The Path We Choose

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chapter 38


I whipped my head around as soon as I heard the elevator doors close and I instantly realized that Bella was gone.

Panicking, my eyes darted to my father as he stepped forward and said, "She's gone downstairs to be with the children Edward."

"Pop, I can't…she's going to…I didn't mean," I stuttered out and the realization of what I had just done crashed down on me.

Carlisle carefully walked toward me, acting as if he was approaching a wild animal which I knew I deserved and then some. "Son, is your hand alright?" he asked and I looked down to the hand I was unaware I had cradled against my chest.

"I don't have any fucking idea," I groaned and closed my eyes and ran my good hand through my hair.

Emmett grunted from beside me and I wanted to kick my own ass for lashing out at him the way I just did. "Jesus Em, I'm so fucking sorry," I told him.

I watched, utterly horrified, as he rubbed his jaw and stumbled as he tried to stand up. He smirked at me, "Now, is it safe to say it'll be okay?"

"Emmett, really," my dad sighed in exasperation but the corners of his mouth rose…just a bit, and I couldn't help but let out a cleansing breath.

I picked my head up and looked at my brother, my very best friend in the world, and the enormity of the words I'd just spoken to him filled me with so much shame I could hardly bear it.

Sighing deeply, I began to speak, "Emmett…," but I didn't get anything else out.

"Edward, don't. I don't want nor need an apology from you. If anyone should be apologizing, it should be me for not protecting Bella, the kids, and you the way I promised I would," Emmett said in an anguished voice.

I shook my head at him, there was so much to say but my mind was a jumbled mess. I couldn't find the words I wanted and needed to say in the midst of all the chaos.

I heard the elevator and jumped when the doors opened. My eyes immediately looked to see if it was Bella and my shoulders sagged when I realized it wasn't her, but Riley.

"Edward, Emmett, Dr. Cullen," he said briskly as he approached the three of us. He pulled on a pair of gloves and looked at Emmett as he said, "Talk to me."

Emmett ran his hands over his face before he took a deep breath and said, "We had all just come in from having dinner. As we walked down the hallway, Masen noticed Bella's sweater hanging from the doorknob and we all stopped. Once we noticed the envelope pinned to the sweater, we sent the kids downstairs with Seth, Rose, and Tanya. Bella just left to go down as well," Em trailed off when he noticed me as I pinched my nose with my good hand.

The doors of the elevator opened again and this time more men stepped out. One was dressed in a suit like Riley. He was introduced to us as his partner, Jared. The rest looked like technicians and the whole thing made me sick to my stomach.

I groaned as I watched them approach the sweater and the envelope. I bent over and took a few deep breaths. I felt like I was on fire, my whole body shook and my vision blurred as the reality of why all these men were here finally hit me.

Someone wanted to seriously scare us; wanted us to not even feel safe in our own home. I couldn't shake the what if's from my brain no matter how hard I tried. What if we hadn't gone to dinner tonight and Bella and Masen would have been in the building all alone? What if next time whoever was stalking us didn't stop at the door but made their way inside? What if whoever it was, was able to get Bella …or one of the kids alone? What if something happened to one of them?

I hissed out in pain when I curled my fingers into a fist, momentarily forgetting about my injured hand.

Motherfucker, it felt like this nightmare would never end.

"Edward, son, are you alright?" Carlisle questioned carefully but I couldn't answer him. I couldn't find my voice. All I could do was shake my head.

At my dad's question, Riley looked at me and said, "Edward, if you need to go down and see Bella, I can send someone for you when I need you."

I stared at him blankly and thought about Bella downstairs. My stomach felt like I had swallowed a bowling ball. I knew I needed to talk to her, to make sure she was alright…that we were alright, but I just couldn't do it yet. I needed some answers before I saw her and the only way I was going to get those was to stay here.

"I need to know what's going on here first before I can even think about talking to her," I mumbled to Riley.

I looked toward my father and asked, "Was she okay?"

Stupidest fucking question in the history of the world I knew, but I had to ask it anyway.

Carlisle frowned and immediately my stomach felt like I'd swallowed a boulder instead of a bowling ball. Jesus Christ this whole nightmare just continued to get worse and worse.

"Edward, she's worried about you, but besides that, I think she was holding it together," Dad answered me warily.

"Shit," I whispered hoarsely.

I turned to watch the technicians dust for fingerprints on the doorknob as well as the walls beside the door. I let out a string of curse words a mile long when I watched them shake their heads at Riley indicating there was nothing there.

The frustration continued to build and build. I couldn't help but throw my head back against the wall as I became more and more overwhelmed and I let out a deep groan.

What the hell were we supposed to do now? Every time one of these damn things popped up it felt like we got further away from finding out the who and the how than we were before. I had racked my brain to the point of causing myself migraine after migraine as I tried to figure out who could possibly hate Bella and/or I this much that they would try to cause this much strife.

Lauren was, of course, at the top of my list. After the stunt she pulled at the office on Monday and then in the parking lot afterward, I knew there was a whole hell of a lot more to what Lauren was trying to do than what she tried to pass off. She just walked by a toy store and remembered the twin's birthday…my ass she did. I had had Felix and Alice pour over every piece of paper Lauren had signed her name to, making sure there was nothing, absolutely not one thing, we could have missed when Lauren basically sold me her children.

I was so proud of Bella when she called from the suburban to tell me what Lauren said to her…and what her response back was. Lauren was fucking delusional if she thought she could intimidate my girl in any way, shape, or form…especially where Maddie and Masen were concerned. No fucking way. Bella would protect those two with her life if it came right down to it, and I was pretty damn sure Lauren realized just how serious Bella was by the time she was done with her.

Lauren was never one to back down and she sure as shit wouldn't go quietly, I was positive of that. That is what scared me the most though about Lauren. As horrible as it was to even think, I had no doubt she was more than capable of using our kids to try to get whatever it was that she wanted this time. She was desperate, I could tell that from both encounters we'd had with her, and desperate people do desperate things.

Next was Kate…deluded, fucking nuts Kate. Where the hell that woman ever got the idea I was interested in her at all was totally beyond me. However, the day in my office where she tried to attack Bella, she was truly and incredibly angry. I thought back over what she said and my insides clenched when I remembered her words. "You walk in here and into his life and you took him away from me. I've been waiting patiently for him, for Edward to notice me and all my hard work goes up in flames as soon as you and your damn puppy crashed into his life. I hate you!"

Could she really hate Bella so much that she would try to do something as sick as follow us around while she took our pictures? Was she so deluded that she thought that, if by some miracle, Bella and I were no longer together I would go running to her? Hell if I knew… but I did know that to whoever was doing this, it was personal.

When I thought personal, my next thought went straight to Jacob fucking Black. There was no way in hell anyone would ever convince me that he wasn't pining away for Bella. That damn mutt was so in love with her it wasn't even funny. Every time he looked at me, I swore it was like he wished the ground would open up and swallow me whole so that I disappeared forever. I could give a damn if he was good at his fucking job or that Seth trusted him for some stupid ass reason, that guy loved my girl and no one was going to be able to convince me of anything different. It would only make sense for him to try to come between Bella and me somehow so he could have a shot with her. What better way than to scare me off so he could come in and save the day?

Next we had the fucking douche bag Ian. Jesus what kind of coincidence did it have to be that he showed up in New York City with Jane of all people just as the letters started? I knew Bella said that their split was amicable and that he was a nice guy that she just didn't click with, but what if was different for him? I knew the kind of person Bella was and anyone would be a fool to not fall madly in love with her. What if their split wasn't as mutual as Bella assumed it was? Maybe he was biding his time, and now that she was with me, he realized he had lost whatever shot he mistakenly assumed he had with her? What if his sole purpose in coming to New York was to try to get her back?

Aro and Jane both came to mind when I thought of people that would try anything to fuck with Bella and I. Out of spite, out of desperation…it was hard to tell what their motive could possibly be but they were both extremely pissed at Bella's willingness to walk away from them and from Volturi when her contract was up. Aro's not so subtle message to me when I had lunch with Jasper gave me the creeps every time I thought about it. The way he kept referring to Bella as 'my Isa' was just…wrong. First at the Gala and then on the other multiple times I'd seen him, not to mention at the restaurant, he always looked so sinister. There was no doubt in my mind that he was, at this very moment, trying to come up with a way to keep Bella indebted to him so she wouldn't be able to leave. As for Jane, there was always just something so…off about her and the way she acted around Bella. Sure she was nice to her when she had to be, but there was an undercurrent that I was unable to put my finger on, but I knew it was there. From the things that Bella had told me about Jane, there were more times than she could count when Jane behaved in a way that was either downright spiteful or cruel for no apparent reason.

I shook my head and came to the most unwelcome and chilling thought of them all. What if it was just some random nut case that became obsessed with her…or with me and we had no way of ever finding out who it was? You heard about things like that all the time, never thinking it could ever happen to you, but what if it did? What if there was nothing personal about this at all and it was just some bizarre coincidence that brought a psycho, literally, to our door?

