A Love Worth Defending

Presiding

When Alice summoned the McCartys back to the mansion on Thursday afternoon because Bella was taking Edward to court, Rosalie was amused and annoyed. Amused because she knew her bullheaded brother hadn’t considered outcomes outside of Bella’s acquiescence and the deviation would knock him on his rusty-dusty. Annoyed because Bella’s decision would change nothing if Edward was determined to leave her.

Not that Rosalie had an opinion on that one way or the other.

Still when Edward came home, dejection deepening the frown he’d worn since that clustershuck of a birthday party, she felt sorry for him for the briefest of moments. He was new at love, clueless for the first time in his omniscient existence, and completely out of his depth. Falling in love with his singer? Only he could be so unlucky.

Yet Rosalie couldn’t pardon him for throwing a tantrum, inciting Carlisle and Esme’s sympathy, and removing her from the only home she claimed in 65 years. She enjoyed the sunlight, such as it was, and taking long walks without fear of exposure.

So she taunted Edward as expected, concealing her sympathy for his plight. She ignored his strategizing with Alice in his room, save his frequent outbursts of “Why is she doing this?” and “What is she thinking?”

Thus Rosalie was wholly surprised when Alice knocked on her door at dawn yesterday, hesitation belying the spark in her eyes. “I need a favor. Rather, Bella needs a favor.”

“Bella?” Rosalie managed to say it without derision. “What could she possibly need from me?”

“Your wisdom.” Alice came closer, her smiling widening with every step. “Your neutrality, your clarity, and most of all, your haughtiness.”

The last word got her attention. “What’s this about, Allie?”

Alice sat on the bed, drawing abstract patterns in Rosalie’s dark chocolate bedspread. “Bella wants you to judge the case she’s bringing against Edward.”

“What?” Rosalie gaped at her sister as if she’d asked to go clothes shopping at Wal-Mart. “What on earth would make her think I’d do that?”

“Because you’re the only one she trusts to be unbiased,” Alice replied. “Esme is her second choice, but she couldn’t ask her to choose between her and Edward. You, on the other hand, have little use for Edward or Bella, making you the ideal candidate.”

“True enough. Does Edward know?”

“I haven’t told him. But Jasper knows and is sworn to secrecy. I asked him to take Edward hunting while I talked to you. They have a lot to sort out anyway.” She looked up at her sister. “Will you do it?”

Rosalie walked to the window, gazing at Esme’s garden below. She loved this view no matter the season. It reminded her of everything was pure and lovely in this world and helped her forget how much of the other side she saw in her human life.

“What if I don’t?”

“Bella will ask Carlisle,” Alice said. “Though I doubt he’d do it for fear of appearing to take sides, which would force Esme to do it against her better judgment, which would make Bella feel bad, which would make Carlisle decide to…”

“Fine.” Rosalie waved a dismissive hand. “But I want the full regalia: robe, gavel, the works.”

“You think I’d do any less?” Alice smiled, and Rosalie felt slim, strong arms lock around her waist from behind. “Thank you, Sister. Thank you for saving our family.”

She was gone before Rosalie could react and good thing too. Alice’s sincerity penetrated her soul somewhere deep, making her feel as if the weight of the world had been placed on her elegant shoulders.

That same feeling of import struck Mrs. McCarty as she strode into the courtroom, the eyes of her family fixed on her. She looked right—the long black robe fit her to a tee, and her golden locks were twisted in an elegant updo—but she felt right too, as if she were destined to take the judge’s seat.

She shuffled the assorted papers provided by Alice’s meticulous staging, keeping her head down to avoid gawking at her husband. Emmett could be silly, but his formidable sexiness was never on better display than in uniform. Her thoughts drifted to their secret costume closet, and all its goodies: firefighter, army sergeant, brain surgeon, naval officer, construction worker…

“Everyone is present and accounted for, Your Honor,” he said, breaking Rosalie out of her trance. His eyes danced as if knowing her thoughts, and Jasper cleared his throat as Alice chuckled.

It was time to get serious.

“Thank you, bailiff,” Rosalie said swiftly.

There was a rustling of paper to the left, and she noticed Bella for the first time. Though the outfit was all Alice—creamy cap-sleeve blouse, knee-length black skirt, kitten-heeled Mary Jane’s—the resolve was all Bella. Her hands were folded atop a notebook, her brown eyes level and serious. Yet she seemed unafraid, as if trusting Rosalie to do the right thing.

Rosalie did not have to look at Edward to know he felt differently. From the reaction she overheard yesterday, Rosalie knew Edward was one frayed nerve short of livid at Bella’s choice of judge.

