A/N… Oh God, my heart! You guys said such inspiring and sweet things in your last reviews. And I can't thank you enough…honestly. It's been amazing taking this particular journey with you, and I feel overwhelmed with the love and support. Thank you.
This is the final chapter…it's long and winding. It comes with WARNINGS…all things that make my fics rated M, along with a TISSUE WARNING that I've been told needs to be attached.
WATCH THE DATES…we go back in time in order to move forward. With tears, I'll let Edward tell the end…
Chapter 36 – Epilogue
Emerging out of the woods, I smiled at the squealing laughter. When I made it to Giselle's yard, I shook my head. I wasn't sure who was happier about that living situation: Carlisle, Esme, or me. Having the three gypsy women move back with us a little over seven years prior had been fantastic. They knew what we were – had predicted it, actually – and they needed our help. Carlisle and I had thought about renovating the small cottage at the far northern point of my property for them, but Giselle and Sue insisted they were happy and comfortable where they were. However, we checked on them just about daily.
Everyone was outside, tending Giselle's small garden. She preferred to grow most of her own vegetables and herbs. Her daughter, Sue, liked growing flowers. But it was the youngest member of the Black family who brought the most joy to all of us.
"Edward!" she squealed, jumping up from the outdoor table where it looked like Esme had been doing school work with her.
Esme was only a few years into the immortal life, but she brought a sense of completion to the family. She'd made Carlisle the happiest he'd ever been, despite his long wait for her, and she was slowly becoming the mother I needed, the mother I missed.
"Ah, Miss Leah," I said with a laugh, scooping her up when she rushed to me. "What are you up to?"
"School. Miss Esme's teaching me math, and she says history is next," Leah replied with a scowl.
I smirked her way, noting she'd grown again since the last time I'd seen her, and that had only been a week. She'd just turned seven, and she had long black hair that had been braided into two long braids and almost-black eyes. She'd recently lost teeth, so there were several in various stages coming in, which gave her an awkward lisp. And she was far from stupid.
"I don't need math, Edward," she whispered, ignoring the soft chuckles from her mother, grandmother, and Esme. All three were bracing themselves for when I gave in to Leah. I always gave in to her.
Laughing, I kissed her temple. "You need math, Leah. We all do."
"No! I'm gonna tell fortunes like Grandma," she stated, pointing to Giselle, whose mind was proud, yet worried about that statement. She hadn't had the easiest of lives, so that thought scared her a bit.
"You still need math," I argued, raising an eyebrow at her as I took a seat at the table.
"Because you need to be able to count all that money you make tellin' fortunes, oh wise one," I teased her, tickling her sides, and she squealed into hysterics.
"Edward, stop!" she begged, grabbing at my hands and pulling them up so she could eye my palms. "I wanna tell yours," she whispered, trailing a finger along the lines.
Both Sue and Giselle stopped what they were doing to join us at the table. Giselle dropped a kiss to my forehead, and I smiled over at her. She was still every bit as pretty as the day I'd first met her. She was in her mid-fifties now, still sharp, still very kind. She also insisted that every last prediction she'd made that night would come true. So far, most of it had, but the one thing that boggled all our minds was the one we had to wait on the longest. My mate. According to Giselle, I'd be a hundred years into this long, dark life when I met her. I wasn't sure I believed it, but there were days where I wished time would fly.
Giselle eyed her granddaughter, a smile playing on her lips as Leah studied my hands. "Leah, what do you see?"
"I see…" she started, trailing off for a moment. "I see a long lifeline."
Esme chuckled. "I'd imagine so."
Grinning her way, I shot her a wink. Leah didn't quite know what we were, though she knew we were different. Our cool, hard skin didn't seem to bother her, nor did our strange eye color. Her mind was sharp, even at the young age of seven, and she saw the world in colors and laughter. Her mother and grandmother were a little more callous to the world, but Leah had been in that house since she was a toddler. We'd sheltered her from the harsh things life could bring to gypsy women, from which the things Giselle and Sue had already seen too much. Leah was a sheltered, safe, happy little girl.
"Hmm," she hummed, her little brow furrowing. "Marriage." She pointed to the line. "No kids. Huh. Don't you want kids, Edward?"
Laughing, I couldn't help but hug her. "Now why would I need kids? I have you! You're enough trouble!"
She rolled her eyes dramatically. "You keep saying that. I'm not trouble. Esme says I'm no trouble at all."
Chuckling, I shrugged a shoulder. "Esme's way too sweet to say differently."
"Ed-ward!" she sighed, pushing my hands away.
Her mind was amusing, but her love for me – for all of us, really – was as clear as a spring-fed river. She wasn't sure how to classify us. She knew her mother and grandmother respected us, that we were their friends, but she also knew we weren't the same as them. She saw us as her family, but the most shocking thought was that she knew we didn't age.
"How do you know that?" I asked her without thinking, which made Esme gasp a little. "Say that out loud, Leah."
"What? You don't get older. Grandma says you've got to wait a long time for something. I've heard her. You had a birthday, but you didn't do nothin' on it. Not like me. I had cake!" she explained. "Grandma and Mom both complain about gray hairs, but you…and you…" She pointed to Esme. "You don't have any."
I let out a long, deep breath. "That's kind of a big secret, Leah. You think you can keep it?"
"Am I in trouble?" she asked nervously, glancing around at all of us.
"No, sweetheart. Not at all," Esme soothed her, toying with one of her braids.
I eyed her for a moment. "You're a big girl now, Leah, so it's probably time to tell you, but you have to promise me that it's only something you talk about with us."
With Esme's help, we told her in the most basic way what we were, leaving out the darker side of our lives. The blood, the anger, and the vile parts weren't something she needed to know.
"Oh!" she gasped when she finally got it. "You're cursed! Like us!"
Grinning, I kissed her forehead. "Okay, you know what? That's probably a pretty good way of looking at it."
She smiled with pride, grasping either side of my face. Her dark eyes raked over me. "So…wait." Her voice was a whisper as she grew somber. "So…you'll always look like this, but… What about me?"
"You'll grow up and become a beautiful woman," Esme told her.
That caused a few interesting thoughts in Leah's mind. She tried to see herself grown up, perhaps looking like her mother, but then mixed in my face always looking the same.
"Will you always be here?" she asked me suddenly.
My chest ached at the sadness that was all over her sweet face. "Leah, I promise you… I will always be here for you."
Kissing her temple, I tried to find the right words, finally pulling back to look into her dark eyes.
"As long as you live."
I sat forward on the bench of the dock. The pond was partially frozen over, and light fluffy flakes fell down around me. Resting my elbows on my knees, I sank my fingers into my hair, gripping it in sadness.
I glanced behind me at Leah's cottage. Gray smoke curled up and out of the chimney, and the sound of a baby's cry met my sensitive ears. I turned back toward Masen Manor. I'd missed it, but not enough to change anything about my life.