It was all too damn much to even think about, and between me pulling my hair until it hurt and my throbbing hand, I felt like I had been run over by a car…or just got the shit beat out of me by my brother, which under the present circumstances would only be fair.

"Edward," Riley called to me as he pulled me from my speculating. "Let's go inside and I'll fill you in on what's going on."

He still had his gloves on and the technician handed him the sweater as well as the envelope with the letter in it. Riley opened the door and I was surprised to find that I had completely missed the other officers that had come upstairs and were now walking through the loft.

Jesus, I must have really been deep in thought!

As soon as I had that thought, another one immediately followed and this one stopped me in my tracks.

"Edward?" My father questioned when I stopped abruptly.

I swung my head around and looked at him, my eyes wild and my breathing heavy. I ignored the flare of pain that shot up my arm when I squeezed both of my hands into tight fists. My whole body felt like I had been doused in gasoline and then had a match thrown on it.

I was so mad, so fucking enraged, that my vision blurred and my teeth ground together as I tried to keep myself from completely and totally…losing it.

The overwhelming sense of violation I suddenly felt swept through me like a tsunami and all I could do was fall to my knees and hold my head in my hands.

My father knelt down beside me and wrapped his arm around me and just held on to me. "Edward, son, I've got you. I'll help you, please let me help you," he whispered and kissed the side of my head over and over again, just like he used to when I was younger.

"Dad, I don't know how much more I can take," I choked out.

Emmett was suddenly on my other side and they both gripped my arms and helped me stand back up again.

"Edward. Jesus." Emmett said, completely at a loss for words.

Thank fuck he didn't tell me it would be okay because I honestly didn't know what I would do if I heard those words one more damn time.

There was a commotion at the door and my head whipped around to see what was going on. I saw a flash of blonde hair and yelled out, "Hey, he's okay. He needs to be here, let him in."

The officers that had blocked the door looked at Riley and he nodded indicating that Jasper could come in.

Jasper rushed to stand in front of me, his eyes full of panic and his breathing erratic. "Where is she?" He practically screamed at me, and then he took a deep breath to calm himself.

"Jasper," Carlisle said quietly. How the man was able to speak in a rational tone of voice was totally beyond me but that was my father…the epitome of calm. "Bella went downstairs to be with Maddie and Masen. Seth, Rose, and Tanya are with them now. I wouldn't be surprised if Demetri and Marcus, as well as Ben aren't here as well. She's perfectly safe," I made a noise that was somewhere between a groan and a scoff and my father looked at me, his eyes full of understanding and amended, "for the time being Bella is safe."

"Christ, when Rose called me, I thought, I couldn't…" Jasper stammered and I knew exactly what he meant.

"Riley is waiting to speak with us," Dad said as he and Emmett continued to hold on to me. "Why don't we let him tell us what he knows and then we'll go from there."

"Edward, man," Jasper said as he looked at me. I could tell he wanted to say so much, but couldn't find the words so I just said simply, "I know Jasper."

He nodded in understanding and we all made our way to the dining room table to sit and listen.

My dad and brother helped me sit in a chair and though there was a part of me that felt completely ridiculous at having to be coddled the way I was, a bigger part was so fucking grateful to have them to lean on.

Jasper hurried to the kitchen and pulled out a few bottles of water and passed them out to all of us before he sat down. Once we were all situated, Riley and Jared shared a look before Riley faced me.

"Edward, let me start by telling you that whoever left the sweater and the envelope didn't enter the loft. There is no indication that the door was opened and from the cursory walk through the technicians and officers have done, it doesn't look like anything was disturbed either. I'll need you to take a look with me to verify, but I'm confident that the door was the farthest the perp got," Riley concluded.

"Well, that is at least something," my dad, ever the optimist, said.

"Dr. Cullen, I'm afraid that is about the extent of my good news," Riley said in a voice laden with resignation. "Again, we dusted the envelope and the letter inside for prints and came up empty. Whoever we are dealing with is at least smart enough to use gloves or something to keep from leaving any prints. There are no markings on the outside of the envelope and unfortunately, the only thing inside the envelope is another letter for Bella and for Edward," Riley said all the while watching my face.

That shit just pissed me off, not that I didn't understand his hesitation though. "Damn it Riley, just show me the fucking letter," I hissed to him, not missing the look of apprehension in his face or the face of his partner Jared.

"What?" I barked out as they continued to waver.

"Edward," Riley began slowly as he first looked at me, then at Pop, Emmett, and Jasper. "Are you sure you want to know what this says? You don't have to look at it. The fact that the sweater and the letter were left inside a supposedly secure building coupled with the change in tone of this letter," he said as he pointed to the envelope on the table, "makes me sure I'll have no problem getting you and your family assigned some sort of police protection until we are able to discern who is sending these to you and Bella. It's not necessary for you to read this, in fact, I'd like to firmly suggest you don't."

I barely registered Emmett's sharp intake of breath or Jasper's hiss of 'Jesus Christ' from across the table. I only noticed my father next to me because he squeezed the arm his hand was wrapped around so hard I flinched. The only thing I did know for sure was that whatever was inside that envelope was about to change my entire life…I could feel it.

It was going to be bad…so very, very bad.

But, no matter how bad it was, I still needed to know what it said so that I could do whatever was necessary to keep Bella and the kids safe.

I shook my head before I even started to answer him, "Let me see it," I forced out. My hands already shook and I said a quick prayer hoping to find the courage to be strong enough for Bella to be able to handle this.


Just thinking her name was enough to make myself sit up tall and straighten my shoulders. I would do whatever it took to ensure she was safe I vowed. It didn't matter what it was, I would do anything and everything within my power to protect her; I could do no less.

She was worth every sacrifice I might have to make…and I would do it willingly.

"Edward, I really don't think this is a good idea," Riley tried one more time as he laid his hand over the ominous manila envelope.

"I have to know," I whispered, knowing that not looking and having to imagine would be so much worse than just facing it head on.

"Son," Carlisle said as Riley reluctantly handed me the letter.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and opened them to stare at my father. "Pop, I have to. It's the only way I'll be able to protect Bella."

Around the table I heard a chorus of 'fucks', 'oh God's', and 'no's' as the letter slipped from my hand and floated to the table.

It felt as if time stood still and I was frozen to my chair.

I couldn't move, couldn't think…couldn't see.

Everything was hidden behind a deep haze of crimson.

Rage…pure, unadulterated, mind numbing rage was all I could feel.

While the words and their meaning would be something I would never, fucking ever forget as long as I lived, all I really wanted to do was gouge out my own eyeballs and hope and pray that would erase what I just saw.

I stared at the piece of paper on the table, my eyes unfocused though that was completely irrelevant since what was on the paper was permanently etched into my brain. Who the hell…how could someone…Jesus Christ!

"Edward," my father whispered and I snapped my head in his direction.

He reached down to unclench my fingers and as he pried them open, I hissed when the cool air of the loft hit the mangled flesh of my palm. I had squeezed my hands so tightly that I drew blood. As I watched it ooze out of my hand, I couldn't stop the thoughts from flying through my mind as I imagined it was Bella's blood, spilled because of some sick fucking psycho's deluded wishes.

"NO!" I roared and stood up abruptly making the chair I was sitting in fall loudly to the floor.

"God damn it NO!" I screamed again.

I picked up the half full water bottle in front of me and flung it toward the window. Water cascaded down the glass and the bottle skittered across the floor. Next I grabbed the vase of daisies, the flowers I had brought home and gave to Bella just yesterday because they reminded me of how happy she was and threw that at the wall. The sound of shattering glass imitated the feeling of my heart as I thought about what my life would be like if someone took her from me.

As I stood there, I wildly looked around the room as I tried to find something else I could take my anger out on…my fear…my complete and utter sense of helplessness. I picked up the chair and threw it, I shoved the table though it was so big and sturdy it barely moved and that just fueled my anger rather than calm it in the least.

I stalked around the room, I couldn't sit still and I couldn't make my mind focus on any one thing. I went from seeing Bella's face that very first time at the lake when Jasper showed us the first letter to how she looked when the letter came while she was in California. I remembered, with vivid clarity how she looked just moments ago before she fled downstairs because she couldn't see me fall apart any longer.

Then I thought about how she looked the first time I saw her in the park. How she looked on our first date when we had our first real kiss. The way her face lit up and her eyes filled with tears the first time I told her I loved her. I thought about our children asking her to be their mother and the way she looked when she said yes. I remembered the way she looked, the way her breath hitched and her heart started beating faster when I told her I would make her my wife and make her mine for all the rest of our days.

I was vaguely aware that there was no sound in the loft, none at all except for my heavy breathing but I paid little attention. Somewhere in the back of my mind it registered that my father and brother along with Bella's best friend were watching me in the midst of a total breakdown but I couldn't find it in me to care at fucking all.

