. "Going for my run," he said, shooting me a wink. "And we're so finishing this later, sweetness," he commanded, pointing a finger at me. He took another sip of coffee, ruffled his son's hair, and stalked out the screen door, not even giving one glance toward the still occupied porch swing. I turned back to Samuel, running my fingers through his hair. "Hmm, it's either wet it or you're wearin' a hat, big guy," I chuckled, "because you need a trim." "Hat!" he chirped, laughing when I scooped him up off the counter. "Yes, sir," I snickered, kissing his forehead. "Let's get everyone up and ready for school. Okay?" "Yeah," he sighed, playing with my hair as I took him back to his room. Esme showed up about halfway through getting the kids ready. She took over breakfast duty, bringing Bethy a surprise for after her first day of school, which caused squeals from me and the five-year-old. It was a little pink tshirt with the picture of a helicopter on it, and the words "Daddy's Little Co-Pilot." After thanking her Gamma profusely, she insisted on wearing it, barely able to get her breakfast in her mouth quickly enough, because she just had to go show her daddy. "I hafta go show him," she urged, barely keeping her bottom on the bar stool because she was fidgeting so badly. "Daddy should see it!" I grinned at her, finally setting the wiggle worm down onto her feet. "Fine, let's go show him, and then Gamma's taking you to school." I knew that Edward had finished his perimeter run by that point, because the garage door of the wood shed was wide open. I chuckled as an over-excited Bethy skipped her way across the yard, keeping an eye on her own feet, which

was probably the best thing I could ever ask for, because she couldn't see what we were about to interrupt. A fiery, raging ire started to build quickly through me. I'd warned Kyra to back off, but she still wasn't listening, and this time, she'd gone too far. She was fucking touching him. And it wasn't just the fact that she was touching him; it was where she was touching him. The Cullen crest. My tattoo. The one he'd gotten to remind himself that family came first, and from the look on his face, she was completely violating it. "This is new, Edward," Kyra crooned. "I'm sorry about that picture, honey. But you have to admit it looked good." I tried to catch Bethy, but it was too late, and at least she wasn't paying attention to exactly what was going on. She burst into her daddy's wood shop like a beaming ray of sunshine. "Daddy, you hafta see what Gamma got me!" she gushed, holding out the bottom of her t-shirt. "Gosh, kid...can't you see this is a grown up conversation. Don't you have school?" Kyra asked, speaking so very condescendingly to Bethy, and that was a huge mistake, because Bethy hated being talked to like a baby. "God, she's always around..." "Yes, but Daddy's a grown up, and he says I always come first!" Bethy snapped, glaring daggers at the lady. "Wight, Daddy?" "Hey," he growled at Kyra, physically pushing her away from him. Edward's gaze darkened with his temper, but he couldn't say a fucking word in front of his daughter. He shot an exasperated glance toward me, silently begging me not to believe a single second of what I'd just witnessed. He moved, dodging around Kyra and scooping up his daughter, only to plant her down on the closest workbench. "That's right, little sweetness. And look at that!" he said with a tight smile. "It's perfect. Don't you think?" "I fink so," Bethy stated, obviously not letting her own temper calm down, because she kept a watchful eye on Kyra, who in turn was gaping at me like a

deer in headlights. That bitch knew I was about to fucking explode. In fact, she was slowly trying to inch her way out of the shed. While moving so that she couldn't get passed me, I caught the sight of Esme starting to load up her car. She was carrying Sammy, and Caleb was tottering behind her. Taking a deep breath to keep my voice calm, I turned to Bethy. "Gamma's ready to go, baby. You need to go get your things for school." "'Kay," she murmured, looking back at Edward. "I gotta tell Daddy bye," she said, puckering up for kisses from him, which he happily gave. "Now, Elizabeth," I grunted, shaking my head. "Please." "Do as your mother says," Edward whispered, setting Bethy on her feet. "You don't want to be late for school." "Okay," she sang, and then ran back toward the house. I waited until I could faintly hear the screen door slam, before I rounded on Kyra. Strong arms tried to reach for me, but my training kicked into overdrive. There wasn't any stopping me. I dodged Edward's grasp, spinning when he tried again, and swung hard at Kyra's face. Not giving her a chance to catch her breath, I landed on top of her, causing sawdust to plume up around us. Before the bitch could bleed from the split lip I'd just given her, my gun was out of the small of my back and in her face. I pulled the hammer back slowly, letting the satisfying sound of the metallic click to echo around her. "Bella..." Edward called, but I couldn't stop myself if I tried. "Oh, hell no!" I yelled, pressing the muzzle of my nine mil right in the center of Kyra's forehead. "I'm fucking done with this bitch. I've really tried everything to not lose my shit, but this was too much."

"Bella, wait!" she pleaded, tears falling down her face, and somehow, they weren't satisfying enough. "I could kill you, you know," I told her, my voice low as I wrapped a hand around her throat. "You won't talk to him, you won't look at him, and you certainly won't fucking touch him. It's one thing to not listen to my warnings, but it's another to talk to my child like that. We're done here. You're no longer our responsibility. Period. You can fucking take your chances with FBI. And trust me when I tell you...that doesn't always work," I sneered, gripping her throat tighter. The woodshed's doorway filled up with people crew, FBI, and Kyra's people. I shook my head at them all. Gator started for me, but Edward stopped him. "Come near me, and I pull the fucking trigger. I'm not done here," I warned them, turning back to her. "Yes, he turned you down," I whispered so that only she could hear me, "and yes, he totally makes you feel safe. I get that, really, I do, but this wasn't the way to go about it. He's mine. You need closure? That's all the closure you're getting. You wanted safety? Well, that safety is just about to walk away." "Edward, please!" she begged, though it came out a little jagged, because my fingers squeezed just a little too tight. "I need him," she rasped, her voice barely a whisper as she gazed up at me. I pulled my hand back and let it fly, smacking hard across her face, but before I could do it again, I was pulled up and off of her, securely wrapped up in unforgiving arms. "So do I! And you're going to get him killed!" I said through gritted teeth, kicking at my captor. "You don't want to kill her, sweetness," Edward soothed in my ear, but I barely heard him, because I was fighting him like hell. "Settle the fuck down, Bella!" "Don't tell me what I want, Edward!" I growled, still writhing in his arms as he carried me away from the woodshed. "She fucking touched you...and the way that she talked to Bethy..."

"I know...and now the case is over," he said, remaining calmer than I'd expected, but his footfalls were heavy and determined as he trudged into the house. He didn't stop until we were in our bedroom. "And you didn't hear everything, love," he sighed exasperatedly. "She said she heard us in the kitchen and sh-she'd p-pick u-up wh-where y-you l-left o-off..." His words were cut off, because I totally lost my shit, despite his honest sputter. Edward tried to set me on the bed, but I was up and sprinting for the door, my gun still in hand. He was always faster than me, though, so soon, I found myself wrestled back to the bed, strong fingers prying my gun from my grip. "Edward, let me go..." "No!" he grunted, pinning me to the bed and tossing my gun to the floor, where it thudded heavily. "I'm going to fucking kill her," I panted, still fighting him, and due to either my smaller frame or the fact that he would never hurt me, I wriggled free from his grip. "Bella, she's not worth it," he growled, grasping anywhere on me and finally making purchase on my leg. We both collapsed in a heap on the floor, and my eyes caught sight of something I hadn't seen in a while. In fact, I hadn't seen them since China. With quick movements and a flick of my wrist, I handcuffed Edward to the foot of the bedframe, backing away from him at a crouch, because I couldn't believe I'd let it get that far. "Not fucking cool, Bella!" he growled, yanking at it, but he wasn't going anywhere. "Unlock this shit. Now!" I gaped at what I'd done, shaking my head slowly. I'd totally let Kyra get the best of me, let her crawl under my skin, despite the faith I had in the man currently trying to free himself.

"I'm sorry, Edward," I sobbed, leaning back against the nightstand, because it felt like Kyra had succeeded. She'd caused us to turn on each other. "I'm sorry," I panted, drawing my knees up to my chin. "Sweetness, look at me," he soothed, and I peeked up at him, swiping at my tears. "She didn't win, love. Come here," he ordered gently and as best he could from his restrained position, but I didn't move, because I knew he was pissed. "I'm not mad, baby," he snickered slightly, rolling his eyes. "Just come here." I crawled to him, collapsing over him, and just let it out the stress of it all, my weariness from no sleep, and my love for the man that put up with so much shit, he should be knighted. I let it all go, because when it was just us just me and Edward everything seemed okay. "God, you're a tough woman to catch," he chuckled against my cheek, and his humor, his lack of temper at the whole thing caused a giggle to escape me. I pulled back, sitting down next to him and swiping again at my tears. "I'm so, so sorry," I sighed, gazing at his handcuffed wrists, and then back at his rather amused face. "The round goes to you, Mrs. Cullen," he snickered, rolling his eyes again, but he sobered quickly. "I know you want this over, and if you really feel that way, then Wes can take Kyra today, but I think I have a plan, sweetness. And it requires you, too." I swallowed thickly, feeling a touch guilty for losing my temper so badly. Not for why I'd lost it, but how I'd lost it, because it seemed like I'd revealed a weakness to her. "What?" I whispered, taking another deep breath. "Together...just the two of us...we could catch this guy, baby," he urged, his hands shifting against their restraints. "Let me up, and I'll tell you all about it." I grinned, taking in the sight before me bare chest, rolling ink, backwards baseball cap, black basketball shorts, and darkening eyes, because he was reading my smile. "Hmm, Mr. Cullen. I don't think so," I purred, and with that, I got up and walked away from him.

The last thing I heard before I closed and locked our bedroom door was, "Isabella, you get your sweet ass back here..."

CHAPTER ten EDWARD


"Isabella, you get your sweet ass back here," I said when she disappeared from my vision, but I heard our bedroom door close and the lock click into place. I shifted uncomfortably in the handcuffs, looking back to see how she'd fucking locked my ass to our bed. I had to smile, because all I had to do was lift the corner of the bed to slip out from under it, though my wrists would still be bound together. She'd trapped me in a hurry. Had this been a life or death situation, my girl would have been able to get away or kill her attacker, but it wasn't; it merely had been blind fucking rage, something that I couldn't really blame her for. "Did you really just use my full name, Edward Anthony?" she asked with a touch of a giggle to it. "Yeah," I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "I'm handcuffed to our bed on our fucking rug, sweetness," I said, and my sarcasm was loud and clear. "What do you expect?" Another giggle met my ears, and I started to push up on the bed, but a kick to my foot stopped me. I glanced up to see her standing at my feet. "Don't. Please?" she whispered. There was a look on her face, a darkness to her eyes, and a slight frown on her face. "I'll let you up. I promise. Just not...yet." "Bella..." I started to argue, but she walked slowly up my body, straddling me, only to sit herself gently down on my stomach. "The kids are gone to school, Wes is here with his rather small army, and Kyra's been taken to the office," she stated softly. "I looked out the bathroom window. I wanted to make sure they'd leave us the fuck alone." "I did say we'd finish what we started in the kitchen, didn't I?" I asked her, still unable to pinpoint her mood. "But I can't very well do that from here, baby..." "Oh yes, you can," she breathed, glancing down at my chest, my arm, and then back to my face.

My eyebrows shot up, because right then, I recognized what Bella was doing. I'd done it myself not so long ago. It had been at the mountain top cabin just after we'd gotten Bethy back from Lilith, after hunting down the DOA's location in order to get Bella back. I'd been interrogating suspects, and Kenny Porter had falsely admitted to touching my wife. I'd lost my fucking mind, practically killing the little shit with my bare hands right there in a drafty barn somewhere in Northern California. I couldn't stand the mere fucking thought of someone touching Bella, especially against her will. I couldn't fucking see straight with the chance that she'd been violated or that everything that she and I had worked together to overcome would be ruined. I'd taken Bella hard in the fucking woods, just to reassure myself that she was mine. And that was what I was looking at possessive, protective, and worried. The first of those emotions was what was keeping my ass bound to the leg of our footboard. She'd seen Kyra touch me and had seen that I hadn't wanted it, and despite the fact that I was a grown man, deeply in love with my wife, and a father to two children, Bella only saw a violation of personal space, the taking away of one's choice, and someone else touching what my girl considered to be hers. Not to mention the angry mother bear had come out in her when Kyra had snapped so rudely at Bethy. There had been no stopping Bella's temper. Meeting her dark gaze and wanting to hold her so fucking badly, I just...gave in, because deep down, I just got it. It was fucking hard to watch someone else want what was yours, and Bella had been fighting this shit for weeks. It had built and snowballed until Kyra had finally pushed too far. In fact, I wasn't sure that Bella wouldn't have killed her right there in my woodshed had I not snatched her away. "What do you need, sweetness?" I asked her gently. "You," she hiccuped. Tears welled up just a bit in her deep brown eyes, her hands balled up into tiny fists as she braced them on my chest, and her breathing was heavy. She leaned over me, her hair falling in a curtain around our faces, saying, "I need you... like this." "Hey," I whispered, lifting my head enough to brush my lips across hers. "She didn't win this," I said again, making sure Bella was looking me in the eye,

because she needed to know that what she was feeling wasn't defeat. "She simply cornered me after my run...nothing more." Bella simply nodded, stretching her body along mine, but her fingers ghosted up my arms to my wrists. "You okay?" she asked, tracing the metal of the handcuffs. I chuckled darkly. "Let's see...I'm trapped underneath the most beautiful woman I know, she's got me at her mercy, and she's looking at me like I'm her next meal. Yeah, sweetness...I'm just...fine." Bella cracked a smile, letting a little giggle out. "There's a serious problem, though," I said with false sincerity. "What?" she gasped, sitting up straight but remaining on my stomach. "You are...way over dressed, baby," I told her, raising an eyebrow at her. "If I'm stuck here, then you gotta help a man out, beautiful. I would've already ripped that shit off of you by now, you know." She grinned, biting down on that bottom lip of hers and reaching for the hem of her shirt. With swift movements, it was gone and in a heap beside us. I let out a shameless, wanton moan at the sight before me, licking my lips at just how fucking hot my wife truly was, especially when she was fucking teasing the absolute shit out of me. "Oh, Bella, please tell me you match," I chuckled, shaking my head, because I just had to see the whole underwear set. "Always," she snickered, standing up from her perch on my belly and kicking out of her jeans and sneakers, which left her standing in front of me in the sweetest, sexiest thing I'd ever seen her wear though it could just be that I was a biased motherfucker. "Mm, mm, mm," I hummed, licking my lips at the woodland camo bra and underwear, all trimmed in girly, light pink lace. It was such wicked mix, but it suddenly had my dick standing to attention. Breasts were pushed up, and boyshorts hugged my wife in all the right places. My fingers twitched, wanting to touch, to feel, to tear away, because

my girl looked amazing. "Fuck, love... I want to touch you..." "No," she said, slowly shaking her head back and forth. "Not yet, Edward," she chided sexily, standing over me again, and I couldn't help but drink in every inch of her, finally meeting her dark gaze. She knelt between my legs, grasping the waistband of my basketball shorts. She had them down and off of me in seconds, and then they, too, ended up somewhere on the floor, but I couldn't concentrate on anything other than the sight of her hands skating up my thighs, over my boxerbriefs, and finally wrapping around my erection. "So hard, so fast, baby," she noted aloud, giving me a small, but proud smirk. "Yeah...been that way since the fucking kitchen," I panted, squeezing my eyes closed, because every pass of her hand over the cotton of my underwear had my hips raising up off the floor. "Running the perimeter check was a fucking...treat like this." "Aw," she crooned, bracing a hand on my thigh, only to bend closer to my crotch. "Poor baby," she purred, her hair tickling the skin of my stomach. I swallowed thickly as her nose and lips traced the same path that her hand just had across my stomach, around each hip bone, and over the fabric of my underwear. She let a lip catch on the tip of my cock, but still didn't reach to take the damn underwear off. My whole body ached for her to really fucking touch me, but it seemed that she had other ideas, because those same beautiful lips dragged up my stomach, dropping warm, wet, open mouthed kisses all the way up to my chest. "You're still sweaty, though," she pointed out, tracing the tip of her tongue over every inch of my Air Force tattoo, but her eyes were locked with mine. Licking her lips, she said, "Mmm, salty. I like it." "Want me to tell you where you taste best, love?" I asked her, my voice deeper than I'd expected, but damn, if she wasn't driving me crazy. She smiled, shaking her head no. "I think I've figured that out." She sat back a bit, eying my hands and body. "Can you roll over?"

My eyebrows shot up, and I mentally assessed my situation. "Yeah, though the floor may break under the pressure, baby," I told her, glancing at my now hard as steel dick and back to her face. "I won't hurt you. I promise," she chuckled, helping me roll over on the rug, with my hands crossed over my head. Immediately, strong fingers met the muscles of my shoulders, my back, and then my ass. Fuck, if I didn't moan out loud, my forehead thumping to the floor. I felt her body line up with mine again, and I glanced back over my shoulder at her. "Do you know why I didn't want this tattoo on your back, Edward?" she asked, her little fingers tracing the ink on my upper arm. I shook my head no, but couldn't say anything, because I was losing myself in the feel of her slipping down my body. I could feel soft skin, scratchy lace, hard nipples, and firm grips all the way down my back. "Christ, Bella, you're fucking killing me," I muttered, my forehead thumping once again to the floor, because it was all I could do not to break the bed, flip over, and take my girl hard, deep, fast. She was so fucking sexy on a minute to minute basis, but when she put her mind to it, she was absolutely fucking deadly. "I didn't want it on your back," she said, ignoring my most likely whiny voice, "because the day I first saw that crest, you had the most beautiful scratches from me across your skin, and that was better than any ink." I grinned, because that was fucking awesome. Lifting my head, I tried once again to look at her, but she was just far enough back that I couldn't see her. "And your reason for the tattoo was so damn sweet, baby. If it was a reminder of family first, then I wanted the whole world to fucking to be able to see it," she growled against the skin of my shoulder blade. I heard the pure unadulterated hurt in my wife's voice, because it wasn't that Kyra had merely touched me, or that she'd spoken rudely to Bethy, it was what Kyra had touched. My ink, my crest...the reminder of family, loyalty, and just...Bella. It was the meaning behind it, and the violation of all of it.

"Fuck," I hissed, turning back over, despite her protestations. I started to push up on the bed to set myself free, because the call to hold her, pull her to me was just about too much, but Bella stopped me by gripping my wrists in her hands. "No, don't," she begged, leaning over me and forcing my hands back down to the floor. "I-I'm s-sorry, b-baby," I sputtered. "I was coming down from a five mile run. I-I d-didn't kn-know sh-she w-was r-right th-there!" "Shh," she hissed against my lips, pressing her forehead to mine. "I know." Nothing could stop me from kissing her. Nothing. I felt I needed to do something in order to take away whatever it was that had my girl upset. And if I couldn't fucking touch her, I was going to kiss the ever loving shit out of her. My whole body rocked up when our tongues met, all slippery, forceful, and deep, claiming, soothing, and tasting each other. My girl shifted so that my aching dick found some sort of friction between her legs, and we both moaned shamelessly. Frantic fingers reached up, grabbed my hat, and flung it away, and then Bella slid her hands into my hair and gripped hard, turning my head. I moaned again, not from the pain, but from the mere idea that Bella was just fucking...taking. And she could have whatever the hell she wanted. Her sweet, hot pussy rolled over my dick, and even through our underwear, I could tell she was so very fucking wet. My eyes rolled back into my head when she did it again, causing herself to gasp into my mouth. "Shit, sweetness," I panted when she broke from my mouth, just to sit up and roll those fantastic fucking hips again. "You're gonna make me come like that," I told her, unable not to meet her rhythm, because shit, she felt so damn good. She stilled, slipped down my legs, and grasped ahold of my underwear's waistband, pulling it carefully over my dick and off my legs. She reached behind her back, unclasped her bra, and dropped it beside her. Hooking her thumbs into the waistband of her boyshorts, she paused. "Oh, don't tease, baby," I warned her in a low, rumbling voice, raising an eyebrow up at her.

A sweet little giggle escaped her as she stepped out of the fuck-hot underwear and crawled back up my body, pausing just long enough to drag her tongue up the shaft of my cock, drinking the severe leakage that had already beaded at the tip, because it was kinda fucking hot that I couldn't touch. But it was when her very hot, very wet pussy ground down on my thigh that I just had to say something. "Mmm, so very wet you are, love," I crooned, unable not to use my leg to rub against her sex, which caused the sweetest sound of my name to hit the empty room in a breathy, yet whimpering tone. "If you bring that aching pussy to me, baby, I promise to take really good care of it," I bargained, licking my lips at the mere thought of tasting her, eating her until all she could say was my motherfucking name. "Yeah?" she asked, giving me my own crooked smile. And it looked damn good on her, too. "Oh yeah," I chuckled darkly as I nodded slowly, gripping the bedpost in order not to just break the whole fucking thing to get to her. She wanted me at her mercy, and she could have me that way, but fuck, I needed to taste her, fuck her, something. "Bring that pretty thing to me, and I'll take that ache down a notch or two..." She grinned, shifted up my body, and suddenly, I was surrounded by beautiful thighs, soft skin, knees on either side of my head, and the most delicious pussy I'd ever had the honor of tasting. Licking my lips one more time, I locked eyes with my girl, who was now bracing her hands on the edge of the mattress above me. I placed one simple kiss to each thigh, before lifting my head a little. She was spread perfectly for me, and I happily dragged my tongue from one end of her to the other, relishing the cry of relief that escaped her.

BELLA
"Oh, God," I moaned, my head falling back at the feel of Edward's mouth on me.

Just looking at him, touching him, feeling his want for me get harder and harder with every second that ticked by had me absolutely hurting for him. And he totally understood and caught up to my mood. I needed to take back what was mine. "Fuck, you're so damn good at that," I gasped, letting go of the bed and bracing my hands behind me on his thighs. And God, he was fucking phenomenal at it. He kissed my sex like he kissed my mouth thoroughly, deeply, with lips and tongue and suckling pressure claiming me, making me absolutely incoherent. There wasn't an inch of me that he didn't pay attention to, dragging tongue, teeth, and lips over me. With a flattened tongue, he raked it over my folds, only to suck hard on my clit, but he stopped just before I was about to come. It was teasing at its best, causing me to get wetter and wetter with each second he worked me over. And he relished every drop, drinking from me like he could never get enough. Edward couldn't hold me still, so he went with every roll of my hips, moaning deep against my flesh every time my core would twitch. And that was when he backed off, nipping with teeth on the inside of my thighs and smiling evilly against my skin when I cried out. He brought me so close that my arms could no longer hold me up. They started to shake, and I finally collapsed back on him, which just opened my legs up that much wider for him. Another pass of his tongue, swirling around both entrances, and finally latching onto my clit with his lips in a hard, sucking kiss had me reeling, my back arching, and my toes curling. My breathing stopped for a moment, and my whole body wound tight before exploding. "Christ!" I gasped, my eyes rolling back in my head, and even in the midst of my orgasm, I could feel his smug smile against my sex. Tears of ecstasy filled my vision as I came down from my high, trying to sit up. When I was finally facing him again, I couldn't help but smirk at him, because he was licking his lips like he'd just eaten the best meal ever, and he was wearing a slight but adorable pout that he couldn't have more. "Better, sweetness?" he purred, gazing up at me as I leaned over him. "Yes," I breathed against his mouth, before kissing him into oblivion. He still tasted like me, and all that did was make me want him that much more. We

broke apart with gasps for air, but I pressed my forehead to his. "But I want...mmm, more." He grinned, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip. "Shall I tear this bed apart, baby? Or are you going to ride me fucking senseless. We can play, Bella, but fuck, I'm dyin' here." Giving his cock a glance, I moaned in sympathy and in want of it. He was so fucking hard, standing at attention like the good soldier he was. And he was still leaking from the tip. Slithering down his body, I positioned myself over him, finally locking eyes with his, and suddenly, it all hit me at once. An almost rabid feeling of possessiveness took over me as I sank down on him, both of us moaning at the same time. Edward was mine, and someone had tried to come between us. I'd been through too much, needed him too much for that to happen, but another feeling followed right behind that one as I stared at my husband's handsome face, which was trapped somewhere between needing me to move and needing me to be still. That feeling was calm, peaceful faith. Edward was mine, but he was mine because he wanted to be. He wouldn't have allowed anything to come between us, and that included my uncontrollable rage toward Kyra, her vile attitude toward Bethy, and her endless come-ons. He'd stepped between us not because he cared what happened to her or was concerned with her feelings, but because nothing bad could happen to me or Bethy, for that matter, who happened to have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that was why he'd stopped me from killing her, no matter how justified I'd probably thought it was at the moment. I rolled my hips, taking him deeper and relishing the feeling of how deeply he was filling me. My wants and needs were divided; I wanted Edward's hands on me, but I also wanted to continue to just claim, to take, to make him mine again, wiping the memory of Kyra's touch from him. Edward's hips met mine thrust for thrust, but I could see his hands balled up in fists above his head, his teeth biting down on his bottom lip, and every muscle in his torso rolling under my fingertips.

