Chapter 18

Bella hated living like this. The whole not being able to go anywhere because your family wanted you dead thing was terribly annoying and inconvenient. However, she powered through and made the best of things. It involved a lot of baking when she wasn’t on her computer or doing something with Neal. She took solace in the fact that she was in her own home.

Cole, however, had challenged her to set up a thorough phishing expedition for one of the companies of one of the names on the list that she’d given the family to go after. The best way hacking into a company was always the customer service. She carefully crafted an email with a document and an attachment that they’d have to activate through macros in Powershell.

Bella had set up a Linux server where all the information would come to and where she and Cole had access to. Her trojan had been tested and none of the malware softwares she’d tested it with had picked it up. This is what she loved doing, carefully crafted, well-behaving, seemingly innocent trojan horses and find all the good stuff.

It was also a way to see how far she would be able to infiltrate the system, hopefully to the top and their IT department so she could get additional information about the company’s security system and make something for Cole that would allow him to guide the rest of the crew safely through the building.

Bella knew that he was only trying to keep her busy and occupied. This was easy shit that he could easily have done himself, but she appreciated the gesture.

She also tested the company’s firewall to see if she could breach on her own, but she definitely needed that trojan to do the work for her. Now, if only someone would be as stupid to open the email she’d sent.

Mingus: 5h1tf4c3, I know you‘ve retired this handle but you’re here?

5h1tf4c3: Yes.

Mingus: Can you ask your puppy to call his friend in the suit?

5h1tf4c3: Yeah, sure, why?

Mingus: You‘ll hear it soon enough. You’ll hear me soon enough.

5h1tf4c3: I‘m not liking this.

Mingus: Yeah, me neither. Get your man to call. My friend is respecting your no-phone rule.

Bella let out a grunt as she started up her phone software. “Neal!” She called out to him. “Can you come here for a sec?” She didn’t have to wait long for him to come into the room and she peeked through the steel bars of the railing, her eyes on him as he came into the little loft where her computers were. Neal was only wearing sweatpants and his well-sculpted torso was covered in tiny splatters of paint. “Whatcha making?”

“That painting you want,” Neal softly kissed her before grabbing the spare chair and sat down next to her. “What do you need me for? You okay?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed as she took his hand. “Mingus asked me to have you call Peter. He didn’t want to tell me why, but yeah.”

“You’re concerned.”

She nodded. “What if he’s going to tell us that the Cullens have made bail? Or escaped? Or you know… Worse things.”

“Well, we won’t know until we call,” he smiled at her. He understood her apprehension. Bella had mellowed out in the last few days after they had dealt with Sara, and while she was still anxious and frustrated, she’d been settling down, getting comfortable. Neal didn’t like being in one place, either, but he made himself busy with art, if he weren’t doing fun things with Bella.

Neal would rather be outside and enjoy New Orleans, with Bella, but until she was safe, it was going to have to wait. The whole situation with Sara possibly stirred up more shit, more danger, to everyone. It was just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Maybe all of this is over,” he mused.

Bella rolled her eyes at him before double checking the firewalls and proxies before hitting the keyboard to dial Peter’s number.

Burke.”

“Hey Peter, it’s me.”

Hold on,” Peter’s voice sounded before movement could be heard. “Hey, we’re both here, it’s safe to talk.”

Yeah,” Auggie’s voice sounded. “It’s always fun to use toys to blanket the area.”

“What’s up?”

Is Izzy with you, Neal?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

Okay, good. There’s no easy way to say this so I’m just going to,” Peter sighed, his voice sounding tired all of a sudden. “A couple of days ago the NYPD did a welfare check on an apartment on behalf of a company as they hadn’t heard from their star employee for a few weeks after returning from a job she had in New Orleans.”

“Sara?”

Yeah, she was re-offered the job in London but she never showed up there nor got on the flight, so they checked her home. They uh… found her, Neal. I’m so sorry, but she’s dead.”

The look on Neal’s face was heart breaking. Bella gently squeezed his hand for reassurance. “I never meant for her… Oh my god, what happened, Peter?”

