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Chapter 22: Outfoxing the Fox

Chapter 22

Outfoxing the Fox

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans

- John Lennon

The days that follow the arrival of Jasper and Emmett are full of disbelief and wonder. It feels like we're caught inside a snow globe. It's beautiful and still until someone or something shakes it. Then we look around in awe, watching the shift but never moving forward.

Emmett is amazing—he's like a Labrador retriever. He's large, loud, messy, and playful, but just like Labs, he's also inquisitive, instinctual, and smart as a whip. He laughs a lot and is kind and thoughtful. He's patient with us all, and, especially his Rosie, who hasn't been separated from him since he arrived with Jasper in tow.

It's lovely to see Rose like this; shy and unsure, but completely radiant. Although she is unusually private about her relationship with Emmett, there is an unspoken acknowledgment that they're indeed, together, together.

As for Jasper and Alice, well, they're in the blush of first love, which is also lovely to see or would be if we weren't trying to locate James.

Locate, James …

It does seem ironic that after months of trying to escape him, I am actively trying to lure him in.

Emmett sat us all down in Miss Vick's parlor to discuss the details of the case.

"I reached out to Mick as soon as you went off the grid. I knew right away, something was terribly wrong. The first thing he told me to do was to file a missing person report with the police. But I told him I was afraid if James had you captive and saw something on the news, he'd be sending you off to Jesus."

Emmett nods his head.

"That's when I decided I'd take the case myself, to avoid publicity. But once 'ole Whit told me about the murder of James' cousin in the UK, I knew I was out of my depth. I made a few calls to the bureau, and they contacted Scotland Yard to address the death of James Witherdale. I'm not sure how that's going to pan out – it happened eight years ago, plus, Witherdale was cremated, so there's no DNA. Also, the vehicle he was driving was taken to the crusher, so it'd be hard to prove there was any tampering. Of course, there's identity theft; that's a felony, and it should be enough to put him in the clinker overseas. Of course, he's got attempted rape and murder here in the US, but that's mostly hearsay."

"Well, we can definitely charge him with falsifying records," says Jasper.

"True," says Emmett, looking at his notes.

"Rape?" whispers Boots in my ear. I see the clench of his jaw.

"No … he – he tried. I hit him over the head with a mannequin's arm and knocked him out cold. I thought I killed him."

"You didn't tap him twice, Crowsie!" Miss Vick's voice calls out from the kitchen.

"Lord, that woman can hear a cricket fart," says Rose, reaching for a glass of tea.

"If I ever get my hands on that sack of worthless shit, I'll kill him where he stands," says Boots.

"Not if I get to him first," quips Jasper.

"Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that then," says Esme, clearly worried.

"So, if James committed a crime in England, will he have to be …" I ask, confused.

"Extradited. Eh … that's tricky, and why we turned to the FBI. But I dunno if they're gonna take the case on since we never -"

"Went to the police," I groan.

He nods sympathetically. "But they did say they'll send an agent by to advise us sometime this week.

The words no sooner leave his lips when the doorbell rings – the sound echoes in the long entry, and I practically jump out of my seat. Boots takes my hand, and I calm the second his calloused fingers touch mine.

"Don't worry, Bella – this should all be over soon," says Mary Alice, giving me a little wink. Jasper looks at her with affection and smiles, even as he shakes his head.

"Don't worry, dude – you'll get used to her crazy-ass ways, sooner or later- we all do," Boots jokes.

"Oh Boots, shut-the-hell-up," she fires back. Everyone laughs, immediately breaking the tension.

"Anyway, this is what we've found on James Hunter." He opens a thick file, and I feel my pulse begin to race. Boots puts his arm around my shoulders, and I calm instantly.

"It's gonna be okay, Yank; we've all got your back." Boots says, quietly. Everyone murmurs in agreement.

Shelly appears in the doorway with Miss Vick in tow. She settles her in a tall, embroidered chair that looks like a throne. She takes her seat and gives us all a sharp look – like a queen who's examining her kingdom.

"Was that …?"

