Bella walked into Demetri Volturi’s office, lead in by his secretary and was seated across from his desk. He was not in the room and as the secretary informed her that he would be in shortly, she left her alone otherwise.
A cursory glance found that there was nothing out of place. The man had plenty of photos of himself with a number of seemingly important figures on his shelves, but she saw them for who they were. Family heads to give the the man some feeling of importance to his family. He was a charmer and while she was certain she could get more information out of him if she supplied him with enough liquor, she may take that risk another day if his phone didn’t pan out.
Checking the door quickly, she pulled a tiny bug sticker from her purse and took the picture frame on the desk of Demetri and Aro Volturi, pulling the back out to stick the device inside before hurrying to set it back. Biting her lip, she debated on her chances, before plugging her USB stick into his computer, praying that the copy would be quick.
As soon as it signaled it was complete, she pulled it out and just rounded the desk when the door begun to open, causing her to freeze. Turning to the bookcase, she slipped the drive under her bra and begun to browse the pictures and titles he had on display, as if she’d been doing that entirely while passing the time while waiting.
“Hello again, bella Bella!” Demetri greeted her warmly. “I hope you don’t mind having had to wait a little bit, I was otherwise occupied.”
She smiled at him as she held her hand out. “It’s quite alright, Signore. I was just admiring your collection. I’ve read a few myself.”
He shook her hand and smiled. “Then you’ve read more than I have, bella. These are simply from my private collection to make an impression, and it always does just that!”
“Always so candid?” she teased as she dipped her head. Gesturing towards his desk, she indicated the thick envelope she had resting on the edge. “I have my manuscript for you. I hope you do give reading that some time and consideration.”
“I am always honest, Bella,” he said as he moved to his desk to unpack her manuscript. “While deception is a way to get what you want, I always find that honesty is the best policy.” Blinking as he looked at the pages, he let out a deep breath. “Well, this will take me a while to get through, did you plan on writing three books?”
“I may have let my words get away from me. It could be broken down if you believe it best,” she said as she made her way closer.
“Of course, we have editors at hand to see if it needs any pruning,” he muttered and looked at the door when someone knocked on it. “I’m in a meeting!”
“I know, sir, but this man insisted on not waiting,” his secretary called out. “He said it would only take a minute.”
Demetri sighed as he took out his phone, seeing a message from his ‘guest’ confirming who it was. Setting the phone down in annoyance, he turned to Bella he smiled apologetically. “Please excuse me, mia bella. This shouldn’t take but a few moments.”
“Of course, Signore,” she nodded as she waved her hand. “I’ll be here waiting. It must be important.”
“It’s only my cousin Felix, he simply does not like to wait. He is not a patient man,” he smiled before ducking out of the door, leaving it ajar.
Bella’s smile faltered slightly at the name. Her heart raced at being so close to one of the Volturi, especially one that was more familiar with her. If she was to get in with them, she could blow her current cover, but she could not afford to lose the potential intel now. Pulling out the copy phone, she set it beside Demetri’s on the desk and activated it.
Slipping closer to the door, she tried to listen in on the conversation between the men, as if she was pacing the room in her wait, she grew concerned.
“… I followed the short sister out here, she has some dealings in London for the family. Something about art.”
“And you come here, why?”
“You have connections, cousin,” Felix responded kindly. “We need to keep an eye on the pixie before she vanishes, Aro believes she has a hidden agenda.”
Bella’s eyes narrowed as her heart raced, not having been so close to any member of that family in so long. Making her way back to the desk, happy to find the copy was complete, she slipped her device in her purse and pulled out her cell phone. Texting Jai, she needed an out, an excuse to leave the meeting when her target returned. All she knew, was that she needed to get away from Felix, and London.
Bella’s phone rang the moment Demetri stepped back inside. “My apologies,” he apologized. “Family drama. And pardon me for interrupting,” he gestured to the phone in her hands.
She smiled indulgently as she answered the call. “Hello?”
