As promised, he made his outburst up to her when she came home. He had packed them both of them a bag and was waiting for her to come back so he could whisk her away, jetlagged or not.
They spent the entire weekend at one of the trails, and he had even made sure that they both had Monday off so that they didn’t feel like they had to hurry. It was nice to take the time, ride horses and enjoy the view.
At first, Bella told him that he was insane, that he couldn’t ride a horse. She had loved their fantasizing back in Algeria, but how on Earth would he be able to ride a horse? As it turned out, it was quite simple. Her horse was going to lead his horse, and she only had to make sure to call out for low hanging branches.
The weekend had been awesome, but when they returned to work on Tuesday, a phone call was waiting on the Smithsonian line. With both Annie and Bella – and himself, and many others – using it as a NOC, he wasn’t too concerned by answering it. “Smithsonian, how may I direct your call?”
“Bella Swan, please,” the voice sounded Texan. Fuck. Auggie immediately knew who it was.
“One moment, please,” he replied, putting the man on hold and got up from his desk to go to Bella’s. She was there; his laser cane told him there was a shape on a shape at a shape. “Hey.”
Looking up from her report, Bella pulled the pencil she’d been gnawing on out of her mouth. “Hey, back. It’s…” she looked at her clock. “Not time for lunch yet. What’s up?”
“Jasper Whitlock is on the Smithsonian line. I put him on hold. I could easily make him go away if you don’t want to talk to him.”
She blew out a breath through her cheeks. “He was looking to turn me into an asset back in London. If he only knew just how close he had a pair in his grasp if he used other methods.” Eying her phone, her face pinched in debate on how to proceed. “Ugh. I better take it. You want to listen in?”
“If you want me to. You could also use my office if you want some privacy, I don’t have much going on at the moment anyway.”
Glancing around, she hummed her agreement. Reaching out to brush her hand along his until she stood, she locked her computer. “Probably a good idea. Lead the way, Mr. Anderson.”
He smiled widely as he started towards his office. “I’m so glad that you didn’t have to leave again today.”
“You and me both. For once, I’d rather work come to me, though the way it’s sounding, I may be speaking a little too soon,” she complained as she pushed his door open. “Think he’s trying to turn me again?”
“He might, or maybe he just wants to see if you have some information he could use.”
Smirking, she sat on the edge of the desk. “Or maybe he’s calling to congratulate Jai and me on our engagement. That is if the news got back to the family with Emmett’s big mouth.”
“I hope not,” he said as he closed his door and sat down in his chair. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be when it comes to this family,” she muttered, before reaching over to press the line for her Smithsonian NOC. “Isabella Swan.”
“Good morning, Miss Swan, this is Jasper Whitlock. We met in London?”
“Whitlock…Whitlock… Oh, yes. The puli with the chihuahua on his heels. I remember. How are you, Mr. Whitlock?” Bella responded. “You must forgive me. I forgot to get your girlfriend’s address, otherwise, I would have been sure to send her some treats in the mail.”
“She… well… a package did arrive at their vacation home in Italy…” He sounded dumbfounded. “Anyway, I am in DC, would you like to go for a coffee with me?”
She raised an eyebrow. Keeping her tone light, she drew it out. “I don’t think my boyfriend would like that very much. He really is the jealous sort. Can’t be seen running around town with another man, now can I?”
“Ah yes, Emmett told me you got engaged, congratulations.”
“He was never able to keep a secret to himself,” she sighed irritably. “I imagine it’s not coffee you are after, Whitlock.”
Auggie was gripping the edge of his chair, his knuckles white. He hated this op. He hated it, he hated it with a passion and wanted to set fire to it.
“Well, I believe we got off on the wrong foot in London. I’d like to try again.”
“You’re not getting in my pants, and I’m not giving you any information that you don’t already have. You’re practically engaged to a blabbermouth. Just screw her and be done with it.”
“I’d like to explain to you why I need your help, in full detail, and I promise you, at the end of the talk, you’ll be more than willing to throw me a bone.”
