Chapter Fourteen: Change, Difference, Sameness

Edward slowly dried his face with the plush square washcloth, he moved the smooth cotton slowly and deliberately along his nose and cheekbones.

He blew out a hard breath and turned off the bathroom light before sliding back under the covers with her. Edward traced his fingertips along her bare skin and felt a jolt of pleasure coil within him at the pleasurable sounds she moaned at his touch. He brushed her hair off her neck and pressed his lips lightly over the strong pulse under her skin. He inhaled her warm scent and curled against her, pulling their bare bodies together.

Edward laid awake for a while, content to listening to the lullaby of her steady breathing. He was desperately aware of where her warm skin pressed against him, he longed to claim her completely.

Eventually Edward fell into a light sleep, their bodies remained pressed together. At some point while they slept, Kari shifted to her other side.

Edward woke from his light slumber to feel her arms wrapped around his waist and the side of her face pressed above his heart.

He immediately felt blood rush to his cock and felt it stiffen until its sensitive head was lightly kissing her abdomen. Edward stifled a groan at the electricity in that simple brushing of skin.

Edward was torn between relief and irritation when his phone rang. The sound was muffled from inside his pocket and he reluctantly extracted himself from around her, feeling a heavy ache as his cock lost some of its engorgement.

He squinted in the dim light at the caller ID, Pizza Palace.

"Things moving along smoothly?" Edward answered.

"I'm making good time, but you need to know that the brothers are back in the air, they'll be to California within four hours."

Edward nodded and glanced at Kari's sleeping form.

"You there?" Zeus asked at Edward's prolonged silence.

"Yes, just distracted," he admitted.

"How's your friend?" Zeus asked with a smile.

As Edward paused to answer, he was unaware that Kari had stirred awake and was now privy to his next spoken words.

"I don't know what she's thinking, I don't know if she is just agreeing to whatever I say because she's afraid to say otherwise. The moment I saw her…."

Edward trailed off as Zeus tried to formulate a reply within the vast pantheon of emotions to which he had zero experience.

Edward didn't say it aloud, but before Zeus spoke, his mind recalled some of his very first observations of her, one memory had struck him and seared itself into the front of his mind. He had found himself transfixed watching Kari save a glossy red ladybug with one black spot from a sticky, silken spider's web before starting her evening shift. He shook his head as he remembered considering snatching her as she walked back to her car after her shift the very next morning. How much he had wanted to get his hands all over her from the very beginning. He had loved being in her house, napping under her covers, drinking from her coffee cup, and touching her possessions.

Zeus took a deep breath. "I don't know what it feels like to want someone like that. I live only for the Republic; I won't ever share my life with anyone."

Edward nodded in the dim room again. "I just want to know that she doesn't feel pressure or fear from me."

Both men were silent for a beat before Edward broke the silence. "I'm figuring it out, what's your ETA?"

Zeus looked at the digital clock on the radio's display. "Under two hours if the traffic conditions hold."

"I reserved you the room next door, so we can discuss our approach."

Zeus shook his head as he flicked the turn signal and moved the powerful diesel rig to the fast lane and pressed the accelerator further to the floor. He increased the volume of his voice as the large motor roared with the fresh wash of fuel over the combustion engine.

"I'm going to park at the KOA, it's close by. I'll use my Ducati to get around."

Zeus explained his plan to head to Kari's and prepare the house for the brother's slaughter. He recited the items he had packed into his custom rig from his mental checklist. The two men discussed rolling out tarps and arranging a freshly sharpened bone saw and other stolen surgical instrumentation.

Zeus had stolen most of the stainless-steel instruments from a variety of morgues and surgical suites. He had also packed two matte black body bags along with a couple gallons each of bleach, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. He had a bag of activated charcoal and a powdered liquid solidifier that made blood and body fluids turn gelatinous and end up looking like his Aunt Mabel's holiday orange gelatin mold. The bits of brains and bones would end up suspended like the mandarin orange segments in the gelatin's unnatural color.

Edward's spoken words washed over her and gave birth to a billion simultaneous thoughts in Kari's head. "He hasn't hurt me, but what if he knew of the hidden key and cash? Would he hurt me then?"

