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Force My Hand by GemmaH

Occasional strong language
When your life is forced off the track it was following, it sometimes finds the route it should have been taking all along. Two people, one deal. Resistance; acceptance. Sometimes desperate measures are what it takes to escape. Sometimes escape is what we need to be discovered. Edward x Bella.

My dad asked me today if I would marry Edward Cullen.

I have no idea who Edward Cullen is. I've met his dad; according to Charlie, anyway. Last summer when I came to stay, I sprained my ankle and Charlie took me to get it x-rayed.

"He was the doctor that treated you, Bells," my dad says. "The tall, blond one." I furrow my brow as I try to remember. I think I know who he means, but it's irrelevant anyhow, because the doctor isn't the one my dad wants me to marry. It's his son, and I don't know him.

This isn't the kind of thing that normally happens in my world, just in case you're wondering. I'm Isabella Swan, twenty year old daughter of Charlie Swan, police chief of Forks, Washington. And of course Renee Dwyer, new wife to Phil.

I normally live with Renee and Phil in Arizona, but I'm visiting with my dad for a few days when he drops a bombshell. That bombshell being that he cut a deal with the blond doctor when he pulled his son Edward, for driving drunk. I specify that bombshell, because I've not even begun to wrap my head around my line-toeing, law abiding and enforcing father doing something so very corrupt, when he's changing track and preparing me for the next one. I'm struggling to keep up as he begins to speak again.

"Ok," he says and clears his throat. "Before I tell you what the deal was, I just want to say that I love you more than anything, Bells. I hope you'll hear me out, because I know you're not going to like what I'm going to say. Hell, I'm pretty sure you'll deny all of it. But I'm a cop, Bella. I've seen it all before and I can't sit back and do nothing anymore."

I know looking back that I had no idea what was coming next, because if I had seen where he was going with this, I'm pretty sure I'd have gotten out of there before he could tell me any of it. I try to speak, but he holds up his hand to stop me.

"I know you tell me that you're happy with Alec and that he loves you, but I hear the excuses you make for him when he won't let you do the things you want to."

Alec. I might have forgotten to mention him. He's my boyfriend/fiancé. That '/' is all important; it's part of the definition. To my mom and dad, he's my boyfriend. To him, he's my fiancé. I kind of didn't want to get engaged because I consider twenty a little young to promise myself to someone for life, and I was positive that my parents would feel the same way – yep, hold that irony regarding my father for later – but I could see it meant a lot to him. And it's important that Alec is happy, so I hesitatingly agreed.

On one condition; that we kept it a secret, between ourselves. We have a lot of those, only usually it's Alec who tells me when something needs to be that way. I was nervous asking him, and he wasn't happy, but when my tears stopped and he was apologizing in the way he does, for hurting me, he agreed.

My blood begins to run cold as I hear Charlie continue his speech about Alec. I thought I'd hidden it well. I thought…well, shit. Alec will kill me if he thinks I told anyone, especially my dad.

"I hear the way he speaks to you," Charlie continues, his face crumbling as he watches me. "I hear the way you speak to him and I see the fear in your eyes when I mention him. I see your face light up when I meet you at the airport and I see it leave again when I take you back to fly home."

I can't have him believing it.

Damn him and his cop nose.

"No! Dad, you've got it wrong," I protest. "He loves me! He—" Charlie rolls his eyes at me.

"I've seen the bruises, Bells. The ones on your arms." He gestures towards me and I wrap my arms around myself, my hands moving upward as I try to conceal the evidence.

"What?!" I spit out in an attempt at affront. It's poor, even I can hear that. "They're nothing to do with Alec! I fell! Dad, you of all people should know what a klutz I am." I roll my eyes and attempt to let out a laugh. It sounds strangled and unnatural.

Charlie says nothing.

He walks quietly toward me and slides the loose sleeve of my shirt gently up my arm, revealing the patch of purple-yellow skin. My heart is thumping in my chest. Wordlessly he moves his hand and lays it over the bruise. One by one he lifts his fingers to reveal what I already know.

The bruise is in the shape of a hand.

He looks at me, but I turn my eyes away and to the floor as I brush his hand aside and pull my sleeve back down, GAME OVER flashing neon in my head. As I begin to turn away, resigned, he rests his hand on my shoulder to stop me.

"Bells, I want you to know that I did it because I want the best for you." He has no idea. No fucking idea. If I survive this, there's no way on earth I'll ever be allowed to see my dad again. How is that what's best for me? For either of us?

Charlie's staring at me as he speaks. "You wouldn't need to worry about him anymore. It's all agreed, all you need to do is say yes and you'll be safe. I promise." He's all but begging. If he were to drop to his knees I wouldn't be surprised. "It doesn't have to be forever, Bells, just a couple of years. Just long enough to make sure that son of a bitch gets the message and stays away from you."

I hear his words, but I don't get it. I'm missing something, but I have no idea what.

I turn my head and look up into my dad's brown eyes, the visible sorrow and concern mirroring my own.

