DISCLAIMER: S. Meyer owns Twilight. No copyright infringement intended.
Boston, Massachusetts - Spring, 2010
It was unexpectedly warm for an April night in Boston. Edward swept his gaze over the men quietly moving boxes. The first half of the shipment had been transferred from the warehouse, and he anticipated that the remainder would be loaded onto the truck without complication. They had just under fifteen minutes before the next scheduled patrol would drive by. Given that there was no legitimate business to be done in this particular place so late on a Saturday night, going undetected was key. He glanced back to the mouth of the alley where Felix and Demetri were trading places. Good. Everyone was on point.
Taking a steadying breath, he released it slowly. Tonight was his first time being fully in charge of an acquisition. Although Edward knew he had his father’s complete and well-earned confidence, he also knew that any error on his part could not only have dire consequences for his entire family but also be disastrous for the operations they managed. There was a vast web of people who relied upon what they did, some whose very lives depended on what was riding in those discreetly appropriated boxes.
He ran a hand through his hair, glancing at the reflection he cast in a nearby car window. Here in the alley, he looked every bit the part he played: tall, leanly muscled, and menacing in his dark pants and black leather jacket, the brightness of his coppery hair dulled by the gloom. On a well-lit street, wearing a suit, he would easily pass for the businessman he usually pretended to be.
He returned his attention to the loading operation in progress, so hyper-focused on the count he was taking that he barely noticed the first flicker of movement from a shadowy corner. The quiet gasp that followed made him stiffen and turn.
Even in the dark, the girl’s shape was visible: petite and slim, clad in a short, form-fitting dress and dainty shoes. Her eyes wide, she stared at Edward’s men, who were still carrying boxes from the building’s open back door to an unmarked moving truck.
Shit! How the hell had she gotten past the sentries?
He didn’t have time to ponder this, because she’d noticed him noticing her and then bolted. She was quick, but her escape was hindered by her clothing and footwear.
Thank God, he thought as he easily gained on her, matching her stride so he could snatch her without too much force. He closed a hand around her upper arm, stopping her in her tracks.
When her loud shriek bounced off the brick walls, he clapped a hand over her mouth. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She stomped the heel of her shoe down on the toe of his own, the move made ineffective by his steel-toed boots. His father had insisted everyone wear them on work assignments and Edward gave silent thanks for the man’s prudence. The girl’s body twisted in struggle, and Edward’s hold strained with it until he tightened his grip on her arm with one hand and captured her opposite wrist with the other. In a well-practiced move, he locked her right arm behind her back with his own, quickly covering her mouth again with his other hand. Holding her tightly against him, he spoke in a low, calm voice. “I don’t want to hurt you, but you’re not going anywhere until I know what you’re doing here.”
No response, at least not verbally. Her rigid muscles told him the fight wasn’t over yet, and he kept a firm grasp, letting her continue to tire herself out with her squirming.
“I’m going to walk you to my car now,” he said quietly. “We need to talk.”
She bit the heel of his hand, startling him enough that his grip slipped. She twisted away and was gone, her ridiculous footwear tapping on the asphalt as she headed towards the mouth of the alley.
Swearing at himself for underestimating her, he pursued. His second capture was less gracious than the first, and as he closed his arms around her upper body this time, he called out, “Felix!” He was going to need reinforcements.
The newest member of his crew jogged over as the young woman’s shrieks rang down the alley. Felix pulled off his tie and used it to form a neat gag around her mouth. She continued to grunt and fight as Edward held her, trying to slap or stomp at any limb that came close. Huffing in frustration, he pulled a zip-tie out of his coat pocket. The feeling of the textured plastic recalled images he wished he could ignore, and he focused instead on securing the girl’s hands behind her back. She kept fighting him, and as he tightened the zip tie, he grimaced, seeing it bite into her wrists. Practicality would have to do over comfort for now. It was a bitter feeling, resorting to such methods. He was assaulted by memories of vicious and sometimes incomprehensible accusations hurled at him by similarly restrained men and women. This girl—woman, he corrected himself as he patted her down—wasn’t carrying anything likely to explode. Reaching for the purse hanging from her shoulder, he pulled out her phone and handed it to Felix. He pocketed her keys but left the rest of the contents where they were.
The woman didn’t give up on her struggle. Despite the gag over her mouth, she kept stubbornly producing sounds, including at least one muffled insult regarding his parentage.
