It was simply too much. This wasn’t just getting shot at by family, this was everything she believed in that crumbled away from underneath her.
Brother? Not so dead.
Suits? Not so bad and actually truthful.
Believing she could trust the Michaels? Not so much.
Bella had led herself to New Orleans, but Neal kicked the door wide open to the Suits. Everything was one big fucking mess and she didn’t know how to fix all of it. Well, she did, but that’d require giving up everything she’d grown to love since Uncle Garrett planted the good seeds in her brain.
Yeah, this was all Garrett’s fault.
If it hadn’t been for Garrett, she’d still be with her family, safe and dealing with her siblings. It hadn’t been all that bad, apart from the bullying or getting isolated for a few days. If it hadn’t been for Garrett, she wouldn’t have met Neal. She wouldn’t have had to deal with the Suits.
But she also wouldn’t have met Neal.
She wouldn’t have met Neal.
Bella was trying to anchor herself to the love she’d felt for him and how much she felt loved by him, but it wasn’t working. She felt empty. Hollow.
She got herself to this point. This wasn’t anyone’s fault but hers. She’d fallen for the interesting life Garrett lead, leading her to believe that it was a better way of living. Bella could have said ‘no’, and remained with her family. Family was so important, she could see that with the Michaels too, why did she ever leave?
Bella took her phone out of her purse as she ran a hand over her face to wipe away the tears and dialed a number, not caring about hiding her ass.
“Who is this?”
“Bella, why are you calling me? You know the protocol.”
“I want to come home.”
“You know the rules, Bella. You can’t. You left and you’re now in enemy’s hands. You can’t come back without compromising the entire family.”
Of course. That was also likely the reason why her family wanted her dead. She could compromise them. “I didn’t tell anybody. Please.”
“You told the Michaels,” Carlisle replied. “I know you’re in New Orleans, Bella, Cole had a lot to say about you. How his family is going to help you to take down your own blood? For what? For following our own rules?”
She felt the invisible dagger in her heart dig itself in even deeper. Cole was talking to her family? And of course it was wrong to go after her own family because she broke the rules, and she had to abide by them. “I-I’ll tell them to stop.” But Cole telling her family what was going on didn’t make any sense, the Michaels said they didn’t like her family after the last time.
“You know that’s not how it works, Bella. Or… is it Izzy now? Beautiful name.”
She felt as if she was going to be sick. “How?”
“You’re not the only one who can run facial recognition on government servers, we knew exactly when you were back in the States,” Carlisle replied, she could hear the smug smile on his face as she tried to keep her tears at bay.“As it turns out, you’re not as special as you think you are. Or as we thought. Anyone can hack, for the right price.”
Bella knew that. “I am your daughter.”
“And Grant was my son, but he made the mistake of going back for you and got himself killed. Had he still been alive, he would still be with us. He wasn’t weak like you. I taught you better than this, Bella. This begging is unbecoming.”
“What do I do?”
“You just stay put. Emmett is on his way to New Orleans. Either you fix this problem that we’re having on your own, or he will do it for you, do you understand?”
Emmett was going to kill her if she didn’t kill herself first. “Yes, daddy,” her voice was barely a whisper as she disconnected the call.
Her life was over.
At least she didn’t have to worry about loyalties, her not dead brother or Neal anymore. Because her father had been right; she was weak. She always had been and going to Uncle Garrett had only made things worse.
How did she become so weak? She never trusted anyone, not even her family, and she’d only started to trust one person, her uncle, which snowballed through her life and she was more open and willing to seek contact with others. Until she found out that all the others were colluding with her family. All but one.
Neal was untainted. Despite his relationship with the feds, Neal was untainted. She needed to tell him and maybe he could give her some hope again. He’d help her get out of this.
But that would be terribly unfair. Neal didn’t have anything to do with this and it was her fault that they met. No, he needed to stay out of this, because he’d get hurt or worse, and he didn’t deserve that.
But, before Emmett would come for her, she was going to do one good thing. Neal was likely going to spend a few more hours with Peter, and she was going to try to fix things a little. She was unsure if Nick would have gone home after she and Cole left, but she was going to inform him about Cole’s betrayal.
She still couldn’t believe it, but if it was true, Nick needed to know, or at least Myriam needed to know.
Bella used the tunnel to get out of her house and only had to round a corner to get to the Michaels’ home. She was still shaking, likely pale as a sheet, but they needed to know. “Who’s home? Nick? Myriam?” she called out as she walked into the courtyard.
“We’re all home,” Cole replied as he looked over the balcony with a slight confused look on your face. “Bella, I just dropped you off home, what’s wrong?”
“I need to speak with all of you,” she replied. There wasn’t one thing she needed to talk to the Michaels about. It were two things. Cole’s potential betrayal and the fact that they knew her brother and didn’t tell her. “Right now!” she demanded as she sat down on one of the couches. The hell with customs, with niceness. She didn’t have anything to lose.