"What do you want me to do, Dad?" I whisper as a tear slips down my cheek. He pauses before he speaks. I still don't see it coming.

"Marry Edward Cullen and let him get you the hell away from anywhere that asshole might come looking for you."


There's an atmosphere as we enter the Cullen house. Doctor Cullen, or Carlisle as he insists I call him when I take the hand he offers, is warm and welcoming and exudes kindness. His wife, the immaculately turned out Esme, is his perfect match. I find it hard to believe that people like this would end up in the middle of this kind of fucked up situation. And so, despite my reservations, despite the guilt and the sick feeling I have regarding Alec, despite the altogether wholly bizarre nature of the entire turn of events, I'm feeling hopeful that maybe this temporary solution to saving me from the monster that awaits me back in Phoenix, won't be all that bad after all.

Esme sits me down in her beautiful living room. It screams money, but there is nothing ostentatious about it, simply quality and an excellent eye for design. I think of my dad's little house, still pretty much furnished from the 80's and 90's. I think of my mom's house, kept more up to date, but everything inexpensive and disposable. Compare and contrast. Compare and contrast. Yeah, the gulf between this family and mine is miles wide. I could drown trying to cross from my side to theirs.

I wonder how Edward feels about the situation.

Carlisle and my dad have wandered away into the doctor's study. I know they're discussing my situation, my dad asked for my permission to tell Dr. Cullen everything and I hesitatingly agreed. I'm chatting easily with Esme. She looks at me as we talk and I can't help but notice the curiosity within her gaze. I'm guessing that she's probably wondering about the whole marriage deal and why that was what my dad asked for. She'll find out soon enough, I just can't bring myself to talk about it yet.

My dad and Carlisle have been gone for around twenty minutes. Esme has brought me a drink and we're currently disagreeing on whether I should cave and take one of the cupcakes she's just brought out, when he arrives home.

The front door slams. Keys jangle as they're thrown down on a table in the hall. Footsteps begin to ascend the stairs.

"Edward?" Esme calls out in a voice as smooth as honey. The footsteps pause.

"I've had a hard day, mom," a voice calls back. A voice that is just as smooth as his mother's and makes the tiny hairs on the back of my neck prickle in a far from unpleasant way. "I just want to take a shower." The footsteps resume.

"Charlie and Bella Swan are here," she calls, the smoothness diminishing a little and leaving a watered down version in its place. The footsteps pause. Silence surrounds us, then there's the sound of a body shifting, but no more footsteps. A frustrated sigh, but no more footsteps.

"Give me ten minutes," he calls. The footsteps resume. Up. Up. Along the hallway. A door closes. Silence.

I look at Esme and she looks back at me. She gives me what I guess is supposed to be a reassuring smile. I don't know if I do feel reassured necessarily, but I do feel intrigued by the disembodied voice that raised the hair on my neck when it spoke.

Ten minutes pass. Esme and I have done an excellent job of passing the time whilst avoiding the huge elephant in the room. I like her and I hope she likes me. She hasn't shown any signs that she doesn't, at least.

A few more minutes pass and then I hear movement from upstairs. Movement turns to footsteps and footsteps come closer. Descending. And then he's here, in the doorway, in the room, in my life. And I wonder how I ever lived and breathed without him, because oh my God, he's beautiful. He brightens the whole place with just his presence; so bright. And then he bends to kiss his mother's cheek and as he straightens back up his gaze falls onto me.

"Hey," he greets me simply, his brow furrowing into a small frown.

"Hi," I reply, conscious of how small and plain my voice sounds next to his. He doesn't move, just lingers next to his mother's side.

"Edward, this is Bella Swan. Bella, this is my son, Edward."

"Bella?" he questions, looking at me intently as my name rolls deliciously from his tongue.

"It's short for Isabella," I explain, aware as I say it how dull I sound. I mentally kick myself, but he's looking at me with just as much intensity as before as he nods.

"Well, I'm sorry, Isabella. I'm sure there's a very good reason for your father wanting to marry you off to a stranger," he begins, a certain amount of venom in his voice which causes me to cringe as much as the words themselves do.

"Edward!" his mother exclaims, a look of horror on her face as she turns to look up at her son. He looks back at her, his stance confident.

"No, mom. I'm not doing this. It's a stupid fucking idea!" She flinches and I'm fairly sure she's not used to hearing him curse like this. "I'm not a kid and you can't make me do this!"

His voice is raised and he's making me nervous. He's pacing now.

"I don't even know the girl, you can't seriously expect me to agree to marry her?" he yells, throwing out his arm toward me as he passes close to the couch where I'm sitting.

I hear the volume of his voice, his angry tone and see his hand flying towards me. My reaction is spontaneous; a learned response. I cower low down in my seat and bring up my arms to shield my head. My breathing becomes labored, but I don't cry because I've learned that it doesn't help; it only makes things worse.

Suddenly there's silence and then I hear a quiet voice I recognize as belonging to Carlisle.

"Edward, my office. Now."