The last two years in Chicago had been two of the best years of my very long life. Bella had blossomed at Northwestern, and I'd joined her in a few night classes. We'd started out at Carlisle's place, but eventually got a place of our own. I still monitored the school, still kept a close watch on everything here at the castle, but the staff had shifted again. Esme and Carlisle no longer worked for the school, and they'd moved to Chicago to be closer to Bella and me. Even Jasper and Alice had braved the big city, and Alice was just about ready to try college, though she kept changing her mind…or maybe visions stopped her. I wasn't sure. She'd gotten really good at keeping me out of her thoughts lately. The most recent event was probably why.
Glancing back toward Leah's cottage, I sighed in relief at the sight of Bella making her way through the snow toward me. She was pink cheeks, but sadness incarnate. I could smell her tears from where I sat.
"C'mere, sweet girl," I whispered, pulling her between my legs once she made it to the end of the dock. "It's too cold, love."
She smiled, running her fingers through my hair to knock flakes of snow out of it. "I'm okay. I'm checking on you."
God, she was beautiful. The last two years had caused the most amazing changes in her. She was still the petite thing she'd always been, but she'd filled out in places that drove me mad most days. Her hair was still long, and beautiful layers had been added some time ago. Bella was still my shy, sweet girl who needed her quiet time, not always chatty in class or the presence of strangers, but she'd accomplished her goals of being able to answer when called upon or ordering from a restaurant's menu. She still wore her charm bracelet, though some charms had been taken off to make room for a few more, and on her left hand, she wore the ring I'd given her just this past New Year's Eve.
However, the biggest change was the lack of her scar. Gone was the jagged, raised skin. She'd chosen to take Carlisle up on his birthday present to her the day she'd turned eighteen. She'd had a plastic surgeon remove the one physical reminder of all that she'd been through so long ago. It had been her choice, her decision after her first year at college, and we'd all backed her completely. There was only a bare hint of it left, and it was thin and light across her smooth, creamy skin. Some days, I missed it, missed the sight of it, simply because I'd drawn it so many times throughout my long life, even before I'd met her, but mostly, I was happy that she was happy, that she'd moved on from that bloody night.
Bringing her engagement ring up to my lips, I pressed a long kiss to it. "I'm…" I sighed, dropping my forehead to her stomach. "I don't know what to feel, Bella."
"It's okay to be sad, baby," she whispered against the top of my head as she hugged me. I wound my arms around her waist, pulling her to my lap. With all the coats between us, it was a struggle, but I needed her close, needed to feel her.
"I know, but then…she wouldn't want me to be sad. She'd be pissed if I was, actually," I said softly, letting my head fall back to the dock rail behind me. Reaching up, I straightened Bella's wool cap, brushing her hair from her face. "She… God, Bella… I've known her since she was still in diapers. I've… I've been remembering every damn minute with her out here, and…" My nostrils flared, and I shook my head. "I don't know. Sometimes, this life…it just…"
"Hurts," she finished for me.
I nodded, my eyes drifting past her to the recently stirred ground behind the cottage. "They're all gone," I whispered toward the three headstones for Giselle, Sue, and now…Leah. "All of them."
"Not all of them," she countered gently, again running her fingers through my hair. She smiled a little. "You have Jake and Nessie…and Rebecca."
Smirking up at Bella, I said, "Who's quite fussy, I hear."
"Mmhm," she hummed, nodding a little. "Though she's probably feeding off Jasper. Everyone's a little out of sorts inside."
"I'm sure," I mumbled.
Jacob and Nessie married the same year they'd met. Little Rebecca Leah Black was born just six months ago. She was the mirror image of her father at that age.
Eyeing her, I asked, "Have you changed your mind about that?"
"No," she stated firmly. "I don't need children to feel complete, Edward. And this isn't the time for that old conversation. I'm worried about you. Please talk to me."
I shook my head, my eyes falling to the buttons of her wool coat. I fingered one as my heart finally came spilling out of me.
"I don't… I don't know what to feel, Bella, because I know she was in pain. I feel relief for her, which makes me feel guilty, and then…I know I shouldn't, because she told me herself that she'd lived a long, full life, that she was ready. But… I watched over her… Her whole life." I swallowed thickly against the emotions I couldn't release, and for the first time in the few years since I'd met Bella, I wished I could shed tears. "How…How do I… Maybe this is the reason some of our kind choose to live away from humans…in order not to feel this."
I placed my hand on my chest, pressing against the ache. "I was… She was… I saw it all with her."
"Oh, Edward," Bella said, forcing my gaze to hers. "It really is okay to miss her. You played every role in her life that I can't possibly fathom – father, brother, son, friend… You were there through it all."
Burying my face into her neck, I breathed deeply the scent that grounded me, that kept me sane. "It wasn't long enough."
"I know," she sighed. "But it's selfish to wish to keep her." My head popped up from her shoulder, and she smiled sadly. "It is, Edward. She was weak. Hell, she was weak when I first came here, and she'd only gotten worse over the last two years, so this last flu was the final straw. To wish that to continue is selfish. She was ninety-five, baby, and she was ready. She saw it all, Edward. She got to keep her son, when she might not have under other circumstances. She got to see your happiness in the fulfilling of her grandmother's prediction. And she got to see her granddaughter come into the world. Those things were important to her. When she couldn't do for herself and us, that's when she knew she was ready. It's selfish to wish it any other way."
"Does it make me selfish to wish to keep you?"
"No, that makes you completely normal…and my mate." She grinned through her tears, kissing my lips. "It makes you sweet and a little overprotective. It probably scares you, seeing something as simple as a cold turn into that, at least while I'm still human."
Closing my eyes at the onslaught of emotions, I nodded. It did scare me. In fact, the longer Bella remained human, the more paranoid I'd become. I worried incessantly when she was out of my sight, the most insane ideas floating around in my head – from car accidents, to muggings, to school shootings, I would practically stalk her to make sure she made it home from class. And the mere thought of something as simple as a cold…
"You have no idea, love," I growled, shaking my head. "None."
"I know," she whispered, again kissing my lips. "And I hate this look…" She rubbed the wrinkle between my brows, dragging her fingers to the frown on my lips. "I'm ready, Edward. I can't…I can't see this on you anymore, and watching Leah's last few weeks…" She shook her head. "It's time."
My chest just about ached with that declaration from her. "You're sure?" I narrowed my eyes on her, reading everything about her – the determined jut of her chin, the sharp look in her eyes – but it was her steady, unwavering heartbeat that gave me the answer. She was telling the truth; she was ready. She meant what she was saying.
"Yes, Edward," she said firmly with a nod of her head. "After this term is over…the summer. And before you say anything, let me explain. My mom and Chelsea are good. They're happy in Florida with Chelsea's Aunt June since they moved her from New Hampshire. They're completely over the moon about our engagement, but they know I'm living the life I want. They'll be okay. Alice sees us keeping in touch, even afterward, but not visiting. She sees it working, Edward, especially since now she can help me. School has been a fantastic experience, but I'm ready. I want…my life with you. I want us. Always."
Cupping her face, I kissed her soundly, suddenly relishing all of her human traits – the warmth, the pink cheeks and lips, the pounding heartbeat, and the flow of blood through her veins. It would all be gone, but she'd be strong and fast and immortal. She'd be mine for eternity.
"Okay," I agreed, pressing my forehead to hers. "I'll…um… I'll start planning it."
"Whatever, Edward. I trust you," she said with a giggle.