"Ya'll rest easy, now – it was just the new delivery boy. I told him to come to the back door from here on in," she says with a wink. "I declare, I already told him that a few days ago when he delivered the pizza here by mistake," she muses. "I don't understand these service people coming to the front door, Laws, ain't they had any training?"

"What happened to the pizza?" Asks Emmett with a chuckle. Rose elbows him in his side, but her smile is warm.

"Never you mind about the pizza. Lord, I can hardly keep up now that we've got a houseful of menfolk, I swan. Still, I manage fine, thank you very much. Pizza. Humph."

"He delivered the groceries and a pizza?" asks Boots.

"Aw, I reckon he's a hustler; thought I saw him mowing the grass at Mizz Hogg's house, too. It's tough times, so I guess he's piecemealing; bless his heart," she shrugs.

"What did he look like?" asks Jasper. He hands Shelly a picture of James. She puts her reading glasses on and takes a good, long look.

"Naw, that's not him. This feller's in his thirties, I reckon, but he's got dark hair, little beard - got one of those piercings in his eyebrow and another on his bottom lip," she says, handing back the picture to Jasper.

"Well, it never hurts to check, although he doesn't fit the description of James Hunter," he admits.

"Indeed," says Miss Vick, with an arched brow – a sure indicator that the subject of the errand boy is firmly closed.

"As I was about to say, James Hunter had a record of mental illness a mile long." He opens the file and spreads the contents on the table.

I spot a picture of a young boy, no older than Bip is now. His Windex-blue eyes twinkle back at me, and I let out a shudder.

"James Witherdale Hunter was born in Ohio on March 29th, 1978. His parents were Frederick Hunter and Eloise Witherdale Hunter. His father was an Ohio native; his mother grew up in West Sussex, England. An only child, James started exhibiting odd behaviors around the age of eight. His mother reports that James lived in a constant fantasy world that grew worse over time. They took him to a child psychologist at age nine who diagnosed him with Maladaptive Daydreaming and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder."

"What on earth is that?" asks Rose. "I mean, don't all kids daydream from time to time?"

"Well, according to his records, I guess it interfered with his schoolwork and the ability to make friends," says Emmett, laying the first report down on the table. "From everything I've read, it sounds like he was pretty much a loner as a kid. His parents figured he'd grow out of it at some point, but as he got into his teens, it became evident that something was seriously wrong; he started stealing weird things, like baby carriages and condoms.

"What?"

"Yeah … stole condoms from the local drugstore and – get this – got caught stealing some from a next-door neighbor, too. They found a baby carriage in his room full of them."

"Gracious," says Esme.

"Eh, that's just the tip of the iceberg. He started having visions and talking to imaginary people. He got caught holding a one-man performance in the high school auditorium. On a Sunday. Just him and his creepy little props. The custodian said it scared the shit out of him. His parents finally took him to another shrink who diagnosed him with Schizophrenia."

"Wow."

"Oh yeah … had to have him evaluated and whatnot. Had a boatload of other issues too."

"Such as?" asks Carlisle. As a doctor and a man who has devoted his life to the care of children, he is extremely interested.

"May I?" he asks, reaching for the file.

"Sure, Doc … knock yourself out."

Carlisle shakes his head, smiling at Emmett's comment.

"I've missed you, son," he says, ruffling Emmett's hair.

"Yes, we all have," agrees Esme. Emmett blushes and mumbles a gruff, "Me too."

"Let's see what we've got here," he says, as he begins to read out loud.

Anxiety.

Depression.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Conduct Disorder

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Kleptomania

Compulsive lying

Schizophrenia

Pyromania

"Pyromania?"

"Yes, he "accidentally" set his parent's house on fire. They managed to survive the first one," Em says.

"The first one?"

"Well, it was never proven by reasonable doubt, but it was presumed he set their second house on fire when he was fifteen – same as before. They couldn't prove it for sure - he claimed it was another accident; a science experiment gone awry. Go figure. Both his parents perished in the second fire.

"Great day!"

"How on earth was he allowed to re-enter society?" Miss Vick asks.

"At the recommendation of the court, James Hunter was sent to a school for emotionally disturbed youth until he was eighteen. He had a perfect record the whole time he was there – no troubles whatsoever. Not a single infraction or altercation. Popular in school, too. He did a lot of acting. You know, plays and things."

