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The Count of Tuscany

By withany

Thriller / Romance

Chapter 1

The first time Edward noticed that Carlisle had the photograph in his study, he’d become momentarily frozen and stared at it before he snarled. Then he glared at Carlisle, spun on his heel, and abruptly walked out.

The picture was the last group photograph the family had taken before Bella’s eighteenth birthday party. Alice had forecast that it would be the last hot day before the end of the summer. The opportunity for a day in the outdoors was too good to miss.

After packing up a picnic for Bella, the family, all clad in swimming gear under their shorts and tees, headed into the national park. They stopped at an isolated lake that Alice confirmed would be avoided by humans for most of the day. There they spread out blankets and towels along the narrow ribbon of sand at the shore, and for a while they basked in the sun, enjoying the heat that warmed even their bodies.

They resembled a row of Swarovski figurines, throwing rainbows across the surrounding trees and rocks and across Bella’s pale skin. The temperature had climbed well into the eighties by noon. Then the day began to cloud over, reducing the slight risk of alarming any lost hikers passing their way.

Alice and Jasper got up and went to the other side of the lake. Edward, propped against a rock with his arms around Bella, nudged her with his chin. She looked across to the water where Alice stood facing out toward the center of the lake.

With Jasper bending before her, Alice daintily lifted her foot into his clasped hands. At the same time she raised her arms into a diving pose above her head. Then Jasper catapulted her high into the air. As she arced toward the water, she twisted, somersaulted and pirouetted before cutting neatly into the middle of the lake. Within seconds she was back to the shore.

“Six point zero!” called Emmett as Alice surfaced and acknowledged him with a huge smile.

Bella had watched wide-eyed. She always looked surprised by their abilities when they didn’t have to maintain their human façade. “Wow!” was all she said.

In her turn, Alice bent in front of Jasper, clasped her hands, and hurled him into the air.

Emmett, of course, couldn’t resist the challenge. He and Jasper tried to outdo each other in the numbers of turns, twists and somersaults they could manage before hitting the water. They repeatedly called on Edward to join them, but he laughed and said that he was more than happy where he was. Then Carlisle took his turn, aided by Esme, who then turned to wink at Bella, as Emmett waded back to the beach.

“Wanna go for it, little sis'?” He held his hand out to Bella.

Bella had a look of uncertainty on her face as Edward turned to Alice, who nodded. Rosalie pulled her sunglasses down her nose. “Em, cut it out, If she breaks her neck you know Edward will sulk all day.”

Edward laughed. “Well, for an hour, at least.”

Rosalie seemed surprised. “Wow, little brother. You’re loosening up.”

“”Very funny” Bella said and elbowed Edward as she stood up. “Let’s go, Emmett.

After wading a couple of yards into the water, Emmett bent forward. Bella steadied herself with her hands on his shoulders while she carefully fitted her foot into his hands. Even though Emmett spoke softly, Carlisle could hear him say, “Just a short distance this first time, okay? Just dive straight in. The water’s deep enough here. I’ll count to three.”

Bella nodded and took a deep breath.

On three, Emmett gently launched her into the air over his shoulder. She rose in a smooth arc to about fifteen feet, stretching her arms into an elegant dive, cutting cleanly into the water. As she surfaced she whooped in glee. “Emmett, that was fantastic!”. She swam back to shore, laughing. “Again, please!”

Emmett laughed. Edward leaned back against his rock, arms behind his head, grinning.

“Aren’t you going to join us, Edward?” Bella asked over her shoulder.

“Naw,” he said. “The view is so much better from this vantage point.”

Bella pretended she needed to adjust her balance as she wiggled her shoulders and hips. Edward let out a low growl of appreciation. “Tease.” Bella laughed.

For nearly half an hour Bella made dive after dive, Emmett carefully increasing the height, until she began to tire. On her last dive, as Emmett threw her into the air, her foot slipped in his grasp. Instead of being toward the middle of the lake, she pitched toward a large boulder in the shallow part of the lake.

Before anyone else could move, Edward leapt high into the air and corkscrewed round as he encircled Bella, one arm at her waist, the other around the back of her head, and gently held her cheek against his shoulder as they plunged in. Almost instantly, Edward resurfaced, supporting Bella as she spluttered lake water.

Bella flung a lock of hair away from her mouth, “My hero,” she said. He grinned at her and planted a quick kiss on her forehead. Then he slung her across his back and swam to the shore. Emmett was waiting and said, “Sorry, Bella.”