The image from that fucking picture taunted me every time I closed my eyes and the words that accompanied it played through my mind on a continuous loop that I couldn't find any relief from. I felt like I was suffocating and I reached up and rubbed my chest, hoping it would help but knew the effort was futile. Nothing would help until this nightmare was over and I knew that Bella was safe and that nothing would ever hurt her.

I continued to pace around the loft and alternated between pulling my hair and rubbing the medal that hung around my neck. I had no idea how long I walked and suddenly I found myself in front of the wall of pictures that Bella had recently changed out…again.

My eyes traveled over the faces of my children, as well as my friends and family, but came to rest on one of just her and I. Esme had taken it at the lake over the fourth of July weekend. In it, I stood behind her with my arms wrapped tightly around her waist and my chin rested on her shoulder. I had just whispered something in her ear that made her blush, you could tell even in the black and white photo, and Bella had turned to say something to me. Our eyes connected as soon as she had turned and we both smiled stupidly at each other, completely forgetting about my mother and the camera as we totally lost ourselves in each other. Of course Mama being the amazing photographer she was, captured the moment at the most perfect time and, with the exception of the picture Paul took of Bella and me with the kids, this one was my favorite.

Reaching up, I pulled the picture down off the wall and stared at it for God knew how fucking long. My eyes filled with tears, and while normally I would do my damnedest to not let anyone see me that way, I gave in and let them fall freely.

The woman in that picture was my entire life, and without her I was nothing. There was someone out there somewhere that was threatening her and I couldn't seem to do fuck all about it. It pissed me off so fucking badly; I didn't even know what to do with all the anger I had building inside of me.

"Edward," Carlisle called to me and I jerked my head in his direction.

Looking at him brought everything rushing back full force. It seemed like every time I thought about when I saw that fucking sweater and looked at that damn picture and read those hellacious words it was worse than the time before.

I registered the fact that he had gotten up from his chair and walked toward me but it was like I couldn't even focus on that. My only thought, the only thing my brain would allow me to think, was that I had to keep Bella safe. No matter what else happened, no matter what I had to do, I had to protect her.

"Pop," I gruffly said as I swallowed convulsively and tried to calm my body.

He stood in front of me and placed his hands on my shoulders, "Edward, my son, please tell me what you need."

I looked at him incredulously and shook his hands off. "Fuck Dad! What I need, what I fucking need is for someone to give me some God damn answers! What I need is for someone to tell me how in the hell this deluded fuck got inside my motherfucking house! What I need is to know, unequivocally, that the love of my damn life doesn't have to look over her shoulder from now until God knows when every time she steps out of the door. What I fucking need is to take Bella, Maddie, and Masen and get the hell out of this fucking city and go somewhere that I can protect her and them. What I need," I said as I turned and punched the wall, welcoming the shooting pain up my arm, "what I need, Dad, is to know that when the time comes, I can marry the girl of my dreams and live happily ever after."

I fell to my knees in front of him; my arm hung limply at my side and I watched the blood drip down my hand onto Bella's beloved wooden floors.

I was done.

Totally and utterly fucking done.

I picked up my head and looked into the anguished eyes of my father and choked out, "I can't lose her Pop. I can't. Tell me what to do, because I don't know anymore. Please," I begged and felt his arms wrap around me and hold me tightly.

"Edward, oh Edward my boy," Carlisle whispered to me. "I don't know, but know that you don't have to do this alone. We'll help you, we'll all help you and Bella and the kids."

We sat on the floor while I let go of every ounce of anger and fear and self-pity I had inside of me. I had to in order to be strong for Bella. I listened to my father tell me over and over again how much he loved me, how proud he was of me for being so strong, how much faith he had in me that I would do what needed to be done in order to keep her safe.

I felt another set of arms around me and knew from the fact that I could hardly breathe that it was Emmett. "Little brother, you have to stay strong, please. We'll figure something out. I love you Eddie, so fucking much," he rasped out.

Jasper knelt in front of me and took my good hand in his and said, "We all love you Edward. You, Bella, Maddie, and Masen and you don't have to carry this all on your own. Let us help you. Please," he said earnestly and I knew at that moment we would find a way to make sure that nothing happened to her.

I nodded at him and then looked at my father and brother. "I love you all. Thank you," I said sincerely and then let them help me up.

Once I was able to stand without anyone fearing I would crumble again, I told them to give me a minute and went to our room and quickly changed my clothes and packed a bag. There was no fucking way I was coming back here tonight so I got a change of clothes for Bella as well and grabbed our things from the bathroom before I made my way to the kids' rooms. I packed their things too, and carried them out to the living room where I dropped the bag haphazardly on the floor. At the noise, everyone from the table turned and looked at me.

I walked to the liquor cabinet and grabbed my bottle of scotch as well as a few glasses and carried them to where everyone was still gathered. I poured myself a very stiff drink then passed the bottle to my brother and father. Once I felt the warm liquid hit my stomach I took a deep breath and looked at Riley and said, "Tell me what happens now."

I listened to him explain that they would assign a patrol to keep an eye on the building for the next ten days until we got back from California. While we were gone, Riley was going to work on getting Bella assigned police protection. Emmett informed me that he had gotten the names of a few more well respected security guards that would meet us in California then travel back with us until the police were able to catch whoever this sick fuck was.

After the alcohol began to wear off I winced and hissed in pain and my dad looked at me, "Let's get you to the hospital and then you can see Bella back at the house."

Carlisle spoke with Riley and coordinated the police escort to and from the hospital as well as at their house while I waited on the couch. I listened to him call Mama and tell her we would be home soon. I knew I needed to talk to Bella; my body ached to hear her voice. While I had calmed down somewhat from my earlier outburst, I was still raw and hanging on by a tenuous thread.

My head was pounding, and between punching two walls and my brother, my hands were a mangled mess that throbbed every time I moved them. I closed my eyes and rested my head on the back of the sofa. I tried to tune out the voices in the loft and concentrated only on seeing Bella in just a little bit.

I felt the cushion beside me sag and opened one eye to see Emmett beside me. "Brother, do you ever look like shit," he smirked at me and shook his head.

"Yeah, well I feel like shit so it's only fitting," I snorted at him.

"You gonna be okay?" He asked me quietly and I opened both eyes to look at him. Emmett's eyes were still rimmed in red and his face was splotchy. The end of his nose was pink and his shirt was wrinkled and half untucked. The bruise from where I hit him had blossomed nicely and had already turned a deep shade of purple.

In a word, he looked as much like shit as I did.

I was such an asshole for taking out my frustrations on him the way I did. Hopefully he would let me make it up to him…somehow.

Emmett continued to appraise me and I realized I had yet to answer his question. "Honestly? I have no idea, but I have to try to be, you know?" I shrugged my shoulders at him before I went on. "Bella needs me and she needs me to be strong for her, so I'm just going to have to do my damnedest to figure out a way to do so."

He looked at me with an emotion I couldn't place for a few moments before he leaned over and kissed the side of my head. Emmett slapped my thigh and stood up before he put his large hand on my shoulder and said, "I love you man and I am always here for you."

There was so much I wanted to tell him but my brain was complete mush right now. Besides, knowing my brother, he'd had enough emotion for one night. I would talk to him tomorrow and make sure we were okay, but I had no doubt we were. My brother understood, I knew he did, and he knew I would do the same for him…in a fucking heartbeat if he needed it.

Didn't mean I didn't feel like a dickhead for punching him, because Lord knew I did. But that was my problem to deal with, not his.

"Son, are you ready to go?" Carlisle asked a few minutes later and I nodded at him.

Motherfucker my hands hurt! I couldn't decide which one hurt worse and I just prayed I didn't break the one I punched Emmett with.

I reached down to grab my bag when my dad grabbed my hand and shook his head. "Let Emmett and Jasper get your things to the house for you. They are going to go downstairs and tell Bella where we're going and get her and the kids to the house. The police escort will follow them there and then Riley said he would have someone stationed at the house until we leave for California. You and Bella need to go to the station tomorrow and make a formal report and Jasper said you need to also go by Volturi and talk to Aro and Jane as well. They will need to make some changes in regards to Bella's appearances while she's in California he's guessing."

By this time we had made it to the elevator and I felt like I was in a fog. I hoped he would tell me what he just did again, because I was positive I only heard about half of it. As soon as he mentioned Bella's name, I tuned out most of what he said and focused only on her.

Christ I needed her.

Like yesterday.

My heart clenched and I swore my skin prickled as we passed the second floor, she was so close…but still so far away. I couldn't wait to get this shit over with so I could hold her, kiss her, and tell her how fucking much I loved her.

I let out a frustrated sigh and winced when I reflexively reached up to run a hand through my hair.

"Son of a bitch," I hissed when I bent my hand and let my arm drop beside me.

"She knows Edward," Carlisle said quietly to me as the doors opened to let us out. I nodded silently to him because I knew she did, too.

We made our way wordlessly to his Mercedes and I couldn't help but shiver when I saw the police car in front of us as we began our trek to the hospital.

Dad picked up the phone and called my mom to let her know we were on our way and then he made a phone call to the hospital to see if Bree and Dr. Garrett were both on duty in the ER so that we could get in and out as quickly as possible.

