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.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chapter 40


I rolled over and opened my eyes slowly, smiling as I looked around the room.


Thank God we were home. That was not to say that the trip wasn't amazing because it sure as hell was, but damn I was glad to be home. Being home meant that every day Bella got one day closer to the final fashion show which meant she was one step closer to being mine forever.

I had started to have almost nightly dreams about asking Bella to marry me. I had gone through scenario after scenario in my mind and had yet to come up with 'The One'…the perfect one. I told myself not to panic…yet. I knew it would come to me; I just had to be patient.

In all honesty, I was running out of patience. With everything that had happened over the last month or so and after the trip we just returned from, the need to make Bella my wife was slowly becoming more important than anything. I was still terrified of whoever was sending those fucking letters…but it was more than that.

I was ready to marry her. I was ready to begin our life together. I was ready to get out of this fucking city and get to Lake George and live peacefully and quietly. I was ready to be a father again.

Hell, I wanted it all so bad I could taste it. Of course that meant I needed to get my ass in gear and find her a ring. I supposed I couldn't really propose without one. Well, there went the plan of springing it on her one day in the near future.

As she began to stir next to me, I smiled as I began to plan the perfect proposal.

See, all I had to do was wait. I knew it would come to me.

"What are you smiling about up there?" Bella asked sleepily as she peeked up at me from her spot on my chest.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" I teased and bent down to kiss her good morning.

Thank freaking God she'd finally gotten over the whole 'I'm not kissing you with morning breath' thing she had going on before. It had taken me awhile, but she finally understood that no matter how bad she had to pee when she woke up or how badly she wanted to brush her teeth, her ass wasn't leaving the bed without kissing me first. Going hours without kissing her while we slept felt almost like torture.

"You look like the cat that swallowed the proverbial canary Mr. Cullen. Anything you want to share with the class?" She smirked at me as I brushed the hair off her face.

"Mmmm…no," I said succinctly, much to her consternation. "I think I'll keep it to myself for awhile. You'll know when the time comes Ms. Swan and not a moment before," I said with a wink.

"Hmph…so not fair. You know I hate it when you keep things from me Edward," Bella pouted.

"That's because you're a nosy face," I teased her, using Maddie's new favorite word.

She narrowed her eyes at me, and I gulped. I was treading on dangerous ground this morning, I knew I was, but I just couldn't help teasing her. She was so damn easy to rile up first thing in the morning when she was already grouchy to begin with. "I am not a nosy face," she grouched at me and then giggled as she said the word.

"How does she come up with those words?" Bella said once she stopped laughing.

"I have no idea baby, but you know how she gets if we lose track of the word of the moment. Last week we were dork heads because we didn't know who Selena Gomez was or that she was in a show called The Wizards of Waverly Place," I chuckled at her.

"God, I hope we're not ever the uncool parents! That would suck so bad Edward!" Bella laughed at me and I was immediately overtaken with images of hordes of teenagers hanging out at our house, playing in the game room and swimming in the pool.

The vision was not unpleasant.

"No way baby! With parents like us, our kids are destined to be the coolest of the cool," I told her before I bent down to kiss her again.

"I can't wait Edward," Bella said softly, as she ran her fingers though my hair.

I kissed the tip of her nose then her forehead before I looked her in the eyes and said, "Me either sweet girl."

We reluctantly got out of bed and took separate showers, damn it all, since we had to meet Alec shortly and we needed to drop the kids off with Mom and Uncle Marcus and Demetri.

Someday soon, I promised as I watched Bella get dressed. Someday soon she would be my wife and I really couldn't fucking wait.


"Bella, baby, you have to relax." I told her as I picked up her hand and held it in my lap.

She huffed and blew out a frustrated breath, causing her hair to flip up in her face. Damn, she was so adorable when she did shit like that. Probably not the best time to tell her that though, judging from the scowl on her face as she looked out the window.

I knew she hated having to meet with Alec and hated having to listen to him talk about what was going on, but it was necessary. At this point it was way more than necessary actually and way past time too. Riley, Carlisle, and Emmett were all going to meet us at the Field Office and Seth and Jasper were in the car with us. Rosalie also decided to tag along.

Demanded is a more accurate description of the vehemence in which she informed Bella and me she was coming today. Not that I could blame her really, and I knew Bella needed her best girl friend here with her for moral support anyway.

Poor Emmett, he still had to work to get in her good graces after the monumental fuck up he made in California. I tried to feel sorry for him, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rosalie would no doubt make the next few days a living hell for him, but I really couldn't.

After what happened before we left, after watching me come apart at the seams due to my anger and fear of the unknown, for him to brush off my phone calls as well as the pure terror he'd had to have known I was feeling when I didn't know if Bella was okay or not, sat like a heavy weight in my stomach.

It hurt, it hurt like fucking hell I had to be honest, that my brother and my two newest and among my closest friends disregarded my feelings so carelessly. Truth be told, they disrespected not only me but Bella as well and I was honestly having a bit of a hard time dealing with that fact.

The only thing, only thing, that had kept me from packing our things and getting the hell away from all of them was the fact that Maddie and Masen would have been devastated if we didn't go to Disney like we promised them. So instead, I sucked it up as best I could and just dealt with it.

Didn't mean it didn't irk me to no end, but by the time the four days in Disney had passed and I watched not only my kids but my girl smile and laugh like I had never seen before, most of my anger had faded away. Bella, being the amazing woman she was, of course forgave them all much sooner than I did.

That was just her way and truly one of the reasons I loved her beyond reason in the first place.

I turned around and peeked at Rose who was furiously pressing the buttons on her phone with a scowl on her face. "Fucking dumb ass," she muttered and I smiled, knowing that I was indeed correct in my assumption that my idiot brother was still in the proverbial dog house.

Bella snickered and I grinned at her too. I squeezed the hand that was still in my lap, "Tanya and Alice are still really pissed at Seth and J too baby," she giggled at me.

"No shit," Seth grumped from the front seat causing Rose to lift her head and pin him with an icy glare.

"Do you have anything you'd like to say up there Clearwater?" Rose barked at him then raised her eyebrow menacingly at her brother as well, just daring him to say one word. "I didn't think so," she hissed and then graced me with a beautiful smile.

"Next time the three of them want to act like a bunch of fucking idiots, they'll think twice," she said under her breath and went back to pounding on the keys of her defenseless Blackberry.

"Baby, remind me to never get on Rosalie's bad side," I whispered, knowing full well she could hear me.

"Keep Bella safe and happy Edward and you'll never have to worry about me," Rose said honestly.

I chuckled then turned to look at the woman I had no doubt would be my sister before too much longer. "Then you and I will never have a problem Rosalie because I plan on doing both of those things for the rest of our lives," I said and lifted Bella's hand and kissed her left hand on her ring finger smiling as I imagined the day hopefully in the not too distant future when I placed a ring there.

"Smooth Dr. Daddy, real fucking smooth," Rose said with a tender smile and then turned away.

That, my friends, was the extent of Rose's sweet, sentimental side. It never showed for long, but there was no doubt whatsoever of her love and devotion to Bella and to myself as well.

Seth caught my eye in the rearview mirror as we got closer to the office and from the pained and somewhat sheepish look on his face, I knew he was thinking about what Rose had just said to him. I just nodded at him, trying to let him know that we didn't really have time for petty bullshit right now, right now we needed to focus on Bella's safety because that was more important than anything at all.

As the suburban came to a stop, Bella let out a deep, but somewhat shaky breath and then looked at me with worried eyes.

"Angel, it'll be okay. Dad and Uncle Marcus have known Alec for a long time and have trust him completely. Let's just listen to what the guy has to say Bella and we'll take it from there, okay? We have to do this, you know we do," I told her gently as I pulled her from the car and against my chest.

"I'm just so tired of all this Edward. All of it," Bella huffed and I could feel how tense she was in my arms. Every muscle felt like it was pulled tight, like she was just waiting to let go. After the few outbursts she'd had in California, I had no doubt she was getting precariously close to the end of her limit as well.

My poor girl, I knew all of this hadn't been easy on her, but to see her terrified to even leave the hotel room and go to an appearance made my heart hurt in ways that I couldn't even articulate. The entire night at the awards show, no matter how much she smiled and tried to put on a good front for Maddie and Masen, I broke a bit inside knowing that beneath all of that, Bella was scared out of her mind.

"Edward, Bella, come on, let's get inside. You know we're not supposed to stand around outside like this," Seth said as he herded us all into the lobby of the office where we were shown immediately back to the conference room where Emmett, Carlisle and Riley were already waiting.