“Oh, that’s adorable,” Cole cooed as he followed Nick and Myriam off the stairs. “Don’t you think, Nick?”
“Izzy, what’s wrong?” Nick asked, there was a worried look on his face as he sat down opposite of her. “Are you alright?”
“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “But that’s alright. I’ve learned a few things after Cole dropped me off at home and I wish to discuss that with you.”
“At this hour?”
“Yes,” she replied. She didn’t know when Emmett was going to arrive or how. She could have either a day or four hours left, it all depended on how he was going to travel to New Orleans from Las Vegas. “So, when I came home, I checked on my algorithm that I had started a couple of hours ago, looking for anything on Grant Swan or Grant Cullen to prove the Suit wrong.”
She pulled up the PI photos on her tablet. “Someone’s either looking into you or my brother, but the Suit was right.”
“Someone is always looking into us, but that’s not your brother,” Nick said as he looked at the photo. “That’s Henry Taylor, one of our closest friends. He came to live next door when he was about… ten years old after being placed in a foster home. The Taylors adopted him when he was fifteen. He occasionally helps us out with cons, when he’s not too busy, and we’ve asked him to come and help with your case.”
“He’d be great as an inside man, he’s suave, and knows how to get people to do what he wants,” Myriam added. “And, on top of that, he’s just an awesome guy.”
“Don’t lie to me,” Bella almost begged. “That story sounds too good to be true.”
“Henry did have his issues but he turned out alright. Even joined the army at some point. He’s not your brother.”
Bella thumbed back to the photo of Grant’s unit and the Suit’s unit in Afghanistan. “See that? That’s Mingus, he’s now an FBI agent, claiming that he worked with my brother in Afghanistan,” she said as she pointed at Henry. “And his name was Grant Swan. There was a Grant Swan in Afghanistan at the same time this picture was taken. He asked Auggie to find me and look out for me before he went AWOL.”
“Since when do you believe a word the Suit is saying?” Cole asked as he took her tablet and looked at the photos. “Change of heart?”
“All this proves is that Henry once posed as Grant Swan. The Suit could still have made up that story,” Nick pointed out. “But if you’d want confirmation, I’ll ask Henry to come over tomorrow morning, will that suit you?”
She was convinced that their Henry was her brother, there was no way around it, although she’d have to admit that she had suffered from tunnel vision and that their explanation was plausible too. However, if they were right, she couldn’t trust Mingus. And if she was right, then nothing would change, other than she’d have her brother back – a stranger – and he was friends with the Michaels.
Tomorrow was fine. She’d likely die not knowing. “Sure.”
“Was that it?”
“No,” she said curtly. “I received information that Cole is talking to Carlisle Cullen.”
“What!” Cole squeaked.
“Who did you hear that from?” Myriam scratched her head. “Because that claim is ridiculous. We told you, we had a bone to pick with them, why would Cole talk to Carlisle Cullen? On top of that, you asked us to help you, why would we inform our mark?”
“Yeah, it’s stupid, that’s what I thought…” Bella said, unsure what to say about the matter, not wanting to reveal the source because that would even sound more ridiculous to the Michaels.
“She heard it straight from the horse’s mouth,” Nick said as he leaned in closer, his blue eyes studying Bella’s face. “What made you call your father?”
“I don’t know,” Bella muttered.
“I believe you do. Nothing that’s being said here will leave this house, but my guess is that you didn’t want to wait until your boyfriend would come home because you want to leave him out of it.”
“Everything is my fault, and I’m starting to realize that now. It’s not bad luck. Everything that has happened has been set in motion by me,” she eventually said. “Like a domino being pushed over,” she motioned with her hand. “Everything collapses. I figured it’d be best if I’d just returned to my family because family is important and it was nice not to feel so much. And to know what to expect in life.”
“To go back to being a loyal drone.”
Bella nodded as she looked down at her hands as she played with her fingers. “I liked spending time with my uncle and learn his way of life, so much so that I turned my back on my family and left for France. I then met Neal. I got shot because nobody leaves the family and gets away with it, and that was a warning. Neal came with a Suit, his friend,” she added to her story. “Suits are bad, law enforcement took my brother and he died in foster care. I then find out that the hacker Mingus is a Suit too, and his story is that my brother asked him to look after me, but how can that be when my brother is dead? Is he a bad Suit?” She pointed at her tablet. “Did he just give me a name to make up a story? Mingus put me in WITSEC without my consent, claiming to protect me, but my father knows that name. Everything is falling apart. Everything I knew, gone.”
“And you panicked.”