Smirking up at her, I nodded. "I know, love."
My eyes drifted back to the three headstones, and I sighed deeply. I owed so much to all of them, and for more than just the beautiful future that was still sitting in my lap. They'd taught me patience and love, how to find happiness in the little things, and how to appreciate the here and now. They'd also taught me gentleness, the ability to tame the demon inside me. And they'd taught me respect, that not everything that can be seen is the truth, that there's more to someone than meets the eye. When my girl shivered due to the cold, I sent a silent, reverent thank you, hoping they heard it.
"Come, sweet girl. Back inside so you can warm up," I told her, setting her on her feet.
My mind was off in several directions. I needed to talk to Carlisle about Bella's change. I needed to call Alaska, and I needed to talk to my brothers. Jasper and Alice wanted to help with Bella, so they'd need to be told – though she'd probably already seen this decision. And Jacob was considering moving, now that his mother was gone. Now that Bella was ready, I had so much to get done.
The minds of my family were fading. They were leaving us alone in the Denali forest. Smirking, I glanced over at my mate – my wife – a purr rumbling through me.
She was flawless. And deadly.
I heard that, Edward. Her wry smile made me chuckle and then shrug a shoulder.
Her thoughts were now clear as a bell to me. I no longer needed to be physically connected to her in order to read her mind, though I lived for her to be wrapped around me in every way. At about halfway through her change, Bella's mind opened up to me like a flower in bloom. I'd been able to talk her through the painful burn that lasted three days. Sometimes, it helped, but there were hours that Bella went completely silent. Eleazar and Carlisle could only guess that it was her humanity, not to mention all that she'd been through that caused her shield to block me. My personal theory was that when she was human, the only time she let her guard completely down was when we were together as one.
We'd planned it all, all the way down to it being just the two of us, not to mention a brief, simple wedding just before we'd left Chicago for Alaska. It was the one thing she felt she needed Renee and Chelsea to see. She wanted them to know she was happy, despite the excuse we gave about leaving school for family obligations, because once we'd left, she wouldn't see them again.
Bella was still my shy girl, only completely at ease with me, so I promised her that her change would be private, despite my nerves. Our Denali family had vacated their home, though Carlisle didn't go very far, simply because I'd asked him to linger. I hadn't been sure what my reaction would be once I bit her. My worry was for nothing. I'd never had a draw to her blood, and it was worse once my teeth pierced her flesh. Her blood had been bitter and foul in my mouth, which gave me the focus to continue to push my venom into her. The last trust-filled gaze from deep brown eyes would stay with me forever.
When she awakened red-eyed and thirsty, I about fell to my knees at the sight of her. Every single inch of her was immortal perfection. She looked better than any prediction that Giselle, Leah, or Alice had ever had. She was graceful, strong, and agile. Her lips had deepened in color, while the rest of her was pale and beautiful. The only flaw that remained was the very fine scar left from the plastic surgeon across her neck. Only those that truly knew her knew to look for it.
Her eyes met mine, and I could see that the color of red was starting to lighten into something of an orange-amber. And she'd only been changed a little less than three months. She – like Alice – wanted to conquer the thirst, the mood swings, and the new strength that was a threat to everything from doorknobs to cell phones. However, Bella had an advantage. Not only had she been completely prepared for her change, unlike the rest of us, but her shield lessened the sharp scent of human blood.
"You okay?" I asked, tilting my head at her as we walked at a human pace up the mountain side.
"I'm fine," she answered, smirking my way. "Where are you taking me?"
"Someplace I've wanted to show you for a long time," I told her, scooping her up in the blink of an eye and rushing the rest of the way up.
I grinned at her squeal, her deep, musical laughter. It was still my favorite sound in the world, aside from hearing my name cross her sweet lips. Finding my old tree, I set Bella down onto her feet, turning her back to my chest.
"Look, my love," I whispered in her ear, inhaling the scent of her. She was still flowers and fruit…and her recent hunt, but now she was completely marked with my scent, from my venom that flowed through her veins, to my touch that was almost on every inch of her. My eyes darkened at that last thought, but I forced myself to focus. "This is where I'd come when I was here, Bella. I'd sit here, missing you. You remember?" I asked, smiling when she nodded.
Her human memories were blurry, but intact. It had been her biggest concern prior to her change, considering Alice, as well as the rest of us, had forgotten some things. Another concern was that she'd forget me, us…our beginning, so I'd brought all the journals we'd written in over the years, including the college ones, and handed them to her. She'd laughed and then kissed me until I could barely remember my own name.
"No, I remember," she whispered, gazing up into the night sky, her thoughts centered around the brightest star in the sky, how I'd told her I'd wish on it while away from her at the beginning of Alice's new immortal life. "It's so beautiful. You're right…you can see them all."
"Mmhm," I hummed, sitting down at the base of the tree and urging her down with me, though she opted to turn her back on the view and straddle my lap instead. "I brought you here to see, Bella," I teased her, chuckling at her sexy grin as she raked her fingers through my hair.
"This is a better view," she argued, her mind going to places that made me growl aloud. "Ah, so my mind isn't driving you crazy yet?"
I shook my head slowly, knowing my eyes were now black as pitch. "No. And when you ask me that a hundred years from now, the answer will still be the same."
She grinned, leaning closer so her forehead touched mine. "I'll remember to do that."
Smirking, I let my head fall back to the tree trunk behind me as I brought her ring up to kiss it. "I'm sure you will, Mrs. Cullen."
Her eyes blackened at the name – the name she had picked. As much as she appreciated my human last name, she told me that I was truly Carlisle's son, that my real father didn't appreciate what he'd had, so she preferred Cullen to Masen. She'd said that was her true family's name.
I only had time to register her thoughts before her lips were on mine. She moved quickly, with a possessiveness that matched my own now, and I loved every second of it. Even better was the fact that Bella was completely comfortable taking control, a fact proven when she reached for the bottom of my T-shirt, only to swiftly yank it off over my head. We shifted together like magnets, with precise movements and touches, with the ease of experience, but as always, the experience was almost overwhelming. Some clothes were carefully removed; some were simply shoved out of the way. As always, though, we still paused for a breath or two as we became one, as she slid down over me.
"God, Bella," I growled, my eyes rolling back into my head as thoughts and emotions and pure feral want flooded me. My mouth hung open as I stared at her, not able to utter a coherent word for a few brief seconds as we shared the same breath.
Bella's face quirked up into a sexy, yet deadly smile as she started to move over me, our kisses messy but deep. She was still partially dressed, so my hands had to seek out skin, sensitive areas, and her hips in order to guide her. The tree trunk groaned and swayed behind me, not to mention some of the bark chipping away to the ground around me. Our pace was slow, deliberate, but fierce and almost harsh, and she knew exactly what she was doing when I felt teeth graze the side of my neck.
Bella had learned fairly quickly after her change that teeth added a completely new and incredibly erotic element to our lovemaking. I'd never allowed her to use her teeth when she was human, simply because it was too much and I'd never been able to do the same, but now… Now anything was possible.
With the right touch, the perfectly placed open-mouthed kiss, we both fell into oblivion beneath that tree. Bella's giggle made me smile into her neck, where I was inhaling deeply.