I hear movement and then a touch, I jump and scoot away, but then my dad speaks and reassures me that it's just him and he's not going to let anybody hurt me ever again. And then I can't stop the tears. I've been holding them in for too long now.


I'm calm and sipping from the glass of ice water that Esme brought to me when Carlisle and Edward walk back into the room.

"I'm sorry," Edward says, moving slowly towards me. I have a feeling he's half expecting me to bolt. "I had no idea about your…situation." He pulls a foot stool over and sits down on it right in front of me. He's all remorse and concern now. I can't help the pang of guilt that strikes me. I made him feel shitty for what was frankly a justified reaction to the situation our fathers have put us in.

"It's fine," I tell him, although really it's not. I'm not. "How could you know? Anyway, you were right; it is a stupid idea."

"No, it isn't," he says quickly. I feel my mouth drop open and I glance up at Carlisle who's looking on with approval.

"You…I…" I stutter, unable to pull out the words that I'm looking for.

"Isabella, I want to help you," he says.

I've never really liked my full name, but it sounds different as it drips from his lips somehow.

"Really, you don't have to—" His reaction earlier showed his true feelings, I don't want to be putting him into a situation that makes him so unhappy. I couldn't live with myself if he was miserable because of me.

"Regardless of whether I have to or not, I want to. Will you let me help?"

The way he's looking at me now, I'm pretty sure I'd agree to anything he asked. I lower my head; I have to, if I don't look away I think I might drown in whatever it is that rolls off him and enthralls me so.

"Yes," I whisper. When I look up again I realize that there is only Edward and I left in the room. I wonder how long the others have been gone and how I didn't notice. I look back at Edward and find my answer in his eyes.

"I need some fresh air. Care to join me?" he asks, smiling gently. For whatever reason, I trust this man. I stand as he does and follow him from the room. As we reach the back door, he opens it and stands to one side, laying his hand gently on my back to guide me through before he closes it behind us.

The outside space – for backyard sounds way too inadequate for what I see before me – is breath-taking in the summer evening. The colors and the scents…just everything about it is amazing. Edward strolls over the lawn and I match his pace beside him. At the edge of the lawn, at the furthest point from the house, stands a summer house. Edward opens the doors wide and pulls two chairs out onto the deck. I thank him as he indicates that I should sit on one while he makes himself comfortable in the other. He rests his elbows on his knees and scrubs his hands across his face.

"I'm so goddamn tired," he mutters quietly. It doesn't sound like a complaint, more a statement of fact.

"I'm sorry," I tell him, more than aware that the whole situation with me has likely sent his stress levels soaring.

"For what?" he asks me. "I'm the asshole that decided to drive drunk and got pulled. Trust me, you seem like a far better prospect than jail." I'm a little taken aback by his statement. I'm still a sentence to him in a way.

"I can't help but feel bad," I tell him. "This is serious, it could take a long time for Alec to back off. And what if he finds me? You don't know what he's like! He's—"

"Hey!" Edward barks. I realize I was beginning to panic. When the mist clears a little I notice that he has a hold on my hand, stroking his thumb gently across it. "That's enough. I don't care what he's like, he won't get anywhere near you while you're with me, ok?" Dammit, he's so convincing. No wonder he's got a job with such a good firm before he's even graduated; I bet he'll make a great lawyer.

"Ok," I reply in a small voice. I'm completely calm again now, but he hasn't taken his hand back. He begins to ask me questions about my childhood. He must think I'm an idiot for having to think so hard about the answers, but shit, his skin on mine; his circling thumb, make it pretty hard to concentrate on anything. Anything except him at least. I'm hyper-aware of him, his proximity, his smell, his face, his eyes. His mouth. I miss the question again and he asks if I have a problem with my hearing. I laugh, answer no and apologize when I realize that he's one hundred per cent serious. I tell him I'm just tired and that I've been worrying about everything too. He makes me promise that I won't worry any more. He's given his word, he says, and he's going to look after me. I promise that I'll try not to worry, but as much as he's eased the anxieties I had been suffering from before I met him, there are a whole host of new ones that are preparing to hound me now. And one of them is a lot bigger and a lot more serious than the smaller ones put together.

I want him.

Just to compound everything I'm already feeling, this new revelation adds guilt to the top of the heap. Despite everything that Alec has done to me, I can't help loving him. I know it's twisted and masochistic, but it's just the way it is. And as far as Alec knows, we're still engaged and I'll be home at the weekend.

As if reading my thoughts, Edward speaks.

"My Dad says that we only have a few days to get you out of here."

"Alec's expecting me to be home on Saturday morning," I explain. "He'll start getting stressed as soon as he knows I'm not going to be." I can feel myself begin to tremble as I think about his reaction when he realizes I'm not coming home. I suddenly become aware that Edward is asking me a question.

"I'm sorry?" I ask. He smiles sadly at me.

"I said did you want to finish school? Your dad had mentioned to Carlisle that you only have one year left until you get your degree.

"Oh. Uh, yeah, I guess. This has been such a huge thing I hadn't even thought about that." Fantastic, something else to worry about.