"Edward..." I gasped, overwhelmed again by my conflicting wants. "You look so good fucking me, baby," he rasped, his hands grabbing the foot of the bed in order to use it as leverage. "If you need harder, sweetness...then take it." It was then that my need for hard, claiming, rough fucking just...changed, because I didn't need to claim him as mine; he gladly surrendered to me. "Baby, I love you so much," I said, tears welling up in my eyes, because I couldn't get to him, I couldn't stop riding him, but I needed his touch, his voice in my ear, and his arms around me. With a few swift movements, Edward lifted the bed, slipped the chain of the handcuffs free, and was sitting up and wrapping his arms around me, restrained wrists and all. As he captured my mouth with his, I could feel the cold steel of the handcuffs pressing into my back. The clink of metal as a firm grip captured my hair at the base of my neck echoed in my ear, but Edward brought his forehead to mine as I continued to move over him. "Right here, sweetness," he purred, his dark gaze locked with mine. "I'm right here." I nodded my sweaty brow against his. "I know," I gasped. "I love you, too, Bella," he whispered, brushing his lips across mine, down my cheek, and then lightly suckling my neck. "You're so fucking beautiful, baby. Just flawless taking what's yours. And you own me, love." I cupped his face, bringing his lips back to mine, because he always knew what I needed to hear. It seemed he'd been doing it forever. "Nothing's changed about that," he murmured, his voice deep, soft, and soothing, but it was still filled with a sensual tenor. "Fuck, baby...you always fuck me so damn well. I'm so fucking close... Come with me." I shook my head, my breathing heavy, because I wanted to feel him come hard inside of me, feel him fall apart in my arms. Clenching my muscles around his cock, I dragged my lips across his shoulder, up his neck, to his ear. The feel of cold steel practically stung my lower back as he gripped my hips to guide me over him, muttering for me to fuck him harder, faster, and for just...more.

I gripped his upper arm where his ink resided. "Come, Edward. For me," I ordered, and I couldn't help but smile against the skin of his neck as a string of curse words pushed out of his mouth and ghosted across my shoulder. Not coming with him had its advantages, because I could feel every inch of him inside of me twitch, finally spilling hard. Edward's face was the picture of beauty, frozen in a heart stopping, open mouth expression. His head fell back just a little as his hands gripped my hips, forcefully pulling me flush to him. "Jesus, Bella," he panted, his forehead falling to my shoulder. "Please tell me you have the keys to these fuckers," he said, chuckling when I giggled against his neck. "What keys?" I asked, squealing into hysterics when he growled low, his fingers digging into my sides. "The bathroom! The bathroom!" I squeaked, my head falling back with laughter. "Even better. Shower, baby," he grunted, standing me up on my feet. Once he was on his own two feet, he lunged, tossing my ass over his shoulder and giving my bare bottom a light smack. "Your rules, sweetness," he chuckled as he stalked into our bathroom. "Can't go to bed after a run without a shower..." "Good boy," I praised, which earned me another smack to my butt, and then he set me on the chilly ass vanity, where I squeaked in surprise. "Where, Bella?" he smirked, holding up his wrists. Giggling, I reached over into the drawer beside my legs. "Here," I said, tugging him between my legs. "We need these free for that shower..." "We do, huh?" "Oh yeah...we're awfully, awfully dirty. You, especially," I chuckled, pointing a finger at him once his restraints were removed. "I have to get that bitch's touch off of you." Edward rolled his eyes, but chuckled anyway as he mumbled something that sounded like, "I thought you just fucking did that." He reached into the shower, turning the water on, only to turn around and tug me off the vanity.

"Then get to scrubbin', woman!" My laughter echoed off of the tiles, but died quickly when my hands were captured above my head, my fingers linking with Edward's. I grinned up at my very sexy, now very wet husband. He grinned crookedly, pressing his forehead to mine as he pinned me against the shower wall. "My turn, sweetness..."

EDWARD
Muted and hushed voices echoed in from my yard and what sounded like my kitchen. I squeezed my eyes closed, and then glanced over at the clock. Bella and I had tumbled into bed after our shower, exhausted, spent, but very, very sated. We'd done what we always did when something rocked us; we brought it back to just us, losing ourselves in each other. It seemed we'd gotten a few hours sleep, but from the way my eyes still felt like they had sandpaper behind the lids, I could've really used more. Rolling onto my side, I took in the sight of my sleeping wife. She shifted when I shifted, so her hand blindly reached out to my pillow, finding my face and cupping it. I fucking loved that shit, because it not only reminded me of the picture of us as infants that was hanging in our living room, but it meant that even in her sleep, she needed me. Ignoring the voices I could barely make out and placing a kiss in the center of her palm, I traced my fingers lightly down the middle of her exposed back, just relishing the rare bubble of alone time. I knew we had to get up. Decisions about Kyra had to be made, and after that shit this morning, I was pretty fucking sure Bella would want to pick Bethy up from school herself, just to make sure our girl was okay. "I should have her arrested for assault," Kyra's whiny voice ghosted in from the bathroom window, which meant she was on the front porch. "Not sure what you mean," Alec stated, and I could almost see his raised eyebrow and smirk, just from the wry tone of voice. "No one saw anything," he told her smoothly.

"You were all there! She had a gun to my head," Kyra countered. "Hmm, no...didn't see a thing. Came to it pretty late, though," Jasper drawled. "Personally, I thought you fell and she was helping you up." I grinned, shaking my head, because my crew was fucking shameless about backing each other up. They'd swear that shit in court if it came down to it. "Without any witnesses," Wes added in, "then I don't have a case against assault." I heard thumping steps on my porch, like someone was pacing, but Wes continued. "Let me explain something to you, Miss Bailey," he said, and his voice took on a tone he rarely used. It was no nonsense, with zero humor or sarcasm. "I can't say that I blame Bella one damn bit. No, not at all. Because let me tell you, if the roles were reversed and it was Eddie that had to watch some asshole touch her... Well, he'd destroy the guy. He's done it before, and I'm confident enough to say that he'd do it again. Repeatedly. What you're doing, the trouble you're causing these people, is what got you into this mess to begin with. You never fucking know just who you're pissing off now, do you?" My eyebrows shot up with that, because Wes was a fairly laid back guy. He was also extremely professional. So for him to threaten her, albeit as subtle as it came out, was really rare. "Miss Bailey, I won't lie to you," Wes continued. "I can and will take you into my custody, sequester you away from everything. You can't work, you can't do your job, and you'll speak to no one. And that includes Cassie and Gator here. You'll be alone, but you'll be safe. I know from experience, though, that this group of people is extremely capable of not only protecting you, but they'll find this...this...Preston guy." "Yeah, but..." Kyra started, but he interrupted her. "Or...you can find some way to get along with this crew, and we can all work together. It's really that simple. And let me explain something, if you can't... If you can't be honest, giving us everything you know, then I'll arrest you for hindering my investigation. Got me?" he snapped.

"Oh damn," Bella breathed, and I spun my gaze to hers. "He's not fucking around, is he?" I chuckled, shaking my head no, but kissing her lips to hush her, because the conversation wasn't over. "Good luck with that," Rose chuckled darkly. "I'm pretty sure Bella said we were off the case. And I can't say that I'm upset about that. You're a pain in the ass, Kyra. No lie. You say you need help, that you need Edward's protection, but you won't say why. You insult everyone around you, disrespect someone's marriage and children, and you still think she's going to want to continue this case? Umm, no, princess. Shit in one hand, and wish in the other; see which one fills up quicker." Bella burst into a giggle, having to bury it into my shoulder to stop the sound from carrying. I couldn't help but kiss the crown of her head, because sometimes, Rose just fucking cut to the damn chase and let people have the bare truth, no matter how cutting it may be. The chuckles and laughter died down, because another voice piped up, one that I wasn't aware was here. "Kyra," Esme sighed exasperatedly. "I think it's time you and I sat down to a long talk. Come with me," she commanded. "We'll use Bella's office." "Uh oh," Emmett sang. "The doctor is in..." "Hush, Emmett," Esme chided. "Let's go, Miss Bailey. I want this done before my son wakes up, because he won't be happy after those earlier events. And I'm not sure one single person here will be able to stop what he'll have to say to you. So up! Now!" My heart clenched at the sound of her calling me her son, even more at how well she knew me, because I was indeed planning on having one very ugly conversation with Kyra no matter what decision Bella made concerning this case. But to hear her call me that caused something deep inside of me to shift, to settle, and to want to hug her. "She totally sees you as hers, you know," Bella whispered, tracing my face with her finger. "Just like she sees me as her daughter."

I nodded, swallowing thickly. "I-I kn-know. I-I j-just n-never h-heard h-her s-say iit th-that w-way..." Bella sat up on an elbow, her hand flat on my cheek, and kissed me. "You're so very easy to love, Edward. It's really that simple. In fact, it's what kept my temper with Kyra under control for so long. I thought that if she was in love with you, then I could understand, but I don't think what she's feeling is love. She needs you, but I'm not sure why. It's the reason she's clinging to you so tightly. However, she went about it all wrong. And I'm not sure she knows any other way..." "So what do you want to do, sweetness?" I asked her, dragging my thumb underneath her eye, because my girl still looked exhausted. "Is the case over?" "I don't know," she sighed, sitting up completely and pulling the covers up around her. "What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall of my office right about now, though." "No shit," I chuckled, shaking my head. "If we took it, what was this big plan you had in mind?" she asked, tilting her gorgeous head at me. I sat up in front of her, leaning in to kiss her forehead. "You and me. Bait. If this asshole is gunning for me, then we could in all reality take Kyra out of the picture. You and I could handle it, lure him in." Bella sneered at me, her brow furrowing. "I don't fucking look like her, Edward." "No, you don't," I soothed her, kissing her lips softly. "You're way more beautiful, but you are about the same height, and you both have dark hair, love." I cupped her face, forcing her gaze to mine. "You didn't notice her in that fucked up picture, Bella? When I met her, she had light brown hair with blonde streaky shit in it." Bella grinned, rolling her eyes. "Highlights," she corrected. "What-the-fuck-ever," I laughed, shrugging a shoulder. "I didn't have a type, sweetness. She's in front of a fucking camera all damn day. She most likely dyes that shit every month. There's no telling what her natural color is."

"The light brown," Bella sighed when her giggles settle down. "Okay, well, still... You don't fucking look like her. I'm just saying that since everyone knows she's now a brunette, we could pull it off. You and me. We'll act like I'm this new...new..." "Boyfriend-slash-bodyguard?" Bella snorted, rolling her eyes. "So we use the paparazzi to our advantage?" "Yes." I nodded once, but took a deep breath. "On the other hand, if you're done, then we'll pack her shit now." Bella reached up, brushing my hair from my forehead and running her fingers through it. "You and Sammy need trims," she muttered, almost to herself. "Fine, I'll take him to the barber today," I chuckled. "Talk to me, love." She bit down on that bottom lip of hers, but said nothing for a moment. "This Preston guy has done this before," she started softly, and I could tell she was pretty much thinking aloud. "I'd like to know to whom and to what extent. I'd also like to see what Esme gets out of Kyra, because there are some serious issues there." "Fine, so we wait?" "Yeah, just...wait," she sighed in defeat. "Oh, and sweetness?" I said, giving her a raised eyebrow. "I most definitely have a type now. Want me to describe her?" I asked, pulling her to my lap and smiling into her neck as she laughed. "Beautiful brown eyes, feisty, sexy as fucking hell, and...mine," I growled, nipping lightly just underneath her ear. Bella stopped writhing in my arms, sagging much like Bethy did when I'd tickled her. "Yeah," she sighed contentedly. "Yeah, yours."

"Okay, okay, okay," Alice chanted softly, scrolling through a large amount of text. "Preston Raulson... So I contacted the police concerning his prior arrest. And it was technically stalking, though back then, it wasn't called that. The laws for stalking are still pretty sketchy all over the country. He had a girlfriend in high school that tried to break up with him, and he didn't want to let go. He followed her, called her constantly, and broke into her family's home. He slashed the tires on her car once she told him she was going to college in New York. That was when things got really ugly, and it was what led to his arrest." "Did he hurt her?" Bella asked, looking away from Alice back to the screen. "Yeah, he put her in the hospital. Broken arm, dislocated shoulder, a bunch of bruises, and a pretty bad black eye," Makenna answered, tossing a printout of the newspaper article. "I called her. She's still in New York...married to one of the city's finest, and she's a cop herself. In fact, it was the police academy that she was leaving California for. Her name was Felicia Easton...now O'Brien. She married a fine Irish boy from Brooklyn," she chuckled. "Anyway, Felicia said that Preston followed her all the way to New York after the hospital incident...one time." She held up one finger. "Once the guy realized that she was surrounded by the boys in blue, he disappeared." "He's a bully," Jasper muttered, frowning up at the picture of Preston on the bulletin board. "Plain and simple. He likes scaring women, likes that he has control, but once someone bigger and badder comes along, he bails out, like a little chicken shit. Interesting. But it leaves us with a problem. He's not scared of Gator, or any 'bodyguards' that he may have hired on, but once he realizes the Feds are involved, we may lose him." "So he stops. What's the big deal?" Mickey asked, giving the still closed door that Kyra and Esme were still locked behind a scathing look. "The big deal is that he's escalating," Bella stated, rubbing her temple. "He's no longer able to just sit back and let his little gifts scare Kyra. He needs contact

with her. If he leaves her, or we scare him off, the next girl that rejects him could possibly get killed. And she will reject him." "How do you know that?" I asked her, but Alice was the one that spoke up. "Didn't you hear what Kyra said about him?" she asked, and I nodded, but I wasn't sure which part we were referring to. "She said that once they were together, Preston needed to know where she was, who she was with, and what she was doing...at all times. Preston needs control. And it's stifling to the woman, but he has no idea. Once she told him it was over, it was then that he lost his control over her. It also meant that the facade he'd been trying so hard to make real was shattered. I'd be willing to bet that he started stalking her right then...if he wasn't doing it all along." "And his dad found him doing it," I added. They all nodded in agreement. "And that's the other thing," Alice practically growled, holding up one finger. "He's such a pretentious, abusive, cranky bastard, I'd be willing to bet that he created this monster." We all nodded with her theory, because Alice was pretty damned convinced that poor, abusive, or neglectful parenting caused damaged psyches in children, which then undoubtedly created future criminals. "Well, I know where the flower thing comes from," Bella added, spinning her computer around. "His mother owned a florist shop. She specialized in bouquets with meaning." "Where's Mom now?" Jasper asked, sitting forward to look at the screen closer. "Dead. Car accident when Preston was ten years old," Bella sighed, her nose wrinkling in sympathy, because losing your mom sucked when you were a kid. "Well, that explains how Preston ended up with Ike. Preston's mother was already divorced from Ike by then, but there were no other relatives for him. His previous marriages and children had moved on. Ike took his son and raised him alone." "Well, shit," Rose huffed, rolling her eyes. "That house must've been all sorts of rainbows and sunshine for him. Ike's about as cuddly as a pissed off badger."

We all chuckled, but it was true. Bella glanced up at the clock, and then the door to her office. She frowned, turning to me, but the announcement was for everyone in the room. "I'm making no decision until I hear from Esme. As of right now, I'd be willing to hand all that we have over to Wes and wipe my hands of her." "Shit," Cassie hissed from where she'd been silently watching us work. She claimed she wasn't tired, and despite how upset she was with Kyra, I'd be willing to bet she was worried for her friend. "Damn it," Gator groaned, shaking his head. He, too, had been waiting to hear how the talk went with Esme, because once he'd found out exactly what my stepmother did for a living, he was extremely receptive to having Kyra evaluated. And that was exactly what Esme was doing. He stood up, paced the office floor, only to turn and face my wife. "Bella, I'm begging you to reconsider. Please!" "Why?" Bella sneered, and I placed a hand on my wife's shoulder just to calm her down. "Gator, I really like you and Cassie, but that woman doesn't want my help. She wants Edward's, but unfortunately for her, we come as a package deal. I won't have my crew, my kids, or my marriage disrespected any longer. I just won't. I don't care if Preston walked up onto this property at this point wearing a TNT belt." "I know, and I get that, but if what you're saying is true about Ike and Preston, then we have another problem," he countered, kneeling in front of her. "Jesus, what now?" Kurt drawled, rolling his eyes. Emmett chuckled, slapping the kid's back, but we turned back to Gator and Bella. "If Ike abused Preston, then it's quite possible he abused Kyra, too," Gator stated, and that piece of news fell hard into the room like a boulder. "Well, hell," Rose sighed, shaking her head. "I know the guy's an asshole, but really?" "Do you know anything about Kyra's family?" Gator asked, but it was only to Bella he was looking.

"Yeah, sure...her mother died when she was born, so she was raised by her father until she turned seventeen..." "Yes, and at that point, her manager took her in," Gator urged, giving her a pointed look. "Oh shit," Bella gasped, and turned to me. "When you first dropped her off at Carlisle's house... Didn't she tell you that you were the very first person to make her feel safe...since her father?" "Yes, but..." I started, but winced and shook my head. "Oh fuck," Cassie groaned, and we all spun to her. "No wonder Ike didn't like you back then, Edward. You never allowed him to be nasty. Ever. I mean, I knew he kept her under a firm thumb, but I didn't think it was...that." "What did you do?" Bella asked, narrowing her eyes on me. "I... Well, he was a pain in the ass!" I growled, shrugging one shoulder. "He wasn't only an asshole to the girls," I said, gesturing to Cassie, "but he bitched and complained about everything. He treated the soldiers guarding him as servants, he tortured the poor camera guy, and he tried that shit with me...once." Jasper grinned, sitting back in his chair and putting his hands behind his head. "This should be rich. Spill it, Ed." "I flew us into the first camp, Kyra performed for a huge bunch of us, and apparently, it wasn't good enough," I huffed, folding my arms across my chest. "He pointed out every mistake, every ugly thing he could think of, and by the time he was done with her, she was in tears. I told him to chill out, to back off, but he stepped up into my face." I smirked when groans filled the room, because they all knew me too well. "Right, so he starts to tell me to get the chopper ready to take us out of there, and I stopped him...firmly. I told him that I wasn't his fucking personal pilot, that my commanding officer gave the all-clear, not his ass, and then I told him that he had to watch what the fuck he said at all times, or he might just find himself dropped off in the middle of the

desert without a way home, because she was giving those guys a big deal...bad notes or not." "And he left her alone?" Bella asked. "Not at first. He complained about me to my CO, but that shit didn't fly. So he calmed down, avoided me," I finished. "He still critiqued her performance," Gator added, "but yeah, Ike did mellow out a bit. I just wasn't sure why... until now." He chuckled, giving me a smile and shaking his head. "Bella, please? Don't give up. I think Kyra's scared shitless..." Bella glanced at the clock and stood up. "I'm not saying no, but I'm not saying yes, either, Gator. And I need to go get my kids." "I'll do it," Rose offered. "I need to take Caleb for new shoes. His feet will be as big as Emmett's before he's four." Emmett proudly hissed, "Yes!" pumping a fist in the air. "That's my boy." "Yeah, and my boy needs a haircut," I laughed, standing up beside Bella. "Come on, we'll go get them together. We'll get out of here for a bit." I turned to Alice. "Please have Esme call us when she's done." I wanted just my family for a few minutes. I didn't want fucking research, talk of abuse, or any more decision making, because I wasn't quite sure what would happen once Kyra came out of that talk with Esme, and I damn sure wasn't ready for Bella and Kyra to be in the same room again. I knew heavy decisions still lay ahead, but it needed to wait, if only for an hour or so. Rose and Emmett left with us, following our lead to just get the fuck away for just a moment.

"Same, Daddy!" Samuel said with a grin, pointing to his hair. "Trust me, pal... There's only so much we can do with hair like ours," I told him, chuckling when Mr. Barney snickered behind me as he took the smock off of my son. "At least you got to keep your hair," Mr. Barney chuckled, rubbing a hand over his shiny, bald head.

I grinned and scooped Sammy up, paying the man for our haircuts. I glanced out the window as he got my change, smiling at my girls, who were sitting side by side in the swing set at the park. Bella briefly answered her phone, but pocketed it just as quickly. "Here's your change, Mr. Cullen," Barney said, and then turned to Sammy. "Where's that pretty big sister of yours, Sam?" "Beffy's wight dere," he giggled, pointing out the window. "Wif Mommy." "Well, here, big guy. Take her a lollipop, too. Okay?" Barney asked, handing over two of the treats he kept around for the kids. "'Kay," my son agreed readily, immediately handing his over to me so I would unwrap it for him. I set Sammy down once we'd crossed the street, because he wanted to go play in the sandbox right behind the swings. He tottered slowly with one hand on his candy and the other in my own. Before he ran off, I stopped him. "Give your sister her lollipop from Mr. Barney, buddy." Bella chuckled, looking up as Sammy ran up to his sister. "Here, Beffy," he chirped, holding out the candy to her, and the poor thing practically fell out of the swing in order not to hit him. My daughter grinned, taking it from him, and yanked the wrapper off. "Thanks, Sammy," she slurped around it, and Bella and I chuckled at them. "Sand!" he chirped in reply, to which she nodded, jumped down from her swing, and led him to the sandbox. He sank down into the sand, chubby fingers digging into the white sugary looking stuff. In general, he was a happy kid, very mellow and quiet, so his more rambunctious sister took the lead, and they began some major building project. Bella and I sat down on a bench close by.

"Esme called," she sighed, laying her head on my shoulder, so I wrapped my arm around her. "And?" I probed, kissing the top of her head. "She said...and I quote... 'Sweetheart, I urge you to take this case,'" Bella groaned, and I didn't have to look at her to know that her eyes were rolling. "Nothing else?" "No," she huffed, "just that she'd explain when we got back." We both looked up when Bethy laughed, but Sammy growled, sounding vaguely similar to me. My little man had dropped his candy in the sand. Bethy snatched it up, ruffling her brother's hair, and ran it to her mother. "Here, Sammy dropped it," she told her. "Well, I don't want a dirty old sucker," Bella teased her. "Throw it away, silly girl." I chuckled as my daughter's face took on an expression that basically read, "Oh, yeah...got it," before she tossed it into the garbage can next to us. Samuel, however, was unfazed by the whole thing and continued to bury himself in sand. "Esme wouldn't normally ask, knowing what we've been dealing with concerning Kyra," Bella sighed, turning to face me. "What's wrong wif her?" Bethy suddenly piped up, and we both turned to look at her, because I thought she'd joined her brother again. "Miss Kywa...what's wrong wif her?" she clarified, her little brow wrinkling as she looked from me to her mother. "Why do you ask, pretty girl?" Bella asked, sitting forward and pulling Bethy between her legs. "I'm sorry about this morning...you shouldn't have..." Bethy rolled her eyes, looking eerily like Bella when she did it, which caused me to fight my smile. "No, Mommy," she scoffed, blowing off her mother's apology. "I mean...she's...sad and mad and she looked...scared." Bella leaned in to kiss her forehead. "She's all of those things, baby. She's got a lot of not so nice things going on with her," she tried to explain, and it was the

kindest Bella had sounded when it came to Kyra, especially since that morning's incident. "I thought you were catching the bad guy," she accused, looking back to me and landing back on her mother. "Daddy can catch anybody." "That's very true," Bella said, her amusement at Bethy's statement coming through loud and clear, "but it isn't that easy. I'm not sure we can help Miss Kyra." "Why?" she gasped. Bella looked to me, because how did you tell a five-year-old that the woman was insufferable, ungrateful, and was holding back the information we needed in order to just fucking help her? How did we tell her that Kyra wanted to come between her parents in a way that was just...way too mature of a topic? Yet, I wasn't sure that my baby girl would accept just any old bullshit answer, either. Giving Samuel a quick glance to see that he was contentedly still playing, I leaned in and wrapped my arms around my girls. I gave them both a quick kiss. "Little sweetness," I sighed, trying my damnedest to think of what to say, "it's not that we can't catch the bad guy, but Miss Kyra isn't easy to help." "So? Mommy says she's like Sammy when he doesn't feel good...that she's just acting bad," Bethy countered. I grimaced, because she was right, really, but I wasn't sure if Bethy was pleading Kyra's case, or just in shock that we couldn't solve the problem. "Why's this bothering you, Bethy?" Bella asked her, reaching up to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. "I would think that after this morning..." Bethy shrugged, frowning at the two of us. "Don't you want to catch the bad guy, Daddy?" Bella giggled, kissing Bethy's cheek. "So what you're saying is... If Daddy catches the bad guy, then Miss Kyra will be nicer?" I chuckled, because the most adorably screwed up expression crossed Bethy's face as she thought it over.

