A Love Worth Defending

The Defense Begins

Though Alice saw it coming, she was surprised when Bella decided to rest. She knew Bella had more arguments in her arsenal, powerful weapons that could blow bigger holes in Edward’s case.

But Alice knew why Bella refrained. And for that, she admired her.

When Edward was at his most pigheaded—and Alice doubted he could ever top his current run of it—the temptation to wop him upside his head with a giant pine was overwhelming.

And she was only his sister.

But despite her humanity, Bella seemed to possess supernatural self-control as she only yelled at Edward so far, even though his idiocy was breaking her heart. Glancing at Jasper on the other side of the courtroom, she wondered if she could do the same.

“Are you sure, Ms. Swan?” Rosalie asked. “You’ve presented but three witnesses.”

Bella nodded. “If there are no objections, I reserve the right to call a rebuttal witness after the defendant presents his case.”

“Mr. Masen?”

“I have no objection, Your Honor.” Edward’s voice was as grave as his gaze, still fixed on Bella with laser-like focus.

“Very well. Mr. Masen, please call your first witness.”

Alice closed her eyes, and Rosalie tapped her gavel. “Ms. Brandon, stop.”

She opened her eyes with a start, stunned Rosalie knew her so well. Though she stayed out of Bella’s future while she had presented her case, she had no intention of showing such restraint for Edward. After Carlisle’s testimony—and the cross-examination that wasn’t—Alice burned to know how Edward would defend himself.

But she would have to refrain to avoid Rosalie’s wrath. So with a respectful nod, she folded her hands in her lap. “My apologies, Your Honor.”

“See that you don’t do it again,” Rosalie snapped, secretly pleased. She relished having Alice at a rare disadvantage, and Alice could not begrudge her the enjoyment.

It wasn’t easy having a clairvoyant sister.

Shifting her focus from Rosalie, Alice expected Edward to be on his feet by now, eagerly calling out the name of his first supporter. But he remained in his seat, his head down as he stared at his phone. Bella’s confusion matched that of the rest of the court, and she nibbled on her bottom lip.

The last thing they needed was another bleeding injury, so Alice sent Bella a quick text of warning, copying Rosalie to keep her in the loop. Bella clamped her mouth shut, turning toward Alice with a small smile of thanks.

Edward had yet to move.

“Mr. Masen? Please call your first witness.”

He nodded at the judge’s words, his eyes still down. There was a muted buzz, and Edward came to his feet with a grimace.

In that same moment, every vampire in the room wrinkled their nose and frowned.

“What the hell is that?” Emmett asked. “It smells worse than Mike Newton after a four-on-four!”

Rosalie tapped her gavel on the wooden block. “Order, Mr. McCarty. Not that I disagree with you.”

Bella glanced around uncertainly, her anxiety inching higher the longer Edward remained silent.

And then he spoke.

“The defense calls Billy Black to the stand.”

“What?” Jasper cried as the Quileute leader rolled through the center doors. His ancient eyes were hostile, and he trembled with resentment as he proceeded to the witness stand.

Bella’s shock rivaled her confusion, but she did not object as Emmett removed the chair from the witness stand and swore him in. Billy regarded her with pity, anger, and sadness, and she leaned forward on her elbows as Edward approached his witness.

“Thank you for coming, Elder Black,” he said solemnly.

Billy snorted. “I didn’t do it for you.”

Rosalie’s nostrils flared. “Mr. Black, I don’t care why you did it. Only that you take care to be respectful while you do it, or I will not hesitate to hold you in contempt.” More than I already do, she added under her breath.

Billy gave a curt nod, and Alice crossed her arms with a sigh. Even if she wanted to foresee what would happen, the Elder’s presence rendered her gifts useless. She’d have no choice but to observe the proceedings like everybody else.

And she really hated that.

“Elder Black,” Edward began, “do you like me?”

“No.”

“Do you care about me or my family?”