“Good afternoon Miss Swan. This is Dennis from reception calling,” Jai’s British accent sounded. “It appears that we’ve had to evacuate your room due to a burst water line, could you please return to the hotel to make sure we’ve gathered all your belongings? Of course, we will give you another room if you wish.”
Her face fell and her hand came up to her forehead. Of all the idiotic excuses. “Oh hell! Of course I’ll be right over. Other arrangements will be made, I assure you,” she said, ending the call. Looking to the man, she appeared upset and angry. “I really must go. That was my hotel. It seems that there was some water damage in my room that I need to see to my belongings.”
“Oh, of course, of course!” Demetri said understanding. “Your contact details are with your manuscript, yes?”
“Yes, of course. In case it gets misplaced, here is my number for when I return to the states,” she said as she grabbed a post-it from his desk and scribbled the Smithsonian contact number. “I look forward to hearing from you, but I really must go. I have some personal presents for friends that I couldn’t replace…”
“If there’s anything you need, give me a call, bella, I would hate to see your time in London ruined by such a minor occurrence,” Demetri watched her quickly gather her things. “Until next time then.”
She smiled at his generosity and if she was anything like Walker, she might even come to trust him more. However she was all too familiar with his family. “If or when I’m in London again, I’ll be sure to visit the Lounge. Maybe we can share another glass of wine.”
“Bellisima,” he smiled as he opened the door for her. “Good luck.”
Instinct had her looking first, relieved that Felix was gone. “Thank you,” she said in her soft voice before turning and walking out. Her hand ran through her hair as she made her way down to the street, looking around, almost paranoid before turning left and heading away from her hotel until she was sure that no one was around her.
Pulling her phone out, she called Jai. “Answer you asshole,” she muttered as it kept ringing.
“Ah, damnit, hold up, hold up,” Jai said in a hushed voice as he answered his phone. “Are you alright, Bella?”
“Felix Volturi is in London, and supposedly so is Alice Cullen,” she hissed as she made her way into a nearby park. “I got the copies but dammit Jai. They never travel alone. Demetri didn’t recognize me, not really, but Felix would sell me out.”
“Your mission was to gather information and that’s that. It’s up to you what you do next.”
“This time. I’m still attached to them regardless,” she reminded him. “I was only called back because things went silent too long.”
“Sure, but that wasn’t the mission today,” Jai responded. “We needed more information, you got it. You can go home now and wait it out.”
She let out a breath and felt torn. “And if they decide to rip me away again? This job is beginning to suck big time.”
Jai was quiet for a moment and sighed. “Having this assignment gives you a certain leverage over certain people. You can quit the assignment any time you want to, although it’s preferable not to seeing as nobody has ever come this close. If you’d feel… more safe, more confident with … certain people backing you… you can demand it if you feel spooked.”
“We’re not supposed to feel spooked,” she mumbled. “We are. Where are you?”
“I was just about to raid a warehouse in the Camden district for Annie’s op.”
She was irritated by that. “Why does she get the fun ops and I get sleazebag? That’s not fair. His profile even said he preferred blondes.”
“And yet, he had no problem with hitting on you last night for mentioning this special wine your cover likes. But seriously, Bella, if you feel like you no longer wish to do this on your own or without any proper back up, demand it. You have the right to get your own team for this.”
“You need to get DCI to approve Auggie. I can’t keep it all from him. He doesn’t like me. He’s already suspended me, what? Twice?”
“Thrice, but who’s counting?” Jai said with a smile in his voice. “Decide what you want. Go home, or try to find Alice and tail her, but your mission, the intel gathering, is done.”
“Fine. But if anyone says anything, I’m pointing the finger at you that you gave me the choice,” she argued. “If you and blondie has free time between you, they mentioned trailing Alice in the nightlife, so I’m guessing clubs and lounges. I have a home cooked meal to go back to in DC.”
“We’re hitting a casino tonight for Annie’s cover. Maybe she’ll show up, it’s a pretty famous casino.”
“Wouldn’t put it past the midget. Maybe I’ll join you tonight and go back tomorrow. She’s as slick as she is annoying. Manipulative gnome like that bitch Natasha.”
“And if you’d join, what would your cover be, huh? Hit rock bottom? Got yourself a sugar daddy?”