A distinguished looking man dressed smartly in a crisp gray suit and baby blue shirt stepped forward to take my hand. "Edward Cullen, it's so nice to meet you. Wish it was under better circumstances I have to say, but your dad and uncle have talked to me so much about you I feel like I know you already," the man said with a bright, welcoming smile.

"Mr. Macelli," I said as the man vigorously shook my hand, "thank you so much for agreeing to speak with Bella and I. You have no idea how much this means to both of us."

"And this must be the lovely Bella," Alec said, flashing Bella a smile that rivaled even Emmett's.

Of course my love blushed profusely, but smiled warmly at him. "It's so nice to meet you. Like Edward said, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us," Bella said sweetly.

We finished the introductions to Jasper, Seth, and Rosalie and then made our way to the conference table where I noticed the very familiar manila envelopes laying in a pile. We settled into our chairs and waited for Alec to begin. I was somewhat surprised when I noticed Riley sit to the right of Alec at the head of the table and my shock must have shown on my face because Alec chuckled at me after he looked at Riley.

"Edward, contrary to what you see on television and in the movies, the FBI and the police get along rather well most of the time. Our office has always had a good relationship with the NYPD and Riley's father and I go way back. I've known Riley for most of his life so not only am I doing this for my good friends Carlisle, Marcus, and Eleazar, I'm also doing it for Riley. Now, let's get started shall we?" He asked and waited for everyone to give him their attention.

"Edward and Bella," Alec said as he looked at us, "I have looked through the letters Bella has received as well as the police reports from the last incident and I'd like to go over them with you now."

He pulled each letter out of their respective envelopes and laid them out in succession in front of him. Looking at the innocuous pieces of paper spread out on the table, you'd never know the havoc and upheaval they'd caused not only Bella and I, but our entire family.

"Jesus," Jasper muttered from across the table and when I looked up he had squeezed his eyes shut and was shaking his head back and forth.

There they sat; the five letters that had turned our lives upside down and now had Bella and admittedly me as well, afraid of our own shadows. "Lord please," I said silently in my head as I turned to look at Bella pale and shrink back in her chair as her eyes stared down at the table, "please help me keep her safe."

I reached across and turned my hand over in her lap for her to hold. As she slipped her tiny hand on top of mine and wound our fingers together, I looked at her. "Baby, together, remember? Always and forever."

Her hand shook but she squeezed mine with all she had and whispered our mantra back to me before she squared her shoulders and faced Alec.

"That is what I like to see," he smirked and glanced at our entwined fingers. "Whoever this person is, and I'll go over my theories with you in a moment, is watching, hoping to see you two crumble and pull away from each other. The fact that you aren't isn't going to make this person," he spat out, "happy at all, in fact it may just inflame the entire situation," Alec stated.

"What do you mean?" Bella stammered and then took a deep breath.

"Edward, Bella, there is no beating around the bush here so I'm just going to be upfront and perfectly honest with the both of you; with all of you," he amended as he looked around the table. "This situation is extremely serious and just as dangerous. What we are dealing with in this instance," he went on as he waved his hand over the letters in front of him, "is what we categorize as a Resentful Stalker."

"Alec," Carlisle asked from the seat to the left of me, "what exactly does that mean?"

Alec leaned forward and rested his fingers beneath his chin before he looked directly and Bella and I. "A Resentful Stalker is someone who our profiler's have categorized as being out for revenge for a wrong either real or imagined. Usually the person is irrationally paranoid and we have found through our research they, unfortunately, also happen to be the most elusive and obsessive," Alec stated.

"Son of a bitch," Emmett hissed under his breath and shifted in his seat.

I cleared my throat and swallowed past the golf ball sized lump before I said, "So what do we do about it?"

"Before I go on, I'd like to ask you and Bella to go over the situations where these pictures were taken again. I know it's hard to look at them and harder still to talk about but I need to hear from you two. I've read the detailed notes Riley has taken but often times I find I can pick up on things that I can only get from listening to the source," Alec said almost apologetically as he glanced at Bella who had begun to shake.

I released her hand and wrapped my arm around her shoulder and pulled her and her chair closer to me. I needed to feel the proximity of our bodies as much as she did and I bent down and kissed her temple. "I've got you Bella, it's okay," I whispered to her and blew out a relieved breath when she nodded her head and patted my knee.

We each took turns going over the pictures with Alec, answering all his questions. Most of which, I had to be honest, I had no idea why he asked, but I figured he was the guy with the FBI badge so he knew what he was doing.

No one interrupted him even though I could tell that for Rose especially, hearing the details again was more than a bit unsettling for her.

"Okay Edward and Bella, thank you for going over all that again with me. I know it wasn't easy," Alec said as he poured us each a glass of water from the glass pitcher that was placed on the corner of the table.

After accepting the glass with a grateful smile, Bella pushed her hair behind her ear and faced Alec. "So, what do you think this all means now?"

Alec and Riley shared a look and then each hesitantly faced us, their expressions grim. Shit, this wouldn't be good…at all.

"Bella, I'm afraid that after listening to your explanations of the pictures and the time frame, my opinion that this is a Resentful Stalker is even firmer. We are dealing with a very dangerous and I am afraid to say determined individual," Alec said patiently as he stared at Bella.

"God damn it!" Jasper hissed and pushed back from the table. "What do we need to do? Tell me, and I guarantee we'll do it. Bella's safety means everything to everyone in this room and whatever we have to do, we'll do it," Jasper frantically said. He whipped his head in my direction and stared at me, his blue eyes intense. "Edward, I know you've thought about taking her and the kids someplace. Do it. Do it now before something happens to her. Please?" Jasper begged as he knelt in front of Bella and took her hands in his.

"Shortcake, I know you are determined to see your contract through until the end so that you can walk away free and clear and not have it hang over you any longer. I promised I would give that to you and I'm so sorry but your safety, your life is more important than anything. You have to go somewhere you'll be safe. None of us would survive it if anything happened to you," Jasper said tearfully.

I opened my mouth to say something to him while Bella just looked at him, open mouthed with tears in her eyes.

"Jasper, that won't work," Alec said quietly and all eyes immediately turned toward him. "Bella disappearing is more likely to just escalate the situation. These types of stalkers, we have found, are obsessive which means that taking Bella away from the situation just causes the stalker to fixate even more on her."

"So are you telling us we just have to wait? Wait for this sick fuck to get tired of Bella and move onto someone else? Or wait for them to finally get pushed over the edge and try to attack her or some shit like that? No fucking way any of that is happening. I don't give a damn if you're the fucking FBI; Bella is not living the rest of her life with this shit hanging over her head," Seth said heatedly.

"I second what Seth said," Emmett inserted and then the table erupted as everyone started talking at one time.

I felt Bella shake beneath my arm and I'd had enough…and said so. "Enough!" I bellowed as I slapped my hand on the table and then looked apologetically at Bella for making her jump.

"Seth, Jasper, Emmett," I said, looking at each of them in turn. "While I appreciate your concern for both Bella and I, this is not your decision. This," I said as I pointed to the pictures and then at the two of us, "is our decision. Bella and I will listen to what Alec and Riley have to say and then," I said but was interrupted by Jasper.

"Now wait just a fucking second Edward," Jasper said, clenching his hands beside his leg.

I stood up after giving Bella a quick kiss on the top of her head and stared him down. I'd really about had enough of his sanctimonious, holier than thou bullshit…both his and Seth's.

I didn't really want to do this here but what the hell, no time like the present. "Look, Jasper, I know you and Seth love Bella but you have to realize that she is my life now…which makes her my responsibility. Whoever this sick fucker is that is tormenting her has taken pictures of her, of me, and of our children. They came to our house, the one place we were supposed to be the safest. They went to Mom and Dad's on Father's Day for shits sake," I said and then took a breath to calm down. I really didn't want to say anything I couldn't take back.

Bella and I had discussed Seth and Jasper…and Emmett too I'll be honest, and the way they had all been acting. I knew and understood where most of the worry and fear came from but they were all seriously overstepping boundaries they had no business crossing.

Being best friends with someone, even as long as they had been, still didn't give either of them the right to interfere the way they had and it was about to come to a screeching fucking halt.

"You two have to stop," I said quietly as I ran a hand through my hair. "She's not your little Bella anymore. She has a life that involves me, Maddie and Masen. I know it's hard for the both of you to let her go, but she's not yours to take care of any longer. It's time for you both to realize that you no longer get the final say in what she does or how she does it. WE are partners and WE will make decisions together," I said as I reached down and took Bella's hand in mine. "Whatever precautions we need to take, whatever measures or plans that need to be made, we'll gladly accept your input as long as you realize this is our decision and no one else's."