"Yeah," she said slowly, measuring our reactions. "Like when you give medicine to Sammy when he doesn't feel good." "I'm pretty sure Miss Kyra's problem isn't a tummy ache, pretty girl," Bella muttered sarcastically, rolling her eyes and smirking when I cracked the fuck up. "So put her in time out," Bethy suggested with a giggle and a grin, because my baby girl, despite how well behaved she normally was, was no stranger to the time out, simply for those moments when her strong-willed nature met headon with her mother's. Bella's eyebrows shot up, and she turned to look at me. "There's an idea," she chuckled wryly, smacking my arm when I didn't stop laughing. "No, seriously. Kyra is done with recording sessions, so all she has left is the making of that video after this concert coming up. Maybe we should take her to a safe house, and then use your plan to draw this guy out." I turned to Bethy. "Go check on Sammy, my smart girl," I whispered against her temple, patting her leg. "'Kay, Daddy," she sang, skipping back to the sandbox. I turned back to Bella, tilting her head up by her chin so that she locked gazes with me. "You haven't heard what Esme has to say yet, sweetness," I stated, wanting like hell to read her mind. "I know," she sighed, reaching up and running her fingers through my shorter hair. "I'm pretty sure your daughter thinks you're a damn superhero, Edward," she chuckled, shaking her head. "Hell, yes, she does!" I grunted, puffing up with pride and overwhelming love for my baby girl, which only caused Bella to giggle that much more. My wife cupped both sides of my face, kissing my lips roughly, but she took a deep breath and let it out. "What if..." She sighed, shaking her head, like she couldn't believe what she was about to say. "What if Ike did abuse her, Edward? I mean, think about it. She wouldn't have been in a house with just one asshole; it would've been two." She held up two fingers, and I nodded for her to continue. "She thought, when she met Roger at only eighteen, that she'd found an escape, but that

didn't work. Then...she stumbles upon you...the one person that seemed to scare her abuser. No wonder she didn't want to let you go, baby. And now...she's got Ike angry and Preston coming after her, so she's absolutely terrified." "And you want to stop them. Both of them," I surmised. "If she can act fucking civil for five minutes," she hissed through gritted teeth, "then I'm willing to listen to her story. Because fear can really make people act...differently." She sighed again, shaking her head. "Maybe we're going about this all wrong, sweetheart. Maybe we've put too much on her, given her too much control. This isn't really about her; it's about stopping them." "I don't know if you can deal with her, Bella," I groaned, running a flat hand over her hair and down her back. "I'm better than what I did this morning," she mumbled, looking down at her hands. "I should never have lost it like that..." "I would have," I stated, shrugging a shoulder when her eyes flashed back to mine. "If the roles were reversed and this was a man, then I would've broken his jaw if he'd talked to Bethy like that. Even more, I would have broken the guy's neck for touching you. But I couldn't do any of those things, because despite Kyra's faults, I could never hit a woman. Believe me...I wanted to. I completely understand your reaction, and I definitely don't think any less of you. Does that make us wrong? I'm not sure. And I still want to have a little...chat with her," I growled, raising an eyebrow up. Bella smirked, but nodded. "Let's go talk to Esme first, huh?" "Anything for you, sweetness," I told her, and we both looked up when Sammy sneezed loudly. "Shoes, handsome," Bella chided gently, hopping up from the bench, because our son was digging bare, pudgy toes into the sand, despite the chilly air of Fall that was almost upon us. "Come on, you sillies," she chuckled, scooping him up and smooching on him as he wriggled adorably in her arms.

I smiled, because if Bethy thought I was a superhero, then Sammy thought his mother hung the moon. And again, I understood it, because he was no different with her than I'd been with my own mother. "Let's go, guys," I said, reaching for Bethy's hand when she ran up to me. "Mom and Dad have some work to do."

CHAPTER eleven BELLA


The first thing I noticed when Edward pulled back into the driveway was that not only was Carlisle there, but Wes was currently sitting at the end of our outdoor tables with Ike Raulson, who was wearing an unreadable expression. "Look!" Bethy squeaked excitedly. "Poppy!" "Poppy!" Sammy chimed in. Neither child could get to him quickly enough as he met us at the car, yanking open the back door first. It didn't matter if it had been a few days or a few hours, Poppy always received a huge welcome. "What's going on?" Edward asked him, giving Raulson a quick glance. "What's he doing here?" "Well, it was either kill him myself for what he's done...or hand him over to Wes," Carlisle muttered back, a sneer curling his upper lip, even though he was lifting my son into his arms. "It's quite possible that Ike is in some serious trouble." "What did he do?" I asked, helping a wriggling Bethy out of the car so she could run to her grandfather. "Well, since the last known residence of Preston Raulson was Ike's home in California, Wes was able to obtain a search warrant for the home," Carlisle said, smiling down at Bethy hugging his leg. "Right now, they're currently combing the place from top to bottom. It seems Ike has been abusive his whole career. And not only that, Kyra's not the only one he took in. There were stacks of video tapes down in his personal recording studio of recording sessions. You know he specialized in underage stars." The last statement was accompanied by a pointed look. "Well, he did up until about five years ago. Then he stopped taking them in, running music camps, and allowing them to live there."

I frowned, shaking my head and giving Ike a long, studying stare. "Not that I don't want him in trouble, but...hasn't the statute of limitations run out on abuse, no matter what kind it is?" I asked, turning back to Carlisle. "Yes, but not on murder," he answered, and Edward and I gaped at him. "It seems that someone on one of those video tapes was recognized by a Fed as a missing girl from a handful of years ago. That's what they're talking to him about right now. Well, that and Preston's whereabouts." "What did he do to Kyra?" I whispered, my imagination running absolutely wild with the possibilities. "That's her story to tell. I haven't heard it myself, but Esme is encouraging her to tell the two of you," he sighed, squatting down to scoop Bethy up into his other arm, "because Kyra insists on continuing to work, so she doesn't want to go with Wes. So she needs Gravity. She needs you two. However, I'm well aware that she's slowly wearing out her welcome here." "Slowly?" Edward and I scoffed, rolling our eyes. Carlisle grinned, shaking his head. "Right. So Esme's hoping that if Kyra explains herself, you'll reconsider." He turned his head, kissing Sammy's forehead, only to do the same to Bethy. "I'm taking my grandkids inside, and we're gonna make a mess of your kitchen," he said cheerily, which caused Edward to chuckle. "And then...we're going to veg out in front of the TV with a giant bowl of popcorn." Both kids cheered, and he grinned, like it was the best sound ever. "Anyway," he chuckled, turning back to us, "I've got these guys, so take your time. Esme's in the office." Edward and I made our way across the yard to Gravity's office, not even bothering to give Ike a glance on the way by. We opened the door to see my crew staring at one of Alice's larger computer monitors. It seemed that Rose and Emmett weren't back yet. "No, no, no!" we heard over the speaker, and then the slam of what sounded like a piano lid, because a discordant note droned just a bit, though the sound of someone crying out overshadowed it. "You'll never make it if you're lazy. Stars aren't lazy. Now...focus!"

On the monitor was a younger Ike, though he still carried a foul, angry look on his face. Sitting at the piano was a boy in his teens, who was rubbing his knuckles, because Ike had apparently slammed the lid down on them. Alice spun around in her chair after pausing the video. She, Kurt, Mickey, and Makenna were all wearing sickened expressions on their faces. "He's...he's an asshole," Alice stated, sneering up at the screen. "Wes had his agents forward me some of the tapes they'd found when they searched Raulson's home in California. So far, they're all like that. Verbally and physically abusive." "And this one," Makenna added, clicking the mouse so that another video started. It was the same setting, though a different student a girl. "This girl is the one they think is missing. They're not sure. It's been a long time." "Yeah, I'm running an aging program on her face," Alice sighed, gesturing to another computer. "Wes wanted to know what she'd look like now, just in case she's not really missing. Right now, we have no idea who she is." Edward and I watched the video in silence, because it seemed that poor girl had it worse than the boy before. He reminded her that she had nowhere to go, that she was worthless without him, and that if she didn't perform up to par, then she would be living on the streets. "Is that..." Edward started, frowning at the screen and pointing just a little. "Is that...Preston in the background? Can you zoom in on that?" "I have, and yes, it is," Alice told him, flipping over to a frozen portion of the video. "Damn, that's disturbing," I muttered, because Preston was watching his father with rapt attention, an almost blissful smile on his face. He would've been about college age, a fair amount of time after Kyra had lived in the house. "Again!" Ike barked over the speakers, but we all paused when my office door flew open. An ashen faced Kyra glanced frantically around the room, only to find the source of her terror on the screen. Cassie and Gator appeared at her side in the doorway, but she couldn't take her eyes off the monitor.

"Molly," she whispered, narrowing her eyes a little, but we all jumped when Ike's voice boomed again. "Preston!" he growled. "Get her out of my sight. Neither of you are doing me a damn bit of good today," he sighed dramatically. "You brought this worthless thing into the house, so you can take care of her. I can't put her in front of the audition board like this..." Ike waved a dismissive hand at the both of them, but it was Preston's reaction that caused us all to flinch. He snatched Molly up by her arm, whispered fiercely in her ear, and then shoved her out the door. "Molly who?" Alice asked Kyra. "Just...Molly. I never knew her by anything other than her stage name," Kyra whispered, still staring at the monitor. I turned to Alice and Makenna. "Can you narrow in on him? What's he saying to her?" "I can try," Alice offered with a nod. "I mean, these were taped, not digitally recorded. The Feds converted them and emailed them to me." I nodded in acceptance, but I knew Alice would indeed try to pull the sound out of it. I turned my gaze to Mickey, who looked like she couldn't decide who to hate more...Preston on the screen, or Kyra in the room. "Mick," I called. "Get with Kurt...you two search for missing girls about fifteen to twenty-one by the name of Molly. Use her description to narrow it down. Okay?" "Won't the Feds be doing that?" Kurt asked, though he was already pulling a computer to him. "Yes, but we're better," I told him. "You're keeping my case?" Kyra asked, flinching when I rounded my gaze on her. "Right now..." I started, trying to keep my temper with her in check, because I hadn't forgotten the way that she'd talked to Bethy or the way that she'd

touched my husband, but I could see that she was absolutely terrified. "Right now, I'm simply helping an FBI friend." "Isabella," Esme chided softly from behind Kyra. "You and Edward come in here. I think you need to hear a few things." Edward took my hand and led us into my office, brushing past Kyra. I could tell my husband had some pretty sharp things he wanted to say to her, because his jaw clenched and his eyes were dark. Esme was sitting behind my desk, a few hand written pages of notes in front of her, so Edward and I took the small sofa I had along the side, while Kyra and Cassie took the chairs in front of the desk. Gator opted to stand in front of the door once he'd closed it. Once everyone was settled in, Esme sat forward, resting her elbows on the desk. "Kyra has some things she'd like for all of you to hear. I'm going to ask you all to stay quiet until she's finished." She turned to her gaze to me. "You of all people will understand that what she's about to say isn't easy, so bear with her, but she felt that those of you in this room deserved to hear it from her." My eyebrows shot up, but I nodded, turning my attention to Kyra, who was wringing her hands nervously in her lap. She suddenly snapped her gaze to meet mine. "Who'd you tell first? About what happened to you?" she asked. "Edward," I answered instantly, and he linked my fingers with his, letting a deep breath out. "He was there, and he'd seen where I was, so he was the only one that I felt would understand. Eventually, I told everyone." I paused, letting her study us, because that was what it seemed like she was doing. She took in our body language, our linked fingers with Edward's thumb circling over my own, and Edward's kiss to my head. I couldn't imagine what she was looking for, but I knew what I felt. I felt comfort, our deep history, and Edward's calming presence. I frowned at her petrified, yet longing expression, because I'd been there. I didn't feel all of my hatred and anger dissipate, but it was suddenly overshadowed by sympathy and pity. My head shot up to look at Esme. "She has PTSD," I gasped, because I'd just recognized everything Kyra was doing right then her refusal to see reality, her

constant need to work, to bury herself in something she was good at, and her clinging to the one person that made her feel safe. I'd been so wrapped up in the case, her affair with Edward, and her pretentious attitude that I didn't see it for what it truly was. "She does," Esme sighed, her eyes sad as she looked back to Kyra. "And a touch of depression and OCD, if I'm not mistaken." Cassie stayed quiet like she always did, but her eyes flickered around at all of us, finally landing on Kyra. "What happened, K?" she asked, almost in a whisper. Kyra opened her mouth to speak, but snapped it closed again. Beads of sweat glistened on her forehead, and she suddenly didn't look like the superstar she was. She looked like a child, a lost and scared little girl, despite the fact that she was about thirty years old. "It gets easier every time you tell it," I murmured, shrugging a shoulder and leaning into another kiss to the side of my head, because Edward hated this type of shit. If he could erase my time with Miller, he'd have done it years ago, and he never spoke of it. At least, not in front of anyone other than myself or Esme. Hell, I wasn't even sure he'd ever talked to his father about it. "Trust me." I swallowed thickly, mentally preparing myself to listen to her. "He hurt you, didn't he?" All eyes in the room spun to look at her, and she nodded slowly, tears filling her eyes. "Yes," she whispered, licking her lips and taking a deep breath. With an encouraging nod from Esme, she started. "My dad was a good man," she sighed, smiling just a touch. "He was a baker in Pittsburgh, but gave it all up when they offered me a national show. He didn't think twice. He moved us to LA immediately." She paused long enough to swipe at her tears, but went on. "He was my manager before Ike. I really relied on him, because it was just the two of us. He set me up with the right banks, the right accounts, the right music, simply by going on instinct. He wasn't a Hollywood guy; he was just a dad trying to take care of his daughter. "He had diabetes," she sighed, rubbing her face. "So when the show was just about over and Ike offered me a recording contract that was more mature, I

jumped at the chance, but my dad... He didn't like Ike. At all. It was the biggest fight we'd ever had, but he eventually gave in, because the contract was too big to ignore. Ike promised huge things for me. You know?" We all nodded, though I wasn't sure she even saw us, because she was staring back down at her hands. "One day, his sugar got too low," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "He'd waited too long or something, and he couldn't get to his insulin. By the time he realized it, it was too late. He was gone. I turned seventeen the day of his funeral," she muttered. "Damn," Gator groaned, shaking his head, because all of this was new to him. He'd only joined her after her second tour. He knelt beside her, but she barely acknowledged his presence. "Ike offered to take me in," she continued, staring at the rug. "He helped me become an emancipated minor and gave me a room in his house. I thought... I thought that since I was working so much with him anyway that it would be okay. He had a son about my age, he had plenty of room, and I could certainly pay my own way, but I didn't realize...I didn't know..." Tears streaked down her face as she finally glanced around the room. "My dad was right not to trust him." "What did he do?" Edward asked softly, giving Gator a glance, and then the door, because the asshole in question was mere yards away. "Don't you dare," Esme ordered softly. "Edward, you'll stay right where you are." "Yes, ma'am," he sneered, but his eyes flickered to the door one more time. "At first, he was just really strict," Kyra continued, as if no one had interrupted her, "though he treated me better than he treated Preston. He was really tough on his son. We weren't allowed to really go out, hang with friends, or party, because I was pretty recognizable at that point. We both were responsible for chores around the house. Normal stuff, really. It wasn't bad. I kind of liked it, because I felt like a regular kid, not a TV star." She snorted humorlessly, shaking her head. "Preston went to school, while I was taught by a tutor. We got along, I suppose. Preston was dating a girl named Felicia at the

time, and I was kind of jealous, because Ike wouldn't let me date. Hell, he barely let me out of the house, except for work purposes. "After about six months of living in Ike's house is when... when he first hit me..." She took a deep breath and let it out. "Two months later, he...snuck into my room the first time." "I'm gonna kill that motherfucker!" Gator snapped, standing up suddenly, but he found himself stopped at the door by Edward. "Wait, man," he grunted, gripping him by the shoulders. "Let her finish. Esme's right. You need to hear the whole thing, Gator." Gator nodded, but stayed leaning against the door. Edward took his place back next to me. "Did he..." Cassie asked, but never really finished her question, because Kyra was nodding. "Fuck," I hissed, leaning forward and putting my elbows on my knees, because it suddenly made sense, the way she'd reacted to my story about Miller. She'd told me I was lucky, and at the time, I'd thought she was referring to my relationship with Edward, but she hadn't been. She'd been referring to the fact that I hadn't been raped. "How many..." Gator started, but couldn't bring himself to fully ask the question. "I don't know. I stopped counting," she sighed, shaking her head. "It would always happen after a terrible practice, or a messed up performance. He would...choke me...during..." She swallowed thickly, looking back down at her feet. "It sort of slowed down when I turned eighteen. I'd started touring, met Roger...and Gator," she sighed, gesturing to the seething man still leaning against the door. "Plus, Preston was giving him trouble. He ran away or something." "To New York," Edward added, and she nodded. "Yeah, he'd gotten arrested for something to do with his girlfriend," she gasped, gaping up at him like he was reading her mind. "Ike didn't touch me while I was on tour, because Gator became my personal bodyguard. And I moved in with Roger soon after we got married. However, once he found out

about my filing for divorce, he started to blackmail me. Said he'd tell the world that the famous Kyra Bailey had slept her way into a recording contract if I didn't keep quiet, because he started again. It all snowballed at the USO tour," she murmured, giving Edward a quick glance. "That's why he hated Edward," Cassie surmised, her mouth hanging open. "Not because of Edward himself, but because he was..." "Yeah, taking what he considered to be his." Kyra nodded. "Well, that and the fact that he was terrified of Edward. He was uncomfortable in Afghanistan as it was, but Edward threatened him, told him if he didn't play nice that he'd find himself in the middle of the desert or even worse, the middle of the fighting." Edward smirked, shrugging one shoulder at Esme's tsk, but she was fighting her smile. "What?" he asked her. "Nothing. Please go on, Kyra," she urged gently. "By then, I'd figured out that if I was dating someone or working, Ike left me alone. I also noticed I wasn't the only one he was...bothering. There were others," she stated, gesturing a thumb toward my office, but she finally looked up at Edward. "I'm sorry, Edward. I'm sorry I panicked when we parted ways. I wanted so badly for him to stop. I thought maybe if you...if we..." "I get it," he sighed, holding up his hand, and I could see that he just didn't want to hear the details. "You were my last shot," she stated sadly. "After that, I tried to avoid him. In fact, I almost quit the business, but he wouldn't let me. So I stayed busy. He left me alone while I filmed two movies, recorded another album, and worked the Oscar circus bullshit," she sighed, almost in relief. "By then, I was drinking heavily, dating around, and just...busy." "Why didn't you tell someone, K?" Gator asked, kneeling back down beside her. "She couldn't," I muttered, my fingers gripping my hair, because her story was fucking eerily familiar. She was tortured, although in a different way, but I understood it. A warm, strong arm slipped around me as I gazed at my feet. "She felt weak and used. And I'm sure Ike was still holding his threat above her head. Who would everyone believe? The young talent with a drinking problem?

Or the music mogul who had made millions producing the biggest and the brightest?" "Exactly," Kyra breathed, gaping at me. "I just wanted to pretend..." "That it didn't happen," I finished for her, sitting up straight to look at her as she nodded, because I had a theory. "Ike flipped the fuck out when he found out about you and Preston, didn't he? Ike blames you, but something else happened, didn't it?" "Yeah," she whispered with a nod. "Preston figured it all out, once I tried to end things with him. Everything. The two of them didn't have just a 'falling out,' like Ike said. It was a huge fight. Preston assumed it was consensual, so he hated us both. He'd never stood up to his dad before, but he did then, and it almost got him killed. Ike just about beat him to death, because Preston wouldn't stop. He was already upset that we'd broken up, but he was so possessive of me that he just didn't want to believe it." "Ike's currently being questioned about that girl you said was named Molly," I stated, still not ready to face her request to continue her case. "What do you know about her?" "Not much," she said with a shrug. "She worked with Preston and Ike, but I thought they'd dropped her. It happened a lot in the business. The talent was either there, or it wasn't. The powers that be either loved you or hated you. I wasn't living at Ike's then. I was already out, living in my own house, when I wasn't on a movie set or touring." I studied her expression, not knowing whether to believe her anymore. She never quite told the complete truth, but it was Cassie that called her on it. "You can understand why they're a little wary, Kyra," she murmured. "You've not exactly been a model citizen around here." Edward snorted, shook his head, and looked to me with a hidden raised eyebrow from the rest of the room. I had to fight my smile at Cassie's sugar coating of things and at my husband's expression, but I squeezed his hand. However, it was with an almost stone, cold face that he turned back to her. "Of all the people in this room, I would've just...understood, Kyra. You could've just told me, or even that you were just fucking scared and needed my help. There

was no need for any of your...actions. I'm not sure what you want from me. And I'm not sure if I can ignore how you've disrespected my wife, my kids, and me." He grimaced a bit before going on. "I'll apologize again for my actions back then, if that's what you want, but had I known what this bastard was doing, I could've done something about it. He would've been...stopped." Esme and I flinched, because we knew what he truly meant by the word "stopped." Edward was just like Carlisle, and sometimes, they used the same intonations with their words. She and I knew that it was quite possible that Ike Raulson would've met his demise in the middle of a desert. And no one would've thought twice about it, because it was a war. "I know! I'm sorry," she breathed, tears filling her eyes and flowing down her face. "Kyra, tell him," Esme urged her gently. "Tell him what you told me." "The last time Ike..." She huffed a deep breath, but her crying was too thick. "We were at my house. We'd found out that Solstice was being bought by Twi Tech. He told me that Carlisle Cullen was personally overseeing the transition and that no one's job was safe. Teri was there, and she was excited about the change, but Ike looked sick, because he told us that every talent was going to be interviewed." She hiccupped a bit, swallowed, and went on. "I told Teri that I wanted to try recording in Seattle, that a new city, a new studio, and a different sound would be a good thing, but I knew then that Carlisle was your dad." Kyra paused swiping at her face, but took a handkerchief from Gator when he offered it. "Go on," Edward said softly. "That night, Ike was awful. He threatened to out me for the whore that I was. He told me that his son's behavior was all my fault, and he choked me so hard that I blacked out. I thought he was going to kill me," she sobbed, but took no comfort from either Cassie or Gator. "The only thing I could think of was to get to your dad and find you," she finally blurted out to Edward. "Damn, honey," Gator groaned, giving Edward a worried glance, but quickly wrapped her up in his arms. "How could you believe him? We would've backed you up, Kyra," he stated, gesturing between himself and Cassie, who was nodding.

"Because when you're told something enough times, you start to believe it," I stated softly, thinking how I'd been pretty sure that Miller would rape me and kill me and no one would know, simply because he'd taken the opportunity to tell me that every chance he fucking got. I'd been convinced I was going to die alone in that basement. Edward gazed at me, his face unreadable as he reached up and tucked my hair behind my ear, but we both looked up when Kyra exploded. "I didn't know what to do! I'm so sorry to both of you!" she sobbed hysterically. "All I could think of was that I needed Edward to make Ike go away. I needed him to make them both go away. I couldn't take it anymore. The only time they left me alone was when I was dating someone, and I couldn't think of any other way. I thought if they knew you were back in my life, they'd back off. I didn't mean any of it. I didn't want you that way, but you were the only one that truly scared him, Edward." She turned her gaze to me. "I'm so sorry, Bella. I didn't mean it. I don't have feelings for him, but I panicked. Ike called me this morning after that talk over the phone in the office. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone the truth, because he knew Carlisle was about to ask me about Solstice. I freaked out. I needed Edward to be with me." I sighed, because her fear was palpable, like it was another being in the room. And it explained everything every angry snap, every fight, every flirty statement especially because it had escalated once Ike had flown in from California. It all made sense, because she'd thought that Edward was the same person he was back then, but he wasn't. He'd changed, and nothing she did could break his hold on me, on his kids. Her last desperate attempt had backfired, because not only had Bethy interrupt her, but it had earned my fist to her face, along with the muzzle of my gun. But her sweaty forehead, her heavy breathing, her now endless tears...they told me more of the truth than anything else. She was fucking scared to death...of everything. "She didn't know any different," Esme said explained softly, her gaze directed at me. "It's what's always worked, so she used it however futile it was. With any other man, it might've worked like a charm, but not with Edward. Anytime anyone she was dating got too close to the truth, she ended things." "Oh," Edward and I said at the same time, looking back to Kyra, who was now wrapped up by Cassie and Gator.

They spoke quietly to her, but Esme got up and sat beside me, glancing between me and Edward. "She's a mess. Emotionally, she's probably a decade behind where she should be, so all of these games she's been playing made sense to her. She didn't say anything about her abuse to you," she said, giving me a pointed look, "because you intimidate her. Not because you're running the case, or even Edward's wife and the mother of his children, but because you survived something awful, and she didn't think she would. While you still experience some panic attacks, you're light years ahead of her, and she doesn't think she's that strong. She's still convinced Ike, or even Preston, will get to her." I turned to look at Edward, who was wearing the familiar face of anger and control as he gazed at the three people on the other side of the room. He looked like he wanted to hit something. "Hey," I called to him, turning his face my way. "Calm down, just for a minute, okay?" I asked him, because I knew for a fucking fact that there wasn't a force on God's green Earth that would stop him once we left this room. He was going for Raulson, no matter what. He nodded, but turned his attention to Esme. "You believe her?" "Every word," she vowed. "I recognized the signs of a panic attack this morning. I'd seen her do something similar before. She needs extensive therapy...and medication. She's probably a razor's edge away from suicidal. If her faith is in you, then I'm asking you to continue the case, because she's determined to work, and Wes won't allow it. It's part of her OCD constantly working, constantly performing to perfection. If she works, then everything is okay. If working keeps her focused and calm, I see no harm in it...as long as she's protected from Preston and under my guidance." Edward looked to me, his beautiful green eyes full of only one silent question. Did we continue the case? I sighed, giving Kyra one more glance. She was watching us, practically holding her breath and wringing her hands in her lap. Gone was the pop diva, the pretentious star. She wasn't even looking to Edward for the answer; she was looking to me, because she knew it was ultimately my call.