"Well we'll see if we can arrange for you to transfer to UDub. If we get married before the semester starts then he shouldn't be able to trace you if you take my name."

Holy hell, something else I hadn't thought of, I was even losing my name.

"Isabella Cullen," I try out tentatively. I glance up at Edward as I say it and catch an unmistakeable spark in his eye.

"It sounds perfect to me," he says with a smile. I manage a small smile, thrilled at his reaction in spite of myself, and look away. He gives my hand a small tug to get my attention back. "Hey, it's going to be ok, just look on this as an adventure, because to be honest, that's the only way I can get this to make sense at the moment," he teases.


I climb into bed at the end of what definitely qualifies as the strangest evening of my life. I've already resigned myself to a sleepless night, what with endless talk of marriage licenses, college transfers and moving away spinning through my mind, so I'm pleasantly surprised the following morning when I wake from a perfect night's sleep. It seems that dreaming of Edward Cullen all night can be strangely therapeutic for the soul.


The following day I'm less sure of the whole plan. I've spent an hour on the phone to Alec, trying to convince him that I hadn't been ignoring his calls last night and I didn't know why he thought I sounded a little off. I tell him I was feeling unwell and went to bed early, guilt immediately manifesting itself and unfurling in my chest for lying to him. I struggle to keep the panic from my voice when he offers to fly up and take care of me, telling him that I'm already feeling a little better and there's really no need. He makes me promise to call him that afternoon to let him know how I am. I reciprocate his declaration of love, the guilt unfurling further as I tell him I miss him too.

My dad's working today, but because time isn't on our side the Cullens asked me to go to their house again so we can begin to make arrangements. I'm expecting Esme to pick me up at around midday, so when I answer the front door and find Edward standing there with a smile on his face and a beautiful bunch of flowers in his hand, I'm more than a little taken aback.

"Hi," I greet him.

"Hi, Bella," he replies.

"Come in, I just need to put my shoes on," I tell him, standing back from the door to allow him to enter. He bends and kisses me on the cheek as he passes, before handing me the flowers. I can feel my cheeks turning pink at the unexpected gestures, but I somehow manage to thank him for the bouquet.

"I figured we should at least try to make it all look convincing," he tells me. I smile back at him. "And I also prefer it when you're smiling to when you look scared. I want to treat you the way you deserve to be, even if this is little more than a convenient arrangement."

"Convenient? More like inconvenient," I reply, thinking of how both of our lives are going to change.

"It is what it is," he states. Something's been bothering me.

"Can I ask you something?" I ask him as I pull a vase from a cupboard and fill it with water.

"Of course," he replies.

"Why did you change your attitude towards things so quickly when you found out about my situation?" He's silent for a moment but I don't turn as I arrange the stems in the vase.

"My mom was married to a man before she met my dad," he says at last. I turn to face him and am shocked to find his face scrunched up in pain. "He nearly killed her. My dad was her doctor when she was admitted to the hospital."

I was more than a little stunned and couldn't help the image that flashed into my head of what could be in my future if I stayed with Alec. Hospital admissions and broken bones ? Or worse?

"I'm sorry," I whisper, leaning back against the counter for support.

"It's ok," he replies, forcing a small smile for me. "That's the reason for my whiplash inducing turnabout."

He walks over to me. As he gets closer, my heart begins thumping in a way that I'm sure he must be able to hear. As he stands in front of me, he cups his hand around my cheek and tilts his head to the side to look at me.

"I'm going to protect you from him, Isabella. I promise."

I notice that his eyes are a pretty shade of green. After what feels like an eternity I kick my way back to the surface and bring my hand up to the one that cradles my face. Placing my own skin on his and not missing his slight tremble as I do, I thank him. Neither of us move for a moment, until my phone beeps to let me know I have a text. I sigh and shift as Edward moves his hand and steps away from me. Picking up the phone from where I left it, I see it's from Alec reminding me to call him tonight. I throw it back down and Edward looks at me curiously.

"Alec," I say by way of explanation. His eyes narrow and his fists clench at his sides. Instinctively I step towards him and place my hand on his chest. I could swear I almost feel his muscles relaxing beneath my touch.

"Hey, it's fine. I'm fine," I reassure him. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

"I'm sorry," he tells me.

"Don't be. It's kind of flattering," I reply with a small smile. I suddenly realize that I sound a lot like I'm flirting and feel more than a little embarrassed. I clear my throat, shake my head and announce I should finish getting ready.

Once we're in the car, Edward tells me that he's taking me to lunch before we start on the serious stuff. I'm surprised to find how relaxed I feel with him. I've not been altogether comfortable in the presence of men since beginning my relationship with Alec, but there's something about Edward that puts me at ease.

And there's a spark. Now the spark has the opposite effect of putting me at ease, but in a completely different way. I've been attracted to men before, but I don't remember ever actually wondering what it would be like to straddle my dining partner in the restaurant before. It's that bad.