Bella grinned at that. “Well, he does give some sugar, but that’s between us. I’ll come up with something. Just – get DCI, please?”
“Can I go back to my raid now?”
“Sure. Go play. Don’t let me have any of the fun. Bye,” she hung up and growled in annoyance before calling Auggie at his work desk.
“Hey, if it isn’t my favourite operative,” Auggie greeted her on the phone as he decided to take some time off from listening to his emails. “How are you doing?”
“Could be better, could be worse,” she answered as she moved to sit on a bench, watching the people around her. “How are things back home?”
“The usual. What’s up? You sound irritated, did something happen?”
She let out a huff as she looked down at her hand before resuming her people watching. “You can say that. I had to text Jai to give me an excuse to get out of the meet. My contact had gotten an unexpected visitor and – I couldn’t risk being made. He would have recognized me.”
“Ouch. Did you manage to complete the mission or do you have to go back in?”
“No, I got it and of course the contact still expects to keep in touch. Such as that type of sleaze. Um, but Jai did give me the option of going home now or staying and pursuing a potential lead.”
“Well, things have been quiet for you on that front,” he eventually said. As much as he wanted her to come home, he also knew that her assignment was still not over and done with. “If you feel safe and comfortable by pursuing this potential lead, then you should go for it. But only if you feel safe doing it. If you find it too risky, you need to abort.”
She was silent as she listened. “I only got confirmation through the contact that one was in town, but knowing these people, they never travel alone. I’m just concerned about which others are with the one. This one, is minor, an annoyance. Jai’s concern, if I stay to join him and Blondie tonight, is what my cover would be if any of them happen to show up. I was debating about at least staying for that and coming home tomorrow. I mean – it’s blackjack.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun,” he said amused. “Well, as long as you don’t make a debt for yourself, I suggest to go. It’s a low risk environment and Jai and Annie will be in the same area. As for your cover… hmm… tourist on a night out. Keep it simple.”
“I should mention I left my old Smithsonian number with Demetri Volturi for that manuscript excuse…Any of them would know me and the manipulative little gnome will demand my life story.”
“Manuscript? Your op?”
“Meh, I got the intel.”
Auggie laughed. “Good thing I know how to keep a secret, gorgeous. Your life story… you’ve been traveling, London is your last stop before going home.”
“And when Jai and Annie come over to pull me off of the bitch? Maybe I should ask off the assignment. I’ve been a mix of pissed off and nauseous at the possibility of running into any of them.”
“I’m listening in on Annie tonight and Jai will be on the phone. I think I can juggle a third voice, if you’d like. I think you’re more than capable of plowing through.”
“Plowing? Really?” she giggled as her eyes darted around. “Should wash your mouth out with soap.”
“Yep, plowing,” he replied smiling, glad to hear a smile in her voice. “It’s so not a dirty word, Swan.“
“It is when I’d rather be home, with you, in bed right now,” she admitted as she bit her lip.
“And you do realize that you’re calling me on my work phone, where all the conversations get recorded?”
She groaned as her mind had slipped, and prayed that it would take at least until Jai got through to the DCI before it filtered down to their division. Slapping herself in the forehead, she cussed under her breath. “How long do you think we have?”
“Relax, they don’t tend to listen to anything I say anyway,” Auggie snorted. “But yeah, I could be sitting in your ear all night while you have fun at the casino, hearing you kick ass.”
Smiling, she needed his encouragement. “I’ll go tonight and be on the first plane back. Only because you made it sound so much more fun.”
“I’m so much more fun than stuffy old Jai, I’m the coolest cat.”
“That you are,” Bella agreed. “Tomorrow Auggie.”
Bella walked into the casino, her hands smoothing down her dress that she had to buy last minute for the night. Looking around, her eyes caught Annie’s across the room before turning to find a game she desired to play.
Pausing at a poker table, she watched a game played, and the players before she waved down for a waitress for a drink as she pulled up a seat. “Gentlemen,” she smiled at them, setting her chips on the table, ready for the next hand to be dealt.