She pulled my face back. "I love that. I love driving you crazy."
"I know you do, love," I said with a chuckle, kissing her roughly. "You like pushing me around."
"Hmm," she hummed, wearing a wry smile and rolling her eyes. "Like you don't love it."
"Very much." I patted the side of her leg. "Come on, sweet girl. You should hunt one more time before we head back, okay?"
She nodded, standing up from my lap and dressing quickly as I righted my own clothes and pulled my shirt back on. Bella's thoughts flitted from one subject to another. I'd learned quickly that just because she was quiet, her mind wasn't; it never stopped. She wondered what she'd hunt, then she wondered if she'd be tempted by humans, and then she mused about our future, when she'd be able to work back into society.
"You're doing amazingly well, Bella. Don't worry about time. You have plenty of it, okay?" I told her, pulling her to me and wrapping my arms around her waist.
She nodded, nuzzling into my neck – her favorite spot. She pressed a kiss there and pulled back. This time, her thoughts showed me her mother. Eventually, we knew we'd have to fake our deaths. And we'd decided it needed to be both of us, or her mother would seek me out to make sure I was okay. She'd come to love me as her son-in-law, but we knew it couldn't stay that way forever.
"We've got time for that, too, love. Alice is watching out for the right time."
What I didn't say aloud was that Alice was watching Renee's future. Florida was proving to be an amazing fresh start for both her and Chelsea. They stayed busy with new friends and social events, not to mention taking care of Chelsea's Aunt June. Harry Clearwater had retired from his PI work, following them down there. He and Chelsea were getting closer and closer every day. Knowing that, Bella and I worried about Renee being alone, so I had Alice keeping watch.
Bella nodded again, smiling up at me. "I know she is, Edward," she sighed, though she was still smiling when she tapped her temple. "I just have…so much going on up here."
I kissed her for that, for her verbal honesty. I could see her mind, but hearing her getting used to this life was amazing to watch, and I now understood how Jasper had practically celebrated every little thing that Alice had accomplished when she'd first been changed.
"It gets easier, my love," I promised her. "You'll figure out a balance."
She shook her head, tugging my hand as she led be back down the mountain. "No, Edward…we'll figure out a balance."
And in a blur of brunette hair and an echoing laugh, she was off. Grinning, I gave her a head start, because I was still faster than she was. Though, when I caught her, I'd probably kiss her breathless, simply because I could.
The sound of the girls' laughter wafted through the trees to the Denali courtyard. Alice and Bella lived for stories from all of the members of the family, but they especially loved Tanya's stories because they almost always ended in some sort of fun sexual conquest. Even more, they loved the stories when Tanya had dragged Jasper or myself into it all.
Narrowing my eyes when I heard my name, I got up from the base of the tree where I'd been writing in a new journal for Bella and made my way back to the house. When I stepped inside, the lack of thoughts coming from my brother made me stop cold.
"What?" I asked, when he glanced up from his laptop.
A deadly smirk curled up the corner of his mouth. "Suppose I should feel sad, but I don't." He spun the laptop around on the table, showing me what he'd been reading. "You keepin' your word, brother?"
A growl rumbled out of me as I finally saw the obituary that I'd been waiting for. Patrick Brown had finally died, due to complications of the emphysema he'd been battling for several years.
"Damn, that tough old bastard lasted way longer than I expected."
"Hmm," I hummed in agreement. "Yet, he only outlived one of his sons."
"Very true." Jasper chuckled evilly, shaking his head. "Though not the one I wanted."
"Me, either," I murmured, my lip curling in hatred.
We locked dark gazes for a moment. Alec Brown was still breathing, still living off the state of Massachusetts. His brother, Demetri, had perished in a bathroom brawl a little over two years after sentencing – a few months after I'd changed Bella – having been stabbed repeatedly by another inmate. Charlie Swan's killer was now dead and buried. But Bella's two-time, would-be killer still lived, and that did not sit well with me.
"I want him," I stated, the consonants falling hard into the room. "Prison is too good for that f-f—"
"Edward!" Bella called, bursting into the room like the ray of sunshine that she was. Even Jasper couldn't help but push her happiness back out into the room. However, she was so sharp, and she glanced between us. "What? What's wrong?"
I shoved my hands into the front pockets of my jeans, taking a deep breath and letting it out. I'd never told her the deal I'd made with Patrick Brown, but I needed to correct that.
"We should talk, love," I said softly, pulling her to me. "Let's go for a walk, hmm?"
"Okay," she whispered, looking worriedly to Jasper, who was silently letting me know that he'd figure something out about Alec Brown.
"Let me know," I told him, starting to guide Bella out of the house, but her thoughts caught the look between Jasper and me, and she folded her arms across her chest.
"Spill…both of you."
With a deep sigh, I sat down in the chair, pulling her between my legs. I explained about my visit to Patrick Brown on the day she'd been put in observation at the hospital. I told her everything about the deal we'd made. The more I talked, the more anger Jasper could feel coming off her.
"So you…paid to have Phil…and you said that you'd…"
"Wait until Patrick died before I touched his sons."
"But Demetri's dead," she stated, and I flinched when I could hear the growl to her tone, not to mention the black-eyed glare I was receiving. She stepped away from me, her hands balling up into fists, only to pull her hair away from her face.
"Bella, I'm sorry…I didn't tell you…"
"A prison…shanking was too good for him! He killed my dad, Edward!" she snarled, that quick vampire temper rising to the surface like a hot branding iron, causing me to flinch again. Even Jasper backed up a bit when her shield pushed slightly out into the room.
"I agree, my love," I told her calmly, holding out my arms. "C'mere."
She walked to me, her breathing heavy, and she'd never looked more beautiful. She was absolutely stunning when she was pissed, but just my touch calmed her. Her thoughts were centered around Alec – the laughter, the cold smile he'd given her, knowing he'd put enough sedative in her milk to choke a damn horse. She then flew back to the night her father died, and I cupped her face to brace myself for the onslaught of memories that came with it. The first time she'd truly shown me, I'd wanted to level the entire Denali forest. Despite the fact that they were her blurry, human memories, the fear that came with them was sharp as hell.
"Bella, look at me," I ordered, almost with a growl. When her eyes opened, revealing pitch black instead of the beautiful golden color I'd come to love, I shook my head. "Control that temper and that fear, love. It doesn't control you."
She took my words to heart, nodding a little as she looked between Jasper and me. "Sorry."
"Don't be," we said at the same time.
"I need to know what you want, my beautiful girl," I told her, finally giving up on my plans of revenge against Alec Brown should Bella merely say the word. The bastard could rot away in federal prison, if she said that was what she wanted. "I'm leaving this up to you. Leave him? Or…"
"I want to see him," she whispered, her eyes twitching a little.
Jasper chuckled. "Well, Bella, that poses a problem. We can't just go visit him. You're doing amazing as a two-year-old newborn, baby sister, but…with that temper and that shield, it's quite possible you'd level the whole damn place."
Bella grinned briefly his way, only to turn back to me. "There was a compliment in there…"
"Yes, ma'am." I chuckled, brushing her hair from her face. "You are doing a fantastic job, Bella, but that would be an emotional visit. Not something I'd suggest happen in a room full of people visiting inmates."