"I'll bet," I say, remembering the costume shop-cum-closet.

"In any case, he seemed to have his illnesses under control. He passed all the psych evaluations, and with his clean school record, they released him. His maternal grandfather sent him to college, but the state seems to have lost track of him after he turned twenty-one," says Jasper.

"Yes, well, it seems like he certainly had a lot of issues to deal with in his formative years," says Carlisle. He sets the folder down on the table and sighs.

"Issues, my Ant Fanny – he sounds crazier than a rat trapped in a tin shithouse, and that's a fact," says Miss Vick with a sniff.

"Somehow, I don't think "crazier than a rat trapped in a tin shithouse," is a form of mental illness, Ant Vick."

"Maybe not, but it should be. I swan, some people are just born rotten to the core. I understand mental illness – lord knows, there's enough of it sitting in this very room. But this chap sounds nuttier than a squirrel turd. Shelburne, fetch me my cane, please – I need a break from Crazyville."

"Why don't we take a turn on the front porch – I spect the mailman is about to come, and I know you enjoy looking at his legs now that summers here," says Shelly with a grin.

"Well, summer does have its perks. Better get me my salts, too – the last time he delivered the mail, I bout passed out. Remember the size of his …"

"Never you mind," says Shelly, hustling Miss Vick out of the room.

"Well, it's the truth," says Miss Vick. It was popping out of his …" her voice trails off, lost inside the hissing of Shelly's 'Hush, now.'

Jasper bends over, howling. "Oh, my God, what was that?"

"Miss Vick," we all say as if that explains it all. And truthfully, it does.

I pick up the file and look it over; just seeing his face makes me sick. The bile I've not experienced since early May rises in my throat.

Hello, old friend.

I read through the folder quickly; my years as a college professor have taught me the art of skimming for information with the ability to process it quickly and efficiently.

I toss the file back on the table, lean back in Boots' arms, and shudder. The words of James Hunter invade my thoughts, and I close my eyes in remembrance.

'As for being a psychopath, well … they never were able to define my, er, condition, Bella. I suppose I was a psychological cocktail - a jigger of psychopath, a shot of schizophrenia, a finger of bipolar, a dash of bitters. Shaken, stirred, and muddled with a variety of fetishes. Served straight up, with a twist of sexual deviancy - rocks on the side.'

"You okay?" Asks Boots. "Maybe we should take a few minutes?"

I nod my head, weakly.

"Why don't we all take a break?" says Jasper. I need to call Mee-maw and see how her doctor's appointment went, anyway."

"Sounds good to me. I've been thinking about pizza ever since Shelly mentioned it," jokes Emmett.

"You and your stomach," teases Rosalie.

Jasper and Alice chuckle as they stand to leave.

"Jasper, can I ask you a question?" asks Rose.

"Why sure, darlin. What's on your mind?"

"There's nothing on my mind, but there seems to be something on yours – I can't help but notice you've been gawking at me ever since you arrived. Course, I'm used to men staring holes in me, but this feels different," she says, bluntly.

He laughs and apologizes all in the same breath.

"Have I? My apologies, Ma'am. It's just …"

"He thinks you look familiar," interrupts Alice, merrily.

"Yes, well, I AM often mistaken for Marilyn Monroe," she jokes. "But hey – I am adopted, so who knows? Maybe I'm a long-lost granddaughter or something."

"Nah, it's not anybody famous. I dunno," he scratches the back of his neck. "It'll come to me."

He and Mary Alice head off in the direction of the kitchen.

"That was weird," says Rose.

Emmett grins. "Well, Whit IS weird. Come on, babe – if they're in the kitchen, there's a reason; I smell one of Shelly's pies in the oven. I hope it's peach; she makes the best peach pie I've ever tasted."

"If I eat any more pie, I'm not gonna be wearing anything but a sheet come fall."

"Hey – I like your voluptuous curves," says Emmett giving her a behind a little pinch.

She shrugs his hand off with a small, good-natured slap, but I notice she beams at him in approval. Whatever romantic history they had as youths was certainly a lot more meaningful than puppy love.