“What is it with American women in this establishment tonight?” One of the men complained in high English.
“Ah, don’t be so snobbish, Richard, at least we get something nice to look at while we play, unlike your ugly mug,” another man replied.
“I’m particularly happy about another American joining the table, beautiful woman or not, perhaps she’ll be lucky,” a man with a Texan accent replied, when he caught Bella’s eye, he winked at her. “Ma’am.”
She smiled slightly, raising her eyebrow. “Perhaps it is you, gentlemen, that will make me lucky. Ever consider that? I happen to be rather good at poker, so I’ve been told.”
“Then you won’t need any luck,” he winked at her as he returned his attention back to his cards with a stoic look on his face.
Bella looked at her cards once and smiled at other players as she set her bet next to the pile. Rather high raise as she just joined the table, but she remained silent as she watched their faces for reactions.
“Careful, ducky,” ‘Richard’ warned her. “You don’t want to risk losing it all in a few rounds.”
“Any particular reason you are concerned about my money?” she asked innocently. “I have enough saved for the occasional night out like this.”
“Perhaps he’d like to enjoy your company a while longer, Peaches,” the Texan replied playfully with an even look on his face. “Or maybe he’s just scared that you’ll take his money. He has a terrible poker face.”
“Isn’t that the goal here? To take one’s money?” she blinked, looking to the dealer.
The man sitting next to her grinned. “He hates losing from women, but I’ll happily place a side bet that you’ll clean him right out.”
“Aww, aren’t you just a handsome flirt,” she teased, eyeing him. “I just might take that bet because he is rather – cumbersome. Isn’t he?”
“Aren’t you just the flirt,” Auggie’s voice sounded in her ear. “Peaches.”
“I fold,” Richard said as he handed his cards back to the dealer.
“Seriously? Before the river is even on the table?” The Texan blinked. “Hell, I’ll gladly participate in that side bet too!”
Turning in her seat, Bella went to get a better look of the other American at the table. To say that the hair at the back of her neck stood up was an understatement. While she didn’t feel him as a threat, he also wasn’t on par with safe. “You are a long way from home. Texas is known for doing things big. You brave enough to call my bet?”
“I’ll even raise ya,” he said as he threw his chips on the table. “Aren’t Texans allowed to travel these days? That’s new.”
“Perhaps. I just have met one that actually jumped the pond,” she answered as she met his bet and looked at him. “You’d be the first.”
“I like to get my feet wet, on occasion,” he said as the other guy folded as well. “Party pooper.”
“Is this how we sounded when we weren’t together? Slap him already,” Auggie’s voice sounded in Bella’s ear.
She couldn’t stop the smile on her face. “It’s fun to take risks sometimes. My biggest one is like this fly that I can never get rid of. He just buzzes around in your ear, but I still love him all the same for it.”
Auggie heaved a breath at her words then chuckled. “Nice save…”
“Oh, I can relate,” the Texan replied as he looked at his cards. “Sometimes I feel as if I’m being followed by a mosquito, her high pitched buzzing drives me nuts. Must be the water.”
“There is a redhead I work with like that. I’m tempted to stab her with my shoe when she gets too close to what’s mine,” she said with a demented smile. “I just might when I get home.”
“Oh, gotta watch out for those redheads,” he smirked. “They’re evil.” He raised his eyebrow when the final card landed on the table. “Interesting.”
Bella glanced at the turn card, unfazed. “How so?”
“You can’t trust them,” he muttered and revealed the cards. “Beat that, peaches.”
She flipped her cards, smiling at his three of a kind. Setting her chin in her hand, she just smiled at him.
“Well played, well played,” he chuckled as he applauded. “You can buy me a drink now.”
“I would but the only man I buy liquor for is my man at home. He’s already finished up my tequila since I’ve left on my trip,” she said, annoyed as she rolled her eyes.
“How did you know?” Auggie asked shocked.
“That’s interesting, how do you know? Did he tell ya? Why isn’t he accompanying you? Surely he’d hate it to see his woman flirting with another man.”