"Jasper, Seth," Bella said softly from her seat beside me. I squeezed her hand in support, knowing that whatever she was about to say, was going to be hard for her, but it needed to be done. "I love you both with all my heart, you know that. But Edward is right. This needs to be our decision. I hope you'll help us with whatever we need and I will listen to what you have to say, but you can't dictate any longer what happens and what I should do."

I looked at them both and though they listened to what we said, I knew the discussion wasn't over yet. But for the time being it was and that was all I needed.

"Alec, what do you think?" I turned my attention to him, a bit embarrassed at having unloaded our personal stuff like that when he'd been so accommodating to meet with us in the first place.

He obviously could detect my discomfort and he grinned and gave me a little nod, letting me know that all was okay before he sat back in his chair and looked at Bella and I. "Edward, Bella, I have listened to your explanations of the pictures, I have studied the pictures, and I have read over Riley's reports. I think this person, whoever it is, is closer to you than you realize. Someone that knows your schedules, someone that even knows your habits of spending Sunday afternoon's as a family. Someone that somehow knew you were getting the locks changed on the building. That worries me, it worries me a lot," Alec stated as he let out a frustrated breath.

"Bella, can you think of anyone that hates you enough to do this to you? Anyone you've had an argument with in the past? Anyone that you could have unknowingly taken something away from?" Alec asked as I began to go through a list in my head.

Bella was, without a doubt, the kindest, most gentle person and there was no way she should have anyone that hated her. It just didn't seem possible to me.

"Kate. Lauren. Victoria I suppose. I know there were lots of girls that were really pissed when I'd gotten the cover of the magazine. Jasper can tell you more about that than I could, I imagine. Um, I guess whoever sent the letters from before, even though they weren't anything like those. Maybe Jacob," Bella said with a tremble in her voice.

"Maybe someone from the shelter?" Bella said, making it sound like a question.

I looked at Alec and he had a very serious expression on his face now as he bent over a notebook, poised to write down some notes.

"Excellent, this gives us a place to start at least. We've gotten no clues at all from the letters themselves. Whoever took the pictures developed them themselves so there is no way to trace them. They were delivered, not mailed so we have no postmarks to give us a starting point. There are no fingerprints on the letters, pictures, or envelopes. There weren't any at the loft either, anywhere. Not outside, not on the elevator, and none on or beside the door to the loft. As much as I hate to say it, we've got nothing as far as any physical evidence," Alec said, clearly frustrated.

Riley looked just as frustrated and he bent forward and leaned his elbows on the table before he said, "Look you two, and the rest of you as well," he looked around the table at everyone and I felt my dad's hand on my shoulder, "we need to be extra vigilant for the next few weeks. Bella's final fashion show is coming up in less than a month and I have a feeling something will happen between now and then. Bella, your picture has been all over the place lately with all the appearances and interviews you've given lately. As the fashion show gets closer, I imagine the publicity to promote you will increase as well?" Riley asked, looking at Jasper for confirmation.

Jasper looked at Rosalie with a pained look, who returned it in equal measures. Then he looked at Bella and me and began, somewhat hesitantly, "Yes, Riley, you are correct. Aro and Jane are planning to go all out, marking it as Bella's final farewell and such. Since she has been so adamant about not returning after her contract has been completed, they are milking this for all it's worth. It will rival the hoopla that surrounded Tyra Banks when she did her last Victoria's Secret fashion show. If its going to be the last time Bella is seen in public that way, Aro and Jane want it to leave an impression," Jasper said with a sigh.

"Sorry Shortcake. Ali and I, as well as Rose have tried to find a way to get them to tone it down, but there's nothing we can do. This is Twilight's show, and they can do whatever they wish. Twilight isn't any happier about losing you than Aro and Jane are and they are going to use your final show to get them the most exposure possible. The next few weeks are going to have you in the public eye more than ever," Jasper said in a tormented voice.

No wonder he wanted me to take Bella away!

"Well, this certainly gives us more to think about," Alec said with a pointed look at Riley who only nodded in confirmation.

"Alec what do we do?" Carlisle spoke finally. "Bella is my daughter damn it. There is no way I'm letting her put herself out there like a sitting duck, just waiting and hoping that she makes it through each day safely. I won't allow it," he said vehemently and then turned a tender gaze onto my girl.

"Bella, dear, I'm sorry. But you are too important to my son, my grandchildren, and this family to compromise your safety," Carlisle said with a hesitant smile.

I'd never heard my father speak in that tone of voice, part anger, part frustration, but mostly love.

If I ever doubted the way he felt about Bella, and I certainly never had, what just happened would leave no doubt.

"Carlisle, I have every intention of finding this sick asshole and putting them away. After talking with Edward and Bella this morning, I'm going to take this information to the profiler and see what we can come up with. For the time being, I'm going to add a few agents to the detail that Riley has set up for Bella, Edward, and the kids and go over the security measures with Seth and Emmett. I plan on talking with Aro and Jane Volturi and coordinating Bella's appearances with my office. We'll do some preliminary sweeps of all the sites where she'll be to ensure her safety the best we can. As of right now, Bella's case and Bella's safety is this offices number one priority," Alec finished.

"Thank you Mr. Macelli," I said with feeling.

Knowing that something was being done took an incredible load off my shoulders and I could tell the rest of the family felt the same. My dad looked more relaxed and Seth, Jasper, and Emmett didn't look like they were about to explode either.

"It's my job Edward. But, you're welcome. We'll be in touch soon," he said as he gathered up the papers in front of him. "I want to meet with the profilers and I want to pull some background information on the people Bella named as starting points. If I have any questions, and I am positive I will, I'll give you a call. In the mean time, try not to let things overwhelm you," Alec said as he looked from me to Bella and then around the table at the rest of them.

"This is a tremendous family, with lots of support and help waiting at your fingertips. Take advantage of that and don't allow the stress of the situation to cause any of you to lash out at each other. This is going to take an effort on everyone's part," he said and then left the room.

Riley spoke with Emmett for a minute and I wrapped my arm around Bella as we waited for Em to be done so we could leave. I wanted some quiet time with my girl and my kids.

Once Riley informed us he would be stopping by later to go over Bella's schedule again we filed out of the office.

While Em brought the car around Jasper and Seth both looked at Bella and me and after he took a deep breath, Jasper began, "Edward, Bella. We owe you both an apology. We never should have implied that you didn't have Bella's best interest at heart Edward and we never should have tried to steamroll over you Bella. We love you both so much and we only tried to help. I hope you both can forgive us," Jasper said quietly and I watched as Bella flew into his arms.

"Jasper, I love you, we love you. We're all scared but we need to stick together, okay?" Bella asked as he wiped the tears off her face.

Seth cleared his throat and shuffled his feet a bit before he looked at us both. "Well I'm sorry for the same things Jasper is too, but mostly I'm sorry for Jacob. Bella, I never should have insisted that he stay after you first expressed your discomfort with him and I sure as shit should have kicked his ass to the curb when I found out about him being in the loft when you were gone. If I find out that he's the one…that he wrote…I'll kill him myself," Seth spat out vehemently.

"Seth, I don't think it's Jacob," I told him, grateful for his admission about Jacob…fucking finally. "He wanted Bella sure, but he wouldn't do this. He's just a dumb kid who convinced himself he was in love with a beautiful woman. While I would never trust him with her, I don't really think he would do something like this. "

"I don't either," Seth admitted then looked like he was in pain when he said, "but I never would have thought he'd force himself on Bella either. After seeing him in California, I realized I never knew him at all," Seth said sadly.

"Look you two," I said as I held my hand out to Bella. "California has come and gone so let's leave it in the past okay? Yeah you guys pissed me off and yeah it hurts that after what happened before we left you still did what you did, but I know it wasn't done on purpose and you didn't mean to hurt me or Bella. We have to put it to rest and work together, so how about we do that?"

"Amen brother," Jasper said as he slapped me on the back and kissed Bella on the top of her head.

"Christ almighty yes," Seth said heatedly. "Maybe now Tanya will let me sleep in my own damn bed. My couch may look good but it's uncomfortable as hell."

I smirked and reminded myself to send my best friend some flowers for having my back. She was the best.

We arrived back at the loft after picking up the kids and were able to have our quiet day. We spent it playing the Wii, watching movies, and eating take out for dinner. It was fucking perfect.

The rest of the week passed by quietly. Bella only had 2 appearances to make, and while I nearly shit my pants the whole time she was working, the fact that I was with her made me feel better. I could tell it made her feel better too.

Things quickly cleared up with Seth, Jasper, and Emmett and all of them were in better moods too now that the girls had let them out of the dog house. All three loved the flowers that Bella and I sent them as thanks for their support.