"If ya'll will excuse me, I want to call the contractor to see how the renovations are going downtown." Esme is a designer; she recently purchased Judge Masen's old law office and building from Miss Vick and plans to turn it into affordable living spaces for the I work in Charlotte but can't afford to live there, crowd.

"Boots, why don't you take a moment to call Elizabeth – I'm sure she's missing her Daddy," says Carlisle. "I'll take Bella out to the veranda and let her get some fresh air."

Boots looks at me for approval.

"I'll be fine – just a little queasy. Go call Bip," I say, rising to my feet.

Woosh …

A dizzy feeling comes over me, and I grab the arm of the couch before I face-plant on the one hundred and fifty-year-old Aubusson.

Carlisle rushes to help me, but Boots is already at my side.

"I've got her," he says.

"I'm fine, really. I just stood up too fast. Go make your phone call."

"You sure?" We sit back on the sofa for a moment.

I look at his worried face and force a smile. What I really want to do is have a good cry and maybe a long nap. I'm feeling out of sorts and all kinds of emotional right now. All the people I love are in this house, and they're all here because of me.

Except for Bip. My very presence has made it unsafe for the little girl I adore. We decided it was in her best interest to stay with Pete and his wife for a few days. She doesn't seem to mind – Pete lives on a farm and has two kids close to her age. Plus, they have all these wonderful farm animals to entertain her. Bip loves cows, chickens, ducks, and especially, the miniature donkey, Pedro. I know she's safe and happy, but still … she misses Boots. I feel selfish.

"Hey," Boots nudges my knee with his. I give him a nod and a small peck on the lips. Carlisle offers me his arm, and I take it gratefully.

Boots rises and goes out the side door, phone in hand. I can already hear him chuckling over something Elizabeth is saying to him as we exit the room and head for the south veranda.

Carlisle leads me over to the wicker sofa with the pink and green chintz cushions. I sink down and let out an appreciative sigh. The wind is blowing between the columns, and it offers a wonderfully cool breeze.

"Bella, I don't mean to be intrusive, but may I ask you a question?"

I open my eyes and see him sitting in the chair in front of me, his brows furrowed with concern.

"Of course," I say, sitting up a bit.

"Well, as a doctor, I can't help notice you've been out of sorts the last few days. Of course, I also know that you've had a lot on your plate, so to speak, and it's natural for you to feel anxiety. However, it looks like you almost passed out a few minutes ago, and you seem a bit ill. Is everything all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine," I say. Truthfully, I feel anything but fine. In fact, I feel as if I'm about to vomit. I swallow the bile back down and give Carlisle a small smile. At least I hope it was a smile; it felt more like a grimace.

"Look, I'm not one to pry, and I want you to know that whatever you tell me will be held in the utmost confidence. But … is there any chance you might be pregnant?"

That gets my attention. I sit up straight, startled.

"What? Pregnant? Me? No. NO."

He shakes his head and attempts to cover up his laughter with a slight cough.

"Okay, it's just, well, you have a look about you that I've seen many times in early pregnancy, so …"

"I'm not …"

"Pregnant, yes, I know," he says, now freely laughing.

I roll my eyes at him, and he laughs harder.

Some doctor he is, I think to myself. Where on earth is Boots when I need him? I look over my shoulder to see if he's off the phone with Elizabeth.

"I'm sorry, Bella. It's just, well, you're so adamant."

"It's okay," I mutter.

"No, it's fine – I don't mean to sound unprofessional, but you are going to be my daughter, and I wouldn't be doing my job as either a father or a physician if I didn't ask."

"No, you're fine, really."

And he is. Inquisitive though he may be, Carlisle has been nothing short of wonderful since I arrived in Masenville. Why he and Esme have become so much more to me than Boots' parents; they've offered me food, shelter, advice, love …

"Here," says Carlisle, handing me his freshly starched hanky. "Blow."

I didn't even realize I was crying. I really need to stop being so emotional.

What on earth is wrong with me?

"Bella, again … I don't mean to harp on the subject, but may I ask if you and Boots are taking, well, precautions?"