I reached in my pocket and grabbed my phone, the need to hear Bella's sweet voice so acute I ached for her.

She answered on the first ring, hell I wasn't even sure it rang at all. "Edward," she sighed softly and her voice caught in her throat.

"Baby," I managed to choke out as I squeezed my eyes shut to keep the tears at bay.

"I love you," she whispered and at that point it was useless to try to hold them in.

"Always and forever," I said softly back.

Bella sighed again and I could tell she was crying but I couldn't say anything for fear of losing it…again. "Hurry home to me," she said and then hung up.

I held the phone in my hand and stared at for a minute, wishing I had the strength to call her back, but I didn't. I was fucking exhausted and I knew I needed to see her even more than I needed to talk to her so I slipped the phone back in my pocket and leaned my head back against the head rest and closed my eyes.

I felt my dad's hand on top of mine and squeezed it in silent acknowledgment but I didn't say anything. There was nothing to say at this point and I couldn't, even if I wanted to.

We made it to the hospital where Bree waited and she ushered us into an exam room right away. I knew we probably pissed off the others waiting in front of us, but I couldn't find it in me to care too damn much.

"Jesus Edward," Bree hissed as she looked at my hands. She shook her head and looked at my father while she said, "Nick will be in in a few minutes to take him down to x-ray and then we'll clean his hands and see if he needs any stitches."

She hugged me briefly and then left the room, leaving my father and I alone to wait.

"You're taking a leave of absence until this is over," he said as he sat down on the stool against the wall.

He rested his arms on his legs and tipped his head up to look at me, surprised when I didn't say anything back to him.

"You're not going to argue with me?" he asked, his tone of voice indicating he had expected me too.

I lifted my shredded hands at him and shook my head, "Fuck Pop, look at these. There is no way I could see patients right now even if I wanted to. Besides, I know you know there is no fucking way I am leaving Bella's side until this mess is over with."

"Well I assumed both of those things actually, so thank you for not fighting me on this. I'll call around and see if I can find someone to fill in for you for the next month or so at least," Carlisle said and then sat back in his chair.

We both looked at the door when it opened and Nick came in. "Doctor's Cullen. We really need to stop meeting like this," he said with a smirk and picked up my chart to make a few notes on it before the orderly came in behind him, pushing a wheel chair.

"Fuck," I muttered only to receive a grunt from my father and a raised eyebrow from Dr. Garrett.

"Rules are rules Edward. Now, get in the damn chair and let the nice young man take you to x-ray. I'll meet you down there in a minute," Nick said. I did as I was told and flopped in the chair feeling like a damn idiot at having to get pushed around like an invalid.

Thankfully it was a slow night and it was late enough that we didn't encounter anyone on the way to x-ray. It would spread around the hospital fast enough as it was that I had to be brought in, and I didn't want to explain to anyone right now why I was here.

I breathed out a sigh of relief when we found out I didn't break anything. I had only severely sprained my wrist and had a few bruised knuckles on one hand, while the other had only minor cuts and abrasions. Still hurt like a son of a bitch though, and I whined like a big ass baby when Bree cleaned both hands off and wrapped one and put a brace on the other.

By some miracle we were in and out in under an hour and I was finally on my way home…and to Bella.

We pulled in the driveway and I was out of the car before it even came to a full stop. I ran through the door in the kitchen and stopped short when I saw Bella already standing there, waiting for me.

Our eyes met and then in the next instant she was in my arms. As soon as I picked her up and she wrapped her legs around my waist, my lips were on hers and I felt like I could finally breathe again. The feeling I was drowning and the fog that clouded my brain lifted and all I could see…was her.

"I love you Bella, so fucking much baby. I'm so sorry," I said, only to feel her shake her head against me.

She wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, buried her face in the crook of my shoulder and whispered in my ear, "There is nothing to be sorry for Edward. Nothing. I love you," she said over and over again as she nuzzled my neck and peppered me with kisses.

I stood there and held her for a few minutes while I reveled in the feeling of calm that I felt just from having her near me. I finally had to let her down and from the look on her face, she didn't want to let go either.

Looking down at my hands, Bella winced and reached to gently hold them while she stood in front of me. "Are you okay?" she asked quietly as she picked up my bandaged hands and kissed my fingertips.

She looked up at me questioningly when I didn't answer right away and I lifted my other hand and rested it against her cheek. "Honestly?" I asked and when she nodded I answered her softly, "Not really, but I will be."

"What do you need?" Bella asked as she stepped closer to me and I moved my hand to cup the back of her head.

I bent my head down and brushed my lips across hers, letting the electric charge I always felt when we kissed fill me and whispered, "You." I kissed her more deeply, swirling my tongue in her mouth and fisted my hand in her hair, ignoring the pain that shot up my arm from the action. "All I will ever need is you," I vowed to her.

We continued to kiss, letting our mouths say everything we couldn't voice with words until we had to break apart to breathe.

I smiled tenderly at her when she stepped back, and I leaned forward to kiss her forehead before I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and motioned to the family room. I heard everyone in the room and knew I needed to let them see I was okay.

It made me feel a bit like an idiot to be honest. Here Bella was; the one that was threatened and everyone was concerned about me. What a fucking mess, I thought to myself as we stepped into the room where I was immediately wrapped in the arms of my mother.

"Mama, stop," I told her when she started to cry as she squeezed me, incredibly tight for one so small.

"Are you alright?" she asked as she took a deep breath and stepped backward. Her hands gripped the side of my face and she looked into my eyes. I knew I couldn't lie to her so I didn't even try.

I shrugged my shoulders and pulled Bella closer to me. It felt so fucking good to have her in my arms and I knew it was going to take me a few days, at the very least, before I was going to be able to be very far away from her. She would be so sick of me by the time everything was said and done, but I knew I wouldn't be able to have it any other way.

We sat down with everyone for a few minutes and I hugged and kissed my sister, Rose, and Tanya just to let them know I was okay. I tried to listen to everyone talk around me but I couldn't find it in me to want to talk to anyone except Bella, and I wanted to check on the kids.

Bella could tell I was getting antsy and after a few more minutes she stood up and pulled me with her. "We're going upstairs to check on the kids, we'll see everyone later," Bella said and turned to me.

"Let's go sweetheart. I need some alone time with you," she whispered and wrapped her arm around my waist.

"Thank you," I told her as we walked up the stairs. "I couldn't take much more of being under the microscope. Every time I looked up, someone was staring at me like I was going to sprout a second head or something," I chuckled and Bella smiled at me.

"They are all just worried about you," she told me and rested her head on my shoulder as we came to the top of the stairs.

I kissed the top of her head and said, "Baby, you are the one we should all be focusing on, not me and the fact that I'm an emotional wreck."

"I'm going to be fine Edward. I have complete faith in Seth and Emmett… but most of all I have complete faith in you and the fact that we'll figure out what to do together." Bella stepped on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek and lovingly laid her hand on the other side of my face. "You don't always have to be so strong you know."

Closing my eyes I pulled her toward me and rested my head against her forehead, her scent and her touch doing more to make me feel better than anything else ever could or would.

"I'm so scared Bella," I whispered and shook as she pulled me toward her.

"Me too, but we have to have faith Edward." She kissed me again and then stepped away from me. "Maddie and Masen are both in Mase's room. They could tell something was going on and didn't want to sleep separately. Why don't you go check on them and I'll wait for you in your room?"

She began to walk away toward the bedroom but I kept a hold of her hand and she stopped to look at me when I wouldn't let her go…I couldn't.

"Edward," Bella said and when she saw the pained look on my face her own softened as she gazed at me. "Baby, it's okay. I'll be waiting for you when you're done. You need them as much as you need me and they were worried about you. Go, kiss them good night, and then come to me."

"Okay," I said quietly. I really did want to see the kids so I waited until she walked into our room and then carefully opened the door to Masen's old bedroom.

I was shocked momentarily when I noticed how empty it was since almost everything he owned and wanted to have with him was at the loft. It made me smile when I realized that we had truly made the loft our home now.

I stood and watched them for a few moments and let the sweetness of the sight of them sleeping together soothe my aching soul. It had been the night from hell but seeing my two beautiful children sleeping soundly and safely in their bed went a long way to making things seem more manageable at the very least. They were my reason for living, them and Bella, and as long as I had the three of them…nothing else mattered.

"Daddy," my little princess mumbled as I crawled into the much too small for three people bed and wrapped my arm around her and Masen.

"Hello my angel," I whispered as I bent down and kissed the top of her head and inhaled her sweet, little girl smell.

I was not looking forward to the day when Maddie would outgrow her baby shampoo…or snuggling with her dad in bed.

Masen grunted and scooted closer to me, and picked his head up when he realized I was in bed with them. "Daddy, are you okay?" he asked as he rubbed his eyes to open them.

"Yeah, little man, I am," I told him and kissed him too.

"What happends to your hand?" Maddie asked as she curled against my side and twisted my shirt in her little hand.

