Riding Shotgun

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"Are you going to tell me where you were?"

His voice was rough, tinged with an edge she thought she'd helped soften earlier. She would've preferred that he went back to the brooding silence for the moment. Her head was pounding as hard as her heart.

"No, probably not."

What was wrong with her? Hadn't she been through enough? She hadn't meant to agree with him, his terms. She hadn't done the friends-with-benefit thing in a while. Even then, the benefits were often one-sided and never lasted for long. Not that she cared at the time.

Anger had gotten the best of her, making her bite back. He brought out the worst in her and had since he pulled his disappearing act. It didn't matter, anyway, because there was no going back. Not after she had a taste of him, and that meant the possibility of utter destruction. Yet, she found herself not wanting to put a stop to any of it. It had been too long since she felt something like the pull between them.

Was it a mistake to befriend anyone in the small mountain community? There was always a chance that everything could go to shit and force her to run. She couldn't find it in herself to stay as isolated as she had been since her last move. She had a chance to make a new life, and with a few precautions, she could live a fulfilling one.

"Bella." There was no getting away with saying nothing. Something told her he wouldn't let it go until he had answers.

"California," she answered when he glared at her.

"Don't be a smartass right now."

"You need to choose, am I crazy or a smartass?"

Edward grunted as he took the next right a little hard. "Apparently, you can be both."

"Southern California," she said, looking away from his profile. He was too much for her to handle. Even as hurt as she felt, she wanted to climb onto his lap and taste him again. To smooth away the lines that bracketed his mouth and the corners of his eyes, unless she helped put them there by making him smile or laugh. She had yet to sample that rough looking spot where his neck met his shoulder, too. If things continued the way they were, she would have a chance to later.

He said nothing more, seemingly angry, and proved it when he turned up the radio. The hour-long ride would be a long one.

"—this occurred shortly after the verdict and the sentence hearing was set for Monday morning for Riley Biers, who was found guilty of first degree murder—"

Edward changed the station, grumbling about stupid violence. His surly mood made hers start to crumble. Hadn't she just wished for the ability to really live? A person couldn't do that if they spent all their time being angry. For him, it seemed to be a constant state, yet he was going out of his way to help her. She didn't know Edward well enough to say for sure, but she'd seen the way he was with his mother. He had a natural instinct to protect and care for others, even if he often didn't want to.

Bella thought she was likely a shock to his way of life. His mother shared more of his story, despite her protests. She didn't want to know from a third party. She wanted to hear it all from him, but his mother seemed determined. Esme stated that Edward had been outgoing growing up, had friends, a few of the female variety, and dreams. It was a shame Bella never saw that side of him.

He joined the army, along with some of his high school friends, but was the only one to come back. His return home to Chicago was short-lived and lasted about as long as his rehab. Shortly after a doctor visit, he found a mountain retreat and left.

After almost a year of no visits and a monthly call from their only child, Carlisle and Esme packed and moved to the mountain community, the halfway point between a hospital and the lonely cabin where Edward lived. That was four years earlier, and Esme said she never regretted it, since she loved the area.

A sharp crack of static pulled Bella out of her thoughts, as Edward settled on another station, pointedly ignoring her. All the while, his jaw was tight and the hand that gripped the steering wheel was white-knuckled.

"If you don't stop being so grumpy, I'll have to relieve you with road head." She slapped a hand over her mouth, not at all expecting that. It wasn't often when she surprised even herself.

He almost swerved off the road and his next words were spoken in a hiss, "Fucking hell." He shifted in his seat once he righted the truck. "I warned you about that damn mouth of yours."

Bella tapped a fingertip to her lips, as if she was trying to remember, glad that some of the tension melted away from Edward's shoulders and jaw. "I think you promised that we wouldn't surface for days."

"Only you would see that as promising." Edward shook his head, once again shifting around on the truck bench.

Bella would've patted her back if she didn't know he'd get angry about it. Instead of continuing as he probably expected her to, she only smiled and turned up the music. He said nothing more as she sang along, but a few minutes later, he turned the volume down.

When she looked questioningly at him, he replied with a simple, "I like how you sound better."

Internally, she freaking swooned, but on the outside, not so much, since she wasn't sure how he'd react. He did state that he couldn't give her more, but his words were a step toward "more." She shrugged off the compliment, but thanked him before she continued. It was hard not to notice the way Edward always changed the station when they reported the news. It didn't matter if it was local or national, he refused to listen to any of it.

"Nothing but violence," he murmured the answer to her unspoken question.

His words made her cringe, because if he only knew the things she'd done to stay alive. How would he feel about her then? Was it fair to start something with him, even if it went nowhere?

"I'm sorry I can't give you more."

Bella heard the words again and decided to tell him a little, especially since this last trip held the hope of freedom. It wasn't because she felt he had a right to know, but for Esme, in case she had to run. She hoped it wouldn't come to that, but she knew Esme would genuinely panic if she suddenly disappeared.

She tried to stir up conversation since they'd been on the road for a while. Even with the speed at which Edward drove, they still had about thirty minutes more to go. "I know what you mean. You can't turn on the television without something violent on."

His nod was barely perceptible, but his words were not. "Can you please sing for me?"

The vulnerability in his request caught her off guard, as did his imploring green eyes in the rearview mirror that watched her. Other than some choir in high school, no one had heard her sing, other than the few who'd lived with her in the last decade.

She continued the moment he found a suitable song. It was hard not to sigh when he whispered a soft "thank you" when she did as he asked. She didn't know what to make of any of it.

Well into the second song, the vibration of her cellphone alerted her to an incoming text message. Her breath caught, but she was able to disguise it with the lyrics. She checked it and worked to keep from reacting.

I may have been compromised. Get rid of the phone and use alternative method of contact.

Oh fuck.

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