Bella shrugged and tossed in her blind bet for the next hand. “He’s not that innocent that he doesn’t know what I’m doing, just like he should know that I wouldn’t have someone check on things if I can’t be there. I made a promise not to kill the maid. So I made her my little pet. He owes me a bottle of Cabo Wabo.”
“I’m more of a Patron guy so you’re out of luck,” Auggie muttered. “Okay, I’ll be gone for like five minutes. Might be back sooner.”
“Maid, huh? Love those,” the Texan replied. “So why isn’t he here, gracing your arm? You’re obviously wearing the pants in your relationship.”
“Not everyone can leave their job on a whim for a pleasure trip. Well, not so much pleasure, as it is partially business. I just decided to have a night of fun here before I go home tomorrow,” she replied, looking around as she saw the casino staff take the wallet out of Annie’s purse across the floor.
The Texan coughed so that Bella brought her attention back on him. “I suppose. In a relationship sometimes seeing each other too much is too much. Create enough distance and often enough to keep the relationship healthy.”
She looked back at him and smiled. “We’ve had enough distance over the years before we even considered anything more, but I – don’t regret wanting to be closer more,” she found herself saying. “I do regret not realizing how I felt sooner.”
“We’re playing cards, we’re not doling out relationship advice,” Richard murmured.
“Well, if you had asked for advice, Richard, maybe you and your wife wouldn’t have gotten that very expensive divorce a couple years back.”
“Shut up, John.”
“Maybe I should just win another hand and buy him a lady for the night,” Bella murmured thoughtfully as she looked at the grumpy man. “Getting laid could do wonders.”
“Here you are!” Alice’s voice sounded and she was on the Texan in no time, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Darlin, I need to see my cards,” he replied gently as he tapped on her arm.
Bella instantly froze, swallowing what was left in her glass before holding it up for the waitress that was coming past. “Whiskey. Make it a double for me,” she ordered, her mind racing. She had gotten too comfortable, thinking that maybe they weren’t going to show here, that they had gone somewhere else. Oh her luck…
“Hey, I’m back, what did I miss?” Auggie’s voice filled her head again. “It’s so quiet over there…”
She slapped her arm as she slipped into her best bitch face. “You know, I would think that for a place like this, they would be on the ball. You might want to tell your bosses to get an exterminator. There are mosquitos around.”
“There’s a can of mace in your purse, isn’t there? Instant bug repellant,” Auggie replied.
“Bella! Oh my gosh!” Alice nearly screeched. “It’s been so long!” She ran around the table and flung herself around her neck.
“Ouch, that was harsh,” Auggie winched.
She growled as she stood stock still in her arms, glaring at the woman. “There isn’t enough whiskey in the world to deal with you. In fact, I haven’t swallowed an ounce yet. Get your hands off me,” she warned. “Before I break them and shove my shoe in your eye socket.”
“Geez,” Alice said as she let go of Bella and moved back to her boyfriend.
“So you two know each other?” the Texan asked Alice, surprise in his face. “Small world?”
“Oh yeah, Bella and I go way back,” Alice responded quickly, taking a sip of his drink. “One thing she’s always been good at is holding a grudge.”
“Don’t tell me that this complication actually turned up in the casino. Of all the casinos in London, she picks the same you’re in? That’s unlucky and I’m so sorry,” Auggie said quickly. “I’ll get you all the booze you need.”
“Alice, I let the shit go a long time ago what him and your family did to me. You, on the other hand, are a backstabbing, manipulative, two-faced bitch that will use anyone to get what you want. I’m only sorry I didn’t see it back then, that I just let you railroad me with everything. I’m not the same Bella anymore, Alice. And if this guy has any brains, he’ll run as far and fast from your deranged family as he can get,” she hissed in her face.
‘Jasper’ raised his eyebrow as he looked between the women. “Excuse me, Peaches, that’s my woman you’re talking ’bout. You can insult my hat or my boots, but not my woman.”