Kari pressed her lips together and squeezed her eyes shut tighter as her mind continued to hurl questions at her and force her to remember the past.

"You know how much he could hurt you. Is it worth the risk?"

Kari shuddered involuntarily, and Edward caught the movement in his peripheral vision, he quickly ended the call. He tucked the phone away and slipped back under the covers next to her. He pulled her naked body back into his arms.

She could feel his firm bare flesh behind her. Kari closed her eyes and imagined him inside her, filling her, she ached to feel him inside her, possessing her.

She started to shift against him and moved until she was facing him, he saw unspoken words practically dance across her pupils. "Talk to me," he demanded in an urgent whisper and gripped her naked hips, his fingertips pressing into the smooth flesh.

"I think I should tell you something, but I'm afraid."

"What is it you fear?" he asked as he softened his grip and softly stroked the outside of her thigh; he slid his fingertips to the inside of her thigh and traced a light path upwards along her bare skin.

"You might change," she whispered as he frowned.

"You might become a different person," she continued in the wake of his silence. She felt her breath begin to hitch in her chest as he processed her words.

"You have no reason to fear me, nothing you could ever say would change that," he muttered as he pressed his lips to her neck. "Talk to me," he urged.

Kari remained silent under his body and the touch of his lips against her neck. She settled her arms around his shoulders and pressed her fingertips into his warm skin. They both found themselves holding their breath as she slowly slid her hands from his shoulders and traced down his sides to end up resting on the curve of his lower back. "It'd be better if I showed you," she finally whispered raggedly, kneading the skin above the curve of his bottom.

"You can show me whatever you'd like," he said with a knowing smile, trying to add a dose of levity to the heavy feeling that was beginning to blanket them.

Kari blushed and gently slapped at him. "It's nothing like that."

"I'm not trying to tease," he murmured and brushed her hair away from her face, so he could fully look into her eyes.

Kari tried to drop her gaze, but he was quick to grip her chin and maintain their eye contact. "Tell me anything," he whispered as he pressed his lips to hers. "Show me anything," he added as he lifted his lips from hers.

Kari nervously cleared her throat and nodded in the direction of the bathroom. "It's in there," she said with the barest of a voice.

Edward had zero inkling to breaking their intimate contact. "Do you need to show me right this minute?"

Kari's gaze sharpened, the small muscles around her eyes tensed with assertion. "Yes, I need to know if you're going to change into a different person."

"Then, please. Show me," he said trying to assuage her growing trepidation towards him. Edward slowly moved up and off her until she could pull the top sheet around her nudity. He slipped into his boxer briefs and followed her into the spacious bathroom. He stood completely motionless in the doorway and even ensured his breathing was muted when she paused on her way to the sink. He watched her freeze in place, standing on a plush, oval braided rug, woven in a deep mahogany shade of chestnut brown.

He waited for nearly a full minute before speaking to her. "Kari?"

"Sorry," she said quickly and surprised them both with a giggle. "Sorry, sometimes Ambien has long-lasting effects. It's just in here," she added with a shake of her head as she pointed to the carved, wood cupboards underneath the sink.

Edward slowly walked towards her and joined her when she sat on the floor and opened the wooden doors. He noticed the slight tremor in her hand as she pulled the two white battered envelopes from the sink's piping infrastructure. His curiosity spiked to a boiling point as she passed the first of the two oblong envelopes towards him.

Edward kept his eyes on her briefly before dropping his gaze and attention to the stack of hundred-dollar bills that threatened to disembowel the paper envelope. He whistled lowly, "fifteen k?"

"Nineteen, but there's something else," she answered quickly and clutched the other envelope tightly in her fist. "I'm afraid to show you this, but I need to because I'm more afraid of a life with a dangerous fraud."

Edward set the stack of money aside and nodded slowly. "I've already told you that nothing will ever change but I understand your hesitation," he said solemnly.

Kari stared at him for a few breaths before passing him the key that was contained in the second battered envelope. She waited and watched as he dumped the silver-tone key into his palm.

He was silent for a long time before he spoke. "What does this unlock?"

Kari cleared her throat as he lifted his eyes to hers. "A storage unit."

"Where?"

"Kind of close by."

"What's in this storage unit?"