Her shoulders sagged a little, her thoughts defeated. She thought he'd sleep his life away in a prison, and to her, the punishment wasn't severe enough.
"I agree, sweetheart, but…" I took a deep breath. "But if we set this up, he won't survive it." I shrugged a shoulder, but jerked a chin toward the tiny, raven-haired girl who'd just stepped into the room. "Alice?"
Bella turned to Alice, who shook her head. "No, he won't live. There are two outcomes. Whether it's Edward or you, Alec won't live through a meeting. However, if set up correctly, then you can…kill two birds with one stone. Literally."
Bella frowned, but turned to me. My mind saw what Alice was saying; if we set it up to look like Alec Brown escaped, then we could fake our deaths at the same time.
"Oh God, Alice… Really?" I groaned, thinking this would destroy Renee.
"No!" she yelled, shaking her head. "Not like that! You set it up like Alec came for you, and you will kill Renee! No, you…" She smiled evilly, shrugging a shoulder. "You do what you need to do with Alec, but we set up…um, an accident with him…and a Jane Doe from the morgue for Bella. Alec would disappear off the face of the earth, and he can finally make himself useful by being a stand-in for you."
The plan would work, but I wouldn't do a thing until Bella gave the word.
"Oh," Bella muttered, looking down to her feet. "I…I'm not…"
My heart broke all over again for her, because she wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Chelsea and Renee. Even though she didn't see them face to face, they talked regularly. A few more minds grew closer, but the one she probably needed most stepped up behind her.
"Bella," Carlisle said softly. "I wish… I wish it could be different, but… You can't keep them forever. I'm sorry. Eventually, Chelsea and your mother will start to ask questions."
"I know," she whispered, something that came back occasionally when she was struggling. "They'll expect grandkids and want to see me and… I know."
No one else said a word, but the minds around her envied her a little, including myself. We didn't get the chance to keep our human connections, so a part of us wanted to spoil her, but the reality was that she couldn't stay in her mother's life.
However, Bella glanced up at Carlisle with an overabundance of love for him. She saw him as the closest thing to a father she'd had since Charlie, and it seemed to stem from their time together when she was in the hospital.
"Just…a little longer, Carlisle. Please?" she begged him, and my eyes burned at the heartbreak in Carlisle's mind as he hugged her.
Unable to tell her no, he simply said, "Okay, sweetheart."
Little did we know that was exactly what she got: just a little longer. It wasn't even two months after that before Bella received a voice mail from Chelsea, inviting her down to Florida for her wedding to Harry. Without Alice, I wasn't sure what we would've done.
"Tell her yes!" she hissed at Bella, just before she called her mother back. "You have to tell her yes, or it won't work."
"Florida? And…" Bella gestured up and down her body, indicating the physical changes she'd undergone. "Are you crazy?"
Alice's face melted into a sad, but warm expression. "You won't be going, Bella," she explained softly. "You say yes, but we set up your accident between now and then. You don't want the last thing you say to be a disappointing decline, nor do you want them feeling guilty, if we set it up when you're supposed to be on your way." Alice lifted Bella's hand with the phone still in it. "Say yes."
"Is this…" She sighed, looking to me as I sat on the edge of our bed, asking me the silent question she couldn't voice aloud.
"No, sweetheart. It's not the last call," I told her as I stood, hugging her from the side and dropping a kiss to her temple. "You can call them as much as you like all the way up to when we leave for Boston."
She let out a deep breath in relief, finally calling her mother back.
Bella's last chat with her mother and Chelsea came just as we drove into Boston. The plan was that we were checking on the Swan house, due to the alarm company's call. To make it legitimate, Jasper and Alice flew out first, breaking the back window of the house in order to create a true call. Jasper was also picking up the information from Jenks that we'd need in order to get our hands on Alec Brown.
"You two promise me you'll be careful," Renee asked over the phone.
"We will," Bella promised softly, and I could tell this would be hard on her.
She hummed and spoke to her mother in all the right places, but her mind was everywhere. She was simply absorbing the sound of her mother's voice. However, Chelsea was the sharp one when Renee handed the phone over.
"Isabella Marie, you've called just about every day this week. What's wrong? Spill, sweet girl," she urged.
Bella shot a panicked look my way, but sputtered, "N-Nothing, Chelsea. I'm fine. I just miss you guys."
"We miss you, too," she replied back, letting out a deep sigh. "Is everything okay, Bella? You and Edward…?"
"Oh, God, no…we're fine. Perfect, actually."
"And you're happy, sweetie? Like really happy?" Chelsea asked, and Bella's forehead thumped to the passenger side window.
My wife's mind went into overdrive; memories – really, damn good ones – flickered through her mind in her new immortal speed. A small, sweet smile played on her lips, partially because she knew I could see what she was thinking, but mostly because she was truly happy. I saw smiles, laughter, our family, and love…so much love. To Bella, it was all around her, but I was the center of it. Kisses and teases, music and piano playing, skin and touches… It went on and on, almost to the point I needed to pull over and show her I felt the same, but she finally gave an answer.
"Yes, Chelsea. I'm incredibly happy. I can't think of anything that I could possibly want or need."
"And school, Bella? You plan to go back after the family thing in Alaska?"
I glanced over at Bella, giving her a nod. When we'd planned her change after her second year at Northwestern, the excuse had been family obligations in Alaska. We'd claimed that Esme's elderly aunt needed help around the house. However, once Bella felt comfortable, she could go back to school if she wished.
"Eventually," Bella replied firmly.
"Okay, baby. Just checking on you."
Just before Bella ended the call, she said, "Hey, Chelsea… Would you… If Mom ever asks you if I'm happy, would you tell her? Make sure she knows, okay?"
Chelsea chuckled. "Oh, sweet girl. She knows."
Minutes later, I pulled up in front of my brownstone, putting the car in park and turning to Bella. "Alice is inside already, love. You two wait here. We'll call you when it's done."
Bella nodded quietly, still saddened by the call, but she hadn't been lying to Chelsea or her mother. Not one bit.
Before she could get out of the car, I stopped her, pulling her in for a kiss. "I'm so sorry, Bella." I pulled back, cupping her face in my hands like she was made of spun glass, even though she was indestructible now. "I'm sorry you can't keep them. I'm…sorry you have to sacrifice this part of your life for me." I kissed her again. "But I promise you, my love. I'll spend the rest of our existence making sure you are as happy as those memories just made you. We share that emotion, Bella."
She smiled, pushing the hair from my forehead and her golden eyes studying my face. "I never doubt you, Edward Cullen. I never have, and I never will."
"Love you," I sighed happily against her lips.
"Always." She was out of the car and inside my house almost too quickly, though it was the middle of the night, so no one saw her.
Thanks to Jenks and Alice, Jasper and I had been able to plan down to the smallest detail. Jenks got us schedules, IDs, and maps. Alice told us the whens and hows. Bella let us plan it all. She seemed to be focusing all her anger over losing Chelsea and Renee toward Alec. It took not only a hefty payment to Jenks for information about the prison Alec was in, but also many decisions made in order to reach the outcome we wanted through Alice.