I arrived at the offices of Volturi in record time, running out in the middle of a meeting with my dad, Uncle Marcus, and Demetri where we were discussing Foundation business. I had plenty of time to focus on the Foundation now that I had taken a leave of absence from the office to let my sprained wrist heal and stay with Bella until this mess was finally settled.

Of course that allowed me to spend most of my free time with Bella as well. Neither one of us were going to complain about that in the least…not after the past few weeks that was for sure.

We'd been back from California for a week now and thankfully things had settled back down again into a somewhat manageable routine. Since we'd been back a week, that meant that blessedly, Bella was one week closer to ending her contract with Volturi… an event that both of us planned on celebrating wholeheartedly.

That feeling of euphoria that I had at her imminent freedom crashed to the ground the moment I heard Emmett's panicked voice a few moments ago urging me to get my ass to Volturi and to Bella.

I hopped out of the cab, throwing who knew how much money at the cabdriver as he pulled to a stop in front of the office building. I raced to the elevator where I repeatedly punched the button for the floor the offices were located on and tried to take a few deep breaths.

Bella would need me. She needed calm Edward, not scared out of his fucking mind Edward.

As soon as the doors opened a few, though it felt like forever, seconds later, I immediately turned to my left and hurried around the desks to find my brother…and my girl.

"Edward, thank fucking God," Emmett breathed out as I entered the conference room.

As soon as I noticed not only Aro and Jane but Riley…and Alec, I knew things had gotten decidedly worse.

"Baby," I cried when I saw Bella curled up in a chair beside the table and kneeled down in front of her, taking her tiny, shaking hands into mine. "I'm here Bella. I love you," I told her and lifted her hands to my lips to brush a kiss across the back of her trembling hands.

"Edward it's so bad this time. So, so bad," she cried and as I looked into the faces of Emmett, Rose, Riley, and Alec I tried to brace myself for what was to come.

Alec stepped forward and I felt my stomach twist as I took in the look on his face.

"How bad?" I croaked out.

He hesitated, clearly not wanting to tell me. I heard a rumble from off to the side and watched Seth breathe deeply in and out with barely restrained anger rolling off of him in waves. Jasper and Emmett had their arms tightly pulled across their chests and Riley's face showed nothing but fury at the whole damn situation.

"Tell me," I hissed. "For the love of God, someone just tell me what the fuck is going on," I said, trying to keep hold of my emotions.

From the looks on their faces and the fact that Bella was still shaking beside me, I knew that whatever they were about to tell me was far worse than anything we'd ever expected.

Alec took a step forward, and Emmett immediately shot his hand out and laid it on his arm. "Wait! Damn it, just fucking wait!" my brother cried out.

"Edward, man, are you sure you want to see this?" Emmett asked, turning to take the envelope from Alec's hands. "This is the worst one yet," he said quietly, his voice laced with trepidation.

"Just fucking show me Em," I said as I stood up, not letting go of Bella's still trembling hand.

Not that I could if I wanted to. Her hand had mine in a vice like grip and there was no way she was letting go anytime soon.

I watched him slip the letter out of the infernal envelope and then hand it to me. I took it in my free hand and closed my eyes briefly, trying to gather the courage I knew I needed to read it. I let out a long exhale through my nose and tensed my shoulders. Opening my eyes, I looked down at the paper, though it was through a haze of crimson. The one second glance to the paper in front of me was all I needed before the rage I felt spread through my body.

"Jesus motherfucking Christ," I spat out, immediately regretting my words.

I knew Father O'Connor would be disappointed in my language, but I couldn't help it. At the moment going to confession was the least of my worries.

I took a deep breath and looked down at the paper in my shaking hand again. This time the letter was short and to the point. I suppose saying that you wanted to kill someone didn't take many words:

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I've said
Baby, I'm determined
And I'd rather see you dead

My Dearest Edward and Bella:

I'm afraid Bella's time has come to end. Say your goodbyes to each other now while you can. The end is coming when you least expect it.

Accompanying the death threat was a stark black and white picture. It was of only Bella and she had been photo shopped to look like she was dead. She had dark bruises beneath her open, but obviously dead eyes. Her head lolled to the side at an unnatural angle and she was deathly pale. The picture showed her body laying on what was obviously an autopsy table or hospital bed and it showed just the top of her body, to right below her shoulders. I had no idea how someone could conjure up such a photo since obviously Bella had never taken a picture like this before but it most definitely was her. The most telling sign that it was my Bella in the horrific photo was the fact that her pendant hung around her neck, prominently on display on the naked chest in the picture.

I felt like I was going to be sick, the thought of Bella lying cold and dead completely paralyzing me. After I took a few steadying breaths I picked my head back up and looked around the room.

It certainly seemed like I wasn't the only one that felt like their world had just fallen apart.

"What do we do now?" I turned to Alec, my only concern being keeping Bella safe.

"I've already spoken to Langley and I've been given permission to assign Bella protection. We'll work in conjunction with Riley and NYPD and coordinate with Aro and Jane here to figure out what we need to do for the next few weeks. The fashion show is in a little over three weeks with Bella's first appearance coming on the first night of the shows," Alec stated as he looked around the room.

Alec then looked at Seth and Jasper and then Bella and I. "I'd like to have two agents at the loft at all times. I understand from Seth and Jasper, that there is a third floor that is mostly empty?" He asked and I waited for Bella to answer but realized she was still too upset to speak, so I did.

"Yes, that's right. Jasper and Seth are on the second floor, the offices are on the first, and we have the entire top floor. The third floor has a room where Bella and Masen have their drums but that's it," I answered him, my heart clenching painfully at the mention of Masen's name.

I took a deep breath and forced myself to concentrate on the discussion right now. If I allowed myself to think of my children, I would lose it completely and that was something I couldn't afford to do.

Alec nodded in Riley's direction and then turned to face us again. "Then I think we need to set up a command post of sorts at the loft and have at least two agents inside there twenty-four hours a day."

I nodded, not even bothering to ask Bella what her opinion was. She wasn't in any shape to make one right now and besides this was about her safety so whatever needed to be done would be…without question.

"Now, Edward and Bella, I think it's time to make a very hard decision," and with Alec's words I felt a part of my brain shut down and a part of my heart break away.

Son of a bitch, I knew what was going to come out of his mouth and I had foolishly hoped and prayed we wouldn't get to this day.

Alec took a deep breath and gave Bella a sympathetic glance before he looked at me. "Edward, I think it's time to get Maddie and Masen out of the city," he said slowly.

I squeezed my eyes shut as the onslaught of pain engulfed me like a tidal wave. I knew, fucking knew that it was for the best that they go. I hated myself for having to do this, hated knowing that I had no choice. I hated the motherfucker that was causing all this damn chaos. But more than that, I hated what this was going to do to Bella.

She didn't make me wait long for the last bit of my self-control to completely disintegrate like ashes in the aftermath of an inferno.

"Edward, no!" Bella cried, her body shaking and her eyes as wide as saucers.

I kneeled back down in front of her and ran my index finger across the mother's ring on her right hand. "Baby, yes. I don't like this anymore than you do, but we have to do what is best for them. We've talked about this already and knew it was possible this would become necessary. After that," I ground out with disdain as I pointed to the letter, "We don't have any choice. It won't be for long angel, but it has to be done," I finished softly as I wiped the tears off her face with my thumbs.

"Then you should go with them, Edward," Bella said as she gripped my wrists.

"No way Bella. I'm not leaving you here alone without me. Where you go, I go. I promised you that, I swore to you that I would stand beside you through this and I will," I told her firmly.

As much as it killed me inside to send the kids away, being away from Bella, now, would be a hundred times worse.

"Edward, do you have any idea where they will go?" Alec questioned me. "Wherever they go they will have protection as well, at least until after the fashion show."

"Lake George," Bella said quickly, frantically looking at me. "At least send them there Edward. They love it there and they know the house. They can even take Rufus with them," Bella pleaded.

"Edward, it might not be a bad idea," Emmett stated as he moved forward. "Over the fourth weekend, Seth and I went over the security system we'd updated over Memorial Day. I've been in constant contact with the guy up there that keeps an eye on things and so far no problems at all."

Emmett then turned to Alec and said, "We've got a state of the art system up there and the entrance is secured by a gate. It's probably one of the safest places for the kids to go. We just need to figure out who to send with them," Emmett said as he turned to face Bella and me again. "Mom and Dad won't leave the city, Edward, you know that. Seth, Jasper, and I need to be here with you and Bella. That means Tanya, Ali and Rose aren't going anywhere either, not that Rosalie would even consider not being close by to Bella right now," Em said with a grin in Bella's direction.