We ask one another questions as we eat, and by the time we're ready to leave I actually feel as though I know him pretty well. The only thing still puzzling me now is how someone like him managed to find himself on the wrong side of the law. I'm not pushing it for now, but I'm making it my mission to get to know him well enough to find out. As we're getting married, I don't see such a level of familiarity as unlikely in our future.

"I've eaten too much," Edward complains as he settles back into the driver's seat of his car. "Let's stop off for a walk on the way home." I agree quickly, enjoying my time alone with him too much to do anything else.

On the road to La Push, he pulls into a parking lot. There are a couple of other cars, but as we get out and walk down the path towards the beach, there's no sign of anybody else. It's a pleasant day, warm with only a slight breeze. I stumble a little on one of the tree roots that criss-crosses the path, and Edward automatically reaches for my hand. A thrill goes through me, especially when he keeps it held tightly within his own.

Half way along the beach, we pause and sit a moment on a washed up tree trunk. There's a comfortable silence for a while as we revel in the beauty and peace of the beach.

"Isabella?" Edward suddenly says. I turn to look at him and he continues quickly. "I know this probably isn't what you're expecting at all, but I was raised in a certain way and I want to do things right, as far as our unconventional situation allows.

He rises from the tree, but then drops down onto one knee. My brain is racing to try and keep up with what's going on. I mean, I can more or less guess what he's about to do given his position, but surely he's not. I mean…

"Isabella, will you marry me?"

It takes me a moment to register his words, and then even longer to notice the fact that he's holding up a ring box with a huge diamond ring inside. And then longer still to realize that he's looking at me expectantly, waiting for an answer. I laugh. A real, head back, body-shaking laugh. I look back at Edward and he's smiling widely at my reaction.

"Yes!" I reply. "Yes, of course I'll marry you!" I jump off the tree and he stands up. I throw myself at him with my arms around his neck. He catches me and spins me around. By the time he sets me down we're both giddy and giggling. My arms remain around his neck and his around my waist.

"How did we do?" I ask him, referring to the proposal role-play. "Do you think we got it right?"

"Almost," he replies, his eyes sparkling as he continues to smile. "There's just one more thing…"

He lowers his face, his eyes fixed on mine. Oh. Oh! I suddenly realize what's happening. My own face instinctively tilts up and my eyes close as his lips land softly on mine. Holy hell, he's good. His lips are soft and just the right mix of gentle and demanding. I'm kind of expecting it to be short and sweet, with it only being for appearances and all, but I'm determined to enjoy it while I can. Any second now he'll stop, I'm convinced. But then…oh my God, he parts his mouth and runs his tongue along my bottom lip. I groan. I don't mean to, it's one of those completely involuntary reaction groans, but as I slip my own tongue across his , he responds with a similar sound.

And so it goes on.

Eventually we break apart, breathless and disheveled. He rests his forehead against mine as he catches his breath.

"Fuck," he says, breathily. I laugh lightly at him. He moves his face away a little and smooths strands of hair from my own face as he looks at me. "If that's the engagement, I can't wait for the honeymoon." He raises his eyebrows mischievously. I'm more than a little shocked; not so much at his words, but at this new side of him I'm seeing. He sees my surprise and immediately apologizes and steps back. I think he assumes that his forthrightness has offended me.

"It's fine," I tell him. "Really, you just shocked me. You were in role, right?" I smile and he has the grace to look a little embarrassed. I didn't know he had it in him, he gives off such an air of being unshakeable.

"Uh, yeah. Of course," he says, smirking as he looks up at me now, his hand pushing through his hair. I'm suddenly not so sure he's telling the truth.

I'm distracted when he holds the ring box up again.

"So, are you going to try it on?" he asks. I hold my left hand out and let him slide it onto my ring finger. It's a little loose but not so much that it's in danger of slipping off. I examine it closely, because, well, I'm a girl and it's pretty and sparkly, need I say more? I can't help but compare it to the one Alec gave me that I left at home in Phoenix. This one is far more beautiful, even for costume jewelery.

"Nice touch," I tell Edward. "I still can't believe you went to the trouble though, it would have been fine without." I lift it closer to my face and tilt my hand this way and that, enjoying how it glints in the sunlight. "It looks real," I muse, almost to myself. Edward laughs.

"Isabella, it is real," he tells me, smiling. I look up at him, thinking he's joking until I see the absolutely sincere expression on his face.

"Oh, no. No no no no no…" I'm tugging at the ring already as I say this, trying to get it back off my finger. Edward places his hand over mine.

"No," he commands. "It's a gift for you. We're in this together and I wanted to give you something nice. Hell, this whole situation is going to be tough enough as it is, let's at least get what enjoyment we can from it." I'm still not sure I'm completely happy with accepting such an expensive gift, but he seems determined and I figure I can enjoy it now and hand it back once our arrangement comes to an end.

"Thank you," I whisper, a little over-awed at the gesture. "I love it."