"Papers and other things."

"What other things?"

"Some family mementos and other stuff my dad gave me."

Edward found himself enjoying this little bantering game with her. He noticed the rosy glow that was taking over her smooth décolletage and spreading up her neck.

"What kind of stuff?" he asked as he moved closer to her.

"A few lamps, an antique hutch and a few random pieces of…. art," she whispered as he drew closer.

"Did this, art, happen to belong to someone or perhaps somewhere else first? Maybe a museum?" he teased and dropped his hands to cover hers. He could feel the tension swimming under her skin.

"I'm not upset with you at all, I don't blame you for keeping this from me."

He spoke quickly, anxious to dispel the fear he could feel leeching from her pores.

Kari's eyes felt like they were open too wide, and her heart pounded wildly inside her chest, she swallowed hard as Edward squeezed her hands. "I understand why you needed to keep this from me.

Edward pulled on her hands, urging her to move closer, adding. "It changes nothing."

He felt immeasurable relief wash over him when he felt the roiling tension in her arms recede as she allowed him to pull her into his arms.

"It changes nothing," he whispered as his lips hovered over hers.

She could smell the lingering aroma of alcohol on his breath and let him draw her further into his embrace. Kari felt her breath catch as he tightened his arms and she was wrapped up in his strength, all her senses were overloaded, and she squeezed her eyes shut. She sharply turned her face, sagged heavily in his arms, and dropped her head to his chest.

"Nothing has changed," he whispered into her hair, his lips pressed to the top of her head.

He could feel her hot exhale against the bare skin of his chest.

Kari could feel his strong heartbeat against her face, and she pressed her lips above it beating an excitedly staccato rhythm in its opaque sac. He froze when she lifted her head, closing the small distance that separated their lips from making contact.

"You're still the same," she stated with measured awe and trailed her fingertips across the pink flesh bud of his right nipple. He inhaled sharply when she squeezed and lightly tugged on the deep pink tissue.

"I'm still the same," he murmured and put his hand on the top of the linen she had tightly wrapped around herself.

"What now?" she asked, a dull, throbbing growing stronger in her lower body, pulsing as she longed to have him closer while simultaneously debating pushing him away.

"I will do anything you want," Edward said in a ragged whisper, his nervous system alive, making every cell in his body dance.

"Anything?" she parroted.

He nodded and slid his arms around her and drew her against him. "Anything and everything," he murmured and pressed his lips against her collar bone.

Kari felt a rush of wetness to her femininity at the apex of her thighs under the touch of his lips and chuckled nervously. "There's so many things that are confusing for me right now," she admitted and trailed off into a moan as he pressed his lips more urgently in a path along the exposed skin of her chest.

"You're not him," she accidently murmured audibly and froze in his arms. He lifted his eyes sharply to her face, his gaze captured her. "What did you say?" he asked carefully. Edward had heard her fine but wanted her to repeat her words aloud.

Kari remained unblinking and tried to keep her facial features neutral. She was feeling safe within his arms and dropped her eyes from his as her mind renewed its assault with a slideshow of the conclusion of her date with Keith.

Edward controlled his breathing and kept his features neutral; he pressed his lips to her temple. "Please talk to me," he whispered against her skin.

"You're not him, you're not going to change and hurt me," she stated urgently, bringing her eyes back to his.

"I'm not him," Edward said in a soothing tone and traced his fingertips down the side of her face. "I'm not going to change, now tell me how you got Keith to leave your house."

Kari took a deep breath and held it in her lungs, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. She slowly exhaled and began to speak softly as she felt Edward's lips press against her forehead.

Her breath hitched in her chest when Edward kissed the spot on her neck that Keith had nicked with the curved blade.

She closed her eyes and was transported back to being trapped under the weight of Keith's body. She had struggled to not scream when he trailed the knife over the creamy skin of her upper chest and dipped into the smooth valley of skin between her breasts. "This is nice. Did you pick this out for me?" Keith chuckled rhetorically as he traced the wickedly sharp blade along her sky-blue bra.

"Why are you doing this?" Kari managed before her breath left her again.