I didn't want to lie to them but there was no way in hell I was telling them I punched their Uncle Emmett, then was stupid enough to follow that up with hitting two walls so I simply said, "I fell."

"Daddy, are we's still going to California with Mommy?" Masen asked in a worried voice and I had to groan internally a bit at how perceptive my two children were.

I squeezed each of them and gave them another kiss before I scooted them back on their pillows. "We are, but Mommy and I will need to talk to you two tomorrow after you wake up. Now, go back to sleep," I told them softly and watched as they each told me good night and fell quickly back asleep.

I watched them for a few moments before the pull to be near Bella became too much to resist.

After I shut the door to Masen's room, I leaned my head against it and rubbed my face with my hand and then turned to walk toward my room. I could feel Bella on the other side; my whole body tingled with the anticipation of seeing her.

Opening the door slowly, I smiled when I saw her sitting on the bed as she waited for me. The only light in the room came from the moonlight that streamed in through the window and the candles Bella had lit that were scattered around the room. She stood up and walked to me, stopping when she was in front of me. Bella reached her hands out and placed them on my chest, making me stand still.

"Let me take care of you for a change sweetheart," she said tenderly and grabbed the bottom of my shirt and pushed it up my chest. I bent my head down so she could pull it all the way off and moaned in pleasure when her fingertips traced the planes of my naked torso. She placed a delicate kiss on my chest above my heart and it felt as if it would explode from the simple, sweet gesture.

"I've run you a bath and set a drink on the side of the tub for you," Bella whispered as she began to unbutton my jeans. The sound of the zipper being pushed down was loud in the silent room.

I stepped out of my shoes and lowered my head and watched as she effortlessly slid my jeans and boxers to the floor where they landed in a pile at my feet.

She held her hand out to me. I took it willingly and then lifted her hand to my lips where I placed a kiss to the inside of her palm. I smiled when I heard her sigh and she rolled her eyes at me when I lifted mine to look at her.

"I love you sweet girl," I told her reverently as we entered the bathroom where the room was filled with fragrant steam and my body craved to be submerged in the warm water.

It had been a hell of a day.

Bella kissed me softly, barely ghosting her lips over mine before she instructed, "Get in before the water cools off. I'll be right back."

She watched me step in the water and I let out a contented sigh once the warm water covered my body. Bella reached behind me and placed a rolled up towel and when I rested my head back against it Bella ran her hands through my hair and down the side of my face. "My Superman," she whispered and kissed my forehead.

There was so much I wanted to say to her, things I wanted to ask, but I couldn't find the will or even the strength to say anything. It could all wait until tomorrow. For tonight, I just needed her.

Bella was all I would ever need.

I tipped my head up and took a drink of the scotch that Bella had left for me and enjoyed the biting warmth that flooded my mouth then laid my head back down.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I felt the muscles in my aching body relax bit by bit. I must have dozed off for a few minutes because the next thing I knew I felt Bella's hands glide across my chest as she gently washed me.

"Baby, you don't," I started to say but was quieted with a kiss.

"Not another word Edward. Like I said, it's my turn to take care of you for a change. Please let me," she said and swallowed a sob and turned back to what she was doing.

I let myself enjoy the feeling of her fingers as they danced across my skin as she washed my chest and stomach. Bella nudged me to sit up and when her slick fingers floated across the tight muscles of my shoulders and back I sighed contentedly.

"Fuck Bella, that feels so damn good," I rasped out.

"Good," she said.

Bella cupped some water in her hands and rinsed my back and shoulders off, kissing my shoulder blade as she went. She moved to sit on the side of the tub and for the first time I noticed that she was wearing only a thin tank top and a pair of tiny panties.

I looked at her appreciatively and Bella snorted when she saw that my eyes were trained on her pert nipples.

"I can't help it Bella. You're just too fucking beautiful to not look at," I told her honestly. And damn if she wasn't. Her cheeks were flushed an alluring shade of pink and there were small beads of sweat in between her breasts.

A few tendrils of her hair stuck the side of her neck and I wanted nothing more than to let my tongue trace the path they fell in.

She reached across me and moved to grab the shampoo off the ledge and I grabbed her wrist and looked deeply into her bottomless brown eyes.

"I love you more than I can ever express to you in words Isabella," I told her passionately.

My love bent forward and kissed me again, and gently said, "Oh Edward."

Bella poured some shampoo in her hand and the second her fingers met my scalp I let my head fall forward. She spent a glorious amount of time washing my hair for me and I enjoyed every fucking second of it. With every movement and every soft sigh she let go I could feel her love for me and it just felt so fucking…good.

This was exactly what I needed after the maelstrom of the previous few hours. Bella always gave me what I needed. She always knew how to soothe the fury or fan the flames of my desire. She always knew when I needed her close or needed space. Bella knew me better than anyone else in the world and because of that, she always gave without question.

As the warm water flowed through my hair and down my body I suddenly couldn't wait to make love to her and forget about everything but her and I.

"Stand up for me," Bella requested and I complied even though my legs felt like jell-o.

She washed my legs and even my ass and front as well. I wished she would have paid more attention to the part of my body that ached for her, but I knew she wanted me as badly as I wanted her and I could wait until we made it to the bed at least.

My love certainly deserved to be worshiped somewhere besides a bathroom.

Bella reached over and pulled the plug and then held on to me as she stood up. I took her in my arms and kissed her deeply and moaned in her mouth when she pressed her entire body tightly against mine.

"Thank you angel," I murmured in her ear as I licked it.

She grabbed a towel off the countertop and wrapped it around my waist. She picked up another one and dried off her legs and hands before she led me silently back to the bedroom where she stopped next to the bed. Bella pulled the towel from around my hips and walked around my body as she dried me off.

With every brush of her fingertips and every time her body would press against mine, I felt her hard nipples graze my skin and the need to be buried deep inside her grew and grew. I knew she could tell because she began to bite her bottom lip and her chest became flushed. She looked at me as she stepped back in front of me and her eyes were dilated and burned with desire.

I gently pried her fingers open and let the towel fall to the ground. I took the brace off of my hand, even though it hurt like a bitch to do it. My bandaged hand reached behind her neck and I lowered my mouth to hers and rasped, "I need you now Bella. Please don't make me wait any longer."

"Then take me Edward," she replied back and it was like a match igniting a piece of paper. My body instantly responded to her words and I pulled her to me and ground my hard cock against her thigh.

I reached down and grabbed her behind her knees and picked her up bridal style and then carefully laid her in the center of the bed. I immediately followed her body with my own, never releasing her mouth from mine.

Frantically I pushed her thin tank top up off her body and then pushed her panties down her gorgeous legs so that she was naked beneath me. I laid my entire body out on top of hers and felt connected to her from head to toe. Even at that, I wasn't sure it was enough.

It would never be enough.

I wanted to devour her, to take and take from her until I was convinced she was mine and would forever and always be mine. I wanted to mark her and claim her and never let her go.

"Bella, I need so much," I told her when I finally had to release her mouth and breathe. I immediately moved to her neck and her collarbones nipping and tasting the tender, silky skin as I made a path with my lips, teeth, and tongue.

She ran her hands through my hair, scraping her nails along my scalp which made my entire body burst with electricity. My hands traveled along her body and I delighted in the squeals and squeaks of pleasure I elicited from her with each touch of my fingertips.

I did that to her…those sounds she made were because of me…for me.

"Mine," I hissed as I dipped my head to circle her pert nipple with my tongue.

Bella arched off the bed as I sucked the hardened peak into my mouth and she huskily said, "I'm yours Edward. Take what you need from me."

"Oh Bella," I ground out and settled between her thighs. "I love you baby, so much. You are my entire world, my life, my reason for living. You know that don't you, please tell me you know that."

"I do Edward…oh God I do…," she breathed out as I moved from one nipple to the other, teasing and tasting as she writhed beneath me.

"I'm going to hear you say those words to me someday soon my Isabella," I promised her as I reached down between our bodies and slid my fingers through the wetness between her legs and plunged my fingers deep inside of her.

I took her earlobe in between my teeth and bit down gently and then soothed the sting with my tongue. "You'll say those words to me angel, and then you'll be mine forever. No one can take you from me, no one can have you but me," I vowed.

I was telling her more than just I would marry her one day but I didn't know if she knew that or not.

"Only you Edward," she cried out as I curled my fingers forward inside of her and simultaneously bit down on her nipple.

"That's my girl, come for fucking beautiful," I whispered in her ear as I continued to coax her orgasm from her. I kept my fingers inside of her, continuing relentlessly.

I needed more.

Bella's head thrashed on the pillow as I kept up my assault and I bent my head down to her pussy and flicked her clit with the tip of my tongue.

"Edward…oh God…oh," Bella moaned as my tongue continued to torment her.

"Again Isabella. I need you to come for me again…give it to me," I implored.

I looked up at her from between her thighs and whispered seductively, "Open your eyes and watch me baby. Watch me make you come."