She nodded again. “Despite everything, everything the Cullens did was to keep me safe, even though they didn’t quite love me like a daughter, always treating me as the odd one. And that’s fine, every family has a black sheep and I was the reason Grant got killed, he was always stronger than I am, as a kid. I’m weak. And that’s why I called my father, who reminded me that I broke our rules. I left the family, I’m compromised. They sent the Volturi after me because of this. And now Emmett is coming to New Orleans to do it himself, unless I do it myself.”
“Either he kills me, or I kill myself. After I’m done talking with you, I’m going to message Mingus for a meet and I’ll tell him everything about my family so that the FBI can go after them,” there was no emotion in her voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll still pay you guys.”
Myriam moved over so that she was sitting next to Bella and pulled her into her arms. “You’re going to be alright, Izzy,” she said kindly as she gently rubbed her back. “You’ve hit rock bottom, and that’s a very very scary place, but everything will work out fine. Ronon and Henry will intercept Emmett and they’ll take care of him and you, you’re going to call your boyfriend, have him join you here and you’re going to stay in our guest room for the time being.”
“You wanted us to help you. We’re going to help you,” Myriam insisted. “Neal will understand. Don’t worry Izzy, we’ll take care of you. Keep you safe. Text your boyfriend, tell him to pick up clothes for the both of you, and then I’m going to make you a nice herbal tea that will help you relax and you’ll have a good night’s sleep.”
“I wanted to leave him out of this. He doesn’t deserve my shit. He’s untainted.”
“He’s yours and you’re his,” Myriam let go of Bella and smiled at her. “Neal will understand. Now, text him or I will do it for you.”
“I destroyed my phone after calling Carlisle.”
“Well, we don’t have his number.”
“I’ll go and get him,” Cole offered as he got to his feet. “He’s likely still in the same bar with his Suit friend.”
“Come on,” Myriam said as she helped Bella to her feet. “I’m going to show you the guest room and bring you a nice cup of tea, a family recipe and it works like a charm,” she said kindly, but it was obvious that there was anger bubbling underneath her skin. Another thing Bella was responsible for. “Don’t try and fight me, young lady, it’s time to put away your pride and let others help you.”
“It’s not pride.”
“You’re not alone,” she said as she opened the door to the guest room that was on the ground floor. It was the size of a mini apartment with a sitting area, a bedroom and a shower. “Now, stay here. Neal will be here soon and I’ll be back in a minute to bring you your tea.”
Bella had drifted off in a nice sleep so quickly that she hadn’t even noticed that Neal had joined her, but when she woke up, she felt his arms around her and he’d undressed her somewhat.
“Morning,” Neal said softly as he pulled her closer and put his leg around her legs to keep her in bed. “Feeling better?”
“Sorry is a stupid word. Don’t be sorry,” he let out a snort. “I understand why you’re feeling that way, but Bella, none of this is your fault. I just wished you would have told me.”
“I wanted to keep you out of this, because you could get hurt.”
“I’m more hurt that you weren’t open with me about what was going on in that beautiful head of yours.”
“Bella, stop,” Neal laughed as she turned around in his arms to look at him. “Our chosen career path isn’t without any danger, that’s a fact. Another fact is that you and I are in this together. You’re not alone and you don’t need to protect me,” he lifted her chin with his index finger to make her look at him. “You keep telling Mozzie off for wanting to look out for me, but you’re doing the same thing. Yes, the world is a scary place and you can’t trust anyone, and that’s okay. At least let me in completely and don’t shut me out completely when life gets too scary.”
“Let’s sort this out together. One step at a time. Slow down.”
“But I can’t, Emmett is—”
“Emmett will have to deal with all of us to get to you. The Michaels have taken a liking to you, and they really want to help. They’re good allies to have, and I think that once you let them in, they’ll be great friends too.”
“They’ll keep coming.”
“And that’s why we’re all going to work hard to stop that from happening. Cole told me you wanted to talk to Auggie about your family?”
She nodded as a response. “Quick fix.”
“I think that you should do that. And then you’re going to map out everyone who’s allied themselves with your family and we’ll go after them. One step at a time.”
He kissed her softly. “Now, go take a shower and get dressed, we’re having breakfast with the Michaels.”
Bella felt significantly more like a normal person after her shower and clean clothes and Neal looked like as if he had all the sleep in the world, but she suspected he had barely any. He looked great though, in his jeans and his figure hugging shirt. Compared to him she looked like a sack of potatoes in a flowery dress with her damp hair in a braid over her shoulder.
“You look beautiful,” he smiled at her and softly kissed her. “Are you ready to have some breakfast?”
“Yeah,” she replied with a nod. “I’m still not sure if this is a good idea though…”
“Baby steps,” he gently took her hand and kissed it. “Allow me to take care of you, and tell me everything you’re worrying about so that I can try to make it better for you.”