I stood up and walked to her. "He would've done it for you, you know. All you had to do was be honest," I told her. "He would've acted the part, pretended to be with you. It's something we do when catching cheaters. It's not his favorite thing, but he would've done it," I snickered, smiling at Edward's chuckle behind me. "Things are different now." "I'd never told anyone," she whispered, sniffling a bit. "It's easier to keep it inside," I agreed, nodding a bit, "but you don't have to be afraid of Ike anymore." "You can't know that," she breathed, shaking her head profusely, and her eyes darted toward the window. "Oh, yeah, I do," I chuckled, turning to Edward. "Baby, why don't you go ask Mr. Raulson why he's threatening our client? I'm sure Wes would like to know." Edward's grin was a mixture of pure wickedness and childlike gratefulness. He stood up from the sofa and walked to me, dropping a kiss to the side of my head. "Yes, ma'am," he grunted softly into my hair. He turned to Kyra. "No more games, Kyra?" he asked her, raising an eyebrow at her. "I mean it. No more bullshit, no more lying...and you owe my daughter an apology for this morning." "No, Edward," she sighed, shaking her head. "I know I don't deserve your forgiveness...from either of you, but..." She paled, glancing out the window. "Are you really going to ask him?" she whispered. "Yes," he huffed, reaching for her hand, "and you're going to watch." "What? No! He'll kill me!" she argued, tears welling up in her eyes, and I reached for her other hand. "Kyra, stop," I hissed in her ear. "He wants to show you what happens when the monster gets called out. Come...I'll be right next to you the whole time," I promised her. Edward yanked open the door, and the office came to a standstill. "Em, Alec, Jazz...on me. Now!" he ordered, and not one of those men questioned him.

They all stood up, pulling their weapons from their shoulder holsters or the small of their backs, immediately following him out the door and into the yard. Ike Raulson paled when he saw what was coming for him, and Wes turned to see what had caught his attention. "Em, grab his shoulder," Edward ordered, and they snatched the older man up from the picnic bench, practically throwing him into the thick tree trunk at the base of Bethy's tree house. "Ed...what are you..." Wes started, but Edward held up a hand and turned to Ike. "Oh," he chuckled darkly, "I always knew you were a piece of shit, Raulson." Edward wrapped his hand around the man's throat and squeezed. "Sucks, don't it? When you can't breathe?" he asked him, and then leaned in. "I know all about you, you know. I know you like to smack people around, talk trash, rape young girls," he growled low. "Did you think I wouldn't find out?" Ike's eyes went wide, and he tried to gasp for air, but Edward squeezed just a little bit harder. But when his eyes landed on Kyra, three guns engaged in his face Jasper's, Alec's, and now Gator's. Emmett, however, smacked his face open handed. Hard. "Ed's talkin' to you, dude. I'd pay attention to the guy that could order your death," he advised, though his sarcastic tone was loud and clear. "You're done, asshole," Edward continued. "No more threats, no more job, no more music." "Ooh," Emmett chuckled, putting a hand to his ear. "Do I hear the fat lady singing?" Kyra huffed a laugh, because damn it, Emmett just took everything in stride. "Kyra!" he rasped, and Edward squeezed his throat tighter. "What did you tell them? You can't possibly believe anything she says!" "I know you threatened her just this morning," Edward stated, wearing a smug as hell smile. "I have proof of it, because every single call that goes through Kyra's phone is recorded. We set it up that way when she arrived here."

Edward brought his hand back and let it fly open handed across the man's face. "Every video in your recording studio is now being analyzed by my team and the FBI, so by the time they're done, no one will believe you over her. You like beating up on people, then take your best shot, Ike. Let's go." Edward backed away, and so did Emmett, but Raulson only stayed leaning against that tree. His legs shook, his hands shook, and he didn't move an inch from that tree. My husband chuckled, shaking his head. "Wes," he called over his shoulder. "You're going to take this asshole away from me, or his body will disappear in those woods," he stated, jerking a chin toward the surrounding forests. "Sure, man. What are we arresting him for?" Wes asked, stepping closer and pulling out handcuffs. "Rape, assault, attempted murder, and whatever else you feel like tacking on," Edward answered him in a sneer, but leaned into Ike's face so that they were practically nose to nose. "I should've left you in the fucking desert years ago." "She asked for it!" Ike snapped, and suddenly a fourth and fifth gun from Emmett and Edward were being pointed in his face. "She was unfocused and scattered without me! She was so easily distracted. She needed me to make sure she paid attention. She needed my guidance, or she would've never made it in this business. Without me, she would've been nothing!" "She was a fucking child!" Edward growled low, his face a fiery ire. "Kids are supposed to unfocused, scattered, and easily distracted! You outweigh her by what...eighty pounds? You're twenty years older than her? Did women your own age see you for what you really were? A fucking pig? Did you choke your ex-wives? Abuse your other children? Because you've done a fine job with Preston." Edward started to walk away, but he turned back to Ike. "Oh, and for the record, I will hunt your son down. And I'm going to tell him all about you. I'm going to tell him just what his dad really did to the girl that broke his heart. And then?" He grinned, chuckling just a bit. "Then I'm going to call in a few favors and make sure you two are in the same cell together." With that, Edward turned to his boys. "Stand down. This is Wes' arrest."

"Ike Raulson, you have the right to remain silent..." Wes started, and that was when Ike's true character came out, because he started to sob like a child, like an emotional woman after watching a sappy movie. Kyra watched with an open mouth as her tormentor broke down in front of her eyes. He was nothing more than a whining, pleading, blubbering mess by the time Wes marched him by us. Esme wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders, because the reality of the situation was hitting Kyra hard. I knew from experience that the feeling of watching your captor, your worst nightmare, get broken down to nothing can be overwhelming. The monster goes from larger than life to a sniveling cockroach in the blink of an eye. "I'm going to give you something to help you sleep, Kyra," she whispered to her. "It's been a really tough day, but you did really well." Edward walked by, his face still dark and angry, and Kyra went to say something to him, but I stopped her. "Not yet," I whispered, shaking my head. "You have no idea the restraint he just used. He's still...volatile. You can talk to him after you've slept and he's calmed down." I knew Edward well enough to know that it had taken everything within him not to kill Ike on the spot, because Ike was the lowest of criminals in Edward's eyes. I'm sure there were a ton of factors that helped him focus, one of which was the fact that his kids were just inside the house. The other might have been the Feds' presence. "Right now," Esme sighed, "the only one that can get through to him is Bella." "Well, then, thank him for me," Kyra whispered through her tears. "I will," I vowed. Before Esme could lead her away, she turned to me. "How'd you get through it? How'd you not just...give up?" she asked me. I smiled, looking around my yard. Edward was opening up his woodshed, his boys nearby, but not bothering him. My girls were leaning in the office doorway, and glancing up at my front porch, I could see Carlisle leaning there as he assessed the situation. I finally looked to Esme, who was smiling warmly at me, because she probably knew what I was about to say.

"Them," I stated firmly, gesturing to everyone. "All of them. They made me talk, made me get it out, and made me see that I'd survived. I wasn't weak, and he didn't take the best part of me." I gestured to Cassie and Gator. "I'm pretty sure you've got the same support system. Just ask them." Her friends nodded profusely, and I smiled. "Get some rest. This will hit you a bit tomorrow, I'm sure. And you've got a show to prepare for." "'Kay," she whispered, looking to Esme. I turned away from them, because I had to go calm my husband down. I walked to the shed, waving off the boys, but flinched at the banging from inside the workshop. I went straight in, leaning on the closest workbench to Edward. He'd already tugged his shirt off over his head and tossed it into the corner. I stayed quiet as he lifted a rather larger, but very beautiful piece of what looked like maple onto his sawhorses. I would be willing to bet it was going to be the top of Bethy's desk. "I wanted to kill him," I heard him seethe as he kept his back to me. "I know," I sighed, pushing myself up onto the bench. "I'm not sure I would blame you, but..." "If I'd known," he growled, finally glancing up at me, "he would've never laid a hand on anyone again." I frowned, but nodded. "He'd been hurting her, threatening her for years. She knew nothing better than to hide it, Edward. She was just a kid when he started. I'm not sure how Esme got her to tell it now." I waved him to me, and he came willingly. Pulling him between my legs, I cupped his still angry face, but it slowly softened as he wrapped his arms around me. I pulled at him until his forehead fell to mine. "You didn't know, baby. And she wanted it that way. It's not your fault."

He let out a deep breath, pulling back to drop a heavy kiss to my forehead. "I love you," he murmured against my skin. "You're the bestest in the whole wide world," I teased him, smiling when he snorted, but he broke out into a sexy crooked smile. "Yeah?" "Yeah." I sighed, brushing my lips across his. "I'm a very lucky woman."

EDWARD
"Edward," Alice called from behind me as I yanked the ties through the eyes of the tarp covering my chopper. "I'm going to record the whole show tonight. The arena is letting me tap into their feed. But I was wondering if you boys will wear cameras, too." "Sure, pixie," I grunted, tugging one tarp down and tossing it aside. "I'm sure that's no problem." "Um...what happened in that office?" she asked softly, and she was suddenly at my side. I pulled the other tarp away, gathering them up to stash behind my woodshed. I turned back to her, because Kyra had given permission to let the whole crew and the Feds know what happened. "You mean...you didn't record it, Ali?" I teased her, knowing the whole damn office was wired for fucking sound. "I did," she said with a cheesy grin. "Then go listen to it," I said, waving a hand at her. "It's not my story to tell, and I'm not sure I could repeat it if I wanted to." "That bad?" she gasped. "That bad." I rubbed my face, because my sleep had been for shit, but I had to ready my chopper, set up teams for that night's show, and make Bethy's and Sammy's breakfast and lunch. "In fact, have everyone listen so that we're all on

the same page. And you'll treat it with the utmost care and professionalism, Alice," I ordered, raising an eyebrow at her I knew those girls were still thinking that Kyra was trying to come between me and Bella, and while their loyalty was always appreciated, it was now a moot point. Once Ike had been arrested, I'd calmed down, and Kyra had been given something to help her sleep, we'd called it a night without explanation, so I knew they were about to go out of their minds with curiosity. "Yeah, got it," she murmured, but stopped before walking away. "You should know that so far, there is no mention of Ike Raulson's arrest. It's probably because it was here...out of the public eye," she surmised, and I nodded, opening the side door of my chopper. "Also, you should hear that final call from Ike to Kyra. I have it on my..." "No, I shouldn't," I snorted, rolling my eyes. "It was all I could do not to kill him in my own fucking front yard." Alice giggled, and it was just as comforting as Bella's laugh, so I couldn't help but smile back at her. "He threatened her, yes?" I verified. "Yeah. He did." "So she was telling the truth." "Yes, she was," Alice sighed. "Guess I'd better go hear that whole story, right?" she asked, grimacing at the thought. "Right," I grunted, pulling myself up into the pilot's seat as she walked back to Gravity's office. I checked my gauges, hopped down, started to fuel her up, and made sure all was ready to go for that night. I was lost in thought, when the best sound piped up from behind me. "Morning, Daddy," Bethy sang, and I turned to see her already dressed for school.

"Morning, little sweetness," I chuckled, because she was just picture perfect in sunshine yellow. Two loose braids fell over each shoulder, and my baby girl was once again in overalls. "What are you doing out here?" "Mommy sent me," she answered, climbing up into the pilot's seat. "Where are we going?" "You aren't going this time, baby," I sighed, standing up beside her. "I've got to work tonight." "Miss Kywa's singing, wight?" she asked, grabbing onto the control stick, like she was flying. "Right, smart girl," I chuckled, feeling my bad mood slowly ebb away as I pressed a kiss to the side of her head. "And believe me, I'll miss my favorite copilot." I pulled myself inside, picked her up, and settled her on my lap with her back to my chest. "Tell me...is she fueled up?" One tiny finger traced over the gauges, finally tapping the fuel gauge. "Yup!" Bethy chirped, grinning at my nod of approval. "I want to fly somewhere wif you, Daddy," she stated, but she sounded commanding, just like I had a tendency to do. I grinned, wrapping my arms around her in a squeezing bear hug. "Oh, yeah? And where do you want to go?" I asked, chuckling into her neck. A tiny shoulder shrugged up, but she giggled. "Disneyland!" I laughed, shaking my head. "You want me to land this thing right in front of Cinderella's castle?" "Yeah!" she cheered, nodding fervently, and her sweet eyes were the brightest of green. "You're silly," I chuckled, kissing her cheek with a loud, sloppy raspberry. "Now...why did Mommy send you out here?" "She said both her boys were cranky and that she needed my help," she told me, turning around to give me an assessing look. "You don't look cranky now, Daddy." "No, not now," I sighed, kissing her forehead. "What's wrong with Sammy?"

Bethy shrugged a shoulder, so I told her to hold on to my neck, and I swung us down to the landing pad and set her on her feet so that I could close up the chopper. We walked into the house to find a very unhappy Sammy sitting in his highchair and my wife looking a touch worried as she fixed herself a cup of coffee. I gripped Bethy by the overall straps and lifted her up level to her mother's face. "I found this outside. Should we keep her?" I asked, smirking at Bethy's giggle. "Yes, and she needs to eat," Bella chuckled, wrapping her arms around our daughter and walking her to a stool. "Daddy," Sammy whimpered, looking up at me with big, brown, sad eyes and a frown that was almost comical. He was so fucking cute, but obviously unhappy as he reached for me. "Hey, what's this?" I soothed him, scooping him up into my arms, but when I kissed his forehead, he was burning up. "He's" "Got a fever," Bella finished for me as she plated toast and eggs for Bethy. "Yeah, I know. I've got to keep him home from Mrs. Cope's today." It was obvious Samuel didn't feel well, because he kept rubbing his ears, his eyes, and his nose as I sat him on my lap. Bella set down a glass of juice in front of us, checking Sammy's forehead again, only to replace her hand with her lips. She frowned, sitting next to us and offering him some juice, which took some coaxing on her part to get him to drink. "I've given him something for the fever, which, as you can tell, made him extremely unhappy," Bella muttered wryly. "I'm waiting for Esme to get here so I can take Bethy to school," she sighed. "I've got Bethy," I offered. "I'll even drop Caleb off when Rose and Em get here." I kissed Sammy's clammy little hand and made him look at me. "What hurts, buddy? Point to it." He rubbed his eyes again, but tugged on his ear. He reached for his mother, and she curled him to her, laying his head on her shoulder. "I'm sure it's just a cold," Bella soothed, running her fingers through his hair. "He's been sneezing. And Mrs. Cope said the virus was going around." The

combination of her soothing touches, the cold medicine, and Bella's constant soft voice was lulling him back to sleep. I leaned in to kiss his cheek, whispering, "Love you, big guy. You've got the best seat in the house. Eat it up." Bella giggled, which caused one small flicker of a smile to creep up my son's face. He put a finger in his mouth and closed his eyes. Tilting her chin, I brushed a kiss across Bella's lips. "Thank you," I whispered, kissing her again. "For what?" "For the little ray of sunshine you sent out this morning," I chuckled, raising an eyebrow at her. "Yes, well... You had some pretty bad dreams last night," she explained, kissing my cheek, only to cup it with her free hand. "I had my own cranky guy to contend with," she snickered, rubbing Sammy's back. I nodded, turning to Bethy. "Let's go, little sergeant!" I grunted, pointing toward her room. "Teeth brushed, backpack, lunch...go, go, go!" I chanted, grinning when she scrambled off the stool with a giggle and ran down the hall. By the time I returned back home from dropping both kids off, the place was filled with activity. But my father met me halfway across the yard. "We have a situation," he stated, shaking his head and waving away my instant frown. "It's not a huge deal, except maybe to you." "Tell me." "Kyra has asked if Esme could join her tonight," he sighed, grimacing, and I assumed at that point, my stepmom had told him everything. "Which leaves no one to watch the kids." "What about Sarah?" I suggested, because Alec's wife and the mother to Abby was always willing to pitch in.

"She can't," he told me. "She's visiting her mother in Olympia," he said, grimacing again, "which leads me to your son. He's pretty much holding your wife hostage." I laughed and groaned at the same time. "So what you're saying is Bella's sitting this out," I snorted, but then sighed in frustration, running a hand through my hair as he nodded slowly. "Shit," I hissed, shaking my head. "Is she pissed?" "I don't think she's had time to even think about it, son," my dad replied, gripping my shoulder. "Go check on them. Eleazar has offered to take her place at your side, so Alec's about to go over your plan. We'll wait on you. Everyone's already in the office." "Yes, sir," I muttered, walking into my house to find Sammy holding his own against his mother in the stubborn department. "No, Mommy!" he wailed, but I could hear the cold had finally hit full force. He was coughing, sniffling, and sounded like all around hell. I walked into the living room to see the coffee table piled with tissues, both used and new, children's cold medicine, toys, remote for the TV which currently had a cartoon movie playing low and an open jar of that smelly shit that you rubbed on chests to help them breathe better. It was that last thing that my wife was trying to apply, but was losing the battle, because Sammy didn't want to be set down. "Damn, I was only gone an hour. The place looks like a bomb went off," I chuckled, but shut up when she shot me a hateful look. "Okay, okay. Hang on." I walked to them, kneeling beside the couch. "Come here, big guy. Let Mommy put the medicine on you," I told him, but he shook his head no. "No, don't want it!" he growled, but then broke into a cough and finally a sneeze. "He's truly your child today," Bella muttered, rolling her eyes at my laugh, but she bent to his ear. "Sammy, what if I hold you while Daddy puts the stuff on? Okay?"

Sammy hiccuped, nodded, and sniffled, and I felt so bad for him, because he truly must've been feeling rotten. Normally, he was an easy going kid, but yeah, when he felt bad, he was me made over. I grabbed up the jar and groaned dramatically at the smell of it, just to hear a small giggle escape my son and to see a sweet smile around the two fingers he was sucking on. "Now...let's see... Where to put it..." I mused, giving him a raised eyebrow once I had that shit on my fingers. "Here?" I asked, lifting his arm and going for the armpit. "No!" he huffed, jerking his arm back down. "How 'bout here?" I asked, aiming for the bottom of his foot. "No, Daddy!" he said, laughing in spite of it all and curling his pudgy toes away from me. "Here!" he rasped, lifting his t-shirt. I tsked at him, shaking my head. "See? I knew you'd know what to do..." I sighed dramatically and slowly rubbed the stuff across his chest. Bella practically sagged in relief, pressing a kiss to the side of Sammy's head, and I couldn't help but let tickling fingers wander, just to hear one more giggle. She grinned, settling back into the couch and keeping Sammy's back to her chest. I got up, sitting down next to them and dropping an arm behind Bella. "Seems we have a problem, sweetness," I murmured, kissing her temple. "Esme feels obligated to help Kyra tonight, and this little guy needs you," I said, running a hand flat over his head. He was still burning up. "I know," she whispered against the top of Sammy's head as he stared almost unseeingly at the TV, but at least he was breathing a little easier. "If this wasn't something you and Alec couldn't do in your sleep, I'd figure out a way to go, but this is your specialty." "El's coming with us, and probably Felix, too," I told her. Shifting Sammy to her other shoulder so she could lean closer to me, she narrowed her eyes on me. "I'm going to listen to every second of this thing," she stated, pointing a finger at me.

"Absolutely," I agreed with a nod, kissing the tip of her finger. "I'd prefer it that way. In fact, can you patch in from here? Can we set the girls up in the house? I want you on info lead." She sighed, pressing her lips to Sammy's temple. "Fine, tell Alice to start setting up in here when you guys finish, ask Rose to go get Caleb and Bethy when school is out, and you, mister..." she commanded softly, pulling my chin until she could kiss me. "Tell me your plan every detail and then go get everyone ready." I grinned, kissing her fully, pressing my forehead to hers. "Yes, ma'am."

CHAPTER twelve BELLA


"No, Mommy!" Samuel growled, pushing my hand away. My poor boy was way too much like his father sometimes. When he didn't feel good, he was an absolute bear to live with. It reminded me of when Edward had been shot in the leg; he'd been miserable to deal with for weeks into his recuperation. And Samuel really felt like shit. His fever was still there, his nose was stuffy, and his cough was deep. Add in a sore throat and probably ringing ears, and he was just a mess. It always amazed me how a cold could go from a scratchy throat to the full blown misery within hours, but it did. "Samuel Masen," I chided, barely with any authority, because his sad, miserable little face was just killing me. "Take this medicine, and I'll give you an ice pop. Okay?" I asked him, because I knew he'd go for it. The frozen treats were the only thing he was really wanting, because they were probably soothing his throat, and I wanted him to have the liquids. He'd barely eaten his lunch, and he'd taken a small nap, but he was due for medicine, and that would knock him out again, I was sure. Oh, the pitiful face! Big, watery brown eyes gazed up at me as he pushed out his trembling bottom lip. He rubbed at his eyes, nose, and head, finally opening his mouth for the grape-flavored syrup. I set him in his highchair, grabbed an ice pop from the freezer, and handed it over. He popped it into his mouth, still looking at me like I was betraying him, but I kissed the top of his head. "I'm so sorry, handsome," I sighed into his hair. "I'm sorry you feel bad." "Yeah," he whimpered, rubbing his nose again and popping the cold treat back into his mouth. I turned around to see Alice and Makenna traipsing through my screen door, their arms filled with equipment. I gestured to the kitchen, because it would be easier to set up all the monitors. Plus, it would be the farthest room away from

Samuel's, because as soon as the medicine kicked in, he was getting tucked into bed. I was hoping that his fever would break soon. Rose had already left to go get Caleb and Bethy. I'd worried that she wouldn't want Caleb exposed to Sammy's cold, but she said the whole daycare was riddled with it. He'd already been exposed. Plus, both kids would be a big help once they got there, because Sammy wasn't so clingy when he had another boy in the house. "Oh, my little minion," Alice chortled sadly, taking Sammy's face in her hands once she set her things down. "You look rough, little dude," she told him, kissing his forehead and wincing at the heat of it. "Yeah," he groaned back sadly, but his attention was on his ice pop. "Where do we stand?" she asked me. "Kyra and Cassie are getting ready. Edward's dressed, but I think they're all going over some last minute things," I told her, pointing out the kitchen window. Outside was a small army in black. It was what they always wore on these types of missions black cargo pants, black long-sleeved t-shirts, black military grade boots, black baseball caps, and shoulder holsters. They were intimidating, larger than life, and completely professional at this point. "Well, they're putting on the cameras and earpieces I just gave them," Makenna answered. "We're going to do a test of it all as soon as Rose gets back." "Perfect," I sighed, helping them set up. Sammy stayed pretty quiet as we worked around him. As long as he was in the room with me, he was good, but he was fighting that cold medicine like a warrior. Once everything was up and live, I pulled my son out of his highchair. "Come on, baby. Let's get you in bed," I crooned to him, and even though his eyes were heavy lidded and he was yawning, he shook his head no. "No, don't want bed!" he argued weakly, his tears starting anew.

I smiled at him, because what else could I do? He was miserable and so very stubborn. I sat down in our rocking recliner and set him straddling my lap. He fought and cried, and he coughed and sniffled. I took a tissue that was handed to me, looking up to see Kyra looking down at us with sympathy. "Thanks," I said, wiping at Samuel's nose. "You look like you could use about ten other arms right about now," she chuckled, and I grinned up at her. She was dressed pretty casually, but she'd mentioned her costumes arrived to the arena early. In fact, Felix, Wes, and Kurt were already there with a few federal agents going through it all, not to mention setting up a plan with security. She was holding a guitar case in her hand, but set it down on the sofa. Kyra had woken up after her freeing conversation the day before with a fairly calm attitude. I'd have been willing to bet she and Cassie had talked until whatever Esme had given her had kicked in. She was almost a different person lighter, quicker to smile, and obviously still a little wary of me, but she was trying. She had been extremely amenable to the plan of flying in and had Cassie call in her makeup and wardrobe crew to be at the ready for when she arrived. Gator had taken over that call, telling everyone to stop Preston Raulson if he was spotted, or call him immediately. "How do you do it?" she snickered softly, shaking her head. "Work and those guys?" I grinned and shrugged. "We always have. Bethy showed up at our busiest time, and this guy a few years later. We have great babysitters, but he's not having them today. And he's way too much like Edward." She chuckled, pointing to him as he fought laying his head on my shoulder. "I see that." She opened her case and pulled out a beautiful natural wood acoustic guitar. "Mind if I try to help?" she asked softly, wincing when Sammy's crying didn't stop, no matter how much I soothed and rocked him. "It's something my dad did for me when I was a kid."

At that point, I'd have taken anything, so I nodded. It didn't take three notes plucked on that guitar for Sammy to sniffle and turn to look at her. He didn't stop crying right away, but he watched her, hiccupping occasionally and finally laying his head on my shoulder. She sang Smile, an older song, but damn, if it wasn't beautiful. She truly had the voice of an angel, and I could see the memories behind the song glimmer across her face, because the lyrics were about pushing through the tough shit and smiling through it all when you couldn't do anything about it. She jerked a chin my way to tell me that Sammy was just...gone. Out. By the time the last note was echoing through a silent house, my son was so asleep that his fingers were twitching against my neck. "Wow," Makenna breathed, and Kyra and I looked up to see just about the whole crew watching, including Gator and Cassie, the latter of whom was fighting her smile. Edward walked quietly into the room, kneeling beside the chair, and ran a hand over his son's head, but we both looked up when Bethy walked up to Kyra, because apparently, Rose had returned with the kids while she was singing. "That was pretty," my daughter noted softly, tilting her head at Kyra. "Thank you, sweetie," Kyra stated, and I noted, with true sincerity. She set the guitar down, but reached up to play with a lock of my daughter's hair. "Bethy, I'm really sorry for yesterday," she whispered, but I realized that it was just loud enough that every single person could hear her. And just like I'd expected, Bethy beamed like the sunniest of days. "It's okay. Don't be scared. Daddy will catch the bad guy." I snickered, careful not to wake Sammy, but I leaned over and kissed Edward's cheek, because he was looking at his daughter like he wanted to smooch her to pieces. "Can I tell you a secret?" Kyra whispered conspiratorially to her. "What?" Bethy whispered back, her eyes wide and expectant. "He's already caught one of them," she told her, again in a whisper, only this time, tears glistened in her eyes when she said it, and I could tell that the removal of Ike out of her life was still a bit shocking for her.