“Go keep an eye on things,” Edward told Felix, who nodded and moved toward the truck.
With a firm hand on her shoulder, Edward turned the girl to face him, pushing her up against the wall of the building behind her and keeping his head far back enough so that she couldn’t strike him with her own. It was clear that someone had taught her at least some basic defensive moves.
“I really need you to be quiet right now,” he said firmly, aiming to keep his voice calm.
She responded by trying to kick him in the shin.
He flipped her around and placed a hand at the back of her head so that her face was pressed against the wall. “Let me be very clear. I can make you be quiet, or you can choose to be quiet. Do you doubt my ability to silence you?”
She stilled suddenly and then mumbled a single syllable through the gag which he accepted as a ‘no’.
“Good. What’s your name?” he asked, tugging away the gag so she could talk.
Her breathing was rapid. “Bella,” she said through clenched teeth. “Who’re you?”
He ignored the question.
“And why were you in this alley, Bella?”
“I forgot my wallet at the restaurant, and I was trying to get back there. I got lost. Why’re you here?” Her voice shook. She tried to twist to the side, clearly uncomfortable.
Edward loosened his hold slightly, letting her move her head a bit more. The wall’s rough texture could scratch her face if he wasn’t careful.
“What are you going to do with me? My . . . friend will come looking for me,” she said. Her voice sounded angry despite its tremble.
Brave, Edward determined, though not necessarily wise. For the moment, he ignored both her question and any concerns about the “friend” she’d conveniently conjured up, busy with his rapid calculations. She could be telling the truth about why she was here, but he had no confirmation of her claim. She could just as easily be a spy or saboteur, and he needed to proceed very, very cautiously.
“Bella, have I hurt you?” Edward asked. “Beyond keeping you from trying to hurt me?”
“No.” Her pulse fluttered rapidly at her neck, just visible in the alley’s dim lighting. She was afraid now.
He was glad to see it. He needed her to be.
“And if you cooperate, I won’t. Nor will anyone else here. But I need some answers now, and until I get them, you’re not going anywhere. If everything checks out, you’re going to go home and not talk to anyone about what you’ve seen tonight. Understood?” He turned her around slowly, keeping a hand on her shoulder, watching for any sudden movement.
Her breathing slowed slightly, and she stared up at him. When she spoke, her voice was soft and shaky with nerves. “I didn’t see anything, okay? Just some guys loading a truck and—and you. That’s it. I won’t say anything. I can’t just . . . listen, I have school. I have to get home. Maybe, um, I don’t know what answers you’re looking for but . . . maybe we can find another way to come to an understanding?”
“Pardon?” Edward asked, his stomach dropping. Had she been sent by someone? Or was she something different than he’d thought? Perhaps being in alleys at night wasn’t a new experience for her.
Then she slowly raised one leg, trying to rub the inside of her calf against his. The move would’ve been sultry if she hadn’t almost immediately lost her balance and tipped over sideways.
After catching and righting her, Edward replaced the gag, chewing the inside of his cheek to keep himself from laughing. No matter what else she was, she definitely wasn’t a hooker. Similarly, if her ridiculous attempt to seduce him was any manifestation of her skills as a spy or saboteur, he didn’t need to fear whoever might have sent her. Whatever she was, he’d have to figure it out later. “I’m going to have my associate put you in my car now,” he said more gently. “Please don’t try to escape again. It won’t go well for you.”
She still tried to yell for help, the gag keeping back the worst of it, but her voice was loud enough. Good lungs , Edward mused wryly, though he flicked his gaze around the area, worried someone passing by might hear her. He caught Felix’s eye across the alley and jerked his head to indicate he should rejoin them.
“Put her in my car.”
Felix nodded and wandered over, flipping back the lower part of his jacket and revealing a holster which contained, to Edward’s horror, a pistol. Before he could say anything, Felix pulled it out, checked the safety, and then pointedly eyed the girl, who became suddenly silent and still.
“Bene,” Felix muttered, the corner of his mouth sliding upwards in a menacing, lop-sided grin.
“Put that away!” Edward hissed at his underling, horrified that the man had come armed and upset with himself for not catching it before now. Fuck. Felix had just escalated the situation with their visitor. A bunch of guys loading a truck looked like something altogether different when said guys were waving guns around.
Felix shrugged, holstered his pistol, and then took Bella’s arm. “Signorina?” he said, lifting his chin in the direction they needed to go.
