(+)(+)(+)Far Away Flame(+)(+)(+)
"We need to get up."
Edward's mouth skims across my back as he grazes his hand down my arm. "No, we don't. This cabin is so damn comfortable. Just tell Jasper to turn around and head for an island. Embry and Liz can hang onto the baby girl for a few more days."
"I miss her."
"I miss her, too. But we needed this."
"We did," I concede, shivering under his gentle touch. The subtle rock of the yacht means we've not yet docked back in Panama City. This past week with Jasper and Alice on the boat has been so relaxing, and completely necessary like my hubby said.
"We'll go back to one hundred percent responsibility in a few hours." His warm hand slides along my thigh before he pulls it over his leg. "But let's enjoy this us-time till the last possible minute."
His fingers find me wet and wanting and I hum in anticipation.
"See, that didn't take much convincing."
My breathy giggle can't be helped. "When has it ever?"
He adjusts his hips, pulling me into his body. It's his turn to hum after he slides inside. A sexy, unhurried pace of thrusting and rubbing leads to mutual sighs and moans. When he wraps his arm around me to thread our fingers together, I circle my hips, knowing it drives him wild.
"Mmmm, my wife." He draws his hand down my stomach to tease and torture me until I can't hold on any longer.
I clench around him, hoping to bring him with me as I freefall into orgasm. He responds with a low growl and a few long strokes.
There he is.
We catch our breath, his strong arms still enveloping me while I turn toward him. "Morning," I whisper in between kisses. "Who needs caffeine when you can wake up like this?"
He nods, kisses me again, and flops back with an enormous grin. "Now we can get the day started."
(+)(+)(+) Far Away Flame (+)(+)(+)
"There's my monkey!"
"Daddy!" Karis yells while barreling across the grass toward us. "Mommy!" Edward scoops her up, twirling them around as the crowd gives us room for our happy reunion. "I missed you guys so much!"
After a few more squeezes, Edward passes her into my arms. "We missed you so much! Did you have a fun week with Uncle Embry and Aunt Liz?"
"Uh huh, and Uncle Em said I'm not allowed to leave because I'm the best helper for Norah and Nolan. Especially with diapers."
"Diaper duty, huh?" Edward asks, laughing and pointing toward a waving Embry. "Well, I'll see if I can negotiate your release, kiddo. We have to get you home. School starts in two weeks, you know."
"Did my Bubble Guppies backpack come in the mail yet?"
"I don't know. We made sure it was shipped to Gram and Papa's house while we were all on vacation. When we get home tomorrow night, we'll ask."
The three of us approach the blanket and umbrella where Liz is set up, safely away from flying soccer balls. Embry is further away on the sideline, holding his infant daughter in one arm while talking animatedly to several little boys in soccer jerseys.
"Hey, you two." Liz stands to greet us, readjusting a fussy Nolan on her shoulder. "How was Florida?"
"Fantastic," Edward responds and reaches for his godson. "C'mere little man. Let's talk." My hubby pecks my cheek and walks across the field toward his brother.
"Mommy, can I go back to the game with Daddy and Nolan?"
I crouch down and tug on her shorts. "I need four kisses first."
She giggles and makes her fishie lips, leaning in, ready to count. "One," kiss, "two," kiss, "three," kiss, "four," kiss, "and one for good luck," kiss.
"Thank you." I wink at her, patting her tush. "Go, have fun."
The late morning sun is already attacking my skin, which I didn't cover in lotion this morning, so I head for my sister-in-law's welcoming shady set-up.
"So, how are you, Momma?" I ask Liz, getting comfortable on the blanket next to her.
"Oh, we're hanging in there. Double the fun, double the drama, I suppose." Her smile is weary but genuine. "They're really good babies, though. I'm just thankful we're not dealing with colic or anything."
"I hope it wasn't too much keeping Karis with you all week."
"Oh, my God, are you kidding?" Liz makes a face. "That child is an angel. I hope she told you Embry and I aren't letting her leave. She's like the baby whisperer to the twins. Whenever they get moody, she snaps them right out of it. She's got the magic touch. Definitely meant to be a big sister."
I smile, my gaze turning toward my daughter running on the soccer field. "We're working on it."
"Have you heard anything?"
"Nothing yet. We're at the top of the list, completed our home study, gone to our meetings . . . now we wait."
"How's Edward feeling about it?" She passes me her package of Twizzlers and I peel off two.