"Uncle M and Aunt Di," I said emphatically. "They can take Dem and Heidi, too."

"Do you think Uncle Marcus will go?" Bella asked me as she struggled with reconciling the fact that the kids needed to go at all.

"If he knows how important it is, in a heartbeat. Demetri as well," I told Bella as I grabbed my phone out of my pocket.

"Edward, have your Uncle and cousin meet us at the field office and we'll go over a few things and then coordinate when the best time for them to leave is. I have to be honest here, we need to be careful. It's obvious you and Bella are being followed, closely, so we need to get them out of town without anyone realizing they are gone. The sooner the better," Alec stated, in full FBI mode as he turned to Riley and Emmett and began making plans.

"Isabella," Aro said quietly as he stood off to the side and looked at both of us with sincere unhappiness on his weathered and quite honestly, old face. The man looked liked he'd aged years in the last few months. "I am so sorry this is happening to you and to your Edward. Please know that if there is anything you need, you have only to ask. Anything you might find useful is at your disposal. I can hire a car to take the children and Edward's family to the lake if you would like?" Aro questioned.

"Mr. Volturi. Thank you for the offer. After I've spoken with Edward's uncle and made arrangements with my agents, I'll let you know if we require your assistance," Alec said diplomatically.

"Edward, Isabella, please know I don't like what is happening. While it's no secret that I would be more than pleased if Bella were to continue in our employ, I would never wish this on anyone," Aro said with feeling and turned to walk away. After he'd made it almost to the door he turned and said, "As much as neither of you believe me, if there was a way to end Bella's contract today, I would do so in an instant. With so many preparations already made it just wouldn't be feasible. Bella's safety and well being are paramount. Mr. Macelli, you'll let me know if there is anything I can do?" Aro asked and when Alec nodded in the affirmative he gave Bella one last gentle look before he exited the conference room.

"He called me Bella," Bella whispered softly after he'd gone. "He's never, not once in five years, ever called me Bella."

I didn't have anything to say to that so I didn't. Instead I stood next to her and absentmindedly ran my fingers through her hair.

Without looking, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed my uncle's phone number. "To what do I owe the pleasure, favorite nephew of mine?" Uncle Marcus chirped happily in the phone.

Hearing his voice just brought the reality of what I was about to have to do crashing on me and I barely forced out, "Uncle M, I need your help."

"Anything Edward," he answered immediately and I took a deep breath and told him what had just happened and what I needed.

"Tell Alec I'll be at the field office with Demetri within the hour. I'll call Diane and have her start packing. No worries Edward, I'll keep the twins safe. You tell my girl that I love her and I'll see the two of you soon," he said before he was gone.

I knew I could count on him, but the fact that he'd so readily agreed to pick up and leave the city for weeks overwhelmed me just the same. I truly had the most amazing family ever.

"Marcus is on his way?" Alec questioned as he began to button his suit coat and walked toward the door while the rest of us followed.

I nodded my head and wrapped my arm around Bella's waist to pull her close to me. "Yes sir. He'll be at your office within the hour with Demetri."

"Good," Alec said as we entered the elevator. The entire elevator was silent, each of us lost in our own thoughts and swimming in the fear that threatened to drown each of us. Seth and Jasper couldn't even look at me or Bella and Emmett just stood behind me and Bella with a hand on each of our shoulders as if he was reminding us he would always be behind us.

I reached up silently and covered his large hand with my own and took a deep breath.

We exited the building and Alec and Riley hurried to their cars so they could get to the field office and speak to the agents that would be assigned to accompany Uncle Marcus and the rest to Lake George before we all arrived. Seth and Jasper walked in the direction of the suburban and I felt Bella shake in my arms.

"Hey Em, Rose, can you give us a minute?" I asked quietly.

I tried not to dwell on the completely devastated looks on their faces because if I did, Bella wouldn't be the only one shaking and in need of comfort.

Emmett took Rose's hand and then went in the same direction as Jasper and Seth.

Turning to Bella I took her in my arms, finally, and wrapped my arms around her…completely engulfing her and held her against my chest where the tears she'd kept inside upstairs finally spilled forth.

"Shh…Bella…angel, I've got you. I'm here baby," I told her as I bent my head beside her ear.

We stood on the crowded sidewalk, totally oblivious to everything around us except for each other. Nothing else mattered but her and I and making sure she knew, she believed that we would be fine.

"Edward, I'm so fucking sorry," Bella said between sobs and hiccups.

"Angel please don't apologize to me any more. I can't take it. You have absolutely nothing, not one fucking thing to apologize for. This is not your fault any more than its mine or Maddie's or Masen's. We're going to be fine Bella, I promise," I told her as her brown eyes stared up into mine.

"I can't believe we have to send them away," Bella cried pitifully and her little body shook again.

"We're not sending them away to punish them baby, we're having them go to Lake George where they'll be safe. Hopefully it's just for a little bit, but it has to be done Bella. Neither one of us would be able to survive it if anything happened to either one of them," I told her and then held her close to me again, tucking her head beneath my chin.

"Edward, please don't say anything like that! I'd never, ever forgive myself if anything happened to them," Bella said against my chest.

I took a deep breath to hold back the sob that threatened to break free. "I know you wouldn't Bella, that's why they have to go. We can't focus on keeping you safe and worry about them at the same time. At least they'll be someplace that is familiar to them plus they'll have Rufus. They may never want to come home," I chuckled a bit, hoping to at least coax a small smile out of her.

I heard her snort and let out another breath. Thank freaking God for small favors.

"This isn't home anymore Edward. Home is someplace quiet and peaceful and safe. Home is me, you, and the kids snuggled on the couch watching Cars for the umpteenth time eating popcorn. Home is sitting at the table eating pancakes on Sunday morning," Bella said, sniffling again. She had looked up at me as she spoke and I swore I could see straight into her soul her eyes were so full of love.

"Home is Lake George Bella. I can't wait to begin my life there with you, Maddie and Masen," I said as I looked down into her tear stained, but still achingly beautiful face.

I bent my head down and kissed her softly, letting my lips say everything I couldn't articulate right this second.

Seth pulled the suburban up to the curb and immediately he and Emmett were behind us, ushering us into the vehicle.

The strangest feeling swept over me and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on its end. I had the unmistakable feeling that we were being watched and I raised my head to scan the area around us. My gaze settled on the building across the street, being pulled there for some inexplicable reason, but Seth and Emmett's insistence to get in the car pulled my attention back to Bella.

"Em, I just got the strangest feeling that we're being watched," I whispered to my brother as Bella entered the car.

"Then get in the fucking car Edward," Emmett snapped and I nodded my head and did as I was told.



Jesus Christ this shit was awesome, I grinned evilly to myself as I watched Edward and Bella hover outside the building.

Bella was normally pale, but damn the girl was positively white right at the moment and I couldn't help the self-satisfied chuckle I let go.

I knew that letter, this last letter, would freak them the hell out but I had no idea it would get the reaction it did. Looking at Edward and Bella right now, they clutched each other like they were afraid one or the other was going to disappear. Which, if I had my way, they both would.

I was so tired of this shit now. Now I just wanted it to be over. I had enjoyed playing with the both of them…immensely…but it was time to end the game. I never meant to include Edward, he was most definitely not part of the original plan I had come up with right before the Sports Illustrated cover was released. But, damn, that man just waltzed in her life and swept her off her feet. What the hell was I supposed to do? It was apparent immediately that he was in it with Bella for the long haul and it wasn't just some passing fling for either of them.

Edward made things more difficult, no question about it, but it just made the game I was playing with Bella that much more interesting. Not that either of them were aware that we were playing a game, but it didn't matter. I did.

And this game, this game was for keeps and I'm pretty sure judging from the terrified looks on both of their faces, they finally realized it.

Everything was coming together more perfectly than I ever could have imagined all those months ago. When I first set out on my course to completely destroy Miss Isabella Marie Swan, all I wanted was for her to be gone. Forever. But once Edward entered her life, bringing with him those two kids, I'd had to rethink my plan.

I knew I was losing touch with reality, I could feel it, but even I had to admit that the twins were adorable little shits. I never wanted kids of my own, but they were pretty irresistible. I felt a twinge of…something. Certainly not remorse because I couldn't make myself feel sorry for Bella…at all, but I did feel a tiny bit bad about taking Bella away from them.

I looked across the street again and watched as Bella was completely engulfed in Edward's arms as he held her close to his chest. Of course it was impossible to hear what he was saying to her from this distance, but whatever it was, it brought tears to her eyes. She looked at him with so much love and the look he gave her was just as intense. Edward bent his head down closer to hers and kissed her so softly that it made even my heart, my cold, unfeeling heart, stop for the briefest of moments and when it started beating again…I had a new plan.