No need to go into details, Neal. It’s bad enough as it is. Auggie picked it up and we took the case out of NYPD’s hands,” Burke responded.“We also know who killed her. It was quite easy.”

Yeah, too easy,” Auggie added. “The fingerprints were way too clean and the hair samples were almost degraded. Old. As if they came from a brush someone left behind. Not to mention, if this person would have killed Miss Ellis, they would have found a better way, a smoother way instead of this messy.”

We know who it’s not and by knowing that, we can sort of make an estimated guess.”

“You two have been hanging around each other far too long,” Bella said as she kept her eyes on Neal, who was still processing. “It’s a simple answer. Who did it?”

If we had left this in NYPD’s hands, Izzy Sheppard aka Bella Cullen even though we all know she hasn’t left New Orleans.”

“What?!”

Sorry, but your Izzy persona is compromised, you need a new name. Your name was all over the place, looks like Sara was trying to destroy everything she still had to destroy to protect you and the Volturi will have that name now. You didn’t buy your house under that name, did you?”

“No, suit, I did not,” Bella shot at Peter. “But I have been using my credit card to buy shit in town so I guess they’ll know soon enough that I’m here. And depending on what kind of evidence Sara has, they might already be here.”

This has gone on long enough,” Auggie said impatiently. “You’re getting FBI babysitters outside your home. What’s your address?”

“Fuck off, Mingus,” Bella scowled. “Unless you want more people killed.”

Well, it would be easier, you know, red shirts,” Auggie quipped. “Look, we’ve been taking care of the Cullens and some of the Volturi across the entire world, and they’re thinning out, but… this death wish of yours…”

“It’s not a fucking death wish anymore, Mingus, Sara died. How many more should die because of me? Keep those suits far away from me and keep doing what you do, we’ll do our thing and we’ll stay safe.”

Neal?”

“Uh, yeah,” Neal snapped back to reality and ran a hand through his hair, but Bella knew that he was still trying to process what happened to Sara. Collateral damage. “She’s right, Peter, It’s not ideal, but there’s no hiding from these guys. Even with FBI protection. We know the risks, if you do want to spend extra manpower on protecting people, make sure you and Moz are safe. And Elizabeth and the baby.”

Will you be okay?”

“Yes, Peter. Thank you for telling us,” he took hold of the mouse and disconnected the call and let out a deep breath. “I could really use a hug right now.”

Bella crawled into his lap and put her arms around him. “I am so sorry, Neal.”

“No, I am. If it weren’t for me… and her…”

“Hey, it’s okay,” she ran one of her hands through his hair, not moving from her spot. “We all have baggage and mine is particularly nasty. I’m sorry.”

“I’ll be fine,” Neal assured her. “Just hold me for a bit longer.”

“I’ll hold you for as long as you want,” she smiled. “I’m quite comfortable in your lap.”

~o.O.o~

Bella realized that the company that the Michaels were going after next were one of the businesses connected to the Blacks. The CEO was Sam Uley and Bella had met him a few times, he was short tempered but highly motivated, climbed the ladder quite quickly and of course, being friends with the Blacks was always a good thing.

The company was La Push Medical, manufacturing pharmaceuticals and specializing in developing new drugs to help patients recover from trauma and also developing new medical tech to help soldiers in the field as well. She wasn’t sure how, but it wasn’t her area of expertise. Some of the files she found made it all look like a fairytale, as if it wasn’t going to work, but the government seemed to be on board.

It simply looked too good to be true. But, from what she could tell, all documents were legal.

Cole was across from her on his own laptop as they were sitting in her courtyard. He needed a few hours away from his family, she gladly provided the space. It wasn’t as if it was just her and Neal in her home now. Lucy and Nathan were still around, too. “Now the fun part starts,” Cole grinned as he cracked his fingers.

Bella hummed. “You’re going to create false documents?”

“Of course. Plant them on the server, and you know, call it in,” he said carelessly. “This is one of the easiest jobs we’ve planned out. However, we also need to be able to get into the building to plant hard copies and other fun and embarrassing evidence, so could you check their security?”