As he watched them walk away—Felix with a death grip on her arm—Edward allowed himself a moment to close his eyes.
Of all the complications to acquire.
He rubbed his hands over his face and then returned his attention to the transfer. “How many?” he asked Demetri, who’d been keeping track, he hoped.
“Fifty,” he replied automatically.
“Fifty is what we were supposed to have,” Edward said. “Is that how many we actually got?”
Edward thought some very bad things about Italian men involved in a particular profession. They were excellent at counting their own money and overlooking everything else. His father had apologized for their inclusion in this operation—but they were the price required by their newest, quite powerful, and overly demanding business partners based in Italy.
Their very dangerous business partners.
Edward pulled himself up onto the truck platform, counting the goods for himself.
“We gotta go,” one of his drivers, Max, called out.
Edward didn’t need to be told twice as he glanced at his watch. Precisely six minutes now until the next security sweep.
“Go. After you’ve dropped this at the dock, I’ll see you back at base.” Edward had finished counting. Fifty boxes were strapped to the sides of the van; his guys were clear to leave. “Be careful driving. They’re packed well, but you know they’re sensitive.”
“Got it,” Max said. At least he was reliable.
This entire transaction should have been quick, simple, and lucrative, but the complication Edward had just acquired would diminish their capacity to complete their follow-up work. Someone would have to watch the girl while they figured out what she was doing here . . . and how to keep her silent about what she may have seen.
Banging his hand twice against the side of the truck to signal them off, Edward jogged back through the twisted alleyway to his SUV. When he came around the last bend, it was to the sight of Felix pressing the girl salaciously up against the side of his car, her face pointed away from him. Edward shook his head. She was persistent—he had to give her that. Her dress was bunched up almost to her crotch, and Felix was fumbling tellingly with his belt.
The man was a dick. There was no novel realization there, but Edward had expected him to at least not think with that particular appendage.
“I said to put her in the car, not have her up against it!”
As he yanked her away from Felix, the girl continued to rage at him from behind the gag. “Enough,” he said, using his most commanding tone. She quieted immediately. Good. He didn’t have time for this; they should have moved out already.
Keeping a tight hold on the girl’s arm, Edward stepped towards the slightly taller man, deliberately crowding him. “I expect you to use the head up top when you work for me, not the one in your pants. Capisce?”
His face flushed with angry embarrassment, Felix gave a surly nod.
With a less than gentle grip, Edward moved Bella to the car, opening the back door and strong-arming her inside. The cabin light revealed her reddened face. “Sorry for interrupting. You can finish with Felix later if you really want to.” He knew he sounded harsh, but finding her in the throes of attempting a second seduction was the final straw. Ignoring her muffled protests, he yanked her seat belt around her, clicking it into place and slamming the door.
He was furious. Of all the idiots to be saddled with, he was stuck with fucking gun-happy Felix and dumbass Demetri.
“In the back,” he told Demetri as he joined them, jerking a thumb to the other side of the car. Then he climbed into the front passenger side. “And keep it in your pants if she offers you more than polite chit-chat.” He wondered if the idiom would translate to his Italian thugs. He huffed out a breath and began texting his father his initial, coded report: Success. Complication acquired.
“Give me her phone,” he said to Felix. The man reached into his pocket to fish it out and handed over a small, cracked, older-model smartphone. It was locked.
“Passcode?” Edward asked, not looking back. “Demetri, take off the gag.”
Even after Demetri had complied, there was only silence from the back seat.
“You can help me make it look like you’re going on a last-minute trip you won tonight, or you can remain my permanent guest. Your choice.”
“Nineteen thirty-six,” she said. Her voice trembled more now, and he cringed internally, remembering his rough handling of her. You’ve just kidnapped a girl, Cullen , he told himself. Don’t be any more of a jerk than you need to.
He twisted around to look at her, flipping on the dome lamp overhead. Long brown hair framed a heart-shaped face and wide, worried eyes stared back at him. She squirmed in her seat, an uncomfortable flush in her cheeks. Following her movements, he realized she was trying to move her dress down her legs with her hands tied behind her back. The fabric was still bunched up at the tops of her thighs. He wasn’t the only one who’d noticed, either. Edward shot Demetri a look of disgust before he reached back, tugging the girl’s dress down before returning his attention to her phone.
He checked her phone settings, determining that her last name was Swan, then scrolled through her contacts and social media accounts which were few and infrequently used. She wasn’t a vibrant presence online. Good. That made this easier. Her text messages were few as well.