“Family?” He snorted. “Can the bloodless form such a bond?”

“Objection, Your Honor.” Bella came to her feet. “Obnoxious and uncalled for.”

Rosalie glanced at Bella, her eyes soft. “I agree, Ms. Swan. But those are insufficient reasons for a legal objection.”

“Could I object morally?”

“We all do,” Rosalie glared at Billy. “But I’m afraid I must overrule you. Mr. Masen, continue with your witness.”

Bella sat down, folding her arms across her chest.

“If you don’t care about me or my family,” Edward said. “Why are you here, Elder Black?”

“Because I care about her.” He angled his head toward Bella. “Not that she appreciates it.”

Edward ignored his attitude. “Could you elaborate on the first part?”

“Bella is my best friend’s daughter, and I’ve known her since she was a baby.” His eyes turned wistful. “I still remember seeing her in Sarah’s arms for the first time. That was a happy day.”

Bella doodled on her notebook, uncomfortable with the reference to Billy’s late wife. His emotions affected even Jasper, who fought the temptation to feel sorry for him.

“Could we return to Ms. Swan?” Edward asked carefully.

Billy cleared his throat with a grunt. “Yeah, so, Bella’s family, and her well-being means a lot to me. To all of us.”

“And by ‘us,’ you mean…”

“The Quileute tribe,” he said grandly.

“And you do not believe I am good for her well-being?”

Billy’s eyes blackened. “No, I do not. The sooner she is away from you, from the lot of you, the better off she’ll be.”

Though his testimony was already underway, Alice remained frozen in shock. She knew Edward mistrusted the tribe, how he reacted when he thought Jacob was getting too close to Bella. Now he was using the pup’s father to prove his case?

Things were worse than she feared.

“Now, the peace between our families is governed by a treaty, correct?” Edward asked.

“Yes.”

“And in that treaty, we are bound to keep each other’s secrets, correct?”

“We are,” Billy replied tightly.

“The issue before the court today is Bella’s safety. I believe she is safer without me, and she does not.”

“She is gravely mistaken.”

“Objection.” Bella placed her palms on the desk as she stood up. “Please direct the witness to keep his commentary to himself.”

“Sustained. The witness’s last statement will be stricken from the record.”

Billy huffed his displeasure but said nothing else.

“Please continue, Mr. Masen.”

“Thank you, Your Honor. Now Elder Black, Dr. Cullen earlier testified that there is a potential outside threat to Ms. Swan’s life.”

Billy slid forward in his seat. “What kind of threat?”

Edward’s voice was low and taut. “The kind your people are genetically disposed to handle.”

Billy’s eyes widened, then he pointed an accusing finger at Bella. “I told you to stay away from their family, and now look what you’ve done. Careless, selfish girl!”

Before Rosalie could reprimand him, Edward lifted Billy out of his wheelchair by his collar, his eyes black as night. “Do not speak to her that way,” he growled.

Bella gasped as Billy’s face reddened, his feet dangling above his chair. She wanted to speak but could not find her voice.

As Rosalie raised her gavel to restore order, two Quileute boys stormed into the courtroom, their bare chests heaving with anger. “Put him down, leech! We won’t say it again.”

Jasper and Emmett met blurred to the center aisle, dropping into defensive crouches with darkening eyes. The Quileute boys looked at each other and prepared to advance.

“Stop!” Carlisle roared as he came to his feet. “This has gone far enough.” He looked to Rosalie for permission, which she granted with a wave of her hand.

Carlisle turned to the witness stand, reluctance weighing him down. “Edward.”

“No,” he hissed, his body trembling. “He cannot be allowed to…”

“I know, son.” At Carlisle’s endearment, the Quileute boys snorted. “I know, and we will deal with that. But you must put him down. For Bella’s sake, please.”

The mention of her name caused Edward to face her, and her wide brown eyes were soft despite her fear. At her brief nod, Edward blew out a harsh breath and gently set Billy back in his chair.