“Are you kidding?” she grinned. “I love sifting through terabytes of data!” She happily took a sip of her drink and started the search. “So what else are you guys working on?”

“Well,” Cole started. “Duke, Dwight and Jordan are in Canada. Nick and Myriam are out with Henry in Portland. John and Ann are scoping out another place and maybe cause some trouble and you and I are working on this,” he added. “Was actually wondering if you’d allow Neal to do something too, with Ronon and Myka.”

“Myka Morgan?”

“You know her?”

“No, but Neal knows her,” Bella replied with a shrug. “She was on our list for assembling a crew.” It’d do Neal good to work on something again. Outside. With his other skills. She knew that he was missing it and he’d be safe with Jason. And he needed another distraction to help him deal with Sara’s death. Plus, a change of scenery would do him some good. “He doesn’t need my permission,” she let out a snort, shaking her head. “I think you should go and ask him.”

“Ask me what?” Neal asked as he walked in and laughed at the sight before him. Bella and Cole had utilized every inch of the table with their laptops, USB drives, notepads and their drinks. The soda bottle was living dangerously on the edge of the table and so was the now empty plate that had held Bella’s cookies.

“What?” Bella asked sheepishly. “What’s so funny?”

“You two are such nerds, can’t leave you alone for a moment, can we?” He put the plate on another chair and found an empty spot on the table. “You having fun?”

“Yes,” Bella nodded. “Cole wants to ask you something.”

“Oh?” Neal sat down next to Bella and looked at their friend. He liked it that Bella had someone to be this geeky with. Doing their computer stuff together, someone who understood what she was doing, because his own knowledge of computers was basic. Pedestrian. And while Bella had likened coding to art, he hardly saw the beauty in all the letters and numbers on the screen.

“Seeing as things have happened recently… we want to hit several people at the same time and I was wondering if you’d like to join Ronon and Myka Morgan in Texas on a little job.”

Neal’s face broke out in one of his famous sparkling smiles. His eyes sparkling. “Will it be safe though?”

“It’s her they’re after, not you. Besides, you’ll be perfectly safe with Ronon if you’re scared,” Cole dared him with a playful smile on his face.

“Go on, it’ll be fun,” Bella smiled at him encouragingly. “A change of scenery. Bring back some artisan hot sauce.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “Lucy and Nathan are here, and so is Cole, I won’t be alone. Like I said, it’ll be fun. Get out, have fun, do what you love most.”

“I love doing you the most,” he winked at her.

“Neal,” she laughed.

“Alright,” he softly kissed her. “I’m in. When do I get to leave, Cole?”

“Myka’s coming over tonight to gather some stuff and then she and Ronon leave in the morning after breakfast,” Cole replied as he was typing away on his laptop, only briefly looking up to see Neal’s surprised look on his face. “What? We work fast. We started planning the moment after… they got to your friend. We wanted to hit a few people at the same time.”

“Sounds like a plan, I’m in.”

~o.O.o~

Myka was a force of nature, alright, and like Neal had said, she was drop-dead gorgeous. Flirting her ass off with Bella. Jason assured Bella many times that Neal would be safe while they were in Texas and right after breakfast, they left.

It was just her, Cole, Lucy and Nathan left at the Michaels’ house, and their servants, of course but they remained at a distance, doing their jobs.

“Any luck on the security?”

“Of course,” she smiled at Cole. “However, I’m not touching it.”

“Why not?”

She let out a breath and showed Cole what she had found on the servers. “It’s on its own network, which isn’t surprising. What is, is that it’s the prototype of the system that another company is working on right now. If I’d infiltrate that, it’d start adjusting to my exploits to take over to dismantle the cameras or have things not work and alert the human security about it. They wouldn’t be able to trace me, or you, but the system learns and blocks. It sees the building as one big computer and any intrusion as a real virus. So even if a human would break in, it’d do it’s best to keep them out or locking them up.”

“Well shit.”