Oh-my-dear-God.

I blush like a twelve-year-old virgin in health class.

"Um, yes. That is … I'm on the shot."

"And when was your last one, if I may ask?"

"Um, sometime back in March," I squeak. Please, God, let the floor swallow me now.

"And you do realize those shots only offer protection for three-four months," he asks gently. "And this is July. I think you might want to pay a visit to Doctor Black's office; he's our family doctor. I believe you've met his son, Jake?"

"Um, yes. I didn't realize Jake's father was a doctor."

"Oh yes, his dad wanted him to follow in his footsteps, but Jake is a lot like our Boots – good with his hands but has very little patience for formal education."

Boots is indeed good with his hands. In fact, I still feel the ache between my thighs when he showed me just how good he is with said hands only this morning. I blush again at the thought.

"So ... I'll give Billy a call and set something up for you later this week."
"That would be …"

Weird

"And he'll be able to administer the shot then?"

"Oh yes, he's got a fully equipped office and a great staff. I'm sure he'll get you settled at the same visit providing your tests come back negative."

"Test?"

"Pregnancy test," he says with a wink.

"But I'm not pregnant," I huff. What is his problem?

"It's merely procedure, Bella. Although … well, I'm sure Boots and the girls filled you in about our town's extraordinarily high percentage of birth control failure?"

"Surely you don't believe in those tall tales about Aliens or Native American curses," I cry, aghast.

"Let's just say I keep an open mind," he says with a grin. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go make that call to Billy Black."

I nod my head and lay back on the sofa, allowing the cool breeze to wash away my troubled mind. Pregnant. That's all I need, right now.

Still ...

Images of a little boy with reddish-brown hair and a face full of freckles forms in my mind. I can see him so clearly – all green eyes, knobby knees, and crooked smiles. I remember the picture of Boots as a little boy – in, too big for his feet boots, and a loose pair of Umbros. I smile at the images of both Boots and his son.

His son?

What if I am pregnant? What if James finds me?

My hands touch my stomach, protectively.

"Hey, you okay?"

The sound of Boots' voice causes me to jump.

He kneels in front of me and takes my hands.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just needed a rest – all those pictures of James and those files …"

"Yeah, he sure was a hot mess, even as a kid. Shame they didn't keep him there and throw away the key."

"I know."

"Bella?"

"Yes?"

"I love you."

My eyes fill with tears. I throw my arms around Boots and just hug him as tight as I can. "Oh, Boots, I love you, too." The tears flow freely down my face, and I soak the collar of his shirt.

"Hey … hey, c'mon … it's going to be okay," he says. "What's got you all fired up, anyway? Is it just James, or did my father say something …?"

"No, he was fine. A little protective maybe, just like his son," I try to laugh it off. "It's just stress, and maybe a little guilt."

"Guilt? You have nothing to feel guilty for, Bella."

"Well, my head knows that I suppose, by my heart keeps reminding me that I've brought nothing my trouble since I came into your life, Boots."

"Bella, you are my life now." He wipes my tears away with a fresh hanky from his own pocket, the one from Carlisle needs to be wrung out to dry. "You, Bip, and me – the three musketeers."

"Bertie, too?" I sniff.

"Bertie, too." He kisses the tip of my nose.

"I think you need another hanky, Yank." He teases.

I nod my head and give a watery laugh. "Sorry."

"So, you wanna tell me what brought this jag on, or do I have to pry it out of you?"

"I don't really know, to be honest. I've just been feeling overly emotional all week, and then seeing those pictures of James and all his issues …"

"Yeah, I get that, Bella. But I'm not going to let anything happen to you – you know that, right?"

"I do, but I still worry. Besides all that, Em and Jasper both said that since I didn't go to the police and file a report, they don't have any proof other than my word …"

"Nah, they didn't say that, not exactly, anyway. After talking to them both, I know we should have handled things a little differently, but you were scared, and hell, so was I for that matter."

"I know, but ..."

He presses my lips together and grins.

"You know what you need?"

"I know what you think I need, and we already did that this morning – twice."

He throws his head back and laughs. I love, LOVE, to see him really laugh – it makes me laugh too, despite myself.