As she spoke, Edward slowly manipulated his arms around her until they were laying on the floor. Edward readjusted his grip around her and suppressed a shudder at the warmth emanating from her bare skin, hidden only by the cotton sheet. Kari lapsed into silence, jarred back to reality as Edward settled behind her.

"Please continue," he urged, brushing her hair off the back of her neck. Edward brushed his fingertips across the exposed soft skin, and she felt goosebumps sprout along her arms.

"Because you think you're better than me," Keith hissed in her face. His face grew to a near fuchsia state as he added. "You dismissed the art, talked down to me. Don't start playing some victim, you've been a goddamn tease all night."

Kari felt a surge of anger and struggled against him. "I've done no such thing," she protested with a surprisingly strong tone of indignation. "Leave now, if you go right now, I won't call the police," she continued defiantly, spitting her words up into his face.

Keith scoffed and gripped her chin tightly, his fingers digging into the soft skin of her face. Kari cried out at his sudden grasp. "Shut the fuck up and quit fighting me, it'll be better for you," he spit at her before he tightened his grip and yanked her chin sharply to the right. She didn't have time to speak before he smashed the side of her face against the cool Tuscan tiles.

Kari's right ear exploded in pain as the drum partially ruptured and she knew she might very well become deaf in that ear. She didn't have time to think further before Keith yanked her chin back until she was looking up at him.

She struggled to not cry out as he pressed the chilly blade in the smooth divot between her fifth and sixth rib.

"Are you done fighting?" Keith asked in a blank tone.

Kari felt her entire body begin to tremble and she found she couldn't even blink. She returned Keith's stare and felt a rush of offense and indignation as she practically turned inside out at the invasion of his hands and the violations she could almost see behind his eyes.

Kari stumbled over her words and squeezed her eyes shut. She didn't want to remember anymore; she muttered incoherently and covered her face with her hands. She willed herself to keep the threat of tears at bay.

"Is it too hard for you to tell me?" Edward asked gently, his breath warm against the back of her neck.

Kari shook her head, not quite trusting her voice. "I've just never told anyone exactly what happened that night," she said in a shaky voice, adding. "I never imagined there would ever be a moment when I would."

She continued before Edward could say anything. "I don't think Keith meant to necessarily stab me so deep, it was supposed to be a warning, but the angle was bad, and that blade was so sharp."

Kari shivered in his arms, starkly remembering the feel of the stainless-steel sliding into her skin, penetrating the intercostal muscles between her ribs, and eventually burying itself in the delicate tissue of her lung.

Kari issued a guttural screech as her lung began the first stages of eventual collapse. Keith froze on top of her, his strong erection suddenly dampened by the amount of blood pouring out of her side and the labored tone her breathing suddenly became.

Keith scrambled off her and backed out of the room until his back met the front door. He watched as she struggled to breathe on the living room floor and patted his pockets. As soon as he felt his keys, he tossed the portable phone towards her and muttered an apology before he left her to flounder on the hard, chilly floor.

Edward clenched his jaw as he had sudden still-frames in the front of his mind of disarticulating Keith, separating, and severing each individual tendon and ligaments until he was a neat, wet pile of flesh and bone. He pulled her as close as he could to the front of his body, molding her against him.

"He just left you there?" Edward asked in a low, dangerous tone. He was filled with a volcanic surge of fiery anger at Keith's limp dick apology. He wanted to press a kiss on her forehead and drive to Keith's house, he felt delicious anticipation shoot through his nerves at the thought of opening Keith from stem to stern.

Kari nodded stiffly, tears filled her eyes and threatened to flow down her face.

"What did you do after he left?"

"I was able to reach where he threw the phone and called my friend Sam, he works in the trauma unit at the hospital."

"He's a doctor?"

Kari nodded, "general surgeon." She closed her eyes as Edward began to trace his fingertips along the exposed skin of her shoulders and upper arms.

"He was on call that night and picked up the phone right away. I told him I was hurt and needed him to come over immediately, that I couldn't call emergency services."

"He came over just like that, no questions asked?"

Kari chuckled dryly. "Oh, there would be questions but only after he had helped me. He was at the door fast and thankfully Keith hadn't locked it because I couldn't have made it across the room to unlock it and I don't have a spare hidden outside. I had told him on the phone that I thought my lung was collapsing, he had a chest tube placed in record time."