“I have a few boxes of Milk Bone here I’ve been meaning to donate to the shelter. How about I just package it up and give you to take home to your girlfriend, and I never see either of you again?” she suggested. “I like my idea better already.”
“You could bring along your fiancé.”
Even though the relationship was fake, it only pissed her off on principle. “And you want to get him tangled up in that mess? What game are you playing? I don’t know how you people at the FBI operate, but if there is anything I learn from books, television, or even history, you are so far off book it’s pathetic. Somehow I don’t think your superiors would be pleased with your behavior if they knew the way you been going after me.”
“You were an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on. Nor could it wait. But, now that I’m stateside, I want to tell you what’s going on and sincerely apologize for London,” he then slightly chuckled. “What can I say? I’m desperate.”
Bella looked to Auggie and reached over to tap his hand. “Look. You called me at work, and I’ve entertained you long enough. How about I get back to you if I decide to hear you out. I have work I need to finish and plans.”
“I could drop by for lunch?”
“Good luck with that. If you can find anyone willing to tell you anything about me, I’ll buy you a pint. Fair deal?”
Auggie smiled and shook his head. She was going to have to have that pint with Jasper, and she didn’t even know it.
“Game on. Talk to you soon.” Jasper then disconnected.
Auggie turned to Bella and pulled her off the desk, closer to him. “Now, tell me, how could you be so stupid?” He asked playfully.
“What do you mean? I made friends there that know if anyone besides my father comes looking for me, that I am never there. Stalker history, and what not,” she explained, confused.
“Yes, and today Annie’s working at the Smithsonian to show her face, re-establish her position.”
Realization dawned on her face and slapped herself on the forehead. “He was too confident. Fuck. You and Jai are so coming with me to the Tavern for this shit. I’m so not doing this alone.”
“We’re not going to the Tavern for this! He could show up unannounced when we’re having fun. No way. We’ll have to find a place near the Smithsonian.”
She moved to punch him in the shoulder hard. “Asshole,” she grunted and turned to pace the length of his office. “You could have tried warning me. Ugh… There’s a bar about a mile down the road that a lot of staff there hit for lunch. We can use that.”
Sure enough, the Smithsonian line went off again. “Miss Walker! How can I help you?”
“I’ll add her to my list of people to stab in the eye,” Bella announced loudly.
“What did I do?”
“Nothing, what can I do for you?”
“There’s this FBI agent looking for Bella. I think she should come down and have lunch with him, so he doesn’t get the wrong idea.”
“That’s not nothing, Auggie,” Bella piped up. “I thought she was trained to keep secrets. Not blab to the enemy.”
“He said to meet him at Lento’s, it’s a bar near the Smithsonian,” Annie said, unfazed by the threats. “And sure, I could have been all evasive about you, but he recognized me from London. So there wasn’t a lot that I could do.”
She returned to the phone and leaned over the desk. “Simple. Tell him you will pass the message along and walk away. He’s involved with my op.”
“All the more reason to go, you deserve closure on this.”
“No offense Walker, but you don’t have room to be talking to me about closure, and you don’t know anything about my assignment…”
“Ladies,” Auggie said calmly. “We’re going to have lunch. Well, Jai, Bella and I are. Nothing else we can do about it. It’ll be fine.”
“Why can’t I go?”
“Because you’re not read in, bye Annie,” Auggie said quickly before disconnecting the call. “You’re just making friends all over the place, aren’t you, Bella?”
“Auggie?” Bella started, her fingers dancing along his demurely while leaning down to whisper in his ear. “If you expect to get laid anytime in the near future, I suggest you stop while you’re ahead.”
“I’m just teasing you,” he smiled at her and gently pat her hand. “Let’s find Jai and make our way down there.”
Bella was not at all pleased when she walked into the restaurant with Auggie and Jai. What made it worse was that she had to pretend to be with another man while the one she was in an actual relationship with had to sit and listen without interfering.
He didn’t like this, not one bit. Especially if Jasper would want Jai to sit with her, leaving him alone at the bar, seething. Yes, he knew that it was part of the op and whatnot and that they were all just playing their parts, but it didn’t mean he had to like it. He found an empty chair at the bar and sat down on it.