Bethy grinned, giggling a little when she turned to her dad. "Yeah?" Edward shook his head, rolled his eyes, and waved his daughter to him, because praise embarrassed my husband. "Come here, silly girl. Give me 'mooches, because I've got to go to work." He stood up with her in his arms as he started their tradition. "Love you," he told her. "Love you, too, Daddy," she said, kissing his puckered lips. "Be safe!" "Always," he vowed with a firm nod and a dramatically furrowed brow. "Take extra special care of Mommy and Sammy for me while I'm gone, little sergeant. Got me?" he grunted, raising an eyebrow at her. "Yes, sir!" she grunted right back, trying to salute him. "I think everyone else needs good luck, little sweetness," he told her. "Poppy and your uncles need their goodbyes," he snickered, setting her on her feet. She scampered off with a grin, giving love to everyone, and Kyra chuckled as she watched her. But we all stopped when she got to Gator, who knelt in front of her. "Do you want good luck too, Mr. Gator?" she asked him, again tilting her head and biting on her bottom lip just like I did. His smile could have lit up the entire city of Seattle, but he recovered quickly, obviously deciding to tease her. "I don't know," he mused, rubbing his chin. "Is this like...for sure, hands down, flaw-free, the best there ever was...good luck?" he asked her. "Yup, yup, yup!" she chanted just like Alice, who giggled from the kitchen. "Hmm," he mused again, narrowing his eyes at her. "Guess I can't go wrong then, huh?" "Nope!" she giggled, because by now, she'd picked up on the fact that he was messing with her. "Do you want the 'mooch or not?" she asked him, rolling her eyes at the chuckles around the room.

Gator's happy, bright blue eyes snapped up to Edward. "God, she's so your kid," he told him, which caused Edward to laugh. He turned back to Bethy. "Okay, plant one...right here," he said, pointing to his cheek. Bethy smiled, leaned in, and gave him his kiss. "There you go!" "I feel luckier already," he snorted, shaking his head. I stood up from the rocking chair, shifting an unconscious Sammy higher on my shoulder. "Hey, superhero," I teased Edward. "Come tuck your son in with me." "Shut it, sweetness," he chuckled, but followed me down the hall. Sammy barely stirred when I tucked him under the covers, but Edward bent down, kissing his son's heated forehead. "Feel better, pal. Love you." He stood back up and faced me. "Think he'll be okay?" he asked me, pulling me into his arms. "Yeah, Esme looked him over," I told him. "And Rose said the kids at Mrs. Cope's were usually back after a few days. They both think the fever will break by morning." I could see Edward's worry, but we'd been through many colds, a ton of tummy viruses, and a case of the chicken pox with Bethy when she was two. It was old hat to us, but it didn't stop the worry. After tearing his lingering gaze from his son, he turned to me. "I want your sexy as hell voice in my ear as much as possible tonight," he crooned, brushing his lips across mine. I smiled against his lips. "Can't talk dirty to you while everyone's listening, baby," I sighed, giving him a chiding look. He grinned, dragging his tongue across his bottom lip. "Damn," he groaned, rolling his eyes. "You'd think they'd be used to it by now. None of us are innocent of it." I laughed, burying the sound in his chest in order to not disturb Samuel. "That's very true," I chuckled, looking back up at him.

We all were pretty hilarious over the radio. It was a way to break the tension, keep each other focused, and settle our fears, no matter how trivial the case was. We talked trash, teased, and flirted with our spouses. "I'm sorry I'm not going," I sighed, giving Samuel a quick glance. "I'm not. He needs you more than I do today," Edward stated, his brow wrinkling a bit. "Don't get me wrong... No one has my back like you do, but I have the whole crew with me and you girls in my ear." I smiled, kissing him quickly. "Yeah, the angels on your shoulder, as Alec likes to call us," I chuckled. "Exactly," he said, pointing to the camera on his shoulder. "This your idea?" "Yeah," I said with a nod. "I need to see every angle in addition to the security feed from the arena. Rose and Mack are watching that, while Alice and I will watch you guys and take the thermal, if needed." "Got it," he grunted, reaching up to cup my face. "Constant communication." "If it's not me, it'll be Alice," I told him, gesturing to our sick boy. "But we've got you." "Good," he sighed, pressing his forehead to mine. "Love you, sweetness...so damn much." "Love you, too, Edward," I whispered against his lips. "Please, please be safe." "Always," he vowed again, just like he'd told Bethy. Edward's lips met mine in a kiss that he seemed to reserve for moments like that. It was deep, sweet, and all consuming, but it was breathtakingly vulnerable, because he was handing over his heart and soul for safekeeping until he came back to me. When Edward was on duty, when he was flying and in charge, he wasn't the joking, stuttering, happy man he was with me and the kids. He was hard, focused, and determined to get everyone in, out, and back safe, no matter how simple the case.

Just like always, he left me breathless and wanting more, but I let him go. With one more kiss to my forehead, we shut off the light to Sammy's room and headed back out to the kitchen. I snatched up my headset, turned to the crew, and said, "Okay, before you load up... we need to test this equipment. Let's go."

EDWARD
"Boys, focus!" my wife snapped, looking up from her computer screen, because Emmett and Jasper were singing one of Kyra's songs in falsetto, which was causing chuckles from the whole crew, not to mention Kyra herself. "Sorry, Bellsy," they chanted, clearing their throats and standing at attention. "Morons," Alice sighed, rolling her eyes. "Okay... everyone, radio check. One at a time, please." We did as they asked, switching Alec's earpiece to a new one, because he was getting too much feedback. We stood still, letting them adjust the cameras we were wearing, until finally, they gave us the all-clear. "I gotta get in the air, sweetness," I reminded her when she pulled up all the feeds that she and Alice would need. "Okay. Flight plan," she stated, taking it from Alice and handing it to me. "Who's flying? Who's driving?" "Eleazar, Cassie, Alec, and Kyra are flying with me," I told her. "Emmett's driving Gator, Jasper, and Mickey. Dad and Esme are driving separately." "Benny, Wes, and Kurt are already there," Rose stated, pointing to her screen. "So are Kyra's people wardrobe, makeup, hair. As soon as you land, you need to get her straight to her dressing room. Mickey, we need you sharp in there, because we've got people that we haven't dealt with before. They're cleared, but we don't know if Preston's friends with any of them. However, Benny's beefed up the arena's entryways, so they're almost at the level of Homeland Security metal detectors, bag searches, and all signs, flowers, and gifts are

not being permitted inside. Every employee has seen a picture of Preston, but that won't mean he can't squeak through." "On it," Mickey grunted with a nod, and then turned to Kyra and Cassie. "Let's get you guys strapped in the chopper, okay?" "Wait!" Kyra gushed, looking from me to Bella. "Can I... I mean, I'd like to talk to you two before we...take off." "Sure," Bella said, taking off her headset and setting it on the counter. Kyra turned to Cassie, handing over her guitar case. "Here, you go on ahead. I'll only be a second." Bella led us away from everyone, stopping underneath Bethy's tree house. But Kyra turned to my wife first. "I need to apologize again," she said, wincing a bit. "Esme told me that my...condition didn't let me think clearly. That I was only reacting to the fear. I wanted to tell you again that I didn't mean any of it," she sighed, looking between us. "And I can't say that I blame you for what you did yesterday morning, because I pushed you guys too far." Kyra rubbed the small split to her lip, and I suddenly had the urge to tell her she'd gotten off easy with just that. "Actually, it probably knocked some sense into me." Bella snorted, locking eyes with me and turning back to Kyra. "I put a gun to my ex-boyfriend's chest once," she stated out of the blue. "It took Edward almost ten minutes to talk me down from pulling the trigger, because I was convinced that someone was watching me...that Jake was watching me." Kyra's eyebrows shot up, and she spun to look at me. I chuckled and nodded, because Bella was only being honest with her. "Yes, I believe that's the night she called me a hypocritical asshole," I teased, giving my chuckling wife a wink. "I did, and you deserved it," she laughed, poking a finger into my chest. Bella turned back to Kyra. "Look, I'm convinced the entire population has issues they have to overcome. We all carry baggage, just some people's shit is heavier than others."

Kyra nodded, but her brow furrowed a bit. She swallowed nervously and locked gazes with Bella. "Now that I can think...now that he's not threatening me... I don't ever want to hurt you two again. Esme made me really take a look at what you two have done for me. You've given up your work, your lives, and your home for me. You took me in, fed me, protected me, and cared for me, even when I was acting like a total shit. She said you thought I might've had feelings for Edward. I don't. I swear. I just didn't know what to do..." She turned to me, tears filling her eyes. "I'm so fucking happy for you. You have no idea. You were so jaded and angry then. You held everyone at arm's length, and I hardly recognized you when you walked into Carlisle's office a few weeks ago. You looked so damn happy. I see you two together, and I hate that I tried to mess that up. I really couldn't think of any other way to make him stop. I'm really sorry, Edward. So very sorry. You two have created this amazing...thing," she said, sweeping her arm around to gesture toward my house. She turned once again to Bella. "And oh my God, those kids are just...beautiful... Hell, I don't blame you for kicking my ass. I'd kick someone's ass for messing with this." I chuckled, because Kyra was still coming down from the high of getting some pretty fucked up and hefty shit off of her chest. Bella had gone through the same thing, once she'd let a bit of her time with Miller out. And it was fucking awesome to see, because even Kyra's demeanor, her eyes, her shoulders weren't so tense anymore. She suddenly reminded me of the young girl I'd met in Afghanistan. The thick walls of defense were down. Bella smirked, but held her hand up. "My goodness! Breathe, Kyra," she snickered. "I can't!" she gushed, shaking her head. "You need to understand," she told us, "because I need to thank you...and I don't think I can do it enough." "No, breathe," Bella countered, grasping Kyra's shoulders. "If you don't, you'll send yourself into a panic attack, because you feel you aren't getting your point across. We get it. And had we known all that you'd been through, we would've approached this case in a completely different way." My wife studied Kyra's face. "I'd apologize for my actions, Kyra, but I can't. I am...unable to stop myself when it comes to my family."

"Nor should you," Kyra sighed, finally taking the deep breaths that Bella suggested. "I thought I had this once," she murmured, frowning down at her hands, "but I drove him away. He was a lot like you, Edward." Her gaze met mine. "He was strong, brave, and didn't give a shit what Ike said, but Ike could've ruined him, destroyed his career. And I couldn't let that happen, so I had to push him away, especially when he almost figured out what was going on. I so wanted all of this..." she said, gesturing once again around her, "with him, but I wasn't sure I could give that to him." I frowned, because that had to have been the bravest thing I'd heard her say. Not only had she protected this guy from whatever Ike could have started with him, but she'd protected this guy from herself. Even if she hadn't known it then, she wasn't ready for a family. I huffed, shaking my head. "You should tell him now," I stated. "If he's worth protecting like that, then he deserves to know, Kyra." She started to shake her head, and I stopped her. "And if he doesn't get it, if he thinks any less of you for what you've been through and why you did what you did, then you send his sorry ass to me. I'll explain it to him. Got me?" Any man that would think less of a woman after going through shit that was out of their control deserved their ass handed to them...and their balls forcefully removed. "Thanks, Edward," she whispered, looking up when Mickey called us. "Go get loaded up," I told her, pointing to the chopper. "Mick will help you get strapped in. We've got to get in the air." As she walked away, Bella's lips met my cheek. "You mean that, don't you?" "If the asshole doesn't understand after she tells him the truth, then he doesn't deserve her or any woman," I huffed, because I was so fucking grateful for the girl currently smiling against my cheek that I couldn't fucking see straight. "I bet it's that Jordan guy," Bella mused softly. "Some handsome director that Cassie told us about. I bet Ike would've ruined him." I smirked at my wife, because she looked absolutely up to no good. "What's the evil grin for, baby?" I chuckled, grasping her giggling face.

"Guess who's directing the music video next week..." she sang, sounding just like Bethy. "And I don't think Kyra knows. I think Cassie's keeping it from her." My eyebrows shot up, and I laughed, shaking my head. "You girls have no shame, sweetness," I snorted, kissing her lips roughly. "Time to go. Go back inside. I need my angel on my shoulder." "Love you," she said, walking away. "Love you, too." I walked to the chopper, pulling myself up into the pilot seat. Checking to make sure everyone was strapped in, I said, "Okay. Showtime."

BELLA
"West side of the stage is clear," Jasper checked in. "Backstage is clear," Gator added, "and the band is heading out now." "On point, front and center," Emmett stated. "Subject is clear of the dressing room, and we're making our way to the stage now." Alec's voice was all business, because inside that arena, he was in charge. He knew the building, and concerts were easy for him. "Edward, on me. Mickey take the east end of the stage. Go." "Sir," Mickey and Edward grunted. I scanned over the camera feed that the arena was letting us pipe into, then over each team member's camera. "Carlisle, are you up front with Emmett?" I asked over the radio. "Yes, ma'am," he replied. "What do you need, sweetheart?" "Give me a sweep of the entire front row. And that includes arena employees, please."

My girls and I leaned in, giving each face a study. We needed to make sure that once the lights went down, Preston or any other threat, for that matter wasn't right there out in the open. "Once Kyra's on stage, you guys can relax just a bit," Gator told us. "Even with wardrobe changes, she doesn't leave the area just behind the drummer. Godfrey, Whitney, and Francis move all their equipment from hair, makeup, and clothes to a small tent just behind the stage. She's in, she's out, and she's back on the stage in less than sixty seconds." "Damn, sounds like a NASCAR tire change," Emmett snorted, which caused all of us to chuckle. "No shit," Rose laughed, clicking through angle after angle of video. "Edward," I called. "Yes, ma'am?" "How's she doing?" I asked, because this was a huge fucking thing to undertake just after she'd revealed her abuse. "She's just about to go on, but she's talking to Esme right now. In fact, Esme's going to be with her and Mickey with every wardrobe change," he told me. And his voice, though gruff and all business, took on a sympathetic tone, because he'd been through really hard shit with me, so he knew this wasn't easy for her. "Good," I sighed, though I continued to pace in front of my monitors. "Benny," Alice called, "it looks like just about everyone outside has filed in. Yes?" "Ten-four, Alice. We've got a few scalpers, a few late arrivals, and the rest are vendors," he replied, and I was grateful he was patched into our radio frequency.

"Kurt, how do the turnstiles look, honey?" I asked him, because he, Felix, and Wes were monitoring the ticket takers and the security searches. "Thinning," he answered. "We've just about got everyone in." "Good," Alec stated. "Felix, Wes... I want you two to walk the hallways once the show starts. Kurt, I need you back up at the left side of the stage down on the floor. Eleazar, you take the right. The first motherfucker to throw something is removed. No questions asked." "And showtime in three, two...one," Gator rattled off. "Go, K. Break a leg!" The sound that came through the headsets was almost deafening when Kyra hit the stage. The lights went down, the music thumped, and the boys continued to check in. The girls and I steadily watched the boys' cameras and the arena's security feed, but the production crew was nice enough to allow Alice to record the concert itself, and that was what drew in Bethy and Caleb. I grinned as they clambered up onto the kitchen stools and bopped to the music. They were so cute as they mumbled along to the words of songs they'd probably heard on the radio a million times. Makenna shot them an endearing look, but gave her screen the most attention. "How does she do it?" she muttered, shaking her head. "After what she's been through... How does she sing on stage like nothing happened? I mean, Ike probably picked these songs..." I grimaced, because Edward had told me he'd given the girls permission to listen to our conversation. We recorded everything in Gravity's office, because it was just easier to go back and listen to phone conversations with clients that way. Every member of the crew including the guys had come out of that office pale, humbled, and disgusted, saying that Edward should have castrated Ike in the yard. Alec alone had raged until it took Eleazar, Edward, and Emmett to calm him down, because he was very much like Edward when it came to the protection of weaker people. He wanted Ike's blood on his hands, and it frustrated him that he couldn't get to him. But the one that looked the sickest was Mickey. She'd had to walk away from everyone, because I was pretty sure she threw up in the bushes at the edge of the woods. I'd never seen her so rattled.

"Ike didn't pick her music. Kyra picks her own shit," Cassie piped in from the arena. "Hell, she writes most of it herself." "Oh," we all said at the same time. I turned to my girls. "She does this to feel human. This is her passion, her love. Without this, she would've probably faded away years ago. Esme says it helps her focus. It's offstage where things will be hard for her. Today, she feels light and free, because she just unloaded the heaviest burden, but as days progress, she'll have memories, fears, and emotional scars that will rise to the surface." "You mean like your fear of basements," Alice mused, but I knew her well enough to know that she wasn't accusing, she was learning. She analyzed shit all the damn time. It was like her brain never stopped. "Exactly. I'm sure we'll discover what her basement is soon enough," I sighed, going back to the monitors, but everything seemed clear as the concert went on. "She's suppressed so much that there's no telling what will hit her. Or when." The boys stayed quiet for a moment after I'd said that, and I could well imagine that they were all thinking back to when they'd first met me. My girls, on the other hand, looked rabid. Like they couldn't wait to get their hands on someone, something, but Wes assured us that Ike was currently incarcerated. In fact, he'd been denied bond, because he had the means to leave the country, though his lawyers were appealing that decision already. "Oh damn, oh damn, oh damn," Alice chanted in a sigh next to me. "We've got a problem. Ike's arrest has gone public, guys." "It was only a matter of time," Benny piped up. "Guards talk, fellow inmates talk, and even lawyers talk, so it doesn't shock me." "Yeah, well, the problem with that is Preston. Once he sees that his dad has been arrested for assault and rape on Kyra, then he could very well reach his limit. He'll snap," Alice countered. "Alice," I hissed, jerking my chin toward the kitchen counter. "I'll solve that," she muttered, getting up from her chair. "Come, my little minions," she instructed with a giggle, waving Caleb and Bethy into the living room. "I'll put this on the big TV, yeah?"

"Yay!" they cheered, following behind her, and immediately turned the living room into a dance floor. Once she returned, she pulled up all forms of social networking. "You watch those monitors. I'll keep an eye on Kyra's pages and Tweets." For the next half hour or so, Kyra performed without a break. The first wardrobe change went off without a hitch. She was in the tent, changed, had makeup reapplied, been reassured by Esme, and was back out on the stage before the boys had a chance to worry. It was toward the last costume change of the night that everyone got a little antsy. According to Benny, there was a crowd building at the back of the arena where the band's trucks, the production vans, and the talent usually left. What they didn't know was that Kyra would be leaving off the top of the parking garage. "Wes, watch that back entrance!" Benny snapped, and the girls and I pulled up the feed that centered around the delivery bay doors. There was a crowd of fans building around the blockade gates, all holding signs and gifts. Not only that, but it seemed like the media was starting to gather around. It seemed the news of Ike Raulson's arrest had truly gone public. "Oh, boy," I sighed. "Edward...Kyra needs to get straight off that stage and in the air. Don't go anywhere near the bay doors. We've got media and a growing crowd outside." "Ten-four," he grunted. "Cassie, I need her redressed ASAP when she's done. She needs to be able to move." "Sure, got it. I'll tell Francis to get her things ready," Cassie replied. "Kurt, go with Wes, get me closer to faces," I ordered. "On it, Bells," he grunted, and from the view from his camera, he'd taken off in a run.

"Mack, I need you sharp, sweetie," I murmured, and we all leaned in when Kurt and Wes arrived at the far back of the building. She was so much quicker at recognizing faces than the rest of us. "Final song, guys," Gator advised. "Jasper, Carlisle, drop your posts," Alec ordered. "Make your way toward the garage. I need a clear way up to the top in order to get Kyra out of here." "Emmett, I need that chopper at the ready," Edward commanded. "Do not fucking start her up! Leave that until the last minute. I want that crowd thinking she's coming out that way. The last fucking thing we need is to have that crowd make their way up to the landing pad. Got me?" "Sir!" Emmett huffed, but he was already at a run, weaving through the back hallways of the arena. The concert ended, and even though the crowd begged for another encore, Kyra was rushed to the dressing tent to change back into her street clothes quickly. From the boys' cameras, I could see that Edward, Alec, Eleazar, and Jasper were posted like sentries around that tent. Mickey's view was from inside. Kyra was tugging a thermal shirt over her tank top as Cassie gathered up guitar case, bags, and jackets. "Oh shit," Mack breathed. "He's there. Preston." She sat up straight, clicking furiously at the video feeds in order to make sure. "Yup. Right...there," she said, pointing to her screen. "Okay, guys!" I called, checking all my angles to see who was closest to Preston. "We've got company. Preston is about..." "Thirty yards from the back entrance. West side wall. Leaning against a tree," Alice finished for me. "Kurt, Wes...do you see?" "I've got visual," Wes confirmed. "Little fucker's just leaning there. He looks..." "Pissed," we all muttered. "Yeah," he sighed.

"Approach with caution," Benny ordered. "I don't want to lose him, and I don't want him killed. He needs to answer some questions concerning his father, aside from Miss Bailey's accusations. That asshole has a lot to account for." "Ten-four," Wes muttered. "Kurt, on me." With silent hand gestures, they started a slow, roundabout walk toward Preston. "Bella," Edward called. "We're leaving the building." "Watch yourself. Stick to the inner hallways all the way to that garage," I told him. "Preston has been sighted." "Ma'am," he growled. "Alec, go see if Wes needs you. Esme, Gator, you're now with me. Jasper, Dad...I need my way clear." "Sir," they all grunted in response. It didn't take long for Edward to lead his group out of the arena and up the back garage stairs. As he approached Carlisle on his first set of steps, Wes tried to talk to Preston. "Preston Raulson...FBI," he stated, and from his camera, I could see him holding up his badge. "We need to ask you a few... Aw, fuck... I've got a runner!" From the camera's point of view, all we could see was Preston high-tailing it out of there. He dodged around a group of people, narrowly avoiding Wes and Kurt, who were coming at him from opposite sides. "Garage, garage!" Kurt panted, obviously giving chase with Wes. "I need someone in there!" "I'm on it," Alec grunted, and his camera bounced as he tore through the garage. "Emmett! Get down to the first level of the garage," Edward ordered, stopping his group on the stairs. He gripped his dad's shoulder. "That asshole doesn't leave this building. If he does, someone tails him. Jasper, I need you and El in the air with me. I need your eyes!" "Go, get in the air," Carlisle ordered. "We may need that camera of yours."

"I'm on it, I'm on it, I'm on it," Alice chanted, tugging a laptop to her and pulling up the chopper's camera system. "Edward, tell me when you're set to go. I want to start recording the second you take off." "Got it, pixie," he panted, because he had reached the top of the garage, rushed to the chopper and slid open the doors. "Let's go...load up," he said, hoisting himself up in the chopper. "Wes, what's the 411, man?" I rubbed my temple as I tried to make sure that Kyra, Cassie, and Esme loaded themselves up in the helicopter with the help of Mickey and Eleazar, but I also kept my eyes on Kurt's camera as he pursued Preston, who was trying to lose himself in the emptying crowd of concert goers. "Shit, the asshole's killing me. This is like a salmon swimming upstream," Kurt panted. "I don't think he's sticking to the garage. I'll bet he's cutting through..." "Benny, I need you mobile," Wes snapped. "Make your way to south side of the garage. Use lights to get these people to move." "Ten-four," Benny replied. "You ladies are our eyes," he said, and I could hear his van cranking up. "Sir," we stated. "Okay," I sighed, pulling my hair out of my eyes. "Edward, Alice is your guide. Carlisle, on me. Wes, you and Kurt listen to Rose. Benny...Makenna is yours. We're going thermal as soon as Edward's in the air," I stated. "Ma'am," they all answered, though some were still panting. "I was right," Kurt growled. "Through the garage. He's heading to the parking lot of the bar." Edward called in his flight, which technically was just supposed to be a return flight back to Forks, but I had a feeling this was going to be one long ride home for them. "Jasper, you leave that side door open.

And ladies, I need you to hang on," he commanded, and the sound of whirring blades drowned out just about everything else in our ears for just a moment. "I'm mobile," Carlisle grunted, and I was glad he had used the VIP parking, because he was already navigating the side streets to get to wherever Kurt and Wes were running to, which looked like a small bar parking lot. "Pick me and Alec up, C," Emmett panted. "We're a block from you. I see your lights." "Black sports car, tinted windows, newer model," Wes puffed, and he sounded like he couldn't run anymore. Loud pops echoed over our earpieces, and we all jumped. "Shots fired. He's moving north..." "Do not shoot to kill!" Benny snapped over the radio. "I want him alive." "Aw, fuck this shit. This asshole's done," Edward growled. "I'm up. Pixie...I'm all yours. Tell me where I can set this thing down on his fucking head!"