No longer was Bella's demise my ultimate goal. Now it was Edward's. By taking him away from her, she would be left with nothing, just like me. Fair is fair right? Without Edward, Bella had no kids to love for they would surely not want to have anything to do with the woman that was the cause of their father's death. Same went for Edward's family. I'd watched them rally around her, offering her their unwavering support. If Edward were to die, there couldn't be any way they would forgive her.

I thought briefly about Jasper, Rose, and Seth…Bella's own little family. And while they might try to help Bella through the aftermath, I had every reason to believe that soon they would distance themselves from her too. I'd seen the way they all acted with their significant others and even though they'd all been friends for such a long time, it wouldn't be enough. Jasper was totally committed to Alice and so was Rose to Emmett. That just left Seth, but I could tell he and Bella had already begun their transition from being the way they used to be to the way it had to be now with Edward and Tanya in the picture. I knew Seth would hang onto her the longest, but even he would let her go and then…she'd be all alone.

With nothing, just like me.

I chuckled darkly and the sound must have been startling enough since a few people stopped to look at me as they passed me on the sidewalk. Then they promptly moved farther away as if they knew instinctively that I was dangerous.

And I wasn't, not really. Only to Bella and now to Edward.

The plan that formed quickly in my head was fraught with things that could go wrong but if I could manage to pull it off, it would be a feat of epic proportions. I would have to be meticulous in my preparations, but I hadn't been caught yet so I wasn't too worried about it. In fact I wasn't even on the radar which made me chuckle again. How could they be so stupid? I mean it was right there in front of their faces but I shouldn't be surprised really. Bella really was far too trusting.

I watched as Seth pulled the suburban up to the curb and then he and Emmett rushed Edward and Bella into the back, looking around as if they could sense that someone was watching them.

I blanched momentarily when Edward's eyes snapped up and looked in my direction. I pressed myself closer to the side of the building and let out a maniacal giggle when he shrugged his shoulders and said something to Emmett that I couldn't hear.

So close Edward…but not close enough.

I turned to walk back in the direction I came from.

I had lots of planning to do.



We arrived at the Field Office in next to no time; well it felt like it anyway. I had no idea what fucking time it was or how long we'd been in the car.

The only thing that seemed to register was Bella and the fact that I had to send my kids away.

Seth and Emmett surrounded us again as we exited the suburban and entered the office. It felt like just yesterday since we'd last been here and I was struck with a case of déjà' vu that wasn't particularly pleasant.

Once we had all filed into another fucking conference room to go over plans for another fucking thing, I suddenly felt so damn tired. I was with Bella in thinking this whole thing fucking sucked.

I wasn't surprised to see my uncle and cousin waiting in the conference room but I was shocked to see my father and mother. As soon as we made it past the doorway Bella and I were both engulfed in the arms of both my parents. Bella began to cry immediately and my mother gently held her against her chest and simply just held her.

My dad pulled me to him and kissed the side of my head, "You're not alone son. Always remember that," he told me as he placed his hands on my shoulders.

"We know Pop," I said hoarsely, suddenly exhausted.

I was so fucking tired of watching Bella cry. I was so fucking tired of trying to put on a brave front for her and everyone else. I was so fucking tired of watching the people I loved freak out and worry about Bella and I. I was fucking done with it all and I was so ready to put this damn nightmare behind us.

Uncle Marcus and Demetri waited for Pop and Mama to let us go and then approached us. I didn't have any trouble holding it together with my parents but when I looked at my uncle, I lost it.

He immediately enveloped me in his arms and held me close to him. "Edward my boy, whatever you need. Anything," he said as he patted my back.

"Cullen's always stick together Cuz," Demetri said and kissed me as well.

Yes, the entire Cullen family had no problem whatsoever with outward displays of affection, no matter our ages. Sue me.

"Okay, now that everyone is here, let's get to it," Alec said indicating everyone should take a seat. "Now Marcus, you, Diane, Demetri, and his girlfriend Heidi are all accompanying Maddie and Masen to Bella's house at Lake George is that right?" He asked as he took notes.

Bella said nothing, just held onto my hand in her lap and played with my fingers with one hand. With the other she held her pendant, running her fingers around the heart that still sparkled and still took my breath away whenever I saw it lay against her pale skin.

"I love you baby," I told her softly when I turned to look at her.

Bella, thankfully, didn't cry anymore but gave me a watery smile just the same and whispered the same thing back to me.

My attention was grabbed when I heard my uncle answer and I listened with a heavy heart as Alec went over the preliminary plans with Uncle Marcus and Demetri. There would be a total of four agents going to the house with the family, two that would be in the house at all times and two that would be stationed outside the gate. The teams would alternate and would be in constant contact with Alec, Riley, and Emmett as well. Ben would go up with the agents and double check the security system and I was in total awe at the way our family and friends had rallied around us.

"Edward, Bella, are you going to tell the children what is going on?" Alec asked tentatively.

"Yes," Bella answered while I simultaneously answered, "No."

I sat in stunned silence for a moment while I tried to comprehend what Bella just answered.

"Bella, they are way too young to understand what is going on," I stated seriously.

"Edward, sweetheart," Bella said calmly, more calm than I would have expected in actuality. "There is no way you will be able to convince them to leave with Uncle Marcus and Aunt Diane if they don't think we're coming also. You have to be reasonable. I'm not saying we tell them everything, but they need to know we're doing this to protect them, not because they've done something wrong and not because we don't want them here," my love finished.

She was, of course, completely right.

I smiled at her tenderly and then faced Alec, "Yes sir. We'll talk to them when we get home."

"Will you be ready for them to leave first thing in the morning?" Alec asked and my stomach roiled at the thought but I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded my head.

I listened as he and Riley talked about decoy vehicles and things of that nature and it sounded like a movie instead of my life. My head spun and it just seemed so damn surreal.

Before I knew it, the meeting was over and I shook Alec's hand, thanking him profusely for his help.

"I'm just doing my job son. But more than that, you're practically family. I'd do anything for Carlisle or Marcus so I'm happy to help. Now you take your beautiful girl home and spend some quality time with your kids and we'll talk again soon," he said with a slap on the back. He kissed Bella on the cheek quickly before he made his way over toward my parents.

Mama started to cry and I couldn't bear to watch anymore so I looked at my brother and said, "Take us home, please?"

"Edward, son, is it okay if we stop by later? We'll give you a few hours with the children but we'd like to come over if you're up to it," my mom said as she looked past Alec to Bella and I.

"Esme, you never have to ask to come over. You're always welcome," Bella said graciously, but I knew she meant it wholeheartedly.

She adored my parents, and they loved her the same way so my mom blew us a kiss and then turned back to finish speaking with Alec and my dad.

Jasper and Rose followed us out the door and I watched as Bella silently reached out for Rose's hand and gripped it tightly as Jasper looked on morosely.

"Emmett," I exclaimed when a thought raced through my mind. "Who the hell is watching the kids? Mama and Pop are here as well as Uncle M and Dem. You, Jasper, and Seth are here too. Shit, you guys didn't leave them with just Ali unprotected did you?"

"Edward," Emmett said sadly. "Of course not. Tanya and Ali are at Pop's with Ben and Uncle Eleazar as well as the agents Alec sent over there to watch the house. They are perfectly safe. Ali and Tanya are bringing the kids to you in about an hour. We figured you'd need a little bit of time by yourselves before they got there."

There was so much to say to all of them, so many emotions to muddle through to even begin to try to quantify them so I simply said, "Thank you, all of you."

The ride back to the loft was silent. No one said a word. Bella held on to my hand and still held on to Rose's. Jasper and Seth kept looking back and forth at each other and then back at me and Bella. Emmett kept one hand on my shoulder and one hand on Rose. It was the most excruciating car ride I'd ever taken in my life and I was thrilled when we pulled past the police patrol units in front of the building to enter the parking garage.

I pulled Bella out of the car with me once we'd come to a stop and grabbed the elevator, not waiting for the rest to join us. I knew they were going to Seth and Jasper's and would remain there for the evening, but for right now I just needed some time with Bella alone. As much as I wanted to spend every moment between now and the time the kids left with them, I knew I needed Bella even more.

The second the doors closed, I lifted Bella into my arms and felt her wrap her legs around my waist. It seemed that as soon as we were alone, without the worried eyes of our family and friends watching us, we both let go of everything we'd felt since I arrived at the Volturi office. Bella plunged her fingers in my hair and laid her head on my shoulder and her entire tiny body shook as she fell apart in my arms.