We make our way back to the car. We chat easily but he doesn't touch me again. Back at his parents' house we sit down and begin to make actual plans. We call the Clallam County Auditor's Office in Port Angeles and make an appointment to go and apply for our marriage license the next day. We make lists of things we need to remember to do and when we'll do them. I call the University and ask about transferring my studies.

And then with the ring of my phone, at least half of what we've achieved is rendered impossible.

"It's Alec," I say, a sick feeling settling in my stomach as I look at the caller display.

"Ignore it," Edward says, not looking up from his laptop where he's searching for another number we need. I glare at him. Doesn't he get it? Does he really not get how things are for me and the relationship I'm in? Sheesh. I stand and run for the door, pressing answer before I get there because I'm too scared to let it ring any longer in case it goes to voicemail again.

"Hi," I say as I close the kitchen door behind me and lean on it for a moment.

"Hey, baby," he says. "How are you feeling now?"

"Oh, uh, I'm…ok I guess. Still not great." I realize that I'm pacing now. I can feel my palms growing sweaty at my own lies.

"You've got me worried about you Bella," he tells me.

"Really, you don't need to worry, I'll be fine—"

"Bellaaa," he cuts me off, drawing out my name like a blade being slowly pulled across skin. "You don't need to be brave with me, baby. You'll say you're fine today, then Saturday will come and you'll say you're not well enough to travel, then you'll be saying you need extra time with daddy, and I'll be left without you again. I hate it without you, B, you know that. That's why I decided to surprise you! I want to see what's so great about that gray, damp state that you want to be there all the time."

My heart is pounding now. It's the words he says and the words he doesn't say. It's in his tone. He knows I've lied to him and he's calling me out on it in his own way. He's pissed with me. I've learned enough about him to recognize that. It's called self-preservation and right now it's flashing red lights and sounding its loudest siren at me.

"What…what do you mean, Alec?" I ask.

"I'm coming to surprise you!" he announces. "I'm at Sea-Tac and as soon as this stupid bitch at the rental desk figures out exactly where my car is, I'll be on the road. Ok, baby? I can't wait to see you."

I'm on the verge of a panic attack now. My head is spinning and I'm struggling to breathe. I have to stay calm with him, I know that, but I may have only three hours to actually make my break, rather than the days that we'd planned for.

"That's…that's great," I say, trying to force my voice not to tremble as it wants to. "I can't wait either."

"I have to go, she's calling me over. I'll be with you soon, Baby. Bye. I love you."

"Yeah. I love you too," I barely manage before he ends the call.

I slump to the floor, my back sliding down one of the cabinets. I can't help the loud sob that escapes as I try to catch my breath, and I guess it's that sound that brings Edward rushing in. He crouches next to me and lifts my face to look at him.

"What is it? What did he say?" His eyes are searching my face for answers and I reach up and grip his arms desperately.

"He…he's coming!" I say, a hysterical edge to my voice. "He's at Sea-Tac now."

"Shit," Edward curses, glancing at the clock on the wall. "What do we do? What do we do?" he mumbles to himself. "Ok, Isabella. You need to calm down. I'm not going to let him near you, do you understand? We can be out of here before he's anywhere near. Call your dad and let him know what's going on. I'll call mine and do the same, then I'll drive you to get your stuff. We'll head for Port Angeles, we can stay over there, keep our appointment for the marriage license tomorrow and then get the hell away. Does that sound ok?"

I think I followed everything he said so I nod, take a few deep breaths and try to focus. He pulls me to my feet and gives me a reassuring hug. I pull away before he does.

"Ok," I say, having found some resolve. "Let's do it."

I call my dad. To say he's unhappy about the situation is a gross understatement. I feel bad because he's the one who's going to have to deal with Alec when he arrives and tell him I'm not here. I give him the number for Edward's cell because I'm switching mine off and leaving it here. I'll get another one soon and let him have the number then. I have him promise not to enter into any confrontations with Alec because I know what he's like, even if my dad is a cop and does have a gun. As far as I know, Alec doesn't have a gun, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did. He also has a deadly temper so I can't help but worry. We decide that my dad will claim not to know anything about where I am beyond the fake note I'll leave when I collect my stuff, and he won't give anything away about knowing that Alec was abusing me. We think it'll be safer all round if he can appear innocent. I don't think Alec will risk upsetting my dad if he thinks there's a chance of getting me back. His MO is number one charmer.

Edward is being attentive and vigilant as we get to my dad's house. He looks around as we head to the front door, and for the first time it occurs to me that maybe Alec was lying about being in Seattle. Maybe he's already closer than that. Maybe he's here. I try to stay calm. I'm getting a little better at controlling the panic with Edward by my side; he's a good, calming influence.

Inside, I throw all my things into my bag and then scrawl a note to my dad apologizing for leaving without saying goodbye, but I'd heard from a close friend going through a tough time who needed me and I couldn't not go to her. I hope the note will put my dad in the clear, but I know it will send Alec crazy.

As soon as we can, we jump into the car and head for Port Angeles. I sit in the back of the car behind the tinted windows the whole way, just in case we pass Alec driving in the opposite direction.