EDWARD
"Keep your altitude low, Edward," Alice instructed. "And give me a sweep of the south side of the parking garage." "Ten-four," I muttered, lifting up off the top of the garage. "Everyone, check in!" "Carlisle just picked me and Alec up. We're in pursuit of a black, pretty fucking new, Mercedes Sports Coup. He's heading east now. Away from the bar he just pulled out of..." Emmett grunted. "It's a soft top, Eddie. You should be able to see it right about now..." "I'll cut the distance to you," Benny added. "Using the side streets to get the angle on him." He paused for a moment, before he called the chase into his superiors, adding me in as he aerial backup in order to cover his ass for such a low flying chopper.

"Kurt and I are out," Wes panted. "He lost us at the bar. We're heading back to the garage." "Wes, I'll pick you guys up, so hang tight," Felix told him. "Got him, Edward!" Alice called out suddenly. "Forty-five degree angle from the bar. Heading west toward downtown. Two streets from where you are. He just about caused a wreck at that intersection. Got him?" "Yes!" Eleazar hissed from the co-pilot seat, pointing out the front window. "There he is. Go." I banked hard and fast, cutting over the nearest buildings, finally hovering over the bastard. "Perfect, baby. Keep it there," Bella praised. "Carlisle, take the next right, then the next left. You'll be right on his ass. Turn now!" "Benny...stay straight on the street you're on...they're passing you now. Watch out for Carlisle. He's right behind them," Makenna advised. "I see 'em, I see 'em," he mumbled. From my advantage point, I could see my father hot on Raulson's tail and Benny right behind. It was a test of high end car strength, if you asked me. Preston was in a two-seater Mercedes, while my dad was in his BMW 750i, both black, both fucking fast, and both about to collide with crossing traffic in an intersection, but Preston turned again to avoid the light. They were leaving the poor FBI van in the dust. "Fuck, we should take out his tires," Alec mumbled, and I heard his gun engage, but Benny flipped the fuck out. "Don't you dare open fire on the streets!" he snapped. "There are too many people and too much shit it could ricochet off of!" "Edward, pull ahead of him," Alice ordered. "He's heading toward that park. If he cuts through, you'd have enough room to get in front of him."

"Oh, tricky, Alice," I told her, shaking my head, but doing what she asked, because she was right. If I used the open area of the park, I could possibly force him to come to a stop at least long enough for Benny to ram him, or Jasper to shoot his dumb ass at this point, I didn't much give a shit either way. "I know, I know, I know," she chanted. "But I'm going to guide you. You have to watch those power lines." I banked hard again, only this time, I loomed down over the Mercedes, which caused him to panic and swerve into the park. Grinning at just how right Alice could be, I swung wide, causing Preston to slam on his brakes, skid to the right, almost letting my dad t-bone his ass. "Jasper!" I growled, glancing back quickly. "On it, Ed," he grunted, and the sound of his rifle engaged in the back cabin of the chopper as he knelt in the open doorway. Cassie, Esme, and Kyra all gasped and jumped, the former squeezing her eyes closed. "Easy, ladies," I soothed with a smirk, because yeah, this wasn't exactly a joy ride. "Be grateful you're on this side of his scope," I teased, which caused all three to scoff, but at least they relaxed just a bit. "Jasper's rifle is loud, so brace yourselves," Mickey told them, but she knelt behind Jasper as backup, and I narrowed my eyes on her. She looked sick, nauseated, though her attention wasn't faltering. At all. Jasper smiled crookedly, aimed, and said, "Benny, talk to me. I can take his tires out...or his engine, but I've got way too many civilians around. I can't see inside the car. The windows are too damn dark." Benny's van came to a skidding halt behind my father's car, but from my hovering position, I could see that the bastard wasn't going to sit still. He was going to fucking floor it. "He's gonna run. And he's going to cut right through that fucking playground, Benny," I growled, swinging with Preston when the car lurched forward a few feet. "And I can't get that close. I'm stirring up too much shit as it is."

"Shit," Alec hissed, diving out of my father's car. "Move!" he yelled at the people in the play area. "Clear out of here..." As soon as the last word left his mouth, Preston made his move and punched it. He lurched forward, causing grass and dirt to spray high into the air, blocking my sight for just a moment. "His tire, his tire!" Benny ordered. "Jazz, take out his tires..." I turned the chopper so that Jasper could get a clear shot, and he took barely a second to aim and pull the trigger. He caught the Mercedes' front tire, causing Preston to swerve slightly out of control. "Fuck, Alec!" I gasped. What none of us had seen was the little girl on the top of the slide that just happened to be in Preston's out of control path, but Alec had. The little one looked kind of frozen in panic, but even more so were her parents at the edge of the playground. Alec bolted from where he was, running up the slide, grabbing the little girl, and jumping down off the back, just about the time that the back end of the Mercedes took out the whole damn thing. He wrapped her up, but landed with a hard grunt as pieces of fiberglass, metal, and wood chips flew in every direction. "Oh shit," I breathed, along with just about everyone else in my ear. "Alec?" "I'm okay, kid," he groaned, sitting up with the little one perfectly safe in his embrace, and we all looked up when Preston got his car under control, despite the flat tire. "Go! Get his ass!" he yelled. "Pick me up when it's all over." "He's still heading west, the tenacious little shit," Alice groaned. "Oh, he's got a goal, dammit... But where, where, where?" "Where could he go?" Bella murmured, and the hard hitting of computer keys met my ears as I lifted up clear of the power lines. "He's not heading to SeaTac...or the ports... He's heading..." "Benny, the Downtown Transit Station!" Makenna yelled. "It's the only place he could go." "Oh, the little asshole wants to stick around," I sang, mainly to myself, but I got grunts of agreement in my ear as we continued the chase.

"Edward, cut the distance. Go straight to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel," Alice commanded. "I'll bet it all that that's where he's going. He can abso-fucking-lutely disappear in there." "That's a big risk, Pixie," I told her, though I banked hard to the left to follow her instructions. "If he doesn't go that way, then I chance losing him." "I know, but it's where I'd go," she countered. "It's really the only place to go. He knows you'll see him from the sky. He knows he's got two cars in pursuit. If he goes underground, if he's done his homework, then he's aware that he can just...evaporate in there." "Go, Edward!" Bella ordered. "He's using the railroad tracks as his guide. And there's a train coming. He's going to try and beat it at the intersection. And Carlisle, don't you freaking dare try and follow. You'll get killed. You won't make it in time." I flew over the tracks and the oncoming train, seeing what Bella was talking about. A passenger train that seemed to have just pulled out of the tunnel was barreling down the tracks. With sparks flying from his flat tire, Preston punched it. He was aiming for the crossing that would allow him into the back of the transit station. "He's not going to make it," Eleazar and Jasper stated at the same time. "Yes, he is," I growled at the same time my dad did, because he had to slam on brakes at the last minute, Benny's van right behind him. Train car after train car passed in front of them, but I used the transit building to hide, waiting for Alice's go ahead. "Now, Edward!" she yelled.

I pulled up on the stick, flew over the building, and dropped right in front of Preston. He swerved dangerously, and I used my chopper's landing runners to nudge him just a bit. It sent him into a spin, finally causing the car to slam into the side of an empty railroad car on the passenger side of the vehicle. Every window in that Mercedes shattered with force in which he hit. But Preston was pulling himself out of driver's side window before the dust had even settled. "He's on foot!" Jasper and I yelled at the same time. Jasper engaged his rifle again, popping off three rounds. "Shoot to maim only!" Benny yelled, but he went back to requesting that the transit station be locked down, which was going over like a lead balloon. "I'm trying for his leg, dammit," Jasper growled, but shook his head when Preston dodged out of the way behind a few parked buses as he made toward the tunnels. "If I shoot him now, I'll blow those buses. There's no telling if they have propane tanks or full gas tanks in them. We'll all go up." "Fuck, I need that station locked down!" Benny yelled, and as I lifted up to catch sight of where Preston was, I could also see that he and my father were hauling ass to the station. "Shit, he's in the tunnel," Bella sighed, and I heard the defeat over the silence of the radio. "What about thermal?" Makenna asked. "Can't we lock in on him?" "Won't do any good," Alice muttered. "Those buses give off a helluva lot of heat, not to mention there are way too many bodies inside that station." "Tickets," Cassie suddenly piped up. "There's a section of Seattle that has free rides. He'll know that. He'll use it. He planned this shit," Alice explained. "He's gone, unless Benny shuts the place down tight."

I lifted up higher to a safer distance in order to see the entire property surrounding the transit station. From there, I could see Felix skid to a stop right beside Benny's van, my dad's car, and a few other Fed SUVs that had finally showed up. "Edward, check your fuel, baby," Bella stated softly. "Leave them. Come straight here." "Yes, ma'am," I sighed, punching the window with the side of my fist. "Fuck!" I growled, sitting there for just a moment, because this shit had to fucking end. "Dad!" I snapped, losing the last of the control on my patience and my temper. "Yeah, son," he replied. "We're done. I'm pulling us off the grid. We'll leave for a safe house by morning," I ordered, because it was time to lure this asshole to us, and the only way to do that was for us to make the fucking rules. "Which one?" he asked calmly. "I don't fucking know yet, but you'll have the answer by the time you get done there," I growled, shaking my head and banking the chopper hard, because I needed to pick up Alec before we left for Forks. Once Alec had been picked up and strapped in, I banked south, heading for home. Four buses and one train were able to squeak out of the transit station before Benny could completely shut it down, and they were currently doing a total sweep of not only each platform, waiting area, and the outer property, but they were walking the tunnels, too. It was futile. The asshole was just fucking gone. "Sweetness, we're heading home," I told her. "Okay. Your dad's not far behind you with Emmett and Kurt," she replied. "Eleazar, Felix is going to stay and help at the station." "Ten-four," El and I muttered. I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as the large city started to fade away underneath us. "How's our boy?" I asked Bella, smirking when she giggled a bit.

"The fever broke. He's currently destroying some leftover chicken nuggets by the chubby fistful," she said, and I could hear the relief in her voice. "Good." "Safe house?" she asked simply. "Yes, ma'am. I need you girls to pack up and be ready to roll out by morning. We'll leave the Feds behind, and all communication must go through Alice. Everyone's going. No exceptions," I rattled off. "Edward, I'd like to go over a plan with you when you get here," Alice stated. "I think it'll draw Preston out." "You got it," I agreed, but I had a feeling Alice and I were already on the same page. Hell, we usually were. "Fly safe, baby," Bella stated. "We'll be ready when you need us." "Thanks, love. See you soon."

CHAPTER thirteen BELLA


"We have no choice," Carlisle sighed, sitting back in his chair. "The music video needs to be postponed for now. Kyra's not ready, and neither are we." "I agree," Gator said with a nod, glancing out the large windows. We'd been at the new safe house for twenty-four hours. It was just long enough for everyone to settle in, get some rest from the night of the concert, and for clear minds to finally sit down to discuss Kyra, Preston, and what steps we needed to take next. We'd moved the whole crew, even going as far as picking up Sarah and Abby in Olympia on our way down. The only person that Edward had offered an out to was Makenna, because Wes was stuck in Seattle working Ike Raulson's case. However, she volunteered to come with us, because she knew we needed her and Wes promised to keep her up to date on Ike's case. The kids were pulled from school and Mrs. Cope's with the explanation of extended vacations. Mine and Edward's home was closed up tight, and we'd pulled out of Forks that next morning. After a very long drive, a handful of bored, cranky kids, the youngest of whom was still a touch sick, and a parade of cars, we arrived to a house I'd never seen. It was situated just about two hours north of L.A. and not far from Santa Barbara. It was a beautiful two-story beach home, entirely secluded away from everything. Completely fenced in and solitary, it backed up to a gorgeous beach view. On one side of the property was a mountain, and on the other side, thick woods. The house was white, with large, open spaces, plenty of rooms, and an amazing back deck. Huge picture windows along the back of the home showcased the ocean like a large painting.

It was one of the homes that Carlisle kept a secret. According to Edward, his parents had rented the place decades ago on a getaway, but Carlisle had decided to buy it. The deed was untraceable back to him, but Alice tried it anyway with a wink and a giggle his way. What she found was one of Carlisle's alternate identities something he once used when pulling missions as a mercenary but for the average person, the man that truly owned the house only existed on paper. "I think it's time to take over control of Kyra's media exposure," Alice stated, turning to Edward, who was working in the kitchen to unload supplies and get the place ready to really use, because we weren't sure how long we'd be staying. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about, Edward." "Spill, pixie. I'm listening now," he told her, shooting a smile over his shoulder. "I want to take over her Facebook, Twitter, and web pages. I want to leak...well, you," she told him. "Since your first paparazzi pic, you've been the center of curiosity. And...you're pissing Preston off something fierce. I think we can continue to push that envelope." "Yeah, I was thinking that, too," he sighed, but he turned to face me. "But I'm not putting Kyra out there anymore. She's officially off the grid." He braced his arms on the counter. "What do you think, sweetness?" he asked, and every eye turned to me. I got up from the table and paced in front of the sliding glass doors. I knew what he wanted. He wanted to use the two of us as bait. I wasn't so sure it would work not because we couldn't pull it off, but because it would need to be done in a specific way so that my face wasn't seen. Kyra and I may have had the same color hair, but our faces weren't alike at all. Her fans were picky, observant, and rabid, so they would absolutely be able to point out a fake. I rubbed my temple and faced the full room. Alice, Kurt, Cassie, and Makenna all had laptops open in front of them. Carlisle, Eleazar, and Alec were glancing between me and Edward, who was just waiting patiently for my answer, because he would do whatever I decided. Faint chatter from the far living room wafted into the dining room, adding to the crushing roar of the ocean behind me, and I wanted to smile at the giggles of two five-year-old little girls, who could find the fun in any situation.

My gaze landed on Kyra, who was nursing a hot cup of tea and honey, because her voice was still a little worn out from the show. "The only problem I see is Ike's arrest," I finally said, meeting Edward's gaze. "The whole world is gonna want a piece of her. Preston is going to want to verify with her personally that the shit she's saying is true. In reality, if the threat of Preston didn't exist, she still wouldn't be able to take a step out in public without the paparazzi swarming her." "So fake it," Rose stated, folding her arms on the table. "Have Kyra give one interview. Just one. To someone reputable. Have her confirm what Ike has been arrested for, and then push the Kyra and Edward story. Manipulated photos could pop up online of them in L.A. or some shit. A group of us could go down there, set up a bunch of fake shots, and then Alice could plant them online." I turned to Kyra. "Are you ready to face the reality of going public with this?" I asked her, wrinkling my nose at the thought of it. Not only was it damn soon after her admitting the abuse and rape, but she had the whole world to think about. "It's already public. I would just have to confirm it," she said softly, grimacing as she wrapped both hands around her mug. "I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'm not the only celebrity that's had a shitty life," she snorted humorlessly, giving Esme a side glance. "You're not the only human being, Kyra," Esme corrected gently. "No one would think less of you if you decided to wait on saying something. It's a very personal and scary thing to tell this room full of people, much less the whole world. And you've only just started your healing process." "But I'm not his only victim," she stated, frowning up at her, but pointing toward Alice. "There's video proof of that over and over." "Except yours," Kurt muttered, frowning at his screen and looking up when we all froze to gaze at him. "I've gone through every last tape, and Kyra's isn't in there. Period." "Oh, the sneaky shit," I whispered, looking out at the water, and then back to Kyra. "He pulled them. He pulled them when he started to blackmail you. I guarantee it."

"You're so fucking right," Alice hissed, shaking her head and typing away furiously on her computer. "If I'm reading him correctly, he's a serial rapist. All the tapes that would've contained any sexual acts would've been pulled from the stash the Feds found. But he would never, ever, ever have gotten rid of them. Oh, no, no, no," she sang, but an angry expression took over her face. "Those tapes would be someplace special, because he's been doing this shit for a very long time. Some of those tapes date back to the early eighties." I studied Kyra's face as Alice worked on whatever it was she was trying to hunt down. "You want others to come forward," I surmised, narrowing my eyes at her. "If they want," she countered, "but what about Molly?" "There was only one tape of her," Kurt answered, shaking his head. "Nothing before, and nothing after. Yet, we're still looking at missing persons around that time. We've narrowed it down to a Molly Parsons. She'd be about the right age, and she'd been reported missing by her grandfather. According to the original police report, guess who she used to date," he said, smirking over the screen of his computer. "Preston," we all groaned. "Exactly," he huffed, nodding once. I turned to face the windows, my eyes locking onto the crashing waves against the rocks. It was beautiful, soothing, and humbling to watch, but it was helping me think. Warm lips pressed to the back of my head. "You're thinking awfully hard over here, love. Care to share with the rest of the class?" Edward whispered in my ear so that only I could hear him. I smirked, but turned to look up at him, leaning my shoulder against the glass. "Basics," I sighed. "We need to know the fucking basics. In order to catch Preston, we have to go back to what we do best." "Hunting," Jasper stated from the table. "Yes, but our way," I countered. I turned to Carlisle. "You still haven't gone down to the Solstice office in L.A., have you?"

"No, ma'am," he answered with a slow shake of his head. "But I have a feeling that's about to be remedied." I turned back to my husband. "I think we need to start at Preston's beginning. We're off on his profile...or something. I want to be with Carlisle when he interviews those people." I pushed off the glass and walked slowly around the table. "Alice, I think you're right. Ike kept all those videos, because that's his thing, but the most important ones are missing. Those are someplace special. I want to find them." "And what about the rumors surrounding Edward and Kyra?" Rose asked, folding her arms across her chest. I spun back to Edward. "You're okay with this. Putting yourself out there." He shrugged a shoulder nonchalantly, taking a deep breath. "Honestly, no, but we've got to use what's been handed to us. If my presence fucks this guy up, if it brings him out in the open, then I'll work with that." "It's no different than playing man-slut to catch a cheater, dude," Emmett chuckled, grinning when Edward flipped him off. "That's true, but this is on a bigger level," Mickey added in. "That's my point," Edward stated, rolling his eyes at Emmett's laughter. "I can play this part, get it done, and call it a day." I nodded, because I knew he was being honest. I leaned back against the window next to him, smiling when he sweetly tucked my hair behind my ear. "Playing man-slut with you isn't exactly a hardship, sweetness," he teased softly so that no one else heard him, giving me my favorite smile and a wink. "Hell, that's fucking easy. Bring it. In fact, let's start...now." I grinned and shook my head, because he was a shameless, insatiable thing, and I loved him madly. He waggled his eyebrows cheesily, and I rolled my eyes at him, trying not to completely burst into laughter, because we truly needed to get this plan straight.

"Shut it," I snorted, facing the room, but mainly Carlisle. "Okay, then let's kill a few birds with one stone. We'll take a small crew down with us to L.A. We'll interview a few people at Solstice, check out Raulson's office and his home, and we'll set up a few fake pictures for Alice to fiddle with." "What about... I mean, do you need me to..." Kyra started, looking sheepish and a touch nervous. "Make a public service announcement?" I finished for her, tilting my head just a bit. "Yeah," she said with a grimace. "That's your call. I think we can work around it if you don't," I told her. "Ike's arrest will be big news, and that alone will cause Preston to worry." "Oh hell," Makenna groaned, her forehead falling to her hand with a soft smack as she studied her computer screen. She shook her head slowly, but met my gaze. "I'm not saying this shit out loud, Bellsy. Come look," she sighed, pointing to her screen. Edward and I walked around the table, standing behind her and reading over her shoulder. I groaned, closing my eyes, not because I was worried about that bit of news, but because of what it would do to Kyra. I locked eyes with Esme, who came over to read the email from Wes, too. "Be honest," she sighed, grimacing a bit. "That's all we can do, but she'll be scared." Edward grunted, but nodded, turning to Kyra. "It seems Ike's lawyers succeeded in their appeal. Ike's been released until the trial date, but he's had to turn over his passport and his accounts are frozen. He's also been fitted with an ankle monitor." "He's free?" Kyra squealed, and it seemed all three of us moved at one time, because it looked like she was about to bolt from the room or faint I wasn't sure which. "Trust me, he can't find you here," I soothed her. "No one can find us. Not even Wes clearly knows where we are."

"He won't touch you, Kyra," Edward stated firmly as Esme eased her back down in her chair. "That'll never fucking happen." "Kyra," Esme said, forcing the singer's gaze to hers. "You need to trust us. We won't let anyone hurt you. Understand? You're safe." "He'll kill me..." she breathed, and I wasn't even sure she was aware that she was crying. "Oh hell no, he won't!" I snapped. "Look around this table, Kyra. Look." I pointed around the table, because the most dangerous people I'd ever had the pleasure of knowing were looking like they were about to haul ass out of there and kill Ike, my girls included. "Everything Ike told you was bullshit, honey. You need to start realizing that...right now. Nothing he threatened you with, nothing he told you about yourself was true. None of it. You didn't deserve any of it. It wasn't punishment, it wasn't guidance, it wasn't fucking consensual. It was torture, and it was wrong. All of it. And he will be punished for it. But he won't come here." She finally nodded, sniffling a bit, and I stood up straight and faced the table. "The visit to Solstice will be our photo op, as well as a fact finding mission." I turned to the head of the table. "Cassie, I need to know who you think we should talk to the most. Make a list for me." She nodded, and tugged a notepad closer. "Kurt, Makenna...I need you to play paparazzi for me and Edward. Got it? You can use my camera." "Yeah," they both said, nodding. "Carlisle," I snapped, turning to see his unreadable expression, because he was still studying Kyra's upset face until his gaze snapped to mine, "we go in without warning. We'll get more honesty if we surprise them, especially if they think Ike's under some sort of investigation." "Sure, sweetheart," he conceded, but glanced around the table. "I'd like to take one more with us." "Well, I want Alec here and in charge once we leave," Edward stated, "and I want Emmett and Jasper here, as well." "I'll go," Mickey volunteered, shrugging a shoulder, and Edward and Carlisle nodded in acceptance.

"What about Cassie and Gator?" Rose asked, gesturing down the table. "Kyra never goes anywhere without them." "Cassie should come, but I'd like to leave Gator here," I said, holding up my hand when he started to protest. "Hang on, and I'll tell you why. First, Kyra needs one of you here for support. I don't want to take both of you away from her right now. Second, if we're trying to make it look like Edward's taking your place at Kyra's side, then we need you to not be there. It'll make more of an impact for her fans to see your absence and Edward's presence. Does that make sense?" Gator winced, giving Kyra a loving, sympathetic look, and then nodded to me. "Okay. Yeah, it makes sense." "Last thing," I huffed, again turning to Carlisle. "I want to see your friend Teri Foley while we're there. Kyra's agent needs to be brought up to speed, and now that we know the whos and whys, I want her opinion. You still trust her, yes?" "Yes," Carlisle replied. "Do you want me to call her?" "If you trust her, then set it up," I told him, and he immediately stood up from the table, pulling his phone out. "When do we leave?" Edward asked me. "Tomorrow morning," I sighed, shaking my head and finally turning to Alice. "Alice, start the leaks. Do it. Take over every one of her accounts. Make it good, but subtle. I don't want to be attacked when we get to Solstice tomorrow." "On it, on it, on it," she said, waving Cassie closer. "Okay...talk to me. Tell me where Kyra hangs out, where you usually tweet from, and how often. Let's get this started..."

"Ew, Daddy! A bug!" Bethy squealed, and Edward's sweet, patient laughter met my ears. "Not a bug, little sweetness. A crab," he chuckled, waving her closer as he picked up a rather disgruntled crab about the size of a golf ball. Its pincers

were trying their damnedest to attack the large hand holding him captive. "Don't touch, baby. He'll hurt you." "Wass Daddy got?" Sammy asked from his spot in the sand not far from me. He was bundled up from the chilly breeze, but he was feeling a whole lot better. He was currently building a sandcastle at my feet as I sat on a blanket. The kids had woken up early, wanting to go down to the beach, so Edward and I got up with them just to have a little family time before everyone started moving about the house. "Go look, handsome," I told him with a giggle. I smirked at Sammy's natural curiosity as he pushed himself up into a standing position. He was dressed just like his dad jeans, sneakers, a gray Air Force hoodie, and a black backwards baseball cap. In fact, Samuel had insisted on it when he woke up that morning, once he saw what Edward was wearing. Samuel trudged through the sand to get to his dad, giggling when Edward showed him the still unhappy crab. But both kids watched with fascination as Edward set the little thing back down so it could burrow itself back under the rocks by the shore. "Breakfast!" Esme called out the back door, and Edward told Sammy and Bethy to go to Gamma, which they did at a cute and awkward run. I watched as they ran past me to the back deck and inside, and a hand suddenly appeared in my vision. I gazed up into piercing green eyes, smiling at him. "You should eat, love," he told me, but I tugged on his hand with a giggle, bringing him down on top of me, and we fell back onto the blanket. "Not hungry," I purred at him, causing the sexiest, sweetest smile to cross his handsome features. "I am," he laughed, bracing his hands on either side of my head. "Starving, actually," he purred, brushing his lips across mine. "What do you want?" I giggled, biting at his earlobe, because his cold hands shot up underneath my sweatshirt as his lips trailed to my ear.

