Harmful Pasts

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A few tears fell, ones she simply couldn't hold back. "He started to strangle me. I got away, but he kept coming at me. He was lost in some nightmare. A neighbor heard me screaming and stopped him." She wiped at her cheeks, clearing her throat. "He came to visit me in the hospital a day later, said he was sorry, and handed me divorce papers. I couldn't go after him."

For what seemed like forever, silence hung between them, her eyes on her lap and away from Edward. He surprised her as he knelt in front of her, cradling her face with his hands, his thumbs rubbing away her tears.

Something in his eyes told her to keep going, to purge the ache away. "He wouldn't answer my calls, and by the time I had a chance to see him, he was gone, transferred." She captured Edward's wrists, and she could see understanding in his eyes. The same look that was in her ex-husband's the day he left her. "He didn't even give us a chance."

"He did it to protect you."

"Maybe, but that doesn't make it right. Anything worth keeping, worth loving, is something you fucking fight for. You don't leave it, me, behind."

"And sometimes, you have to let it go." She shook her head and tried to pull away, but he wouldn't let her. Instead, he cupped the back of her neck and pressed his forehead against hers. "You're right, though. Sometimes, it's worth the fight. Maybe he didn't feel he was strong enough, or worthy."

"He didn't want me."

"God, baby, don't think like that," he whispered, pulling her closer and shifting to lie back on the couch together. "He was probably as lost and scared as you were, more so with what he'd seen over there, and thought letting you go would be easier for you to handle than being a burden to you."

"Idiot," she mumbled, nuzzling against his chest.

"There's that, too." He laughed a little, tightening his hold on her.

After a few moments, she continued and hoped for the best. "I couldn't go home, proving my father right. I loved him, but we had a falling out when I got married. I ended up taking off on a road trip, and somehow met Garrett Richards, the lead singer of Flying Eagles."

The American rock band had been around for over a decade, with three records, sold out tours and award winning music. It was rare to find anyone that hadn't heard of the group, or at the very least, one of their songs.

Bella felt Edward stiffen, but he kept up the soothing movement of his hand running over her back. "I've heard of them." She felt him take a deep breath, her hand on his chest moving along with it. "Keep going."

"I'm not exactly proud of the next part, but I ended up on tour with him. I took pictures for the website and I was getting great material and inspiration for a series I wanted to do. I fell into his bed and tried new things, drugs of all kinds, in different cities all around the world. It wasn't until I woke up one morning, no clue what happened the night before, with Garrett and the drummer."

"Fuck," Edward said, his grip tightening around her hip.

She continued, because if she stopped, she'd never get through it all.

"I freaked out and Garrett felt awful, and pushed me away, too. He had me home by the end of the night. In the end, I didn't bother fighting him. I worked for months on several projects, found an agent. I sent a picture to Garrett and he called me immediately, asked to see the rest. He and the band signed over the rights for me to use them in the show with the option to buy them from her. The record company loved it all, put the artwork on the album cover, and that basically was the start of my career."

"Then your father," he guessed, tipping my chin up. "Don't think for one moment that something like that would change my opinion of you. We all make mistakes. Think of it as a learning experience."

"I did. I don't regret it, though. It led me to an amazing career, but you're right. I went home after I received news about my father. He needed round-the-clock care, but after a few months, he died from complications—a blood clot. After that, I dedicated myself to my work, always on assignment and I was close to getting in the same kind of trouble as I had with Garrett."

She sat up, needing a little space and Edward's eyes narrowed on her. As if he knew they were reaching a breaking point.

"What happened, Bella?"

She closed her eyes and said, "My ex showed up and asked for help."

That statement made Edward sit up partially. When he finally spoke, his voice was nearly a growl. "Tell me you're not fucking married or with him still."

"Fuck no, Edward. I'm not that kind of person." She tucked her knees against her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "Just let me get this out."

"This…this is the part you're nervous about?" He sat up at the other end of the couch, leaning against the arm. "Just tell me, my imagination is running wild now."

"He worked for a firm that specializes in the kind of missions that the government can't sanction." He groaned and hit his thigh with a fist. "I was about to head to Hong Kong fora photo shoot with a finance mogul who wanted me to photograph him and his family."

"Meaning your ex needed to get close to whoever or whatever the target was," he offered, and cursing when she nodded. "In other words, he used you."

"It would've been more dangerous if they didn't have a good cover and with time being an issue, they had to move in quickly. The firm found out I was heading there, him and two others posed as members of my crew and obtained the information they needed. We left the shoot with no one aware. I didn't know specifics, but they claimed it was only intelligence they were after."

"That's it," he said after a few moments.

"Not exactly," she said, wincing when Edward shot up to his feet.

"Let me guess, your professional connections opened doors and opportunities they could easily use to roam around the world."

"That first job went so smooth, his boss asked me to help with some more. They trained and used me mostly on reconnaissance missions, until that bullshit with James. I was only supposed to go in there, take the pictures, and plant the bugs. That's it."

"Christ, that's why you left to go to the bathroom." He had to realize now that she only gave him half-truths before.

"Yes."

He stood in front of her, glaring. "What the fuck?"

"You agreed to listen before going all asshole on me!"

"That was before I realized your ex is a fucking idiot, and after letting you go in order to keep you safe, he still put you in harm's way."

He was pissed at her ex. "Oh," she said, watching him pace like a caged animal.

"What kind of asshole would do that?"

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