One hour later we're driving into Port Angeles. Edward parks up close to a hotel and we climb out of the car, leaving our bags for the moment. He's about to pull the doors open when he stops.

"Do you want your own room, Isabella?" he asks me. I look up at him but his expression is unreadable. "I just want you to feel safe," he says.

"I don't want to be alone," I say.

Edward checks us in and takes me up to the room. I stand in the doorway and look at the king-size bed.

"I'm sorry," he says behind me. "I tried to book a twin but this was all they had. I can sleep on the floor."

"No," I tell him. "It'll be ok. I don't mind…sharing…with you." I don't know why my cheeks grow pink thinking about it, but they do. If I found Edward attractive before, then the whole protective and taking charge thing is just making me want him more. And, I concede, if it weren't for the whole scared to death thing I have going on around the Alec situation, I might actually be looking forward to sharing a bed with this man.

"I'll go and get the bags," he says and leaves me alone.

I sink down onto the bed. It's hard to believe that only a week ago I was at home in Phoenix looking forward to seeing my dad. And now here I am in…limbo I guess. I have no idea what's going to happen from this point on; whether we'll pull off everything that we intended to or how long we'll need to keep the façade up for. I've never even seen a photograph of where I'll be living.

Just as I feel I'm about to slip over the edge into being totally overcome by everything, Edward lets himself back into the room and drops our bags on the floor. It's almost as though his very presence allows my body to breathe easily again. I wonder how much of it is due to our situation, or if I would still feel the same if we'd met under different circumstances.

Edward asks if I want to go out, but I feel safer staying in while I know Alec is somewhere around, even though the chances of him finding me here are slight. Instead he puts some music on and lays backs on the bed, one arm behind his head, while I sit propped up against the headboard. He tilts his head back slightly to glance up at me and smiles when he sees me playing with my 'engagement' ring.

"You really like it?" he asks. I smile as I look back at the prettiest item of jewelry I've ever owned in my twenty years.

"Yeah, I really do," I reply, still admiring it.

"I'm glad," he replies. We're both quiet for a moment and there's just the sound of the music filling the room.

"Why are you glad?" I ask eventually. He's not looking at me now as he lays there, the hand that doesn't support his head, picking at the bottom of his t-shirt.

"Because I want you to be happy," he says.

"But you don't even know me. Not really. I can't figure out why it matters to you," I whisper, keeping my attention on the ring. He doesn't speak for what feels like forever.

"I have no idea, it just feels…important to me I guess. And I wish I knew why, but I don't feel as though I don't know you. I feel as though a part of me has always known you." He's quiet for a moment but then he chuckles. "That sounds a whole lot of crazy, right?"

"It might if I didn't feel the same way," I murmur, loud enough for him to hear. I risk a glance over at him and he's looking intently back at me.

"You know what would be crazy?" he asks.


"If fate planned this whole fucked-up situation to throw us together." He looks away again, smirking and shaking his head.

"Yeah, well I'd say that stranger things have happened, but I sincerely doubt they have," I tell him.

The conversation gets lighter after this point, and we're laughing over something we'd both seen on TV the week before, when my dad calls Edward's phone. Alec has been there. The note had really thrown him but my dad said he didn't seem to suspect that he was involved at all, which was a huge relief. He'd driven off but he hadn't said where he was going to.

When we end the call, Edward persuades me to leave the hotel to grab something to eat. We reason that even if Alec is headed for Port Angeles, that he's still an hour away, so even if all we do is pick up some food to take back to the hotel with us, at least we can get some fresh air for a while.

It's still early when my eyelids begin to droop and I'm overcome by body-wracking yawns. I decide to take a shower and climb into bed. If I'd been worrying about bedtime being awkward, I needn't have. By the time Edward comes out of the bathroom from taking his shower, I'm already fast asleep, the day's events having taken their toll.

I sleep soundly all night, waking to the sounds and light of the morning. Edward is still sleeping on the other side of the bed as I rise, but by the time I return from the bathroom he's awake and half-sitting up in the bed.

"Good morning," he greets me. "Did you sleep well?"

"Aside from this insane dream I had about arranged marriages and unstable ex-boyfriends you mean?" I tease.

"Yeah, good one," he replies, running his hand through his hair. I think I could actually watch him do that all day. "Are you getting back in bed?" he asks me, pulling the covers on my side back. I realize that I was kind of loitering uncertainly at the side of it. "It's still early," he says and gestures with his head for me to get back in. Suddenly I feel a little shy of him, although I have no idea why. Wait, yes I do, it's because he looks stupidly hot for someone who just woke up. I try to push that to one side as I climb back in and pull the covers up. I slide down so my head is on the pillow and close my eyes. It's not long before I feel fingers in my hair. I open my eyes and see Edward raking his fingers through the strands that lie across the pillow. I smile and close my eyes again, humming happily. Having someone stroke my hair is my absolute favorite thing in the world. Alec always refused to do it, no matter how much I begged him, because he said he found it boring. Edward, on the other hand, seems to be enjoying it almost as much as I am.