“I know you don’t want me along on this, so I can code you something to help you out.”

“Who says I don’t?” Cole smiled at her. “I’d like you to be on the job but I know that you can’t. You need to stay here where it’s safe. But if you can access the security system from here, you can be on this job, just remotely, we’ll do all the legwork.”

“Oh, yeah,” Bella smiled widely at him. “I’d like that.”

“Do you think we’re good to go?”

“You’re leaving too?”

“Yeah, the company is in Mobile, it’s not that far away. Only two hours. I’ll be back for dinner, because I have you backing me up.”

“But…”

“Lucy’s staying behind. I’m taking Nathan. You’ll be fine. You’ll be safe. There are more measures in place than we let on,” he winked at her. “Don’t worry, I trust you in getting me in and out safe.”

“I uh… need two more hours to make sure everything is correct. Set things up and—”

“Alright, I’ll still be home in time for dinner,” Cole winked at her and handed her a waffle. “Go home, make us look good.”

“Two hours,” Bella took a bite off of her waffle and got to her feet as she looked at the empty chair where Neal had been sitting on. Safe Neal. Loving Neal. Her Neal. Perfectly sculpted Neal. Ugh, she needed to cut down on the calories. She placed the waffle back on the plate and smiled at him. “Thanks for breakfast, drive safely, okay?”

Her home felt strange without Neal in it, and it was stupid because it had only been less than an hour. She grabbed herself something to drink from the fridge and disappeared into her den, making sure that Cole wouldn’t have a harder time than he would have in Mobile. Neal was going to be gone for a couple of days, and that sucked.

But, a few days away from each other would be a good thing, too. Ever since Paris they’d only been apart for a couple of hours a few times. She wasn’t clingy. He wasn’t clingy. This was going to be healthy for them. But it wouldn’t stop her from worrying.

Neal knew what he was doing.

Neal was in safe hands with others.

Neal was going to be fine.

And so was Cole. Seeing as she was going to be responsible for his safety, she needed to be sure that all of her stuff was up to snuff. And it was, she just wanted to make sure before she’d send over everything to Cole.

She was going to plant the files onto the server and cloud once Cole was in the building, and then guide him to the file room, hoping that the building’s blueprints would be the same still. Because outdated blueprints would be the absolute worst.

Bella hadn’t felt this nervous for a very long time. Keeping herself safe during a job was one thing. Another one had been keeping her family safe during her job. But now someone she hadn’t worked with before? Yeah, this was terrible. This was a terrible idea.

If she fucked up, she’d have Cole’s brother breathing down her neck and likely everybody else too, she’d fuck up and Cole would get arrested or worse.

This was a bad, bad, bad idea.

She let out a deep breath and rolled her shoulders and neck before going over her code again. She had two hours. More, if Cole got stuck in traffic. Oh, that would be on her too, wouldn’t it?

Bella hacked Cole’s phone and watched where he was going before tracking him on the road, and the traffic around him. Her mind was all over the place. Focused, sometimes a little unfocused but mainly hyper aware.

“Darling, I haven’t even left New Orleans and you’re already spying on me?” Bella could hear Cole’s voice coming through her computer. “Hacking my phone? Such a lousy one way street.”

She huffed as she turned on the text to speech on his phone and texted him.

“I’m flattered, but I know my way to Mobile,” Cole replied. “No need to track me and track the traffic around me. Everything’s going to be alright and I’ll arrive safely in Mobile for our job.”

She didn’t respond to that and continued to look over the code.

“I trust you. Don’t be nervous, okay? It’s an in and out job despite the tricky security system. Take a breath, take a long relaxing bath and I’ll call you when I’m in Mobile and at the company. And damnit, stop tracking me, mom!”

“Yeah, mom!” Nathan echoed in the car.

~o.O.o~

She was Bella fucking Cullen. She was 5h1tf4ce. She had this.

We’re here,” Cole said after Bella picked up the phone.“We have you both on our earpieces, now, what did you arrange for us?”