"He didn't insist that you go to the hospital or the police?"

"He did, but I didn't want to be one of those ashamed, broken and faceless women, the ones who stare at their feet and mumble their answers, degraded in the harsh overhead fluorescent lighting." Kari abruptly stopped speaking, her mind showing flash cards of all the women and girls she had seen be brusquely interviewed by police officers that were supposed to Protect and Serve.

Kari blew out a sharp breath, seeing a slideshow of the terrified women as they were interrogated. The invariably insinuated, implied, and directed accusatory questions and statements.

"How much did you have to drink?"

"What are your current medical prescriptions?"

"Are you seeing a psychiatrist?"

"What were you wearing?

"Were you wearing a bra?"

"Did you flirt with him at any point?"

"How short and tight was the dress you were wearing?"

"How many people have you engaged in sexual activity with?"

Kari had witnessed countless side eye looks between male detectives with formidable Freudian side arms and the shared idea that a martini with extra olives was slang for acceptance and a desire even to be sodomized.

"I somehow let Sam convince me that I needed to at least get an x-ray to see if I had broken anything and he wanted to give me some stronger anti-inflammatories." Kari paused, remembering Sam helping her down the driveway to the passenger seat of his expensive sports car. "We parked where janitorial services usually does at the end of the campus and Sam went and fetched a wheelchair. The imaging department is in the rear basement and doesn't get a lot of foot traffic. The x-rays showed a couple cracked ribs, it hurt for months anytime I would cough or sneeze, I thought it was never going to stop hurting."

Edward waited quietly in the space between her words.

"He gave me a shot for pain and a couple prescriptions to fill later. I swore him to secrecy, and he made me promise to tell him the second I started to feel worse. He was worried about me being alone and I ended up staying on his sofa for a few days."

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I eventually got back to working, I made up a story and got a leave of absence."

After Kari finished speaking, she felt an enormous wave of exhaustion wash over her. She closed her eyes and felt a warmth inside her when she found him unchanged. Edward squeezed her tighter in his embrace, enveloping her in his strong arms. She found herself wrapped up in his warm skin, the pressure of his body.

Edward desperately wanted her to elaborate, he wanted to pepper her with more questions about Keith.

Her body was still under chemical siege from the Ambien and alcohol combination and she couldn't contain a series of deep yawns. "I have to stop talking about this now," she practically slurred.

"Let's get you back in bed," Edward whispered against her ear. Kari shivered under his hot exhale and couldn't help but chuckle and nod in enthusiastic agreement when his next words were spoken on his warm breath. "Just sleep."

Edward had found a spare minute to straighten the bed linen and slipped under the smooth sheets with her. Fatigue had turned her body to Jell-O, and she giggled when he partially lifted her to slide a pillow under her head.

Kari lapsed back into an exhausted, hard, deep sleep. "I'm safe with him," was her last conscious thought before she sank fully to the bottomless pit of dreamless sleep, wrapped in his unbreakable hold.

Edward held her for a while, memorizing the rhythmic rate of her even breathing and watching the steady rise and fall of her chest. He pressed his lips to the strong pulse on the side of her neck, her carotid pulse thudded under his lips.

He reluctantly released his hold on her and tried to get off the soft mattress without waking her and pulled her phone from his jacket. He looked over at her sleeping form, a fleeting touch of guilt briefly alighted upon him. Edward brushed the thought away and grabbed his own phone in addition to hers before carrying them into the suite's generously sized living room.

He pulled a plastic bottle of water from the mini-bar and settled on the plush sofa. Edward took a long drink of the icy-cold water before checking his messages. After finding no new calls or emails, he turned his attention to Kari's phone. He tapped in her passcode and unlocked the phone; he had studied hours of security footage and was able to capture and record her various sign-ins and passwords.

Edward combed through her recent text messages and voicemails, he searched her email account and scrutinized the message folders. A frown creased his forehead and his frustration grew as he finally found emails pertaining to Keith. He scoured the sentences and reread each individual letter as he discovered a wealth of information about Keith from the aunt that had set them up on a blind date.