"I still want that Bella sundae," he growled, nipping at my skin. "Mmm, chocolate syrup, whipped cream..." I laughed, my head falling back to the blanket. "Sounds...sticky...and messy." "It really does," he chuckled, kissing my lips softly. "I'm willing to clean up afterward." "You are so...tempting," I snickered, cupping his smiling face. "I certainly hope so, because you have to pretend to kiss on me in public," he laughed, sitting up a bit. "Pretend," I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "There's no pretending, Edward. We've got to make look good, you know," I sighed dramatically, grinning at his deep, sexy chuckle. "Tough job," he sighed back, taking his hat off and running his fingers through his hair, only to tug the cap back on. "It is," I laughed, but we both looked up when we heard footsteps in the sand. "Esme said to get your butts in the house and eat, because you've got a long day ahead of you," Mickey snickered. My eyes narrowed on her, and I wasn't the only one, either. Edward was studying her with a sharp, intense glare. "That means you, too," he said, tilting his head at her. "I'm okay," she sighed, shaking her head and sitting down next to me. She seemed too pale, a little shaky, and she wasn't quite meeting our gazes. Edward sat up completely, huffing a deep breath. "How far along are you, wild child?" he asked softly, and my eyebrows shot up as I glanced between them. "Tell me," he ordered, his face grim for some reason. Suddenly, it all made sense. She was more emotional than she usually was, she'd thrown up when she'd heard Kyra's story, and I hadn't seen her drink a single beer since she'd moved to Forks. And it looked like the mere thought of breakfast was going to make her sick.

"Oh, God," I breathed when she finally met his eyes. "Mickey? How far?" "I think about six weeks," she whispered, tears welling up in her eyes. "Does Obie know?" Edward growled, groaning when she shook her head fervently. "Oh damn, Mick. He needs to know. I should fucking fly up there, I swear to God..." "No!" she sobbed, grabbing at Edward's sweatshirt. "Please don't, Edward. Please? He doesn't want kids, but I just can't... I mean... I found out just before we had the biggest fight we'd ever had, and I couldn't tell him. But I can do this alone." "Oh, sweetie, you're so not alone," I sighed, pulling her to me and looking up at Edward. "He deserves to know," Edward urged. "Even if he doesn't want kids, which I don't fucking understand, he at least needs to know he's going to be a father anyway. He has that right, Mick." Edward's voice was gentle, but firm at the same time as he pleaded Obie's case, though I wasn't sure if Edward wasn't planning on flying to Alaska just to bring his ass down here. That would be one very angry conversation. Edward took being a father so very seriously, but he also protected his friends and family, so I couldn't even conceive of how pissed off my husband would be once he got his hands on Obie. "Okay, okay," I soothed both of them, if I were to be honest. "Edward, give her time, baby." He grimaced, but huffed angrily. "I can't believe you fucking flew to China like that, Mick. I should kick your ass!" She half giggled, half groaned, looking up at him. "You can't." He smirked, but shook his head. "You're right. I can't. And it looks like morning sickness is doing a fine job for me," he teased her. "Thought you were going to blow in my chopper the night of that concert." "Oh God, don't I know it," she moaned, rubbing her face. "Is that how you figured it out?"

"Yes. You've never gotten air sick with me," he sighed, his eyes warming to a sweet green. "You shouldn't go today..." "What?" she gasped, sitting up straight. "I'm not useless..." "She's going," I stated, holding up my hand when Edward started to argue. "Wait! She's going, because while we're there, she's so seeing a doctor," I said through gritted teeth, raising my eyebrow at her to dare argue with me. "We'll find a women's clinic. They can just give you the once-over." Mickey nodded, letting me wipe her tears away. "Okay...doctor it is," she sighed. "Good," I said, standing up from the blanket. "They're going to figure it out, Mick," I told her, jerking a thumb toward the house. "I know. I'm just not ready to tell Obie yet." "No offense, Mickey," Edward said, letting me pull him up. "But he's a fucking idiot if he loses you over this. He's an even bigger fucking idiot if he misses out on this...amazing opportunity. Fuck," he groaned, shaking his head. "I can't imagine missing out of all the cool shit the pregnancies gave me. Hearing the heartbeat, first kicks, seeing them on the monitor for the first time. Damn, that shit rocked. I'm telling you...he should know. Maybe becoming a father without a choice will slap his ass into gear." My eyes watered at how unbelievably reverent Edward sounded when he talked about my pregnancies. I'd always known he loved every second of both of them. He'd lived to talk to my big belly, relished every doctor visit, and strutted like a fucking peacock when he had picture proof of first a beautiful girl, and then his son. I realized if anyone could talk sense into Obie, it would be my husband. Mickey huffed a laugh and looked to me. "You kinda said that same thing. That he was just too comfortable." "I did," I chuckled with a nod, linking my fingers with Edward's. "Come on, Mickey. At least get some toast in you." She nodded and allowed Edward to help her to her feet. "Don't treat me like a weakling, pretty boy," she growled, pointing a finger at him.

"Fine, then... Get your ass in the house," he laughed, playfully pushing her forward. "We need to eat, and then get on the road. Let's go!" I chuckled at the two of them, because they truly acted like siblings. He lived to tease her, protect her, and she valued his opinion and friendship. I was totally interested in knowing just how Emmett and Jasper were going to react to this bit of news.

EDWARD
I pulled into the parking garage next to the building in which Solstice resided. I shut the engine off, because Cassie was giving us some instructions. "Okay, so here's the list of Solstice employees you should speak with," she said, handing a piece of paper to my father. "Next, you are playing Kyra, so you'll need to act it," she said with a smirk. "She had no shame about walking in through the front doors, so we'll walk in through there." She pointed a finger toward two double doors at the far end of the garage that led out to the street level. "That's your best photo op, too." "Got it," Kurt said, tugging on Makenna's shirtsleeve. "Come on. We'll go set up, like we're waiting for them." Mack grinned, giving Bella a wink. "Make it a big fat kiss, guys." I laughed, shaking my head. "Just go!" "I'm just sayin'," she giggled as Kurt still continued to tug at her. "A kiss will hide the fact that it's not really Kyra..." Her voice trailed off as Kurt slammed the SUV back door. "And me?" Mickey asked, looking between me and Bella. "You're with Carlisle. You can act as his assistant," Bella told her. "But once we're inside, it won't matter." She looked better than she had before breakfast as she nodded, because she'd at least taken Bella's advice and picked at a piece of toast, but the fact that my wife had practically poured a glass of milk and a glass of orange juice down her

throat probably was what was keeping her energy level up. She didn't say a word at the table before we left, and Bella and I followed her lead. However, my anger at Obie hadn't abated. I understood that he'd had a tragic childhood, but as far as I was concerned, he was losing out on some of the best shit in life. Mickey really loved him so much so that she'd moved all the way to Alaska to be with him but he needed to understand that there wasn't a perfect parent out there. And he was going to miss out on learning just like the rest of us, because it was the fucking learning that was the hardest, most rewarding, and unconditionally loving part. I was seriously debating on kicking his ass as I told him those things. Or...I'd just call Aunt Kate. I was pretty sure she'd do it for me. "Last thing," Cassie said before we all got out of the car. "We should drop by Kyra's house. A shot at her home would really seal the deal... Plus, she's asked for a few things from there." My eyebrows rose up high, because I hadn't given it much thought, but she was right. "Well, let's get it done. This is going to be a long ass day." We piled out of the SUV, and I tugged on a jacket to conceal the weapon in the small of my back. My dad walked with Cassie and Mickey, and I put on a pair of sunglasses as Bella did the same, stepping out of the passenger side of the car. "How do you want to do this, sweetness?" I asked her, grinning at her sweet as hell giggle, because it was a touch naughty. "Alice said that we should be casually holding hands, and the kiss should look stolen," she said with a sweet grin. "You should hold the door for me, too." "Okay, got it," I chuckled, rolling my eyes, because this shit so wasn't work. It was way too easy to play with Bella. It wasn't exactly a hardship to have to hold her hand, and I definitely wasn't complaining about a fucking stolen kiss. Even if we hadn't been acting, I'd probably have stolen one before we walked in the door anyway.

We exited the garage, and I caught sight of Kurt and Mack just across the street in the courtyard of the building in which we were aiming. Linking my fingers with Bella's, I spoke into the radio. "Okay, hotshots. Get to snappin'," I snorted, rolling my eyes at Bella's giggle. Kurt aimed the camera our way, but we pretended not to notice him. Bella and I waited for a car to pass by before crossing the street. Just before I reached for the door, I tugged my wife to me, wrapping an arm around her waist and firmly planting my hand on her ass. I bent my head to hers, brushing my lips over Bella's. Mindful that I wouldn't just maul her in public, I kept the kiss short and sweet, pulling back to press my forehead to hers. "Love you," Bella chuckled, kissing me chastely one more time. "Oh, sweetness," I sang, shaking my head but keeping our foreheads together. "You have no idea..." She grinned, but pulled away, letting me open the door for her. "Oh God, guys!" Mack gushed in our ears as we walked through the lobby to the elevators, where my father, Cassie, and Mickey were waiting for us. "That's perfect! Hell, we may not even have to manipulate them much, because the faces are kind of hidden just right!" "Good," Bella chuckled. "And it was just awful letting my husband kiss me..." Chuckles echoed over the radio, but Kurt said, "I bet. Okay, we'll be out here when or if you need us." "Keep your eyes peeled," I ordered before stepping into the elevator. "Let me know if you see anything out of the ordinary." "Sir," they both replied. Solstice Music was on one of the upper floors, taking up the entire level. When we exited the elevator, my dad stopped us.

"They're most likely going to panic at my appearance," he told us, holding up the paper that Cassie had given him. "I'd like to conduct the interviews, if you don't mind, Bella." "Nope, but I want inside Ike's office. So if you could arrange some sort of tour..." Bella shrugged a shoulder. "What are you telling them in there?" "Well, when I bought the company, I never gave them any sort of guarantee of job security, so if they would like to keep this office open and running, they'll concede to my demands today," he stated, and I smirked at just how ruthless he could be in business. It was almost as ruthless as when he was in the field. "And what about Ike?" Bella countered. "He's fired, so getting into his office will be no problem," my dad chuckled, giving her a wink. With that said, he opened the double glass doors of the music studio. My father walked in ahead of us, giving the receptionist a cold smile. "Carlisle Cullen from Twilight Tech to see Sid Williams," he stated, and her eyes went wide as she snatched her phone up with a nod. I took a second to look around at the waiting area. It was different than normal waiting rooms. Posters, framed gold records, and several framed photos of celebrities graced the dark walls. I had to smile at the one entire wall that was dedicated to Kyra alone. "Her first gold record," Cassie muttered, catching the direction of where I was staring. "She gave them to Solstice, because not long after that, she went platinum. That's the album she recorded after we got back from the USO tour." I frowned, pissed off at Ike all over again, because it seemed to be a doubleedged sword. Had Ike not threatened her, abused her, would she have succeeded as much by burying herself in her work? Remembering Kyra the way that I did, she probably would have, because she was truly talented, not to mention driven to make that talent perfect. The receptionist got off the phone and turned to my dad. "Sid will be right with you," she told him, but she turned her gaze to the rest of us, her brow furrowing when she caught sight of Cassie. "Cass," she hissed, waving her

forward. "What's going on? Where's Kyra and Gator? And what are you doing with Mr. Cullen?" The questions were rapid fire, and I could tell that they caught Cassie off guard, but it was my dad that answered. "Miss Bailey is taking some time for herself..." "Monica," the girl replied. "Nice to meet you, Monica," he said cordially with a smile. "Cassie has been kind enough to escort me around L.A. today," he told her. "I'm just here to see how Solstice is handling the buyout. Are you happy here, Monica?" "Y-Yes, sir," she whispered, her eyes going wide. "Good, good," he praised. "Then you won't have a problem with keeping this meeting to yourself... As in, no leaks, no emails or texts...that sort of thing, because we wouldn't want what happened to Mr. Raulson to happen to everyone here, would we?" "N-No, sir," she breathed, shaking her head. We all glanced up when a side door opened up, revealing a rather scrawny little man with greasy hair, glasses, and a sharp beak of a nose. The motherfucker was sweating bullets. "Mr. Cullen," he said with a smile, offering his hand. "Sid Williams." My dad took his hand and shook it so hard that the poor man's hold body quaked. "Call me Carlisle," he told him, and then gestured around to the rest of us. "This is my team... Mickey, Bella, Edward, and of course, you know Cassie." "Of course, of course," the man wheezed, nodding profusely. "Why don't we all come back to my office... We'll get started. I'm assuming you're here to check on some things. I can show you around the place." "That would be perfect, thank you." My dad smiled again, though this time, it was menacing. "Oh, and Sid... There are a few people I'd like to speak with today. Can you make sure that they're available?" "Absolutely! Who is it that you'd like to speak with?" Sid asked.

"I need..." Dad pulled out his list and read off of it. "Let's see... Cyrus Baker, Christine Fairchild, and a Jared Walker..." Sid nodded, looking over at Monica. "Have those three people sitting outside my office in five minutes, okay?" "Sure, Sid," she replied, picking up her phone again. She was hissing instructions as we left the reception area. The back offices of Solstice were busy, loud, and in constant motion. The center part of the main room was cubicle after cubicle, and every desk was occupied. Despite the employees' curiosity, they continued their work. Situated around the main room were private office doors some open, some closed but it was the far back corner door that we were aiming. Before he closed his door, Sid gestured to the room. "As you can see, this is the main part of the office. It houses the accounting department, marketing, as well as human resources. Farther down the hall, which I'll show you later, houses art and design, scouting, our IT department, and of course, the recording rooms." We all nodded in acceptance, but my father was itching to get started, and I had a feeling this guy would sweat to death before the interview had even begun. Sid shut his door and gestured to a few chairs in front of his desk before he sat down. My dad took one chair, Bella and Cassie, the other two. Mickey and I stood in front of the doors, which made our pal, Sid, even more nervous. "This guy is about to pass the fuck out," Mick muttered, and I smirked, shooting her a wink. "I think that's what Dad wants," I whispered back, because my father was all about control when it came to situations like this. He wanted people nervous, because anxiety made people honest. If it didn't make them tell the truth, then the lies they told were really fucking thin.

"The first thing I want to go over is Ike Raulson," Dad stated, sitting back in the chair and crossing an ankle over his knee. "He's no longer an employee here." Sid's eyebrows shot up high, causing his brow to wrinkle. "Is this due to his arrest in Seattle?" "Yes, among many, many other reasons," Dad said, smirking a little. "Tell me about him." "He's the best this company has ever seen. He's produced some of the most top selling artists on the charts" "Tell me about him," my father barked, anger crossing over his features. "I don't give a shit about how much money he's made. It's irrelevant. This company could make money without him. Though that's yet to be seen." Sid was sharp, because he caught that threat instantly. And he nodded slowly, wiping a shaking hand across his sweaty upper lip. "He's a tough man, both personally and business wise," Side answered softly. "He's been divorced three times, has three children one from each marriage and he's never been arrested before now... As far as I know." "Better. More," my dad prompted. "He's an ass," Sid breathed, smiling slightly when my dad chuckled. "He is. He couldn't keep a personal assistant for more than a few months. I finally just started using a temp agency." Sid picked up a bottle of water and drank deeply from it, clearing his throat to continue. "He even fired his own son..." Bingo! That's what we were aiming for, right there. "Preston," my dad finished for him. "And where is Preston now?" "No idea," Sid answered, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. "As far as I know, they had a pretty big falling out." "Yes, I've heard that, too," my father sighed, tilting his head at Sid. "What was Preston like?" "Ambitious," Sid answered simply. "He wanted so badly to prove himself here, and had his father not been here, he might've been able to do that, but Ike was

never...satisfied. Ever. Nothing Preston did whether it was bringing in new talent, to typing a simple letter was up to his father's standards." "Dick," I grunted to myself. "No wonder..." Mickey poked my arm to shut me up, but Bella shot me a wink, before turning to Sid. "Mr. Williams, how long have you known Ike and Preston?" she asked him politely. I stood up straighter when Sid smiled at her, because his eyes betrayed him. They dragged lazily down her face to her chest and back up. "Sid...answer her question," my father prompted. "Oh, um, going on twenty years, I think," Sid finally replied. "And was Preston always treated that way?" she asked him, completely ignoring his ogling. Sid grimaced, but nodded, setting his elbows on his desk. "Yeah, Ike was really tough on him, but for good reason. The boy was a handful when he was in his teens." Bella's nose wrinkled adorably, but she nodded, sitting back in her chair. "Thank you, Sid," my father sighed, standing up. "I'd like to talk to those other employees now." Sid nodded, standing up behind his desk. "Of course. Let me get them..." "Actually, what I'd like to do is leave you to your work," my dad countered, holding up a hand. "Perhaps I can take Ike's former office...conduct my interviews in there?" he asked, though his tone of voice left no real room for argument from the little weasel like man. "O-Okay," he sputtered, but bolted around his desk to come to stand before me. I slid out of his way so that he could open his door, but I turned to my father once Sid had left the room. "Who's first?" I asked him, but it was Cassie that answered.

"Christine," she urged. "You'll really get some insight from her. And you don't have to scare her, Carlisle," she giggled. I chuckled, rolling my eyes at my dad's unabashedly evil grin. "Sometimes, he can't help himself," I snorted. "Um, pot...kettle," Bella teased with a sweet laugh, pointing a finger between the two of us. "Edward, you can't stand there and say you haven't done the same thing." "If Sid stares at your tits one more time, we may just get to see Eddie scare him for real," Mickey laughed, shaking her head at Cassie's gasp. "True," I growled, but Bella only chuckled, rolling her eyes. "He's a slimeball, and I have it on good authority that he's milking this company for all its worth," my dad stated, chuckling a bit at our whole exchange. "Let's just say he won't survive this whole take-over." The door shifted behind me, and I stepped back when Sid returned. "If you guys will follow me, I'll show you to Ike's office," he said, again nervously wiping the sweat from his face as he led us through a few winding hallways. We came to the end of the corridor to some double wooden doors and an empty receptionist desk. Sitting in three chairs off to the side were who I assumed to be the people that my father had requested to speak to, and they looked nervous as shit. It didn't take a fucking genius like Alice to realize that the one woman sitting between the two men was Christine. She was thin, pretty, with dark-framed glasses. Her hair was just a shade shy of being true blonde. Her eyes narrowed on Sid as he opened the doors to Ike's office. "It's all yours," Sid told my dad, backing away a bit. "Thank you, Sid. That will be all for now," my father stated, waving him away like he was a fucking bug or some shit. As soon as the little weasel scurried away down the hall, Christine was up and out of her chair, walking straight to Cassie. "You changed your phone number?" she accused, frowning at her. "What the hell, Cass?"

"I had no choice. Come here," Cassie hissed, grabbing her hand and pulling her past all of us and into the office. Mickey shut the door and leaned against it, a funny as hell smirk on her face as she jerked her chin toward the two girls. I spun to see Cassie in a fair amount of trouble, but also being checked over. "What do you mean, you had no choice?" Christine snapped in a whisper, seemingly unaware that we were all watching them. "Kyra's in trouble. They had to change my number. I had no choice," Cassie growled back. "I'm sorry, Chris. I didn't have time to let you know." "Is it true?" Christine asked her, touching her face. "Are you okay?" she asked, and Cassie nodded. "Did Ike really..." "I'm afraid so," my dad interrupted them, amused at the little exchange, because it seemed that Mickey's statement that Cassie wasn't into men was absolutely true, and it seemed that we'd stumbled upon her girlfriend or at least, a very friendly relationship. "Sorry, Carlisle," Cassie sighed, backing away nervously. "Christine Fairchild...this is Carlisle, Bella, and Edward. That's Mickey back there at the door," she introduced us. "Nice to meet you all," she greeted, but turned to my dad. "Ike really...hurt Kyra?" she asked him, and when we all nodded sadly, tears welled up in her eyes. "I knew it!" she hissed, shaking her head. "I knew she was in fucking trouble, but she'd never say anything. Is she okay? And where the fuck is Preston? I know he flipped the hell out when she ended things with him... Ike wouldn't even allow us to say his damn name." Bella snickered and was probably reading the girl just like I was. Christine seemed sharp, cool, and no nonsense, but she also seemed to be the type of person that was extremely observant. My wife turned to my dad. "May I?" she asked him, and he nodded. Bella turned back to Christine. "How did you know Ike was hurting Kyra?" "I didn't, but I could damn well guess," Christine huffed, rolling her eyes. "The guy's an asshole. I was one of his assistants, until I couldn't take it anymore and asked for a transfer to the art department. Nothing's good enough. And she

lived with him when she was younger, so I can just imagine the happy train that was," she muttered the last sentence sarcastically, and we all chuckled, because Rose had pretty much said the same thing. "Poor thing had to deal with him way more than anyone else did." "That's true," Bella conceded, but neither confirmed, nor denied Christine's assumptions. "You were his assistant, right?" she verified, and the girl nodded. "Christine, we're looking for something Ike might have hidden...possibly in here. Would you know where we could look?" "You could try his desk. He hated anyone touching it," she said, and my dad and I walked around to rummage through the drawers. "There's his safe, too, but no one knows the combination..." Mickey laughed, pushing off the door. "Who needs a combination?" she chuckled, cracking her knuckles dramatically, because opening a safe was nothing to her. "Where is this safe?" "Behind that picture of Kyra," Christine answered, pointing toward the far corner of the room. I looked up when Christine rounded on Cassie again. "Who are these people?" "They're trying to help Kyra," Cassie sighed. "Preston's kind of..." "Lost his damn mind," I finished for her, because she seemed nervous about telling her friend anything. "He's become a...problem. A problem that we can't seem to get our hands on." I yanked open drawer after drawer, looking for false bottoms, something with Kyra's name on it, or even some sort of clue as to where to look next, but came up empty handed. I stood up straight, giving Mickey a quick glance. "How ya doin', wild child?" I asked her. "Shh!" she hissed, waving her hand over her shoulder as she pressed her ear to the safe that she'd revealed behind a frame. "Thirty," she muttered, using a pen to write the number on her hand. "Seventeen," she whispered, doing it again, but then shook her head. "No, not seventeen...sixteen," she continued. I shook my head, because as soon as she muttered the number, the safe cracked wide open.

"Excellent, Mickey," my dad praised her, walking to reach inside. He pulled out a small envelope, a notebook, a file folder or two, and what looked like a bank account ledger. He reached in again and pulled out a stack of hundred dollar bills that were still wrapped. "We're taking this shit to Alice," he stated, leaving the money in the safe, "because we don't have time to look through it here. Bella?" "Hmm?" she answered softly from the other side of the room. "Sweetheart, keep looking through this office. I'm going to go speak to the two gentlemen outside, okay? Let me know if you guys find anything else," he told her. "Okay," she sang softly, but when I spun to look at her, I could see the wheels turning as she just took in the room around her. Once my dad left the room, I walked to a filing cabinet. Wes had been unable to obtain a warrant for the office, so he told us to "do what we felt we needed to do." I had no shame in pilfering through the fucktard's shit, though I wasn't finding much. Mickey scanned through the bookshelves, while Cassie and Christine had a hushed conversation. "But you're okay," Christine verified. "I'm fine. I promise. We had to disappear for a while," Cassie answered. "For how long?" "Until they catch him, I think," Cassie sighed, and I wrinkled my nose, because she sounded sad about that, or maybe she was just sorry that she couldn't live her life the way she wanted until this shit was all over. "Preston's trying to hurt Kyra. He's the one leaving those creepy flowers..." I glanced up when she said that last statement, simply to see Christine's reaction. I wasn't sure how many of Kyra's people were aware of those fucked up burned flowers. Christine reacted almost as how I thought she would, because I was reading her pretty well. Her eyes widened, her nose wrinkled in disgust, and she shook her head. But we all turned when Bella addressed the room or maybe she was just thinking aloud. I wasn't quite sure.

"Look at the shit on his walls," she stated, pointing around the room. "Look at how he's arranged the framed posters, photos, and awards." She started by the doorway, where some gold and platinum records were hanging almost from ceiling to floor. "Some of these records date back to the seventies. They're every artist he ever worked with." She walked to the left side of the door. "Over here, there are some promotional posters, even one of Kyra's movie posters, but look next to his desk," she continued, walking to his chair and sitting down. "From here, his main view is that fucking safe. Where everything else is arranged in some sort of order on the wall, the stuff over and around that safe isn't. There's no pattern to it. It's random pictures. And it's not all Kyra, either." "And it's all fucking women," I whispered, coming to stand behind her. "But isn't that..." "Pauline Asbury," Cassie and Christine stated at the same time. "The singer that overdosed in a Vegas hotel room in the mid-eighties?" Mickey asked. "My brothers loved her. Said she reminded them of Janis Joplin." "She was a lot like her," I said with a nod. "We listened to her stuff overseas. One of the commanding officers was a pretty big fan. I didn't matter that she'd been gone for twenty years." "Suddenly, I'm not so sure it was an overdose. What about you?" Bella asked, looking over her shoulder at me, and I grimaced. "I think we just found his...collection." "Yeah," Cassie sighed, glancing up at me and Bella, before walking to the wall. "Oh God, I see it. Kyra, Pauline... This is Jen Jones, Ashley Watson, Layla..." "All are his clients," Christine stated. "Some did very well at one point. Layla's touring right now. However, Ashley's been to rehab more times than I can count." "Jen went the way of TV," Cassie added. "She's married now, lives in Malibu. Has a beautiful little boy." "Yet he keeps her picture," Bella mused, rubbing her temple. "Does he keep it because he hurt her? Or does he keep it because he's blackmailing her? Shit, we're going to need Alice on this stuff," she rambled, shaking her head.