I parked the car in the industrial side of town, pulled my hood up, and made my way down the sidewalk. Using the shadows, I moved quicker than I normally would have in public, keeping my mind open for any thoughts coming my way. I found Jasper just outside the fence of a shipping company's property. He was focused on the one tractor and trailer that was being loaded at the bay door.
"That one?" I asked softly.
"Yeah," he sighed, pointing toward it. "You'll catch the bottom of the trailer when he drives by, but you'll need to be out from underneath it when we get to the prison. Go up through the floor of the damn thing. I'll pay the driver and take his place." He smacked my shoulder, making me look over at him. "You sure about this?"
I nodded once. "I've been sure of this from the second I met Bella, from the moment I knew he was the one who tried to cut her head off her damn neck. The bastard sealed his fate the second he tried to drug her that summer." I sneered, biting down on my lip.
My eyes locked onto the truck when its engine roared to life in the quiet night, but I answered him. "I've asked her a hundred times. She's sure. I've asked Alice, too, and she says Bella needs this closure. Now that she can't keep her mother, and this bastard could be released somewhere down the line, Bella needs to know that Renee isn't in any danger, even if it's twenty years from now and Alec's a withered old man like his father."
Jasper huffed a grunt of agreement, patting my shoulder again. "Okay, well, there's no backing out now. Let's go."
We crouched low, making our way along the fence to the gate. We hid in shadow as the semi-truck exited the shipping yard. Just as it slowly pulled out, I grabbed on to the back of the trailer, holding on from underneath, and Jasper stepped up to the cab, knocking out the driver with his talent and a light bump on the back of the head. Shoving the guy over, he got in, and the truck picked up speed, rumbling down the highway as asphalt whizzed by below. Reaching up, I found a loose panel in the floor, using my strength to open it up completely. Once I was inside the dark box, I bent the metal back closed as the scent of produce, human food, and the trailer's stale scent hit my nose.
It wasn't long before I needed to hide behind the large boxes at the far front of the trailer, but the next few stages were all on Jasper. Without his talent, this wouldn't work. Just before the prison, the truck pulled over, and Jasper stashed the driver just inside the woods. He was a young man, just out of jail himself and with a baby on the way, and he needed the money Jasper was tucking into his pockets. I stayed silent as the guards at the gate checked the truck, only to wave Jasper on in. The truck docked just outside the kitchen, where a handful of inmates, employees, and more security guards awaited. Sniffing the air, I smiled ruefully at the one inmate we needed.
Jasper grinned my way once he opened the trailer doors. We waited until the shipment was unloaded. Using the strongest wave I'd ever seen him use, he hit every last human outside with calm – so much calm that they all fell into a deep sleep. The thump of bodies hitting tile and concrete made me smile over at him.
Because I was the fastest, I needed to get out, grab Brown, and stash him quickly. I needed to be an unrecognizable blur on the security cameras, but I pulled the hood up on my sweatshirt, hiding my face from the cameras, just in case. Jasper put a baseball cap on low, never quite giving the cameras a true look at him, and kept everyone knocked out until we'd left the prison gate. We moved fast as Jasper started the truck and I grabbed Brown, who was still out cold along with all the other kitchen and prison staff.
I tossed Brown toward the back of the truck, not really caring whether I hurt him or not, slamming the trailer doors behind us as Jasper started the truck. This was where things would get touchy. Alice had told us to have a car parked nearby. She knew, despite Jasper's powerful talent, that the humans wouldn't stay knocked out. We had to get the truck outside the gate before the alarm went off. We'd need to be in the woods with Alec, leaving the truck parked on the side of the road next to where we'd left the driver, when that happened.
I reached for the loose flooring again, waiting for Jasper's mental signal that we were in the clear. Once the guards checked the undercarriage, Jasper pulled through, stopping at the stop sign just outside the compound exit. We were both out – me with Brown and Jasper checking on the driver – and into the woods just as the alarm blared. From the minds of the guards, no one saw us.
We got to the van that Jasper had stashed on the side of the road, and Alec started to stir. My sneer couldn't be contained as I punched his face hard enough to knock him out, but just soft enough to keep from killing him.
"Make sure he can't speak. I'd hate to kill him before Bella has the chance to see him, simply because I hate his ass," Jasper snapped, pointing toward the duct tape on the floorboard.
Chuckling at his rant and his indulgent love for his "baby sister," I not only taped Brown's mouth, but his hands behind his back, as well.
"Drop me off at my car," I told him. "I'll bring Bella and Alice back to the house."
He nodded that he'd heard me, his mind on driving back into the city.
My phone vibrated in my pocket, and I pulled it out to see Jasper's message. Glancing around from the car, I checked for any observers. When I found none, I turned to the eerily still girl beside me. Alice had already gone inside.
Reaching up, I tucked Bella's hair behind her ear so that I could see her beautiful, yet worried face. "Ready?"
I kissed her lips. "We can go. Jasper's offered to finish it, including the accident. We'd have to give up this car and grab the Mustang. We can be back in Canada before nightfall."
She shook her head, her eyes locked on her old home. There wasn't much inside. Bella's piano and some furniture she'd wanted were in storage, along with most of her photo albums. What items were left behind were covered in white sheets. Bella had given up trying to sell it, but after tonight, it would belong to Renee anyway.
"Bella, you don't have to see him," I reiterated for probably the fiftieth time.
"I do," she sighed, looking down at her hands in her lap. "I need to look him in the eye. I need to tell him what he did. He never heard me speak. And he needs to know…I'm not scared of him anymore." Her warm honey eyes met mine, her thoughts calm and collected as she checked her thirst one more time.
I got out and walked around to open her door as I offered her my hand, and she took it, bringing it to her lips to press a kiss to my wedding band.
"Okay, sweet girl?" I verified one more time, and she nodded.
I wasn't prepared for the scent of the house, and neither was Bella. It was still the same, though a touch stale. Bella's memories flooded her in blurry flashes of Charlie, Renee, and Chelsea – happy times, sad times, family dinners, movie nights, and piano music. The trail that Jasper had left behind was thick with sweat, fear, and anger, and we followed it upstairs to Renee's room.
Jasper was leaning against the doorjamb, rolling his eyes at the struggle going on behind him. Strapped to a wooden chair in the middle of an almost-empty bedroom was a tall form in an orange jumpsuit. His face was covered with a black hood, but he wasn't going anywhere. Alice was eyeing him as she paced back and forth.
"Do I want to know how?" Bella asked so softly Alec couldn't hear us.
Jasper smirked. "A few paid delivery guys, a rather large bump on the back of his head, and some pretty swift moves on Edward's and my parts…if I do say so myself." He bowed low, wearing a crooked grin, and then jerked a thumb behind him. "It got the asshole out of dish duty."
Bella snorted at his humor, patting his shoulder on the way by. She looked to Alice, who smiled.
"This room. Definitely," Alice whispered conspiratorially, shooting a wink my way. "He'll recognize it – and you – the second you pull the hood off."
I reached to ruffle her hair, but she dodged gracefully away, having seen it coming.
"We'll fix the broken window downstairs," she said, taking Jasper's hand, and I turned my attention to Bella.