She resisted a smile at his irritation.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” she said instead. “The matter before this court is complicated and unusual, but I will do my best to simplify it. Ms. Swan is suing Mr. Cullen for deeming their relationship unsafe for her and no good for him.”

“Without her consent,” Bella added with a terse look at Edward.

“Yes, without her consent. Though I will thank you in advance, Ms. Swan, for not interrupting me when I speak.”

She colored instantly. “I’m sorry.”

“I expect this case to be contentious.” Rosalie softened her tone. “There are two lives at stake, a family’s future hanging in the balance, and I take neither issue lightly. That said, this court will not tolerate errant outbursts, attempts at manipulation, or any other superfluous activity, and anyone who so indulges will be banned from these proceedings without a second thought. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” came the unanimous reply.

“Ms. Brandon and Major Whitlock.” Rosalie divided her gaze as they sat on opposite sides of the courtroom. “This especially applies to your gifts. Major, if you need a break, excuse yourself discreetly and return only when ready. Ms. Brandon, keep any visions to yourself or I will find in immediate favor of the plaintiff. Ms. Swan?”

She sprang to her feet. “Yes, Your Honor?”

“Do you wish Major Whitlock to monitor your emotions and alert this court should you become overwhelmed?”

She furrowed her brow, and Rosalie detected anger in her reply. “Though I appreciate the consideration, I can control myself without assistance. So I respectfully decline.”

“Very well. Mr. Masen?”

He stood with deliberation, meeting the judge’s eyes evenly. “Your Honor.”

“I realize your gift is harder to control, but you have no choice. Am I understood?”

He nodded.

“Respond aloud, Mr. Masen,” Emmett said with more bass than necessary. “Show some respect.”

Rosalie smiled. “Thank you, bailiff.”

“You’re welcome, Your Honor.”

“Objection!” Edward cried.

Rosalie sighed. “You cannot object during my instructions to the court, Mr. Masen.”

“Then you should not be able to flirt with the bailiff.”

“Flirting? I was being polite. You should try it sometime.”

He clamped his mouth shut, gathering himself. “Fine. Yes, I understand I am barred from reading anyone’s mind.”

“Good. Now sit down.”

He did glare at Her Honor then.

“Ms. Swan will present her case first then Mr. Masen will get his turn,” Rosalie continued. “All witnesses are subject to cross-examination and redirection, but witnesses may be called only once per side. After both sides are finished and give their closing statements, I will deliberate the matter in my chamber. When ready, I will return with a verdict.”

Bella chanced a glance at Edward. His head was down, but from the tension in his jaw, it was clear he felt her gaze. She looked down at her folded hands when the judge continued speaking.

“According to the documents before me, both parties have agreed to abide by this court’s decision, but we must enter that agreement into the official record. Bailiff?”

Emmett proceeded to the plaintiff’s table holding a Bible. Bella laid her left hand on the outstretched Word as she raised her right.

“Ms. Swan,” Emmett said. “Do you solemnly swear to abide by the court’s decision, so help you God?”

“I do.”

Emmett blurred to Edward’s side, where the latter folded his arms. “Objection.”

The room sighed, and Rosalie held up her hand in warning. “There is no commentary from the gallery, regardless of the conduct of either side.” She turned to Edward, straining to keep the annoyance from her voice. “Mr. Masen, as I’ve said, you cannot object to my instructions.”

“I do not object to your instructions, Your Honor,” he replied lightly. “But this book he holds means nothing to me, rendering any swearing I might do upon it useless.”

“Oh, Edward,” Carlisle sighed too low for Bella to hear. Esme reached for his hand, patting it gently.

“Counsel, please approach.”

Bella seemed startled but demurely stepped from behind her table and made her way to the judge’s bench. She did not look at Edward, but Rosalie noted how their bodies angled toward each other though their eyes faced forward.

Stifling the thought, Rosalie covered the microphone with her hand and leaned forward. “Mr. Masen, I get the impression that you are determined to derail these proceedings. Is that so?”

“No, Your Honor.”

“Are you trying to antagonize me before the case begins?”

“No, Your Honor.”

“Then what the hell is your problem?”

He did not answer, turning instead to Bella. “You promised,” she whispered. “Will you override me here also?”

For the first time since Bella’s party, untainted love seeped into Edward’s expression, causing Bella to gasp and Rosalie to look away. She didn’t see his mask slip back in place, but when she faced him again, the tender moment had passed.

“My apologies to the court,” Edward murmured. “It will not happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t,” Rosalie replied with more heat than she felt. “Please return to your seats.”

As the litigants resumed their places and the defendant swore to adhere to the decision rendered, Rosalie glanced at Esme for the first time. Her adopted mother’s gaze was sympathetic, and Rosalie understood its meaning with perfect clarity.

“This is going to be a long, difficult day."

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