“Do you have a roommate?” he asked. “Someone you live with?”
“Yes. She’s expecting me.”
He looked back at her. “What’s her name?”
Even in the dim glow of the overhead light, he could see her blush. Nope, she didn’t have a roommate. At least it was easy to tell when she was lying, even for someone without his particular skills.
“Don’t lie to me, Bella. It will make things worse for you. I can return you to your life but only if you cooperate.” He scrolled through more of her contacts. Locating what appeared to be her father’s information, he started to curse, then swallowed hard instead. In his quick search, he saw that one Charlie Swan was a police officer, and not just any police officer but the chief of police in some place called Forks, Washington. That would explain her rudimentary self-defense moves. At least the man lived on the other side of the country.
Her Harvard student ID was tucked into the sleeve of her phone case.
“What year at Harvard?”
“I’m a senior,” she said. The shake in her voice was gone. Now she simply sounded angry.
She has every right to be , he reminded himself. Be courteous where you can.
“Do you have exams soon?” He was pretty sure Harvard graduation was usually at the end of May.
“Why?” she asked.
“ Do you?”
“Not for three weeks,” she mumbled.
“Current relationship? Significant other?” He hadn’t seen anything on her phone that would indicate a romantic relationship, but he wasn’t going to leave anything unchecked.
“What about a former boyfriend . . . or girlfriend? Anyone close?” While past relationships might be in the past for one party, it wasn’t always the case for both. Edward needed to know about anyone who might go searching for her.
She didn’t answer for a bit and he turned around to look at her. Her face was still tense, and she avoided making eye contact when she finally spoke. “No.” She stretched out the word, indicating that this was not a line of questioning he needed to pursue.
He kept asking questions, and largely, she continued answering them. He only had to remind her once more that lying wasn’t in her best interest. He continued to ignore her questions but he was mildly impressed that she kept trying.
When they were a few blocks from the freeway, Edward said, “Blindfold her, Demetri.”
Bella pulled in a sharp breath.
“It’s to protect you,” Edward explained. “Nothing else. The less you know, the better.”
It was true. The less she saw, the less she could report, and the more likely it was they could let her go in a few days. As soon as the shipment was safe, they would clean up their ties at the manufacturer. It would mean reinvesting in new contacts there, but they calculated such costs in their plans. Fresh contacts kept them on their toes. Old ones were a chance to get sloppy.
He returned his attention to the problem of the girl. They’d had to quiet a few witnesses in the past. Usually, this could be done with a suitable bribe. It was only the one time his father had felt it necessary to take someone on an unplanned “vacation” before. Eyeing Bella through the visor mirror, Edward ran through what his father had told him about the experience. It came down to three basic steps: hold in isolation, then deceive and release. What she knew and believed was to be carefully managed with deliberately misleading clues. If they were successful, she would form wildly incorrect conclusions about their business and general operations, so that if she did talk once free, it would be to report harmless misinformation. With Bella, though, they would have to be extremely careful. She was a student at Harvard, and her father was a cop.
“So why didn’t you want me to see what you were doing? What were you doing ? ” the girl asked, startling him out of his planning. She was still seeking information as if she couldn’t help herself.
He laughed humorlessly. “Bad things, little girl, that you don’t want to know about.”
“I am not a little girl. What’s your name?”
“Edward,” he said, surprising himself. Of all the questions she’d thrown his way during the ride, that hadn’t yet been one of them. A first name wouldn’t hurt, and she’d be likely enough to hear it from someone in the coming days.
“What were you doing back there?”
“For the fourth time, that is not something you need to know,” he said evenly. He knew better than to let any weariness creep into his tone. That would suggest she’d found a weakness, and he suspected she hoped to wear him down. If she knew more about him, she would know why that was a lost cause. On the other hand, he could use the situation to make her more comfortable, possibly expediting the acquisition of the information he required.
“If you want me to cooperate, then let me cooperate. Give me the parameters,” she said.
A logical thinker. A very dangerous thing to manage indeed, but he did like a challenge.
He considered how best to silence her curiosity, settling on a mix of honesty and misdirection. “I do bad things for a living, Bella. I’d prefer not to make managing you one of them.”
He could hear her swallow. Good. A healthy dose of fear was always useful.
She didn’t ask any more questions after that. Felix kept driving steadily west into the night, towards Stockbridge, and home.