We looked up when my father came back into the room, his face grim. "We should get going. We still need to make a stop at Kyra's house, right?" "Yes," Bella said firmly, standing up from the chair. "And we're making one stop before we leave the city," she added, giving Mickey a dangerously raised eyebrow. "What did you get from those guys?" "Nothing we didn't already know. Cyrus has been here as long as Ike has, so he was able to give me some insight on Ike's relationship with Preston. It was abusive from the get go severe punishments, long periods of alone time, nothing was ever good enough. If Preston brought home a B on his school work, Ike wanted to know why it wasn't an A. Same went for when Preston was working here. If he brought in talent, it wasn't good enough." "Oh, which reminds me," Bella gushed, spinning to face Christine. "What do you know about a Molly?" "Molly..." she whispered, looking at the floor as she thought about the name. "I don't remember a Molly. How long ago?" "It would be about five or six years ago," I told her. "She was young, not really well off, medium brown hair..." Christine was shaking her head. "I swear, I don't know," she sighed. I turned to Cassie, saying, "Give her your cell number the one that Alice set up. Maybe if she comes up with anything, she can call you. But keep that shit limited," I ordered. "And she can't know where we are, Cass. I mean it." Cassie's eyes lit up, and she nodded profusely, tugging Christine away from us. Bella chuckled, shaking her head. "I think you just made their day, baby." "Whatever," I scoffed, rolling my eyes, but looking down at her. "It sucks to be separated from someone," I said simply, shrugging a shoulder. "Going soft, pretty boy," Mickey snickered, elbowing me. "Shut it," I growled, but smirked down at her. "Just wait...the poking and prodding you're about to go through is no field trip."

She grimaced, shoving my shoulder, but we made our way out of Ike's office, only to be met by Sid. My father gripped his hand again, shaking it way too hard, but Sid took it, even with a wince. "Sid, I'll have my office contact you in the next few days," my dad said with a firm nod, turning to me, but my eyes never left Sid. "We should get going, son." "Okay," I said absentmindedly, because Sid's eyes were planted on my wife, specifically on her ass in those sexy as hell tight jeans she was wearing. "She's fucking hot, right?" I asked him, leaning closer to the little weasel and ignoring my dad's snicker. "That's a sweet ass," I murmured in his ear. "God, yes," Sid breathed with slight nod, "and I bet she's really good at..." He finally met my gaze, freezing instantly in mid-sentence, most likely from the murderous look on my face. "Yeah, she really is...my wife is fucking gorgeous," I told him with a low warning to my tone as I slammed a hand to the wall behind him, causing him to jump almost clean out of his skin. "Mind your manners, asshole. You might wanna keep your eyes to yourself, Sid. Otherwise, I'm going to rip them out and shove them in your front pocket, right next to your pen." "Y-Yes, sir," he whispered, going pale as I loomed next to him. "Wait! I-I don't have a p-pen!" I smirked, chuckling low, "I know." My dad huffed a small, but humorless laugh, shaking his head as he glared at Sid. With a deep breath, he said, "We'll be in touch, Sid." He turned to the rest of us. "Let's go. There's more to do before we leave L.A."

CHAPTER fourteen BELLA


"I'm calling Kate. She'll box that boy's ears," Carlisle muttered softly, though I think I was the only one that heard him. He was glaring at the sonogram picture in Mickey's hand while she sat in the front seat with Edward. I shook my head at him. "Leave it," I hissed at him. "Between you and Edward...I swear. This is their problem, Carlisle." He grimaced, but nodded, looking out the window. "I know, but..." I tsked at him, and he shut up. We'd just left the women's clinic where Edward had practically bribed and threatened the poor staff to let Mickey in ahead of everyone else. She'd asked if I would join her in the room, which I did. It had been moving to watch her, because nothing came close to bringing a woman to tears than that first sound of the whirring machine, that little blurry glimpse of the bean on the monitor, and the doctor telling you that everything looked good. It was more emotional for Mickey, because she really wished Obie wanted this. In fact, just to give her extra comfort, I'd called Edward into the room when the baby was on the screen. He'd turned what could have been a really tough situation into something really good, because he could truly appreciate the little blurb on the monitor more than anyone. When we'd pulled in, everyone in the car had been confused, and Mickey had finally had to tell them. I was pretty sure the news would get back to the beach house before we did. Makenna had hugged her fiercely, telling her that we were there for her. Kurt had been confused, but just like Edward and Carlisle, had turned angry at the thought of Obie missing this first checkup. Kurt was young, but he was all about his family. Edward's phone rang shrilly in the silence of the car as we made our way to Kyra's home. "Yes, Alice," he answered, turning the phone on speaker. "Okay, okay, okay," she chanted with a sigh. "I let a few leaks out there, Edward. I just wanted you to know. I waited until after you left Solstice before I

did it so that when we let those pictures out, they'll make much more sense. I haven't released your name yet, but I'll wait until you are in the house before allowing another leak out. Okay?" "Got it, Alice," he told her. "Anything else?" "Yes," she giggled. "Esme and Alec want to know what Bella wants for her birthday dinner. It's tomorrow night, and since you guys can't really go out..." "Nothing," I stated with an eye roll. "Just make dinner as usual," I chuckled and waved a hand. "Bella, no..." Edward argued with a laugh. "Tell them we'll talk about it when I get back." "Edward..." I huffed. "Please, don't..." "Hush, sweetness," he chided sweetly. "I've got this. And I haven't forgotten what you wanted, love." He raised a deadly sexy eyebrow up at me in the rear view mirror, daring me to counter him. I smirked, but shut up, because I knew better than to argue with him on this. He obviously had something in mind, and even though I didn't really need a big deal made over my birthday, Edward liked spoiling me. The only thing I'd asked for was just some alone time with him, though as long as we were at the safe house, I didn't see that happening anytime soon. "Excellent," Alice sang. "I'll let them know. See you guys in a few. Call if you need anything." "Alice!" I said, sitting forward. "How's Kyra doing?" "Oh, Bells," she groaned sadly. "She's been working with Esme and Gator all damn day. The mere idea that Ike is out free even though he's being monitored by the Feds and isn't allowed to leave Seattle has really just knocked her on her ass. I even tried pulling up the security of the hotel he's in, but she doesn't get it." I sighed, falling back in my seat. "Damn, she's not really seeing it, Alice," I told her, shaking my head. "To her, it's just a picture on the screen. The threat is still very real to her."

"Well, it doesn't fucking help that the news is plastered with Ike's old, wrinkled, wretched ass! He's claiming that it's a false arrest, that he's been set up, and that nothing that he's being accused of is true. He may have a point, but Wes is withholding those tapes from the media, and Ike knows that Kyra is his accuser. So she's freaking out. She keeps saying that no one will believe her, that everyone will think that she's lying, and that they'll believe him." "We should just put a hit on him," Mickey growled, shaking her head. "One less pig in the world..." "Tempting," Carlisle muttered, but smirked at Alice's laugh. "Get in line," she said through the speaker. "Alec, Emmett, and Jasper are all trying to come up with a plan. They range from the plausible, to the ridiculous. I believe tar and feathering came up, not to mention public hanging and castration..." The whole car full of us broke into laughter, but Edward snorted, "What? No guillotine?" "Yes! A small one...that was the castration part!" she answered him, bursting into hysterics. Edward's shoulders shook with his laugh as he nodded in agreement. "Food for thought, pixie. Maybe when we get back, we can add to the list. Ask Emmett if he can still get ahold of that acid..." "I will," she snickered. "You're coming up on Kyra's neighborhood, so I'll let you go. Oh, and a pic of you and Bells walking in alone wouldn't be a bad thing," she hinted, before ending the call. Kyra's neighborhood, while extremely upper class, was spread out enough that we could pull off what Alice was asking of us and get everyone inside the house without much fuss. Kurt hopped out of the car, camera in hand, and planted himself across from the driveway as we pulled in. Since Alice hadn't released that Kyra was going to her home, the streets were empty, quiet, and pretty damn still in the middle of the afternoon. Edward parked the car, telling his dad, Cassie, Mickey, and Mack to head on inside when Cassie opened the garage door. We were waiting for them to all go in so that he and I could walk in together, giving Kurt his photo op.

With a sexy as hell crooked smile, he opened the car door for me, asking, "Hmm...let's see... If you were bringing me home for the first time, sweetness, how would we act?" I had to laugh, because he was enjoying this shit way too much. Still giggling, I gripped the front of his jeans and tugged him closer as I still sat in the back seat of the SUV. "I'm thinking we would be...desperate to get inside," I purred at him, pulling his mouth to mine. He chuckled low and deep against my lips. "No tour? Just straight to the bedroom, love? Hmm, my naughty girl," he crooned, wrapping his arms all the way around me and picking me up off the seat. He let my body slither down his own, though his strong arms didn't relent their hug around me. "You're kinda hot, Edward...and definitely hard to resist," I told him, grinning when the radio in our ears filled with groans. "Shut it, all of you!" I ordered with a laugh. "No one said you had to fucking listen!" "Omigod, just kiss already so I can get off this street," Kurt whined, but there was a laugh laced in there, too. Edward and I laughed, but pulled away just long enough for him to close the car door. He laced my fingers with his as we walked into the garage, aiming for the door. "Stop," Kurt ordered. "Do something there, because you can tell this is Kyra's house, but not that you aren't her. And Bella, with your back to me, we won't need to alter the picture." "Okay," I sang with a cheesy as hell grin, and I pushed Edward up against the garage wall right next to the door. "Kiss me," I ordered. Edward didn't waste a single second. One hand shot to my hair at the base of my neck, while the other cupped my ass shamelessly, bringing our bodies that much closer. Just to fuck with me, I was sure, he kissed me stupid, with a deep moan, exploring tongue, and soft, sweet lips, all the while kneading my ass with strong, knowing fingers. With one hand, I reached for the doorknob, opening the door wide as I broke from Edward's mouth. "Got the shot, Kurt?" I asked breathlessly, and then bit my bottom lip as Edward gazed down at me.

"Yup, just need one more," he chuckled. "Then get this," I laughed, stepping inside the hallway, grasping the front of Edward's shirt, and tugging his ass inside the house, only to slam the door. The whole thing caused Kurt to burst into hysterics. "Shit, that was perfect," he chuckled, and soon, he was stepping into the hallway to join us. "Whoa..." he breathed, looking around. Whoa was right. The house was stunning. It was Tudor style on the outside, but inside, it was light, airy, with comfortable colors and furniture. Lots of windows let in natural light as the three of us went in search of everyone else. We found them in the main living area. "You two are having way too much fun with this shit," Carlisle teased with a chuckle, rolling his eyes at his son's shameless grin and shrug. "Don't make me pour cold water on you," he warned, pointing his finger at us. "I can't help it," I sighed, kissing Carlisle's cheek. "Your son is too cute to resist," I told him. He scoffed, again rolling his eyes. "Yes, his mother said the same thing, and that's why he got away with the most insane things as a child." Edward grinned, but said nothing as he ran a hand through his hair and looked around the house. I did the same, my eyes landing on the coffee table in the living room. I could see where Ike had torn through Kyra's scrapbooks looking for the picture of her and Edward from the USO tour, because he'd left them all right there. I looked up when Cassie breezed through the room, a small duffel bag in her hand, but it was Makenna's curiosity that was making me smile. "So you don't like men...like at all?" Mack asked, following right behind her like a shadow. "I mean, did you at one time? Or did you always know?"

Kurt, Carlisle, Edward, and I chuckled, because Mickey leaned up against the wall just observing the conversation. Her face was hilarious, because it was almost like she knew what was coming. "Oh, I tried it," Cassie chuckled, seemingly unembarrassed to have this chat in front of everyone. In fact, she was pretty damn comfortable about her sexual preference, even though she'd barely mentioned it since she'd been with us, but we'd hardly broached the subject. "I had a boyfriend in high school, but foreplay seemed to be the best part. The rest was...I don't know...boring work." I glanced up to the boys and wanted to crack the fuck up, because they were paying really close attention to this shit. "Yeah, but don't you...I mean... Toys?" Makenna finally sputtered out, again seemingly unaware that we were all listening as Cassie pilfered around in the hallway closet. "I mean, that's a dick... They're usually dick-shaped..." I slapped my hand to my forehead, because the conversation was just so...Makenna, but took a spot against the wall next to Mickey. "You so started this shit, didn't you?" I muttered to her. "I did," she giggled softly. "I couldn't help it, because Mack was way too curious for her own good. And I was interested as to just how...close Cassie and Christine were." "I think we're about to find out," I snickered, looking up when the two girls breezed back through the room, heading toward a door off to the side. Poor Cassie was trying to hurry to pack the few things she needed, but Makenna wasn't relenting. "So you don't buy the ones that look real," she surmised, and again, I just shook my head. "Um, no," Cassie chuckled. "Penises are kinda ugly." "No they aren't," Mack, Mickey, and myself all muttered at the same time in argument. Cassie laughed, looking up at all of us. "Opinions vary, I see."

"Yes," we all answered her, which truly just pushed the boys over the edge, causing them to burst into hysterics. "Some are ugly...or they can be...beautiful," Makenna added with a swoon to her voice, ignoring the guys. "But if they're..." "Big?" Mickey provided. "Straight?" I added, because I couldn't resist. "Standing proud," Mack finished with a laugh. "'Cause you know..." "And they..." Mickey gestured with her hands to represent a slight curve. "All like...so you can" I said, cupping my hand in mid-air, because by now, my husband was listening with rapt attention to this cryptic conversation that only women truly understood. "Um, no," Cassie laughed, shaking her head and setting down her bag. "Yeah, there are veins..." "Yes!" the two girls and I chanted loudly, which caused Cassie to practically gag. "And that's why I prefer women," Cassie stated. "Christine, specifically," Makenna surmised, raising her eyebrows in wait for the answer. "Yes, Christine, specifically," Cassie sighed, smirking at her. "We've been together for a few months now. I miss her." That seemed to chill the room out a bit, and we all gazed at her. It really just hit me how much of her life Cassie had given up in order to not only take care of Kyra, but to go into hiding with her. Cassie looked to Edward. "Thanks for that, by the way. It'll be nice to keep her up to date. She's trustworthy, I promise." "Just...be careful. We don't need any fuck ups," he told her, waving her gratitude away, but his eyes were warm. I smiled at him, because despite the circumstances, he could've ignored the whole damn thing, but apparently, he'd taken sympathy on them. He obviously

trusted Cassie enough to value her opinion of Christine. And even though he was acting all cranky and shit about it, he was really being so very sweet. We all jumped when the doorbell went off. But Carlisle sighed, walking away from us. "That would be Teri. I had her meet us here. It made the best sense," he explained as he opened the door. I stayed leaning against the wall as everyone made their way down into the living room to greet Teri Foley. Warm lips pressed to my temple, and I couldn't help but lean into them. "You're very sweet for letting Cassie stay in contact with Christine," I sighed, watching as Carlisle reintroduced Teri to everyone. "Mmhm," Edward hummed against my cheek, trailing his lips to my ear. "So you like the way a cock looks, love?" he asked in a deadly sexy whisper, and I grinned, shaking my head, because as much I wanted to explore this particular conversation with him, we needed to join everyone else. "Just yours, baby," I crooned to him, brushing my lips across his. "And I miss it," I sighed, kissing him one more time. "Oh, and it misses you, too," he groaned, shaking his head to clear it. "Soon, baby. I'll take care of you really soon," he vowed, cupping my face and caressing my cheekbones with his thumbs as he gazed at me through his beautifully long eyelashes, the green completely gone in his eyes, leaving them dark, heated, and filled with sensual promise. "Good," I said with a smirk, because the last time we'd made love was the handcuff incident. As hot as that had been, it had been a few days since. All the playing around, flirting, and making out just for pictures had me aching for him, especially since he was enjoying it so much. "Let's go be sociable," I chuckled, linking his fingers with mine. "Otherwise, I'm going to shove your ass in that closet and prove to you just how...mmm, pretty I think you are," I told him, letting my eyes purposefully drag down to the front of his jeans and back up to his oh so green eyes as I licked my lips. He grinned shamelessly, kissing my forehead. "Fair enough, sweetness." Edward and I stepped into the living room, and Carlisle reintroduced us to Teri.

"Teri, you remember my son, Edward, and my daughter-in-law, Bella," he said, before taking a seat on the sofa. "Of course." She smiled and shook our hands, but it fell quickly when she turned back to Carlisle. "How's Kyra doing?" He wrinkled his nose, shook his head, and let out a deep breath. "She's...struggling. Apparently, the abuse has been going on since the beginning." "Stupid bastard," Teri hissed, wincing at the mere thought. She turned to Cassie. "You didn't know?" Cassie shook her head no. "No, she hid it really well. And I guess Ike would wait until I wasn't around to say anything. I have only lived with her since she bought this house," she explained. Teri nodded in acceptance and listened as we caught her up to speed on all that was going on with Kyra. We didn't tell her where we were keeping her, but we did let her know that the singer was safe and most likely taking some time away for a bit. When we got around to the subject of Ike and Preston, the name Molly came up again. "That name sounds familiar, but... I'm not sure," she said, looking around at all of us. "You said this would've been about five years ago?" "Yes," I answered, nodding once and pulling out my phone, where Alice had been able to send a picture of Molly from the video we had. "Do you recognize her?" "No, not at all," she answered, shaking her head, "but I don't always represent singers. I help Kyra with her acting career. Damn, she looks scared to death in this picture." "It's funny you should say that, because she's presumed dead," Carlisle stated grimly. "She's been missing this entire time." "And with good reason, I guess," Teri groaned, looking at the picture one more time, before handing my phone back to me. "I imagine both of those men scared her, if what you're saying they did is true. Preston has quite the temper on him, but he never used it against his father."

"What makes you say that?" I asked, sitting forward in the loveseat. "Ike was tough on him, everyone saw that, but Preston would take it. He was a grown man, but he still took the insults, the condescending tone, and the rules his dad would lay down. I heard Ike once tell Preston who he could and couldn't date. Pissed Preston off something fierce, but as far as I know, he never saw the girl he'd been interested in again." "Oh, this makes much more sense," I sighed, rubbing my temple. "What if... What if Ike suppressed Preston his whole life? I mean, everything about the guy would be right there under the surface, but Ike made him push it back down. What if it started when he was a kid?" I asked, my gaze landing on Carlisle. "He would be angry, defensive, and dangerous...if his mental capacity snapped. And what if it snapped around the time his high school girlfriend broke up with him?" Carlisle rubbed his bottom lip slowly as he thought it over, but it was Kurt that piped up. "Well, let's look at what we know about Preston," he murmured, ticking his points off with his fingers. "He's possessive, he's smart, he's angry, and he's been told all his life that nothing he does is good enough. He's probably reaching the point that he's rebelling against Ike, which will be dangerous, because despite what an asshole Ike is, he's most likely saved more than one woman from Preston's issues. He's completely obsessed with Kyra, which is interesting, because at this point, you would think that due to his past, he'd have let her go by now, but he's only gotten worse. He let go of his high school girlfriend once he realized that she was surrounded by protection, but now, Preston's just...escalating." "You know," Makenna sighed, holding up a finger, "certain events can push someone with psychotic tendencies past a breaking point. Maybe... Maybe Preston's breaking point was Kyra's breakup. Or maybe his father finding him stalking Kyra. Something pushed him over the edge way past what he's been doing." "Or has it?" Edward added. "What if it was Preston that caused Molly's...disappearance? Not Ike." He ran a hand through his hair. "In the video, it was Preston that was pissed off. Ike dismissed them both completely, and if what everyone is saying is true, then Preston would blame Molly for

embarrassing him in front of his father, for not being what he'd promised his dad she could be. He beat up his high school girlfriend, but what if he had upped it to murder by the time Molly came around?" "Hmm," I said, studying Edward's face, but I pulled out my phone. "Ali's Mortuary... You stab 'em, we slab 'em," Alice answered, and I rolled my eyes. "Alice, I need you guys to look into something for me," I told her. "Hit me," she sang, and I could hear her fingers flying over her keyboard. "Pull college security records at USC at the time that Preston was going to school there," I told her. "I'm curious if there were any unsolved attacks, maybe dismissed stalkings...anything. I have a funny feeling that while Preston was away from daddy, he was testing his wings." "Okay, I'm on it. Give me a few," she told me, ending the call. I got up from the loveseat, pacing slowly in front of everyone, but I spun to Edward. "I want inside Ike's house. Now. Today." He grinned, saluting me. "Yes, ma'am," he grunted, causing the whole room to chuckle. I snorted, rolling my eyes, because his bad habits were starting to rub off on me, apparently. "Sorry, but I want to see Preston's room. I want to poke around the house to look for where those video tapes could be." "We'll have to call Wes to get clearance," he replied with a nod, pulling out his phone. "I'm pretty sure they're watching that house just in case Preston comes back." "I'm sure. Tell him we won't touch anything, but I just want to look around. I need to see how they lived," I begged him. "Done, sweetness," he said, standing up from the sofa and putting the phone to his ear. "Wes, we need a favor..."

EDWARD
Two heavy metal gates swung open when I pulled the SUV into Ike's driveway. I sneered at the place, because it was audacious and a disgusting show of wealth. I drove through, getting stopped by an officer. "You must be Cullen," the guy said. "Wes called. You guys have been cleared. Just see Myles when you get to the house. He'll show you around." "Thanks," I said with a nod, and then drove the rest of the way up the driveway. It was dark by the time we'd made our way across town, and the place was lit up and crawling with Feds. There were a few walking the grounds, a few posted at the front doors, where crime scene tape had been draped, and several clustered around a CSU van. I stood up out of the car, immediately opening the back door to let Bella out, and we were met with a young, tall, African American agent. "Cullen?" he asked, holding out his hand. "Yeah, Myles?" I verified, shaking his firmly. "Yes, sir. Welcome to Neverland," he chuckled, sweeping an arm behind him. "Benny and Wes speak highly of you. And you must be Bella..." "Yes," she laughed, shaking his hand, as well. "Neverland?" He shot her a smirk and turned to look behind him. "The boys have dubbed it that. Just simply for its massive size." He spun back around to us. "I've been told to let you guys look around. We're pretty much finished here, but I will ask that if you find something because Wes is pretty convinced that you will that you'll just...share. Okay?" "Okay," we both said, and we all turned around when everyone in the SUV piled out. Myles' eyes lit up. "Which one of you ladies is Cassandra Winters?" he asked, and Cassie nervously stepped forward. "Excellent!" he gushed, clapping his

hands together. "We were wondering if we might have you look at a few things. Maybe you can give us some names?" he asked. She nodded. "Sure, but I didn't really work for Ike. I work for Kyra," she explained. "I know, I know," he chanted, dismissing her worry. "With as many videos and photos as we've found, any help you can give us would be appreciated." Makenna smirked, shooting Bella a wink. "I'll stay with her. You guys go...do what you do." Bella turned to Kurt. "Bring the camera. I want everything." Kurt nodded, diving into the back seat of the SUV to grab the camera, slinging it around his neck. We introduced Myles to my dad, Kurt, and Mickey, and he led us up the steps and into the house, leaving Mack and Cassie in the protection of another agent by the name of Allen. "God, could Ike be more flamboyant?" Bella muttered, rolling her eyes once we set foot inside the foyer. "He showcases his wealth like he's making up for other shortcomings," she chortled, grinning when Mickey shoved her a bit. "Maybe that's why he's such an asshole...shortcomings," Mickey laughed, which caused us and the officers near us to laugh as well, because Mickey held up her finger and thumb about an inch apart. "Ah, it seems we've found our topic of the day," my dad sighed with a slow shake to his head, which only caused my wife to laugh that much harder. "Okay, okay," I sighed, unable to fight my smile. "Let's just...get this shit done. Sweetness, where do you want to start?" "Upstairs. The bedrooms," she answered, but she turned to Mickey and my dad. "I'm looking for hiding places for those tapes. I'm also looking for signs of anything to do with Preston, Kyra, or even Molly..." She turned back to Myles. "You've swept the whole house?" "Yes, ma'am," he replied. "We weren't really dusting for prints, except down in the recording studio. I doubt we got much in regards to the missing girl...Molly?"

"Yes, Miss Bailey identified her to Wes," Bella told him with a nod. "We're thinking it was Molly Parsons, a girl reported missing about that time by her grandfather. It seems she used to date...or had at least been seen with Preston." "That was the last call I got from Wes," he stated. "I hope you're right. When we pulled up that old cold case, there was just nothing on it. No clues, no leads...nothing." Bella nodded, like she'd figured as much, but told us all to start looking around. The house was humongous. Mickey and my dad took the downstairs, starting in what looked like an office or a library. Kurt and I followed Bella upstairs, each taking different bedrooms. There were several rooms that just looked like unused guest rooms, except for one close to the end of the hallway. "Hey, Mick! Get up here!" I called, and she ran up the stairs to me. "I didn't find shit down there," she huffed, jerking a thumb behind her and rolling her eyes. "I would've thought for sure that the asshole would have had a home safe type situation, but I've looked everywhere." I nodded that I'd heard her, but tugged her closer. "What do you think? Is that to keep people out? Or in?" I asked, pointing toward the door. There was a lock on it that didn't match any other bedroom door down the hall. "In." Mickey grimaced, looking up at me. "Look," she said, opening the door and leading us inside the room. "The keyhole is on the outside, but in here...there's no keyhole or switch to lock it. It's simply for outside use." "Fuck," I growled, running a hand through my hair. "How many..." "Don't think about it," she groaned, glancing around the room. "He's been doing this for decades, pretty boy. There's no telling how many girls he locked in her