Bella paused as she looked around the dining room. “Jai? Why don’t you stay with Auggie for now. I want to see just how much he’s going to tell me first, but you both are more than welcome to join in whenever you like. I don’t give a rat’s ass about his case. It was ours first.”
“Exactly. If anything, we can have him removed from the case. But let’s try to keep your cover intact, huh?” he smiled at her. “I’ll keep an eye on you.”
“Yeah, because mine don’t work,” Auggie snarked from his seat at the bar.
“I’ll make up for that later,” she assured him with a smile before she turned to head for the table that Jasper Whitlock was seated at. Frowning her displeasure about being there as she looked upon him, she rounded the table to sit against the wall. “So you got me here.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Jasper smiled at her as he sat down after having gotten up for her to sit down like a real gentleman. “I see you brought some CIA back up. Are you CIA?” He responded as he nodded to Jai. “And if I’m not mistaken that’s Captain Anderson. I always wondered where he’d gone off to.”
Not breaking her composure, she had to give Jasper some kudos for being so observant. “Auggie was indeed a Captain, but he’s our IT guy at the Smithsonian. We’re great friends. As for Jai… he runs an import and export business. No idea where you got the CIA idea from. That job sounds far too exciting for him. And I should know, I’m engaged to him.”
“Are you sure?”
Bella lifted her hand and looked at the ring they pulled out for her cover. She hated it but wiggled her fingers with a smile. “Fairly certain that’s what that means when one says yes after having a diamond put on her finger.”
“Nice,” Jasper nodded. “Impressive.”
“He really is a bad FBI agent,” Jai muttered to Auggie. “Trying to out me in public like this?”
“Relax, you’re in capable hands,” Auggie replied as he sipped on his coffee.
She smiled as she set her chin in her hands, her large, extravagant ring on display for him. “That’s what I said too. But that’s not what you called me here for, or harassed my colleagues to get information to get me here. I believe I made my opinion about that family clear in London.”
“London was particularly messy, and you have. Now allow me to tell you that I wholeheartedly agree with you. They’re the most conniving, self-absorbed family that I’ve ever met and the most paranoid at that,” he said with a pout. “And I drew the short straw in the office seeing as my superior thought I’d be able to do a fast in and out, but it’s been months and I still don’t know anything.”
Bella continued to smile at him knowingly. “And you’re linked up with the biggest mouth of them, but because of your ties, you can’t cross the line. Is it true? The FBI can’t sleep with its sources for information?”
“Some lines shouldn’t be crossed, ma’am,” he laughed, shaking his head. “They’re there for our protection.”
“And here I thought you were Texan. Go big or go home. Maybe you should pack it in. You’re in over your head.”
“I figured I was; that’s why I want you to be my source of information,” he winked at her. “You’ve gotten close. You know how they work, how they operate.”
The smile on her face dropped. “I was a teenager that simply saw too much and as an adult, have no wish to revisit. You have some balls coming and stirring up memories that deserve to stay buried in the past. Your problem is not mine.”
“I can make it worth your while. All I want is some information that could bring them down for good and they won’t ever harass you again.”
She sat back and eyed him. “What’s in it for me? How do I know you aren’t a lying sack of shit like every other one of that family?”
He looked at her for a moment and shrugged. “You don’t, but I guess you’ll just have to trust me that I have nothing but the purest intentions and that I will make sure you are protected.”
“Trust you? I don’t know you. You can’t protect me. I doubt you can protect a goldfish the way you keep chasing after me for a breadcrumb. Here’s a gift for you. They all hate each other. Right down to the cousins. Do with it what you will, but that family is toxic, and anyone that gets involved gets poisoned.”
Jasper was quiet as he looked at the bar, seeing that familiar face next to Anderson’s, and now the blonde, Annie, had walked in, and he shook his head. “I don’t want to burst your bubble, Peaches, but it seems like you’re already getting played.”
“It’s a matter of perspective,” she smiled as she blinked at him.