"He's more than ready." I sigh, grievous thoughts from years ago bubbling to the surface. "Losing the baby two years ago was awful for both of us, I mean, you remember." Liz nods, looking down at her lap just as I clear my throat. "But he was my rock then and our constant cheerleader the whole way through this process. Doesn't matter to him how another child or children come to us, just as long as they come." I chuckle and point at our husbands, treating the four-month-old twins like foosball figurines, while the babies' little chicken legs bat at the soccer ball between them. "Those two were meant to be daddies."
"They were." Liz leans back on her hands, tipping her head up. "Ugh, I'm zonked. I need my bed."
"How much longer do you need to stay?"
"Em has to stay till the end since he's the coordinator. They end by one 'cause it's so friggin' hot."
"And those are his college players coaching out there?"
"Yup. Two different guys for each skill level from preschool through eighth grade. He's been doing this every summer as a part of a community outreach."
"Edward was telling me. Embry's got such a good heart. He's definitely used his notoriety and talent for good ever since retiring."
"Yeah, he's a keeper." She yawns. "Now if I could just convince him it's okay to let the babies cry it out every once in a while, we'd be golden."
I snort. "Spoiling them?"
"Well, listen, why don't you take off and get some rest." I nudge her shoulder. "Edward and I can help Embry with the babies."
"Really?" She looks about ten percent skeptical and ninety elated.
"Yes, of course. Go take a nap, and I'll cover dinner tonight. You deserve it after taking care of my little one this week along with your brood."
She squeals, wrapping her arms around me. "Tell my hubby and babies I love them. Love you, too!"
A cloud of dust arises after she takes off, and I stand to head over to where Karis is kicking penalty shots with a group of young girls and their two coaches.
"Bella?" I hear my name and whip around, knowing it wasn't Edward or Embry who called out to me. "Hey."
My eyes bug out, focusing on my ex-husband as he steps toward me. He's still handsome, but the last seven years have yielded some wrinkles and many grays. After Tyler asks again how I'm doing, I force myself to speak.
"Hey. Uhh, I'm well, really well. What are you doing here?"
He smirks. "I was just about to ask you the same thing." He points out to center field where a group of young girls are practicing dribbling. "My girls have been at the soccer clinic all week. Pink jerseys with my name."
My stare follows his direction and I spot two platinum blondes with my former last name on the backs of their shirts. They both have long ponytails with pink bows on top, and their skills have them looking like they're ready to try out for a varsity squad.
"Monroe numbers one and two, huh?"
A look of pride crosses his face. "Yup. Paige and Kenna."
A few seconds of awkward silence pass before Tyler clears his throat. "So, what brings you out to Emory University's soccer clinic?"
"My brother-in-law is the head coach; he runs it."
I can tell he's taken aback, but he attempts to recover. "Your brother-in-law is Embry Cullen?"
"Mhmm. My husband and I are just passing through and picking up our daughter before we head home."
He smiles thoughtfully. "Where's home these days?"
"Jersey. Where he and I grew up."
"That's good"—he nods— "great, I mean. And you said you have a little girl?"
Before I get a chance to answer, Karis comes tearing across the field, waving her arms. "Did you see, Momma? I got a goal!"
I cup my hands around my mouth to shout. "I saw, baby!"
Karis whirls around. "Daddy, didja see?"
Tyler and I both turn to see Edward, who's running out to the field from the opposite direction. He's got Nolan in one arm and picks Karis up in the other and spins them around.
"I saw you, monkey; way to go!" He puts her down and smacks a kiss on her forehead. "Now go do it again!"
My gaze follows Karis as she runs back to the goal post where her coach is waiting to give her a high five. "And you have another baby as well?" Tyler asks, clearly focused on my husband.
"Oh, no. That's our nephew." I watch Edward step up to Embry who hands over Norah, and now my hubby is cradling two infants in his chiseled, tan arms. There's nothing sexier, but I force myself to look back to Tyler. "How's Bree?"
"She's fine." He shrugs. "We split before she even had the girls, though."
There's a sliver of me that finds satisfaction hearing they're not together, but I don't dwell on it. Yes, I moved past all the shit he did to me years ago, but I'm still human.
A whistle blows near us and a few seconds later, we're joined by his twin daughters. "Nice job, girls. Having fun?" he asks, handing them water bottles. Tyler mouths their names to me as he points to each of them.
"Yeah. Wish Mommy was here to watch, though," Paige says between pants and gulps of water. "She never comes to our soccer stuff."