“Your woman,” she stressed, as an insult as it was meant to be, “knew full well what her asshole brother had planned when he decided to break up with me. Nothing uncommon, you’d think, right? But what do you think when you deliberately leave a teenage girl out in the middle of the woods after telling her it was all a game, on the cusp of a storm to get lost. Too premeditated… when he spent so much effort stressing how unsafe the forest was. I nearly died. Sometimes I believed that was what the two of them wanted,” Bella said thoughtfully, looking at her. “I lived. I moved on. I spent the last ten years avoiding Cullens. So, tell me. How many more of you are there in town that I should be aware of?”
“Bella, please, you’re obviously not well,” Alice said kindly before she turned to Jasper. “She was always quite unstable, to be honest. Edward loved her, but this one day, she lost it.”
“You need to pass a background and psych evaluation to own a handgun you know,” she smirked. “Government says I’m quite sane. Want to test me?”
“Bella, take your leave,” Auggie said calmly. “It’s going to be okay, she’s the only one in London right now – as far as I can tell. Take a deep breath and just leave. Be the bigger person.”
“Stay here,” Jasper told Alice before rounding the table and gathering Bella’s chips. “Come on, Peaches, let’s go outside.”
She pushed against him, she had nothing but bloodlust in her eyes for the midget woman. Still, she allowed him to drag her out where the night air acted like cold water over her. “I don’t know or care who the hell you are but the next time I see her face, she will taste my fist,” she pointed back at the door.
“Okay,” he said simply as he handed her her purse.
“And if I ever see the rest of them, it will be too soon,” she huffed, beginning to run out of steam.
“They’re in Italy at the moment, hobnobbing with some relatives,” he said as he leaned against the wall and kept his eyes on her. “You seem to know a lot about the Cullens, what can you tell me about them?”
She grimaced at that as her hands went to her temples. “Fucking hate that place. Inbreeding fuckheads.”
“That’s putting it lightly,” he said with an amused smile on his lips. “On the surface they’re nice and all, but dig deeper…”
“How the hell did you get tied up in them? They aren’t clean. Why do you think I’ve avoided them for so long?”
“Bella, that’s Jasper Whitlock, he’s an FBI agent,” Auggie’s voice sounded. “I recognize his voice now that it’s less crowded and you’re outside.”
She scratched at her hair, narrowing her eyes on him. “And you seriously can’t be that into Alice. She doesn’t even have boobs. I thought Texans like their boobs. She has – mosquito bites for tits.”
Jasper grinned. “Yeah, she does. I’m not too happy about it, either. Trying not to have intercourse with her for that exact reason. She’s as flat as a wooden board.”
“How’s that working out for you?” she asked. “Surely you’d have walked in on the other two.”
“Not. They’re shutting me out, so, what can you tell me about them? What do they do?”
“Sorry, can’t help you. I haven’t spoken to them in a decade until tonight,” she deadpanned, her brown eyes meeting his blue in challenge.
“I can’t imagine the pain they’ve put you through, but it would help me immensely if you decided to associate yourself with them again. Alice knows you, even with the emotions, I believe that there’s still a chance for you to go back to them.”
Bella drew in an irritated breath. “I wouldn’t join their family for anything. What the fuck convoluted bullshit are you trying to feed me? Just who the hell do you think you are? What are you? CIA? Because I’ve seen better agents in the movies.”
“And this is why the American government leaves most of the spying to the CIA,” Auggie remarked in Bella’s ear. “He’s such a wet wipe.”
“FBI, actually,” Jasper admitted with a sly smile. “We’re investigating them for a myriad of things that they’ve pulled in America. I’m sure you’ve had an inkling about their activities during your time with them and I want you to work with me. And yes, normally we would be more delicate about these things, but you are an opportunity I can’t pass up on.”
Bella couldn’t help but to laugh, as ironically, he was her best shot as well. “Thanks, but I think I’ll pass right now. I have things at home I need to get back to that are more important to me than the Cullens and the FBI.”
“I could always find you, you know. I’m an actual Federal Agent who could really use your help.”
“You do that,” Bella waved as she started walking away. “Maybe you can call the CIA for help on super spy training because you kinda suck.”
“Oh, this is going to be fun,” Auggie remarked, chuckling. “Get your things and come home, gorgeous.”