“Your coworker, blondie? She’s definitely CIA. The way she’s sitting there, all alert, watching us… at least your fiancé tries hard not to look that intense.”
“You’ve practically demanded his fiancé to meet with you, through a third party. Forcing said girlfriend to come to a meeting about her ex-boyfriend and his family, which I would classify under duress, and insistent on getting information from me when I clearly don’t want to go back to my past. He has just reason to look intense of a proposed threat to his fiancé. Are you sure you’re an FBI agent? Because you’re rather paranoid. Perhaps you’re the CIA agent.”
He smiled at that. “Well played,” he got to his feet and nodded. “Very well, I will take this as a loss. Please be safe. They’re all heading to Forks in a couple of weeks, Alice and I were sent ahead to make the house ready.”
Her face froze at his words and she fought hard not to look over to her friends, to Auggie. “Forks? They are going to Forks?” she repeated, glancing away as she thought about her father now that they knew she was around and Cullens sniffing out her name.
“Get over to her,” Auggie quietly coaxed Jai. “She sounds upset.”
“Already on it,” he said as he got off the chair and walked to Bella. “Babe, are you okay?”
“I want to go home,” she murmured as she brushed past him, leaving him and her purse behind to get outside for air as quickly as possible. Leaning against the side of the building, she lowered her head between her legs as she attempted to gather her bearings.
Auggie quietly slipped off his chair and went outside after hearing her storm out. He simply had to follow the sound of her heavy breathing to find her and reached out to her.
“Listen, pal,” Jai said as he gathered Bella’s things. “I don’t want you to contact Bella again; you hear me? She’s been through enough shit with them than you can ever imagine and now I have to deal with mending what you’ve broken.”
“Drop the bullshit, Jai. I know you’re working her as a CIA asset,” Jasper rolled his eyes at him.
“Bella is not an asset,” he warned him, stepping into his face. “She never was and never will be. For anyone. You hear me? If you come looking at her as one again, then we will have a problem. Everything here is personal, but I have no problem making it work and going above your head.”
“Why is the CIA protecting her?”
Jai’s face scrunched up like he was smelling something sour. “How about because of scumbags like you? She was doing just fine until London. Living her life freely and happily. Don’t go ruining it for her.”
“I’m not. I’ll back off. I guess I’ll just have to lower my standards like you CIA folk do all the time when it comes to infiltrating a group.”
He scowled at him. “You mean like doing the actual legwork? Getting someone to trust you when they shouldn’t? You seemed to fail epically in that department with Bella. If she ever decided to give you the time of day now, it won’t be for a long while. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to check on my girl and see what kind of damage control I will need to plan to get her out of her head with what you provoked.”
“My apologies, man,” he said as he left money on the table for the waitress and made his way out of the bar, going in the opposite direction as he had seen Bella walk in to.
“Wait, what? You and Bella are engaged?” Annie made her way over to Jai after the FBI agent stomped out of the bar. “Isn’t it more natural to have Auggie and Bella to be engaged?”
Auggie was gently rubbing Bella’s back, waiting for Jai to rejoin them, not sure if it was safe to be the boyfriend that Bella needed him to be at this moment. He knew one thing for sure, though; he was going to have dad pull some strings and the man fired from his job. What an idiot. He obviously had no clue what was going on in that family and how much they had actually hurt Bella.
The CIA did a lot of nasty shit – he had done some nasty shit himself – but treating a prospective asset like Whitlock had treated his Bella? That was just wrong. “I’ll have Jai drop us off at home, okay?”
She looked up at him, tired and weary. “No. We have to go back to the office. He did give us information that we need.”
“Yes, and that information can wait. You’re in no shape, Bella, I can hear it.”
“Auggie – they’re going back to Forks,” she whispered. “We have to figure out a plan on how to deal with that because my father is still there. Jai can’t go back with me because he obviously knows Jai’s CIA.”
“I know,” he kissed the top of her head. “But you need to be clear headed and well rested before you make any plans.” Auggie was then quiet for a moment. “Or, let’s do things both ways. You rest, and you make plans. At home. We’ll have Jai in, and you’ll be safe and comfortable. If we go back to the office now, Joan will take one look at you and send you home anyway and then you’d have to drive.”