“I’m not weak,” she said sharply.
“No, you’re not,” that smile of his could melt ice caps, it was so bright. “But right now, you need a little extra help and there’s no shame into admitting that, which you did. So in fact, you’re very strong,” he kissed her again and took her to the courtyard where the table was set up for breakfast. “The Michaels employ staff,” he whispered in her ear. “We could do that.”
“No,” she smiled at him. “I love to cook.”
“As do I, but it was worth a try,” he laughed. “Mornin’!” He greeted Cole, Nick and Myriam. “I don’t know what you gave her last night, Myriam, but she was out like a light.”
Myriam smiled widely. “I know my way around herbs, don’t you worry. Come, sit, I have another tea for you today, Izzy. If all goes well, it’ll calm your mind somewhat.”
“You’re not drugging me, are you?” Bella quipped as she sat down in the chair that Neal had pulled back for her. The table was decked out in all sorts of breakfast options, far too many for just the five of them. A whole orphanage could be fed from the spread, many times over. There were pancakes, waffles, toast, sandwiches already with toppings on them, beignets, cereals, and a lot more.
“Of course not,” Myriam huffed. “This is all natural. Glad to know you’ve slept well. We made an executive decision last night after Neal arrived here, and you’re not going back to your home until the threat against you is gone.”
“And I don’t get a say in that?”
“No,” Neal shook his head. “Safety in numbers, right?”
“You see, we like you. The both of you. So you’re officially adopted into our little family,” Nick took a sip of his coffee. “And we also like to help people. While Cole, and Neal, assured us that your home is well secured, what if your adversaries do have a hacker up to snuff with your talents? They could easily get into your home without setting off any alarms and harm you.”
She was overruled, despite her home being in the name of another alias. If the Cullens wanted to find her, they eventually would, no matter the name on the deed of the house.
“Now, tuck in,” Nick added with a smile on his face. “Neal was also kind enough to pack your laptop, so when you have time, you’re going to map out any associate of the Cullens that you may know of that deserve some trouble when they go down. We’re going to have to have you take your full revenge on their entire system.”
While they were having breakfast, Bella drank Myriam’s herbal tea, and had a waffle and a pancake while listening to the conversation going on. It was nice and relaxing, no worrying or stress and she nearly jumped ten feet in the air when Ronon and Henry walked in laughing, being quite loud about their entrance too.
“Oh, food!” Ronon exclaimed and pulled up a chair, sat down and tucked into the stack of sandwiches before looking at Bella. “Hi! We haven’t officially met, I’m Jason. I’ve been looking out for you two the last few days.” Jason was huge. Built like a giant, he had this real warrior look down pat, long hair, scruff, big muscles. Cuts and bruises on his big hands. He was a scary dude, but she trusted Cole in knowing his friend and that he was harmless.
“Nice to meet you,” Bella replied. “I”m Izzy.”
“Yep, I know that.”
“Hi, Henry Taylor,” Henry introduced himself. He was almost as tall as Jason, slightly taller than Neal or Cole. Brown eyes, his hair all neatly cut, and his beard neatly trimmed. Now that Bella saw him in person, she could see that there was nothing about him that looked like a Cullen. Henry wasn’t her brother. Mingus had lied.
“Izzy Sheppard,” Bella replied, shaking his hand. “Good to meet you.”
“She’s the client,” Jason grinned.
“Ohhhh,” Henry sat down next to Jason and poured himself a coffee before looking at Myriam. “You never let me meet the clients.”
“No, because that’s usually need-to-know. Izzy is under our protection and will remain here with Neal until we’ve dealt with the issue,” Myriam replied. “How did it go?”
“Yeah, great,” Henry nodded as he took a sip of his coffee before reaching for the sugar pot and dunked a lot of sugar in his coffee. “Johnny wasn’t too happy when we called though.”
“What did you need Johnny for?”
Henry sheepishly looked at Jason before looking back at Myriam. “You told us to take care of him, so I did,” he then quickly focused his attention to Bella. “So, for the Cullens to want you dead, you must have pissed them off greatly.”
“You could say that,” she muttered before realizing what Henry had said. “Emmett’s dead?”
“Don’t worry, nobody will ever find him, that’s what we have Johnny for.”
“He’s a fixer. He gets shit that we need and has even more questionable contacts than these people,” Jason nodded. “Great guy. Wasn’t surprised we told him we had a body for him to dispose of.”
“I offered to help,” Henry shrugged. “All I got was a tirade of curse words in a thick Irish accent and a ‘fuck off’. Shame though. Was fun to kill Emmett.”
“There’ll be no further killing,” Myriam said sternly. “Got that? Izzy wants them to pay, but not with their lives because that’s what they’re doing to her.”
“Yes ma’am,” Henry and Jason chorused. “Sorry Izzy.”