She walked slowly around Alec, assessing his nervous heartbeat, the flow of his blood through his veins, and the heavy breathing. The man was scared.
What's he thinking? she thought to me without looking my way.
I snorted, speaking low enough the human couldn't hear. "That he's either in solitary, or he's going to be…assaulted."
"Eew," she groaned, shaking her head.
She reached for the hood, tugging it off swiftly enough that Alec flinched. Once he was over the initial shock, he glanced around, his eyes widening when he saw the girl standing in front of him. He knew her instantly, which made him look for a way out. He now knew he was trapped.
"You'll leave when she says you can leave," I told him calmly, not caring whether or not he knew what I was capable of at that point. I gestured toward my wife, who was still studying him with an expression on her face that screamed disgust. "Until then, I'd behave. I'm not quite sure what she'll do to you," I told him honestly, only because even Bella couldn't decide.
Her lips quirked a little at that, but she looked to me, speaking as if he wasn't there. "I had dreams like this," she said in awe and then nodded once. "Yeah, it was you and me…here. I was…like I am now, though I didn't know it then."
Smiling, I nodded for her to continue as I saw her remember the blurry human dream. "What happened, my love?"
"Well, his brother was here in those dreams…so that's different. And he wasn't tied up…"
I waved a hand toward Alec, indicating to untie him if she wished as I leaned in the doorway. "He's a little shocked that you're talking, Bella, but he thinks he can overpower us."
She chuckled softly, walking closer to him. "I'm going to leave the tape on so he can listen," she stated, her eyes locked on Alec's. She shook her head slowly. "Prison was too good for you. Your brother's murder wasn't bloody enough. I realize I was just a paycheck to you, but to me…you stole everything – my childhood, my father, almost four pints of blood. All right here." She pointed to the floor between them. "You stole my voice!" she snarled, looming closer to his face, but smiled ruefully when he jumped. "I found it, though," she sang softly with a smile.
She was scaring the hell out of him. Everything he thought he remembered about the "little Swan girl" was wrong. It wasn't matching up in his head. Even the "hot" teen Bella Phil had asked him to help with wasn't matching up in his mind. He couldn't decide what was different, but he knew she was deadly. He could feel it in the air, in the hairs that stood up on the back of his neck, and the sweat on his brow.
Personally, I was more turned on than I'd ever been. She was a force to be reckoned with, pure sexual prowess, and my mate. At this point, I didn't care what she did to him.
She stood up straight, reaching for the tape that covered Alec's mouth. "I realize now why we waited, why your father needed to die first…"
Alec's eyes widened.
"Oh yeah, we waited…" she said, giving me a glance, "so you could feel what it was like to be completely alone when you die. Pretty scary, huh?" she asked at the same time she ripped the tape off.
Alec grunted, squeezing his eyes closed due to the sting. "You stupid bitch!" he growled, and I was across the room in two steps, my fist flying across his face, which knocked Alec and chair completely over.
Gripping the front of his jumpsuit, I righted him roughly, eyeing the split lip I'd just given him. "Careful, Alec. If you think she's dangerous, you have no idea what I'll do to you," I warned him, pointing a finger in his face. "It's a damn miracle you've lasted this long, and had your brother survived, he'd be in a chair next to you. I made a deal with your father that I'd wait until he died, and the wait…is over." I pointed toward Bella. "You'll listen respectfully, or I'll take it out on you… I'll make what you did to her and her father look like child's play."
Standing up straight, I turned to Bella, whose eyes had gone black at the tiny bit of blood I'd spilled into the room.
"Love?" I called her. "Focus on me. If you want him, it's a long, hard road back. Especially at this stage in your diet."
She was shaking her head. My sweet girl was determined to keep a clean record when it came to her diet. She was absolutely the strongest creature I'd ever met – definitely stronger than I had been with Phil. From her thoughts, I realized the scent of blood wasn't what was bothering her – her shield was maintaining that – but it was the sight of blood in that room again.
"He can't hurt you now, sweetheart," I soothed her, spinning to snatch Alec to his feet. I ripped the tape off his bound wrists, holding him tightly when he started to struggle. "Even if I put a knife back in his hand. Understand me?"
Her lips twitched a little, but she nodded. "Knife proof, bulletproof…"
"Exactly, my love, though…" I tilted my head at the man in my grasp. "Though, Alec here doesn't quite believe us."
The man was way too scared to worry about how I knew that. He'd reached fight-or-flight status, and he wanted out of the room, but not before he punished the "bitch that just wouldn't die."
So I let him go.
Bella's shield reacted instantly, and Alec bounced back a step or two. When he tried again, she'd pulled her shield back in, reaching for him. The man never stood a chance. She kicked out at the same time she grabbed his neck. Alec's knee shattered, and he hit the floor. She held him in a kneeling position at her feet, gripping his hair and making him look up at her.
"By the way… Your son? He's flourishing. In fact, he was accepted into a private boarding school. He's graduating this year. Your ex-girlfriend? She married a really nice doctor."
I chuckled, shaking my head, but if anything hurt Alec, it was that. His son, who was still in witness protection, had mysteriously been accepted into Masen Academy, full scholarship.
My laugh pissed Alec off, and he surprised Bella when he lunged for me, but he only made it one step. Bella's shield created a wall between us, but she pushed back against him so hard, it launched him straight into her, where fragile human skull met unforgiving vampire flesh. The hit left him dizzy, and she put him back to the floor again, this time gripping his hair from behind.
"It's not so funny now, is it, Alec?" she whispered in his ear. Using her nail, just like I'd done to Phil, she sliced his neck, saying, "So much for laughing…"
His thoughts immediately exploded: pain and fear and the true knowledge that he was going to die. She'd used his words against him, and she hadn't cut him deep, but when she shoved him away from her, she used too much strength. I heard his neck snap as he crumbled to the floor. His heart beat no longer.
I turned to Bella. "You okay?"
She nodded, looking up at me. "I wanted to drain him…but then I didn't…"
I pulled her to me. "Yes, that'll be a struggle for a long time. But I'm so proud of you."
"I couldn't let him touch you," she stated, shaking her head. "No, not ever."
"Human-proof, remember?" I reminded her, raising an eyebrow.
She let out a breath, smirking up at me. "Doesn't make me any less protective."
"Yeah, well…imagine me human, Isabella. Then we'll talk overprotective, hmm?" I teased her, grunting when she poked my side.
We looked up at Jasper and Alice, who'd joined us back upstairs. "Car keys, brother. We'll handle the accident. Carlisle's meeting me with a Jane Doe… You two will be in a fiery crash by midday."
I tossed my Audi's keys his way, wrapping an arm around Bella. "We'll see you back in Denali."
The Olympic National Park was perfect and green, with continuous gray cloud-cover. When Bella had originally shown me her acceptance letter to UW her senior year, I knew why. She'd wanted a place we could be comfortable, a place where I could go out in the daytime more often. With her diet under control, I finally conceded to Washington.
The whole family came with us – Alice, Jasper, Carlisle, and Esme; even Jacob's family lived nearby – though we were all spread out all over the state. Alice and Jasper lived closer to Port Angeles, while Carlisle decided to take a position at one of the hospitals in Seattle.