She knew he was right. Joan would send her out the second she reported in and sighed. “Fine,” she agreed reluctantly and pulled the ring off her finger. “At least, I don’t have to wear the ring anymore today. So not in my taste anyway. Be happy you can’t see it. You’d vomit.”
He held up his hand smiling. “Let me see.”
Putting it in his, she smirked. “Too extravagant, don’t you think?”
He pressed it in his hand with his fingers before going over the shape with his fingertips. “This is more like a ball and chain, wow. So not you,” he said as he put the ring in his pocket. “And vanished it is.”
Bella leaned in to give him a kiss. “Let the others know I’m going to walk. I’ll catch them later. See you at home.”
“I’d better see you at home, or I will find you,” he said playfully. “And throw you over my shoulder like a neanderthal and take you back myself.”
“I look forward to it,” she promised. “Be careful. He may have left, but I don’t doubt he would stay away long.”
“Pff,” he huffed. “You be careful.”
“I got you on my six,” Bella pointed out. “But I’ll make sure to keep an extra eye out.”
“I still can’t believe you just let her walk,” Jai said as he followed Auggie into the apartment he shared with Bella. “Not after what she’s been through.”
“Exactly why I let her walk home. She needed to clear her head, get some frustrations out,” he replied as he walked into the kitchen and started his coffee machine. “Call Joan and tell her that we’re working from home for the afternoon. If she asks why, tell her.”
“You should have seen Annie’s face when we told her to go back to the Smithsonian, and she wasn’t happy.”
“It’s not our call to read her in,” he said as he reached for the coffee grinds. “I don’t hear you calling.”
It had taken Bella time, between walking initially and switching buses, but she eventually made it home. Pushing the door open, she made her way inside, her head down, her eyes lowered in her exhaustion as she held her phone to her ear.
“Yes, Dad. I know. I’m not happy about it either, but I just wanted to make sure that you’re safe and that you keep an eye out around you. I hope to get some time off to come out and see you soon. I promise,” she said into the phone with a weak smile. “…of course. I love you too. And no, I won’t be calling Renee so don’t even try. Goodbye, Dad.”
Jai waited for her to get off the phone and pointed at the couch. “Sit down and put your feet up. I’ll get you something alcoholic.”
“What I need, Jai, is someone to blow up the Cullen family and get them the fuck out of our lives for good. What’s going on with Forks? Is there a plan on how we are going to handle that yet? My dad hasn’t seen any of them around town so far.” Bella replied, rolling her eyes as she walked past him to Auggie and wrapped her arms around him from behind to lay her head on his back.
“Well, I’ve been trying to find chatter about the information that Jasper had parted with, that they were heading back to Forks in a few weeks, and so far, it seems to pan out. Alice Cullen is back in Forks, and she’s hired a cleaning crew for the house,” Auggie said as he put his earphones away and turned around in her wrap to hold her tightly. “It doesn’t seem like they’ll be there for another week or two as Esme Cullen is supposed to have surgery in a couple of days in Rome.”
She hummed her pleasure at his touch. “So she continues to be the quintessential Stepford wife for Carlisle. What is she having done now?” Pushing herself up to kiss him, she stayed in his arms for a few moments before pulling away to make herself a strong cup of coffee from her machine. Adding in a shot of Irish Creme, she sat at the counter and looked at the two men. “Plans?”
“We were actually waiting for you. I have an idea, but I’m not sure you’re going to like it,” Jai said as he looked at her. “There is no way that Auggie and I are letting you go by yourself. I can’t go because your dad already suspects I’m CIA and Auggie can’t go because he can do more here than there.”
Auggie rolled his eyes and sighed. “What Jai is trying to say is that maybe we should get permission to read in Annie.”
Bella looked to her coffee then back up before taking a long sip as she leveled her gaze on her friend. Swallowing the hot, alcoholic drink, she let out a sigh and grit her teeth. “How necessary do you think that is? You know that she and I aren’t exactly braiding each other’s hair here. Why do you want her included now?”