Edward clicked a link to Keith's social media page, he memorized his face and imagined how Keith's orbital socket would spectacularly snap apart under his fist. Edward closed his eyes as he envisioned kicking Keith repeatedly until he destroyed ligaments and caused internal hemorrhaging before cardiac and neurological death.

Edward felt a headache starting from straining his eyes at the phone's screen and quickly skimmed the last dozen emails pertaining to Keith. In an email from Kari's aunt, he located Keith's contact information, he noted the address and walked back to the bedroom to put both phones back in his jacket pockets.

He paused by the bed and looked down at Kari's sleeping form as he slipped out of his clothes. He crawled under the covers behind her and pulled the linen up and around them. Edward slid his arms around her, a frustrated growl fell from his lips when he felt the sheet still snugly wrapped around her nakedness. He felt a rush of pure feral animal; his senses began to grow overwhelmed at her intoxicating scent and he was filled with a flush that left the tips of his ear's scarlet. His hands urgently moved over the cotton sheet that hid her bare skin from his touch.

"Please," he murmured into the crown of her head and readjusted his grip around her.

Kari stirred awake at his insistent touch. "Are you okay?" she mumbled. She swam to the surface of consciousness when she felt him tugging at the sheet that was still loosely wrapped around her body.

"I want to touch you," he said in a ragged whisper and lessened his grip enough for her to turn and face him. Her linen shroud slipped further off her body. Edward leaned forward to capture her lips and was surprised when she lifted a hand to cover her mouth.

Kari blushed and dropped her gaze. "Give me a minute, I have to brush away this dragon breath," she admitted embarrassingly.

Edward closed his large hand around her wrist and pulled her hand away from her mouth. "We both ate the same things and I don't want to have to wait an entire minute," he growled as he pressed his lips to hers with ferocious passion.

Kari moaned into his mouth as his other hand found a space in the linen and trailed his fingertips up her inner thigh.

Edward cupped his hand against front of her naked intimacy, the soft mound of her bare femininity was warm under his palm. "Please," he begged.

Edward's heart pounded in his chest as Kari felt a staggering conflict between her lingering fears of the unknown, coupled with physical desires and lustful swells.

"Do you want me to stop?" he asked and started to slide his hand away from her warm, wet center.

"Not stop," she whispered quickly and kept him from lifting his hand from the intimacy at the apex of her thighs. Kari sighed under the return of his touch before adding. "I want to feel your touch, but I also want to know exactly who you are."

Edward lightly moved his fingertips over her naked center, probing the delicate wet folds. He teased her rapidly hardening clit and coaxed a series of gasps from her before pressing his lips to hers and drank down her passionate moans.

He huskily whispered, "what do you want to know?"

Kari found it difficult to form words and spoke in broken blurbs. "I just want to know who you are."

Edward teased a finger at her opening. "I want to know about the man I will be spending the rest of my life with," she moaned as she dropped a hand over his and paused him in his movements.

"Please," she said on the end of a ragged breath. "Tell me who you are."

"I will tell you anything you want to know on one condition," he whispered in a teasing tone and gave a quick lick to the tip of her nose.

"What's that?" she asked with an involuntary shudder.

"Let me make you feel good," he whispered against her lips and felt her squeeze her thighs around him.

He kept his fervent hold against her and slowly began to renew his teasing and stroking of her near pulsing clit. "Yes?" he whispered and began to kiss a path down her neck and upper chest.

Edward's heart pounded in his chest when she nodded.

"Say it," he said pressing his lips against her sternum and moving to the top of her belly.

"Yes," she exhaled and dropped her hands to the tops of his shoulders. He pushed her thighs apart and traced her folds and tight center with his warm tongue.

Edward enthusiastically probed her innermost intimacy and flicked his tongue against her clit that was now throbbing in time with her racing heart.

Kari arched her back and pressed herself against Edward's mouth as she lost herself in the powerful orgasm that his touch had elicited.

He smiled against her wet center as he felt her tension recede with each squeeze of her thighs and unashamed undulations.

Kari relaxed back into the mattress, reveling in the pleasurable aftershocks that made her pelvis twitch. Edward moved off her lower body and pulled her close. She met his kiss with equal vigor, tasting herself on his lips. "Tell me what you want to know," he asked, briefly breaking contact.