She picked her head up and let out the most erotic moan I had ever fucking heard from her as she saw my tongue work her clit. "Oh fuck, Edward…please…I need," she said in a stuttering breath.

"Beg me again Bella. Beg me and then watch me," I ordered her.

My body ached to be inside of her. My cock was so fucking hard, it throbbed almost painfully. But I needed her to come for me again.

It was primal, my need to take from her, but I couldn't stop myself. The entire night had been about not being in control but now, now I was the one in control and I fed off it. I craved it.

I yearned for it like nothing I had ever felt before.

My fingers were slick from the moisture that seeped from between her legs and I lowered my head to taste her. Her sweet essence exploded in my mouth, coating my tongue with her distinct flavor and I feasted like a starving man on every last drop. I brought her to the brink over and over again, trying to savor every moan, every exquisite twitch and spasm until I was almost crazed with want and need for her.

I lifted my head and then knelt between her legs and took her in as she laid spread out before me.

Jesus fuck she was magnificent.

She was mine.

I positioned her as I wished and plunged my fingers even further inside of her. I pressed my thumb on top of her clit and allowed myself a selfish moment while I felt her pussy squeeze and flutter around my fingers.

Bella was so ready to come…she was more than ready. She was almost incoherent with her need for release and I would grant it to her…as soon as she said the words I was desperate to hear.

"Say it Isabella. You are so ready to come for me…just say it and I'll let you," I said wickedly as I stared into her eyes.

I reached down and grabbed her hand, lacing our fingers together so I could hold on to her when she finally let go. I picked up her hand and turned it over, exposing her wrist to me. I pressed my mouth against it and felt her pulse against my lips.

"Now Bella. Say it," I rasped out and sucked on the tender skin on her wrist.

"Edward! Now oh please…now! Let me come...please!" Bella cried out and with one last curl of my fingers and circle of my thumb against her clit she exploded, coming with such ferocity I was momentarily stunned.

I immediately bent down and covered her mouth with mine and swallowed every sob and moan that she tried to let escape. I wanted it all, everything she had to give…it was mine and I wanted it.

Shifting our bodies, I lined up my aching cock with her and rolled my hips forward until I was completely surrounded by her.

"Oh fuck…damn Bella I need you so bad," I rasped out as I began to move inside of her.

I relished the feeling of her slick heat pulling me deeper and deeper inside of her. Bella wrapped her legs tightly around my waist and with every thrust I gave, she raised her hips to meet me and took me even more fully into her.

Skin slapped against skin and the sounds of our breathing and moans filled the room. The scent of our desperation for each other floated in the air around us and invaded my senses. I looked into her eyes, the eyes of the woman that would only ever belong to me and I felt like I was falling apart around her.

"You are mine Bella. I'll never let you go, please know that." I whispered to her as I kissed her neck, her forehead and then finally her lips again. "I love you, God I love you so fucking much. Tell me…promise me…," I breathed out as I pushed her damp hair away from her face, "promise me you'll always be with me, that I never have to be without you. Please Bella, tell me," I begged her.

My mind was spiraling out of control. I could feel the tenuous thread holding me together about to snap.

Images…words…threats…tried to fight their way through the recesses of my brain. The events of the night threatened to spill forth and it was only my need to feel her come beneath me that was able to keep them at bay…if only barely.

"Oh Edward, I love you baby…so good, feels so good," she murmured in my ear as her tiny hands wrapped around me and pulled me closer to her.

Yes, that was where I needed to be, what I needed to feel. I could feel the dark thoughts retreat farther back when I felt her heart beat against my chest and felt her soft lips against my neck.

"I love you Edward. No one will ever take me from you," Bella promised me and I sobbed against her shoulder.

I reached beneath her and completely engulfed her in my arms and moved so that she was over top of me with her legs wrapped tightly around me. She clung to me as I raised and lowered her on my shaft. Our bodies were so close it was if we were extensions of the other, not two separate entities.

But we were extensions of the other, we couldn't function separately. It was only together that we worked. Apart we would cease to function…cease to live.

Bella lowered her mouth to mine and whispered, "I've got you Edward. Let go baby…I'm here. I'll always be here."

Her words coursed through my entire body, lighting it from within with a flame of need and want so fierce I couldn't breathe.

"Bella…oh fuck…," I hissed out and threw my head back as I let out a primal howl and came deep inside of her, her climax immediately followed and I came…miraculously again.

Bella continued to rock back and forth on top of me, each delicious aftershock she had I could feel on my still trembling cock.

We stayed connected for untold moments and clung to each other. I couldn't let go of her but I scooted us back on the bed so that we could lie on the pillows. She faced me and I leaned forward and kissed her gently and then said softly, "I love you. I'm sorry if I…"

Bella shook her head and pressed her finger over my lips. "Whatever you need, I'll give you Edward. I love you. We'll be okay," she whispered and kissed me again.

After we cleaned up and then crawled beneath the covers, I held Bella in my arms as she slept. The last thought I had before I drifted off to sleep was…if I had to take her to the ends of the Earth to protect her, I would. No one was taking her away from me.



Carlisle POV

"Car, I'm so sleepy," my wonderful wife mumbled to me early Saturday morning once we had finally managed to take off from JFK bright and early at six a.m.

I wrapped my arm around her and kissed the side of her head, "Darling, then go to sleep. We have a long flight ahead of us."

Esme nodded her head at me and laid the comfortable seat back and promptly fell asleep. My poor wife, she was exhausted, and as I looked around the spacious cabin of the plane, I noticed that almost my entire family had already fallen back asleep.

To say the last few days had been a nightmare would not be exaggerating in the least. We were all, every single one of us, feeling the strain.

I looked around the cabin once again and my eyes found Edward and Bella with Maddie and Masen tucked in close with them. Edward had barely left Bella's side at all since Thursday night, and the brief time he had to be away from her while he had his hand x-rayed at the hospital, he was a nervous wreck.

There they sat, together, and I shuddered when I thought about what could have happened the other night. Maddie was curled up on Edward's lap and Masen leaned against Bella's side. Edward had one arm wrapped securely around his daughter while the other protectively held Bella to his side. Masen had his arm wound around Bella and Edward's hand cupped the back of his head.

The sight was so achingly sweet that I sighed, again, and I tried to turn off my brain so that I could relax. The tears in my eyes were certainly not going to help in the relaxing department that was for sure and I huffed as I tried to get comfortable in the chair.

"Brother, come talk to me," Marcus whispered as he walked toward the front of the plane where a small table and four captain's chairs were.

I bent my head down to kiss Esme one more time and tucked the blanket around her before I followed him.

The flight attendant sat in her designated spot away from the rest of us and Marcus and I each poured a cup of coffee. I had to say, after glancing around at the luxurious interior of the plane, that I would never want to fly commercial again. I would certainly have to look into purchasing a plane like this. Marcus and I could split it, hell I was even positive Eleazar would want to chip in as well. It was certainly something to think about at the very least.

I sat down heavily in the chair beside Marcus and wiped the moisture out of my eyes, hoping against hope that my very observant younger brother wouldn't notice. When I saw the frown on his face, I knew I hadn't been that lucky.

"Carl, you have to talk to me," Marcus said earnestly and I dropped my shoulders and looked at him.

"I'm so fucking pissed at this whole God damn situation Marc. If anything were to happen to any of the four of them," I hissed as I turned to look at Edward, Bella, and my grandchildren again, "I would never be able to survive it," I whispered as I kept my gaze on the sight before me.

"I'm his father for God's sake! It's my job to protect him and I feel so damn helpless. It's killing Esme, Marcus. We've tried to hide as best we can from Edward and Bella, but she's terrified of something happening to one of them…or the children. And Emmett, holy mother of God, I have never seen anything so heart wrenching than what I saw Thursday night."

"Tell me about it," Marcus told me sincerely and I told him what I saw. I would never forget it as long as I lived.


I had just entered the kitchen of our house after coming from Edward's room. I had convinced Bella and Edward to each take a mild sedative so they could get some much needed rest. The trip to the emergency room to get Edward's hand looked at thankfully didn't take too long, thanks to Bree and Dr. Garrett. Poor man, he was going to get used to fixing the hands of all the Cullen men before all was said and done.

Maddie and Masen had been kept as much in the dark about what had happened as we could manage so they were now sound asleep upstairs in Masen's old room. I missed them terribly, all three of them as a matter of fact. The house was much, much too quiet without the sounds of laughter and joy they always brought to the house. Oh, I loved my time alone with my wife. Very much so! We had gotten quite used to reacquainting ourselves with other areas of the house in which we could make love. It was more than a bit enjoyable to be honest!

But the emptiness we both felt with the absence of Edward and the children was palpable.

I entered the kitchen with the intent of getting a bottle of water out of the fridge when I heard a noise coming from the dining room near the French doors to the patio. Walking toward the sound, my heart, as could be expected, had started to beat frantically. I let out a calming breath when I noticed it was just Emmett.