Kenna waves her off. "Eh, forget her. She's on vacation with Rick—"
"Isn't it Doug?" The other interrupts before chugging again.
"Who knows, but Daddy's here." Kenna high-fives Tyler who doesn't respond to their back and forth.
"C'mere," Tyler says, crouching down. "And I always will be." He squeezes both of their shoulders. "Take another sip of water and head back out. Looks like your coach is ready for you again."
"Who are you?" Paige directs toward me.
Before I get a chance to respond, Tyler answers her. "That's Bella. We uhh— we used to be friends before you girls were born."
"'Kay, see ya!" Kenna shouts, grabbing her sister's arm before they head back to the field.
Tyler chuckles uncomfortably. "Wow, that was easier than I thought it would be. They usually hit me with twenty questions over the simplest things."
I huff, tucking my hair behind my ear. "Sounds about right. Karis is always—"
"Hey, beautiful. Can you take Nolan so I can work with baby girl? Em has Norah."
"Sure." I lift my snoozing nephew out of Edward's instantly-stiffened embrace. Of course he recognizes my ex. He's staring stone-faced at Tyler, probably wondering what alternate universe we've all stepped into.
"Everything okay?" he asks, catching my gaze. His jaw is tense while he slides his hand around my lower back.
Stretching up to reach his lips, I kiss him softly to reassure. "It's fine. Promise." I give him another peck. "Go get her."
He nods and steps back, sending another death glare to Tyler before jogging off toward the goal where Karis is practicing.
A couple of seconds pass. "Was that . . . wait, from Emmett's wedding?" Tyler questions wide-eyed.
I laugh, turning my nephew so he's covered by shade. "Yeah, it is. You shoulda been there when I had to explain to him about you." I shake my head, thinking over the craziness of our collective pasts. How things worked out. How things didn't.
"I'm sorry about it all," he says softly, shaking his head.
"I'm not." I gesture toward the field. "Everything worked out the way it was supposed to, don't you think?"
Tyler stares at his daughters, while I watch my husband kick the soccer ball around. Edward's still so talented and athletic at forty-three. He loves me and our daughter with all his heart and has doted on her since the moment we read that positive pregnancy test result together in our bedroom all those years ago.
"Yeah, maybe it did."
I sway back and forth, placing butterfly kisses on Nolan's peach fuzz. "I'll see ya, Tyler," I add with a grin and a step back.
"Take care, Bella."
"Karis Grace Cullen! First day of kindergarten is waiting for you, baby girl!"
"I'm right here, Daddy."
I spin around to find my daughter sitting at the kitchen table, eating her mini muffins. She's swinging her legs back and forth, dusting them along the floor since she can't touch yet. When she waves at me, I chuckle and pull a seat up next to her.
"You're adorable." I poke her nose. "Finish this last muffin and go brush those teeth, okay? We have to leave in ten minutes."
"Is Mommy ready?"
"Almost. Miss Carolyn called her and they're still on the phone."
Karis gasps. "Does she have a brother or sister for me yet?"
"I'm not sure. But we'll be ready for a brother or sister when she says it's time, right?"
"Yes. I'll have a lot to teach them. I better get ready."
"Well, what if it's a brother or sister who's older than you are?"
She crinkles her face, trying to figure out how in her five-year-old mind that would work. "Ummm . . ."
"Tell ya what, we'll talk about it after school."
Bella walks into the kitchen, slides her phone onto the counter, and turns to Karis. "Ready, kiddo?"
"She's just going to brush those teeth, Mommy." I pull my daughter's chair out from the table.
"Make sure there's toothpaste on the brush this time!"
"So, anything?" I ask watching Karis bound down the hall.
Bellas brows rise and fall. "Maybe. She wanted to give us a heads up, but she didn't want to make any promises."
"Same brother and sister we heard about before?" I reach my hand for her and she folds herself into me, nodding. "Well, that's something." I breathe in deeply, inhaling her comforting scent and rubbing her back.
We stand there quietly in each other's arms. Millions of thoughts and prayers rushing through our minds, wondering if this time will be the time it works out. A few minutes later Karis reappears, mouth wide open, waiting for us to inspect her pearly whites.
"Ding," she says, as if symbolizing a diamond glistening on her teeth.
I chuckle. "Looks good, baby." I jerk my head toward the front door. "Let's do this."
"You excited?" Bella asks our daughter as we pedal down the street.
"Yeah. I hope I can sit with Finn."
"Well, even if you can't sit near him in class, you can always play together on the playground at recess."