"Not that, although I am always up for round three, or a hundred."

I roll my eyes.

"Nah, we need a little getaway – just us, and maybe Bip – who, by the way, has decided to be called Libby this week.

"That sounds like so much fun. But we can't go anywhere right now – not with all this ahead of us."

"Well, maybe we can work something out. Emmett was talking about setting some sort of bait to lure James in. Maybe we can plan around that."

I smile at the idea.

"When all of this is behind us, I'm taking you and Elizabeth, I mean, Libby, to Maine for a real vacation. We'll hop on a plane in Charlotte and fly to Portland. We'll rent a car – maybe a convertible – Bip would love that! We can check out all the shops along the way, and the different beaches. We'll stay at my Aunt's cottage -it's got five bedrooms, so it's bigger than a cottage – more of a summer home, I guess. We'll eat lobster every day, and go blueberry picking, just like Sal does in Elizabeth's favorite book."

Boots shakes his head.

"What?"

"I mean … that sounds like fun, and I'd love for us to be able to drop everything and go, but it also sounds expensive. I know we've never really talked about finances, and I don't want you to worry – Jake and I do fine at the shop. But businesses aren't cheap to operate, and between that, and the mortgage I've got on the house–"

"I'm rich."

Did I really just say that out loud?

Judging by the look on Boots' face, I did.

"Come again?"

I bite my lip and take a big breath.

"It's just … we don't need to worry about money, Boots. My Aunt Margaret left me all of hers— as well as the home in Lexington, and the summer house in Maine."

His mouth hangs open, and I hold back a chuckle.

"Wait - how much money are we talking about here? Like … a million dollars, or …?"

"Um, no. More like fifteen million, give or take. That's why James was after me – he wanted my money, and I was an easy target, I guess."

He sits there like a statue and says nothing. I start to feel uncomfortable—like maybe I shouldn't have said anything.

"Say something."

He lets out a little huff and pinches his nose.

"What do you want me to say? Yay? Good for me; I've got a sugar mama?"

And possible a baby mama, too, I think, inappropriately

"Are you upset with me?"

"I don't know, Bella. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that an accomplished college professor wants to tie herself to a grease monkey, and now I've gotta deal with the fact that you're some sort of an heiress. Jesus – fifteen-million dollars?"

"Plus, stocks, bonds, and some other stuff," I mutter. If I'm being honest, I might as well go all the way.

"You must think I'm some kind of dumbass not to have figured all this out," he says, shaking his head.

"No – I don't; not at all. I know I should have told you sooner, but the truth is, I never talk about it to anyone. I live on my salary from Haworth-Adams. I led a simple life in Massachusetts. I know the money's there, but I just let my Aunt's brokers and financial advisors handle it all."

"But I suppose Jasper knows, right?"

And jealousy rears its ugly head

"Not really. I mean, he knows my Aunt Margaret left me well provided for, but we've never discussed how much or what was involved."

"Hmm."

"Everything okay in here?"

I look up to see Jasper peeking thru the columns.

"Yeah, everything is just ducky. I'll see ya'll back inside."

As soon as he leaves the veranda, Jasper turns to me, concerned.

"What was that all about? Is he pissed at me or something?"

"I just told him I was rich," I say in disbelief. What on earth just happened here?

"Ooooh, that explains it." He says with a click of his tongue.

"Explains what?"

"Why he skulked off like a dog who just had his balls chopped off."

"What?"

"He feels emasculated."

"Emasculated?"

"Yup. It means you stripped him of his balls – to be …"

"I know what it means, dumbass – I am an English professor, for Christ's sake."

"Did you just say dumbass and take the Lord's name in vain all within the same sentence?"

I roll my eyes at him and snort.

"This may have been the best thing that ever happened to you, Swan. I didn't even have to call the proctologist."

"Huh?"

"That's a medical doctor who specializes in …"

"Oh my god – I know what a proctologist is, Jasper.

"Then you'll understand why his services are no longer required; you removed the stick from your ass all on your own. Impressive … did ya just wing it, or did ya watch a YouTube vid?"