I was about to make my presence known when Rosalie walked in from the other side of the room and I stepped back into the shadows. I had just turned to walk away when I heard Emmett sniff and then heard Rosalie say, "Oh Em. It'll be okay."

I wanted to leave but I couldn't make myself walk away. I needed to know that my oldest son was okay. I knew if anyone could help him it would be Rosalie.

Emmett shook his head, "Rose, it won't be. I have never been as terrified in my life as I was when we walked off that elevator and saw that fucking sweater hanging there with that damned envelope attached. And Edward, my God babe, it broke my heart to see him lose it the way he did."

Rose sighed and ran her hands up and down his arms as she stepped closer to him. I could see the tears falling down my oldest son's face in the moonlight and I felt my own tears come at the sight of them.

"I wish he wouldn't have hit you," Rose said as she shook her head and ran her fingers lovingly over the bruise on his jaw. I smiled at her protectiveness of Emmett and her understanding of Edward's need to let go of some of what he was feeling at the time.

Emmett reached up and cupped her face as well and said, "Babe, I would take a hundred, a thousand punches to the face if it helped Edward deal with all of this. You have no idea what all this has been doing to him. He puts on such a brave front for Bella, for the kids, and for the rest of you, but I know my brother. I'm his big brother you know," Emmett said as his voice got caught in his throat.

"I should be able to protect him, I have to protect him. He's my best friend as well as my little brother. I love him so much. I know I kid and goof around all the damn time cause its what I do, but Rosie, I have looked up to him my whole life. How many older brothers do you know of that look up to their little brother? Not many I'm sure, but God damn it, I do!"

There were very few people that Emmett ever showed his true self to and I wasn't the least bit surprised by his admission to Rosalie. Emmett and Edward had a very special relationship and it was one they both treasured. They were never overt about it, but the love and the respect was there, always.

"Rose, I have never seen anything so awful as Edward falling apart earlier. I have no idea how Bella even managed to watch as much as she did. And that was nothing compared to what happened in the loft once we got inside. I'll never be able to forget it," Emmett said with a shake of his head

It was awful to watch, but none of us could do anything except be there for him when he finished. Edward had a horrible habit of feeling guilty for letting others see his weakness but this wasn't him being weak. This was a man that had just had his family threatened, a man that had been pushed to the end of his limits.

Emmett went on, his voice thick with tears, "His fear was palpable, and it was almost too much for me to take. Pop was the only one that could get through to him. His only thought babe, only thought was Bella and the kids. Nothing else mattered to him at that point. Once Riley got there and opened that fucking letter he was done. There was no turning back. I don't know how much more of this he can take Rosie," Emmett whispered.

"We're all here for all four of them Emmett," Rose said as she laid her head against his chest.

He ran his large hand lovingly through her hair and bent down and kissed the top of her head. "I know that Rose, Edward and Bella know it too. But what if it's not enough? I am so scared for them. I haven't told them and I try not to let it show, but fuck it, I'm terrified. I can't even bear to think of something happening to any of them. They are the core of this family, the ones that brought us all together. You have no idea how long Edward waited for her….for only her. He knew what he wanted and there was no way he was going to settle for anything less. He found his dream when he found Bella. They just became a family Rosie, it's just…nothing can…what if…," he stuttered and shook his head, too overcome with emotion to go on.

"We just have to have faith Emmett," Rose said quietly and I watched Emmett sigh deeply.

She was right of course. We couldn't give up. We had to believe that Edward and Bella would come through this…whatever the hell it was…unscathed and stronger if that were possible.

End of flashback…

I scrubbed my face with my hands and then looked into the pained face of my younger brother. "I have never witnessed anything so heartbreaking in my life Marcus," I told him as I held my head in my hands.

"Carlisle," Marcus fiercely said. I picked my head up and stared at him, waiting for him to continue. "We will all help you, all of you. This is not just Edward and Bella's problem, this affects the entire family. We are Cullen's…we stick together no matter what," he stated emphatically.

I sighed deeply then took a sip of my coffee before gazing out the window of the plane. It felt so nice up here, like nothing could touch any of us, while we flew through the air. It was just when we were down on the ground; that was where the danger was.

"Marcus, I know you all want to help. But don't you see? That is what is so frustrating and gut wrenching…what exactly can we help with? I'm at a complete loss here. No one has any idea who this fucking psycho is or what they want. Bella still has a job she's contractually bound to complete, no matter how stressful things are right now. There are two children," I said as I swallowed down the emotions that threatened to bubble out. "Two children that adore her more than words can express. And Edward, Marcus, you have NO idea what this is doing to him. If I thought watching Emmett was bad, watching Edward, who is stronger than any person I have ever encountered in my life, fall apart was something that will haunt me until the day I die. I don't know what to do for him, for them and its breaking my heart," I admitted and ran a frustrated hand through my hair.

Yes, I am well aware that I have passed this trait to my son, only my hair doesn't stick up in every which way.

"I am afraid I'm going to lose my family," I whispered.

That was the thing I was most afraid of. I could see it happening; tiny bit by tiny bit, but it was there none the less.

"What on Earth do you mean Carlisle?" Marcus asked incredulously.

I shook my head as I tried to put my thoughts in order. I had been thinking about this since Thursday night and I was scared, terrified really, to finally voice this.

"Edward loves Bella so much," I began quietly, hoping that my brother would let me finish speaking before he said anything. When I glanced at him and he nodded at me, I knew he would so I continued. "I know we all recognize this but I saw something Thursday night in him that I am not sure he even consciously knows he did," I said then steeled myself to admit, aloud what I firmly believed.

"If we can't put a stop to this, if we can't find someway to find out who is tormenting Bella and Edward, I believe he will take her and the kids and run," I whispered, barely able to get the words out.

"What do you mean run?" Marcus asked, his eyes darted back and forth from me to where Edward and Bella still slept.

I ran my hands through my hair and closed my eyes for a moment before I opened them to once again look in the face of my brother, my best friend, and confidante. "He would Marcus. You didn't see him when Riley opened that letter the other night. I saw it in his eyes. Edward would never be able to be apart from Bella, it would kill him, literally. But, he would take her someplace; somewhere he could protect her and the children. And he would keep them all there until it was safe to return. His entire life is that woman and those children. Nothing else matters to him, and no matter how much he loves Esme and I, and Emmett and Alice and the rest of you all, Bella and the twins come first for him."

"I don't understand…," Marcus said bewilderingly.

"I do," came the soft voice of Jasper who raised his eyebrows, asking to join us.

"Of course Jasper," I said as I handed him the carafe of coffee and a mug.

We all sat in silence as Jasper poured his coffee and stirred in creamer and sugar and waited for him to go on. "Marcus, Carlisle is absolutely right. I've never seen anything like Edward and Bella…ever. Their love for one another is almost like a living, breathing organism. It is so strong I swear at times I can see it in the air around them. It's in every look they give each other, every touch, in their every movement. It's completely and totally subconscious too, they don't even have the faintest idea what they are doing," he took a sip of his coffee and stared out the window, his eyes faraway and then he began to speak.

"There was this one time, a few weeks ago I think, when I realized just how completely and irrevocably they are bound to one another. Maddie had a soccer game and we were going out to eat afterward. Carlisle, you and Esme couldn't make the game, do you remember?" Jasper asked me and I nodded my head to tell him I did remember. It was right before Bella had to go to California this last time.

"Anyway," Jasper began again with a wave of his hand, "We went back to the loft and parked the cars, then walked to the pizza place a few blocks away. I watched Edward and Bella, like really and truly watched them, and it was mind blowing." He chuckled then shook his head, "I love Alice," he said sheepishly looking at me and I smirked at him and nodded my head.

I knew he loved my little girl; in fact he was as crazy about Alice as she was about him. "Tell me something I don't know Jasper," I laughed at him. Jasper embarrassed was something we didn't see too often.

Jasper smirked at me and shrugged his shoulders at me before he went on, "I love Alice, Carlisle you and Esme are more happily married than just about anyone I've ever seen. Marcus, you and Diane obviously love one another as do Emmett and Rose and Seth and Tanya, but," he qualified, "none of us have a love that is as profound and soul completing as Edward and Bella's."

"Tell me what you saw Jasper, please?" I asked.

I truly wanted to know what he saw in Edward and Bella that made them so different to him. Not that I disagreed because I totally believed the same thing, but I wanted to hear what he had to say.

Jasper looked from Marcus to me and then he said, "The entire night, every time I looked at them, they were touching. And while I enjoy holding Alice's hand or putting my arm around her, I do it because I want to. Edward does it because he has to, Bella is the same. You can watch their body language and if they go too long without touching the other, you can physically see the tension in their bodies. They can function when they are apart, obviously, but when they are in the same room and they aren't next to each other, its like their bodies call to the other. Just look at them now," Jasper said as we turned to look at Edward and Bella.

Thankfully they were still sleeping, but Bella got restless and shifted in her seat. I watched in disbelief as Bella whimpered softly and moved her head back and forth for a few seconds until Edward, who was still sound asleep, ran his fingers through her hair and pressed a kiss to her temple. Bella smiled softly in her sleep and then curled back against him, again resting peacefully.