My arms shook, not because she was heavy, but because I fell apart right along with her. Somehow we stumbled from the elevator, down the hall to our door and with trembling fingers I was able to manage to get the door opened. I bypassed the couch in favor of our bed and as soon as I kicked the door shut behind us, we fell on it in a tangled mess of arms and legs. We cried, we touched, we let go of everything we felt. All the fear, the anguish…the anger.

All of it.

I have no idea how long we stayed that way, murmuring words of comfort, words of love, words that reaffirmed our commitment to each other. Once I managed to take a few deep breaths and felt myself slowly come back together I looked at the clock and realized that Ali and Tanya would be bringing the kids home shortly.

"Baby, why don't you take a quick shower? Ali and Tan will be here soon," I said softly as I pushed her damp hair off her face.

Bella finally looked at me, for the first time since we'd been home, and her eyes were bloodshot and swollen. Her little nose was red and her normally pale cheeks were splotched with red. She was devastatingly beautiful to me always, but the way she looked right at the moment broke my fucking heart. Just one more reason to hate the fucker that was terrorizing us.

Hate with the intensity of a thousand suns was more like it. I swore that when we found out who was doing this, because I had every belief we would somehow, I would destroy, annihilate the son of a bitch and there would be nothing left. I'd never really hated anyone before in my life but this sick, sadistic person brought forth an all consuming rage that quite frankly, scared the living shit out of me.

I could easily see myself killing this person slowly, making them suffer in horrible and excruciating ways and I would feel no remorse in doing so. It wasn't how I was brought up, hell it wasn't what I believed was right or moral either, but that didn't matter. Whoever it was that broke the woman in my arms was going to pay for the hell they'd put her through, there was no fucking doubt about it.

"Will you come with me?" Bella asked in a small, quiet voice and she broke my heart just a bit more with the way she sounded.

Broken, afraid, devastated.

"Of course my love. Would I ever turn down the chance to worship your body?" I teased her gently.

I was rewarded with a tiny smile. It was brief sure, but it was genuine and I would fucking take it. There would be little to smile about in the coming weeks. I was sure of that.

We showered together. Bella refused to let me go, still wrapped around my waist and neck, which made washing her body and her hair more than a bit difficult but we managed. I didn't complain. I knew she needed to be close to me, just as I needed her there. It was the way we worked. The one thing I had told myself over and over again throughout this entire ordeal was that if the psychotic fucker thought they would tear us apart with all this bullshit, they had to be sorely disappointed. It only brought us closer, cemented our devotion to one another and to our family in ways that made us totally unbreakable.

There was nothing we couldn't handle together, and nothing would ever be able to tear us apart. I was convinced of that beyond a shadow of a fucking doubt.

Bella had to finally let me go so she could get dressed, but as we sat on the sofa and waited for Maddie and Masen to come home, she sat firmly in my lap. One hand on my heart and one hand on the medal around my neck.

"I love you Edward," she whispered so softly I barely heard her a few minutes later.

She took my breath away with her quiet, heartfelt words and I bent my head forward and brushed my lips against hers and whispered just as softly, "As I love you my Bella. We're going to be okay angel. I promise," I said fervently, needing her to believe me.

She had to have hope that we would be fine, that she would be safe and that the kids would return soon. If she didn't, I didn't think I'd be able to go on.

"I believe you Edward. I know you'll protect me and that the kids will be safe at the lake. I have faith that Alec and Riley will catch whoever this person is and then you and I will get our happily ever after," Bella said with a fierceness I hadn't heard in days, weeks. She turned in my lap and straddled my thighs and rested her forehead against mine. "I trust you Edward. I believe in us and I have faith that we'll be okay."

I held her face in my hands and crashed my lips against hers and kissed her with all the love and emotion her words stirred in me. "I love you so much Bella. You're everything to me, my whole life is you. Please tell me you know that," I whispered hoarsely.

"I do Edward. I know," Bella said and ran her fingers down my cheeks.

We sat that way until we heard the elevator and Bella looked so scared when we heard the kids' voices in the hallway. "They'll understand baby," I told her and moved to go open the door.

"Daddy!" Maddie and Masen each exclaimed excitedly as they barreled through the door followed by an extremely excited Rufus who ran around my legs in a circle. I bent down to hug and kiss each of them, my eyes instantly filled with tears and my stomach in knots.

Fuck, this was going to be so damn hard.

Alice and Tanya each hugged me tightly, barely keeping their tears at bay. Alice's tiny body shook against mine as she whispered, "I love you brother mine."

I merely nodded at her, knowing if I tried to talk to her, I wouldn't be able to hold it together to talk to the kids. Same thing with Tanya. I knew they wanted to talk to Bella but we just couldn't take anymore so after they promised to stay downstairs but would come if we needed them; I waved and turned around to look back at the kids.

"And we went to the bookstore and I got that new book I've been wanting forever," Maddie excitedly told Bella.

"Oohh, and Mommy, guess what?" Masen chimed in. When Bella looked at him he went on quickly, "Uncle Demetri bought me a new drum book with all these really cool songs in it. Do you think we can practice later?"

Bella looked at me, horrified that she wouldn't be able to practice with him and I knew it was now or never. My vote was for fucking never, but after taking a deep breath, I went to sit on the couch with my family.

"Mase, Maddie," I began, clearing my throat. "Mommy and I have to talk to you about something really important and I need you two to really pay attention okay?"

When they nodded their heads I took deep breath and began, "Do you remember when Mommy and I told you about the police and why we needed them to be here for a little while?"

"Because of the letters that scared you and Mommy, right Daddy?" Masen asked and I nodded my head.

"That's right buddy. Well, today Mommy got another letter and this one was the scariest of them all. Papa has a friend that is going to try to help us find the person who is scaring all of us but until that happens, Mommy and I think you guys should go to the lake house." I finished with a shaky voice.

"Are you coming with us?" Maddie asked, her green eyes wide with fright.

I again cursed the son of a bitch who put that look on my precious baby's face.

"No Maddie," Bella answered quietly. "Daddy and I have to stay here. You and Masen will go to the lake with Uncle Marcus and Aunt Diane. Uncle Demetri and Heidi are going too and I want you guys to take Rufus with you. He loves it up there and he'll be sad if you're away."

"Oh, okay," Maddie said softly as she began to cry but it was the sound of an emphatic "No!" that caught my attention.

Masen sat on the sofa with his arms crossed looking every bit as angry and hurt and protective as I did. "I'm staying here to help Mommy. She's my mommy and if someone wants to scare her or hurt her, I need to be here to help. Daddy, please let me stay?"

My son.

If I ever, ever had any doubts about his love for Bella, he'd certainly just cleared that up in a fucking heartbeat with his devastating, but honest words. I knew it would be hardest to convince Masen he had to go. His bond with Bella was so strong and he was as loyal and protective of her as I was.

"Masen, no you can't stay. You and Maddie both have to leave. We need to pack tonight and tomorrow morning you guys will leave with everyone else to go up to the lake," I told him while he still sat with his arms crossed and shook his head.

"How long will we be gone?" Maddie asked as she looked from me to Bella.

"We're not sure princess. As soon as it's safe for you to come home, we'll come get you right away. We promise," I told her painfully.

I couldn't believe I had to send my children away. It was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do and it was literally killing me slowly to have to do it.

"I don't want to go!" Maddie wailed and then shot off the couch and ran to her room, shattering my heart in the process. Bella looked like the same thing had just happened to her and when we heard Maddie's cries come from her room, Bella quickly went to her leaving just Masen and I.

"Masen, son, you have to go," I told him as I moved to sit next to him on the sofa.

"Why is someone being so mean to Mommy? How could someone be so mean?" He asked in the way only an eight year old could.

"I don't know buddy, but we're doing everything we can to make sure we find them and stop them," I told him as I put an arm around him.

He laid his head on my chest and my eyes filled with tears. "I don't want to go. I want to stay with you and Mommy and make sure she's okay," he said.

"I know Mase, but I need you to go and take care of your sister. Mommy and I will come get you as soon as we can, I promise we will. But, Maddie will be so scared without you there to protect her. I need you to do that for me Masen. I can't be there with her, but you can. You can keep her safe and keep her from being so sad and so scared," I told him as I kissed the top of his head.

"Okay," he said with a sigh.

After a few minutes Bella came out of Maddie's room and went to the kitchen to start making dinner. Wordlessly, Masen got up off the couch, went to Bella and wrapped his arms around her waist. He stayed that way for a few moments before he went to Maddie's room where I heard him talk quietly to her. I couldn't hear what he said, but it didn't matter.

My son was the most amazing kid in the world…besides my daughter…and I was so damn proud of them both.