“Thank you,” Carlisle said. “Jasper, Emmett? Return to your places.”

“Listen to your father, boys,” the taller Quileute sneered. “We wouldn’t want to hurt you.”

Carlisle ignored them, turning to his other sons. “Please.”

Neither of them moved, and Esme stood up beside her husband. “Please.”

With a resigned sigh, Jasper laid a hand on Emmett, and he stood up, resuming his position beside the judge’s table, smiling briefly at his wife. And when Jasper returned to the gallery, he sat beside Alice on the plaintiff’s side, gripping her hand for solace.

Carlisle turned to the witness stand. “Are you all right, Billy?”

“Like you care, bloodsucker!” the taller boy snapped. “We should end you where you stand.”

“And where would that leave us?” Billy said slowly. With a heavy sigh, he raised his eyes to his tribesmen. “If we settle a confrontation with violence, are we not guilty of the very behavior which informs their darkest nature?”

The other boy shook his head. “But he started it!”

“Enough.” Billy raised a hand, and the young one fell silent. “Sam, take him home. Return for me immediately after.”

Sam glared at Edward but obeyed his leader’s command. “Let’s go, Jared.”

With a final snort, the boys left the room. “Thank you,” Carlisle said.

Instead of responding, Billy faced Bella. “I apologize for speaking to you that way. There is no justification for it.”

Bella’s eyes were locked with Edward’s, so she did not hear him. And though Rosalie had every right to get her attention, she did not want to interrupt.

This moment had been a long time coming.

Despite Rosalie’s warnings, Alice could not contain her curiosity any longer. She concentrated all her energy on seeing if Edward’s willingness to attack Billy signified anything. It was doubtful, given his stubbornness, but she had to look.

And in the stretching silence, a tenuous possibility swirled in the distance, lingering on the edges of Edward’s mind.

She saw him dropping to his knees before Bella, resting his head in her lap, whispering, “Forgive me, love.”

She saw Bella lay a hand atop his, stroking his hair softly as she bent to kiss his cheek. “Of course, you silly boy,” she replied before he wrapped his arms around her waist and vowed to never let go again.

She saw Rosalie tap the gavel on the wooden block with a gleeful shout, dismissing the case and asking Emmett to promptly escort Billy out of the courtroom.

She saw her family whole and intact once more, as it always should have been.

The vision was so sweet and delicate Alice tensed with anticipation, and Jasper squeezed her hand in response. She tried not to focus on that, fearing the slightest movement might disable the vision before it came to life.

“It is our job to protect you from predators,” Billy continued. “Not to imitate them. And I came here today to be a friend and a haven, someone you could trust to keep you safe, and outbursts like that defeat that purpose. Please forgive me.”

Something in Billy’s speech changed the atmosphere, and Edward looked away from Bella. He clenched his fists, and the vision disappeared as if it never existed.

“Dammit!” Alice shouted. “Damn it all to hell!”

“Is there a problem, Ms. Brandon?” Rosalie asked as all eyes fell on Alice.

“Sorry, Your Honor.” She forced herself to relax. “I just remembered Michael Kors will not release his line of winter weather boots until next fall, which means I’ll have to settle for something from Saks.”

“Well, that is a pity,” Rosalie said dryly. “But if you can bear the deprivation in silence, I have a few things to say.”

Rosalie turned to Carlisle. “Thank you, Dr. Cullen, for bringing this court back to order. It is greatly appreciated.” He resumed his seat, taking Esme’s hand tightly in his.

“Ms. Swan.”

Bella looked up at Rosalie’s words, visibly shaken. “Yes?”

“Do you accept Billy’s apology?” Rosalie dropped the respectful formalities. “If you do not, I will dismiss him from the courtroom with prejudice, forbidding him to return.”

Bella glanced at Edward, but he would not look at her. And as his resolve to win solidified again, Alice feared he might not do so again until the trial was over.

And by then, it might be too late.

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