"Oh, har-har … That doesn't help me figure out how to handle Boots."

"Eh, he'll be all right once he's had time to digest it. Just give him a couple of days and maybe toss in a sexual favor or two. Besides – how much money do you really have anyway? A couple of million?"

"Um, fifteen, plus some …"

"Jesus, I'd better go find Carlisle then."

"What?"

"Yeah, maybe he knows someone who can reattach Boots' balls. I don't think they're gonna grow back on their own after all, girl."

I laugh in spite of myself.

"Well, I see now why James went after you like he did – beauty, brains, and filthy rich; hell, I should have swept you up for myself."
"Yeah, somehow, I think you were waiting for Mary-Alice."

He grins and rubs his neck.

"Yeah, I guess I was."

I smile happily at him; despite all the drama we've had to endure, we've all managed to find love.

"Just tell me one thing?"

"What?"

"Why'd we always have to go Dutch if you're so fucking rich?"

***Burger***

It's two days later. Boots seems okay – perhaps, a bit distant, but then, we've got a lot on our minds. Every time I broach the subject of money, he shuts it down, muttering, "It's fine."

Men

Em and Jasper sat us down and discussed the possibilities of luring James out of hiding.

"We'll go ahead and contact the college and let them know exactly what's going on. Then we'll have them put out a retraction, saying that there's been a miscommunication and that Doctor Swan is spending the summer in Masenville and will return to her position in the fall. It's not perfect, but I think it'll be enough to have him come looking. If James should contact the college, Jessica has agreed to tell him that you're nursing a broken heart in the Carolinas or something."

"But that could take forever," Boots grumbles.

"Nah, the newsletters are emailed to all the faculty and staff, even the ones who've resigned get a copy."

Boots looks at them skeptically.

"Okay – I know it's not perfect, but we need some quiet time to plot this out properly," says Emmett.

"Look, why don't the two of you get away for a few days? Let Mick and I work out the details," says Jasper. The girls are going to be working this weekend and …"

"I dunno … I gotta check with Jake – we've got a few jobs lined up next week."

"But you said you wanted to get away," my eyes fill unexpectedly with tears.

Boots looks at me with wide eyes, and his entire demeanor softens.

"Hey – if it means that much to you, Yank, we'll go."

"You sure? I don't want to take you away from your work or anything."

He wraps his arms around me and kisses the side of my head.

"Naw, it's fine. I'll head over now and talk to Jake; it'll be good for the two of us to get away for a few days."

"Why don't you and Bella head over to the lake for the weekend? We've still got the cabin. It's not much, but -"

"It's perfect," Boots interrupts Esme.

And it is. I smile at Esme, happily and mouth, thank You. She winks back with a silent, you're welcome in return.

"Carlisle and I can head over and get it ready this afternoon; ya'll could leave first thing in the morning."

"Okay," says Boots. But I've still gotta go check with Jake first."

"Mind if I come with you? I'd really like to see my truck again," asks Jasper.

Boots chuckles and nods his head.

"Hey, ya think we can pop into Burger? I'm in the mood for a footlong," says Emmett.

"You mean you wanna give Rose your footlong," teases Jasper. Both Rose and Ali are manning the restaurant today. Which reminds me …

"Oh no … I'm supposed to work my shift tomorrow."

"I'll be glad to do it for you, Bella," says Esme warmly.

I give her a big hug and whisper, thank you.

Everyone goes about their separate ways, and I decide to take a short nap before I start packing an overnight bag. The house is quiet, and still – Miss Vick is waiting for her story to come on, and Shelly's popped out to Piggly Wiggly to buy food for the cabin. I find my lids begin to drop.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!

Isn't that always the way? I think to myself with a chuckle. I pick up the bedroom phone.

"Mama?"

"Bip?"

"Is Daddy there?"

"No, he's at the shop with Uncle Em and Uncle Jasper.

"Can you come pick me up from my ballet class? Pete has to take Pedro to the vet-ar-eon, so he can't do it."

"Veterinarian," I correct her with a laugh. "What time?"

"11:30."

I look at the clock - it's already after eleven.

"Sure, give me a few minutes, and I'll be right there."