“Because I doubt Joan is willing to part with Arthur for an extensive period while you’re in Forks, and who else is there?” Jai replied with a shrug. “Eyal? Ben?”
“I’d rather shoot myself in the foot, thanks. So what if my father makes you for the Agency, Jai? He knows enough that I’m here, but he doesn’t say anything. He’s not stupid, and he goes to the Smithsonian when in town to find me instead of coming to Langley. He knows the importance of my cover. He does know about Arthur they’re brothers. The only thing that you might have to fear is the stupid story you started about us being engaged. That one is going to be hard to smooth over with him when he gets wind of that,” she said as she sat there, letting it all sink in. “Talk to Arthur and Joan if you think it’s best for Blondie to join the op, but I make no promises of her coming out of those woods unscathed.”
“The thing is, though, if I’m with you, I can’t exactly go and explore other avenues that come with the op. We could give Annie enough information but not everything.”
“May as well let her know everything when it comes to the Cullen end. She doesn’t need to know about Italy since that’s the end game for the CIA, but Whitlock is working on a case for our sister agency through the Cullens. He has no jurisdiction when it comes to the Volturi cousins, so as long as he doesn’t interfere with us getting our intel, we can proceed to find out who’s backing them.”
“I’ve already put in a request for that,” he smiled at her. “But you and Annie won’t be alone in Forks. I’ll be there; I’ll just make sure to stay out of your way unless I need to do something or Auggie comes with something that you can’t take care of because you’re busy with your dad.”
Bella raised an eyebrow at Jai. “If Emmett, Rosalie, or Whitlock spot you, they’ll question why you aren’t with me for being my fiance. If you aren’t there, then don’t come. At that point, send Mercer or someone else. He, at least, knows how to stay hidden,” Bella snorted.
“Ouch,” Jai laughed.
“Well deserved,” Auggie muttered as he walked into the kitchen to get himself a beer. He knew that it was better for him to stay back so that he had every resource of the CIA at his fingertips, fast computers, and his toys, it worked better from his desk instead of his laptop. But he still didn’t like Bella going for Forks.
“Contact Ben. He owes me. He’ll do this without questions asked or details why,” she sighed.
“I can’t. Arthur has him on some secret project, and he’s the only one who can reach him,” Jai replied.
Bella pulled her phone over and tapped the screen to wake it. “Hey, Siri. Call Daddy,” she said, with a smirk as she waited for it to connect.
“Hey Bella, are you alright? Jai called in to say you were working from home the afternoon, what happened?”
“We got some information that my fucked up ex-boyfriend’s family is making their way back to Forks soon,” she informed him.
“… How reliable is this information?”
She drew in a breath and let it out. “I’d say, very reliable. If I didn’t have such a headache, I’d offer you an excellent FBI movie reference. All I can come up with is Tommy Lee Jones in US Marshals and it’s not even close to the situation.”
“That’s fine, honey,” he said with a chuckle. “What do you need from me?”
“You know I love you, right?”
“I’m not going to like this, am I?”
Leaning on the countertop, as she spoke directly to the phone, she smiled slightly. “I will probably need to bring Annie with me back home for a time, and I want to take Ben Mercer as a shadow while we are there.”
It was quiet on the other end of the conversation for a long time until Arthur sighed. “Ben is out on a job right now, and I’m reluctant about pulling him off of it.”
“I don’t need him for like another two, maybe three weeks. There is a Hoover in the ranks that is familiar with Jai and Charlie knows too much about his family. Auggie is needed on tech, and we’ll likely be out in the woods frequently. Anyone else that you can suggest that won’t ask questions?”
“I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, I shall tell your mom about Annie, and you can tell her all about your plans. Do take some rest too, sweetheart.”
“Will do, thanks, Daddy,” she smirked as she disconnected the call. “Done. Now one of you can call Annie and invite her over. We’re not going to wait until tomorrow. And maybe order some food. Yeah. Mexican sounds great.”
“Sure thing,” Auggie said as he took a sip of his beer. “Anything else you want?”