Bella looked at the door, an unreadable expression on her face, and then turned back to finish making dinner. We ate at the island, and answered as many questions as we could from the kids. They were astoundingly perceptive so a few questions had to be skirted because there was no way we were answering them.

By the time we finished dinner, Carlisle and Esme had arrived and immediately Esme and Bella started to get the kids packed and ready to go. I couldn't bear to watch so I grabbed my bottle of scotch and went to stand by the dining room table. I poured myself a healthy drink and stared out of the windows while I tried to not think of what was going on in the rooms behind me.

"We'll get you through this," my dad said as he stood next to me.

"I know Pop," I answered after I took a drink. "It's just so fucking unfair. After everything she's been through, now this? How much is one person supposed to suffer?"

"I wish I had an answer for you Edward, but I don't. But Bella has you and the kids now. She has all of us and Jasper, Seth, and Rose. She has Alec and Riley. Isabella is incredibly brave and the strongest person I've ever met," Carlisle stated after taking a sip of his own scotch.

"She is all that," I conceded.

"You'll get your life with her Edward. Trust in that," my dad said.

I sighed and finished my drink before I looked at him. "I do Pop, because if anything ever happened to her, I'd never survive it. I wouldn't want to."

He looked like he wanted to say something to me but I walked away before he was able.

I went to put my glass in the sink in the kitchen and I looked up to see my mom come out of my room, wiping her eyes. "The children wanted to sleep with you and Bella. She's lying down with them now," she said as she stood in front of me. "You're so tired Edward," Esme said softly as she placed her palm on my cheek.

"Fucking exhausted," I admitted.

I bent down to kiss her and then walked to the bedroom to check on Bella and the kids. She was in the middle of them, one tucked in close and tight on each side of her and they were all, blessedly, asleep.

There was no way I would get any sleep tonight, I knew that so I just stood and watched them for a bit, trying not to fall apart again. I heard someone knock at the door and thinking it was only someone from downstairs, I didn't bother to turn around from the sight before me to see who it was.

"They make a beautiful picture," came the distinctly Irish voice of Father O'Connor as he stood next me.

"They are my life," I answered in reply.

"Your parents thought maybe you could use my help," he said and I was suddenly so fucking grateful he was there.

I nodded, unable to find my voice. "Come Edward, let's talk."

He led me to the couch and I sat down. Father O'Connor sat in the chair to the left of me and as soon as he was comfortable I let it all out. Every fucking thought and feeling I had. I talked until I was hoarse and needed him to get me a bottle of water from the refrigerator so I could soothe my sore throat.

"Edward, my son, I wish I could tell you why this happening but I can't. There is no reason why someone as good and as innocent as your Bella has been made to suffer the way she has. I can assure you that God is not punishing either you or her. No one deserves the anguish you've had to deal with," he said as he stared at me intently.

"But why her? She's the most loving and gentle person you'll ever meet. She gives without ever asking for anything in return. All we want is to be happy and be left alone to live our lives together. Is that too fucking much to ask?" I spat out.

"Of course it's not too much to ask Edward, but you must not lose Faith. You and Bella will be able to be joined before God and your family and friends and unite in matrimony. You will be able to live together as man and wife and nurture the children you have now and the one's you will have in the future. You will Edward. Believe in that my son," Father told me.

"I want to, Father O'C, I want to so bad, but I'm terrified. I'm so damn angry. I want to kill the person doing this to her, to us," I hissed and snapped my head in his direction when I heard him scoff.

"Edward Anthony Cullen," he said. "You don't mean that. I've known you since the day you were born and I know that is just your fear and your anger talking. And while it's understandable, it's also wrong to say. You know that whoever this person is that is doing this will face their own judgment. Let's concentrate on you and Bella and the kids and the rest of your family shall we? We'll leave the fate of the tormentor to another power."

"I'm so damn tired Father," I said resignedly.

"Then rest Edward. I'll stay with you, all night if need be," he told me.

"Will you tell me the Patricia the Penny Planter story again?" I asked, suddenly wanting to listen to his Irish brogue tell me my most favorite story from my childhood.

"Of course my boy. It's always been your favorite," he said as he began to speak.

I felt my eyes get heavy right at the good part and I was vaguely aware of saying, "Thank you Father," and I heard him reply, "You are my most favorite Cullen Edward. There's no place I'd rather be."

I smiled, as I drifted off to sleep, dreaming about treasure hunts and copper pennies.


  1. Ok Erin!

    I have figured out the stalker and will give you my opinion and reasoning at the end of this review or more likely on the who the stalker is section!

    I love that Edward is figuring out how he is going to ask Bella to marry him. It's such a sweet moment at the beginning of a horrendous chapter.

    I am glad that SOMEONE finally asked the question of Bella and Edward "WHO could be doing this?" Alec seems to know his stuff and he's asking the right questions and getting the proper people involved (the profilers are probably going to be very important!!)

    FINALLY, Bella and Edward tell the rest of them that it is UP TO THEM, as a COUPLE to make the decisions that concern their lives. Not the besties that have been there all along, and not Emmett, who has his brother's best interests at heart.

    B and E have to make the choices concerning THEIR CORE family. The rest of them need to take a damn step back and let them make the decisions. Input in wonderful, but ultimately it comes back to Bella and Edward and what THEY want to do. So GOOD ON Edward for finally laying down the law on that! And I was PROUD of the rest of them for finally understanding that they were crossing a line and need to respect E and B!

    Seth apologizing about Jacob was awesome! I'm sure though that the thought he could have let someone like Jacob get close enough to take advantage of Bella has shaken some of the faith that Seth had in HIMSELF! No one else feels that way I'm sure, but Seth is likely going over that in his mind a million times.

    The new letter was terrifying! I mean seriously someone is SICK but we have known this for awhile.

    I was a bit shocked by Aro. His reaction was not what I expected at all. I still don't know how to take him but I did notice that Jane didn't say a word during the whole exchange. I think maybe he called her "Bella" because maybe he just realized that she really is a person and not a commodity for him to take advantage of, but then again, it's Aro, so who knows what is going on in his head!

    Ummmmm Stalker POV was SCARY as shit! The person has lost his/her mind. And NOW he/she is going to focus on Edward and with everyone SO focused on Bella, it's going to leave him wide open. I don't like that at all!

    My heart broke when they realized they had to send the kids away. Those children are so very important to both of them and their daily lives that this is going to have a hell of an effect on not only the children but on Edward and Bella as well. I AM curious as to what Bella said to Maddie when she went to her room. Little Masen trying to be so strong and protect his Mommy was so emotional to read. He really is Edward's Mini-Me.

    Father O'Connor coming to help Edward was beautiful. I'm sure Edward needed someone OUTSIDE the family to talk to and who better than the good Father. His insight and calming influence helped bring Edward back out of his darkness that he was buried in and helped him get to sleep. Such a touching moment when Father told Edward he was his favorite Cullen. That was truly beautiful!

    Things are happening FAST! I can't wait for next chapter! It's going to be wonderful! While this was a hard chapter to read because of the extreme emotions, you captured it perfectly, as per usual my dear Erin!

  2. All right~! Medusa in ny said she Knew who the stalker is and she would tell us at the end BUT she did not...
    Here is my theory after reading this ?POV and re-thinking about the other one at the hospital... Then back-tracking to the letter that Bella received after renee "died" SUPPOSEDLY... where was there any proof of a body or her death?
    I believe that renee sent that letter to Bella after Charlie died to put one more hurt on Bella... the stalker IS renee... it has to be~~~~ she always resented Bella, hated Bella with a passion, Blamed Bella for everything she felt she lost, the baby boy, Charlie's love and attention... Everything was Bella's fault... and the ?POV reiterates about all she was going to make Bella pay for making her lose everything...
    Think about it~ she wants to destroy Isabella Marie Swan, to be gone, Forever; by taking away Edward she would be left with nothing, Just like me! Fair is Fair, right?; her references to Bellas little family, Seth, J, and Rosalie and how she refers to Seth hanging on the longest ~just like he used~ how would they know without having been around them.
    Talking about how they had not been caught yet, and not even being on their radar... everyone else would be suspect, not renee, cuz she's supposedly DEAD~! something in all of the letters and pictures must be blantant in some way for the statement about being right in front of their eyes... and how stupid could they be~ I may be barking up the wrong tree...but I do not think so. It's the one thing that makes the most sense.
    Look, the person said they started this vendetta before the swimsuit issue came out, kate did not even know of Bella at that time. Neither did lauren... And even Edward, even though he did not like or trust jake, did not feel it was him doing this to Bella.
    Guess we will just have to wait and see.