Bella and I taught music in a small elementary school on the coast in a little town called Aberdeen. We found ourselves a small cottage overlooking the ocean, spending our weekends barely getting dressed. It was a life I never thought I'd have.
My phone bleeped in my pocket as I made my way through the woods. Bella and I needed to hunt, and sometimes, it was easier to run to Jacob's rather than drive.
Jacob and Nessie had moved to a small town just outside of a reservation. When I'd finally told him of the research I'd done concerning his "curse," he'd taken it over to see what he could find out. Once Nessie knew all about it, she'd helped him with rumors she'd heard as a kid. They found a small tribe of Native Americans in Washington, whose heritage included shape-shifting, and the Blacks had been living there ever since Leah's passing.
My phone rang this time, and I grinned at the caller ID. "Yes, Miss Rebecca."
"C'mon, Uncle Edward…you gotta hurry. My dad's gonna eat my cake!"
"Tell your dad if he lays one finger on your cake before you can blow out the candles, he'll answer to me," I threatened, smiling at the laughter in the background. "You only turn nine once!"
"Did'joo hear that, Daddy!?"
"Yeah, yeah…" I heard Jacob mutter, but he was laughing.
"Thanks, Uncle Edward."
I jumped over a fallen tree, smiling at a scent I'd recognize anywhere.
"You spoil her," Bella accused, rushing up to me and leaping onto my back with a giggle.
"Yes, well, I spoiled her grandmother, too," I said with a shrug, but leaned into the kiss planted on my cheek. "I also spoiled her dad, but he'd never admit it."
Bella laughed, but stayed wrapped around me until we emerged out of the woods and into Jacob's backyard. We were greeted loudly, with hugs and smiles, but it was the birthday girl who made me smile. She rushed to Bella and me, and my wife scooped her up into a big hug.
"Thank God you're here," she gushed, grabbing my face. "Look! He's stolen icing. See the fingerprints?"
Bella giggled, shaking her head and handing Becca over to me.
She was Leah made over, and it both hurt my heart and healed it to see her. She was sharp-witted and funny, with black hair and tanned skin. Her eyes were so brown, they were almost black.
"Well, then… Let's get the candles on it before he completely loses his mind," I growled, eyeing Jacob. "I'd hate to have to break his fingers on your birthday."
Jacob laughed, his head falling back. "Whatever…I can still beat you."
"Hmm," I hummed, rolling my eyes. "Maybe… You are getting old, brother."
Jasper cracked up, smacking his shoulder as I set Becca down so she could join the girls at the table. "Told you!"
It was true. Meeting Nessie and Rebecca's birth, not to mention moving across the country from Masen Manor, had started his aging. While he'd looked twenty-five for at least twice that, he now looked like he was in his early thirties. It was slower than a human, but I could still see it.
"Any news about the Quileutes?" I asked him as the girls set up nine candles on the cake.
Jacob grinned. "One of the tribe member's sons had a terrible fever last week. I'm keeping watch in the woods for anything…new."
"Oh hell," I groaned. "So it's true? All of it?"
"We'll see. I'll be interested to know myself," he answered, shrugging a shoulder.
Carlisle's mind was riddled with questions, but he kept them to himself, especially when it was time to watch Rebecca blow out her candles.
"Make a wish, sweet girl," Bella whispered in her ear, and Becca nodded with a big grin.
She blew hard, extinguishing every candle, and we cheered. Her presence was just like her grandmother's, which had been a ray of sunshine in our very long lives. She knew what we all were, including her father. She was a sponge when it came to information about her grandmother and great grandmothers.
As Jacob ate a piece of cake the size of his damn head, Jasper pulled out his tablet, checking his e-mail. He regularly kept tabs on Renee and Chelsea, not to mention Alice and Bella's friends, Rose and Emmett, and Alice's family. It kept the girls from worrying. It gave them a feeling of watching over them.
Bella and Alice sat on either side of him, smiling the pictures he'd received.
"Oh, look, Rose and Emmett had another baby…a boy this time!" Alice squealed happily.
"All those blond curls," Esme added as she stood behind them. "Good for them!"
"Anything about my mom?" Bella asked, and Jasper nodded, scrolling through his tablet. She sighed at the picture he showed her, shaking her head. "I worry that she's still alone, Edward," she told me, holding up the picture.
Before I could say anything, it was Rebecca that piped up.
"She won't always be alone," she stated, taking a big bite of cake. With icing around her lips, she added, "I've seen it…in Grandma's crystal ball. She meets a policeman." She giggled a little. "I saw them kissing! Uncle Edward, you talk to him, make sure he's a nice guy."
We all froze for a moment, because up to that point, Rebecca had never shown any of her grandmother's talent for foresight.
"Is he?" Bella asked her.
"Yeah, he's great. He's got puppies," she stated through another bite of cake, shrugging a shoulder, as if puppies made everyone okay.
Alice's mind reeled. Her visions were quick and sharp and covered everything from this policeman who Renee was with, to Alice teaching Rebecca how to read tarot cards like Leah. She saw good things to come, including our return to Masen Manor in a decade or two, where we'd start it all over again.
I pulled Bella to my lap, kissing her cheek and smiling at all Alice was showing me.
Bella chuckled, cupping my face and kissing my lips. "What's she showing you?"
I shook my head once or twice, kissing my wife, my mate again, reveling in just how perfect my life had become. I'd waited so long for her, fought for her, and now…nothing could stop us.
My girl grinned, wrapping her arms around my neck. "Yeah? How's it look?"
"Beautiful, my love."
A/N… To answer the main question… No, I don't see a sequel to this. In fact, as of right now, I'm taking a break from writing. I've been writing for a solid 5 years – since 2009 – I've written 19 stories of my own, plus 3 with JenRar. I'm gonna catch up on reading and give my brain a rest. I'm not going anywhere, but I don't have any fics in the works right now. I've got some RL issues I'm going to let die down before I tackle anything new. However, I'll be working slowly on some PDFs for my fics that don't have any, including this one. I'll post them on FB and Twitter and my blog when they're done.
I need to thank Jenny first and foremost. Without her constant pushing, I'm not sure this would've been written. Without being able to bounce ideas off of her, scream and yell and snot-sob, this fic wouldn't have happened. So BIG mooches to her for that.
To my pre-readers – GooberLou, inkedupmom, DrivingEdward, and Beffers87…not to mention EdwardsEternal, who gave me pushes and love behind the scenes – I need to thank you all. All of you are an endless ocean of knowledge, encouragement, and love. Your friendship means more than any of it, but I appreciate every bit of help you sent my way. And Beffers87…a GINORMOUS thank you for all the amazing banners and manips and music you've given me. Much love, ladies. :)
And finally, you guys – the readers – thank you so much for every review, every message on FB and Twitter, every PM, every theory, laugh, tear, and gasp. Thank you for trusting me on another journey. Thank you for every time you pimped Masen Manor…and you did SO MUCH! All of that is what kept me going, and keeps me coming back. I have so much fun with you guys.
Okay, that's it for MMward and his Bella. That's it for me, too. I'll see you guys next time around. Until then… Mooches, Deb ;)