“You’re Cole Reese and Nathan Shaw, representatives of a foundation that aids the less fortunate and want to see if you can get a sponsorship from La Push Medical,” Bella replied as she put her phone on speaker. “I sent both of you an email with more information. That’s your in. Somewhere during the conversation you’ll have with Daphne Vanderlaan, Cole will excuse himself and will head to the file room.”

What about the security?”

“If all goes well, security should be a breeze,” Bella replied as she typed on her keyboard. “I don’t actually have access to the cameras without alerting the security system, I could try to spoof one of the computers that do have normal access to it but it’s going to be tricky.”

That’s okay, we’re big boys.”

“I’ll be here when you need me.”

Yes, mom,” Cole and Nathan echoed, laughing. “We’re keeping an open line so you can listen in.”

“Thank you boys,” Bella kept listening in and stayed with Cole after he excused himself from the meeting to direct him towards the file room.

Hey uh, mom?”

“What is it with the mom thing all of a sudden?”

You’re keeping an eye on us, take care of us… you’re mom,” Cole grinned. “Anyway, there’s a slight problem. Need a code for the door and the visitor swipe card doesn’t work.”

“Right, I can help you with that, but the security system will think something’s wrong and might trigger because it’s possible that the keypad has a biometric sensor. Without eyes on it…”

I’m aware of the risk, but we need to leave the physical copies in there to make the case against them airtight. Confidence, mom. Don’t second guess yourself.”

Cole had sent her a picture of the keypad but it was still unclear if it was biometric.”Okidoki,” Bella let out a breath and looked through the files to get the code for the door. “Uhh, try 070297.”

I’m in,” Cole’s voice sounded and Bella winced when she saw the security system react to the code.

“Yeah, so, the system knows something’s up. I think it was a —” There was static for a second followed by nothing. “Cole? Cole are you there?” Bella was going to give it two minutes before having to make the decision to either do something very stupid – hack the security system instead of tickling it, or alert the security guys by having Nathan pulling out of the meeting in search for Cole. Two minutes. Onehundredandtwenty seconds.

Breathe in, breathe out.

She kept looking at the timer on her phone, but it kept slowing down, the seconds were ticking away far too slow for her liking.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe in.

Breathe in.

No, wait, out.

Breathe out.

With only 30 seconds to go, she let out a breath of relief when she heard the connection getting picked back up. “So I take it that there was no communication possible inside that room?”

“You scared the shit out of me.”

I’m fine. It’s all put away where it’s supposed to be, their filing system was quite easy. I’m going to get Nathan and get out of here.”

Bella listened in on the conversation that followed and let out a sigh of relief when she heard Cole and Nathan exit the building safely and walking towards the car. “Come back home safely, I’ll have food ready when you’re here.”

What kind of food, ma?”1

Bella rolled her eyes and disconnected the call before grabbing her drink and headed to the kitchen to start cooking. “They made it out, Luce,” Bella told her bodyguard who was sitting at the kitchen island, reading a book. “They’ll be home in two hours.”

“Great,” Lucy said as she put her book down and rounded the counter with a smile on her face. “So, what are we cooking?”

“I dunno,” Bella sighed as she leaned against the counter. “I’m thinking lasagna, with a tomato and cucumber salad as a side, but then again, my lasagna is always so luscious, so decadent… maybe we’ll have to go with rice and steamed broccoli and steamed salmon or something.”

“Why?”

“It’s healthy.”

“Fuck that, lasagna is better,” Lucy huffed. “Especially yours. Hell, you don’t even have to cook for us, we can order in or one of us can cook.”

“But I want to. Cooking is my coping mechanism and I enjoy it.”

“Alright, mom.”

“Enough with the mom already! That joke is getting very old right now!”

“Alright, alright,” Lucy laughed, shaking her head. “I’ll shut up and let you do your thing.”

Neal called her a few hours later, telling her about their temporary digs in Texas, and what the plan was. She told him about her day and that was it. Nathan and Cole went to the Michaels’ house, and Bella was alone with Lucy in her own house. A few days and nights without Neal would be fine.

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