A few minutes later Carlisle announced he wanted to take a picture. Everyone lined up. He set the camera timer and joined the lineup.

The men stood thigh-deep in the water, with the girls standing on their shoulders, arms around each other. Emmett commented that they looked like a pathetic circus act. Bella’s lightly-freckled, sun blushed skin stood out pink against their white, marble skin.

Rosalie and Esme, on either side of Bella, faced steadily toward the camera, smiling widely. Alice placed a foot on Jasper’s head as a large drop of water was ready to drip from her big toe onto the end of his nose.

Bella began to wobble just before the shutter released. The image caught her looking down at Edward, smiling and flushed, his right arm snaked around her lower leg, holding her steady just below the knee. He was looking up, and his expression was caught mid-laugh as they gazed lovingly at each other.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

In Edward’s eyes, the photograph mocked him with lost love, failure, and days that would never come again. To Carlisle, for many months it had shown love, family, and hope for the future. No more. Now, it showed him his own failures: failure to protect those in his care, failure to properly guide Edward in an existence that he had had forced upon him; failure to keep his family together. It was high summer again, and it would soon be a year since they had severed Bella from their lives. She was gone, and now Edward was gone. The family was fragmented.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0

After leaving Bella in the forest, Edward had run all the way to the family’s rendezvous in Denali. On arrival, he enveloped Esme in a bear-hug, and smiled down at her.

For two months, Edward had smiled. He’d been lovingly cheerful, assiduously helpful during their subsequent move to Chicago, laughed at everyone’s jokes, and smiled, smiled, smiled. He never brought up the subject of Forks, nor Bella, but if either happened to be mentioned, he would smile and express a hope that all was well. At his insistence, Alice had tuned out of Bella’s life.

Every night he left the house to go running. He couldn’t be still. Then he’d return at dawn, smiling.

As everyone seemed to relax, Carlisle and Jasper weren’t fooled. Neither was Alice. The more happy Edward pretended to be, the more withdrawn Jasper became. Carlisle knew Edward burned most of his clothes. The only ones he’d kept were those he wore on his last meeting with Bella. These he vacuum-sealed and stored. Alice told Carlisle of the pulverized stone in the quarry high in the mountains. One morning Edward walked back in following his nightly run. He stood in the hallway, melting sleet dripping from his hair and clothes and said, in a flat voice, “I can’t do this any more.”

Edward crossed to the hall table, took out a set of car keys and dropped them in Rosalie’s palm. A look of annoyance crossed her face. “Edward, what do I want with the Volv….” Then she noticed the Aston Martin branding. “No!” she said.

It seemed Edward had no more smiles left in him. The charade was over. He looked across at Carlisle and said, “I just can’t. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I …” He stopped, shook his head, and looked across to Alice. “Don’t look for me. I’ll call. I promise, I’ll call.” And he was gone.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Carlisle was in his new office at Rochester General, still gazing at the photograph, when the phone rang.

“Carlisle Masen”, he responded, “May I help you?”

There was a brief silence, followed by the shuffling sound of papers, and then a voice that Carlisle instantly recognized asked gruffly, “Is that Carlisle Cullen?”

A dozen thoughts tumbled through Carlisle’s mind. It should not have been possible for Charlie Swan to track him down, not without a great deal of effort, resource, and a decent amount of luck. The Cullens were adept at changing identities and covering their tracks. Carlisle felt suddenly afraid. The mere fact that Charlie was calling him meant he’d had reason to expend the effort. There was only one reason why.

Bella.

Carlisle closed his eyes. No point in pretending. “Chief,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

Charlie gave a humorless snort. “I appreciate the plain speak. This isn’t a casual call. I need to talk to that boy of yours.”

Definitely Bella, then. The pain that had been a permanent resident in Carlisle’s heart these last months made the words difficult to say. “That’s not possible, Charlie. I presume this is about Bella?”

Silence again.

“How has she been?”

“I must talk to him.”

“Is she all right?”

“Bella’s missing.”

Carlisle sat up straight. A leaden dread settled in his stomach. “Since when?”

“Six weeks ago. And she’s not the first. Now, I’m not saying your boy had anything to do with it, but I need to speak to him and make sure. He might know something …”

Carlisle tried to speak calmly. “Charlie, I’m sorry, but Edward was killed in Italy six months ago.”


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