I glance over at my wife who smiles back. "That's when Mommy and I got to hang out when we were little. She was only in my class three times in our eight years at Nokomis and Neeta. Recess was our playtime."
"I guess," Karis says, pushing hard on her pedal to make it up the small hill.
"Careful of the sand patch, Mommy." I point out the pitfall, coming up on our right.
"Hardy har har. I'm a much better bicycle rider now than when I was younger."
Who does she think she's kidding? "I seem to remember lots of scraped up knees and elbows. Not to mention ripped stockings. How did you always manage to take a spill on class picture day?"
Bella laughs out loud. "Just a gift, I suppose."
"Will you guys always ride your bikes with me to school?" Karis pipes up in her squeaky voice.
"We'll definitely ride with you for this year. Mommy and I will take turns, okay?"
She whines but I send her a pointed look. "But what if I wanna ride with my friends?"
"Well, if you meet your friends somewhere along the way, maybe we can talk about it then. But for now, we want to make sure you know the path to take. You've never done this on your own. You'll have lots of years to be a big girl and ride by yourself. Deal?"
After the crossing guard sees us safely over to the school property, the three of us walk our bikes toward the familiar, forty-year-old metal rack where Karis lines her pink and purple Huffy up next to all the other miniature bicycles. She threads her helmet onto her handlebars, rubs her hands over her brown wispy curls, and walks back to Bella and me.
"You have a super day, sweet girl." Bella kneels to shower her with numerous kisses all over her face and hugs her until Karis lets go. "I love you, baby."
"Love you too, Momma." She turns to me, reaching up. "Bye, Daddy."
I give her a peck on her puckered lips and tickle her side with a squeeze. "You be the best kindergartener you can be, okay? Lots of smiles and lots of hard work and listening."
"I will. Are you gonna be here when I'm all done?"
I put her down to loop her backpack over her shoulders. "Mommy and I will be right here when the bell rings. Promise."
A little blonde-haired bullet shoots in front of us. "Hi, Karis." Finn skids to her side. "Check out my Ninja Turtles backpack!"
Bella grabs my hand, sending me a knowing smirk. Finn has been Karis's best buddy since they met two years ago in preschool. When they're not together, he's all she talks about.
"I like it. Look, mine's Bubble Guppies." She turns around to show him.
"Oh, I got something for you," he adds, reaching into his pocket.
My wife squeezes my fingers; I know what she's thinking. We inch closer to peer into his little hand.
"It's a seashell from the beach. It has pink streaks in it, see?" He holds it up for her. "I know your favorite color is pink so I brought it home for you."
I huff while Bella turns her face into my shoulder with an "Awww."
"Thanks, Finn! I'm gonna keep it in my jewelry box with the spinning ballerina. It'll be safe in there."
The bell rings, ending their cute exchange. Finn runs off to say a final goodbye to his mom while Karis turns to blow us both kisses.
We wave and call out our "I love yous," staying till the teacher opens her back door, inviting the line of kids to enter.
When I turn to my wife, her eyes are glistening. "You okay, Momma?"
"I'll be fine. Seems surreal but in a fantastic way. Us, here like this, sending our daughter into the same kindergarten class we walked into forever ago? It's déjà vu but it's not."
I grab her hand. "What you call 'déjà vu,' I'm calling meant to be." We get back on our bikes and navigate our way out of the sandy lot, and I send her a wink.
"I like it, Cullen," she says with a glint in her eye. "Let's go see what else is meant to be."
A/N: A final enormous thank you to my amazing Team Cabana: Born, Cejsmom, Lay, and Momo. You girls are always there for me with plot pointers, red pens, and shoulders to cry or vent on. I appreciate it more than you know and love you all to pieces. You make this ride even more fun.
To my N&S triplet sister, Koni . . . thank you for sharing your precious girl's beautiful name for this ending! Love you!
To my fantastic readers who held on tight through those rougher chapters and then had the patience of all the saints in heaven while it took me forever to write those last couple of chapters and finally, this epilogue. Your reviews have kept me going and your check-ins through PMs and on Facebook never fail to make me smile, giving me that boost I needed to get this bugger finished!
I did post that second/final installment to Exes & Ho's; hopefully you got a chance to check it out. And now another one in the complete column. Thank you for joining me on this heart-tugging journey! You can let those friends of yours who only read completed stories know their day has arrived. Hooray!
As for my next project, I have a few irons in the fire . . . not sure what will jump out at me first . . . but stay tuned!