Maybe he had a point about fate, I think briefly, before pushing the thought away and berating myself for being so ridiculous.


"So, this is home," Edward tells me as he holds his apartment door open for me. I walk inside and am impressed by how homely the place is considering a single guy lives here. The place has three bedrooms, so I get a room of my own. This is a good thing. I think. I'm still warm with memories of Edward stroking my hair in the bed at the hotel this morning. A repeat of that would definitely not be unwelcome.

I unpack the few belongings I have with me. When I make a joke about how little time it took me, Edward promised to take me shopping. I tell him it's not necessary. He insists it is and asks me if I'll please just let him. I agree eventually, but tell him he's not paying for everything; I have my own money. I mention finding a job, but he says he'd rather I didn't, for a while at least. His job is due to begin in a few weeks and he'll be earning more than a decent wage. I'm actually more than ok with not working while things are so uncertain with Alec, but I make him agree that he'll let me at least contribute a little.

A little later I use Edward's phone to call my mom. I can't tell her the full story yet because I have a feeling Alec will get in touch with her the moment he's back in Phoenix, so I tell her the same thing I put in the note, about helping a needy friend. She's a little freaked out by the situation, but she accepts everything I tell her. That's one reason I don't tell her anything that I don't want Alec to find out; she's altogether too trusting of everybody.

Later on I sit and look over the marriage license. Sometime in the next sixty days I'll become Mrs. Cullen. I glance over at Edward on the other end of the couch as he laughs at a comedy show on the TV. His legs are crossed at the ankles and he looks completely relaxed. As I take in his perfect profile, I realize that the situation could have been a whole lot worse. He really is beautiful.

He turns his head in my direction and smiles disarmingly.

"Try not to worry," he tells me with a nod towards the license in my hand. "Marriage is only a piece of paper. It doesn't have to be a big deal."

"I know," I say. I go back to looking it over several more times before I speak again. "When are we going to do it then?" I ask him. He laughs again at the TV and is still smiling when he turns his attention back to me.

"How about one day next week?" he asks. I'm free nearly every day, I think it's just Monday that I have to go into work for a pre-starter meeting.

"What about Wednesday then?" I ask him. "I can't believe we're actually discussing planning a wedding like this," I say, laughing a little at how ridiculous the casual air of the discussion sounds.

"Wednesday? That's a possibility, let me just check my diary," he says, playing along good-naturedly. "Yes, I believe I am free to marry you on Wednesday, Miss Swan. It's a date!"

I laugh loudly.

"I can't believe what you've done to me," I tease him. "I never used to be the kind of girl that would get married on the first date."

"Well, we've got until Wednesday, Isabella," he says, reaching out a hand to gently touch my ankle that's tucked up beside me on the seat. "There's time enough to make sure that remains the case."

"You want to take me on a date?" I ask, still smiling.

"I think it would be ungentlemanly of me not to take you out at least once before we tie the knot, don't you?" he says.

"I guess," I reply.

Edward's phone rings before we can discuss it further. He answers and passes it to me. It's my dad to let me know that Alec had called at his house again to see if I had shown up. When my dad told him that I hadn't and that he hadn't even heard from me, Alec told him he was booked on a two a.m. flight back to Phoenix.

"Violent ex-boyfriend gone for now? Check," I say to Edward as I fill him in on the phone call. "Next item on list? Get married and make a new start."

"I'll call the Justice Center in the morning and book the appointment," Edward promises. "We need to make you into Mrs. Cullen, the sooner the better." A strange, almost satisfied expression passes briefly across his face.

"What was that look for?" I ask, a hint of amusement in my voice. There's certainly no hint of anything resembling amusement whatsoever in Edward's face as he closes the space between us on the couch and reaches out to touch my face. I'm captivated by his green eyes as they hold mine so intensely, and my own laughter is abruptly forgotten.

"Isabella, I have no idea what you've done to me, but there's something about you taking my name and trusting me to protect you, that thrills me in the way that thoughts of commitment never have before," he says, his tongue sliding along his lip in a motion that almost kills me. "This whole thing should be scaring me to fucking death, but instead you have me lit up with excitement. You've made this entire sorry mess into an adventure," he continues. He's leaning in closer now, so close that I can feel his breath on my face. It reminds me that I'm holding mine. I need to breathe but he makes it so damn difficult when he's close to me like this. "I was wondering…?"

"Yes?" I whisper.

"Whether you intend to endure the next few months, or if you'd rather explore with me?" Our heads are tilted together now in response to our closeness and our noses are all but touching as we approach, almost kiss and then back away minutely each time.

"Explore?" I ask.

"Each other," he confirms as he finally closes the gap between us.

The End.

A/N This one shot was the result of a prompt from Katalina that went as follows:

'How about we have E&B in an arranged marriage by two families who have a lot to gain by merging the two families together. What E&B didn't expect was there to be an instant connection between the two of them...?'

Katalina, I hope I fulfilled enough of what you wanted to see. There was so much more I could have done with these two but sadly time had other ideas xx