"Holy shit!" I exclaimed softly as I continued to stare at them.

I had never seen anything like it. I liked to sleep close to Esme at night and after almost forty years of marriage, I knew her better than I knew myself. But even after such a long time, I wasn't as aware of Esme's movements and such while she slept…at least not to the extent that I just witnessed between Bella and Edward.

"Mmmhmmm," Jasper acknowledged. "It's the same when they are awake. When Bella moves, Edward moves and vice versa. I've seen Edward, without even looking, reach for Bella's hand and help her over a bump in the sidewalk. I've seen Bella standing in the middle of a group of people hold her hand out, and Edward's is automatically there, waiting. It's completely unconscious on both of their parts but it happens all the time."

Jasper set his coffee mug down and looked from Marcus to I and then said, "That is why if Edward truly believed it was in Shortcake's best interest to run and hide, he would take them all and go. He can live without his parents, his brother and sister and the rest of his family and friends but he can't live without Bella, and she is the same way. They just can't do it. It's not even being over dramatic or romanticizing what they feel for the other, it's the truth."

"Edward's entire life is wrapped in his arms right now and there is no where Bella is safer than she is when she's with Edward. We all can hire the best bodyguards. We could keep Bella locked up inside the loft and never let her outside and she still wouldn't be as safe as she is when she's with Edward. His protection of her is instinctual and as fierce as anything I've ever seen. There isn't anything Edward wouldn't do in order to keep her safe, and that includes taking her away from everyone and everything she knows. She would do it without even thinking twice about it, too, contract or no contract," Jasper finished emphatically.

I knew Jasper was telling us nothing but the absolute truth, hell I'd seen that same resolve in Edward's eyes Thursday night after Riley showed us the letter.

"Well, I for one am not just going to sit here and leave it up to Edward to protect that girl. Bella has brought more to this family than I can even put into words and well, everyone knows how much I love Edward so we need to come up with something. There is no way in hell I'm letting my nephew and the love of his life run away and hide out like they did something wrong. We're Cullen's God damn it and we will figure something out," Marcus hissed angrily.

"I have an idea," Eleazar said as he slipped into the chair across from me.

Eleazar was one of the shrewdest and most brilliant people I had ever met in my life and I hoped he truly had come up with something…anything to help Edward and Bella.

We all looked at him expectantly and he smiled at me and slowly said, "Carlisle, why don't we call Alec and see if there is anything he can do to help? He has to have some connections or advice or something that might be useful. It's worth a phone call at the very least."

"Son of a bitch, El," Marcus chuckled and slapped him on the back. "That is the best idea any of us have been able to come up with yet."

"I'll call him as soon as we land," I breathed out in relief.

At last, someone who might be able to give us something to help.

Jasper looked around the table and finally said, "Who the hell is Alec and what does he do?"

I chuckled and realized we got a little excited by Eleazar's idea. "Jasper, Alec is one of our very good friends from prep school and then college. His name is Alec Macelli and he is the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York FBI office. Damn, I don't know why I didn't think of him before now!"

We talked among ourselves for the next few minutes, all of us feeling the relief of having someone who might offer some sort of idea to get through the next month.

One by one we made our way back to our respective seats and as I wrapped my arm around Esme and looked at Edward and Bella again, I said a silent prayer in the hopes that Alec would be able to keep my family safe.



I felt Maddie wiggle on my lap as she started to wake up and realized both of my legs had fallen asleep during the time we slept. I kissed Bella's head and watched her blink her eyes a few times as she woke up, followed by Masen who rubbed his eyes and yawned.

Bella curled in closer to me and I couldn't help but smile and I kissed the top of her head again as I scooted Maddie off my lap and gingerly stretched my legs out and waited for the feeling to come back to them. I glanced at my watch and realized we still had about an hour left before we were due to land and I was grateful we'd had a chance to sleep some more once we took off.

To say the last few nights sleep had been restless would be a fucking understatement and I still felt a little like I had been run over by a car…or at least gotten the shit kicked out of me by Emmett, but it was slowly getting better. The fact that Bella hadn't left my side for any discernible amount of time over the past thirty six or so hours helped immensely too, I had to admit.

Just getting on the plane and away from the city left me feeling a bit better, and thankfully Jane, Ian, and Aro had all left last night to work on changing a few of the arrangements for Bella's appearances so the only one on the plane that wasn't family was Jacob.

I looked around the plane's cabin and everyone was still sleeping or talking quietly among themselves. Maddie and Masen moved from Bella and I to my parents so I pulled Bella closer to me and tried to focus on the next few days in California.

The kids were so excited about the awards show and then going to Disney. It was hard not to get swept up in their giddiness, no matter how shitty everything else seemed to be around us.

And things were definitely shitty…bordering on downright putrid and I couldn't see it getting better anytime soon.

Having to explain to Bella what was in that fucking envelope was the worst thing I had ever had to do in my life, and if I ever had to see that look of total despair and terror on her face again, it would be too fucking soon. My heart broke a little bit more every time I remembered it and since I couldn't stop thinking about it, it was an ever present thought in my mind.

The image and words would haunt me every day from now until we found out whoever the sick fuck was and even then it wouldn't ever be something I could forget.

The picture was a black and white photo of only Bella and she had her black sweater on. Somehow whoever took the picture managed to catch her in an exact moment where she had looked down and it looked like she was sleeping. The angle was just so and it looked like she had bruises underneath her eyes. It seriously looked like she was dead, especially since the photo was black and white. It was a chilling picture to be honest and neither one of us were able to decipher when exactly the picture had been taken.

The message this time was more direct and it sent shivers up my spine and made my blood run cold every time I thought about them:

Make no mistake
You shan't escape
Tethered and tied
There's nowhere to hide

My Dearest Bella:

Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will always find you. Edward won't always be there to protect you from me. I will get to you somehow, someway.

My Dearest Edward:

Someday, very soon, you will know the pain of losing your precious Bella. Enjoy what little time you have left with her…it's coming to an end much sooner than you can ever expect.

Here's Bella's sweater back, wouldn't want her catching a cold before it's time now do we? I'll be seeing you soon…


I had no fucking idea what I was going to do to make sure nothing happened to her. I did know, however, that no one…fucking no one was taking her from me.

Over my dead fucking body.



  1. Ummm, WOW!

    Edward: Holy shit is the poor man falling apart and really can anyone blame him?

    I love that he is going through the list of suspects! They are all plausible and THAT is where the problem lies. Have they told Riley anything about who they may suspect? Has Lauren's, Kate's, Ian's, etc name been given over so that they can be looked into as to where they have been and what they have been doing? Riley hasn't asked the question of "Does anyone hate you enough to be doing this?"

    Edward's breakdown was heart wrenching. We all knew it was going to have to come, because there is only so much one can take, but he has always appeared so strong to us and then to break like that, so completely, was difficult to witness.

    Emmett, of course he's going to just understand. That is just how Emmett is and then to see his conversation with Rose later on, he really DOES completely understand how Edward is dealing with all of this, and it's not WELL!

    I'm glad to see them all admitting that while they WANT to help, they don't know WHAT to do. Everyone is at a loss right now and without a clear PATH to follow, they are feeling very anxious.

    I loved reading about what Jasper seeing between Bella and Edward. From his observations, it is truly that they MUST, not WANT, but MUST be with each other. They are so connected on a different level than most people are, that without the other, they can never be whole. That part of the chapter was so very moving. And then Marcus and Carlisle got to see it in person when the two of them were both sleeping. The visual of that really made an impact.

    I can understand Carlisle's worry that Edward would take them and run. It really would seem like a good idea, because Edward's whole goal is TO KEEP THEM SAFE and with him! It is a very realistic fear!

    Emmett's breakdown to Rose, I know I have said something about this earlier, but it needs to be pointed out. Emmett, like most men, hides his emotions. But HIM breaking down and admitting he is scared was HUGE. Rose was perfect with him, and that is not shocking. I think Emmett needed to let his feelings out just as much as anyone else and he seems to want to shoulder the blame for things not being perfect.

    El, Marc and Carlisle talking about bringing Alec in was genius! Maybe NOW someone will ask the questions that need to be asked and we can start looking more closely at who this could be! I'll be excited to see where that leads!

    The letter and picture! HOLY that was scary! And downright threatening! Someone is seriously disturbed to be able to send something like that and they are attaining their goal in scaring E and B and really the whole family!

    I can't wait for the next chapter! You did well Erin! I am sure that chapter was draining for you to write, but it came across beautifully and showed all the angles of what people were thinking! It was fantastic!

  2. You my dear are an amazing prolific writer... you literally jerk our emotions from us, we have no choice but to comply~! It is as if our emotions are provoked from our body without our consent, we HAVE to feel what they feel, we can SEE everything they are going through and we WANT to help but like everyone else... we are HELPLESS you hold all the cards and WORDS to set them and us free~!~!