"Bye, Mama."

I start to say bye, but the call has already ended. Kids.

My stomach lurches, and I hold on to the bedpost until it subsides.

I think back to my conversation with Carlisle and sigh. Maybe he's right, and I am pregnant. I have an appointment with Dr. Black next Wednesday – I guess I'll find out then.

I decide to talk to Boots about it tonight. I know he'll be over the moon if I am going to have a baby – he loves kids. Besides, he told me weeks ago that it might happen and that he'd do the right thing.

I laugh. The right thing. It sounds so old fashioned and just so … Boots.

I pause in front of the mirror and lift my shirt. I never gave much thought to having children of my own. My own mother pretty much abandoned me as a child – she wasn't exactly a role model. I figured teaching was fulfilling and rewarding enough.

…Until I met Boots.

And his daughter.

Suddenly the thought of having Boots' baby makes me feel all swoony and warm inside.

I run to the bathroom, splash some water on my face and head downstairs.

I hear the music from the television that indicates her favorite soap is about to start.

"Miss Vick – I'm heading downtown to pick up Elizabeth from her ballet class. I'll be back soon!" I call, as I grab the keys to Boots' Volvo.

I hop in the car and head for town.

The music is blaring, and it's a perfect Crayola colored day. Boots and I are going away for the weekend.

Jasper and Emmett are here. They have a plan. They'll find James soon.

I pass the What-A-Burger and toot the horn.

I haven't felt this light or this free in a long time.

I let out a happy sigh and turn down St. Laurent Ave. I park behind the studio and grab my purse.

I take the steps two at a time and push the double doors that lead me into a long hallway. Although I've never been to this studio before, it isn't hard to find the entrance– I simply follow the music.

Swan Lake.

I chuckle at the irony.

The studio appears to be dark, and I get the sinking feeling that class must have ended earlier than Elizabeth stated on the phone.

"Bip? Are you here?"

The music grows louder.

I call her name again.

"Elizabeth!"

Frantically, I feel along the wall for a light switch.

"I'm here, Mama."

I sigh in relief.

Suddenly, a small spotlight pops on, illuminating a spiral staircase in the corner of the room. I squint, trying to adjust to the brightness.

I see a pale pink toe shoe, followed by another, slowly descend the stairs. The spotlight follows each measured step.

I guess I'm going to have a private performance ALA Elizabeth Cullen.

I smile and quietly wait for her to appear.

And she does

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ, the needle on the player appears to be stuck.

And so am I.

Rooted to the spot, I watch, aghast, as the dancer enters the stage.

It's not Bip.

A man, dressed in full Harlequin costume, complete with an elaborate black and white feathered mask, takes center stage.

He does this odd little arabesque, followed by an equally bizarre pirouette. Dramatically, he turns and bows to all corners of the room. Then he stands erect, face to the ceiling, and slowly claps his hands. The sound of his applause bounces off the mirrored walls and echoes throughout the studio.

I watch in horror as he removes his mask and reveals his eyes.

Windex blue

He gives me an exaggerated wink.

"Surprise!"

My mouth falls open, but no sound comes out.

James

***WTWAB***

B/N: Damn! I knew somethin BIG was goin down in this here chappie but I didn't know it was gonna be that big. Lord. Truth is - I'm still trying to adjust to Bella being rich as shit and then Mizz J goes and drops this bombshell. I dunno how it's gonna go down in the next installment, but I reckon my tail is gonna be all up in it somehow.

Please leave a lil review and let me know what ya'll think is gonna happen next. Might help get me prepared.

Till then, ya'll stay smart. Boots

A/N: Sorry it took so long to update this go around. Some chapters are more labor intensive than others and this one here is a good example. The good news is the next chapter is almost finished and should be ready to go in a week or so.

So - were ya'll surprised or did the ballet studio give it away? I gotta tell ya'll - when James descended the stairs in pink toe shoes, I about scared myself to death. lol! It was one of those random moments all writers experience from time to time - a chapter seems to write itself!

Thank you all for you're reviews and lovely PM's. They mean the world to me!

Jayne

BIG shout-out to my fic-sis and beta, Fran!

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